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

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

 

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Berlin Marathon Recap: Jet Lag, Pretzels and Beer

Just over a week ago I ventured off to Germany for a week-long vacation that kicked off with the Berlin marathon. This was not my first time running in a foreign country but the first time where I crossed an ocean and would need to adjust to the time change in < 2 days as well as navigate a city I’ve only been to once before when I was 16. I was nervous, excited and most of all – scared – scared I would have a horrible race due to multiple factors working against me in the months leading up to this race.

In the week leading up to the race my workouts could not have gone better. I started to adjust my mindset about the marathon and began to get a lot more positive. Given that I also planned to run Chicago two weeks after Berlin, I set out to run a respectable time of 3:05-3:10 – a long ‘training run’ in prep for Chicago. This would not be a PR race (although for many it’s a PR course due to its flat, net downhill course). I would enjoy the sights and just take it easy for the majority of the race – and attempt to kick it into high gear for the last 1/2. Boy was I in for a surprise.

Despite just wanting to sleep, I got my bib!
Despite just wanting to sleep, I got my bib!

I arrived in Berlin on Friday morning after a night of travel with my ‘superfans’ (mother who has been at all 10 of my marathons and my brother for who this would be his first time spectating a major marathon) exhausted but also excited to finally be back in Berlin. We dropped off our luggage at the hotel and set out for some lunch and then made our way to the expo. After getting lost near the finish line, we finally made it to the expo where we fought massive crowds to get my bib and some souvenirs. Once that hassle was out-of-the-way, we enjoyed our first pretzel and beer. Now normally, I would not drink much – if at all – the week prior to the marathon. But seeing all the other runners partaking, it was hard to resist. Beer is a source of carbs after all…

After we checked in that afternoon we set off for a very authentic german dinner (and more pretzels). I skipped the fried, covered in gravy options for a piece of fish and potatoes. Not what I really wanted but I could have my fill of all the german delicacies after the race. For now, I would rein it in. An early bed time followed. I don’t think any of us made it past 9pm.

As seen on my shakeout run
As seen on my shakeout run

Saturday I woke for my shakeout at 4:30am. I knew that this was too early, so I reviewed my race day materials until a more respectable time (and when the sun finally rose) and ventured out for a 3 mi shakeout. I took many pics along the way and really enjoyed just moving my legs again. After my run we did a bus tour of the city followed by lunch and then the 4:30am wake up hit me. I said goodbye to my superfans and returned to the hotel for a 2 hour nap. It was exactly what I needed.

After my nap we grabbed dinner at a cute little Italian restaurant on the same block as our hotel. Following dinner, my superfans talked me into a night-cap at a pub near our hotel. I was hesitant but my mom noted that prior to Boston, I had one beer in the hotel lobby before I went to bed. So I joined them. This may have been mistake number one (although it was delicious).

Pre-race beer with my superfan
Pre-race beer with my superfan

I slept soundly that night – which never happens prior to race day – and for which I was grateful. I ate my typical pre-marathon breakfast – bagel with nut butter and sliced banana and Nuun (all but the banana were brought from home). My stomach felt a little off but I just assumed it was nerves. I walked to the start, mom by my side, and once we got to the start area I said goodbye and we confirmed our plans for meeting up post race.

The pre-race area was very confusing for me and resulted in a lot of stress and anxiety. First — I couldn’t find my tent to check my gear. Once I did check my gear I couldn’t find a port-o-potty. Once I found that, I questioned whether I really had enough time. The line was quite long and moved very slowly. I made it through and had to jog to my corral. Once safely in my corral, I started my warm up stretches and looked around to see if I could find any of my fellow Fleet Feet/CES teammates that I knew were also in the same corral. All of a sudden I heard my name and saw my teammate Colin. We were between a barrier so couldn’t start together – but planned to meet up once we got past the first kilometer. I also noticed that I was one of the only females in this corral. A bit intimidating.

Early in the race - wondering where the other women are
Early in the race – wondering where the other women are

The start came and went and we were off. I settled in to what I knew was too fast of a pace. Looking at my watch I saw 6:30. ‘Control it, Allison’ I thought. But it felt so easy. And the energy from the crowd surrounding me just pushed me forward. My splits for the first 10k ranged between a 6:30 and 6:45 min/mi pace.

Somewhere around the 10k I ran into my teammate Colin. He asked me my goal and I his. We both took another glance at our watches. “I’m going too fast,” I said. He agreed and said even for his 2:55 goal, he too was going too fast. We should slow down. We ran that pace about another mile and then I decided to slow my role. Finally. Settling into a more attainable/realistic pace of 6:50-55 min/mi.

At some point I was engulfed by the 3 hour pace group. I literally had to slow down and let them pass just so I could have enough personal space. It was about this time I also had one of the worst water stop experiences ever. I often joke that water stations are ‘full contact’ in big races – but this was like nothing I had ever seen. I literally was pushed and kicked as runners made their way over to the water station. One push too many and I opted to push back. No one apologizes – even in a foreign language – just a lot of grunting and hitting. Not ideal.

