It’s been awhile since I had the mental capacity to write more about my training, but I feel like I’m finally in a place where I can talk about it without getting sad or frustrated. It’s no secret that the last couple of years have been really challenging racing-wise for me. I’m not going to rehash it all here (if you’re interested, starting with the Glass City Half, NYC Marathon, Carmel Half Marathon, and Eugene Marathon are the recaps I’d go back to) but to sum it all up, I haven’t had a race that I’ve felt really good about since CIM in 2019; it’s not just because it’s my PR, I just really feel like things haven’t clicked and felt as smooth since that day in Sacramento. After getting covid in Eugene, I felt like the nail was in the coffin for my running for awhile, and in many ways, it was. I dealt with what we’re now calling “long-covid” in my running, even if it wasn’t showing up in my daily life. For 10 weeks after getting sick my heart rate was sky high on runs and I could barely run my easier paces without having to stop. Fortunately things started to turn around about 10-12 weeks after being sick and I’ve been able to start training at the level I want to again, but on my own terms.
Prior to getting covid in Eugene, I knew I needed a break from marathon training. I had actually told my coach before I ran the marathon that I was likely going to take a break from all structure for a little bit to find the love for training again, which isn’t exactly the kind of mindset you should be in before going after a big goal. I’m not sure why but somewhere between December 2019 when I was at my peak at CIM having just smashed my marathon PR and the end of 2020, my mental game became so weak. I started off the beginning of the pandemic eager to hop into a summer of virtual time trials and speedwork but I think the weight of everything going on around me really caught up and the outside stress bled into my training. I went through a lot of changes personally during the pandemic – how I viewed the world, career changes, etc. – and all of this added up. I lost the ability to push myself to my limits because I didn’t have the mental capacity to take on more discomfort.
I had been struggling with the question of who I am apart from my training. I realized just how integral running had become to my life and while that’s not necessarily a bad thing, I had unintentionally made it nearly my whole identity instead of just a piece of me, so when things began to go wrong in races, it meant my whole world seemed to come crashing down instead of just this piece of my life. I was frustrated after leaving the corporate world to take coaching full-time and therefore setting my own schedule that things weren’t clicking in my training since I had more time to devote to training and recovery. When my own running wasn’t going well, it was equally challenging to then have my whole career now be focused on running and never have much time away from the sport. It was an unexpected “consequence” of making my passion my career and while I do not have any regrets now 9 months removed from making it my full-time job, it’s something I wish I would’ve known ahead of time so I could mentally prepare myself for it and learn how to separate my own running from the business side of running. It’ll be a piece of advice I pass along to other coaches in the future who ask about taking their coaching businesses full-time!
This summer has been one of my favorite yet because I am still enjoying running but am not gone for 2-3 hours at a time on the weekend with long runs or being too exhausted on the weekend to want to make plans with friends. I started with no goals, which I quickly realized is not how I’m wired, and have transitioned to a periodized training block for quicker speed in the mile/5K but without the pressure of a race on the calendar and the time commitment needed for something like a marathon. I can still run a nice volume (40-50 miles a week) but my long runs are 10-12 miles now instead of 18-22. I hopped into a local 5K in August to test my speed and was pleasantly surprised with just how much fun I had; it didn’t matter that it wasn’t a PR, but to me, it felt just as special as one to finally have that excitement about racing again. I think I really needed this season to reset and refocus on why I love this sport and be ok with it evolving to meet me where I’m at. I’ve stopped comparing myself to former running selves and instead just want to focus on feeling strong in my workouts, knowing that the times will come when I’m happy and have taken the pressure off.
I get tempted to sign up for a race now knowing I have the base to do it, but I think I’m sticking to the plan of continuing to train for the shorter distances this fall prior to beginning to train for Boston in December. Boston actually falls on the date of my 30th birthday so I haven’t decided yet if I’ll run that more for fun or if I want to make it the goal race of the season, but the fact that it’s now a question is a big change from where I was just a few months ago when I was convinced it would just be a fun-run effort. I do think I’ll hop into a local 5K again pretty soon and have plans to run another mile time trial in a few weeks, but I am not lying when I say I have nothing currently on my calendar. I’ve been writing a training plan weekly for myself but giving grace to be flexible with needing to move things around based on how the week progresses, how I’m feeling, and what opportunities pop up (i.e. we went to Orlando last week for my grandma’s 80th birthday and I ended up clearing my calendar of workouts while we were there and just did what felt right while we were gone). This isn’t what I’d do with a real goal on the calendar but I’ve realized I am just as much of a runner in this more flexible season of life as I am when I’m more structured in my marathon training. This season has allowed me to find the joy in running again and also bring my confidence in myself as a runner back. PRs are great but I’d argue that feeling strong and powerful in your body is worth way more to your overall happiness.
I had my race prep call with Coach J the weekend prior to Eugene and during it we talked about the cycle and a plan for the marathon. At the beginning of the cycle, I had been chasing a sub-3 hour marathon, but nothing really clicked this cycle and I wasn’t feeling very confident. The plan was to start with the 3:05 pace group instead and then if I felt good around mile 16 to start picking it up. It wouldn’t be a sub-3, but I should be running within myself for that first part of the race and hopefully have enough energy to close strong or at least hang onto the group. I felt comfortable with this plan and on Tuesday of race week, had a confidence boosting workout that made me think maybe I was fitter than I thought I was and gave me hope going into the weekend.
We took a morning flight to Portland from Chicago since there weren’t any direct flights to Eugene. After a very turbulent 4-hour flight, we landed and rented a car at the airport to drive 2 hours south to Eugene. We got to the Airbnb shortly after 2 p.m., got a little organized, and proceeded to take a nap; I wanted some extra rest for the race and Ross had been traveling for work on the East coast through Thursday so he was pretty tired as well. Around 5:30 we headed to downtown Eugene to get my race packet and try to grab a snack before The Rambling Runner live show with Peter Bromka at 6:30 (aka 8:30 Central Time where we came from). I got to meet one of my teammates, Kristin, and the live show was cozy and intimate in a small local running store; we even got to stick around after and talk to Peter and Matt! After the show ended around 8, Ross and I swung by the grocery store to pick up food for the weekend. Part of the reason I wanted to rent the Airbnb was so I could cook my own food to stay in my routine through the race. We had a late dinner of some pizza and salad and then went to bed.
I was co-hosting a Team Sugar Runs Shakeout Run Saturday morning at 9 a.m. which meant plenty of time to sleep in and eat some breakfast. We met everyone outside of a local coffee shop, went for a 20-min shakeout, and enjoyed some tasty coffee afterwards! The weather was cool but humid, something I haven’t experienced in a long time, but my body felt ok. After coffee, Ross and I went to drive a couple of the hills on the course so that I knew what to expect for race day; the mile 4.5 hill was gradual but not too bad, the mile 9 hill was steep and .3 miles long so I knew I’d just have to focus on powering up it and then be rewarded with a downhill on the other end. I was feeling ok about these hills since they were the only ones that showed real elevation gain on the course map so we didn’t drive more of the course; I’d see it tomorrow.
I had wanted to do more of the Rambling Runner live shows Saturday but made the call to just relax at the Airbnb to save my energy for the race; it’s fun to do all the things but I was afraid of zapping all my energy too early, especially since I’m more introverted by nature so social outings can zap a little more energy for me! Ross and I hung out and watched TV back at the house and around 4 p.m. went to my athlete Megan’s hotel room to get some race braids done! She lives an hour away from Eugene and her hair stylist is local to the area so she offered to get my hair done; I usually do a french braid myself the morning of the race but after this experience I think I might get someone to braid my hair professionally before a big marathon from now on! It stayed in so well and was so fun to feel fierce and confident on the starting line with pretty hair! I made my typical pre-race dinner of spaghetti and marinara with some meatballs, we watched some Disney+ before bed, and then I tried to get some sleep before an early alarm the next morning (4:15 a.m.).
Race morning! I woke up with some nerves as is normal for race morning but had a hard time getting my food down as a result. I ended up eating 1/4 of my bagel, nibbled on some oatmeal, and got down some sips of UCan. Fortunately I had been carb-loading for 3 days at this point so I had plenty of carbs to go around but I was hoping to have topped things off a bit more in the morning; I just couldn’t get the food down without feeling like I was going to puke.
We picked up a couple teammates of mine (the two Katie’s!) on the way over to the start line and were able to find street parking easily. Race weather was pretty ideal with 45-degrees at the start and almost no wind, the only downside was 95% humidity but I was hoping with a lower air temperature that it wouldn’t matter. We hung out in the car for a bit to stay warm and one of my athletes, Maggie, joined us. I had a gel around 6:30 and was fortunately able to get that down for some extra fuel before a 7 a.m. start. Maggie and I headed over to the porta-potties for one last bathroom stop, said good luck, and parted ways. I had my throwaway clothes on and realized I was so close to the car that it would be a waste to get rid of the clothes for this race so I was able to hand them to Ross before getting into my corral. Kristin was in my corral as well and we had similar goals for the day so we were able to start together; it’s always nice to have a friendly race at the start of a race! The gun went off and not far behind we crossed the start line to go!
I had lined up behind the 3:05 pacer (7:03 pace) and was focusing on just running with this group to begin. I knew the race started on an uphill so I wasn’t surprised when we started climbing and fortunately it didn’t last very long. My breathing was in control but I did feel like we were moving a little fast; with most of my runs, it takes me a good 2-3 miles to really get into things so I assumed that’s all this was and carried on. We hit the first mile in 6:58 which was a little fast but really anything under 5 seconds I’d consider excellent pacing. The first part of the course goes through some industrial and residential areas so there weren’t as many fans and I focused on just running, staying within myself and staying with the group. Mile 2 was a 6:57 which was consistent with the last mile. I still didn’t feel amazing but continued to relax and run with the group, hoping the feeling would pass. By mile 3 we had settled into the low 7’s, running a 7:02. I knew that the next couple miles would bring some uphill climbing after having driven the course the day before so I didn’t freak out on these when things suddenly felt harder. We made it through with a 7:01 fourth mile, I took my gel around 30 mins, then hit a 7:02 fifth mile and things flattened out again. We were headed back towards campus town and the pacer was doing an excellent job of holding a steady and accurate pace. Mile 6-8 were 7:00, 6:59, 7:02 respectively. Between 8 to 9 was where the big hill was and we surged up it, or so it felt like we were even though our pace was slowing down; it’s a steep grade for .3 miles (gained 68 feet in that .3) but the other side of the hill is a steep downhill that you can make up some speed on. I’m not great at running fast downhill so I felt like the pace group took off but I told myself to stay within myself and controlled knowing I’d catch them on the flat. Sure enough, I reeled them back in. At 60 minutes I took another gel and shortly after saw the elite men half marathoners coming in to the finish. I don’t love seeing a half split from the full and at this point we still had about 17 miles to go! Mile 9 with all its elevation changes was a 7:04, but still pretty consistent with the rest of the miles.
