Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Letting Go of My Dream...For Now

The dust has finally settled from all that was Chicago.  I am back into my normal work and workout routine for the most part, I've caught up on sleep (well as much as one can with owning a gym and having two small children, hehe), and I am starting to feel [somewhat] human again.  And though I missed my goal, yet again, I am handling it all rather well if I do say so myself and am ready to move on.

Speaking of moving on, I am now left with some big decisions for the next several months to a year or so.  Having come up short on my three previous attempts to BQ, I knew heading into Chicago it was a real possibility I would have to look to other races to try yet again.  Of course I had hoped that wouldn't be the case, but (un)fortunately it was something I was already prepared for.  So here I am, again trying to figure out when, where and how to BQ.

But this last week and a half really had me thinking about my whole journey to BQ, how close I have come, how far I have missed it by, how badly I've wanted it, and how much I've wanted to quit at times.  I mean, I'm obviously not going to completely give up on it, I know it can and will happen one of these days.  After all, I have come pretty damn close twice.  But for the past three years, I've pretty much focused all of my running attention and energy on this one goal and to be honest, it's kind of sucked the fun out of it.  In my quest to BQ I've declined exciting opportunities, put some other goals on the back burner and have to admit, have lost a little bit of myself in the process.

So I think it's time to let goal of my goal for just a little while and get back to having some fun and finding new ways to challenge myself.  Running always has and always will be there for me and like I said, I will not give up on my ultimate goal.  But here are a few goals I have in mind for the next several months.

Run For The Bling
I've never been one to run a race simply for a medal.  Although it is definitely fun to get to hang another medal up above my treadmill, I typically choose my races based on what works best with my overall schedule.  I ain't as young as I used to be, so I've tried to be a little smarter about how often I race.  But in a couple of weeks, I'm going to contradict all that and run the Space Coast Marathon...just 7 weeks after I ran Chicago!  And why you might ask, because I want not just the 45th anniversary medal they're handing out this year but also the Big Bang medal I will get for running it three years in a row.  This race has always been a rough one for me, from injury to illness, so those medals will be my proof that I refuse to let that course defeat me.  After that, I may finally stop running the race I keep swearing I will never run again each year I do it!

Pace More
I had the honor and privilege to become an official race pacer this past Spring and it was all that I had hoped and dreamed of!  I also had the opportunity to unofficially pace a couple of friends through some races and that was such an amazing experience too.  From the first timers to the PR-hopefuls to those just wanting to have a good solid race, pacing is such an incredible opportunity to help such a wide variety of runners in their running journey!  I look forward to the opportunity of pacing much more events and friends this year!

After I ran my first marathon in 2010, I remember thinking, ok what's next? LOL  Of course having two kids in fourteen month's time temporarily derailed my distance running and then when I did get back into it, I became so focused on the BQ.  But I think it's about time I find out what's next and check an ultra off my bucket list.  Florida offers so many great trail races and I have my eye on a 50k early next year.  If not then, definitely by the end of 2017 I will finally get to call myself and ultra runner.

Swim Bike Run
My journey with endurance sports actually began with triathlons, long before I got into distance running.  I remember doing my first sprint tri when I was like maybe 23 years old and being absolutely hooked.  I couldn't wait to do more and even longer distances.  But when I decided to run my first marathon several years later, triathlons became less of a priority and soon biking and swimming became non-existent in my training.  When I got hurt this past Fall, the only thing I was able to do for over a month was swim and it totally rekindled my love for multi sport.  I did my first tri in almost 8 years this past summer, right before I began marathon training, and fell back in love.  I hated having to sale back on my swimming and biking the deeper I got into marathon training, but now that it is over, I look forward to getting back to it again.  Maybe an Olympic distance or even a 70.3 are in my future!

