Cue the Aerosmith: I’m back in the saddle again!

– and it feels so good!

I enjoyed a long, luxuriously lazy week of recovery last week, and didn’t run a single step. I didn’t even so much as glance at my running shoes, and I felt not a drop of guilt about it. It was glorious, really – I caught up on sleep, was able to hang out with some friends, and stayed up a little later than usual. Buuuuut…. But. By Sunday, the tiny little voice in my head was back: don’t you want to join those people enjoying the lovely weather by heading out for a few miles?

I ignored the voice until last night, when I made up my mind to go for an easy run this morning before work (old habits die hard, apparently :-)). So, I rolled out of bed at 4:30, got dressed, took a few sips of water, and set out for a slightly humid, slightly warm 4.4 miles.

GLORIOUS. It felt so freaking good to get back out there, and it was like I’d hardly missed a step. Forcing myself to rest did me a world of good, both physically and mentally. Also helping is the fact that I signed up for a 5k on the 19th (yeah, that didn’t take long, ha!), though 90% of the reason I signed up is that this is the so-called Pi Miler (3.14 miles; this is what happens when your university’s Engineering School puts on a race) that offers lots and lots of free, delicious pie to all finishers. I won my age group at this race last year, because I was the only one in it, but the pie was more awesome than that. I have no goals for this race, other than to eat at least one slice of every type of pie.

So, yes: I’m back! I’ll be taking it slow this week, probably working my way back up to 4-5 days a week of running, and I plan to get back to the gym next week to start lifting again. And, before too long, the bike rides shall resume… oh yes. Glorious.

Like I said: reunited with running and it feels so good! Woohoo!

Race recap: Virginia Creeper Marathon (pics at the end!)

Marathon #3 is in the books! And let me tell you, third time is the charm – this was the marathon I felt most prepared for, best about PRing in, and ready to completely kick all sorts of butt…

…which is why it’s funny when you look at my splits and realize exactly what I did at mile 10: Oh man, she went out too fast. I had two goals for this race: an A goal of 4:20, and a B goal of 4:30 – basically, anything faster than the 4:40 I ran at Marine Corps back in October.

Here are said splits (they’re at odd intervals because the timer was at the start/finish, which we passed at miles 9 and 18, which I’ll explain later):

First 9 miles: 1:27 (9:40/mile pace) (I’ve never before in my life run 9 miles at this pace, ha!)

I hit 18 miles at 2:58 (9:53/mile pace) (I’ve definitely never run 18 miles in less than 3 hours ever in my life, haha!)

Finish: 4:27:52, last last 8.2 in about 1:30 (10:58/mile pace) (yeeouch! I had to stop to walk a few times…)

HOO BOY. Look at that dropoff: THAT, friends, is what happens when you go out too fast and have to dial it back into survival mode for the last 8 miles. I’ve run races before, and I’ve done a great job at slowing down my start; why was this time different? I’m not entirely sure: it could have been the cool, snowy, sleety weather (my brain subconsciously telling my legs “move through this faster so we can get to a warm place with hot food, please”?), or it could have been the mostly flat terrain (although the first two miles of the race were out-and-back and a bit hilly, and the first ‘out’ of the first out-and-back on the actual trail was uphill, though I didn’t realize it until later), or it could have been the coffee I drank Sunday morning when I woke up (which I never, ever do before a long run, because I’m afraid it might cause a pit stop- but then, every run I’ve ever had after breaking that rule has been a really excellent and speedy one). Or it could have been adrenaline, or euphoria, or some odd combination of all of the above.

But, you know what? When I ran my first marathon in November 2012, after it was over, I thought, man, there is no way I’d ever be able to sustain anywhere near a 10:00/mile pace for an entire marathon, which is what I knew I’d have to do to ever get down to a 4:20 from a 5:00, which is about where I finished that first marathon. Even going down from 5:00 to 4:40 was hard as hell. And yet, I finished this one at a 10:13/mile pace, which – all things considered – is pretty frickin’ awesome, for me, because I never once thought I could do it. Sustain that pace for 5 miles, sure. Maybe even 7 or 8? In training, I was regularly clocking right about 10:00/mile paces for more and more runs, and longer and longer runs, yet I still didn’t think I could really do it (or anything close to it, or really anything under 10:30/mile) for the entire marathon. In fact, it wasn’t until my last 20-miler – which was a 21-miler – that I started to think that 4:20ish might be remotely possible.

So! Let me tell you about this marathon. It is a small-town marathon in lovely Abingdon, Virginia, which is near the southwest corner of the state where it meets Tennessee and Kentucky. (Bristol, TN, is the closest major city, and the date of this race changes every year based on when Bristol’s NASCAR race is scheduled, which I freaking love.) It costs $10 to enter, partially because the date is not decided on until a few months before it happens, but mostly because it’s a very low-frills race: no shirt, no medal, no fancy webpage or regular emails, no expo, no huge post-race party at the finish line. Only 100 entrants are allowed because everything is on the smaller side, and when the weather is bad like it was this year (well, I loved it, but I’m a little nuts and sort of enjoyed training through this ridiculous winter), more like 70 runners actually show up, which I think is what happened on Sunday. All entrants receive a bib with no chip and generally time themselves, and are responsible for bringing food or drink requirements beyond the water and Gatorade they have along the course, and everyone who shows up to the race receives a paperweight memento with the race’s emblem, name, date, etc. on it. At the finish, volunteers bring boxes of bananas, Fig Newtons, homemade cookies, etc. with them to give to finishers, and – I didn’t realize this until it happened to me – they take turns being on foil-wrapping duty for the finishers, because as soon as I crossed the line and was shepherded across the road, I was nearly tackled by two women with a foil sheet who insisted on giving me what I called the “leftovers!” treatment. Make no mistake, I was so happy to have that, because it was warm as hell, and I was not. 🙂 In sum, it’s the polar opposite of every race experience I’ve had thus far, and I absolutely LOVED every second of it, even the stretches of the race when I was completely alone for several minutes, maybe even a few miles, at a time.

