Monday, September 22, 2014

Running in Reality

Realism and Running don’t always go hand in hand.

It’s a funny thing really.  Especially when it comes to marathons.  Every runner I know has a story about a race where their race-day expectations were radically unmet. 

I find that setting a realistic pace goal for race day is challenging where the marathon is concerned.  This is partly because I always set a marathon size goal, though I think it’s also because there are very few athletes who run 26.2 miles as part of their preparation for the event.  The pace calculators that say, “If you race a X:XX Half Marathon, you can run a X:XX marathon” are rarely accurate for me.

I understand how I should do it though.  To run a certain pace at the marathon, a runner needs to train for that goal. 

The engagement has to happen early in the training.  There are months of preparing for the big day, and then early in the race the runner makes a commitment to GO for it. 

It is pretty easy to find oneself in a bad relationship with goal race pace at mile 20 of a marathon with six long miles stretching out ahead.  Breaking up is hard to do after that amount of work, but sometimes the marathon leaves us no matter how hard we try to make it last.

Lately as I log my training runs into Daily Mile or brag about the long miles on Facebook I’ve been pretty careful not to post specific splits.  For one thing, I run without a watch about 50% of the time.  For another, the actual splits aren’t generally noteworthy.  I have been depressingly slow compared to my 2012 PRs.  My friends cheerfully claim, “you’re going to crush that marathon!” in the comment boxes, not realizing that at this point crushing the marathon is far from the goal.

This time the goal is more visceral and less metric.

As part of my preparation for this marathon, I saw my physician in early spring.  I had been having lung issues for over a year and it just seemed to me I ought to be recovered by then.  She cheerfully informed me that the scar tissue in my lungs would make running “very difficult”, and that it might be time for me to “find a new hobby”.  I am very proud of how I handled the situation and subsequently I was not arrested that day.

I also chose not to follow her suggestion, and in early April I signed up for Steamtown Marathon in Scranton PA.

I resumed running, found new old friends to run with, and rebooted myself.  When I decided to train for my marathon, I based my “at registration goal” on where I thought I should be in 6 months, assuming a healthy pair of lungs.

I set out to train for the illusive Sub 4 that I have been admiring from afar.  Lofty as it sounds, the whispering siren call beckons me, and my Half Marathon PR, a sexy 1:52 I ran with little prep-work and even less training, suggests that this was at some point a realistic goal.  Up through early August, I was well on my way to a 9:09 pace run, and actually smashed my 18 miler with 4 sub 9:09 miles between 13-17.

As race day approaches, it becomes obvious that my race will not be a sub 4.  Nor will it be a PR.

No running injuries have struck me down; instead, I am plagued with injured lungs that have been insulted by the same respiratory virus that is making headlines across the United States.  I caught it in early August.  For three weeks I coughed endlessly.  I took 10 days off from training.  I rested.  I drank water.  I stayed home from work for a day and lounged on my couch with hot tea. 

I attempted to jump back into training.  I attempted on the next run as well.  At one point, 15 days after I started running again, I found myself sitting in the middle of the street coughing while my two companions stood guard over me. 

Each time I run, even if it’s only three or four miles, I fully realize how far behind I am with my training.  The goal pace is too fast.  Way too fast.

It seems that The Sub 4 has escaped again, only this time it happened before race day had arrived.  My 20-mile runs are pointing at a solid 4:20 marathon.

 As much as I want to be disappointed, and I guess I am on some level, I cannot be too upset.  I think back to my Doctors appointment.  To the words that were spoken between me and my physician.

“Woe is me, I will have to go run a marathon without achieving a predefined goal I set 6 months ago” should truly be replaced with, “I’m so lucky that I can breathe well enough to go run a marathon at all”, “That Doctor can suck it”, and “She may as well have thrown a steel plated gauntlet down at my feet, because the fastest way to get me signed up for a marathon is to tell me not to sign up for a marathon.”

I get to run a marathon in three weeks.

I GET TO, and even though the goal is not to achieve a predefined TIME, the experience of going out to run a marathon without any expectations is just as defining.

~savor the run~

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Off the Cuff

We were silent at that particular moment.  Rare for us.  Usually when we run there is a stream of conversation that accompanies the steady cadence of our feet.  Maybe we were quiet because we were climbing, or maybe it was because we were enjoying the breathtaking views.  Riverside drive, just south of the James River, is one of the more beautiful and hilly runs you will find in RVA.  Tree limbs stretch over the road in a green canopy as it twists and curves and climbs and rolls like the river it parallels.

