Northcoast 24 – National Championship 9/16/17

It’s only two hours before race time. Sitting in the hotel bathroom, I page through music on my phone. Where is that track? My nerves are revved up and my mind is racing, thinking of everything unimportant to the task ahead. There it is! I put my headphones on, close my eyes, and dissolve while I play the race out in my mind. In this moment. Right here, right now. Whatever I must do, whatever I will encounter in the next 24 hours, I will fight.

 

Northcoast 24, which takes place at Edgewater Park in Cleveland, Ohio, was yet again selected to be the USATF 24-Hour National Championship race, and this would be my third running of the event. This year, a win did not equate to automatic team selection for the 2019 IAU 24-Hour race which was something I didn’t realize until about a month before the race. Admittedly, I was a little dismayed, but that was my fault for not doing my homework. The fact of the matter still remained. I was here for a bigger purpose. I was here for self redemption and to run as far as I could.

I felt very confident going into NC24 this year. Not only was my training phenomenal in the months leading up to the race, but the crew members and friends who had stepped forward to help me in the final weeks were extraordinary. My husband, Glenn, who always goes to great lengths to support my racing habits, and our little boy came with me to Cleveland so they could support me as best they could and so that they could be at the awards ceremony afterwards. I had an amazing supportive network going into this race, and I am so thankful for it, because walking into the belly of the beast was much, much more psychologically daunting than I thought it would be.

 

CREW & FRIENDS

For the next 24 hours, my crew, Christen McKenna and David Christy would tend to all my needs, lift my spirits, patch me up, and keep me moving forward. Both of them were also crewing other runners as well. David was assisting our tent neighbor, Jimmie Barnes, who was accompanied by his wife. Christen had to additionally manage the needs of her husband and friend, Kristin Anderson. There was my friend, Bob Mohr, who was being crewed by Larry Marsh who both spent a great deal of time with our crew. By the end of the race, this unique combination of friends and strangers with varying levels of knowledge and experience had all contributed to one another, and lasting bonds were made. If these guys weren’t making me laugh, then they were melting my heart with their kindness. When all was said and done, everyone left this race feeling as a family.

 

THE RACE

After arriving onsite, the crew already had everything set up. My job was to sit and wait for the start. Much easier said than done… never done such a thing! Before long, I was headed to the start line along with Bob. I was feeling increasingly uneasy. I had to do this, but my mind was fighting me.

I started out fast, faster than I promised myself I would. It didn’t take but a few laps before I breezed by our crew site again and I heard a stern, “Slow down,” from David who was timing each lap as I passed by. I backed off the pace and tried to find patience. I finally felt locked into the planned pace and settled in. Follow the plan, I reminded myself, the words my husband would coach to me again and again during the days prior to the race. It was hot and humid – much more so than I had anticipated for, but it never concerned me. Christen was constantly changing out cooling towels as I passed by, and we were keeping fluids moving as best we could. The first 4 hours came and went, and I found myself back at our site for chafing issues much earlier than expected. The damage already done indicated that this was going to be a rough ride, but we had some good laughs over it nonetheless.

After a few hours, I felt like my shoes were heavy. They had become drenched with water dripping from my cooling towels, and we were forced to change out my shoes. After passing 8 hours, David told me I had hit the planned targets perfectly. Everything seemed to be going as planned. It was early, but I was more than pleased with just how good I felt especially now that the sun was going down. It was beginning to cool off; now it was time to move. But things would play out entirely differently. The aftereffects of the excessive warmth of the day were silently lurking in the background.

Just short of the halfway point, around 10 pm, the first major low point set in. This was much sooner than I anticipated. I was struggling to stay focused. My crew had a planned break for me at 12:00am, and I kept that as my driving goal. But my form was deteriorating and careless, and before I knew what was happening, I caught the front of my shoe on a rumble strip bump at the road crossing. I tripped. I panicked. I managed to catch myself with my hands and attempted to roll to protect my knees, but as I went down, I still hit both knees pretty good. Before I even had time to process what had happened, Elizabeth Kelly rushed over to help me up. We walked together for a bit while assessing the situation, and then I started running again.

My right knee was a bit painful. Suddenly, my toes were absolutely killing me. I believed that I must have knocked a toenail completely off. I considered for a moment waiting to stop at my aid site  until the planned break at midnight, but I was in exquisite pain. Liz was so sweet that she had actually run ahead of me to let my crew know what had happened, and they were already waiting for me to come in as was Bob and Larry.

