Monday, April 25, 2016

Winning a "Secret Marathon"

Holy Shit, I won! 

3 weeks ago I ran the Charlottesville marathon (see previous blog post) and even though I had a strong finish (3rd overall female), I knew that I had a better time in me. I had trained for a sub 3:30 and I was going to get it!

So, what did I do?? I secretly signed up for the Pro Football Hall of Fame Marathon in Canton, Ohio. The year before I had been one of the pacers for it, so I was familiar with the course and knew that it was an easier course with rolling inclines and great organization. My two partners in crime, Joe and Brit, signed up as well and we didn't tell a soul. The only people who knew outside our little trio was my coach and Joe's wife.

Saturday we took the 2 hour drive to Canton, checked into our hotel (which we got a cheap one... and it was AWFUL! ... our neighbors kept us up until  3 am screaming, yelling, and partying, and the hotel was really nasty about us being even 10 minutes past check-out time so we could shower post-race).  We went to the expo to pick up our packets, did a little shopping and then headed to dinner. We found some AMAZING pizza at this little pizza joint with a total of 5 tables run by a guy named Tony (Barbaro's Pizza).

Morning of: Wake up, get coffee, make oatmeal, race outfit on, gels doubled checked, S-caps packed, paces and motivational message written onto my arms and we are ready to go. We drove the mile to the shuttles. There was ample parking and the shuttle service was quick and easy. Get there, drop bags, grab a porta-potty (Which there was a ton there's a WIN already!), get to the start. While waiting for the start a couple got married right at the start line, so they had hundreds of runners as witness to their vows... it was a beautiful moment and I am pretty sure just good Karma for the race! Congrats to them!

Out nice and easy for the first 3. It is soooo easy to get carried away the first couple miles. It is exciting! So many runners and you feel all happy and fresh, but I checked my messages to myself and kept myself in check. Kept my first 3 miles just a little under 8 min per mile.

Once I hit that third mile, I picked it up a bit, but not too much. Anytime I caught myself creeping into the "too fast too early zone" I would check myself, back it back down and just enjoy the run. First half of the course we went through a pretty park, past a monument, and through some local neighborhoods. There were well run water stops every two miles at this point, and there were groups of people cheering the whole way!

Once we dropped off the runners doing the half marathon, it became a smaller field. There were 362 marathon runners that day, a smaller race but enough that you were never really alone. At this point Joe and I were still running together. A quiet companionship as we went. Interacting with the spectators and encouraging other runners as we came up on them. Now there are water stops every mile, this is great! As we ran through residential areas there were spectators along the course the whole way. People on their porches, a group of young girls with an impromptu water stop, two or three groups traveling the course so we see them at least 3 times, a guy in his driveway banging a spoon on a medal bucket, and a few dogs. Oh and we saw a WOLF! Not playing, a pet wolf. He was gorgeous!

Mile 15: One of the wonderful spectators tells me: You are the 2nd female. WAIT, WHAT?!? I hadn't even considered that. I am here to get a PR, to get a time I know I am capable of, no thoughts to placing. I turn to Joe: "Um, you know what that means right". Joe gives me that look, he knows me well. I just switched from I am just here to PR to I am here to PR and place mentality. This has given me extra motivation to run a smart but fast race.

Mile 16: We see her. It was hard to spot at first because there is also a relay, so the faster relay teams had ladies out on the course. But it's her. She is being led by the pacing bike. hmmmmm..... Now the competitiveness kicks up a bit more. Joe tells me if I want to race her to go ahead. "No, I am going to just sit behind her for awhile, let it happen naturally".

Mile 17: I have caught up, and I am past her! The lead is mine. I have left Joe, so now I am on my own. I am feeling great from my slow start so I pick it up. Lets get it. I tell myself "Don't be stupid. You don't want to pick it up too much and then have a lady pass you in the last 3 miles. Keep yourself in check!"

Mile 18: Look back, I have put some distance between us. Let's go!!! I see my buddy Elijah who is pacing after he has brought his group around the turn-around. He sees me and gives me some encouragement. There are people lined up to the turnaround point. The cheering and support gives a little pep to the step.

Mile 19: Turnaround point. This is great, now I can see where my competition is. I get around the cone and head back. I get down about 2 tenths of a mile before I see #2. I have a couple minute lead! YES! Lets keep it kicked into gear.

Mile 20: Just a 10k to go. I still feel good. I am getting warm but since there are water stops every mile I am able to drink a Gatorade, a water, and take a water to douse.

