The New Normal

Me: This is never going away. I’m never going to get back to where I was. I can’t even go on a 30-minute test run right now without being in pain afterwards.

PT: Not with that attitude you won’t. Look. It took a long time to get to this stage of your injury; why would you think you’d get better in 4 weeks?

Then he gave me tough love about having perspective and asked me if I’d like to meet one of his patients who’s going through therapy for a broken neck.

I know. I KNOW. I’m not being rational. But we grasp to what’s familiar. Familiar to me is was running.

It has been 12 weeks since Philly.
I have been on my PT program for 5 of those 12 weeks.

I had a moment of hope last week, where I went a stretch of 3-4 days feeling REALLY good, with pain almost completely gone on one side and back pain virtually nonexistent. But I seemed to have taken a step back this past week.

PT: It’s a bummer because you felt you were making some good progress before [this week].
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This shit is taking forever to heal. The progress is slow and the light at the end of the tunnel is dim, at least this week.

So I’m learning a new normal. I’ve had to make some tremendous lifestyle adjustments because I’m no longer running 50 and 60 mile weeks, and won’t be for the foreseeable future. And, unlike my femur injury, when I was unemployed and had all the time in the world to work out all day every day…I’m now juggling 2 jobs, and I don’t have a plethora of time anymore.

I’m no longer grasping to my 2016 fitness for dear life. I’m not spending hours upon hours on cardio machines, dreaming of my next marathon. I’m not plotting my return to run schedule, and counting down the weeks until I can run again.

Instead, I’ve chilled the fuck out. And have learned to live differently.

Training
Should I even call what I do training anymore?

I lift 2-3x/week (a program prescribed and closely monitored by my PT), and I supplement it 3-4x/week with circuits of cardiac output exercises, where I aim to keep my HR in a certain zone for 45-65 minutes. Sometimes, if I’m feeling fancy, I’ll do cardiac output for 90 minutes.

Exercises include:
jumprope, rope slams, heavy kettlebell carries, agility ladder movements, skips, marches, jumping jacks, bear crawls, medball slams, plank holds, etc.

On days when I’m craving mindless activity, I’ll either head to the elliptical OR I’ll walk on the TrueForm with a 30-lb. weighted vest on. Sometimes you just gotta not think about anything and listen to music, you know? I’d like to incorporate aqua jogging, but the pool schedule hasn’t been congruent with mine. And, sadly, yoga bothers it, otherwise, I’d be doing that a lot.

I have been approved to go for short runs on the TrueForm. I’ve gotten to 20-25 minutes without pain. The 25-minute barrier has been difficult for me to break without taking a step backwards. Discouraging.

The good news? Despite being injured, I’m still able to notice changes in my cardiovascular health. When I started doing cardio again after taking a majority of December off, my HR an easy day looked like this:

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Yellow = too high. We’re looking for green and blue here.

Nowadays, my HR graphs are looking a little more like this (with the same effort output):

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Mitochondria, get at me.

Nutrition
Aside from training differences, nutrition has obviously been the biggest change during this injury. Quite simply: I can’t eat everything in sight anymore.

I’m a picker and I really enjoy food: I love just grabbing what’s in front of me and eating it without a thought. But now, I’ve got to be smarter than that.

To be honest, I’ve always eaten pretty well; so avoiding snacks and sticking with wholesome foods has kept my weight pretty much the same as it was while running, with the obvious slight 2-3 lb. change on a day to day basis.

Tracking my food has helped keep things in line. It’s also reminded me that I do a terrible job of eating vegetables and eat a little too much fat. 🙂

Recent changes in my nutrition:
Eating much more protein for breakfast, like greek yogurt with fruit, or a shake with both whey and collagen protein mixed in…less wine…less desserts…roasting trays of vegetables Sunday nights and immediately going to those when I come home ravenous from work…less cheese.

Yeah. None of those things is really mind-blowing, I know. But the little things make a difference. I hope to go on the InBody machine this week to get a handle on my current muscle mass and body fat percentage. I’m actually excited to see how much muscle mass I’ve gained since beginning this strength program.

Blood Levels
My Inside Tracker results have always been pretty decent, but I was curious about what things would look like after an extended period of time off from training. I also was curious about my Vitamin D levels since I’ve now been supplementing with VitD for the better half of a year.

Well guess who’s no longer deficient in Vitamin D, suckas?!

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For all those wondering: the red was right when I hurt my femur. Blood don’t lie, eh?

And in other (great) news, my ferritin has skyrocketed:

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This is WITHOUT supplementation

 

And, while I know cortisol is something that varies a lot throughout the day, I think this graph speaks for itself:

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And guess what else has improved? My GI issues… 

But not all of my blood levels were rainbows and roses (though, nothing was really alarming). As expected, my hemoglobin has plummeted to an all-time low. Not surprising: Inside Tracker has informed me that, “there is a correlation between low hemoglobin and lower VO2 max, an indicator of endurance capacity, and of physical fitness.” Awesome.

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RIP Fitness

Sleep
I’ve mentioned before that sleep is my kryptonite. Generally, when I’m training, I find I need close to 9-10 hours of sleep every night. Now that I’m not training? I can function pretty damn well with 7, and I naturally wake up after 8. Before, I would have been completely nonfunctional with 7.

The double-edged sword, however, is that my motivation to take care of myself and go to sleep earlier is lower. I no longer have the excited anticipation (read: scared shitlessness) of waking up to a massive speed workout. So when it gets to be 11..12..1 AM…I feel guilty that I’m up so late, but I also know it doesn’t really matter much in a training sense. Bad, I know. I’m working on it.

More time on my hands
This really only applies to weekends and maybe one day during the work week. I’m now sufficiently invested in my current “fitness” routine that I still find myself working out 60-90 minutes per day during the workweek.

I don’t like not following a training plan; I’m just extremely type-A, and I like being told what to do (even coaches need coaches). Because my recovery has been monitored by my PT, I have been planning my workout weeks myself…which means it’s also been easy to not adhere to them. As of February 1st, I’ve been consistent with 6x/week of workouts. It’s the little things that make me happy these days. 🙂

James and I have an open line of communication about my recovery process, and he’s helped me immensely from a holistic approach with my running/life: he’s helped me get my shit together with nutrition as well as sleep. He has begun to program in interval-type XT work, which I’m appreciative of, because I would never prescribe that for myself, merely because I tend to gravitate towards other things.

Without a marathon training plan, I’m finding that I’m doing a better job of tuning into what my body wants. And I’m not resenting a day that deviates away from what I had intended to do on a particular day.

In fact, I’m currently riding a “I’m so proud of myself” high because yesterday, my hamstrings were feeling really crappy, but I was “supposed” to do one of my strength/PT days. Do I bag it? Do I rest? Do I move?  –I chose the latter. I didn’t do the assigned PT program, but I did move around my gym for 40 minutes and actually felt better afterwards. Go figure listening to your body is important.

