New year, new race…

It’s already begun. Just signed up for my first race of the new year, and the honor goes to…

*drumroll, please*

The Go Green St. Patrick’s Day Half Marathon!

I’ll be gunning for a PR in this one, so time to step it up with my training. The good news is, I’ve started integrating spinning into my cross-training, and it seems to have done wonders for my cardio. After a brief 2 1/2 week respite from running due to a minor injury (that’s what I get for running a marathon less than 2 months after running my last one–lesson learned), I went on my first run last weekend and was able to run at a fairly good clip without the usual effort such a pace would require from me.

And just to prove that wasn’t a fluke, I tested out my cardio capacity this morning on a 3-miler and sure enough, I was able to run that at a pretty decent pace as well. This spinning thing is the real deal!

It’s too bad running isn’t a social sport…

“It’s too bad running isn’t a social sport.” — Mike Zensius

Yes, it was but a mere two months ago when I made the bold declaration that I would be retiring from the marathon arena. And it was also two months ago when my friends all scoffed and laughed in my face, telling me I was full of crock.

Well… it turns out they were right. Because guess what? I will be running marathon #6 on Sunday.

I’ve asked myself multiple times over the past 3 years since I started running marathons, “Why?” Certainly, the cause that I raise money for year after year has grown close to my heart, and it continues to be the fuel that drives me to return to Team In Training year after year. But why run a marathon as opposed to, say… a half marathon, which is a huge accomplishment in itself, and doesn’t require the grueling, soul-sucking training that I seem to be unable to resist volunteering myself for?

I think tonight, I got my answer. Because it’s social. Because it’s brought friendships into my life that I never could have predicted, and now can’t imagine being without. My friend Mike, of course, was being facetious when he made the above statement. But nothing could be further from the truth. Running–and running marathons, in particular–is my lifeblood because it’s the lifeblood of so many of my friendships. And so, I may as well give up this futile attempt at retiring from the game.

Who could possibly want to walk away from a game this fun and this fulfilling?

Unofficial send-off dinner for CIM

Unofficial send-off dinner for CIM

Going out on a high note

My friends and I have a bet going.

You see, when I declared that I would be retiring from full marathons (coincidentally, not too long after completing marathon #5 on Sunday), there was some healthy skepticism. Ok, it might have had a little something to do with having said something similar four other times. Whatever. I realize my words carry little credibility at this point, so I guess it’s understandable that my friends were dubious about how long I’d be sticking to this decision. I conceded with a slight amendment of, “for the foreseeable future,” but for all intents and purposes, Sunday, October 9, 2011, was probably be the last time I would run 26.2 miles all in one shot.

Probably.

In any case, it was incredibly important for me to go out with a bang–after all, a bad outing was going to make me want to waver in my decision, and then I’d be stuck eating my words once again. But somehow I knew it was going to be a good race. I knew it from the moment I woke up that morning of October 9.

First of all, the weather forecast had been predicting rain and cold weather. Up until a few days before, it was all but a foregone conclusion that we’d need to bundle up and find a way to stay dry throughout the race, and so I had prepared my wardrobe of a 30-gallon garbage bag, throwaway sweatshirt, and throwaway gloves. But when we walked outside into the pre-dawn darkness, not only was it not raining, but it became pretty clear from the outset that I was not going to need my throwaway armor at all. We were going to have perfect running weather–and that was my first sign that it was going to be a good run.

Which isn’t to say that there weren’t challenges. The first one came right out of the gate, when my shins started to tighten up as soon as I started running. They tightened up so much, in fact, that during the first walk break–a mere 5 minutes into the race–I fell behind and got separated from my running buddies, Leah and Janine. That was devastating for me; we had trained the entire season and though I knew there was little chance we’d stay together the entire run, I also didn’t think we’d get separated that early.

I came to the realization very early on that I’d have to do this thing on my own. I’d never run an entire marathon by myself. I wasn’t even sure I’d have the mental fortitude to do it.

With my friends before we all got separated... (photo courtesy of Janine Penny)

But do it, I did. I whipped out my iPod–which I had brought with me in case of “emergency” (i.e. in case I had to go through a stretch of running by myself), popped in those earbuds (thank you Keith for those PureBuds–they really did stay in the entire time!), and fired off my music, praying that I’d somehow find the will within me to do the rest of this thing by myself.

For the next 26 miles, I charged ahead. I listened to Elizabeth Campisi’s songs over and over to get my mind off the tedium of running. Before long, my shins started to warm up and the tightness went away. I saw familiar faces along the course. I saw teammates, coaches, and our awesome team manager, Simone, cheering me along–ringing cowbells, snapping pictures, screaming my name, running with me. Before long, I was in a groove and hoping that I would be able to push out the dreaded “wall” for as long as I could.