The course itself was run mostly – with the exception of the first two miles – on the Virginia Creeper Trail, which is a 34-mile trail that runs from Abingdon to Damascus to Whitetop, and is a fantastic biking, hiking, running, horseback-riding, dog-walking trail that crosses through farms and over and under rivers and across the road and through the woods. Saint and I spent New Year’s Eve weekend in 2012 (into 2013) in Damascus, where we biked a good portion (about 17 miles) of the trail, and it was that trip – plus his story from childhood that if he ever ran a marathon, it would be the Virginia Creeper marathon – that convinced me to sign up for this race. Anyway, after those first two miles that cover a road to the south of the start/finish, the runners go east on the trail for about 3.5 miles, turn around, return to the start/finish area, head west on the trail for about 4.5 miles, turn around, return to the start/finish area, head east again for 3.5 miles, turn around, return to the start/finish area, and then head wast for 0.6 miles, turn around, and return to the start/finish area. So you end up traversing the same path several times, which can get a little tedious but is awesome for a couple of reasons: 1) when there’s snow on the ground – and on the trestles you have to cross on this trail – your first pass over the path can be used to gauge the condition of the footing, freeing you to use the second (and third) passes to gawk at the absolutely gorgeous scenery; 2) you get to pass the start/finish area several times, so if you have support waiting there (as Saint was), you get to see them more than you might during a different race. (Apparently he bonded with some of the other support folks, so at least he wasn’t alone in being cold and wet and probably miserable, as much as he wouldn’t let on about that third adjective.) Also, because this is small-town wonderfulness, you get to park about a mile away and get shuttled to the start/finish area, and at most you have to wait maybe 10 minutes for a shuttle (a trolley car, hee hee!) to come pick you up. AND, you feel awesome when you go to cross the road that links the two parts of the trail through the start/finish area and they stop traffic for you. (Can you tell I loved this marathon?)

Did I mention the course is gorgeous, by the way? Because so much of it is run through the woods, we got snowy-woods for a backdrop, which opened up onto snowy fields, which sat under snowy mountains, under a snowy, sleety, gray sky. Those fields contained, at any point, dogs, llamas, horses with thick fuzzy coats, a golf course, or cows, some of which were mooing loudly at us as we passed. I didn’t think I would enjoy being mooed at by a cow during a marathon, but it was strangely hilarious and comforting, if that makes any sense. Once the runners spread out, if you get left alone (like I was for most of the last 5 miles) with nature and the trail, and while it can be rather trying on a tired brain, it’s also really relaxing, and for me at least it was a nice chance to reflect on what had already happened in the race and what my strategy was going to be for the end – not to mention feel some pride at what I was about to accomplish. I learned an important lesson on this course: I don’t need cheering crowds to get me through a race; as nice as they are, it was kind of awesome to be left alone in my own headspace for a while, like I am on my long runs.

Now for the race itself! I started out towards the back of the pack, and generally stuck around the same 5-7 people, though I did buddy up with a guy from North Carolina who was running his third iteration of this race for several miles from, I think, mile 4 to mile 12 or so? We chatted for a while about a lot of things, which helped take my mind off the initial slog through the first 9 miles, and then after he dropped back I was more or less on my own, though I kept passing the same few people who would, in turn, pass me when I stopped for water or a snack. One woman, Pat, was running in a Boston Marathon jacket from 2011, which isn’t anything new for most runners, but I was sort of in awe of her – not to mention following that unicorn emblem was for some reason inspiring, and kept me going. She passed me for good with about 4 miles to go, and she was really the person who got me through to the finish – since we would all see one another at the turnarounds, we had several chances to encourage one another and urge each other on, and that spirit was out in full force at this race, let me tell you. There’s something special about bonding over a marathon, run in crappy weather, with several dozen complete strangers who realize they’re in this together, and we all had to look out for one another. Pat, and many others, were quick with words of support every time, but it wasn’t just us middle-of-the-pack folks doing it – the front-runners were, too, quick to tell us that we were looking good and strong, and doing a good job. I’ve never experienced that at any other race, not even the smaller races in my small-city hometown. At every turn, we had high-fives, pats on the back, checks to make sure we were all ok, shouts of “you got this!” and so, so many kind words – and that was just from the runners. I haven’t even mentioned the volunteers, who did the same, and were cheerful even 4+ hours in when they had to have been standing out in the cold, wet, windy (did I mention the 25+ MPH gusts? No, well, they were there, too!) weather for a very long time. They were the most outstanding volunteers I’ve ever seen at a race, by far, and they really made things easier, especially when they got hard.

