Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Beginning Blogger's Word Vomit

I've been wanting to run a marathon for literally over a decade.

I first started running on the treadmill at my local YMCA the summer after my senior year of high school. I was getting ready to start college at the dear old University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (Go Illini!). I was looking forward to a new start at UIUC and I was determined to get myself into the best shape possible for this next phase of my life. So I ran. And ran. And ran.

Inspiration can come from anyplace

Running became a way of life. It stayed that way throughout most of my college career, although I did have my ups and downs - including a painful injury to my right knee which scares me to this day. I was an avid runner through much of my 20s and would run 6 miles at least once a week without batting an eyelash. Some friends and I once ran a half marathon on pretty much zero training. Ah, those were the days of my 20s when I was much more resilient and faster than I am now.  Those were the days when I trained with reckless abandon, my times and paces didn't matter, and I ran simply because I enjoyed it and I liked the health benefits. All of my PRs occurred in those days:

5K - 25:55 (Race to the Taste, July 2001)
10K - 55:46 (Main Course 10K, May 2001)
13.1 - 2:16:37 (Chicago Half Marathon, September 2002)

Wow, the speed I took for granted back then. I took a few years off of running for various reasons, but picked it back up again this past year.  Therefore, contrast the above to my more recent performances:

Race Judicata 5K (August 2007) - 33:42
Race Judicata 5K (August 2008) - 34:15
Home Team Charity Run 10K (April 2011) - 1:04:01
Magellan Chicago Spring Half Marathon (May 2011) - 2:41:19

I have a lot of catching up to do from my younger days and I don't know if I'll ever get back to that level again.  Maybe after several years of consistent training.

In any event, ever since I was in college I've dreamed about running a marathon.  Up until this point, I have been held back by fears from my knee injury as well as time limits from a career which started out with 80% - 100% travel and very heavy working hours.  So what has changed since then?  My working hours are much more stable now and I don't travel on business anymore.  I've started training much more effectively with a lot more help and resources, and I have plenty of time to prepare for October 7, 2012 (the date of the 2012 Chicago Marathon).

I'll be lined up in the back someplace

My ambitious and lofty goals (including some personal competitiveness against friends) brought me to think that maybe I could attempt running the Chicago Marathon in 2011. After running just a few miles here and there over the last several years, I laced up my running shoes in February 2011 and basically went from ground zero to running the half marathon in May 2011. In the process of doing so, I trained very aggressively (though I didn't think I was doing so at the time) and wound up with a knee injury, this time to my left knee. I had to put running on hold for almost the entire summer while I rehabbed my knee. It was the most frustrating experience ever to want to be out there running and training and working towards my goals, but being sidelined by injury.  Marathoning in 2011 was obviously out of the question when it hurt just to walk. But thank goodness for the magic of physical therapy and other devices such as Cho-Pat knee straps (more on both another day).
I now rock this stylishness on both knees when running.
Makes me look like a hard-core runner.

They say that injuries can be beneficial because they teach you what NOT to do. As such, I slowly started picking running back again, with many, many improvements:
  • Training very, very conservatively - avoiding the urge to push myself to the limit every single time, not building up mileage too quickly, taking real rest days
  • Improved my stride and footstep. I used to be a heel-striker with a long stride, but have since shortened and quickened my stride and become a midfoot-striker.
  • Taking GUs during long runs (I have a box of 24 Chocolate Outrage packs which I bought from Amazon, and am excited to try some of the other GU flavors out there). I used to run for two hours with no refueling or with just eating a granola bar. Shudder.
  • Cross-training and stretching, doing yoga at least twice a week.
  • Doing my physical therapy exercises as regularly as possible and focusing on strengthening my hips and core muscles.
  • Foam rolling - especially my hips and IT band.
  • Getting professionally fitted for running shoes. I'll admit that up until literally a few weeks ago, I always just went to the Nike Outlets and bought whatever pair of running shoes was priced lowest. Now I know that I've been recommended to wear insoles with neutral shoes (which help counteract some of the heel and hip pain I've started feeling). At my fitting, I got Asics Gel Cumulus 13 shoes in size 8.5 Wide, with Superfeet Berry insoles. The Asics have been fabulous and have made a huge difference.  I later bought a second pair of those insoles to wear with another pair of neutral running shoes that I already had which I do like (Nike Air Citius 2+). I'm excited to eventually experiment with other brands of running shoes, particularly Mizunos.
  • Tracking my mileage and pace, and also tracking the mileage on my shoes. I use the Runner's World online training log.
  • Running with a Garmin 305 to track splits, pacing, and distance.
  • Purchasing real running clothing (running tights, socks, techno shirts, etc.) as opposed to wearing any old workout clothing.
  • Wearing Cho-Pat straps (which I love) on both knees. (Also tried using KT-tape, which did work but I didn't like how the tape caused skin irritation and quickly lost adhesiveness.)
  • Slowing down my pace when I run and taking regular walk breaks, ala Jeff Galloway. The jury is still out on whether it works for me to do the 4:1 run-walk ratio he recommends, because it slows me down SO much, but at the very least I like doing the 1 mile run, 1 minute walk pattern or the 4:30-0:30 run/walk ratio.
  • Taking midweek runs seriously but also slowly (ala Hal Higdon, whose book I bought a few weeks ago and whose training plans I peruse regularly on his website). I've been working to memorize the long-run pattern on his Novice 1 marathon training plan so that I know what I have in store for me in the coming months.
For the last few weeks, I'd been about 99% certain that I'd sign up for the 2012 Chicago Marathon, barring injury. I then mentioned this to one of my coworkers, Aimee, who has done four marathons. She told me, "Time to stop thinking 'maybe' and start thinking 'Definitely, 100% for sure.'"

