The Hiatus Is Over. It’s Comeback Time.

One Monday a couple months ago, I found myself at the base of the towering Flatirons in Boulder, Colorado, a trail of dusty orange gravel stretched out before me and into the mountains. It was still August, but the cool evening air was hinting at autumn.

We set off along the path, which quickly turned narrow, steep, and rocky. My lungs, still not acquainted with the altitude, began to burn almost instantly. Not long after, my quads followed suit. But we continued to climb, briefly quickening our pace to a slow jog on occasion when the path leveled out before we returned to a slow, painful trudge upward through the trees.

The loop called for more than 2,400 feet of climbing in 3.5 miles, followed by a 3-mile descent. God knows I’m always up for a challenge. But it became clear early on that I had possibly bitten off more than I could chew.

It’s been over a year since I’ve written on this blog. When I last checked in, I wrote that I’d finally decided to start taking running seriously again. I imagined I’d have more time to run because, after a year of working part-time plus taking classes, I’d finally (theoretically) have a regular schedule again. I even planned to sign up for a fall half-marathon to keep me motivated.

Well, shortly after that post… a little life detour called nursing school started. And so began the most challenging 15 months of my life.

Thankfully, running stuck around for the relentless, insane, and incredible ride.

When school started, my life was quickly consumed with all things nursing. My weekends, which were once filled with long runs followed by even longer naps, turned into nonstop study sessions. And instead of waking up early to escape the heat for a sunrise run, I found myself in scrubs listening to a 6:45 a.m. shift report.

But I tried my best to squeeze in a few runs each week because running, as it has my whole life, keeps me sane. Running seemed to help me process this new chapter of my life and the crazy new career I was pursuing. It kept the stress from becoming all consuming and released the tension that would inevitably build up.

Running and I still had a haphazard relationship, however, which evolved with each passing semester. I did sign up for a fall half-marathon, so despite my ever-present exhaustion, I spent the summer trying to rebuild my endurance. Long runs were rewarded with coffee and a donut, because that was literally all that got me out the door. Then for a couple months at the end of the fall semester, a classmate and I dedicated ourselves to completing a 10-mile run, a distance she hadn’t run in years. Each weekend, we pushed ourselves a little farther, spending the miles trying to clear our minds as the leaves changed and fell around us. The morning after our last exam that semester, buoyed by the fact that we’d successfully endured finals week, we laced up on a frigid December day and ran 11.

The spring brought with it a streak of amazing mid-week “mini” long runs. My schedule worked out so that I’d have Wednesday afternoons off. I wore my workout clothes to school and, after sitting for five hours straight, ran 7 miles on the rail trail nearby. During some of those runs, I physically pounded out stress, while others felt effortless thanks to news of a successful exam or an amazing clinical day. Those runs felt like a way to reclaim my life in a small way when school felt all-consuming.

Throughout it all, though, I was never able to run consistently. I missed feeling like my old self, the one that somehow ran marathons not too long ago.

Despite my failing lungs and legs, we reached the crest of the mountain and were rewarded with spectacular views of the sunset. I sat for a moment, gasping for air. I hadn’t felt this spent in months. But wow did it feel good to genuinely push myself again. With spaghetti-like legs, we jogged back down the mountain. On the drive home, I felt I’d run a marathon. Sure, what we’d just finished would be difficult regardless. But boy, did I realize I have my work cut out for me.

Next year is shaping up to be a big one – now that I’m officially an RN, I hope to start working sooner rather than later and get the ball rolling on this new career of mine. (I am beyond excited to start this new chapter in my life.) I also can’t wait to finally settle in to my new home in Colorado. And running wise? 2019 is going to be my year to make a comeback.

I’m not exactly starting from square one. But I’m nowhere near where I was at my best. In theory, “The Plan” is to run a half marathon or two next year and try the good old 26.2 again in 2020. My goal? To feel like myself again. No time goals just yet. The hiatus has been marvelous but it’s officially over.

The climb up the mountain reminded me of my potential, of what it feels like to push myself out of my comfort zone physically and mentally. I hadn’t felt like that in so long and it made me crave it more.

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Has This Ever Happened To You?

Screen Shot 2016-04-29 at 11.29.53 PMOne morning last week, I felt the need to do 400 meter repeats on the track.

