Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Go Ahead, Call it a Comeback

Yeah, I took a little break from training. I'd like to say that I did it because I'm smart and I know the importance of letting my body recover between training cycles but in reality I was more or less forced to rest in order to heal a specific injury. Luckily *knock on wood* I haven't had to deal with many injuries in the nearly 10 years I've been running but I finally went out and got myself one that required a lot sitting on my butt and resting for a few weeks in order to get better.

Truthfully, I had been dealing with mild plantar fasciitis in my heel since way back in early August when I ramped up my fall marathon training. It was a series of dumb mistakes that that led to it and in hindsight I probably deserved it. Here's how I managed to find myself in this situation:

1. After returning from our two-week vacation in July (where I hardly ran at all) I jumped immediately into an aggressive training program in an attempt to BQ at Lakefront Marathon.

2. Said marathon training program was only a short 11 weeks long instead of the usual 16 I like to do in order to build up slowly and safely avoid injury.

3. I ignored all the early signs of plantar fasciitis that began in late August and didn't adjust my training, take any time off, or change my goals for Lakefront.

4. After finishing Lakefront at the beginning of October I also ran the Milwaukee Marathon for fun on October 15th, followed by the Chicago Lakefront 50K at the end of the month.

All my training got me a 50K PR in Chicago but after that my heel basically exploded and told me where I could shove it. I tried to ignore it yet again to run the Schaumburg Half Marathon on Thanksgiving weekend (a yearly tradition of mine) but my foot basically gave me the middle finger at mile 6 and I hobbled in pain to the finish for probably my worst half marathon ever. Not my slowest finish but definitely the worst I've felt at a half.

It was then that I decided to take some action. I prescribed myself 2 weeks of NO RUNNING at all, started a series of acupuncture treatments at Milwaukee Community Acupuncture, and scheduled an appointment at the Milwaukee Foot and Ankle clinic. I had big plans for 2018 and I was not going to let my stupidity derail them. I was going to be smart, dammit! At the doctor I had x-rays and an ultrasound done on my foot that thankfully(!) showed no stress fractures but I did have a big angry plantar fascia inflamed to about twice the width it should have been. Surprising? Not in the least. I told the doc about my running ambitions for the upcoming year and she assured me I could still get there and that I was doing all the right things. I like the occasional head pat so this made me feel good.

A steroid injection into my heel wasn't immediately recommended (thank goodness) but I did leave the office with an oral steroid prescription to calm the inflammation and a big boot to wear at night that keeps my foot flexed and the fascia stretched. I also had neat-o molds taken of my feet so I can be fitted with some custom orthotics for my shoes. I'm looking forward to getting those made and seeing how they work out!

In the third week of my break I decided to cautiously test the waters. My medication was making my foot feel better and I felt like the acupuncture treatments were starting to help as well. I didn't want to overdo it though so I just did a couple of runs in the 3 to 5 mile range at a very, very slow pace on the treadmill. I felt clunky and sluggish but my foot didn't hurt so that was a plus. Week four I increased the mileage a smidge but still kept things suuuuuper slow. Then on the week between Christmas and New Year's I attempted a very conservative speed workout on the treadmill (400s). I opted for indoors again because it was probably a bajillion degrees below zero outside and the last thing I wanted to do was slip on some dumb ice the week before my spring marathon training was scheduled to begin.

Which brings me to January! Here we are. I officially started a 16-week training plan for the Spring Chance BQ.2 Marathon on April 21st. It's a 10k-ish multi- loop course that is designed for people who are specifically attempting to qualify for Boston 2019. What's my training plan you ask?

I'm going all in on Hansons advanced training method!  It's technically an 18 week program but I had to modify it a bit to 16 weeks because of everything I just talked about above. I originally wanted to start in mid-December but I strongly felt it was more important for me to start healthy, even if it meant sacrificing a couple of weeks of training. If I'm being completely honest though, my heel is a little bit hit and miss right now. Some days it's completely fine but other days (like after my speed workout yesterday) the pain will come back and linger for the rest of the day. Overall I believe I'm on the mend but I'm keeping an eye on things in case it regressed to where it was back in November.

