Thursday, April 5, 2018

Not Letting Running Run My LIfe

Not Letting Running Run My Life

70 mile run weeks and climbing. Feels great!, tackling epic new routes, heading for that big PR. Then tragedy strikes in the form of a piece of wood from my hardwoods piercing the ball of my foot. A damaged tendon and problem after problem followed, and now here I am 10 weeks later, not running.

The first five weeks of this injury I went through a debilitating depression, having my stress relief and social time taken from me by a piece of wood. I couldn't walk without pain and had no one to talk to, all my friends were running. It was hard and I wasn't sure how to escape it without the one thing that has always provided me relief, running.

Then my eyes started to open.... Not running is not the end of the world. I started going to the gym more often, swimming and doing the elliptical. I started strength training at home on a regular basis.  I found TV shows that I enjoyed and started reading all the books on my reading list. I took my dog to the dog park, created new recipes, and most importantly, I started saying yes when people wanted to do things.

As time went on I began to realize that I had letting running take over my life for the past 7 years. How many times have I uttered the phrase "Sorry, I can't, I have to run." I don't remember those runs, and the race(s) I was training for have faded from memory. You know what else I don't remember???,  the experience I would have had had I said "Yes" to whatever it was I turned down.

I had let running become the entirety of my social time, and on the occasions I did things outside of running, all we talked about was running; what the weather meant for a race, what training runs a person had coming up, what paces people were running. Texting each other about running, snapchatting about running, instagramming about running, etc.  So when I couldn't run anymore, many friendships became awkward because all we knew was running.  It was a time for a change. 

I began to make it a point to talk to people and steer conversations away from running, instead finding other common ground to connect on. I began to say "Yes" when people invited me to do things. I began to make plans for myself that had nothing to do with a race or a run I wanted to do. I slept in, started going to the symphony, and started going out with friends. These are memories I will keep and relationships that will last.

So even if my foot does heal and I can run again, I do solemnly swear I will never again utter the words "Sorry, I can't, I have to run". Running is great and an important part of my life (hopefully I can get back soon) but I can not let it control my life again. I will not put running ahead of my friendships, having experiences, or making plans for the future.

So my words of wisdom to take or leave as you will: don't let that training run, that training plan, that race, become your whole life. Lest you find yourself with no-one to do things with or nothing to talk about when it is gone. 

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Boston 2017

I dreaded the Boston Marathon, there I've said it! I spent the two weeks before the marathon getting more and more anxious about the whole thing. Not the distance itself, I know I can run a marathon...but the hugeness of the race, the crowdedness of the expo, and the juggling of working out different peoples plans.  I also know people are going to be tracking me, which always makes me self-conscious when I run. Plus, truth be told I just don´t love big races, I am more of a 100 people running 30+ miles on single track trails type of girl. So, I am really really dreading this race!

Well, turns out I need not have dread it, the whole weekend was a blast and here is how it went...

Time to Fly! 

Saturday morning I get to the Pittsburgh airport, and as I get parked in extended parking and get on the shuttle I find out that I am on the same flight as my training partner. Kate and I are traveling together! Ya!!! This was also after finding out that Joe and I are also on the same flight. This trip is starting off pretty darn well!  Kate and I are very excited and we may have made snapchat video's on the moving sidewalks to send to our 3rd training partner who isn't along for the ride this time, we really do have fun no matter where we go. I am sure people were like WTF are those girls doing. hahaha. Well, we finally get all settled on the plane, and of course there is a mechanical error. AHHHH, we may miss our connecting flight. Then as we get off the flight to wait, the woman says "Who all is going to Boston?" About 8 of us raise our hands and she continues on "We are putting you on a direct flight that is one gate over and departing in 10 minutes." Double YAAA! Now we are getting there early. And as we get on the plane it is me, Kate, Adam, Joe, and a few other Pgh folk. The plane is only half full, so we get to sit all together and get double seats! Triple Yaa! Good JuJu for the weekend!

After a short and easy flight we get to Boston where I figure out the train system (thanks to a VERY detailed set of instruction from my friend Kim who lives there, Thanks Girl!) and I meet up with Nat at our air BnB where I enjoy a few glasses of wine. I am on vacation!  Then it's off to meet everyone for dinner. Nat and I thought we had it all figured out, however due to a little uncertainty with the silver line, we ended up walking a few miles and may have been 45 minutes late too, OOPS, sorry guys! However we were quickly forgiven by our friends as we chowed down on seriously delicious Italian fare. Mmmm, ravioli made with butternut squash and figs in a Gorgonzola sauce... friggin amazing! The food was exceptional, the company even better!
This is marathon #4 together! 
Ready to go! 

Sunday...It's EXPO time! But first the Runner's World Shake out run. Nat and I meet up with Joe and we listen to some words of wisdom from the great Bart Yasso, then do a nice and easy 3 mile run. While out we see Shalane Flannigan out running, I thought Nat was going to chase her down. hahahaha. When we get back to the Runner's World shop, we get bagels and water, as well as a really cool bag with all sorts of goodies from KT tape! I LOVE KT tape, so I am super pumped about this. And now it is time to expo. I really like a good expo, I love to walk up and down the aisles, looking at all the of different shops and vendors. Joe is buying a Boston shirt from every shop, or close too, and I am looking for the one I will actually wear. I also pick up a cute headband, you can never have enough headbands. Now its time to hit up the Pasta Dinner and get race day ready. By the end of the day I have walked 11 miles, oops.
The whole Boston crew post pasta dinner
**Side Note** If going to the Pasta Dinner, prepare to stand in line for a good 45 minutes.... but the pasta is good and plentiful!

