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!

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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!

Recipe for Disaster – Bring it On!

After last Saturday’s 20-mile run, I crashed really hard.  I was exhausted for days following that run.  I felt pretty apathetic towards diet and exercise in general and just wanted to sleep all week.  I was even fairly depressed.  I got on my treadmill Tuesday for a 5-mile jog, but my shins got extremely tight and began throbbing less than half a mile into it.  I jogged and walked for a while, determined to get some type of mileage accomplished, but I finally gave up and hit the couch.  The same thing happened again Wednesday.  I was completely bummed out.  It felt like my mind and my body were just powering down.

After doing some research and talking to my sister, I stumbled upon this article titled “Endocrine System Depletion,” by Succeed! Sports Nutrition.  That article really put things into perspective for me as far as what I was going through.  I realized I recently had been experiencing other symptoms that could be attributed to endocrine depletion as well.  This is a nasty bag of worms right here.  I can be pretty tough when it comes to physical grit, but when we’re talking about hormones and chemical imbalances, that’s a hard battle to fight.

So now I have a new strategy in need of development.  So, where do I even start?  I was already forced to drop my weekly mileage way back this week.  Maybe I should try to decrease my weekly mileage down to 30-40 miles for 2-3 weeks while maintaining a weekly 20 miler and slowly work back up from there.  It might even be helpful to incorporate a recovery day before and after my longest run.  Another thing I realized is that I’m often running my long runs really hard.  I can really tell the difference in fatigue and mental status whether I’ve run it hard and fast or not.  It takes me a couple days to really recover if I’ve given it 110%.  If I take it easy, regardless of how far I ran, I can feel ready to get on my feet the next day.  I probably just need to slow down, enjoy the run, and focus on the real purpose of the long run – adaptation.  We will see how I feel after my long run today.

I still have this plaguing compartment syndrome, possibly more aggravating than ever, to work with.  Obviously, cutting miles and resting a whole lot is going to be the protocol for treatment, but that’s just an avenue I’m not willing to take just yet.  It’s going to have to get me completely down and out before I’m willing to cut back as much as would be necessary to resolve it, I think.  I do realize this injury could be a major issue for the November Pensacola Marathon, and I’m going to have to do something about my legs before it gets close to that time, but I just prefer to keep putting it off as long as possible.

All of these issues almost seem like a red flag, honestly, in which I’m setting myself up for an inevitably huge crash and burn any day now.  I feel like I’m tiptoeing around the edge of physical limits!  Bring it on!  What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger… I hope!

Marathon Training Plans – Yah Whatever!

So, my 60 miles for last week didn’t work out so well.  Yeah, I am more than a little disappointed and ill about my compartment syndrome showing up in full force again.  In all honesty, I absolutely know that I should cut back my miles to whatever amount produces no symptoms and slowly work my mileage up, but I just about can’t hold myself back from running as far as I can once I am  running and in the zone.  I don’t really have a strategy yet this week for pulling my miles up injury free and probably will do one of two things:  A) run as much as I can again until my shins stop me, B) replace some runs this week with Insanity workouts.  Both are appealing options to me at least, though not necessarily the smartest choices.

As for training for the Pensacola Marathon in November…  I really wish I could be completely sure that I’m going to be able to make it down there to run.  Regardless, I am going to train for it.  I’m going to be running anyway, so why not?  Now, how do I want to train for it?  I’m almost leaning towards an unorthodox approach.  Not surprising, huh?  I really like going against the rules 😉

So hypothetically, what if I don’t follow some training plan with its tyrannical schedules and structured runs?  What if I just run and train however my body tells me.  I know what I need to work on, be it hills, speed, endurance…  Wouldn’t it really make more sense to work on the unique aspects of MY running and MY progress and gauge what needs to be done on a daily basis by my own performance?  This just sounds like a little common sense to me.  But what do I know?  I mean, training plans are proven methods of marathon prep.  What about self-awareness though?  Training plans can’t know what your weak areas are, and maybe you end up running less distance or hills or whatever than you personally needed to meet your maximum potential.  Why does so much of everything we do in life follow a dictated method in a one-size-fits-all fashion?  Are we so afraid to think for ourselves?  And what if I don’t make a BQ at Pensacola after doing my own style of “marathon training?”  At least if I trained my way, I would know that I really did everything I felt I could to prepare and did my best.  I like my way more every second that I consider that route!  (Besides, that is kinda my style of doing things!)  Just run, damnit!

