Respect the 13.1

A funny thing happened recently. Okay, maybe not haha funny. Or maybe not really funny at all, maybe more of an anomaly. I had not been running as much as I like to in the warmer summer months and then I signed up to run a trail half marathon. Rather my guy & I signed up to run a half marathon. We had tossed this idea around for a while but didn’t commit until maybe six weeks before the race.

Having done five halves over the past three or four years this wasn’t a super intimidating thing for me. Still, I’d prefer to be physically and mentally ready for a challenge of that magnitude. I said as much a few times leading up to race weekend but my schedule was just crazy. Three weeks before the race I was up to around 20 miles a week but then the next two weeks got extra crazy; I was only able to get four runs in…over two weeks. I know tapering before a big race is part of a lot of training plans but that only works when you actually have a training plan.

My guy was preparing for the half even less than I was. In the past he’s been able to go out and do some pretty tough races without batting an eye even though he doesn’t run regularly. A lot of the time he has more energy and speed than I do even when I am running often. It’s super annoying!!!

We’ve done lots of basic 5ks, some 10ks, a couple “doublers” or 15ks including a brutal trail 15. Earlier this year we had a back to back races with an easy 5k on Saturday and a not so easy 5 mile trail race early Sunday. He still killed the 5 mile trail run; I struggled a bit. (Like I said, it’s super annoying.)

A half marathon is different though; 13.1 miles feels like a lot more than even a 15k. I mean, it is. More than just 4 miles, 13.1 is a different level of mental challenge and stamina. It requires at least a little preparation!

But life is…life and preparation did not happen. The exact opposite of preparation happened. (Negative preparation? Reverse preparation? De-preparation? Idk. One of those.)

The day before the early August trail half marathon my guy had a golf tournament for work. No big deal. Except that he was out in the sun all day, drank more than is smart the day before a long race in the hot sun, and probably didn’t eat very well either. See, negative preparation!

Saturday morning come 6 A.M we were trying to get out the door for the race and he was not feeling so hot. Using all my previous experience and half marathon knowledge I told him to eat a decent breakfast and hydrate like hell on the way to the race. Oh, and to let me set the pace. He’d never make it if he set off at his usual race pace. (Heck, I wouldn’t make it either.)

Of course we were later than we wanted to be getting to the course. We started towards the back of the crowd and the first couple miles guy trapped in a group. The narrow trail made passing a challenge. Maybe that was a good thing though, it gave us time to find a nice, steady running groove. By the fourth mile the crowd had thinned out a bit and we were able to settle in at a slower but okay pace.

The course wound around the outside of the state park including some short road segments. There weren’t many hills other than a good sized one somewhere around mile four but the trail surface itself required some attention while running. There were a lot of pits and uneven areas which kept the pace a little slower.

In a trail race if it’s not the hills slowing you down it’s the terrain.

Somewhere between miles 7 and 9 the lack of preparation started to show. Well, for my guy they did. He was really starting to slow down. I was being a good girlfriend and mostly staying with him, trying to encourage him along. In a half marathon the last three or four miles are the toughest. Besides, I didn’t really have any goals for this race. Because I was running this half marathon without really training the goal was to have fun and finish.

My efforts to make this half marathon thing a more pleasant thing for my boyfriend dropped off sharply right around the ten mile marker. I was stuck behind a cluster of runners we had been back and forth with for two miles because I had slowed down to stay with my guy. (First time ever that I was feeling better and faster during a race than he was.) I turned my head to see something behind me and BAM! My foot hit something and I went down, skidding on the dirt trail.

I jumped up, super mad, and assessed the situation. Blood running down my right leg, dirt everywhere but mostly okay. My boyfriend and another runner were asking if I was alright. I responded briefly, yanked a dangling piece of skin off my scraped and bloody knee and took off. No more of this slowing down and waiting around thing, it was time to finish this race!

While I wouldn’t call my last three miles fast, they were definitely quicker than the previous few. I finished the race alone and went straight to the first aid tent to get the dirt dug out of my wound.

By the time that was done my guy was crossing the finish line. I had had plans to find him in that last terrible mile but the timing just wasn’t right.

