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The marathon is calling and I must go

I could feel it calling me while I was in Victoria enjoying the afterglow of having completed a very satisfying half marathon. I kept watching the people who had run the full marathon (identifiable by their very stylish jackets) and envying them.

After I ran the full marathon last year in Victoria, I told myself I wouldn’t run another full until a time that my age ended in “0” or “5” — so that I’d be among the youngest people in my age group. Well, next year’s Victoria marathon is scheduled to take place just days after I celebrate a birthday that ends in “0.” What better way to recognize a milestone birthday than to run a marathon?

My plan gets a little more ambitious than that, however. I couldn’t help but notice that the Victoria race takes place the same day as a much bigger and better-known marathon: Chicago! So I’ve been online busily researching what it will take to earn myself a spot in that world-class marathon.

Many of the race spots are awarded by lottery, so all I have to do is put my name in and hope that I’m one of the lucky ones drawn. If I get picked, then I’ll be enjoying a very big October vacation. And if I don’t? I’ll be thrilled to run again in Victoria!

I don’t expect to be competitive in my age group, even with the advantage of being one of the youngest. Just as I was last year, I’ll be happy to train safely, run strongly, and finish. But I get shivers every time I think about running 26.2 miles with 40,000 or so fellow runners.

Between now and then, I’ll maintain a fitness baseline over the winter, running 15-20 easy miles per week in all sorts of nasty weather, before starting to amp up the running intensity once again for the North Olympic Discovery half marathon in early June. By the beginning of July, I’ll move into serious marathon training.

I suppose it’s a sickness, wanting so badly to again go out and do a thing so demanding, so consuming of time and energy. But once I recognized that I really, honestly want to do this again, there was simply nothing to do but yield to the clarion call.

With apologies to John Muir, then:

The marathon is calling and I must go! 

Learning to love the taper

The Victoria half marathon is now only seven days away, which means that I’m well into taper mode. My last few weeks of training have gone well enough. My longest long run was a solid and steady 11-miler back on September 20 (V minus 22 days) followed on 9/30 (V-12) by a very brisk 9-miler.

I have mostly focused my recent training on pacing. I’m feeling very strong (for some odd reason!!) so I’m having to fight the urge to go out too quickly, which always only results in tiring too much in the later miles. To train for my race strategy, I’ve practiced staying steady on pace during the first half and then making each mile in the second half just a little quicker. For the most part I’ve been successful doing that.

Over this past week my focus has turned to rehearsing for race day itself. I confess that now that I’m no longer working, I’ve developed a very casual attitude toward mornings… as in, I don’t do them at all! I’ve never been a morning person, but these days if I’m out of bed before 8:00, that’s early. But the race will start at 7:30!

So for my last two runs, I have set the alarm and made myself get up. On Friday, I had it set for 5:40 and managed to talk myself into getting up at 7:00.

This morning I set the alarm for 5:30 and I was up at 5:40. What an improvement — hurrah!

Unfortunately I can’t simply wake up, go out the door, and run. There is food to consider, and there are morning rituals. My goal for this week’s running has been to duplicate as many aspects of race day as possible.

I know from experience that if I’m up three hours before the start of the race, and if I’ve finished eating two hours before, my stomach will usually allow me to run without too many complaints. I also know from experience that a banana or two along with a slice or two of bread and a cup of coffee will usually work well for me on race day, provided I’ve eaten well (three cheers for pasta!) the night before. So — despite the fact that I really don’t like bananas at all — I’m eating bananas.

The other good thing about bananas is that I can usually find them in Victoria. Running this race means international travel — albeit only 20+ miles across the strait. I’ve learned what foods I can and cannot bring with me into Canada. I’ve never had any problem bringing a few slices of bread, but fruit? Yogurt? I’m not even gonna try. But there’s a little deli restaurant along the way from the ferry dock to the motel, and I’ve never failed to find a bowl of bananas there. They might cost me a dollar or more apiece, but I’m reasonably confident that I’ll find them there.

I plan on running just one more time between now and next Sunday. I’ll set my alarm for 4:30 on Wednesday. I’ll eat a danged banana or two and then I’ll go out and run 4 or 5 easy miles starting at 7:30, just moments after sunrise.

