Unfinished Business: 2016 California International Marathon Recap

To recap this race, I have to take you back a few months. Back to the completion of my 12th marathon (Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, MN) – which I unfortunately didn’t recap (likely because I wanted to forget the experience as soon as it was over). That day was one of the hottest, most miserable races of my life (second only to 2012 Boston). Following that race I was disappointed. Disappointed that I had had an amazing training block and the only thing stopping me from getting that PR was the weather. I was crushed and the first thing I did following the race was turn my focus to the next one. Unfortunately, as can be expected, going head first from one training block into another block without taking any rest, and then being thrown a bunch of life curve balls – well it didn’t exactly lead to ideal conditions to PR less than 6 months later.

Reality Bites

I don’t want to make excuses. God knows I have them for this race. The bottom line – and it’s hard to face – is I could have worked harder, trained better, been more disciplined. But sometimes life gets in the way and we have to take a deep breath and slow down.

I spent the summer attending four weddings (and unfortunately, like the movie, a funeral), traveling, moving across town and starting a new job. And attempting to fit running in when I could. By the time October rolled around I was burned out. Like really burned out. So bad that the one thing I could count on to bring me joy, help me destress and work out any problems no longer brought that. It became a burden. Another thing on my to-do list. And I grew to wonder if I’d ever find that joy again.

Burn Out

I began to dread every workout and long run and found even easy days felt like a hassle. I started to count down the days until race day. I just wanted a break. I didn’t know how to shake my mood – just that I had to keep pushing forward.

Once I started my new job and got into more of a regular day-to-day routine, the joy of running slowly creeped back. It was gradual. But day after day, minute by minute, I started to enjoy running again. Some of it I can attribute to the cooler temps of fall. And some was inspired by watching my teammates crush the Chicago Marathon. A lot was watching my coach nail his marathon debut. But ultimately, what helped the most, was changing my attitude. I would do the best I could do in each run. It might not always feel good – but I would give it my best and I would be realistic going into this marathon. Unfortunately with less than a month to go, it was too late to hope that my fitness would catch up.

img_8648
The final long run

Two weekends before the marathon, I did my last long hard effort at Busse Woods. A slightly rolling trail in the northern suburbs of Chicago. It went about as good as it could go for me. 15 miles at marathon effort with a long warm up and cool down for a total of 20 miles for the day. I felt great – maybe this could go well. I treated myself to a mani/pedi and enjoyed a rest day. Two days later I woke up early for an easy 6-mile run. I was actually looking forward to it and really liked my changing attitude. Unfortunately, less than 2 miles into the run, shooting pain from my hip down to my foot caused me to cut the run short and walk home in excruciating pain (and tears). I contacted my sports chiropractor who graciously fit me in. After 30 minutes with him, I felt better – but nowhere near able to run a mile let alone 26.2 in less than two weeks. I was crushed. I talked to Dan, my coach, and he reminded me the power of the mind. Staying positive and doing everything I can to rehab my back/butt issue, was the only way I was going to get to that finish line.

img_8681
At the finish line of the Turkey Trot with my Uber Fan

 

Thanksgiving came and went and thanks to a very supportive boyfriend and his family, I hobbled my way through a Turkey trot and a couple treadmill runs. Gradually the pain started to subside and I was able to get my last week of workouts and easy runs in. I actually felt good and even nailed my last tempo run prior to the race.

Race Weekend

Heading into race weekend, I was full of nervous excitement. I enjoyed my shakeout run with my uber fan (boyfriend) followed by a quick stop at the expo and team lunch. We went back to the hotel after lunch and really enjoyed the rest of our lazy Saturday in California. Our team dinner came with more words of encouragement from our fearless leader and an early bed time.

img_8762
Pre-Race at the Expo

I awoke race day rested. For once. Typically sleep is hard to come by the night before any race – but especially a marathon. I was thrilled. I showered, at my pre-race meal and was off to the bus with my team. We enjoyed the quiet bus ride to the start. The race is a point to point race – from Folsom, CA to downtown Sacramento. We made our way to the port-o-potties. Let me tell you – these race directors are clearly runners. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that many in one place before.

 

We started our dynamic warm ups and tried to stay warm. Conditions were absolutely perfect for running – upper 30s to low 40s at the start and anticipated mid to upper 50s at the finish with barely a cloud in the sky. I decided I should use the bathroom one more time and realized I might not have enough time. Thankfully I did but had to sprint to the bag check – which was the likes of a mosh pit – then up to the front of the start line.

