the sweet spot

The other day Maddie and I went for our first run together since crossing the finish line in Boston last week.  It was easy and light and neither one of us could have cared any less about how fast or how far we were going.  Really.  We talked about nothing and everything all at once … jibber-jabbering on and on … sharing our stories about Boston, catching up on all that is happening in our personal lives, and dreaming about the future — in running and in life.  I could have run with her all day.  Could have chatted with her for miles and miles and miles more.

And it makes me so happy because I know we will do that.  We have miles and miles ahead of us to share and reflect and dream.  To just run and do what we love.

Side-by-side, step-for-step, breath-for-breath.   We are in it together.

When we are in the midst of serious training, we are focused so much of the time.  This winter we were both as dedicated as we could possibly be – we trained indoors when it was too icy or freezing out.  We showed up for one another and pushed one another when I am certain we both could have been persuasive and given ourselves permission to turn hard runs into easy runs or run fewer miles than planned or just not run at all.  We dialed ourselves into some pretty intense and totally confidence-boosting workouts.

It was hard.  And it was awesome.

high five after completing our last long run for Boston!

After our run on Monday we talked about the plans for the rest of the week.  We were both all smiles, so happy, so chill.  We said this part of our running lives is like a “sweet spot”  – if we let it be.  It’s so necessary to have this time between training cycles – time to recover, recharge and reset.  We aren’t worried about the pace or the mileage, but we are still moving.  We feel so grateful for how far we’ve come and for the races we just ran and are excited about the dreams we have ahead of us, the mountains we want to climb.  Right now though, we get to enjoy this sweet spot, this time to reflect and dream and plan and run for the pure joy it brings us.

I was thinking about it after we finished our run, because I can sometimes get really grouchy when I’m in both the taper and recovery phases of my training.  I BELIEVE in them and I stick to them and I certainly honor them, but I don’t always EMBRACE them or savor them for how sweet I think they are truly meant to be.  My taper for Boston was peppered with a lot of moments of anxiety because I didn’t know what was going on with my knee bruise or how fast it would heal.  That uncertainly on top of the normal taper-crazies just made me feel all kinds of nutty.  I had to very consciously choose a positive attitude, over and over again on a daily basis, to trust it would all be okay — however it was meant to be.

And now that I’m on the other side of that (and by the way, miraculously my knee did not bug me ONCE during the race and has been pretty much as good as new ever since!), I am reminded of how the perspective I choose is – and really always has been – up to me.  It is my choice.

So today I am choosing to enjoy rather than to endure this time in my running.  The next month or so is a sweet spot to be in for sure.  Full of post-race bliss and ripe with possibility.

a bump in the road – bruised knee

This past week was a Jess-is-going-crazy-in-the-head kind of week.  Some (my husband, in particular) might argue that all weeks are aptly described that way.  But we won’t dwell on that because it’s all relative and I like my kind of crazy most of the time (and so does he, I think!).  This last week though was not the fun kind of crazy.  It was the worried, creating awful scenarios in your mind when you have no control, on the edge of depressed kind of crazy.  The kind of crazy that really makes you crazy, I guess.

You see, Boston training was going awesome and then last Sunday after my recovery run I went for a ride on the ElliptiGo for the first time.  My good friend Jeff just started working for them and I was really excited to try it out.  A piece of equipment designed to prolong the years of a runner, to help the injured runner stay in shape while running without impact outside on the trails.  Sound like the perfect cross training for a marathoner, right?  I mean, how cool is that!?  I will tell you – very honestly – that I think it is INCREDIBLY cool and loads of fun.  I will also tell you – very honestly – that I am a klutz of the uber-degree, and that if anyone is capable of achieving the irony of injuring herself on a piece of equipment that was partially created to help people who are rehabbing from injury, it would be yours truly.

Jeff gave us detailed instructions and showed us all the bells and whistles (it is really very simple!) and made sure we were comfortable before going for a ride on the trail.  It was a new feeling for me and took a tiny bit of getting used to at first.  We practiced in the parking lot for a little while and the first time I went to stop and get off of it I fell and crashed into the asphalt, banging my kneecap right into the pavement.  I feel like it happened in slow-motion I was barely moving!  It hurt, but not too bad and I really didn’t think much of it at all.  I seemed to quickly get the hang of it after that and we went out onto the trail for a ride and had a blast.

A few hours later I was at home and noticed that my knee felt sore and stiff at the point of impact.  There was no swelling or discoloration at all, but it just didn’t feel right.  I began icing it and put some arnica on it and emailed Dr. Wong to ask for his advice.  The next morning I decided not to run and went to see Dr. Wong.  He thoroughly examined my knee and leg, did some Active Release Therapy and Graston (ow) and told me that it was a bruise to the knee cap and I should be ok to continue with my training.  He advised me to ice it frequently and to warm it up a bit before running.  I was relieved that it wasn’t more serious.

