Friday, October 31, 2014

Calling myself a Marathoner

When does one officially call oneself a Marathoner?  

Like most marathoners-in-training, I spent several months faithfully (though, at times, begrudgingly) logging miles while training for my first marathon (Quad Cities Marathon, September 22, 2013). As I was running that race, the thought crossed my mind...."Can I call myself a marathoner now?  As I'm RUNNING my marathon?  Or do I wait until I cross the finish line before that title will be bestowed upon my honor?"  After all, I had been told (and seen it in print) that the training was really the hardest part of a marathon; the race itself was merely 26.2 miles in celebration of having finished the training.

I was blessed to have a great "first-ever" marathon experience. The weather was perfect. I managed my hydration and fueling with near perfection. No hitting the proverbial Wall at mile 20. Although I did walk a few times in the final miles, I never once felt any remorse in dong so.  I made it across the finish line and felt like a champion.  I even had the honor of meeting the race director, and he shook my hand and congratulated me. He might have even called me a marathoner.....

In the days following that epic experience, I tried calling myself a marathoner...but it felt strange, like I was a poser in an exclusive members-only club.  Although I had, indeed, completed all 26.2 miles, I knew many other runners who had done more than one marathon. It seemed awkward to allow myself a title that was shared with others who had done so much more.

Fast forward to nine months later, and I found myself (secretly) yearning to do it all over again.  Only this time I'd do a different marathon, in a different city.  I did all the training (again), and made it to the start line of the IMT Des Moines Marathon (October 19, 2014).  Although I had a very different race course to conquer, it still was a very similar experience. Despite a few aches and pains (and some head-on battles with the wind), I thoroughly enjoyed my second marathon, too. I even finished it slightly faster than the other one.  Two marathons done. I'm officially a marathoner, right?

Well, let's break this down...

I own several pairs of running shoes, but my closet is definitely filled with other shoes as well.  I live in sandals when it's warm, and boots when it's cold.  I seldom don the running kicks unless I'm headed out for an actual run or a race.  I keep a few pairs of "old" running shoes in rotation with the "new" shoes (and wear them for shorter runs). Eventually, pair-by-pair, the old shoes get donated to charity shoe drives.

Quite the contrary, I plan my training around my family.  Do I sometimes have before-the-break-of-dawn runs? Yes, and occasionally there may be a run (or several) that do not happen due to other things on my calendar.  Life goes on. Missing a run now and then will not hinder my overall fitness, and I refuse to obsess over it.

Well, I'm not on Instagram. But I am on Pinterest and Twitter, and I manage a running page on Facebook...all of which are overflowing with running-related goodies (in my opinion).  My goal is not to impress my followers, but to inspire them to violate their comfort zones.  Heck, if I can do this running thing, I believe most anyone else can do it, too.

I have a lot of friends who are runners, but the majority of my friends are not. If they ask about my latest race or what event is next on my calendar, I will gleefully share every detail (significant or not) about my training or latest long run.  But I am mindful to not talk (much) running with them. Unlike the grandmother who thinks her grand kids are the epitome of perfection, I respect that most of my non-running friends will not enjoy "running talk" as much as me.  Really, I'm OK with that. My friends know I'm a runner and do not need reminding.

I believed this to be true (for both of my marathons), until I was running the actual races on their given race days.  Being on the course with the other marathoners and  marathoners-to-be is breath-taking.  Granted, I had a very similar camaraderie with half-marathoners, but running a full marathon really is a whole new beast.  A half marathon is a substantial distance, but some especially gifted athletes are able to run 13.1 miles without investing in a lot of extra training.  Not so with the marathon....most everyone hoping to finish 26.2 miles will need to commit to several months of extensive training to go the distance, as well as consistent speed work if they have hopes of potentially qualifying for a major race (Hello? Ever heard of Boston?).

Both of my marathons left me feeling ever-so-thankful as I crossed the finish line (because my body had truly proved itself and was exhausted), but within days (not weeks), I already knew my first marathon was not going to be a once-and-done deal for me.  As much as I tried to ignore that nagging feeling of training for another marathon, I knew I'd regret not doing it.  

