So I’m not superhuman

My training for the OAT Run trail half marathon has gone really well. I’ve been running lots of hills and getting in plenty of unpaved trail time. I’ve been delighted by how much stronger and faster I’m becoming on hills — I can run a few miles up a steep trail without having to walk or stop! I can really feel the difference in my hill strength as a result of all the hilly runs and bike rides I’ve been doing.

So yesterday I set out to do 11 miles on the Adventure Trail. I had planned that this would be my last really long trail run before the race on 4/26.

There was rain in the forecast that hadn’t happened yet. The rain started right about the time I started running. Mud puddles quickly formed. Eventually large sections of the trail began to resemble a small stream. I slowed down and watched my footing more carefully, but I was feeling great so I kept bounding along.

At 10.3 miles I was congratulating myself on my awesomeness. In that brief lapse of focus I stumbled over a rock and went down hard. I got up slowly, marveling at the mud all over myself. The damage seemed to be limited to a few abrasions on my forearms and knees and a small cut on my chin. But my left shoulder was a bit sore.

I ran the last bit back to the car where my friend, who’d ridden the trail on his bike, was waiting for me. By the time I got home my left shoulder was becoming extremely sore. It was all I could do to get out of my wet, muddy clothes and into the shower.

I had a full range of motion in my left arm, so I didn’t think I’d done anything to warrant a trip to the emergency room. However, during the evening my pain-free range of motion got smaller and smaller. There was no swelling or bruising, but eventually I could barely move my left shoulder at all.

So this morning I went to my doctor’s office, where they immediately sent me to the emergency room. The X-rays revealed a “closed fracture of the left proximal humerus.” It’s a small chip at the very top of my arm bone where it meets the shoulder. You can’t put a cast in that spot, so I’m in a sling. I’ll be in that sling for 4-6 weeks. No running. No bike riding. I’m left handed, so I’m currently typing very slowly with my right hand and wondering how I’m going to feed myself.

I am extremely disappointed to miss the trail race and other upcoming planned activities. But I’m trying to be okay with all of this. I sat in the ER waiting room this morning surrounded by overweight people with weak, tired bodies. I’d much rather injure myself in the pursuit of health and vigor than succumb to diseases of inactivity. I will heal. My knees will appreciate a few weeks of rest. I’ll keep up the daily activity with walks around town.

I’m not superhuman, but I’m strong. I’m stubborn and determined, and I love to run. I’ll look forward to running another NODM half marathon in June!

 

 

 

 

I’m back in training mode — yippee!

Gosh, it’s been too long since I last posted here! After my big push to complete 1,000 running miles in 2013, it’s been nice to dial down the intensity just a bit, so there really hasn’t been much running activity to write about.

So far this year I’ve been enjoying the opportunity to simply run — as much or as often as I feel like — with no particular goals in mind. It’s a good time of year to be relatively fallow. January and the first half of February were unusually dry, but very cold. Then in mid-February the rain started, and it essentially hasn’t stopped raining since then. Think I’m exaggerating? In the 37 days since February 10, we’ve had over  8.50 inches of rain (about a third of our annual average), and we’ve had measurable rain on all but 7 of those days.

On a rainy, windy day with the temperature in the mid 40s, I have to talk myself into going out to run. Once I finally get out there, however, it’s usually easier to keep going. Therefore, most of my “casual” runs lately have ended up as 8 to 11 milers. An enduring benefit of my marathon training last year is that I still think of a 9 mile run as sort of a fitness baseline. I can knock it out in an hour and a half, no big deal.

Knowing that, I’ve allowed myself to be casual about training for upcoming spring races. I have no real concerns about my ability to run 13.1 miles on any given day. I’ve racked up over 200 running miles so far this year in this no-stress way.

But suddenly it’s mid-March and my trail half marathon is less than six weeks away! While I know I can go the distance, I have done very little trail running over the past year. I’d like to go out and run the trail on which the race will be held, but due to the stormy weather it has been plagued with downed trees (recently as many as 160 down at one time), to say nothing of mud. I confess… I haven’t run that trail even once this year.