Smiling huge because I've just seen our team manager, Simone--it's great to see a familiar face! (photo courtesy of Simone Sarracino)

Remember when I said that the weather was the first sign that it would be a good race? Pretty soon, other signs came. After a brief downpour of rain, the weather cleared up again. I hit a long stretch of downhill–a welcome break after the steep climb leading up to St. John’s Bridge on mile 16. And then I spotted a dragonfly on the back of some stranger’s shirt and I knew Brittanie had come to say hello.

I knew I had this in the bag.

The downhill gave me the energy boost I needed. For the next 5 or so miles, I had new life again, and by the time I came upon another significant downhill around mile 20 or 21, I felt like a new woman. I was running through my walk breaks, feeling no fatigue in my legs or lungs–I may as well have been just starting out on a run, rather than coming up on the tail end of a marathon. This was usually the point (actually, usually, the point comes much, much earlier) where the mind games I play with myself start to affect my game and the aches, the pains, the fatigue get to me and I start to fall apart. But that didn’t happen here.

I thought of Britt. I listened to Elizabeth’s beautiful, inspiring music. I kept eating my gels, drinking my electrolyte drink, taking my salt tablets. And I kept on pushing, kept on pushing. At mile 24, I ran into Coach Tim and told him giddily, “I think I’m going to PR.” At mile 25, I was stopped by a train, giving me a brief (albeit unwelcome) rest.

1 mile to go and what happens? A train happens, that's what! (photo courtesy of Simone Sarracino)

At mile 25.5, I saw Coach Kris, and she said to me, “You see all these people cheering? If running a marathon were easy, they’d be running it. But they’re not. You are. Dig deep. Finish this strong.”

Finishing strong (photo courtesy of Ilya Shafir)

And I did. Limbs tingling, head light, feet numb, I kept on charging ahead and somehow made it across that finish line–and I got my PR. It was a close one: a mere minute and 1 second (damn that train!!), but it was a PR regardless, and I would take it.

It was a good day. It was a good way to say goodbye.

Taper–we meet again, my friend

Wasn’t it only yesterday I was blogging about the start of the season? And now here we are, 29 days away from “game time” in Portland, and officially in taper. Once upon a time, I used to dread the taper part of the season (don’t ask me why), but now I absolutely LOVE it. This season, like the season before it, has been grueling and emotional and draining, and when we finally come upon the time when we can rest our bodies, minds, and spirits to prepare them for the big event, it is more than welcome.

The 20 mile run is monumental; it’s the peak of the training, and incredibly intimidating and daunting. Typically, it comes on a course that I really love–Monterey or Natural Bridges–but this season, it was to be in San Francisco, which of course includes the infamous Ocean Mer-suckit Lake Merced.

Anyone who’s ever run the Nike Marathon can attest to its energy-sucking properties; stories abound about it being the site of an Indian burial ground (not true) or a notorious duel (actually true), but in any case, it is filled not only with lore and legend, but some sort of bad juju, and I absolutely hate, hate, HATE (did I mention HATE???) running around it. I don’t know what it is, but it is the longest 4.5 miles you will ever run in your life.

Today, though, I was determined to tackle it and not give it the power it usually has over me. And to my surprise, it didn’t suck. Well, too much. It still wasn’t pleasant, I’m not going to lie, but it wasn’t its usual “Mer-suckit.” Today it was… “Mer-notsobad.” Ok, bad play on words there, but you get the gist.

Still it was a far from perfect run. Despite a really great first 17 miles in which my running partner, Leah, and I kept a pretty steady clip, I started to let the aches and pains get to me, and my mental stamina started to decline pretty rapidly. By mile 17.5, Leah was entering a zone, and I told her to go on ahead. This was her first 20 miler, and I did not want to ruin it for her by dragging her down with my negative energy; I wanted her to remember this run as a magical run in which she surprised herself with what she was capable of doing.

And so… I faced the last 2.5 miles alone, calves and hamstrings and hip flexors burning, and brain so fried that all I wanted to do was call it a day and crawl into an ice bath (with a pizza or a steak, or… hell, anything edible). But I pushed through it and eventually, I did finish. Ok, so it was .19 short of the full 20 miles, but 19.81 is close enough in my book.

And now… we move onwards with taper.

Celebrating Leah's first 20 miler!

There’s always one…

Every season, there’s always one bad run. If you’re lucky, it’s only one; if you’re REALLY lucky, it’s a training run, not your actual race. Up until now, my long runs had been really solid–some were even pretty damn spectacular–but I knew I was due for a bad one and it came yesterday…

Coyote Creek is a notorious trail for me. Bad runs seem to happen there more often than not, and usually it’s because it happens to come up on the schedule just when the weather seems to be at its hottest. It wasn’t quite as hot yesterday as it could have been, so at least things started off on a good note, but it was pretty clear from the get go that this wasn’t going to be one of those spectacular runs.

