Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Moments of Weakness

I've come a long way in gaining mental strength over the past eight years. There was a time when I had very little of it; I didn't understand it. I simply let my emotions control me without feeling empowered to control them. There was a time in my life when I trying numbing everything out, but that's not a long-term strategy.

You have to walk before you can run.
Running and working with a sports psychologist have taught me the importance of mental strength in ways I never expected. And even though I wrote a book about how much I've learned and how far I've come, I'm still not perfect at it. Nor will I ever be. Over the past seven weeks with mono, my mental strength has been tested over and over again. Most days I pass the test. Actually, every day I pass the test. But there are individual moments when I cave.

Backing up a bit, I came down with mono on June 30 and I haven't run since. I did two very short "test runs" and neither of them ended well. I guess that's to be expected, since my legs feel weak when I walk. And in fact, after each of those runs I was able to accept that I wasn't ready to get back into running quite yet, and moved on. For me, mono has been a roller coaster of ups and downs. Sometimes I feel almost normal, and other times I feel completely exhausted, weak and/or dizzy.

Throughout all of this, I've been about 95% positive, but I would be lying if I said I didn't have any breakdowns. And that's what this post is about.

It starts with one negative thought. For example "I was in the best shape of my life and a 3:20 marathon was in sight. I may never get back there." And then that thought spirals into another, even more negative thought: "What if I never recover and I have to deal with this forever?" And then comes thinking about how amazing my life was this past spring before I got sick, and thinking that will never happen again. And so on, until I'm all worked up into tears.

I'm pleased to say this is not an everyday occurrence, but it has happened several times. So what to do? Here's my thinking:

I remind myself that mono is tough.
No matter how mentally strong I am, it's unrealistic that I am going to be little miss sunshine all the time. It is okay to feel frustrated, sad and disappointed. Mono has taken a lot from me (my entire summer and fall racing season) so there's a bit of mourning that's to be expected.

I remind myself that NOT running is harder than running.
I love a good challenge. And for me, running is usually the "challenge" in my life. I miss that. So, I simply remind myself that I'm still being challenged every day (like how running would challenge me) but just in a different way. Instead of powering through tough set of intervals on the track. Or suffering through a long run in the heat, I'm battling illness. It's a different kind of fight.

I think of all the things I can do to help my situation.
Feeling depressed and defeated actually has physical consequences. I'm only making things worse for myself if I succumb to negative thought patterns. One of the best things I can do is NOT think about mono. What do I think about instead? Things I can do to help me recover as quickly as possible (like eating healthy, getting enough rest, reducing stress) and things that I can do in spite of having mono (like blogging, celebrating my wedding anniversary with Greg, and seeing friends).

I also helped my situation in a huge way by removing a major source of stress from my life. This particular "thing" was keeping me up at night and occupying way too much head space. So, now that's gone and I'm truly free to focus on my health without worrying about other things.

How am I feeling these days? I was starting to feel really good the weekend of August 7th. The
doctor had cleared me to go for walks, so I walked around my block once on Saturday, once on Sunday, and then twice on Monday. (It's about 0.6 mile for one lap). I went to work on Monday, and a few hours in, I felt horrible. Like I needed to lie down immediately. That wave of sickness passed after 30 minutes, but I ended up leaving work at 3:00 because I was exhausted by then.

6-Year wedding anniversary at the Ritz Carlton
By Tuesday morning I was feeling strong again, so I figured I would do a test jog: jog for 5 minutes, walk for 1 minute jog for 5 minutes. Even though there was still weakness in my legs, the running felt decent. I was really optimistic! But about an hour later, I found myself crashing and needing to sleep. And then the next four days were really bad, and I stopped walking around the neighborhood and stayed home from work.

On Saturday, August 13th, Greg and I celebrated our six-year anniversary by going to the Ritz Carlton where we spent our wedding night. That's when I snapped out of feeling awful and suddenly felt way more energized. I honestly think there's a mental connection. I got out of the house, was celebrating something special. I was laughing a lot, and it was really good for me. I definitely turned a corner.

On Monday I resumed walking around the neighborhood. Just one lap, and I felt decent for the remainder of the day. I didn't walk on Tuesday, but this morning I polished off two laps (1.2 miles) and right now I am feeling relatively good. So essentially it's been up and down and up and down. I'm seriously hoping that I am done with the long periods of lethargy (like last Tuesday-Friday), but there's really no way to know.

TimeHop from 4 years ago.
I'm going to see an infectious disease specialist next week. Even though my original doctor diagnosed me with mono, I just want to make sure there's nothing else going on. What scares me the most is the weakness in my legs. I know that there can be long-lasting complications with mono, and if that's what's happening, I would rather know sooner than later. Also, why am getting mono AGAIN? Is it connected to running too hard in the heat? Maybe the new doctor will have some ideas. Thanks to the TimeHop app, I am reminded that my situation 4 years ago was very similar to my current one, and I came out of that with no lingering affects. It did, however, take nearly 3 months.

I'll continue to do my best to stay mentally strong, and now that the other source of stress has been removed, I am cautiously optimistic about my recovery.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

How To Fit a 5K into Your Marathon Training

Before I started working with my current coach, I never understood how people ran 5Ks while marathon training. 5Ks usually fall on the weekends, and that interferes with a weekend long run. So my assumption was that people who ran 5Ks during marathon training were skipping a long run, or they were super elite and able to do both. Or- they were heading down the injury path.

Once I started working with my current coach, I began to see how shorter faces fit into a marathon training schedule.

Why race a 5K while training for a marathon?
Semper Fi 5K, May 2016

5K races are great for testing your speed and practicing your ability to push through discomfort. They also don't beat you up as much as longer distances. Plus, they are fun and they can be confidence boosters too. Racing at such a fast pace will also make your marathon pace feel easier. If you are participating in a local race series, running frequent 5Ks can help you reach those goals as well.

I think that the best time to race 5Ks is early in the cycle. Your long runs aren't too long, and if you have a good base of speed early in the cycle, all you need to do is extend the amount of time you can sustain that speed. This is what my coach calls stamina. Before I got hit with mono, my long runs were no longer than an hour and 45 minutes, and my speed workouts were all intervals. Nothing at marathon pace, and no tempo runs.

Running a 5K in the weeks leading up to the marathon can also be good for sharpening the legs and getting you into race mode.I wanted to run a 5K two weeks out from Boston, and my coach approved this. It was a Friday evening 5K, and I was scheduled to run 24 miles the following day. However, it ended up being 70+ degrees and windy the night of the 5K, and I thought the heat would be an additional strain on my non-acclimated body, so I nixed it.

Saturday 5K
If you are racing a 5K or even a 10K on a Saturday, you can do your long run on Sunday. Your legs will be tired, and you don't want to overdo it, so the key is to keep the long run slow, especially at the beginning. The long run, if done slowly enough, can actually serve as a nice recovery from the race. The long run should be a little slower than your typical long run, but it will still serve its purpose of training you for endurance. Prior to working with my coach, my rule was that I would always take a rest day after a race, no matter what distance. But part of what helped me get to the next level was realizing that I didn't necessarily need complete rest in order to stay injury-free.

If your 5K falls on a Friday (I've seen a lot of Friday night 5Ks) then it's still okay to run the long run on Saturday or Sunday.

Sunday 5K
If the race is on a Sunday, I do not recommend doing your long run on Saturday. I've seen people do this and I realize that there are many coaching approaches out there. But my perspective is that if you are running a race, you should actually race it to the best of your ability, so you should be somewhat rested/tapered going into it. If you did your long run on Saturday and you want to race a 5K on Sunday just for fun, then that's possible, but many runners have difficulty holding back during a race. The race may not be an accurate indication of your fitness level if you just did your long run the day before.