I took this photo during a hike (not a run) on a different trail, but the same principle applies — when a landslide obliterates the trail, it’s a good idea to turn around. It’s hard to tell the scale from the image, but this slide was over 20 feet across.

Until conditions improve on my race trail, I’m improvising a training plan. I’m focusing on running hills, and throwing in bits and piece of local off-pavement trails whenever I can. Fortunately my immediate neighborhood is very hilly, so I don’t have to go far to do that sort of training. The other day I ran almost three miles straight up the road from my house, climbing over 850 feet, and then dove into the forest to return via a trail that was not TOO muddy. Now my plan is to adopt that route as one of my regular weekly runs, adding to the mileage and incorporating more of the trail as I go. Eventually I’ll get out there on that race trail — for sure I’ll get out there on race day!

So I’m optimistic about my upcoming race, and not stressing out about it — much. It’s my first trail half marathon, so it’s a guaranteed PR, right? I know I’ll be a couple of minutes per mile slower on dirt/mud/rocks/roots than I am on pavement. So I expect to amble in somewhere around the 2:45 mark, stuffed chock-full of wonderful endorphins. Then I’ll hoist my post-race beer with heartiness and glee.

What could possibly go wrong?

One step at a time!

1000+ miles

It took me all the way down to the wire, but with my run this morning I hit 1,001.14 miles for 2013. Now I plan to welcome 2014 with a few days of rest from running (but not from biking or walking). In a week or so, I’ll be doing my annual trip down to Santa Barbara, where I always make sure to spend some time running barefoot on the beach.

2013 was a very big year for me in terms of running goals — two half marathons, my first full marathon, a big 10K PR, and the very elusive 1000 miles. I don’t expect to run so many miles in 2014, but that’s because I have other big goals — a lot more cycling and hiking!

I can’t wait to get started! How about you? Happy New Year!

Finally an OFFICIAL sub-60 10K

The Port Angeles Rain Deer Run was only a “fun run” but I took it seriously. There was an official starting line. There was a starter, who sent us off with a wailing siren. There were course workers. There was a clock at the finish, and I watched the seconds tick as I approached the finish line. Best of all, there were gender/age class medals, and I earned one!

Since we all seem to be obsessed this week with taking “selfies,” I couldn’t resist posing for my iPhone before the start. As one of the first 50 registered runners, I was given antlers when I checked in. I proudly perched them on top of my Santa hat.

There were maybe 100 runners in all, about two-thirds of whom were running or walking the 5K. Some of the costumes were really clever… a whole family in Santa suits, several people in footed one-piece jammies, a couple of women in red tutus, and a really stunning angel. I was fairly low-key in my green shirt, red vest, Santa hat, and two jingle bells (one around my neck and the other tied to my left shoe).

As I looked around at the start, I didn’t see many runners who appeared to be in my age group, so I thought maybe I’d have a chance at a medal. The weather was perfect — around 45 degrees and calm. Rain was in the forecast but hadn’t materialized.

The siren blared and off we went! At first I was distracted by the sound of my bells, and I worried that I might annoy runners around me. I had to grab at my antlers a couple of times to reassure myself that they weren’t going to fall off. Then I forgot about all that stuff and just ran.

It was a little crowded at first. The 5Kers and 10Kers all started together, and there were lots of young children doing the 5K. I found myself behind two little boys who would run as fast as they could and then screech to a slow walk. Once I finally got past them on the narrow trail, I had clear sailing. At the 1.55 mile mark all the 5Kers turned around, and then for a while I couldn’t see anyone ahead of or behind me.

Soon I started to see 10Kers coming back from our turnaround point, and I counted them as they came. To my delight I discovered that I was about 10th overall at the 3.1 mile turnaround point. My watch read 29:45 — I was comfortably on pace and ready to pick up the tempo! Only one person had passed me up to that point, but right after the turnaround I passed her back and passed another person. I was all alone again.

