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.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Not for the faint of heart...

Busy, busy, busy! My blog has been a little quiet lately as I've been running in a million directions (pun intended?).

First of all, let's talk about the 16 miler. So here's what I've learned: long distance running is not for the faint of heart. You've got to be dedicated to it. Somewhere around mile 10, the run is no longer "fun" per say, but you get something quite different out of it. A sense of accomplishment, of overcoming challenge that most people would give in to. I think most people would read those last two sentences and certify me as insane... I mean if something's not fun, why do it? Why torture yourself? I'm not sure how to convey the sense of pride that comes along when you finish, but that feeling of doing something I never thought I could do is a very powerful driving force.

That being said, having a passion and a will can only get you so far. As I've written in posts before, you've got to prepare. Eat right the day before/morning of, hydrate the day before and stay hydrated as you run, get plenty of sleep. So a fatal flaw in my 16 miler is I didn't follow through on all these things. I didn't have the best night before meal, I didn't focus on my hydration, and I didn't sleep enough. Let me tell you, I felt it. All in all, I still made a decent time, considering how tired I felt. Somewhere around mile 11, when I realized I still had 5 more to go, that's when the "heart" kicked in. I just dug down and kept going. After all, how else am I going to get home?

This was also the first run that I was actually a bit sore after. It only lasted a day or so, but I was surprised. And thus, my pre-run ibuprofen will now become a staple in my routine :)

Turns out running is not the only thing I'd say is "not for the faint of heart." If you're squeamish, time to stop reading the post. If you're curious, read on...

So I've sustained a second injury on my training journey (this race may kill me before it even gets here). I had gotten a very painful toenail on my left foot a few months ago which was from a subungual hematoma - aka blood that collected under the nail. Then just a few weeks ago, a similar issue arose in another nail on the same foot. So the old wive's tail that your nail will fall off after an injury like that... total baloney. It just sits in place and wiggles, and a nice podiatrist takes it off for you.

Two of these things are nothing like the others:

Say hello to "runner's toe." (Guess I'm serious now!)
Basically my nail is hitting the front or top of my shoe repeatedly, and caused it to lift up off the nail bed. Turns out my new kicks - even a half size too big - are causing me a bit of a problem. But no worries... the nice podiatrist tells me I'll have nails again in 6-9 months. Awesome.

Pray for the other 8 little piggies that they don't suffer a similar fate. Trust me, I'm taking precautions!

The race approacheth....

Monday, August 15, 2011

GOMERs Go to Ground

Turns out they're not the only thing.

So here I am, out for one of my runs. I tend to change the route up pretty much every day. While certain stretches often repeat, each day takes me along a slightly different path through the city.

Running the sidewalks of the city is sort of like a game. Many, many people are considerate of your athletic effort and will move over to let you by. If you're approaching someone, a simple "on your left" often leads to the person making way for you (though they inevitably move left, but hey, they tried).

But, just as with everything else in life, there are some inconsiderate folks as well. They'll look right at you and walk in the middle of the sidewalk, taking up as much room as possible. It's in these situations that you begin to play a game of frogger... quickly bobbing and weaving between people, fire hydrants, light posts, etc. Don't forget the added excitement of intersection traffic. All of a sudden, the run is almost like a game. But no matter how annoying these things can get from time to time, I love to run through the neighborhoods and see all the stores I want to visit or restaurants I want to eat in. It's a great way to see the city.

So last week, I'm doing my sidewalk dance around a pedestrian, and as I stepped to the right, my foot hit very uneven pavement and my ankle totally buckled, inverting and sending me right to the ground. I was able to brace myself and not hit my head, but my left knee was a casualty in the process, earning itself a nasty scrape.

It was easily one of the longest few seconds of my recent life. When I hit the ground, my first instinct was to make sure I didn't hit my head. Then I just had this flash where I was overcome with fear that in that one misstep, all my work was for naught. Over two hundred miles of training, and I was petrified that I had blown my ankle and wouldn't be able to claim the fruits of my labor.

This kind older gentleman came over to make sure I was okay and to help me up. But rather, I told him I needed a second laying on the ground. The ankle moved. That was good. So I decided to stand and bear weight, and all told, my ankle felt a little sore but stable. I had not hear a pop, and the pain seemed very ligamentous.

Thank the good lord.

So maybe not the greatest idea, but whatever.... I walked if off and kept going. I mean hell, I was already running, might as well get my miles in. And I kept a wicked time, considering my spill.

I found it really hilarious that I forgot how much it hurts to skin your knee. Of course, it wasn't helpful that I was sweating, either, but still. I know give little kids a lot more credit.

So I stuck with ye old RICE protocol, took a day off, and let things heal up. My knee is actually the most sore out of anything - I think I took a good shot to my knee and it's a little bruised, but not too uncomfortable to run with. The ankle is actually really good. I've definitely strained my ATFL in the past and been laid up for days with a sore, swollen limb, but this actually worked out as well as it could have.

And now, I'm a little paranoid as I navigate my runs - whether it's the streets or a path. I'm just afraid that one wrong step will lead to my demise, and I'm just too far into this to give up now.

So I'll tread lightly now along the streets of Chicago. Perhaps I'll just start knocking people over instead of avoiding them. Yes, that seems like a logical plan :)

Monday, August 8, 2011

Oh, we're halfway there...

