Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Recovery--it's more than just rest

I'm really pleased with my marathon recovery. Certainly, I didn't expect to be running as well or as much as I have been able to after the marathon. When I ran my last marathon, I was hurting so badly after that I wasn't able to run for several weeks. That was my expectation after this one--I thought maybe I'd have to take at least a week off. But I was able to run an easy 4 just 2 days later. I read that lack of soreness and an easy recovery is proof of a good training plan. So I've been pretty happy about all that. I'm done racing for the year, and plan to spend the rest of fall and winter rebuilding and letting my legs recover from all the running I did this summer.

But imagine my surprise when I see what some of my friends are doing! One of my fellow facebookers ran a PR at a half marathon just a week after her blazing fast marathon. Three of my local peeps are running a 50k this weekend--just 3 weeks after the marathon. I guess you could look at the marathon as a training run for an ultra. Another facebook friend ran a marathon this past weekend and is planning another just 3 weeks from now.

I understand the motivation to keep moving. After all, training for a marathon gives a runner a high level of fitness which is hard to sacrifice! Especially after running a strong marathon, I certainly don't relish the idea of losing speed and strength. But running experts all agree that it is important to give your body time to adequately recover after running such a grueling distance. Without adequate recovery, you are more prone to injury and illness. Running hard and long causes temporary skeletal muscle damage. Studies of runners post marathon have shown the presence of myoglobin in the bloodstream for several days. Have you heard of rhabdomyolysis? This is the breakdown of muscle products after muscle damage from injury or extreme exercise which can lead to kidney damage and other problems. Crossfitters and other high intensity exercisers can experience this too.

Research studies also show that immune function can be impaired after an endurance event. Knowing this, I postponed my flu vaccine until this week, 2 weeks after the marathon. I wasn't worried about contracting the flu, as we all know that is impossible following a flu shot. I was worried about having a poor response to the shot and being inadequately protected for the upcoming flu season. I have been diligent about getting plenty of rest and washing my hands like I have OCD in order to prevent getting sick.

Most experts recommend doing a "reverse taper", which is somewhat like what I did following Chicago. In other words, look at the miles you did for your taper weeks and rebuild back up. I felt good enough to do some easy running 2 days after the marathon, and that's what I did.  I still feel good but I'm starting to notice a little bit more slowing. That's to be expected but is a little tough on the ego!


Another part of recovery, but no less important, is rearranging priorities. Things that I put on the back burner, so to speak, have been pushed forward again. Work has been putting pressure on me to pick up extra hours at a clinic that is short staffed. I've reluctantly offered some hours on my day off. My husband and I have been planning some home renovations, on which we are moving forward (slowly). I need to complete some continuing education hours--I haven't started that but will over the weekend.

The most important issue concerns my oldest son, whose struggles I have written about before. While I never put aside my concerns, I kept hoping that he would turn things around with a little nudging from us. Actually, more than nudging, we have been pushing him, but he continues to struggle. I had stupidly, naively hoped that by training for another marathon that I was setting an example of going after a big goal, training for it, and reaping the benefits. But he wasn't impressed. Not at all. Now that I no longer have that big race ahead of me, I have come to the realization that we need some professional help with him. Making the decision to get help for him was really painful for me, and will most likely continue to cause grief as we move forward. But I need to work on this as hard as I trained for that marathon.

Recovery has so many facets. Many of which have nothing to do with running. But running will get me through this too.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Fall running

This is the time of year when I most love running! Even though I know what is around the corner for us, I love running in the fall. At least here in the midwest, the weather this time of year is perfect for running. The temperatures average in the 60s and the sun is out most of the time. The foliage becomes more colorful, changing from green to brilliant hues of orange, yellow, and red. The leaves fall onto the roads and the path, and I like to hear that crunching sound under my feet. When it does rain, it's pretty raw and ugly, though and is a taste of what's to come. Just to remind us not to take this beautiful weather for granted.

Today I decided to take a different path than I usually do and I was rewarded by some amazing views. I don't know why I don't go this way more often. Maybe because it is 3 miles from my home and I have to run through an industrial park, past a few car dealerships, and cross several very busy streets to get to where I want to go. Such is life in the suburbs...these beautiful paths are truly a reward and an oasis in a very cluttered, ugly place.

The path I ran on today is a 2 part path through a preserve. The path is about 3 miles total and is limestone. What a treat it was to run on a soft surface! There were a few walkers and runners along the way. But I went early and so I mostly had the path to myself.

On the way back, I ran up a big hill--we don't have a lot of them here--in one of our parks. The hill used to be a landfill but is now a park and a golf course. Repurposing, I guess. Anyways, Walter Payton, the former Chicago Bears running back used to train on this hill, and is now informally known as Payton's Hill. And now I know why I don't run there. That hill is killer! But I know where to go to do hill repeats...

And who is more inspirational than Walter Payton? A good guy on and off the field, his nickname was Sweetness. I can run that! Maybe if I train there, I can fly too!

