Monday, January 23, 2017

Marathon Training Week:???

I have been marathon training since June 2016.

No, I haven't been putting all my time in effort over the past 8ish months of my life into just one marathon, though it often feels like it.

I received my guaranteed entry into the 2016 Chicago Marathon early last Spring.  At the time, I was having a phenomenal season.  PR'ing in every distance I ran, including my full marathon (coming within 3 minutes a BQ time), I was on cloud nine and ready to tackle another full just knowing I would crush it.  And what better place to run a big full that year than in Chi Town!?!  So to say I was excited heading into my training cycle was a total understatement, I had never been more ready!

I took the month of May "off" before planning to hit it hard mid June.  Early that month I competed in my first sprint triathlon is several years and despite a rough swim, I finished strong and had a great experience.  Then my family took our annual beach vacation and then two mini vacays in the following weeks.  During that time, my longest runs were around 8 miles max and were all done at a slow, easy pace.  Though my body and mind appreciated the much needed break, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't itching to get back at it.

I kicked off June with a 10 miler, then paced a local half marathon the following weekend, and that was the start of this over half year long journey to get to where I am this week.

The summer of 2016 was one of the hottest seasons I have endured since moving to Florida 10 years ago.  Not only was it the earliest in the summer I had began marathon training, but we also did experience record breaking temperatures, relentless humidity and several stretches without any rain.  We were ALL miserable and fighting to push through training.  Of course I cannot speak for everyone else, but I know for me I was absolutely struggling.  I found myself on the treadmill for most of my speed and tempo workouts and when I finally did hit the trail for a long run, it was BRUTAL.  Clocking horrible times for practically all of my long runs, there was no indication whatsoever I would be able to run anywhere close to the time I had hoped to run in Chicago.

Not wanting to completely let go of my goal for Chicago but being realistic after a rough summer of training, I decided to make a plan that would include two additional marathons following Chicago.  I was already planning on pacing the Space Coast Marathon just 7 weeks after Chicago (or so I thought).  I figured this would keep my mileage and fitness up so I could attempt to BQ at the Celebration Marathon two months after that.

Continuing to prepare for Chicago with my backup plan in place, I felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders and was at peace with whatever came my way race day.

The 2016 Chicago Marathon was a whirlwind of an experience.  Between a Category 4 hurricane, several extra days of travel, the emotional roller-coaster of leaving my babies, hubby and business behind in the path of a storm, struggling with my nutrition that weekend, and then a mid race hamstring pull, I was ecstatic to cross that finish line just a few minutes slower than my PR.  I surprised myself with a better finish time than I had anticipated that summer, I was proud I had fought through the emotional demons I had been battling the whole trip and I proved to myself that Boston is still within reach, though it was going to take some more work.  And after crossing the finish line of one of the most emotional marathon weekends I had ever had, all I could think about was getting back home to my family and moving on to my next adventure.

I learned I would not be needed as a pacer for the Space Coast Marathon after all, but wanting to stick to my original plan of keeping up my miles, I went ahead and signed up.  Initially, I thought maybe I could give it a solid shot and see if I could secure my BQ there.  I had a couple of decent long runs coming back from Chicago and thought it could happen.  But about two weeks before the race, my body and mind just kinda shut down on me.  I was sluggish, moody and felt as if I was getting constantly sick (luckily I never did though).  I realized I was over training and needed to pull back.  So I ditched my goal of a BQ at Space Coast and decided to just have fun out there.  Best decision ever, or so I had thought...

After Space Coast, I had all kinds of emotions.  Part of me was glad I didn't push it out there and just had a good ole time.  I listened to my body, avoided injury and illness and made a lot of new runner friends in the process.  But another part of me questioned why do I continually allow myself to give up on my goal.  Do I just not want it bad enough, am not willing to work hard enough and am I just weaker than I thought when it gets to too tough out there?  I know my body certainly appreciated it, but I can't shake the negative emotions that spawned from that weekend.  Heading into December I realized it was time I make a big decision.  Do I give it another shot at Celebration knowing I could just "fail again," thanks to my over training but mostly because of my own negative self talk?  Or do I just let go of my dreams for now and focus on other things.  I had not yet signed up for my next race, so I figured I had a few weeks to decide.

