Category Archives: Running

So I guess I’m going to do this marathon thing.

Here it is, January 16th, and I’m doing my first blog post of the new year.

That is very unlike me.

Usually, I blog an end of year review the last week of December, and then write another blog post shortly thereafter, outlining my New Year’s resolutions or goals or challenges. I’ve been doing this since long before I actually had a corner of the internet to do so publicly.

This year, I’ve just felt … uninspired … to do the whole “New Year, New You” thing.

Not that I don’t have a ton going on in 2018, or some fairly massive personal undertakings (hello 26.2) but laying out a personal game plan with numbered or bulleted goals seems a little too daunting given all the upheaval coming our way.

There’s just so much unknown in 2018, and that’s not my optimal performance situation.

Which is why it actually makes total sense that I’m finally willing to confront my marathon intimidation.

I have a four month, day by day, running plan. I printed out January-April calendar templates, and carefully filled in my mileage for each day.

It made me so happy. Not staring down 18 and 20 mile runs, of course, but having some modicum of predictability and control in this swirling sea of uncertainty that is 2018.

I mean, I don’t even know what state my son will be living in this fall. Or when I will be moving him there. Or a few other life variables that might change this summer and/or fall but I’m not blogging about.

But I can look at, say, April 7th and know what my workout needs to be that day (that’s my 20 miler, by the way).

I’m hoping to regularly blog about my marathon training, but I’m also working on a footloose and fancy free breezy attitude to survive 2018, so not sure if writing discipline will be my strong suit.

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The Stars at Night half marathon race recap

Last weekend I traveled to San Antonio to run the Stars at Night half marathon. I signed up because I wanted a race to get my weekly running miles back up after a long hiatus from distance running (this was my only half marathon in 2017!), and bonus! I figured it would be a fun weekend getaway for the first half of winter break when the kids are at their Dad’s (which is always depressing for me, even 7 years post-divorce).

It was a good idea in theory.

We arrived at the JW Marriott, site of the race, around 2:30pm, in plenty of time to check-in, get my packet, and head downstairs for the 5pm pre-race meeting (5:20pm start time).  It was my first time at the hotel, and while it was lovely (and large), it was also a holiday zoo, crowded with runners and families and Christmas festivities. The young woman checking me in asked if I was “here for the race” and I said yes. She asked me what I was running, and I said the half marathon. She looked at me blankly and asked “How many miles is that?”

It still startles me when people don’t know how long half marathon/marathons are. I consider it common knowledge.

I said “13.1 miles” and she blurted out “Oh my GOD, well, good luck with THAT!” as she turned around and looked outside.

Did I mention it was pouring out? It was pouring out. Did I also mention that most of this race was not on a road, but on trails through the golf course? Trails that, as I would soon find out, became absolutely submerged with water?

I was not looking forward to a wet, cold, dark 2.5 hours.

Initially, I was really intrigued and excited by the race. I’ve never run an evening race (my pre-race nutrition plan took some strategizing since usually I wake up, eat a bagel with peanut butter, and race 90 minutes later), and we were required to wear head-lamps since it would be so dark. It was *supposed* to be a fun, Christmas-y jaunt through Hill Country and holiday lights, a night adventure.

It was an adventure alright.

We started on time (ish), after huddling in mass in the pouring rain, grumbling, outside the hotel conference center for what seemed like an eternity but was probably only 4-5 minutes. The first 3 miles or so was through the neighborhood surrounding the hotel, which confused me a bit, since I thought the race was supposed to be through the golf course (we would turn off and enter the trail into the woods around the 3.5 mile mark).

As you might imagine, there were no spectators or people cheering … just a few hundred of us, running through the rain through a neighborhood, quiet. It was weird, to be honest … like a very large, dejected, cold, wet group run.

Once we turned on to the trail, I felt a momentary (and short-lived) excitement. THIS is what I came for – an evening trail run with lights and scenery and nature!

Y’all. It was so wet. And muddy. And cold. There were points where I had to high step through nearly knee high water, or “run” with my arms out at 90 degree angles, trying to steady myself, and not fall flat on my ass as my feet surfed through slick mud. I saw more than one person go down on the course, and a few who looked like they just gave up, as they abruptly turned and left the trail.

At some point, maybe mile 9, my arm got so numb that I could no longer feel the vibrations from my Garmin watch letting me know when I should do my run/walk intervals (I had it set to 3 minutes running/45 seconds walking).  I got creative and ran through a song, then when it ended I would walk for 30 right-foot steps, then run until the next song ended.

