Tuesday, September 30, 2014

My Non-Textbook Taper has begun...sort of...


The IMT Des Moines Marathon is on the horizon. Officially, it is now less than three weeks away, which means my taper should be underway, right?

Well, if this was a perfect world (and I was a perfect runner with no injury or issues regarding running shoes), I would be embracing Taper Time.  But, things have NOT been so picture-perfect, therefore, my taper will not be either.  And I am quite alright with that.

Let me digress...

This is my second go-round with marathon training. Other than running the majority of my long runs with a friend (her name is Barb, and this is her second marathon as well), the bulk of my 26.2 training has been on my own.  I am using a very similar plan as I did last year, but have taken the liberty to tweak it (somewhat) to better suit my lifestyle, race day goals and mental well-being.

Barb and myself, after one of our many (sweaty) long runs
 Last year, I followed a Hal Higdon plan for "senior" runners (in other words, his plan was targeted towards experienced runners who had been running for several years and/or had completed several half marathons).  He recommended speed work once a week, but didn't enforce it.  This plan basically had me doing an optional speed session (of my choice) on Monday, running 4 miles on Tuesday, 6 miles on Thursday, then a long run on either Saturday or Sunday.  He also highly encouraged cross-training on the non-running days since this plan did not incorporate daily running. It worked like a dream.

This year, I am basically following the same plan, but am taking the speed work more seriously (in other words, I'm actually doing it consistently).  Every Monday, for the past few months, I have disciplined myself to do some form of speed work.  Some Mondays I have run Fartleks. Other times I have run hill intervals around the block. On occasion, I have also done some work on the local track.


My favorite speed session, though, has been running hill sprints on a nearby sledding hill at our golf course. I do a one mile warmup run, usually 20 sets of sprinting up the hill (interspersed with 20 easy "jog-back-downs" to the bottom ), and end with an easy half-mile jog back home.  This whole workout is over and done in less than 30-35 minutes. Short but intense.  Even though I still have had a few battles with muscle stiffness (in the piriformis and glutes), I have had some decent finish times at races so I'm convinced this speed work has been a great addition to my overall running-fitness.

Another new thing I have done this training cycle is a recovery run the day following a long run.  Believe me, this is not anything pretty or picturesque.  I simply run a very easy mile at a very easy pace. I used to always take a full day off after a long run, but now I see the benefit of being in motion.  Ideally, I try to do this first thing in the morning, but, on occasion, I have done later it in the day depending on my schedule.

Yes, the compression sleeves feel oh-so-good!
 I also am utilizing compression socks and sleeves more effectively.  I don't usually wear them while running, but I do wear them (for recovery) after my long runs.  I put them on as soon as possible after showering (following my weekly long run), and wear them overnight.  I have noticed a substantial reduction in post-run leg and/or ankle swelling.
Now, for my taper.... I'm doing this differently as well.  Last year, being it was my first attempt at training for a marathon, I wanted to take it easy.  Some plans incorporate a couple of 20-mile runs prior to the taper, but my plan only had one.  This year, my marathon is a month later on the calendar, so I've had a lot more time to spread out the training over the summer.  I also have done a lot more distance events, so I have had several half marathons (and other races) to keep me busy all summer.

So, this year I planned to do two 20-milers, one would be about six weeks out from race day, and the other would be three weeks later...thus, I would have three solid weeks of tapering.  What I didn't plan on happening were ongoing issues with my glutes.  Upon seeking a second opinion form a different running store, I learned that the stability shoes I had been wearing for the past six years were not my best option.  I was told that I should be running in a neutral shoe instead.  I bought the neutral shoes and took them out for several runs.  They felt great on my feet, but the glutes were still not happy. I should add that this trial and error thing with the new shoes happened at a very inopportune time.....right before my first 20-miler.

With muscles still in recovery from a somewhat painful half marathon, I set out to break in the new shoes over the course of 20 miles.  The miles seemed to go slow, and my patience dwindled and my frustration multiplied.  After getting to the 15-mile mark, I decided to call it good.  I was disappointed to not get to that 20-mile mark, but I knew my body needed to stop.  I would not be doing myself any favors by pressing through five extra miles, and I could potentially do more damage than good.

Mizunos (tried & true) vs. Sauconys (neutral & new)
 The following week, I did my regular training routine in the new shoes.  They felt good, but not (yet) great.  I had a 10-mile race that next weekend, which went surprisingly well.  It took awhile for my muscles to loosen up and enjoy themselves, but I was very happy with my pace and my finish time was a 10-mile PR.  But I still had that nagging feeling in my gut, knowing that something just wasn't right.  Finally, I reached a landmark decision....as much as I liked the new shoes, my body really needed more than a few weeks (with unusually high mileage) to properly transition to them. They would return to their box (temporarily) until after the marathon, and I would rekindle my love with the Mizunos.  My body knew them well, and they had seen me through many races (including the Quad Cities Marathon a year ago).