For this post, we open with a picture. C'mon.... it's hot. Oh, I guess you should know that my shirt is a far lighter shade of grey, but I got rained on and sweat ungodly amounts for over an hour after the rain stopped. Hot, right?

Well, that's what you get when you complete 14 MILES! That's right, my friends, I completed a run that was more than half the length of the ultimate goal.

So this achievement has incited two opposing feelings in me. Let's review.

1) Holy shit, I just ran 14 miles. AND I did it in a decent time (10:38 mile). I can't help but rewind a few years ago... hell, a few MONTHS ago, when I never thought I could run 5 miles, let alone doubling or tripling that. I feel empowered that my training is paying off, and I am surprising myself every week.

2) Holy shit, I just ran 14 miles. On game day, I'd still have TWELVE MORE TO GO. Who's cockamamie idea was this? I mean I felt pretty good at the end of 14 (despite the image my sweat logged clothes portray), but by the time I rounded out the 14th, I was tired. 12 more? You're nuts. Seriously.

But... positivity, my friends. At the end of my first 10 miler I felt like I wanted to die. The next week I did 12, and felt okay at the 10 mile mark, but was tired by twelve. This week, I was okay at twelve but tired at 14. Methinks I see a pattern here.

I was also pretty lucky last week, as my sister-in-law hit the road with me for a few runs. And don't let her tell you any different, she kept up and she was outstanding. And ye olde big brother also spent some time jogging on the Lakefront path. Of course, the three of us would need to run back to Connecticut to make up for what we ate and drank over the last week... but hell, ya gotta live a little.

But now the fun is done, and I'm closing in on 2 months until race day. I have taken my training very seriously thus far, but in the last two months, I'm going to kick it up and be faithful with all my cross training on non-run days, keep a good healthy diet, increase my water intake, and keep preparing for this monstrosity of a goal I've set for myself. Thanks for all the love and encouragement... know that your kind words and support keeps me putting one foot in front of the other.


Tuesday, July 26, 2011


So after my sweltering, semi-painful ten mile run, I had a lot of angst building up regarding my next task: 12 miles. Considering the fact that 8 miles into my 10 miler I wanted to quit and hail a cab, you can understand why 12 loomed over me.

But, when faced with a challenge, I've always been one to step up to the plate. So I made an action plan. 12 miles... I needed to optomize myself. So I made sure to get my weekly runs done by Thursday and to rest on Friday. I got all my things set up and ready for an early morning run, and was sure to hit the sack at a very reasonable time so I could rest up. As a little pre-bedtime reading, I dove into my book about running a marathon and did a little learning about nutrition for long distance runners (post to follow). So it appeared I had flubbed the "night before carb load," but the book recommended eating some complex carbs in the AM before I took to the road. So I started my day off with a banana and a granola bar, and took off.

During my 10 miler, I just felt like I was running out of steam. I think the heat had a lot to do with it, but I think there was more to it. I only rehydrated with water, and that was probably a mistake. I needed some sort of glucose to keep me going. So, I dabbled in energy gels this week. I tried the Cliff Energy Shots, and about halfway through my 12 miler I took down a citrus flavored paste that boosted my energy and kept me going. I was suprised what a difference it made.

So I ate well, ran early, had my nerdy running pack and rehydrated adequately, used my energy shots, and had protein when I got back. And ya know what? 12 miles was a piece of cake. I was tired at the end, but no where near what I felt like the week before. And I shaved more tah 45 seconds off my mile in comparison to the week prior. This, my friends, is what we call PROGRESS.

At the end of the day when I look at my nerdy little spreadsheet, I can't believe how far I've come. Today, for shits and giggles, I decided to add up the distance I've run since starting this gig at the end of May. I have already run over 170 miles, and still have two months of significant training to go. My times are better, I feel better, and I'm suprising myself on a weekly basis with what I can accomplish. I'm going to use this to fuel me forward - this weekend brings 14 miles and my biggest challenge yet.

Here I go!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Double Digit Doubt

A few weeks ago, my training schedule had me running 9 miles (you know, when my dog chased me). That was, at that time, the farthest I had run to date. 9 miles is quite a distance! Truth be told, I actually ran just over 9 miles. And despite the extra excitement and the challenge of a hot day, I actually kept a pretty decent time.

So logically, if I already knew I could run 9+ miles, what's the big deal about adding on a few extra minutes? Not even a full mile more would get me to the next goal. So why does a double-digit mileage scare me so much? It's like I have a mental road block that 9's okay, but 10 is impossible.

All week, I brooded over this. I knew that come Sunday, I was going to have to put my big girl running shoes on and prove my fears wrong. I knew it was going to be a scortcher this weekend, so I figured I should get up early and get running to beat the heat. I was dissapointed, as my nerdy new water bottle thingy didn't arrive yet. So I grabbed myself a liter of "electrolyte water" from good ol' Trader Joe's and I took to the pavement. I started running at about 8am, and in retrospect, I should have been finishing at that time. It was warm when I began, and it only got hotter as the day progressed.

I had planned my run from my place, down the Lakefront Path to Buckingham Fountain, which is exactly 5 miles, then back again. Seemed like a great idea, as it's a pretty stretch. Again, in retrospect, my run likely should have gone north on the path, where there's some shade, as opposed to south along the beaches and full-on direct sunlight.

