Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Chuncheon Marathon and a New Marathon Maniac

       WOW, where do I begin! We spent the night in the city of Chuncheon so I wouldn’t have any problems getting to the race start in the morning and my parents and daughter could sleep in. This meant a chance to drive the marathon route before race day. I’m so glad we did because I got a much better look at the scenery when I wasn’t focused on running.
When we ran through the tunnel, all the runners yelled.
When we got to the other side, we could hear all the yelling from the tunnel!
       This view would be solid runners for miles less than 24 hours later! With the race being run around a long lake, created by damning the river, we had many points where we could see runners for many miles. There was no point in which the crowd thinned out! It was solid runners as far as I could see ahead and behind!

       I got up early and puttered around while breakfast settled and my coffee sunk in. I had planned to have a bigger breakfast, but I was still somewhat full from my big bowl of Bibimbap the night before, a lovely Korean dish with rice, veggies, an egg, and hot sauce all baked in an earthenware bowl and then stirred up, YUM!

       When I asked the desk clerk to call me a cab, he indicated that I should just walk. Umm, no thanks, I’d rather not take a 30 minute walk before a 5 hour run, let alone get lost on the way! The cab driver got me within a block of the start area and refused to enter the fray of marathon traffic so I still had about a 10 minute walk to find the my club tent (guess I should have walked afterall). Turned out, the club never found the tent and settled near the changing rooms. The only poor soul at the tent site was a guy that had traveled up on his own like me. Unlike me, he had registered for the race through the club and they had his bib and chip! (I believe he did finally track down his bib.)

     With a field of 20,000 runners, Chuncheon is huge! There were 9 corals that started in 3 minute increments, beginning about 10 minutes after the elites started. The race has a 6 hour cut off, which is generous by Korean standards, but pretty much eliminates the mostly-walking crowd that usually brings up the rear in US marathons. There were also pace groups in each corral that overlapped the pace groups of other corrals. In other words, when I was running with the 4:00 pace group I was really excited until I realized they were from 3 corrals behind me, which meant I started at least 9 minutes before them and we were only a few miles into the race.

       The course was hilly, but the hills were not steep. Unfortunately, steep or not, it seemed like every mile of the course was either uphill or downhill. I was doing great for the first half, my splits were:

5K 33:04,

10K (29:41) 1:02:45,

15K (29:06) 1:31:51,

20K (32:02) 2:03:53

Half 2:13:31

       Despite taking a bathroom stop and eating a traditional Korean race treat, the ubiquitous Moon Pie, I was still doing well by 25K, (34:01) 2:37:54, this is about when my calves decided they had had enough of the hills. Following a stop at the aid station for something like Ben-Gay to be rubbed all over my legs, one look at my calves told me I was toast. They were swollen up and hard as rocks. From 25K-30K I managed just under 39 minutes (30K 3:16:58), and 30K-35K was about a minute longer, but by then walking wasn’t reliving my cramping calves and my 35K-40K split was a painful 44:29 (40K 4:40:34). By this time I was mentally shot. I thought there was no way I was going to PR, but I could crawl and still finish the marathon so I resisted the urge to sit on the curb and cry. I tipped the bill of my cap down and stared and the asphalt in front of me while I ground out the last 2 kilometers in just a touch over 17 minutes.

joined by my daughter after crossing the finish line

       Even though I was hurting and discouraged, I did manage to perk up and run across the finish line, stopping to hug my mom and daughter before running over the timing mats.

      I missed a PR again, by 3 minutes and 31 seconds, but I met my goals for my double header. Even though the wheels fell off I managed my nutrition and didn’t run out of glycogen, I finished a full marathon in bare feet (the first of the two marathons), and qualified for Marathon Maniacs (#4381). So I’m happy with my results.

        After the race, we walked over to where the Seoul Flyers were supposed to be (again, never found them) and after hunting around for a while I finally gave up and decided to put my feet up for a few minutes against a statue. A nearby running club handed me a bottle of Makoli (Korean rice beer, very yummy) and I put my feet on the small pedestal. I was afraid to actually put my feet on the statue since I didn’t know who it was and didn’t want to offend anyone. Then something very Korean happened. They are wonderfully helpful people, but can be a bit abrupt and personal. A total stranger walked up and told me I needed my feet higher. I guess I didn’t react fast enough because he picked my feet up and moved them up so my legs were straight. Then he told me to take my shoes and socks off. I guess I didn’t react fast enough to that either because he then proceeded to remove my shoes and socks! Frankly, I was too worn out to care so I just let him do it. My parents assumed he was someone I knew, “Nope, never seen him before in my life!” With my feet properly airing, he moved on and I rested for about 10 minutes before putting my shoes and socks back on (a complicated and painful process I would rather have avoided by keeping them on in the first place,) and we headed back to the hotel to pack up the last of our things and for me to get a shower so my family could stand to be in the car with me.

AFTERMATH: Following a shower, I donned my knee high Injinji compression socks and draped my legs across my daughter’s lap for the drive home. Once I got home, I switched to thigh high compression socks to sleep (yea I know, really sexy, LOL). I don’t know if it was training or the compression stockings that get the credit, but I was not in pain the following morning. My legs were no more sore than the day after an aggressive workout with weights. I could walk down stairs fine, get up from chairs, and put my socks on all by myself! I can’t tell you how shocked I was not to have sore calves. After my first marathon I could hardly walk down stairs for days. My secondary goals were to PR, and to not be in pain for days. I may have missed the PR, but being able to go about my business the day after without hanging on the rails to go down stairs or taking 10 minutes to get up from a chair is a pretty big success in my book, and important for someone with RA.

COMPARISON: In both races I felt like I managed my nutrition and hydration well and I had a couple of gels still in reserve at the end. I believe it was running slow that just about ruined me in Seoul. It changed my gait and stressed my hip flexors. For Chuncheon I walked more, but when I ran I ran faster, but at a more comfortable pace. Unfortunately, I was flat out unprepared for the hills and paid dearly for my lack of hill training. Bowing to the piriformis problems I have been having, hill work seemed risky and my higher priority was to run barefoot. I stuck to a flat training route and didn’t develop the muscles I needed to deal with hills. (Note to self, if the race elevation map looks like a sine wave, TRAIN ON HILLS!!)

RA Update: The RA is fine, no flare from the stress of the race or the 5 hour drive. No stiff hands or hurting joints or any residual problems. Although I hurt plenty during and the rest of the day after the race, it was all very short lived.

       For the next couple of weeks I’ll take it easy and enjoy my family visiting, then hit the gym with a vengeance! I plan to do a lot of stair and weight work over the next couple of months in preparation for my next round of marathon training. I still have the Great Wall of China on the docket and am crossing my fingers that nothing gets in the way. My piriformis is responding very well to bi-monthly deep tissue massages so I hold hope that it will be healed in time to use steep trails to prepare for China. I have to admit, by mile 20 of Chuncheon, the half marathon in China was sounding pretty good, but now that the post marathon amnesia is setting in, I’m ready to register for my next adventure in 26.2 miles.

Korean Royal Palanquin

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Hi-Seoul Marathon 2011

       The weather was looking wonderful for my second ever marathon, first ever fully barefoot marathon, YAY! Low’s in the 50’s at the start and a predicted high in the low 70’s. I was up at 4am and out the door to catch the subway into Seoul by 5am. It was a long trip, first drive to base, then catch a cab to the train, then an hour and a half on the train to Seoul City Hall, thankfully there were no train changes!

       Arriving at the start, I decided it was warm enough that I didn’t need pants or socks/flip-flops to keep me warm until the gun went off so I stuffed them in my bag and headed to the bag check. I’ve read many times that Koreans can be very aggressive, but my interactions with them have always been delightfully pleasant with people standing in orderly lines to wait their turn, etc. I can’t say the same for bag check, it was like a piranha feeding frenzy! We are given plastic draw string bags and sent to stand in line for stickers so your bag has a number and you have a matching number to stick on your bib. All was fine until we got close to the start and they had run out of stickers. People were getting antsy and when some poor guy was sent out with a handful of stickers he was mobbed like something from an Argentinian Soccer game! In my attempt to get my hands on a sticker I was stepped all over (not the best time to be barefoot), shoved into a planter hard enough to leave bruises on my shins and almost had the stickers ripped out of my hands by other runners. I finally managed to get the stickers in the right places and realized I was never going to get near the truck to place my bag because of the angry mob trying to get stickers. About that time a bag went sailing over my head and into the truck so I thought, what the heck, and hurled mine over about 20 people with my fingers crossed that I would see it again at the end of the race.

