Tag Archives: race preparation

Marathon Training (and oh yeah… I suck at blogging)

I’ve been wanting to post and wanting to post and totally intending to post…and then…nothing. It’s daunting. I want this to be a legit blog and I want a place to talk about running. But then I think about the less fun parts of that, like feeling pressure to add a bunch of pictures to posts, because god forbid people just read a big long section of text. Gotta add pictures to keep things interesting.

This one time I saw a hawk on my run.

This one time I saw a hawk on my run.

Anyway, but here we are. Less than a week from my first marathon. And there’s a lot I want to say about it! So here we go!

It was a really cool hawk.

It was a really cool hawk.

The last time I posted was a race recap in…November. Yikes. At my own defense, my man friend came home shortly after that and since he’s frequently out on the road for long stretches at a time, I’ve been spending as much time with him as I can before he jets off again next month (for 6 weeks!! Ahhhh!).

Marathon training has been… a lot of things. Exhausting. Renewing. Discouraging. Encouraging. Overwhelming. Affirming. It’s had its ups and downs. But here we are, less than a week away and I just feel so ready. I feel prepared and confident. I remember months ago being legitimately scared about the race. I had read too many running blogs and too many horror stories. It’s amazing how few marathon recaps you can find where it actually sounds like an enjoyable and fulfilling experience (I mean, yes, you’re running 26.2 miles, but there has to be some enjoyment or what’s the point?). I read about someone’s kidneys shutting down once because they didn’t properly fuel/hydrate and that about scarred me for life.

I think I'd like to keep my kidneys functioning properly, thanks

I think I’d like to keep my kidneys functioning properly, thanks

At first, the long runs were getting to me. I faced almost every Saturday with fear at the beginning because the long runs were mentally AND, of course, physically challenging. It seemed like the first few miles of every long run were just misery. I think it was the knowledge that I still had so far to go in those beginning miles. It was just getting to me. I managed to find my way out of that, though, and by the end of marathon training, my long runs are my best and absolutely most motivating/rejuvenating/affirming runs. What helped? Well, a couple of things stick out in my head:

Time/Patience

  • I remember reading once about how much harder marathons are than half marathons and feeling a bit indignant internally because, hello, running 13.1 miles is no joke. But here’s the thing: marathons ARE a lot harder than half marathons in some obvious ways. Like, you know, distance and endurance and mental toughness. Half marathons are a great balance, in my opinion, because you can really focus on both endurance and speed. The speed thing is harder for the marathon because it’s a whole new pacing strategy and the increased mileage wears the body down much more.
  • I honestly just had to keep trucking through. That’s the hard part-it would be easy to quit (except I’m an extreme type A perfectionist so quitting is not something I generally let myself do) during those first few weeks where the long runs are building. It’s an adjustment. You’re building your base. You’re getting your body used to it. Sometimes it kind of sucks. Stick it out. If you keep plugging away and getting your weekly mileage in too, it will pay off.

Let go of the numbers

  • Then, I got a Garmin watch. This was a blessing for many reasons-it’ll give me an easy way to pace myself during the marathon (instead of craning my neck trying to see the numbers on the Nike+ app on my phone, not so conveniently strapped to my arm). It also gave me a chance to do heart rate training and really take those recovery runs seriously.
  • However, the Garmin watch led to a bit of numbers obsessing. Particularly¬†because every single run on the Garmin was shorter than Nike+. I felt deceived! I felt ashamed! I wasn’t as fast as I thought I was! Shit!
  • A few weeks ago, I turned off the voice feedback on my Nike+ app. I had thought I’d do it just for one particular workout that I was struggling with mentally (12 miles on a Wednesday morning before work is intense and tough to prepare for mentally). I haven’t turned it back on since. When I feel like knowing my pace, I can look at my watch. But it’s given me such freedom and I think it’s made a big difference in the last few weeks of marathon training.
  • Moral of the story is: if this is your first marathon or even if it’s not but you find yourself discouraged: let go of the numbers. Give yourself a break. You’re training for a f**ing marathon, okay? You kick ass. Whether you run a 12 minute mile or a 5 minute mile (asshole…just kidding…), you still kick ass. 26.2 miles is NO freaking joke.

So, following along that same path, I was discouraged for awhile during marathon training. I thought I was losing speed. I actually felt sometimes like I was somehow losing fitness despite running 50+ miles a week, every week. That was complete and utter bullshit and if I had really let myself off the hook and thought about it more, I would’ve come to this conclusion: I was running 5 days a week, over 50 miles a week. I was also continuing my strength training routine of 2 days a week, an hour each time. I was putting enormous amounts of stress on my body and not always (ever) getting 8 hours of sleep at night (hard to do that when you’re waking at 5 to go running!). My body needed to ease off the speed and just adjust to the increased load. Of course I slowed down! Of course.

