Thursday, May 7, 2015

Mile 24

Yesterday, I faced a difficult non-running challenge.  As president of the PTA at my children's school, I needed to present an unpopular view to our families, facilitate a discussion on the topic, and do it on my own without support from the administration.  To say that I was stressed about this task is to say that a marathon is a little run.

I wasted time and mental energy feeling frustrated about the situation and wanting to know why I was forced to defend a decision that I had no role in making and that, quite frankly, I didn't agree with.  I couldn't eat.  I had little patience for my kids.  I twisted my hair into oblivion.  Exhausted from the stress, I finally found a new framework in which to face the situation.  I couldn't control the circumstances, but I had total control over my outlook, my approach, and my attitude.

With this realization, I noticed that the meeting was exactly like mile 24 of my marathon: an uphill battle with the wind in my face and a body and brain fatigued beyond all imagining.  But just as I put my head down and survived mile 24, I knew I could grin and bear it to make it through my tough evening.



Renewed in spirit, I approached the meeting and the dreaded topic with optimism.  I strove to find a silver lining (small though it was) amidst the hurt feelings, and I encouraged the rest of the families to do the same.  I asked them to use this frustrating situation as an opportunity to teach our children how to be strong in the face of adversity, to face the future with courage, and to stand together as a united front when the going gets tough.  The message was received better than I could have hoped, and though nothing is resolved, I hope that the spirit of optimism will overpower the anger and frustration.

The discussion took every drop of my energy, and when it was finally over, I felt like I'd been run over by a Mack truck.  Not unlike how I felt at the end of mile 24.



When I set out to train for a marathon, I expected to gain strong quads, chiseled calves, and lungs of steel.  What I attained instead is infinitely more powerful.  Though I'm pleased with my strong legs and spacious lungs, I'm amazed at the mental strength I honed over the last 5 months.  Before marathon training, I couldn't have faced the unhappy crowd last night with the calm and poise that I did.  My marathon taught me that I can do hard things.  Really hard things.  I can persevere through difficult moments - the mile 24's of life - by sheer force of will.

Thanks to months of training, I am strong.  Inside and out.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Marathon Recovery

Though a silent blog may indicate otherwise, my marathon recovery has been unbelievably smooth.  Almost eerily so.  The day after the race, my left knee, which started talking to me around mile 15 and was screaming by mile 23, was stiff and angry, and I felt some general muscle soreness, but I've felt much worse after far less effort.  Does that mean that I could/should have pushed harder on the course?  Perhaps.  But perhaps it also means that I trained wisely and implemented some solid recovery strategies immediately after the race.  I'm going with that one.

My expertise in post-race recovery is gained solely from Google University, so take my advice with more than a few grains of salt.  However, I never struggled while descending to the toilet seat nor did I have to go down the stairs backwards, as I've heard so many other marathoners tell.  So maybe something I did worked out in my favor.  A look at how I recovered in the 24-hours after the race:

0-15 minutes post-race: walking and refueling
Immediately after crossing the line, I walked through the finishers area, happily accepting a space blanket, Gatorade, and every morsel of food the kind volunteers handed to me (except a banana.  I'd had more than enough banana on the course...) and kept moving until I found my fan club on the other side of the barricade.  I felt my calves starting to cramp a bit, so I stretched them before sitting on a curb to stuff my face.

Remember how badly I wanted to sit on the curb at mile 20?!
Sitting on this one post-race was every bit as wonderful as I'd imagined it would be :)

After sitting for several minutes, I knew I needed to get moving again, especially towards the beer tent!  My favorite recovery beverage :)  I found that I was walking slowly but steadily as I made my way towards the yeasty, hoppy carbs.

15-60 minutes post-race: stretching
Once I picked up my beer, I sought out a tree for some legs up the wall.  I laid by that tree for quite a while, loving the feel of my feet defying gravity.  I could have taken a nap there, I'm quite sure... Legs refreshed, I ate a bit more, stretched a lot more, and changed into dry clothes.  I felt like a million bucks!  Or something like that.

My fan club dared me to drink the beer while in this position.
Challenge accepted.


2 hours post-race: ice bath
Back at home, after boring my husband with vast minutiae of the race, he set up an ice bath for me.  I tentatively dipped a toe into the cold cold tub, debating whether 26.2 miles or an icy tub was a crazier idea.  But I plunged in anyway and froze my tired muscles for 21 minutes.  To take my mind off my numb lower body, I spent the time checking my e-mail, texts, Facebook messages, and Strava comments.  The distractions worked and the time passed (relatively) quickly.  I followed the ice bath with the hottest, most amazing shower (a top five shower, for sure; every bit as lovely as a post-birth shower).
Freezing the aches away.
3 hours post-race: compression and rest
I slipped into my compression socks after the shower and staggered to my bed for a quick nap.  I brought water and food with me knowing that I'd wake up famished.  After a short but sweet snooze, I snacked a bit before heading out for the family's late-afternoon activities.

5-7 hours post-race: more stretching and walking
I propped myself in a chair for most of the evening, but I did another extended legs up the wall session after dinner and took a stroll with the kids before their bedtime.  I knew I should walk to stretch out the legs a bit more, but mostly I did it because I nearly had 50,000 steps for the day on my Fitbit.  I couldn't be that close to a milestone number and not hit it...

18 hours post-race: foam rolling, stretching, and walking
I slept better than I expected that night but woke up with a very stiff and angry left knee.  Walking the kids to school wasn't pretty, so I did some serious stretching and foam rolling when I got back home.  To keep it loose, I strolled around the neighborhood with the Little Lady, and her short 2-year-old legs kept the perfect pace for me; I couldn't have walked any faster if I tried.  But the walk helped loosen things up, and the incredible stiffness never returned.

What recovery strategies do you employ after a big race?  Which do you think is crazier: running 26.2 miles or taking an ice bath?

Thursday, April 16, 2015

I DID IT!

I did it!  I raced the GO! St. Louis Marathon on Sunday.  I am a marathoner!!  The weather was not exactly ideal but it was good enough.  The crowds were wonderful.  The volunteers were top-notch.  And the camaraderie among the runners was just as I'd hoped.  If you just want the Cliff Notes version, that's it.  If you love race day minutiae, however, read on.  I've got it for you in spades:

PRE-RACE
My dear BRF, who was not running due to injury, offered to drive me to the starting line, and I greatly appreciated her calming voice and peaceful spirit in the early morning hours.  I was sad that she wouldn't be by my side on the course, but I looked forward to seeing her, along with my family, at various points on the course as my dedicated cheering section.

Waiting around before the race, I felt more calm than I expected.  I chatted with a few folks, but I mostly sat quietly on a park bench waiting for the race to start.  I'd packed my pre-race fuel (I love to eat a peanut butter graham cracker and banana immediately before a long run) and ate it just before I entered the starting corral.  Again, in the corral, I felt calm.  I took in the sight of the huge field of runners, focused on my breath, and waited for my turn to go.

The view in my starting corral; my mantras for the day;
pre-race shoe selfie.

