Friday, November 14, 2014

My 2 Cents, For What They're Worth

You've read Kit's play-by-play for tomorrow and I'm here to tell you that it's all true. You'll be like a kid on Christmas morning and wake up at 4 am. It will take forever for the start to happen. The first ten miles are so much fun. Riverside is glorious. You'll be stunned at how much of a hill Forest Hill Avenue really is. You'll make the Lee Bridge your bitch (cause it's the only way to do it). You'll curse at the overpass by the Diamond and through Bellevue. You won't even remember you name once you get to Grace Street and you'll probably do something silly like cry at the end.

Now, take all of that and file it away. Don't think about it again until you are in the moment tomorrow.

As I said, I'm not going to attempt a profound analysis for what you should do. In my day to day life, I over-analyze a lot. The strange thing is that when it comes to race day, I take on a whole different persona and do one thing:

Just run.

That is my advice for you. As I've already said in the lead up to Steamtown, the cake is in the oven. You've mixed that sucker to the max. Now you just sit back and wait. Or, more accurately, you just go out there and run.

To just run, you need to do a few things. Sounds oxymoronic, I know. But hear me out.

First and foremost, trust your training. I know you've heard this already about 500 times. I'll say it again though. Trust your training. This evening, go look at your training log. See all that you have accomplished already. Do you remember when it seemed like you'd never in a million years be able to run 15 miles? How about how nervous you were about that first 20? The second? The third? But you did it. Add up all the miles you ran. There are hundreds of them. YOU ran them. YOU did that.

What's 26.2 more? NOTHING! For my half marathon friends, what's 13.1 more? You've got this, I promise. You know what to do. You've been doing it since June. One foot in front of the other.

Just run.

Trust your training.

Be in the mile. This is the single best piece of advice anyone has ever given me. I have to give credit where credit is due - to Jeff Van Horn, the owner of Lucky Foot. This was his advice to me last year, imparted to me on Marathon Eve at the expo. I took it to heart and it has made a profound difference in the way I approach every run.

You know what lies ahead - Kit's got you prepared.

Now stop thinking about it.

Tomorrow, deal with the mile you are in and only the mile you are in. When you're at the start, don't fret about Scottview. On Forest Hill, don't think about Lee Bridge. Or the overpass. Or the last 10k.

Think about only what you are doing in that moment. The entire course is laid out for you - it will be there whether you worry over it or not. There's nothing you can do to change it. As you go through, think about what the mile you are in holds but nothing more. Deal with it as it comes. That way, it doesn't get overwhelming. You can run a mile in your sleep. So just run a mile.

Just run.

Trust your training.

Be in the mile.

Don't think about THE WALL. I spent my entire first marathon holding back because I was afraid of the wall.

I hate it when people try to scare first time marathoners with the looming specter of THE WALL. "It happens to everyone. You are going to be miserable at some point. Be ready for it." Listen, I'm no coach and I'm no seasoned marathoner, but in my opinion this is nothing more than a scare tactic.

Does it happen? Yes.

Will it definitely happen to you? NO.

I know this because I can honestly say that I've never hit THE WALL. Not even during the no-good-very-bad Raleigh Marathon.

Here's what I think about THE WALL: you have to tell yourself that it doesn't exist. Period. Kind of like the monsters under your bed. If you don't believe in it, it can't scare you.

Don't spend your whole first marathon worrying about it. My first marathon was a great experience, but in the back of my mind I kept wondering, "Where's the wall? When's it going to hit?" Everyone told me it would happen and I kept looking for it. I looked so smiley and happy in my marathon because I was holding back - out of fear of the wall. Since then, I have never wasted another minute worrying about it because it was a pointless exercise.

Don't spend your first marathon waiting and wondering when it will hit. Because it might not. And one way or the other, there's nothing you can do about it.

Just run.

Trust your training.

Be in the mile.

There is no wall.

Be thankful. Be grateful. For many reasons, lots of people can't do what you're going to do tomorrow. Putting all the time, effort, and money into marathon training and racing is a luxury that precious few in this world are able to afford. Your body is strong and healthy. It has gotten you this far without injury, it will get you to the start tomorrow and will carry you to the finish. So many of us were taken out of the game over the course of training. You're a lucky one. Don't forget it and don't take it for granted.