My next several runs ended up being surprisingly fun, probably because I honestly didn't know what to do at this point so took the pressure off myself.  I ran 16 miles on a treadmill demoing a product at a running convention one day and 6 the next for a total of 22 miles in two days.  Two weeks later I met up with my Moms Run This Town mamas for a long run, running 6 with them and another 12 on my own.  I had some killer speed sessions and some decent tempo runs in December as well.  Despite the physical and mental fatigue of the last two marathons and several months of training, I wanted to stick to the plan I had made over the summer.  So with a little over a month until race day, I signed up for the Celebration Marathon, and here I am just days to go!

I have a lot of emotions heading into this race.  I am not exactly where I thought I would be physically or mentally for that matter.  I've made a ton of mistakes through this whole experience but I have also learned a lot about myself too.  I will likely NOT do things this way again, but I will certainly look back on this journey fondly and with a lot of respect and appreciation for all I have done.  I am just an average runner after all, with a big dream that I refuse to give up on.  I will continue to make mistakes, I'm sure, but as long as I'm learning and growing, that's what's important.

I am as prepared as I'll ever be and am committed to finishing this race, giving it my absolute all.  I've had my sights on this race since summer of last year, so I better give it my all!  Plus this race holds a special place in my heart.  I ran it in its inaugural year and it was my first marathon since becoming a mom.  Having not ran a full in over thee years, I felt like I was totally starting over.  I completely surprised myself with a 35 minute PR, and though I have since beat that time, not much has beat the raw emotions I had crossing the finish line that day!  So many changes had happened in my life in such a short period of time and accomplishing that marathon PR gave me so much strength and belief that anything was possible!

Though I have completely lost count of how many weeks I have been training for this marathon, I have certainly not forgotten how much it means to me and what I plan to accomplish this Sunday.  This also will be only the second time my husband and babies will see me cross a finish line (the first time was at my current PR from Donna last February), and having them there means absolutely EVERYTHING to me!  Yes, I am nervous and yes I know things can fall apart out there if I let them, but I am ready and cannot wait to toe the line in just 6 days.

So without any further adieu, here are my goals for the 2017 Celebration Marathon:
Goal A: I ordered a pace band.  Other than when I actually pace people, I have never used one.  I would always just assume a pace I should run, go out way too fast, try to hold on to the original pace I should've started with, then just hope to finish.  So on Sunday, I will wear my 3:37 pace band in hopes to secure a 1-minute PR and a 3 minute BQ cushion (which should hopefully be enough based on my research).  So I'm going to try my darnedest to stick to the pace band.

Goal B: Not wanting to deviate too much from my nifty new pace band, I would still consider pushing it just a bit if I felt up for it.  The weather is supposed to be great and the course is flat, so if I'm able to shave a few seconds off per mile the last 10k, I'd be willing to give it a shot.  If I can come in around 3:35-3:36, I'd would be freaking ecstatic.  Plus that would give me a 4-5 minute cushion for Boston.

Goal C: My ultimate goal is to try and stay on my pace at all costs.  I will not go out to fast and when things start getting tough (which they always do, it's a damn marathon after all) I plan to fight hard to stay on pace.  But if heaven forbid it is just not in my cards, I would be happy for a finish time similar to that I had in Chicago of 3:42.

Goal D: Again, I am going to give this thing my absolute all and have no intentions on "giving up" out there.  But thanks to GI issues, a mid-race injuries and severe weather conditions, I've had to pull back before and I recognize that sometimes it's just  an unfortunate possibility.  With that being said, if it all goes terrible out there, I plan to fight for a sub-4 hour finish if need be.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Reflecting Back and Looking Forward

Despite all the other goals I had set for myself in 2016, the one with the utmost importance that trumped any other goal was to reconnect with my joy of running.  The previous two years, I had gotten so caught up in a time goal that I lost a little bit of my love for running along the way and I, unfortunately, lost a part of myself in the process.  But an injury in late 2015 brought me back to reality.  It humbled me and taught me that there are certainly more important things in running, and in life, than just one measly goal.  Granted, that goal was incredibly important to me and something I worked insanely hard in hopes to attain. But at what cost?  So this past year, although that particular goal (which I will get to in a minute) continues to be a top priority, it is not worth totally losing sight on the things that matter most and should not overshadow all the awesome things I achieve along the way.

