Post-Marathon Reflections on Running

The exhilaration and challenges of Twin Cities Marathon are still fresh in my head.  There are some mental images that I want to be able to recall in an instant for the rest of my life.  I’ve been taking it easy this week, which has given me time to think and reflect over the past few years.  Four years ago, I ran my first marathon on October 2, 2011.  Now, four years later, I have four marathons under my belt (even though I skipped 2012 when I had foot surgery).  Go figure.  I certainly would not have predicted that a few years ago.

Every runner has a reason.  Every runner has a story.  Mine started a little more than eight years ago.  My baby has her 7th birthday coming up soon, and many times when I look at her, it hits me how different life is before and after Hannah.  I’m a different person than I was eight years ago.  Back then, I was carrying around some extra weight (two kids and working full time with no time for yourself will do that to a girl) – not a ton – but enough so that it affected me both physically and mentally.  I wasn’t very active.  My husband didn’t find me attractive – and often my attempts for intimacy were met with excuses and rejection.  My self esteem was…well…let’s just say there was room for improvement.  Lots of room.  Add to that the toll that coping with my parents’ deaths (9 months apart in July 2007 and April 2008) and a miscarriage in between took on me.  It was a dark time.  Looking back, I’m not sure how I got out of bed every day, but somehow I did.  It was after my Mom’s death that something really snapped.  My Mom had Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and diabetes that caused kidney failure.  Her body was falling apart before she turned 60, and she died just weeks shy of her 68th birthday.  She never took very good care of herself (but she did a lot of taking care of others!) – her nutrition and exercise habits were horrendous.  She had a sweet tooth that she didn’t do a whole lot to curb (and there were always so many sweets around, I haven’t really learned how to control mine either!), and I don’t remember her walking to the mailbox, much less taking any time to exercise.  After she died, I was upset.  I was mad.  I was mad at her for not taking care of herself – not that her MS was preventable (which limited a lot of her mobility), and maybe her diabetes wasn’t either – but she certainly could have done a better job of managing her diet and exercise.  Instead, I had learned by observation some of the worst habits that I had to break so that my path would be different.  I was 33 when I buried my Mom.  That’s too young.  My oldest has a few memories of her grandparents (when they were sick – not of the people they truly were), but my kids never knew their grandparents.  It’s not right.  So wrong.  While my Mom was dealing with limited mobility (thanks to MS) and kidney failure (thanks to diabetes) at the end of her life, my Dad was sliding into the unrecognizable person that his Alzheimer’s Disease left him.  I was ticked at the cards that my parents were dealt.  So unfair.  Everyone grieves differently.  Part of my grieving process after losing my Mom was to rebel by taking control of the things that I could – I made some radical changes in my diet and exercise patterns.  I joined Weight Watchers (online).  I lost 30 pounds.  I dropped 4 sizes. But I couldn’t run.  My knees were bad and couldn’t handle the excess weight.  I also had no support other than my own determination and will.  Looking back, I have no idea how I stuck it out without a tribe like I have now.  I lost the weight by changing eating habits and religious dates with my elliptical, bike, and lap swim at the nearest pool. I didn’t even have the desire to run.  It definitely wasn’t fun, and it held absolutely no allure for me.  (Those of you who know me now, you may be laughing or shaking your heads.  It’s OK – I am too.)  But – I have never looked back.

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My parents’ 25th anniversary

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My parents’ 45th wedding anniversary – 2004

After Hannah was born, I decided (with a little encouragement from my college-aged niece) that I could train for a sprint triathlon.  Most people would probably start with a 5k, but I didn’t like running, but I did like swimming and biking, so it made sense to me.  I trained for that race entirely by myself, and I hated every step of the running training.  I very clearly remember stumbling into the kitchen after a 3 mile run and proclaiming to my husband that “I will never run farther than these 3 miles I have to run for the tri.”  But when I finished that race on my baby’s 6 month birthday, that sense of accomplishment was real.  The endorphins were real.  And there was a new sense of amazement at being able to achieve a goal that I had previously thought impossible.  That meant that the goals could be bigger.  The next year, my niece and I trained for and completed our first half marathons.  The following year, it was the big kahuna – we both trained for and completed our first marathons.  Being accountable to Johanna and going through training with her (from a distance) was my first window into the importance of people to support, encourage, and share your dreams with.

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Johanna and I after my first sprint triathlon

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Twin Cities Marathon – 2011 I couldn’t love that kid any more if she was my own daughter!

Turns out I love running.  Turns out I’m also pretty good at it.  Who knew?!

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It has taken me almost a thousand words to get to what I really wanted to say.  And it will probably take me about a thousand more words to say it. I had no idea how important a running community was.  I had no idea how inspiring, motivating, positive, and life changing a running community was.  When I was training for my first marathon in 2011, I stumbled across a group that has completely changed my life – for the better.  I am so thankful that Karissa Johnson took a leap of faith with me and offered me the opportunity to be a volunteer coach with Moms on the Run, and that Stephanie VanHeel always believed in me, and also gave me permission to allow myself grace – or push myself – or both!

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In the past four and a half years, I have become part of a running community.  A part of a group of strong and amazing women, who…even when they’re sometimes not sure if they believe in themselves (which they should!), inspire others to set goals, work hard, have fun, and believe.  It’s so much more than a running group – it’s a positive support group.  We challenge each other, we celebrate together, but we also support each other through the ups and downs of life and whether it’s a miscarriage, rough time at school for our kids, loss of a parent, cancer, new babies, injuries, or periods of self-doubt.  I have grown close to people who have changed my life – for the better.  I have found positive ways to cope with stress. I have pushed myself to accomplish goals that I thought might be impossible.  I have helped others accomplish goals that they thought were out of reach.  Together, we have learned about pushing ourselves, allowing ourselves grace, and knitting ourselves together as a community – an inclusive community that always has room for more.

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My Moms on the Run tribe – such an amazing group of strong, beautiful, and inspiring women!

I’ve also learned that focusing on others – whether it’s runners I’m coaching, friends who I’m encouraging to believe in themselves when they’re not sure if they believe in themselves, my family, or fundraising and running on a charity team for a cause near and dear to my heart – allows me to push myself faster and farther when I know that the cause is bigger than just little old me.  My first marathon was on the MS Society charity team – and now I’ve been part of that movement three times.  I’ve met more people who are strong and determined and kind and generous and just so good. Sometimes the gratitude and emotion wash over me.  I don’t know what I did to be so lucky to have the opportunities that I’ve had. Who knew that ages ago when I decided to take a leap of faith and train for a marathon…so many things in my life would change for the better. Certainly not me.  But I sure am thankful.

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I’ve seen time and time again how runners support each other.  I’ve seen it at races.  I’ve seen it in the neighborhood.  I’ve seen it while we’re running together.  I’ve seen it while we’re celebrating together.  I’ve seen it when we cry together. We are human beings.  We were created to be in relationship with one another and to help each other.  To provide and derive strength from one another.  There are so many things I could not have accomplished on my own (like four marathons). But – I have BRFs.  I have cheerleaders.  I get to be a BRF.  I get to be a cheerleader.  There are so many people who play such an important role in my story.  I’m counting myself lucky to be a part of others’ running stories too.  Together we can accomplish so much more than on our own.

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Race Report: Twin Cities Marathon

imagesIt’s six days post marathon, and I feel fantastic!  Even though I’ve only run this race twice, it’s easily my favorite race.  Hands down.  There is something completely indescribable about the marathon distance, and this course in particular.  I’m pretty confident when I say that this won’t be my last time on this course – I’d love to run it every year if my life and family time allowed it.  I don’t know when I’ll be back out there running from the Metrodome to the Capitol again (in the most indirect, yet beautiful route possible), but let me relive those 26.2 glorious miles and give you a recap.  Sorry.  This is a long one.  Pace yourself.  It’s a marathon.

