Committing to Marathon #3

FIRST: Remember to enter to win a free race entry into any 2014 Spartan Race! Right now, your chances of winning are pretty darn high! Winner is announced tomorrow. 

There is some sort of general theory suggesting that no matter how painful pregnancy and/or childbirth might be, and no matter how much someone might swear that she will never (ever, so help you God) subject herself to this torture again in the moment, most women look back 1-2 years later and remember 36 hours of labor as “bad, but not THAT bad,” and many (most?) decide to do it all over again. Multiple times.

(I am obviously at the life stage where 75% of my facebook friends are either pregnant or have a child in the newborn/toddler range).

While I have yet to bring myself to the whole childbirth thing, I think that this general theory also applies to marathons.

While there is nothing like the pride I experienced crossing the finish line at Chicago, my body HURT so very bad in ways I didn’t think possible starting at about mile 22, I was violently sick to my stomach all day, and I couldn’t walk like a normal person for about a week. Stepping up from the street to the sidewalk? Forget about it.

I thought, “wow, that was a great accomplishment, but this distance isn’t for me, or even humans in general.” Yet, despite all this, I registered for Boston the next day.

The whole cycle did a repeat 4 months later.  Except, when I crossed my second 26.2 finish line, I knew that I would do another one in the (far off) future when I could forget about blisters and chaffing.

Slide3Who’s idea was this anyway?

I didn’t apply to get into Boston this year.  I could have used my Chicago qualifier again, but I decided in September that a trip to Boston in April wasn’t in the cards. Closing on our house probably had something to do with this.

Turns out, it wouldn’t have mattered.  My qualifier wasn’t fast enough to get me in. Truthfully, it was a blow to the ego.  I had never thought of my time, 1 minute and 5 seconds under, to be a “squeaker,” but in the end, it wasn’t even that.  It was just plain insufficient.

So, it was with renewed enthusiasm that I made a commitment to not only run another marathon, but also attempt another BQ and run a time that would, without any shadow of a doubt, get me into Boston 2015.

And perfect timing really, because all of that pain that I described above (soreness, sickness, blisters, chaffing, fatigue, aching feet, etc.) is now a very abstract memory.  Like, I don’t even remember what it feels like to seriously contemplate whether it would be less painful to just chop your feet off than run another step on them.

However, I suppose saying that I’m going to run a 3:27 marathon (that’s my goal, which is a big fat YIKES) is the easy part.  Training for it is much harder.  But before I can even begin to train, I need something to train for.

STEP 1: Choosing The Marathon

For me, choosing the right marathon felt similar (if not more intense) to figuring out what we wanted in a first house.  For both, we had a list of non-negotiables along with a list of things we could compromise.  Except, with a house, we could fix almost anything with enough time and money.  I can’t exactly remodel a marathon course to fit my needs.

So, what was I looking for?:

1) Held in June, July, or August: Since I’m going for a BQ, I need the race to be prior to September’s registration, which essentially eliminates all of the big fall races.  Add on 4 months of training, plus about 2 months of base-building, and I’ve crossed off all late winter/spring races off the list too.

2) Mild Summer Weather:  Since I’m looking at a summer race, it needed to be in an area that has at least some chance of not being ridiculously hot or humid.  This really limited us to the Coastal West part of the country, or the far Northeast.

3) Needs to compliment our strengths: That means a relatively flat course without a huge elevation gain and something at sea level to take full advantage of our training in the mountains. Mentally, I’d prefer a course that wasn’t 2 loops of a half course, and a substantial marathon field (1000+) because I do well when I have the energy (and competition) of other runners off which to feed.

4) Within close-ish proximity to New Mexico: to keep travel costs down. We’re talking second tier on the Southwest Airlines sale scale.

There were slim pickings after all of the elimination.  Slim pickings.

It came down to Eugene, OR and Santa Rosa, CA.

E vs. SR

These marathons were ridiculously similar.  Both are designed as “Boston Qualifier” fast and flat courses, both are held in smaller towns, both run on bike paths and scenic nature routes, both appear to be well-organized with lots of positive reviews from fast runners, and both offer post-race pancakes which is actually sounding really good right about now…

But neither offer substantial spectator support throughout the entire 26.2 miles (unlike Boston or Chicago), and both have courses that do a bit of back-tracking. And, considering my first two marathons were World Majors, these two are pretty small without the bells and whistles you get from having Shalane Flanagan somewhere ahead of you.

While Santa Rosa’s course seems a bit harder (runs on a slight uphill during the last few miles, and portions run on gravel) and the the field is considerably smaller (capped somewhere around 1600), in the end, the fact that that Eugene moved it’s date from mid-April to July this year (meaning potential hiccups), and the 2 hour drive from the Portland airport helped us in our resolve to choose Santa Rosa.  Eugene is also the weekend before my sister’s wedding, so Santa Rosa fit better into bridesmaid duties.

With a bottle of wine and a jacket (and rumors of a Lululemon bag!) included in the $125 registration fee, Santa Rosa also appears to offers more bang for the buck.  Plus, the fact that it is only 1 hour from San Francisco adds about 10 points. I’m not sure if I’ve ever mentioned it (HA), but I’m obsessive over San Francisco. And wine.

1239048_10151915534099059_825195610_n

So, I will be attempting a Boston qualifying time at the Santa Rosa Marathon at the end of August (and hoping to meet some of you California folks!).

I am beyond myself excited (27 weeks and 1 day).  Training will officially start at the end of April, and I am looking forward to every 800 repeat in 90 degree temperatures and every 20 mile long run that I have coming up.  What pain? What torture? All I remember is the amazing feeling of looking down at my Garmin, and knowing.  I hope to have that feeling again.

The rest of our 2014 racing schedule looks pretty dismal, especially compared to all of the fun we’ve had over the last 2 and a half years. But I do need to get back into the racing groove with at least a couple of half+ distances because it isn’t second nature to me anymore.  What do I eat for breakfast? How many trips to the porta-potty do I need to make before lining up? These are answers I don’t think I have anymore.

1) Albuquerque Half Marathon: I really don’t like this race.  But, with the uninspired course, the heat, the smell of farm, and the small race size, it should help build up some mental toughness.

From 2012

From 2012

2) Shiprock Half Marathon: This is a HUGE maybe. Initially, I was thinking that the full version might be my goal race, but I don’t think the course lends itself to not-quite squeakers like me.  I do want to run it eventually because it is one of the best races in the state.  Plus, I’d get to see 50-states Dan in action as he crosses New Mexico off his almost complete list.  BUT, it is on the same weekend as…

3) Run for the Zoo Half: I love Run for the Zoo.  I ran my first ever 5-K here in 2010, and I haven’t missed a year since.  It really feels like everyone in Albuquerque is involved in some way, and I love all of the high fives you get from friends, co-workers, family, etc. as you turn into the last stretch.

So, there we have it.  One big race with the sole goal of qualifying (and wine), and some small local races.  And with any luck, the 2015 schedule will include a bus ride to Hopkington, a battle with Heartbreak, and a left on Boylston.

So, who wants to come join me in some running and wine drinking in Santa Rosa?

The expo is held at a winery, a bottle of wine is included with entry fee, and you actually run through a barrel room.  GOOD TIMES! 

Hope you have a wonderful three day weekend! Remember to spread some LOVE and eat lots of chocolate!’

*Also, thanks to the Santa Rosa Marathon facebook page for supplying most of the photos! 

Imogene Pass Run Race Recap

Once upon a time…like…more than two months ago, I ran a race.  That race has long since been forgotten by all, so I am here with my tres tardy race recap to bring it back into the forefront.

*************************************

Even before I ran my first marathon, I was intrigued by the Imogene Pass Run.  Aaron ran this race back in 2005 ( BA…before Amy), so maybe it came from him describing the amazing course, or maybe I liked the fact that snacks were provided at aid stations. I am pro snacks.

If you don’t know, Imogene is a 17.1 mile race with an elevation gain of more than 5,000 feet, peaking at an over 13,000 foot summit called Imogene Pass.  The race starts in Ouray, CO, climbs up for 10 miles, and then steeply descents into Telluride, CO for the remaining 7.

Slide3 Slide2

Like many races these days, registering for this small (1500 participant) event now requires insider knowledge and advance planning.  We did not have insider knowledge or advance planning for several years.  But this year we added Imogene to our list, and we were ready when the time came.   Registration opened up at 6:00 am on Saturday, June 1st, and closed two hours later with our names on the roster!

Training leading up to the race was…interesting.  I transformed from a terrible, inexperienced trail runner in July to a slightly less terrible trail runner by early September. I didn’t necessarily feel confident in my abilities to complete this race without falling on my face, but I set out with just two goals 1) Not to finish dead last (or just dead in general) and 2) to not be completely miserable for 17.1 miles.  Secretly, I wanted to finish under 4 hour without any notion what my mountain trail pace might be.

Ouray is a short 5.5 hour drive from Albuquerque, so we headed up that way on Friday morning, but not before running into a little frienemy hanging out in a “scenic overlook” rest area.  I have never seen rattlesnakes in the wild before, and within two weeks I saw two. This is some sort of omen I am sure.

IMG_7422

Once we got into Ouray (a very small resort town), we did our 2 mile shake out run (something I ALWAYS do the day before a race, especially if we’ve been traveling), showered up, and headed to packet pick-up. Imogene has a pretty runner friendly packet pick-up system.  They have one on Friday morning in Telluride, they have one on Friday afternoon in Ouray, or you can pick up your packet on race morning.

IMG_7451 IMG_1348

Packet pick-up was very basic and well organized without the frills of an expo.  The first thing that jumped out was the number of really fit looking people.  Even the Boston expo had nothing on the athleticism that I saw in that room.  And the calves. I have never seen so many perfectly sculpted calves in my life.

IMG_7453

Next door the local EMT’s hosted a spaghetti dinner, but it wasn’t gluten-free friendly, so we found a pizza parlor that served gluten-free crust, and feasted.  And then we headed to Ouray Brewing Company for our tradition night-before-race beer.

When we got back to the hotel, I was looking at the news, and on the MSN homepage, I found a video showcasing a determined baby mountain goat who had to get across the river to his family.  This entire training cycle, I’ve been using “be the goat” as my mantra.  Unfortunately, I forgot about my usual 2 week pre-race mental workout until Thursday, so I was trying to cram a bunch of positive, strong, mountain goat thoughts into a couple of days.  Finding the goat video felt like a good sign.

RACE DAY! 

The alarm went off at about 5:00 am the next morning.  Imogene does not have frequent aid stations (which I believe is typical of remote races), so we both brought belts/hydration packs with us.  I ate my usual pre-race breakfast of a honey pretzel Luna bar and a glass of Nuun. My Garmin, which had been “charging” all night, was actually faking it, so it was closer to dead than not. I hoped that the spirits of the Mountain Goat would keep it alive.

Parking in town was easy to find.  It is my unconfirmed belief that most people stay in Telluride and take the race bus to the start line, so there are less cars taking up parking spaces.  They had plenty of porta potties at the start, and the community center was open for restroom needs (however that line was longer).

And the goat thing.  IT WAS A SIGN!

IMG_1355

At about 7:20 they called everyone to line up (no corrals).  The race director started listing off cities where most participants were from.  Surprisingly, there weren’t very many people cheering from Albuquerque… we were kind of the only people that cheered when he called it out.  Only slightly awkward.

IMG_1358 IMG_1356

Quite literal...the start line was right there.

Quite literal…the start line was right there.

At 7:30 sharp, the pistol went off, and we started the race! I felt really good for the first 2/10 of a mile!

And then we turned off Main Street and into the mountains.

IMG_1360

I knew this race would be hard.  But I took my first walk break a whopping 3/4 of a mile in, and I wasn’t the only one.  It never crossed my mind that I would be walking during the first mile, but here I was, already needing some recovery.  My little mountain goat spirit was crushed, but at the same time, everyone else was doing it, so I had a weird inner conflict going on. Was I defeated or cool?

And here’s another thing about this race.  On about 3 different occasions, there was a fork in the road and no indication of which choice was the right one.  As a result, half the runners went one way, and half went the other.  The first time it happened, I actually stopped and stood there, strategically contemplating the pros and cons of each.  Ultimately, I followed the crowd that looked older and wiser, hoping they’d run the race before and knew the secrets.  After about a 10th of a mile, the  trails met up again, and as far as I could tell, neither provided any advantage over the other, but it was a bit stressful to deal with, especially multiple times.

