Double PRs

I’m writing this on Christmas Eve, the first time I’ve had enough spare time to blog in THREE months, which is certainly a personal worst for me. I started a new job this fall and I’m still adjusting to my new schedule. I love the job. I’m working in sales for a title company (call me if you work in real estate in Metro D.C. area!).

In any case, even though I haven’t been blogging, I’ve actually been racing quite a bit! Back in October, I ran the Marine Corps Marathon as a member of Team Fisher House. I’m proud to have raised $2,655.00 for Fisher House, which is an incredible organization. I definitely encourage you to look them up if you aren’t familiar with the work they do.

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Leading up to the race, both Alyssa and I thought I could have a good day based on some of my times during my key workouts, but it didn’t exactly work out that way. I finished in 4:33 something, which isn’t a personal worst, but I knew I was capable of running a much faster race. So, despite quitting sports forever somewhere around mile 16 of the race, just a few days afterward I registered to run the Rehoboth Marathon on December 3. It’s incredible how easy it is for Alyssa to talk me into things.

In the interim, I ran the Vienna Turkey Trot, which is a great local race on a surprisingly challenging course. This event was a lot of fun, as many of my friends ran as well.

Okay, so now on to Rehoboth. I’ve had a really long season this year. I ran the L.A. Marathon back in February and then of course Marine Corps in October, and an Ironman, the Tour de Skyline, and several other events in-between. I’ve never done two marathons so close together (just five weeks apart). I really wasn’t sure what to expect of my body at all. I joked with Alyssa that I thought I would have a good race because my training was going so poorly. Alyssa told me to have fun, no matter what happened during the race.

I carpooled to the race with two of my friends who were running the half and I laughed so hard in the car that my stomach actually hurt the night before the race. We stayed with another friend from our running group, who was also racing the half.

The four of us headed to the race start on race morning, but we got there with *barely* enough time to use the porta potty before the start. I had no time to warm-up and was definitely feeling a bit anxious about the harried start.

The gun went off and off we went. I started off feeling good and just took the race one mile at a time. As soon as a mile was over, I stopped thinking about it and focused on the mile I was in. I actually did this so well that at a couple of points I wasn’t even sure what mile I was in until I saw the mile markers along the side of the course.

It was nice and cold, which always helps me, and as the miles ticked by, I knew I was on track to break 4:20, which was my goal for the race. While this race course is flat, there was a lot of wind and there were two particularly notable sections where we were running straight into the wind for an extended period of time. For the first, I was able to tuck behind the pace group leader for the 4:10 pace group. He blocked the wind for me, which was awesome. The second time, at mile 19ish, I was on my own. I saw my “lap pace” on my Garmin creeping up and I started to get nervous that it was the beginning of the end of my effort to have my dream race. But, I stuck with my plan and as soon as that mile was over, I tried to put it behind me. I fought for every mile.

On the last out and back stretch, where you are running through a beautiful wooded area, I saw the 4:10 pace leader again (he was running solo at this point). It didn’t seem like he was that far ahead of me. I yelled “I am trying to catch you!” and he said “You totally can!”

In my mind, I actually did start to think I could run a 4:10, which was good motivation to keep pushing hard until the very end, even though (spoiler alert) I missed it.

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I finished in 4:11, far surpassing my goal time, with my friends cheering me on at the finish. It was awesome! I couldn’t wait to get back to the car to text Alyssa.

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Of course, she had been tracking me and already knew, although, she joked that I owed her ten years of her life back because there was a huge gap in the splits and she was on the edge of her seat the entire time!

So, after this race, I was majorly riding the pain train for a couple of days, but I had registered for the Gar Williams half marathon on the following weekend, so…

Fast forward 8 days to December 11 and I was on the start line of a half marathon. I was there with two other friends from my running group (love my running group!). I, once again, had no idea what to expect from my body having run a 12 minute marathon PR the prior weekend. Alyssa and I had decided in advance that I would just run and see how I felt. It was up to me to decide whether I wanted to really try to race it or not.

Thankfully, it was another cold day and I started off feeling pretty good. I was ticking off miles at under 9:00 minute/mile pace and thinking I could definitely try to PR by breaking two hours. I hit the half way mark at 58:08, running 8:53 pace.

Around mile 7 or 8 though, my body realized what was happening and said “OH, HELL NO!” and the wheels started slowly coming off. My pace started slowing, and slowing, and slowing… I knew it was going to be tough to break two hours at that point, but I tried to employ the same strategy I used the weekend before in Rehoboth – just fight for the mile you’re in. Don’t give up.

I ended up finishing in 1:58:33. Another PR! Even though this was a terribly paced effort, I was happy to have held on.

