Monday, June 13, 2016

Mount Desert Island Marathon training - Day 1 (and a mini race recap)

Back when I was training for Pumpkinman 70.3, I deeply regretted not writing more about training, especially the second year I did that race. There were many days that second year where it felt really hard. I felt like I was losing my mind, but I knew I had to have been feeling that way the first year. If only I had a journal of sorts to look back on. Sigh...

So here we are on Day 1. Oh right. Yeah. I signed up for my first marathon (which is news to the blog but probably not to anyone who actually still reads this thing)! Andrew and I will be running Mount Desert Island Marathon in October. I am really excited about it but it's tempered a bit by the fact that I had my a$$ handed to me in the Mayflower Half marathon yesterday. While Mayflower is an extremely hilly 13.1, MDI doubles the distance, while TRIPLING the elevation gain. The big saving grace is that it should at least be cool, if not cold, in October in Acadia (watch me eat my words...I ran the BAA 13.1 in October the year it was 85 on race day).

Since it's Day 1 and a scheduled rest day (YAY!) I don't have anything to report yet. I am using Hal Higdons (free!) Novice 2 Marathon training plan. I talked a bit with some of my running and tri friends and the majority of the experienced marathoners said the extra day of running in the Intermediate plan was pretty tough. They all felt like the Novice 2 was plenty to get me there without risking injury or burnout. It also leaves an extra day off so I can squeeze in triathlon training. I have about 7 weeks where the seasons will overlap and that's only if I want my last race to be the one I have on 7/31.

So what else have I been up to? I have completely turned my eating and nutrition upside down. I feel better than I have, ever, really and I'm losing weight while eating more and not tracking anything. I joined a month long online nutrition coaching group that really made things click for me. I thought I knew what I needed to do and was skeptical this would help but it really did. Somehow, having everything broken down into small daily lessons and action items made me not only understand what I needed to do and why, but WANT to do it. Once I started to see the positive implications of following the action items, I was sold. Now most of it is habit.

Since Pumpkinman (my last blog post! Ugh!) I have been running more. I was pretty lazy over the last part of 2015 and then, with some prodding from others, signed up to do the Winter Warrior Challenge through Marathon Sports. You commit to running 1, 3 or 5 miles outside every day. You have to run that minimum every day or you drop down to the lowest level (or DQ if you run less than 1 mile). You can't bank miles either. I signed up to do 3, but if I ran 2 one day and 4 the next, I would lose my spot in the 3 miles a day group and go down to 1. If I missed a day, I was out. It's funny that once it became a habit, it was not that hard. I did walk a day or two a week to avoid injury. I am not one of those people who can bang out day after day and do high mileage. That's one of the reasons triathlon has been so good for me. It also tricked me into realizing the benefits of HR training since the large volume of slow easy miles made a big difference in my endurance.

One of my favorite Instagram pics from that challenge.

Since then I've done a 5K and started training for Mayflower. I really enjoyed this race last year and since it was so hilly, Andrew and I thought it would be a good warm up for MDI. We happily signed up right away and got to training. Then we saw that the course was "new and improved." I'm not exactly sure what happened, but the race had been billed as running along the waterfront and then suddenly, the entire waterfront section, including the beautiful bike path portion was moved inland. The entire section that I loved last year had been changed, including the part that went right near my parents house where they could easily watch for us. I certainly didn't expect them to fight construction, tourist and race traffic to sit on a random side street to see me run by. Especially since I wasn't feeling my best. Back before Pumpkinman I strained my back. I was completely fine until the end of April when I think, due to bad posture and rushing at work, I reinjured it. It was BAD this time. There was really no position that was comfortable. Only walking felt good, but I was afraid to run too much. In the end, stretching, core work and gentle running helped. By the time I felt good enough to get back into training I had 3 weeks until Mayflower. I was getting through my 10 and 11 mile runs (slowly) and feeling great so I figured I'd give it a shot. I'm not trying to impress anyone and if I had to walk that was fine. It was my 6th 13.1 and I knew what I was in for.

I woke up on my own at 5:30 that day and could feel that it was already warm out. The forecast was for 60s and raining up until that day and then BOOM! it was 70 at 5am. I do not tolerate heat well and have to go out of my way to acclimate for it. That's why I did so many mid day 85-90 degree runs last summer. I did not want to struggle as much in 2015's Pumpkinman as I did in 2014 (and of course it was low 50s and raining in 2015). I did not have many warm days where I could get out during the hot part this year. Luckily I had aced my hydration and nutrition leading up to the race. I think if I had not I may have been in big trouble by the end.

The race started with a huge hill and not a single person in my wave (2) ran up the whole thing. My teammate caught up to me (she was wave 3) after the first giant hill and we ran together a bit. Her kind words meant a lot to me and I thought of them later when I was really struggling. I wish I was able to keep up with her for longer, but I was already way too hot and needing to walk to cool off. From there on out it was a series of rolling or bigger hills.  I kept about a 12 min mile average through mile 4, which I was happy about given how I felt. Around then we were held to let traffic pass for quite a while. Now, I can see on some of these bigger roads (and this was one of them), holding the middle-of-the-pack runners and slower so that instead of a slow stream of racers that blocks traffic for hours, they alternate letting some cars go and then letting one big pack of runners go. The thing is, we were held for a WHILE. Long enough that some of us started to cramp a little. We were all standing patiently on the sidewalk while waiting to be allowed to cross and the officer already seemed mad at us. Sorry dude. We're all just standing here. Im not sure what that was all about. Maybe there were problems earlier? All I knew that was there was a porta pottie within the next mile and I REALLY needed to pee. The one a mile back had over 20 people waiting for it. That is my one big complaint. There were not enough at the start. My sister in law, who ran her first race, almost missed her wave! Since there weren't enough at the start, those of us who didn't really have to go figured we'd go at some point on the course. The second set wasn't as crowded, but I'm sure I lost 10 entire minutes between the traffic stop and the pee stop. At that point I felt great! I was drinking plenty at the water stops (props to this race for having water every mile, even if one of the later ones was out of cups) and had taken my first gel. My calf was starting to cramp but it didn't really hurt too bad. This was really the only scenic part of the race, along Billington St and Black Cat Rd (also hills!). Look! I'm even smiling at the 10K split!

(not sure why my 5K time is showing for my 10K picture but I do NOT run that fast)

To make a long story short, that calf cramp turned into an entire-foot toe-curling cramp around mile 8. That was about when I realized that my Salt Stick caps really don't take up much room so why one earth do I never bring them just in case? I mean really. I felt like I rolled in the sand at the end of the race I was so salty. The last 5 miles were brutal. They were either along busy roads or in neighborhoods and there was not a lot of shade. I tried to run to get it over with, but by mile 11 I was done. There were quite a few of us trudging along. Did I mention how hot I was? Maybe I need those cooling sleeves some of my tri friends use. Haha. Anyway, I made it to the finish and right at mile 13 I saw an old friend which made my day. Although at that point I wasn't sure if I was seeing  anything clearly so I jokingly said "who is that?! Is that really you?!"

And that's that. It took me over 3 hours and 20 min to finish this race and it hurt a lot almost the whole time. It's fine. I mostly did it because I had already paid and had friends doing it too, but it's still a bummer. I appreciate that people care and are trying to give me the tough love, you finished despite many major setbacks bit, you didn't quit etc, but you know what? Im still allowed to be disappointed. Yes, I know it's great to be able to struggle and overcome, but there comes a point where you just get sick of having to struggle. So keep that in mind. Your friends will appreciate your kind words and knowing how great you think they are. They will not appreciate being told how to feel. The ups AND downs are important. It's part of how we grow as runners and people. If I had breezed through yesterday and had the mediocre race I was expecting I may not be as ready to move on as I am today. When I woke up this morning I thought, "my gosh yesterday totally sucked. Im so glad that today is Day 1 of a new challenge."

(edited to say - most of my negative feelings to the race we mostly my own issues. I did prefer the course from last year and I do think there need to be more porta potties and cups at water stations. However, I felt safe the entire race, even on the busy roads and the volunteers were AWESOME. Plus, this race had at least water at every mile, which is more than almost all other races. I would recommend this race if you are looking for a very hilly challenging course. The time allotment is generous too, at 3.5 hours.)

