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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.

I Didn’t Set a Personal Best… And I’m Learning That’s Okay

I’m still getting the hang of this racing thing. My biggest challenge so far is realizing that not every race is going to come with a personal record… and being okay with that.

It’s no secret I’m competitive, more with myself than others. I am Type-A, constantly striving to improve and exceed expectations. This is why running is a great sport for me.

It’s also why running isn’t a great sport for me… sometimes.

When it comes to races, a lot of external factors can have an impact on performance. Even if you’ve trained perfectly, you still might not run your fastest time or win the race (heh, winning a race…). With my personality type, this is hard to grasp.

On Sunday, I ran my third half marathon and fifth race in less than 90 days. Going into the Iron Girl Clearwater Half Marathon, I knew I shouldn’t go for a PR. The course is infamous for being challenging. The forecast predicted heavy rain and strong wind along with higher-than-I’m-used-to temperatures and humidity.

image credit: Meals and Miles

You probably figured out that I did not set a new personal best in Sunday’s Iron Girl. In fact, I finished 3-and-a-half minutes off my PR and ran my slowest half marathon.

A part of me is honestly (and surprisingly) fine with this! My family came to cheer for me and it made me so happy every time I saw them along the course. I had fun running the gorgeous route with stunning views of the gulf, and the steep causeway bridges didn’t kill me. I saw runners faster than me stop to walk the bridges, but I kept powering up them. The storm held off until I crossed the finish line (literally, the second I stopped my watch it started to pour). At the end, I received a sparkly, beach-themed medal that makes an awesome addition to my collection. Overall, I finished in the Top 5 for my age group and 32nd out of 1500 finishers.

All said, I should be thrilled with Sunday’s performance.

But, it’s hard not to get down when I feel like I trained well for this race and still didn’t run my best time. As I lined up at the start, I felt strong. I put in more miles and got in some quality long runs over 15 miles. I focused on hill repeats to prepare for the mountain bridges.  I didn’t go out too fast, though I paced myself right, and never hit a wall.

Yet, that finish time has me questioning my training and, worse, my abilities.

Did I push myself to my limit on Sunday? What if I didn’t try hard enough? The race certainly didn’t feel easy, but there were times when I felt like I might be holding back in an attempt to save energy for the bridges. My boyfriend said I was “smiley-er” than in the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler or Disney Princess Half, that I looked “too happy to be running hard.”

So, of course, the past few days have been filled with some seriously ridiculous self-pity and self-doubt:

Did I get too overzealous with my spring racing schedule? Did I not try enough in the race? Did I count myself out because of the weather and difficult course before I even gave myself a chance? Did I push myself too hard or not hard enough in certain workouts? Did I peak too early? Did I give myself too few recovery days? Were the other races just flukes? OMG, am I never going to be fast(ish)?

And, now, it’s time to stop fretting over the race and accept it’s okay NOT to PR, that you can run a great race and still not hit your fastest time. Reading Lisa’s post, 7 Ways to Rid Yourself of Negative Thoughts, helped me get back on track, mentally.

The bottom line is I love running and enjoy the adrenaline rush that comes with racing. Even though I didn’t break any records on Sunday, I still had fun. Until that feeling goes away, I’m going to keep filling up my bank statement with registration fees.

When it comes to racing, there are a lot of unknowns and this is what keeps the sport fun and challenging. As the old saying goes, “If it were easy, everyone would do it.”

Marathon Monday

Today, I will not be writing about public relations or marketing or campaigns or brands. Today, I am writing about running and me.

Like most distance runners, I spent my morning listening to the live broadcast of the Boston Marathon and tracking my friends as they tackled the 26.2 mile journey from Hopkinton to Boylston St. in 80-degree weather. With my love of all-things Boston and running, I’ve always appreciated Marathon Monday. In the past, I’ve passively acknowledged who won the race and smiled at runners sporting offical B.A.A. race gear.

Now that I’ve gone from casual runner to half marathoner, I finally experienced that emotional tug of the Boston Marathon. It’s no longer just another marathon. It has shifted to being the quintessential marathon – the one many runners spend tireless hours training for the competitive qualifying times, let alone the race itself.

For me, Marathon Monday capped off a pretty exciting weekend. To celebrate my birthday, I traveled to New York City with a good girlfriend. On Saturday, we woke up at 6 a.m. (yes, on vacation) for a 16-mile long run. We made our way around all of Central Park, dominated (term used loosely?) Harlem Hill, and worked our way back downtown to Battery Park via the Hudson River Greenway. When I finished the run, my third 16-miler this spring, I was tired but I also felt strong and confident.

Sunday morning, as we strolled through Central Park, we stumbled upon the More/Fitness Women’s Half Marathon and decided to cheer on the runners. As cheesy and embarrassing as this is to admit, I got a little choked up watching these women cross the finish line. I understood their pain, their joy, their accomplishment.

