Monday, October 17, 2011

The 27th Mile

Here I sit... a marathoner.

So many months of preparation, so many blog posts. But, I've officially done it, and I have a medal to prove it.

So much to say regarding the entire experience. First of all, the energy and excitement of 45,000 runners is ridiculous. And from the second we crossed the start line until the second we crossed the finish line, thousands and thousands of Chicagoans lined the streets to cheer us on. It was ridiculously inspirational. Some of the best posters I saw included, "Don't poop yourself," "You've got stamina... call me," "Don't stop, people are watching," and "Who needs toenails anyways?"

Seriously though... the crowd cheering you on, or handing out water, or dragging their hoses to the street to spray the runners in the >80 degree heat... just amazing. And what's more amazing is when you're running, and all of a sudden you hear your name screamed out, and there in the crowd are your friends and family who've traveled from all over to support and encourage you. It was truly amazing.

So what of the race? Well... hands down, it was the hardest run I have done in the entire process. In fact, it was the day when everything went wrong. Literally every fear I had come across while training came to life on marathon day, and yet I still finished. Let me explain.

First of all, when you get to the start corrals, every one is waiting for things to begin... and they do, promptly at 7:30. The elite runners take off, and those of us in the middle or back of the pack don't move. It took us almost 30 minutes to get to the starting line. The first three miles were actually kind of difficult. You really couldn't pick your own pace - there were just too many people crammed in on the street. It took at least the first 5K to start to thin the crowd out. So when we began, our first few miles were paced around 12 minutes, and we couldn't speed it up if we wanted to.

Eventually, the crowd thinned. We did really well for the first half of the race, and were on pace to finish around 4:50, which would have been amazing, and right in line with what I had been training for.

It was >80 that day, and you really started to feel it by about 10-11am. When I began the race, I was sweating like a pig, but after about the first 10 miles, I felt as though I was no longer sweating enough. I upped my water intake, but I just didn't feel right.

The water stations were tough. It was almost impossible to not walk through them. There are thousands of cups on the ground, and everyone is starting and stopping around you. Your shoes were literally sticky and would stick to the pavement for the next few minutes due to all the gatorade you ran through.

Somewhere circa mile 14, my not feeling well started to really catch up with me. I added in some extra walking, had some gu, and did what I could, but I felt sort of dizzy. It eventually passed. Kev was having some cramping of his hamstrings at that point, too, so we were stopping to stretch.

About mile 15, I was running when a woman behind me tripped. She went flying forward, I guess, and rather than falling to the ground, she grabbed my legs with both hands to stop herself. I was midstride with my right foot (the one I had hurt previously in training), and with her weighing me down I couldn't pick up my foot right and rolled my ankle. She barked a quick apology and continued to run. I stopped and choked back tears. My ankle definitely hurt, and all of a sudden I was afraid I wouldn't be able to finish. I calmed myself down and we kept trudging on.

Circa mile 16 or so, I definitely felt like I needed my inhaler, but I didn't put it in my pack. I have NEVER required my inhaler mid-run during all of my training. Kev had to use the bathroom, so we stopped for a few and I calmed my breathing down as best I could, and eventually got back on the road.

Mile 18... stopped to take out my contacts. My right eye was streaming constant tears like something was caught behind it, and I couldn't take it anymore. The person on the sideline that was standing near me as I did this and threw my contacts to the ground looked at my like I was crazy. Whatever, lady, I'm running a marathon here!

And after that... it was just pure pain. I have no idea why it hurt so much to run this race... I had done 22 miles before and never hurt like this. My ankle was a big part of the pain, but every muscle in my legs and feet was in pain. Kevin was having the same issue, his feet screaming with every step. But here you are, 6 or 8 miles from the finish. And to be honest, I just wanted to stop and cry. But are you gonna stop at that point?


We trudged on... walking more than we had intended, but we did what we had to. Our goal, all along, was to finish. And we did just that. The last 2 miles coming up Michigan Ave was ridiculous, with so many people out to cheer us on and let us all know how far we had to go to get to the finish line. And just as we turned onto Roosevelt for the last 0.2 miles, there was our cheering section, screaming their heads off in support.

And then we turned onto Columbus, and we could see the finish line. We had done it. All told, we clocked a time that was 45 minutes longer than what we had trained for. There is definitely a part of me that's disappointed in this. I don't say that to belittle the accomplishment, but I spent so much time and effort training and I felt like I didn't meet my potential. When the race ended, I swore up and down I'd never do another marathon... was too much pain. But who knows, maybe in a few years I'll decide I can do better. But that's a long way off.