On Tuesday morning I went for a 13 mile run with my friend Meghan and it HURT.  The whole way.  It didn’t get worse as I ran but it didn’t loosen up either.  On Wednesday I went to the gym to run on the treadmill – 12 painful miles, every single step.  I was worried.  I emailed Dr. Wong and he again assured me it was okay to run through the pain I was feeling, that it was normal to feel stiff and sore … which was a relief but also didn’t make the pain go away of course.

Thursday morning I woke up to run and got on the treadmill and the pain persisted.  After 3.5 miles I stopped.  I was done hurting.

I started to reassess everything in my head and made a decision that I would not be running for a few days.

I don’t run through this kind of pain.  I never even have pain like this!  Running is supposed to feel good and make me happy, instead it is hurting and I feel anxious, helpless and sad.  I noticed I was getting a blister on my left foot too, which probably meant I was altering my stride because of the pain — which could lead to other problems of course.  Something just was NOT right.  I knew I was risking losing fitness for Boston by taking time off from running.  But I also knew that I would rather risk losing fitness than risk hurting myself in a more serious way and not be able to run Boston at all.  That was not something I was willing to risk.

That afternoon I got a second opinion just to be safe and was assured once again that my kneecap is bruised and that it is not more serious than that.  Rest would work wonders.  My body will heal itself if I give it a chance to do that.

I decided I would take recovery as seriously as I take all other aspects of my training – I have been icing diligently and resting my knee as much as humanly possible for a mom of three young kids.

Reminding myself to trust in the healing process, to follow my heart and listen to my body.

I have not been running.

Saturday morning was tough because I was coaching and couldn’t be out on the trail running with our runners and coaches.  Sunday was tough because I was not running the half marathon I had signed up for, which I had planned to run at Boston goal pace as part of a 22 miler.  That was a bummer of a choice, but it was without a doubt the right one.

trail side in blue jeans

Yesterday morning I got up and went to the gym and found some pieces of equipment that I could get a workout on without hurting my knee at all.  It felt so good to move and not hurt, and gave me confidence that I am doing the right thing and that everything is not only going to be okay but it is going to be awesome.  It wasn’t running, but it really lifted my spirits.

Yesterday afternoon I couldn’t believe how much better my knee was feeling.  I was tempted to run on it but decided not to.  I went back to the gym again this morning and did the elliptical for an hour with my amazing friend Dora who is tapering for her 50 miler.  We chatted and laughed and it was really a great way to spend a Monday morning.

i get by with a little help from my friends

Later this morning I went to Abby’s running club before school.  She and I were on the trail together and we walked/ran about 2 miles.  I was curious and nervous about how my knee would feel.  It felt absolutely fine.  I came home and iced it after that and was all smiles, practically floating.  Grateful.  So glad that I didn’t continue to push through my pain last week.  I am going back to the doctor twice this week and am planning to be very careful, to keep icing it and to really continue to listen to my body.

The big picture is always the most important thing to me and I do not want to be in pain in Boston, or really, ever.   Not injury pain.  I am okay with feeling the pain and discomfort of exhaustion or being out of breath or having muscle soreness from a hard workout or pushing my limits to fatigue … but injury pain that persists – noooo way.

Oftentimes doing the hard thing is the right thing.  One day at a time, we make choices.  My choice today is to do all I can to get to Boston feeling healthy and happy, even if that means not running when my heart wants to run so badly.  I’ve got three weeks.  My head’s up, and I’m so excited to celebrate in Boston.

4 weeks

Boston is 4 weeks from today.  4 weeks.

I can’t believe it.

In the blink of an eye, this winter has somehow zoomed by, even with the most miserably cold temperatures and seemingly never-ending amount of snow storms and polar vortexes that have come our way, one after the other.  I am so happy that spring is knocking on our door, finally!  That we are seeing glimpses of the season really contemplating the possibility of sticking around for a while and saying “see ya later!” to Old Man Winter.

I will not miss him whatsoever.  I kind of want to give him a big old kick in the butt as he leaves.

This training cycle has been extra-special to me for lots of reasons, one of which because it’s taken more guts to get out the door for my runs.  It’s taken more commitment and more ooomph to rise up to the tough workouts than it does for me to get out there in the summer and fall months.  I’m a warm weather girl at heart.  Winter is not my favorite time of year, by any stretch.  I believe I would be very happy with maybe a week-long winter.  Just one week of beautiful, gorgeous, sparkly snow.  Then it could melt as quickly as it came and I would be fine with that.  I don’t think such a climate exists in this world, but it would be pretty much perfect in my mind.  The rest of the year I would take the other three seasons happily.

