Sunday, February 8, 2015

riding a roller coaster with my feet (half marathon #9)

Today I ran what I would say was the hardest race of my life. If you asked me whether my marathon was more difficult, I would hesitate before answering you. I’d probably say yes, but only for two reasons: In the marathon, my knee was really hurting and not braced, and it was twice the distance. But other than a hill (with a landing in the middle) at almost the end of the race it was flat.

When I finished, I did what I knew I shouldn’t. I walked to the grass and plopped myself down on my back. I’d deal with lactic acid build up later. I had to stop. Those sweet race people were so attentive. One wanted to be sure I was okay. I told her, yes, I just needed to stop for a minute. And another came to check too (perhaps I looked pitiful despite a strong finish?). One asked me if I wanted her to go get me a heat sheet for when I started getting cold (they are Mylar “blankets” that insulate). I had refused one because I was so hot, but this time I said “yes, please.” I realized that as hot as we had gotten (60s and sunny now—no real wind, which is not good when you are that hot), it was actually cool out and I would be shivering soon. I was light-headed at the end (that was a new one). My ear had gotten plugged up early in the race and never let up, so my equilibrium seemed, well, unequal. I forced a banana down (and I did take two gels on the course, as well as a bit of Gatorade—and I ate a full big bagel with cream cheese for breakfast, so nutrition was not the cause of being light-headed). My right ear gets plugged up a lot when I run, so I’m thinking I may talk to my doctor about this. I thought it was just sweat, but it’s always the same ear. Anyway, other than that, I was okay. On the first evil (and it was, indeed, evil) hill (mountain!), I realized that unlike my other half marathons. excepting the first, I was going to really feel this tomorrow. Rarely do I feel anything much the day after a half because I stay trained enough, at least with base mileage, that I can usually just go run a half without going through a 12-week training plan. Sometimes my quads or hamstrings are a bit sore, but I recover well. But the muscles we used to run what was, essentially, ten miles of hill repeats (without the slow jog or walk down), are not the same effort we may put on daily muscle use, even in running some hills. And also, running downhill is actually hard because to do it right, you need to exert control, and it’s work. I am not above taking the elevator to my office tomorrow! I didn’t even feel bad physically after my marathon, but I just have this feeling about tomorrow. OW!

Other than that, I decided to write about this mile-by-mile, recapturing some of what was going through my head. I have very few pictures to post this time because that took too much effort. I didn’t even want to deal with it. Staying focused was my only hope. I figured I would steal other people’s pictures. I sort of wish I had gotten one on the killer hill, just to prove how big and steep it was. But it was so big and steep, I couldn’t imagine fiddling for my phone. So this blog is mostly words. Here’s a play-by-play.

Pre-race: Woman behind me tells friend next to her that really the hills probably aren’t that bad, and the first one was likely the worst. She also said they were short. Woman behind me was a liar.

Lying woman in Fleet Feet yellow shirt.

Mile 1: Wow, this was a pretty decent turnout for a first race. This is a very pretty area.

Mile 2: I heard that lady at the start line saying that the first hill was probably the worst. Is that really it? I guess a lot of people don't ever run hills, so it seems steep to them.

Mile 3: Oh my gosh, another hill. Wait, do we have to run up that huge, long one I see ahead?

Mile 4: This is not a hill; this is a mountain. Running at Mt Scott was easier than this. I'm being led up a mountain. I paid to do this.

Mile 5: That was a really long mountain. Look! A turn! Oh, it's still going up. Exactly how high off the ground is the view of the city? How can we run this high up and not come down? Isn’t that, like, a law of physics or something?

Mile 6: The country club; we should hit the halfway mark here. The race director told me that after the halfway mark we would be rewarded with mostly downhill.

Mile 7: I take back every wish I ever had of running golf courses; I hate golf courses. They are roller coasters propelled by feet. It's still hilly. Finally, we’re off the golf course. It should start to be downhill now, right? Oh look, a newspaper was littered on the side of the road, but one page is ripped so we can see a headline. It says, “More women buying guns.” Yes, I think, to shoot race directors. I’m rationing my water. Wait! Is that a mirage, or is that little boy handing out bottles of water? “You are awesome!” I tell him as I take the bottle and let myself down the rest of my first bottle because now I have more than teeny 4 oz. cups they hand out. Little boy saves the race! He should get a mansion in heaven for that. Or something.

Mile 8: Okay, we got up the mountains. But why are we still going upwards, anyway? I saw a mile 9 on my way here this morning. We're almost there. It can't be that bad. But maybe I shouldn't drive home tonight. Maybe I should only drive partway and get a hotel, and drive straight to my class in the morning. I need a bath. A long Epsom salt soaking bubble bath. I don't want to sit in a car for 4 hours first.

Mile 9: Oh. I guess it doesn't start going downhill until mile 10? Mile 9 is uphill too (of course it is). So much for the reward of mostly downhill after the halfway mark. “Liar, liar, pants on fire!” I think channeling my thoughts to the race director. But I'm sure it goes downhill at mile 10, right? I don't think I've ever hurt this much running a race. The marathon was only harder because of the knee injury and the distance. This is the hardest thing I've ever done in a race. This race is about survival, not running.