The weather had been terrible for the last few days, and the forecast was not great until the last time I checked it before I went to bed – apparently just so I could get a good night’s sleep, it was a PERFECT race day forecast!  It was clear and about 45 degrees when we woke up, and supposed to be sunny and cool, with a 30% chance of rain by 11ish.  I could do without the rain, but it was a forecast I could live with.

My fantastic friend Kiri offered to give me, Jason (my nephew) and Katie (my niece) a ride to the starting line.  This was HUGE, as it meant we didn’t have to worry about getting back to retrieve a car after the race was done.  Kiri was early.  We were all up and ready.  Morning pre-race preparations were going swimmingly.  Pre-marathon breakfast of a bagel with peanut butter (crunchy of course!), a banana for the road, and a big cup of coffee did the trick.  We got to the Metrodome about an hour before the race started, which was the perfect amount of time to find everyone and snap some pre-race pictures, visit the bathroom a couple times (the lines were MUCH shorter for the women’s than the men’s!  Only before a marathon…), and make sure to get to the bag drop on time.  We actually barely made that one…scrambled a little to get my gear checked and get in the starting corral before they played the national anthem.  The sky was bright blue and the sun was shining – it was a PERFECT day for a run!

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My niece Katie was ready to run her first marathon! Both of us ran on the ALZ Stars charity team, and together we raised over $3000 for the Alzheimer’s Association in memory of the great man who had our backs for the whole race.

We crossed the starting line about 8 minutes after gun time, and Kristen and I were committed to stick to our race plan.  Start slow and easy, then speed it up through the middle miles, and maintain a consistent marathon pace through the finish.  Sounds easy enough at Mile 1.  In other words – for the first half of the race, our mantra was “Don’t be an idiot.”  It’s too easy to get swept up in the adrenaline-loaded crowd when you’re feeling fantastic and run WAAAYYY too fast those early miles.  Trust me, I know.  I did it last time.  Then…when I hit Mile 20 and Summit Ave…the gas was gone and I barely had fumes to run on.  Our plan was to run smarter this time.  “Don’t be an idiot.”

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The crowd was amazing from the start.  The first highlight of our race was at Mile 2.5 where my favorite obnoxious spectator was there to cheer us on, and remind us of our plan for the first half of the race.  As we wound around Lake of the Isles, Lake Calhoun, and Lake Harriet, the spectators did not disappoint.  This is the only marathon I’ve run…but I think I’m pretty spoiled.  People line both sides of the street, and there are more signs, balloons, cowbells, and high fives than you could possibly imagine.  It’s a party for the runners, and the spectators make sure they have a good time as well.

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Yep – my favorite obnoxious spectator! LOVE my BRF who was there for me several times throughout the 26.2!

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Mile 2.5 Bloody Mary bar. It was approximately 8:30am when we ran past this…the runners are dancing and partying in the streets, the spectators are mixing drinks and partying on the boulevard!

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Lake Calhoun Skyline – view of the marathon start from around Mile 5.

We caught our first glimpse of Kristen’s family somewhere around Lake Calhoun…I think.  Purple balloons, signs, high fives, and enthusiasm abounded!  The day was gorgeous.  Peak Fall colors. The Minneapolis skyline visible across the opposite shore of Lake Calhoun.  Blue skies and air crisp enough to see your breath, yet warm enough to be comfy running in shorts and a tank.  I was carrying my own bottles filled with Nuun, but I did stop for water every once in awhile (not at every water stop, though).  I did grab water at Mile 7 to help wash down my Espresso Love doubly caffeinated GU (makes a pretty good substitute for coffee on an early morning run!).  The volunteers at the water stops were great, and whenever there were kids offering water, I took water from a kid.  I grabbed a cup of water from a little boy at Mile 7 and kept running, refueled for the next 5-7 miles.  I found out later that the kid had been overlooked by most of the runners and was getting frustrated because no one would take water from him.  Turns out, this little boy is a friend of my son’s in his Cub Scout pack, and both he and his Dad recognized me and yelled for me as I ran off — I didn’t hear it (consciously anyway), and I didn’t even realize that I’d made Sam’s morning by taking his cup of water until the next day after Cub Scouts when Sam and his dad talked to my husband.

We were maintaining pretty even splits at this point, at or just under 9min miles. We were soaking in the energy, enthusiasm and love from the spectators.  We were looking for our families again around Mile 11 on the northeast side of Lake Nokomis.  First  we found the purple balloons with Kristen’s family.  Then we found the ghost balloon (the only ghost on the course!) and my family.  I dropped off a bottle for John to refill, as we’d see them again on the northwest side of Nokomis in a few miles.  Along Cedar, we also saw my sister’s family and one of my coworkers – every time we encountered family and friends cheering for us, it was unbelievably uplifting.  We were still feeling great at the half marathon mark, which we had wanted to hit under 2:00, but we were slightly behind that pace, hitting 13.1 at 2:00:54. No matter – we were in great shape for the last 13.1, and I refueled with a salted caramel GU (candy disguised as an energy shot) and water as I high fived and called back to several additional supporters…friends and coworkers who were close to the half marathon mark…and then picked up my water bottle, and refilled a second one around Mile 14, where John and Todd (Kristen’s husband) and our army of kid cheerleaders were stationed.

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Time to head across Minnehaha Parkway to Minnehaha Falls and West River Road.  This is one of my favorite stretches of the course, and it’s the section that has appeared and reappeared in my dreams and I have played and replayed in my head.  The purple balloon.  My Dad.  My eyes stung and my throat was tight as I looked down the road and saw them.  The purple balloons…accompanied by one of my biggest sources of encouragement and inspiration…my BRF DeNae and her family!  Balloon Bunch Purple1She had watermelon and hard candies for us – and one of the absolute best hugs of the day.  I was starting to get tired.  But then I remembered why I was doing this in the first place.  AND…it was time to lock into the mantra of the second half of the marathon.  If the first half was about “don’t be an idiot” then the second half was about “don’t be a wimp.”  Time to dig deep.  I packed my mental shovel for just that occasion!

The clouds were thickening and getting darker.  Now we had to try and beat the rain.  However, even if could run like a Kenyan, I couldn’t have beaten it, and it started raining around Mile 19, just as we were approaching the Franklin Bridge to cross the Mighty Mississippi.  Great.  The hardest part of the marathon.  I’ve already been running for 19 miles.  A lot of the last 7 miles were uphill.  I’m getting tired.  AND now there’s a cold rain hitting us in the face.  Great.  We ran through “The Wall” at Mile 20, smacking it with our hands for good luck on our way by.  Finally, the halfway point of the race. Remember the plan for the second half of the race.  Don’t be a wimp.

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Still feeling pretty good at about Mile 17.6…

Time for another energy shot – mentally and physically.  My hands were cold and wet, so Kristen dug my GU packet out of my fuel belt (thank you!), and I had to use my teeth to rip it open.  I knew there was an AWESOME water stop coming up at Mile 20.6 – staffed by dozens of my Moms on the Run running buddies.  As I saw purple and green shirts in the distance, I also spotted one of the volunteers (my friend Angel!) holding a sign for me.  I could feel the love.  There were SO MANY people there cheering and yelling for me, and the boost that provided was indescribable.  I wanted to hug and high five all of them…but…as I would have both spilled all of the PowerAde and water cups they were holding out, I settled for lots of yelling and screaming and a few carefully placed high fives.  The love and support from these particular volunteers was pretty overwhelming and had me choking back tears as I pressed on beyond Mile 20.6.