We have survived and even thrived.  Thank goodness for treadmills on those icy, single-digit degree days and for lots of moisture-wicking layers and hand warmers for those dark cold mornings on the trails.  Thank goodness for my friends, more than anything, because they have been with me through it all.

The birds are starting to sing again and the trail is peppered with runners, bikers and families.  Without a doubt I am starting to feel an extra pep in my step, and I will carry that lightness and gratitude with me all the way to Boylston Street.

4 weeks.

Rock n Roll USA Half Marathon 2014

My goals for the Rock n Roll USA half marathon this Saturday were the following ~

  • Break 1:28. 
  • Run the hills SMART, not hard.
  • TRUST myself.
  • BE BOLD.

I was pretty nervous about the time goal for a few reasons.  A 6:40-6:45 average pace over 13.1 miles intimidated me – that’s not much slower than my tempo pace and the most consecutive tempo miles I’ve done in a training run this cycle has been 6.  Also, I was not planning to taper for this race at all (I ran 81 miles last week, including the race, and was in the high 70s the week before), so I knew I wouldn’t be heading into it with “fresh” legs.  I didn’t really want to set a “limit” on what I was capable of, yet I also wanted to have something to reach for.

With all that said though, I was still going to GO for it and give it the best I had in me, because the other goals I had for the race were ultimately a ton more important to me than the time on the clock.

Race morning came and my plan was to run the first mile or two easy, which I was thinking would be right around a 6:50ish pace.  By Mile 3 I wanted to be holding my goal race pace, locked in at 6:40-6:45 through Mile 10, with the understanding that Mile 7 would be slower because I was aware of the long monster hill in that mile and I wanted to maintain an even effort up it so I wasn’t winded at the top.  Then from Mile 11 on I would push myself and put it all out on the line, running as fast as I could to the finish.  I figured if I could execute the race like that I would be in pretty great shape to accomplish all of my goals.

Sometimes we surprise ourselves though.

As soon as the race started I knew things were going to go differently than I had planned.  I just had no idea how differently.  I was running with ease and strength and felt so present in the moment, so in my element, so in love with this sport and with the energy of race day.  I looked at my watch early on and saw that the pace was faster than I expected, but it didn’t shake me at all.  I was trusting myself, trusting my body.  This was where I was meant to be.

I took the hills in stride and maintained an even, constant effort up them as well as down them, including the huge one at the start of Mile 7 (last year that hill had me nearly throwing up when I reached the top, this year I dominated it – THAT was a good feeling!).

Around Mile 6 I felt my tummy cramp a little bit but this is not a feeling that is new to me.  I told myself it would pass and thankfully it did.  I was planning to eat the gel I brought with me right around Mile 6 or 7, but because of my tummy I decided it would be a bad idea and I really didn’t feel like I needed the extra energy anyway.  My tummy talked to me again at some point during miles 8 and 10, but both times the feeling went away and I was glad I didn’t stop for a false alarm.  I kept running strong.

Miles 1-10:
6:31, 6:30, 6:29, 6:14, 6:22, 6:25, 6:57 (hill), 6:23, 6:25, 6:20

When I came through Mile 10 it was time to be BOLD – time to pick up my pace and race the last 3.1 miles to the finish.  I knew I had it in me and I felt this amazing sense of energy – I was so ready to rock it.

Mile 11: 6:13

Mile 12 was more of the same.  There was one woman left in front of me that I could see.  I passed her with ease early on in Mile 12 and was running with a pack of guys at that point.  It was a really cool feeling.

I looked at my watch as I approached the 12 mile marker and saw that I was clocking a 6:08 pace and it felt amazing.  I was so excited and determined!  I only had a little more than a mile to go and I was going to race it all out.

I was being BOLD.

And then, all of a sudden, I felt my tummy talk to me again.  I told myself it would go away just like it had earlier on in the race…but I was wrong.  I was in trouble and came to a screeching halt on a neighborhood street of Capitol Hill and was all of a sudden walking, trying to calm my GI system down.  It wasn’t working.  I literally was looking around for places to pull over – checking out parked cars to see if maybe I could hide behind one (ridiculous thought), alleyway streets – looking for any place I could go to the bathroom.  There were no porta-potties and there wouldn’t be until the Finish which was still over a mile away.  I crossed the 12th mile in 6:30, so I really hadn’t lost much time at that point.

I quickly considered my options, nervously walking as fast as I could because any time I tried to run I was pretty sure I would go to the bathroom in my pants and THAT was most definitely NOT an option I would consider.  I hate writing this by the way.  It is hugely embarrassing but it’s really real so I am just telling it like it was — awful!  I decided my choices were as follows:

(1) Just walk, and hope my system would calm down.  Be happy with how I raced up until this point.  It was still a great race after all!

(2) Find a place to go to the bathroom – take care of it – and run hard!  Don’t let it stop me.