No matter how you slice it, I am a marathoner. I dragged my aching body 26.2 miles and was still able to walk when it was done. I have achieved something that less than 2% of the world population can say they've done. And here I am, saying that my performance wasn't good enough. What am I, absolutely insane?

What a wild ride this has been. I am so proud of what I accomplished. It's not the 26.2 miles, per say... it's more that I set a goal that I wasn't sure I could complete from the onset. But, I put my mind to it and achieved all I set out to do. It's an amazing feeling. And to hear the encouragement and praise from friends and family is icing on the cake.

Today, I returned to the gym for the first time since the marathon. I can finally walk without pain, and today I got on the treadmill and ran a few miles. It was a good feeling. So what now? Oh, who knows. I've got my eye on the Thanksgiving Turkey Trot as my next goal. It's an 8k. C'mon, I can do that in my sleep.

I definitely think I'll keep running. I've come to enjoy it. And I think I'll try to do a few races a year... 15k's or half marathons. They're good challenges that require some focus and training, but they're definitely attainable. I have also tossed around the idea of doing a sprint triathlon in the next few years. You never know what I'm going to do next.

Thank you all so much for reading along all these months and keeping track of me. I don't know if I'll continue to blog now and then or if this will fall silent for a while, but do check back in. If nothing else, I hope that this blog and my journey gave you all a little inspiration. If you have a dream or a goal... go for it. You never, ever know what you can achieve if you don't try.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Going the Distance

Here we are... the eve of it all. It's unreal to think that after all this time, the day is actually here. I feel like there's been so much preparation, so much talk, and yet somehow it still doesn't seem real. But after going to the Runners' Expo this afternoon and feeling the excitement of all the participants, and after walking the streets to see hundreds of marathon shirts, it's pretty clear that this is happening.

What a wild ride this has been. I've dedicated a lot of time, effort, and even money to this goal. Oh, and toenails. I've dedicated those too.

I went back and looked at my training spreadsheet, and totaled up that I have run 426.75 miles in preparation for this event.

And yet, if I walked out my front door right now and ran those 426 miles again, I still wouldn't even be half way home. So as yet another display of their love and support, friends and family have traveled here to see take on the challenge. And those that couldn't make it have been sending all the well wishes in the world.

I can't say enough how absolutely blessed I am to have some many people in my life who provide me with undying love and support. I have never for a second taken this for granted. As always, I would never have succeeded thus far without them, and my achievements are once again theirs as much as they are mine.

The pasta has been eaten. The bottles of water have been drank. The pack is packed, the clothes are clean, the alarms are set. It's time to do this. By the next time I write, I'll be a marathoner... barring any unforeseen events. Many thank yous to those who have shared this journey with me. See you at the finish line.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Final Countdown

Yesterday, I laced up my shoes and hit the trail for the last time before the race. I honestly cannot believe that it's here. It's all so surreal.

As I walk around downtown, huge Bank of America banners hang from the light posts, saying "Let's Run Together." Grant Park is already full of tents - with more going up each day - and the streets are already lined with gates for the crowds.

Yesterday I walked into NikeTown, and it is filled with Marathon paraphernalia. Just as you walk in, there's this huge mural that says "Own Chicago" with lists of all the neighborhoods the race runs through, and at which mile you'll reach it. All the teeshirts, sweatshirts, and jackets sport the marathon logo. You couldn't help but feel the energy in there.

Turns out, this is actually happening.

It's just hard to believe it. I started thinking about running this race in about November of last year. I signed up in February, and at that time started to increase my outside running even though the weather wasn't quite ready for it. In May, my official training began, and I've run every mile of it outside.

I have run through everything you can think of. Sun, clouds, rain, shine, wind, snow covered paths, extreme heat, frigid snow. I've run in the daylight, I've run at nighttime. I've managed to squeeze my training in before or after shifts, before weddings, before roadtrips. I've made it through hangovers, colds, allergies. Somehow, despite it all, I made it happen.

I was just telling my brother the other day that if I were to ever run a marathon, this was the year to do it. I was somehow blessed with a schedule that kept weekends open such that I could fit my long runs in without a problem. This marathon is flat - which I definitely need - and this city provided me such an awesome arena to train in. Now's the time.

I've trained and practiced my routines as best I could And in three days time, I'll put it all to the test with 40,000 of my newest friends.

2:22:28:49. It's the final countdown.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Sound of Silence

My standard pre-run prep is pretty ingrained in my at this point. Fill my water bottles, clip my keys into my pack, pick my music for my run and then hit the road. But today, I decided I was going to do something a little different. Unprecedented for my training, in fact.

