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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Race Report: L.A. Marathon (and Spectating the Olympic Marathon Trials)

I had a fantastic time in L.A. this past weekend, albeit short. From spectating the Olympic Marathon Trials, to running the L.A. Marathon, to spending time with my dear friend Ashley, this was most definitely a weekend to remember.

I flew out to L.A. on Friday to meet up with Ashley, who I haven’t seen since August 2014. I had to wake up at 3:00 a.m. to catch my early flight out of Dulles. After a brief layover in San Francisco, I landed at LAX around noon and met up with Ashley, who was coming in from Phoenix, at baggage claim.

Only in California! A sign at the airport in San Fran.

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We knew we were in L.A. when we stepped outside and the first person we saw was a little girl (maybe 5 years old) wearing sunglasses and Beats by Dre. L.A. oozes cool.

Ashley and I took a cab downtown and checked into our hotel – the Sheraton Downtown. Between waking up so early and the 3-hour time difference, I was starving, so the first order of business was getting some food. After enjoying some very yummy Asian food, we headed to the race expo to pick up our bibs. We somehow turned what should have been a short walk (the expo was just a few blocks from the hotel) into an adventure (we got a little turned around and ended up at the place where people were picking up their tickets for the Grammy Awards), but we eventually found our way. The expo was huge and we walked around briefly to scope everything out. After the expo, we hit the hotel gym (the Sheraton has super nice gym, by the way) for a brief, post-travel shake-out jog. We grabbed dinner and then – Type A personalities that we are – figured out logistics for the rest of the weekend. We decided where we would stand to spectate the Olympic Marathon Trials on Saturday, we thought-through our plan for race morning on Sunday, I figured out my coffee plan for the trip (priorities!), etc.

Saturday

On Saturday morning, we went for a brief shake-out run around downtown and then grabbed breakfast at the Whole Foods just a couple of blocks away from the Sheraton (another plus for the Sheraton). We showered and I put on my most patriotic outfit and off we went to watch the Trials!

Spectating! USA, USA!

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Spectating the Trials was incredible. There was a palpable buzz in the air. Ashley and I were actually nervous for the runners! We found a great spot to watch them walking to their warm-ups, which was awesome. They are all SO teeny in person – even the men. These runners have thighs the size of my arms!

I took a ton of photos during the race, but here are a few of my favorites.

Meb and Galen Rupp 

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Unfortunately, I didn’t get a great shot of Meb at the finish, but he was waving the American flag with one hand and pumping his fist/giving high fives with the other – it was awesome! He’s just the best!

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I am so thrilled with our women’s team. We couldn’t ask for three more fabulous women to represent us in Rio.

The winner of the women’s race, Amy Cragg, looking super strong and fresh at the finish.

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Desi finished in second.

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Shalane fought hard to hang on for third.

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Spectating the Trials in person was even more amazing than I hoped it would be. It’s something I will never forget.

The races ended in the early afternoon and Ashley and I took it easy for the rest of the day. We reviewed our logistics for the next day and laid out our clothes. We wanted to be ready to go in the morning. We had noticed the day before that the Sheraton’s gym had foam rollers and massage sticks (how awesome is that?), so we put in a solid foam rolling session before bed.

Sunday

On race morning, we woke up at 4:00 a.m., had our breakfasts, got dressed, and walked to the shuttle buses. For those of us staying at the Sheraton and other downtown hotels, free shuttle service was provided to the race start at Dodger Stadium and back from the finish in Santa Monica. It was so convenient that we only had to walk a couple of blocks to get on our shuttle. The whole process went very smoothly. It really made race morning a breeze.

We were able to hang out inside Dodger Stadium before the race, which was pretty cool. We took a couple of photos and hung out for a few minutes and then I headed out for my warm-up. It was actually a bit cold, so I was glad to get my body moving. In addition to the bathrooms inside the stadium, there were more than enough porta potties outside, so there wasn’t a long wait at all to use the bathroom before the race. Ashley and I went to the bathroom one more time, gave each other a hug, and off we went to our respective corrals.

Inside the stadium on race morning.

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I had some trouble getting into my corral. I couldn’t figure out where to enter the lettered corrals and had to slowly work my way through the very crowded general corral to find my place with the 4:15 pace group in corral D (there were five lettered corrals, seeded based on prior marathon finish times, and then a large general corral).