One of the other reasons I love fall running is because my legs are still strong from my summer training. This time of year, I can usually pull out a few good long, moderately paced runs. The runs feel easy to me, and that is another reward. I started out with a plan to do 6, maybe 8 miles today. But I felt so good, I ended up just shy of 10. I didn't expect this so soon after my marathon. But I'll take it!

Spring might be our reward for suffering through winter, but there is nothing like a long run on a beautiful fall day.

What's your favorite time of year? 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Who do you run for?

When I started sharing the news that I was going to run this year's Chicago Marathon, a lot of people asked me what the race was for. They asked me what charity I was running for. I had to stop and think about this the first few times I was asked it. A lot of small races, especially 5ks, are held to support a particular charity. I'm glad that non-runners recognize the benefit of that. But it felt a little awkward to try to explain my motivation to run the Chicago Marathon. I tried to explain that runners could run for a charity, but that most runners run the marathon for the experience. I got a lot of puzzled looks. Nobody said anything to me, but were they thinking that I was selfish because I was running this race for me? Just because I wanted to run it?

When I ran the Chicago Marathon 3 years ago, I did run as a charity runner. The previous winter, I did some cross training on the bike, in a CompuTrainer class. I rode alongside several Ironman participants. One of them, Sandy, became a good friend. She has a son with Down Syndrome and she convinced me to run the marathon. So I ran as a charity runner for her charity, UPs for Downs. I raised $1000. My thinking was that if I committed to run for a charity, I couldn't back out of running the marathon. The charity, in turn, provided support to the runners. They offered us free training and course support. They also provided entry to the CARA prerace area and gear check. It's not a bad thing being a charity runner. This year, when I ran Chicago, I won a free entry from my employer, a large healthcare provider in the Chicago area. I received the same benefits as the charity runners--a team t-shirt, a pre-race heated tent, gear check, and post race lunch. There's a definite plus to being a charity runner.

But I wasn't a charity runner this time around, and I was ok with that. It just struck me as funny that so many people asked me this question.

I've also noticed more and more runners on Facebook running for a chronically ill child. The most popular organization that connects runners to these kids is called I Run 4.  The website states the purpose better than I can:
The mental and emotional encouragement for both runner and honorary runner is proving to be a whole new level of motivation and awareness.  Runners are able to find a whole new sense of purpose in their running while sharing who they are running for and bringing awareness to diseases and disabilities of all types.
Runners are matched with adults and/or children with disabilities. The site recommends even sending race swag or medals to their child.

I think this is a great idea for runners looking for motivation or a purpose for their running. But is it ok that the rest of us aren't doing this?

I thought about this a lot the past couple of weeks. I shared with some of you that one of my patients is a baby with a several congential heart defect. He has already had one surgery, and will have another one next month. His parents are from Mexico, and they only speak spanish. They are wonderful, caring, kind people who bring food for my medical assistant and me. They planned to come to the marathon, but one of the other kids was sick. I thought about running for him. Most definitely, the chronically ill kids in my clinic inspire me to run. Because I can. But I also run so that I can be a better provider to them.

Last week, I saw a little girl with a distended abdomen. Her mom thought it was constipation, which she has had problems with for a long time. But her belly kept getting bigger, and she ended up on my schedule. I palpated her abdomen and felt a large mass. Not poop. I knew it was bad. I put on my poker face and told the mom I would be sending her to the ER for a CT scan and evaluation, telling mom that it would be the quickest way for me to get the testing done. I haven't been able to stop thinking about her. Yesterday, I got the report that she has a cancerous tumor. Devastating news for her family, I'm sure. And this week, I dedicated my miles to her. Because I can run. Because this made me just so darned sad.

More than anything though, I run for me. Motivation is not an issue for me. I have a job that can be incredibly stressful. As the mom of two teenage boys, I'm not finding a whole lot of joy in parenting these days. Life is hard. And running makes it easier. I run to feel free. I run the day off. I run races for the satisfaction of training and achieving a goal. I run because I love to run.

And I think that's ok.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Marathon training: Lessons learned

I've been thinking a lot about last week's marathon. I was just so happy with the outcome that initially, I could think of nothing else. I went to work and was praised and patted on the back by my co-workers. I was flying high. Of course, it took no longer than the first family I saw on Monday to slam me back down to reality. The mother: "I heard all of you out in the hall talking about your marathon. But I've got 4 sick kids here, and I'd really like you to check the 5th as well. I'm sure you're really excited but can we get moving here?" Boom.

I wasn't quite ready to let go of my euphoria, but that was my reality check. The marathon was over and life goes on. Throughout the week, I began reflecting back on the race. Here are some of my insights. You might recognize some of them as my mantras!

Trust the plan-In the beginning of my training plan, I struggled with the plan Becky laid out for me. Lower mileage than I had run for my last marathon training plan, and even some weeks with no long run at all--instead a long bike? Hello? Becky sternly told me I needed to trust her judgement. And looking back and at my result? I am so glad I did. For this 52 year old runner, with 25 years of miles on these legs, this plan was the most effective training plan I could have used. But it might be different for other runners. So lesson number one is: trust the training plan you have decided to follow. Don't mix it up in the middle of the plan or throw in extra runs to make up for missed or poorly executed runs. Don't compare your plan with another runner's plan. A good running plan is made with some flexibility for bad days and bad workouts. I strayed only once from the plan, towards the end, when I skipped a scheduled bike ride for a much needed therapeutic 5 miles. Otherwise, I followed that thing to a T.


