Wednesday, May 28, 2014

all bark and no bite: the 20-miler

Only a few days are so special you remember them always as happy days. Today is my half birthday, which I used to celebrate more than my real one since real ones were so bad for me. Today just happened to be the day we had scheduled my 20 mile run.

I still think of that day in December 2012 when I ran around the block and got to half a mile before I felt like I was going t die. I remember the 5K the week or so before where I hacked all day. I was trying to be a runner again but it was hard. So to think I could then become someone who could run 20 miles in a row without stopping was a figment of my fantasy life. Until today.

Today was one of the best days ever. A friend who has run marathons and she knew before I did that I would need help on these long runs. If you have ever tried to run for 4 hours by yourself, you know that it’s hard. Doable, but hard. She offered months ago to come along with me. Today was our longest run—and next week we get a piddly 12-14 miles. And yes, I said piddly. After doing 16, 18, and 20, 12-14 sounds like a cakewalk. Today was reason to eat cake. 

Some random outtakes from today:


It is already hot here, but today it was not. After a rainy weekend, today the sky cleared up and gave way to low 60s. To have low 60s with only a breeze, not serious winds, in southwest OK when it’s almost June is not very likely. We set this date maybe 2 months ago, and it was perfect. Probably the best day yet. 


So we set off on this amazing day, blissfully gliding down a country road, and we met with dogs. The first ones were no big deal, but we still acted like girls. We were almost to the place we were going to turn and head back a different way when two very angry and mean dogs started running at us. She had the pepper spray ready but neither of us wanted to deal with it. She ordered me to turn and keep going. We went fast enough that they didn’t pursue us. We were pretty annoyed too.

Dogs part deux

And boy did I want to say that to the second people. Those dogs were terrifying—and got very close to us. You have never heard me pray so fervently. Again, Cindy sent me in front of her so she could fend them off with pepper spray. We both got way too close of a look at Mean Dog #1, with #2 in tow. I actually braced myself to be bitten they were so close.  PSA #2. Did I mention what a selfish jerk you are if you decide you own the roads too?

We were trapped and had to run miles around some subdivisions, but we were spooked. Barking was everywhere and it got to where if I saw a dog I made us go down another road. Yesterday a pit bull chased me in my own neighborhood. I found that owner and said pit bull has already had the pound called on her three times, so I was the last straw, thankfully.  But it surely has been an adventurous running week. Last week my friend and I ran from a skunk in Wichita Falls. We definitely are having adventures!

Apart from the evil mangy creatures trying to eat us, the run was uneventful. It was not too hard until about mile 12-13. I really tried to not even think about the miles until after 10. When you start out to run 20, you don’t even ponder the first few. I could not let my mind go there. Fortunately I had good company, well, when she wasn’t talking to the cows. Those cows played right into her and mooed so loudly that she announced that she obviously speaking their language. 

We turned back at 7 miles because of evil dog #1, and then we tried a side road where evil dog #2 came, so we headed back and at mile 13 or so headed into the subdivisions, which I have now probably memorized. We found out way to the creek in Pebble Creek, and even found a trail. Something funny happened there when my friend had to pee in the bushes and almost got caught!

We kept running. She handed me water, and I poured it into my Vapur bottle and kept going. Between us we went through probably a gallon of water. She carried a lot in her backpack but we also planted some for our way back. We finished it, save a couple ounces or so.

We veered to a major road for a while around 14, but it gets hilly and I was not feeling like that big of a challenge! So we went back to the subdivision. Again. Round and round we went, drinking water, eating GUs, and panicking at any bark. 

We started from my house but I live about a half mile from a store where I get my DCIAFCs. So I decided I wanted to stop before that store. 

When my GPS turned to 20 miles, I was crazy happy.

That could be my reward and we could walk home. You’re supposed to keep walking after a long run, and the idea of going home and then walking more was far less appealing than walking with a DCIAFC in my hand! 

We walked a shortcut back, and there were more barking dogs. Besides our fear after our encounters, I just feel sorry for the neighbors of these people who have to live with it day and night.