What a weight lifted from my shoulders!  I was seriously having doubts about running 26.2 miles, and was contemplating transferring my registration to the half marathon. After all the miles I had put in over the summer, though, I was just not ready to call it quits.  This past weekend would have been my second 20-miler.  Given the fact that I'd spent the previous two weeks leap frogging between shoes, I decided to run 15-18 miles in the Mizunos. If all went well, that would seal the deal for marathon day.

Barb and I met up at 7:15AM and took off running.  We ran a different route, choosing to do one long  out-and-back (totaling 16.5 miles) rather than the usual multiple loops (5-6 miles each).  We'd get back to my house after the 16.5 miles and assess our situation (either call it good, or continue on for an additional mile or two)  Amazingly, my muscles started feeling great about three miles into the run (lately it had been taking about eight miles for that to happen).  We made it seven miles before stopping briefly for water. We continued on, and around mile 11 we took a quick walk break.  Around mile 13, we noticed the middle school was open (due to a volleyball tournament), so we detoured in there to use the restroom. We made it most of the way back without walking much.  

We needed to make an appearance at a community breakfast, so we decided to take thirty minutes or so to do that, then we could head back out and get in a few more miles.  By this time, it was just after 10:30AM, and the temps were climbing and the sun was high in the sky. Sitting down to eat French toast felt good, but it was a little tough standing back up and walking to the car.  We got back to the house and decided to go a mile...we could then decide to head back or go farther.

That first mile (after the brief breakfast stop) felt very slow and sluggish.  Granted, on race day I will not be stopping for a 30-minute meal, but for a training run it was a true test for my legs.  Going the distance is not just about running that distance non-stop, but also about running on tired legs...legs that do not want to continue moving. We decided to press on and run two additional miles, finishing with a total of 19-1/2 miles.  Add in the half mile cool-down walk, and we finished 20 miles.  Not bad considering our goal was 15-18 miles.  Yes, there were a few intermittent walk breaks in those final miles; it had gotten hot and our bodies were tired. But my feet felt great, and (though tired) my legs felt great, too. My Mizunos did me proud!

Yes!  We have a winner!  Mizunos for race day!

So, what's next?  As mentioned, this taper is very non-textbook, and definitely not something I"d recommend for anyone else to attempt.  We have a friend  (who also will be running the IMT Des Moines Marathon) that wants to do a 20-mile run this next weekend. He wasn't able to join us last weekend, which is why we had originally planned to just run 15-18 miles.  We hadn't planned to do 20-miles last weekend because we knew we'd also be running 20 miles next weekend....but we had not done a "long" run in recent weeks.  We'd done the half marathon (Sept. 6th), then 15 miles (which was supposed to be 20 miles, but we stopped early...Sept. 13th), then the 10-mile race (Sept. 21st), so we wanted to at least run 15-18 miles, (and possibly a little further if we weren't too fatigued). 

This next 20-miler will not be easy, and it definitely will not be fast. Although I feel pretty well recovered, I know I need to go easy this week so I have some energy stored for this weekend's run. Following the 20-miler this next weekend, I'll have two full weeks for my taper.  One less week than what I'd prefer, but I think it will work out if I stay healthy, get plenty of sleep and take it easy. Minimal miles and very light cross-training will also be paramount.

Stay tuned.......race day is almost here.....

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Capital Pursuit 10 Miles in the Capital City

This past weekend (September 21) I ran the Capital Pursuit, 10 miles through the streets of Des Moines. I have run 10 miles numerous times, but never with start and finish lines. Eager to test out my new shoes (Saucony Triumph 11's) on a race course, and oh-so-thankful to not need to run super long, this race fit perfectly into my training schedule.

Ready to rock 10 miles through Des Moines with Kristin and Barb
Des Moines, the capital city of Iowa, is about an hour from my doorstep. We (myself and runner friend, Barb) left town just before 6:00AM. Race time wasn't until 8:00, but with intermittent construction (not known to us out-of-towners) and possible road closures (due to the race), I wanted to arrive with ample time to find parking, get our packets and warm-up.

Yes!  There's Kim!

Although it was a beautiful fall morning, the weather was tricky.  It was comfortably warm in the sunshine, but very cold and windy in the shade.  I had a long-sleeved shirt on stand-by, but decided to just go with my short-sleeved shirt.  I knew I'd be fine after the first mile.

