On Running

Old friends, new friends

I have a confession, you guys, and that is that running is really hard right now.

Most of what I’ve had to say about running over the last few years has been beyond enthusiastic. Over the last five years, running has helped me lose weight, get in shape, and make friends. I have run in the snow, in the pouring rain, in the 90 degree heat, in single digits, and into winds from every direction. I have run with my arm in an enormous cast, with a debilitating cough, with a painful stitch in my side, with my heart breaking. Running has challenged me emotionally and physically, and in doing so, sustained and improved my mental health far beyond anything that drugs have ever done.

And for the last three months, it has just felt hard. Hard to get started. Hard to face distances that should be a piece of cake given how I trained for most of last year. Hard to breathe. Hard on my knees. Hard to stay focused.

I know some of this is just the lingering malaise of winter in the Midwest. This year has been much colder than last year. I’ve had trouble shaking what my friend Karina calls her “fat squirrel” period, wherein the only things that seem appealing are the couch, snacks, and a pile of blankets. I’ve been sick, and then out of town, and then cleansing, and then out of town, and then sick again.

But I’m sticking with it, and holding on to the hope that as the days get longer and the temperatures warmer and the sidewalks clearer, I’ll find what I need to fall in love with running again.

Burn It Up (or: April at the races)

5K Pigtails

My wide eyes tell you everything you need to know about how I was feeling before April’s races. Tired. Overwhelmed. Undertrained. In need of a hug, a pep talk, and a lucky charm.

Motivational Speech

I already told you about my race plan for the CB10. I stuck to it for the most part, though the sun didn’t cooperate with #14, and there were no space blankets (#18) on offer. Instead, I shaved five minutes off last year’s time, even with stopping for an Oreo and 2 oz of Yuengling, even with cold weather, even with the the wall I hit between 8.5 and 9, just like last year. Jeff brought us sweatshirts, and Tina’s friends provided a sun-drenched brunch. And I logged a new PR: 1:33:56. Two days later, I moved into my new apartment in Chicago.

Medals and Swag

A couple of weeks and a new job later, I drove down to Champaign for 24 hours of races – the Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon weekend, with races ranging from a 1K fun run up to the full marathon. I was registered for the Half I-Challenge – a 5K Friday night, and the half marathon Saturday morning.

My feelings for Champaign are complicated, as I’ve explored here before. It felt like home from the time that I first moved there, and no place has quite replaced it in my heart. Between the race expo and the 5K, I went to Kopi and worked on my laptop at one of the small tables just like I did for years and years, with the same people ordering the same drinks as they have for years and years, and the same music on the stereo as has been playing for years and years.

When I moved to Champaign, it was on the heels of the end of my first marriage. I was alone for the first time in my adult life, making choices that would establish my new life independent of the person on whom I’d based my world. It was scary and overwhelming, but also so full of possibility. It got easier than in those first days, and what made it easier – and what made Champaign feel like home – were those anchors – like Kopi, like the regular customers, like the park at night, like the family of friends that surrounded me.

I mention this because when I queued up for the 5K in the cold and the wind, totally alone in the crowd of thousands south of campus, I looked to my right and saw one of my favorite regulars from the years I worked at Aroma. I don’t know his name or anything about him beyond his regular order – a small coffee and a brownie – but every time he came in, he made me smile and think of my dad. I have no idea if he remembered me – hell, I lost him in the crowd almost as soon as I spotted him – but it was a moment of grace, and gave me energy for the cold, rainy, windy race ahead.

5K PR!

We went down First past the Stadium, turned right on Green, and then up Sixth, where I blew a kiss in the direction of GSLIS. The rain started as we turned right to head past the art museum, but it hardly mattered at that point. Down into Memorial Stadium and onto the field, where Jill spotted me and yelled out a cheer that pushed me to the finish line with my last burst of energy. Another PR, this one by 20 seconds: 25:58.

Dinner with Erin and Jadon, one of the last of my GSLIS crew still left in town. We had pizza – maybe not the best race fuel, but damn, was it delicious – and I slept fitfully on their very comfortable couch, concerned about oversleeping, concerned about the race, concerned about the weather, concerned about everything.

Up at 5, and out the door by 5:30 because I was anxious about road closures for the race. I sat in my car and listened to music and blasted the heat and prayed for the rain to stop. I dug out a permanent marker and wrote Keem’s cheer on my hand: YOU’RE DOING IT. I stretched at Assembly Hall, then hopped in ahead of my designated wave, hoping to pace at 9:15 and beat my Detroit time.