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Blaine MOTR supporters

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Coon Rapids MOTR supporters

We saw our families one last time at around Mile 21, and then the REAL work started.  Uphill, in the rain, on tired legs and sore feet, when my body and my mind were both fighting exhaustion.  This is the part of a marathon when your head questions whether you’ve got what it takes to keep pushing for 5 more miles (and then some).  Remember the plan.  Don’t be a wimp.  I kept the pace pretty consistent, and I’m pretty darn proud of myself for not allowing myself to fade in those tough miles along Summit Avenue.  However, Kristen started to pull away from me.  Not too far…just about 20-30 feet in front of me where I could still keep my eyes on her, but I just couldn’t keep up with her.  In my head I was both encouraging her to keep moving as strong as she could (and she was!) and encouraging myself not to fall any farther behind than that, even if I couldn’t close the distance and catch up with her.  It was definitely the point in the race where, although we had done well running side by side for 21 miles, now we had to hunker down in our individual zones and listen to our bodies for the last few, very tough miles. Remember the plan: Don’t be a wimp. I had trained for this.  I had experience with this.  This was the part where I had trouble my rookie marathon.  I had vowed that I’d be better prepared and plan for this stretch next time.

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Other runners were struggling too.  I saw one runner right in front of me who had collapsed and was surrounded by medical staff.  I saw another runner whose legs turned to jelly right before my eyes and had to be helped to the side of the road for medical attention.  I counted my blessings…although I was tired, I was still feeling good and strong (well, despite feeling miserable and weak as I had been running for about 23 miles and had just finished a 3 mile uphill stretch on tired legs in the cold rain).  AND, I managed to catch up to Kristen.  We checked in with each other.  We were tired.  Muscles, joints, and feet were telling the horror stories of running 23 miles, and we still had 3.2 miles to go.  A 5K…essentially we just had a 5K to go.  But, definitely the toughest miles.  Remember the plan: Don’t be a wimp.

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Click to enlarge the Twin Cities Marathon Course Map

I kept running, consistent pace, no fade.  We’d been close to the splits for our 4 hour goal the entire time (3:59:59!), but I still wasn’t sure if we’d been close enough…and how that 3 mile uphill (where I did pace slightly slower than I had been) had affected my pacing and time. But…I was NOT a wimp.  I kept running. Then, in the distance, I could see the Mississippi River Valley.  I knew we were getting close to the Cathedral.  I picked up the pace a little and the goofy smile I’d been wearing for the first 21 miles that I had to put away for a few miles came back.  Then I could see the Cathedral.  THAT made me smile even bigger.  Then I could see the firetrucks and the big flag over the chute downhill to the finish.  Smile getting bigger and fighting tears at this point.  As I was running downhill to the finish line, my Garmin marked 26.2 at 3:58:39.  It wasn’t official, but that was 26.2, and I was under four hours.  Smile got bigger and a couple tears trickled out.  I picked up the pace even more…running sub 8min miles at this point (I know it’s downhill, but I’d also been running for more than 26 miles already!). I found the ghost floating above the crowd just before the finish line – and it’s a good thing I found them, because they had no idea where I was until I got their attention!  Then…the finish line!  I had told a few people I would do a cartwheel over the finish line if I could hit my sub 4 hour goal…I wasn’t sure if I’d made it when I got to the finish line, but I definitely did not have a cartwheel in me!  I celebrated across the finish line with a smile about 26.2 miles wide and arms in the air while my friend Kiri (who was volunteering at the finish line and had recruited a couple of additional people) screamed their fool heads off for me.  Seriously, my finish line video makes me tear up every time I watch those 8 seconds.  Based on my official time, I had not made my sub 4 hour goal, but my time did have a four followed by two zeroes, so I’m not going to beat myself up about it!

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My Garmin showed 26.2 miles at 3:58:39. When I stopped my watch after I crossed the finish line, it read 26.42 miles in 4:00:27. These are my official results. However, I really like the age-graded time best.

Kristen came in less than a minute later (so proud of how well she ran and pushed it at the end, even when it hurt!), and we hobbled and were herded to get our medals, water, chocolate milk, broth, mylar blankets, and post-race snacks.  Once I stopped running my muscles told me they were DONE, so stretching was a definite necessity.  The curb we had to scale to get my gear that I’d checked and pick up our finisher’s shirts looked nothing short of Mount Everest, and the medical volunteers were there to catch the tired runners who tripped up it (more than half stumbled up the curb, I’d estimate).  We found Jason right away (he’d finished a good 20 minutes earlier!) and Katie was not far behind (4:17 for her first marathon – ROCK STAR!).  We found our families (purple balloons and ghost balloon came in handy – again!), and went home to shower, eat, relax, and bask in little marathon glory.

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Kristen and I stuck together for ALMOST the entire marathon – aside from those last few tough miles where we had to focus inside and listen to our own bodies. What an awesome marathon buddy!

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It’s a family thing – my nephew and niece keep me young, inspired, and motivated!

So, if I dissect this marathon – it’s a completely different story than the last one. I didn’t start out too fast.  I didn’t get caught up in the adrenaline overdrive in the early miles.  I let people pass me early in the race, and I had the energy to maintain consistent pacing throughout, which allowed ME to pass runners toward the end.  My slowest miles were at the beginning.  I ran a negative split!  My first 13.1 was 2:00:54, the last 13.1 was 1:59:48.  I kept a pretty solid pace during the uphill climb from Mile 20-23.  I turned on the gas and ran my fastest at the END of the marathon.

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Click to enlarge the detailed results.

But my favorite story is in the Passed/By column.  I was passed by lots of runners (hundreds of runners) in the early miles, and I didn’t pass as many (but still quite a few). The disparity between the number who passed me and how many I passed widened at each checkpoint – where fewer runners were passing me, but I was passing more runners.  Indeed, the number of runners who passed me steadily declined from the start to the end, and I passed quite a few runners in those final miles.  res_graphicI saved some gas for those miles, so I could turn on the engines from Mile 24 to the end.  I passed 185 people from Mile 24 to the end, and not nearly that many passed me.  Last time around I slogged through those miles.  I walked more of those miles than I care to admit.  Not this time.  I was ready.  I was prepared.  I was trained.

Another marathon in the books, this one better than the last.  I gave it all, and left it all on the course (somewhere along Summit Ave.).  Not sure when the next one will be, but I’ll be back – not giving up on that sub 4 quite yet – I’ll find those 43 seconds (maybe more?!) somewhere…

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I did it!!

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I am still overwhelmed by the exhaustion and emotion that was Twin Cities Marathon Sunday…48 hours ago I was pushing through the last grueling miles, uphill, in the rain.  And then I could see the Mississippi River Valley in the distance.  And then the St. Paul Cathedral.  And then the firetrucks with the flags draped over the downhill to the glorious FINISH LINE in front of the Capitol dome.

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This race definitely gets a thumbs up!

I promise I’ll find the time to write a detailed race report sometime soon.  It was a fantastic race on a (mostly) fantastic day, with a fantastic running buddy, with fantastic spectators and volunteers cheering, and I’m happy with it.  So very happy with it.  In the meantime, I just wanted to report a few post-marathon thoughts.

1. I am so very grateful for the support…during the training, from my fabulous BRF who marathoned by my side the entire way, from the spectators (family, friends, random strangers who yelled out my name to give me a lift as I ran by), the volunteers (especially at the Mile 20.6 water stop!), and each and every person who donated to my ALZ Stars charity team.  It’s not too late to donate, if you were meaning to, but hadn’t had a chance yet.

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Team Kristen – smiling (almost) the entire way!