We got back to my house and Pink Magic came off. 20 miles. I ran 20 full miles. I didn’t walk or stop, not even for the evil dogs. I had run 20 miles. My friend and I were hanging out talking after and I would randomly interrupt our conversation with “I RAN TWENTY MILES.” To her credit she just got excited with me. I think she was on her own endorphin high.  It was a perfect day with a great friend.

Oh yeah, and I got a tan. Um, compression sleeves don't quite go to the top of my socks.

The 20-miler is the run in marathon training. It’s ill-advised to go into a marathon without a 20-miler, for psychological reasons as well as physical. The human body has glycogen stores of about 2000 calories, and we burn about 100 calories a mile running, so the body is made for running 2000 calories away. The marathon is what pushes the limits of human endurance because it exceeds that. Now we know to fuel early to prevent hitting the wall, but it’s still pushing the mind and body past the normal. I can’t say I can yet imagine adding 6.2 miles to what I did today, but the mysterious “they” say that the crowd and the rush of race day pushes you that last 6.2 just as it did the last 3.1 in the first half. Indeed, I trained 10 and ran 13.1 easily. Now I don’t even have to do 10 because I can stay trained for a half, but the marathon is a whole new world. I hope I’ll be joining it in just over 3 weeks because I have reached a milestone with the 20-miler. Now I get to taper. People complain about tapering, but I am excited. It means basically I can run for fun again (minus our last long, but only 12-14 mile, next weekend). Marathon training cramps my free-spirited style, so in some ways I am looking forward to June 22 when I can make my own running rules again. But today I passed the test. The 20-miler is mine. I own it. I did it. And I had a lot of help from my dear friend who maybe missed her calling as a cheerleader and a coach.

I feel pretty good tonight. We will see what tomorrow brings. But I had less aches and pains on this run, and I guess my body has just adapted to the fact we’re going to be running a lot of miles and it’s time to suck it up.

I won’t set any time records in Duluth, but I never set out to prove I could. I set out to prove I could do what 99.5% of Americans have not done. That day isn’t here yet, but I have done the hard work to prepare. 

Duluth, here I come.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

running against the wind

You know what? I ran 18 miles yesterday and I have felt worse after half marathons than I do today. I'm just blown away by what my body can do. Sometimes I think back to the early runs, when 1 or 2 miles was such a victory. Today as I went out for a short run, I thought about that. I ran 18 miles. Eighteen. For perspective, think about a city 18 miles away from you. I ran there.

Yesterday's run was hard from the beginning. My breathing was off. I guess it was windy the whole time, but honestly, only the last part of the run was tough because of wind. Both my friend and I were having a hard time. It just wasn't clicking with our bodies. I moaned and groaned more than I ever do. She kept telling me I was doing great. I told her she was lying. But, of course, I don't know too many people who ran 18 miles yesterday without stopping, so I'd say she was right.

So much was wrong physically. Sleep was primary. Some people do okay for a few days on little sleep; I am not one of them. Two days of 4 a.m. affected me, probably my breathing most of all. Add two flights to that and it was a recipe for a hard run (airplanes both swell you and dehydrate you more quickly--that's why you should never fly in the day before a major race). But really, when it comes down to it, I ran. Eighteen miles.

Last night was tough. I was physically sore, but just plain wiped out from the past two days. I fell asleep for a bit around 6:30. Later, I conked out without warning. I slept hard and sound, albeit with some nightmares, until almost 9. I expected to wake up in tons of pain and strain. I definitely knew I did something physically demanding yesterday, but amazingly, nothing really hurt beyond some minor strains. Huh? So I went for a late run. I could feel that I had run a lot yesterday, but my body was doing so well I was faster than usual--most especially since it was 91 degrees out. I didn't push it and stuck to the usual post-long run mile, but I was pretty amazed this little body accomplished a major feat on those miles of trails.

Next week is the infamous 20-miler. Without a doubt, there is no more important run before a marathon. After that comes the taper, and then three weeks after the 20-miler comes the moment of truth. No matter what happens, the fact remains that this formerly fat body, this sedentary Suz, ran 18 solid miles with her own two feet. And what's amazing to me is that today I feel like I feel most days. My body may very well be made for this. Next up is my mind. That's where real marathon training kicks in.