Anyway, after the first suicidal 9 miles, I was feeling perfectly good and strong, and even told Saint the first time I saw him “today’s the day! I got this!”, and was pretty stoked when I saw that first clock-time at 1:27. Yet within a half-mile, I knew it was going to be trouble holding that pace, and when we got to the loose-gravel path that replaced the trestle that was being rebuilt after having been blown out by a tornado a couple of years back, I knew I was going to have to really work for 4:20. I kept bargaining with myself, telling myself that I’d be OK coming into 18 miles at 3:10, or even 3:20, but knowing that I’d have to do some hard work to get to 4:20 at that point. This was my brain talking, but my legs were not listening, as I continued to pound out the sub-10:00 miles in the eastern portion of the trail run. When I got to mile 18, before I saw that clock, I knew two things: 1) these last 8.2 miles would probably be some of the hardest I would ever run because I was now running on legs that had gone out too fast; 2) I’d be okay, and get through them, because all of my 20-milers done during training were done the day after hard, fast 10-mile pace runs, so running on exhausted legs was not something new to me. And, in fact, only one of those 20-milers was a 20-miler; the other two were 23 and 21 miles, and if I had done those on wiped legs, I could certainly do this, too.

When I saw the clock read 2:58 at 18 miles, I immediately realized that in order to hit 4:20, I’d have to maintain what was now an essentially unsustainable pace, but I also realized that I could make it through if I took a page out of Pat’s book, because all the times I passed her were when she stopped to walk. I figured if she could run Boston and still do run-walk breaks, why the hell couldn’t I? I used to be one of those people who thought you couldn’t say that you ran a marathon unless you ran the whole damn thing and never stopped to walk once, but now, I am decidedly not of that camp, because let me tell you, stopping to walk saved my legs, my lungs, and my sanity. Oh man. So, I got as far as I could running slower, and then took walk breaks on the uphill portions of miles 19-21, reminding myself that I could do this, thinking about it one, two miles at a time. My mantra became “I can do anything for 20 minutes” (which isn’t true – I can’t gargle salt water for 20 minutes – but you have to tell yourself a certain number of lies to get through a marathon, so there you go). When I got to the turnaround at mile 21.5, the volunteer there told me “welcome to the top!” and I had no idea what he meant – and as soon as I started heading towards mile 22, I got it: oh my God, this is so much easier than the way up here! No wonder I’d had such a hard time from miles 19-21: they were uphill, but so deceptively barely uphill that you don’t realize it until you’re heading back down. So I coasted for the next two miles, letting gravity do its work, stopping to walk only when I took one last gel at mile 24 to push me through, and then I got back to the start area at mile 25.

The clock read 4:16 as I passed, and since I’m not capable of 4-minute miles under any circumstances, I knew my A goal was out the window. Okay, time to shoot for the B goal, I thought. I had to stop to walk not long after, but then I thought “this is stupid, you’re so close to the end, just GO!”, and I did, and I really thought that turnaround cone at the 0.6-mile mark was never going to come, but then it did. Then it did! And then I was finally going to the finish line! And out of nowhere, my legs – which, bless them, had mostly remained pain-free and gotten me this far even after all I’d already asked of them – found a little extra pep and kicked up as I approached the 26-mile sign. Oh my God, I thought, I’m going to break 4:30. I am actually fucking DOING THIS. And in what seemed like a blur, in five steps I was barreling towards the finish line, taking every last bit that my legs would give me, and then – and then it was over! 4:27:52. (I know my legs were spent because I could barely hold myself up for a couple of minutes, though once I got foil-wrapped and scarfed down some snacks and started walking it out, I felt much better)

As soon as I was done snacking and getting water and thanking and congratulating Pat and the other runners in our little group and thanking the volunteers and race director, we hopped on the trolley car back to the parking area, and busted butt back to the bed & breakfast where we were staying because Brunch Was Nigh, and we were both freezing and wet, and oh. Oh, what a spread – the owner of the B&B lives there, on her horse farm, and she made us the most ridiculously awesome spread that was the epitome of comfort food. Of course, half an hour after we sat down, the damn sun came out and the temperature started rising, and of course it’s in the low 70s today and will be for the rest of the week – of course. Old man Winter had to have the last say for that marathon! But oh, that food was magical (and I practically inhaled two heaping plates and was hungry about two hours later, haha), and after a long shower and some good relaxing, we got back on the road. Upon arriving home I unpacked, cleaned up some stuff, and sat down to relax with my celebratory beer before turning in for the night. Monday I woke up around 9am and felt refreshed, rested, only a little sore in my hips (which is normal), and gleefully renewed and not the least bit guilty for having slept in so late. Divine! And now I take a week off, and then… Then comes the break. I don’t have any races scheduled for the rest of the year, so I’m going to run when I want to, for however long I feel like it, and maybe enter a 5k or 10k here or there, but I don’t plan to sign up for anything for a good, long while. And I am TOTALLY okay with that.

