NPC Mid-Atlantic Cup Championships Recap

I’ve been thinking about getting around to writing this since May. It’s been a crazy four months since my first NPC show and I should probably get this done before I start trying to get back to writing about running and my new passion, acro.

If you follow me on FaceBook then you know that I lost A LOT of weight going into the show. The last week I was eating only chicken, ground turkey, and asparagus for six meals a day. I was drinking 1-2 gallons of water per day while taking over-the-counter diuretics to pull the water from between my skin and muscle. I had to go for spray tanning three times leading into my debut and I still could have been darker. I booked my makeup artist and received my bikini. I already had my heels and jewelry and wig. I also had to get a mani/pedi. Needless to say I was running on empty and on the verge of losing it at any second the last few weeks.

The morning of the show I checked in and got my tan touched up. I had my makeup done and got changed into my bikini and heels. I would spend most of the day only covered by a short and very sheer robe. About an hour before my first class, the open division, went on all of us were shuffled into a tiny, hot changing room. We were all struggling to adjust straps and glue our suits in place (no one wants to see THAT wardrobe malfunction). There was last minute posing practices and pumping up. Girls were eating poptarts and mini candy bars to get a carb pump. And there was a team with the tanning company rubbing us all down with oil. I can only imagine that I should have been embarrassed or shy but I was too excited.

It was finally time to step on stage and I watched the first several girls walk out and pose. Finally my name was called and I thought for sure I would freak out. Thankfully all those months of practice took over and I posed perfectly with a huge grin on my face. I had a blast and felt like it was over in only seconds.

We were ushered back off the stage and back into the changing room and cycled back out for my second division (Novice). It went just as quickly and I was then facing hours of down time before finals that night. Based on my stage placement during the morning show I knew I probably hadn’t placed in my classes so I wasn’t too worried about getting touched up for finals.

My coach instructed me to go grab a burger and relax. I happily complied by devouring a burger and some sweet potato fries at Burgatory before heading back to the venue. I felt really out of place being ridiculously tan, too skinny, and made up like a hooker. Everyone was staring at me and all I could think about was trying not to drool on myself waiting for food.

The evening show was just as hectic and fast paced as the morning. Shuffle through the changing room twice, get glued into my suit, have my chest/stomach/butt oiled, then stand in line to be rushed across the stage. The only difference this time was awards were given before we were hustled back off. I placed 8th in the Open division. I couldn’t believe it and I was really sad but I still had another class to go so I returned to the line and went through it all again.

I placed third in the novice class. Of course, I still can’t be satisfied with anything so, as soon as I was off the stage, I went to the bathroom and cried as I changed into my celebration dress. After a few minutes I pulled myself together and returned to Sean and my family outside. We snapped a few pics of me with my short sword and then it was off to Fuel & Fuddle for dinner with no restraints! That was by far my favorite part of the whole experience!

After the show, I found that there was so much pressure to return to ‘normal’ eating. Sean was tired of me meal prepping and saying no to beers or dessert every day. My friends and family wanted to go out since I had been reclusive for so long. Before I knew it I was bloated and chubby. I put on about 15-20 pounds in a matter of a week or two. It took me another week or two to reel myself in but then I got back on track.
My breakup a couple months later left me reeling again. But once I recovered I found that my passion for eating clean was renewed. I have now dropped back down to near my stage weight (about 123-125 pounds). I honestly would consider competing again now except for a few things. First, it is expensive. I easily spent a few thousand dollars throughout prep and the competition. Second, I can’t have a social life while training that intensely and I have come to value my close friendships too much to sacrifice them again. And lastly, I have fallen in love with acro (and started running again). I can do acro for 5-6 hours a day on the weekend, come home covered in bruises, and still want to do it again the next day.
So instead of doing what I’m ‘good’ at I have chosen what makes me happy. I do acro with my friends 2-3 days each week, run 5-6 days, and try to get out for a cheat meal, beer, and some conversation at least once a week. I may never have a perfect six pack ever again but I do have all of the best intangible things life has to offer now.

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!

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.