Mile 10: We're actually going down a little bit. Only with all that uphill running, now I have to control my quads going down, and that’s hard too. No coasting. This still hurts. I think it's always going to hurt. I have inflicted a lifetime of hurt on myself from one race. Also, the sky is falling.

Mile 11: This is the part of a race where I usually take out my camera and post a picture of the mile 11 marker, which means I'm home free. However, the extra effort to take the camera out would be too much. I didn't take a single evidentiary  photo to prove what this race was like. Also, I'm not sure I'm going to think I'm home free until I see mile 13. Hey wait? Where is the marathon winner? The fast marathon runners always run by me between mile 10 and 11. Is it possible that the winner hasn't even come in yet because of the challenging course?

Mile 12: You only have 1.1 miles left, Tyrrell. Hold on. Why does 1.1 miles seem like a whole half marathon? And why are we still going up—again?

Mile 13: They just made us run a block out-of-the-way we seemed to be headed? Do they hate us? Is this race actually a secret plot of revenge for something? And then there's a slight uphill after that? Where is that finish line!? All the people around me seem to be walking now—even with the finish line less than half a mile ahead, lots of them just walk, even though they were not walkers.  Even after they see the finish line. They continue to walk. Muscle atrophy is setting in. I'm still running; if I start walking, I'll just sit down. Must keep running. Must keep running until I cross the finish line. I have no idea how my time is. The mile 4 mountain made me realize time was irrelevant; no one was PRing today. Maybe the marathon winner died. He just ran off the mountain to stop the pain. They had 13.1 more miles of this. How could someone do that without being bionic? That’s it. They were all so exhausted they died. I’ve never run a half in tandem with a full where full winners didn’t come in ahead of me. But I was almost done, and time was irrelevant. The bragging rights in this race were actually running and finishing. I suspected my usual half times, always around 2:30, give or take a few minutes on either side, were way off. I didn’t care at all. I hear people! I see the finish line! I just have to keep my feet moving, leg up, leg down. People are screaming for me! They say I look strong;  “way to finish strong!” Clearly, I mask things well. I've never been so weak at the end of the race.

Mile .1: Oh my gosh! Oh my gosh!  I just have to run until I feel the timing mat under my feet. Am I injured? Do I hurt unusually? No. There's nothing wrong with my body. Except that I've been running up mountains all day. Okay they were paved, but they felt like mountains.

The finish line: What, what? I did that in 2:32:50? (20 of 48 in my age group). For real? Give me that medal now! I'm glad it's so big, because I earned every bit of that giant medal. 

Flopping on the grass: Yes ma'am, I'm all right. I just need to stop for a minute. Yes, please. I would like a heat sheet for when I start shivering in a few minutes.

Post-flopping on the ground: I need someone to take my picture in front of that finish line. I crossed that finish line. I didn't even walk. I'm either crazy or a rockstar. Or dead. Maybe this is an out-of-body experience.

I look so happy. I think it's Runner Delirium.

"This one's got grit," the race tagline says. Um, that's not a strong enough word, but thanks.

 A few final notes:

First, let me issue a disclaimer: I generally run hills well. Rarely a day goes by that I am not going up and down hills. I run hilly routes often. Well, actually now I believe I will call them “slopey” instead. Because now I know what hills are. But wait! You may say. You have run the Kansas City Half Marathon twice, and the first 10 miles are hills. Well, yes, KC is hilly, but compared to Fort Smith, AR, the KC Half is a fun run. Not really, of course, but KC wasn’t hard, even though it was challenging. This was hard. It was the hardest race experience I’ve ever had. It was one where even at mile 12 I wasn’t sure I was home free. I’ve never prayed so much on a course (Shout out to FCA for the stream of Bible verses about strength and running around mile 11). I could not believe how hard it was. But I did it. I really did. I ran the whole way. I can’t even believe I ran the whole way. If I’d have seen that course previously, I’d have probably planned to run intervals. If I’d seen it before I registered, I may not have registered.

Let me issue another disclaimer, as well: The race was very well done. I am quite impressed that this as an inaugural race because it was as well done as many established races I have done. There was a minor glitch with the first one or two water stops, but if you’re going to have a glitch with water, that’s where you want it! The crowd support was fabulous (except on the never-ending golf course which was void of crowds, where I’m pretty sure I was dizzy from the roller coaster hills). I was impressed that so many people took their Sunday morning to cheer us on in a city that has never had a marathon and half marathon. Nice work, Fort Smith. You are good people. Everything was well-organized and professional. The post-race spread was phenomenal. As a race itself, I would recommend it to anyone, but not as a first race and not for one who didn’t do well on hills (and remember, I do pretty well on hills). In fact, I was really hoping it wasn’t a first half or full for some people (unless they planned well and knew the course because they run it locally) because it was so hard it might make them want to reconsider another! But to be fair, the course was billed as challenging and hilly. We knew. Only we didn’t know. Post-race, absolutely everyone I saw and heard and most of the Facebook posts too, say “it was the hardest race I’ve ever run” or something to that effect. I am not a person who runs for a medal, but that huge medal felt so great after that.
One more disclaimer, lest anyone think I am too serious, I don't really think people are liars, but I do sort of question where the RD got it in his head that the second half was downhill.  