This photo is in no way relevant but I took this picture in December at the park where I do my speed work and couldn't stop laughing at this bald spot on this tree. I went and inspected it closely and it seriously had no lights there. They weren't out. They just weren't there.

This photo is in no way relevant but I took this picture in December at the park where I do my speed work and couldn’t stop laughing at this bald spot on this tree. I went and inspected it closely and it seriously had no lights there. They weren’t out. They just weren’t there.

Since turning off the voice feedback AND starting taper, my speed has come back. All of a sudden, all at once. A month ago, a 7:30 pace was feeling HARD. It was tough to sustain. I’m back to feeling like that’s a more comfortable zone for me. Hallelujah!

Took this pic on a run pre-Christmas. Really beautiful Christmas decorating. A+++

Took this pic on a run pre-Christmas. Really beautiful Christmas decorating. A+++

My long runs have vastly improved. After struggling with the long runs, I finally got a place where I was enjoying them and feeling mentally strong. Then, the weekly mileage started to get me down. A typical week might look something like this during the peak of training:

Monday: Run 8 miles before work
1 mile on treadmill before Sculpt
Sculpt (1 hour total body strength training class…intense)

Tuesday: Recovery run, usually 5-7 miles

Wednesday: Medium long run of the week, usually 11-12 miles

Thursday: Speed work, usually 6-8 miles, before work
1 mile on treadmill before Sculpt
Sculpt

Saturday: Long run (shortest was 12 on a recovery week, longest was 22)

I was running so many miles during the week and so many days in a row that I was just totally exhausted. I like to run first thing in the morning but waking up early enough to fit the longer runs in meant I wasn’t getting enough sleep. And I was stubbornly sticking to Friday as a rest day although it probably would’ve been smarter to switch the rest day around to break some of that up.

Pre-22 miler. Seriously nervous. Thinking, 'wait why do people do this again?'

Really f-ing nervous about running 22 miles. Thinking, ‘wait why do people do this again?’ (yes I wear the same thing pretty much on every long run)

Anyway-eventually it all started to fall into place. If you read much about marathon training, you’ve probably seen people say that when you finally feel like you’re hitting your stride and you can handle it all, it’s time to taper. That definitely happened to me. It was all clicking and then it was time to cut back.

This was kind of my Everest but I did it!!

This was kind of my Everest but I did it!! Don’t stalk me, please.

It’s been a seemingly long journey. I’ve worked my ass off. It’s been incredibly difficult but so so affirming. The last several long runs I did were so great for my confidence. I coached myself through them. Gave myself pep talks. “This is a journey. You’re gonna be running for 3 hours. There’s no way around that. Might as well chill.” Every long run is almost like a little journey itself, as corny as that sounds. It has its own ups and downs. I started to recognize that. Before, I’d panic when I hit a bad spot. I’d freak out and worry the rest of the run was going to suck and “oh god, I have 10 miles to go, can I handle the suck for 10 more miles?” I started to tell myself, “this is a bad patch. You’ll get through it. You always do.” And you know what? It worked!

So here we are. Less than a week until the race. I thought I’d be terrified. But I feel so ready! I’m excited! I want to call myself a marathoner! Of course, I’m trying to remind myself it’s still 26.2 miles. The furthest I’ve gone is 22. Those last 4 miles will be uncharted territory. I have to be smart. I need to pace well. Not go out too fast. Hydrate enough. Fuel properly. There are a lot of variables to consider. But after months of trials and setbacks and triumphs, it’s almost time. I kind of can’t believe it’s almost really here. I’ll let y’all know how it goes…

Got this Oiselle Rogas shorts for the marathon that all you peeps are talking up...don't let me down!

Got these Oiselle Roga shorts for the marathon that all you peeps are talking up…don’t let me down!

Nashville 1/2 Race Report

It’s probably a bad sign if you start a blog and immediately start slacking on posting. Whomp whomp.

Since it’s been over a week since the Nashville 1/2 it’s probably time I write about it before I forget the details and can’t be bothered to recap it.

The race expo was probably more exciting if you didn’t technically show up before it was even supposed to start and breeze through and try to avoid eye contact with the eager vendors hopeful to sell you their overpriced running gear. The woman giving me my race bib jokingly asked me if I was going to win my division and I smiled and said, “We’ll see…” and it really made me want to give that biatch a reason to eat her words. Just kidding…kinda…

Women's sized small running shirts are no joke. This is sized more like something I should wear to a club.

