Honey, We’re Home!

Sean and I officially live in the same state now! We picked up a U-haul on Wednesday morning and were on the road by 2PM. Unfortunately, we hit a snowstorm in West Virginia that lasted until we reached Pennsylvania around 3AM Thursday morning. We slept on a small and cheap bunk beds for kids for a few hours and then unpacked the U-haul before heading downtown for my mother’s birthday celebration.

Needless to say, it was a long day and we were both exhausted. We made some poor food choices and I definitely did not drink enough water. I didn’t miss any workouts though! My coaches are surely disappointed but they gave me my plan for next week and I’m back on point. I also chose my show date: May 16 for the NPC Mid-Atlantic Cup Championships. If you’re interested in attending the information is here.

Loaded and ready to roll
The rest of the update is in my latest vlog so check it out!

Forging The Future

Life is kind of like metal. Sometimes it’s fluid and moving along. And sometimes it gets hard and it feels like you’re stuck. Either way it’s beautiful and tough. And it makes an amazing circle that can bond two people forever.

Sean’s ring

Sean asked his friend to make the ring he will wear, conceivably for the rest of our lives. It arrived today and it’s gorgeous! I can’t thank Barefoot Forge enough for creating this work of art. You can also find them on Facebook here. Please give them a like and follow if amazing, handcrafted jewelry is of interest to you.

Handcrafted Damascus Steel Rings from Barefoot Forge
In other big news, I finally have a show date. I chose the NPC Mid-Atlantic Cup Championships on May 16. That puts me at roughly 11 weeks out right now! I’m really happy with my gains so far but I’m worried about leaning out. I’m trusting my coaches to guide me through all of this and I know everything will be just perfect if I stick to their plan!
Me – December 1, 2014


Me – Today
I’ve ordered my bikini and competition jewelry. I have my heels. It’s all so real now. But first, I’m off to South Carolina to move my future husband back to PA! So, if I happen to be MIA this week, please forgive me. WE will be home next weekend!
Have a wonderful week fit fam!

My big news and small updates

I’m pretty sure EVERYONE knows by now but I wanted to share it here as well. After I took (and passed!) my personal training certification I made the drive to South Carolina to spend some time with Sean. It was our pretty typical week together. I played with the dogs and cleaned around the house while he was at work. And in the evenings we meal prepped and hit the gym together. Then, on Sunday, he changed everything.

Sean woke me up around 4am Sunday morning and hustled me into the car. He handed me his hoodie and told me to use the hood as a blindfold any time he asked. I was too groggy to argue and over the next two hours we chatted and laughed all while I kept getting a hood thrown over my eyes every time a road sign approached. The highlight of the trip may have been when we got pulled over! The cop asked Sean where we were headed and Sean just froze for a minute. Then he asked, “Can I write it down because I’m trying to surprise her?” The cop apparently figured out what was up and let us go on our way!

Blue lights!
We arrived in Myrtle Beach just as the sky was beginning to lighten. Sean directed me out to the pier and we watched the sun rise over the choppy waves. It was breezy out over the water so I was clinging pretty tightly when Sean pushed me back a little. He looked at me for a second and then said something along the lines of:
“Sara Altair, I want to ask you here beneath the sun and the moon (both were out) if you’ll marry me and share all the miles we have to go before we sleep.”
The pier where Sean proposed
Sean took this picture right after I said yes
I, of course, started to cry and said yes. We spent a little more time on the pier before we went back to the car to retrieve another coat for me. We decided to walk the beach looking for shells and just enjoying our moment before we returned to our usual, crazy lives.
 Sean on the beach
So many shells


Sean found me this perfect shell
 The ring


Sean also got me a QALO ring so I can work out with it!
Our challenge now is to get him back to Pittsburgh. Everyone keeps asking if we’ve set a date but we need to live in the same state first!
Lastly, I created another vlog. Just a rehashing of the engagement and some small updates on my competition training. Enjoy!

Let’s Do Work!

I passed! I passed! I’m an ACSM Certified Personal Trainer!
So who’s ready to get fitter, faster, and/or stronger?! I’ll be picking up a limited number of online training clients starting in February. I will also be making myself available for one on one consults and workouts at your gym (if you can bring a guest) as my schedule allows. Hopefully soon I will have a ‘home’ gym for the locals to come train with me too! If you are interested then email me at brazentraining@gmail.com and let’s get started!

Controversy in a Bikini

I’ve gotten some pretty hateful comments and some very wrong assumptions about what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. So I thought I’d try a vlog and put some truth out there! I hope you enjoy. Please like and subscribe to my YouTube channel, Brazen Training, if you like this.

Happy Holidays!

