Chasing sub-3 dreams

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 ❤

Making moves off the roads

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.

2021 Racing Reflections

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.

NYC Marathon Race Recap

So what happened and where do we go from here?

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.

On the bus to Staten Island

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.

Sitting out in the dark waiting for the start for 3 hours in tossaway clothes and the free Dunkin hat that wouldn’t fit over my bun but was

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.

Seeing my crew at mile 8! I still looked alive at this point.

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.

Mile 17 – you can see me clutching my stomach here.

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.

Only 2 miles to go and deep in a pain cave ready to be done.

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.

With Ross & Lindsey after the race!

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.

Naperville Half Marathon Recap

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.

Flat Runner

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.

Finishing!

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.

Finisher medal is hiding underneath the giant one that was for completing both a 20-mile race and 13.1 mile race in this series.

Post-Race Thoughts

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.

Uncontrollables

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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!
  4. 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!

Controllables

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

Future Thoughts

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.

Spring 2021 Training Recap

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.

Beginning Training

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!

reflections

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!

Setting 2021 Goals

Every year I get excited to set new goals and to set intentions for the year ahead. Last year, my running goals were geared more towards growth and setting the foundation for 2021, which was extremely fortunate as 2020 would shape up to be a great year for that. As I look towards 2021, I’m not exactly sure what this year holds for us, but goals motivate me and give me something to work towards so I’ve felt the pull to put them out there.

Spring Plans

This spring, I’m training for a half marathon. I truly think the half marathon might be my best event and that I haven’t given it my whole focus very often. Most of my previous (and current) half marathon PRs have come during peak marathon training when I’m running on tired legs and so I’m curious what I could do when I actually turned my focus to the event. The last time I did a training cycle specifically focusing on the half was in winter/spring 2018 where I broke 1:40 in the half for the first time. I loved the training – I was able to run good mileage while also having balance on the weekends since long runs never exceeded 15 miles. After focusing the last couple of years primarily on the marathon, I’m excited to take this first half of the year to focus on something else so that I can hopefully “miss” the marathon training again. 26.2 is always a daunting distance to me and so is the training – I go all in whenever I commit to a cycle and right now my heart just doesn’t want the marathon!

I haven’t signed up for a half marathon goal race but I’m hoping to run something at the end of April or beginning of May. I’ve considered the Illinois Half Marathon or the Eugene Half Marathon, but I’m not convinced either will take place in-person so I’m waiting to sign up for anything until I know what the world looks like in April and what I feel comfortable with at that time. After running the NYC Virtual Marathon completely solo and self-supported with fuel, I’m confident I could do the same with racing a half marathon if it came to that – and I’m also lucky enough to have some friends I run with who are faster than me and would likely be willing to help pace a bit if needed. I’m not trying to set any limits, but have my eyes on a 1:25 half this spring if training goes well and if the stars align on race day, which would improve upon my current PR of 1:27:48 set at the Indianapolis Monumental Half Marathon in 2019.

This half-marathon time goal excites me, but it also serves a larger purpose with the ultimate goal of breaking 3-hours in the marathon. I’ve recognized that in order to go after that, I need to bring that half time down more since when I finished at Indy, there was no more gas left in the tank, which was excellent for giving it all I had on race day, but means I definitely wasn’t in shape to run a sub-3 marathon at that time (which wasn’t the goal at that time – 3:10 was and I ended up running 3:07 at CIM a month later!). One of my goals for 2020 was to start getting more comfortable running sub-1:30 halves, which changed after the pandemic hit in March, but it was with this sub-3 goal in mind. I respect the amount of work that goes into marathon training and running that time and know that my body isn’t there yet physically, but I will also need to start learning what a 6:50 pace feels like on repeat if I want to go after that goal.

During my half marathon build-up, I plan to run a 5K time trial in February and hopefully a 10K in March. In the Chicago area, it was hard enough to find races in January/February before covid anyway because of the winter conditions, but add covid to the mix and there really are no options right now that I’m seeing in February for that 5K so it’ll likely be a solo time-trial (p.s. Chicagoans if you know of any small, local road races happening, please let me know! I’ve seen trail races pop up but I’m not interested in that right now). My coach and I have discussed being flexible with hopping into a race last minute if an opportunity presents itself, but I don’t personally feel comfortable being in a corral with a lot of people right now so for me it would need to be a race where the organizers were taking the pandemic seriously and had taken extra steps to ensure the safety of all involved on race day. After having run several virtual events last year, I’m no longer scared of the idea of doing this and am ok if this is what I end up having to do to keep myself and others in my community safe.