2. I am so ridiculously proud of my niece, who killed her first marathon (I don’t think it will be her only one!) and raised money in memory of her Grandpa.  I have run two marathons…shared them both with  my nephew Jason, and one each with my nieces Johanna and Katie.  I am so happy, fortunate, and blessed to be related to these fabulous young people who keep motivating and inspiring me.  There will be more marathons with them – I’m sure of it!

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It was my second Twin Cities Marathon with my nephew Jason, and we both set PRs! It was my niece Katie’s first marathon – and I couldn’t be prouder of her!

3. My heart explodes with happiness for all of my friends who trained for and finished their FIRST marathon!  I *might* have done a little arm twisting with some of them to get them convinced to register, and now that they’re marathoners sporting their finisher shirts and medals, I hope they’re basking in their glory and won’t hold the arm twisting against me.

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Go Team Moms on the Run! Here we are ready to head to the starting corrals!

4. “Trust the Training” works.  I have never been more focused or more determined in training for any race.  I was a slave to the prescribed paces in my training plan.  I could count on one hand the number of runs I skipped or modified (even with an Achilles injury for several weeks in the middle of training!).  I didn’t know if I could maintain the marathon pace that my training plan said I could for 26.42 miles (yeah, 26.2 isn’t far enough for me – but I’m getting better at running the tangents!) – but I could, and I did.  Check out my results.  I even have photographic evidence and video proof that I had it in me to finish strong!

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5. I love the long run.  Even when I hate the long run (Miles 22-25 are TOUGH!), I wasn’t even across the finish line yet when I had forgotten the pain of those miles and was running on pure endorphins.  A few years ago I never would have imagined it.  Marathons?!  Yes, that’s with an “S” at the end. Me?!  You betcha!

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6. I LOVE Minneapolis and St. Paul.  We live in a beautiful area, with beautiful lakes and a great big river, with gorgeous Fall colors, and the people…runners, spectators, volunteers, and race staff – are classy and second to none.

262_mile-24Marathon #2 is in the books.  Twin Cities Marathon is my favorite race.  Hands down.  Stay tuned for the details…and in the meantime – THANK YOU for getting me to the starting line and across the finish line.  It means more to me than I can adequately find the words to describe.

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‘Twas the night before Twin Cities Marathon

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‘Twas the night before Twin Cities Marathon and all through the house, the signs of race preparations were everywhere – and we’re crossing our fingers we won’t get doused!

The weather forecast is best from Sven Sundgaard and KARE, I sure hope he’s right – no downpours, maybe even a little sun out there.

The family has planned a pasta dinner, then early(ish) bed, with complex carbs, lots of water and positive thoughts to fill my head.

photo (2)My race outfit is lined up, laid out, timing chip secured on. Garmin charged, GU packets lined up, and Moms on the Run visor to don.

Look for me in purple and orange and in pink.  I’m dressing for visibility and comfort, not fashion, I think.

I’ve trained long and hard, for months and for weeks. Through rain, heat, before dawn, after dark, with minor injuries and a few joint creaks.

I have had amazing support from family and friends. On the training runs with BRFs, I always wished the miles wouldn’t end.

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Why would I do this, train for months and run hundreds of miles?  First, in memory of my Dad, and second running brings me endless smiles.

I’m running on the ALZ Stars charity team with my niece, together Katie and I have raised almost $3000, each doing our piece.

To honor the memory and legacy of my Dad, we’re working to make a difference in the name of the best man the world ever had.

If he were still with us, he’d be there cheering if he could. Giving me and his grandkids Jason and Katie standing ovations as we ran by – he certainly would!

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The money we’ve raised will make a difference, we know. It’s not too late to donate – and your support to end Alzheimer’s to show!

If you can come and cheer us on tomorrow, please bring along – purple balloons (and some sunshine) – and help us be strong!

Tomorrow is a big day, and I’m thankful for those who are yelling. Cheering, cowbells, balloons, and signs with stories worth telling.

TCMArathonTwin Cities Marathon, I’ve got you in my sights. I’m trained, I’m ready…one more sleep, one more night.

Tomorrow, rain or shine I’m ready to run. Twenty-six point two miles of dancing in the streets with friends – my kind of fun!

Milemarkers and Milestones

1011511_10151810986143903_908710884_nI love October.  I love crisp air, peak Fall colors, apples, pumpkins, fleece, hot  beverages, campfires, seeing my breath on an early morning run, the stark contrast between October blue sky and clouds that are harbingers of colder weather to come, and crunching leaves under my feet. I look forward to trips to the apple orchard, jumping in piles of leaves with the kids, an extended family weekend getaway each year, and my birthday.  In my opinion, October is the absolute best running weather.  My favorite running weather is about 45 degrees and sunny – cold enough so I can see my breath and feel my skin tingling with chill, yet the sun is still warm enough to give my skin the warm tingles too.

October is the perfect time to run a marathon.  I guess I’ll run one this weekend.  I’ve been training for 16 weeks, or so says my training plan.  However, I’ve really been training for almost exactly one year.  It was one year ago when I volunteered at the Mile 20.6 water stop and was there to support my friends, who also happen to be rockstar marathoners.  It was one year ago when I had such a vivid dream that gave me the resolve to register, train, and dedicate a good share of 2013 to this year’s Twin Cities Marathon.  It was one year ago when my orthopedic surgeon and physical therapist gave me the green light to start clawing my way back to running form…from ground zero with a brand new foot.  It’s been quite a year – and I’ve got a marathon in five days.  I’m as ready as I possibly can be.  I’ve run almost 1000 miles in 2013…I’ll hit that milemarker (or is it a milestone?) during the marathon.  Each of those miles has been run with purpose, with dedication, with discipline, and with heart.  Aside from a touchy Achilles tendon for awhile…my running over the past 9+ months has been almost perfect.  I’m trained.  I’m ready.

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It’s race week.  Mentally I’m getting ready by reading up on marathon week preparation, obsessing about the weather forecast, recruiting family and friends to come and cheer (check out all the helpful info for spectators – and if you really want to keep track of me on Sunday morning, you can sign up to track me and get text message updates!), studying the course map (check out the helicopter flyover tour of the marathon course too), getting my gear lined up, and lots (and lots and lots) of positive self talk.  Physically, I’m trying to take it a bit easier this week…30 min swim yesterday, last track workout today (6x400s that I felt really great about!).  I have a MP tempo run yet this week (3mi bookended with 10min warmup and cooldown), and then will shake out my legs on Saturday, but that’s about it.  Sigh.

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Notice the artwork on my big toes: <4 (gulp!)

I’m also trying to be deliberate about what I eat (never mind the crackers and oreos I can’t seem to stay away from tonight) and my water intake (my water bottle goes EVERYWHERE with me!).  I’m even trying to get more and better sleep…which is the hardest part for me.  I’m trying to be good to myself…I got a massage this afternoon, and my daughter gave me a pedicure to cover up the three black and blue toenails (one of them just fell off the other night).  This week’s menu is heavy on the complex carbs…potatoes, rice or pasta every night this week!  Friday I’ll fuel and celebrate with my running buddies with whom I’ve been training, and Marathon Eve Saturday will be pasta with my family and an early bedtime.

Apparently, October is a good time to have a birthday too.  This year it’s a milestone for me…40.  I’ve got 20 days to make my peace with that.  It’s just a number, right?!  I’m having a hard time with that number for some reason this year.  But, being in marathon shape and having a fantastic array of people in my life is making it look a little brighter.  I don’t feel 40.  I don’t even have the creaky joints and sore muscles I did when I trained for my last marathon.  I feel fantastic.  I feel about 32, so that’s the number I’ll stick with for now.  However, as a birthday is typically reason to celebrate, let’s have a 26.2 mile party this Sunday morning.  Bring balloons (purple ones!), but no gifts…I’d happily take donations to the Alzheimer’s Association for my ALZ Stars charity team though.  I’m soooo close to my fundraising goal – please click here to donate and help me hit my fundraising goal AND give me that extra boost I just might need to get me through those tough miles on Sunday!