The race officials elected to move the finish line inside, which made for a weird end (although fitting with the entire weird experience, I guess), so we ran through the loading dock area into one of the conference rooms. My husband caught me coming in – notice me carefully run around the metal grate as I approached.

 

The video, and picture, does not at all capture just how frozen and soaked I was. What my husband should have captured on video was me attempting to talk for several minutes after I finished. I was so cold that I couldn’t speak properly – my words were coming out all slurred. He observed, with a nervous laugh, that I sounded like a stroke victim.

My official time was 2:26:55, which, although it seems really slow compared to my last half marathon a year ago (2:17:28) is actually my 3rd fastest half marathon of 7. So I guess all things considered it wasn’t a bad time, given the conditions.

Would I do another night-time half marathon? I actually liked the novelty of running at night, and it would have been fun if the weather wasn’t so horrible and the trails weren’t so hilly and treacherous. I prefer larger races with more energy and people (it was kind of … weird… running in the dark through the woods) but I’d love to do a (shorter) evening fun run in the future.

Thundercloud turkey trot race recap and other tidbits

On Thanksgiving, I ran the Austin Thundercloud 5 mile turkey trot.

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I run this race every other year (the years my kids visit their Dad on Thanksgiving), and it holds a special place in my heart. It was this race in 2013 when I first ran anything longer than a 5k, and it was this race that gave me the confidence to sign up for my first half marathon in 2014.

This race began my journey as a “runner”.

It has since become a tradition, every other year, for my husband and I to head to Austin from Dallas the day before Thanksgiving and stay overnight in a hotel so I can run the turkey trot before continuing to my sister’s in San Antonio for the Thanksgiving holiday.

The first year I ran the race it was cold, although sunny and gorgeous, and the second year it was warm and muggy. This year was perfection – brisk enough that I was very chilly at the start in my shorts and t-shirt, but not so cold that I didn’t warm up as I ran.

I wasn’t sure what to expect with this race – on the one hand, I’ve been running a lot of miles preparing for my December half marathon so my endurance should be up, but on the other hand, I’ve been running a lot of miles (tired legs) and dealing with some pesky stomach issues that have interfered with some of my runs. Web MD (because I prefer to not confirm any potential bad news. #ignoranceisbliss) says I either have an ulcer or IBS, and both are entirely possible given my 2017.

Anyhoo, I wasn’t sure how the race would go is what I’m saying.

It was an interesting race in that I changed strategy a few times on the fly (ie while running) which is NOT my style, in athletics or life. Initially, before the gun went off, the plan was to run the 5 miles at my run/walk ratio (3:30 run/ :30 walk) and pace (10:15 min/mile) that I plan to use for the half marathon.

Then I started running, and felt pretty good, and it was super crowded and I didn’t want to mess up the runners around me by walking. So I decided that I would run everything but the hills, when I would walk (having run the race twice before, I know that it’s not exactly a “flat and fast” course).

But then I got to the hills, and still felt pretty good, so I decided to jog them.

As I hit roughly the 4.25 mile mark, I looked at my watch and realized that OH EM GEE I was going to be in the ballpark of 50 minutes. Listen, I know there are a lot of runners, even middle aged mom of 3 runners, who would laugh at the thought of being excited by maintaining a 10 min/mile pace for 5 miles, but that is HUGE FOR ME. Yes, I can run a sub-10min/mile pace for a 5k (barely) but for 5 miles? Breaking the 50 minute mark for this race, especially with the crowds and hills, would be a DREAM.

So I started running as fast as I could. I tried so hard. I CAME SO CLOSE. If I had just pushed harder, earlier, I know I would have made it.

  • 2013 5 mile time: 53:57
  • 2015 5 mile time: 52:37
  • 2017 5 mile time: 50:46 (splits: 10:18, 10:36, 10:04, 10:05, 9:35)

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still happy with my run. I took 2 minutes off – can’t complain.

In other news, it’s been awhile since I’ve blogged. Like so many, I’ve been feeling homicidal frustrated with the current state of affairs in this country. This isn’t a political blog, and there’s nothing I can write or say that would make a lick of difference, but I feel soul-weary at it all. Between the news on a grand scheme, and the day to day events in my own little universe, 2017 has been hard y’all.

So much left unsaid. About so many things.

But, as always, there is much to be grateful for, and I try to focus on that. Depending on the day, I achieve this with greater or less success, but I always try.

For example, you know what makes me happy? My mastiffs. I own 2 very large, very dumb and very sweet English mastiffs, more than 300lbs of dog.

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what you can’t tell from this picture is that Moses, the 168lb “war dog”, just peed all over the black tarp in shaking, cowering fear. 