I knew Ross would be close to mile 10 and I was planning on tossing my handheld to him there. This was the first marathon I’ve carried a handheld to start with carried with Skratch in it for extra electrolytes since I’m a heavy sweater. I felt like it was so heavy in my right arm and my shoulder actually hurt from carrying it again so I’m not sure if I’ll do this again, but it was nice to control how much liquid I was getting in when with the cups everything just kind of splashes all over your face. This is where it would be nice to be an elite and have your bottles ready for you and be able to toss them off when you were done! I saw Ross shortly before mile 10, tossed the handheld to him, and we hit mile 10 in 7:06. Somewhere between mile 10 and mile 11 on an open road with no fans, I began losing contact with the pace group.
I hit mile 11 in 7:10 so not far off from what the pacing had been but the group was pulling away from me. I tried putting in a surge, then another one, but it felt like my legs just wouldn’t turn over anymore and my breathing was off. This was so early on in the race to be hitting a wall and it wasn’t for lack of nutrition or for going out too hard so it was incredibly frustrating. I still had 15 miles to go which is a longer long run. I started having some people pass me on the open road and had a headwind here; it wasn’t much but it felt like a lot between the getting passed and the slowing pace. I tried to stick with the few people passing but my body was not letting me. I hit mile 12 in 7:43; to be honest, I was surprised I was still hitting sub-8 at this point because it felt like I was barely moving. Somewhere around this section Kristin came up on me from behind and we exchanged a few words; “I hit the wall at mile 10,” I said, “I don’t know what’s happening.” She tried to encourage me and I tried to stick with her but it only lasted for maybe 30 seconds before she pulled ahead and I cheered for her to keep going because she looked strong. I held steady for another 7:43 mile 13 and crossed the half marathon in a 1:34. At this point, A goal of sub-3:05 was certainly out the window and B goal of hitting a new PR running under 3:07 meant I’d have to run a faster second half than first half which didn’t seem possible with how awful I felt.
Fortunately I had a C goal to keep me going – to hit the BQ for 2023; Boston 2023 falls on my 30th birthday and it’s been a dream for several years since I found that out to ring in my 30s by running the marathon. This is what kept me in this race when everything in my body was telling me to stop and drop out. I considered it for sure, but I thought about how I’d have to run another marathon to qualify when I had already run half of one so far and could hold it together enough to finish, and I thought about Ross and how he came out here to support me all the way from Chicago and what a waste it would be to drop out and have made the trip out here for nothing. With more people coming up on me, my pace picked up a bit and I hit mile 14 in 7:31 and mile 15 in 7:33. I was counting down every single mile to go at this point. I had planned on taking a gel every 30 minutes and only carried 5 which would’ve been enough for this so when I slowed down, this threw my fueling plan off a bit. I was downing extra Nuun and water at every aid station, feeling like I could never get enough liquid in. It was 95% humidity at the start and I wonder if this got to me even with a cooler air temperature since we hadn’t had any consecutive warm, humid days during my training cycle. I had to readjust when I took my gels so that I’d have enough fuel for the rest of the race and made sure to take in the extra electrolytes from Nuun for the extra time I was spending on my feet. Mile 16 was my last sub-8 min mile of the day in 7:42 and then the last 10 miles were some of the most grueling I’ve ever run.
The back half of the race course was incredibly boring. There were barely any fans on the river trail, there weren’t many people around to run with, and I felt like I was on a bad long run. I saw Kristin close to mile 16 again on an out and back section and cheered for her as she passed by going the opposite direction. My pace hovered in the low 8’s for the next several miles, 17-19 were 8:02, 8:08, 8:05, about the pace I’d run a comfortable long run at in training only this did not feel comfortable at all. When I got to mile 20, this is where things started to get a little dicey and I was a little afraid I might not finish. I felt like I was going to black out at mile 20, getting a little dizzy and things going a little dark temporarily. Being only a 10K away from the finish and having about 63 minutes to still BQ (I remember doing the math on my watch at this point), I knew I could do it if I kept putting one foot in front of the other even as I got slower. Around mile 21, we came off of the bike path temporarily and there was a man handing out whiskey shots in his front yard; it made me want to vomit, but I didn’t fortunately. “5 more miles, Katherine, you can do this.” Miles 21-24 felt like eons (20-24 split: 8:15, 8:23, 8:13, 8:39, 8:24). The sun came out briefly around mile 24 and it felt warm; I was grateful when the cloud coverage came over again. At this point, I knew I’d finish, and when I hit mile 25 in 8:26 I tried to run a little faster but the turnover just would not come back. I focused on just shuffling to the finish line because I needed to cross it for the BQ. I hit 26 in 8:18 and then tried to pick it up to finish strong into the stadium.
Coming into Hayward Field was amazing and an experience I’ll never forget. I remember looking up into the stands, then hitting the track and feeling the softer surface and powering myself to move faster and faster trying to channel the energy from the crowd and thinking of all the fast athletes who have raced on this track over the years. I threw my fist up as I crossed the line, grabbed a medal, then hunched over on my knees so happy to be done. I had someone take my photo down in the finish area and then made my way to the refreshments through the stadium. I was so thirsty and downed the whole bottle of water they gave us in no time; I couldn’t find any electrolyte drinks anywhere and instead chugged some chocolate milk to get my protein in for muscle recovery. We walked up a bunch of stadium stairs (cruel after a marathon!) and all I could find was beer which is not what I wanted in that moment. I felt out of it and a little sick, so I sat by myself for awhile in the stands until I had the energy to call Ross to meet up. Once I found him we watched the finish line for a bit waiting for my athletes to come through. I was able to see Maggie afterwards and we talked about how we both felt out there – the course had about 500 feet of gain and loss which was a little more than I was expecting so I wouldn’t consider it totally “flat” as advertised, but what struck me more is even she commented on the humidity and she’s from Miami, so that tells me it was definitely in the air that day. (She still ran a PR, taking 7-mins off going from 3:52 to 3:45!)
I’m still going over and over in my head what could possibly have gone wrong on Sunday and it’s confusing and disappointing. It’s been over 2.5 years since my last marathon or half marathon PR and that’s been hard to stay motivated through this rough patch; I was optimistic that Eugene would be the day I finally broke out of the rut but my body had other plans. A few thoughts I have upon reflection:
Maybe I was overtrained. I wanted to try higher mileage this cycle and did so successfully staying healthy and injury-free, but I never felt like I had that pep in my step and didn’t feel good on any of my long-run workouts this cycle. It’s possible between all the miles and the lifting that I did too much. Usually over-training is also accompanied by inadequate nutrition, lack of sleep, and signs like a missed period, none of which I had. Working with a RD this cycle meant I was on top of all of my nutrition, eating to fuel my training, and my menstrual cycle actually normalized after it had been getting longer and longer last year. Overtraining signs also include feeling tired all the time and potentially even being depressed which are both things I did not experience this cycle but after talking with Jessica, we both agreed maybe we caught it early enough to avoid going over that ledge but it still left me a little overbaked by the time I made it to the starting line.
I’ve come so far in just the last 3.5 years. September 2018 was my first BQ (3:28) and since then I’ve run 5 total BQ times. Sunday’s race of a 3:21 would’ve been a time I could only have dreamed of back in 2018 and that helps me keep things into perspective a bit. I can still be disappointed that my fitness didn’t show this weekend but how far I’ve come that a “bad day” can now still be a BQ time; that’s something I won’t take for granted.
I’m taking time to think about what’s next for me. Before this cycle was up, I had told my coach that I wanted to take a break from structured training for a bit hoping to find that spark again after a couple years of not feeling like I’ve progressed (which is false, all this work is base building but it’s tough to keep at it when you don’t see the fruits of your labor), and while I do think I’ll take a little break since clearly my body needs it, we have an idea for what’s next (but not sharing that yet because I reserve the right to change my mind lol).
I think what I’m most disappointed with is that even after making a better schedule for myself having taken coaching full-time and no longer trying to balance a full-time job, a full roster of athletes, and my own training, my times didn’t improve. I’ve been able to sleep more, stress less, and train more and in my mind that would mean improving in sport. But it could have also meant doing too much and maybe my schedule before prevented me from being able to do all of the things which in turn may have been a good thing! What’s important is that this was a learning opportunity (thanks, Coach J for the reframing) and we knew going in this could be an experiment that could go really well, or not as well as hoped, and unfortunately, I landed on the wrong end of that. I accept responsibility for that and now I know what the limit is and what works best for my body!
Running humbles us and I’ve been reminded once again that this journey will never be linear. I’m proud of running my fifth BQ-time, but I’m really itching to be the athlete I was back in 2019 again. And maybe that’s the problem. I’m not that same athlete anymore after the pandemic so I need to start becoming the athlete I want to be in 2022. It’s good to look back, but the rest of our story takes place in the future and that’s where the focus needs to be right now.
Race week is here and the excitement is building. So far the weather looks really nice in Eugene and my body is feeling equally as good with the taper. This cycle was one of the more turbulent ones I’ve had and it’s left me with mixed emotions heading into race week on where my fitness is at. I’m in shape to PR (sub-3:07), the question is just how in shape is that and how in shape is my mental game to let me get there.
This cycle and year began tragically, suddenly losing my uncle after having seen him for Christmas just a week before. My mom’s side of the family is small, it was just us and his family, and this grief hit harder than any grief I’ve experienced before, and continues to from time to time. This training cycle became dedicated to him and when things got really hard, it’s the reason I kept showing up because I reminded myself just how lucky I am to have a healthy body and a mind that chooses to do this when so many don’t have that privilege.
In late February, my goal marathon, The Illinois Marathon, announced that it would no longer be hosting its signature event, the 26.2 distance. I was in the middle of a 20-mile run on the treadmill (winter snow and ice) that was going horribly when I got the email and called it quits at 12 miles. I’ve been open about the fact that I considered stopping training at this point, but something inside me became more and more infatuated with the idea of running the Eugene Marathon which was on the same weekend and had been on my bucket list for awhile. Because the course topography was similar, my training wouldn’t need to change and could continue as planned.
Winter was relentless this year. As someone who does not like winter running, it was challenging to continue to train in big jackets, fleece-lined tights, wool socks, and ski mittens through most of March and even half of April. What was lucky was getting the opportunity to race The Shamrock Shuffle in March on a beautiful day in Chicago; this experience gave me a lot of confidence that I was fit and would show it on a good weather day and the spark I needed to keep moving and working hard.
At my goal half marathon in Carmel the second week of April, we were greeted with snow, sleet, and strong 15 mph winds that did not make for PR conditions. I was hoping going into this tune-up to get a good read on where my fitness was at for Eugene, but it just left me with a lot of doubts after my high hamstring tendonitis (a recurring issue that has pretty much gone away but resurfaced in the cold at a high intensity effort) flared up and I basically jogged the back half of the course in finishing in 1:32 (a time in the past I would have been happy with but not reflective of the kind of shape I was in this year). I walked away knowing I did everything I could in that race given the conditions, but it didn’t make it any easier not knowing if the goals I set out for myself at the beginning of the cycle were realistic anymore since we didn’t get good feedback from this race.
It’s safe to say I wasn’t having as much fun with training as I usually do, but the marathon is like that sometimes. It’s a long distance and training can eat you up and spit you out sometimes. In 2019 I had what I consider a breakthrough year, taking a total of 21-mins off my marathon time from the beginning of the year to the end (3:28 to 3:07) and was feeling so strong. Prior to 2018 I had gone through a plateau so I had a feeling this big breakthrough would also be met with a bit of a plateau to make the next big leap, but that doesn’t mean it was any easier on me to go through it even though I knew what I might expect. That’s part of training – it takes the body time to absorb training and so big leaps don’t happen every training cycle and are the result of stacking healthy cycles back to back which is what has kept me coming back for more every time.