I plan to continue with my strength training – 3 days a week of heavier lifts, 2 days of plyometrics/mobility, and 1-2 days of core or yoga – assuming that my body continues to respond well to the training. On my heavier lift days, I do 3 sets of 10 reps for 6 total exercises. It’s heavy weight, but manageable, stressing only one muscle group at a time. For example, on my chest/back day, I’ll do 3 exercises focused on chest and 3 exercises focused on back and alternate between each. My heavy lift days are always around 45 minutes of which only 50% or less is actual work time with the remaining time being rest time between sets. As my mileage increases with training, it’s likely that I’ll no longer be working on increasing weight in my lifts but rather just maintaining where I built up to this Fall/Winter while my mileage was lower.

Summer/Fall Plans

Assuming I run the half marathon at the end of April/beginning of May, I plan to take the rest of May as an easy recovery month dropping my mileage and spending more time in the gym again. I have gotten into a good rhythm of building strength in the off-season and then maintaining while I’m in my endurance training season; it’s tough to build both the miles and the strength at once without overdoing it so I respect that as my running training changes, so does my strength training.

As of right now, I have my eye on the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon in the Fall. Again, I’m waiting to sign up for anything until I know what the world looks like later this year because I don’t want to have a bunch of deferred entries for future years to a lot of races (right now I have NYC and Chicago). I may decide that I want to do another half marathon cycle and train for Indy as well, but I like the idea that it’s close to home (3-hour drive) and is a really well-done event that draws a talented field. I’m not setting a time goal right now for this one because I want to see how the spring shapes up, but if I do commit to the 26.2 distance, I know I’ll be going after a PR of some sort! I got a lot of confidence from running a 3:14 marathon this past Fall in the Virtual NYC Marathon while doing a workout (alternating 3 miles aerobic, 2 miles @ marathon pace), which was my second fastest ever, and I finished knowing there was more gas in the tank which was really exciting.

Other Life Goals

On top of my own running goals, I’ve set some goals in other areas of my life. Last year for coaching one of my big goals was to grow my roster and invest time and energy into my athletes. While the pandemic made growing a small business tough in 2020, I worked really hard to still create fun opportunities for my athletes to compete against themselves and stay engaged with their running and many came away with new personal bests at the end of the season, or they may have built up to their highest mileage ever or hit a goal of staying injury-free when they had been injury-prone in the past. It was a tough year to be a running coach where races were canceled and people were impacted financially, but I hope that in 2021 I can continue working on this goal of growing my roster and helping my athletes reach their big goals and to dream even bigger. I know there are also a lot of new runners who have emerged as a result of the pandemic and I’m excited to work with some of these people as they navigate this sport and are looking for guidance for how to grow and improve safely!

In my full-time job, I am a market strategy analyst in aviation distribution. I can’t believe that I’ve been working from home for the last 9 months and haven’t seen my co-workers, and admittedly, I’ve had times of low motivation not seeing the light at the end of the tunnel for our industry. Many of us dealt with “survivor’s guilt” after seeing fellow colleagues laid off for reasons outside of their control and it made things tough for awhile emotionally. I know that motivation wanes in every aspect of our lives, but my goal here is to set intentional goals each week for what I want to aim to accomplish to feel like I am making progress in my career and not stagnating while at home. I’m sure many of us have said at work “when I have time, I’d love to take the time to make “x” happen”; right now is that time for me and I think writing out those goals every week on a sticky note and putting them on my computer monitor where I’ll see them daily will be helpful.

With my nutrition, I am admittedly very bad at eating enough fruit during the week. Vegetables I’m good with and I love most vegetables out there – but fruit – I’m pretty picky. I want to get better about getting in my daily fruit servings and need to find creative ways to sneak them into my diet. I’m thinking I need to start making a morning smoothie so that I start the day off right and have no excuses for running out of time to make one later in the day when work picks up. Hopefully this will also get me on a routine for when we do go back to the office, too.

I have a goal to continue reading more and like the idea of a book a month that I’ve seen others set. I’ll let myself count audiobooks here since I often listen to something like a podcast or audiobook when on an easy run, but I have enjoyed turning my phone off at night and reading a physical copy of a book before bed. One of my goals for 2020 was to read more and scroll less and while I did read more, I probably scrolled more at the beginning of the pandemic being bored at home. It’s gotten a lot better lately since instead of scrolling I’ll often just take a yoga class to calm my mind and feel like I’m being productive with my time.

Another goal that I’m carrying forward into 2021 from 2020 was learning to say no. I often over-commit myself, wanting to people-please, and while there are some things I can’t say “no” to like projects at work, for example, there are a lot of extra-curricular things that I have needed to. Being involved with things is great but our mental-health is much more important and I am learning to prioritize that better. In the past I would’ve viewed this as being selfish with my time or being lazy, but I noticed I was starting to be really stressed or forgetful when I was overcommitted and that isn’t good for anyone involved.

Finally, I have made it a goal to be more active on this blog! I did a much better job in 2019 when there were races to talk about and training for said races to talk about, but when that was limited in 2020, I stopped writing. I’ve realized there is a lot more I can share on here like talking about training, and I will start prioritizing it more both because I enjoy sharing the journey and because people have expressed interested in hearing more about it (thank you!).

