Questioning my (running) decisions

Yesterday’s 10 mile run in Chestertown was hot, humid, slightly hilly, beautiful, and HARD. I’ve been dealing with plantar fasciitis for at least six months. I think I had the beginnings of it going into the Philly Marathon in November and didn’t let it rest after that.

After months of alternately treating it and trying to pretend like it doesn’t exist, it flared up big time in the middle of a run, which normally doesn’t happen.

I had a long drawn out (obviously drawn out.. Got nothing but time on a long run) conversation with myself about my running goals for the year.

After Philly I swore I wasn’t going to run a marathon this year. Two years in a row I had mediocre training and got through a marathon by the seat of my pants. Working full time with all the other things I like to do really doesn’t lend itself to a schedule conducive for training to be competitive (with myself).

It’s time I’m honest with myself and realize that yes, I love running but no, I have no huge desire to run anything longer than about 6-8 miles right now. It’s okay to not sign up for all the races. It’s okay to not be constantly training for a half or full. Just because I’ve done marathons in the past doesn’t mean I have to keep doing them.

Like my husband (and therapist) tell me, I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to do. That includes all the other things I like to be involved in.

Over the past several months through tracking my food and calories, I have proven to myself that I don’t need to be running an obscene amount of miles in order to stay fit or lose weight. In fact, I’d say my eating is better when I’m not burning ridiculous amounts of calories on long runs.

Summer is not usually a time of introspection for me, but the tough run yesterday has prompted me to reevaluate my running goals and become honest with myself. I look forward to the rest of 2018 as a year when I stop doing things I don’t want to do, and I rest when needed. Easier said than done, right?

It’ll be a busy running year

I updated my races for this year and man, looks like I’ll be busy racing all over Delmarva (local name for the Delaware-Maryland-Virginia peninsula). I am not running any full-length marathons this year. My goal was to be half-ready at any point in time, and I’m almost there. Truth be told, my training for the Cherry Blossom 10-Miler in DC has been very relaxed. I’ve worked up to 8 miles for a long run at a respectable pace and then put in a couple more runs per week, about 3-4 miles total.

Something broke loose within me during the last few miles of Philly. Actually, it started around mile 15 when I was feeling pretty down-trodden. I do this running thing for fun. It’s not a job, I will never be sponsored or featured in a magazine, I will never be super speedy without working my butt off to get there. Why slog through it and hate on myself with negative talk? It’s just not worth the effort to be like that.

So this year I’m doing a few half marathons. After starting the racing/running season off with the 10 miler, I’ll be doing a half marathon in Canada with my sister who will be doing her first half ever (!!!). Then I’ll train through a hot muggy East Coast summer to do the inaugural Susquehanna River Running Festival half right here in our new hometown. I have a thing with running across bridges, apparently.

Something new to me this year is running races with friends. I’ve been a solo runner for basically my whole running life, but I have a few friends who are into running local races. This fall I’ll be doing the running portion of a sprint triathlon – I will never do swim or bike portions! – and then I’ll be a 1/4 of a Baltimore Marathon relay team with my fellow Sunday School co-teacher.

I’ll close out the season with the Annapolis Running Festival half marathon in beautiful historic Annapolis. Super excited for this race because that late in the fall it’s bound to be cool enough to really reap all the rewards of training through the summer. Maybe I’ll PR my half….

Now, all of this will only be possible if I can keep this darned plantar fasciitis in my left foot from being too much of a nuisance. It seems that shoes more suited for stability (Brooks Ravenna) have helped, as well as inserts with arch support. Those things plus stretching + yoga have been great for this darn heel.

I have enjoyed running around this area since moving here two years ago. There’s such a robust running community and so many options for different kinds (and prices!) of races, both close to home and a little drive away.

Fulfilled

For the past couple years I’ve been on a quest to find out what on this earth makes me feel fulfilled. What can I do, where can I go, that makes me feel the best kind of emotionally exhausted at the end of the day. I haven’t quite found the pot of gold yet but I know for certain one thing that fills the gap is long distance running.

I never wrote a Philly Marathon race report, partially because I was busy, partially because I was lazy, and lastly because the last three miles of 26 shifted my perspective in a big way and I didn’t quite want to share it yet.