Let’s Do This! #TeamNoHeadLamp

I planned to start right behind the 3 hour group and attempt to negative split – go out in the 6:55-7 min/mile range then try to cut that down at the half mark. The anthem was sung, I lost my throw away shirt and we were off. The whole first 6 miles feels like a blur. I felt beyond amazing. My legs felt strong and I was keeping the pace in the easy range – well at least for the 2 miles. Then miles 3 and 4 I dropped closer to 6:40. I knew I couldn’t maintain that and slowed my roll. 5-10 continued in the 6:55-7min range and I was feeling great. I saw my coach and uber fan and smiled away.

Somewhere in between miles 4 and 6 I noticed a blind runner with a couple guides running about my pace. They were engaged in a pretty entertaining conversation so I latched on to them to take my mind off the race a bit. As we jogged along, I laughed along with their jokes and was inspired by this runner and his guide. Come to find out the guide was Scott Jurek! Pretty cool to say I ran about 10 miles with the Eat & Run author.

cim
Around mile 17

Half Way Still Means Another Half To Go

 

As I neared the half way point, one thing that started to catch up with me were the rolling hills. Going into the race, we knew it would be net downhill and a fast course – but that there would be a few hills. Well that was no joke. While the uphills weren’t too steep, the downhills started to just destroy my quads. And my legs started to feel it. I started to get into my head after mile 15 and it was all I could do to get through each mile. I had to break up the race into 2 mile increments. It’s amazing the mind games you play with yourself during a marathon. At 18, my butt/back started to remind me of the pain I was in a couple weeks prior. I really struggled through 22. At one point trying to cover up my watch – and even considering taking it off and giving it to my coach. Just before mile 20, I saw my uber fan and this time instead of a big smile, I told him ‘no pictures allowed’ and did my best not to cry.

As we made our way into the city, I realized – regardless of the time – I would finish this race. I would be ok. I started to recall the pre-race motivational text our fearless leader and coach shared with us – something about how Rob Krar runs his ultras without a headlamp — ensuring he finishes before dark. There was no turning back. If Rob Krar can run without a headlamp, I would finish this race. I didn’t need a headlamp. And I would finish with a reasonable time AND without stopping. I started to feel strong again and pick up the pace. I started to pick people to pass – and I did. I turned the corner and saw the finish line, my uber fan waiting for me, and I sprint to the finish – and almost collapsed in the arms of the volunteers handing out medals. I was so happy to be done running. I embraced my boyfriend (uber fan) and we made our way to the bag check. At this point, my legs felt like complete crap. I couldn’t control the muscle spasms and had to sit down. I started to cry as my boyfriend handed me my bag. His first time watching one of my marathons – I cannot begin to tell you how thankful I am and was in that moment to have him with me. His support – and encouragement – all those early mornings and moments when I know I was a lot to handle – well he deserves a gold medal. Needless to say – we both enjoyed that post race beer and celebration of a tough couple of months leading up to this race.

img_8720
Finish line smiles (and free beers!)

Gratitude

 

While it wasn’t my best race — it was so hard fought and one of the most humbling experiences I’ve had in a long time. I’m fired up for 2017. I left a lot of unfinished business out there on the roads this year. And now that my life is in a great place, I can’t wait to see what the future holds. But first – I’m taking a couple weeks off – enjoying some R&R – so I can start the New Year fresh and in the right mindset.

It’s amazing what the human body is capable of. Special thanks to all the support, well wishes and encouragement I received from friends, family, my coach/teammates at DWRunning and especially my uber (and super) fans. You are what helped me get to that finish line with a smile on my face. Here’s to a New Year with new goals, dreams and aspirations!

Practice Makes PRs: bRUNch Recap and Recipes

IMG_6948
Post fun run — fueling up!

Yesterday I hosted a great group of runners for a fun run with DWRunning followed by brunch that included a bunch of my favorite pre-, post- and during workout fuel options. Since I didn’t have copies of every recipe for individuals to take home, I wanted to include them all here for easy access. I’ve also included a couple of anecdotes as well as to why they work for me and my rationale for why they make great runner fuel. The biggest take away from yesterday? Runners like to eat, are hungry for nutrition knowledge and this type of event is a ton of fun for me to offer because it combines 2 things I’m very passionate about – running and food – and especially feeding others! Hope all that attended enjoyed (and learned a little something too!) and be on the lookout for future events like this in the next few months!