I was thinking about this whole taper thing while I was running this morning. I was thinking about how nice it is that I don’t freak out about it anymore. I no longer talk about “taper terror.” It’s not that I’ve become blase, but simply that I now know what to expect. I know I’m going to be anxious. I expect to gain a pound or two. I’ll have nightmares and butterflies and at some point I’ll become convinced that I’m going to fall apart. Or not. Whatever. On race morning I’ll be an insufferable basket of nerves, but I’ll somehow get myself to the starting line and I’ll run.

I’ve done this. I know how it works. I know I can do it. The nerves and the spreadsheet obsession are simply parts of the process for me.

Within the next week, I’ll pass two life milestones. One is a birthday — my 59th — and the other is the 6th anniversary of the day I first stepped onto my new treadmill and pronounced myself a “runner.” I put those two numbers together and marvel at the fact that I’ve been running for more than 10% of my life. Given that, I guess it’s about time I figured out a few of the tricks of the trade, right?

This morning I took some time after finishing to look around and enjoy the beautiful morning that I wouldn’t have otherwise seen.


It was worth getting up for! I could learn to love this.

One step at a time!

Victoria half marathon training update

While I’ve been happily biking and hiking my way through this exceptionally glorious Pacific Northwest summer, the days and weeks have flown by! The Victoria half marathon is now only 23 days away. So… how am I doing with my race training?

When I last wrote here, I was struggling. I had lost so much momentum during the weeks I spent recovering from my broken arm that running had lost its “fun” factor for me. On a warm day it was easier and more enjoyable to hop on my bike rather than to go out there and slog through the hot miles on foot.

My very next run after I wrote that somewhat whiny last post was an unexpectedly great one: a perfectly steady, strong 9-miler. It’s basically been like that ever since. Well, not always perfect, but on most days both my endurance and my speed are continuing to improve. I’m coming back!

Over the past couple weeks I’ve been easily maintaining a sub-10 minute pace for several miles at a time. I’ve also been doing some focused speed work over shorter distances. I’ve never really done tempo training, but my current experiments with pushing the pace for short intervals seem to be paying off.

It has helped that the seasons are definitely changing. The leaves are starting to turn and fall; I swished my way through big-leaf maple leaves lying across the trail the other day. We’ve finally had a bit of rain. I actually felt chilled during my first mile yesterday. What a relief!

My goal for Victoria is, of course, the long-elusive sub-2:10:00 — the last of the second set of big hairy audacious running goals that I set for myself back in February 2013. To do that I’ll have to run a 9:55 pace for 13.1 miles. To be safe my watch has to tell me I’m on a 9:53 pace, which leaves room for the inevitable GPS wobble that makes every race measure long.

On a perfect day (and Victoria in October has a way of being charmingly perfect) I think this might be the day when I actually pull off that sub-2:10:00.

But it’s always good to have “B” and “C” goals, right?

That’s easy!

  • “B” goal — 2:12:00 will beat my current half marathon PR of 2:12:01.
  • “C” goal — 2:14:28 will beat my Victoria half marathon PR of 2:14:29.

Tomorrow I’m planning to run 11 miles, which will be my longest training run before I start to think about my taper. I’m aiming to run it at an easy, sustainable, as-close-as-possible-to-10:00 pace.

I’ll have a much better idea of my race prospects after tomorrow. I’m optimistic about Victoria… but we’ll see.

One step at a time!


Learning to run again?

Wow, it’s been a while since I have posted here. I had no idea that having to take several weeks off from running while recovering from a broken arm was going to affect my running momentum for months to come.

I last posted here about running a half marathon only nine days after my doctor cleared me to run again. I was slow and I walked a lot, but I managed to finish in 2:33:37, just 21 minutes off my PR. In retrospect, that race was one of my better running days this summer.

I knew long before my accident that I have become a total cool-weather runner. I don’t enjoy running in the heat (I define “heat” as anything over about 60 degrees). I have to carry water. I have to put on sunblock and some of it always ends up in my eyes, making them burn. Sometimes running in the sun makes me dizzy.

I’d much rather run in the rain. Rain keeps me cool and if I want a sip of water, all I have to do is stick out my tongue.

I don’t enjoy running all that much when it’s really cold either. At temperatures below 40 degrees, my feet go numb. It takes me a mile or two or even four before I warm up enough that I can fully feel my feet. But I’d rather run on numb feet than run on a hot day. For me, a cold day is the perfect incentive to run long — if it’s going to take me four miles to warm up, I might as well run at least eight miles. So why not run ten or more? Long runs are easy on a cold day.

