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!

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!
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!

An Invitation For You!

I hope the new year has been kind to you so far. I am very excited to be able to share with you an opportunity to start off your DICK’S Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon training in style!

Each night this week, Monday – Thursday from 6-8PM, we will be hosting VIP Parties at four different DSG locations around Pittsburgh. These nights will include a coupon for 20% off your entire purchase, an opportunity to meet me (and my Brand Specialist partner, Shaun), food and beverages, and an opportunity to win a grand prize “Pittsburgh Staycation”. The grand prize includes hotel, parking, and meals for you and your family the night before the marathon so you can skip the traffic and get a good night’s rest before the big day!
If you would like to attend please comment on this post with your preferred date and location and I will add you to the VIP list. Spaces are limited and filled on a first come, first serve basis so make sure and claim yours today!
DICK’S Sporting Goods Monroeville – January 5th
DICK’S Sporting Goods Robinson – January 6th
DICK’S Sporting Goods Cranberry – January 7th
DICK’S Sporting Goods South Hills – January 8th

They Should Increase My Meds: Marathon Training Week 5

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

Week 5 ended up looking like this:

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

Total: 29.6 miles

After 17 miles. I was not impressed that I didn’t go 20.
Now I’m into week 6 and getting ready to face taper madness! The mister has already noticed my tendency to over-think every aspect of training and racing so it should be interesting to see if I can tone it down.

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.

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!

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.

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!

Sunburn and Sweat: Surviving Summer Running

My coach, Alexa Dickerson, knows all about heat acclimation training and running through the hottest weather. She’s running Badwater for the second time this year (that’s 135 miles…. through Death Valley…. in JULY if you are out of the loop) and she’s also completed the Brazil 135. So I started following her lead last year even before she was my coach officially. Here’s what I’ve learned following her adventures and those of other extreme athletes.

Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Everyone knows that being dehydrated increases your body temperature and your risk of heat-related problems. It also reduces your performance so you work harder for the same results. I regularly drink about 2 oz per mile but on hot days that average can exceed 4 oz per mile. However, there’s more to it than just good old H2O….

Get salty. Sweat isn’t just water. It’s salt, potassium, magnesium, and other minerals that are necessary for all sorts of functions in your body. So if you only replace sweat loss with water you could end up dangerously out of balance or with hyponatremia. Experiment with salty foods like chips or pretzels and even supplements like S! caps. Once you learn what you need in different temperatures and environments you can anticipate your bodies needs and avoid potential issues.

Free your inner tortoise. Slow down and work smarter, not harder. Walking uphill may cost you time but cutting your run short or ending up in the hospital will derail all your hard work. Take walk breaks and slow down by 2 minutes (or more) per mile on longer runs. Try to stay in the shade when possible even if it means you look like a drunk swerving from one side of the trail to the other.

Work up to it. You may be scheduled for a 10 mile run but if it’s the hottest run so far this year cutting it short may be necessary. Doubles are another option. Run 5 miles in the heat and 5 miles indoors or in the early morning/late evening. Just like when you started running for the first time, there’s a way to work up to running in the heat.

Immerse yourself in heat. This is something I got from Alexa’s training last year. She gave up air conditioning in her home and car and just let her body learn to deal with the rising temperatures all summer long. I decided to try it and I found that it worked. My sweat rate lessened and I lost fewer electrolytes. My body had become more efficient at staying cool and running on 100*+ pavement no longer felt quite so awful. On the really unbearable days I pack up the kids and head to the pool but the AC is always the last resort. If you’re really into heat acclimation then you can go full on Badwater-style and train in a sauna.

Go bare. No, don’t run naked. Just keep your head uncovered. Heat rises so allowing your body heat to escape through the top will help you stay cool. The only reason to cover your head would be if you have a bandana or hat that can regularly be refilled with ice or dipped in cold water. Anything dry will just hold sweat, and heat, against your head.

Travel light. Carry everything you need in the lightest form possible. Powders rather than pre-mixed drink solutions, a small flashlight, an iPod nano instead of a larger one, etc. This also goes for clothing. White or light colored technical fabric works best.

Walking on Water

Okay, so not really walking on water. More like water mixed with dirt (and other nasty things).

