When missing a race time goal is a positive

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I did my shakeout run on Boylston St. on Saturday. Didn’t bring me the good luck I’d hoped for :(

I’ve been reflecting on the outcome of my Baystate Marathon performance and missed BQ goal, and I am really surprised at how ok I am with how the race played out. Happy even. When I ran the Providence Marathon in May, I mentally gave up just before the halfway point. I was miserable for so much of that race. But the one saving grace for Providence was that once I decided I would finish at around mile 21 (three miles after I saw my husband and begged him to get the car and he refused), things got better and I finished pretty strong.

The Baystate Marathon puts on a fantastic event, and it’s definitely a PR course. I’d recommend this race to anyone seeking a BQ, and it was a better choice for my attempt than the Providence race. I’m still bummed that my stomach reacted so badly to my race anxiety. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t nutrition or hydration or a bug. I’ve had three races when this has been an issue and all three were my “A” races with time goals (Disney Wine & Dine, Providence & now Baystate). I sense a trend. But I’ve talked about it with my coach, and she’s made some suggestions that will hopefully make these race nerves work to my advantage. I think understanding where the problem starts gives us a way to attack it. I feel positive and excited (and scared) to work on this.

As a recovering alcoholic, I’m a work in progress. I have come a long way from the girl who tried to drink away her pain. However, the pain still is there — and I don’t think it’s a terrible thing for me to acknowledge that my childhood hurt me deeply in ways that never will be fully healed. The key is for me to transform that into something that can serve me to become a better person.

I’ve talked about it here on the blog, but one of my running goals has been to quiet the vicious negative tape in my head. Back when I first started running 21 months ago, that tape was very loud trying to discourage me from running. My very first race was a battle of me trying to ignore the voice saying “you suck, why bother, you’ll never be good enough, you’re lazy” over and over. I had to turn my iPod music way up to drown it out. My next few 5ks were similar experiences. Sometimes I used that negative voice by telling myself I’d hate myself more if I stopped to walk, that it would make me a “quitter”.

I can’t say wielding my mother’s critical voice to push myself is the best path towards motivation.

IMG_3280.JPGOne of the best things about having a coach and using a training plan is that I know that these people know what they are doing. It’s nice to sort of defer to their expertise and have a way of consistently improving. Gaining confidence in my ability to run and get stronger and faster has been fun. The McMillan Running coaching and plans work. I am a far faster and stronger runner than I ever dared imagine. I’ve also had the support of a coach who knows that the mental aspect of running is as important as the physical. I spent much of this training cycle giving myself mental pep talks, even when I didn’t really need them, so that it would be second nature when things got hard. It wasn’t exactly second nature, but it was much easier to draw on that training at crunch time because I’d deliberately attacked this self-esteem problem.

My coach gave me what would’ve been a perfect race strategy had I not felt sick. She wanted me to run between an 8:55-9:00 through the first half, speed up to 8:50-8:55 through mile 20, then if I felt good, drop it below 8:50 to the finish. I hit the first half at 1:57 — an average of 8:56 per mile. If I could’ve just held that pace, I’d have made my goal. I kept hoping the queasiness would subside, but it just continued to make me feel like I was going to have to puke or find a port-a-potty. Just keeping my focus was tough and it felt like all my energy was going towards my ailing GI tract.

Ironically, the parts of me that were the most in knots after the race were my jaw, neck and shoulders. That’s what white-knuckling through a race will do for you.

I thought I’d share some of the many tactics/successes that I managed in the course of this race. The more I think about it, the prouder I feel about my performance. I believe the first thing I said to my husband when I met him in the finisher chute was, “That was epic.” I don’t throw that phrase around.