One of the first things he said to me is “That was brutal!” And then maybe I’m not doing that again any time soon.

I think we both learned something that day: You’ve got to respect the 13.1!

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A Two Race Weekend

I’m a little late to post about it but the weekend before this one that just happened my fun little running gang (aka my boyfriend and whichever of my kids I can coerce into running) and I had a two race weekend. (In case you couldn’t guess that from the title up there.)

Really just my boyfriend and I did both races but my two youngest sons (ages 13 & 8) did do the first one with us.

Saturday:

This small out and back 5k through a lakeside neighborhood was more than just a fun race for us. It was a fund raiser for a friend of the 13 year old who has had some major unexpected health issues this year. His story has a happy ending, he’s on the other side of them now, but it was a little scary for a bit. It was a difficult time for my sensitive and often emotional teenager; we were more than happy to contribute to the family by participating in this run.

Other than the cause and atmosphere there was nothing too exciting about this 5k. The course had some light, rolling hills that made it enjoyably challenging and the morning was chilly (about 40 degrees Fahrenheit) but it was a pretty basic 5k.

Usually running with my boyfriend pushes my pace a bit (which is good) but we planned on taking this one easy since the race on Sunday was going to be much more difficult and we were running with the eight year old. The attempts at getting him to run in the weeks leading up to the race were… Not entirely successful, to say the least, so my goal was to try to get my son to run the first mile and to finish in under forty minutes.

Lucky for us his teacher showed up and decided to run with us (my little guy loves his teachers). The teacher did a great job of motivating my little guy to run the whole race.

That’s right, he ran the whole 3.1 miles. The 8 year old, his teacher, my boyfriend, and I all finished in about 31:40. Not too shabby for an untrained eight year old!

The 13 year old decided he was not feeling so motivated that chilly morning and walked almost the whole first mile. At the 1.5 mile turn around the rest of the group was at least a quarter of a mile ahead of him. He must have really pushed himself in the second half of the race because he ended up finishing about twenty seconds after we did. I was a little surprised and quite impressed to see him hauling in right behind us. After the run we hurried over to a family First Communion party already in progress where we ate cake then ran around playing basketball. Everyone was pretty beat that night.

Sunday:

Sometimes I poke fun at the cheesy memes and sayings about “being your best self & living your best life” and all that crap but early Sunday morning I was most definitely not my best self.

My guy and I had to be out the door before 7am (on a Sunday!) to get to the five mile trail run we had signed up to do. And boy was I cranky that morning! First, my boyfriend didn’t have the clothes he needed so I had to scrounge up some running pants for him. Then the neighbors were texting me to complain about the stupid dog barking (she had literally been out for less than five minutes before turning on the obnoxiousness). And of course we were leaving late.. ugh.

Despite all that we did get to the race course with (just!) enough time to get our shirts and numbers, hit the porta-potties, and join the large crowd behind the start line. Because this was a rather intense trail run the race started in waves. They weren’t time based or at all organized, just groups of people about the same size started a few minutes apart. I’m not sure which wave we started in but we didn’t wait too long before politely pushing our way to the start and beginning this challenging trail race.

It didn’t take us long to catch the tail end of the previous heat. I had heard that the trail got quite narrow in the very hilly woods. I wasn’t sure how much I wanted to push myself early in the five mile race, the course was intense and early morning races are really hit or miss for me. My guy, on the other hand, was full of energy and kept bounding ahead on the packed trails. This made me a little salty but I kept it to myself. I figured I’d already used my crabbiness allowance for the morning. Eventually he slowed down a bit and I realized I really didn’t feel bad.

Other than stopping to take off a layer (Did I mention it was just above freezing when the race started?) and some minor breathing issues on one particularly arduous hill I ran the whole five miles. And I didn’t feel like I was dying, I still felt pretty damn decent when we crossed the finish.

Garmin thought otherwise though.

My goal for this five miles was to stay under an hour and I’m happy to say we did it. As an added bonus, my guy finished 9th in his age group and I was 13th in mine.

Obviously that didn’t win us any additional bling but it’s nice knowing we’re not too shabby out there.