EDIT: Results came out. The first place marathoner finished in 3:10. That's the first time I have ever run a half where the winning marathoner didn't pass me. This race was no joke.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

#becausemarathon (tips for first-timers)

A few of my friends will be running their first full marathon soon; one is doing it this weekend. I promised to write up a “what to expect.” This is that blog. These are things I found out about running a marathon. Some people told me, but the biggest effect of all, absolutely no one prepped me for (the one about hormones after the race). I have run exactly one marathon. I am not an expert, but I am fresh enough to remember these things—and to know that other people who maybe don’t know them could benefit from there. There’s a ton of great advice on good websites about running, but not as much where someone runs one and tells you what to expect, so this is that. One person’s view from one day. But what a good day it was.I hope this helps you guys a bit.

Also, my blog account of my marathon is here, if you want a play-by-play.

Before the race

Clothes-Lay all your clothes out the night before. You probably won’t sleep well, and certainly not long enough. Don’t let that psych you out. Study after study shows that does not decrease performance, and that the night before the night before is the one that matters most. If you have a Sunday marathon, Friday night, sleep as long as you can.

Carbs- For a marathon, carb loading is important (it’s not so much for 5Ks or 10Ks, for example). But it’s not just the night before. You should be eating good carbs all week. The night before, have a carb dinner like pasta or rice. Hold the sauces. A bit of olive oil and some seasonings are good, bread on the side. Marinara or Alfredo could cause you to relive the taste for 26.2 miles. A banana and bagel or half a bagel, for breakfast is good. Some don’t like to eat. If you can’t eat much, go with the banana (a good source of energy). Avoid dairy before. Eat your dinner early (like 5) so that you can digest it and get rid of it before the race!

Yes, you have to go- Use the porta-potties as close to start time as you can. Of course they’re gross. Guess what? They are way grosser at mile 18 when lots of people have used them.

New is not cool- Don't try anything new on marathon day. Don’t wear new socks, or anything that touches your skin (a sweatshirt to throw off later because it's cool is okay, but not the bra and shirt underneath). And especially do not try new foods. This is not the time to eat that awesome dessert you always wanted to try. Eat it for a post-race victory celebration. Also, it should go without saying, but don’t drink the night before.

Aquaphor is your BFF- Before you put your socks on, rub all of your feet with Aquaphor, which is even better than Vaseline. Try this before race day (nothing new). It feels weird for a few minutes, but it will help prevent some blisters. Also use it where your bra rubs, if you're female; if you have chafed a lot in the past, use it wherever that chafing has been. While I'm at it, if you have had any issues in long runs (I had a sore knee and  knew it wasn't an injury but the strain), don't be afraid to wear a compression brace (that you have tried before). I only had pain on long runs, so I didn't think to wear mine. I regretted that.

The expo- Don't walk around too much at the expo. You need that energy in your legs. Starting a marathon with tired muscles is bad. If you travel to race, don’t do sightseeing until after the race. The walking will take its toll. 

Water and nutrition

Nutrition during the race-
Consider carrying your own water and gels. Also, consider carrying a little packet of Advil. You shouldn't take it right at the start, but it will help you with your recovery if you take it about an hour before you get to the finish line; it will kick in around when you finish, and the long walk back to the car will be a bit better.

Take gels and other energy sources before you feel the need for them. I was amazed when I watched the Boston Marathon one year, and I saw all the elite runners take their first nutrition at the 10K mark and then every 5K after that for the race duration. You know they didn't feel like they needed it, but they wanted to keep their body running strong. Of course they run much faster than us mere mortals, but it's not a bad rule of thumb to follow. If your stomach is used to gels, taking one every hour or so is a good idea. If you’re offered a banana at a stop, take it. The marathon will most likely not have a gel or food for you every hour; most have two gel spots, or even one. You don't want to lose precious time if the gel line is crowded or the water line is crowded. This is very typical in large marathons. You either have to stop, or go without.

I generally carry a very light and easy collapsible water bottle in distance races (though a hydration belt can work) and when I can reach the water stops where I can get water without losing time, I pour the water directly into the bottle to replenish it; it’s much easier to drink from than those mini cups, too. The bottle clips onto my running belt whenever I want to empty it, so I clip it at the end, so I can still run through with my hands in the air :-)

More nutrition during the race- Whatever nutrition you think you need, bring it along. If you do handle gels well (which you should have figured out before your marathon), they are the simplest way to get a pretty fast burst of carbohydrates and caffeine. (There are caffeine-free ones if that bothers you, but caffeine has been shown to improve performance—legally!). They take about 15 minutes to really work, which is why you have to take them before you start feeling like you're crashing. (I like the "Just Plain" GUs because there is no sweet flavor that might make me feel I am inhaling sugar. I just take the gel and wash it down with water, no weird after tastes or flavors.)