It’s not a secret really: do what you do because you’re motivated to do it, and the only person stopping you is you. Thats it. But it’s something I’ve been battling within my soul.

Once I gave myself permission to break through the confines of pain, exhaustion, and basically any physical barrier, my mind was free to control my body instead of the other way around.

I no longer felt dread or like I was slogging my unwilling body through the mud step by step. Instead, I felt like I was truly free and fulfilled for the first time in probably 2 or 3 years.

The high lasted for little more than 12 hours. When I came down, I came down hard but I knew what to expect. My first question was how to feel like this not just again, but always. I think I might spend the rest of my life trying to figure that out.

Grit and Grime

Running, specifically long distance running, has a way of stripping a person down to the inner grit and grime of who she is. The effects of using all the body’s energy and breaking down muscle only to be rebuilt stronger don’t discriminate between man, woman, young, old, affluent, poor, elite, not elite (read: me).

Today’s long run was more of a mental feat than a physical one. I’ve had this habit of doubting myself lately and what my body can accomplish. It’s still probably leftover from feeling an ultimate betrayal from my body, but what can I do besides keep pushing through it?

It wasn’t the number of miles that got to me today. It was the utter horrible, bitter, angry thoughts that found their way into my head during the last third of my run. For about 7 miles, I saw who I really can be sometimes at my core – jealous, envious, certainly not well-wishing. Something I realized though is that while I don’t generally feel that way anymore, it brought to light some interesting or surprising revelations about myself that are hard to confront.

I think God wants to reveal these things to me so I can be forgiven, but I push it down most of the time. It’s only on a 20-mile run that I’m a captive audience with little distraction but passing cars and music.

The truth is, I need redemption and love and to not feel lonely in the world. I need to feel like my life matters and that I can do something that counts. I need reassurance that the decisions I’ve made in my life have brought me to this place for a reason. I need to know that any and all hurts I’ve experienced haven’t been in vain. I need to know that even as a broken, hurting soul I still have love to give.

This morning I was mad, angry, jealous, upset. Those emotions felt to my soul like brushing off rough salt felt on my sweaty face. I felt exposed to every person I painfully strode by, not wanting to meet their eyes because I knew I couldn’t muster a fake smile. Surely they could see how grimey and gritty my soul really was.

Today’s run was wholly about the journey, not for one second about the destination. In life the destination is death, and then the afterlife.

But I’m not living (running) to die – I’m living (running) to live.

 

Philly Marathon Training Update

When I think of training for a race, I automatically evaluate it with a “good” or “not so good” or some other adjective to describe what I perceive it’s been like. Truth is, every day I get out there and pound the pavement in search of health (physical and mental), it’s a good day. And it’s a good training cycle.

Recently I’ve been down on myself about my paces. Why I’m not faster. Why some runs just feel so slllooowww. I try to find reasons, justifications, for why this could be. I compare myself to other runners on specifically Instagram, who provide inspiration, but who also are in a literal different league than I am running-wise. And that’s okay.

My health has been a struggle for a couple years. I’m talking about collective physical, mental, and emotional health. When I found out I was hypothyroid, my doctor said he couldn’t believe I had the energy to train for a marathon (last year, Marine Corps). The thing is, I didn’t. I absolutely didn’t.

This year feels so much better. I’m still staring down this next 26.2 and wondering some days how it’ll get done, but it will. So far I haven’t been plagued by sickness or injury. Let me just say that yours truly knows how to do rest days. I’ve been practicing yoga a couple days a week which has helped immensely with all around strength and flexibility. My chiropractor is happy about that development for sure.

The weather here in Maryland has finally broken – it now feels like fall even though the calendar has told us that it is for almost a month. I hope to see paces get faster and to feel all around better during and after runs. A downside to the changing season is the darkness in the morning. I waffle back and forth on whether I like the peace or whether it freaks me out. I invested in this running flashlight to help me not wipe out like I did a few weeks ago. I’m sure it’ll get a lot of use in the coming months.

It’s around this time of year that I think about moving my running schedule to after work. Some days, running after work is necessary, but truth be told I love having it done early. That cup of coffee post run is just so so sweet, and I can focus so much better at work not thinking about how I have to run after.

I’m ever so slowly finding a mind shift when it comes to running. Instead of thinking, “I have to run today,” I can say, “I get to run today.” That’s what it’s really all about.