After that ordeal, I had a sudden and intense bout of nausea starting at mile 2.  I really pride myself on just getting through it no matter what types of weirdness I face during races, but this is the first time that I really thought I was going to have to drop out. Without any porta potty options or aid stations nearby, I was pretty much forced to just kept running despite the discomfort.  It felt like a desperate situation at the time, but looking back, I’m glad I didn’t really have the option to stop, because I may have actually quit.

At mile 3, I finally started feeling better, and my legs finally felt like they were warming up.  And about this time, the trail transformed from pleasant to awesomely amazing. I never run with a camera or a phone, but I really wish I had taken some sort of picture taking device on this course because I can’t even describe what it’s like to run on the edge of a cliff looking down to a waterfall and a lush forest valley, so I guess this means you’ll actually have to run the race to experience it.

Between miles 3-7 there was a lot of walking, a lot of climbing, a bit of running. Throughout the course, we did encounter splashy mud, mid-trail streams (some with thin wooden planks to help you get across), a few breathtaking waterfalls, and a lot of rockiness. I’m really glad that I did get experience on very technical trails, because thanks to all the rain this part of the country has seen this year, the trails were more torn up than usual.

One of my favorite moments of the race came at “Lower Bird Camp.”  Each of the aid stations seemed to be competing with each other, so they were all pretty outrageous. Runners were welcomed to Lower Camp Bird by a man wearing a bird hat actually squawking like a bird.  I think I owe that nice squawking man quite a bit of thanks for lifting my spirits.

Because I was doing so much walking (which I hadn’t been training for) my muscles were really fatigued. With several more miles to go, I wasn’t sure how much longer I would be able to hold up before bonking.  So, I did what felt natural…I ran.  I was able to run for about 20 seconds at a time before tiring myself out, but it gave my legs a little bit of variety which helped.  I did however get a lot of dirty looks from people who were convinced I was doing it to make up time.  Nope, mountain running snobby people, I was just trying to do what it took to keep me going!

At mile 7, we hit Upper Bird Camp (luau themed), and the trail took a turn.  My gorgeous mountain views slowly disappeared behind me and were replaced with an environment too high in elevation to sustain life, which I feel was a metaphor for my overall state of being.  Even though I was taking in a bunch of “real” food at the aid stations including peanut M & M’s and bananas, I took my Mocha ClifShot when I noticed the elevation changing.  The mocha flavor has caffeine, and apparently caffeine can help thwart the effects of altitude sickness (including headaches and nausea). I can’t positively say if it worked or not, but I didn’t experience any altitude sickness symptoms.

These last three miles up really showcased my weaknesses in training for this race.  For the most part, I’d been staying with the same people on the ascent.  But those people left me in their dust as they continued to climb.  No amount of determination or intense “BE THE F!@#$%^ GOAT” chanting (I think in my head, but maybe not…) could make up for the fact that my legs did not have the strength or training to keep up the pace.  Because the grade was too steep to mix things up by running, I was attempting to push the effort for 20 seconds and lay off for about 2 minutes.

I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t discouraged.  At some point, pretty early on, the summit came into plain view, and the joyous sounds of cowbells ringing at the top could be heard among the groans and grunts of the climbers.  Someone turned to me and asked if I that was the top. Since I obviously had no idea, I said YES with authority.  Others were focused on IGNORING the distant oasis because it really was a good 2-3 miles away which is a cruel amount of uphill time to think that you’re “almost” there.

With my Garmin reading about 9.5 miles, I knew that I was relatively close to the top.  I had about 10 minutes to go before hitting the 3 hour mark, so I dug deep and pushed myself to get to the top before 3 hours.  Toward the top, the trail narrows, and we filtered into a single-file line.  Spectators were lined up to give runners high-fives, which was really helpful.  One lady was yelling out ranks to the women (I was woman #220).  Random, but strangely motivating (I counted backwards every time I passed a female for the rest of the race).

In what felt like a giant sigh of relief, I took the step that took my journey from uphill battle to It’s All Downhill From Here. The summit was a huge party.  Cheers loud enough to hear from three miles down the mountain, people taking joyous pictures with the summit sign (another moment when I wished I had my camera), and people gobbling up as many snacks as they could.  I could smell the famed chicken broth, but I literally couldn’t find it among the candy and cookies which should tell you something about my mental state (Aaron said he got some, but it was too hot, so he wasn’t able to eat it).

I wasn’t sure how much time to spend at the summit. I didn’t have a camera to capture the usual photo ops.  I wasn’t hungry enough for lots of snacking, and I knew Aaron was already well down the mountain, so I didn’t have anyone to hang out with. So, I took a few handfuls of M&M’s, took a moment of forced reflection to enjoy the view from the top/savor the accomplishment/look down upon the the mountain that I had just dominated, and then went on my merry way.

For months leading up to this race, I had been looking forward to the downhill.  I am a strong downhill runner, and I was anticipating fun times barreling down a mountain for 7 miles despite warnings that the first 2 miles coming down were rather terrifying.

Race photo from Elevation Imaging

Race photo from Elevation Imaging…DO YOU SEE THE HOSTILE ENVIRONMENT???

But holy steepness.  Within a mile my quads felt significantly thrashed and it was taking intense concentration not to fall flat on my face. The trails were well washed out, leaving almost no place to run.  People were trying really hard to not run into each other, but it was chaotic times.

At the top, I started running in front of two female runners.  From what I gather, they had planned to run together, but one of them just kind of abandoned the other one at some point because she just wanted to be done with the uphill (it doesn’t sound like she bothered to tell her friend), but waited for her at the summit and this was the first time that they were talking since the great abandonment. Talk about passive aggressive fake friendliness going on. I dealt with the back and forth for about a mile, and I knew that if I wanted to not punch these people, that I needed to get away from them.

Luckily, I got away thanks to running faster than advisable, I didn’t fall down, and I never had to hear their dumb conversation again.

With about five miles to go, the crowd started thinning out.  I was only passed by one group of three women on the way down, but passed several people.  As a somewhat trained endurance runner, I felt I had an advantage at this point in the race, because even though this course was hard, my body is used to the long mileage.  So while I was able to keep going, I could pinpoint the runners without that endurance training because they appeared to have just been run over by a bus.

I continued on my pace, still hoping to come in under 4 hours.  I did come across a trombone player walking down which was unexpected and awesome (how did he get up there with a trombone???).  And because the crowd had thinned out so much, I hit a couple of aid stations completely by myself.  I didn’t necessarily need to stop, but I felt weird running through when they all sprung into action. I high-fived some kids, took some snacks, and gratefully accepted some cold water poured down my back (considering this was a mountain race, the temperatures were perfectly warm).

With three miles to go, my Garmin finally made good on its promise and died.  This is the first time my Garmin has died on me mid-race, and strangely, instead of derailing my mental state (which, let’s be honest, was derailed somewhere between 12,000 and 13,000 feet), I think it made me run faster because of the pace uncertainty.

Spectators started to pop up sporadically along the course, which was reassuring…surely spectators wouldn’t be hiking further than 2 miles to cheer!

At one point, I turned at a switchback, and a green valley with little buildings came into view.  I was hopeful that I was descending upon Telluride.  I hadn’t studied the course enough to know how far the finish line was from the first spotting of Telluride, so I wasn’t sure if I should be excited that I was almost done, or scared that I was going to have to see this town for a few miles while wishing for the end. But it was a happy sighting nonetheless.

Taken post race from the gondola, but what it looked like during the race

Taken post race from the gondola, but what it looked like during the race

As the course became lined with spectators, I picked up the pace.  The trail finally started to improve as I came into Telluride.  I spotted Aaron, so I knew the finish line must be coming up soon.  He yelled, with camera phone in hand, that the finish line was right around the corner.

IMG_1361IMG_1362

As I turned the corner, the trail turned into asphalt and I spotted the finish line maybe a tenth of a mile away.  I felt like I was flying as I sprinted across the fabulously steep downhill slant and past the cheering spectators as I crossed the finish line in 4:08:10, 32 in my age group, and 203/579 females.  About 8 minutes slower than my goal, but I was truthfully happy that I made it and stayed in one piece, and got to finish strong considering how crappy I’d felt for most of the race.

Yay! Done!

Yay! Done!

After the race I was handed my finisher’s pin (while I’m not medal motivated, I was a bit disappointed that my grande mountain adventure didn’t warrant something slightly more significant).  They had the usual water/Gatorade/snacks available, but no finisher’s photos.

IMG_1369 - Copy

After the race, we refueled at Smuggler’s Brewpub which was fantastic except for the bathrooms which were located down a full flight of stairs…painful both ways.  We opted to take the later bus back to Ouray, so we explored  the area a bit and took the gondola to Mountain City (famous people have houses there!).

IMG_1367

Smuggler’s Brewpub

IMG_1384

Mountain City, CO

When we got back to Telluride, we hopped on the bus.  A nice volunteer brought oranges and cookies (leftover since the race had finished and they were cleaning up).  The ride took about an hour, and it was raining the whole time, so I’m glad the weather held up during the race.

Bus snacks

Bus snacks

We were both exhausted and sore.  I would say that my fatigue level was greater than it has been post-marathon. We both decided to forgo celebrating out in Ouray, so Aaron stopped by the grocery store, picked up a six pack of Telluride Brewery beer, and we ate leftover pizza and fell asleep watching TV.

Details:

Finish time: 4:08:10 (14:30 average pace)

Splits, minus the last 3 miles of Garmin deadery

Splits, minus the last 3 miles of Garmin deadery

Fuel: Luna Bar pre-race, ClifShot (with caffeine) at miles 7, cookies, peanut M&M’s, oranges, banana and peach slices along the course (provided at aid stations)

Hydration: One glass of Nuun pre-race, hydration belt with two little bottles filled with water, Sports Drink at aid stations

Gear: Brooks Cascadia trail shoes, ProCompression socks, Lululemon Fast Cat skirt (no pockets which was a big bummer), Lululemon CRB, Nathan’s Hydration belt (I packed gloves just in case, but didn’t need them).

Favorite Moment: The summit: the figurative and literal peak to conquering challenges.

Least Favorite Moment: The last few uphill miles.  I felt very weak and discouraged.

Advice: Incorporate power hiking into your training, and train on technical trails.  From what I hear, the downhill portion is usually very smooth, but because of recent rains, it was pretty torn up.  Invest in trail shoes, bring your own water, and a camera.

RACE LOGISTICS:

Packet Pick-Up: Offered in both Telluride and Ouray. No frills, but well organized (the t-shirt was the least flattering race shirt I’ve ever received though).

Transportation/Parking: Bus rides from Telluride in the morning, and back to Ouary post-race (there was plenty of room, and they leave at a couple of different times, and are announced), we had NO problem getting a parking space near the start line in Ouray.

Hotels: We stayed in Ouray at the Hot Springs Inn which I would recommend.  Hotels were pretty reasonably priced considering the amount of tourists.

Aid Stations: the best I’ve ever seen.  Lots of good food.  BUT there weren’t very many of them (6 total).

Bathroom situation: I saw one on the course at the summit (I believe there were more)  I suggest bringing toilet paper.  You are in the woods after all.

Even thought this race was HARD, I would like to do it again now that I know how to train better for it, and I really want to hit sub-4 hours.  It’s close, it’s cheap, and it really presented a challenge that was humbling and exciting.   This race also has a great “local” feel…everyone knows each other! My only issue is that there was definitely a feeling of mountain runner snobbery among a small minority of the people, but overall, it was a great race!

IMG_1366

Training for Imogene

So, Imogene.

(I’ve watched this video a few times to give me inspiration and to experience some of the course).

In less than 3 weeks, I will be standing at the base of a mountain before running 10 miles up and 7 miles down.

As I do with all longer races, I’ve been studying the course and memorizing tips from seasoned participants.  Instead of a regular “fan” facebook page, the run has a private “group” which acts as more of a forum with pretty specialized advice and lots of pep talking.  Ed, a seasoned Colorado trail runner, is a frequent participant!

But even with all of the studying and analyzing, I am (like usual) more than a little apprehensive about how this will turn out. I am still a pretty new runner overall (just a little more than 2 years in), so I haven’t figured out my groove, nor do I have the experience to know with certainty that I won’t die during any given race. Add a 5,000 foot elevation gain into the mix, and you get a little Amy who has spent the last month really frustrated with the process because I am uncertain and afraid of spending 17 miles completely miserable. Or dying. It happens to people occasionally.  Even with all of the reassurances, I know my fears won’t be eased until I cross that finish line for myself.