What else makes me happy? Watching my middle child kicking ass in his first year in high school. He’s doubled up in honors’ math classes AND taking honors physics  AND performing in the drumline AND serving as the junior varsity soccer goalie, while making good choices and being a generally sweet and respectful kid.

Although, after roughly 10 years of the goalie mom role, you’d think I’d have a better handle on game stress. My boy the goalie? He’s cool as a cucumber with eye of the tiger in net. His mother? Not so much.

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my husband covertly caught me in prayer mode during a particularly stressful game with ALL THE SAVES. The struggle is real for goalie moms. 

My next race is in just under 2 weeks, and it’s my first half marathon since December 2016, which is both hard to believe, and a testament to just how much 2017 has kicked my ass.

Sam’s Squad 5k race recap

If you’ve been following this blog for a while (or know me in “real life”), you know that I am not what I’d consider a “natural” runner. What I mean by that is that the sport (hobby? past time?) does not come easily to me, and that I am fighting against genetics and proclivity on each and every run. I did not run as a child or teenager, with the exception of a brief stint as a defensive back on my high school field hockey team for one season, after which I “suggested” to my coach that perhaps I would be better suited to the goalie position, which just happened to involve much less running.

She agreed. I’m pretty sure it pained her to watch me attempt to run almost as much as it hurt me.

This is all to say that when I enthusiastically signed up for the Sam’s Squad 5k charity run, a leadership project organized by one of our seniors to support the Myotonic Dystrophy Foundation, I had no idea that he was modeling it after a cross-country workout. When I met with him for his conference for the senior program that I run, I cheerily asked, “So fill me in, where is the route?”, imagining that it would span the local roads around our school.

He began, “Okay, so we’re going to start on the track. Then we’re going to go back in the fields by the community college, loop around there, then come back on the track, then loop on the fields over by the basketball courts, then run along the fence by the playground, then back by the baseball field, then loop again, then finish on the track.”

I blinked a few times. “So…so…it’s not..on…road?”

Him, “Oh no. Only a little bit.”

Me, “So…I’m guessing I won’t get a PR at this 5k, is what you’re saying.”

Him, “Um, well, probably not.”  #understatement

Did I ever imagine I would find myself running a cross-country practice/meet simulation at the age of 43? No, no I did not. But still, I was excited to come support a student endeavor and run with members of our community.

The weather was perfect, overcast and relatively cool for Dallas in mid-October. It was by far the most relaxed race I’ve ever been to, more like how I imagine a group training run put on by a running club would go (not that I would know, since I can barely muster the energy to run, never mind simultaneously extrovert). There wasn’t a clear start time, rather we mulled about chatting until bibs had been picked up, and then my student grabbed a megaphone and called out “Okay, let’s head to the track now!”.

We all (48 registered 5k runners) gathered on the track behind the starting/finishing line, and then he counted us down and we were off. We did a 1/2 loop on the track, then exited through a gate to hit the fields behind the community college campus. Student volunteers were posted at various points along the route to direct us where to go, which for me, was simultaneously fun (since they all know me and cheered me on) and disconcerting (since they all know me and cheered me on). A few senior boys commandeered a golf cart and played “Eye of the Tiger” on full blast as we made our way past them.

While in some places we were clearly running on an oft-used path (well worn dirt trail), in others, we were *literally* running through knee high grass. The New England native in me found myself obsessing on the possibility of ticks, and I kept fighting the temptation to high step to try to avoid touching the grass.

As I exited the community college fields to rejoin the track, I glanced at my Garmin, sure that I had run at least 1 mile. I was already tired, but without mile markers or a familiar route, couldn’t gauge the distance.

Clearly, since according to my watch, I had run exactly .55 miles. Oh dear. Those grass and hills were no joke.

Fortunately, the next section involved some track/parking lot/school drive running, and I was able to get into my normal rhythm for a bit, until I had to turn back on the grass to loop around the school grounds.

I hate running on grass.

As I looped back on the track to begin my 2nd school grounds circuit, I passed my husband and all the other non-runner supporters, who cheered. I looked at him and groaned as I passed.  He ran cross country in high school, so the “off-road” running was familiar to him. He laughed.

I disliked him tremendously at that moment on both counts.

I ran out of gas at exactly 2.1 miles (I know, because I looked at my watch thinking “welp, there goes that sub-10 minute pace I was keeping”). I run-walked the last mile, half-disappointed in myself, but mostly thinking how much I could never do cross country because running on anything other than a treadmill or asphalt makes a normally challenging activity, damn near excruciating.

