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That’s right folks, today is the big 4-5, which oddly seems a lot more momentous than the big 4-0 did. Turning 40 was the impetus for this whole fitness journey to begin for me — I wanted to get “fit before 40” so I started training for my first sprint triathlon. And now here I am five years later, having done 29 races total in that time: three triathlons, seven marathons, six half marathons, three 10Ks, four 8Ks, five 5Ks, and one one-mile race.

I’ve been thinking a lot about which race(s) to do next and I finally settled on the local Turkey Trot in November that raises money for the school district. I’m running about 20 miles per week right now so a 5K seems a manageable race distance. Of course, just my luck when I age up into the 45-49 age group, I choose a race that only has a 40-49 category — ha!

I’m still plugging away at the 50 push-ups challenge and the 30-day abs challenge from darebee.com. My 45th birthday started off this morning with 50 push-ups broken up into sets of 10, 20, 10, and 10! The challenges totally intimidate me and each day I wonder whether I’ll be able to complete the sets. I told myself in the beginning that if I couldn’t complete the day’s sets, no big deal, I would just take the next day as a rest day and then try those sets again. But here I am on day 22, and I haven’t had to skip a day! Trust the training and you might just amaze yourself, right? After the 50 push-ups I did 52 full sit-ups, 230 flutter kicks, and a 2 minute 50 second plank. (Question: How do you count flutter kicks? Do you count one rep each time either foot goes down — right leg 1 left leg 2), or do you count one rep each time your right foot goes down, or do you go big with the four count military/CrossFit style? I’ve compromised with the middle — so I count each time my right heel approaches the ground). The push-ups and ab work all took about 15 minutes and to pass the time during the plank I watched the drops of sweat drip off my body onto the mat below (sorry for that imagery, but it just goes to show how killer these challenges are!)

After I had some coffee and a piece of whole wheat toast with peanut butter, I headed out for eight super easy miles of running. I just cruised along and listened to my audiobook (I use the OverDrive app to get books from my library and I’m listening to the audio version of Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, Book 1: The Sword of Summer).

Then ’cause it’s my birthday and I can take a hot bath after a long run if I want to, I soaked in the tub while I listened to a little more of the book. Then I had some more coffee and some scrambled eggs with cheese on top (again, another birthday treat. Usually I top my eggs with avocado and salsa but heck, I made it to 45, I might as well live it up with some full-fat cheese).

Now I’m hanging out and reading No Summit out of Sight: The True Story of the Youngest Person to Climb the Seven Summits, a book my teenager loved and recommended to me. It’s great so far — I’m enjoying climbing Mount Kilimanjaro vicariously, without all the danger and effort and rainy weather.

Mike and the girls are out grocery shopping for supplies to make me a special birthday dinner. The girls chose a recipe from the cookbook my sister gave me as a present: Runner’s World Meals on the Run: 150 energy-packed recipes in 30 minutes or less. The cookbook is as awesome as I hoped. If you’re a fan of The Runner’s World Cookbook: 150 Ultimate Recipes for Fueling Up and Slimming Down–While Enjoying Every Bite then you should definitely get this one too.

I’m feeling loved and pampered today.  Check out these bracelets my younger daughters made me:

friendship bracelets

I can’t wait to enjoy my dinner meal (it’s a surprise — I don’t know which recipe they chose) and then we’ll probably all go swimming in the pool after dinner, including Roxy!

Roxy dog in the pool

She hasn’t figured out that she can jump in and swim, but she likes to hang out on the first two steps and play with the girls with her tennis ball in the water. I hope you all are having a fabulous weekend!

I’m serious, for those of you who have done flutter kicks, how do you count them??

Do you like to jump up an age group? Are you saving a big race for when you move up groups? I love jumping up an age group and I’ve always believed there’s something great about every age anyway. I haven’t saved a big race for turning older — in fact I was determined to qualify for Boston in the 40-44 age group before I bumped up to 45, but I do admit it was nice getting that extra 10 minutes once I did move up groups for Boston 2017!

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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!

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My eyes are welling with tears as I write this post. You see, today marks five years to the day since I started running and tracking my progress on MapMyRun. You can see my first entry here:

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Does a three-mile-per-hour pace count as a run? You bet it does when you’re pushing a 2.5-year-old in a jogging stroller over 180 feet in elevation gain for your first run in five years! I’m just as proud of that first mile in 20:23 as the mile I raced in 6:34 a few years later! I had made a decision that I wanted to be “fit at 40” after having the last of my three children. I was on the higher end of a healthy weight and I felt I could stand to lose about 10 pounds. So I got out there for nine runs that first March and logged a total of 24.9 miles.

I quickly got hooked on running and the sense of accomplishment that comes with every workout. My confidence grew over the summer and I added biking and swimming into the mix. Eight months after that first run, I took on my first sprint triathlon at SheROX San Diego in November 2011. And heck, that went so well, I took on an Olympic distance triathlon at HITS Palm Springs the next month! Fast forward through my first half marathon at the OC Half Marathon in May 2012 to my first full marathon at the Santa Barbara International Marathon in November 2012. Somehow in just 18 months I’d gone from 1.67 miles at a 20:23 pace to 26.2 miles at a 9:16 pace (4:02:39.5 for those trying to do the math). And that was at age 41 no less. Proof that you’re never too old to start running or challenging yourself with big goals. Five marathons later if you ask me which is my favorite marathon, I’ll say Santa Barbara, not because it was the easiest course (it wasn’t — my goodness I still remember that hill at mile 23) but because I ran that whole race with such joy and appreciation for what my body could do.

The next several races I chased a Boston Qualifying time, a sub-3:45 for Women 40-44.

Mountains2Beach Marathon, May 2013, age 41, 3:58:29 (race recap)

Long Beach Marathon, October 2013 age 42, 3:52:42 (race recap)

and finally my first BQ at Santa Rosa, August 2014, age 42, 3:44:26 (race recap). Then came the crushing news that a BQ minus 34 seconds was actually not fast enough to meet the registration cutoff for Boston 2015. So I set my sights on the Phoenix Marathon in February 2015 and came in at my current PR time of 3:36:58 (race recap), a BQ minus 8:02 at age 43 for Boston 2016. I tried to top that time at REVEL Canyon City in November 2015 and came in a little slower at 3:39:08 at age 44 on what I now consider a difficult downhill course (race recap). Fortunately there’s a benefit to the Boston Marathon qualifying math, and at age 44 I had bumped up to the 45-49 age group for Boston 2017 with a 3:55 qualifying standard, so that time was a BQ minus 15:52.

Now with just six weeks to go until my first Boston Marathon race on April 18, 2016, I’m savoring the opportunity to race on such hallowed ground. I’m training hard so that I have a good race, but I’m in this one for the experience, not the time on the clock. So I’ve been reading everything I can get my hands on about this historic race. On my bookshelf right now:

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I’m loving Marathon Woman by Kathrine Switzer, the first woman to run Boston with an official bib and a major player in the push to get the women’s marathon into the Olympics in 1984. (Such a #runnerd, I’m tearing up again thinking about it!) Let’s all just take a moment, man or woman, to thank those before us who have helped advance the sport of running. And of course, one of those people is Boston Marathon director Dave McGillivray, author of The Last Pick. I’ve listened to him speak on a few podcasts and found his stories to be very inspiring, so I can hardly wait to read his book.

The next two on the list are The Boston Marathon: A Century of Blood, Sweat, and Cheers and 26.2 Miles to Boston: A Journey Into The Heart Of The Boston Marathon.

Any other books you suggest as recommended reading about the Boston Marathon? Have you run the race before? Tell me about it! And feel free to link to any blog posts or race recaps of yours or anyone else’s that you think we all might enjoy reading.

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Four days and 13 hours to go until my fourth full marathon, The Santa Rosa Marathon on Sunday, August 24, 2014. I’ve reached the point where my stomach does a little nervous flip-flop when I think about the race. As usual, it’s ridiculous, and I wonder why I put myself through this. (Answer: The sense of accomplishment after every finish line and every workout).

Taper is going well. I knocked out a 6-mile tempo run on Sunday with five miles at an 8:00 pace. Monday I biked 15 miles and did 30 minutes of core work. Today is a rest day. Tomorrow’s speed workout is just 4 x 200 m with 200 m rest intervals, for a total of three miles with the warm-up and cool-down. Thursday is a rest day, Friday is 10 minutes of drills, Saturday is a rest day and Sunday is the big race day!

I’m busy worrying over a few things:

1. Weather — the race day temperature still looks favorable with the 6 a.m. temperature starting at 54 degrees and not going above the low 60s by 10 a.m. The problem is that in the early morning hours the humidity is nearly 100%, a “dripping fog” as local organizer and legendary ultrarunner Arthur Webb puts it on his very helpful blog. Here in SoCal I train in bone-dry, drought-ridden conditions. I guess it’s a good thing my last long run was in the high 80s and so muggy it felt like I was running through the pool locker room at the gym.

2. Tapering — While I still regret running 18.25 miles of speed workout just 10 days before the race, I am consoling myself with the fact that 9.25 of that was at 10K pace, 2 miles at easy pace, and the rest was walking. I also did a bunch of reading and research on carb loading, and in reading Matt Fitzgerald’s book Runner’s World Performance Nutrition for Runners: How to Fuel Your Body for Stronger Workouts, Faster Recovery, and Your Best Race Times Ever, I saw that he said:

I always recommend doing a final longer run [15 miles] about a week before longer races (half-marathon and up) for maintenance of endurance adaptations.

(p. 131). Bless you Matt Fitzgerald for easing my mind a bit!

3. Health — My three girls started junior high and elementary school last week and two of them have already managed to bring home cold viruses. I find that marathon training revs up my immune system and I rarely get sick during training (knock on wood). The one exception is during the reduced workouts in taper. I am going to be very disappointed if I show up to the starting line with a cold.

4. Bonking a/k/a Hitting the Wall — If I want to come in at 3:45 or under, I need to maintain a steady pace of about 8:30 per mile over the course of 26.2 miles. I looked at my last two big races, the Santa Barbara Wine Country Half Marathon and the Long Beach International Marathon, to see how I did on pacing. In the half I did a good job of pacing (especially in light of the hills), with an average of 8:10 pace and a 7:54 for mile 13. No problem there. The concern comes when I get to about mile 18 of a full marathon. While I wouldn’t say I hit the wall in Long Beach (I didn’t have to spend time in the medical tent like I did at Mountains 2 Beach), my pace dropped off after mile 18. I averaged 8:30 for most of the race, then 8:59, 8:28, 9:06, 9:31, 9:41, 9:50, 9:57, 10:04, 9:41 and the last 0.2-mile sprint at 8:48. Not exactly the strong finish I’d like to see at Santa Rosa. Now, rest assured, I’m not just crossing my fingers and hoping for a better outcome this time. Here are four things I have done or will do to power myself for an even pace at Santa Rosa:

1. Strength training. My core is much stronger now than it was almost a year ago at Long Beach. I know I can draw on those muscles to help maintain good form throughout the race.

2. Carb loading. I’m paying particular attention to what I will eat over the next three days, increasing carbs to about 70% of my daily diet. That translates to 10 to 11 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of bodyweight.

3. Starting slow. It’s been a hard lesson for me to learn, but now I understand that going out even a handful of seconds too fast at the start of the race can cost whole minutes at the end of a race. I plan to start slower than marathon goal pace and ease into it over the first four miles.

4. Not carrying my fuel with me. This is the first full marathon where I will rely fully on the aid stations on the course. By not carrying that extra weight with me, I can shave a few seconds off each mile (which, granted, gets balanced out by stopping to walk every two miles through the aid stations). I practiced this at my last half, and I practiced it on my 18.25-mile speed workout. I’m still worried about not getting enough fuel at each aid station, but I have calculated that I need to get 6-8 ounces each time and that seems manageable.

Anyone else have a race coming up soon? What have you done differently during your last round of training?

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Earlier this week I looked at the marathon training plan from Smart Marathon Training: Run Your Best Without Running Yourself Ragged (1st Edition) and balked when I saw a mid-week speed workout that added up to 18.25 miles. That’s a lot of miles for any speed workout, much less one scheduled for 10 days before race day. I questioned whether that was accurate and even went so far as to email the author, Jeff Horowitz, to see if it was a typo. To his credit, Coach Jeff replied very quickly to say that I had indeed discovered a previously undiscovered typo in the first edition of the book. Unfortunately, my Gmail account had been hacked and his reply went directly to the trash, where I found it today. Lesson learned: trust your instincts, and don’t be a slave to the plan and run 18.25 miles when you should be tapering. The workout was only supposed to be 10 miles long, and I ran an extra 8.25 miles. Oops. Big oops. The fact remains that I kicked that workout’s behind, and now all I can do with seven days until the marathon is focus on rest and recovery as best I can. Oh, and I can document the correction to the typos here. So here’s my correction, and my book review to go with it.

Please note the following correction to Speed Workout #14 on pages 177, 179, and 181 of Smart Marathon Training (1st Edition). For speed workout #14, do 1-mile warm-up, the intervals below, and 1-mile cool-down:

14. 4 x 800m
with 400m recoveries
(10K race pace)
Repeat 3 times

My book review:

This book is excellent for the intermediate to advanced runner (or triathlete) who enjoys running three days a week and cross-training on the bike another two days a week, plus strength training and drills mixed in with those workouts twice a week. I chose the intermediate marathon training plan, which had me putting in 8-10 hours a week. I enjoyed substituting some 50-60 mile bike rides for long runs — the plan called for 3 20-mile runs plus a few long bike rides. I also appreciated the emphasis on strength training, including photographs and descriptions of how to perform the exercises (note that I supplemented these with Quick Strength for Runners: 8 Weeks to a Better Runner’s Body, also by Jeff Horowitz). This plan was challenging in that it had me running 27-34 miles per week, packed into 3 runs. It takes a lot of planning to be able to do 8-10 mile runs during the week, along with 20-30 mile bike rides. Although there are varying plans for varying levels of runners, the plans are certainly a serious time commitment for a serious athlete. I’ve never felt stronger as a runner (I’ve been running for 3 years and my next race will be my fourth full marathon).

I found this book to have a philosophy similar to Runner’s World Run Less, Run Faster: Become a Faster, Stronger Runner with the Revolutionary 3-Run-a-Week Training Program, which I also liked. However, I prefer this one due to the aforementioned substitution of long bike rides for some of the long runs (whereas Run Less, Run Faster has plans that call for five 20-mile long runs, which bored me and burned me out a bit).

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I admit it, I’m a little bit of a slave to the training plan. I pretty much commit to and follow the training plan as written. I might juggle a workout here or there, occasionally switching up the days as needed, but they all get done eventually. There’s not much more satisfying than crossing off a workout.

I also don’t look much past the current and next day on the plan. I map out the workouts for the 16 or so weeks of the plan, but then I take them one day at a time, as one must. So I was in for a bit of a surprise.

As you might know, I was happy to embrace the 3-week taper period leading up to my next full marathon, The Santa Rosa Marathon. But then the workouts continued at pretty much the same pace for countdown week 3. Week 3 ended and week 2 began with a “long” run on Sunday of 10 miles, which indeed is long but seemed like a short run by comparison. I thought for sure taper had begun in earnest. But then the plan proceeded as usual with strength training on Monday and a 20-mile bike ride on Tuesday. Fine, I can handle those. I eat 20 mile bike rides for breakfast. <—- Me, poking fun at myself.

Then came Wednesday's workout. Wednesday is the speed workout on the plan. You might recall that sometimes the speed workout from Smart Marathon Training is a long run in disguise.

And this speed workout, scheduled for just 10 days before race day, was the whopper of all speed workouts:

1 mile warmup
400 m, 800 m,
400 m, 800 m,
400 m, 800 m,
400 m, 800 m,
400 m
with 400 m recoveries
(10K race pace) [for me and my I wanna-qualify-for-Boston-ambitions: 7:41, which is 7.8 mph]
Repeat 3 times [<—– Red flag]
1 mile cool down

Okay, do the math people. That adds up to 18.25 miles. I literally thought it was a typo. I could see doing the set of intervals one time, but "Repeat 3 times"? Are you kidding me?

I checked the Intermediate Marathon training plan, and checked again. I checked the Advanced and Competitive Marathon training plans. They all said the same thing for Speed Workout #14. [Edited to add: I later found out from the author, Coach Jeff Horowitz, that the plan contained a typo and the speed workout was only supposed to be 10 miles, not 18.25. See the correct workout here.]