       It was actually a very small marathon by Korean standards. There couldn’t have been more than a few hundred people for the full and probably less than 1,000 for the full, half, 10K and 5K combined. While waiting for the start I chatted with a few runners, including an Ironman wearing a shirt from the Gobi Desert Marathon, WOW!!! The news station covering the races came up to take shots of my feet. They panned from my face, to my bib, to my bare feet, asked me to move them up and down like I was running, and then wanted to see the bottoms, LOL.

       Finally they fired off the fireworks to signal the start and we all shuffled under the arch. Since it was a small marathon, staying at the back and not passing people didn’t give me as slow of a start as I had planned so I still ended up taking off too fast. There were no spectators or trash cans along the course so when I was finally ready to ditch my jacket, I handed it off to a very confused police man.

       My plan for gels was one every 30 minutes or so including one just before the start, for a total of 10 over the course of the marathon, but I only managed to gag down 8. It worked though, I never hit the wall as far as exhaustion or lack of glycogen. Mentally though I was feeling pretty over the whole thing by mile 20 and my hip flexors were bothering me from 15 on. I don’t know what I did wrong, but by the time I hit 20 I was in way worse shape than I was when I ran 19 or 20 for long runs and I was running slower. I suspect running slow and walking actually added to the impact and hurt me more than it helped.

       Over the 5 hours I was on the course, I talked to many people, American and Korean, and other than the debacle at the bag check I had a great time. Once the miles were into the teens I put in an ear bud and lost myself in my audio book and eventually switched over to music. At 20 miles I was feeling discouraged because I felt more tired and sore than I should have at that point. At 23 miles I was beginning to perk back up despite being about .4 over the markers for distance. That meant a 26.6 mile marathon and I was barely hanging onto my pace. By 25 I was digging deep and we were running down a freeway that was in total gridlock. Seriously, they ran us up an onramp and onto a freeway for the last mile!!! It was even packed with rush hour traffic so we were choking on exhaust fumes.

My Cheering crew, the Osan Bulgogi Hash House Harriers!

      As we exited the freeway and approached the entrance to the park where the race was to finish I began to hear cheers and whistles that meant one thing, the Hash House Harriers were waiting for me with beer!!! I’m not really a big beer drinker, but it is the best thing in the world at the end of a very long run when the thought of something sweet makes you gag and your mouth is stuck shut from breathing hard for 5 hours. They were about 100 yards before the finish line and it was close to the 5 hour cut off so I hugged a few people, downed my Dixie cup of beer and did my best to sprint for the finish line.

       My official chip time was 4:58:09, which wasn’t what I was hoping for, BUT I successfully finished before the course closed, ran the entire thing in bare feet, and as of today (Tuesday here in Korea) I am only the tiniest bit sore. So other than not setting a PR, I met the rest of my goals and will be ready to do it all again on Oct. 23rd!

Not sure why they were rearranging the mats at that moment

Epilogue: Following a marathon, the brain of a runner is not particularly sharp and decision making skills are not at their peak. Since my HHH friends were so wonderful to meet me at the finish, I decided to tag along with them to watch the start of the Hash event for the afternoon. Before I knew exactly what was going on, I was entered in a running event called The Beer Mile. Still wearing my race bib and medal, I proceeded to run one last mile on a ¼ mile track that included chugging a beer at the start of each lap. I finished the mile in 4th place (thanks to a friend that let me pass her,) and then threw up all the beer (THANK GOODNESS!) Taking tired to a whole new level, I finally managed to convince a few people that it was time to go so I could follow them back to Osan (I had no idea where I was in Seoul for the hash event.)

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Marathon training week 15

       Late blogging again! What can I say, marathon training is very time consuming and some things just get put on the back burner for a while.

       So to catch everyone up, I just finished my miles for week 15. Since I modified my Hal Higdon Novice 2 plan, this means I ran 12 miles today and will have my “training” marathon next weekend, EEEPP!

       Everything is going great so far. There is something almost magical about the 20 mile run and last Friday was no exception. Once you get to that peak mileage run you have reached the top of the mountain. You have put on all the miles. You are ready for the big day! Granted, there are still quite a few miles left, and of course the big 26.2 ahead of you, but really, that is the frosting. Once you have hit your longest training run you have summited. I’ve had friends that ended up sick or injured at this point, didn’t run again until race day, and still managed a PR. I don’t recommend this route, but my point is that once you have mastered your long runs, you are there.

       Tossing in an extra marathon does complicate this somewhat. I am significantly shortening my taper, but although I am adding to my training, I am also not planning to run either marathon full out. Clare asked me what my goal pace was because it looks like I’m shooting for a 4 hour marathon. Yes, that is how my plan is set up, but that isn’t how I plan to run. The Chuncheon marathon is hilly, I’m not sure how hilly so I don’t know how much it will slow me down, and I don’t know how the first marathon will impact the second. So at the moment, although my training pace runs would give me a sub-4 marathon, I am actually shooting for more like a 4:30, but if it takes longer, that is okay too.

       So what really are my goals? 1) To finish a barefoot marathon. I will likely wear shoes for the second one since it will be colder and I want to spend more time looking at the view than worrying about every little piece of gravel on the road, but the race next weekend is my Barefoot attempt. 2) I want to qualify for Marathon Maniacs. Marathons are cheap and often here in Korea so I likely won’t have another chance to run 2 in 2 weeks without spending a bundle once we go back to the US. 3) to PR two more times. This shouldn’t be a problem since my goal pace of 11 minutes per mile for next week is a full minute per mile slower than I ran my 20 miler last week. This pace would give me a PR of several minutes and I know I can do better yet on the 23rd.

       Could I push it and run a sub-4 hour marathon? Maybe, I would certainly like to think I could. I’ve trained for it and according to all the information I should be prepared, BUT it would hurt and I would hurt for days after, I would significantly increase my risk of injury, and it wouldn’t be as much fun. I can meet my first 3 goals without pushing myself to the point of pain, so why kill myself when I have the rest of my life to run a sub-4. I do hope to do that in the next few years, but until 2013, it wouldn’t do anything more than give me bragging rights. Once I open that 2013 calendar, then I only need a 3:55 to qualify for Boston, and THAT is worth the pain!

Next post should be a marathon race report!!!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Marathon training week 13

         As I tumble into week 13 of marathon training, I’m starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I still have my longest runs ahead of me, but my hardest pace runs are behind me and they went really well. My second 8 mile pace run was so successful that I made up the time from the warm up mile and finished with 9 mpm average for all 9 miles. Lots of splits in the 8:30 to 8:40 range. Today was 5 miles at pace and I even managed a 4:05 half mile split in the last mile! This Friday will be my 19 mile run, but it doesn’t scare me now since I’ve run 18 and what is a mile or two more, right?

      It was a long emotional weekend and my RA is flared up (too many chocolate chip cookies probably played a large part.) A good 12 hour sleep helped, but the joints in my feet are swollen making it feel like I’m walking on marbles again. I was really worried about how it would affect my pace run today, but once I got out there and got moving the pain subsided. I’m tired now and my feet hurt again, but I don’t mind. Tomorrow will be an easy 5 miles with the dog and then a rest day and by then things will feel much better. My calf has not given me any further problems and my piriformis has stayed no more than background noise. My doc wants to do an MRI on it just to be sure there isn’t a pinched nerve or something since the pain has been going on for so long, but I doubt he will find anything.

      I admit I’m feeling a touch burnt out on running at the moment, but I know that is more because of other circumstances in my life than the miles I’m logging. Once I’m on the road, I always wonder why I was so resistant to getting out there in the first place. Once I am done with the run, I’m very glad I didn’t let the nagging voices in my head stop me. I’ve logged well over 300 miles since I started training and have almost 200 left to go; this is low mileage training as marathons go. I’m already thinking ahead to training for next year. What I need to do differently, what is working now. I've already learned a lot this training cycle and the biggest lessons are yet to come! I've read that to really know what you are doing in a marathon, you need to train and run 4 times. I believe it!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Interview with Run Barefoot Girl

     A few weeks ago I was interviewed by Caity of Run Barefoot Girl podcast. It was a ton of fun and we ended up on Skype for nearly an hour after the interview ended just chatting about running and life. Caity wants to promote women and barfoot running since it seems to be a male dominated movement. I think she is doing a great job and I really enjoyed our interview. I hope you will too.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Marathon training weeks 9, 10, & 11

Wow, time is flying by! Over two weeks since my last blog and so much to talk about!