Hill sprints up this trail hill have really brought my abilities into question

Hill sprints up this trail hill have really brought my abilities into question

Initially, before actually starting to train, I set out with a goal of placing third in my age group. The last time I did an untraditionally distanced small trail race at the Bataan Memorial Death March Half, I ended up 3rd female overall, so I figured this could be manageable, even though I really didn’t know how the pace per mile differentiates between regular running and Imogene running   Based on last year’s times, to place 3rd in my age group, I’d have to run a 3:03, which didn’t seem too far fetched for a 17 mile distance.  But then someone said that your Imogene time is actually pretty close to your marathon time.

Well, there goes that dream.

So, after that bubble burst and once I actually starting to run on trails and feel the affects of limited oxygen, my goals have really switched to:

1) Don’t be dead last

2) Don’t be too miserable

I also figured that while my body can train hard and race hard, it doesn’t recover very well at all, so putting myself through a grueling training schedule in an attempt to be an age group competitor when it doesn’t appear to be realistic seems like a way to spend another post-race month trying to get my legs to function correctly without actually getting a “PR” time or even a gauge of my fitness and speed levels. No thank you?

So, with the anticipation that I will sign up again for Rock n Roll Arizona in January with every intention of a sub 1:40 time, I’ve decided to use this race (for the first time ever) as a race where I “stop and smell the roses” (or in this case, “stop and check out the view from the summit while enjoying a bowl of chicken broth). But I do also value my life and I don’t want it to end somewhere beyond the tree line with all of the mountain people mumbling about “being prepared” and “cocky road runners who think they can run Imogene.”

Looks friendly…. via USDA

So, we’ve definitely been putting at least a little effort into training for this bad boy. I won’t even pretend that we’ve been consistent or super die-hard about this training cycle.  We started training later than I wanted to, and we’ve really been skipping a lot of workouts. But luckily, I’m at least finally starting to feel faster than I had been (still about a minute per mile slower than I was last summer which is kind of YIKES), and I’m starting to gain my confidence on the trails, so overall, considering my goals, I think I will be ok.

What Imogene Training Has Looked Like: 

1) Long runs: this is still a 17 mile race, which isn’t necessarily short.  Next week we will max out at 18 miles.  Usually, for road races, I don’t do long runs farther than the race distance, but since Imogene will be harder in elevation gain than any of our training runs, I wanted to build up a strong endurance base.  Like regular races, these long runs are also key in perfecting a fuel and hydration schedule.  We’ve been incorporating some solid foods in with our ClifShots, and I’ve been working at stopping for a good drink of water every mile beep.

2) Runs at elevation: At about 6,000 feet, Albuquerque doesn’t have a wimpy elevation, but we’ve had to go out of town and do a couple of runs a bit higher.  The 15 miler was at about 7,200 and the 12 miler peaked at about 11,600.  Next weekend, we’ll probably peak at about 10,000.  While none of these are preparing me for what 13,000 feet might feel like, running with less oxygen will hopefully be helpful.

15 Miler Elevation Profile

12 Miler Elevation Profile

15 Miler Elevation Profile...looks like an angry face!

15 Miler Elevation Profile…looks like an angry face!

3) Runs on trails: Almost all of our runs are now on trails. Unlike normal running, there is a constant change in direction, and you have to get used to rocks and tree roots and navigating around people since trails aren’t very wide.  It is also a bit different running on dirt than relying on the constant pushback from asphalt.  Your body is used differently for trail running than road running, so for me, getting accustomed to the changes has been a good (and I hope useful) method.  I went from a sad contender a few weeks ago to running an 8:30 trail mile (albeit, only 1) on Saturday.

Typical short trail run elevation profile

Typical short trail run elevation profile

4) Stepmill: This is that machine at the gym that looks like a staircase.  Usually, the people on it are all the way hunched over and walking very slow up them stairs.  Thanks to the steep uphill portions of mountain running, many trail steps really do feel like “stair” steps.  They really engage the quads, and I am having to do a huge push with one leg to launch the other forward. The stepmill helps stimulate that motion.  As an added bonus, (assuming you are hitting around 90 steps per minute and actually standing up like a normal person), stepmill is hard! I am completely dying and dripping in sweat after 30 minutes.

Machine o’ torture

5) Occasional speed work: We’ve done 2 track sessions and 2 hill sprint sessions.  For our hill sprints, we’ve been doing half mile repeats which are really long and torturous.  If I had to guess, I’d say that hill sprints are more valuable than track sessions for this race, but I wouldn’t say that we’re putting very much effort into increasing speed (which is really apparent with my paces).

Hill Repeats Elevation Profile

Hill Repeats Elevation Profile

The bottom of the hill, looking up

The bottom of the hill, looking up

6) The easy runs.  The relief.  The ones where you finish and you are like, I wish I could run 3 easy miles everyday and still BQ during marathons. (But not really because I know myself and I know you and we are all crazy). We had a couple of days of yoga written into our plan and we haven’t been doing a great job actually doing it.  Because trail running uses up so many different muscles instead of the same ones over and over, I really haven’t felt all that sore. I know that’s not a good excuse, but when I’m feeling good, and it is Friday night, I just don’t want to.

So, this is what a typical week of Imogene training is looking like:

Monday: Stepmill

Tuesday: 4-5 trail miles

Wednesday: 3 easy miles (sometimes on a trail)

Thursday: hill sprints followed by 1-2 trail miles

Friday: Yoga (or happy hour)

Saturday: Long Run (sometimes on a trail)

Sunday: “Long Recovery Run” 6-10 miles on the trail

Will this training plan get me to Mountain People glory? Probably not.  But I am hoping that I’m at least establishing a strong base and that come race day I won’t regret not doing more. In the very least, I have improved leaps and bounds with my trail running, I have shipped my comfort zone far far away, and I’m allowing myself to relearn everything I know about running and my personal limits. And I think for me, this time around, that is enough.

Ooo! Shiny!

Ooo! Shiny!

A Tale of Two Trail Runs

Happy Hump Day!

I’m still working on the Imogene Training Recap (detailing my thoughts of training for this 17.1 race over a 13,000+ foot mountain), but mostly working to tone it down so it doesn’t scream, “I HATE THIS RACE” quite as loudly because the world does not need my negative shenanigans.  I’m ALMOST there.

In the meantime…it was the best of times, it was the worst of times (figured with a title like that, I had to throw in a Dickens quote).

Since we are doing a mountainous trail race, we have started doing our long runs on trails, and we now have 2 under our belt: the 15 miler that resulted in the camping trip last weekend, and the 12 miler that we did on Saturday. One sucked beyond my wildest imagination (that’s way overdramatic. It obviously could have been worse, but at the time I wanted to punch trail running in the face).  The other one sucked considerably less to the point that I would say it was almost enjoyable.

Unfortunately, I took the “breath away” part a little too seriously

The 15 Miles From H-E-Double Hockey Sticks

IMG_1141 - Copy

Last weekend, we did a 15 mile trail run near Lake Heron in the north central part of the state during the camping trip mentioned last week. At one point around mile 13, I almost started crying because I was so frustrated with the run. At mile 14, both of us did far more walking than running because we hit the wall and kept ramming ourselves back into it for more torture.

We didn’t fuel properly for the amount of time that we were out (mostly because we didn’t think it would take 4 hours and 20 minutes to run 15 miles), a torrential downpour the night before (that we experienced from inside a tent) turned the trail into a mud run obstacle course, and sometimes the trail was more of a river.  Also, aside from a 3 miler, this was the longest I’ve ever tried to run on a trail, and road running really doesn’t translate very clearly to trail running.

Among the sites, a swingy bridge and a staircase up the hill (going down was fun, but going back up at mile 12 killed my spirit). We also found a fresh track that I’m convinced was either a bob cat or mountain lion.  Because what better way to end a bad run than with a mauling?

IMG_1180 - Copy

IMG_1157 - Copy

Climbing back up these stairs was the worst.

IMG_1173 - Copy

Not the most awesome thing I’ve run on

IMG_1150 - Copy

Hmm…that looks like a long way down…

IMG_1162 - Copy

I really have not loved training for this race, but this run made me seriously regret signing up for Imogene. I’ve never considered quitting, but I did feel overwhelmed and unprepared to jump into something so different.  It’s not like ambulances are readily available at the top of mountains.

This run was also what convinced Aaron that I needed to forgo most other speed workouts and easy runs and focus on getting my body accustomed to trail running.  I don’t have the stabilizer muscles developed to glide effortlessly through frequent obstacles and changes in direction.  I don’t have the confidence in my step to not tip toe around every rock and tree root  And I don’t have faith in myself to get up the damn mountain without an emotional breakdown.

All of that needs to be fixed in the next 4 weeks.

ONTO THE GOOD!

The 12 Not As Terrible Miles

IMG_1226 - Copy

This past Saturday, we had 12 miles on the schedule, so we headed up to Santa Fe to run a trail that ends up at the Santa Fe Baldy Peak (second highest point in the state).  Our run started at 10,000 feet and worked its way up to 11,600 (you could go even higher but we didn’t).  This trail was gorgeous from beginning to end with majestic pine trees and whimsical mushrooms (perfect for gnome houses) and babbling streams! And it wasn’t muddy which made things much easier.

IMG_1220 - Copy IMG_1201 - Copy IMG_1208 - Copy

Aaron also let me in on a secret training method that really helped my approach: WALK.

So simple, yet so scary.  I have never walked during a race.  (I did stop to use the bathroom during Chicago, but I figure that’s kind of different).  In my mind, walking equates giving up, so I don’t do it (I know that is a big fat lie).

Half the time, when attempting to run up a steep hill while navigating trail obstacles, I am going about as fast as I would if I were walking, but using more energy (running is a really inefficient way of getting around).  So why would I waste more energy going just as fast (or slower)?  IT MAKES NO SENSE.

IMG_1239 - Copy

So, with that in mind, anytime I noticed my pace dropping on the uphill, I walked until I could feel my legs relax, and then I’d run again. A lot of times this meant running for about 30 seconds and walking for about 30 seconds. I don’t think I actually ran a full mile in the 12 that we did, but I felt great, and even the high elevation really didn’t kill me in ways that I thought it would.  We did bring more fuel (this is important), and the trail was in better condition, but overall I felt so much better on this run than I did on the 15 miler.

IMG_1242 - Copy

Weee! Downhill is fun.

I’m still not completely confident about my race performance though.  We have 2 long runs left before we taper down, and I’m hoping that both of those will help my body get even stronger.

But, aside from the misery and the extreme slowness, how beautiful is trail running?  A good portion of our 12 miler time was spent standing at the tree line, swooning over the amazing world around us.  I’ve had some amazing runs this year with some incredible scenery, but nothing quite matches the feeling of standing so high above the world and knowing your little tired (and thoroughly harassed) legs have actually carried you up there.

IMG_1229 - Copy

At the tree line!

IMG_1220 - Copy

And having every hiker (who were all amazingly friendly) stop to comment about how badass you are for running this trail is pretty dang cool.

IMG_1268 - Copy

Overall take-aways for long trail runs:

1. Even though I can sustain myself on 1 ClifShot during a regular 15 mile run, trail running takes a lot longer and requires different fueling needs.  Having a sufficient fuel stash ready will help make those last few miles much less terrible.  Also, low glycogen levels actually spin your emotions out of control, so not fueling properly might actually make you cry.

2. Walking is cool, especially if you are going the same speed that you would be while running.  And walking uses less energy while allowing for a bit of recovery.

3. These training runs at elevation are important! I am so glad that I didn’t go into this race without practice because I don’t know if I would have been physically ok to do it. I still don’t, actually…

4. Mantras are just as helpfult, but for me, they need to be a bit different.  “BE THE GOAT” is what seems to be working to get me up the hills, but it wouldn’t make any sense sprinting down a city street.

5. CORE STRENGTH and strong quads:  These are always a big deal for runners, but when you are going down a steep downhill stretch, gravity will throw you off the mountain if you don’t have a fine tuned brake system. I’ve had more scares than I care to admit.

Trail Running: Love it or hate it? 

Favorite trail running shoes?  I’m likely going to go with the Brooks Cascadia, but I could use suggestions for a more supported trail shoe.

