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

Foundation = Built

I’m less than two weeks away from racing the Maryland Half Marathon. I haven’t officially trained (well) for a race since the Transmountain Challenge Half Marathon in October 2013. For the past two years, I took it easy with running and exercising, and depression and busyness prevented me from keeping up well with working out and eating to nourish my body.

When we moved to Maryland four months ago, I thought it was a good opportunity to start over… in a lot of ways. So I found a spring half marathon, wrote up my training plan, and got to work.

Total miles since January: 203.54 miles

  • January: 12.7 miles/pace unknown. Slow!
  • February: 56.98 miles / 12:12 average pace
  • March: 51.17 miles / 11:49 average pace
  • April: 82.69 miles / 12:32 average pace

In general, my plan calls for three runs per week: a speed workout, regular run, and long run. For the past few weeks, my long runs have been alternating between increasing mileage (9, 10, 11, 12) and an 8-miler on the alternating weeks. I followed a similar plan in 2013 and saw great success.

Over the past few months, I’ve missed quite a few mid-week runs, but I’ve never missed a long run. Most of my running has been on hills. It doesn’t matter which direction I head when I leave my house to run, or even if I drive somewhere to run – it’s hilly.

elevation snip
Elevation Profile from my 12-miler on Saturday

Two weeks ago I did an 11-miler where the average pace was 12:16, and Saturday I did the same route and added a mile and my average pace was 11:40, and I didn’t walk any of the hills. The half has a total elevation gain/loss of 1029 ft, so I’d say I’m ready for that. Today at the gym I did a speed workout, and I shaved five minutes off my time since I did the same workout in March. Pretty darn proud of that.

It seems that I’ve built up a good base, and just in time for the half. At the end of June, I’ll be starting training for the Marine Corps Marathon on October 30. I’m so excited about this race as it’s been on my running bucket list for awhile. I spent some time this weekend writing out the plan. I’ll be using Hal Higdon’s Novice 2 plan, which calls for 4 runs per week, one day of cross training, and 2 days of rest. I think after building this base and staying ‘half marathon ready’ until the end of June, I’ll be ready to tackle the higher mileage.

 

Seven miles.

Seven miles of clouds

Seven miles of cold

Seven miles of humidity

Seven miles of hills

Seven miles started with ‘it’s too cold’

Seven miles ended with ‘the cold is refreshing’

Seven miles started with ‘this view is boring’

Seven miles ended with ‘this view is home’

Seven miles started with ‘I can’t do this’

Seven miles ended with ‘I can do anything’

Seven miles started with ‘I’m hungry’

Seven miles ended with ‘I’m satisfied’

Seven miles started with ‘I’m weak’

Seven miles ended with ‘I’m strong’

Seven miles started with sadness

Seven miles ended with elation

Seven miles started with ‘this hurts’

Seven miles ended with ‘this heals’

 

 

aberdeen

 

March 5 | Focus

Focus

The ability to focus on one thing for a long period of time is glorified in our society. A Lenten promise to focus on for six weeks. A plan for a half marathon that lasts 12 weeks. A new eating plan that is supposed to last… forever? If you stick with it, you’re a hero, and if you fall off the wagon, you failed.

I’ve tried all these types of intense focus, from marathon training plans, to Lenten/Advent habits or rituals, eating plans.. and to be honest, I always fail somewhere along the way. I miss a day, have one too many cheat meals, just don’t feel like running that weekend. And I feel down about it.

So in order to have more focus in my life, I’ve tried setting more measurable and specific goals. Instead of saying, okay, I’m going to commit 100% to this half marathon plan, I’m going to look at the plan for every day. Narrow the scope a bit so it feels much more doable. Sure, I’ll probably hit 90% of the runs for the plan because if I don’t,  I won’t have a good race, but I also allow some leeway in there just in case.

This is not to discourage wholehearted attempts at creating new patterns or habits, especially if they’re healthy or good ones. I just refuse to look at it as a do-or-die thing. I keep my focus by getting to the heart of it: I see the benefits it has for my life, whether it’s keeping up with a daily devotional, running 3-4 times a week, or eating less ice cream (sad!). I’m much more motivated and focused when I’m not a slave to whatever plan I ascribe to, but rather a willing and involved participant.

Surviving the descent

I have to find the silver linings, the good things, about this. Because if I don’t, I’m doomed to live a life of regret and sorrow. Thing is, I never really thought about the alternative. Sure, maybe I tossed the idea around in my head that maybe this would never happen, but I didn’t dwell on it, and I really didn’t think it wouldn’t happen.

