April Recap

Image description: Full pink blossoms and green leaves on a tree branch with blue sky in the background.

The month started with the emergence of blossoms, and it concludes with nearly full leaf cover, bright green fingers on the edge of the evergreens, and the thick smell of pollen in the air. I enjoyed running in a few different locations, including during my two trips to Oregon. As the trails came alive with new growth, I cherished the gift of taking long walks through the arboretum during my lunch hour. I ran my first half marathon of the year, and it was really enjoyable and comfortable. I am feeling energized about my running practice as the days continue to lengthen and the weather warms. My daughter and I are now running together regularly. I had my annual destination race adventure with my number one running buddy. Overall, April exceeded my expectations.

I am looking forward to the slide into summer. To waking up early in the cool dawn, before the dew evaporates from the pavement. To extended golden hours in the evening. To trekking and running through the many natural beaches mere miles from my house. To continued changes in my own life as I delve deeper into the final push of my dissertation and support my family through growth and love. I feel a sense of peace and excitement.

I am also very pleased to be approaching a summer that does not involve marathon training. While marathon training is a labor of love, I do not feel the drive to shift my running practice in that direction. Rather, I continue to enjoy my intentions of pursuing sustainability and reclaiming excitement. There is something absolutely thrilling and invigorating about leaping out for a sunny evening run, with no particular agenda other than to find joy.

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High Desert Hopes

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Image description: A tray of ten beer samples on a wood table next to tortilla chips.

Bend Half Marathon weekend is upon me! I look forward to a road trip with my running buddy and some new scenery. Destination races are always exciting and provoke some anxiety. Sleeping in a different bed, eating different foods, being away from the comfort and supplies of home… Nevertheless, I always make great memories racing somewhere else, and celebrating post-race with food and drink as a tourist is quite appealing!

When I am packing for a race, I almost always over pack. In the case of a road trip, I think this approach can’t hurt. I like to bring at least a spare set of running clothes, including socks and bra, for race day. I also make sure to bring a few different options for weather, including a hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, warmer layer, and did I say spare socks? Because I am nearly legally blind without my glasses or contacts, I make sure to bring extra contacts. Finally, when I am going to run a specific race for the first time, I pack along my own fuel. This necessitates bringing a hydration pack, belt, or some other type of carrier to store items for the run. If you are doing this in the future, make sure you’ve practiced running with that pack/belt/carrier. I think the discomfort of adjusting an ill-fitting fuel belt is far more infuriating than dealing with a food blister. Honestly.

Every race brings with it a different intention. This time around, I am going for the experience and to enjoy running in new surroundings. Between factoring in altitude and my more relaxed training schedule (running several times a week, but a bit less aggressive with sequenced long runs), I am taking a no-pressure approach to the Bend event. I approached Wenatchee similarly this time last year, and I felt like I got a good pay-off. I was able to enjoy my two hours of running without worrying about setting a personal best. I am hoping for a similar experience this time around.

As with any long distance run, staying up and moving both before and after is a gift for the muscles. I plan to get plenty of walking in on Saturday, and plenty of walking in on Sunday after the race. Much of the stiffness and soreness felt after a half marathon may be proactively mitigated by keeping plenty of blood and oxygen cycling through the body. I find that destination races invite this recovery quite naturally, as there is typically much to see and do after the racing events of the morning conclude.

More than anything, I look forward to sharing this time with my running buddy and best friend. There is no richer bonding experience than sweating, agonizing, and achieving together. Off to the high desert!

march recap

More than a month has gone by since I last updated the blog. Winter pronounced itself through several blustery and snowy weeks, and has finally retreated. Cherry blossoms and forsythia dot the streets with vibrant colors. The sun, when it gets a chance to shine through the clouds, feels warm and close. My nose and eyes are telling me that spring is upon us, weaving her delicate changes through the fields and branches.

