…and training resumes…

This morning I headed out for a 16 mile long run, the first attempt at anything in the double-digits since my marathon two weeks ago.  The weather wasn’t bad for a morning run: drizzly, cloudy and not terribly hot or humid.  I had company for the run – my new friend Terri who is also training for MCM with the =PR= training group.  Our group is meeting on Saturdays for long runs but with my kids’ sport schedules (Abby has soccer and Will has tee ball) I have to move my long runs to Sundays from here on out.  This week Terri needed to fit her miles in on Sunday too, so we were both happy to have company.  Terri is a mom of three like me and she is also preparing for two fall marathons (MCM and NYC).  We have only run together a couple of times and are still getting to know one another so our conversation really made the miles tick by.  I am truly grateful to have someone to share this journey with.

I felt good going into this run.  We averaged a 9:42 pace and ran an even split the whole way.  I wanted to execute the run this way since it was my first time “going long” in a while and I haven’t been running much these past two weeks while I’ve been recovering.  My legs felt tight and a little heavy towards the end of the run, but I’m hoping this is just part of the recovery process.  My long runs prior to LVM were averaging about a 9:00 mile consistently but with negative splits (some of them I was finishing the last miles around and an 8:00 pace or even faster).  I didn’t even try to do this today – today’s run was about the long slow distance and reminding my body what training feels like, because I am getting back into the swing of things for a couple of weeks before it’s taper time.  I also used this run to work on my long run nutrition and I’m happy to say that I had zero issues today.  I am so determined to not let my stomach ruin my race day like it did at LVM.

This week I plan to run about 40-45 miles (my long run will be 22 of those miles) and will be doing some speed work also.  I haven’t done speed work in 3 weeks and am really looking forward to mixing up the pace and letting my legs move faster again.  It is funny how just a few weeks of recovery time can leave me wondering what I’m capable of again.  I feel like I need a confidence-boosting long run and some solid shorter runs/speed work sessions under my belt before I taper for MCM.  I want to feel GOOD and STRONG going into MCM. 

So, that is the goal right now.  Get back into a groove.  Have some workouts that remind me what I’m made of and what I’m capable of.  I want to get to that start line feeling confident and ready to give it all I’ve got.  Ready to set another PR in the Marathon.

take away: imbalance, strength & flexibility

The Lehigh Valley Marathon (LVM) was two weeks ago tomorrow.  I can’t believe it has been only two weeks.  Honestly, it feels like ages ago.  Taking time off from my training and slowing down in order to recover has made my whole life feel like it is going in slow motion in many ways.  I know it was the right decision (without a doubt, no question) because now I am strong and ready to get back into the swing of things without any injuries.  This has been another case of “it wasn’t easy, but it was worth it.” I find it amazing how many ways that concept translates into life and running…

That race was such a learning experience for me.  I fought so hard to get through my stomach issues and then my legs cramping as a result of having to slow down so much.  I fought to stay positive and to focus on the fact that I was setting a huge PR though the race did not go at all as I had planned.  It was so NOT easy.  And it was so worth it.  No regrets.  I know I would have regrets about this race if I didn’t do the right things to recover though, plain and simple.

me at the finish line, still fighting: so ready to be done

I spent the last two weeks on a roller coaster of sorts – lots of ups and lots of downs.  If it weren’t for my twice-weekly strength training routines at the gym (think lunges, squats, planks, upper body and core work), yoga, Pilates (teaching it and doing it) walking and light runs I don’t know how I would have gotten through it all.  I mean that on a physical level but also on emotional and mental levels, too.  I’ve learned a lot from this recovery period — the benefits of taking time off from hard training go beyond just resting the muscles.