I have a pretty standard routine for race mornings and since I am incredibly anal, type A, and rigid, I rarely stray from it. The race started at 7 so I set my alarm for 5. A check of the weather showed it was going to be high 40’s at the race start and warming to the low 50’s. By the way-that was a bit of a godsend since it had been consistently in the low 30’s in the mornings which basically translates to me being one giant snot factory. It’s unbelievable how much snot a human body can produce and then continue to replace. Don’t act like you weren’t dying for those details.

Speaking of cold weather and snot (wonder how many times I can manage to mention snot in this post?)…I forgot to vaseline up. I have about as sensitive skin as is possible and running in cold temperatures is not kind to my face. For the first few weeks after the weather gets colder, my skin is chapped and dry and just awful. It gets so thin and raw that the area around my mouth and eyes basically makes me look like Ronald McDonald.

Hi guys!

So basically, you could say forgetting Vaseline is a recipe for disaster. By the way, you people who use BodyGlide and other overpriced luxury Vaselines…why? Vaseline is $3 and I think quite literally lasts forever.

Yes. I actually took a picture of my Vaseline and pasted a picture of Ronald McDonald onto it. I don’t know.

I snapped a photo of myself in my race outfit so my mom could spot me out on the course and then I gathered my belongings. I wear a pretty sexy running fanny pack¬†when I do long runs. I generally keep a couple of pepto tablets (sorry but ya gotta be prepared), my inhaler, gus/gu chomps, nuun tablets, and during the winter, tissues. Wow. This was a boring paragraph. Let’s move on…

Hi mom!

It never fails. If I take a picture on race morning and I actually think I’ve managed to pull myself together enough to look decent, I look at it and it looks less decent and more like this:

You know, when I read race blogs I swear I read the stuff about the race expo and race day prep and it actually sounds interesting but this is boring as hell so I’m gonna get to the good stuff. I have a habit of being perpetually early to everything (a family trait) and so I made myself wait until 6:15 to leave for the race. I found a parking spot where they were only charging $5 which seemed like a good deal until I realized how far away it actually was and how many closer lots there were for the same amount of money (or less!). I guess it was the parking attendant’s shit eating grin that persuaded me.

I have to warm up for a race. I never see anyone else doing it but it’s like…imperative. Whenever I go out for a run, it almost never fails. My first mile will be anywhere from 30-45 seconds slower than my next mile. My body just can’t get it together for the first mile. On race day, that’s not so good. So, I always try to jog for at least 10 minutes and do some dynamic and static stretching. Other race participants passing by me always seem to look at me like I have three heads (maybe this is because some of the dynamic stretches I do make me look like I’m prancing up and down the street).

I always have my first gu about 15 minutes before the start (side note: peanut butter gu is the shit, okay? Like, I have to stop myself from snacking on it). I lined up and finally saw some other sane people stretching so I felt more at home. This race didn’t have corrals really, but you were supposed to place yourself by your minute/mile pace. The fastest one was 7:00-7:59 so I lined up there…in a sea of dudes.

There were a few other ladies around but mostly just super competitive, intense dudes. We got started a little after 7:00 because they were still clearing the course. At the start of races, I have to be so careful to not go out too fast. It’s such a natural tendency but it’s also a really really stupid thing to do. The worst thing you can do in an endurance event is go all out at the beginning and not be able to sustain it. I have a natural tendency to speed up as a run goes on. I think that I willfully taught myself to negative split (each mile faster than the last) and now it just comes naturally. I know that a lot of the people so eager to pass me in the beginning I’ll be picking off later on. This day was no exception. I was hoping to clock in around 7:45 for my first mile, conservatively. It ended up being more like 7:30. This is pretty typical for me. I hold back a little on race day but always take my first mile a little faster than I intended. The first 2.5 miles of the course are pretty much totally uphill. I’ve trained those streets so many times that I wasn’t too worried about it. Not to mention that race day adrenaline is flowing like crazy at the beginning and carries me for a long time during the race.

The pack started to thin out a bit around mile 4 or 5. I had seen one woman ahead of me for the first four, almost five miles. We rounded a corner shortly before mile 5 and went up a BIG hill to cross the bridge into East Nashville. I managed to pick her off there (really wasn’t out to beat her, but it still always feels nice to move ahead). I train hills so much and try really hard not to shy away from them, so I think I manage to keep my pace strong on them which is a nice advantage. The next part of the race became mercifully flat which was a change from last year. They changed the route this year to make it more PR friendly!

We rounded LP field at mile 6 and I was still feeling strong. My pace was holding steady around 7:20 which is fast for me on any day but I didn’t feel like I was pushing too much. It felt doable so I kept going. Normally during a long run, I only “gu” (yep, making that a verb) before I start and then roughly every 6 miles. Given my issues in the winter with cramping (F you asthma and lack of oxygen), I was hypervigilant about keeping my inhaler handy and having enough electrolytes in my system so cramps wouldn’t derail my race. I took the gu’s whenever they were offered on the course-in this case miles 4 and 8. I also had some gu chomps at mile 11 when I again felt cramps threatening.