More about the training in a bit! I just needed to get all this injury stuff out of my brain so I can look back and remember the time I made a good decision for myself.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Chicago Lakefront 50K: Achievement Unlocked

My one and only PR in 2017 and it's in the 50K! October was a huge race month for me so my legs were pretty D-E-A-D for this one but I met my goal of running sub-5 hours. Official time was 4:58:07! Kind of makes me wonder what I could do if I trained specifically to race this distance. Maybe next year?

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Do Every Stupid Thing That Makes You Feel Alive

In unsurprising news, my legs were nowhere near ready to run Lakefront Marathon with only a 9-week buildup. Whoops! Look, I never said that I do smart things. In hindsight I probably should have known that going in but I always harbor these stupid "What if?" dreams. Plus, I was super fired up about missing the Boston cutoff again so I thought maybe I'd be able to ride that energy.

Eh...not so much. I ran a pretty solid 3:45 on a beautiful fall day and funny enough, I didn't even feel mad about not being able to run my sub-3:40 goal. It was one of those days where I just felt super grateful to be healthy and able to participate in this incredibly stupid hobby of mine year after year. Jason came out to cheer for me on the course and I felt excited that he was there for me at the finish line. No tears or pouting for me this time. I was happy that I did my best with what I had and that I enjoyed the day. Running makes me feel alive and I definitely felt alive that day.

Speaking of this stupid hobby of mine, I decided to also run the Milwaukee Marathon last weekend even though it was just two weeks after Lakefront. I mean why not, right? I'm no stranger to a double marathon month! I figured I should be able to take it easy, enjoy the course, and still finish under 4 hours. Also, I was curious to see how the new management handled the event since I quit working for them back in March.

That time I ran 25.5 miles.
YIKES. Yeah, that's a bummer. The course was almost .8 miles short! Good thing I wasn't trying again for a BQ that day. (I know, I know, like I even could have done it.) My "official" finish time was 3:48 but it really probably should have been in the 3:55 range. I could tell exactly where it happened during the run too- a turnaround point was set too early on a long out-and-back portion between mile 21 and 22. Truthfully, when I realized I was going to be done early I felt kind of relieved, but I also felt a little sick to my stomach since I knew this mistake was going to blow up and be a huge deal. Last year the course was long because of a similar snafu in the EXACT SAME area. I could not believe this was happening again to the new race directors!

I also thanked the sweet baby Jesus I was not working for the event anymore and wouldn't have to answer all the inevitable angry emails and Facebook posts. I mean, let's be real.

I have so many mixed feelings about this race that have zero to do with the time I ran. Really I'm just sad that an event I worked so hard on and really believed in had something this happen two years in a row. I just don't see how it can come back from this mess and that sucks because I feel like Milwaukee runners really deserve a "big city" marathon. There were so many obstacles we faced getting this event off the ground that first year and when we pulled it off it felt like the sky was the limit. Sure, the second year was stressful with the course problems (and about a million other things) but I really, really hoped it would bounce back.

When the race was sold to the new investors I walked away and just crossed my fingers super hard. I figured the new management would have its problems but I honestly still wanted the race to be successful. Other cities similar to Milwaukee's size have big marathons like this but for some reason it's just felt like an uphill battle here the whole time. I could go on and on about all the roadblocks that were thrown up back when I was on the staff but at this point it doesn't matter. They had a chance to turn it around this year and it didn't happen. It's just sad because I really believe a big event like this that celebrates the city of Milwaukee is something that SHOULD exist.

So instead I prefer to remember the finish line of that inaugural year back in 2015 when it felt like anything was possible:

Well, anything except beer at the finish. :)

Friday, September 29, 2017

Keep Going.


You have GOT to be kidding me right?  Every time I think I've done enough to get into this race they literally move the goal posts.

I've qualified SEVEN times now in 3 years (not to mention the year and a half before that I spent just attempting to qualify and falling short). *Finally* I get a finish time with a buffer I'm absolutely sure will be a lock and this is the year the cutoff is larger than it's ever been before. (I qualified with  2 minutes 48 seconds under my standard but this year they ended up accepting 3 minutes 23. Confused? This might help explain.)

If I didn't care so much it would almost comical.

I'm actually a little embarrassed at how much I care sometimes but at this point I've put so much time and energy and training into this so how could I not be emotionally invested?

