Thursday, November 23, 2006

I Trot, therefore I Am.

The alternate title of this blog was "23 Minutes and 32 Seconds of Torture" but I decided to keep it positive.

Today's verdict is that apparently I trot faster than I run. And even though I complain about cold, wet weather, it does wonders for my speed. More motivation for the race to be over, I guess.

I ran the Virginia Run Turkey Trot 5K this morning. There were approximately 2,100 runners, although over 3,000 had registered. The weather, at a brisk 40 degrees, was damp, drizzling and breezy. I wore three layers of clothing on top, a hat, two pairs of gloves, pants and my thickest running socks. Two years ago, you couldn't have paid me enough money to run in this sort of weather.

Before the race began, I told myself that my goal would be to come in under 24:00. I've only run one other 5K and my time was 24:14. At the start line, someone asked me if I was "home from college" for Thanksgiving. That made me smile. "Actually, I'm 28," I replied.

The race started and my internal dialogue went something like this: "This sucks. It's so cold. Ouch, the cold hurts! You can just stop right now. Just walk back to your car and you don't have to finish. Or you can just walk the rest of the way. This hurts. You're running so slow anyway."

After about a mile and a half, I experienced this weird mix of hot and cold. I was really hot on the inside, and yet my skin felt cold. I unzipped my jacket because I was feeling warm in the chest area, and yet I still felt extremely chilly at the same time. It was such an odd sensation to be running in the cold, wind, and rain and have that hot/cold feeling-- all the while trying to be athletic and reach a goal.

There were no mile markers so I had no idea how I was doing. I kept looking at my watch telling myself that I only had to run for about 24 minutes, and the faster I ran, the sooner it would be over. It was just torture, but in a good way. I was exerting myself to the limit and yet it seemed as if I was running extremely slow. I would have estimated a pace of 8:30, when in actuality my pace was 7:35.

I definitely didn't think I would even come close to beating my previous time. But the finish line came about two minutes earlier than expected and I couldn't be happier.
  • I blew my previous time of 24:14 out of the water with a 23:32.
  • I placed 19 out of 299 runners in my division.
  • I placed 68 out of 1021 total women.
  • My pace was 7:35.
  • I shaved 42 seconds off of my personal record from September of this year.
After the race, I went to the gym (which was only a mile away) and had the adrenaline rush to keep running. I ran 7.5 extra miles at an average pace of 8:25. I knew that I would be massively sore tomorrow, like I was from my previous 5K, so I figured I'd better run as much as possible before I would be hindered by my sore muscles.

At the gym, one of the trainers was talking about the race and I joined in the conversation. It turns out that she is running the Miami Half marathon along with some other people from the gym. So that was exciting.

And it won't be a complete race blog without the short but strategic playlist

Nickelback- Rockstar
Incubus- Anna Molly
Jason Mraz- Common Pleasure
Anberlin- Readyfuels
Disturbed- Land of Confusion
Anberlin- Undeveloped Story

I've done my trotting for the day. I'm gonna go have a turkey.

Monday, October 30, 2006

26.2 Miles of Fun

I thoroughly enjoyed running the Marine Corps Marathon yesterday. The weather was perfect, the crowd support was unmatched by anything I'd ever seen at a race, and I felt strong throughout the entire run.

Everything went well. We got there on time, I wasn't too hot or too cold, my iPod didn't break, I had my lucky timing chip. I saw my friends and family where I expected them.

Before the Race
My friend Jenny, who ran the Delaware marathon and lives in Philadelphia, came down to run this race and stayed with me. The day before we carb loaded at the Pasta Mess tent and then had calzones and an "Apple Pie Pizza". If you add the Halloween candy and other snacks on top of that, I probably consumed more food on Saturday than I consumed in an entire week when I had been previously restricting calories. It felt amazing to eat whatever I wanted and not feel guilty about it.

The morning of the race, we took the metro, checked our bags, and walked to the start line. We run at different paces, so we didn't even try to stay together. But knowing that she was running the race along with some other friends made me feel more supported. I also met a really cool girl at the start line who was running her first marathon.

Miles 1-7
I started off wearing two pairs of gloves and a hooded warm-up jacket over my top. I quickly shed the gloves and jacket at mile 1. I ran the first mile in about 11 minutes, but I didn't worry because I knew I could make up the time later. Unlike a 5K or a 10K, if you go really slow at the beginning, you have plenty of miles at the end to compensate. The 2-mile hill at the beginning was not as steep or as bad as I
expected, and the downhill was a nice reward. I saw a shirt that said "I have been Carb loading for 25 years".

By Mile 5, the crowd thinned out and I was able to go at my own pace without having to worry so much about the crowd. I ran the first 5 miles in 52 minutes, and then decided to step up the speed a notch. 

Miles 8-15
These were very strong miles and they went by very quickly. I passed my friend Mehan at mile 11, and she surprised me with a HUGE sign that said "GO ELIZABETH" in big bold colors. It reminded me of when we were in high school and she hand-made me cards for things. Like when I made the dance team or got into UVA. Mehan has always been very supportive of me-- and we actually met when running "the mile" in 9th grade gym class.

I had been predicting a pace of 4:28, so I was really excited to pass the halfway mark at exactly 2:14. I knew that I was running strong, and I told myself "Okay, just repeat exactly what you just did, and you will be fine!"

