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. πŸ™‚ 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. πŸ™‚
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Thanks for reading, and cheers!

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Five days until marathon number three. (wait, what?)

Somehow I blinked and the last month of training went by. – well, no, that’s not entirely true; there were the usual moments where I thought the slog would never end, punctuated by another gust of wind, another half-foot of snow, another exhausted step followed by another exhausted step. It’s funny, now that I’m in the final week, I look back on all those times I wished training would be over, and now I think: as sick as this is, I’m going to miss this. I’m going to miss running on empty streets under a clear, starry, cold sky, I’m going to miss the delightful ache in my legs as I waddle to catch the bus, I’m going to miss that feeling of oh yeah! when I totally own a run.

And yet here I am, in the taper week, not quite able to believe that a) I have arrived at the end of this journey and b) in a few days, it will be over. It didn’t seem real the first two times I did it, and it feels even less so this time, possibly because this is a much smaller race than my first two, and it’s very much no-frills, you-just-kinda-show-up-and-run-a-marathon sort of vibe. No cool videos or flashy emails to pump you up or give you last-minute info (the race website is almost literally text-only); no maps for negotiating packet pickup (you’re told to go to X hotel and ask for the race director’s room); no tech tees or finisher’s medals (you get an apparently awesome paperweight instead).

Having run two big, flashy marathons, I’m totally OK with this scaled-down, hands-off approach, because I think it’s done me the favor of forcing me to turn inwards for my motivation when the going gets tough. I’ve had a lot more “why the hell am I doing this?” moments during this cycle than the previous two training cycles, and the introspection has done my mental state a world of good. Not to mention that running through this ridiculous winter – full of relentless snow, ice, sleet, and more sub-zero-temperature runs than I care to recall – has toughened me up nicely, to the point where I laugh at myself from a mere 2 years ago who would dive inside for the treadmill at the first hint of rain. I’ll run through just about anything, at any time of day, and not complain too much about it. πŸ™‚ I also know that I’ve had good runs, and bad runs, and everything balances out, and that when it’s bad, I have the mental fortitude to push through it instead of giving up. Part of me wonders if I haven’t subconsciously gotten tougher because I know it’s going to be a fairly isolated race experience; there will be volunteers and spectators, sure, but for the most part it’s going to be me, the course, and whoever of the 100 runners happens to be in my vicinity at a given time (and Saint, at intervals, of course).

So, yeah. I feel more than prepared, and even though I haven’t gotten into the rest-day part of the taper so I haven’t yet experienced the taper crazies, I’m glad I decided on a two-week taper this time instead of a three-week taper like I did for my first two marathons. I was going a little nuts running only 4 miles this morning and last Saturday, and 12 miles went by in the freaking blink of an eye on Sunday (not literally, but I swear I just lost two hours and was suddenly done), so I know I’ll be good and rested and ready come Sunday morning. And then, Monday morning…. sleep. Bliss. I plan to take two weeks off from any sort of hard running; I’ll commit to a week for sure, and then see how I feel the weekend after the race. I get to give blood again, about two weeks after the race, so I’m happy about that as well.

There is the tiny voice in the back of my head that says “you don’t have another race scheduled for the rest of this year; now what are you going to do?” – and I am doing my best to tell that voice to stuff it already and just enjoy the rest of this week and, more importantly, the race itself. And then, after that, enjoy sleeping in and take things one day at a time: reconnect with the world that isn’t running every weekend day at 8am, meet friends for coffee, go hiking, go on a bike ride, zone out on the elliptical for an hour if that’s what I want to do. Another tiny voice tells me I’m going to miss running and possibly even get a bit sad or upset because I’ll no longer have it as an organizing force in my life, but I have to tell that voice to give it time to work itself out, and that in any event, the next few months will be rather quite busy as it is anyway.

One thing I DO want to do, regardless of how I fit running back into my life eventually, is volunteer a whole heck of a lot more so I can still participate without necessarily pushing myself. Because the forces of the universe conspire against me, our local 10-miler is ONCE AGAIN the day before a goal race for me this year; it’s being run on Saturday, so I’m volunteering at packet pickup on Friday and early Saturday morning before I leave town for the marathon. I want to do more of that, especially when I move in the summer and join a running group in my new hometown (exciting things, but stuff I’ll save for a later post).

By the way, I think I said at some point late in 2013 that I’d like to run 2000+ miles this year. Given that this training cycle will push me over 1000 miles for the year thus far – I ran nearly 600 miles training for this race. Six hundred! All for a measly 26.2 at one time! πŸ™‚ – and I’ve now realized that I’d probably have to keep up the 35- to 40-mile weeks to achieve that goal, I think I might go out on a limb and say: probably isn’t going to happen, especially if I don’t train for another distance race for the rest of the year. I’m pretty OK with that, actually, and I’d be OK with just beating the leading NFL rusher this year. My more important goals are threefold: 1) set a marathon PR on Sunday (but no pressure, self!); 2) volunteer in more races than I run; 3) rest and recover like it’s my job after this marathon, and rediscover the joys of other activities and make running not such the center of my life for at least a little while.