I set out to complete my last 20+ mile run before Burning River 100 on Sunday. I started out in North Park on the Rachel Carson Trail and got a few miles out when I got the message that there was going to be a training run on the Burning River course in a few hours. I aborted my current run, jumped in my Jeep, and drove to Ohio as fast as I could. I pulled into Station Road (the checkpoint where I began my course sweeping experience last year) right as the run was scheduled to begin.

I threw on my pack and joined Kevin, George, Randy, Johnathan, and Joshua as they headed out. The first portion was paved and pleasant. Then we turned onto the bridle paths and the Buckeye Trail and encountered the consequences of weeks of rain in the Cuyahoga River Valley.

Muddy legs post-run

For the next 15 miles we slipped and slid and cursed. At first I tried to pick my way around the puddles or find the shallowest path through them but after a few miles it didn’t matter anymore. My feet were soaked and I was splattered from head to toe. After that I just splashed right through and didn’t give it a second thought beyond hoping it will be drier on race day.

After a few miles we reached a Y in the trail. The directions seemed to point us one way but the locals thought it should go the other way. We ended up running a loop three or four times before we finally found the right direction and got back on track. Shortly after this one of the members of our band headed back to Station Rd. Can’t say I blame him for thinking we were a lost cause (literally). One of the last things he said before he ran off was, “You’ll never see the stables that way”.

Posing with the stables sign
Thankfully, our pessimistic runner was mistaken and the directions took us right to the stables where we were able to use a real bathroom and get some cold water from the fountain. We couldn’t help posing with the sign so we could poke fun later. After an all too short break we continued on towards the Boston Store. George had thankfully dropped a cooler of cold water at a road crossing a few miles later and we were able to refill one more time.
The last few miles were brutal. The mud and flies and ascents/descents were beginning to wear on me. I really hope it’s less gross out there in two weeks or the middle 40-50 miles are going to be awful! We finally emerged onto a road and I could see the store just ahead across a bridge over the Cuyahoga. The water looked wonderful and inviting after 17.5 miles of slop!
Legs from the back
As soon as I reached the other side I dropped my pack and my Garmin onto the grass and waded right into the river, shoes and all. It felt so good to wash away the layers of grime and sweat and soak my tired legs in the cool water. I can only hope that the Cuyahoga will be as kind to me in two and a half weeks when I see her again!

Dreams and Sacrifices

I officially have less than one week left of training for Burning River. After that I have three weeks of taper and then I cover 100 miles on foot in 30 hours or less (preferably much less). It’s surreal, to say the least, trying to wrap my head around what I have accomplished and what I still have left to do.

My training has been better than ever before. I have averaged 35 miles per week over the last 26 weeks. I have run over 900 miles so far this year. My peak weeks have been between 55 and 80 miles. My longest runs have been around a marathon in length with plenty of back to backs of shorter distances (13+ miles per day).

I have done crazy things, like driving 3 hours out to the course and running from 10PM to 3AM with some other crazies and then driving 3 hours home and staying up for another whole day. I put a light on my head and water in a pack on my back and wandered the woods in the rain through calf deep mud.

Crazy night runners
New shoes, meet mud.

I have missed out on trips, fun, and social events so I could spend hours running around in the woods. I have been short tempered with my kids and my husband from sheer exhaustion. I have taken time off work to focus on running. I’ve spent long days at work on my feet wishing for a desk job because every step hurts. I’ve sacrificed a lot following this dream to run 100 miles.

Midnight selfie

So will it be worth it? I guess you’ll have to ask me when I’m holding my buckle on July 28!

Hotter Than Hades

My plans for the Cleveland Marathon were vague at best. My friend and teammate, Lara, had invited me to room with her if I signed up. I never turn down a cheap marathon so I registered that very day with the blessing from my coach so long as I ran it as a training run.

The weeks leading up to the marathon were hectic. My job usually slows down during the summer but this year there’s been no breaks. On top of that the weather has been swinging wildly, from snow and overnight freezes to baking 90* days with high humidity. Between work and the weird weather I didn’t run much at all before the marathon. If I was smart I probably would have stayed home but I doubt there’s much question at this point on my subjective intelligence where running is concerned.

On Saturday, I drove out to Cleveland and arrived at the expo right around 2:30PM. I knew Lara was arriving around the same time so I texted her. The reply came quickly and it happened that she was outside the expo with some other friends of ours, Bob and Jenny. I found them and we all chatted a bit before Lara and I headed back to our hotel room.