The 117th Boston Marathon Race Recap

10:19 a.m., April 15th.  I was looking down compulsively at my Garmin.  I had activated the satellite location finder a few minutes before and it had sprung into action faster than anticipated (it usually takes 5 minutes), so I was worried that it would shut off before I could initiate the timer as I crossed the start line.

Lined up in corral 7 of the 2nd wave, my Garmin was my most pressing concern.  At that moment, the Boston Marathon was still just the Holy Grail of races for marathon runners, an impressive race for some non-runners in the know, and for most people in the world, an event with little to no importance.  In fact, I imagine that very few people outside of Boston or the running community had any idea at all that some 24,000 runners were nervously lined up in a small Massachusetts town called Hopkinton, waiting to embark on possibly the most coveted 26.2 mile journey in all of road racing.

I wish that was still the case. But, we all know what happens next.

I’ve seriously contemplated whether or not I should write a race recap.  After a lot of encouragement, I decided that while these people hijacked our lives and thrusted us into the era of successful “soft target” terrorism in America at 2:50 pm, I won’t let them have a second more.

So, let’s talk about the Boston Marathon as it was at 10:19 a.m.  A simple yet momentous road race that signified determination and achievement to runners across the world.

*********************************************************

Pre-Marathon Monday

Aaron and I flew into Albany on Thursday and explored three different states (and two counties) with stops in Saratoga Springs, Burlington, Hanover, and Montreal before making our way to Boston on Sunday.

We checked into our Cambridge Hotel, and took the “T” (Boston’s public rail transportation system of which I am personally not a fan) across the Charles River and over to the Copely Square station for the Expo. The historic town of Boston slowly came into view as we emerged from the underground, and we were greeted with a sea of blue and yellow jackets…2013 jackets…walking in all directions.  Apparently, in Boston, wearing the current year garb before the race is more than acceptable.  It is expected. It was here that I got my first glimpse of the famed, brightly painted finish line from the other side of the barriers.

IMG_6375

The Expo

The expo was held at Hynes Convention Center right on Boylston which is apparently a different location than it had been held in years past.  The expo is a 3 day long endeavor, but it seemed as if most people decided to go right when we went…at 1:30 on Sunday.  The bib distribution was held in a hallway and the process was pretty painless, but I was sad that they were out of my t-shirt size. TIP: Don’t wait until the last minute to go to the expo. 

When we entered the main expo and I was immediately overwhelmed by the hoards of runners crowding the narrow aisles, snatching up free samples and Boston themed merchandise (EVERY company has special Boston themed merchandise).  Luckily, the Adidas store was the first exhibit, so I was able to locate the Unicorn Jackets and buy myself one. They were well stocked, and none of the sizes appeared to be in danger of selling out.

IMG_6383

IMG_6384

In a moment of non-run nerdery, I didn’t look up when any of the elite runners would be appearing (I only obsess over Kara Goucher every day, yet apparently I have no desire to actually see her), but we did come across Katherine Swisher, known as the first woman to (illegally) run the Boston Marathon.  As can be expected, she had a ridiculous line of fans waiting for her autograph, so I snapped this stalker type photo and moved on.

IMG_6379

We exited the expo, and hopped back on the “T” to get to Cambridge. We took the “T” twice during our time in  Boston and both times it took far longer than it should have to get where we were going.

Because of all the driving we’d been doing (from Vermont to Montreal the day before, and from Vermont to Massachusetts that morning), I wanted to do a shake out run (I do this before every race).  Our hotel was right on the Charles River in Cambridge, so we ran a lovely two miles with great views of the city.  All of my body parts felt ok, and overall it was a run that at the very least, reassured me of my ability to run 2 of the 26.2 miles required of me the next day.

We headed back to the hotel, showered at the speed of light, and met Jon, Ellie, Adrienne, Mike, and Susan downstairs for drinks.  If Jon wasn’t my first ever blog friend, he was pretty close, so it was one of those situations where you kind of forget that this is your first meeting.  They all ran the B.A.A. 5-K that morning, and I think just about everyone PR’d! We had a wonderful time talking about Boston (I complained a lot about the “T” to my captive audience), and I hope to meet up with everyone again should we make it back next year!

After drinks, Aaron and I headed across the River to Boston’s North End which is exactly like San Francisco’s North Beach…an entire neighborhood made up of small, family-owned Italian restaurants, aka, carb-load heaven.  I had made reservations about a month in advance at Panza on the recommend of Hyedi. The place was small and packed, and about 10 parties walked in with 7:00 reservations which they obviously couldn’t accommodate, prompting some of the locals to get quite heated.  I love the people of Boston, but they can be quite… high strung? We actually had to share a table with a couple from Sacramento (he qualified at CIM). It was nice to sit next to our fellow Westerners who were refreshingly laid back.

I ate the linguine carbonara with sangiovese (I don’t think that is a recommended wine pairing, but whatever).  The meal was perfect, and my glycogen felt sufficiently stored as we headed back to Cambridge to settle in for the evening.

IMG_6388

Marathon Monday

Despite my 10:20 start time, the logistics of the morning required a typical 5:00 a.m. wake-up call. I’ve never participated in a race that started after 8 in the morning, so I had to plan nutrition, water, bathroom, and supplies accordingly.  At the hotel I drank a glass of Nuun, but held off eating.  I showered, got all of my stuff together, and headed out the door at 6:10.  Aaron went with me into the city because the last thing the world needed was a nervous, sleepy runner trying to navigate the Boston public transportation system by herself.  Plus, he was planning on walking the Freedom Trail while I ran.

I had made arrangements to meet Beth and her friend Sheliah, also from Albuquerque, in the bus line.  She said to look for the tall blonde lady wearing a black baseball hat and throw-away clothes which easily described 30% of the population.  When we emerged from the underground,we were met the with sight of thousands upon thousands of runners waiting for the bus (it took us over an hour to get through).  In some sort of miracle, we were able to find Beth and Sheilah, and we hopped in line.  Sheilah has run Boston multiple times, so she was a great resource.

At 7:30 I ate a Luna bar, and was mindfully sipping water throughout.  Somewhere in there, we came upon a group of porta-potties.  They were emitting a pretty rancid smell, so I was hesitant to use one, but Sheliah assured us that even after we got to Hopkinton (an hour drive), we’d still have a long wait, so using it now was a really smart choice.  I heeded her advice, and it was absolutely the right decision. TIP: Use the porta-potties in the bus line.

IMG_0745 IMG_0744Bus line craziness

By my estimation, school buses from the entire state were being used for marathon transportation.  They would load about 10 at a time, those buses would drive off in unison, and 10 more buses would drive up. The whole thing was being run by MIT students, and it worked like clockwork. I sat next to a man from Utah.  He had run Boston in 2008, and this time he’d brought his brother with him.  They both qualified and they were going to run and cross the finish line together! I hope they were able to do it.

IMG_6402I’m waving!

The drive was pleasant.  I got to see some of the Boston suburbs and multiple crew teams training in the river. You could feel the excitement on the bus as we reached the town of Hopkinton and pulled up to our final destination, the Athlete’s Village.  As a seasoned pro, Sheliah led us away from the herd and up toward the bag check (there was a lot of uphill walking) toward a second set of porta-potties with less people (still about a half hour wait).  TIP: Bring toilet paper because there was none to be found.  Luckily I noticed with enough time to make necessary adjustments, but I can imagine there were some uncomfortable situations.

In a moment of desperation, I decided to pop a couple of ibuprofen.  My calf had been giving me issues for weeks, even driving me to see a specialist, and I had lost my most valuable training weeks trying to rest it.  It hadn’t been bothering me during our last few shake out runs, but I didn’t want to get a few miles in and be in pain.  This isn’t something that I think you’re supposed to do, but if I’ve learned anything, it’s that marathon runners aren’t particularly rational when it comes to racing. And, of course, the pain relief starts fading right at about 3 hours when you need it the most.

I had opted to stop drinking water aside from small sips after 9:00.  I ate a banana at about 9:20 (1 hour before start). We started organizing our stuff, peeling off the layers (it was comfortably warm at this point), reapplying sunscreen and body glide (apparently I did a good job…no chaffing!), and prepping to head to the start line. Gear drop off was fast and easy, and with little time to spare, we started on the LONG walk from the Athlete’s Village to the start line at about 10:00, and we had several Wave 1 runners (10:00 start time) frantically run past us. I’d heard that there was an epically long walk from the Athlete’s Village to the Start Line, and turns out this was not an exaggeration.

Much to my surprise, a whole colony of porta-potties was situated at the start corrals.  These ones had toilet paper and the lines only 1-2 people long which was a miraculous sight!  They also had what I can only describe as “out in the open” urinals…so that was awkward. TIP: Be prepared to see lots of peeing men. 

I parted ways with Beth and Sheliah as we headed into our respective corrals.  I got my Garmin set up, tried to focus my energy, and attempted to pump myself up (I forget what song was playing) as I heard the gun. AND WE WERE OFF!  I remember smiling, completely satisfied, as I started running and waved cheesily at the start line video camera.

Every course guide tells you to start Boston slower than you want to because it starts at a steep downhill.  For the most part, everyone started off slow, and kept that pace for the first half a mile.  But then, half a mile in, we got our first taste of spectating, Boston Marathon style.  And that resolve to keep a reasonable pace disappeared as every runner got caught up in the energy of the crowd.

The First Half

In my head, the first half of the race is a series of snapshots strung together.  It seemed jam packed with new sights and a new town every few miles.  Highlights include:

1) The huge “All in for… (insert town here)” signs as you exited each town.  I liked being able to check each town off a mental checklist as I ran through the course.  And each town takes great pride and pleasure in making sure you remember THEM as the best. I don’t remember why, but I have Framingham in mind as my favorite.

Slide5

2) Having about 10 kids jumping on trampolines with inspirational signs, and one at the end, holding up a giant Sam Adams cut-out.  Because what’s Boston without a Sam Adams cut-out?

3) The sheer number of people handing out wet towels/oranges/water/snacks/Popsicles, alcohol, Vaseline, etc. along the course.  These people literally spent their money on supplies for the runners and their day off handing them out.  While Chicago spectators were more entertaining, Boston spectators were far more functional.

4) How “amateur day” the whole thing felt.  Considering this is the marathon of seasoned professionals, I saw many rookie mistakes, like people just coming to a complete stop in the middle of the course (I literally ran into two people who did this).  I also saw more people stop to walk in the first few miles and along the entire course than I saw stop in the last 6.2 miles of Chicago. And men were peeing everywhere.  If we ran by a slightly wooded area, guaranteed there were male runners peeing in it.

5) The fun college kids. We passed by several college campuses, and a lot of areas where students lived.  You could easily identify them because the whole place started smelling like beer.  They were loud and enthusiastic cheerleaders.  I don’t remember any groups handing out beer specifically, but some girls were handing out jello shots, and cheered wildly when one runner slurped it down with experience in the earlier miles.

6) Noticing how different a race feels in the back.  For Chicago, I was near the front and the course was relatively clean.  In Boston, about 15,000 people had already gone through the water stations by the time I came through.  It was like running through a sticky Gatorade river of yuckiness.  I was sufficiently grossed out by the feeling of having Gatorade splash ups on the back of my legs.  And the cups.  They were everywhere.  I had visions of slipping on a cup and breaking my leg.

Slide3

Ewe.

7) People with homes along the course used the occasion to host big BBQ’s and parties in their front yards.  Marathon Monday is truly a day of celebration, and I was impressed at the atmosphere for the entire race.

8) Running by the Hoyt’s.  This is a father/son team who runs the marathon every year.  The father pushes the son (who is in a wheelchair), and they are easily the most popular (and maybe even the most famous) runners on the course.

All through this, I was keeping a pretty good pace and I was on track for a 3:35 finish time. It didn’t feel as effortless as my last few races, but I didn’t feel like I was pushing it to the point of epic failure toward the end either, and I was having fun.

I will say this though.  If I had never heard that this was a downhill course, I wouldn’t have described it as such.  There was downhill and, especially at the beginning, it was severely steep downhill.  But for the most part, the course was full of rolling hills.  I had done plenty of downhill training and quad strengthening, but I hadn’t done really any rolling hill training (mostly because it is impossible with the Albuquerque landscape). TIP: Train for rolling hills. 

