Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Marathon #1 - 2015 Grand Rapids Marathon

On Friday I headed out for a 3 mile shakeout run, but I ended up only running 2 miles. My legs were not feeling the best and at this point an extra mile was not going to make a difference. After my run I had one last sports massage. This massage was much gentler than my massage earlier in the week. I didn't want to have any residual soreness during the race.

After double and triple checking that I had everything packed for the race, my husband (Kendall) and I drove to Grand Rapids on Saturday. We went straight to the expo which made my already high pre-race anxiety sky rocket. I got my packet quickly and left. The rest of the night was spent trying to relax. We watched some football, ate some pasta, and visited with family.

Race Day
I tried to treat the morning of the race just like the morning of a long run. Breakfast first, then get dressed. Body Glide everywhere. Band-aids on my pinky toes (they like to blister). I made the last minute decision to tape my Achilles with KT Tape. Although I have used KT Tape throughout training to keep minor annoyances from turning into issues, I wasn't that experienced with taping my Achilles. I had taped it earlier this week, but had only run 6 miles with it taped. I was a bit nervous to suddenly jump to 26 miles with it taped, especially since the tape wrapped around my heal and onto the bottom of my foot. I was worried that if the tape bunched up, I would have to stop to remove it. And if I took my compression socks off mid-run, I would probably never get them back on my sweaty feet. Fortunately I did not have any issues with the tape.

We arrived at the race about 45 minutes before the start. It was in the 30s (Fahrenheit), so I was glad we were able to wait inside the YMCA. About 20 minutes before the start I made my way outside and into the starting chute. I gave myself a pep talk about staying slow during the start of the race and then it was time to start running.

Miles 1-3: Warm Up (9:02, 8:51, 8:51)
I had lined up near the 3:56 pace group (9:00) which turned out to be kind of annoying because it was a huge group and very congested. I did not want to get lured into running with the group because I did not know how consistent their pacing would be (very consistent, as it turns out). I tried to focus on just running my own race, but I found it really hard to settle into an even pace. During the first few miles I was able to shed my warm up layers: an extra long sleeve, gloves, and a headband.


Miles 4-8: With the Pace Group (8:45, 8:44, 8:47, 8:54, 8:58)
I sped up a bit during the first part of this section because I was tired of getting caught in the middle of the pace group. I quickly gave up that strategy because I didn't want to run faster than my plan and joined the pace group. The size of the group made tangents very difficult, so although my watch is indicating some faster miles, the pace group was hitting each mile marker almost perfectly on pace.

Mile 7 was the first place on the course where I saw Kendall. I felt amazing and strong and was super excited to see him! Official mile 7 split was 1:02:42 (8:57).

Miles 9-11: Side stitches (8:37, 9:27, 9:34)
I don't know what happened in mile 9 that resulted in such a quick mile, but I paid for it with a side stitch during mile 10. Getting a side stitch just 9.25 miles into my race was a wake up call. I was running at a much slower pace than at CC River Run, and I made it through that race without a single stitch. I figured this was a solid indication that I had lost a fair amount of fitness following that race/due to my injury. My breathing techniques were not helping so I stopped to walk for a minute. I decided right there that I would not try to speed up in the second half. My primary goal became holding a steady pace and finishing sub 4.

When I was able to resume running I was able to run a full mile before another stitch hit. During this mile I overheard a runner giving another runner a pep talk. Although it wasn't directed at me, it really boosted my spirits! I chatted with those two runners for the next mile, but I lost them when I stopped to walk for my second stitch.

Miles 12-15: Back at it! (9:01, 8:42, 8:46, 8:54)
Mile 12 includes the biggest hill of the race. I was super surprised to see Kendall waiting for me at the top of the hill. I wasn't expecting to see him again until mile 15. Climbing that hill was a bit of a mental turn around for me. The hill felt easy and I felt ready to start working my way back to the pace group. At every mile marker I calculated how far off I was from a 9:00 pace and hoped to see that number shrink with each mile.

I saw Kendall again in mile 13 and he told me I was only 30s behind the pace group. I told him "slow and steady" and kept moving. Somewhere in here I caught my pep talk friends from mile 9. I was also excited to see two of my cousins out cheering for me at mile 15.

Official 13.1 split 1:58:20.