Even though this was a large race, the start was much smoother and quicker than the other large marathons I’ve done (Chicago and NYC). I crossed the line just a few minutes after the start of the race.

I wasn’t wearing a Garmin for this race, but my plan was to stick with the 4:15 pace group. The last time I tried to run with a pace group, I lost them at the very first water stop, so this time, I made a point of staying right with Jo, our pacer, even if it meant jostling a little in the crowds at the start of the race. I stuck like glue to that pacer for the first few miles, even though the pace felt really fast.

While the elevation profile really doesn’t seem bad at all, the course was quite hilly, particularly over the first six miles or so. Between the hills and what felt like a quick pace, I was starting to struggle. I knew it was WAY too early to be feeling that way and I had in the back of my mind the time I tried to run the Chicago Marathon in the heat and ended up walking to the finish in 5:20-something.

This elevation chart doesn’t do the course justice!

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At one point, we ran past a clock and I realized we were way ahead of where we should have been to run 4:15 pace (I was wearing a pace band that listed all of the splits for a 4:15 marathon). I wasn’t sure what pace we were running, but this was confirmation for me that it was too fast. Knowing it was going to warm up throughout the day, I decided to let the pacer go a little after mile 5.

This was not the start I was hoping for. I tried not to get upset and to just relax and settle in to a comfortable pace, which is easier said than done when you’re in a race, knowing you’ve already abandoned the plan at less than 1/4 of the way through!

In an effort to take my mind off of the pacing issues, I told myself to just do what I did in Chattanooga – just put one foot in front of the other until the finish.

The course was just incredible. Looking up at the mountains and the palm trees, the fancy shops and restaurants – I actually liked this course more than New York. Maybe that’s just because I grew up near NYC and went to law school there, so the sights there aren’t new to me. In any case, this course was spectacular.

At around mile 10-ish, I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned around to see my friend Cassie who also coaches at M3. I was so thrilled to see her, especially since I wasn’t feeling great. She reiterated what I already knew, which is that I really needed to calm down and settle in. We chatted briefly and then she ran ahead.

It was definitely warming up and I was trying to take in fluids at every aid station and stay on top of my gels and salt to ensure I was giving my body everything it would need to get to Santa Monica. The aid stations were just about every mile, which was fabulous. It really helps you count down the miles and gives you something to look forward to.

The crowds were amazing along the entire course. Their support was incredible. The volunteers were great, too – there were lots of kids volunteering, which was really cool to see. Everyone had words of encouragement. I loved looking at the crowds and volunteer groups as we went along. There were cheerleaders and drag queens and people who looked straight out of magazines – you just never knew what you were going to see next.

I think this was the most diverse race I have ever done in terms of both runners and spectators. So many people of different ages and sizes and colors. It was awesome! L.A. has an amazing program called Students Run L.A. (“SRLA”). From the SRLA website:

The mission of Students Run LA is to challenge at-risk secondary students to experience the benefits of goal-setting, character development, adult mentoring and improved health by providing them with a truly life-changing experience: The training for and completion of the Skechers Performance Los Angeles Marathon.

There were hundreds of students on the course. These kids were so fabulous. I was just so darn impressed with them.

The miles were ticking by and I had no idea where I was time-wise, but I knew I was going slow. I kept telling myself “only X miles left,” but I was hurting. Everything hurt – even things that haven’t ever hurt me on runs before. My toes were hurting, which was a first for me. I took some Ibuprofen, hoping that would help, and just tried to keep moving. When I got to the last few miles, I could finally do the math and see that I still had a chance of finishing in less than 4:30, but it was going to be close (heading into the race I thought I would be happy with anything better than a 4:30 finish time). That was good motivation for me to keep moving as fast as I could, despite the pain.

As we approached the finish in Santa Monica, there was a drastic weather change – it was noticeably cooler, with a fog that really helped cool things down. At this point, unfortunately, I was in too much pain to really capitalize on the improved weather. My hamstrings, quads, feet, hips, low back – basically, everything – was hurting so bad that I was running with a bit of a limp. I knew I was SO close and tried to push, but just couldn’t. I’ve actually never been hurting so bad that I couldn’t give a final push in a race, but there is a first for everything, I suppose. Several people passed me in the final stretch as they surged to the finish and I was just hobbling along.