Mind you, this out-of-the-blue urge arrived despite the fact that I’d…

worked the closing shift the night before, and…
woken up before the sun to babysit, and…
done a heavy lifting session at the gym the day before, and…
not set foot on a track in, wow, at least a year? two maybe? and…
been a happy member of the “Anti-Formal Training Camp” (re: zero speedwork), also for quite some time, and…
resolved to not to run races (and thereby need to do speedwork) for a while, and…

The list could go on for reasons why I shouldn’t have gotten this lovely little burst of inspiration. But there it was. That day, I had to do 400 repeats. The decision was made before the idea had even crossed my mind.

So I got home from babysitting and informed my boyfriend I was headed to the oval. 400s were on the menu. If he was game (which he was, this is one of the reasons I love him) we’d do them together, relay style. And that was that. Hello, rubbery red track, my old friend. So nice to see you again.

[An aside: Does this straight-up random need to do random workouts happen to anyone else? And do you actually follow through with them? Please tell me I’m not the only nutty one.]

I ended up doing 8 400m repeats. We ran the first four together, then I did the last four on my own. I surprised myself by keeping a pretty consistent pace start to finish and even ran the second set a couple seconds faster on average. Looking back at old training logs, I was about 10 seconds per lap slower than I was for a similar workout during my best season at Lehigh. Given the factors listed above, I’ll take it!

Although 400 repeats are, by definition, torture, and should’ve been especially torturous on this particular day, I rediscovered the groove I’d worn in that track over the four years I ran at Lehigh. Instantly, I was transported back to those warm spring afternoons during track season when my teammates and I would take turns leading intervals. My form fell back into its natural stride and cadence. I found my rhythm, even though I hadn’t tapped into it in years. I finished each repeat hunched over and heaving but eager to bang out another one. My body knew what to do. It just felt right. And damn did it feel good.

This time around, though, I relished the fact that I was pushing myself just for the sake of it. No end goal in sight other than to say I accomplished something that day. The feeling of hitting the last split was so incredibly satisfying. AND I got to tap into a part of myself I hadn’t felt in years.

Thank goodness for that random spark of inspiration.

A week later, we returned to the track, this time for 800m, 400m, 800m, 400m, 800m. As we finished, another runner began circling the track. He was maybe in his 40s or 50s, but you could tell by his lean, muscular figure that he was a fast, seasoned veteran. He asked what workout we’d done. I told him and explained the random reasoning behind it. He laughed but admitted he was very much in the same place with his running, saying he was considering a fall marathon—he hadn’t done one in 10+ years—but could very well end up training for a 5K instead. Before we parted, I asked what he planned to run.

He still hadn’t decided yet.

Maybe I’m not the only nutty one.

Race Report | 2014 Wineglass Marathon

*clears dust off of keyboard*

Wondering where I’ve been for the last few months?

Well… I trained for and ran a marathon, my eighth at the Wineglass Marathon in Corning, New York.

Wondering why I didn’t blog about it like I normally would?

Well… One: I needed a hiatus from blogging. Two: I decided I really wanted to train for this one and fully own my efforts from the first long run to the finish line, if that makes sense. I wanted to keep it personal. The highs, the lows, all of it.

Here’s the long and short of it.

In June one night over a couple beers, I sat down with one of my RW colleagues (and tried-and-true long run buddy) to map out my game plan for Wineglass. We pored over his old training logs and discussed what I needed to do to take my marathoning to the next level.

We decided to try some speedwork (either mile repeats or 2-5-mile long tempos) or hill work on Wednesdays. Then I’d add a few extra long efforts (hello first 22-miler!) buffered by shorter, recovery long runs into my progression. The other three days each week, I’d aim to run between 5 and 10 miles easy. The goal was to bump up my weekly mileage a tad without crossing over the overtraining/injury line that, for me, hovers right around 45-50 miles per week.

Compared to my build up for Marine Corps last year, I ran about 35 more miles over my four-month cycle.

Along the way, I discovered the glory that is morning running. Yes, the girl that still likes to sleep in ’till noon whenever possible actually started preferring to get up at 5:30 to beat the sauna-like hell that is PA in the summer. A side-effect of this was adding in slightly longer Friday runs that ranged from 8-10 miles. Those allowed me to sneak in a few more miles without sacrificing my pre- and post-long run off days. And let me tell you, I had some of the most euphoric sunrise runs. Honestly, they bordered on religious experiences. I was hooked.

The only hiccups I experienced were a couple weird tweaks–a strained God-knows-what pulling at the ball of my foot followed by a super tight Achilles and calf muscle–after two of my longest runs at the peak of my cycle. They forced me to take my Monday-Wednesday runs off or easy (and skip two key workouts), but I was able to ward off the pain and still get my key long runs in successfully. Missing those big speed workouts killed me, especially since I was otherwise on a roll. But I had to remind myself that getting to the starting line healthy was more important that those two runs.

