Training my brain: part one

I’m not known for my positive attitude.

michelle1

I know, right??

But I’m trying to work on that now that I’ve committed to running a full marathon.

Before training officially starts in July, a couple of us met with one of our coaches to get on the same page with expectations, concerns, everything. And according to her, understanding why we want to do this will set the foundation for everything else.

What’s my why?

Why do I run? It’s difficult for me to explain. Since quitting the diving team when I was 11 (we moved away) I really haven’t been much of an athlete. I default to lazy as a general rule, and a wonky knee conveniently kept me from the mile-and-a-half in high school P.E.. In college I tried workout classes at the UT Rec Center and stuck with them for a while, but after I graduated I didn’t have Rec Center access and wasn’t motivated to find something else. At some point I tried the gym thing but hated it. After B was born I had no time for anything else, and I didn’t want to make time for workouts.

But not long after one of those round-number birthdays, I wanted to improve my fitness and decided to try running. And for some reason I have stuck with it more than anything I’ve ever done before. Since joining Rogue in 2012 I have been religious about my workouts–I almost never miss one. Core class Monday, workouts Tuesday and Thursday, long run Saturday. I barely have any time in the evenings after I get home, and I hate getting up early on Saturdays, but not once do I seriously consider turning off the alarm and going back to sleep or skipping the workout. I mean, I consider it, but it’s not really an option. Which is really weird, and totally unlike me. 😀

oprah

Running hasn’t made me thin or even moved the number on the scale much (so unfair!) and by many people’s standards I’m still slow. Every mile is a challenge for me, but I can string together 13.1 of them now and then. In that respect, I’m in the best shape of my adult life. Probably my teenage life too. I don’t love running when I’m doing it–it does not come easily–but I love finishing a workout or a race. Running has given me some fantastic experiences with friends, and it has brought me new friends too. I didn’t think I needed new friends, but I love these people.

Why do I want to run a full marathon? Well I covered a lot of this on my pro-con list, or at least why I chose this particular one this year. Having so many Rogues supporting me will absolutely make all the difference. And I think that’s a big part of my whymichelle2.gifAt BCS when my BRFs came down that last stretch to the finish line… I was in tears knowing how much work they’d put into it and what an accomplishment they’d achieved–and I was just a bystander. Don’t get me wrong–I didn’t wish to be in their shoes and I didn’t feel envy, like I’d missed out. I was just so proud and happy for them. But later, when I considered this marathon, I thought back to that moment. That feeling of accomplishment, completing something very few people do. And that’s a big part of my why.

So back to the meeting with our coach. We all know I default to Dark Side thinking, but one of my goals as I train for this race is to improve my attitude. Instead of worrying about whether I can do it and what could go wrong, I need to visualize that finish line scene and know that I can get there.michelle3

To that end, she suggested I create some mantras and make using them a habit. I mean, beyond my Persevere and She Persisted silver rings I always wear when I run.

So far I’ve got “I can do hard things” and something my dad used to say to me all the time when I was a kid trying to weasel out of something. I suspect I’ll have many opportunities throughout the summer to use them both. I was lucky and had cool weather for several recent races, but it won’t last. Showing up for workouts in 100+ temps qualifies as a difficult thing, right?

Now that my spring races are over, I’m taking the rest of May to let my legs and psyche recover. On top of running three half marathons, two 10Ks, and two 5Ks since January, I’ve also had an exhausting semester at work. School gets out right after Memorial Day, and after a couple of days catching up on my sleep, I will ease back into longer and more challenging workouts–both body and mind.

I can do hard things.

Advertisements

All the weather

Tuesday’s training run started out sunny and warm, but dark clouds, cooler air, then drizzle, and eventually thunderstorms blew in as I ran. I had planned to run five miles, but after the rain began I kept going and ended up with six. Yeah, there was occasional lightning flashing in the distance and someone in a car stopped our coach to warn us of impending hail, but what can I do when I’m three miles from my car? Just keep running.

Thursday, the Austin area enjoyed endured 96* high temps, and despite what people say about avoiding the “heat of the day” from 11am to 2pm, in Texas it’s actually hotter and more miserable between 4-7pm. Meaning that 96* high temp hadn’t hit earlier in the day and it was on its way down by our 6pm start. It was truly 96* when we set out. This time there was no convincing me to add an extra mile. I slogged through five, did my six hill strides, and dissolved into a puddle of my own sweat.