Start out slow-I read a lot of running blogs. One, written by Dorothy Beal, sticks in my mind. She says to start out slow. Painfully slow. Give yourself a chance to let those legs warm up. Don't get caught up in the rush at the beginning of the race. Run your own race. In the past, I have always gone out too fast, and crashed and burned. Not wanting to repeat that pattern, I started out at a comfortably slow pace, and fell into a rhythm, about 9:15-9:30 min/mi pace fairly early on. I needed 10 min/mi to make my 4:30 finish, and knew I could run comfortably a little faster, building myself a cushion. That strategy worked well for me, as I had to make a few unscheduled pit stops during the race.


The wall? what wall?- Besides going out too fast and crashing/burning, I have had issues with fueling. I have so much trouble choking down gels as the race goes on. I'm not a puker, but my stomach does get a little queasy during a long race. I learned about Tailwind from my ultramarathoner friend, Ashtyn, and started learning more about it. I decided to experiment with it on my long runs and found that by following the instructions given to me by Tailwind, that I should consume on pack in 24 ounces of water per hour, continuously sipping it throughout the race, I NEVER HIT THE WALL! As a matter of fact, by mile 23, I realized that I wasn't going to hit the wall. I also did a lot of mental preparation before the race, and knowing that my fueling was going to be effective, I didn't think I was going to hit the wall. Studies show that marathoners who think they are going to hit the wall do hit the wall. No wall for me. No how.


The Oatmeal
Technology is not always our friend- So many people told me not to listen to music at the marathon. The Chicago marathon really is a sensory experience. But it can get in your head. As soon as we took off, I heard people screaming and knew I was going to need to shut all that out to focus on my race. So I turned up my music. The one thing I didn't do was put my phone on airplane mode. Stupid me. My phone rang several times as my medical assistant was trying to call me to tell me where she was so they wouldn't miss me. The other thing that happened twice is that my music stopped. The first time, I stopped to fix it and found my flashlight stuck on. I couldn't find the icon for it and couldn't turn it off. A spectator finally helped me, but I wasted a few minutes trying to troubleshoot this. In addition, I planned to use my Garmin for pacing, which was a great idea...when it could get a signal. Because of the tall buildings, my pacing was all over the place, according to my Garmin. And at 4 hours, it died. Guess I have to run faster next time!


I can and I will- I repeated this mantra during my training and throughout the race. I don't care how corny it seems, my mantra made me believe that I could and I did.

Running a marathon is 95% mental. I even have a song on my playlist by Fort Minor:

This is ten percent luck, twenty percent skill
Fifteen percent concentrated power of will
Five percent pleasure, fifty percent pain
And a hundred percent reason to remember the name!

I did a lot of prep work for this marathon--physically and mentally. I knew physically that I could run a marathon. But mentally, I needed to be strong. For her part, Becky also did a lot to prep me in this regard. The stuff she had me do was so physically challenging that I had no choice but to believe that I was getting stronger. When I began crushing my speed sessions, I knew I was ready. I also did a lot of reading on mental toughness. But the most comically effective strategy was Becky telling me during my training that for every word of self doubt that came out of my mouth, I would have to do 10 burpees. We all know how much I hate burpees. And as much as I never had to do them, the whole idea of it really motivated me to stay positive and strong. At mile 23, when my hamstrings were screaming at me to quit, the thought of me getting down on the ground in the middle of Michigan Avenue to do 10 burpees made me laugh at loud. I also had Rage at the Machine singing Killing in the Name: "f-no I won't do what you told me".

Running is fun- A marathon is hard, no doubt. But it can be fun, and this one was fun for me. I was determined to enjoy it because who knows if I will do another one? The Chicago marathon is lined with spectators the entire route and it takes the runners through a ton of neighborhoods, all with their own individual personalities. So it would be a waste not to enjoy it! I waved to the drag queens in Boystown and got a "heyyyyy" and a kiss blown at me. Saw Dr Dribble, who dribbled 2 basketballs for 26 miles. Saw my medical assistant and a couple friends and stopped for hugs. Smiled through Pilsen at the amazing crowds and the guy with the giant bowl of pretzels. Saw the dragons dancing in Chinatown. And even when my legs stopped working at the finish line, I didn't let that throw me. I begged the medical staff to let me go as soon as the cramps went away, and when they did, I headed to the Goose Island truck for my post race beer. Found my friends. And never stopped smiling.

Be grateful- Running is a gift. To be able to train for and run a marathon is something very few people can do. We as runners take it for granted because it is what we do. But during the race, I passed several blind runners being led by guides. I thought about how hard and scary it would be to run a marathon and not be able to see where you are going. I'm grateful for my friends and family who supported me during my training. And I am most grateful for the thousands of volunteers who lined the course--the ones who filled my water bottle for me every time I asked. The woman who put my medal around my neck made me feel like I won the race! The medical volunteers who watching for anyone who was struggling. When I fell down at the end, there were people right there to pick me up and put me in a wheelchair.

