Richmond Ready

I just want to preface this by saying that overall - objectively, not meant to be taken in any particular way - that I did not train for this as well as I have trained for my other marathons. Not that I trained poorly, but for the majority of training my focus was not on getting in miles and getting faster but on rehabbing an injury (which I've never had during marathon training before). I missed 3 long runs total, 2 of which were pretty key runs (an 18- and a 20-miler), and I don't think I've ever missed more than 1 during any previous marathon training cycles. I don't think I've missed 3 long runs, total, out of all my previous marathon training cycles. But regardless - and I know this sounds like a cover-your-ass kind of thing or a thing people say to make themselves feel better, but I really mean this: I am really happy and really proud that I made it this far and my big goal is to get to the start line and then over the finish line.

I came in to this training cycle feeling a little physically burnt out. I've only recently started putting the pieces together on this, but I think I was a little overtrained this spring. I had a lot of life stuff going on at the time that 100% factored in to my blowing up at Ocean City in April, but even without that stuff I felt the best physically during Shamrock in March, yet continued full steam ahead until Ocean City about a month and a half later. I was never mentally burnt out though, but I still took some time off from running and backed off on my mileage in the couple of months after O.C. By the time marathon training came round in July I was really excited about it. I was really looking forward to this race and felt really good about it, and about my training plan, and I was psyched to start. So mentally I was in a good place, one that I had struggled to get back to and I was really happy about that. But I think I made a mistake not recognizing that I had overtrained in the spring and then trying to keep that same level and then advance it for the marathon. I think I just did too much too fast, which all kind of makes sense when I look back at it now. It didn't at the time but it does now.

But as excited as I was for marathon training, it did not by any means go how I expected. This whole year for my running has been so different, and this training cycle in particular has been unlike any I've ever experienced before. Every training cycle is a little bit different, of course, but this one was full of curveballs and there were many times I thought the smart and right thing to do would be to drop to the half marathon. I never really considered dropping out entirely because I was confident I could get through the half, but I had times I thought about dropping down and might have if not for my brother-in-law also running it (his first marathon!), and also wanting to do my 50k in December. Obviously the 50k was not contingent on me running Richmond, but it did mean that I couldn't back down on distance overall so I decided to try to stick it out.

Starting marathon training in the middle of the summer was something I have never done before, and of course that was difficult. My pace suffered, as everyone's does and as I knew it would - I was prepared for that, but I still found myself struggling to hit paces that I should have been able to hit based on previous times. I'm not an expert or a coach and I don't really know anything about anything, but I think I was still feeling the repercussions of overtraining in the spring because by the time marathon training started in July it felt even harder than usual.

On the flip side, I think I did a good job of not getting frustrated by that. I definitely had runs where I was frustrated, and don't mean to pretend like I didn't, but I think overall I was more able to accept where I was and the paces I was running (or not running) better than I have been able to previously when I haven't been able to perform like I think I should. So even though I had some runs that left me frustrated or upset or wondering what was going on with me, I didn't let it get to me and just moved on. That's the main reason why in the beginning I didn't write or talk about training - there was really nothing to say about it. I was running slower paces than I have in a really long time and I really didn't have anything insightful to say about that - that's just the way it was.

So for the first third of training things were going okay but nothing special. Then the middle third was when I was going through my hip/glute injury, showing up to most of my runs not knowing for sure if or how far I was going to make it. I was able to make it through the majority of them, but I had to slow down even more than I already had been. Any semblance of speed work was completely off the table indefinitely. Thankfully it never got bad enough that I had to totally quit training and I did my best to deal with it to take it day by day. Around week 10 those days turned into an entire week where I knew that pushing myself to run would not be the correct decision, and so I missed a whole week of training. I think most runners can relate that sometimes that's the hardest thing to do, but actually it was pretty easy for me, and that tells me I made the right decision. I kept my eye on the prize the whole time and in the past that's been really hard for me, so I'm really proud of myself for recognizing that I might be able to get through 40 miles one week but it might cost me the marathon, and that those 26 miles were more important than the miles I had to do that day or that week.

The last 6 weeks, the last third of training, has been pulling the pieces together at the last minute the best I can. For a while it was touch-and-go but for the last 3 weeks, maybe 4, but I went to see a physical therapist and was able to get everything working again. I've been able to run pain-free for about 3 or 4 weeks now, which has been great but is certainly not enough time to get totally back on track. At this point the ship has pretty much sailed as far as getting in quality training, so the last few weeks my focus has been on getting in my long runs and making up as much lost time as I can without putting myself back where I started and getting injured. 

So it's been an interesting and unpredictable training cycle. certainly not what I wanted at the beginning. I went into this hoping a PR was somewhere out there but not feeling in any way, shape, or form confident that that was a real possibility. I realized pretty quickly that my fitness was not quite there and I'm honestly really fine with that. I know it's coming up on 2 years ago at this point, but I'm still beyond thrilled that I was able to run a 3:58 at Shamrock last spring. It feels like eons ago but it really wasn't that long ago, I've accomplished so much since then. A marathon PR this fall would have been nice if that's the way things had panned out and if that's where my training had led me, but it hasn't and I'm still very pleased with that PR. I have no idea when or if I'll be in a position to break that but I'm happy leaving it on the table as a future goal to strive for and knowing that now just isn't quite the right time.

So goals! I have some, but they come with the caveat that I don't know what to expect. I really don't. My pace has been kind of all over the place and I really don't know how to gauge what I'm capable of on race day. I just haven't done enough long long runs this training cycle or recently to feel like I really have a handle on them, so that's leaving me unsure of what's realistically possible and what's not. But with that said...