Miles 16-21: Major suck (8:41, 8:57, 8:51, 9:10, 8:56, 11:06)
This portion of the course is an out and back section. At first it was exciting to see the super fast runners, but after a mile or so everything just started to suck. It seemed like every time I could see a mile marker in the distance, it turned out to be a mile marker for the returning runners, not me. This section felt so long and was mentally and physically draining.

At mile 16 my Achilles started to hurt. I was glad that I had made the decision to tape it because I imagined it would hurt even worse had I done nothing. I did my best to ignore the pain and just focus on running.

I saw Kendall, my two cousins, and one of my college friends at mile 18 and it did nothing to improve my mood. I felt so miserable and was doing all I could to hold my pace. I made it my goal to hold my pace until the timing mat at mile 20. I crossed the mat perfectly on pace for 9:00 average (official split 2:59:49).

When I crossed that mat I stopped to regroup. I was probably stopped for about 10s, but I could feel my muscles tightening up so I forced myself into a brisk walk. I was really afraid that I would not be able to start running again. I wanted to cry but I held it together. I walked for 3 minutes before I felt ready to start running again. I was glad to discover that running didn't seem to suck quite as much after that break. I ignored my pace and told myself that 4:05 would be just as awesome as sub 4.

Miles 22-24: Still moving (9:51, 9:30, 9:20)
Mental Dialog: Alright. I'm holding it together. I'm running. Slowly, yeah, but still running. And if I finish this marathon I never have to run another one again. Ever! Never ever! Never ever ever! But if I drop out, I'll probably want a redemption race. Don't drop out. Keep moving. And then never again.

I saw Kendall and my cousins one last time at 21.5 miles into the race. Kendall told me I had just 5 miles to go and it nearly broke me. I'd been counting down the miles and knew I still had 6 miles to go. It was devastating to hear 5 miles and know that he was wrong. This is why I should not do math when exhausted. I also knew that he knew I had slowed down a lot since mile 18. I was so afraid that I was letting him down (which was stupid, he would never be disappointed in me for not getting my goal time). This is why I should not think at all when exhausted.

At the 23 mile marker I celebrated that fact that I only had a bit more than a 5k remaining. My running had been picking up, maybe I could pick it up enough to get my sub 4. I would need to run 3.2 miles in 29-30 minutes (I don't remember exactly what my watch read, and my Garmin splits are off due not running tangents). I still had a tiny sliver of hope.

Miles 25-26.2: Keep digging! (8:59, 8:35, 3:27 (7:52 pace for the final 0.44))
I tried to keep doing the math and figure out if sub 4 was possible. It seemed like I was making up for lost time, but I didn't know if it would be enough. I would pick out a runner in front of me and work my way past them. Then pick another runner and repeat.

At the Mile 25 marker I knew it was going to be damn close. I would need to dig deep if I wanted this to happen. I also knew that there would be a "1 mile to go" sign (we passed it early in the race). So I would know exactly what time I would need to bust out for the final mile. I passed that sign at 3:51, but I saw my pace was in the 8:30s. If I could hold my pace, I had it.

Shortly after that point, one of the spectators told me I was looking great and there were just two turns left before the finish line. I told myself to dig deep and hold on to that pace. With a half mile to go I stopped looking at my watch. I stopped my music and tried to soak it all in. I was about to finish my first marathon and I knew I had the sub 4. The crowd was roaring (or maybe it was just Kendall) and I heard the race announcer call my name. It was a feeling like no another.

I love this picture so much (source)

Official Finish: 3:59:02

Finish Line
I stopped running and tried to catch my breath. I couldn't believe I was done. And then I couldn't believe that my legs had stopped working. They were complete jello. The volunteers tried to get me into a wheel chair, but I knew I just needed a few seconds to get it together. Fortunately Kendall showed up on the side lines at that moment and basically distracted them for the 5 seconds it took me to regroup.

A volunteer placed a medal around my neck and I was still in disbelief that I had finished. I was also handed a mylar blanket, a bottle of water, a bottle of chocolate milk and then I made my way through the food tent. I really could have used a bag or something to hold all of my stuff, but I somehow managed to also grab a banana, a couple Oreos, a bagel, a bag of chips, and a cup of ice cream.

