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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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.

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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.

Twin Cities Marathon: Advice and Course Description

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It’s coming!!  This was the sight along the highway on my way to work today (along US 10 right by the Medtronic campus).  One month and one day from now.  I’ll be ready – as ready as I can be, given the multitude of things life has thrown me throughout the duration of the 16 week training program!

I was sent this course description (see below – sorry, this post is a little on the long side!) two years ago when I trained for Twin Cities Marathon the first time, and I found it really helpful.  I’m going to share it with you now – with a few anecdotes from me.  Just for clarity (and full disclosure), anything in normal (non-italicized) font is to be credited to the original author (Kirk Walztoni), but my two cents can be found in italics throughout.

How to Run a GREAT Twin Cities Marathon

by: Kirk Walztoni (current MDRA President with a TCM PR of 2:40)

With comments by Kristen Genet (me!) with a TCM PR of 4:21:23 (FINISHING was a PR for me then!!)

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Miles 0 to 1
Take it easy. Take it too easy. You will run faster than you think you are running, because of the adrenaline coursing through your veins and the veins of those around you. If you find yourself trapped amongst a bunch of people running too slowly for you, do not weave in and out of them. Save your energy. If mile one took longer to cover than you thought it would, do not panic. You have 25.2 miles left to go.

You will be ridiculously antsy in the starting corral, and there is an unbelievable mob of people packed into the starting corrals!  As soon as the gun goes off, it will take awhile for you to even get across the starting line and for your timing chip to activate.  Once you start, it may hit you (or it might not quite yet) that you’re running a marathon – a MARATHON – something you’ve been thinking about, dreaming about, and training for over the last several months, and maybe longer (at least the thinking part).  It’s crowded.  Really crowded. It WILL thin out, so enjoy the first mile where you can settle in among several thousand of your fellow marathoners and try to keep your nerves from frazzling into smithereens.

Miles 1 to 2
There is a nice downhill on mile two taking you down to the Walker Art Center’s Sculpture Garden. Then, you will take a left and head up a long hill. Then, you will take a left and head up a long hill. Take it easy u;p the hill. Do not judge yourself on how others around you are running. Many people charge up this hill, because they are feeling good. Do not let your breathing rate increase up the hill, and hold your perceived effort, because…

because the hill doesn’t stop.  If your nerves and anxiety get the best of your bladder, there’s a port-o-potty right next to the Orpheum on Hennepin Ave.  You’d think there wouldn’t be a line for them at this point in the race (who pees before Mile 2?!), but you’d think wrong.  I still can’t believe that I had to stop before I got to Mile 2!  And yes, if you’re wondering, I DID go at the Metrodome before hitting the starting corral!

Miles 2 to 3
Just after you hit mile two, you take a hard right and continue to climb. Maintain an even level of effort here, letting people pass you. You still have 24 miles to pass them back. Conserve your energy. There is always a great crowd here, which usually includes Alan Page, the former Purple People Eater, playing his tuba.  The first water stop on the race is at mile 2.5. And this is a long water stop, so do not go the first table. More importantly, do not skip the Powerade here. It is important to hydrate often, hydrate early and hydrate with electrolytes in addition to water.  I like to take one Powerade and one water per water stop, especially if the Powerade is over-mixed and sticky sweet. Powerade is roughly six percent carbohydrate by volume. But, if it has more sugar, it impedes absorption into your blood stream.  Now that you have hydrated, enjoy the nice downhill, which takes to towards Lake of the Isles.

The crowds lining the route are amazing!  Let yourself relax and soak in the energy from the runners and the crowds.  The tuba WILL be there – and it WILL make you smile.  Cowbells don’t stand a chance against a tuba!