The last week has been fun with the weather changing and seeing a glimpse of fitness I haven’t seen for a long time. It makes me confident that a PR is in the cards with the right conditions and right mental headspace this weekend, although it might not be the sub-3 performance I was hoping for when I first started this cycle. You have to do the work to get to your goals and while there were many good excuses for why things didn’t always go perfectly in workouts, at the end of the day good excuses and bad excuses are the same in that they don’t move the needle on our goals. Is it possible I’m in sub-3 shape and I’m just not fully believing it? Yes, it definitely is. But that belief in ourselves is essential in our ability to go after our goals, as my coach has continued to remind me. The quote I’ve been keeping at the forefront of my mind this last week is, “doubt kills more dreams than failure ever will.”
I find myself with mixed emotions this week. Excited because I know I’m in shape for a strong marathon and that I’ll get to be in a racing environment again with lots of friendly faces around. Optimistic for what this means for future cycles. Proud that I continued to fight these last few months and that I’m showing up healthy and fit. A little conflicted on how I want to race on Sunday. For now the focus is on closing these last few days out strong and showing up to the starting line Sunday ready to work hard and do something that scares me.
A few overall thoughts on the cycle…
Things That Went Really Well This Cycle
Nailing my nutrition: I worked with Meghann Featherstun of Featherstone Nutrition and learned so much about how to fuel my body especially pre and post-run. I eat before all of my runs now, no matter how short or easy, and make sure to eat within 30 minutes of finishing a run and my recovery times have greatly improved.
Strength training: I am in the process of obtaining my NASM CPT certification so it was neat to write my own strength program this training cycle. I was consistent doing 3 days/week of heavy strength training in the first half of marathon training when mileage wasn’t as high and 2 days/week once my mileage was much higher.
Staying healthy: I never had to take any days off due to injury or illness. There was the occasional shuffling of workouts for one-off things like feeling nauseous but I stayed healthy this entire training cycle. The only flare-up I had came in my half marathon where my hamstring got really tight in the cold and snow; it resolved after a few days and I didn’t have to take time off (I’ve dealt with this before and knew what it was so a week of easy running did the trick). Staying healthy had a lot to do with good nutrition, good sleep, strength training, and a smart periodized training plan.
Hitting my highest mileage weeks/months: I set a goal at the beginning of the cycle with my coach to hit a 70-mile week during training. We hit 70 and 71 during this cycle and I ran my highest mileage month in March of 266 miles! Expanding my aerobic base was something I thought I was an area of improvement for my training and it was neat to see that my body could handle it and responded well to it, too.
Things That Didn’t Go as Well This Cycle
Mental game: Ever since the pandemic, I’ve had a really tough time getting back into the groove of being comfortable with things hurting again with marathon training. Taking almost 2 years off from racing a marathon left me out of practice with being in the pain cave and I’ve been working on getting my mental game back ever since. I psyched myself out of a lot of paces in this sub-3 attempt because they seemed so scary on paper; my coach reminded me that when you get to these paces the majority of the difficulty actually comes from your mind allowing you to believe you’re capable. I believe that more than ever after this cycle.
Long run workouts: In the past, long run workouts have given me a lot of confidence going into race day being able to hit goal paces in the middle of being on tired legs. This cycle I had no long runs or long run workouts that ever fell on good weather days; it’s no secret this winter was never-ending and as someone who does not fare well in the cold (I’ve gotten the early stages of hypothermia in 2 marathons I’ve run so far – my body just doesn’t handle cold well), it was really challenging to keep showing up knowing I’d likely have a problem breathing (thanks, asthma) and to never feel strong in these workouts. I had several long run pace workouts where I bailed out on the pace work itself and just ran mileage.
I look forward to sharing more after the race this Sunday! It has been one of the most challenging training cycles I’ve tackled to date, but I am so happy I stuck with it because I’m fit and ready to run my heart out this weekend in what looks to be a beautiful day to race.
The Carmel Half Marathon was intended to be a tune-up race for me 3 weeks out from my goal marathon. I’d be racing on tired legs still in the peak of marathon training but hoping to get a little confidence booster going into the Eugene Marathon on May 1st. As race week rolled around, the forecast loomed over us with things not looking good for race day. It was forecast to be in the low 30s with strong wind, overnight rain and snow, and snow showers on race morning. I hoped throughout the week that things would change but they unfortunately held steady. The biggest concern for me was that the roads might be icy with overnight wetness and freezing temperatures in the morning; it’s one thing to race in the cold and wind, it’s another to race on black ice.
Half of Ross’ extended family lives in the suburbs of Indianapolis and when I picked this race, we made plans to see everyone as it had been many years since we had gotten together due to the pandemic. Seeing what the weather was going to be like Saturday, I would likely have skipped making the 3.5 hour drive one way from my home in the Chicago suburbs to Carmel since it’s extra stress on the body to travel and for a race that wasn’t the “goal”, it might not have been worth it. Since we had plans, however, I was going to run the race regardless so I went in with a few different plans after talking things through with my coach.
Plan A: 6:30 pace for the half if the conditions were right. It was unlikely we’d be able to go after Plan A but good to talk about nonetheless based on workouts in the cycle.
Plan B: 6:50-6:55 pace, aka marathon pace. If conditions weren’t great but it wasn’t icy, the plan was to go out at marathon pace and try to hit that for the half.
Plan C: Just run the mileage and don’t get hurt. If the roads were icy, it wasn’t worth risking an injury so the plan was going to be just to run the 16 miles I had planned for the day and then hit some harder workouts the week after.
We left home around 1:45 p.m. on Friday and arrived in Carmel around 6:30 p.m. with the hour time change and only 1 rest stop along the way. The drive took a little longer than we anticipated with traffic but for the most part it was smooth sailing. When we got to Carmel High School where the expo was, the plan was to get in and get out to get to the hotel to eat dinner. The expo was smaller and well-organized so it was easy to be in and out within 10 minutes. We stayed at the Renaissance which was only 1.5 miles from the start/finish line and one of the official race hotels. The hotel was also hosting a pasta dinner which we were able to get reservations for the day of which was very convenient (in fact we got to the hotel around 7 p.m. and got seated at 7:15 p.m., 6:15 Chicago time). After a big meal, Ross and I relaxed in the hotel room watching some scenes from The Hangover before going to sleep (there was nothing on TV!). The nice part about being in an official race hotel is that most people are there to run the race so it was super quiet on our floor at night.
I woke up at 5:30 a.m. for an 8:10 a.m. race start. Before every half I’ve gotten into the routine of waking up and doing an easy 9-10 min paced mile on the hotel treadmill to get my body moving early in the morning. I ate breakfast around 6:30 (half a bagel and oatmeal with my coffee), then got changed into all my winter gear. Looking out my hotel window I could tell the roads were wet but people were walking in the parking lot and not slipping so it was a good sign that they probably weren’t icy! I left my hotel at 7:30 and did my warm-up over to the start line, getting there by 7:45. I found my friends who were running the marathon just in time for it to start snowing like crazy on us; we got a photo in the elements then hid under a tent until about 10 minutes till start time to try to stay dry. I headed over to the start line at 8 a.m. and got into the corral between the 6 and 7 minute pace signs. I could see a pacer for a 3:05 marathon (this race was both a half and full) so I positioned myself just ahead of this group to start. Fortunately the snow let up for the start and standing in the corral I was quite warm with all the other people around me. It was funny to see how everyone had dressed. There were a lot of us in tights and long sleeves, but others were in shorts and tank tops; I know I always run cold so I made sure to layer up for the elements.
The gun went off and shortly after I crossed the starting line. I knew I’d have a tailwind or cross-wind for the first half of the race and more decline with the headwind coming in the second half and more incline when we started running west. The roads were wet but not slippery, but I stuck with the 3-hour group for the first couple miles to ease in; they were actually running a bit quicker than 3-hour pace (my first 2 miles with them were 6:40 and 6:43) but it’s possible the pacer knew the course well and how to run it. After we hit 6:43, I decided to make a move and try to see if I could push closer to 6:30 pace. It was a risk since the elements weren’t favorable, but no risk, no reward so I went for it. I saw Ross and his family cheering for me around 2.3 and this gave me a little extra burst of energy. Mile 3 was a 6:25 and my watch was actually very dead on with the mile markers at this point which was a nice change from some of the big city races I’ve done where sky-scrapers throw things off. Miles 4 and 5 were both at 6:32 and I had settled into a good rhythm, but could definitely feel my body getting a little tired. I tried to remind myself that I had under an hour left of hard running at this point. I took my first gel around 5.5 miles at a water station and that slowed mile 6 down a bit trying to get the gel down and drink at the same time; a lot of the water ended up on my hand which was freezing in the weather and I wish the aid station was a little longer so I could’ve grabbed a second cup to wash the gel down with. Mile 6 split 6:45 which I was expecting since I knew the aid station slowed me down a bit. I saw the family again shortly before the halfway point of the race and this helped propel me up the hill but I could tell I was getting tired and I could feel my hamstring starting to hurt. I started climbing up the hill that the 7-mile marker was on (there’s a really steep hill in a neighborhood at mile 7 and I knew about this from the last time I ran the race) and got passed by a woman who I had passed earlier. I hit mile 7 at 7:00 and was bummed to see my first 7 in front of a mile split for the race.
The pain in my hamstring started getting worse and worse and I felt like I was running with a straight leg on one side that wouldn’t bend. “Ugh. This sucks,” I said to myself, fully knowing at this point the PR was out the window (I was about 30 seconds ahead of a PR at the halfway point so not a huge buffer) and it became more about clawing my way to the finish. Mile 8 was mostly uphill and the sleet started to pelt us in the face with the headwind in this mile. It was adding insult to injury at this point and there were barely any crowds out. Because I was still ahead of the pace groups but had slowed down from the people I was running with, I was in no-man’s land for awhile, until I got passed by people left and right for the next couple of miles. That was not a good feeling and I felt embarrassed. “They probably think I went out too hard and am just bonking,” I thought. I really slowed down and just tried to manage the pain at this point, getting pushed back by the strong wind and not being able to see with the sleet in my eyes. I considered stopping around mile 9 and just having someone come get me but kept moving because I didn’t want to quit since my family had come out to support me and also because it would be faster to finish than to wait for them in the cold to come find me in the middle of a neighborhood with closed roads.
Miles 8-11 were definitely the roughest into these conditions (7:26, 7:30, 7:55, 7:31) but once I hit 11 I knew I’d make it back. I took a gel at mile 10 and the same scenario with the water from the cup freezing my hand occurred; I think if I run a freezing race in the future that I will bring a handheld since this was not pleasant at all, especially with Raynaud’s where my fingers already go numb in the cold (I had handwarmers that helped a lot, fortunately). Mile 11 enters a trail and I was by myself for awhile here, just focusing on putting one foot in front of the other. Somewhere between mile 11 and mile 12 there was a pedestrian bridge on the trail and I started slipping and sliding and nearly ate it; I probably looked pretty comical to the people who were walking in the other direction towards me. Fortunately I stayed on my feet and the bridge was short but bridges hold ice more since they don’t have the warmth of the ground beneath them. This was the only slippery part on the course so in that sense we were quite lucky. By mile 12, I started passing people who were walking either the 5K or 10K to the finish. Mile 12 split was 7:33 and we got off of the trail around mile 12.5 and ran through downtown. I started picking it up at this point, starting to pass some people who had slowed down, and tried to focus on maintaining a harder effort to the finish. I hit mile 13 in 7:14 and then ran the last bit in a 6:10 pace, crossing the finish line in 1:32:51 officially, a 7:05 overall pace.
