Trusting the Taper

What an amazingly inspirational, confidence building and scary week it has been!  When I last wrote I was making a slow recovery from a lovely head cold and upper respiratory infection.  I’m happy to report that as I write this, the head congestion is completely gone, I have my voice back, and my cough has significantly improved.  I was really worried about being sick during this very important week of training and was nervous that if I wasn’t able to run (or made myself even sicker by running through the illness) I wouldn’t be fully prepared come race day.  Thankfully, I was able to complete most of my runs (more on that below).

As much as I have thought about quitting a zillion times during this training, running a marathon has been a lifelong goal of mine, and the thought of failing when I’m this close to realizing my goal makes me want to try even harder to ensure that I am successful.  Through successful runs, this week has given me the boost in confidence I was hoping for.  Yes, I’m still incredibly nervous about “the big day”, but I know I can do it.  I’m going into this with only one goal…to finish.  I don’t care how long it takes me, I just want to run the whole thing (only walking through aid stations) and I want to finish strong.  I don’t know if I will ever run another marathon (or if I’ll even want to), but I will save time goals for the future.  This race is to prove to myself that I can do whatever I set my mind to.

Training for and running a marathon is no easy task.  It takes incredible amounts of mental and physical toughness, dedication, and perseverance.  I never realized how little I knew about running, especially long distances, until I started training for this marathon.  I have learned so much over the last few months.  I have learned what it takes to train for and run long distances, including nutrition, hydration, gear, etc.  I have learned that my body can handle so much more than I ever thought it was capable of.  I have learned that, for me, successfully covering long distances is more of a mental challenge than it is physical.  I have learned the skills needed to quiet the negative Nancy in my head that yells and screams at me, telling me that I’m weak, that I can’t do this, that I should just give up.  This has been an experience of a lifetime and I am forever changed.  I am stronger because of this, both mentally and physically, and I cannot wait to cross that finish line in a just over two short weeks!

Here is how my training has gone this week:

Wednesday, September 18th (Easy Run – 5 Miles):

As I drove home from work, it began to rain.  I wasn’t sure if it was a good idea to go for a 5 mile run in the rain, given I was still pretty congested and my cough hadn’t improved much, but after walking the dog, it looked like the sun was trying to peak out from behind the clouds and the rain had slowed to a drizzle so I decided to give it a shot.  The goal was to run the entire 5 miles without stopping for a walk break.  As soon as I geared up and walked out the front door, I heard a clap of thunder in the distance.  Looking up at the sky, I thought the storm was far enough North that I would be OK.  I walked to the end of the block and began running.  At the quarter mile mark it started to sprinkle and by the time I got to the half mile mark it was full fledged pouring.  Taking cover under a garage awning, I pulled out my phone and looked at the radar.  The storm that appeared to be so far North, was growing and moving Southeast pretty quickly.  After a quick call to my husband, I decided I should get home as fast as possible and finish my workout on the elliptical (evil machine, as I like to call it).  I have never run so fast in all my life.  The rain continued to come down in buckets and the lightening was getting closer and closer.  After what seemed to be an eternity, I reached my front steps, and just in time.  As soon as I reached the top step I saw a flash and then there was an immediate crack of thunder.  Phew…that was a close one!  My heart was in my throat and I was glad to be home safely.  It was a good thing I didn’t try to wait it out, the storm lasted for quite a while.  All told, I got a mile run in, and ended up doing 4 more miles on the elliptical.  I know the elliptical isn’t exactly the same as running, but it got my heart rate up and my legs moving.  Here are my stats for the 1 miler:

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Thursday, September 19th (Mid-Week Long Run – 10 Miles):

I planned to meet a run club friend for some much needed catch-up/girl time after work today, which meant that I had to get up early to get my run in before work.  When the alarm went off at 4:30am I seriously considered staying in bed, but after some hemming and hawing I was successful in guilting myself into getting up, since it was such an important week in my training and all.  After walking the dog, I loaded myself into the car and somehow made it out to Oak Brook through my sleepy “it’s too early” haze.  By the time I got to the office I was awake and ready to spend some quality time with my new bud, the treadmill.  The run went well and I felt really strong, just a little bored the first half of the run, since I couldn’t really hear the TV and I don’t like to read while I’m running (I’m really susceptible to motion sickness from reading while bouncing).  Anyway, I started the run at a nice and easy pace, gradually picking it up the last few miles.  Here are my stats:

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Sunday, September 22nd (Long Run – The Big 20!):

I have to admit, I was more than a bit nervous about being able to complete this run, given my bad 18 miler experience, but I really needed this run to be “good” in order to boost my confidence for race day.  At the advice of my runner friends, and looking for a little company to help me through my longest run, I decided I would join the Chicago Area Runner’s Association (CARA) in their annual 20 mile fully supported training run.  For the bargain basement price of $38 (for CARA members) you get a fully supported training run that includes pace group leaders, multiple aid stations (water/Gatorade and one with Power Gel), gear check, a finish area celebration complete with a free beer and a finisher’s technical tee.  This was hands down, the easiest and best decision I have made with regard to marathon training yet.

What an amazingly awesome day this was!  I awoke to an absolutely perfect morning.  Low humidity and temperatures forecast to be in the 50’s and 60’s had me excited to get this run under way.  I arrived on-site with plenty of time to park, get to the race site and check my bag.  I was able to quickly locate my pace group leaders (I went with 12 min/mile since this was a training run and I wanted to prove to myself that I could run the whole thing without using intervals, plus I was unsure of myself after my difficult 18 miler), and we began chatting about the upcoming run and the best way to stay warm while waiting for the start on race day (she suggested a garbage bag or Tyvek painters suit).  Before we knew it, it was time to get started.  We lined up, said hello to other group mates and we were off.  I quickly found a buddy to chat with and we hit it off right away.  We chatted about everything from running to family and before we knew it 6 miles had flown by.  The rest of the run was much the same, slow and steady, I chatted with group members and leaders alike to keep my mind busy and off the miles I had left to run.  We even got a good laugh when we came upon a small two-seater airplane that had performed an emergency landing on Lakeshore Drive earlier that morning (thankfully, nobody was injured!) and about a mile later we saw the Oscar Meyer Wiener vehicle.  It was like we were playing long run bingo.  Oh the things you see!

The bottom line is, I felt great for this entire run.  I never felt winded and my legs were strong the whole way.  I am proud to say that I was able to easily run this 20 miler in its entirety (except quick walks through the aid stations to down a gel or a cup of water) and it was awesome.  I even had enough energy to pick up the pace a bit on the back half of the run and finished by sprinting up a hill and across the finish line…a far cry from the agony and defeat I felt just two weeks earlier at the end of my 18 mile run.  Sure, after “running” for 20 miles and pounding the pavement for almost 4 hours, my legs were tired and sore, I just never felt like I couldn’t go a step farther.  A HUGE confidence booster!  Also, I’m sure it was due to the slower pace, but I only ate 4 gels during this run and never really felt like I was running out of gas, and I didn’t experience the stomach cramping this time either.  Super YAY!  The only “bad” thing about this run was the beating my feet took.  I didn’t realize the extent of the damage until I got home and took my shoes off.  Apparently my sock had slipped below my ankle on my left foot, which lead to some pretty ugly chaffing.  My right foot fared much worse though.  I got my usual blister on my big toe, only this time the blister formed under the callus leading to a beautiful blood blister (can you sense my sarcasm?).  Luckily, the calluses on the top of my second and third toes saved my toenails from too much damage, but they sure were sore for a few days!