Miles 3 to 6
Cruise control time. You should be finding your pace here. If you ran too fast the first few miles, slow down, and get yourself back on schedule. If you ran too slowly, don’t worry here, and do not try to make up for time lost. There will be plenty of time later to try to get back the little time you lost in the first few miles.  Be sure to remember to run the tangents, as this is a curvy section of the course. Do not be the person who runs 26.5 miles, because you stick to one side of the road; 26.2 miles if far enough.  There is a water stop at mile five. If you’ve been running for more than 40 minutes at this point, consider taking your first gel here. Take a gel with two cups of water to get close to the six percent carbohydrate level mentioned earlier. Do not take a gel with Powerade, as this could give you a stomach ache.

Did you read that?  RUN THE TANGENTS!  Look at the course map ahead of time.  Look ahead when you’re running so you know when there’s a turn coming up.  He says not to be the person who runs 26.5 miles…last time I was the person who ran 26.6 miles!  Trust me – I could have done without that 0.4 miles when I was at 25.8!

Miles 6 to 7
Lake Calhoun to Lake Harriet. You know the hill. You’ve run it a hundred times during training. However, this time it will feel longer and steeper. Let the people around you pass you. Once you reach the top of the hill, relax and regain any breath you might have lost. Let the view of the Bandshell pull you down the hill and around the left hand turn down to Lake Harriet. There is another water stop at mile seven, so if you haven’t done so already, down the gel now.

Somewhere around Mile 6 (Lake Calhoun was on my left) I was thoroughly enjoying the crowd and reading all the signs spectators were holding. The road is pretty narrow here, and it’s still pretty crowded.  You should also keep one eye on the road in front of you, because if you hit a pothole and roll and ankle,it might not be pretty.  I went down in the middle of the street with a ton of runners around me!  Fortunately a kind woman helped me up (I had scraped my knee, but nothing too bad), and she told me I had the same look on my face that Simba had when the wildebeests were stampeding down the gorge in Lion King.  Fortunately it ended better for me than it did for Mufasa.

Miles 7 to 8
Enjoy the crowds here at miles seven to eight as these are the thickets crowds you’ll see until Summit Avenue in St. Paul. After mile eight, take note as to how you feel. You should feel fresh at this point. If you do not feel fresh, take a mile off by slowing down by about 15 to 30 seconds off your mile pace and reassess.

There ARE tons of people around here – but it seemed to me that there were tons of people everywhere along the course (or most places, anyway).  Make sure you’re drinking enough water – stop at EVERY water stop if you’re not carrying your own water.  It got really warm and sunny in 2011, and that got tough towards the end of the race.

Miles 8 to 11
This is the trickiest part of the course. It is also where most people wreck their Twin Cities Marathon. Why? You’ve run the path countless times, but how many times have you run the road? The road is much hillier than the path. I’ve seen many people blow themselves up here by running these hills too hard. You may be tired of hearing this, but take it easy here. Let other people pass you on the uphills. If you are not getting passed, you are running too fast.  Once it flattens out, which is shortly after Portland Avenue, relax and find your goal marathon pace again.

Let people pass you.  If no one is passing you, slow down a little.  Also,if you feel great, don’t think that this is a good time to start pushing the pace.  I made that mistake around Mile 10…I felt good so I picked up the pace.  The good news is that lasted until about Mile 20.  The bad news is that I was nowhere near the finish line when I started running out of steam.  If you have a goal pace (better yet a goal pace range), don’t be afraid to keep it on the slow end of the range. 

Miles 11 to 13
You take the right hand turn on to Cedar Avenue. There is another water stop here and another hill. This might be another great spot for a gel, depending on how long you’ve been out and your personal fueling strategy. There is also another long hill here. Be careful, and let people pass you.  Once you’ve reached the top, relax, and find your marathon pace. Head over the bridge, take a sharp left hand turn on to Nokomis Parkway and head towards the half marathon mark. If you’ve followed the instructions so far, you should hit the half marathon mark feeling good. Mug for the cameras, as this is your chance to look good for a picture. These pictures are always better than the finish line photos.  Assess your situation. How do you feel? Does running another 13 miles sound easy? Does it sound impossible? Adjust your goals as necessary. There is no doubt about it. The second half of the race is tougher than the first half, so be honest with yourself.