So, this is likely my last post until after the marathon. Wish me luck; I’ll be sure to check back in with the tale of how I destroyed my Marine Corps time. πŸ™‚ 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”. πŸ™‚ 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. πŸ™‚

Happy March, y’all!

Random things!

1) The Olympics have ended without incident (which is great), not without controversy (because otherwise what fun would they be?), and with plenty of lovely moments that totally, utterly sucked me in (I think I scared someone with my gasp when I was in the library, watching Mikaela Shiffrin go up on one leg in her last slalom run and then somehow manage to plunk it back down and finish her run for the gold). Sure, there were plenty of un-lovely moments as well, but that’s part and parcel of any large international event. I think I come away from these Games proud of the people of Russia but not entirely enthralled with their leaders, which is about the same as I felt before, so I guess all’s well that ends well.

2) We had fantastically gorgeous weather over the weekend that made a sizable dent in melting the foot-plus of snow we got during the Valentine’s Day storm. Some of the ten-foot-tall piles are still not melted in shopping center parking lots, but it’s no longer hazardous to drive on 99.99% of the road surfaces here in town (or at least any more so than it would normally be). I spent a shameful amount of time inside doing school work, but I did get my runs in (yay recovery week) and managed to go see a college baseball game yesterday that was a pure delight (we’re #1 in the country right now, and we sure are playing like it :)). After all of that damn snow I miiiiight be looking forward to spring a little, but I do plan to do some skiing still, so I don’t want the snow to go away entirely.

3) I bought new shoes on Valentine’s Day, because my (now-old) pair had racked up a record 646.66 miles on them and it was time for them to be done. I’ve been running in Sauconys since the Guide 5, and have now graduated to the Guide 7 – and, apparently, bought enough pairs of shoes at this particular shop to get 30% off my next pair. Woohoo! Anyway, they’re this color: 10227-1_1_1200x735
which I didn’t even realize I’d subconsciously chosen because THEY MATCH NEARLY EVERY TOP I HAVE AND THEY’RE SOMEHOW SUPER-BRIGHT IN THE DARK. And oh good LORD do I LOVE THEM. I’m usually not able to tell what Saucony’s changed about a shoe from one version to the next, but they did something with the toebox that makes my bunions feel nonexistent and also replaced the ProGrid sole with the PowerGrid sole, which makes my joints sing. I need a life if I’m this excited about shoes, but these babies are going to carry me through my next marathon. Which is…

4) A little less than 5 weeks away! I’m at the point now where a given week is either a stupid-high-mileage (50+) or recovery (about 35), and it’s exhausting, but you know, I’m enjoying the process in terms of the bigger picture, even if the thought of running 22 miles on my birthday (that’s this Sunday, the 2nd, if you want to send me chocolate or beer :)) makes me want to puke right now. I gotta say, as much as I love running, I am so, so, SO much looking forward to taking a break from scheduled training once this marathon is over. I dream of a day when I can just decide that I want to go run wherever my feet want to take me for a couple of hours. April… or maybe even May, since I want to give myself a full and proper recovery time for once.

5) ….hmmmm. I guess I ran out of things, though I feel like there’s something else. Oh well. Happy end-of-February, y’all!

Cue the Bon Jovi – a week late!

If I ever organize my own race, it will, regardless of distance, have the chorus of Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer” blaring from a stereo at the halfway point. It might be funnier if this was a one-mile fun run, but still: every time I run a race, this song pops into my head at the median point. Feel free to steal this idea and pass it on. πŸ™‚

I’m on week 10 of my 17-week plan, which is why the Bon Jovi is a week late; technically I reached the median of my schedule last week, but didn’t get around to this until now. I wanted to see how many miles I’d end with for January, in any event. (It’s 156.05, in case you were curious, which is the most I’ve ever run in a month. Woohoo!)

I’m happy to report that my experiments with crunching all of my runs into the weekdays and skiing on the weekends have produced good and non-injured results, though I was so very glad last week to be able to back off and run a normal week/weekend per usual. It was a lower-mileage week anyway, which was well-timed. I even got the elusive, far-too-rare, extremely and guiltily pleasurable luxury of sleeping in this past Saturday, since I was scheduled to run a half-marathon on Sunday and rest for both the Friday and Saturday prior (and boy, was it great fun to do that run on fresh legs – there wasn’t a race I could enter, so I just ran a course around town that I thought would make a fun half). Saint had to work, and I confess that I giggled a little mischievously to myself when I rolled my eyes open around 9am and thought, “hmm, he’s already been at work an hour”. Glorious, wonderful, magical, and I *so* enjoyed having a leisurely morning of coffee and laundry to myself. I could see a bit forward into the future, in, say, April or May, when this happens again after this marathon is done, and the thought makes me quite happy indeed.