I was so happy to be done and was lucky that my family was at the finish with a car parked close by so I didn’t have to walk very far and could warm up. This was over a 4-min course PR for me in much worse conditions than the first time I ran it in 2018 (1:37:10) so that was a positive to take away from it, but I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed by the way everything transpired. By all accounts the weather was not favorable for racing but I think I could’ve held it together a little more had my hamstring not acted up; this is the same hamstring that has given me issues in the past and often rears its nasty head when I run hard in the cold (it seems to make it tight) so it wasn’t surprising, just more frustrating since I’ve done so much work to try to fix it including countless hours in the gym and PT exercises. I haven’t dealt with the pain this cycle other than the occasional flare-up but it just stinks it had to be on a race day.
Reflections and Moving Forward
I ended up running between the A and B goals for the first half of the race (officially 6:39 pace for the first 6.55 miles), and between the B and C goal for the overall race (7:05 pace vs goal marathon pace of 6:50-6:55). I know I did the best I could on the day that I was given (snowy, sleeting, 33 with a real feel of 25 and 10-15 mph sustained winds), but it was quite frustrating to wake up Sunday morning in Indy to 0 mph wind, sunny skies, and 35 degrees. The race ended up having over 300 feet of elevation gain and some true rolling hills which I must have blocked out of my memory from the first time I ran it but I’ve made note of it for the future this time. The marathon I’m running in Eugene has just over 400 feet of total elevation gain so that should feel really nice in comparison!
As I write this, Eugene is 20 days from today, and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little nervous. I know I’m in shape to run a strong marathon, but right now a little less confident with how I’m tracking to the sub-3 goal. Sub-3 has never been my “dream”, but it became a goal after running 3:07 in 2019 and realizing it could be possible in the future. I’ve been working hard towards it, pushing myself to see how far I can go, but trying not to put the pressure on for hitting a certain time to determine my worth as a runner since I learned the hard way on that during my Boston qualifying journey.
It’s a lot more fun to share recaps when races go well but only sharing those stories paints an unrealistic picture of what it’s like to be a runner. This cycle has been hard. I’ve been healthy for it which is a huge positive but I haven’t had any one long run workout that I’ve thought, “yep, I nailed that one.” This is largely due to the fact that I haven’t actually had any ideal running conditions on a long-run in general this whole cycle! It’s been nuts! It’s been super cold, wet, and windy for nearly every long run and on most of my speed workout days as well. It’s made it difficult to gauge fitness, so I’m hoping to get a better read on that in the next couple of weeks with it warming up now. I’m hoping sub-3 is still in the cards, but I’ll also be happy if I feel strong from start to finish on marathon day even if it’s not quite there yet. This isn’t me throwing in the towel on the goal, I still really want it, but I also want to run a smart race for where I’m at.
My hamstring is improving but we’re keeping this week easy until a bigger long-run workout this weekend to let it loosen up and feel better. I still have a bigger mileage week ahead and am looking forward to one more opportunity to test the fitness this weekend before tapering hard for marathon day. Truthfully, the taper can’t come soon enough after this wild weather we’ve had all winter long and into a fake spring!
Prior to the NYC Marathon, a spring marathon was not part of my plan. I don’t love winter training and doing long runs in January/February through the midwest winter when windchills are often in the negatives is not enjoyable for me (or very easy for someone with exercise-induced asthma). But my build-up to NYC indicated I was in shape for a 3:03-3:05 marathon on a very hilly course and since I didn’t get the opportunity to show that fitness, the idea of a spring marathon began to creep into my mind. Training this past summer in Chicagoland was pretty brutal; June-mid September can often be pretty muggy (we get the both ends of the spectrum here – winters with negative windchills and summers with dew points in the 70s) but the heat and humidity never let up this cycle and I did every long run in hot, humid conditions and often had to adjust my paces to account for the weather. It wasn’t the biggest confidence-building cycle and after a long 2 years of waiting to race a marathon again, it was disappointing how everything transpired. A spring marathon became a little more appealing knowing that at least I wouldn’t have to deal with heat.
Way back at the Atlanta Trials in February 2020, my friend Marissa told me about the elite athlete qualifications at the Illinois Marathon. After what transpired in NYC, running a smaller race seemed more appealing and I remembered what she had said almost 2 years ago. I don’t consider myself “elite” by any means but I have run times that were under their standards (sub 3:12 marathon, sub 1:32 half marathon for women under 40) to be considered. The perk to this is that I’d get to put out my own hydration bottles on the course and could control exactly what was in them, something I’ve never been able to do at a marathon before. I love the marathon majors for how much fun they can be but my PRs most recently have come from mid-sized races that have competition but much less “frills”, aka having to arrive 4 hours early like I did for NYC. Illinois would provide that – there will be men and women faster than me, pace groups around to help, but I can show up to the starting line maybe 20-30 minutes ahead of time instead of hours which can make a big difference, especially if conditions are cooler to start. I started thinking about how neat it would be to try to go after a big goal at the place I ran my first ever marathon in 4:10. Sub-3 on a flatter course (gains about 400 feet over the course of the marathon) could be in the cards with the right conditions and training but more importantly, this was a goal that excited me. I signed up to run Illinois and am in the first few weeks of training currently.
This winter has been cold and windy so far with a decent amount of ice and so I’ve been alternating between treadmill runs and outdoor runs with lots of layers. It’s tough to run fast when you’re concerned about slipping on ice and most recently this weekend I was reminded that my asthma can flare up pretty badly with the cold, dry conditions. I really don’t enjoy logging long miles on the treadmill but it’s going to have to be something I utilize more if I want to hit my paces – I seem to be ok outside if I keep things comfortable and easy but when I pick up the pace when the real feel is under 10, my asthma often flares up and it takes a long time to be able to breathe normally again. It’s frustrating but it’s just something I have to live with; my inhaler helps but it isn’t foolproof. I know January and February are the hardest months to train here – it’s cold, dreary, and with the sun setting around 4:30 there isn’t as much daylight. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t counting down the days until spring!
In my personal life, 2022 has not really been off to the best start. I was really excited at the end of 2021 to be taking my business full-time and while that is going well, we’ve been dealt a lot of bad cards lately. A day into the new year, my uncle passed away very unexpectedly. We had just seen him for Christmas and so it was a total shock, and to be honest, we’re still a little bit in shock. I am lucky to be 28 and to not have experienced much loss in my life before but this grief has been hard on myself and my family. A week after the funeral, we attended a celebration of life for Ross’ grandpa who passed away just days before the NYC Marathon in November which was also another surprise death for our family. It hasn’t been the happiest start to the new year and we seem to get bad news weekly. Unfortunately, Ross tested positive for covid this week and we’ve been living in separate rooms of the house since I remain healthy so far. We both have received 3 doses of the Moderna vaccine and his symptoms remain mild likely because of that, like a bad cold (sore throat and congestion), but it doesn’t make it any less frustrating. It’s been hard not being able to spend time with my husband and feeling lonely cooped up in the house since it’s been pretty gross outside. I am thankful that so far I am covid-free but man, it’s been really hard this year so far to keep a positive attitude when just when you build yourself back up a little you get knocked a couple steps back.
Part of the reason my long run workout didn’t go great yesterday was because of the weather, but I also know a big part of it was because of the anxiety weighing on my mind right now with everything going on. Over the years I’ve realized I definitely run best when my mind is happy, I’m not the type of person who is fueled by rage or can perform well when I’m under negative pressure. I am grateful that through all of this I’ve been able to continue to run for my own peace of mind, even if workouts haven’t been perfect.
The goal remains to work towards that sub-3 marathon in April. If at any point my mind is no longer in it or my body isn’t responding well, I’ll readjust, but right now the drive is there to keep pushing towards it despite the messy year it’s been so far and I’ll keep working hard to get there. Training-wise, I’m experimenting a bit with mileage and runs this cycle which I’ll talk about a little more in a future post, but I’m hoping to run some higher mileage weeks since I think this is a piece of training I can improve on after 13 years of consistently and healthily running 6 days/week. I’ve been strength training 2-3 times/week lifting heavy weights in the gym and feeling strong; I’ve really taken to lifting and while I’m not working towards any lifting goals, the idea does intrigue me for the future and I’m glad to have another outlet that can be done inside when it’s so cold out! Additionally for the last month I’ve been working with sports dietitian Meghann Featherstun to really hone in on my nutritional needs as we increase mileage and intensity. Already I’ve noticed positive changes in my body by being intentional with what I’m eating and how I’m fueling before my runs especially. I knew that if I was going to try to do something I’ve never done before with a really big goal in mind that I’d need to be firing on all cylinders and nutrition was definitely a piece that could use some work so I’m grateful to get to work with her this cycle to help me with this crucial piece of training.
Just an update on where things are at and where I hope to go! Month one of 2022 has not been great, but life is not linear and I know that there are brighter, happier days ahead. I hope that for all of you you are enjoying your start to the new year but if it has been different than how you were hoping, know that I empathize with you. I’ve been trying to take things one day at a time, not getting too ahead of myself, and learning to appreciate living in the current moment, and that has helped ❤
In October 2018, I became a certified running coach with the RRCA. I had been running for 10 years at the time and was ready to take the next step by applying the knowledge I had learned from my years running everything from the 400 meter run to the marathon to coaching applications for coaching adults of all running abilities. I registered my own LLC, Chasing Unicorns LLC, and was hired as a coach for Team Sugar Runs; Jessica had been my coach for a year and was so supportive of me taking this step in my career and I am so thankful that she invested in me not only as my coach but as a business mentor. I took on my first coaching clients in the winter of 2019 and over the last nearly 3 years, have had the opportunity to work with almost 100 clients, with an amazing core group of athletes who have been around for a lot of the journey. My dream when I started my business was to be able to turn it into a full-time role in the future; I would’ve never imagined that it would be in 3 years but thanks to an amazing team behind me, I am so excited to share that I have decided to make coaching and the running industry my full-time career moving into 2022!
Making this decision was not easy and not something I took lightly. I was incredibly nervous to make the leap, leaving behind the comfort and security of a corporate job, relying on myself to be the sole determinant of my success, but knew that something had to give. I was working about 50 hours/week in my full-time job and anywhere from 15-20 hours per week in my coaching job on top of a rigorous training schedule myself and using whatever time I had left to spend time with Ross and others. I was burning the candle from both ends and it became increasingly clear to me that I was at a crossroads. I either needed to go all-in on my corporate career or on coaching. I deliberated endlessly, with one day the clear answer being coaching, and the next convincing myself that I was being irresponsible throwing away a good job in the corporate world and swinging in the opposite direction. Ross made it very clear to me that this was my decision and my decision alone; he would give me advice but he would not be making the decision for me. He would support my decision either way and so it truly on me to make up my mind.
