Chicago Marathon

It’s been a hot minute.

Since I last blogged, I moved across the country (North Dakota to Portland, OR). I’m fielding job offers as I type, my house is under contract, and I plan to find a rental this week. Life is hectic, but wonderful.

In the mix, I ran in the Chicago Marathon for fun. {Yes, I realize that’s crazy.}

The bean!

Last Friday, I flew from Portland to Chicago, arriving around 8:30 p.m. perfect timing to avoid traffic. I Ubered to Lou Malnati’s where my girls were eating pizza. No, I didn’t eat pizza but they said it was fantastic. It was great to see Theresa and Beth – a taste of home after six weeks away.

On Saturday, we ran an easy two miles along the waterfront to shake out, grabbed coffee, then went to the expo. It was pretty standard: bib and packet pickup followed by crowds and booths. I was hoping for food samples (go figure!), but all I received were two tiny packs of sport beans, which I ate right away because I was starving. We took some photos then jetted.

Theresa, Beth and I at the expo

That night, we attended the Team in Training Inspiration Dinner. Theresa raised more than $7,000 for charity and was recognized on stage. It was moving to hear cancer survivors speak, and also those who’ve lost loved ones but found inspiration to run marathons and raise money for cancer research.

Next up: race day. Sunday morning came before we knew it. {There’s a backstory for me here. Originally, I planned to race Chicago and shoot for a lofty PR goal, but with moving and all the associated stresses, I took that goal off the table in early July and instead decided to run with Theresa. She was aiming for a 3:35 which I figured would be a relatively easy run. It would be a fun girls weekend and a nice long run with a running bestie.}

We did all the usual pre-race things. Fuel, coffee, nervous laughter, and 85 bathroom stops before walking to our corral around 5:40 a.m. It closed at 7:20 and we arrived in line by 6. There were only four or five security staff scanning runners, so it took a long time to even enter the area.

We rushed to the bag check to drop off our bags. This took a while because the area was so congested. By the time we dropped our bags, we had to book it to our corral. We made it with only a few minutes to spare, both having to forego a final porta potty stop to make it in time.

It was already warm as we were standing there. We found the 3:35 group and took off. The pacers were good – even splits and on pace. The miles were ticking off and all felt good. The tall buildings provided shade for about the first half.

I could tell Theresa had doubts in her mind and asked her what she was thinking. I don’t remember her response, but I do remember giving her a pep talk. It went something like, “THERESA. Knock it off. You HAVE this. This is yours today. We’re doing it.” 

It was said with love and support. We’ve ran countless miles together; I know her style, and vice versa. We both wanted this to happen so badly.

We were on pace for a 3:34 at the halfway mark. This would have all but guaranteed her entry into Boston 2019. Around mile 14, I dropped back a couple steps to ask Theresa what our plan was. I was leading for a few miles by this point and wasn’t sure if she wanted me to keep pushing. She said we should hang back for a bit, then evaluate. The 3:35 group kept creeping ahead.

It was now mile 15 and it was warm with full sun. She was staving off muscle cramps and called it – we were now running just to finish. Several times, we stopped running so her legs wouldn’t seize. When we stopped, I made her take salt capsules. Those ended up saving the day.

I grabbed her a water cup from every station and she poured it on herself. Weaving back to her after every water stop was quite the task. The congestion didn’t let up the entire race.

I started having fun and snapped a couple selfies and even posted a video on Snapchat. Normally I’m annoyed with “those people,” but I became one of them. Ha! We were going to have fun with this race, even if it fell flat of any and all goals.

My running selfies suck just as much as non-running ones!

The rest of the race was a struggle; the heat took hold of her and wouldn’t let go. We took a bathroom stop and a few walking breaks. After mile 20, we kept a slow jog to the finish, crossing the line hand in hand, arms raised. We came in just under four hours at 3:57:47.