       For starters, I pulled my calf last week. I’m not sure if it was the hills I added to my long run, my pace run, or something I did running the crazy obstacle course we call a Hash House Harrier run, but somewhere along the line my lower calf became very painful. The location was about 4 inches above my heel to the outer side of my Achilles, so the lower part of my Soleus.

       My 8 miles pace run on Tuesday the 23rd went fantastic, largely thanks to a cool front that brought the temperature down to the low 60’s. After a nice easy mile warm up, I managed my 9 minute per mile pace and even included a couple of walking breaks so most of my splits were in the 8:30 to 8:45 range. It was a really great run, but the next day my calf was in serious pain. This is NOT what you want to feel during training for a major race! I went ahead and ran my 4 miles the next day, talking it very slow with lots of walking breaks and really paying close attention to my form and what made my calf feel better or worse. I was able to establish that pushing off from the ball of my foot was the main culprit so I concentrated on picking my feet straight up and using my glutes and hams for my forward motion. I made it through the run with no additional pain to my Soleus and focused on ice and rest for the next 48 hours.

       By Friday morning my leg was still quite tender, but doing better. I decided to go ahead and start my planned 17 mile run, but I was prepared to throw in the towel if the pain got worse. In the first few miles there were definitely times I didn’t think I would finish my run, but as I adjusted my form I was able to make the pain go away and stay away. By the end of the first 6 mile loop, my calf was tender, but not painful and I managed to finish my run. Although I had plenty of half mile splits that were on target for a 10 mpm pace, I took walking breaks and did not stop the clock for water/bathroom breaks so my average pace was 10:48 for the run in general. Not great, but considering the heat and pulled calf, not too shabby either.

       For week 11 I decided to concentrate on letting my calf heal without giving up too much mileage. I rested Saturday by not going on trail with the Harriers and just walking a couple of miles. I totally rested Sunday, and skipped my run on Monday. By then my calf was MUCH better but I figured I would benefit more from resting than running 5 miles. Tuesday It felt great so I went on my 8 miler. I decided to take it very slow, plenty of walk breaks, and do some trail scouting so I was up and down hills, through the woods, and around town. It made for an incredibly slow average, but my calf was no worse so I considered it a success.

       I decided that running every other day would be the most conducive to my calf healing so I skipped my 5 easy miles run Wednesday and ran my 18 mile long run Thursday. I was really glad I did! The 18 miles went great. No problems with my calf and only a tiny bit sore now (Friday here in Korea). I managed to finish all 18 miles in 3 hours flat, despite the first two miles being very slow as I ran through town to get to the base (Hubby had the car). The temps were from the low 60’s to low 70’s over the course of 3 hours, but there was a wonderful thick fog that kept the sun off me, which is the number one thing that zapps my speed. My last half mile split was 9:01! It felt so great to meet my long run goals and at the end I could have kept going. I am really hopeful for my upcoming marathons and feel much better now that my calf is on the mend.

       The hardest weeks are past me now. Last week was the most intense, if not the highest mileage, because of the 8 mile pace run and 17 mile long run. This week did not have a pace run to go with the 18 mile long run and next week has my last 8 mile pace run, but the long run is a fall back to 12 miles. After that the pace runs come way down and I only have 2 more miles to add to long training runs. The “training” marathon will be longer, of course, but the atmosphere will be very different and I plan to take it much slower than usual, shooting for 11 mpm pace for the first 20 and then see how I feel at that point.

       I am resting today and running hard and fast tomorrow. I will be marking the trail for the Harriers which means extra running (to mark detractors and false trails, it is like a scavenger hunt) and to keep from getting “snared” by the runners behind me. I’ll have another rest day Sunday, and then be back on track for full marathon training starting Monday with week 12.

       RA update: I got a steroid injection in my wrist so it is %100 better! All else is behaving.

       Barefoot update: Feet are holding up fine. I wore VFFs for the first two miles of my 18 yesterday because I had to run from home to the base, but 2 more miles would not have been a problem. I’m feeling much more confident about putting 26.2 on my bare feet!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Marathon training weeks 7 & 8

       I had a crazy week this past week, which is my sorry excuse for missing a blog.

       Last week I hit some new levels. It was my longest barefoot road run, and also my longest run in intense heat. Friday the 5th, the sun came out and baked me nearly into heat exhaustion and the humidity drove me to near water toxicity. The sweat simply could not evaporate off my body so I kept pushing more and more water and had no extra gel or sports drink with me. Later, when the sun baked, brain fog had cleared, I realized I had taken in almost 100 oz. of water with only on small 10 oz. portion being a sports drink and one gel. No wonder I had a headache, stomach ache and my muscles were threatening to cramp! I was okay, although very slow, for the first 12 miles. I was able to stop in a restroom to take a break and cover myself in water at mile 13, but the last mile was at a snail’s pace and I felt horrible. Fortunately the headache and stomach ache started within sight of my car. Needless to say I felt bad for the next couple of days and learned a valuable lesson.

       This week went great despite having to delay my runs 2 hours each morning so I could drop my daughter off for VBS at 8:30. My easy run on Wednesday was with a new friend who is a much better runner than I am (she is also an Ironman, Marathon Maniac, and knocks out sub 4 marathons like they are nothing.) Needless to say I ran my 4 miles a bit faster than my usual 10 mpm easy pace, but I did actually manage to talk the whole time. My rest day was spent doing house work to get ready for a party Friday night in my husband’s honor. I wanted to have as much as possible done so I could spend the morning in my long run and still be ready on time. I’m proud to say I managed a great 15 mile run! The rain had rolled in so the sun was obscured, it was only about 77 degrees at the start, and I think the humidity was a bit lower because the sweat was actually evaporating off my arms, YAY! My pace was only 4 seconds slower than planned, even though I took a few walking breaks, so I felt really good about dealing with the heat. I made sure I had plenty of my favorite sports drink, Cytomax, on hand. I started with 20 0z. of water and 20 oz. of Cytomax, refilled the same after 6 miles, and topped off a bit after 12.

        By the time I started the last 3 miles I was tired. With a long list of things I still needed to do for the party, and my car right there, it was REALLY REALLY hard no to blow off the last 3 miles and head for the shower. However, those are the 3 miles that mean the most. It is the last few miles, when we are tired, bored, and struggling that really build our endurance both mental and physical. The ability to keep going even when we have an impressive list of excuses about why we should stop is what makes someone a distance runner. I was also thinking about my running buddy back in Vegas, Bruce. He has had his final radiation treatment this week. I firmly believe the strength he pulled out to finish marathons and marathon training is what not only got him through 12 weeks of chemo and radiation, but also got him through working full time through it all as a cabbie with a feeding tube stuck in his belly. With that in my mind, how could I give up with 3 lousy miles left to go when I felt good, other than being a little tired. Besides, one more half hour wasn’t going to make much of a difference in my preparations.

       After my run and a good round of stretches, I had 30 minutes to wait on my daughter. It wasn’t enough time to go home and get back so I parked in our usual meeting area, reclined my seat and stuck my feet out the window. Elevating my legs made the tired aching stop and I dozed while listening to an audio book for about half an hour. At home I showered and napped for one more 30 minute stretch and was good as new! The party went great, despite torrential rain that kept everyone cooped up in the house, and I managed to stay on my feet as hostess and even get the majority of the cleanup done before falling into bed about 1am. I am a true believer that short naps and elevating your legs do wonders for your recovery! I had worried that I would suffer for having done my long run, but I was also strongly bent on not missing it.

        Running a marathon really isn’t the hard part; it is keeping up with a training schedule for 18 weeks and not letting excuses get in your way. I could easily have begged off my long run, no one would have faulted me. It might not have even cost me on race day to miss just one, but in my mind it would have been a defeat. Now, instead of feeling like a slacker for not running, I feel like super woman!

       Barefoot update: feet are doing great! No blisters, although I do have a couple of tender thin spots from constantly having wet feet while running, but nothing that makes me miss a run or cut a run short.

