Good Life 5k race recap and why getting injured may have been one of the best things that could have happened to me…

 

17 weeks. 119 days. That’s how long I went without toeing the line of a single race. Anyone who knows me as a runner – knows that’s a darn long time. I can still remember the twinge that took me over the edge. The moment I knew something was wrong. January 11th. I was finishing up the cool down of an otherwise good pre-dawn treadmill workout. I had decided to bring it inside due to the dark and cold temps. Out of no where, I felt a sudden pain behind my right knee. I tried to run through it as many of us mistakenly do. But this pain was too much. I shook it off – no worries I thought – I was done with the workout and it’d probably go away later. I finished up my morning routine – but the pain continued to linger.

Flash forward 3 weeks. This had been the longest I had been down and out and to be honest, it was depressing. I had a sprained hamstring and, per my MD, very weak hips and a somewhat severe case of pelvic tilt. A video gait analysis confirmed everything the MD said and then some. I run funny (which I know) and had been getting away with it for years. But it finally caught up with me.

I cried. I cried a lot. And I got even more depressed. I watched countless running friends prep for, race and PR big races while I could barely run a mile without pain. I was jealous. I had to block running posts and updates from my news feed. It was that bad. I had a lot of pity parties. Why me? You see – the last year and a half – I’ve struggled to stay healthy. I get to about the 2 week out point from a big goal race – and I get injured. I made every excuse in the book prior to those races. But now – I didn’t have a goal race. I had to face this thing once and for all. I could not continue this cycle.

After a couple rude awakening talks with my mom and boyfriend (who both deserve a gold medal for putting up with me during that time) I woke up one day and asked myself would it be so bad if I couldn’t race again. No, it wouldn’t. I realized that both running and racing had started to feel like something I had to do rather than wanted to do. And in that moment I knew that I had burned myself out. I actually had started to dread racing. I hated workouts. I despised long runs.

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Strength training has made a big difference

This injury allowed me to reevaluate what I was doing. It was time to work on why I felt inclined to push myself the way I have for the last few years. And it was time to re-develop my love for running while knowing that it does not define who I am. That I run because I get to. That when I’m healthy, I’m actually kind of good at it. And because I love it–the way it makes me feel alive, provides me with a break from stress (and shouldn’t add stress) and because I love the community. This injury would not break me. And even if I couldn’t race again – I needed to fall back in love with running.

So I started slow. I went to see an AWESOME physical therapist twice a week for 10 weeks who just gets it (have an issue? go see Bethany Ure at NovaCare in Park Ridge!). She didn’t tell me to stop running once – but she gave me parameters. I slowly started to creep up my mileage. Once I could run without pain for a couple of weeks, I decided to give back to the community and started pacing runners in the Chicago Endurance Sports (CES) spring training program. I stopped looking at my watch for paces and times. That and getting back to some of the basics (new shoes, extra strength training and a real focus on post-run recovery) resulted in a re-found joy in running and the process.

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Following my first pain-free run

About 2 months after the injury, I felt like I was ready to test the waters again. I started doing some light workouts and started working with my coach, Dan Walters (DWRunning) again. At the start of the year I had set some big goals. We reevaluated those and have set our sites on a late spring/early summer 1/2 marathon and a full marathon in the fall. This will be the first year in a while I will only run 1 marathon. And I’m quite happy with that. The new primary goal – find joy in the process and stay injury free. I could already tell that my head was in a better place as I actually started to look forward to workouts and long runs again.

 

Once I had successfully completed a couple of speed workouts with no lingering pain – and actually feeling stronger than ever – I decided it was time to sign up for a race. I was nervous. What if I embarrass myself? What will people say if I’m super slow? “What if, Allison?” Dan asked. “It’s your race. Run your race.”

He’s right (as he usually is). It’s my race and it doesn’t matter what anyone else runs, says or does. If I show up, put in my best effort and finish strong – there is nothing to be upset about. If I let my nerves get to me, focus on others, and run poorly – then I only have myself to blame. I decided on the Good Life 5k a local race that I’ve always wanted to do and one that brings a lot of the Chicago running community out to race.

The day before the race I decided to run with the CES folks for their 12-mile training run. Not my best pre-race decision. But this wasn’t my goal race either. Rather it was a race to get me over my fear of racing. To remind me this was something I love to do. I spent the day before pretty relaxed. Made dinner at home and tried to go to bed early.

I slept pretty soundly and woke before my alarm. I got up and made my typical pre-race meal before heading to Oak Park with my boyfriend for the race. It was a perfect day. A bit chilly but by the time of the race it was in the upper 50s, sunny and clear. I did my warm up – 2 easy miles and a couple of 100m strides and walked around. I ran into a few people I knew and said hello. I was beyond nervous though. My hands were shaking and my stomach was all over the place. I texted my coach who encouraged me to embrace the nerves. Use them to my advantage. I took a deep breath, kissed my boyfriend and found my way to the starting line.

Unlike most races – this one was separated by gender. The woman’s race first followed by the men an hour later. I wasn’t sure how I would feel about this but as it turns out – it was great for this race since the streets are pretty narrow and it allowed the pack to thin out relatively quickly.

