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Officially A Marathoner – Thoughts On My First Marathon

This morning, I slowly crawled out of bed, feeling the sting of soreness that had settled into my muscles overnight. Aside from the lingering physical exhaustion even after a full night’s sleep, nothing felt all that different from when I woke up yesterday. Except, that I could now call myself a marathon finisher. A marathon runner. An official marathoner.

Oh, hey, high fives for marathoners!

Oh, hey, high fives for marathoners!

There is so much that happened this weekend that I don’t want to forget, so this is going to be long. Read what you want, unless you’re my family, in which case you have to read every last word.

EXPO 

On Saturday, I did an easy two mile jog around my neighborhood to shake out my legs and ease my nerves. A little later that morning, my mom and grandmother accompanied me to the 26.2 with Donna Expo in downtown Jacksonville.  We explored all the booths, but I didn’t find too many that caught my eye. I ended up registering for next year’s Women’s Half Marathon to save $15 off the online price and purchasing a couple t-shirts from the Official Merchandise shop to commemorate my first marathon.

Right before we were leaving, I spotted Donna Deegan – the founder of 26.2 with Donna – and decided to introduce myself so I could thank her for all she’s done for breast cancer research and the Jacksonville community. If you don’t know Donna’s story, I recommend reading about it here.

Meeting 3x Breast Cancer Survivor & 26.2 With Donna Founder Donna Deegan, Expo Swag, and the Running Pink Ribbon

Meeting 3x Breast Cancer Survivor & 26.2 With Donna Founder Donna Deegan, Expo Swag, and the Running Pink Ribbon

One of the most iconic parts of the 26.2 with Donna course is “Memorial Mile,” where those who have struggled with breast cancer are remembered and honored with large banners that expo attendees sign, leaving behind motivational and poignant messages. Reading through the posts brought tears to me eyes, especially when my mom signed for a family friend who recently lost her battle with breast cancer. My mom and grandmother also signed for me, sending me well-wishes on the banner with the word “FINISH” displayed on it. I wrote, “I’m finishing 26.2 to help finish breast cancer.” 

After stepping away from the banners, I knew that I had picked an amazing marathon for my first. All race proceeds (including registration fees) & raised funds go to breast cancer research and care.

Signing the banners to be displayed during the "Memorial Mile."

Signing the banners to be displayed during the “Memorial Mile.”

RACE START

The next morning, I woke up an hour before my alarm and couldn’t fall back to sleep. I stayed in bed, visualizing my race and fretting over what to wear with start temperatures projected to be 34-degrees but warming up to about 50 with strong winds that would be even more noticeable along the Atlantic Ocean. Finally, I decided to give up worrying about everything and start getting ready.

I pulled on my race outfit, pinned my bib as straight as I could (I’m getting better with all my bib-pinning experience!), and scarfed down an English muffin with honey and a PowerCrunch protein bar. My mom and grandparents decided to drop me off at the race start so that I didn’t have to drive myself or worry about getting back to my car after running 26.2 miles. Honestly, this was such a good idea, especially with the shape I was in at the finish line (ooh, foreshadowing). We encountered a bit of traffic with about a mile to go to the start, but it only took us 20 minutes or so to navigate through it. Around this time, my two best friends called me from California to wish me luck – they had set an alarm to wake up at 3 AM their time to call me! I couldn’t believe it!

Shortly after I got off the phone with my friends, my family dropped me off and I only had to walk about a half mile to get to the Runners’ Village, which was AWESOME.

The Village had everything a runner could want: tons of porta-potties, heating lamps, an anti-blister & chafing tent, an area to apply free sunscreen, water, coffee, food, and – my personal favorite – a warm-up tent not too far from the start line. I huddled in the tent with hundreds of other runners, listening to tons of conversations about first races and people-watching. At about 7:10, I decided to head to the start line.

Somehow, I failed to notice that the race had corrals and a waved start. I ended up in the second wave, behind the elites and super speedsters, but still close enough to the front that I wasn’t worried about being overcrowded at the start.

By this point, I started getting really excited and nervous. At about 7:20, I decided to toss my throwaway layers so I wouldn’t have to deal with it once I started running. Unfortunately, immediately after I did that and moved away from my gear, the race organizers announced that the start had been delayed for 15 minutes due to severe traffic that had prevented many of the shuttles carrying runners to get to the start. I chatted with the woman next to me to pass the time, and she shared that she’d run either the full or half  every year since 26.2 with Donna’s inaugural year. In the middle of our conversation, the organizers made another announcement – the race would start at 8 AM, a full 30 minutes late.

Not exactly the best news for this Type A runner. My heart beat definitely increased after hearing this news. I sent a quick text to my family to let them know there had been a delay.