Other than that, I couldn’t have asked for a smoother training cycle. Every long run went off without a hitch, and I can say I felt nearly as fit as I was in college. It felt amazing to finally be genuinely motivated to put in the work. And for once, marathon training felt normal and wasn’t intimidating at all.

Come race day, I felt prepared to execute the game plan. Pace-wise, the goal was to run the first 13.1 in the 7:40s, then “unleash the horses” and run in the 7:30s (or faster if possible) through to the finish. Mentality-wise, I wanted to replicate the positive mind games I played at Marine Corps. That said, I spent the first half literally pumping the brakes, telling myself repeatedly to be patient, run like a f-ing metronome, and settle in. The first 13 were only a warmup.

When I reached the half-marathon mark–still feeling fresh, by the way (heck yes!)–I told myself, Hey, only 13.1 left. That’s nothing. Now you can get after it! I finally let myself really race, picking up my turnover to a pace that still felt within my ability but without overdoing it. Seeing splits in the 7:20s to 7:30s was a huge positive mental boost. Negative splitting is serious fun.

Despite the fact that the race slowly started wearing on me, I was able to keep up the faster pace through about 22-23. That’s when my right quad started calling it quits. But I kept every split through to the finish under 8:00. I knew a PR was coming, which felt awesome.

I crossed the line in 3:21:19 officially, which was about a 5 minute PR. (My watch actually read 3:22:10, but don’t even get me started on that discrepancy.)

For once, I actually felt like I knew what I was doing. I felt confident in my abilities, especially since I actually had the training to back it up this time. To tell you I’m stoked about my race is an understatement.

—–

So here I am, over three months later, staring down four months of training going into my third Boston (to Big Sur!) Marathon in April. I can’t say exactly what I’m looking to do at each race; it’ll depend on how training goes, I think. (And here’s to dry roads this season, amiright?)

 

When A Crappy Run Happens…

…a truly great one is bound to follow.

Let me explain.

Whether it’s rational or not, sometimes I get fixated on covering a certain distance. Last weekend, my plan called for 12 miles, but deep down, I wanted to do 14. Hey, I thought, I want a PR at Wineglass, a big one. So why not step it up a notch? 

Sensing my greed, the marathon training gods cursed me with a (literally) crappy run, the kind of crappy that required a mad dash to the nearest Dunkin’ for an unplanned pit stop. Oh yeah, and it was humid as I’ll get out, too.

Feeling blehhhh…

giphy

…I made my way home early logging — you guessed it — just 12 slower-than-molasses miles, the wind effectively knocked out of my sails.

Damn.

But yesterday, with 16 on the menu, things were different.

Once I warmed up, I almost felt giddy, the kind of giddy that puts a spring in your step so you drop your pace a bit just for the heck of it. The kind that feels so good you can’t help but smile a little from the inside out. The kind that almost convinced me to like summer.

Yes, it was one of those runs that can only be described with a high level of cliche and corniness. The air was cool, the sun made the trees a vibrant green and the creek sparkle. I even ran into a herd of deer and past still-snoozing ducks.

And I ran all 16 miles quite a bit faster than the 12 I did the Sunday before.

Hells. Yes.

I told my mom today, after she’d had a less-than-pleasant workout, that the reason I choose to endure the crappy runs is because they make the amazing ones, the ones where you feel weightless and powerful and free, THAT much sweeter.

I know this is by far a groundbreaking realization, but…

Daily reminder: Check.

QUOTE OF THE POST: “Remember, the feeling you get from a good run is far better than the feeling you get from sitting around wishing you were running.” – Sarah Condor

5 Ways I’m Weaning Myself Into Summer Training

Around this time every year, I find myself in the same position:

I’m out of shape and/or recovering from a goal race (or two), which means I’m wheezing like a chain smoker, struggling to keep up with the group on the easiest of runs;

Springtime allergies add a snotty element to said wheezing;

Warmer temps that leave me a tomato-red, sweaty (literally) hot mess;

A metabolism that hasn’t quite gotten the signal that I’m running less that normal, so I’m still eating like a garbage disposal to the point where I feel like Jabba the Hutt — without running any of it off…blergh;

And frankly, I’ve got a sh***y attitude about it all.