C Goal: 4:30 and/or faster than my Ironman marathons (NC - 4:28, Louisville - 4:36)
I would like to think I can run a standalone marathon faster than those but maybe not? But maybe. I hope so. I wouldn't be super thrilled with a 4:30ish but I guess I wouldn't be super disappointed either.

B Goal: Second fastest marathon (sub-4:17)
Like I said, I'm pretty sure a PR is well off the table and has been for some time, but there's almost a 20-minute gap between my fastest (3:58) and my second-fastest (4:18), so falling somewhere in there would be nice.

A Goal: Sub-4:10
Real talk: I would just really love to not be significantly slower than my PR.

I think my plan is to start in between the 4:00 and 4:15 pacers and just see what happens! Starting with the 4:15 would be the wiser choice especially since I'm not even positive I can keep up with them, but man I would really like to at least keep that 4:00 group in sight. If I do start close to the 4:00 group I think it will be pretty obvious after a mile or two if I need to drop back, and if that happens then maybe I'll try to hang on to the 4:15 group. We'll see!

With all of that said, I am really excited to run this marathon. For a long time I wasn't, but now I finally am. It felt like it took forever to get here, especially because summer seemed never-ending, but now it's finally here and I am finally ready. It's so easy to focus on all the things this training cycle hasn't been, and all the things this race isn't going to be - not in a negative way, just in a realistic way - and not on all the things that it will be. But what is is is a big deal and a major accomplishment! It's been over a year since the last marathon I ran (IM Louisville) and over a year and a half since I last ran a standalone marathon. It's only my 7th marathon (including IM - I never know if or how to count those) which seems like a lot but also doesn't. Someone at work today found out I was running this and asked how far and when I told her 26.2 miles she was taken back a little and said, "You can run 26 miles?!" and I immediately responded, "Yeah, I can!" In that moment it struck me how cool it was a cool thing to be able to say that. 

It took me a while to get back into the swing of things with long distance, and in the beginning 10 and 12 mile runs were a hardcore struggle. I really doubted if I would ever get back to this point. Running was just hard and then I dealt with injury and I just haven't had the opportunity to train like I really wanted to. But when I have done my really long runs I've felt freaking incredible. It truly feels superhuman being able to do this at any pace. I think because I know so many runners and triathletes and most of my friends have done half or full marathons that I forget that we're really a small subset of the world at large and that it is not normal for most people to move their bodies 26 miles. I'm excited to prove to myself that I can.

I hope that when I get to the start line I'm just happy that a) I'm there and b) I'm not sweating to death because those are the only two things I wanted this summer. I know it's so stupid and such a runner cliche to complain about the weather but the reason I run is to enjoy my surroundings and the world around me, and I am not able to do that when it's one billion degrees outside. So I hope I can stand there in the 40 degree weather, without KT tape up and down my leg, without worries or doubts about making it through the distance (aside from the normal, reasonable ones of course because marathons are inherently kind of scary), and just be glad that I made it there and that I have a body that can do this.

I think the biggest lesson I've learned this year is that just because I've done something before doesn't mean I can do it again now, or ever again. It's almost been...not like starting over, not a continuation, not a new chapter, but another book entirely. I loved that last book - it had happy chapters, it had sad chapters, and it had a great ending and I loved it - but this is a new book, completely unrelated to my last book. So this marathon is the first one of this book and that's a story I'm looking forward to writing on Saturday!

My First Ultra: A Registration Story

I always said I'd never run an ultra.

I would happily run up to 26.2 miles, but a step beyond that was a step too far. I was elated to add, "marathoner" to my running resume in 2014 but never had any desire, at all, whatsoever, to add the "ultra-" prefix.

Except...I'm nothing if not steadfast in my appreciation for numerical symbolism, so I have always had the caveat that maybe, maybe, IF, I ever ran an ultra (and it would only be a 50k because, again, NOT that interested in running much farther than 26.2, if any at all), I might consider running a 50k (31.1 miles) for my 31st birthday. 

I was born on October 2, 1987 and turned 31 earlier this month.

So here we are.

Truthfully, aside from the (arguably unncessary) extra distance - the ultra in ultramarathon - the biggest reason I've never had a desire to run an one is because I truly don't enjoy trail running, and that's where 99% of ultramarathons take place. A large majority of them are on difficult, technical trails, and that's neither my running forte nor my happy place. The only trails I've ever really run on are in First Landing State Park in Virginia Beach - a magical place that's in the woods but still only about a half mile in either direction from either the ocean or an inlet, which is my kind of trail. There's one main trail about 5 miles long that's nice and wide and open, with some narrower side trails. There are some gentle undulations, especially on the side trails, but extremely mild as far as trail running is concerned (from what I understand, anyway, considering I've never done it).

Earlier this year I was really struggling with where I wanted to go next in my running, and I tossed around everything from gunning for a half marathon PR to doing a few half Ironmans to maybe running my first ultramarathon. Every December the local run club in Virginia Beach hosts a 50k on the trails in First Landing, so I've known about it for several years now but have never considered it a legitimate possibility. But this past January, as I was really wrestling over whether or not to move back to Virginia Beach from DC - I loved my job but it made more sense for Ben's job for us to be in VB, and I missed the beach with every fiber of my being - I told myself that if if we ended up back in VB sometime this year that would be a sign, and I'd run the 50k. Even though of all the races I was considering the ultra was the one the most out of left field, I kind of loved the idea of doing something totally different and - even though I'd checked off basically everything on my running to-do and wish lists - of still having something new and exciting to work toward. Ultimately Ben and I decided it made the most sense - for his job, for us, for our family - to move, and so we moved back in April. 