As I crossed a few volunteers asked if I was okay because I was stumbling a bit, and I said I was. I was just in pain. There were tons of volunteers at the finish, which was great.

I got my medal, which is gorgeous. It’s two-sided and one of the heaviest medals I’ve ever gotten.

My medal.

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I knew I finished in just under 4:30, even though I wasn’t sure of my exact time. As I mentioned, I had said prior to the race that in light of the heat I would be happy with anything under 4:30, but in the moment, it can be hard to accept anything less than what you know you can do (and I know I have a faster marathon in me somewhere). I was tired and in a lot of pain, and disappointed in my time and I got a little emotional at the finish. But I was able to pull it together after I drank some water and ate a banana and recovery bar.

I found Cassie and we were able to chat for a bit post-race, which was great. She had a good day, even though her training had not gone as she had hoped, and I was very happy for her.

#Twinning with Cassie in Lululemon at the finish.

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I met up with Ashley and unfortunately she did not have the day she was hoping for. I was super bummed for her, but she seemed to be in good spirits.

We found the shuttle back to the hotel. The Sheraton offered a late (3:00 p.m.) checkout option for $80, which we decided was worth the money so that we could shower before getting on our planes. After showering and checking-out of the hotel, we grabbed lunch at The Counter, which was right by the Sheraton. They had great vegan burgers and fries – the perfect post-marathon meal.

We had enough time to grab a drink at the airport and then Ashley was off on her way back to Phoenix.

I was definitely sad to say goodbye to her, but I am so glad we did this. It was out of character for both of us to decide on a whim to register for a race across the country, but I am so glad we did!

My final race time was 4:28:06, which is less than 5 minutes slower than my marathon PR. All things considered, I’ll take it!

Final Thoughts on the Race:

I can’t say enough about this race. I’d love to do it again one day and would definitely recommend it to others. It has all of the benefits of a big city race without the negatives that usually come along with it. For example, when I did New York in 2013, I didn’t check a bag, but leaving the race was still a nightmare. We were directed through what seemed like at least a half mile walk, if not more, before we could exit Central Park and meet-up with our families. Here, the finish process was very easy and smooth. Similarly, pre-race in New York is nuts. You have to get on a motor coach super early in the morning and then sit outside on Staten Island for hours before you can start the race – in my case at 11:00 a.m. Here, walking to our shuttle bus at 5:00 in the morning was a breeze, and we could hang out in Dodger Stadium before the race and use real bathrooms. And, L.A. started at 7:00 a.m., so you didn’t need to make special plans for nutrition because of a late start. I actually even think the crowd support was better in L.A. in terms of crowds being spread out throughout the entire course. I will definitely do L.A. again someday. I loved it!

Travel Notes:

If you’re thinking about doing this race, I would recommend staying at the Sheraton. It was affordable, within walking distance to the expo, restaurants, Whole Foods, etc., and included the free shuttle service to the start and from the finish on race day. A taxi from LAX to the hotel was about $60 with tip. As I mentioned above, they also allowed for late check-out (for a fee) after the race.

I do wish they would have opened their coffee shop at 4:00 a.m. on race day to provide runners with the option to purchase coffee, bagels, bananas, etc. before boarding the shuttles to Dodger Stadium. I’ve never understood why hotels don’t do this for races. It would make race morning logistics so much easier for the runners (and families) and surely would bring-in enough revenue to cover the cost of paying employees to work.

Ashley booked our room as soon as hotel options were posted on the L.A. Marathon website, shortly after we registered for the race. I’m not sure how quickly it sold out, but if you want to stay there, I would try to book early.

I wouldn’t recommend taking a red eye home on the night of the marathon 😉

I’m so glad I went on this adventure to L.A. and I look forward to going back again soon!

 

Good News and Bad News

I’ve been so busy with Ironman training that I haven’t had much time for blogging lately, but a lot has been going on with me. Unfortunately, it isn’t all positive. I’ll start with the not-so-fun stuff, so that I can get that out of the way and end on a brighter note.

The Bad News

The bad news is that I’m dealing with a bit of an injury issue and that is definitely weighing heavily on my mind as I’m only 17 days out from the IM.