Believe it or not, running a marathon really was a fun experience for me, both times.  I have been blessed with two great marathons.....I had perfect weather, great crowd support, proper fuel, and an attitude of enjoying the race (and not obsessing over splits, pace or speed).  Not everyone is as fortunate, and I am grateful for everything that came together on both of my race days to make me want to do it all over again.

So, I guess that makes me a marathoner. It's probably time I acted like one, huh. There's a fine line between being proud and being boastful, bear with me as I figure this out.

Showing off my second piece of marathon hardware

How long did it take for you to call yourself a Marathoner?  Once and done? If you've done more than one, what made you want to do it again?

Thursday, October 23, 2014

26.2 #2--My IMT Des Moines Marathon experience


When I started blogging about my  love of running (20 months ago), I was a seasoned half-marathoner (and quite content). If anyone would have asked me about any future plans of running a marathon, I would have laughed in their face. Fast forward to this past weekend and I can now say that I have run two (count 'em, TWO!) marathons. And, dare I say, I'm already entertaining the idea of doing another.....but, first, let's rewind to what happened a few days ago...

The IMT Des Moines Marathon took place on Sunday, October 19th...and I was one of the lucky participants.  A total of 1,583 runners crossed the finish line of the full marathon (there also was a 5K, half marathon and marathon relay).  This was the Marathon's 13th year, and close to 10,000 participants were registered  for the various events. The weather was optimal (in the high 40's/low 50's at race start), a clear sky and plenty of sunshine.

Barb and myself, about to embark on the IMT Des Moines Marathon...the second 26.2 for each of us

 I rode up with Barb (my running buddy) and her daughter, and planned to meet up with my husband and family later at the finish line. We arrived just after 7:00AM and had plenty of time to find a real (indoor) bathroom, and get our race gear ready and then find Doug, another friend who was running the full.

Fuel belt, long sleeves & gloves at the ready, let's get this 26.2 party started!

We found Doug and headed towards the start line. I needed to leave my drop bag, and had to run (literally) through a sea of people (not all runners) to get to the Bag Drop station. By the time I made it back, the crowd of runners lining up on the street was thick.  I couldn't find Barb or Doug anywhere, so I squeezed onto the street amongst the 4:10 pace group.  I knew I probably wouldn't be finishing with the pace group, but thought I could try to stay with them for the first couple miles until the half marathon and full marathon courses split off from each other.

I was decked out in a tank top with arm warmers, but had a long-sleeved tech shirt (for tossing) as a top layer. I had gloves (also for tossing) on my hands, because I knew it was gonna be chilly at the start of the race. The temps were predicted to be in the 60's by noon, so I opted for shorts instead of capris or tights.

The race started with us (those running the half and the full) heading due east, towards the beautiful Capital, which is quite a sight with the morning sun coming up behind its golden dome. I have run the half marathon four times, so I am very familiar with the first couple miles of this course.  We ran through various streets in downtown Des Moines, working our way onto west-bound Grand Avenue.  I was running just under a 9-minute pace, so I knew I needed to slow down a bit.  Normally, a 9-minute mile would be ideal (if I was doing 13.1 miles), but to run twice that distance would require a slower pace for myself.  I also was having a little bit of stiffness in my left hip area, so I really needed to take it easy.

Shortly after hitting Grand Avenue, the half marathon course splits off (heading south on Fleur, towards Waterworks Park), and the full marathon course continues going west on Grand for a couple miles. I must admit, the thought did cross my mind (ever-so-briefly) to veer off and do the half marathon instead.  I wasn't feeling nervous about running the entire 26.2 miles, but was concerned about my hip issue (already), as well as an area on the front of my left leg, just above the ankle. That was feeling strange, too. For a split second, I had doubts as to whether I'd be able to withstand this uneasiness for another 24 miles....but then quickly remembered that I did, indeed, train for this day.  And, this was only the second mile.  It usually takes anywhere from 3-5 miles for me to get in my groove. Duh.  So, onward!
This pic from Ultra Moms On A Mission says it all

It wasn't much longer when I ditched the gloves.  I had taken them off awhile back and, around mile three, decided to bid them a fond farewell.  It was just before the 4-mile mark that I noticed a porta-pot along the course. There were a couple runners waiting in line, but I had the feeling it was now or never. I pulled over, and within 10 seconds decided to forego the waiting and keep running.  A very short while later, just after the 4-mile aid station, there was a row of porta-pots, and no line..SCORE! As soon as I got back on the road, someone grabbed my shoulder and said, "There you are, we've been looking allover for you!"  It was Doug and Barb!  What timing!