Why nutrition will make or break you- The human body is only designed to go about 20 miles. That's why the marathon is such an important event than only .05% of Americans have completed. My coach had told me before mine that in the past decades, the reason so many runners hit the wall at mile 20 is because we didn't know then what we know now about nutrition. We burn about 100 calories a mile, and our bodies store about 2000 calories at a time. Therefore, your glycogen stores run out at mile 20, if you don't fill them up as you go—before they run out—you will “hit the wall.” It's basic physiology, and unless you're an elite marathoner or one who knows all of your limits for 26.2, follow science. It works. Marathon day is not the time to experiment with such a crucial thing.

During the race

Take a few pictures (or more)- It’s worth it. Carry your phone in a bag where you can get to it. I wear an Amphipod belt (you can buy one at the expo if you end up without  a belt, but run a bit in it to be sure it's adjusted right. I can clip Fuel Belt water bottles on it, and stick gels and Advil (and even a caffeine pill) in it. And my phone fits nicely. So it’s a matter of pulling it out and shooting a picture. I am rather picture happy and so I did what I do for most half marathons or long races. Every mile I took a picture of the mile marker and then a selfie. It’s dorky but cool. A couple pictures, my selfies were with Brian and Melissa or Eldon (my other friend—who was already my friend before the race).  Take some. But that leads me to the battery question. For mine, I bought a battery extender (it’s for sale for an iPhone 5 or 5s, by the way! It doesn’t fit my 6.) They are pricey, but I bought one that had some discount. It wasn’t the best on the market, but it was a wireless charger, and it worked. I finished the marathon with power left. My Garmin died before my phone.  (They retail around $100 or more, but I got mine for about half that. Ask around in your cell phone store; they can often give you a discount too). Totally worth it. It’s one memory, one day. You can’t ever have a first marathon again. Take advantage of every moment.

Don’t go out too fast- The excitement overtakes you in these moments. You start running, you think “Wow, I feel good!” You pass the half mark and think you feel better than you did when you ran all your half marathons, so you pick it up. And then at mile 18, you find yourself walking where you didn’t plan to. Part of the challenge of a marathon is being able to carry your endurance the whole way. If you have a Garmin or other GPS device, watch your pace. It shouldn’t be much faster than you expect. You should know your expected finish time. If you get to mile 20 and can push more, great. If you are taking in food and drink well enough, you should have energy to make it. It is better to push less and finish than too push too hard and have to sit down because you feel sick.

Enjoy the process- Don't get hung up in how hard it is, or how bad you feel. It is hard, and it will be uncomfortable. Keep the determination in your mind, trust your training, and every once in a while tell yourself, “I'm running a marathon. I'm really running a marathon!” One of the most surprising parts of my marathon was when we got to mile 20, where people are known to hit the wall and think they can’t make it, I got a second wind and a runner’s high because I knew I was at that pivotal mark in the marathon, and I was still going. Do not think about how far you have to go. It's easy at mile 20, for example, to think, “oh my gosh! I have to run a full 10K more and I’m so tired, and my back hurts, and there’s a hill ahead.” You’ll think of 10Ks you've run in the past and how long they were. Don't do that! Focus, instead, on thinking “Oh my gosh! I’ve run 20 miles! I’m still going!” If you showed up to the starting line of a marathon, you most likely have done the training. Your body is ready, and the saying is actually true, it's your mind you have to work on.

About the pain and difficulty- Listen, it may be very painful, or it may not. My back hurt some as I got into the 15-16 mile range, and my knee was definitely hurting because I hadn't braced it, but I didn't feel any incredible pains anywhere. I never had to stop. You feet will probably hurt. Think about it, if you walk around shopping for a few hours, your feet and back probably hurt some. The constant repetition on your feet will hurt. You will adjust your footfall to try to get relief. It may even make you want to stop and walk. The thing is, every time I thought that, I realized that would extend the time on my feet. No.

Some people say you shouldn't walk down the stairs because you feel like you're dying, that going up is easier, but avoid stairs altogether. That didn't happen to me at all. I got up the next day and ran a mile. My body ached some, but not horribly. I never went through any horrible pains or strains. For a couple days I felt it, but honestly, I hurt more after my first half marathon than my marathon. Of course, your results may vary, but don't imagine the worst because it might not happen. Plan for it, plan to pamper yourself if you need it, but don’t imagine that it’s the worst and you will be in pain for a week. Some people say the marathon is the hardest thing they have ever done. I can’t say that. It was not easy, by any means. I could not go out and do one today, but I have done harder things. This was less hard because it was so joyful. But honestly, if you are trained, your body is ready for it. Barring injury mid-race, expect the best. The worst for me it was definitely the emotional ups and downs from the messed up hormones and cells.

Focus on the finish- Imagine the moment that you're going to cross the finish line, and even at the beginning, you're only hours away from that moment. Another common saying with the marathon is that you've already done the work and the 26.2 miles is the celebration of that. This is true, too.