Convince My Husband to Run a Race
Let's be 100% clear here, my husband does not actually LIKE running.  At all.  He's always seen it as punishment and only does it as "cardio." (And probably to get me to stop nagging him)  But over the past several months, he has been pretty consistent with it and has even seen quite a bit of an improvement.  I almost had him convinced to run a half this past Spring, but he changed his mind and has rejected any mention of it since.  I do feel like I may be able to warm him back up to the idea this coming Spring.  And though he may hate every minute of it and never do another, it would mean so much to me to get to share something I enjoy so much with him and cross a finish line hand in hand.

Oh Yeah, and Maybe Try to BQ
Just because it is not my all-consuming focus, it is still my dream and it will not die that easily.  I am considering a couple of races early next year and/or maybe one in the Fall, that will still give me a chance to register for the 2018 Boston Marathon if I can make it happen. I recognize that I'm going to have to make some adjustments to my training and redirect my focus back to marathons, if and when I decide to give it another go.  But for now, I'm all about having some fun and finding new ways to challenge myself so that BQ may just have to wait.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Chicago Marathon Race Recap

As I sit here on my 2+ hour flight back home, I am left with plenty of time to reflect back on this whole experience that was the 2016 Bank of America Chicago Marathon. My 6th marathon was quite a journey to get there to say the least and certainly an exciting day of running!

Before I get into all of that, I want to talk a little bit about the past several months of training for the big day...

When I signed up for Chicago back in March, I was on a total runner's high from a huge Spring.  I had PR'ed in every distance I ran and placed in most of those events.  And I embarked on a long time dream of mine and became an official pacer for the first time.  So I was pretty fired up and ready to rock my next big race!  Knowing all I needed was a sub 3:45 to secure my spot in Chicago and not have to wait in the lottery, I was feeling pretty confident going into training with my recent PR of 3:38 (Run with Donna in February) and a guaranteed entry!

As summer rolled around and I got deeper into my training, I really started to struggle with my long runs.  In fact, any run outside was a struggle for me thanks to the crazy high heat and humidity.  Bombing practically every one of my long runs, I was not in the least bit convinced heading into my taper I would come anywhere close to my PR.

But I didn't want to get into my head too much so I pressed on and just hoped for the best come race day.

Then the whole Hurricane thing became a HUGE issue, throwing a big ole wrench in my plans for the trip. Luckily I did make it up there, but not without a lot of stress, guilt, sleepless nights with just days before the race, and hours upon hours sitting in cars and/or airplanes. Needless to say my body and mind were incredibly run down.

I finally made it to outside of Chicago to my family's condo Friday night after a long day of driving with my grandma and two aunts, and then we picked my mom up at the airport.  I was tired and tight from all the sitting, but so eager to see the city.  Of course I would have to wait til the next day...

Everyone decided to accompany me to the expo, which was quite an undertaking, but I certainly appreciate their support. Still not knowing what to expect for race day and stressed from all the traveling and activity that it involved, I showed up to the expo, got my packet and just tried to soak in the experience. Luckily I met up with my friend who was going through a similar experience as me with training and training.  So it was great to get some spend some time with her discussing our training woes, how exhausted we were from the extra traveling and our plans to just do our best on race day.
That evening, my mom and I checked into our hotel and then found a Whole Foods nearby, where we got some water and pasta. I got all my race day gear ready and headed off to bed still so uncertain as to what my "plan" should be for the race. I had my goals in mind but was clueless as to what my body, and mind, could handle at this point.
Race morning, my alarm clock went off but I was already pretty much awake.  I was eager to get down there so I quickly got ready and headed out for the 15+ minute walk to the security lines.  I made it down to the start of the race a little too early, but that's ok because I had time to use the restroom, have my pre-run fuel and even make some friends in my corral (I love making new runner friends!).
I felt the corral situation was about as organized as it could be with that many people and we were moved relatively quickly to the start.  About 8 minutes after the first corral started, me along with the rest of Corral D crossed the starting line!