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Did Not Fail

I always thought my first DNF (Did Not Finish) would be this huge awful traumatic experience. Pretty dramatic, right? I thought there would be a lot of tears (there were a little) and that I wouldn't be able to face all the people who were tracking my progress and waiting to see how I did.

It wasn't like that. At all.

I have been wavering on what to write or even if I was going to write at all. One of my biggest regrets here is that I didn't write throughout my training in 2014. I wish I did. I think the rollercoaster of emotions I went through would have not been so bad if I had proof that it was normal and that I had been there before. I don't really know where to start, so I guess I'll just jump right in.

First off, I'll just say that this year was weird for racing. I should do a race round up post just to summarize. My favorite tri was downgraded to a 5K after rip tides and torrential rain. That was the start of my season. I had some horrible swims, disappointing bike times and runs that were all over the place. I did a late spring half marathon that was slow, but a total blast. It was just a weird, weird year for me.


The good:

I trained harder and smarter for my half ironman. I bought a bike trainer at the end of last season and used it to keep up my fitness during our 10-feet-of-snow winter. It also made it much easier to get long rides in without completely rearranging my schedule. Usually I'd have a long ride on Saturday and a long swim and run on Sunday. If I had to work on that Saturday it would mean that a 3 hour ride would be from 7-10pm. Not really doable outside, especially in the city! If I moved it to Sunday, I'd be doing all three sports back to back. Also kind of crazy. Instead I could hop on the trainer after work and get it done. Of course it was a pretty boring Saturday night, but it worked great and I found a lot of benefit to running the day after a long ride.

I also figured out my bike nutrition. In contrast to our arctic-like winter, we had one of the hottest summers in a while. By September I was confident in my switch to Tailwind (mandarin orange flavor is great!).

They put my name on the bag, wrote a little note and threw in a sample and some stickers!

I was also able to get to know my teammates more and this was a great thing!

The bad:

I was really really sick the last two weeks of June, right after I did the half marathon. I had a fever for days and major chest congestion for weeks. I did nothing the first week and hardly anything the week after. On the days I did work, I went right to bed after. It took me a better part of a month to completely recover.  The good thing is that I didn't dwell on it and moved right on with training when I could, but I knew I missed a couple of big weeks and that certainly didn't help my cause. 

Despite swimming much more, starting earlier in the season and actually following the prescribed workouts I had two horrible swims. Both were in the ocean and 1/4 and 1/2 miles. I don't know what my issue was with the first one. I just kind of lost my head and let the rough water at the turn around get to me. The second was was just really rough. The current was pushing one way, the wind gusting another. It was choppy, there were some rollers and the people around me were kind of freaking out. I started to feel like I wasn't making forward progress and got really freaked out. The fact that a few of my teammates were at the swim exit really was the only reason it didn't get worse. At the finish line, one of them was waiting for me and I told her that knowing she was there waiting really helped me pull through. 

These bad swims, along with really slow bike times really started to get to me. I think I spent a lot of energy with the mental battle between trying to push my limits and perform better, but also understand that I was aiming high. It was as if I had forgotten where I was starting from. I was seeing all these people I looked up to achieving these great times and instead of using them as inspiration, I was comparing myself to them. I know this is wrong, but it took a while to figure out exactly why I was feeling so horrible about my times. 


The summer went along and I started to have some lower back pain. I attributed it to doing a bunch of races in a row and then going back to work after vacation, right into an overtime week. I figured if I was careful and took it easy, I would feel better. I stretched some, but if I knew how much it would bother me in the race, I would have been much more aggressive in treating it. I'm also currently putting together a strength training plan to not only work on my core, but my whole body. I'm planning on keeping it up into next years training.

As the race neared, I was starting to get really nervous but also felt fairly peaceful about it. It was strange to feel both, but I did. I think I knew where my problems lie, and they were potentially real issues, but I also knew I did what I could.  I just wanted race day to come so I could see how it would end. Never once did I think I'd voluntarily DNF. I didn't really think there was a big possibility of them pulling me either. I was mostly scared of failing to do better than the previous year. I also REALLY didn't want to be last again.

Despite the fact that I'm an introvert and need my own space and time to myself, I decided to stay at my teammates house in Maine for race weekend. I tend to kind of hibernate before races. I get SO nervous that I don't feel like I can socialize. I realized that there was probably nothing good about shutting myself away with only my own thoughts, plus I really like my teammates! Andrew and I headed up on Friday and had a nice relaxing pasta dinner with some of the people who were competing the next day at the Lobsterman Olympic distance triathlon. I was hoping to spectate that race, but my back was acting up again and I barely slept Friday night. I was tired and the bed was so comfortable but I just could not shut my brain off. Andrew and I ended up sleeping in and then hanging out, waiting to help with the cookout. Saturday night was a lot of fun. Every year, the teammates who are doing Lobsterman on Saturday and Pumpkinman on Sunday have a cookout on Saturday evening. This year it was at the house where we were staying, so it was nice to just be able to go right to bed after. I was really proud of myself for making sure I did the right thing for myself that day. I didn't eat a lot of junk food. I made sure I ate at the right times. I also ate what is the perfect dinner for me - chicken and rice, some potatoes and a little bit of veggies. No alcohol and no dairy. Not even the delicious looking birthday ice cream pie! I had such a nice night getting to know everyone better and by the time I went to bed around 9, I felt pretty content. I was ready to race and felt like what would be, would be.

Well THAT'S not good...

No one is surprised I was obsessively checking the weather. When I woke up at 4:30, it was raining pretty good and it was COLD. My phone said it was 55º out. We headed to the race site, I got body marked and went to find my rack spot. At first I was happy to be on the end by the fence. It's one less person's stuff to deal with being next to mine. Then I realized I had like 8 inches. I had much less space than normal. People had also put their bags along the fence and they were right up to where my tire touched down. Um, I'm sorry. Do you want me to stand on your bag while I change? My only other option would be to stand in front of the bike next to me and block that person. I gently moved some of the bags over to make room. Don't be those people, okay? Not only is it not allowed by USAT rules, but it's bad sportsmanship to take more than your fair share of the space and to block another persons transition area (it can also get you a penalty). I crammed my stuff into the plastic bags I brought with me and hoped for the best. It took much longer to arrange everything and all of a sudden we were being called out of transition.

Again, I was in the second to last wave. It's such a bummer. I know someone has to be in those last waves, but I'm so slow, I spend most of the race alone. After about 20 minutes it was our turn and we waded into the water. The water felt amazing. The air was barely 60º and the water was much warmer. A few seconds later we were off! I could tell from the start that I was much more comfortable in my wetsuit than previous swims. I tried to stay steady, stay out of the way of the faster swimmers coming up behind me (it was a double loop swim and some were passing us while on their last loop) and swim as straight as possible. I'm actually quite happy with how well I sighted. I felt relaxed but also able to push it. I rounded the turn buoy, according to my Garmin, in 25 minutes. Two minutes off last year! I still felt great, so I pushed it some more. As I went along the long back stretch, I was starting to feel a tightness in my back. I can see where it happened when I look at the data from my Garmin. I slowed wayyyy down. That loop took almost 30 minutes. Another bummer. I came out of the water next to one of my teammates and saw there was only one person behind us.

It took me FOR EV ER to get out of transition. I just could not decide what to wear and what to ditch. I couldn't easily see my stuff because it was all in bags. It was cold and drizzly but I decided not to fight with my arm warmers. I managed to beat one person out of transition and headed out onto the course. It sucks racing in the rain. It was just annoying. Water was dripping down my helmet, there was grit in my brakes, my shifters were slippery. I was trying to not have an attitude problem, but it was a struggle. I reminded myself to be grateful I was able to be here at all.

The beginning of the course is rough and my back was not loving the ride. I hoped as I became more used to the bike and the pavement smoothed out that my back would feel better. Or at least not feel worse. I began hitting some of the rolling hills and conveniently put it out of my mind that most of the first 18 miles are a gradual uphill. As I topped the bigger hill on the course I realized I had lost some of the power in my glutes and legs. It just felt like, with the pain and tension in my back that I couldn't really dig in and push. I also heard the van from the sponsoring bike shop behind me and was filled with dread.

