Back on my feet again

My week was pretty pathetic, exercise-wise.

Sunday night a stomach virus took me down for the count. Monday I barely got out of bed, and Tuesday was only marginally better. Wednesday I went back to work, but only at about 60%. I had no appetite and couldn’t even drink my coffee. Thursday was more like 75%. I came home from work and had just enough energy to sit on the couch to watch the World Series. Finally Thursday night, for the first time in four days, I ate something that could be considered a meal.

And that was it.

Fortunately, for other reasons we’d already decided to bump our 10-mile long run to Sunday this week. Saturday morning I slept in, then took a slow two-mile jog around the neighborhood before heading out to the Texas-Baylor game. I went from there to a friend’s birthday party, so I got home later than usual for a 2:30 football game.

But it was worth it. }:8

Even though my short Saturday test run felt okay, it had been a rough week and I still planned to run only five or six miles instead of ten Sunday morning.

I did not do a good job at hydration–even after subsisting primarily on lime water most of the week, I’d pretty much negated it by sitting in the sun at the football game for the better part of six hours on Saturday. I drank a bottle of water the first half and filled it up again in the third quarter (DKR has cold water refill stations–it’s the best) but I doubt it was sufficient. Again, good thing I’d planned to drop down to six miles.

We started around 6:30, in the dark. I was tired, slow, and I fell behind the others a lot. Running on the uneven gravel portion of the trail guided only by the illumination from our headlamps made me a little nervous, but by the time we turned around the sky was beginning to lighten.

Around mile five I got a side stitch and had to walk a little… which made me fall further behind. But the sun was up now and lots of runners were on the trail. I got an unexpected break when we ran into some friends coming other direction and we stopped to catch up. It was just what I needed, and I felt pretty good as we reached the parking lot and wrapped up six miles.

My friends filled up their water bottles and headed out again for three or four more miles. S said she was just going out for half a mile and back; I knew she would keep going with the others. I waited at the park, and when they came back we all headed out for our usual coffee date.

And here I am.
I’m back on my feet again.

Recovering

The last two days have completely baffled my Vivofit.

Sunday night, a stomach virus took. me. out. By the morning, the worst was over but I couldn’t get out of bed. I slept, I watched PBS’s documentary on “Hamilton” (it’s seriously good), and I slept some more. Later in the afternoon I managed a shower, barely, but then went back to sleep with wet hair. I did not even have enough energy to worry about whether the sub let my students play on their phones all day.

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I missed Monday core class and our three-mile run afterward. Well, “missed” in the sense that I did not attend. I don’t think I was conscious enough to feel disappointment about it.

Sometime in the evening, I finally ate something (plain spaghetti noodles fixed by my 13-year old) and watched some television. All from my bed.

I ended up with 839 steps for the day. And I can’t explain why that number was THAT high.

I slept like the dead for the better part of the next 12 hours, and I finally woke up around 10am. Vivofit had no idea what to do with that, so it randomly assigned me 7:30 hours of sleep. Woookay.

Today  I’m actually out of bed. I fixed my own plain spaghetti noodles, even. I’ve managed to accumulate 557 steps on the Vivofit. And I think I should be okay to go back to work tomorrow. But man, this thing kicked my ass. I honestly don’t remember if I have ever missed two days of work for illness. Ever. I get sick now and then, but rarely the kind of sick that takes me out. Even when I was a kid, I rarely missed school for illness, so I can’t even chalk it up to Teacher Immunity.

So I’m not sure why it hit me so forcefully this time. But I have a theory.

After I finished the Army Ten-Miler, I took no time to rest. I got home late that Sunday night, woke up early and gave presentations at work the next day, and got right back into my running and training schedule. I kept thinking that a 10-mile race (that I didn’t even PR) shouldn’t require a whole lot of recovery, that I was just being a whiner. So of course my body complained.