So if you’re keeping track these were races #2 & 3 for 2018; #1 was the St. Paddy’s day run. (Or rather to help me keep track)

Last weekend was a work weekend for me so it was totally devoid of races but tomorrow we’re running one of the bigger (beer themed!) Fun 5ks we did last year. Coincidentally it’s supposed to be cold and rainy again… even though it’s been close to eighty all week. Isn’t that just how it goes sometimes!

A Plan with No Goal in Sight

Back in January, specifically at the beginning, I set some goals regarding getting back on track with running. And maybe eating “right” too…

Me and fifty million other people right?

Well, now it’s February, almost the end too. By this time those beginning of the year goals have either stuck or they have not. If you’re still on the health/fitness/self-improvement band wagon two full months into the year I think it’s safe to say you’re on your way to resolution success.

While my activity here on the blog has been spotty at best, I’ve been decently consistent at running of late. After realizing how far off the fitness wagon I had fallen in late December, and subsequently incorporating getting back into the habit of running regularly into my New Year’s resolution, I’ve done just that: gotten back into the habit of running.

I’m not going to lie, it’s been a struggle at times. And even though I’m (mostly) running four times a week consistently I haven’t really lost any of the extra seven or eight pounds holiday season 2017 gifted me. (Maybe it’s time to crack down on my eating and drinking habits too. *sigh*) I do feel better while I’m running and in general though. That’s something I guess. Even if it’s something that doesn’t make my pants fit any better.

I’m a goal oriented person; I like concrete markers of success. Usually I’m thinking about what I want to accomplish over the year and set specific running goals. This year is different though; I’ve accomplished my biggest goal. I caught the big fish; I got into dental school. Now I’m waiting to fry the fish and I’ve got five months until life changes dramatically. My short term goal is to make the most of my free time until then.

After two not great half marathons in a row I’m hesitant to set any big race goals. On New year’s day I got a text from my sister asking if I wanted to do a half marathon in May. I felt pretty meh about it. Maybe later in the year I’ll find a half the sparks my interest but right now I’ve got nothing.

Despite not having specific race goals, I’ve got a plan. This is very unlike me.

So what changed? I got a book and a heart rate monitor, late Christmas presents that arrived mid January. The book, Jack Daniel’s Running Formula, I’ve skimmed before but upon looking a second read through I noticed his fitness based plans. Unlike most the laid out training plans in the book, these aren’t based on any time or distance goals. Instead they aim to increase general running fitness. Sound familiar?

It’s exactly what I needed right now. As for the heart rate monitor, I’m not entirely sure what to do with that other than wear it and look at my stats. Maybe I’ll try a heart rate based training plan sometime. Who knows. At least I’m running regularly again and I’m sure there will be some fun races this year…at least until August.

Falling Off the Wagon

Sometime between running an “Iron Turkey doubler” (a 5k followed by a 10k) at a somewhat local Turkey Trot in mid November and late December I fell off the running wagon. Hard!

Just before the end of the month my running miles for December totaled a mere 24 miles. I’m pretty sure that’s a new low in my past seven years of regular running. I did manage to pull it up to 32 miles by the end of the year but that’s still pretty weak.

On top of that I’ve somehow gained ten pounds over the past couple months. TEN POUNDS! (I’m a short person, ten pounds are not well hidden on me.) Really it’s not shocking considering this lack of running was matched by a complete lack of attention to what I was eating and an excessive amount of night shift work hours. Really I fell off the self-care train, not just the running wagon. And I was never super great at self-care to begin with.

Last year around this time I was setting a running goal for 2017: run 1000 miles over the course of the year. Yeah…. That didn’t happen. I fell about 300 miles short with a total of 710 miles logged in 2017.

A slower than expected start to the year combined with a stressful, very low mileage, June and this most recent dip in mileage are mostly to blame. But, despite the less than desired mileage, this year wasn’t a complete failure on the running front.

For one, I ran more races than previous years. I also ran in some new locations. And tried new distances. For me running is about stress relief, fun, and adventure. 2017 was a running success on those important fronts.

A brief synopsis of those ten races follows.

April: A local glow-run 5k with three of my kids including my then seven year old. (His first 5k. Definitely a proud parenting moment for me.)