On yesterday’s long run (and I use the term long loosely–I went 8.25 miles) I was gleeful when I turned a corner somewhere around mile six and ran into someone’s sprinklers. Literally.

IMG_0396[1]

I may or may not have made several passes through the mist.

It was dark when we started, and even with the overcast sky (thank goodness for the cloud cover) the air was humid and warm. The sprinklers rinsed away some sweat, and when the breeze picked up, my damp clothes helped keep me cool-ish the rest of the way.

During our post-run coffee date, we sat on the patio long enough to see all the weather. It was still overcast when we arrived. Then it rained. Then the sun came out. Ahhh Austin.

This morning, I woke to pouring rain. These spring storms are unpredictable–sometimes they last only a few minutes, but half an hour later it was still coming down, so what did I do? Go run, of course. It was barely drizzling by the time I finished three miles (which is a little longer than I usually go on Sundays, but I felt good) so I hooked up the dog for a walk. The temps had actually dropped a bit, but by the time we got to the corner the rain had picked up again. He was having none of it–he turned around and tried to drag me home. So I dropped him off and …. ran two more miles in a deluge. We won’t see a lot of that between now and … probably October. I mean, I read the other day that forecasters predict 35 days of 100-degree temps this summer. Most workouts will be brutal and slow, so when I get a chance at a cooler, slightly easier run in the rain, well, even my chronic laziness can’t compete with that.

It turns out, at some point during those storms a tornado developed about ten miles from here, too. So I think this week we’ve hit all the spring weather possibilities. Next week, who knows.

Chuck Norris never ran a marathon

There’s a quote on the wall at Rogue: If your goals don’t scare you, they aren’t big enough.

And I think it was James Bond who cautioned the moviegoing public to Never Say Never Again.

Both of those sentiments apply to my decision to sign up for the California International Marathon.

I know, I know. Hear me out.

After my first couple of half-marathons, people asked when I’d move up to a full marathon. I usually answered “never,” although in theory it sounded like something I’d like to accomplish… maybe, someday. Even as recently as February, when Rogue announced it was partnering with CIM–discounts, perks, all that good stuff–and a bunch of my training group signed up, I was still, “Don’t look at ME. I’ll do the half.” Then I learned that CIM doesn’t offer a half–just a half relay. But anyone who might want to be my relay partner is already running the full. Except one, and he said he didn’t want to give me an excuse. And then in an impulsive moment as I left Rogue one night, I told him that I’d run the full if he would. In my defense, it was kind of a safe bet since he doesn’t really race.

But this, I suppose, was my first step in really considering it.

For the next couple of weeks, most of my training group bombarded me with texts and good-natured “Have you signed up yet??” interrogations every time I walked into Rogue. My BRF from Ohio, who ran her first full marathon last fall, joined the crowd too. More than once my phone blew up from all the different people peer-pressuring encouraging me to sign up. I’m certainly not immune to race peer pressure–I have registered for a disproportionate number of races because someone else cajoled me into it. But a marathon?

So I kicked around the idea for a couple of weeks. I talked to my coaches. I made a pro-con list. My BRFs continued to insist that I can do this, that my pros far outweighed my cons, which were just excuses what-ifs.

Want to see my list?

Pro

  1. Rogue is a race partner so there will be many perks, and a lot of Rogues will be there. Including most of my training group.
  2. It’s point-to-point with a net downhill, and their website claims that “average temperatures range in the mid-50s, 80% chance of perfect running weather.”
  3. It’s a big race but not huge—7000ish. Enough that I probably wouldn’t be last.
  4. Lots of time to train (i.e. increase distance very slowly to prevent injury) and the longest runs will be in the fall, not Texas summer.
  5. My long runs would be longer (duh) but training as a whole wouldn’t actually double my current half-marathon training.
  6. Spouse and kid are 100% supportive.
  7. If I do it, my would-be relay partner will do it too.
  8. Last year CIM offered a first-timer program that gave a second medal to people running their first marathon.
  9. Several friends of roughly my fitness level and pace have completed full marathons. Even though I have doubts, if they can do it maybe I can too.
  10. It’s a logical next step after 18 half-marathons. I’ve thought about it semi-seriously before, so it’s not like my friends are pushing me to do something I haven’t already considered.
  11. I really might regret it if I don’t do it. This race, with my friends and Rogue, seems like the best opportunity I’ll get.