I am excited for this new year full of opportunity and while I know quarantine restrictions won’t be lifted for awhile, I feel like I’ve been given the gift of time to become who I want to be and do what I want to do and I’m grateful for that. To many happy miles and smiles ahead this year – cheers, friends!

Virtual NYC Marathon Race Recap

Fall Recap

I was not planning on running a virtual marathon this Fall; quite frankly, the idea of running 26.2 miles on my own without an official chip time just didn’t sound appealing or exciting to me. Little did I know back in the spring, I would end up running two.

I waited by my computer in late July to try to be one of the first 1,000 people to get guaranteed entry to a future NYC Marathon by registering for the virtual race. I had qualified for the race twice in 2019 with both a half marathon and marathon time, but when I tried to register in early 2020, they had severely limited the number of time qualifiers allowed in this year and I was shut out. I was frustrated and sad that I had worked so hard to get the time qualification for the race just to be turned away, and just settled for trying again in 2021. When this guaranteed entry via virtual marathon was announced and with it becoming harder and harder to get into NYC year after year, I decided to bite the bullet and pay the price for entry if I was able to get through the queue. Sure enough, after a half hour or so of anxiety trying to register, I was in, and then the real work began.

I emailed my coach, Jessica, July 29th letting her know that I had gotten in and asking how we could make this work since I had already signed up for Virtual Boston. I was very clear that I was not expecting to run a personal best and would rather just be doing it to qualify, and with her help, had a plan to complete two marathons within 6 weeks of each other. This marathon training would be different from the last several races in that I wouldn’t be doing any pace work during my long runs and would stick to one speed workout a week to stay sharp, but not doing anything too crazy.

Training Log

Here is what my weekly mileage and long runs looked like from when I started the training after training for the mile all summer:

July 13-19: 44.8 miles, 10 mile long run

July 20-26: 48.8 miles, 12 mile long run

July 27-August 2: 49 miles, 14 mile long run

August 3-9: 52.1 miles, 16 mile long run

August 10-16: 45.9 miles, 14.5 mile long run (this should have been 18 but I had run a 5K race the day before in Montana and was having a rough time at higher altitude so I called it early)

August 17-23: 55.1 miles, 20 mile long run

August 24-30: 57.4 miles, 18 mile long run

August 31-September 6: 50.3 miles, 14 mile long run

September 7-13: 49.9 miles, Virtual Boston Marathon 26.2

September 14-20: 27.1 miles, 8 mile long run

September 21-27: 48.9 miles, 12 mile long run

September 28-October 4: 52.1 miles, 15 mile long run

October 5-October 11: 58.5 miles, 18 mile long run

October 12-18: 60.8 miles, 20.5 mile long run (12.5 miles outside in some nasty rain and wind, then came inside and did 8 more on the treadmill)

October 19-25: 47.4 miles, 13.2 mile long run

October 26-31: 47.5 miles, Virtual NYC Marathon 26.2

Virtual Boston

Virtual Boston was tough – it poured the entire time we were running, was very windy, and the elevation gain and loss at 1100 feet a piece was tougher than the actual Boston course itself. I set off to run about 9 min pace for it and that’s what I did but even though it was nearly an hour slower than my PR, it was a hard run. A big part of this was just not having enough miles on my legs up to this point and so it really hurt after 18 miles; that’s not a fault of the plan – it’s just the reality of having done a whole summer of speedwork hovering around 35 miles a week and then only giving myself about 8 weeks to really build up to the marathon distance. After this experience, I wasn’t really in the mood to run another marathon but knew that the guaranteed entry to NYC would be worth the grind. I had a recovery week after the virtual to recuperate and was pleasantly surprised with how quickly my body bounced back from the marathon – yes, I hadn’t raced it so my body wasn’t completely spent, but I think a big piece of this had to do with my strength training which I’ll touch on a little later.

Virtual Boston Marathon in the pouring rain

NYC Marathon Build

After the recovery week, my first speed workout back outside did not go well at all and I dealt with a big asthma flare-up in the middle of it and ended up calling it early and walking home. I felt a little defeated, but had a feeling it was asthma, and not overtraining, that was causing my breathing troubles. For those who don’t know, I have exercise-induced asthma which means my airway often starts to close when I run. I have a non-steroid inhaler that I take before every run and it usually does the trick, but some days are worse than others and it’s unfortunately just something I must deal with when those days do happen. Wanting to test my theory to make sure I wasn’t sending my body into a state of overtraining (shortness of breath can be a sign of this, too), I decided to repeat the intervals on the treadmill to see if it induced the same problems. Sure enough, running inside in a little less dry, cold air helped and I hit every split which meant it was safe to continue with my training. My weeks went well from here on out until I hit the 20-mile run. It started off with high winds, then transitioned to high winds and rain, and I called my husband from a sidewalk at 12.5 and asked him to come pick me up because I was having 0 fun and was starting to feel a little hypothermic. I ended up finishing 8 more miles inside on the treadmill where I felt much more comfortable.