As you can imagine, I pretty much melted out there. On my run, I drank >1.5L of water, and drank far more when I got home. Despite all my fears, I was able to complete ten miles, but I have to be honest - it was HARD. I really do think that a large challenge for the day was the heat. It was pushing 90 when I finished. Now I've done runs in the heat before, but usually they're short jaunts under 5 miles, not a double-digit run. I was just totally wiped at the end. And the idea that the marathon would be more than double the length I ran yesterday... well, it made me doubt if I can do this.

But, the marathon is 82 days away. And that's 82 days of preparation and training... and 82 days for the weather to cool off a bit. I think I just need to be confident and keep working hard. Can't forget that the adrenaline of the day will also help fuel me. So, I'm keeping my chin up and charging on. I'm also learning from my experiences. My long runs will likely be taking place in the early morning hours for the rest of the summer. I'll be sure to drink plenty the day/night before and get good rest. And I will continue to take my prophylactic ibuprofen (b/c let me tell you, for running as much as I did yesterday, I'm not that sore!)

Next week, 12 miles. Yikes!

Oh, and a big congratulations to my brother and sister-in-law for completing their 5K yesterday! Very proud!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Calculating my Free Water Defecit

Alright, so it's a nerdy title... but I'm a nerd. What do you want from me?

So I haven't geeked out so much that I've actually calculated my free water defecit, but as the days have gotten warmer I've certianly been thinking a lot about hydration. Running an hour or more a day 4 days a week gives you a lot of time to yourself to do some quality thinking. It's also helping me maintain a nice tan :)

I've never been a huge hydrater - not as I run, not at the gym, not while I play sports. I always drink enough to keep me going, but I know that I've never been great at staying really on top of repleting my losses. I think that after a long day in the sun or playing sports, I often spend the following hours catching up on my volume status. This isn't an outstanding habbit, but I seem to walk the line where I hydrate just enough, and it's never caused me any trouble before.

Well I'm training to complete what will be my largest physical challenge in my life to date, and I'm quite positive that this flimsy hydration plan is not going to cut it. Of course, it's not just as simple as drinking a boatload of water, either. You can just ask any runner who's ever been brought to an ED confused or seizing because their sodium is too low from taking in excess free water. So much to consider!

My "weekday short runs" are now usually 4-5 miles each, and in cool weather I could easily run that without ever taking a sip of water from a fountain I pass, let alone carry a water bottle. But as the weather has heated up and I've hit some sort of weight threshold where I sweat like mad when I exercise, I find myself getting behind FAST. I can be two miles in and my mouth is dry and I'm thirsty. Well... that just won't do.

As I approach the big day, I'm working to develop a solid hydration plan, and I intent on "practicing" it on my weekend long runs. I want it to be second nature when the time comes. It's important to drink some sort of electrolyte replacement in adition to plenty of water, and I need to figure out where a good balance is for me. In addition, I need to think about starting to fiddle around with "Gu" or some other energy/caloric supplement for race day, now that my mileage is getting up into the double digits.

So I've hit a whole new level of "runner." First and foremost, I can't believe the money I've been willing to put into my new hobby. Sizable for sure. So my newest investment is for a running water bottle belt. I always laughed at people who were wearing these on the trail, but I get it now. The one I chose only has 2 10oz bottles - I'm wondering if I should have gotten the 4 bottle, but we'll see how it goes. The belt, of course, has a nerdy, handy-dandy fanny pack to stick my Gu and my keys in. Now I'm getting serious.

I'm gonna work on this whole hydration thing... I'll keep you posted on how it goes. (Posted, get it? Blog post? No? Fiiiiiiiine.)

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Hills Are Alive...

...with the sound of my feet pounding the pavement. Yes, I said it - HILLS. We ain't in Illinois any more.

My week of vacation brought me back to the great state of CT. After a year in the midwest, the northeast looked downright mountainous, forget hilly. But I have to say, it definitely is beautiful.

With New England topography came a new challenge for training: I'm used to running on very flat land. Not too much of that in the Litchfield Hills.

I tried to scope out some areas in my parents' town that were flat-ish, and tended to run these areas. However, one day I went for a relatively blind run in Orange, CT and it somehow felt like I never STOPPED running uphill. I felt as though I should have been on top of Everest when I was done!

I think the hills lit a bit of a fire in me. In general, my times were great at home, but I think I was always subconsciously thinking I needed to keep my pace up and not slow too much on those pesky climbs. In total, I ran 33.3 miles of Connecticut terrain in a week's time, and let me tell you... my legs felt it.

So let me share a little story... on my last day in CT, I squeezed in my long run for the week. I did 9.1 miles by running 7 laps around a loop near my parents' house. First and foremost, running in circles is insanely boring, but it was flat and easy to get to, so that's what I did. As I'm running by my house, the dog decides she wants to come to, and blows through her electric fence to run by my side. Despite my best efforts, I could not get her to stay home, so she ran next to me. She's not outstanding with cars, but luckily there's very little traffic in the area. She's also very responsive and follows commands, so if a car came by I'd call her to my side and she'd stick with me. Good doggy.

But then... bad doggy. We were coming down the street, and one of the neighbor's cat's darted across the street into the neighbor's yard, and Mya took off. Normally, this would not be a big deal. But the yard she darted into has a German Shepherd that could (and would) eat her for a snack, and an owner who freely wields a shotgun and picks off small, furry woodland creatures. I about had a heart attack. After screaming for her at the top of my lungs, she emerged from the yard unscathed. My father finally reigned her in, put a new battery in her electric fence collar, and I finished my run. Afterwards, the aforementioned neighbor called my folks to tell them the horrors of Mya's visit... and ratted me out for running with the dog off leash. It was like I was 8 and my friend's parents called to inform mom and dad I misbehaved. Turns out said neighbor was sitting on her porch counting the number of times I ran by. Not too much to do in Woodbury, I guess.