Feeling of empty
I suppose I could take my PT up on his offer to meet his patient with a broken neck. My trips on the merry-go-round of self-flagellation seem to increase in frequency when I experience FOMO from watching others train for Boston. Running has turned into a lifestyle for me, inclusive of social events. I’m very thankful for friends who have insisted in meeting up and doing things that AREN’T running. Who knew that the key to my heart is actually just a good glass of cabernet, a long walk, and a manicure/pedicure date?

A couple friends have offered to go on my 20 minute runs with me. That kinda just makes me sad, because it’ll end really fast, and I’ll only feel bad about myself when said friend continues on to run for another 50 minutes. I’m being realistic, not pessimistic. I’m also slightly terrified of not running on the TrueForm right now, since it’s been such a great rehab tool and running outside has only seemed to hurt me. 

At my last PT appointment, I was told that if, at the end of 12 weeks, things still aren’t feeling good…he wouldn’t blame me if I just said “fuck it” and started running again. Remember: this injury hasn’t hurt me while running–only after–which is why I was able to continue to train (damage?) on it for as long as I could. I don’t know if his validation is a good or bad thing, but I’m hoping things won’t get to that point. He said I do need to make a legitimate attempt to go through a thorough 12-week therapy regimen, which I’ve honestly doing. And, it would be remiss of me not to mention that I HAVE seen a little progress.

I have contacted my doctor regarding PRP injections. Based on the research, I’m hopeful they will help, even though the recovery from the injections also seems long and daunting.

Things are just a waiting game right now. A recovery game, if you will. One of my closest friends told me that while 2016 might have been about my own PRs and breakthrough races, it’s okay that 2017 isn’t going to be that way. And she’s right. 2017 is going to be about the PRs and successful races of every single person I coach. Putting my injury in that light makes me feel happy. It’s difficult to describe the feeling of an athlete texting you after their race with good news. I don’t think it will ever get old.

So while the old normal was me uttering, “oh my god,” every time I saw a marathon finish line…the new normal is me exclaiming, “oh my god” into my phone when I hear about a successful workout or race. Running in my life isn’t gone right now, thankfully…it’s just different. Perspective is everything.

A 24-hour pass to the merry-go-round of self-flagellation

I didn’t coin that term. Amelia Boone did. If you don’t know who she is…look her up. I think she’s one of the biggest badasses on the planet.

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Professional BAMF

Amelia sent me an email back in April. She started it by writing, “You don’t know me, but…”

–false. I knew very well who she was and I was humbled and floored to be receiving an email from her.

Amelia had just been diagnosed with a femoral stress fracture and was reaching out to me to hear my experience/journey with the injury (because let’s be honest: who doesn’t scour the internet, looking for advice and every single piece of reading material you can possibly find after getting diagnosed with an injury?)

I happily shared my story with her, assuring her she’d feel better in no time…respect the process…be a good patient…cross-train and get stronger…yes, I know it sucks big time…blah blah blah. We exchanged a few emails, and left off with me saying, “I hope you’re doing better and better every day!”

In the months following our email conversation, Amelia took to her blog to express her frustrations about her injury and how difficult of a time she was having with recovery. Even though we were no longer communicating via email, I read her posts, agreeing with every word, in particular this post, where she unapologetically admits that running and training are part of her identity…and that’s just the way it is.

Because, for better or worse, as humans, we seek to define ourselves. We seek meaning, and we seek joy. And for athletes, racing and competing in their chosen sport IS that joy. You build your identity around things you love, around the happiness you feel. You build your community with like-minded individuals, and the sport becomes your purpose in life.  And, frankly, I fail to see anything wrong with that.  -Amelia Boone

So when I came home from work today, sore, and with irritated hamstrings from my new PT program, I plopped down on my couch with some chocolate…opened up my computer…and reread Amelia’s blogs. And that’s when the tears started. Lots and lots of tears.

When I first read her posts–back when they were published a few months ago–I was happy and healthy and my running was going really well. I was in the best shape of my life, and only getting faster. With each workout, I was achieving a new feat…feeling stronger every day…always excited to go on my runs.

But today I am injured. I have been injured for a while; I’ve just been denying it. The word “injury” was something I had been terrified of using, ever since I had the tibia/femur bone issues in 2014 and 2015. “A muscle/tendon ‘thing’ isn’t an injury,” I told myself. “An injury is a stress fracture. I don’t have an injury. I have a hamstring ‘thing.'”

God, I’m such an idiot.

So, here it is: I have hamstring tendinosis. I also have sacroilitis. In other words: my hamstrings (yes, both at this point) are chronically inflamed and my SI joints (also, yes, both sides), are also inflamed.

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Behold: the SI joint.

I ran through this for a while.

I’ve always felt a little tight on one side; but then 2 weeks before Boston, I had a day where things just didn’t feel right. I had just run a hilly 18 mile workout the day prior, and on this particular day, I was slated to run 15, which I did as a 10/5 double. I remember feeling aerobically great…but my body was really beat up. Then, 2 days later, I wrote this in my training plan:

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I went into Boston feeling really good, but the tendonitis had already manifested itself on one side. I ran the race…PRed through the heat…then took some time to recover. And then I ran 2 more marathons before 2016 came to a close. The one-sided hamstring pain became two-sided. The sometimes achy SI pain became chronic.

I was never in pain while running until 2 weeks before Philly. The pain was so bad, it was radiating down to my coccyx (tailbone). But taper helped, and I ran the race with only mild pain and tightness.

Then, 4 days after Philly, I valiantly (stupidly) raced my local turkey trot and ran almost a 30-second PR. I was in pain for that too.

Then I stopped running. James told me to take a break until the new year. I gladly obliged, knowing I needed both a physical and mental rest. I hadn’t taken so much time off since my femur injury; but I knew it was good for me. I figured I’d be back up and running in the new year.

The new year came. I went for a 4 mile run on January 9th that put me in so much pain the following day, I could barely walk.

Enough was enough.

I raised my white flag on January 10th and committed myself to an extensive 3x/week strength and PT program. My weekly mileage for the past 3 weeks has not gone above 8. I am allowed 5-15 minute runs on the TrueForm, and they are the most glorious moments of my day. I’m fairly certain my PT thinks I’m a lunatic.

I’ve pretty much secured a 24-hour pass to the merry-go-round of self-flagellation.  -Amelia Boone

I’ve climbed aboard Amelia’s merry-go-round, and I’m riding it hard these days.

“Oh, you’re hurt…again?”
…yeah, well…my PT thinks this is all residual effects of those stupid stress fractures…and we all know why those happened…

“Well at least you work in a gym!”
…I used to live and breathe for the 60 minutes spent by myself during lunch, on the canal trail, behind my workplace. Unlike other Instagram “trainers” you see online: no, we do not skip around our weight room, constantly doing pull-ups and box jumps whilst simultaneously throwing kettlebells and bars over our heads. Do not believe anything the internet tells you.