Miles 16-23
Someone who had run the Marine Corps Marathon before said "running around Hains Point at miles 17-20 is where most people hit the wall. If you can make it through there, you'll be fine." So, I kept telling myself that I would NOT hit a wall running around Hains point, and that I would enjoy being close to the water with the cool breeze. I actually zoned out and even forgot which mile I was on. I asked someone else and she said we were coming up on mile 19. Funny that I hadn't even recalled passing
mile 18.

I became re-energized at mile 20 when there was a timing mat and I realized I was going faster than a 10-minute mile. Every time I passed a mile marker, I looked at my watch, and I held a pace of approximately 10:00 for most of the race. The crowd at this point was extreme and everyone was handing out food and candy. I crossed over the 14th street bridge and into Crystal City, where I knew my mother was standing at mile 23. She later told me that I looked like I was at mile 1 because I was so strong and energized, whereas almost everyone else looked like they were actually at mile 23. I was happy to hear that. She said I made her proud, and that made me so happy. When I passed her, she handed me a bag of skittles, which tasted extremely good.

Miles 24-26.2
My legs really started to hurt at mile 24 and suddenly, I really wanted the race to end. For the first time, I felt like running 2.2 more miles would be impossible. But I told myself that I had come this far, and if I kept running at my pace, I only had to survive 22 more minutes. But if I stopped, the wait would be much longer and I wouldn't be happy with my time. So, I pushed my way through these last few miles. 

Mile 25 was probably the hardest mile of the whole race because the wind was going about 5-10 mph right in my face. I felt like it was making me run in slow motion. I was really, really tempted to stop, but I refused to let myself stop. I reminded myself of the Philly Distance run where those last two miles were so painful, but I just focused on the music, zoned out and went for it. When I saw the finish line, Igot so extremely excited and I made a sprint for it. I looked at my watched and realized that if I sprinted, I could get in under 4:25. So I powered past everyone, all the way to the right hand side of the course, and came in at 4:24:39. It felt awesome to have such a strong finish. 

Interestingly, the VA Beach half marathon took much more out of me than this full marathon. I felt like I was in pure hell for the last 3 miles of the VA Beach half. But then again, the heat was very oppressive and my attitude during the VA Beach half marathon was pessimistic, and I also didn't have my iPod.

After the Race
I thought that the race had been well-organized until the end. Immediately after a marathon, you're supposed to keep walking. But this was impossible because everyone was crowded into such a small space and you couldn't even move. I made it through the food line, and then made my way toward the baggage check to get my things. I found myself on a bridge, packed in like a sardine. People weren't even moving, I was just stuck there.

I met a really nice woman and we started chatting. I didn't like the crowd at all. I felt like I was suffocating and I didn't have my own space to breathe. I don't consider myself to be claustrophobic, and I tolerated this crowd for about 10 minutes. But the longer we stood there without moving, the worse and worse my anxiety got. I calmly told the woman I just met that I thought I was going to have a panic attack. I asked her to please calm me down and re-assure me that there was no reason to panic. But I did anyway. Before I knew it, I was hyperventilating, crying hysterically and having a full-fledged panic attack. My heart was pounding and I couldn't even speak.

Two EMTs came and got me and pushed me through the crowd to an open area. I was still hyperventilating and breathing heavily. It was weird. I just felt like I really, really, needed some of my
own space-- especially after just having run 26.2 miles. The EMT took my pulse. "You have a runner's pulse". He said. "Well, yeah," I replied. I calmed down and the EMTs walked me to the baggage claim area. That was much less crowded and I was fine.

Soon, Jenny came to get her bag, and we headed for the metro station. Eventually, we made it home, and got massages at a spa near me. We treated ourselves to Carvel ice cream, too. What an incredible high and an amazing day.

Mental Challenge
I strongly believe that a marathon is more of a mental challenge than a physical one. All throughout the race, I kept thinking of all the people that were tracking me remotely (Roderick, Sable, Bob, Ekrem, Tara, My Mom, Jenna, Crayton, Michael H. and others) I knew that you all were rooting for me, and that helped push me through.

During the run, I refused to let negative thinking get me down. I simply did not allow myself to feel weak, tired, or un-supported by friends. If I could do that all the time and not let negative thinking get the better of me, I would be a much happier person. I now realize that I do have the power to control my thoughts (and therefore my feelings) so I can prevent myself from having thoughts that are only going to make me feel bad.

Running never ceases to teach me things about myself and my life. That's why I do it.

Motivated by Music
My iPod, more than anything else, was what pushed me forward in this race. I am extremely passionate about music, and I lip synced a lot of the songs, and occasionally even "danced" to them with my arms. I made sure to put the slower songs at the beginning, the upbeat, rhythmic songs in the middle, and the inspirational ones at the end. I created the play list about three weeks before the race so I would be "surprised" by it. There were four songs that I wanted to finish to, but since I came in earlier than I expected, I had to fast forward through a few songs to get to a "finishing song" at mile marker 26. Here is a sampling from my list, in order:

- Whatever I Fear (Toad the Wet Sprocket)
- Start Again (Duncan Sheik)
- Omaha (Counting Crows)
- Not So Usual (Jason Mraz)
- Bad Day (Daniel Powter)
- One Man Army (Our Lady Peace)
- The River (Live)
- Did I Fool Ya? (Jason Mraz)
- Wisemen (James Blunt)
- Steady as She Goes (Raconteurs)
- She Looks To Me (Red Hot Chilli Peppers)
- Concertina (Tori Amos)
- California Justice (Five For Fighting)
- Get Out of this House (Shawn Colvin)
- Perfect Time of Day (Howie Day)
- Million Miles of Water (Red Hot Chilli Peppers)
- Something's Always Wrong (Toad the Wet Sprocket)
- World (Five For Fighting)
- Dream Life of Rand McNally (Jason Mraz)
- Hazy Shade of Winter (The Bangels)
- Especially in Michigan (Red Hot Chilli Peppers)
- Get Another Boyfriend (Backstreet Boys)
- Can't Go For That (Jason Mraz)
- White Shadows (Coldplay)
- Hump De Bump (Red Hot Chilli Peppers)
- Rockstar (Nickleback)
- So Long Jimmy (James Blunt)
- Nos De Cariad (David Gray)
- Common Pleasure (Jason Mraz) Played this one TWICE
- Sofia (Live)
- Did You Get My Message (Jason Mraz)
- Paralyzed (Rock Kills Kid)
- NYC Weather Report (Five for Fighting)
- The Zephyr Song (Red Hot Chilli Peppers)
- Square One (Coldplay)
- Wordplay (Jason Mraz)
- Stall (Better Than Ezra)
- Had Enough (Breaking Benjamin)
- Turn it Again (Red Hot Chilli Peppers)
- Headstrong (Trapt)
- Policeman's Xmas Party (Five For Fighting)
- The Distance (Live)
- Geek in the Pink (Jason Mraz)
- By The Way (Red Hot Chilli Peppers)
- In The Blood (Better Than Ezra)
- On a High (Duncan Sheik)
- Through Glass (Stone Sour)

Saturday, September 30, 2006

First 5K, Won an Award

It was a spur-of-the moment decision to run a 5K this morning. On Thursday, I had registered for the "Women of Freedom" 5K in Washington because I thought it was for a good cause- helping victims of domestic abuse. But I had a rough Thursday and Friday, with very little food and sleep, so when I woke up this morning, I figured I should stay in bed rather than get dressed to arrive in DC for an 8:00am race in the cold. My entry fee still went to a good cause.

I had noticed, however, that there was another 5K which was only two miles from my house, that started at 9:00am (The Navy Federal Credit Union 5K). Much more manageable, and I figured the weather would be a tad warmer. So, I checked to see if they had race-day registration and they did. I was even able to use my own Champion Chip!

I arrived at the race at 7:45, registered, and then went to Starbucks for a small cup of coffee and half a scone. I've read that a little bit of coffee is a good idea before a short race. And it was rather cold outside, too, so a warm drink was just what I needed. I'd never had a Starbucks scone before, so it was a morning of firsts.

I arrived back at the race with plenty of time to use the bathroom, stretch and warm-up. I had never run a 5K before, and I didn't have high expectations of myself for this one. I hadn't eaten hardly anything for the past two days and I was severely sleep deprived. It was also very chilly and I was wearing shorts and a thin long-sleeved top. A recipe for catching a cold (but I hope I don't!).

The race started and I didn't really have a "strategy" because I've never done a 5K before. I had nothing to learn from. So I just ran as fast as I could. I was annoyed that I had to stop for 10 seconds to tie my shoe with numb hands during the first mile, but I had no choice. I passed a time clock that read 7:30, but I didn't see a mile marker, so I thought the time clock was just placed there for no particular reason. If I had to guess my pace, it would have been 8:20. The second mile was harsh. There were quite a few hills- although none of them very steep. I passed the 2-mile marker at 15:45, and realized that I was going faster than an 8:00 pace! I was shocked because I felt like a snail-- maybe 8:30 at best! I was so cold and I felt like the chill was paralyzing. I could even see my breath. But the clock time encouraged me to keep going.

Mile three was interesting because we ran on an unpaved trail, through the woods for part of it. I've never run any part of a race on an unpaved course. We also ran up a small flight of stairs, which I found comical, for some reason. And part of the course was on the W&OD trail, which is where I do my long runs. I was rewarded at the end because the last half mile of the race had some downward hills and no uphills. I was flying. After I passed the 3 mile mark, I sprinted the last 0.1 at about a 6:40 pace, finishing at 24:14, a pace of 7:48.

Afterwards, I saw a guy that I had known in college. He had dated one of my sorority sisters and I had dated his brother for a few weeks. It was interesting to catch up with him. "Did you run the Zeta 5K in college"? He asked me. "No," I replied. "I was WAY lazy in college. I didn't even like to walk to class!" I was about to leave, but then the guy I had just met said he wanted to check his score. I didn't care too much about mine, because I used my watch and I knew my time, but I went with him to see his.

I couldn't find my name anywhere, but that's because I was looking too far down on the sheet. I was shocked that I placed 7 overall (out of 164 women) and 2 in my age group (out of 28). I honestly felt like there were so many people ahead of me, and I was such a slow poke. I didn't feel like I was running strong at all--I felt like the cold weather was just zapping me. So, I figured I would stick around for the awards ceremony, because I was actually in it. They called my name and I went up to be recognized and it was really cool. I even got to hug the Navy mascot!

It was a fun race, and a definite ego boost. The past three days have been pretty rough on me, so this is exactly what I needed. It felt great to win an award when it was my first time ever running a 5K

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Philadelphia Distance Run

I ran my 4th half marathon today, the second in a series of two for the month of September. It was the Philadelphia Distance Run, and I was running the race with some of my friends.