What I Did Right

  • Didn’t linger in aid stations — I didn’t stop at any (I carried my own UCAN) until mile 16 and only walked through long enough to drink water then Gatorade with no lollygagging. I’m glad that water and Gatorade did not make my situation worse.
  • Periodically scanned my body when my brain tried to say, “you can’t go on” and realized I was fine/uninjured/had strong legs to continue safely.
  • Stayed in mile — This one is BIG. It never felt like I was never going to finish because I stayed in the moment. Except that I wished I was going faster, the miles ticked by pretty quickly.
  • I mentally broke up the race into pieces: first 10k, less than 4 miles to double digit miles, I see my husband in only 3 miles, only 3 miles until I only have single digit miles left, just 4 miles to 20 miles, only 10k left… I can run a 10k!, this last 5k is a new section of the course, enjoy the scenery…
  • Realizing I didn’t need audiobook/music — My iPod battery died just after mile 18. I just shrugged it off. In the past, the idea of being alone in my own head terrified me.
  • Reminded myself that I’ve felt worse and still made it to the finish line.
  • Kept my pace pretty steady the second half, if significantly lower than what I needed to BQ. I just felt drained of energy, not beaten. I told myself I was ok with keeping that pace. I didn’t flame out because I took off too fast. In fact, I nailed my first half plan. But I just had zero pep to pick up my pace. The way I stayed solid for the second half makes me happy with my execution under less than ideal circumstances. Mile 21 was my slowest at 9:57, but most were closer to 9:30 or faster.
  • When I saw my husband at the halfway point and I told him my stomach felt terrible, he asked if there was anything he could do to help me. I replied, “No, I’ve just got to tough this out.”
  • I didn’t let the too-fast pace group passing demoralize me. The 4:00 pace group caught up to me around mile 4. They were going way too fast. It was tough when I got stuck in the middle of their pack because I find running with others unnatural and stressful. I pulled a tiny bit ahead of them, but then they passed me a few miles later. At one point, the pace leader announced, “8:52. Perfect!” Uh, no. Your pacer shirt said that you were supposed to be going around a 9:07 and running even splits. They did at least one mile faster than 8:50 while they were near me. When the group passed me for good, they had thinned out significantly. This was not a course that needed “banking time” (which, frankly, is seldom a good strategy, if ever). I don’t know what the pacers were thinking. I feel bad for those runners trying to run with them that might’ve suffered later in the race because they went out too fast.
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    I dedicated my race to my iRun4 buddy, Liam, who has cerebral palsy.

  • Thought about my little running buddy, Liam. I had his name written on my bib and someone yelled, “Go Liam!” at me. It made me smile and get excited to tell Liam about it.
  • Thought about my friend Bethany who puked through the English Channel swim. She is my hero.
  • Smiled whenever the opportunity arose.
  • When I realized I probably wouldn’t BQ, I decided I was going to get as close to it as I could, and then didn’t worry about the time any more except as it pertained to that particular mile.
  • High-fived some kids. They gave me juice!
  • Never doubted I’d beat previous marathon PR.
  • Told myself that continuous forward motion was a positive.
  • “You got this.”
  • “It’s supposed to be hard.”
  • “I love running. Even right this minute.”
  • When I hit mile 20, the race course had a brick wall busting open painted on the road. I said to myself, “What wall? There is no wall” <=The Matrix reference.
  • Thought about the book Elite Minds that Coach Emily had suggested I read and how if I gave into not believing I could continue, it would be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
  • Recognized I’d done the work to get to this race and that my body was ready for this regardless of my stomach pain.
  • “This isn’t so bad.”
  • “I’m glad I’m out here. It’s a great day to be on a run.”
  • “This mile might be tough, but the next one could be better.” Funny thing about this one is that I didn’t really think about how one mile compared to another after the fact. But this particular thought helped me get through the current tough mile.
  • “My feet hurt, but it’s not going to last.” I don’t like the “pain is temporary, pride is forever” mantra for a lot of reasons, but taking note of what I knew was not an injury-type pain and then ignoring it worked for me.
  • “These hills aren’t the worst I’ve run. Just shorten your stride and increase your cadence.”
  • Reminded myself a ton that less than 2 years ago I couldn’t run a mile at this pace. My first 5k in April 2013 was at a slower pace. Heck, my second half marathon in September 2013 was at a slower pace.
  • Noted that my breathing was steady and unlabored and that my legs felt good.
  • “Yes, I am running with my heart!” — thought when I saw a sign saying when your legs got tired, run with your heart.
  • To the sign All this for a free banana?: “But I really like bananas!”