Somewhere between miles 11 and 12, I started hearing a humming noise.  As I ran on, the hum increased in volume.  I started looking around at my fellow racers, and we all started smiling.  So this is what thousands of screaming girls sound like from half a mile out! And sure enough, in a few minutes, we entered the Wellesley Scream Tunnel, a stretch of road in front of Wellesley College where, what appears to be the entire student population, lines up with their “kiss me I’m from (insert home town/state/country here)” signs.  The energy was incredibly motivating!  I actually ran my fastest mile of the race during the Scream Tunnel. If only every race could include one.

The Second Half

We hit the halfway point, and I was starting to get worried.  I wasn’t feeling tired necessarily, but I felt a blister forming (my shoes were soaked from the aid stations) and my feet were staring to ache.  As we passed the half marathon timing mat, I heard a man say, “Oh, you all know the second half of this race is the easier part, right?”  We all laughed because we knew the worst was about to come.

I don’t recall how we entered Newton exactly.  I remember that most of the towns had beautiful signs announcing your entrance, so I’m guessing Newton was similar.  However it happened, I remember getting butterflies in my stomach.  Despite the fact that the entire course had been littered with hills, I knew these were different.  All of the hill repeats and elevation gain during long runs would come down to the next 4 miles.

SOURCE

The Newton Hills are a series of four.  The first one is long.  The next two are steep.  But it’s the last one that gets you.  This one has been infamously named Heartbreak Hill because, not only it is both long and steep (though to a lesser degree than the other ones), but by the time you get there, you are 21 miles into your marathon and not in the mood to deal with any shenanigans.

The first hill felt long, but I managed to keep up my pace.  Just when I was feeling good again after the downhill, I spotted the sea of runners winding their way up the next hill. This hill was steeper, but it was shorter, and the downhill portion felt like a wave of relief.  But the relief was temporary as the next hill came into view.  I was starting to run out of steam, and my fellow comrades were losing it even more.  As much as I was slowing down, I was the person passing people.  In fact, several people started to walk.

Slide4

My mind starting getting fuzzy.  I had studied the course, but I suddenly couldn’t remember how many hills there were.  Three? Was that Heartbreak? Four? Or were there five?  I didn’t think I could take much more of this. I approached the base of the next hill, and started wishing with all my might that this was Heartbreak because I was done with these hills.  This was my slowest mile. I remember looking down at my Garmin and seeing my slower pace, and not even caring.  I didn’t have the will to push forward with any sense of urgency.

I reached the top and I was looking for the giant inflatable Boston College arch that let me know that Heartbreak was over.  I didn’t see it.  I immediately panicked, wondering if that wasn’t it.  The prospect of the largest hill looming ahead was frustrating.  But then, probably half a mile after that last hill, I spotted the arch. I had survived! Like most people say, Heartbreak Hill wasn’t all that bad.  But my legs had been fighting hills all race and I didn’t train well enough to not have it affect my pace, so it was a little bit heartbreaking for me.

Someone yelled, it’s all downhill from here! And I had a sudden resurgence of energy.

But that person lied.

The hills just kept going.  They weren’t big ones, but after Newton, I hadn’t really counted on having to use more energy on more hills. The last four miles felt really long.  I remember deciding (again) that marathons were stupid and I was especially stupid for running them.  I was incredibly envious of the drunk Boston College kids and how unmiserable they looked.

I also knew that Aaron would be somewhere around here.  I started looking back and forth, but we were now in Boston, and the streets were packed with spectators.  It turns out that looking back and forth for someone requires a lot of energy and focus. More energy and focus than I wanted to use. My calf was hurting, my IT band was hurting, my blister was hurting, and my feet were screaming in agony.  I could tell that the ibuprofen was wearing off.

IMG_6516Aaron’s picture from where he was waiting for me.  As you can see, blue tank tops were pretty popular.

IMG_6515Aaron’s picture: Elites making their left turn from Hereford to Boylston

At mile 24, I gave up looking for Aaron and instead switched to focusing on the finish. (Meanwhile, Aaron was at the 40K mat, chatting with none other than Bart Yasso. He didn’t see me pass by, and started back toward the finish area when he got the notification that I had passed the 40K mark).   I was tired, and I really didn’t feel like running another 2.2 miles.  I had to dig deep and focus on my mantras and remember the wounded warriors from Bataan and how any pain I was going through was insignificant.  Except in my head it sounded more like “THIS ISN’T PAIN,” and I knew what I meant.

I remember seeing the Citco sign, another noted Marathon landmark, and knowing that I was supposed to be excited, but not remembering if that meant I only had 3 miles or if I only had 1 mile, and that you could see it from deceptively far away, so I might still have 4.  My brain was done with the thinking.

Luckily, somewhere right around here, someone was blasting Don’t Stop Believing, which is my jam for life.  I owe much of my ability to finish to that person!

The course took a sharp turn to the right.  I looked down at my Garmin, and realized that, with only about half a mile left, I had officially taken THE right on Hereford. Hereford was short, and I could see the next turn (the big one) directly in front of me.  In my head, I was screaming something like “The left! The left!”  The left turn onto Boylston. I remember my first sighting of the finish line and being so happy that I was so close to it.  And I also remember thinking that there was STILL so far to go (I think almost half a mile).

IMG_6512The Finish line area.  This picture was taken at about 1:00

Slide1I LOVE this photo…what marathoners look like when they see the Finish Line for the first time.

I passed the 26 mile sign, and looked down at my Garmin.  I was at something like 3:38, and I was sad that my 3:35 had gone so far out the window during Newton, but if I hurried, I could get there in under 3:40.  So, I pushed as hard as I could.  I remember reaching the famously painted finish line, looking down in excitement, and realizing that the mats weren’t there, but several feet ahead.

Slide6

I crossed the finish line in 3 hours, 39 minutes, and 52 seconds.  6 minutes slower than my Chicago time, 5 minutes slower than a Boston qualifying time, and about 5 minutes faster than what I was expecting. I was elated, but I also felt slightly dizzy and weak. I started noticing runners collapsing all around me.  There were so many people, and I was starting to hyperventilate a little bit with claustrophobia.

I heard someone call out my name, and I looked over and was surprised to see my childhood neighbor Brandon (he guest posted here last summer!).  He works for ESPN and lives on the East Coast now and had gone to watch a couple of other friends run. We said a quick hello, but I knew I needed to keep moving. The finisher’s chute had all of the necessities for tired runners. First space blankets, then water, then Gatorade  then little snack packs with some amazing dinner rolls, and at the end, the medals.  I’m not sure if there was one of those backdrop photo stations.  If there was, I didn’t see it, but a photographer was standing there snapping as many people as he could.  So, my finish line photo was kind of gross with my space blanket.

Slide2

Gear check was at the end of the chute, and after a few minutes of waiting, a volunteer handed me my bag and I made my way back the opposite direction (walking against the crowd was pretty hard), and to the next street over from Boylston toward the family reunion area. I called Aaron and he said he was waiting for me at the “L” sign (they had signs with all the letters of the alphabet).  The letters were lined up on both sides of the street, and it turns out that “L” was pretty much the farthest back down toward the finish line, which felt pretty annoying at the time since essentially I walked the distance of the finisher’s chute twice. The annoyance turned to excitement as I spotted Aaron and he handed me a rose and let me know that I had a giant ClifShot goober on my face.  Lovely.  I had talked to my neighbor, taken my finish line photo, and talked to a bunch of other runners and volunteers with a giant poo brown goober. TIP: Use those wet towels handed out along the course to wipe your face.

I wanted to rest for a bit and munch on some items in my snack pack, so we walked down the street until we found an empty spot on the curb.  Aaron took my victory picture and texted my mom before coming to sit down next to me.  She replied back at 2:48 saying that I looked quite burrito-esqe, wrapped in my space blanket which was a pretty accurate statement. We were still laughing about my resemblance to a burrito when the first explosion went off.

IMG_0748About 2:45 p.m in my burrito outfit.

Post Race:

Once we got back to the hotel maybe an hour or so later (I had no concept of time), we sat downstairs in the bar watching the news. I forced half a cheeseburger down, really the first thing I’d eaten since the Luna Bar at 7:30, and ate a wedge salad much later at about 11:00 p.m., definitely not the post-race fuel I’d normally go for, but I wasn’t hungry.

IMG_6521Back safely in Cambridge.  I thought this was clever, and shows just how much the city embraces the race!

I actually recovered much faster than I did after Chicago which I attribute to the 2 mile walk to Cambridge after the marathon.

In Conclusion:

Even though I truthfully enjoyed almost everything about Chicago more, Boston is still a world-class race.  With so many potential logistical nightmares like busing 24,000 people 26 miles out of town before 10:00 am and setting up a course that runs through multiple municipalities, the execution ran like clockwork.  And the spectators had so much heart.  They did an amazing job of taking care of the runners, and I really think they, along with the dedicated volunteers are what makes this race so great.

From the social media interaction over the last 4 months, the “Unicorn Television” YouTube videos, the walking down the street and seeing a sea of blue and yellow jackets, and running from one historic town to the next, you aren’t going to run a marathon that will make you feel more special and more appreciated as a runner.  And while I was a bit worried about potential Boston run snobs, the general attitude from the runners was one of support and joy.  I had a wonderful experience (even during the miles when I wanted to punch the man who ran the first marathon…those are the miles that show you what you are made of).

I do want to make it clear that in no way do I feel cheated, and in no way do I feel like my experience or my achievement were taken away from me.  I got to finish (an estimated 5700 runners were stopped before crossing the finish line), I got to get a medal placed around my sweaty, goober-covered face, and I even got to celebrate with Aaron before the marathon became a national headline for all the wrong reasons. I fully intend to run this race again, because in the end, there is nothing quite like crossing the finish line of the Boston Marathon.

Details:

Finish time: 3:39:52 (8:24 average pace)

Fuel: Luna Bar and banana pre-race, ClifShot (with caffiene) at miles 7, 14, and 21

Hydration: One glass of Nuun and one water bottle pre-race, alternating between water and Gatorade at every aid station (located almost every mile)

Gear: Brooks Adrenaline shoes, ProCompression socks, Lululemon Pacesetter skirt, Lululemon cool racerback, Nike Visor, LOTS of sunscreen and Body Glide

Favorite Moment: The Wellesley Scream Tunnel

Least Favorite Moment: running through aid stations and getting splashed with stickiness

Biggest Piece of Advice: Thank EVERY spectator and volunteer that you can

IMG_6706And with that, I am ready to move on.

Marathon Reflection Monday: 1 WEEK!

(First, I MISSED NATIONAL BEER DAY! I mean, not really since we enjoyed some locally brewed La Cumbre Malapais stout yesterday, but I didn’t celebrate with purpose).  

Holy cow! We are SEVEN days until GO time.  Not quite close enough to determine race day weather with any certainty (looking like high 50’s with a chance of rain), but not quite enough time to “cram study” my way to a passing grade (at this point of every year, I start having nightmares about passing finals even though my college career is long over…for now…).

weather

While I haven’t been doing a lot of “blog” marathon reflecting this time around, I have been thinking a lot about what mistakes I’ve made, what I would do differently, and at what point everything changed from “on track for a super PR” to “not so much.”  Basically, I’m giving myself this one last whine fest, and then starting tomorrow, we are transforming to the intense mental workout that will hopefully carry me from Hopkinton to Newton and on into Boylston Street. Preferably on my own two feet as opposed to in an ambulance.

I made no secret over the fact that I didn’t love marathon training during Chicago.  Crossing the finish line to my first marathon was amazing, but I was re-reading my race recap, and I state very clearly that I didn’t want to make marathons a habit.

But I figured since I got the chance to run the marathon of all marathons, that I should probably soak up the experience and push for a very respectable PR time.  And I started training for marathon #2 in January.

I  had pretty high hopes going into this race.  For one, at the beginning of last training in June, I was at a 1:47 half.  At the beginning of this training, I was at a 1:41 half, meaning I was starting stronger and faster.  My first official run was 7 miles at marathon pace (about 8:10).  My first official run of last training cycle was a 7 mile long run that felt absolutely terrible.  And, there would be none of those dreaded 96 degree temperatures.

But my mindset going in was a bit different.  For one, I didn’t have the goal to re-qualify because I already have a 2014 qualifier (not that it guarantees anything), so the drive to accomplish a specific time goal was significantly less.