Charm City 20-Miler, Take 2

I’m enjoying the AC on this apparently ‘fall’ day, wearing my newly earned race shirt and curled up under my blanket. Actually, my legs are resting on the ottoman because ouch. I just ran, or killed, 20 miles through the beautiful woods of central Maryland. You can read last year’s report here. You’ll also read a lot of “last year”s because the comparison is quite interesting.

I wasn’t quite as impulsive about signing up for this race as I was last year, but I was more apprehensive. The marathon I’m training for (Philadelphia) doesn’t happen until November 19, a full 3-4 weeks later than the Marine Corps Marathon I did last year. Naturally, I have less training behind me this year, and that made me nervous. I feel like I’ve been more consistent with training, but the longest run I’d done up until today was 15 miles. Just 5 more, right? That’s what I told myself. Until I saw the weather forecast.

Last year it was a cool and lovely 46*. This year we started with 67* with forecast highs into the high 80s, low 90s. Fortunately the vast majority of the trail is shaded and we begin in a valley, so it definitely could have been worse conditions. I knew that hydrating was even more important that usual with those temps. I drank probably 50 oz of Nuun (plus whatever water and Gatorade I got at water stops) and still downed a 16 oz bottle of water at the finish.

My pace overall this year was 11:54, only 5 seconds faster than last year’s pace of 11:59. Strava tells a different story (11:31) as well as Fitbit (11:39), but around mile 17-18 I lost GPS so that could have messed with the numbers.

Mentally I was in the game the whole time. I never felt like I wouldn’t finish or do well. I encouraged others on the trail, too, not something I normally do, to be honest. I usually just keep my head down and plodding away. But like I learned at Marine Corps last year, there’s something that happens physiologically when you encourage others, high five, or let out any exclamation of positivity.

I ran without music the first 10 miles and then rocked from 10 until the end. Miles 8-13 were the toughest mentally, but looking at my paces I was pretty steady and staying within my long run training range of 11:18-11:48.

My plan now is to have another peak run of 20 miles sometime in late October, and then taper for Philadelphia on November 19!

 

Running to B’More

I’m sore today. As if I just raced hard yesterday. The kind of sore that comes after an almost-half-marathon distance race. I ran the Charles Street 12 Miler through Baltimore, Maryland.

Mileage: 12 miles

Average pace: 10:52 (per watch); 10:59 (per chip time)

Elevation gain: 549 feet

Calories burned: 1,849

Steps: 20,542

I’ve been out of the groove of writing race reports for some time. For a long time, as readers know, I was out of the running and racing loop in general due to some health issues. I raced the Marine Corps Marathon last fall after a tenuous relationship with training. I was exhausted all the time, and I chalked it up to beginning a new teaching position, coaching Girls on the Run, and teaching a college class in the evening. Sure, all those things can make a girl tired, but I wasn’t diagnosed with hypothyroidism until February, a few months after the marathon was over.

However, this fall I’m training for the Philadelphia Marathon and this training cycle is SO. MUCH. BETTER. I feel rested, I’m recovering faster, I don’t feel so anxious and overwhelmed, my eating is more on track, and I don’t have horrible cravings for junk 100% of the time like last cycle. Here are a few things I think are directly related to how great I’m feeling this time around.

