Rest and Re-Inspiration

After two full weeks of absolutely no running (save for a certain brush with Ryan Hall’s f-ing fast marathon pace), I’ve spent this week slowly coaxing my legs back into running. Winter decided to arrive during my hiatus, and despite a few “niggles,” it feels wonderful to breathe in that cool, fresh air, break a sweat, and laugh with the guys again.

I decided to commit to 14 days of rest because Marine Corps left me feeling a bit banged up. I’ve been marathon training for the better part of the year, so the lingering aches gave me a good excuse NOT to run to let my body heal. Besides, MCM fell smack dab in the middle of the madness that is “working” at the RW Half, MCM, and NYCM on back-to-back-to-back weekends. All of it was incredibly exhilarating and inspiring–heck, I LOVE everything about races–but it’s also exhausting. My brain and body needed some downtime. Badly.

So while I’m here dusting the cobwebs off this blog, I have to say that even though I wasn’t out on the roads, running still managed to find ways remind me why our sport is so tremendously incredible. For instance…

I’m officially “in real life” friends with Iron(wo)man and mother-runner Michele Gonzalez (right), who raised over $10,000 for Superstorm Sandy relief efforts last year; Pam Rickard, an ultrarunner whose comeback story is best summed up by this Facebook post; and Summer Sanders (left), an Olympic swimmer, one of my childhood idols (thanks to a certain TV show), and now an incredible, speedy! runner. Words can’t really express how impressed, amazed, inspired [insert more similar words] by these women. They are the embodiment of why runners are awesome.Summer-Michele

I got a dose of the November Project, the highlight being a high-five with co-founder Brogan Graham, who’s gracing the December cover of RW. The bear-hugging, no-excuses, potty-mouthed “tribe” that began in Boston has injected a whole new level of badass-ness that’s shaking up what it means to be a running group. Get a better sense of who they are here and why they’re the shining light in an otherwise rough year for the running community here.

RW1213_COV_spread

And finally, I spent a weekend witnessing, for the first time, the magic of the New York City Marathon. It’s truly eye-opening to see runners from around the world literally take over the city, to see them streaming into Central Park from dawn until dusk, and to watch the elites cover 26.2 miles with precision, strength, and in Meb’s case, courage, from the gun to the tape. I bumped into Shalane and Julie, who again reminded me that the pros are just (blazing fast) regular runners. The list goes on… I left the city with my mind made up: I need to run New York next year.

Screen Shot 2013-11-14 at 6.05.18 PMBasically, I can’t help but smile at all that went down over the past month or so. And trust me, this post touches on a fraction of it all. I couldn’t be more thankful. Thanks everyone.

QUOTE OF THE POST: “Running is not, as it so often seems, only about what you did in your last race or about how many miles you ran last week. It is, in a much more important way, about community, about appreciating all the miles run by other runners, too.” – Richard O’Brien

MCM Training | The Final Countdown

A quote from Lauren Fleshman - my mantra for MCM.

A quote from Lauren Fleshman – my mantra for MCM.

This morning I finished my last real long run of 15 miles before diving head-first into the “taper crazies” a.k.a. “maranoia.” After two weekends with my twitter feed full of amazing race results, I won’t lie, I’m itching for it to be my turn. I’m so curious/excited/anxious to see what I can do two weeks from now on October 27 because I know I have a solid race in me. I feel like I’m due for a good marathon, one where I’m running smart from the gun, smiling at the spectators, and just cruising along, enjoying and embracing the ride (at least until mile 18 or 20!). It’s been just over a year since I ran my first 26.2, and I haven’t run as fast since. BUT I’ve got four marathons worth of experience and a solid 14 weeks of training under my belt, so I’m feeling confident that good things will come.

Since Steamtown was my best marathon yet, the goal for this build-up was to replicate last year’s training but supplement it with strength, yoga, and speed sessions. (Here’s my first post about my game plan). I’m pretty pumped to say that that happened. Sure, I wasn’t perfect from start to finish. But this time around was a vast improvement over last year. I’m feeling fitter overall and have been able to finish many of my long runs with some race pace miles instead of slow-painful slogs that defined the end of those runs last year.