You may remember that back in early spring, I really wanted to break 2:00 in the half marathon. I wasn’t successful in doing so in either of my two attempts, and although I didn’t go into a lot of detail at the time, I was struggling with a left hamstring injury. I just couldn’t seem to get it healthy, no matter what I did. It was extremely frustrating, particularly since I had made improving my strength and keeping up with foam rolling major goals for 2015 precisely to avoid injuries like this.

Later in the spring, I had a Retul bike fit after a friend suggested bad bike position may be causing or exacerbating the hamstring issue. The fitter noticed a pronounced leg length discrepancy that he thought was the cause of my hamstring woes. In his report, he said:

“Stephanie came in with . . . complaints on her left side. We found that she has a hip imbalance which is pulling her right hip up causing an approximate 10mm leg length difference. This is a lot and accounts for nearly all of the compensating injuries on her left side. She needs to see a good chiro and have 2-3 adjustments along with a couple of massages to get her hips back to normal.”

I did have a couple of really great sports massages over the course of the summer and thought I had resolved the issue. However, as soon as I started building up my running mileage again in preparation for the IM, the problem resurfaced.

This time, I ended up seeing a fabulous local massage therapist and active isolated stretching practitioner on the recommendation of two friends (if you are local and want his contact info, let me know!) and to make a long story short, he reached the same conclusion the bike fitter had reached. After just one visit, he concluded that the source of the problem was my SI joint, which was causing my hips to be misaligned, resulting in my left leg being functionally (not actually) longer than my right (the first problem described in this Running Times article). I’ve seen him twice now, with another appointment scheduled for next week, along with a chiropractor to work on my alignment. I’ll be seeing the chiropractor again tomorrow.

I’m trying not to panic, but this is really the last thing I need with the IM just around the corner. In addition to the worry and self-doubt this has caused, there is the considerable cost and time associated with frequent massage and chiropractic appointments. I’ve already felt guilty throughout the Ironman training process about the expense and spending so much time away from work and this is only heightening those feelings. I’m trying to remind myself that we are almost to the finish line, but it’s definitely weighing on mind.

The Good News

But, that’s enough on the bad stuff. The good news is that I’ve registered to run the LA Marathon in February!

I am off the charts excited about this race!

I’ve had running LA on my bucket list for several years now, after watching the race on TV, but really didn’t think it would materialize any time soon for several reasons, including the logistics/cost of racing on the other side of the country and training for a marathon through the winter months.

I had also resisted registering for any races of any kind or distance slated for after the IM because I really wanted to keep my options open for next year (e.g., I may decide to take a break from triathlon and focus on running races, or I may sign up for another IM, or I may decide to do something else totally new – I’m just not sure).

However, on the day LA Marathon registration opened, the stars aligned and my friend Ashley and I decided to register for the race and plan a girls weekend in LA! It was all very spur-of-the-moment, which I think added to the excitement because it’s so out of character for both of us.

I can’t wait to be reunited with this lady in L.A.!

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If you aren’t familiar with the race, the course starts at Dodger Stadium and ends at the Santa Monica Pier. Just typing that makes me excited! I’ve only been to LA once – just for one day and many, many years ago – so I am really excited to go back and explore a new city with a dear friend. As an added bonus, the Olympic Marathon Trials are the day before the marathon, so we will get to spectate that race as well. I can’t imagine any more perfect motivation for the following day’s race!

I know Ashley and I are going to have a fabulous time and I can’t wait to get on that plane!

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?

Fifth Time is the Charm

I finally ran the marathon I’ve been wanting to run for five years.

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Saturday’s race was marathon number five for me. Marathon number one (five years ago almost to the day) was amazing by default. It was a huge accomplishment for me, never being an athlete, just to finish my first 26.2. I was thrilled to cross the finish line in 4:40:49, even though I had hoped to run a bit faster.

Marathons two through four were less than fabulous. I had all sorts of bad luck – hot weather, an injury, and nutrition issues, respectively. Each of these races took me over five hours to complete. It’s devastating when you have put in months of training, suffered through long runs in the dark, given up other activities to accommodate training, etc., only to have a bad day on race day.

But yesterday was my day. I finally got to show everyone – including myself – that I can really run 26.2 miles.

Going into this race I definitely had my doubts. After two months of some pretty terrible insomnia and a couple of weeks of an uncooperative right knee, I really wasn’t sure what to expect going into the race.