Although I had a million other things to focus on with moving and starting a new job, the thought of that 50k, the promise I'd made to myself, and the idea that that Universe had put these plans in motion for me never left my mind. I even recruited my friend Robert to sign up with me! Somehow this big, crazy thing I said I'd never do became more and more of a reality, and the more I thought about it, the more I loved the idea of it. I think it was around May that we agreed we both wanted to run it, but registration didn't open until June. I checked the race website every week or even every few days, and even more frequently the closer we got to June. Finally, a few days into June, there it was! Registration was open...but I wasn't quite yet ready to register. My head was still spinning from my second Mountains of Misery the week before, I was still trying to decide if I wanted to do a half Ironman in September, a road marathon in November, or an ultra in December (actually I was trying to convince my coach how I could do all 3...), and I just didn't have my head on straight enough to make a decision about the 50k. Plus, it's not like it was going to sell out!

But that's exactly what happened. Even though I had no intention of signing up right away, I still checked the website daily. It has looked like this since the beginning of June (and still does as of this screenshot on October 14):

So imagine my shock and horror when on June 14, less than a week after registration opened, I had the following text exchange with my dad:

I deleted Twitter a while ago and am rarely on Facebook, so I missed all updates that the run club put out in the first (and only) week that registration was open. That whole week when I had been going straight to the race website (which is hosted on the run club's website but is a separate page:, the run club website showed a feed of their Twitter page clearly showing that there were 200 spots left...then 100...then 50...then none...

I was truly in disbelief, mainly because this sellout happened within one week of registration being open. I knew this was a somewhat popular race, and I was pretty sure it wasn't very big, and I had never run it or followed its participation closely so I couldn't immediately quantify either of those things, but I never thought it would sell out that quickly. It turns out my gut instinct was right: after going back in time via Twitter, I discovered that last year the race sold out in September and that the year before it had sold out in October. So, yes, somewhat of a trend in an earlier sell-out date, BUT it was previously capped at 200 participants and this year the cap increased to 300. So, to recap, that's 100 more people than usual who signed up 3 months sooner than usual? I still can't get the math to make sense. 

At any rate, it filled ip within a week, and I didn't realize how invested I was in this race until it was swept out from under me. I was gutted. Gutted! The only 50k I've ever wanted to do, and the only year I've ever wanted to do it, and it was gone before it even started. There was an option to be added to a waitlist, which I did, but considering that I was #48 on the list, my hopes for ever getting in were pretty low.

I wasn't willing to let it go that easily though, and the more I thought about it, the more I realized there was no reason my friend and I couldn’t go out and run our own, unsupported 50k the day after the official race. There would be nothing stopping me - I could go out to that trail and run 50k tomorrow if I wanted to. As for the missed benefits of doing an actual race, there are actually only two aid stations provided on the course (which you hit multiple times because of the multiple loops, but only two physical locations), and they’re both permanent fixtures at trailheads, with water fountains and bathrooms, not anything specifically set up by or for the race. Sure, the race would provide extra water and food at each one, but I could just as easily stash my own food (which is what I’d likely eat anyway rather than on-course food since that’s what I’m used to). Of course, the biggest thing I’d miss out on would be the full race experience and the camaraderie of running with a few hundred other people, which would be a huge downside, but I was really only interested in doing this 50k this one, so that was a sacrifice I was willing to make. Everyone I told thought it was crazy, but luckily my friend is even crazier than I am (like, just-ran-a-trail-marathon-on-a-whim-2-weeks-after-an-Ironman kind of crazy) and he was all in. So that was new the plan! We were doing it no matter what!

My Richmond training and Robert’s IM Maryland/OBX Marathon training feed right into the 50k, which is 5 weeks after our marathons, so even though we continued to build our distance, the 50k was more of an afterthought. I still checked the waiting list periodically just in case, but after a couple months I had only moved up a few spots. It wasn’t looking good.

Then one day in August, the tide unexpectedly turned. Robert texted me to tell me that he had just met with potential renter at one of his properties and the race came up in conversation when the guy saw his IM license plate frame. It turns out that the renter is a well-known and well-connected local runner and knows the director of the 50k really well. Robert ended up renting the house out to this guy, and (unrelated to their property deal, ha) told me that his renter said he’d have no problem getting us both into the race.

Say what! 

It was such a weird, small-world turn of events. 

And that’s where I thought the story would end, but it’s actually not. I’m not sure of the details, but to make a long story short (too late!) (name that movie reference), nothing really ended up coming out of that connection as far as I can tell. Every week or so we would hear that we were definitely in and would receive confirmation soon, but by mid-September hadn’t received anything. I wasn’t too worried about it, as the race isn’t until December, and I assumed we would get confirmation eventually. Given that I have the Richmond Marathon 5 weeks before the 50k, and that I’ve been dealing with injuries that have made me wonder if I can even make it through these races (for the record, I’m fairly confident at this point that I’m good to go), the fact that I wasn’t officially signed up for the ultra just wasn’t something I was focused on. It definitely wasn’t something I was thinking about the morning the Hokie Half Marathon - my 31st half marathon and a week before my 31st birthday. 

A quick aside: the Hokie Half is one of my favorite races and always ends up being a magical experience for me. My first time running it in 2014 was my first sub-2, in 2015 it was a training run just before my first half Ironman, and in 2016 it was my last long run before what was supposed to be my first full Ironman. Blacksburg is such a special place to me and the times I’ve Hokie Half have all been different but pure gold all the same. I’ve never had anything short of an amazing race there.