October is a month of milemarkers and milestones for me this year.  I’m overwhelmed with gratitude for all the love, support and encouragement I’ve gotten from my friends and family.  I’m blown away with gratitude for all the generous donations to my ALZ Stars charity team in support of the incredibly important work that the Alzheimer’s Association does for people with dementia and their families. I’m anxious, excited, nervous, eager, apprehensive, and antsy…five more days.  Thank you – for every little thing that has helped turn my dream into a goal into (hopefully!) an accomplishment before the weekend’s over.  I’m ready.  Bring on 26.2 miles!

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Dreams or Goals?

577994_10202517766969514_1160631632_nIs my upcoming marathon a dream or a goal?  I knew I had to register, train, and get on the ALZ Stars charity team after I had the dream about the purple balloon.  But I have a plan.  A training plan (Run Less, Run Faster) to which I am a slave (just ask anyone who runs with me – do I mess with the pace or distance set in front of me in black and white?!).  Sixteen weeks of speed workouts, tempo runs, long runs and cross training.  There were a few weeks that I had to dial it back until my Achilles quit being angry with me, but I could probably still count on one hand the number of runs that I missed or manipulated.  I’m a very goal-driven, results-oriented person (anyone out there agree with my self assessment?).  I’ve been dreaming and playing around in my mind with the specific goals I’m going to set for marathon day…12 short days from today.  I think I’m ready to put them in print – which of course means that I’ll be held completely accountable to them. Gulp…here goes.

images (1)My ultimate goal is to do the best I can and completely enjoy every step (yes, even the painful ones) of the 26.2 miles.  Hopefully I can heed my own advice and not run farther than that (the tangents – stick to the tangents!).  I have done the training.  My body is ready.  My mind is ready.  Show me the starting line and I’ll show you how I can get to the finish line.  I know I can do it.  I’ve done it before.  But I want to do it better.  I want to do it smarter. AND I want to party all the way from the Metrodome (yes, I still call it that) to the Capitol.  Come party with me (and bring purple balloons!).

Smarter.  My next goal is to run smarter than I did last time.  I’ve trained very differently this time around than two years ago.  Last time, I found a plan online and I strictly ran mileage.  I was a complete stranger to interval training (heck, I was a complete stranger to the marathon too…and not all that well acquainted with running in general yet at that point either!), and I didn’t know or understand how and why varying pace matters.  I didn’t know what a tempo run was.  I hadn’t been on a track since high school.  When my feet hit the marathon course, they ran away with me.  I ran fast in the early miles because I felt really good and I was excited.  Then I shuffled and I walked the tough miles (that would be about miles 23-25) because I’d pushed too hard and hardly had any fumes left to go on.  I know more about exercise physiology.  I know more about training.  I’ve been on a track many times this summer, and run intervals every week.  Tempo runs? Every week.  Pace?  I stick to my prescribed paces (determined by my 5K and half marathon times) like glue.  Now I know to start out slow and smart.  Pick up the pace later when I’m still feeling good.  I practiced that in my last couple long runs.  My goal is to run smart. I’d also like to run fast, but smart first…then fast!

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Time?  Of course I’ve mulled the numbers.  Last time I was free of pretty much any time goals, as a finish was a PR (that’s one of the many beautiful things about a first marathon!).  I did say I wanted to come in under 4-1/2 hours – I figured if Oprah Winfrey could do that, so could I.  4:21:23.  That was with two port-o-potty stops and more walking than I’d like to admit to in miles 23-25.  My training has been completely different this time.  I’m faster.  I’ve had my bad foot reconstructed.  I’m healthier.  I’ve built my endurance to the point where I’ve pushed past 20 miles more than once – and felt fan-freakin-tastic each time.  BUT, I know how hard 4:21:23 was.  I know how much it hurt.  I’ve been hesitant to get too overly confident, but it’s time I own up to what I think I might just be able to do, although it certainly won’t be easy.  I want to break four hours.  I just might do a cartwheel across the finish line if I do that – wouldn’t that be a great finish line photo?!  Don’t hold me to that cartwheel, but…if the weather and conditions are good, if I get good sleep in the days leading up to the marathon, if I’ve eaten right and restocked my energy reserves, if I hydrate and fuel during the marathon just perfectly…if all of those stars and planets align on October 6…I think it just might be possible.  I’m not shooting for a BQ (not yet anyway!  that’s 3:45 – crazy!), but something with a 3 as the first number would put me over the moon.  Sarah Palin broke four hours in a marathon – I’d like to think I could keep up with her!  I’ve got back-up goals as well, in case the stars and planets are a little off kilter…so 4:08 (which represents the comfy pace I’ve had during my two 20+ mile runs) and 4:15 (which represents just enough of an improvement over my last marathon finish to think these months of crazy training have made a difference) are my #2 and #3 goals…in case I have to modify expectations along the way.

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I can’t believe I’m in Week 15 of my 16 week training plan.  I can’t believe that it’s almost 10 days out…the point at which Marathon Day appears on the 10 day forecast and I can refresh it and obsess about it multiple times each day.  I’m in the middle of the taper period and I’m restless and anxious.  I just calculated tonight my year-to-date mileage and determined that I’ll hit 1000 miles during the marathon.  I’m receiving notifications of contributions to my ALZ Stars charity team left and right and being absolutely blown away by the generosity of family, friends, coworkers, and complete strangers.  THAT’S what I’ve really got going for me as I set my goals (with my plan and my deadline)…this is for my Dad.  Memories of him bring tears to my eyes in about 3 seconds flat.  There’s more to this marathon than the 26.2 miles I’ll cover on October 6.  There’s more than the almost 1000 miles it’s taken to get me to the starting line.  Marathon training has allowed me to get stronger mentally and physically.  It has empowered me to feel like I can make a difference, when I felt so helpless watching my Dad progress through the stages of Alzheimer’s Disease in the last years of his life.  It has been my therapy, and an important part of the grieving process.  Thank you all for being so supportive through the whole process…humoring me by listening to me talk about running and marathon training when I know you really aren’t interested…donating to my ALZ Stars charity team…running and biking training miles with me (extra kudos to those who have joined me at – or before – sunrise!)…or those who have simply sent positive energy and prayers my way.  I can feel it all, and I’m exceedingly grateful.  Thank you for being on this journey with me.  I’ll do my best to not let you down.  I’ll keep moving forward.

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A matter of perspective…the long run.

runningJust how long is a “long” run?

Marathon training has a way of warping your perspective on this one.  My 16 week marathon training plan started out with a long run of 13 miles.  Thank goodness I had run two half marathons in the five months preceding the onset of marathon training, so this was OK by me.  I also was still highly motivated after being sidelined for months with stress fractures and recovery from foot surgery.  Run?  A lot?  Yes, please!  Distance was added, pace was quickened, and endurance was built over 14 weeks until I hit the point where I stand today.  I remember this point during the taper of my last marathon too.  The part where I flippantly used “only” and “13 miles” in the same sentence.  The part where people look at me like I’m crazy when I speak that sentence.  Marathon training has a way of making you crazy, in more ways than one.

Just so we’re clear – 13 miles is a LONG way to run!  However, when the previous weekend had seen my feet cover 23.5 miles, 13 felt like a short little jaunt through the park.  It’s all a matter of perspective.  Right now, at this point of my training, with 26.2 miles staring me in the face in two short weeks, I’m darn close to marathon-ready condition.  Thirteen miles?  Crazy as it may sound – it doesn’t feel like a long run to me.  But, that’s crazy me, coming into the home stretch from the peak of marathon training, right now.