A few months ago, I had responded to the "Tell Us Your Story" request e-mail with a dramatically written (but true) version of my "story". They told me they were going to feature me in the race program and they asked me to submit a picture. I was pleasantly surprised to see that they actually did publish my story and photo, along with the stories of about six other runners:

I had a much more positive attitude about this race than the Virginia Beach half marathon. This race was more about fun and friends. I was well rested for this race, except if you consider the fact that I had run a half marathon just two weeks prior, and may not have been fully recovered. It apparently takes 3 weeks to recover from a half marathon, but I felt completely ready to run the race this morning.

In between the races, I had done some short tempo runs, at a pace of about 8:20. I was aiming for a race pace of 8:50, which I thought was very possible.

This race was identical to the VA Beach half. They are organized by the same company, so I felt like I was running the exact same race, but with different scenery. Everything from how the packet-pickup and expo was arranged to how they handled the start and finish. They even used the exact same corral signs. It was a weird sense of deja vu.

The first thing I noticed was that the runners at the expo on Saturday seemed more experienced than those at the VA Beach race. At VA Beach, many people were running their first half, and it seemed to be a huge deal for them. At this race, many people seemed to have the attitude that running a half marathon wasn't a big deal. And it was obvious that most people had run in long distance races before.

During the VA Beach race, I felt like I was a little bit ahead of the main crowd. At mile 3, I could pretty much run at my own pace without trying to squeeze my way through people. At the race this morning, I felt like I was in the middle of the main crowd, and I didn't have my own "space" until about mile 6. I think that the crowd contributed to the fact that I went out slower than expected.

I typically like to start races slower than I finish them, but similar to a 10K I ran in June, I was going slower than I thought I was, and didn't pass the 5k marker until 28:57, which was slower than the VA Beach half. I didn't pass the 10K marker until 56:59-- also slower than the previous race. My split times for 5K and 10K were 28:32 and 56:32. Not a huge difference between the two races, but I felt much stronger this morning than I did at the other half marathon, so I was surprised to see that I ran the first half of today's race slower than the first half of the VA Beach race. But as I said earlier, I attribute some of that to the crowd and not being able to run quite as fast as I would have liked. 

The course was really beautiful. The first four miles were in the city of Philadelphia. I haven't been to Philadelphia in over 15 years, so I had totally forgotten what it was like. The weather was nice, but the sun was extremely bright, and shining directly in my face for part of the first 4 miles. The last 9 miles are run around a river, and it was very scenic, and thankfully shaded in many parts.

As I approached mile 7, I reminded myself that this was where I started to really slow down two weeks ago, so I told myself to stay strong. I ate my Jelly Belly Sports beans at mile 8, and I realized that I really do NOT like the lemon/lime flavor. I had used that flavor before on a training run, but for some reason they tasted better on the training run. It was really difficult for me to eat them because the taste was so gross, but I ate about 2/3 of the pack and threw the rest away.

I felt strong when I crossed the 10 mile mat. My time was 1:31:35, a huge contrast to the 1:34:57 that I did two weeks ago. It was at that point when I "gave up" on the VA Beach race, and I vowed I would not

give up this time. I did get really tired and the last two miles were not shaded. It took every positive thought I had to keep running and resist the temptation to walk. I was staring at my watch, just counting the seconds until I would cross the finish line. At VA Beach, you can see the finish line from almost a mile away. For this race, you couldn't see it until you were at mile 13. Not very motivating.

I had my iPod with me, which I was not using in VA Beach, and it really helped. I had strategically chosen songs for the last two miles that would be impossible to walk to because they are so energized and powerful (playlist below). I pushed myself as hard as physically possible those last two miles and finished with a time of 2:00:50. 25 seconds slower than my Personal Record, which I am kinda bummed about, but a huge improvement from the previous half marathon. I would just love to get in under 2:00 one of these days. Even a 1:59:59 would be nice.

I placed 4296 overall, out of 11,060 total finishers. Interestingly, I placed 4926 at VA Beach, out of 16,136 finishers. My observation that the Philly runners were faster is obviously true, because even though I ran this race faster, my ranking compared to the total amount of runners was in a lower percentile. Afterwards, I met up with my friends, where we congratulated each other on the race: 

All in all, a great weekend, and I will write a blog about my day on Saturday when I get the photos to go with it! 


James Blunt- So Long Jimmy
Jason Mraz- Right Kind of Phrase
Live- Show
Red Hot Chili Peppers- Turn It Again
Tori Amos- Concertina
Anberlin- Glass to the Arson
Jason Mraz- Did I Fool Ya?
Red Hot Chili Peppers- Hump De Bump
James Blunt- Wisemen
Boyz II Men- Motown Philly (appropriate!)
Nine Days- So Far Away
Jason Mraz- Can't Go For That
Breaking Benjamin- Had Enough
Better Than Ezra- Still Life with Cooley
Live- Sofia
Jason Mraz- Did you Get My Message
Coldplay- Square One

Friday, September 8, 2006

13.1-Mile Training Run

For some reason, I've had a great deal of anxiety regarding the Virginia Beach Half Marathon. I ran it last year, and was very happy with my time of 2:00, but this year I was obsessed with beating it by several minutes. Since I ran this race last year, I have run two 10Ks, a 10-miler, another half-marathon and a full marathon. I trained harder for the race this year than last, and I felt much more prepared.

About two weeks ago I had a dream that I arrived at the race without my timing chip. (I had purchased the $35 VA Beach Souvenir timing chip last year to use in all my races). I also dreamt that I arrived too late to the race and encountered all sorts of strange obstacles. I've had many eerily predictive dreams in the past, but I have anxiety dreams more frequently, so I thought these dreams about the race were simply my anxiety.