Lining up in the shadows of the skyline

I recently had my gait analyzed at a running store, and learned I should be running in neutral shoes (and not the stability shoes I'd been using for the past six years).  I've been wearing these new shoes for almost every run (short, long, speed work) in an attempt to get used them.  I've had a great deal of discomfort in my glutes and hip flexors, and have been hoping the new shoes would make all these aches and pains magically dissipate...but not much has changed.  Granted, it's only been two weeks, and I've been demanding a lot from these new shoes. Thankfully, none of the aches and pains have gotten worse.

The Capital Pursuit was promoted as being "flat and fast."  I had no grandiose hopes of winning (or even placing in my age group), but I was hoping for a decent finish time.  My goal was to finish in 1:30, which would be a 9-minute pace.  I can run a 10K slightly under a 9-minute pace, so it would be a great achievement to run an additional four miles at that pace as well.

 My watch is a very basic "stop watch" of sorts.  It doesn't give mile splits or pacing stats.  I simple go "old school" and check the elapsed time at each of the mile markers and that gives me a gauge as to what my pace is.  (Seriously, I am that much of a math geek....if I had access to all the minute-by-minute stats or mile-by-mile splits, I'd lose a lot of what I love about running and it would turn into a science experiment). Ignorance is bliss (at least it is for me).  So, that presented a problem for me.  The mile marks were actually painted on the road, but I didn't notice them until mile six.  I knew there were going to be water stations at (approximately) miles 2,4,6 and 8, but I was kind of on my own guesstimating where the mile marks were in between the water stations.

Case in point, I made it through the first water station (mile 2), still feeling kind of stiff but keeping a steady 9-minute pace, according to the 18-ish minutes (on the watch) that had passed since the gun.  My watch said 26:XX when the course turned to go north...straight into the wind and on an upward incline. By this time, I was no longer cold, but it had been several months since I'd been faced with a strong head wind, and a cold wind at that.  I was careful to keep my head down for fear of losing my visor in the wind.

Finally, the course turned and went west for awhile.  Shortly after the turn, I spotted the 4-mile water station.  This part of the course was in a residential area, so we had some shelter from the wind.  Oh, did the sun feel great! Although my glutes were not feeling great (yet), I could tell they were starting to loosen up.  (Ugh. In four weeks, I'll be hoping to make it 26.2 miles...what if this stiffness is present on marathon day?)

The route continued west for a couple miles, I think it was just after we turned to head south that the 6-mile water stop was stationed.  I gulped down a gel and grabbed a water, and continued.  The seventh mile had some very welcome (and well-earned) downhills!  I should add, the hills were not a big deal and they were not especially challenging, but they were constant ....on a course that was supposed to be flat.  I don't mind hills (in fact, I train on them consistently), but they were a bit of a surprise.

By the time I passed the 8-mile mark, I was finally feeling loose and free.  It's a great feeling when your body releases all the stiffness and your legs can just take over and go. I certainly was not in a full-out sprint, but I knew I was clipping along pretty fast (for me).  I made it to the 9-mile mark and my watch said 1:22:XX.....well (reality check!), the 1:30 finish time was not going to happen. I was moving along pretty fast, but I would need a 7:30-pace for the final mile to make my goal, and I'm simply not that fast.

I crossed the finish line with an official time of 1:31:17 (though my watch said 1:31).  I am satisfied.  I know it's a definite 10-mile PR, so what's not great about that?  Considering there were a few hills and some major wind to battle, my finish time is more than satisfactory....it's a victory.

The swag was stylish, depicting the skyline of Iowa's capital city

How was the Capital Pursuit?  Overall, I thought it was a great event.  In addition to the 10-mile race, there also was a 5K and a kids race.  The registration fee was minimal ($35), and the long-sleeved tech shirt is nice. The finisher medal is pretty sweet as well (with a replication of the Des Moines skyline) and I scored a pair of arm warmers at the post race party.  I would have liked the mile markers to have been more prominent, though.  As mentioned, the course was hilly. Although the hills were pretty mild, there were many of them...it would have been nice to have been fore-warned. There were numerous police officers and volunteers monitoring the traffic control, but it would have been nice to have seen a little more crowd support along the course. All in all, though, I thought it was very well-organized, and the 10-mile Pursuit is a fun and not-too-common distance to run.

So, my 26.2 race day, the IMT Des Moines Marathon,  is less than four weeks away.  I have a 20-miler on the agenda this coming weekend.....and I'm debating on the shoe issue.  I like the new shoes, but the transition to the neutral fit is still in process.  My body is so used to the stability fit, and I'm thinking that may be my best option for the marathon....to go with what I know, and then take my time transitioning to the neutral shoes AFTER the marathon.  I'll have to wait and see what happens on the 20-miler...and then, wait and see how my body feels after the 20-miler before I finalize my race day shoes. Decisions...decisions...