In your first marathon, time does not matter. Finishing matters. Don't focus on the time or you might over-pace yourself and run out of energy.

I only had one person at my marathon cheering me on because I went out of state. But that person (Joyce, amazing Joyce) mapped out a route where she could drive to various points, and she managed to appear out of the blue at least four times and still get to the finish line to see me cross.  She would jump out with a new sign when I didn't know she would be there, and my face lit up. That helps so much. You need people there. And if there's any way they can appear at various points and map out what roads are opened and closed to be able to drive to the next one, plan that out. You need people before you get to the finish line to help you get to the finish line. If you don't have people, and you are running a large marathon, the fans will be the most incredible thing you've ever seen and will help. They'll randomly call out your name if it's on your bib, cheer you on, scream for you and act like you're the greatest celebrity in the world. They're amazing.

Other runners- Inevitably you will see some of the same runners over and over because you are at about the same pace. I met my friends Brian and Melissa that way. We ran 26.2 miles together—and much of it was together. We talked a lot. Talk to people. 4-6 hours or so is a very long time to be alone doing something hard. You will miss out on some of the joy of the race if you don’t talk to people—whether it’s the same people like I did, or just a few different people you see. Ask them stuff: What do they do? Is this their first marathon? Where do they live? Have a conversation. A few miles of my race were blurs because I was walking and running. Remember, you’re not trying to break speed records in a marathon if you are not competitive. For most, a marathon pace is also one where you can talk easily. Do it.
After the race

Expect your hormones to go wacky- I don't know that it happens to everyone, but I do know it’s common, especially for first-time marathoners. I was stunned at what my body and mind were doing afterwards. A Facebook friend of mine who is an ultra-marathoner or told me that it was normal and that your cells and hormones go out of whack in a marathon because of the stress on the body, that you cause trauma to the body. For a first marathon, it would be better to expect this to happen and just be thankful if it doesn't. It really messed with me.  For three solid days after I got home, I was nauseated and as emotional as pregnant women say they are. I would be amazingly high one moment that I had done this awesome thing, and then suddenly I would start crying. It was insane. I felt a bit insane. It tapered off after three days and was only here and there. By the end of the week that part was back to normal.

Until you feel normal again, do not make any major decisions, or put yourself in a place where you might have to be part of something major. Three days later you might feel differently. Let yourself stabilize first.

To help your body settle, have Gatorade type drinks on hand at home And start drinking it after the race as well) to help neutralize and re-balance your system. Coconut water will help, if you prefer that. So will ginger ale. Also, you should probably take some extra doses of vitamin C and vitamin D--even before the race. I got a cold almost immediately after coming home, and I expect that part of it came from my physical weaknesses.

Sleep- I am a chronic insomniac, and I could not stay awake past 10 or so the many days after (again, cellular trauma need recovery). Plan out time to sleep, and possibly even expect to be in bed reading and--bam!--the next thing you know it's morning! I liked this side effect because I do have trouble sleeping, but was also was odd and threw me.

Buy the pictures- I don’t care how expensive they are. Buy them. Relive your moments. Frame some, put them on Facebook. You worked months for this moment. You just became part of an incredibly small group called “marathoners.” It’s a big deal.

Other people- Lots of people think every race is a marathon. They don’t get what you have been doing, how many runs you did in bad weather, or feeling yucky, how many Saturday mornings you missed lounging around, all so you could beat your body into the right training to endure one of the ultimate tests of endurance. Remind yourself that non-runners don’t usually get it. Don’t let yourself be hurt (so in those first three days or so while you are all emotional, if someone says, “oh, cool, but is it really that hard?” then bite your tongue and respond to them Friday. And tell me! I absolutely love hearing people’s race stories. I care about all those little details that even your family doesn’t get. If you are not a part of the Facebook group called Runner’s Corner, join it. It’s so positive and encouraging. That group celebrated my many pictures, race recap, etc. I had something pretty rotten happen after my race, and that FB group kept me going with joy over it the race. It’s vitally important to surround yourself with those types of people, even online. (Plus I have made some actual real life friends from that group when I have met them at races.)

Sign up for a race- When you get back, sign up for another race right away (though the race won’t be right away), even if it’s a 5K (give yourself 2-4 weeks before you race again, and most would say 3-4, but of course I did a race the next week because I’m a dork! I was slower than normal but won first in my age group!) If you don’t have a race to work on, even slowly, you can easily get caught up in recovery, having our time back, and getting out of the running groove.

About recovery time- There is a lot of information online. Read it, but listen to your body. It actually helps your recovery if you run a slow mile or two the next day. I know some people who don’t run at all for two weeks. If your body says that, then listen. But if you feel great three days later and want to run, then run. If the run starts hurting or feeling too strained, then walk. No two people are alike; therefore, no one can tell you exactly how long you need to recover. You must listen to your body.