A girl about my age came up next to me and we discovered we were both running our first marathon. She asked if I had a goal time, and I told her no, but  I shared the paces of my long runs. Apparently, they were really close to hers so she asked if I wanted to start out together. I agreed, but told her that I’d be brutally honest if I needed to fall back, and for her to do the same. We introduced ourselves and got ready .

RUNNING THE NATIONAL MARATHON TO FINISH BREAST CANCER (a.k.a. 26.2 With Donna)

Miles 1-6

These miles flew by – I couldn’t believe how quickly the mile markers appeared. I knew I was feeling good due to my taper and the cool weather, but I kept replaying Mary’s advice about not going out too fast, so I made sure to hold back as much as possible. To make sure we were staying at a conversational pace, my new running buddy, Kailyn and I chatted about our training plans and what we did for a living. We kept this up for a couple more miles, and at mile 4 we settled into our own paces and separated.

This portion of the course takes runners through beautiful and upscale Ponte Vedre Beach, where many residents were out in their front yards cheering us on. This was my first taste of just how much crowd support we would have, and I couldn’t believe how many people were out in the cold showing their support for the runners and, of course, the cause.

Miles 6-9

Once we got to Jacksonville Beach, we took a turn and headed out on the beach to run on the hard-packed sand. While this stretch of the course is gorgeous with the sun rising over the ocean, it is tough. I don’t care how hard-packed sand is, it’s still extremely challenging to run on, especially for 3 miles early on in a marathon. Not only did we have the resistance of the sand, but the wind had picked up and was blowing straight at us the entire time we were on the beach. I knew this part of the race was taking a lot out of me, very early into my run. I tried to focus on all the positives around me: other runners, the crashing waves, the rising sun, the memories of many days spent on this very stretch of beach.

Suddenly, near the half marathon turn-off, I spotted someone who looked like my brother – this caught me off guard because I was not expecting to see my family until at least mile 10. Then, I realized it WAS my brother. In fact, it was both of my brothers and my boyfriend! I got so excited to see them. My boyfriend and younger brother jumped in and ran about a quarter mile with me, asking me how I was feeling and telling me I was doing a great job. They wished me well, told me they’d see me again soon, and let me continue along the beach on my own.

While seeing them gave me a slight boost, battling the wind continued to drain my energy. I found myself wondering when I could get off the beach, a thought I don’t think has EVER crossed this beach girl’s mind before.

At last, we took a left turn up and off the beach.

Miles 9-13

When I returned to pavement, I knew those three miles had taken a toll on my energy and my legs. I was struggling to regain my pace, something I did not expect to encounter so early. Not too long after I exited the beach, I saw the lead runners come flying through what was their mile 17. Incredible. Right after that, I spotted my whole family cheering for me and I got a little choked up. My uncle jumped on the course to run a little bit with me. He gave me some nuun and Honey Stinger chews, which went down much easier than the half-frozen ShotBloks I had been using to fuel. I shared that the wind on the beach had taken more out of me than I anticipated (in much fewer words), but he told me I was doing great and to keep my mind focused on happy thoughts. He stayed with me until Mile 10, telling me he’d meet back up with me at Mile 17.

My uncle running with me around mile 9.5.

My uncle running with me around mile 9.5.

The course wound through some cute beach neighborhoods where, again, the crowd support was just outstanding. So many people were cheering for me, yelling my name, thanks to the personalized bibs the race gives all runners.

Miles 13-17

When I got the half marathon marker, I felt pretty good despite my legs already aching from the sandy portion of the course. I crossed the halfway point just under 2 hours, which was fine with me, even a little faster than I was expecting. Honestly, after that portion on the beach, I began thinking how lucky I’d be if I finished the marathon under 4:30.

Once I hit Mile 14, I thought about Meghan writing in her recent first marathon recap that this was a big moment for her because she had never seen a mile 14 marker in a race before. That resonated with me, and a big smile crept across my face as I ran past the pink Mile 14 banner. After that, I kept thinking “only a couple more miles until I see my family again!” That’s really all I could focus on at that point in the run.

Around mile 15, I started to get really warm so I stripped off the throwaway gloves my mom had bought me at the Expo and pushed my ear warmers up into my hat. I began regretting the long sleeve shirt I was wearing, especially since my bib was pinned to it, removing any hope of being able to remove that layer. I rolled the sleeves up as much as I could.

This is when my stomach started to hurt, badly. I felt unsettled and slightly nauseous. I’ve never experienced anything like this during a race or long run, so I wasn’t quite sure how to deal with it. Was I going to get sick? Did I need to stop at one of the porta-potties? I couldn’t tell, all I knew was that I did not feel well.

