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Tapering my expectations

This is a tough post to write. The Yakima River Canyon Marathon is four days away, and I’m sick.

I was able to generally follow my training plan all the way through to the 21-miler three weeks before race day. By “generally” I mean I completed most of my planned runs, but I ran at least one long run at a shorter distance than originally planned, I skipped at least one long run, and I wasn’t able to complete the 21-miler until March 14 — 19 days out rather than the planned 21 days. Yes, I was close to my plan and I felt generally okay, but by no means could I say that everything had gone perfectly. Still, I felt better about my prospects than I did in the final couple of weeks before my aborted October marathon. I wasn’t expecting to be fast, but I was completely confident that I’d run a steady pace and finish the race. I started my taper period feeling relief mixed with cautious optimism.

Then I woke up coughing on March 21. When I went out for my scheduled easy 12 mile run, I felt fine, but my heart rate was elevated so I decided to call it a day at 10 miles.

Over the next couple of days I coughed a lot more and started to sleep a lot. I had no other symptoms, just a dry cough. I figured that — because spring is bursting out all over right now — I was feeling some pollen sensitivity. Then I lost my appetite and with it, I lost a couple of pounds. This was in the midst of my taper period, when I should have been eating lots of carbs, drinking lots of water, and putting on a pound or two’s worth of stored energy for the race.

I canceled a run and rested as much as I could. I ate lots of vitamin C rich foods and tried to drink as much water as I could.

Yesterday I decided I’d go out and run 6 miles and see how I felt.

Neither my chest nor my stomach thought that was a good idea. I stopped running at 1.7 miles, mostly due to stomach distress. I figure the stomach distress was due to all the vitamin C. Now there’s a catch-22! The foods I’m eating to beat the respiratory symptoms so I can run are making it impossible to run.

Last night I slept 12 hours. Today I’m not coughing nearly as much, but I’m finally needing to blow my nose. I guess that’s progress.

Actually, I really do feel better.

You will tell me I’m crazy, but as of today I’m still planning to “run” a marathon on Saturday. I have worked so hard for this, and I was so disappointed last October when I trained so hard and then couldn’t get out of bed on race day. I don’t want to go through that disappointment again. I’d rather run and finish this — even if it takes me six hours — than miss another race.

But I am certain of one thing. This will be my last marathon. My body has told me very clearly that marathon training is too much for me. My knees and hips won’t permit me to do the high weekly mileage that is needed in order to be properly prepared to run 26.2 miles on race day. I am forced to cut corners on mileage. I reach race day without an adequate training base, with depleted energy reserves and accumulated fatigue.

It’s difficult for me to conclude that this is too much for me. I have to remind myself that I’m 60 years old, I’m the total opposite of a lifelong athlete, and I’ve already far exceeded my original expectations of myself as a runner. It’s time to recognize that the age-dependent sliding qualifying time for the Boston Marathon will always be just out of my reach. No, I’m not going to run a marathon in under 5:10:00 at age 75, or even 5:25:00 at age 80. Not gonna happen.

It’s time to taper my expectations.

It’s time to recognize that I’m not immortal.

I have other plans and goals and I want to keep them intact as much as possible. The half marathon is still my favorite distance and I hope to run many more of them before I’m through. I want to keep running 2-3 days a week, however slowly, for as many years as I can. Running makes me happy! Running has changed my life in all kinds of wonderful ways for which I will be forever grateful.

I also have big goals as a cyclist this year and in the future, and I’m looking forward to focusing on them. And I expect to continue walking every day without fail, as I have done every day since January 1, 2013.

I’ll let you know how the race turns out. Whatever happens, I still hope to have fun.

Right now, I’m going out for a walk.

Slow and happy!

Marathon training: Getting it done!

With the Yakima River Canyon Marathon on April 2 now only six weeks away (yikes!) my marathon training has kicked into high gear. My longest run so far has been 16 miles. I plan to do 15 today and then make the big push to the really long runs. The next few weeks after today call for long runs of 18.5, 17, and 21 miles before beginning my taper.