Overall, this was a great experience and helped me to get a better idea of what I should do on race day.  I now have a plan for race day, and am really looking forward to experiencing the Chicago Marathon and everything it has to offer.  Here are my stats:

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Tuesday, September 24th (Easy Run – 5 Miles):

It was another early morning for me today.  Knowing I had a 6pm appointment and wouldn’t get home until late, I decided I would get up early to get my run in before getting ready for work.  Since this run was just an easy 5 miler (hard to believe that just a few months ago, 5 miles was just shy of a long run), I decided to hit the streets of Oak Park instead of heading to work and running on the treadmill.  Luckily, the dog got me up at 4am so I had plenty of time to eat something before heading out.  I tried a PowerBar Performance Energy Blend (Apply Mango Strawberry flavor) for the first time, and I’m in love.  It was delicious and sat well in my stomach, leaving me with a fulfilled but light feeling.  The run went REALLY well, surprisingly well actually.  After running 20 miles just a day and a half before, I thought my legs would be tired and sore for sure.  Surprisingly, they felt great and again, everything just seemed to click.  My breathing was right on and I even managed to run negative splits (and the whole thing without stopping!).  It’s amazing what a good long run can do for breaking down mental barriers!  Here are my stats:

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Wednesday, September 25th (Mid-Week Long Run – 8 Miles):

Another solid run in the books!  The weather was great again this week, which is helping me get through runs a lot easier these days.  The low humidity and cooler temperatures really seem to help keep my breathing in line.  I felt pretty good again for this run.  Not nearly as good as I did on Tuesday’s run, but overall pretty decent.  Because this was a longer run, I wanted to be sure that I didn’t go out too fast and run out of gas after a few miles so I kept the pace nice and even at around 10:30 min/mile for a good majority of the run, choosing to pick up the pace for the last three miles if I felt good.  Happily, despite running consistently (no more intervals!) at this pace, I still felt good for the last three miles and ran negative splits for those miles (10:14, 10:12 and 9:45).  My legs were a little on the tired side today though.  Here are my stats:

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Friday, September 27th (Easy Run – 4 Miles):

Tonight was another good run for me.  It was a bit warmer today (close to 80°F), but not humid which helped to keep my breathing in line.  I felt pretty good as I set out on this run, a little tired, but nothing I couldn’t handle.  About a mile into the run my legs decided that they were going to rebel and give me trouble.  My quads felt heavy and my shins were sore, causing negative Nancy to make an appearance.  Instead of focusing on my uncooperative legs, I pushed through and forced myself to focus on and enjoy my surroundings instead (the trees are starting to change!).  I was so focused on everything but my legs, I couldn’t tell you when they decided to wake up, but they did!  The last two miles or so of my run felt effortless and I finished with a smile.  Here are my stats:

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So this week was the official start of my taper.  They say that it is important to “trust the taper” and your training program.  I’m beginning to get a little stir crazy and as my mileage decreases, and have already worked out my post marathon training plan in anticipation for my next half marathon in January.  I am also getting more and more nervous as the big day approaches.  I got my official participant guide in the mail on Wednesday and just about hyperventilated when I saw it.  downloadThis is becoming very real for me, and I am wavering between confidence and fear of failure as the day draws closer and closer.  Last night was girls night out (GNO) with my run club friends.  It’s always nice to spend time with these ladies, but having an opportunity to express my hopes, fears and share encouraging words with other runners and friends, who have been through this before, helped ease some of my fears a bit.  By the time I left the gathering last night, I felt ready to take this monster goal head on, knowing that I had all of those lovely ladies standing behind me, just as I stand behind them as they strive to reach their goals.  Thank you for all of your support OPRC girls…and to those running Chicago with me, best of luck, you will do great!!!

While running my 20 miler last weekend, I found myself thinking about the movie Spirit of the Marathon.  When I first watched the film many months ago, I found it to be incredibly inspiring.  Being the dork that I am, I found myself tearing up and literally screaming at the computer screen, cheering Deena Kastor to the finish.  I remember thinking that I would surely break down in tears at the finish line, my body crumbling into a heap.  As the day approaches, I wonder what the finish line has in store for me.  Will I break down in tears, or will I cross the finish line the same way I crossed the line of the 20 miler…calm, encouraged, and happy?  Whatever the day has in store for me, I am growing more and more excited.  That being said, I leave you with this great Chicago Marathon inspirational video I found while perusing YouTube today (look at all that spectator support…awesome!!!).

