The Marathon: Don’t Let It Run You

There are many different avenues in which a runner goes through to make the decision to register for their first marathon. The marathon distance poses a challenge. It tests limits, it has the power to change someone. It demands commitment and sacrifice, but the glory that a runner claims when they cross that finish line is the ultimate prize.

The commitment and determination that helps a runner wake up before the sun to run those 8 miles before work actually has the potential to derail their training and ultimately their race. Runners are ambitious and hard to slow down. When we set out to do something, and invest time and money into it, we will not be stopped. But marathon training is a balancing act. The body’s limit will be tested, but there are moments we need to listen to our body and step on the brake to allow for recovery before we fall into the dreaded overtrained state that will eventually lead to injury.

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I don’t regret my first marathon experience. Although I struggled with injuries, that was my path. I needed to have those experiences to learn and grow, both as a runner and as a person. However, for those aspiring marathoners out there, here is what I learned and would do differently the second time around (whether or not there will be one).

1. Have a Plan (But Be Flexible)

Have a training plan, but don’t be married to it. Other commitments will come up and when they do adapt. All will be well if you miss a run…seriously.

It is also important to have a training plan that fits you and your goals. Understand and know yourself as a runner. Do not compare your training to anyone else, because what works for them and their body, may not be right for you. I cannot stress this enough.

2. Progressive Increase in Mileage

Having a progressive approach for your weekly mileage is crucial! Don’t convince yourself that you need to catch up and run more because you believe that it will make you faster/stronger quicker because it wont. It will make you slower and weaker.

I foolishly tried to convince myself that the mileage I built from swimming and biking equalled running mileage, but in reality running puts a massive amount of stress on your musculoskeletal system. I did not allow my body enough time to adapt to the stresses.

3. Recover Well

Let your body recover. Thats’s where the magic happens. It is better to be slightly undertrained than injured on race day. Trust me, your body will welcome the additional down time. If you absolutely feel like you need to be doing something, foam roll, get a massage, take an epsom salt bath, or stretch. Do the little things.

And eat well. Nutrition is often overlooked, but it is extremely important. Good, real, whole foods have the ability to speed up recovery.

4. Strength Train

For the majority of time, running consists of moving in one plane of motion, the sagittal plane. Our knees, elbows, hips, and ankles are constantly extending and flexing. Moving in one plane for an extended period of time has the ability to wear down certain joints, tendons, and muscles. Muscle imbalances then occur. Strength training has the power to alleviate these symptoms and it has the power to prevent them altogether.

Balance and stabilization exercises for the core and glutes are a great place to start.

5. Restorative Yoga

This type of yoga is brilliant for recovery. Training related injuries occur more often to connective tissue (such as ligaments and tendons) than muscles because connective tissues lack blood supply. Restorative yoga increases blood flow thus aiding in the recovery of ligaments and tendons. It will truly give your body and mind the time and space it needs to heal.

 

Have you pushed beyond your body’s limit because of ambition and determination?

Do you have any additional advice for the newbie runner or lessons you learned from your first marathon?   

Update: Injury + Upcoming Race Season

I thought I should give an update on how I am still dealing with injury. So, although a whole 3 months have passed since Chicago, I am not 100% healthy yet. I can safely say, marathon training did quite a number on me.

Maybe I should have done a few things differently. Like, not increase my running mileage from 19 miles one week and then 41 the next! Yeah, that happened.

I just checked out my account on training peaks and I am baffled. What was I thinking? I was just ending a big season of triathlons, my last race was USAT Nationals (19 miles of running that week) and the next week, when I should have been recovering, I jumped straight into marathon training with 41 miles of running!? I think, no I definitely was, in a state of delusion. I would call it robot mode. No thinking, just doing.

I am honestly sitting here just speechless.

Jumping ahead to after the race, even though I had pains all over my body, I continued to exercise because it was a habit. I couldn’t just stop cold turkey. Since then I have slowly weaned myself off physical activity because this body needs to heal. But lets be real, I’m still doing a little bit here and there, mostly yoga and core work.

Currently, my left foot still aches, especially when I am just resting. I feel twinges/aching every night before I go to bed. Does this mean the bone is damaged? Not sure. In addition, the back of my left knee is still strained, but seems to be improving.

Plan of action? Well, simply more rest. Put as little pressure on my foot as possible and protect the the back of my knee.

As much as this sucks, it really is the only option. And I don’t want to spend ridiculous amounts of money on physical training, sorry, but I’m trying to do other things with that money. I have always been like this. I always ride out my injuries and just let them heal on their own and they do. Call me stubborn.