I don’t know if I’m still actively grieving. I spend a lot of time in my head as my own psychologist, even though I don’t have any credentials. I try to masterfully meta the crap out of my feelings, thoughts, outbursts. I have to just feel, let it be. Just let it be.

Something like this inevitably drives an annoying and awkward wedge, whether large or small, into relationships. Thankfully we, the only ‘we’ that really matters, have enveloped that chasm with our love and affection for each other that’s not dependent on the outcome.

Here I go, metathinking again. But maybe this is a reason I love adventure and mountaineering literature. People choose to go through hard trials of all sorts… climbing Everest without oxygen, trying to be the first woman to reach the summit of K2, setting out on a voyage to reach the top of the world. It’s not like any of us were forced into this; we all partook at will.

Some people perish, posthumously granted an all-access pass into the heart of mountains and seas. Some people survive, broken, missing fingers and toes, a brutal reminder of the peril they endured. Some people come out of it refreshed and renewed for the next adventure.

I think I’ve been a little of all of those kinds of people. A part of me has died, quite literally. Month after month, now year after year. There’s nothing tangible to determine this end, but I’m still missing something, someone, that seemed just within reach at one time. That for over ten years just hovered above the troposphere, waiting for me to call it, him, her, down to existence with me. I guess that someone will no longer hover; that someone will be taken away by the jet stream, out into space, forever.

A part of me has survived, no doubt about it, but a little bit broken. Fingers, toes, a bit frostbitten, but nothing that won’t heal, albeit damaged, after some time has passed. I still function. I still contribute. I still will thrive.

I cannot say that a part of me is refreshed and renewed, not yet. I’m getting there, ever so slowly. Looking back, I think I was grieving before I knew I was grieving. The mountain climber knows that if he has survived the descent and the long trip home, he will most likely live to climb again. With each prayer, meditation, embrace, air in my lungs, feet on the pavement, I will too.

K2, the second highest and arguably deadliest mountain in the world.

 

Running update.

I haven’t posted here about my running in a really long time. I’ve posted about running getting me through infertility, but I think this was the last real post about training. We (my husband and I) had signed up for the IMS Arizona Marathon because it was super cheap, and relatively close to where we used to live. Well, Valentine’s Day weekend came and went without us running that race, mostly because we live in Maryland now. So there’s that.

md462.jpg
View from a neighborhood run

I decided after the move that I needed to get back into training. For my body, for my mind, for fun. I don’t want this to be a post about infertility because honestly I’m sick of talking and thinking about it, but I gained 25 lbs in the past two years due to stress, taking time off of hard workouts, overeating, etc. I was starting to wallow… anyone who’s dealt with depression/anxiety knows how this works… and I was close to signing up for therapy again.

But, I’m happy to report that I’m out of my funk, thanks to running and a change of life circumstances, and God. Aaron’s no longer leaving for months on end, or working unexpected nights or 24-hour CQ shifts because now he has a ‘regular’ job. It’s fantastic. And amazing. And I’m so glad we got through the past 6.5 years with the Army for him to have this opportunity. I’m also working, but part time, and really enjoying the time it allows me to have to clean, cook, take care of things, but also to use my ESOL expertise. At first, moving to Maryland in the middle of the academic year was not my first choice, but it’s turned out to be a wonderful decision.

ssp1
Trails at Susquehanna State Park

So, with all that said, I’m running the Maryland Half Marathon in May. Not officially, as I haven’t signed up yet, but it’s on my calendar. Last week was week 3 of training, I think, and I ran 15 miles total. A Yasso 800’s workout, just a plain old run, and a long run of 6 miles. We bought new shoes this weekend so hopefully that’ll help some of the stiffness I’ve had in the first couple miles of my runs. Overall, I’ve been happy with my paces and my motivation to do each run. And the endorphins, you can’t forget the endorphins!

After the half, I’d like to train for a fall marathon, and then set my sights on a spring 50K. I’ve had this goal for most of my 20’s to do a 31-mile (50K) race before my 31st birthday, which will be next April. Barring injury or other crazy life circumstances, I don’t see why that can’t happen. And the Mid-Atlantic area is full of wonderful races to choose from.

February 23 | Freedom

I lace up my shoes and head out the door. I have a drive a little ways to get there, but I get out of the car, stretch, set up my watch, and I start.

There are hills, wind, and friendly faces. I start out with darkness, and then as I come around the final bend, I see the sun rising over the desert calm. Remaining clouds make a gorgeous dark silhouette against a fiery rainbow declaring the dawn of a new day.  A sense of freedom and true joy overwhelm me and my face softens.

