I made a wish from 164 feet beneath the earth’s surface the other day.

It was Spring Break for my kids so we took a little day trip to Luray Caverns.  This place is pretty incredible.  I think I had been there before as a child, but I know that I did not in any way appreciate or really comprehend the miracle of it at the time.

It is still way over my head.

I keep thinking about it.

This beautiful, magical, truly otherworldy place that is right under our feet.

And it would be there whether anyone discovered it hundreds of years ago or not.

What else is waiting to be discovered?
What discoveries lie in our hearts?
In this amazing world?

Mind = blown.

I believe that anything — and I really do mean ANYTHING — is possible.

I went out for my last really long run before Boston yesterday.  I ran 22 solo miles in the wind and rain.  It was exactly what I needed.  What my body needed.  What my spirit needed.

This training cycle has been really up and down for me.
LIFE has kind of been really up and down for me lately.
There most certainly is a connection.

I decided to head out for my run later than usual, around 10:30AM, so that I could be with my family on Easter morning.  Also, Boston has a later start and I have never run a marathon with a late start before so this would give me a chance to practice that before race day.  It was a little funky for me!  I was itching to get out the door, having been up since before 6AM.  I always feel a certain level of anxiety before a really long run and for this one all of those feelings were amplified.  Still though, I got out the door and as soon as I started moving, the anxiety and the worry just melted away.

I ran 11 miles east on my favorite trail.  In a groove, taking it easy.  Feeling completely and utterlyin my element.

Relishing – and replenishing – in my solitude.

Miles 1-11: 7:59, 8:05, 8:05, 8:07, 8:02, 8:03, 7:50, 7:53, 7:44, 7:54, 8:04

When I turned around to head home I thought about how there was once a time I never would have considered dreaming up the things I think about each and every day.  I think running inspired me to believe in myself.  To believe that all things are possible.   It awakened a strength and determination inside of me.  It connected me to parts of myself I never knew were there.

And it made me hungry for more.

If you let it, running can lead you down a path of self discovery.  I read something today about how when we feel pain, it is just the cracking of our shell.  When we go to those places, whether physically or emotionally or mentally, that are terribly uncomfortable or altogether scary – we are breaking through something and we will come out of it stronger and more open than ever before.

This is why running is so much more than a sport or a hobby or a passing interest to me.  This is why I am so passionate about it.  This is why I truly LOVE it and why I feel so strongly that it must be a part of my life in some way shape or form for always.  It has changed me forever.  It has turned me inside out in the best kind of way.

Miles 12-22: 8:11, 7:45, 7:56, 7:59, 7:41, 7:40, 7:08, 7:14, 7:18, 7:33, 8:00

I am running the Boston Marathon in two weeks from today.  I have strong legs and an even stronger heart that will carry me there.

They have taken me so far already.

The possibilities truly are endless.

6 weeks to go …

6 weeks left until Marine Corps Marathon on October 28th.  6 weeks.  I kind of can’t believe it.  In some ways, I feel like I have been training for this race for forever and in other ways I feel like it is just still so very far away.  6 weeks feels like a long time but I know it will be here so soon.

Yesterday I set out for another long run.  The goal was to feel comfortable the whole time, to try to negative split it if I could (I am working on starting slower and easing into a faster yet still comfortable pace) and hopefully come in with my average pace somewhere around an 8:00/mile.

Here are my splits for my 21 mile long run yesterday:

Mile 1 – 8:42
Mile 2 – 8:26
Mile 3 – 8:00
Mile 4 – 8:05
Mile 5 – 8:07
Mile 6 – 8:05
Mile 7 – 7:57
Mile 8 – 8:18
Mile 9 – 7:54
Mile 10 – 7:52
Mile 11 – 7:44
Mile 12 – 7:59
Mile 13 -7:57
Mile 14 – 7:54
Mile 15 – 7:49
Mile 16 – 7:29
Mile 17 – 7:51
Mile 18 – 8:05
Mile 19 – 8:08
Mile 20 – 8:16
Mile 21 – 7:50

Average pace – 8:01.  Second half for sure faster than the first.  I did what I set out to do.

I’m at this point in my training where every week I reach a new mileage high.  Not by much – I am inching upwards very conservatively by just a few miles more each week and also take a step back every few weeks – but nevertheless I have never run so many miles in my life.  And I have never felt better or stronger.