May: a Cinco de Mayo beer run (5k) in Detroit, a muddy obstacle 5k at the local ski hill, and a Memorial Day 10k in Northern Michigan

June: very little running and no racing…same for July.

August: 15k Viking trail run (on some seriously brutal trails) & a local 10k Melon Run (my 4th consecutive year doing this one)

September: Labor Day run accross the super cool and impressive Mackinaw Bridge (around 4 miles).

October: the Detroit (half) marathon for the second consecutive year & my kids’ school sponsored trail 10k

November: the aforementioned Turkey trot Iron Turkey doubler which fell on one of the first cold days of the season.

Neither of us was feeling especially enthusiastic about running two races that morning but we still managed a couple of our best times and we both got 4th in our age division for the Iron Turkey. The two medals that click together and two shirts each were effective motivation.

And after that race I rolled off the wagon. And stayed off it until the last week of the year. Like my friend & co-blogger, I like the fresh start of a new year and the opportunity for reflection and goal setting. So now, as 2018 opens, I’m starting the slow climb back onto the wagon. Thank goodness I got a treadmill this fall. (It’s been below ten degrees Fahrenheit for a couple weeks now.)

Are you feeding the PR?

One of my favorite things about running (which I’ve likely said before) is that you can achieve success even if you’re not medaling or winning races. As a runner success is measured in what we call the PR: the Personal Record.

It’s exactly what it sounds like, your individual record fast time. (Sometimes also called a personal best.)

Running is all about self improvement, pushing yourself to be better than you were the race before or, heck, even the run before. Work hard, challenge yourself, get faster. That’s the beauty of running. It’s that simple.

Well, on paper is that simple. In reality it can be much more difficult than it appears especially if you’ve been running for a while.

As a new runner the gains come quickly and relatively easily. You feel more fit within a few weeks, your race times naturally drop as a function of just running regularly. But after a few years of running three to five days a week almost year round a PR becomes much more elusive. You actually have to strategically work for it.

I recently ran the Detroit half marathon for the second time in two years. It was my fifth half marathon and it was not a PR. Far from it, this was my slowest half yet. It was even slower than the same race last year but this time I didn’t have the excuse of recent illness to blame. It’s tempting to write this race off and say that me & the PR just don’t meet in Detroit, maybe blame luck or circumstances. Excuses are always easy to find. But, really, I like this particular race. I enjoy the atmosphere, the course, and the city.

So what’s the problem here? Why haven’t I PRd in Detroit?

After contemplating the matter it occurred to me that the PR is like a monster: You have to feed it to keep it alive.

Both this fall and last, and really in general of late, I have not been feeding my PR monster.

How can I realistically expect to PR when I haven’t been eating well, sleeping enough, or following a real training plan? PRs thrive on hard work and at least adequate levels of self care. If you’re going to attempt to push your body to new limits you have to give it the resources and fuel to do so. This is something I try to tell my 18 year old all the time. “You’re not eating well and you’re not sleeping, of course you feel crappy!”

Around the tenth mile in Detroit, when I was still running but not very fast, I realized I might need to tell myself the very same thing sometimes.

Fall is a busier season in my always busy life. Not only am I coordinating and adjusting to my kids going back to school but I’ve also been coaching cross country the past two years. I thoroughly enjoy it but it’s demanding, requiring at least fifteen hours a week of my time and attention. All this does not leave time to properly train for a long distance race. Or sleep more than six hours a day (if that). Or plan and prepare good meals.

My point here is that I shouldn’t expect a PR if I didn’t prepare for one. Does this mean I shouldn’t do fall races? No, not necessarily. But I should be realistic with my expectations for the races I do. You really do get out what you put in.

So despite it not being a PR, I’m going to celebrate the success I did have with the Detroit half marathon this year. I ran some fast (for me) miles on the beginning. I learned some important things about my self. I ran most the race and didn’t die in the last three miles, not completely at least.

Maybe I’ll take on another half marathon in the spring and maybe then I’ll give my PR monster the time and attention it needs. Or maybe I’ll just keep chugging along for the fun of it and enjoy the scenery.

