Monday, October 6, 2014

Darlington Marathon Recap

Excuse the delay in getting to this. It's been a crazy few weeks.

My taper ended up coinciding with an outage at work. For those unfamiliar with the term, an outage is when a plant (power, chemical, refinery, etc.) shuts down for maintenance and repairs. It usually means I end up working 12 or more hours per day and sometimes staying out of town. Outages are great for my wallet but terrible for my running because it always parallels peak racing seasons.

I left for South Carolina directly from work on Thursday. I planned to drive a little over halfway and then stop for the night but I ended up making the trip straight through. Sean still had to work Friday so I occupied myself with picking up our packets, shopping for our pre-race breakfast, and laying out my outfit. By the time he came home I was going a little stir crazy and he'd had a rough day. So we did what all the best runners do... went to the bar. After a few drinks and some wings we finally called it a night.

Our alarms went off at 5:00am Saturday morning and we dressed quickly. Breakfast consisted of Clif bars and bananas in the car. I really missed my coffee but there wasn't anywhere to stop along the route. We arrived right at 6:30 and parked in the infield of the Darlington Raceway. There was some hilarity to our self-induced predicament. Under trained for a marathon that runs around a NASCAR track and is sponsored by a fried chicken chain.... pure 'Murica.

Pano shot of the raceway from the infield

We visited the restrooms, ditched our long sleeves in the car, and lined up on the track with the half and full runners. There were some announcements and then the National Anthem was sung. Pretty soon it was time to get started and we went out around a 9:30 pace just to get off the steeply banked track. We decided to run 2 miles and walk 1 minute for the first 10 miles and then reevaluate.

Mile 1-5: 9:36, 9:43, 9:46, 9:35, 9:51

The first few miles flew by as we found our rhythm and joked around. There was a group of very LOUD women directly behind us. We would speed up to get away from their chatter but it was like they were chasing us. Finally we took a restroom and walk break in mile 6 and got behind them enough that we didn't have to listen to them anymore. One of the nice things about a small marathon is being able to enjoy a conversation and your surroundings in relative peace. And we finally got our chance on the remainder of this loop.

Mile 6 - 10: 10:51, 9:58, 9:50, 10:19, 9:57


Giving a guy who's 6' 4" bunny ears is tough

But his reaction when he catches you is priceless!

We continued to goof off and just generally have fun for the remainder of the first loop. We went to a run 1 mile, walk 1 minute interval towards the end of the loop which brought our average pace down some but we tried not to focus on anything but staying comfortable. Any time I picked up the pace Sean would gently (or not so much) remind me to slow the eff down! We passed the half by looping through the pit road of the raceway and back onto the streets of Darlington. The course was not closed to traffic and there were a few times I saw cars blow past the police and volunteers trying to direct them away from the runners. Thankfully there were no close calls that I saw.

Miles 11-15: 11:41, 11:22, 10:54, 10:22, 10:31

Yeah, I was ahead of Sean here ;)

As we got into the late morning heat of South Carolina the humidity rose and my breathing was worrying Sean. His knee was also beginning to give him some aches. I thought it was because he was going slow to stay with me so I told him to go ahead but he refused to leave my side. The chatty girls had slowed down and were quieter now. I began to contemplate that they just might be in my age group and that passing them might mean a medal for me. Sean had to keep pulling me back from trying to pass them too quickly. We slowly gained on them until they walked on a gentle uphill (to a girl from Pennsylvania) and then we overtook them for good.

Mile 16-20: 10:33, 11:42, 10:42, 11:40, 10:49

Somewhere in the first half

Around mile 19 Sean's knee decided it had had enough. We tried taking longer and more frequent walk breaks but it wasn't helping. We then tried to just push through but he could no longer bend his knee without feeling like it was going to give out. I promised to stay with him no matter what but he made me promise that I would beat the chatty girls even if it meant leaving him behind. I continued to walk with him and encourage him to try to run for awhile longer but by mile 24 I was cramping up from all the walking. My body felt much better when I was running and the women I had worked so hard to pass were back in view behind us.

Miles 21-24: 11:26, 11:47, 12:56, 12:38

Downtown Darlington

Sean encouraged me to go ahead and I finally did. I felt really weird running the last 2 miles alone but I also felt really strong thanks to Sean's restraint on our earlier miles. I tackled the last long uphill grade passing many, many limping and puking marathoners. At one point I glanced at my Garmin, saw an 8:xx pace, and thought, "Wow! I have never felt this good this late in the game!" I turned into the raceway for the last 1+ miles on the track. I tore down the pit road, rounded the first sharply banked turn, and then cramped up! Less than half a mile from the finish line and I hit the wall. I was a little upset with myself but I took a deep breath, walked to the next turn, and then pushed every last shred of muscle in my legs to carry me into a run for the finish.

