Marathon Training

Marathon Photos

In honor of National Running Day, Marathon photos!

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Marathon Post Mortem

I once read a quote, maybe you’ve seen it, about how life is short, and running makes it seem longer.

You might think a marathon would feel like an eternity (at my agonizingly slow pace especially). Brace yourselves, but I’m not kidding when I say it was over too quickly (if you can call 5 hrs and 10 minutes “quickly”).  It’s hard to describe the sensation of having done it, and it’s not often I find myself lost for ways to explain things. (I’ll do my best and start at the beginning)

Running My First Marathon:

Nerves reached an all time high as the day before the race rolled around.  Without being able to take refuge in a run to quell my bouncy knees, I settled in to the prospect of hitting the long, unbroken stretch of highway towards my hometown Friday afternoon. With good weather and anxious spirits, we passed the time mulling over how the next morning would go, what I’d need to eat in the next several hours (and what options were readily adjacent to the interstate ), and remembering, in a panic, the crucial race-day items left behind.  A steak sandwich in the Tri-Cities passed for dinner, and a pit stop for a tick collar  and various sundries meant we’d be able to relax once we arrived.  In theory at least.  In short order, my OCD alter-ego arrived on the scene, and I’d laid out everything I’d need to prep for the next morning:

  • running pants: check
  • running jacket: check
  • sports bra: check
  • running shirt: check
  • toe socks: check
  • blister tape: check
  • sunblock: check
  • body glide: check
  • headband: check

I moved on to setting out supplies to take with me:

  • race number
  • iPod
  • running shoes
  • 2 packs of Sharkies sport chews (crucial)
  • 4 packs of Sport Beans
  • 2 emergency packs of goo
  • water belt
  • sport fuel powder
  • water bottle
  • extra body glide
  • 2 bananas
  • Advil
  • squishy flip-flops (also crucial; I like the Teva ones)

Once I was satisfied I had everything I’d need, it was time to start winding down for an early to bed evening. Under the covers by 10:15ish, I tried to feel sleepy reading the latest issue of National Geographic. With a 4:15 AM alarm to look forward to, I thumbed through pages restlessly.  While I don’t remember falling asleep that night, I do distinctly remember being awake before my alarm went off the next morning.  An unexpectedly calm awakening in the still-quiet house, barely visible in pre-dawn grey, I got up to push the button on the coffee and  made my oatmeal on tiptoe. With eating and caffeinating out of the way I’d be free to, somewhat leisurely, gear up and stretch a bit before  heading to the 7am start line.

The evenness of the calm I had woken to was fully dispelled by the time we reached the parking lot.  Race volunteers directed traffic, runners warmed up along crowded sidewalks, and the floodgates of adrenaline opened. After the requisite wait in line for the port-o-lets, the count down to start had already begun.  I filled my pockets with Sharkies and Sport Beans, and was off, plugging headphones in as I hurried to the pack of runners gathered behind the timing mat. Cheers erupted as the gun report echoed across the street and feet surged across the line. The enchantment of race-day energy permeated the pack of us: we were off! The first steps in a marathon had been logged.

With sun still low on the horizon, Selkirks misty in the distance, and the dewy, hallmark aromas of morning, the promise of nice weather was easy to anticipate. Mile 3 settled us into our route along the river, and gradually, as paces shook out and rhythms took hold, I found myself mostly alone on the Centennial Trail, near what I hoped was close to the middle of the pack. Knowing there would be water and aid stations every two miles didn’t do much, initially, to persuade me that I wouldn’t somehow get lost (an inexplicable phobia I harbored going into the race…what if I took a wrong turn out here alone in the middle-of-nowhere North Idaho? I’ve seen that movie, and it doesn’t end well for me!)

I slowed down to water at the second aid station, feeling the welcome rush of limbs awakening and lungs ecstatic with crisp mountain air.  I met some friends along the way, close to me in age and pace, we back-and-forthed for a while, until bathroom breaks and aid stations landed me once again, alone on the trail.  In the quiet out there, the river white capping peacefully and the metronomic patter of my soles were the only sounds.  I made a promise to myself to ration my use of iPod.  I didn’t need it yet, but didn’t doubt I would in later miles.