The crew immediately sat me down and fed me soup. Everyone was holding phones and flashlights so we could assess the damage. Christen went straight to work cleaning my knees up which were scraped up but not an issue. My toes were what was killing me. Christen pulled both my shoes off to discover that I had large toenail blisters on both feet. She released the pressure and wrapped them in lambswool. Meanwhile, David was updating me on my pacing and trying to keep me motivated. Then they sent me back out into the night.

 

Only steps from the tent, things took a dramatic turn for the worse. Severe, unrelenting nausea washed over me. I eventually had to stop and throw up twice. I would fight this for hours, unable to stomach hardly anything at all. My crew tried everything to help me, and though it improved slowly over time, the battle with nausea would throw me dramatically off track for the remainder of the race. Being unable to consume adequate nutrition, I began to feel as if I had lost all muscle power, and forward motion became a monumental effort. Hours of struggling ensued that were accompanied by hallucinations, dizziness, and fatigue. It seemed endless, pointless at times, but I just kept hearing that powerful word, Redemption.

Once the nausea finally abated, and I was able to start eating again, things started to turn around, but the damage was done, and my original goal was nowhere in sight. Somehow, I had yet again managed to hold onto my lead from the beginning, and at this point, our attention now turned to maintaining 1st place and hitting at least 130 miles to meet the minimum qualifications for the USA 24-Hour Team.

As the sun rose higher in the sky, it began to heat up very quickly. We were back to alternating cooling towels, icy drinks, and making sure to keep fluids moving. I was so thirsty from already feeling partially dehydrated from the previous day that I could not quench my thirst. I was having to stop to pee every few laps, wasting huge amounts of time. Most of the field still out on the course was down to a death march, pretty much everyone having suffered various consequences through the night from the heat of the previous day.

With an hour left on the clock, Christen and David urged me to pick up the pace, and I began my final push, hoping by some chance I’d be able to at least PR. But with the heat of the new day and the ravages of the previous day, I had already fallen too short, and there wasn’t enough time left. I ran with what I did have left. The final laps brought back flashbacks of being here only a year ago when I tried to throw it all away, and I could have. No, not today. Not, ever. Never ever, ever again. I’m a leaf on the wind.

On the final lap, the thought going through my head was, We did it. We won. So many people were a part of my race directly and indirectly and leading up to this race over the last year. It felt like a joint effort between myself and so many others – my husband, my crew, my numerous friends here at home and spread out across the country who have lifted me up, supported me, and given me a place in their hearts and lives. There are so many people to name, it would be unfair to try to name them all as I would surely miss someone and I would never want to do that. So, yah, the way I see it, we did it.

Redemption.

I missed a PR at this race, but I did meet the minimum qualifications for the USA 24-Hour Team, however, it will be a continued battle to keep it that way until 2019. I won the women’s race and placed 3rd overall with 131.4 miles.

But what I really won? My dignity, my honor, my pride, and I feel like this race was a thank you to everyone who was a part of my journey in the last year. Belief in a person is hard to earn, destroying it is easy. I am blessed with the best friends and family on the face of Earth, and I am honored by them all to stand by my side. Thank you.

 

Dawn to Dusk to Dawn (D3) – 5/13/2017

Quiet, calm, focused, relaxed. This is what I kept repeating. I glanced down at my watch. Dang, that’s a marathon PR. Is that a BQ or something? I laughed at myself. Am I the only runner left on the planet that doesn’t know what her BQ is? I keep running for a while. Then it hits me. Oh, shit. This can’t be good. That’s not the plan!

Homebase at D3

After last summer, I felt like I had a lot riding on this first race of the year and many people were waiting to see exactly how things were going to unfold. I now had something to prove – that I had come back fighting stronger and harder than ever before, that addiction will not own or define me, and that not only is recovery possible but that it can be used as a mental springboard in the pursuit of personal greatness in life. It was perfectly fitting that I was running Dawn to Dusk to Dawn as part of raising money for The Herren Project, and this made me feel like the ante was upped even further.

My husband, Glenn, and our special little boy, Quinn, would accompany me this time. This is always a tremendous effort on my husband’s part, but he wanted to be there to support me, knowing how pivotally important all of this was to me. We made the 5-hour drive to the host hotel, The Wyndham Garden Hotel, near Philadelphia. My Aunt Trish lived less than an hour away, and she was coming to stay with us for the weekend to handle most of the crewing. This was her first race to attend and crew.