To recap this cycle, I flipped back through the pages of my Believe I Am training log (and my log from last year) to see how it all shakes out by the numbers:

(2013 Marine Corps Marathon Training | 2012 Steamtown Marathon Training)

Total Mileage: 475.5 (34/week) | 456 (32/week)

# of Workouts/Speed Sessions: | 3

I did my best to do one speed session per week (not including race weeks) to maintain the quicker leg turnover I gained over the summer. Not only did it change things up a bit, but those sessions got me to push myself harder than I would on long runs. I also managed to eek out a post-collegiate 5K and mile PR and a 10K PR. And PRs are always good confidence boosters!

# of Two-a-Days: 5 | 1

I typically take two days off per week, so doing these doubles allowed me to sneak in a few extra miles and teach my body to run on tired legs. Most of these runs were quicker efforts, too. I learned that I’m a big fan of two-a-days, and I definitely plan to integrate them into my training in the future! Read about my first double that I did with my local running store here.

# of Gym Workouts: 16 | 0

I went from not being able to do a push-up or two to knocking out eight+ controlled, arms-tucked-in ones. I’ve also reached a new bench press PR of 80 pounds. I can’t say I’ve ever really had this much upper body strength, and it feels good to not be so one-dimensional with my fitness. I’ve also discovered how to enjoy planks–which I used to avoid like the plague–and will happily do any variation of them.

# of Yoga Sessions: 9 | 0

I can’t stress how much yoga benefited me this cycle. My Monday yoga sessions became a staple post-long run recovery tool, helping me stretch out, loosen up, build strength, and relax. I really believe yoga and running go hand in hand.

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Races: 4 – Steps4Stellar 5K, Hood to Coast, Saucon Rail Trail 10K, Fifth Avenue Mile |
4 – Revolutionary Run 10K, LVRR 5K, Falmouth Road Race (7 miles), Fifth Avenue Mile

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I wasn’t sure I how felt about chronicling this training cycle from start to finish, but I won’t lie, it’s been worth it. I’ve been able to jot down what when well, work through rough patches, and keep myself honest with my goals. It’s amazing to look back and read about all that went down in just 14 weeks, from the high highs to the low lows. I plan on re-reading it all in the days before the race, too, to remind myself to trust in my training. I hope to go into Marine Corps with the same mindset that I had before Steamtown – I was genuinely happy, purely excited to just see what I could do. Not a single negative thought crept into my mind. I stayed calm and in control. I didn’t become intimidated by the distance. I just kept pressing forward. I ran smart. I ran by feel. I started slow, reigning in the horses so I’d have some juice left for the end. I didn’t stress about the outcome or worry over every mile split. I just ran. That’s what I’m hoping to do at MCM.

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Between now and the big day, I’m doing my last training run at the Runner’s World Half & Festival. My parents and youngest brother will be in town, which is beyond awesome. My dad is going to run…no crush his first half-marathon, and words can’t express how much I can’t wait to see him accomplish this goal he’s worked toward for months. Just thinking about it literally fills my heart with joy. Ahh!

I’ll write a recap of the weekend early next week and possibly share one last update before the race. Can’t wait to kick off the next few weeks of racing!

QUOTE OF THE POST:   ontheline500

MCM Training | Derailed

My ER dream team - made me smile despite the gash in my lip!

My ER dream team – made me smile despite the gash in my lip!

Just when my training should’ve hit its peak before the “taper crazies” set in, life threw a wicked curve ball at me.

I haven’t run since Sunday.

A dog bite and eight stitches in my lip later, my fingers (and toes!) are crossed that come this weekend, the train will get back on the tracks for the final three weeks before Marine Corps.

Up until Sunday’s not terribly dramatic (but still unfortunate) incident, I’ve been feeling fresh, fit and ready to get after a PR on race day. Highlights? I turned my cut-back weekend 10-miler into a perfect progression run that felt awesome. I successfully completed my first Yasso 800s with David, who’s shooting for his BQ of 3:25 (I would be THRILLED to run that time at MCM!). And I pushed through nasty tummy issues in the final four-ish miles of Sunday’s 16-miler, dropping down to goal race pace despite feeling like I was going to s*** myself. (I’ve also been able to up my weights at the gym and can now do about eight real push-ups – I’m so excited to see some progress in that department!)

