Thursday, September 24, 2009

Mama's Kicks

I finally used the Runner's Alley gift certificate my parents gave me for my birthday in July.

I had intended on using it to partially pay for a fancy new Garmin watch that would keep track of my distance, speed and a whole host of other stats.

I held off on the purchase for a while, perhaps because I wasn't sure I wanted to spend that kind of money on a watch, perhaps because I wasn't sure that I wanted to actually know that much information and perhaps because I realized it was a "want" rather than a "need."

So today, when I found myself with few extra minutes between meetings, I traded the gift certificate for what might be my most important purchase for the marathon - a new pair of running shoes.

Definitely a "need," as I've noticed the treads on my current ones starting to wear terribly. They've also developed a hole right above my big toe on my right foot. They've long surpassed the runner's guidelines to replace shoes every 300-500 miles or every three months. (I got them in February and I don't know how many miles ago.)

Well worn, well loved, they served me well in my training.

I replaced them with the same model as I've been running in for a while now - Asics 2140s. The only change is the color, which is noted on the box as "Lightning and Quick Silver."

Someone once told me the color of a bike will actually make you go faster. I don't know if I quite believe that, but if my "lightning and quick silver" shoes don't make me go fast, I don't know what will.

At the very least, they'll get me across the finish line in style and comfort.


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Ultimate Hill Workout

It seems as if my Trusty Companion and I are trying to squeeze as much out of the last days of summer as possible -- which took shape as a chilly camping trip this weekend.

We spent a couple of fr
osty nights in a tent in the Crawford Notch area, enjoying meals cooked over the campfire, the solitude of being the few hearty souls at the campground and the welcoming in the change of seasons.

Perhaps the highlight was having TC introduce me to another new activity: Hiking.

Turns out, hiking is a great workout. Not
only does it work your legs and provide a decent cardio challenge on the way up, there's a great payoff at the top.

The views are spectacular, the sense of accomplishment is notable and the fresh mountain air can't be beat.

Here are a few pics of what I hope is the first of many cross-training days
in the mountains.


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Check-Engine Light

As my training miles crept into the teens, I remember noting that I was entering a new kind of running world, one where what I ate and how much I slept would matter.

Truth be told, I can get by on most runs without much preparation. I don't really change my eating habits before a long run, often don't get enough sleep and don't give too much thought to how much I've hydrated.

Despite the fact that I consciously noted that this needed to change as I progressed with my marathon training, I confess that I haven't done much about it yet.

And I think it's starting to catch up with me. My check-engine light is on.

I chalked up some of the issues last week's run with the simple fact that it was 20 miles. Surely that kind of running would have adverse effects on anyone, right?

Some in-the-know runners asked me more about how I've been feeling. When runners ask you questions like that, it's okay to share some of the not-so-pleasant details. I described some of my stomach issues and post-run queasiness, including details of my eating and drinking habits before, during and after the run.

They suggested that I may have been a bit dehydrated.

I did a little more digging and found that not being properly hydrated often causes runners experience the same kind of feelings that I did. I didn't experience anything extreme, just noticeable enough to cut my post-run breakfast short and even affect my dinner appetite a couple of days later.

Dehydration never even registered on my radar. Now that my body has somewhat adjusted to the warmer weather, it feels like a relief to have cooler, fall running temps. Drinking just doesn't seem as important when it's not 90 degrees out.

But it is.

It's not that I don't think of hydration at all. I carry a fuel belt with me with two small bottles. I stop at designated stops to refill them as necessary. I had my Trusty Companion toting around a water bottle for me. I certainly felt like I took in enough fluids during my long runs, but with the amount of sweat that I'm pouring out, how could I really know?

Geno suggested that I conduct a scientific experiment: Weigh myself immediately before a long run, immediately after (removing clothing that might be sweat-soaked) and again the next morning. Ideally, there would be no change, which would mean that I've achieved the perfect balance of fluids in and fluids out.

I think I'll give it a try this weekend. It will be interesting to see the numbers.

Overall, for the past couple of days at least, I'm giving a lot more focus to staying hydrated during the week, instead of just focusing on my drinking habits on the day of the run.

The same goes for eating. I know I need to give that a little attention.