Me & Trish

We also met with my friend, Amy Mower, who was running the 24-hour as well, and we all went to packet pickup around 7pm. After sharing dinner and drinks and talking to Josh Irvan, Mike Melton, Bill Schultz, Gregg Ellis, and a few others, we all headed back to get some sleep for the night. I fell asleep easily but only netted 4 hours total which is about all I usually get before a race.

My eyes snapped open, and I searched around the bed sheets for my phone. 3:00 am. Too early. Sleep more. About the time I was assuming I wouldn’t fall back asleep, I was jerked awake by the alarm at 4am. My feet were on the floor before I even opened my eyes. This is it; it is time. I scrambled around in the dark trying to not wake my family. I began to prepare physically and mentally for the task ahead, and I don’t know that anyone other than my husband really knew just how much this moment truly meant to me.

Me & Amy

Glenn brought me to the track around 6am, and we met with Amy, who I invited to share my tent, and we picked up our ankle chips. Temperatures were hovering just below 50 degrees. The cold rain and wind threatened to chill us to the bone while the three of us rushed to get the site set up. Water was already puddling in the grass, and at the time I was grateful for my waterproof socks, but my hands were getting numb already. Just before the start, I powdered my hands and gloves, and put latex gloves on underneath my water-resistant gloves.

Right before they announced we would be lining up soon, the moment hit me. My nerves skyrocketed and I felt the weight of the world on me. I got extremely emotional and teary eyed. The battles I’ve fought just so I could be here… I closed my eyes and I bent down to my knees. The rain was running down my cheeks and dripping off my chin. I ran two fingers upwards across the laces of my wet shoestrings feeling for tension, and said, “Just one day, one run, everything you’ve got, and rest will come.” I stood up, put my visor and hood back on, and headed to the start line with Amy.

Courtesy: Jeremy Fountain

At the start of the race, I was gunning it. Originally, this was only to warm myself up some. I planned to slow down after that, but that’s not what happened at all. My legs felt so amazing. I just kept hanging onto it thinking, A bit further. And I went further and further and further. My mind started dreaming… What if, just what if you hang on to this for as long as possible… What will happen?

Courtesy: Jeremy Fountain

My main goal was to break the women’s course record with 144 miles. My second goal was to hit 130-140. My third goal was to run all night no matter what I ended up with. These goals were all great under the realm of perfect conditions in the planning room, but in the cold monsoon weather we were faced with, the difficulty of reaching the lower limb of any of my goals was, well, difficult. But I honestly never entertained the possibility of not reaching any one of them. I just ran. Never thinking, just running.

I kept at it, lapping and lapping and lapping as fast as I could. Then I got close to the marathon mark, and I shattered my marathon PR of 3:53 with a time of 3:36. I admit, I was scared when I started seeing the PR’s coming in. I had no idea what was going to happen from here, and I knew I was putting my entire race at risk. Or was I?

Trish came onsite to crew, and she helped me change out of the waterproof socks, lube my feet, and get into dry shoes. She gave me Red Bull and Ensure, and I was back out in no time. The waterproof socks kept collecting water inside, and it was like I was running with 5-lb weights on each foot for many miles. It was insanely horrible, and they were ditched within the first 30 miles.

I was back out cruising. The day was rolling by so fast. Time seemed non-existent, and I was nearly wholly enveloped within myself for hours and hours, just moving forward in a trance-like state with very few thoughts outside of my internal world. With the persistent rain and no rising and setting sun, there was no benchmark of morning, afternoon, or evening, and the entire day flowed as one whole piece. It was just me, the lines on the track, and my micro climate. Once I get fully focused and block out the world, all I can remember is the physical aspect of what I am doing. I have no idea the world around me exists.

Over and over again, Trish helped me change shoes, socks, lube feet, change devices, feed me Ensure, Red Bull, and anything else I asked for. I felt bad for her first time crewing, stuck out all day in the cold, soaking rain and wind, waiting around just for me to need something. But she was on top of everything as if she had done it many times before. Later in the day she made motivational signs for me! It was very cool, wondering what she might have next time I’d lap back around! It’s funny how primal you get when you are bored for so many hours. It’s honestly just a wonderful thing to see that familiar face again each lap! My mom was sending me motivational pictures she’d made, and my husband and friends were sending me all sorts of words of encouragement. I needed and appreciated everything from every one of them!