In case you need to feel better about your accomplishment!

Will I do another marathon? I'm not ruling it out. But for now, I'm just basking in my accomplishment. I cannot put into words what it feels like to crush a goal like this. I don't know that any other race will feel as good as this one did. For now, I'm planning on a half marathon in Florida in March. You know me. I'm not much of a planner--I'm known for just jumping into races at the last minute. I started my marathon training late but had no trouble pulling it off. I'll just keep a nice little running base going in case something suddenly comes up!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Chicago Marathon recap-Redemption!!!!

So those of you who have been following me for a while know that I put a lot of pressure on myself to do well at this race. I jumped into race prep 13 weeks before the marathon when I won a free entry through my work. Fortunately, I have been working with a CrossFit coach, who was more than willing to train me. And I had a strong running base prior to starting to train. My biggest hurdle would be my brain, on which I worked as hard, building mental strength, as I did building physical strength. And it paid off. The good news is that since I jumped into the game relatively late, I didn't have a whole lot of time to psych myself out about it. My trainer not only prepared me physically but mentally as well, but giving me some killer workouts and a lot to think about. But about 3 weeks before the race, I had a kick ass speed work session which convinced me that I was ready. The rest of my runs, through my taper, went off without a hitch. I had to keep pinching myself that it was really going to happen.

Not quite as elaborate as last time, but served the purpose.

Saturday morning, after a quick 2.5 miles around the neighborhood, I headed over to see Becky for some words of wisdom and to have my toe taped. The last time she taped my toe, back in April, I PR'd a 10 miler. Being somewhat superstitious, I wanted to leave nothing to chance. When I walked into the box, I was greeted by the owner, my friend Karen, with a "here comes the marathoner!" Becky taped my toe, and gave me a card, which she told me not to open until the following morning. She gave me hug and told me she knew I was going to do well. I left with all that positivity in my ears and headed downtown Chicago to the expo to pick up my race packet and shop.

I listened to my running playlist all the way down. There was minimal traffic, just a jam-up at the usual spot in the loop, and I parked the car and headed into the expo. The expo is really big. I stopped at the Nike booth, because 3 years ago they had some pretty overpriced awesome shirts. This time around they were still overpriced, but not very exciting! I found a few t-shirts that I liked and bought those. As I walked through the expo, I saw people getting their picture taken at the NewBalance exhibit and I stopped in. The guy told me I had to jump up for the picture and I complied. While I was waiting for him to print it out, he asked me if I was alone. I told him yes, and he replied "too bad". Um, ok, not quite sure how to take that...anyways, I picked up my packet and bib, and headed to my son's football game.

That night, I prepared my outfit and gear. I decided to open Becky's card in case it would make me emotional. The card was perfect. It was all about accomplishment. And inside the card was a small stone on which she had written "believe" on one side and on the other was written 26.2. I slipped it into my shorts pocket.

The next morning, I got up at 430a and got dressed. I had a cup of coffee, my usual breakfast of Cheerios and orange juice. My husband drove me to the El, which is about 20 minutes from my house. A good omen, Tom Petty's "Running Down a Dream" was on the radio on the way there. While I was waiting for the train, a woman approached me and we introduced ourselves. She was from Michigan, and it was her first marathon. It was really fun to be the one with experience and to share that with her. Another woman joined us, and it was like we were old friends on the ride down. Once we got off and got to Grant Park, we separated. I headed to the Advocate tent, where I could leave my gear. I met up with my coworker, Bonita.

Bonita and me

And then I got a text from Penny (aka 26.yikes) who was right outside my tent. I flew out of the tent for hugs and some final words of wisdom. More hugs and we laughed about all the goofy texting we had done with Karen, Michelle, and Sara all week. That sure helped to release some of the stress we were all feeling! Ascots and cognac, anyone?

Penny and me

I got in line for the portapotty--I had a little frustration with the guy in front of me who was letting everyone go ahead of us (WTH!!!)--

--and flew off to the corral. I sucked down the last of my 16 ounces of my pre-race Tailwind. About 5 minutes after I got in the corral, they closed it. I talked with an older gentleman next to me, who told me it was his 20th consecutive year running. The national anthem was sung, and the wheelchair athletes were off. About 15 minutes later, we crossed the start line.

I started my Garmin. I had planned to use my Garmin only for pacing, knowing that the tall buildings in the city would mess with my signal. My music was already going, quietly, and I made a snap decision at that moment to turn it up and shut out the spectators. I didn't want to get caught up in the spectacle of the race and I thought that I would need my music, which I had trained with, to keep me focused. Meanwhile, my Garmin was going crazy--we ran under bridges, on lower Wacker Drive, and finally headed up Columbus, where I finally got a good signal. Luckily, I fell into a groove right away, and the huge pack of runners that I remembered from 3 years ago never materialized. Actually, thinking about it now, I never had to weave through runners at all, which is something I've experienced at every race I've ever run. About mile 3, all that Tailwind I drank before the race made its presence known and I had to make an impromptu portapotty stop. Quick like a bunny! And back on the road.