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Four weeks and counting....tick....tick....tick

The IMT Des Moines Marathon is 4-1/2 weeks away. I am not in a panic (yet) as I push and grind through the final weeks of distance training.  For only having done one marathon, I feel like the training is pretty routine.  My mind and (for the most part) my body have embraced the aches, pains, guts and glory that accompany preparing for 26.2 miles.  The past 11 days, though, have been most interesting.

I ran the Park to Park Half Marathon on September 6th.  The distance is a no-brainer for me (usually), and I finished with a decent time. But I had some major pain along those 13.1 miles, mainly in the glute region and also in the hip flexors. The discomfort wasn't enough to make me stop, but it was ever-present despite the precautionary Aleve I'd taken prior to lining up at the start line.

I have wondered (several times, actually) if my form could have somehow changed in the eight years I've been doing distance events.  Back when it all began, I was doing two big races a year and not a lot of long-distance mileage between events. My running has evolved in the past couple years,though, and I am now doing several races each year, most of which are longer than 10 miles in distance.  I'm not necessarily running more often in my training (I'm still running only 2-3 times each week, plus a long run on the weekend), but my long runs have gotten (and stayed) pretty long (anywhere between 6-10 miles, depending on my race calender).

After Park to Park (as well as the the previous week's recovery from an 18-mile run), the pain in my glutes had finally reached the point of needing an intervention.  The day following the half marathon, I went to a different running store, seeking a second opinion on the shoes my feet required. I also asked to have my gait analyzed (something I'd never had done before).

The sales associate had me run barefoot on a treadmill, and stopped me after 10 seconds.  He gently told me, immediately, I needed a neutral shoe and the stability shoes I'd been wearing were wrong for me. Yikes. The stability shoes would be fine if I was only running short distances, but for the long distance races (and training runs), I really needed something different.  He also told me I was lacing my shoes too tight, and I seemed to have "long-legged-syndrome" (in other words, I was taking much too long strides). All of this he said to me in the kindest, most sincere manner possible. He disappeared momentarily and returned with several boxes of shoes for me to try on and test out on the treadmill.

I can't remember every brand or model we tried, but I decided on the Saucony Triumph 11's.  Not only were they very pretty, but they felt like a dream.

That was Sunday of last week. Other than a short (and easy) 1-mile recovery run that morning, and two miles of my weekly hill sprints on Monday, there was not much happening in any of my running shoes.  We had some rain and cold weather, and my body was still kind of achy, so the new shoes did not get any action until Wednesday evening, and then it was only a couple of easy-paced miles on a track.  The shoes felt great while running, but felt a bit "large" when I was walking.  I had worn my wool socks for the shoe-fitting, but the shoes felt like they needed to go down in size. I took them back to the store on Thursday, and exchanged them for a smaller size (and a brighter color).  I took them out for a quick tribute run (9.11 minutes for September 11th).
Aren't they pretty?
 Saturday arrived, bringing with it the first (of two) 20-mile runs on the training calendar.  My friend, Barb, who also had run the Park to Park Half Marathon (and, consequently, was also having some recovery stiffness) agreed to run with me.  We set out at 5:45AM, dressed in full tights, headbands, gloves and long sleeves...it was around 40 degrees, still dark, and very chilly.

We planned to run a 5-mile loop, and return to my house for refueling. It probably was not the smartest strategy to wear my new shoes (practically right out of the box) for 20 miles, but I feared wearing the old shoes would be just as bad (if not worse).  We ran those first five miles at a pretty good pace, considering both of us were feeling tired, weary and stiff.  Barb had not run much since Park to Park either, so both her and I were pretty much in sync.   

We made it back to my house in just under 50 minutes, and paused for a few minutes for a snack and water.  Even though the temps were cool, I was already feeling over-heated. It had been several months since I've done a long run in more than shorts and a tank top, apparently I needed a reminder to go with a couple light layers and not just one warm layer. So noted.

Typically, it takes 3-4 miles for my body to warm up and loosen up.  After five miles, though, I was still feeling a bit achy and stiff.  I had been hoping for all the glute achiness to magically disappear with the new running shoes. Although, some of the stiffness had remained, I was not feeling any worse...and I reminded myself I had several months (and years?) of stability-shoe-running to correct. It probably was not going to happen in five miles, or maybe even twenty. That was noted as well.

