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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Breaking Out of a Funk

I've been in a pretty bad running funk lately. I went from hitting the 50 mile mark in September, to barely even hitting 10 miles in October. If I'd stuck with my Dopey training schedule like I was supposed to, October should have been a 100 mile month. Oops.

I'm still not sure exactly what put me there. October was the 1 year anniversary of when I started seriously running! I was coming off a 45-minute PR at the Philly R&R Half! I should be training for this foolish race series I'd signed up for in January! ...But I just had no desire to get out there and hit the pavement.

Nope, just not feelin' it.
Partially, I was getting tired of my neighborhood loop: it was hard to find longer runs that didn't involve major roadways and the shadier parts of town. Partially, my scheduled runs were getting longer, and daylight was disappearing faster, so I didn't have as much time to run after work (and I'm the WORST about waking up and going before work). Partially, it was getting colder, so I had to think about layering and what gear would be best, rather than just throwing on shorts and a tank and heading out.

Most of all, I was getting really bummed about my speed. Or, rather, lack thereof. I've always been fully aware that I'm a slow runner. I take walk breaks, and I take them fairly often. Until recently, I've been able to accept that about myself, and just take pride in the fact that I'm lapping everyone on the couch by just getting up and going. But recently, that wasn't enough. I was getting discouraged that my pace averaged out at about a 13 minute mile.

Easier read than believed
I was getting pretty bad envy of the paces and finishing times of other runners in community groups. I kept trying to tell myself that running was a competition with myself - not with others on the road, and that my speed had hugely increased since I started running the previous fall, but it wasn't working. I was burned out, in a funk, and entering into a downward spiral: if I didn't train, I wasn't going to get faster or more stamina; but I had no desire to train, because I was feeling slow and less than mediocre.

Thankfully (and completely unexpectedly), Saturday's Richmond Half Marathon turned it around for me. I went into it with seriously low expectations - there were a whole bunch of factors that pointed to me having a terrible race day. But despite all of the mental, physical, and circumstantial factors working against me that morning, I wound up feeling great the whole run. I pushed through it all, and came out almost a full minute per mile under my average pace.

Pushing toward the finish line, and outta the funk.
Now, as I'm riding on the awesome feeling of a successful race, I'm feeling mentally stronger to move into the heavy training schedule we need to stick to for Dopey. The only thing I'm competing against is myself, and I know I've got this.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Race Recap - Sara's take on the American Family Fitness Half Marathon

In part two of our recap of our half marathon in Richmond, Sara relates her experience. Miss Rachel's take? Check it out here!

I had an awesome race. Going into it, I was positive I was going to tank - miserably. Anything that could possibly be going wrong in the days before a big race, was. Between fall allergies, lackadaisical training (I was battling burnout - but more on that later this week), knee and hip pain (from a terrible long run I'd done the weekend before), untimely girl stuff, a splitting headache, and what felt suspiciously like an oncoming cold, I was super nervous. I strongly considered taking a DNS (did not start) and just going down to cheer Rachel on. In the end, though, I started, and man am I glad I did.

Race morning dawned, and it was colder and wetter than I had bargained for. Unlike some, however, I actually enjoy running in the rain - I've always enjoyed a good downpour. I also knew that my splits tend to be better in the colder weather. So despite the less-than-perfect weather, we geared up and made our way to the start of the race.

Trash bags make the most fashionable rain gear, didn't you know?

We stood under an awning with a bunch of other runners, watching the 8k start (they really took the brunt of the rain - they were drenched before they even got the starting call), before heading to our corral to await the start of the half marathon. Before we knew it, we were off on our 13.1 mile trek through Richmond.

Rachel and I had agreed months ago that we were going to run this one separately. She wanted to see just how fast she could finish without reigning back her speed for my sake. So we jogged the first warm-up mile together, before going our separate ways.

As I trucked along the route, I kept an eye on my watch, keeping a vague 2/1 minute run/walk interval, but mostly tuning into how my body was feeling. And let me tell ya, I was feeling great. There were a couple hills that kicked my butt, but aside from that I was feeling pretty awesome. I had both knees taped up (I honestly don't know what I would do without KT Tape), and they survived brilliantly (until we took some wrong turns on the way to the car and wound up trekking up and down a few stairs and hills).