So give me temperatures between 40 and 60 degrees with a bit of mist and I am a not-so-slow but very happy runner.

This summer in the Pacific Northwest has been long, hot (by PNW standards), and dry. I’ve tried to get back to my traditional schedule of running three days a week, but more often than not I’ve run twice… or just once… a week. CFL and I have traveled for a total of five weeks this summer. I find it difficult to keep to a running schedule while traveling because we like to do things together, and CFL doesn’t run.

Excuses, excuses! The fact is, this summer has played out as follows: On any given morning, I think, well, I can run or I can ride my bike. Running makes me hot and sweaty. Riding my bike creates a cool breeze and allows me to cover more miles more comfortably. The bike is looking pretty good this summer!

Although I haven’t been running as much as I’d planned, I have finally gotten back most of the speed that I’d lost during my time off. I hammered out 6.6 miles at a 9:38 pace the other day. But I don’t seem to be running with joy, and that concerns me. I don’t seem to be running with heart. When I get tired, it’s just too easy for me to decide to walk or even stop instead of pushing on.

Near the beginning of this year I looked forward to the Victoria half marathon this October as a realistic chance at another half marathon PR, maybe even the still-elusive 2:10:00. That’s not looking so likely now.

I’ve decided not to worry about it too much. Running is supposed to be fun, right? The fun will return — I’m sure it will! We probably only have a couple of weeks now before the temperature drops back into my comfort zone. Victoria is still seven and a half weeks away. I still have time to get serious about training… right??


Slow happy race training

It’s been almost six weeks now since I broke my arm while trail running. At first I thought I’d go nuts, not being able to run or ride my bike. I consoled myself with the thought that surely I’d be running again in time for the North Olympic Discovery half marathon on June 1st. I might no longer have the stamina to keep running for miles on end, but surely I’d be running again… right?

Meanwhile, I’d at least walk every day in order to keep the daily activity streak alive. It was tough at first to motivate myself to walk when my arm hurt and I was feeling sorry for myself for not being able to run. But soon, I’d run and ride again!

I started physical therapy three weeks ago. My therapist almost immediately told me that no, it was not realistic to expect to run on June 1.

So what is realistic? I’m registered for a 5K on June 21. Maybe

All right, so I won’t run NODM. Fine — I’ll walk it!

At first I figured I could probably sustain a walking pace in the 17 minute range. 17:10 would get me over the finish line in a tick under 3:45:00. Hey, that’s not so bad! I wouldn’t be the last person out on the half marathon course!

I’m currently seeing my physical therapist twice a week. Her office is two miles from my house. I walk to there, then I walk half a mile to the Olympic Discovery Trail, walk east along the trail for a couple of miles depending on how much time I have on that day, then turn around and walk home. That section of trail is never boring. I’m entertained by eagles, river otters, and a wide variety of waterbirds. Time floats by and soon I’ve done ten or more effortless walking miles.

At some point I started paying attention to my pace again. I realized I was doing 16 minute miles. Then it was 15 minute miles. When I found myself walking a few 14 minute miles now and then I began to rethink this whole idea of walking a half marathon. Yesterday I did two of my 8+ total miles in 13:42 each. I was moving so fast I even felt a touch of runner’s high.

As of today I’m thinking that 13.1 miles of rolling hills at just under an average 15 minute walking pace is an entirely realistic goal. That puts me in the 3:15:00 range. I ran my first half marathon in February 2010 in a lightning-fast 3:10:11. I don’t think I can break that, but if conditions on race day are perfect, I just might have a shot at it.

I didn’t used to think of myself as a competitive person. I missed out on several career opportunities over the years due to lack of assertiveness and reticence about my achievements. I abhor and avoid conflict, often to my detriment.

But put me out on a trail with a GPS watch strapped to my wrist and I become very competitive with myself! How fast can I walk up this hill? How long can I sustain this pace? What if I push just a little harder toward the end of this mile?

We’ll see what happens on race day. But just because I have to walk, that doesn’t mean I have to stroll.

Slow and happy? “Slow” is relative, and “happy” is an attitude. I can do this!


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.

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!