Sunday, March 28, 2010

One week later, looking back

"The tasks are done and the tears are shed.Yesterday's errors let yesterday cover;Yesterday's wounds, which smarted and bled,Are healed with the healing that night has shed."  Sarah Chauncey Woolsey

      It has been one week today since I finished my first marathon and it has been the top of my mind all week. I’m still shocked when I see the medal hanging on my dresser mirror.
       The first couple of days were admittedly tough, my quads and hamstrings were very sore and going down stairs was a challenge (backwards didn’t help either.) This was put to the test on Tuesday night when I escorted 50 teenagers I was chaperoning down 3 flight of stairs, ACK! I made it though, with much laughter and hanging on to the banister rails. I did get on a stationary bike for 20 minutes on Monday, and I think that helped to loosen things up.

       By Wednesday I was down to a minimal level of soreness, not enough to affect movement, but I could still feel the miles a bit. My biggest fear about running a marathon was what the repercussions would be for my Rheumatoid Arthritis. I was prepared for a flare up, knowing it was a good possibility after pushing so hard for so long, but it never came.

       Thursday was my first recovery run following Hal Higdon’s reverse taper. It was a tough two miles. My legs felt like lead and I was as tired as I normally would be after 10 miles at a good pace. It definitely helped though, my legs felt good afterwards and I didn’t feel wiped out. I have to admit, breathing deep really made me feel the marathon. Although I was never to the point of huffing and puffing during the race, and I could always talk in sentences, I was obviously breathing harder than a walk in the park and my lungs and chest muscles were reminding me all 5 hours.

       Friday was a rest day and all soreness was long gone. I was starting to feel caught up on sleep (late nights Monday and Tuesday seriously put this off) but still a long way from truly recovered. I can certainly see why they say you need a day of rest for every mile you race, a marathon is not something you get over in a couple of days. (This does not mean no running for 26 days, just that you shouldn’t expect to be up to full mileage for that long.)

       Saturday I ran 3 more miles, feeling even stronger and no longer feeling it when I took a deep breath. The run went well and my dog was very happy to be out trotting through the neighborhood again.

       The schedule for today said “6-8 mile run”. I probably shouldn’t have actually gone as far as 6 miles since the schedule was set up for people that run a lot faster than me and can finish 6 miles in significantly less time, but I did it anyway. I included a lot of walking and chatted on the phone for a good part of it, but it was a comfortable run with a very low average heart rate.

        As for my feet, shins and calves; they recovered much faster than my upper legs. I really expected to have problems there considering the distance and the issues I have had over the last 6 months. My VFFs served me well, but I do look forward to my first truly barefoot marathon. I won’t try to predict when that will be, but it is part of my working plan to continue increasing my barefoot distance and the variety of surfaces I can handle running on. My 2 mile run on Thursday and the 6 miles today were both barefoot, compliments of the lovely weather. (Yesterday was a bit nippy so those 3 miles were in VFFs.)

          All and all I would say my first week post marathon went very well and to me that is the real telling of how I did with the marathon. Not only did I finish, but I finished without any injuries, did not cause a flare up of my RA, and am recovering like a typical marathon runner. What more could I ask for! If I never run any faster and never feel any better after a marathon, I will still be happy to run them. I already can barely remember the misery of those last 6 miles and this is coming from a woman who still remembers every contraction of delivering 2 babies! I will continue to follow the reverse taper schedule up to my Ultra on the 17th of April and then start it all over again. I don’t see this marathon as a onetime flash in the pan, I see it as the beginning of a new stage in my life that I hope will go on for many, many years.

           I certainly plan to train more for my next marathon and I hope eventually to cope better with The Wall. I read in Runner’s World that it takes the average person 4 full training cycles with races to really know what they are doing. I’m sure one never truly stops learning from each and every race, but it is the first few that really open your eyes and make you say, “Okay, NOW I get it!” I also had a great talk yesterday with the lady from my club who ran 50 marathons in 50 states. Picking her brain about her experiences during and after marathons was very encouraging. I’ve learned a ton about running a marathon this week, but I know the distance still has a great deal to teach me and I’m ready to learn!   .....But first I need a few more restful weeks of running to finish recovering :-)

Monday, March 22, 2010

5 wondrous hours

The challenge today will be summing up a 5 hour race in a blog entry that won’t take too long to read!