Around mile 9 or 10 I watched an eagle snatch its breakfast from the river, right in front of me.  I congratulated myself on an excellent choice in courses, and, reminded of food, snacked down a few more Sharkies.   Footstep by methodical footstep, the miles ticked past, blurring into each other, I fully lost count.  Coming around a bend closer into town, I was elated to see friendly faces (and one furry one) who had come to cheer me on, it was only then I realized the end was achievable.  I had already managed to make it to mile 20.  My sister was among the support crew, “you’re not even sweating! push it!” With only 6.2 miles left, I thought, this was advice I could take.  My approach had been to maintain a good pace, but to keep something in the tank as much as I could, not knowing how much the course would punish out of me.

The Wall 

Having been content to ride it easy, meditate on the landscape, zone out, knowing the finish was almost in sight changed things.  It was time to remember this was a race. I felt good.  My feet felt decent, my legs were fatigued, sure, but warmed up and ready, my lungs were poised to punch it,  and punch it I did.  My competitive side peaked with a strange conundrum: I wanted to speed up, but I didn’t want it to be over, I was having fun, there was something big happening.  The competitive side won, and I stepped on the gas. With a somewhat self-satisfied grin, I roadkilled runners who had smoked me early on. (tortoise > hare, bitches!) All the time still wary of the wall.  I thought I should have hit it already.  I volunteered at the Portland Marathon and saw runners at this very point in the race, witnessed, and unconsciously memorized, the look of sheer, blood-crusted defeat in their eyes at this obstacle. It was coming for me, even as I pushed up a hill around mile 22, I knew it.  It had to.  My only hope was making it to the finish line before it could get to me.  Mile 23 came and went and as I entered 24, I knew my blistered toes were taking a brutal beating.  Through stinging, burning, blistering, I wasn’t done, my toes screamed for me to stop, but I was so close.

Things got a little blurry from that point.  Hearing after that my support crew had shown up again, somewhere before the finish, I wasn’t convinced, I don’t remember it.  The final test was entering Riverfront Park. Less than a mile to the finish,  and whether because my body knew I was close, or because I just couldn’t hack it one more step, I had to walk.  Instantly, the surge of pain to my toes became agonizing.  Caked in salty white sweat and starting to chafe, I felt done.  I wanted so badly to be. It was, without doubt, the longest, most arduous 3/4 of a mile I’ve ever run.

My amazing sister jogged across a grassy knoll in her Chacos, cheering me on, jogging beside me.  I was so close.  More friendly faces appeared along the race route, and I was so grateful to see them. I ran on what seemed like shards of glass until the finish line appeared. It was still over too quickly.  The buzzer beeped loudly as I, bedraggled in total exhaustion, crossed the mat.  My feet stalled out, I heard my name over the load speaker. Someone put a hulking medal around my neck.  Just like that, it was all over.  Five hours of running had passed and I’d hardly noticed until the last 45 minutes.  A little bit like life, eh?

Here’s what I learned: It’s the journey.  You hear this all the time, at least I seem to, and so maybe it gets diluted. Don’t let it. It’s the crazy, amazing ride. And it will be over before you know it. Where did it all go? You’ll wonder.  Let it go to 26 mile runs (that yes, somehow, make it seem longer, sometimes), to loving like crazy because you can, to cartwheeling, to writing things down, to telling people how much they mean the ever-loving world to you, to seeing new things, and seeing old things from new perspectives, to smiling, to midnight sandcastle building beach trips, to listening hard to what people say, and as much to what they don’t, and to spring skiing when you should be at work, to acknowledging the moments, big and small, happy and sad. It’s the ride, friends.  And thank you all, for making mine so incredibly awesome so far.