Somewhere around Mile 3, we got hit with another downpour - I loved it. As we ran through the neighborhoods, downtown area, and parks, the spectators lining the streets with their signs and cheering were fantastic. We all had our names on our bibs, and it was such a boost to hear folks calling your name as you ran past. Running through the neighborhoods was wonderful. Whole families were out on their front porches, watching the runners go past as they drank their morning coffee. Some of them had set up their own make-shift fuel, water, and even beer stations. The "junk food" station was by far the best - those gummy bears were crucial - although I was a little saddened to skip over the beer station.

I had a blonde moment around Mile 9 when I thought "hey, only a 5k to go now!" and laughed when realized my mistake when I hit a "5k Fun Run" sign at Mile 10... oops! When I got to that last 5k, though, and realized I was pretty much guaranteed a new PR, I thought of how excited I was to tell my parents and my boyfriend that I had done so much better than I thought I would today. I actually started tearing up a little, recalling the inspirational words Andrew had given me before I set off for Richmond, and at the thought of how proud all three of them would be, and how happy it made me to have such wonderful support cheering me on from home.

I didn't feel myself really start to tire out until Mile 12. Pushed through that looooong last mile, and turned a corner to find a glorious sight: a steep downhill to the finish line. Flew down the hill, and crossed the line with a new half marathon PR - by 15 minutes!

Grabbed my medal, water, and blanket (they were giving out really cute fleece blankets at the finish - another great idea by the organizers!), and wandered to find Rachel and her parents so we could head home, proud finishers of our third half marathon this year.

Reunited again, we were all smiles at the finish line.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Race Recap - American Family Fitness Half Marathon (Rachel's race)

Last weekend, we ran the American Family Fitness Half Marathon in Richmond, VA. Touted as "America's friendliest marathon," this race certainly lived up to its spectator expectations. Beyond that, however, we had very different race experiences, so we're both going to recap for you. We'll begin with Rachel's take, but you can find Sara's version here.
Together at the Finish Line

Let me start off by saying that Richmond hosts a wonderful race and I did have a great time. As you are reading…you might not think that.

Going into the race I was unsure about what I wanted out of the race. Initially, I wanted to hit a huge PR of 2:10, but I realized that going full speed ahead might diminish my ability to train for the Dopey Challenge in January. I made the choice to not track my mile splits and just going for an easy run with 9,000 other people.

I did commit a cardinal running sin on race day…I wore new gear.  My last pair of Kilkenney’s met their demise on November 10, and I had only run in my new ones for 3 miles (for the record I love them!) I also wanted to run with a handheld 10oz water bottle rather than run with a race belt, but had never tested running with a handheld (for the additional record I love my new water bottle).  So much for not doing anything new on race day!

Morning arrived and it was cold and rainy. Sara and I were sporting sexy trash bags in the downpour  until it was time for us to line up. The rain stopped, but soon after we began running it started raining...and then pouring. After Mile 1, Sara and I separated to battle Richmond on our own.

Early in the race was our first hill, and being a Garmon with short powerful legs, I sprinted up the hill without a second thought. This would be my go to method for all of the other hills in the race, because why make the pain last any longer than it has too? 

Mile 4 saw my left calf cramp up, meaning I had 9.1 miles to go before I could get to my compression sleeves or lacrosse ball. I stretched as much as I could, but it felt better when I was moving so I kept running.

The race was a bit of a blur from Mile 5-11. I am sure I got some weird looks for my Ninja running look. For the record, a wet running mask is really hard to breathe through!

The Blerg: if you have not heard of ‘The Blerg’ please read this article by The Oatmeal. At Mile 11, I was hit hard by The Blerg.  I realized that I might not finish in 2:30, both calves hurt, my lungs were burning, and I was soaked…I was done. The temptation to just stop was there, I had nothing left mentally. The tears started flowing as I kept one foot in front of the other. I kept trying to make agreements and deals with myself, but I was defeated. As I came upon another steep hill I sprinted up to the top because if nothing else, I was going to keep my promise to sprint every hill. I started yelling at myself and then I realized how horribly I speak to myself. The things I was saying to myself I would never say to anyone, so why was I treating myself this way? I vowed then at 11.5 to build myself up. The last few miles saw a resurgence in energy and when I saw the final downhill toward the finish I SPRINTED and  finished in 2:29. That is a full minute under the worst time I wanted.