We snaked through the downtown loop and headed back north on LaSalle. This is a really long stretch, and I tried not to let that knowledge get the best of me. Turns out knowledge was power for me. I kept my nice steady pace. We passed by Lincoln Park Zoo (I smelled cow manure!) and headed north to Addison, where we turned and ran a few blocks west before heading south onto Broadway into Boystown.

This is one of the most crowded spots of the race, spectator wise. The entertainment along this part of the route is legendary. The ROTC Chicago was on a stage, twirling their guns. Another stage had a few drag queens. They were actually beautiful and I waved as I ran by. One of the shouted to me, "heyyyy!" and blew me a kiss. LOL!

R.O.T.C Chicago (from a previous year)
I stopped at a water station to refill my Tailwind, and the volunteer happily refilled my water bottle. This was repeated x4 during this race! I saw Amanda "Too Tall Fritz" and ran alongside her for a few minutes. She told me she was struggling and told me to run ahead. I wished her luck and moved forward. As I ran along, my phone started to make weird noises and my music stopped. I pulled over to the side, and found that my flashlight was stuck on. I couldn't turn it off. I started to panic a little. A spectator came over to me and helped me troubleshoot it. I probably wasted 5 minutes on this. Crap! See what happens when you run with music?

Anyways, I took it as a "catch my breath" break and moved on down Sedgewick, which is a beautiful street of old vintage brownstones. We turned onto North Avenue, down Wells through Old Town. I was amazed at how great my legs felt and that the miles seemed to be flying by. So different from my last marathon!

We headed west onto Jackson, and got to the half marathon point. Ugh. My tummy was talking to me and I thought it was a good idea to stop. I ran to the porta-potty and back to the course. When we ran through the charity village, I looked for the UPs for Downs tent and my friend Sandy. I ran for this charity last time. Sandy was right along the course with her family. I stopped for a hug and she asked how I was doing. "A lot better than the last time I did this!" I told her as I ran away. About a half mile later, I saw someone frantically waving at me. It was my medical assistant Zuly! She was there with her kids. I ran over, hugged her and the kids, posed for a quick picture and ran away. She later told me that her kids had so much fun at the race, high fiving all the runners. It meant so much to me that she was there. Later, I saw on facebook that she was posting updates throughout the race. I love this girl!

Zuly and me!
After the charity village, we headed back on Jackson and then south to Taylor Street. This is an Italian neighborhood.  I knew one of my neighbors was going to be there watching their twins run, so I kept on the lookout for them. I spotted them and ran over for hugs! As I moved away from them, I saw a guy dribbling 2 basketballs. Dr Dribble! He said he was going to dribble the entire 26.2. And he did.

courtesy of doctordribble ( instagram )

We ran south on Western avenue and headed into Pilsen. Pilsen is an old Bohemian neighborhood now settled by Mexican immigrants. From my last marathon, I remember this being my favorite part of the marathon. The people turn out in droves and the atmosphere was festive. People are handing out food and orange slices. The music is so loud, it drowned out my own music. Signs everywhere proclaiming "Si se puede", which means you can do it! Another mantra of mine. And then onto Chinatown.

Chinatown is another festive spot, with a ton of people lining the streets and Chinese dragons in different spots. People were starting to walk more here. Mile 22.

Wait, mile 22? I walked through here last time, thoroughly miserable. Mile 22? The wall? What wall? No wall yet. Fully aware of that at this point, I shut that thought down. Stopped thinking about the wall. There would be no wall for this runner. Nope. No how. No way. Sipped my Tailwind furiously. And headed forward down Wentworth towards 33rd street. We crossed over the Dan Ryan expressway and began to head north onto Michigan Avenue.

At this point last time, it seemed that I'd never get to the finish line. Yet this year, I kept on running. More and more people walking. My hamstrings were tired but yet I kept pushing. I heard some self doubt creep into my brain, and I pictured myself doing burpees in the middle of Michigan Avenue. At mile 23. Seriously? I chuckled to myself. At mile 23.

By mile 24, I could see the jumbotron at the turn to the finish on Roosevelt Rd. I knew it was 2 miles away, but still. I could see it. Unfortunately, my Garmin died at mile 24. I was told that this model had 4 hours of battery and that was not an exaggeration! Oh well...That made me laugh too. On a more serious note, I tried not to let the sight of more and more runners walking, and some lying on the ground affect me.

Instead, I let my music carry me home. Eminem came on, rapping Till I Collapse: "but you gotta search within you, you gotta find that inner strength, and pull that shit out of you and get that motivation not to give up, and not be a quitter no matter how bad you wanna just fall flat on your face and collapse..."--seriously, that should have been blasting from loudspeakers this at this point for all those runners walking and laying on the ground. I don't know, but it worked for me. This song was followed by Rage at the Machine singing "Killing in the Name of" ("f-no I won't do what you told me"). Talk about powerful. And motivational. There was no way I was stopping. Hamstrings, shut up!