       RA update: My wrist continues to be a problem and I’m thinking of going in to beg for an injection into the joint. I can hardly move it and I fell on it Saturday when I slipped on stairs (which also resulted in a scraped elbow, stiff neck, and nasty bruise on my rump, but I saved the cake!) Otherwise, my RA is behaving.

Mileage for last week:

Mon: 4 easy. Tues: 8, 7 at race pace. Wed: 4 easy. Fri. 14 LSD

Miles for this past week:

Mon: 4 easy. Tues: 7 easy. Wed: 4 easy. Fri: 15 LSD

Monday, August 1, 2011

Running: Are You in the Zone?

Refreshing          Building Block          Over the Line

              The Good Zone

       When it comes to a basic idea for improving your running, there are 3 zones. For this blog I will call them 1) Refreshing 2) Building Block and 3) Over the Line.

       Refreshing runs are important and often beneficial and necessary. These are recovery runs where our bodies are getting a break. They are a mentally beneficial and very enjoyable when run on a lovely day, with a friend who isn’t quite where we are, with the family dog or kids on scooters and tricycles, or just a few easy miles to shake off the cobwebs the day before speed work or the day after. These are great runs that we shouldn’t ignore, but they are for recovery and do little to improve speed, endurance, or strength.

       Building Block is the meat and potatoes. This is where you are pushing, building, gaining, and growing as a runner. It might be a long run, tempo run, speed work, race, or any combination where you take yourself a little farther or faster than you did last week or last month or last year. These runs are mentally and physically draining, but exhilarating at the same time. The sense of accomplishment is great, BUT, it is not something we can do every day.

       Over the Line is when you have crossed the line, pushed too hard and are in the injury zone. Sometimes we cross this line like we have been shot out of a cannon, the sudden loud pop as a bone or tendon gives way, the sharp pain of muscle fibers losing their grip on each other and tearing, the cramp from Hell that stops us in our tracks. Then there are also the slow building injuries that come from crossing the line just a little day after day: the shin splints, plantar fasciitis, IT Band syndrome, runner’s knee, the nagging injuries that start as a twinge that can be ignored or propped up until after the big race. This is the zone to avoid and the trick is to get close and gain maximum benefit, without actually crossing the line.

       Sadly, these zones are not written on the pavement and they change from day to day. They also interact, which can be good or bad depending on how we handle our training. We can push away the start of Over the Line with runs from Refreshing. We can widen Building Block with strength and cross training. We can run right up to the edge of Over the Line with coaches that can spot fatigue or form issues, masseuses to work out the knots, and therapists to keep everything in tip top shape, but few of us have the resources or need for that level of training. The trick is to get out of Refreshing and spend enough time in Building Block to keep moving forward, without crossing the line into Over the Line. Easy-peasy, right? Not so!

       In the early weeks of a full or half marathon training plan, one is generally in their comfort zone distance wise. Having finished the first third of my marathon training I’m feeling good. The pace runs have been tough, largely because of the heat, but the long runs have not exceeded my routine distances so I feel like I have not really left Refreshing. However, week 7 will be very much into my Building Block. My pace run will be 7 miles (that’s a one mile warm up and then 7 miles at 9 mpm, pace runs will peak at 8 miles in this training plan.) My long run will hit 14 miles and take me into new territory with my bare feet. A year ago I ran 15 miles barefoot, but it was on a trail, so from here on out, I’m logging my longest barefoot road runs ever. To cap it off, my easy runs have another mile added to them so my weekly total will exceed 30 miles for the first time. I have had a couple of 28 mile weeks this year and 2 more miles doesn’t seem like much of a difference, but there is something psychological about rolling over to 3-0. All in all, I’m ready. My schedule is based around my runs, my family is supportive, and I have enough strength and stamina to do this. Onward!

This past week:

Mon: 3 easy miles in the morning, 2 crazy miles in the evening.

Tues: Decided to postpone my pace run to recover from being out too late Monday

Wed: 7 miles, one mile warm up and then 6 miles at pace with a break in the middle. It was nearly 80F in the gym, but lightening outside so not a lot of choice.

Fri: 9 miles and then back in to the doctor because my throat is sore again. Turns out I still have bronchitis so I’m on round 2 of antibiotics and hoping this will be the last of it. Now I know why I have felt short of breath!

I’m on my 4th day of antibiotics and feeling much better. No more sore throat and no more gunky cough. Now to get used to the allergy meds so I’m not falling asleep all the time! The flare in my wrist is still driving me nuts, but now slowing my runs. And yes, I’m still putting in all my miles barefoot!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Running, Where We Actually Get A's for Effort

"Life doesn't require that we be the best, only that we try our best."

**H. Jackson Brown, Jr. **
       When non-runners look at the running world, they see the leaders like Ryan Hall or Kara Goucher eating up the roads at magnificent speeds and appreciate the skill, determination, and work that has gone into those hard won miles. Runners see the same things, but it extends much further. Anyone that has been part of the larger running community, like participating in local 5K charity races either as runners or volunteers, knows the blood sweat and tears that can go into the finishing chute with the average Joe long after the Ryan’s and Kara’s are gone.

       Watching the finishers cross the line for a local 5K you see many different stories. You see the guy that has run all his life and breezes over the line in 22 minutes. He didn’t try his hardest that day, he has a more important race coming up, but he wanted to run with his friends or support a particular charity. Everyone cheers for his great time, gives him high fives, and he may even walk away with a shiny age group award. I appreciate his hard work and achievements, but there are more touching stories to come.

      The real inspiration comes in later. You see the 80 year old man that struggles to cross the line before the chute is packed up and taken away. You see the woman that has recently lost 70 pounds and is over the moon because she ran all 3 miles and 180 yards without walking. You see the 40 year old that decided to get serious about his health and giving it all to bread 30 minutes. You also see the survivors of cancer, heart disease, abuse, and an endless list of other challenges straining to do their best. What time these people finish or what place they received for their age group is totally immaterial. They are out there giving their very best effort for no one but themselves. They are there to prove they are stronger than their struggles and the crowd cheers for them like they did the ones that crossed the line early on. Sure, Olympians are inspiring, but I know I will never run like that. It is the rest of the people that inspire me more. To be strong like them, to have that heart and determination, that is what I strive for. I hope I am still crossing finish lines when I’m 80! I hope that if I ever have to face cancer, I can do it with that kind of courage.

       A dear running friend of mine is more than half way through cancer treatment. He has battled through Chemo therapy while working full time at a physically demanding job. Now he has a few more weeks of radiation to go, but he is back on the treadmill and just knocked out his first mile. In comparison to his achievements of qualifying for the Boston Marathon 3 times, running one single mile in a day may seem like nothing, but it is everything. It is the WIN over cancer. It was the hardest mile he has ever run, and it is the most inspiring mile he has ever run. THIS is the thought that gets me out the door when I don’t feel like running. This is the thought that keeps me setting goals and pushing forward. If Bruce, with a feeding tube in his stomach and a body ravaged by deadly chemicals and radiation, can step up and run, I can put my excuses on the shelf and get out the door. (For more of Bruce’s story, please see his blog )

       So what was my week like? Well, I’m still pretty cruddy from last week’s bug so my times were much slower than I like, but I got the miles in and hope in the next week or two to be back up to pace.

Mon: 3 easy miles

Tues: 7 stronger miles

Wed: 3 easy miles

Fri: 11 mile long run.

Sat: extra recovery day

      I choose to skip the hash run this Saturday to try and kick the last of the crud with back to back rest days. I had a nice mile+ walk just to shake the lead out, but otherwise give my body time to heal. I’m primed and ready to begin week 5 tomorrow!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Marathon training: Quick Update

Quick update:

       Runner’s World has been interesting the last couple of months. July was about the relationship between cancer and running, which is very strong. They talked about how distance running gives people back control over their lives. I agree with that 100%! Running gave me control over my body despite RA and I’ve seen it give people control when they felt they had lost it over illness, abuse, or just a bad run of luck. In the August issue there is an article about pain that asked at the end if people with chronic pain would react differently if they were feeling the same pain while crossing the finish line of a marathon with a cheering crowd. Well, DUH, of course, but there is no cheering section for chronic pain sufferers. We didn’t ask to be there, we didn’t work to be there, there is no gain from chronic pain.