To back up a little bit, I’m not sure I would have made the same decision in 2021 had the pandemic not happened. It truly made me slow down and take stock of what was important when the world shut down. It was during this time that I realized just how busy I was – and quite honestly – just how unfulfilled I was. Prior to the pandemic I was convinced that I was living up to my definition (or what I thought the definition was) of success. I was on an upward trajectory in my career, managing a business, I had seen a lot of success in my own running recently, and I was happily married to my best friend. This was the life I had dreamed for myself in college – climbing the corporate ladder, aka that money=success. It’s also the reason I ended up foregoing my aspiration in high school to become a teacher and instead applied to business school; I was chasing a different definition of success. Life has a funny way of working itself out though and while I didn’t end up choosing a career in teaching, I get to teach others daily through coaching while relying on my business degree to help run my coaching business effectively.
I have had jobs in the past that would have been much easier to leave if at these crossroads than the one I was in today. What I struggled with recently was that I really liked my co-workers and my company culture and wasn’t sure how I could walk away from that. My feedback in performance reviews often included that I was great at mentoring and supporting others and that’s just it – it was the people, not the daily tasks that I would be missing, and that’s what made me realize my passion and strengths lie in coaching. What did bring me a lot of joy and fulfillment was helping my athletes reach new heights in their running and watching them start to believe in themselves as much as I believed in them. Ross told me recently that he always knew when I was on a coaching call vs a work call because my energy was high and my voice excited.
Money is a taboo topic in our culture but it would be a disservice to not talk about it here when talking about leaving a full-time job. I don’t believe in the whole “money can’t buy you happiness” sentiment because I think it means a lot to be able to be comfortable and able to pay your bills, but there is some validity to the phrase in that it doesn’t mean a whole lot more beyond that if you aren’t happy. We are fortunate to be in a position where I can take this leap and follow my dreams while taking a (calculated) bet on myself; I do not take that for granted. I think the scariest part for me in this decision was the financial piece as a very risk-averse person, even if on paper it makes sense after the growth over several years. What I realized, however, is that corporate life will always be there if I need/want to go back to it, but that the opportunity to realize your dream doesn’t always come around every day. Some people go their whole lives without knowing what their passion is or how to turn it into a career and I am so lucky to have found that early on and to be able to take this step.
I am excited for what this means for my current athletes today and new athletes in the future. One of my big goals in doing this is to be able to grow my business but a lot of my goals surround doing things to enhance my current athletes’ experience and it’s been so fun to share those goals with Jessica as we continue to work together dreaming up big things for the team! One thing that I am excited to share is that I signed up for a 3-month course starting in early 2022 to become a NASM CPT to be able to coach strength for runners. In addition to coaching, I’ll be working part-time at a local running store and am looking forward to expanding my knowledge in all things gait-analysis, footwear, and running apparel while helping others along their running journeys.
I am feeling all sorts of emotions during my last week in my corporate job and I know it’ll take some time to adjust to a new schedule and routine but I also know it’ll be so worth it. To everyone who has supported and believed in me over the last few years in business, thank you so much. I can’t wait to continue to share more in this journey in 2022 and to be living a life far beyond my wildest dreams.
There’s still one more month left of 2021 but in terms of racing, the books have been closed on this racing year for me. It’s been hard to find the words for how I’ve been feeling since a disappointing day in NYC earlier this month. I know in my heart of hearts that there is nothing I could’ve done differently that day and that it was simply just an off-day and a product of all the logistics leading into the race that did me in but it was really tough after having poured my time and energy into a training cycle to have it end so lackluster.
Part of me is kicking myself for choosing to do NYC instead of Indy Monumental as I had initially planned for 2021, but I can’t change that now. I’ve learned a valuable lesson that there is a huge perk to a lower frills racing environment where you can sleep in and roll up to a starting line maybe 30 minutes before a race instead of 5 hours already logging 5,000 steps before even starting and sitting in the cold for 3 hours. I love big marathon majors but I think I’ve learned that if I want to run my fastest times now that I’m working to shave off a few minutes instead of 10s of minutes, logistics matter.
Moving past the race itself though, 2021 was not a fun year of racing for me. I was hopeful that after staying consistent through 2020 with my training and building a lot of strength that it would all pay off in a smashing comeback to racing after races were canceled in 2020 but that wasn’t how things materialized. For my first race back, I was signed up for the Glass City Half Marathon in Toledo. Unfortunately, volunteers turned the front pack of runners off the course that day and I dropped out of the race after we were corrected since adding a mile to a half marathon is not a way to PR. As a redemption run, I quickly pivoted and signed up for a half marathon the following weekend in Wisconsin, a short drive from home. With 40 mph wind gusts on race day, a PR was out of question again and it was another disappointing day. Putting spring behind me, I turned towards the Fall season. I raced the Naperville Half Marathon during my build-up to NYC and while this race time-wise was more indicative of fitness (1:30), I struggled hard in the back half of the race and watched a PR slip away. What was even more frustrating about this race was that another female runner had cut the course and in the results bumped myself and another runner off of the podium. We contacted the race organization who has still yet to do anything about it even though the data was all clearly there on Strava showing the course being cut. Finally, my 2021 racing season culminated with NYC, a race that broke my heart and spirit after months of being so patient and continuing to show up through a more difficult training cycle.
After NYC my first thought was to sign up for a redemption race. I recovered extremely quickly, likely because my training cycle had been really solid and I ran almost 40 minutes slower that day than what I was in shape for, and I was tempted to use the fitness in another race. But we had plans on the calendar for a week-long trip to Antigua to celebrate our 5th wedding anniversary and I knew marathon training would not be feasible while there/not something I wanted to do since the focus was supposed to be on spending time with Ross, not running a ton of miles. After talking with my coach, we agreed that the best course of action would be to turn towards a spring marathon if it’s what I wanted to do, so I leaned into my time off, ending November with 100 miles total run after my highest mileage month in October where I ran 246 miles.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve grappled with this training season and my emotions surrounding it. I’ve realized I put so much weight into running being the thing giving me joy during the pandemic and other life stressors and that when that went wrong, I felt like I lacked purpose. The funny part is, I think a big reason why this cycle didn’t go as well is because my mind was so many other places. Part of the reason my mental game felt weak this year was because I was rusty and out of practice from racing after 2020 canceled all races, but I think now that a big part of it was because my mental energy was being consumed in other areas of my life; I think that the well was dry when it came to pushing hard in workouts or races. It feels weird to talk about because by all accounts, I was handling things well but I think that’s one of my weaknesses that is disguised as a strength – being able to juggle a lot of things at the same time because as my husband pointed out to me, I will always put others’ needs first even if it means sacrificing my own well-being in the process.
I don’t believe that life will always be “balanced”, but I do think that there is only so much that each of us can handle on our plates at one time without starting to sacrifice quality of those things. We have to determine our priorities – and some of those will be pre-decided for us – but I’ve realized that with some of the goals I have in running and elsewhere that I can’t “do it all” and expect success in every area. Running is still really integral to my daily life and I’m so grateful to have it, but I can’t let my success in running dictate my overall happiness because this isn’t the last time I’ll have a bad “season”. 2021 was not the year I was hoping it would be with my running, but I’m working on making some changes to do what I can to make 2022 even better. Running is cyclical and I may have been in the “valley” this year, but that means there are only brighter days ahead as I make my way back up to a peak.
It’s hard to want to “re-live” a race gone wrong but I’ve had to in the last 48 hours to try to figure out what went wrong while it’s still a fresh (albeit, raw) memory. My training cycle was solid – I was able to do every single run and every single workout with 0 interruptions from pain flare-ups or illness which is super rare if you’ve ever trained for a marathon before. I didn’t hit every workout and had to adjust a lot this cycle with hot and humid conditions but felt like things were starting to click when I ran a 16-miler 2 weeks out in cooler weather with 10 consecutive miles at a 6:47 average. Part of me wonders if things were clicking just a little too late and maybe I could’ve benefited from another week or two of training, but the way my body shut down on me in the race leads me to believe something else had to have been going on because that would’ve just left me a little less sharp by a minute or two, not full on implosion running over 30 minutes slower than my PR.
I’m pretty confident that the root of my problems Sunday stemmed from logistics of racing a major point-to-point big marathon. I was up at 3:30 a.m. to eat breakfast before heading to the subway to get to the library for my 5:15 a.m. bus. I was on a bus by 5:05 and we were on our way to Staten Island, but this meant getting off the bus prior to 6 a.m. and sitting around outside in 39-degree weather for over 3 hours before my start time at 9:10. I had brought layers of throwaway clothes expecting to be outside for awhile, but one thing I didn’t bring was extra warmth for my feet. My feet were so cold – lucky for me, a teammate of mine (hi, Lindsay!) gave me one of her extra hand warmers and I stuck it in my shoe and rotated it between shoes to try to warm my feet up. This helped a lot but only lasted so long.
By the time I got up to go use the porta potty one last time before entering the corral, I was shivering uncontrollably. I thought maybe it was nerves, but I was so cold. We were asked to shed our layers about 15 minutes before heading up to the start line since there wouldn’t be places to leave clothes on the bridge. The start line was surreal – we heard and felt the cannons go off to signify the start of our wave and music playing on the bridge. Being in a pack of runners at the start helped me feel warmer, but as soon as I started running, I realized my feet were still numb and I could barely feel them. It took about 3 miles for me to feel them again but within the first mile I was also dealing with a side cramp as I climbed the Verrazano. I told myself to relax and to pay attention to my breathing because this is often the cause for side cramps. It never really went away.
I settled into my goal pace after coming off of the bridge but didn’t feel as fresh as you should in the first few miles of a marathon at goal pace. If you’ve trained properly, the first 10 miles of a marathon should be relatively comfortable – you should feel in control and exerting maybe 75-80% effort. I knew by mile 6 that this felt more like half marathon effort and that I’d likely have to back off, but I was expecting my crew at mile 8 so I used that as motivation to keep up my clip and maybe if I was lucky seeing them would spark me to keep going at this pace. Sure enough I saw them at 8 but shortly after that I started stepping off the gas because I was having a hard time breathing. I have exercise induced asthma so I carry my inhaler with me just in case but this was the first time I’ve ever had to take it at mile 9 of a marathon that had good conditions. It was really early on to be having breathing problems. I started slowing, seeing 7’s on my watch instead of the 6:57’s I’d been holding consistently. If I tried to pick up my pace, my breathing would just get more out of control and I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to finish at all.
My legs felt so heavy from mile 10 onward and they completely stopped turning over. I’d try to run with pace groups that ran by, matching their pace for a minute only to let them go because I couldn’t hold on. I remember hitting the halfway point in 1:35 and knowing this was going to be the hard way to run a marathon – progressively getting slower as I went on – but I was hopeful maybe I could still hang onto an 8ish min pace and clinch a BQ for 2023. That goal slipped further and further from reality as stomach cramping took over and I started feeling really nauseous if I picked up my pace anymore than a recovery effort. The Queensboro bridge really did a number on me and I was pretty sad when instead of getting to run down the bridge on the other side after cresting it that we just ran down a short exit ramp instead. I had so many people passing me on the uphill climb here and it was disheartening – usually I’m the one doing the passing on an uphill, a strength of mine, but my body would not move any faster.