That paragraph of good news is a huge reason why I’m not freaking out that much about missing three days of running. I’m much more concerned about letting my lip heal properly than getting a few runs in. I know the rest can only help. At this point, the hay is in the barn, right? I’ve told friends this advice before, so I’m trying to take a dose of my own medicine (along with some horse-pill-sized antibiotics) this week.

I’d say the worst part is that I’m starting to get antsy because I just don’t feel like myself when I’m not sweating it out on the roads. BUT…I’m staying focused on the positives. It could’ve been much worse. It could’ve happened closer to race day. The list goes on… I’m so thankful that, despite it being a sucky experience, I’ll be back in business soon (and that I won’t look like the Joker at the RW Half or MCM. Booyah!)

QUOTE OF THE POST:  “To get to the finish line, you’ll have to try lots of different paths.” – Amby Burfoot

A Note To My Future Self That Summer Marathon Training IS Worth It!

Screen Shot 2013-09-19 at 4.57.36 PMDear Future Megan,

Next summer when you inevitably return from a long run dehydrated and defeated, remember Sunday’s 20-miler. It was epic, it was ahh-MAZ-ing, it was confidence-boosting, you name it. That single run made up for a summer’s worth of slow, sluggish death marches. Yes, it’s hard to see now with stinging sweat in your eyes that the cooler weather will bring with it faster, easier running. But remember that this run proved that it does.

More than once that day, I caught myself experiencing the “runner’s high.” Around mile 12 or 13, we dropped the pace to 7:35. And it felt easy, like we had only 10 steps, not 10 miles, under our belt. I felt smooth and in control, my breathing was relaxed, and I shifted into cruise-control so I could fully take in the gorgeous, sun-soaked scenery around me. (Mind you, I’d been struggling to hold my pace within 8:15-30 range on my long runs so far, so stop feeling discouraged about your long-run splits so far this summer. It’s not worth your time or energy!) Then with four miles to go, I still felt strong, so I decided to try to dip down into the 7s again. I genuinely couldn’t believe it when my splits were all 7:30 or faster. I was giddy for the rest of the day (and week for that matter).

Remember how this run completely changed your mentality going into Marine Corps and how it revealed that yes, you really do love this sport even when you’ve sweat buckets at the butt-crack of dawn Sunday after Sunday after Sunday. Remember to feel grateful and thankful for the ability to feel that runner’s high and rush of endorphins that sometimes get dampened by the summer haze. It’s all worth it, I swear. This is your mantra: Summer marathon training IS worth it! 

So go take a cold shower, cozy up in bed, cue up Netflix, and get excited. Fall will be here before you know it!

(One-Month-Out-From-MCM) Megan

QUOTE OF THE POST: “Running is a big question mark that’s there each and every day. It asks you, ‘Are you going to be a wimp or are you going to be strong today?” – Peter Maher

MCM Training | Hungover

Screen Shot 2013-09-14 at 12.33.46 PMBetween Hood to Coast and a 10K on back-to-back weekends, my body withdrew into a full-blown racing hangover that lingered for days. Marathon training is a lot like beer. It’s slow to kick in, but can still knock you off your feet if you have a few too many. I made the mistake of mixing in a couple shots of tequila. Yes, racing offered a quick buzz that felt great. But…it probably wasn’t the best idea. I had a little too much fun.

So despite the arrival of gorgeous fall weather, my legs were anything but fresh and springy for a full week and a half post-10K. I just felt flat, empty of any real energy. On Monday, I was torn between officially returning my regular routine and cutting it back for a few extra days to let my body fully recover. I opted for the later. To fight the fatigue, I actively cut back on my mileage and eased up my mid-week runs to make up for the harder weekend efforts.

