Friday, September 28, 2012

Paying homage to g-g-g-groin injuries

Nine days and counting to the Chicago Marathon!

The nerves are really starting to kick in.  I keep thinking that if I were completely healthy, that I know I could knock out the 26.2 miles with no problem.  Almost all of my fears stem from worrying if my injuries will take me down.  (Those fears are closely followed by concern over the 6.5 hour cutoff time, since I'm worried about how much I could potentially slow down as the result of injury.)

However, there's probably a strong argument to be had that very few people cross the starting line of a marathon without some sort of ailment.  If I were a betting woman, I'd estimate that a good 80% of marathoners are running through aches and pains of some kind!  (To any of you who have or will ever run a marathon completely healthy, I ENVY YOU.)

I know I've said a lot (i.e. complained) about my injuries over the past few months, and I'll stop soon, I promise.  For now, though, my biggest concern remains the groin pain I've been experiencing recently.  However, it's not all bad news.  I haven't run at all this past week and am feeling better, thankfully.  And check out this positive spin on groin injuries!

(This might just become my new theme song.)

Happy Friday to all!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

PAWS Run For Their Lives 8K Race Recap

It was an absolutely gorgeous morning in Chicago to be running the PAWS Run For Their Lives 8K.

My stubbornly lingering groin pain had persisted this past week.  My biggest fear was that I would sustain an injury just two weeks out from the Chicago Marathon.  Therefore, I went into this race debating whether I would "race" it.  I was also debating whether I should even run the 8K or drop down to the 4K walk, just to be safe.  I decided that it would be a race-time decision.

The race had a very friendly 9:00 AM starting time this morning.  Adam dropped me off near the starting line, then went to go find parking nearby.  Packet pickup and gear check were a breeze, and there were no lines at any of the portapotties, either.  AWESOME.

People were welcomed to bring their pets along for the race festivities, which included a costume contest, agility course, and pet massages.  Therefore, it was also awesome to see so many adorable, energetic, wriggling dogs of all shapes, sizes and colors, many adorned in cute costumes.

I did about 15 minutes of easy jogging to warm up.  Then I took a GU and headed towards the starting line.  I was feeling pretty good and my achy groin seemed to be holding up allright.  So I decided that I would go ahead and try to "race" the race, but would slow down if I needed to. 

Prior to today, I have never done the 8K race distance.  Therefore, I wasn't entirely certain if I should treat this more like a 5K where I basically try to sprint the whole distance, or if I should treat it more like a 10K where I would try to semi-sprint the entire distance.  I decided to treat it more like a 10K, with my first goal to break 48 minutes and my second goal to break 47 minutes.

Adam found me near the starting line, and hung out with me until the race began.  I've grown accustomed to the enormous races where the starting line is too crowded for any spectators to wait with you, so this was a very welcome occurrence.

Here's a picture of me waiting to start.  Notice some of the dogs in the background?

The airhorn blew and off we went.  I had positioned myself near the back of the pack, as usual.  I was surprised at how many people I was passing at the start, though.  It made me wonder if I'd gone out too quickly.

Our race packets had included maps of both the 8K course and the 4K walk.  Before starting, I had very quickly glanced at the first map I saw, which indicated that the course was an out-and-back starting northbound on the lakefront path.  I had also heard another runner describing the northern route.  So I was surprised when we started running southbound on the path instead (I later realized that I had been looking at the 4K walk map).  In the meantime, though, I had no idea how far south we were going, at what point we were going to turn around, or where any aid stations were located.  Oops.

I kept trying to push myself at a comfortably hard pace.  I walked through a water station around mile 1.7.  By around mile 2.25, my lungs were starting to feel it and my groin was beginning to feel tight.  I wasn't enjoying the exertion and was starting to wonder why I did things like this "for fun."  I started telling myself that after this was over, I would never run another race again.

Glad that at least one of us is enjoying the couch!

Rather abruptly, I reached the turnaround at the southernmost point of the course.  I tried to make the turnaround as tightly as possible.  In doing so, I nearly lost my balance, twisting my ankle in the process.  Oops again.  Thankfully no harm done.

I reached an intersection where course marshalls were shouting for runners from some other race to turn left.  Apparently there were multiple races going on at the same time along the lakefront path, although I only saw PAWS runners.  I pushed on, selecting random runners that were ahead of me and making it my goal to pass him or her, then selecting another runner to try to pass, etc.

Dogs are runners, too!
(Although, due to the amount of race traffic, pets were not actually permitted on the 8K course.)

We came back to the same aid station we'd passed on the outbound trip.  I walked through and grabbed some water, then had a little trouble getting my pace back up again afterwards.  But shortly after passing the mile 4 marker, I glanced at my Garmin and saw my time was at 36-something minutes.  Not bad!  Maybe I'd be able to finish between 45 and 46 minutes?