I guess we both realized we were listening to the runners ahead of us at the same time, because we both chuckled at something that was said, and I turned to T and said, "We've had that exact conversation."  She agreed.  The runners were stressing about pre-run fueling and recovery fueling and listening to them I'd have to say the one girl is probably starving herself unnecessarily.

What made me chuckle wasn't that she was starving herself, but instead it was that the topic these girls were obsessing over was a topic I have obsessed on, chewed on, rolled around, and rehashed.  I worried over it the way a child pulls the thread dangling from the hem of a sweater, picking and playing until the cuff is opened.  In this case, I finally concluded that running requires calories to prevent injury.  High protein calories are better than cake, but regardless, in my opinion if you run a pile of miles, you better be eating something.

photo credit - TMB
And we were running a pile of miles on Saturday.  T & I had overlapped our twenty miles this past week with Sportsbackers Marathon Training Team's Novice 10 miler.  It wasn't entirely planned, actually.  We just ran a few miles before MTT, and then followed "a route" until we met back up on the MTT route.  And when we got back to the stadium, we refilled our water bottles at the car, and kept running a completely on the fly route.  In fact, the entire run was constructed off the cuff, because we knew about how far certain roads would take us.

We finished 20 miles exactly where we started, without any intentional planning at all.  Certainly our on the run routing system included "There's water along here at X point if we need it", so we weren't running without attention to detail.  We were just enjoying a stress free - route free run.  I would guess that the less seasoned "me" would have never done that.  I would have planned until I was blue in the face, needlessly fretting around trivial details.

This week we were worry free.  The twenty miles vanished under our feet.  We ran negative splits, even with the hills of Bryant Park tossed in for the last miles.

Today I reflected that I am so glad that I am a more seasoned runner, and I know when, and when not, to stress about a training run.  The 20 we finished this weekend was completely relaxed, and color me not surprised, faster than I was anticipating running.  It goes to show that when you listen to your body instead of your worries, amazing things can happen.

~savor the run~

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Heavy Pills

We’ve all encountered first time marathoners who ask 1,829 questions that they are perfectly serious about asking, yet seem completely unrelated to training.  I’ve had a few asked of me, actually.

Dear Coach,
I missed my 3 mile run today!  It’s my first week of marathon training, do I need to make up those miles?
I couldn’t sleep last night and my marathon is only 6 weeks away!  Will I be OK on race day?
My shoes got wet and were squelching for most of my run today, am I going to be able to race in October?
I was only able to run 5 of my 10 miles today before I had to quit, go home and take a nap.  Will I be able to finish 26.2 miles on race day?  .... almost laughable, except that I actually thought this on Monday, and wondered if it’s time to send a painfully stupid question out to my running coach....


I work 12-13 hours on my feet each shift.  I run the other 4 days a week.  Sometimes I run on work days, and sometimes I don’t.  Either way it’s exhausting.  My legs are tired.  When I run, they feel like they are full of lead lined muscles.

What I do as a nurse isn’t new to nurses anywhere.  We walk-run around our units for 12 hours with our hair on fire throwing pain pills at people, turning patients, and silencing IV alarms (ok, ok, that’s not what we do, but there are plenty of people who think that’s what we do).  In a study published by OJIN, researchers found that the cumulative weight lifted by a nurse in an 8 hour shift was equivalent to 1.8 tons (what can I say?  The pain pills are heavy) A nurse on my unit tracked her pedometer for a week and it peaked at 6 miles of walking one day.  For the record, she walked no less than 4.5 miles in a shift. 

And I'm not complaining.  I love my job.  I love doing what I do.  I think I am doing a pretty darned good job for someone who's so new to the profession.

So, I am trying to figure out how all the exhaustion and work lines up in my training plan... except that I don’t think it does....  For the last two weeks I’ve been “resting” on my work days.  So essentially, I’m walking 4-6 miles and lifting 1.8 tons on my “rest” days.  And then for SOME reason I am surprised that my running is so sucky.

AnyHOOOOOOOO.  This is PEAK WEEK 1 of 2 for me.  I’m supposed to run about 36 miles over the next 4 days, with a dedicated day of rest and no work thrown in there for good measure.