78.98 miles total last week.  And this week I am going to hit 80 for the first time in my life if all goes according to plan.  I am getting really close to hitting the peak of my training and then it will be time to taper.

MCM, I am coming for you!!  6 weeks til go time.

long run reflections: getting it done with a buddy

I’ve been running for a long time now (more than 12 years), yet still I get anxious before my long runs.  And my track workouts.  And then there’s RACE DAY nerves.

Oh my goodness, I could write for who knows how long about those race day nerves.

The fact is, it’s a combination of excitement and anxiety.  We work hard to become better runners.  It matters to us that it goes well.  We want to run the workout, or the race, that we believe we are capable of running.  It’s never easy.  Never.  We know without question that we will be faced with adversity.  Maybe it’s physical – we struggle with stomach issues or a cramp or heavy legs.  Or maybe it’s all in our head, and we battle negative thoughts, we doubt our abilities, we want to quit.  Anything can happen, and will happen, but it is up to us to determine how we will react to it and how we will get through it.  Because the fact is, we WILL get through it.  We can get through it feeling strong and triumphant, or we can get to the other side of it feeling defeated and down.  I believe this is up to us.

Today I had 16 miles to run.  I’ve run several 16 milers over the last few months and have been hitting them right around an 8:05 average almost every single time.  The distance wasn’t necessarily what was making me nervous heading into it – today’s run was different because it was my intention to run those last 4 miles at my goal marathon pace (7:40).  That was going to be a challenge on all fronts – physically, mentally.  Even emotionally.

With overlapping vacations for both me and my running buddy Chris, it had been 4 weeks since we’d had one another to share the miles with.  I enjoy solo runs, I really do.  But I am telling you having someone to run with who will push you when you’re not feeling it, or reign you in when you’re moving faster than you should, or maybe even make you laugh when you’re drifting into a negative space in your head – that is something so valuable.  I treasure my running partner more than he will ever know.  I believe in him and I know he believes in me.  We’re in this together.

Before we set out today, as we walked to the trail head, Chris and I talked about our pace plan.  We agreed we would start slower, and work ourselves into a groove closer to an 8:00-8:15 pace, so that we would have enough energy in our tanks to crank it up to race pace for those last 4 miles.  We executed it exactly according to plan, and I am proud of both of us.

Miles 1-12: 8:46, 8:27, 8:07, 8:12, 8:11, 8:11, 8:04, 8:10, 8:12, 8:04, 7:57, 8:01

Along the way, we laughed.  We sang (it’s true).  We talked about anything and everything.  At times he had me laughing so hard that I was sure we slowed ridiculously (we didn’t).  Other times our conversation was so much fun that I sped up unknowingly and he had to tell me to slow down.  I had stomach issues and had to deal with them, but since we were together it just wasn’t so terrible.  It was FUN.  I have really missed running with my buddy.

When it was time to crank it up to race pace, we stopped talking and dialed it in.

Miles 13-16: 7:41, 7:24, 7:26, 7:36

We drifted apart a little ways through the 14th mile.  I could feel him behind me and asked him if he was okay.  He said he was fine – but I should go ahead, I was running faster than race pace and we both knew that.  It was where I was though, and where I felt I needed to be.

You have to GO there if you want to GET there.

The last two miles felt like the end of a marathon.  My legs were getting tired – SO tired.  But I had to get to the other side of this run!  I had to get it done.  So I asked myself what I would do with tired legs if these were the last two miles of my marathon?  If I slowed down or I walked, it would only mean I am on my feet longer, and that would be miserable at this point.  It’s not like doing that would make it hurt any less, or make me feel less tired!  So I told myself to JUST KEEP GOING.  I imagined my body like an efficient machine, I listened to my footsteps and I hung onto the cadence.  One foot in front of the other.  This is what it feels like to push through tired legs.  This is what it feels like to GO there.  I am going to have to work for this!  I am going to have to learn to push through feeling tired and crampy.  I am going to have to push through the negative thoughts and wanting to quit.  I am going to have to believe in myself, to believe that what I am setting out to do is something that I AM CAPABLE OF DOING.

Today’s long run goes down in the books as one of the best ever.  Chris rocked it and finished very soon after I did.  I am so proud of my buddy – who one year ago was only just beginning his journey as a runner!  We had an awesome time together today and we are both going after big dreams this fall at MCM.  I’m so excited.  I know it won’t be easy, but without a doubt it WILL be worth it and we will even have some fun along the way.