Theresa is walking away disappointed. She ran a BQ in May but fell just short of getting into Boston next year, so she was looking forward to a strong qualifying time in Chicago. She ended up having massive muscle cramps after the race and was whisked off to the medical tent. She is okay thankfully.

Theresa, I’m sad Chicago didn’t happen as planned, but know you are a talented runner. The improvements I’ve watched you make over the past year are nothing short of astonishing. It’s been so fun to watch your speed and base grow. Boston is in you and I know you’ll get there. Until then, rest up, let your heart heal, and come back refreshed. You raised thousands of dollars for cancer research, which makes you a winner, no matter what the time was.

Stinky finishers! Why am I the only one with beer?

Beth (middle) ran her first marathon. She crushed it in the heat, and I’m proud of her.

As for me, my early disappointment from when I changed my goal fell away. It was fun to run a marathon with practically no formal training. Since I left North Dakota in early September, I didn’t get in a long run. Most of my runs were slow and my heart rate was through the roof, both during running and resting. I was nervous and hoped I could hold pace for Theresa to help her reach her goal.

Somehow, the run felt easy, even the first half. Amazingly, I’m not even sore. I will still treat my body with extra care for the next couple of weeks, but I’m so shocked at how good I feel. I was planning to be wrecked after this.

Chicago, you lit my fire and showed me how much I love to run and race. It’s now officially offseason. Time to rest my body and soul before coming back in January. I plan to bring my A game to Boston next year, but until then, low miles, lots of lifting, and time to adjust to my new life.

For anyone coming back from Chicago or any disappointing race, know it’s okay. Every race won’t be a PR. Running is hard, and we wouldn’t enjoy it if it weren’t. Any day we can run 26.2 miles for fun is a great day. We need to celebrate the wonders of our body and health.

Cheers to offseason.

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Leaping…

I have some news that will shed light on my decision not to race Chicago and why I was stressed under the weight of training. I’m moving more than 1,000 miles away to Portland, OR.

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Ahhh, Portland. Who couldn’t get used to that?

I’ve known for a while I wanted to move but stayed in North Dakota through winter to train in my safe, familiar place. Boston was on my radar and I wanted to bring my A game. After a hellish North Dakota winter, Boston came and went. As soon as we flew home, I was ready to go at any time.

I applied for a few jobs, but it’s tough from across the county. If I wanted it to happen, I needed to make it happen. And I am doing just that.

On September 1, I am loading my car and driving to Portland where I’m staying with a friend until I get the details flushed out, carpe diem style.

I’m receiving varied responses from friends, but life is too short to not follow your dreams. The jump from North Dakota to Oregon will be a shock in all ways, but one I’m so excited to experience.

When I decided marathon training was too much stress on an already-full plate in early July, I wasn’t going to run Chicago at all. But then I realized I already paid the $195 registration fee that couldn’t be recouped by running next year. I’m not one to throw away $195, especially now!

Enter Plan B. I decided to run with my friend Theresa. That way, I wouldn’t miss out on the Chicago experience. She is aiming to PR (her current is 3:37:XX) so if we have a good day, I plan to run 3:35 with her. That will be a solid run (what marathon isn’t?) but yet a fairly easy one compared to shooting for my PR.

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You know, just running by my GoPro with Theresa….

I can’t believe I’m moving in two weeks (!!!!!) and running Chicago in seven. While I’m still fun running my summer away, I’m going to continue to pile on the easy miles so I’m in top shape to have a good, easy run in Chicago.

Anyone who has quit a job, sold their house, or moved knows how stressful these events are. Combine all three, plus leaving friends and family, and you have one stressed out runner. Running has been my therapy, my saving grace. As excited as I am to start this new chapter, I’m currently in the grief state of losing my life as I currently know it.

Change is bittersweet, and growth is a hard process. When we go through it,  it hurts, but that’s exactly what growth is. Once we’re on the other side, we are better people. I’m knee deep in that ‘hard’ stage right now.

When I’m blabbing on about how running is my therapy on Insta, now you know what I mean. Cheers to this new chapter and a brand new adventure.

