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Saturday, March 24, 2012

There is more to running than trying to beat the clock

I think I may have mentioned that I have three marathons coming up in the near future.  I may have failed to mention that I did, in fact, run a marathon last weekend.  If I am going to be totally honest, I didn't really leave it out, per se.  I actually wasn't sure if I was going to run it or not. It had been on my schedule since January, but based on the terrible experience I had at the Five Points of Life Marathon here in Gainesville, I wasn't sure I was ready to get back to a full 26.2 miles.  I was on the fence until the day before we were scheduled to leave.  I had scaled back my training- both in the gym and on the road.  My runs had finally started to feel normal again.  My heart rate was back where it should be and the effort level to maintain my regular pace was on track as well.  I wasn't sure if I wanted to chance anything.  After all my goal is to feel great while running Boston...and California..and Pittsburgh, but especially Boston.

I knew I would have a great time, after all we would be staying with Katie's family and they are absolutely amazing. Her dad, Don, is a member of the 50 States Marathon Club- meaning he has run a marathon or longer in each of the 50 states. He actually finished his 74th marathon today. Her mother, Bobbie, is an avid runner and both of her brothers (Matt and Brad) are ultra runners often running 50K, 50 mile and 100 mile races.  In fact, it was Katie's brother Matt that ran across the state of Florida back in January.  I accompanied Katie, her dad and Matt on this truly awe inspiring journey. So there was no doubt in my mind that the weekend would be amazing.  It was the marathon I wasn't so sure about.

Turns out the race went really well.  I started a bit slower than normal and planned on just taking it easy letting my body dictate the speed.  I felt stronger in the second half, actually felt like I was 'on', and picked up the pace just a little bit.  Should I? Should I hold back? I just wanted to finish the race still feeling great.  I went with it and in the end was still smiling and feeling great.  I collected my gear I found my way to where Bobbie and Jenny were standing.
"How did you feel?" were the first words out of Bobbie's mouth.
"I felt great", I said.
"Oh, I'm so glad" she said.

She couldn't be more glad than I was..or could she? A family of runners, dedicated distance runners knows what this sport is all about. Feeling good, finishing strong and enjoying those around you. Less experienced people or those who do not understand the true meaning of the sport may have asked "What was your time?" or "What was your pace?".   No, not this family.  "How did you feel?" THAT is the true measure of the race.  I would be lying if I said I didn't have a goal time in my mind.  I do.  I want to run my goal time AND feel great.  Running a decent time and feeling awful is NOT my idea of a good race.  Ever.  I consider this a much better race than some in which my clock time may have been faster.  You heard me right, this was slower than some of my previous races and I consider this race more of a victory!

You see, running is more about conquering yourself, your fears, and coming out on the other side feeling great and less about the time on the clock.  I'm looking forward to coming out on the other side of Copley Square smiling and feeling great and when you see me, ask me how I felt and not what my time was. Then no matter how new you are to the sport, you'll sound like a pro!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Marathon Madness

People ask me all the time why I run or what I think about while I am running, but very rarely do they ask what I was thinking when I decided to run. When I say 'decided to run' I am referring to a certain race..well, ok, maybe a certain FEW races..that happen to be located very near each other on the calendar.  Open virtually any instructional book on running and you will see the often repeated recommendation to run one marathon a year-- or maybe one very six months if you are crazy.  So why on earth would I decide to do 3, in 3 weeks? Well, why NOT??

I have run a marathon and a 50k (31.1 miles for those of you not too quick at converting) in the same week and that didn't turn out too bad.  I will admit that my last attempt at 2 marathons in 7 days did NOT go well.  I know it is not all to blame on this, but the weather for those races was ridiculous..the first was 30 degrees and 14+ mph winds and the second-SEVEN DAYS LATER (in the same state) was 70 degrees and 85% humidity with 20mph winds.  Talk about having your first humid Florida run happen in February during a marathon.  What are the odds??