Monday, May 12, 2014

on a mission in a tutu

Fifty-one weeks ago, I ran my first half marathon. It was May 18, 2013. Yesterday, May 11, 2014, I ran number 6. Six.

Sunday’s half was really a way to deal with Mother’s Day and get in the 12 mile long run my training schedule dictated. But then OKC happened and I had a bone to pick. My heart got beat up that weekend, and so did my body. The last thing I wanted was that race hanging out in my head. It needed to move to the middle, so I today was redemption day. It worked.

I knew the weather would be warm and extremely humid. The bottom line is the colder it is, the better I run. But I figured nothing could be worse than running in pain (physical and mental) for 13 miles of hills on a humid day with nothing in me for nutrition due to the delay. So I set out to beat that time, and wanted to come in under 2:30.

I had decided to wear my tutu. I remembered all the happy smiles at the Fairview Half. I felt like seeing happy smiles again. Tutus are a fun thing. As I gave mentioned before, I had resisted them, trying to keep my running “serious, until SELF magazine taunted a cancer victim by calling her tutu "lame"—and a bunch of runners wore tutus in solidarity. That’s what drove me to it. But I have decided to stay. It’s not unusual, but today it was. I was the only runner in a tutu! I could not believe it. As one of my friends said when I told he, "that's weird." It's funny that it's weird, but it really is. I sure enjoyed it, though. People would burst into real smiles and suddenly give me thumbs ups and say awesome things—even the winners as they passed me from the other side. For just a moment runners struggling or even flying would break into smile. It just felt so good.

And then I remembered how the woman wore it because she had fought cancer. I don’t have cancer, but I am fighting something. I decided I am going to wear my tutu and fight too. That was somewhere between mile 3-5. Jolie and I started together, and that was probably the best part—chatting with someone the first mile. We had a good split. There was a photographer there and I called “Did you get the tutu?” as my arms were in the air. Most of my race pictures have my hands in the air.

Random notes from today:

Fort Worth races are friendly. I have run several there and the “race culture,” my latest term, is good.

This race was small and on a park trail, like Wichita, so it was harder by lack of crowd support. It was virtually flat, but hard to get momentum. My best mile was around 7 when we did the turnaround. There were people everywhere because we were turning and then the ones behind us were approaching. I had a great split there—further proving I am a social runner. Who would have known? I would love to have a friend who runs my pace that I could run with. I would have never guessed this until April. My best long runs ever were Fairview when we had that very friendly half where there was always someone to talk to, and last week with Cindy—16 miles was one of my happiest runs. Really Yep. Social runner. Never in a million years would have thought such a thing. No wonder I can’t bring myself to do more than 10 miles on my own. The introvert needs running friends. Of all things!

It was hot, mostly because it was humid. My lungs did well, though. No asthma attacks. But it felt like waves of hot flashes washing over me at times. I had to throw water on myself. However I felt terrific at the end. The owner of Fort Wroth Running Company, a seasoned runner, and I were chatting after the race and he was saying something about the humidity and the winds (OK style winds too). I said, yeah, I had run OKC a couple weeks ago and this was better but it was also hot. He looked surprised:

“You didn’t do better today than OKC did you?” he asked incredulously. “The dew point is 68!”

Yes, I did, sir. Oh yes, I did. You see, I was on a mission and I met it.

I was struggling. My back hurt. My rib is apparently back in place but now the pain was at the top. Hard as I tried I could not get in a great pace because I was shifting and moving all over trying to ease my pain. But I fought. And when I saw it was mathematically possible to come in under 2:30, I pushed through the pain. I had to try. If I failed, it was okay as long as I tried. So I pushed. I knew there was a last hill. Same as Christmas Day. It’s pretty steep—only real hill in the race, a sharp turn from the concrete on to the dirt trail, up a hill. It's right at the end, where they get the .1. As we turned up the hill, the south wind assailed us with the gusts of 26 mph, and that made me fight back. Run, I told myself, run hard. You can throw up if you need to but run! When I arrived at the clock I saw the 2:29 and the smile on my face is ridiculous. In hot, humid, windy weather with so much moisture in the air I never got dry, and I beat OKC.
Coming to the finish and realizing my time goal was possible

I waited for Jolie, and then when I saw her coming had a blast creaming for her the running onto the course again, medal on me, and crossing the finish line with her. I have always wanted to do that.
Finding Jolie to cross with her, too.