       People often wonder at why I would train for and run a marathon. Why would I want to put my body through that kind of pain? It is very simple. I have resigned myself to the fact that pain is part of my life. When I don’t run, I have RA pain, when I do run I have all the aches and pains that go with pushing your body to its limits. Obviously on the running side one has better health, a better figure, and a more positive outlook, but there is one other factor and that is CHOICE. If I’m hurting at the end of a speed work out or pushing the last mile of a race, I’m hurting because I choose to and I can make it stop any time. By choosing that pain and pushing the envelope, I am exempting myself (for the most part) from the uncontrollable, unchosen, unending pain of Rheumatoid Arthritis. I did not choose to have RA so when it takes over my life and rides roughshod over my decisions, it makes me bitter and angry. I choose to run and when I am sore and aching I know it means I am getting stronger. When months of my life were spent surviving and never getting on top of all the things I needed to do, let alone get around to something I wanted to do, it plunged me into the depths of despair for months at a time. When months of exhaustive efforts see me successfully crossing the finish line, I am elated and on a high that lasts far longer. To me that makes marathon training a no-brainer.

       I ran 3 miles this morning. They were slow, but good. I didn’t start feeling wiped out until the last mile and considering I haven’t taken my Enbrel in over a week that is very good. My chest has cleared up, but my head has not, which means I’m still coughing from the gunk in my head, but no more of the deep chested stuff. I am better, but not yet well and it is okay. I ran today.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Marathon Training week 3/18

       Training plans are a wonderful tool. They take the knowledge of great coach and make it available to the masses. The down side is that people often feel they have to follow the plans to the letter, and if they can’t, they are sure they are doomed to failure. It is rare that someone embarks on a 16 or 18 weeks plan and sees it through without a hiccup. The reality is that life usually butts in at some point, throwing off the schedule, making us miss runs, and consequently undermining our confidence.

       This has been one of those weeks for me. I was feeling run down from a weekend of too much fun, with late nights and a bit more drinking than usual, but I wasn’t too worried. Usually a nice easy 3 miler will clear away the sluggish overwrought feelings and clear up minor head colds, but not always, it can also bring things to an ugly head. I had started with a bit of a cough on Thursday evening, but wrote it off an typical allergies and post nasal drip. Unfortunately, following my 3 mile run, I was coughing up some scary stuff and through the course of the day I felt worse and worse with each passing hour. By Tuesday morning I was feeling horrible and went to the clinic. Sadly, doctors that do not know us do not always have confidence in our personal assessments so my knowing I had an infection fell on deaf ears. I was given the usual gamut of over the counter medications and sent home with instructions to come back if I was still sick the next week.

       Chest colds are dangerous for people on Enbrel. One of the side effects of this RA drug is that it predisposes us to a deadly form of pneumonia so, needless to say, I was very concerned that this bronchitis would turn into pneumonia and knock me flat for weeks or months. Marathon training aside, this would put a serious crimp in my life and that of my family. If I were hospitalized and the doctors here decided they could not meet my medical needs, my daughter and I would be sent back to the States and my husband would have to finish out the rest of his 3 year commitment in Korea alone. My motivation to stay as healthy as possible is very high indeed! In addition to treating my illness I also have to stop taking Enbrel to allow my immune system to be as strong as possible; this sets me up for a whopper of an RA flare.

       By Thursday, I was running a fever and far more sick so I went back to the clinic. This time I was listened too and given antibiotics, along with more decongestants. I appear to slowly be getting better, but it will be a week or two before I’m back on track. If this antibiotic isn’t strong enough, it will mean more weeks out, more time off my RA meds, and more time lost from marathon training.

       At the moment I am still optimistic. Having just started training, I’m still within distances that I am very comfortable with so a week or two off won’t matter much. A month off would be a problem. If this illness had hit after week 10 or 12, it could possibly have meant canceling. I know that marathon training is not really important compared to pneumonia and all the complications that would go with it, but for a runner, losing that which keeps us positive and on track is frustrating and disabling. Only another athlete can understand that. The race itself is merely frosting, it is what I gain mentally and physically from the training that holds my life together. I’m going buggy laying around watching movies and sleeping between coughing fits.

       As of Sunday morning, I’m nearly finished with my 5 day course of antibiotics and feeling somewhat more human. If this trend continues I will try going for a short run tomorrow and see how it goes. I’m a big believer in sweating out crud and breathing deeply to clear out the lungs so hopefully a nice easy run, followed by a good nap will do a world of good.

Week 3: one pitiful 3 mile run

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Marathon training week 2/18

       Things are still going well and I’m feeling good. The niggling issues of my piriformis is at least not getting worse, and may be getting better. In September, when my favorite massage therapist gets back from vacation, I’ll start getting regular deep tissue massages (every other week) and see how that works for improving things. I’m doing everything I can so maybe adding the massages will finally kick the issue.

       The big running tragedy this week is that my beloved Garmin gave up the ghost. Yes, I’ve tried everything, all the resets, all the tricks, it is truly dead. I believe the battery is shot and the mode button no longer works right so I ordered a new one and am anxiously awaiting its arrival! In the meantime, I’m using Map My Run and past experience to gauge my distances. I have a pretty good idea where each mile mark is around the flight line to keep a bead on my time and where to turn around, so it hasn’t been a total disaster. Also, if I haven’t received my new Garmin by Tuesday (which is pretty likely since the whole base stands down for 5 days to celebrate the 4th of July) I can borrow a heart rate monitor from the gym to help me stay in the right zone for my pace run.

So, for this week….

Mon: 3 easy miles. It was a touch colder and more windy following the tropical storm that blew by so not as comfortable running in the rain as I would have liked, but not totally miserable either.

Tuesday: 5 easy miles, which I turned into 6 because it is easier to just finish the circle around the flight line. I got a late start because hubby went in to work a little later so it was steaming hot. Also, without the Garmin, I pushed too hard and finished with an average pace of 9:30 mpm.

Wed: 3 easy miles again, but so humid! It was 75F with 100% humidity at 6:30 in the morning, like trying to run with a pillow over your face! Again, I ran it way too fast trying to get it over with. 9:20 mpm pace.

Thur: rest day! Which would have been great if I had taken it more seriously, but social obligations had me out way past my bed time and I had 2 drinks, which is more than usual for me so I was feeling pretty tired the next morning.

Fri: Long run, 9 miles. Tired and dehydrated from being out the night before made my 9 mile long run exhausting. I also need to work on my calorie consumption. I had my usual coffee with milk and banana, plus a handful of nuts, but after 30 minutes when I decided to have a gel, I realized I had left it in the car, UGH! By 5 miles I was starving and miserable, but I knew the only way to fix it was to get back to the car and the protein shake waiting for me. With a couple of walking breaks thrown in I finished in just under 1:30 so spot on for my 10 mpm planned pace. In the past I have had my long runs on the weekend and had time to rest afterwards, but on Fridays I don’t have that luxury. I was busy non-stop the rest of the day, ending with hanging out with friends for hours, drinking wine and staying out past midnight. This wouldn’t be so bad if I could sleep in Saturday morning, but I wake up at 5:30 no matter what I do. After once again exceeding my one glass norm, (by 3 glasses), Saturday morning was not pretty.

Sat: Hash run! I really debated this one. I was so tired from being out two nights in a row and it was so hot out! However, I really enjoy running with this group and as I’m the official blogger for it, I feel somewhat obligated to go. Fortunately, everyone was tired and dying of the heat so it wasn’t a heavy duty run. The one problem with this group is the tendency to share bottles. When someone stops and buys an ice cold bottle of water or beer and offers you a sip, it is hard to pass up. Unfortunately, I must knock this off because I am catching everyone’s colds and have spent more time sick in the last 2 months than I have in the previous 2 years. By Saturday morning I was coughing and am now miserable with another cold. It is very unusual for me to have so much going on in one weekend, so I’m sure this won’t be often repeated. Even so, I need to stay more focused on my health, make sure I get enough rest, and stop pushing so hard with everything else in my life. As much as I would like to deny it, I am neither 20 years old nor healthy; I cannot get away with burning the candle at both ends and expect to finish a marathon.
My Saturday running group, the Osan Bulgogi Hash House Harriers

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Marathon training week 1/18

Time to get back to weekly blogging!!!

       I just completed week 1 of my 18 week marathon training program for the Chuncheon Marathon in South Korea. I will be following Hal Higdon’s Novice 2 program with the slight modification of shifting the days to meet my needs. Everything will be one day earlier so that my long run is on Friday, leaving me Saturday for cross training and Sunday free. My cross training will consist of the stationary bike and a few miles here and there with the local Hash House Harriers.