The Aftermath

(If you are still reading, I should give you a medal.  I guess since it was a marathon, here’s my proportionally mammoth post 🙂 )

There are a few things I know will never feel as good as they did that day.  Taking off my shoes, for a start.  Putting my mangled up feet in the cool grass.  Sitting down. Drinking Alaskan Amber.

With the initial damage assessment done on my feet, and the determination made that I could make it to the beer garden, I still needed a minute.  I leaned against a table and just let my feet rest in the grass a moment after the horror of peeling off my socks had passed. Slipping gingerly into my flip-flops, I realized I was absolutely famished.  Sitting in the cool grass, stretching in the shade of a tree with my beer, life was surreal, blurry, blissful.  I finished.

Before I knew it, I was in a long-anticipated shower and realized  instantly why I shouldn’t have been looking forward to it.  Everything that had hurt, mildly, was exacerbated by the hot water which I had hoped would feel so relaxing.  I ended up with a pretty fierce set of cuts and scrapes from bands and chaffing (street cred, right?)  I carry them proudly, if painfully.  At the end, feeling so ecstatic to have achieved it, I relinquished my eyes to well-earned nap punctuated by dreams of running, and maybe, one day, another marathon. It felt good.  It still feels good, even in the wobble of my knees and the weariness in my legs.

It was worth every step.

Marathon Mantra

At the Half Marathon finish line

Here’s me after a half marathon, the full should be fun!

Let me not pray to be sheltered from dangers, but to be fearless in facing them. Let me not beg for the stilling of my pain, but for the heart to conquer it.”

~Rabindranath Tagore

Awash in emotions, I’m basking in the warm glow of happiness at the prospect of having a marathon behind me. The check mark on the bucket list.

There is a strange melancholy that descends, knowing the process will as soon be over.  The journey, fraught as it has been with its challenges and quirks, has been an incredible passage, and it is with a heart conflicted by elation and mournful reminiscence that I devote these last few days to training.

Final Marathon Training Days

Preparation is in full effect with only a few more days left.  I’ve been testing solutions to my to blistering issue, and experimenting with various powders, gels and performance snacks like a mad scientist in a lab.  Carbo-loading has commenced and high-energy fuels are the order of my days.  My footwear choice remains my biggest decision, as I’ve yet to settle on which of my lucky pairs will be anointed in the trenches of the marathon.  Should I run in my old, reliable pair?  They’ve seen me through a lot of miles, those shoes, too many, my physical therapist would say.  The newer pair that may or may not have been the source of the blisters? How can I trust them not to blister me again? I know I don’t dare try my 5 fingers, but that doesn’t stop me from thinking about how awesome that would be.

I’ve tapered down to a modest mileage plan this week, which leaves me unjustifiably tired and bewilderingly jittery.  The work is done, the training runs are almost finished, and all that remains is the ultimate test to determine the worth of 3 months of dedication.

Letting Go

Its odd to me how this, endings, have yet to get easier. My logic holds that things done repeatedly inevitably become more manageable. With practice comes proficiency, yes? Not so, I’m finding.  I hold on so hard to the places I am, that letting go, even of something that has proven so devastating at times, remains perhaps the most difficult part. Change will always be the ultimate hurdle I guess. This change carries particular resonance with me, as concurrences of the universe would have it, the strange parallels and coincidences that life arrange, I face another set of changes.  As I say goodbye to training for my first marathon, I’ll also be welcoming a very new chapter in my life.  But the fact remains that the goodbye must be said, and this parting honored.

On Saturday I’ll raise my paper cup of Gatorade repeatedly:

  • To anticipating the future with enthusiasm.
  • To paying proper respect to the past.
  • To trusting in this moment, and knowing its precious impermanence.
  • To running a freaking MARATHON. 

**Special note of thanks to everyone reading, you’ve been instrumental in me getting this far.  I’ll see you on the other side of 26.2.

Born to Blister?

Like an infant being rocked to sleep in a crib, the break of surf against the beach, or the gentle sweep of a grandfather clock, relaxation pace is what my running self lives for. It’s the liberating sensation when you settle in and like subtle, easy magic your hips fall into mesmerizing rhythm.