“Oh hamstring pain? Everyone has a running nag…it’s just part of being a runner”
…I REFUSE to believe that everyone runs in pain. It’s not right, nor is it normal.

“At least you’re not training for anything!”
…I was signed up for Boston, thank you very much. It was supposed to be my 4th consecutive year running it. I also was just in the best shape of my life, and now, poof, I’m not. (Yes, also, the world is ending and Trump is our president, so put a fork in me Jerry.)

“Well you ran a lot in 2016, so it’s good you have time to rest.”
…Go to hell.

Finally, of course, as Amelia so perfectly writes, there’s also this:

…the (what I call) “there are children starving in Africa” phenomenon – I feel ashamed that I’m crying and being a bag of shit over a tiny crack in a bone given how “blessed I am” compared to so many people in the world. The inner monologue that goes: “it’s JUST running. Stop being so dramatic and emotional, Amelia. It’s not like you’re dying. Or will never run again.” (I’m sure many of you reading this would like to slap me and tell me the same thing right now).  -Amelia Boone

And then there’s my own inner embarrassment and pride. I’m a running and strength coach. I preach about prehab and lifting. I encourage my runners to listen to their bodies. What kind of example did I set? How can I say to listen to your body, when I did exactly the opposite for months? How do I STILL deserve outreach of my athletes, friends, and random people from the interwebs, saying how much of an inspiration I am? Surely, I can’t be an inspiration if I’m injured.

Unlike my bone injuries, I don’t know what I could’ve done differently. I mean…obviously…I could’ve stopped running way back in May, when this issue first popped up. But a tendon injury is so much different from a bone injury, especially because mine didn’t hurt while running until the final couple weeks before stopping. As strong as I am, I guess I wasn’t ready for some of the speed and mileage I took on this year. Sure, I kept getting faster…but I kept digging myself into a hole too. When you love something so much, it’s difficult to take a step back and realize that the thing you love just might be hurting you.

I wasn’t ready to write a post like this for a very long time. I still don’t like saying, “I’m injured,” so it’s difficult to be transparent. But chronic pain isn’t “just another running nag,” and it just took me a few months to realize that. Running through pain isn’t normal.

I’m going to say that again.

Running through pain isn’t normal. We, as runners, want to be tough. We are type-A, and many of us want to follow our training plans to a T. But that’s not always what’s best for our bodies.

It is now February. I don’t know when I’ll be better, and that’s why I feel lost. But at this stage, what’s the point of starting up running/training again if I’m only going to be back in pain in a few days? Or weeks? Or months? The pain is still there, deep at the hamstring attachments. If I piss my legs off enough, the shooting, down-the-leg sciatic pain still returns while sitting. Tendon/joint injuries are a weird and real thing…and they suck.

I love running. I love training. I love accomplishing big goals. And I miss that. I really really miss that. I’ve made running part of my life and part of my identity. So today, I will have my pity party, and I won’t apologize about it. Tomorrow, I will wake up, be incredibly sore from today’s new PT program…and find another source of varied movements to do during lunchtime to keep my HR (and sanity) around 70% for 45 minutes (it doesn’t take much to max me out these days, folks).

…I need to move forward, accept that I’m never going to be the same athlete, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  -Amelia Boone

Yeah. I’m still working on that one, Amelia. Maybe if I tape that quote to my dresser mirror and say it out loud to myself every morning, I’ll start to believe it. But I do think you’re right. Closing the pre-femur/tibia injury chapter was the only way I was able to beast through 2016, which, admittedly, was a bittersweet running year. I came back from both injuries to PR in all distances–yet–I faced external adversity with every single marathon. Anger doesn’t even begin to describe how I feel about the distance. For the first time EVER with my running, last year, I failed to meet a goal I set out to achieve. I’m fucking livid.

I will run a sub-3 marathon. It’s indisputable in my mind, and something that I’m 100% capable of doing. But not in 2017. Hell, maybe not even in 2018. I don’t know when it will happen…but it will. It’ll happen when I’m stronger and healthy; and when my hamstrings aren’t hanging on by a thread. In the meantime, I’ll continue to dream of the same quarter-mile finish line stretch at Boston that I always visualize when I’m doing something tough. And the time on the clock…well…we all know what it’s going to say.

 

 

Listen To Your Goddamn Body

IT’S FRIDAY…which means it’s time for the third and final post of running tips, as prompted by the interview for shape.com! (post 1 is here and post 2 is here.)

Today’s post is about overtraining and, well…why it sucks. I also discuss a couple program tips that can help keep overtraining at bay.

As always, let me know if you have any questions.

 

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How do runners make sure they manage their training load so that they aren’t over or under-trained? Are there specific signs a runner should look out for to identify if they fall into either of these categories?

Having a coach, or having someone manage your training plan, really helps keep you honest and in check with training. A good coach will not only push and provide challenging workouts…but will also hold the reins and say no. It’s better to show up on the starting line undertrained versus overtrained. Seriously.

Be sure to follow some simple (but important!) rules when it comes to your programming:

  1. DO build your miles gradually. (And DON’T assume you can resume your pre-injury mileage and speedwork when you’re coming back to running. But injury comeback is a whole other topic.)
  2. DO execute runs based on time, especially as you’re just building fitness. Remember: becoming a faster runner has a lot to do with gaining time and experience on your feet. A 6 mile run for me may take 48 minutes, but for you, it may take 65 minutes…and 17 minutes of extra running is significant.
  3. DO consider weekly mileage totals before doing your speed workouts for the week. Doing random speedwork is not going to make you faster…nor will doing too much mileage in your quality sessions if you don’t have a sufficient amount of other weekly miles to supplement. That’s just going to give you a stress fracture. 🙂
  4. DO consider weekly mileage totals before doing your long run. Your long run should be a percentage of your weekly mileage, and it differs a little bit per person. Yes…that means sometimes, you may not run over 20 miles before a marathon. IT’S OK, I PROMISE.
  5. DO allow days (yes, more than 1 per week) for strength training (no, a few clamshells do not count as strength training), especially when your mileage is relatively low and you’re just starting a training cycle.

And remember–these 5 tips only address programming. Listening to your body and BALANCE is what’s most important:

  1. DON’T choose running over sleep if you’re absolutely exhausted.
  2. DON’T run through pain.
  3. DON’T forget to take a multi-vitamin and fish oil.
  4. DON’T be a hero and run your easy days too fast.
  5. DON’T forget that nutrition is just as important as running!!!!!
  6. DON’T stress out. More stress –> higher cortisol levels –> shittier (sometimes literally) running and a body at greater risk of breaking down.
  7. DON’T forget that adequate recovery after a PR effort race (whether it’s a marathon or a 5k) IS SO IMPORTANT. Not taking enough time to recover after a major running event is just setting yourself up for failure and injury.

