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!

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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.

March recap

March comes in like a lion and out like a lamb, goes the famous saying, and I would agree that with the sunny weather and longer days, this month is leaving me peacefully. I finish the month with a total of 92 miles, which feels just about perfect to me. This month, I focused on running more frequent shorter distances, which I have found to be helpful in my overall pace for long runs. There were a few days that I elected to do another type of exercise, such as Zumba or yoga, but for the most part, I ran almost every day. I also elected not to run any races this month, which resulted in a more relaxed disposition toward my running practice. I enjoyed watching the trails transform into greenery, and like many runners, I was thrilled by the long-awaited return to Daylight Savings Time. My longest run was a spontaneous half marathon last week, which I was able to complete in 2:08 without much struggle.

A few things are on my mind as I enter April. I am running the Wenatchee Half Marathon in just two weeks, and I am getting very excited about enjoying this first spring race. So far, the weather forecast is looking good (knock on wood). I will also find out later in the month if I received a spot in the Chicago Marathon through the lottery system. If not, I am set on fundraising for a qualifying charity. Running Chicago is a dream of mine. Finally, along with dreams of a marathon comes the reality of training for a marathon. After Wenatchee, I will probably take advantage of my momentum to start slowly adding mileage to my long runs. I would like to be as comfortable running 16 miles as I am currently comfortable running 13 miles by June.

I find myself, once again, very busy this month of April. I have a semester of doctoral work to complete, a choral concert to perform, a fundraising event to co-facilitate, a child to care for, a full-time career which requires much attention… and yet, I feel confident. Running will see me through as it always has.

Happy trails!

February Recap

February 2016, with its extra day (wonderful!), produced a solid month of running. I was able to reach a monthly mileage total of exactly 100 miles, and within the month I set a new half marathon record, only to beat it by over 8 minutes at a half marathon race a week later. As I reflect on the month, I am feeling gratitude. First, for my wonderful family members, partner and daughter, who support my running daily by giving me the space and time to lace up my shoes without any grief. Second, and importantly, my treasure of a friend and running buddy, who keeps me company through many a mile and is a constant source of inspiration and positivity. Finally, I am thankful for good health. Some winters are worse than others, but I seem to be making it without much sickness this season (knock on wood). Oh, and I guess I am thankful for novelty ice cream treats. Really thankful for those. Because they are the perfect recovery snack in the evening after I’ve come home from a run.

March is off to a good start, and I hope to spend the month enjoying the changing greenery while continuing to run shorter distances (3-4 miles) very regularly (almost daily). While there is temptation to recapture the glory and run a half marathon or something this month, I need to focus on building strength and endurance as I gear up for the Wenatchee Half Marathon (and accompanying retreat with some lovely ladies) next month.

Things in the near future that bring me joy:

-Daylight Savings Time in a mere week! I’ll have some decent daylight for my evening runs!

-Chicago Marathon lottery opens in a week and a half!

-Leaves are growing back! Blossoms are in full splendor!

That’s all for now. Happy trails!

my sub-2:00 half marathon

Today, something quite magical happened. I ran a half marathon race, and I finished under 2:00!

I’ve loved half marathons since the beginning of my adventures in distance running. As I became a more practiced runner, my times improved steadily and incrementally. Nearly three years ago, I set my all-time personal best for a half marathon at 2:11. Ever since, I have hovered around the 2:15 mark–sometimes more by a few minutes, sometimes less.

This year, one of my intentions for 2016 was to push myself out of the plateau and finally run a half marathon in 2:10 or less. I found that from running regularly (almost every day), my mile times began to improve in a way that they had not before. I achieved several new 10K bests, and a very fast 5K in December. Rather than waiting around for an April half marathon to try setting a new record, I registered for the Birch Bay half in February, hoping for a speedy race day.

Last week, inspired by my wonderful friend and running buddy who went for a long run and set an awesome new record for herself, I decided to embark on a dress rehearsal for the half marathon. I ran exactly 13.1 miles, using my regular out-and-back trail/road mix. I was very content when I finished in 2:08. Holy moly!–I thought–This is great! I was happy with achieving my goal of sub-2:10 and hoped to repeat a similar time at today’s race.

And then, this morning, everything came together. Despite the fact that it was pouring buckets and my shoes were squishy from the get-go, I was enjoying the route at a pretty fast clip. I decided to push through the first half aggressively, giving myself some breathing room during the second half, while still being able to finish under 2:10. However, when I realized that I was three miles out from the finish with a little under a half hour to spare, I felt the opportunity to push through and try for under 2:05.

I ran hard today. My comfortable pace is 10 minutes per mile. I clocked several of my miles at around 8:30. I fueled and hydrated religiously in order to avoid the dreaded wall. I tried not to look down at my watch too much, but I will admit that the last mile had me pumping my arms and chanting “keep going, keep going” to myself.

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When I finished under 2:00, I was in disbelief. I still am. I never, ever thought I would finish a half marathon, let alone at a race, this quickly.

I often run for other reasons besides fitness–for mental health, for inner peace, for fun. Today, however, I felt like an athlete. And that is an experience I will continue to cherish through my spring training and beyond.

What is my next half marathon-related goal? I am not sure. But I see endless opportunities ahead to continue improving upon and enjoying this distance.

January Recap

January was a pretty good month for running. I was sick for the second half of the month, so my cumulative mileage dipped down, but I take pride in the 83 miles I was able to log. I enjoyed some nice long runs by myself and also with my running buddy. It has been a wonderful fortune to have a friendship with somebody who is also actively training for a few half marathons in the future—I think the ability to run together now and then keeps us both accountable. I enjoyed the Nookachamps 10K, but hope to run it again next year in better health.

Yesterday, I kicked February off with a 3 mile nighttime run. The days are getting a bit longer, there is still daylight when I leave work, but none remains by the time I get home. By the end of the month, my headlamp will be less necessary. On a 10 mile run last weekend, the sun came out for about an hour, and the breeze was mild. The birds were singing and the small buds glistened on the branches. Slowly, slowly, the seasonal change is underway once again.

Goals for this month are to accumulate 80-100 miles (toward my goal of running 1,000 miles in 2016), go for a PR at the Birch Bay half marathon, and continue my hip strengthening exercises and stretches about which I was relatively disciplined last month.