I definitely got caught up in the moment for the first quarter mile or so, the energy was through the roof!  The streets were lined with people cheering, the buildings towered over us, music pumped through loud speakers, helicopters flew up above us, it was LIVE!  It had been a while since I experienced a race to this capacity so I was fired up.  But knowing I wouldn't be able to keep that pace much longer, I pulled way back.

In all the excitement, I managed to lose the 3:35 pace group, but felt great at the pace I was running, which had me on track to reach my ultimate goal of 3:30, so figured I should just hold that and hopefully end up with a group sooner or later.  I kept up a sub 8 min mile pace for the next several miles, and it felt pretty conservative and something I should be able to manage throughout the race.  Then I spotted the 3:35 pacer around mile 6 and figured it best to stay with them at an even more conservative pace, but still enough to get me a 3:32-3:33 finish, which I would have been more than happy with.

I hung with them for a few miles and hit my first little wall around mile 9.  I took my Huma gel, drank some Gatorade at the aid station and was back in the game with a little extra pep in my step.  I even went ahead of the pacers a little and regained my sub 3:30 pace.

I managed to hold on to that sub 3:30 pace for the next several miles until I hit my next wall around mile 15.  This time it was mostly a mental wall filled with doubt, that I spend a mile or so talking myself out of.  I lost some of my pace and found myself back with the 3:35 group. Which was ok, that still projected me for a great finish.

I got another burst and things were going pretty well for the next 3 miles, I even saw my mom and two aunts cheering for me in the Latin district shortly after mile 18, so that was awesome!  And speaking of cheering, the crowd support was nonstop and incredible throughout the entire course!  It had been a while since I experienced a race to that capacity, so the cheering and excitement really helped a lot.  And of course seeing my family while I was at a good pace, gave me a boost and the feeling that I may actually crush this thing!

But at mile 19, that all came to a screeching halt...

My legs were pretty tight from all the traveling and I wasn't able to do my yoga, stretching and foam rolling because my travel plans had changed.  They gave me some moderate discomfort periodically throughout the first several miles but seemed to calm down as I settled into a good rhythm.  At mile 19, however, that all changed when I felt a pop in my left hamstring and my whole leg start to cramp.  Initially worried I had torn the muscle, I took a few seconds to walk and evaluate the situation.  I realized it was just a bad cramp and it started to work itself out, so I slowly started to pick the pace back up and try to fight through it.

But with every step I took, the cramping continued to worsen, traveling up and down my leg.  The compensating I was doing with my right leg started to cause a cramp there too and before I knew it, pretty much everything from my waist down was in full out pain by mile 20.  Realizing at this point I probably would not reach my goal but determined not to quit, I continued to try and run, unfortunately just much slower.

Miles 21-25  were pretty much a blur.  The pace was the slowest of the day, including several walk breaks.  I was visibly in pain as many yelled at me not to stop and that I can do it.  I even had someone ask me if I was OK, which totally bruised my pride.  I remember looking at the ground and shouting the "F" word quite a bit at this point.  Somewhere during that time a lady I had met at the beginning of the race caught up with me and helped me through one of those daunting miles.  She was looking strong and was about to crush her goal.  I fed off of her for a little bit but just couldn't hang.  Though I would have loved to have stuck with her, I am grateful for the push she gave me!

My watched buzzed to signal 26 miles quite a few yards before I even saw the mile marker, and at this point I felt pretty defeated.  I had hoped I was closer and could now begin my sprint to the finish but I realized I had several more minutes to go.  Each meter marker sign (800, 400, 200 then 100) seemed to mock me as I half ran-half limped through to the finish.  As I turned the corner and ran up a moderate hill, I finally saw the finish line.  Though my left hamstring seemed as if it had detached, both calves were completely cramped up and every other fiber of my legs felt useless at this point, I knew this was it so I gave it my all.