The sweep vehicle. I am last. AGAIN.

I know that's silly but when I'm suffering like I was then, I want to be alone. I don't want anyone around me. Of course the van left me plenty of room and it was a comfort to know they were there to help, but I just wished I didn't have to be the one right there.

At this point I came through the nice long downhill section and was trying to get comfortable on the flatter part. Everything hurt. My lower back was now really tight. My neck was tight, my shoulders cramped. My wrists hurt and I realized I had locked my elbows. How was I going to get through another 30 miles? And then I'd have to run 13! I was starting to realize how bad I felt and couldn't see finishing. I never feel like that. I always feel like I can finish, even if I'm starting to have a negative monologue. Twice I saw side streets and thought about stopping to quit. I just couldn't. I started to feel emotional about it. I started to do a check in to see what was keeping me in this race:

Disappointing others? Not really. I knew that everyone knew how long and hard I worked just to get there. I knew most of them would be mad if they knew how bad I felt but kept going. I knew many of them thought it was awesome just to get there in the first place, just to be brave enough to toe the line.

Wasted training? Not that either. At the very least I knew I was fitter and stronger than ever. I knew the toughness I earned in getting through workouts I didn't feel I had the energy to even start was a gift in and of itself. I knew that no matter how hard I worked this year, that each consecutive year I could work harder, get better. The journey itself should not be forgotten. The race was just the prize at the end.

The prize. I knew the biggest disappointment would be that. My "prize" is finishing. I'm not competing to win, but I get to wear my finisher medal home that day and my finisher shirt around on vacation that week (okay and all the time!). I hadn't imagined I'd go without them. How silly. It's a medal and a shirt. You know I love my race swag but I was hurting so badly. I was so cold and soaking wet. For what?

I started to realize that what I was struggling with was accepting that I had to let things go. I was not accepting that this is the day I was given. I did everything I should have to have a great race, but that doesn't guarantee you one. I was mad that I struggled while everyone else seemed to push through. I knew they'd all say that everyone had a bad race, but I didn't want mine to be that day. 

While to most people this picture looks great, I can see all the areas I'm carrying pain. I'm pushed far back in my seat. My back is no longer flat. My arms are locked and further back on the bars (I started having trouble reaching all my gears). My shoulders are scrunched up and my chin is down. Even my heels are up more than usual.

I wanted that finish. I wanted to be proud of my race. I knew I should be proud anyway but I just wanted to finish. "Just get to the turnaround. That's halfway. Almost 30. Then you can get to 35. After that it's only 20. You can do 20 easy. But then I have to run. Just get there. Just get to transition. If you don't make it out then you can joke that you did an impromptu aquabike." As I fought with myself I came up to the turnaround. Every single person in front of me turned left to the transition. I was so far back I had to ask if I went right for loop 2. Off I went and the realization that I had a mostly uphill 18 miles hit me. I thought about giving up my chip and heading back to the finish but I just couldn't talk to anyone. There was just too much going on right there. I pedaled uphill and it was decided for me. My left glute cramped something fierce and my leg went numb down to my foot. I could still pedal but I couldn't feel it. "Now THIS is insanity" I said to myself. I coasted to a stop, unclipped and turned to the van. I was done. (Of course I'm getting teary eyed writing this now, which is a little surprising)

The guy came out, took my bike and checked that I wanted to stop. I explained I was okay but unable to ride anymore. He was kind and sympathetic, but luckily not very talkative. I normally can chat anyone's ear off but I was afraid I'd start crying if I did. Within a mile we came across the next cyclist. It was a personally challenged (PC) athlete in a recumbent bike. I have to admit I berated myself a bit about this. First, look how hard he is working, the challenges he's beating and HE didn't give up. Second, I was MINUTES from not being last, not riding in front of the sweep. If I had kept going would I have felt better? (NO!) Would I have relaxed and made it? (NO!!!) Not unless they were handing out magic at the next water stop.

It was about 10:30 at this point. Now I'm wet, cold and my back is spasming. The guy apologizes that it's going to be a long slow ride. I understand and am happy to not be out in the rain anymore. I picture Andrew back at the transition site, or inside the restaurant, having no idea how far my day has unravelled. It's weird to be that disconnected from him. I wished for my phone, which is back in my car. Usually they're completely banned from the race course. I never bother bringing it into transition at all. I was also hungry. I left my nutrition on the bike and didn't want to bother going into the back to get it. I didn't want to move. As we crept along we came across a man who had blown out the sidewall of his tire. There didn't seem like much could have been done to fix it, although the guy from the bike shop (thanks Papa Wheelies!) offered to try. The man was over it. He had been walking back along the course carrying his bike for a long time, waiting for the sweep van. I felt really bad for him. While there was probably something I could have done differently to have kept my back strong, he couldn't avoid a mechanical. We talked for a bit and then rode mostly in silence. After stopping to help the PC cyclist, I realized it was 12:45. Andrew must be really worried. He knew the cutoff was 12:30. He probably expected me a bit earlier. I didn't want to have to, but I asked to use the driver's phone. Andrew answered right away. My voice starts to break as I tell him I'm in the sweep van, that I pulled myself halfway and that my back hurt. I said I'd see him in about an hour and end the call.

We finally arrive back at the transition area and I see him waiting by the parking lot. I almost fall on my face getting out of the van and think, "and you thought you were going to ride another 28 miles? Ha!" I hand him my bike and ask him to hold onto it. I want to pack up my transition area and put everything in the car. I want to hide IN my car, but I don't. As we're standing there, one of my teammates runs by. I'm so happy to see her running. This race was a deferral from last year and while training she was in an accident and injured. I could imagine how hard her season was and how frustrating it would be to have two hard years. She sees me and I forget what she says but there is a tone of "oh no, why are you standing in the parking lot?" I tell her I'm okay and to go go go!

After I put my stuff in the car (and cry and post to facebook and get a talking to from Andrew) I go back to find her. I tell her what happens and get all teary eyed again. I know she understands my frustration. After a bit, we see another one of my teammates run across the finish line. I'm also happy to see her finish. I knew she was nervous about the run. As we walk towards her, I see her holding her finisher medal out. I'm confused and then she tells me, "this is YOUR finisher medal. I never would have made it through the run if it wasn't for you." I'm still confused and say, "but I didn't finish! I DNFed halfway through the bike." She insists it's mine and tells me again that the conversation we had in August was what pulled her through. Back then she told me she was unsure about the run and if she should switch to the aquabike (swim and bike, no run). I told her the story of my run at last years race. I said I walked the last 8 miles and if I could do that, she'd be certain to finish. I encouraged her to try. I had no idea I had made that much of an impact. I forgot about my own race. I hugged her and started to really cry. As I let go we turn to the teammate who had been waiting with me and see that her face is read and SHE'S crying! Laughing, the teammate that gave me the medal says, "now why are YOU crying?!" and, providing some much needed comic relief, she blurts out, "I'm just feeling really emotional!" A truer statement wasn't said that afternoon! A little while later, we saw another teammate finish her first half. I'm not sure there was a more beautiful smile at the finish line that day.

That was the point I started to feel at peace with the day. I love the bond our teammates have. I was so grateful I was offered a place to stay at one of the houses that weekend and that I accepted. I'm so glad I didn't avoid everyone. I realized that this season was about letting go. It was about having the faith to put yourself out there, give it your all and accept that the race may crush you. That the race may not even happen! It taught me how to fall down, sometimes get kicked while I'm down and then get up again. I learned to pick the lessons and bright spots from bad days and races and then close the door on yesterday. I learned that this DNF equaled Did Not Fail.

