race recap: nookachamps 10K

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Today, I ran a 10K that I’ve done every year for the past four years. The course is hilly and most of the miles are on road surfaces. The race also served as a check in to see how I am feeling about my upcoming half marathon next month. I was pleasantly surprised by how well things went; I had to weave a little during a crowded first mile, and I took a brief walking break on a steep uphill before mile 3, but the rest of the route felt springy and fast. I finished the race within 3 minutes of my personal best at this event two years ago, and considering I was waddling the course at a 20 minute mile last year in full-term pregnancy, I am pleased with today’s result. When I crossed the finish line, I felt like I could have maintained that pace for another 2 or 3 miles. In the upcoming weeks, I am going to continue my training, but add mileage to the long runs until I am confidently running 10 miles at a good tempo with energy to spare.

 

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milk & miles

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Running and breastfeeding are compatible activities that I have had the opportunity to enjoy with two babies. Each time I’ve learned something different, especially given that I did not start running regularly until my daughter was almost one, but I went back to running only a few weeks after giving birth to my son. In both cases, I learned how to keep the balance of logging miles and making milk for babies at different stages in their development and nutritional needs. I thought I would share a few insights in case it might be useful to a fellow mama runner (or friend/partner of one) in the future.

In the first six weeks of life, a newborn’s stomach is very small and breastmilk is metabolized quickly. Furthermore, so much of nursing fulfills needs far beyond nourishment. Hormones catalyzed during nursing sessions accomplish tasks ranging from bonding to shrinking the uterus and helping internal organs shift back into place. Skin-to-skin contact is important, the mother and baby should really smell one another in the holistic sense to keep these biochemical changes progressing. There are very few people who could jump up and go for a long run right after giving birth anyway (most of us are still in our adult diapers scarfing lukewarm meals one handed while crying over everything), but, needless to say, I think this is a time when breastfeeding should really take priority over any type of routine exercise.

During the fourth trimester, the first three months of a baby’s life, breastfeeding begins to hit a more routine stride. With my son, I started to really pursue running once he was about 2 months old. At this point, I could tank him up with milk before a nap, leave him snuggled with his dad, and enjoy 3 miles around the neighborhood without worrying. I planned to go back to work with both kids, so I began pumping pretty early on. As the months progressed, I felt confident going out for longer runs knowing that my partner could always give the baby a bottle if I wasn’t there.

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In my experience, by about 7 or 8 months, a baby is getting nourishment from some solids/table foods in addition to breastmilk, although breastmilk comprises the majority of the diet. This is when I felt like I could really enjoy longer runs without the pangs of worry about missing a nursing session. The challenge during this period for me with both babies was maintaining ample milk supply in the context of working and pumping. So I was pretty intentional about nursing both before leaving for a run and when coming back to keep my body in that routine (breastfeeding is, at a simplistic level, supply and demand). For longer race days, I’ve found that a small hand pump and cooler bag stashed in my gear bag has provided relief and or peace of mind when I need it. By the way, I have seen many nursing mothers pump before the start of races (you start to see it when you’ve done it!).

With babies and toddlers one and older, daytime nursing becomes more infrequent. I stopped pumping at one year with my daughter, and plan a similar schedule with my son, with the commitment to nurse at night/when I am home as long as we are both enjoying it. As a runner, I look forward to this chapter of the nursing journey because I inevitably earn back a lot of bodily autonomy and the logistics of pumping and nursing become nearly inconsequential. Keeping up good hydration and nutrition is the key to maintaining a milk supply for as long as is desired.

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Breastfeeding eats up about 500 calories a day, and quite a bit of fluid. I find it is much easier to become dehydrated when training and breastfeeding, so drinking a lot of water is really important. I start the morning by drinking 16 ounces minimum, right off the bat, before any coffee or other beverages. I also eat a lot of nourishing calories frequently through the day. Protein is often elevated to star status when we talk about diets for athletes, but carbohydrates and fats are foundational for both the glycogen stores one requires for regular running (especially distance running) and the ability for a body to make and sustain milk supply. Some of my staples in addition to complete meals are homemade banana bread with peanut butter on it, Greek yogurt with granola, hummus and pita, avocado and corn chips… you get the idea. I am constantly snacking, especially at night before I inevitably spend a few of my wake-ups nursing.

There is anecdotal data out there about how running changes the taste of milk, or how one should shower before nursing because the smell/taste of sweat is somehow a barrier to the baby nursing, but I’ve never experienced any issues. Supportive and comfortable sports bras are always important, but especially for a lactating runner as underwire or constriction can cause clogged ducts and other minor (albeit obnoxious) complications. Most of my running shirts already have a quarter zip at the neck, so nursing in my gear is usually simple. By the time a baby is approaching toddlerhood, they are usually too busy to demand nursing right away, anyway. Lately, I have enjoyed that transition as I now come home from my runs and cherish, with gratitude, the fact that I can take a hot shower uninterrupted before doing anything else.