Saturday night was relaxing. Lara and I chatted, went to dinner at the Denny’s next door, and then read quietly until lights out. I slept well after about an hour of tossing and turning and woke up ready to run. I had some small hope that I might accidentally PR because of the training effect of North Coast 24 Hour and my week of complete rest. The forecast called for 74* and slightly overcast so I wasn’t too worried about the weather either.

I dressed in my INKnBURN denim shorts, my Altra singlet, and Altra Zero Drop Torins. I threw on an old long sleeve race shirt as a throw-away. We walked out to my Jeep and found that the temperature was already warm. By the time we drove into town, found breakfast, and parked I was no longer in need of long sleeve. I left it in my car and we walked to the starting line.

The Cleveland Marathon starts at the stadium which is great because there are a million INDOOR bathrooms which all have running water and no lines. There’s also plenty of seating and places to plop down and rest, stretch, and wait. I wandered out to the starting line about 15 minutes before start time and lined up with the 10:07 per mile pace group. There was a father with a young son, probably about 9-10 years old, right next to me running the half. It raised my spirits a bit to see them chatting casually about pace and fueling. I wish more kids were into running!

Right before the starting horn there were some fireworks. I don’t know who thought that was a good idea after the Boston bombings. A lot of runners jumped and a few let out shrieks. Once we realized it was just fireworks everyone calmed down in time for the national anthem but I’m sure it really messed up the concentration of some of the runners. The least they could have done was warn us!

The horn sounded and we were off. I popped in my headphones immediately. I just didn’t feel like socializing. The first mile or two I was forced to walk or slow down often as I ran into walls of people who must have lined up too close to the front. I didn’t mind too much as I wanted to go out slow and speed up later. I did end up adding about a quarter mile in this first section from swerving around people, however.

After 5-6 miles I realized I just wasn’t hitting my paces and began to give up on a PR. I figured I could probably get in the 4:40’s anyway so I kept pushing forward. And then the clouds parted and the sun shone down and the pavement began to take on the shimmering effects of a mirage….

By the half I was overly hot, had almost completely emptied my handheld water bottle, and just didn’t care about time anymore despite being on track for a 4:40 or better. I walked a water stop to refill my handheld and drink a few cups of Powerade and cool water. I took a couple Shot Bloks (margarita flavor, YUM!) and wondered how Lara was making out somewhere way ahead of me.

At mile 15 or so I ran into a moving party celebrating Jim Tucker’s 100th marathon. I decided travelling with them trumped continuing on my own so I jumped in and introduced myself. I met George and Robin who own Front Runner in Columbus, OH and a slew of other runners who were ‘crewing’ Jim by carrying signs, balloons, and gels. We kept running until around mile 16 and then we slowed to a fast walk. I didn’t mind as I was enjoying the stories and lessons to be learned from such an experienced group.

As we walked I watched ambulances fly up and down the course loading heat exhausted runners into their doors and rushing off to the med tent or hospital. A woman joined us around mile 20 and she walked with us for quite some time. Around mile 24 she suddenly wobbled and looked quite ill. I quickly offered her my remaining water but it wasn’t enough. Jim’s amazing crew escorted her to a bus shelter on the side of the road and then ran ahead to the water stop to get help and water/Powerade. They then stayed with her until help arrived before running to catch up to Jim again. What an amazing group Jim’s crew is!

As we neared the finish I didn’t want to end up in Jim’s pictures. It didn’t seem right to have him look back at his 100th marathon finish photos and wonder who the random chick in jean shorts was so I sprinted ahead. I finished in 5:49:48, a personal worst, and about 30 seconds ahead of Jim. I got to hear the announcer cheer Jim in and tell the crowd about his accomplishment. Then I rushed forward to hug Jim and all of his crew. I enjoyed meeting them all so much and they really saved what could have been an awful day for me. I never thought I would have so much fun running my slowest marathon ever.

After I crossed the line I found Lara at the bag check and then we began the long walk back to our parking garage. We happened upon the woman who had dropped from Jim’s group at mile 24 and I found out she had finished after taking some time to recover on the side of the road! We hugged and she thanked me for helping her when she needed it. I felt really good about her finish because I had been distraught at the thought of her being forced to drop at 24 miles. I’m so glad she pushed through and finished without any lasting effects.