I really wasn’t okay with option 1, as long as I could find a place for option 2.  There were cops and spectators lining the streets because we were in a neighborhood and the turnoff split for half/full marathoners was coming up.  I saw an alleyway blocked by three cones.  I am sure what I did was completely horrible and illegal and disgusting … but I ran down the alley and ducked in by the side of a brick building and went to the bathroom.  And now I am telling the world about it!  Oh my gosh.  Go me.  Such a lady.  Ugh.

Anyway, I took care of it and ran back down the alley out onto the course and raced my heart out from there. I distinctly heard a man yell to me “YOU GO GIRL!” as I race passed people.  I laughed to myself as I thought “thanks, I just did, and I feel SO much better!”  I figured no sense in dwelling, let’s just move on and finish what I started.

Mile 13 was a 6:56 including my stop.  I over-ran the course by more than a quarter mile, thanks in large part to my detour, and my last .38 was at an average pace of 5:51.  I crossed the Finish with a time of 1:26:25.  According to my watch, with the extra mileage, my average pace was a 6:28.  This was 7 minutes faster than I ran this same race last year, and a PR in the half marathon distance by a little more than 3 minutes.

I found out later that I was 1st in my age group and the 11th overall female out of more than 10,000 women running the half that day.  All of this really did, and still does, astound me.

I was really happy with how I raced this, and with how I handled and overcame my issues towards the end … even if I am horribly embarrassed by what I had to do to deal with it.  I accomplished every one of my goals for this race, and surprised myself a lot.  GI issues are no fun and I have dealt with them a ton – not just in my running but in my daily life – and I am still working to improve on this.  Figuring out my food allergies and making changes to when and what I eat before running and especially racing has helped me a lot, but I obviously have not gotten it all figured out yet and that’s okay.  I will keep trying and I won’t give up.  I am certain now that I should avoid dairy completely the week before my races, and probably just avoid it altogether even though I’m not allergic to it.  It messes with me!

Boston is exactly 5 weeks from today and I’m feeling strong and hopeful about the journey ahead.  I am finding myself dreaming bigger and feeling bolder lately.

In my heart, I know that anything is possible.

Practicing Brave – a training race

I have so many dreams and goals for Boston – the least of which actually has anything to do with the time on the clock when I cross the finish line….

I want to savor every moment of the experience, from the time I board the plane to the moment I return home.

I want to celebrate and enjoy being with some of the most amazing friends in my life, friends who share my love for this sport and who I get to see maybe once a year at best.  We are going to make the most incredible memories together there!

I want to connect with the awesome running community, make new friends, and be a part of the incredible energy in Boston that weekend.  To be united with everyone there – especially after what happened with the bombings last year.

I want to run a smart race, to be strategic about my pacing and my fueling.  I want to come into Boston around Mile 20 and have the energy and presence of mind to finish strong and fast.

I want to do my very best on race day, to not give up or give in when it gets hard.  Because it will get really, really hard.  I want to push myself and allow myself to go to that very uncomfortable place and grow through it.  Fight through it.

And most of all, I want to be BOLD.  BRAVE.

I want to take risks and trust that when I do that, it will all work out as it’s meant to.  After all, if I don’t give it all I’ve got, I won’t know what’s possible.

Over the last 9+ weeks as I have been training for Boston, this has been my theme. My personal mantra.  I’m working on letting go, pushing myself and being courageous and brave when it comes to my running (and in many ways, how I live my life).  Practicing getting uncomfortable and trusting in myself to have the strength to power through the toughest of places, to be ALL IN in the moment — emotionally, mentally and physically.

Every marathon training cycle I like to put a shorter race (usually a 10 miler or half marathon) in my training plan to test my fitness and practice my strategy along the way.  When I planned out this Boston cycle though I picked a local half marathon that is very hilly and decided I would just practice marathon goal pace there, making it a part of my long run, and not really take any risks or try for a personal best at the 13.1 distance.  I still think it’s a great idea and I plan to execute it that way, but something about not really racing at all during this training cycle was kind of getting to me.

So today I made a decision.  I signed up for the Rock n Roll USA half marathon right here in DC.  Race day is on March 15th, eleven days away.  My plan on that day is to practice my brave.  To practice my fight.  To work on my trust.  To take risks and see what I’ve got in me – really put it all out on the line.  It’s a tough course with a beast of a hill about halfway through.  I ran this race last year while training for Boston – with a double ear infection – it was a tough day!  One thing I like about doing the same race again is that it is an opportunity to measure myself up to myself a year ago.

I’m feeling really excited to have this race on my schedule now and I can’t wait to feel the race-day jitters and butterflies in my tummy, to pin my bib on and see what I’ve got in me!

Do you like to RACE something as part of your training for a marathon?  Will you be at RnR USA this year?