Eye on the finish line
Eye on the finish line

I hit the half mark at almost an even 1:29. Better than I had run in Boston. Was it possible I could break 3? Should I go for it. Not even 2 miles later I quickly decided no. I did not taper for this race and my legs were starting to feel the last weeks workouts and the jet lag. I saw my superfans around this time – which was a serious motivational boost as my legs started to go ka-put. I was paying for that first 10k. I aimed to just keep the pace under 7min/mi for the rest of the race.

With about 5k to go, I was in a full on battle with my thoughts. I knew I’d finish, and that the time would be good, but I was starting to consider walking. I wanted to stop so bad. I saw my superfans again – cheering and screaming with huge smiles on my face. I could do this – just 2k to go! That’s when the hurried bathroom stop hit me. I needed to go. Do I dare stop when I’m this close to the 3 hour mark? I ran through it – but that definitely showed in my last mile – being my slowest of the entire marathon.

So happy to be done!
So happy to be done!

Running under the Brandenburg gate and to the finish line was dream like. I finished with a time of 3:02:21 – almost a minute faster than my time at Chicago  in 2014 and my second fastest marathon ever. I was also the 98th female and 6th American woman to finish. That in and of itself is a pretty cool stat. And I felt good – legs were tired but not destroyed as they had been post-Boston. I grabbed a medal and immediately found the port-o-potty. I have never been so happy to see one – with no line – in my life. As I made my way to gear check, I recalled the mention that there were showers at the finish line area. I opted to check it out knowing my fans would want to hangout and enjoy the after party and despite being hot at the finish – the temp was hovering around 60. I thought this was a nice feature – a shower at the finish. While not high-tech by any means it was just what I needed – minus the number of men who clearly could not decipher between the male and female symbol on the door who got an eyeful.

Enjoying a celebratory beer and curry wurst near the finish
Enjoying a celebratory beer and curry wurst near the finish

Feeling refreshed, I headed over to the family meetup area. There were my fans happy as ever to see me and I them. Glad to be done with it all, we ventured over to the finish area to enjoy a celebratory beer and lunch. I opted for the curry wurst – a street food I had been told I needed to try. It was great. Once we had our fill of post marathon celebration, we headed back to the hotel and out for the night which included my first full litre of beer at Berlin’s Oktoberfest and a pork knuckle for dinner the size of my face. It was a good day and I was happy.

Special thanks to Dan Walters for his great coaching and encouragement and of course my mom and brother for making the trip to Berlin to cheer me on. I could not have done it without you!

Now… to do it all again this Sunday in Chicago…

Fuel up! Nutrition for Pre- and Post-Workout Success

As a dietitian and a runner, I’m often asked what I eat, particularly pre- and post-workout. For me, it all depends on the workout. If it’s after work and before dinner, I know I’ll need something to tide me over so that I’m not spending the whole workout thinking about what’s for dinner. If it’s the rare moment I wake early for a 5:30 am workout, typically I go on empty. All in all, I think it depends on you, how you feel and what your goals are. Post workout, I do try to eat a balanced meal that includes lean protein, healthy fat and complex carbs as soon as possible. Why? Research shows it’s beneficial for recovery and rebuilding muscle. Here are some tips and meal/snack suggestions for pre- and post-workout nutrition to help maximize your exercise and performance.

Pre-workout

  • Fitting in a quick workout (<30-45 minutes)? Depending on when you last ate, you might be OK going on empty.
  • Stomach growling and you’ve got a date at the gym in about an hour? Stick to a carb-centric snack that’s around 100-200 calories, such as:
    • A granola bar
    • Small bowl of cereal with fat-free milk
    • A handful of pretzels or whole grain crackers and string cheese
    • A slice of toast or medium apple with a heaping teaspoon of your favorite nut-butter.
  • Intense workout planned and you just woke up? The easiest thing for me to eat, even when I’m not hungry, is a large banana. It provides me enough fuel for a relatively intense run. But if I am planning on running for more than 90 minutes, I usually pair the banana with a small bowl of cereal, otherwise I am bound to run out of energy before the run is finished.

Eating too much before you exercise can leave you feeling groggy and sluggish, or worse, with a case of gastrointestinal distress, while eating too little may not give you the energy you need to sustain your workout.Here’s a general guideline for timing your meals before workouts:

  • Large meals – Eat these at least three to four hours before exercising.
  • Small meals – Eat these two to three hours before exercising.
  • Small snacks – Eat these an hour before exercising.