EARLY MILES
The wave start was a bit haphazard.  We neatly lined up in our corrals, but the officials did not put much distance between the corrals.  The elites took off on their own, and then the rest of us more or less went out in two massive herds.  Not at all the start I was expecting, but the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd kept me at an easy pace for the early miles, an essential part of my race strategy and one that I thought would be hard given race day excitement.

The crowd remained very thick throughout the early part of the race.  Our first mile took us through downtown St. Louis and then onto the first of two bridges.  The bridge trek was fun, though the running lanes on the first bridge were quite narrow, and my pace stayed lower than I expected.  We crossed over into East St. Louis, IL, and I was pleasantly surprised by the crowd support.  Many residents were out cheering, and the atmosphere was very upbeat.

The only thing dampening the Illinois crowd was the rain that began to fall.  Rain?!  It wasn't supposed to rain!  The forecast showed 0% chance of rain that morning.  Yet here I was, at mile 2.5 in a sprinkling rain.  Fortunately, the shower was very short-lived; it was done by the time we crossed the second bridge heading back to downtown St. Louis.

My incredible support crew on race day.  Not pictured are the photographers: my dad and older sister.
The Little Lady is also absent from the pictures but she was surely there
high fiving lots of runners along with her sister :)
Running on the second bridge, I learned the phenomenon of mechanical resonance.  I suddenly felt unsteady on my feet and momentarily worried that something was wrong with my electrolytes or hydration.  Then I realized that everyone else felt it too: the bridge was bouncing from the feet of so many runners.  Like the rain, the sensation did not last too long, but it was a bit unsettling.  The traffic on the second bridge seemed even thicker, and I worked hard to keep a lane so I could pass slower runners on the uphill section.

By mile 4, we were finishing up the second bridge and heading towards the north part of the city.  We heard a great live band at mile 5, and I saw my cheering section there, too!  I waved and blew kisses at them, feeling strong and happy.  My pace was right about where I wanted it, and though the field was still dense, I felt like I was in a good groove.

Elevation and pace chart for my race.
Clearly, I started taking more frequent (and slower!) walk breaks near the end,
but my running pace stayed remarkably consistent throughout.

Mile 7 took us back to the starting area with an absolutely bustling crowd!  High energy and wonderful enthusiasm.  By mile 8, I had finally found my way out of the thick group of runners.  I felt like I had some breathing room and could set my pace a bit more easily.  I saw my husband, kids, and other sister at mile 9 and collected some quick hugs before continuing towards the Anheuser Busch Brewery.

The fans near the brewery and in Soulard were spectacular, as always.  I saw a good friend at mile 10 and gave high fives to my kids at mile 11 as I headed back up Broadway towards downtown.  Miles 11 and 12 included lots of uphills, but I kept telling myself "kill the hill!" as I charged and passed people left and right.  In mile 12, I found myself next to a woman who was running her 100th (!!) marathon.  I stayed in her general area for almost 10 miles, and she and her posse were a wonderful boost to my spirits.

MIDDLE MILES
At mile 13, as the half marathoners were upping their efforts towards their finish line, I had to remind myself to stay focused.  I felt myself getting swept up in the energy of the finish line crowd, and I had to work hard to maintain a steady pace.  Once the half marathoners turned, the course became a ghost town.  We headed (uphill!) into a more industrial part of town, the fans were sparse, and the runners felt few and far between.  As I neared mile 15, my left knee started complaining, and I hit an unexpectedly hard mental period.  I saw my parents/sister/BRF right around 15 and told them that it was getting tough.  My sister reminded me that my only goal was to finish, a timely reminder that sharpened my focus.

Still churning out industrial-area miles, I saw my husband/kids/sister again around 17 and stopped for a moment to talk to them.  I knew I was close to Forest Park, so I felt mentally renewed as I ran away from them.  Entering Forest Park was like finding an oasis in a desert.  The crowds were energetic, music blasted, and I fell into step with a few more runners.  I cruised through familiar sections of the park for several miles feeling tired but content.  When I saw my parents/sister/BRF at mile 20, however, my commitment to the cause was flagging.  I paused to eat some banana and drink water and told them that I really just wanted to sit down.  They pushed me away, wisely saying that sitting was a terrible idea.

A summary of the day: running strong; crossing the finish line;
legs up the tree post-race; my crew in matching shirts.
My sister and BRF offered to run with me for a bit; I asked if we could walk instead.  We walked for almost half a mile, and though I can hardly recall what they said, their energetic and encouraging voices kept me going.  When they peeled off, I told myself that I'd start running again in 20 more steps.  Nearing the end of this walk break, a kind runner asked if I was ok.  "You look strong!" she told me.  "Pump your arms.  You can do this!"  Too tired to disagree, I followed her directions and resumed my running stride.

We remained in the park through mile 22, and I kept up a reasonable pace.  I stopped to walk at each water stop, with my walking pace becoming slower and slower each time, but I always returned to my run and told myself I only had to run until the next water table.  I saw my husband/kids/sister again at mile 23, and my husband ran and walked with me for about half a mile.  He kept trying to push the pace, but I assured him that I was moving as fast as possible.  He pointed out that I only had a measly 3 miles to go, the equivalent of a simple neighborhood loop that I've run hundreds of times.  I told him that I wasn't sure I cared to finish, but he called my bluff.  "Go get it!" he told me.  "You've got this!"

THE FINAL PUSH
After parting ways, I headed back into the industrial stretch this time with tired legs and a headwind.  Mile 24 found me running uphill with the wind in my face.  Instead of feeling defeated, however, I pushed my pace on the hill and told myself that this is just how things happen for me.  I don't get the easy path; things don't just fall into my lap.  Instead, I work hard, fight through tough conditions, and get the job done.  I walked (slowly!) through the water stop at mile 25 and told myself that I had to push hard to the end.  No more walking until I crossed that finish line.

I felt mentally recharged in that final 1.2 miles.  My knee ached, my hamstrings were fatigued, my toes hurt, but I was going to finish strong!  I turned up the pace even higher at mile 26, not sure that I could maintain it.  I charged down the final straightaway, sensing rather than actually seeing the crowd, hearing their cheers but with eyes solely focused on the finish line.

This photo captures it all: joy, pride, exhaustion, and the unbelievable
feeling that I set out to do something hard and I did it!!

And then I crossed it!  Upright and smiling, just as I had hoped.  Under 5 hours, as I had dreamed.  Under 4:40, the goal I set for myself in mile 24 when I needed motivation to run rather than walk.  I crossed in a time of 4:38:33.  The feelings that flooded in that moment were unlike anything I could have expected.  Elation, fatigue, invincibility, strength, pride, amazement jumbled together in a crazy mishmash in my brain.

I saw my family a few minutes after I finished, and all I could say was "I f@#*ing did it!"  I apologized to my oh-so-innocent mother for the strong language, but nothing else could capture my thoughts.

I did it!  I f@#*ing did it.

Friday, April 10, 2015

I Get To

As I stand on the precipice of 26.2, my mind is swirling.  I jump from task to task: preparing race day checklists, doing laundry, ensuring I have the fuel I need, verifying that the rest of the family calendar aligns with race weekend plans.  Amidst it all, I'm feeling surprisingly calm.  I know race day jitters will set in big time on Sunday, but for the moment, I am unexpectedly peaceful.