Mentally these long runs were so hard preparing for a virtual race because I would often tell myself that it was ok to give into the pain because “it was just a virtual and I wasn’t going for time.” This part was tough because I’ve worked so hard on reframing and blocking out negative thoughts when pain creeps in but that’s usually because I have a goal at the end of it all that motivates me to keep working hard. However, I really got to see the fruits of my labor from mile and 5K training come out during my speedwork sessions the last couple of months and was so proud of a tempo run I did in my last big workout running 4 miles @ 6:30 pace with no breaks or pauses and feeling like I could’ve held that for longer. I like to visualize my training like little building blocks building up a strong foundation and walls of a house and workouts like these remind me that having the long game in mind this season is going to really pay off next year when we’re hopefully racing for real again.

Receiving my medal from Virtual Boston, closing out that chapter of training

Picking a Course, Self-Supporting a Marathon, and Race Strategy

With the bulk of training behind me, I turned to mapping out my race course. I would be running this effort completely solo and would also need to self-support with fuel and liquids. I had done a couple of my long runs out on the Fox River Trail and loved how flat it was with minimal street crossings so I thought this would be a good spot to pick for my virtual marathon. I mapped out my route as an out-and-back and picked a couple spots that I wanted to drop off a water bottle at since I could realistically only carry about 16 ounces at a time without weighing myself down. I went with plastic, disposable water bottles that I could throw out in trash cans along the way, and that I also wouldn’t be too sad about if they were taken (well it would’ve been awful for fueling but at least I could only be out a few cents).

I talked to Jessica about a plan for the race during race week and we both agreed that mixing up the pacing would be both fun for me as my last big run of the season and also a way to distract myself from running the marathon distance solo. She suggested 3 miles at a comfortable, aerobic effort (7:50ish) and 2 miles at my CIM marathon pace (7:00-7:10). This sounded fun to me and I was on board, programming it into my watch to make it feel more like a workout.

The night before my run, I made some vegetable pasta and marinara sauce with chicken and finished it off with a slice of cake! I eat dessert often in my dinners before long runs, not before a race, but I had baked a yellow cake with cheese cream frosting that week and there are no rules in 2020!

Flat runner outfit

Race Morning & Logistics

Race day was projected to be windy with strong winds out of the south and cold. It was about 34 degrees when I started and I think around 42 when I finished. It was in full sunshine so this made it tricky to pick an outfit; in 34 and cloudy I probably would’ve worn a long-sleeve top, but the sun threw a wrinkle into things and not wanting to overheat I went with a tank top, arm-sleeves, gloves, a headband, and shorts.

I had aimed to start my run around 8 a.m. so I woke up at 5:30 to get up, make some coffee and oatmeal, and to eat. This is my standard pre-race breakfast and sometimes I’ll add half a bagel with some peanut butter for protein but lately I’ve been using UCan before my long runs, so I skipped the bagel this time to not have too much on my stomach. I drank my UCan around 7:30 before leaving the house to go drop off the water bottles along the course.

I underestimated the time it would take to drop off the water bottles, planning to place them at mile 5 and mile 10 which would be about mile 16 and 21 once I turned around at the halfway mark, so I ended up starting my marathon around 8:30 instead of the 8:00 a.m. start time I had planned on. Not a big deal, though, since there was no official starting time! I took a gel on the drive to my starting point at about 8:15 to start with some extra fuel in my system.

The Race

I decided to track the race both on my Garmin and on the NYC Marathon app to make it feel more like a race effort with people following along with my progress. I don’t feel pressure to perform from others, so I made my tracking public and appreciated all the support I got from people following along! I also turned on my favorite playlist, “Running Radio” off Pandora and set off on my way! The NYC Marathon App was awesome to have in the background as it would call out my mile splits and have encouraging messages along the way from past participants talking about their experience in NYC. It was cold out – my toes got numb in the first few miles, but I hoped they would warm up as I kept going (they did). Within the first mile, I had to cross a bridge that was covered with a thin layer of ice and I had to really slow down to make sure I wouldn’t eat it. Fortunately, the pavement wasn’t slippery and this wooden bridge was the only real footing issue I had. I had printed out a race bib to wear on the course too to simulate a real experience and within my first mile, a group of women out for a run stopped and cheered me on and I smiled and gave them a big, “thank you!” Another reason I picked this route was because I knew there would be other people out running and cycling and that always gives me energy. I felt great heading into the first 2-mile pickup and ended up coming in faster than planned (6:56 and 6:49 splits). I knew that this was only the first 5 miles of the run, though and that I needed to stay smart. I had started off with a water bottle and did not need to pick the one up at 5 miles since I still had more than half of it left, so I continued and took in my first gel on the run.