We headed back out, this time headed in a different direction on a different route.  Both of us were battling to make this run feel great. Inadvertently, the next five miles had several hills.  Not big hills, but several hills none the less. It wasn't until about the 10th mile when I finally noticed my glutes were feeling less achy, but both of my hips were pretty miserable.  A lot of thoughts were racing through my mind, most of which lead to the conclusion that 20 miles would not be a wise distance on that day.  I kept asking Barb how she was feeling, and around mile 10 she also admitted to feeling a bit fatigued as well.  Whew!  It was a relief to know I wasn't the only one struggling.

It was five miles back to my house, so we decided to take a short walk break.  We walked probably 10-15 minutes, and felt recharged.  We decided to run the remaining 4 miles or so back to my house and assess our situation then.  As much as I really wanted to do 20 miles, I just knew it would not be in my best interest.  We probably could have gritted it out and done it, but we decided to call it good at 15 miles.

Of course, shortly after Barb left, I had second thoughts on my decision to stop at 15 miles.  Even though I was feeling "recovered and recharged," I knew it was in my best interest to not push anything. In addition to my hips hurting, my shins also were feeling a little stressed. A result of the new shoes?  Hard to tell. I do know I've had some difficulty recovering from long runs recently, and I have a major race coming up in 4-1/2 weeks. This is not the time to do anything stupid, so I chose to err on the side of caution.  Maybe I was being too conservative, but I didn't want to risk further injury.

As it turned out, the husband and myself ventured to the Iowa/Iowa State football game a few hours later.  The Iowa/Iowa State rivalry is strong, and game day is always a gigantic city-wide party, no matter which college is hosting the annual game (this year the game was played in Iowa City).  In other words, any and all parking spaces were taken. After several unsuccessful attempts to find a spot somewhat close to the action, we settled on a spot at the bottom of a big hill, nearly two miles from the stadium.  Thankfully, I was wearing my post-run support stockings, but I had them "cleverly" concealed inside my fashion (NOT hiking) boots.

To call it a "hike to the stadium," is not an exaggeration. We didn't take the sidewalk, instead we went off-road.....weaving back and forth behind apartment buildings, through the woodland and brush, and along a railroad track. This was not for the rugged challenge of burning off a few extra calories, but in hope of finding a short cut. Had I not just run 15 miles a few hours prior (and dressed in proper shoes), this little off-road adventure would have been fun.  Instead, my already achy hips and shins (and add to the mix, my ankles) were severely hating their owner.
Two Iowa Hawkeye alumni and their Cyclone daughter
 We made it to the tailgate party, saw our oldest daughter (who is a student at Iowa State and had traveled to Iowa City with some friends for the game) and eventually arrived at the game in one piece.  Thinking the worst was behind us, we found our seats and watched the game.  It wasn't until we were leaving the stadium that I realized my feet had been progressively swelling throughout the day (a result of the 15-miler, no doubt), and the boots (though quite fashionable) were suffocating my toes. And, we had a 2-mile hike back to the car. Downhill.  

Most people dread hills, whether they're walking or running.  And, it's usually the up-hill they dread the most.  Not this chick.  It's much easier to fight gravity when you're going up than it is to fight it going down. Every step of that return trip was torture, my toes were stinging and throbbing the entire way back to our car.  The terrain was so rough, though, I didn't want to take off the boots and ruin my socks. Going barefoot definitely was not an option either. The thought crossed my mind, "This is so bad!  I'm probably going to lose a toe nail (or three) over this, and I'm not really having any fun in doing so!"  Then, a split second later, I caught myself wondering if I could count these four "bonus" miles as part of my training mileage? Hmmmmm....(What would YOU do?)

Anyways, we made it back to the car, and the boots were off within 30 seconds of closing my car door. Looking back, it actually wasn't so bad.  I did get some more cardio in, and all that extra "hiking" was probably good training on tired legs. I will be running 26.2 miles in a few weeks, after all, and I'm sure my legs will be tired for some of it.

What's next?  I am running the Capital Pursuit 10-Miler (in Des Moines) on Sunday, September 21st.  I have a 20-miler the following weekend.  Then, the taper begins.....

So, there you have it.  That's the most recent installment in my journey to 26.2 #2.  Onward!


Monday, September 8, 2014

Park to Park 2014...Redemption? (Sort of)

Park To Park Half Marathon. A chance for some Runner's Redemption. Did it happen? Sort of.....Let me explain.....

This is a fabulous event, and this was my fourth time running the half marathon (there's also a 5K and a relay team option, and in previous years there was also a 10K).  The course winds through George Wyth State Park in Waterloo, IA.  The trails are scenic with ample shade cover, and are moderately flat.  I have run this race with decent finish times (2:01:50 in 2011 and 2:00:47 in 2012), and last year, due to some unforeseen circumstances (side effects from recent medication), I ran it in 2:20:05 (ugh!).  That sub 2-hour finish has eluded me at this event, so I was hoping to (finally) claim my P2P sub-2 and redeem myself from last year's horrific performance.

a map of the 13.1 miles through George Wyth State Park
The temps were absolutely perfect....chilly prior to the start of the race (mid-50's), but comfortable after the gun.  There was plenty of sunshine, but the majority of this race takes place under trees, so the heat from the sun was not an issue.  I had stayed overnight at a hotel (with my friend, Barb), so my wake-up call wasn't any earlier than normal. I felt well-rested. I even had brought along my usual cranberry oatmeal and chai latte, so my breakfast was exactly like it would have been at my own kitchen table. Perfect race day scenario.

Parking is the only drawback for this event.  There is plenty of parking space available, but the drive into the park is a couple miles along a very narrow road, and the traffic along this entrance is bumper-to-bumper. Fortunately, the organizers and volunteers do a great job in getting all the vehicles in place.  This year, they even offered valet parking for participants who biked in!
Photo opp with Barb and a couple of gals (Ashley and Kristin) from work
 Although I had hopes of nailing a PR, I also knew it would take some effort and focus on my part.  I have had some great races over the summer, but recently I have had some issues with tightness and muscle strain  in the glute area.  Similar to the on-going piriformis stuff, after the first 3-4 miles everything is loosened up and I can be on my merry (running) way. Usually.

Lining up, waiting for the start of the race
Hanging out with Barb before we lined up
 The gun fired, and we were off and running.  Within the first mile (believe it or not), I had that feeling that I needed to go to the bathroom. (seriously? already?) (ugh!). Actually, another downside to this race is the lack of potra pots on the race course.  There are plenty of them at the start (and later at the finish), but a very limited number of them in between. Due to the lay of the trails, I assume it's too difficult to have them brought in for every water station.

Also, within that first mile, my glutes were already on fire (in a painful way), and something was feeling funky in my left hip flexor. Knowing it was too early to panic, and knowing the first few miles almost always have some muscle stiffness, I upped the volume of my music and pressed on.  The first mile went relatively fast (for a first mile). According to my watch, I was running just over a 9-minute pace.  It didn't feel that fast, but I knew I'd need to slow down.  I don't mind a 9-minute pace, like after the 5-mile mark, but know it isn't wise for me to start out that fast.

The second and third mile were similar, though slightly slower. Still some glute pain and hip flexor discomfort. I just kept moving, trying to enjoy the beautiful scenery and trying to not think about my glutes or hip flexor (or the impending potty stop as soon as I spotted a porta pot).  Some of the early miles of this race go through a camp site, so it's always fun seeing the people in their lawn chairs (most of them cheering and waving to the crazy runners) as they cook their breakfast on the campfire (bacon smells especially delish at 8:00AM on a chilly morning, just saying).

It was around the 5-mile mark that Barb caught up with me.  She had lined up behind me, in hopes of not going out too fast, but she was having a great morning and keeping a strong pace.  She told me that a friend of ours from town had a daughter running, and would be around the 5-mile water station. Excellent!  It's always great seeing a familiar face in the crowd!

As we searched the spectators for our friend, Dodi, I also was scanning the scene for a porta pot.  I hated to pull over, but I knew there was no way I was going to make it another 8+miles without a quick stop. We saw the water station up ahead, so I grabbed a gel & slurped it down. I grabbed a water cup and told Barb to go on without me, I needed to use the porta pot and didn't know when I'd see another.

There were only two porta pots, and a guy was already waiting.  It was at least an entire minute (or more) before someone came out.  He took the open one, and I continued to wait.  Forever. And a day.  Honestly, was this other person taking a bath in there? Finally, the occupant came out and I ran in before someone else could cut me in line (yes, that has happened).

Finally, I was back on the trail, approaching the 6-mile mark when I spotted Dodi.  She took my picture, and grabbed my waist-tied shirt from earlier, and I pressed on.  I didn't pause my watch, and forgot to glance at the time when I pulled over for the potty stop.  I estimated that it was at least a 2-3 minute delay.  And I hadn't realized it, but my glutes were feeling better!  Well, they were still a little sore, but the stiffness had diminished.  My left hip flexor was still hurting, though the pain was more intermittent and not constant anymore.

Mile seven came and went, I think my pace was still around 9:30, but with the extra minutes tacked on from the potty stop it was difficult to know for sure.  When I reached the 8-mile mark, suddenly I felt like I was flying.  Effortlessly. The runner's high was kicking in, and I truly felt great (despite the on-going hip flexor issues).  I didn't count how many, but I passed a lot of racers in that mile. I also saw Dodi again! Mile 9 felt great as well. 