Earlier this week, I polled my favorite mother runners on Strava, asking their last-minute advice for this rookie marathoner.  I was floored by the amount of terrific advice and overwhelmingly encouraging words I received.  I don't know how anyone could train for a marathon without the support of a full BAMR squad.  Their role in my training success cannot be overstated.

Among the advice I received, which I hope to cull into a separate post, several mentioned to remember my mantra, perhaps even writing it on my arm so I can see it when my energy flags in the later miles.  I love mantras and have several that I pull out when the going gets tough (on a run or in regular life!).  But none of my standards seemed quite right for this moment.  Then it hit me: I get to.  I don't have to; I'm privileged enough to have the opportunity.

The next time I lace up these shoes, they will carry me 26.2!

I get to:

  • spend several hours doing what I love.
  • traipse through my favorite city, exploring the sights in the unique way that only covering the distance on foot allows.
  • soak up the energy of my fellow runners and the fans along the course.
  • see the faces of my sweet family and dear BRF as they cheer for me (at multiple spots!  They are too good to me.).
  • carry the words and well wishes of my amazing Strava friends, strong women who motivate and inspire me daily.
  • test my limits and prove to myself that I can do hard things.
  • finish this journey that began 18 weeks ago in the depths of winter when this glorious spring day seemed so far away.

I get to run a marathon.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

The Road to 26.2: Weeks 16 and 17

Real life has kept me away from my blog.  My grandmother, who has been battling dementia and other health problems since late-September, had an especially difficult time over the past three weeks.  Her anxiety was high; she was incredibly restless and insecure; she hardly slept; no medicine on the planet gave her any relief from her mounting symptoms.  My sisters, parents, supportive friends, and I took shifts to keep her under constant 24/7 care.  To say the process was exhausting is a vast understatement.

She took a sudden downturn last week, and we knew her remaining days were short.  She suffered greatly in her last days.  We felt helpless with no real ability to lessen her agony, but our presence brought some comfort.  After a grueling 8 days without food (she could no longer swallow), she finally passed away early Tuesday morning.  We are sad for ourselves as we lost an amazing role model and friend, but we're so happy that her pain is over.  After 101 years (and 10 months!), her time on this earth is finished.

With such intense family needs, I'm so grateful that I had entered the taper phase of my training plan.  I can't imagine supporting my mom as much as she needed while also logging serious training miles.  I've had to shorten a few cross-training workouts over the last two weeks, but I've done all my runs and continued with my strength training.  Post-run stretching also took a hit, and I can definitely feel a difference.  I've renewed my commitment to thorough stretching, and I'm pulling out the foam roller nightly.  To catch you up on the last two weeks of workouts:

Week 16:
Monday (3/23):
  5 mile run.

Right on the heels of the 20-miler, I was surprised by how good my legs felt.  They were stiff for the first mile or so, but they felt far better than I expected.
Tuesday (3/24):  mini yoga and strength.
An exhausting day as a caregiver, I could only fit in a little workout.  Something is better than nothing, right?
Wednesday (3/25):  4 mile run and strength work.
I fully embraced the taper by sleeping in (all the way until 5:07!).  Even with the later alarm, I still had plenty of time to complete my miles and a bit of strength work before waking up the kids for school.  Tapering rocks!
Thursday (3/26):  5 mile run.
I had intended just to run some easy miles, but my lungs felt healthy and strong for the first time in a month.  I think I've finally beaten that cold that plagued our entire household!  I felt very good through this rainy run and pulled off picture-perfect negative splits.
Friday (3/27):  neighborhood walk and strength work.
Another exhausting day as a front-line caregiver.  I snuck in a brief walk and some strength work in the afternoon, which helped to clear my head.

Glorious sunrise during my long run.
This photo doesn't do justice to the beautiful purple hues;
simply breathtaking.

Saturday (3/28):  12 mile run.
I planned an out-and-back route and couldn't believe how quickly I made it to the turnaround point.  Not that I was running at light speed, but the first 6 miles were over in a flash.  I love that this 12-miler felt like a moderate effort.
Sunday (3/29): REST and mini strength work
Mostly a rest day, but I added a little bit of strength work: squats, planks, glute and core work.

Neighborhood tree week 16: more green grass!

Week 17:
Monday (3/30):  3 mile run plus 3 mile walk with my BRF.
An easy three-miler before meeting up with my BRF for a walk.  A walk with her is always a wonderful start to the week.
Tuesday (3/31):  yoga and strength work.
Seeking peace on an exhausting day through deep breathing and controlled movement.  Not a resounding success, but I did feel somewhat better after the workout.
Wednesday (4/1):  4 mile run.
A highly emotional, teary run as I processed Grandma's death.
Thursday (4/2):  4 mile run.
A rare chance for a weekday run in the daylight, I enjoyed this quick little run before the rain came.
Friday (4/3):  yoga and strength work.
I convinced my husband to join me for part of my yoga!  He may never agree to it again, but I was happy to share the workout with him.

Week 17: an explosion of spring!
If you can look past the sweaty camera lens, you might notice
that several trees in the background flowered this week :)

Saturday (4/4):  8 mile run.
Since I was regularly running weekday 8-milers just a couple weeks ago, this run felt like an easy Saturday effort.  I ran a familiar loop with an engaging podcast and made it home before the kids were up for breakfast.
Sunday (4/5): REST
Or so I intend.  Between Easter and a wake, there's plenty of family activity packed into our day, so I expect to take a full day off from working out.

Now there's just one week left on my training plan.  Very few miles but lots of mental preparation.  Time to make it happen!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Road to 26.2: Week 15

I spent most of week 15 stressing about the weekend long run.  Even though I'd run 19 a couple weeks earlier, 20 loomed large and foreboding.  I did everything I could to prepare mentally and physically: kept up with post-run stretching and nightly foam rolling, ate the right foods, planned out my route, and visualized myself covering the distance.  All in all, the 20-miler and the rest of the week went quite well.  Here are the workouts that led up to the big one:

Monday (3/16):  walk with my BRF.
A beautiful spring morning and a terrific start to the week.  Springtime + BRF = the good life.
Tuesday (3/17):  5 mile run and strength work.
Holy wind, Batman!  The windiest run I've encountered in quite some time.  At points, I battled merely to remain upright.  I noticed that the wind was coming from the northwest, so on the fly, I adjusted my route to run the first half north and west and finish with the wind at my back.  The plan worked out reasonably well, though I had to make one last northwards turn in the final mile and felt like I was nearly stopped in my tracks.
Wednesday (3/18):  5 mile run and strength work.
No part of me wanted to get out of bed to log these miles.  I snoozed an extra time or two and assured myself that I could find another time to run.  Finally admitting that it was now or never (and the window for now was closing rapidly!), I forced myself out of bed and out the door.  Not a particularly good or bad run, but I'm proud of myself for doing it when every fiber of my being protested.
Thursday (3/19):  walk and strength work.
A little walk to raise my anemic step count (thanks, Fitbit, for keeping me accountable!) and some strength work: glute work, planks/side planks, and push-ups.
Friday (3/20):  5 mile run.
On runs less than 8 miles, I like to go without audio stimulation.  I enjoy the chance to let my mind wander and enjoy the peaceful stillness of the morning.  On this day, however, I was taunted by a relentless song and desperately wished I had some other music or a podcast to force it out.  The Strawberry Shortcake theme song on repeat makes for a long five miles.  In case you wondered.