Now onto the race itself: First and foremost, I knew from watching the weather that it was going to be H.O.T, so I knew I wasn't go to PR. I just wanted to run a nice chill race and have fun. So I got together with Joe and we discussed that that was his idea too. Go there, and if the weather gods shined down on us and gave us cool weather we would try to push pace, but if it was hot we would have fun and enjoy the process. An lo and behold, we leave the house at 6:35 am and it is almost 70*, easy goes it it is.

Bus ride down! 
I had been very anxious about the whole morning process of Boston: so many runners, plus trying to connect with everyone, etc...well I need not have been. The BAA knows what it is doing! Gear check was a breeze, as was finding a spot to all meet. The bus loading was painless and so with just the right amount of time to get everything done we head down south to Hopkinton. We get there and head towards athlete village where we immediately jump into a bathroom line. This was smart decision making, because by time we got through it (and we picked a ¨short¨ line) it was time to line up. It is a wee little walk to the start, but not awful and we quickly get corralled.
Athletes Village

As Joe and I get line up in our corral, I immediately start giggling, Joe and I are lined up next to a caveman,  (Caveman Article) wearing a long black wig and nothing but a loin cloth. I see ass cheeks and bare feet. And I am not going to lie, I was 100% sneaking a peak to see how well covered the front was. *shrugs*, it couldn't have been comfortable. lol  Time counts down and we are off, down a very big hill. Hold back baby, no point in going out too fast.

There are aid stations every mile starting at mile 2, and since I know I have a history of heat exhaustion during races, I plan on using every single one. I also am going to take a salt tab every 5 miles with my gel. And that is exactly what I do, drink a Gatorade, two-three waters to pour down myself starting with aid station one and keep it up until the end. (Well, I quit drinking Gatorade around 20, my stomach was less than thrilled). We quickly found that everyone was cramming into the fluid stations on the right hand side of the road, so we stayed on the left and used the one .1 miles down on the left... a lot less crowded ,so much easier to navigate.
We did it! 

As we ran I was constantly awed by the sheer number of people running. You would look ahead (and with barely any turns you could always see a ways ahead) and there would be just a huge crowd of runners, a sea of bright colors and bobbing heads. It was almost overwhelming. And then you would look right and left and there would be spectator on spectator lined up on the roads, yelling, cheering, offering water/oranges/popsicles or beers to any runner who wanted it.

There were signs on signs, some funny, some motivating, and all appreciated. There were dogs and children, waiting for pets and high fives. There were open fire hydrants to run through, and several people who had out their garden hoses spraying down the runners. And of course you cannot blog about the Boston Marathon without mentioning the Wellesly girls scream tunnel, those girls are serious about their cheering! I saw a man stop and kiss at least 7 of them, me personally I am not kissing some chick on the side of the road (eww...I don´t know where those mouths have been), but it was entertaining and I very much enjoyed running through.

Around mile 16 Joe decided to scale back a little, the heat has gotten rough. So we say our goodbyes and I trudge ahead without him, but not alone as you can´t run alone at the Boston marathon. 

Now the other thing that has to be mentioned is the Newton Hills. I would like to start by saying, I am glad I train in Pittsburgh, those hills were totally tolerable thanks to a lot of miles on brutal hills here at home. I would also like to say that Heartbreak hill is not the hardest hill in the Boston Marathon....actually I barely noticed it after doing the ones before. That all being said, I was glad when they were over!

Coming into the finishers chute
The hills are over and now it is time to head towards the finish! As I come down towards the city I see my friend Kim, I was so excited and I truly saw her at the exact moment I needed to. It was mile 24 and I was getting tired, she gave me the boost I needed! So I get my shit together and head towards the finish. As I come through the city in the last mile I see 3 runners being treated by medics on the course, all laying on the ground. The sight brings tears to my eyes and I understand their struggle, especially being so close. As I come upon the finish through the crowds, I am again overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of support. I see a runner being helped across the finish (which ps: for anyone with nasty comments about how those people should be dq´d because they had help, go stuff a sock in it!) which again brings tears. Then I am across that infamous finish line! I have completed my first Boston Marathon. 
Across the line! 

The finish line is set up amazingly well, I wish other marathons would take note! You walk 20 or so feet and get a water, then another 10ft and get a Mylar blanket, then another 20ft for your medal and then all of the food and protein shakes. Everything moves smoothly and there are no jam ups along the way. I grab my gear check bag, change in the ladies changing tent and start to look for my friends. I find Joe first, then Anna, then Kate and Adam. Then we end up finding Nat, Alicia, and Marshall and we all head off towards the trains. Get home, get showered, pop the champagne, and now I am ready to go out and celebrate. As for the rest of the trip, well lets just leave it at I had a lot of fun!

Will I run the Boston Marathon again, I don´t know. I re-qualified for Boston in Boston, so if I want to go back next year I can. However, it is a very expensive trip and as much as I enjoyed the weekend, I don´t know that it can be a yearly thing. However, who knows....maybe I will win the lottery :-)
My Wingwoman and Training Partner
Getting Ready to Celebrate! 

Boston was a great experience, one that I had the joy of experiencing with amazing friends who made the whole weekend memorable! And now that I have been there I understand the drive to go! So if you are working towards it, keep it up because it is 100% worth the work! As for me, I am going to take it easy for a little while. Get back in the gym, have a social life, you know...the things that go out the window while training :-)

Sunday, March 26, 2017

North Park Loops, UGH

Most people from Pittsburgh know about running loops around North Park, and quite a few of those most would agree that UGH is the best word to use to describe it. See, North Park has a wonderful lake that has a 5 mile on the dot loop around it. It has running and biking lanes, and *mostly* enforced low speed limits. It is used by a massive variety of people; walkers, runners, bikers, Rollerbladers, and everything in-between. Local races like to say it is a "flat course", which of course in relation to the rest of Pittsburgh may be true, however it is also a big fat lie. It is five miles of rolling hills, some with bigger rolls than others.  It also has this wonderful camber that has you running on an angle for all 5 miles. And whereas it does have some pretty scenery, you have seen it all after one 5 mile loop... so longer courses are often described by runners as quite boring. HOWEVER, it is very popular among race directors because they don't have to pay to close down roads and there is no course to mark.