I kept glancing at my watch, trying to calculate how much time had elapsed between the mile marks, to get an idea as to whether or not I could still potentially run a sub-2. It was not looking good. Even though I was feeling great (energy-wise) and I had picked up my pace substantially, it didn't look like I was going to be able to make up the delayed time from the potty stop.

I reached the 10 mile mark and my watch showed 1:38.  I knew I would not be able to crank out 3.1 miles in 22 minutes, so I decided, "so what?"  Park to Park is one of my favorite races, and I still could keep my  pace consistent and enjoy the experience.  

My mind kept flashing back to a year ago.  I had been on an antibiotic a few days prior to race day, and apparently had not been eating properly (or enough).  The morning of the 2013 race, I had zero appetite and my stomach felt very "off."  I've never had diarrhea during a race before, but I felt like crap (no pun intended) the entire 2:20:05 of that race. Fortunately, the diarrhea never made an appearance, but it was stressful running 13.1 miles in a forest with no porta pots in sight.  My energy level was non-existent as well, and the temps that morning were in the 90's and the humidity was high.  I allowed myself to walk a great deal in the final miles because I was so wiped out, and that caused  my calves to start cramping.  It wasn't until I had returned home and actually read the fine print on the medicine bottle that I saw where two of the side effects of the medication were loss of appetite and diarrhea.  I can laugh about it now, and actually smiled as I remembered that frustrating morning a year ago.  This race was a completely different experience, and I was thankful.

My hip flexor continued to hurt, but the final miles went well.  I did have a few weird twinges on my right leg, and my right calf was starting to cramp slightly.  I never felt like walking (except for the mandatory 5-6 steps as I drank at the water stations), and I knew it was best to keep moving or the cramping would escalate.

I made it across the finish line, with an official time of 2:06:09.  Although it was frustrating to have lost several minutes from the potty stop, I still am satisfied with how the race went for me.  Barb finished four minutes ahead of me, so that's probably at least four minutes I can subtract off of my time.  The first few miles felt slow due to the muscle stiffness, and I had hip flexor discomfort for pretty much the entire race, so I am OK with how the day played out.  Over all, this race went well and I felt great.  Redemption?  I believe so.
My race bib and official stats
Post race, with Barb and Katie (Dodi's daughter) and her friend

Whew! Another Park to Park done!

...and another beautiful Park to Park medal...

Monday, September 1, 2014

Not My Longest Distance, but 18 Miles is Still 18 (Freakin') Miles

The IMT Des Moines Marathon will be here on October 19th, seven weeks until "26.2 Go Time." The training continues to go well and the mileage is getting long.

This past week, I had an 18-miler on tap. Even though this was not my first time running this far, 18 miles is still 18 (freakin') miles. Overall, these 18 miles went well, but there were some issues.

For example:
--Labor Day plans vs. 26.2 training. My training called for 18 miles, which was not going to happen in our destination town with my in-laws. Nothing against their small town, but it is even smaller than my small town (and I really didn't relish the idea of running 18 laps around it). 

We planned to leave early Saturday morning (returning Sunday evening) for the 4.5-hour drive, so that left me with either Friday morning or Monday morning (both of which had rain and storms on the radar). I made the command decision to do the run on Friday morning, which actually worked well with my work load at my job. I didn't want to risk pushing it back to Monday, for fear of the inclement weather predicted. Also, I have a half marathon scheduled for the following weekend and want (and need) plenty of recovery time following these 18 miles.

--Dwindling daylight and continued hot temps. It is best to get started early with long runs, and get a few miles finished before sunrise, if possible. It was really dark on Friday morning. It had rained over night and it was still cloudy. I didn't leave the house until 6:30, but probably should have left earlier. Although the air was quite humid, the temps were comfortable and there was a cool breeze out of the south. 

--Fueling. Oops. I had my usual oatmeal for breakfast, but kind of forgot to have fuel on hand. Actually, I did have some "left-over" energy chews. I had used these most of last summer, and must have eaten one chew too many at some point because they almost make me gag now. I prefer gels, but had forgotten to stock up, so the chews were my only option at 6:30 in the morning. Ugh. Bottom line, they did the job, but definitely weren't my fuel of choice.

--Excessive boredom with my (numerous) routes. Although I have a large variety of routes (with a large variety of distances), they all start (and stop) at the base of my driveway. Our house is situated on a hill, so every run either starts (or ends) with a climb.

So, what was my 18-mile strategy? I started with a 5-mile loop, hoping to get loosened up. I planned to swing back to my house, to grab a drink and refuel. Also, the youngest daughter would need a ride to school. 