I’m stunned that I could be alone in my thoughts, feeling unwell and not meeting my goals and STILL not rip myself to shreds. I was present in the moment and accepting of discomfort, uncritical about what was happening that was out of my control. I didn’t worry about what might happen or what had already passed. I did what I could to make the best of the circumstances. I’m getting teary-eyed just thinking about it. The only way I did not execute my race as I was trained was in how my anxious stomach sapped my speed.

This race was a triumph for me. If it had gone as planned, I would not have turned this corner in being kinder to myself. It took me 44 years for this breakthrough. But hell yeah, it was worth it.

Does this make me a bad person? (Plus a quick race report — new marathon PR!)

IMG_3278-0.JPGWe’re driving home from Massachusetts and stuck in stop and go traffic on the highway. Google maps estimates it will take us 2.5 hours to travel what normally would take us 7 minutes.

Of course some asshole in a pickup had to drive on the shoulder to cut in line. Right in front of us. My husband and I have serious pet peeves about line cutters. I almost got in an altercation with an entire family at the Eiffel Tower last month when they cut in line. I cut off half their party by physically blocking the queue. I’m only 5’1″ and about 105 lbs, so it took some major starfish stance to do this. I also glared at the family patriarch who was the ringleader of their nefarious plot to win the “most entitled family of tourist jerks in line today” award.

Anywho, that’s not why I wonder if I’m a bad person.

My husband bought a large pack of bright blue 5 gum at the last rest stop. I am sitting here passing time reading blogs and I see him putting his hand through the sunroof. I look at him perplexed, thinking he’s giving the pickup the finger. But no. He’s flinging chewed up pieces of gum into the flatbed of the truck in front of us. He missed a few, but probably got half a dozen in.

I can’t help it. I think this is hilarious.

Am I going to hell for supporting masticated gum assault?

About the Baystate Marathon — I didn’t get my BQ by 9 minutes. đŸ˜„ My stomach was shitty again. I don’t know why, but I’m suspecting anxiety. It really drained my energy level. However, mentally I was really strong and I’m proud of how my attitude shaped up. This training cycle I trained my mental game as hard as my mileage, and it worked on race day. My legs, heart and head were in the game, but my GI tract was not. Some things you cannot control on race day.

However, I did PR by over 14 minutes (4:04:09). And finished with a huge grin.

Random Taper Week Post

One week from today is the Baystate Marathon. My brain is on the scattered side, but not in a completely freaked out way. Except for some slight sinus issues with post-nasal drip, I feel good. I had a terrific run on Friday in weather that hopefully was similar to what it will be like race day.

And I had fun.

I’m trying to hang on to that and not get too ahead of myself.

The Mohawk Hudson marathon is going on as I type. I’m not sure why I didn’t choose that race since I could’ve slept in my own bed. Since yesterday was a day off from running, I decided to go to the race expo. I mostly did it because Greg McMillan of McMillan Running & the McMillan Running Calculator was giving a presentation. I’d emailed him the week earlier since I am coached by one of his staff and he said to come by and say hello.

IMG_3258.JPGHe remembered my name when I went to his book signing and all I said was that Emily was my coach. Ok, I’m silly to be a little star-struck. It was still cool to get his book signed and meet him. Maybe some good luck rubbed off on me when we shook hands.

I’m trying to eat well and get plenty of sleep this week. I put together a menu plan for the week using RD Nancy Clark’s marathon nutrition book. I’ve started packing and am figuring out what to wear race day. I’m trying not to stub my toe. I’m washing my hands and using anti-bacterial stuff like a plague-paranoid person. I’m going to write my next set of encouragement letters to the girls I am mentoring as a Girls on the Run buddy. I’ve booked a massage for Wednesday. I’m trying to avoid negative self-talk. You know, usual taper stuff.