What does all of this mean for the upcoming season of racing? Well, depending on how soon I am 100% healthy, I will begin training again. Slowly, focusing on stability and functional training at first. Light runs, bikes, and swims. If I get out of hand, please let me know!

I hope to sign up for a half ironman towards the end of the summer, but if I find I will not have enough time to train maybe an OLY or two would do. Or a half marathon in the Fall. But, one thing is for sure…I am not signing up for any race until I can get back to training. That would be pointless. The main focus right now though, is to get healthy.

One positive from all of this is that I have been experimenting more in the kitchen and trying new recipes! On Saturday I made my own pasta sauce with roasted sweet tomatoes, red bell pepper, and garlic and tons of spices, and basil. It was delicious! I put it on top of roasted spaghetti squash, which I had never had before. It was a winner!

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I hope everyone has a great week of training! Unless you are like me then let’s try not to go stir crazy!

RR: 2014 Bank of America Chicago Marathon

The 2014 Bank of America Chicago Marathon – one of the six major world marathons, over 40,000 finishers, 1.2 million spectators – I couldn’t have asked for a better day or a better city to run my first marathon. From beginning to end the energy was electrifying.

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My only goals for the day were to enjoy the experience and finish. I did not want to put any pressure on myself to finish with a certain time – I had no idea how my body would react to running 26.2 miles – anything could happen. That being said, I did want to run under 5 hours and get as close to 4:30 as I could.

The details…

I chose to stay at home the night before the race so I could have the comfort of my own bed and access to my regular pre race breakfast. I didn’t have to wake up too early, 4:45AM. I was actually a mess…I was not hungry at all and I was running around trying to get everything together and I still wasn’t sure what I was going to wear (debating between short sleeves or long sleeves and compression socks or no compression socks). You would think I would have this down, but running a marathon is a whole other ball game.

Whitney and Lynn picked me up at 5:30AM. We drove down to Wrigleyville to Matt’s, their brother/son’s place. We changed, dropped our stuff off, I ate my pb and sprouted grain wraps plus a banana, then we walked over to the red line and took that down to Harrison, only a couple blocks away from gear check and the starting line. I also had a small bag of cereal on the train, but my stomach felt off.

We quickly shuffled over to gear check and then made a stop at the bathrooms. At this point our corral (G) was about to close so there wasn’t a long wait for the port-os and by the time we got to our corral we began the walk to the start. Perfect timing! I was all kinds of excited, but not really nervous! The sun was shining and I knew it would be a good day.

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Miles 1-4: The first few miles I made sure to take very conservatively. We weaved our way through much of the downtown area. The streets were lined with spectators, holding signs, cheering loudly. I was feeling good, just going with the massive amount of runners.

Miles 5-11: Heading north I picked up the pace a little bit, but not too much. I ran with the 4:30 pace group for a while, but as we headed into the Lincoln Park zoo it became very crowded. The street was much narrower and there were two aid stations during this stretch. Oh my gosh, seriously, people do not know how to run through aid stations. There were just so many people running, my pace slowed every time I had to run through one.

A little bit after mile 7 we hit Addison, the most north we would travel. My parents were also on Addison and I almost missed them! It was so good seeing them; I ran over and gave them hugs. Matt offered me a water bottle, which I gladly took. Off I went with a little more pep in my step. I took my first GU here, but as my stomach was still feeling funny I was sticking only to water at aid stations.

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As you run back toward the Sears Tower the course takes you through Boys Town…picture men in drag standing on platforms cheering you on. Then through Lincoln Park, bands playing on street corners, and then you hit Old Town where Elvis is out belting out one of his hits. It was awesome. This is my favorite part of Chicago and where I usually hang out if I am ever in the city.

Miles 11-14: I stayed at my steady pace as we re-entered the downtown area. The crowds become bigger here as we crossed over the river on Franklin St. There is an aid station right after…it was craziness, my paced slowed down so much. Everyone says that Chicago is a flat and fast course and yes it is. It is very flat, but there are so many runners that it gets pretty crowded, which can really cause you to slow down, not to mention the frustration that goes along with it.

We then turn onto Jackson and pass the Sears Tower. It was at this point, the half way point that I thought to myself, “Ok, go time, now the race starts.” I picked up the pace and ended with my fastest mile, 9:20. Next mile however I was back to 10:30s.

Miles 15-18: This was probably the most boring section of the race. Apparently we passed the United Center (home of the Chicago Bulls and Blackhawks), but I completely missed it! I was zoned out and distracted by everything else going on. At times I think I fell into a rhythm and kept the same pace as the miles ticked by.