I could feel blisters forming on my feet and the sun was shining right in my eyes.  The distance on my Garmin was off, but we were approaching familiar territory so I knew we were getting close.  I kept pushing at a comfortably hard pace, figuring that once the finish line was in sight that I could really gun it.  Then all of a sudden we turned a corner and I was startled to see the finish line less than a tenth of a mile away.  I gunned what I could of the remaining distance, during which I saw Adam near the finish line and waved at him before crossing.

According to results posted near the finish line, my time was 44:12.  Much, MUCH better than I had been expecting!  (And I quickly changed my mind about wanting to run races again.  =) )

Woo hoo!

While waiting in line to view the results, they announced that any dogs wearing yellow bandanas were ones that were in need of good homes.  They said if anyone was looking to adopt a dog today, or was looking to bring home a second or third dog, to please consider one of the dogs that were there.  Hearing this and then noticing many dogs wearing the yellow bandanas immediately brought tears to my eyes.  I used to volunteer for an animal shelter, so this really hit home.  I am not running the Chicago Marathon on behalf of any charitable causes, but now I understand how meaningful it would be to do so for a cause that you care about.

I was very happy to have run this race, especially given the easy, worry-free logistics.  I had donated some extra funds in addition to my registration fee, and was glad I did.  In the end, I had a really great time at this race and would definitely run this race again if for nothing but the cause.

Such a good cause.

Some other training notes:
  • I'd read somewhere that it is a good idea to run shorter-distance races towards the end of your marathon training. This is because so much of marathon training is done at very slow, easy paces. Therefore, the shorter races serve to help remind you that you can actually run fast, too. I couldn't agree with this suggestion more.
  • I tried a Jet Blackberry GU (which I'd received as a free sample elsewhere) for the first time.  I have very low caffeine tolerance, and the Jet Blackberry has double the caffeine of the usual GU flavors (excluding the caffeine-free flavors).  Therefore, I was a little nervous that it would make me jittery.  But no issues.
  • My PT had recommended that I try dynamic stretching for my hip flexor, instead of my usual static stretches.  The dynamic stretch basically consists of standing on one foot with one hand on a chair or wall for balance, then swinging the other foot from side to side in a pendulum motion.  I think it works well.
  • The groin pain persists.  With the clock ticking down on two weeks remaining until the Chicago Marathon, I may take the entire next week off of running and just cross-train instead.
  • As I mentioned, today was the first time I've ever run the 8K distance.  I do still like longer distances (e.g. 10-milers) a little better.  However, I've never run Chicago's Shamrock Shuffle, which is the largest 8K in the world (more than 34,000 runners).  Now I am inspired to run it next year!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Three Races Thursday

Some bloggers do weekday-themed blog postings, such as Three Things Thursday, Triple Tangent Tuesday, Wordless Wednesday, etc.  I do like to be unique in my own way - and it just so happens that I've currently got three races on the brain.  So with that, I present to you my inaugural (and probably only-ever edition of) Three Races Thursday!

I discuss the three in descending order of my thought-complexity relating to each race.  How about that?

Race #1: ZOOMA Great Lakes Half Marathon
A bunch of the Chicago Running Bloggers have rented a house up in Lake Geneva, WI for the weekend to run the ZOOMA Great Lakes Half Marathon

Ultimately I wasn't planning on going, since I didn't think my body could handle another race just two weeks after the Chicago Marathon.  (This is being further confirmed by the fact that I've been dealing with lingering groin pain for a week and a half now.  But more on that another time).  Then I started thinking that I could still go just to hang out, but I'd at least be a good spectator (so as to avoid achieving the status of amorphous blob).  But then I started thinking, if I'm spectating, why not make myself really useful and volunteer at the race?

Hey!  How cool would it be to be one of the folks at the finish line crowning all the exuberant runners with their post-race rewards (in this case, ZOOMA necklaces)?  Only, I'm sure that by now all of the most sought-after volunteer positions have already been filled.  I'd probably end up being the official post-race banana-distributer.

The banana-distribution concept has actually become quite the running joke between Kim and me.  But, there are certainly worse things to be handing out than bananas!  Case in point: when I was in high school I worked at the Ravinia Festival.  And on certain occasions, my job was to stand at the front gate and hand out garbage bags to picnickers.  No joke!

Alas, I digress.

The weekend festivities sound like a BLAST but sadly I'm on the fence about going, for varous reasons.  Namely, other travel commitments in the weeks before and after, as well as some stuff going on in Chicago that weekend.  Sigh, why must the timing be as such?  Decisions, decisions, decisions...


Race #2: Mad Dash To Madison 5K postponement
I was saddened (though not surprised) when the NHL went into a lockout last week.  This means that the NHL season, including its training camp and all other official festivities, will not commence until a new labor agreement can be reached.  These official festivities include the Mad Dash To Madison, which was supposed to take place this Saturday.

I had really been looking forward to the start of hockey season, and to running this race for the first time.  The race takes place within my own neighborhood, meaning no god-awful early-morning wakeup calls and no complex logistics.  Not to mention that for once, Adam wouldn't have to endure a pre-dawn alarm clock to be my chauffeur!  I was also super excited to get a Blackhawks-themed race shirt.  Finally, I was excited to see if I could break the 27:52 that I ran at the Strike Out ALS 5K earlier this summer. 