The second 3-mile portion ended, and I was off again, settling into a nice rhythm. My splits were 6:42 and 6:48 here and I was happy with how good these paces were feeling. I found a trash can to throw my empty water bottle into before picking up the one I had hidden in the bushes just past mile 10. I took in another gel here, and then things got a little interesting. There was some construction on the path so I had to follow a detour that wasn’t super clearly marked and required crossing a 4-lane highway. I lost some time waiting for cars but left my watch running the whole time to get an accurate race result. When I crossed over, I saw that they hadn’t actually started the construction yet and there were just signs out, so I made note of this for my way back to hopefully avoid more waiting for cars. There were lots of trash cans along this portion of the river trail so I was able to throw out my gel packet and find a place to stash my water bottle around mile 11 to come back for it. It got a little heavy carrying around 16 ounces of water the whole time so I figured I could go 4 miles without it since it was pretty cold out.

When I was approaching 13 miles, I knew I’d be starting my faster miles again and have to turn around shortly into them since I was turning at about 13.15, but it felt good to hit that turnaround point and know that I just had to run back to my car now and that I’d finally get a tailwind since I’d been running into the headwind for the first half marathon. The tailwind felt great and I logged a 6:39 and 6:40 for miles 14 and 15. I ran back to get the water bottle around mile 16 and took in my third gel here. I couldn’t believe I only had 10 miles to go because I felt great! I lost some time chasing down my water bottle cap after it fell in mile 16 but fortunately it was in my easier miles so it wasn’t too big of a deal. Soon, the easier miles were up and I headed into my fourth set of faster miles, with mile 19 being 6:44 and mile 20 being 6:53. I was still running these faster than the planned 7:00-7:10 but the effort felt controlled with a slight push. After 20 miles of feeling great, I started feeling the wall creeping in, but told myself that I could run a 10K to finish at this point and that I was still feeling much better than I had when I hit 20 miles in the virtual Boston. At 21, I picked up the other water bottle I had left for myself and took another gel. 2 more miles to go till I would pick it up again. When the time came for that pickup, I started driving my knees and arms but they weren’t turning over as easily as they had been before. For the first time during these speed portions, my watch was beeping and flashing “slow” instead of “fast”. That darn screen, right?! Because my legs weren’t turning over, I tried to do shorter pickups instead like running hard for a minute, then easing up, etc. It helped a little and I ran mile 24 in 7:35 but I knew I couldn’t continue like this if I wanted to finish without having to stop so I backed off and settled into a more comfortable pace, hitting mile 25 in a 7:57. I was able to pick it back up again for the final mile in a 7:41 and then tried to push it for the last little bit, running that sub-7. I ran 26.26 miles to ensure that my distance would be counted since Strava has the tendency to cut off the last .01 of a run and I couldn’t imagine being shut out from the guaranteed entry because of a technicality! Finishing was very anticlimactic as I clicked off my watch and started walking back to my car. No fans, no finish line, just me, my watch, and I. Lucky for me, though, one of my former athletes, Paola, was so kind and surprised me back in the parking lot! I am so lucky to have coached people who are not only dedicated athletes but who are also amazing, kind-hearted human beings. This meant so much to me that she came out to cheer for me and was such a special way to end my training season.

The NYC Marathon app had me finishing at 3:14:50 while Garmin had it at 3:16:00. I started both at the same time so it’s a question of which distance is more accurate. I made sure to run 26.26 (a little extra) miles on my Garmin just to be sure. I did have to run past my car where I had started which shouldn’t have been the case since I went out 13.15 miles and it should’ve been at 26.3 by the time I got back to my car since I did an out-and-back, but it wasn’t! It was a little annoying to have the phone app telling me splits a little faster than my Garmin was and since both are GPS enabled devices, I’m unsure which is the most correct, but either way, it would have been my second fastest marathon ever and it was in a workout which is pretty darn cool. I think that was telling of the fitness that was maintained over the course of the last 10 months coming off CIM and of new fitness built through speed and strength.

NYRR App GPS results

Strava splits because data is fun!

Finishing photo thanks to Paola!

After Thoughts

It’s been a wild year! At the beginning of the year, I had written a post about how 2020 would be a building year for me and would likely not be a big PR year like 2019 had. That has held true and I laugh looking back on that knowing what I know now. I was lucky that I didn’t have any big Fall plans that got canceled on me. I wasn’t signed up for anything beyond Boston (I had an entry to Chicago but was planning on deferring it to 2021) so I didn’t have any real plans for how I was going to spend this training season other than thinking I would be focusing on the half marathon distance and taking a little break from the marathon. That part makes me laugh the most since I ended up running not one but two marathons after saying I needed time off from them. The marathon is funny that way and always seems to draw us back.