Miles 19-22: I was feeling fatigued. My left shoulder was hurting, but thank goodness nothing else was hurting too bad. I started to see more and more runners on the side of the road stretching and massaging, walking and limping.

I pushed on, turned the corner into Pilsen (the 19 mile mark) and BOOM! I was hit with a huge crowd and blaring music! It really picked up my spirits. They were all rocking out having such a great time. One guy in a sombrero and decked out in Mexico green, red, and white was out with a big spray gun, dancing and spraying us down. It felt like a party!

We then weaved our way into Chinatown and under the arches. I was tired! It had been 21 miles and my pace was getting slower. I was walking through aid stations drinking lots of water and some Gatorade here and there. I took half of my second GU, but couldn’t stomach the rest. I almost missed my parents in Chinatown, but I spotted my Dad last second and waved and gave a thumbs up to them. My sister and her boyfriend were also with them.

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I knew I needed to get more fuel in me so I had a little bit of a banana at the next aid station, which did help, but I knew I needed more.

Miles 23-26.2: At this point my run was more like a shuffle, but I was still moving forward and not walking. It was the home stretch…a long one up Michigan Ave. My eyes were on the prize and I kept my gaze up, ahead and counted down the miles. Although my body ached, it hurt more to stop.

My fan group was somewhere around mile 25, but I did not see them. They commented on how “focused” I was. Looking like a zombie would be more accurate.

I was anticipating the climb up Roosevelt, the only hill worth mentioning, which is right at the end. It gets you every time! I powered up, and made the last turn to the finish line. Seeing that finish line felt so good. I gave it everything I had left, which was surprisingly a lot. I crossed the finish line with my arms in the air and a HUGE grin on my face. I did it. I ran all 26.2 miles.

Time: 4:43:04

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The finisher chute was never-ending. I stiffened up immediately, so much so that it became difficult to walk. I gathered my medal, food, grabbed a few powerbars. I was extremely depleted of energy. I become lightheaded and sick. Once I finally grabbed my gear at gear check I sat down near the fountain and called my dad, inhaling water, a banana, and a powerbar.

After hobbling around a while I found my group and we walked over to the red line and took that back up to Addison. I had a major running hangover. I have never felt this bad after a race. I was dizzy and nausous. I sipped on some coke, but it didn’t help. When we got back to Matt’s I had pretzel thins and immediately felt 100% better and after a shower (a very painful one – ouch chafing) I was ready for real food.

We went to Vines on Clark for a late lunch (more like dinner) and to watch the Bears game. I ordered a burger with avocado and curly fries. Definitely hit the spot! It was so nice to relax with family and friends and bask in a successful post marathon run.

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Positives: I had so much fun. No pressure, the weather was perfect, the spectators were unbelievable. They carried me through the race with their high energy and support. Although I wanted to go under 4:30, I am very happy with my time. Once I got to a certain point in the race I could gauge what I would be capable of running. I gave myself the goal time of under 4:45, which I accomplished! An average pace of 10:40, which is the pace I averaged during my 20 mile training run. After a longgggg season, I am ecstatic with this performance, but I of course now want to run another one so I can improve my time!

Takeaways: First off, I did not fuel properly. I believe I overate the night before. I need to make sure I eat my normal stuff the day before and the morning of. I usually do a good job of this, but I dropped the ball on this one.

Since it was my first time I did not know how I would hold up. I ran conservatively and I never felt like I was working too hard, I was never breathing too hard. I don’t think this was a bad strategy for a first timer, but I also never felt like I was racing or in a race, just a nice training run. Yeah, my body hurt at the end, but it was just a physical hurt. With more running and strength training my body will be able to endure more and be stronger. I really think strength training will help me tremendously. My body was also not 100% going into this race, I had aches and pains, which also played a factor.

Lastly, there was an outrageous amount of people on course. It was awesome to see, but it also posed a difficulty. It became frustrating at many times and my pace would slow down.

What’s Next? I am in off-season. A much needed off-season. I have been recovering, doing light active recovery. Biking, walking, and swimming. I also got a massage the Tuesday following, but I am still not feeling totally back to normal.

I have decided it would be beneficial to take at least a month off of running. I took my body through a lot of stress within this past year. I will continue to workout, but nothing structured. More yoga too! Come January I will start tri training again and in the meantime I need to figure out my schedule of races for next year.

I had a great year of training and racing and this race was just the icing on the cake!

 

#ownchicago

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Tomorrow, Sunday October 12th at 8AM (CST) I will be starting my first marathon. I am beyond excited, I have heard the Chicago Marathon course is great and fun, with spectators lining the streets the entire way.