But alas, to no avail.  Yours truly is a very sad runner/hockey fan.  =(

Although, I am not as despondent as this young Vancouver Canucks fan.  This videoshoot occurred right after the Blackhawks eliminated the Canucks from the playoffs in 2009:

(I knew there was a reason that I don't play golf.)

Hopefully the NHL will get a deal in place quickly so the race can be rescheduled, or at least so that the season can get underway!  Regardless, the race organizers have already refunded all of the runners' registration fees, which was nice of them.  So worst case scenario, I am already planning on running Mad Dash with a vengeance next year.

In the meantime, let the severe hockey withdrawal continue!

Race #3: PAWS Run For Their Lives 8K
I am super excited to run the PAWS Run For Their Lives race this Sunday.  It's my first ever 8K, and benefits a cause very close to my heart.

I was originally planning on trying to "race" this race.  But given that I want to be cautious about my health with two weeks left to go before the marathon, I may actually just run this race leisurely and for pure fun.

To be really honest, though, depending on how the aches and pains are holding up on race morning, I may actually even drop down to the 4K walk.  There is further incentive for me to drop down, as well, which is that Adam said he'd do the 4K with me if I chose to do it.  That would be awesome!

I wonder if they hand out doggie treats/catnip at the end to all of our furry compatriates?

In any event, the weather is supposed to be gorgeous this Sunday. And there is no better place to spend a beautiful weekend morning than along the lakefront with fellow runners, walkers, and their four-legged companions.

THREE asterisks to denote a forthcoming change in topic below!
(Pretty clever, eh?)

... aaaaaaaand thus concludes my first (and only-ever) edition of Three Races Thursday.  I hope you enjoyed this once-in-a-lifetime forage!

Happy autumn and happy running to all!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Plantar fasciitis scare

As I've alluded to many times, it is a usual occurrence for me to be battling runners' injuries.  I can't even remember the last time that I've run both completely pain-free AND worry-free.

For the most part, my biggest problems have been my knees (my right knee back in college, and in recent years my left knee).  My left IT band syndrome has joyously rippled its effects into surrounding areas, most notably my left hip flexor.  I've also been working to overcome some muscle imbalances, which have lead to weak hips and glutes.

I have had some minor bouts of heel pain (aka plantar fasciitis) in the past, but usually nothing to sneeze at.  Until this past Monday.

I woke up on Monday morning.  As per my usual practice, I gallantly sprang out of bed with a HUGE smile on my face!

OK, OK, maybe not so much.

In any event, upon getting out of bed, I experienced a stinging pain in my left heel.  Wow.  Never in my life had it been so painful to walk.

Thankfully I had a PT appointment first thing Monday morning.  The timing couldn't have been better.  My PT helped me stretch, gave me an ultrasound on my heel, and instructed me to use a tennis ball or foam roller on my heel.

My heel was still painful for the rest of the day.  It made me contemplate even the simplest things, like getting up to go to the printer or the bathroom.  On the way home from the office, I was crossing the street and had to speed up to get through the intersection.  Yowza!!!

When I got home on Monday evening, I took off my shoes.  I was surprised to find out that when walking around barefoot, the pain nearly disappeared altogether.  It made me think about the stories I'd heard about people's running injuries fading once they run barefoot or wear minimalist running shoes.  Maybe there really is something to be said about natural foot mechanics after all?

I went ahead and did a yoga video, then dutifully pulled out a golf ball.  (You may recall that I've had my awkward moments with golf ball therapy in the past, so this time I did this in the privacy of my own living room.)  I rolled my heel for a good 15 minutes, applying as much pressure as I could bear.  Not fun, but all in the name of healing.

When I went to bed, I remembered seeing all these pictures of these splints that you can wear on your feet overnight to help with your plantar fasciitis.

Sexy fashion accessory

Not having one of those splints on hand, I did my best to imitate the foot position as I was falling asleep.  Not easy to do!

Yesterday morning when I woke up, I braced myself as I got out of bed, anticipating more stinging pain.  But... nothing.  Barely a twitch.

All throughout the day, I walked around very gingerly, just in case.  No issue.  I even put on heels when I got to the office.  Then I gradually began bringing my walking motion back to normal, so as not to favor my left foot.  Still almost nothing.

Last night I repeated the routine - more yoga, and more rolling my heel with a golf ball.  This morning again, no relapses of pain.

I don't know what the heck happened in the last 48 hours.  If this was a "ghost" injury, it was certainly the most painful one I've ever experienced.  But thank God for miraculous physical therapy and for golf balls!!!

For now, at least.

On a closing note, I haven't worn my Sauconys (my minimalist running shoes) in quite some time.  But given my experience with natural foot motion immediately alleviating my heel pain, I think it may be good to start wearing the minimalist running shoes again at least once a week.  I am becoming a believer!