Mile 27
Finally I was able to reach Kendall and my cousins. I was desperate to sit down at this point and Kendall told me that the beer tent had chairs. Perfect! We said goodbye to my cousins (and thanked them for cheering!) and made our way to the beer chairs.

I tried to eat a bit of food, but mostly I was just thirsty. I drank my water, but decided chocolate milk didn't sound good after all. Kendall got us a beer and that was delicious. Oreos dipped in vanilla ice cream were amazing until I realized I was freezing cold.

I couldn't leave without trying the Mile 27 pilsner that New Holland brews specially for the race. I don't really like pilsners, but I had earned it! Eventually I was just too cold to sit outside any longer and a hot shower was calling my name (the YMCA offered free showers to runners).

I was cold. I was sore. I was completely exhausted. An injury had kept me from starting the race last year, but I had finally done it! I could finally call myself a marathoner!

Thanks for reading and thank you so very much for your support, encouragement, and advice during my training! The running community is just plain awesome!

Monday, October 19, 2015


 A full race recap should be up later this week, but I wanted to let you know I finished! 
I'm officially a member of the 26.2 club!

Friday, October 16, 2015

Grand Rapids Marathon Prerace Thoughts

Feeling 100%! Ready for the race!
Well, almost. I feel about 95% but I am hopeful that one last shakeout run + one last sports massage + one last rest day = 100%.

I'm coming for you! (source)
I had a great, confidence boosting run last night. Two miles to warm up, two miles at goal pace (8:31), followed by a two mile cool down. I ran my cool down too fast, but I felt so good! It was hard to stick to the plan.

Quick Training Recap
In the 15 weeks of training leading up to the taper I averaged 44 miles per week. Four of those weeks were 50+ mile weeks. I was pretty excited to compare this to my 2014 training where I averaged 31 mpw and peaked at 45 miles (and didn't make it to the starting line). What an awesome improvement!

My long runs during this time included 16 miles (x3), 17 miles (x1), 18 miles (x4), and 20 miles (x2). Cutback weeks (x3) and race weeks (x2) had long runs of 13-15 miles, but per my plan these are not technically long runs. Best long runs included a twenty mile run with the final 5 miles at 8:31 and an 18 mile run with the final 10 miles at 8:40.

In addition to a weekly long run I usually had an additional 1-2 runs per weeks that were 10-14 miles long. Six weeks (out of 15) included 3 double digit runs. 

Disappointing finish at the time, but still a part of my marathon journey.
During this training period I raced two half marathons. Charlevoix in June (1:47, second best half at time of race) and Capital City River Run in September (1:42, a 4 minute PR).

This was an excellent training period for me. Yes it is frustrating that I missed approximately 2 weeks of running right before the race, but those 2 weeks do not completely negate the fact that I have put in a lot work to run this marathon.

I am having a hard time committing to a race goal, because I just don't know how my body is going to hold up with two injury scares in the past couple weeks. If I had finished out my training as planned, based on my half marathon PR my goal would be 3:45 (8:32 pace). I think my training supports this goal.

However, considering my recent lack of training I am hesitant to start the race at such a fast pace. If I had prior experience with the marathon I might feel more confident, but I want to be sure to respect the distance. At this point I think I am going to use a strategy similar to what I used in Lansing last month, which was to start conservatively and slowly ratchet the pace down.

For the marathon I am thinking 8:50s for the first 9 miles, 8:40s for the next 9, 8:30s for the final push (or until I crash). This strategy is similar to how I handled my fast finish runs, so I feel pretty comfortable with this plan. This should easily get me under 4 hours, but I likely won't come close to 3:45. I think I am okay with letting that goal go for now.

I felt so confident after CC River Run.
Alternatively I am considering starting at 8:45ish and aiming for nice even splits for the entire race. I don't know which plan is better. Readers with marathon experience please feel free to chime in with your advice! I don't want to sell myself short (the last half mile of my fast finish 20 miler was FASTER than my half PR pace), but I also don't want to blow up with 6 miles left (I've run about 25 miles total in the past 3 weeks).

And just so it's out there: if on race day I need to slow down due to aches and pains, I am going to slow down. While I am approaching my off season, I'd rather not start it with an actual injury (been there, done that). Also you can track me if you are interested (bib 415); splits for 7, 13.1 and 20 will be available.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

My calves suck too

Since Sunday morning's 5 mile run was pretty much pain free, I decided to head out for a slightly longer run Monday evening. I thought a good goal for this run was 8-10 miles. I really wanted to get in one last double digit run before the marathon. Somehow I had convinced myself that 10 pain-free miles on Monday would mean 26.2 pain free miles on Sunday.