One of the things that I’m taking away from this is that slowing down helped me identify areas of imbalance in my body.  Namely, my glutes are weak and I need to give them a little extra TLC to get those puppies stronger.  The  LVM was a sickeningly hilly course and my glutes were firing in overdrive that day.  My glutes/hips felt so tight so I was using the foam roller and a racquet ball to get deep within the muscles to loosen them up.  I did it so much that I actually irritated the topmost layer of the muscles (no visible bruising, but tender to the touch!  It’s ok, you can laugh at me – I don’t mind.  I have been laughing at myself over that for the past day and a half!  Anyway, it’s been good to have this time to focus on my strength and flexibility because I truly believe that it is essential in helping me feel GOOD in my body (whether running or not!) and of course I also believe it helps me be a stronger runner. 

So – now that I will be resuming my normal training regime I will be incorporating more strength/flexibility exercises into my routine.  Prior to the race I was doing strength training 2x a week and Pilates almost every day.  Now I am going to add specific glute-strengthening exercises and yoga to my repertoire.  I know I won’t regret it.  In talking with Dr. Wong yesterday he suggested I do my core work and squats/lunges BEFORE my runs every day.  That way the muscles aren’t wiped out from running when I go to do the exercises.  I think it should be fairly simple – it really doesn’t take much time at all and I will already be dressed and ready for exercise.  As with everything else, it’s just a matter of MAKING THE TIME for myself to do it and not giving myself any excuses not to.  The benefits of doing this so greatly outweigh the inconvenience of making the time to do it.

So, tell me …. what do you do to work on strength and flexibility and how do you fit it into your routine?  Have you identified specific areas of weakness or imbalance in your body?  What are you doing to fix that?

** Don’t forget to enter my Endorphin Warrior training bracelet giveaway!  Contest ends Tuesday 9/27 at midnight.  Click HERE to enter! **

a new PR and the power of positive thinking

I have a story to tell.  I’m not sure where to begin.  Do I start with 6 months ago when my baby was 4 weeks old and I ran my first mile postpartum?  Do I retell how I fought so hard to regain my strength and courage to get out there and run, despite my out of whack SI joint, awful hip and back pain, a tail bone that hurt in the middle of the night, my incredibly weak pelvic floor, etc?

It has not been easy, but it has been so worth it.

Since my third baby was born 7 months ago, I have set a new PR in every race I have run except for the first one which I ran when he was 10 weeks old (and I was not out there to race at all – just to cover 10 miles on my 35th birthday).   I am living proof that hard work, determination and belief in oneself makes a difference.  That the only limits to what we can achieve are those we place on ourselves.

Yesterday I ran a marathon and I set a new PR by just over 25 minutes.  I only signed up for it a week ago.  It wasn’t on my training schedule to do it but I got the idea that maybe I could run a BQ time for the 2012 race before the deadline.  I was ready and I was sure I could do it.

So, with less than a week to go, the closest race I could find  (the Lehigh Valley Marathon in Allentown, PA) was a 4 hour drive away and registration was closed.  I emailed the race director and tweeted Bart Yasso (who created this race) and was amazed that within a few short hours I had a bib number and was going to be running this marathon.  I was so excited.  I was dreaming big.  Last week can only be described as insane for me.  I ran a race on Sunday (the VA Beach half marathon) and PR’d by more than 13 minutes.  I rested like CRAZY during the week only running a handful of miles.  My daughter started first grade, we had a wild amount of rainfall and then by Friday two of my three kids had a bad cold.  Guess who came down with the cold on Saturday?  Yep, ME.  I did my best not to worry about that though.

Saturday morning my husband Robert (a.k.a, the most amazing man in the world) and I drove the two big kids to my mom’s house where they would stay for the weekend.  I filled several bottles with water and nuun and hydrated like it was nobody’s business on the 4 hour car ride.  By day’s end I drank more than 150 ounces of fluid.  I wanted to do an extra-good job with hydration because of my cold. 

even baby G is a fan of nuun (the bottle, anyway)!

The car ride was lovely and peaceful.  I slept when the baby slept and we made it to the expo before it closed at 5pm.  I was calm and felt incredibly ready for this race, despite a week of major emotional ups and downs.  Self doubt was washed away and I was feeling so grateful and excited.