Buy it- That 26.2 sticker or magnet. You earned it if you finished. It’s an unwritten rule of running that you never put those on your car if you didn’t do it. It is like a secret handshake. When I see one, it makes me smile at the car (even f it cut me off!) and smile at the memories of mine.

Finally- I voice dictated a lot of this as I was driving just so I would have my thoughts to edit later, and I still get teary-eyed as I'm saying it. When I think of some of the things like crossing the finish line or the surprise euphoria at mile 20, or seeing Joyce  jump out of the blue, I really don't remember the pain or where it hurt or any of that. I only remember the victory. I have never had a child, but it does sound the way the people describe childbirth, although I'm quite sure that the pain of childbirth is much worse.

Also, wear your finisher shirt a lot because you will feel like a rock star. #becausemarathon

Savor the moments of the marathon so you can savor the memory

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Lessons learned in 365 days straight of running

On Tuesday of this week (Oct. 28, 2014), I ran for the 365th day in a row. In that year, I've learned many things; here are a few:

We make time for what we care about

In the past year there have been days I was sick, tired, busy from dawn ’til dusk, traveling, grieving, aching. I had many excuses not to run, and I didn’t use any of them. I have always said that people do exactly what they want to do. If it matters to us, we make it happen nine times out of ten. Almost always (of course there are exceptions), we can accomplish whatever we want to happen in a given time period. The “I’m too busy” excuse usually just means “I choose to be busier with this than that.” In a year of running daily, this is something I learned well. There was the morning I was flying to Boston. I knew I would be in the air and traveling all day. I ran a mile. Just one. It took me 11 minutes. If we’re too busy to squeeze 11 minutes out of a day, we’re probably just too busy, period. There will always be an excuse not to run, but I figured out I had to switch that to find excuses to run. People will help you justify the excuses not to run, also. No one would have faulted me for a few rest days, but I wasn't doing it for anyone else. In the end, the choice is yours. I made my choice because it mattered to me more than the excuses.

I’m stronger than I think

I’ve run every single day. Some days it was over 100 degrees when I ran. Once it was minus 4. One time I ran at midnight for exactly one mile to get that day's in because I needed to sleep in and rest some the next morning and I had a race the morning after that, so I didn't want to run the evening before. I have run in snow that was several inches deep (we don’t plow much ‘round here). I’ve run in the heat of day (it should be noted here that I don’t think it’s possible to hate heat more than I do; I could move to Canada tomorrow and never look back!).  I’ve been chased by dogs (the only favorite in my phone is “Animal Control.”) I’ve been injured a couple times. I’ve been sick. Probably the bout of bronchitis was the most annoying. I’ve gone through marathon training. I’ve run on ice with ice grippers. I’ve run when I was depressed, dumped, rejected, hurt, overjoyed, too busy, angry (I run best when I'm angry!). I have found that I can run through anything, even the things that make me miserable. I am strong. When I think about how I ran every single day up to running the marathon, and then the morning after running 26.2 miles I went out and ran, I think either I’m amazing or I’m crazy! (I also have very little soreness after races now; this is a wonderful byproduct. Even after my marathon I felt really decent and hurt only for a day or so).

I can run through anything

Both literally and metaphorically, this is one of the most important lessons I learned. In that year I was “double dumped," less than a year apart. I was attacked by someone, which later proved to be nothing, but which put immense stress on me (people  mired in their own pain project sometimes). I have had fights with people I loved. I have fought to want to get up in the morning. I have had insomnia, colds, even a pulled back muscle and dislodged rib). I have been pushed to stress levels that made me want to scream—and later want to go crawl under the covers to make the world stop until things settled. You know, like life. This is life. The worst days were the days I was most determined to run. In fact, I found out I do my best running angry. Somehow it feels just to channel such pain and anger into the road that way. Ultimately, I ran harder and better on the bad days because I couldn’t let someone else or something else be my catalyst to not running after a streak. That's how I stopped the first time, years ago. And I always, always regretted it. Every person I saw running triggered a pang of regret in me. When I stop the running streak, it will not be the result of letting someone get to me or feeling bad. Barring any injury that makes it impossible physically to run, when I stop the streak, it will be on a good day, when I make the choice because it’s time to stop. But that leads me to another thing I learned:

It’s not inherently unhealthy to run 7 days a week (or, "know your body")

I actually asked a former health and fitness coach of mine, who is a genuine fitness professional with education, training and experience, before I committed to a long term streak. I wanted to run a long time, long term, not just prove I could do it every day. She pointed out to me that it was more about mileage than it was about running every day. I went from 20 miles a week to, eventually, about 25 with the streaking. I still hover around there. In marathon training there were some 30 and up to 40 mile weeks, and sometimes I still get close to or at about 30. But the fact is, I don’t run heavy mileage. There are people who run twice as many miles as I do but only 4-5 times a week, who are probably at greater risk of injury than I (and a lot of them do not get injured). Injury can happen anyway. But to say it’s automatically unhealthy to run 7 days a week is false. Most people probably feel better mentally if they rest. Some have lifestyles than really only allow serious training a few days a week. There’s nothing at all wrong with that. But there’s also nothing wrong with running 7 days a week if you are feeling okay and your body does well. I have always been a believer in the “you know your own body best” philosophy of running, and the streak has convinced me of that more than ever. All the runner rules are rules of thumb, generalities, and good ones, but general ones. We have to learn what our body can and can't do. I find that if my muscles feel strained, I can take a break in the sense of running in the morning one day and not until the evening the next, and that does wonders for me and lets me run daily. To be honest, I rarely need to do that. In fact, even a problem I have had with my knee wasn’t caused by the days I run but by a natural hyper-extension I have exacerbated by long runs, not frequency of them—which I have managed to correct pretty well—all while running. I worried that maybe daily training would hurt my times, but I decided to write down my races in that year, and also any notable successes with them. Here is my list (I may be leaving one off, but I think this is a complete list):