The entry of spring ushered in another new chapter for me. I successfully defended my dissertation proposal last week, bringing me to the last phase of my doctoral journey. I went into the defense armed with the tools I find to be the most reliable: solid preparation, good old fashioned rehearsing, and a 5 mile run earlier in the day to work out the jitters. I am so glad I had the ability to spend some time outside, working my body, lungs, and legs before sitting down to share a plan for research represents so much of my study over the last few years.

In the coming weeks, I will continue to prepare for the Bend half marathon. I’ve approached this race in a relaxed manner, prioritizing regular running and walking, while also integrating weekly long runs. I am not going into this one expecting a personal best on time, but I suspect that I will come in right around the two hour mark if I pace myself well, especially during the first few miles. I’ve only run one race this year, in part due to schedule conflicts, but also because I am enjoying a flourishing running practice that seems to no longer rely on the promise of an upcoming race to remain regular. So, I look forward to next month’s race recognizing that it may very well be a few months before the next one.

So far, nearly a quarter into the year, it seems that embracing my flow is becoming the natural intention of my practice. I realize I do not have to work as hard on the motivational premeditation before a run. I am much more inclined to lace up my shoes and head out. I am also enjoying my developing love of walking and hiking. They are great companions to running, and have only deepened my appreciation for our local trail systems and surrounding greenways.

The best update that I want to share comes from my mama life. My daughter has fallen in love with running, and evening mother daughter runs before dinner have become a nice little tradition. There is something truly special about a child organically sharing an interest with their parent. I look forward to many years of running together.

What are your spring running intentions?

Happy trails!

evolving rituals

I enjoyed an interesting conversation with my running buddy this morning, as we tackled our pre-dawn daily miles before heading into the office. We were talking about all of the rituals and rules that we used to observe, steadfastly, closer to the beginning of our respective running practices. Many of those tendencies, we realized, disappeared over the years as we have grown into a much more frequent running practice. For example, we are both much more comfortable heading into a half marathon without fueling in the middle, whereas I can remember a time that I felt obligated to swallow some type of energy goop every hour on the hour. Our bodies are the machines we know most intimately, like a car that one owns for several years… we begin to gain confidence in discerning the creaks, the rattles, the warning lights, and all of the quirks that accompany our daily commute.

This conversation got me thinking about the flip-side, the rituals related to running that I have adopted over the last year. Here are a few things I do now that I was not doing when I started my distance running journey:

Coffee. When I was a kid at summer camp, we used to sing a round about coffee (“C-O-F-F-E-E, coffee is not for me! It’s a drink some people wake up with, that it makes one nervous is no myth…”). Sorry camper of the past, but coffee is a drink I not only wake up with, it’s a drink I unabashedly consume before my morning runs. Caffeine is a common choice among runners, and consumed a variety of ways (for example, you can purchase fuel gels with caffeine added to them), but I prefer a cup of the good warm stuff. I also find that a cup of coffee before an early morning run (especially in fall and winter) keeps my core warm in cold weather.

Recovery walks. We’ve all felt the temptation to take up permanent residence on the couch after a long run, especially one that leaves muscles stiff and achy. I have learned, however, that heading for a sedentary recovery means enduring more days of soreness (the exception here is resting because of an injury… if you are injured, please rest, ice, elevate). I am a big fan of walking as a supportive exercise for running. I try to walk intentionally nearly every day, but on days when I do a particularly strenuous run, it is especially important to keep the blood circulating oxygen to tissue. A brisk walk for 1-3 miles really helps me to stave off stiffness after a run, and it is preferable to taking even one dose of NSAIDs, which can aggravate stomach issues.

Simple and nourishing food. Running uses up calories and hydration. One of two things typically happens after a run… I am either without any appetite, or I am ravenous. I tend to lose my appetite after a really hard and fast run, no matter the distance. I believe this is, in part, because of the fight or flight response. Ever get that precursor-to-diarrhea stomach cramp feeling after a run? It is all part of the same nervous system response. I have learned that it is really important to make a good effort to both eat a nourishing snack and replenish water after any run, even if I don’t feel like eating. A few things that tend to go down easy for me include hard-boiled eggs, banana with peanut butter, and Greek yogurt. I will often leave myself at least 16 ounces of water, either in the car or by the front door, to drink down immediately following my run. Of course there are exceptions to this, and they usually occur on a race day when there’s a trough full of Costco muffins or a doughnut stop with friends on the way home… but I try to stick to my nourishing foods as part of my regular routine.