My stupid MacBook decided to lock up on the boot screen the other day, so I have to go see if the Genius Bar people can fix it. Funny, but other than the time I fried my hard drive by spilling wine on my keyboard (alcoholism fail), I’ve never had a computer completely not work before. Sure, they’ve been slow, glitchy or locked up, needed replacement, but never like this. I’m irritated I have to drive an hour each way to try to resolve it. Good thing 1) after the hard drive fiasco I backup my backups for all my computer stuff, and 2) I just got the new iPhone 6 to keep me less sour on Apple. To tell the truth, maybe it’s good that I have a computer problem to focus on so I don’t think too much about my race.

It’s hard to believe this time next week I will have (hopefully, knock on wood) finished my third marathon.

Why I Say “Recovering”

IMG_3255.GIFImage Source: http://makemethink.imgfave.com/

I know a lot of people who are alcoholics or have had eating disorders like to say they are recovered when they no longer partake in the addictive behaviors. It’s nice to put the bad shit in the review. I certainly don’t want to be defined by my addictions.

But the problem with an addict’s brain is that it’s not normal. Somehow or another, our wiring got screwed up. And while the brain is a marvelous thing that can repair itself, our biology never is 100 percent repaired. We’re still susceptible to whatever triggers set us off to begin with, so vigilance over our emotional state is crucial.

I’m a pro at stuffing emotions. I wasn’t allowed to have any of them except to display happiness. Well, fear was ok too — it pleased my mother. But that wasn’t one I wanted to dwell in. I go back to my love of horror movies here; I transformed fear into something that entertained me. I used fear to plan ways out of danger.

Of course I still feel fear. I worry a ton about my child in college. I don’t believe in a god, but I was foxhole prayer-ing about him the other day, begging whatever power-that-be out there not take my fuckwittedness out on my child. Honestly, I’m feeling a lot of guilt with him, wondering what I should’ve done differently so that he wouldn’t be struggling with school and his priorities.

But I’ve also found myself able to “switch off” when I feel overwhelmed with fear for him. Which doesn’t mean the fear is gone. Instead, I’m just stuck with a weird feeling of restlessness and ennui. Running helps with this. But so does eating crap. And shopping. And basically overdoing anything to keep the discomfort at bay.

So you see, being aware of the behaviors I take on to avoid fear and discomfort is important to keep me from falling down a rabbit hole of addiction. I try (try being the operative word) to give myself a window to feel the bad feelings, accept them to some degree, then try to let it go. I need to understand, as we say in the recovery parlance, when I am powerless to change things and when I need the strength to make a change.

I was aware of my weaknesses yesterday while in the grocery store. I was getting ready to walk down the aisle to buy diet root beer when I saw an employee setting up a sample station for some new apple cider beer. I had the briefest thought of “oh, that is interesting” and I freaked out by my interest. Which propelled me right past my aisle, soda forgotten. I was flustered. I don’t like it when alcohol begins to sound appealing because that path ends badly for me.

I am a recovering alcoholic because these thoughts and feelings will never be completely gone. It will always be easier in the short term for me to bombard myself with distractions and poisons in order to avoid emotional pain.

But I’m ok. I usually pull my head out of the sand and figure out what is really troubling me. Progress not perfection.

PS: I went back and got my diet root beer. But I entered and exited the aisle from the other end. It took me years after rehab before I would even allow myself down the liquor aisles and I still avert my eyes if I do.

The Joy of Running

There’s a running blog I read on occasion that terrifies me. The blogger doesn’t follow a training plan and basically runs a million junk miles, races constantly, eats pretty crappy and does a ton of other fitness-related stuff. Still, her race times have declined. But instead of recognizing she is over-trained and under-nourished, she’s piled on more races. She runs double digits two days after running marathons, never taking any recovery time. Reading her blog is a cautionary tale, although many of her readers find her inspirational. And guilt-inducing for not doing as she does.

But the craziest thing to me is that this blogger has said that she doesn’t really like running.

I don’t get it.