I don't really have the urge to go and do a "redemption" race. I'm not even sure I want to do a half ironman next year (forget a full Ironman!). My teammates have joked that maybe I should get that Olympic distance that I skipped in. Maybe. Probably. We'll see!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Magic in the air

There must be some magic left hanging around here after yesterday's Boston Marathon. I had a friend racing her first Boston. She is someone who has been one of my biggest cheerleaders all along. You know those time where I've tried to encourage all of you new (or not yet even new) runners to get out there? That the really talented, fast runners will often be more excited for you than the people you most relate to? She's one of those people. She made me realize that it didn't matter where you finish. We were all in it together.

Andrew and I watched the tv coverage long enough to watch both elite finishes, and then headed out to catch my friend run by. We had been tracking her through the SUPER helpful BAA iphone tracking app. Not only did it give her splits, but it showed exactly where she was on the course. I was so sad for her that the weather was not better. I knew the race meant a lot to her. Although she is not originally from this area and now lives back near home, I know Boston was home for her too.

By the time we headed out, a little before 1pm, it was blowing rain and in the mid 40s. We walked up Massachusetts Ave and turned left on Commonwealth Ave. As we walked along the course I got a little teary-eyed. Despite the weather, the excitement and love of this race was overwhelming. We walked along until there was an area where the course widened and found a spot on a curve of the fence where we had a really great view.

Unfortunately I did not get any pictures of her running by. I had my phone out and the camera ready, but when I finally saw her, I lost it! Haha. I just started screaming like a crazy person and waving my phone around. So yeah. Bummer. I did get this pic of a guy high-fiving all of us though! We hung around for a little bit, walking along some of the course and then headed home.

Monday was a rest day for me and today was kind of a medium-ish day. I went out with the intention of doing at least 5 miles, but hopefully 6-8. I have been having some shin pain. I took a few extra days off last week, hoping the lingering pain would completely go away. I have also really struggled on some runs mentally. I am running portions of them much faster than I used to, but I choke when it starts to get hard. That is my big issue right now. I know I am capable of racing much faster than I have been. It's almost like, after Pumpkinman, I've become completely suffering adverse.

I started off my run on a slight downhill, feeling like I was keeping my pace down a little bit. I glanced at my Garmin at about 1/4 mile in and it read 8:50. WHOAH NELLY. I can run that fast, but not for very long. I really pulled back and noticed I was still running between a 10-11 minute mile at what felt like a comfortable relaxed pace. After 1/2 a mile I noticed something. I was smiling, grinning, really. I never smile when I run, unless it's toward someone. My feet felt light and I had zero pain. Not even meaningless annoying pain. Usually I have some tightness or something's a little sore. Nothing. My shoes didn't annoy me. My clothes didn't bug me. Even though I was a little too warm, it didn't seem to affect my pace. We all know I don't tolerate being hot well. Before I knew it was already over a mile in and I still felt great. I decided to run to the turn-around spot that I use for my 5 milers, but then look for a path I've been meaning to find for the return portion of the trip. I cruised right along to the 2.5 mile mark. I almost didn't believe it was my body. STILL no pain, soreness, tightness. After years of being told I was making excuses, copping out on workouts and just generally hammering myself into the ground on runs, I had proven myself right. All those years of feeling like a failure when I only failed at having the guts to listen to myself and say that enough was enough.

I found the path and was surprised at how pretty it was - for this time of year, anyway. I can't believe for years I have been pounding along the concrete sidewalk across the street, not realizing it was right there. It was a mini adventure!

I continued to run along and realized I was almost 4 miles in and didn't have the usual desperate desire to Just. Walk. Already. I haven't had many runs beyond 3 miles and previously, the third mile was a mental struggle. I come up to the end of the path and realize that, thanks to some major construction, there is absolutely no way to get back to the sidewalk where I need to be. Anyone in Boston who has driven around where the Landmark Center is in the Fens knows exactly what I mean. I decide to cross the river and run along the other side, knowing that there is a set of lights at some point along the sidewalk above. I'm also happy since it means I will get my 6 miles in without having to run to far past my apartment when I return. After about a half mile, I cross back to my planned route and headed home. I was definitely fatigued  in my last mile, but I still did really well. I was so relieved to finally feel so great during a run. I have never, ever felt so great, so free. There was definitely some magic still in the air from yesterday.

Since it's been so long since I've checked in, here's what I'm up to so far:

Mayflower Brewing Half Marathon - June 14th - this is going to put my other hilly races to shame!

Cohasset Sprint Triathlon - June 28th - because, how could I miss it?!

Whaling City Sprint Triathlon - August 2nd - hoping for a really strong and fast race.

Pumpkinman 70.3 - September 13th - we all knew I'd be back! I can't wait!

Some maybes:

Continuing to sign up for 5Ks and chase the elusive sub-30.

BAA Half Marathon - Columbus Day weekend.

MAYBE, mayyyyyybe eyeing a late fall marathon. I am going to have to decide when it gets closer to Pumpkinman. A great amount of training for those two would overlap. Then again, it would be kind of like training for a full Ironman. You know...if I was to be considering one...maybe...maybe in 2016. Maybe not. ;)

Tell me about your races! There are so many first timers, runners and triathletes, and it is SO exciting!

Anyway, I'm glad to be back on here, although I won't make any promises! Have a great night everyone!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Pumpkinman 70.3 Race Report - aka The road to Crazytown

Pumpkinman Half Iron distance - September 7th, 2014 - South Berwick, Maine

Wow...I don't even know where to start. I've been mentally composing this recap since the race and it's now exactly one month from that day. If I thought training 12+ hours a week was putting me through an emotional roller-coaster, I had no idea what the actual day had in store for me. Let me back up a bit since it has obviously been a while since I last wrote and a lot has changed. I'll also warn you, this may be a bit choppy. And long. Did I mention long? I should really split this into a few posts, but I know I will never write more than one part of a recap, so here you go. I also don't want to forget any of my memories of that weekend, so I'll just be throwing things in as I go. Also, I'm going to add some song videos as I go so you can just click and listen if you want.

This spring as the swim class I've been taking for a while was winding down, I found out that the pool would be closed for renovations over the summer and there wouldn't be any classes. Bummer! My teacher is so great. She has helped me with my swim so much. She manages to really push me and I leave feeling like I got my butt kicked, but always feeling so positive. I had it in my head that I would be seeing her almost right up until my race. I knew I could do it on my own, but I was sad anyway. I signed up for the South End Fitness Center, because I had heard they had a nice, non-crowded pool. Since I tend to go during off hours, most days I had the entire 6 lane 25 yard pool all to myself. It was actually kind of lonely and sometimes a little creepy due to an overactive imagination - WHAT WAS THAT SHADOW ON THE BOTTOM?!

Anyhow. I decided I needed some positive specifically-triathlon support. I wasn't getting it at the gym, it just isn't their thing. I didn't have my swim teacher. My hubby was already exhausted by his new business and my training trickery. "You want to go for a ride?" is now known to mean, "hey, how 'bout 90 mins moderate with 8 X 3 minute hill climbs?" It also means I was now doing my rides solo. About 2 weeks after my last blog post I went to a triathlon expo and met a few tri teams. Wheelworks Multisport stuck out to me as being the perfect balance of newbie welcoming, but also really committed to training and racing their best. I found out they were having a fundraiser night a couple of weeks later and was pretty much sold on the team as soon as I arrived. I signed up that night. It's been great having them as a resource and even better having them around before races. I feel so much more calm as part of a group for some reason.

I quit personal training. It was not an easy decision, but I'm even more sure it was the right one now.

A few months later I quit that gym entirely (I had two gym memberships before that point). There was no need to have that membership if I wasn't doing personal training anymore. I had to have a gym with a pool and the one I was using had plenty of cardio and weight equipment. Plus, I'd save so much money I could take an occasional spin class at one of the awesome spin boutiques near me if I really missed it (my one hesitation to canceling the fancy gym).

I became a big girl and marched myself into Belmont Wheelworks and asked for help getting shoes and clipless pedals (which may sound confusing to some of you, but they're actually the shoes that click into the pedals and attach you to the bike). I had the chance to work with some great employees and had a cleat fitting for my shoes and later, a bike fit. I took away a ton of great info. The bike fitter also 100% solved some major neck pain I was having by putting me through some drills to fix my form (and the death grip I had on my bars). Did I mention this was a month before my race? If it wasn't for procrastination, I'd have nothing to do tomorrow...