I got a new bottle of water for her but she just wanted to finish. I've never crossed a finish line with someone; it was a blast

It wasn’t my best race or easiest race, but it was a good one. With some crowd support and cooler weather I probably would have called it even better. I will be glad to have this back issue done with. Good flipping grief, it’s amazing what one out of place rib can do, but it’s getting better. My long runs are getting so long that my midweek runs are getting shorter so I don’t beat up my body. Nonetheless, I emerged with a blister—my first in a year—from my 16-miler last week and then a new one on the back of my ankle this time. That is something I have never had. It certainly makes me feel like a marathoner-in-training. And that I am.

I try to not think about that during other races. I realized that’s the worst time to think of your next race. I have a 5K this weekend and even tat was an overwhelming through in the middle of a half. Lesson learned: Do not ponder future races will on mile 8 of a race! Duh.

Next up: 5K Saturday
18 mile run the day after I get back from my trip, May 21.
20 mile run, May 28
12-14 mile run, June 6 or 7

Then I am back on my own to taper—which I am looking forward to as well simply because the marathon training limits me some on just running for fun.

June 21-Run a marathon or bust.
June 22. I can’t even imagine. It's a bit scary, actually.

But for now, I have run 6 half marathons, all successfully. Some great, some sucky, some in between.

You know, like life.

The picture I get in every race somehow; it always looks like I'm dancing while I run. At least I was dressed for it.

Friday, May 2, 2014

a little help from my friends (thoughts on my first 16-mile run)

Sunday I ran a hard race.  It was a half I had really set to be a goal race and looked forward to for a couple months. It ended up being a comedy of errors and my whole weekend became filled with tears, so by the time I started the race (with our two-hour weather delay), I couldn’t have been in much worse of a mental state. And physically I had hurt my already-sore back more. The race was so humid, I couldn’t breathe (messes with my asthma), and hilly even for me, a person who regularly runs hills. I finished with an asthma attack, crying with relief as I crossed the finish line. Truth is, it’s the second best half I have ever run as far as time, but it scared me a bit because I could not have run to 14 that day. I was spent and it took all I had to run that whole way, but I knew after the personal pain of the weekend, and the struggle to run, that I had to keep running and deal with my back and breathing later. I did, and I feel good about it—especially after seeing I ranked pretty much in the middle. In a race that size, I am usually below that, so I knew I had really overcome. But boy was I ready to redeem it. And today I did.

People think all I do is run and so it’s not a big deal, but after 5 half marathons, the farthest I have gone is maybe 13.5 when I did not run the tangents in my first one, and likely it was closer to 13.4. So this month includes 3 very long runs, and today was our scheduled first one.

Shout out to a friend who has run two marathons and knows that the runs are hard alone. She got her bike ready and we set dates for the 16, 18, and 20-miler. The 20-miler is the key in marathon training. If you can do that, you are home free if you stay healthy and uninjured. But the very idea of running more than a half was daunting to me.

See, most of you know, I am not a natural runner. I do seem to handle distance pretty well, but I run my body. In school, I made so many excuses to get out of PE that often I actually dropped out of school to avoid the class. No exaggeration. I hated running more than anything. I could have survived anything but running. As a kid, I was teased all the time for being fat, for being slow and uncoordinated. Every run remains a miracle to me. Every picture I take becomes a reminder of that miracle. Often I look through my silly running selfies and I cry with joy and gratitude. There have been times those pictures have inspired me to keep going. No one else is going to do it for me. Running is you vs. you. Today’s run left me with many take always and thoughts:

First, today is May 2. Three years ago today I had major surgery. It was hard. There was a complication with a nerve and I was home alone in my apartment for about a month in pain. No visitors, no solutions. It was the worst and most debilitating pain of my life. I didn’t know it was possible to feel that much pain and live. It hit me as I got in the car after the run. From that monumental day to this one. It seemed appropriate for a date person.