Week 10 is when the runs start getting longer and harder (oh baby!), and the familiar feeling of somewhat-permanent exhaustion is already starting to settle in. I’m doing okay in taking care of myself, though I could probably use a bit more sleep, but the tiredness is a good kind of tiredness, like it always is. I’m still looking forward to the rest of the process, and the end result, though I feel like if it rains one god-damned more time on my Sunday long run I am going to throttle Mother Nature somewhere unspecified, unless this is some master plan to prepare me for a gullywashed marathon experience at the end of March, in which case, carry on, you fickle mistress, you. It’s been… interesting running through all of this cold and snow, but it has certainly toughened me up (not to mention made me immensely grateful for a working heater and hot water).

In other non-news, baseball starts very, very soon (pitchers & catchers report in ten days, and my college team’s first game is two weeks from today), which is good.

DIPAs are coming out in droves now, which is also good. It’s still cold enough for stouts and the like, but I do also love me a good DIPA on a chilly winter evening.

The Olympics start this week, which is… I wish it was good, I really do, because I love the pageantry and the incredible feats of athleticism and the usual proclivity of the world to ignore politics and get along for a couple of weeks, but it feels different this time, and it makes me uneasy. There’s some element of corruption and wasted money and exploitation in every Olympic games, sure, but I’m much more attuned to the effects of these Olympics on Russia and Sochi because Russia is “my” area of the world – it’s what I study, it’s what I read about over my lunch break. This also means I’m more aware and fearful of terrorist attacks there, and while I hope to God that nothing happens, it wouldn’t surprise me too much if something did. It also makes me a bit sick (for lack of a better word) that NBC – who has said they’ll not ignore the political and social conflicts surrounding these Games – seems to be carrying on like nothing is wrong. Their tone strikes me as insincere, a bit head-in-the-sand, a bit “ignorance is bliss, viewers!”, and I hope they do find a way to address the “real-world” goings-on outside the Olympic village. I’ll still watch, mind you, but with bated breath, and I hope (and as close to praying without actually doing so) that everything proceeds safely and soundly. Who knows, maybe this will end up being something spectacular, but I can’t shake the feeling that this will amount to little more than what NPR’s David Greene referred to as “Putin’s Potemkin Village” (read the story in which he uses the phrase here).

Sorry about that; I got a bit away from myself there. πŸ™‚ To bring it back to running, this all makes me think of the Munich massacre in 1972, and how they ran the marathon anyway (Runner’s World had a great article about it a couple of years ago). The spirit tends to find a way to prevail, I suppose.

OK, what about you? Do you watch the winter Olympics? Which sports are your favorites? (Mine are figure skating, speed skating, downhill skiing – for obvious reasons πŸ™‚ – curling, and the bobsled. Oh, and ski jumping, which women are finally allowed to compete in for the first time!) How is your winter running going? Are you ready for spring yet?

Happy running!

Two things: a reminder to be safe, and where did the time go?

First thing:

I did not know this woman, or the man who hit her. It’s a sad convergence of lives in this case: the runner, wife, and mother who was out doing what she loved, and the doctor with two teenage children who lost his wife to a drunk driver nearly a decade ago. You can read the details yourself, but this gives me pause for a few reasons: one, I run on roads like this every time I visit my family in North Carolina, and more than a few times when I’m visiting Saint, his family members in South Carolina, and maybe a handful of times a month here at home. Two, this happened at 8:15 in the morning (which is to say, not in the dark and well after sunrise). Three, from the police description it seems like Meg was doing the safest thing: running against traffic so that she could see oncoming cars.

Concerning one: Doing this makes me nervous every time I do it, whether it’s in broad daylight or in the dark. I do wear a headlamp every time I run when the sun’s not up, but I don’t always wear the most reflective clothing. Regardless of the terrain – sidewalk, road shoulder, road without a shoulder – I do my best to jump well out of the way of traffic, but sometimes that’s not always possible, or it’s a blind curve and a car comes up suddenly. I also don’t always run against traffic, either; if I know I’m only going to be on the road for a few hundred feet, I’ll stay to whichever side is closest to my next turn. Concerning two: not that accidents don’t happen at 8:15 am, but being hit by a drunk driver at that time of day is about the LAST thing I would expect to have to watch out for. I run very early in the morning (usually at 4:30 am on the weekdays, 6-7am on the weekends) partially because there’s so much less traffic, but I confess I haven’t given much thought to the possibility of drunk drivers being out at that time. I’m more worried about getting jumped or robbed, to be honest, though I do my best to avoid areas where that’s most likely to happen. Concerning three: like I said, I don’t always run facing traffic if it’s easier to stay with my back to it. Tiny disclaimer: I never run with headphones in, because I need to be able to hear what’s going on around me. That doesn’t mean that I can always tell if there’s a car behind me, though.