That will be me in a little over two weeks…eeek!!!  Until next time, happy running everyone!

Recapping a Race and a Streak

Community Bank of Elmhurst 4 on the 4th Race Recap

I had a hard time sleeping Wednesday night, likely because of the pre-race nerves I seem to get before every race.  It’s so weird that even after running 26 races in the last two years I still get nervous before a race.  Do you get nervous before races too?

When the alarm went off at 5am I was already awake so I rolled out of bed, walked the dog and went through my usual race day rituals.  Shower…check.  Comfy race gear…check.  Garmin…check.  Inhaler…check.  Race bib and pins…check.  Diet Coke…check.  CLIF Bar…check.  At 5:45am I was ready to walk out the door, happy that my husband could finally make it to a race to cheer me on and meet my new run club friends.  The garage door opened with a few unusual creaks and bangs and we knew something was wrong.  Since we were supposed to meet for the club carpool at 6am and there was clearly something wrong with the garage door, I had to leave Josh behind so we wouldn’t come home to a very clean garage and missing lawn tools.

I arrived to the carpool meet-up location right on time, we loaded up and were on our way.  The race was located in Elmhurst, a really nice suburb about 15-20 minutes away (if traffic is good).  Since it was the 4th of July, traffic was very light so the ride was fast and easy.  We arrived and quickly found parking, which was free.  Hooray for free parking!  I usually end up paying anywhere from $15-$36 for parking on top of pricey registration fees for races downtown, so I really appreciate free parking.  The registration fee for this race was VERY reasonable too at $25 for pre-registration and a $5 CARA discount.

After meeting up with other club members at the club tent and chatting for a while, it was finally time to line up.  Due to a lack of sleep the night before and my “tired” legs, I wasn’t feeling up to “racing” but was looking forward to a nice relaxed run.  Thinking about it, I have to say that I’m not really “racing” when I run any of my races.  Sure, I’m working to PR and I’m racing against myself, but I’m not really a competitive person by nature and I’m certainly not fast enough to even come close to placing in my age/gender group.  Maybe someday, but certainly not yesterday!  I’m just happy that I can run and that running affords me an opportunity to meet and hang out with a cool group of people.

The gun went off promptly at 7:15am and we were on our way.  I had a great time running, chatting and cheering on fellow OPRC members with Laura (another club member).  The course was great – it offered a good deal of shade (a welcome perk on a sunny summer morning), beautiful views of residential streets and the neat downtown Elmhurst area, and a nice challenge.  As I’ve said before, Oak Park is very flat, so any course that has more than one hill offers a bit more of a challenge for me.  This course had three…one just after the one mile marker, another at about mile 2.5 and then another right at the finish, which is just cruel.  🙂

Even though I wasn’t racing, I was still happy with my time. I felt good the entire run, despite forgetting to use my inhaler before the start, and I was pleased that the hills didn’t totally kill me.  Here are my stats for the race:

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The Elmhurst Running Club did a great job organizing this race.  There was plenty of water at the finish, as well as Gatorade, bagels and bananas just off the finish line area.  I didn’t take any, mainly because I never take bagels after a race and the bananas were cut in half and I’m a bit of a germaphobe that way.  There is just something about a ton of sweaty hands potentially touching (or even just sweat dripping onto) something that I’m about to ingest.  Blech!

After the race, we all gathered back at the club tent to enjoy good conversation and all of the yummy goodies everyone brought for the pot luck.  We also took a group photo and what a group it was!  There must have been 50 or more club members there…way to represent OPRC!  Have I mentioned how lucky I feel to be a part of this group?  They are truly an awesome group of people.  They all inspire me to be a better runner and person.

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Photo by club member Erin’s husband, Jason.