Even though my coach suggested lining up farther back than I was usually do, a few running friends coaxed me into the front starting area. This could have spelled disaster for me as it was a very competitive group that showed up to race that day. I recalled my race plan – to go out smooth and controlled but not guns-a-blazing – and for once I listened. The gun went off and I settled quickly in to a slightly too fast pace – but one that felt good in the moment.

The Good Life Race
Crossing the finish line – trying not to collapse

The race itself is a blur – as it often is when I run 5ks (or any race for that matter). I made it through the first mile in about 6 minutes and change. I knew I needed to slow my roll as this was not a pace I had seen myself run in months. I settled into a more reasonable (but far from comfortable) 6:20 pace and started to employ my coach’s recommended strategy of picking runners to catch to take my mind off of the pain. A girl about 100m in front of me became the target. And I passed her at about the 2 mi mark. But after her, there was no one for a while. I tried to just push forward but it felt like the wheels might come off. And then a running friend who was spectating saw me and started cheering me on (thanks Dave!). He told me to pick up my feet and just keep going. Sounds pretty obvious – but in that moment it gave me something to focus on and that is exactly what I did.

That last 1/2 mile I clocked a sub 6 minute pace. I crossed the finish line and almost collapsed. I had tried not to set a time goal for this race. But deep down I knew I wanted to break the 20 minute mark. And I did. 19:40. Good enough for 15th female and 4th in my age group. Not my best but far from my worst. I was happy. But more importantly I was over my fear of racing and I had had fun!

Over celebratory omelets, pancakes and coffee, I reviewed the race with my boyfriend and realized the fire had been lit. I wanted more. But mostly – I want to feel like I did crossing that finish line. Strong. Fast. Joyful. 18077278_10100822044343378_7375491155167137691_o

So I’m ready for what’s next. And I’ve learned so many lessons. To never take this sport for granted. To take time for the little things because they really do make a difference. To listen to my body when it needs a break. To always run with joy in my heart. And that I am lucky – I get to run. I don’t have to – I get to (thank you Stephanie Bruce for sharing your inspiring story – which I just so happened to hear the day before my race!).

And special thanks to my love, Andrew — your support and motivation through all this has truly helped me more than you know. I couldn’t have gotten through this without you and I am so lucky to have you in my life.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

My Latest Breakfast Obsession: Overnight Oats

One of the things I emphasize with clients and strive to do personally is get a good breakfast every day. My criteria? It must contain protein – at least 15g – as well as a source of complex carbohydrate (like oatmeal, whole wheat toast, or whole grain cereal), a decent amount of fiber (5 or more grams) and a source of healthy fat. Why? Besides starting your day off on the right foot, this combo is sure to help bridge the gap between breakfast and lunch without feeling the need to snack or visit the vending machine.

My current breakfast obsession is overnight oats. I’ll admit, I’m a little late to the overnight oat party. I’ve seen pics and recipes from friends and colleagues posted to Pinterest, Instagram and Facebook for years without actually trying it myself. But once I did, I was hooked. What could be better than waking up, opening your fridge and having a no fuss, already prepared breakfast ready to go? And it meets all my criteria for a good breakfast! Here are 2 variations that I’ve created and love. They are also the perfect post- AM workout or pre- long run fuel. Enjoy!

Almond Butter Banana Overnight Oats

Makes 1 serving

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup of oats
  • 1/4 cup of low or nonfat vanilla yogurt (I prefer Siggi’s because it has more protein/serving than sugar)
  • 1/2 cup nonfat/skim milk (suggest Fairlife for an extra dose of protein)
  • 1 tsp chia seeds
  • 1 Tbsp almond (or other nut) butter
  • 1 medium banana, sliced
  • 1 tsp sliced almonds

Instructions:

  1. Mix together oats, yogurt, milk, chia seeds, and almond butter in a bowl then pour into glass or jar (suggested vessel: mason jar)
  2. Top with sliced banana
  3. Cover and place in the fridge overnight
  4. In the morning, remove from fridge, mix and add additional milk, if desired
  5. Top with sliced almonds and serve

Nutrition Information*: 485 calories, 18g protein, 15g fat, 74g carbohydrate, 10g fiber

Lemon Berry Overnight Oats

Makes 1 servingovernight oats

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup of oats
  • 1/4 cup of low or nonfat vanilla yogurt
  • 1/2 cup nonfat/skim milk
  • 1 tsp chia seeds
  • Juice from about ½ a lemon
  • 1 tsp lemon zest
  • ½ cup frozen berries (like blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, etc.)
  • 1 tsp sliced almonds
  • Drizzle of honey, agave or sweetener of choice (to taste/as desired)

Instructions:

  1. Mix together oats, yogurt, milk, chia seeds, lemon juice and zest in a bowl then pour into glass or jar (suggested vessel: mason jar)
  2. Top with frozen berries
  3. Cover and place in the fridge overnight
  4. In the morning, remove from fridge, mix and add additional milk, if desired
  5. Top with additional thawed berries, almonds, sweetener (if desired) and serve

Nutrition Information*: 353 calories, 17g protein, 6g fat, 61g carbohydrate, 10g fiber

*Nutrition information obtained using: US Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, Nutrient Data Laboratory. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 28. Version Current:  September 2015.  Internet:  http://www.ars.usda.gov/nea/bhnrc/ndl

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!!