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!

What a difference a day–and a good run–make

So I’ve been having a bit of a roller coaster last few weeks. The last few days have especially been trying/emotional/draining, and quite frankly, I wasn’t sure that I was going to be in a good place to take on the challenge of ramping up to our first double-digit mileage run today. Once we enter the double digit territory, the runs not only take a toll on you physically, but surprisingly, they do a number on you mentally as well, and with all of the things that have been on my mind lately, I wasn’t all that confident I’d be up for this run mentally.

But as tends to happen with these “magic runs,” when you least expect it, you can have a workout that just surprises you and it can make all the difference in the world.

For one thing, I had just about the best running buddies on this run that I could have asked for. Janine, Leah, and Carsten kept an easy, doable pace that felt great, but also had me feeling as though I was challenging myself too. More importantly, we had fun, leisurely conversations all throughout and for anyone who’s ever run any long distance runs, you’ll know the importance of being able to make the time pass quickly–these guys helped me do that :). By the time the 10 miles were over, I felt as though I could have run 10 more (ok, maybe not THAT many more :p) and felt better than I had felt post-run in a long, long, LONG time.

At the 10 mile turnaround

Afterwards, the team had our annual Honoree Picnic, in which we celebrate the people who inspire us to get out there and run and raise funds. Hearing their stories of struggle and ultimate triumph would turn even the hardest of hearts into pure mush, and as usual, I was a bucket of tears by the end of their stories. Remembering that earlier this week, it was the 16 month anniversary of losing my friend Brittanie, and remembering that my own father, who may have to undergo his fourth bone marrow exam to determine whether he may have Leukemia, my heart was very heavy, to say the least. There is still so much to be done, so many lives yet to save, and yet when you see these living testimonies of triumph standing right in front of you, it’s hard not to feel inspired and motivated to keep going.

Our wonderful Honorees

Our wonderful Honorees

Good runs like this–good days like this–make the bad ones worth it. They really do.

Moral victories

Week 4 of marathon training and we’ve begun to ramp up our mileage…

Saturday’s training run was an 8 miler, which was quite a jump for me; I hadn’t run more than 4 miles since the 10K I ran in mid-March, when I had just recovered from my broken ankle–before a rib injury, migraines, and the cold from hell took me out of commission again and stopped my momentum cold. Needless to say, I was somewhat nervous about running this far, with my cardio still a bit iffy from all of the stops and starts of the past few months, but the whole point of training is to get our body slowly adjusted to the growing mileage, so I set aside the nerves and showed up for the run, hoping for the best.

It turned out that I had nothing to worry about. Sure, it took a while to warm up and I found myself a bit out of breath for the first mile or two, but soon enough, I was starting to get my wind, and thanks to my running partner, Leah, the miles breezed by quickly.

An hour and 31 minutes later, I had logged 8.11 miles (overachievers r us ;)) and was feeling pretty triumphant. Not only did I get all the miles in that I set out to run, but I felt strong and good at the end of the whole thing, which in itself is a victory after the last few months of health woes that I’ve had to endure.

Is it the start of my comeback? I sure hope so…

Thumbs up!

Thumbs up!

There’s only one direction to go from here, and that’s up

Made a startling discovery tonight. I’m human (shh, try not to spread the word; I’ve got a reputation to uphold). Yes, the heat really did get to me and I had a really bad time trial–didn’t even finish all 12 laps around the track and had to stop at 10 because my stomach was not very happy near the end.

Ok, not the result I wanted. Far from it. Before I stopped, I was on track to finish the 5K in over 32 minutes–easily my worst time in three years and more than 4 minutes slower than last summer’s time trial. Ouch. But it happened and the earth didn’t swallow me whole. My ego is bruised (severely), but thankfully, the ego heals, albeit sometimes a little more slowly than we’d like :). And when it does heal, I will kick my own butt and beat last year’s time. If the heat cooperates this time, I might just do it, too.

But lest I feel too sorry for myself, the night ended on a very positive note, which put all of this into proper perspective. As tradition after track, we had one of our Honorees give a short, inspirational talk. Tonight, it was Honoree Todd’s turn to tell his story, and we heard his new addendum for the first time: 12 years after his initial diagnosis of cancer, he received the miraculous news that he’s now passed the time period in which they were sure his cancer would come out of remission and return. And this means that he is now in the very, very small minority of people with this type of cancer who is now unlikely to see a recurrence of it.

He is, essentially, cured.

A to the men.

Sucky time trials don’t really hold much weight compared to this, no?