Then about a mile and a half from the finish I saw another runner in the distance. Ever so gradually I gained on her. Right about the six mile mark I was close enough that she noticed me. She started to sprint and I thought, maybe I should just let her go. Then she eased off and I gained again. She sprinted another few steps and slowed down again. As I came up alongside of her, I threw her a big smile and said, “let’s race!” I pulled ahead of her and didn’t see her again.

I hit the finish line at 58:04. That was good enough to take home a third-place gender/age group medal. As it turned out, that runner I’d passed at the end was in my G/A group, and I’d barely nosed her out of a medal. And yes, there were several more people in our G/A group behind the two of us. I’m not so slow.

To make it an even sweeter semi-victory, I won one of the many very generous prizes donated by local businesses. I took home a $25 Costco gift card (which entirely covered the cost of my entry fee) and a three-month membership to a local fitness club. Hmmm…. I’ve been thinking about doing a little weight training in 2014. I might actually put that membership to use!

When I got home and downloaded the data from my GPS, I was amazed to see that my 9:20 overall pace was not just a 10K PR, but the fastest I have ever completed any distance. I have run lots of individual miles (usually the last mile) during longer runs at a faster pace, but I’ve never completed a run at a faster overall pace.

It was a good day! CFL and I walked down the street to our local brewpub, where I enjoyed their special 3rd anniversary beer, a bourbon-aged pale ale. Then it was home, where a warm shower greeted me and a blog softly called to me, “write, write…..”

And here I am! Proudly telling you about a wonderful run on a beautiful day and another PR on the books. Hurrah!

Chasing the miles

Way back before the beginning of the year, I set myself a very modest running mileage goal of 730 miles for 2013. When I set that goal, I hadn’t yet decided to train for and run a full marathon, although as I recall the idea was already floating around in my head somewhere.

I blew by the 730 mile mark on September 18. By the time I finished the marathon on October 13, my year-to-date mileage stood at 820.

I told myself I’d give myself a break and stop worrying about weekly mileage between marathon day and the end of 2103.

Oh, the stories we tell ourselves… the promises we make and then break…

Try though I might to give myself a break, it wasn’t long before I was running three to five days a week again, and doing the math in my head. Is 1,000 miles possible? Is it reasonable?

On November 27 I hit 902 miles, and another 98 miles before year-end seemed not only possible but easy.

Then the cold weather hit.

I haven’t run anywhere but on my treadmill since November 27.

Okay, I admit it, I’m a cold weather wimp! We’ve only had a half inch or so of snow so far. But when the temperature doesn’t rise above freezing for a week or more, I just don’t feel like going out there and running in the real world. So the treadmill has become my new best running friend.

The problem, as we runners all know, is that the treadmill is BORING. It’s not only boring, but it can get quite warm even in a relatively cool room, as there’s not a whisper of a breeze to wick away the sweat. What’s more, the motion on a treadmill is more relentlessly repetitive (read: harder on the knees) than real-world running, as it’s more difficult to vary pace and terrain on a treadmill.  I simply can’t manage more than 4-5 miles at a stretch on the treadmill.

So I tried running more frequently to offset the reduced mileage on each run. It didn’t take long, however, for me to realize that a “run streak” (daily running of at least a mile per day) wasn’t going to work well for me. It’s that knee thing again. My knees honestly need a day to recover from a run. I can manage running two days in a row now and then, but three days in a row are too many.

Now it’s December 9 and I’m standing at 933 miles. Our streak of unusually cold, dry weather is about to end. The forecast calls for at least five straight days of rain with high temperatures in the mid 40s. Yippee! I can’t wait to get out there and slosh around on the trail again soon. Another 67 miles in the last 22 days of the year? I can do that!

This coming Saturday I’m registered for a local “Reindeer Run” 10K race. It will be only my second 10K race ever; the first one was my very first race way back in May 2009. I hope my Santa hat and jingle bells won’t weigh me down too much, because I’d really love to officially run a sub-60 10K. But no matter how slowly I may splash around and jingle in the rain, I’ll be edging ever closer to that magical 1,000 mile mark for 2013!

I’m going to chase those miles right up to New Year’s Eve if I have to.