Run Your Heart Out 5K, Feb. 2016
So if you "tapered" for your Sunday 5K, when do you do the long run? According to the plans I've seen from my coach, the following Tuesday. But it would be a shorter long run. So depending where you are in your training cycle, if your long runs are typically 15-16 miles, you might run 10 miles the following Tuesday. When I was training for Boston, I ran a half marathon on Sunday, and the following Tuesday, I was prescribed a 12-mile run.  I ran it at a pace of 9:09 instead of my typical 8:45, and all was good.  By doing your long run the following Tuesday, you've essentially swapped a speed workout with a long run, and the only sacrifice you made was that the long run was a little shorter. But that's balanced out by the fact that your speed work was a little harder.

If you run a 5K any other day of the week, you can pretty much swap it out for a speed workout. Of course all of this assumes that you're running long runs on weekends. Most training plans feature weekend long runs for the primary fact that people go to work during the week and can't be running 2+ hours. It's convenient. I once read an article that said the ideal length between long runs is 9 days, not 7. But most plans use 7 days for convenience. For people who run 90+ miles as week, then they've already made the decision to fit whatever length run they need to into their daily lives.

Race Strategy
My coach always tells me that I should race 5Ks hard, and not hold back. And that's why I always get a mini-taper. BUT, it all comes back to WHY you are racing a 5K to begin with. If it is to practice pushing hard and to get a confidence boost, then I think this mini taper and slight sacrifice in mileage is worth it. If you just want to run a 5K because it's fun or for a tempo workout, then a mini-taper isn't really needed.

All of this talk of running is getting me really excited about my return to training. I'm definitely on the mend and I actually walked around the neighborhood this morning (0.6 miles) and I felt decent. The problem is that I can feel weakness in my legs, particularly in my knees. I still feel a bit jello-like. I know that this phase of mono can last a really long time and I don't want to be stuck in it for another month. So, I will continue to take it one day at a time.

Anyway, here's hoping that I will be able to run some 5Ks during my next marathon training cycle, whenever that may begin!

Learning to walk again! I believe I've waited long enough. . . 

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Hitting Reset: My Month Without Running

I have not run for the entire month of July. I got sick on June 30 and was diagnosed with mono about two weeks later. This is not my first experience with mono as an adult, I also had mono 4 summers ago, and it lasted for three full months. My theory on why I got it this time is that my immune system was weakened due to stress and lack of sleep, so the opportunistic virus reared its ugly head again.

I'm writing this section primarily for my own benefit. In case I ever get mono again, I can look back and compare my experience. My blog posts from 2012 were extremely useful this time around. 

The first 7 days were like a traditional illness. Sore throat, exhaustion, and pressure behind the ears. The level of exhaustion, however, was very similar of that to my 2012 mono. Once I had enough energy to walk around and function semi-normally, I was extremely weak. I could not walk at my normal pace and I felt extremely limp. For the past three weeks, it's been a teeter-totter of ups and downs. At my best, I'm able to drive and go to work, although walking around is a challenge. At my worst, I want to stay in bed because any kind of movement feels like a strain on my body. My throat sometimes still hurts in the middle of the night, often waking me up and keeping me up.

I have not had any nausea, digestive issues, fever, or nasal congestion. I have noticed a decreased appetite, but that could be because I'm used to eating an amount of food that would fuel 40-60 miles of running per week. That said, I've lost about 3 pounds and am officially "underweight." I do, suspect, however, that part of this weight loss could be due to eating a diet primarily of fruits and vegetables. 
Smoothie with strawberries, blueberries, yogurt, almond milk

Greg and I recently bought a new blender and I've been "drinking" a ton of fruits and vegetables every day, but also making sure I'm eating protein from things like eggs, yogurt, nuts, and fish. I've also drastically reduced the amount of sweets I've been eating. I know that sugar robs the body of its nutrients, so instead of eating sweets 2-3 times a day, I'm only having ice cream after dinner a few times per week. With all the fruit I've been having, though, I don't crave sweets very often.

Last week I worked from home every day except for Wednesday. I think not having to go into the office helped because I felt pretty good yesterday and so far this morning. I will attempt to go into work tomorrow. My lingering symptoms are weakness and dizziness. Although I was feeling some extreme fatigue on Friday.

I actually think I coped with mono relatively well in 2012, and I'm coping even better this time around. About halfway through the month I simply made the decision that I wasn't going to run the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon (hopefully the half) and it took a lot of the "pressure" to recover off. I decided I would just take my time, not worry about my fall race season, and focus on getting better. I would like to run the Rehoboth Beach Marathon on December 4th, but I've also accepted the possibility that I might not be able to run a marathon until the spring, depending on how long recovery takes.

I also had to pretty quickly accept that I will have to rebuild fitness and it will take time. My original goal for Indy was 3:20, and now I'm not even sure if that will happen in the Spring. I'm not saying it can't, I'm simply saying that I don't know when it will happen, and I'm okay with it. Part of me actually enjoys the excitement that comes from rebuilding after an injury-- making a "comeback." I hit the reset button and everything is a PR again. If I do a 4-mile run, it will be a huge accomplishment instead of something I take for granted. Every run will be a celebration of health instead of something that's part of the daily routine. And I'll know that every time I run, I will be closer and closer to returning to my previous level of fitness. 

It is a bit like coping with loss. I was fortunate enough to train for 3 straight years without major illness or injury. The only breaks I took were scheduled ones post-marathon. As a result, I attained a level of fitness I never thought possible. Initially the idea of "that's over now" was really upsetting, but once I accepted it, as well as the idea that it could take 6+ months to get back to where I was, I felt some emotional relief. I think it all comes down to the pressure I put on myself to be a fast runner. If the pressure isn't there, then I feel more free. I already have enough job stress to cope with while I'm sick, so I don't need to add any more stress to that load.

So I'm really in no rush to get better. Of course, I want to get better ASAP, but I don't have any deadlines I'm trying to meet and I've accepted that I may not be able to train again for another 4-6 weeks. In fact, my coach isn't giving me any training schedules until I'm fully recovered. As a result, I'm not feeling tortured. There are days when I really, really, REALLY want to go out and run. To put the shoes on my feet. To wear my favorite running clothes. To sweat. To "Instagram" a run. But it's more out of frustration than feeling like I have to maintain my fitness. 

Life on Hold
What's harder to cope with than not running is that I haven't been able to live my life for the past month. I've had to cancel and bail out on many things. Dinners with friends. Work events. Races. A baby shower. My niece's birthday. A "Solidcore" class with two of my friends. And I felt horrible for doing this, but I was supposed to represent Generation UCAN at an event, but I bailed out at the last minute because I felt so crappy. Plus, who wants to take UCAN samples from someone with mono? My health needs to come first. I hate backing out on commitments, but if I don't, I'm not going to get the rest I need to recover.

I sometimes feel depressed when I look at photos of myself from June-- both running photos and everyday photos. I miss my life. I feel like I'm not really living my life and I want it back. And there are times when I feel like I'm never going to be well again. Like I can't even imagine what "normal" feels like. Weakness and exhaustion are my new normal.

Greg runs the =PRR= Birthday Bash 5K
Greg ran a 5K last weekend-- one that I was registered for as well. I came out to cheer him on but it was so hot out that I struggled to walk around the start/finish line area. I started to feel particularly sad when I looked at the women's race results and realized that my original goal time would have won me first place in my age group (including a big trophy) but I quickly stopped that line of thinking because it was heading nowhere productive. The absolute WORST thing I can do right now (at least mentally) is compare myself to other runners and/or go down the "could have, would have, should have" path. We were supposed to go out to brunch with our friends who also ran the race afterward, but being out in the heat "zapped" me too much, so I had to bail out on that.