Mile 21-22,: Still rocking a good pace. I come upon that AMAZING spectator crew. They are screaming and yelling and it makes me feel awesome, so I pick it up a little more. As I am going people are congratulating me and letting me know I am still in first. This brings me such a massive feeling of joy. I can't stop smiling and every time I hear a congrats or "you go girl", it helps me! Every once in awhile I look back to look for another girl, I can't see one. I have a decent lead. The encouragement from the other runners, especially the women on the course, is keeping me motivated to keep it up!

Mile 23- ONLY a 5K to go! I am starting to hurt. I have taken my gels and my salt, and I am dousing with water every water stop to cool down. I had been semi-listening to my music. Through one earbud most of the race, through both for a few miles, and now I pull them out so that I can concentrate on the race. I start playing the pick off game. I pick a guy in front of me, work to catch up and pass. I also have my woman on the bike, who even though she is 20 feet ahead of me and we are not interacting, is a huge help. When I start to get tired and look at her, I say to myself "I don't want her to look back and wonder why I am slowing down".

Mile 24: I am behind a guy holding my pace. I am using him to keep me going. He has unknowingly become my pacer. I tell myself "2 miles to f'n go... don't give up, get it done!". Then he stops and walks... ahhhhhhhh. As I pass him I tell him I am sad he is stopping. He gives me a shout of encouragement and I keep on. My LEGS are tired and I am HOT! But there are only 2 miles left damnit!

Mile 25: ONE MILE LEFT! And of course, its a friggin Hill! As I come to the bottom to head up, I give myself a stern talking to and put one foot in front of the other. It will be a cold day in hell before I walk up that. (Side note, in the grand scheme of hills... it really isn't that big, but when your tired it basically looks like Mt. Everest). This is my slowest mile, but I get up the stupid hill. I am still on my own other than my wonderful bike lead.

Mile 26: I am almost done. I want that tape! The race finishes in a stadium, so you run around the track. As I come into the finish line there are half marathoners finishing. My lovely bike lead tells them I am coming and they scooch over. The crowd is way too quiet so I yell for them to give me some love and they do. As I come up to the finish they are hurrying to put up the winners tape.  It was the BEST feeling ever going through that. Pure joy is the only way I can even begin to describe it. Never in my wildest dream had I ever thought I would win a marathon.

Finish line: I get my photo taken, I talk to a reporter (which that was fun!), and am just overwhelmed by the outpouring of congratulations. I feel like a friggin rock star! I had started the day with a plan to just PR, a redemption race. And I ended up winning. Within a few minutes my running partners cross and we all get to celebrate together. The finish is great with food, chocolate milk, massages, chiropractors, and a ton of support people. I can't stop smiling. Finishing a marathon always brings a sense of accomplishment and happiness, but this is a whole other level!

Post-Race, Grab a quick shower and head for some food. We celebrate with a drink! Brit and I had been talking about margaritas for weeks, so we each got a margarita and Brit also grabs us a shot of patron. Best shot ever! We finish our food and the head back to the Burgh. Quick drive and then home.

Will that ever happen again? I don't know. I am okay if it doesn't. This amazing feeling will stick with me for along time. And I can say for certain, running a secret marathon is the way to go! There was no pressure, I wasn't worried what my friends and running community was thinking, I just had me and my partners and was able to just run my race. It turned out pretty well!

Now: onto recovery as I prepare for the Pittsburgh marathon relay and spectating! I can't wait to see thousands of runners hit the road in my town in 6 days so I can support them the way the wonderful people in Canton did for me!

Happy Running!

Saturday, April 16, 2016

7 Running "No-No's"

Guilty as Charged...

There are just some things you shouldn't do as a runner, things we have ALL done at some point. I know quiet a few are things I have done, and the ones I haven't... well there is still time. That being said, there are things we should be conscious of, some Real things that are rude, and some Superstitious things that runners just "know". So here is my list...

1.) Food Hogging.... Okay, so this morning as I finished up a 5k/10k and was walking to grab a bottle of water, I noticed groups of people all holding 3-5 bags of chips, 2 bananas, and 2 waters. Ummmmm.... a 5k burns approximately 300 calories, and a 10k 600 calories. One bag of chips is 250 calories (ish), so 4 bags is 1000 calories. This is at least 400 more than you just burned. And quiet frankly it's rude. Race Directors order food based on the number or runners signed up, plus some extra. They DO NOT order enough for everyone to have 3 and 4 helpings. If you are THAT hungry, go buy a big bag and eat it. Seriously though! As someone who does a lot of the long distances; marathons and ultra marathons, I truly understand wanting to eat ALL the food at the end of the race, however the food at the end of a race is a nice privilege the race has. It is there to get you quick calories and hold you over until you go get a meal somewhere. It is not supposed to be your 5 course meal for the day