The huge red flag I see most commonly with overtraining is lack of motivation and sheer exhaustion…even, sometimes, sickness. When any of my runners complain of this, I immediately back them off, and approach their training a bit more conservatively. I also think it’s important to consider the mental aspect of overtraining. The mind is just as important as the body–sometimes, even moreso.

Overtraining signs to look out for are: pain spots that seem to linger, and not go away…constant fatigue…irritability…elevated HR…inability to focus…insomnia. If you’ve been experiencing over-training symptoms that don’t seem to go away, I’m also a huge advocate of blood testing to check basic CBC levels and iron.

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Not overtrained. Just tired. But you get the idea.

How does over-training prevent a runner from reaching their goal?

It all goes back to recovery. If your nervous system doesn’t take time to back down and adapt/recover from a workout, overtraining symptoms may start to appear, which can lead to health issues that take longer than a few days to overcome. The most common issues are bone and tendon injuries; but, other issues include immune problems, chronic fatigue, and even amenorrhea (loss of period) in women. Having any one of these problems generally forces a runner to stop training for an extended period of time–making it much harder to reach a specific time goal.

 

How does under-training prevent a runner from reaching their goal?

Physically, there aren’t really health risks associated with undertraining. There are, however, mental ramifications of going into a race undertrained without realizing it until the result is not what you expected. –that can suck!

**EDIT – I had another thought. If you go into a long race–like a marathon or half–undertrained, you could hurt yourself because you’re not ready for that type of distance. Duh. That’d be stupid and bad.

Another risk of showing up to the starting line undertrained (and not realizing it) would be going out too fast, blowing up halfway…and death marching to the finish line. That’d also be bad.

Lastly, if a runner is doing everything right, i.e strength training, cross-training, foam rolling, etc but still isn’t getting faster what are some reasons for this occurring and how do they make corrections?

If a runner is trying to reach a specific goal, it’s so important to change up the speed, paces, and intensities of workouts and runs–otherwise, you risk plateauing or not meeting your goals. Varying your pace in a run can be as simple as inserting 30-second effort-based strides into a run…so, something like 30-sec on/60-sec off x 8, plus a warmup and cooldown of 10-15 minutes.

If you can’t afford a coach, it helps to keep a record of your workouts–whether it’s online or on paper. Being able to see your workouts and weekly mileage laid out can shed some light as to why you might not be improving.

Above all? Keep it real and be honest with yourself. Are you REALLY being good about recovery? How about eating? What’s your sleep look like? Stress levels? 9 times out of 10, when someone isn’t getting faster, it’s because there’s an important piece of the puzzle missing. Training smart is so much more than going for a run a few times each week. Once you have an understanding of the entire picture, it’s so much easier to identify what’s missing…and take action!

 

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An excerpt from my training plan. Trying to be honest. Trying to be smart. Honesty = key. Luckily, I only took a couple days off for this ankle nag; but it’s not uncommon to need to back down for a week or even two before feeling ready to train again.

 

 

SLOW DOWN.

Here we go! Blog #2 of my 3-part series (post 1 is here)–prompted by my interview for the article in shape.com.

If you’re reading ANY of these posts, this is the big one….because today, I’m giving you the super duper, top secret, really exciting INSIDE SCOOP behind what I believe are the two most important things you can do to get faster:

  1. Recover like a boss.
  2. Slow the fuck down.

Master these two things, and you’re destined for Tokyo 2020.

Just kidding.

But for real. This shit is important!!!!! Hope you get something out of it. Let me know if you have any questions.

See you Friday for the third and final post.

What are some common mistakes runners make that prevent them from getting faster despite hard work and following a training plan?

Runners tend to forget how important recovery is. Recovery includes (but is not limited to) stretching, hydration, nutrition, and, most importantly: sleep. Running hard speed or tempo workouts puts your body in a state of stress…so if you don’t give it enough time to recover, the nervous system starts working overtime, leading to injury and burnout. 

How do you know if you’re recovering correctly? -it’s easy. LISTEN TO YOUR BODY and be honest about how you feel. Yes, 7:30s can feel impossible one day and easy breezy the next. That’s normal. Do you eat/sleep/poop/breathe the same exact way, every single day? Probably not. So then why would you expect your runs to also feel the same every single day? They won’t, and that’s fine.

Ran a tough workout and feel like crap the next day? No matter what mileage is prescribed on your fancy pants training program: I promise you, the world will not spontaneously combust if you do not run every single mile that’s “assigned” to you. Seriously. If you’re really beat up, a light trot of 30 minutes will help immensely for blood flow. And if you’re really not feeling it (or you’re in pain), then bag it completely. Or do some light dynamic stretching, movement prep, and non-running, multi-planar locomotive movements that will increase your HR and loosen your muscles without killing your body with pounding.

And now I’m going to say something that will blow your mind:

If something is not right in your body, you can (and should!) skip your workout. In fact: I praise my athletes when they tell me they skipped their workout because x y and z hurt, or because they slept poorly the night before. There are a multitude of reasons why your body could be saying “no” to a workout on any given day; and you have to respect that. Any time I’ve ditched a workout in the past, it’s either because I’m coming down with a bug, or I did a bad job at recovering (sleep is my kryptonite…and I’m not always the best at it).

So don’t be a hero and run yourself into the ground.

On top of inadequate recovery, runners also tend to run way too fast on their easy days. Slowing the easy runs WAY down is SO important and crucial. Easy runs should be anywhere from 1:30-2:00/mile slower than your threshold, or 10k pace…but even that is a flexible rule. You really have to listen to your body and truly make easy runs an effort where you’re running comfortably and can hold a casual conversation. 

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This is my recovery pace. MINE. Figure yours out…and run it. Stop comparing yourself to everyone else on the internet.


Why is it important to slow down on easy runs? How does running slow actually help make someone a faster runner?

Easy runs not only help you recover from a speed session, but they also serve to condition your heart and muscle fibers. This helps improve aerobic capacity, or the efficiency with which your body delivers oxygen to your muscles. In other words: by improving your aerobic capacity, you’re building the base of becoming a faster, stronger runner.

Sound complicated? It’s not. The two major things that you’re improving with easy runs are your heart and muscle fibers. Running at 60% of your max HR helps to develop your heart’s stroke volume max (or, the amount of blood you pump with one beat). Creating a more-developed heart makes for a heart that can withstand the stress of a speed workout, or a long distance race.

Easy runs also develop mitochondria within your muscle fibers. Mitochondria are important because they help produce ATP…or ENERGY!! The more mitochondria you have, the more ATP can be developed during exercise.

If you run too fast, or above 60% of your max HR, on your easy days, you won’t be able to maximize the benefits of building a strong aerobic base. 