Back & forth. Left & right.

Something elemental changes. Back & forth, just on the edge of wakefulness and daydreams. Left & right. Back & forth. Inhale. Exhale. And when you hit it, you know. Your body knows, and everything falls perfectly into place. It’s the feeling that nothing and no one can interrupt you. It’s the complete comfort of knowing that the only thing that will stop you is your own volition. It’s being so present in your stride or, in some cases, simultaneously so distant from it, you know you can run forever, and you just might. Its not an experience I get every run (though not for lack of trying). And therein, methinks, lies the magic. Its elusive, its unpredictable, but the possibility is always there. And when you’ve happened across it, if you’re like me, you’ll do anything to see if you actually can run forever. (see previous post re: marathon training)

Its been a while since I’ve tapped into this relaxation in the run. Longer than I’d like. And whether a result of its peculiar absence or something else, questioning the worth of this endeavor has officially begun. I didn’t know what exhaustion was until this process and I suppose that is a good reason why. It has brought me to tears, not just once, incited laughter, euphoria, excruciating pain and I’m pretty sure altogether altered my DNA somehow-more good reasons why. But now, so close to the end, and perhaps more than ever, I’m questioning deeply, wondering why.

The latest development to cause this type of reflection has been big, freakish blisters. With toes bandaged to within an inch of their lives and no very good idea where to go from here, I’m encountering some very strange new mental (not to mention physical) territory. In one instant i’m irate, how could I have made it this far, only to be humbled by a few toe blisters? (In fairness, they are pretty epic blisters. Apologies for the gnarliness, but It looks like I’m conducting stem cell research on my digits since you could imagine, by the looks of things, that i’m growing a 6th and 7th toe on my left foot.) In another instant I’m elated to be so close to the end and absolutely determined to push though a little boundary like blistering. The rapidity with which my mindset changes between these two ideas is unnerving.

So this is an open call for help (advice, ideas, anything!) on distance running blister abatement. I feel like I’ve tried everything and I’ve got about 11 days to heal them before its showtime. I’m pretty much resigned to the idea (after this weekend’s long run) that I won’t run again until they’re healed. I’m sure this tack isn’t great for training, but I’ve got a race to think about, and I figure the best chance I can give myself is at least to come to the start line blister-free. If I can’t hit my relaxation pace just once more before the race, I’m simply going to try for pain-free toes. And do my best to summon the sensation that made me run in the first place.

Feel the Burnout

Critical mass.

The breaking point.

Moment of truth.

The Rubicon.

Boil over.

Burn out.

Bushed.

Spent.

Gassed.

Over it.

However we term it, it means the same thing.  It means I’m completely and totally disinterested in running and pretty much anything to do with running.  Thinking about running.  Writing about running.  Hunting for the missing running sock in the laundry.  Planning for runs, eating for runs, hydrating, mapping the miles.  Blistering. Chafing. Cramping.  Sweating. Those godforsaken packets of goo.

All of it.

You probably saw this coming.  Personally, I was hoping I might make it just a little farther in the process before I hit it.

The wall.

A seemingly immovable force between me and the other side.  The other side being what I’m presuming must be some sort of athletic nirvana where instead of legs that feel like lead with every single step or even the slightest thought of movement, the act of running is once again light and breezy, fluid and easy.  The drudgery running has become is replaced over there with what I’m sure is rosy-cheeked cherubs cheering you on, pleasantly fanning you with palm fronds and misting you with Gatorade, while raining down tequila, gummy bears and bacon from the heavens. Journey is probably also playing.  Triumphant drum solos at ear bleeding decibels, pillowy clouds underfoot and the like.   If only I could get there.

With just about 2 ½ weeks to go, the next days will be focused on powering through training runs and hopefully managing the longest run I’ll have attempted yet.  The anticipation itself is intimidating.  After the last long run which felt, and I was convinced was, much longer than it actually was, I shudder at pushing even farther.  I know I have to be mindful of myself, with the precarious situation my tendons are in.  Knowing when each mile seems more mind numbing than the last, it can be a challenge to focus on the present and what is happening in it.