Instead of feeling excited for this run I spent most of the day dreading it. What if I fell apart after 5 miles? What if I couldn't even make it 5 miles? Is my marathon completely doomed? This is the exact opposite of the mindset that I need to be in right now. The first mile of my run was brutal. All I could think was "I can't do this." Finally I managed to settle into a comfortable pace and started enjoying the fact that I was running without pain.

When I started the run, my calves were really tight. I was not surprised since every time I take a short break from running, I am met with tight calves when I resume training. I figured once I got warmed up they would feel better. After about 4 miles I could tell they were getting tight again. After about a half mile I started feeling a slightly painful tugging in my right Achilles. I was less than a mile from home, so I decided to give myself a few minutes to see if it got worse. It slowly got worse over the next half mile so I started taking a few walk breaks to see if that helped. Eventually I decided to just walk the rest of the way home. I started icing as soon as I got home.

Part of me was relieved that my back/hip seemed to be holding up just fine (no pain during or after the run!) and the other part of me worried if this was the start of another injury (maybe Achilles tendonitis?). I tried to remind myself that tendonitis is an overuse injury and I have never had any symptoms prior to this run. It was hopefully just my tight calves pulling my tendon tight and creating pain.

The next morning my Achilles still felt very tender. It was not the pain that I felt during my run, but it was clear that it was not fully recovered. My calves were still incredibly tight as well (even though I had been foam rolling them). Fortunately I had an appointment with Chris (the massage therapist) that morning.

Chris started by checking if the alignment corrections he had made last week were still in place (they were). My right hip is still slightly forward, so I will be continuing to do the recommend exercises. Next was massaging and scraping my adductor muscles (the muscles that are likely causing my hip issues). This was a lot more intense than my first appointment, but not terrible.

Finally Chris got to work on my calves. Oh my god, the pain. So much pain. My right calf is just a mess of tightness and knots. The scraping was absolutely miserable. Scraping along tight muscles. Scraping along the Achilles tendon. The left calf was in better shape than the right, just one really painful spot as opposed to the entire back of my lower leg hurting.

The pain seemed worth it in the end since when I left the appointment my Achilles was feeling completely normal. I woke up this morning with my calves feeling bruised, but there isn't a mark on them. I guess this is normal for deep tissue massages and I should be feeling better tomorrow.

Thanks for making it through this boring injury update. My brain is kind of a mess right now. I really just want this week to hurry up so I can stop obsessing over the race. But also if you could slow time down so I could fit in a few more weeks of training, that would be nice too!

Monday, October 12, 2015

Hips don't lie

As I mentioned in my last post, I have been having a lot of pain issues in my right hip. The pain started after a handful of pretty crummy training runs following the half marathon, but really peaked a couple days after my last long run. Basically any time I put any weight on my right foot I was treated to sharp stabbing pains in my lower back/hip.

Even after a week of rest I was still having on and off pain so last week I decided to get my first sports massage. Since that appointment I have had almost no pain (HOORAY!). So let's talk about that massage.

I decided to book an appointment with Chris for a few reasons, the number one reason being that he is a former University of Michigan track athlete. I figured another runner would understand my determination to make it to the starting line. Add to that experience working with Big 10 varsity athletes and physical therapy patients. And two years coaching in the university's Olympic Sports program. Yeah, Chris definitely know athletes. I definitely made the right decision.

