Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A little bit of luck and a lot of hard work

Hey guys! I am so excited about this blog post. Back in September I participated in a #Runchat giveaway to win a personalized race training plan from Jason Fitzgerald of Strength Running. Jason is a USATF-certified running coach and can run a full marathon faster than I ran my half!! He works with runners of all skill levels to create customized training plans and help them achieve their running goals. I was so fortunate to be the lucky winner of a personalized PR Race Plan!

Jason contacted me immediately and asked me to fill out a very thorough questionnaire about my running history, current workouts and future goals. At the time I had not yet completed my first half-marathon but had already registered for my second! I knew that I wanted my training plan to focus on that second race. After a few emails back and forth we decided to wait on creating my plan until after I completed my first half-marathon, in order to have a point of reference for my new goals. After completing my half and a couple of smaller races, I returned my updated questionnaire to Jason. Less than a week later he emailed me my personalized plan. I am so excited about it!!!

My over-zealous self managed to sign up for two spring half-marathons within six weeks of each other and Jason was able to incorporate both races in to my training plan. I had two goals in mind for my training: 1) to become a stronger, faster, more well-rounded runner; and 2) to rely less on the Galloway run/walk method, especially for shorter distances like the 5k. Again, Jason took both of these goals in to account and designed my plan with both in mind. In addition to planning my run workouts and weekly mileage Jason took great care to address things such as warmup/cool down routines, core workouts, and cross-training. He even linked me to several instructional videos! I am just so impressed by my entire experience so far.

Since my races are not until the spring, my formal training won't begin until early January but Jason suggested I work on certain things in the meantime. I have been extremely inspired lately by the goal-setting and training logs being posted by my fellow bloggers. I have decided to be equally as transparent about my own training and one of my goals is to blog here on a more regular basis. I am currently working on filling my 2013 agenda book with my training plan and I intend to pencil in scheduled blogging time as well. I can't wait to let you know about my progress as I begin to train for my second and third half-marathons. I hope you'll continue to share your experiences too. Thanks for the inspiration!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Inspiration bred from perspiration

In the days leading up to my half-marathon I realized that I was not the only one growing increasingly excited. The taper madness must have been contagious because my father wanted to know everything that was going through my head that week. I could tell that a part of him was recalling his own experience, more than thirty years ago, as he prepared for his first-ever distance race: the New York City Marathon. Two days before my race he excitedly told me how he'd gone outside for a walk and he ended up actually running for the first time in many years. He mentioned where he had run and wanted to know how far I thought he'd gone (~3.1 miles) and how long it had taken him (33 minutes). "Dad, that's faster than my 5K time. What the hell?" I joked. He smiled and replied, "Good, then we can run together."

The day after my half he asked if I felt any soreness. When I told him that I felt surprisingly good, he gave me a sheepish grin and confessed that he was still sore from his run. I scolded him for running in cross-trainers and sent him off to get proper running shoes. He returned with the shoes and an exasperated look, exclaiming "They wanted $20 for a pair of gloves! I'd rather wear socks on my hands." Seriously, the man is cracking me up. It has been so amazing to see this little spark renewed within him and to think that maybe I inspired it. I can't wait to see what else the running bug does to him. Who knows, perhaps we'll get to run a race together after all.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Race Recap: My first half-marathon!

I awoke like a child on Christmas morning. My alarm wasn’t set to go off for another 30 minutes but I was simply too excited to go back to bed. It was the day I’d been obsessing about for almost 6 months: my first half-marathon. I'd originally registered for the race due to pressure encouragement from Melanie. She was originally planning to walk the half-marathon distance and told me that if she could walk it, I could run it. I had a lot of doubts and no idea what I was getting myself into but I eventually agreed. I am SO thankful that I did. I am also so proud of Mel because over the last 6 months she has become a runner and she ran that 13.1 instead of walking it. 

Yesterday’s weather report called for a 30% chance of rain but thankfully it never showed up. It was a chilly morning and I was grateful for my nervous energy keeping me active & therefore warm(ish) near the start line. I waited near the back of the pack, where I noticed an older gentleman in front of me dressed in blue jeans. I wanted so badly to ask, “Sir? Do you know you’re about to do a half-marathon?!” For the record, he did it. I watched him cross the finish line later that morning.

The beginning of the race was a blur of excitement as I activated my trio of technology (heart rate monitor, interval timer, and RunKeeper app). Then, I was off and running. I tried to hang with the 3:00-half pace group because we were both doing intervals but we weren’t in sync, so we leap-frogged for a bit. I hadn’t run for a few days prior to the race and my legs were so ready to move! It was only a matter of time before they got the best of me and I surged ahead. I came upon a friend of mine who was running the full marathon and we chatted for a few minutes before yet again I forged on. It was about this time that I realized I was feeling too good and moving too fast. Coincidentally this was also when I faced the first of many hills; I considered it a speed bump.

The folks around me at this point in the race were in great spirits and very vocal. A man running with a stroller paused to let his toddler daughter out for a run. As I passed them he told the little girl “Don’t let her beat you!” It cracked me up. There was also a man in front of me who was keeping an amazingly steady pace. I would fall behind him during my walk intervals but pass him during my runs. I thought about trying to talk to him but wasn’t sure if that was taboo, so I made it my goal to stay near him.