I was very careful to pack my timing chip and bring it with me. I arrived at my friend's house at around noon yesterday, and then she drove us to the packet pickup, which was a 20-minute drive. Upon arrival, I realized that I had left my chip at her house so it couldn't be scanned in and used to identify me. I didn't want to make her drive all the way back for it, so I just used a rental trip. I know this doesn't sound like a big deal-- my race was still timed. But that's my "lucky" chip and I wanted to use it in all the major races I ran. I was extremely frustrated at myself for having made such a special effort to remember to pack it, only to leave it at my friends house.

That night, I got about 3 hours of light sleep. I tossed and turned all night, and had even more anxiety dreams about missing the race. The previous night, I had only gotten 4 hours, so I was really worried about running 13.1 miles on only 7 hours of sleep for the past two nights.

I woke up at 3:15 and couldn't fall back asleep, so I could have easily left my friend's house at 4:00 or 4:30. However, I didn't think I needed to leave her place until around 5:15. So I waited until 5:15 to leave, thinking I would have plenty of time. We were not allowed to park at the start line. We had to park at a satellite lot that was about 25 minutes away from the start line and 20 minutes away from my friend's house.

Instead of taking 20 minutes to drive to the parking lot, it took me over an hour. The traffic was backed up for miles and was moving extremely slowly. There were no police officers directing traffic, so we were at the mercy of lights that remained red for 30 seconds, let 5 cars in on a green, and then were red again for 30 seconds. I was getting nervous that I wouldn't arrive to the race on time.

I had planned to get there early so I could stretch out, go to the bathroom, and maybe have half a bagel. But instead I was stuck in my car for an hour and my back was killing me as my foot kept switching from the brake to the accelerator every five seconds.

It was 6:25 when I stepped on the shuttle bus, and we were dropped off at 6:50, just ten minutes before the start of the race. My first stop was the "gear check" where, as the name implies, you check your stuff and they drive it to the finish line. I had my car keys with me, my cell phone, and my comfortable sandals to wear after the race. When I got there, they informed me and the rest of the people from my shuttle bus that it was too late to check our bags, and we would have to leave them in a pile at the start line (which was over a mile away from the finish line). So, I left my driver's license, keys, cell phone, and sandals in a big pile of bags, not knowing if they would be supervised.

I had planned to call my friend who I was staying with when I finished the race, but that would now be

impossible. With five minutes until start time, and the lines at the porta-potties extremely long, I didn't think I'd have time to go to the bathroom. And I really needed to go because I had drank an entire bottle of water in my car. So, I waited anyway, and by the time I got out of the bathroom and arrived to the starting area, the race had started, but luckily my "corral" group hadn't crossed the start line yet. Forget stretching out.

And so I ran the race on only three hours of sleep, without having stretched, without my lucky timing chip, and after having spent over an hour sitting in stop-and-go traffic. The weather was nice and sunny, but it was much hotter than last year-- I would guess about 10 degrees warmer, making me extremely exhausted by mile 7, and completely demotivating me. I was trying to average a pace of 8:50, and I was on track to do that until about mile 7, when the course went for a long time without being shaded and the sun was bearing down on me.

I finished the race, but I am too embarrassed to write my time. (Edited to add, years later, I ran a time of 2:06:41). I am proud to have finished 1,834 out of 9,123 women, but I still fared much better last year. I don't see myself as competing with others-- just myself. I was extremely disappointed and depressed. It didn't even feel good to cross the finish line-- I just hated myself by that point. At mile 10, I realized that I would not be able to beat my 2:00, so I stopped caring.

I decided to chalk the whole thing up to a "training run" for the Philadelphia half marathon I am running in two weeks. At least I have a chance to redeem myself. After the race, there was no transportation back to the start line, so I decided to walk about a mile to my other friend's house (she lives just one block from the beach). I had taken off my running shoes and was wearing the free sandals they give you at the finish line which were 4 sizes too big for me. I was carrying my running shoes in the bag that the sandals came in and as I passed a garbage can I had this urge to just throw my running shoes in the trash and say "fuck it".

I obviously couldn't call the friend whose house I was walking to or the friend who I was staying with, since my phone was in a bag at the start line. Thankfully, this friend who lives on the beach drove me to the start line where I retrieved my bag and found all of my belongings safe and sound. I immediately ditched the size 9 sandals they gave me at the finish line for my normal size 5 comfy sandals and breathed a sigh of relief.

She then drove me 20 minutes back to the parking lot, where it took me awhile to locate my car (remembering the location of my car wasn't exactly top of mind this morning as I panicked about making the race on time). I drove back to my other friend's house, showered and then drove home.

I'm still really depressed about the whole situation. I trained really hard for this race and followed all the "rules" for tapering, eating right, etc. I made sure I had plenty of time to get to the race, but I didn't predict an hour's worth of traffic to get to a parking lot. A former boss of mine told me that he once ran a marathon in 3:59, and he's run four since then, but has never managed to beat the 3:59. I worry that I won't ever beat my 2:00, and for some reason, this is very important to me. I do have the chance to redeem myself in two weeks, but considering I really exerted myself today, I am not sure I will be fully recovered enough to put my full effort in. At the very least this race will have yielded some nice photos.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Runner's High

Running plays a major role in my life, and increasingly so over the past year. I began running as a way to get in shape and I ran mainly on a treadmill. Ever since I began racing, running has become much more to me than a form of exercise.