My (smartass) kid offered a couple more:

  1. A 26.2 sticker on my car
  2. “It builds character.”

ch860122

Con

  1. The reality is a marathon is a long fucking way. And I have struggled in a couple of recent half marathons even when my training was good. Hell, I was reasonably well-trained for Zooma and was pretty sick afterward. The thought of doing two MORE loops of that course makes me so nauseated I’m glad I have a small supply of Zofran on hand now.
  2. The training is HARD during a busy time of year for me–I’m always super tired in October-November. Last fall I watched my BRFs power through long long Saturdays and tough weeknight workouts. The mental and physical energy they summoned was impressive. And scary. Do I have what it will take?
  3. I have Texas football season tickets (I’ve attended every home game since 1995) and games could conflict with the training schedule. And who are these people I live with? I never see them.
  4. Did I mention it’s a long fucking way??
  5. The first-timer medal isn’t guaranteed–there’s an application process that doesn’t send acceptance notifications until July. I’d already have to be training by then, so really the extra medal can’t be an official “pro” to running CIM, only a bonus.
  6. I’ve dealt with injuries, albeit fairly minor ones, twice in the last 18 months (hamstring and shin splint) and I don’t know how well I could manage the increased distance injury-free.
  7. I’m not an athlete. I’m not built like a marathoner, or a half-marathoner for that matter—I’m short and squat and slow. My fastest three half marathons have been 2:36 to 2:41. Can my body even withstand the training and a race of that distance? My goal would be probably 5:45 to beat the six-hour time cutoff, although I looked up last year’s results and several hundred people finished after that.
  8. What if I sign up for the full, but then training goes to shit in the fall and it turns out 26.2 is out of reach?
  9. Travel costs, time difference, having to take off a few days from work, etc. And no matter what they say about December weather in California, with my luck they will have a heat wave that weekend.

My friends could refute pretty much every one of the cons. They’ve all done at least one marathon, and they are convinced I can do it too. One of them found a CIM training schedule and cross-referenced it with Texas home games–all of the 18+ milers fell on away-game weekends, and the others would only be a problem for morning games. They’d even switch long runs to Sunday if I needed to. And they reminded me that Zooma was an anomaly due to the weather, not representative of my real ability. Having run two solid 10Ks and a non-miserable half since then, I tend to agree with their assessment.

My coach, who’s going to run like 26 marathons this year, just shrugged and said, “Do it. ” Which is a shorter version of the conversation our group had after a 6.5-mile hill workout. One of my BRFs had just gotten a 26.2 tattoo (he ran his first marathon in Houston) and we were talking about tattoos in general. His philosophy was, “Do it now so you can enjoy it for however many years you have left.” Harsh. But then Coach Bill gave me that same advice a little while later, about the marathon.

Later, I had a long talk with my BRFs at our post-run coffee date. I think at some point they became exasperated at my hesitance, but I thought it was far too big of a decision to make impulsively or because of peer pressure. I won’t lie–their encouragement helped, but I had to be willing to commit. Yes, we’ll train together, but no one can do the work for me. Committing to a full marathon in the spring means all-in training for eight months. Fifteen years ago I grew a human in that length of time, and bringing him into the world took less time (and possibly was less painful, thanks to labor and delivery drugs) than it will take me to finish running 26.2 miles.

And then one of them said something that tipped the scales for me: I could go out and run a half-marathon tomorrow if I wanted. It might not be a PR and it would hurt, but after 18 half-marathons that distance is not the same challenge it used to be. Is that good enough? The rest of the sentence, for however many years I have left was unspoken but implied.

And he’s right. I tend to stay in my comfort zone–I’ve taught at the same school for 20 years, for example. Same subject and grade level, although each school year is different and no lesson is the same twice–and I leaped at the chance to teach an elective class this year. Still, I probably could have made some bigger changes but I chose not to because I like what I’m doing. Same with my running. Remember how I had a difficult time when Rogue moved from a retail store to training-only? And I had to adjust to new routes, new everything? I only accepted it because I had no choice. I didn’t seek out that change.