Courtesy: Jeremy Fountain

Glenn came out to crew for a bit in the evening while my aunt went to the hotel to get warmed and rested for long night shift ahead. It was during this point that I made my first clothing change. I was so chafed in every inhuman place possible from the rain that I had to finally stop and do something now that the rain had slacked off a bit. Then he informed me of the status of everything and gave me some mathematical scenarios, and then he sent me out on the track again. Glenn stayed until just after dark, and I knew that would be the last I’d see him until 7am. Trish resumed her long, daunting shift of all-night crewing.

During this whole process, I not only set a new record for my marathon time, but also my 50k, 50 mile, 100k, and 100 mile! As I got closer to hitting 100, my husband brought my attention to how close I was to breaking 16 hours. Then, Ray Krolewicz, proceeded advise me and crunched the numbers I needed to hit just under 16 hours. I had to speed up a little more, and so I did. I bared my head to the track, watched my feet, watched the white line, watched the white line, watched my feet… smooth pace, smooth stride, smooth form... this is easy, this is perfect, nothing hurts, keep cruising. It was truly starting to hurt like hell at this point. My shoes felt like bricks, my hamstrings were really tight and sore, and every step took a little more mental energy to make. Then it happened. I barely slid in under 16 hours. My 100-mile time was broken by nearly 3 hours with 15:59:48!

Courtesy: Jeremy Fountain

I spent the next lap around the track trying to get my heart rate back down and reigned in my heightened emotions. I returned to my tent to work on my feet and my chafing, and then I got set into my normal pace again. I started eating some solid foods at the aid station and kept looking for the tables to have sodas out. I was really starting to hurt, not in my quads, but in my hamstrings. The muscular pain was nothing compared to the pain of chafing at this point though. But I just continued pushing. I finally broke through my 24-hour PR of 126 miles, and there was a sense of sudden relief, almost as if I had sighed.

I then began the woeful ritual of looking at the clock. Time came to a screaming halt. A mile seemed to take hours. It felt as if I had stumbled upon a giant mental roadblock after passing 126. I suddenly began to feel sleepy and exhausted and was unable to figure out when I ate or drank last. I started turning my focus more to any pain I was feeling, having more trouble sending my thoughts elsewhere. My legs felt like they didn’t want to fire anymore. It became more and more difficult and took much more effort to run. I was so frustrated and couldn’t reason with what I needed to do. You gotta be kidding me. I fought this for hours and eventually began a run/walk combo. I then knew that I would not be able to pull off the 140’ish miles.

I continued on with a run/walk for several hours and changed clothes again because of the severe chafing. I just kept slowing down gradually until my run/walk became dominated by the walking part. Eventually, I was reduced to limping the track. I joined up with other fellow “limpees” unwilling to surrender! It was actually fun, because I hadn’t been able to really talk much to anyone all day, and now I could socialize during my death march! I didn’t feel defeated though, because I knew that I had truly given this race 100%. But, I’m not done yet 😉

All said and done, I came in first place overall in the 24-hour race with a nice new PR of 132.7 miles and also set the following personal records along the way:

Marathon: 3:36  (watch time)

50k: 4:32:21

50 miles: 7:15:58

100k: 9:08:38

100 miles: 15:59:48

1st Overall with 132.7 miles with Co-Race Director, Josh Irvan  (Courtesy: Jeremy Fountain)

This was an amazingly emotional race, maybe not the perfect race, but it was a perfect comeback in every way imaginable. It was even more meaningful to run for a purpose greater than myself. In about a month, we were able to raise over $700 for The Herren Project leading up to Dawn to Dusk to Dawn. How freaking amazing is that?! I look forward to running Northcoast 24 in September for The Herren Project again along with the huge network of help and support of my family and friends with love and compassion for those suffering from addiction in one way or another.

I cannot finish this race report without showing my appreciation and gratitude. First, thanks to everyone for contributing to my “24 Hours for Recovery” to raise money for The Herren Project. Most of you know this is something very near and close to my heart, and there will always be a person to save, a battle to fight, a hand to reach out for, and I want to be a part of saving a life, a family, a future, a mom, a dad, a child. And now, we are doing this TOGETHER!

Recovery is never easy, and the road back is fraught with demons and wars that must be won. Since last summer, this has been a trying season for me to get to where I am now, to be ready to do what I needed to do on this very day, and I feel blessed in so many ways. I may have physically gotten myself to this point, but many, many of you played a vital role in psychologically bringing me back. There are so many people to thank and, unfortunately, I will miss somebody, but you know I appreciate and love all of you!

Thank You All!