Anywho, vacation was amazing. Spent lots of time with the fam, saw tons of family and friends I hadn't seen in a long time, was in 2 amazing weddings, and overall had an absolute blast. I've returned to working nights, but have spent my afternoons before work hitting the Lakefont Trail. Nice and flat, just the way I like it.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Big brother's out there joggin', Proud Amy does her bloggin'

A brief midweek update. Here's a shout out to my big brother Chris, who's made the decision to get a little healthier.

I think that ANYONE who makes this choice and makes a concious effort should be applauded and prasied a million times over.

Let me tell you about this guy, though. Biggest heart in the world, and his physique was expanding to match. One day he woke up and said, "Enough's enough" and decided he's make a change. So, he too decided to join Weight Watchers and is already down 10lbs. Skinny Minny!

He told me that he was inspired by my goal to run the marathon, and was intimidated to even start running. I recommended the "Couch to 5K" pod cast. If anyone of my 2 readers is interested, click the link to learn more. Basically it's a program that gives you guidlines to get you off your butt and start moving - follow the training schedule and in 9 weeks, you can run a 5K! It comes equipt with a soundtrack, if you will, to motivate you and help you keep your cadence. And so he's working it - and by the end of the week, he'll be running 20 minutes without stopping! Honestly, it's a major accomplishment and I'm so pround. He's even signed up for his first 5K!

C'mon, people. Harbor your inner Michael Jackson - it's time to get healthy!
I'm gonna make a change for once in my life.
It's gonna feel real good, gonna make a difference, gonna make it right...

"My, I admire your fashionable running shoes..."

If you don't get the reference from the title, google "Ebonics Language Lesson."

Anyways, moving on.


There they are, folks. I figured that if I am going to put all of this time and effort into training for this race - not to mention the entry fee! - then I better do this right. After guidance from my own personal PT... ie my college friend whom I often badger about my athletic ailments, I headed to the New Balance store in search of my new kicks.

I never knew there was so much that went into buying quality running shoes! They had me stand a pressure pad to evaluate the weight distribution I place on my feet, then they had me get on a treadmill, where they recorded my feet as I ran. When we watched the video in slow motion, turns out my ankle wobbles and is unstable as I run, and that this is due to the fact that I place all my pressure on the lateral edge of my foot. They put me in various shoes and had me repeat the treadmill trial, and once I found the pair that was the most comfortable and corrected my weight distribution, the wobble in my ankle totally resolved. They even allowed me - actually, encoraged me - to run around the block to test drive the shoes before I bought them.

I am amazed at how much lighter the shoes feel to me. Now granted, the actual weight difference is probably minimal,but my previous sneakers were particularly heavy and the new ones are designed to be light, so the difference is certainly noticable.

I took 'em out for a spin when I did my "long run" on Saturday. I went 7.15mi and kept a pace of 10:14/mi, and my feet felt great at the end.

The shoes are treated like royalty in my home. They have their own special spot, and I wear them literally only to run. I want to preserve their awesomeness.

Running, overall, as been going really well. I'm suprised by my progress in just a month's time. My weekday "recovery runs" are supposed to be run at an easy, conversational pace, so I set out and do just that. But as training continues, that pace quickens - I've dropped almost a minute a mile since starting. And of course, I know this because of my nerdy spread sheet.

I've also made a new effort in life - I'm going a little greener, folks. I really became quite a city girl the day I sold my car and turned my mobility over solely to public transportation, but I've "one upped" myself - you'll now find me on the Lakefront Path riding my bike back and forth to work. Now this may not work for every shift, but when it does work out, it's great. I get a work out in, it's an enjoyable ride, I can soak up the sun and nice weather, and I'm being all ecological and what not by reducing my carbon footprint (or something like that). I've also opted to take stairs if I'm climbing three flights or less. There are easy calories to be burned... just gotta find 'em!

116 days, 16:03:39. Craziness!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Day I Became a Runner

Two weeks deep into my marathon training, and I already have a nerdy excel sheet tracking my progress. Go ahead, laugh at me... I embrace my nerdiness. Nay, I flaunt it.

Say what you want, but it's interesting to track my trends. I have been jotting little notes on a given day regarding how I'm feeling or things that may have affected my pace. On my shorter weekday runs, I have not been doing the "walk/run" pattern - I'm just running the allotted time at a comfortable pace. On the weekends, I am supposed to be running as though it's race day.

So last weekend, I gave this whole "walk run" thing a try. I had tried it at the gym, but it's easy there - timer in front of you, and a push of a button switches your speed. Running outside is different in a MILLION ways, and the walk/run plan is no different. So I headed out for my first run, ran my comfy pace, walked briskly when my timer went off, ran again, etc. And when I was done, I put it in my spreadsheet. I was at a pace of a 12 minute mile.

12 minute mile?! I only ran 5 miles! My time per mile will surely lengthen as I move farther along the race... I can't run a 12 minute mile!