I kept running, taking sips of water at every hydration station, but nothing calmed my stomach. That’s when I saw someone handing out Flavor Ice frozen pops and, oh-my-God, I never wanted anything more badly than I wanted one of those popsicles. I took a lime green one, grunted out a half-assed but sincere thank you, and took small bites as I ran along. After that, I felt slightly better – not amazing, but better. I kept thinking, “just let my family appear soon, please.” And, not too much further, appear they did.

Miles 17-23

When my family came into view, I broke out into a huge smile. My uncle joined me again, and so did his two sons (my adorable cousins) and my boyfriend. The four of them ran with me for a little while, until my boyfriend and cousins peeled off to let my uncle and me keep going.

My running buddies: my uncle, my boyfriend with my cousin on his back, and my other cousin running along side.

My running buddies: my uncle, me, my cousin, my boyfriend with my other cousin on his back.

After my uncle and I finished the half marathon in December, he came down with severe plantar fasciitis in both feet. Months ago, I asked him to run some of the marathon with me to help me through the tough parts, but with his injuries I wasn’t sure if he would. He adamantly insisted he wanted to help me through the “hard part,” and that’s exactly what he did from Mile 17-Mile 22. At this point, the course followed one of the main roads in Jacksonville Beach. While beautiful, it is extremely uneven. For this entire stretch, my right leg was slightly higher than my left, which led to a very painful imbalance that took a toll on my hips, especially the one I injured in the beginning of my training. The uneven ground also left my ankles aching, another thing I never felt during my long runs.

I knew I was struggling at this point. I hadn’t hit the wall, so to speak, but I was hurting. My uncle kept giving me nuun and Honey Stinger chews, telling me funny stories to keep my mind off the pain. He tried navigating me to more even parts of the street, but they were hard to find. This stretch of the race blurs together for me, but I remember hitting the Mile 20 marker and feeling an insane sense of achievement.

We saw a lot of people stopping to walk, and I knew more than anything I did not want that to be me. My big goal going into this race was to run the whole thing, no matter what. If my uncle hadn’t been there, I am not sure I would have achieved that goal when I got to mile 21 and realized I still had a good 45-55 minutes of running left.

The days leading up to the race, I had been texting my uncle about how nervous I was. He responded, “You’ll have fun, damn it!” That thought stuck with me, and when we hit Mile 22, he said, “Are you having fun?” and I said, “Yes, damn it!” This little joke kept my spirits up, especially since I knew that he’d have to stop running with me soon and I would be on my own for the last three miles.

Miles 23-26.2 

My uncle had to stop running with me right before we turned on to JTB Boulevard, the last three miles of the course that would take us up and over a big bridge at mile 25. For months, I’ve been worried about that bridge – it’s steep for Florida standards and, let’s be real, any incline change at the 25th mile of a marathon, especially your first, is not exactly welcomed.

One thing I must have overlooked, though, was the winding on-ramp we had to climb to get on to JTB. Now, my legs screamed out as I returned to uneven terrain. That ramp almost broke me, but I refused to let it. I had come so far, I had run further than I had in my life, and a measly three miles stood between my goal and me. I replayed these thoughts over and over as I climbed that seemingly endless on-ramp.

Unfortunately, this part of the course is where running marathoners catch up to the half marathon walkers, which can be extremely frustrating for both parties. I did not have the energy to be polite and ask walkers to move to the right or left, and I’m sure I spooked a good number of walkers as I closely passed them. Also, the fact that so many people run the marathon relay can also take a toll on your confidence – it’s a bit disconcerting to see people blowing past you at mile 24 on fresh legs.

My brother’s girlfriend was volunteering at the water station right before the incline of the bridge and she ran a little bit with me, handing me an extra cup of water that I desperately wanted. She promised I was only about 1.5 miles from the finish, and I told her, “Good, because this freaking hurts.”

I made my way up that dreaded bridge, but I took time to look around as I climbed up to the summit. The bright blue skies and pretty marshland helped take my mind off the pain in my legs, and the next thing I knew, I had reached Mile 25 and the extremely loud Bridge Brigade cheer station.

Not too much further now…

CROSSING THE FINISH LINE

I came off the ramp after the bridge and thought, “Where is Mile 26?! Where is it?!” I wanted to see that I had made it to the final mile. As so many first-time marathoners think, I was not sure I would actually finish this thing until I could see the final marker and the finish line. I just needed it to come into view before I could let myself believe that I would be a marathoner.