Nutrition for Athletes

Yesterday I had an amazing opportunity! I got to speak at a UPMC Sports Medicine Marathon seminar for the DICK’S Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon. The other presenters included Leslie Bonci and Dave Spell. Leslie is the director of Sports Nutrition at the UPMC Center for Sports Medicine and she also consults with Steelers, Penguins, Pirates, and the Pittsburgh Ballet. Given her amazing credentials and fun personality I paid strict attention to her presentation so I could share the wealth with all of you!

Leslie brought lots of foods for everyone to see
Of course, the first thing every marathon runner or endurance athlete is concerned with is hydration! Leslie explained that the newest research shows 70 ounces of water per day is the baseline for women. Men need 90 ounces minimum. What I found most interesting is that everything you drink (that isn’t alcohol) counts towards your baseline! That doesn’t mean you can just drink Pepsi or apple juice all day and be okay but even soups and foods high in water content can count towards that minimum intake. Just be sure you add enough water or sports drink to make up for your exercise habits too!
And what about that morning coffee? Or your afternoon energy drink? Maybe you take caffeinated gels prior to or during a run. The maximum amount of caffeine you should ingest per day is only 400mg! Leslie showed us a couple popular products, like Red Bull and 5 Hour Energy shots, and demonstrated just how quickly caffeine adds up. So be sure you’re not hurting your body or performance by overdosing on caffeine every day!
Athletes also tend to be concerned about macro nutrients and how to balance their protein, carbohydrate, and fat intake for optimal performance. I learned that it’s very personal and usually requires a consult to figure out percentages but there are guidelines that can help. Protein should consist of 0.5-0.8 grams per pound of body weight and be spread evenly throughout the day. Eating an eight egg omelet in the morning and little protein after is not optimal and will lead to muscle loss. So spread it out in little bits through each meal! Carbohydrate intake needs are around 3g per pound of body weight. Leslie also mentioned that fat intake should never be less than 20% of your diet. So no more counting every little bit as long as you hit your minimums!
Leslie also talked a little bit about the hottest trends in the diet industry lately. Gluten free anyone? You will have lower amounts of prebiotics in your digestive tract and it will be hard to hit your fiber intake minimums. Considering 70% of your immune system lives in your digestive tract this is a BIG deal. Try adding Chia seeds for fiber and Omega 3 fatty acids (keep them in the freezer to keep them from spoiling). Eating yogurt with live active cultures or kefir can help too. If you don’t want to eat dairy then try taking a daily supplement.
How about coconut oil? Well it’s primarily a saturated fat (read, not so great) and it does NOT help you shed body fat or lower your risk of disease. Instead use olive oil and save the coconut for your skin and hair care! Walnuts will replace that unhealthy fat too. A golf ball size serving is the way to go.
Running and other sports result in lots of aches, pains, and inflammation. Instead of popping an NSAID or pain killer you can try tart cherry juice for a natural anti-inflammatory. Drink 8 ounces of juice or a serving of the concentrate after your next run. Ginger can minimize delayed onset muscle soreness (500mg is about right). Turmeric is a tasty spice that also works as an anti-inflammatory and may help prevent Alzheimer’s. Try putting 2/5 of a teaspoon in your next dish. Dried plums contain Boron which is necessary for bone health. Eating just 3-4 per day will keep you topped off and also contains those helpful prebiotics!
Finally, who doesn’t want to improve their performance? Dietary nitrates can decrease the oxygen expense of an activity. This means you use less oxygen to create the energy to power your workout and tire less quickly. Bodybuilders use supplements like NOXplode but dietary nitrates can be found in some common foods. A spinach and/or arugula salad, for example. Other choices include celery (about two stalks) and beets. And lastly, replace the iron lost with every foot strike using black strap molasses. Just adding a TBSP to your oatmeal or in place of honey in homemade energy bars will do the trick.
So I hope that helps with your nutrition questions! Please feel free to click the link to contact Leslie or follow her on Twitter @LeslieBonci. And look for the next UPMC Sports Medicine seminar coming soon!