And as much as I complained about training in the heat of summer, as it turns out, I’m a much bigger wimp when it comes to cold weather.  During the winter I had to either run at night (dark and scary), or run in 10 degree temperatures in the morning, and a lot of times I just hung out on the treadmill.  And when winter gave way to spring, my allergies took over (they still are) making breathing feel much harder than it should.  And, when the time changed and there was daylight and warmth…well, let’s just say patio happy hour felt far more appealing than running. But then I would feel bad and try and run after happy hour. And running hard after happy hour doesn’t feel as good.

But all of that was easy overcomable.

Unfortunately, I made 3 sabotaging mistakes this training cycle that hindered my success:

1) Not letting myself completely heal after Chicago.  During my last 20 miler in September, my calf suddenly started bothering me to the point that I barely ran in the 2 weeks leading up to Chicago.  During the race, I was fine, but within hours after finishing, that little calf issue turned into a big problem.  I couldn’t run for 3 weeks post marathon.

The calf issue was kind of annoying through RnR Arizona half training  but nothing too bad, and I jumped into marathon training, even though it wasn’t completely pain free.  Three weeks ago, it got to the point where running was impossible.  And it hasn’t gotten better despite desperate efforts to fix it (I have session #2 with the sports chiro dude, so I’m hoping for good things).  I run one day and have to take the next couple of days off, which hasn’t lined up with the training plan very well.  I have lost speed and I have lost endurance.  I am not in as good of shape as I was before Chicago.

2) 12 Week Training Cycle.  For Chicago, I did 16 weeks, and it worked fine.  I chose the 12 week cycle because Hal Higdon’s “Boston Bound” plan said it was ok, and because I wanted to finish the RnR Arizona half before I started training, BUT I also thought that I would have a stronger base built at that point.  In the end, I ramped up faster than I was ready, probably not helping the calf issue.

3) Getting caught up in the mileage envy.  Right at the beginning of training, I started secretly reading Boston training blogs and they all had one thing in common: significantly more mileage than I was doing.  I panicked and started doing more weekly mileage than my plan (which worked PERFECTLY for Chicago) called for (see also, ramping up too fast above).  This bombed fast.  I don’t think I ever got a complete week in.  I was either hurting or burned out.

I burned myself out on running and managed to get hurt as wel, which are really inconvenient ways to enter into a marathon.

I don’t want to get completely down because who knows what will happen on April 15th.  I believe in the power of confidence and positive thinking, and I still somewhat believe I can will myself to a decent race time.  And truly, even though I’m not in PR shape, I should still finish in about 3:45, which isn’t a terrible time by any stretch of the imagination.

I’m comforted by the number of people who emphasize that Boston is a “victory lap” and shouldn’t be used to PR. Stressing out over a time goal or an unsuccessful training schedule is counterproductive to the experience.  Also, Meb dropped out last week due to a lingering calf injury which is a reminder that even elites have bad training cycles.

And on the upside of all of this, I have been much less stressed this time around.  I haven’t been having marathon nightmares, and taper has been much more relaxing.

So, now that my marathon sadness session is over, we can transform to the mental workout and CHEERLEADING! Time to prepare for the pain and resolve to push through it!

Hope everyone has a wonderful week!

Running Update: 18 Days Until Boston

Hi friends!

So, I’ve been kind of holding off on this post because 1) I haven’t had very much spare time recently (I feel like I haven’t had spare time since January), and 2) I was trying to wait until I wasn’t angry about this dumb leg and its dumb inability to move without pain (just like I was trying to wait to run until after I could walk up the stairs without hurting, but since neither of those things have happened, here we are).

I am angry about my dumb leg and its dumb inability to move without pain.

Since last we spoke about marathon training, I had just completed an uneventful 20 miler 2.5 weeks ago.  YAY! 20 miler complete, ability to complete marathon verified.

Then I attempted some mile repeats (finally running a sub-7 minute mile for the first time this training cycle) which caused massive shin splints.  Annoying, but not a big deal. I rested for a couple of days, and everything was ok. BUT THEN, when the shin splints were not bothering me any more, the dumb calf thing appeared out of nowhere (during a rest day) AGAIN and started hurting AGAIN.

More rest. More annoyance.  Mild panic over the fact that my most crucial training weeks were rapidly being wasted.  I did however buy a bag of Easter egg Reese’s cups (they were on sale at Target!), and eat them.

Then, last weekend, I ran Bataan (bad Amy) but at a slower pace than I wanted, not because I was being cautious, but because I hurt so bad.  When I caught up to my dad, he asked me if everything was ok since he was expecting me to pass him long before.  I said no, as a matter of fact, I wasn’t ok.  But, as I mentioned in that epically long Bataan post, that particular race really changes one’s perception of “discomfort.” And, at mile 10 my body just stopped caring and the pain went away.  Until I crossed the finish line and remembered it.  Then it came back.

MORE rest.

I didn’t run all week.  I tried once, but I got less than 2 miles in before having to stop.

Sunday was scheduled as our final long run.  We had chosen the course weeks ago as a ridiculously challenging 22 miler with a steep uphill and a steep downhill, up and down until mileage was complete.  A 10K is actually run on this course…it is called, “The World’s Toughest 10-K.”  My goal was to mimic the long downhill stretches followed by long uphill stretches of the Boston course.

Tramway Elevation

It sucked for the following reasons:

1) I was throw-up sick both Friday and Saturday (this happens for no apparent reason every once in awhile, and no, I’m absolutely not pregnant), so most of what I ate didn’t stick around long enough to provide energy or nutrients,

2) The course included almost 1,000 feet of elevation gain over 4.5 miles (meant to make the Newton Hills look easy),

3) Intense spring winds made downhills feel like work (even Aaron said so!).  My average pace was 10:20 which was not confidence boosting.

Thanks to a fabulous bacon themed party the night before, we stayed up past our bedtime and woke up late/got a later start than planned, and I ran out of time.  I only got in 19.6 miles instead of the 22 I had wanted to run.

Luckily, the course ended at a resort (we’re so clever!), and we headed straight into a massage (slightly ironic that the massage was the cause of my run being cut short).  It simultaneously felt amazing and painful.  I told the masseuse to let out her life frustrations on my calf, and she did.

But I still hurt.

It isn’t an injury.  Nothing is broken.  It just hurts.  I’m making an appointment with a sports chiropractor (thanks, Beth!), and I’m hoping he doubles as a miracle worker.

I’m able to run, but not fast.  I’ve lost 2 weeks of training and my last long run wasn’t long enough to satisfy me (I considered attempting 20 miles again this weekend but I have decided against it).  And we are EIGHTEEN DAYS AWAY from Boston.

So, my training isn’t suggesting that I’ll hit 3:30 much less even match my Chicago time (not that I won’t fight to the death to try). But I am excited nonetheless.

My Runner’s Passport and welcome brochure came in the mail this week which was comparable in excitement level to getting my first college dorm and roommate assignment. In just a few short weeks, I’ll be lining up in Hopkington and running this amazing race.  IMG_6120

Also, thanks again for all of your kind words regarding the Bataan Memorial Death March! I shared a photo album (from someone else) on the blog’s facebook page if you want a better idea of what that race looked like!

I hope everyone is having a good week!

Bataan Memorial Death March Race Recap

In April 1942, at the conclusion of the Battle of Bataan, approximately 60,000-80,000 American and Filipino soldier prisoners of war were forced to walk 80 miles in an event that resulted in the deaths of thousands, and was eventually considered a massive Japanese war crime.  During this sweltering hot march, soldiers were tortured mercilessly.  They were starved and denied clean water during 3 days of continuous walking, and anyone who fell behind was beheaded, bayoneted or beaten.  As many as 11,000 soldiers didn’t survive the march, and many died of other diseases including dysentery in the days and months following.  Growing up, my dad knew a couple of survivors.  One had his Achilles Tendon cut to prevent him from escaping. The other had an appendectomy with a sharpened spoon as a scalpel and a stick between his teeth as the only form of pain control.

*****************************

Since 1989, The Bataan Memorial Death March Marathon and Honorary March (14.2 miles) has been held on a desert military base in the very Southern part of New Mexico.  The purpose of the event is much less a simple commemoration, but rather, it is meant to give marchers a small taste of what the soldiers endured more than 70 years ago.  Most race participants are active duty members.  They march in full uniform with a 35 pound sack on their backs (most fill their sacks with canned food to donate to a local food bank).  Many compete as teams of 5 with a true “no one left behind” mentality.  All team members must finish within 20 seconds of each other.

But the most impactful part of Bataan is the survivors.  Each year, survivors of the Death March answer to a roll call before the race, and greet marchers at the start and finish lines.  This is really an event to honor and remember them and the hell they went through in order to protect their country.  There is a bit of urgency to do this race NOW because, as the actual Bataan March slips 71 years into the past, the number of survivors is sadly diminishing.  This year, 3 were at the event.

White Sands Missile Range is located about 3 and a half hours south of Albuquerque.  The nearest airport is in El Paso, Texas (over an hour away) and the nearest city is Las Cruces, NM which is a decently sized college town housing New Mexico State University.  NMSU is where my parents met as students and where my little sister is currently in her senior year.

My dad (who did this race 10 years ago) signed up for the full 26.2 course a while ago, and my little sister followed suit and signed up for the honorary 14.2 course (her first half!), so Aaron and I jumped on board, signed up for the honorary 14.2, and we made it a family excursion. Aaron and I headed down on Saturday, and my parents along with the other sister (who didn’t do the race) and their dog followed a few hours later. Giuseppe was slightly annoyed that he wasn’t invited, even though he was sufficiently spoiled by Aaron’s parents while we were away.

IMG_6061 - Copy

I WANNA GO!

IMG_6062 - Copy

I know I complain a lot about how dry and barren Albuquerque is, but southern New Mexico is much, much worse.

IMG_6067 - Copy

We drove into town and went right to packet pick-up, or, in military speak, “in-processing” (am I signing up for a race, or the draft?).  Because we had to go on base, we had to have a special pass that came with registration that granted us access (DO NOT FORGET YOUR PASS!).

IMG_6070 - CopyIMG_6077 - CopyIMG_6085 - CopyIMG_6072 - Copy

If you’ve ever been on a military base, you probably know that there are some little quirks that you don’t find in a normal neighborhood.  For example, explosive items and public art in the form of giant missiles.

IMG_6080 - Copy IMG_6086 - Copy

We also passed by an aid station set-up that gave us an idea of what we’d be dealing with.  Just sayin, if I was a rattlesnake, I’d live there.

IMG_6088 - Copy

In-processing was held in the base community center and was quick and organized.  A nice yet very intense drill sergeant type guy was commanding you where to go, so there was little guess work involved.  They also had artifacts and newspaper articles on display from the actual March.  You get your “medal” (a dog tag appropriately) and finisher’s certificate right there at in-processing, which kind of gave my little superstitious self a heart attack.  During the race, I carried mine with me and put it on myself when I crossed the finish line!

IMG_6083 - Copy IMG_6082 - Copy IMG_6081 - Copy

After in-processing, we started the drive back to Las Cruces to unpack at my sister’s apartment.  Let me just take this opportunity to say that my sister’s college apartment is way nicer than my first big girl job apartment.  SIGH.

While the rest of my family headed out to in-processing, Aaron and I headed out to carb-loading. We were also on an urgent mission to find a television broadcasting the Mountain West Championship game in which Aaron’s team (New Mexico) was playing.  We started off at High Desert Brewery which had some really good beer if you don’t mind the dive bar atmosphere.

IMG_6089 - Copy IMG_6092 - Copy

BUT, they didn’t have the game on, so after a quick taster flight, we had to make our way over to a sports bar called The Game.  We were in NMSU Aggie country so the place wasn’t crawling with Lobo fans, but Aaron still cheered loud and proud when the Lobos won! (Don’t worry…all three teams I cheer for are OUT in round 1, so I will stop talking about basketball now).

IMG_6097 - Copy

After gorging on sports bar food, we made the short drive back to my sister’s apartment and started getting ready for bed.  Because the base has limited parking and one gate for some 5,200 participants, they asked that marchers be at the gate at 4:30 am, meaning we’d have to LEAVE at 4 to make the 25 mile trip.  An ideal bedtime would have been 7, but since that was damn near impossible, we made an attempt for 9.  We finally crawled onto our air mattress at 10.  Best case scenario: 5 hours of sleep.

BUT.