Slowly, finally, that final pink banner came into sight and I threw up my hands. YES! Anyone who runs with me knows that I joke about being the Princess and the Pea when it comes to running – if anything, no matter how small, is bothering me, I am not happy. For some reason, my poor hat and headband became a victim of this… I ripped them off my head. I don’t know why, but these two items that I run with all the time were annoying the hell out of me and I just needed them gone. Luckily, right after that, I spotted my family. I tossed my hat on the ground near them and then did a really ugly half-cry, half-smile in their direction. When I passed my mom, she threw confetti up in the air – I can’t even tell you how much more real that all made it seem. My boyfriend and cousins jumped in with me, and ran a few feet, cheering me on and telling me to “run faster, run faster!” They stopped to let me finish by myself, but I could still hear them cheering.

When I crossed the final timing mat, I stopped running and my body immediately tightened. Everything that was hurting during the race hit me 10x harder once I stopped moving. Struggling to walk, my mind was set on one thing: Where is my damn medal?! I wanted that bling around my neck immediately. A few steps later, a volunteer handed me a space blanket, and I haphazardly wrapped it around my shaking body as I kept my eyes peeled for the person who would drape that beloved medal around my neck. Finally, I neared the amazing volunteers handing out the medals – I could barely bend down to allow the young kid to place the medal around my neck, and I think I burst into tears as soon as I looked down to see the symbol of my accomplishment.

I took a few more steps, and before I knew what was happening, two medics were at my side helping me over to the medical tent. All I wanted to do was find my family, but the medics were intent on working on my hip. Apparently the way I was collapsing when trying to walk on my left leg had caught the main medic’s eye from across the way, and he was adamant about taking care of me so I “could keep running for a long time.”

Not exactly the post-marathon photos I envisioned, but they'll have to do.

Not exactly the post-marathon photos I envisioned, but they’ll have to do.

After about 10 minutes, the medics said I was okay to go meet my family. I hobbled over to them, hugged my mom, and collapsed on the ground. My mom helped me into sweats so that I would warm up and stop shaking, and I began freaking out about how I’d make it to a shuttle and then back to my mom’s car which was at least a 15-minute bus ride away. Apparently, my boyfriend and brothers had ignored everything I’d said about the spectator shuttles and had no problems driving along the course or finding parking anywhere, including across the street from the finish line.

AFTERMATH

The 26.2 with Donna is known for its post-race party complete with a pink champagne toast and soup from Panera. Due to the severe pain in my leg, I opted to skip out on the party in favor of my warm car and getting home. Next year, I think I’ll run the half marathon and take full advantage of that party to make up for missing it this year.

My boyfriend and brother basically carried me to the car, and I made them blast the heat while I checked all the amazing messages I received via texts, Twitter, and Facebook. I spent the rest of the day sleeping on the couch and stretching.

Saying goodbye to my family before heading back home to Tampa, my grandmother told me how proud of me she was. My grandfather said he was even prouder. My mom got teary-eyed, knowing how hard I had worked to achieve my goal. My little brothers congratulated me again. Texts continued to come in from my uncles and aunt. My boyfriend kissed my forehead and said, “You know what? You came in 15 minutes faster than I thought you would, and I thought that time was fast. You’re a badass.” As hard as I can be on myself, seeing the pride my family felt for me is something I will never forget. I only hope they all know how much strength I drew from them during the marathon.

I did it. I’m officially a marathoner. And, I could not have chosen a more incredible race to be my first.

26.2 with Donna Medal

26.2 with Donna Medal

Chip Time: 4:12:28 (I am so happy with this time, and not just because 4/12 is my birthday or 412 is my lucky number, although those facts don’t hurt).

Marathon Training: Peak Week

It’s about time for an update. Right after my first, amazing 20 mile run, I came down with a sinus infection and bronchitis. My doctor asked me to cool it on the running, suggesting I take a full week off. With only 7 weeks til race day at that point, I completely panicked. I began emailing and calling all my running friends, asking for advice on how to mentally and physically handle this break in my training. Everyone said I’d be okay, that I could still get to the start line of my first marathon.

My first runs back after being sick were terrible. I did not feel 100%, and knew I’d lost a bit of my fitness. That week, I went out for my second 20 miler and it was the opposite of my first one – I felt sluggish, tired, and in pain. But, I finished the run, and tried to focus on the positives: that I could run again, and that I pushed through yet another tough long run.

The next weekend, I ran a local half marathon on a challenging course to test my fitness level. With the exception of one sub-par mile, I stuck to my goal pace the whole time and even managed to squeak out 3rd place in my age group.

I went into my peak week of training feeling confident and knocked out some quality runs, including a 10-miler and 6 miles of speed work.

Yesterday, I ran 22 miles. By far a PDR (personal distance record) and one of the toughest things I’ve ever done. Early in the week, I emailed my friend Mary to see if she wanted to head to Clearwater to run part of my route with me. After some quality peer pressure on Mary’s part, I decided to drive to Tampa early Saturday morning so that we could run on Bayshore Blvd. as the city prepared for the Gasparilla Pirate Festival happening later that day.