Lifting – The Basics

I’m almost 10 weeks into my first cycle of lifting. It’s not easy and, as I begin leaning out, I am sore, tired, and hungry every day. I’m also two weeks away from taking my ACSM Certified Personal Training exam. My days are consumed with the gym, meal planning/prepping, and studying. This is not the life I plan to lead forever but I’m very happy I gave myself 3 months to give it my all. The changes (mental, physical, and emotional) have been more than I ever dreamed. And I’m going to take my new knowledge and strength into my next cycle with the aim to be more balanced so I can still have meals out, sweet treats, and look amazing.

Photo Credit: Tumblr
So that leads me to how I plan to design a lifting program. Is it the only way? No. Is it the best way for everyone? No. But it’s a great place to start and learn what works for you so you can build your own programs that maximize your results.
Phase 1: Endurance/Strength
Everyone wants to jump right into lifting hard and heavy. But that’s when you end up so sore you can’t walk or, even worse, injured. Next thing you know you’re skipping the next workout or two to recover and all your hard work is slipping away.
The only way to avoid this pitfall is to start slowly (note: I didn’t say EASY). Building endurance starts with higher reps. I like to use 3 sets of 12 repetitions for each exercise for the first 2 weeks. It’s right on the line between pure endurance lifting and strength building so it sets you up for maximum growth in the next portion. I also like to start with only 4 days of lifting so my body has plenty of time to recover between workouts.
There are several general ‘target areas’ that need to be strengthened each week. These are your chest, back legs, shoulders, arms, and abs. Obviously, you can’t dedicate a day to each group or you won’t hit them all in a four day split. A common split, sometimes referred to as the ‘Brogram’, is chest/triceps, back/biceps, legs, and shoulders/abs. This gives you four workouts per week and makes sure you get all of your muscles ready for growth.
After two weeks of lifting like this, I move onto a five day split. The fifth day is simply a second day of working out my weakest body part. For this first cycle that meant legs for me. I chose them because I love to run but I also want a butt and strong legs. Next cycle I think this will be my back as it is definitely my weakest link and prevents me from squatting as heavy as I’d like and I still can’t do a pull-up. You have to decide what your weakness is and hit it the hardest so that it becomes your strength!
August 31, 2014 to January 13, 2015
Grow booty, grow!
Phase 2: Muscle Growth (Hypertrophy)
As an adult you can’t actually add muscle. You have all the muscle fibers you ever will. But you can make them BIGGER. This is known as hypertrophy. So how do you do this? The answer is to get a little heavier in the weights, add a few more sets, and keep your reps in the 8-12 range (I prefer 8-10). I also add supersets (grouping two lifts together before resting). Lastly, I added a 6th day of lifting. In this phase, my program consisted of the following days: back, chest/abs, legs, arms/abs, shoulders, legs. I also added more cardio to increase my calorie burn and keep my in running shape. I usually aimed for 30-40 minutes with a day or two of 60+ minutes. The longer cardio days were simply to keep my running up and not related to my lifting goals.
I love my arms and shoulders now!
Phase 3: Leaning Out/Fat Loss
Once you’ve gained the muscle you have to shed fat so you can show it off! The last portion of a lifting cycle will be losing some of the fluff. This really focuses on diet (which I will talk about in another post) but I also tweaked my workouts.
I kept a 6 day lifting split (5 days with cardio) and added higher volume lifting. This means more sets (usually 4) with higher reps (usually 15-20). I obviously am lifting lighter weights to be able to nearly double the reps I do of each exercise but the ‘burn’ is killer. I have kept supersets as a big part of my programming and added active rest as well. I usually rested 60-90 seconds between sets in the first two phases. This phase the rest periods are filled with jump rope, mountain climbers, burpees, and tuck jumps. Keeping my heart rate up keeps my calorie burn high.
After I finish my lifting workout I do 30-40 minutes of HIIT (high intensity interval training) cardio. This can be intervals/speed work on the treadmill, a spin workout, plyometrics, or even rowing. I just try to keep my heart rate up and burn as many calories as I can.
For the final two weeks my lifting will be done in circuits. I will work through one set of every exercise before I rest for 3-5 minutes and then repeat the series 3-4 times total. After that I will once again perform 30-40 minutes of cardio.
Working out with Shaun T and Beachbody’s T25!
Conclusion:
I can attest first hand to the first two phases doing exactly what I’d hoped. I’m still working on my lean out and I have 17 more days before it’s over. I hope I will love those results just as much as I loved the muscle building. After hitting a highest weight of 139.5 pounds over the holidays, I am currently sitting at 131 pounds. That is not my ‘goal’ weight but I’m more worried about not losing my hard-earned muscle than hitting an arbitrary number.
So I hope this basic overview of the last 10 weeks of my life has helped you get ready to begin or build your lifting program. If you have any questions please feel free to leave a comment or find me on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. I’ll cover my nutrition in the next few days.
Also, please remember that I am not a certified trainer (yet). So, as always, consult your physician and listen to your body!