2.) Running 3-5 people across... This is one I am guilty of when I run with my people and have been trying hard to fix! I know its nice to run side by side with your crew. And it's nice to talk, but you are blocking the entire friggin sidewalk/path/trail. So okay, you are going to run with your crew and  block the entire path, okay, that's fine... but when you hear someone say "Excuse Me", "On the left", or "Coming up behind you" and you continue to be 3-5 people across...well quite frankly... You Sir or Madam deserve to have an accidental elbow. (I would never actually physically accost someone, but I would think about it with glee). That is just rude. You would be super pissed if you weren't able to freely run because someone did that in front of you... so don't do it to others. And if we all continue to work on this together, there will be a lot less people gleefully elbowing people in their heads.

3.) Walking across the middle of a race... Ooooo I saw this happen today. People were coming into the finish from the 10k loop and another runner decided to cross the road when he Clearly DID NOT have time to get across. The runner pushing hard at the finish was not amused when his stride and pace got screwed. Although, he was much nicer about it then I would have been had I been racing it and someone stepped in front of me. WAIT until there aren't any runners. I mean, again... how pissed would you be if someone did that to you? AND then I saw another runner just standing on the course bs'ing with his buddy... I said something to him and he smirked.  He also deserved a well placed elbow. Jerk

4.) Not following basic sides of the path/track rules... It is just like driving, slower on the right, faster on the left. I am not going to lie, this is one of my biggest pet peeves, and one I try to be very conscious of when I am running. Okay, so here's the deal, when you drive you pass on the left, so goes for running. That means if you know you are slower, then stay right. I am not the fastest runner, so I try to keep to the right of the trail/path/sidewalk, especially when I know there are going to be others out. That way faster runners can run past me with ease. And when I pass another runner, I announce I am coming on the left, I pass and then get back over. This also makes two way traffic on the pathways flow easier for runners, walkers, and bikers alike. If I am running in the middle, then I make sure I am listening for people behind me. ***Now on the track, faster runners in the 1st lane, slower runners in the 2nd/3rd lane, and walkers on the outside.

5.) Music so loud you can't hear the environment around you.... DANGER WILL ROBINSON! For Real People, if you can't hear me (I am not quiet) announcing that I am coming up because your music is so loud, you also are not going to hear: the mugger, the person who lost control of their dog and its headed toward you, the person warning you of something ahead, the car about to hit you, the bikers behind you, the axe murderer about to chop off your head, etc. If the person running by you can hear your music and sing along, It. Is. Too. Loud! Don't get me wrong, I love running with music and have no issue with people who run with it, but be smart. Rule of thumb, only use one ear bud. That way you can hear your tunes, audio book, podcast, whatever and still hear the environment around you. Don't want to do that... Okay, that's cool, then keep it low enough you can hear. This one is less about annoyance and more about Running Safety 101.

6.) Slow and Fast Shaming... Some people run slow, some people run fast, and ALL people run their pace and work hard for what they do. Nobody has a right to make judgy, snarky comments about it. And it goes both ways. As someone who is a moderate pace I see both sides of this issue. The people who are slower than you are working on their journey. Maybe they are new, maybe they are at their speed that they are content with, maybe they are working hard to get faster but either way, they deserve respect and support for the work they do. Faster runners work just as hard. They are also on their journey and working to better themselves and deserve support. I have gotten comments from people "I am going to just slow down and run with you, it will be nice to take a break"...well la-ti-da aren't you special, asshole. I have also gotten "You are way to fast for me, my pace would be like your walking pace"... ummm, I am not better than you and quite frankly it's kinda shitty that you assume I wouldn't run with you because we have different paces. My favorite phrase is "Fast is Subjective". Everyone has someone faster and slower than them. Be Kind and respect each other.  I love my fast friends, and appreciate that they do slow down their pace to run with me, because they help me get faster. I love my same pace friends because it's even. And I love my slower friends, I love running their pace and helping them the way my fast friends help me. And MOST important, if I am running with you, that means I LIKE YOU and WANT TO SPEND TIME WITH YOU! And that is more important than some number on a watch. I don't ask to or offer to run with people I don't like and I would be willing to bet that is true of most people.