Thankfully, it paid off. Come Wednesday, I felt like myself again. Thursday and Friday felt good, too! Crisis averted. Whew.

Side note: The past couple of weeks made me realize that I’ve been treading that fine line between training hard and overtraining. Usually I’m pretty good at not crossing it, but I have to admit that scaling back felt a bit like… cheating? I didn’t want to fall further away from my solid streak of training weeks, but I also didn’t want to risk get injured either. Regardless, feeling off was no fun and certainly wasn’t doing any favors for my confidence.

Deep down, I wasn’t too worried because I trust in myself to listen to my body and do what feels right. Since my calendar is (thankfully) clear now of any major races, my hope is that everything will naturally fall back into place within the next week or so and it’ll be smooth sailing through to October 27.

Here are the highlights from Weeks 9 and 10 of training:

  • A 10K PR! PRs are always a good thing. Here’s my recap!
  • An impromptu mid-morning trail run at work, which, like any trail run in general, was way too much fun.
  • A plank-off with a coworker. I lost BUT we went for over two minutes. It was nice to see physical evidence of my strength training. Fun fact: We did this in work clothes in our cubicles.Screen Shot 2013-09-14 at 12.34.47 PM
  • Spectating the VIA Marathon with my yoga goddess of a friend Rebecca. (Seriously, check out her blog – this Boston girl is the Dorothy Beal of the yoga world!). I had such a blast cheering on my friends who BQ’d the heck out of that course. I couldn’t be more proud, impressed, and inspired by their races.
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Surprise! Rebecca’s BF (gray) and my old Lehigh teammate (yellow) ran the first 13 miles together! And there’s the cheer squad. They’re such cutie pies!

  • Pacing elementary and middle schoolers at a cross country meet. I love seeing kids participating in running, especially the ones that love it even at such a young age when kicking around a soccer ball is probably way more fun that just running. Also, the 3rd/4th grade girls I lead through their mile race were friggin’ FAST, like they almost beat me fast. (And I got a head start.)Screen Shot 2013-09-14 at 12.34.06 PM
  • Completing a 5-miler in what felt like a 104-degree sauna. Just finishing this run was enough.
  • Soaking in the cool fall weather on my run yesterday, which was especially wonderful after the inferno we ran through on Wednesday.

As of this post, we are only 42 (AHH!) days away from race day! Hopefully by this time next week I’ll have a more positive training report to share!

QUOTE OF THE POST: “Erase from your mind that your preparation must be perfect. Hard work + dedication = a shot at your dreams. Keep believing.” – Kara Goucher

MCM Training | Highs and Lows

1234640_10151604678672467_119144239_nThanks to an epic adventure in Oregon at Hood to Coast last weekend, I’ve been a bit M.I.A. in the MCM training update department. A week of gearing up for the relay followed by a week of recovering from it meant I didn’t check off everything on my weekly workout to-do list, but it was worth it for everything I experienced on the West Coast. My 16-miler yesterday went A-okay despite summer’s sauna-like nastiness that just refuses to go away. But from here on out, it’s smooth sailing until October 27! Here are the highs and lows from the last two weeks of training:

Highs: 

  • Every second spent running the Hood to Coast relay. I raced hard and forged friendships with inspring, strong women from around the U.S. You can read about my journey here and here.
  • A muddy, wonderful trail run at lunch after a torrential downpour earlier that morning. The best part? The guys let me lead so I didn’t have to make ’em wait at the bottom. Not having to play catch-up made the run that much more fun. (I’m a very slow trail runner – I’d rather not crack my head open!) And heck, you just can’t beat a trail run to break up the work day!
  • Monday’s yoga session was just what the doctor ordered after the relay. It was an hour’s worth of recovery that my body desperately needed. I also managed to NOT fall asleep in shavasana, thankfully.
  • Choosing to gut out a short tempo run rather than skipping it outright or after the first mile or so. My body and brain were wrecked after Hood to Coast, but I decided I just couldn’t duck out of Thursday’s three-mile tempo. I knew I’d feel worse not doing it than getting it done and having it hurt like hell.