So knowing that running loops at North Park is UGH at best, why in god's good name did I decide to sign up for not one, but two races out there...two weekends in a row....

Race One: JC Stone 50k- 6, I repeat 6, loops around that damn lake. Race Two: Just a Short Run Half Marathon (the next weekend), a 3 mile loop around the ice rink and then 2 loops around that damn lake.

So after doing these races here is how it rolled( pun intended for the rolling hills), broken down by each race.

Race One: JC Stone 50k put on by Lou D'angelo. Like most ultra marathons, it is friggin awesome when it comes to the the organization and the community of people.  There are aid stations at mile 2.5 and 5 each loop, so you have an appropriate spacing between stations and a great way to mentally break up the race. The stations are manned by enthusiastic volunteers who are ready to meet your every need. The finish line has pizza, beer, and a catered meal made by the fantastic Audrey (strawberry stuffed french toast and  home potatoes). It comes with a sweet medal and if you make top three, a fantastic trophy (more on this later!).

Now lets talk about these 6 damn loops.

Loop one: I am running with my buddy Dan. This is his first 50k, because in true Dan fashion, since he was running 15 miles with me, he went ahead and signed up for the whole thing. I caution him that going out to fast will be a MAJOR error, so we start at a nice and chill 8:30 pace. It is 20 degrees and foggy. Perfect 😀. The camber of the road is okay so far and Dan and I watch as all the lead dudes and a bunch of ladies come roaring past us. I hold Dan me Dude, going out too fast is a big mistake. And, truth be told, my legs are heavvvvvvvy. I am already starting rethink my decision to run this. Oh well, too late. I am here and going. I don't have a DNF yet... and today is not the day. We spend the 43 minutes or so of this loop chatting about random stuff, catching up on our training and races...we haven't seen each other in a few weeks. Aid station 1 comes and goes and then we are back at the parking lot. One great thing about his race is you run right by your car so you can grab anything you need. I have my stuff there, but don't need anything yet. Dan's girlfriend Cacie is there and cheering, always a nice boost!

Loop two: Dan starts asking how I keep the runners fog out of my mind. He is also now talking about how tight his legs are (he has been killing it lately with races and such). I told him to "suck it up  buttercup and lets go", and by lets go I mean keep it nice and easy with another loop at 8:30 ish (although truth be told it may have been more like 8:20 ish....but oh well).  Legs are getting less heavy, so that is good. Camber is okay so far. I am telling Dan about the art of "plinking" during races... When you "plink" someone is when you have picked them as a person to pass and then you pass them. Then when you do, you quietly *hopefully* say plink! Just don't get plunked! He just laughs at me, and we start playing the plinking game.  Once we hit the aid station at the half, Dan admits he is having some "issues". I mention Kate (our other running partner who is coming out) said she might be able to get there for the start of the third loop, Dan begins praying for Kate. However, once we get to the parking lot, sorry...No Kate. I tell Dan I can manage a loop just fine on my own, but he isn't hearing it. I believe the exact words were "No, I said I would get you to Kate and I will!" At this moment I realize what awesome running partners I have. Off to loop 3

Loop three:  The fog is still hanging around which makes for a really pretty setting. Dan, however is not a fan. and he is not feeling real well.  So of course this means I get to spend the whole 5 miles telling ridiculous stories about the shit I see at work and the the funny story of W and his trip to the vet  (my 85 lb Labrador LOVES the vet and turns into a friggin maniac when he goes). Every time we come upon someone running from the opposite direction or standing at the side of the road, Dan chimes in with a "Is that Kate?" "No Dan, that is not Kate".  "No Dan, that is a dude tying his shoes". This loop I have picked us up to 8 min miles and we are trucking along just fine. I am talking about my plan for the rest of the race. Dan's new mandate becomes "That is Kate's job". Literally, everything is Kate's job. Mile 4 of 5, Hallelujah, there is Kate. I think Dan might cry. She joins in and gives an update on where some of the lead ladies are. Not to far ahead.... hmmmm.  As we hit the parking lot at the end of the loop I quick stop at my car to restock my gels. Good to go. Half way done.

Loop 4: The fog is starting to lift, and I am feeling okay, however the camber of the road is starting to impact me. Especially since I made the grave error of wearing my Saucony Freedoms. They do not have the support for this race. Truth be told, by the end of this loop my feet are hurting pretty bad, especially my left foot. But oh well, it's running... it hurts. That is just a basic running truth. Kate and I have gabbed the whole loop and it flies by. Oh, and PS: We totes have passed the third place lady. I now have my eye on the prize! As we roll into the parking lot I stop to take salt tabs... my fingers are now the size of not so small sausages and with some recent low blood pressure issues, I know I really need to be cognizant of my sodium intake. 2 tabs down and off we go.

Loop 5: Well this is starting to suck. But we have picked up the pace and we have passed the 2nd place lady. One to go! We are rocking out some nice 7:50's and are now singing songs. Now, when I say singing songs I mean the ones special education teacher's sing.... the preposition song, the presidents song, the polyhedron song and a few more. I am quite sure that everyone around was either highly entertained or just thought we were nuts! Half way through the loop we come upon a guy who is struggling. He runs with us for about a half mile before he falls back, it may or may not have been because he probably wanted us to shut up. Two chirpy females when tired and sore may be a bit much. hahaha However, the time and miles are flying by. The bottom of my feet feel like I have been running barefoot and are extremely painful, but it is only one more loop. So I turn my own "motivational quote" on myself, Suck it Up Buttercup. 