I've tried hard during the past few years not to be someone who is obsessed with what they eat and how much they eat. I've gone that route before and I don't want food to take up so much of my thoughts and time. In doing so, I may have gone the other direction. I don't give it much thought at all.

I naturally gravitate toward fruits and veggies more than protein. In fact, I've lived in my condo for more than a year and I can only recall buying two packages of chicken breasts during my grocery shopping. (Of course I get protein options during meals out at restaurants and when I eat with others.)

I don't do much to supplement what I might be missing. Luckily for me, I spend a lot of dinners with TC lately and he's sure to get me a healthy, balanced meal.

Otherwise, when I'm alone, mealtimes are not a focus for me. I often skip breakfast or lunch - sometimes just "forgetting" to eat. I know it doesn't seem possible, but I honestly can forget. Then it becomes so late in the day that I figure it's better to just wait until the next meal. (Even writing that sounds crazy, but that's how my mind works when it comes to food sometimes.)

Coincidentally, this week alone I've received a few links from runner websites addressing this topic - what to eat while training and how much to eat. I've made a lot of mental notes.

One of the sites suggested that female runners my size take in 2,500-3,000 calories a day. Seems like a lot to me and I wonder if I ever reach that amount without taking in tons of junk food. Still, I'll file the information away and focus more on making sure my body is fueled and hydrated properly - not only during my long runs, but on the in-between days too.

As Geno told me, it seems like I'm doing a good job of taking care of the mental part of the challenge. Now it's time to give my engine a little TLC.


Sunday, September 13, 2009

Another Milestone. Or 20.

This is a picture of me and Shawnna at the end of our 20-mile run yesterday.

I'm not positive that our smiles are genuine, but at least there are smiles. After 20 miles, that's something to note.

I ran 20 miles. Yes, 20 whole miles. In one day. During one run.

It almost seems surreal to write that -- like it must have been someone else out there running those miles. There's no way that I could have done that, right?

But I did. And honestly, I'm pretty proud of it. I don't often say that or acknowledge the successes as much as I probably should. I often look at these things as just another number on the training calendar, another thing to do before I can complete the marathon.

But every once in a while, I need to stop and remember all that I've accomplished. I've come a long way (literally and figuratively) since that first team run where I ran/walked the two miles on the training schedule, since my first 5K, since the Disney Half ... and a whole laundry list of other memorable moments.

Now I've added a 20-mile run to that list.

I awoke Saturday morning with more than a few pre-run jitters. The weather was cool, and although it was still dark, I could see that it was cloudy. Perfect for a few hours of running.

Having properly prepared my run necessities -- GU, water, Gatorade and plenty of Glide -- I laced up my sneakers and stepped outside with Rebel to let him do his thing before I left. Almost instantly, the skies opened up. Rain poured down hard. And it was cold.

Can this really be happening... again?

Luckily, the downpour only lasted a few moments (soaking me in the process, of course), although a steady drizzle stayed with us for most of the day. At one point, just before the 10-mile mark, another deluge of rain soaked us again. But that's beginning to be the norm for us.

I'm seriously starting to think the sun never shines on the Manchester Marathon course. At least not for any run more than 10 miles.

I suppose it's good training, preparing me for any weather Mother Nature throws at me on marathon day. Still, there's a little part of me that hopes Mother Nature has a sort of barter system, which will reward runners who've sloshed through many, many wet miles with a cool, sunny race day.

We'll see.

The run was relatively uneventful -- except for the seemingly high number of weird people we passed.

There was the grocery bag-toting guy who "looked right through us" near Hillside Middle School.
There was an overly friendly gentleman (I use that word loosely) on Hanover Street. And a homeless guy on a bicycle on Elm Street, his bike piled with bags and clothing, making a call on his cell phone while a gray cat popped its head out from his jacket.

I could not make this stuff up. This is why we run in pairs.

Shawnna and I spent the time catching up with each other, covering every topic you could imagine, only sometimes mentioning the little aches and pains that come along with running these distances.

Neither one of us felt as good as we did on our 18-miler a couple of weeks ago. When you run consistently and put in the kind of miles that we do, you get used to having good days and bad days.