I guess what I’m getting at is that I – and, I suspect, a lot of runners – do these little things thinking “it won’t happen to me because I’m careful”, and that may not be enough. It may not matter how careful you are if someone else is being grossly negligent and you happen to cross their path. I’m not blaming Meg at all here, mind you; I think she was just in the wrong place at the wrong time, and I don’t know if anything she did could have prevented her death. There are simply too many variables to say one way or another.

So, here’s my reminder: please double-check your safety measures, and consider adding a couple more. I know there’s only so much we can do, but every bit helps.

I think the worst thing about this, though, is that she was apparently within a mile of home. Feh. :/

ANYWAY! Second thing: Moving on – where did this marathon training schedule go?! Somehow I’m already in week 7, with only another 10 to go – I’m cutting out week 17 because a three-week taper will probably drive me to maul someone – and I feel like I blinked and suddenly was almost at the halfway point. I’m doing Hal Higdon’s Intermediate 2 program, which has a peak mileage of 50, for three separate weeks, which made me nervous but is now not a big deal at all, I think, and I’ll tell you why: I’m in the middle of doing something stupid! (What else is new?)

Saint and I are taking advantage of the long weekend to go skiing, which means that I have to have all of my running done before we go, because a) while there is now a fitness center at the ski resort, it doesn’t have treadmills (WTF?); b) yeah, so that thing about not running on two-lane roads I just talked about? That’s what I’d be doing up there, and no thank you – the speed limits on those roads at lower elevations are not less than 35MPH. So, I tweaked my schedule to cut out my cross-training and rest days for this week, like so:

Normal schedule: Mon: cross-train Tue: 4 mile run Wed: 8 mile run Thurs: 4 mile run Fri: rest Sat: 8 mile pace Sun: 16 mile run
Tweaked schedule: Mon: 4 mile run Tue: 8 mile run Wed: 4 mile run Thurs: 8 mile pace Fri: 16 mile run Sat: ski Sun: ski

Now, before this week, I’d run 10 and 7 miles last Saturday and Sunday (I switched the days because I went skiing on Sunday, and figured that less miles on that day would be slightly less stupid) – so, I hit Monday with 17 miles under my belt already. Once I do tomorrow’s 16-miler, that will put me at 57 miles for the week. Fifty-seven! That’s by far (by 14 miles, actually) the most I’ll have ever run in a week! Those 50-mile weeks don’t look so bad now, do they?

Except… yeah. It’s a pretty huge jump in weekly mileage from week 6, which was (gulp) about 31, and in most circles a jump like that is seen as A Bad Thing because ramping up mileage like that is a great way to hurt yourself. Add to that the lack of cross-training or rest, and the very real possibility of injuring myself while skiing, and you have a potential recipe for disaster, or at least marathon-training-ending injury and even possibly running-“career”-ending injury. As I’ve said here before, I don’t always do the smart thing, but… BUT GUYS, I FEEL FINE. Yeah, my legs have been a bit tired this week, but I don’t feel any new aches or pains and I don’t feel like I’m overtraining (I have done that before, and I do know the signs of it in me!). I’m being VERY good about getting more than enough sleep, and I’ve been eating extra protein for recovery and have been nigh religious about warming up and stretching. I’ve been taking my runs slowly as best I can, though I let a little loose on today’s pace run – it was pouring down buckets of snow for 20 minutes so I couldn’t help ramping it up a little bit πŸ™‚ Also, this is a singular event, I hope – I don’t know how many more weekend ski trips I’ll be making, since I prefer to do day trips that let me get my run in before we leave – so I won’t be doing this EVERY weekend until ski season is over.

Says me, now. πŸ˜›

Anyway, I’ll have more conclusive results from this little experiment next week, so keep your fingers crossed that I am not penalized for my idiocy but know that I will be the FIRST IN LINE! to say “I told you so!” when things go awry.

What about you? Have you ever tweaked some weeks of a training program? Did those tweaks work, or not? Do you believe in sticking to a plan 100%, or are you more flexible?

Stay safe out there, everyone.

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.Β  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. πŸ™‚

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.Β  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. πŸ™‚

*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!