Layers. I really like to feel warm when I run. I used to wear minimal gear and clothing, but now I will wear a running backpack to store gloves or a top layer on cold days. The extra gear is worth it to me. Personally, if I don’t have to spend the first ten or fifteen minutes of my run cursing how terrible the cold air feels against me, I get into the groove a lot faster. Two years ago, I rarely wore hats, vests, or gloves. Now I keep them ready to go and consider them to be essential fall and winter (and sometimes spring) running accessories.

New rituals, old rituals, some based in common sense, some in superstition. We all have them! The important thing is that you are equipping yourself to be successful and enjoy a long and flourishing running practice. I am looking forward to running for enough years that I end up contradicting my own advice several times over.

Happy trails!

december recap

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Image description: Two images side-by-side. On the left, the blogger wears a pink hat in a selfie. Her eyelashes, hat, and vest are covered by snowflakes. On the right, a wooded trail blanketed in snow.

December was a memorable month for running. We are experiencing La Niña this year, which means Western Washington is getting repeated snow in the lowlands for the first time in a while. Last month, I was able to enjoy some of the first completely silent and majestic snowy trail runs I have ever had the pleasure of completing. When I ran in the evenings, the darkness was illuminated by brilliant constellations and the colorful outdoor lights around the neighborhoods. I spent a lot of time running alone, which was a nice way to reflect and find peace. My family and I took an indulgent winter break, travelling virtually nowhere, spending many days at home playing tabletop games and simply enjoying our time together. I felt, for the first time in a long while, the absence of stress, deadlines, and the trivial details that can take the wind out of the sails of anybody who is anxiety-prone.

My favorite run of the month was the Last Chance Half Marathon, which takes place annually on New Year’s Eve. I ran this race last year, and I thoroughly enjoyed both the course (13.1 miles of my favorite trails) and what it represented. Last year, I felt a deep sense of accomplishment as I crossed the finish line. 2015 was a year sidetracked by illness and finishing it strongly felt triumphant. This year, I crossed the same finish line, once again, with a sense of pride as I reflected on my year. A year I ran more than 1100 miles. A year I learned how to run half marathons under two hours; 10Ks in 50 minutes. A year I dug deep to find the gifts of running, again and again, without the peer pressure of a friend or the impending expectation of a race. How did I feel running the Last Chance? I felt elated, and I felt thankful.

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Image description: Race photo of the blogger rounding the bend of a wooded trail. Mossy logs and ferns surround the path.

I enter the new year with a secure sense of self. So often, we are told to restrict and then indulge. We are a society of binging and purging, of minimalism and extravagance. There is but a small voice that suggests perhaps there is another way to find balance. As elusive as it is, with only the wisps of calm entering the present, the path to balance is there. I am growing into a new comfort of open-mindedness about who I am and what I do, but also unapologetic commitment to the aspects of living that help me grow.

Happy Trails!

so, you had a bad race

I ran my first fall race yesterday, the Bellingham Bay Marathon Half Marathon. Despite training all summer, I did not end up running a marathon. On top of that, I had a pretty cruddy run yesterday. My time was a 20 minute improvement over last year, but I struggled to run the race. My struggle was not physical—in fact, training for a marathon and then running a half marathon is a great way to go physiologically. However, I encountered many mental walls, including a general feeling of motivational malaise throughout the event.