I hope everyone had a merry Christmas or whatever holiday you celebrate!

I took some time out to enjoy the holidays with my family and with Sean. I also had the distinct pleasure of losing my job on December 23 (sense the sarcasm?). My former employer certainly had a sense of humor when it came to handing out pink slips.

But the good news is that I always come up swinging. I have been working on a huge project and it’s finally a done deal! I am going to be working with a big name company, their marketing reps, and a big city marathon. As soon as I have permission to share all the details I promise I will!

I also scheduled my ACSM Certified Personal Training exam for the end of January. Thanks to this I may have a job at my gym. They hope to be hiring a new trainer in February so the timing may just work out perfectly!

Last but not least, I have applied to be an adjunct instructor at a career school. I’m awaiting a review of my qualifications and transcripts but hopefully I will also be teaching classes such as Kinesiology and Anatomy & Physiology in February!

Post-Christmas lunch cuddles on our cheap accent chairs (under $100) we just purchased for the holiday.
I’ve still stuck to my plan through all of this. I started week 8 today and Sean has been going with me every day for the most part. It’s been hard being surrounded by treats and junk food. I can’t say I haven’t fallen off the nutrition wagon a few times but I’m still doing the best I can. I have 4 weeks to make the best of my lean out phase after this week and I intend to kill it.
Christmas Selfies at the gym
On a final, and much funnier, note I saw the weirdest and coolest thing ever while at the gym yesterday. I was on the treadmill doing my long run and I glanced up out the window to see a man with a leash in his hand. Attached to the other end was a large, brown animal. I assumed it was a dog at first but then I realized it definitely wasn’t!
I thought maybe my pre-workout was the problem or maybe I was hallucinating. And then the man on the elliptical behind me exclaimed, “That man is walking a deer!” I let out a sigh of relief and then tried to get Sean’s attention so he could come see. I didn’t succeed so I did the next best thing and grabbed my phone!
Merry Christmas! Here is a pic of a man walking a deer!

Being the Odd (Wo)Man Out

I had a not-so-fun medical experience today. After the last one, I really wasn’t thrilled to be headed into a hospital again. This time it was for a biopsy and everyone reassured me that it would be quick and easy. I’m pretty sure that’s what I was told in October too!

But what really got to me is that the radiology tech, the nurse, and the doctor who were doing my procedure were all blown away by me. Well, not me per se but my physiology. I’m not overweight, my heart rate, blood pressure, and O2 saturation were all better than good. As I laid on the table and listened to them I realized that medical professionals NEVER see healthy, fit people. It’s a rarity, a special treat. And they don’t know how to handle it.

The nurse had to turn the alarms off on my monitor because my heart rate of 48 beats per minute was setting them off. My blood pressure of 96/68 was giving some periodic beeps as well. When the doctor pulled out a 5″ needle my heart rate shot up… all the way to 60. The doctor double checked with the ultrasound tech that she was well away from my ribs because “she’s so thin”. The doctor didn’t know how to approach a patient without inches and inches of extra padding!

I learned that the county where I had my procedure is one of the top ones in Pennsylvania for obesity. Over 50% of the population is obese, not just overweight, according to the hospital staff. I was told horror stories of patients who couldn’t fit on regular beds, the needle wasn’t long enough, or had bleeding issues because of all the medications they have to take on a daily basis for all their obesity-related illnesses.

Is this really the world we want to live in? To leave to our children? When will we put down the video games and pizzas and look outside our own front doors? I left the hospital feeling saddened. Not for myself but for all the people who don’t know the joy of sprinting up a flight of stairs without getting winded. They don’t know what it’s like to ride a bike around a lake or hike through the woods. They can’t go out dancing or even walk through a museum without having to sit down.

I want to help everyone even though I know I can’t save them all. Today’s experience just helped me recommit to the WHY behind why I am taking my personal training exam and becoming a coach. I’m going to let the tender spot just under my ribs be a reminder on why I need to study hard over the next few weeks. I’ve got lives to change and kids to save and souls to nurture. And I can’t wait to get started!

The Anti-Gift List

As a blogger, a mother, a girlfriend, and member of the good old USA I tend to get smothered with (and sucked into) gift buying just like everyone else. I look at a pile of presents and wonder if it’s ‘enough’. I take on even more overtime to buy ‘stuff’ for the people I love. And then the holidays come and go and all that’s left is a pile of wrapping paper. So instead of writing another ‘what to buy the (runner, man, child) in your life’ post I am writing the antithesis!

1.) Decorate your home/tree/yard together!

Go as big or little as you want. Put up inflatable Santas or wire and light reindeer. Make your own Charlie Brown tree. Bake salt dough ornaments. Or go all out Clark Griswold style!