Monday, September 17, 2012

CARA Ready to Run 20-Miler Recap

Yesterday morning I set out before dawn to accomplish another personal distance record. I ran the CARA Ready to Run 20-Miler. It also marked the longest run in my training plan prior to the Chicago Marathon on October 7.

Going into the run, I felt pretty confident. After doing the miserable 18-miler in North Carolina two weekends prior amidst searing heat and humidity, I knew this wouldn't be nearly as grueling. However, I had started feeling some groin pain during the Chicago Half Marathon last weekend. It had persisted all week, leading me to forgo one of my weekday training runs (sorry, Erin) in the hopes that it would dissipate. Come yesterday morning, it was nearly undetectable while walking. However, I was concerned how it would respond to 20 miles of running.

I should just carry a personalized first-aid kit with me everywhere I run.

As usual, the 5:15 AM wakeup call followed by a big bowl of cereal and a couple big glasses of water and orange juice. While getting dressed, and per the suggestions of my fellow bloggers, I put BodyGlide on the hotspots on my feet. I also caked about 3 inches of BodyGlide onto my thighs and other areas.

Once again, Adam voluntarily got up at another ungodly hour of a weekend morning to graciously drive me to the starting site (THANK YOU!!!!!).  There was a surprising amount of traffic at that hour (probably all the other marathoners-in-training that were also headed to the run).

Since this run was considered a fully-supported training run and not a race, it was not being chip-timed. However, we were all assigned to pace groups. Adam had picked up my race packet for me and informed me that I had been placed in pace group #2, starting at 6:30:30 AM (the run started at 6:30 AM). I had thought for certain this was a mistake, as usually only the super-elite runners get such early starting groups. This had me visualizing myself getting run over on the course, with running shoe footprints embedded into my back.
The Road Runner, moments before leaving you in the dust.

I had emailed CARA to ask that I be placed in a slower (MUCH slower) pace group. Much to my surprise, they indicated that pace group #2 was for the 11:30 run-walkers, which was actually correct for me. Allrighty, then! This would probably be the only time ever in my life that I'd get to start a run at the front of the pack. So I enjoyed it!

Things were pretty uneventful for the first few hours. The temperature was in the low 60s and the sun was rising over the horizon as we were underway. My pace group was fairly quiet, with the exception of two guys who were chatting about their running experiences. I chatted a bit with one of the leaders and with another woman named Julie, who was training for her fourth marathon. She shared stories about running the San Diego Marathon, where they have uniformed Marine soldiers run with you during the last mile to the finish line. How awesome!
It must be so inspiring to finish a marathon alongside something like this!

Unfortunately, my groin was aching almost within just a couple miles of starting. It wasn't too bad at first, but the aching slowly kept getting stronger and stronger. I kept praying that it would hold up. I was very fearful that I'd experience an explosion of pain at some point. I tried to keep my footsteps as light as possible to reduce the shock of impact.

The members of my pace group gradually started falling back. I wanted to stay with the pace group leaders as long as I could.  Up until about mile 14 I was able to, although it began to take more and more effort to do so. Finally around mile 14 I decided to just continue at my own pace. But I think I was one of the last one or two group members to fall behind.
My groin pain was still increasing, but the miles were counting down. I kept telling myself that in training it didn't matter how long it took to cover the distance, just that I covered it.  I also kept telling myself that after today, I would have three weeks of taper time to focus on rehabbing.  The last few miles I began walking more and more just to alleviate some of the aching. I was tired, but the aching was actually more prevalent than my fatigue. 

We reached Promontory Point at about 55th Street, and had a northern view of the city skyline. It gave us some perspective on how much distance we had covered.
Those tiny little city buildings in the distance?  Those were only about the 10-mile mark (i.e the halfway mark) between where we had started and where we currently were. 
The picture doesn't even do it justice.
Almost throughout the entire run, my Garmin had said that my distance covered was anywhere from 0.08 miles to 0.13 miles higher than what the course mile markers indicated.  When my Garmin beeped at 20 miles, it was kind of hard to believe.  It felt great crossing the finish line shortly afterwards.  What a relief!

The next three weeks will include reduced (i.e. "tapered") mileage before the final push on October 7th.  I'd never heard such welcome words as I did on the bus ride home, where one of the CARA leaders told us, "Welcome to your taper!"
Barring my injury issues, I do feel like I am capable of adding 6.2 more miles to what I just accomplished.  And now the huge focus is physical therapy.  During these next three weeks, I plan to up my yoga workouts to three times a week or more.  I also plan to do tons and tons of squats and lunges, as well as foam roll like my life depends on it (which, at this very point, it does).
Would it be too graphic to describe these babies as human muscle-tenderizers?