Lows:

  • That short tempo run hurt like hell. I know I was still tired after racing, but a sucky workout is never fun. Blehhhh…
  • Out of the four gym sessions I should’ve completed, I did just one. Yes, I was out of town most of last week, but I just couldn’t get myself down there to workout. I was too dang tired.
  • Failing to get to bed early to recover from the relay. I swore up and down all week that I’d be in bed by 9:30 so I’d get a full night’s rest, but… I didn’t. And my runs suffered because of that.

A quick side note: I’ve been feeling somewhat discouraged about my long runs throughout this training cycle. Since I want to PR at MCM, I’ve been worried about hitting certain paces each weekend. BUT I learned two things over the past couple weeks that have helped me realize that I shouldn’t be stressing out :

1) Yes, it’s been hot and humid. I know this makes for slower miles. And thankfully my trusty training log confirmed that I, indeed, ran the pretty much the same paces last year, too. Those “slow” training runs translated into my fastest marathon yet.

2) A speedy HTC roommate told me that she’s run in the 3:1X’s off of long runs at 8:15 pace. Yes, I know long, slow distances runs are supposed to be slow, but it took a real live person telling me just how slow to make me understand that I don’t need to run at or near “race pace” to actually hit it on the big day. Clearly, I’m still SUCH a stubborn marathon newbie! Learning as I go, right? Anyway….

….We’re just TWO months away from the big day! Until next week!

QUOTE OF THE POST: “Running has thrown me into adventures that I would otherwise have missed.” – Benjamin Cheever

MCM Training | Holy Hills

This morning’s 18-miler sucked.

Or at least the first 17 were a slow, sweaty slog. I’ll admit, I wanted to call it quits before I took my first step. No real positive thoughts ran though my head while I got ready. Just get this over with, I kept thinking. But there I was at 7 a.m., groggy and so not game for the helluva hill run ahead of me.

Ironically, my introduction to this notorious loop was for my first 18-miler leading up to Marathon #1 last fall. I remember my coworker told me that it has made people cry thanks to its six (or seven?) daunting, named inclines–runners know that if a hill has a name, nothing good can come of it–that are just relentless. It’s even got a hill dubbed “The Hill That Must Not Be Named.” I’ve done this run a handful of times since then. It’s both soul-crushing and confidence-building. For this reason, this stunning run through PA farmlands has become a staple of my marathon training.

Screen Shot 2013-08-18 at 1.56.07 PM

Last year, I was blissfully unaware of what was ahead. On today’s anniversary of that run, despite knowing all too well what was ahead, the hills not only looked like walls, but they felt like them, too. I knew today was not about speed; getting the distance done was my focus. I know it was likely a self-fulfilling prophecy, but my legs felt like s***, slowing me almost to a walk on the very first hill. Really? I still have so many more hills to get over! This was mental marathon training at its finest.

I spent the rest of the run struggling up each hill, and easing down them. I tried to distract myself with my friends’ conversation, thoughts trained on that strawberry-banana-chocolate crepe that was waiting for me. I’ve done this before. It’ll be over… eventually. Suck it up. 

I realized last weekend after my 16-miler that I must genuinely, to my core LOVE running. This isn’t exactly “news,” I know, but why else would I be up at the butt-crack of dawn after little sleep to run for miles for…fun? It’s taken a year, but that awareness has sunken in to a whole new level. Maybe my running self is maturing? It’s crystal clear to me now that it’s the sacrifices we make each weekend (and weekday for that matter) to prepare ourselves for a race that make crossing that finish line SO much sweeter. Even sweeter than my strawberry-banana-chocolate crepe.

I tried to remind myself of this when I neared the end of my run. I even said aloud, “Come on, Meg. I can finish two miles. I can do anything for two miles.” Despite one last insult of a hill, I finished my last mile faster than any other mile of the run. It made every sucky step this morning worth it, and I’m thankful that it didn’t go to waste. Boy am I ready for those last six miles of Marine Corps. Bring it.

Here’s another perspective of my run, written by my colleague Mark Remy over at RW. Get up and run? Or stay in bed?