7.) Last One- Starting at the front of the race when you damn well know you don't run a 6 min mile. I once had a runner who typically runs with the 10-11 min Galloway group come up to me at a 10k and tell me " I am starting with the 7 minute pacer because I don't want to have to elbow past people slower than me"...? ARE YOU FRICKIN KIDDING ME! Listen, I know it sucks to have to weave through people, but when you start further in front than your pace is, then you are causing the congestion. If all runners would start in the area of the corrals/start area that their pace called for, there would be less weaving and congestion because everyone would be running at their pace from the beginning ( ie within the first .25-.5 mile). If there are not pacers, then kinda figure 20 feet or so per minute pace. 6 min, 20 feet back 7 min, 20 feet back 8 minutes, etc etc etc.  It is also a respect thing for other runners. If you know you don't run 6 min miles, then please don't cause congestion for those who do. I don't run 6 min miles, so I don't start at the front. It is that easy. And Please Please Please, everyone has that time in a race that they need to walk... Goodness knows how many races I have had that happen in!, Please move to the right of the course to walk. And look behind you, don't abruptly stop and walk when there are people right behind you. Run over to the side where there is a clear area and then walk.

These are just some basic "runner no-no's" that if everyone would just stop doing, then it would improve what is already a great thing, the running community! I am not innocent of these things by any stretch of the imagination, but awareness is the first step to change. I am aware that I have to continue to work on some of these myself, especially #2 and occasionally #6. So, lets work on them together :-)

Happy Running!

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Cross country trail run trip

In 54 days I will be packing up Waylon and heading across the Nation! 

Today I finalized my first 2 weeks of my 40 day trip! The GOAL: Run Trails as Much As Possible! 

I started planning this two months ago. One of my good friends, Julie, moved to Everson WA, and after she sent me a text that said "You need to pack up W and come to Washington to see me this summer. There are so many epic trails to run". 
So the wheels started turning. I had the ability to take 5 1/2 weeks off and I NEEDED to get in some great training miles as I am training for a challenging 100k that requires training on technical and hilly trails. So I started playing around with the idea of a trip to hit some EPIC trails. I posted a tentative, think I am going to do this map on Trail and Ultra Running and got overwhelming responses of trails I should run, and places I should go. I LOVE the trail running community, not a single person said I was crazy. Instead there was instant support and ideas. So I read through them all, did some research and now have the first 2 weeks ready to go.

Camping! I will be camping my way across the country. Starry Nights, Campfire, and S'mores! I am hoping to meet some nice people who will occasionally let me use their shower so I get a non-camping shower once in a while, and let me use their wi-fi to update everyone on my trip.

Day 1: Leaving mid day early June. Driving to Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. It will be a quick stop, but a great place to camp and grab a quick 6 or 7 miles in the morning, or maybe a night run.

Day 2: Driving up to Superior National Forest. It is a 10 hour drive that I will just get through quickly. Once I am up there I can find a camp spot and get set up. Throw in a few miles to shake off the run, then enjoy some clean air and a fire.

Day 3-5: All of the running in Superior National Forest. This will be long mileage and many hours spent running and hiking. Across the 3 days I will plan on getting 40+ total miles. I will find doggie care for one of the days as I will be doing a 20+ mile run and W can't do that type of mileage. But I will make it up to him with a hike and swim after I am done :-)

Day 6- Find a grocery store to restock food then onto the 13 hour drive to the Black Hills. There is a lot of great stuff I will be driving by, but this trip is about getting to WA, so sacrifices have to be made.

Day 7-8 Black Hills Running. After my rest/drive day the day before I will be looking to get in some moderate miles on some technical trails. I am looking forward to camping here and getting into the Black Hills. Maybe I will grab some black hills gold while I am here!

Day 9-10: Heading down to Casper Wyoming to visit my Mom, brother, sister-in law and Grandad. I haven't been home in 5 years, so it will be nice to see everyone. This also will be a great time to restock some groceries and supplies. Waylon will be able to visit with all the dogs he was raised with. I can do some trails up in my home mountains, which will be nice!

Day 11- Big Drive to Lola National Park in Montana/ Idaho. I am a little fuzzy on the exact location actually. There are SO MANY trails and mountains to run in Northern/Western Montana and in Idaho. So many to pick from, more research needs to happen.

Day 12-14- This is all trail running days in whatever part of the mountains I end up in. This is another high mileage chunk of days that will require finding a doggie sitter so I can do a 20+ run one of the days, or maybe 2 of them.

Then I am heading to Washington where I will spend a week with Julie! This is right around my birthday, and my birthday tradition is to run a 50k so I will be finding a 50k to run while I am there!

I am starting to put together supplies, borrowing a sleeping bag and hopefully a propane camp stove to do some cooking on. I am definitely going to try to make this trip as inexpensive as possible. I am taking food and grabbing the stuff I need at grocery stores. As a vegetarian that means I will be also preparing high protein foods ahead of time and buying vegetables and such as I go. It is going to be EPIC and I am sooo ready to go already! 

I can't wait to take beautiful photo's of America's untouched lands, see the beauty of this nation you can only get to on foot. And stoked to share this grand adventure with Waylon, my faithful companion.

