Monday, November 3, 2014

Run Like A Nut

Crazy is probably the one thing I'm actually really good at. I'm a mediocre runner. I'm pretty average when it comes to just about anything in daily life. But dare me to do something that sounds batshit crazy and I'm all in. That said, the price of insanity can be quite high.

For the last four weeks I haven't done anything. Since the marathon, but especially after my surgical debacle, I have become deeply involved with my couch (and maybe mint chocolate chip ice cream). I haven't been allowed to do anything at work so I've spent my days staring at paper work and computers. I finally finished Breaking Bad and caught up on The Walking Dead. I also scheduled a trip to see Sean in South Carolina to brighten up my days a bit.

Which leads to our shining moment of brilliant insanity. Sean's close friend was registered for the Run Like A Nut Half Marathon in Florence, SC. Of course misery loves company, so he volunteered us as running buddies. Next thing I know I'm registered for 13.1 miles of pavement pounding.

The days leading up to the race were our normal ritual of bar food and beer, video games and television, spicy things, and CrossFit (which in a moment of clarity I decided to sit out). We also added a new little fur baby to the family, Jake. Much time was spent cuddling and spoiling him (and the other furry monsters, too). I worried a little about my stitches and lingering pain. Mostly I fretted about what to wear. Halloween races are so hard!

Cool kids teach their dogs to play video games

Saturday morning we woke early and met Sean's friend and his coworker at the military base. We piled into one vehicle and headed for Florence around 6:30am. Once we located the parking and start line we went into the Fitness Forum and picked up our bibs, shirts, and swag. We took everything back to the car just in time for the rain to start so I threw my Garmin back in the car along with my phone (sorry, no mid-race pics or splits!).


I was freezing in my INKnBURN skeleton shirt and denim shorts. I hadn't expected it to be colder in South Carolina than Pennsylvania and I really wasn't prepared to be wet on top of it. Thankfully a kind woman handed me a single use poncho as we huddled near the starting line.


We were sent off shortly after with very little fuss. Sean, our companions, and I set off conservatively. We ran and chatted and laughed but I could already feel my insides twisting and spasming. I tried to ignore it and focus on enjoying the company. I thought to myself, "We have to be at least 5k in by now. It's only single digit miles now." Then I saw the 1 mile marker and knew it was going to be a long day. I'm pretty sure I even cursed out loud.

From there things continued to go downhill. I checked out mentally. If someone asked me a direct question, I would respond. If our whole group laughed, I would too (even though I had no idea what was being said). I was already deep in the pain cave and we weren't even 5 miles in yet. The only upside was that I was mostly warm and dry in my poncho unlike the rest of my group.

Around mile 7 or 8 Sean's friend said something about my breathing sounding labored. Sean started to explain that I always sound like I'm dying but the conversation was just enough to pull me out of my own head. I suddenly realized I was being stupid and slowed to a walk. Sean dropped back and joined me and we told our companions to go on without us. We walked hand in hand for awhile, just talking, but it was too cold to stay slow for long. Sean mentioned that I could quit any time but I quickly dismissed that idea. If I had made it almost 9 miles then I could finish.

We picked up the pace again and passed the 9 and 10 mile markers. The rest of our group was long out of sight and the back of the pack was passing us with every walk break. We even saw the sweep vehicle on an out and back at one point. That was enough to put some pep in my step and we started running more than walking again. A friendly stray cat joined us for a couple blocks, running to catch us and then winding around my ankles until I started moving again. It was the best mood boost I could have asked for at that point.

Sean was once again the voice of reason, forcing me to walk when I looked or sounded as if I was in too much pain. Finally, I told him that we just needed to finish. Nothing was going to make me feel better until I could quit running. So he took the lead and said, "Just focus on staying on my heels." I put my head down, pushed back into my own head, and off we went. It was exactly what I needed until I got a foot cramp around mile 11 or 12. Forced to walk again, I couldn't escape the pain. Finally, the cramp subsided and Sean took the lead again, slowly picking off a few of the runners who had passed us during my walk breaks.

At one point, Sean started trying to encourage me. "Just a little more baby." "You can do this." Being pulled out of my mental fog brought all the pain front and center again. I snapped, "Shut the (expletive) up and run!" Thankfully Sean wasn't upset by my outburst. Instead, he took my advice and poured on a little more speed.

A volunteer at a turn told us, "Five more blocks." and I about died with happiness. It was the longest five blocks of my life but we finally turned the last bend and I saw the line. Sean and I crossed together and grabbed our medals. Then it was back into the warm building to find our friends and get dried off and fed.

Much happier (and apparently forgiven) after we finished

Our official finish time was 2:21:54. We were 78th and 79th overall. I was 4th in my age group and Sean was 5th in his. While our results are not at all impressive ordinarily, this time I am more than happy with my performance. I proved to myself that I haven't lost all of my fitness and mentally I can still push through even the toughest runs. I got to spend a few miles with my favorite person on earth and a couple really good friends. I didn't die and I don't think I caused any permanent damage. Overall, it was a great day!

Even Jake says it was just what we needed

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

What if?

Things have not been smooth sailing around here lately. I'll just start out with the fact that this post will contain some medical stuff so if you're squeamish you may want to skip reading this one.

I had an appointment with my doctor a couple weeks before the marathon. During my check up I mentioned that I was interested in permanent birth control and we set up the surgery for this past Friday. Thursday night I did the whole pre-op checklist: shower with no fragrances or oils, no hair gels or perfume, no eating after midnight, etc. I was feeling optimistic that I'd feeling good and back at work by Monday, Tuesday at the latest. I chatted with my boyfriend and he eased my nerves enough for me to get a restful night's sleep.

However, things didn't go as planned and I suffered a bladder injury during surgery. I ended up being admitted to the hospital from Friday through most of Saturday and left with a catheter. I'm on light duty for at least two weeks at work but it all depends on the outcome of my visit with a urologist tomorrow. For now everything I'm used to hangs in the balance, dependent upon my ability to, ahem, go to the bathroom on my own tomorrow.

There's a 99% certainty that everything will be fine. But that small chance that it won't is weighing on me.

What if I ended up with a catheter long term? What if there's permanent damage that impacts me in other ways? Could I run again? Can I be a good parent? Could I still be a great girlfriend? I can't even wear my normal pants right now. I'm restricted to a recliner or my bed for the most part. I've had to ask my mother to do my laundry and clean my fish tank and care for my girls. And it all boils down to one feeling that I can actually name, inadequacy.

All the things that I know as 'me' could disappear in a heartbeat. If not this incident, something else could happen in the future. I always wondered how people facing long medical battles stay positive, keep going. And now I'm even more in awe of my friends who've dealt, or are dealing, with more traumatic experiences.

I look in the mirror and I see a pale(er?) face, a body sheathed in baggy sweats, and a bloated, bruised, and bandaged stomach that wouldn't come close to the almost-abs I had last week. Physically,I'm completely changed for the moment. Mentally, I am screaming. Why me? How did this happen? Why did it happen? Will I ever be 100% normal again? I know all of the chances say yes but there was almost no chance of this injury happening in the first place, statistically speaking.

I'm so grateful for my friends and family who have been supporting me this past week. Every call, text, and message has helped me hold on to my patience and sanity. Thank you all from the bottom of my heart. Think positive for me and make sure you take some time to enjoy the things you love today. There's always that very small chance they won't be there tomorrow.

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.


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?