A few final training notes:
  • No chafing or blister issues in the usual hot spots.  Caking on obscene amounts of BodyGlide worked!  However, I did develop some first-time chafing from my Cho-Pat knee straps.  So I know now to use BodyGlide there, as well.  I will be a full-body BodyGlide blob by the time that all is said and done.
  • I usually use GU for refueling.  But, I tried a Clif Shot energy gel for the first time yesterday since the Chicago Marathon will be handing those out on the course.  I have to say that I like the consistency of GU better.  But otherwise, no issues with the Clif Shot gel.
  • I nearly forgot to take my salt capsules during the run, save for my pace group leader reminding us.  I'll have to work on remembering to take them in a timely manner.  Too bad race spectators never hold up signs that say, "Remember to take your salt capsules!"  They only ever hold up signs that say things like this:

  • I am not sure if I'll bring my MP3 player with me on marathon day.  I didn't use it at all yesterday, nor did I use it at all during my 18-miler.  On one hand, it would be nice to have it just in case I need the mental boost it'll give me.  But on the other hand, it takes up a lot of room in my iFitness belt which could be better used for other things (like wads of Kleenex).  TBD.
  • After I got home, I became a bottomless pit of hunger.  Nothing, and I mean NOTHING could fill me up.  For the rest of the day I sat on the couch doing my best impression of a human vacuum cleaner while simultaneously watching football with Adam.  And I seriously think that yesterday I could have outdueled any, and I mean ANY of those NFL linemen in an eating contest.

It is unbelievable that the Chicago Marathon is less than three weeks away now.  Almost a year's worth of training is finally reaching its conclusion!  In less than three weeks, I'll be here:
I'll be at the very back of the pack, of course, at the point where you can no longer tell where the crowd ends and the buildings begin. But nevertheless, I'll be there!!!

Bring on the madness!!!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Re-emerging problems and a classic photo

This past weekend at the Chicago Half Marathon I had some issues creep up on me that I thought I'd already figured out.

The Great Shoe Dilemma
I am currently rotating five pairs of running shoes (details listed here).  Two out of the five pairs (the Nikes and the Asics) have too many miles on them to marathon in.  One pair (the Sauconys) are minimalist shoes, which I can't marathon in, either.  So that leaves a pair of Mizunos and a pair of Brooks, both of which have about 50-60 miles on them.

I took the Mizunos out for a 12-mile training run a few weeks ago and got some slight blistering in them, but otherwise they were fine.  Then I wore the Brooks on my 16.5-miler and didn't think they were supportive enough.  So it looked like the Mizunos were THE shoe for the big day.

I wore the Mizunos at the Chicago Half Marathon this past weekend.  I proceeded to develop a blister on my left foot that was the size of my fist.  Not even exaggerating.  It was so bad that I wouldn't dare post a picture of it.  If I did, I'd risk being banned from 17 states for committing uncensored horror.

How does this happen?  How do a pair of shoes feel relatively good one day, but then give you a massive blister another day?!?!


I did what any woman would do in this emergency.  The Asics have been the best and most reliable shoe for me.   So I bought another pair of them.  Kim even very generously offered to let me use her Amazon Prime account for 2-day delivery (THANK YOU!!!!!)

The new shoes are scheduled to arrive by tomorrow.  After which, it'll be a mad race to get the shoes sufficiently broken in by marathon day.  Basically this means wearing the same pair of shoes for every single run for the entire next month.  Not ideal, but certainly doable. 

Just in case this plan doesn't work out, I've got my backup plan ready to go:

I have recently taken a keen interest in Reebok's line of running apparel, particularly their shorts.  I've tried a few brands of running shorts and have found Reebok's to be the most light and comfortable for me.  I've worn their shorts on pretty much all of my training long runs and almost all of my races.  With BodyGlide, I have had minimal chafing issues.

Until this past weekend.

I applied BodyGlide as usual on race morning.  But my thighs started chafing around mile 7 or 8.  It was very painful and I was walking around bow-legged for the rest of the day.

Worse yet, I also experienced some first-time chafing this past weekend in some other unmentionable places. 

(Wondering where said unmentionable places are?  Here's a hint:)

Yes, fun times (and yes, Kim, you warned me).  LESSON LEARNED: Never, ever take for granted being comfortable while in the seated position.


Immediately go out and shop for bike-type shorts that won't ride up on my thighs.  Start using BodyGlide in the unmentionable places.  Potentially try to carry some BodyGlide with me.  Maybe even try using petroleum jelly instead of BodyGlide (sigh). 

End of story.

Polar bear-style baths
I've been good about taking ice baths after rigorous long runs and races.  It's helped a lot in ensuring that I don't feel too sore the next day.

This past weekend, however, I did not stretch much nor take an ice bath since I was so busy enjoying Erin's post-race brunch.

I paid for it dearly afterwards with full-body stiffness and soreness.  It hurt to walk.  Going up or down stairs?  Forget about it.  Wearing high-heeled shoes in the office?  Potentially never to be seen ever again.

Two days after the race and my legs are still showing me who is boss. 


The solution to this is pretty obvious.  Next time, host a post-race polar bear-themed swimming party so you can combine your social time with an ice bath!!!

Party, party, party!!!

OK, enough about my running pains and unpleasantries.  Let's conclude today...

... on a positive note!