Looking back on this race, I think the reason I started hitting the wall at mile 20 was likely because I needed another gel a little earlier to keep my glycogen stores from dipping too low which is hard to course-correct once it happens. I had planned to take 4 total over the course of the marathon at 5, 10, 16, and 21, but I think I should’ve taken them closer to 4.5, 9, 13.5, 18, and 22.5. Note that this is all based on time on your feet, not distance. It’s recommended to take a gel every 40 minutes in a marathon but from what I’ve learned, the more I can take in without upsetting my stomach the better off I’m going to be because our bodies need the calories when they’re working that hard. In CIM I held off the wall until about mile 23 but I would love to get the fueling down to a point where I never feel that (marathons are hard so it’s going to hurt either way in these final miles but being able to pick up the pace with turnover in those miles would be awesome).

Being able to run my second fastest marathon ever while not racing was pretty special. I think this tells me that my fitness was likely right around where I left off in December had I tried to race and while sure, that means I hadn’t gained marathon fitness, being able to maintain that for a year while remaining healthy and injury-free means there’s going to be a huge base to build off of in 2021. I was also able to maintain it off one speedwork session a week with all my long runs being at an aerobic effort, so add back in the speed to the long runs next year and I’m excited for the possibilities. A big part of why I’ve felt so strong lately is because of the strength training I’ve been doing. I worked with a strength coach (big shoutout to Natalie Sanger!) for 7 months to learn how to properly combine running and heavy lifting and then for the last 11 months have taken what I’ve learned and built off that. I’ve felt stronger, recovered faster than ever before, and I’ve grown to love lifting as not just a supplement to running but as an activity in itself.

Squats – I can squat my bodyweight now and am excited to keep working at it!

Future Plans

It’s tempting to want to keep training after coming off a race that goes well thinking you’ll build fitness off of it, or after a race that doesn’t go to plan wanting to get revenge. With the marathon, both are typically bad ideas if you’ve been training for months and months because your body needs time to recover. I took 6 full days off of running after the virtual NYC, then ran less than 5 miles total over the weekend split among both days. It’s not that I couldn’t have run more, it’s that it wasn’t going to really do anything for me besides delay the recovery process. I plan on taking the rest of 2020 easier after a long training season. I’ll still be running, but my mileage will stay lower and efforts will be easier. During this time I’m going to continue with my lifting and trying out new things like Pilates or yoga classes, maybe even a spin class! Overall, I love being active and while running will always be my first love (in sport), I’ve discovered that I love being new at something too and being able to build my way from the ground up. It’s uncomfortable, but that’s often where the most growth occurs.

My big, scary goal coming off of CIM last year running a 3:07 was to go after a sub-3 marathon. While this season was anything but traditional, playing the long game has set me up to go chase after that goal next year. I’m ready to put in the work to do that next year and see how far my body can take me. But I’m not jumping back into the marathon just yet. My initial plan for Fall 2020 was to focus on half marathon training, which obviously changed when I signed up for two full marathons. The half is a distance that I believe I have untapped potential in because it’s an endurance race that has you running just slightly slower than threshold pace which is typically where my sweet spot is – I love that zone. Now that I’ve brought my threshold pace down a bit in speed training, I’m excited to focus on the half distance specifically. Nearly all my half marathon PRs have come in the middle of marathon training when I’m running on very un-tapered, tired legs. I’m curious to see what I could do when this is the goal race that I taper for and focus on. My current PR is from the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon last Fall where I ran 1:27:48 in the peak weeks of CIM training. I’d love to improve upon that and bring that time down as much as I can. I don’t have a goal race lined up for the spring, I think I’m really just going to have to wait and see what’s available next year, but right now the plan is to start training in 2021 for a spring race and to be flexible with whatever lines up and is available, or to just run it as a solo time trial. After having practiced that this season, I feel confident that I’d be ready to do it again and grateful that I spent the time conditioning my mind this season to be strong enough to take that on!

Enjoying time off of structured training and just loving the run!

2020 – Laying Bricks

Let’s start with the ugly. As I put the finishing touches on my endurance training cycle this week, it’s been tough to mentally want to line up for another 26.2 that I’m not racing. Truth be told, if I wasn’t running for guaranteed entry to NYC, I’m not sure I’d want to close things out with the distance this time. Running Boston put good closure to a cycle that seemingly never ended, but truthfully I don’t enjoy running that far of a distance if I’m not racing. Maybe one day I’ll feel differently, but it’s a long way to go “just for fun”.

That being said, I’ve learned a lot these last 7 months with regards to running and the role it has in my life. I think they can be summarized into a few themes: passion, patience and playing the long game, leaning into what your heart is calling you to do, finding a sense of purpose, and having a hunger for more.

Passion. For as long as I’ve been running, I’ve been chasing times in races. I love setting a goal and doing the work to get there, whether that be in a single training cycle or over a multiple-year span. This was the first time in 12 years of running competitively that I didn’t have something to truly chase after. It’s been hard at times, but I’ve realized that if I never raced again, I’d still be lacing up almost every day because I love it. I love to push myself and I’ve been able to do that in workouts and I can get that same excited feeling after nailing a hard workout as I can crossing the finish line in a new PR.

