Marathon Training

The Trouble with Tapering

Is two-fold.

1) Your Head

Has far too much free time without running quite so much to remember and otherwise fixate on just how long a marathon really is. Remember how you kinda hallucinated and/or blacked out somewhere between 21 and 24?  Remember your blisters? My god, the blisters. Remember how you could barely manage to make it off the loo?

It’s real long, you guys.

2) Your Body

Has almost enough time to relax, but can’t really because it can sense that something mildly awful and really pretty traumatic is coming. These little two-mile runs do nothing to relieve the stress because somehow you can’t even run two miles without getting sore and convincing yourself you can’t go on.

T minus 2 days!

That Time I Signed up for the Portland Marathon

Well guys, it’s a big day here in “mostly just dreaming about running rather than actually running” land.

I finally handed over the cash for the Portland Marathon and am pretty darn excited.  [Sidebar: Can we just all take a minute and acknowledge how expensive races are getting?  I’m having mixed feelings about the ROI on this particular $140 investment.  Also, don’t get me started on their website, or their registration form.  It made my web-working head want to explode a little bit, and I swear a part of me died every time I had to resubmit said lengthy form due to internal errors. ANYWAYS.   Moving on.]

Is that the right word? Am I excited?*

It’s a very loaded excitement, bound in all the baggage from my last marathon, simultaneously carrying probably too much hope that the process will be dramatically better than it was before.  There’s still an abiding sense that I don’t know how to do this.

An amazing amount of things have been done by people who didn’t know how. Don’t  let that stop you. The danger is more in doing nothing than in not “knowing how.”

– anon.

So I’m doing it, and this time, I’ve got what feels like a pretty solid strength training routine.  I’m committed to pool work outs and time in the bike saddle for my first triathlon, and I also have physical therapists on speed dial (Thanks so much to my sister and the great crew at Acceleration PT for years and years of moral and biomechanical support ) a best friend for a training buddy, and the experience of having done it once before.  That’s got to count for something? Right?

Let’s do this thing.

Motivation courtesy of The Features:

Terrible Ideas & Other Things I Tried This Week

I just wrote a race review for RunOregon and thought it was time to start thinking about the rest of my plans for racing, and running, and all sorts of other things. All at once. This is what happens when I try to not think about things so much, the rubber band always snaps back and I end up like this:

running meme

Brought to you by the awesome Allie Brosh and her brilliant blog:

Things are stirring.  Fall must bring out a sort of claustrophobia, because I’m weirdly, acutely aware of a slow suffocation from the struggle to be something better. Between the daylight slipping away so suddenly, and the closeness of rounding out another year, things are stirring. Moving deep beneath the surface.  You can almost feel it in the air and the strands of bottled up rain wrung clean from clouds.

Plans are in motion.  Big, intimidating, amazing plans.  Portland marathon plans, NaNoWriMo book writing plans, and triathlon plans.  Blame it on re-reading What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, or the renewed sense of purpose that comes from setting goals and signing up for things i’m not sure yet whether I can do, but its what November seems to need from me so far- creating an plan of attack for making 2014 a year of writing and running, and swimming and biking, and then more running. And maybe some more, lots more, writing.

Best Laid Plans

So, there will be a handful of half-marathons in the spring, overlapped by a summer of pool (and hopefully lake) laps and bike training, leading up to a Tri (sprint, of course) toward the end of August, and then – deep breath- stacking up the miles and miles of training runs leading to the Oct. 5th Portland Marathon.

Part of me feels pretty nuts just to be thinking about it.  The other part can’t wait to get started training. RUN SWIM EVERYTHING FOREVER!! Then I remember I couldn’t make it through 12 weeks of marathon training without injury the last time, and land right back at being sure I’m crazy to be considering both my first triathalon and a marathon in the same year.

I can’t help it. Things are moving.

Should I maybe, possibly, to quote Ron Swanson, be whole-assing just one thing?


Caution: gratuitous meme-ing.

Am I actually crazy?

Portland Marathon Proud

Runners aren’t usually shy about doing hard things. Many of us get up and do hard things in the lonely dark before most folks have even begun brewing coffee. I’m thinking of one particular runner, though, who is maybe better at doing hard things than any other person I know. So unflinching in the face of hard things is she, that she’s running the Portland Marathon on Sunday.