       Hash House Harriers is definitely not for everyone, but if you can get past the adolescent humor and beer consumption (or embrace it) the runs are tons of fun and consist more of walking and hiking than actually running (although groups can be vastly different). The best part is we run in a big chatty group so at least once a week I am not running alone.

       One other detail that I have made a goal is to run the marathon barefoot. The weather should be good enough on race day and I have all summer to get out the door at 6:30 before the pavement heats up, so I’m shooting for most, if not all of my training runs to also be barefoot. With the exception of the hash run, all miles were bare this week. Hashing barefoot is not an option!

Week 1

Mon: 3 easy miles. I typically HATE runs like this, but they definitely serve a purpose by knocking off the cobwebs created by the previous week’s pace and long runs and loosen me up for Tuesday’s effort.

Tues: 5 mile pace run. Since taking off at full speed is very hard on the body and not easy to do, I start by warming up with an easy 1 mile run and then step it up to my training pace for the assigned distance. This pace should be the pace you plan to run your marathon. The Chuncheon course includes a lot of hills and I am contemplating running a second marathon 2 weeks later to qualify for Marathon Maniacs so I am training as if I plan to run a 4 hour marathon, but will actually hope to end up running at a 4:30 pace on race day. For my pace run I had to push to keep the proper pace, but it was more of a mental issue than a physical one. As the temperatures rise and the distance increases, I’m sure it will get harder.

Wed: 3 easy miles. I did not mind 3 miles so much this time, LOL. I was tired from my run the day before and this was just to keep the rust from settling in. It had rained just before I ran so the air was like molasses. After getting cleaned up from my run I went for my first deep tissue massage. I hope to make this a regular part of my training plan as I definitely have a lot of knots to work out. I was sore the next day, but felt good!

Thurs: Rest day. I am so ready to run and train that it is hard to take a rest day. The first 3 days felt very easy and it was tempting to lengthen a run or two, but I know I need to build gradually and that the mileage will be more than enough very soon.

Fri: LONG RUN!! Once a month, I have managed to get in a run of 10 miles or more so only running 8 this week actually felt wimpy. It was my favorite kind of weather, 65F and pouring rain! I love stomping in puddles and feeling the rain on my skin. My hat keeps it out of my eyes and I was never too warm or too cool. I could definitely have gone longer, but decided to stick to the plan and headed into the gym for stretches and a little hip/core work. The Korean cleaning ladies were not amused with me dripping all over their floor.

Sat: Hash House Harrier run! We actually did a bit more running than usual, about 5 miles total on my feet and since we didn’t head up into the hills there were no hiking or steep climbs. We did do a lot of standing around and walking so it took a couple of hours to cover the distance, but it was fun and gave my muscles a break while still keeping me moving.

So there you have it, my first week done, 17 left to go!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

On the Road Again

    I haven’t blogged in a while. Well, actually I blogged on my notebook and the whole thing disappeared, so it didn’t make it to the internet.

       Mostly I haven’t had much to blog about. The three week long virus really took its toll. Then I had a good week before going on vacation where I busted a toe (either sprained or broken, but definitely purple,) and strained my already over sensitive Achilles. So I have been resting and fighting an RA flare.

       One thing I have been working on lately is running for the fun of it and not letting running run my life. Being on the verge of marathon training, I’m looking at my 18 week plan and realizing this will be my life for the next 4 ½ months. Often, after a course of marathon training, people are burnt out and swear they will never do it again. Most eventually forget their negative feelings and start up the next year, but my goal is not to get to that place. I want to enjoy my training and finish my marathon thinking about the next one. I want to work my training around my life so that I don’t feel like I am giving up living to run. Part of the way I am doing this is by picking a less aggressive training plan than I had originally intended and rearranging the days so that my long run is on Friday, I can cross train by doing an extremely easy run/hike with a fun group on Saturdays, and take Sunday totally off to be ready to start again on Monday.

       I’m also learning not to be a slave to a schedule. I love to count things, nearly to the point of being obsessive so it thrills me to see my miles adding up, calculate my averages, and fill in the pages of my log. Unfortunately, I often get lost in the numbers and fail to listen to my body because I don’t want to fall behind on my mileage goals, but this is a recipe for disaster. I will track my training miles, but if it miss a run, oh well, I’m not going to let it make me a worried wreck about race day. I know I can finish a marathon, training is just about how fast and how I’ll feel the next day. Yes, I’d love to set a personal record, but more importantly I want to ENJOY the process and race!

       I hate when I feel like RA has won a battle so I was really unhappy when I finally caved and went in for a steroid shot. I really didn’t want to resort to steroids again, but after all the things that have added up to set off this flare, I just could not seem to get a handle on it on my own. RA is about staying ahead of the flares and once you get behind the 8-ball it is hard to get ahead of it again. Maybe I should have been patient and let it subside on its own, but I have run out of patience and want to get on with my life. It has been 7 months since my last dose of steroids, which is longer than I have gone in a couple of years so I guess I have made some progress. I nearly had a car accident Wednesday morning because I was so tired I wasn’t paying attention. That was what tipped the scales. I won’t take steroids just to run, but when I become a road hazard, it is time to do something.

       The good news is that I ran 4 lovely miles yesterday with great splits. The first mile was really rough as I was sore and my muscles felt like leaded rocks, but once I was loosened up I felt great. Today I’m hitting the gym and tomorrow I have 2 runs with different Hash House Harrier groups!! They are the most fun people I have ever run with and even the long bus ride to and from the first Hash will be a ton of fun. I needed more raw fun in my life and this has really done the trick! If you are ever in the mood for abject silliness, I highly recommend finding a group near you.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

12th Hwaseong Filial Piety Marathon Competition

Me down front, barefoot
  Being associated with the military here has lots of perks. One of which is being invited to fun events like the Hwaseong Filial Piety Marathon Competition. In Korea, all races are called “marathon” (likely something is being lost in translation) so today’s race was actually a half marathon, 10K, or 5K fun run. Either way it was a stunningly beautiful (if a bit warm) day. The City of Suwon provided busses to pick us up at our base and they gave us free registration! Awesome!

       I decided to go for the 10K, which was good because I spent the three days before laid out with a head cold and definitely could not have handled a 13 mile race. Our race started with an immediate downhill, and then a long uphill. That is pretty much how it continued, uphill, downhill, long uphill, longer downhill….. I was a little worried that I would spend a lot of this race walking.

       That was okay though, this time my race was dedicated to a good friend who is battling a far more serious illness, cancer. Bruce went from being obese to a Boston Qualifier and although he never smoked, is now undergoing chemo and radiation therapy for lung and throat cancer. Life can be terribly unfair! For the 12 weeks that he will be in treatment, everyone in our close knit group is dedicating all the miles we run to Bruce to support his fight!

       The race was well run, but the water stops seemed miles apart! The fact is, over a 6 mile course, we probably had 4 or 5 stops, but it was about 70F, 15 degrees warmer than our recent daytime temps, so it felt down right HOT! I had grabbed my 10oz. hand bottle, knowing with a head cold I would need to keep sipping. It worked out really well because I was able to refill it twice and have water the whole way.

       For the most part it was an uneventful race. We ran up and down the hills, did some High-5’s, got a few comments on my feet and my Team Bruce t-shirt, but it was mostly city scape so not terribly interesting and I was totally focused on the road in front of me. I feel bad sometimes when people ask why I didn’t respond when they waved or shouted to me, but when I am running I go into my own little world and totally miss shouts and waves, even though I rarely wear headphones. I could have used music on this run though. Somewhere just past the half-way point I was really beginning to flag so I started reciting long ago memorized poetry, the effort of remembering each stanza kept me focused and moving to the rhythm of the verses.

       5.5 miles in, we turned a corner and I could see the long, long, long stream of humanity slogging up a half mile long hill. UGH! I seriously did not want to run up that hill, but I didn’t want to walk up it either. Most people were walking at this point, the really strong runners having finished 10 minutes or more prior. I focused again on the road in front of me, knowing I was way better off taking it one step at a time than looking at the top of the hill and feeling like it will never get closer. Time is so relative, 5 minutes can seem like a year, and a year can seem like 5 minutes. That half mile felt like it took me an hour!