In my head I was running a four and a half minute mile but my body was barely moving as I raced to the finish line.  I dramatically threw my arms up in the air as if I was the one breaking the tape and tears started to stream down my face.  Though I had missed my original goal by 12 minutes, my PR by 4 minutes and my BQ by 2 minutes, I was no where near as upset with my performance as I thought I would be.  In fact, I was quite proud for pushing through.  I can honestly say I gave it my all that day and am happy with my 3:42:12 finish. (My second fastest marathon time)
The what seemed to be several miles long walk through the chutes to the after party gave me quite a bit of time to reflect on what just occurred.  All the miles came flooding back through my memory and there wasn't a single bit of regret I could find within them.  I faced adversity throughout the entire summer of training and was left with so much doubt heading into this weekend.  I spent the previous several days stressed to the max over traveling in a hurricane and what that storm had in store for my family, home and our business.  And my body had to deal with a situation that in the not so distant past, I would have totally given up.  

So Chicago, as far as the race and the experience as a whole, may not have panned out how I had envisioned back when I signed up for it, but I'm OK with that.  I am grateful for the extra time I got with my family and the friends I got to hang out with and even make along this journey.
I loved the city, the race and the lessons I learned from the whole process.  That is after all, what being a marathoner is all about.  Until next time 26.2...

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Marathons, Matthew and Mom Guilt

There's nothing quite like training months for a marathon, hoping to BQ, and getting a stomach bug the weekend of the race.

There's nothing like dedicating a year of your life learning about all things distance running to guarantee yourself you'll get your BQ this time around, only to hurt your achilles just weeks before the big day.

There's nothing like a knee jerk decision to sign up for a race weeks later from your injured one in hopes to BQ there, and end up sick and over trained...then have a HUGE PR, but still no BQ.

And there is nothing like months of training for your 4th attempt to BQ, only to either be stranded at home and not get to run, or go and leave your family behind in a potentially catastrophic storm's path.

(Ok so maybe that last part was a bit dramatic.  They're going to be OK, but I can't help but worry!)

When it comes to BQ attempts, I think it's safe to say, I certainly don't have much luck!

Earlier today, Hurricane Matthew did not post much of a threat to Central Florida, with only the potential for some winds and heavy rains on Friday.  Since my original flight had me scheduled to leave for the Chicago Marathon Friday night, I felt it best to change it for 24 hours earlier.  Bummed I would have to be away from my family an extra day and feeling somewhat like I jumped the gun on that decision, I felt much better knowing I would make it out of Orlando and up to Chicago with time to spare.

As the day went on, however, the storm had taken a more western tract, setting more of its sights (but luckily not all of its sights) on Florida, with our area feeling the effects as early as Thursday afternoon/evening.  Yep, around the time of my new flight!

When I went to try and change my flight for earlier in the day on Thursday, I learned they were no longer booking or changing any flights that day because of the storm.  So now I would have to leave Wednesday (tomorrow) if I wanted to get out of town!  This would also mean trying to find a hotel and a ride to said hotel at 9pm Wednesday night near the O'Hare International Airport.  Sounds either terribly expensive and/or rather unsafe.

So I had a thought, it seems like I'm going to have to leave tomorrow and get up to the Midwest if I want to be able to run in Chicago on Sunday.  My family in Wisconsin were planning on driving down on Friday to cheer me on this weekend, maybe I can fly to them and drive down with them!?!

Thank goodness I was able to get a flight up to Minneapolis, which about 90 minutes away from my family in Wisconsin for tomorrow!  I just have to spend my day either the air or sitting at 3 different airports tomorrow for, oh, only about 11 freaking hours!!!  Then make the 7 hour drive to Chicago on Friday to race Sunday.

On the positive, it definitely looks like I am going to get to run the marathon, so these last insanely hot and humid summer months of training will be not for nothing.  Also, I now get to spend two extra days with my grandmother, aunt and cousins, who I rarely get to see.  So that's pretty awesome.  And, it will be kind of cool to do my last few miles of running before the big day in some beautiful weather and in a different place, I love running in new places!

