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?