Check out this awesome picture of Kim and me from this past weekend!

Thou shalt not conquer thy half marathon without having some fun along thy way!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Chicago Half Marathon Race Recap

Half marathon #6 completed yesterday!  A big thank you goes out to Nina for my free entry into this race!

Out of the four half-marathons I've done this year, this is the only one that had good weather (sunny and temps in the 60s).  Therefore, I had set semi-high goals for myself going into this race.  My first goal was to break 2:25, and my second goal was to break 2:20.  However, I was coming off of some trepidation following my awful 18-miler last weekend, as well as another 5-mile training run done last week in the same god-awful horrible heat and humidity.  But more on that another time.

The day started with a 5:20 AM wakeup call.  Kim, Erin, and Maggie came over around 5:45, and we got into my car and headed out.  There was more traffic and less parking than anticipated at that hour, so we cut it a little closer than I thought we would with our arrival.  But, since Maggie is the orchestrator of all of our Chicago Running Blogger meetups, I finally made it to a pre-race picture!

From L to R: Sara (and her adorable dog Waffles), Lauren, Amanda, Maggie, Kim, Erin and me

The race site was madness - runners, portapotties, and traffic everywhere.  Not to mention that the race site was enormous, so it took us some time to get ourselves situated.  We were in line at the portapotties when they blew the starting airhorn.

Photo courtesy of Kim.
(I am cheesing it a little too much for a portapotty line picture.  Oops.)

Similarly, the first several miles of the race and the first few aid stations were jampacked, too.  I had forgotten that this race draws over 18,000 participants and it sure felt like it.  Wow!

Kim and I ran the entire race together.  She's a very strong runner and she's doing a 50K next weekend(!), so she wanted to take this race easier.  Nevertheless, I knew she would push me in a good way - and push she did!  We did the first few miles at a pace that was a bit faster than I thought I could maintain for the entire half-marathon, but then I started slowing down a little into a more comfortable pace.  It was nice to have Kim there to chat with, and the time went by much more quickly than at my previous half marathons.

The course is almost entirely an out-and-back on Lake Shore Drive.  They actually close a southern chunk of the Drive for the race, which was cool.  My commute to work takes me on the very same stretch of the Drive that we were running on.  But, it felt completely different to be traveling on it by foot with hordes of other runners surrounding us.

Chicago's Lake Shore Drive (aka "LSD" and aka "the Drive") on a normal day.

Chicago's Lake Shore Drive during the Chicago Half Marathon

I had told Kim that I wanted to do a 9:1 run/walk ratio, but I was so focused on staying on pace with her that we ended up overshooting the run ratio several times.  There were lots of aid stations and I walked through all but maybe two or three of them to get water/Gatorade.  I had taken a pre-race GU, and also took a GU at mile 5 and again at about mile 10.5.  I had also brought some salt capsules with me and planned to take about one each hour.  But I completely forgot about the salt capsules until close to the end of the race.  Oops.

By mile 9, we were cruising along but I realized that a sub 2:20 was not in the books for the day.  I knew I'd still be able to finish at or below 2:25, though.  In my previous half marathons, I had always been feeling tired by mile 10 or mile 11.  But this time, I felt solid - by FAR the best I've ever felt at that point in a half marathon.  It was a great feeling.
OK, maybe not quite THAT great, but still a great feeling nonetheless!

We began speeding up around mile 10 and passing other runners left and right.  Kim kept pushing me to show her what I had, to which I kept gasping, "I will do my best!!!!!"  There were signs up in the final mile denoting three quarters of a mile to go, half a mile to go, a quarter mile to go, etc.  After passing the half-mile to go marker, it felt like eternity passed with no sign of the quarter mile indicator.  I finally screamed to no one in particular, "WHERE IS THE QUARTER MILE MARKER?!?!?!?"  (When we finally did see it, Kim shouted to me, "There it is!")

Around the 13-mile marker, Kim yelled to me that this was it, so I took off and gunned it as hard as I could.  I only lasted for about 15 seconds before I realized I couldn't keep up that pace, so sadly I started slowing down a bit but still pushed as hard as I could.  I saw Adam close to the finish line, waving his Terrible Towel, and then I crossed the finish line.  Woo hoo!

My official finishing time was 2:22:52, more than 6 minutes faster than my last half marathon (the Rock N Roll Chicago Half Marathon).  Admittedly, considering just how much better the weather conditions were this time compared to my other half marathons this year, I had been hoping for an even larger improvement.  But still, nothing to sneeze at.  Many thanks to Kim for running with me and pushing me as much as she did!

I also later learned that Adam had undergone yet another set of unseemly adventures trying to navigate his way down to the race amidst all the street closures and traffic. Huge thanks to him, as always.  He continues to timelessly support me in my crazy endeavors while having to undergo some very stressful situations.

After the race, Erin was so kind to host a fabulous post-race brunch at her place.  It was a blast!  Erin put out quite the spread of food, too.

Here's a picture of us brunch-goers on Erin's rooftop:

From L to R: Christina, Emily, Erin, Maggie, Kelsey, Kim, me, and Chris.