The three of us hung together for the next several miles.  Just after the 4-mile mark, the course turned south into a very beautiful neighborhood.  This was where the numerous curves and hills began.  There had been a gradual incline between the third and fourth mile, but now we were embarking on what looked (and felt) like a roller coaster.  The hills weren't menacing, but they were pretty constant and the ever-twisting and turning road kept it a mystery as to what was around the next curve.  The trees were beautiful, though, and there were numerous historic houses with great architecture to keep my attention (periodically) away from the road.

Yes, that's a map of the course, and to the lower-right of my hand depicts the hilly neighborhood described above

I was still aware of that weird issue (?) just above my left ankle. It didn't really hurt, but felt tingly and kind of strained.  I also noticed a never-before ache on the inside of my left knee. Seriously, now where did that come from???  I noticed it only when we were climbing hills, but it felt fine on the downhills and flat terrain. Thankfully, the usual tight/stiff glutes were feeling pretty good.  It was just after the 7-mile mark when the course ventured back onto Grand, and we were on a straight-away going west. It wasn't much longer before the course turned and headed north.  I remembered this street from the Capital Pursuit 10-Miler a month prior. Meanwhile, I was trying to scan the crowd of runners for a gal I knew from my running page.  I had not met Marie in person, but she told me she was running the second leg of the marathon relay and would be in pink and black. Just after the 8-mile mark, the course had a short out-and-back loop, and as I was returning back to the main road, I heard my name and saw a gal with a pink top waving at me as she made her way towards the start of the loop. What a great feeling spotting someone in a crowd of runners!  

 The next several miles would take us to Drake Stadium, the host site of the Drake Relays.  This part of the course also was part of the Capital Pursuit 10-miler, and I remembered it as being a long stretch of straightness (with a few gentle inclines). The crowd support was incredible, especially along this boulevard.  I saw Barb's daughter along the road, and Cindy (a gal whom I'd met at some previous races) gave me a much appreciated cheer. By the time I made it to Drake Stadium (at the 12-mile mark), I had lost sight of Barb and Doug. A very nice feature of this race was getting to run a lap on the famous blue track inside the stadium and then seeing yourself on the Jumbo-tron!  (Ugh. Does my form always looks like that? or just at mile 12?)

Coming out of the stadium, we returned to the same street (that lead us in) as we headed towards the 13-mile mark.  I kept searching the oncoming runners, looking for Barb or Doug. I wasn't sure how far ahead of them I'd gotten, but I hadn't seen them while circling the track inside the stadium.  I was keeping steady with my pace (staying around a solid 10-minute pace) and was feeling great in regards to my energy.  I took GU gel at the start of the race, a Honey Stinger gel at the mile 6 aid station and had been drinking a few sips of water at every water stop. I had my usual oatmeal for breakfast, and had brought along a granola bar to eat before we lined up at the start line...but had forgotten it in the car (and didn't realize I'd forgotten it until I was already several miles into the race). OOPS.  With that in mind, I was careful to remember to "do the GU" a little earlier than usual (at 5-mile increments, rather than my usual 6-mile intervals) to stay ahead of the game. I also grabbed Gatorade at alternate aid stations. So far, so good.

As I was approaching the 14-mile mark, I noticed a string of signs along the of which said, "This race is for every girl who was picked last in gym."  So true.  I was one of those girls on many occasions.  If my gym teachers could see me now (LOL).

There was a gentle breeze at the start of the race, and it wasn't until I was back on the "long stretch of straightness" (mentioned a few paragraphs ago, but now headed due west) that I noticed the gentle breeze had changed to full-on wind. It was a warm wind, thankfully, but it was nothing subtle.

The course then turned, heading north for a short ways before looping around and then going south. We were meeting fellow runners (who were about five miles behind us, on their way to the stadium), and we had a nice downhill jaunt to relish for a couple miles. Someone shouted my name, I looked around and spotted Marie again!  She had finished her leg of the relay and was standing on the side of the road.