Running the course is becoming second nature. I'm learning where I might need to push a little harder, where I might have to dodge traffic and where to look forward to downhill breaks. We had our water stops properly planned and fueled up with GU at just the right times.

My Trusty Companion met us along the way, water in hand, to check on us and to see if we needed anything.

He noted later that we weren't as chipper and friendly as we have been on some of our other long runs. It's true. We were a little quieter, a little more focused on just getting it done, a few miles closer to the Bite Me Zone.

We'd been running about three hours when we passed the 18-mile mark on Daniel Plummer Hill. Two to go.

Those last two weren't easy and they weren't pretty. I pulled myself along, trudging up the hill, and throwing my fuel belt to TC because it was adding to some of the stomach issues I was starting to experience. I didn't need fuel for the last two miles.

With about a mile left, my body really wanted to stop. My legs were starting to feel stiffer and the muscles in my lower back were tightening. When we stopped for water, my body fought me as I tried to get it started again. Each step was painful as I eased back into a rhythm.

So, this was marathon training.

At one point, a voice inside my head told my body to keep going, it's just another mile. The voice was so deliberate and so focused that it was almost startling to me. It was like something inside me was mentally pushing me forward. It knew the milestone was within reach.

Eventually, and without much fanfare, we passed through the gate on a footpath on the St. A's campus.

TC was waiting for us. We had some water, snapped a picture and jumped in our cars. We weren't looking to hang around chatting. We were tired, sore, wet and cold.

Luckily, I'd planned ahead and gave TC a comfy sweatshirt to bring to me at the finish line.

I couldn't wait to get my soaking shirt off. It was cold and plastered against my body. I was already shivering. I stripped off my running shirt in the car on the side of the road. (Don't worry, it's pretty secluded and, truth be told, after you've just run 20 miles and you're freezing, you might do things you normally wouldn't do.)

The post-20 day was relatively low-key by design. I took a warm, massaging shower while TC made me a delicious plate of pancakes when we returned to his place. I ate one-and-a-half and some orange juice before my stomach wouldn't let me take in anything more.

My stomach had been bothering me, straddling the line somewhere between queasy and crampy for the last few miles. The feeling stuck with me for a while. That was something new.

Snuggled in TC's sweatshirt and a pair of sweatpants, I got under the covers and settled in for a good, mid-day nap. I awoke with my stomach still feeling a little uneasy, but otherwise pretty unscathed by the long run.

My legs were only slightly stiff. Soon enough, the stomach issues passed without incident and we made plans for our own mini-tour of downtown Manchester restaurants. We ate, drank and people-watched at some of the best and newest spots.

It was perfect celebration of the 20-miler.

I ran 20 miles. Yep, it still seems strange to say that.


Friday, September 11, 2009

Just Two More Miles... Right?

By this time tomorrow morning, if all goes well, I'll be recovering from and hopefully celebrating the completion of my first 20-mile run.

I'm not exactly sure why but this particular upcoming milestone has me a bit on edge, a bit nervous.

I think it's because, according to a lot of training plans, the 20-miler is the longest run before the big 26.2. That means, technically, after tomorrow I should be ready for the big day.

Am I? Honestly, I'm not sure yet.

Physically, I'm pretty sure I could push myself to the end, despite the fact that I've started to notice the slightest pain in my left knee during some of my recent runs. Nothing to be alarmed about, at least not yet, but just a little twinge of something not-quite-right.

Mentally and emotionally, I find myself momentarily and sporadically wavering -- perhaps only because that finish line is so close now, almost within reach, that it's beginning to become a reality. And with that reality comes the little, familiar voice of self-doubt, that part of me that questions whether or not I'll actually be able to pull this off.

Luckily, the 18-miler two weeks ago gave me a real confidence boost. Despite the less-than-ideal weather, I felt pretty strong, even felt like I could have kept going.

Hopefully I feel the same way tomorrow. Because I
will have to keep going, just two more miles -- at least for now.


Tuesday, September 8, 2009

These Boots Are Made For...

Ever have one of those moments that just completely throws you off track?

You know, the kind that knocks you down a few pegs, makes you totally question yourself and your abilities and really hits you square in the teeth?

I had one of those moments on Saturday, as I shopped for new riding boots for my upcoming horse show.

