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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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!

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!!

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…

Marathon Nutrition: What I’m Cooking (and Eating a Ton of) Right Now

This summer, I’ve spent the better portion of my free time running. As I prep for 2 marathons in 2 different countries in 2 weeks (more to come on that later), I’ve had a ferocious appetite — which I’ve tamed by having 4-5 smaller meals throughout the day. I aim to include complex carbs, a serious amount of veggies and a healthy dose of heart-friendly fat (think avocados, olive oil or omega 3s from salmon or chia/ground flax seeds) at each meal.

I’ve shared many of my go-to favorites with runners here in the Chicago area during a number of marathon nutrition classes held at Mariano’s throughout the city . Since these recipes seem to be quite the hit, I thought I’d share them here. Hope you enjoy!!

Avocado Chocolate Mousse

A really great ‘healthy’ indulgence. I love this as an alternative to ice cream and when I’m craving something chocolate.

New Picture (2)Ingredients:

  • 1 ripe avocado (the riper, the better)
  • 1/4 cup milk (I like Fairlife to get an extra dose of protein)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup honey or agave nectar
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • pinch of salt

Directions:

  1. Combine all ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth/creamy. Transfer to a bowl or custard cups and chill for 20 min before serving. Eat within 2-3 days. Makes about 4 servings.

Nutrition Facts per Serving: 166 calories, 6g total fat, 1g saturated fat, 52 mg sodium, 31g carbohydrate, 5g fiber, 3g protein (if using Fairlife – regular milk has about 2g protein/1/4 cup)

Black Bean Burgers

Made with just 6 ingredients – these are great, high carb, high fiber burger alternatives to have on hand for a quick lunch or dinner. I like to top mine with sliced avocado, red onion and a slice of tomato.

New Picture (1)Ingredients:

  • 1, 15-oz can black beans (drained and rinsed)
  • 2 Tbsp ketchup
  • 1 Tbsp mustard
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1/3 cup oats

Directions:

  1. Place all ingredients in a mixing bowl and mash with a fork or potato masher until combined/beans are mostly pureed.
  2. Divide ingredients into patties. Makes about 4 large or 8 slider sized.
  3. Bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for about 7 minutes on each side or freeze for baking at another time. You can also cook in a sauté pan for a couple minutes on each side.

Nutrition Facts per Serving: 180 calories, 5g total fat, 0.5g saturated fat, 290 mg sodium, 27g carbohydrate, 6g fiber, 10g protein

Carrot Pecan Energy Bites

Great for a quick boost of energy before or immediately following a workout. I’ll grab a couple of these before I head out for a longer workout so I don’t spend the entire workout focused on my growling stomach. Also a nice option post workout when you don’t have time to cook a full meal right away.

New PictureIngredients:

  • 3/4 cups oats
  • 1/4 cup pecans, chopped
  • 1/2 Tbsp ground flax seed
  • 1/3 cup almond butter
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp agave nectar or honey
  • 1/8 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/3 cup grated carrot
  • 1/3 cup dried tart cherries
  • 1/4 cup ground pecans

Directions:

  1. Blend together in a food processor: oats, pecans, cherries, grated carrots, and flax seed.
  2. Pulse in the almond butter, agave or honey, and cinnamon until combined.
  3. Spray hands with cooking spray and roll mixture into balls – about 1 Tbsp/bite.
  4. Role bites in ground pecans then place in air tight container. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour before serving. Bites keep in the refrigerator for about 1 week. Makes about 20-30 bites.

Nutrition Facts per Bite: 50 calories, 3g total fat, 0.3g saturated fat, 3 mg sodium, 4g carbohydrate, 1g fiber, 1g protein

Race Day Nutrition: Practice Makes PRs!