Having trouble slowing down? I get it, I really do. My biggest piece of advice: ditch your Garmin and the music for a week and use a regular ole Timex. Don’t cheat and run a route where you you know exactly how much the mileage already is…and then later convert your pace (yes, I know every trick in the book). Better yet – find a trail and run it. Both your body and mind will appreciate the change. Learn what it’s like to run while listening to your own breath and footsteps.

If you truly run slowly on easy days, you’ll find yourself not only recovering from your speed sessions, but also refreshed and ready to tackle your next run. More importantly, you won’t face detriments to your tendons, muscles, bones, and joints that come from not slowing down on easy days. Running “slowly” gives your body the chance to properly recover so you can continue to enjoy running throughout your lifetime.

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I practice what I preach. This was just before Boston, where I ran a 3:06 in 80-degree heat. Slow training does not equal slow race results.

Picking [heavy] Stuff Up and Putting It Down

I was recently asked a bunch of really great questions by Jess for an article in Shape.com…and it provoked some info and advice that I’ve never really talk about on this platform. Usually, this blog has been a place for me to write stuff about my own training and racing; but I’d like to share some stuff that you might find useful. Because beyond my own running, I am also a coach, and I love helping other people get better.

Over the next few days, I’m going to post some of the answers from the interview…so I’m kicking it off with some info about strength work and cross training. Questions? Don’t hesitate to reach out. (itsamarython@gmail.com)

 

What strength training mistakes do runners sometimes make that might be interfering with getting faster? What should they be doing instead? Why?

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Not a clean.

The timing of strength workouts is everything. Strength training is best done AFTER a workout, or the day directly following a workout day – never before. Runners also tend to neglect a proper warm-up before strength training. Warming up for a strength session is just as important as warming up for a running workout, and should include foam rolling, mobility work, movement prep, and dynamic prep.

Runners are also so afraid to lift heavy. Lifting heavy will NOT make you “bigger” –it will only make you stronger and more balanced.

In addition: many runners think that simple, unweighted PT exercises–like clamshells and monster walks–will make them more balanced and less prone to injury. While that is certainly true for some…those PT exercises will only help to an extent before you really need to start lifting actual weights to adapt your tissues and musculature.

 

Why do strength training workouts after a run and not before? How does doing a strength workout at other times prevent you from becoming a faster runner?

Ah, so I meant (above) that it’s important to strength train after a SPEED session…not necessarily a regular run. But that being said: when deciding between which to do first, you have to evaluate your priority, and which effort you want to be sharpest in.

Do you want to gain muscle, burn a little more fat, and be more focused on lifting heavier weights? –then you’ll want to lift before running.

Do you want to get faster, nail your speed workout, and then supplement your workout with strength before allowing your body to recover? –then you’ll want to run before lifting.

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35 lbs. above my face, check me out

I always encourage my athletes to prioritize their speed workout first…then lifting later on, either immediately following speed OR later in the afternoon (allowing at least 4 hours to recover in between workouts). Every once in a while, it’s fine to do the lifting an entire day after the speed too.

I’ll usually give my athletes 2-3 days to recover in between quality speed sessions. Ample recovery will leave them feeling energized and ready to hit it hard in their next quality session. Lifting prior to fast running will cause fatigue and is counterproductive to the entire process of building speed.

No matter if you lift or do a speed workout, you’re creating micro-tears in your muscles. So the question is really: which activity do you want to perform your best in, and do first, when your muscles are fresh and [relatively] free of micro-tears? If you’re training to be faster, you’re going to want to prioritize the running.

 

What cross-training mistakes do runners make that might interfere with getting faster? What should they be doing instead? Why?

Runners love what’s easy–so they want to be told to plop down on a bike or elliptical for an hour and call it cross-training. Yes, that is certainly cross-training, but there’s so much more a runner can do.

Let’s break down the purpose of cross-training: you want to increase your HR…get your blood pumping…and condition your heart/lungs. So, with these 3 objectives in mind, you can do this this OFF a boring cardio machine WHILE ALSO working all planes of motion, including the transverse and sagittal planes, both of which runners are rarely exposed to. So, instead of continuously working the frontal plane on an elliptical for an cross-training day, you can do a 45-60 minute mix of other activities, such as:

  • Using an agility ladder
  • Practicing change of direction on a grass field
  • Side shuffling
  • Bear crawling (and lateral bear crawling!)

…the list goes on. Stumped for movement ideas? I wrote a little more about this topic here

Incorporating a variation of other activities teaches a runner’s body to become more efficient and familiar with other planes of motion, keeping you more balanced and at a decreased risk for injury.

2016 – the year I ran 3 marathons, PRed in every distance, and finally started coaching

Usually, in my annual recap, I write a month-by-month review of stuff that happened (mostly running-related) in the past year. So I started to do that for this year’s recap…

January – Cold. Training for Boston started up. PRed in the 10k and 15k.

James told me the goal for Boston would be sub-3. Never, in my wildest dreams, did I see that coming. Giddy up.

February – Cold. Training for Boston was going well. PRed in the 20k and 25k (these weird distances…it’s a local series hosted in CT called the Boston Buildup series. They are HILLY and I consider them an integral part of Boston training).

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The elevation profile of the 20k. So yeah. A hill here and there.

…And then I realized that if I really was to go on and make a 2016 training/running recap, it’d get pretty boring because, well…I worked my ass off and PRed a lot. And it was awesome.

In fact-I can sum up the entire boring month-by-month recap in this snapshot:

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SO I’ve decided to recap my year by reflecting on the top 6 things I’ve learned from 2016. (I actually learned, like, 20 things…but I’m pretty sure if I wrote everything down, that would bore you too.)

1. Marathons are hard. Respect the distance and enjoy the journey.
I ran 3 marathons this year. Before 2016, the most I had ever run in a year was 1. ONE.

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Boston: apparently the only course I can PR at

In hindsight…3 was a lot. Too much. But I had trained for the race of my life at Boston…and when the weather thwarted my plans of a magical sub-3 day, I thought racing a revenge run at Buffalo would be a good idea. It wasn’t—my heart, head, and legs were NOT aligned…neither was the weather. To be honest, I have no idea how 3:09 happened that day. None.

Then, of course, I’m still really sad about Philly.

But…anyway. The reality is that marathons are just really hard. You train and train and you put so much hope and faith into one single day where ANYTHING can happen. I won’t say I’m not satisfied with the 3:06 PR that came out of this year. But my difficulty with the marathon distance over the past 12 months has taught me to appreciate and value the training and the experiences along the way.

Training with James has completely renewed my love for the sport of running, and this year I was able to come back from last year’s femoral stress reaction (and the year prior’s tibia stress reaction) and have some of the most unbelievable workouts and runs of my life. Sure, a sub-3 marathon would’ve been awesome. But accomplishing the shit that was demanded of me along the road to Boston? —that’s something I’m going to look back on with a lot of pride and happiness.