As amazing as my sister’s apartment is, it is still in a college apartment complex.  She is on the ground floor, and her windows face the handicapped area in the parking lot, which apparently is the designated turn around/drop off/pick up point of the complex.  And, it was a Saturday which meant drunk people were loudly walking around ALL night.  In fact, they were still walking around when we left the next morning.  Oh how I miss college.

Add to that my parents’ poor puppy who was disoriented and confused and quite vocal about it, and we literally got 1-2 hours of sleep. I’m certain it was closer to 1.  This is not even remotely an exaggeration.

Sadly, the alarm went off at 3:15 am (we were already awake), so, we got up, got ready, and got out the door and to the base by about 4:40 am (there was already a long line of cars, and we got one of the last close parking spaces).  We met up with my dad and sister who drove separately, and my sister’s boyfriend who was also doing the half.

There was no gear check, so we packed all of our valuables into the trunk, hoping that hoards of military personnel would ward off any potential thieves.

Even though the ridiculously early morning arrival was necessary for parking, opening ceremonies didn’t start until 6:30, and the race didn’t start until 7:05.  So, like everyone else there, after parking and making trip #1 to the porta potties, we took a half hour nap in the car, which almost doubled the amount of sleep we got overnight.

At about 6:25 we made a final trip to the porta potties, and I was in one when they announced the presentation of the colors.  As I found out, there is a very unique type of panic that occurs when you are sitting on the toilet and hear the announcement that you are to now rise for the National Anthem.  Do you stand? Do you get yourself out at all costs, ready or not?  Do you hide and pretend that you aren’t committing patriotic travesty?  I opted to get myself out of there FAST, ran a few steps away, and got into proper National Anthem form.  As previously mentioned, the majority of people doing this race were uniformed service members.  Probably one of the most entertaining things I’ve ever seen is uniformed service members experiencing the same panic.  During the course of the song, several had to run out of the porta potty and jump straight into a salute while the doors slammed shut behind them.  I wish I was able to more accurately describe just how funny this was.

As soon as the National Anthem was done, we hurried to get into our corral.  The Opening Ceremony was pretty amazing.  A giant American flag billowed in the breeze against the early morning desert landscape.  During the roll call, three survivors yelled, “HERE” much louder and stronger than their age might suggest, and I almost teared up during Taps.  A Black Hawk helicopter flew over just as the sun was rising.  If you are wanting to renew your pride in America and our armed services, this is the place to do it.

Pre race in our corral

Pre race in our corral

Unlike traditional races, corrals are set up to accommodate the hardest workers.  Full marathoners with 35 pound sacks go first, etc., and honorary race marchers go last.  So, basically, it is set up slowest to fastest. We were marched around a field led by bag pipers, and we lined up at the start line.  Even though we lined up at the front of the Honorary corral,  it easily took 45 minutes for us to cross the start line.  The survivors were lined up, greeting marchers right before crossing the chip mat.  I managed to shake hands with one who looked justifiably overwhelmed with the number of people coming at him.  Still, very awesome to get to honor someone who lived through Bataan.

So, we finally crossed the start line, and the next 5 miles were spent attempting to weave through the crowd. While it was frustrating, I kept trying to remember that this was not MY race.  I was there to commemorate a horrible event in our history and to honor service members past and present, so I very patiently passed people at a very slow pace.  People with packs, people carrying large flags, teams of 5 walking arm in arm, and people who didn’t train at all and were struggling at mile 3.

I never carry my camera or a phone during races, but I wish I had for this one.  There were so many amazing and inspiring sights, and the scenery was incredible!

This is what the first 5 miles looked like.

This is what the first 5 miles looked like.

Also, I have managed to make my legs somewhat unsuitable for running (another post for another day).  Should I have run on Sunday?  Probably not. I was in pain for the first 10 miles. Yet, something about seeing a wounded warrior with an amputated leg carrying a 35 pound pack on his back changed my perception of discomfort.  My little side calf issue that hasn’t fully healed since October?  Absolutely nothing compared to to these amazing strong and determined people.  So I ran on and I ran with a feeling of purpose.  Not everyone gets the privilege of running on two feet.

I decided to just enjoy the experience and not put pressure on myself to run fast.  I was hurting, and a heat advisory had been issued the day before suggesting that people not participate if they weren’t fit enough to handle it.   I walked the aid stations and drank full cups of water to keep hydrated (turns out, there is significantly less spillage with this method!).

Spectators aren’t allowed on the course (can you imagine all of the rattlesnakes and explosive items that might be lurking in the desert?).  But that didn’t stop a man wearing a mullet wig (or, maybe just sporting his natural mullet?), dancing like a weirdo, banging on his cowbell near the start.  It was the only spectator amusement we got all race, and he was definitely enough!  Thank you, Mr. Cowbell Man for your enthusiasm!

At about mile 2, the pavement turned into dirt, and I wouldn’t see pavement again until the last .1 mile.  Truthfully, the dirt was pretty packed down, so it wasn’t horrible to run on.  Definitely dusty, but not impossible.

My dad was running the full, so he had a significant head start.  I ran into him at mile 4 and he ran with me for a couple of minutes.  He was doing the run 4 minutes/walk 2 minutes method and was able to keep it up for 17 miles before having to walk.  He’s in solid half marathon shape, but he hadn’t been training for a full.

Slide7

At mile 7, I came across my sister’s boyfriend (I thought he was running with her, so I was surprised to see him), and I ran with him for a bit.  This was about the time that the sleepless night started impacting my overall mood.  I was grumpy and exhausted.  At about mile 8, the course splits sending full marathoners and Honorary racers into different directions.  Volunteers yell out exactly where you need to go, and someone checks each person as they go through their respective chute to make sure nobody goes the wrong way.  I went from being on a course with thousands of marchers to suddenly being around about 2 or 3 other people.  Out of the 5200 participants, less than 900 did the Honorary.

At mile 9, I came across the dreaded part of the course known as the Sand Pit.  For a little less than a mile, the rocky sand is ankle deep and incredibly soft.  Oh, and lest this be too easy, the whole part is uphill.  This comes at about mile 21 for the full marathon, and I can imagine that walking with a 35 pound pack makes the section just slightly more cruel.  Truthfully, it wasn’t as bad as I had heard, but it wasn’t the easiest running experience. I slipped down to a 9:50 for that mile split.

Check out that nice uphill!

Check out that nice uphill!

As I emerged victoriously from The Sand Pit of Doom, I had a really weird race moment.  I looked around and realized I was completely alone in the middle of the desert which was truthfully very disorientating. I have never been all alone during a race.  I started questioning if I was in the right place, and then I started having visions of grandeur.  Perhaps me, little Amy Lavender in her bright green compression socks, was in first place (forget the fact that logically, Aaron had to be somewhere far ahead).  I also really count on other racers to bring out my competitiveness, so not having any one there made me much less motivated to pick up the pace.

I approached an aid station, and I felt kind of like a rock star as these awesome volunteers cheered loudly just for me.  They also sprung into action and picked up their water/sports drink trays.  I didn’t necessarily need a cup of water and a cup of sport drink, but I felt bad for having them pick everything up for me, so I stopped and took one of each and thanked the volunteers for their support.

Luckily, the complete loneliness only lasted a mile.  I turned a corner, and spotted a herd of about 10 runners half a mile ahead.  I made it my mission to pass these people.

I overtook the first of them at mile 12, only to get re-passed when I stopped at the mile 12 aid station to high-five a little kid and accept one of the little American flags he was handing out.  But, as soon as I was done at the aid station, I put on my DOMINATE face with only 2.2 miles to go, and slowly overtook my racing comrades one by one.  I should also mention that there were no “categories” for the Honorary march.  Most of the people doing this race were in normal running clothes as opposed to uniforms, not carrying any sacks, and not running in teams, so it wasn’t like I was unfairly whizzing past people.

Slide3

I always secretly want to be a big cheerleader type person, but I always feel so awkward shouting out words of encouragement as I pass people.  Will people think I’m being pretentious if I cheer them on as I leave them in my dust?  I usually do a mental “GOOD JOB!” as I pass people, but I rarely feel comfortable saying it out loud.  But every lady I passed during those last 2 miles cheered me on, and I felt like an ass for not putting forth more of an effort.  I shouted a hearty “YOU TOO!” in response, but maybe I should have initiated the good will.

Mile 12 is also when the winds picked up.  They would get worse throughout the day (when we were driving back to Las Cruces several hours later, we saw a bunch of marathoners get blasted by an intense dust cloud), but we got a small taste of it.  The combination of wind and sand and sweat is not a fun one.

I knew I was getting close to the end, and started focusing on a strong finish. Every flier/volunteer/website has a different mileage distance listed for the Honorary (everywhere between 13.5-15.2 miles), so I wasn’t sure WHEN it would end, but I knew it was coming.

There was one last aid station at mile 13.5 (with only .7 miles to go).  I wouldn’t have stopped, but again, I was the only person there and the volunteers were going out of their way to make sure I had water.  So, I grabbed some.  Then, I heard the familiar voice of Coach Aaron telling me to KEEP RUNNING.  For every race that he is able, Aaron circles around after he is finished to meet me and run with me into a fast finish.  And there he was, waiting for me at the mile 13.5 aid station.

I attempted to swallow some water as I ran on.  I asked Aaron how he did, and he gleefully let me know that he was the first to cross the finish line.  He was cautiously optimistic since it was hard to tell the chip times of people who potentially started way after us.  He also let me know that I was the 4th female in, but he had talked to one of the girls and she said that she had started near the front of the march and likely hadn’t run a 3rd place time.

Slide5

With the prospect of finishing THIRD OVERALL FEMALE, I picked up the pace and excitably attempted to spot the finish line. I’m glad Aaron was there with me, because the turn off from barren desert to finish line chute wasn’t exactly obvious to someone trying to sprint her way in.  The finish line chute was downhill, which makes for an amazing flying sensation, and, with American flag in hand, I ran in with some awesomely supportive spectators cheering me on.

I crossed the finish line in 2:05:43, an 8:50 average pace which is by far the slowest race pace I’ve ever had.  I realize that this isn’t a traditional race and I shouldn’t treat it as such, but if this race was supposed to validate my fitness level for Boston, let’s just say that it didn’t.

Slide2

I took my dog tag out of my pocket, and medaled myself, proud of finishing a race that was harder than most.

Aaron and I stayed cheering people on for about 20 minutes.  We chatted with the girl who ran the fasted female time.  People came up to congratulate us and ask me why on earth I was wearing bright green socks.  We also talked with the sport drink sponsor reps.  The course served Cera-sport.  It was much sweeter than Gatorade  but it is designed not to screw with your stomach.  The reps talked sports drinks with us for a bit since apparently we looked like we knew our way around our Gatorade, Cytomax, and Nuun.

We weren’t sure how far behind my sister’s boyfriend was, or how far behind my sister was, so Aaron and I decided to trek to the car, pick up some more sunscreen, and then head to the mess hall for lunch.  Lunch (choice of burger, brat, or pulled pork sandwich along with potato salad and Bud Light) was provided for all the marchers which was really a nice perk.  We met up with my sister’s boyfriend, and my sister finished her first half about an hour later.  We were all able to enjoy our victory lunch together.

Slide8 IMG_6104 - Copy IMG_6101 - Copy

Aaron took a nap on the golf course, and he definitely wasn’t the only one.

IMG_6105 - Copy

Because my dad was expecting to finish in about 7 hours, we had decided beforehand to head back to Las Cruces early since we still had a 3 hour drive home (he ended up finishing in about 6 and a half hours in a course best for him!). We headed back to my sister’s apartment and took an amazing shower (the amount of dirt on face my was unreal) and a really quick nap (still going on 1.5 hours of sleep).  We weren’t able to really celebrate St. Patrick’s Day since we still had to drive home, but we stopped at another local restaurant/microbrewery called De La Vega and grabbed a quick early dinner and a beer flight before driving home.  This was actually a really great restaurant, and the beer was decent.

IMG_6110 - Copy IMG_6107 - Copy

While I totally understand and appreciate that this wasn’t “our” race, we were also really anxious to know the results.  Aaron had possibly WON the half, and I had possibly won third overall female.  By Monday morning, the results still hadn’t been posted.  Any inquiries via the race facebook page were met with some severely harsh comments from other racers (not the organization itself) suggesting that it was our patriotic duty to shut the eff up when it came to results.  Like most races, chip timing was outsourced, so this isn’t a reflection on the race itself.