Thankfully, I felt pretty good the day of my first book signing, and I have another book signing this afternoon at a local running store, and I think I will be fine for that. I'm only there for two hours, and I get to sit, so it's pretty low stress. 

This definitely has been the crappiest month that I've had in years, but it's pretty much over now and I hope to have more of a life in August. Greg's sister and her kids are coming to visit and it's our wedding anniversary. I need to start showing my face at work more often.

I return to the doctor on Friday to check in. Several people have suggested to me that this is more than mono because it's lasted so long. But since I went through this exact same thing 4 years ago, I don't think it's anything other than mono. It is hard to believe that an illness can linger for so long, but it can, it has, and it is. All the other blood work was normal, and before June 30, I was feeling really good, nailing every single workout. 

Because this illness is such an up-and-down type thing, I don't get too excited about 1-2 days of feeling more energized or slightly more functional. I know that things can easily take a turn for the worse at any time. One symptom that has been a constant no matter how energized I feel is weakness when I walk. Ironically, I can feel energized and weak at the same time.  And also ironically, on my "good days" I can do pretty much anything except run-- the one thing I want to do the most. Anyway, I just need to continue eating healthy foods, getting plenty of rest, and trying my best to not stress out about work.

It felt great to get dressed for work and "look" normal!

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Believing in My Book, My Message, and Myself

In spite of all the struggles and mental barriers that I had to overcome to qualify for Boston, I never gave up. Even when others told me that maybe the marathon wasn't my thing, I still kept trying. I held this same attitude about my book.

As I was finishing my book last winter, I did quite a bit of research on how to get it published. I decided that I would first send it to agents and publishers and try to get a publishing contract. This would mean handing them the manuscript and letting them format it, design the book cover, edit it, and market it, leaving me with a very small percentage of the royalties. It was the most traditional route and I thought it would result in maximum exposure for my book. However, I knew that agents and publishers received thousands of book submissions each month and could only accept a small number of them, so I was prepared for rejection.

I sent my book pitch to about 25 agents and 3 publishers. Of all of these, there was one particular agent and one particular publisher who I thought were really great fits for the book. I decided to wait until I had received feedback from the other agents and publishers before sending to these last two, so that I could incorporate any feedback I received. I wanted to make sure I was putting my best possible foot forward when I reached out to these two organizations.

It wasn't long before the publisher and the agent replied back with rejection letters. The publisher was rather vague, saying that the book did not fit into their lineup. The agent, however, sent me a very detailed response. The agent had run the Boston marathon herself (which is why I thought she would be a great fit) and based on her feedback, I realized that if I wanted the book to be published, I would have to do it myself.

So I published the book myself, not really knowing what to expect. After all, what was the worst that could happen? Well, maybe nobody would buy the book and I would lose the money I spent on getting the book cover designed. Oh well, at least I could say I published a book! And the best case scenario would be that people would buy the book and they would find it helpful in their own journey. I had no idea if the book was objectively good since the only people who reviewed it were friends and family. But as I said, what did I have to lose? The book was already written.

So I put it out there on May 15th.  And the feedback I've gotten from readers totally goes against the feedback I received from the agent.

"I'm afraid this is not something I could successfully represent. I think pretty much any even mildly competitive runner is aware of the negative role that over-stressing can play in their racing. So I'm not sure there's enough of a take-away in your personal story."

Many readers have expressed that they "took away" a great deal from this book:

"When an acquiring editor is evaluating a project s/he looks to see what the story/message boils down to and whether s/he feels this will sustain the reader's interest for 300 pages. . .  a project really needs to have a stand out hook and be something that just keeps the reader glued in their seat because they can't stop turning the pages."

I agreed with the agent on this point-- I did not think Boston Bound was a "page turner."  I did not expect readers to be glued in their seats. After all, self-help books are not supposed to be page-turners-- people read them because they want to get something out of it. Much to my surprise, countless readers have said that they could not put the book down.

"As more and more people get into running, there are more and more running book projects circulating and editors have become incredibly picky. They are all looking for the next "Born to Run". Elite runners can usually get a deal. But nothing much else impresses them."

This made no sense to me. If there are already so many books out there about running, written by elite athletes, wouldn't a book written by a non-elite be a refreshing change? Can everyday runners and readers relate to olympic athletes? I think that part of what makes a book good is the ability for the reader to relate to the main character or narrator.

I've also received numerous messages on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and even LinkedIn from readers telling me that the book helped them, they couldn't put it down, and/or that they found it relatable because it wasn't written by an elite runner.

Lesson learned, if you truly believe in something, make it happen. I honestly wasn't sure if the book would be a success or not, but I figured I had nothing to lose.

Book sales have already exceeded what I ever thought possible, and it seems to have a life of its own. Initially, it was up to me alone to get the word out. But now it seems like people are hearing about the book from all sorts of channels! I will likely blog more about the book in the future and my "journey" in getting it on the best-seller's list for the "Running and Jogging" category!

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

You Can't Do Amazing Things EVERY Day

The first half of 2016 was amazing:

  • March: I set a huge PR in the half marathon despite 20 MPH winds and a torrential downpour
  • April: I ran the Boston Marathon and then took a week-long vacation in Mexico
  • May: I published my book, Boston Bound
  • June: Promoted the book, and it ended up on the best-seller list on Amazon!
When June rolled around, I had my hands full. I was running hard workouts in the heat, actively promoting the book, working my full-time job, and admittedly not sleeping well. 

But then things came to an abrupt halt on June 30 when I came down with mono. This meant no more running, no more going to work, no more socializing with friends, no more book interviews. I was crushed when the doctor told me that I wouldn't feel 100% until the end of August. 

My mother, who had accompanied me to the doctor, said to me, "You can't do amazing things EVERY day." It's true. Even though you can be your amazing self every day, you can't always do amazing things. There's a difference. Once again I find myself needing to accept life's imperfections. And I need to remember that I am person who runs, not "a runner." Considering that I may not ever do as many wonderful things in a six-month period as the first half of this year, I guess I can't be too upset that I need to take a break from it all.

Greg reminded me though, that I actually DO do amazing things every day. Because I love him every day. I support him every day. I'm a kind person every day. I guess at look at these things as "being" myself not necessarily "doing" anything amazing.

The doctor told me that I could look at this a summer bug, or I could look at it as my body telling me that I needed to slow down and get some rest. I chose the latter. 

When I look at everything I was doing in June, and how I wasn't really paying attention to my physical health, it all makes sense. Unless I was running a speed workout, I wouldn't eat anything after my runs until I got into work, two hours later. My thought was that I wasn't really hungry, and "it's just a 5-miler" so I didn't need to refuel immediately. 

Also, I was only getting about 5-6 hours of sleep per night during the week leading up to the illness. I was super excited about my book, and the Amazon sales dashboard would only update in the middle of the night. My body somehow knew this, and I'd wake up at 1:00am to check the numbers. Totally not healthy! I couldn't control the fact that I was waking up in the middle of the night, but I could control how much I thought about the book immediately before going to sleep. Not to mention, working out in the heat is tough on the immune system. Much tougher than working out in sub-freezing temperatures.

Salad with mango, blueberries, spinach, egg white, avocado
Finally, I wasn't getting enough fruits and vegetables. I was so busy that I would eat whatever was most convenient. We have free whole fruit at work, but instead of taking the time to cut that up and eat it, I would usually grab a granola bar or chips. While those aren't necessarily bad choices, I really needed more nutrients. I often didn't feel like leaving the office to get lunch, and I didn't bring lunch, so I would just graze on office snacks. 

So, yeah, I'm not all that surprised I got sick. I didn't exactly treat my immune system very well. And so I'm learning the hard way. 