There’s an older woman, probably older than my parents (I’m terrible guessing ages, but I would guess in her 70s), who I see frequently at the Y. She typically spends about an hour walking on the treadmill. Last week she and I were side-by-side as I did my easy run, and after I finished, she shook her head with a smile and told me I was amazing. Which embarrassed me because I’m decidedly not amazing. But I thanked her anyway and told her I really enjoy running. She said she couldn’t run anymore and so “only” walked on the treadmill to keep fit and mobile, but that I made running look easy and I must love it to be so committed. Frankly, I think she’s amazing for getting to the Y on a regular basis to work out at her age. She’s always so friendly with everyone there, and I hope I can be like her one day.

Although I do rather hope I’ll still be running.

And I truly do love running. Sure, I have points in many runs when I’m just over it and want the run to be over. But mostly, I’m just thrilled to be doing it. I wish I could maintain that happiness better when I race. Because when I do remember to remind myself that I love running when I race, it makes all the difference.

I can understand running for health or weight loss reasons when you don’t especially enjoy it. But I really don’t get running yourself into the ground if the act doesn’t make you happy. Perhaps it’s because I’m not into pain that I’m crazy that way (and also why I’ll probably never excel at running 5ks).

My friend that swam the English Channel last month inspires me. She pushed through a ton of discomfort during her swim, yet she never lost sight of the fact that she loves swimming. I want to borrow her example when I run the Baystate Marathon next month, to remember how much I love to run when I (inevitably) hit a point of not wanting to go on and wondering why the hell I race to begin with.

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Doing my ITB rehab exercises. Don’t I look thrilled?

I hate getting my picture taken. About 95 percent of them make me want to never leave my house. I don’t even like looking in the mirror unless I’m checking my form for workouts and yoga. See my gym selfie (promise that I will not make a habit of this). All I can see is that I should’ve sucked in my gut and that my frown lines are getting deeper.

I got wrangled into a few group photos after my friend’s triumphant swim, and when I saw them posted on Facebook, I had to laugh as well as cringe. In one, I look like I’m standing in a hole. Granted, most of the folks I’m standing next to are a good deal taller than me. But I look kind of ridiculously shrimpy. The other one I look all bloated. I think it’s just the angle, but a part of me is ripping myself a new one about my appearance. In both I am post-run sweaty gross and still in my running clothes. The pictures reminded me why I shy from cameras.

But most of my race pictures please me, even the ones where I notice too many flaws. Because I look genuinely happy.

Yesterday I updated my Facebook profile photo with one from a race I did last year (see below). My channel swimming friend wrote the following comment on that picture:

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What I love about this comment is that my enthusiasm for running shows and may even be contagious. It doesn’t hurt that I truly enjoy running with my friend.

Running gives me an intangible something. It feels like I’m being myself, some simpler me that isn’t all caught up in anxiety and self-hatred. Which is why I find it upsetting when people like the blogger I mentioned at the start of this post use running to abuse themselves. You don’t gotta love it, but why make it an instrument of punishment? Running is a pure act. Just look at any toddler bursting into a sprint and try to tell me that running isn’t supposed to be fun.

It’s taper time, and I’m going to take it seriously. This cycle, I practiced more slow running and was pleased with how much faster I could do the hard parts of my workouts because of it. I don’t want to ruin my race experience by freaking out for the next few weeks. The best headspace I can be in is the one where running brings me joy. It’s not about the finish line — it’s the journey. (so clichĂ©, so not sorry) And I want a grin on my face all the way through.

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I hope I look like this at the end of the Baystate Marathon next month. Maybe better form.

The Right Running Shoe Matters

After a terrific tempo run yesterday, I had an easy 6 mile run on the schedule for today. I recently bought a pair of New Balance Fresh Foam 980s based on reading reviews that raved on the cushioning and that they had only a 4mm drop. None of my favorite running shoes are particularly well cushioned. In general, this isn’t an issue for me. But on my Sunday 20 miler, the soles of my feet felt especially slapped. I knew it was most likely because the shoes I was wearing (Newton Distance Elite Ironman version) have over 500 miles on them. However, at the end of both my previous marathons, the soles of my feet felt on fire. Maybe more cushion would help with that.