I can’t really explain the race – I couldn’t then, and I can’t really now, a few weeks later. The course was easier but the run more demanding than in Detroit in October. It was cold and windy. It never seemed to end. We ran through campus, past Hendrick House, where Mark lived for years. Maybe I took too much water. Maybe I didn’t have enough water. My nose wouldn’t stop running, but my legs felt like a million bucks. We pushed on through Urbana, passing the street where Amy and Adam lived, past the turn to go to Sarah and Hannah’s house. We hit the edge of town, turned south, and ran through Meadowbrook Park. I hung with a couple of guys, laughed as others challenged each other and ran off the edge of the path to get around slower runners. I felt strong and steady. I had no problem hitting my pace.

We turned north to head back toward campus, and I hit a wall. 10.5 miles and I felt like I couldn’t possibly go any further – and then, on the sidewalk, just walking, not paying attention to the race, I saw Rick Powers. I used to see him occasionally when I was dating Shawn and going to English department events – and then once in a while around town – but hadn’t seen him in years. That little burst of happiness helped, though not enough to get me through the side cramp a mile later, or the complete and total exhaustion to come. The latter would come in the form of two marathoners who came up beside me near the Meat Science lab and stayed with me for a few blocks, encouraging me about my time, telling me that I was lucky that I was almost done.

A hairpin turn, and around the corner into the Stadium. I looked down at my watch, and poured everything I had into the last minutes. As in the Cherry Blossom race, I repeated over and over: All the pain. All the sadness. All the hurt. Burn it up. Use it as fuel.

I crossed the finish line, hit the stop button, and saw this:

Half Marathon PR
Under two hours. 1:59:09. A PR by almost six minutes. I got my medals, sat down, and immediately lost it, crying hard enough that another runner came over to check on me. No, I didn’t need help – I was just overwhelmed. Overwhelmed to finish, much less PR, much less break two hours. So very thankful for every person and emotion and thing that had carried me through the miles and through the last few months. So very much, all in those miles, in those medals, in my aching body and heart.

I fucking did it.

The Half in Full

By 6:15, we were parked in Detroit, listening to music in the car rather than waiting around in the cold. My anxiety was at an all time high when Tina texted me to wish me a good race – this being the first long one I’ve done without her! We braved the cold and headed to the starting line. Shane picked up a coffee and did his best hype man impression, then gave me a huge hug before I headed off to join my wave.

Waiting for the Race

Ready to Go!

As my wave approached the starting line, I put on my music, closed my eyes, and tried to center myself. I said a brief prayer of thanks for that moment, for the months of training that put me there, for the blessing of good health. It’s totally cheesy, but I nearly cried when I heard Lose Yourself as we crossed the starting line.

Mile 0-1: The streets of Detroit are peaceful and quiet. We run west on Fort towards the Ambassador Bridge, twinkling in the half light. My favorite sign read something along the lines of “TIGERS LIONS MARATHONERS DON’T QUIT”. The deep flow of Stacey Pullen‘s Essential Mix was the right choice – Detroit techno on the streets of Detroit.

Mile 2: Around and around we go up to the bridge. I drop my $2 hat and gloves from Target – they’re almost too cute to let go, but too warm to carry with me. I start passing people, the hill training finally paying off as we make the climb.

Running up to the Ambassador Bridge

Mile 3: It’s windy on the bridge. I lost my headband, so my bangs are all up in my grill. There’s no sun to speak of, but that doesn’t diminish the views of Detroit and Windsor. I wave at a passing trucker, who plays an elaborate jingle on his horn.

Mile 4: Canada!

Mile 5: The Windsor waterfront is lovely. I take an espresso gel and pass up the water station. The streets are lined with cheering spectators despite the rain. One family has a table set up in their front yard with water and orange wedges on offer.

Mile 6: I am passed by a cyclist with no legs pedaling one of those lying down bikes. I immediately choke up. We wave at spectators in the riverfront hotels. My energy is starting to flag a bit, and I take my first water.

Mile 7: The tunnel! The tunnel is fast. The tunnel is loud. The tunnel is warm. The tunnel is fun. Our GPS watches lose signal as we race underwater. I make my one really stupid race decision and decide that I want to touch the international border placard – and then spin myself out because I didn’t slow down enough. Fortunately I avoid falling and actually hurting myself – and I pick up the pace to join the 9:44 pace group.

