That which does not kill us, makes us stronger. - Nietzsche

Saturday, September 25, 2010

back in the game

Ran today for the first time since the half. My knee was surprisingly tolerant. It made its presence known a couple of times, but not in a painful way. It was my right ankle that hurt more than anything. Seriously, something's always complaining. I can't remember when I last ran completely pain-free. I probably would be doing something wrong if I did.

5k in 34:45. Not bad, considering it's hotter than I thought. I was chilly standing outside in jeans and a tank top, but when you're running with the sun beating on you, you might as well add 30 degrees. Plus, had to wait for a traffic light twice, and walked for a couple of minutes to make sure the husband was ok. Subtract those things, and maybe I'm right around my 30-31 minute goal. Maybe.

My employer is sponsoring the 5k I'm running next weekend, which means all my coworkers will be there, which means I would like to run it really well. I'm unnecessarily nervous about that.

Plus, last night I was searching for springtime half marathons. I'd really like to try my next half in the spring, when I should be in the middle of training for the full. I feel like anything else would be too close to the Air Force half for me to have time to improve much. I found the National Marathon in DC in March. It would be perfect timing, but you have to qualify, even for the half. I'm SO close. You can qualify with a half time of 2:30, a 10k time of 1:05, or a 5k time of 31. Haven't hit any of those yet, but I've still got the 5k and the 10k this year. I don't want to put too much pressure on myself, and I have no idea if I could even swing a trip to DC (although I'd love to run in DC), but now I'm strangely obsessed with being able to qualify, especially since the times are SO reachable for where I'm at right now...but it's still a challenge. Still times I haven't hit yet!

I stink now. Shower time. Felt (mostly) good to run again!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Why the heck would I do this to myself

Why I run:
  • I love to be outside.
  • I love to feel fast. In my mind, if I'm moving faster than I do when I'm walking, I'm fast.
  • When something is stressing me out, sometimes running is the only way to get it off my mind. When I'm running, I'm incapable of stressing about anything except running.
  • It's a very quick way to get the satisfaction and the high that comes from setting goals and achieving them. Any time I run farther than I've run before, whether it's 1 mile or .1 mile, that's an achievement. Every second off my fastest time for any given distance is an achievement. Not falling on my face (yes, I have) is an achievement. Finishing a run better than I felt when I started is an achievement.
  • Non-runners tend to be amazed by runners. Sure, there are a lot of runners out there. There are also a lot of people who would swear they're near death after running a mile. It's fun to do something that not everyone can do (although most people, barring injury, could become runners. Hint hint.) Probably part of the reason people run crazy distances - because they can. And not everyone can.
  • Runners are supportive of each other. For such an individual sport, the camaraderie is fantastic. Granted, I'm not sure it's that way out in front where people are competing for first. I've seen examples of people being crappy to slower people (maybe I'll blog about that later). But by and large, in the middle of the pack where I live, people are out to achieve their own goals and they embrace the fact that others are doing the same thing. Even in a race, when I'm running in a huge group of people, I feel like we have the same goal. It's not to beat each other, it's to get to the end. Every time I see someone out running, the runner in me says, "Aww yeah. That's right."
  • Because I'm 30 pounds lighter than I was just over a year ago.
  • Because my cholesterol, blood pressure, and heart rate are lower than they've been in a long time.
  • Because it's pretty much a guaranteed cure for any funky mood I happen to find myself in.
  • Because it uses every muscle in my body. Don't think you use your abs to run? Start doing some ab workouts (yoga is fantastic) and see what happens to your speed and how you feel when you run. (I know, I'm still slow...but not nearly as slow. Haha!)
  • Because you can race, regardless of your skill level. If you're not one of the really fast people, there's zero pressure to win. That silly "it's not whether you win or lose" cliche actually is true for most runners.
  • Because I want to someday be one of those 70-something year olds who still runs.
  • Because you never know when you'll have to chase someone or be chased. Be prepared!
  • Because I swear I can think more clearly after a run.
  • Because the endorphins do all kinds of amazing things to your brain chemistry. Look it up!
  • Because I totally can!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

USAF half recap - the journey to 13.1

I know this is long. You don't have to read it. But if you want to know what it feels like to finish your first half marathon, keep going....

My husband woke up the morning of the half marathon before me, and before the alarm. I can't stress how weird this is. It's the only time I can think of that it's happened. Good thing, though - it gives us plenty of time to stop at Panera for breakfast (I really wanted Starbucks oatmeal, but we couldn't find one - but as it turns out, the power sandwich, coffee, and three aleve is a good pre-run breakfast), navigate traffic, park, and get to the starting line with time to spare, thus saving me from one of the freak-outs that happens when I'm pressed for time. I joke with him that we're pretty much doing a full marathon, when you count the distance we have to walk from our parking space. Holy crap.