Carb Depletion and a Marathon – Yet Another Experiment

After a couple broken hours of sleep from getting up with my son throughout the night, the clock painfully insists that it’s 4 am and time to get up if I’m going to make that early morning run happen before the humidity kicks in.  We’ve had quite the mini heat wave for us north easterners.  As I indulge on a steamy bowl of chocolate oatmeal and a stout coffee, one thought occurs to me: six months.  Will I be able to do what it takes to train for a BQ at the Pensacola Marathon in November?  (Of course, actually going to Pensacola is contingent on my husband’s shift work schedule not changing by then.)  But do I really have what it takes?  What does it take?  Are dedication and passion for running enough in themselves?  It’s quite possible that it’s a long shot for me to expect to BQ in 6 months, but I still feel like I have to try.  I think it’s possible enough to try to make it happen.  If I don’t get it done in Pensacola, I’ll work towards the Pittsburgh Marathon in 2013.IMG_1184

It’s going to be hard, no doubt.  Especially with my schedule (or lack thereof) – a combination of extreme sleep deprivation, a husband who is a shift worker, and having the very demanding task of caring for a fully dependent child; I’ve got my hands pretty full when you throw marathon training into the mix!  I just have to make it happen.

This week I’m focusing on long runs and hoping to hit at least 60 miles by the end of the week.  I have been experimenting with doing long runs in a carb-depleted state in hopes that you can actually acclimate the body better for burning fat reserves as fuel.  When I first started doing this, I did notice a little sluggishness on my runs, and my muscles tended towards fatigue quicker, but I don’t seem to be experiencing any symptoms as of recently.  I’ve been doing these carb-depleted runs now for about a month.  Mind you, there’s absolutely no intention of restricting carbs on race day or even on some critical speedwork days, it’s just the idea that having the body adjusted to fueling up with fat will move the wall out that much further.  I have no idea how long or how much volume you have to achieve before any obvious benefits manifest themselves.  I just make sure I do one-two 5+ mile runs a week in a carb-depleted state.  I do not consume any carbs on these runs, only water.  For 3 days, I eat well under 100g of carbs while I pump out these runs.  I try to make sure I get a good long run in especially on the 3rd day when I know my glycogen stores are zapped from the previous 2 days of low-carb runs.  These runs are typically slower and focused more on running for a certain amount of time instead of mileage.

Time for a power nap before I hit the pavement!

26 miles – Hurts so Good

Yesterday’s long run carried me 26 miles.  For the first time, it finally occurred to me why it’s not so common for people to run that far for regular leisure.  While basking in my enlightened moment and pushing painfully through mile 24, I also realized I was truly in love with distance running even though I found myself questioning whether I had pushed myself too far too fast… again.

During the last 3 miles, the real aches and pains made themselves at home – my quads rhythmically aching, Achilles screaming with each step, and my knees wanting to buckle with each push-off.  All this “suffering” just to prove to myself that I could make the distance.  No medals or cheers at the end of this 26 miles, just my own knowledge that I was capable of not just doing it again, but doing it faster.  I finished with a time of 4:01:51, and now I am certain I can achieve 3:40 with just a little more work.

The soreness and tenderness of my quads and knees really began to set in 4-5 hours after the run.  I stayed hungry all evening and ate whatever I wanted.  I wasn’t really that tired, just sore and lazy later in the evening, so I did nap on and off and ice my knees.  Surprisingly, this morning I don’t really feel much sorer than I did last night.  I filled up this morning on a big bowl of chocolate-cinnamon proatmeal and have a day of shopping planned.  We shall see if the fatigue and DOMS finally hit me while I’m out and about today!

My plan now?  Take 2-3 days off from running and heal up good.  I think I’ll do a couple days of split-routine upper body weight training just to keep myself busy and throw in some yoga on the 2nd or 3rd day depending on how fast or slow I recover.  Then if all goes as planned, I’ll start some slow recovery runs and walks on the 3rd-4th day followed by recovery jogs of 3 miles the rest of the week.  Then I’ll reevaluate my strategy for the next week.  In the meantime, I’ll assemble a game plan to focus on cutting back my finish time.