Originally I’d planned to follow my usual practice of running three times a week (spaced 2-3 days apart), with the long run on either Saturday or Sunday as my schedule permitted. The shorter runs were to have been a combination of steady pace, progression, and hill training (again, as per my usual routine).

However, on this training cycle I noticed that I wasn’t recovering as quickly as I’d like. Specifically, every time I ran on only one day’s rest, something went wrong. I’d be inexplicably slow, or sore, or just unable to relax and run smoothly. Part of the difficulty, I think, was that it can be cold and wet this time of year! My hands and feet always go numb for the first couple of miles, and that does make it tricky to relax and run smoothly. But I couldn’t ignore the fact that on the days when I’d had two days of rest, the cold and damp didn’t seem to slow me down as much as on the days with only one day’s rest.

Once I saw the pattern, I had no choice but to reluctantly acknowledge it and adjust my schedule accordingly. So now I’m running only every third day, which means that for two out of three weeks, I’m only running twice. This, of course, means that every single run means more and must be approached and executed more carefully.

So far this new strategy is working well. I’ve increased my mid-week runs by a couple of miles so that my weekly total mileage is not that much less than I’d originally planned, and that’s all going well. In addition, I walk for at least an hour and a half (usually 5-7 miles) on almost all of my “rest days.” I walk rather briskly and I can feel the benefits of that gentle effort in my leg strength on running days.

Overall I’m much more confident about the progress of my training than I was at six weeks prior to my aborted marathon last October. At this point, I’m optimistic that I’ll complete my training strong and ready for a good race. No matter what ultimately happens, I expect to enjoy this marathon.

One step at a time!

Marathon training again? Yes, please!

After the Marathon Virus From Hell knocked me out of the Victoria marathon this past October, I was surprised at how much I genuinely grieved. All that effort, all those training days and hours, and then — NOTHING! It took me a couple of weeks to fully recover from that heavy cold and even feel like running again. During that period I felt lost, purposeless, and rather depressed.

I didn’t start feeling significantly better until I began actively researching my next marathon. For a while I got excited about running the Fargo marathon.

The Fargo marathon??? Apparently it’s a pretty good one. It started in 2002 and has quickly grown. It’s become a very popular destination race with a cap of 2,500 for the full marathon and 7,500 for the half. It features a start inside a domed stadium (convenient for staying warm and dry while waiting for race time), a nearly pancake-flat course, several miles of riverfront trail on the Red River, a zigzag through residential streets in miles 15-21 where the locals compete to see which street can cheer the loudest, and a finish back inside the dome where you can watch yourself on the jumbotron. All of that is followed by a downtown pub crawl with something like ten participating brewpubs. The date (May 21, 2016) seemed ideal — I could do that and still follow up with our local half marathon on June 5.

Still, I wasn’t quite sold on the idea of driving two long days to Fargo. So I began toying with the idea of changing my North Olympic Discovery (my local race) registration from the half to the full marathon. I’ve resisted the idea of running the full marathon here because it’s a rather hilly course. Those rollers are tough enough in the half marathon; doing another (and larger) set of rollers in the first half of this point-to-point course has never seemed like a good idea. Yet training for this race would be logistically easy — I could practice on the course itself!

But I resisted. I procrastinated on sending that email to the race organizers to change my registration. I kept looking for another suitable spring race.

I found it! On April 2, 2016 I’ll run the Yakima River Canyon Marathon. It’s small (a few hundred people). It’s an incredibly scenic course through the (you guessed it) Yakima River Canyon between Ellensburg and Selah, WA. The race organizers are a remarkable 86-year old couple who seem to know everyone in the running world, many of whom come back year after year to run this race. He’s run 500+ marathons; they have added a half marathon for the first time this year, which he’ll be walking. The course is mostly downhill except for a hill at mile 15 and a big hill at miles 21-23. So what if I have to walk the hills? I can take my time at those spots, enjoy the scenery, and still claim a course PR when I’m done.