I finished in 31:46, which all things considered, is okay for my first, and last, cross country run.

Most importantly, over $10,000 was raised for a very worthwhile and important cause, so huge props to my senior who worked hard to put together this race!

 

Marathon 2018

I wrote earlier this year about my difficulty in finding a race that I wanted to run for my only first marathon. It’s very important to me that my kids attend this endeavor, for a variety of reasons. For one, I think it’s important that they witness their mom complete a goal of this magnitude, with all the blood, sweat and tears that will undoubtedly come with it (that whole role modeling thing).

For another, especially as my eldest gets ready to head off to college next fall, I feel like this is the culmination of an identity shift over the past several years. I began running in 2013 to cope with the aftermath of my divorce, and the main reason I’ve persisted is to keep my sanity with the ongoing coparenting challenges, and exposure to my PTSD triggers.

It’s been a long, long winding road. Pounding out the miles helps.

I was leaning towards the Houston marathon, which occurs in January, but I realized that it would interfere with soccer and swim seasons for my boys. Ideally, I wanted a race I could drive to, because our budget is quite tight, and it needed to be 1. on one of my weekends and 2. not interfere with a sporting or performance event for any of my 3 children.

You can see my dilemma.

This is all to say that several weeks ago, I unofficially decided that the Oklahoma City Memorial marathon fit all my criteria. While it is during my busiest time of year (I run a senior year program that occurs during the last trimester of senior year, ie April 29th is smack in the middle of it), Oklahoma City is close enough that I can drive back on Sunday and be in my office on Monday morning (and my senior won’t miss any of his AP classes). I have heard and read that the OKC marathon is heartfelt and full of crowd support, and one of the more desirable marathons to run.

I made my peace with it. But I wasn’t overly excited about it. I mean, it seems like a cool marathon, but for my first, and quite possibly only 26.2? Meh.

But then, during last week’s long run, I listened to a recent Human Race podcast. If you’re not familiar with the show, it features stories of unusual or inspirational “every day” runners (meaning, usually not famous).  This one featured a woman named Amy Downs, a survivor of the Oklahoma City bombing.

I know. Weird, right?

She told her story of surviving the bombing in 1995. How she was diagnosed with PTSD after being buried alive in the rubble, waiting for rescue, for hours. How she began running, and then eventually, competing in triathlons, as a therapeutic approach to her PTSD. How the gun going off at the start of races triggers her, as does putting her face in the murky water for open water swims (reminding her of being buried alive), but she keeps doing it. How she believes in telling her story, because confronting the trauma, talking about it, pushing past it, is the only way to get through it.

She divorced her husband. She eventually remarried, to a man she met through one of her training groups.

I was transfixed as she described her PTSD; “I describe it as an app that’s always in the background, it’s just there. The only time it’s more of a struggle is in the spring. During spring it becomes difficult. It’s not like I’m sitting around thinking about the bombing, I’ll become anxious and on edge, and then I realize it’s March.”

I thought of how Septembers are for me.

She ran her first marathon at the Oklahoma City Memorial marathon. She trained to break 5 hours, and then just a couple weeks before the marathon, she got injured in a bike accident. She described her frustration, “This is my life, I planned it perfectly, I did the training program for the 5 hour marathon, and nothing ever works out. My plans never work out.”

She still went on to run it, finishing in a slow and frustrating (for her) 6 hours and 30 minutes.

Exactly the amount of time she was buried alive, waiting for rescue.

When the interviewer asked Amy how she remains so positive, and inspiring, and athletically accomplished (she’s training for an Ironman), she said, “Even in tragedy, it’s important to ask yourself what you can take that is positive out of it. You can’t control what happens to you, you can only control how you respond it. Yes, it’s not fair. It sucks. Life is not fair. But what are you gonna do?”

Life is not fair. Plans never work out. But what are you gonna do?

I’m going to run a marathon.

 

Tri training and end of summer update

I have lived in Texas for 11 years (which still kind of blows my mind) but one thing I’m still not used to is thinking of the first (at most, second) week of August as the “end of summer”. Growing up in New England, we didn’t start school until after Labor Day, and even as a teacher in the late 90s and early 2000 years, I didn’t have to return for professional development until the end of August.

For me, “summer” is really July and August, even though here in Texas, it’s June and July (well, per the schools. If you go by the temperature, it’s roughly 65% of the year. Another aspect of Texas I am not fond of).

This is all to say that I’m about to head back to work, and the kids are in the thick of frantically starting finishing their summer work.