While I had some concerns about my ability to have a good race, I also tried to reassure myself by thinking back on my season and reminding myself that I am a better athlete now than I have ever been. But you never know how your race day will unfold.

Laying out my outfit the night before the race. I also planned plenty of throwaway layers since the temperature was in the 20s at the start.

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The Race

I won’t give a super detailed race report, because frankly, who reads those? But overall the race was great. I felt comfortable for most of the day. I was on top of my nutrition the entire time and didn’t have any stomach issues at all. I enjoyed the great crowds and the beautiful scenery. I high-fived Bart Yasso around mile 4. Miles 8-10 are along the water and I made sure to take a moment to appreciate the view. This section of the course doesn’t have many spectators, but there was a man with a megaphone calling out bib numbers – “5209, you are fine!” “6708, you’re doin’ great!” He said “I’m here again next year, folks. Same time, same place.” I loved him. Hearing his cheers was definitely a highlight of my day. My favorite sign was a sign that said “If Britney Spears can survive 2007, you can survive 26.2.” I saw one of the Moms Run This Town ladies near the end of the race and that gave me a little boost, too.

In the end, I had a great day and a great time too, finishing in 4:23:58 – a PR by almost 17 minutes.

I am ecstatic. I’m filled with feelings of joy, but also relief – I finally have the bad marathon monkey off of my back.

It certainly wasn’t a perfect day. My left IT band started giving out around mile 22 and I was in a lot of pain for the last few miles of the race. I also had planned to run the first 10k with the 4:30 pace group and lost them at the very first water stop at mile 2. And, I know that a 4:23 marathon is very slow by a lot of people’s standards. But, I don’t care. I am absolutely thrilled with my day.

It was an evenly paced race – I reached half way at 2:11:37. My miles were all relatively even-paced as well, ranging from 9:30-10:17 pace. I didn’t have any crazy fast or slow outlier miles. I’m really proud of this because I only used my Garmin to time my nutrition and based my pace totally on feel.

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I was so lucky to have my friend Jackie at the race the cheer me on and to have my coach there to see me have this breakthrough. I cannot possibly say enough about how much she has helped me this year.

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Big smiles at the finish with Alyssa (above) and Jackie (below).

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Celebratory burger and fries with Jackie after the race (below).

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While I’m very much looking forward to a short off season training break, I’m already getting excited for next year!!

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.

New York

On Sunday, November 3, I fulfilled a lifelong dream by running the New York City Marathon.

As I’ve discussed before on this blog, it was a long journey just to get to the starting line of this race. I tried to register through the lottery three years in a row (2009, 2010, and 2011) and then had trained to run in 2012, but the race was canceled (at the very last minute) because of Hurricane Sandy. So, this was the fifth year I had tried to run the race. 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.

After many months and many more miles, November 2013 was finally here and my husband and I made the trip up to NYC for a weekend full of marathon fun.

On Friday, November 1, hubs and I checked-in to our fabulous hotel right on the Park and went to the marathon expo.

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I usually love marathon expos, but for reasons that aren’t clear to me, they had a DJ at this one with music blaring so loudly that thought my ear drums might explode (yes, I am old). Apparently someone confused the marathon expo with a New York City nightclub. In any case, once we moved away from the music, we enjoyed visiting all of the booths and I bought two awesome Sparkly Soul headbands.

After the expo, we took a cab uptown to pick up my FDNY team singlet and wristband. My brother is an FDNY firefighter and was able to hook me up with the FDNY running team for the race. Thanks, Neal! I didn’t plan to wear the singlet during the race, but still wanted to have it as a memento, and the wristband got me special access to the FDNY team motor coach to Staten Island on race morning.

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On Saturday, November 2, we watched the 5k (including the elite women who were AMAZING!) and then hubs and I met up with a huge group of Oiselle Team ladies for brunch. It was awesome! These ladies are amazing and I had such a great time chatting with them about running, the marathon, and life. It was so great putting names (and Twitter handles) with faces.

Photos with Lauren Penney, who finished in 9th place in the 5k, (top) and Kate Grace (bottom) from Saturday’s brunch.

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After brunch, it was time to rest my legs for race day. I laid out all of my stuff for race morning and then sat around in the hotel for the rest of the day.