And then there’s work. The author of the blog Love, Teach calls it DEVOLSON: the Dark, Evil Vortex of Late September, October, and November. And it’s true–this time of year is always difficult for me. The novelty of the new school year has worn off. Grades are due, meetings monopolize our non-teaching time, we drown in paperwork. And there’s no break to recover emotionally or physically. Thanksgiving is so far away it might as well be Neptune. My house is a wreck. Student work piles up. Oh and I’m still going to Rogue three days a week. Yeah, running should be a respite from the stress of work, and while it helps physiologically, getting home late the first two nights of the work week sets me up for exhaustion the rest of the week, and I’m a zombie on Saturday morning long runs. Sleeping in on Sunday isn’t enough to offset the compounded sleep deprivation, and then it’s Monday and the whole thing starts over again.

So here I am, home on a Tuesday afternoon. Recovering.

Run of the Dead

It was 45* (finally!) and still dark as we headed out for eleven miles on the Brushy Creek Trail. All along the namesake creek, steam hovered over the water’s surface, creating a foggy haze.

The sunrise looked like something out of a postcard. The only thing missing was John Steinbeck’s “Texas is a state of mind” quote superimposed on the front.

The trail was especially crowded–the Frankenthon Marathon started at the lake, which is sort of the midpoint of the 6.5-mile trail, then went one way out and back, through the Start/Finish area, then the other way out and back… twice. We saw a lot of the same racers multiple times along the way, and we helped direct a few around the dam construction since it wasn’t well-marked at Champion Park. Their Start/Finish line took up the width of the trail, so it was kind of awkward as we ran through and they cheered.

At Olsen  Meadows Park, the same ghostly haze floated above the grass, still frosty even after the sun had come up.

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Now that the dam is closed, we have to take the alternate route along the road; it’s about a quarter-mile shorter than the dam route, so instead of turning around at the 5.5 marker, we had to run a little further (until Garmin declared us at 5.5) to ensure a full eleven-mile route. That’s always fun for the psyche.

At this end of the trail, a 5K was gearing up to start as we made our turnaround. Participants were eating breakfast tacos and drinking coffee–it made my stomach lurch a bit. We tried to get out of there and put some distance between us before the race started, but a few fast runners caught us just before their turnaround. So at one point we had marathoners, 5Kers, and regular recreational runners/walkers/cyclists all on the trail together.

My lower back ached and I’m sure that’s why my hips began to feel tight as we made our way back. My second-half pace was quite a bit slower than the first half, but I finished it.

Then I was slightly delayed leaving the parking  lot for our coffee date.

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We’d signed up for a Virtual Strides race called Run of the Dead because it had a cool skelly medal. I knew that with eleven miles on the schedule, I could count 10K toward it, but two of our friends went all the way to the end of the trail for 13.1 total. I’m pretty sure I didn’t have two more miles in me.

Anyway, we brought our medals and celebrated with coffee while relaxing at a sunny table.

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And now, compression socks to keep my legs from feeling a dia de los muertos tomorrow.

BRFs

My latest article on Texas Running Post is up!

I wrote this after my successful Army Ten-Miler race because I wanted to give a shout-out to all of my friends who have kept me company, dragged me through long runs, listened to me complain, and pushed me to improve. Those who sat with me at the medical tent that one time, shared hotel rooms, carpooled with me (or Sherpa’d me–is that a word?) and cheered for me. And of course my Rogue coaches too!

I ran alone for a couple of years, but with y’all, I actually enjoy it. 🙂


I’m not terribly social. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say that I am terrible at being social. Either way, when I first started running, I ran alone. No one in my family or my training group ran my pace, and instead of seeking out someone new, I kept to myself. While I trained for my first half-marathon, I listened to podcasts to keep my brain entertained and distracted as I trudged through mile after mile.

After more than a year of running solo, one day I found myself running alongside some new Rogues. They were chatting and laughing and suddenly I was … included. No longer did I run alone to the track or the hill or whatever meeting place on Tuesday nights. We waited for one another to finish our workouts before running back together. On Saturday long runs, we didn’t always stick together all of the time, but we started together, met up at water stops, and celebrated together with coffee afterward. Hell, sometimes our coffee dates lasted longer than our runs.