2. Weather can make or break you 
I had the pleasure of chatting with Denny on his podcast  a few months ago, and joked about how I’m digressing when it comes to smartly-run marathons. Until last year, all of my marathons were negatively split. And, as of Boston 2015…they haven’t been…and I’ve been very very humbled by the distance.

BUT ALSO, I have to give myself a break and accept the fact that the weather I faced in every. single. fucking. marathon this year…sucked. Boston was the deceptively hot day, where everyone was dying by mile 10, and by mile 18, it was a literal battleground on the course. Buffalo, over Memorial Day Weekend, was a heatwave, with 85% humidity at the start and 80° by the time we were finished (the weekend before, it had been snowing in Buffalo. SNOWING.) And then Philly, while I do think I could’ve done really well had my stomach not exploded, we dealt with 40 mph wind gusts the entire time.

So yeah. Weather can be so tricky, and I never really had to worry about it until this year.

3. Sometimes you have to trust your coach
This could be a blog post in and of itself. James has been such an incredible influence and has pushed me in the best ways possible in so many areas of my life. Exclusively from a running standpoint, James has been perpetually optimistic, and constantly believes in me so much more than I ever believe in myself.

When I first started training for Boston last December, James texted me saying that we were hunting down sub-3, which hadn’t crossed my mind. I was excited…and scared…but I told him that if he really thought I could do it, I’d flip that little switch in my head and get ready. I trusted him. Kinda. 🙂

He was very serious about the sub-3 thing, and over the next 3 months, I ran some of the most exciting and excruciating training runs of my life. And my trust in James grew.

One of the most exciting workouts was 7 x 1 mile around a park in New Britain, CT. The park is approximately 1 mile around, and it includes a little uphill as well as a little downhill…it’s the PERFECT place for workouts. On March 7th, James asked me to run all 7 repeats at a 5:50.

“Um…excuse me? 7????? I can’t do that. Running 7 mile repeats is not a thing. No.”

Well. He made me do it. And I didn’t hit 5:50 for 7 repeats…but I was pretty damn close, and ended up averaging 5:59 for the repeats.

5:59
5:56
5:56
5:58
6:01
6:05
6:01

Never, in a million years, did I think I’d be able to do that. Hell, I felt like I was dying on my fourth repeat. But sometimes, with a little bit of faith (and caffeine) the impossible is possible.

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The aftermath. Somehow, still standing

 

4. Sweat the small stuff (because the small stuff is actually important)
After Philly, I took off 6 weeks of running because of a lingering hamstring/butt issue. I started running again last week with 20-minute runs…and the pain isn’t completely gone still. I’ve succumbed to the fact that I will no longer be running Boston this year…and I currently have zero races on my calendar because I am dedicating myself to getting better.

The reason why I think all this stuff came on? (Besides the fact that I ran 3 marathons in a year.) -is because I started skimping on “the small stuff.” The stretching. The warmups. The lifting. The core. The stuff I preach to my athletes as being SO IMPORTANT…I’m guilty of not doing as much of it as I should have…and now, my consequence, will be nursing two hamstrings that won’t stop bugging me.

Did I lift/do core/stretch/do warmups this year? Of course. When my mileage was lower and my workouts were less intense, I definitely included all that stuff, ESPECIALLY the lifting. But when workouts got longer and running started taking up more time…I found myself rushing from waking up…to a workout…to the shower…to work…to a second run…to working more at home. I didn’t stop and do what I needed to do to warm my body up and cool it down. I didn’t give it the TLC it needed. And now I’m paying.

5. Diet matters
I had an eating disorder for 7 years throughout high school and college. One of my rituals was not eating lunch…ever. Or, my lunch would consist of a Slim Fast and apple. Or a granola bar and banana. And then my ED treatment was half-assed, mostly because I had a terrible support system. I did a little outpatient recovery at a local Renfrew…but I never really learned how to feed myself a legitimate lunch that would fuel me.

So, until 2016, I still continued to eat really shitty lunches–little salads with tuna fish…a PBJ…a cup of soup…some pretzels and a small sandwich. (Not on purpose…I just never really knew what I “should” be eating for a lunch…or how I “should” feel midday, post meal.) I actually think my shitty lunch habit contributed to an unintentional rapid weight loss that led to my femur injury in 2015.

But this year, starting in January, I started buying meals from a local nutritionist who cooks the food in his kitchen, freezes it, and delivers it straight to the gym where I work. I order the food online the week before, and poof! It’s there when I need it.

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Credit: The Strong Kitchen

For the first time EVER, this year I started eating legitimate lunches with steak, potatoes, and veggies. I began to learn what a “normal” lunch is, and how I should feel after eating it. The food was also portioned for, what he calls, “Performance” -so, in my mind, it was “okay” to eat this much food all at once for lunch (yep…ED habits die hard).

Eating pre-made meals by a nutritionist not only showed me portion control and fueled me with the things my body NEEDED…but I also started seeing the benefits athletically and physically. My workouts were obviously lights-out this year…and I was the leanest I’ve ever been in my life.

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Lean and mean, just how I like it.

I also tracked my blood levels through Inside Tracker this year, and saw huge improvements with my nutrient levels from what I attribute mostly to the diet change.

So. Moral of the story? Food is fuel. Eat like a champion if you want to be one.

6. Trust your gut.
I was laid off from my job in fashion marketing in 2015. I vowed to never go back to corporate…so I started working in a gym as a strength coach shortly thereafter. And then this March, James called me to ask if I wanted to coach running with his new business, McKirdy Trained.

I was excited…but hesitant. I had ALWAYS wanted to be a running coach (and I had already done a little coaching here and there) but I wasn’t sure how to start. I liked James’s idea, but I was nervous about how it would fit in with my other job and training. Training for Boston this year was the most intense thing I’ve ever done; I didn’t know how I could add coaching into the fold too.

But I trusted my gut. I knew I really wanted to coach and share my knowledge and passion of running with others…and James was holding the door wide open for me.

So I jumped in, head first. And it was the best decision of my life.

I grew and developed so much this summer as a coach, and I saw my athletes reach incredible successes this fall:

From breaking 4:00…to a BQ…to healthy (and strong!) injury comebacks…to a marathoner who negative split her race by over 6 MINUTES…to an athlete breaking a 4-year goal of sub 3:10…to someone who never thought she could run 7:xx/mile in a race-to actually achieving it in a 12-miler…to a 6-month postpartum mommy of 3, running a lifetime half PR by over 7 minutes.

I could go on and on. Coaching has been the most rewarding experience of my life, and I am even more excited for what’s to come. If I didn’t listen to my gut, I would be in a totally different place right now. Most importantly, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to meet the amazing, incredible, and strong athletes that I coach-who inspire ME way more than they will ever know.