Patience and Playing the Long Game. After Boston postponed in March, I shifted to a speed focused cycle from May-August. The mile and 5K are uncomfortable for me as I definitely don’t have a lot of fast twitch muscle fiber, but I knew that this type of training could really pay off getting stronger physically and mentally and it would be a mix-up to what I had been doing in the past. I needed something exciting to keep me engaged those first few months of the stay-at-home order but something manageable as I didn’t know what the next few months would look like professionally and personally. I didn’t run as fast as I had hoped during this cycle, but the first lesson in patience was that it’s also hard to expect a huge jump in just a few months when I hadn’t been focusing on speed for many years and I had to remind myself of that (not to mention trying to peak in peak summer conditions isn’t the easiest, either). After speed, I was craving endurance again, and so I entered into an endurance cycle that ran through October. I knew going into this that it wouldn’t be a traditional marathon build as I wasn’t trying to go for time in virtual marathons, but I also knew that the cumulative logging of miles would pay off in a future training cycle since stacking healthy cycles one by one is the best way to make progress. Admittedly it has been tough to be at about 80-85% fitness throughout these last few months where you feel like you’re just starting to get “fit” but not cross over into PR territory, but it allowed me to continue training for months upon months and to stay healthy through it all. When I started my Boston training cycle in January after having run CIM in December, I knew I was already playing the long game with training as it would be really tough to come back in 5 months after a big marathon PR to run another one on the tough Boston course, but it turns out these last 10 months of 2020 have followed a similar theme.

Lean Into What Your Heart Is Calling You to Do. After Boston was postponed in March, I decided to forego the final 6 weeks of marathon training and shifted focus to the mile. My training cycle up to Boston was ok, but I knew nothing special was going to come out of it compared to what had just happened in CIM so I wasn’t excited about continuing it; I think I was a little burned out on the marathon at that point in hindsight. Mile and 5K training was hard but it was what I had wanted to do and so the drive was there. In June I ended up running a small 5-second 5K PR finishing in 19:48 in a solo time trial. I had hoped to improve upon this in August and felt fit and ready to do it, but leaned into what Ross and I were needing at that time, which was some time away from our work in the mountains and my lungs couldn’t hang at higher altitude when trying to race a small local 5K. I still managed 3rd overall female and was simply just excited to have run a real race, even if I was running solo for 99% of it. At this point in August I was also starting to ramp up my mileage for running virtual Boston in mid-September, something I decided I wanted to do to bring some closure to the 2020 Boston cycle. My training has looked a little non-traditional this year, but it was what I wanted and it brought me joy which is most important.

A Sense of Purpose. It’s been hard to get up in the morning feeling like every day is Groundhog Day. My training schedule provided structure and something to look forward to that would change throughout the week. It was also something that I could check off and feel like I was accomplishing something when many of my projects changed scope or priority at work. The training schedule was something that I was choosing to do and not something that was being forced on me, either. In a time when we are getting so much messaging on what to do and what not to do, it was nice to have something that I picked solely for me.

Hunger for More. I am ready to start training hard again once I’ve recovered mentally and physically from the virtual marathon. I am willing to do the work even if it means ultimately running a solo time trial at the end of a training cycle. My heart is pulling me towards a certain distance and I’m excited to lean into that this winter and see where it takes me. More on that in future weeks as I try to remained focused on the 26.2 I’m about to run this weekend, but after many months of no true “goal”, the fire is burning again to chase after one and I can’t wait.

I will be running my virtual NYC Marathon on Halloween in a solo effort. I am so grateful for my friends that I got to run virtual Boston with but for this race I’m feeling more like “suffering in solitude”, as Ryan Hall once said, and jamming out to some great tunes on my Pandora radio station. I’m still firming up my route and keeping an eye on the weather, but I know one thing is for certain – there better be some Reese’s pumpkins waiting for me at the finish line of a Halloween marathon!

Catching Up on Running & Life

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted on here – turns out, it’s a lot more fun to talk about a goal race or a training cycle that’s geared towards a specific race. Lately I’ve felt like I’ve had a lot to say, and then I go to put pen to paper and nothing flows; it’s as if the last few months have been like having writer’s block. When the stay at home order was announced in our state in late March, I was eager and ambitious to use my extra time at home to put together new content, but I think I was naively thinking the stay at home order would be a one month thing, we’d go back to work, and we’d be back to “normal” by the summer and I quickly burned out on trying to be creative with coming up from at-home workouts or chalking the neighborhood with positive messages, etc. I was expending a lot of energy trying to give my positive energy away to others but not reserving enough for myself and it caught up to me a couple months ago.