So I pondered this during the week. I came up with two major points. First and foremost, I need to use the walk/run to my benefit. I can push myself and run a little harder, because I'm building in rest time. Secondly, I need to use my weekend long runs to start pushing myself and training hard, as I want to see improvement over the course of my training. I think progress will be inherent in regards to my endurance as training moves along, but advancing my pace will take a little work.

So I thought about this on my short weekday runs. They say your weekday runs should be at a comfortable pace - recovery runs - so I kept that up this week. And today, I headed out for long run #2 - supposed to be 6 miles, but all told my loop came out to 6.6 miles.

I've never claimed to be a great runner. In fact, I'll flat out state that I am NOT a great runner. But I'm not bad. I try not to let it get to me when people pass me running along the Lakeshore path, because hell, I'm out there running... gimme some credit here!

I'm not really sure how to explain just what happened today, but I broke through a wall. I went outside with the mindset that today is a long run and a training day, so I needed to push myself. So, I did, and I kept a pace that was a little uncomfortable in the sense that it's faster than what I'm used to, but it wasn't insane. At first I thought I could never maintain it... but as the run progressed, I think I even began to run slightly faster. It was like today I decided I wasn't going to go for a jog, I was going to go for a run.

Then a funny thing happened: I started passing other people.

When the buzzer went off, I walked briskly as I'm supposed to, and once my minute break was up, I was back at it, and I felt amazing. All told, I ran 6.6 miles in 66 minutes. That's a ten minute mile.

But is it? I'll spare you the long, drawn out math, but we have to consider the fact that I'm walking a certain distance of my run. So if I assume that I walk at a pace of about 4mph, figure out how many walk cycles I did, I can basically subtract that from my run to see what my actual running pace was. So, being a nerd, of COURSE I did that. I was keeping a 9:36 pace. That's a personal record!

Now I'm faced with this new realization... I have it in me to be a runner.

So now, each weekend as I head out to do my long run, I will always be thinking that I can keep that pace, and on any given day, I better match it or improve it. That's how you get better.

I'm on a mission, people. Nothing stops me when I'm on a mission.

125 days, 9:36:40 until go time!

Monday, May 23, 2011

On your mark, get set...

As I sit down to write this entry, there's officially 138:21:56:09 left until I take to the streets and drag my sorry ass 26.2 miles around Chicago. The goal? To make my ass not quite as sorry...

Welcome to the first official day of training!!

I've chosen a 20-week program, and if you do the math, that means today is the first day I'm "officially" training for the race. That being said, I've spent a good amount of time in the last few months making sure I run a few times a week - sometimes twenty or more miles in a week's time - so that I could be ready to train and improve. To date, my longest run has been somewhere between 8 and 9 miles, and in general, I keep a pretty steady pace between 10:45-11:30 min/mile. I consider this my baseline and hope to improve a bit from there.

The program I chose has two short runs weekly (Mon, Wed), a long run (Sat), and cross training/rest days. As far as the schedule goes, I won't be beating my personal best until week 6 when I run 9 miles. I feel like I've done a nice job preparing to train... which seems ironic, but necessary, I think!

Today is a big "beginning" for me, and it's making me a little nostalgic. Last week, I started to think about where I've come from. Sure, the past few years have been wrought with some exercise and weight loss ups and downs, but overall the big picture has been one of success.
I remember the day - four years ago - when I was at the gym, trying to get in shape and lose some weight, and I was able to run an entire mile on the treadmill without stopping. It was momentous for me. At >200lbs, running a mile without stopping is a big deal. I distinctly remember the feeling when I finished. I was so proud of myself, but I knew that this meant something big for me: I could never again let myself wimp out and run any less. Now look at where I am. Thinner, healthier, happier, more physically fit, and training for a marathon.

Positive attitude, hard work, small steps, confidence ---> success.



Monday, May 16, 2011

Breaking the Silence

I'm very sad to say that my blog has lain dormant for almost two months. But what I find even more disheartening is that this silence is a direct reflection of myself over that same time period. Starting sometime in mid-March, I seemed to start falling apart at the seams. I somehow found myself smoldering personal crisis that quickly advanced to a fire I could not figure out how to control. Upon reflection, I've seen times like this previously; I often find myself constantly charging ahead and then one day, and inevitable snap occurs. I might be down on my luck or even borderline depressive for a few days or a week, but I've always been able to pull myself up and get back to business. But somehow, this time, I was lacking that personal strength. What began it all? No matter how hard I try, I can't seem to pinpoint where the downfall started. One too many failed dates? Homesickness? The stress of work? Or better yet, letting my job take hold of my life? No doubt the terribly cool and dank spring has contributed to my gloominess.

Work owned me for a while. Not just in the sense that I work a lot... boohoo. Lots of people do. It was more what I was doing and the things I was seeing. I feel like I just found myself caught in a rut of horribly depressing situations, and despite all my best efforts, I couldn't change things for people. And while I see this similar set up almost everyday, it's often the exception, not the rule. For the most part, I can make some positive change in people's lives. But when you go to work day in and day out for six weeks and feel like you're pouring everything you have into your job and it all somehow ends up for naught... it catches up with you. And once my psyche started circling the drain, it was a fast and furious spiral down.

It also quickly became apparent that old habits die (very) hard. As the stress and sadness mounted in me, I quickly returned to stress eating, and almost pathologically. And as I saw myself slowly undoing the success I had worked so hard to achieve, I was mortified at myself... and so the vicious cycle spun.