  • Finding a thyroid treatment right for me. I started out on thyroid medication in February. I had bloodwork done in May and my numbers weren’t quite where the doc wanted them so he increased my dosage. I had more bloodwork last month and he was very pleased with my TSH and with the dissipation of my symptoms. I go back in February for another checkup.
  • Learning how to say ‘no’ to too many obligations. This has been a hard lesson for me. I grew up as a people pleaser, an approach to life that can cultivate some good qualities for being in a service profession such as teaching, but it has caused me to wear myself out and neglect important self-care. This fall I’ve pared down my responsibilities outside of work. Saying ‘no’ is hard at first, but in the end it feels so much better.
  • Getting my diet on track. After a painful ovarian cyst rupture in June, which made me rethink my health in general, I decided to see if dairy and/or gluten bother me. Turns out that dairy (the more raw the worse it is) really bothers me, so in general I’ve cut out cheese, yogurt, cottage cheese, cream cheese, half-and-half, and adding cheese to meals. It’s helped immensely. Everything’s more regular (ahem), I have fewer headaches, and I am forced to eat a bit cleaner.
  • Hydrating like a mofo. I drink at least 8 oz of water right when getting up. I usually take a water bottle when we take our dog for a walk, and I don’t drink (decaf) coffee until after I get at least 16 oz. Then I’m drinking throughout the day – in the car, in my office, at lunch, etc.
  • Eliminating most caffeine. Anyone who knows me knows I live on coffee and have since I was about 12. But I know this stimulant can mess with adrenal function and also irritate the stomach. So I’ve cut out most of it. I still drink decaf coffee, but I’ve grown to love some caffeine-free herbal teas as well. Some of my favorites as of right now are rooibos, chamomile lavender, and Traditional Medicinal’s Healthy Cycle. I’m also feeling way less anxious throughout the day.
  • Reducing alcohol intake to 4 drinks per week. It’s amazing how fresh and awake I feel if I skip even just one glass of wine the night before. After awhile, I don’t want alcohol as much because I know how I’ll feel, and I want to feel good.
  • Having a positive mindset about running. To be honest, cutting things out of my diet isn’t that difficult – I know my headaches and GI issues were tied to mostly dietary factors that I can control, so once I felt good I knew going back to old habits would make me feel bad. But coaching my mind to be kind during a workout proved to be more difficult. I do try to hit certain paces and mileage per week, but if I miss a run or don’t hit a goal pace, I don’t freak out about it. Running is a hobby and it should be fun. I bust my ass all day at work and so running shouldn’t feel like  second job, but an outlet and therapy.
  • Yoga. Yoga. Yoga. Yoga. I’ve never practiced yoga regularly before, but I now attend probably 7-10 classes per month, give or take. I’ve noticed more muscle definition, a calmer attitude, and my form doesn’t suck towards the end of my runs. I’m also starting to incorporate yoga-ish stretches before and after running.

I’ve turned a corner in my physical and mental health 31 has been innumerably better than years past. I’m looking forward to the rest of marathon training and hopefully PR-ing at Philly.

Lenten Journey: Day 1, Heal

Image result for lenten photo a day 2017 rethink

Last year for Lent I wrote a little bit everyday about a given topic and related it to my walk with Christ. Instead of spending time on social media, I spent time writing, praying, and reflecting. I will take time this year as well to write about a topic a day. I found the practice to be healing and introspective. Over the next few weeks, I hope to stay true to the spirit of freewriting by not editing or revising much.

MARCH 1: HEAL

Twenty sixteen was a year of grief. I hope 2017 will be a year of healing.

What grief do I need healing from? First of all, the grief of the intangible: infertility. I’m still wrestling with the reality that infertility unfortunately brings upon its sufferers. And I don’t think suffer is too strong of a word. Second of all, I need healing for the loss of loved ones – most recently my grandmother, almost a year ago now. Her death was sudden and heartbreaking, and I went through many weeks of reading and pondering all I could about grief, death, what our bodies actually go through when they die, and the hope we have in an afterlife.

A good portion of my healing so far has occurred through a practice of introspection and disconnection from things that bring me, well, grief. To put it plainly, I’ve deleted my Facebook once and for all. I’ve taken many steps back from social media in order to quit the comparison game. I’ve given myself permission to take back my time and head space. It’s been quite revolutionary.

Another portion of my healing, surprisingly, has been working with children. Exposure therapy, if you will. In August I was hired to teach elementary ESOL. I had never taught elementary in my life. I’d been an paraprofessional in first grade, but really had no idea about the #elementarylife. Funny enough, my office is situated in the hallway with the youngest children in our school – pre-K and preschool. Some days this has been rough, to see their adorable selves carrying their huge backpacks, thinking about if we had had a child when we started trying, he or she would be getting to that age. However, overall it’s been a wonderful experience. I never lack hugs or smiles…. but maybe I lack patience at times. 😉

And finally a third portion of my healing has been my yoga practice. I never thought I’d become a ‘yogini’, but I found a local yoga studio that’s just fantastic. I’ve been going about 3 times per week for about a month. The strength I’ve built is surprising… I keep joking that one day I’ll be able to do a legit pushup. Seriously, I’ve begun to love my body again instead of feeling so betrayed.