So, assessing the aftermath: What went right? Training, for one: running more miles – averaging 35 miles a week, on Hal Higdon’s Intermediate 2 marathon plan – was a great idea, and helped me a lot, especially in those last few miles when it got hard. Knowing I had the training to finish on tired legs was a HUGE mental boost. Fueling, for two: I drank more water during the race than my previous two marathons, and took more gels, and thanks to that, I think, never really felt totally fatigued like I was going to die. Getting enough sleep in the week prior to the race and carb-loading, for three and four: I got a solid 8 hours the night before the race, and averaged 6-7 hours per night the week before the race (5-6 is normal for me, since I don’t need that much sleep to function well). I consciously carb-loaded for the three days before the race, dialing it back a bit on Saturday night, and I felt like I had plenty of energy to last me throughout the race. I also didn’t have any GI issues save a weird stomach cramp around mile 23, so that was nice. (I got lucky with the coffee experiment, since I did not have to stop once to use the facilities during the race. After? Oh yes, but not during.) Finally, sticking out training through all of the crappy snow and sleet and wind that we had for most of the winter toughened me up nicely and prepared me to run in crappy race-day conditions.

What went wrong? Well, going out too fast, for one. Having that coffee probably wasn’t a good idea, for two, even though it turned out fine. Since the race was mostly flat, I should probably have trained on more flat surfaces (like the tracks in town) to get used to using all of my muscle groups at once, which may have helped me feel less fatigued towards the end. But, overall, the good DEFINITELY and FAR, FAR outweighs the bad in this race, and it’s an experience I will never forget, and cherish for years to come. I hope to be able to run this race more than once in the future, because it’s just so, so awesome.

So, you want pictures, you say? Here you are!

This is the group making its way to the start, heading down the road south of the start/finish area. Pretty, if cold and wet.
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Me, making my way back from the first out-and-back (and feeling like a rockstar for being mobbed by the two guys taking pictures, haha)
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Me again, getting closer to the start/finish area to make the first turn onto the Creeper trail after mile 2. I love the snowy field in the background!
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This is me and my “race buddy”, the guy from North Carolina with whom I chatted for a good chunk of the first part of the race; here, we’re coming off the first out-and-back, and passing the start/finish area for the second time. And yes, that trestle was a bit slippery…
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Here’s a fantastic one of me that Saint took the first time I saw him at the start/finish area; he wanted to get me against the snowy mountains in the background, and I was trying to finish chewing a gel so I could grab my water and move on.
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Finally, here’s me flying into the finish line. That smile is partly adrenaline, partly euphoria, partly gratitude, and mostly joy because I really did love everything about this race. 🙂
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Thanks for reading, and cheers!

34 and it feels so good!

Today is my birthday. Hooray!

I’m four weeks from the marathon. I was scheduled to run 20 this morning, but decided to run 23, because I wanted to see if I could do it on tired, sore legs. Finishing marathons strong is not something I’ve been particularly good at in my first two attempts, so I wanted to experiment with mileage on these last couple of 20-milers (what an absurd set of words that is) to see what I’m capable of.

My route was challenging, but fun, with the last 3 miles mostly uphill because that’s another weak area of mine that I need to improve. The weather was perfect- low 40s (F), partly sunny, no wind; I couldn’t have asked for better conditions. I finished in 4 hours and 7 minutes, which bodes very well for me finishing my third marathon with a PR – I’m gunning for below 4:30, possibly 4:20, and if my slow-long-run pace can get me 23 miles at about 4:10, then I think my chances of success on the 30th are high indeed.

So, that was fun, and a nice 34th-birthday present to myself. The older my body gets, the more I’m astounded at what it can do and how it just handles whatever I throw at it with a “bitch, PLEASE”. 🙂 Saint made pancakes, bacon, and coffee for my post-run brunch, and I enjoyed a delicious shower beer after that. So long as the rain holds off, we’ll be heading to a college baseball game shortly, and then he’s taking me out for a nice dinner because he’s awesome. I’m a lucky woman, indeed. 🙂

Happy March, y’all!

Running in Boston

First of all, iamarunnerandsocanyou is going to call me out on this for not getting in touch with him, but my public apology goes like this: my schedule was such that I only had time to run before the sun was up while I was in Boston, which I figured no sane individual would want to join me for. So, my apologies, and I hope that my next visit to Boston is more leisure and less business so I can enjoy more of the city.

I was there for a field-related conference, giving a paper, which went swimmingly well and was by and large a great event. The conference hotel was in Copley Square, which is in the lovely Back  Bay area of Boston (and yes, is about two blocks away from where the bombings occurred in April). While my primary purpose for visiting was this conference, I do not think that blogging about it is going to keep anyone awake, so I’m going to bore you with other details about running and sightseeing.

I arrived late Wednesday evening and had enough time to quickly get the lay of the land before going to bed. The conference wasn’t to begin until noon on Thursday, so I woke up just before sunrise and went for a run along the Charles River Esplanade as it was rising, per Andy’s suggestion. It was chilly, but absolutely breathtaking – Thursday dawned a clear and bright day, and it was such a joy and privilege to be able to greet the day from that riverside location. I explored some of the Back Bay neighborhoods as well, and marveled at the architecture thereof (I’m a sucker for brownstones with gorgeous windows). It’s no secret that I fell in love with Boston at first sight when I first visited in 2006, and I vowed one day to move there, which is still a threat I think is valid. Every time I leave, a little piece of me stays behind.  (I know I’ve said this about New York City, too, but Boston has a spirit that New York just can’t catch, not that I can put that into words but if you’ve ever visited both places I think you know what I mean.)