       After some scares with the extended forecast, the weather was absolutely perfect. Over 50 when we started and in the mid to upper 60’s by the end. Sun shining, not too much wind, just enough to cool you off when the sun started beating down and several lovely people had sprinklers on for us to run through!

      A total of 2,635 runners finished the marathon before the 7 hour cut off, so the start wasn’t even corralled. Everyone was great though, not too much weaving needed to keep moving. I started near the back knowing my first 2 or 3 miles would be a minute or so slower than my planned race pace to allow me to warm up and not take off to fast.

      Everything started out as planned. Fist we headed south, looped around a bit, went over a bridge to the first turn around point, back over the little bridge, no big deal. Next they took us through part of Camp Pendleton, including a stretch of gravel road that made me glad I had not opted to go totally barefoot. At about the 6 mile mark, I was chatting with a few people and found a running buddy for the day. James used to run marathons, but this was the first one in 5 years so he was taking it easy knowing he hadn’t trained well enough. We had the same planned pace so we just fell into step, talking and running, keeping one foot in front of the other. At around mile 13 we passed his wife and kids who were cheering him on. I waved and said, “He is keeping me going!” He responded, “I’m just trying to keep up with you!” Funny how having someone with you keeps you both motivated!

      At mile 14 we stopped at a porta potty that didn’t have much of a line. We lost a couple of minutes, but it was well worth it! It was really warming up and I was tempted to take on way too much water, but definitely didn’t want to have to stop at a potty again. Mile 15 to 16 is where the mental games started. Conversation had trailed off and I was really having a hard time staying in the game. I know I could keep going that it was all in my head, so I just kept up with James and tried not to think about the miles and my stomach that was threatening to rebel. At mile 19 my mental state perked up, but my body was spent. My brain was saying, YAY, but my body was screaming for mercy. By this time my Garmin was also about 2 tenths of a mile ahead of the markers, which meant I had zigzagged and not cut my tangents well so I’d be running 26.4 instead of 26.2, UGH!

     19.75 was my breaking point. I said good-bye to James and wished him luck and fell back into a walk. After about 5 minutes of walking, I tried a run again. I learned very quickly that the first few steps after walking are murder and it is like trying to run through a vat of tar! Fortunately, this is a good motivator to keep running, even if the run is only slightly faster than the walk. When I passed the clock at the 20 mile marker, it said 3:34. This would have been great if I could have maintained my pace, but at that point it became all about getting back to my car.

      The next 6 miles were the hardest thing I’ve even done. I hurt all over, everyone was shuffling along just trying to fight the pain. By the end of a marathon, you are very much in like company. Everyone around you has been out there for the same amount of time and everyone is hurting. Some people take it with a grain of salt and can still laugh and joke, others are grim and determined and snap at anyone that bumps them at a water stop or gets in their way. Looking up the street it looked like a death march, everyone moving forward, everyone walking, except for the occasional person that would break into a run for a few feeble minutes and then re join the ranks of the marchers. One girl that had been running next to me, veered off into the grass and threw up.

      As we turned left off the main street just before mile 26, and right again onto the board walk, everyone sprung back to life. Within my view were the people that were going to squeak in under the 5 hour mark and they weren’t going to miss it by walking the last .2!

      About 100 feet from the finish line, I spotted a camera man and raised my arms to cheer, and it hit me! I WAS ABOUT TO FINISH A MARATHON!!!! I punched the air with my right hand, then went into a frenzy punching with both fists and screaming YES! while I jumped in the air. I was shocked I had enough energy to do it! The whole crowd around me laughed out loud at my antics. I crossed the finish line beaming and began the collection of swag. First a medal, then a bottle of water, banana, hat, pretzels, granola bar, cookie, and finisher’s t-shirt, all with nothing to put it in so I was juggling so many things I couldn’t make use of any of them!

      I finally managed to stuff down the banana and cookie and bundle everything else up into a manageable mass while stumbled to the festival tent for soup and beer. In the tent I ran into a group of friends from my track club that had run the half. They were all excited for me and gave me lots of hugs and congratulations. After gratefully sucking down the salty soup broth it was time to head back to pick up my daughter on the way home. I wish I could have stayed and joined the party, but I was grateful that my daughter is old enough to spend a few hours alone and that my friend was willing to go out of her way to pick her up and take her to rehearsals so that I could be in Virginia Beach. For a woman with children, training for and running a marathon isn’t just about putting in the time and miles, it is about friends who are willing to help you get past the schedule conflicts so you can run!