Running is always a part of healing for me… it’s also a part of celebration, of determination, of courage. It keeps me centered and gives me time to meditate and pray and appreciate the world around me. And for all these things I’m grateful.

NCR 20-Miler Recap

I should probably be lesson planning right now, but meh. It’s Wednesday. It’s rainy, windy and cool outside. I’m wearing a sweatshirt and not roasting. It’s finally fall.

And what better way to welcome fall than some running through the woods this weekend? The trees haven’t really started changing yet, but it was a lovely 46* starting out on Sunday.

I didn’t know even 24 hours before the race started that I’d be running it. I have to say I’ve never been so impulsive about signing up for a race. However, I’ve been training for the Marine Corps Marathon coming up in only a month (!!!!!) and I needed to do a long run anyway.

The NCR 20 Miler was on my radar a few months ago as a good way to get in a 20-miler without having to go it alone, but I forgot about it until I saw a post on Instagram. So if you’re wondering if advertising on Instagram works, well, it does. I drove down to Timonium to the running store to sign up and pick up my packet all in the same day. I mean, who wouldn’t want that awesome shirt?!

snip-ccr

My husband and I got up around 5:15 on Sunday morning, not too much later than when we wake up during the week. I have to say, that’s one thing I’ve really gotten disciplined about: getting up early and running before the sun even peeks over the horizon.

We got coffee on our way out of town (naturally) and drove up to Freeland, MD, just off I-83 and about 2 miles from the Mason-Dixon line (Pennsylvania border). It was a beautiful drive, mostly country roads, and we watched the sun rise.

The race was a point-to-point, so he dropped me off and drove down to Cockeysville, conveniently 20 miles south of Freeland. 😉 He hung out and drank coffee and did a little writing of his own while I ran.

I had my sights set on running a 12:00 pace, which would put me at 4 hours. That’s much slower than I’ve run long distance races in the past, but this is a new day. I’m heavier than I was 5-6 years ago while training for my first marathon. I’ve been dealing with this nagging calf/soleus pain in my left leg. I suspect that it might be caused by my shoes, but I’d like to not shell out a buck fifty for another pair quite yet.

Per the website, there were no headphones allowed on the trail. I ran the first 10-11 miles with no music. Just me, the trees, the sounds of nature, and the occasional cyclist or runner coming the opposite way. Let me tell you, it is a major victory for me to be able to run and enjoy it without headphones. After about mile 11, I turned on some music on my phone in the front pocket of my Nathan hydration pack. It was the perfect boost I needed between miles 10-15.

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20 miles of this? Yes, please.

My fuel for the race was a small iced coffee and pumpkin donut from Dunkin (apparently Dunkin is a big thing on the East Coast.. they’re everywhere…) and a couple Gatorade chews. For some reason, I have not been favoring GU gels, or really gels of any sort, this training cycle. The texture and taste are generally unappetizing. So I’ve been picking up these Gatorade chews from Walmart. They’re very similar to gummy candy, which I love, so it’s a good choice. I filled my Nathan pack with water and Nuun tablets. I’ve been using Nuun for about a year now and have never had any issues.

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Monkton, MD, a stop along the trail

Once I hit mile 17, I knew I had it in the bag. I saw lots of people who had passed me early on walking and looking like they were hurting. I told myself, “I’ll be damned if I come out and do this run and not finish strong.” So I did.

The last mile came out onto a road that was pretty hilly. Since I’ve been running hills since I moved to Maryland, it was no big deal. I powered through and had my second fastest mile (11:11). I finished in 3:59:33, pace 11:59. One second faster than my goal pace. I felt awesome.

It was the perfect confidence booster for MCM. I did an 18-miler just the week before, and a 17-miler two weeks before that. I’ll do around 12 this weekend and push for one more 20-miler October 10 before a three-week taper.

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Maryland Half Marathon –> NCR 20-Miler. Find the differences between these pictures: a hot, humid summer,  10-12 lbs, and loads of confidence.

I’ve treated this week similar to a ‘zero week’ (more like a 15 mile week) and taking it easy on my nagging calf. I’ll ramp it up next week and then move into the taper. Next I’ll start thinking about spring races…

Beautiful Pain: Maryland Half Marathon Report

My first race in Maryland is complete. Done. Over. And boy, are my legs feeling it.