After that, I got ready for the day and went over to Harvard to check out an exhibit sponsored by their Russian center. It’s called the Blokadnitsy Project, and it’s a collection of twelve photobooks compiled of pictures and interviews of and with a group of women who survived the German siege of Leningrad during World War II. It’s absolutely astonishing, and I think anyone in the Boston area should go see it. I don’t get moved to tears that much, but I had to choke back a sob when I saw a picture of one woman’s hands and her description of the way she used them to move and stack dead bodies of her fellow citizens into mass graves. It was incredibly moving, and I was glad that I had made the trip out there to see the exhibit. Plus, okay, walking through Harvard Yard is pretty neat, too.

After THAT, conference stuff began.

When I arrived from the T at Copley from the airport on Wednesday night, I did a triple-take at one building that I walked past on my way to the hotel. It wasn’t the Trinity Church, which I had been told to check out if I could (and as it turns out, I didn’t have time, alas! – but check out the building slideshow), but, as I later realized, the Boston Public Library’s Central branch, which I also later found out did “Art & Architecture Tours” on Thursdays at 6pm. Wouldn’t you know it – my conference stuff ended at 5:45pm on Thursday! So, when that happened, I booked it over to the library and got a wonderful treat. Seriously, click on that link and then click on the links and look at some of the pictures of those halls and murals – just gorgeous. I was in heaven. My favorite part – as hard as it is to choose just one! –  was the statue in the courtyard, which is lit up at night and looks simply amazing.

After the tour was over, I wandered around for a bit and chatted with the security guard about working in a place of such absurd beauty, and when my stomach gave an angry, empty growl, he smiled and we agreed that I should probably go fix that. On a completely unrelated note, I had no idea that Sam Adams makes a small-batch Gingerbread Stout – it’s no Hardywood Park gingerbread stout, true, but then again, what is? – that I discovered is rather quite good, to my surprise. Sam Adams has been doing a lot of seasonal small batches over the past couple of years, and this is one I’d drink again with pleasure.

On Friday I did not run, which was a wise decision since it rained all day. I conferenced instead.

On Saturday, I ran 7ish miles before sunrise that took me far down Commonwealth Avenue and past Boston University through Allston/Brighton and ontothe wrong side of Memorial Drive such that I was running in the grass next to a guardrail next to 40-mph-traffic, separated from the sandy ground of a train yard by a chain-link fence to my right. This was not the wisest idea, but I was not about to go playing Frogger in the dark with those cars, so I decided to just run as fast as I could to get the bridge I needed to cross back over to Brookline. When I got to that bridge, I had to go up a very dark and very tall staircase, which was a bit unnerving, but hey, stairs-speedwork! Next time, I will listen to the guy driving the truck who is motioning to me to tell me that no, Memorial Drive isn’t actually on that side of the road.

I conferenced the rest of Saturday, which was when I gave my paper and celebrated with a lunch beer and then had a fantastically amazing and satisfying dinner at The Salty Pig with some old friends. (Vegetarians, beware that clicky-thing.) Beers were had, laughter flowed in abundance. It was good.

It was also VERY sharply cold and windy outside. This did not change Sunday when I went for a run at 5am.

I can now say that I have gone on a run and not encountered a single other runner on my route, which, no matter where or when or in what weather I’ve run before, has never  been the case. So that felt kind of badass, but at the same time I had a few moments in which I seriously questioned my judgement. This isn’t because of the route I chose, but rather because of the wind, which was blowing at a steady 15MPH and gusting to a hearty 30MPH, when it was already only about 20F outside. (I later learned that this was a wind chill of about 9 degrees…!) I was dressed fine – long pants, gloves, and two base-layer shirts, one of which had a collar – but it was the sort of wind that no matter what you were wearing, it just cut right through you and hit you in the bones. I accepted that this would be true for my entire run (7ish miles again) pretty much when I stepped out of the hotel door and nearly got blown sideways, which I think helped a lot in my decision to not quit. It also helped that I kept telling myself that I’ve skied entire days in such conditions, albeit with more layers on and much more snow, and it helped even more that I loathe running on the treadmill and had first-hand evidence that the hot water in our shower was indeed capable of getting very hot.

So, on I went, past the gorgeous-when-lit Museum of Fine Arts  (another place I wish I’d had time to visit!), to the Longwood area of medical colleges, to the Riverway and the fens behind Fenway (though I missed Fenway Park by a couple of blocks, oh well – I consoled myself by saying it was too dark to appreciate anyway), over the Charlesgate and back to Commonwealth Avenue and Beacon Street, past the Boston Common and up that goddamned hill that I always forget exists to Park Street and then over to Stuart Street until reaching my hotel. Again, beautiful buildings, even in the dark and pre-dawn light, and the few pedestrians who were out waiting for buses or on their own way to work or the airport gave me “lady, you must be nuts” look that made it worth it. So what if I almost tripped over a crack in the sidewalk because my eyes were full of tears from the wind? You run faster when it’s cold, and this run was no exception: it was the fastest pace I’ve held above 5 miles in a very long time, and it felt amazing, even given the conditions.

God, I love Boston. 🙂

After getting ready and packing up, I did last-day-conferencing, got myself to the airport early enough to have a gateside beer while watching football, and was able to continue watching football thanks to the magic of JetBlue and their free DirecTV. I also got to watch the sun set from the sky, which was a brilliant shade of red I’m not sure I would have gotten on the ground, so that was pretty neat, too.