      I did get a couple of comments on my VFFs and saw one other marathoner with them on. Mostly people asked how my feet felt. At first my answer was, “Great!” After 20 miles my answer was, “No worse than the rest of me!” At the end I finished with no blisters or hot spots. I admit, my feet were tender on the walk to the car, but frankly the rest of me hurt so much I didn’t really notice. As of this morning, I’m actually less sore than I was yesterday evening, which is a big surprise to me. My feet fell great, my quads and hamstrings are the sorest, and hip flexors are tight and sore, but no joint pain at all and nothing with the sharp pain of injury, just the slow burn of lactic acid. I’m tired and definitely will need a nap today, but I don’t regret running and can’t wait for the next one.
  Finish time:     4:54:49

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Two Weeks to Shamrock '10!

“Start by doing what's necessary; then do what's possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” Francis of Assisi

         I’m so close to the marathon it is scary! The hardest part of the taper is slowing my eating down as much as I have slowed my running and not running harder and faster as the miles decrease.

        Last weekend I had the privilege of running a 5K with a good friend Danielle. She was a cross country runner in high school, but family and life had gotten in the way and she hadn’t run in years. When she was diagnosed with RA she didn’t think she would ever run again. When we met, the fact that I run and have RA blew her away, she was so excited about the prospect of getting back into running and getting back into shape!

         On the day of Danielle’s 5K, I was scheduled for a 16 mile long run so I headed out to the base, ran 4 miles to warm up, and then met her at the 5K start. It had been many years since Danielle had run more than 2 straight miles, but she was determined to finish the 5K without walking. We took it very slow, between 13 and 14 minutes per mile, but she kept running. It was hard for me to imagine that last year at this time, I was training for my first half marathon on this same stretch of blacktop, running at that same pace. Now running that slow just about kills me and I see only a tiny difference in my heart rate by slowing down so dramatically. With only a few beats per minute more, I can run 11 minute miles now.

           We didn’t talk much during the 5K. I would let her know as each half mile mark chirped from my Garmin, but we just ran side by side. As we approached the end and could see the finish line, Danielle was brought to tears. She couldn’t believe she was going to do it, finish a 5K without walking! She choked up so badly she nearly had to walk! Fortunately, she was able to calm down and keep plugging away. We crossed the finish line somewhere around 40 minutes and she was ecstatic! Unfortunately her RA flared up a bit the next day because of the extreme effort, but it didn’t last and she is looking forward to the next 5K in a few weeks.

            It was such a wonderful thing to participate in that special event in her life. I may have been part of the spark that got her going, but the hard work and determination was all Danielle’s. I pointed out that it was almost 2 ½ years ago to the day that I ran my first ever 5K and now, in 2 weeks, I will run my first full marathon. I’m still constantly shocked at my own progress. Some days I feel like I only dreamed that 2 hour finish at the Outer Banks. When I run a 9 minute mile in training I think to myself, “Did I really run this fast for 2 straight hours!” I don’t think this is all that unusual. I think many of us constantly underestimate what our bodies can do. It is our minds that hold us back, not our muscles or bones.

         I realize now that when I run, I may be out there slogging away by myself, but I’m not running alone. When I cross that finish line in two weeks, I will cross it for every person diagnosed with RA, every middle ages house wife, every couch potato that is over 35 and wonders if it is not too late to get in shape. Getting out there as a real person, not some elite Olympian or lifelong runner with long lean muscles and years of training, shows people that marathons are for mortals. Normal people with a little grit and determination can do this. You don’t have to be fast, a 16 mpm average will get you over the line before the course closes. You do have to train, a LOT, marathons are not handed to you. Even walking for 26.2 miles is not something a person in good shape can just decide to do in an instant. It takes planning, hard work, and days of getting out there in all weather. Whether you feel like it or not you have to consistently put in the miles.

           So far this year I have kept up with my written log, recovered from nasty shin splints, and run just over 200 miles (20 of them barefoot). I believe I am a runner. I believe I can run a marathon. I believe I can inspire others to seek more from themselves. I started running because I needed to. I continued running because it helped me so much and I discovered it was something I COULD do for myself. And now, here I am, doing the impossible.