My brief reflections as I revisit what happened yesterday:

  • This race is so familiar that it has lost all novelty. I run most every part of the route regularly. The scenery doesn’t captivate me.
  • Going from Chicago Marathon to hometown half marathon was what psychologists might refer to as a non-event. I was so focused on achieving a long-term marathon goal for so long, that yesterday’s experience was… well… a disappointment.
  • The etiquette at the start was terrible. I get grumpy when I spend the first two miles weaving because racers didn’t self-select into the appropriate place in the line-up. I was just ahead of the 2:00 pacer, and there were crowds of people running a 2:30 or so ahead of me.
  • I’m suffering under the tyranny of speed. I’ve gotten really competitive with myself, and when I knew I wasn’t going to come in at my goal time, I felt crushed. I know I am in a bad place, because a year and a half ago, I was thrilled by a 2:15 finish at the Whidbey half, and now I am kicking myself for a 2:02.

I think I need a reboot. I need to reconnect with running, and find its love and compassion again. I need a time out from speed goals.

My proposal is to run a trail half marathon next month. It’s a race I have never done before, and the sheer elevation gain will make it impossible to finish anywhere remotely close to what I am used to. It will be about endurance, the process, natural beauty, and making it through. Yesterday felt hollow. I did not feel reborn. I felt, a little less stellar than I do after a regular long run.

And why is that? Because, for me, when I start running for extrinsic rewards, for the approval of others, my soul is diminished. However, when I run from the heart, for nobody other than myself, I feel like I am flying. I transform.

This is where I am right now… figuring things out, trying to navigate how I want to approach running in the coming weeks and months. For now, I am focusing back in on the daily miles, and recovering joy from all paces.

august recap

August was a fruitful month, totaling 105 miles. This brings my 2016 mileage up to 778 miles… creeping closer to the 1,000 mile goal! I took more recovery days to walk and do different types of exercise last month, and I focused many of my shorter runs on speed work. Happy to report that there was some pay-off, as I placed first in a 25K road race last weekend! I enjoy setting new personal records, but there was a unique satisfaction of being the first woman to cross the finish line that I will carry with me in the memory bank of “triumphant runs” for a long time to come.

I have approached September, and it is time to fit in one more long run this weekend before tapering. While I am still running an early fall marathon, there’s been a change of plans. My running buddy broke her toe, and needs a few weeks to heal and recuperate. We decided to defer our race registrations for 2017. Running Chicago without my friend would not feel right to me. However, I’ve put a great deal of effort and time into training this past spring and summer, and so I decided to run my hometown marathon at the end of this month, instead.

As the marathon chapter comes to a close, I’ve been thinking about what I want to do next. While it has been invigorating and adventuresome to ramp up my speed and set new records for myself, I feel a pull back to the basics of why running fills my cup. The high of competition is ephemeral. I miss the meandering solo runs through the woods… with no particular agenda other than to traverse and appreciate nature. I am giving some thought to pursuing trail running more intentionally in 2017… perhaps doing some of the trail races and mountain runs that are so plentiful in this corner of the country. I would like to broaden my horizons and tackle some new experiences.

now

On Saturday I ran 13.1 in under two hours. I haven’t accomplished that time since February, when I ran the Birch Bay Half. Unlike my experience in February, however, I was not incapacitated by couch potato-itis the rest of the day. Instead, I came home, showered, drank some coffee, ate some lunch, and drove down to a wedding.

Comparing these two runs interested me because they are almost exactly a half of a year apart. Although it seems like Birch Bay was just a few weeks ago, many months have passed. It is a congratulatory reminder that my dedication to a running practice of regularity and frequency is not short-lived. It is also reassuring that, even during the long days of marathon training, I can still pull off a sub-2:00 half marathon.

Sometimes training foists a complicated set of expectations upon a relationship with running. The pure enjoyment of the experience of running is muddled by the formulaic necessity to achieve a certain amount of designated miles and long runs per month. The activity can seem obligatory and monotonous. A three mile run, easily accomplished most any day, is suddenly Homeric and cumbersome. The feet and legs threaten to halt to a walk, even though the lungs and heart are capable of going further. These difficult runs do crop up, and perhaps more noticeably given the increased amount of time that is dedicated to the task.