I arrived in good stead, was fed a lovely hot dinner by Saint’s parents, and got myself back home late last night to breathe for two days before taking off for Thanksgiving madness with my own family – provided the weather cooperates – after which I think I will take a small break from traveling because as much as I love Boston, and running in Boston, and being and feeling such joy in Boston, my own bed is a wonderful place all its own.

My paper, by the way, was on the concept of “home”, which I think is somewhat apropos for this post. 🙂

Happy Thanksgiving, a bit early, y’all. Thanks for reading.

Liminality

(n). the state of being in between two worlds; considered dangerous because one can belong to either one world or the other, but not fully, and not both.

This word is almost certainly going to be one of the keywords associated with my dissertation, and I’ve been using it a lot recently, so it’s no wonder it’s been on my mind. But, it also applies to my current running regimen, or lack thereof: I’m in that odd month where I don’t really have anything scheduled until training for the next race begins. I did have a moment earlier this week where it occurred to me: oh, you should probably think about looking at A Plan soon. I did, but more on that in a minute.

It was nice to have a break. After a week off it was good to get back into the swing of things, getting back into the gym and running just because I can, and it’s been nice to be able to get up and run 12 glorious miles on a Saturday morning just because I felt like it.  I’m glad to have not lost much fitness, since I’m moving up to a higher-mileage training plan for Marathon #3, and I’ll be starting out with a long run of 10 miles. I’ll be doing Hal Higdon’s Intermediate 2 plan, which starts with 26 miles in a week (which is just below where I am now) and peaks at, um, 50 miles as you can see from those three (3) (2+1) weeks with 20-milers in them. It’s a little intimidating, but it’s really just a nudge up from the Intermediate 1; I’m not changing much here, since I’m already accustomed to running 5 days a week and doing 2 Saturday pace runs followed by a third Saturday easy run. However, one thing I AM changing is the length of this plan: I’m taking out week 17 and only tapering two weeks, because I’m certain I will go insane if I have to taper for three weeks again. 🙂

It’s funny, though, how habits die hard even when you’re not training: even as it’s gotten darker earlier, with the later sunrise, and much colder – so I really have no need to run at 4:30 am to escape any heat – I still find myself waking up at 3am to get ready to run and go to the gym. I’ve found that if I run/work out before I go to work at 7am, I get much more done during the rest of my day, and I sleep better at night, though there are tradeoffs to all of this. I have no social life any more, except on the weekends, and while I absolutely exult in being one of the 2 or 3 people* out on the road in the pitch black with a canvas of stars and cold morning air around me, I kind of miss being able to see the fall colors in daylight, and being able to see the sun rise from a location that’s not my bathroom window while I’m showering.  Eh…. I don’t know. I really, really like running before the sun’s up now, and it’s working for me, so we’ll see how this shakes out when I have to run 10 miles on a Wednesday in the middle of February. 🙂

*There’s this one guy – known in the entire town only as “Running Man” – who deserves his own post, so I hope I remember to write about him later.

Aaaaanyway. Future plans: here’s the marathon I’m running in March: Virginia Creeper Marathon

It’s probably the most no-frills race I’ll ever run, and (sigh) Saint asked me if I thought I could knock another 20 minutes off my MCM time, and winter is good for faster running (because I always want to get home faster and jump in the shower), so I’m going to give it a go here. I feel like this will be the most mental of the marathons I’ve done simply because it’s so small and non-crowded, but perhaps a non-urban setting will give me some peace of mind.

It will be an experience, in any case.

More immediate future plans: This weekend I am running the Richmond half-marathon, where I’ll be pacing a friend through her first half. I’m excited for it, because I love this entire day and how the city really comes out to support all of the runners in all of the races. Also, it means I get to complete the trifecta of having run all three of the races associated with this day; in 2011 I did the 8k, and last year (as you may have heard) I did the marathon. Since I’m moving to Richmond in May it is entirely possible I will decide to run one of these races again in 2014, or, perhaps I’ll take a year off from it and volunteer. In any event, if I can, I plan to stick around and cheer on the marathon folks when I’m done, and with any luck, we’ll finish in time to see the winners come through.

Next weekend – well, starting Wednesday night, really – I’ll be in Boston (land of Dunkin’ Donuts, oh yes, they shall be mine) (and no, I’m not eating a Boston kreme right now, why do you ask?) for a conference, and I am SUPER-excited about that because I haven’t been there in 4 years and it will be good to see friends in the area and at other graduate schools. I’m hoping to be able to get out and see some of the city, though I don’t know how possible that will be given that there are a ton of talks I want to go to. My own is at 8am on Saturday, which somewhat thwarts my plans for a nice long Saturday run at a reasonable hour; in general, I hope to get some running done while I’m there but I don’t quite know how that’s going to work time-wise. I’m staying in the Back Bay area, so if anyone has any ideas on places to go or not go (as in, don’t go there at 5am because it’s unsafe), I’m all ears. (I’m looking at you, Iamarunnerandoscanyou!)

All right, I’ve gotta go finish up this talk and then move on with my day. What are your future plans? Whatever they may be, have a great weekend!

Oh! P.S. Shout-out to jonfitzsimon who is running the San Antonio Rock ‘n’ Roll marathon on Sunday. Good luck – you’ll do great!