Bits & Pieces

The past week has been CRAZY! But in a really, REALLY good way. I have so many things going on that I am excited about and that motivate me to keep moving forward.

Obviously the biggest change has been having a job that is FUN. I spent 4 evenings hanging out at different DICK’S Sporting Goods locations meeting runners and talking gear, training, nutrition, etc. Life really doesn’t get much better than that! You can find me January 17 & 18th at the McCandless DSG from 10-2 or so.

This week’s events included our replica bridge, catering from Bistro on the Go, the DICK’S Pittsburgh Marathon’s Registered Dietitian on site, 20% off your entire purchase at DSG, and a raffle for a free hotel the night before the marathon. I haven’t been clued in on what we’ll be offering at the next events but I’m sure you don’t want to miss it!

Our table and bridge replica
Bistro on the Go catering
The other major priority in my life has been training. I’m hitting the gym every day, snow or ice or sub-zero temperatures. I finally got into the BodPod again (last time was in September 2011) and got some great results. I’ve lost almost 3 pounds of fat and gained 5.5 pounds of muscle. I imagine I started this program pretty close to where I was in 2011 (22.8% body fat) because I was still neglecting resistance training and eating whatever I wanted. So for 8 weeks of actually watching my nutrition and exercise these results are fantastic!
I’ve been getting a ton of questions about my nutrition. I’ll admit that I’m being VERY restrictive to the average person. I honestly enjoy the challenge and the results speak for themselves. But here’s a peek at what some meals look like for me:
Tilapia, sweet potato, and asparagus
Chicken breast, sweet potato, and mixed veggies (and water, of course!)
I use a lot of different seasonings and try different recipes often to prevent boredom. But I still do not drink anything but water and protein shakes or Shakeology (I still have a coffee with Stevia in the morning). I don’t eat much red meat. I don’t eat white or processed carbs (no bread, no white rice, no white potatoes, etc). I only get a small amount of starchy carbs (like sweet potato and corn). I get 4-6 oz of lean protein per meal (chicken, fish, whey powder, etc) and unlimited veggies. It’s not always easy to pass up chocolate, cake or brownies, bread sticks, or pasta but the results are absolutely worth it and I feel amazing. Just for the energy and mental clarity I’ve gained I would recommend trying to eat 85-90% clean for a month. I bet you’ll stick with it.
Finally, the rest of my time is spent studying for my ACSM Certified Personal Trainer exam. I love my gym and the employees there and I am hoping to be one of them come February. I was super excited to be at the top of the ‘Frequent Flyers’ board for the first week of the year and have now made it my goal to be #1 for the month. Going to a gym where the members and staff are all excited and happy every day makes a HUGE difference in my motivation.
Tied for #1!
I hope the first part of 2015 has been great for you. Please feel free to let me know if you have any specific questions about my plan or things you would like me to cover in future blogs. I’m hoping to start a few recurring items each week that will help everyone get on track (and stay there!) for the new year.

Here’s To 2015!

Happy New Year! It’s hard to believe 2014 is over already. So many experiences, both good and bad, were over in the blink of an eye. I’m ready for a new start and lots of opportunities!

The big project I mentioned is finally kicking off! So here’s my first announcement for the year. I am now a Brand Specialist for the DICK’S Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon! I will be here from now until race day to help you prepare, train, and conquer. You’ll be able to run with me beginning with the kickoff run on January 3 and find me at different DICK’S stores throughout the training season to help you with questions, gear selection, and motivation. I am very, VERY excited to be working with all of the amazing staff and runners who make my hometown marathon possible!