As for Lara and I, we went back to the hotel where I quickly packed and left for home. I was saddened that we couldn’t spend more time together but I had finished so late that it would already be dinner time before I could get home and I had to work first thing Monday morning. We hugged goodbye and I made an uneventful trip home.

Minus some sunburn and a sore left hip I had no ill effects from my 7th marathon. As disappointing as my time was, I still had a great day and made a lot of new friends. I am also grateful that I didn’t end up in the med tent. The news reported that over 200 people were treated for heat related illness on site and over 20 more were taken to the hospital. Conditions being what they were I’m just glad I finished upright and healthy.

And sorry for the lack of pictures but I really can’t justify buying my race photos for a personal worst time where I walked most of the last half and looked like a broiled lobster to boot! 😉

Week In Review: Week 12

Only one month to go until Shamrock! One more week of training and then taper begins! Oh the madness and the doubts are about to begin!

Monday: 3.5 miles at 6-8% incline.

Tuesday: 5.25 miles on the CycleOps trainer + 30 minutes of yoga.

Wednesday: 10 miles with 4 x 1 mile at 5k pace.

Thursday: 5 mile recovery run.

Friday: 6 miles with 4 at tempo.

Saturday: Rest.

Sunday: 21 miles.

Total: 45.5 miles running and 5.25 cycling.

Sunday’s long run was pretty intense. The weather was brutal with temperatures in the teens and wind chills much colder. On and off snowfall plus icy roads made for a rough day. I kept the pace exactly where I wanted it until my last 6 miles when my lips cracked, my hands went numb, and my face felt like it was on fire from the wind. I still finished though! Mental toughness for the win!

Blowing snow over the lake
My personal frozen hell

Only The Strong Survive

“I will not be forgotten.
This is my time to shine.
I’ve got the scars to prove it,
Only the strong survive.
I’m not afraid of dying;
Everyone has their time.
Life never favored weakness.
Welcome to the pride.”
~Five Finger Death Punch

You may not be a fan of heavy rock or alternative or whatever you want to classify 5FDP as. However, this song went on my playlist because the lyrics SPEAK to me. I vowed to myself that I wouldn’t be weak this training cycle. I swore that I wouldn’t make excuses to quit or lessen the burden of training. I promised that I would find out exactly how deep I can dig and just how strong I am. I wanted to be one of those runners. You know, the ones who run in the pouring rain at 4am because it’s the only time they could run? One of those runners who never gives up because life throws them a curve ball. I think they could justifiably be called a ‘pride’.

So when I got called into work unexpectedly Wednesday night I had to make some quick adjustments on the fly. A planned 10 mile run got swapped with cross training. I banged out 40 minutes worth of strength training before I raced off to work the 4 to midnight shift. I promised myself that I would run my 10 miles as soon as I got home even though I had been up since 6am already. I moved 10 foot long pipes back and forth through our shop all night. I dealt with a major crisis with a radioactive source that could have proved dangerous but thankfully didn’t. I wondered every minute how I could survive a run after this but reminded myself that I will feel worse at Burning River and probably have more than 10 miles to go at that point. I needed to be strong!

Then my boss put another wrench in my plans. Two of our guys are down sick so I needed to come back in at 8am and put in another shift. That meant getting home at 1am, sleeping for 5 hours, and then going back to work. No way to put 10 miles in unless I wanted to be in a coma by lunch time. I dragged myself back into the shop and loaded all of those 10 foot pipes on a truck for our customer BY HAND because we’re not allowed to touch them with a fork truck or crane. I loaded heavy castings for another customer and then started working on some different castings we had in the lab. I was exhausted. I was starving. And all I could think about was running.

I begged my brain not to give my legs excuses. I bargained with myself. “Just get on the treadmill and see what you can do.” Finally, my relief arrived and I was able to head home. I stopped and picked up some fish food on the way. I puttered around the kitchen sorting mail and drinking water when I got home. I fed the fish some new food. I basically did anything to avoid putting on my running shoes. Then Shane woke up and I knew it was now or never.

I asked him to get Gem off the bus and pick up Ash so I could run and he agreed. (I’m a lucky wife, huh?) I changed and headed down to the basement like a prisoner headed for the electric chair. I popped in a movie and started out slowly. My legs protested at first but then it started to feel better. The knot of worry and stress in my chest released and I felt like I could breathe again. My stride started to loosen up and I was able to get close to the pace I was supposed to hit.