I didn’t seek out this one either. But I think Pro #11 is the most important one, and it goes along with what my friend said. This is an opportunity I wasn’t looking for, but it might be the best one I get.

IMG_9843[1]

So I took the leap.

Yeah, a lot of people will think I’m nuts, and I’m not sure the naysayers are wrong. But … if your dreams don’t scare you, they’re not big enough. Right?  One of the Running Rogue podcasts talks about setting big goals, and Steve calls it next-level shit.

So here’s to next-level shit, y’all.

Just add water

Central Texas has officially moved into carry your own water and run through sprinklers season.

sprinkler

I did both of those things on my warm, humid six-mile run this morning. Still a little rusty and/or tired from last week’s travel, races, and lack of sleep so it was slow, but it was nice to only run six miles.

I’m taking a couple of weeks to recover–three half-marathons, two 10Ks, and two 5Ks in four months has me kind of tired. But when school gets out (12 more school days) I can catch up on my sleep and restore some balance to my life. Which is good because I have a new adventure starting in July!

Pittsburgh Steel Challenge day three: the half-marathon

The night before the race, the weather forecast turned rainy and cooler. But I had zero complaints–the cooler the better for me, as race performance goes. It wasn’t raining when we got up, but odds were good we’d see at drizzle at some point.

I wore short sleeves and brought a garbage bag along in case it started to rain while we waited. Other than that I kind of didn’t care about rain, but I don’t want to be cold and wet before I even started.

My stomach didn’t feel great, and as we waited, I felt less and less good. Potty lines were still extremely long as our corral moved forward, so I hoped it was just pre-race anxiety.

We finally approached the starting line sometime after 7:30.

The first three miles followed Liberty Avenue, then looped back to Penn Avenue and through the Strip district.

My stomach was not improving, but every potty stop had lines six or eight people deep. It wasn’t that critical, just not good.

As we crossed the first bridge–the 16th Street Bridge–I slowed to add some Drip Drop electrolyte mix to my handheld water bottle. There hadn’t been many water stops early on, so for once I was glad to have brought my own. This is where I lost K, but I didn’t mind. I had a pretty conservative race plan (traveling, lack of sleep, plus the two-race weekend made me dial expectations back) and she’s been running SO well lately–I didn’t expect her to slow down with me.

On the north side of the Allegheny River, the route wound around streets I semi-recognized from the 5K, and at nearly the four-mile mark, I spotted some potties with only one person in line. It cost me a couple of minutes (I’m not Shalane) but I felt better.

As I waited in line, I could hear a spectator cheering over and over for “Henry.” I guess even a broken clock is right twice a day.

And then I saw Dad and J as I came up a small hill. Yay! Coincidentally, the song she contributed to my playlist (Skid Row’s “I Remember You”) was playing at that exact moment.

I meandered around the Pirates’ stadium some more, and I saw them a second time right around mile five.

From there we passed the Steelers’ stadium, then some kind of casino, before crossing the West End Bridge. Crowd support in this area was kind of thin, and I realized it was the first time all morning there WASN’T a bunch of spectators.

On the other side of the bridge, spectators were back. We looped through a little neighborhood with a lot of enthusiasm. Then we turned onto West Carson Street, which I knew would be a long haul of more than three miles.

Still, although I was tired and taking some walk breaks, the mile markers seemed to be coming quickly. Water stops were plentiful, especially after the first five or so miles, and I just kept refilling my bottle and adding in the Drip Drop. I’m not sure what exactly slowed me down–breathing was okay, I didn’t really hurt, temps were still in the 50s, but I still struggled.

Along Carson Street we passed a minor league soccer stadium, the Duquesne Incline, the Monongahela Incline, and then continued into the South Side. Spectators were everywhere, each neighborhood having its own party, and they kept me distracted.

At some point it turned into East Carson Street. Then the half split from the full a little before the Birmingham Bridge–the signs were REALLY good, plus volunteers with megaphones directed people as well. I think the marathoners had to get some extra mileage before crossing, and at the end of the bridge they turned right up into Oakland when we went left toward the finish, so we had the left side of the bridge and they were on the right side, across the concrete barrier. No missing the split on THIS race!