Ask a “normal” runner what constitutes a long run, and you’ll get anything from 3 miles to 20 miles for an answer.  I clearly remember when I started running.  I hated running.  Three miles was pure torture.  It was LONG, and I also vividly remember saying I’d never run farther than that. Sometimes I don’t mind eating my words.  Then, when I trained for my first half marathon…5 miles was long, then it got longer until I worked my way up to 13.1.  Marathon training?!  That’s crazy talk.  But something magical happened.  Somewhere along the line, I discovered that I love the long run.

marathon training the long run

I’ve thought long and hard about what kind of runner I am.  I like to be fast (who doesn’t?!), and I can hold my own while pushing the pace for interval runs, but I still dream of a 5k with a sub-8 minute pace.  Running fast hurts my lungs and it hurts my head – I have more trouble with the mental games when I push pace than when I push distance.  Running long?  As I don’t really hit my sweet spot and happy pace until about 3 miles in…this is more my style.  Funny thing is…I never would have pegged myself as a marathoner.  If you’d asked me 5 years ago, before I’d even laced up running shoes, you would have gotten a hearty laugh out of me!  Fortunately, I love a challenge and I love an adventure (but I’m not too fond of surprises, go figure), so discovering that I am a distance runner with a hunger for endurance has been a fun journey of sprint triathlons, half marathons, Ragnar Relay, and marathons.

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I don’t mind a 20+ mile run.  Yes, I know that’s a ludicrous statement.  I love a 13 mile run.  AND…I discovered today that when my body is used to high mileage weekends (long runs the last few weeks have been 23.5, 17.2, 16, 21.5…), a 13 mile run is not enough.  I felt great yesterday, and then today I was crabby and restless…like I hadn’t been completely fulfilled and I hadn’t run out quite all the stress-induced demons in those 13 miles yesterday.  Here’s hoping a 13 mile bike ride exorcised the last of this week’s worries that I need to let go of before starting anew – with a speed workout at the butt crack o’dawn on Monday!

I am a distance runner.  I love the long run.  Perhaps it’s because of the paradox of pushing myself until I’m weak so that I feel strong.  Perhaps it’s because marathon training is such a great metaphor for life in general, and not to mention a great way to deal with my life in particular.  Two weeks to Twin Cities Marathon.  I’ll be ready!

441008233_640AND — that means there are 14 short days to get your donation into the Alzheimer’s Association for my ALZ Stars charity team – CLICK HERE to contribute – every dollar counts and you have no idea how much it means to me when I get notification of each donation…to a charity that is as near and dear to my heart as one possibly could be, to make a lasting difference in honor of my Dad – and thereby also making an investment in ME that provides the support and encouragement I’ll  need to make it through the toughest miles of the marathon.  I’m getting closer and closer to my goal – both fundraising and toeing that marathon starting line.  Thank you for coming along for the journey!

Honestly, this is for ME too…

You all know that I’m running on the ALZ Stars charity team for Twin Cities Marathon, and fundraising for the Alzheimer’s Association in memory of my Dad (CLICK HERE to donate – PLEASE and THANK YOU!!!).  So much of the inspiration and motivation to do this is for him.  But, if I’m to be really honest with you, and with myself, it’s also about me.  It’s for me too.

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2140983-256-k3d2f887dTruth be told, I have my insecurities.  I’m almost 40.  I’ll hit that milestone next month.  This marathon is part of my mid-life crisis.  My parents weren’t dealt great cards, and they did not get to enjoy their retirement years.  Instead they were plagued by more health conditions than are justifiable, given the lives of service and compassion that both of my parents exemplified.  My Mom died just shy of her 68th birthday.  My Dad was 71.  My grandparents (both sides) also did not live that long…only my maternal grandmother lived to see 80 (and not much more).  If that’s any predictor, I hit mid-life a few years ago.  I’m going to do what I can, with the factors that are under my control, to change that pattern so I can stick around to enjoy my retirement years with my family.  My parents didn’t really get to know my kids and my kids either don’t remember much or anything at all about their grandparents.  That’s not right.

I’ve also got a history of foot injuries…stress fractures and bunions.  I had my right foot taken care of surgically last summer, and it sidelined me for months.  Too many painful months.  The physical pain was not too bad, but the mental aspect of not being able to get out for a run, or any sort of physical exercise (my orthopaedic surgeon forbade me anything that could be categorized as “exercise” for 7 weeks following my surgery) was what just about did me in.  Then the gradual process of acclimating my body and my new foot to running again took several long months of run/walk intervals, adding only 1 minute of running each week to those intervals (it takes a long time to work up any distance when starting with 1min run:1min walk!).  Couple that with less-than-encouraging pre-surgery words from my orthopaedic surgeon, who reminded me that it was pretty major reconstructive foot surgery on an important part of my foot that I need for running, and that I should be reasonable and realistic about setting my post-surgery running expectations.  He told me not to expect to run more than 10 miles a week.  He told me not to plan on running another marathon.  Why yes, I DID cry all the way home from that particular appointment.

tumblr_mm72naSLRU1qkxrtro1_400I don’t like to be told I can’t do something – particularly if it’s something I love to do.  I don’t know why I feel like I have to prove myself…my almost-40 year old body on a reconstructed foot that I shouldn’t expect to tolerate the kind of mileage that marathon training racks up.  But I do.  I need to prove it to myself that I’m not “past my peak” and “over the hill” – instead, I will hit 40 next month in the best shape of my life.  I emailed my surly, yet brilliant, orthopaedic surgeon the other day to thank him for his expertise, and to update him on my my recovery and progress, now 14 months post-surgery.  I also invited him to come out and cheer on the runners at the Twin Cities Marathon so he could see his handiwork run by.

This is the reply I got:

Thanks for your kind words. I always tell my patients that my job is 40 mins long, but yours is 6+ months long. Who should take most of the credit then?!?!? Without determination and hard working from your part, there is no way you would be where you are. It doesn’t matter where I put your bones if you don’t work like crazy to get where you are, which was discussed before surgery…. it is waaaaaaay further than anybody could have anticipated.   Thanks again for your e-mail and the most of luck on your running career!!!  I’ll be watching…”

This IS for my Dad, but it’s also for me.  And just for good measure, I’ll show my orthopaedic surgeon what I thought of his “don’t plan to run another marathon” advice too.

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26.2 Marathon Lessons

MarathonI concocted this list after my rookie 26.2 in 2011.  It was a powerful experience.  The last few miles were so seemingly impossible and I was so thankful to be done. DONE.  However, I hadn’t even made it back into my house that afternoon after I finished before I turned to my husband and said, “You know I want to do that again sometime, right?”  To which he replied, “Can you wait until the kids are older?”  It’s not insignificant the sacrifices made by my family while I’m logging miles…and hopefully two years constitutes “older” enough.  I don’t even have to cross the finish line this time before I can already say…”You know I’m going to want to do this again, right?”

26.2 things I learned from training for and running a marathon…

(in no particular order of significance)

1.  Double-caffeinated Espresso GU makes a reasonable substitute for coffee on an early morning long run.

2.  You should never shave in unmentionable areas the day before a long run. Seams chafe in the most uncomfortable places.

3.  BodyGlide, GU, and Nuun (or pick your other favorite brands of similar products) ARE worth the money.

4.  Training for and running a marathon will make you feel weaker and more defeated than you’ve ever felt.

5.  Training for and running a marathon will make you feel stronger and more invincible than you’ve ever felt.

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6.  There are no words to express how important the companionship and support of running buddies are in the training months.

7.  Identify the person who motivates you most…that person you don’t want to ever see you give up.  Plant him or her somewhere between Mile 23 and 25.5 of the marathon course on the big day.