The hard part isn’t even the 26.2 miles, which will be punishing enough in their own way.  The hard part is that this is her second time running Portland, only it’s a completely different race than the one she ran before.

I’ve been sitting on this post because every time I think I want to publish it, it just doesn’t seem to do her justice. With only one day before the race, even though there is no way in which it will be good enough, I want to share her story, because in my eyes she is an actual phoenix.  A living, breathing, running version of one of those mythical creatures that is tried in the fires of life and rises from the ashes of it, resplendent and completely, unbelievably awesome.  Here goes….

This is my friend, Erin.


I’m introducing her to you because she’s the single most inspiring person I know (and I know some pretty great people). When I’m not running out my own selfish frustrations and personal hang-ups, I’m running for her. And in many cases, running with her, since we’re on a new morning run routine (which is exactly as amazing as I could hope it would be.  Start your day with four miles and a good friend? Every single day if I could.)

But I digress.

Last year, Erin lost not one, but two parents, and a grandparent to cancer. That’s not all.  In the same 12 months, she went through a world-rending marriage/divorce combo job that would have ripped the rims off anyone else’s life, and left them a smoldering shell of a soul in the bottom of a ditch somewhere.  At least that’s what I imagine would happen to me in similar or- let’s be honest -much less tragic circumstances.  “You’re kidding!” you say.  I wish. I wish with everything I am, that I were. Yet I watched her handle those 12 months with dignity to spare and a determination that never ceases to amaze me. She faced the fear of all that with both eyes forward, and the bare will to be brave enough to remain who she is, despite it all.

Flash forward, and here she is now, motivating me for morning runs, smothering my dog with kisses and pumping me up for another dark, early morning spin around the neighborhood.  A year later she is as supportive a friend and vibrant a human as ever there was.  So much life  threw itself at her in such a short time, and even so, through the eye of such a complete and total shit storm, she is gracefully moving through it, shinier and brighter than anything I’ve seen.

She’s running around-literally- giving gingers everywhere an incredibly good name. She works as an occupational therapist in far-flung rural Washington towns, spending sometimes 3+ hrs a day in commute time to give rural schools resources they wouldn’t otherwise have, on top of which, she’s training to run the Portland Marathon for the second time.  The first time she ran it, both her parents were waiting at the finish line.  This time, I have no doubt they’ll be there, just maybe less visible to everyone but her.

There’s more to this story, as you probably can guess.  It’s filled with heroism, friendship, and the kind of bravery we’re used to reading about, but rarely ever see in person. I’m humbled to be trying- stress TRYING- to help her tell it.  I love to write, she has an incredible story to tell, and we are eager to the task, but it’s daunting, none the less.  It’s full of nervousness and doubt, this endeavor, but it’s a story I’d read cover to cover, over and over again, and tell to my children, and their kids.  That tells me it deserves to exist.  This tells me other people might want to hear it, too.  That tells me we have long nights ahead with steep learning curves, and so I ask your help- if you have any experience with writing/publishing/editing etc. please get in touch. It may just take a village. Our most grateful thanks to you ahead of time for any assistance you can offer.

This is my friend, Erin.


She’s the very essence of awesome, resilience, and just plain rad on two legs.  If you run into her on the course tomorrow, – you’ll know her by her t-shirt:

portland marathon t-shirt

give her a great big shout out to let her know you’re pulling for her.  I will be.

5 ways Distance Running feels like Tabata

The fartlekking post may have been your first clue, and its true; I’ve been branching out my non-running workouts.  In an effort to one day manage a sub 5-hour marathon, I’m trying to fill gaps my previous training left, trying to tie up those tendonitisy loose ends and fractured tarsals. So, there’s a lot more cross training and weight work to be done, and here I am in a boot camp class, erging away and facing one of the most vomit-inducing physical challenges EVER (yes, I say that having run a marathon). Tabata you beautiful twisted thing, you, you might almost be as gnarly as 26.2 miles.  In a moment of clarity during one of said torturous routines, I discovered that my brain follows a pretty familiar pattern to the one it adopts on long runs:


It’s not that bad! I can totally handle this. These sets will be over before I know it.

Spoiler– WRONG! wrong, wrong! It is that bad, it hurts a lot, and it seems like an eternity- a lot like running a marathon.


STUPID TABATA, who comes up with this stuff anyways?! I demand answers! erg erg erg

Mile 14 of a marathon- Screw you Pheidippides, why didn’t you just send a carrier pigeon or, I DUNNO, ANYTHING besides run all that way.  Serves you right. grrr!