Happy Running!

Friday, April 8, 2016

Running with Waylon

Meet Waylon

Waylon is my main man and faithful sidekick. He has moved with me 3 times, once being across the nation. He is also a fantastic running partner! However, with life being the way it is, he hasn't been getting the amount of runs in he used to. SO, since he is an integral part of my 40 days trail running road trip across the nation, where we will be trail running in at least 10 different states, we are working on getting his fitness level back up! The last few weeks we have been doing 5-6 mile trail runs and 2-4 mile road runs. He actually just finished a run and is passed out on the carpet, feet twitching as he dreams whatever doggie dreams he has. 

Waylon makes a fantastic running partner! On-leash he is great about staying either on my right or left (depending on which side of the road we are running on), not pulling on the leash, and keeping the bathroom breaks minimal. Although, in all fairness, my little angel isn't always an angel. A couple weeks ago he tried to steal taco's off the taco truck. The lady thought he was "adorable". Ya, real friggin adorable... taco thief. 

Waylon is especially a great trail running buddy. He is trained to stay within 2-6 feet from me and to follow basic sound commands. I can run him off leash as he had been trained to not approach other dogs or people. That being said, Waylon is a big black furry bit of "Everyone loves me" and occasionally "forgets" his training and says hi to people. especially when he hears the "Awwww, he's so cute!". Ya, he knows he's cute! lol And he LOVES the attention! Just to be safe I keep an electronic collar on him so that if he gets really "forgetful" and tries to approach another dog or someone who hasn't invited him over, I can give him a "reminder" which always does the trick! 

He also love trail running. It's a slower speed where he can stop and pee on every bush ( he only gets a certain number of stops road running), he gets to play in the creeks and waterfalls, and gets munch on grass and other vegetation as he goes. Turns out he also really likes icicles as one of my buddies recently found out!  

My goal is to get him up to 10-12 miles. He is almost 10 years old, so I don't want to put a lot of strain on him, but he is still a highly energetic dog who doesn't look or act 10. He will get high protein foods and treats to help him keep up on his nutrition as he builds up his running muscles again, so that he can do runs with me this summer! 
I do worry about him some as we are on our trip as he also has epilepsy. Idiopathic Epilepsy to be specific. He's had it since he was 4. I have worked closely with his vet over the years about his best treatment, and we have decided to not medicate him as he doesn't have them too often, and it seems like the more exercise he gets the less frequent they become. The medications would seriously cost him quality of life and I don't want to do that to him. 
Me and my Baby at a Baby Waterall
The best thing about running with Waylon... no pressure! There is no pressure to be fast. He doesn't care, he is so content to just be out running with me its No Big Deal! And as someone who often pressures myself when it comes to paces, it is very relaxing to me out just hitting some single tracks with my pup who really doesn't give a shit about anything but getting some miles in. Another thing is watching him love the mud! I. Hate. Being. Muddy. It's true, I adore everything about trail running. I don't mind the snakes and spiders, the climbs, the rocks, or even the occasional bleeding from falls or scratches. But I Hate Mud! Waylon however loves it enough for the both of us. It is with absolute glee that he frolics through it, which then it turn creates a mudfest in the car. I don't think he cares! 

 Waylon is my best bud and I love taking him running with me. I can't wait for our adventure this summer. I am looking into his own pack he can carry with water and treats that won't cause him to overheat so he can go on some epic runs and hikes with me. And the ones he can't, hopefully he will make new friends at a doggy day care in whichever city we end up at. So as I move in ultra-training and into my grand summer adventure, you will see a lot of Waylon. He will be my sidekick through this next adventure as he has been for all the ones before :-)

Waylon says "Happy Running!"

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Rest, Recovery, and Cross Training

As I recover from Marathon #10 (see previous blog) and prepare for another high mileage ultra-season,  I have a chance to reflect on the things I have learned over the years of running marathons and ultra-marathons. No matter what training program you use; high or low mileage, fast or slow, 3 days or 7, there remains things that are essential to a strong runner. It took me years of learning of the hard way to figure them out, but now that I know.. They are basically the main chapters in my running bible.