I'm slowly starting to feel more normal, but I still haven't run yet. My legs feel weak and I want to wait the three weeks that the doctor prescribed. And, of course, I just don't have a ton of energy. Oddly, the most energizing thing is core work. You'd think that running (something I used to do every day) might help me be more energized, but my one attempt last week proved that theory wrong. Instead, core work (which I hadn't done in about a year) makes me feel strong and really peps me up. So I have been doing some light core work every other morning.

With that said, here are the changes that I have made to my lifestyle, and that will continue even once I am recovered. Some goals/resolutions:
  • Stop looking at my phone right before bedtime. 
  • Start reading in bed instead.
  • Stop thinking about stressful things at bedtime.
  • Start thinking about the book I'm reading in bed.
  • Start making time in the morning for breakfast (or some substantial nutrition) before I leave the house.
  • Stop grazing around the office for lunch.
  • Start bringing a full lunch to work or leaving the office to get a real lunch.
  • Start buying more fruits and veggies at the grocery store and eating them during the week.
  • Start drinking more water. (I actually had been pretty good about this, but not every day.)
  • Start taking vitamins every day.
  • Reduce my stress level by thinking positive, more self-loving thoughts, like it's OKAY to not be doing amazing things EVERY day! 
Light core work has helped me feel better.
I was really fortunate to be injury and illness free for the past three years. In fact, being able to train with such consistency is really what led to my extreme jump in fitness over the past year. I never thought I took it for granted, but now I realize I need to make the above changes to really take care of my body and train at the level I want to train at.

My coach wanted to pause on re-working my training schedule until we really knew what we were looking at. The first priority is to get better so that I can train at full capacity. I'm starting to accept that I may need to drop Indianapolis down to the half and run the Rehoboth full four weeks later, in early December. It definitely won't be the end of the world, it's just not what I had planned on doing. I figure I might as well accept this possibility sooner rather than later. 

Meanwhile, the support of my friends throughout this whole mono ordeal has been incredible. People have offered to bring me stuff, and I'm getting frequent texts/IMs from people. I'm well enough to go into the office to work, with a modified schedule, so that's making me feel more "normal." I just need to be careful not to overdo the work because when I had mono in 2012, I kept trying to go back to work too soon and I kept relapsing. My goal here is to recover quicker than I did in 2012 by avoiding the mistakes I made back then. Some days I feel like I'm moving in the wrong direction because I feel worse than the day before, but I have to remember that's part of the illness and I WILL recover 100%. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Harder Than Running: Not Running

Yes, running is a challenging, tiring and difficult sport. But you know what's harder than running? NOT running!

This morning, Greg returned to our house soaking in sweat from his humid hill sprint workout. "That was so hard!" He exclaimed repeatedly. I was instantly jealous that I, too, didn't have that "I worked really hard" feeling first thing in the morning. After having not run since June 30, I miss that. But I quickly shifted my mindset. Because what I'm dealing with is hard work. It's very hard work.

People tend to work hard at the things they are good at. If you're good at your job, you'll naturally want to work hard at it. But people tend to shy away from things that they aren't good at, and therein lies the big challenge. While I think I'm relatively "good" at this mental toughness thing, it doesn't come easy to me. I have plenty of room for growth still.

Right now this newfound mental strength of mine is being tested. I have to truly be "ok" with not running. Optimistic, even, that I will eventually return to my former running self and regain all the fitness that I've lost. That said, what's going on with my health?

As I discussed in my previous blog post, an illness of some sort came on very suddenly while I was at work on June 30. It felt suspiciously like mono, and I went to the doctor on July 5th and they ran a bunch of tests, saying it was probably "a viral infection" and I would get better soon. I have not felt well enough to run yet. My initial symptoms were extreme fatigue, sore throat, and weakness. My lingering symptoms are on-and-off fatigue, pressure behind the ears, occasional dizziness and overall weakness. When I say "weak" I mean that I cannot walk at my normal pace. I do not feel like my normal self. I know from having mono four years ago that I should not run when I feel weak.

I took off the last week from work entirely, and went into the office Monday and Tuesday of this week. Today, I had a doctor's appointment scheduled for 11:00, so my plan was to work from home in the morning, go to the doctor's and then into work.

Given that I felt mainly human for most of the day yesterday, I figured that I could give running a shot this morning. The main reason was so that I could "test it" and report on how it felt to my doctor. I decided I would do a 15-minute run at a very easy pace. I figured this should not be a strain on my system at all, given that I was used to running so much longer/faster every single day. Energy-wise, I felt pretty good. It was nice to be out running again. But as soon as I started, the outside of my knees felt really odd. They ached. And then a few minutes into it, my lower back/upper butt area started to feel really sore. As if I had done some really tough workout there.

Even though I felt reasonably energized during the run, when I got home, I had to sit down with my head in my hands for a minute or two. And then suddenly I realized I felt much worse than before I ran. Not a good sign. Shortly after, Greg returned from his hill sprints and I had to fight the urge to start crying and throwing a pity party.

11:00 rolled around and I met my mother at the doctor's office. The original plan had been for her to drive me, but I've been well enough to drive (not dizzy) for the past few days. I saw a different doctor at the same practice. The doctor I saw on July 5th was the person who was staffing the walk-in clinic. The doctor I saw today was their sports medicine doctor. I wanted someone who understood the role that exercise was playing here, and would be able to tell me when I could return to running. The doctor spent over 30 minutes with my mother and me. He told me that my lymph nodes were swollen and that the areas that felt sore during my run were joints. That was joint pain- the upper butt/lower back area of soreness is the sciatica joint, and the knees are obviously joints.

He looked over my test results and ruled out Lyme disease, thyroid issues, and a number of other things. The test results did indicate that I had mono in the past, the Epstein Barr Virus (that causes mono) never goes away in your body once you have it.  He said that the virus can mutate just enough so that your body is no longer immune to it, and it can re-activate in the body, causing an entirely new round of sickness. The virus doesn't show up in blood tests until 3+ weeks after the initial onset of the infection (June 30). So, it's still too soon to know for sure. But, this doctor was pretty sure it was mono, and if it wasn't mono, it was something very similar to it, based on all of my symptoms- swollen lymph nodes and extended fatigue in particular.

My history with these types of viral infections is interesting:

  • I had mono when I was in college (1999)
  • I had a virus that lasted for over a month in September 2008. I got sick the day after running the Rock 'n' Roll VA Beach half marathon-- which was a very warm race. This was the virus that prevented me from making my first BQ attempt.
  • I had mono for about three months in the summer of 2012
  • And now I have mono again, or something like it.
So the commonalities of 2008, 2012, and 2016 are that each time, it was triggered by pushing myself in warm weather. I had been running very intense workouts in the heat throughout the month of June. 

The good news
Looking on the bright side, here is the good news. I am not suffering from "overtraining" because that tends to come on gradually and usually does not include a sore throat, etc. This means that once I make a full recovery, I can still train at the same intensity. I just need to be careful in the heat to keep my immune system strong.

I should make a complete and total recovery. Although it seems like I'm doomed in the summer of 2020, I should be perfectly fine between the time I recover and then! Also on the good news side, this is not Lyme disease, MS, cancer, or the host of other things I was worried about it being.

The bad news
I will probably not feel 100% recovered for eight weeks, and that's IF I'm smart about easing back into things. This puts me at late August. 

I had planned to run the South Lakes 10K in late August and then the Rock 'n' Roll Philadelphia half marathon in mid-September so those are both out. My fall marathon may be at risk, but I am still hopeful I can run that, even if it's not the 3:20 I was originally going for.