Soon we were carpooling to races, talking each other into participating in races (I’m looking at you, Zilker Relays and BCS Half Marathon), and supporting each other through races. One time a small posse waited just before mile 12 of the 3M Half Marathon (and another friend ran with me that last mile), when I was injured, undertrained, and miserable. At the 13-mile marker, friends who had finished long ago waited to cheer me to the finish line. I turned in a personal-worst time that day, but friendship—not misery–is the memory that sticks with me.

Along the way, a few friends have taken breaks from running and new friends have joined. These days I’m woefully behind on my podcasts, but I run with a core group of women on a regular basis. Honestly, anyone who can listen to tales about our lives, rants about our jobs, and strings of complaints and colorful language deserves the title of Best Running Friend.

These BRFs dragged me through double-digit long runs. They pushed me to keep going when I wanted to stop, and walked with me when the sun sapped my energy and walking was all I had left. We ran together before sunrise and after sunset. They paced me to several PRs. They ran with me in the rain, in temperatures below freezing and over 100, up hills and on the track. They told stories, and they listened. And sometimes no one said a word.

Not every BRF lives near me. One year, I trained with a friend from Ohio solely via text. We only saw each other in person on race day, in Cleveland. Then there was the friend who flew to Austin, barely escaping Snowmageddon, to run the last two miles of the 3M half with me, pushing me to a huge PR.

And not every BRF runs at all. My family has perfected the art of race support, delivering me to the start, carrying my stuff, and meeting me at multiple points along the course. My son has run the last leg of several distance races with me while my husband waited at the finish line with a recovery beverage. And let’s not forget waking up on race morning to Facebook posts and texts wishing me good luck from all over the world.

But here’s the thing. My BRFs are more than people I run with twice a week. They have made me a stronger person—physically and mentally. Those winter mornings when I wanted nothing more than to sleep late, I remembered that they were waiting. When I wanted to run through a sprinkler to cool off, they joined me. When I felt weak after a sluggish workout, I thought about that time a BRF called me badass. And when I was in a tough place midway through my 10-mile race last weekend, I envisioned the disappointment they’d feel if I fell short of my goal, which motivated me to pick up my pace. Because of them, I beat my goal by more than a minute.

Most people think of running as a solo sport, and often that’s true. Sometimes I need that time alone, either with my thoughts or drowning those thoughts with blaring music. And I’m not always the easiest person to run with. Or be friends with, for that matter. But my BRFs stick with me anyway, pushing me to be a better runner, a better human… and a really fun post-run coffee date.

No rest for the weary

I felt pretty good the day after the Army Ten-Miler.

Monday was a student holiday, but teachers had a professional development day. After the morning session, I had a lunch meeting (the other option was an hour after school, so lunch worked just fine for me) and then led one of the afternoon sessions. Which means I didn’t get to sit down a whole lot on Monday. So naturally, I went to core class and ran three miles with S afterward.

Tuesday, though, I felt some muscle soreness in my quads. I went to the track for our training run, and I wanted to go home after the warmup mile. I stuck around and ran four laps, then a half-mile cooldown. My 2.5 miles felt much longer.

By Wednesday, my weekend of race travel plus two days of workouts caught up to me and I took a rest day. Thursday I ran 4.25 miles (no hills!) and felt okay, just some mild residual soreness. We had a late night Friday (high school reunion) so the 5:45 alarm, after not quite five hours of sleep, kinda made me want to cry.

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But I got up and shuffled out of the house to meet my friends for ten miles. Because now that I’ve completed my race, it’s time to help S build up mileage for her November half-marathon. I wasn’t excited about running ten on another warm morning, but I figured we’d take it slowly and I could suck it up. After all, she helped drag me through summer miles for my race.