This was a very small race with just over 900 marathoners.  There was also a marathon relay going on and a half marathon too.  The expo was teeny-tiny but the vibe was great.  This area of PA is so beautiful and picturesque.  The expo took place at the old Bethlehem Steel Stacks which have been converted into a place for the arts.  It was *oh so very cool* in my opinion, that they could take this huge steel mill and turn it into such a wonderful place for the community.  I loved it.

old steel stacks

We didn’t stay at the expo too long because we had to get checked into our hotel and get to dinner before it got too late for me and baby Gus to eat.  But I have to tell you this – being away with my amazing husband and my cute baby was such a gift.  I couldn’t believe this was all happening.  My husband is so supportive of my running and of me and I am so grateful to him for believing in me and for giving me this amazing experience.  As I type this, I have tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat.  I love that man so much.

handsome husband + cute baby = happy me

The hotel we stayed in was excellent, about 10 minutes from the race start.  There was even an Italian restaurant next door so after checking in we walked over there and had dinner.  I ordered a very plain pasta dish with steamed broccoli and spinach.  I tried to keep it as simple as I could and wanted to eat at least 12 hours before race start to avoid stomach issues.

After dinner we went back to the hotel and got the baby settled in for sleep.  This was maybe 7:30PM so for the next 2 hours I got my things together for race morning, we played cards and then got some sleep.  I had a pretty decent sleep despite pressure in my sinuses and a clogged nose due to my cold.  Gus woke up around 3:00AM and I nursed him back to sleep pretty easily.  My alarm woke me up at 4:45 and I began to get ready for the race.  Robert had gotten me a cup of coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts the night before and I put it in the fridge of my hotel room so I just microwaved it when I woke up.  All my stuff was all laid out from the night before so I didn’t have to worry I was forgetting anything.

everything I need to be ready to race

Robert and Gus got ready too, I nursed the baby and we headed to the race start around 6:15AM.  I was feeling really strong, confident and ready to race – except for one thing.  My stomach didn’t feel right.  I waited in line for the porta-potties for a long while and when it was my turn (5 minutes before the start!) I just couldn’t seem to make my stomach feel better.  I knew going into this race that I would more than likely have to stop at some point to deal with my stomach.  But it was go time so I headed to the start and tried to put it out of my head.

ready at the start

When I crossed the start line I hit start on my Garmin, but about 3/4 of the way through the first mile I realized it had not started.  I didn’t let it bother me and just clicked start at that point and knew my distance and time were going to be off a bit.  My pace was really the most important thing to me anyway so I didn’t feel worried or too annoyed.

I was aiming for a sub-3:40.  My plan was to do the first half of the race in 8:35 and the second have in 8:00 miles.  I did the first two miles closer to an 8:00 pace but was right on track by mile 3 and felt incredibly strong and comfortable.  My stomach felt full but wasn’t bothering me one bit.  I ate my gel at mile 5 and again at mile 11.  I drank water from my hand held consistently.

This course is SO beautiful!  They had to change the first 5 miles and the last 3 miles because of all the rainfall last week, but it was a gorgeous route.  Much of it was on a lovely tow path with the river on one side and a creek on the left.  Some of it we ran through the woods.  Some of it on paved bike trails.  It was very hilly – mostly rolling hills but a couple of quite massive doozies (especially mile 24).  It was the most beautiful marathon course I have ever run.

I was feeling so strong and steady and then, like a ton of bricks, my stomach could hold out no longer.  I knew I was in trouble and started looking for a spot to “pull over” along the trail so I could take care of my tummy troubles but there was literally no place to stop.  There were woods on my right (between the path and the river) but no openings in them for me to duck into.  I knew I was coming up on the end of mile 17 where there would be an “exchange station” as they called them.  There were 5 of these stations along the route and at each one there were about 4 porta-potties.  In my opinion, as someone who was suffering from stomach troubles, this was not sufficient!  These stations were where the relay runners changed up and they were extremely crowded with spectators and relay runners – many who were planning to use the bathroom.  When I approached this spot I saw Robert for the first (and only) time along the course.  I was so happy to see him but I was in trouble – I was now in “stomach emergency mode” and needed a bathroom NOW.  There was a huge line and I could not wait, so I ran behind the potties to take care of it.  It was awful.  I was so uncomfortable.  My stomach has never been so upset during a race.