Scrolling through comments on internet forums I see people saying just run faster! Well that's a novel idea! Do you think I haven't tried? Believe me if I could just run 5 to 10 minutes faster and be guaranteed a spot I would have done it by now. I have worked HARD for every second I've earned against the marathon, beginning nine years ago back when I ran my very first in 4 hours 26 minutes. When I finally hit my first Boston qualifying time back in 2015, I squeaked by with just 19 seconds to spare. Since then I've qualified by 46 seconds, 55 seconds, 1:03, 1:28, 2:23 and finally 2:48.

The first year I missed the cut I knew it was coming. There was no way I was getting in with a margin that small. The second year I felt pretty confident with a 1:03 under since I had heard that marathon participation was down nationally and fewer people were qualifying for Boston across the board.

HA. Lies! Interest was higher than ever and the cut off was -2:09.

So this year I finally felt like I was a lock with my -2:48. I had to be since the cutoff had never ever been higher that 2:28, right? Then..... Surprise! *gut punch*

Ok, deep breaths. I realize the Boston Marathon owes me nothing. If it was easy to to get into the race then everyone would do it- and then how would that be a challenge? I also realize in the grand scheme of things this is one of the first-worldiest problems a person can have. I mean seriously, how many more important things are going on on the world right now? (Hint: Just about all the things.)

I've been telling myself for quite some time now that I shouldn't be upset because I have a really good life filled with very good things. That allowing myself to feel sad about this means that I'm being ungrateful for everything that I'm so lucky to have. Every time I've had a setback I always tell people, "If this is what I have to complain about in life then I'm doing ok." And then a friend of mine said to me:

That's a good outlook but it's ok to be upset.


Huh. I mean, she had a point.

I'm allowed to feel things. It doesn't make me a bad person to be upset when I've worked really really hard for something and been denied by moving target that keeps changing year to year. I can take a minute to feel sad and angry and frustrated that in any other year what I've done would have been enough.

I take heart in the fact that both my kids have seen me work for this for quite some time now. They've seen me try and fail big, try and come thisclose, and try and just have shitty luck. At the very least I have been able to show them that you absolutely don't give up. I've set a goal for myself and I'm not going to stop until I've seen it all the way through. Hard work will always pay off in the end.

And so I keep going.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

The Waiting Game

Right now I'm pretty much in nonstop obsession mode over whether or not I'll get into the 2018 Boston Marathon. I have a -2:48 cushion this year which historically would get me into EVERY past race that had a cutoff- but with my luck the line will be drawn and 2:49 this year so I'm trying temper my expectations until they finally make the announcement in about 10 days.

TRYING to temper my expectations. *cough*

When I'm not obsessing over the 2018 cutoff time, I instead turn my attention to obsessing over my current training. I've had a pretty solid 9 weeks back since my time off and I've even made some adjustments as well to try to maximize this shortened training cycle. I've been running a hilly 9-mile trail route once a week and I've added in some extra workouts at my goal marathon pace (in addition to the usual once-a-week speed/interval sessions I usually do.) For the most part I feel like it's been paying off, although I was experiencing some pain in my left heel for a couple of weeks so I spent a lot of time icing/stretching and taping it up to get that to subside. I was able to run through it the whole time it was acting up but now that it's on the mend I'm excited to get back to running pain-free for my taper into Lakefront Marathon.

What's that? I'm running Lakefront Marathon now?

I know, I was just talking about how smart I was for giving myself more time to train for a fall marathon by doing the Milwaukee Marathon on October 15th and then I go signing up for a race that takes place 2 weeks earlier. I do have reasons though!

The main reason is the course itself. I love the MKE Marathon course that runs through the city, but I know it's a hilly route and probably not the best bet for a PR for me. On top of that there are about a million turns which means I have to bee 100% on point in running the tangents to get anything close to 26.2 miles. On the flip side the Lakefront course is point-to-point (with only a few turns) and every time I've run it before it comes out closer to 26.2 than any other race I've done.

Because of this I'm crossing my fingers that I'll be ready in two weeks to go all out. I'm not entirely sure if it's the right decision but it's the once I'm going with. I've done this race so many times that I know the route practically in my sleep! I'm just hoping that my cumulative training over the years carries me through whatever I'm lacking in this particular marathon cycle.