My general interest in exercise began shortly after I graduated college as a way to set measurable, attainable goals and meet them. Running does this for me, but there are many other elements that go into it. 

Letting off steam/anxiety: Running is a great way to clear my head by focusing less on my racing thoughts and more on my body. It provides a physical release and I am much more relaxed and de-stressed after a run. Yesterday, I felt anxious for most of the day. I was just sitting at home while the painters worked on my foyer and bathroom and I was extremely antsy. By the time they left and I was ready to go workout, I felt as if I didn't know what to do with myself. It was like I had to run. 

Runner's High: Runner's high is very noticeable to me after about 5 or 6 miles. When I am at mile 3, I don't see how I am ever going to complete all the miles that I set out to run. But once that "high" sets in, I feel like I am just coasting along on autopilot. It's an empowering feeling and "high" is probably the best term for it. I feel like nothing else in the world matters, and that I am strong enough to handle anything.

Setting and attaining goals: I am a very driven, goal-oriented person so I thrive on setting goals and meeting them. As soon as one is accomplished, I am on to the next. It provides me with a "high" that makes me feel like I am living up to my full potential.

Feeling the music: Running helps me feel the music. If it weren't for my iPod or some other way of listening to music, I don't think I would enjoy running nearly as much, if at all. I used to be a dancer and my favorite thing about dance was how I "Felt" the music. I don't feel it as much with running because the movement is constant and not varied or expressive as it is with dance. But when the endorphins kick in and I am listening to a song I love, I feel a sense of being "in" the music. It's hard to top that sensation.

Weight control: I admit that one of the things I like about running is that it prevents me from gaining an excess of weight. I know that I am going to burn a significant amount of calories each day, so I feel freer to eat. On the other hand, I enjoy running so much, that I know I will give myself enough food and nourishment to fuel my runs.

It sometimes seems as if there is no problem that can't be made easier (at least for awhile) by running. While I am happy that I have found something I am so passionate about, at the same time, I am worried that I am too reliant on it for a sense of well-being. What if I got injured? What if I couldn't run anymore? When I had the flu for the first two weeks of this year, I couldn't run and I was an emotional and physical wreck. I would be devastated. I'm often worried about tripping and spraining an ankle, or hurting my back.

When the painters were here, I was worried that inhaling the paint fumes would affect my performance. It would only take one second-- one small thing to injure me so that I couldn't run. And then what would I do? Would I still be motivated to eat healthy? Would I be anxious and/or depressed? What would I do when I automatically wake up at 4:30am (naturally, without an alarm)?

I know I'm not a professional runner and that there is much more to my life than this. But it's something I do almost everyday and I think about it a great deal. I'm always thinking about my next run, my next race, my goal pace and time, what running gear I need to buy, etc. It's fun, but it's on the verge of obsessive.

However, I have heard that many runners have this mentality. So maybe I'm not that crazy after all! In order to commit yourself to training for a marathon or just running everyday, you need to incorporate it into your lifestyle and your thought processes. 

Maybe because with running, it's just me, and no one else. With my career, my romantic relationships, and almost everything else, there are always other people. And I find it hard to stay fully connected to myself. As I learn more about myself and become stronger in my self-awareness, maybe this won't be the case. But for now, I need something to hold onto that doesn't involve or depend on other people. Not to say I don't like other people and that I am an introvert-- in fact I consider myself very much of an extrovert. But running is something that is mine and mine alone.

That said, I polished off 12 miles on the W&OD trail this morning. The weather was beautiful and my run was strong. I only stopped to walk for about 30 seconds, so I feel very prepared for the half marathon in three weeks. I had put 15 new songs into my iPod Shuffle (which holds 250 songs) and I must have scrolled through every song on there before I even got to one of the new songs! I finished to Home by Live, a song off of their latest CD. The CD isn't all that great, but that song is amazing and I sprinted the last half mile to it. 

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Half Marathon: Hot, Hot Hot!

I ran the International Peace Half Marathon this morning in Alexandria, VA. This was definitely the most challenging race I have ever run, for the following reasons:
  • The heat and humidity
  • The hills
  • The lack of crowd support and the small number of runners 
  • The absence of mile markers
I ran the first half in just under 1:00. There were no mile markers, but there was a turn-around halfway through the course, so I knew I was half done by that point. I started out very strong. I think I was running a 9:00 pace, possibly even a bit faster. The amount of hills surprised me on the way out because the race director said the course was "mainly flat with two notable hills". I would say that 50 percent of the course was flat, 30 percent was slight hills and 20 percent was steep hills.

I was going strong for the first half, but I knew that going back would be difficult because of the heat and humidity. I was right-- the heat and humidity really slowed me down. The course was described as "completely shaded", and I would say that it was about 75 percent shaded. On the way back, the sun was shining directly into my face and it was nearly impossible to run. I would guess that the air temperature was in the low 80's, but it felt more like 90 with the humidity. It felt nearly 10 degrees cooler in the shaded areas.

It was such a notable difference that I had to walk during most of the sunny areas on the way back. I've never hit a "wall" during a race, but I certainly did this morning. I hit the wall at around mile 8. Miles 8 and 9 were a combination of run/walk, and then I resumed my pace at around mile 10. These miles are all approximations because there were no mile markers! Mile markers are always my saviors during races. I tell myself, "just get to the next mile marker, that's you goal for right now", and I didn't even have that, or the satisfaction of passing the miles as they came.