AND I’m not going to do that.  Because even if I want to sleep today, I will wake up after my nap and want to run a marathon in October.  

If I was to tell a first time marathoner ONE thing, it would be this:

Marathons aren’t about getting up on race day and running 26.2 miles.
They are about getting up on all the training days and running consistent miles.

~savor the run~

Friday, September 5, 2014

Learning Curves

If Life is our Greatest Teacher... then Running in the Summer is the nasty teacher that no one EVER likes even though there is a lot of learning going on...

We ran our first 20 of the training cycle this weekend.  There were some lessons learned.

Be Impulsive & Listen to your Gut.  If you check the weather the night before and see it's going to be hotter than it's been for a few weeks, call everyone and move the run 30 minutes earlier.  I didn't do that, even though it crossed my mind the night before the run.  What a huge game changer 30 minutes would have been.  It was 74 degrees with 93% humidity at the start, and 86 degrees with 61% humidity when we finished... that's "Feels Like 90" when we finished.  No wonder I felt so craptastic.

Respect the Distance.  20 miles is a long way, even if you break it into 2 x 10 mile loops.  Even if you break them down into 2 x 5.  While breaking down the run into smaller bites is a good idea, it's important to remember that 20 miles is still 20 miles.

Stage Right.  If you're running "unsupported" staging Gatorade/Powerade/Perform/NUUN will seem like a GENIUS idea.  My take home from this run was don't forget that GU (that's G.U.) will taste better and sit better with water, and water in the middle of the country-side can be a bit hard to find.  By the end of the run my stomach was rolling.  Next 20 there will be at least 8 oz of water at every stop.

Routing is crucial.  I wasn't terribly displeased with my routes, but I would have run the two loops in reverse order if I had thought about the position of the sun when we hit mile 15.  Hot and Shady is not the same experience as Hot and NO SHADE TO BE FOUND FOR MILES.  See above note about a 30 minute earlier start time.

Routing is crucial part deux.  I routed us past a Fire Station.  That was not an accident.  I will always do that in the future.  Thankful for Henrico's finest who kindly gave us some ice water when we were nothing but hot sweaty dehydrated messes at mile 17.

Bring your Exit Buddy.  The biggest thing I can say about running 20 miles is to rally as many runners as you possibly can to form a posse.  Even if some of the runners can only join for part of the joy and some of the misery.  We started as 5 this morning, and that shared energy carried us through the run even when it was hot and we wanted to quit.  If one is having an off day, in our group there will always be someone who hangs back and nurses the person along, or loops back to pick her up, or who runs the last mile + much faster than she thought she could because she was encouraged by her peers.

Every run is a lesson, and this week I brought home a lot of 'Needs Improvement'.  That's OK.  There's always next time.

~savor the run~

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Intolerable Rudeness

I recently read a blog post about how people will tolerate bad behavior in the person they love because they love them, and that a true test of a healthy relationship is to say, "would I tolerate this language from my friend?"  I'm very fortunate to be in a loving relationship with a person who treats me with respect, and I never have to ask this question, however, I caught myself listening to a voice in my life the other day and wondering why I tolerate that negative language.

I ran a Half Marathon in just a sports bra and skirt last week.  It was 96% humidity and 88 degrees.  Needless to say, I wasn't the only person out on the course who was only half dressed, and I figured it was OK.  As I crossed the finish line, however, there were photographers snapping photos as we were draped in our medals, and I laughed and said, "Oh Lord, I won't be buying THAT photo.  That is a lot of squish for a finishers pic!"

Of course, I was laughing.  I actually think I look Ok.

But later I thought back and wondered why it was OK for me to be so rude to myself.  If someone - a friend - had said that to me, I would have been very sad.  When I realized that, it made me want to buy the picture and save it, knowing that there may be a time in my life when I will look back and think, "Hey, when I was 38, I was very fit."

So women, and men, reading this - please be kind to yourselves.  Appreciate that life is a process, and that just because we are so often always striving toward a bigger goal, it doesn't mean we should dismiss our current greatness.

I know I'm going to try harder to celebrate my current self.

Also, next to me happens to be one of
my favorite Nursing School professors.
We didn't run together, but she caught
me in the last mile.  Great job Prof W.