Let me do my best to recap the training. It was usually Monday off, a run and swim on W, F and Sun and a bike on Tu, Th, Sat. Sometimes the Sat bike or Sun run was replaced by a bike/run combo (brick). It is a lot. I knew it was a lot. I had days where I loved it and I had days where you couldn't pay me to do my workout. Skipping workouts sucks for so many reasons. The guilt. The knowledge that you only hurt yourself and your race. Knowing that no matter what you do, you will short something. Your training. Your personal life. And no matter what you do you'll still be tired. One day I was laying on the couch fighting a cold, exhausted and I just started crying. My apartment was a mess, I had food for a few meals I needed to make (big bulk meals to last the week) that was in danger of going bad and no energy to deal with any of it. Luckily the Hubs is the worlds best tri Sherpa and came to the rescue. For all the ups and downs, I learned a lot in the process.

As race day approached, I was crawling out of my skin. It was taper week. I felt like I needed to squeeze in it was the last thing I was supposed to do. My workouts were pretty much to keep me loose and ready to go. Nothing too big. I had work to distract me Monday through Thursday that week, but way too much time to think otherwise. I got really good at math. Anyone who spent ANY time around me knew my worries about the course cutoffs. Each leg has a limit. If you don't make the time cutoff, you will get pulled from the race. This race has a slightly shorter allowed time than some others, but it's also not as difficult as some. I figured, you win some, you lose some and went with the race that looked the best. Here's the cutoff breakdown and what it meant for me:

Swim: 1 hour after the last wave starts (approximately 8:30am)
Bike: 12:30pm
Run/Finish: 3pm

I knew I would most likely be starting in a wave around 7:25 (and I was right). So, here's the worst case scenario. I hoped for a 45-55 minute swim, but knew I could take an hour if I had a bad day. That got me out of the water at 8:25 and onto my bike by 8:30. That gave me 4 hours to finish the bike and in theory, at 14mph minimum, plenty of time. I had ridden the course before and could hold 16-17mph, even more with the bike shoes and pedals. If I had a bad day 14 would be all I could do. I felt confident I could make both those cutoffs with room to spare, BUT if I took the entire time allotted, it only left me 2:30:00 to run the 13.1 miles. My personal best at that distance is about a 2:37:00. This scared me and I had many dreams about it over the week leading up. My best case scenario would put me just over 6.5 hours. Worst, a bit more than 7.5. I spent hours calculation and recalculating paces and predictions. It ended up being totally pointless (DUH).

Friday I started my vacation and ran through my list of gear, did a final check and then packed my race bag. We'd be leaving to stay in Ogunquit on Saturday morning. It was crazy hot and humid for early September and storms were forecast for early in the weekend. I begged the weather to be nice to me on Sunday, then cleaned up my bike and took it for a quick spin to make sure everything was working okay.

Saturday I woke up with the sun and tossed and turned for hours. There wasn't any point in leaving early since both check in at the hotel and the packet pick up weren't until later in the afternoon. By late morning I finally asked if we could just go and take the scenic route. That should kill time and we could stop for lunch on the way. Next time I will have an actual plan for nutrition the day before. Breakfast was small (an english muffin? I forget) and then lunch didn't end up being until 2:30pm. Dinner was at 7:30. Ideally I would have had big meals earlier and a lighter dinner. We headed to packet pick up and then back to Ogunquit to pick up some groceries and then head out to dinner.

Ogunquit for lunch 

Thunderheads at packet pick up.

Then it was the worst part - the night before when you're in for the night. It feels like SO LONG to be nervous, but there's really not much to do to distract yourself. I lurked around facebook and someone posted Diana Nyad's TED talk (check it out, it's awesome). Two things stuck with me. First, was when her swim got tough, tough to the point where everyone "knew" it was impossible (it wasn't!), her friend leaned over and, seeming like she was going to tell her to give up said, "Find a way."

Find a way.

Second, she talked about listening to the Beatles' "Imagine" over and over during her swim....for like nine hours. She sings a little bit of it to drive her point home,

"You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one." 

I think I listed to that song at least 10 times before I went to bed. I felt like, at the very least, I had finally mentally conquered the swim. I had great swims all summer. I had even brought the horrible 15 minute 1/4 mile swim from last year's Cohasset tri down to 9 minutes this year AND I loved every second of it!

I looked around for some positive quotes and inspiration and tried to fall asleep around 10:30. That's when the stomach problems started. I was running to the bathroom every 30 minutes or so until 2am. I finally slept until 4am and then got up to get ready for the race. 2 whole hours of sleep. I felt mostly okay, so I ate the oatmeal I brought with me. And then promptly threw it up. Now I was freaked out because I really had no idea what was going on. Was I sick? Was it nerves? I'd never had this happen. I decided I would try and race under two conditions. #1 I had to keep down 2 Honey Stinger Waffles and a bottle of Heed drink before the race. #2 If I started vomiting (or worse!) during the race it was Game Over. The temps were predicted to be in the mid 70s by the run portion but I knew it would probably be hotter. It would be dangerous to race sick like that.

Somehow the Hubs and I made our way through the dark windy back roads to Spring Hill in South Berwick and I kept my nutrition down. We arrived at 5am, but transition didn't open for a bit. I got my timing chip and got body marked and walked around for a few minutes. As they open the transition to let us in they turned on the music. The Beatles. Here Comes the Sun. I almost cried.

I was already feeling pretty emotional and had been humming "Imagine" to myself on the way. It was such a beautiful gentle song to start the day, the sun was just barely cracking the horizon.

I teared up and just stopped for a second to be grateful that, no matter how the days ends, I got a shot at it. I have the time and money. I have my health.

I had plenty of time to set up and talk to my neighbors and use the porta-potty a couple of times. By then I ran into a few of my teammates and felt pretty good about that too. I always joke that the very worst part of the morning is committing to leaving the transition area. It's so hard to decide that everything is there and that you have what you need for the swim! It's silly. You need a wetsuit, goggles and your cap. Hopefully you have your timing chip on already.

We headed down to the swim start. Seriously, how beautiful is this? I stopped being so nervous because I was in awe. I was just anxious to start.

The swim 1.2 miles (.6 miles X 2 loops):

As I started, a song came on that I hadn't paid attention to much. It didn't strike me as a big, Go Go Go! start the race type song, but it set the mood perfectly.

It was great. I did the swim in about 54 minutes. It was not a fast swim for me, but it was a huge success is so many ways. I started the swim towards the back and on the inside. I didn't feel like being swum over, but I also was confident enough to hold my line close to the buoys. I really didn't want to swim extra. The course is set up like a triangle. You swim counter-clockwise - out two buoys, turn, across two buoys, turn, back in two buoys and the repeat the course a second time. I got to the first buoy, halfway to the first turn and started to feel fatigued. I wondered if I was really going to make it. How could I come all the way here and THIS?

Find a way.

Yes. Diana Nyad. Find a way. There is no way I can't go the distance at some speed. Stick to the plan. I wanted to swim by effort at a moderate feel. I knew I could do that easily in under an hour. Pushing it in my first long swim could spike my heart rate to start the bike. I'd save maybe 5 minutes in the swim. If I stayed relaxed on the swim and started the bike calm, I could bank SO much time for the run on the bike course. I reached the turn buoy and started along the long back stretch. I favor breathing to the right, which gave a a view of pine trees, a few cottages and the mist. It was perfect Maine. I thought of my family up in Union. I thought of Owls Head Light and Spruce Head. I daydreamed about my trip up there at the end of the week to visit everyone. I turned towards the shore to see if I could spot the Hubs, but all I could see was a mass of color and hear cheering and cowbells. So exciting, but way too early to get too worked up! I was singing "Imagine" to myself and cruising right along. I passed the midpoint buoy along the back and realized I felt great. As I rounded the turn and headed back to shore I knew I had it. A second loop would be a piece of cake. I poked my head up as I turned and was actually able to wave to the Hubs and have him see me as I headed out for the second loop.

I'm the creeper in the second blue cap, looking directly at the camera instead of, you know, swimming...