Just run.

Trust your training.

Be in the mile.

There is no wall.

Be grateful.

Be awed. You are doing something that very very few people do in their lifetime. When you've been living in a bubble of runners for months, it is easy to forget that we are a rare breed. Running any distance is a big deal. Accomplishing a marathon is an exceptional feat. Remember that.

Look around you tomorrow, at every other athlete who is realizing a dream. What a powerful thing to be a part of.

Thank the spectators. A lot of them don't get it. They might tell you that you are almost there when you're really not almost there. They might tell you that you look great when you know you don't. A lot of them probably don't even know exactly how long a marathon is.

But it doesn't matter. Smile. Thank them. Take their support. They are there for you, even if they don't quite understand everything that has gone into this day for you. Be grateful for their enthusiasm - it comes from the goodness of their hearts. I will never forget the older gentlemen around mile 23 of Steamtown who told me I looked great. I laughed and told him, "I know you're lying, but I love you for telling me that."

Or the guy who I think Sensei and I both imagined at mile 22. "Smile, relax, welcome to Steamtown" he said in a perfectly zen voice while bowing. I swear we imagined him. Real or not, he gave us strength when we needed it.

High five the kids, smile at the old gentlemen, laugh at the drunken revelers and the ridiculous
signs. They are out there freezing because they want to help you in some small way.

What a loving gesture by thousands of strangers.

Look for me - I'll be out there doing my best to support you all. I'll be brandishing one of these signs:

Actually, Husband will be near our house at Mile 10 brandishing the yellow sign and wearing an equally inappropriate and hilarious spectator shirt. He'll give you the laugh you need after making your way up Scottview.

I'll be waving green and orange all over the place on the north side of the river. The plan is to be somewhere on Monument near the beginning, on Main Street around mile 16-17 and then on Grace around mile 24.

You guys are my heart tomorrow. I'm running with you in spirit.

Keep your eye out for me. It will help distract you when you're feeling tired. Knowing that Marcey was up ahead is what got me through miles 20-23 last year. And then knowing that my entire family was near the finish forced me to keep it together. I didn't want them to see me looking anything but great and happy.

Not doing this race is killing me and selfishly, the only thing that is making it tolerable is the knowledge that I can maybe, just maybe, do what my spectating crew did last year and give that bit of inspiration that gets someone through a tough spot.

Just run.

Trust your training.

Be in the mile.

There is no wall.

Be grateful.

Be awed.

And my last bit of advice: drink it all in. Tomorrow is a celebration. It is the cherry on the top. Think of it as the reward for the hard work you've done. All those sweaty miles and Saturdays. All those early Wednesday mornings, waking up before the sun. All those Friday nights you couldn't go out and drink and eat whatever you wanted because you had to prepare for the Saturday long run.

Will it be hard work? Yes. But that doesn't mean you can't love every minute. Be proud of what you've accomplished. It's allowed. There is no better feeling than seeing that finish line. Let yourself cry. Don't forget to put your victory arms. Smile for the camera.

Just run.

Trust your training.

Be in the mile.

There is no wall.

Be grateful.

Be awed.


You guys are amazing. I am already bursting with pride for every person who has had the guts to tackle a big dream tomorrow - whether it's the 8k, Half Marathon, or Marathon.

Your cakes are in the oven. Now,


My Sensei's Richmond Marathon Tips

If you follow me, you know who my Sensei is - Kit. First, I love Kit's name. I remember when he first introduced himself to Greg and I on a run. I'm pretty sure he said his name was Chris. But then we kept hearing people call him Kit. For about the next two weeks Greg and I debated and tried to figure out which he preferred. Finally, I decided enough was enough and asked him "So are you Kit or Chris??"

He's Kit. Mystery solved.

But soon after that, he became not Kit or Chris, but Sensei. You see, Kit is a quiet guy - the type who listens a lot, processes, thinks, and then only opens his mouth when he has something to say that will really contribute to a conversation. He doesn't just talk to talk. When Kit says something, it's gonna be wise. Or funny. Every time.

Paired with his rock steady running style (I swear he never slows down, whines, or flinches no matter what he may be going through), he became the silent leader of our little band of Navy runners. And I started to call him Sensei. I claim him as my own, but I know that Kit's friendship and wisdom has had a huge impact on many people, runners and non-runners alike.