IMG_6949
Discussing the ins and outs of race day nutrition

 

Energy Bites: great for pre- or immediately post run. I’ve even known a few people to freeze and take along on longer workouts for mid-run fuel.

Raspberry Oat Scones: easy to make breakfast on the go or mid afternoon snack option. I used gluten free flour. From the Racing Weight cookbook.

Kodiak Cakes Pancakes (go for the protein cakes if planning to eat post workout): followed the instructions but used unsweetened almond milk instead of water to give added flavor, vitamins and minerals.

Overnight Oats: a favorite post run meal or pre-long run/workout fuel (just make sure you allow enough time to digest). Also great grab and go option.

Egg Frittata for a Crowd:

Veggie (serves 6-8)

1 zucchini, diced

1 summer squash, diced

1/2 a large sweet onion

1 medium red pepper, diced

1-2 cups mushrooms or other desired veggies

12 eggs

2 cups cheese (Italian mix or mozzarella/parmesan blend), finely shredded

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. In a large sauté pan over medium heat cook veggies in about 1 Tbsp olive oil until tender.
  3. Coat 13×9 inch pan with cooking spray. Add cooked veggies to pan and let cool.
  4. Whisk eggs in medium mixing bowl. Add a dash of salt and pepper. Add cheese and mix to combine.
  5. Pour over slightly cooled veggies and make sure evenly distributed. Bake for 10-15 minutes or until eggs are set and slightly brown on top.
  6. Remove from oven and let sit for 2-3 min to cool slightly then cut into squares and serve.

‘BLT’ (serves 6-8)

1-2 cups baby spinach

2 roma tomatoes, sliced

1 lb bacon, cooked and chopped

12 eggs

2 cups cheese (cheddar), finely shredded

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. Cook bacon to likeness. Let cool and pat dry. Chop into bite size pieces.
  3. Coat 13×9 inch pan with cooking spray. Add spinach. Top with sliced tomatoes and bacon.
  4. Whisk eggs in medium mixing bowl. Add a dash of salt and pepper. Add cheese and mix to combine.
  5. Pour over slightly spinach/tomato/bacon mixture and make sure evenly distributed. Bake for 10-15 minutes or until eggs are set and slightly brown on top.
  6. Remove from oven and let sit for 2-3 min to cool slightly then cut into squares and serve.

Toast station:

Top a whole grain bread with a variety of toppings. My favorite go-to bread brands are Angelic and Ezekial (usually found in the freezer section – both brands can be found at Mariano’s). Toast is great for snacks or pre/post workout. Toppings included a variety of nut butters, avocado, chia and hemp seeds. My goal for every snack or meal: complex carb (bread), healthy fat (avocado, chia, hemp, nut butter) and protein source (nut butters).

Yogurt Parfait Bar:

Look for brands of yogurt with very little added sugar (or just get plain and sweeten yourself with honey or agave). My favorite is Siggi’s plain or vanilla. I use it in everything! Top with low sugar granolas (two brands I’m loving right now are Viki’s and Milk and Honey). Other mix ins: fresh fruit, flaked coconut (look for unsweetened), a small portion of chocolate chips, chopped nuts, and chia or hemp seeds.

Smoothie Station:

I love smoothies because often after hard workouts, I have very little appetite yet I know the importance of getting quality fuel asap in an effort to speed up recovery. So I have turned to smoothies. I add a scoop of protein powder (more on those in a future post) to a big handful of spinach, about 1/2 cup frozen fruit and coconut water or almond milk and blend. If it’s going to be a meal replacement, I’ll also add chia, nut butter and/or oats. It’s an easy way to get calories in when I don’t feel like eating and a refreshing post-run option to boot. Here’s a helpful handout I made for Mariano’s on smoothies to help guide you on how to make a better one.

IMG_6942
Looking like I’m reading to the class with Coach Dan from DWRunning in the background

Are you interested in attending a future event like this or maybe even a more tailored, one on one session with me? Be sure to like my Facebook page to stay in the know of all my upcoming events and/or shoot me a line here to inquire about additional services that I offer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shamrock Shuffle 8K – Trust the Process to Realize what you are Truly Capable of

This is a delayed post. Life has gotten in the way of being able to post more frequently. But since this race was one of the highlights of my running life – I have to recap it the best I can. I hand wrote this a couple days after the race and revisiting it has reminded me how far I’ve come – both emotionally and physically – with my running.