8.  Letter the shirt you wear on race day in HUGE letters with your first name – it’s amazingly powerful to hear complete strangers shouting encouragement to you personally!  For an extra boost, make eye contact with that random stranger who believes in you and who is cheering for you by name as you run by.

9.  Identify a person or purpose to which you are especially deeply committed.  This is the person or purpose you need to remember for the last few miles of the marathon. For me in 2011 (when I ran on the “Run to Stop MS” charity team and dedicated those miles to her) it was my Mom…who could never run and who died too young.  Even though she would have thought I was nuts to train for and run a marathon – she would have been there if she could…not yelling (she only yelled when she was mad at me, which seemed to be often when I was a kid)…but watching with tears in her eyes.

This little girl is always reaching for that purple balloon...

This little girl is always reaching for that purple balloon…

This time around, although my Mom is always close to my heart and in my mind, these training and marathon miles are for my Dad (and I’m running on the ALZ Stars charity team, raising money for the Alzheimer’s Association in his memory – PLEASE consider a donation in honor of him and in support of me!).  My Dad never missed ANYTHING I participated in…he was at every volleyball game, every band concert…I know he’d be along the marathon route (in his lawn chair with his Diet Pepsi and purple balloon at Mile 17!) if he could.  And in my mind, he will be.

10. Identify several other highly motivating people who are willing to donate several hours of time to catch a glimpse of you breezing (or shuffling, depending on which mile marker it is) by…you can NOT have too many supporters on the big day. Know where to look for your cheerleaders, if at all possible.  Have them tell you which milemarker and which side of the course to look on.  Nothing worse than missing a friendly face screaming encouragement at you!

11. The training miles, cross training and strength training will give you confidence and toned muscles like you’ve never had before (and that you won’t want to ever lose!).  Indulge in something nice that shows that off.  No guilt.

12.  Carbs, protein, and more carbs are your friends.  Never let an opportunity pass you by to eat more carbs.

13. Your perspective on many things will forever be changed once you train for and finish a marathon.  It’s a metaphor for many things in life…you’ll have time to contemplate that on the myriad of long runs.

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14. Find your perfect pre-long run or race breakfast and don’t mess with it.  For me, it was a PB&J on oatnut bread with a banana.  On marathon morning, I doubled that before I left home…and there was still plenty of time to digest and hydrate before you corral up.

15. As hard as it is to get your arse out of bed early, there is nothing like watching the sun rise while you run. Takes your breath away (literally and metaphorically).

16. Enlist all the support and encouragement you can.  Make sure those closest to you (who will be making the biggest sacrifices to support the time and effort it takes you to train) are on your side.  The people who have supported me in my training, whether joining me on a run, or simply making it possible for me to carve out time to get in a run, mean the WORLD to me!

17. Blog, journal, or post your thoughts throughout your training (and save them).

18. Never throw away your marathon shoes.  You won’t be able to look at them without your eyes welling up with tears after you cross that finish line. For good measure, leave that marathon timing chip on them too.

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19. Don’t expect to get in a good post-marathon run for quite some time after you run 26.2.  Take a full week COMPLETELY off.  Slow and easy after that – it took me almost a month before I felt like I could have two good runs in a row (on subsequent days) at a pace I wasn’t ashamed of!

20. Find a running buddy for the marathon.  If you don’t have one lined up beforehand, make a friend (or several) in the starting corrals.  The first 10 miles that I ran by myself went by pretty easily (it was only 10 miles, after all!), the next 10 were also pretty easy because I had someone to talk to.  Once I lost my running buddy at Mile 20 (because I had to take a pit stop), the last 6.2 on my own were tough, very tough.  Refer to #7 and #10.  BUT…don’t waste TOO much energy talking or gesturing…you need all the energy you can muster.

21. You will become an inspiration to many, although you won’t feel worthy.  There’s something incredibly empowering and humbling at the same time about completing a marathon – I still haven’t figured that paradox out.

22. Carry a few supplies with you: iPod stocked with the MOST inspirational songs you can imagine (but use earphones ONLY in case of absolute motivational emergency.  You want to hear and experience every sound on marathon day).  Little bit of Kleenex or tissue (you will most likely need a pit stop, and there may or may not be any in the port o potty!).  Water (if you’re used to running with a handheld bottle or hydration belt – bring it.  There are plenty of water stops, but even when they’re located every mile towards the end, it might not be enough.  I was SOOOO glad I ran with my belt!). GU/chews/energy shots (you can also have friends have them ready for you as you run by.  I started with 4 GU packets, consumed 4 GU packets, and finished the marathon with 5 GU packets – you do the math!).

23. Make sure you have friends and family take pictures along the way – last time my friends were actually kind enough to snap pictures and post them to my Facebook wall so people could keep up with my progress.  I LOVED that!!

24. Don’t let your head win.  It will tell you somewhere between Mile 20 and 25 that you’re crazy and you can’t do it.  You know better, so don’t listen to those nasty voices inside your head.

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25. Give high 5s and sweaty hugs to your friends and family along the way.  Until they run a marathon for themselves, they have NO IDEA how important it is to have people out there cheering for, you, but you can show them (and no one complained about my sweaty and stinky hugs).

26. Run the tangents – if you run the middle or the outside of the course, you’ll rack up extra distance that adds up.  I ended up running 26.6 miles – and 26.2 is more than enough!

.2     (arguably the most important 385 yards of the whole deal)

You have proven that you can do anything that you set your mind to and train your body for.  Anything is possible.  Enjoy every minute and give thanks that you’re able to do it.  A mind and body that will train for and finish a marathon are things that should never be mistreated or taken for granted.

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19 days.  Twin Cities Marathon, I’m coming for you.  I’ll be ready.

20 and we’re ready!

I had my last LONG training run for the upcoming Twin Cities Marathon yesterday.  Marathon day is three weeks from today.  21 days.  That’s not very many!  I should probably be scared out of my running shorts, but I’m not. I’m ready.  Bring it on.

The final 20 mile run is somewhat of a rite of passage for runners training for a marathon.  Some training programs, especially those for first time marathoners, work you up to ONE all-important 20 mile run.  Other training programs sprinkle in more 20 milers (not too many, of course!).  Last time around (2 years ago), I did two 20 milers.  This time around, my training plan had called for 5 of the big kahunas.  I worked up to 17.5 miles by week 4, then Achilles tendinitis had other plans for me…cross off those 20 milers while I dialed back the pace and the mileage.  I would do two 20 milers this year too.  Just like last time.  Only hopefully I’d end up besting my time from last time.  We’ll see about that.

I had seven amazing women to run with yesterday morning.  They’re all my Moms on the Run running buddies, and out of the 8 of us, 5 are rookie marathoners…looking at that kind of ridiculous mileage to be undertaken on foot…for the first time.  Attitudes were a little anxious, but definitely positive, as we set out at sunrise from Lake Calhoun in Minneapolis.

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We started at Mile 6 of the Twin Cities Marathon course, and although it would take us a little past our mileage (should be 20.2 if we start at Mile 6, right?), that was all right.  Actually, our route did differ slightly from the Twin Cities Marathon course, as we’ll be running roads on race day, but we stuck to trails and sidewalks yesterday.  I had the route plotted on my phone and I was in charge of leading everyone down the right paths – this is somewhat ironic, considering I still have trouble distinguishing right from left most days.  I had a pace goal, and among the 8 of us, we had different paces and different goals.  My goal was a little faster than most of the others, and I was pretty committed to that goal (and the other runners were definitely supportive of that goal!), so that meant that I’d start at the back of our pack, run ahead for a ways (I usually let somewhere between half mile and a mile go by before I’d turn around), loop back, check in with the group to see how everyone was doing, contribute my two cents to their conversation, and then keep going at my happy pace.  This meant I would be accumulating bonus mileage in excess of 20 miles, but somewhat surprisingly…I was OK with that.  I was actually more than OK with that – I wanted to push myself (you’d think 20 miles would be FAR ENOUGH to push myself…think again!).