Finally out. Yes, I am like, 4th to last out of the water and there was a wave behind me.

I finished the swim feeling great. I know I can take quite a bit of time off next year. I wanted a controlled swim and did exactly that. No panic. No safety stroke needed.

Coming out of the swim is a huge hill up into transition. It's actually it's own timed mini event with a prize. I didn't give it any thought, other and not falling on my face going up it.

Transition 1 was pretty uneventful. Wetsuit off. Helmet, gloves, sunglasses, socks and bike shoes on. Clipped on my run number so I wouldn't forget it later and I was pretty good to go. I took a big gulp of water from my extra bottle and ran my bike out.

Yes, it's like me and the tumbleweeds here.

Bye now! Feeling good!

Bike 56 miles:

The bike course is shaped kind of like a lollipop. You ride out 8 miles, then you do a 20 mile loop twice and then ride the 8 miles back for a total of 56. I did the 8 miles each way and one loop during a preview and even pre-bike shoes and pedals I did okay riding in my sneakers. I always feel kind of yucky riding after swimming. My stomach gets kind of funny. I took the first few downhill miles easy and drank some Heed. I ate a couple of Honey Stinger chews to get a bit in right away and started to get up to speed. At that point a guy passed me and cheered me on. I kept about 30 feet behind him but had him in sight for a long time. I knew, being so far back in the swim and not being particularly fast at anything would mean I'd be pretty lonely on the bike. Luckily I did a lot of loooong rides by myself. Some were pretty ugly and I was grateful to have made it through them. I was feeling pretty good at this point, so I continued to eat and drink and push the pace. I was keeping 16-20mph on the flats and 25-35 downhills. Even the medium uphills I kept to 10-12mph which was great for me. I knew there was a bigger one I'd see at 20 and 40 miles.

Some people complained about rough pavement, but I thought it was mostly great. The only place where I was forced to ride on the rough parts was the first and last mile, which was on a closed road and you could move around a bit. There were parts of a busier road where the shoulder was very rough, but if you rode just to the left of the white shoulder line you were good. That's what I did and it was fine. The cars gave me plenty of room and a couple of people cheered me on. Bikes do have the right to ride as far into the lane as needed for safety and I did that when I needed to. I'm also used to riding with traffic in the city, so I can see how others aren't used to it. Mostly the roads were very rural and pretty. There were plenty of trees and fields. You go by some farms and a beautiful golf course. Families sit in their yards to watch as if it's a parade. People were even pulled over onto the dirt shoulder sitting on their tailgates to cheer. Families were out with their kids, dogs and coolers with cowbells, hoses and bubble guns. I was amazed at the spectator support on stretches of road with nothing but trees. I was mentally prepared to see NO ONE for a long time. This was such a nice surprise. I was overwhelmed again. At some point I made it up the bigger hill around mile 20 and started a very nice long downhill to the start of the second loop. As I made the turn onto loop 2 I checked my time. And rechecked. I think I checked like 5 times. An hour and 40 minutes? No WAY! I felt like I could go faster and could make a 3 hour 15 min bike! I couldn't believe it.

Loop 2 was really lonely. While on loop one I had the company of everyone doing loop 2. Now I was really on my own. I picked off a few people but sadly they were doing the Aquabike (swim and bike only) and would not end up being company on the run later. Mile 35 is where I started what I called bargaining. My left groin area started to HURT. Like, CAPITAL LETTERS HURT. Right at the top of my inner thigh. Why is this happening now? I shifted forward and back to ease the pressure but it just moved the pain elsewhere. I told myself, only 20 more miles. Only? REALLY?! So I did 5 miles at a time. Just 5. I felt good otherwise. I got to 40 and made it up the hill again. People were stopped all along the side at the aid station, but I kept on going. I crested the top and knew I was home free. It's all down hill and a few miles of flat. Just a little hill at the end. Around mile 45 I started to feel weird. Like a switch was flipped. I wasn't sure what it did, but something had changed. By mile 48 I was convinced something was wrong with my bike. It was wobbling. No flat. Nothing seemed wrong. By mile 49 I realized something was wrong with ME. I was causing my bike to wobble. But that wasn't scary. What was scary was that I only realized something was wrong with my body by noticing how it was causing my bike to act. I ate some chews and chugged my water. What else do I have? Am I missing something? I felt so weird, like I was a spectator to my own body. I could only guess at what was wrong but for some reason I couldn't feel what it was. I also knew I had slowed wayyyyy down. I was seeing the minutes tick by way faster than the miles. All of a sudden my huge time gain for the run was gone. I need that time! I saw my mph dwindle down to 10-12. I asked my legs to go faster and they didn't. I felt nauseated. I felt thirsty but that water wasn't helping. I was oblivious to what I knew to be my major nutritional problem in long hot races. Salt. I was losing a ton and taking in hardly any. Even on a cool day I didn't have close to enough. On a day like I was having, I was at about one tenth of what I should have consumed. I'm not sure how I even functioned at that point. Somehow I made it back and barely swung my leg over my bike to dismount without falling.

 I ran into transition and was encouraged by a bunch of guys who had already finished. I sat down to change shoes and looked up to see the Hubs standing at the fence. He looked concerned. Like, a sad, urgent concerned. He asked if I ate. If I drank. I look at my watch. It was 12:26. I had barely made it. I was stunned. At that point I knew I was in trouble. I started to tear up and said, "I'm not going to make the cutoff. It's at 3. I can't run a 2:30:00 half marathon. Not like this." He just looked at me and said, "you've got to go. Now. Just don't stop. GO."

I grabbed my visor and ran out of transition. I hear the marshalls saying the last bike had just barely made it in. There is one person behind me exiting. The volunteers are screaming, "we've got a runner!" I have no idea why. I just start really really running, because I just need to get out of there. A lady at the driveway entrance cheers us out and waves her poms poms. I try to smile at her.

The run:

I got through the first three miles okay. I have no idea how. I saw the hubs at mile 3 and he was happy to see me that soon. "Just keep moving! Don't stop!" I said that no matter what I was going to finish and told him I'd see him in 5 miles. This is where the course starts being hilly. There wasn't a lot of shade and it was hot. I asked for salt tabs at the first aid station and after a little while I felt much better. I tried to start doing run 4 minute, walk 1 minute intervals like I had practiced to get myself up and down the hills. I got to about mile 4 when I noticed that I could not, for the life of me, pay attention to the time. I'd start my 1 minute walk and then realized it had been 4 minutes. I'd get going again, only to repeat the same. Soon I was mostly walking. I came up to mile 5 and realized that almost every person around me was on their second loop. So many people were running back towards me, only a couple of miles to the finish. I was going to be alone again and for so long this time. It was a bit demoralizing and I felt defeated. I know I'm supposed to run my own race, but you have to understand I was 6 hours into the race at this point. I had been in some sort pain for HOURS. Like, 3 or 4. I just couldn't really think anymore. Around mile 6 I stopped for a bathroom break, dropped all my gels onto the floor (one in the urinal, ew!) and then could barely get my shorts back on. I wanted to cry. I walked out to the aid station and drank some gatorade. Why I didn't ask for more salt, I have no idea. I am sure it was the cause of my fuzzy brain and my dead legs. I had plenty of calories and fluid. I ran down the road and into a subdivision to turn around on loop one. As I ran along, there were so many funny signs. I can't remember the first ones I saw other than "Margaritas Ahead" and "Remember, you paid for this!" The aid station at the cul-de-sac turn around was awesome! They called it The Oasis. There were not margaritas there, but there were more port-potties and all the gels, snacks, drinks and ice cold sponges you wanted. Oh! I forgot about that part! All along the run course were little kids with their parents handing out sponges that were soaked in ice water. People, you saved me! I can't even tell you what a huge difference it made. Plus the kids were so cute about it. These weren't even the volunteers, just nice people who were excited about the race. Anyway, back to The Oasis. These people were seriously so nice. It was clear I was struggling and they all encouraged me. I told them that I was sorry, but only on my first loop. I felt bad they would be waiting for me. They just said, "we'll be here! See you soon!" I walk/ran back to the main road and turned down it to head back to where the Hubs was waiting. As I ran down the hill I laughed so hard. There was a group of guys pulled over to the side, just yelling at us. Yelling and yelling encouragement. When I passed them the first time they were blasting this song. At least I had something funny stuck in my head.