The appointment itself was not really what you would expect when you hear massage. There was no laying on the table and relaxing. Chris started my comparing my right and left hips and established that my right hip was rotated forward. Then I was treated to a lot of "Hold your arm/leg like this, I'm going to try to push/pull it away, don't let me." This helped Chris identify which muscles weren't working properly so he knew which trigger points to focus on (or something like...I'm not an expert). He also gave me some homework to do twice every day and before/after every run.
  1. Lie on the floor with knees bent. Bring my right knee to my chest and clasp my hands behind my thigh. Try to push my leg down but use my hands to resist the movement. This should help rotate my hip back into the correct position.
  2. Massage the tender area at the bottom point of my right shoulder blade. I don't honestly remember what sort of voodoo magic this is supposed to do but supposedly it will help with my legs/hips. 
  3. Use a lacrosse ball to massage my glutes. As a bonus this hurts on both sides, but kind of in that hurts-so-good sort of way.
  4. Bonus: Massage and stretch my hip adductors. 
Per Chris' recommendation I headed out for a short run later that day. I was able to run 2 miles, but I could tell things were falling apart quickly during the second mile. I experienced some muscle aches in my hip for about an hour after that run. My complete lack of self control lead me to running another 2 miles the next day. I could tell that I felt stronger, but the last mile still wasn't perfect. This time the muscle aches only lasted about half an hour. Those two post run segments of pain were the only pain that I have had since the massage.

I utilized some better self restraint on Saturday and took a rest day. On Sunday I managed a glorious 5 mile run with only minimal discomfort during the last half mile. I maybe could have pushed it up to 6 miles, but I didn't want to risk causing a setback. I had no pain after the run.

With just a week left before the marathon I know that I can not make up any of fitness that I lost during the past two weeks. It is what it is. What I need to focus on is getting to the starting line as healthy as possible. I booked another two appointments with Chris for the upcoming week, so that should hopefully keep my hip in check. So long as I can keep myself from overdoing it on the running, I should make it to the starting line (fingers crossed on the finish line part of things!)

Friday, October 9, 2015

Training lately...

I haven't managed to post a training update for the past two weeks. Unfortunately this is because things have not been so great after the half marathon. I'm sorry for the radio silence and for the excessively long post you are about to read.

In the week following the race (September 21-27) I was pretty worn out. I did my best to listen to my body and took a few extra rest days and, when I did run, I reduced the mileage. My total for the week was 30.48 miles. The worst run was my final 20 mile run. After some moderate discomfort/pain in my glutes for the first 13.5 miles, my right hip flexors cramped up and refused to relax. Feeling defeated and discouraged I walked the rest of the way home (about 2 miles). Weekly total 30.48 miles.

Not an ideal final week by any stretch, but finally I had reached the taper! The next week (September 28-October 4) was complicated by the fact Thursday-Sunday would be spent in Toronto. I was planning on front loading some mileage, but after cutting Sunday short, I thought this sounded stupid. My body definitely agreed because on Monday and Tuesday my lower back/right hip was in complete agony. I needed to rest.

I looked through Advanced Marathoning and was relieved to discover that missing up to 10 days of training within the final 8 weeks of training should not have any negative affects on my goals. Hooray! I took full advantage of that fact by taking almost the entire week off. When I got home Sunday night I went out for an easy 3 mile run. I'd be lying if I said it felt great. It merely felt okay and didn't seem to make my pain any worse. Weekly total 3.1 miles.

Which brings us up to this current week (October 5-11). I tried to run on Tuesday and made it less than a mile. Too much sharp, stabbing pain in my hip. That night I realized that rest alone was not going to get me through the race. That night I booked an appointment for a sports massage for Thursday morning and hoped for the best.

My biggest concern is that once the pain reaches a level that I can not run through, even walking becomes excruciating. My I'm-not-a-doctor conclusion is that something in my right hip is messed up/out of place. It seems to have varying levels of messed up. When it reaches too far out of place, it starts pinching my sciatic nerve. The only thing that will relieve the pain is keeping weight off of my right leg. I don't know what I will do if this happens during the marathon.

That said, the sports massage really, really helped. I feel like I could write an entire post about the massage. I'm planning to book another couple appointments before the marathon. So hopefully I will have some time to talk more about the treatment! Chris, my massage therapist, said that my right hip was rotated forward (anterior pelvic tilt). He worked on fixing that and gave me a list of exercises/self massage things to do twice a day as well as before and after each run. He also suggested that I try running again that very day, which I guess is what happens when you see a guy with a background in running.

I was able to run 2 miles last night. The first mile felt completely normal! The second mile slowly slid downhill, but I stopped before the pain got too high. Once I did my new post run routine, things were feeling better, but still tender. A couple hours after the run I felt completely fine!

I was originally thinking that I would take today as a rest day; no reason to push myself right back into the pain. However I woke up this morning with absolutely zero pain (for the first time in over a week!). So now I kind of want to run! I've hardly run at all in the past two weeks and I miss it!