Loop 6: LAST ONE!!!! Thank the lord, because my feet are killing me and my legs are sooooooo tired. As we cross over to start the guys tell us that the 1st lady is only 30 seconds ahead of us. Oh yeah baby! As we run past Cacie I hand her my hair tie that I forgot was on my wrist and with it being a little swollen from the need for sodium, it is cutting off circulation. No biggie, hand it off and away we go. Now at this point, I really would like that first place spot... so I tell Kate since she isn't too far ahead of us I want to slowly catch her. The goal is by the half way aid station. So we slowly start picking up the pace and sure as shit, we catch her exactly at the aid station. I tell Kate we are blowing through it, we have 2.5 miles to go. It is time to dig deep and get it done. So I tune into my race day focus, where literally I get this tunnel vision in front of me, I see or hear nothing around me, and I GO! I finish out the last 2.5 miles with 7:45 average miles. Cross that finish and THANK YOU GOD, I am done and not dying! My feet hurt and I am tired, but I am okay!

I get my trophy from Lou which is this incredible solid bronze sculpted plate that is GORGEOUS and we wait for Dan. Then comes the drinking of beer (I had bought good beers to celebrate Dan's first 50K) and then the food. Overall, it was a fantastic race and one I was very proud of! Not a terrible first race for the 2017 season. Now off to rest and recover. I have another one next weekend.

Race 2: Just a Short Run 1/2 marathon... IE: The Shit Show

Well, in case you didn't figure out from the title of this race, this DID NOT go as well as last weeks! My poor left foot is KT-taped for both my ankle and the not-feeling so great tendons on the top of my foot. Fingers crossed it helps! I really want to do well.

So this race has a 5k, a 8.1 mile, a 1/2 marathon and a 30k. I am signed up for the 1/2 marathon and I have a time goal. I get there early (ish) and manage to nab one of the few parking spots left by the start, go me! I get my bib, shorts, and socks and get ready to go. The temperature is the exact opposite of last week, it is 60* and climbing. This is going to be tough! I hang out, chat with friends, and eventually go out to warm up.

My 2 warm up miles should have been my BIG RED FLAG! Man, my legs felt like they were made of lead, with blocks of concrete on the bottom. But no, I figure I just need to shake out the heaviness, I should be fine. I get lined and here we go!

Loop 1: This goes UP UP UP the big hill for a mile, then loops down around the ice rink and back to the start. A 3.1 mile loop. I go out with the lead pack... so far so good. I fall a little behind them on the uphill, NBD. I mean, I am a good negative pacer. I know not too push to hard up the hill, I can carry it on the down. Welp, it is true I ride behind the pack all the way through the 3.1 loop. We are rocking out in  the 7:20's .... And this is also about the time I realize, yeah... legs are still made of lead and there is probably steel reinforcers in those concrete blocks. But I am pushing!

Loop 2: So begins the looping of the lake,  the opposite direction from last weekend. Which means you go UP the "flat" course hills first. Yeah... 2 miles in... there is no way I can hold the pace today. Not only are the legs lead and concrete, it is also hot and humid. I am already down to short shorts and a sports bra and dumping water on myself because my body is heating up. My body is telling me NO, and I need to listen. So years of experience push their way through my stubborn competitive brain, and I listen. I slow down. I am not doing 7:20's anymore. I scale it back to the 7:45 range. Now, this just happens to also be the moment that I meet my new friend Bob. I see this guy whose face I recognize from Fleet Feet, so I inquire of him if that is indeed him. It is.  I have now met my running partner for the rest of the race. Bob and I power through the rest of loop 1, getting to know each other and sharing our life stories. ( I genuinely believe the best way to get to know someone is run with them, you have nothing to do but converse! I think I will start taking my first dates on runs... boom, perfect way to see if we click!). But anyways, back to the run. As we hit the back half of the first loop I am really feeling last weeks race and am thinking about slowing down a little bit more. Thankfully Bob had the same idea. Woohoo, I keep my new run friend.

Loop 3: Bob and I joke about stopping and only doing 8.1, but my stubborn competitive brain won't let me. I signed up for the half, I am doing the half dammit. So we trudge along. We continue to chatter away about life, talking about the things we have done and want to do, and we are both struggling. I feel like death, but I am trying to stay positive. I want this thing done but there is not point to being miserable. As we get around to the first aid station, Bob and I agree we are going to walk it, take a gel, and get Gatorade and water. At this point in time Joe and Brit (my long time running partners and friends) come through. Brit yells at me to get moving and I tell her I just can't. She offers me a salt tab (which probably seriously saved me for the rest of the race) and they keep going. I dump a few cups of water on my head and shoulders, take some Gatorade and off we go. We pick it back up and even though we are dying, we are still managing 7:50 ish paces. Not too shabby. We continue to gab away and I continue to douse myself in water. I can feel my blood pressure dropping, I know I need to get cooled off and get done with this race. Now, I know I have given up all hope of any sort of placing, I tell Bob I am bound and determined to get him an Age group award. We come upon the last aid station and he says he is going to walk. I  promptly tell him no he isn't because we have 1.5 miles left and lets go. I then tell him he can tell Bob S (the owner of fleet feet, his boss, and my good friend) that he has officially been bullied by Ambyr! **Although, I prefer the term "assertive encouragement". hahaha. ***

So we finish it out and keep a nice pace. We finish with a respectable 1:43. I make a beeline for the Gatorade where luckily I come upon Joe and Brittany who immediately notice I don't feel well and get me hooked up with Gatorade and a banana while I stabilize myself. I take five minutes or so, then my buddy Jon helps me over to the curb to sit. Am I happy with my time? No, I'm not. Am I realistic that I didn't recovery properly from my 50k and therefore shouldn't be surprised. Yup. Lesson Learned! ✓ But I got to see so many people I know and that in itself made it a wonderful day!