I’ve decided that for 2014 I’ll again set a modest running goal… 900 miles. That will leave plenty of room for all the bike riding and hiking I plan to do! With a metric century (62 mile) bike ride or two in the planning works, I have a feeling that my really big mileage numbers are going to be earned on two wheels next year.

Tell me… did you set any running goals for 2013? How are you doing? Or… what are your fitness goals for 2014?

There’s a milepost up ahead…

It’s hard for me to believe, but it’s been four weeks since the Victoria marathon. By now the sore muscles are nothing but a distant memory. My left knee and hip are no longer complaining. I really did run a full marathon and live to tell about it!

I haven’t felt much of a sense of urgency around going out to run. I’ve only been out five times in these past four weeks. Mostly I’ve been deliberately slow, but I did challenge myself one time to run a sub-60 minute 10K. I actually set a new PR for that distance — 59:10 — and I was happy to see that I still have some speed after all the months of focusing on mileage rather than pace.

So what’s up ahead for me?

I’m firm in my resolution not to run another full marathon any time soon… at least not until the year that I turn 60 or 65 or 70 or…? That is, not until a year when I’ll be among the youngest in my age group.

I tell myself that this is the fallow time of year, and that it’s the perfect time to back off the weekly miles a bit. But still, a regular 15-20 miles-per-week routine feels about right… and I’ll get back to doing that, soon.

I’m eagerly waiting for registration to open for a local race, the trail half marathon that I want to run in late April. I love the idea of doing an off-pavement race, which I’ve never done before. It’s another guaranteed PR!

I’m planning to run my local half marathon again next June. For this race I’ll set myself a challenging time goal. This slow happy runner is eager to do some speed work!

I bought the official race photos from Victoria, something I haven’t generally done because I never look like I’m running. This time, I really do look like I’m running! My finish line photos show a very determined yet happy runner, just seconds away from achieving something really big, something that I couldn’t have imagined five years ago — something that even six months ago had seemed a foolish and nearly impossible dream.

Big things are indeed possible, with ample preparation and a willingness to take things one step at a time.

Running guru John Bingham once said, “Some of us have to keep crossing those finish lines to remind us that we can.”

With each finish line I cross, I learn more about who I am, what I’m made of, what I’m capable of doing. Each finish line I cross makes the next one both a little more possible and a little more enticing.

There will definitely be more finish lines for me in the future. It’s likely that one of those finish lines will be more than 26 miles away from the starting line. But I can be content to wait a while before I aim for that one. I’ve got so many other places to go!

Every single milepost up ahead is a finish line of sorts, a finish line that is always out there urging me to do and be a little more, a little better, a little happier.

One step at a time.

I am a marathoner. Wait — what? Oh yes, I really AM a marathoner!

I did it!

After all those months of training and planning I actually did it!

I ran the Victoria Marathon this past Sunday. It was my first full marathon and it may be my last, but I did it.

Well, I may do it again sometime, but I’ll do it in a year that my age ends in a 0 or a 5 so I’ll be at the young end of my age group.

Six months ago when I registered, I made a totally wild-ass prediction of my time. I predicted I’d run it in 4:50:00. I ran it in 4:50:21. I’m entirely satisfied with that time!

With an 8:45 AM start, I was up at 4:30. I was a colossal bundle of nerves, but I managed to choke down two pieces of bread, a banana, and a cup of coffee. It was an absolutely perfect day, with hardly a cloud in the sky. Temperature at start time was probably in the high 40s, and it was probably close to 60 when I finished. I was concerned about getting overheated in the full sun, but a light breeze off the water kept it manageable most of the way.

As it was my first marathon, my fundamental goal was to simply finish. I was reasonably confident about that. My “that’ll do” time goal was to break five hours. I figured I’d need a really good day to break 4:50.

I’d pretty much planned to run this race as a large positive split. Having never run more than 21 miles before (and that only once), I figured I’d try to maintain a nice steady pace for as long as possible and then hope I had enough in reserve to keep putting one foot in front of the other until the finish. That’s exactly the way it played out. I ran the first dozen or so miles at a consistent 10:25 to 10:35 pace. I’d estimated I’d hit the 13.1 mile (halfway) mark at 2:18 to 2:20. I hit it at 2:17:55, dead on a 10:30 average pace.