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Here’s a quick recap of the rest of the week!

  • I did two lifts and a yoga session. I’m now officially obsessed with planks and am challenging myself with different variations of the position. Um…who am I?
  • I completed another two-a-day on Tuesday for a total of 10.5 miles. (Should we just start calling these “Two-a-Day Tuesdays”?) I averaged 7:32 for my second run, and it somehow felt better than my lunch run. Weird, but I’ll take it!
  • Thursday’s workout was 4 x 1 mile on the roads with a two-mile warm-up. I managed to keep my splits pretty even, and I’m pleased with the workout overall. As per my point above, I secretly love that I did mile repeats voluntarily. Hate ’em with a fiery, burning passion, but gotta do ’em (for fun) right?

Looking forward, I’ll be changing up my usual programming this week because I’m headed to HOOD TO COAST with Nuun on Wednesday! Stay tuned for a Race Report early next week (or whenever I’ve regained consciousness).

QUOTE OF THE POST: “Whether you believe you can or believe you can’t, you’re probably right.” – Henry Ford

MCM Training | The Laziest, Busiest Cut-Back Week Ever

My cycling coworkers got 3rd place!

My cycling coworkers got 3rd place!

It was one of those weeks where life weaseled it’s way into training…but it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. My 10-miler last Sunday kicked off a cut-back week that kept me on track, but gave my body a bit of much-needed rest.

Monday to Sunday, I only ran four times and logged 34.5 miles. You’d think I’d be well-rested and ready to go again today, but I can barely keep my eye-lids open as I write out this recap. I blame that on a week’s worth of dog-sitting, a hectic work-week closing the October issue, an epic night at the Velodrome cheering on my speedy cyclist coworkers, babysitting, hosting a few good friends at my apartment for the weekend, another late night at a local music festival, and a 7 a.m. 16-miler on Sunday (without an afternoon nap!). This weekend by the numbers, I was on my feet for about 15 hours and logged maybe 10 hours of sleep. All of it was fun, but I’m zonked. Talk about the opposite of my usual lazy weekend!

I went to yoga again on Monday and was finally able to work out some of my hip soreness. Yoga has been and continues to be a huge asset to my marathon training. I always leave class feeling recovered, relaxed, and restored, especially after my Sunday long runs.

This tweet describes my Tuesday training in a nutshell:

I ended up running four miles in the morning and five after work at the running store’s group run that doubled as my speed workout for the week. We averaged about 7:15 pace, which was tough to hold for a second run of the day. But I was glad got in a quality day.

I did an easy, exhausted four-miler on Wednesday, followed by a climb up and over the mountain behind work on Thursday. It’s the same loop we’ve done the past two weeks, and it always turns into a tempo run after the hill. At first I was reluctant to join in, but I ended up feeling okay and was able to comfortably hang with the group. Another quality day in the books!

Thanks to the aforementioned insanity that was this weekend, I didn’t run a step Friday or Saturday. Womp, womp. But thankfully, my 16-miler yesterday didn’t suck as badly as expected. Whew, and yay for not being a complete marathon newbie. Experience completing those long runs makes ’em easier and easier to complete (at least from the mental side of things.)

I also didn’t set foot in the gym this week. I just didn’t have the time to get down there. I felt a icky about not keeping up my momentum in that department, but at the same time, the rest was good. Back to business tomorrow!

This week I learned that sometimes it’s okay to let life take over your training a bit. That doesn’t mean falling off the wagon completely – if it’s an excuse to give your body a break, it’s worth it AND it’s not worth feeling guilty over skipping a run or two. I’m a firm believer that cut-back weeks are key to staving off injuries. It’s something I couldn’t really do in college, but can take full advantage of now that I rule my running life. I try my best to listen to my body – the more tweaky I feel, the more I’m inclined to dial it back a bit. There’s no reason to push through a nagging pain. Always remember fellow marathoners: The goal is to get to the line healthy!

QUOTE OF THE POST: “The most important day in any running program is rest.  Rest days give your muscles time to recover so you can run again.  Your muscles build in strength as you rest.” – Hal Higdon

MCM Training | Bonus Miles!

photo-1This training week was very similar to last week, which means I did even more of what I’m calling “bonus miles.”