 

Seven.

As runners, we get tied up in numbers. X miles at X pace. X temp, X wind, X humidity. X feet of elevation. Let’s run at X time and keep it at X heart rate.

A couple weeks ago, I posted a Sunday ‘by the numbers’ on Insta:

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Yes, all the numbers in the caption were on my mind, but a bigger one overshadowed all those listed: seven.

I’m up a solid seven pounds since Boston. Even typing that is hard. Ever since I crossed the line, I’ve been indulging: cookies, cake, pasta, wine. It’s all been fair game.

This isn’t to say I’ve been stuffing my face non-stop since, but I haven’t been on my macros for a consecutive week since April. I’d eat pretty well on weekdays, then on the weekends I’d indulge. I’d eat like a “normal person” and not count.

I didn’t turn down dinner and drinks with friends. I just lived, and it was nice. I traveled a few times and instead of packing protein powder or a cooler full of macro-friendly foods, I ate at restaurants and rolled with it.

It’s all fun and games until your clothes get a little tight. It took a while to work up the courage to step on the scale. I finally did, and the number staring back at me almost made me cry. Seven pounds.

It’s not so much the number, but the fact I allowed it. It was a conscious choice. I recognized something important about myself: after each hard marathon and training cycle, I indulge and let go for a few months. This isn’t necessarily bad, maybe it’s healthy even, but I didn’t realize I was doing it or that I had a pattern of it.

I’ve come to terms with the increase, accepted it, and made the decision to cut. For anyone who’s done this, you know it’s not fun. It requires dedication. There are no “off” days. For me, this means no alcohol until I reach my goal. I set myself up for success, and alcohol definitely doesn’t do that. Besides the empty calories (that are counted), it makes me hungry. It’s a double whammy.

I also remove any trigger foods from my house, anything that makes me want to eat more than I should, especially when I’m not hungry. Bye, sugary cereals and Jif Whips.

This situation makes me second guess my decision to stop training for Chicago. When I’m marathon training, I’m my best self. I go into robot mode and become extra efficient. It ironically makes me extremely busy, yet I get everything done. The higher miles would’ve went hand-in-hand with leaning out, but that’s no reason to train for a marathon.

So, here I am: cutting. Ugh. Putting this out there will help hold me accountable. I don’t want to waste my time. If I cut, I cut. It makes no sense to be on point during the week, then go HAM on the weekends and mess up the deficit you worked hard for.

That cycle is common, and it just wastes time and makes us less happy. Our bodies will maintain on a shockingly large amount of calories, so either cut, or just be happy.

For now, I am attempting to cut and love myself through it. As soon as I reach my happy place, I will reverse, slowly adding in macros (calories) until I’m satisfied with my level of food. I’m already missing my 2,100 daily calories I had for months while training, but I will get back there.

Pulling the plug on Chicago

Long time, no blog. It’s been nearly three months since my last marathon. Life has been extremely busy – work, summer fun, life changes, and marathon training.

I’m three weeks into training for Chicago Marathon. I hired an awesome coach and was excited to have her do the thinking for me. It’s impossible to view yourself objectively. Running was going very well.

Until it wasn’t.

I’m in the process of making some big life changes, things that affect every area of my life. I am emotionally and physically drained. Training for a PR on top of it became too much. Even though I was nailing my workouts, something felt off. I wasn’t finding joy in running, something I’ve never experienced before.

Running is my escape from life’s stress, and no matter how busy or tough training gets, I thrive off the push. Ironically, training makes me more efficient in all areas. I am the best version of myself when I’m training and pushing my limits.

Until I’m not.

The mental exhaustion I’m feeling is hard to quantify. My life-changing stress has begun to physically manifest. I’m making bad food choices and sleeping terribly. I’m overwhelmed to the point of becoming paralyzed by inaction. All of that adds up to stressful miles, especially those hard speed workouts where you have to be on point.