Chalk drawings I did around the neighborhood

It was around that time that I started running on Tuesdays with a new group of friends (thanks to my friend, Marie, for getting us together!) and Tuesdays quickly became my favorite day of the week where I got to see people in a safe setting on the roads at 5:45 a.m. when the rest of the world was asleep. Without races, it’s been fun to time trial with these friends, many of whom are much speedier than I am, and try to keep them within eyeshot. This is the same crew I’m going to run virtual Boston and NYC with for fun and seeing other people finding joy and solace in running has been just what I needed during this time.

The Tuesday crew running on our open road closed to traffic for maximum social-distancing

I ran a few mile time trials this summer, never really getting an ideal weather day for any of them, and was a little disappointed to have not made much progress from when I ran the first one without any speedwork under my legs. I ran the first in April in 5:48, another in May in 5:44, and then the final one in July in another 5:44. I really had to do a lot of self-reflecting after that final mile trial and think about why I was so bummed out about this. I wrote about it a little on Instagram, that I had always wondered “what-if” had I continued running in college on a team after high school if I’d improve my PR of 5:33 and after focusing on the mile this summer, had thought it would make me happy if I could surpass that 10 years later. I also think that my joy was being wrapped up in trying to obtain a PR in something, since real races were no longer an option in 2020. In all honesty, I would like to try to race this event again in the Fall when it’s cooler weather, however, I have also accepted that unless I want to spend a year or so focusing on the mile, it would be silly to think I could beat an old PR where 1-3 mile races were my only focus for the year. Maybe my best mile days are behind me, but I believe my best half and full marathon days are still ahead and that’s where I want to focus my energy.

Working on speed for the mile time trials

After mile training, I continued training for our Team Sugar Runs Virtual 5K in August. Workouts were going very well and I felt ready to run a PR in the 5K. Ross and I ended up putting a 2-week road trip together very last minute at the end of July and it happened to overlap with when I was going to run the team 5K. I was fortunate to find a small, local race in Montana that was still happening that coincided with my virtual race date and signed up. Getting to be back in the racing environment again was amazing and I wouldn’t trade that for the world, but I knew after a week of hiking and the race being at higher altitude that it likely wouldn’t draw out my fastest time. I still finished in 20:02, which is only 14 seconds off of my PR at much lower elevation, and I’m really proud of that, but something inside me is wondering in ideal conditions on a course near home what could I run? I’d like to try it out and just see what happens later this Fall even though I won’t be specifically training for the 5K anymore.

Real live 5K in Lakeside, Montana

I’m spending the rest of this Fall training for the virtual Boston Marathon which I’ll be running on September 12th with my friends for fun, then continuing on my endurance build to the virtual NYC Marathon where I’m running for future guaranteed entry simply by completing the event. My big goal for the Fall is to work up to my highest mileage week ever and to see how my body responds to it as a risk-free experiment for future cycles. If my body isn’t happy, I can always drop down in mileage, but now is a good time to try something new while I don’t have a goal race on the books. My highest mileage week ever sits at 62 miles and I’m hoping to crack 70 or 75 this Fall if all goes to plan.

As a life update, Ross and I are really fortunate to still be employed and living comfortably at home. There have been small pay cuts but we are grateful for every day that we continue to be employed and have stability knowing that others are not as fortunate right now. It is a difficult time to be a running coach with all events canceled, but I’m lucky to have a team of athletes who continue to show up for themselves throughout this all to be ready for when races return. One of my goals coming into 2020 was to continue to grow my coaching business and through March that was going really well, but understandably some of my athletes have needed to take a break due to economic or personal reasons and while it’s tough as a coach, I support their decisions 100% because right now, we each need to do what’s best for ourselves and our families. Lola, our dog, is thriving in quarantine because she loves having us home. Her favorite activity is suntanning in the backyard throughout the day and she will sit at the sliding glass door waiting for us to let her out. We often have to call her in so she doesn’t overheat!

On our family road trip to Montana – even Lola came with and hiked!

It’s crazy to think we’re about to enter September. Last September Ross and I spent a spontaneous weekend in London extending his business trip and it seems like eons ago. I’ve started to think about my spring running plans, which would include running Boston 2021, but I do not think it’s going to be possible for Boston to happen in April of next year sadly just based off of where we’re at at both a country and worldwide level heading into September 2020. I’m optimistic we may see bigger events in the Fall next year after a vaccine has been released, but I think they will look a lot different than what we’ve seen in the past. I do think, however, that we’ll see smaller races occur in the spring since we’ve already started to see some successfully be put on this summer. I do know that I plan to do a full cycle gearing up towards either a half or full marathon in the spring because I want the excitement of doing that again, but only time will tell what I ultimately decide to do! I am chasing joy in everything that I do this year and following my heart, because now more than ever, if the things we’re doing aren’t bringing us happiness, then they’re just not worth doing.

I’ll try to be more regular on my blog documenting training and life updates. I honestly feel lucky that I haven’t had more to update on and grateful for the mundane because that means we’re healthy and stable. I hope all of you are staying healthy as well and finding joy in the little things. We’re all in this together.

-Katherine