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

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

The Man That Started It All

374903_330425866972385_1053253969_n“When was the last time you sweat?”

The words, spoken with a thick Kenyan accent to me, an uncoordinated middle school soccer player, were my first introduction to running. On that summer afternoon, I had no idea that I would spend the next six years sweating in the desert heat through intervals, wearing a dirt groove into the outer perimeter of the park, or fine-tuning my mile splits during distance runs up and down the mountain’s trails.

Franks Munene, a tall, lanky man who wore sunglasses even when the sun had long gone down, looked every bit like a running machine. My dad and I always joked that he had legs like a grasshopper’s. (Although oddly enough, despite what the photo above suggests, I never actually saw him run ‚Äď or wear running clothes for that matter! That shot was taken well before my time. Even still, I knew the guy was fast.)

But Franks knew running. The runners he trained were some of the best in the city. He had a method to his madness from which he never deviated, and you were expected to trust the process if you wanted to succeed.

Every Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday morning, Franks would pull up to the park in his white minivan, emerge toting a laminated but worn poster full of illustrated stretches, and start my teammates and I on our warmup. And no matter if it was 105 degrees or pouring rain, he’d declare with a grin, “This is perfect¬†weather for running!”

It wasn’t until we’d completed our warmup, stretching routine, high-knees and butt-kicks (“Windows closed! Pick your pockets!”), and strides, that he’d reveal our workout for the day. That “method” I mentioned earlier? It was all in his head, and frankly, there was no way to predict what workout was on tap that day. No pattern to follow. It was a crapshoot that kept us on our toes and gave us no time to really mentally prepare for the pain game he was about to dish out. It kept things interesting, that’s for sure!

unnamedThen we’d churn through repeats around the park, the drop of his arm starting each set. Three laps equalled a mile. Or we’d set off on one of our many routes around the neighborhood. Usually it was some combination of a loop on the roads (there was Short Loop, Long Loop, Dakota, and Small Hills) mixed with a climb up the rocky trails on the mountain to The Mine or Blue Tank. I logged every single run in a little blue spiral notebook, my first training journal.

Sure enough, despite his high expectations (and seemingly impossible split times) that would sometimes leave me feeling frustrated, I was hooked. His passion and dedication for the sport rubbed off on me whether I liked it or not. The days when I’d log a new PR on a route were the absolute best. Sneaking in a workout in the dark before school made me feel like a badass. Climbs to the top of the mountain that rewarded us with views of the city were unforgettable. The competitor within me thrived with each challenge or goal he’d put on the table for me. His high expectations for me inspired me to reach higher.¬†I loved it.

The hard work and commitment paid off. I became one of those top runners in the city. Those efforts landed me a spot on a DI collegiate team.

So why am I telling you about Franks? Because he’s the man who started it all. Sparked a lifelong passion. Made me the runner I am today. That park? It’s where my love of running was born. I took my “first steps” there.¬†Those routes? They still feel like home, so comfortable and familiar, even though I hardly run on them anymore.

It’s been almost six years since I stopped training with Franks. And here I am, still running (obviously) and still loving it (thankfully). If that doesn’t demonstrate the impact he had on my life, I don’t know what does. I couldn’t put into words how thankful I am that he was my coach. That he never gave up on me. That he pushed me and guided me toward my goals.¬†The memories I have at that park, on those runs with my teammates, are priceless.

photo 2I ran into one of my teammates recently in NYC. I hadn’t seen her in years, and I nearly burst into tears with happiness. She informed me that Franks hadn’t changed a bit. The memories came flooding back. Man do I miss it.

QUOTE OF THE POST: “You have to wonder at times what you’re doing out there. Over the years, I’ve given myself a thousand reasons to keep running, but it always comes back to where it started. It comes down to self-satisfaction and a sense of achievement.” – Steve Prefontaine¬†

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

Hey, The Snow Ain’t So Bad!

Screen Shot 2014-02-01 at 1.10.13 PMEarly Sunday morning, the temps were in the teens and, after Saturday’s snowfall, the roads still looked like God had poured a giant slushy over them. The parking lot where we usually meet was empty‚Äďmind you, this lot is never empty on Sunday mornings. On this dreadmill-worthy day, clearly we were the crazy ones.¬†While I waited for the guys to show up, I sat in my car, toasty and not exactly in the mood to emerge into the slippery Arctic tundra for my 10-miler.

At 7 a.m., the guys arrived and started doing doughnuts through the snow in their compact SUVs. Naturally. Prerun shenanigans like this are honestly one of the few reasons I actually wake up and get my run done at all. They never fail to make me laugh, pull me out of my it’s-far-to-early-for-this-madness funk, and get me excited to run. I love them for it. Find running friends like these guys, and you’ll never skip a run again.

We lurched onto the roads and right up this steep hill beside the lot, spinning our tires… I mean… trainers the whole way up. Yep, that warmed us up! But man was this going to be a rough run. We ran through quiet, sparkling-white neighborhoods with only our voices and the crunching snow beneath our feet to break the silence. Then we reached wide open farmland with the sunrise breaking on the horizon. Stunning moments like these are what made me fall in love with Pennsylvania and remind we why I run.

A few days later, the guys decided to hit the trails at lunch. Initially I resisted the idea, preferring the finally dry roads over the potentially slippery, snow-covered trails. But I gave in to the peer pressure, so off we went… and it was amazing.

The woods had transformed into the definition of a winter wonderland. Armed with trail shoes and Yaktrax, we powered through the powder, breathing deeply and breaking a sweat despite the freezing temps. Like kids on a snow day, we devolved into goofiness (not like we don’t on a regular run), laughing the whole way up and down the mountain. The run was worth every exhausting step.

I stumbled upon a quote this week – summed up these runs perfectly:

“Nothing’s better than the wind to your back, the sun in front of you, and your friends beside you.” –¬†Aaron Douglas Trimble

Now don’t get me wrong, I love winter. But this edition has made me seriously wish spring would hurry up and arrive already. I’m so over sliding through my training runs.

But these two runs were the best I’ve had in a while. When the rest of the world stayed cozy and warm inside, we were out embracing the snowy beauty that was SO much better than the view I would’ve had on a treadmill.¬†I’ve got the guys to thank for that. Hey, the snow ain’t so bad after all!

QUOTE OF THE POST: (see above!)

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: 8 | 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‚Äďwhich I used to avoid like the plague‚Äďand 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.

Screen shot 2013-10-13 at 4.20.17 PM

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

—————

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.

—————

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