Do you run with a buddy for your long runs, too?  What do you think about long runs with race pace miles at the end?  What do you tell yourself when you feel like giving up and slowing down towards the end of a race or long run?

I Think I Can, I Know I Can

This past week was a recovery week during my training cycle.  My total mileage for the week hit 54.1.  On a recovery week.  This really amazes me since last cycle I didn’t even peak that high.  I am doing things this time around – running more miles and faster paces – that I really wasn’t sure my body or spirit were strong enough for in the beginning.  I told myself heading into it that I would do the best that I can do, and that I would listen to my body.  I think that at first “listening to my body” just meant to pull back when my body told me to.  If I was feeling extra tight or any pain that persisted, I would ease up on the pace and the mileage so as to avoid injury or burning out.  I have been paying careful attention to what my body tells me and so far, so good.

However, my perspective is changing.  I’m coming face-to-face with my dreams and realizing that listening to my body also means that when my body is telling me it CAN do something, I should do it.  My body is telling me that running 50+ miles is just fine.  It is telling me that I can push when I’m on the track once a week.  It is telling me that faster paces – paces that would have completely scared me months ago – are safe.  My body is telling me that yes this is hard, but I can do it.  Keep listening, keep respecting – and keep going.  Keep chasing that dream.  Go.

Yesterday my long run was 16 miles.  The first 10 were to be at an easy pace (somewhere between an 8:30-9:00 mile) and then the last 6 were to be at marathon race pace (an 8:00 mile).  I have been running my long runs consistently around an 8:30 pace, so I felt confident that the first 10 miles would not be a problem.  The 6 miles at race pace after that though, those would be tough.

I’m always a little nervous to turn up the speed and run at my race pace on a long run.  What if I can’t do it?  What if it feels SO SO hard?  What if it makes me doubt myself?  What if I find out that I’m being unrealistic with my goals?  These thoughts skip through my head.  It scares me to go there, to go to that place of discomfort and to face those negative-thought demons.  But I know it is worth it.  It is an essential piece of smart training.  It’s good for my body to move at that pace.  It’s good for my mental strength and stamina.  I do it because I have to.

The first 10 miles were just what I hoped they would be.  I ran with my friend John.  We had never run together before so the conversation kept us going and we were comfortable and happy.  I saw my friend Karen out on the trail a few miles into the run.  Karen was out there running the longest run of her life – 11 miles (GO Karen!!) – in preparation for her first half marathon.  She is a dear friend and a neighbor of mine.  The kind of person you meet one time and just know you will be friends with for all of your life.  We “get” one another in the best of ways.  I find that often times the two of us will be talking and there is just so much unspoken understanding and comfort there between us.  I am blessed to call her my friend.  Anyway, I saw Karen the day before, on Friday as we were picking our kids (we both have three) up from school.  She told me that she was feeling really nervous about her upcoming long run and that her husband had told her not to be nervous about it because, after all, “it’s just running.”  I love the simplicity of this comment.  Of course, I know that for most of us it’s never really “just running” – because we pour so much of ourselves into our training, and we give it so much more meaning and so much more weight than just putting one foot in front of the other – and this is one of the reasons I love the sport as much as I do.  BUT … when all of that becomes overwhelming and we begin to doubt our capabilities and feel all up in our heads about it … I think remembering that it is “just running” can be really helpful.  So I tried to remember that yesterday after I saw Karen.  She was smiling so big and shining so brightly out on that trail, and I took that energy with me as I passed her.  I carried it with me the rest of the way.  I just ran.

Miles 1-10: 8:40, 8:42, 8:24, 8:20, 8:38. 8:46, 8:34, 8:46, 8:28, 8:14.

After 10 miles it was time to turn up my speed and test out those race legs.  Time to switch gears.  John and I decided not to chat anymore.  We agreed it would be better for both of us to just turn inward and be silent.  To not waste our energy on chattering.  We picked it up and it felt so good.  But we were running way too fast and we both knew it.

Miles 11-12: 7:33, 7:39

The goal was to stay at an 8:00 pace for the last 6 miles of our run.  We looked at one another and laughed at ourselves.  What were we thinking?  We still had 4 miles to run at that pace which meant we needed to slow down.  Pacing properly can be a tricky thing.  It takes practice and self control.  We were right on target for the next two miles and I was pleased.