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On Sunday morning, everything went smoothly. I had no problem getting up and out the door on time (I wasn’t really sleeping anyway!) and finding the FDNY team motor coach. As we got close to Staten Island, the nerves and excitement really kicked in. I took this pic of the Verrazano Bridge out the bus window. This is the landmark most people associate with the NYC Marathon and I would be running across it in just a few hours!

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The time on Staten Island went very quickly. I was surprised about that. Soon enough, I was standing in the “green” village and wave 1 was about to start the race. The green village was right under the bridge. The cannon went off and we looked up and saw throngs of people running across the two levels of the Verrazano Bridge. At the same time, a giant TV screen showed the pro men running across the bridge. At that moment, watching those runners, standing there at the marathon, I was overwhelmed with emotion and started to fight back tears. I thought of all of the mornings I had watched this race on TV wanting to be there and here I was, at the New York City Marathon! It was an overwhelming, amazing feeling that I will never forget.

By the time I got myself together enough to take a picture, the crowds were already waning, but I did manage to still catch some folks running across the bridge above us.

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In no time, my wave, wave 3, was loaded into the starting corrals and led up to the start line. It was VERY cold and windy waiting to get started. The cannon went off and off we went. I had wanted to stay with the 4:30 pace group, but the bridge was so insanely crowded that you could barely move. Plus, it’s quite a steep incline and I didn’t want to push myself too hard in the first mile. Soon enough, the 4:30 pace group was too far in front of me for me to see, but I was fine. I was staying calm.

One of the coolest mental images I have from the race is when we were running over the bridge (I was on the lower level) with an NYPD helicopter hovering right next to us as we ran. Security was very tight after Boston, of course, but it was pretty impressive that with all of that wind the helicopter could hover exactly between the two levels of the bridge.

The race was amazing. The crowds were amazing. I can’t even describe the energy. There was never a shortage of crowd support for the entire 26.2 miles!

As far as my race, I started off feeling good and staying confident, even when we hit some challenging hills. I knew it was smarter to slow down than to push my pace up the hills and I was sticking with that plan. All was going well until inexplicably, around mile 14, I started to feel ill. I will spare you the gory details, but basically, I felt like I had to vomit and couldn’t keep even liquids down. My pace slowed significantly, I had to stop eating and drinking, and it soon became clear it was going to be a challenge just to finish the race.

I saw Jon at mile 17ish and stopped to talk to him about how I was feeling. While we were talking, I kept having to stop because I was afraid I was going to vomit on him (my poor husband!). I told him to text my brother, who was waiting to see me in the Bronx, to let him know I would be well behind schedule.

At this point, I started gently slipping water at each water stop because I knew I needed to try to stay hydrated. I thought of my coach telling me that  running is almost always faster than walking, so I just tried to keep running as much as I could, even though I was moving at 11-12 minute mile pace.

Unfortunately, I somehow missed my brother in the Bronx! I’m still not sure how that happened, but it did.

Soon enough I was back in Manhattan and looking forward to seeing some of my Oiselle Teammates at the mile 22 water stop. I got a hug from one of the girls and at that point I knew I just had to finish the race.

I saw Jon once more, in Central Park. He said he was proud of me and that meant the world to me. I knew I just had to push through. I felt like shit (your body needs calories in these long races and I wasn’t able to consume any gels after the halfway point), but I knew I was so very close to the finish line. I fought for every step to get to that finish in 5:05.

I was well behind my goal finish time and well off my marathon PR (4:40), so I was initially disappointed and upset with my race. But after some time to reflect, I can honestly say that I am proud of myself for finishing the race. It was a rough day, but I made the best of it. I was mentally tough. And, I crossed that finish line.

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NYC Marathon Stats

5:05:57

26.92 miles

Splits:

1-10:51 (I was fine with this because it was so crowded and up hill)

2- 9:21

3- 10:33

4- 10:13

5- 10:18

6- 10:14

7- 10:23

8- 10:46 (still feeling positive at this point because this was a hilly section, so I was fine with slowing down a bit)

9- 10:39

10- 10:55

11- 10:52

12- 10:43

13- 10:49

14- 11:45* (this is when the stomach issue started and I just couldn’t keep anything down)

15- 11:50

16- 12:36

17- 11:35

18- 12:06

19- 12:38

20- 12:35

21- 11:34

22- 12:26

23- 11:46

24- 12:25

25- 12:35

26- 12.01