I hope you all had a great holiday and feel ready to take on your first, fastest, or funnest (I know it’s not a word!) marathon with me in 2015!

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!

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!).
AND
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?

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!).
Swag
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.
Pre-race
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.
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!

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 scheduleprogramming training.

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!

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).

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!
Kayaking
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

Finding Motivation

I’m slowly rebuilding myself from my three months of apathy. I used some frustration today to push myself to a new ‘long’ run, a whopping 6.32 miles. While it would have been a short run just a few months ago, it is now the longest I’ve gone in 3 months. The good news is I feel fine and I even averaged a good (for me) pace.

I also found a new ‘game’ for passing time on the treadmill:

After every third song I increased the speed by 0.1MPH. I started at 6.1MPH and continued until I was at 6.8MPH. Then I was less than 5 minutes away from an hour so I just started mashing the up button. If I remember correctly I finished at 7.2MPH. I ended up with an average pace of 9:29 so I was pretty happy with that and I was never really bored because I was counting songs instead of miles or minutes. I think I’ll keep this as a progression run game!

I took that moment of motivation and ran with it. I registered for the Lt. J.C. Stone 50k on March 22, 2014. I have 99 days to get myself back from 6 miles to 31. I feel like it’s a very achievable goal and it has a sentimental value because this race was my first ‘real’ ultra (since the Rachel Carson is not billed as a race).

J.C. Stone 50k 2011
I haven’t chosen a plan yet. I don’t even know if I’ll follow one. It will be hard to run long on the weekends that I have both girls. I’m guessing I will have to alternate long runs with tempos and hills on the weekends in between. Then there’s the problem of the midweek longer run. My gym imposes a 30 minute time limit on equipment when they are busy. I usually feel like I’m getting weird looks after an hour even when there’s fewer people. And with New Year Resolutioners just around the corner, I just don’t see 10 milers happening during the week. It’s going to be a challenge but it’s one I’m looking forward to.
Hopefully this is what I needed to find the willpower I built over the 9 months of Burning River training! See you on the roads!

A Day For Thanks

Happy Thanksgiving friends!

Today I’m doing my best to be thankful for what I have instead of looking at what I do not have. So here’s what I’m celebrating today:

1. My daughters. They are the reason I keep moving forward and bettering myself. Today it’s just Gem and I hanging out at home. The weather prevented us from going to see our family which brings me to my second item….

2. Friends. My friends hold me up, support me, and kick me in the butt when needed. Today another one of my friends had no Thanksgiving plans. So we’re making it a day of fun instead. We’ll be having shepherd’s pie, chili, apple pie, chocolate cake, and hot chocolate while watching Christmas specials and playing board games.

3. Family. Even though we’re scattered over the east coast now we’re still a family. I never would have made it this far without them.

4. The obvious one… RUNNING! Today I celebrated my health and ability by heading out at sunrise to run (post hole?) through the snow and ice in the park to meet my mileage goal for the year!

Despite the 17* temps, the icy conditions, and it being a holiday there were still three other crazies in the park. I struggled against the part of my brain that told me to go home, pig out, and be warm. Having others out there encouraged me and reminded me why I love the community that surrounds my sport. Hitting my mileage goal over a month early despite all the setbacks of the last three months was just icing on the cake.

I came home and bragged to Gem that I’d reached my 1,300 mile goal and she asked what I’d run in previous years. So I graphed it out:

I didn’t realize this was a PR or just how far I’d come in the last 3 years. I have to say it’s a great feeling and it made me even more grateful for my amazing coach who got me through my first hundred, a 50 miler four weeks later, third woman at North Coast 24 Hour, and a marathon PR. My daughters who are excited by mommy’s running adventures and encourage me in my pursuits. My family who cheers me on while secretly worrying about my mental stability. My friends who listen sympathetically and then tell me to suck it up and get back to work. My teammates at FitFluential, INKnBURN, and Altra who prove to me on a daily basis that anything is possible with a good plan and hard work.

I am so blessed this holiday season and I hope all of you are as well! Share with me what has made your year and your Thanksgiving special!