The middle miles of the course (the part I hadn’t seen while running the Victoria half marathon twice before) were a little hillier than I expected or desired, but they were extremely beautiful — wrapping around Oak Bay, through upscale neighborhoods and a golf course. By mile 18 I was starting to get a little tired, but still feeling good.

I took my first walk break at mile 20, and this is where I screwed up a bit and lost some time. I was wearing a long-sleeved shirt (with the sleeves pushed up as far as they would go at this point) under a vest. I was getting a bit warm. I couldn’t remove the vest because I needed the pockets and because my race bib was pinned to it. So I tried to wriggle out of the long-sleeved shirt without removing the vest. This resulted in my right elbow being skewed in a full-on strait-jacket position, with no hope of getting my left arm out of the shirt. I struggled for nearly half a mile, then gave up and managed to shimmy my right arm back into its sleeve again. I got straight back to running but the damage had been done. I “ran” that mile in 14:10. Argh!

From the end of the shirt debacle at 20.5 miles, I ran to 22.2 miles. I hit that point at exactly four hours and realized that I could walk the last 4 miles and still finish in under five hours. So I decided that for the remaining miles I could walk a bit here and there, and that a 12:00 pace in the final miles would suit me just fine. My legs were still behaving remarkably well but the soles of my feet were getting extremely sore. The walk breaks felt really good.

I was still well-focused mentally, but from about mile 25 on I would catch myself sort of wanting to dissolve into tears. I was actually going to do this! The spectators were awesome (as they had been along the entire course). There was music and cheerleaders. There was a short downhill just before the final turn onto Belleville Street on the Inner Harbor waterfront, with the Parliament Building and the Empress Hotel ahead and walls of cheering spectators on both sides of the street.

When my watch read 26.0 miles I turned on every last remaining ounce of energy I had. At the finish line my watch read 26.40 miles, but races always seem to run long, so I wasn’t surprised about that. I was surprised that I ran that last 4/10ths of a mile in 4:02 — I managed to sprint the last bit to the finish at a 10:05 pace. On the finish line video I actually look like I am running! My 4:50:21 final time was almost exactly an 11:00 average pace. I’d have beaten my really good day goal by 2 minutes if the finish line had actually been at 26.2 miles.

I’m very proud of my accomplishment. I finished 31st out of 47 in my 55-59 age group. My age-graded time (this is a handicap scoring system which takes age into account — I believe it’s based on a reference age of about 30) of 3:39:10 put me 231st out of the 781 female finishers. What really blows my mind is that out of those 781 female finishers, only 39 (including myself) were my age (58) or older. I’m not a young marathoner — certainly not a young first-timer.

I managed to travel the entire distance without stopping — no pit stops! I took five walk breaks totaling about a mile and a half. As for nutrition, I sipped water generally at every other aid station (and by the end of the race I could actually drink while running without choking or getting water up my nose). I started attempting to eat at about the 10 mile mark. I managed to consume six pretzels and three Shot Bloks between there and the finish. My stomach handled that but could not have taken any more. I never felt that I hit THE WALL and wouldn’t be able to run another step, but from about mile 24 I was less interested in running and mostly focused on the fact that I would soon be done.

I was astonished afterwards that I had sore abdominal muscles — at some point I started using my core muscles to keep going. I had almost literally run the last few miles on guts. I think I’ll add some core strength training to my routine in the future!

As for the rest of me, I have sore leg muscles and tender feet, but my knees feel sound and strong. I’ll probably give myself two weeks off from running and then resume, gently, shorter and slower. Meanwhile I have some autumn hiking and bike riding to do.

I had a fabulous support crew in my friend CFL. He brought his bike and pre-plotted out the places that he’d be able to catch up to me. As it turned out, he was able to ride almost the entire course, on the sidewalk away from the runners. While “pacing” with a bicycle is strictly against the rules, no one complained about his discrete presence at a distance — and I certainly wasn’t focused on him! It was nice, though, to glance over occasionally and see him there. He took quite a few photos. Here I am being very relaxed, focused and cheerful, somewhere around mile 10.