I knew from the beginning it was gonna be a challenging morning. A mile an a half in, I already felt muscle fatigue. We ran from Rogue to Brushy Creek Trail, then zagged up a rocky path to the neighborhood where we ran on the streets until the water stop at mile four. From here, to get to ten miles or more, we’d have to run the extra distance in two-mile segments. I decided the others could run their loop and I’d walk a bit, then I’d join them again for the four-mile return trip.

I didn’t turn my Garmin on so I’m not sure how far I walked, but I got back to the water stop with time to spare. While I waited, I stretched and rested my tired legs.

The reverse route seemed slightly less difficult (perhaps the rest helped?) but by the time we finished, I was definitely ready to be done. Although dropping down to eight miles felt like a good decision, I started to beat myself up for my slow pace and shorter distance. But S reminded me that rest is a good thing and there’s nothing wrong with taking it down a notch after a big race.

Besides, tonight Texas plays at home, which means a couple of miles walking to and from the stadium, up and down stairs inside the stadium, and lots of standing during the game. No rest for the weary.

Army Ten-Miler: the redemption expectation

2:00:29.

Those thirty seconds hung over my head for the last year.

Yeah, I smashed it a few months later at the Austin 10/20, but I still wanted those thirty seconds back at this race. So much that in addition to my usual training, I ran hills every Thursday in the Texas summer to prepare.

I had a dream Saturday night that I slept through my alarm and woke up at my house having missed the whole thing. It was raining and windy (J said it was Matthewing) when we left her house. We got a later start than usual and hit traffic. We parked in a different garage. The foot-traffic tunnel to the Pentagon was so crowded, we came to a complete standstill several times. I’m pretty sure the rain and angry sky prevented the Golden Knights from performing their parachute jump–I never saw them, anyway. My stomach felt weird. Lots of things that could disrupt my race.

This year we didn’t get stuck in a glacially-slow potty line, though, and we managed not only to find K’s friends from Ohio but also to move along with our corral instead of racing to catch up with it. So there’s that. However, it was a bit disheartening, as we waited for the cannon blast that signaled our wave’s start, to look over and see the first finishers blaze by. They’d run the whole race and we hadn’t even started. Dude.

Did I mention the wind? Instead of collecting the balloon arches (a different color for each wave) over the start line, race workers had pulled them low and off to the side, presumably so they wouldn’t blow away. It would not do to have balloons getting tangled up in the blades of the helicopters that hovered over us as we took off.

The first mile, my quads felt heavy. I hoped it was from standing around (thanks to the aforementioned corral-waiting) longer than last year so I just needed to warm up. But running into the wind did nothing for that. Mile two, and I looped up to the Arlington Memorial Bridge still feeling sluggish. Crowd support rocked on the bridge, though, and I started to settle down. I slowed through the first water stop, then made the turn toward Virginia Avenue. I looked at my watch more than I probably should, and I worried that my pace was slow compared to my effort level–and my goal.

At three miles, I told myself I was one-third (plus a mile) done, but that sounded depressing. Quads still yelled at me and gusts of wind swirled around me.

At the Kennedy Center, a guy dressed as one of the Incredibles (I think) danced to Rocky’s Theme blaring from a speaker mounted on the back of a parked bike.

At mile four, I noticed my Garmin had (again) gotten progressively ahead of the markers, and I began to worry that my pace (again) wasn’t fast enough to compensate for the difference. But then I thought of all the people who believed in me, who’d messaged me before the race and were cheering me from afar, who would be disappointed in me if I didn’t push myself to achieve this. So I kept going.

Entirely too many people shouted “You’re almost halfway there!” before the mile five marker.

The stretch along Rock Creek Parkway and Independence Avenue felt longer than previous years. My quads continued to yell at me, and I seemed to be running into the wind no matter which direction I turned. But again I pictured telling people I’d fallen short of my goal, and I pressed on.