We find our place near the 2:15-2:45 finish time sign. We wish each other luck. I look around at everyone else's personalized bibs - it's great fun for me to know everyone's names - and mention my nerves about 50 thousand times. Military planes fly over us, and then a huge bang makes me jump. It takes a good minute before I realize that's the starting pistol. We walk toward the start with the rest of the crowd...and we stop walking. I wonder out loud if that really was the starting pistol, and then we walk again. We cross the start line almost 5 minutes after the race started.....and we're running!

Mile 1: I settle pretty quickly and happily into a comfortable pace. Husband is right with me. Due to the size of the crowd, we separate a few times and then find each other again. A soldier in camo is running with a huge pack on his back. Someone asks him how much it weighs - 90 lbs. I think to myself that there is no. frigging. way. I could ever do that. We go under a bridge and I lose my husband somewhere behind me. I look back a few times and don't see him. We made an agreement that we would both go at our own pace, whether together or separately. I was hoping we could hang for at least a mile, but no. There's a hydration station and I break my own rule of stopping at all of them - come on, this one's not even a mile in.

Mile 2-5: I'm in my happy place. I keep thinking how much fun this is. The scenery is pretty, there's a rock band at one point, and I amaze myself by managing almost exact 11 minute miles. This is amazing because just over a year ago, I ran my first 5k. I ran the first mile in 11:06. That was the fastest mile I'd ever ran at that point, and I could only do one at that speed. Now I bust out five in a row, and that's my comfy pace. (My official 5 mile time turns out to be 55:10.) I tell myself that if nothing else, I am totally proud of that. I walk at the hydration stations long enough to down a cup of gatorade, since I have yet to master the art of drinking while running without at best showering myself, and at worst, getting that painful stomach bubble that comes when you gulp down too much liquid. My plan was a 1-2 minute walk break at every mile, but I feel way too good for that. I run right on pace with members of the 2:30 pace team and even catch up to the 2:20 team for a while.

I distract myself from the fact that I'm running by being a comedian. When we pass mile marker 19 for the full marathon, maybe 2 miles in, I yell "Holy ****, we just ran 19 miles!" People laugh. I had pinned a homemade patch to the back of my shirt that said "13.1 Virgin!" I'm glad I did; people comment on it and offer high-fives. A fellow first-timer strikes up a conversation with me close to the 5 mile point. I forget that I'm not at all used to running and talking, and, yes, I tend to use a lot of air when I talk. I start hyperventilating and have to walk for a minute. My conversation partner apologizes profusely. I catch back up to her to give her a thumbs up, and she pulls ahead of me. At the 5 mile mark, I become aware that maybe I'm pushing myself harder than I should be pushed, and take a walk break to regroup, drink more gatorade, and suck down the gel packet I had in the tiny pocket of my pants.

(Note: Where are all the affordable women's workout clothes that have decent pockets???)

Mile 6: My walk break lasts until the end of "Lovegame", however long that is. Thanks for the motivation, Lady Gaga. Two middle-aged gentlemen comment on my virgin status, and tell me I'm going to hit a PR that day. Haha. I ask the one guy how many races he's done, and he tells me 13-14, and that at each one, he learns something about himself. I wonder what I have to learn today. I hit the mile marker at 1:11 and change. This is significant for two reasons: (a) my first attempt to run 5 miles, back toward the beginning of this year, took me 1:11. (b) My 10k time in May was 1:11. Also, my real time, based on when we crossed the start line, would actually be around 1:06. So, 4 months later, not only am I beating my 10k pace, I'm doing it as my half marathon pace. YES.

Sometime after this, my issue-ridden left knee rears its ugly head. It feels like someone is stabbing the side of it. In my delusionally positive mind, I imagine that the little stabs are injections of painkiller and tell myself that my knee is about to feel just fine.

Seriously - I tell myself whatever it takes to just freaking keep running.

Miles 7-9: I hit mile 7 and I'm feeling a bit sluggish. My knee is starting to feel like a balloon. I pull back and tell myself that I'm going to do the next two miles at a nice jogging pace. I don't know that I slowed too much, but that mentality made it much easier. People ask how I'm doing. I respond that I think I'm still running. I hold up metal fingers for a rock band playing. Somewhere around 8 or 9, I forget, there is a FREAKING HILL. Flat and fast, the website said. I manage to run - not walk - up it. I'm proud of myself. My knee buckles once or twice. I have an entire conversation with it in my head, telling myself that it's not going to win today.

Miles 10-12: I hurt. The sun is now out and it's baking me. I decide this is ridiculous. I think this is the hardest thing I've done in my whole life ever. My "one more mile" mentality turns into "until the next water station" and then "until that stop sign just down the road". I thought that once I got to mile 10, it would be easy, because then there's only a 5k to go and I run 5k all the time. When I see the 10, all I can think is "I can't believe I have to run THREE MORE MILES." There are mile markers for the full marathon and I get mad because they're not MY mile markers. I consider stopping to stretch, like some are doing, and I'm worried that it will make my knee worse. I consider stopping at a med tent and I'm afraid they'll make me stop running. If I stop moving, I'm done. I keep putting one foot in front of the other.