It’s not unusual to feel that your legs are heavy at the start of your run and to need a few miles to get warmed up. But by mile 4 or 5, things hadn’t really improved yet for me, and I knew then that I would just have to grit my teeth and bear through this one. Things started to go downhill from there: my stomach began to bother me (hello, nausea: I haven’t felt that on a run in over two years), a headache started to form, and the sun finally did come out, and it happened to come out just when I hit the really exposed part of the trail.

So… not the funnest of runs. I can’t count the number of times I wanted to just turn around, call it a day, and get ‘em on the 20 miler. But I stuck it out and at the very last turnaround with 3 more miles to go, I spotted my friend Mara, and then, Leah, who just last week had twisted her ankle, but miraculously, was fine to run yesterday. Together we, along with one of our training captains, Rich, ran the last 3 miles of the run, enduring fatigue, tight hamstrings and calves, and nausea. And when the finish finally came in sight and we saw–and heard–our teammates cheer us in, it was a sweet, sweet relief.

18 miles done. 20 miles in 2 weeks. 26.2 in 6 weeks.

Bring it.

All done

The only way to end a bad run is to be silly :)

Lessons from track

I’ve often heard from my fellow runners that running is such a great metaphor for life. It truly is–and never does this hit home better than when you are going through a rough patch and you need something to inspire you to focus on positives.

Tonight was our weekly track workout, aka the workout I like least of our three weekly team workouts (shh, no one say anything to the coaches). It’s the only one held in the evening, when we’re all physically, mentally, and emotionally drained from a full day at work–and it also happens to be the workout where you’re going to push yourself more than you do in any other workout of the week. A very tough combo, don’t ya think?

Tough workouts can present an opportunity, though, and that’s when you’re especially stressed and need a good outlet to just work out all of the ARGH and leave it all out on the field. I had a particularly tough Monday and was in dire need of some endorphins, so it was one of those rare moments I was looking forward to the track workout.

A few things stood out to me as I was working out today…

  1. You get out of track what you put into it. Track workouts are all about pushing yourself to your limit, and in so doing, pushing that limit beyond where it was before. There really is no such thing as a bad workout–unless you cheat yourself and take it easier than you really could have, and then, you really have no one to blame but yourself.
  2. You want results, you just put in the work. Our coaches like to remind us to “trust the training.” Sometimes this is hard, but you do it anyway because these guys have years and years (and YEARS) doing this, and they’ve had proven success. You want to complete a marathon? Run your miles. Do your cross-training. Stretch. Get your rest. Eat and sleep well. Do all of this, and you will cross the finish line. It’s that simple.
  3. However much the bad parts suck, they won’t suck forever. And then you get to the good parts, and the good parts are sweeter than you could ever imagine. Getting that medal put on you, getting those hugs and high fives, and… oh yeah, the PERMANENT BRAGGING RIGHTS… suddenly the ice baths and the endless planks and the loop from hell around Lake Mer-suckit–oops, I mean Lake Merced–seem like distant memories.

Life is messy sometimes, and it can be painful and take everything out of you (and then take some more), but as with running, the good parts will come eventually. And you remind yourself that if you can get through a marathon, you can get through anything.

And you will.

Bathing in ice and a special anniversary

Yesterday’s scheduled run was on the hallowed grounds of Waddell Creek–in other words, the place where “magic” happened and I bonded with my good friends Janine and Robin, who’ve been my run girls ever since :). Waddell Creek is always a special run for us, and it’s always fun celebrating our “anniversary,” so I was bummed to have to miss it this summer.

Thankfully, my good friend Steve organized a make-up run for those of us who couldn’t make it out to the scheduled training. Make-up runs are bare bones, with no official water stops (although Steve was kind enough to provide makeshift ones along the trail–thanks, Steve!), and very few people on the team. I was feeling very apprehensive this, wondering if I’d find anyone in my pace group to run with, or whether I’d be relegated to running all 14 miles alone–a daunting prospect if ever there was one.

But lucky for me, Daria had to miss yesterday’s run too, and we got to run the first 12 miles of the run together before I had to round it out with the last 2 miles of my run (easily my least favorite of the entire run–no fun having to run on your own ;)). I can’t emphasize enough what a difference it makes to run with someone. The miles flew by, and before I knew it, we were pulling into the entrance at Campbell Park and I was in the home stretch of my run. By the time I finished, I was thrilled with how great the run felt–and in dire need of an ice bath.

Speaking of ice baths… yes, it’s that stage of training again where all long runs from here on out will be followed by the infamous ice bath. It had been almost a year since my last one, but surprisingly, this one wasn’t as bad as I remembered them being. Nothing can ever prepare you, of course, for the initial shock of stepping into a tub of freezing water (here’s a trick: get into the water first, THEN add the ice), but before I knew it, the 15 minutes had gone by and I was actually feeling pretty ok.

I guess my tolerance has increased quite a bit :).

 

Brr

Brr!!

 

All in all, a fantastic run, thanks to Steve, Daria, and some other folks who we saw along the trail–including two beautiful dragonflies I saw towards the end of my run. This is how it’s done!