Before the Race

The week leading up to the race I had a nervous energy similar to what I experience before marathons. Knowing that this was my big goal race for winter I wanted to do well. I not only wanted to do well, but I wanted to make heads turn. I wanted to show people how hard I worked for this and that I wasn’t just a weekend runner anymore. So I took that week very seriously. I slept at least 8 hours each night. I ate very clean. I eliminated alcohol of all kinds (a cold beer with friends after a tough day is one of my biggest vices) and I attempted to calm the nerves by throwing myself into work, cooking, and running the remaining training runs I had on my schedule. The day before the race I even turned down plans with friends for a very low key, off my feet day. Remember – this is an 8k – why was I so nervous about this? Because short distances (less than a 10 mi race) have never been a strength of mine. And this was all I had been focused on since January. I didn’t want to let myself down or my coach and I knew I was as ready as I could be.

During the week I touched base with my coach, Dan Walters, who believed I was capable of breaking the 30 min mark. My 8k PR was just under 32 minutes. I thought he was crazy. Although I knew I was capable of a new PR – I wasn’t so sure about the 30 min mark. It was ambitious – but he believed in me – so I believed in him and trusted his guidance. All I knew was I’d do my very best to cross that finish line as fast as I possibly could. It was going to hurt. Dan sent us a link to view a scene between a boxer and his coach prior to the race. In it the coach screams at the boxer – motivating him to fight one more round. He tells him – this is going to hurt – but who the heck cares – we are firemen. That was how this 8k would feel and I had to mentally accept that and move past the pain at miles 3 and 4 and just push as hard and as fast as I possibly could. That mantra ‘we are firemen’ played over and over in my head during the last 2 miles of the race.

The Race

12719486_10100552686568518_8952680268535123955_o
Pre-race superstition – race day outfit ready to go the night before

I woke up before my alarm and was surprisingly calm. I had slept really well and was ready to go in a matter of minutes. I made my usual pre-race breakfast (oatmeal, banana and a scoop of almond butter), grabbed my coffee and made my way to the bus to commute down to the area we’d planned to meet before the start. As it got closer to the start, the nerves really started to set in. I just wanted to get this thing done. We did our shakeout as a team and as per usual I jogged a bit faster than I probably should have but it was only a couple miles. We changed into our racing gear and made our way to the start line. After a couple more strides to shake out the legs, we battled crowds to get into the corral about 15 minutes before the start. Once in the corral I saw so many from the Chicago running community that I knew — I was somewhat distracted from my nerves while saying hi to everyone. I was surrounded by my running family and this was our day. It was going to be great and awful all at the same time. I really reflected on how much had changed in the last 3 years and how much I absolutely love this city and these people. I was ready.

451595_224494718_XLarge
Digging deep and passing people up Mt. Roosevelt

After the gun went off I wish I could say I remember every detail – but to be honest, I don’t. It was a blur. I settled into about a 6:05 pace for the first mile. I passed a few people and felt strong and controlled. I ran with a couple other folks that Dan coaches that were also looking to break the 30 min mark. As we approached the 5k mark, the 6:05 pace really started to set in. I hit the 5k at exactly 19 minutes – only 15 seconds off my PR – I started to wonder if I should back off a bit. The fatigue started to hit my legs. They burned. My lungs burned. Everything in my body told me slow down. And then I remembered ‘we are firemen’ and I shut down the negative thinking, listened to the crowds and surged forward.

451595_224674023_XLarge
Finish line pic – Colleen right in front of me!

I hit the 4 mile mark and reminded myself that in 6 minutes this would all be over and I was going to be very close to hitting 30 minutes. I dug deep and started picking people to catch. I’ve tried this in other races and it doesn’t always work. But today, it did. Not only did I start catching and passing individuals but I did so on Mt. Roosevelt – where in the past – I’ve all but walked up the hill (during the marathon). As I passed 2 females up the hill and turned onto the home stretch I could see the finish line. I kicked it into high gear. Never have I felt so strong at the finish of a race. I gave those last few meters all I could — attempting to catch my teammate Colleen who I have raced with a couple times and am always just seconds behind. I closed the gap significantly – finishing just 3 seconds behind her and with a brand new big PR – 30:37! It wasn’t 30 minutes – but with the wind at mile 3 I couldn’t be happier with this time. As I started to walk through the finish area I ran into my coach (who also raced that day) and practically collapsed in his arms. I was spent – I had given it everything I had. He congratulated me on a job well done, we ran into some more Chicago running friends and we all walked together back to grab our gear and head home to freshen up before celebrating our success that afternoon.