There are good moments that keep me from completely losing my mind. I hear a "pace team, coming through" behind me and I get a sinking feeling as I think the 2:30 team is passing me. Instead, it's the 8:27 mile team for the full marathon. I think that I can maybe run ONE mile in 8:27, and then collapse, and that's on a good day. "Good job, first timer," says one of the fast people. Some of the 2:30 pace people pass me while I'm taking one of my now-more-frequent walk breaks, and comment on my patch. I tell them to be gentle, it's my first time. One of the hydration stations has a revenge of the nerds theme, and everyone handing out water and gatorade is dressed like a nerd. A middle-aged guy in a beanie and bow tie is making ridiculous arm gestures and yelling "Push! Push!" I crack up. He tells me to keep smiling. Members of the 2:20 pace team are now behind some of the 2:30 people and I just hope that I'm still within reach of my 2:30 goal.

Mile 13: I hit mile 12 and tell myself no more walking. I don't even realize that I'm now officially running farther than I've ever ran before. I manage to make myself run until the end of each song I'm listening to, and then tell myself one more song. There's a final water stop, and I wonder why it's so close to the end, but I'm parched so I stop. I've had gatorade at every one, and now the thought of gatorade makes me want to throw up, so I grab a water. The men I was talking to somewhere around mile 6 come up to me out of nowhere and tell me that we're almost there. We're on base now, but I'm so disoriented that I have no idea where the finish line is from here. Then, out of nowhere, is the big number 13. "No effing way," I say out loud, and then the sign blurs as my eyes fill with tears. I'm actually going to finish this.

.1: That was the longest 1/10 mile I've ran EVER. People are cheering like crazy, and they're all happy, so I resist the urge to yell "Where the **** is the finish line?!" We round a corner and I finally see the balloon arch. My legs don't want to work anymore, but how ridiculous would it be if I walked NOW? I turned my ipod off to listen to the crowd, and I hear a little voice somewhere yelling "Go mommy, go mommy, go mommy!" at someone. At some point, the finish line feels reachable, and without meaning to, I break into a sprint. I feel like a freight train, even though I probably looked ridiculous. I'm a little disappointed to see the time, but as soon as I cross the finish line, I start jumping up and down. When I reach a serviceman with the medals, I reach out to take it from him, and instead he holds it above my head to put it on for me. More tears.

My husband, who hadn't even trained, crossed the finish line a mere 24 minutes after I did. When I saw him, I was almost as excited as I had been when I crossed it myself. We recapped the race together and compared owie knees. We didn't even remember to get a picture together.

So now I can officially call myself a half marathon runner. I need to work on making those middle miles more doable - probably by controlling my pace better early on - but overall, I wouldn't change the experience a bit (except maybe making my knee not suck.) Knee aside, though, it pretty much rocked. :)

Sunday, September 19, 2010

A summary

My running history:

I actually did try running a few times. I tried it in high school, when I was trying to condition myself for basketball - back when I was attempting to play basketball. Shin splints and a vicious uncontained min-pin were my demise.

I tried the couch to 5k plan when I was 24. Again, the shin splints caused me to give up.

I started running for real in 2008 when I was 26, almost 27. My boyfriend (now husband) and I did the couch to 5k together. Since we lived an hour apart, we did most of the runs on our own, but my tendency to be fiercely competitive with him actually motivated me to finish the whole 9-week plan. If I knew he ran that day, then I was absolutely going to run too. That was when I learned that I could run through shin splints, and also that real running shoes from a real running store (as opposed to $10 bargain bin tennis shoes) made a difference.

That fall, I dealt with two sinus infections in a row, moving, and finishing a masters degree. Running went on the backburner for a while and I put on a few pounds.

Early in 2009, I decided to start running again. I could run a little over a mile without stopping. I made my way up to a (slow) 5k that summer and regularly ran 2-3 miles at a time.

In 2010, I decided to sign up for a 10k and ramp up the running. Thanks to Hal Higdon's intermediate 5k plan (which I chose because it was actually MORE running than his novice 10k plan), I took both my speed and distance up a few notches. While the Flying Pig 10k was a fantastic experience, I kept hearing all the fuss about the marathon, and then found out that a friend was running in it. I realized at that point that a marathon was actually an achievable goal for a recreational runner, and promised myself that if the 10k was a good experience, I'd sign up for a half. Long story short, the 10k was so. much. fun.

I ran my first half yesterday. I'm sore, I'm fighting with my knee, I sacrificed a toenail and I had four new blisters at last count. And I can't wait for the next race....

This blog is going to be my place for inspiration, thoughts about running, and to track my training/racing progress. I think it'll be beneficial for me, and for those of you who want to watch, feel free to follow!

Soon to come: recaps of races I've done, positive running thoughts, words of wisdom/encouragement, etc....