This year was no exception: I ran pain-free for the first time in weeks (months?) and I improved my time from a half two weeks prior by 6 minutes (on a hilly course), but that wasn't all. As I was running the race, just before mile 1, my watch alerted me that I had a notification on my phone. I saw that it was an email and would usually just give a quick glance, but I saw the name of the 50k somewhere in the short blurb (all my watch can handle displaying), so I pulled my phone out of my Flip Belt to read it. It was a notification that I was off the waiting list, with an invitation to register good for the next 3 days. I couldn't believe it! Even though I had spent the last month or so being fairly confident I was going to get into the race, I never expected to actually get off the waitlist and for it to happen like that. At that point I didn't care how I got in, it was just a relief to know that I was definitely, 100%, officially in the race. I signed up later that day on the drive home - what a great early 31st birthday present and boost to my 31st half marathon! 

So that’s the long version of how didn’t sign up in time, was going to run my own 50k, then thought I might have someone to pull some strings to get me in, but ultimately just ended up just signing up like a normal person. I don’t think Robert’s connection ended up making a difference, but I guess it doesn’t matter in the end. I don’t think I’ll ever take the chance on an important race selling out before I register ever again!

Richmond Marathon Training: Getting My Feet Under Me

Hello, training blogging, my old friend.

I don't even know where to start with this one, primarily because I don't think I want to share my Richmond training the way I have historically shared my training: with daily workout recaps, weekly stats, etc. While the data nerd in me really wants to scratch that itch, it can rest assured knowing that I have all of that information stored in Garmin, Smashrun, my training spreadsheet, etc. There is truly no need to rehash it here, as I'm not sure how interesting it would be, and I'm not sure it's good for me anyway. I've gone through a lot of growth in my training this year - a lot of progress, some setbacks, some mental clarity, sometimes of more confusion than ever - and as much as I want to try to write it all down, to qualify it and to quantify it, I'm not sure that I can. And even if I could, I'm not sure that I should. 

But because I haven't really recorded or documented anything beyond the basics, I have arrived here, at week 14 of marathon training - nearly to the end of yet another training cycle - wondering where the weeks have gone. Isn't that the way it always goes though? That's a real question, not a rhetorical one, because I really don't remember the answer. I have some form of training amnesia where every training cycle I forget everything about the last one, which is part of the reason I have kept detailed training logs for so long. It helps me to be able to look back and remember the high points and the low points, to remind myself what feelings are normal and happen every single time. I just didn’t feel like doing that this time, and I have no regrets about that choice, but it does make it more difficult to look back and form a nice narrative of exactly how things have gone.

So let’s start from the beginning, or at least what I can remember of it.

I stopped working with my coach on literally the first day of this training cycle, which wasn't altogether unexpected but was still an...interesting way to start a new training cycle. It was a mutual decision and, honestly, a bit of a relief, as it gave me the freedom and the flexibility to map out a training plan that I could truly care and be excited about (not that I wasn't excited about my coach's training plan, but there's something about having a personal stake in my training that really motivates me). 

The first six weeks of training went just fine - not great, not bad, just fine. I focused on running more intuitively, running how I wanted when I wanted, rather than 100% according to plan. As a former strict canned plan follower this was a departure from my past marathon training, but I liked it. I felt like I had lots of freedom to enjoy life without the marathon taking over (maybe even too much freedom) and my runs, while not spectacular, we’re decent enough to keep me going day after day. There was truly nothing noteworthy to report. 

Things changed somewhere around week 7. That was the week Mollie Tibbetts’s body was found. Mollie was a complete stranger, years and states apart from me, but her disappearance while on a run in rural Iowa in mid-July shook me. I followed her case for a month, and I knew it wasn’t a question of how it would end, it was a question of when. I thought I’d feel some type of strange morbid relief when her body was finally found, hoping to confirm my wishful thinking that it had been an accident, a hit-and-run - tragic, absolutely, but not sinister. When her body was found the news quickly emerged that a suspect was in custody, a suspect who had followed, harassed, and attacked her. The fact that Mollie spent her last moments on this earth living out my biggest fear and worst nightmare was devastating. 

I have never grieved for a complete stranger like I grieved for Mollie. I sobbed at random intervals, I was nauseous, I was on edge. Paranoid is my default state when I run, but not enough to make me do 100% of the things I can do to stay safe 100% of the time. I run alone, I run in the dark, I run with headphones, I let my mind wander and stop paying attention to my surroundings. After Mollie died my paranoia hit an all time high, and my running suffered. Around that same time the morning light during my before-work running window had all but vanished, so I stopped running in the morning. I stopped caring about tempo paces or intervals. I had a run they day after her body was found that I couldn’t even bring myself to finish. 

I wish I could say that I was at least in a good physical place despite not being in a good mental place, but that’s not true either. Around that same time I started feeling some pain in my right thigh. Note that I have had nearly every injury you can think of on my left side, but until now, my right side had stayed perfectly intact. I cautiously hobbled through runs at an easy pace, but a week later the pain had returned bad enough that I took one searing step of a planned 5-miler before calling it off. I had a half marathon scheduled 3 days later and although I drove to packet pickup the day before with almost no intention of being able to run 13 miles the next day, I made it though with copious massage, ibuprofen, and KT tape (and my slowest half marathon time in 4.5 years). 