The bridge is pretty long–I ran/walked it–and towards the end I was feeling kind of queasy. But once we turned left and crested the hill, the rest of the race was literally all downhill. I knew I could hang on.

Past the Penguins’ hockey arena, still downhill. Some well-dressed guys offered cups of water or whiskey, but I declined both. Three more turns, still downhill. Spectators were ten deep along the last quarter-mile or so, and it was raining a bit so I had to be careful on the wet streets, but I was moving pretty fast thanks to my downhill momentum. At the finish line I heard the announcer call my name, and the funny thing is that the very next name he called was my son’s first and middle names. I may actually be smiling in a finish line picture because wow, what a coincidence.

I collected my medal, water, snacks, and one of those Mylar heat sheet blankets, which doubled as a rain deflector as I walked. And walked. And walked through the finishers’ area to the same park as yesterday. By some miracle (spectators bunched up in front of the exit and made things very difficult–as a true Pittsburgher would say, yinz need to move the fuck away from the exit, ya jagoffs) I spotted K sitting on the median with Dad and J. She had killed it and needed a bit more recovery time; after a few minutes we maneuvered out of there to find our Steel Challenge medals.

The half-marathon bib had a Steel Challenge sticker for those doing both races, and it was super easy to collect the challenge medal. Austin really should take a page from this race’s playbook (and Cleveland’s which I did last year) to offer a challenge series-kind of incentive like this!

After retrieving our third medals for the weekend, we found a cart selling sodas and wow did a Sprite hit the spot, even better than water. So then we got in line to take our picture.

I really needed a stepstool–my medals nearly strangled me. But other than that I felt pretty good. My hydration plan had worked well, and the contents of my stomach remained there. I’m told I was a little pale, but “just pale” is a vast improvement from my last half-marathon. And while my pace was only marginally better than Zooma, I felt completely different, both during and after the race. I’ll take that.

We walked back to the hotel thankful for 1) our sherpas, and 2) the Mylar heat sheets. By now I was cold (in my very wet clothes) and this blanket was magical. Plus we had a 3:2 sherpa to runner ratio, and they were amazing. Carrying our stuff, fetching drinks, you name it. Thank you!

Shocker: after showers, we went to lunch at the meatball place again. I had mashed potatoes with chicken meatballs and basil pesto sauce. So much yum.

Then my friends had to leave. 😢

But since Dad has family there, we kept one of the hotel rooms and stayed an extra day. I was excited to get a really good night of sleep, then meet one of his cousins for lunch before flying home.

All in all, this was a great event. Both races were well-organized (save the ever-present problem of long potty lines), the medals rock, and the crowd support was fantastic all along the course.

The 5K and the half-marathon shirts are technical fabric, and the half-marathon version is long-sleeved. The design wasn’t really different across the distances, but they were labeled for each distance so it’s not like the marathoners got the same shirt as the 5Kers. K, the Clevelander, didn’t like that they’re so yellow, but since I run at night and after dark much of the year, I really like the bright color. I wore the long-sleeved one after the race and it was so comfy.

My medals are really cool–solid and shiny–and they made a satisfying clank.

img_0304

Not that the race had any control over the weather, but it wasn’t too hot after all, and organizers were prepared with the aforementioned (and appreciated) Mylar blankets since it didn’t take long for us to get cold after we stopped running. Post-race water, food, and volunteers were plentiful. The finish line area funneled runners right into Point State Park, which had photo ops, benches, and vendors plus the Steel Challenge medals. It was easy to reunite with my people, although the crowd bunched at the finishers’ exit added some degree of difficulty.

The race hotel had no problem giving us late checkout, too. Thank you Courtyard Marriott Downtown and Pittsburgh Marathon! Traveling across the country to races isn’t always easy, but I would do this race again. Especially with these people. ❤️

Pittsburgh Steel Challenge day two: the 5K

It was sunny and in the 50s as we made our way to the start line of the 5K. We had about a mile walk, including crossing one of the bridges as the sun came up.