10K- November 28-Fort Worth (PR at the time, with bronchitis)
5K- December 15- Lawton (PR at the time)
5K- December 25- Fort Worth (PR, 3rd in age group)


10K- January 18- Wichita Falls, TX (1st overall female masters)
12K- March 1- Wichita Falls, TX
4M- March 15- Kansas City, MO (PR)
10K March 29- Fort Worth (PR)
Half Marathon- April 5- Fairview, TX (PR)
10K- April 19- Bethany, OK
Half Marathon- April 27, Oklahoma City
5K- May 17- Gadsden, AL (PR, 3rd in age group)
Full Marathon- June 21- Duluth, MN
5K- June 28- Duncan, OK (3rd in age group)
15K- July 13- Dallas, TX
5K- August 2, Bozeman, MT
Quarter Marathon- October 5- Lawton, OK (PR)
Half Marathon- October 18- Kansas City, MO

As you can see, I continued to PR—and though it’s less now, I believe that has more to do with the fact I had not been running a full year when I started and was still learning and getting faster in general, which always tapers a bit. But the fact that I had a serious PR on a 6.55 mile race almost a year into streaking tells me it’s not hurting me. See, I am not a competitive runner. My miles under 10 minutes are rare, usually reserved for short runs in cold weather and maybe 5Ks (PR is 28:05 and that shocked me it was such a record; it was on day 201 of my streak, too--I remember because I thought of stopping at 200 and then I had a race on 201!). Perhaps if I were a serious competitor, I would more dramatically change how I train. But the advantage to being me, I think, is that I get to experiment, have fun, run for the joy of running.

Joy can come even in redundancy and routine

This may be one of the biggest lessons for me. I love adventure, travel, change. I love new things, even though I readily admit I like my comfort zone (if that makes sense). But I do the same thing every single day. And while some days are not good, just when I wonder if maybe I don’t love running as much, I have one of those runs that reminds me of why I fell in love with this sport; my mouth breaks into a giant dorky grin, and I become a lovesick runner girl all over again. Even on bad days, I can’t say I have once regretted a run. I am so grateful I can. There is a pin I see on Pinterest sometimes that says something like “there will come a day when I cannot run; today is not that day.” I think of this often. When tomorrow becomes that day, I don’t want to look back and wish I had run more. I want to say I ran every chance I got. And maybe that’s the best gift a running streak can give: gratitude that my body can do this.

Even bad runs help me run better and stronger

This is a life metaphor, too. There were days I would run slowly and sluggishly. I could go from a 10 minute mile one day to a 12 or 13 minute mile—which is close to where I was a few months into running. I would feel like I did something wrong, was losing my ability to run. And then, bam!, once again I would fly down the road quickly (for me; it’s all relative). By continuing to run, even on bad run days, I was still building my endurance, strengthening my body, training my mind and body. Those days count, even when they feel like they don’t. Just like in life.

As I finish this post, I think of what got me running in the first place. It’s been almost two years since I walked into that storefront gym and got on the treadmill, determined to both lose weight and learn to run again as I had years ago. Today on my Timehop app, this picture appeared from two years ago today when I had my final fitting for a bridesmaid dress for the wedding of one of my dearest friends. It was after that wedding I came home, fed up with being overweight and unhealthy.

Two years ago Oct. 30, 2012

Oct. 28, 2014 (day 365 of my running streak)

That leads me to another thing I learned:

Change is a choice

Weight doesn’t fall off overnight; health doesn’t come overnight. But it can happen if you stick to it. When I went into that gym, I knew I was at the end of my rope with it and was ready to change.

I'll end this post here. Surely there are more lessons I've learned, but these are the major ones; most other lessons are subplots of these chapters. This Saturday I'll be in Plano, TX for a 10K. And I'll be wearing a tutu again, to remember the fight, the struggle to overcome myself. Maybe when that battle is done and won, I won’t want running tutus. Or maybe I will because they will continue to symbolize the victory.

Every day when I get up and run, I win a bit more. So do you. Whether you run 7 days a week or just a few, just keep running.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

like dancing again

Today I ran for the first time in a long time. 

“But wait, Suz!” you say. “You run every day. Isn’t today like day 300-someyhing of your running streak?” (313 to be exact.)