2. Bake something!
You can make cookies or a cake. Make it as healthy (or not!) as you want. Get flour all over, feed eachother cookie dough, and laugh at the ridiculous cookie cutters Great Aunt Nancy gave you.
(Photo Credit: Tumblr)
3.) Get outside or workout
Throw snowballs, build a snowman, take a walk, head to the gym, or even shovel some white stuff together!
(Photo Credit: PopSugar)
4.) Break out the home movies!
What else makes you feel closer to your loved ones than laughing at their bad perm or braces?
(Photo Credit: The Ellen Show)
5.) Make breakfast in bed
Because why not?!
(This is actually a tee shirt!)
6.) Write a letter
Yes, with a pen and a piece of paper. Grab and envelope and a stamp and send someone far away (or near!) an old fashioned note.
7.) Build a blanket and pillow fort
Because you can!
That’s it! Get on with it! Go make some memories and save yourself the headaches of fighting crowds, tracking shipments, and losing the scissors or the tape while wrapping!

A Small Reveal

I alluded to a complete change of lifestyle in my last post. It drew a lot of interest and some questions so I contemplated doing a ‘halfway’ reveal. That would be next weekend but I still am not sure I’m ready to open myself up for input, criticism, or commentary from the general public yet. Sean and a couple of my closest friends have seen and supported me through the last 5 weeks. It’s not always easy to be patient and trust the process. I want instant results just like everybody else. So instead of completely unveiling my new plan and body I thought I’d share the overview and a sneak peek instead.

The easiest way to explain what I’ve been doing is to say it’s a balance between exercise, nutrition, and supplements. I’m hitting the gym 11 times per week. I run 5 days per week and lift 6 days. I combine easy runs and speed work and I hit every body part with weights at least once per week. I eat ‘clean’ 98% of the time. That’s no joke! I eat 6 times per day, 7 days a week. One of those meals on Sunday gets to be a ‘cheat’ meal where I go out to eat with friends or family and splurge on a burger or a milkshake. And every day I follow a routine of supporting my nutrition and workouts with a careful selection of supplements.

Today’s cheat meal at Rockhoppers
(Split with my mom!)
The results of this complete change have been astounding. I’m still waiting on an appointment to get my body fat percentage checked so I don’t know where I started or where I am now (yet). But I have seen huge changes and my clothes fit differently than ever before.  My performances are improving on both runs and weights. And my energy is through the roof.
And here’s the proof:
Completed 5k on the treadmill, the day after leg day and after going out dancing last night, in 24 minutes. My previous best was 24:27 and that was back in 2012. After only 5 weeks I have already met one of my 2015 goals (set a new 5k PR!).
I’m stronger and happier with my body than ever before. Every week I go heavier, go harder, find another way to tweak my nutrition. And while I can’t wait to share the full transformation with everyone, right now I am enjoying the journey and focusing on learning and growing on my own.
Are you ready for 2015? Have you set your goals and outlined the steps to reach them yet?

How To Get Fit

I haven’t posted in awhile. And, yes, it’s partially due to my work schedule being crazy again. But it’s mostly because I’ve been keeping a secret. I decided to completely overhaul my workouts, nutrition, and lifestyle to get into the best possible shape. Normally I would have posted progress pictures, weight and measurement updates, and generally over-informed the world. This time, however, I wanted to trust myself and trust the process. Put my own knowledge to use and follow through without input or criticism from outsiders. I’m still not ready to share my transformation but I do want to share what I’m learning.

In the last several weeks I’ve talked to quite a few women who are upset that they aren’t losing weight. They are ‘dieting’ and exercising and counting every bite they put in their mouth but the scale isn’t budging. They’re hungry, cranky, and exhausted. And they all have one thing in common. They aren’t eating enough!

Your body needs a certain amount of calories just to exist every day. Your brain, your heart, breathing, swallowing, and just being alive all take energy. This amount is otherwise known as your Base Metabolic Rate (BMR) and calculating this is the basis for changing your eating. I like to use a simple online calculator like the one at My Fitness Pal.

This number forms the basis for your nutrition. Then you need to eat enough to support walking, working, and exercising. This is your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE). A calculator like the one at IIFYM can calculate out your TDEE and it also takes it one step further by suggesting your calorie intake depending on your goals. A little below TDEE for weight loss, a little above for gaining muscle. Then you can even break it down further into macronutrient ratios but I’ll save that for another post.

For now, just take a look at your calorie intake and adjust it to meet your actual needs! You’ll look better, feel better, and see results faster!

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

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.

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!