At around 6 AM, I took off by myself for the first part of my run – a nice, quiet 8 miles along Bayshore, where I nodded silently to other runners and took in a beautiful sunrise over the water.

Sunrise on Bayshore Blvd.

Sunrise on Bayshore Blvd.

As my Garmin beeped for my 8th mile, I turned the corner onto Mary’s street and picked her up for the next portion of the run. We headed out to Davis Islands for a big loop, through the stunning neighborhoods filled with gorgeous homes. There are so many houses on that island that blow me away, it’s easy to get distracted from any sort of pain one might be feeling during a 22-mile run… We chatted the whole time, and it was nice to catch up with Mary.

After our loop around the island, we swung back by Mary’s house to pick up her husband, Marcus. He wanted to join us for about 5 miles so he could take in all the sights along Bayshore Blvd, with crews setting up booths and people already arriving to stake claim as close to the front of the parade route as possible. We decided we loved being able to run on the wide road rather than the sidewalk, as it made for a different experience and gave us plenty of people-watching opportunities.

At this point, my mileage was well over 15, and I was starting to feel it – my legs were aching and I could tell I hadn’t taken in enough water, especially with the sun starting to beat down on us. Luckily, Marcus is an excellent entertainer – he told me lots of pirate jokes and funny stories to keep my mind off of running. Mary was also doing a great job motivating me.

We dropped Marcus off, and I continued running around the block while Mary went to grab our next running buddy – her adorable pup, Winnie, who I just love! I was really excited to have Winnie join us for those last two miles as I really needed a distraction. During mile 19, I kept thinking, oh, I maybe I should just call it – 20 miles is good enough, but I knew I’d feel terrible if I didn’t finish what I had set out to do almost three hours before. With Mary and Winnie at my side, I pushed through those two miles and finished my first ever 22-mile run.

When I finished, my legs immediately began to tighten up and hurt. I could barely hobble my way to my car! Usually, when I”m done running, there are very few people around. This was not the case during Gasparilla! I’m sure everyone thought I had started drinking REALLY early, because I was definitely stumbling around and barely able to talk.

Mary and Marcus were kind enough to let me use their shower and feed me breakfast and show me hilarious YouTube videos while I worked up the strength to move my legs again. For some reason, I had agreed to meet my boyfriend on Davis Islands so that we could go to Gasparilla together, even though all I really wanted to do was take a nap.

I am happy to report that I made it through the whole day, with only a couple episodes of “my legs are going to fall off if we don’t sit down right now” or “if you don’t find me water/food/shade right now, I will kick you.”

The craziness that is the Gasparilla Pirate Festival Parade

The craziness that is the Gasparilla Pirate Festival Parade

With all the walking during Gasparilla, I officially did a marathon yesterday. But, I’m more excited to run a marathon on February 17th. Now, let the taper begin.

Out With The Old, In With The New

Happy New Year’s Eve!

new-years-sparklers

 

This time of year is always filled with goal setting, reflecting, and resolution making. I did pretty well with my 2012 goals, only missing a few that probably weren’t very realistic (seriously, a month without sweets?!).

A lot happened last year. When reflecting on the last 12 months this morning, I realized I:

I think that’s the most productive year I’ve had in a really long time!

Now, I’m thinking about what I hope to accomplish in 2013:

  1. Finish a marathon
  2. Run 12 races throughout the year
  3. PR in the 5K and 10K
  4. Break 1:40 in the half marathon
  5. Complete a trail race
  6. Take swimming lessons
  7. Nail one of the “crazy” yoga poses – arm balance, bird of paradise, etc.
  8. Achieve all of my work goals
  9. Travel to 5 new places
  10. Read 25 books

So, here’s to the last day of 2012 and then it’s on to the next!

My First 20 Mile Run… Ever

Run: Redefine the Impossible

image credit: Pinterest

I did it! I ran 20 miles and, dare I say, felt great the whole time – well, relatively speaking, of course.

I kind of loved it… throughout the whole run, even when it got mentally tough, I loved that my legs were carrying me further than I usually drive in a car.

I loved being out on the road, in a beautiful location that is one of my favorite spots in the whole country, by myself with my thoughts, jamming out to music and taking in the scenery around me.

I loved that I found strength from family, friends, other bloggers, mantras, and myself.

I loved that the weather was on my side today, giving me cooler temperatures and lower humidity than the run that shall not be named.

I loved climbing bridges, running into the raging wind, and knowing I am stronger than I’ve ever been.