The neighborhood tree week 15: note the grass is turning green!

Saturday (3/21):  20 mile run.
20 freakin' miles!!  A run worthy of its own post, and one that I hope to write before I forget all the minutiae.  In a nutshell, 15 miles felt pretty terrific, 3 were uncomfortable, and 2 were a slog.  Just after mile 15, I was back in my neighborhood to pick up more water, and I really wanted to stop.  I was tired and my motivation was waning.  At just the right moment, I saw my daughter's teacher, one of the sweetest women on the planet.  Seeing her smile was just the pick-me-up I needed as I headed out for the final stretch.  Other highlights from the run: I was stopped by 1 train, hollered at by 1 belligerent old man, and nearly run over by 1 woman reversing without looking.  The inattentive woman was backing out of her driveway as my watch read 19.91 miles.  My thoughts as I realized she wasn't paying attention: "If I stop now, I will never start again."  "If she hits me and my watch doesn't click over to 20, I will go postal."  Fortunately, I jumped into the street to avoid her, kept up a killer pace, and finished with the fastest mile of the whole run.
Sunday (3/22): REST + yoga
After Saturday, which started with a 20-miler and ended with helping run a fundraiser for my kids' school, I was more than ready for Sunday's rest day.  My body felt surprisingly good, but I knew I needed a good stretch.  I worked in some yoga to relax and unwind my tight muscles.

A perfect weekend for books and Legos on the porch.
And just like that, we've made it to the taper!  I hope to focus on foam rolling and yoga while the miles diminish.  I think a big challenge will be keeping my food choices on point.  I've been surprisingly diligent in my diet as I can see a direct relationship between the food I choose and the way I feel on the run.  With fewer runs to keep me honest, however, I know the allure of junk food will be strong.  Step away from the Girl Scout cookies!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Road to 26.2: Week 14

My poor neglected blog.  I'm working hard to balance my training with the seemingly endless life to-do list, but sadly, there isn't enough room for more frequent blogging, too.  Instead of dwelling on it and berating myself for not making the time, I'm going to accept it and move on.  While my posts are few and far between, I'm pleased that I've been keeping up with the weekly training summaries, as I like reading back over them to see how far I've come during this journey.  For week 14, the workouts happened like this:

Monday (3/9):  walk with my BRF.
I sorely miss our early morning runs while Emily heals her hip flexor, so I'm always glad when we can meet up for a walk.  A perfect start to the week and a great way to stretch out my legs after Sunday's 19-miler.
Tuesday (3/10):  5 mile run and strength work.
Wow, did my legs ever feel stiff at the start (and middle!) of this run.  My calves screamed until mile 3.5, and as a result, my pace was barely more than a crawl.  I kept reminding myself that my legs will be tired in the late miles of the race; this was good practice for continuing forward progress even when faced with discomfort.
Wednesday (3/11):  8 mile run.
When my early morning alarm sounded, I found an intensely foggy scene out my window.  An outdoor run was out of the question, and my brain revolted at the thought of 8 treadmill miles at 4:45am.  So I logged those treadmill miles at 1:15pm instead while my girls napped.  I've done plenty of 4- and 5-milers during nap time, but 8 is hard to squeeze into that window.  Lesson learned.
Thursday (3/12):  BRF walk, yoga, and strength work.
Another lovely morning walk with my BRF with yoga and strength work during nap time.  I made up my own yoga sequence, which (surprise, surprise) hit all the tight spots I'd been feeling.  So refreshing!
Friday (3/13):  5 mile run and strength work.
Slow, easy miles in a drizzly rain.
Saturday (3/14):  REST!
But not because I wanted to.  At the last minute, I was called into action to help my ailing grandmother, so my Saturday running window closed before I could lace up.  I was irrationally frustrated by the situation and wasted a great deal of mental energy being angry.  I finally set my negativity aside and enjoyed a sunny afternoon, including a highly anticipated fashion show with the girls.

J-Bug selected dresses, headbands, and shoes for all three of us.
We were all quite fashionable, she assures me.

Sunday (3/15): 12 mile run
Starting at 6:15 to squeeze it in before church, this run began in moonlight, included a brilliant sunrise, and ended in beautiful sunshine.  I felt strong throughout, both mentally and physically, and pulled off a strong finish for the final miles.  Especially considering that it didn't happen when or how I had planned, I'm very pleased with this long run.

You may notice strength work cropping up more frequently this week.  One of the lovely Strava BAMRs challenged us to try incorporating more frequent but shorter strength workouts during the month of March.  To my surprise, I've really enjoyed the mini workouts.  It's easy to fit in just 3-5 minutes of strength after a run or while waiting for the pasta to boil.  I'm enjoying a new approach to strength, as my tried-and-true routine was growing a bit stale.

Blue sky, sunshine, and not a speck of snow or ice.
Life is good.

I have just one more heavy week of training before the taper begins.  How did that happen?!  3.5 weeks to race day!

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Road to 26.2: Week 13

I have no excuses for not posting this training recap earlier in the week.  Best intentions and all, but it just didn't happen.  If only there were 26 hours in a day!  Week 13 didn't include any 26 hour days, though it did feature one 23 hour day (thanks, daylight savings!).  My week of training looked like this:

Monday (3/2):  Pilates.
Still fighting a head full of snot and trying to deny that the symptoms had moved down to my chest, I thought I should take an extra day off from running and do some cross training instead.  A little bit of Pilates kept me from feeling like a sloth, but I was itching to run.
Tuesday (3/3):  5 mile run.
I wasn't too sure how my lungs would feel (and there was some patchy ice on the roads), so I took to the treadmill for this one.  Quite a bit of coughing and nose wiping later, I finally finished this not-so-easy five miler.
Wednesday (3/4):  5 mile run.
Not back to full strength and the ice not fully melted, I was back on the treadmill again.  Thank goodness for Netflix!
Thursday (3/5):  yoga and strength work.
A good mid-afternoon stretch while the kids napped followed by my usual strength regimen: squats, planks, side planks, pushups, glute and core work.
Friday (3/6):  5 mile run.
Finally felt more like myself!  The kids were off school, so I could run slightly later.  I enjoyed a fabulous sunrise and felt nothing but gratitude during this incredibly cold run.  Chances are good that this was the last brutally cold run of the season!  Temperatures climbed all day, and we've enjoyed spring-like weather ever since :)
Saturday (3/7):  REST!
A packed family calendar with no room for a 3.5 hour run.  I felt antsy and off all day as I've done a long run on each of the last 12 Saturdays; it seemed odd to be preparing for the run rather than logging the miles.