With fall racing season around the corner — and many of you prepping for marathons — and my longest run of the season planned for this weekend, I thought what better time to revisit what to practice from a nutrition standpoint for race day. Just as you practice for the race with long runs, you should also be practicing what you’ll eat come the big day. Whether it’s your first marathon or tenth, you are likely striving to achieve a new personal record (PR as it’s commonly called in the runner community) and in order to do that, you need to practice.

breakfastPre-Race: at least two hours before your event, consume a meal rich in easy-to-tolerate carbohydrates – about 0.5-1g carbohydrate/pound body weight. For someone 120-150 lbs, this equates to about 90-115 grams of carbohydrate or about 360-460 calories from carbohydrates and around 400-600 calories overall. You want easy to tolerate carbs so that you won’t experience stomach upset around miles 2-3 (this is not the day to go high fiber in your breakfast cereal) and these carbs are meant to top off your glycogen stores (or the primary fuel we rely on for exercise) for the race – which can only happen with carbohydrates.   The goal of your pre-competition mean is something that prevents hunger during the race, stabilizes your blood glucose (or blood sugar) levels and adequately hydrates you. A little bit of protein and fat are good to help you maintain blood sugar levels and to prevent hunger pangs mid-race—but these shouldn’t be the sole focus of your meal. Below are a couple of good options, all of which you can obtain at your local Mariano’s. Make sure to include about 1½ -2 cups fluid with this meal as well to ensure adequate hydration pre-race. Water is fine – but a sports drink would also be a good option.

1 medium bagel + 2 Tbsp peanut butter + 1 medium sliced banana
Item Calories Carbs (g) Fat (g) Pro (g)
Medium, wheat bagel (Natural Ovens, 85g) 230 40 3 10
Roundy’s Organic Peanut Butter (2 Tbsp) 210 7 17 7
Banana (1 medium/126g) 112 29 0 1
Roundy’s Organic Honey  (1 tsp) 20 6 0 0
TOTAL 572 82 20 18
1 cup cereal + ½ cup milk + ½ cup blueberries + 6-8 oz orange juice
Item Calories Carbs (g) Fat (g) Pro (g)
Roundy’s Frosted Mini Wheats Cereal ( 1 1/2 cup) 315 68 2 8
Roundy’s Organic Skim milk (1/2 cup) 45 7 0 5
Blueberries (1/2 cup) 42 11 0 1
Fresh Squeezed Orange Juice (8 fl oz, available in the produce section) 110 27 0 2
TOTAL 512 113 2 16
½ cup oatmeal + 1 Tbsp sliced almonds + ¼ cup dried fruit (like raisins) + 1-2 tsp honey + 1 cup apple juice
Item Calories Carbs (g) Fat (g) Pro (g)
Roundy’s Quick Oats (2/3 cup instant, plain, prepared with water) 205 37 4 7
Roundy’s Sliced Almonds (2 Tbsp) 67 2 6 2
Raisins (2 Tbsp, unpacked) 54 14 0 1
Roundy’s Organic Honey ( 2 tsp) 40 12 0 0
Roundy’s Apple Juice (8 fl oz) 120 30 0 0
TOTAL 486 95 10 10
Nutrition information from items obtained at Mariano’s Bucktown store.

gelsDuring the Race: Hydrate smart – you don’t want to overdo it but you also don’t want to get dehydrated. I like to alternate between water and whatever sports drink the race offers every 2-3 miles. I don’t gulp it but rather take small sips and usually don’t end up drinking the entire cup. You want to take in about 8-12 oz/hour of fluid – about ½ of which is sports drink. After about 45 minutes, I recommend taking additional fuel such as gels or chews. You might not feel like you need this additional nutrition yet – but by taking in extra calories and electrolytes sooner than you feel like you have to, you are less likely to deplete your stores. Make sure to chase these with water (NOT sports drink) to ensure adequate absorption and to prevent stomach distress. Why isn’t a sports drink enough to maintain your energy during these longer runs? The gels/chews provide additional calories (more than you would get from just sipping on a sports drink throughout the race) plus an added boost of electrolytes (the most important of which are sodium and potassium). When we sweat, we not only lose water, but we lose important micronutrients called electrolytes. Electrolytes are important for fluid balance, muscle contraction and neural activity. When we get dehydrated or over-hydrate, we throw our electrolytes out of whack – which can negatively impact our race day performance and may be one of the main reasons people DNF (another acronym commonly used by runners, it means: did not finish).

To prevent fatigue, experts recommend 30-60g of carbohydrate per hour. So what does that look like? Here’s what I do: I try to take in about 12 oz fluid each hour – half of which is sports drink. I also take 2 energy chews every 45 minutes. This equates to about 115 calories, 30 g carbohydrate per hour. This is what works for me and what I have practiced. What works for you might be different – so make sure to figure that out now and NOT on race day. Here are how all the different gels, chews and beverages stack up. You might even try some more natural nutrition sources during the race – like raisins or applesauce. Just note – these aren’t going to have the same amount of sodium as something that has been formulated for endurance athletes – but I’ve known runners who have used a combination of these and all have had success. Again – it’s about what works for you.