       As I crested the hill I felt relief and my heart rate settling back down a bit, just .2 miles left to go. Then we turned the corner and the steep downhill we started on suddenly snapped back to the front of my mind. In racing, what goes down must come up and staring me in the face was the payback for my fast start. The last 2/10ths of a mile were steeper and more painful than the half mile climb before it, but at least I could see the finish line! I could also see the clock which was ticking past 55:00, better than I expected under the circumstance. My final Garmin time was 55:14.

       Looking back, I think a lot of my friend’s struggles are reflected in this race. Bruce has a long hill to climb. He understands the baby steps we need to take to gain strength in running and I know he is applying that to getting through his treatment. One step at a time, looking only a few feet ahead, not focused on the top of the hill that seems impossibly far away right now. At some point, he will turn a corner and it will look incredibly steep and scary, but at the top of the hill will be the finish line, ready to welcome a tired, but strong runner into the crowd of proud finishers who would not quit, not matter how hard it got!


Thursday, April 28, 2011


 Inigo Montoya: "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

    I recently started posting on the facbook page for a running club not far from me. I will meet a lot of their members at the Barefoot Fest in a couple of weeks and looking through their pictures I see tons of Luna sandals, Vibrams, and other minimal shoes. So I've been slowly sneaking in comments about running barefoot first, running half marathons barefoot with no blisters, improving my running with barefoot, how I will wear Vibrams when it is too cold for barefoot, how you need to feel the road to adequatly change your form, yadda yadda. Then I post a picture and they all say, "OMG, you mean litterally barefoot!" Um, yea.
       I've taken to clarifying with the phrase "Skin on pavement," but people still miss the point. It cracks me up how blind people are when something goes against what they expect. I'm sure 10 years ago if you said you ran barefoot, people would understand you to mean nothing on your feet. Now they just assume you mean a barefoot shoe.

Yes, I know I am heel striking in this picture. It was a crazy fun finish line sprint and I reverted back to my old form for a minute or two, it happens :-)

Monday, April 11, 2011

MBC Adidas Marathon Seoul, South Korea

 My First Barefoot Race in Korea

       After all my frantic worries, I made it to the race area a little after 8am after almost 3 hours of travel time, ugh. I found my group, put on my bib, sorted my gear, and headed for the bathroom and gear bag check with about 35 minutes to go. The bathroom line, however, was half an hour long and I was really sweating it, but I was very glad I stopped because there were no potty stops on the race route! After the bathroom I dashed to the gear back check, and then to the start. Needless to say I did not get to warm up and reached the back of the crowd just at the gun went off. I wasn’t even sure I was in the right race start as I frantically looked around trying to find someone else with the same color combination on their bib. No one else had red numbers, but they all had pale yellow background so I joined the crowd and shuffled to the start line.

Standing in the shuttle line. Yes, there is such thing as too much sunscreen

       I didn’t mind that I was at the back of the pack. I was still fighting the dregs of a head cold and really just wanted to enjoy the race so, no hurry. My plan was to run with the crowd, not zigzagging to maintain a pace, and relax until I was fully warmed up (which generally takes about 3 miles.) As we got on our way, I met and chatted with several runners that were curious about my bare feet. Usually their first question was, have I done this before. Mostly I heard the exclamations of disbelief and surprise, as if I were on a unicycle juggling 50 tea cups. The only somewhat negative comment I heard was from a group of young American girls. I heard the usual, ‘”OMG, she isn’t wearing shoes!” finished with a heavy Valley Girl accented, “but, WHY would you do that?” Hhehehehe. The Koreans were totally supportive, giving smiles, fist pumps, thumbs up, and scattered English words of encouragement. All in all, the reactions weren’t really different from what I had in the US.

       By around the 5K mark I was feeling really comfortable and picked the pace up a touch. Since I started at the back of the pack, I had been steadily passing people for a while, but it was hard to do with the crowd so thick. I would speed up or slow down according to the bodies in front of me, not particularly concerned with my pace, but as the group started to thin out it was getting easier to move forward in a straight line. Everyone was in such high spirits! We trundled up and down over passes, and down and through underpasses, with the crowd hooting and hollering to enjoy the echoes. Every time I crested a hill, all I could see was a sea of lime green race shirts spreading out ahead of me like a river.

My pink shirt may have been more shocking than my bare feet

       After the first hour or so I went ahead and put on my headphones. I tend to get a little bored in the middle miles and since I couldn’t really strike up a conversation with a fellow runner, I turned on the tunes and retreated into my head. My music mix is very odd, but that makes me smile. The irony of going from Jonny Cash, to Pink, to Frank Sinatra keeps me pumped up and moving. I never know what will pop up next and A Boy Named Sue is always sure to lighten the mood.

       The weather was perfect! Somewhere in the mid 50’sF with a cloudy sky and slight breeze. Once or twice I felt a bit cool and worried that a drop in temp would be a problem, but it never got colder than that and I never felt hot. That was another God send since in my hurry to get to the start, I had neglected to Body Glide my usual chaffing spots. I had dabbed a bit of Aquaphor before I left the house under my heart rate monitor and where my waist band hits my belly button, but that was it. Thankfully I did not suffer for my neglect! Around 6 miles I thought I was getting a blister on my toe. That was BAD this early in the race, but it never seemed to get any worse. I made a point of stepping on white road lines every so often and glancing back to make sure I wasn’t leaving a blood trail, but I passed all the checks.

       I hate water stops in crowded races and didn’t want to deal with the bumping and jostling that goes on because I’m very likely to get my bare toes stomped on so I wore my hydration belt. It should have been enough water for the race, however, I was not well hydrated to begin with so by the 15K water stop my bottles were bone dry and I was starting to cramp. Thankfully, by then the crowd had thinned considerably so I stopped to get two bottles refilled and proceeded to push some fluids and down a pack of Sports Beans. It worked like a charm, my muscles stopped cramping and my energy picked up in time for a final push.

       With 10 miles behind me I was feeling really good and ready for a final 5K! I picked up the pace once again as many people were petering out and walking. Then, just after 12 miles I looked ahead and saw something NO runner wants to see on a race course. A hairpin turn onto a slope so steep I thought we would be running up stairs! It was our last climb up the river bank to street level and nearly everyone had slowed to a walk. I was determined to keep moving fast though. I managed to maintain a run, albeit a slow run, up the slope and back onto the road. From here it was a gentle uphill grade all the way back to the finish line UGH!

       As we came up to the crowd-lined finish chute I broke into a full sprint, flying past my running club to cheers of “Go Wendy!” and our standard waving! That was SO cool! I’ve never had my own cheering section before!! I crossed the line and hit my Garmin stop, glancing only enough to see 1:58:__ in the numbers, PR!!!

Jim Bates, my buddy from the Peninsula Track Club in VA.
So cool to have a familiar face at the race!
       I really hadn’t expected much from this race. Being under the weather I didn’t feel prepared and I haven’t had a lot of barefoot mileage in the last 8 months, but I think I have turned a corner. When I’m not worried about pace and just there to have fun, I believe the energy that had previously gone into worrying and feeling pressure to maintain my pace, now is going into my running and giving me very positive results.

       After a thorough cleaning and inspection of my feet I found no blisters or damage, YAY! Overall I’m much less sore than I was after my last 2 hour HM 17 months ago and this one was SO much easier. On the other hand, the RA flare that has been annoying me reared its ugly head. My hips were sore for the last 10 miles, not horribly or enough to change my gait, but enough that I worried they would cause me to DNF. They never got worse during the race, although it was pretty rough in the post-race hours and next morning, but they have settled down now and will not be the worse for wear.

       I am really happy with my splits. The first 3 miles were about a 9:20 pace, the next 7 were a steady 9:00 and the last 3+ miles where better than 8:45, including the wicked climb up the river bank! My last full mile was faster than the average pace for my 10K PR in Feb., and my Garmin says the .10 mile sprint across the finish line was at 6:21 mpm! These numbers blow my mind! I had no idea I had that in me, which is exactly why I race, to see what is hidden in my soul and soles.

Koreans really know how to picnic after a race,
 they are actually cooking the meat!