The race started outside PNC Park, home of the Pirates. Lots of space for runners to wait, but oddly there were no porta-potties to be found. It was kind of surprising considering how well-organized everything had been up to that point. Anyway, it was a 5K and we were okay without them.

img_0246

I was comfortable in a short-sleeved shirt and was surprised at how many (presumably local, judging from the amount of black and gold they wore) runners were dressed for much colder temperatures.

J was running her first race since her second Achilles repair, but even then I knew she’d leave me in the dust. And not long after we started, K was gone too. But that’s okay–I had a conservative race plan and didn’t push hard.

The race wound the North Side stadiums–a guy in a fox suit passed me–then eventually crossed the Roberto Clemente bridge into downtown. As I made the last turn, I saw a woman wearing a Cap 10K shirt up ahead and decided I was going to pass her. So basically I sprinted the last .10 to the finish line. It had nothing to do with her as a human–her shirt just gave me something memorable to latch onto as a carrot or a rabbit, I guess.

I collected my medal and met up with the others–they’d both had great races–and we followed the finishers’ area to Point State Park where there were booths and other expo-like goodies. We eventually found Dad, and we all walked back to the hotel.

After lunch, we walked around a bit, and decided to ride one of the inclines that travel up Mount Washington. We were on foot, though, so we had to figure out which bridge had a pedestrian path for us to cross the river, and in the process we encountered a Canada Goose family.

The babies were so tiny! And I could just hear the mama: “Don’t you DARE get too close to the edge–I am NOT going in after you.”

We eventually crossed via the Smithfield Street bridge, and after some trial and error around Station Square, made it to the Monongahela Incline. It cost $3.50 for a round-trip ticket; two trams ran up and down, and each one held about 30 passengers. People clearly use this to commute to the city from up there, but it was a Saturday afternoon and riders were all sightseeing. Still, we didn’t have to wait long.

At the top is an observation area, plus a collection of shops. We stopped for ice cream, as one does, and then headed back down.

On the walk back to the hotel, we encountered the finish line for Sunday’s race. And I was overjoyed to see that I would be running downhill for at least the last quarter-mile!

After we got back, I fell asleep, which almost never happens. One of K’s friends–she’d gone to college here–arrived and they took a little sightseeing tour.

When they returned, we met another friend for drinks, then went to dinner (Thai) before attempting another early bedtime. That was a fail, and I slept poorly all night.

Next up: the half marathon

Pittsburgh Steel Challenge day one: travel and expo

Friday was a travel day on basically no sleep. BRF John and I went to Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me Thursday night, which was a fantastic live show. I got home about eleven, and my alarm went off at 2:30 for my 5:15am flight. Dad and I arrived in Pittsburgh just as K rolled in from Cleveland. She picked us up and we headed to the expo, which was conveniently maybe a block from our hotel.

Parking, on the other hand, was less convenient. Garage after garage, lot after lot was closed. Finally we found an open garage, albeit several blocks from the hotel. But we’re here for a race, so what’s a few blocks?

The expo was huge, and we couldn’t immediately tell where to start with the bibs, but we eventually found it after making a circuit of the place.

The half-marathon lines were short so we breezed through that part. But it seemed everyone in Pittsburgh was in line for 5K bibs so that took a while. It was weird–for the half, we got a plastic tumbler wrapped carefully in bubble wrap, and for the 5K we got a pint glass at the bottom of the string backpack.

We wandered around for a while–I bought a shirt–but we’d eaten like six peanuts and crackers since 4am so it was time for real food. As we walked down the street in search of a restaurant, a random passerby asked if we’re looking for a recommendation. He directed us to a meatball place across the street. Let me just say if you’re ever hungry in downtown Pittsburgh, check out Sienna Mercato. So good!

From there we checked in to the hotel, which was literally across the street, and got our stuff from the parking garage. We took a brief walk down to the Strip district, but mostly we just chilled in the room until J arrived from D.C. around dinner time. I will NOT recommend the place we ate Friday night–the mac and cheese had no cheese, we weren’t asked how we wanted our burgers cooked (mine was more rare than I prefer) and a server dropped a couple of drinks and drenched K’s shoes. Nope.

I’d had a grand total of eight hours of sleep the last two days, so after working out a plan for the 5K in the morning, I crashed.

Next up: the 5K Run