And that’s more or less how the last 8 weeks have gone. I’ve thrown out any semblance of speedwork, approach every run cautiously, and have been solidly in rehab mode since late August. My pain has been slowly decreasing overall, but it ebbs and flows and moves all around, from my hamstring to my knee to my piriformis to my hip flexors back and forth a bunch of times. At times it’s made running an impossibility, but mostly it’s just irritating. I’ve skipped my two longest long runs (an 18-miler and a 20-miler) and missed an entire week of running (although that was for a random foot thing on my left side that luckily went away with rest). I’ve missed over 65 miles of training, pretty important miles when training should have been really ramping up. 

On the bright side, since this crap started I have made it through two half marathons (the second one much hillier than the first flat one, yet 6 minutes faster!) and a few 16-17 milers. I know that all is not lost, but my training certainly hasn’t been ideal and has been far less than I’ve ever trained for a marathon before. I never had a clear picture of how I wanted this training cycle to go or what I wanted from Richmond, but if I had, this would not be it.

Now, a more reasonable person might have seen the writing on the wall, but not me. Maybe it would make more sense to drop to the half or not do this race at all - and believe me, I have shuffled through both options several times - but as long as I think I can get through the race without significant pain or damage, I’m going to do it. I’ve been seeing a sports massage therapist I really like and trust, I’m seeing a PT I also really like and trust next week, and I feel like I’m in good hands. The pain is like a 2 on a scale from 1 to 10, so I don’t feel like I’m doing further damage, it’s just annoying that it’s there at all. 

But I feel like I can manage it, and that’s all I’m really interested in doing at this point. I ran a big PR last year that I’m still happy with, and don’t think I was in any position to even come close to that this year (injury or not), so nothing lost there. I plan on taking some time off from marathoning after IM Lake Placid next year, so if I scrapped Richmond I don’t even know what my next opportunity would be. At this point I’m just looking forward to getting through another 26.2 miles, running through a pretty city and enjoying some hopefully nice weather (something I think will be easy to appreciate considering it has been summer for what has felt like 14 years straight). I know those sound like things injured people say to make themselves feel better, but they’re true! And I don’t totally consider myself injured as much as just not capable of running to my full potential right now. But that was true well before this injury started, so no big change in the grand scheme of things. 

Plus! I do have one original intention for this race that still holds: I’m using it as a training run for my first ultra! I guess that gives me another thing to post about...

Racing Wisely: How I Chose My Fall Race

I had a lot of trouble deciding what races to run this year - not because I was having a hard time finding one, but because I found too many and couldn't decide what to do. This is the first fall since 2014 that I haven't had a half or full Ironman, so it's the first fall in several years that my race calendar has been wide open and I've been able to consider lots of races I've had to put on the backburner. I really had a hard time deciding whether I wanted to do a half Ironman or a full marathon (or both?!) this fall, but eventually I decided on focusing strictly on running. It still feels a little weird that this is my first summer since 2013 with absolutely zero triathlon training, but as much as I've missed it, I've enjoyed the break even more.

With my decision to focus on running set, I had to figure out what exactly that meant. There are approximately 427 fall races that I love or would love to run, but just because I took tri off the table didn't mean I could run all the running races that struck my fancy. There are so many great fall races, and for good reason - it's the best running time of the year - but I had to narrow them down and focus. Most of all, I had to pick one to be my big/goal race. I had one in mind - the Richmond Marathon - but I was having trouble fully committing and articulating why exactly I wanted to run it. 

As I was working through that, I remembered a book I discovered a few years ago - Racing Wisely by Sage Rountree - that deals with exactly this topic. I purchased the book after taking a class with Sage at Wanderlust in 2015, mere days before I began training for my first 70.3. Sage is an OG in yoga for athletes, and I actually bought her Yoga for Runners book (in print!) shortly after I started running in 2011, but I never realized she was such an accomplished endurance athlete and Ironman several times over until taking a class with her. Racing Wisely is a short but comprensive guide to - you guessed it! - racing wisely, from choosing a race and a training plan all the way to race logistics and even post-race recovery.

When I bought it originally I was well into the throes of training for my chosen race, so I admittedly skipped over the first half of the book to get to the race day guidance. Considering that I've found the latter half of the book to be so useful for race prep (I've used it to write race plans for several big races), I wasn't at all surprised to discover that the guidance for choosing a race was super helpful too. I was really hesitant and doubtful of my ability to choose a race since my spring goal half went so poorly, largely because I put basically no thought into the race I chose other than its practicality. This book led me through the thought process I needed to go to in order to figure out why I felt pulled to race Richmond, and whether or not I should listen to that feeling. 

One of the first points Sage makes is to point out the difference between intention and goals. These concepts come up in the race plans I have made previously, so I was familiar with them, but I enjoyed taking a deeper dive into them. Essentially, both are important parts of racing, but they're opposite sides of a coin: intention is private, internal, and helps us to remember to bring the right attitude, especially to the things we can't control. Goals, on the other hand, are public and measurable outcomes, and help us have the ability to control the things we can control. Intention is our philosphical approach to the race, while goals are our practical approach. The combination of these two allows us to meet our goals while maintaining a positive outlook according to our intention. This means that not every race may be a PR, but every race can be a personal best. 

I felt a little lost in my racing and my goals at the time, so I found this section extremely enlightening. It reminded me of what racing, at its core, really means to me. Racing is the perfect opportunity to use the things we can't control as an opportunity for resilience and endurance, which we can then apply to our everyday lives. And, most of all, racing gives us the opportunity to reflect on what we already know about ourselves. Running and racing have been the best way for me to get to know myself, and I felt like I needed to open myself up to that again in order to find my new normal.

Racing puts something on the line. It raises the stakes in a way that demands we bring our personal best effort to the table. 