In other news I ran the Brewers 10K last weekend. This is a race that usually kills me due to a couple of really brutal hills in the middle but this time I decided not to worry about my watch and run by feel instead. And it was pretty solid! I definitely slowed on the hills but I didn't let it freak me out and I rebounded faster at the top of each one. I felt super strong going into the final mile and finished with a huge kick (something I've never done at a 10K before.)

So...the next two weeks I'll be busy tapering and refreshing my email looking for a Boston confirmation-basically driving myself crazy in a nutshell.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

On Being a Smart Adult About Things

We get wiser as we get older right? At least in theory. After finishing 20+ marathons I'd like to think I've gotten smarter about training over the years. Case in point: After finishing the Bloop Marathon in April I registered for the Last Chance to BQ Marathon coming up on September 9th in hopes of lowering my Boston qualifying time. (Right now I'm sitting on a BQ -2 minutes and 48 seconds so even a minute would give me a better chance of getting into the race in 2018.) I had grand plans of coming back from my European vacation feeling super refreshed and ready to melt 5+ more minutes off of my marathon time. 

Well, a funny thing happened: I came back from vacation and dove headfirst back into training.... and promptly fell flat on my face. Or rather things in general just fell flat? I expected to feel sluggish after three weeks off but I'm not exactly sure why I thought I could get back in to peak shape again by early September. Not only had I never taken such a large break but did I forget that oh, I had completed a 100K in June? I tend to recover fast but I'm not magic. 

I knew the first week back would be rough. Even the second week. But as the third week started and I still the heavy legs/fast heart rate combo I was starting to lose my patience. I knew the fitness would come back eventually but it was just a matter of when? Looking at how many weeks I had until September 9th I knew it would be ill advised to try to push another BQ attempt so soon when I was literally just starting to get my feet under me again. (Pardon the pun.)

So I canceled my hotel in Illinois for Last Chance and set my sights on a race farther down the road- a little race called the Milwaukee Marathon on October 15th. This gives me 5 more weeks to train and what amounts to a full marathon training cycle instead of trying to force something to happen. And what do you know, after a couple more weeks of plugging along I've FINALLY started to feel like myself again! Sure, some of it has to do with the humidity finally dissipating but also taking the pressure off of myself and allowing my body to come back at it's own pace has definitely played a part in things. Yesterday, for the first time in a loooong time I nailed a tough speed workout and I finally was able to visualize myself reaching the goals I've set out for this fall.

Post run success at the lighthouse!

Unfortunately the Milwaukee Marathon is a qualifier for Boston 2019 so I have no choice but to cross my fingers and hope I get into 2018 with the time I've already got. BUT, if I DO get in and I run a faster time on October 15th I can use that time to move up in the corrals in Boston on race day.

Plus I'm still convinced this nearly 40-year old has a couple of marathon PRs in her.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Thoughts on the Titletown Utlramarathon: Better Late Than Never

I suppose it's been a while? You probably wouldn't think I'd run my longest race ever and then just fall off the planet for a couples of months... but here we are.

I didn't literally fall off the planet. I did travel around the planet for some time which was amazing. It just so worked out that after I completed the Titletown Ultramarathon (where I logged my very first 100K!) my family and I picked up and left for the most bonkers travel adventure through Germany, Austria and Switzerland. It would have been a fantastic getaway just on its own but taking that time to take a break from running (and a lot of other things in the world) was the absolute best way to let my body and mind recover from the monster training cycle I began this past January. It feels a little strange to go back two months and try to recapture how I felt at the race but I do like to rehash the bigger races I complete so I'll give it a stab.

I'm not really sure why I had such a laid back attitude about approaching 100 kilometers. It's not that I think I'm super good at running ultras, I just didn't let any negativity leak into my brain throughout the training process. It probably helped that the first block of my training was focused on trying to lock down some better Boston Qualifying times at the Circular Logic and Bloop Marathons back in April. I didn't turn my full attention to Titletown until after the Bloop was behind me and by then I already had a HUGE base I could launch from. I also think my decision to use this race to fundraise for Girls Rock Milwaukee gave me the feeling that no matter what happened on race day, I was going to find a way complete the race. How could I not after everyone donated all that money? I remember saying to myself the week of the event, "There is really no reason why you won't be able to finish." Obviously, the rational side of my brain knows that a catastrophic injury would surely end the race for me- but barring anything crazy I should be able to stay on my feet and get the thing done. Being a 15.5 hour timed event, my goal of 62 miles meant I could go at a very conservative pace and I could afford to do a lot of walking. (Oh and believe me I did!)