After the Race

451595_224597526_XLarge
With one of my favorite running buddies – Jolice!

Following the race celebrations I went through a period of mild depression. I’m not sure why – but my theory is the huge build up for one event and then it comes and goes – and even though I did well – can result in a, ‘well now what’ feeling. What helped me through it? Focusing on finding my joy in running and identifying and changing my mindset for the next goal. Grandma’s marathon in June. A distance I’m much more comfortable with. After a few days, my mood improved and I started to feel reinvigorated and super focused on the long term goal.

This race and new PR could not be possible without Dan and the DWRunning team. His and their encouragement and motivation helped me realize what I’m truly capable of. He has taught me to trust the process. To take each week as it comes and each workout as it is. To identify what it is I want and to go after it. It’s not easy. It comes with sacrifices. But if you work hard you will reap the rewards of your training.

 

Running Lessons: Finding my Flow, Learning to Trust my Training and Un-attach on Race Day

Recently I feel like I had a breakthrough in my running that is hard to explain – but I feel compelled to try. I’ve also had a couple of races that I’ve been slow to recap while I work through this transition time in my running life. Since my last marathon, I have gone through a lot personally and done a lot of soul-searching that has really opened my eyes to how I live my life and how I want to live my life going forward. Hopefully this recap of the last month and races is insightful and useful for you in your training/life.

Post-Marathon Blues

Following a marathon, it’s common to go through a bit of depression. You’ve spent the better half of the last 6 months likely training towards one big goal. It’s come, and gone, and now what?? In my case, it was pretty bad this year. I had a rough summer/fall with injury and life stress. Despite that, I raced my heart out, but the times did reflect what I wanted (stress on the wanted). PRs were few and further despite training hard as I could and through injury. I toyed with the idea of giving up. Why was this sport so important to me? I started to do some serious soul-searching – not just for what I wanted to be with my running – but who I wanted to be and where my life was headed. It was some tough stuff – facing issues I’ve had underlying for years. I’m stubborn. I want big results – but sometimes when I see what it takes to get what I want, I get easily overwhelmed and just fall back to the day to day. I make excuses.

I had my first ever DNF (did not finish). That day was one of the worst of my running life. I didn’t feel well, was overly tired and the weather was not ideal. I should have never raced. After mile 1, my stomach churned and I knew it was in my best interest to give up. I sobbed my way back to the finish line and had a real heart to heart with my coach and mom.

Finding my Flow

I spent the next week focusing on REALISTIC goals. Not signing up for every race between now and the end of the year. Instead, I picked just one to really focus on. A 10k on Thanksgiving that I race every year. I knew it wouldn’t be easy since it was only a month away and I had not done much short distance specific work, but I wanted to remember what it felt like to race fast and with joy. I also set my sights on placing in the top 5 females and a time goal of running sub 40 min if the weather cooperated (November races in Rochester, NY can be anything from 50 degrees to snowy and negative wind chills).

I discussed with my coach, Dan Walters, and he created about a month-long training program with the 10k as my goal – and LAST serious race of 2015.

About a week into training – everything started to fall into place. Running felt easy and (gasp) enjoyable again. I stopped making excuses. Stopped focusing on the goal but rather nailing each and every workout. Even the speed workouts and tempo runs. I hit what many runners refer to as ‘flow’ in my training. I looked forward to my workouts. To strength training. To it all. I felt stronger than ever. It was a great feeling after a summer of let downs and pain. I learned a little life lesson here. Just like life – there are highs and lows – and that’s what makes the journey so remarkable.

My outlook changed. I was/am much more positive. I have more focus – in running and life. I started to set goals for my career. Map out a future for my business. I ate better, slept better. I honestly don’t know what the trigger was – maybe the DNF – or whether it was hitting the flow or just having had enough of feeling sorry for myself – but it could not have come at a better time.