The next section dealt with the what of racing - the reasons why we do it, what it does for us, why it's important, why it's necessary.

Racing commits you to paying attention, which is hard to do in our daily life, which is full of distractions. In a race you don't stop at a convenience store for a sports drink, or pause by the side of the road to check your text messages. In a race, you are totally in the moment.

This passage hit me like a ton of bricks! As I read it all of my spring races came flooding to memory, particularly the Ocean City Half Marathon. Suddenly all I could see was myself walking along the course, pulling my phone out of my FlipBelt to text my coach about how badly everything sucked. I had always known I was never really present in that race, but as I read those words it really hit me. I felt embarrassed and sad that I had wasted a race by not being in the moment, and it made me yearn to feel that way again.

There was a lot of discussion in this section of the book about the risk of failure that comes along with racing, which I found interesting considering the point of the book is to help navigate what should be a positive and exciting endeavor. The point was that failure is a necessary risk we all take when choosing to run a race, and that in order to be successful, we have to commit to the race despite that risk.

When we mitigated capacity for risk, we also mitigate capacity for joy.

That sentence, perhaps more than any other, made me realize what I had been doing in my attempts to self-sabotage. I had been mitigating my capacity for risk, which had mitigated my capacity for joy. I had thrown in the towel when I knew or even thought I couldn't achieve what I set out to achieve. I had made excuses when things got too hard, saying that I didn't want to do it anyway. And you know, those things might have been somewhat true for some races I didn't this spring that my heart wasn't in, and I give myself grace for that. The trick is to, as Sage says in the book, 

Choose a race that inspires you to throw your whole self into the challenge, a race where the reward is worth the risk.

That was another little kernel that reminded me of all the things I loved about racing but had somehow lost along the way. It was a reminder of the vulnerability that comes with racing, the thrill of opening ourselves up to failure but also of opening ourselves up to success, the infinite possibility of surpassing the limits we think we have. This was the reason I started running and racing in the first place. And as I have struggled to accept that running and racing will never, can never be the same as it was in the beginning, I have come to understand that that doesn't mean there are not still goals to be achieved or lessons to be learned. It just means that progress is not linear, and that that isn't a reason to stop doing something that has historically brought so much joy and meaning to my life and can continue to do so if I just look at it through the right lens.

Even though I already had my eye on a race before I took this deep dive, it still opened my eyes. I have run a lot of races in the past year or however far back you want to look, but other than Shamrock this spring (where I didn't PR - and wasn't planning to - but ran one of my best races ever and came within a minute of my PR), I don't remember the last race I ran just for me. I realized I needed to find myself - my current, 2018, post-Ironman self - through running and racing.

So that left me with the desire to race and a philosophical approach to finding one, but what about the practical side? The flipside of choosing a race that is a worthwhile risk is choosing a race that suits your personal strengths. I thought back to previous races I had considered to be successful and found some commonalities including, but not limited to:
  • cold weather, even adverse weather
  • a familar course/location
  • medium size field
  • some crowd support without being overwhelming or distracting
I tried not to let the fact that I already had Richmond in mind influence my list, but either way it seemed to fit the bill. I have run the half marathon 3 times (2013, 2014, and 2016) and have always enjoyed the course and the overall race experience. I have heard nothing but good things about the full marathon and have had it on my radar for several years (in fact, I intended to run it in 2014 but had already run 2 marathons that year, including my first, and got burnt out on training halfway through). I have only ever run flat marathons, so the hillier course will be challenging, but it intrigues me. I am confident that preapring for and conquering the hills will only help me feel like my strongest and best self.  I set my half marathon PR on one of the hilliest courses I've ever run, so I know I'm capable of running a full that isn't pancake flat! Ultimately, Richmond has elements of other races - weather, location, terrain - that I have been loved and been successfult. And, if nothing else, fall is my absolute favorite time to run - it makes me feel so alive and makes my heart so full! I really have no interest in running any other fall marathon out there, and may never run another one again after this since summer training is certainly not my favorite thing in the world.

But for now, I am all in on Richmond (just as soon as I trust myself enough to pull the trigger on registering).

For A Minute There I Lost Myself

It’s me...

In the three months since I last updated (is that really all?!), I have:

  • crashed and burned in what was supposed to be a goal race
  • lost a pet
  • moved from my temporary digs at my MIL’s to my house, which I’ve owned for 7 years but have only lived in less than half that time
  • started a new job
  • spent almost every Saturday at the beach, as I have dreamed of doing for the last 4 years
  • ridden my bike 100+ miles up a mountain (for the second year in a row)

A little more detail on the big stuff and what I've been up to:

I bombed my A race. 

I trained for and ran 4 half marathons between February and April, with the goal of running a PR at the last one. As you’ll recall, this was the first revision of my spring running plans, as until late January I was training to the full NJ Marathon but had a change of heart and decided to drop to the half. That plan was revised again when, in the middle of training for these spring races, I half-unexpectedly ended up getting moving for a new job - one that began at 8am the day after I was scheduled to run a race an 8-hour drive away. I knew I wouldn’t be able to make it to the race and back with enough time to feel comfortable starting work the next day, but my coach convinced me to not waste all of my training, so I found a similar but closer race in Ocean City, MD to run that weekend instead. 