Despite everything, I still eeek-ed in under that goal. When people ask me about this race I keep saying it was GREAT! And it was, I battled myself and I won. I went out to have a relaxed run, and I did.  

                                                With my support crew aka Mom and Dad

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Race Recap - Philly Rock & Roll Half Marathon

For our first "better late than never" race recap, Sara's looking back at the 2013 Rock & Roll Philadelphia half...

After we registered for the Dopey Challenge, Rachel and I knew we needed to find an early fall half marathon to run for a new PR so we could boost our corral WDW Marathon weekend. Starting at the back of the pack, though it had worked for the Princess, was not going to cut it for back to back to back to back races in January. After a little research on the available races, we settled on the Rock & Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon on September 15, 2013. Our choice proved a wise one, as we (spoiler alert) came out of it with over a 45-minute PR!

We left the DC area early on Saturday morning, leaving plenty of time to pick up our packets and wander around the expo before an early dinner and relaxing evening in the hotel. Packet pick up went very smoothly - longer lines for us runners toward the back of the pack, since this seemed to be a first race for many people, but the lines moved quickly and we were soon in the expo itself. Inside the expo, Brooks had a great island themed section dedicated to their "Run Happy" branding - we poked around a bit before heading into the main area in search of a couple items to boost the next morning's run.

I was disappointed not to find a KT Tape booth anywhere to get my knee taped up, but had tape back at the hotel room so I could do it myself later that night. We spent awhile digging through the Bondi Band suitcases, and came away successful - Rachel got a very fitting "No one ever drowned in sweat" band, and I got myself a new princess crown. Geico had a course preview video running at their booth, so we stood to watch that and see what we were in for the next morning, before heading off to find dinner.

Swag from the expo - highlights were definitely an awesome race t-shirt from Brooks, and the "Run Strong" bracelet for the Boston Marathon.
As we walked back to our hotel we got a chance to explore a bit of Philly - we spotted the "LOVE" sign from afar, took some fun photos with the game pieces, and grabbed bagel sandwiches for dinner in a cute cafe we found in a small park. As we were turning toward our hotel, we realized we were on the corner of Race Street, so naturally we had to document with some photo jumping fun. Then it was back to the hotel to check out the expo swag, prep our gear for race morning, and watch some "Sister Act" (we were delighted to find these back to back on tv that night)!

Having your race-cation hotel just off Race St has to be a good omen :)
The next morning we woke up, packed our bags to leave with the concierge (the one downside to this trip was that our hotel was not allowing late check out due to the race, so we had to check out before heading to the start line), and started out on the mile or so walk to the start of the race.

It was a little chilly as the sun was still working its way up that morning, so we were glad for our jackets and bondi bands to keep us warm. We hung around near our corral (22 out of 25, so pretty far back in the pack), which was hanging out just in front of the finish line at the base of the Rocky stairs. One of the most fun moments that morning had to be listening to "Eye of the Tiger" with that view - very fitting!

Went the distance, now I'm back on my feet, just two gals with the will to survive!
At last, it we worked our way to the start line, and it was our turn to go! We felt good starting out, and wove our way easily through the downtown area. Before we knew it, we came across Rachel's parents, who were waving and holding up the signs they had made us! They had refused to tell us what was on each of our signs until we were running, so it we got a little surprise and a chuckle as we passed them. Rachel's had her nickname from her hometown improv troop, and mine was a throwback to my Cinderella outfit at Disney.

As we kept going through downtown, my phone GPS kept ticking off some really speedy miles. We knew we were making good time, but we didn't think we were going as fast as it was saying. The phone was also way off from the on-course mile markers. Eventually, we realized the tall buildings were throwing off the signal, so it thought we were jumping around all over the place, when really we were following straight lines. All in all, the app wound up adding almost 1.5 miles onto our distance! Oops!