My "I survived 19 miles and can still muster half of a smile" face.

Sunday (3/8): 19 mile run
Beautiful weather, sunny skies, and a brain that wasn't engaged.  I ran a lovely route through Forest Park, saw lots of other runners, and listened to some great podcasts.  Yet inexplicably, I couldn't find a groove and very little of this 19-miler felt fun or comfortable.  In spite of my brain's tantrum, however, I kept a fairly even pace throughout and managed a strong finish for the last mile.  The best part of this run was seeing my BRF at the end!  She was walking home from church in her Sunday finery, and I was a hot mess, but she gave me a hug anyway.  Aren't BRFs the best?!

Tiny bits of snow left in the grass.
Hopefully the last snow of the season!
I'm so happy to see that spring is starting to show her pretty face.  With the time change over the weekend, the mornings are pitch black again, but I'll take it in exchange for warmer weather, sunnier skies, and greener landscapes.  Fingers crossed that I've logged my last bitterly cold run of the season!!

Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Road to 26.2: Week 12

After a frustrating week 11, I had high hopes for week 12.  And it was a better week, if only by degrees.  I made it outside twice, got my cross training done, and finally got to turn the page on February.  In greater detail:

Monday (2/23):  5 mile run.
Facing the treadmill again after the weekend's 18-miler, I wanted nothing to do with this run.  I forced myself to apply a mantra I often use in life but rarely need for a run: shut up and do it.
Tuesday (2/24):  yoga and strength work.
A good release of my over-tired muscles.  I'm getting to the point where my muscles are fatigued most of the time, so the yoga is more important that ever.  My body - especially my calves - are so happy when I'm faithful to yoga.  I followed the yoga with my usual strength roundup: squats, planks, pushups, glute and core work.
Wednesday (2/25):  8 mile run.
OUTSIDE!!  After 36 consecutive treadmill miles, my feet loved every second of this cold midweek mid-distance run.  The miles flew by!  Happy does not even begin to express the elation I felt as I cruised through the neighborhood.

Adding to Wednesday's happy run, I glimpsed a brightening
sky as I returned home.  Spring is coming!

Thursday (2/26):  5 mile run.
A frustrating day from start to finish, this treadmill 5-miler while the kids napped was the lone bright spot.  When a treadmill run makes it on the highlight reel, you know it was a rotten day.
Friday (2/27):  brisk walk plus strength.
Cold but sunny, I enjoyed a speedy walk through the neighborhood followed by my tried-and-true strength favorites.
Saturday (2/28):  13 mile run.
I still marvel at the fact that a 13 mile run is a stepback distance.  How far I've come in the last three months...  In the snow in the middle of the afternoon, this run took me outside my comfort zone and challenged me to consider whether cold and snow is actually better than treadmill boredom.  The jury's still out on that question.
Sunday (3/1):  REST!
Three cheers for March!  I gleefully changed the calendar page and bid farewell to February.

A family snowball fight on Sunday afternoon.
I thought I was all done with snow after Saturday's run,
but we had a blast :)
In addition to doing yoga to help relax my tired muscles, over the last few weeks I've also tried to be more attentive with foam rolling.  My husband and I enjoy watching Netflix in the evening when the kids are in bed, and I'm attempting to use Netflix time to foam roll.  Some nights I just can't face it, but I'd say I'm making it happen about four times per week, which seems pretty reasonable to me.  My calves and upper back, especially around the shoulders, are my primary targets for the foam roller.  I think the calves are tight from the accumulated miles, but I'm pretty sure general life stress gets the blame for the shoulders.  Whatever the source, I need to roll out that stress to keep this body moving towards the starting line.  6 weeks to go!

A snowy view of my favorite tree.


Sunday, March 1, 2015

So Long, February!

For such a short month, February can be a real pain in the ass.  The mere 28 days dragged on endlessly this year.  Crappy weather, germs, and a hectic family schedule made the month far more painful than I expected it to be.  It is obviously fitting, therefore, that all three of those would collide on the final day of February to help me bid the foul month a fervent farewell.

My darling children shared a nasty virus with me, and I woke on Friday morning with a throat that seemed coated in a dozen razors.  A head full of snot and stiff neck rounded out my discomfort, but in spite of my symptoms, I made plans for my Saturday long run.  I obsessively checked the weekend weather report and saw that I should be able to squeeze it in on Saturday afternoon.  Our morning was packed with various other commitments, so my earliest opportunity to run was close to 2:00.  As of early Saturday morning, the radar looked cooperative with my plan.  St. Louis was expected to receive nearly 24 hours of snowfall, but it wasn't supposed to begin until 4:00.  With 13 to run, my 2:00pm start time should be perfect.

However, as we walked outside after our early afternoon appointment, we were greeted by tiny little snowflakes.  Almost 3 hours ahead of schedule.  (Because weather always operates on a rigid schedule, right?!)  My husband gave me a look, afraid to ask how this might change my running plans.  Stubborn as ever, I responded with a look of my own that said I was running outside no matter what.

I hit the road at 1:53 with light flurries dancing around my head.  They were small, and I was sure the real snow was going to hold off until 4:00, so I confidently headed out.  I got lost in a podcast and kept my tunnel vision focused on the few feet in front of me.  As I neared the farthest point of my out-and-back, however, I realized the flakes were getting much larger, and real accumulation was gathering on the sidewalks.  I started doubting the sanity of my plan, but it was far too late to change course now.  I turned around and began the slow slog back home.

A sight along my route as the snow began accumulating in earnest.
I spent most of the run debating whether frozen eyelashes were in fact better
than endless boredom on the treadmill.
I never really settled that question...
My stuffy head, congested roadways, inconsiderate pedestrians, and a passing train made for a run that seemed much longer than the two hours and eight minutes that elapsed on my watch.  When I'd hit my distance and stopped my watch, I checked the time: 4:01.  Had the weather followed the earlier report, I would have finished just as the first few flakes started to fall.  Instead, I finished in 2 inches of fresh powder with patches of slush and ice.  While a beautiful scene for a Christmas card, it proved a bit unpleasant for a long run.  Nevertheless, it seems a fitting end to a month full of unexpected frustrations.

With great gladness, I turn the calendar page and look forward to warmer weather and more enjoyable runs.  Onward!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Road to 26.2: Week 11

Week 11 tested my mental toughness and challenged my dedication to training.  Winter weather reared its ugly head, gifting us with the dreaded wintry mix and bitterly cold windchills.  I only made it outside for one run last week.  Though I worked hard to choose my attitude and select a positive outlook (I have a treadmill!  I can watch Netflix without interruption!), the monotony of treadmill miles wore on me.  My largely indoor workouts looked like this:

Monday (2/16):  5 mile run.
In several inches of new snow.  Neither the roads nor the streets were cleared, so it was slow-going.  My left hip definitely felt the extra effort this run required.  Running five miles in unplowed snow may not have been my brightest idea, but looking ahead at the week's forecast, I suspected it might be one of my few chances to run outside, so I seized it.

Bundled and snowy after Monday's run.
Tuesday (2/17):  yoga and strength work.
A nice gentle stretch to release the muscles that were tired from the snowy run.  Strength work was pretty much the usual: squats, planks, side planks, pushups, monster walks, and glute work.
Wednesday (2/18):  8 mile run.
Midweek mid-distance run on the treadmill.  It was long and hard, and I knew it was just a prelude to the even longer treadmill run I had in a few days.  I survived this run, but afterwards, I had serious doubts about my ability to go more than twice the distance over the weekend.
Thursday (2/19):  5 mile run.
More treadmill.  Thank goodness for Netflix to help pass the time and break up the monotony!
Friday (2/20):  pilates plus some extra strength.
A new pilates YouTube video that was an excellent core and glute workout.  It really targeted the low abs and hips, which this mother runner could certainly use help strengthening.  I added some of my usual strength work at the end to complete the workout.
Saturday (2/21):  18 mile run.
The big suck, which required extreme mental strength to embrace and overcome.  But I did it!

Replenishing carbs and enjoying a dance performance by my girls on Saturday evening.
Does life get much better?

Sunday (2/22):  REST!
So happy to have a day to recover from the long run and catch up on some much-needed work around the house.  Surprisingly, no laundry gnomes tackled the dirty socks while I was running this week...

Without a doubt, this week was the hardest of the training plan to date.  31 of the 36 miles happened in my basement with an unchanging view and lots of self-doubt.  Even as I write this, I'm shocked that I survived the week.  I've never run so many miles in a single week, and I've surely never run so many miles on a treadmill.  I tried hard to keep my crabbing and complaining inside my head, but I'm sure it leaked over into the rest of my relationships.  My sincere apologies to all my friends and family who had to listen to my frustrations.

With great pleasure, I bid farewell to week 11 of this training plan.  You came.  You sucked.  I survived - barely.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Embracing the Suck

Marathon training requires endless schedule shuffling, weather obsessing, mileage counting, and face stuffing.  I find some of those things quite enjoyable, particularly the face stuffing.  But this weekend, the weather obsessing and schedule shuffling nearly got the best of me.

With a weekend full of Cub Scout events, our family calendar had few openings for my scheduled 18-miler.  I needed 3 hours to complete the miles, plus a little extra to stretch, refuel, shower, etc.  This left my only window of opportunity early on Saturday morning; I needed to be finished by 9:30.  No problem.  But Mother Nature had other plans: a winter storm descended upon our area dousing the city in a mix of freezing rain, sleet, and snow.  In the wee hours of Saturday morning.

For a moment, I considered braving the roads, but I knew I'd never forgive myself if I wound up injured from slipping on ice.  I've been training steadily for 11 weeks; I couldn't throw all that away on one run.  So I embraced the suck and launched an 18 mile run on my basement treadmill.

Pulled out the big guns: I wore my Sparkle Athletic skirt
to inject just a bit of fun into the monotony of 3 hours on the treadmill.
I tried my hardest to frame the run in the most optimistic terms.  Instead of feeling angry that I was confined to my basement for hours, I told myself that I had the privilege of spending a Saturday morning watching Netflix.  Rather than watching each second tick by on the display, I covered it up and measured my run in show lengths.  I stopped to fuel after each 40-minute show, only looking at the display at those intervals.

Considering I spent 3 hours running nowhere, things went remarkably well.  I texted my sister before I started and found a reply from her during my first fuel stop.  We exchanged texts at each break, with me updating her on my progress and her cheering me on.  At my third break, I was all done.  I'd bested my previous treadmill distance PR and wanted nothing more to do with the hamster wheel.  I felt defeated, but she reassured me that I could finish.  Though I lacked her confidence, I returned to the dreaded contraption anyway and soldiered on.

Read past my tired brain's mistyping: "forgot" should be "for your".
(Surprisingly, "Hanks" is not a typo; that's how we say thanks around here.)

In the final miles, I could not maintain my resolve to keep my eyes off the display.  I tried focusing solely on Netflix, but my mind couldn't stop thinking about how far I still had to go.  My glutes were tired, my low abs hurt, and my toes ached.  Most of all, my brain no longer cared to embrace the suck.  At mile 16, I told myself that if I ran to 17, I could walk the final mile.  When I got to 17, however, I knew there was no way I'd walk.  I wanted to GET OFF the treadmill, and the fastest way to do that was to run.  I pushed hard the last three miles, steadily increasing the speed so I could end the torture.

When it was all over, I was sure I'd cry.  I'd felt emotions welling up as I dug deep to finish those final miles, and I was sure the flood gates would open with an ugly cry spilling over.  To my surprise, I just felt extreme elation.  I was happy to be done (obviously), but I was also so.darn.proud of myself for attempting such an overwhelming task and chipping away until it was finished.

I've often worried about miles 20-26.2 of the marathon.  Will I be able to conquer those miles?  Do I have the mental and physical strength do it?  After yesterday's run, I have to believe that I have the mental strength required.  Though I have no scientific proof, 18 miles on the treadmill MUST be harder than an equal number of miles on the road.

Yesterday, I stared down 18 miles on the treadmill.  I faced the suck, I embraced it, and I conquered.  Come April 12th, I hope to be able to say the same about 26.2.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Road to 26.2: Week 10

Life has hindered my posting of last week's training recap.  Each time I sit down to compose this post, thirteen interruptions surface, and the text lies half written.  Lest I am further deferred by interruptions, I'm going to cut right to the chase:

Monday (2/9):  4 mile run.
Easy miles to kick off the week.
Tuesday (2/10):  8 mile run.
A new weekday distance PR!  Squeezing in 8 miles before 6:00am is not for the feint of heart.  I left at 4:47, ran an 8-miler that felt surprisingly easy, stretched, showered, and was ready to get the kids rolling for school at 6:45.  Just another morning for this marathon-training mother runner...
Wednesday (2/11):  early morning walk with my BRF plus yoga and strength work.
Since my BRF is currently benched from running, I've missed our early morning chats!  It was so nice to have a chance to catch up :)  Later in the day, I did yoga for runners plus strength work, including planks/side planks, monster walks, squats, pushups, and glute work.
Thursday (2/12):  4 mile run.
With extremely cold temps outside, I took this one to the treadmill.  Though the treadmill is certainly not my favorite arena for a run, it gave me the chance to wear a skirt for the first time in months!  It's the little things.
Friday (2/13):  pilates and strength work.
A very thorough pilates workout that targeted my core.  Afterwards, I added extra strength work doing most of the same exercises as I had on Wednesday.
Saturday (2/14):  17 mile run.
A really terrific long run!  I plotted out a loop course that carried me farther than I ever dreamed of running.  The weather was quite cold, but I kept a steady pace, fueled efficiently, and pulled of a wildly fast finish for the final two miles.  I returned home exhausted but triumphant.  When my husband asked how the run was, I simply replied: "17 miles is a long way to go."  Trite and obvious, but it was all I could verbalize as my brain was still grappling with the enormity of what I'd just accomplished.
Sunday (2/15):  REST!
A day full of Hello Kitty and sparkly things as we celebrated my daughter's 5th birthday!

The birthday girl with her celebratory donut, our family tradition.
During Saturday's long run, my path included 4 interstate overpass crossings.  I don't really have a problem with heights, but running on highway overpasses unnerves me a bit.  In my head, I know it is a safe path to travel; in my heart, however, I am full of heebie-jeebies.  Without exaggeration, I think the .4 of a mile I spent running over highways were more difficult than any of the other 16.6 miles I covered.

Week 10 was overall quite solid, and though it included an uptick in mileage, I'm feeling healthy and strong.  During this training cycle, my feelings waffle rapidly between excitement and sheer terror.  I'm pleased that week 10 landed squarely in excited camp - with just a bit of terror on the overpasses.  Onward!

Friday, February 13, 2015

Bedtime Yoga

The Casper Mattress Company is working on an initiative called Bedtime Yoga, poses that one can do in bed to unwind after a long day.  When I heard about this project, I was intrigued.  I enjoy doing a little bit of yoga to unwind, especially after a day with a hard workout or an especially cantankerous time with the kids, but I don't usually think to do it on the bed.  The idea sounded unusual and fun, so I decided to give it a try**.

One of my favorite spots in the house,
but one I've never considered for yoga...until now!

Any bedtime yoga I attempt must be short and sweet.  I start heading to bed too late almost nightly, so this is not the time of day for me to attempt an in-depth yoga session.  Instead, I aim to stretch the parts of my body I've used heavily but haven't tended, namely my shoulders, back, and feet.  To hit these key tired muscles at the end of the day, I like to do this sequence:

Eagle arms:  targets my upper back and shoulders where I often carry the stress of the day.
* stretch arms out to the side
* bring them in front of the body, with the left over the right
* bend the elbows to 90*, twisting the forearms so that the palms touch
* lift the elbows straight up to feel a stretch in the shoulders
* repeat on the other side

Supported chest opener:  releases the chest and realigns the neck and spine.  So relaxing!
* sit with a pillow immediately behind your backside
* lay back on the pillow
* raise arms up and then slowly lower them to the side, finding a resting point that is comfortable

Toes pose (in 2 parts):  stretches and relaxes my overworked feet.
Part I:
* sit on your knees with your toes curled under
* take care to make sure the bottom of each toe is touching the ground; use your fingers to place the pinky toe in the proper position
* sit with a tall spine in this position to stretch the bottoms of your feet
Part II:
* still on your knees, sit with the tops of your feet touching the bed
* lean backwards, raising your knees off the ground to feel the stretch along the top of your feet and your shins

Legs up the headboard:  a pose that I call pure magic.  It drains excess fluid from the lower extremities, gently stretches the backs of my legs, and settles my back.
* sit with your left hip touching the headboard
* lay back and swing your legs up so they are vertical along the headboard
* try to keep your backside as close to the headboard as is comfortable
* place your arms out to the side, over your head, or on your chest; whatever feels best

Since a picture is worth a thousand words, I've included a few snapshots of these poses in action.  Please note, however, that yoga selfies are infinitely difficult.  Yoga photos taken by a 7-year-old are just marginally better but will have to suffice:


When you do Toes Pose II, you'll straighten your shoulder much better than I'm demonstrating, right?  A nice long line, not the hunch I've got going on.  Also, as you can see, my headboard is not quite ideal for legs up the headboard.  If yours is much taller, you might enjoy this pose from the comfort of your mattress; I'll stick to my usual wall for greater stability.

Have you ever tried yoga from your bed?  What poses would you include in a bedtime yoga routine?

** A key note: I am not a yoga professional nor do I play one on TV.  I've enjoyed learning about yoga through friends and various online resources, but I am not trained to offer advice on the subject.  Instead, I am simply sharing what I've found works well for my body.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Road to 26.2: Week 9

The halfway point of the training plan!  A step-back week, I was grateful for the shorter long run, though I'm still a bit surprised that I've become a person who calls 13 miles a shorter run.  The weather during week 9 was typically St. Louis: black ice on Friday and capri weather on Saturday.  Hopefully this means I will be prepared for any weather conditions come race day.  In review, my training week looked like this:

Monday (2/2):  4 mile run.
After two consecutive days off from running, my legs felt incredibly fresh.  This run felt easy and was over in a flash.
Tuesday (2/3):  barre workout and strength work.
A quad-burning good time with one of my standard YouTube workouts.  After the barre workout, I added some extra strength, primarily squats, lunges, planks, and glute exercises.
Wednesday (2/4):  7 mile run.
I ran 3.5 easy miles with Emily and then 3.5 tempo miles solo.  All of them felt hard, mentally more so than physically.  My brain just wasn't in the game.  In spite of my brain's sluggishness, I managed negative splits and a speedy finish.
Thursday (2/5):  yoga and strength work.
Another of my standard YouTube workouts, this yoga sequence was just what I needed to stretch and relax.  I followed it with strength work: squats, planks, pushups, glute and core work.
Friday (2/6):  4 mile run.
With patchy black ice on most of the side streets, I opted to run laps along the cleared main road.  The scenery was dull and the wind was fierce, yet somehow I still liked this option better than the treadmill.

Emily is temporarily benched due to injury, so this was my running partner on Saturday.
Long runs feel much longer without a BRF...

Saturday (2/7):  13 mile run.
The weather was gorgeous - warm and sunny - but this did not feel like my best long run effort.  Nothing major went wrong; it simply wasn't my day.  However, I managed to keep relatively even splits through the first half and pulled off a fast finish (despite being stopped by a traffic light with less than half a mile to go!).  All in all, a solid effort when I didn't have my best stuff.
Sunday (2/2):  REST!
Faux spring continued, and we all got out to enjoy it.

Enjoying the sunshine on a neighborhood walk with my crew :)

On Friday, as I considered the fact that I was nearly halfway finished with this training plan, I felt somewhat disheartened.  I've done loads of work and the thought of maintaining this level of training for another 9 weeks felt daunting.  However, after Saturday's long run (aided by post-run endorphins, no doubt), I took a different perspective entirely.  Nine weeks remain on the plan, but that includes a 3-week taper, which means there are just 6 more weeks of hard workouts.  Broken down even further, since my plan includes step-back weeks, there are just 4 more new-to-me distance long runs.  And that sounds completely achievable.  Hard but achievable.  Subdividing the work like this helps me cope with the training load.  In just a few moments of thought, I went from worried about 9 more weeks to feeling confident about 4 more long runs.  The same amount of work remains; my attitude is different.

So bring it on, second half of the plan!  I'm ready for you.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Learning to Embrace the Journey

During last weekend's long run, I was reminded that marathon training - and life in general - is a journey not a destination.  I was due to run 13 miles and planned an out-and-back route from my house.  I ran along a road I've driven countless times but one I've never run.  While I made my way along unpredictable sidewalks (seriously, St. Louis county, why the inconsistent sidewalks?!), I tried to enjoy the process of getting to the turnaround point.  There was no significance to the furthest point except that it was 6.5 miles from my house.  I wouldn't do anything special there.  I was just supposed to run to that spot and then turn around to retrace the very same path.