The dreaded "R word". Rest, time off, not running, UGH, who has time for all that? I mean we have a race train for! URCH! Pump your breaks. You have time for it, and actually you need it. Now, I will be the first to admit that historically I have been really awful at this, and from time to time still am. I really really like running. I like the social aspect, I like the alone time aspect, I like that it helps me work through a tough day, I like roads, I like trails. I. Like. Running.
But I also really like Rest, now that I understand it. See what happens when you don't take that important rest day or two, is that you overuse your muscles, causing fatigue, and when you constantly run on fatigued muscles... well you can guess... you end up injured or burned out.
Let me talk about what Rest is and is not.
Rest is- not running
Rest is- enjoying some down time
Rest is not- running slow
Rest is not- cross-training.
Rest IS- Taking a day off to heal
I take one rest day per week. This training cycle it was Sunday's the majority of the cycle. The day after my long run. I would use my day to prep my food for the week, spend QT with Waylon (my adorable labrador who is my partner in crime), catch up my with social circle, and catch up on life outside of running. When I started back to doing back-to-back long runs, and as I enter into this Ultra Training cycle, I will move my rest day to Monday. It is scheduled and non-negotiable.
Post-race I REST multiple days. My last marathon was Saturday. I rested Sunday, I rested Monday, and then I rested on Wednesday too.

Okay, so what is the difference between rest and recovery? Recovery is active. Recovery is just what it sounds like,it is helping the muscles recover.
So what do you do to recover? Some of my favorites are: a good foam rolling session, quality time with my Addaday ( which I fondly call my torture device), a 20 minute stretch routine using a recovery band and timing one minute per stretch, yoga, and slow recovery runs (60-90 seconds slower than race pace).

Foam Rolling: foam rollers come in many shapes and sizes. My current one is pink (because I am girly). and when I roll I make sure to isolate each muscle group and slowly use my body weight to apply pressure as I roll. I really like my foam roller for my IT band and quads. It is also great for some hamstrings and calves, although I usually use my addaday for those (more on that later). I know some people who use the roller on their back. My next investment will be a foam roller that has knobs on it for more of an intense foam rolling experience. **And it also make a great pillow for when your laying on the floor** heehee

Addaday: Satan's own creation of a torture device ;-) . And it has saved my legs during a 100k race, and kept me healthy through high intensity training cycles. In case you have never used one, here is what it is. It is a stick with notched balls on it. It is different than the typical stick in that you use shorter, smaller movements to work into tight and knotted muscles to break them up. There are you-tube videos or good ole trial and error in using it. I prefer it for my hamstrings, quads, and It-band. I love love love it and it travels with me at almost all times.  (Please note I am not at all connected to Addaday).

Resistance Band: I use a resistance band as part of my stretches. Especially with my hamstring and hip stretches. This allows me to pull my legs up further into a stretch and allow me maneuver into good hip stretches.
Stretching: DO IT! Any advice I could give to my former self, stretch! It is hands down the piece I have the biggest issue with. And I know runners who swear that they never need to stretch. I can talk to both sides of the argument if needed, but ultimately I have found that I feel better and healthier when I make a post run stretch something I do as well as add in 2-3 20 minute stretch routines each week.
Recovery Run: It is okay to have a recovery run. And if you are going to do them, they should be short and 60-90 seconds slower than pace.

If you would have told me a year ago I would be promoting regular cross training as part of running I would have probably looked at you like you had lost your damn mind and laughed. Man, my thinking of years past was wrong. I know that now. Case in point is this last marathon. I added in cross-training 2-3 days a week and it is the absolute strongest training season I have ever had, as well as being injury free. On top of that, even though it wasn't my fastest marathon, I can say with 100% surety that it was my strongest. If that had been a flat course instead of the monster hill hell, I would smashed my PR. Even then, I was only 3 minutes behind my pr on a course that would make a hair raising roller coaster
So what is cross-training? That depends on you. Everyone does something different. I have been polling other runners as well as looking what I have done and here are what I have found.

Me: Twice a week I am at the gym. One day is more a full body lift where I do some upper body, some lower body. When I do lower body I do: weighted squats (front squats and back squats), weighted lunges, sled press, and a glute press. The days I do legs I only do a small amount of upper body, mainly doing pull-ups and dips. This day was really helps strengthen my leg muscles in a different way than I usually use them, which helps them stay strong when fatigued going up and down hills. I really noticed a difference in the speed in which I would get tired during training runs. Ya, I was sore, and running on sore legs. But it paid off!
The other day is purely upper body where I focus on back, shoulders, and arms. This I found really helped my posture as I get tired during training runs and during the race. When you get tired you a.) lose your posture which affects your gait and b.) get tense which causes muscles to tighten up. But by spending time working those muscles I am able to keep them engaged when I get tired.