Set your goal(s) reasonably and realistically.  I’m setting 3 goals this time around: (1) that I would be ecstatic to hit and if I have the energy left I just might cartwheel across the finish line, (2) the goal I’d be happy to hit, and (3) the goal I can make peace with and not be disappointed with.  Number 3 should always be getting across the finish line without medical assistance vertically. And if that’s your goal 1 or 2 – that’s fine too!

Miles 13 to 14
After you zip around Lake Nokomis, you take a hairpin curve back onto Minnehaha Parkway and, lo and behold, there is another hill. Hold your effort even up this hill. If you do, and you’ve taken it easy on the hills prior to this one, you will notice something new: people falling back compared to you. All of these people ran too hard, too early.  Do not be tempted by the Melo-Glaze donut shop, and keep on trucking down Minnehaha Parkway. I always take my second gel at the water stop at mile 13.5, leaving me with one gel left.

I totally didn’t even see the donut shop.  Probably better that way.  I remember thinking “How AWESOME is this!” – at the half marathon point.

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This is me at about Mile 17. Yeah, I was excited and happy to be there!

Miles 14 to 19
If you’ve run a conservative race up to this point, now is the time to really start running your race. The course is flat to downhill through this section, and you’ve run these miles so many times that there should be no distractions. You’ll fly by Minnehaha Falls and then take a left onto West River Road into the area I call, “The Vacuum”, due to the lack of cheering fans and the isolation that it entails.   Motivation and cheers are at a premium here, so soak in the energy when you can. Keep up your water intake, and make sure to find the shade here, wherever possible. Also, remember to continue to run the tangents. However, if it is sunny, find the shade, and don’t worry about tangents. The sun is moving up in the sky by this time, and you want to keep as cool as you possibly can.  If you don’t feel great, take it easy through here, and conserve your energy. Don’t be afraid to slow down. You’ll want as much of it as possible come miles 20 to 23.  Lastly, there is a Clif Shot Zone here at mile 17. Take one only if you now for a fact that you can stomach Clif Shots, and they have a flavor you know you can stomach.

This is my favorite section of the course – I LOVE running up West River Parkway past Minnehaha Falls.  It’s a good place to plant friends and family you coerce to come out and cheer for you.  Mile 17 comes back to me in a dream every now and then.  Remember – the dream with the purple balloon.  As an aside – if you come out and cheer on October 6, please grab a purple helium balloon on your way.   It’ll make you look like a cool spectator, AND it will make it easier for me to find you.  I’ll be looking for purple balloons.   Again – he mentions the tangents.  This is IMPORTANT!  You’re not here to run an ultra, you’re here to run 26.2.  Let’s keep it to 26.2! I capitalized on the Clif Shots here – AND I had a few friends along the way bring me GU or Hammer gels that I knew I liked.  I started the race with 4 gels.  I consumed 4 gels during the 26.2 (or 26.6 because I failed to heed the advice about the tangents!).  I finished the race with 5 gels.  Do the math. 🙂

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These are my friends DeNae, Mary, and Shaun on a training run across the Franklin Bridge last year. The views of the Mississippi River from the bridge are outstanding!

Miles 19 to 21
There is another short, but very tough, climb up to the Franklin Bridge. Again, take it easy here, and conserve energy. Once on the bridge, take a look to your right and enjoy the fall colors on the river bluffs. It is simply beautiful.   The Medtronic Plaza is located just after the bridge and so is the ALARC “Wall” once you’ve turned onto East River Road. Again, find the shade through this section of the course, if it is a sunny day. I always take my last gel early in this section of the race.  There are a few more hills for you to conquer through this section. The first one comes immediately after the “Welcome to St. Paul” sign and is a surprise every time I run this race. People should look like they are moving backwards relative to you on this one, if you’ve run a smart race.  There is a nice downhill to the base of Lake Street, and then the second half of the marathon begins.