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Running has made many things, including motherhood, so much healthier and more enjoyable for me. There is no reason why breastfeeding should be a barrier to maintaining a running practice; in fact, best practices for proactive self-care when nursing perform quite a bit of double duty for keeping a runner healthy and happy, as well.

return to distance

I am settling back into the routine of training for a half marathon after taking a year and a half away from distance running to be pregnant, give birth, and recover. There were a few races sprinkled in there, with running at shorter lengths comprising an increasingly regular part of my exercise schedule for the past year. I have to say that I am both glad I waited to embark on distance training, and that I am also filled with joy about being back to this beloved journey of gradually building endurance and physical strength to go long.

I have always framed running practice as a long-term relationship; there are seasons of life when other responsibilities and activities take priority over training, and then there are the openings that present themselves to return to a deeper commitment of time and energy. After a challenging fall of colds and sickness; one that required the patience to rest (admittedly something with which I struggle), I started to enjoy that natural paradigm shift, that changing orientation to possibility. The reward of returning to regular long runs is tremendous. I missed the self that emerges only during those solitary journeys—I missed that old friend inside of me. I missed the quiet—oh, the quiet! I love my children, but I think most mothers of young kids would agree that there is nothing like an uninterrupted thought. I missed the nothingness, the plateau of hitting the zone, when time and effort recede to the background hum, and the flight of the body becomes one with the mind.

I am revisiting a half marathon I ran three years ago, when I was at my fastest speed. I do not expect to touch this record. Bodies evolve and goals shift. I desire two things: to run the entire course, and to finish. And while the final outcome of race day excites me, I have to admit that the process of getting there is my prize this time around. One foot ahead of the other, breath locked in relaxed rhythm, the changing landscape ahead welcoming me along.

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ALL GUTS!

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Image description: Picture of me running and sweating, from the waist up. I am wearing a dark green tunic, white cap, and a bright yellow backpack.

A few years ago, I participated in some weekly track workouts through the local running club. I was newer to running, and wanted to learn a few tips before embarking on my first marathon. Though my interested in repeatedly circling the rubber university track eventually waned, I did pick up a basic vocabulary of running, some valuable information about form, and a newly formed love/hate relationship with planks. The takeaway that remains with me to this day, however, is the concept of “all guts.”

I’ve written about this on the blog before, but there is a certain point where intellect, calculation, risk awareness, and planning fail the runner. This is usually during the last stretch of a run or a race. Picture this familiar scene:

You are rounding a bend at a slight incline for what seems like the hundredth time during the race. Sweat has accumulated as salty patches at your hairline and on your upper lip. All you smell is salt and your own sweat. The sun is starting to beat down more strongly. The chill of the morning is dissipating. The arches of your feet are starting to feel the effect of miles of friction. Your fingers are starting to tingle. Your lips are gummed up with stringy mucous. You pass the penultimate mile marker, gearing up for the last stretch…

This is precisely where “all guts” serves me so well every time. Good running is about mindfulness and clarity of mind, but those methods of mitigating the noise lose efficacy over time and distance. Beyond that, particularly in a race day situation, there are so many other variables pulling at the brain for attention. Stimuli, time goals, self-imposed expectations, these are all in play as one powers through the corridor of bystanders tinkling cow bells and cheering you on. Sometimes it is too much. Sometimes, often, you want to crash. That last terrible wall looms, the one that cheats you out of a strong finish, the one that cheats you out of a time goal. That wall is self-doubt, and it amounts to folding when you have a perfectly good hand.

When I get to this place, I start to whisper cheer to myself “all guts, all guts, all guts.” Sometimes I say it under my breath as I run the last mile. I was introduced to this concept during mile repeats at track workouts. We were encouraged to run the fastest mile we could, as a way of setting a base personal record. Finishing the third lap, there was this one coach who would yell “all guts!” as we curved into the fourth a final lap. He said it kindly, but excitedly. And each time, this reminder was very effective. It was a cue to shut of my frontal lobe, embrace my primal humanity, and simply run hard.

I was running a 10K race yesterday, and feeling strong throughout. I knew I was averaging somewhere between 8:15 and 8:30 a mile, and that is pretty speedy for my body at that distance. Shortly after hitting the 5 Mile marker (and running for a few miles up to that point in relative solitude), I turned the corner to crowds of race volunteers and people. The appearance of all of this broke my focus and I was suddenly aware of my own exhaustion. My legs, spoiled from my penchant for trails, realized I tricked them into a road run. I really wanted to slow down and take a long walk break, but I didn’t. Instead, I kept running and did a brief body scan. Was I feeling sharp pain? No. Did I have a side cramp? No. Was I short of breath? No. I was feeling that overload at the end of the race… I was feeling the last wall creep up. “ALL GUTS!” I shouted in my head, “ALL GUTS! ALL GUTS!”

And I shouted that all the way to the finish line until I crossed, looked up at the clock, and realized I set a new 10K race PR.

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.

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.