IMG_3362.PNGSo, since I was going to do an easy run on the treadmill today before my strength workout, I thought I’d try out the New Balances. As a precaution, I brought my Skechers GoMeb shoes to the Y.

It only took me a mile and a half to decide I hated the shoes. I felt like I was wearing cinderblocks despite that they weren’t much heavier than my usual shoes. I know I was tired from my run yesterday, but this was more than that. I’d wanted to try to run at least 3 miles in them, but I began feeling unpleasant cramping in my calves. Also, the bottom of my right foot was beginning to feel slappy after only a mile. It was as if the extra cushion made it worse than no cushion would’ve.

I hopped off the treadmill, switched to my usual shoes, hopped back on the treadmill, and all was well.

But here’s the even more interesting thing about my shoe change — it wasn’t merely how the shoes felt heavy or caused leg cramps — the NB shoes drastically affected my stride length.

I wear a Garmin footpod when I do treadmill runs because I’m anal about tracking my runs. One thing I notice by doing this — and by running on different treadmills — is how much treadmills vary in their calibration. Weirdly, I tend to prefer to run on the treadmills that show my pace as lower than what my Garmin measures. I don’t know why, but I guess that means I’m not terribly vain about what pace other people see me running.

When I was running in the NB shoes, I was averaging about a 10 minute mile. Which was fine except that it felt ridiculously hard. When I paused the treadmill at 1.5 miles, I hit the lap button on my Garmin. When I restarted the treadmill, I set the pace at exactly the same speed as when I was wearing the NBs.

This is what my run ended up looking like:

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Like I said, I had the treadmill set on the exact same pace for that second mile and a half as I did for the first mile and a half. The only difference was the shoes I was wearing.

When I got home, I looked at the uploaded Garmin data, thinking that perhaps my cadence had changed due to the heavier shoe. What I was surprised to discover was this:

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The big difference was in my stride length. By a lot. I knew I felt immensely better in my Meb shoes, but this was really telling. The Fresh Foams are not for me. I clearly need less shoe. It’s too bad because I think the NBs are pretty, but I’m hoping they’ll work for crosstraining.

My feet are so damned particular! I’ve tried all the big brands and only Newtons (the four lug Distance line) and GoMeb work for me. It worries me because running shoe companies discontinue shoes all the time (like my beloved Newton Running Distance update totally hurts my calves and ankles) and I’m limited in my selection. I keep hoping I’ll find another pair to put in rotation, but I’ve had zero luck.

I’m embarrassed at the size of my shoe reject pile. I’ve got a problem.

But now that I’ve seen metrics of what the right or wrong running shoe can do for my stride, I’m not messing around with shoes that feel anything less than great. Having the right running shoe really matters.

Giving Back to the Running Community

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I’ve volunteered for a couple races and I’ve paced friends in a few others. There’s something really special and rewarding about being at an event for someone other than myself.

I decided to take it another step further into something with a little longer-term commitment, and over the summer I registered to be a running buddy with the Girls on the Run program.

Today I had my first orientation meeting and within the next week, I will be assigned a girl to mentor through training for a November 5k, including running with her at a practice 5k to be held at the school a few weeks prior to the main event.

I’m so excited to take part in this program and look forward to cheerleading a girl in 3rd, 4th or 5th grade. If the group coach allows, I hope to attend some of the team training sessions too. I’m not sure what I’ll be able to share about the experience (obviously not anything like photos of the kids or identifying details), but I hope to be able to talk about what I do in the role of cheerleader. Part of the job will be writing regular letters to my buddy that (I hope) will encourage and inspire her to meet her goals. This makes me a little anxious because I want to do better than toss platitudes and brand-name slogans at her. Any advice on this would be very welcome.

Has anyone else participated in Girls on the Run or a similar program? Volunteered for races? What were your experiences like? I haven’t seen too many blog stories about volunteering, so I’d love to hear more because I know they’re out there.