Runner’s World Run Streak Challenge Recap

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That’s right friends, I am a Runner’s World 2013 Summer Run Streak Challenge finisher!  I have made it through a 39 day run streak, running at least one mile a day from Memorial Day to Independence Day.  There were so many days that I would much rather have been lazy or taken a rest day after a long run (or brutal half marathon), but I’m proud that I kept going.  I kept going through a nasty nagging leg pain, blisters and pug induced sheer exhaustion. I ran through rain, sunshine, heat and humidity…I even ran after a nasty storm hurdling tree branches and dodging downed trees.  The bottom line is, this was a great experience.  I’ve gotten so used to running every day that I feel guilty taking a rest day today.  I might just have to lace up and get in an easy one miler…we’ll see.

Anyway, here are my final stats for the streak:

Total Miles: 104.34

Consecutive Days:  39

Miles to Goal:  25.66 (close, but no cigar)

Total Time Spent Running:  17 hours, 54 minutes and 32 seconds (wow!!)

Elevation Gain:  512 Feet

Calories Burned:  11,092

Running + Wedding = FUN

The last two days have been busy, as usual.  Sometimes I wonder how I’m ever going to fit in a mid-week 10 miler during marathon training, but I know I will…I have to!  I’m confident that through this process I will become a MASTER at time management!  🙂 

Yesterday was a busy day at work, but I had to leave on time – I had a wedding to go to!  This wedding was not just your ordinary wedding, it was very special and unique – let me tell you why.  You see, the run club I belong to meets every Monday night for a “fun run”.  Two members, Ann and Ray, met and fell in love through run club and wanted to include their run club family in their special day.  What better way to do this then to celebrate where it all began…with a very special Monday night run!  That’s right friends, I ran the most fun and special 2.68 miles of my life last night.  The weather was perfect and love was certainly in the air.  The club met at our usual meeting spot (The Competitive Foot) and with the bride (looking beautiful in a cute white run outfit complete with veil) and groom (looking dapper in his top hat, tuxedo shirt and jacket) leading the way, we ran to the ceremony site – the park we run by every week.  After a lovely and heartwarming ceremony full of love the bride and groom, holding a “Just Married” sign, led the way back to the store for a great dinner as well as a bouquet and SPI-Belt toss.  Though I haven’t known Ann and Ray for very long, their love for each other was evident from the moment I met them and I am so lucky to have been invited to be a part of such a special and happy occasion.  Congrats Ann and Ray…best wishes for a long and happy life together!!!  Here are my stats for this very special wedding day:

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Today began early with the dog asking to go out at 4am again.  I don’t know how her schedule got so off whack, but I really wish she would get back on her “normal” schedule of 7am walks!  Thank goodness for my little friend, caffeine!  🙂  I had every intention of running an easy 3 miles tonight but apparently my body had different plans.  Unfortunately, that nagging leg pain has gotten worse over the last few days.  Typically, the pain is sharp at the beginning of my run, but after a few minutes it seems to subside or even disappear altogether.  Not so much tonight.  Every step I took sent a shock of pain to my brain telling me to stop.  I noticed I was overcompensating for the pain and was still run/limping after more than half a mile.  After a slow and painful mile I decided enough was enough.  After all, I only had to do one mile today to keep my streak alive and I have learned to listen to my body when it tells me something isn’t right.  After all, marathon training starts next week and I want to be healthy so I have the best chance of crossing the finish line this October. 

Pushing through the pain could lead to injury and blow my marathon dreams out of the water before I even began my journey.  I ended up walking the mile and a half home wincing as the muscle contracted every few minutes sending a shooting pain down my leg.  When I finally got home, I slathered on some Perform pain reliever (no burning like Icy Hot, thank goodness!) and after about 30 minutes the muscle contractions finally stopped.  Here are my stats for tonight’s epic failure of a run:

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Tomorrow is speed work, but I’m not sure if I’ll be able to do it.  I plan to show up and use my warm-up laps to gauge how my leg feels and go from there.  I’m not sure where this pain is coming from, but I really hope to get this resolved soon, even if it means falling short of my streak mileage goal.  The marathon is most important right now.  If a rest is necessary to keep me healthy, so be it.  I can always go streaking again next year!

Here is my #RWRUNSTREAK update:

Miles to Date: 18.78

Consecutive Days:  9

Miles to Goal:  111.22

Days Remaining:  30