Kit has run the Richmond Marathon I don't know how many times. (A lot of times, to say the least.) In the spirit of my Tackling Twenty post from a while back, I invited him to share his marathon tips today. His wise words of wisdom and companionship as a running buddy have helped me through three training cycles and I can say without a doubt he helped me get that PR in Steamtown this year.

He is the Master, I'm still the student. Me telling you what to do tomorrow isn't based in that much experience; Kit has that knowledge and a delivery that can't be duplicated.

So without further ado, I give you Sensei's tips for those who are taking on Richmond tomorrow.

MTTers - If you attended the Race Prep Clinics you got a lot of really good advice from some coaches who have run and coached dozens of marathons.  Some of this will be familiar to you.  I’ve only run a few marathons but they’re fresh enough in my mind that I can remember every one.  Well, big chunks of every one.  I’m still learning, but here are the things I’ve picked up.

The night before:
I like to be sure all my running gear is clean before a marathon.  That’s part of my pre-race ritual.  After my last run I gather up every last hat, reflective band, glove and sock.  You never know what you might need.

That said, I have specific shorts and socks I wear only for long races and I wear them for every long race.  Wear what you know.  Put your outfit together the night before.  Put your bib on your shirt.  It’s a lot easier to get the bib square if you put a magazine inside the shirt before you pin the bib.  Put together your checkable bag the night before too.  I like to put an empty drawstring goody bag in there too, and transfer everything to the drawstring bag after the race.  It’s a lot easier to carry.  If you’ll be using BodyGlide, suntan lotion, medical tape  or anything else, put it with your outfit.  If you’re taking the Downtown Expressway, don’t forget toll change unless you have an EZPass.

Eating the day before is very important.  Have a good breakfast, lunch and dinner.  You can even have dessert.  You can have dessert after lunch too.  I don’t recommend beans or really spicy food, but if it works for you, go for it.  By now you know if it does.  I like a complete meat, carb and veggie dinner the night before, preferably with cheese bacon fries, but everyone works differently.

Set your alarm.  After you put together your outfit and bag, check it.  Check it again after dinner and before you go to bed.  You don’t have to do this but you will.  Check the weather while you’re at it.  You know you want to.  In fact, go ahead and check the weather right now.

The alarm went off.  It didn’t matter because you were already awake, waiting for it.

Eat breakfast 2-3 hours before race time.  I like a veggie burger or turkey sandwich with cheese and mustard on a big thick whole wheat bun.  I have no appetite before a race and sometimes it takes me a really long time to eat my sandwich.  I have regretted every time I skipped my breakfast before a long run or race.

Don says to plan on getting there at 5:30.  That’s a little early for me, but I like to be parked by about 6:15.  If you take I64 east to 195 you’ll get into the line of cars before you get to the toll booth.  Don’t try to skip the line of cars or you’ll end up in Oregon Hill and have to backtrack.  I know this.  


Don’t get picky about choosing a parking deck.  They’re all the same.  I have always parked in the decks near or at the James Center.  It’s a pain in the butt and I hate it but I’ve also always gotten to the start in plenty of time.

Find your friends, take pictures, chat and giggle.  There are port-a-potties right next to the corrals.  You can get into line for these port-a-potties or you can walk just a little further back and find ones where there is no line.  About a half hour before gun time, turn on your GPS.  Better a little too early than a little too late.  Time to head to the corral.

The longest 15 minutes of your life.
Check the time: 15 more minutes. Where are my friends? There they are. Oh crap, my ankle hurts! This was all for nothing! Whoops, false alarm.  Feeling better.  How long is left? 14 minutes.  Where is everybody? Oh, there they are.  OK, there’s my pace guy. Why does my knee hurt so much? OK, better now.  What’s the time? 13 minutes to go.  Let me bounce up and down a little. Oh god, my knee hurts again! No it doesn’t. Can we please just start? Are we missing anyone? Nope, they’re all here.  I’ll bounce up and down a little more.  What’s the time? 12 minutes left. ……

You get the idea. 

