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.

She’s at it again…

Y’all didn’t think I’d stay away, did you?

Summer approaches, which means I am once again gearing up for another season to train for a marathon. Marathon #5 will be on October 9, 2011 in Portland, OR, where I hope to beat Oprah Winfrey’s time of 4:29 set a new PR.

We all have to have something to shoot for :).

But most of all, I am back because we still haven’t come to that blessed day when we can say: There is a cure for cancer.

There is no cure yet. Yet. But as long as I am able, I will continue to put efforts into making sure that “yet” turns into “soon” and that “soon” turns into “now.” Just four days ago, I soberly marked the one year anniversary of my dear friend Brittanie Siobhan’s passing. Cancer robbed me of my friend, and that makes me angry and sad and determined that her fight not be in vain.

And so, I am back with Team In Training and back raising money. If you would like to help support my efforts, I would welcome your very generous donations–remember, no amount is too small! Simply visit http://pages.teamintraining.org/sj/portland11/jenkeepsrunning and help me make cancer cry like a little girl.

The off-season of my discontent

I had high hopes for this off-season. I was coming off my best season yet, setting PRs in my 10K, half marathon, and full marathon races, and I was excited to work with a run coach to ride the wave and build upon that momentum.

However, it appears my body had different plans.

First came the broken ankle/ligament tear. Then came the inflamed intercostal muscles (ribcage muscles, in plain English–and by the way, I don’t even know how this injury came to be). And now, four months into the off-season that was supposed to take me to the next level when the real training season started in late May, I am fighting just to get back to where I was before my injuries.

But enough with the whining. I decided I should focus on the positives that came out of this. What, you say? There are positives? Why yes, there are.

  1. I discovered new ways to cross-train: when I was banned from running and the elliptical machine (and even swimming), I learned to love the activity I tended to avoid like the plague, which was the exercise bike. Now? It’s actually my cross-training activity of choice, imagine that!
  2. I learned to eat better: I was already a pretty healthy eater, but since I had to cut back a ton on my activities, I had to really watch my calorie intake if I had any prayer of not gaining 20 pounds.
  3. I learned to listen to my body: I pulled back when I felt pain or discomfort, I modified when I needed to, and most of all, I eased back into activity once I was given the all clear. Can’t stay injury-free forever, I guess, but we can do what we can to prevent it as much as possible.
  4. I became more patient: ok, maybe this one’s a work in progress, but I did take a few baby steps towards being more zen. Kinda. Sorta. Ok, not really. But I meant to–and doesn’t that count for something?

Pumpkin pie, hills, and twisted ankles: the tale of a trail race debut

Today was a banner day: it was my very first trail race. It was also my last.

Yes, it went that well :p.

When my friends and I decided to sign up for the Summit Rock 10K a few weeks ago, after batting around the idea at a post-run coffee, it seemed like a good idea. After all, trail runs are known for being friendlier to joints (um… NOT SO), have good food, and have fewer people than regular races. It seemed like a good experience, and perhaps even the first of many trail races to come. But as the race got closer, reality started to set in for me, and I couldn’t help but start to get second thoughts about running a race that was going to be all new territory for me–literally and figuratively. Not only had I never run this course, but I’d also never run a race in which the roads weren’t paved, there wasn’t an aid station every other mile or so, and there weren’t porta-potties everywhere you looked.

This was, I realized with dread, the running version of “roughing it,” and anyone who knows me knows that I’m not exactly a fan of roughing it.

Still, I decided to charge ahead and look at it as a fun new experience. And certainly, today started off looking good. The weather was supposed to be nice and cooperative, with no rain and mild temperatures; the ground wasn’t too muddy; and I was with my friends, who make any run 100x more enjoyable.

At the beginning of our 10K, waiting for the race to start

At the beginning of our 10K, waiting for the race to start

Then the race actually started. And I quickly realized that this would be a whole new experience indeed.

I think my first indication was the hill we encountered before mile #1 was even behind us. It was the first of many. Many, many. MANY. My running buddy, Juana,  and I had decided early on that we would “hike” the hills, but little did we know that this “hike” would last pretty much the entire course.

Got hills?

Got hills?

Before long, we started to get into a groove, and it didn’t seem quite so bad. The views were spectacular, and I was having lots of fun chit-chatting away (in between gasping for air, that is) with my friends as we tackled the mountains–oops, I mean, hills. We even got a nice surprise at the halfway point, where the first aid station was: pumpkin pie. Yes, where there is normally energy gels, gummy bears, and/or electrolyte drinks, there was also PUMPKIN PIE. Yum.

Mmm, pie...

Mmm, pie...

At the halfway point

At the halfway point

Then came what every trail runner dreads: the wipe-out. Despite my best efforts to be careful, I missed a step and fell forwards on my hands, turning my ankle in the process. I was in shock at first and didn’t feel too much pain (I was more worried about breaking my camera, actually; thankfully, it was all in one piece and still operational). Adrenaline carried me through the rest of the race, and I was able to finish without a lot of discomfort.

I collected my medal (which, btw, does not usually happen at 10K’s–this was, if I must be totally honest, the reason I signed up for the race in the first place) and limped to the car with the rest of my carpoolers. It wasn’t until when I got home and took off my shoes and socks that the adrenalin started to recede and I saw that my ankle was the size of a golf ball–and I had pretty limited range of motion. Yup. Sprain. 5 weeks before my half marathon in Arizona.

Gulp.

Doesn't quite capture the full extent of the swelling, but here is the injured ankle

Doesn't quite capture the full extent of the swelling, but there is the injured ankle

So, I am now injured and icing/babying my ankle. I’ll be getting it looked at in a few days and hopefully by then, it will be on its way to being healed enough for me to resume my half marathon training and be ready for the Arizona Rock N’ Roll Half in 5 weeks. We shall see.

In the meantime, I have decided to retire from the trail racing arena. It was nice to have the experience, but it’s not one I’d care to repeat :).

Relay, anyone?

Today was a first for me: my first relay race!

My friends and I decided on a whim to run in the inaugural Morgan Hill Marathon today as a relay team: 4 of us, each taking approximately 6 miles or so (roughly 10K, give or take) of the course. Some of us had initially signed up to do the half on this course, but after seeing the elevation charts and discovering that there were some monster hills, we decided this relay option would be a far preferable route :).

It ended up being one of the most fun races I’ve ever done! Yes, there were some glitches (namely, being nearly run over by a car because the roads hadn’t been closed down for the race [note to the race organizers: that might be a good idea, yo] and the bus drivers carrying the relay racers not having a single clue where they were supposed to go), but overall, it was a blast out there.

There was 100% chance of rain, so we came prepared in our customary garbage bags and rain gear, but as luck would have it, we got nothing more than a few sprinkles here and there.

The garbage bag brigade, pre-race

The garbage bag brigade, pre-race

I was running the first leg and it soon became disappointingly clear that I was just not feeling it today. I felt as though I was dragging out on the course today–really tired and I was unable to get to (much less maintain) the pace I wanted to. But thankfully, I had an awesome running buddy, Howard, to keep me company, and he kept me from slipping even further on my pace. Having him to talk to was a very welcome distraction, and before I knew it, I was at the first relay stop, handing over the baton to my teammate.

When all was said and done, “Team Crushers” finished the marathon in 4:36, nearly 45 minutes faster than my individual marathon PR of 5:17. Score! Maybe running in a relay team from now on isn’t such a bad idea ;).

 

Someday this shall be my real finish time! (And perhaps I'll even beat it :))

Someday this shall be my real finish time! (And perhaps I'll even beat it :))

 

Team Crushers CRUSHED it!

Team Crushers CRUSHED it!