Running across the Franklin Bridge is just about as awesome as it gets – make sure to take in the views, and if we’re lucky, it’ll be peak colors along the river.  This is a good time to think to yourself: “Look what I’m doing – am I not a freakin’ rock star?!”  I had to hit the port-o-potty again at about Mile 20.  You probably chuckled when you read the section about how this is the second half of the marathon (after you’ve already run 20 miles).  Reality check – that’s complete and utter truth.  The last 6.2 take as much energy (or more) than the first 20.  This is where you have to have your head in the game and keep that self-talk POSITIVE!!

Miles 21 to 23
The best thing that can be said about this section of the course is that it is only two miles long. Remember this: only two miles long.   First, there is a climb from the base of the Lake Street Bridge. Then, you will turn left and face the hill to the University of St. Thomas. Keep moving through here, and attempt to keep your heart rate as low as possible. Once you reach the base of the steep hill, stare at the top of the hill, and keep trucking until you reach the top.   Don’t worry abut the people around. Just keep moving, and just keep your effort even. Do not run so hard that you find yourself out of breath at the top of this hill. Once you’ve reached the top, the course turns right and then quickly left onto Summit Avenue.   Here, there will be crowds, sun and more uphill running. Find the shade wherever possible, and keep drinking water. Maintain your pace through here. If you do, you will be moving past people around you. Break this portion of the course into small chunks: Cretin to Prior, Prior to Snelling.  Once you’ve hit Snelling Avenue, you can smell the end of the climb and the end of the marathon.

One word: TOUGH. OK, this section deserves another word. SUCKS.  This is the section that darn near killed me…actually it was about Mile 22 to Mile 24.5.  Plant friends and family at approximately half mile intervals.  Or just look in the crowd (there will be LOTS of people along Summit!) and pick out the people you want to be your friends and family and imagine they’re there just for you!  Tip – have your name printed BIG on the front of your shirt so people can cheer for you by name.  It sounds silly – but it’s HUGE!!  At this point, there are water stops every mile.  I carried my own water, and I was very thankful, because when I needed water, I needed it NOW (even when I wasn’t near a water table!).

Miles 23 to 25
You are done with the hills. Are you passing people through this section? If so, keep it up. Find someone to “lasso”, and pull them in. Take a little break, and do it again. Note how strong the sun is. Aren’t you glad you avoided it the last 10 miles? There is no hiding from it in this section of the course. If there is a headwind here, work with other people going your speed, if there are any. Be greedy, and don’t be a hero by being in the front of this group.  Once you are inside of 20 minutes to the finish, do not stop for water. In fact, do not stop for anything, because it can be tough to get moving again.

I object.  Stop for water if you need it.  You can walk a little.  I give you my permission, for whatever that’s worth.  Be kind to your body – it’s taken you over 20 miles, and you are almost there.  Really…even if the finish line still seems so far away!

Miles 25 to 26
Did I say you were done with the hills? I lied. There is one more small hill right at mile 25. You can attack this one if you like. Once you take a left, remaining on Summit Avenue, there is one more mile left. Enjoy the scenery around you, and pull in that guy or gal in front of you. You either trained harder than they did or ran a smarter race than they did, right?

You can TASTE it at this point and the crowd keeps getting thicker and louder and you keep getting closer to the finish line.  All that’s good.  Very good.  I certainly didn’t pass anyone at this point (or maybe I did, I was almost to delirium by then), but the crowd definitely kept me going.  This is a good place to plant someone who you don’t want to see you walk or look weak.  Or someone who is a huge motivator and inspiration to you.  That person might just provide the encouragement to keep you going, and you will be forever grateful!

The blessed finish line. That downhill from the St. Paul Cathedral through the chute lined with thousands of cowbell-ringing, cheering spectators to the Capitol is so much fun. This is what I see every time I drive down this street, anytime of year (and a lump forms in my throat and tears prick my eyes).