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I’m pretty sure I’ll look back on this year and think it was awesome. Obviously, from a training perspective, I’m less than thrilled to kick off 2017 with this hamstring issue. But the new beginnings that came in 2016 with coaching and my career gets me the most excited and eager for the future I’ve ever been. For the first time since moving to CT in 2012, I’m finally starting to consider it home…and that alone makes me warm and fuzzy inside. 

In the new year, I’ve decided to work on my bravery. Be brave. It’s something that James encouraged me to do with my running all throughout 2016…and it wasn’t until Hartford that I started to find it. So I want to keep working on it. It’s not a New Year’s Resolution…but rather a theme. There’s a lot on my plate as I look at 2017, and some of it is intimidating. But bravery always goes a long way…and if I’m brave throughout the next year, I think I’ll end up okay.

So cheers to a new year and to being brave. And to not running 3 marathons in 2017. 🙂

Philly

I had a really good feeling going into Philly. Of course I wanted things to click…I wanted that perfect day. But, what’s even more important: I truly believed that things were going to go my way.

I was in the best shape of my life…I was pissed about the spring marathons…and I was ready to fight.

Hartford was a huge trigger for me-I talked more about it here-and I knew running the full at Philly would be a risk. But I also knew that I was so ready for it, even with a short training cycle.

The workouts in between Hartford and Philly were amazing. I recovered (read: sat on my butt) for a week from Hartford and then got to work:

Workout 1 Workout 2 Long Run WKLY MILEAGE
Week 1 (6 x 2 min @ 6:20) x 2 8 x 3 min @ 5:50 w/ rest at pace 10 55.3
Week 2 15 min @ 6:17, then 4 alternating miles between 6:43/6:20 w/ varying rest, then 15 min @ 6:20 n/a 4 mi WU, then 6 @ 6:50, 2 easy, 4 @ 6:43, CD to 19 67
Week 3 3 @ 6:28, rest, 1 @ 6:03, rest, 2 @ 6:33, rest 1 @ 6:10 n/a 15 mi WU, 5 mile @ 6:50, CD to 22 70
Week 4 4 x 2 mi @ 6:24, 6:21, 6:15, 6:13 n/a 10 46

Yes, you read that right. Only a 19 miler and a 22 miler. BUT here’s the thing. The training leading up to Hartford was pretty heavy. And, for the first time since I started running, I’ve been running consistently and healthily for the past 18 months:

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^^This past year versus…

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The year prior  – inclusive of femur stress rx, which came 6 months after tibial stress rx

The consistent training makes a BIG difference when it comes to recovery, racing, and jumping back into higher mileage.

So yeah. I was more than ready to battle Philly.

But unfortunately, sometimes our bodies and minds do not align.
And throw in some really shitty weather…and your chances for a solid race are pretty much gone.

Over the course of this past year, I have had increasingly consistent stomach issues, where sometimes I can barely get through runs without urgently needing to go to the bathroom. Some days are definitely worse than others, and leading up to Philly, things actually seemed to be going pretty well and didn’t affect my workouts. It could be stress (?!)…but regardless–it’s an issue that I’m getting checked out by a doctor in a few weeks–and it’s something that, up until now, I prayed that it wouldn’t affect any races.

In the past, when I heard people complain about needing to go to the bathroom while running, I didn’t get it. “Just hold it,” I used to think to myself. I couldn’t imagine stopping to use the porta-potty in the middle of a race.

But I get it now.

I get what it’s like to be legitimately sick while running. Because it happens to me all the time. And my biggest fear that I’ve had all summer–that I’d run a marathon and have to shit uncontrollably throughout the race–is exactly what happened to me in Philly.

Miles 1-4: 7:02, 7:00, 7:02, 7:11
The plan was to go out around 7:10, so these first few miles were just a tiny bit fast, but I was okay with it. They felt easy and effortless, and I knew the first half of the Philly Marathon is more difficult than the second half.

The only thing that felt a little off at this point was my hips and hamstrings on both legs-both of which had been SUPER tight and irritated going into the marathon.

Whatever. Gotta get over it.

In the past, my GPS has been wonky in Philly, so the night before the race, I changed my watch setting from automatic lap split to manual lap split. My intention was to manually split my watch at each mile so I could have a true reading of what I was running. I am SO happy I decided to do that, because not only did it keep my mind in the run, but I was also really heads up about my speed, even when the reading on my watch was completely off.

 

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The art of looking cute while simultaneously peeing your pants #blessed

 

Miles 5-7: 7:07, 7:13, 6:56
We ran through the center of Philadelphia and my watch went haywire, saying I was running 5:40s. I knew it was off, obviously. I was running completely by feel, and felt comfortable, even though this section was where the headwind kicked up. I saw Gabe and he tried to give me coaching tips:

Gabe: draft off this dude!!! *points to tall, gangly man, the size of my thigh.*
Me: SHUT UP

I checked myself out on a couple of the storefront windows, and I couldn’t help but think about how strong I looked.

This is your day.

I saw friends. I saw James. I smiled and waved. I ate some gels. I was loving every minute, which is exactly what I wanted out of this race.

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Clearly Gabe’s coaching to draft off people was not effective

Mile 8-10: 7:00, 6:53, 7:11
This is where the course gets a little harder, and I had been anticipating it the entire first hour. I climbed the hill past the frat houses at mile 8 and it sucked, but I recovered quickly. I used the downhill in the 9th mile to get my momentum back and prepare for the mile 10 hill that has KILLED me in years past.

I chugged up the hill, and the tightness in my glutes subsided. I surprisingly didn’t feel awful, and I actually PRed in the mile 10 climb (averaging 7:12), which is a big deal when you consider that the other times I ran it was during the half (thanks, Strava!)

As I recovered from the hill, the wind blasted in our faces again. Liz jumped into the race with me and asked how I was feeling. The adrenaline from downtown Philly had worn off and I was actually feeling a little sleepy…but besides that, I felt good. We were comfortably talking and running when I had the sudden, uncontrollable urge to go to the bathroom. I ran in a panic for about 2 minutes before succumbing to the urge.

Mile 11-12: 7:27, 6:56
Oh, fuck it. I’m going over there.

I sprinted towards some bushes in the Centennial Arboretum (sorry Philadelphia citizens). The process was quick, easy, and I even had some leaves to clean up with. Success!

Or was it?

As we flew down the hill onto West River Drive, thanks to gravity, the urge came back. FUCK.

The only problem was, well…the lack of coverage.

Luckily, there was a small ridge of rocks lining the river. At around 12.5, I realized the ridge would be ending, and my opportunity would be gone…the only thing is that there was a guy who was spectating ON THE END OF THE RIDGE. Wtf. Whatever. I sprinted towards the ridge and tucked myself behind the rocks.