So I’m registered! My partner CFL will walk the half. I’ve already calculated that I’ll pass him around mile 24 and reach the finish line about ten minutes ahead of him.

April 2 is only 16 weeks away! That means — you guessed it — marathon training has begun!

The thing is, I realized something while brooding for all those weeks about whether to run another marathon and if so, which one. I realized that as much as I love running a race, it’s really the process of planning and training for races that keeps me going. I love being in that groove where my calendar fills up with planned runs and my schedule starts to revolve around preparing for the next workout, doing it, relishing it, analyzing it, recovering from it, and then preparing for the next one. I love being even more conscious than usual about what, when, and how I eat, rest, and sleep. I love the pure focus that marathon training requires. I can ramp up to running a half marathon in a few weeks, but full marathon training takes commitment, dedication, and tenacity. It demands my full, extended attention.

But it’s December. Right now running means a slog through rain, mud, sometimes ice, and the occasional detour around a landslide. The fact is, I enjoy running long and slow this time of year because it takes me 3 miles to warm up so I might as well just keep going, right? In January I’ll have the optimism of the new year to keep me enthusiastic. It’s February and March, when the weather will still be lousy but I’ll be out there doing the REALLY long training runs, that will test my resolve.

That’s where having a solid training plan really helps. I can’t wait to test my resolve in February and March! I’m going to do this!!


Marathon mania!

I’m into the final countdown. By this time five days from now, I’ll be into the last few miles of the Victoria Marathon. I’ll probably hurt. I’ll probably berate myself for not being as well prepared as I should be. I’ll probably fight back tears now and again. I’ll get it done, one way or another. And I’ll look forward to feeling both proud and very relieved at the finish line.

My taper has gone well enough. I’ve backed off the distance and the speed, and focused purely on running a steady pace. My feet have not given me any problems.

Over the past couple of days I’ve found myself wishing that I had three or four more weeks to train… but not merely to be more race-ready than I am. Rather, I’ve finally gotten into the rhythm and the mindset of the training… and I enjoy it. Running for hours on end has its rewards. I sleep soundly and long. I eat well and with relish. I feel healthy and happy. It’s a great feeling.

I have a time goal, but as usual I’m not telling. Actually I’m predicting that I’ll finish somewhere within a rather broad time range, and I’m telling myself that I’ll be happy with wherever I end up within that range. Nah, I really do have a specific time goal… and I’m still not telling.

I’ve had a few running dreams. I’m pleased to report that all of them have been happy dreams in which I finish feeling triumphant and spectacular.

I have one more run planned. I’ll do 6.6 miles on Thursday, steady and easy. I’ll get out early to simulate the 8:45 race start. It will rain, as it’s forecast to do on Sunday. Thanks to our great summer, I haven’t had any opportunity to train in the rain, so I’m looking forward to rain-testing the clothes I plan to wear on race day.

Beyond that, there isn’t anything more I can do to be any more ready than I am. The clock is ticking — I’m really going to do this.

One step at a time!

Marathon training is not easy

Don’t ever think that marathon training might be easy, or maybe a fun thing to try. It’s not something to undertake on a whim, and it’s not possible to shortcut the process. Marathon training is hard physical and mental work, involving many hours over many days and weeks, out there by yourself with lots of time to wonder why the heck you are running all those miles and hours.

I’ve now completed my 21 mile run, which was the longest and final long run I’d planned to do before the Victoria Marathon on October 11. I’m now officially into the taper stage. I wish I could say that everything had gone according to plan and I’m comfortably optimistic about race day. But that simply isn’t true.

Things went great and I was on schedule with my plan, until the day of my 18-miler back on September 7. On that day, everything got weird. Even during the first few miles when I was fresh, I couldn’t seem to summon any speed. Then about 7 miles in, my right foot decided to spasm, over and over again. It didn’t really hurt, but it felt like my foot was collapsing under me. I’d take a walk break, settle down, and resume running. All would be well for a few minutes, and then ZAP — all over again. I finished the 18 miles, but soon regretted having tried to push through it. My hips, thighs, and knees were very sore for a couple of days. I could only figure that I’d tensed up all over, fearing the spasm, and actually injured myself with an overly-stiff stride.