I swear, if I can just make it through this next set, I won’t come to class, ever again!

Mile 20 of a marathon- All right, feet, if you help me get through this, I promise we’ll get a massage, and stop running, and drink milkshakes ’til we’re in a coma.


If only I were in better shape, this wouldn’t hurt so badly.  I feel sad about my poor broken body.

Mile 21 of a marathon- my life is crap. there is no hope. not now. not ever. pain is my life.


Tabata- It might end, but who cares. my muscles are permanently messed up. whatever.

Marathon- It’s never going to end. My muscles are mush, my feet are in pieces, and I’ll be crippled.  sigh. might as well keep going. the hurt feeds my sad little soul.

So I haven’t abandoned tabata workouts just yet, maybe, maybe its because there’s something to them, just like there’s something to running for 5 hours solid.

Lesson Learned… I SWEAR

I committed one of the most mortal sins in running.  It’s why I’ve been away from my writing, and my running.

I can’t believe I did it.  I know better.  I especially, with a laundry list of running-related injuries and PT sessions in my past, should know better.

I…wait for it…doubled my mileage in one run.

If I could undo it, I would, in a heartbeat. Everything felt great the entire run. It was just too easy to do.  A  gorgeous spring day, I met up with an old friend and we were off.  And before I knew it, I had more than doubled my average run mileage. I didn’t think much of it, I felt fine.  Until the next morning, when my left foot let me know what I had done was most definitely not.ok.

This is one of the things I love about running even still- despite the drag of being grounded for recovery – it teaches  (and re-teaches) me about intention.  In everything I do.  Shocking, but normally you can’t just go run 13 miles without preparation.  The work to get there is as crucial as getting there.  It’s an important, and painful, takeaway: pay attention! Be mindful, be present (even if the present is too beautiful to pay much attention to things like your legs and feet).

So, distance runners, promise me this one thing: run with intention.  Do it. Right now. Promise me in your head. So you spare yourselves the momentum-killing, soul-sucking, start over… again.   Running modestly ALWAYS trumps not running at all.

The plan had been to redeem my running self (after a dismal half marathon performance in my last attempt) in mid-May.  So I benched myself for 2 weeks, loaded up on arnica and Advil, wrapped my foot periodically, and waited.  I kept feeling better, day by day. Maybe I hadn’t done anything major!? I waited a few more days.  By the time the 3rd run-free weekend came around, I was out of the ace bandage, walking normally and weight bearing with no pain.

You know what comes next.  I put my shoes on last night, and headed out.  To my credit, I knew I wasn’t going long, or far.  I made it about a quarter mile when I realized I had no business attempting a run, no matter how small.

I’m not sure where I go from here.  With race day is in 5 weeks, I’ve got a  pretty short window to go from nada to 13.1. More like less than nada since walking this morning is a challenge. If the pain gets any worse, I’ll be off to an actual doctor to tell me the sad truth I already know: no running for a while.

Meantime, more arnica and Advil, and desperate pleas to all runners to be smarter than  yours truly.

Now go run.  Run smart and make it count, because you can. And because there are people like me who’d give a whole lot to be in your shoes, especially when they see you tearing up the sidewalks.


By the Numbers


In 2012, that’s how many miles I ran (give or take a few miles I lost track of.)  Talk about big things that have small beginnings.  It’s a very small thing, when broken down-  each conscious step that became a stride that grew over and over into a mile, and then 2, and then 12, that adds up to a year’s worth of runs.  Runs that have given me back to my sanity, my body, my happiness, and some days, I’m convinced, the best possible version of myself.

2012 was filled with some pretty world-rocking changes, of good, bad and neutral varieties, and for all the year gave me, the thing I’m second-most grateful for is the thing that helps me take it all, from the big decisions to the daily minutia, in stride.

I’m pretty easily convinced to talk running, and I recently had a conversation with a dear friend about it.  While on this topic, naturally, it usually comes up that I ran my first marathon last year.  The reactions I get to this are often of a weird strain of reverence, and hers specifically was followed by the notion that she could never do that.  It’s not the first time I had heard this sentiment, nor I think, will it be the last, but what struck me this time was just how untrue it is (not to mention how defamatory to the sport).  This reverence is unwarranted, I think.  If I accomplish anything here, let it be that I inescapably communicate that anyone, anywhere, at any time, can run a 5k, a half-marathon, a marathon, an ultra (though I can’t personally vouch for this one…yet.)  Any running goal you may have is achievable.   In no way am I particularly gifted, coordinated, or even very radically determined, and I think there are a lot of much more accomplished runners than I who would concur.

