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In Limbo

Hello from Limbo Land, the uncomfortable place where I have been languishing since I ran the Boston Marathon and then paced my teenager through her first half marathon. Over the summer, I’ve continued to run three days a week and cross-train the other days with swimming and strength training, but it feels like I’m hanging on to fitness by a thread. I don’t have a goal race on the calendar and that’s making me antsy. The solution seems to be simple — sign up for a race! And yet, I cannot bring myself to do that with how busy I am this fall. So far nothing has inspired me to take on the commitment of another race.

My goodness, though, how I enjoyed watching the men’s Olympic marathon yesterday! I loved to watch the front of the pack — from the joy on the gold medalist Eliud Kipchoge’s face in the finish chute to the incredible accomplishment of American Galen Rupp taking the bronze, to American Jared Ward surging from 15th place with six miles to go to 6th overall at the finish! I loved seeing American Meb Keflezighi handle his digestive issues and a harrowing slip in a puddle followed by some face-saving push-ups at the finish line. And I loved watching the last runners to complete the marathon — the Argentinian Federico Bruno who due to cramping had to side-step his way across the finish line with support from Paraguayan Derlis Ayala, who stopped several times to encourage Bruno to the finish. And you’ve got to love Jordan’s Methkal Abu Drais who finished smiling in last place (several competitors DNF’d – did not finish) behind a Japanese runner and comedian Kuniaki Tanizaki who was determined not to finish last.

Without a running goal and training plan to keep me focused, I’ve taken on a couple of strength training challenges to give me that daily satisfaction of checking off the workout lists. I just crossed off day 16 of the 30-day ab challenge from darebee.com and the old 50 push-ups challenge from @neilarey.com.  I’m shocked that I can now do 52 push-ups in one day (broken up into four sets – 14 reps, 12 reps, 14 reps, 12 reps). I try not to look ahead at the schedule because it intimidates me.

So why am I so especially busy this fall? My oldest daughter just started high school. She’s made the varsity tennis team and is taking on an advanced curriculum in the local science and technology magnet school. And look who just joined our family — my new running partner! Meet Roxy, an eight-month-old German Shepherd:

 

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The veterinarian cleared her to run 1-3 miles with me, but I have heard that I should wait until she is 12-18 months until I take her running. Any thoughts? She’s about 45 pounds and approximately 75% of her adult weight. I haven’t taken her running yet but she enjoys going on one-mile walks and she loves to run around the yard. I start human/dog training with her next month (she had some training with her former owner, a mother of three girls — like me! — who realized that Roxy had outgrown her mobile home and needed a backyard and some room to roam).

What do you do to come out of a running slump? Do you have any advice for running with a dog?

 

 

 

I’m always excited to check out a new running book and was happy when the publisher of Run the World: My 3,500-Mile Journey Through Running Cultures Around the Globe sent me a copy of the book to review. Run the World is the kind of book that inspires and motivates the reader to want to be like the writer. In this case, the author Becky Wade is an elite athlete who qualified for the Olympic Trials in the marathon and 3,000 meter steeple-chase. After graduating from Rice University, she spent a year traveling to nine countries on the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship to study global running communities. Her book made me want to travel to new places, cook exotic dishes (recipes included in the book!) and push myself in my training, both to work hard and to try new methods of training.

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It took me a little time to adjust to the descriptive style of the book, and I had to let go of trying to absorb all the information. The book is packed with trivia from the greats of running history along with the current running scene. It filled in a lot of gaps in my knowledge of the history of the sport. But in fact, the book will appeal especially to those already in the know – current collegiate athletes, elite or aspiring elite athletes, coaches, and true fans of the sport of running.

As a self-professed student of running (meaning someone who really enjoys reading about running and coaching myself through extensive study of running guides), one of the things I especially liked about the book is its in-depth look at different training methods from around the world. It was fascinating to contrast the rigid, high-mileage training of the Japanese athletes with the more flexible training of the Ethiopians. I also particularly enjoyed learning about the variety of foods that athletes consume around the world and the socialization that happens around different cultural food rituals and traditions. In a way was a relief to learn that competitive running success can come from such a great variety of cultures and training methods.

Most inspiring to me though was the account of Becky’s debut marathon at the California International Marathon in 2013 upon her return to the United States. I won’t give any spoilers other than to say that her performance led to her signing with Asics. I look forward to watching her further develop her running career and wish her the best of success with running and Run the World!