And this is me at about mile 25. Running on guts? Yup.

So after the rest and recovery period, what’s next? A rocky, steep trail half marathon next April. CFL and I will do a metric century (62 mile) bike ride together sometime next year. And, to my astonishment, he was so impressed with the camaraderie that he saw out on the course that he’s thinking about walking a full marathon next year. Me? I think 13.1 miles will be plenty for me for a while. But I’ll always get to say that I AM A MARATHONER.

Who would have thought?

One step at a time!

Five years and almost 2,800 miles ago…

It was five years ago today that I stepped onto my new treadmill for the first time.

The treadmill was sort of a birthday present to myself. It represented a promise to myself to lose the ten pounds I’d gained during my years of graduate school. More important, it was a defiant denial to my physical therapist’s pronouncement that I’d never again walk without pain.

I’d been advised by faculty to set myself a new goal to stave off the possibility of post-PhD depression. So I decided to get back into something resembling physical fitness. But I’ve never been one for small goals, so I set myself a bigger goal than mere fitness: I was going to run a half marathon.

I’ve been a would-be runner since I was a child, but my attention was always so focused on being a good student that I never found time for sports. I admired runners, especially distance runners. I’d watch the Olympic marathons on TV and get choked up with emotion.

When I first moved to Washington eleven years ago I moved into a neighborhood about five miles from downtown. There was this trail — the Olympic Discovery Trail — that skirted my neighborhood. The road into the neighborhood crossed the trail. It was a misty June morning in 2007 when I found myself stopped in traffic at the trail — waiting for a bunch of runners to go by. That was the day I learned there was an annual marathon and half marathon race in my town. I sat there and watched them run by, and I wept.

The next year, in June of 2008, I took a break from dissertation writing for a couple of hours. I walked to the trail and I stood there in the rain watching them run by. That’s when the goal began to form in my mind.

My first day on my new treadmill, I walked six tenths of a mile. It took me fifteen minutes to do it. It took me two and a half weeks to work my way up to two miles. It was more than a month before I ran my first few steps. I did a total of 145 miles on the treadmill over a four month period before I dared to run in the real world for the first time.

My feet hurt too much to wear snugly-fitting running shoes, so I ran in Nike sandals on the treadmill, and in hiking boots on the trail. I’d run nearly 250 miles before I finally got myself properly fitted in a quality pair of running shoes that my feet would accept.

I was   r e a l l y   slow, took a lot of walk breaks, but was starting to feel better and was losing a little weight.

I was on track in my training to run our local half marathon in June 2009, but I didn’t know how to train properly. I tried to do too much too soon and injured both knees two weeks before the race. I could barely walk for a month, and it was two months before I dared to run again…. very slowly.

I finally ran my first half marathon in February 2010. I haven’t stopped running since then. Gradually I got a little faster. Eventually I stopped taking walk breaks.

Five years ago today I had a big goal. But I never dreamed that five years later, I’d be ready to run my first full marathon.

By one of those numerical coincidences that I love, when I cross the finish line on Sunday I will have run exactly 2,800 miles since that first day.

As every runner learns, not all of those miles have been happy ones. I’ve come to accept that my knees will hurt a bit when I start out, but that everything will settle down and I’ll be comfortable by about mile 3. My knees, hips, ankles and feet have all become much stronger and hence more resistant to injury. Overall, running has made me a happier, healthier, stronger, and more resilient person.

Oh yeah, and I’m about 15 pounds lighter. I’d estimate that I’ve lost about 30 pounds of fat and gained 15 pounds of muscle!

When I finished my last pre-race run on Wednesday, I texted my friend:

“Slow, steady, strong, safe, and sound. Success!”

I think I’ll make that my mantra on Sunday.

See you on the other side of the finish line!

Taper terror!