I ran in silence.

I have to tell you, it was oddly peaceful. It is nice to have some good tunes to take your mind off of things, but the silence added a whole new dimension to my time on the path. It was windy here today, and I listened to the waves of the lake crashing against the breakers. I was acutely aware of when bikers or runners were coming up behind me. And when it began to rain (which it certainly did), I was able to enjoy the sound of the rainfall as much as one can while getting rained on.

I found I didn't miss the music too much. In fact, I found myself singing a song in my head that matched my cadence, and that seemed to work just fine. I'm not sure why I decided to leave the iphone home today, but I went for it.

However, this idea of running without music has been on my mind for the last few days. I just finished reading a chapter in my book about the thrill of the first marathon, and the author comments that when he asks lots of first time, big city marathoners, many say they train with music but never run with it on race day. There's to much to see, hear, and take in, and some of the experience is lost if you can't use all your senses.

This is probably a good plan overall, since I'll have a running buddy that will no doubt want to talk to me now and then... and it's impossible to have a conversation with my headphones in.

I know that many parts of the course will be bustling, but not all. I've talked to a few people who have run this in the past, and state that there a few less interesting stretches, but overall I anticipate the streets being lined with well-wishers and cheerleaders, and I'm sure I'll be eager for any support I can get circa mile 20.

I'm not sure I'm totally sold on running without music... I still need to ponder it a bit. But I have to say, there was something oddly calming about just running quietly with nothing but my own thoughts. We rarely get time in our days that is solely for ourselves, and it was nice to grab 50 minutes of peaceful silence.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Mind Over Matter

Well, it appears summer is officially over. My lucky streak of weekends off has ended, retreat has come and gone, and as of Labor Day, it seems Mother Nature has decided the warm weather out and crisp fall temperatures are here. Seems crazy... where did the summer go?

I have to say, I've been enormously lucky with my schedule this summer - both from a social aspect and marathon training. I've had weekends off to get my long runs in. Despite my odd hours at times, I could always find a time or a way to get my short runs in, but finding free hours on the weekends for the long runs (and the necessary recovery!) could have been quite difficult, and I'm thankful for how well it all worked out.

This weekend was the first time I got myself into a slight pickle with when to do my run... and of course, it was my peak weekend and therefore my most time consuming run. Thursday night I wasn't feeling particularly wonderful, and had just recovered from a tad of a hangover if you want the truth. I could either get up and suck it up Friday and run, despite the allergies/brewing cold, or I could wait until Saturday when I had just worked an overnight.

I opted for the Friday choice. So, I slept in as late as I felt I needed to, then got up and had something to eat an hour before running (far better plan).

I decided that I was going to do everything the way I plan to do it on race day - from my outfit to my hydration to my Gu packs - practice makes perfect. And so I took to the Lakefront path and began my journey.

It was cloudy and cool - probably about 58 degrees. To be honest, it was great running weather. I ran from my place down to McCormick Place, then all the way north on the path to where it ends on Ardmore, and back home again. In total, 22 miles, taking me 4 hours and 8 minutes.

First of all... how effin' empowering is that. I finished, and for the first time since training began, I was absolutely certain I could do this. I just need to run 4.2 more miles, and I'm there.

But there was something interesting about my run yesterday. I just fell into a great groove. My pace was very comfortable, and to be honest, the run felt pretty easy for the first 15 miles (how ridiculous does that sound?!). After that, the work starts to really kick in.

Turns out, there's something to that 20 mile wall. I was so jazzed that I had gotten to 20 miles, it wasn't really a mental game for me. It was just that by the time I hit 20 miles, my legs were pretty damn sore. Overall, I'd say the walk/run pattern is really good for me, and it definitely gives me stamina throughout the run. But by the time I get to 20 miles, I'm not sure that stopping to walk is very helpful.

I'm thankful for the rest and the easier ability to drink some water, but when my timer goes off and it's time to run again, the first few steps to get me back into my pace are quite literally painful. However, after about 30 seconds, your legs sort of feel numb and you keep on trucking. I wonder if on race day, I will just end up jogging the last 5 miles.

And so, I've peaked. It's downhill from here. This coming weekend will bring 11 miles, and the following a brief 6 miles, and then it's race day... which I honestly cannot believe. I owe an enormous amount of thanks to my friends and family who have supported me through all of this and have put up with my updates, blog posts, and troubles along the way. Without their love and support, I would not be able to accomplish this.