Now for the really scary part. The doctor told me that the joint pain and weakness I was feeling in my legs was the result of Immune Complex Syndrome. I did not have this issue when I had mono in 2012-- this is new. Immune Complex Syndrome is when your immune system doesn't fully shed the virus from its cells, and it ends up in your joints. This could mean joint pain and the feeling of arthritis for up to six months. So even if I am feeling 100% recovered by the end of August, the aches that I felt on today's run could be my new normal until January.

Needless to say, I left the doctor's office in tears. I had such high hopes for the fall racing season, and now I have to re-evaluate everything. My mother was happy with the outcome because the doctor did say I would make a full recovery. But all I could hear was "the joint pain can last up to six months." He told me I could take anti-inflammatories for it. We'll see if that helps. 

Looking ahead
The doctor said that the "standard" advice to athletes with mono is that they should take three weeks
off completely. Aside from my 15-minute jaunt this morning, I've almost made it through two weeks. So, I should be able to return to running on Friday, July 22. That said, this is just general guidance- every person is different. I definitely don't want to spend three months with mono like I did in 2012, so I need to really be cautious and wait even more if I don't feel ready by the 22nd. 

The first week back should be "easy"-- no hard workouts, no long runs. Just short, easy stuff. Then the doctor said I can add in more intense stuff on the 4th week. So back to semi-normal training on July 29th. Somehow I feel like this is too optimistic. It took me WAY longer in 2012 to recover. But then again, I kept pushing it in 2012 when I should not have been.

Finally, he said I probably wouldn't feel 100% until the end of August, so while I can train through August, it will need to be a scaled back version of what probably would have otherwise been 50+ mile weeks. 

I kind of see all of this as "best case" scenario. Having been through it before four years ago and NOT having this joint pain/ Immune Complex thingee was difficult enough. On the plus side, my initial sore throat and initial sickness was not nearly as bad as 2012. I honestly felt like death in 2012 and my throat was so sore I wanted to remove it from my body. Things were more mild this time, but the lingering fatigue is almost identical. As for my non-running life, I will likely work from home or do half-days at my job for the next week, until I am at that point when the doctor said I can resume "light activity."

Back to it being "hard work." It's really difficult to follow people on social media who are training for fall marathons saying: "This is week three, day 5 of training" and their marathon is one the same day as mine! I guess at this point I will be lucky if I'm healthy enough to run the marathon. I really do not want to drop down to the half, as the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon has been on my bucket list for several years now. 

So, I need to stay mentally strong. Focus on drinking a lot of water, taking vitamins, eating healthy, getting plenty of rest, and not getting stressed out. And if I still feel like crap on July 22nd, it's okay. Marathons are not going anywhere- I need to be patient. Very, very patient. 

Monday, July 4, 2016

The July 4th Race that Wasn't

Today I was supposed to run the Reston Firecracker 5K. I've registered for this race every year since it began in 2010, but I've missed it almost as many times as I've actually run it due to illness or injury.

In 2012, I came down with mono two weeks before the race. I didn't realize it was mono at the time, though, and I was feeling recovered enough to run, so I took the race at an easy pace of about 9:00. A few days later, I relapsed into mono full-force.

In 2013, I was in excellent shape and ready to totally crush the race, but then I got injured just three days beforehand with a stress reaction in my shin.

In 2014 I ran a 22:54, and in 2015 I ran a 22:05. This year, I am in the best 5K shape of my life and I was planning to run the race 45 seconds to a minute faster than last year, at around 21:10-21:20. I had been looking forward to this race for weeks because it's a holiday tradition and I love benchmarking my progress year-over-year. But my body had different plans.

After over two years of not being sick, I came down with something nasty on Thursday. I had not been sleeping well for the past week, averaging only 5-6 restless hours a night. I knew this was a problem, but I seemed to be having enough energy for my workouts and I felt fine during the workday. I had been waking up in the middle of the night with a raw throat, but I had chalked that up to allergies. Everything else felt fine.

I ran 50 minutes on Thursday morning and I felt amazing. The temperature was unseasonably cool at around 60 degrees, and my normal "easy" pace (which is run by effort level and  heart rate) dropped down to an 8:42 pace. I felt amazing and my heart rate didn't indicate any issues. But three hours later, at work, my throat started to get really sore and a fatigue came over me. Almost instantly I knew I had to go home and sleep. I cancelled my plans to meet a friend for lunch, drove home and slept for over an hour. When I woke up, I felt weak and I knew I was full-on sick.

Soooo sick
Of course I was hoping this was just a cold that would pass within a day or so, but my body doesn't work that way. I seem to be an all-or-nothing person, and when I get sick, I usually get really sick. So since then, I've been extremely weak with body aches, a mild sore throat that comes and goes, pressure behind the ears, and general fatigue. I was optimistic that things were improving on Saturday because I took a shower, dried my hair and went to the grocery store with Greg. But then on Sunday, I was back to square one again, and today nothing has improved. Obviously this meant no Firecracker 5K. At least the decision was made for me, and I am not left wondering if I could have possibly done it. There's no way I could do it- not even walk it. I'll go to the doctor tomorrow if there continues to be no improvement.

It's days like these when I need to draw on all the mental toughness skills I learned over the past four years. There's a voice inside of me that wants to scream and cry and say that I did all those hot summer track workouts for nothing. That voice says this is so unfair, and now all that fitness is lost and I'm going to be way behind when I start running again. It says that this is a repeat of my mono, and it could last a month or more. I'll be in bed all summer and by the time the cool weather comes around, I'll be totally out of shape.

But I've gotten really good at shutting that voice up and just focusing on getting better. I've been sleeping a ton (I actually napped while Greg was running the race), drinking loads of fluids and eating really healthy food. The hardest thing is to not speculate about how long this will last and to try and stay positive. Usually viruses like this do not last as long as my mono did and I should be better within 1-2 weeks. I have to remind myself that I will run again because when I feel this weak, I couldn't even imagine running.

Part of the disappointment in not running the race was not getting to write a triumphant blog post. But then I realized, hey, I can STILL write a triumphant blog post. Even though I didn't get to run the race I trained for, I still put in the work, and I am going to celebrate that now by blogging about two great workouts from the last two weeks.

On Tuesday, June 21, I ran some road intervals. 12 x (1-minute hard, 1-minute easy) followed by 12 x (30 seconds hard, 30 seconds easy). It was overcast and around 71 degrees, but with 99% humidity!

The 1-minute intervals were supposed to be at slightly faster than 5K pace, and they averaged around 6:30-6:35. The 30-second intervals averaged around a pace of 6:10. What made this workout hard was two things: first, it was not on a flat course, it was gently rolling hills. Second, the recovery jogs were prescribed to be "brisk jogs" not just easy jogging. So those were around a pace of 8:50-9:10. Usually recovery jogs are anywhere from 10:30-11:00 per mile.

The great thing about this workout is that I realized I had done this exact workout before. I looked back in my log on February 2, and I had done this workout on a 32-degree day, on a flat course, with truly easy recovery jogs. Instead of logging 4.8 miles, I only logged 4.4!  So now that it's hotter and hillier, I'm able to run faster than I did back in February. Once again, an indication that my fitness is at an all-time high.

On Friday, June 24, I ran a really challenging track workout that I had never done before: 7 x 800m at 5K pace with only 30-second rests.

Typically when running 800m intervals, I run them faster than 5K pace. But I also get at least 2 minutes to recover. So this workout basically had me running at 5K effort for longer than a 5K, with very short rests along the way. It was 73 degrees, sunny and humid.  My splits were as follows:


Given that the race weather ended up being about 8 degrees cooler than this workout and overcast, I am pretty confident I could have run this pace, even with the hills. Let's just say I could have done it!