By the time I got to mile 8 where the Hubs was, I was Done. With the running. Done. I had joked about the funny things I was going to yell to the Hubs as I got the the crazy place in the race but I had nothing. I hurt so bad but was numb. My hips killed. I was just kind of shuffling. I had all sorts of stomach pains. I thought I had a headache but I wasn't even sure. I wanted to be done so badly. The finish was .1 mile away but I still had one more 5 mile loop. I walked by the Hubs and he followed me.

"I'm not going to make the cutoff. 3pm is in 40 minutes. I have 5 miles left." He told me he was coming with me. I said okay, then I stopped walking and looked at him. WHAT?! "I'm coming WITH you, I said. Let's go!" and he starts running. In flipflops and jeans. I wasn't thinking straight and I started shuffling too. Then I hugged him and sent him back. Beyond the fact that it was outside help and could get me a DQ or a time penalty (like I NEED my time to be any longer), it just felt wrong. I needed to do this solo. Plus, I felt like I was on another planet and it felt really weird to be around someone who was still "normal." I was so sad to leave him. It felt like 5 more miles was so far. I felt so sick. I can't really rehash those miles because a lot of it is hard to properly put in words. This ended up not being an athletic race for me, but an emotional mental toughness race. I wasn't able to race like I was physically able, but I was able to dig really really deep and see what was left. It was kind of ugly at times. I did a lot of questioning about myself, my identity, who I am. I though of the people back at work who are unable to do any of what I was doing. People who were proud of me just for showing up. I pictured all of their faces and knew I could not go back and tell them that I quit. That it was too hard. On and off I ran and walked and thought. At about mile 10 one of the race directors pulled up next to me in the golf cart. I knew it was 3pm and I had prepared myself to hand over my timing chip. I would get a DNF but I could still finish the distance unofficially. Instead he checked in and urged me to push as much as possible. He mentioned working towards the time cutoff, but since I was still kind of fuzzy-brained I didn't ask him what I meant. Weren't we at the cutoff? I did, laughing, say, "I'm last, huh?" (yes) I did my best to run and he said he'd check back in. I saw him go ahead and talk to the few who were just up ahead of me and then leave. I was never so happy to run back onto the main road, a straight shot to the end. As I exited the side street I could hear it. Around mile 11/11.5. Music. An MC. Cheering. It was the finish line. It was SO close but at this rate, my run shuffle would take me close to 30 minutes to go the 2 miles to there. I just kind of stopped and looked at the ground. I was SO FAR behind the cutoff. There was no way. It was like watching my dream slip away. It was so close I could hear it. I felt desperate to get there but my feet would not go. I was going to go 69 of the 70.3 miles and not make it. Almost 8 hours at this point. I remembered the quote I had posted on facebook the night before:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. 
- Theodore Roosevelt

Somehow I got moving again and about 10 minutes later a pickup truck came towards me and stopped. It was the same guy who had check on me. I stopped. Here it is. I'm going to have to give my chip back at mile 12. 12!!! I wasn't mad at them at all. I knew the cutoffs going in and they had been more than generous so far. I was just disappointed. He gets out and says, "So here's the thing....(I wait for it)....we're going to let you finish."

OMG. I'm going to finish! Officially! I'm starting to realize that the may have also changed the course cutoff that day to 3:30pm. I'm not sure, really. I thank him and tears spring to my eyes. I joke about not crying and he's like, "you have 10 minutes! Go!" Haha. I realized I had no idea if I was really at 12. He tells me I have less than a mile. I take off up a hill. OUCH. But I don't really care. I get to the last aid station and round the corner. I know it's just up the hill. I can see the tent and hear the music. I hear the man who was just in front of me finish. I stop at the bottom of the biggest hill ever. Maybe not biggest ever, but it was cruel. I walked so slowly and so carefully up this hill. The finish chute is literally at the top. I'm not even sure I can walk up it. I'm so overwhelmed. Cars full of other athletes are leaving and people are hanging out their windows literally screaming me up the hill. I see a woman with a walkie talkie at the top. She's wearing a pink jacket and I realize she was the lady with the poms poms from the start of the run. She waves them and yells, "You got this girl! I told them we weren't leaving my runners out there! I'm so proud of you! I'm going to run with you down the chute!" I'm just stunned. I'm in the finish chute. She stops about 1/2 way down and I run in alone.

Total race time: 8:21:33

It's at that point I hear the MC announce "the pride and joy of Boston!" and my name. I hear him change the song. Now, if you know me and know how sappy I am, you know that my very favorite daydream is that I'm winning a race and a certain song is playing for me. The song always changes, but the daydream's the same. I'm coming down the chute and so much is happening that I can't really make myself listen to the song. I see ALL of the volunteers from the aid stations that drove by me as I passed their area waiting at the end. The see the ambulance and the drivers cheering and putting on the light and sirens. I see the Hubs and a few spectators, including one guy with a Boston Hub on Wheels shirt waiting and yelling "YEAH BOSTON!!!" Then, I start laughing when I hear the words and realize what it is.

"Weeeeeee, are the champions, my frieeeeend, and weeeeeee'll keep on fiiiiiiiighting, til the eeeeeend"

How appropriate and awesome. Also note: I now sappy-cry every time I hear that song. Sorryimnotsorry.

The announcer is telling everyone how we're all champions. We all fight for something and finishing is a win, from the winner to the very final finisher (me). I thought I'd be crying at this point when imagining the finish, but I don't. I feel like I'm watching it all happen. It was unreal. The lady with the poms poms (I wish I knew her name!) hugs me and tells me she's proud of me. I tear up and thank her. I'm given a finisher medal, and awesome finisher shirt and a gatorade. The pom pom lady leads me to the harvest feast. Food! I forgot all about it but they have food for me! I assumed I was kind of too late for that. I explained I never picked up the Hubs meal ticket that I purchased for him and she waved us on to get food. I ate and then the guy from the Shipyard beer tent comes to offer all of us beer tickets. I forgot I got a free one, but the Hubs ended up getting one too. We sat and ate and drank and chatted with the volunteers. That was one awesome thing about being last. We got to actually got to know some of the cool people who volunteered. It was so nice. Even though their day was mostly over, they still insisted on taking care of me. One insisted I not only have dessert, but sit and let him get it for me. When I discovered possibly the most horrifying blister of my life that had consumed my right pinky toe (how did I not feel THAT?! RIP pinky nail) one of them insisted I let him run up the hill and get an assortment of bandaids. The Hubs had to get my bike from transition (no one would let me go) and then they were like, "Eh! Just drive your car down the hill and put your stuff in here!" Haha. There was no saying no. By the time I left, I felt like I was saying goodbye to friends and family. I didn't want to go, but it was time. For like the zillionth time, my favorite Zac Brown Band song came on the radio.

As we drove back to Ogunquit I felt happy. It was the worst I had technically and athletically executed a race ever. I was sick. I messed up my nutrition. I didn't follow my run plan. I wouldn't trade it for anything. It was the most vulnerable I had felt ever. I was out there and risking being pulled with everyone knowing it. DNF. Did. Not. Finish. The only way I could move forward was to truly believe that there was a purpose to what I was doing. I was finding a part of me that I really needed to REALLY race this distance. I knew instantly I'd be back next year even though I was too scared to admit it. Instead of wanting the challenge of the race there was a fire now.

We spend the next few days cruising around the Ogunquit area, eating lobsters and drinking rum punch at Barnacle Billy's and relaxing. Monday I could barely shuffle, but I marched myself and my finisher's shirt allll around Perkin's Cove.

I will definitely be back next year. The difference in how I feel about my body and training and how much I learned in that race is enormous. I can't wait!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Signs from the Universe

aka What the Heck Have I Been Up To? (aka sorry this is wayyyyy long)

Before I get into why the Universe is sending little old me signs when it probably has other important things to do (but it's the UNIVERSE, so it can like, do a LOT of things, it's really NBD), let me back up and tell you what I've been up to. There have been a lot of changes.