I never thought I would ever race this distance. Whenever I watched any marathon on TV I was baffled and amazed people were able to run 26.2 miles. It sounded crazy…why?! Now, after only two years of running, I am one of those crazy people.

This morning, after running 2 shake-out miles, I drove to the expo and I got there right when it opened. No lines, no wait for anything. Easy, breezy. I grabbed my packet and bag. Bought a couple of items I was planning on getting, Saucony gloves and socks and an official Nike black Chicago Marathon jacket, which I love.

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I then headed up to Ale Syndicate for Crush Multisport’s Kona viewing party. It was a relaxing day, chatting about running and triathlon, consuming coffee and bagels. Not to mention the inspiration all the athletes racing Kona give me before I embark on my journey.

Goals for tomorrow: Take it all in. I want to enjoy the experience and I have a feeling I will be smiling a lot! I have a lot of friends that are going to be spectating as well as my mom and dad and sister. I am so excited to see them. I will be taking it out conservatively and I really do not have any time goal.

Weather looks good and it should be a fun day. I will be looking forward to lunch afterwards! Good luck to all the other runners. It is time for us to #ownchicago!

Chicago Marathon Training Week 6: 9/16-9/21

Last week’s recap is coming at you a little late, but good news is peak week is over! Done. All down hill from here.

I’ve gotta admit though, compared to half ironman training, it didn’t feel like that big of a week…even though I logged 20 miles on Saturday…!!! Just two years ago I was unable to run one mile, I’d say that is an accomplishment! Training for triathlons, specifically the half ironman, has really given me a ton of mental strength and I plan to use this edge to push through the last part of the marathon.

Monday:

A morning 5.3 mile run (9:39 pace).

Tuesday:

I woke up extra early to get to a Hard Core class at 5:30AM. It was 30 minutes of straight ab/core work, no break. Wow! I was able to hold on for most of class, but had to back off towards the end. Only makes me want to come back for more!

An hour spin class followed. I haven’t been to a spin class in a while and couldn’t help but chuckle at the crazy high intensity and energy coming from the instructor.

Wednesday:

8 miles after work (9:15 pace). It was a beautiful, sunny afternoon and my legs felt like feathers. I ran one loop around Poplar Creek bike path – A nice change of scenery. Functional strength exercises followed.

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Typical view in Illinois

Thursday:

Rest Day.

Friday:

5 mile #runch (9:18 pace). No better way to blow off work day stress with a lunch time run. Functional strength exercises as well.

Saturday:

The big day.

After a good night of sleep I woke up early to drive down to Busse Woods in Elk Grove Village for the 20Miler. Sponsored by Chicago Athlete and Dick Pond Athletics this event is held annually for Chicagoland residents training for a Fall marathon. It is not a race, there is no timing or clocks, but it does come with a fee.

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A very professional map of the course

I decided to sign up because what better way to tackle 20 miles than with 800 of my closest running buddies. But really, it a supported 20 mile run with aid stations (water and Gatorade) every 1 1/2 to 2 miles, medical staff, many restrooms along the route, pacers, and a post-run picnic.

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Sweet socks

TO SUM IT UP: I started with the 10:00 minute pace group and felt great. Now, I usually do my long runs at a 10:15-10:20 pace so I should have known better, but I wanted to see if I could keep up. My pace increased as the miles went on, which is not what I want to happen come race day. Hopefully by mid-October it won’t get as hot as it did.

By mile 2 I had to use the bathroom, so I made a really quick stop and then ran to catch up with the pace group…not the best idea as I then was going under the 10:00 pace. I walked through majority of the aid stations and took 4 Clif Bloks over the 20 miles.

By mile 10 I was starting to decline, but I just kept chugging along at my pace. Around this time I passed the fenced in area where there are elk! They were just sitting there, chilling, and I was envious. I finished in 3 hours and 34 minutes. 10:40 pace. I am pleased with this effort. I never took a break or stopped my Garmin (except for when I used the bathroom once). First time doing 20 miles, ran 5 strong miles the day before. I might actually be able to complete this marathon.

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I downed a Core Power and Cool Mint Chocolate Clif Bar after making some new friends and headed home for a much needed shower. Then after a big lunch I was able to lay down and relax. These are the moments I love, refueling and recovering after a big training day. No other feeling like it.

Sunday:

Lazy Sunday morning. After hitting up the grocery store early (I was craving fruit) I spun out for 35 minutes on the trainer – EASY. And then did my functional strength exercises.

I had the usual aches that come from running 20 miles, but I was really sleepy too. And it has carried over into this week.

I am in taper mode now and I welcome taper with open arms. My body has been taking a beating and it is ready to rest, recover, and rebuild before I run all 26.2 miles come October 12th.