I think we all see times in our lives where we find ourselves down and can't seem to pinpoint how we got there. I really believe this to be the natural course of things. I find it so frustrating that no matter how much mental power I put into the search I can't seem to hone in on what started things for me... nor why this time, it was so prolonged. I'm beginning to feel that a clear cut answer likely doesn't exist. While I'd love this knowledge to use for prevention's sake, I'm not sure it's worth wasting my energy looking back, when instead, I can look forward.

So... time for change. I have my friends and family to thank for helping to steer me back onto the path where I belong. After a very, very difficult six weeks, I took a break from things. Forgot about work for a while. Reset myself. And upon my return, I found the energy and drive that usually fuel my life. I had a shitty six weeks. What of it? So I gained some weight... I lost it before, I'll lose it again. And I learned something about myself - how easy it is to slip in my eating habits and how detrimental that can be. Now I need to figure out how to handle truly hard times without turning to my previous comfort.

I need to view this all as empowering. It's funny... when I began this blog, I wanted to catalog my training for the marathon, but instead, I am chronicling my journey. I'm not perfect. No one is. But it's recognizing our weaknesses and capitalizing on our strengths that will lead to success. I am a smart cookie. I'm determined, I'm an honest person, and I have a good heart. I face the day and give it the best I can... because that's how I roll and I won't forget it. The silence is over.

Watch out world... Amy is back.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

A (Wo)Man with a Plan

I remember that in grade school, one of my teachers had a quote on the wall: "Failing to prepare is preparing to fail." A touch cheesy, perhaps, but a point well taken. That quote has always stuck with me.

So... let's prepare. Successful marathoners have to train to build up their endurance and prepare themselves both physically and mentally for the big event. And by the way, that big event is officially 210 days away... not that I'm counting.

I have hemmed and hawed over whether or not I could potentially run the entire race. Truth be told, if I trained correctly, I probably could. But I've done some research and a little soul searching, and I've decided to stick to the structured "run-walk" plan for multiple reasons.

(1) Reduced risk of injury. Now this doesn't take my risk to zero, but I've got a LOT of emotional, mental, and eventually physical preparation going into this. This past year, I saw multiple people who came in with stress fractures or other various injuries that prevented their participation in the marathon and instantly made their months of training absolutely fruitless. I do NOT want this to be me. I want to complete my first marathon in a healthy, safe fashion, and I want to be sure I see that finish line.

(2) Walking is a must. Even if I planned to try to run the whole event, there has to be some walking in there. Breaks are essential to success. And I know I can be stubborn and driven, and I think the worst thing I can do is get excited on the day of, push myself too hard on the first half of the race and not take necessary breaks, and then peter out on the final leg. I want to be as steady and consistent as possible.

(3) A better time? If I can stay consistent, and allow my body the rest periods I need, I think it will overall improve my time. At first, I laughed at this idea - walking is slower than running, right? But little walk breaks allow me to keep an even better running pace. And, with Angie and Kev by my side, we can all push each other to keep a strong pace while walking or running. Strength in numbers!

Those are the big thoughts I've had. So I hit the internet and started to do some research. There are a few highly regarded walk/run programs out there, but I've ultimately settled on a plan written by Jenny Hadfield. For some reason, I liked this set-up the best and thought it fit me the best out of all the programs I read. I also really liked the fact that this was the only program I saw that was designed by a woman. Plus, she's from Chicago... that has to be a sign, right? Should you care to, you can find the program we're using here.

I've already laid out my schedule (no surprise there), and my official training begins on Monday, May 23rd. Of course, I need to get myself as prepared for that as possible, so I'm continuing to run outside when the weather is nice, and continuing with my other cross-training and strength-training efforts.

As for ye olde weight loss update... I find myself at a bit of a standstill. Not cool. I've returned to the WW Good Health Guidelines and find that I'm doing pretty much everything recommended, so no help there. I'm continuing my workouts, but I think perhaps I need to start stepping these up? My other plan is to return to WW meetings. When I originally started on this plan, I went to the meetings for a while, but eventually ended up just using the online resources. Actually, I beat the odds with that, as I continued to lose a good amount of weight on my own without the accountability of the meetings to keep me in line. I'm not really that concerned with my accountability - this is not the reason for my return. I'm going to go back because I'm approaching, albeit slowly, the endpoint of my weight loss, and this last stretch is going to be HARD. I'm hoping to pick up whatever tips, tricks, and support I can from people who have reached their goal, and use this to fuel me through to finish what I've started. First meeting is tomorrow AM. Here we go.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Rise to the Occasion

This past Sunday, I participated in the Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago's "Hustle Up the Hancock." This is an annual fundraising event for the foundation, where 4,000 participants climb their way up 94 flights of stairs to the Observatory deck in the Hancock Building.

Let's just be totally clear how high that is. We're talking about a 1,000ft vertical climb. That's 1,632 stairs. The oldest climber was 85(!!!), and the youngest was 6 years old. And what did YOU do with your Sunday?!

It was a pretty outstanding event. It's so empowering to see so many people coming together for a great cause. This event usually raises over $1,000,000 each year. There were people climbing who had lung transplants, as well as people climbing in memory of loved ones lost to respiratory disease.

The times ranged all over the place - fastest time this year was by a 40 year old man who ran it in 10:03. Let's be hones,t he's crazy.