Thank you to Glenn Langdon and Trish Mervine for making this possible for me! Thanks for the words of encouragement, support, advice (which many of you stayed up with me all night long!): Donna Westbrook-Cook (I love you momma!), Kathleen O’Connor (I know we’re related), Bob Mohr (#THPUltra!), Wendy O’Connor (always believing in me), Roberta Horn (always make me smile), David Christy “Coach,” and Ray Krolewicz “Einstein.”

 

 

Tapering for D3 – The Herren Project

 

I am in the midst of tapering for my first race of 2017 at Dawn to Dusk to Dawn on May 13th. It will be my first 24-hour race on a track. I trained exceptionally hard for this race as it represents a lot more than just a race to me this year. This is a comeback. Starting around summer of last year, I had developed a very dangerous addiction to benzodiazepines. I could sit here and say it was the result of the PTSD and anxiety I was diagnosed with, but there’s plenty of non-addicts who don’t go to the extremes I did to try to feel better and function.

I very well could have died from seizures with the addiction hole I had become drowned in. Out of the other addictions I have been through, though they were nasty and uncomfortable, to say the least, none of them had life-threatening consequences like this one did. It was scary. It really has taken me a long time to feel normal again in time to race this spring. Maybe in some ways I’m still recovering from the whole escapade. But there’s no time for that. It’s time to race again.

So much of my training just didn’t feel good, and I felt like I was fighting my body to get out and do the miles instead of thriving on it. A lot of it was emotional. I was mentally exhausted and yet relieved that the people I thought I would lose were still there by my side. But there was the physical aspect. Winter was very mild and with that, the trail I have to train on was mostly mud all winter instead of frozen. It was a real mental and physical battle in so many ways. But I wrote out a plan, followed it, and did the workouts, because this had to happen.

Since D3 is a track race, I knew I had to focus on speed this time. This was hard to do on my muddy trail, so most of my speedwork had to be done either on the treadmill or during my long runs on the local track or paved trails. But when I did get the chance to get out to hit solid ground, I pushed the pace. I also simulated a race environment by setting up a table and preparing supplies so my stops were as limited as possible. These long runs ranged from 40-60 miles, and I set 2 new personal records in the process.

Between the mud at home and the fast long runs, my legs were constantly drained, sore, and fatigued all six months of training. I was also doing a downhill session of 5-18 miles at -10 every 1-2 weeks which always produces at least mild DOMS. I maxed out my peak training week with 170 miles, breaking my 160-week record of last year. But this was only two weeks after hitting a 152-mile week. This was a whole new level of training for me, combining a high level of intensity with high mileage. I kept thinking, if my legs ever feel better, I might see what this can do!

So now, I’m tapering. I’ve been waiting for that sign or signal from my body and my legs that we are going to peak right on time. I do believe peaking is highly mental, but there is definitely a physical component that must join the party to at least trigger the mental aspect. Today, I felt it. I just knew everything was perfectly executed. I felt the rebound effect from healing up finally and the mental focus was unwavering. The speed, power, and mental fortitude are ready to go. It is time.

I put my heart and soul into every race I run. The races ARE me. They define me. I am who I am because of them, so I must be everything I can be to go out there and set foot on the course and give it everything I got and nothing less. Do or die. It sounds ridiculous to some, but I know I have to go big or there’s nothing else out there for me.  (At least until my husband and I retire to go bluewater sailing!)

 

In 9 days I will attempt an epic comeback from an addiction only last year. I will run for The Herren Project, because this is something I need to do. Every mile is representative of those suffering from addiction. There’s such a horrible stigma involved with addiction, and we need to change this! It prevents people from getting the treatment they need.  Please, consider donating to my year-long campaign 24 Hours for Recovery so we can not only spread awareness, but THP also brings a valuable message to schools, provides monetary assistance to those in recovery so they can advance their lives, and provides families with help and assistance so they are not alone in dealing with a loved one with an addiction all on their own.

Pensacola Marathon (11/11/2012)

IMG_1340Last Sunday I ran the Pensacola Marathon in Florida.  My mom and sister ran the half which bears another interesting tale to tell!  I had spent the last 12 weeks doing a condensed marathon training plan of sorts hoping that I could at least get back to my previous fitness level with regards to running.  I already knew anything even close to a BQ was out of the question after being out for 5 weeks.  I was simply happy if I got a 4-hour finish.  I peaked at 65 miles a week and did 5 long runs up to 26 miles.  I felt more and more like a sub 4:00 was at least possible.