A major component of running a long race like this is the mental challenge. Without mile markers, it was very hard to keep myself motivated. Additionally, there was no crowd support. Even the finish line only had about 5 people standing there. Crowd support is extremely important because it provides accountability. It's really hard to stop and walk if there are tons of people cheering you along. It was always nice to go through a water station because the people there were cheering me on!

Even though I had to walk through parts of mile 8 and 9, I did a damn good job for running a race in that kind of heat, with all those hills, and without my motivators. My time was 2:05:40. I didn't have a goal time for this race, so I was very happy with that time. When I was at mile 8, I thought I would be lucky to finish under 2:10. I really pushed myself for the last three miles and I didn't stop once I got past the "wall". So, even though I am not particularly proud of my time, I think it's great considering the race conditions. I am very proud of the effort I put forth.

I was speaking to one of my friends on the phone this afternoon and I told him that this time was over 5 minutes slower than my previous half marathon (which was flat, had no humidity, with mile markers and 10's of thousands of people watching). His response to my time of 2:05 was "so you don't want to kill yourself because of that?" WTF?! Yes, I am usually very hard on myself if I don't get good race times, but with race conditions like these, I can't possibly be hard on myself for not beating my other half marathon time.

One of the things I liked best about this race was that it made me feel like a "real" runner. I talked a little about that in a previous blog entry. This was a race of about 300 people. It wasn't publicized, so you had to be following race calendars to know about it. It's not like the VA Beach half marathon where everyone knows about it and it's many people's first and only half marathon. I'll bet almost everyone who ran today has already run a half marathon and most of them have probably run full marathons. It was hard core-- no mile markers, no crowd, no timing chips, no splits. Just the course (which was shared with bikers because the trail wasn't blocked off for the race) and the runners. I think I saw someone taking photos, and if that's the case, I'll post mine when they get posted.

I probably finished in the lower half, whereas in larger races, I usually finish in the top 20-25 percent. Simply because I was running with people who are really amazing runners.

My main challenge in this race was fatigue. The sun and the hills were really exhausting me. The good news is that I had no pain! No pain in my legs, feet or hips! In the full marathon, my hips started to kill me at mile 5. A few hours after I finished, some calf pain kicked in and I am sure I will be feeling this tomorrow. But at least there was no pain during the race, just fatigue. The exact opposite of the full marathon, where I had loads of pain, but a low level of fatigue.

Afterwards, I was very close to passing out. I kept seeing black spots, so I kept having to sit down, drink gatorade and eat. I felt like I drank plenty of water, I had my Jelly Belly Sports Beans with me (which I ate at mile 7), but I guess the heat just really got to me. I felt this same way after a 21-mile training run last April.

iPod Playlist (made exclusively for this race):
1. Toad the Wet Sprocket- Fly From Heaven
2. Daniel Powter- Bad Day
3. Backstreet Boys- Get Another Boyfriend
4. Goo Goo Dolls- Here is Gone
5. Bangels- Hazy Shade of Winter
6. Jason Mraz- Did I Fool Ya?
7. Better Than Ezra- King of New Orleans
8. Duncan Sheik- Start Again
9. Breaking Benjamin- Diary of Jane
10. Toad the Wet Sprocket- P.S.
11. Raconteurs- Steady as She Goes 
12. Coldplay- Square One
13. Gorillaz- Dare
14. James Blunt- So Long Jimmy
15. Eddie Money- Take me Home Tonight
16. Frou Frou- Let Go
17. Red Hot Chilli Peppers- Especially in Michigan
18. James Blunt- Wise Men
19. Jimmy Eat World- If You Don't Don't
20. Lauren Christy- My Jeans, I Want Them Back 
21. Red Hot Chilli Peppers- Save the Population
22. Jason Mraz- Wordplay 
23. Anberlin- Readyfuels 

Monday, May 22, 2006

I ran a marathon!

I ran my first marathon yesterday. What an amazing rush! It was by far one of the best and most memorable experiences of my life.

I woke up at around 5:00 and started the day with a chocolate chip bagel. I got dressed in my racing clothes, double and triple checked that I had everything I needed and headed out of the hotel. I was well equipped with two iPods clipped to my shorts (in case one died), three packs of Jelly Belly sports beans, and a spare pair of headphones for John to hold in case mine died.

Music is so critical for me, that I can't bear to be without it even for a few minutes. The iPod Nano was set to go with a strategically arranged playlist of slower songs at the beginning and faster, energized songs at the end.

The marathon was 4 loops. The first loop was 7.3 miles and the others were 6.3 each. There were water stations at every mile, and the main crowd was gathered around the start/finish line. There were 600 runners, which is much smaller than any of the races I have ever run.

My friend Jenny, who I had met through an online discussion forum, was also running the race. In fact,
it was Jenny who found the race and suggested that I run it. We were both first-timers and had "virtually" trained together on our discussion forum. We didn't plan on running together because we needed to keep our own pace, and I wouldn't be able to talk to her with my iPod anyway.

The gun went off and I crossed the start line. I was wearing a stop watch so I could monitor my pace and time throughout the race. During the first loop, everything was new. The thought of having to see these exact same things 3 more times though, was a bit daunting. My fingers were numb for the first two miles, but it got warmer during the loop and I threw my jacket to John when I passed him after the loop. 