It was a gorgeous day, and absolutely perfect running conditions!  When we started it was about 55 degrees with beautiful clear skies, and although it did get warmer than perhaps we would have liked by the time we were done, there was absolutely no complaining.  In fact, I completely lost count of how many times we remarked about how fabulous the day was.  Positivity in action!  We also had a fabulous pit crew for support.  One husband (Steph’s husband Bobby and her boys) and one friend (one of our MOTR coaches, another Steph!) were out there with water, Gatorade, snacks (I’m totally hooked on mid-run watermelon…anyone who comes to cheer on marathon day – bring watermelon for me!), cowbells, and streamers — not to mention oozing and overflowing enthusiasm and energy.  Other groups (every runner in the area with their sights set on Twin Cities Marathon did their 20 miles along the marathon course yesterday) had support stations too, but I’m pretty sure ours were the BEST!!

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Check out the purple streamers – love it!

We had a pretty easy first 10 miles.  Beautiful trails, lots of company out there.  Lots of runners exchanging smiles and words of encouragement and camaraderie.  As we wound our way around Lake Harriet, then Lake Nokomis, and along Minnehaha Creek, we eventually came to Minnehaha Falls Park – the stretch of West River Parkway along the river is one of my favorite places along the course.  I don’t really know why…maybe it’s because I ran my first half marathon along that road.  Maybe it’s because it’s just so pretty and there’s so much character in that part of the city.  Maybe it’s because around Mile 17, I could envision that lawn chair and the purple balloon that keeps coming back to me.  Sure wish my parents could come and cheer for me in three weeks.

By the time we hit about 14 miles, we were at the Franklin Bridge, crossing the Mississippi River from Minneapolis in St. Paul.  My second favorite spot along the marathon course.  As a bit of trivia, it’s one of only two bridges that actually connect Minneapolis on one side to St. Paul on the other.  It’s one of my favorite spots along the marathon route – it’s around Mile 19.5 of the 26.2, and it represents a milestone to me – and (effort-wise) about the halfway point of the marathon.  I find that kind of funny (in the ironic sense) that the first 19 miles are in Minneapolis, and the last 7 are in St. Paul – not an even split between the Twin Cities if you’re counting miles…but when you’re running it, that bridge across the Mighty Mississippi is about the halfway point mentally and physically.  And it’s beautiful.  Just plain beautiful.  Yesterday it was blue skies and sunshine, and if Marathon Day is like the last few…it will be blue skies and sunshine on October 6 as well…and then add in peak Fall colors along the river – breathtaking in so many ways as you’re running across the bridge.

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The last 6-7 miles of the course are the toughest for me – both mentally and physically.  Once the course turns onto Summit Avenue and heads towards the Capitol, there’s a deceptively gradual, three-mile-long hill that tends to drain the last of your energy reserves.  Or…as we learned yesterday…if you don’t “think” it’s a hill, it won’t BE a hill.  As one of our runners said yesterday, “I kept waiting and wondering where that three mile long hill was!” (She said that AFTER she’d done that climb – SEE – running is predominantly a mental game!) But once you’re past the hill (after you cross Hamline Ave), it seems to take FOREVER to get to the St. Paul Cathedral.  These are the miles that I have the hardest time with.  But…one foot in front of the other, even when you’re tired, eventually gets you to the place you’re headed.  Yesterday, I knew I was close to my third favorite spot in the marathon course, so I knew it was time to kick it in and finish strong.  I have some ambitious goals in mind, so then, after I’d already run more than 20 miles, was the time to find out if I had enough gas left to quicken my pace.  Know what?  I did.  I’m still not quite sure how I managed it, and the thought of picking up the pace more than 20 miles into a run is mind boggling, but I had it in me…I was pushing the pace harder than I had the entire long run…and…I. Felt. Fantastic. Tired?  Yes. But I kept going.  Just a little bit faster.

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This will be the view on marathon day. This photo is taken from the finish line to the Cathedral, but I prefer the other direction – looking AT the finish line!

The Cathedral.  My third favorite spot on the marathon course.  The beautiful St. Paul Cathedral, with the bells tolling and the view down the chute of the last little bit of the marathon course…which is blessedly downhill – it truly is ALL DOWNHILL from here!  Ever since my rookie marathon two years ago, I have not been able to look down John Ireland Blvd from the Cathedral to the Capitol without tears coming to my eyes and a huge lump forming in my throat.  It happened last year when I was bike support for my awesome marathon training running buddies, it happens every time I drive in that part of town, and it happened again yesterday – I rounded the corner at the base of the Cathedral and caught my first glimpse of the Capitol Dome with the golden horses, and not 5 seconds later I felt the tears sliding down my cheeks – all the while I know I had a ridiculous goofy grin on my face that only runners who know the magic of the last half mile of a marathon (or a 20 mile training run, as was the case yesterday) would understand.  Home stretch.

I ended up logging 23.5 miles.  I think.  My Garmin and my phone (MapMyRun app) didn’t quite agree, and there was a few blocks on Summit where I forgot to restart my watch after I’d stopped it while impatiently waiting for cars to get out of my way (don’t these people sitting comfy in their cars know I’ve been running for THREE HOURS and if I stopped then, I just might not be able to start again?!)…so I had to scrutinize both of my electronics and estimate the missing mileage.  My Garmin said 22.92 and my phone said 24.28, and I’m guessing the true mileage is somewhere in between those, so 23.5 sounds good to me.  Better yet – 23.5 FELT GOOD to me.

I stretched and chatted with our super water stop volunteer, Steph, while I waited for everyone else to come in (I was done with the looping back when I made it to the end!).  Everyone made it – everyone rocked it – and every last one of us is READY for a marathon in 21 days.  Look out, Twin Cities Marathon – we’re coming for you!

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Now what?  Taper.  Time to let my body rest, recover, recharge, and replenish for 21 days before the big day.  No more long runs (I do have a 13 miler and a 10 miler on my schedule for the next couple weekends, but in my warped marathon training perspective…those are not that long), and now more than ever is the time for me to focus on my eating and sleeping habits.  Three more weeks.  That’s it.  Honestly, I’m a little sad to see the taper come…I’ve really enjoyed the training this year.  Now it’s time to coast, take care of myself, and keep dreaming about what marathon day will look like.  But, at the time when my training is dialing down…this is when my fundraising efforts for the Alzheimer’s Association are intensifying.  I’m not quite half way to my goal, but perhaps much like the marathon (where the “halfway point” is really at about Mile 20), the next three weeks are when I’ll need to work the hardest at telling my story about how Alzheimer’s Disease affected my Dad and my family…about how if there’s ANYTHING, any little thing, I can do to make that experience less painful for someone else…I need to do it.  mom&dad (2)

The money I raise will fund efforts to advance research to discover methods of prevention, treatment and ultimately, a cure for Alzheimer’s. For the millions already affected by the disease, the money you donate allows the Association to offer care, education, support and resources in communities.  My Dad went from the most patient, compassionate man who could carry on a conversation with anyone and never forgot a name or a face to a quiet, easily frustrated (but thankfully never aggressive or ornery), confused man who couldn’t find any words to say and didn’t recognize his own children and grandchildren.  No one – NO ONE – should have to see someone they love progress through something like this. Please help me work towards making that happen.  Please click on the link for my fundraising page and give whatever you can – no amount is too great or too small because every dollar counts, and every dollar will help someone.

THANK YOU!

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