Really fun times and a great way to close out my week off from work!

I do have a lot of lessons learned from this race that will pertain to the Chicago Marathon (e.g. another chapter in the great shoe audition, sigh).  More to come on all that later this week.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

New and (hopefully) improved

I finally had the time to add some new tabs to my blog!  Check out:

(I'll probably eventually change "Upcoming Races" to just "Races" and include links to my race recaps.)

New, but the jury is still out on "improved."

Beyond the new additions to my blog, I've got a plethora of other new things on the horizon this month:

Skirting the Issue
I've only ever worn shorts, capris, or tights to run.  I've never worn a running skirt of any sort.  I always thought they were a little too girly for me.  However, I've grown weary of my shorts riding up on me and chafing my thighs, necessitating the use of massive quantities of BodyGlide.  I've also heard countless testimonials as to just how comfortable running skirts are.  Erin even posted today about running gear today with some great suggestions on where to look for running skirts.  So I think I might finally take the plunge and give the running skirt a go!

Schwaggling for Handfuls
Many months ago I signed up to get emails from Schwaggle (basically the fitness community's equivalent of Groupon).  I have never taken advantage of any of their offerings until just recently, when I got a Handful sports bra for almost 60% off.  This is the first time that I've invested in what I consider to be a really top-notch sports bra, and it's very nice.

The Changing of the Seasons
After months of brutal heat and humidity, the Chicago Half Marathon this Sunday is predicted to have pretty good weather.  Current forecast: daytime high temps in the low 70s, with early-morning race-time temps likely in the upper 50s or 60s.  If this holds true, it'll be the first opportunity in over a year's time that I get to run a race in what I consider to be ideal weather.  Awesome! 

Blogging Runners In The Flesh
After multiple tries, I think I will finally, finally, FINALLY be able to make it to a Chicago Running Bloggers Meetup at the Chicago Half Marathon.  Yay!

A Triple-First Race
The PAWS Run For Their Lives 8K will cap off a number of firsts for me:
  • It'll be the first 8K I ever run!  I am excited to test out this distance for the first time.  (And hey, I'll take an instant PR in whatever way I can get it.)
  • I have a very soft spot in my heart for animals, and this will be the first race that I will run almost entirely because I simply want to support the cause.  (Thanks for passing this race's info on to me, Erin!)
  • This race will also mark the first time that I run two races in a single weekend (I'm running the Mad Dash to Madison the day before).

Now all I need is a copy of one of these, and I'll be all set!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

There's a fine line between dedication and insanity

My training plan had an 18-miler scheduled for this past weekend.  Since I was flying out to North Carolina early Saturday afternoon, I had a dilemma:

Option 1:
Do the 18-miler on Saturday morning at home in Chicago amidst familiar surroundings, hydration resources, and weather... but have to get up at an even more ungodly hour than usual to do it and know that I was under time constraints to finish, plus be utterly exhausted from running but then have to head directly to the airport and travel for the rest of the afternoon.


Option 2
Do the 18-miler in North Carolina on Sunday morning amidst completely unfamiliar surroundings and zero knowledge of local resources, but be more relaxed without time constraints and the ability to lie around for the rest of the day following.

I ultimately went with choice #2.

True to form, when making choices there is rarely ever a perfect choice. 

This run ended up being the most challenging training run I've ever completed, by far.

I was so wiped out from several very rigorous workweeks and the travels that on Sunday morning, I allowed myself the luxury of sleeping in.  Being on Eastern Time and therefore losing an hour upon arrival out here did not help matters.  I woke up around 8:30 AM and was on my way out the door at around 9:15 AM.  As I was getting ready to head out, armed with my handheld water bottle, I checked the weather forecast.  I was dismayed to see that current temperatures were already in the mid-80s, and with the massive humidity the real-feel temperature was 94 degrees.

I knew it was going to be a tough run so I tried not to think about it.  I figured I would just slow my pace down.  I started the mantra of telling myself that what was important was that you covered the prescribed distance - how quickly you did so didn't matter.

I had looked up some running routes through the Runner's World website.  The area of the Outer Banks we are staying in is close to Route 12, which is basically an oceanfront road that runs along the entire Outer Banks coastline.  I thought I'd do a few out-and-backs along Route 12, where I'd come back every 5-6 miles or so to refill my water bottle.

Getting started, I slowed my pace by a good 60 seconds per mile, but was still feeling the effects of the stifling humidity.  The original plan was to go out about 3 miles and then come back for a water refill.  But I actually wasn't feeling too bad around mile 3, and still had about two-thirds of my water bottle's contents at that point.   So I decided to go out to about 4.5 or 5 miles before coming back.

Route 12 turned out to be a more challenging route than anticipated to run through.  It is a 2-lane road with no sidewalk, almost no shoulder, plenty of obstacles along the shoulder (garbage bins, driveways with cars parked right up to the edge of the road, other runners/walkers/bikers, etc.), lots of traffic, and zero shade.  It was almost entirely residential, as well, which meant no places to stop for water.  There were also buildings on both sides of the road, which blocked any semblence of a breeze coming off the ocean. 