Truth be told, my heart was never really in Ocean City, and I’m not even sure it would have been in New Jersey if that had worked out as planned. After Shamrock in March (the same week I found out about the new job/move) I was completely distracted with all things moving, and that continued until well into May. My training continued and went well, but felt unfocused. We lived with my mother-in-law for almost a month waiting for our house to be ready, and living out of suitcases for that long took its toll. To top it all off, our ferret was very sick the whole time and passed away the night before we headed out of town for the race. I say these things not as excuses, but as evidence of my mind stare at the time. I tried to get myself excited but I just couldn’t, and a few miles into the race - which started out on a beautiful Assateague Island morning but quickly turned into a long, monotonous march down a tree-lined road - I was simply done. I had stomach issues I hadn’t had in quite some time (moving wreaked havoc on my eating schedule and digestion for over a month), it was warmer than the weather I had been training in, and I just was. not. feeling. it. 

After throwing down 4 miles at my goal pace (8:15) I just couldn’t take it anymore and, as the Queen of Self-Sabotage, threw in the towel. It wasn’t the total meltdown I had at Kiawah last December, and I never thought about quitting, but those 9 miles to the finish were some of the longest I have ever run. I was beyond checked out. My goal went from 1:48 early in the race to 1:50 by the halfway point to 1:55 by mile 10 to omg for the first time since I first ran a sub-2 in 2014, I am going to be lucky to finish under 2 hours. I finally crossed in 1:58:45. I have no regrets about blowing up nor did I at any point beat myself up over it - I think I knew what I was getting into and the outcome, while not what I would have liked, was not at all a surprise. This one definitely taught me a big lesson about being selective with races and running them for a good reason.

I ran some races I wish I hadn’t. 

Every finish line is worthwhile, and regret would be a strong word to use, but I ran some races that I probably would have been better off without. Ocean City definitely qualifies - I worked SO hard getting my speed back down to pre-IM paces this spring and understand my coach’s direction to not let that go to waste just because I couldn’t run the race I had planned to run, but I wish I hadn’t taken that advice. I knew deep down that I didn’t want to do that race (or even any race at that point) but I didn’t listen to myself. Again, I don’t regret running it, but in hindsight I wish I had let Shamrock (when I felt like I mentally and physically peaked) be the shining star of my spring training and then let moving stuff happen without having to worry about training and racing.

I also added a last-minute 10k to my schedule in April, the Monument Avenue 10k. I have had it on my radar for years so when my friend suggested that he wanted to run it, I was quick to join in. However, as it was 2 weeks before Ocean City, my coach had me use it as a long workout. In hindsight, I wish I had either waited for another year or not run Ocean City, that way I could either race Monument Ave or run it for fun without the consideration of another race. I didn’t really end up doing either one of those things and feel like I kind of missed the point of signing up in the first place.

And on the cycling front, I did Mountains of Misery again even though I’m not sure that was the right call. I signed up under the pretense that, “I’ve done this before so I can do it again!”, a very bad habit I’ve gotten into and one that I am working very hard to get out of. The main problem is that I didn’t have time to train (did I mention April and May were crazy because of moving?!) like I did last year, but I showed up anyway and hoped for the best. This was always planned to be a slow, as-leisurely-as-a-100-mile-mountain-ride-can-be ride with some friends, so peak performance was not a priority, but I still could have and should have been more prepared. Overall it was still a fun day, although more difficult and painful than I was expecting. Again I don’t regret it but I wouldn’t have regretted sitting this one out either.

I enjoyed my downtime! 

This is the first summer since 2014 that I haven’t been training for a long distance tri (or any tri for that matter). It’s also my first summer back at the beach since 2015 and I have thoroughly been enjoying both aspects of this summer. I’ve spent most Saturdays on the beach and most Sundays either at yoga, getting stuff done around the house, on my dad’s boat, or just spontaneously doing whatever I want. I haven't had this kind of free time in years and it's the best.

I stopped working with my coach.

Nothing happened and it wasn't a dramatic split, but I think we both realized that being coached just wasn't working out for me. There were pros and cons and for a while the pros outweighed the cons, but once I felt like I got over the hump of...whatever was going on with me this winter/spring, I felt pulled to coach myself again. The style of training I was doing was a departure from how I've always trained, and it was hard to get used to and to trust that it would work. And the biggest issue I had is that at some point it became more stressful than not having someone else keeping tabs on my runs and my progress - I wanted the freedom to run more intuitively.

I learned a lot, and have incorporated some aspects of my coach's training into my own training, but I know myself and my body better than anyone. Plus, I genuinely like coming up with a training plan - I often enjoy that part way more than the training itself. I'm 3 weeks into coaching myself again, and while I do spend some of the time wishing I had someone else to guide me, I'm balancing having fun and challenging myself for the first time in while, and I'm feeling really good about that.

I stopped obsessing over numbers.

I've always been big into analyzing my runs and looking at whatever stats I can pull from Garmin, but somewhere along the way I went too far down the rabbit hole. My coach was really into heart rate training so for a while I was obsessed with my HR, especially on easy runs, to the point of frustration because I think my heart just works harder than most people's and it was basically impossible for me to slow down enough to get it under 150 while still making some forward motion that looked like running. And as far as my paces go, I've been sort of good about giving myself a pass due to how badly summer running sucks, but I was obsessively culling through past runs to compare weather and pace and HR and how they were all tied together and it was just TOO. MUCH. I finally took my HR screen off my watch completely so I have no idea what it is until I'm done running. I've been better about not checking the weather and just rolling with it - it's always going to be hot and humid AF, that's just a given, so there is no point in trying to quantify how bad it sucks just to make myself feel better.

I made a bunch of races plans for the summer/fall...and then nixed almost all of them. 