Without question, you can do it. I promise you. And I’m not just writing this because I wish more people would run. It makes running great, this quality. Its unquestionably one of the greatest things about running in particular:  that anyone and everyone can do it, live through it, and maybe even learn to love it.

Will it hurt? Yup.

Will you have days that defeat you? Undoubtedly, but tell me how that’s different from life in general.

Will you want to sit in the bath for hours eating Ben n Jerry’s and drinking wine? Almost every day (again, tell me how this is any different from standard operating procedure.)

Will you experience weird injuries and acquire a new affinity for stretching, ibuprofen, and icing? You bet.

The thing is, you won’t give up. Because if you’ve decided to do it, you’ll find the strength to get it done. Because if you’ve committed to the race, the capacity to complete it will follow.  Because you’ll have experienced the riches that running stupid-long distances can bestow, and you’ll know that just like the individual steps that turn into the miles and marathons, the rewards are there in equal number.

So go out and do it, if you want to.  In its essence, it couldn’t be more simple.  Put your foot out the door, swing the other one around, and keep it going.  Repeat.

One day you might even look back and realize you ran a marathon.

Unexpected Consequences

This is embarrassing for me to admit, but there are two holes in the drywall in the bathroom. What does this have to do with running? Laughably enough, they too are scars from my first marathon, and it went down a little like this:

Post marathon, I fell asleep on the couch  having chugged a scary amount of liquids to replenish. I expected extreme fatigue and dehydration, yes.

Here’s what I didn’t expect: not being able to stand up off the john. In what seemed like an out-of-body experience,  I made it about halfway up before my legs simply stopped.  Refusing to support my weight, even a little, they buckled beneath me. Bastards. As my brain started to connect the dots that a crash was imminent, it sent my arms out to the nearest supports. As it turns out, the toilet paper holder isn’t quite enough to support my weight. (weird, right?) The small bar gave way as I pulled the entire device, molly bolts and all, out of the wall and landed with a resounding and unceremonious “thunk” on the toilet.

A First Marathon’s Lingering Side Effects

sequoia sempervirens

Cultivating gratitude.

I sat there for a few minutes, still piecing together what had happened, staring at the toilet paper holder in my hands, and wondering how I would make it out of the loo. Giving the second attempt more forethought, I leveraged the doorknob instead, and sort of shuffled my way off the throne and into a semi-upright position. Sheepishly holding the toilet paper holder, I straggled out into the living room to uproarious laughter from various family members  who had, very quickly, put two and two together.

My good-natured Dad later patched up the holes and remounted the holder, but you can still see, without too much effort, exactly where the original one lived.  Every time I think of that day, the extreme fatigue and the joyous satisfaction of marathon tested legs comes back to me, and its hard to deny the gratitude that comes with it. I lived through it and learned every bit of what a first marathon had to teach me.

Thanks to this, and other marathon side effects, I’m continually reminded of whatever it is that drives us to burn through the pain, the drudgery, the discomfort.  Sometimes nasty tendons will decide it’s not going to happen for me, other times the cold December air burns a frosty path straight down to my stomach and I’m positive I want to quit, but there is no escaping all the little reminders of everything the marathon has given me.

That keeps me going, and I run with exceptional thankfulness this time of year for that, and so much more.

Sweet Forgetting

I ran a half marathon on Sunday.  A lot like this blog, I’d been away from running for longer than I’d care to admit.  As it turns out, going from 5ish miles to 13ish miles is a big step (or many of them, I guess).  I didn’t expect it would be easy, I think I just expected it wouldn’t hurt quite so bad. The razor straight incision at the bottom of my sports bra re-opened making it so I felt every movement from about  mile 10 or so onward.   This particularly gruesome war wound from my marathon that I thought had healed was only, as it turns out, hiding.  There are fewer things more painful than sweat dripping into an open wound that is simultaneously being rubbed by tight elastic (note to self: body glide, body glide, body glide).