I really hope I wake up feeling dramatically improved tomorrow and that I don't have to go to the doctor. This just really scares me because it feels exactly like mono, and I know there are different strains of the mono virus. Greg has been amazing throughout all of this, doing all of the cooking and cleaning, and making me my special "potion" of warm water, honey, and apple cider vinegar. He ran the race in 21:01! He's been doing these workouts too and they've made him noticeably faster.

Fingers crossed for a speedy recovery.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Sleep Success Story

My favorite part about having published a book is hearing from people who were helped by it. Within just two weeks of launching Boston Bound, a runner named Alison reached out to me on the book's Facebook page and said that she loved the book so much that she lent it out and planned to read it for a second time before her upcoming marathon. Naturally, I was curious to learn more about her. After hearing about her journey, I couldn't resist sharing it on my blog.

Alison, a doctor, began running just over 4 years ago when her neighbor was training for a sprint triathlon. The neighbor wanted someone to keep her accountable so the two of them started to run in the evenings, after she put her children to sleep. Ultimately, the triathlete moved and joined her local running club-- the Hendersonville Running Club. This club has seen her through the majority of her training.

"Within my running group, I have developed a close knit group of girls and we meet every weekend to do our long runs together," she said.

Since she started running, she has completed 9 half marathons, multiple 5K’s, and 5.4 marathons (due to the last one being shut down just before halfway point). Her half marathon PR is 1:56:43, and her full marathon PR is 4:15.

"I would like to continue to build as an athlete. I see myself as more than a runner: I am a mom, a runner, and a doctor, and so much more. I would like to build speed, endurance, strength and continue to succeed in running. Of course, I want to PR my races, but being healthy is a huge part of my training. At some point in the distant future, maybe a BQ would be in my reach… maybe. I’m not setting my sights on it yet. My biggest goal other than the above, is to run a marathon in under 4 hours."

Sleep & Anxiety Woes
Alison: a doctor, runner, and mother
After getting to know her background, Alison told me about some of her struggles with running. They primarily revolved around anxiety and sleep.

"My pre-race anxiety has always been terrible! That goes along with my test anxiety that I have always had. The week before a race, I am normally having nausea, diarrhea, and butterflies in my stomach-- these will come in waves. I have always had an underlying anxiety, but anything that feels like a 'test' will make me nervous. To me, the race would 'test' how fit I have become.  I obsessed about things like the weather, my last two weeks of training runs- I always seemed to fall into a runners depression during my taper weeks-- losing confidence in myself, feeling down, and then the increased anxiety."

She has struggled with getting more than four hours of sleep the night before a race. She would lay awake in bed, feeling exhausted, but with her mind playing out every possible scenario for race day. She would obsess about numbers, paces, the weather, and all sorts of "what-if" scenarios.

"The night before my 2nd Marathon- Rocket City Marathon- I was with two of my friends and I was tossing and turning until 2:00 a.m. They finally heard me and asked what was wrong, so I told them. Thankfully, one of the girls had a Benadryl, and I took half of it. Within half an hour, I was asleep and got a whole 3.5 hours of sleep! I managed to PR that race by 25 minutes, but I think I could have done better had I actually rested my body."

So, from that point forward, before every race, Alison would take half a Benadryl the night before, but it would always leave her feeling dry-mouthed during the race. "I know that this isn’t the answer," she told me, "but it allowed me to get close to six hours of sleep at least before a race."

Overall Mindset and Focus
Alison told me that her mind always raced as she approached race week. "I obsessed about numbers, paces, weather, water stops, and nutrition. I continually focused on the things that I couldn’t control and they controlled me for at least 1-2 weeks before the race. Taper time was always the hardest for me- the lack of confidence that I felt left me feeling down and doubtful of my impending performance. Hyper-focusing on times/paces were huge for me. I was constantly playing out different scenarios in my head of how I could catch up on time if I was short, how to get through water stops without adding too much time, monitoring my pace during the race. I would check the weather where the race location was, several times a day for the week leading up to the race- worrying if it was too hot/cold/windy/rainy, etc. Obsession. There is no better word."

Alison recently wrote a blog post about her latest marathon, which unfortunately was shut down near the halfway mark due to severe weather. She mentioned that Boston Bound helped her immensely with this race, so I was curious to hear how.

"Boston Bound made a huge difference in how I felt in the weeks leading up to my latest marathon, the morning of the race, and the race itself. Hearing that you also suffered from pre-race anxiety, really helped me realize that this wasn’t just me. Also, I realized that I was focusing on all the wrong things! I was obsessing about things that I couldn’t control- such as the weather. A friend of mine had suggested I read this book (he didn’t even realize how much pre-race anxiety I had), and I was attached to the book the moment I read it. I have underlined and starred multiple sections of the book, so that I can refer back to those pages.

"I realized that positivity and confidence were an integral part of my training and tapering. I didn’t check the weather at all except for two days before the race, when I was packing for our trip. My husband was busy checking the weather several times the week before the race. Whether he told me it was a high likelihood of rain, low chance of rain, hot, cold, or thunderstorm, I kept telling myself that I needed to focus on the things that I could control: I could control myself- my mind, my positivity, my confidence."

Sleeping Easy
Alison went on to tell me that she finished Boston Bound for the first time, one week before her marathon, and then read it halfway through again the week before the race.

"Just by changing my mindset, I didn’t’ suffer runner’s depression during my taper time and I wasn’t anxious the week before the race. If I started thinking about anything that would make me nervous, I remembered positive thoughts: I have trained hard and I am going to run this race to the best of my ability. The night before the race was the best night’s sleep before a race I ever got!! I got a whole seven hours of sleep- and without Benadryl!!

"In the morning, I ate my breakfast without significant nausea and had no butterflies in my stomach like I normally do. I was laughing and cuttin’ up with my sister and husband even as the race started. I have never felt so confident in myself as I approached a race as I did for the Race Around the Lake Marathon. The confidence wasn’t that I would attain my PR, it was that I knew I would race the best race I mentally and physically could. My favorite quote from the book, which is my new mantra is: '…focusing on the things that I can (control) is the key to a healthy mindset and ultimately, success... I now expect myself to run the best of my ability regardless of the circumstances. And the ‘best of my ability’ doesn’t always equate to a PR.' "

Alison's next marathon is the Hartford Marathon in October. Coincidentally, this was my first BQ target race! Her coach has decided that for the next month she will refocus her training on speed, and she can build up endurance again after that. Her main goal at Hartford is running a sub- 4 hour marathon. She's going to swim to help with endurance and work on cross training with core strength as her focus.

"Another thing that I would like to continue to focus on is mental toughness. I think that that is harder to work on, but the summer heat and humidity will give me plenty of opportunity! Onto Marathon #7!"

Best of luck, Alison, and thanks for chatting with me!

You can learn more about Alison on her blog.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Training is heating up!

It's been awhile since I've posted a training update. I blogged regularly about my Boston Marathon training, and it helped me see the bigger picture of my hard work.

After the marathon, I took a few weeks of recovery. I did not run at all during the week following the marathon, and I took it extremely easy the following week, logging just a few very easy treadmill miles while on vacation. I eased my way back into things the third week after Boston, culminating in the Mother's Day 4-Miler. And then, "operation get Elizabeth speedy" kicked into full gear.

The plan is to keep the mileage relatively low (like in the 40's instead of the 60's) and to run two interval sessions a week. No tempo runs, no marathon pace runs-- just really fast stuff.  This means spending a lot of time at a sub-7:00 pace. Ultimately I hope to run the Army 10-miler at a sub-7:00 pace, so that work starts now. And of course, building this fast base will only help me when it comes to training for my fall marathon in November. On top of it, all of this work is happening in the heat and humidity of northern Virginia, which is great for both physical and mental strength.