Mile 25-26: 10:02, 12:18

Finally finished!

My legs cooperated and I crossed the finish in 4:47:46. Not a PR but right in line with most of my marathon times. My legs instantly locked up as soon as I stopped to get my medal. I almost went down and an official grabbed me and started to drag me towards the golf cart waiting to take runners to the med tent. I didn't want to miss Sean's finish so I assured him I was fine, grabbed a water, and began to walk around until my legs quit fighting me.

I must have just missed Sean coming into the pit road as I fought to remain upright and in the finish area. Almost as soon as I was recovered I saw him come around the final turn and fight to run the home stretch. I asked the woman handing out medals if I could give Sean his and she handed me one. As soon as he crossed the line I grabbed him for a kiss and draped the medal around his neck. He hugged me tight and I knew that I was forgiven for leaving him at the last minute.

Sean crossing the line

Once Sean had some water and recovered his ability to walk we posed for pictures and then made our way to the celebration area and results tent. We typed in our bib numbers and were both shocked to learn we'd gotten second in our age groups. We walked over to the awards table and had to wait for our placement to be verified but it was correct after all! We proudly took our medals over to the food table before we made our way back to the car.

Bling!

We celebrated my 8th marathon and his 2nd by picking up some Ibuprofen and BBQ on the way home. After a shower and lots of food (maybe some beer) we both felt good enough to continue the celebration with Sean's good friend that you may remember from the CrossFit competition in August. Good food, good friends, and some good alcohol made the night amazing. It's amazing what a difference sharing our accomplishment made on our views of the day. I wouldn't have been so happy if I hadn't shared it with an amazing man.

Bacon shots!

After a good night of sleep we decided that breakfast should be a good, greasy, southern-style affair. We headed to Bubba's diner and, once again, the running community never ceases to amaze me. Sean and I were seated next to a familiar face and I had to check FaceBook just to make sure I wasn't seeing things. I was seated next to the amazing Bruce and his wife, Brandi. Bruce helped me immensely at North Coast 24 Hour last year and I thought I would never get a chance to properly thank him since he is from Florida and I'm from Pennsylvania. But here we were, reuniting in rural South Carolina. They were even kind enough to invite Sean and I to visit for the Jacksonville Marathon for my birthday weekend. We chatted all through breakfast and caught up like we hadn't been mostly out of touch for over a year. It was the perfect ending to our marathon weekend.

Super happy to see Bruce and company at Bubba's Diner!

Honestly, I don't know how I can even explain how incredible the whole weekend was. I've made an effort to surround myself with only the best people and in return I have developed the most amazing relationship, built true friendships, and accomplished things I wouldn't have done on my own. I'm not sure that I would actually recommend Darlington Marathon on its own merit but if you have the right support any race can be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I feel like the luckiest woman on earth and I'm not sure how we're going to top this. I just know that we will!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

They Should Increase My Meds: Marathon Training Week 5

Week 5 meant that it was time to buckle down. In order to have at least a 10 day taper my last long run needed to happen in this week. I was really nervous and kept my weekday mileage low in order to be fresh for my last big run.

Week 5 ended up looking like this:

Monday: Driving back from South Carolina
Tuesday: 5.25 miles at 10:19 pace
Wednesday: 3.25 miles at 10:01 pace
Thursday: Rest
Friday: 17 miles at 10:44 average
Saturday: Rest
Sunday: 4.1 miles at 8:37 average (10:04 warm up mile followed by a 25:12 5k)

Total: 29.6 miles

After 17 miles. I was not impressed that I didn't go 20.

Now I'm into week 6 and getting ready to face taper madness! The mister has already noticed my tendency to over-think every aspect of training and racing so it should be interesting to see if I can tone it down. 

Let me close with a question: To race or not to race (a 5k) this weekend?!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Marathon Training Week 4: Take me to the Asylum

My week 4 training was already slated to be a cutback week but I took it to the extreme. I finished the week with 6.5 miles and one CrossFit workout. Thankfully, I really don't care too much about one week in my un-training plan.