Cross-Country Tune-Up

In advance of the 10k I had a fun, tune-up 5k cross-country meet I signed up for with some teammates from Fleet Feet. I hate 5ks. And this would be only my second time running in spikes/on this terrain. I decided to do it for the ‘fun’ of it – and while it was fun before/after – I can’t say the actual 5k itself was that much fun. But a challenge – and I love a challenge.

FullSizeRender_2
Closing in on the finish

True to my racing style – I went full-out in the first straight away. I passed people left and right and secured a spot nearish to the front of the women. I felt good – but could tell the pace I was currently at was not something I could maintain. By lap 2 of 3.5, I knew my legs were shot. It was all I could do to maintain marathon pace. I had no time goal and reminded myself – I was doing this for fun – might as well have some. I gave it my best and finished just under 20 minutes. The soft ground was difficult – resulting in more work on my legs than I think I realized at the time. Either way I finished, high-fived my teammates and ran a 2 mile cool down. I felt great and while my time wasn’t exactly what I wanted, I could feel the attitude shift. God I love this sport.

RACE DAY – 25th Annual Race with Grace 10k

A couple more weeks of super focused training and I found myself on a plane home for Thanksgiving – race day looming. I knew that sub 40 was within reach. I felt strong. The morning of the race – even my mom mentioned my very positive/good mood. Not like my typical snappy, rude attitude more typical of the last 2 marathons she had seen me run. I told her I had listened to a podcast (Running on Om) interview of Greg Faxon and that I was practicing his theory of 100% engagement but being 100% unattached in the moment. I had put in 110% this last month and I had to truly trust in that. Then on race day – in the actual moment – I needed to be unattached to the results. Why? I’m notorious for getting stuck in my own head (see my Chicago marathon recap). Instead, this time, I vowed to completely separate myself from the moment – just focus on the details to get me through the race. Find my flow and just groove. For once, it worked.

IMG_4409
Pre-race – feeling great!

After a decent 2 mile warm up, I knew it’d be a tough day for sub 40. There were 20 mph winds from the south that would be directly in our face for the 2nd half of the race. I knew I had run in worse – but wasn’t entirely confident I could hit the paces I wanted to. I tried not to let it get to me. We lined up for the start – me next to a guy in a turkey costume and Santa. We were off. I settled into what felt tough but not out of reach, waved at my superfan watching at about the ¼ mile mark, and prepared myself for what was to come. Just 40 minutes. Or so I hoped.

At the 1 mile marker I glanced down at my watch. That can’t be right? I thought. 5:53. It felt like I was running 6:45s – everything felt easy. I was ecstatic but recalled the wind was currently at my back. I needed to maintain and/or slow down a bit if I was going to have something left for the end.

Miles 2 and 3 were a more realistic pace of roughly 6:15. When I hit the 5k mark, I realized I had just run my second fasted 5k as part of a 10k (18:57) and knew I was definitely on track for sub 40. But again – I tossed the goal out of my head and focus on what would be the hardest 3 miles of the race. I hit mile 4 and realized I had just PR’d my 4 mile. Things were really lining up well.

FullSizeRender
Right after the start – before the wind

Heading south on a country road past apple farms and homes, I could feel the wind kicking me in the face. I knew this was slowing me down. But I also knew I had some time ‘in the bank.’ I gave it my all and when I hit the last mile – headed entirely into the wind – I tried to pick it up even more. I picked people to focus on passing or catching rather than my watch, and successfully passed two guys. My watch beeped and I glanced down – 7:01. What?! Don’t panic, I thought. Just go full-out for the last 0.2 miles. I turned the corner into the church parking lot. My lungs burned. My legs felt like mush. I gave it all I had. I was so close.

I wish I could say I broke 40. After the effort I gave, I thought it was for sure in sight. Instead – the official time when I crossed the line was 40:02. My watch clocked 40:00:03 for 6.25 miles (I need to learn to take tighter turns). Finally – a PR! Maybe not exactly what I had wanted but I felt so strong – through the entire thing – and knew if it weren’t for the wind, that sub 40 was mine. I was happy regardless. A huge contrast to my post-DNF 5k attitude. All the hard work had paid off. I placed 5th female among a very competitive group of lady runners. And I beat a woman who beats me every year at this race (I’ve been running it for 10+ years – the first time being with my Dad back in 2000).

So what’s next?? 