I took a few days off to rest, recover, try to figure out what had gone wrong, and correct that. The first part of my solution was to buy a new pair of shoes, even though I only had about 150 miles on the pair I’ve been wearing. When I’d bought that pair, the same size I’d always worn had felt small, so I went up half a size. However, my new shoes had always felt a bit loose. I thought that maybe my feet were moving around too much inside my shoes and that the spasm was the result of that movement. So I bought another pair, going back to the old size.

The second part of my solution was to buy a new pair of compression tights. I was running in tights that were almost four years old and, frankly, weren’t giving my knees and hips all that much support anymore.

Five days after that disastrous 18-miler, I ran 7 miles in my new shoes and new tights. Everything went great! Problem solved!

Or so it seemed.

Back to my planned long runs, only four days behind schedule. I did my 16.3 mile run a little slower than I’d hoped, but in relative comfort. I had a couple of foot spasms in the later miles, but they weren’t worrisome.

So on September 24 I did the 21-miler. Everything went great through the first 15 miles. Then  my right foot began to spasm occasionally. Then it progressed to a sharp pain with every footfall. Needless to say, that pain necessitated an immediate walk break.

I’d walk a bit and feel better, so I’d try running again. Everything would be fine, and then the pain would return.

All the rest of me — knees, hips, heart, lungs, brains — kept going along just fine and feeling great. I felt physically and mentally strong and focused. I asked myself what a stress fracture might feel like, and if this could be one. But every time I resumed running, it would feel fine — right up until the next stab of pain.

I ended up walking a good portion of the last 3 miles. Even so, I finished within the time I’d predicted at the start, and only a couple of minutes slower than the 21-miler I’d done during my last marathon training two years ago.

My feet had no bruising, no swelling, no sign of anything resembling a fracture, neither immediately after finishing nor over the next few days. I really wasn’t sore anywhere; the new shoes and tights have fixed that.

The problem with my foot shows up in the later miles of a run. Upon reflection, I’ve become convinced that it’s due to the relatively short time (less than 9 weeks) that I gave myself to train for this marathon. I simply haven’t given my feet enough time and miles to gain strength and toughness. My feet get tired, and when they get tired they hurt.

I’m now officially in taper mode. Yesterday I ran 6.6 miles, strong and steady, no issues. I’m planning three to four more easy runs of 6-9 miles over the remaining twelve days before the race. I’ve committed myself to walking a few miles every day that I don’t run — anything to try to firm up the feet.

I don’t feel optimistic about a great performance at Victoria. I know that I’ll complete the race, but I expect to need walk breaks, and I expect to do some hurting in the last few miles. I don’t anticipate a PR — but it will be a PR for me in my new age group! If I ever run another full marathon (and I’m sure I will), I’ll give myself a lot more time to train.

I’ll get it done, but it won’t be easy.

One step at a time!

Do the miles. Finish healthy.

Earlier this year, when I registered for a half marathon in June, a 6-day, 400-mile bike ride in August, and a full marathon in October, that combination of events seemed obviously doable. I’d focus on running (with a bit of bike riding) in the spring, switch to intense cycling training (while continuing to run 2-3 times a week) through early August, and then ramp up the running in the latter part of the summer. I’d only have about 9 weeks of serious marathon training, but I’d have a solid baseline of running and cardiovascular fitness that would allow me to quickly work up to a 20+ mile long run.

That was the plan.

The reality was this: After the half marathon in June, I traveled to California for two weeks, where I spent time in air conditioned rooms in the close company of a few thousand other people. I came home with a heavy cold, and couldn’t get excited about either running or cycling until well into July. I then realized that I wouldn’t have time to get properly prepared for the bike ride while also running 2-3 days a week. I had to let go of the running. As of the end of July, therefore, I had run a mere 28 miles since the half marathon.

We did the bike ride, and had a wonderful time. CFL and I were among the slowest riders, but mattered was that we had trained well enough to finish the ride.