I flew into my sister’s the Friday night before the race on Sunday.  Us three girls headed to Pensacola on Saturday for the expo and to get settled in our hotel.  We ate at Olive Garden for lunch, and I had an indulgent plate of spaghetti and sausage.  Wow, when’s the last time I ate like that?! I skipped dinner that night other than a few beers, of course. Hey, don’t do anything different, right?

IMG_1400That evening, my sister worked hard trying to come up with progressive negative splits to meet each mile to make a 3:55 marathon finish for me.  You would think by now there’d be some sort of fancy calculator online that would do this for you!
Race morning, I ate my usual chocolate peanut butter oatmeal and 2 Red Bulls.  We arrived at the race about 30 minutes before the start, and unfortunately I felt there wasn’t time to pee as the porta-potty lines went on and on.  Needless to say, every couple of miles, I was trying to tell myself that I didn’t really have to pee, that it was all in my head!

One would assume a marathon in Florida to be relatively flat.  Think again!  There were parts of the course that could be extremely brutal to someone who hadn’t put in enough time doing hill work.  I felt extremely pleased with how I had trained.  I had completed some extremely taxing long runs with menacing climbs late in the runs (simply due to poor planning, LOL).  The aid stations and volunteers were absolutely fantastic!  The entertainment was also really great.  There was good crowd support as well.  The whole event was organized so well that it almost seemed organic.IMG_1394

The first 3 miles I got really worried.  My muscles along the front of my lower legs (damned compartment syndrome) started aching pretty badly, and I felt my left foot losing sensation.  I was terrified.  All I could think was that I should’ve done that 2-mile warmup this morning… should’ve gotten up even earlier.

I did my best to ignore it and refused to walk.  One of my goals for this marathon was to run the entire way.  I had done it in training, and there was no reason I couldn’t repeat that again!  Amazingly, by 4.5 miles, it had eased up.

Most of the tension was gone, and I felt like I was ready to start upping the pace according to my cheat sheet my sister made.  I ended up taking my Camelbak just so I could breeze through aid stations.  I was glad I did.  I liked being able to eat my gels according to how I had trained. IMG_1393 I only grabbed water from aid stations to dump over my head.  Oh, yes, I did slow down for the cup of beer!  Ha!  (What genius came up with the idea of a beer station?!)

I felt really strong all the way till mile 22.  Then I made the mistake of thinking, “it’s not much further,” and glancing repeatedly at my Garmin.  I always try to practice tricking my mind into not thinking about the distance and just keep spinning.  As soon as I realize there’s only a few miles to go, I start hurting and mentally losing focus.

The last 2 miles I struggled to keep pace and fell back some.  It was a good thing I had already been ahead of my scheduled paces for the last 24 miles.  For the first time, I felt like my left foot was going to cramp up.  Luckily, it never progressed.

As the finish line came into sight, I gave it everything I had left (which wasn’t much!), and I hear, “Go Tara!” Over to my left I spot my sister’s red poofy hair, and she’s sprinting through the crowd towards the finish line with me. It just gave me tears!

So, sub 4:00?  Yes!  Chip time was 3:53:14!  I can’t wait to do it again! It was a good day for a great race with people I love. I miss you guys!

IMG_1389IMG_1387

 

Sub 4:00 – Maybe?

The feel of winter is slowly moving in.  It was a cool 34 degrees when I woke up this morning.  I love winter.  All the leaves are starting to change and have made for some really amazing trail runs which I feel so blessed to be able to enjoy.  On last Saturday’s 26-mile training run, the trails were absolutely breathtaking.  The trail was completely blanketed with leaves that were almost ankle-deep in areas.

It’s 3 months post surgery.  It almost feels like a whole lifetime ago.  While my legs still lack some of their previous speed, there’s noticeable improvement with every run.  I’m running an average of 55-60 miles per week and plan to max out around 65-75 before the marathon.  This is so fantastic!  Whenever I have previously tried to cross the 55-60 mpw threshold, I always had to back off due to minor injuries.  I never have been able to sustain a weekly mileage over 50 for very long.

I’ve been doing extensive hillwork and lactate runs.  I think these workouts have made a considerable difference and quickly pushed me back towards my previous strength.  I have mixed in some speedwork here and there, but with my core still feeling somewhat weak, I haven’t tried to push myself too hard yet.  I know I’ll be able to speed things up again when the time is right.IMG_1301

The marathon is a little over a month away now, and I’m feeling really good about it.  I think I’m probably looking at a 4-hour finish.  If I’m really lucky, maybe a sub 4:00.  I think a lot of it is going to have to do with how well I handle the humidity in the South.  I think I do pretty well in hot and humid conditions, but the weather has been anything but hot and humid since I came off my 5-week running break.  All my recent runs in the last 2 months have been in extremely pleasant weather.