After an easy yoga recovery day on Monday (I was so worn out from the weekend’s workouts that something burned with exhaustion during nearly every pose!), I attended my second group run at the local running store on Tuesday. I had completed a gorgeous 5-miler already in the morning (the view at left made the early wake-up SO worth it), so I ended up logging a total of nine miles for the day. I usually top out at seven miles for a weekday run, so this sneaky extra mileage is nice.

I ran up 5th Street again on Wednesday. It’s one of our big hills by work, and the run always turns into a bit of a tempo at the end. I could definitely feel the miles I logged the day before, but I was glad to get a solid hill run in regardless.

Thursday brought with it a humid 4-mile tempo run. I ended up running around 6:45-7:00 pace for all four miles. I’ve always been a huge fan of tempo runs–don’t ask why because I don’t know myself!–so it was nice to get a longer, faster continuous effort in. I’d like to up these tempos to five or six miles, but not until later in this cycle. Tempos are tough! I want to work up to a longer effort rather than get in over my head. I also got in a quality lifting session after work where I did FOUR controlled, arms-tucked-in, real push-ups! I couldn’t believe it! When I started, I could barely eek out two. I’m pretty pumped to see progress in Operation Let’s Not Have Flimsy Arms.

On Friday, I was hoping for an easy four-mile recovery day, but a closed-down road on our route meant we did a brand new (to me, at least) beautiful loop that brought our day’s total to 7! It was one of those runs where the first couple and last couple miles were slow and painful, but the middle miles actually felt alright. I’ll take a 7-miler (heck yes for bonus miles), but ooof was I exhausted at the end.

After logging 27.5 miles in four days, this weekend has been all about recovery so I took Saturday completely off. Thankfully, this weekend’s long run was the first cut-back week of the cycle, which meant I only had to do 10. (Side note: 1) Can’t believe that I typed the words “only had to do 10″ – I remember when 10 was lonnnnnng. 2) It felt great! Easy, easy miles where the goal was just to cover the distance without worrying about pace.)

I’ve decided to skip out on the gym this weekend as well. Did a bit of core at home, but I want to give my body a rest before this week’s workouts and a 16-miler on the menu next Sunday. I’ll do yoga on Monday and squeeze in one (but hopefully two) gym sessions before my friends come to town for a visit! =)

Until next week!

QUOTE OF THE POST: “There is no heavier burden than a great potential.” – Peaunts character Linus, shared by Rick Stiles in response to my post about potential.

A Spark of (Invisible) Potential

photo“The weird thing about running is how people keep running faster and faster. Take the great example of the four-minute mile. One guy breaks it, then all of a sudden everyone breaks it. And they break it in such a short period of time that it can’t be because they were training harder. It’s purely that it was a psychological barrier and someone had to show them that they could do it. It’s the same thing if you’re a runner and you’re around older runners, you just get a sense of what’s possible. You have no clue, if you’re by yourself, how fast you can run. You have no sense of what your limits are.” – Malcolm Gladwell, September 2013 issue of Runner’s World 

I read this earlier in the week, and though the realization Gladwell discusses here–that the runners already had the ability to break four minutes, they just needed to learn that it was indeed possible–wasn’t necessarily new to me, for the first time it got me thinking. This summer brought with it the re-ignition of my desire to truly train again after a year’s run-for-fun hiatus post college. (Hallelujah!) That means I want to go to the gym, I want to do speedwork, I want to log more mileage. And now I want to run fast.

Now it’s not lost on me that I’m still very much a marathon newbie. It’s a distance that just doesn’t mess around. You have to respect it. And since it’s still so new, I’m pulling numbers out of thin air when it comes to goal times and potential race paces. Yes, I have my first four marathons as benchmarks, but I’m learning from experience that those first few cracks at any distance aren’t worth fussing over when it comes to what you can do down the road.