I loved that I pushed myself so far out of my comfort zone, that I still can’t believe I actually accomplished this milestone. I keep checking my route to make sure I covered 20 miles and not, like, 12. (Let’s not talk about how much that would suck…)

But, that didn’t happen.

Nope.

I ran 20 miles. I ran 20 miles with a faster average pace than what I did 18 in last weekend (by one second, but I’ll take it!). I ran 20 miles and saw more than a few miles hovering below my goal pace.

It’s hard to believe that I used to cry my way through 6-mile runs, that I hated the 5K distance because it was “too long.” I guess I’ve officially crossed over from 400m/800m runner to long distance runner.

And, I kind of love it.

18 Miles of Confidence-Boosting Awesomeness

My mileage is creeping up, and it seems that I’m hitting new personal distance records regularly. This past weekend, I had 18 miles on my training plan. For some reason, that number has really freaked me out from the beginning of this training cycle.  There’s something about seeing “18 Miles” that has been giving me quite a bit of running anxiety for a couple months now.

Friday, after work, my boyfriend and I drove up to Jacksonville from St. Pete to spend the holiday weekend with my family. I kept getting nervous when I thought about running 18 miles – my stomach started to flutter and my mind wouldn’t stop racing. To help calm my nerves, I used my iPhone to search for blog posts from people recapping their first 18 mile runs. It actually did make me feel better. I love running blogs!

Earlier this week, when planning for the long run, I knew I’d have to get it done very early due to a slew of family birthday parties starting right at 10 AM. A 5 AM wake-up call didn’t sound all that fun, especially after a long, traffic-filled drive the night before.

Also, I wasn’t looking forward to the potentially boring route I’d have to run. My mom’s house is in a very residential area that can make for some dull runs. For long runs, I usually drive to other spots around Jacksonville to get better scenery, but I  couldn’t afford the additional hour of driving to/from a running location this time.

This is when having another long distance runner in the family comes in handy. I asked my uncle if he would be up for getting in a few miles with me on Saturday, and I was surprised when he said he wanted to try to run 14 (his longest run ever!). A quick check on MapMyRun.com showed that his house is exactly 4 miles from mine, so I could run there, pick him up, and complete another 14.

To make the run less mentally daunting, I broke it up into three segments: 4 miles to my uncle’s house, 7 miles out, and 7 miles back.

The first leg of the route went by quickly – I had to keep slowing myself down because I wanted to stay close to 9-minute miles for the first 5 to prevent my famous positive splits.  It was also really, really dark at this point, and I had to focus on not tripping or falling.

Mile 1 – 8:38 (too fast!)

Mile 2 – 8:50

Mile 3 – 9:00

Mile 4 – 9:00

My uncle was waiting outside for me, so we took off quickly. I told him I needed to keep a slower pace for a couple more miles, and he had no problem settling into pace with me. Once we turned out of his neighborhood onto a long straightaway, our pace picked up, and I surprisingly felt great – much better than the 17 miler a couple weeks ago. My uncle and I chatted the whole time, enjoying being the lone “crazy people” out on the road. The sun didn’t start to rise until around the 10 mile mark, which made it feel very peaceful.

Mile 5 – 9:00

Mile 6 – 8:48

Mile 7 – 8:39

Mile 8 – 8:43

Mile 9 – 8:41

Mile 10 – 8:42

Mile 11 – 8:45

We turned around and I told myself, “only 7 miles left!” At this point, I did cut back talking as I tried to fall into a steady rhythm to focus on not hitting a wall. I think the wall is my biggest fear, and I’m also scared of that feeling where your legs tighten up and you just want to stop.

Around Mile 13, I found myself falling into the whole, “Ugh, I still have X miles left to run” mentality. I worked at fighting back those thoughts, and instead kept my attention on not falling too far being my uncle (he was doing a great job of making sure I was drinking water and staying close to my desired pace).

Around Mile 15, little aches began to pop up – my calf, my knee, my quad. Nothing too bad, just little reminders to say, “hey, you’re working hard here.” I never had feelings of wanting to quit, though… I just kept going.

When my watch ticked off Mile 17 signifying one mile left, I don’t know what happened, but I found another gear. I could tell that mile would be my fasted, which gave me strength to keep trucking along and gradually speeding up the whole time.

Mile 12: 8:50

Mile 13: 8:54

Mile 14: 8:54

Mile 15: 8:49

Mile 16: 8:54

Mile 17: 8:53

Mile 18: 8:22 (!)

Mile .2 @ 6:54 pace (!)

I am most proud of that last mile… I hope I can find that strength again come February 17th!

When we stopped running, my legs instantly tightened up. Despite that, I knew I could have kept running if I hadn’t stopped, which gives me confidence for next week’s 20 miler and, ultimately, the marathon.