So that's how I celebrated the first day that all three of my kids were in school full time. I dropped them off at school, hit up Vons for some more Gatorade, and set out to run/walk intervals for the next 3.5 hours. In the end it was a huge confidence booster, and I believe it was excellent practice for relying on the course aid stations for my all fuel. Normally I like to carry my sports drink with me so I don't have to stop running at each aid station. This time I won't have on-course support from my husband, so I've got to rely on the aid stations, which means slowing to a walk every two miles or so, taking in 6-8 ounces of sports drink as I walk, then picking the pace back up to average 8:25 or so. This interval workout made excellent practice for that. I'd run a quarter mile, then walk a quarter mile, run a half mile, then walk a quarter mile. I nailed the 7:41 pace each time, my confidence blossoming with each success.

When I finished, I hit the Vons again for some chocolate milk to refuel. A full quart of chocolate milk. And I took an ice bath when I got home. And I wore my PRO Compression socks for the rest of the day.

I feel pretty good today, but I am glad that the plan truly starts to taper now. Normally I’d be biking 20 miles today, but the plan only calls for strength training. Normally I’d be running eight miles tomorrow, but the plan “only” calls for 15 miles on the bike. I can only hope that my dedication to the plan pays off, and this final push before a severe cutback in taper leaves me with legs primed to kick butt on August 24th: 9 days, 9 hours and 25 minutes away.

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Maybe the title of this post should be “Trying Not to Freak Out About My Fourth Full Marathon” or “Counting Down the Days Until I Hit the Starting Line and Ask, ‘Why Am I Doing This Again?'” It’s August 1 and there are 23 days until the Santa Rosa Marathon. I feel ready and freaked out at the same time. I call it a healthy respect for the full marathon distance. I have trained hard, but I know that it takes more than training to have the kind of race I hope to have. It takes good weather on race day, proper fueling, mental fortitude, a willingness to suffer, and a fair amount of luck.

I have done what I can do in advance. Sunday is my last long run of 20 miles, then the blessed taper begins (I’m not being facetious when I call it blessed — I’ve come to look forward to the few weeks of reduced workouts that prime my muscles to fire on all cylinders on race day. I love the magic of taper and how it turns tired legs that barely make it 20 miles into strong legs that carry me 26.2 miles.)

I bought new shoes, quite possibly the last pair of size 11 Brooks Adrenaline GTS 13s on Amazon:

Yes I really do wear a monster size 11. I am just grateful for the proper fit that keeps me (for the most part) from getting blisters and black toenails.

Yes I really do wear a monster size 11. I am just grateful for the proper fit that keeps me (for the most part) from getting blisters and black toenails.

I love how the purple and light green remind me of veraison <—– fancy word I learned in Napa that means “change of color of the grape berries.”

Cabernet grapes undergoing veraison at Frog's Leap Winery in Napa Valley.

Cabernet grapes undergoing veraison at Frog’s Leap Winery in Napa Valley.

I took my new shoes out for an eight mile run this morning. During that time I thought about the Santa Rosa Marathon and whether or not I feel ready. I have faithfully checked off every workout on my training plan, but I am left wondering how that training will pan out on race day. This time around I went with the intermediate marathon training plan from Smart Marathon Training: Run Your Best Without Running Yourself Ragged. Like the Runner’s World Run Less, Run Faster: Become a Faster, Stronger Runner with the Revolutionary 3-Run-a-Week Training Program plan, it calls for three runs per week and two cross-training sessions, but this plan specifically prescribes that the cross-training sessions each be 20-25 miles on the bike, and it replaces some of the long runs with 50-60 mile bike rides. That means that for July, I ran 112 miles, and put nearly three times that many miles on the bike — 323 miles. If you look at training time alone, I spent more time biking than running (18.3 hours versus 17.8 hours)! I also stuck to the suggested strength training sessions twice a week, mainly following the workouts in Quick Strength for Runners: 8 Weeks to a Better Runner’s Body (my quick review: great for beginners but also easy to ramp up for more advanced athletes).

So, where does that leave me? I feel stronger than I have during past marathon training sessions. That shouldn’t come as a surprise, given that I’m putting in an average of 8-10 hours of training per week compared to an average of 7 hours per week for my last round of training. Thankfully, I feel less tired and worn out. Even though I’ve been putting in the same number of running miles per week (average of 27 per week for the last five weeks), I have run fewer 20-milers and really enjoyed substituting the long bike rides. If anything I’m a little worried that the training on the bike will not pay off on my feet. I need to have faith that the plan strikes the right balance of running, cardio on the bike, and strength training.

What if any training plan(s) do you follow? Do you have any fitness-related books that you recommend?

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