Remember... I decided to run a marathon because I never thought I could. Turns out, I think I'll be able to. We can all find a million excuses in our lives to put off things that we know we should do or things that are challenges for us. But in the end, we're only stunting our own growth. Mind over matter takes you a long way. 26.2 miles, to be exact.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

These shoes are made for running

So the 19 miler is behind me. I was pretty damn sore for the next day, but to be honest the soreness resolved rather quickly. All in all, I'm surprised how rarely I am sore from running, and after these crazy long weekend runs I'm usually feeling almost normal in a day. I think it says something for training and slowly stepping up your game. The race participants got an email this week reminding us that the marathon is a mere month away, and it urged runners to remember that in the final weeks of preparation, rest is just as - if not more - important than training.

So while my body as a whole seems to be handling this pretty well, my tootsies are taking a friggin' beating. To be honest, I'm sort of surprised by this. I never really anticipated the damage all these miles would do to my feet! You have all been scarred by my pic from 2 weeks ago, so I'll spare you any more shots of the wounded paws. This week, my "long run" was 9 miles, and even after that I have blisters on at least 5 of my toes when I take my shoes off. They're not even blisters, really... but my toes are clearly hitting the front of my shoe when I run and the skin at the end is taking quite a hit. They are NOT a pretty sight right now... and with 2 toenails MIA, I'm not even sure if I can get a pedicure after race day!

This pedal trauma got me to thinking. I was really, really hoping (and in fact planning) on only buying one pair of running shoes. I had done some reading on this issue, and many, many runners recommend training in one pair and then getting a new pair a few weeks before the race. The thought is that 1 pair of running shoes is good for somewhere between 350-450 miles, and most training programs get you in that range. You're supposed to get a new pair of shoes a month or so before the race, do a few runs in them to break them in (~50 miles), and then you have optimal shoes for race day. I like this idea... but my wallet doesn't. My first pair of shoes were pricey! But I noticed at the end of my run last weekend that my feet actually hurt at the end, and I felt like the padding in my shoes wasn't what it once was. And I just had that damn podiatrist's voice in my head, questioning if my shoes fit me correctly.

So after much debate (and many emails with my ever-patient father), I decided I needed to bit the bullet. So, I put my little piggies in my running shoes and went to Fleet Feet in Old Town - or, as I like to call it, the Running Mecca. I'm not kidding. This place was OVERWHELMING. I literally had to take a number to get fit for shoes. The people there agreed that New Balance had put me in the right stability shoe, and gave me a few new options in that range to try. I ended up settling on a pair of Brooks, which is a hugely popular running brand. I also bough myself a pair of cushy wicking socks, which will hopefully help with the moisture in my shoes as I run and will maybe aid in cutting down the blisters I'm getting.

I ran in the new shoes twice this week, and so far, so good. Much more cushiony... I think I just beat up my old shoes. They've already got like 350 miles on them, all on pavement, and let's be honest... I'm not the smallest girl. Those things took a beating.

So for now I'm alternating shoes and will be sure to get at least 50 miles on my new ones before race day. I am planning on running my 22 miler in them this coming weekend. So far, they've got 11 miles on them, and they've felt good. The nice thing about this is that if I go for my long run this weekend and the shoes don't work out for whatever reason, I can return them. If that's the case, I think I'll just get a new pair of the shoes I had otherwise been training in. But only time will tell.

And yes, you read correctly - the 22 miler is upon us. I can't believe this is my peak week. The marathon is so close at this point, and it's just surreal. I live in constant fear that I am somehow going to get hurt in the next month, and that all my training will be lost and my goal never accomplished. But I know this is hogwash, and everything will be just fine.

Now that Labor Day has come and gone, I guess summer is "officially over." Hard to believe. I spent so much time outside and enjoyed my summer immensely. I ate and drank my way through the city, and my crazy running helped me to do so without much damage on the scale. But now that the race is literally looming over me, I think it's time for a pre-race detox. After an event for work this week, I think I'm gonna kick the EtOH to the curb and really focus on eating well, training, and getting plenty of rest.

But the end of summer isn't all sad... at least not for runners. The weather has been so great for running - I'm hoping that race day will be slightly cool just like it has been. Mid-to-high 60's would be ideal. If you have an pull with mother nature, call in a favor for me.

So here we are, friends. The final month. Keep your fingers crossed and send happy thoughts for my long run this weekend. I'm sure I'll have plenty to say when all is said and done.

27:8:16:55. EEK!!!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Wisdom of KB

I really haven't told too many people that I'm training for the marathon. In fact, my blog has about 5 loyal readers, and I'd say maybe 10 people in total even know it exists. Of course, it's possible that some weary internet traveler may have stumbled on my writings, but after a picture of missing toenails, I may have lost this portion of my audience.