Mile 8: A member of the Canadian Border Patrol doles out high-fives as we exit the tunnel. Another cyclist struggles to hand-pedal up the hill, and I shout out encouragement as I pass him. All smiles through the gates at the border crossing.

Mile 9: It’s cold. It’s raining. We loop past Joe Louis Arena, and I pull up my hood to try to keep some of the rain off my face. No luck. Only 4 miles to go, though, and I’m right where I want to be – or at least I think I am, as I don’t remember seeing a mile marker for a while. I spot our car as we head down Lafayette.

Mile 10: Finally, a sign! I take water when offered, and am delighted to accept a handful of M&Ms from a spirit group. Who needs gels when there are M&Ms?! The road is flat and wide and I’m feeling good as we head up 18th. I pull out the cameraphone to take a picture of Michigan Central Station, but my pocket has changed a setting, so I quickly put it back. The mariachi band just before the next mile marker makes me smile.

Mile 11: The end is feeling near – but still far. We run through Corktown, where folks are sitting on their porches cheering us on. I stick right with the 9:44 pacer. A guy in a pink monster suit shows up from I have no idea where and runs with us for at least two miles. I’ve run out of Stacey Pullen, and switch over to Faithless for the duration of the run.

Mile 12: They’re starting to count it down for those of us finishing the half. I take two cups of water, but miss the Oreos on offer. I pull away from the 9:44 pacer, feeling reserves of energy I didn’t realize I had. My Garmin shows my fastest pace of the race yet as we near the cutaway point and mile 13.

Mile 13: I feel amazing. I feel strong. I feel tired but like I’ve just punched the go button that will get me across the finish line. I spot Shane right where I lined up to join my wave – he yells and cheers and snaps a couple of blurry photos as I run by.

Wave and Whoosh

Mile 13.1: Done in 2:05:50! I feel amazing and exhausted and oh so thankful for the space blanket and the medal and the food and water. I have beat my previous time by 13 minutes, and my goal by 4 minutes.

13.1! Space Blanket! Medal!

I slam a bottle of water, a banana, and half a pumpkin muffin. I get my picture taken with my medal and my space blanket. I slam another banana and a carton of chocolate milk while waiting for Shane to make his way out of the crowds. We hug and kiss and I don’t cry but feel like I want to. I grab another chocolate milk and a muffin for us to share in the car on the way home.

Happy and Relieved

Final stats:
Chip time: 2:05:50
Overall Place: 2538 / 8489
Gender Place: 1067 / 5311
Division Place: 217 / 883
Pace 9:37

Detroit half marathon: TOTALLY BROUGHT.

Prelude to the Half

Since I’m not getting much done in the way of course prep tonight, let me instead tell you about yesterday’s race.

Back in May, before I ran my first half, I was convinced to register for Detroit by a coworker who enthusiastically told me that the Detroit half is his favorite race. Running to Canada and back! Crossing the Ambassador Bridge as the sun comes up over Detroit and Windsor! Racing through the Detroit Windsor tunnel! Sign me up!

And so I spent the summer running home from work on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Every weekend started with a long run, often followed by breakfast at Afternoon Delight.

Saturday Morning

Midwest Runner Girl

Veggie Delight and letter-writing

I was under the weather this last week, and as the race approached, my anxiety grew. I read about the course. I read about nutrition. I tapered my runs. I changed my diet to make sure I was properly fueled. I looked at elevation maps. And then on Saturday, we drove to Detroit so that I could pick up my race packet.

Countdown

We shared a back seat picnic and spent the afternoon at the DIA. We had cappuccinos at Astro and read the race materials again. I made polenta for dinner and we went to bed early.

Detroit Industry

Race Prep

And then the moment of truth. The alarm went off at 4:30, and by 4:45 I had eaten a bagel, fed the cats, and dressed for success.

Ready to run 13.1

P90E Week 9: Pbbbbbbth

Monday: Much needed rest after the previous night’s debauchery, plus a middle-of-the-night collision with a poorly placed piece of hotel furniture. Instead, we cleaned the house, ran errands, did laundry, and all of that other domesticky stuff.

Tuesday: 3 miles, 27:17. I’m really digging these fast post-work runs. Another week, another class taught in my nasty workout duds.