In the midst of this reality, I am grateful for the recent memory of a triumphant and beautiful long run. A run that contributed toward my perceptions of my own efficacy and esteem. This was a small but significant reminder that I have improved… that six months of nourishing my practice has made a difference. As a parent, a professional, and an athlete, I have come to cherish the following mantra: Something is better than nothing, but that something doesn’t have to be everything. While my instinctive urge is to dwell on the future, I am reminded of the gifts of meeting the present with open arms. I am also reminded of the metaphor which has carried me for many years through distance running… that of a jug filling with each drop of rainwater. Some drops are harder won than others, but the jug fills nonetheless.

 

 

longer runs

We are midway through May. I did not sign up for any races this month, and I decided to focus on maintaining a good running practice in advance of June, when I will begin my official marathon training schedule. One of the goals I set for this time of the year (late spring) was to become comfortable running distances slightly longer than the half marathon. When training for consecutive half marathons, it is natural that the 13.1 mile distance becomes the absolute limit for length… at least the way I train for a half. When approaching life after the half marathon, I had two goals in mind:

  1. Run 14, 15, or 16 miles with comfort
  2. Maintain a steady pace throughout the distance

Yesterday, I went on a solo run for 16 miles. I did my usual out-and-back trail run, which involves mixed surfaces (some cement, some pea gravel, and some dirt), rolling hills, and a few steeper hills and switchbacks during the middle portion. I was really pleased to finish up in 2:38, an average mile time of 9:53, with a negative split. I think the best part of the run, however, was that I still had energy after I was done. I could have run a few more miles, at the same pace, which is a great feeling when looking down the path at marathon training.

I am glad yesterday’s run went well, because I will be a single parent for the next few weeks while my partner is at his Ph.D. residency. This means that I will be completing shorter, more frequent runs (probably during my lunch hour), with a little less flexibility to go for long runs. I am fortunate, however, to have my family pitching in and helping me out (it takes a village, and I am very grateful for my village). I hope to complete at least one more long run this month.

Last but not least, I have to recommend a new fuel that I was encouraged to try by my local running store. Skratch Labs fruit drops are awesome, and you should check them out. They are tart, chewy, and easy on the stomach. I also like that they do not contain caffeine (although caffeine helps me initially, I have observed that it can actually lead to a crash and intestinal cramping later in the run).

the next chapter

I am positively thrilled by some exciting developments. Last week, I found out that I got a spot in THE 2016 Chicago Marathon! To make matters even better, my soulmate and epic running buddy was also offered a spot. Here we are, registered for a race that began as a fantastical idea during a dark and cold run last November. I have run a number of races in urban settings, and I have run a marathon before; however, I have never run a world-famous marathon with 45,000 other people including my best friend. How fortunate am I? I feel very lucky indeed.

The news of Chicago was especially sweet after a wonderful experience at the Wenatchee half marathon a little more than a week ago. I did not PR, but finished in 2:04 feeling good and peppy. I am coming around to the idea that my half marathon time is now sub-2:10 for fun, and able to be sub-2:00 on a race day. Instead of running myself too ragged in Wenatchee, I took the opportunity to enjoy a beautiful and scenic route along the river, framed by mountains, greenery, and sand dunes. Very interesting stuff, great support on the course, and a lovely weekend with my running buddy.

Last night, I sketched out my first draft of an 18-week training schedule for Chicago. I will start officially training the first full week of June, and I’ve incorporated a few hometown races throughout the schedule to break up the long runs and keep them interesting. When I trained for my first marathon in 2013, I remember feeling that the monthly mileage was simply overwhelming. Presently, however, as I average 80-100 miles a month, the marathon training schedule seems pretty manageable. There will be some looooong runs in there, but I plan to use the time before the training “clock” starts to get more comfortable with the 14-16 mile distance.

I’ve completed yet another semester of doctoral work, with dissertation just around the bend and beginning in the fall. I am gearing up to begin marathon training… the journey of rebirth I crave and anticipate with excitement. On Saturday, I will run 14 miles for the first time in a few years. Dig in, hold on, don’t look back.