Just before the 16-mile mark, we entered Greenwood Park and had a beautiful trail to enjoy. There wasn't much for crowd support (except for the aid stations), but it was very scenic and tranquil.  I heard someone say,"There you are, Girl!" It was Barb!  I hadn't seen her (or Doug) since the ninth mile or so.  She said Doug was a ways behind her, and had needed to take a few walk breaks.  I felt like I was starting to slow down, but Barb was blazing along.  She stayed with me for a few minutes, then I walked through a water station and she pulled ahead.  I continued to see her up ahead of me for awhile, though.

At the 18-mile mark, we entered Waterworks Park. This was where the marathon course joined back up with the half marathon route, and the two sets of runners would finish the rest of their respective races together. I was finally back in familiar territory.  I gulped down another gel, and noticed my watch said I had been running for exactly three's that for a steady 10-minute pace!  I knew I probably wasn't going to be able to maintain that pace much longer, though.  I was still feeling strong enough to keep running (I hadn't walked at all yet, other than a token few steps through the water stations), but knew how strong the wind was feeling, and there wasn't much for protection from it.

As I was approaching the 19-mile mark, the 4:25 pace team passed me.  For a brief moment, I felt my spirits drop.  I had run the Quad Cities Marathon  last year (September 22, 2013) in 4:33:38, and was really hoping to beat that finish time.  It would be great to finish sub-4:30, and I would be totally pumped if I could finish in 4:20 (or better).  Seeing this group pass by made me realize that there was a lot of work yet to do if I had any hope of making any of those goals happen...and still another seven miles to the finish line.

I decided to give it a try, and picked up my pace to stay with the group.  They really weren't running much faster than I was after all, and I did notice a few of them walked briefly through the water station at mile 19.5.  I had forgotten all about my ankle thing hurting, but now I was noticing my left foot, the "bunion" area.  I had put plenty of moleskin on it, but it felt like the moleskin was pulling away from my skin. I usually get a blister there, and I could tell it was starting to sting a little bit.  My left hip was feeling strained as well. As much as I tried to stay with the group, by mile 20 it was obvious they were were pulling away from me.

The next two miles seemed to take forever (and several days). The pace group kept increasing their distance from me, but they were still well within my sight.  The menacing wind was relentless, though.  I honestly couldn't even determine what direction it was coming from, all I knew was the wind was not easing up and would be with me to the end.  I couldn't remember it ever taking so long to get out of Waterworks Park, then again, I had never run almost 22 miles prior to exiting the park in any of the four previous half marathons. #Truth.

Finally, I saw the familiar intersection that would take us out of this park and across Fleur Drive to Grays Lake Park. I also noticed a row of porta-pots right before the intersection.  I didn't really need to use the facilities, but I was craving a brief catch-my-breath pit stop. I gulped down my last remaining GU gel, grabbed a quick water and headed to the closest available porta-pot.

Less than 20 seconds later, I was back on the run and feeling somewhat renewed and recharged.  As I was heading into Grays Lake for the final four miles, I suddenly felt a calmness come over me. I was really tired at that point, my hip was still hurting (maybe even more than ever), the wind was in my face and I had to accept the reality that I would not finish as fast as I'd hoped.  And then, I thought, "So what? I'm still going to finish this marathon, dammit!  That's something less than 1% of the population will ever attempt...and I'm going to be finishing my second one in less than an hour."  I had made it 22 miles without walking, why not take a quick walk break and just enjoy the rest of this race?

So, I walked.  But after 10-15 seconds, I decided I wanted to run again. I ran to the next water station, at the 23-mile mark, and walked briefly as I drank some water. A group of runners passed me as I was throwing my empty cup, so I joined them.  I glanced at my watch.  Granted, I was not going to finish under 4:20, but there still was a chance I could make sub-4:30.  I wasn't trying to sprint, but I managed to stay with this group of people to the next aid station, and my watch said I'd done that last mile in eight minutes. What?!  No wonder I was feeling so light-headed.  I also noticed my teeth were chattering a little and my fingers were feeling kind of numb.  I walked for a couple minutes, and then ran to the 25-mile mark.  I grabbed a Gatorade, and walked a few more steps as I drank it.