Both of those days I would swim after I lifted. The first day would be my long swim day.
**Now, let me clarify something here, I. Am. Not. A. Strong. Swimmer. I mean, my Mom took me for swim lessons as a kid and I refused to get in the water because I was scared. And the ONLY reason I finally learned how to swim is my brother and our friends all could pass the swim test to get into the deep end of the pool and I was tired of being left out. So I taught myself the basics. Swimming is not easy for me, I sink, I have more than once kicked either the bottom of the pool or the lane divider, and I don't want to think about how much chlorine I have ingested.  But I show up twice a week, and I have massively improved through trial and error and advice of other runners. I also have come to look forward to the quiet of the pool, where I can turn off my thoughts and move through a silent environment.
My long swim started at 800 meters  (16 laps at a standard gym pool). and got to 1600 meters (32 laps at a standard gym pool). The second say was a shorter swim, 600-1000 meters. I did a myriad of swimming strokes to use different muscles. It gave me a nice cardio while offering a full body workout that I genuinely attribute to my success this training cycle.

Sometimes I would also add in a third day where I did body-weight training at home, and some yoga. I also tried to do at least a few minutes of abs 5-6 days a week, nothing major, just a few minutes. During the off-season I do 10-20 minutes, but I struggled to keep up that time commitment. But I didn't want to ignore them as a strong core helps you also keep a good posture when tired.

I also polled some other runners I know. What I found is that most of my fasthole run buddies and strong running partners also do 2-3 days a week of cross training. They also lift, focusing on upper body and leg work, abs work, yoga, swimming, and some do biking as well. There are some really great cross-training for runner workouts out there on the internet that one of my running buddy swears by. There is a running for yoga that several of my run buddies use and adore. Some runners use workouts created by at home challenge pages, some (like myself) kind of make it up as they go at the gym. But it all ends up the same. Cross Training Helps during training and on race day.
Everyone who knows me well knows that I protect my gym days with some intensity. I will get up stupidly early to run so I can go to the gym, I will skip an easy run so I don't give up my gym day, and have even scheduled social plans around my gym time as well. I look forward to lifting and swimming twice a week.

So Rest, Recovery, and Cross-training. They are important. They will make you a stronger and healthier runner. And if you have the same mind-set I had for years of " I am healthy, why change anything", being pro-actively smart never hurt anyone.

Happy Running!

Sunday, April 3, 2016

The Big Race-Charlottesville marathon

For the past 15 weeks I have been training my ass off for my Goal Marathon! I have put my body through a lot of work: and Saturday was the big day....

Friday: Me, Joe, Brit and Chris pack up the car and hit the road. It is a 5 hour drive from Pittsburgh to Charlottesville and we have a whole list of things we want to do. We rented a car, it was snug, but we all fit. The car ride was a blast. It was five hours of running war stories, bad karaoke, would you rathers? Fun trip!

Get to Charolottesville, head to the expo right as it opened. It had exactly two booths open (5 in all), one to pick up the packets and one selling internet. Well that sucks, I mean I like to look at stuff at the expo, get good deals on socks and stuff. Oh well. At least it is a cute outdoor courtyard that is very historic and cool looking.
Next Up: Driving the course. .... I still can't decide if this was a wise idea or not. We pull up the map from the internet (no step by step direction available at the expo) and a google map and we begin the navigation process.
As we begin the course preview we begin to make comments like "oh, that is a big mile 2". Oh Shit, what we did just get ourselves into? These hills are F'n STEEP! But we are staying positive, oh the positive statements. We are going to be fine! NBD.

Then comes dinner. Pizza, always Pizza! Pizza is good and we get Joe dropped at his air bnb and Brit, Chris and I head to our hotel. There we get checked in and head straight for the hot tub. It's tradition! And as we are sitting there, enjoying the glorious warm waters... we begin to talk. Oh the hills! I mean, we live in Pittsburgh, and our neighborhood is very hilly, but these hills, they are much steeper than the ones we train on. Well, nothing we can do now. We will make the best of the day and see what we can do. 

Morning of: Up at 4:50, bathroom, race outfits, oatmeal, gear check, one last foam roll and out the door we go. Pick up Joe and head to the start, it is 61° and slightly raining. This is good. The rain will cool us down and the humidity isn't awful. We spend the normal 20 minutes in the porta potty line, where I secretly adore eavesdropping on peoples conversations, I am always amused by the things people talk about and wonder if people are as amused by our conversations. 