I got to mile 5 and paused to take a GU before turning back.  When I took the GU, I ended up drinking most of the water that I did have left in my bottle.  Oops.  Why didn't I realize this earlier?  I had another five miles to get back to where I was staying with not much water left.

The effects of the sun, heat, and humidity started hitting around mile 6.  I tried not to think about the fact that I still had about 12 miles in total still to go, and kept just plugging away.  I also needed to go to the bathroom, but amidst all the residences there weren't really any places to go.  It was miserable.  I slowed down even further during that stretch.  I was contemplating how I could have gotten myself into these predicaments, and alternating between feeling sorry for myself and being plain old annoyed at myself.

Ah yes, that would be me.

Around mile 8.5 I saw a portapotty along the side of the road.  I had never been so overjoyed to see a portapotty!!!  It was incredibly smelly and dirty, but I didn't care.

Around mile 9 there was a Hilton hotel.  This was like an oasis in the desert for me.  Potential water fountains!!!  I walked in, trying to look nonchalant, and was overjoyed to feel air conditioning.  I glanced around the lobby, and saw a big dispenser of ice water sitting at a table nearby. 


I tried not to knock anyone over as I darted over to refill my water bottle.  I immediately drank half of the bottle, refilled again, took a GU, and refilled one more time.  I think it was the best water I'd ever had.  Ever.

I then spotted some bathrooms.  Woo hoo!  I went in and splashed some cool water on my face.  Huge sigh of relief.

My huge thanks to the Hilton for quite possibly saving my life!

I lingered for a minute or two in the bathroom, just enjoying the air-conditioning, then forced myself to keep going. 

I made it back to where Adam and I were staying, where Adam was getting worried about me with the weather conditions being the way they were.  By that point I was at about mile 10.2, so I still had almost 8 miles to go, and it was starting to get close to noon.  Adam suggested that perhaps I cut the run short for the day, especially since I'd gotten such a late start.  I did consider it briefly, but since I was already more than halfway done at that point I was determined to finish.  Adam wasn't thrilled, but I promised him that I wouldn't overexert myself. 

I took some salt capsules, drank some orange juice, refilled my water bottle again, sat down for a few minutes, then headed back out again.

Well, it all depends on how you define "crazy."

The first two miles after heading back out actually weren't too bad.  I took a different path this time, following a paved bike path and a shaded trail.  It was much less stressful than the oceanfront road.  Then, the fatigue started hitting again so I slowed down and began walking more and more.  I eventually bottomed out with a ratio of two minutes running, two minutes walking.  It was ugly, and it took me about three lifetimes, but I finally got through the full 18 miles. 

Surprisingly, my nagging left hip flexor and wonky left knee didn't bother me much during this run.  I'm not sure if it was because I was running on asphalt instead of my usual concrete (asphalt is supposed to be softer than concrete), or if the heat had anything good to do with it, or who knows.  But whatever the reason was, I'll take it.

As soon as I got back, I refueled, took an ice bath, and then a shower.  My head was hurting and I was in a relieved daze.  I camped out on the couch and mindlessly watched some baseball, while unconsciously wondering how in the world I would ever add another 8.2 miles to what I had just done.

Well, it all depends on how you define "crazy."

The requisite meltdown didn't occur until about an hour and a half later.  It was then that I started crying and once again contemplating my own sanity.  Adam comforted me by reminding me that most people probably get scared when they are training for a marathon, and to trust my training plan.  He reminded me of the extreme temperatures and humidity in which I had just run, which I am no longer accustomed to and will hopefully not have to go through again this season.  He also reminded me that on marathon day, there would be race support and crowd support to help get me through it.  Same with my peak 20-mile training run, which will be done through the CARA Ready to Run 20-Miler.

In short, this training run was probably the hardest it'll ever get - and now it's over.

Thank God.

It wasn't until much later that night that it hit me.  I covered 18 miles.  I just set another new personal distance record.  In searing heat and humidity.

A few months ago, the thought of running more than 13.1 miles was so daunting I couldn't bring myself to think about it.  But now I'm actually doing it.  And never once during the training have I had to vomit or crawl in order to make it happen.  (OK, maybe that's not setting the bar very high.  But still.)

I've talked to my friend Mark many times about his marathon experience.  I asked him if it was really feasible to jump from the 20-mile peak long run in training to 26.2 miles on race day.  I remember his response very distinctly.  He said, "Yeah, you can do it.  You might have to take some walking breaks here and there.  But you just keep going and you'll get there.  And you'll feel great afterwards."

Now I understand.  And with this horrible 18-miler now behind me, I am fully realizing that it's the end goal that counts.  It might redefine the meaning of ugliness.  But that's okay, because what's important is crossing the finish line in one piece, no matter how long it takes to get there.

My new motto:

"Style points don't matter.  A win is a win."
-- Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin