Monday, October 20, 2014

Have Your Cake - Steamtown Marathon Recap

Marathon 3 is finished, and I'm so pleased to be able to report that it turned out to be a lovely piece of cake.

I loved the Steamtown Marathon, from start to finish. I haven't written because for some reason, I'm having a really hard time expressing my thoughts about it. It's odd, because it was a fantastic time: a picture perfect fall day, a beautiful course full of natural scenery and adorable Pennsylvania villages, crowd support that included my personal weakness - adorable old men from Lion's clubs and military vets, a surprise appearance by Husband at mile 17, and the company of my Sensei for 23 miles.

It wasn't all rainbows and butterflies. By mile 10, I knew that my SI was going to be a problem - and it was. By mile 21, my left leg (what I could feel of it) felt like a lead weight. From there out, I had to concentrate very hard to maintain decent form and keep moving. Thank God Kit and I ended up running together - if he hadn't been with me, I'm sure I would have stopped to stretch or walk. As it was, I did not walk a step and maintained my pace thanks to pure grit and the determination that I wasn't going to let Kit out of my sight.

Waving at Jason, mile 17

They aren't kidding about the hills. Running down the mountain was, as expected, tricky - but not for the reasons I thought it would be. In my mind, it would be very steep but it wasn't at all. The downhill was subtle enough that we hardly even noticed it. I found myself asking if we were running down the mountain yet (we were) and because it was so NOT obvious, we had to really pay close attention to our pace. But the quiet mountain road was also my favorite part of the course. Fall has truly arrived in northern Pennsylvania, and the beautiful reds, oranges, and golds of the foliage that lined the road were a glorious sight. Paired with the quiet interrupted only by the sound of foot falls, it was a meditative experience that gave me goosebumps.

No - the mountain isn't your worry in Steamtown. The truly challenging part of the course is from mile 23-26.2, not because of the typical end-of-a-marathon aspect, but  because there are some evil, monster hills to take on. As we approached the very steep hill at mile 23, I looked at Kit and said, "Well, this is where sh*t gets real, Sensei." We then did what we do to psych ourselves up - curse at the hill. Kit went barreling up and me with my bum leg followed behind, yelling at him to "make that hill your b*tch!" the whole time. That was just the warm up though - the hill at Mile 25 is what really separates the boys from the men. It is no joke, let me tell you. But it seems like all of Scranton is out there lining the sides of Washington Street, screaming, yelling, and cheering and there is no walking when you have that kind of support.

The trail portions were beautiful respites. It was quiet in the woods and the scenery around us was just gorgeous. The soft surface felt good on our legs after pounding down a mountain on pavement for 14 miles. A lot of people complain about the trails but I, for one, think they are one of the loveliest things about the course.

I didn't cry at the finish this time. I was too focused on the task at hand to feel any emotion. There was no room in my brain for anything other than concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other.

Approaching the finish

But once I crossed the line and realized what I had done, there were lots of smiles.

Despite that cranky SI, I managed to finish in 3:46:25 - an 11 minute PR from Richmond. My super secret goal was 3:45:00, so I didn't quite make it according to the official clock. However, my Garmin showed 26.5 miles when I finished so as far as I'm concerned, I did run 26.2 miles in 3:45:00. I'll make it official next time, I hope.

Not only did I have a massive PR, I also managed to run the marathon with a negative split. My first half was completed at an average pace of 8:35 and the second half at 8:32. This is precisely what I had wanted to do, but thought it would be impossible given my SI situation and the uphills at the end. That I accomplished it is the perfect demonstration of what you can achieve when you put your mind to something.

My splits, according to Almighty Garmin.
I wanted to run Steamtown for me, and I did. But I am so grateful that Kit and I were on the same running wavelength for so much of the race. Steamtown taught me that even though running is an incredibly  individualistic pursuit, sometimes just the steady presence of a running buddy beside you can make all the difference. Though we both ran our own races, I think it is safe to say that the parts were greater than the whole for Kit and I in Steamtown. We both had some difficult moments; luckily they were not at the same time, so the struggler was pulled by the stronger and vice versa.

Kit finished just before me, and as soon as I crossed the line I started yelling his name over and over trying to find him in the crowd to share our accomplishment. I think the med staff thought I was hysterical, because I was stopped twice and asked if I needed medical attention. "No! I just need to find my friend!!" I told them. When I found him, our celebratory hug was fantastic. We had both achieved PRs and we had done it together.

Don't worry, Steamtown. I fully intend to purchase this photo,
as I think it is the biggest I've ever seen Sensei smile.

Though a completely different experience from Rock n Roll Raleigh Marathon, Steamtown also drove home the point that with enough mental fortitude, I can do anything. You can't see in my splits where my leg started to give out. That's because I absolutely refused to let it stop me. You can't see the hills either, because I was conquering those things. My slower laps (mile 16 and 19) were, I believe, on the trails, where we did slow down ever so slightly as it became very necessary to watch where each foot fall went on the uneven surfaces. Otherwise, it was truly a full steam ahead effort in every way.

My mantra for the day.
"Resolve" is one of my new favorite sentiments.

Not only did Kit and I have a fantastic day, but the rest of our group thoroughly enjoyed Steamtown. We are especially proud of our girl Lauren, who absolutely crushed it and earned herself a BQ. She shared her goal with the group while we were hunkered down in the high school gym at the top of the mountain, waiting for the start. We all knew she'd do it because when Lauren sets her mind to something, consider it done. Whenever things got rough for me, I thought about her up ahead, running even harder than I was to get that BQ, and knew that I had to keep going - pushing her from behind with all of the karma I could muster. After crossing the finish, I found Jason who told me that she had earned that BQ and I was more excited for her than for myself. When I found her, I hugged her so hard (partially hoping some of her greatness will transfer to me, but mostly because I was so happy and proud that I couldn't stand it!).

Our BQ Girl.
Lauren's achievement is even more amazing considering she is a med student who barely has time to eat and/or sleep, let alone train for a marathon. Her natural talent and determination can't be stopped! We are all looking forward to cheering her on in Boston in 2016.

So, thanks Steamtown, for a great day. The Richmond Steamtown Contingent all agree that we'll be happy to come back any time to run your race again!

Kit, T, me, GB, and Will, taking a bite out of our well-earned medals.

Friday, October 10, 2014

The Cake is in the Oven

Tonight we leave for Steamtown. It's a long drive, so we are going up halfway, using my parents' house a hotel (thanks Mom and Dad!) and then continuing on to Scranton on Saturday morning.

Two weeks ago, I felt like I was going to kick the crap out of this race.

Today, I am feeling extremely anxious.

My right knee is bothering me, which is really disturbing. Neither of my knees has ever ached in the way that it has been for the past 10 days or so. I can only hope that it holds in there until I cross the finish line on Sunday. After that, it can crap out if it wants to.

I'm discovering that coordinating the needs and wants of a group of five runners headed to an out of state marathon is kind of stressful. I, for instance, have discovered that red sauce and pasta are just not a good idea for me the night before a long run. Guess what they are serving at the Pasta Dinner? Therefore, I need to fall back on my old pre-race staple of a steak and baked potato... but that doesn't work for everyone either.

That's just one example.

This work week has been incredibly busy and stressful - and the next three weeks are looking the same. I haven't been able to focus on a game plan, write a packing list, or anything else. If it wasn't for the fact that I have my crew constantly reminding me that the marathon is this weekend, I would have forgotten. I hope that worries about work don't affect my mindset over the weekend.

BUT it's not all bad news bears.

The weather forecast is looking pretty decent. Partly sunny, low of 42 and high of 62. Pretty prime running weather.

Even though it seems stressful to coordinate everyone, I know having the crew together at the race will be a great experience.

I'm really looking forward to the course - I expect that it is going to be just beautiful and a joy.

Despite my wonky knee, I do think I am in the best shape I've ever been in. As long as I can put that out of my mind (or it settles down), I think I can PR this race.

This morning, Sensei and I had one of our transcendental morning runs at Belle Isle. We stopped at my favorite overlook spot in all of Richmond just in time to catch the sunrise. At first the sky was blue and clear, and then suddenly everything became warm and pink - like being inside of a lovely spool of pink cotton candy.

Just looking at the photos gives me goose bumps again. I'm so thankful for that run this morning - as always, a Belle Isle sunrise reminds me of all of the gifts that this sport has given to me and makes me grateful for it.

I have tried to not worry too much or puzzle over strategy, the course, or trying to obsess over every detail of the coming task. At this point, the cake is in the oven and there is nothing that I can do to dramatically change what is going to happen on Sunday. The hard work has been done, the training cycle finished. 26.2 miles are waiting in Pennsylvania and all I have to do is show up and put one foot in the front of the other until I'm finished.

All that remains is pulling the cake out on Sunday and taking a big old bite to see how it turned out.

So, what are my goals for Steamtown? Well, I'd love to PR. I think it is possible. I have a secret audacious time goal that I am not going to share publicly until afterwards. I don't want to jinx myself. So my public goal is to beat Richmond's 3:57:24.