I didn’t push myself to hit the recommended paces. I know that being awake for close to 40 hours with only a nap in the middle wasn’t the preferred state for training. I went with the flow and even paused to grab some cookies for a quick sugar hit when I started to fade. The next thing I knew:

BAM! Ten miles done!
And now I know…. I am one of the strong. I will survive whatever life throws at me: job, personal, or anything else. I survived crazy work hours, a long way to run on the treadmill, and my fourth ACSM CPT class. And I’ll survive working again tomorrow and whatever it may bring. Welcome to the pride!

Week in Review: Big TEN!

This has been a week of highs and lows and crazy times. I sometimes doubted myself but in the end I always exceeded my own expectations and usually had fun doing it.

Yes, I giggled. I’m still 13 at heart sometimes.

Monday: 7 mile steady state run. Ended up being a progression run because the effort felt too easy.

Tuesday: 2 mile warm up, 1 mile/800m/400m/200m ladder workout then repeat in reverse. 1 mile cool down. Total: 8.5 miles + 30 minutes of yoga

Wednesday: 8.5 mile easy run.

Thursday: 1 mile warm up, 60 minute tempo run, 1 mile cool down. Total: 8.5 miles + 15 minutes of yoga.

Friday: 6.5 mile easy run + 30 minutes of yoga + 30 minutes of core strength.

Saturday: Rest.

Sunday: 21 mile long run.

Total: 60 miles in 10:25:01

To add to the craziness of the week our treadmill was still out of sorts. It wasn’t until today that a maintenance guy was able to come to our house. It turns out Shane and I aren’t exactly ‘average’ treadmill users. The technician was able to see how many miles are on our roughly two year old treadmill. The answer? 1,804 miles and 284 hours of use. Unfortunately the model we were sold is not up to that kind of use and beating, especially at the speeds Shane and I need to run for speed work and such. Replacing the drive belt (and possibly the motor) is a temporary solution but it’s only a matter of time before our treadmill goes to an early grave. So now the hunt (and RESEARCH this time!) is on for a new and commercial-grade torture device.

Lake view during my long run
Another exciting event this week was Shane’s first published article. I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned it but Shane started his own blog. He has a knack for writing apparently (though he still needs help with spelling – must be a boy thing!) and the Mon Yough Trail Council asked him to contribute an article to their Milepost newsletter. I’m very excited for my husband!
Shane’s article
The weekend was the most up and down part of the week. From Saturday to Sunday one of my friends was running Rocky Raccoon 100 Mile Endurance Run. She is very similar to me in terms of running times and distances. However, she has trained REALLY hard in the last several months and I was interested to see what it would mean for her in terms of ultra performances. I was thrilled to see her finish with a smile and collect her first buckle. It gave me a lot of hope for Burning River in less than 6 months! EEK!
Another view of the lake
As I drove to North Park for my long run Sunday morning I was saddened to learn of the passing of a member of the running community. I decided then that the frigid temperatures and blowing snow didn’t matter. I was lucky to be out there and able to run. I threw in an extra mile to honor the indomitable spirit of a women that many knew and loved. Her passing will leave a hole in the hearts of many runners.
Despite the ice clinging to my brows and lashes I was determined to make it a good run.
In all, it was an excellent week for my running and, even though I may have to suffer through the weather more often in the near future, I am blessed to be a runner. Whether I have a treadmill or not, whether I ever get that one hundred mile buckle or not, and whether I ever hit all 50 states or not…. It’s been a hell of a ride and I’m glad that I’ve been able to share it with so many inspirational people.

Week In Review: Week 9

Not much longer now! Shamrock Marathon is almost here and that means peak training followed by taper madness begins next week! This week, however, was nice and easy.

Monday: Off.

From Saturday’s long run.

Tuesday: 5.5 miles easy.

Wednesday: 2 miles warm up, 8 miles with 1/2 mile hard, 1/2 mile easy. 1 mile cool down.

Shane did 11 miles in the snow.

Thursday: 3 miles. This was supposed to be a one hour easy run like Tuesday but I just didn’t feel all that great.

Friday: 1 mile warm up, 8 hill sprints, 1 mile cool down. Total: 2.5 miles.