The biggest challenge during the first loop was watching everyone pass me. I knew the pace I had to keep (slower in the beginning), and I knew I wanted to walk for one minute after each mile marker. Everyone was wizzing by me and I felt so slow. But I tried my best to ignore the other runners, and remind myself that I would probably be passing many of them at the end. Another challenge was the mile markers. They were staggered throughout the course, since the first lap made it so you'd reach different markers at various points (ie, you didn't see a sign for miles 5, 12, and 19 as one sign... it was staggered by .2 miles or so). So the challenge was being on mile 4 and seeing signs for mile 23.

I was trying to just focus on getting to mile-marker 5, but then I saw markers for all these really high numbers, and it was nerve-wracking. My strategy throughout the race was to keep an even pace that was slower in the beginning and faster in the end. And to focus only on the immediate goal of getting to the next mile marker.

Toward the end, seeing a mile-marker was a gift from God. When I came upon mile marker 25, I wantedto hug the sign! Instead of one big goal of 26.2 miles, I had 27 individual goals, so the "high" of accomplishing something lasted the entire race.

My hips started to hurt at mile 5. This worried me quite a bit. Usually when I run, my hips hurt the most but the pain doesn't kick in until 10-12 miles. I was in excruciating pain by mile 8, and I didn't think I'd be able to continue on for the rest of the race. It was a shame because everything else was perfect. My feet didn't hurt, my knees and shins were perfect. I was extremely energized and spirited. And yet, I had a really awful pain in my hips. I probably need to work on my stride. I always assumed I got this pain because the trail I train on is slanted. But this course was flat and the pain came much earlier than expected. So, most of the race was run in an extreme amount of pain, but that didn't prevent me from enjoying the experience.

My music kept me going and my determination to run the marathon was powerful. The hardest parts where running through the ghetto areas of Wilmington. Part of the lap was on the Riverfront and it was beautiful. There were a few bands and people cheering us on. But after that first mile, there were few people cheering us on and we were running through alleys and boring neighborhoods. It was so hard to find motivation to run quickly when the environment isn't stimulating.

Since it was a relatively small race, at times, there were no runners around me or even in sight! On the first lap I wondered if I wasn't the very last person in this race! Those were the hardest times. I felt like I was running all alone. I think I prefer a smaller race to a larger one, but having people cheer you on really does contribute to the motivation and adrenaline rush. I think my fastest mile was mile 20. I had run a sluggish and painful mile 19, but then I passed the start/finish line, got psyched up and sprinted. I was so full of energy and the pain in my hips didn't stop me from running really fast. It felt like I was running an 8:20 mile for mile 20, and then I slowed down when I reached 21.

I didn't hit the so-called "wall" but the pain became more and more unbearable as I reached the finish line. Instead of a steady pace, I switched to sprinting and walking. I was highly energized, so it made sense to sprint rather than run slowly, because the pain wasn't worse at faster speeds. So, the last 3 miles were a sprint-walk-sprint-walk.

Throughout the race, I wasn't concerned with my time. My goal was to finish. So, I did what I needed to do to take care of myself during the run. I stopped to tighten my shoelaces three times. I stopped to go to the bathroom. I walked while I was drinking water. Not to say I had a "leisurely" attitude-- but I did my best to stay comfortable and I decided I would sacrifice an outstanding time to run a smooth and enjoyable race.

When I came upon mile marker 26 (which I had passed three times at this point) I realized that I was still not in sight of the crowd. How ridiculous! Here I am at mile 26 and there is no one watching! So, I sprinted the remaining 0.2 miles and crossed the finish line. According to John, I was the most spirited and most excited person to cross. I had a huge smile on my face, and I was singing to the Jason Mraz song on my iPod. My time was 4:46:09.

Although I achieved my goal of finishing, I was predicting a finish time closer to 4:30, based on past race results of my half marathon and 10-miler. But those races didn't have the hip pain that I experienced. When I run the Marine Corps in October, I will have a goal of 4:30.

Jenny, my friend who ran this marathon with me, finished about 10 minutes later, and she's registered
for the Marine Corps, too. Of course, there is Dane-- the guy who runs a marathon EVERY weekend for charity. He was there (although he lapped me!) and finished with a time of 3:13. It was nice having two people that I knew on the race with me.

Crossing the finish line was such a high! I still had enormous amounts of energy and I was so proud to be wearing the finisher's medal. I had trouble walking, but I was too happy to care. I really wish my hips hadn't hurt so bad during the race. My spirits were so high, the weather was perfect, I was well-hydrated, I had plenty of energy all throughout the run. In fact, my sister called me a few hours later, expected me to sound exhausted. But I was bubbly and bursting with excitement. I was surprised at my energy, level too. I was really exhausted after each of my long training runs, and I expected I'd be exhausted after this too.

On the car ride home, I was acting like an over-energized 6-year-old. Runner's high is a real thing! Especially when combined with crossing the finish line of your first marathon. I was so bouncy and I was acting all silly. I had the urge to jump out of the car and run all the way home. Hitting the DC-area traffic jam brought me back down pretty quickly, as you can probably imagine. 

Today I am walking with a limp and a BenGay patch, but it's much better than yesterday. Here are the results: 
Time: 4:46:09 
 Pace: 10:56 (seems so slow! I was expecting 10:30) 
 Division place: 15/19 
 Gender place: 110/171 

Not bad for my first one! 

Lap 1 (7.3 miles) 1:19:36
Lap 2 (6.3 miles) 1:08:34
Lap 3 (6.3 miles) 1:08:16
Lap 4 (6.3 miles) 1:10:28

I keep a steady pace! I would have kept it better the last two miles if my hips didn't hurt so damn bad. A fantastic day in every respect. Special thanks to those of you who have supported me throughout this.