Miles 26 to 26.2
Once the Cathedral of Saint Paul appears out of nowhere on your left, find the last drop of energy you have. It is a downhill sprint to the finish. Do not ease up, and keep moving. Pass as many people as you can in the last quarter mile. You’ll be surprised at how much strength you have left in those legs. Count how many people you pass and cruise to the finish. Congratulations on running a great Twin Cities Marathon!

This is the section of the course that I still – to this day – cannot drive down without my eyes stinging with tears.  It’s that powerful.  The Cathedral.  The DOWNHILL (!).  The crowds.  The firetrucks with the flag over the course.  The Capitol straight ahead.  The FINISH LINE.  You will have NO trouble getting through this section – this is clearly the BEST part of the race.  Time to celebrate (and maybe find some ice and stretch in the shade)!

One month and one day from now.

October 6, 2013

Please come and share this with me…with us…all of us that are working so hard at training for this.

And remember, this one’s for my Dad.  Click here for the back story, and your chance to make a difference.

Race Report: Ragnar Relay – Great River

What is Ragnar, you might be wondering?  Two years ago, I didn’t have a clue.  Today, I’m a fan…a BIG fan!  Imagine spending about 30 straight hours in a van with five other people, running about 20 miles in three chunks in the blistering heat, under the light of the moon and stars in the wee hours of the night, and up and down the hills (steep hills!) of the Mississippi Valley…all while depriving yourself of any reasonable amount of sleep.  Sound like fun?  YEAH!!!!

Meet my Ragnar Relay – Great River Family from Van 2.  Somehow I’m the common thread woven through us all, even though I’d never met two of our van members and runners until the day of the event.  From left to right, there’s me,  Kristen (remember her? My pacer for my half marathon PR earlier this spring in the May snow?!), Bethany (just met her that morning!), Kathy (just met her that morning too – but she’s a two time Ironman finisher, so I was in sufficient awe.), Paula (my very intense and oh-so-lovable coworker), and Katie (my sweet, shy, tough as nails niece).

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Katie’s handoff after her Leg 8 as I started my Leg 9

We met Van 1 at Exchange 6 – we were ready to run in the blistering heat (with heat advisory to boot) on hilly gravel roads of western Wisconsin along the Mississippi River.  Paula got us started – killer hill and gravel that was tough on the feet (with the accompanying dust that was tough on the lungs).  Paula then handed off to Katie, then me, then Kristen, and finally Kathy and Bethany finished up our first set of legs by about sunset near Pepin, WI.  Every one of us had a run that challenged us.  Mine (Leg 9 Map) had a killer hill that slowed me down to begin with but then I flew down and definitely ran a negative split!  The whole way down I was praying I wouldn’t wipe out…to give you an idea of the hill (which looks like an inverted “V” on the elevation profile), my pace going up was close to 12:00/mi, whereas my pace coming down was close to 7:00/mi!

After handing off our official Ragnar slap bracelet (which is kind of a pain to run with, if you ask me) to Van 1 at Exchange 12, we got a few hours to rest.  Or to drive to Ellsworth, get extremely envious along the way of the beautiful sunset and cool evening runs the other runners in Van 1 were getting along Lake Pepin, indulge in Subway for dinner before heading to Exchange 18 at Ellsworth High School.  Here we tried to get some rest, but it was loud, we were fired up, and we had to be ready to run again by midnight…so I didn’t sleep at all (although I did lay down in the van and rest for awhile).  Then, in the middle of the stinkin’ night…under a bright moon and an amazing sky of stars, the 6 of us tackled our next leg of the Ragnar Relay.  Both Katie and I had a 9.4 mile long run in the middle of the night (I ran Leg 21 at 3am – never done that before!).  I had been stressing about running this distance in the middle of the night for months. Shaun (BRF and two-time Ragnarian) reassured me and she was right – this run was freakin awesome! River Falls to Hudson through the country with the most amazing stars!  It was nice and cool and I felt great…it’s too bad that I forgot to put my race number on and I stressed about getting caught without it and a violation for our team for the first 5.7 miles.  I kept waiting for my van to stop and check on me (we HAD been pretty good about stopping to cheer for runners at the turns to make sure our runners didn’t miss one and get lost)…but this time my van got lost!  They were following the directions for the wrong relay leg…but they found me eventually!  The runners in our van were amazingly patient, kind, and steady through the middle of the night…no one got crabby thankfully!