Item Calories Carbs (g) Sodium (g) Potassium (g)
8 oz sports drink (like Gatorade) 55 14 95 37
6 Gatorade energy chews (1 package) 100 24 90 30
1 PowerGel 110 27 200 20
1, 1-oz package Roundy’s Raisins 90 22 5 220
1 (90g) Roundy’s Fruit Pouch (like applesauce) 40 10 10 65
Powerbar 240 47 200 105
Nutrition information from items obtained at Mariano’s Bucktown store.

chocolate milkPost-Race Recovery: the most important thing to remember post-race is to rehydrate and restore. This can be as simple as a sports drink and an apple or banana. If food sounds like the last thing that would appeal to you – try a smoothie or some toast. The sooner you refuel the better you’ll feel (I promise). After such a long bought of exercise, your body is in negative energy balance. In order to prevent further muscle breakdown, you need to further replace the glycogen lost as well as protein. Studies have shown that consuming protein within an hour post-workout can help enhance the muscle recover process. You want to aim for 1 gram of protein for every 3-4 grams of carbohydrate consumed, or about 35-50 g carb and 10-20 g pro in the first 2 hours post exercise. If you have no appetite, try small, frequent snacks every 15-30 min, such as:

Chocolate Milk
Item Calories Carbs (g) Fat (g) Pro (g)
Roundy’s Organic Milk (Nonfat/Skim, 1 1/2 cup) 125 18 0 12
Roundy’s Chocolate Syrup (2 Tbsp) 100 24 0 1
TOTAL 225 42 0 13
Greek Yogurt Parfait
Item Calories Carbs (g) Fat (g) Pro (g)
Roundy’s Plain Nonfat Greek Yogurt (1 container, 150g) 100 14 0 12
Blueberries (1/2 cup) 42 11 0 1
Roundy’s Granola (1/2 cup) 200 33 6 5
TOTAL 342 58 6 18
PB&J
Item Calories Carbs (g) Fat (g) Pro (g)
Roundy’s Wheat Bread (2 slices) 200 36 2 6
Roundy’s Organic Peanut Butter (2 Tbsp) 210 7 17 7
Roundy’s Strawberry Jam (1 Tbsp) 50 13 0 0
TOTAL 460 56 19 13
Nutrition information from items obtained at Mariano’s Bucktown store.

So what’s the bottom line?

  • Never try anything new on race day
  • What works for you may not work for others
  • Treat your long runs as an opportunity to try something new
  • Pre-race – focus on carbs/hydration
  • During – hydrate and adequate fuel
  • Post-race – recover with protein AND carbohydrates
  • Don’t take it your nutrition too seriously! Food is meant to be enjoyed!

(this post originally appeared on the Chicago Hyatt’s blog in advance of the 2014 Chicago marathon)

The Road to Boston: Chasing the Unicorn with a Team by my Side

This will be my third time running the Boston marathon and my eighth marathon total. Many people wonder why – why one would choose to put his or herself through running 26.2 miles voluntarily – and then do it multiple times. For those that have done a marathon – whether you chose to be a one and done runner or are toeing the line of your 20th, a big part of it is getting to that finish line. And the finish line at Boston is like no other experience you will have. As a runner – and I can proudly say that – crossing that finish line in 2008 and again in 2012 were truly moments in time that I will cherish. But running with a group – like the one I’m heading to Boston with in just over a week – has shown me that running can be more than just about that ultimate prize.

2008: You Never Forget Your First Time
My road to Boston started in 2008. I was in graduate school at Tufts and had never run a marathon before. It was on my bucket list – and when the president of the school announced a charity program that would guarantee entry into the coveted race, I jumped at the chance – figuring it’d be my one and only chance to run it – and that I’d never be fast enough to time qualify.

2008 Boston Marathon
At the finish of the 2008 Boston Marathon – completely exhausted.

Looking back on that race, it’s amazing I did as well as I did for my first marathon as I barely made it through my one and only 20 mile training run and did not log nearly as many miles during the week as I do now – and I did absolutely no speed work—things that have become second nature to me going into my 8th marathon and 2nd year running with the Fleet Feet Chicago Racing Team.