Here's a snapshot of my training from the past five weeks:

I don't anticipate that my long runs will get above 12 miles for at least another six weeks. Running for an hour and 45 minutes is plenty to keep my endurance up without tiring my legs for the speed work. Let's dive into a few workouts.

I ran this workout about 10 days prior to the Twilight 4-miler. It was three sets of 1600m, 1-minute recovery jog, 400m. In between each set was a 3-minute recovery jog, which equated to just over a lap around the track.

I always start my track workouts conservatively and I find that it's hard to go fast for the first rep of anything. But this was different. I run my track workouts by feel (I don't use the Garmin pace) so imagine my shock when the first 1600m clocked in at 6:38. Oops! The good news is that it felt like a 6:50. The bad news is that the humidity would catch up to me, making the rest of the 1600's slower. My times were:

1600m: 6:38
400m: 1:30
1600m: 6:48
400m: 1:30
1600m: 6:43
400m: 1:29

The fact that I ran a 1:29 (5:56 pace) for the last 400m means that I still had plenty of energy at the end, despite the speedy start.

Onto another workout. On Thursday of this week, I ran a workout that was really challenging to commit to memory! I had to look at it several times and remind myself that the ladder climbed up (not down) for the interval parts.

The photo above just shows one rep. I've recently started using Instagram to share my workouts and I'm never sure how to quickly represent a complex interval workout! This one combined 10K effort with mile-race effort. It was 4 x (1000m at 10K effort, 200m jog) followed by a bunch of really short/fast intervals. I think I may have done this workout once before, but I'm not sure! It was 72 degrees and 99% humidity, threatening thunderstorms. Definitely tough. Here's how it went:

1000m: 4:23 (7:03 pace) -- too slow. I was being overly cautious about going out too fast!
1000m: 4:12 (6:45 pace) -- too fast. I was overcompensating for being too slow on the first one.
1000m: 4:17 (6:53 pace) -- just right!
1000m: 4:15 (6:50 pace) -- just right!

Then I had the three-minute recovery jog. Then I did this:

200m: 0:42 (5:38 pace) followed by a 200m recovery jog
300m: 1:06 (5:54 pace) followed by a 300m recovery jog
400m: 1:28 (5:52 pace) followed by a 400m recovery jog
600m: 2:23 (6:23 pace)

I wish I had given a bit more effort on the 300m and not completely wasted myself on the 400m. It was a challenge to run the 300m hard because I finished around the curve of the track instead of the straightaway, and usually the straight finish is where I pick up most of my speed. That 400m in 1:28 was a PR for me (or at least tied with my PR) so by the time the 600m rolled around, I didn't have much left. I would have loved for that 600m to be about 3-4 seconds faster. But, it was so hot and humid! Overall, I was really pleased with my effort level, and I think that this workout will help me immensely in my upcoming 5K.

When I'm not at the track, I'm taking my easy runs really easy. Those are typically 50-60 minutes in duration, but can be as short as 30 minutes. My pace is typically 8:50-9:10 depending on how my legs feel and how hot/humid it is. This week I have a workout that's so challenging that my coach told me to stand still during the recovery period to catch my breath. I've never done that before (I always jog) so I'm excited to see how it goes!

My next race is the Firecracker 5K on July 4th, which I did last year and the year before. It will be great to see the year-over-year progress.

Special thanks to Greg for taking all of these photos of me! I love being able to share these workouts on Instagram.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Generation UCAN Review

I'll preface this post by saying that I hardly ever review products on my blog. Companies do not send me free products to review and I only write about products that I'm passionate about, like the Mizuno Elixir replacement. My blog is mainly focused on the journey to achieving my running goals, so I only review products that I believe will help me get there. I'm pleased to present this Generation UCAN review!
Generation UCAN prize pack

Last July, the McMillan Running company named me their athlete of the month. Along with this honor came a prize pack full of Generation UCAN products. I had known for awhile that Coach Greg McMillan believed strongly in UCAN for fueling, so I was looking forward to trying it out. However, I was in the midst of half marathon training, and my long runs weren't long enough to require fuel. That said, I continued to use gels during my races.

During the Columbus Half Marathon last fall, I took two Honey Stinger gels, as was custom for me. At the finish line, I ended up vomiting. It was not pretty! I had been a victim of stomach distress during races in the past, but I had never vomited.

Why I tried UCAN: Stomach Distress
Aside from the fact that I had a prize package of UCAN and Greg McMillan endorsed it, I had also heard that the product was easier to digest than gels. I had been faithful to Honey Stinger for years because it was the only gel my stomach could tolerate-- but it couldn't always tolerate it. The Columbus Half Marathon is a good example of that, as is the Columbus full marathon from 2014, when I simply wasn't able to get the gel down at mile 16. As a result, I ran the last ten miles of that race with no fuel. The same thing had happened to me at the B & A Trail marathon back in 2013.

During training runs, stomach distress had also been an issue. There was about a 1-in-3 chance that I would end up in a bathroom during a long run because of an upset stomach. Not fun!

So, once I started training for the Boston Marathon, I thought I would give Generation UCAN a shot. Another benefit of the product is that you don't need to fuel as often with it. One serving of UCAN lasts for up to two hours! For long runs of 16 miles or less, I would simply have one serving of UCAN SuperStarch about 30 minutes before the run, and I would have enough energy to get through the run. I also used it before some of my weekday morning workouts if they were long, and I found that I was energized and able to execute the workouts according to plan. And, as advertised, I never once had stomach distress with the product.

Why I stayed with UCAN: Convenience
One of the hardest parts about running a long race is having to fuel. When it's below 40 degrees, my hands go completely numb so taking a gel becomes extremely challenging. Another part of the challenge is that you have to take gels, like Honey Stinger, with water. So not only do you have to open the gel and get it into your mouth, you also have to have enough water at the exact time. Who needs that when you are running at 100% effort?!

In March of this year, I ran the Shamrock Half Marathon. For breakfast, I had my standard bagel with peanut butter two hours beforehand. 30 minutes before the start, I had a packet of UCAN SuperStarch mixed with water. I consumed zero calories during the race, and not needing to take a gel freed my hands from carrying a water bottle. I ended up setting a PR by over a minute and a half, running a 1:33:36! I loved not having to worry about fueling mid-race or carrying a bottle.

As my long runs for Boston increased to over 16 miles, I started to take UCAN on the go. I would still take a serving 30 minutes beforehand, and then about 80-85 minutes into the run, I would take a UCAN gel. This video shows I made the gel:

Given that the UCAN was far more convenient then gels, and that it didn't cause me stomach distress it was a no-brainer to make the switch. But there was another key benefit that I learned about after I had been training with the product for a few months: UCAN helps train your body to burn more fat.

Major Perk: Burn more fat
I used to wonder if taking so many gels on training runs was a bad thing. After all, isn't the point of a long run to teach your body to burn fat as fuel, not all the sugar you give it? I've heard of some runners doing long runs without any fuel at all, but I know that it can be rough to recover from those, making your future workouts suffer.

With traditional gels, the calories are released into your system all at once, overwhelming your body with an abundance of glucose to use. With Generation UCAN, the energy is released gradually, over time. This is why it lasts longer. With this gradual release, your body uses some glycogen as fuel, and also some fat.

When I ran the Boston Marathon, I consumed a full packet of UCAN beforehand, a full packet gel at mile 10, and then I had some honey stinger chews to get me through the last 4 miles. I could have made another UCAN gel, but I didn't want to carry two of them, and having a few chews at the end didn't require me to carry water, and didn't cause stomach distress. I slowed down significantly during that race, but I attribute that to the heat-- not my fueling strategy. This exact fueling strategy was perfect for a 24-mile training run in cooler weather two weeks before Boston.