I was counting down miles to the finish. I knew my crew would be at mile 17 and that they had to know something was wrong based on my tracking time. I clutched my stomach as I ran past them to make them aware that I was dealing with stuff but kept on running. When I hit 18, I remember thinking 8 miles to go seemed like a lot but it was manageable even if I had to walk the whole darn thing. I was finishing this race and at least going home with my 4th Abbott World Marathon Major star. Please note that sometimes it doesn’t make sense to finish a race – had I been experiencing any pains reminiscent of injury pain, I would’ve called it because it wouldn’t be worth risking a long-term injury for. This was different – I knew I could finish if I kept moving slowly and that it was just an off-day. I remembered that Shalane Flanagan had to walk in London and that she had recommended walking through the aid stations if you were struggling to get you back going again. I tried this method starting around mile 19 and it helped but it was the first time I had to walk in a marathon in many years and I was a bit defeated and embarrassed by that as people were cheering me on to keep going but my body just was rebelling in every way.
Between mile 20 and 21 a woman ran out in the street after seeing me walking and cramping and handed me a 16 oz bottle of Gatorade. I don’t normally mix Gatorade and my gels on course because I’ve had GI issues in the past from this but figured this was already a train wreck and it couldn’t get any worse. I think sipping on this helped me get through the next 3 miles. There is one final bridge around mile 21, the Willis Bridge, and someone was out with a sign that said “Last Damn Bridge”. I pointed and laughed at that and thought, “thank goodness”. Convinced my crew was going to be at 23 (they had said 24 but I had a mind lapse), I kept moving not wanting them to see me walking. This pretty much kept me going except for aid stations – I was able to take all 5 of my gels, forcing the last one down at 23 knowing I’d feel better if I got calories in I even if I didn’t want it at the time. I eventually saw the group at 24 and yelled out, “2 more to go” as I entered Central Park. The Central Park hills were the first true “rolling” hills on this course. The bridges are straight up and straight down and the same with the roads. If I ever do this race again, I need to practice on more gradual mile-long slopes vs rolling hills like Boston I think because it was very different. The fans in the park really helped push me along, though. This course is completely lined with spectators and it was amazing to have so much love and support on the course from total strangers. This is one reason I love the marathon majors – the locals are always so proud of their marathon and come out in force to support it.
People aren’t kidding when they say the finish is uphill. Usually I can kick in hard at the finish of a marathon, closer to 6 min pace, but again my body just would not let me. I’m pretty sure this was the slowest 400 meter finish I’ve ever had in a marathon even though I was so ready to be done! I crossed the line in 3:41; with a first half in 1:35, that means my second half took 2:06. I felt every minute of that second half. Crossing the line we were encouraged to keep walking and I had several volunteers keep coming up to me asking if I needed help and if I was ok. I appreciated it but waved them off. I got my poncho on and again was asked by more volunteers if I was ok or if I needed a wheelchair. A wheelchair? Did I really look that bad? I eventually got to the “hill” to get out on 72nd and my body stopped wanting to move. I sat down on the side of the path and a volunteer came over to make sure I was ok. I chugged the protein shake in the bag they had given us at the finish, knowing that if I didn’t get calories in soon I’d likely end up with GI issues (I’ve found if I can get some protein in within 30 minutes of finishing a marathon that I can avoid the GI issues typically.
After drinking the shake, I continued out of the park until someone from the med tent suggested I come inside. I was freezing and they wrapped me in blankets to warm me up, stretched out some muscles, and had me eat some saltine crackers. I guess I looked as bad as I felt. When I came out of the med tent, I dropped my phone and my SIM card got loose in the phone so I no longer had service. Fortunately we had planned a meet up spot in case phones weren’t working (battery life was the primary concern, lol) so I found Ross and Lindsey and got to give them big hugs before we headed down to the subway to go back to the hotel.
Recovery so far as been pretty easy. My energy levels were normal the day after and while my body is sore from running 26.2 hilly miles, it doesn’t feel as beat up as after a typical marathon, likely because I slowed things way down. We were tourists in the city on Monday and I enjoyed walking around to shake the legs out a bit. I’m still respecting the fact that I ran the distance regardless of the time on the clock and giving my body time to recover, but trying to figure out what my next steps will be. Coming into NYC admittedly I was ready for a break from the marathon and excited to be going on vacation later this month where running was not on the schedule, but now I have a little bit of an itch to settle some unfinished business after so many months of hard work and fitness built. Fortunately I have Jessica to talk through options with and see what makes the most sense both physically and mentally for me. I don’t like to make decisions right after a race so I have just been thinking about options at this point, not acting on any impulses.
I think what I’ve taken away most from this experience is that while I love these big major marathons so much, they aren’t always the best places to run faster times at with all the logistics involved on race day. There’s something to be said for the medium-sized races that still have good competition but where you can show up to the start line less than 30 minutes before and be ready to go. I’m not sure what’s next for me but I’m figuring that out one day at a time. This experience was disappointing, but if there’s anything the pandemic taught us about running it’s that all of the work when races aren’t in season doesn’t go to waste and will be able to be tapped into in the future.
I signed up for the Naperville Half Marathon back in July to be a goal race in my build-up for the NYC Marathon. It was 3 weeks before NYC and normally I prefer to do one about 4-5 weeks out from the goal marathon but I was limited in the weekends that I could pick for my goal race since I was hosting the Chicago Marathon meetup and had my best friend’s wedding that I stood up in a couple weekends prior to that. I had run the course before in 2019 as a workout and had a good experience at it and since it was local it was easy to get to!
The buildup to NYC Marathon has been going well but because of the hot, humid, seemingly never-ending summer in Chicagoland this year, I hadn’t really had a long run I felt great about in awhile. My paces have had to be adjusted in every long run that had speedwork in it and this left me feeling unsure of where my fitness was at going into Naperville. I talked with my coach, Jessica, the Wednesday before the race and we both thought realistically I was in shape to run about a 1:25-1:26 half marathon on a good day but recognized that these last 18 months have taken their toll in the form of stress and in just being rusty with racing, not used to being in that type of pain for awhile. My biggest goal was to go run a smart race and to compete and if the splits came, that would be icing on the cake.
I set my alarm for 5 a.m. for a 7 a.m. start time. I had a quick bite to eat and brought my UCan in the car since it was a 45 minute drive down to Naperville. I drank that around 6:15, 45 minutes before the scheduled start time. I had to pick up my bib that morning since I didn’t want to drive 90 minutes roundtrip the day before to pick it up so I was a little crunched for time when I arrived since I had a hard time getting to a parking garage with the roads shut down. I found a spot, got out of my car, and the cold air hit me. It was 39 degrees with a real feel of 36 when just the weekend before it had been a low of 73 – it was a drastic change! I started running my warm-up to pick up my bib, and realized I hadn’t grabbed my mask to go into the gymnasium to pick it up! I ran back to the car, grabbed one, and got to the gym to pick up the bib. I had prepaid for race-day packet pickup but there was a glitch in the system and they hadn’t marked me down so this process took a little longer than I had budgeted for. I had time to run a little more and do my 4 strides and got into my corral with about 3 minutes to spare which had me stressed out and adrenaline pumping a bit before I started. I kept telling myself to relax and tried taking several deep breaths knowing that it wasn’t good to be stressed on the start line.
The gun went off and I was flying forward, looked down at my watch and saw it was in the 5’s and pulled it back real fast. I tried to settle into a good rhythm – hoping to start off closer to a 6:40 pace and take it down to a 6:30 after a couple miles. I found some guys that I started working with and we ended up going through mile 1 in a 6:28 and my watch was right on with the mile marker on the course which is always a nice feeling. A little fast so tried to rein it back in for the next mile, and at this point I was nearly by myself with some people ahead and some behind. I realized it was going to be a no-man’s land kind of race – the men ahead of me were way faster than me and there wasn’t really anyone in that 6:30 pace range where I was. There was a water stop at mile 2 and I skipped it since it was so cold and early on in the race that I didn’t think I needed it. The water stop was just before a big hill that I saw would also be the same hill I’d hit mile 8 on – it felt ok now but I knew by mile 8 it was going to feel like a mountain. Mile 2 was a 6:34 and this was a good spot for me to hang out at. I felt slightly uncomfortable. I considered backing off the pace a bit but convinced myself to hang with it and maybe it would pass – sometimes the early miles running fast just don’t feel as natural and I settle into a rhythm after 2-3. We went under and underpass for mile 3 and there were a lot of spectators cheering here. Mile 3 was 6:37 and I used the energy of the crowds to keep moving forward. There was a timing mat around 3.3ish (online it says it was at mile 4 but it also says I ran 4 miles at 5:28 pace so that’s obviously not correct). This part of the course was lonely running around a high school parking lot with no fans around so I tried to trick myself and imagined running around my own high school parking lot back in the day when we’d do workouts in the winter when the track was snow-covered. It sort of worked but mile 4 clicked for me before the sign on the road which was the first mile marker this had happened at; they changed the course this year and because of how off the mile markers were after this I think maybe they were placed in their old locations. I’m not sure but GPS was fine in Naperville since it’s just a suburban town with no skyscrapers like downtown Chicago so I don’t think that was the problem.
I got to the first aid station at mile 4, clocking in a 6:31 mile. At this point the volunteers were cheering for me yelling things like “you’re the first female” which was really exciting to hear. I grabbed a cup of water and tried to down my gel quickly because unfortunately, it was a plastic cup which meant I couldn’t drink much of the water at all. It mostly ended up all over my face instead. (Side note: I don’t know why races are using plastic cups lately. They’re not good for the environment, first of all, and second of all, they’re terrible for runners because we can’t crease the top to control the liquid coming into our mouths while continuing to run!) At this point I was only 26 minutes into my race but I knew running at a faster pace would mean I was burning through my fuel faster – ideally I could’ve taken a gel at mile 5 and mile 10 but I knew ahead of time that there were aid stations at 2, 4, 6, 8, and 12 so 4 and 8 made the most sense.
Mile 5 was consistent with a 6:33 and I used some energy from fans that were in downtown Naperville to propel me along. There was also a DJ playing music along this mile and he yelled out my name as I ran by which was pretty neat! When we got out of downtown, it was pretty lonely again and there was another uphill climb to get to mile 6. This slowed me down a bit and I hit the mile in 6:40. I tried to maintain my effort here since things started feeling much harder and headed for a short out-and-back section where I had the opportunity to see who was behind me for the first time. I was still in first female at this point but could see there was a woman maybe 10 seconds back on me and gaining. I also saw another female who was maybe 30 seconds back at this point and another one shortly behind her. I focused on keeping it together. I could tell the woman 10 seconds back looked a lot fresher than me but tried to focus on my race. She ended up catching me in the next half mile or so and I tried to match the move but just couldn’t go with her; she ended up talking to someone on the sidelines who yelled out to her so I could tell she wasn’t exerting herself as much as I was and was probably pretty comfortable! Sure enough I had maintained the effort hitting mile 7 in 6:43. I knew the next mile would have the big hill in it again from mile 2 since they had changed the course to be just 2 loops of the same thing so I tried to mentally prepare for that. I took my second gel at the aid station near mile 8 and grimaced my way up the hill. 6:46. I think this hill took the life out of my legs because I was never able to fully recover after that. I kept moving, knowing I had definitely slowed down and this is when it hit me that this was the moment that would be the difference between a PR day and a non-PR day.