Of course I will be away from my husband and babies for two extra days and the thought of that that is giving me much anxiety. I have NEVER been away from my family this long!!!  I will most likely be exhausted from all this extra traveling, so hopefully that won't have any major effects for race day.  Oh, and the matter of this damn storm.  So yeah, it's course and the effects it will have on Florida are still uncertain at this time.  It could be as little as mild tropical storm conditions to as catastrophic as a category 3-4 hurricane making landfall exactly where we live.  My husband is smart and will evacuate him and the boys if necessary, but talk about the stress of worry about them now too!!!  Not to mention all the mom/wife guilt totally killing me right now for leaving my family behind in a storm so I can go running, ugh!

As if marathon weekends weren't stressful enough, especially ones you hope to BQ at,  I sure like to take it a step further and make it even more interesting!  All I can do is hope and pray for the absolute best for Florida, especially my husband, our babies and our home, while I am gone <insert sick to your stomach with nerves and guilt emoji here>.  Continue to hope and pray for the rest of the eastern seaboard, especially my mom's home in NC (luckily she will be up in Chicago with my by Friday), as this monster moves up the coast.  And of course, just be grateful that despite all of this, I am still getting to run Chicago.  Just got to stay positive and give it my all as planned!

Monday, October 3, 2016

140 Hours Away From Race Day

Well, here I am less than six days away from the big day.  The day I have dedicated the last several months of my life to.  The day I have had my sights on for the greater part of this year, with early morning wake up calls, lunch time runs in the sweltering heat, skipped social events so I can be rested for my long runs, the weight lifting, yoga, foam rolling, ice, Advil, ahhh the list just goes on!  By now, all my training has been done and I'm a mere 140 hours away from toeing the line at the Bank of America Chicago Marathon!  I am filled with so many emotions right now that it's difficult to even put into words exactly how I am feeling.  I want to scream, cry, laugh, jump up and down, and pinch myself because it all almost doesn't seem real!

So as I head into these last few days before the race (and in the midst of all my taper madness) I thought I would take some time to reflect back on this training cycle, my goals for the marathon, and my thoughts heading into the big event.

Marathon training is a true beast and I did not give it the respect it deserves heading into this cycle.  It sure humbled me quick though!  It takes so much commitment, dedication and sacrifice to take on a full marathon.  And it's not just the 26.2 miles I run on race day, it's everything leading up to that point, both physically, mentally and emotionally.  But the feeling of running shoulder to shoulder with thousands of fellow runners, giving it their all out on that course, the cheers from the spectators in absolute awe of our physical and mental capabilities, and of course crossing that finish line is a feeling like no other and makes it all totally worthwhile!  And that is what I had to keep reminding myself throughout this absolutely daunting training cycle...

But First, Let's Talk Goals
When I signed up for Chicago back in March, I was fortunate enough to have a guaranteed entry because of my sub 3:45 marathon time (my current PR is 3:38 from Donna in February).  So that was definitely a nice to not have to wait to get in.  Also, it was a nice little confidence boost especially since this race is my going to be my fourth attempt to obtain a Boston Qualifying time!  I was finally healed up from an injury I endured last Fall, I was rested up from my over training from back to back marathons, and I was on an absolute runner's high from PR'ing every single distance I ran this Spring.  So needless to say, I was amped up and ready to take on marathon training with a big goal in mind.  Though this training cycle has been a little rough and my long runs have done nothing to convince me I will crush my original goal (I will dive a little deeper into that in a minute), I am NOT letting go of what I have been fighting for over these past two years.  So here they are, all four (yes four, it's important to have a few for any given situation) of my goals for race day...

A. Sub 3:30, my ultimate goal that I have been working on since 2014
B. Sub 3:35, should be enough to get me into 2018 Boston since I turn 35 this coming May
C. Sub 3:38, enough for a PR and potentially still a 2018 Boston entry
D. Finish that b*tch if it kills me

I've talked, errr complained, about my training A LOT on my past posts and throughout my IG page.  I don't want to beat a dead horse by whining any more about the heat and humidity and how rough the summer has been, but I figured I'd revisit it to point out some key takeaways I got from this tumultuous training cycle.