Meb and me!
UCAN Ambassador
I received an email from Generation UCAN last March asking for ambassadors in the local area. I did not hesitate to volunteer. Since I'm already pretty active on social media and I love going to running events, I figured I might as well help promote a company I believe in. I already had the opportunity to represent UCAN at an event in Arlington last March, where I met Meb! Yes, Meb uses UCAN too. Once again, UCAN did not pay me to write this blog or even ask me to do it. It just works so well that I wanted to share my success with it.

UCAN also offers recovery drinks, snack bars, and a hydration product. The "UCAN Hydrate" is a powder you simply put in water that turns plain ol' water into electrolyte enhanced water. I use this when it's warm out, and just re-stocked for the summer.

In terms of flavors, my favorite flavor of the SuperStarch is lemonade, followed by blueberry pomegranate. I do not care for the orange or chocolate flavors.

I now drink UCAN SuperStarch 30 minutes prior to every race I run, regardless of the distance. And I've had plenty of energy during my past few races with no stomach distress.

UCAN Discount
If you want a 10% discount code for the UCAN website, contact me on Twitter and I will send you a direct message with the code.

I hope you enjoyed this Generation UCAN review!

Sunday, June 12, 2016

4 Miles in 91 Degrees

Last night I ran the =PR= Twilight Festival 4-miler. This was my 4th time running this race, previous years were 2007, 2008, and 2015. Having run the race just last year, I remembered it pretty well. One of the benefits of keeping a blog is that when I repeat a race, I can look back on my report to remember the course.
Greg and me at the start line

Last year, it was 85 degrees, and I thought that was extraordinarily hot. This year, it was 91 degrees, maybe even a bit hotter at start. I always run in the mornings, so usually it doesn't get above 72. This year, we got a late start to summer, so I only had about two weeks to acclimate. And to top it off, this past week offered morning temperatures in the 50's, so there was no acclimating this week.

I ran the Mother's Day 4-miler about a month ago in 27:51, and I knew I was in much better shape for last night's race. It's amazing how a just month of speed work and interval training can really make a difference. At the Mother's Day race, I was just coming off of the Boston Marathon and I hadn't done any speed work. But, that race was much cooler-- in the upper 50's. It also measured nearly a perfect 4 miles according to my Garmin, whereas this Twilight race measured 4.08 last year and 4.07 this year. So, when comparing apples to apples (Garmin time to Garmin time) I like to take those things into consideration.

Given all of these factors, I decided I would go out at a pace of 7:00-7:05 and try to speed up later in the race if I could. My stretch goal was a PR (beating my 27:51) but my more reasonable goal, given the heat, was to set a course PR from last year's 30:08.

I told my coach that I was worried about passing out or getting heat exhaustion if I pushed too hard. He told me that the race was short enough that I shouldn't worry too much about it, and that I should go out hard, instead of the conservative 7:15 pace I had originally planned on.

Before the Race
Greg and I arrived to the race armed with cooling tools! I wore my cooling wristbands that I had
purchased at the Boston Marathon expo. We also had a cooler full of ice that contained my UCAN drink and some wet towels. I've learned that it's really important to stay as cool as possible before a warm race, so I dumped ice into my sports bra for the warm up and poured water all over my head. My coach advised that I purchase an ice vest to wear before hot races, but it did not arrive in time. I'll try it next time!

Before we started the warmup, I encountered a zebra U-haul! I had seen these zebra U-hauls in the past and it always makes me so happy when they show up. In fact, whenever I am driving and I spot a U-haul, I try and check to see if it's got a zebra on it. With a zebra U-haul at the start line, I took it as a sign that the race would go well.

I love zebras! What a great surprise!
One of the great things about this race was that a bunch of my friends were also running it. It was fun to warmup with them a bit and then hang out afterwards.

Miles 1-2
Last year, my first two miles were 7:30, 7:45. I knew that the second mile was all uphill and that it should feel ridiculously easy at the beginning because the heat would catch up to me pretty quickly. The race began and I situated myself directly behind my friend Lisa. We had chatted that we were going to go out on the easy side of things, so I kind of let her do the pacing. My effort level during mile 1 felt a bit like marathon pace effort, which was not what my coach advised, but the heat was intimidating.

After the first mile, things got noticeably difficult. The hill came and instead of feeling like marathon pace effort, it suddenly felt like 10K effort as we climbed that hill. Lisa and I were running side-by-side at this point and it was nice to have the company. She said that her mouth had no spit in it, and the same was true for me. It was sort of like a cotton-mouth feeling (despite all the water I had drunk that day). Greg later reported that he felt the same thing and we figured it was probably the air quality. After all, we were under an air quality alert.  I clocked the first two miles in 7:00 and 7:13.

Miles 3-4
At the start of mile 3, I began to pull ahead of Lisa and I remembered how last year I really hammered it home during this second half of the race. That said, my 7:00 first mile was not as conservative as last year's 7:30 mile, so I wasn't sure what kind of energy I would have. During this whole time, Greg was about 15-20 seconds ahead of me. He had pulled ahead at the very beginning and I decided not to follow. The sun dropped a bit lower in the sky at this point, which was a huge help. At least now the course was mostly shaded. Once I decided to start really pushing, it started to feel like true 4-mile race effort.

Liz and me at the finish- was hoping for a better shot of us!
I passed a lot of people during these last two miles and not a single person passed me. It felt great to be passing people and feeling strong! The 4th mile seemed to go on forever and ever. At that point, I still felt strong but everything hurt. I seriously needed to rely on every mental toughness skill I had in my arsenal. I kept telling myself that the finish line was not far and I needed to continue to push as hard as possible. I wanted to run my fastest possible race and by this point, it was 99% mental.  These miles clocked in at 7:07, 6:49.

The finish and beyond
After my Garmin buzzed for 4 miles there was still a bit of running to do. 26 seconds at a pace of 6:06, according to my Garmin! During the last mile, I had been closing the gap on my friend Liz, and I really gunned it at the end to finish at almost the exact same time as her. She's extremely fast so the fact that I finished with her means that I must be in excellent shape!

At the end of the race, I kept saying to Greg and to myself, "F*ck the way I feel!" I was so wasted. Everything hurt. I was so hot. Wow. That was definitely a really, really tough race. I'm glad I was able to stay strong!

We dominated the 35-39 age group!
My official time was 28:36, which earned me 2nd place in my age group. Greg and I cooled off and then I got ice cream from the ice cream truck! One of my favorite things about this race is the ice cream at the end. Lisa's friend Tiffany came in 1st in our age group and she came in 3rd, so it was cool that the three of us did a 1-2-3 sweep of the 35-39 age group.

I was really pleased that I ran this race 1 minute and 32 seconds faster than I did last year-- and this year was hotter! This is great news because it means I'm in good shape and the consistent track workouts are still working their magic!

After we got our awards the three of us and our husbands headed to a local brewery for beers and pretzels. My typical bedtime is around 8:30-9:00, so this meant staying up really late. But I had fun, and it was worth it. Part of the fun of racing is the social aspect and it was fun to get to know Tiffany. This morning I cranked out 9.6 miles at a very easy pace of 9:19 and my legs felt decent. I didn't sleep well due to my body being off schedule, so I will probably crash later this afternoon!

My key takeaways from this race are:

  • It's advantageous to stay as cool as possible immediately before the race
  • Heat is deceiving. It doesn't feel hard at first, but then it hits you! What felt like marathon pace at the beginning felt like 5K pace at the end.
  • Shaving 1:32 off of a 4-mile race time in just one year is significant, and points toward a successful fall
  • I'm going to continue to crank out track workouts and be really well prepared for my next two 5Ks in July