I do and it is. But then there are runs that makes you feel alive, like a runner, not like you exercised, but like you ran. And today I had one of those for the first time since June. Today I felt alive, free, me. Today I felt like there was hope again. Running is the most important thing I do, and when my running is affected, all of me is affected. Today the weather taught me a lesson. 

In the midst of this awesome day I'm pondering something deep. Today has been the best day I have had since the marathon. It might be noted, this has been the coolest day I've had since the marathon as well. I don’t believe that’s a coincidence. But it also poses difficult questions.

If I am that deeply affected by weather, does this mean I am going to have to move somewhere one day where 80 degrees in an anomaly? Many people suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). It’s real, chemical, and can be very serious for some. Therefore, I say this with seriousness as well. No humor intended: I feel like I suffer from Summer Affective Disorder. I am not the same in summer. Heat does to me what lack of sunlight does to people. But this year I have seen it at a whole new level.

Yesterday was miserably hot, as usual. I knew today we wouldn’t even hit 80, that I had two days of running in 60ish degrees before we got hot again for half of next week. But it was hard to imagine last night that I would wake up and it would be lovely. But it was. I woke up and switched on my weather app just to be sure. There was the blessed number 6. I went to the door to feel it. It was real. I was beaming like a happy kid. The thing is, I never wake up well. I am not a morning person at all. I need a solid hour alone to be functional. There I was beaming and happy. 

I promptly lay there for hours, reading, writing, doing whatever I wanted. Today my run was at my will, not the sky’s. I went out after 12 p.m. An afternoon run! My joy! Now that I know which half I have coming, I know what my schedule should be. I needed about 7 miles today—which is so hard for me to do in heat. It’s not that I can’t so much as I stumble out half asleep and miserable and trudge through these crazy high miles because I can’t run fast in it. I get that that’s physiological. Science tells us for every 5 degrees past 65, our bodies slow (same with 30 degrees or less). But you know what? After months in which you are trudging through days, you begin to wonder if distance is in you still and if you’re a runner and if the running gods decided to use you as a cosmic toy or something. And then 65 degrees happens to you one Saturday. The first Saturday you can sleep and lounge around. And then it’s like life has come to your barren soul. The rainfall and clouds bring hope.

I’m not exaggerating either. I have been beaming all day. Nothing has changed in my life. I have still had the most rotten summer, and I am still making difficult decisions (weather non-withstanding), and I have still been struggling through a lot. So tell me why today I am happy, joyful, smiling, hopeful? Weather. 

Any student of literature knows that setting is integral to the story, so why is it so unusual to think that about real life? While 99.5% of the people I knew were complaining about cold and ice this year, I was beaming and rejoicing and running around on it in YakTrax. No one heard me complain about the cold, the winter, the short days, the snow, the ice. Because I didn’t. 

I understand that’s unusual. I also understand even people who don’t mind hot are sick of it by now. One of the more mild-mannered guys at work looked utterly fed up with heat this week. But after seeing what happened in me with one sleep, all because of weather changing, I have to ask myself how much setting affects my life. I’ve already made the tentative decision to not stay in the south next summer. I have no idea how that will work out, but I am off contract May-Aug so my hope is if I only have a month of this instead of 4, I will deal better. (Shout out to anyone who knows of a summer adjunct or other job north of I-80. Maybe Minnesota is a good bet. I’ll be checking on that. I can’t forget that the marathon temps were positively cold. Canada works too.)

So today’s run was a joy. Not all easy. I have done little endurance running all summer. Two hot distance runs plus the marathon. The rest were 2-4 miles, though every day so I kept up my weekly mileage. I’ve gotten better at running in heat, but it’s not me. I hate it. Hate. Strong word. After today I know it’s the right word. Today I was faster. Overnight. I have not even been able to pull off a 12 minute mile at dawn in the heat and humidity. Today it was 10. Weather. Even when my knee acted up (cortisone shot Tuesday), I could run through it and not lose time—it’s like the psychology of it made me better. Breathing was challenging the first 2 miles or so because I was so much faster and also realizing 2 miles wasn’t a third done. I had to get back into distance runner mentality. Training mentality. Summer running is done. Half marathon training is back. I knew it would be harder simply because of the mental shift. But it was still a joy. That’s how running usually is to me. Hard isn’t the issue. Joy is. I have had some good runs this summer, but not many. I have still LIKED it. But it has been different. There will be some hot ones next week but only about 3 days so I can pad my mileage around it. I can do this. I have made it. This year. And last. Last was worse. But this year I saw the contrast in me. 

I’m honestly not joking about the Summer Affective Disorder idea, even though that’s not a real disorder. I was born for cold, made for clouds, thrive in the fall. Today’s run made me wonder what kind of runner I could be if I didn’t have to spend 4-5 months a  year just fighting through. So it was a joy, but I have a dilemma. Because today I am happy. Today I had no desire to do anything but have my own little happy day with books and pumpkin latte—and Pink Magic. Today I felt like I was alive. Today felt like a gift. 

Autumn, I embrace you.