approaching the potties, trying to smile

After I was done I felt a lot better and Robert gave me a big hug.  He said “You are doing awesome, babe!  Right on pace.  I’m so proud of you!” and I smiled and told him I was feeling so strong and that up until now I was having zero issues.  I had to go though!  I had a race to finish!!  I zipped back onto the trail and for the next two miles I was cruising along at my planned pace.  But just before Mile 20, it happened again.  And again, there was no place to stop.  I was so frustrated.  It was so bad that if I ran, I was sure I would have a serious accident (and later Robert told me he saw someone who actually did just that – she ran covered in her own excrement – I was not going to do that, sorry!).  So I slowed down and then found myself walking just to calm my stomach down.  From that point on it was a run/walk combo.  I kept scanning the trail to stop, but for the life of me there were no stopping points for someone with my problem.  When I came up on the next exchange at Mile 22.6 the lines for the bathrooms were so ridiculously long that I just did not want to wait there.  I was jogging at that point and figured I knew no matter what that I would PR and that I would finish though would not get a BQ time.

It was hard for me mentally at first.  I was mad that my legs and my heart felt so strong, I felt so fit, yet my stomach was so upset that I could not run this race the way I wanted to.  I ran the first 20 miles on track to finish the race under 3:40 (averaging an 8:23 mile).  The last 6.2 miles took me more than 90 minutes to complete.  BUT I NEVER GAVE UP.  I was determined to not let negative thoughts get the best of me and ruin this day.  I was going to PR!  By a lot!  Despite how awful these last several miles were!!  I began to reflect on how I had gotten to this point, how strong I am and to dream of all the possibilities that lay ahead of me.  Even though I was walking a lot,  I wasn’t being defeated.  I was finishing this race faster than I had ever covered 26.2 miles before.  This was something to be proud of.

I was wearing a very special bracelet on my left wrist during this race.  It says one word on it: BELIEVE.  Throughout the race and especially in these final miles I glanced at it for reassurance and for the reminder of all that I am capable of and all the work I have done.  I looked at it and was reminded not only to BELIEVE in myself but also that there are many people in my life who BELIEVE in me.  I was doing this for me.  I was doing this for them.  I was also fighting to finish for anyone out there who ever doubted themselves or their capabilities because I want to show everyone that with BELIEF in oneself, we can accomplish things we would only dream of.  This bracelet is really special to me and I am going to do a post tomorrow all about it – and will be giving one away! – so if you like it please come back tomorrow to enter my giveaway.

enough said.

The last few miles were sheer survival.  I have never been so happy to see a finish line!  I crossed in 4:09:55 which is over 25 minutes faster than my previous PR of 4:35:09.  I am so proud and grateful.

I am also hopeful.  I know with 100% certainty that I’m capable of a much faster marathon and the one that I am training for, Marine Corps Marathon, is just 7 weeks away.  7 weeks!  I have a few more long runs to do and then taper time.  This time I will not be traveling so I can make sure I eat things that I am sure won’t upset my stomach.  I have time to figure things out and to get myself completely race ready.  Although I rested a lot last week, it was hardly a taper!!

wearing my hard-earned finishers medal

Today I’m feeling good.  My legs are sore but in all the right places.  My feet feel fine.  I’m not hobbling or struggling in any way and I feel ready to get back into my training plan.  I’m taking a rest day today and will resume my normal training tomorrow.

day after the marathon = happy

So, that is the story of my shiny new marathon PR and the fight I put up to get it!  I truly believe that the stomach issues I was having could have ruined the day for me had I let them, and that my determination to think positive is what got me through those last 6 miles yesterday.  There is no question about it.

How do you deal with race day not going the way you planned?  What are your mental strategies for staying positive?