Instead of training I visited my friends in Virginia. Maybe you remember them from my first attempt at a Strongman clinic last year? We got to spend an evening and the next morning catching up before I continued on to South Carolina. They even sent me off with a mug, two pint glasses, a pack of fair-trade root beer, and some Beast Lab bracelets. (HINT: You can score some Beast Lab gear over on their blog!)

Beast Lab cool

The very first thing the Mr. and I did Friday was head to CrossFit for a workout. Our warm up was 9 rounds of 2 rep floor presses. I used 65# for mine and only made 7 rounds. Doing bench press on the floor is probably the most painful thing ever. I won't be doing that again. The WOD was called 'The Chief". It consists of max rounds in 3 minutes of:
3 rep Power Cleans (135 is RX for men, 95 for women)
6 push-ups
9 air squats
Rest 1 minute
Repeat for 5 cycles

The boy and I set up next to each other. I think he RX'd as usual while I went with 55# so I could not worry about hurting myself. We both managed 4 rounds the first cycle. We agreed to hold 4 rounds again the second cycle. The third cycle he told me to go for 3 but I had more than enough time to knock out 4. The fourth cycle I completed 3 rounds and then went for broke with another 4 on the final cycle. Our final tallies were 19 rounds for me and 18 for him. Overall, it was great to get back under a bar and especially with my favorite workout partner next to me.

Beastmode face?

The rest of our weekend was spent between the beach and the pool (and a trip to the bar). We drove out to Myrtle Beach on Saturday despite a 50% chance of rain all day. We got lucky and it was just a little overcast, very comfortable, and dry all day. We even took the dog which was awesome. For being so small she had very little fear of the big waves and water!

Ready for date night. Can't beat wings and beers (or his face! LOL)

Sand sprints and hover dog

After that it was dinner and back to the pool. Sunday pretty much consisted of being as lazy as possible. Overall, I'll take a weekend of fun and active leisure over hardcore training any day! Now back to the regularly schedule programming training.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Batshit Crazy: Marathon Training Week 3

Three weeks down and 26 days to go! As I sit here contemplating what I've accomplished with less than a month of hard work I'm a little blown away. I feel strong. I feel ready to face this marathon. And more than anything I feel ready to get back into the swing of racing and competing (look for a post on this in a day or two).

If you remember, at the end of week 2 I was very unsure of making my goal of 40 miles for this week. I was trying to keep my focus on hitting a long run of 14 miles and letting the rest of the miles for the week fall where they may. Well, I blew my goal out of the water with 41.2 miles for the week and a 15.15 mile long run.

 Super happy with my week 3 training

Week 3 workouts looked like this:
Monday: Rest
Tuesday: 5.5 super easy miles (11:04 pace)
Wednesday: 10 miles (9:55 pace)
Thursday: 6 trail miles (10:30 pace)
Friday: 4.5 easy miles (9:45 pace)
Saturday: Active recovery
Sunday: 15.15 miles (10:14 pace)



Active recovery at the Pittsburgh Renaissance Festival


More than pleased with this long run

I am foreseeing week 4 as a cutback week. Not necessarily because I need it but because it's the smart thing to do and I get to go see Mr. Wonderful. I don't know that we're going to take half a day of our time together to run 16-17 miles. I'm still going to set a minimum goal of 25 miles for the week just to keep my training up for week 5. Hopefully I can hold back my competitive (there's that word again!) drive for a week and not let it get to me mentally. 

Happy Labor Day everyone! I hope you're making the most of it!



Monday, September 1, 2014

Little Miss Type A: Why Being Competitive is Okay

I recently shared this picture after a run:


It generated over FIVE HUNDRED likes and one hundred comments. Most of them were positive but there were a handful that were absolutely terrible. Let me start with the history behind the photo before I dive into the commentary.

It was a regular Wednesday. I happened to finish my work assignment for the day early. I do field work in industrial settings so when a project is finished, I am finished. Usually this means I get to work on sites for 10-20 hours per day but sometimes things go in my favor. This day was one of them and I decided to make the most of it by fitting in a midweek longer run.

I headed to North Park to run the 5 mile loop around the lake. It's not flat but it isn't mountains either. I began my journey at my usual pace and tuned into the pounding beats emanating from my ear buds. As I finished my second mile a squad of police cadets ran out of a parking lot and began to run in two columns about a tenth to a quarter mile ahead of me. They were close enough that I could see each individual but far enough that I couldn't read the names emblazoned on the back of their t-shirts.