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Just another day of grinding away…

I was smack dap in the middle of a 13-mile long run on Sunday. I ran a route with a large hill. After the climb, you overlook the town. It’s serene and peaceful with a beautiful view of the prairie and river. When I reached the top, I overlooked it all and just broke down. After lots of tears, I knew to avoid burnout and truly care for myself, I had to make the decision not to race Chicago. I’m not sure if I will run it at all, even for fun.

Once I conceded the race to myself, I didn’t have the desire to finish out my long run. I’ve never bailed on a long run before. Ever. Once I commit, I don’t bail. When those thoughts ran through my mind, I knew I was making the right call.

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A panoramic view of the prairie. Also a good place to lose your shit. Nature doesn’t judge.

While this decision is right, it’s also sad and disappointing. I’ve had Chicago on my mind since last October when I registered. Boston went better than expected, so I was primed for a PR (with a good training cycle).

I’ve never had to back out of a race before. There were times where I should have but ran anyway. One of those times ended in passing out on the course with heat exhaustion and being propped up by race volunteers to walk to the finish. I was too stubborn to back off. Yes, I am usually “that person.”

This time, I won’t be too stubborn. I know I have faster marathon times in me, but right now, it isn’t a healthy time for me to chase them. I feel like I’m disappointing people, most of all myself.

On the other hand, I look forward to taking a mental break, something I didn’t do after Boston when I needed it. Just two weeks out, I was logging 50-some mile weeks. How silly of me.

Marathon training is consuming. If you’ve done it, you know the work it takes. The miles are just the beginning. After you run, there’s fueling, hydrating, rolling, smashing, lifting, laundry……you name it.

My coach emailed me today and I dropped the bomb. She was very supportive, just as I thought she’d be.

So, there it is. I’m strong, but sometimes I need to back off to take care of myself, too.

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How’d you do that?

Whenever I share about going from a 4:32 marathon to a 3:22, I get this question.

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I wrote a post a while back about how I got faster.

People generally seem disappointed when I tell them the answer. The truth is, there is no magic bullet. There is no one thing I did differently to get faster. It’s a combination:

1. Consistency
2. Strength training
3. Following a good training plan
4. Running more miles/having a large base
5. Getting specific with training paces and make every run count
6. Don’t neglect easy days – in fact, most of your miles should be easy
7. Speedwork, including both on the track and off
8. Diet and nutrition to support your running
9. Recovery/mobility – foam rolling, using The Stick, stretching, flossing, yoga, etc.
10. Stop being afraid of failure
11. Believing you can

While these are all important, I think the most important are the last two. If you tell yourself you can’t run X pace, you probably won’t be able to. You have to get your mind right and believe. The key for my first Boston-qualifying marathon was to believe I could. It was a stretch to shave 18 minutes off an already-decent time of 3:49, but I if I didn’t go for it, I obviously wouldn’t have achieved it.

This year in Boston, I knew shooting for my A goal was dangerous. It might have put me in the med tent. (So many people ended up there that hot day.) I decided to go for it. It was intimidating thinking of all the people who were tracking me. What if I fell short? What if I had an embarrassing finish time? Ultimately, I gave it my all, and luckily did not come up short. I couldn’t have been afraid of failure in that moment, or I wouldn’t have went for my A goal.

Everyone is different, but it has taken years for me to run faster, or even to have the desire to run faster! Being a good racer is about being comfortable with being uncomfortable. That’s a hard thing to learn. I’m not a frequent racer compared to others, but when I do race, I thrive on the feeling of being “on the edge” and knowing I can’t push any harder.

Be patient. Work hard. The results will come.

 

Losing race weight

Last weekend was hot and sunny, conditions that always kick my ass. In an effort to be comfortable, I put on shorts and a sports bra before taking off on an easy 10-miler. I looked in the mirror and negative thoughts started as soon as I laid eyes on my stomach.

“You can’t go out in public like that.”
“There’s no definition!”
“Eww. Too puffy.”
“Not tan enough.”