When I got there, I was surprised by how I felt at the turnaround point.  It was an intersection that I've encountered numerous times, but it felt different seeing it on foot rather than through the windshield.  Or rather, I felt different.  Was it due to the fact that I'd spent the last 6.5 miles lost in a podcast rather than refereeing backseat brawls?  Or because I was watching the blue morning sky and not focusing on bad drivers and unsignaled lane changes?  Or because I'd just climbed a killer hill and could now enjoy descending it?  Whatever the reason for my mood, it reminded me that I was on a journey.  The marathon journey to push my body and my brain to new limits.  The life journey to do the same.



As a stubborn, Type A individual, I can easily become fixated on individual goals and the steps needed to achieve them.  I don't pay attention to the path.  I merely check off the boxes, achieve the goal, and move on to the next one.  Now that I'm well ensconced in my 30s, however, I'm making an effort to appreciate the process rather than obsessing over the final target.  Because, as we all know, there is no final target.  When we reach the point we thought would be the end, there are always new challenges, new goals, new tasks to be done.

So I'm embracing the journey.  Taking time to enjoy the present moment - or not enjoy it, as the case may be, but to acknowledge that it is an entity unto itself and not just a signpost along the way.  The journey is not always pretty, and it's certainly not always easy.  But it is worth the effort for it is on the journey that we are changed.

Do you embrace the journey of training and/or life or do you seek the destination?  Any advice for this journey-focused newbie?

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The Road to 26.2: Week 8

Didn't I just post one of these?  I can't believe how fast this training plan is going.  It feels like I just started, yet somehow here I am, recapping week 8 of the plan.  Week 8 was not without flaw, but I hit all of my workout milestones: 4 runs, 3 strength workouts, and 2 yoga sessions.  A bit more detail about those workouts:

Monday (1/26):  4 mile run and strength work.
An easy run to start the week that truly felt easy!  It felt good to move my legs and start the week with a BRF run.  Post-run, I did some squats, lunges, core and glute work.
Tuesday (1/27):  7 mile run.
With very tired legs.  My brain was engaged, I was enjoying the finale of Serial, but my legs were toast.  All the wise mother runners on Strava assure me that this is part of the process; running on tired legs is mental and physical prep for race day.  How do runners train for marathons without such sage voices?  I'm fortunate to have a cadre of mother runners supporting me on this journey.
Wednesday (1/28):  yoga and strength work.
At 9:40pm.  Better late than never, right?  This was mostly a going-through-the-motions sort of a workout.  My heart was definitely not in it, but hopefully my body still reaped some benefit.

My training partner on Thursday.
Thursday (1/29):  4 mile run.
With my husband traveling for work, I had to get a bit creative for this run.  I could have logged the miles on my treadmill, but I'm still traumatized from last month's 12-miler to nowhere.  Instead, I laced up early while the kids slept, took my baby monitor, and ran lots (and lots and lots) of laps in front of my house.  My neighbors surely think I'm nuts...
Friday (1/30):  15 mile run.
My sister offered to watch my kids for the afternoon, and I jumped at the chance to run in sunlight.  I'm certainly not an afternoon runner, but in spite of that, I felt surprisingly good during this run.  I explored a new-to-me running route near her house, got lost in some podcasts, and enjoyed the sunlight on my face.  My legs felt strong throughout, perhaps in part due to the pancake-flat route.  All in all, a terrific long run!
Saturday (1/31):  yoga and strength work.
My body was stiff after accumulating my highest-ever weekly mileage, so I did a long yoga workout.  It felt good to release those sore, overworked muscles.  The strength workout felt tough, especially on my legs.  To get the work in without taxing the legs, I focused primarily on core and arms.
Sunday (2/1):  REST!
A legit rest day.  With very little on the family calendar, we enjoyed a quiet day at home.

This week marked a departure from the previous ones with several unusually timed workouts.  Late night yoga and afternoon runs are not usually my cup of tea, but it's nice to know that I can still get the work done, even at an odd time of day.  Marathon training is about flexibility, right?  If so, I definitely honed some workout flexibility this week.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Fuel for the Long Run

As I've mentioned in other posts, I try to fuel myself and my family with real food as often as possible.  It comes as little surprise, then, that I carry this same philosophy into fueling while running.  I've spent many a naptime Googling the best natural fuels to carry on the run, and I thought I'd share what's worked well for me.

For the vast majority of my long runs, I rely on raisins or dates to keep my energy levels on track.  Before you click away thinking I'm out of my mind, hear me out.  I know raisins sound like a counter-intuitive choice, but they really work wonders.  On one of my first long runs, I encountered some GI distress around mile 4, which was the time I had planned to eat some raisins.  I did not want to eat any, for fear of making my angry intestines even angrier, but I was hungry and 4 miles from home.  I reluctantly ate a few, and the GI discomfort disappeared almost immediately.  I'm not sure if the raisins actually helped the GI problem, but I know for a fact that they did not exacerbate the situation.  I've fueled with raisins on countless runs since that time and have never experienced GI rumblings as a result.

My longtime long run companion.

I like raisins and dates because they are easy to carry and they keep well.  I dump some into a snack size Ziploc bag, slide the bag my pocket, and head out the door.  They get jostled around during the run but are no worse for the wear.  And they are small enough that I can nibble on a few while still running.

For longer long runs, I get a bit tired of dried fruit and venture out into other options.  I love eating a banana to fuel a run, though transportation is obviously an issue.  Sometimes I plan out my route so that I can stop by my house and grab a banana.  When I don't want to stop by home, I've learned that I can carry half of a banana in a small bag in my jacket pocket, and it keeps well enough for the first few miles.  On such runs, I am sure to eat the banana first (usually around mile 4) because I'm not sure how long it will last in an enclosed bag getting jostled with every footfall.  After 4 miles, it's usually a bit banged up but still tastes good to me.

A newcomer to my fueling plan, but one that's going to stick around.

During last week's 15-miler, I added in another food option: sweet potato.  I had baked several mid-week for dinner and had a few left over.  On a whim, I put half of one (without its skin) into a bag and added it to my stash.  I first reached for the sweet potato around mile 8, not too sure what to expect.  After my first tentative bite, I was hooked.  It was soft and easy to chew, and it instantly gave me the energy jolt that I needed.  I'm planning to keep sweet potato in my long run rotation.

"These foods are all well and good," I hear you say, "but how do you schlep all of it around?"  Obviously, toting around a kitchen's worth of food isn't the simplest task.  From fall through spring, I wear a vest with loads of pockets, so I have plenty of places to stash my fuel.  I also have a SPIbelt that I used to carry the sweet potato and raisins/dates last week.  The belt works great for me.  It doesn't bounce at all and is so comfortable that I quickly forget I'm wearing it.  The environment is the biggest casualty in my transportation plan.  I haven't figured out reusable ways to carry my fuel, so I use a fair number of Ziploc bags.  No plan is without flaw, right?

Do you use real food to fuel your long runs?  What are your favorites?  Have any recommendations for a reusable way to tote food on the run?