Saturday’s 26 miler felt so good.  Everything went incredibly perfect.  I took it nice and easy.  The only mistake I made was a logistical one.  I planned out and backs on 3 different trails, and it just so happens that I apparently wasn’t sane when I arranged the most difficult trail for the last 8.3 miles.  I ended up climbing and descending for the final 8 miles.  It definitely slowed down my finish time and made for very sore quads the next day.  Needless to say, I was pretty pleased with my finish time of 4:02 especially considering the terrain at the end.  I think running a sub-4:00 in Pensacola is definitely not out of reach.

This week I’m not doing any long runs over 15 miles and will do a 23-mile run next week followed by a final long run of 24 miles before tapering off for the marathon.
I’m so ready!

Back to Business

The past couple weeks I’ve been able to dramatically increase my mileage.  I almost feel like I’m back to normal with regards to running.  The best part is that I’ve had absolutely no sign of compartment syndrome since getting back on my feet.  At times, I still feel like I’m a pinch slower and struggling with endurance a little, but I keep reminding myself that’s expected at this point.  Five weeks of no running is nothing to be shrugged off.  Mentally, however, I feel rejuvenated and ready to really challenge myself again.  That time off may have been the perfect tool to renew my motivation.  I do still find myself sore from the surgery and am still unable to do plenty of other things.  But everything is coming full circle pretty quickly.

The Pensacola Marathon looms overhead, about 7 weeks away, and I decided I am going through with it and running it.  I brought my weekly miles back up almost to my pre-surgery level and am feeling pretty confident.  I’ll run three 20-26 mile runs before the marathon with plenty of 10-15 mile runs throughout.  My endurance post-surgery is my main concern at this point.

My surgeon cleared me for certain calisthenics like pushups, leg raises, etc., but something just doesn’t feel right in my abdomen when I do them.  Very unfortunate.  Oh, well, I’d rather be safe than sorry and hold off on that for a while longer.  I’m not going to push it.  At this point I can’t even imagine how long it will be until I can resume weight training.  I am anxious to get back to where I was.  Things just aren’t the same.

I got some new sweet kicks!  They’re hybrids but really more of a trail running shoe (Salomon XR Crossmax), so I’m not sure if I’ll marathon in them or not, but I probably will!  They do quite well on pavement or any kind of surface it seems.  I’ve had them on gravel, asphalt, dirt, etc.  Best of all, the bottoms of my feet aren’t aching 10 miles into a run with these!  After the marathon, I want to do much more distance trail running.  I might run a 10-mile trail race in early October just to get out on some unfamiliar trails.  I am hoping to find an ultramarathon of 50k to 50 miles to train for at some point next year.

Last week I successfully pulled off a 40-mile week.  This week I’m planning to do 45 with an 18-mile run this weekend.  I am so ready and excited to get out and put in a real distance run.  Everything is feeling pretty good, and though I’ve been fighting off some minor shin splints, I think I’ll pull the marathon off just fine.

It might be time to move on to a new favorite brekkie… my beloved chocolate-peanut butter oatmeal just wasn’t as good this morning as it usually is.  What’s with that?!  I’m thinking pancakes are in proper order.

Unleash the Beast!

Last Tuesday, 5 weeks out from surgery (exploratory laparotomy), my surgeon cleared me to run again.  My husband and I never expected those words to come out of his mouth.  I’m pretty sure my jaw dropped to the floor and I drooled all over myself.  I think my husband was really worried.  He told me, “I don’t think he quite understands what running means to you!  We’re not talking about a jog through the park!”  I just responded with the only thing that came to mind, “He unleashed the beast!”

Originally, my doctor had told me that it wouldn’t be until November when I could run.  Needless to say, the day he cleared me I came home and bounced into my running clothes and jumped on my treadmill for a test drive.  I didn’t get any stomach pain, but my ankles and knees were really tight and verging on becoming sore.  I felt heavy and slow.  I stopped at a half mile.  (Granted I had put on some extra pounds since surgery which I can definitely feel now when running.)  The next day, I got on my treadmill and ran 3 miles with minor soreness in my joints.  It felt like pure joy to run again.  Over the 5 weeks I was out of commission, I had developed a new relationship with running.  I felt so out of touch with life in general while I couldn’t run.  I obsessed over running constantly (I kinda do that even when I am running, LOL).  Suddenly, now, running is like this incredible gift I’d been taking for granted.