I realize how blessed I am to move my body with all its systems working in tandem: heart, lungs, muscles, oxygen pumping through my veins. I think about the pure genius of our bodies’ design. I get chills even though it’s warm, even as my body is working to cool itself.

I start down the decline before me, exhilarated with the accomplishment of my legs getting over the mountain. I see the mountains as I’ve never seen them before. A strange beauty in the midst of the desert. I’ve found running water in the desert. I’m free.

“Place of Freedom” | Highlands Worship

There’s a calm that covers me
When I kneel down at Your feet
It’s a place of healing
It’s a place where I find freedom

There’s a place my eyes can’t see
Where my spirit longs to be
It’s a place of healing
It’s a place I live in freedom

I’m gonna lift my hands
Till I can reach heaven
I’m gonna shout Your name
Till the walls come falling down
I’ve come to worship
I’ve come to worship

There’s a love that lives in me
For You Lord my Savior King
Breaks the sin that’s binding
Leads me to a place of freedom

I’m gonna lift my hands
Till I can reach heaven
I’m gonna shout Your name
Till the walls come falling down
I’ve come to worship
I’ve come to worship
I’m gonna sing my song
Like I am unashamed
I’m gonna shout for joy
At the mention of Your name
I’ve come to worship
I’ve come to worship

There’s no one that can bring me peace
That can wash me clean
Like You Lord
There’s nothing in this world that can free me
You save my soul!

I’m gonna lift my hands
Till I can reach heaven
I’m gonna shout Your name
Till the walls come falling down
I’ve come to worship
I’ve come to worship
I’m gonna sing my song
Like I am unashamed
I’m gonna shout for joy
At the mention of Your name
I’ve come to worship
I’ve come to worship

Running for an experience

Training for a fall half marathon officially started at the beginning of July. Through the rest of my summer job, my parents’ visit, and our trip to Arkansas, I’d say I’ve done a good job staying on track with training.

I have to continually catch myself when I compare this round of training to that of two years ago when I was training for the Transmountain Challenge Half. Circumstances “back then” (2013 is really back then?!) were quite different: my husband was deployed so I had nothing but time, I was 20 pounds lighter (thanks post-deployment comfort food and laziness), and I had already been building a base and consistently running before I started training.

This time around, my main goal is to finish the 13.1 [flat!] miles with a respectable time. My paces recently have been slow but consistent, and I have negative splits more often than not. I’ve missed cross-training, unless you count walking a mile with my dog every other day. I’ve also missed a couple speed workouts. One of those I skipped in order to run/hike in the Hot Spring National Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas, and it was well worth it.

Another change for this season of training is that I rarely take music. This really surprises me, because running can be a huge mental challenge and music tends to soften the blow a bit. But yesterday, I opted to go to a local park with a mile-long paved trail to do my 800’s, and all I took was my car key and my trusty four-year-old Garmin. Otherwise, I have to put my phone in the sleeve and hook up my earbuds… to be honest, I’ve just been kind of lazy about keeping track of all that gear.

The major advent for me with no music was several weeks ago on a Tuesday night. I was tired from eight hours of teaching writing, but somehow at 8:30pm I got a wild desire to go out and do my four miles I’d neglected earlier in the day. The last light of the day was sinking over the mountains, but I decided to literally make a run for it.

I ran through my neighborhood and took a familiar route, but at night and with no music it seemed completely different. Normally I run early in the morning, oftentimes before the sun’s rays graze the tops of the Hueco Mountains in the distance. This time, people were out and about, and I observed an informal soccer game in the park lit bright with stadium lights. The temperature had dropped significantly due to storms rolling in, so I breathed in the fresh air (in the Southwest summer, this means 75*) and watched the twilight fade in the west and distant lightning dance in the east.

It was so simple: a run with only my Polar watch (no distance needed since I knew the route) and no music. I returned home tired and happy, ready to tackle another day after a good night’s sleep.

Since that run, I’ve been running to have an experience, whether with the sunrise, the sunset, a storm brewing, the scent of juniper and mesquite. I’ve accepted my new-ish curvier body, and also that it can do what I ask it to do, and that I can’t compare my achievements now with those of two years ago.

Running takes us through change. If you let it, it will graciously hold your hand and forge a path through literal and figurative curved tunnels, concrete arroyos, soft dirt trails, and rugged mountains. I’ll take its hand and run.

1,503 Feet of Confidence

I’m hesitant to say I’m back in the saddle of doing this 50K… but this morning’s run gave me a sorely needed confidence booster.