This race didn't go well, but I am hoping this gets my bad race juju out of the way before my next set of races comes up!

Overall, not a terrible weekend of races. Now I finish out the last of my few weeks of training for Boston, Then comes Pittsburgh and my yearly trip to Cleveland to pace a few weeks after that. So, I am ready to keep moving, and hopefully continue to make progress!

Monday, February 27, 2017

Making the isn't always easy

Oh man, do I owe some people some apologies. Like, a lot of people! 

I have always tried to be understanding when people have said they are too busy to train, but there has always been a small part of me that didn't understand and therefore just thought "Whatever, you gotta make time"....Well, let me say now. I Stand Corrected. Let me tell you why.

I have always been an "on the go" type of woman. I like to be active and involved in things, and therefore I have always considered myself to be a busy person.  Until recently I didn't realize how busy I could be. See, in the last few months my life has become a very delicately balanced juggling act. I spend my days as a full time Emotional Support Teacher, and this years case load has been epically challenging, with some of the roughest kids I have had as a group and with a series of tough situations one after another. It has seemed like the emotional weight of this year has been the worst of my career.

I also have the joy of being on the board for a non-profit, Pumped to Run ( which works with the homeless shelters in Pittsburgh to help the homeless residents get walking and running, to help them build confidence and perseverance. I have been on the board for a year now, and in the last few months I had the honor of being voted onto the Executive Committee. So that gives me an extra set of responsibilities on top of the ones I already had as a committee chair. I love every aspect of it, but the time commitment is real.

Then, because the drain of my job has taken it's toll, I decided I needed a change. I want to stay in mental health, and specifically I want to work with kids from tough home environments that are often discarded as the "criminals" or "thugs". So, I decided I wanted to go back to school to get my doctorate in clinical psych so I could do research to find a way to help those kiddo's. That meant, taking the GRE! Of course, I haven't done this stuff in 15-17 years, so that means I have to study. And I have to study hard.

So while doing all of this, I am also training for the Boston Marathon and Pittsburgh Half. Now, I could run an easy plan, but you know me... If I am in, I am in 100%. That means I am running the Pfitzinger advanced marathon plan that has high mileage and intense workouts. That also means, since I want to eat all the food,  I have to spend time prepping mass amounts of food to make sure my body is getting the nutrients it needs.

Now here is where I owe apologies. Holy crap, finding the time to do all of these things with 100% effort has really become a HUGE juggle and it is hard!  To be 100% honest, occasionally a ball has dropped and things have also had to take the back burner. For example: I am an avid believer in cross-training, well that definitely took a back seat and it wasn't until the last few weeks that I have been able to find a way to work it back in. Often that means a daily 10 minute at home workout with my bosu and kettle bells. or with basic materials I can find in my house. I also use my pull-up bar at work during my prep periods. It isn't a lot but, it is something. Once a week I have started setting aside 1-1.5 hrs at the gym for a lift and swim. I am trying to up to it to 2 times....but it may not happen.

My social life has also taken a big back seat. I feel bad for all of the invites I have turned down and things I have missed from just the sheer exhaustion of making it all fit, and doing everything I am doing to the best of my ability. Often my runs and my workouts are my social time.  However, I have been trying to work in some fun outside of that on occasion too.

So how do I make it all work... it takes some creativity. I study GRE flashcards while I wait for my running partners or while I am sitting in traffic. I try to go from one activity straight to another so that I can just power through it all so I don't hit the chair/couch and then get stuck there. I draft e-mails in my head while I am walking W, so that I can send them as soon as I get home. I manage to cook dinner, shower, and make lesson plans simultaneously. I foam roll at work in the mornings, while meeting with my team to discuss the plan for the day (they are just used to it....hahaha). Multi-tasking is the name of the game!

I have always prided myself on excellent time management skills, a skill-set that fortunately aids me immensely in all of this. I am making it all work, and as always will keep pressing forward to do everything I need to do! But I want to stop and acknowledge all the hard workers out there who also make it all work! PROPS to you! 

So the moral of this story, I get it a little more now.  So sorry to all the people I unknowingly judged, it is hard to make it all work. I can't imagine doing this all and having kids too. So to all my Mama and Papas out there, you are amazing!

I also want to give encouragement. I know sometimes it is hard and overwhelming, push through... it can be done! 

And hopefully here in the next 5-6 weeks I will have a little more time on my hands to do the things I want to do, like have a little bit more fun! 

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Enjoying running VS the joy of running

A conversation I find myself having at least a few times a year goes something like this:

Me: Man that run was really fun!
RP: I agree, it was nice not to have a plan and to just do whatever
Me: This makes me remember the joy of running!

That conversation got me thinking. Hmmm, the joy of running vs enjoying running. It seems likes it is just semantics, but for me there is a real difference between them

So what is the difference?

Here is an example: The other day I did a run with a friend that went like this:

"How many miles we doing"...... "
 Idk, 10-11ish"....
"Ok, I could go up to 10"
"Where we going".....
"Idk, why don't we go up that road and loop around"... 
"Hey, lets cross the pedestrian bridge to cross 28" ...
"great, sounds good" "Oh hey, I didn't realize that is where the brewery was at, huh..."
"Wanna do that road that runs parallel to the highway",
"Yeah, we haven't been there in awhile"
"Hey, look at those big stairs, where do they go?" ....
"Want to go up them?"