First, right around the beginning of February I made a pretty big diet change. I know that I feel best when I eat as little processed food as possible and when I exclude dairy (wahhhh...cheeeese...). I had been lurking around the Vega Sport Website and was looking at their Thrive Forward program. They have tons of free recipes that are heavily plant based and vegan. I've been using their protein powders for a while and really like them. Their energy gels and electrolyte powders are great too. They don't upset my stomach like most do and are all natural. It's all vegan too, for those that need that.

Now, before I lose some of you, I'm not vegan. However, since I don't eat much meat and can't really have the dairy, these recipes are great for me as is, or to add some meat to. I'm loving making "power bowls" which is basically a grain on the bottom (1/2-3/4c of quinoa, brown rice or barley usually), lots of greens (I actually really love kale, so that works), whatever veggies are around (bell pepper, onion, carrots...can't do broccoli), some protein and then whatever fun toppings you have (seeds, dried fruit, fresh fruit, avocado, olives etc). Sometimes I make a sauce out of cashews (you can find the recipe for "cashew cream" on the Vega site or on other blogs) to put on top. That's usually my lunch, and I'll have plain rolled oats with unsweetened coconut milk (in the carton in the dairy section, not the canned stuff...totally different), fruit and nuts for breakfast. For dinner I usually have eggs, tofu or some chicken with whatever leftover veggies we have. My new favorite snack is a couple of pitted dates with peanut butter in the middle.

P.S. If you want an easy, really yummy tofu recipe check out this one from Eat Live Run (you have to scroll down and as a side not, I don't agree with her calorie breakdown, just go by the package label).


That was change number one. Then I finally went to spin class. I kept on chickening out, because the intro class was a wee bit to early for me to make it to. For some reason I feel especially wary of new things in the morning. I was saying this to my personal training partner and she was like, "DUH GIRL. Just go to the Saturday morning class and tell her you're new. She is awesome and will help you. I promise!" And I did. And she was so right. AND THE CLASS WAS AWESOMEEEEE!!! I am now addicted.

Before I knew it I felt totally different about training and food. I had been waiting since last summer to figure out how to motivate myself. There's no magic. There's nothing I purposefully did. I was just sick of feeling crappy because I didn't eat right and at the same time, got caught up in spinning. My swim class also started up again so I got caught up in a pretty good routine. Spin for 45-60 minutes two times a week, 75 minutes of swim, 60 minutes of personal training and 1-2 runs of about 3 miles (the mileage will be increasing soon). It's like all of a sudden I don't question if I'm going to do a workout. I just go. It's as automatic as going to work or making a stop at the grocery store. I feel really good.

As fate would have it, The Husband uncharacteristically insisted we sign up for the Ras na hEireann 5K in Somerville. We usually try to go to that or it's sister run, The Jingle Bell Run every year, but this year I wasn't feeling it. I was only getting in one run most weeks, but more often than not I skipped it for another workout, or I did treadmill sprints, so I had no idea where I was with my 5K time. Usually I am bugging him to do races, but this time he insisted. 

That Sunday we went to do our usual 3 mile loop. It's pretty flat, starts with a downhill and ends with a decent little uphill. It was mercifully in the high 40s after weeks of temps in the teens. The ice was melting and I figured our loop would be clear. Not so much. We had to cut off part of the loop due to it being covered in ice. There wasn't even a shoulder on the side of the road to run on. I figured it was still almost 2.5 miles and on we went. At one point I commented that I was actually enjoying the run and it seemed like The Husband was able to easily run my pace. When I'm not doing so well he has to stop and walk every so often because he literally can't run that slow. I forget what my total time was, but it ended up being about 2.6 miles at a 9:50 pace! I typically run a 10:30 to 11 minute pace (except for one glorious day where I set a 5K PR of 31:24 or a 10:08 pace). The entire time I had a song stuck in my head that I really liked and I joked that I would have to make sure that it happened for every run from now on!

Two things were clear. #1 I had more energy, because I had been eating much better. #2 the added workouts, and spinning in particular, had made me MUCH stronger. I felt so different when I was running. I just felt like I had more power, another gear and that I had some added endurance to carry it out. I also had the voice in my head to tell me it was a fluke. That I wouldn't do it again and certainly not on race day. I have a tendency to choke on race day. Argh.

A week later we go out and this time I know the ice is gone. We're going to do 3 miles this time. I am totally not motivated and I know my resistance to go is self-sabotage. If I don't try I can't fail right? No. Because choosing to stand aside, to not make a decision, is failure too. I eat breakfast, I eat lunch, I take a nap and then can't avoid it any longer. I also so actually get that song stuck in my head again. We head out and I pray that every light will go green so we can't cross. They don't.  I beg for the traffic at the Fens to be heavy enough that we can't get a window to get through. It isn't. No ice. No packs of rabid Canadian Geese. No stopping. Nothing. My legs burn and I'm scared to look at my watch. 3/4 of a mile in and all of a sudden it's back. I catch up to the husband and check our time at mile 1. 9:04. WHAAAAT?! Yes. We run another mile, this one much harder and get there by 18:24, a 9:20 second mile. Now I really hurt. I slow down for a bit and then crank it up again. We dodge the crowds leaving Symphony Hall, run up the hill and finish. 3 miles in 28:41, a 9:34 pace.

So, I PRed my 5K, right?


I knew better. It's notoriously crowded (5,000 runners) and for all but the fastest should really be just for fun. I figured, if I started well ahead of my pace time I'd be fine. Nope. I just have a really really hard time running in a pack of so many people. The pace was fine, but I tend to slow a little and surge a little. Not by huge margins, but enough that I need some space. I also wasn't trained for this course. It's hard. The first mile is a hill, there's a decent one at mile 2 and then a monster at 2.5 (that wasn't there until a recent course change). That last mile does me in.

My A goal was a miracle sub 29, which would require a 9:20 pace or so. Possible but not likely. My for real B goal was sub 30, a 9:40 pace and one that I've done before. I've been dreaming of it for a while, but never been so close. I should have had a C goal of PR but I got kind of caught up in the sub-30.

I ran a 31:58. Whomp whomp. I figured, hey! This course is hard! I'm pretty sure it's at least a course PR, right? Well, I looked it up when I got home and in 2010 I ran it in 31:57. Yep, I missed by ONE SECOND!!! (well two seconds to beat it) I was happy to get into our favorite Pub, The Burren, and see our favorite band, The Johhny Come Latelies. I was also happy to get some (well one) of the free beers Harpoon donated, as evidenced below.

Today I'm already stalking 5Ks to find one without such a crazy course and one that is relatively soon catches my eye. The course is FLAAAAT with a slight downhill at the end. It's perfect. It's close to home, not too early, has 1/10th the runners of my last one and also has a USATF Grand Prix race as part of the 5K to add to the atmosphere. There's actually lot's of stuff that weekend that will leave me amped to race, so how could I not? Well...the fear of failure. I can chalk my performance yesterday up to not being ready for a hilly course and the crowds. What if I fail under ideal conditions? Then it was really all just a fluke. Or, uh, maybe I just had two bad races. So, I should try. Or maybe I should wait. But I could try now AND later.

I realized that if I have any chance at getting a ticket into the 5:30 spin class I have to leave NOW. I head out and try to shake the race off. Of course, as soon as I get on my bike and I'm pedaling to kill the extra few minutes before the official warm up starts, my brain starts at it again. YOU WILL FAIL. YOU WILL BE AWESOME. YOU WILL KILL IT. I go through all of it and all the reasons to run/not run and almost miss the instructor announce that we're starting our group warm-up. It was the song she put on that snapped me out of it. It was MY song. My fast running song. The one that got stuck in my head during my training runs. This song:

I shake my head and start laughing. This is too good. The song is pretty random. I love music and I hadn't even heard of him until a couple of weeks ago. The signs are there if you want to see them. I knew I needed to sign up when I got home.

And so I did. I'm not saying much else about it other than it's soon and I will fill you in when it happens.