At the 10K split, not long before the turn onto 14th Street and the bridge, I turned on my music. You know, the playlist called ATM Bridge, You Asshole. I’d planned to fire it up closer to the bridge, and while crowd support had been great on Independence, I needed a boost.

I took advantage of the vaguely downhill segment in front of the Holocaust Museum toward the river, then took a deep breath (and a hit on my inhaler) and prepared to tackle my nemesis, The Bridge.

As I climbed the first hill I heard someone behind me observe, “Just a 5K left” and I turned up the volume on my headphones. The last thing I needed was to fall into that trap.

I passed a guy walking on carbon fiber legs. And as it always does, it reminded me that if he can do this, I can sure as hell can do this.

At the mile eight marker (more like 8.15 by Garmin) I risked my first look at my overall time. I had 25 minutes. And my least favorite stretch of the race in front of me. THE hill. Well, overpass actually. I struggled up this damn thing the last three years, and 25 minutes didn’t feel like enough of a cushion.

But you know what? Charging up this sucker didn’t hurt any more than the rest of the race had up to this point. I remembered something my coach had said last week: on speed days, run until it hurts, then keep going. Pushing through makes your body learn a new normal. And I think my summer hill regimen (plus dozens of miles with my BRFs) taught my body a new normal.

I passed people as I climbed. And that mile was my fastest, up to that point anyway. At the top, I heard “we made it through hell and back again” through my headphones and I laughed. Partly because it was true, and partly because it played this same song at this same point last year. What a difference a year makes.

One more mile to go.

This stretch has always felt hilly and awful. But like the overpass, it was less awful than I remembered. I saw a woman wearing a Notre Dame shirt and wanted to flash Hook ’em Horns, but considering how far both football teams have fallen since our win, I decided I had no room to gloat.

I heard sirens coming from the bridge, and I hoped K and her friends were okay.

Half-mile to go. I didn’t look at my watch.

I picked up the pace and started passing people again. My lungs hurt from hours of breathing cold, windy air. My left calf made sure I knew it was angry. My quads had long ago moved from angry to enraged. But I could see the balloon arches from the start. Almost there.

Unfortunately the balloons had not been moved to the actual finish line. I still couldn’t even see the finish line. That took some wind out of my sails.

But I could hear the announcer (over “Don’t Stop Believin’) asking runners to stay to the left to make room for an emergency vehicle coming through on the right. Then sirens. A guy on a stretcher. EMTs. It looked like the man was responding to questions from the paramedics, so I’m hopeful he’s okay.

And suddenly, I crossed the timing mats. I guess the wind had caused problems with the usual overhead finish line, along with the balloons, and I couldn’t see it through the crowd until I was upon it. That’s the kind of race day surprise I can deal with!

Unofficial time was 1:58:37.

Today reminded me that I’ve been lucky, weather wise, the last three years to run in crisp sunshine. While not awful, these were easily the most uncomfortable conditions I’ve experienced for this race. The clouds and wind kept it from getting too warm, but I fought their relentless gusts the whole way. My quads hurt from the first mile and never warmed up.

But I did it. Not only that, the last two miles–including the hill that tanked me last year–were my fastest. In fact, from mile five on, I ran each mile faster than the last.

I guess I have to rename my playlist now.

It’s time

Three hundred and sixty-two days ago I missed my Army Ten-Miler goal by 30 seconds.

I’m still a little bitter about that.

Later this morning, I leave for Washington D.C. for this year’s race. And on Sunday, I hope to redeem myself.

But it won’t be without challenges. Although it looks like Hurricane Matthew will stay further south, the forecast puts race-day temperatures in the 50s, easily ten degrees warmer than it’s been the previous three years. Not my favorite.

Still, I have to remind myself that no matter what happens on Sunday, I’m just proud to be able to run it through the streets of D.C., past awe-inspiring national memorials and the center of government, surrounded by amazing friends, wounded servicemen and women, and people running on behalf of someone who can’t. My personal performance is only a small part of why I run this race.

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