As I hit mile 26, my favorite running song, by Noel Gallagher (formerly of Oasis) singing "A Simple Game of Genius" came on. The coincidence of my favorite running song, singing me to the finish line, was not lost on me. I plodded up that hill on Roosevelt Rd, towards the curve that I knew would take me into the finish chutes. The final approach was lined with medical personnel. Guess that's what you see when you finish faster than 5:26...

I crossed the finish line in 4:17:55. Mylar blanket around my back, medal over my head, I headed towards the food, called my husband, and then Zuly. While I was talking with Zuly, I stood up on my tippy toes to get some food, and my legs froze up. I couldn't stand on my feet, they were completely rigid. What a weird feeling!!!! I started to fall backwards, and someone thankfully caught me. The police came over and another person came with a wheelchair. I kept telling them I was fine, it was just leg cramps, but they wheeled me to the medical tent. Poor Zuly, on the phone still, asking me if I was ok! I told her I was fine, and I'd call her back.

I am the worst patient, and proud of it. People were in the tent, moaning, vomiting, and I just wanted to leave. While I was waiting to be seen by a medical professional, I chugged a Gatorade and stretched my legs. They were so busy that they finally let me sign myself out. "I'm a nurse practitioner!" I kept telling them. I'm sure they were rolling their eyes. I would have been. Once I walked out, I grabbed some food and a Goose Island 312.

That's more like it!! I couldn't stop smiling!! 

Remember my goals for this race? To finish faster than last time and to feel strong enough to drink a beer? Mission accomplished. I sipped on that beer as I headed to my meeting place, where I planned to meet my friends.

Penny, me, Sara, and Karen
The park was ridiculously crowded but I found Sara! and Penny found us. Finally Karen met up with us and we all talked about our races. Karen and I PR'd! Sara BQ'd! Penny didn't meet her time goal but pushed through a nagging ITB and finished respectably. We all had good races.

Nicole, Jackie, and me
While we were talking, I heard my name and saw my neighbor and her family, including her 2 cute twins (who are part of the Blackhawks Ice Crew). I had to take a picture with them, even though I look so old with them...

This was a great race for me. I couldn't sleep that night, I had so much adrenaline and endorphins running through me. When I got to work the next morning, I found out the entire office had been tracking Bonita and me. It was amazing. But even better is that feeling I have of crushing a goal. Of getting that bad race from 3 years ago off my back. I did what I set out to do, what I knew I had in me. I don't know if I can put into words what it feels like to run a race like this. Sure, a few less potty stops and technological glitches would have been nice. But would I have run any faster without that? I don't know. Those mini-breaks gave me a chance to catch my breath. I didn't let it throw me, either. I set a time goal of 4:30 for this race and while I knew I could do better than that, I let myself have that cushion, just in case. I loved everything about this training...the support from all my friends...the race. The weather was perfect. Even if there are subsequent marathons, there will never be another one quite like this. Because this was the one that showed me..I CAN and I WILL!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Marathon week 12-Ready to go!

Once again, my week started off with lots of mama drama. It would be so much easier to train for a marathon without all the pressures of family and work. But that's why we do it, I think! Life never fails to amaze me. Just when you think things are going your way, the rug gets pulled out from under you. Last Monday, I found out my oldest son was failing 3 classes, my youngest had a torn MCL and maybe ACL, and my husband got laid off from his job. Any one of these things would be tough, but to have this all happen in one day was almost more than I could handle. I dealt with each situation--my oldest is slowly bringing those grades up and turning in his homework--which he wasn't doing. My youngest has his MRI tomorrow, so we'll have a better idea what is happening inside that knee and what the next step is. My husband picked up some side work for this upcoming week. I actually have an opportunity to do some moonlighting at work too--which I'll think about--say it with me--after the marathon!

Monday: rest day/stress day (see above)

Tuesday: I had a bike ride on the plan but after the day I had on Monday, I strayed from the plan for the first time. I needed to run. Do you ever feel that you NEED to run? After all, most of us didn't start running because we wanted to do marathons--we run for health reasons or like me, for stress relief. I decided to do 5, because had I biked, it would have been a 45 minute ride. I didn't run by pace, I just ran. I listened to my music, lost myself in my thoughts, and ran like I wasn't training for anything. It felt great! I came home and felt much more at peace than I had earlier.

Wednesday: I decided not to go to the yoga studio, and risk injury. You just never know. Sometimes she makes us do partner yoga, which I'm not a fan of, and during which I've had overzealous partners push me too deep into a pose and OUCH! So I did yoga at home. I found a yin video on YouTube for hips and hamstrings. I love yin yoga--holding the poses for 3 minutes (or longer) is a lot harder than you might think. But by holding a pose for an extended period of time, you are able to get into that connective tissue and really loosen things up. I would have liked a little more hamstring opening with this video, but overall, it was really good.