I find it incredible that I can go from such a glorious high to God-I-actually-hate-running in the span of a month. But it happens…every year…without fail. I get frustrated, almost to the point of tears, after regular runs. Motivation is nonexistent because my training cycle for my next race hasn’t started yet. I loathe running in the heat. But what I hate even more is that I let myself fall into this pit of pissed off unhappiness. Every single year.

So during my run yesterday, I decided to — as cliché as it sounds — find the silver linings so I can start climbing out of this pit. What with my running has felt good during this recovery phase? What can I learn this time around to help make next year suck a little less?

Here’s what I came up with:

  • Running alone Lately, running with the group at lunch as been demoralizing because I haven’t been able to keep up. But ditching the guys for a few solo, watch-free runs has been incredible. I can run as slow as I want and not care for a second what my pace is. The silence allows me to focus of the feeling of running and how beautiful the green trees are now that spring has finally sprung.
  • Running in the rain Last week, we ran eight miles though a torrential downpour. I finished, soaked to the bone, feeling refreshed and fabulous. Just what the doctor ordered. No matter what pace or distance you’re running, you feel like a badass running through rivers of water. Not to mention rainy days are cooler. Gotta take advantage of that while the getting’s good!
  • Taking the weekends off That means no running at all. Long runs have been replaced with sleeping late and making myself pancakes with strawberries, two things that rejuvenate me both mentally and physically.
  • Reminding myself that I’m in recovery mode And that it’s OK to take it easy. It’s totally normal to feel like crap after a marathon, or in my case, two marathons. In one week. An occupational hazard working at RW is that almost everyone does crazy, extraordinary things with their running. Doing Boston to Big Sur is “no big deal.” But I have to tell myself that my body ran more mileage in two days that it normally does it a week and that I need to cut myself some slack. Our staff coach says that you need one day of recovery for every mile you raced. In my case, that means 54.2 days. No wonder I still feel cruddy.
  • Remembering that it does get better Yes, I will get used to the heat and humidity. Yes, the pep will return to my step. And yes, I’ll likely be back on the bandwagon in exactly one month from now when Wineglass Marathon training starts.

The kicker?

There’s no science to prove the theory just yet, but for the past two years, my best marathons have been my fall marathons. Is it because summer running made me tough and fast? I’d like to think so. At the end of last summer, I wrote a note to my future self, saying: This is your mantra: Summer marathon training IS worth it!” 

I need to write this on, like, a million sticky notes at put it everywhere so I don’t forget it.

QUOTE OF THE POST: “Nothing is more certain than the defeat of a man who gives up.” – George Sheehan

 

Race Report | 2014 NYC Half

Screen shot 2014-03-18 at 9.45.40 PMIf I learned anything from the NYC Half this year, it’s BRING THROWAWAY PANTS.

Also, I think I’m in love with half-marathons… Yep, I definitely love ’em.

Like last year, I went into this race with the goal of running by feel. If I felt good, I’d go with the flow and race it. If not, no biggie. It’s only a training run for Boston to Big Sur.

Well, it’s hard not to get jazzed up when you’re surrounded by over 20,000 other runners in Central Park on a chilly March morning, especially when you get a surpise boost of encouragement from twitter friends! (Thank you Jocelyn, Corey, and Mary!) And God knows I’m not able to relax during the first few miles of a race. Gotta go guns blazing, right?

After freezing my buns off for half an hour before the race (re: throwaway pants are essential), off we went, heading north up the east side of the park. The gradual inclines warmed me up pretty quick (thank goodness), so I settled into a comfortable but quick pace. At the top of the park, we ran a hairpin turn before heading into the Harlem hills. Personally, I love hairpin turns. Marine Corps had one, too. I get SO pumped up being able to “watch” the race for a bit and keep an eye out for familiar faces. I spotted elite runner Desi Davila Linden and Corey again, which was so happy on so many levels. The energy among the runners and spectators was electric.

Screen shot 2014-03-18 at 9.45.19 PMAfter the biggest hill at the top of the park, the next two to three miles brought more rolling hills before we exited onto 7th Avenue. I’ll admit, I started to regret pushing it so hard in the park. The hills wore me out. But like last year, the epic, towering view down 7th Avenue was just incredible. It’s literally so breathtaking and awe-inspiring that you can’t really wrap your brain around the fact that you’re running down the center of one of the most famous streets in the world. And you don’t even have to dodge tourists.

It goes without saying my pace quickened quite a bit at this point of the race.