My closest friends here in the Windy City know about my undertaking. When I told one of them, she looked at me cynically and said, "Are you crazy? People aren't meant to run 26.2 miles."

Alright, not the boost of confidence and support I would have liked. And of course, she does in fact support me in my endeavor. Nonetheless, I hate to say it, but she's right. It's just not meant to be.

I'm reading a book about marathons (courtesy of my thoughtful and ever-supportive sister-in-law) by Hal Higdon, who is basically a marathon god. If you google him, you'll find him all over the net, with his training guides, classes, forums, and a litany of running successes. Truth be told, he's not a bad writer, either. Go figure.

He was commenting on why most training programs only take you up to 20 miles. He said that "20 miles is the marathoning wall," and the reason behind this is that at approximately 20 miles, it's estimated that the body has run its glycogen stores dry, and begins to metabolize fat for energy, which is far less efficient. He also makes note that for established runners, this happens at about 2 hours. Right. So... am I running out of glycogen at 2 hours (aka 10-12 miles) or at 20 miles? Where's my wall?

That's one obstacle our body presents us. The there's the wear and tear. Let's reflect on my run yesterday. I did everything I know how to do to make this a successful run. I mentally prepared for my run all week. I ate primarily carbs the day before(including a pasta dinner) and drank plenty of water. I woke up 35 minutes before I started running and ate a granola/nut/dried fruit bar for quick metabolize-able energy. I ran early to avoid heat (started at 0615) I hydrated adequately on the run. I used "goo" packs ever 5 miles to replete my electrolytes. I obeyed my walk/run pace, and as I got tired near the end I allowed myself to walk a little more frequently. I did my best to set myself up for success. The only thing I forgot was my pre-run ibuprofen, which I am certainly missing today, but I'll survive. When I returned from my run, I drank a vitamin water and ate a protein bar, and was sure to stretch well.

In total, I ran 19 miles yesterday. My training program only wanted me to run 18, but a friend who has run many marathons suggested that I get to 22 miles before the race, not 20. So I am advancing my runs a little rather than adding in an extra run, and therefore keeping myself on schedule for my taper.

When I got back, my legs were totally exhausted. Just absolutely spent. Then I started to survey the injuries. When I took my shoes off, I had blisters on 6t of my toes. My right upper arm is scraped and irritated - it seems the underwire of my sports bra does not lay flush on that side, and while each individual swing of my arms provided no pain, 3.5 hours caused an abrasion on my skin. And this was just 19 miles. There's 7.2 more to go on game day.

My friend is right. Humans are not meant to run 26.2 miles.

But we do it - or at least try to. Hal Higdon makes reference in his book that even as a professional runner, there have been many marathons he was unable to finish. While this sort of scares me, I also find this really refreshing. I mean here's a guy that's dedicated his life to running, and even he falters at times. He also comments that marathons now are far different. In fact, the Chicago marathon has over 40,000 participants, and 40% of those are often first time runners. He states that although the average marathon time has lengthened, the success rates for the number of people are finishing are far higher. For first time marathoners that use a structured, paced training plan, the success rate is like 99%. It's all about what your goals are - for most people running marathons today, the goal is to finish, not to log a record breaking time.

I got to thinking about this yesterday. I ran 19 miles in about 3.5 hours (210 minutes). That's 7 miles left to go. If I walked the rest of the race at a 20 min/mi pace because I was too tired, I would add another 140 minutes, for a total of 350 minutes or 5.8 hours. That is STILL within the required finish time for the marathon. Now I don't think I'll have to walk the last 7 miles - that's clearly not what I'm saying. I'm just looking at my goal: Finishing. And at this point, even in the worst case scenario that I can do no better than what I did yesterday, I'd still do it. And even if it took me 5.8 hours, I can still say I did it... and not many people can say that.

I'm impressed with myself for many reasons throughout this journey. From the second I considered running a marathon, I was doubtful I'd ever be able to do it. Yesterday, I ran 19 miles. That's insane! Also, my determination has been constant throughout this process. While I'm a very driven person, this is a long goal with a long training program, and I think it's easy to fall off the wagon. I have not missed a single training run since May, and I've logged every single mile outside and not one on a treadmill. To date, that's 323.06 miles. I find the fact that family and friends will be here to cheer me on as motivation. They're coming all this way to support me - I've got to live up to my claims! But no matter how you slice it, this is for me, and while I'd usually rather jump in the lake around mile 15 rather than continuing to run, I keep going... and each week, I keep surprising myself. I figure I'll run with it.

Complete, not compete. 34 days, 19 hours, 5 minutes.