I’ve joked in the past about having black toenails…from black nail polish. My flippant attitude about a painful subject for many runners has come back to bite me in the behind (or the big toe, as the case turns out). Yes, I’ve lost most of my left big toenail. But the irony is, it’s not from running. It’s not from running shoes. It’s from wearing a new pair of fancy black flats on my first day back to work in January. You see, the shoes fit fine in the morning, but as I stood on my feet all day at work (in my humble opinion, a good elementary school aide should spend a lot of time walking around the classroom), my feet swelled and pressed my big toenails into the tip of the shoes. I didn’t realize how bad it was until I took my shoes off at the end of the day and felt a horrible stab of pain as the circulation came rushing back into those toes!

Four months later, I could still see a patch of black under my right toenail, but that toenail stayed intact. As I went to trim my left toenail though, one half of the nail peeled off entirely. The nail had separated from the nail bed and a new nail had been growing in underneath the old one for the past four months. It didn’t hurt at all when it came off, although it sure as heck hurts if anyone steps on that toe where it doesn’t have a full nail grown back in yet.

It’s no big deal. I can still run. But now I have a lot more sympathy for runners who battle the dreaded lost toenails.

Imagine the satisfaction of completing your first half marathon. Then imagine the satisfaction of beating that finishing time and setting a new personal record. Then double all that satisfaction and you just might get to the level of satisfaction I felt as I watched my 14-year-old and my husband complete their first half marathons at the Fontana Days Run last weekend!

About five months ago I encouraged Mike and Shannon to start training for a half marathon. I chose the race, the Fontana Days Run, because it offered a gentle downhill profile, the timing was right with the race taking place on June 4 a week after Shannon graduated from 8th grade, it was inexpensive for a half marathon, it was just a 45-minute drive from our house, and we could pick up our race packets on race morning.

I wrote out a training plan for Mike and Shannon to incorporate into their busy tennis schedule. They play 10-15 hours of tennis per week, so I figured they could get by with three runs per week: two shorter runs of 4-5 miles (one easy, one with some hills or informal speed work) and one long run on the weekend that gradually built to a 13.1 mile training run and tapered to an 11.7-miler and a 6-miler in the two weeks before the race. Everything seemed to go well in training, although I had no idea what pace they should target for the race. Shannon set the pace for the long training runs, and that generally averaged out to about 11 minutes per mile. I knew Mike and Shannon wanted to break 2 hours for their finish time, and that would require a pace of about 9 minutes per mile. Could they really run two whole minutes per mile faster in the race than they ran in training? I encouraged them to go out at a comfortable pace and not let their legs fly too fast on the initial downhill (the race has a drop of 2,125 feet from start to finish).

Unfortunately, a heat wave hit Southern California in the week leading up to the race. The race day high was 100 degrees in Fontana. The temperature in the mountains at the 7:30 a.m. race start was about 68 degrees F and the temperature at the finish in Fontana at 9:30 a.m. was 82 degrees. That further muddied the waters as to what pace Shannon and Mike could be expected to run. Here’s a chart from Runner Academy that estimates the impact of hot weather on running pace:

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So I expected them to run about 30 seconds per mile slower in the heat than they could have if we’d had ideal race day temperatures.

 

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As you can see in this photo of me it was quite sunny at the start.

Without fanfare or much warning at all, really, the starting gun went off and Mike and Shannon set out at a comfortable pace. I carried my iPhone and used the MapMyRun app to keep track of our pace, but I kept the data pretty much to myself the whole race. The first few miles of the course run down the road through the San Bernardino National Forest and it’s simply gorgeous!

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After the first few miles though we were in full sun and by mile 5, I really started to feel it. There were adequate aid stations but some just had water and not Gatorade. Thank goodness I brought my own sports bottle and could refill it at the aid stations every 3-4 miles. Given the unusual heat that day, the volunteers drove around in a golf cart and handed out wet washcloths which I appreciated. I coached Shannon to run through the aid stations and just grab a cup of water and dump it on her head. Then I handed her my bottle of Gatorade to drink every mile or so. This worked very well.

 

Mike ran just slightly ahead of Shannon and me, and he seemed to have an internal, innate sense of pace. I mean, just look at the consistency of these splits!

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The course is downhill but it’s so gradual that it never feels taxing. The last seven miles are a straight shot into the town of Fontana, which means you don’t have to worry about running the tangents. It’s not the most scenic, but it’s fantastic for a PR attempt or a first-time race.

