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?