And as for yours truly? I really didn't train specifically for the event, but I managed to put up a very respectable time of 20:14, and even managed to pass people along the way. When I began to climb, I had a fleeting thought that I'd never be able to make it to the top - the flights of stairs are largest at the bottom, and each flight was 20 stairs. But once I got a good, steady pace going, I charged on, and felt good when I was done.

What was more surprising (and encouraging) to me was that I wasn't sore the next day, either. I felt great. Looks like all this working out is getting me somewhere.

After my very early climb (6:45a, first wave), I made my way up to the observatory to watch the sun rise over Chicago and prepare for my day as a medical volunteer. We were prepared for the worst (as always), but it didn't come our way. Luckily, we only saw people with minor issues - lightheadedness that resolved, nausea, didn't eat breakfast that morning. I was glad to see that the event went off so smoothly.

Lots of marathon talk at Hustle Up the Hancock - both from the medical staffing point of view, and due to the large overlap in participants. Finding more people who are doing the race - many for the first time - and many of whom I'll be bugging to go running with me.

On the weight-loss front... well, it's been a frustrating month. I don't much feel like belaboring it, but my weight-loss is slowing as I approach goal, and it's frustrating. It's even been accompanied by a few weeks of weight gained rather than lost, but really I'm just vacillating around the same numbers. I know this is a plateau and I know that I will get through it ultimately because I'm doing all the right things. I just need to dig down deep and find the willpower to stay the course through this persistently annoying time. My ultimate goal is to have a normal BMI. But, as my ever-intelligent mother pointed out, BMI isn't always the best measurement for muscular people - and while I'm not exactly jacked, my muscle mass is way up from what it used to be, and I have to take that into account. Despite my losses being less than I'd like, things now fit me that never did before, and I'm noticing changes in my appearance. I think I need to let go of the scale a bit and try to see the forrest through the trees.

But now? It's March. And I'm gonna own March. Here's to a month of successes!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Motivation behind the Madness

What on earth possesses someone to want to run 26.2 miles? Especially if it's in a circle? I mean, if you're going to run that far, you should at least end up somewhere different than were you started, right?

It's estimated that somewhere between 0.1 and 2% of the world population has run a marathon. The statistics for Americans seem to be all over the boards, but still just a few percent of the population at the largest estimation, making marathon finishers an elite group.

To be absolutely clear, I did NOT choose to do the marathon to lose weight. If I wanted to shed pounds, a few miles here and there would likely get me to goal; no need for such an enormous undertaking. If I had to put into words what my motivation is, it's pretty simple: I'm running the marathon because there's a part of me that thinks I can't.

Counter intuitive? Perhaps. I mean, there's a part of me that that thinks I can't cure cancer (a HUGE part of me!) but I'm not necessarily motivated to spend my life in a lab striving for this goal. So why a marathon?

I find the mix of athletic prowess and mental strength to be really attractive. It's often said that running a marathon is more mental than physical. When you're a mile from your goal and tired, it's an absolute mental game to just push yourself for ten more minutes. Your physical training has prepared your body for the effort, but your mind is the last hurdle you need to overcome.

Clearly I'm one who thrives on challenges. I've submitted myself to some enormous mental challenges in the past and I've buckled down to push myself to study and learn what I need to. Trust me, I never wanted to sit and study for 15 hours at a time, but I knew I needed to. Sometimes you just have to force yourself to get through one more chapter, no matter how tired you are. So if I have the strength and drive to get myself to push through in this regard, is running one more mile any different?

I think it's all the same principle, to be honest... so when I look at a marathon like that, why can't I complete it? As enormously cheesy as it sounds, I'm a huge fan of The Biggest Loser, and at the end of each season, the final few contestants take on a marathon. I'm always in awe of these people, many of whom have lost over 100 pounds (and often much more), who in a few months time got themselves off the couch, and just started to change their life one day. And then they finish a marathon? What an amazing milestone.

We are planning on using a run/walk program. I've done a good amount of reading that supports first-time marathoners using this type of plan to prevent injuries and increase success. The phrase "it's not a sprint, it's a marathon" has a lot of validity - this is a five hour event and endurance is everything. I think using the run/walk strategy and forcing myself to take breaks early and often will help me succeed in the end. So when I say I'm going to "run" a marathon, maybe that's unfair, but I will be propelling my own body 26.3 miles towards a goal. I have very, very loose time goals in mind (like finish before the water stations are shut down!), but I'm not doing this to achieve some set pace or time. Complete, not compete.

If you've ever participated in a run/walk, bike ride, etc, you know it's a social event. Hundreds or thousands of people joining in an attempt to achieve one common goal. The excitement and drive is often palpable. I can't wait to join 40,000 other runners at the finish line and prove myself wrong.

Sunday, February 13, 2011


It’s been almost two weeks since my previous post, but that’s not to say that I haven’t writing and re-writing my thoughts during that time. As I write this, I’m aboard a plane returning from Punta Cana, and my vacation is officially drawing to a close.

One thing I truly enjoyed about my reprieve – aside from plenty of warmth from the sun – was time to think. It sounds so silly… but I rarely sit and just allow myself to think and reflect, uninterrupted. It’s true that my mind is rarely (okay, never) still; my brain is chugging at impressive speeds up until the very second I fall asleep at night. And at times I’m particularly stressed or consumed with something, I often find myself dreaming about it, as if a reminder to attend to it the next day. But I spent a considerable amount of time over the last week just letting my thoughts travel to wherever they may go. Naturally, I have already planned my next (or perhaps next few…) vacations in my head. That’s no surprise. I also spent a good amount of time thinking about my family, friends, my relationships in my life in general; thinking about what goals I want to set for myself in the next few months, during residency, or even the next few years; thinking about where I might like to move to for the next stage of my life.