After a quick bit of refueling at my uncle’s, I rushed home to grab my boyfriend and siblings so we could head to my cousin’s 6th birthday party at Rebounderz, a trampoline gym that involved 90-minutes of jumping. Not exactly the smartest way to recover post-long run, but it was so much fun!

I really needed that run to boost my confidence as I approach peak training time. I’ve got some high-mileage (for me) weeks looming on the horizon, and I’m ready to tackle them.

The Jacksonville Bank Half Marathon, Or Why I Didn’t Stop Smiling for 13.1 Miles

It’s hard to believe, but yesterday I ran my 7th half marathon. Less than 10 months ago, I ran my first. Every 13.1 has a special place in my heart, but yesterday’s is now at the top of my “favorite half marathon” list, which is funny because I didn’t set a new PR, the course wasn’t the prettiest I’ve run, and I could have done without the high humidity.

So, what made the Jacksonville Bank Half Marathon so amazing?

jaxbankhalf_5

My uncle and I crossing the finish line.

These few things:

  1. I got to run my uncle’s first half marathon with him. Early this year, right after my first half marathon, I challenged my uncle to run this race with me. At that time, he didn’t run. The months went by and I kept asking him if he’d signed up yet, and he told me he would soon… was he going to leave me hanging?! Luckily, when I visited my family in early August, he told me not only had he signed up, but he had started training that month. I was so excited! As he kept me updated on his training, I became more and more impressed. He was dedicated and getting quite speedy. Though I was nervous about running with him after suffering an injury a few weeks ago, we decided to still run together and we did just that. He was on my heels the whole race, and I’ve never been happier running 13.1 miles. As we finished, we could hear our whole family cheer, making it even better than it already was.
  2. The Running Circle of Life – I introduced my uncle to the person who got me into running back in high school. One of my closest friends’ older brother was a talented high school cross country runner who embodied everything great about the sport, and his passion for running influenced my friend and me so much that we decided to join the team our freshman year. Even though I wasn’t very good, he inspired me to stick with it all four years, and has been incredibly helpful as I’ve gotten back into it recently. (Also, he dominated the race, running a 1:13:37 and coming in 6th overall in a talented field – unbelievable!).
  3. It’s my hometown race, one that I volunteered at four consecutive years with my high school cross country team. One year, we handed out water to runners as they approached the 24-mile mark and I remember thinking, “Wow. I’ll never be able to do that.” Now, I’m in the middle of training for my first marathon.
  4. I got to see so many familiar faces cheering along the course route, from former teammates to close friends to my family.  Spectators really do make such a difference.
  5. This is a flat, fast course with few turns, a lot of shade, and a track finish. The First Place Sports team executed a well-organized race, as always. Basically, this race is everything the Runner’s World article said it would be (including the extremely humid temperatures at the start, but it wasn’t as bad as last week.)

This picture that my aunt captured really shows how happy I was this whole race:

jaxbankhalf_finish

 

RESULTS:

Final Chip time: 1:51:20

Age Group: 17th Place

Overall: 99th Place (My uncle and I were in the “Top 100″ – yeah!)

San Francisco Half Marathon 2012 Race Recap

On Sunday, I ran the San Francisco Half Marathon 15-Miler. Even though I read numerous race recaps, Aron’s fantastic course preview (bookmark this page and read it if you’re ever doing this race!), and reviewed the official course countless times, I still managed to miss the turn-off for the half marathon finish line and continued running with the full marathoners for almost another mile.

image credit: business wire

The good news is that I was on track to set a new PR in the half marathon despite the challenging, hilly route, which means the changes I made to my training are working. I felt amazing the whole run – in fact, I think I might have conserved too much energy in anticipation of the infamous hills and probably could have pushed myself more earlier in the race.

The bad news is that I still feel like a total schmuck. I keep picturing the course signs in my head, wondering how I could have ended up going the wrong way. Looking back on that final [extra] mile, I don’t know how I missed so many clues that I had ended up on the full marathon route. Clues like:

  • the signs themselves – the course was very clearly marked.
  • the water stop (I even remember thinking, “Weird – why is there a water stop with only about 1200m to go?”).
  • that no one else was noticeably picking up the pace.
  • that it felt like the longest mile ever.
  • that everyone else had a different bib color than me.

I’m not sure when it finally clicked that I’d gone too far, but I finally looked at the guys next to me and asked, “This is the full marathon, isn’t it?”  Internally, I kept willing him to shake his head and say, “No! You’re right where you need to be!” but instead his eyes filled with pity as he explained that I had gone the wrong way.