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Reflective vests, taillights, headlamps and a lot of open dark roads. That’s what our second set of legs looked like from Ellsworth to Hudson, WI! But the stars…the stars were so amazing that I dimmed my headlamp during my run so I could see them better!

By the time Bethany ran across the Stillwater Lift Bridge at Sunrise to hand off to Van 1 – we were ready for some rest!  I drove us from Exchange 24 (in Stillwater) to Exchange 30 (in Cottage Grove)…and there’s a rule about someone always staying awake with the driver…when I looked beside me and checked the rearview mirror, there were 5 cashed out runners and one semi-awake driver on the road at about 6:30am. We were fortunate to be able to crash at my old house in Cottage Grove (our renter was very gracious to let us use the place while she was out of town!) – showers and quiet spots to sleep make for happy runners (or at least not-so-crabby runners!).

We were at Exchange 30 in Cottage Grove by late morning – and it was a scorcher already!  Six more runs in the blistering heat and we would be DONE!!  This is where the strength, grit, and leaning on van members to help get us through that last, tough, hot run really was amazing.  My last relay leg (Leg 33) was 4.5 miles from Exchange 32 under the Wakota Bridge where Katie handed off to me to Exchange 33 at St. Croix Lutheran HS in St. Paul – never even knew there were trails along the river there before!  Although the first three miles were great, I could tell I was on my 3rd run in less than 24hrs going on 3hr sleep when the sun was beating down and somebody put a stinkin hill at the end of my leg (and it wasn’t of the downhill variety). Most of the run was along the river south of St. Paul.  Man was I happy to see Kristen at Exchange 33 and be DONE.  That last run was TOUGH!

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At that point, we just kept leapfrogging with our runners to cheer them on, offer them water, douse them with water, and cheer some more.  Kathy looked so amazingly strong during her long 6+ miles – what an inspiration!!  We met up with our Van 1 teammates right before the finish line so we could all cross together – and CELEBRATE!!

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Ragnar Relay – Great River was certainly an experience, and one of my teammates in Van 2 really said it best:

“Ragnar Relay tests not only the physical ability, but the mental/emotional capacity to handle stress under difficult situations while smiling!  Think riding in a van with 5 other woman (some you just met) for the next 30+ hours, not sleeping (or at least trying to sleep on a van seat, or floor or on the grass when others were gracious enough to take your turn at driving) eating when you had the chance, showering (well maybe if you happened to end up at a school that had showers or in our case at an actual home to sleep and shower for 3 whole hours!!!) Running during hot afternoon hours, or probably early early morning hours when it is pitch black and all you have is a headlamp to guide you (silver lining, your team driving ahead stopping on the shoulder running over with water, new blinkies or just a word of encouragement!)  Most of the athletic experiences I have had, I depend on me to get me to the finish.  This time I was dependent on the group to get us all to the finish.  Unforgettable experience.  Thank you again, Paula, Kristen, Kate, Bethany, and Kristen.  You are the best!”

(that’s from Kathy…who I didn’t even know a week ago…but am pretty darn fond of after living in a van and running about 20 miles over 30+ hours!!)