That’s why I love the sport of distance running. There is no such thing as a comfort zone, yet there is nothing quite like the happiness felt after finishing a long race – happiness that you’ve set a new PR or that you ran more than most people will drive that day,or that you had the strength to finish when you didn’t think you would.

Which is why I decided today to give myself a belated 26th birthday gift:

On February 17, 2013, I will be attempting my first marathon in my hometown of Jacksonville, Florida – 26.2 with Donna: The Race to Finish Breast Cancer. I’m nervous and scared, but I know that I’m ready for this next challenge and I’m looking forward to the training process.

Happy Marathon Monday indeed.

How to Win Friends and Influence People [at SXSW]

This past week, I attended the SXSW Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas for the first time. I had the opportunity to assist a large global company host a number of activations on the ground at SXSW which showed me a lot about how brands can break through the noise at such a large conference to leave a lasting impact on consumers. It also taught me a bit about myself and how I can attempt to stay focused on running and training even when there doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day.

Below, you’ll find a couple of insights I gained from my time in Austin (aside from the fact that Austin truly has amazing breakfast tacos and BBQ).

For Brands:

    1. Don’t Be Intrusive: This piece of advice is twofold. First, when meeting someone for the first time, try to establish a relationship before you begin selling. While assisting one of my clients who serves as the Director of Social Media and Digital Communications for a very large company, I often felt like a bodyguard who had to protect her from people spouting out pitches on why their app/product/agency/etc. should be used. Second, if you are a large brand who hopes to capitalize on the buzz surrounding SXSW, do not interrupt attendees’ conference experience with activations that A) don’t make sense or B) don’t tie back to your company or product.
    2. Solve a Problem: One of the best ways to leave potential customers at an event as large as SXSW with positive impressions of your brand is to find a way to solve their problems that reflects back on your product or company. Companies that do both of these things well – solve problems while allowing consumers to have experiences with their products – will come out as winners. At SXSW, I saw a lot of organizations trying to solve users’ problems (with free food or free charging stations), but I honestly can’t remember who was handing out free breakfast tacos on the corner or who had the jacket that could charge mobile devices because there was never a true connection between the company and the freebie
    3. Provide Value: A lot of companies head down to SXSW to build relationships with influential social media users. There are many ways to do this, and a lot of times they involve lots of free products. That’s fine, but try to think creatively about how you can fulfill a need in a thoughtful way. While in Austin, I overheard my clients chatting about how they’d like to meet other in-house social media managers. With their permission, I organized a dinner that brought together social media directors and community managers from several large organizations. This proved to be a big success – the conversation lasted for three hours as everyone discussed ideas, challenges, and successes they’ve seen in their roles. Both the clients and the other attendees were very happy to leave the dinner with several new connections.

For Staffers:

    1. Try to Maintain Parts of Your Normal Routine…: Traveling always throws off my routine. Add in traveling for a massive conference where I’d be working long hours and I knew the only way to maintain some sanity would be to keep some aspects of my regular habits in place. I decided to focus on two things: running in the mornings and getting in as many fruits and veggies as possible. Everything else went out the window: personal social media activities, reading, cross training, strength training, and yoga. Luckily, I made a running buddy who kept me motivated to wake up early and go running in the rain. Trying to keep up with everything I normally do would have been disastrous, but having two tasks to focus on allowed me to stay on track with my training plan and my health while still giving 100% to my work tasks.
    2. … But Be Flexible: Big conferences are notorious for crazy schedules, which can get even crazier if you are working the event. With my OCD tendencies, I often find myself stressing when my normal routine is disrupted. However, before heading to Austin, I prepared myself for this inevitability. Sure enough, last-minute meetings and events and deadlines popped up, causing me to rearrange my personal schedule. The day for my long run changed three times, I switched my rest day twice, and changed the time I woke up daily. And… I survived.
    3. Follow-up: SXSW, at its core, is a networking event. Even if you’re staffing an event and never step foot inside a panel or party, you will be connecting with lots of people from a variety of industries. If you meet anyone who you enjoyed speaking with, be sure to follow-up once the dust from Austin settles. Don’t rely on the business card exchange – I received many business cards that simply got misplaced as I ran from event to event assisting my clients. Now, I’m hoping many of those who I met will reach out via email or on social channels. I recommend following people on Twitter and sending a quick @reply to remind them of your conversation, adding them to specific Twitter lists (I immediately created two new ones), trying to connect on LinkedIn, or sending a quick email with your contact information. Also, in your introductory email, please don’t pitch the person. This is your chance to start a relationship and the fastest way to ruin it is to reach out with the sole purpose of pitching your product, service, or need for a job.

These are just a few takeaways I had after leaving Austin, but there are many others. What do you recommend for both brands, staffers, and attendees heading to large conferences and events such as SXSW? How can they make the most of their experience and leave the largest impact?