This sport is so odd. Two years ago, every half I did, all I wanted to do was break 2:00 (see here, and here…) and I never could. And then, out of no where, I was able to do it the weekend after running a marathon PR. Team HPB is known for doing “doubles” (although, usually that means double Ironmans), but I did my own mini version of the double and was able to double PR.

Huge thanks, as always, to Alyssa. When I started working with her, my marathon PR was a 4:40, and we have slowly worked our way down to a 4:11. I would have never EVER imagined I could do that when we started working together many years ago.

Now, I would say that I’m looking forward to taking a bit of a break, but I’m registered for my first ever ultra-marathon, a trail 50k on January 14, so I’m off to the gym instead.

Merry Christmas!

 

 

 

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Post-Ironman Recovery and Planning for 2016

It’s now been over two weeks since I finished Ironman Chattanooga and I am still on my post-race high! I’m not sure I can adequately describe my feelings in words, but suffice it to say, the race was one of the best experiences of my life and I can’t wait to do it again!

Since the race, I’ve been taking it easy. My first draft of this post used the word “lazy” but I’m trying to be better about positive self-talk. So, I’m telling myself I’m “giving my body the break it deserves” after such an enormous undertaking.

Truthfully, though, my physical recovery has gone better than I anticipated. The day after the race, I was sore, but I didn’t feel as bad as I had expected. This may have been a result of pounding calories during and after the race, but maybe that is just wishful thinking on my part. 🙂 In the following days, the only thing that really hurt was my left hamstring, which had been bothering me leading up to the race, so that wasn’t a big surprise. The important thing is that it held up during the race itself (thanks again, Peter!).

During the past two weeks, I haven’t worked out much at all. I’ve done a couple of short runs and rides (on my road bike), TRX class three times, some home workout DVDs, and that’s basically it. I initially ate whatever I wanted, too – which turned out to be an embarrassing amount of vegan junk food (I discovered, unfortunately, that there are WAY too many amazingly delicious vegan junk food options on the market!). But after about ten days, I needed to get back to eating more normally. Ten days is definitely the longest I can survive living like that.

I am still a bit out of sorts scheduling-wise. This has been the hardest part of post-race recovery for me. I think I thrive when I’m in a structured routine and not having that these past two weeks has thrown me a bit off-center. My time management is actually worse, even though I would have expected the opposite since I have so much more free time now. I’ll be glad to get back on a normal schedule next week.

Now that the Ironman is over, I’ve started planning out my 2016 season. Choosing races is always so much fun!

As I’ve already mentioned, I’ll be running the L.A. Marathon in February. This will be my 6th stand-alone marathon. I’m excited to focus on running for a while, although I am somewhat nervous about the hamstring holding up. We shall see how that goes.

My first tri of the season will be Rev3 Knoxville (half) in May and then I’ll be racing Toughman Tupper Lake Tinman in June. My “A” race of the season will be Mont Tremblant on August 21st. These will all be new races for me and I’m so excited to experience them for the first time.

I may add a local half marathon or ten miler in the spring, depending on scheduling, and I’d like to go back to Team HPB tri camp in Tucson, as well. It’s always so tricky to fit everything in!

I’m actually super excited about Tinman, which jumped out at me because I spent many childhood summers vacationing in Tupper Lake, New York.

Tupper Lake, NY, circa summer 1988? (age 7?). In my mind, that was a beautiful sandcastle.
I’ll be swimming in that water at Tinman.

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Tupper Lake is an absolutely gorgeous area and should be beautiful for racing. Tinman is also a smaller and very affordable race, which really appealed to me, as well. When my mom told me my parents would come to the race if I picked that one, that sealed the deal for me! They’ve never seen me race a triathlon before, so that’s going to be huge. I’m also really looking forward to setting some new goals for the half-iron distance, now that I have three 70.3s under my belt. I think I’ll have more confidence to actually race them now, too, since I know I can survive twice that distance in a race.

In addition to my parents coming to Tinman, Taryn will be joining me at Knoxville and Mont Tremblant, and Ashley at the L.A. Marathon, so I’ll have lots of company at my races next season.

I really couldn’t be more pleased with the year I had this year and I’m super excited about what’s to come in 2016!

 

Training Through Insomnia

If you’ve read my blog in the last few months, you know that although I’ve been suffering from terrible insomnia since September, I’ve been able to continue my training largely without interruption. Specifically, I trained for a marathon averaging only 3-4 hours of sleep of night, and after a brief off-season, I’ve started training for the 2015 tri season on equally little sleep. For example, last night, or I guess technically, this morning, I slept from 2:00 a.m. – 4:00 a.m. and today I have a hard 3000 yard swim session on the schedule. I will not be skipping that swim.