Predictably, a good portion of my time thinking and reflecting was devoted to my weight loss and my marathon goal. Before my departure, I struggled a lot with the idea of vacation and how it fit into my new lifestyle – I felt there was a range from “totally letting myself go” to “counting Weight Watchers Points,” and I just didn’t know exactly where to place myself on that continuum. What came of it was a bizarre mix. I have learned that you’ll never succeed at any dietary or lifestyle change if you don’t give yourself a break. You have to allow yourself to enjoy the things you love now and then, or you’ll never make it. Truth be told, I likely enjoyed too much, but in my heart of hearts, I do believe that for one week, it won’t kill me.

What bugged me a bit is that I saw how quickly I could jump back to old habits, especially eating too much of something because it tasted good. I also found myself struggling with something that’s been a thorn in my side for the duration of my journey. Let me explain it this way. I see myself having two little characters sitting on my shoulders, just like in cartoons. On one side, picture a fat, ruddy faced, yet terribly convincing devil in a bad costume. On the other, the proverbial “angel” who is healthy and fit, wearing shorts and a tank-top with skinny and fantastic arms that I am quite jealous of. Every day, I haggle with these two each time I decide to eat or exercise (or not to, as it were). I’ve become great at ignoring the bad advice of my little devil friend, but every now and then he still gets me. On the rare day that I fall off the wagon, the devil takes hold… and somehow it becomes an absolute free-for-all. I let the little devil convince me that if I’m going to be “bad” today, why not be REALLY bad? Unfortunately, the devil had a bit too much of a hold on me over vacation. I’ve got to admit that eating things I hadn’t had in a while tasted good… but when all was said and done, I didn’t feel all that great about myself. I’ve got to find a way to meet in the middle somehow – allow myself to splurge now and then, but to control it better. Needless to say, there won’t be a weigh-in for me this week, as I’ll give myself a little chance to recover from the damage. But after months of being on the straight and narrow (even over the holidays, for the most part), I think a week of indulgence is okay.

On the exercise front (after all, this blog was inspired by running!), I hit a bit of a snag. I was so excited to get to the warm weather – I of course brought my workout clothes, my running shoes, and an iPod filled with songs to fuel me as I went for long morning runs. Hate to say it, but Chicago isn’t exactly the best place to run outside these days, and I just wanted to enjoy the week of warmth and the opportunity to be outdoors. But as luck (or lack of luck) may have it, I came down with a viral head cold the day I landed in the DR, and found myself wheezing on and off for the duration of my stay. Alas, no running for me. I took the opportunity to rest and get better.

I find myself eager to get back to my routines and start working out again. Hustle Up the Hancock is just two weeks away, so I better start adding that stair mill back into my routine! Among the rest of my thinking time, I’ve also formulated a post on my reason and drive for running the marathon, which will be coming soon.

So, from start to finish it was a wonderful and much needed vacation. I feel emotionally, mentally, and physically rested and rejuvenated. One more day of vacation before I have to get back to reality, but I find myself excited about my new-found energy and eager to get right back at it. You know I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Year of "I can"

morbid (adj):
1. (a) of, relating to, or characteristic of disease
(b) affected with or induced by disease
(c) productive of disease

This is a term we use all the time in medicine. Even the public uses it, as we are well aware of the increase in and impact of morbid obesity on our society. Not exactly a term I've ever wanted as a self-descriptor, but I have to be honest with myself. Though my body mass index never fell into the "morbid obesity" category (>40), I was certainly knocking on its door with a BMI of 38.1 at my heaviest when I graduated college.


It's a scary thought - a 22 year old with so much excess weight that she's almost morbidly obese. I was on a downhill slide with no signs of stopping.

One thing medicine has taught me: Morbidity ---> Mortality.

Not for this girl, not now. I'm proud to say that a lot has changed in 4 years. Not just my weight, but my mindset and my lifestyle. I stand (er, sit) before you 70lbs lighter than my college graduation, and on my journey to (and approaching!) my goal weight. I'm healthier, happier, and feeling better than I ever have before.

I'm not writing any of this in search of congrats or encouragement; in some ways, I think I need to put this down in writing; to admit where I've been, what I've done, and where I plan on going. I was enormously overweight, and even today - 70lbs thinner - my BMI STILL places me in an overweight category. Every day I see people who suffer from obesity; I see heart attacks in 30 and 40 year olds, amputations from diabetic complications, and children losing their parents to obesity and its sequelae. So I made a resolution that this would never be me. And I'm sticking to it.

I never thought I'd be able to lose 70lbs, let alone my ultimate goal of 90. But, I'm deeming 2011 the year of turning "I can't" into "I can." Because if there's one thing I've learned, it's that we are all capable of amazing things if we put our minds to it.

And so today, February 1, 2011, I've taken this to a whole new level: I have signed up to run the Bank of America Chicago Marathon on October 9, 2011. And now I've put it on the internet for all to see... to hold myself accountable and to fuel me forward.

26.2 miles - am I nuts?!

I can do this, and I will. This blog is going to serve as an outlet and a record of my journey to the finish line, and I invite you to read it and follow along as I attain a life goal.

249 days to go. Let's get busy.