It’s that time again — taper time! For the past couple of weeks I have cut way back on the mileage while trying to stay calm and injury-free. In past pre-race taper periods I have generally overdone the running, as if to try to convince myself that YES I REALLY AM READY to run this race!!! This time, I have not only avoided that temptation but I’m starting to worry that I’ve become too lazy and complacent.

There was the day I didn’t run 12 miles because gosh, it was pouring down rain and I didn’t have anything more to prove in that regard. There was the day I didn’t do my planned 8 mile run because it was my birthday. There was the day I slept in, after dreaming all night of running a marathon, and didn’t do my planned 8 mile run because I just didn’t feel like going out there. Now it’s six days before Victoria and I’m not sure how much more running I want to do between now and then because… what if I did something stupid and injured myself NOW? Certainly a final LONG run is now off the table. Maybe there is still time for one more 8-miler but that’s about it.

Other than dreaming about running (something I actually don’t think I have ever done before), I guess I’m doing okay mentally. I have figured out some goals:

  1. Simply finish
  2. A finish time I’ll be satisfied with (I’m not telling!)
  3. A finish time I’ll be delighted about

I’ve only spent a few hours calculating when I’m likely to see the lead runners (when I’m still outbound at about mile 9 and they are returning at about mile 19.5), and when I’m likely to be at several possible spectator vantage points. And marking up the map for those vantage points and reviewing it with my very patient friend…

I’m trying to eat well and get lots of sleep. I expected to gain a couple of pounds during this time and that hasn’t yet happened, but I’m trying not to freak out about that. I’ve lost some sleep to obsessive “what-if” middle-of-the-night scenarios, but not too much, not yet.

The runs I have actually managed to do have been solid ones, which have reassured me that yes, I really do still know how to run. I just have to keep reminding myself that I know how to do this taper thing, too.

I think I’ll be just fine, but I’m certain that I won’t know for sure until race day.

It’s terrifying and invigorating, expected and worrisome — it’s taper terror!

I’m going to be okay. Oh yes I am. Really I am. Absolutely!

One step at a time.

21 miles, and a few lessons learned

I ran 21 miles yesterday. In the most surprising and unexpected way, it was a life-changing experience. When I was done, I knew that I had become a marathoner.

Throughout the past four-plus months of training, I have had my doubts and my fears. I have had good runs, and I have had too many bad runs. I embarked on this journey with the presumption that I was probably capable of running a full marathon, with hard work and persistence. Yesterday was the first time that I truly, unreservedly, absolutely KNEW that I could do it. No more having to reassure myself that “I CAN DO IT.” I believe it now. I live it now.

It wasn’t the most auspicious day for my last long training run. There was an 80% chance of rain, and lots of it. But what is rain to a Pacific Northwesterner? I had a long-planned date with the trail!

The sky looked very gloomy as I prepared to leave the house. I gave careful thought to my attire for the day. Although the trail is mostly paved, I expected to encounter puddles and mud so I decided to wear my old trail running shoes, which I figured still had a few good miles left in them. I’ve taken to running in a bike jersey, because they have large, open rear pockets useful for carrying and accessing the running essentials: water, food (pretzels and Shot Bloks), and my trusty iPhone. I don’t know why shirts made for runners don’t have big pockets!! In any case, CFL had bought me this awesome Mirror Pond Pale Ale jersey from the Deschutes Brewery pub when we were in Portland, and it’s now my go-to running shirt. I sort of feel like a triathlete when I’m wearing it! So I put that on, and brought a light rain jacket just in case.

The moment I parked at the trailhead, the sun came out! Suddenly it looked like it was going to be a beautiful day after all. I could have tied the rain jacket around my waist, but I decided to leave it in the car. I figured since my planned route for the day was two long out-and-backs, I could come back for it if necessary.

Off I went, through the trees and down along the waterfront. I hit a little mist at 2 miles or so; no big deal, and it soon stopped. At my first turnaround at City Pier, people were strolling and sitting on benches.