Still Running

While I have been notably terrible at posting here (due to all the usual excuses: work, kids, it’s cross country season, the general craziness of life) I have still been managing to run regularly …mostly. Well, except for the better part of July when things were extra busy between retaking the DAT and throwing a graduation party open house for my son on top of everything else. But in general I’m still running.

At the beginning of 2017 my race goals were vague. I was feeling uninspired on that front so instead of setting some race related feat to work toward over the year I chose a mileage goal. Here we are well over half way through the year and I’ve only run 526 miles. Yup, barely over half of my 1,000 mile goal. (Maybe I should make it a 1,000 km goal. I’m pretty close to that.) As irony would have it I’ve done more and more types of races than previous years. I blame this guy I’m dating. He wasn’t really a runner when we met but was a good sport when I suggested signing up for a Cinco de Mayo race in Detroit. The beer theme helped I’m sure. As it turns out, he really enjoys racing. That first one the weather was cold, rainy, and slightly miserable but we had a great time and he was hooked. Since then we’ve done a muddy obstacle run, a 10k along the coast of Lake Michigan, a 15k trail run, the local 10k Melon run, and the Labor Day run across the Mackinaw bridge. That’s a total of six runs over the span of as many months. I also ran a local glow run with my kids back in late April. So much for not racing as much this year!

The unexpected upswing in races has been a small, friendly reminder that you never really know where life will take you. You can make all the plans and set all the goals you want but things are going to happen, not all of them within your sphere of control, and you’ve got to be able to roll with it. For better or worse. Whether you like it or not. I’ve had more than a few reminders of this over the years, not all of them so gentle and kind; I like this one much better.

In the spirit of flexibility I’ve embraced the race theme of this year and signed up to run the Detroit Half marathon again. I enjoyed the race last year but wasn’t especially happy with my time. I thought I’d be less busy this fall and would have adequate time to make and follow a training plan that incorporated speed work twice a week. That really hasn’t happened. Nor has regular grocery shopping or meal planning/prep or laundry or cleaning or (quite obviously) blogging. Really I’m not sure what I have been accomplishing lately (other than working full time, managing four kids going back to school, and coaching a team of middle school cross country runners). My recent 10k, 15k, and 4.4 mile races have been counting as long(ish) runs until last week when I finally managed an 8.5 mile run. I had planned on running the 8.5 mile loop around a local metro-park then going to practice and running another easy three miles with my team but the weather had other ideas and we had to cancel practice.

Once again I made plans and the universe laughed.

So here I am 3/4 of the way through the year and a month out from my “big” race trying to balance the demands of life with setting aside time to pursue my personal goals. Tempering the sleep deprivation of working a bunch of long night shifts in a row with self care while still finding ways to get the miles in. And even if it’s not all the miles I want. I’m still running.

running fuel

My current running fuel favorites.

bridge

bridge run horses

Constantly Adapting Expectations

“New goal” I said to my boyfriend as we ran through the forest “make it through this race without falling.”

(Yeah, boyfriend. I have a boyfriend now. Not sure if I’ve mentioned that here yet. 🙂 )

We had started the race thirty minutes after the gun went off; the person who was supposed to cover the tail end of my overnight shift showed up (half an hour) late. Initially the goal was to run the 15k Viking themed trail race without walking but that ship had done sailed. Within the first three miles I was huffing and puffing like an asthmatic smoker (Thank you, night shift work.) and had to walk… so I could adjust my sagging ponytail (any excuse would do at that point). Seeing both of us had stumbled more than once on the rocks and tree roots that littered the rough terrain of the trail that wound its way up, down, and all around the Michigan woods, not falling was an appropriate goal albeit it a different sort of accomplishment than the original. It required luck, balance, and intuition instead of the grit, stamina, and determination demanded by the first.

Moments after deeming Not Falling to be our new race goal we ran down a hill lavishly coated with the loose, medium sized rocks that seemed to dominate the surface of these trails. As we hit the bottom of the hill and tilted to make a sharp left I lost my footing and hit the ground (lightly though, I’m getting pretty good at falling while running). There went that goal.