Thursday: Last set of mile repeats x4 on the plan. I was tired, most likely from all the stress of the week. I thought there would be no way I could match my speed of last week, but I decided to give it a try. Once again, I surprised myself! Mile 4 was a little tougher, but when I compare this workout to last week, I ran the first 3 mile splits faster this week. I can't complain about mile 4, but isn't it funny what a difference 10 seconds makes? Sheesh. Still, these were fun and I'm going to miss them!

After this, I headed over to see Becky for my last CrossFit before the marathon. I thought she'd go easy on me, since it was the taper, but when I got there, she already had a "station" set up for me. the prowler with 30#, slamball 15# x 15 reps (for every slam to the ground I said "fear" and "doubt" in my head), and 35# kettlebell deadlifts x 10 reps. I repeated this series 6 times. I was sweating profusely, but smiling when I was done. These tough workouts have made the difference in my training. Not only did they make me stronger, they made me tougher. I pushed through all of them, but there were many times I wanted to quit. I couldn't, though. What would be the point of quitting? When I was done, I thanked Becky for all she's done for me. She told me she never had any doubt I could do this, and that she was proud of me. Big words from a trainer who pushes me hard and doesn't give a ton of feedback. I was beaming when I left.

Friday: rest day

Saturday: 4 miles. It was cold, windy, and....snowing? Ummm, I was wearing shorts just 2 days before? There was rain, there was snow. It was yucky. I had no plan for this run, I just decided to run by feel. Mile 1 was fast, and then I got in a groove. It was a good run, but I was glad it was only 4 miles. Brrrr....

After my run, I went to work. It was an unusually pleasant Saturday morning in the clinic--they are usually really busy, but for some reason, I had a lot of cancellations. One of my favorite families came in. This is one of my Hispanic, Spanish speaking families, with 3 children. The youngest, who is now 6 months old, was born with a significant heart defect, requiring surgery shortly after birth. When they initially came to me, I was really worried about their ability to care for him. Together with my medical assistant, we have made a great team, and he is doing well--albeit facing another surgery within the month. Dad cried when he told me. They really are wonderful people to work with. For my birthday last month, they surprised me with flowers and balloons--and made me cry! Yesterday they told me they want to come see me run the marathon. I was speechless. We talked to them about how big the race is and how hard it would be for them to see me. But just that they even considered coming to see me run just floored me. Wow. My heart was full after that encounter.

Sunday: Today was my last long run of my training. I had 8 miles on the plan. My plan was to run them at marathon pace, 9:30 min/mil. The weather was better, but still very cool this morning. I would actually be fine with this weather next Sunday. As you can see by my splits, I did a nice job maintaining that steady pacing I'm looking for. It wasn't easy, as my legs wanted to fly. It's a lot easier for me to run fast than it is to hold back, but I've been working on this and it shows. I'm really happy with this run, and I don't think at this point I could be any more ready.

Garmin connect changed this and for the life of me, I don't know the difference between av pace and av moving pace. Anyone? Anyone?

So, where do we go from here? I've got a couple short runs on the plan this week and then the big show. Last night I re-read all of my weekly recaps, and my mouth dropped as I read them. I was amazed at the difference in my posts from the early weeks up until now. My recent posts show a stronger runner, both physically and mentally. I'm so glad I wrote them. It was a great way to document my progress and it shows me that I'm where I need to be. This training was perfect for me. My legs feel good. I feel ready to go.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Under pressure

10 days to go until the Chicago Marathon. I've done the work and I am ready. Physically for sure. Mentally--well, I'm still working on that. No matter how much preparation I do for an event, I still get anxious and self-doubt starts to creep in. I've been working really hard on shutting it out this time. This morning was my last speed work sessions, mile repeats x4. I didn't think I could match the speed of last week's session, but I was determined to try. I told myself that if I could do it again, there is absolutely no reason for me to doubt myself.

And I did it. My first 3 mile splits were perfect. Mile three got a little tough at the end. Mile 4 was tough the whole time. My legs didn't want to move as fast as I needed them to go. So I pushed harder. I was really breathing hard. I wanted to quit. But I knew quitting will ruin my confidence. So I pushed through it. And here's the outcome:

Ok, not so bad! If only I could have run 10 seconds faster on mile 4--how crazy is that? Anyways, pushing through that tough mile was really good for me, mentally. And this week was actually faster by 16 seconds overall compared to last week's mile splits. So there's that...

Why do I push myself like this? As we all know, I've run the marathon before, and finishing should have been enough, right? When I tell people why I'm running it again, to run the kind of race that I know I'm capable of, all I get are blank stares. Of course, these are non-runners I'm talking to, but still. I compare this a lot to something I did as a child and young the piano.

I was a very musical child, and took piano lessons for 10 years. I loved playing and practiced my pieces for hours, working on perfecting them and memorizing them. When I was in junior high and high school, I competed in the musical competitions, always taking a blue ribbon home for playing my pieces. I also accompanied the choruses and played with the jazz band. It was something I loved and something I was good at. It was also very important to do my best because really, there is nothing worse than listening to someone stumble through a musical performance. I used to play for my grandparents, and my grandfather would never tell me I did well. He did point out my mistakes to me, saying that I shouldn't play for him if I was going to make mistakes. As I got older, that really used to bother me, since he didn't play the piano. But he was the only person to criticize me. Playing the piano (and the oboe and the bassoon!) was my thing. That was what I did well. So why did his criticism carry so much weight?