 

By about mile 10 I knew that Mike and Shannon could come in under 2 hours, and I started encouraging Shannon to keep up the pace and not let off. She had the best attitude the entire race and never complained. We caught up to Mike around mile 12 just as his calves started cramping due to not taking in enough Gatorade. I passed him my bottle and he was able to revive and keep running. Shannon sprinted to the finish to come in at 1:54:21. I was one second behind her with a huge grin on my face! Mike clocked 1:54:49.

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A happy Mike at the finish line (and some random guy’s rear end. My photography skills can use some work). 

I could not have been more proud of Mike and Shannon. They blew away my best hopes for them and did not seem at all affected by the heat. And for the icing on the race cake, Shannon came in first in her age group!

 

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Later in the week, I interviewed Mike and Shannon separately about their experiences. I probably should not have picked the day of their peak soreness (delayed onset muscle soreness peaks about two days after the race). They didn’t have much to say, but what they said warmed my heart.

Me: Are you glad you did the race?

Shannon: Uh-huh.

Mike: Yup.

Me: Did you meet your goals?

Shannon: Yeah.

Mike: Yes.

Me: Would you do another half marathon?

Shannon: Yup.

Mike:  Maybe.

Me: How did I do as your coach?

Shannon: [Thumbs-up.]

Mike: You were A+. It made it easy. It made it so we could not fail. We were going to meet our goals no matter what. I give you 99% credit.

 

Ahhhh! What a relief. They had a great race, came out of it uninjured, and were happy with the results. And for those wondering about whether or not it was a good idea for a 14-year-old girl to run a half marathon, I can say in our experience it was a very positive, safe, healthy experience for her. She had a checkup with her pediatrician this week including blood work done, and everything came back normal. And today, only 6 days after running the half marathon, Shannon won the Girls 14 and under division of the 18th Annual Laguna Niguel Junior Open Tennis Tournament!

Today’s run was a special one! I got to accompany my husband Mike and our 14-year-old daughter on their longest run to date — a 13.1 mile training run! They had been building up their mileage for weeks now, and they were ready to cover the distance. It wasn’t easy, but they finished super strong (they had some kick left in them for a sprint at the end!) They ran it in 2 hours 24 minutes. A good 10 minutes of that was spent walking around a local high school trying to find an unlocked bathroom for a pit stop around mile 6. I should have turned my MapMyRun app off for that. And I probably should have mapped out a less hilly route for their unofficial half marathon debut.

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Yes, that’s 879 feet of elevation gain and it felt as hilly as that MapMyRun chart makes it look. As I said, probably not the best training run for a race that has 2,125 feet of elevation drop from start to finish. But Mike and my daughter knocked it out like champs and I could not be more proud of them. I always enjoyed passing a new distance milestone myself, but it’s even more fun to watch them pass one. I hope it has given them confidence going into the Fontana Days Run Half Marathon, which is three weeks from today. Today’s run was a huge accomplishment, and I made sure to remind my daughter that there aren’t many 8th graders that can do what she has done.

What’s the longest distance you’ve run? If you’ve trained for a half marathon, what is the longest training run you do before race day? When I was training for my first half (the OC Half in 2012) the longest training run I did was 12 miles. I think that was enough to carry me through 13.1 on race day, but I do think it can be helpful to go 13.1 or longer before a half. I wouldn’t do more than 20-22 before a full marathon though!

Nearly two weeks after I ran the Boston Marathon, I feel great. Definitely back in the running groove. I took the first week completely off of running and only walked and did marathon sessions (ha ha) of housecleaning. Because I did not push the pace during the race, my recovery was surprisingly easy. Unlike after previous marathons, my quads were not so sore that I ever had to walk sideways down the stairs or brace myself before sitting down on the toilet. In fact I felt so good that I had a little stab of regret that I didn’t run the race faster. It turns out that a marathon is hard no matter how fast or slow you run it, so I might as well have pushed it a little more. I should not second guess myself though. After months of pushing myself to qualify for Boston, I made the decision to take it easier during the race in order to enjoy the experience as best I could. I learn something new every race, and this one taught me that I do not particularly enjoy being out on the course for half an hour longer than my PR time (4:05:09 compared to 3:36:58). Maybe it would have felt different if it had not been such a warm and windy day, but I cannot know the answer to that.

Exactly one week after the race, I went for my first post-marathon run. I took it easy on a 5.41 mile loop and simply enjoyed being back out on the road again. I went for three more easy runs that week, 4.07 miles, 3.52 miles, and 6 miles, for a total of 19 miles. (My husband laughs at the fact that I feel a need to document the run down to the hundredth of a mile, and that I prefer to finish an even 6.0 miles than stop at 5.94. That’s okay, I fully admit my neurotic obsession with the numbers, and I know I’m not the only runner who is the same way).

Now I’m hopping on the training plan I laid out for my husband and 14-year-old to run their first half marathon on June 4, which is five weeks from now. We’re doing the Fontana Days Run (the half marathon is sold out but there are still spots left in the 5K).

What’s the next race you have on your calendar?

Are you obsessed with the exact number of miles you run or are you more easygoing about your training plan and running log?

Continuing from Part I and Part II….

Spirits were high among the runners in wave 3, corral 5 as we trotted across the starting line timing mat at 10:50 a.m. on Monday, April 18, 2016. No one said much as we tried to navigate the pressing crowd of runners, pretty much running in lockstep and not trying to bump into anyone else. However, the spectators were already making plenty of noise to make up for our silence! The entire Boston Marathon was just a fantastic experience, and I mean FAN-tastic! The spectators could not have been more welcoming and encouraging along the entire route. The race course runs through eight cities: Hopkinton, Ashland, Framingham, Natick, Wellesley, Newton, Brookline, and Boston. Each community managed to extend its own unique form of hospitality. As a runner, I could tell that the spectators genuinely wanted the race to run through their town, and they not only welcomed the marathon itself but each and every runner that passed by. The spectators all along the way somehow managed to make each runner feel like a rock star, like we all mattered just as much as the elite athletes! That outpouring of support makes the experience of running the Boston Marathon a good one regardless of the runner’s finishing time.

Speaking of time, while I had said before that I had not planned to run this race for time, that didn’t mean that I wasn’t going to pay attention to my pace. I had run the Phoenix Marathon in a PR time of 3:36:58 with an average pace of 8:16 per mile. Every article I had read on Boston warned not to go out too quickly on the early downhill miles on the course or you would regret it around mile 20. So I planned to stay between 8:45-9:00 per mile for those early miles and I thought I might finish in a total time somewhere around 4 hours.

Miles 1-3 (8:52, 8:42, 8:44)

I certainly didn’t want to waste any energy dodging other runners so I just tucked in the crowd and maintained my pace. That became easier said than done though when I factored in walking through the aid stations. In light of the high temperatures forecast for the race, the organizers had sent out an email advising runners to pay close attention to hydration, and indeed I needed to stop at the first aid station at mile 2 along with nearly every other runner. The volunteers did a great job, but there’s just no managing that volume of runners (27,491 runners total). I couldn’t use my usual technique of speeding up a bit before the aid station to “bank” time to walk through the aid station because other runners blocked the way. It was also hard to get going again, and it was odd to run on the road completely covered in Gatorade and cups. Once the road cleared, my shoes were sticky for about another 100 yards! My advice to runners wanting to race Boston for time? Especially in the early miles, skip the aid stations on the right and go for the less crowded ones on the left. Don’t stop at the first Gatorade table — there are 4 at each station (followed by 4 of water).

Miles 4-6 (8:35, 8:50, 8:43)

In mile 4 in Ashland, don’t be alarmed when the course splits in two to go around some cement traffic islands. Volunteers make it clear you can run on either side. Running the tangents on this course is hard due to the crowds and features (spoiler: my “marathon” ended up being 26.74 miles instead of 26.2).

In rare quiet moments along the course, the runners’ footsteps sounded like the pattering of raindrops. The sheer sea of runners in front of me again reminded me of a zombie apocalypse! I kept waiting for the crowd of runners to thin, but it didn’t let up as much as I expected (I might just be a bit biased given that the other six marathons I have run have each had 1/10th the number of participants as Boston). All I know is I got elbowed by other runners right up to mile 25 and even in the finishing chute! No one was particularly aggressive, there were just a lot of people on the course.

Miles 7-9 (8:45, 8:47, 8:48)

In Framingham, the winds picked up, especially by Lake Cochituate at mile 9. At first I appreciated the cool breeze, but then there were times where I felt the need to draft off runners to protect myself from the wind (for once I was grateful for the crowded pack of runners!)

Miles 10-12 (8:49, 8:54, 8:38)

The course enters Natick and I took in the sight of yet another town common with a beautiful clock tower. There are also digital clocks at every mile marker along the race, which is helpful if you can do the math to figure out how that time compares to when you crossed the starting line.

When I entered the town of Wellesley, I kept an eye out for a Wellesley girl to kiss. As I said, I came to this race for the experience and I wasn’t going to miss out on any of it! You could hear the girls screaming before you could see them! I rounded the bend and saw a girl holding a sign that said, “Kiss me — I’m from Cali!” I knew that was my girl and dodged over to the side, pointed to my cheek and asked for a kiss. She kindly obliged, and I ran on with a smile and renewed energy. Later though I thought maybe I should have stopped for the girl whose sign said “Kiss me or I’ll vote for Trump!”

Miles 13 – 15 (8:43, 8:47, 9:12)

The half marathon point is in Wellesley and I passed the timing mat at 1:55:41. I remember my energy dipping a little at that point. I don’t know if was the relief of passing the halfway point, or if the noise of the Wellesley “scream tunnel” took a little out of me, but I felt a change in my ability to keep pace.

Miles 16-18 (8:43, 10:09, 9:41)

The course enters Newton next and the hills begin in earnest. Frankly the whole course felt like rolling hills and I had a hard time distinguishing one from the other. A lot of people on the course started suffering at this point. Talk about the zombie apocalypse — I’ve never seen so many people walking on a race course! I suspect that a lot of runners trained hard to qualify and ended up injured, or got injured in training for Boston itself, but they didn’t want to miss out on the experience running Boston so they vowed to get to the finish whether they had to walk or crawl to get there. Heck, I even saw a girl in the first mile wearing the kind of boot you need for a stress fracture! And as I passed Newton-Wellesley Hospital somewhere between the 16 and 17 mile points, I watched grimly as someone was wheeled off the course and into the hospital on a stretcher.

Miles 19-21 (9:25, 9:45, 10:33)

My family and friends were waiting for me at the mile 20 marker. You can see that I picked up the pace a bit in anticipation of seeing them! The kids made these awesome signs for me out of pipe cleaners, beads, and blue glitter.

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I grabbed some Gatorade from the aid station and then braced myself for Heartbreak Hill. The funny thing is that I didn’t even realize that particular hill was THE Heartbreak Hill until I saw a spectator holding a sign! It was just another hill, and I’d done a pretty good job of training on hills in my hilly neighborhood. I never walked (except through aid stations) and kept on trucking. My pace certainly slipped in that mile though.

Miles 22-24 (9:26, 9:31, 10:05)

Honestly in these miles through Brookline and into Boston, I was simply focused on running and keeping my legs moving. The crowd support became more important than ever. Not only their cheers, but their offers of ice, flavored ice pops, orange slices, banana slices (watch out for those peels on the course — I’m not kidding!), jelly beans, pretzels and M&Ms. I could have even had a full can of beer if I’d wanted one, and I was sorely tempted, not so much by the beer but by the idea of grabbing the can and stopping to walk along and enjoy it!

My favorite bit of course support though was when people had set up their hoses to spray the runners. While the temperatures did drop a bit the closer you got to Boston and the ocean, much of the course this year (at least for those in the later waves like me) was uncomfortably warm.

Miles 25-26.74 (9:45, 9:25, 6:39 pace for 0.74 miles)

Two things encouraged me in these final miles — the sight of the Prudential building (Boston! A building in Boston!) and the sight of the Citgo sign. I used to be able to see that sign outside the window of my on-campus apartment at MIT, so that held special significance for me even beyond the fact that it meant the final miles of the race.

I really picked up the pace when my Garmin beeped to say that I had run 26 miles. At that point I knew I had it in me to sprint and I really wanted the race to be over! So funny that I paid for the privilege to run this race, but I was just so ready to be done at that point. I sprinted for nearly 3/4 of a mile. There’s a little hill when you turn up Hereford but you are rewarded by the sight of the finish line when you turn left at the top and look down Boylston Street. Once again I could hear the absolute roar of the spectators and I felt like a rock star! Could they really be cheering that loudly for middle and back of the pack runners? It was amazing and it made my heart swell. I received a lot of support along the way, from my family, from readers of this blog, and from the race volunteers and spectators, and I was extremely grateful. I came in at 4:05:09 with my arms in the air as I finally crossed the Boston Marathon finish line.

It’s a long walk in the finishing chute. I almost didn’t grab a space blanket to keep warm because I was so heated from the race. Thank goodness I did though because by the time I reached the family meeting area and my family arrived to walk me to the T, my lips were blue! I felt really good though — sore but not injured — and just happy to have come full circle on four years of marathon training from my first marathon at Santa Barbara in 2012 to my seventh marathon at Boston in 2016!

I’ve never been particularly excited about race medals, but this one just symbolizes so much.

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