Even without meeting the initial goals this race could be considered a success. We ran 15 kilometers (that’s about 9.3 miles) over hills and crazy footing, in my case after working all night, and still managed to pass a few people. Our chip times put both my guy and me second in our age divisions. On top of that my son who was also running won the race.

That’s right, he won the whole freakin thing, my eighteen year old boy.

viking dash win.jpg

I’m not sure if you can tell from the picture but he’s super proud of himself.

He reluctantly committed to the 15k instead of the five even though he hadn’t done much running since cross country season ended over nine months ago. My son’s fifth and senior year of cross country season came to a crashing and disappointing premature halt last October. At the beginning of the season I had high hopes for him. While I’ve always been proud of my son’s running, it’s long been apparent that there is untapped potential teeming just beneath the surface of this somewhat distant and detached teen. When he began conditioning for his last season it looked like some of that running potential would finally be tapped into. Until academia caught up with him.

First was the failed class from the year before. We didn’t know it made him ineligible to run until the first week of August. I found an accelerated online make-up class that still counted as summer school as long as it was done before school started. It was. Just barely. Well, sort of.

In typical avoidant teenager fashion, my son thought he could pass the class with the required 80% without doing the “speaking assignments” (it was a Spanish class). Technically he had enough points to pass but the fine print dictated that every assignment be completed. At any rate, he missed the first meet of the season.

By the second and third meets he was eligible to compete but his race times didn’t reflect the stats he was achieving in practice. When he was running the first two miles of a race in under twelve minutes but finishing close to twenty we realized this might be a nutritional issue. Unlike previous seasons, there was no significant increase in appetite when his running mileage increased. Instead a general malaise took its place. I was concerned about depression.

As October approached my son has posted a couple PR’s (personal record race times) but nothing close to his early season projections. My boy was struggling and not just physically.

The last two meets of the season are big ones: the “small school” regional meet (not sanctioned by the state’s high school athletics association) and the actual regional meet that would hopefully qualify my son and a few other kids on the team for the state championship meet. It being my son’s last year of high school running made them that much more important…and the disappointment when he found himself on the academic ineligibility list that much more intense.

That’s right, academia reared its ugly head again.

At this point one might think that my son is a little dull or that he was taking a very difficult course load his senior year. Neither is true. However, that malaise that was apparent in his appetite was also showing its effects on his schoolwork. He did rally and attempt to bring his grades up to passing before the regional meet but by that time the hole had been dug too deep. Both my son and his good friend were academically ineligible for what should have been the crowning event of their senior seasons. Instead of racing at the regional meet we watched his team falter without their leaders.

As is often the case, running is a metaphor for life. Well, in this case it was foreshadowing.

The rest of my son’s last year of school continued in the same fashion. He failed the college math class he was taking because he didn’t believe me, his teachers, and everyone else who told him homework is important. At one point he was suspended for being at the store before the school day started. (Yes, it was as stupid as it sounds. Basically he was penalized for being a teenager in public.) In the spring we had multiple meetings with the principal of the school about whether or not my kid would pull it together and finish his senior presentation, a graduation requirement at the school, in time. And then there was another independent study make-up class. Clearly his senior year was not the commemorative occasion it should have been.

Still I encouraged my brilliant but troubled boy to apply for colleges; to aim high and to be optimistic about his future.

Not only did I encourage, I cajoled, pestered, begged and pleaded.

All to no avail. My son refused to even follow through with a college application. The closest I got was an “I would go there if I was going to go to a university.” after an especially cool campus visit (a six hour drive from home). The farthest was when he asked me to consent to him moving out before turning 18. (Umm, hell to the no, kid!)

So what is my point here???  Well, that (once again) running mimics life.

Much like the 15k trail race, I had hopes and goals at the beginning. As it progressed it became clear those goals were just not realistic right now (maybe someday though). Towards the end I was happy to accomplish what I did. Sometimes just getting through a thing is a success and sometimes you need to circle back around and try again under better circumstances. Such is the case for 15k trail runs and for my hopes of my son going to college (or choosing a path that will enable him to “make something of himself” …which to me means finding an engaging and sustainable way to spend his time and efforts).

viking trail 15k viking run duo