Somehow this fits into my marathon training…as a sort of unconventional long run (almost 20 miles in about 24 hours counts for something, right?).  I will get back to my training updates.  I promise you that.  I’m more than halfway through – in Week 10 of my 16 week training plan, actually.  I’m at the point where I’m starting to get worried and scared…worried that I took it too easy to heal up my Achilles and I’m not where I should be in my training…scared that this marathon is going to be staring me in the face before I’m ready for it…and I want to be oh so ready for it.  There are a lot of people who think I’m nuts because I’m training for a marathon.  I took crazy to a whole new level last weekend with Ragnar, but man…that is most definitely MY KIND OF CRAZY!!

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Week 3: Honeymooning

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Third week of marathon training: check! Week 3 of 16…still in the honeymoon phase when the runs are novel and exciting and I look forward to the challenge of each one. It would be nice if that lasted through the entire 16 weeks, but I know it’s going to get tougher. When enthusiasm falters and discipline takes over…that’s where the magic happens (even if it doesn’t feel very magical at the time). Desire + determination + discipline = definite success. Just need to keep my eye on the prize.

Let’s recap the week.
Speed work? Yep. I didn’t have the motivation to head to the track by myself, and it’s so much easier to set the speed and distance intervals on the treadmill than to do it manually outside! 2mi warmup (6.5mph/9:13), 1200 (7.8/7:41), 1000 (7.9/7:35), 800 (8.0/7:30), 600 (8.1/7:24), 400 (8.2/7:19)…each punctuated by a 200m rest interval (6.0/10:00). Finished up with cooldown at 6.5/9:13 until I rounded out the mileage.
Tempo? Yep. I knew when I went to bed (very late) the night before that this run wouldn’t be pretty, but I got it done. 1mi easy (9:42), 5 tempo miles (target: 8:49, actual: 8:51, 8:51, 8:48, 8:36, 8:42), 1mi easy (8:53).  Did this one  on the path along the road right by my house, and I could have done without the sight and smell of the dead, bloated deer I ran past. Twice.

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My lovely MOTR running buddies…embracing a run in the rain!

Long run? Yep. Well sort of, actually. My schedule said 17 miles (up from 15 last week). Much like last week, I chunked it up with my MOTR distance support group. A little more than 3 miles to DeNae’s house to catch a ride to Bunker Hills, a little more from our parking spot to the group run meeting spot, a good chunk (8+) with the group, then back to our parking spot. I was still more than 3 mi shy of my planned 17. And it was raining. Scratch that. It was pouring. I made the executive decision that 13.53 was close enough, and that this was a good week to “fall back” so I could surge forward to that 17 next week. It’s the first time I’ve deviated from the training plan, and it probably won’t be the last. I don’t plan to make a habit of cutting those long runs short, though.

Cross training? Yep. I packed my bike when I took AJ to baseball practice and took it for a 12.5 spin to Bunker Hills while he was at practice. Got back just in time for Mom duty, as AJ whacked himself in the face with his bat and chipped his tooth (yes, a permanent one…yes, significantly) at the end of practice.  We’ll get that jagged smile fixed today.  I also got in a beautiful 5mi hike with my family this weekend while we were on a camping getaway in Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park.

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Rest? Yep. Well sort of, actually.  I took Monday (the day after my 15 miler from last week) completely off, but I ran 4 days, biked once, and hiked a couple times over the weekend. It was the 4th of July holiday week too, so we did enjoy some time at the lake with family and friends too.

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This marathon training thing is shaping up to be pretty fun and pretty manageable (so far, anyway).  I’m thankful for the support I get from my family, the shared miles with my running buddies (both on foot and on a bike), the words of encouragement from friends and family both near and far, and the determination to do this for my Dad and raise money and awareness for Alzheimer’s Disease (click here to check out my fundraising page – please!).

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Now for the numbers:

Miles run so far in 2013: 594.66

Miles run so far in marathon training: 93.76

Fundraising total: $390 (goal is $2000 – please help me!)

Days until Twin Cities Marathon: 87

Thanks for coming on this journey with me.  Together we can make a world of difference.