Runners get ready….BANG!
The coaches have been telling you for the last few weeks not to start too fast. Don’t worry about that right now  If you try to go too fast for the first mile you’ll step on someone and fall down.  You are beginning the most exhilarating, joyful, passionately wonderful ten miles you’ve ever run.  Spirits are high, your friends are with you, your legs are fresh, you’re released from Taper Madness…Monument Avenue will be fresh and new, full of people cheering you on and the smell of fall leaves crushed underfoot.  This will be your first time running down the hill on Cary.  You can hear the party spot ahead at the shopping center and you feel like you’re floating.  Drink at the water stops.  If you have to walk to drink, wait until you’re past the tables and go to the side.

The Southside!
The Southside stretch starts with the most beautiful part of the course.  Crossing the river you have a gorgeous view to the west, you’re still just a few miles in and the adrenaline is still pumping, and you’ve been essentially running downhill for the last few miles.  Riverside is my favorite part.  All too soon it’s time to climb away from the river to the tedium of Forest Hill/Semmes Avenue.

Ideally you’ll run a negative split, but this is much easier in theory than in practice.  If you get too wrapped up in goal paces and checkpoints you’ll get yourself into trouble.  Don’t expect to speed up too much at the halfway point.  If you’re feeling really good, speed up a little but be careful.  You can speed up more later if you’re still feeling energetic.  There’s a clock and timing mat at the physical (as opposed to mental) halfway point.  You’ll get an idea of your status if your math brain is still working.  Don’t forget, the easy half is the part that’s done.  There’s no more Cary Street hill, no more pretty Riverside, no more Richmond Road Runners handing out candy.  This brings us to…

The Long Hill
Once you pass the party stop and pick up your gel, you might notice it’s getting a little harder to run.  It’s not your imagination.  There is a slight but steady incline the last bit of Semmes, across the Lee Bridge and up Belvidere, all the way to the end of Main.  You’ll start to see people suffer a bit through here.  You might even be suffering a little yourself.  This is where the magnitude of the undertaking starts to sink in.

Anyone who has done a long run with me knows I start losing some of the higher brain function after about mile 14-15.  The non-essential parts of my brain (mostly speech and decision-making) start to shut down.  There is a junk food stop either on the bridge or just after it.  My first marathon, I saw the water and registered the junk food and started thinking about whether I wanted some gummy bears.  I decided that yes, gummy bears would be a good thing.  By the time I made this decision the whole stop – water, gummy bears and all – was behind me and I missed my chance.  Don’t do this.  Drink at every stop and grab some gummies.  If you realize you didn’t want them you can drop them later.

The Long Hill is done when you hit Boulevard, but you’re most likely feeling a bit pooped unless you’re the Wonder Woman owner of this blog, in which case you have a great big smile on your face.  This is the tough part for me.  I’ve developed some strategies for the miles between your longest run to date and Almost There.

1. Straighten your back, hold your head up, close your mouth and swing your arms.  Physically this opens your chest, lengthens your stride and stops you from gasping.  It also brings back some confidence.  You’ve still got a ways to go, but it’s not like you’re going to stop.
2. Set yourself little goals – the top of the overpass, the next stoplight, the Pope Arch.  Something you can watch as it gets closer.  Look away from the goal you’ve set for a while and then look back.  It will be closer than it was.
3. Cuss a lot.  You don’t have to cuss loud and scare the kids and the nice Northsiders, although if that’s what it takes to get through Fauquier then don’t hold back.

My first marathon, partly because I missed the water stop on the Lee Bridge, I had vicious cramps from the end of Main through to the finish line.  If you start cramping there’s not much you can do except keep moving forward.  They might start getting better but they probably won’t.  If you don’t stop moving forward you’re guaranteed to cross the finish line.  For me, somewhere around Virginia Union University, Northside magically turns into…