I’m still plugging away preparing for my September triathlon.  Training has been going well, in the sense that I’ve been very consistent with the 2x a week workouts in all disciplines, plus strength training, plus an additional weekly brick. I feel like I’m in solid shape, if not at my “fastest”. I’m not approaching this triathlon very competitively, given the timing (on the heels of the first 4-6 weeks back at work, which is always a beatdown). It seems every year, as I get older, I am a bit more tired with the teacher-mom August – September hamster wheel.

I am, however, looking forward to having a fun race, while (hopefully) feeling good. If you can believe it, I’ve only done one race in 2017 (a 15k back in February) so I’m ready to get my head, and body, back in the game. As I’ve alluded to in previous posts, 2017 has been a really, really difficult year, and my athletic hobby has been low on the priority list – I’m hoping I can turn that around heading into 2018.

Speaking of re-focusing on 2018, I’m almost ready to commit to my marathon. I’m starting to look at different first-time marathon training plans. For those of you who have covered the 26.2 distance, what’s your favorite newbie plan?

2017 – Dallas Hot Chocolate 15k Race Recap and Life in General

On Feb 4th I ran the Dallas Hot Chocolate 15k , and I’ve been meaning since then to post my race recap. I’m not sure how two and a half weeks have passed, except to say that my 2017 so far can best be described as the following:

There continues to be a lot, a lot, going on in my neck of the woods, and most days I feel like I’m drowning. So much so that I considered, seriously considered, bailing on the race. I’ve never bailed on a race since I began running in fall 2013 (if you don’t count the 2016 Houston half marathon, which I don’t, since I made the decision roughly a month in advance of the event not to participate after I pulled a muscle in my back. That wasn’t “bailing” so much as changing plans due to injury).

When I say I almost bailed on this race, I mean that starting 72-48 hours in advance of the Saturday race, I waffled on whether I was going to follow through. The week leading up to the race was particularly exhausting and overwhelming and difficult for my family, and I was averaging 2-3 hours of sleep each night, and going through the motions.

The day before the race, when I had to drive downtown to get my race packet (taking time out of work and traveling 30-40 min from school), I gave myself the mother of all pep talks, told myself I wasn’t a quitter, that I would and I could and I should do this, and set off.

And got rear-ended on the highway. I can’t make this up. The universe hates me.

That night, with a stiff neck and sore shoulders to add to my litany of physical and emotional ailments, I was so ambivalent about the race that I didn’t even take my traditional night before gear-laid-out picture. I decided to set my alarm, but gave myself permission to not attend if I felt worse in the morning.

Ultimately I decided that whatever physical discomfort I endured during the 9.3 miles would pale in comparison to the emotional pissiness I would feel at not following through with my race entry. I hate not finishing what I start.

I don’t have an in-depth race recap to share (partly because I waited so long to write this that I don’t remember most details) but I can say this: until this race, I never really understood how people don’t finish races due to cramps. I mean, I’ve heard of people not finishing races due to cramps, I’ve even seen it happen in televised races. Someone is clipping right along, and suddenly grimaces, limps. sometimes dramatically dropping to the pavement, writhing in pain.

I always thought that was a little … much. I mean, how bad can a cramp be?

And then I ran 9.3 miles after forgetting, in my zombie state, to drink many fluids the 24 hours prior. Hello dehydration. And agonizing searing quad pain.

I was doing pretty well for the first 7 miles or so. So well that I knew I was on track to bust last year’s 15k time out of the water. I’m not going to lie, I was feeling pretty badass – there I was, almost not even showing up to the race hours before, and now I’m flying along at a faster pace?

And then my legs starting twinging. Not badly, at first, but enough to let me know they weren’t happy. I wasn’t overly concerned – with less than 2 miles to go, I figured I was home free.

Around mile 8.5, with just under a mile to go, the pain got so bad that I actually had to do this weird Jedi mind trick where I pretended I was floating and my feet weren’t really striking the ground each time, but just skipping across clouds. I know it sounds weird and doesn’t make sense as I type it out, but it worked, in the sense that I hobbled-limped-floated to the finish line when all I really wanted to do was collapse on the ground and start crying. Like those people I had seen on television who I secretly called wusses in my head. #karma

Still, I finished. With a 4+ minute drop from last year’s time to boot.

In other news, yesterday my oldest turned 17. 17. I can’t really wrap my brain around the fact that I have a 17 year old. In one year, I will be the mom to a legal adult. How did that happen?

Wasn’t I just giving him kisses in the park on my 26th birthday?

In my mind, he’s still this age.

But actually, he’s about to be a senior in high school and next year, in addition to delivering cookies to his advisory down the hall, I’ll be ordering his graduation tuxedo.