MD half

After we moved, I had my sights set on completing a half marathon. 13.1 miles is actually not my go-to distance. I ran a marathon before I ever ran a half. The distance of 13.1 is deceiving, at least to me. With okay training I can work up to, say, an 8-miler. And 8 miles starts to feel good. But it’s the dark place between 8 and double digits that’s not my favorite.

fulton md

Early this morning we drove down to Fulton, MD, which between Baltimore and Washington, DC. I don’t mind I-95 at all in the early hours of the weekend. Weather was good – it was cool and sunny. This spring has been quite cold and rainy, so the sun was a welcome sight.

Mile 1: 11:32 | Mile 2: 11:33 | Mile 3: 11:38

I felt good starting out, but I knew that I went out too fast. I knew this race was hilly, and I was ready for the challenge. Despite missing some runs in March because of life events, I had done almost all long runs on the hilly country roads around my town. So I felt pretty confident.

Mile 4: 12:27 | Mile 5: 11:39 | Mile 6: 12:24

The hills persisted, and so did I. I skipped the first water stop, but walked the rest of the stops. I could really begin to feel the effects of the warmer weather and the sun. There wasn’t much shade on this course, and I could tell I was sweating more than normal. My body was working hard to keep me cool.

MD half course elev

Mile 7: 12:36 | Mile 8: 12:19

I don’t remember much of these miles except for the hills. Every time we came around a bend in the road, I looked forward to see what was coming next. If there was a downhill, it didn’t last long. But the reprieve was welcome just the same.

Mile 9: 13:38 | Mile 10: 13:01

These miles were a dark, dark mental place for this resurfacing long distance runner. I had taken two gels and drank Nuun consistently but still was feeling fatigued. It was at this point about 20 degrees warmer than I’d trained in. I had told Aaron that it’d take me ‘about 2 hours and 30 minutes’ for this race, and I knew at this point that that was not going to happen. I texted him and told him that ‘I hit the wall hard’. A wall in a half marathon? It happens. I even had the thought, ‘Well, if I just walk the rest of the way, I can still finish in 3 hours.’

My sister Leah suggested some songs for my playlist, and one of the songs was “Beautiful Pain” by Eminem. I have to be honest: I’ve always been a closet fan. I don’t know his songs by heart but I appreciate the honesty about life that always comes through in his music. So this song came on right as I started down a huge downhill and into a clearing of trees that melted into farmland.

I can feel the heat rising
Everything is on fire
Today is a painful reminder of why
We can only get brighter
The further you put it behind ya
But right now I’m on the inside
Lookin out, cause
I’m standing in the flames
It’s a beautiful kind of pain
Setting fire to yesterday
Find the light, find the light, find the light…
...Cause they hurt you so bad, it’s like they murdered your ass
And threw dirt on your casket, but you returned from the ashes
And that hurt that you have, you just converted to gasoline…
…So familiarize with what having to swallow this pill is like
It happens all the time, they take your heart and steal your life
And it’s as though you feel you’ve died because you’ve been killed inside
But yet you’re still alive which means you must survive…
Running has always been an emotional experience for me, and this song and downhill were there when I needed them. I felt vindicated of whatever emotional pain, grief, or struggling I’d either been a victim of or put myself through recently.

Mile 11: 12:13 | Mile 12: 14:05 | Mile 13: 13:43

These miles were tough, but the dark cloud of hopelessness that I could get through this race was gone. I switched up my strategy (as if I had one to begin with…) to alternating running and walking.

Chip time: 2:45:39 | Garmin time: 2:44:35  | Garmin pace: 12:30/mi

I hit my Plan C. Plan A was 2:30. Plan B was 2:40. Plan C was to hit my time from the Flying Horse Half in October (the worst race I’ve run…. ever). I would say this race was even tougher mentally than Transmountain, just because that race had one giant hill mountain whereas this one had hill after hill after hill.

Now to rest and get ready for Marine Corps Marathon training that begins the last week of June. I’m working on losing more weight before training starts because carrying around extra weight makes you slower. Who knew? 😉 I’m currently reading up on the Hansons Marathon Method and gearing up for putting much more mileage than I did for my first marathon (Illinois).

Biggest take away from today: Must. Train. On. More. Hills. Thankfully, even the hills have mercy in every mile.

2016-05-14 18.39.19