Before I get into my tips for training on no sleep, I have to get some things out of the way – it certainly hasn’t been easy; I haven’t been perfect; and I’m not delusional enough to think that my performance hasn’t suffered. It most definitely has. And, there is no way I could have made it this far without a very supportive and talented coach working through this with me.

But, with all of those caveats out of the way, I have definitely learned some things over the last few months that have enabled me to train with chronic insomnia and I’m writing this blog because I think others may be interested in learning from my experience. I also hope that if you’ve had a similar experience, you will add a comment to this post with your tips to help others dealing with this situation. This post is not about taking melatonin (yes, I tried it, it didn’t work), limiting screen time before bed (same), making the bedroom dark (same), not drinking coffee late in the day (duh!), etc., etc. I assure you, I have tried everything over the last few months. Instead, my purpose is to start a discussion about how you can survive marathon or triathlon training on very little sleep.

Here are my top 3 recommendations:

(3) Try to Stick to Your Normal Routine (to the Extent Possible). Even though insomnia completely turns your world upside down, I’ve found that I’ve done better trying to stick to my normal routine as much as possible in terms of wake-up times, eating times, training times, etc. It helps me maintain some semblance of normalcy and also makes me feel like I still have some control over what otherwise feels like a very out-of-control situation. I think it has also helped me distract myself from the lack of sleep. Once I wake up, my day gets started and I don’t have time to dwell on being tired. However, this recommendation is “to the extent possible,” because I’ve also learned I need to be flexible (more on this in number 1 below).

(2) Eat Right. I love deliciously unhealthy food, don’t get me wrong, but not sleeping makes you feel like crap. So, you need to do everything within your control to make yourself feel good. I’ve been eating a ton more veggies, less “junk food,” and less animal products; I’ve been trying to think of “food as fuel” and that has really helped me to change my perspective on food and make better choices; and I’ve been making a concerted effort to plan healthy meals and snacks. I haven’t been perfect by any means, but I think it has really helped me by both increasing my energy levels and helping me take control of something in this otherwise uncontrollable situation (a theme!).

(1) Be Kind to Yourself. Insomnia is upsetting enough on its own – you really don’t need to pile it on. Runners and triathletes tend to be Type A personalities, which can, of course, be a good thing because it makes us dedicated and committed to our sports. On the other hand, we can be really hard on ourselves. Too hard.

If you set your alarm for 6:00 a.m. to wake up and swim, but you only fell asleep at 2:00 a.m., you really shouldn’t beat yourself up over hitting snooze; or pushing your wake-up time back to 6:30; or swimming during lunch or that night instead; or even, occasionally, skipping the workout. The mental and physical strain insomnia puts on you is bad enough. Don’t make it worse for yourself. Treat yourself as you would treat a friend going through the same thing. It’s that simple.

I hope you never have to suffer with chronic insomnia, but if you do, I hope these tips will be helpful. If you have been in this situation, what recommendations would you add to this list?

Final (Positive!) Thoughts Before Richmond

A few days ago, Alyssa replied to an email of mine with an email that said “POSITIVE THOUGHTS ONLY!” (emphasis in the original). That was the entirety of her reply message.

She’s right (as always!).

Leading into races, my natural inclination is to focus on my doubts, fears, and shortcomings. On everything that could go wrong. I’m a worst case scenario kind of thinker.

But Alyssa is right that now isn’t the time for doubting. It’s not the time to dwell on my insomnia, or my knee acting funny, or my past marathon disappointments. It’s time to start reminding myself about everything that has gone right during my training. And, a lot has gone right.

I’ve nailed some really tough training runs despite the insomnia. Don’t get me wrong, there have definitely been some not-so-great runs, too – but there have been several that I can’t believe I completed. For example, I’ve never been a huge treadmill runner, but over the past two months, I’ve finished several long treadmill runs with building pace.

Looking back at some photos and results from this year reminded me how much I have improved as an athlete since I ran my last marathon in November 2013. There is no way I could have completed those treadmill runs last year. I have had a great season, no doubt. I finished two half ironmans, took 11 minutes off of my half marathon PR, and survived two intense Team HPB triathlon training camps. I made it to the top of Mt. Lemmon!!

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Me, at the top of Mt. Lemmon. One of my biggest accomplishments of the year (above). At the finish of my first half iron-distance race, Ironman 70.3 Syracuse (below).

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I am stronger and tougher than I was this time last year. That is true, no matter what happens in Richmond on Saturday.

So, it’s “POSITIVE THOUGHTS ONLY!” from now until the finish line. 26.2 or bust!