Instantly, I burst into tears as hopes of setting a new personal best in the half marathon slipped away. Slowly, I turned around to make my way back to the course and to the  finish line. When the balloons above the finish came into view, I picked up the pace to cross the line feeling strong. I’d had a great run on a beautiful course, and I wasn’t going to let a little mix up ruin the experience.

As the volunteer hung the medal around my neck, I felt more tears fall down my face. I was upset and angry and disappointed, sure, but I kept trying to remind myself how wonderful the race itself had been. I’d had the privilege of running through some gorgeous scenery along the waterfront, through the Presidio, and over the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, all while pushing myself on a challenging course.

I’ve certainly learned my lesson to pay better attention in split races, and I already have plans to redeem myself by running the second half of the race next year as part of the San Francisco Half It All Challenge.

Evaluating Your Training to Overcome Burn-Out, or, How to Learn From My Mistakes

This year, every time a new month appears on my calendar, I find myself thinking, “How is it already [fill-in-the-blank]?” 2012 is going by quickly, which means that the fall racing season and my upcoming first marathon next winter will be here soon.

I’ve been spending a lot of time reflecting on how my training has been going so far, and thinking about what I need to do in the coming months to make sure I’m ready to toe the line at my “A” race this fall and be healthy for that big 26.2-miler in February 2013.

A few weeks ago, I ran the Lawyers Have Heart 10K here in D.C. I did not have a good race. At all. I was almost three minutes off my PR at that distance, and just two months earlier I ran the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler at a pace that was 40 seconds faster per mile.

After dwelling in negativity about running and myself for a couple of days, I realized I’d suffered my first bout of “burn out.” Packing my spring schedule with race after race (3 half marathons, 1 10-miler, 2 10Ks, and 2 5Ks) finally caught up to me, and on June 9th, I bonked – big time.

The biggest battle I lost that day wasn’t physical, though, it was ALL mental. Excuse after excuse overpowered my thoughts, and it took all my strength not to stop.

I crossed the finish line, but it’s been a long time since I was that happy for a race to end.  That got me down.

I love racing! I love setting out all my gear the night before, I love envisioning my race strategy before falling asleep, I love not being able to sleep because of nerves and excitement, I love  the adrenaline of race morning, I love getting to a start line and seeing how many other people love doing these things, too.

At every race I ran this past spring, I felt those unabashed “true love” emotions. Until the Lawyers Have Heart 10K – I had absolutely no love at that race…

With countless running highs still in my recent memory, I forgot that there are also lows in this sport. It’s how you handle, and eventually overcome, the valleys that makes you a stronger runner at the peaks.

When I realized I’d burned myself out on racing, I ordered a “cease-and-desist” on clicking any “Register Now” buttons. I took time to go through my training log, really reading and evaluating my entries to see exactly when things started straying from smiley faces and sunshine to repeatedly selecting the depressing “alright” icon on DailyMile.

I read some popular running books about proper training, and dove into articles I found online about reversing burn out.

As for training, I cut back my mileage for a few weeks and incorporated more cross-training and scheduled (because I’m really bad about giving my body a break), complete rest days, both of which I plan to keep in my program as I gear up for the fall. My revised program now follows this weekly pattern:

  • One Tempo Run
  • One Day of Speed Work (Track Intervals or Hill Repeats)
  • One Long Run (some with goal pace miles, many without)
  • Two Recovery Runs (one short with drills & strides and one medium-long run)
  • Two Strength Training Workouts (paired with cross-training or recovery days)
  • Two Cross Training Sessions (one is almost always free community yoga at Lululemon)
  • One FULL Rest Day

There’s enough variety to keep me challenged and entertained, which I know I need to stick with any sort of plan. And, now, I understand the importance of flexibility in training. There are days where some workouts haven’t happened, and I’ve accepted that rather than berating myself.

Reviewing my training log also made it clear the areas I needed most improvement so I tried to find “fun” ways to work on them. For me, this included finding local groups I could join for organized track workouts, tempo runs, and bootcamp-like strength training. I always thought of myself as a solo runner, but I noticed a pattern in my logs – every time I ran with a group, I pushed myself harder and ran more consistently. Plus, not ONE of those runs had been designated a “blah” or “alright” run. So, I sought out more ways to run with other people using good-old Google.

Another big change I’m made is that, much to the dismay of my boyfriend who loves waking up before 6 am to cheer for me, I WON’T be signing up for every single race this fall. Right now, I’m aiming for no more than one race per month and a couple of those will be disguised as training runs for the marathon.

Now, I feel like I’m back on track (looks like I picked an appropriate name for my blog…) with my training. I’m excited to see how the changes I’ve made affect my running leading up to the fall racing season because even though it’s only the first week of July, September will be here before we know it.