Hi. So this is weird. And really awkward. But I really have to take a shit. And this is where I’m going to do it. So, uh, yeah. I’m never going to see you ever again, so I’m sorry if this experience is really traumatizing for you. But this is really necessary. God this is embarrassing. Please don’t look. Yikes. I’m really sorry. OK bye.

I’m fairly certain that man will need therapy. I really hope he doesn’t read this blog.

Mile 13: 7:17
I did my duty and sprinted back in the race, hitting 6:50s to catch up to where I wanted to be. That was the quickest pitstop EVAR! Fellow runners were even complimenting me on how efficient I was. I beamed with pride.

Half marathon – 1:33:02

Alright, not bad. I wanted to hit the half between 1:32-1:33 so I could hammer the shit out of the backend and negative split. I was looking for 3:05 and below as a finish time. So with 2 pitstops, I was fine with a 1:33. I didn’t feel fresh, but I didn’t feel terrible by any means.

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Probably looking for a place to take a dump, it’s fine


Miles 14-16: 
7:11, 7:06, 7:20
I cruised through the center of Philly and saw James and Gabe. As I turned the corner onto Kelley Drive, I told myself to settle in for the long haul. And man. It was a long haul.

Holy. Fucking. Wind.

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OK just tuck behind these guys. The wind’s not that bad. Hey! A camera. Smile for the camera. That was the goal, right? To enjoy this thing?

Mile 16 was 7:20…and it definitely felt harder than that. I told myself two things:

1 – Only 10 miles left!! You can definitely do this. That’s just over an hour of running.
2 – If you factor in this wind, that mile was like a 7:05-10 effort-wise. So you’re good. Your body is fine. Keep your shit together, Mary.

It has been a long time since I’ve remained so positive this late in a race. I’m really proud at where I kept my head.

Mile 17: 7:11
Still not really where I wanted to be, but I kept chugging. I kept dreaming of the tailwind we’d hit on the way back.

A pack of guys passed me in here. I let them pass and then said to myself, “no. You need to run with them,” so I surged to catch back up. I caught them and things were going swimmingly…until my stomach dropped. Again.

Oh shit. I gotta go. Shit shit shit shit shit shit shit shit shit. It’s happening.

They drifted away from me as I started looking for a new spot to pull over. BUT THERE WAS NOWHERE TO GO. WTF. The wind was brutal with no one around me to draft off of.

Remember the ridge surround the river from mile 13? Well, there was the same ridge here…only, on the other side of the ridge, it dropped straight down onto a path next to the river…so there’d be no room for me to go.

Twice–at mile 17.25 and 17.5–I sprinted over to the ridge, hopeful there’d be a spot for me to crouch and go. This was a fatal mistake: after the second aggressive out-and-back attempt (think lateral suicide sprint in the middle of a marathon), I tweaked my hamstring. My hamstring was already tight and buggy up by the attachment…but it never bothered me in the belly of the hamstring. As I entered back onto the course, I immediately started cramping in the dead center of my hamstring.

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What, you don’t run lateral suicide sprints in the middle of a marathon?

So here I am, about to shit my pants…limping, because my hamstring is about to rip off the bone…panicking, because in one mile, everything had literally gone to shit. The longer I waited to go to the bathroom, the more my stomach churned.

FINALLY,  just before mile 18, I found a porta-potty. I sprinted in and, well, I’ll spare you the gory details. But you know when going to the bathroom only hurts your stomach more? Yeah. That.

I sat on the pot (no shame for sitting…it was actually clean) and watched the pace on my watch creep up…and up…and up. My stomached felt increasingly horrible. I put my head in my hands. “It’s over,” I said out loud.

Mile 18: 8:34
I jogged back onto the course, head hanging in shame. I felt terrible. My legs and my stomach were done. I watched the elites pass, going back into the city, and I wished I was still running fast. I was sad it was over.

I saw my athlete, Tara, and she took a video. I’m legitimately surprised at how sprightly I look.

Mile 19-26.2: 1:16:12
After I saw 8:34 for mile 18, I stopped lap splitting my watch. I thought about dropping out. What was the point of finishing? I was legitimately sick and I was concerned I was doing further damage to my hamstring. But I kept moving.

At mile 21, my stomach lost it again. I found another porta-potty…took my time…jogged back onto the course. I saw a man throwing up on the side and I almost threw up watching him. I couldn’t take any gels or gatorade and I had stopped sweating completely.

I passed Tara again after I went to the bathroom for the 4th time. I asked if I could use her phone. I called Gabe and he didn’t pick up. All I wanted was to talk to James and for him to tell me it was okay to DNF. But I couldn’t get in touch with any of them.

I kept trucking back into the city.

I’ve never walked in a marathon before. I walked during mile 22 and twice during mile 23. I saw people running in the opposite direction who knew me from social media and I was embarrassed I wasn’t running.

You knew this was a chance. It’s ok. Your fall race was Hartford. That 1:25 was what you earned this fall.

Finally, at mile 24, I found a woman to run with. She was the 1:25 pacer, so my new goal now was to finish in 1:25. We talked for 2 miles. I got over my misery and started to enjoy myself. I smiled again. I saw people I knew and waved to them.

Wow, I’m actually going to finish, aren’t I?

I looked to my right and I saw Gabe, James, and Liz. I was expecting James to be mad, or look disappointed…but he had a big smile on his face–they all did. Maybe today wasn’t so bad after all.

I locked eyes with Gabe and I wanted to stop and give him a kiss. My finish time didn’t matter; when’s the last time I stopped in a race to give him attention? Literally never. But there were too many people, I couldn’t get through, so he took off running on the other side of the fence with me, smiling the entire way. We ran this way until I crossed the finish line.

FINAL MARATHON – 3:25:47

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Smiling at the finish – exactly what I wanted.

It was over. I ran my slowest time in over 3 years: over 20 minutes slower than where my fitness is.

But it was a risk, and I knew that. Looking back…I am sad…but in the moment, I wasn’t at all. I knew the run was out of my control: my body had completely revolted. I stayed strong for as long as I could, but threw in the towel when my body said no.

Because I’m so stubborn, I will not give up on the marathon. This year was just really freaking hard, and every marathon I ran (3!!) was a test of my patience. All races ended up having shit weather…and that just sucks. I was VERY stressed going into this race about the weather (among other things), and I can’t help but think it had something to do with my GI system having a meltdown. (I know, I know. Control only what you can pre-race. Easier said than done.)

So I will be back for this distance. I am strong enough for sub-3:05. I am strong enough for sub-3. I was strong enough this year, but it didn’t happen. This year was full of breakthroughs in other distances, just not the marathon. And that’s hard to deal with…but it’s okay. I’m exiting 2016 having run 3 marathons and being healthy. –That’s huge, and I can’t take it for granted.

I’m not sure when the next marathon will be, but let me tell you…after this year, I’ve got some major beef with this distance, and I am NOT backing down just yet. Thanks for the tour, Philly, but I think I have a better relationship with Boston.