Miles 13-14: 8:02, 7:57

At this point, John started to get tired.  He was coming back from an injury and had run a 15 miler in the middle of the week and was starting to feel the effects of it all, so he slowed down and told me to go on ahead.  We would see one another at the end of our run.  I had two miles left to run on my own.  To hang onto my race pace.  And then I saw Karen again.  She was smiling.  She was running and she looked so proud and happy.  It made my heart soar to see my friend.

I imagined myself coming into the final two miles of my marathon on March 17th.  I scanned my body and asked it how it was doing.  My body said GO.  I looked inside my heart and asked myself a simple question.

Do you think you can do this, Jess?  Yes, I think I can.

Mile 15: 7:38

I think I can.  I think I can.

Mile 16: 7:31

I know I can.

Total Miles: 16
Total Time: 2:11:53
Average Pace: 8:14/miles

Courage Strength Grace – Running for Sherry

Yesterday morning I woke up around 3:00AM drenched in a cold sweat.  It was the second night in a row this happened to me.  I guess it’s those lovely things we call hormones, but whatever the cause, I really really hate it.  I felt a dull headache creeping up on me and worried that I was getting dehydrated which would really not bode well for me considering I had a 22 mile run to tackle in a few hours.  I drank some water and took a couple ibuprofen and tried to get back to sleep.  Thankfully that worked and when I got out of bed at 5:30 I was feeling a lot better.

At 8:00 we hit the trails for our run.  The weather was colder than it’s been in a long time.  It was raining and snowing off and on all morning, but thankfully temperatures were just above freezing so the trails were not icy.  Many of us were running in Sherry’s honor and several of us were wearing the bibs for the virtual run.  It was really wonderful to be a part of this massive, collective movement for healing.

I almost always run by myself for my long runs.  Yesterday was different though – yesterday my buddy Chris and I ran together the entire way.  Having him to share those miles with made all the difference in the world.  We kept one another focused.  We distracted one another.  We talked.  We listened.  We sped one another up and we slowed one another down.  The first 14 miles were an out-and-back on the trail and the time ticked by peacefully as we ran in the snow and the rain.  We were both feeling good and strong.  We were running smart.

Mile 1: 8:39
Mile 2: 8:50
Mile 3: 8:51
Mile 4: 8:37
Mile 5: 8:34
Mile 6: 8:34
Mile 7: 8:39
Mile 8: 8:33
Mile 9: 8:37
Mile 10: 8:32
Mile 11: 8:39
Mile 12: 8:35
Mile 13: 8:36
Mile 14: 8:28

We were hoping to run somewhere around an 8:30-8:45 average pace for this run, and were executing it perfectly up to this point.  We thought we would run the next four at about the same pace and then try to pick it up to race pace for the last 4 miles.  I’m really not sure what happened, but the next 4 miles were a little faster than we planned.  We were actually running into the wind which should have made it harder for us, but we were feeling good so we just went with it.  This run was an awesome example of negative splitting.

Mile 15: 8:20
Mile 16: 8:24
Mile 17: 8:10
Mile 18: 8:09

After Mile 18 it was time to hammer it home.  We wanted to shift into high gear and run home at race pace, but it was insanely difficult for both of us to catch our groove.  The wind turned and we were running right into it.  It was a tough 4 miles for both of us.  But we didn’t give up.  We grew silent and ran through our pain, each aware of the other’s fight.  Each determined to get through it and get home.

Mile 19: 8:20
Mile 20: 8:23
Mile 21: 8:09
Mile 22: 7:51

I thought about Sherry on and off throughout my run, but never so much as I did that last mile.  I repeated the words that were printed on my bib: COURAGE. STRENGTH. GRACE.  Over and over again in my head.  I felt anger and sadness and fear and I rose up to meet them, even through my exhaustion.  I imagined Sherry’s courage, her strength and her grace and how I know she must have fought with every ounce of her being against the evil that came at her.  I wanted to fight against it, too – in whatever way I could.  My heart swelled and ached and a fire burned inside of me.  My run was a prayer.   I ran as hard as I could on those tired legs.  I stomped out the bad and kicked evil in the butt.

And it felt GOOD.

Total time – 3:06:33.  Average pace – 8:29.