Coming back, still dry, I realized around mile 7 that I was already a little tired. I recalled that I’d run each of my three “short and easy” runs during the week just a bit faster than I’d planned. In other words, I hadn’t even done a mini-taper before this longest-run-of-my-life. I wasn’t as well rested for this run as I should have been.

LESSON LEARNED: the taper really is that important.

As I approached my starting point, I decided that since I was already a little tired, it probably wouldn’t be a good idea to run all the way back to my car. Something about running back to the car makes my mind think that I am done running, and it’s a psychological drag to think about leaving the car again to go off and run some more. The rain was still coming in on-and-off misty showers, so I wasn’t that concerned about needing my jacket. I turned around early to begin my second out-and-back and planned to make up the miles with a double-back somewhere along the trail.

The good news at this point was that I began to feel better. The soreness that was threatening me earlier had vanished, although the soles of my feet were now getting rather achy. I realized that these trail running shoes were done and that I’d need to buy and break in a new pair immediately, just in case it’s rainy on race day.

So I’m now about 11 and a half miles in. It started to rain. Hard. Down along the waterfront the wind was picking up, blowing the rain into my face and pushing the standing water across the trail. There weren’t any more walkers or cyclists out there.

I turned around again at 14 miles and resolved to beat it back to the car as fast as possible. My bike jersey was completely soaked through (despite those claims to “assist in body temperature control by pulling moisture from the inside and pushing it off the outside”). My compression tights were soaked through. My socks were soaked through. You get the idea. What’s more, I was worried about ruining my iPhone — while it was completely encased in its Otterbox, it was sitting in the open rear pocket of my jersey.

Up to this point, I’d only made one on-the-clock pit stop. I’d assumed I’d take a walk break somewhere around 15 miles, but at that point all I wanted to do was get back to the car! At 17 miles, I threw myself into the car, unzipped my jersey (grateful for both that full-length zipper and the fact that my running bra is opaque), and slithered into my rain jacket. I grabbed a blanket and tried to towel myself dry, but it was hopeless. I tossed my bluetooth headset aside and pulled on a knit beanie. It took me all of five on-the-clock minutes, and then I was out of the car and off to run the last four miles!

Two miles out would take me through trees for one mile and then one mile of waterfront, and then I’d return for the last two miles. But after a couple hundred yards of waterfront I was well-soaked again, so I turned around once more and decided to do the rest of my miles going back and forth through the trees.

By that time I was running pretty slowly. I figure I was carrying at least a half pound of rain water. But I was still running! I hadn’t taken a single walk break, and suddenly I realized that I wasn’t going to. I was going to run all 21 miles. I’d had enough of being out in the downpour and I wanted to be done. I especially wanted to be done when I saw a couple of large falling tree branches. Enough was enough!

So I finished the 21 miles in just over 3:52, which is just over an 11 minute pace. A little slower than I’d hoped, but all things considered, it was an awesome run. I’ll try to avoid losing five minutes changing clothes during the race.

LESSON LEARNED: a lot can happen with the PNW weather over five hours. If there is any chance of rain on race day, I’ll tie my danged rain jacket around my waist! And I’ll wear that new pair of trail running shoes that I’m going to buy.

I didn’t bother to stretch afterward. I got in the car, turned up the heat, and beat it for my warm dry house and the promise of a hot shower.

Driving home I was overcome by a quiet elation. I’ve done it! I completed my last long training run under hellacious conditions. The hard work is now all behind me. It’s TAPER TIME! And I now fully appreciate what that means!

With respect to my what-to-eat-on-the-run dilemma, I still don’t have that dialed in. During yesterday’s run I took exactly one sip of water (consuming additional water was completely unnecessary!) and ate two pretzels and one Shot Blok. I had done an outstanding job of carb loading the day before, and I never got hungry. I never felt weak from lack of nutrients. There was no wall for me.

Could I have run another 5.2 miles yesterday? I wouldn’t have liked it, but I think I could have done it. At this point I have every reason to believe that on race day the adrenaline and crowd support are going to carry me through just fine.

I’m going to run my first marathon, and I’m going to do myself proud on race day. Knowing that is so surprising and so very wonderful.

One step at a time!

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