So first I would like to review 2016, then I'll take a look forward to 2017 and what I hope to do in the coming year...

Starting the year off juuuuust about injury free, my focus was first and foremost on getting healthy.  But with a marathon planned for February 14th, I was still working hard in hopes finally secure my almost 3 year long journey to BQ.  Though I was in virtually no pain by race stay, I had lost a bit of my stamina and mojo and was uncertain what to expect.  I surprised myself with a huge PR, but came up about 3 minutes shy of a BQ (and by time standards, I was about 6 minutes shy of actually securing a spot in the 2017 Boston Marathon).  I was excited for a PR nonetheless and actually went out and PR'ed my half marathon less than a week later!

As the Spring went on, I ran several half marathons as a pacer, which was a HUGE goal of mine for this past year.  I pulled off a PR in my 8k and 15k distances and place in several races.  I attempted to beat my half marathon time in April, but had a rough race day and ended up running one of my slowest times in years!

Early in the summer, I switched gears and focused on completing my first Triathlon since before having kids!  I had a rough time with the swim, but made up for it on the bike and especially the run, I even placed fourth in my division!  All in all it was a great experience, one I was proud of and I look forward to doing more triathlons this year.

I paced another half marathon in June, which was one of the most difficult pacing experiences I have ever had.  It was the fastest I had ever paced and it was one of the hottest and most humid events I have ever been a part of.  But pacing is such an incredible experience and it was certainly an event I will not forget!  Later that month I began my training for the Chicago Marathon.

After a tumultuous summer of training in the heat and humidity, battling nagging aches and pains then suffering from a staff infection the month before the race, I was very apprehensive as to what to expect come race day.  Then the week of the race, a Category 4 Hurricane threatened me even getting up there and I had to leave several days early and travel quite a bit more than expected.  Despite all my pre race "setbacks" and a crazy hamstring cramp after mile 20 or so, I had a great race in Chicago, with my second fastest marathon time.

I had anticipated pacing the Space Coast Marathon about 7 weeks after Chicago, so when I returned home, I jumped right back into high mileage.  When I learned I was no longer needed as a pacer, I decided to go ahead and do the race in hopes to maybe take another shot at a BQ before the end of the year.  But before my last long run of training, I knew it wasn't in my cards.  I had checked out and needed a break both physically and mentally and decided to just let go of any goal for race day.  Best decision ever!  I had a blast out on that course, making new friends, running with old friends and it was just a fun and rewarding experience.

It was a big year of PR's, pacing, new runner friends and incredible experiences, but I am really looking forward to making 2017 even more amazing.  Here is my plan thus far...
  • BQ- I will never stop trying to get my BQ, but I will not revert back to my 2014-2015 self when it was my obsession.  I feel I am much more equipped now physically than I have ever been, I just need to get my mind right.  I'm going to give it another shot at Celebration at the end of this month.  Recognizing that three fulls in four months is a lot on my body, I am realistic about the fact that race day can go either way.  I am considering another full early summer or wait until the Fall (which would mean no BQ until 2019, but it is what it is).
  • Pace a Full- I absolutely love pacing.  I got to be an official race pacer this year as well as pace a few friends through races.  I am excited that I will get to pace my first full marathon this year at the Albany Snickers Marathon in March, then hopefully again at another one later this year.
  • Take My Marathon Total to 10+- If I run three fulls this year, I will hit double digits!!!  I am not sure how I feel about racing 3 or more fulls, so most of those will be as a pacer and/or for run.
  • Focus on Shorter Distances- My current 5k and 10k PR's are from 2015, so those would be fun to try and beat this year.
  • More Tri's- I really really enjoyed my tri last May and would like to do 1-2 this year, maybe even attempt a longer distance one.
  • Help More Runners- This past year I launched my Strength2Run app designed specifically for the strength and conditioning needs of distance runners.  I continue to work out the kinks and get more accustomed to the programming, but plan to spread the word big time this year in hopes to help more runners get stronger, faster and stay healthy/injury free!  I also plan to step up my blog game with weekly posts on useful content for runners.