I want to still love running when this is all over.  Maybe if I manage to make it through to cherub-central, I just might be able to find a way love it again.  Maybe even better and with a renewed sense of appreciation. And hopefully with a mouth full of beer and gummy bears.

Here’s to pushing past the wall, and finding out what the heck is waiting for us on the other side of it.

Week 4ish

The surest, quickest way to not feel like myself is not running.  It has been tougher than I recall.  In the time it took for me to recover a bit from tendonitis, I naturally contracted a plague that drained all sense of motivation from my bones and left me couch-bound (not to mention depression-riddled) for several days. These events, individually, would be surmountable, manageable.  As I anxiously adjust back into a running routine, I’m more aware than ever, and with Marathon looming, that I’ve been almost 3 weeks away from it.

The blow to my immune system and my resolve has been significant.

The dog resents me for keeping him housebound, and my thoughts seem scrambled and distant.  Focus is fleeting at best with muscles lethargic and twitchy from too much nothing.  The original training plan would have me running 13 miles this weekend, and its all but debilitating to acknowledge that it is probably out of the question.

Training may be compromised, but I am not.  I must remind myself of this.

The balance is precarious, I realize.  Among many, many other things, running has taught me this:  sometimes compromise is necessary.

Necessary in order to save your knees, your feet, your tendons.  Save them to run another day so that mind and body can remain whole.  It’s not the pain I’m worried about, but rather the prospect that that pain might ground me indefinitely.  I must come to terms with compromise, however unpleasant, if running and I are to remain life-long partners.

With focus on regaining old strength and testing the will of aggravated tendons, I’ve promised myself to wait a while before making any decisions about whether I will realistically be in a position to  run the full in 2 months.

The part of me that fractured my metatarsal wants to pursue it any cost.  The new part of me that values things like bones, acknowledges it might be time for a new plan.

Time and tendons will tell.

Promises to Keep

Thanks to Mr. Robert Frost  for today’s inspiration.

It’s a good news Thursday on my end, and I hope your days are looking good too!

After a few physical therapy sessions and logging my first mile (under supervision on the treadmill) in 2 weeks, I’ve been given the green light to lace up again.  I can put away 2 miles tomorrow, and provided I’m brutally honest with myself and any symptoms, I can attempt up to 5 this weekend.  I’ll need keep up anti-inflammatories religiously and ice and ankle exercises. It’s a lot of good news which will hopefully make for a very good weekend that just might get me back on track for training.

A girl running at night

As you can see from the above image, I’ve had some free time on my hands without running in the regular routine.

Also, see if you can spot which leg is longer! (Hint: or just keep reading.)

Fun fact:

My left leg, turns out, is about ½ inch longer than my right.  Good ‘ol lefty probably accounts for a lot of the running injuries I’ve accumulated over the years.  I can’t fault it.  Its strong, determined, and quite a bit wonky which is pretty characteristic of yours truly, so I think we make a good team.  Now that I know, I’ve got a slick little lift for my right shoe to compensate.

Its hard not to feel, just a bit, like a pirate though.

“Yaaar.”

Running trails, paths or streets, or just enjoying the forecasted sun, I hope the weekend is a rejuvenating one filled with lots of good things, maybe even a chance to watch someone’s woods fill up with snow.

Week 3

Thought for the day comes courtesy of Born to Run (again):

Suffering is humbling. It pays to know how to get your butt kicked.

I hardly know where to start.  Best to go with the butt kicking part  I guess. The third week of training brought with it some very unwelcome tidings:

Lefty (affectionate moniker for my oft-injured left foot)  started giving me grief during my long run on Saturday.  I didn’t think much of it, but continued to monitor the discomfort, just in case. I finished 9 miles wondering what on earth could be the matter with it.  Just a dull ache.  Nothing cataclysmic, I hoped.  Luckily, I happened to be in my hometown for the weekend where my physical therapist sister was on hand to take a look and offer an initial prognosis.  With 2 rest days to follow, I thought for sure it would be a fleeting hiccup in the training process.