And when they did finally post, they went up in waves.  While we got ours posted on Monday night, some didn’t post until Tuesday afternoon. But when the half results did post, it was a joyous occasion!

Presentation1 Presentation2

Unfortunately, awards are not given out for the Honorary march.  This may very well be the only race that Aaron wins, and the only where I come in 3rd, but we will have to be content with our private celebration.  And that’s ok.  We are still very excited about our accomplishment!

IN CONCLUSION:

Bataan Memorial Death March is a race that I think every American should consider.  I was inspired and humbled with every step, and I am so grateful that I got to experience it NOW. Even 20 years from now, World War II will be a long forgotten war.  While I’m sure this race organization will make every attempt to keep the meaning of this event forefront, soon there will be no survivors.  Most of the marchers will be too young to have ever had conversations with their grandparents or even great grandparents about the war years.  While it will be a nice memorial, the marchers of the future will be too far removed from the war to really grasp the significance.  To get the opportunity to run and shake the hand of a man who survived is an unforgettable experience.

I do suggest that anyone who wants to run keeps that meaning in mind.  You will spend the first several miles weaving through people.  It will be hot, dusty, sandy, and uphill.  There are less water stations than you might want (everyone in my family aside from Aaron and me carried CamelBaks).  And you will be reminded that running fast is pretty wimpy if you don’t have on a full uniform and 35 pound sack on your back.  And you will have to be ok with all that.

With good reason, the Bataan Memorial Death March has become the New Mexico marathon of choice for the Marathon Maniacs, 50 Staters, and all other efforts at running a race in every state. Because of this, I think it should be noted that this in no way is a tradition marathon/ half marathon.

This is not the race for you if:

1) You are looking for a PR (the half distance is pretty unique anyway);

2) you think $95 for a race entitles you to flawless execution and lots of bells and whistles (the marathon and honorary cost the same).  You do get the dog tag, a t-shirt, a reusable drawstring backpack, lunch, and course support.

3) you hate running on dirt, hate trail running, or hate running uphill;

4)  and for whatever reason if you have an aversion to the military, veterans, or people being extremely patriotic.

I would suggest flying into El Paso and booking a hotel in Las Cruces (but book early…there aren’t a lot of rooms to go around).  Get to the gate at 4:30 am if you don’t want to walk 2 miles to the start line.  PRINT OUT YOUR PARKING PASS or you will hold up the long line and grumpy sleep deprived people will hate you.  Prepare for the fact that there is no gear check.  Bring your dog tag with you to the race so you can wear it afterwards.  And enjoy and appreciate that you are getting to experience a small part of history.

IMG_6119 - Copy

Marathon Reflection Monday: 34 Days Until Boston

For me, there is an exciting moment when the Garmin beeps, and I realize that I have just run 20 miles. I don’t think there is anything more reassuring during marathon training than knowing that you have hit that milestone.  It is the moment (for me, anyway) where I realize that I am going to be able to run this beast of a distance.

THANK GOODNESS I was able to experience that moment again this past weekend.

I was worried about Saturday’s run because my last attempt at a long run ended with a 5 mile walk home.  I also approached it cautiously since my last successful long run was 17.5 miles…more of a mileage jump than I’d like.

The weather on Saturday was supposed to be pleasant during the morning and rainy in the afternoon, but I think weather.com lied.  Because it was windy and snowy (I was wearing shorts) so, it wasn’t the least miserable run ever.  Aaron had to work on Saturday morning, so I ran this one solo, but he did get out on his bike to meet me at about mile 14.

As luck would have it,  I ran into a coyote during this rare solo run.  It just ran across the road in front of me, and then stood there, about 10 feet away, eating something while I had a heart attack.  Albuquerque is a city where coyotes can be found in just about every part of town, but this was only my second time running into one.  My reaction was to freeze, call Aaron (more as an “in case I die, this is where to find me” precaution), walk slowly, and then bolt.  It worked, apparently, but I was pretty nervous.  That mile split was about 13:00.

Also, it is worth acknowledging that despite the random snow storm on Saturday, we have had great spring time weather which unfortunately means pollen.  I only developed allergies maybe 2 years ago, but now I’m a sneezy little person.  This past week, I have hacked up more yuck stuff from my throat then I care to think about.  I also think, unscientifically, that my lungs aren’t taking in adequate amounts of oxygen, leaving me much more out of breath than I should be.  All part of the sport I suppose.

Otherwise, the run went as well as it could.  I was expecting to feel like hell at mile 19 since I hadn’t built up the mileage, but everything felt great during and post run.  We celebrated victory by watching basketball ALL day.  Aaron’s team (New Mexico) lost by 1 point in the last few seconds.  I was only minorly sad since I typically don’t cheer for the Lobos, but the environment of disappointment was almost too much to handle at the sports bar.  Except for the lady watching hockey.  She didn’t care.

Meanwhile, my Saint Mary’s Gaels won by 3 points and are set to play Gonzaga for the WCC championships tonight.  Interestingly enough, the way the current bracket predictions are going, Saint Mary’s COULD play New Mexico in the 3rd round.  I do not want to see what this might look like for our marriage. Also, I would fear for my life if I went anywhere in this town with an SMC shirt should that game occur (though really, the odds of us getting past the 2nd round aren’t high).

Bracket

UH OH

ANYWAY.

I have a back down off it week this week including Bataan next weekend (14.2 trail race) and then one last long run before tapering.  SO NUTTY.  This has gone by so much faster the second time around.  And I’m so thankful that aside from some minor hiccups, I’ve managed to stay injury free.  Let’s just hope I can get through the next 2 weeks without any major issues!

TRAINING RECAP:

Monday: 5 mile recovery run

Tuesday: 1.2 mile walk (had to postpone the scheduled workout to Wednesday morning)

Wednesday: 8 x hill repeats (7 miles total) + 1 hour spin

Thursday: 5.5 mile tempo run/7.5 miles total, 58:48 (7:58 pace).  I really wanted to die for a lot of this, and had to stop on about 3 occasions to cough stuff up.

Friday: Rest

Saturday: 20 miles!!! 3:03:34 (9:10 pace)

IMG_6048

Sunday: BLERG. We put off running until the afternoon because we didn’t get up in time (time change), but on my way back home from lunch with my family, I started feeling really sick and I spent the afternoon in bed sleeping.  The thermometer confirmed my fever.  I’m feeling fine today (even though I still technically have a fever…don’t tell), but I was looking forward to celebrating 50 miles this week, and now I can’t.

TOTAL MILEAGE: 40.7

MARATHON GOALS:

I think this week was one of those that really shows how hard it is to lose weight while marathon training.  Spinach salad with grilled chicken just wasn’t enough to satisfy my enormous hunger, and after a hard workout, the last thing I wanted to do was more squats.  Sunday night is usually our yoga night, but I wasn’t up for it yesterday.  Staying on track with my goals was just much harder than it has been.  With 5 weeks to go, I’m running out of chances to hit 2 perfect weeks in a row.

IMG_6047Hope you have a great week despite the sleepies this morning!

 

Marathon Reflection…Uh Whatever Day This Is: 45 Days Until Boston

This week has been weird.  Typically, I sit at a desk for 8 hours a day and take an hour long lunch break where I can blog stalk, but this week I’ve been out of the office (in a warehouse moving and staging office furniture) with a 20 minute “standing up” lunch break and no computer access. But hey, I’ve gotten to wear running shoes and workout clothes to work all week! I don’t feel so bad for not getting Marathon Reflection Monday out somewhere in the vicinity of Monday, but I do feel bad for not having the chance to get caught up on everyone’s training.  Hopefully everyone is doing well! 

I’m not going to say that I’m injured, because I don’t necessarily think that I am.  I don’t think anything is broken, torn, or sprained.  But I think I’m slowly falling apart.  I feel like the runner equivalent of The Wicked Witch of The West, slowly melting into a giant puddle of green mush.

I did something on Saturday that I’ve never done during a training cycle before (dun dun dun). For the first time ever, I didn’t complete a long run that I started.

Truthfully, it was one of those runs that seemed to not really want to happen in the first place (check it out…foreshadowing!).  We had 19 miles on the schedule.  I woke up and had no energy. Aaron handed me the sunscreen and the thought of reaching my arm out to grab it seemed exhausting.  It wasn’t tired in the “I just woke up” sense.  It was a tiredness that affected every bone in my body.  But, I kept getting ready and we managed to get ourselves out the door.  But of course my Garmin beeped “low battery” as we headed out.

The run started off ok.  It wasn’t as fast as last week’s long run, nor did it feel as effortless.  But we soldiered on.  We made it through the 7.5 miles of uphill,  turned the corner, and had started on the faster, flatter part of the run.

And then it happened.

Right as we hit the 9.75 mile point, a painful spasm engulfed my leg and stopped me in my tracks. Stemming from under my knee, it felt more “nerve” related than muscle related, and it made me cry out in pain.  I tried stretching for a bit, tried running again, even tried to convince myself that it didn’t hurt THAT badly (it totally did), but as my Garmin beeped “10” (and then died…much like my run), I knew there was no way I could run another step. This, on my good leg…the leg that hasn’t been giving me any problems this whole training cycle.

Unfortunately, we were just over the halfway point of our run, and almost at the farthest point out.  From where we were, our house was about 5 miles away.  So, Aaron and I walked home, hand in hand, looking like the most over-prepared walkers with our fuel belts.  It was a moment that made me completely grateful for my husband.  I would have been crying had he not been there to help me laugh the situation off.

At a few points along the way, I tried running again, but I would only make it a few strides before the spasms started.

Saturday’s workout ended up being 15 miles in something like 3 hours and 15 minutes (at least I got lots and lots of time on my feet!).

After getting home and analyzing the situation, I’m positive that nothing is broken/torn/strained. But after stretching/rolling/yoga, it is very evident that my leg muscles are tighter than they have ever been.  I’m positive that the tight muscles in my right leg caused me to over compensate with my left leg, tightening those muscles to the point that other things were  getting pulled, causing the spasms.

Sunday, I decided to do my miles on the treadmill so if something weird happened, I wouldn’t have a long walk ahead of me.

I only ran 5 miles…in other words, I didn’t get anywhere near my target mileage this weekend.  I still don’t know if it was the right decision to keep Sunday’s run so short (or if it was the right decision to take Monday and yesterday as rest days).

But every muscle in my legs is tight right now and running won’t loosen them up.  And the incredible number of injuries that I’ve seen over the last month are making me perhaps more paranoid than normal.  A painfully tight muscle today is just waiting to turn into plantar fasciitis, a stress fracture, or a myriad of other issues.  I’m taking all of the proper measures (icing, rolling, massage, rest, etc. etc. etc.), but I haven’t run without pain since last Saturday, and it is getting old.

It is kind of funny though.  Before that happened, I had a great week of training.  It seems that when I have a really bad week of training, my long run feels great.  When I have a great week of training, my long run hurts.  Just another reminder that I have a long way to go before I figure out how in the heck to train for marathons.

Workout Recap

Monday: 4.5 mile recovery run

Tuesday: 4 mile tempo run with 1 mile warm up and 1 mile cool-down (6.1 miles total, 8:14 pace).  Tempo pace ranged from 7:20-8:00

Wednesday: 1 hour spin, 1 mile walk

Thursday: 4 miles at half marathon pace (overall average pace 7:53)

Friday: Organized group workout: 2 hours of weights/abs/treadmill (I walked)/body pump/body jam/spin…I took this workout as easy as I could without looking like a bad sport.  The trainer in charge of the treadmill section even asked if I was ok since I was walking so slow.  Perhaps I didn’t take it easy enough?

Saturday: Long run (ish): 10 miles running, 5 miles walking, 3:15 hours on my feet and a bruised ego

Sunday: 5 not-so- fast miles

TOTAL MILES: 36.6 (should have been 44)

Marathon Goals:

Despite the terrible long run, this was a great workout week.  I’m hoping that I can finally hit a 2 week streak this week!

IMG_5870

*ALSO I’m trying not to make this a pity party.  I do feel a weird sense of guilt for not completing an important long run, but I have to remember that it isn’t the end of the world.  I think I’m just in a grumpy mood in general this week (being on your feet all day is actually really tiring), so that isn’t helping. And I’m thankful that even though everything DOES hurt, at least I’m not actually injured (KNOCKS OBNOXIOUSLY LOUD ON WOOD).

Have you ever had to cut a long run short?