Post marathon, I spoke of how much I enjoyed the experience.  This is true.  I even went so far as to hint I may attempt another, maybe even an ultra? I would think in the rose colored glasses of remembrance   It’s uncanny to me how our brains block out the bad.  Bloody, my feet blistered almost beyond recognition, with physical scars that could only hint at the deeper exhaustion and trial my body had endured over 26.2 miles, I still would do it again, without question or hesitation.  Only here I was, mile 11 of 13.1 cursing the entire idea of running.  Up a mile-long hill in shoes that will here forward be retired from distance running, I could feel the familiar heat of blistering and the tear-inducing strain on knees.  “Screw it,” I thought, I was done.  fin.  I would retire from running.  Of course I would.  This was not the first bad run I’d had.

My two sisters and I had decided to race this half together.  Our mission: to run my oldest sister to her half marathon PR.  With her trusty pacers and pit crew by her side she would shatter her old time, and we ran out of the gates in formation like  TIE Fighters out to destroy the Death Star.  About the time I started to feel very resentful about the very idea of running, my other sister had started noticing foot pain.  Keen that she was the only sister not to have sustained a running-induced stress fracture, she feared it might be her turn.  My mind unwilling to go the distance, and my sister’s foot forbidding her, we slowed up the hill, and pushed my sister forward in our thoughts as we fell further behind.

I urged my sister to stop and walk, and periodically, we would.  But this is what running does to you- she would not be stopped.  Blazing pain burning through her foot, she paced me the last few miles into the finish.  I wanted nothing more than to stop and be done, but she pushed, she ran, she sprinted through the finish line with a determination I know only she is capable of.  I wanted to cry for her as we finally crossed the line, my other sister and family cheering madly on the side lines.  This is what running does- no matter the pain, no matter the physical or mental obstacle before you, it channels through you the will to put foot before foot, against the odds, and finish. (And in some cases, to get yourself to the doctor for x-rays and serious pain killers.)

We will run again,  all of us.  My sister will heal, and will relish recovery runs.  I will find a shoe store to sell me the Asics I’m used to and I will train for another marathon.  The forgetting will come, willfully or subconsciously, as we fail to recall the acuteness of the pain we have sustained.  We will be borne out onto the trails with complete, convenient amnesia and renewed hope.  I’m not sure how, or why, but we will keep running.  We will break our own records, as my sister did that day.  We will discover new reserves of strength and quiet power.  We will run towards big victories, and many, many small ones.   The run must break you sometimes, before it can rebuild you, better than before.  And I have a hunch it’s the imperfection of our memories that allows us to lace up again, to lace up and trust the run.    We will heal ourselves in the very thing that has broken us, and we will run stronger and faster than ever.

**This post gratefully dedicated to my sisters:  heal fast, run   faster,        and  may we never run alone. **

Follow the Flow

I guess I needn’t have worried about not wanting to run again after a marathon.  Or even that I would love it any less.

Stretching after running my first marathon

The flow is still there, the abiding desire to fall out the front door sans cell phone, sure-footed, immersed in purpose and freedom.  The familiar, faithful flow.

I’m making my way through Susan Cain’s masterful work, Quiet, and it sparked me how this concept is scientifically recognized, and actually termed exactly this: Flow.

It’s surreal to have my instinct about this validated.  It makes sense.  A state where we’re so immersed in what we’re doing that the real world becomes secondary.  All things are equalized in this great distancing that happens when you tap into the flow. It resonated- I understand, in what feels like a primeval way, exactly what she discusses.  Introvert, extrovert, ambivert, doesn’t matter- flow levels the playing field and channels through us immeasurable energy and focus. I got shivers straight down my spine.

You know that feeling when you come across something that captures, flawlessly, an experience you’ve had? It could be a photo, a line in a book, a stroll down a street, but it is somehow a snapshot of somewhere you’ve been before.  Maybe you’re there now. Maybe you want desperately to get back there.

Finishing a big race doesn’t come without its own set of crises.  What to do with my time now? What am I working toward next?  Just like that, its feeling a bit lost, I’m adrift again.  Maybe the drift isn’t so bad.  Maybe the drift is its own sort of flow. Maybe its just that simple.  Following that feeling of being totally part of something, completely immersed in whatever it is that draws your unquenchable energy and sense of deep-seated calm, all at the same time.  Follow it to where it tingles, to where it ignites hidden stores of energy, of excitement, and then keep going.