Well, you get the drift! Literally every intersection was a brand new decision to make. We saw beautiful old homes, went up 5 sets of stairs, climbed a couple monster hills, saw new (to me) views of the city and scored a Christmas party invite for an event at a local historical property. And it was a run full of joy. No plan, nothing but adventure! We stopped and talked to people, we would change direction just to go check out some cool architecture, and we talked of nothing serious the whole way. The feeling that I had upon finishing was akin to the sense of zen you get at the end of yoga mixed with the elation of a great accomplishment. And I can honestly say that that is not how I feel during or after my typical day to day runs.


See, like most people, I stick with what I know and go off of what my plan says. As running has become an integral part of my life, it has also become scripted. I need to do 7 miles at a 8:40 pace with hills. Great, I know what route I comfortable with, where I know it is lit and I know what kind of people and traffic I will have to deal with.  I know where every road goes and have no chance of being turned around or lost.

Following the script is comforting. I still enjoy my runs (even the crappy ones) and look forward to getting out there and reaping the benefits of running, but more often then not I do not feel the joy of running when I am done. I may feel like a badass after a hard pace run, or feel a great sense of pride after hitting a new distance, but it isn't that sense of joy. Routine has gotten rid of that.  I still enjoy doing it and am happy afterwards, but it is not the same feeling. That feeling of being free, like I am a kid again running through the fields trying to catch horny toads.

Now, this summer I had a chance to run without the script, but I was travelling constantly for 6 weeks to unknown places, every run was an exploration. That is not real life most of the time. Until I win that big lottery, being a professional traveler who runs is just not an option. And quite frankly, I need scripted runs. I need routine, I need a plan to help me push through to that PR. I need to know where I am going when I want to get lost in thought while I run,  I need to feel comfortable that I will be safe when I am running alone as it gets dark, and that I will be minimally harassed during my runs. HOWEVER, I also want that sense of utter joy.

But here is the kicker, I don't know that you can plan a spontaneous for the joy of running run. Or can you? The annual Fleet Feet holiday lights run just came and went.  I know the route, and I even know most of the things it swings by. But, I also know we sang songs, stopped and to take silly photos at all the places and there was a sense of joy from everyone around. There was no seriousness. It was a joy of running run. So maybe they can be planned. Maybe once every other week or so one of those aerobic runs or recovery runs can be renamed as a Joy of Running run, a run where I meet up with friends and we explore a new neighborhood, or we stop and take photo's of all the street art that is around here, or we make it a scavenger hunt of sorts. Or, if I can't find someone who can... I can do those things on my own.  Maybe, just maybe I can have my cake and eat it too. I can have my script, my routine and still find joy in my sport. I think I will try it out. As I get into my next training plan, an aggressive 16 week plan for Boston, I will make sure that I keep some joy of running runs in there to break up script and keep my mind and spirit in a joyful place.

Happy Running! 

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Running and Depression & Anxiety

This is not an easy thing to open up about, nor is it a subject I broach lightly. Please know that I do not write this in seeking pity or sympathy, but more to bring light to something that many deal with in hopes that my story can bring clarity to at least one.

As a person who works in mental health, I have an unique view of depression and anxiety. I understand what it is and how it affects a person's brain, affecting mood. This knowledge makes having a depression and anxiety disorder myself even more difficult. It is not something I discuss with people, I chose to manage it on my own, in my way. I have suffered from these disorders since childhood and it wasn't until I began running that I found a healthy way to cope. Without fail, running is the most successful way I have found to help me deal with the symptoms of these, and for more than one reason

Depression and anxiety are both major things that can have great impact on quality of life, and when combined can have very serious negative consequences. For me it is like sinking into a dark hole where the world around me is dark and grey and I have no energy, no drive, and no desire to do things or be around people. And with the rise of social media, it makes it more difficult as you get onto your sites and see either other people's fun lives as portrayed by social media, or the utter darkness of people as they attack each other over difference of opinions and views. I also have a harder time as I took a journey this summer in which I found true joy and happiness, in a way that I have never experienced before. So I know what it is and how it is supposed to feel.

I try very hard when I find myself sinking into that hole to find the positive and seek to be around people, but it doesn't always happen. This is where running comes in. In running I find the chance to disconnect from the extremes of social media,  clear my mind of the situations and environments that are affecting me, get the chemical rise of hormones that I need, and provide me the chance to be around people in a positive encounter. It gives me a chance to remember that there are positive things in this world and that there are good people who genuinely care about each other and me.

Recently I have been in a dark place. It began when I decided to take a month off of running to heal from a high mileage couple of years. My body needed to heal properly. At the same time I started back to work and was presented with very difficult situations and kiddo's. I felt myself sliding and knew I needed to try to find something to help myself. Unfortunately, that meant sliding back into bad coping strategies which I in turn felt guilty about. It was a vicious cycle that I knew was no good. So, I started back into running. It was a hard start back as between my travels and time off I was kind of out of the loop and used to being alone. It was hard to push through and be with people. Of course this coincided with the worst election in my own personal history, so of course most talk centered around the awful things being presented to us. But I pushed through and tried to find light in all that was happening.

I felt like I was climbing out of that dark hole slowly but surely. Then shit hit the fan all at once. Work went from bad to worse and I went from having a job that I loved to absolutely despising what I did, and wanting nothing more than to quit. I loved my team, but the emotional strain of what I was doing day to day had finally taken it's toll. Then I found my dog locked into a hot bathroom, meaning someone from my property management company had entered my apartment without consent and locked up my dog. They of course denied all responsibility, even though this is the second time I have been able to prove they have done such a thing. On top of that my work community was rocked to the core by a senseless murder of one of our policemen, which heavily affected us all. Then to finish this delight of awfulness, a man I thought could have great potential to be someone in my life didn't work out to be that way. I was in the bottom of the hole, the darkest I have been in a very long time. I was crying every day, sad to my very core and unable to make myself feel better using any of the strategies that I give to others or know how to use myself.

