Monthly Archives: September 2013

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!

I CAN DO this!! 26 days until the Victoria marathon

Wow! The days are really flying by now, and so are the training miles. My 16.3 mile run last weekend went as well as I could have hoped. I ran it nearly non-stop and at a comfortable pace, finishing in “well under three hours” exactly as planned. The miles just kept ticking by, surprising me once or twice with how quickly they’d pass. I was very much in a flow state, just rolling along feeling strong. I could have run another few miles, but I prudently stuck to my plan.

The only thing I didn’t do as planned was nutrition. I was supposed to practice eating and drinking at regular intervals during my run, but I simply wasn’t hungry out there. On a cool day it’s not that difficult to do double-digit milage on nothing but a few sips of water. I finally made myself eat some pretzels at 15 miles, but I know I’ll need to eat more than that if I’m going to be out there for 26.2 miles and nearly five hours.

This Sunday is the biggie — 21 miles! I’ve had the date on my calendar for months. There will be no postponements and no excuses. My two planned runs between now and Sunday are of the “short and easy” variety. Meanwhile, I’m trying to eat well, get plenty of sleep, and in general treat this week as a dress rehearsal for race week.

I think this will be my first and last marathon — at least the last one for the next few years. It would be fun to win my age group when I’m 80. When I signed up for this, I didn’t appreciate (couldn’t possibly know) how much more of a physical, mental, and time commitment training for a full marathon is, compared to a half marathon. I’ll be honest and confess that I will welcome a much reduced running schedule after October 13 and heading into the winter months.

I’m not saying that I regret the decision to tackle this distance — not at all! I have grown so much as a runner: gained strength, resilience, and discipline that I never dreamed could be mine to claim. In the future it will seem much easier to train for and run a “mere” half marathon, while still having time and energy to hike, bike, brew, travel, and write!

I think I’ll do a trail half marathon sometime next spring. That would be a new kind of race for me, one in which I could be really slow and still set a personal record. 🙂

But for now, I’m totally focused on the last few weeks before this race. Now it’s all about staying strong and injury-free, nailing the remaining training runs, and — on race day — arriving at the start and finish lines healthy and happy.

One step at a time!

Victoria marathon countdown: 33 days and many miles to go

With less than five weeks now before the Victoria marathon, my training continues in my usual good day/ bad day kind of way. I continue to waiver and second-guess myself. Do I keep pushing and planning for a sub-5 hour time, or do I decide to go out with the start-before-dawn crowd — to slow down, simply enjoy the experience,  and shoot a lot of photos along the way?

After this past Sunday’s strong 18.43 mile run, I’m leaning again toward giving it everything I have to give it on race day… and gambling that what I have to give that day is good enough to beat the finish line deadline.

My biggest struggle with the really long runs has been heat. I define a “hot” day as anything over 65 degrees. I know, I know — I’m a spoiled Pacific Northwesterner. But I really work hard out there in the later miles on a warm sunny day. Lately, therefore, I have returned to running along the waterfront. This time of year it is usually foggy along the strait, even on those days when a mile away it’s too warm to think about running. The waterfront section of the trail is only five miles long, so I do multiple out-and-back legs from the car. I’m seeing the same section of trail over and over and over again, but at least it’s relatively cool out there. In addition, I see the usual scenic distractions — harbor seals, various waterbirds, and the occasional family of deer keeping pace with me on the trail. When I need a little more direct inspiration, I can look north across the water toward Victoria, and I can visualize those final miles along their waterfront.

I have two more long runs to do before taper time. This weekend I’m aiming for 16.3 miles — that’s 26.2 kilometers — 62% of a full marathon (I really enjoy these mental math tricks). If I can do that in well under three hours — which is quite doable — then I’ve got a great chance of finishing 26.2 miles in under five hours.

The following weekend I’ll do 21 miles — that’s 80% of a full marathon, and per every training plan I’ve ever seen that’s as much as anyone needs to run before a full marathon. It will also give me a very good idea of whether I’ll finish the full 26.2 in less than or more than five hours.

After that — hurrah!! — the hardest work will be behind me. I’ll back off the miles for the final three weeks and set myself up to arrive at the starting line well rested and raring to go.

That’s the plan anyway.

At this point all the signs are positive! I’ve come this far without injury — not just without injury — I feel immensely stronger now than I did on April 19, the day I signed on to this lunacy. I’ve run over 400 miles since that day! I’ve retired two pairs of running shoes since that day.

I’ve come this far without injury, accident, or mistake. I can run another 120 miles or so, safely and sanely, between now and race day.

I know I can make it the rest of the way from here to there. I may be slow, but I’m gonna do it.

One step at a time!