What do you think about when you run?

Saint’s sister asked me yesterday what on earth I think about when I run stupidly long distances like 20 miles, which I did for the first time of this training cycle yesterday morning.  Since I had just walked in the door from finishing the run and cooling down for a few minutes, I was still in that weird, oxygen-to-the-brain-deprived, endorphin-driven mental state where I can’t get myself to stop talking, so this is what I told her:

For the first few miles, I thought about how long unfamiliar roads are: when I’m on a new route and I know that I have a new road to spend some time on, 1 mile always feels like 3. It’s never 3; it’s only ever 1. But, just because I’ve run a road before doesn’t mean I’m still not delusional about its length the 25th time I run it. (see: Monument Avenue in Richmond. I keep expecting it to shrink, but it never does. Hrmph.)

From miles 7-12, I thought about how unfair it is that I never think once about pooping or needing to poop on any run shorter than, say, 12 miles. I swear it only happens when I’m going really long and have absolutely no idea where a bathroom or Porta-Potty is. Yesterday was no exception; I knew I was in trouble when I started seriously thinking that it would be okay to duck down an alleyway and discreetly fix the problem. Thankfully, I remembered that there was a Starbucks on my route near mile 12, and I was in enough distress to convince myself that it really would be morally OK to walk in there and use the toilet without buying anything. The good news is that these miles flew by because all I could think about was poop, but they also dragged a bit because all I could think about was when I would be able to take a poop.

For miles 12.1-12.5, I thought about what a freaking awesome idea that pit stop was. Holy crap, I felt so much better. (no pun intended)

For miles 12.5-18, I thought about the following things, in no particular order: It’s hot in this sun (it was maybe 50-55 degrees throughout the run, but the sky was cloudless and the sun was bright), and I am going to get burned (I did, a little bit, but not lobster-like). I want a Cookout milkshake when I get back. Do I remember all the words to Coolio’s “Fantastic Voyage”? [Answer: I don’t, but more than I had thought.] No, wait, I also kind of want a sandwich from Chiocca’s – no, I want both that AND the milkshake. Things hurt. I have to stay strong. I have (seven, five, three) miles to go. Why do people name their kids what they do? Why did my sister pick X instead of Z for my nephew’s first-name first letter? How does the designation of in-laws work? Take Saint’s mom’s siblings, and their spouses – to her, they’re in-laws, but what are they to each other? How is this going to work when we get married? Do our sisters become in-laws, or does it stop with me and him? [I’m not kidding, that was a good 30 minutes of thinking that very much helped me out] Oh my God, I have to do another one of these runs in two weeks? Dafuq? Oh hey, it’s Munchkin time [the Marine Corps Marathon hands out Dunkin’ Donuts Munchkins at mile 23, and I wanted to try them on my 20-milers to make sure it was okay to eat them three miles from the end of my run. I ate these a little early – at mile 15 – but dear sweet baby deity, they were a GODSEND]. I think somehow I STILL haven’t managed to take enough water with me [I went through two 16.9-ounce bottles]. OH MY GOD THIS ROAD NEVER ENDS AND I KNOW THIS FROM EXPERIENCE AND ALSO THAT IT IS MOSTLY SLIGHTLY UPHILL BUT IT STILL SUCKS also partially because there is no shade on it and I am hot in the sun. Hang on, two miles to go? Oh shit, I’m actually going to finish this. Oh man, this run is almost over!

For miles 18-20, I thought about what a stupid idea it was to design my route so that the last two miles were sharply uphill. Actually, it was mostly mile 18-19, but still: my legs were not happy with me at that point. It took me until here to really wonder: if my legs were this sore and tired on a 20-mile training run that I was taking slowly, how in the hell was I ever going to run that plus 6.2 more at a faster pace for the actual race? Two seconds later I mentally bitch-slapped myself, reminding me that this run was happening on purposely-tired legs that have been through 13 weeks of training and that the race will find me on fresh, rested legs that will have been well-cared for by that time, so shut up and stop doubting yourself already. At mile 19, I started to think that it was just about time to get on home and watch some football. At mile 19.5, I started grinning like an idiot, and felt kind of sad: it was going to be over soon, this crazy long run of mine. At mile 19.8, I garbled something resembling “I don’t want to run over your puppy!” at a guy whose leashed dog veered right into the path of my feet because no one – myself including, because I was basking in the moment of being awesome – was paying attention. At mile 19.9, I thought about how much it would suck to get hit by a car so close to the end, but also that it might not feel too bad because it would take my mind off the pain in my legs. At mile 20, I slowed to a walk and started laughing, and thought: “BADASS. Beer. Hmm, yes. WAIT OHMYGODFOOD.”

This morning, I woke up and thought, “Wow, that was some of the best sleep I’ve had in weeks.”

This afternoon, I’ve been thinking: I only get to run 5 miles tomorrow? I get to do this, again, in thirteen days. And then I get to taper, and then I get to run a marathon again.

I think that’s pretty awesome.

So, how’s it going?

This is more a self-directed question than anything else, mostly to set me up to answer it. But, if you feel like telling me, I’d like to know how you’re doing, too.