I was admittedly a little nervous about the show in general. Although horse shows were a routine part of my life growing up, it has been years (more than I'd like to admit, actually!) since I'd suited up and entered the ring.

At the urging of my riding instructor, I signed up a few classes as a fun-show at the barn where I ride. Why not, right?

Then I was faced with the reality that I really didn't have any of the necessary gear or clothing to actually look respectable in the show ring. You can be a great rider, but if you don't show up with the basics, you might as well not bother.

My instructor was more than supportive and helpful, lending me her helmet, tracking down a show jacket and letting me use her tack. I had the gloves, the breeches and could easily get a shirt.

Boots? Now that was a challenge.

I have a pretty normal-sized foot -- measuring in at an average 8 1/2 -- and I could suffer through a size on either side of that for a class or two. Turns out, it wasn't my foot that was the problem.

It was my seemingly gigantic, unusually huge, bigger-than-any-boots calves. Calves that couldn't be stuffed, shoved or even greased into any pair of boots around the barn or at the tack shop. Believe me, I tried.

I know I don't have the greatest legs. I certainly don't have that rail-thin marathoner's body. My legs (and really my entire lower body) are an ongoing source of frustration for me.

But I never imagined they would be so abnormally big that I couldn't find a simple pair of boots.

I've certainly developed my quads and calf muscles with all my running. (Words like solid or sturdy come to mind, not necessarily words any lady wants associated with her legs.) Despite the miles I put in, somehow the muscles continue to be hidden by that pesky layer of fat. And recently, it seems that no matter how much I run, it just hangs on. Maybe even getting worse.

I'm not alone.

While running our 18-miler the other day, Shawnna commented in passing about her frustration with gaining a couple of pounds, despite the hours and hours of running we've been doing. We burn way more calories than almost anyone else we know, runner-friends aside.

So how is it mathematically possible to gain weight while training for a marathon?

Turns out, it's pretty common. Great, just great.

Couldn't we sleep in late on the weekends, eat ice cream and pizza all day long and get that same effect?

Before you urge me not to pay attention to the scale and to consider the muscle mass I'm building, let me add that it's not only the numbers. I've noticed my once-loose and comfortable pants getting slightly more snug. I've found myself almost subconsciously taking some out of the normal rotation.
Increasingly frustrated, I ventured to the computer. The online explanations ranged from water weight because of the extra fluids being taken in on an ongoing basis to simple you-eat-more-because-you're-really-hungry reasoning.

The most scientific one -- and seemingly the most popular -- explained that marathon training also teaches the body to burn fuel (like carbs and sugars) more slowly. On race day or days with lots of miles, that's a good thing. Day to day, not so much.

The good news is that, according to the online gurus, the body has a tendency to lose the pounds quickly after the training is done. (Although I am more than a little scared that the pounds will actually pack on after the long runs stop.)

In the meantime, adding a few speed workouts should help keep the body's metabolism on track. And of course, watching what and how much I eat is always recommended.

I've been a little hesitant to cut down on the food too much while training. (I don't feel like I eat an extraordinary amount anyway, but I could be wrong.) I don't want to starve my body when I know it needs fuel.

Maybe I just need to be smarter about it, a little more conscious of it.

In the end, the boot saga ended up with just a few tears (and more bonus points to TC for putting up with my quirks) and me getting the second-best option -- a black pair of half-chaps.

Oh yeah, they were size XL. Yes, XL. I don't own anything with those letters on them. And I'm not exactly happy about having something with that label now.

But from a distance, the half-chaps passed the test and looked enough like show boots to get by.

They'd do. And they did. I came away with a couple of blue ribbons, a champion-of-the-day award and a trophy. And overall, even if I wouldn't have won any classes or gotten a trophy, a really good experience.

So I guess giant calves aren't the end of the world after all. But I'd still like a pair of boots, like normal people. Maybe sometime after November 1.


Thursday, September 3, 2009

August Stats

I've now officially finished my second month of marathon training. Two down, two to go. 
Here's how August shook out -- notably less time on the bike (boo!), but more miles on my feet. Hopefully all these miles and hours pay off in the end.
  • 105 miles of running
  • 83 miles on the bike
Total marathon training in two months is:
  • 184 miles of running 
  • 286 miles on the bike