The course quickly took us into the heart of downtown Raleigh, which was fun because we passed a lot of local hangouts and monuments. Somewhere between miles 3 & 4 I spotted the paparazzi and tried my best to smile and look photogenic. We shuffled past a fire station where about 12 firemen stood quietly watching our efforts. They seemed disinterested but I smiled and waved anyway, which seemed to catch their attention. 

Soon after I encountered the second water stop, which was manned by volunteers in pretty tutus. As I rounded a corner I was greeted by a family on the side of the road and three young girls with their arms extended, looking for high-fives. Three high-fives later, I continued on my journey up yet another hill. We ran toward the state capitol building, past church-goers in suits and dresses, past the cow parade and the huge globe situated outside the museum of natural sciences.

After running past one of my favorite pizza places I started to get excited because I knew that I was almost at mile 6, where Rose was stationed as a course monitor. I was beginning to realize that my pace was still too quick, that I needed to fuel more consistently and I was really looking forward to seeing a familiar face. As I approached the intersection where the course monitors were stationed, I started waving happily to those on the left side of the road but no one waved back. Then I heard someone calling my name on the right side of the road and there was Rose! It just so happened to be time for one of my walk intervals so I got to chat with her for a brief minute before continuing on. Thanks for cheering for me Rose, you made my day!

The race took us up another hill past a huge shopping center where the finish line for the 10K was located. There were more spectators in this part of the course and I heard lots of cheers, music and cowbells, which energized me. I knew my parents were expected to show up on the race course at some point and I was really hoping it would be here. I scanned the crowd for familiar faces but didn’t see any. Then I spotted my favorite sign of the whole race, it said “You look sooooo skinny!!!” Haha! Why thank you.

At the top of the hill was another water stop and a teenager with a sign that had a bull’s-eye on it and said “push here for power boost”. I high-fived his sign and sped up a little bit, pretending I was in a video game. A couple of miles later I realized that my water bottle was nearly empty. Having never run a long-distance race before, I was unsure what my water situation would be. I have trained all year with a 20oz handheld bottle and this is what I carried with me on race day. I had serious water-anxiety throughout the race and had stopped at every water stop on the way to be sure I was properly hydrated. Just after the 8-mile marker, I approached another water stop and the first volunteer I saw was a man holding a pitcher of water. I ran right up to him and he said “this is for bottle refill”. I already had my bottle open and as he filled it up I told him I loved him. He probably thought I was crazy but he was in the right place at the right time!

At the top of yet another uphill (was this whole race uphill??) was a sweet blonde woman cheering us on. We thanked her and she said she had just run the Marine Corps Marathon last weekend and wanted to cheer on some local runners before heading to church. How sweet! She wasn’t kidding either because I saw her two more times on the course; she just kept appearing out of nowhere every time I was hoping to see my parents. The last time I saw her, around mile 11, I told her she was like our little angel. Even though I didn’t know her, she too made my day.

Miles 9, 10 and 11 were a series of out & backs so we were constantly running past each other. I thought I would hate that part of the course because it was repetitive and there weren’t many spectators but I actually enjoyed seeing several of my running group friends and we all shouted encouragement to each other. The volunteers, police officers and course monitors were truly amazing and made such an impact on me too. I tried to give a thumbs-up or a thank you to all who offered kind words or a smile. One woman sat on the edge of her front lawn with her speakers blaring Rapper’s Delight, which cracked me up. She told me I had the best smile she had seen on anyone all day. I was really starting to feel tired at this point so I was proud that I was still smiling.

As I neared the 12-mile marker I saw an amazingly fast guy bolt past and heard a volunteer radio that the first marathoners were back on the shared part of the course. That was both awe-inspiring and humbling, knowing someone had just run twice the distance in the same amount of time as my 12 miles. The closer I got to the finish, the more vocal the course monitors got. “You’re only a mile away!” “Half mile to go!” Tears of pride formed at the corners of my eyes but I willed them away, telling myself I couldn’t cry until I crossed that finish line and made it official.

The last quarter-mile was tough, as my feet started to cramp on me. I kept pushing through, telling myself not to stop running until I crossed that finish line. Finally the line was in sight and full-marathoners were flying past me at lightning speed. The closer I got, the louder the cheers and shouts became and I gave everything I had left. I saw someone step out from the crowd, their arms waving, and I realized it was my dad. In front of him was my mother, furiously snapping pictures. As I drew closer my dad stuck his hand out for a high-five and the look on his face was the same as when our favorite hockey team made it to the playoffs. I think the last time my parents came out to support me like this was in high school; it meant a lot for me to finally see their faces.

My amazing acorn-shaped medal

I glanced at the clock as I crossed the finish line, bowed my head to receive the medal that I had worked so hard to earn, and posed for the photographer. When I registered for this race 6 months ago, my goal was just to finish it. Despite caution not to set a time goal for my first race, as it drew closer I resolved to finish under 3 hours. In the weeks just prior to the big day, I secretly hoped to make it in around 2:45. When the results were officially posted later that night I was overjoyed: 2:47:54.