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Post-marathon abs, in all their carbed-up, puffy, white glory.

After the high of a marathon fades, it’s normal to expend less energy. When that happens, even the most meticulous eater puts on a few pounds. It’s normal, and even healthy. *gasp*

It’s something even the elite and sub-elite deal with. These are my favorite blogs regarding this subject: Tina Muir and NYC Running Mama.

My amazing friend Jenn posted that morning on Instagram, and after reading her caption, I decided to hell with it. I was going to run in my sports bra, post-marathon stomach and all.

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Love her.

Through training, I was running like a maniac, nailing my paces and averaging around 60 miles a week. I weighed myself every other day, but not for the normal reason. I monitored my weight closely to make sure I wasn’t losing too much weight. When the number dipped too low, I jacked up my calories, again and again.

Seeing muscle definition and sliding on your skinny jeans to have them fit perfectly is an addicting feeling. It’s a confidence booster and physical confirmation of how hard you’re training.

Now that my race is a month behind me, I’ve found I’m up about 3-4 pounds over race weight. I hate to say it, but it causes major anxiety. My spirit is not healed from the physical and emotionally exhausting race that was Boston, but yet, I found myself running 54 miles last week. I’d like to say it was because I love the run (and I do), but it was more because I love my abs.

This week, I’ve intentionally ran and even moved less in general. It’s Friday and I only have 15 miles under my belt. I’ll run this weekend, but I’m not going to stress about any numbers – my mileage, or the scale.

For today, I choose to appreciate how hard my body works, and try not to freak out about a silly number on a scale.

 

Two terrifying words: sugar free

  • “I ran 63 miles. I deserve this Lenny & Larry’s cookie…..for breakfast.”
  • “I lifted three times!” *downing a package of gummies*
  • “This oatmeal isn’t sweet without being drenched in Walden Farms syrup.”

Those have all been normal thoughts for the past 1.5 months.

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Oh you know, just a pre-lunch snack. Who doesn’t need a cookie the size of their head?

During training I’m constantly hungry. When I don’t eat immediately I get hangry, leading to packaged “foods.” I’m not a meal prepper, also leading to packaged food-like things. (Yes, I say “foods” and food-like things, because it’s not really food….)

I’ve been experiencing intense cravings for anything sugary sweet. I completely indulged my sweet tooth. No matter what I eat, the craving is never satisfied.

Coincidentally, I’ve been having weird stomach issues I don’t normally have – bloating, upset stomach, reflux, and general bad GI issues.

Last weekend, I road-tripped with a close friend. She has health issues and struggled with a bad stomach and the same symptoms. She removed all processed sugar from her diet eight months ago, going as far as limiting naturally-occurring sugar. After three weeks, her stomach/GI issues vanished.

Say what?!

I’m no stranger to healthy eating, but I never connected my newfound stomach/GI issues directly to sugar!

I’ve read a lot of scientific studies that say moderate sugar consumption isn’t bad, especially if you’re an athlete. Naturally, I took this to the extreme and used it to justify boatloads of it, anytime I wanted.

Since I’m not training for a few months, now is the perfect time to try a sugar-free experimental diet. I’m not going to cut natural sugars, like fruit, but I will limit my loves bananas and dates, at least until my sweet cravings are manageable.

Since chemical sweeteners might affect us the same way as traditional sugars, I am going to temporarily cut those, too. I’m also going to abstain from Stevia for a bit. It’s natural, but I need to completely reset my palate. I want to completely kick these sugar cravings.

I tried a week without refined sugar, and it went great. After the week was over, unfortunately, I resumed my sugary, nutrient-devoid diet.

When I have the sugar under control, I’d like to experiment with removing foods that spike blood sugar, including grains, just to see what happens. That sounds terrifying right now, so one step at a time.

I’m excited to see how I feel once I remove the sugars. Today is day three and maybe it’s mental, but I already feel like I’m craving less sugar.

I’ll report my results and share some coping strategies when I’m a little further in. Cheers to better health!