I overheard a couple guys ahead of me.  One of them said," The Kenyons are probably already on a plane, headed back home by now." That made me laugh.  I tossed my cup, took a deep breath, and broke into a run.  I'm not a fast runner, by any means.  But I am always amazed how my body seems to know when the finish is near and it magically breaks into a fast (for me) pace.  I felt so alive in that final mile.  As I approached the final half-mile, it was almost as if the previous 25.7 miles had not happened.

Here she comes! (And she's bringing her husband along with her)

There's nothing like a husband photo-bombing you at the 26- mile mark!

I could hear the crowds cheering, and the finish line music was going strong.  Suddenly, I recognized my husband and son. The husband was jumping up and down, and came over to me in the street and ran with me briefly. A split second later, I heard Marie call my name (again), she was waving and cheering as well. I gave her a grateful smile and a high-5 as I passed her. Then, just up ahead, I spotted my youngest daughter.... capturing all of this on film.  I rounded the final corner. The finish line was just .2 miles ahead!
One final high-5 as I make my way to the finish line
Halfway across the bridge, I heard my name again. This time it was Jessica, my cousin. She had finished the half marathon earlier.  She was there with her family, waving and cheering for me, too.

I don't know if they announced my name. I don't know if anyone got my picture as I crossed the finish line with my hands in the air (I haven't seen it if they did).  I don't know who the guy was that congratulated me as he put the medal around my neck.  And, I don't know how I managed to not shed a single tear (dehydration?). I do know my official finish time was 4:33:31.....a PR, by a mere seven seconds.  But a PR, none-the-less.

WE did it! 

I thought this race course was great.  It provided a good mix of the urban, downtown setting along with residential neighborhoods, scenic trails through a couple of parks (and around a lake), and let's not forget that awesome lap around the blue track at Drake Stadium.  Despite the wind, the weather was beautiful. The course support was great, and the aid stations were fully stocked with water and Gatorade. And the race jacket is pretty sweet!

It's official, I'm an IMT DSM marathoner!

 As much as I was hoping to have a faster finish time, I'm quite content with how it all played out.  The IMT Des Moines Marathon course was definitely a lot tougher than the Quad Cities Marathon course last year. Though the hills weren't crazy or difficult, they were plentiful.  The wind also was a factor, especially during the final 7-8 miles (when most runners are starting to feel fatigued).  And, there is that little detail about the forgotten granola bar.  Even though I had my usual breakfast, it had been more than two hours since the last bite was swallowed. A little more food would have been beneficial prior to the start line. I seemed to have constant aches and pains throughout the race. None of these were debilitating, and certainly none of them required any medical attention...but it was challenging to not be preoccupied with them for 26.2 miles.

The fact that I was able to finish an entirely different marathon within seven seconds of the only other  marathon I've ever done is kind of cool.  And knowing that I was able to run it a wee bit faster (despite all the weird issues I was battling) makes me believe I definitely ran this one better. Do I want to do another? Absolutely! (just not any time in the near future)

Wednesday, October 8, 2014


Not everyone training for a marathon will run two 20-mile training runs, let alone run them on back-to-back weekends.  Well, I am not like everyone (nor is my training).

As explained in previous blog posts, my training has not been any kind of "ordinary" the past several weeks.  Thankfully, I am not obsessive-compulsive about stats or going by the books. Allowing myself some freedom and flexibility keeps me sane (somewhat).

I ran my second 20-miler this past weekend. Since it had only been a mere eight days since the other 20-miler, I kept it very easy with my mileage between these two long runs.  I knew my body would not only need some recovery time from the first run, but it also would need a little rest in preparation for the second go-round.  And, let's just say my strategy worked well.

I have run most of my long runs this summer with Barb, a friend who is also training for the IMT Des Moines Marathon.  We have another friend, Doug, who is running the same marathon, and he invited us to run these (second) 20 miles with him.

Eager to get out of our town and run some different roads, we headed to Newton (20 miles west of Grinnell) and met up with Doug at 7:15AM.  He had a 20-mile route mapped out and a fuel belt with several water bottles at the ready.