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Women's History Month 5K, Osan Air Base, South Korea

      I have been dying to take another crack at a 5K PR so I was very happy when it sounded like we were going to have a 5K on base that was a little more organized than the usual fun run. My goal is to break 25 minutes and I've come close, but just haven't quite pulled it off.
       The weather was absolutely perfect! Warm sun and cool breeze with temps in the upper 50's that might even have crossed into the 60's, GLORIOUS! I knew there would be a lot of people at this race (for a base run) so I picked out an obnoxious hot pink tu-tu to go with my black compression shorts and tank, and a matching pink anklet, you know, so my feet didn't look so naked :-) When I pulled out of the driveway to head to base, I turned on the radio and AFN was playing Eye of the Tiger, talk about a good omen!!
       My dog, daughter, and I got to the race start really early. I was flying on caffeine and carbs and could barely stand still to sign in. We milled about chatting with people and spotted several people wearing Vibram Five Fingers. About a half hour before the start I took off for a warm up run with my dog. I'm used to the stares, cars slowing down to look, and grimaces from people when they spot my bare feet, but the tu-tu and standard poodle added a whole new dimention. I'm pretty sure they figured I had escaped from the psyche ward.
       After a nice 1.5 miles, in which I had to constantly remind myself to slow down, I returned to the race start, handed the dog off to my daughter and reset my Garmin. The Wing Commander gave a nice speech and then asked the serious runners who were really going for a time to raise their hands. Out of over 100 people, there were maybe 10 of us so we were sent to the front of the start line. I had the distinct feeling that I was going to be face down in the road with 100 foot prints up my back because lined up behind me were about 100 young military guys who may not be "seriously running for a time" but could still run circles around me.
       Needless to say, I took off way too fast. I kept glancing at my Garmin thinking something must be wrong with it. Granted, the road away from the gym starts with a significant down hill, but I still couldn't believe I was running a sub 6 mpm pace. I was stuck between the need to slow down and the fear of getting trampled! My first half mile split was 3:38, GULP! 7:17 pace! As the crowd thinned out I started getting it under control, but then we stopped.
       Yes, stopped. Suddenly up ahead I noticed all the runners bunching up and milling around. WHAT?!? Apparently there was something wrong on the adjacent air strip so they were stopping all traffic on the roads around it. Several of the front runners had gotten past the lead car before they could be signaled to stop so as we stood and waited, they flew by on their way back to the finish. I didn't think we had been standing there that long, but those guys were blazing! At this point any kind of PR was out the window. One's fastest 5K cannot include a 5 minute break before the first mile.
        Fortunately, it hadn't taken me long to pause my Garmin so when they gave us the all clear, I hit the start button and once again and took off way too fast again, but I got it under control and my second split was right on target with 3:53.
       Then we hit the next, WHAT THE HECK! for the day. We were barely over the one mile mark when I realized I could see the water stop and what looked like people turning around just ahead of me. I was thinking maybe on the way back they were going to route us on a different path and add to the route through the buildings.
     Now past the turn around, my third split was 3:55. I was feeling good and getting into my groove and felt like I could maintian my pace for the second half of the race when a woman all in black slowly crept past me. She instantly became my target. I had to pick it up just a touch to stay with her, but I was determined. My 4th split was 3:57, still on track, YES! Although I was beginning to wonder if I could really maintain that pace for another mile and she once again began putting distance between us.
       As we rounded the corner onto the main road, I was scanning for the new turn that would add the needed distance to take us up to 5K and realized it wasn't going to happen, the runners were barreling up the street and making the same turn back into the gym parking lot. I decided to sneak right up on the heels of the lady in black and then blast past her in the final up hill sprint through the parking lot with everything I had left.
       This was a very low tech race. There was a clock, although it was sitting down low on a table by the snacks, so after the first 10 runners crossed the finish line no one else could see it to know their time. There were no bibs, or chips, just someone standing with a piece of paper writing down who came in first second or third. We were told at the start that if anyone was over 40 to please let someone know when we crossed the line.
   As we turned the last corner into the parking lot, I powered up into a full sprint and, pink tu-tu flying, bounded past my target and across the line. It felt really awesome of have that good kick in me and despite the uphill grind. The pace for my last partial split was another 7:17! I say partial split because it was about .4 miles long. The entire race was 2.4 miles.  Ummm, that's a 3.8K guys, not 5K!

LOVE the expression on this guy's face. Do you think it was the tu-tu or the bare feet, LOL
       I got lots of friendly cheers as I ran in and was told I was the first over 40 woman, YAY! As the rest of the finishers poured in the recorder kept asking for people over 40 to check in. No other woman would admit to being over 40, LOL, and I KNOW I was not the only one. I guess when you are used to racing and having your age posted in the results for all to see you get over being sensitive about it. I tend to forget that other women do not want their age reveled. Hiding age is also a very American thing. Europeans and Asians think nothing of asking you your age and telling you theirs, we are very silly on that point.
       For first place I won a nifty etched beer mug, some refrigerator magnets, a keychain pen, and a combination toe nail clipper/bottle opener/money clip (hmmm, open the beer with the thing you just clipped your toe nails with, HAHAHAHAHA)
       So, no PR in the 5K today, but now I can focus on the HM in a little over a week. My hip is very sore this morning (remnants of the RA flare) so I'm going to have to baby it for the week and hope for the best on race day. It seems speed work is its undoing so I won't push Wednesday's tempo run. Looking at my heart rates for the race I could have pushed harder. I seem to have lost a bit of VO2max so to get it up without doing speed work I'll get back to spin or the Stair Monster.
Notice the location of the timing clock in the background

   I am also experimenting with twitter. I was hoping to be able to tweet from the HM next week, but am still working out the technical issues (it seems everything is complicated in Korea). If you want to check it out, I'm listed as @Barefeeties These will be purely running tweets

Monday, March 28, 2011

Running progress and catching up

Catching up

       Wow, more than a month has flown by since my last blog! It has been a crazy month too. At the end of February, we went on vacation for a week in Hong Kong. It was a lovely trip with tons of walking, but only one short run. By the time I got home I wasn't feeling too hot, but chalked it up to too much junk food, not enough running, too much walking, and not enough sleep. I got in a lot of miles that first week back, but was feeling really off. Long story short, I had picked up a Giardia infection. A week of antibiotics did the trick, but they sure didn't do much for my running. Infections also make RA flare up so I was battling that as well, feeling 100 years old, but short easy runs helped loosen me up and feel better so I pressed on.

       This past week I have been slowing getting back on track. The temps were into the 40's and as tired as I have been I didn't want to get chilled so I put on my wool socks and Vibram Treks and set off around the flight line. I was cranky, my hip was sore, I didn't want to be out there and I really didn't want to run the 12 miles prescribed by my training plan.

        2 miles later I was HOT! I stopped and touched my hand to the pavement to gauge the temp. YIPPEE! Warm asphalt! I took my shoes and socks off my feet and moved them to my hands (which I'm sure perplexed the people passing me going the other way!) It was just what I needed, my attitude changed instantly! My only regret was having to carry the darn shoes. I tried tucking them in my water belt, but they bounced around too much. The tension carrying them caused was really messing with my shoulders, but not my disposition. The Flight Line is a 6 mile loop and I had started at the Gym so after carrying my shoes for 4 miles I was able to drop them off in my locker and continue on. Of course, half a mile out from the gym I realized I had left the keys hanging in the lock! Granted, the only valuable thing in there were my shoes and in a military gym they wouldn't be bothered. More likely someone would appropriate the lock, but I went back anyway.

       Keys now in my pocket, I set out again to go part way around the Line for an out and back. The would keep me from adding an extra mile to my run and making my husband wait even longer to pick me up. I felt much better not clutching my shoes, but the wind was starting to pick up and making it feel much cooler.

       By the time I got to my turn around point, I had run 9.5 miles and was starting to feel tired. Although I had felt good up to that point, flagging so early meant I'm not quite back to 100%. I walked for a minute or two and headed back to the gym. The wind on the way back was fierce, but I survived and finished my 12 miles. I was fairly happy with my time. Most of my mile splits were below 10 mpm and didn't drop off too much at the end, even with the wind.

       Monday morning I was feeling it in my hips, but they were now the right kind of sore, the kind you get from pushing you body outside its comfort zone to gain strength, rather than the sore I get from my immune system eating my joints. I'll take the former over the latter any day!
       On the horizon I have a little 5K fun run on base Thursday and my HM on April 10th is coming up fast! I'm not necessarily looking for a PR, mostly just want to have fun, but that is what I said last time :-) My plan, if the weather doesn't change unexpectedly, is to run the half barefoot. It will definitely be interesting to see the reaction of my fellow Korean runners!