FAAP Fall Classic 10k

I haven’t posted in awhile. My apologies but I needed a break. From running, from training, from thinking so hard about it all. So what did I do with my two weeks? Nothing. I didn’t run. I didn’t work out. I ate anything I wanted. I drank some beer and wine. After about 12 days of living a normal American lifestyle I’d had enough.

I started with the P90X plyo DVD followed by a 3 mile run the next day. Apparently that was too much. My legs were super sore yesterday and still complaining this morning. But Shane was excited for this event so we were on our way at 6:45am. I chose my INKnBURN denim shorts and leaf ’em sports bra under our Team Brunazzi shirts. Shoes were Altra Superiors with the rock guard removed. We dropped off the kids with Shane’s sister to play with their cousin and then headed to North Park.

We picked up our shirts and bibs and then talked to the other runners and our friends from the timing service. Shane decided we should do a warm up so we headed up the road a ways and immediately my legs complained. After a short distance I gave up and headed back to await the coming torture. I also discovered my Garmin decided to discharge its battery and shut down so I would be running ‘blind’.

Shane pre-race
This race is held by the Filipino American Association of Pittsburgh so there was a hand-carved gong to get us going. The race director recognized Shane and I and offered a greeting before launching into the course description and markings. After that the medical director gave a short word on not pushing too hard and respecting your limitations. I admit I snickered that a 5k/10k had a medical director so maybe I only got what I deserved.
The 10k started 10 minutes before the 5k and at the sound of the gong I went hard. I knew we would move from road to trail quickly and I wanted to be in position before we bottle necked. Suddenly I realized I was ahead of Shane and all the other women. I pulled back and about 5-7 more people blew by me. Shane shouted, “You’re running 6:15 pace. Slow down!” I should have listened.
I pulled back a little bit as we hit the trail and settled into the chase pack. My legs hurt but I knew I was refreshed from the recent rest and wanted to see if they would shake out. I started to worry when I was looking for the 1 mile water stop long before we actually hit it. Feeling like you’ve run way over a mile at only 0.75 is not a good sign. Without a Garmin I figure I went out too hard. I probably ran a 7:45 first mile. Oops.
The next two miles were a blur of pain as my lungs and legs began to burn. I kept pushing knowing that I should be able to place well since it was decently technical trail and a short distance. I couldn’t get any decent pace on the uphills (I’ve had this happen a LOT recently) and I was overheating. I whipped off my shirt, not caring that my bib was on it.
As we approached some volunteers pointing to a turn I thought, “We must be over halfway now.” Nope, they shouted, “2.8 miles. Almost halfway!” I wanted to die. I decided to pull back for a mile and see if I could recover enough to push hard to the end. A few men passed me and a woman I know, Natalie, caught me and ran with me for awhile. We chatted and I relaxed into it for a bit until we hit a long uphill. I let my friend go and silently berated myself as I walked up.
The last couple miles another runner I know, Mike, caught me and basically stayed on my tail with another man. We were all suffering and didn’t chat much except for when we came to two forks in a row that were unmarked. We made our best guesses based on the general direction we needed to head and hoped for the best. Thankfully we came upon another volunteer about a quarter mile later. I quickly told him about the unmarked forks but I guess he didn’t say anything because I found out a lot of people got lost there, including the leaders.
As I pounded down a hill a volunteer shouted that there was a downed tree at the bottom to watch out for. A man bolted past me, ignoring the warning, and caught his feet on the tree taking a pretty awful digger. But he got up and kept running so he must have been okay. I took the time to walk to the tree and step over and lost the man in the process. As I ran up an access road I heard another set of feet approaching. I figured it was Mike but a quick glance over my shoulder told me differently. A woman passed me and quickly gapped me. I didn’t care in the least by that point.
As we headed back towards the start I knew there was a field and then one last road section to the finish line. Two more women approached from the rear and I gathered enough dignity to push hard enough to ensure my lead. I tried to catch the woman who had passed me on the way to the finish but I didn’t have enough of a kick. I dragged myself across the line in 1:05:15 for 27th overall and 9th woman.
I crossed the line, handed over my bib tag after some fumbling with my shirt, and then stumbled to the grass where I promptly collapsed. I felt like I couldn’t catch my breath. I was hot and then cold and not sweating. I chugged the remainder of my water between gasps and stared at the swirling tree branches over my head. I was slightly amused by how I must appear to the other runners. Out of shape? Not a trail runner? Inexperienced? I mused that the medical director would be showing up to give me a speech any second. Only it was just a fellow runner and a volunteer who came to my aid. After a few minutes of listening to them debate whether I should stay laying down or get up and walk I dragged myself to my feet and into the port-o-john to hide. After about 10 minutes I felt almost normal although a little wobbly. I swallowed my pride and rejoined the festivities outside.
While waiting for results the FAAP put out Filipino food but I couldn’t even look at it. I grabbed a banana and hunkered in the corner to watch the dancers do their performance.


