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.

 

 

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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.

training while sick

Despite all of my precautions, I succumbed to the current cold virus making its rounds. I took a few nights off from running, and was able to run a 10K race yesterday morning at a more leisurely pace. Today, I am feeling more improved, and will likely go for a short (~3 mile) run. Tomorrow, if I am feeling even better, I will attempt a long run.

Should we train when we are sick? I think that really depends on the person and the sickness. I exercise when I am sick if my symptoms are above the neck, I am feeling sufficiently hydrated, and the thought of fresh air and pumping blood perks me up. Often, I find that a jog here and there as I am getting over a cold helps to clear my sinuses and lift my spirits. What I have learned to be the most critical, is to honestly listen to the needs of the body before committing to a run. I can think of times when I ran too hard and for too long when I was feeling really sick and run down, and that actually compromised my health more. I try to play it really safe these days.

As a consequence of taking a few days off, my January mileage is a little behind, at 44 miles so far for the month. I hope that I am able to pick up my streaking again soon, and contribute some solid long runs to the remainder of the month as I finish preparing for the Birch Bay Half Marathon.

Yesterday’s 10K was pretty fun. My running buddy and I ran it together, and there was a lucky break in the rain for the entire duration of the race. I am most proud of us for running up an extremely gnarly hill right at the midpoint of the run. In comparison to where we were last year in our respective running practices, I think we’ve made some substantial improvements.

Happy trails, and stay well!

 

home cooking

It is definitely January. The term has started up at the university where I work, and I find myself keeping occupied with supporting my students and the case management required by that task. My doctoral studies resume tomorrow, the last semester before I take comprehensive exams, the penultimate semester before I begin dissertating… there is a light at the end of that tunnel! I am doing my best to keep up my running streak, so far, so good. On Saturday, I enjoyed an 8-mile run. Trying to keep my long runs in good shape for my upcoming half marathon in mid-February. This weekend, I will run the same 10K I did last year, with the hopes of a much-improved time. Since I am working around a bunch of students, and then picking up my kiddo from preschool every day, I continue to wash my hands frequently, get plenty of sleep at night, and eat nourishing foods (stay away, germs!).

Speaking of foods, we are two weeks in to an interesting challenge at my house, which is to not eat “out” at all this month (this includes restaurants, take-out, coffee stand items, drive-thrus). My partner and I both work full time, and that can make meal preparation every evening appear daunting. Last month, we realized that we had come to depend on food prepared by others as a mainstay of our diets. I worried about the impact on our finances and on our nutrition, and we agreed to try something different for the month of January. So far, I love the change of pace. Grocery shopping immediately became more exciting, as we stocked our kitchen with more produce, meats, eggs, and other ingredients. Meals have been much more satisfying and healthy; leftovers are being consumed. We are tossing less food because we are using it up to cook. Our compost and garbage output has gone down tremendously. Surprisingly, we are eating very few boxed or frozen food items.

Here are some go-to strategies that I have found really help:

-Bake a bunch of yams (my favorite) or potatoes and use those throughout the week in meals

-Scrambles (various ingredients cooked omelet style with eggs) are a great way to use up odds and ends in the produce drawer

-A crock pot is pretty much an error-proof way to make a tender and fragrant stew

-Chopping vegetables on Sunday night and storing them in Tupperware really does make it easy to throw together a “to-go” salad for lunch throughout the week

-You can make amazing pizza dough in the bread machine

Anyway, all of these are no-brainers, but sometimes we have to reset our habits before we can remember or realize the resources at our disposal. We are spending way less money to eat better food and feel more satisfied. I am sure, come next month, we will eat out again occasionally. But the break from restaurant food has been really good for us, and also fun for my daughter, who loves to help with the cooking.

Hello, 2016!

For my last race of 2015, I decided to run a half marathon that’s been on my “bucket list” for a few years now; the Last Chance Half. This is a trail race which goes along one of my favorite trails for long-distance training runs. There is a half marathon option and a full marathon—the full marathon does the out and back course two times. One time was sufficient for this runner.

When my alarm went off on New Year’s Eve, I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes and checked the weather on my phone. It was 25 degrees, with little chances of climbing above freezing at any point during the race. I knew I was in for something chilly and frosty.

I dropped my daughter off at pre-K and drove to the park where the race started. There was a cheerful crowd of trail runners congregated in the (thankfully heated) park shelter. A few minutes after waiting around, we jogged over to the start, and the race began.

As I mentioned before, I had no time goal with this race. My hope was to simply enjoy the last month of the year. Typically, before I run a half marathon, I am doing longer training runs up to 12 miles. In this case, I had done some mid-length runs (6-9 miles), but my efforts have been focused more recently on running at least three miles per day. Even though I was not going into the race with terribly long training runs, my cumulative weekly and monthly mileage is at its highest right now… even compared to marathon training. I think that net mileage helped me.

The first four miles were really about getting my engine warmed up. It took some time. I took some walking breaks. My quads were absolutely frozen and the cold air made it more challenging to take deep breaths. After the first forty minutes or so, however, I started to feel like my normal self. I proceeded to have an utterly blissful run for the remaining 9 miles, completely avoiding any walls, aches, pains, or mental distraction. It is extremely rare that I get a run in with that much time “in the zone”—but I really think that the spectacular views of the bay, frosted trails, and glistening branches in their wintery glory really helped me to remain in the present and enjoy myself.

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Before I knew it, I was crossing the finish line. 2:26—not shabby! This was 6 minutes slower than my last half marathon in September, but the difference was that I finished the Last Chance half with enough energy in me to feel like I could run the 5-6 miles home. This is a good sign for my long distance training this winter and spring, as it means that my goal toward cumulative mileage and regular shorter distances is paying off, even with long runs.

The next day, I woke up and ran two laps around Lake Padden with my running buddy extraordinaire, Private Robot (my nickname for her). We celebrated the beginning of what is sure to be a great year for running. We are both strong and determined, and I am really proud of us both for sticking with our respective running practices, even through some illnesses, injuries, and life circumstances. Running is amazing medicine.

The next evening, we did a headlamp trail run in our neighborhood, which was really fun. The day after that, we attempted a 6 mile “airport loop” that I swear is cursed. Every time we do this run, it either rains buckets (one time we were actually scared we might be struck by lightening) or something else crappy happens. This time, it was just really hard. In retrospect, I think the poor air quality (lots of really cold clear days without any wind) was impacting us, as well as tired muscles. But hey—we pulled through and did the miles, even if it wasn’t pretty.

Last night I ran my regular 3 miles, and I plan to do so again tonight. Nothing longer than that planned until the weekend, when I might do 5 or 6 miles one of the days.