Post-workout chocolate milk

After your workout it’s important to help your muscles recover by replacing their glycogen stores. How? Eat a meal, if possible, that contains both protein and carbohydrates within two hours of your exercise session. If you aren’t hungry after your workout, try a drink that contains some protein and carbohydrates – like chocolate milk. Why? One reason post-workout chocolate milk is beneficial is because of its protein content. Every cup contains between 8 and 11 grams of protein. A 2007 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that, when taken immediately after exercise, milk-based proteins promote greater muscle protein synthesis than soy-based proteins. For more science behind chocolate milk, visit: http://www.gotchocolatemilk.com/science.

Other good post-workout food choices include:

  • Yogurt topped with chopped fruit and slivered almonds
  • Peanut butter sandwich
  • String cheese and crackers
  • Nuts and dried fruit
  • A regular meal with a lean meat or vegetarian protein source, complex carbohydrate (like whole wheat pasta or brown rice), and veggies

Don’t forget to hydrate!

One of the worst experiences I’ve had running has been a consequence of being dehydrated. No matter how long your workout, you need adequate fluids before, during and after to prevent dehydration. Here’s what the American College of Sports Medicine recommends:

  • Drink roughly 2 to 3 cups (0.5 to 0.7 liters) of water during the two to three hours before your workout.
  • Drink about 1/2 to 1 cup (0.12 to 0.23 liters) of water every 15 to 20 minutes during your workout. You may need more the larger your body is or the warmer the weather is.
  • Drink roughly 2 to 3 cups (0.5 to 0.7 liters) of water after your workout for every pound (0.5 kilogram) of weight you lose during the workout.

Stick with water–unless your workout is over an hour. Then you might benefit from a sports drink to help maintain your body’s electrolyte balance. I typically switch between water and a sports drink during long runs because I’ve found that if I stick to just the sports drink, I tend to get an upset stomach.

Bottom line

Everyone’s different when it comes to eating and exercise. Pay attention to your body and your overall goal. Are you trying to lose weight? Then keep calories in check and make sure you are burning more than you are taking in. Trying to maximize your workouts? Make sure you are adequately fueled pre- and post-workout. And either way, don’t over-compensate post-workout with extra helpings – it can be tempting – but can also sabotage your efforts. Happy exercising and eating!

3 Marathons, 3 Cities, 3 Life-Changing Experiences

As I hinted at in my last post, it’s been a bit of a roller coaster of a year. Between saying goodbye to new and old friends, moving across the country – twice – and discovering the ins and outs of 2 new cities, it’s hard to believe I found time to train and run 3 marathons. I never set out to accomplish this when I ran my first marathon in NYC last November. I just thought “we’ll see how this goes.”

My last marathon, Rochester, NY, was the one that made me feel most humbled. I opted to run this back in the late spring, feeling I needed to do something that reassured me as a runner especially after the hardest, hottest run of my life in Boston. I also wanted to do something where friends and family could easily come watch if they wanted. Rochester it was. Leading up to the marathon, I felt strong – I was training with some of the best runners in Austin, TX and it was starting to pay off. Maybe I really could kick this marathon’s butt. Who knew that life might get in the way.

When I got the job offer in Chicago, I moved without looking back. I knew starting a new job in a new city might impact my training. Limited to only a few weeknight runs and mostly long runs on the weekend, my training definitely took a hit. I didn’t know if Rochester was such a good idea. I opted to go through with it anyway and I’m so glad I did.

Trying to warm up at the starting line for the Rochester marathon.

While there were many high and low lights of this race – as with any – here are a few that I’d like to share:

  • Family support – this was the first race where my family was able to come out and support me – at multiple points along the race. Thanks to those that did as you gave me the extra incentive I needed to finish strong.
  • Perfect conditions – with a very early start and not a cloud in the sky – the brisk morning turned into a perfect fall day – everything was aligned for a great run.
  • Cramps will still appear – at mile 18, just after seeing my mom, I got a stomach cramp. I pushed out the flashbacks of Boston in my mind and dug it out – and it worked!
  • Bathroom breaks are necessary – but you might pay for it later. Never before had I ever taken a bathroom break during a race – but this time there was no ignoring it. Unfortunately, those 2 minutes would have qualified me for the Boston marathon.
  • Finish strong with a smile on your face. Despite how I may have felt, the finish line was like the icing on the cake – I smiled big, finished strong and got to hear my name announced over the loud-speaker. It was a great feeling.

All in all, Rochester was a race to remember. I celebrated my victory at home with friends and family and two of my favorite Rochester foods – cookie cake from Wegmans and breakfast pizza from Clawsons. Later that afternoon I learned the best news – I actually placed first female in my age group!
So what have I learned in the last year – 3 marathons, 3 cities and 3 completely crazy, different experiences? Don’t let the hiccups in life or training trip you up. You can achieve your goals with a little hard work and strong dedication. Don’t second guess yourself – you are stronger than you realize. And that family is my biggest support system and will stand by me and my decisions – no matter what they are.

Until next time – whether it’s another marathon or something bigger – I’m looking forward to a couple of months off from training. Cheers!