It’s hard to feel your goal slipping away and not being able to battle for it. At this point I was fighting a lot of mental demons wanting to be done with the race but I reminded myself that it was only 5 miles and I could finish it. I tried to give myself a mile to regroup, hitting mile 9 in 6:58, but my legs just didn’t want to go anymore. At this point I was still in the second-place female position and I figured the women behind me must have slowed down as well since they hadn’t passed me yet. I ran through the empty high school parking lot again, hitting mile 10 at a 7:00 pace and tried to do some mental math. My PR of 1:27:48 was probably out of the question at this point unless I could pick it back up to the 6:30s again but I was really proud of how I was battling and staying in it till the end. It was between mile 10 and 11 that another woman passed me running alongside a man and I tried to latch on to the back of them and go with but it wasn’t happening. They looked strong and I focused on the fact that I had less than 3 miles to go! Mile 11 clicked in at 7:12 – oof, my slowest mile of the day. We came through downtown with the cheers again and then hit a hill right at the most convenient time at mile 12! Ouch. That burned. 7:11 for mile 12. At least I’m consistent? I had to do the out and back section again where I could see if others were behind me. I didn’t see any other females and figured they must have faded so it looked like I was going to be locked in for third which was still exciting! Hitting 13 in a 7:09 but not being at the mile 13 marker was a bit rough so I focused on just sprinting it in from here. The faster I ran, the faster I was going to be done. I ended up averaging a 6:23 pace for the last .28 miles – I thought I had done a pretty good job of hugging the curves and running the tangents since I was by myself so I do think the course was a bit long, but more on that a little later. I came through the shoot sprinting seeing the clock and threw my hands up as I crossed the line. It wasn’t the race I was dreaming of but it still felt like a really big accomplishment to finish third female on tired, marathon-trained legs only 3 weeks out from the goal race before any tapering. My official time was a 1:30 but if the course was long, which I believe it to be (I’m very honest about this kind of thing – I’m not one of those people who will try to tell you that I ran over 27 miles at the Chicago Marathon – I know it’s skyscrapers messing with that!) it was a 1:29.
When I went to the results tent, however, I found out that I was in fourth place. I found the woman who I thought was in second and she also thought she was second and I was third but we accepted that maybe someone started later and finished with an overall faster elapsed time. We parted ways but later that morning she contacted me and had found the other woman’s data on Strava and saw that at the second out-and-back section she had turned into the finish shoot instead of doing the out-and-back which cut off about a half mile from her total distance. Her watch read 12.8 at the end. We submitted this to the race directors to try to verify the results since there were prizes for second and third overall female and it was a bit disappointing to not be awarded our correct prizes. They responded on Monday saying they’d look into it and as of posting this we have still not heard back which is a little frustrating.
I think it makes sense to break down the post-race thoughts into two categories, things I could have controlled and things I couldn’t have controlled. We’ll start with the uncontrollable since those are easier to list.
The plastic cup situation. I think I drank less than 6 oz. total on the course because of these plastic cups that were filled only a third of the way and that I couldn’t crease to get water down. This really isn’t ideal for running hard and it made it really tough to get the gels down since they are so sticky on their own.
Running by myself. There wasn’t a good pack to run with around a 6:30/6:40 pace. The men ahead of me were either way faster (sub 1:20 shape), the people behind weren’t coming up, and the few people around me didn’t really work together and played cat and mouse with each other. When I ran my PR half at Indy and in CIM I ran with a pack for half of the race and then raced on my own the second half and this is definitely how I race best – I like to sit with a group and then pick it up like a workout. In the past this race has had faster pace groups which is why I picked it but with covid I think they had less pacers sign up.
The course. The course map changed after I had signed up and became two loops of the same thing instead of the usual course I was anticipating which was one bigger loop. I liked the big loop and I knew it well from racing previously so I was a bit thrown off a few days before the race when I realized it wasn’t going to be the same. It made for a little boring experience and mentally challenging to start the second loop. The course also seemed long – most people’s data I saw on Strava showed about 13.3 miles as well. When I mapped it out online, it actually showed it being 13.48 miles long so this doesn’t seem unrealistic!
The weather. I hesitated to mention this because it seems so picky after the Chicago marathoners got a 73-degree day for their race the weekend before but after being told by several people after the race that my lips were blue in photos or in person, it probably played a role. 39 with a real feel of 36 felt really cold to me that morning but I did feel like I heated up a bit. Fortunately there wasn’t much wind to deal with!
I probably should’ve gotten up at 4:30 instead of 5:00. Lesson learned to account for things outside of your control taking up extra time in the morning to leave room to not stress out about timing.
My mental game. I’ve been struggling with this a lot more this cycle than in previous ones. Some of it has to do with the fact that I haven’t had a long-run workout go exactly to plan this cycle and have had to adjust all of them for hot and humid conditions. When I trained for CIM in 2019 I was hitting peak weeks in October and November because the race was in December and I had forgotten how much nicer that made the workouts and long runs! Another piece of the mental side of things has to do with not racing much during the pandemic and getting a little rusty on mental toughness. It’s like a muscle – if you don’t exercise mental toughness, it becomes weaker and weaker over time. Last year I focused mostly on running for endurance and maintaining a good base. This spring I tried racing a half and the course marshals turned us the wrong way around mile 4, I regrouped and tried to race a week later into 40 mph wind gusts which obviously didn’t go great, so I never got to really race. I try to remember that I ran a 3:14 solo marathon self-supported last Halloween as a workout (3 miles off, 2 miles on) and that helps remind me how tough I can be, but I’m still getting back into this whole racing for real thing again and it’s hard. As I’ve told several of my athletes lately, the life stress also adds up and certainly plays a role in our mental toughness, too. It’s been a hard 18 months for all of us and we shouldn’t forget that it can have an effect on our running.
Overall I’m really proud of this effort. While it wasn’t the dream “return-to-racing” day that we’ve all been envisioning after a long pandemic, it was the first time in a long time I’ve seen a glimmer of my old self who was more confident in her racing and herself. I am the strongest athlete I’ve ever been – all the work in the gym has paid off for sure – and now I just need to get my mind on board with the rest of my body for New York. I recovered the fastest I ever have from this half; the race was Sunday and I was a little sore and stiff Monday but by Tuesday all soreness was gone and by Wednesday it was like I hadn’t just run a half marathon and I attribute most of this to smart training and all the lifting but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the fact that these carbon-plated shoes really help save the legs from as much pounding as a daily trainer. (More on that in a future post.) I am excited to race a major marathon again for the first time since Boston in April 2019 and ready to take chance on myself and see what I’m capable of! I know I haven’t peaked yet in the marathon and that there’s lots of runway ahead, but I’m truly enjoying the journey and the process along the way.
When we started 2021, the fate of races was still very much up in the air but many of us chose to continue training anyway, knowing that regardless of what came or didn’t come at the end of the cycle, it would still be beneficial for future training. Knowing an April Boston wasn’t going to happen and having just completed two virtual marathons in Fall 2020, training for another possibly virtual marathon just wasn’t very exciting to me and so I decided to turn my focus to the half marathon. It was a distance I felt comfortable potentially time-trialing on my own if it came to that and also one that I was interested in training for. I like the half marathon – it’s an event that you can still run decent weekly mileage with but I didn’t have to run beyond 15 miles for a long run. Training began in January and I didn’t sign up for a race to wait and see what might be available depending on what things looked like with vaccines, but I was targeting a “race” at the end of April or beginning of May.
The first few weeks of training were really challenging. I felt out of shape and being January, there was a lot of snow on the ground and frosty temperatures. The first month or so of a training cycle I usually feel a little rusty coming off of a break but I know the break is always necessary to give my body time to recover and be ready to work hard again. I remember having to stop in a couple speed workouts early on in the training cycle, hunched over with my hands on my knees, and wondering if I’d ever feel back “in shape” again. In January and February I would often take my speed workouts indoors between icy roads and super cold temperatures that makes breathing hard in (my asthma really flares in the super dry, cold winter), but with covid, masks were required at the gym and so it was the same issue indoors – bad breathing conditions either way. I’m not complaining, I was fully in support of it, it’s just the facts of what I was choosing between. I have a basement treadmill and I utilized it a lot more this winter than I had in the past; my treadmill isn’t particularly fancy (Costco purchase a couple years after undergrad when I was on a tight budget) and I do think the speeds feel faster on it than at the same speeds on a nicer treadmill at the gym, but I was able to run on my own treadmill without a mask and so it was often a better option than trying to run hard in negative windchills.
By the end of January, things still felt pretty hard, but I was continuing to show up and try my best. When February rolled around, speed workouts started clicking again just in time for a polar vortex. This meant more time inside, including a couple long runs on the treadmill where I’d watch old marathons on YouTube to pass the time. There was a lot of snow in February, too; I swear we were shoveling the driveway every day! I was a little nervous that all of the treadmill time was going to affect my fitness, but when I ran a 5K PR (19:36) in the middle of a workout towards the end of February, these doubts quickly faded. I wasn’t gunning for a 5K PR, it was a 20 minute tempo run, but things came together and it just happened – my first negative split 5K, too! This was the reassurance I needed that my fitness was there and that training was working. Later that week, though, I set off for a 13-mile long run that became 8 miles as I felt super fatigued and like I was sprinting when I tried to hit tempo paces. I stopped so many times and remember making my way to my parents’ house because it was closer to where I was than my own home and having to get a ride home. It was frustrating but at the time I chalked it up to my body must have still been been recovering from running a 5K PR earlier in the week – looking back now I don’t think that’s what it was, but more on that later.
March started off with several strong workouts prior to leaving on a backpacking trip to Arkansas. We went overnight backpacking for 3 days hiking 40 miles in that time with 25-pound packs on our backs. Suffice to say there was no running for those days as I was getting plenty of exercise! Backpacking was easily the toughest thing I’ve ever done. When you’re in the middle of the woods with no cell phone reception or other people close by for miles, you truly feel all alone and vulnerable. There was no option but to keep moving and there were several times I fought back tears just wanting to be done and being in so much physical pain. Being in running shape really meant nothing out there – my heart rate stayed lower and I did recover quickly each day after a good night’s sleep but that’s about the only benefit I got from running! When we got back from the trip, I got back into training and felt pretty good that first week, but the week after I received my first covid vaccine which left me with some fatigue and a higher heart rate for a few days. I definitely noticed its effect on me athletically, but within a week I felt back to myself.
Committing to the Glass City Half Marathon
At the beginning of April, I finally committed to a race, the Glass City Half Marathon in Toledo, OH. I was excited to run and in-person race and one that I felt really comfortable with – they were requiring proof of vaccination or a negative covid test within 72 hours of the event. Having a race on the calendar encouraged me to keep training hard the next few weeks. Unfortunately, we got hit with a heat wave in early April (80-degrees after it had been a full winter of 10s-30s) and it really rattled my confidence when I couldn’t hit any of my splits in a speed workout. Fortunately, the weather cooled off the following week, but it only gave me about a week to feel good before I received my second covid vaccine. My second vaccine fell on the Monday before race weekend. I had considered waiting a week until after the race to get it, but came to the conclusion that it would be really irresponsible to put off my vaccine for a race when there was a global pandemic. My second vaccine knocked me out pretty hard for a couple days – I had the chills, a fever, a headache, bodyaches, and a lot of fatigue. Later on I would read that pro runners were reporting decreased performance for up to 3 weeks after receiving their second doses and I definitely felt this way. Running was hard and it wasn’t until the Saturday shakeout run the day before race day that my heart rate finally came back down again and I felt a little more confident that I might be able to run hard in Toledo.