Well I’m doing something I’m not used to – not following a plan for December. Running for ‘fun’ and focusing on R&R before the New Year. I’ve got some big plans, big goals, and big dreams for 2016 and can’t wait to share them all with you in the New Year. Until then – I’m going to spend time recouping from a serious 2015 of racing and life — and spend lots of time with family and friends, focusing on what I’m truly thankful for.

2015 Chicago Marathon Recap: Humbled, Thankful and My Legs are Ka-put!

2 marathons, 2 weeks, 2 countries = never again. This is what I posted to facebook immediately following the 2015 Chicago Marathon. Why? After returning from Berlin just about one week prior and trying my best to recover, my body ached all over. Besides the 2012 Boston Marathon, this had to be one of the worst, most painful, emotionally draining races of my life.

The Week Before

Leading up to race I did everything I could think of to rehab my legs and body to be in top shape come race day. I drank loads of cherry juice, ate clean with an emphasis on quality carbs, got a massage (thanks to the fabulous Terri at Urban Wellness Chicago), tried my best to get 8+ hours of sleep per night, kept my workouts to a reasonable pace, talked through my race plan with my coach at least twice, drank plenty of water and kept stress to as low a level as possible. Despite all my efforts – sometimes life just gets in the way. And I really can’t complain as some of the opportunities I had those days before the race will stay with me forever.

Mariano's Fun Run Group
Mariano’s Fun Run Group

The Thursday before, I had the chance to lead a group of local runners on a fun shakeout run through my role at Mariano’s. Joining me for the run, courtesy of PowerBar, was Josh Cox, American 50k Record Holder, PowerBar Team Elite and Desiree Linden, 2012 Olympian, Top American at 2014 NYC Marathon,Top American at 2015 Boston Marathon, PowerBar Team Elite. Both were beyond nice – wishing me luck in my effort at the marathon (neither ran this year). We had a great time and were able to capture a pretty epic group pic with my favorite view of the city skyline in the background.

Friday and Saturday I had to work the expo for Mariano’s as well as had the awesome opportunity to speak 4 times on the Runner’s World Stage talking nutrition for recovery and women’s running with another running great – a legend in my eyes: Joan Benoit Samuelson. It was truly and honor and a treat to hear her speak and I had to fight back tears as she recalled some of her best and worst running moments. As we walked off stage she took a genuine interest in my running history and goals for the marathon. I truly can not thank the folks at Bank of America and Runner’s World for asking me to participate in this awesome opportunity.

Speaking on the Runner's World Stage at the Marathon Expo
Speaking on the Runner’s World Stage at the Marathon Expo

As I made my way home on Saturday after the expo – after meeting my superfan and her friend for lunch and then dropping them off at their hotel – I couldn’t help but reflect on how lucky I was and that no matter how this race would turn out – the experiences in the days prior truly showed me that if you follow your heart and do what you love, things will have a way of falling into place.

I got home from the expo mid afternoon on Saturday. My feet were a bit achy from standing most of Friday and Saturday despite my efforts to stay off of them. I decided to get a pre-race mani/pedi. It helped – but my legs still didn’t feel fresh. I washed the negative thoughts from my head and fixed my typical pre-marathon meal – pasta with red sauce and a couple turkey meatballs and made it an early night – asleep by 9pm. For once, I slept so soundly, I wondered what was wrong with me when I woke up just before my alarm Sunday morning. I hoped my being well rested would pay off.

The Morning Of

As I always do, I had my pre race breakfast of a bagel, peanut butter and a banana, 2 cups of coffee and about 20 oz of Nuun and left for the start. I opted to take the L vs. a cab as I wanted to feel the energy from the other runners. For the first time in 2 years, I would not join my friends/family at the Chicago Endurance Sports Race Day Resort before the race as I had the fortunate luck to be placed in the American Development corral which has private area for athletes to warm up before the start. I’m not sure this was my best decision or that I would do it again – but I’ll get to that in a minute.

Before the Start
Before the Start

At about 7:15 we were ushered to the start line. The nerves were really going at this point. I was so close to the starting line and surrounded by folks I was truly just humbled to run with. I reflected on how far I had come – my first marathon hoping to just break the 4 hour mark to today, hoping to again break the 3 hour mark. I felt ready but was also ignoring some lingering soreness.