I'll tell you what it did do for rocked my self confidence. I started getting increasingly nervous for performances. Even when I was accompanying the chorus, I was so conscious of my performance. I was so worried people would pick out my mistakes. My fingers would sweat and slide on the keys. When I look back on this, I wish I had realized that I wasn't focus of 99% of the audience, and that no one was paying attention to whether or not I was making a mistake.

This lack of self confidence also affected me in other areas of my life, which I have mostly resolved. But to this day, I have yet to not be anxious on race day. I am SO much better than I used to be. I've run enough races to feel comfortable in the routine and rhythm of the day. I've met a group of ladies that I meet at some of my races and that helps me shake off the nerves like nothing I've done before. The fact that I've been running for 25 years also gives me comfort, because once I start running, my body and mind just click into autopilot. I get excited at the starting line. If I listen to my music, well, there's comfort in that too, because I've trained with all those tunes. And I know that everyone gets a little pre-race jitters--that's what makes us perform well because it shows we care about how we do.

This picture is from 2011, the year I ran Chicago. Talk about a crowd...
The marathon is a different animal. Especially Chicago. It is a spectacle. It's big, it's loud, it's crowded, it's wild, it's amazing. The energy is palpable. It is impossible not to get caught up in the atmosphere. I've been there and I know what it's like. Having that experience is helpful this time around. I know what to expect. I am determined to let my physical preparation carry me to the finish line. But how do I not let my anxiety get the best of me this time? Competitor magazine had some good articles on this and I took their list and applied it to me:

Control what you can control. 
Here's what I can't control: the weather. the crowd. the noise. the energy. my family.

I can control my pace. While running my long runs, my goal was to have even splits the entire time. I did that very well. I used my Garmin to monitor my pacing and I also kept tabs on how I felt. 
I don't have a lot of control on what's going on inside my body. After having lots of GI issues early in my training, I switched my fuel to Tailwind, which seemed to work really well for me. That will be my only fuel and I'll have to carry a bottle on the course. I'd rather do that than stress about my tummy. I'm also really watching what I eat over the next 10 days. It's the best I can do!

Staying relaxed will help me feel in control. It sounds simple but for example, I woke up this morning clenching my muscles. Do you ever wake up clenching your muscles? Ugh. When I ran this morning, I had to remind myself to stop clenching, and I'd actually shake out my hands. It really, really helps. I will do this if I have to and as often as I need to. 

Use mantras and positive self talk.
I've been doing this all along, but after all the stress life threw at me this week, I had to really pull myself out of the dark hole! Yesterday I was feeling better, and at work I hung up 2 signs.

This one in my workstation:

And this one in my office:

Corny? Cheesy? Hey, works for me, so don't knock it! And don't even listen to my playlist,'s full of songs with positive and motivating messages but certainly not critically acclaimed music. I like to call them guilty pleasures. I'm sharing it with you here, in case you want to raid it for your own use. But please don't judge me based on my selection. I do listen to other music too.

Some of the songs obviously are just fun to run to. They're all familiar to me and that's important too.

And while I'm running, thinking positive thoughts would be good. "I feel strong" or "I got this", sound way better than "I'm so tired" or "I can't do this". Smiling helps! Seriously! The encouragement of spectators always puts a smile on my face and lightens my step.

Channel your nerves with mental imagery.
Instead of focusing on how tired I feel or if I'm not running at the pace I want to run at, I plan on reminding myself of how hard I worked to prepare and how I pushed myself through hard workouts-both running (for example, my speedwork today) and Crossfit. All that stuff Becky had me do was not only physically hard but mentally challenging as well. It would have been so easy to quit, to walk, to give up. But where would that get me? So I need to dig deep when it gets tough and think back to those tough workouts (those intervals with the rower will be a good image for me!) No negative self talk allowed. Becky told me for every negative thought or statement, I'd have to do 10 burpees. Who wants to do that in the middle of a race course?

Sorry about the f bomb
Just seeing the race course is helpful too. There are a ton of videos on youtube of the Chicago marathon course. I couldn't find one for this year (Nike usually puts out a time lapsed one, which is fun to watch) but this recap from the 2013 marathon is a good one. 

Create flexible goals. 
So my originals goals for this marathon were to finish better than my last disastrous marathon and strong enough to have a beer at the finish line (Goose Island 312!). My training has gone so well that I've refined my goals a bit. I have a time goal of 4:30. If all the stars are aligned and my head is in the right place, I can best that. I know I can meet that time goal. But no matter what happens, I want to know that I did my best. 

One final, but important goal I set is to enjoy the race. Running is a gift. Not everyone can do this, and only 0.1% of people have ever completed a marathon. I get to do my second marathon. And it was a gift--my entry fee paid for by my employer as a prize in an instagram contest. I was fortunate to be able to train with a coach this time around and had fun for my entire training. I didn't get injured during my training. I completed every workout and ran strong.

So let's go!