Strangely, I want to suffer at Steamtown. As in, I want to know that I gave the race my all. It sounds crazy, but Richmond was far too pleasant last year. I ran conservatively (as I should have for my first marathon) because I was afraid of the unknown. Raleigh was horrible because of factors beyond my control, but gave me some grit and showed me that marathons can be really NOT fun. I certainly put forth more effort in Raleigh, but I didn't push myself to suffer unnecessarily.

At Steamtown, I want to do my best to restrain myself and not burn up my legs on the downhill, then run hard for the rest of the race. I want to feel spent. I want to push myself and see what I can really do when I put in all of my effort. I want to cry with relief when I see the finish line - not only because I'm becoming a marathoner again, but because I have used every last bit of energy in me and need to stop.

I need to run selfishly and I want everyone else to do the same. Even though it is hard for me to do, I need to run my own race and not feel compelled to stay at a pace (whatever it is) that isn't mine. There's nothing I love more than finishing with one of my friends beside me, but this time, I need to see what I am capable of.

I'm not sure what will happen in Steamtown, but I know two things: that my friends will be with me and that means that I will be ok no matter what and that I will learn something important about myself too.

Let's hope it's not that I have a bum knee and that Steamtown turns out to be a delicious cake indeed.

I'll close with the pun that has defined my training season:


See you all on the other side.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Road to Steamtown: Weeks 17 & 18

Week 17 was my highest mileage week of the cycle:

3 run for 36 miles
No cross training

After a great speed work session on Monday, I suddenly found my right knee hurting when I went down stairs. Of course knee pain is just about every runner's worst nightmare - the stereotypical injury that nobody wants. I figured it was thanks to all of the hard running I had done the week before and decided to take it easy with no cross training.

I was nervous about the 20 (who isn't) both because of my knee, which never got worse but was still a little bit squeaky every now and again, and because the weather forecast wasn't what I would call ideal. The forecast being sunny and high 60's.

Thankfully, the miles somehow flew by. I didn't push things and hung out with some of our 20 mile virgins instead of flying to the very front of the pack with Kit and Lauren, who must have had jet fuel for breakfast because they tore it up. It was really fun for me to stay with Jadee and Brian as they finished their first 20.

Immediately after the run, a group of us hit the Dairy Bar. I devoured a chili cheese omelet, biscuit, hash browns, and bacon. Oh and a cookies and cream milk shake.

That night we gathered again to celebrate at Hardywood Brewery, where we were all miraculously walking normally and had enough energy to stand around and debate bad movies

The Midnight Crew
And then I took the train straight to Taper Town:

3 runs for 24.75 miles
2 miles of swim

Running miles logged so far: 584.15
STLY: 531.0

The pesky knee pain stuck around, but didn't keep me from running my speed work on Monday and enjoying a nice south side run with Kit and Greg in the early morning on Wednesday.

For Saturday's run, I decided that instead of taking it super easy for my last long run before the marathon, I would push myself. This isn't typically what you are supposed to do during taper, but my theory was that I wanted to run fast, feel tired, and make myself keep going despite wanting to slow - things that I am going to have to do next week if I can achieve the goal that I want to.

Luckily, Coach Shawn was apparently also in the mood to run fast and suffer - he, Kit, and I ended up running at an average pace of 8:16 and we definitely had one or two sub-8:00 miles in there. The crazy thing is that Shawn ran 20 this week and was running Kit and I into the ground even though we were only doing 12!

I was perfectly exhausted when we finished - and starving later that day. I guess that's what 12 tempo miles will do to you.

So this week I'm supposed to do speed work on Monday and 5 miles on Wednesday and then nada until Steamtown on Sunday. I think I am going to slightly amend to a Tuesday swim and Wednesday 5 mile tempo followed by an easy 3 on Friday morning instead.

Hard to believe that at this time next week I will have finished my third marathon. The summer and September went by in a surreal blur. Part of me is really glad that I'm getting the marathon done this month, but another part of me feels strange to not be on the same schedule with the rest of the team.

Despite that, I'm feeling confident. At the end of my training last fall, I ran a total of 550 miles. I am already sitting at 580 miles, and expect to top out at 590 total. Though my knee is being a little weird, I'm not too concerned about it. I think this week of "rest" will be all it needs. My SI isn't giving me the trouble it was last year and everything else feels great.

Now all I need to do is make it through the next 7 days without getting sick or hurting myself - too bad I don't have a bubble.