So glad I can go eat and get warm after 12 COLD miles!

Saturday: 12 miles with the Greater Pittsburgh Road Runners + strength training.

Sunday: Core work.

Week in Review: Week 8

Two months down already! I can’t believe I’ll be starting to taper for Shamrock in just another month or so! This week was a great week aside from the dog incident. I also got in some fun on the trails so I have some pictures to make this a little less boring.

Shane decided to jump a stream instead of taking the bridge

Monday: 4.5 miles of hill work. 10 minute warm up, 5 minutes at 8% incline, 2 minutes at 4% incline, repeat. Really happy with how much easier the hills are becoming! I actually forgot I was on 8% at one point and tried to increase it!

Taking a tree over the water

Tuesday: 50 minute tempo run. 7.25 miles. I actually didn’t feel like this was tempo effort. Guess I’m getting faster!

Sleep running? 🙂

Wednesday: 7.25 miles of 9:1 run/walk. Not much to say about this workout.

I took the bridge

Thursday: 6.5 miles including 8 x 400m repeats. I really surprised myself by being able to complete this one at the prescriped paces.

Shane stopped to do pull-ups during the run

Friday: This is the day I was jumped on by the dog. It should have been a repeat of Wednesday. Instead it ended up being 1.14 miles on the trail and 1.86 miles on the treadmill to make 3 miles total.


Saturday: 18 mile long run. I had to break up my long run because Shane’s parents were watching the girls. I ran 15 miles in South Park and then ran the 3 miles home from his parent’s house to our house.

Tiny Shane but pretty trees

Sunday: This was scheduled to be a rest day but since Friday got so messed up I went ahead and did 3.5 miles of 9:1 run/walk. It felt fine which I was pretty excited about the day after a long run!

Total: 50 miles in under 9 hours of running! Woah!

Week In Review: Week 7!

Time flies when you’re having fun! Ummm, training hard? Sleeping 9 hours a night? Spending double digit hours running? Yeah, that’s fun right?

I’ve been meaning to write a post about keeping your body in top shape during blocks of heavy training (and I know what I’m doing is moderate by most standards but it’s the hardest I’ve ever consistently trained). I’m really trying to nail down the things that make me feel better and experiment with recommendations from other runners to find more recovery tricks. So if you’re interested look for that soon!

Now onto the nuts and bolts fun:

Monday: 10 minute warm up, walk at 8% incline for 5 minutes, walk at 2% incline for 2 minutes, cool down. Ab Ripper X afterwards. Total: 4.5 miles

Tuesday: 2 mile warm up, 3 x 10 minutes at 5k pace with 3 minutes recovery between, 1 mile cool down. Total: 7 miles

Wednesday: 90 minutes of 9:1 run/walks. Total: 9 miles

Thursday: 1 mile run + weights.

Friday: 1 mile warm up, 5 miles of hills, 1 mile cool down. Total: 7 miles

Saturday: Rest.

Sunday: 10.6 miles of hills!

Sunday’s elevation profile
Total: 39.1 miles
It’s funny how that seems like low mileage to me after having a few weeks in the mid 40’s – 50’s. Not that long ago I would have been stoked about running this much and now I feel like a slacker for not hitting 40. The good news is the coming week is going to beat that slacker feeling right out of me!
How was your week? How are you keeping track of your training in relation to your goals?

Week in Review: Part 5 (End of the Year!)

This week was my first cutback week of the training cycle. I was looking forward to it but also dreading it. I really enjoyed seeing big numbers the past few weeks and I hated to see my average drop back down right at the end of the year. I decided to use it as a mini-taper for an end of the year PR attempt at the Harmony Silvester 5k. Shane and I have raced this for three years now and I set a PR last year. I hoped to repeat that feat this year…. But you’ll have to wait for my race report tomorrow!

On to the training week!

Monday: 3 miles in 37:05 (run/walk) + weights.

Tuesday: Off (Christmas!)

Wednesday: 1 mile warm up, 8 hill repeats at 10% incline, cool down + CrossFit WOD. Total: 3 miles.

Thursday: 1 mile warm up, 6 miles steady state. Total: 7 miles.

Friday: 2 mile warm up, 6 x 200m repeats, cool down. Total: 4 miles.

Saturday: 3 mile walk.

Sunday: 3 mile easy run.

Total: 23 miles in 4:08:27.