Once we got out of the city, we hit the up and back portion of the race, along the Schuylkill River. Beautiful to start off, but as the miles ticked off, we started getting anxious for the turnaround - it felt like it was never coming! Finally, it did, and we made our way back, starting to fight the mental battle. By the time we hit Mile Marker 12, we started having some fun to get through the final mile - our photo jumps came back, as we tried to time our jumps with the course photographers.

Success! Look at that air!
Finally, we turned the final corner off the water, and pushed ourselves up the final .1 across the finish line. Grins abounded, and our sub-3 hour half was in the books. By the time we crossed toward the back of the pack, they were out of chocolate milk, but we grabbed a banana and Gatorade, met up with Rachel's parents, stopped off at our hotel to pick up our bags before hitting up her parents' hotel (which had, thankfully, allowed for late check out) for a shower, and devoured a pair of (of course) Philly Cheesesteaks for a very rewarding lunch.

Do you track your pace through your own GPS device during races? What are your favorite motivators to push through the mental walls on long runs?

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Running with Asthma

One of the reasons it took me so long to start running was because I felt I was not capable of running.

The whole short of breath, tight chest, and wheezing element had me scared of running and kept me away from trying. I was really skilled at avoiding the mile in PE and never got the presidential seal of excellence because of my crummy mile times.

I could run a mile in 11:45...and that would kill me.

Now I can run a mile in 8:30, just don't ask me to maintain that for a long distance race.

Suffice to say I have come a long way since middle school . So how did I improve? Well in some ways, I didn't;  I still have days of 11:45 miles and that is just a fact. More and more though I have consistently faster days.

This is a picture of my first 5k, about 4 years ago (I was not a consistent runner until last year). Note that I am finishing alone, but I was not last!
Part of learning to run with asthma was learning to pace myself and accepting myself.

Lessons in Pacing:
Why yes, I can sprint if you need me to, and why yes...that will most likely cause an attack.

My early days of running involved a lot of walking, jogging, and more walking. When I lived in Baltimore, I called it 'wogging'. I basically would run until my chest was tight, then walk until I could breathe, and repeat until I hit the desired mileage/time I wanted.  Unsurprisingly, I never really improved.  Once I learned about run/walk intervals I started making progress.

I kept running and started to realize the need to slow down if I ever wanted to be able to run a 5k without walking. The day I ran 20 minutes without stopping I had a party on the treadmill (not a lie...I scared the person next to me) the day I ran 45 minutes without stopping I realized I had figured it out.

Lessons in Acceptance:
One of the hardest things about asthma is that while you may have it under control, you will still have bad days. I have a lot of outdoor triggers (cold air, humid air, smoke, pollution) meaning that while I may want to have an awesome's just not going to happen.

I still have days in CrossFit where I am in the back of the pack, but hey - I finish the workout.

Some days, I have to run at that slower pace because that is all my body can handle; some days, I have to walk because that is all I can do; some days, I have to stop and puff an inhaler. When those days happen, I just have to accept that I am doing what I can do at that time. I have to accept that this is not a PR day, but I am still better than I was a few years ago. These are the days I salute other runners (sometimes walkers) as they pass me.  If I can't join 'em, I might as well support 'em!

Some days I hit a new PR, and those are the days I am grateful for. Those are the days I realize how much I love running, and I can tell how far I have come.

On those bad days, I am reminded of a phrase a friend once said to me before a race: "You are lapping everyone on the couch right now."

Yes, yes I am.

Suck it, asthma...I am going for a run whether you like it or not.

~ Rachel aka Asthma Girl

P.S. If you have asthma and run in the winter I highly recommend getting a running mask or balaclava.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Welcome to our Blog!

When I say 'our' I mean Sara and Rachel.

Hear about our story here!

In short we started a blog because we are about to start training for the hardest race (well, races, really... looking at you Dopey Challenge) we have ever run and we realized that not everyone on Facebook wants to hear about running.

Enter this blog.

We will use this as a place to share our stories of triumph and failure, of testing new running gear, or new training methods- we want a place to share and hear from others.

So join us on our running journey and let us hear from you!


Sara and Rachel aka GU-masters