This run was so much easier than Sunday’s dodge-people half in the hills and humidity. If you would have ever told me 16 could be easier than 13, I would have laughed at you, but it was. The small of my back hurt quite a bit past the 10 mile mark, but not much more did. At ten miles I was beaming.

Mentally, I was strong, talking the entire time. Laughing, having fun, all of it was a joy, even when it was harder. Sometimes I got tired or winded when it got warm or I was going uphill. I would slow my pace, but never stopped or walked. I had planned to if needed but I didn’t need to. I felt strong. It reminded me of the amazing Fairview Half where I PRed.

This brings me back to race culture. Runner’s World posted a picture this week about why we race—to be with each other. 

Everyone knows I'm an introvert, and I'm usually a solo runner. I've never had a desire to run with people, but Fairview amazed me because I loved running with the others and falling into conversations whenever I was with someone. Our pace leaders held me for 7 miles, then I met up with two girls until 8 or 9. I had fun. And I ran my fastest ever half pace, so it didn’t slow me, but it made me speed up. If you recall, my comments on OKC were that the race culture was not as fun or friendly. And I really had an awareness this week of the importance of race culture to a successful race. I don’t run to win of course, so the experience is the reward. Today felt like Fairview, the joy of talking to someone. I was having fun, and she was making it easy for me. We race to be with each other. For now on my races will be more carefully selected. I will probably never run with someone exactly because I still believe in running my own race, but some races are conducive to that friendliness. Fairview was. And today felt like one of those. 

We ran blind, not knowing which route we were taking, despite planning a couple. In the end we just started out and went. I run that way often and was just fine with not knowing where we were. Psychologically, the less I know, the better I am with distance. I do not want to know how far it is or what’s ahead. My Garmin and RunKeeper let me know the distance, but ultimately, just running out and back was ideal. We went all over the roads behind the hospital on 52nd to cross 82nd and almost to 112th before we turned back. 

I realized how actually small our city is as I ran across most of the west side. I loved the open fields. Finally I turned on my favorite Chris Tomlin music but not with my headphones, just in my running pack. Chris sang, and sometimes we joined him, but mostly we talked.

The friend handed me water, GUs, a banana when I needed it, my inhaler, which I used proactively after the asthma attack last Sunday. I felt free, alive, happy, strong. To have someone alongside me was a gift. It was a first, apart from total strangers in races. 

I do like to run with people. This has been my revelation is since the Fairview Half. The right company alongside you makes all the difference. I am a solo runner, and this is a real newsflash for me. And for daily runs, I would never want to be with people constantly, but long runs, put a friend next to me for the whole duration, or even strangers I like and laugh with like Fairview, and I am going to be successful. This blows all my running theories out the window.
When I hit that 16 mile mark today I was beyond excited. 

We walked around a bit. I took pictures. I coveted the Diet Coke across the road. As we approached returning I said that it looked like a mirage—was there really a big Diet Coke that close to me? Neither of us had cash, but she used her debit card, true sacrifice. I guzzled and gulped that thing like I had not had one in years.

On the way out, we were walking and I was gulping. I was so giddy already that I was gushing to Cindy.

“Thank you so much. You’re my new best friend,” I said like a junior high kid. 

Then I glanced back and some random lady was laughing I told a total stranger she was my new best friend! Oops! Cindy was behind her and was laughing too. I was amazed and amused. The lady looked at Cindy and said “Is she having a good day?” Cindy told her I was. That’s all she said. I’m pretty sure that lady thought I was drunk or something.

We got in the car to go home and I was still laughing about telling the stranger she was my best friend—and then I couldn’t stop laughing. I started laughing and laughing and laughing so hard my stomach hurt. Suddenly it  was the most hysterical thing ever. The runner’s high had gone into full gear. It was wonderful. There hasn’t been too much laughter in my world lately—especially that uncontrollable belly-ache laughter, not for some time. For that reason alone I can imagine the 18 and 20 mile runs coming up.

We got back to the house, and I continued giggling and gushing to her family as I got myself together to go home (via work where I had stopped for bragging rights!). I felt like a new person. I went from a rotten, heartbreaking week to being on top of the world.

It only took 16 miles. 

(See below for video of my obnoxiously happy self post-run)