I began training for this race back in June...in Florida aka the surface of the sun!  It has been the hottest freaking summer of my life.  I have ran in 99% humidity, in triple digit heat, with the sun seemingly just inches away from my body...it has been brutal!  I spent more time that I would have liked on the dreadmill because I just could not stand the heat and humidity at times.  On the plus side, I have had some KILLER speed workouts on the 'mill.  I have decreased all my intervals by several seconds, feeling faster and stronger than ever in those shorter distances (maybe I should sign up for a 5k now).  I also had some pretty solid tempo runs on the treadmill too, keeping up a great pace.  Although I cannot rely solely on those fast short to mid distance treadmill runs for a full marathon, they certainly come in handy as well as boost my confidence some, so I am grateful for that!

Most of my runs outside, especially the long runs, however, were another story.  I struggled so much to keep my pace, having to take several walk breaks on most of my double digit outside runs.  My 18-22 milers were absolute disasters.  After each and every one of those miserable long runs, where I was drenched in sweat and absolutely exhausted, I felt so defeated.  I would often spend the rest of the day and the next several days questioning everything from my training, to my nutrition and even my own capabilities.  Was I just not cut out to run as fast as I thought?  Did I already peak and it's all downhill from here?  Am I not doing enough with my training?  Am I doing too much cross training?  I would sometimes find myself in tears realizing my goal, my dream, would maybe just not come true in Chicago, or ever for that matter!

But one thing I have learned from this whole journey that started almost 20 years ago, is you NEVER fully know what you are capable until you give it you're absolute all.  I mean after all, I was the chubby girl who couldn't even run a 10-minute mile to declare her college major and now I am this close to qualifying for the marathon of all marathons!  You have to BELIEVE you can and will do great things.  So finally, after 3 rough months, it finally clicked for me in September.  No, I didn't instantly turn it around and started knocking my training out of the park, convincing myself I will crush my goal on race day, I am still left pretty uncertain.  But I was reminded that I am not out of the fight, anything and everything is still possible.  I have come so far and I am capable of anything I set my mind to.

So I ran my little heart out this past month, embracing the journey, taking the good with the bad, pushing myself a little harder than ever before on some runs and ditching the watch to just enjoy the scenery on others.  My body and mind are in a much better place heading into race day.

And Speaking of Race Day...
It's almost here and though I am a ball of all kinds of emotions, I'm not really losing my mind like I have during past race weeks.  I feel like I should be much more nervous, especially after a rough training cycle.  As excited and (somewhat) anxious as I am, there is such a sense of peace and calmness over me...for right now at least, that might all change when I land in Chicago!  I'm not really sure what to make of it, to be honest.  Is it a good or a bad thing that I'm just chilling, going about my business this close to race day?  In the past I wouldn't be able to sleep, hardly eat, my stomach would be in knots, and I would bark at everyone around me for the littlest annoyances, I would be a total mess!  With this being my 6th full marathon, I definitely feel it helps knowing what racing 26.2 miles feels like.  And with this being my 4th attempt to BQ, I also know what it feels like to come super close and to fail miserably, so I know from experience that anything can happen!

I guess you can say I just feel at peace with everything I have done to this point to prepare for race day, and thanks to my training and past experiences, I am equipped to handle whatever may come my way.  I want so badly to get that sub 3:30, and I am going to fight hard for it out there.  But I also want to soak in every minute, enjoying everything the city, the spectators and the race has to offer.  So yes, BQ'ing is and will be my goal come Sunday, and you better believe I'm going to give it my absolute all.  And all the better to accomplish that goal with a smile on my face, plenty of random high fives along the course and a lot of fun out there.  Because dammit I'm Christina and that's how I freaking do things!