So what DID make me want to do this.  You'd think I was crazy if I told you.  Nothing.  Really, it just worked out that way.  I know what you are thinking, most sane people would just say "I have a race planned already so I can't do the other one." Hmmmm, yeah, doesn't really work that way with us.  You see, we are Team Hot Legs and we are also Marathon Maniacs.  For real. I'm sure you all have seen Facebook postings about Team Hot Legs and our travels across the country for races. If there is a race and we're free..pretty much count us in.  At least one..or two of us.  That is just how it goes. And yes, Marathon Maniacs ..look it up. It is a REAL group.  We (Team Hot Legs) are not the only ones who do this sort of thing.  There are a whole bunch of people who find this sort of thing fun.  A challenge. A goal. Something to inspire us to take the next step, to (literally) go the extra mile. We just don't normally talk about it in public to people think we are nuts.

So back to how this all worked out..I reached one of my goals while running the New York Marathon back in 2010.  I qualified for BOSTON! Having grown up in Massachusetts, I was thrilled to have qualified to take part in such a icon of Boston history. Being a runner, qualifying for Boston is akin to finding the Holy Grail.  I was elated! Unfortunately I had qualified for the 2011 race after the race quota had been met. Meaning I would have to sit out the 2011 event.  Thankfully that race qualified me for 2012 as well.  In the meantime Team Hot Legs had been scheming to get as many of us as possible to head out to California to run Big Sur.  This race has views that are grander than its hills, or should I say cliffs.  How could I pass that up?  Especially if all of my BFFs would be there.  Couldn't let that happen.  Sign me up for Boston to Big Sur.  Yep, that is actually a real event.  Google it.  Those of us determined enough to run 2 marathons on 2 coasts inside 13 days. Thirteen days? Heck that's almost 2 weeks.  That is an eternity! (insert sarcasm)

Ok, so that's 2 marathons, where does the third one come in? Sometimes things just seem to fall into your lap almost as if the Universe is saying "here you go.." My travel schedule for GNC had me working the Pittsburgh Marathon on May 6th, seven days after Big Sur. Huh, why NOT just run it??  I'm going to be there anyway. Sign me up!

As I sit here writing this we are just over five weeks away from the Boston Marathon.  I am still working on getting myself back up to speed, literally and figuratively, after the miserable marathon showings I had in February.  Hindsight is always 20/20 and looking back I was definitely experiencing some signs of overtraining. Inability to sleep, not feeling like myself, impaired performance, elevated sub- max heart rate and decreased appetite.  I was looking at these things as if they were separate entities, not looking at what they were all pointing to.  THAT is what lead to the miserable showings.  No, the weather didn't help, but I wasn't paying attention.  As an athlete preparing for an event it is hard to slow down, to back off, to take a rest day.  Especially if we are the only ones gauging our progress or lack thereof.  We are so attuned to pushing through those rough days, calling on our inner drive to complete every last step that we miss the signs our bodies are sending.  Slow down for a minute and take are you feeling? Have you been sleeping well? Too much? Too little? Do you have a hard time falling asleep? Is your resting heart rate elevated? Does the same amount of work you had been doing now feel as if it takes an extraordinary effort? Is your heart rate abnormally elevated during your training? If you answered yes to one or more of these questions it may be time to back off a bit.  If you feel one of these things every now and then you may just be having an off day.  That is not the same as overtraining. The key is knowing the difference and adjusting accordingly.

If you are over training, what do you do?  What did I do?

  • First and foremost, back off on your intensity and get some rest.  I scaled my training volume back- on both my running and my weight training- took plenty of naps and went to bed as early as possible. 
  • Be sure your nutrition is on point. Taking in adequate calories as well as high quality protein sources to help your muscles recover.  My diet tends to be pretty good. Throwing in a few extra servings of Glutamine and Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) really helped.
  • Reduce stress in other areas of your life.  All too often we look at overtraining as the inability to recover from the stress of our training when in fact we forget about the REST of the stress we have to recover from: the stress that we encounter each and every day.  Scaling back on training and failure to address other stressors may lead to a short respite and then an eventual return to overtraining-land.

After a few weeks of scaling things back I am feeling much better.  My body is back to responding in its normal way to the stimuli it encounters.  Beautiful signs as far as I am concerned.  Now is the time for caution. Jumping back to full scale too soon will leave me pahkin tha ca in Havahad yahd instead of cruising the streets of Hopkinton, Ashland and Framingham.  I would end up shopping in Copley Plaza instead of running through Copley Square. Not me, I'm smarter than that.  Besides I have 3 marathons to run!