Wednesday: Non-stop rain resulted in non-stop depression. The evening was thrown off by a post-work appointment. I graded instead of exercising. Oops.

Thursday: Chest & Back almost redeemed this week. It was my first time doing this workout, and the 52 minutes went by in no time flat! That said, I did actually fall on my face at one point, and the different flavors of pushups resulted in hilariously bruised knees. This workout is primarily body weight exercises, which may be why I liked it and also why it was so tough. Looking forward to this one coming around in the rotation again.

Friday: A quick 2 miles home from work before hitting the road to Rockford for the birthday weekend.

Saturday: I didn’t wanna do it. I didn’t wanna get out of bed. I didn’t wanna put my shoes on. I just wanted to sit around and eat all the food, but before doing so, I needed to get in 8 miles – which I did on the Perryville bike path. This was my first time running out there, and I’ll definitely be doing more of it when we’re in Rockford. There’s a bit of a roll to the path, and the lights are at convenient intervals for water breaks. I exchanged smiles and greetings with many other runners and cyclists out enjoying the beautiful day. And then I ate all the pizza and watched the football game with my family and soaked up the love and the post-run endorphins.

Sunday: More good intentions, this time of doing Legs & Back after driving home. Instead, we returned to a freezer left ajar, and I dealt with the mess while Shane got in his belated workout. I did get in a short walk with Mom, Jenn, and Max, but nothing really worth counting.

This week was supposed to be the last phase of P90E. Instead, I think it’s going to be the first phase of the rest of my fitness year – for a few reasons. I had started thinking in this direction after signing up for a kettlebells class through the campus rec center. I ended up dropping it because it was going to be a logistical nightmare and because I will at minimum miss 3 classes because of travel and the half. I was also concerned that this phase of P90X Lean doesn’t include a leg workout, which I need.

The Detroit half is five weeks away. In the next five weeks, my aim is to do three days of strength training (upper, lower, core), two short runs, and one long run. If I have to cut workouts, I’ll cut a short run first, then the core workout. The long run is non-negotiable. I’m going to rotate through the P90 upper body workouts plus Core Synergistics and Legs & Back. I’m going to keep adding my miles. I’m going to kick the half marathon’s butt, and then I’m going to follow that up six days later by running a 5K with my siblings.

I can do this thing. Or, as Tony would say, I can BRING IT. I probably won’t blog it, though, but I will let you know what I’m doing next, or if I have a fantastic run, or when – not ‘if’, ‘when’ – I successfully do a REAL pushup. It’s coming. I can feel it.

P90E Week 8: Rest

Rest week!  And I did just that, though I had good intentions of sticking to the actual rest week schedule.

Monday:  Shane just finished building up a new bike, so we biked to work together!  Whoosh!  I arrived home sweaty and wobbly-legged, so called that my workout for the night.

Tuesday: Just under 3 miles in 25:20.  Awesome.

Wednesday: The first of two No Good Very Frustrating Days kicked off with a sweaty bike ride to work and culminated with a very angst-inducing ride home.  I arrived home, my cheeks stained with tears of frustration, not wanting to do anything other than Eat All The Food.  Shane talked me out of it, though he agreed that I should probably take the night off from further exercise.

Thursday: 5 miles home, with a pit stop in the middle.  I’m not sure if it was the Mexican food or the unexpected 90 degree heat on a day when I was underhydrated, but my stomach was cramping!  Otherwise, a great run.

Friday: A belated Chest, Shoulders and Triceps.  My lifts keep going up, but I felt really weak and tired this week.  Just proof that I need to keep working hard!

Saturday:  Food got kind of weird today.  Saturday is our normal cheat day, but since we knew we’d be indulging at a wedding on Sunday, we tried to be good.  At the same time, I did my long run, so I was HONGRY.  7 miles will do that to a girl.  Also it is worth noting that we did our belated 60 day measurements before leaving town – while most of my numbers have stayed the same, my body fat percentage is down by 3% since June.  And THAT is awesome.

Sunday: Someone in the Daily Burn Four Hour Body group set up a virtual 5K for this weekend, so I logged my 3.1 miles in 28 minutes first thing in the morning while the rest of the house was still waking up.  I also danced well into the night at a super fun wedding, but I’m sure that effort barely made a dent in the champagne I was simultaneously consuming. 🙂

P90E Week 8: 71% brought, 29% punted