Halfway down 7th, a band started playing YMCA. If you read my blog, you’ll know that the same song played during the Boston Marathon last year. It’s one of my favorite happy memories from that otherwise awful day, so hearing it again at this race left me brimming with emotions, some good and some bad. April 21 is going to be full of moments like this one, I know it.

A brief turn toward the Hudson River brought us to the Westside Highway. At this point, there’s just over five miles to go, and they’re all flat as a pancake. Still high off my jaunt through Times Square, I found a rhythm running around 6:45ish pace. I still, surprisingly, felt comfortable and in control. This is why I love half-marathons.

I felt like I was actually racing rather than surviving. And since 13.1 miles seems short now compared to a marathon, I wasn’t afraid to push the gas pedal a little more. I kept ticking off the miles, soaking in views of the Statue of Liberty, then running in the shadow of the now-complete Freedom Tower before deciding to gun it the last two miles.

At this point, I knew a sub-1:30 was just out of reach, but I was primed to run a PR. A final push through the finish clocked me in at 1:31:05, an almost 2 minute, 30 second PR. Talk about the runner’s high. The whole race was one long hit of the runner’s high.

To top it all off, I ran into an old teammate of mine from Lehigh AND Jenny from Hood to Coast, who had also just crushed her race with a sparkly new PR. So much happiness!

Sunday reaffirmed how awesome this race is and left me feeling much more confident going into Boston and Big Sur next month. Michele summed up my feelings perfectly:

Yes. Exactly. All of those miserable, slushy miles were worth it.

QUOTE OF THE POST: “You’re off to great places, today is your day. Your mountain is waiting so get on your way.” – Dr. Suess

Dreaming of Dry Roads

unnamedYes, I realize that last time I blogged, I wrote about how the snow ain’t so bad. But two weeks later…

I’ve had enough of this winter!

Let me explain why I’ve changed my tune:

For yesterday’s long run, we did 13.75 miles on our hilliest, most challenging loop. Whether it’s balmy and humid or bone-chillingly cold, this quad-busting route hurts like hell. BUT, even when the inclines leave you wheezing, it rewards you with these breathtaking views of the open, rolling farmlands dotted with old farmhouses. The roads are empty. It’s amazing.

Other than my first 10-miler on a treadmill, I can’t remember the last long run I did during this training cycle that didn’t involve navigating through snow and ice. So I asked the guys if we could do the crazy hill loop because I wanted to get in a real, quality distance run for once. (No) thanks to yet another snowstorm on Saturday, we spent what felt like 13 miles of the 13.75-mile run on either a slick sheet of ice or beach sand-like snow. Not amazing.

Sure, the farmlands blanketed in white were stunning as always. But it was hard to appreciate the views when I was focused on just staying upright. Deep down, I know that the tricky terrain is a bonus workout that’s actually making me stronger. But moving at a snail’s pace up and down hills is doing absolutely nothing for my confidence. I really want to believe that these tough runs will translate into a solid spring marathon just like the slow and steamy summer runs make for a fast fall marathon. My frozen fingers and toes are crossed.

I know I could be doing these runs on the treadmill. But honestly, I just don’t have it in me to sacrifice my daily dose of fresh air when I’ve been cooped up inside even more than normal these days. At this point, though, it feels like a lose-lose situation. Extra kudos to everyone who has made the commitment to get those workouts in regardless. Teach me your ways!

The yucky part of it all is that, since I’m not running Boston as a goal race, I’m feeling even less inclined to get all of my runs in. Rather than doing four or five treadmill miles during a snow storm, I’m opting out of the workout entirely. I just can’t get into a rhythm with my training.

That said, here’s my silver lining:

Since I apparently can’t get enough of this marathon business, I’m hoping that my involuntarily scaled back training routine right now will benefit me later on this year when I’m gearing up for my goal race in October. Even though it feels like I’m cutting myself short, maybe the extra rest will keep me from burning out when I’m actually training for a PR.

I’ve still managed to do my strength routine once a week. I’d like to be going twice per week, but I’m okay with not skipping it entirely for now.

I’m trusting that, come spring and some dry, heavenly roads, I’ll feel fit and more like myself again. I had one fantastic five-miler a couple weeks ago on a warm-ish day. Here’s to hoping that more of those will happen when this Arctic tundra decides to thaw out.

The forecast says Sunday will be sunny with a high of 47 degrees. Hopefully I’ll have a decent run that’ll re-inspire me and get me mentally back on track!

QUOTE OF THE POST: “When it’s pouring rain and you’re bowling along through the wet, there’s satisfaction in knowing that you’re out there and the others aren’t.” – Peter Snell