Training for and running this race has taught me so much about me and what I am capable of. This was not just a race of 13.1 miles; it was a journey of 31 years and a transformation of my life… from obese couch potato to half-marathoner. I couldn’t be more proud.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Final training update: half-marathon eve

A lot has happened in the last month! I ran my longest distance ever of 13.5 miles during a group training run. It was cold and rained for at least an hour of our run. It was the toughest run of my life, hands down. By mile 11 my hips were really sore, I was making ugly grimace faces, and to say I was irritable is a huge understatement. But... I did it! The best part was, this training run earned me my first "unofficial" medal! The Galloway group that I run with awards you a medal for your first 13.1 or 26.2 mile training runs. I was SO excited to receive that first piece of hardware!

First medal ever!!

Two weeks after that, I ran yet another distance PR of 15.5 miles! What the what? I know, a lot of people training for a half-marathon only train up to about 10-12 miles but I needed to know I could go the distance again. This second run was far better than the first. In fact I was only supposed to run 14 miles but felt so great that I decided to add the extra 1.5. It was a huge victory, both physically and mentally. Then, the taper began.

The following Saturday my training group had a 6 mile run planned, with an optional magic mile. For those who don't know, a magic mile is run at a harder-than-normal pace and is then used to determine your race pace goals. The last time we did a magic mile was a few months ago, so I was excited to do another. My training buddy J and I took off running together but I instantly felt it was a pace way faster than was comfortable for me.

Typically when doing my magic mile, I run the first half conservatively and then finish strong. This time, we had barely reached the 1/4 mile marker when I knew I was in trouble. In between gasping for air, I muttered that the pace was too fast. J knew I was having a tough time and suggested we slow down but I was afraid if I lost my momentum I'd stop completely. I kept telling myself to just keep going, that it would be over in a mile, and so I continued to push myself past the point of comfort. I could hardly speak but J kept talking to me. 

J: "Did I mention I used to be a miler in high school?"
Me: "Asshole!"
Me: "...I meant that with love."
J: "I felt it with love."

Once we passed the 3/4 mile mark, I was over it. I begged J to tell me as soon as the 1 mile sign was in sight and I just kept moving my feet as fast as I could. Our pace had slowed down because I was gassed and when we crossed the 1-mile mark I stopped my watch and looked down... 10:44. The EXACT same time I had run 3 months ago. I burst into tears.

J watched me unravel and asked why I was upset. I explained that I had run the same time 3 months ago and that I should have improved my time by now and that I was disappointed. She told me I was being too hard on myself and that I should think about how far I have come with my running and my weight loss. I know I have come leaps and bounds and am extremely proud of my progress. I guess that's why I was so frustrated with the lack of progress I had made in regard to my speed.

The very next day, a group of us met up for a 5 mile road race. I was excited to beat my previous 5-mile time and also to run with about 6 other ladies from my training group. When we crossed the start line, the pace felt fast but I stuck with it. By mile 3, some of the girls had dropped off and I was really feeling the hills on the course. When we saw the 5-mile sign, we began sprinting to the finish... only to find that the finish line was around the corner and down the block. I gave everything I had left and we crossed the finish line just under 1:05:00... 3 minutes SLOWER than my previous time.

Again, I was heartbroken. I felt like something was wrong with me, that I had somehow after all my training ended up even less-prepared than before. I started to doubt myself and my training; the thought of my half-marathon brought me fear instead of excitement. I was not in a good place.

First "official" race medal - Ramblin' Rose 5-miler

The following weekend, a few of us skipped our training run in favor of Color Me Rad. That fun run was exactly what I needed to loosen up a bit after some stressful training runs. Color Me Rad was a big party, with runners (& walkers) asked to wear a white t-shirt. Throughout the 5K, there are color-bomb stations where volunteers spray you with liquid color or toss colorful powder all over you. We laughed and screamed and overall had a great time. I am grateful for that experience.

Since we had skipped an 8-mile training run in favor of the 5k, I decided to train the 8 miles alone on Sunday. It was a cold and very windy day thanks to Hurricane Sandy, but I went out anyway. I mapped myself an 8 mile route and ran my own speed, with no pressures to keep up with anyone else. When I got back to my house, I felt amazing.

When I looked at my stats, I was beyond thrilled. Despite the hills, despite running into the wind for 75% of my run, despite all of the negative thoughts swimming in my mind for weeks, I ran the fastest 8 miles of my life. They were also the most consistent, according to my splits. Finally, I felt confident and ready to tackle the one goal I've been looking forward to completing all year.

My race day outfit! Yes, I made them put BANG on my bib!
Now, on the eve of my very first "official" half-marathon, I am filled with excitement and nervous energy. I am determined that despite meeting up with my friends from training group before the race, I will be wearing my headphones and running MY race. I will not let competition or negativity distract me from my goal. I will do this!

We talk so often about achieving PRs or weight loss goals, but what happens when we miss the mark? How do you deal with the disappointment of an unexpected outcome?