The race really started to take on special meaning when we headed into Shelby Park. My mom was going to be around mile 9, near the turn-around. This section of the course was an out and back. As I approached mile 9, other runners started to come back from the turn around point and I decided to count the women just for fun. I counted two. TWO. I cannot even tell you the surge of adrenaline that gave me. As I passed my mom I shouted, “Am I really the third woman?” and she nodded. She stayed at that same spot and so when I passed her again 5 minutes later I couldn’t help but ask her again. She again assured me it was true and I was on cloud nine.

This part of the post is conspicuously missing any pictures. Here’s a puppy!

I could feel cramps threatening from mile 9 onward but they never became debilitating. I ALWAYS cramp in my right abdominal muscle. Not a side stitch but literally in my abs. Sometimes I cramp in one of my lower left abdominal muscles but that one is easy to run through because it doesn’t affect my breathing. I tried to remind myself to keep my body relaxed and not slouch and reminded myself to breathe. Even though I didn’t feel like I was really pushing the pace, I held back and didn’t push any harder just in case. I cramped in my last race in October and several of the people I’d passed passed me as I stopped and tried to breathe through them. It was a bummer. This race really got fun after the turn around. People who were heading towards the park kept shouting to me that I was third. What a great feeling and one I never knew I’d get to experience! It really helped keep me going and helped me keep my pace.

When I got to mile 11 there was a water stop and I was desperately wanting gatorade to stave off the cramps. I’d managed to miss the gatorade almost every time. I’ll be honest-not sure I’ve ever felt like more of a bad ass. I took my headphones out and shouted, “gatorade?” (in a friendly way!!) to the volunteers and one guy seriously, animatedly whipped around and started fumbling around to find a cup and filled it up with gatorade as quickly as he could. It was cool and I felt like a baller.

The last bit of the race course was tough. We had to scale Woodland St bridge which is tough to do at almost mile 12. We got a brief respite at the downhill before having to climb from the riverfront up to 7th Avenue. Pretty steep uphill! I’ll be honest-I knew there wasn’t a woman close enough to catch me at that point. That felt pretty awesome but I desperately wanted to finish strong. I held onto one guy for awhile going up the hill and we shared a moment of encouragement with each other about the hill and then once we rounded 7th, I kicked it. I knew the rest of the way was downhill and I could hold on and give it all I had. I’ve had a lot of races where I had nothing left to give at the end but I was so glad to still have something left in the tank. Nike+ informed me I crossed the half marathon mark at 1:35:00 exactly. Although that will never be my official time, it still felt pretty awesome because I thought my 1:40:49 and 1:39:48 were pretty awesome in September and October. I ended up crossing the finish line at 1:36:43 and finishing 3rd female.

Now, let me be clear-this race was on the smaller side (somewhere around 1500 runners, I think). It didn’t have a lot of super fast women runners this time. I know that I will not always be able to place in a race or enjoy getting to stand on the podium. But that’s one thing that is awesome about smaller races. You can enjoy a little bit of glory! So while it wasn’t a super deep pool of fast woman runners, I honestly don’t give a shit. Third place feels pretty f-ing good.

Once I crossed the finish line, I confirmed that I needed to stay for the awards ceremony (award certificate and $15 gift certificate…hollllaaa) and then excitedly called my parents to tell them the good news. Hearing my dad exclaim about how awesome it was and him telling me how proud he was was really such a special moment for me. I have worked my ass off with running and I’m incredibly dedicated and it was just so nice to spend that day basking in the hard work paying off.

My mom just barely made it to the finish line in time to see me stand on the podium. The 2nd place finisher who I chatted with briefly after the race didn’t even stay! I guess maybe she wins races all the time but I don’t so I ate it up! I’ll write more later I’m sure about how running has changed my life and given me the self esteem I so severely lacked for so much of my life…but for now I’ll leave you with a couple more pictures because if it’s one thing I’ve learned from reading blogs, it’s that people love pictures. I may never have a post with as many pictures again though because it turns out I only take pictures of my cats and outfits in dressing rooms that I send to my mom for approval.

My mom took a phone call while I stood there posing

HollllaaaaOn a more serious note, I love races. They show you what you don’t even realize you’re capable of. Before this race, I wouldn’t have dreamed that pace was sustainable for 13.1 miles. Not only was it sustainable, but I never felt the wheels come off. I never felt like I couldn’t keep going. The body is an amazing thing!