The race was a loop course of a little under 5 miles and there were three events: a 6 hour, an 8 hour and a 15.5 hour. We literally ran loops from sunrise to sunset on a trail that wound its way around the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay campus. The trail was a mix of everything- dirt, wood chips, crushed limestone and little bit of asphalt near the start/finish. It's not a road race, but it it's also not a super technical, tough trail race either. Still, 62 miles is 62 miles right? RIGHT. Let's not act like this stuff is easy.

Sample viewing of the course

I admit that running ultras is not always the smartest thing. Or at least not the most understandable thing? There were some times during the later miles where I was literally saying out loud (to no one), "THIS IS STUPID. I'M NEVER DOING THIS AGAIN." And while can't say for sure they're not stupid... I do know I'll find myself doing it again. There's something really alluring about knowing you will be out on the trail all day with nothing to do except put one foot in front of the other. It doesn't matter how fast you go, you just GO. I didn't have anywhere else to be, anyone to worry about ,or anything to do. I could just be there in whatever moment I was in, move forward, and breathe.

Moving forward and breathing.

Most of the day seemed to fly by. It's funny how when you let go of everything you become less conscious the passing of time. Looking back at my Garmin now I can see that for much of the race I was averaging around one loop per hour but I didn't have any pacing plan or strategy going in other than "Walk the hills. Eat what you want when you want."  This seemed to work for the most part other than instead of eating food all I really wanted to do all day was drink soda. I don't tend to drink it in my "normal" everyday life but during ultras and long trail runs I always crave it so I slammed a cup of Coke or ginger ale at every aid station and it gave me a boost every time. I suppose I'm lucky it didn't backfire? I'm a firm believer though that your body knows what it needs in situations like these- or at least my body does- so things were good. I did also partake of a slice of pizza and a beer when offered it on my final lap, which may or may not have saved my life. At that point I was full on walking so I knew I could at least stumble it into a finish.

No actual runners were harmed at this event.

So yeah, things were decent and time flew by but I didn't feel awesome the entire time because despite my nickname I'm not an actual robot. The major thing that worked for me when times eventually got dark was to drop kick any negative thoughts straight out of my mind. Yes, there were points where I did say that ultrarunning is dumb and I'm never doing it again- but every time I started to think that I told myself to SAVE IT for when the race was done. I let the thought happen and then I tucked it away for later. There would be plenty of time to evaluate my feelings when I was back at the hotel, showered and shoveling a Culver's cheeseburger into my face. (Yes, that happened.) In the moment though, those thoughts are not going to help me, so I turned them off like a lightswitch, Book of Mormom-style.

Jazz hands!

I finished 62.65 miles in 14 hours! That last loop especially was a saaaad little walk shuffle. Plus, when I got to the "finish" I was only at 61.75 miles so they informed me if I wanted to get credit for 100K I had to hoof it almost ANOTHER mile down the road to the first aid station and someone would give me a ride back form there. Yes, I technically could have tried to fit in another full loop since the course was still open for another hour and a half but um... no. I took that car ride back. I was super proud of myself for completing my 100K goal and honestly at this point my brain had shut off, seeing no reason to take even one more extra step.


I don't have a finishers photo because I forgot to ask someone to take my picture when I rang the gong after I was done. (Yes there was a gong. It was awesome.) I did get a sweet mug though and a hat and a finishers shirt and oh, the satisfaction of reaching a goal that I worked really hard for so I'll take that over another sweaty photo of me to post on the internet.

I know there's tons of stuff I'm forgetting, especially because the experience softens over time and the feeling of accomplishment washes away the parts where my legs felt like they were on fire and I was questioning the meaning of life. Overall I'm glad I did it. I'm glad I raised over $1000 for Girls Rock Milwaukee. And I'm glad I got the chance to step away from running for a bit afterward and let my body recover.

But now I'm back and that's another chapter but I've already written enough for tonight so I'll save it for next time. :)