Almost There!
There are two miles left.  There’s pain and exhaustion, but a grin is starting to show every so often like the sun breaking through after days of rain.  The pace picks up a little.  Even if you’re cramping and gimping, the cramp and gimp gets a little faster.  The grin gets a little stronger.  Grace Street looks pretty nice.  Some of the people around you are starting to run a little faster too.  Some of them aren’t.  That’s OK.  There are a lot more people cheering now and that helps too.  At this point there’s no more strategy.  When you’re running down 5th, try pumping your arms in the air.  The crowd will respond.  It’s pretty cool.  If you’re tempted to leap across the finish line, don’t forget that you’ll be landing on exhausted legs.  Some of us can do that and the rest of us can come really close to a lesson on regret.
The Chute and Thereafter
You’ve just finished what is most likely the hardest, most challenging thing you’ve ever done.  Your coaches made sure you were trained, your family and friends supported you and your running buddies shared the pain, but only you ran and finished your marathon. It’s OK to cry a bit.  I usually do.  The mixture of pain, exhaustion, exhilaration and relief is pretty overwhelming.  Be forewarned, if I see you at the finish line you’ll likely get a sweaty hug and some incoherent babble too. 
Walk around a bit.  Hug people.  Get some food.  I find that bagels require way too much chewing so I skip them and have a couple slices of pizza.  Go home and take the best shower ever.  Celebrate with your friends. Wear your medal, hat and shirt to work on Monday.  Start planning the next one. 
Congratulations, marathoner.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Agony and the Ecstasy

Running is such a temperamental mistress. One week, it takes you to the heights of happiness and then, when you weren’t expecting it, BAM! Plunged into the depths of despair.

Right now I should be basking in the afterglow of a mission accomplished at Steamtown and coasting my way to a fun-filled Richmond Marathon, where I planned to just have a good time running with my teammates and enjoying the beautiful course and city that I love.

Remember how I said that Steamtown would either be a piece of cake or the confirmation that I have a bum knee? When I wrote my recap, I was confident that the outcome had been that lovely piece of cake that I had been longing for.

As it turns out, I got the piece of cake but with a side of Runner’s Knee. (Hooray – I’m an official runner stereotype!)

I’ll spare you the details and whining, but the basics are that I took a week off without running a step and then every attempt since has involved massive amounts of knee pain, weakness, and frustration. 

Cue panicked icing, visits to BFF Steve, internet searches for exercises to mitigate Runner’s Knee, purchase of a patellar tendonitis knee strap, and progression through the five emotional stages of dealing with an injury: 1) denial, 2) anger/betrayal, 3) more denial, 4) massive depression, 5) begrudging acceptance.

Until last Wednesday, I was determined that I was going to “run” Richmond, bum knee or not.  Even if it was an ugly, slow experience, I was going to do it because damn it – lots of people run multiple marathons in a season and for whatever stupid reason, I seem to think that I need to do this too to prove myself (or some silly nonsense).  I also wanted to run for less selfish reasons too, mainly that I wanted to be there for my teammates, especially the first timers, to help them get through their first marathon the way that Kit and Teresa did for me last year.

Ok, ok, and I wanted the darn medal. And the finisher blanket. And the hat.

Then Coach Shawn found out my crazy intention and sent me a whole series of text messages that made me cry at work (in a good way), basically begging me to be reasonable and abandon this ill-fated plan. He reminded me that I already had a great season, hitting every goal I set for myself. Why would I tarnish that with a potentially horrible experience in Richmond or even worse, a DNF? Why potentially injure myself even worse, taking myself out of the game even longer because I was stubborn and reckless?

He reminded me how much it meant to me when I saw my supporters along the route last year and that I can help my teammates just as much by being out on the course in the tough spots, cheering them on.

I knew he was right on all counts, but I still fought against the inevitable by trying to transfer into the half marathon instead. But I was thwarted – the half is sold out and no transfers are allowed.

With that, I finally accepted that I won’t be running Richmond this year; a painful and depressing decision, but likely to be less painful long term.

The worst part about this situation is fully knowing that to let myself be this bent out of shape over something as inconsequential as running a race is supremely stupid and irrational. Knowing that you are being ridiculous but at the same time being unable to summon the ability to make yourself stop adds to the feeling of powerlessness.

Optimism is a hard thing for me, but this weekend I did my best to put on my big girl panties and deal. On Saturday, I went to MTT but exercised great restraint by biking alongside my friends for the first 2/3 of the course before jumping off and running the last 4 miles with Kit and Lauren (while wearing a ridiculously huge knee brace loaned to me by T). I obtained poster-making supplies and started to work on my spectator signs. This is a big deal because I don’t have a crafty bone in my body. I started to plan out race day, trying to figure out where I need to be and when (and how I’ll get there) and focusing on how much fun it will be to spectate.

I keep telling myself to be grateful for the season I’ve had and to focus on the big picture – getting stronger and faster next year.

Why is it so hard?