I don’t know if it was that I felt like I needed redemption from the O.C. half, or if I still hadn’t recovered from Ironman brain, but earlier this summer my plan for the fall was to do ALL THE THINGS. I wanted to do everything from a half Ironman in San Diego where half the run is on the beach to my first ultra marathon. I couldn’t decide whether my heart was in triathlon or running, but after several talks with my coach I knew I had to decide. I ended up deciding to focus on running for the remainder of the year, and to not do any triathlons for the first time since I started doing them in 2012. It’s been a little weird not having that presence in my life this summer, and I do miss it a little, bit that feeling is seriously outweighed by how much I’m enjoying not having that pressure. I thought it might be fun to do a sprint or two but haven’t been able to fit it into my schedule and I am perfectly okay with that! Triathlon will always be there.

I stopped sharing my runs on the internet.

I stopped blogging about running and I even stopped sharing runs on IG for the most part - or the details anyway - because I just wasn't in the mood to talk about it. I don't think that sharing so much was helpful or healthy for me and, to be honest, I've really kind of liked running without having to rehash the details (either online or to my coach).

With that said, I've had times throughout the last few months when I've missed blogging and writing about running and training and racing, and...that's why I'm here now, I guess. I gained a lot of clarity during my break and I'm glad that I took it. I'm not sure where to go from here or what my sharing will look like, but I do know that I am making some race plans that I think are going to be fun and exciting, and I do want to document them somehow - in a fun, exciting, and healthy way.

Getting on Track + Showing Up

Last Monday I watched Desi Linden's incredible Boston Marathon win, less than 6 months after Shalane Flanagan's equally incredible New York City Marathon win. Both of these brought the end of decades-long droughts of wins by American women at these races. Both of these women gave us inspiring performances and results, but they gave us something even greater: they proved to us that success isn't guaranteed, and that not finding it the first time or the second time or the third time or the nth time doesn't mean it will never happen. Whereas my goals change from race to race as I continue to improve, these women show up to every race with the same goal: to win. The requirements for winning can't be known ahead of time and depend on a lot of factors - the weather, the course, the other competitors - but each time, they show up knowing that they are capable of achieving their goals, but that there is no way to know how race day will play out.

Shalane made her marathon debut at NYC in November 2010, finishing in second place, 20 seconds behind the winner. She didn't earn her first place finish until NYC 7 years later. Desi ran her first marathon in Boston in 2007 and came in 5th. In 2011 she missed out on first place at Boston by two seconds, and it took her a total of 6 tries before becoming a Boston Marathon champion last Monday. Although they have each had extraordinarily successful careers and and have had major achievements at other races and distances, in that context of their ultimate goal, each of these women spent years - more years than I have been running in total - trying and missing the mark. That's something been on my mind a lot lately during my runs. Running better and faster is fun and PRs are exciting, but they don't happen every day or every race and that's okay. This spring has taught me to appreciate every race and even every run as its own experience. I'm doing more of celebrating the things I can do and less getting hung up on the things I can't do (yet), or even the things I've been able to do in the past but can't do (right now). 

I understand that advancing forward is the literal definition of progress, and that in order to know if I'm making progress I need to have some understanding of where I started, but I'm not doing a lot of comparing these days. Or at least not drawing any conclusions from my comparisons. A couple weeks ago I had a workout that included some 200m, 400m, and 1000m repeats. Did I completely blow up during my 1000s? Yep. Have I run faster 1000s than I did that day? Sure have. Did I also run more sub-7 splits during the shorter intervals than I ever have before? Pretty sure I did. How does that translate to my overall running abilities? Not sure. Does the fact that I got in some faster short intervals mean I'll be able to run a faster half marathon this week? No idea. Does it matter? I'm not sure that it does. For the first time in a long time, my training isn't exclusively tied to my race goals, and that's a good feeling for me. For the first time in a long time - honestly, maybe since my early Couch 2 5k days - each run is its own challenge and comes with its own potential accomplishments. If this all leads me to the half marathon PR I want, that's great! If not, I've already PRed the 5k and come within 50 seconds of my half marathon PR which, even just a few months ago, felt like it might be completely unattainable to ever get close to again. And I've done a lot more running and a lot harder running in the last few months than I've ever done before, which has been invaluable to me - whether I have race results to show for it or not.

My running and racing plans this spring have evolved more than they ever have over such a short period of time, and although I was reluctant at first to shift gears, finally giving in to that has arguably been one of the best things I have ever done for my running. In a few days I'll toe the line at my goal race, the one I've put the last 12 weeks of training into. I have no idea what race day will hold, but I feel more on track with my running - both mentally and physically - than I have in a long time. I feel ready to show up. 

I've been thinking about my plans after this block of training is over and what I might like to do in the fall/winter, but trying not to think about it too hard because the truth is I just don't know what I'm going to feel like doing 6 months from now. But I think, if nothing else, I'm going to keep showing up, the way I have been the last few months, because that's my happy place right now. I'm not pushing myself toward any arbitrary goal or for a time I think I deserve just because I've run X:XX in the past, and that has been a freeing experience. I think I'm finally back on track and am just going to keep taking it one race, one run, one step at a time. Just showing up and seeing what I can do. 

Spring Half Marathon Training - Week 12

What a great week! Things have finally normalized, at least for a little while, and I nailed my training plan - 100% as scheduled, 100% of my paces - for the first time in a few weeks. Every week I feel like I'm just kind of chugging along with my training and getting it done without thinking too much about how it will translate to race day. Speaking of, I made the decision to forego the NJ Half Marathon since I just don't think it's realistic with my new location and job. Instead, I am now officially registered for the Ocean City Island to Island Half Marathon that runs from Assateague Island to Ocean City, Maryland. I feel really good about having had a strong week leading up to the race!