Screen shot 2013-08-03 at 1.43.40 PMCase in point: My freshman year of college, I decided to try my hand at the steeplechase. I’m (embarrassingly) uncoordinated–this is why I run–but the challenge was exciting and new. (Trust me, when you’ve spent the last six years running in circles, mixing in a few hurdles is a welcome distraction, intimidating as they might be.) I was the lone freshman on a squad of water pit pros who could leap over the water in fluid, powerful bounds. I, on the other hand, was a pencil-diving pro. I remember thinking, Wow, I will absolutely never run as fast as those girls. I know I’ll improve, but I can’t imagine ever touching their times. This was a game of gazelles vs. baby giraffes.

3274_539101569066_5984858_nI ran my first steeple (above, laughing because I was soaked head to toe) in 12:08 and dropped it down to 11:45 by the end of the season. My teammates were running in the high 11:20s (that’s them on the left!). Dang they were quick. It might not seem like much, but over a 3K, seconds are like months. It’s tough to shave off time.

Fast forward to my junior year when one of my all-time favorite running moments happened. I won our dual meet and ran 11:23 (below). I dropped it to 11:17 at the league championships. I honestly still can’t really believe it. No, the pencil diving never improved. I don’t remember feeling like I had done anything different to get there. Sure, I had gained experience by then. But it felt more like a miracle rather than months of work paying off. Finally a good race in a sea of crappy ones.

But those magical races were few and far between in college because my head was so far up my own a** (pardon my French) most of the time no thanks to unnecessary nerves and pressure. I know my brain held me back more than I care to admit.

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Looking back on those races, I think they were hints at my true potential. But since I didn’t really see them that way, or at least fully believe that I really could run faster, I never did. I was stuck running 11:52s my senior year.

A (ridiculously fast) alum told me then and still tells me now that I could go sub-11 in the steeplechase. That’s like telling me I could run in the 3:0Xs in a marathon. (Which she reminded me of again last weekend). To me, that’s crazy talk.

In fact, one of my coworkers truly believes I have the potential to make it to the Trials if I set my mind to it. Again, say what?

Every time both of them say it without hesitation. They genuinely believe I could do it if I wanted to. She’s watched me pencil dive dozens of times, yet she still thinks I can go sub-11. He’s spent hundreds of miles watching my knees knock together, but he still thinks I can run close to a 3-hour marathon. Their faith in my potential is both unsetting and…inspiring?

I’ve spent my whole running career looking at people that spoke of my potential incredulously, like, Hey, that’s great and all, but let’s come back down to earth. Thanks. So far that mindset hasn’t really gotten me anywhere.

But what I’m starting to realize is that they have the ability to spot those sparks of potential. They have a clear view of them without all of the negative self-talk that fogs it up in my brain. Maybe it’s my year-long hiatus that’s helped me see this, who knows? I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m finally getting a sense of what’s possible. And possibly believing in it, too?

So from now on, here’s why I’m going to do to try to help me reach my potential:

  • Keep an eye out for those successful workouts or runs. I remember doing a solo 20-miler in January, and I ran every mile under 8 minutes. I’ll never forget it because when I finished I couldn’t believe I’d done it. I want to remember that run (and the other good ones) when I get to the starting line in October. 
  • Keep an open mind when it comes to race goals. That means not feeling restricted to a specific time goal or pace. I want to run by feel and go from there. If I feel good, I’ll pick it up. If not, there’s always another race.
  • Quit writing off my support group when they’re encouraging me to aim higher. Rather than putting up a barrier, I want to use those opportunities to think about what more I could do to run better.

A 7:30/mile marathon (or 7:00/mile marathon for that matter) seems crazy now. But who knows? It might not seem crazy a year or two from now! I want to leave the doors open for those opportunities rather than locking ’em shut and waiting for something to seep through the keyhole. I want to listen to the people telling me I can break through my own four-minute barrier, rather than telling them that it’s impossible. I know I can trust them since I bet they’ve been in my shoes in one way or another.

QUOTE OF THE POST:  “You have to know your body. It’s part of the beauty of the training process, and once you’ve determined how much your body and mind can take, you can then begin to reach your potential.” – Frank Shorter