Start time: 7 am on the dot. They sing the national anthem and say "Get ready, Get set, GO". And off we go! 
Mile 1: Downhill... FABULOUS! 
Mile 2: Uphill, big uphill... uh-oh, this is going to be tricky. But in my head I hear my coach, "scale it back going up the hills, faster on the downs", so that is exactly what I do. 
And here goes the cycle... Slowly going up, Quickly going down. The route is on roads that have traffic out of downtown and towards the river. We hit a river trail that is pretty with a flowing river among trees and brush. These miles aren't awfully hilly, just a roll. Until we hit the steep switchback, where we climbed back up the to the road.
Mile 5-10: Big Climb! Into the first residential area we are running through. There are some steep hills here, so we go slowly up, and quickly down. We round through the neighborhood, running by Joes bnb. We wave at the landlord as we go by. Keeping on our smiles, still holding a good pace. 
Mile 10: AH SHIT, my legs are already starting to feel heavy, these hills are killing me! They are already hurting, this is not a good sign. And the course is not getting any easier! 
Mile 12: Start to climb again... climbing climbing climbing. but still holding a good pace. keeping them all sub 8 or only a little above. Overall FLYING! Then comes a beautiful site, a long downhill. As I am enjoying this blessed downhill, a runner coming up says "It's going to suck in a mile" .. Thanks Asshole. But I am still in a great mood,( as Brit put it later " I have never seen that Ambyr, you were sooo happy the entire time." (hahahaha).) so I respond with, "It's fine, I've got it".
HOLY SHIT! Climbing back up that hill was a BITCH! But I made it to the top and we are officially are on our way back to the finish. 

Mile 16: I see the number 2 female in front of me... I start to reel her in. I could take the 2nd place spot. Slowly but surely I sneak up on her. Mile 17, I catch her and just sit behind her for a little bit. Mile 18, I pass her! WOOHOO! Her and I exchange pleasantries and I get a boost of confidence I need. Pace is still sitting sub 8, 7:58. This is still going well. 
Mile 20: This is starting to suck. I am really hurting! But I am absolutely going to push through, I want this!! But the pace is starting to drop, had some 8:30's. The hills are not stopping!
Mile 22: The 3rd place woman is catching up, and she passes. Bummer. But it's okay.. I am still holding onto the 3rd, even though I have slowed down. My watch is now reading 8:03 min mile. I am not going to make my time goal. But I am going to push through and try to get close damnit! I look at Joe and say " I am ready to be done" and start to try to pick it up again. 
Mile 23-25... we are by the river again, it is not too hilly but my legs are SHOT! I keep pushing. One mile is 8:13 and one is 7:56.  I CAN DO THIS! Then, I hit the last aid station. I grab some Gatorade and some water and push. I am picking people off, one by one. Every time I see a guy in front on me I focus on trying to catch up and pass them. It is working. 
Mile 25, there are 3 different ways we can turn and NO course marker. FUCK! Then I see the #2 female lost. Her and I make a plan of which way to go, taking 3 guys behind us with us. We PICKED WRONG! And there are F bombs being dropped left and right. But we keep running until we see the police cars a block down, we turn and go down. We have added 0.25 miles. But I am right behind her and we start our final climb. 
Remember that downhill from the beginning that was so nice, now we have climb it. I. Am. Hurting. So. Bad. #2 pulls ahead and finishes 40 seconds ahead of me. Her name is Alicia and she is a very strong runner. We chat for a few moments, talking about what we have coming up and about basic running pedigrees.

Finish line: We get a bottle of water and are directed to get food. Food options are a small bag of cookies, bananas, and a small bag of chips. No medal, they didn't get them in time or something, so that sucks. But we do get a free beer and it's Sierra Nevada and they have multiple options. I use my beer ticket, Joe's beer ticket, and some very nice man from the UK's ticket too. I wanted to celebrate! 

We are told the award ceremony will be at 11:00, so I wait around. 45 minutes later they do awards. I got my 3rd place. I was disappointed with my time (3:36) but I know that I gave that race everything I had. 

Post Race: We all get cleaned up, take a much needed nap, and then head down to downtown Charlottesville. There we found a FANTASTIC burger joint where we all had one of the best burgers's ever! I had a glorious vegan burger that I added cheese too (just a good ole vegetarian) and a Agave Wheat Beer that was bomb! They all had their beefy burgers which they all claimed were fantastic! Then we walked around this cute this market area where we window shopped and enjoyed all the people and dogs. The most exciting part of the night was that I am finally eating sugar again, and I had a bomb ass Gelato! 

So overall, I worked my ass off for this race. It wasn't the the time I trained for, but I know that I pushed harder in this race then I have any other. I am still somewhat disappointed, but there is still time to get what I want. And would I recommend the Charlottesville Marathon? If you are looking for a very challenging race that is low frill, absolutely!! If you are trying to PR or want a marathon with the thrills and frills before and after then this is not the race for you. Would I do it again? Nope!! It is a one and done. BUT I will say I am truly glad I did it, I got to see how strong of a runner I am!
I am still slightly disappointed that I didn't hit my goal, but there are always other races, flatter races! :-)

Happy Running!