Since my last post, I’ve:

– watched the Nationals beat the Phillies, 8-5, in a comeback win fueled by Jayson Werth’s 1,000th career hit;

– ran a good chunk of the Mount Vernon Trail near D.C., which was awesome because I got to watch planes take off from National Airport for a decent part of the run [Warning: gross thing coming up];

– tied my shoe too tight on that run and gave myself a zombie toe (wherein blood collects under the toenail; Google it if you really want to see what one looks like); I let it go for a week, couldn’t take the pressure any more, drained it, breathed a huge sigh of relief, and was pretty irritated when it flooded with fluid all over again the next day – so now, I just have a zombie toe full of dried blood that does not hurt but looks nasty;

– ran 15 miles in the rain one cool Sunday and – much to my surprise – really enjoyed it;

– went to the Central Virginia Craft Brewers’ Festival and tried several delicious beers, not that I can remember any of their names now (oops), but let me tell you, this part of the state makes some damn fine libations;

– in that vein, happily welcomed a new brewpub to town that I hope will continue to make delicious offerings, if their first go-round is any indication;

– began YET ANOTHER school year, in which I apparently will not have time to blog, but that’s okay – being busy with dissertation stuff is good;

– played a couple of rounds of golf / had some practice at the driving range, in which my shots were not terribly awful and in some cases even traveling straight and/or in the air;

– visited my family for Labor Day weekend, which was hot but full of beer and dancing and grilled meats and boat-time;

– aaaaaand last but not least [screech] [thump] caught a really nasty cold that has temporarily thwarted my MCM training.

I’m in that meaty part of marathon training composed of heavy-mile weeks, and this past weekend I peaked at 44 – which is the largest amount of miles I’ve ever run in one week in my entire life – and it’s interesting this go-round, because I remember how hard it was last year, when I was writing about this more often as I went through it for the first time. I don’t really feel the need to document all of that this time, because not much about it has changed. It’s still hard; there are still mornings when I want to give up and fling myself down on the concrete and take a nap [but I don’t because it’s 4am and I will probably get hit by a car], and there are nights when I wish I could go hang out with friends [but I can’t because I have to be in bed by 9pm], and there are aches and pains and sorenesses that won’t go away unless I just flat-out stop [which I won’t because, deep down, I love doing this]. But, it’s much easier to manage this time, because I’ve been through it before and I have a better idea of what to expect, and a better idea of how to recover and protect myself properly.

I also feel more confident about being able to finish this marathon faster. My pace runs have all been hovering right around the 10:00/mile mark, which is right where I want to be, though I’m not sure I can hold that pace over 22 or so miles. (My m.o. for any race longer than a 5k is to start out slow, excruciatingly slow, and then ramp up to race-pace and, with any luck, have enough left to hit negative splits in the second half.) It’s easy to hold for 8 miles, but 22? I don’t know. I feel like a better and stronger runner this time through, and I feel more mentally prepared and much less freaked out about the whole process, which I know will help me on race morning.

But this cold. This cold! I missed a workout for the first time ever in any of my training this morning, and I had to actively tell myself that it was and is okay for me to miss one stupid 5-mile run and gym session because missing one day is not going to completely derail my entire 18 weeks of training. It’s funny, given how much I tweaked last year’s marathon plan I was not nearly as freaked out about all of that messing around with the schedule as I was about missing this one stupid run. I think it’s because I’m a better and smarter runner now that I think, well, if I stick to the plan that’s been working for me, I’ll have a great race! Thing is, precisely because I’m better and smarter, I also am more willing to listen to my body when it tells me no no no please don’t today. And this morning was the first time that it said that, and I said, I will listen to you, because I know that it is you and not my trickstery brain trying to tell me I’m lazy or unwilling to do this. [Trust me,  I know the difference; that moment when the alarm goes off at 2:45am and my legs try to tell my hands hit snooze! We’re tired!, my hands, being closer to my brain, know that my legs are trying to usurp my brainpower and make me be lazy, so the hands win – the alarm goes OFF, out of bed I go.] What did it for me – and I’d suspected last night that this was going to be the case – was that this cold has moved down into my chest, and I now have the lovely death-rattle of crap skeeballing around in my lungs before it gets expectorated. I had nose- and sinuses-only symptoms starting Friday morning and going through Sunday evening, so I did my 8- and 18-mile runs on the weekend as normal, and I felt fine, even a little better because the running cleared a good deal of the congestion out. But when I finished Sunday’s run, I felt a tightness in my chest that I knew spelled trouble, and sure enough, Monday morning I woke up and knew what was coming. I did a shortened and very not-intense cross-training session Monday morning, and was prepared to back off and run just an easy, slow 5-miler this morning, but when I crawled into bed at 8:30 last night and set my alarm for 3am, I had a sneaking suspicion I was going to say nope! and turn back over for 2 more hours of sleep before work.

That’s exactly what I did, and it feels weird to have done so, but I plan to just pick up where I left off anyway, and do an easy 5-miler tomorrow morning, provided I feel better. This is a ramp-down week anyway, where I was only scheduled for 36 miles, so minus today’s run, I’ll still make 31 for the week, which is not bad. [Next week I get my first 20-miler of the schedule, which will be wheeee so much fun!]

But I just want this crap out of me and gone already. Not least because I’m going to a bacon and beer festival on Saturday and I REALLY want to be able to enjoy myself as much as possible. 😛

So, that’s how things are going here. How about on your end?