I took her advice and started thinking that way. I've started studying the Chicago Marathon race course, per the advice of my friend Jenny (who ran it in 2010). Began recalling the memories of being a spectator and thinking about what it would feel like on the actual course. Read the discussion boards on Facebook and Runners World about the experience. Started running parts of the course on my training runs and trying to imagine how it would feel on race day. Began plotting out my hydration and fueling strategy. Thought about my pacing, goals, and running negative or even splits. Thought about what I would wear. Started thinking about what the expo is like (I've never attended a race expo before in my life). Thought about where my wonderful husband, Adam, might go on the course to support me, and had dozens of late-night conversations with him on trying to achieve this goal. Circled the calendar for the projected registration opening date (February 1, 2012) and signed up for notifications. Read many blogs with other peoples' marathon training and marathon day experiences, trying to learn from their lessons. Have been debating for a very long time on whether I want to train alone or if I want to train with CARA. Thought many, many, many times about starting a blog, even if nobody reads it but me (and quite frankly, I'm more on the private side so I might even prefer if nobody else reads it because I don't like putting myself up for display).
I've watched a lot of NCIS in my days
This has become real to me now. I know so many people that have completed marathons (last count was over 30 people). If they can do it, I can do it. I can and I will. This is where the journey begins.

Official marathon training won't begin until next June. Until then, I am on a quest to solidify my base training, get my running legs in order, and hopefully improve my speed along the way.  My current routine involves running three days a week (usually Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday), where I'll do 3 (or more recently sometimes 4) miles on Tuesdays and Thursdays and then do my long run on Sunday mornings. In my attempts to be conservative, I've been repeating my long run distances several weeks each and have most recently done 7 miles twice. Last Sunday (Christmas Day), I did a step-back long run of 5 miles. I'm not sure how high I'll try to build the long-run mileage before official marathon training - maybe up to 10 miles, with a half-marathon race in the spring (still waiting for them to announce the date for the 2012 Chicago Spring Half) - but the intent is again just to be conservative given that time is definitely on my side.

My goal for the marathon is to finish with a smile on my face. Other goals:
  • Finish sub 5:00:00
  • Race negative or even splits
  • Go out slowly in the beginning and run my own race without getting caught up in being competitive
  • High-five at least one child per mile
  • Have fun, enjoy the atmosphere, and observe the diversity of the neighborhoods
Latest running gear that I've recently ordered which should be arriving in the mail soon:
  • SaltStick capsules to help with electrolyte loss
  • Hand-held water bottle so I don't have to leave water bottles on street corners for potential theft
  • SPI belt so I can carry my phone, ID, gels, keys, etc.
  • Capri tights for those in-between temps

The SPI belt (NOT me in the photo) and more
stylishness.  Windswept hair not included.

Other things on my running wish list:
  • Mizuno Wave Rider 15s - I am dying to try these out
  • Summer running hat
  • New flavors of GU - particularly mint chocolate, vanilla bean, and some of the non-caffeinated flavors. (Would love if GU came up with savory flavors - I like salty more than I like sweet, and salt loss is a concern during running anyways, right?)
  • ID bracelet or shoe tag
  • Compression socks, although I have a tough time with their hefty price tag
  • Entry to a Disney race (Disney World Wine and Dine Half, Disneyland Half, Disney World Marathon)

Disney Wine and Dine Half (insert my picture there someday)

OK, now that I've written out almost all of the endless and random ramblings in my head (maybe I should have started blogging a long time ago), I'll stop here and try to blog "normally" from here on out (i.e. less word vomit. :)  ) 

I am looking forward to where this journey will take me over the coming months and years!!!


  1. What differentiates the greatest of athletes? Some would say pure athletic ability but I say no, at least not within their environment. There were many, many great athletes in the NBA but only one Michael Jordan.

    Great athletes differentiate with an insatiable desire to compete. They combine this with intense preparation on all fronts, physical and mental. Throw in an abudance of heart, character, and willingness to sacrifice and you have all the elements for success in any athletic endeavor.

    Which is why I FULLY expect to be there waiting when you cross the finish line in October. ALV.

  2. Sounds like you've thought about the race a lot! If you really want to do it, you'll do it! My two cents is to be realistic (which it sounds like you are), and don't get too attached to any time goals. I hate to see people run a marathon then feel bad about it because it wasn't as fast as the hoped. Finishing is a huge accomplishment. Good luck with all your training!*