Ross and I made the 4.5 hour drive out to Toledo on Saturday afternoon to pick up my race packet. I provided a negative covid test since my second vaccine was earlier in the week (they asked for it to be completed at least 2 weeks prior to race day or to come with a negative covid test taken within 72 hours prior), we got my packet, and headed over to the hotel. It felt so weird to be back at a race weekend again but I was excited. The weather was looking perfect for racing – low 40s with mild wind and overcast skies. On race morning I woke up early to do my ritualistic shakeout mile that I do 2.5 hours before every half marathon. It’s just an easy 10-minute mile that gets the blood flowing prior to eating breakfast. I ate my breakfast, put on my race outfit, and headed out the door to drive over to the starting area. I remember having a hard time getting there with so many closed off roads and I was so stressed that I was going to miss the start of the race. When I finally got to a parking garage, I started running to the start, but then realized I had forgotten my mask in the car which was required to be in the starting corrals! I sprinted back to the car, grabbed the mask, and then sprinted some more over to the start. I’m honestly glad I had this experience in April and not the Fall because now I’ll remember to check for the mask if it’s needed in the starting area! I lined up in Corral 1, just behind the elite corral where I could see Noah Droddy, a professional runner for Saucony, who was there to pace his fiance in the half marathon. It was so cool to be that close to the pros! My goal for the day was to run a 1:25 which was right around 6:30 pace. Fortunately, there was a pacer and I lined up behind him to hopefully tuck in and let him do some of the “work”.
The gun went off and the pacer went flying. I tried to keep my eye on him from a distance but he was pushing 6:10/6:15 pace and I knew it was a horrible idea to try to keep up at that pace not even a mile into the race. I was in no-mans land as a result with a couple people here and there but it was tough to not have a group to work with like I was hoping. Mile 1 clicked in at 6:31 which was perfect and I was proud of myself for running my own race and not getting too overzealous like the pacer. I felt smooth and settled into this rhythm, mile 2 was 6:30 and mile 3 was 6:31. Mile 4 had more incline and this split was a little slower at 6:38 but I wasn’t concerned – I was hoping to stay between 6:30-6:40 early on in the race and so this is right where I wanted to be. And then, disaster struck. At mile 4.5, a volunteer mistakenly turned around the elite corral and corral 1 and sent us running back the way we came. The elites were yelling “turn around, they sent us the wrong way!” at us, but I kept running until I saw an official volunteer who was turning people around. And so I turned…and by the time I had course-corrected I had gone an extra half mile and my goal of running a 1:25 let alone a PR was out the window in that moment. I was crushed. I tried to get my body back into things but my mind was just so thrown off by the chaos. I stepped off the course shortly before 7 miles and called Ross telling him what had happened and we both agreed that the best thing for me to do was to drop out and try to race again soon. I feel extremely fortunate that I dropped out when I did because I learned that the elites were turned around yet again later on and ended up running 15 miles which is just so disappointing. After having made the long journey out to the race, training so hard, and being excited to run my first race back since 2019, this was the most 2021ish thing that could’ve happened.
Plotting a revenge half marathon
After we returned from Toledo, I took the rest of the night to wallow and then the next day went to work figuring out if there would be another opportunity to race. Jessica (my coach) and I agreed that I should avoid traveling too far if possible since racing is hard enough on the body and throwing off your routine doesn’t help. We contemplated running a small, flat race in Wisconsin just a week later or waiting 4 more weeks and running a more local-to-me race in Busse Woods. After thinking about it for a couple days, I decided the thought of extending my cycle for another month just sounded terrible as I had built it up in my mind that I would be done and on a break so I signed up for the Wisconsin race in Oconomowoc where 3 of my friends were running the full marathon. It would be less than a week after the other half marathon but I essentially ran a 6-mile tempo run so we were hoping it wouldn’t affect me too much. I didn’t feel too great the week of the race but was eager to give myself an honest shot since I didn’t get that in Toledo.
I headed up to Oconomowoc after work on Friday to pick up my bib and meet my friends for a pre-race pasta dinner. It was our first group dinner since the pandemic began since all of us were fully vaccinated and it was so nice to eat a pasta dinner with good company again and really felt like a real race weekend! The weather was not looking so great for race day, with a wind advisory out for gusts up to 50 mph and sustained winds of 20 mph, but that’s not something I could control so I tried to just relax in the hotel that night and appreciate that I was getting another shot to run a race in 2021. Sure enough I woke up on race morning and the wind was intense, but what was more concerning to me was that my legs just felt so crampy. I have no idea why this was the case since I was fully hydrated and hadn’t spent much time on my feet the day before and I’m still not really sure what the deal was. I had to put it beside though and focus on getting to the starting line, this time leaving even more time to not be stressed like I was in Toledo.
The course was set up as and out and back and you had to provide your own hydration due to covid protocols. We set up 3 tables along the course with our water and fuel and hoped that it wouldn’t blow over in all the wind! Doing my warm-up I felt like the wind was coming from every direction and knew we’d be in for a fight. We were released in small waves with our masks on which could be removed after crossing the starting line – mine got stuck in my headphones and I probably looked ridiculous trying to get it off in my first few strides! Because it was such a small field, you were running by yourself for the most part and I went out again at goal pace, clocking a 6:24 first mile which was a little too fast for that 6:30 goal. We were headed directly into a headwind, however, and I could feel that this effort was not going to be sustainable in the weather so I tried to pull it back closer to 6:40/6:45. Miles 2-4 were between 6:40-6:47 but I developed some strong stomach cramping and pulled back on my pace further, running mile 5 in 6:56 and mile 6 in 6:59. Between the crazy wind and the cramping, I watched my A & B goals go by and it became more about finishing the race than the time on the clock. I was in such a world of hurt when I went by our friends’ families cheering before mile 6 and they told me after that I looked so mean. I tried to smile but I guess I wasn’t faking it well enough! My paces kept getting slower and slower and everything in me wanted to stop – and I probably would have had I not dropped out of Toledo and felt like I owed it to myself to finish the darn thing. Mile 10 was my slowest at 7:56, a pace slower than many of my aerobic long runs. I just had nothing left to give and my body had gone into survival mode; I let it dictate the pace and ignored my watch. I crossed the line in 1:34, a far cry from the 1:25 I had been hoping for (not realistic with this weather) or even sub-1:30 given the windy conditions. I wasn’t upset at my body because I knew it had done all it could do, but I was disappointed that this was how my spring 2021 racing season was going to end. I am, however, grateful that I did not continue my training cycle for 4 more weeks as the Busse Woods race ended up being nearly 80-degrees with 100% humidity – it would’ve been really sad to have extended my cycle just for that when my brain and body were ready for a break back in April!
This was not the smoothest training cycle for me but I’m glad it helped shake off a lot of the rust that had accumulated during the last year of the pandemic. There were a couple things I didn’t write in detail on that I believe contributed to the rocky cycle beyond the typical winter weather or cumulative fatigue that I’d like to share more about because I wish more people would be honest about some of these things to normalize them/provide more information!
The first has to do with birth control. I made the decision in January 2021 to come off of my birth control after talking with my doctor. I had been on the pill for the last 6 years and for the last few had suspected that something was not quite right with my body being on it. I had crazy mood swings, I felt depressed often for no reason, and my face had developed melasma which is a side effect of hormonal birth control. I was sick of feeling like a stranger in my own body and I wanted to test the hypothesis that I had that it was my birth control causing my hormones to be out of balance. Like any good experiment, I needed a control factor, in this case, the pill, and did not want to just jump to a different kind without ensuring that this was truly the root cause of how I was feeling. Since I was working from home for the foreseeable future, I thought it would be a good time to make the change in case I didn’t feel well or my strong period cramps/flow that I had pre-birth control came back. Fortunately, my period returned right away (I had never lost it while on birth control but had read that some women experience period loss for a few months after coming off of it), but unfortunately so did a lot of the nasty side effects like bloating in the days leading up to my period, strong cramps, and a heavy flow.
However, after a few months, my body felt like my own again. The mood swings stopped, the melasma has slowly been improving, and I feel happier overall. The reason I bring up birth control, however, is because of the effects that now having a “real” period has on athletic training and my performance. Being on birth control, you have a period, but it’s not quite the same as having one without all of the hormones regulating it in the pill. I had read the book, “ROAR” by Dr. Stacy Sims last year, and a whole section of the book is dedicated to talking about the menstrual cycle and learning how to train properly during each phase of the cycle. When I looked back on the bad workouts that I would have where I felt extra fatigued and like I was sprinting at tempo paces, I realized they were often falling in the week before my period which is during the luteal phase, or the phase where you don’t recover as easily or have as much endurance. I also get pretty bad bloating during this time now; I sent a photo to my sister who thought I looked pregnant by how bloated I got.
I have had to learn how to train to work with my menstrual cycle and not against it which is something I will take moving forward into my marathon training cycle. The luteal phase is good for a cutback week whereas during menstruation I’ll be able to push harder because it’s when estrogen and progesterone drop and women are actually most like men funny enough since it seems like the least masculine thing possible! I have also been trying to eat better to avoid the bloat that I get that is extremely uncomfortable. I get cravings for salty and sweet things and instead of reaching for the chips or the ice cream to satisfy those cravings, I’ve been trying to make choices that aren’t going to leave me extra bloated and uncomfortable. I’ve been doing a lot of research on this because going off the pill has helped me in so many ways that I don’t think I want to go back on something that could mess with my hormones again. I am going in for an annual physical this week to get some bloodwork done to make sure everything is looking good prior to starting a marathon training cycle in July; my birth control had iron in it and this is one thing I want to make sure doesn’t get affected as I have dealt with low iron in the past. I take a daily multi-vitamin so hopefully that is doing the trick but bloodwork will reveal any deficiencies that I should work on. (Note: I share this all as a personal anecdote, not as a recommendation. Consult your doctor before making any changes to medication you are taking just as I did!)
The other thing I didn’t realize would have as much as an effect on my training as it did was the second covid vaccine. Because it is so new, there wasn’t a whole lot of research done on the effects of the vaccine and athletic performance, but we are learning more now about how long things like fatigue linger in the body after receiving it. Many athletes are reporting decreased performance for up to 3 weeks after the second dose and that felt pretty accurate to me. I felt fine after a week in aerobic efforts but speedwork was definitely affected and as much as I’d like to believe I could’ve hung onto my goal pace at Toledo, I’m not sure I could’ve done it with how I felt that week after getting the vaccine. I don’t regret my decision to get it – I feel totally back to normal now and it has been such a blessing to feel safe again and get to live more normally again. I’ll be interested to read up on more studies as they come out but if we end up needing boosters in the Fall (it seems hopeful that we won’t), it’ll be something I take into consideration for the timing with running the marathon.
So, What’s next?
I’ll be running the NYC Marathon November 7th and I cannot wait to start training for it! I’ll share goals and more about the process in future posts but I think this post had enough info in it for now!