I made it back in 47:19, a little less than a 9:30 pace (a tiny bit faster than desired for a long run). The husband offered to be the chauffeur, so I took a few extra minutes and stretched the muscles. I also contemplated changing clothes because I was so sweaty.... but opted to just stay in the sweaty duds and get back outside.

I chose a different route for the next five miles, but still planned to loop back to the house for more water and fuel before continuing on. The first five miles of the day felt slow, but miles 6-10 felt better. It was getting hotter with each mile, though. The sun had emerged from the clouds, and had climbed higher in the sky. 

I made it back to my house in 51:04 (right at a 10-minute pace, a little slower than the previous five miles, but also in warmer conditions).  My pace was doing great, but my mojo was dissipating. I ate a couple more energy chews (yuck, choke, gag) and grabbed more water. I really wanted to change my clothes, but decided to just change-out the socks instead. Ten miles completed and I still had eight miles remaining. 

Suddenly, I had a light-bulb moment. I decided to drive to a nearby neighborhood. There's an easy 2-mile route that I frequently run (in various combinations). If I parked my car on the route itself, I wouldn't need to loop back to my house for water/refueling (and I wouldn't be tempted to make the pit stops longer than necessary). I could run four loops of this route to complete the final eight miles. 

Car parked, watch restarted, I was off! It really felt great (emotionally) to not have to think about the remaining miles. Granted, I choose to break up my long runs into several shorter increments because that is what works for me. Mentally (and physically), I don't "need" to run the entire distance nonstop to know I can do it. Also, in this kind of heat, I don't want to be several miles from my house in case there would be an unexpected problem. Although I usually choose to loop back to my house, it was liberating to do things differently for the remainder of these 18 miles.

I made it around the first 2-mile loop (finishing miles 11 and 12), and decided to reverse directions instead of stopping for water. I felt fine (though sweaty), and wanted to keep moving. The second loop (miles 13 and 14) also went smooth.  Bored with my new route (already!), I thought about  changing things up when I pulled over for water. 

This route was near a recreation area with a trail around several softball, baseball and soccer fields. I decided to run out there (approximately one mile) and then finish with a final 2-mile loop (on the other route), and then I could run a shortened loop for the final mile. 

I ate the remaining energy chews and finished my water, dried off (again) with the beach towel I found in the trunk, and headed towards the softball fields. Halfway around the trail, I got that "feeling" that I might need a potty stop. Great. Once the thought of potty-stopping enters my head, it doesn't leave until the said potty does. Fortunately, the public restroom was unlocked, so all was fine (except I accidentally turned off my music instead of stopping my watch). (Whoops)

Mile 15 seemed effort-less, but by mile16, I could tell the heat and humidity were becoming a factor.  I didn't feel fatigued, but I could tell my energy level was going south. I stopped back at the car, finished off the water, dried off one more time, and continued on my quest to finish the 18 miles.  I had a mere 1.5 mile remaining, so I knew it was as good as done. I just had to go through the motions and finish.

I did a few intermittent walk breaks, and had to keep wiping the sweat off my face with my already soggy shirt.  As I have said before, I have no shame in walking briefly, especially over the course of 18 miles.  The 20-30 seconds of "lost" time is usually cancelled out with the renewed energy it gives me. Besides, this is a training run.  I'm training my body to run far, on tired legs.  There is no crowd of spectators to impress, I don't earn a medal for non-stop running, and I know to respect the heat and humidity.

Finally, I made it back to my car.  Although I was a massive sweaty mess, I felt great.  I had conquered 18 miles!  My total time on the watch was 2:54:14, a little over a 9:30 pace (still probably a little faster than desired for the distance and weather conditions). Since I forgot to stop my watch for the potty break in the park, I paused it for about 30 seconds when I resumed running...so my actual "running" time is an approximation (and I'm OK with that). This is training, after all, and not the real race.

Over all, I am happy with this training run.  I get frustrated that my pace is "slower than normal," but I keep reminding myself that I need a slower pace for long distances.  I'm used to a 9:00-9:30 pace, but that's for shorter distances. A 10:00 pace is decent, especially for a humble runner who is not blessed with exceptional speed to begin with.

Where do things stand?  My marathon is seven weeks away, giving me about four remaining weeks of hard core running.  This week is a much-needed recovery week, with a half marathon on Saturday (yes, a 13.1 race is actually considered a recovery distance at this stage of 26.2 training). The following week, I have a 20-mile long run. After that, another recovery race (10 miles), and then my final 20-mile run a week later. Then it's Taper Time. YIKES. It will go fast (the time, not the running LOL).