Sleepless in Virginia

The marathon is the one running distance I haven’t gotten faster at in five years of running. I’ve improved my PRs in the 5k, 10k, and half marathon over those years, but a new marathon PR has eluded me. My current marathon PR is my 2009 Richmond Marathon time (4:40:49). That was my second running race ever, of any distance, and it is still the race I am most proud of. It is such a huge accomplishment to run 26.2 miles and just finishing that race was truly life-changing. However, I know I have a faster marathon in me and I am still waiting to prove that fact.

Since 2009, I have run three additional marathons and everything that could have gone wrong, went wrong during those races – injury, nutrition, weather – you name it. I’ve had one disappointing race after the next. This year, I have made major gains in my general fitness and running speed and I really thought this was going to be my year to finally have a breakthrough at 26.2.

I’m supposed to run marathon number five on November 15, again in Richmond. The race is just four weeks away and I fear that I may have another bad race in store, despite all of my improvements this year. Marathon training just has not gone as planned.

The short(ish) version of the story is that about five days after Rev3 Poconos (which was September 14), I started experiencing extreme fatigue and heavy, tired legs. There were days where I couldn’t finish even short, easy runs without walking. I took a couple of days totally off – no exercise at all. That didn’t really seem to help. I also couldn’t sleep through the night. While I have always been a light sleeper, waking up often throughout the night, I have never had prolonged periods of not sleeping for hours on end, night after night.

While my legs seem to be back, for the most part at least (perhaps due to starting to take an iron supplement), over a month later, the insomnia has actually gotten worse. I’ve tried a number of sleep aids, including by prescription, but I still can’t sleep. For example, I may fall asleep okay, but then wake up at 1:00 a.m. and be wide awake and unable to get back to sleep. Sometimes, I can’t fall asleep, and then finally will, but for only a few hours – say, 3:00 a.m. to 6:00 a.m.

Not surprisingly, as a result, I am exhausted all of the time. And, of course, I’m trying to work, keep up with family commitments, and train for a marathon. This is not a great combination. Obviously, my performance has been compromised. I’m doing the best I can, with the help of my very supportive and understanding coach, but there is only so much you can do when your body and mind are just worn out.

So, here we are four weeks out from another marathon with things not going according to plan. I’m trying to stay hopeful, and I do still think I may be able to pull out a PR if things go my way on race day. I would just really like to get some sleep before then.

Crisis in Confidence

The New York City Marathon is exactly two weeks from today.

In fact, two weeks from right now, I should be a little more than half way through marathon number four.

I should be getting excited. And I am. But I am also having a crisis of confidence.

About a month ago, I posted about my marathon training and how I was exactly where I wanted to be after my first 20 mile run. Before that, I had finished a solid 18 mile run. Things were going along well. I was feeling good.

Then, I’m not sure what happened. I had some bad runs at Ragnar – very challenging runs in the heat. Maybe that hurt my confidence. Maybe my body just hasn’t recovered from the running and the lack of sleep. Maybe it has nothing to do with Ragnar per se, but, instead, just all of the training and racing I’ve done in the past year (much, much more than I ever have done before) catching up with me. I don’t know. But, the bottom line is that my runs have not been good since Ragnar.

On top of that, this is a huge race for me. I’ll be running NYC after trying to get in through the lottery three years in a row and having the race canceled last year. So, this is year number FIVE that I am trying to get to the starting line. Even before I had ever entered the lottery, I had watched the race on TV and knew it was something really special I wanted to do one day.

And, I will probably never get back. They are eliminating the guaranteed entry program I used to get into the race after next year and I will never meet the time qualifying standards. They are just insane. So, this is a once in a lifetime for me.

I want to enjoy the experience. I want to soak up the energy of the day. I want to remember it fondly. I want to be happy with my performance.  I don’t want any regrets.

But, I know that marathons aren’t all sunshine and rainbows. They are hard. Really hard. And my last two have both been miserable. I had a terrible day in Chicago in 2010. It was hot and my nutrition was a disaster. I walked half the course. I finished in 5:20-something. Last year, in Richmond, I was injured and once again found myself walking and, in this case, wondering if I could even finish the race because of the pain. I did, but it was not pretty. My finish time was over 5 hours.

So, yeah, I definitely have those races in the back of my mind.

Since NYC is only two weeks away, I don’t have time to fix anything now. It’s too late. I just have to trust that what I have done this year is enough to get me through the race. I have to believe in myself and in my training. That isn’t easy. It isn’t something that comes naturally to me. It puts me outside of my comfort zone. But, so does running 26.2 miles. It isn’t comfortable. It’s hard. And, that is why I like it.

So, I have a “mental marathon” of sorts to conquer in the next 13 days: being positive, believing in myself and in my training, imagining myself crossing that finish line feeling strong and proud. And, then, on November 3rd, I need to do every single thing I can (and even some things I think I can’t) to make it happen.