As I ventured out the next day,  I instantly knew it was more than that. The pain radiated up the back of my leg, every step delivering a cringe inducing soreness.  I didn’t make it a half mile before I had to stop myself.  This wouldn’t be so upsetting were it not for the vivid deja vu washing over me.

The context for the deja vu is this:  several years ago I broke my third meta-tarsal, mid-run.  Not knowing it at the time, and figuring I would only be able to deal with it once home, I pressed on for the 2 miles it took to get back to the house, where my then roommate was luckily on hand to take my broken self to the ER.

I’ve had to actively fight the hysteria that potentially being in a boot brings back.  Not to mention the inopportune timing of it.  If there weren’t a small non-refundable fortune registering me for a marathon I might be able to take it in more stride (Pun intended?).  Really convince myself to look forward to biking, or swimming or something.  I spent an uncomfortable few days constantly keeping at bay the waves of hyperventilation that want to overcome me at the prospect of not running again.   I was able to get in on very short notice to see the doctor.

The news is good.  Unbelievably good.  X-rays are clean, and the bullet I’ve dodged feels immense (and maybe that it grazed me just a bit).  Peroneal tendonitis means no running for at least 2 weeks a lot of physical therapy.

Exhale.

It will put me behind in training a few more weeks but at least the marathon is still a possibility, and those are chances I’m more than ecstatic to take.

It makes me much more nervous about the race than I have been to this point, but nervous trumps broken every time.

Training: Week 1

The first weeks of training are suspiciously calm.  After the initial jitters of actually filling out the online form and fronting the cash for the run subside, I’m focused.

Serene.

I can do this.

I have 14 weeks to prep for what will likely be the most arduous physical challenge I’ll attempt in my life.  I’m allowing myself to be excited.  Really, really excited.   There is a strange juxtaposed feeling of joyous anxiety and deep-seated fear.  Fear that it will take everything I’ve got, and then keep taking.  Fear mostly that it will injure me physically.  I foolishly think I can handle any kind of mental anguish sure to be visited upon me during this process.

With my long runs still coming, my legs feel pretty good, and I’m optimistic that this will be a tremendous but rewarding undertaking.  I’m trying not to succumb to the chatter and the hype about marathons.  There is so much to listen to:  how you’ll bleed and blister, feel a high like nothing else, laugh, cry and possibly actually defecate your drawers.  Seriously?

What have I gotten myself into? I fight that thought, its going to be insane and intense, and absolutely amazing and I will be glad I did it. Yes I will.

I’m finding it hard to sit still on rest or cross-train days already.  My shoes seem to look up at me from near the front door where they sit waiting,  and whisper “Let’s go!”   I know how important rest days are, and I know how much my muscles need the break, so I hope its a good sign that I’m still drawn to hit the trails even on days I know I can’t.

I ended the first full week of training with a 12 mile run which I pushed out on a mild Saturday afternoon.  I couldn’t have asked for better weather, and I chose a great out-and-back route that took me underneath three of Portland’s picturesque bridges.  Nice and easy, I relaxed into the rhythm and gently noshed a package of Sharkies along the way.  For lack of something better to use, I re-purposed a travel-size mouthwash bottle to carry a modest amount of water with me.  While not much at all, it served my purpose and was minty-fresh to boot. Nearing the end and more consumed with boredom than anything else, I called up my Mom and had a nice chat about her day as I pulled into the final two miles.

It was about this point in the run where I realized I had nearly checked out about listening to my body.  I was hyper-attune to it in the early stages of the run, monitoring how everything felt in the environment, but I realized I had lost touch somewhere along the trail.  Suddenly I knew I would have an actual chapped ass when I got home.   No matter, I think.  Its an important lesson to learn.  Come race day, and subsequent long run days, I’ll know EXACTLY where to apply, and re-apply body glide.

Check.

Mantra for the next week of training:

“I am personally against injuries, death and puking”- Jeff Galloway

Me too Jeff, Me too.