We ran about two miles from his house, and that got us to the outskirts of town.  Before I knew it, we were on a highway south of town, headed east. I didn't know it at the time, but we would not be seeing much of civilization for several miles.

It was very liberating to run a different route, in a strange town. I don't do much highway running, so this also was a new adventure for me.  We spent a great deal of time in the gravel on the shoulder of the highways, saw a lot of road kill, and even had a group of six deer cross our path in between corn fields.

I had my watch to monitor the time, but really had no specific mile marks to gauge my pace.  And that was OK. It's good to let all those details go once in awhile, and just run.  These long training runs, after all, are not about speed.

It wasn't until about the seventh mile that we stopped at a convenience store. We used the restroom, refueled, and refilled the water bottles.  We were keeping a pretty consistent 10-minute pace. Did I mention the temps were only in the high 40's when we hit the road? Although it was overcast, and somewhat windy, I never felt uncomfortably cold. I did play several rounds of "Gloves On/Gloves Off" throughout the morning, though. 

We ran a couple more miles, and came upon another convenience store.  We decided to make another quick pit stop to refill the water bottles.  Also, some of the clouds had cleared, and the sun was now shining brightly...and I had left my sunglasses in the car.  I checked out the sunglasses on display in the store, hoping to find a cheap pair to get me through the remaining 11 miles. There were some fashionable Duck Dynasty ones (with a camo pattern on the frames), but I wasn't ready to part with $15 for them.  Doug assured me we'd be running due north, so I decided to risk it and passed on the sunglasses.

Back on the road, we headed north on (yet) another hill.  I lost count of the number of hills, but there were plenty. Only a couple were challenging, but there were numerous "rolling" hills on our route that morning.  I train on hills regularly, but most of my hills are in town...not out in the wide-open countryside.  That's also OK. We will have some hills on race day, and we very well could also have wind.

Around mile 13, we turned to head west and took a quick walk break and refueled.  This run, overall, was feeling great.  It's amazing how fast the miles seem to go when you're running them with friends. Laughter and chatter do wonders for long-distance running!  Even the typical aches, pains, and initial stiffness seem minimized.

At approximately the 14.5 mile mark, there was another gas station/convenience store.  Doug informed us that this was the last "pit stop opportunity" of the morning, so he refilled the water for the final time and we used the restroom. We could really feel the wind out there.  The bright sunshine at mile nine had not lasted long, so it was a wise decision to not buy the Duck Dynasty glasses.

We ran about another mile west before turning to head south along a major highway.  In my opinion, this was the longest and most challenging stretch of the entire 20 miles. The traffic was pretty steady, so we were constantly weaving back and forth from the road to the (bumpy) shoulder and we were on a gradual incline.  The road also had a slight curve to the southeast, so you could never actually see the top of the hill.  I just kept my eyes to the road in front of me and did my best to keep my breathing under control. 

Finally, we made it to our last interchange, and turned east.  We had gone almost 18 miles, so we were on the home stretch.  We took a quick walk break and had some water, before continuing towards our destination.  We were officially back on city streets! Even though the terrain was a little less challenging, we still had a few remaining hills to conquer, as well as the persistent wind to battle.

The final two miles went relatively fast. I was feeling a bit fatigued, but the only physical annoyance was the impending blister on my left foot (near the "bunion" region). Even though I had thoroughly mole-skinned the area, it still felt like it was on fire. My hips, glutes, and legs all felt fine, though. 

We made it back to Doug's house in 3:22:12.....almost the exact time I had run my 20-miler last year. I was very pleased with that finish time, especially considering all the hills we'd climbed and the wind we'd fought against to finish those 20 miles. 

It's been three days, and I feel great. I've run twice since then (each time only two miles in distance, but at a very tempo-like speed). I am being careful to continue hydrating, and have been stretching and foam rolling. 

Despite the craziness from the past couple months with all my aches, pains, and stiffness (and the drama in figuring out which shoes to wear), I have a very good feeling about my marathon in 11 days. I have no aggressive goals to qualify for Boston, or even snag that coveted sub-4-hour finish, but I have every bit of confidence in knowing I will cross the finish line. That's victory enough for me.

Woot woot!  IMT Des Moines Marathon, I'll see you in 11 days!