The Race

The start was sudden – most of us not realizing the gun had gone off. I quickly settled into my usual too fast pace. I am notorious for going out way too fast – and despite knowing it for at least the first 5k, I managed to stick to that pace for the first 10k – just like Berlin. But unlike Berlin, once I settled into a more reasonable pace, I did not feel good. I was also being passed left and right by fit men and women from the A corral. My coach had warned me about this – and no matter how much I recalled his advice to not get caught up with it – I started to lose confidence. As we made our way through Old Town, I knew today was not the day. It was all I could do not to break into tears. I fought through it – but around mile 12 I started to feel deep pain in my glute – similar to what I struggled with most of July. I couldn’t help it and started to sob. Leave it to the race photographers to catch this fateful moment on camera. How was I going to finish this race?

About to Cry at Mile 12ish
About to Cry at Mile 12ish

I started to play mind games with myself – make it to the halfway point and you can visit a medical tent and consider quitting. So I did – with a new 1/2 marathon PR despite having slowed to almost a minute behind goal pace. OK – maybe not all is lost – I said to myself. So I went on like that – toying with the idea of quitting each time I passed an aid station/medical tent for the next 7 miles.

Around mile 18 I saw my superfan and her friend. There they were both smiling and screaming my name. I lost it – the pain was too much – but somehow seeing them pushed me through it. I would do my best to just finish. It was also about this point I recalled one of my favorite runner’s story (Dean Karnazes) about finishing an ultra on his hands and feet – crawling his way over the finish line. ‘Run when you can, walk if you have to, crawl if you must; just never give up.’ I would do this – if I had to – I would walk – and even crawl.

20 miles in I started passing people. I had no idea where it came from. I started to enjoy myself. The pain was still there – but at this point I knew I would finish and while I might not get the time I wanted – I knew I would accomplish another goal – 2 marathons in 2 weeks – both with respectable times that I could be proud of.

The Finish and Aftermath

With about 2 miles to go I saw my coach and another teammate and I screamed at them – it was great – their energy powered me through those last 2 miles and over Mt. Roosevelt. I turned the corner onto Columbus and picked up my pace for the last 400m. Seeing my superfan in the grand stands – it was all I could do not to fall apart again. I crossed the line at just over 3:05 – my fourth fastest time (of now 11 completed marathons) – and almost immediately fell down. My legs were shot. With the aid of one of the volunteers, I walked through the finish area, grabbing my free 312 and post-race refreshments. Finally – after what seemed like the longest walk of my life – I got to the American Development tent. I changed into some dry clothes and made my way to meet my superfan and some other friends at the Race Day Resort. Seeing her waiting outside the ‘Resort’ I broke down into tears again. She hugged me and said she was proud and I told her I had never wanted to quit so bad in my life. Thoughts of so many things carried me through – from knowing that the pain I experienced that day was only temporary to how lucky and appreciative I was just to be able to run and be healthy.

I met up with some of my other running friends who had had both good and bad days. The weather had been warmer than ideal and the wind surprised us all. We all hobbled our way home, cleaned up and then all met up again to continue to reflect on the race while celebrating with a couple more beers, lots of food and laughs. No matter how the race went, we all revelled in our the sense of accomplishing something great – of finishing something less than 1/2 of 1% of the US population (according to a 2012 Runner’s World study) have completed.

Celebrating the Day After with my Superfan
Celebrating the Day After with my Superfan

It’s taken me a bit longer to write this recap. I think because I’ve spent the better half of the last few weeks really reflecting on how lucky I have been this year. While the two marathons I had this fall didn’t go exactly how I wanted – I am fortunate to be surrounded by a supportive team, coach, family and friends and it has made all the difference. I honestly don’t know how to end this post – so instead – I’ll leave you with some quotes from Joan Benoit Samuelson that really resonated with me prior to this race and that I’ll take with me into future running adventures and races.

For my Fleet Feet Racing and DWRunning teammates – you make running fun!: ‘As every runner knows, running is about more than just putting one foot in front of the other; it is about our lifestyle and who we are.’

For my coach, Dan – thanks for all your support and positive energy this season: ‘Love yourself, for who and what you are; protect your dream and develop your talent to the fullest extent.’

To Jolice – my running buddy who listens to me no matter how silly my concern: ‘Years ago, women sat in kitchens drinking coffee and discussing life. Today, they cover the same topics while they run.’

And to the superfan – 11 marathons strong by my side – no quote could sum up how thankful and lucky I am to have you there for each marathon supporting me.

Cheers to you all!!