So I made it a point to meet up with friends to run. I found myself struggling to get through the miles and crying at the end of my run. But, I knew that it had helped just a little. So I went out and did it again . It didn't make everything better, but I was able to work through a few of the things. I had enough clarity to know that there were things in my list that I could control and I could quit let controlling me. And because of that clarity I have been able to start to look at my life and start finding the positives again and making plans to create more.

Is running the all out cure for these things? No, it is not. But, it does give the me ability to shift that chemical imbalance and create positive time and interactions for myself. So, I will continue to get out and run, doing it again tomorrow and the day after. Moving ahead and pulling myself out of this dark place. I know I will always have to work through this, but with the help of running, and the running community I know I will always be able to work through it.

So if you suffer from depression or anxiety, try going for some runs. Can't run, join a zumba class, a kickboxing club, or even a dance class. The exercise will help you not only get a rise in dopamine and serotonin, but will create positive situations and peer interactions.

When people ask me why I run so much, I often respond with "I like it" or "It is just what I do". Both of those things are true, I love running and it is a part of my life. But I also do it to manage my own depression and anxiety.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Twisted Branch 100k attempt #2

Last year I tackled the Twisted Branch 100k. A challenging course that begins in Ontario County Park outside of Naples, NY and runs to Hammondsport, NY, I finished in 16 hrs 35 minutes. This was well before the 18 hour cut-off, but I knew I could do better. So I decided I wanted to do it again, and this time since I knew the course I could train much better!
Those of you that follow my blog know the insane-ness of my summer training, well at the least half of the summer. Well, I kept up the intensity after returning home and prayed it would pay off.

Friday: August 19th. Catch up with my crew/pacers. We pack up the car and head to New York. We drive the 5 long hours and get to Naples around 7 pm. I am excited to get my race bag. Inside is my bib, a sweet Orange Mud truckers hat, a bag of coffee created for the race, and a few other things. I am super pumped about the hat and my race shirt! I love when races give a quality cotton shirt, especially women's cut. I wear the shit out of them!

Head to Naples for Pizza. If you are ever in the area make sure you check out Neapolitan Pizza right on the main street. It is brick oven pizza and it is delicious. As are their breadsticks! Then we moseyed down the road and hit up Lynnie Lou's ice cream which had fantastic homemade icream (and they are not afraid to make big scoops!). Back to camp and head to bed.

Saturday: 4:00 am, alarm goes off. I hit that snooze button (like I always do) but don't stay in bed long. I can hear the other runners up and moving. Okay, I'm up, I'm up. I walk the 20 feet to the gathering area, grab some coffee and part of a cinnamon roll (THANK YOU!), throw in the my contacts, change into my race outfit and now I am ready to go. As I start towards the start line I start to see some familiar faces from last year. I am getting excited! I run ultra's by aid stations. Today there are 11. So I will count up to 6 and then down to 5. Not worried about mileage or even time. I know how many miles to each aid station and I will take today's race one aid station at a time. I have secret time goals, not even my crew know them.

5:00am- Scott, the amazing RD, gives race directions. We are looking for blue and white markings on the course. I pay very close attention to this. Last year I got lost 3 frigging times. I am bound and determined not to do it again. Actually that is my main race goal today... Don't. Get. Lost.  I am standing with Rob and Chris, runners who I got to meet and run with last year, I am glad to see their faces as I know they will make the miles go by quick.
Get ready, GO! We all take off. I am starting towards the back. I am NOT going to make the same mistake I did last year and go out too fast. With so many headlamps going it is very bright on the trail and is easy to see as we go up and down. Oh, and Chris had his 600 lumens light that basically lit up a half mile radius. It was like having a car behind you lighting the way. Woohoo Thanks Chris!

We are chatting up a storm as we roll through Aid Station 1 and onto Aid Station 2. The volunteers are so excited when we come in and make you smile and look forward to moving on. There are no crews allowed at station 1, it's a quick stop. However, it has all the nutrition items we could need.

Aid Station 2: YA! My crew. They get me hooked up with fresh gum, top off my tailwind, and send me on my way. As I head out I of course start popping my gum. At some point I remember Chris saying 'Oh that's right, I remember. Ambyr is the gum popper". hahaha. So this is where I throw in a little about me... I always chew gum when I run. No other time, just when I run. It is always the same kind (5 gum, spearmint rain ...hint hint come Christmas). I chew gum because my mouth gets really dry when I run and it helps. Unfortunately for those who hate gum poppers, I don't just chew it, I also pop it. A lot. As the day goes on I get many comments about me and my gum popping habit. You always know when I an near. Pop Pop.

I keep getting through the aid stations and traversing the ascents and descents. This first section has some pretty awesome climbs and some pretty awesome downs too. The trail is stunning as we go through different types of terrain.  The stops are great with a lot of food options, coolers of water and tailwind, and a fantastic slew of volunteers and crews.  I get to aid station 5 around mile 26 or so ( I had the miles switched off on my watch, I just had the time of day showing) and immediately give a list of what I need. New gum (2 pieces please), change my socks, and pack my bladder full of ice then top off with tailwind. It is getting hot and I need to have the cooling effect of the ice. I also wipe down with a towel I pull out of the ice water bucket they have carried aid station to aid station since #4. I also offer the bucket to a few other runner throughout the day as I see people struggling with the heat.  It is quickly approaching 90 degrees out, and we are all starting to feel it a little.