Starting in the third wave – with a bib number in the upper 20,000s, it was quite the experience. I trained and ran the race solo and saw my friends and mom at different points throughout the race. I wore a brand new Timex watch that I didn’t even know how to use and had no idea what a split was, didn’t monitor my pace, and did my nutrition all wrong. But rounding that last corner onto Mass Ave made all the pain, blisters, and stomach aches suddenly disappear. The crowd consumed me and it was all I could do not to break into tears at the sight of the finish line. I finished around the 3:52 mark – meeting my goal of finishing in less than 4 hours and I was utterly exhausted but oddly fascinated by the realization that I wanted to do it again – and I wanted to go faster.

2012: The Hardest, Hottest Run of my Life
Fast forward to 2012. At this point, I had completed 2 more marathons (my second being Marine Corp Marathon where I time-qualified for Boston by just about 5 minutes). Having moved to Austin, Texas – I had enjoyed a great training season as I did not have to deal with weather conditions like I did when I lived in the northeast. I was feeling pretty confident going into the race. I had moved up to wave two and my bib number again improved by almost 10,000 numbers.

2012 Boston Marathon
Forcing a smile at the end of the 2012 Boston Marathon.

Rather than recap the whole race, I’ll sum it up by saying this experience was truly the hardest, hottest, most difficult run of my life. When forecasters started reporting that it’d be in the 80s the day of the marathon – I thought I’d have a leg up – but I learned the hard way – to respect the conditions and readjust expectations. I finished – but not where I wanted to. Going into the race, assuming all went well, I had not planned to make another appearance in Boston again– but because I want my last time running Boston to end on a high note, I decided I’d have to do it again.

When the bombings happened in 2013, I was sitting at my desk, now living and working in Chicago. My heart broke. It was gut wrenching to watch a town I used to call home and my community – the community of runners – get beat up like that. But it was also so encouraging to see everyone come together and really support one another. I decided in that moment – no matter what – I would cross that finish line at least one more time.

2015: Chasing the Unicorn with a Team by my Side
In the fall of 2013 I toed the line of the Chicago marathon for the first time. I had trained hard and for the first time ever, with others through the Chicago Endurance Sports (CES) marathon training program and the Fleet Feet Racing Team workouts. I felt ready – more ready than I have ever felt in my life. I not only PR’d but shaved off 20 minutes finishing in just over 3 hours and 15 minutes. I was beyond ecstatic. I would run Boston again in 2015.

Since then, I have run two more marathons – Lake Placid and Chicago again in 2014. My last experience was another huge improvement – finishing in just over 3 hours and 3 minutes. I can honestly say if it had not been for the support, encouragement and constant challenges I receive from my running family at Fleet Feet and CES (because I truly see them as an extension of my family) there is no way I would be where I am today.

With some of my teammates at the finish of the 2014 Chicago Marathon. Can't wait to run the streets with them in Boston!
With some of my teammates at the finish of the 2014 Chicago Marathon. Can’t wait to run the streets with them in Boston!

So this will be my third time running Boston. I have moved from the back of wave 3 to the middle of wave 1 – averaging about a 10,000 bib increase each time. I have trained through a terrible Chicago winter – and yes, mostly outdoors in occasional white out conditions and through bone-freezing negative wind chills. I did speed workouts on treadmills when the ice made it unsafe to attempt to do them outside, woke before dawn for double digit training runs during the week. Ran a 20 miler by myself because I had to skip the planned one due to a slight injury and travel plans. I even broke down in tears due to a tight hamstring 2 miles into a speed workout on the lake front path only to be met by fellow teammates who stopped and run/walked me back to the store – foregoing their planned workout for the night to help me. I ran through a lingering illness for over two weeks and started a new job in the middle of some of my highest mileage weeks. And when I wanted to quit – which was multiple times– I did not because of the support and encouragement of my teammates and our coaches.

So what have I learned throughout this training season? That while we may not always run together – and we sometimes even compete against each other – we are one community – a community of runners. And I am so grateful for the friendships, bonds and miles we’ve put in this together.

And in my dreams – there’s that finish line – the ultimate prize. Here’s to chasing that unicorn in less than a week! Good luck to everyone who has trained hard. May this race be all you hope it to be!