When we got home from that, I was fairly exhausted, but there was no time to lose. Let the marathon training begin!

Google “marathon training plan” and you’ll see that there are a lot of them out there. Most of them assume a duration of 16-18 weeks, although you can find 12-week plans.

I had eight and a half weeks.

The only 8-week plans I found assume you are ready to do a 16-mile long run in week 1. In other words, it’s a 16-week schedule with the first half cut off.

Clearly, I’d have to design my own plan. I’d have to focus on quality versus quantity. What’s the least number of miles I can run and still be somewhat ready on race day? And I’d have to center my training on the long runs, working everything else around them.

I developed two simple principles:

  1. Do the miles.
  2. Finish healthy.

I would run 3 times a week. The long runs would follow a simple progression: 12, 14, 16, 18, 16.3 (the psychologically important 26.2 kilometer race simulation run), and 21 miles, followed by a 2-week taper. The mid-week runs would rotate between steady-pace, fast-finish, and rolling-hill runs. There would be no procrastination, no postponements. I’d do whatever it takes to get through the long runs — rest stops, walk breaks, whatever — but I’d always do the miles. And I’d finish each run healthy, with enough in reserve to know that I’d be ready to do the next one.

When I went out for my first serious run on August 12, I’d done so little recent running that I’d actually lost the calluses on my feet. My soles were sore after only five miles. I realized that it would not be enough just to do the running miles. I’d also need to spend easy miles on my feet, walking or hiking, on the non-running days. So I sadly turned away from my bike and committed to doing the miles.

I’m now at the end of week 3. I’ve done the 12-miler and the 14-miler. I’ve done all of my planned shorter mid-week runs so far. On nearly all of the non-running days, I’ve walked — typically 4-6 miles. Today I’ll go out and run 16 miles.

Do the miles. Finish healthy.

Honestly, come race day, the same principles will apply. Do the miles. Finish healthy. If I have a good day, I’ll be a few minutes faster than I was two years ago when I ran my first full marathon. If I’m slower, I’ll still have run a full marathon at age 60 — a feat I couldn’t have imagined at age 50. Either way, I can’t lose!

All I need to do?

Do the miles. Finish healthy.

One step at a time!

Wrapping up 2014, planning for 2015

After I broke my arm while trail running last April, I stopped worrying about my running mileage goals for 2014. I knew I wasn’t going to set any annual distance records. I was happy simply to run again after having to take seven weeks off! I was thrilled to run a slow half marathon only nine days after being cleared to run again. Then I was elated in October to run another half marathon and set a new PR.

That was enough, with respect to specific running goals for the year. I spent the rest of 2014 running for pure enjoyment. I ran when I felt like it. When I didn’t feel like running, I walked or rode my bike… a few miles every day without fail.

I did my now-traditional long run on Christmas day, and logged 11 miles. I briefly toyed with the idea of running a half marathon just for fun, but decided I didn’t want to raise the bar too high for next year.

I finished 2014 with 670.04 total running miles. My average distance was 7.2 miles. I still enjoy going long and slow most of all. I figure, why even bother to go out and run if you’re only going 3 or 4 miles?

I’m already looking forward to training for another full marathon next year! I’ll run my local half marathon in June, and then focus on training for the full in October. Currently I’m only thinking about those two races, but I may toss in another half or perhaps a 10K or two somewhere along the way.

I’m currently anticipating that I’ll run about 900 miles in 2015. In addition to that, I expect to cycle about 1,500 miles and put in lots of hiking and walking miles.

I’ve also added light weight training to my routine. I’m finally starting to get some real strength back in my left arm. By summer I hope to show you one of those awesome bike ride finish photos of me holding my bike high over my head!

What about you? Did you achieve your running goals for 2014? What are your running or other activity/fitness goals for 2015?

Are you finding that the focus of your goals changes from time to time? It doesn’t always have to be a specific number of miles or a certain race. Sometimes it’s just about going out and doing as much as you can do, one step at a time.

Here’s to a happy and healthy 2015!

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.