Monday’s run was a major bonk. We headed to the gym one day this week and I completed a 3-mile hill workout on the ‘mill. I was nervous because on Monday my right knee started to bother me. I think it was the shoes I was wearing, so back to the trusty Brooks Ghost I went. They have 300+ miles on them, but I don’t have issues like with the Mizunos.

I did some other cross-training this week, including yoga and a little weight lifting. We got weight set for our house including a 45-lb barbell and bench, so I’m excited to be able to come home from a run and get my lifting on right away.

We decided to try a 17-mile run from our house and up the mountain. For the Transmountain Challenge 13.1, I ran from the other side. But this side is actually steeper. We started out at 5:42 this morning, and ran in the darkness for quite a while. I actually like it better that way, to get started before your body realizes what’s going on. Early morning Sunday running really jives with my spirit, even if my body was tired from being up on the hour last night for whatever reason.

We both took house keys in case I decided to bow out. But as we pushed up the mountain, I felt the same strength as when I ran Transmountain. 8.5 miles would be the halfway point, but as we ran we realized we’d have to go a little past the crest of the road onto the west side of the mountain. The wind was awful. I mean, this is the windy season in El Paso, but it was cold. After we turned around and got a couple more miles under our feet, we were then running into the sun which felt amazing.

transmtn run 17 miles
Up and over juuuuust a little bit

I couldn’t believe that just days earlier I had totally bonked on a mostly flat run, and today I ran up up up without complaining or feeling really fatigued, even with just water and two gels and nothing to eat before hand. The sweetest reward for running up is then coming down. Some runners hate it because it tears up their quads or something, but I welcome the pain. Sick, I know. In some way it feels good. The last 2-3 miles were the worst as they were on concrete and completely flat, and there were plenty of stoplights and irresponsible drivers to contend with.

elevation
Mile high club 😉

We got it done, and we both needed the confidence booster. I really really really want to do this 50K, even if I’m hobbling by the end, even if I’m the last one. In ultrarunning, being the last one is actually celebrated. We have 10 weeks to complete this training… and I think we can do it.

Recent events

This post is a mash-up of all the random happenings around our household over the past week. It certainly feels like much longer that my husband’s been home.. we’ve settled into a routine quickly. But as our life always is, our routines change.

Weeks 3 and 4 of 50K training were not so stellar. I did less than the recommended amount of mid-week runs, and week 3 did not have a long run. I was out with a sinus/chest infection of some sort. Yesterday after debating all weekend when to do the long run, we went out for 16 and ended up with 12.7. My legs from my ankles to my hips were on fire; the pain was comparable to the end of the Illinois Marathon.

I was disappointed… from here on out the long runs get longer and after bonking at the EP Half and now this run yesterday, I just don’t think the 50K is going to happen for me. Mentally I feel pretty good, but my body screams no whenever I go longer than 10. My right knee was hurting yesterday too, which is something I haven’t felt in about a year, even with the high-mileage months I had last fall (80, 90, 100). I really don’t want to give up on it yet, but if I can’t pound out the 16, 18 and 20-milers soon it ain’t happening. The Jemez Mtn Trail Runs have a 13.1 option so I will shoot for that. I’m obviously trying to force my body and mind into something that isn’t jiving.

On Saturday after arriving to Ruidoso for our first full weekend together after 10 (!!!!!) months, we tried the long run on some trails. I got about a mile into it before I started to hate it. I love nature, I love hiking… but the whole thing was just pissing me off. I hate having to look at my feet so much, having to stop to walk around boulders, etc. It was also cold as heck and sleeting.. or something. So we hiked back to the car and put off the long run.

I thought I’d just love trail running.. but that seems that that’s not the case, at least not right now. I have a lot of fears about trail running that I need to either accept or get over before I can tackle a race like the 50K, and those fears weren’t helped after I got lost on a 9-mile trail race in November. I need to transition slowly into trail running for my body but also for my mind’s sake. Maybe I’ll shoot for 31 miles before I turn 31. 😉 That gives me three years.

It’s been a busy (and expensive!) week with my husband back. We junked his car since the engine was shot (1996 Honda with 225000+ miles), both got new phones as he needed an upgrade and I completely shattered my iPhone… soon we’ll buy another car. We had a great weekend in the mountains just relaxing and talking. Something I’ve always loved about us is that there’s never a lull in conversation, or lack of impressive vocabulary words, something this aspiring linguist can appreciate.

March will be busy with Aaron’s trip to Illinois to visit family and my trip to Portland to present at the TESOL conference. I also need to get the bulk of my thesis written. The analysis is done, so the writing won’t be too terrible.. just time-consuming. But I’m saving that for another day, not during spring break. Here soon we’ll be propelled into the never-ending summer in the desert. 🙂