An idea germinated in my mind. I could use these fit fellows as motivation for my run. I began to speed up just trying to get close enough to read their shirts. A group of four cadets broke away from the squad and ran ahead. I felt the drive inside of me begin to whisper, "You can catch them." I poured on just a little more gas and before I knew it my frequent hill runs were paying dividends. I passed the main group on an uphill and gave them a smile and a nod. They returned the greeting and that was that.

Isn't the use of timing devices a way to gauge our progress?

As I slowly gained on the breakaway group, I thought to myself that it was kind of amusing that I had just 'chicked' a group of really fit men. I pulled my phone out of my pocket and snapped the above picture without breaking stride. I assumed it would be too blurry to share but didn't care too much. I continued on with my run, catching and passing the breakaway group, and happened to see another squad of cadets coming the other way. One of them was walking and he looked miserable. I shouted, "You've got this! Keep it up!" He smiled and began to jog again. I finished my run without seeing any other cadets and didn't think much of sharing my picture.

Then the comments began to roll in. At first it was mostly 'LOLs' and 'You go girl!' But then a few people suggested that I wasn't giving the cadets a fair shake. After all, they were doing a formation run which means they were only as fast as the slowest runner. I saw the point but they obviously were able to go at their own pace or else there wouldn't have been a breakaway pack for me to catch. Then there were comments that I would get my a$$ kicked if those guys were on their own or if I tried that with a military member or whatever. At first I argued... I mean I beat men and women on a regular basis and I WAS a Marine.

Then I gave up. The comments came one hundred percent from men. I began to wonder if strong women are that much of a threat or if there's still a negative association with competitive women. Almost all of the comments used the word competition like a four letter curse or as if it was something dirty. In the end, my post ended up being taken down by the moderators and I was left to wonder what was so wrong with passing someone on my run and feeling good about it.

Am I only allowed to be competitive during a race?

Being competitive is associated with being an ugly person in our society. People see it as being greedy and narcissistic. We feel guilty for having competitive feelings and we make other people uncomfortable if they express their own. However, competition can come from personal challenge instead of winning. It's not an 'all or nothing' mentality and it's healthy and natural when it's handled correctly.

Human nature is an elusive concept but everyone has competitive feelings. The coworker who just got a promotion, the attractive friend who gets more dates, the complete stranger who got the parking spot or has a nicer car... They all bring out unsettling feelings and we instantly try to temper or dampen those emotions. 

Mr. Wonderful set out to win his last race... and he did!

Accepting competitive feelings can be hard. Yet when we do, we begin to understand what it is that we really want. Thoughts and feelings are NOT the same as actions. And therefore, feeling competitive and using those emotions as motivation to better yourself is OKAY. 

When we hide our competitive nature we become cynical. "Why is SHE the one who gets all the attention? It's only because her dress is so short." Or we become gossips. "I heard he only got the promotion because he golfs with the VP." Maybe you're thrilled your best friend just bought the sports car you've both ogled since third grade but at the same time you're secretly gloating over how high the gas and maintenance costs are going to be. Pretty soon you are distancing yourself from someone close to you because you have begun to see them as 'materialistic'. Meanwhile, it's only your inner competitor that you refuse to acknowledge. You pretend you don't want those 'things' (car, house, promotion, or race trophy) because competition is uncomfortable and you deny yourself to avoid those feelings. And BAM!, you're leading a life you don't really want.

I wanted my first win... badly

I'm here to say that if you want something then go after it. Don't hurt others to get it but don't deny yourself things that bring you joy either. If you and I find ourselves locked in a dead sprint to the finish line at our next race I hope you know that I'll congratulate you wholeheartedly if you beat me. I hope you can do the same should I take the lead. And, if you pass me on my next training run, let me just thank you now for motivating me to push a little harder, to try to keep you in sight, to be that much faster the next time we meet. And, should I pass you, please know that I'm not looking down on you. In fact I hope you'll challenge me the next time we meet. I hope your training is beyond spectacular and you can share with me all the wisdom you've gleaned and your new favorite speed work drills. I'll gladly share my water with you if you'll share your banana with me.... after the competition is over.

I am a woman. I am competitive. And it's nothing against you.

I often imagine winning a big race in a full sprint to the finish with a worthy opponent during my runs.



Are you competitive? Do you feel insulted if someone passes you on a training run? Does it feel good to pass someone? When is it too much?




Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Gone Crazy: Week 2

My second week of super-condensed marathon training is in the books. It was another seven days of surprises but the biggest one has to be how quickly I've gotten back into the swing of training full bore. Cranking out 35 miles seemed like a long shot but 35.3 miles later I'm still going strong.