Filipino dancers
As I watched my strength returned. I just wanted to go home but Shane had finished in 7th place in about 55 minutes and earned 1st in his age group so we waited. I was shocked when I was called for 3rd in my age group. I absolutely felt my performance was undeserving of anything. I also learned the first woman had finished in 55-something. On a good day I probably could have smashed this course and gotten an overall award. That’s going to drive me in regaining my fitness in the coming weeks for sure. In the end I’m just glad I got a run in and got out on the trails even if it was an embarrassing performance.


Close up of the bamboo award



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. Also for kid training, you should consider the Step2 Skyward Summit, it’s an outdoor playhouse for kids, 2 in 1, playing and training.
Happy Labor Day everyone! I hope you’re making the most of it!

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?

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.
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!

Crazy: Week 1

Last week was my first full week back to running. I was pleasantly surprised by how well my body responded to the sudden return to training. Now if I can just keep walking that thin line between training and over-training everything will be okay!

I ended up with 30.3 miles for the week at an average pace of 10:04 per mile. I’m not setting any land speed records but I’ll take it. I also managed a ‘long’ run of 10 miles using a run/walk technique. I would run until my watch beeped a mile and then walk for 1 minute. I ended up with an exactly 10:40 pace and now I’m thinking this may be how I aim to complete the marathon.

Fastest 5 miler in awhile (spoiler: I beat it this week)
I also have begun adding in more cross training than when I was running previously. My cycling buddy has been busy but I’m planning to get back on my bike as soon as we can. So while I’m off the saddle I have been doing things like push ups, jump rope, kayaking, and back to school shopping. If you can walk the entire mall three times to get EVERYTHING on your list then it counts!
Just try to carry all those bags!
And now I’m into week 2 of ‘training’ and 36 days away from my 8th marathon. I’m doing the typical freak outs over my diet, sleep, and every ache. So far it all seems par for the course with me. And Mr. Wonderful is doing just fine down south. He’s throwing down some long and fast runs while still CrossFitting often. I have a feeling keeping up with him will be almost as much of a challenge as the marathon!
My motivation.

Back in the Saddle… For the First Time

Maybe you’ve been around long enough to remember when I got a bike for Christmas. Well, it pretty much sat and collected dust for almost 4 years while I focused on my running. Then my friend, Jenn, suggested that I move it to her house and meet up for evening rides. She decided we would start with an easy 20 miler through the city. I felt confident I would bonk, possibly die, and embarrass myself.

View of the city from the Hot Metal Bridge
Amazingly, I survived and even kind of enjoyed myself. We made it 20 miles and averaged 10MPH or so. It was nothing spectacular but I was very happy that I completed it. We made a stop at REI and also at the OTB Bike Cafe for some dinner. It was a great way to spend an evening with some of my favorite people.
A cafe for cyclists? Right on!
I guess I enjoyed it more than I would like to admit because we did a 20.5 miler on a slightly tougher course just a couple days later. And then followed that with a 16 mile ride the next day. Ending up with 56 miles of cycling in 5 days, and a good number of running miles too, was completely unexpected. But it lit the fire in me that has been missing for some time now.
Where’s the pot of gold?
I don’t know if I’m training for anything. Jenn thinks I should sign up for Pedal Pittsburgh’s metric century (100k). Someone else has suggested doing a Spartan Ultra Beast in the not-so-distant future. And I’ve been eyeing a marathon or ultra early next year. But mostly I’m enjoying feeling stronger and healthier than I have for a long time. I’m enjoying spending time with the people I care about the most in the beautiful city I love. It’s enough to just be back on the path of my six year journey to fitness for right now.
Cooling down along the North Shore Trail

LiveFit Trainer: Week 5

My second attempt at week 5 went much better than last week. I got in all but one workout (one leg day instead of two) and my nutrition was much better. I did have a pretzel at the mine 5k with Gem but really didn’t have too many cheats.

Baby bis and tris are coming out
My weight has stabilized in the mid-130’s but I can tell my clothes are fitting differently. My jeans are looser in the waist and tighter in the butt and thighs. Some of my fitted long sleeve shirts are starting to feel kind of snug around my biceps too. Overall, the changes are more subtle than the first few weeks but definitely there. I’m hopeful that, with three more weeks of adding cardio, I’ll really see some definition soon.
That’s really about all I have for week 5. So let’s hope some big things happen with week 6!