My endurance is fairly zapped, but there are lingering remnants of it.  My leg strength is definitely subpar.  After managing to run almost 12 miles last week, I have slightly sore muscles and tendons.  It’s going to obviously take a little time to get acclimated again.  Dropping my weight back down will help a lot.  I told my 15-year-old daughter to take advantage of me being back to base training and run with me.  So far, it’s been working, somewhat.  She’s even considering training for the Pensacola Half Marathon in November.  We shall see how that goes.

I do plan to still try to run the marathon.  Obviously, I’m not expecting any PRs.   If I don’t feel ready for it by then, I’ll just run the half.  My sister, who lives in hot and humid Mississippi, stepped back to the half marathon.  She was originally going to run the marathon, but she’s had her share of difficulties training for it.  There’s even some indication that my mother also might be attempting to run the Pensacola half!  It would be like a family racing reunion!

This week I think there’s a good chance I can get up to 15-20 miles.  I’m planning to run 5-6 miles today since my longest run last week was 4 miles.  If that goes well and I have minimal soreness the next day, I’m hoping to increase my long run dramatically over the next 3 weeks and begin running 2 long runs a week until I can run a 20 miler.  My muscles and tendons will dictate everything at this point.  Hopefully they will be quite agreeable.  I’ve got my heart set on hitting the trail this coming weekend.  I can’t even begin to express how excited I am to get back out there.  It’s going to feel amazing.  I don’t know if there’s been a night where I haven’t dreamed about running the trails since I got sick.  Anyway, I am planning to do a 10-mile jog/run and just take my time and enjoy myself.  Maybe I can get lucky and coax my daughter to tag along if I promise to buy us lunch!

New Beginnings

Monday, July 9th, 2012 was the last time I ran and would be the the last time for months to come. Oh, how July was the month of setbacks, major obstacles, and disappointment.

First, we lost power for over a week after a rogue storm came through here and dropped a tree in our front yard on the power lines. We spent that week trying to keep our disabled son in air-conditioned hotels while scrounging around for a generator. I still managed to find time to run twice during the whole ordeal. However, not long after getting power back, I found myself in a much greater predicament that would change my little world for months to come.

One evening, as I was getting ready for a treadmill run I experienced the onset of extreme abdominal pain. My husband ended up leaving work and taking me to the emergency room. They ran a few tests and sent me home with a diagnosis of constipation. I remained in fairly severe pain for another week before I went to a clinic. They sent me back to the emergency room where a CT with dye showed I had free air and fluid in my abdomen. I was rushed into surgery for an emergency exploratory laparotomy.

I woke up in the ICU with an incision that ran the length of my belly with 21 staples. All I could think about was running and weight lifting and how I felt so robbed of all my hard work. I tried hard to not let on to anyone how sad I was about the whole ordeal with regards to my fitness. It seemed so shallow and ungrateful. I spent over a week in the hospital. No definitive diagnosis was made as to why I had free air in my belly, so I will have to have further tests done once I’ve completely recovered from surgery. It’s all very frustrating right now.

When I finally got home, the real challenge began.

It’s been 2 weeks since the surgery. I had my staples removed yesterday which did provide some relief. I’ve been told I can’t run for about 3 months, but I was cleared for brisk walking. I’m still so very sore and have a lot of edema in my torso which is very slowly dissipating. I can’t lift anything right now and am told I can’t lift over 40 lb for 4 months. This means I can’t lift my disabled son which creates an immensely complicated situation. It just feels like everything is turned upside down. I’ve been bored, depressed, and confused as to what to do with myself. I’m incredibly impatient for the soreness to go away. I just want my life back so badly. Though I know everything will come with time and a few months pass in the blink of an eye, I just feel disheartened and long to hear the sound of rocks crunching under my feet.

I have to get my head right.

So, here I sit, somewhat demoralized, but more and more determined to formulate a comeback plan. I’ve decided to start a walking streak of a minimum half-mile a day until I feel comfortable upping the ante to 1 mile a day. I’ll do a “test drive” this weekend and see how it goes. I know it’s going to be a long, slow recovery, but damnit I’m not letting this get the better of me! I’m going to push through this, and I’ll be back on the trails by the time the weather is cooling off again this fall! I’m coming back, and maybe I’ll be tougher than ever!

Get outside and put some miles in for me!