I started out the week with a slow 7 mile slog on dead legs. I happened to be working near my old home and decided to take a run on the Yough River Trail for old times sake. Apparently my body just hates flat and hot this year. I'm sure that bodes very well for Darlington (insert sarcasm here).

On Tuesday, my running partner/best friend's boyfriend and I decided to attempt two loops of our cemetery route. According to my Garmin, one loop is about 500 feet of gain and 500 feet of loss in 4.5 miles. We decided to cut the loops down to 5k even by walking to and from the cemetery. We were both miserable by the end but we finished our hilly 10k without any lasting harm.

 Elevation profile for one full loop of the cemetery

After two very slow, tough runs in a row I took the hint and rested Wednesday. It must have worked because the rest of my week only got better from there. Thursday I headed to North Park and ran the 5 mile loop around the lake. My only goal was to run it as hard as I could and see what happened. I ended up completing the loop in 43:40 for an 8:44 average pace. I was spent but thrilled!

Yeah, that happened.

Friday was pretty much a recovery run with the Electrodash 5k actually being 2.36 miles and too crowded to really run. I'm sure the forced slowdown was exactly what my legs needed so that my running partner and I could run long Saturday. We managed to cap off the second week of marathon training with a 12 mile run that was almost exactly the same pace as my 10 miler last week. 

YES!

Sunday I did a short 3 mile shakeout run to hit my goal of 35 miles for the week. I'd love to hit 40 miles for week 3 but I'm not sure it's feasible. I have to keep reminding myself that it's more important to arrive at the starting line healthy than over trained. So my A goal will be 40 and my B goal is to beat this weeks 35 miles. I guess my all-else-fails goal is to get in a 14 mile long run and a few other runs during the week.

And now I can start to panic because we are less than 5 weeks out from Darlington! 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Electrodash Recap

My friends from the Color Vibe 5k wanted to do another fun event. We picked the Electrodash in Pittsburgh. It was centered around the Great Lawn on the North Shore which meant plenty of parking and some really nice views. The run itself is basically billed as a running rave with lasers, fog machines, lighted props, and all the electro/house/techno music you can handle. Based on this I can say without a doubt that the event met its hype.

I arrived hours early thanks to living an hour northeast of the city and working half an hour southwest of it. I didn't have time to go home but I had plenty of time to twiddle my thumbs. Thankfully the parking lot I selected was directly across the street from the finish area and I was able to watch the construction as I ate my prepacked dinner and applied my electro temporary tattoo.

I accidentally rocked this thing for the rest of the weekend too.

After a bit I got out to stretch my legs and wander the Great Lawn. I happened to run into the first member of our group, P, and together we began to trek towards the starting line a half mile or so away. When we were a block from the starting line we found the rest of our group heading to the finish area to pick up a packet. We trekked back and then decorated ourselves before we headed back to the starting line again.

 Clouds rolling into Pittsburgh
P and I

The starting line was beyond packed when we arrived. It was supposed to be a two wave start so we found an alcove to wait in while we watched for the first wave. It never came and the clock ticked past when the second wave was supposed to be starting so we eventually just crammed ourselves into the pack and waited.

 Goofing off before the start

Just a small snapshot of the crowd

Finally the DJ yelled go and the crowd surged forward... at a snail's pace. We joked that it was now the Electrowalk. P and I finally got impatient and took off up the sidewalk while the rest of the group stuck together. Once we got off the road there were sights and sounds every quarter mile or so. It was a constant sensory assault with pounding beats, flashing lights, and eerie fog effects for almost the entire course.






As we approached the finish line (a mere three quarters of a mile short of a 5k) we were greeted with a stunning view of the fountain at the point. Then we turned and sprinted up a hill to the finish line party.


No joke. We literally crossed the line into a mass of writhing bodies pulsating to the beat and covered in glow paint and glow sticks. It was an adrenaline rush at the very least. Maybe a bit overwhelming to my almost 30 year old self.  


Once all of our group had finished we hung out at the party for a bit before heading home. Thankfully traffic on a Friday night in the city is minimal and it didn't take me long to navigate my way out of the maze that is Pittsburgh.


Overall, I'm pretty impressed with the Electrodash. For $44 we got a shirt, a bib, a ton of glow jewelry, and a moving party for 2.36 miles. Topped off with a 2 hour party with a DJ on the scenic North Shore of Pittsburgh. If you are just looking for a fun run to share an evening with friends the Electrodash is a pretty good way to do it (and costs less than a bar tab or rolling at rave too).