Then I ask for my Ipod. Usually I would never listen to music during a race, and trail running I try not to listen to things and just enjoy nature. And when I do listen to things it is usually podcasts (because I can pretend I have company... hours and hours of solo running this summer got a little lonely). But I ask for my music. See I remember this section from last year. You go through a corn field, then you come to a trail section that is not exactly well groomed and not always marked well, it is easy to get turned around. So mentally it is a tough section. I also remember last year hating this section because I was pretty damned sure they lied about there being an aid station. I mean, they didn't... but that isn't the point because in my head it wasn't there.
So I gear up and head out. I am on my own (as I was most of the last section). I tune into the music and immediately have some good ole Kid Rock, followed by Linkin Park, follow by Disturbed, then a little Doobie Brothers, then some Garth Brooks, and such on and so forth. My taste in music is eclectic to say the least. Well thank the good heavens I had it. Because this section still blows in my opinion. It is still super easy to get lost (but I didn't!) and once again I was damned sure they lied about the aid station, I mean they didn't but that isn't the point again. hahaha I finally get to the aid station, the volunteers get me some food and I head out. I want my crew!

IT"S TIME! Aid Station 7 baby! I GET MY PACER!!!! Mile 38, I am ready! I come into the station and there is Jeremy dancing around and I instantly start to laugh. I am so fucking happy to see him. I roll in and Stacey instantly starts helping me get my pack fixed up. I am changing my sports bra, and this year I actually managed to get out of the line of site while doing it, Go Me!. Stacey nags me into a bite of grilled cheese and some oranges so I have some food in my system. I get geared up, this is a quick stop because I want to get moving so we get loaded up and away we go. I am ready to finish this out! We set out and Jeremy keeps my mind engaged and going. We get to the next aid station where we see Stacey. God bless her she forces me to eat again. (This is where I usually start refusing food), she talks me into some oranges. We set off again. And then.... THE WALL. Oh yeah... that big ugly nasty wall. I hit it hard. I have slowed down and I am certain we have ran at least 6 miles (We had gone like 2.5). I start asking Jeremy where the aid station is. He isn't telling me miles (I specifically asked them not too) and he keeps encouraging me to keep running. Then we hit The Hill, we are are almost at mile 50 and here it is.  The Hill gets capital letters and red lettering because last year I broke down and sobbed hysterically at the bottom. But don't worry, this year I didn't sob... I just leaned over and cried. Well actually I quietly cried while trying to hike up and about 1/3rd of the way up I stop and just cried. After a good cry I finished climbing that damn hill and started looking for the aid station. I needed it, badly. Jeremy tells me a stupid joke about a horse that perks my spirits long enough to get through the rest of the section. Ask him sometime.

There it is. Oh Thank God there it is. Drank a little soda, ate a little perogi, had a few orange slices and off we went. I feel 1,000% times better. Jeremy even mentions how that seems to have perked me up. My pace is back on track,and I have passed a lady. Hmmmm... I wonder how many ladies are ahead of me.

Another aid station. Oh there is Stacey. By this point I could kiss her damn feet I am so happy to see her! I can't wait to put on my high cushion Feetures. I have saved them for the end. They are my favorite ones! I know the next section is short so I have her take out my bladder, I am tired of the weight and just use my soft flasks up front. Me and my camelback one had a fight, but my UD one was cool so I stuck with using that one. This is only a few miles and it is soft ground and mostly flat.I make good time. I wonder how many ladies are ahead of me. Jeremy won't tell me... because I specifically asked them not too. Damn him for doing as I asked. hahaha

Last Aid Station: Stacey literally had just pulled in. The coordinates on the map were wrong so she had to backtrack a little. But she is here and she is running me in. And by running  I mean hiking up the biggest hill of the course, encouraging me to run the flat spots even though everything is starting to hurt at this point, and laughing at me as I ow ow ow the downs. My quads are shot!  This section is 5 miles, and takes people an average of 2 hours. It is a beast. But we stick it through and when my watch hits 62 miles I think, " I am almost done". By this point I have my list of things I want. I want my squishy flip flops, I want a beer (or a squirt- the kind in a glass bottle is my fave!), and I want a frickin cookie. 2 miles later I can see the finish line and it looks amazing. Stacey keeps chirping at me to finish strong as I hear Jeremy from up the road cheering. I cross under the twisted branch arches, raise my hands and say "Oh Thank God" to the laughter of the crowd. With the help of my crew/pacers, I have finished 2nd place overall female!

As I sit around and talk to other runners, some who finished and some who didn't ,I am, as always, amazed and appreciative of this community of people. There is great food, which of course my stomach is like "yeah right asshole, go ahead and try it" so I ooh and ah over how pretty it is and take a total of 3 bites as we talk about the course and the day. I had my flip flops, I had a small beer, Jeremy surprised me with a Squirt!!!, and another runner had cookies to share. I am happy and blessed. It is now that I am willing to share my goals. Goal 1.) Finish before it gets dark- Got it Goal 2.) Finish under 15 hours- missed it by 2 minutes Goal 3.) Finish Top 3- Got it. I really didn't expect I could do do #3- that was my shot in the friggin dark goal. There were some strong ass ladies at that race. But I secretly really wanted it because that would end my running year with top 3 in every race I had done. So I am beyond happy I did it!

After a bit we collect our stuff and we head to our friend Corbin's parents place. They have acreage and have offered us a place to stay. Again, I am happy and blessed beyond belief. I got to sit with my crew and his parents around a fire, drink amazing homemade wine, eat s'mores, eat a grilled cheese (it was light enough to handle for me), veggies fresh out of the garden and relax into the evening. They put me up in the house so I had a bed and a bathroom, which I could not be more thankful for. Up the next morning to eggs and pancakes with fresh brewed coffee in beautiful New York and then back in the car to Pittsburgh.

Am I going back to Twisted Branch next year, I hope so. I don't know if will run it again, twice might be enough. But I want to crew someone or work an aid station. This race is challenging in elevation and technicality, but it is so well run it is worth it. It is absolutely stunning to run through upstate NewYork on these gorgeous trails, and the race itself it run well. So if you want a good 100k, check it out!

I will be enjoying some down time for awhile...