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Archive for October, 2010

Racin’

Yesterday, the Dials family took on the Pleasant Run Run. Located in Irvington, which takes its Halloween celebrations pretty seriously, the race consisted of about 351 people walking, running and sprinting 5 miles throughout the historical area.

It was cold when we arrived to pick up our registration packets so we warmed up at the local Starbucks. I don’t do coffee, but I think that their Peppermint Hot Chocolate is like Christmas in my mouth. So in the company of cheerleader, a few witches, a cat and something resembling a gypsy, I knocked one down before the race. JD took a few laps around the area to warm up his legs. I used to make fun of the show offs who would run a mile before the race or sprint up and down the street to keep their legs fresh. As I watched him jog around the building, doing butt-kicks and high knees, I thought – welp, I am now married to one so probably should stop judging.

This is a small little race, so there wasn’t a start line – just a couple of cones on either side of the street to stand behind. Though we had chips on our shoes, the start was determined by gun time which meant all the serious runners elbowed their way to the front. Among them, was my husband. He was aiming for a better place than last year (16th) and his competition was easy to spot. Those with a Puma tattoo, and who wore a singlet and tiny shorts in 37 degrees were going to be top finishers. Those of us that were wearing rhinestone stocking caps and pigtails were not in contention.

The race began and my watch read 8:03 at the first mile. No wonder I felt like regurgitating my hot chocolate! The race was lovely…turning leaves, people in costume on street corners cheering, families raking their yards. Part of the race was through grass…which isn’t as fun as it sounds. I just wanted to lay down in the grassy knolls, not run across them. Some little trollop passed me at mile 3 and then ran right next to me, her elbows grazing mine until I finally moved away from her. I didn’t like her race etiquette, nor the fact that her legs were so skinny, leggings fit her like sweat pants, so vowed I would get revenge by beating her. Unfortunately, I didn’t, which was really my only disappointment of the day. But I did give her the stink-eye when the race was over to show her the business.

When I finished the race, I was thrilled– 42:27 – an 8:29 pace! Definitely a personal best for me. JD was amazing – he finished in 30:14 and got 10th place. He told me that he didn’t even concern himself with time…he really just raced the other top performers. What a cool feeling to be in the top pack (could it be called a peloton?), sprinting towards that finish line with the best competitors in the race. He placed. I participated. But, in answer to last week’s burning question - we both raced. He against the tank tops, me against the watch. And both achieved success.

Speaking of racing success, today, one of my good friends, Martha Ellen, completed the Marine Corps Marathon. She wows me. This isn’t her first marathon, but last February she decided to go on a health kick. Running, swimming, Weight Watchers. This girl completely transformed her body and her life. Last spring, we decided we were both going to do October marathons. We never did our runs together, but shared training war stories. We also vowed to a lifetime goal of beating Sarah Palin’s marathon time (3:59). I’m not shy about my political alignment, and if there is one person I’d love to be “better” than when it comes to running, it’s SP. Guess who hit her goal today? Martha finished the race in 3:49:14! I am so proud of her and can’t wait for her to walk me through every single mile when we celebrate together tomorrow  night.

So today starts a new marathon week…which means a need for reflection, preparation, serenity and focus. It started today with a nice, smooth run on the Monon…but given that this blog has become like running therapy for me, you’ll be hearing from me regarding next week’s race soon enough.

Taper Survivor

Guest Post by Mr. Meggie

First things first, thanks to Meg for letting me slum up her lovely blog for a short time. As her husband, I have the ability to hijack her site once a financial quarter to put some pressing thoughts to paper. But let’s not get too attached to each other; you’ll be back to seeing her run this thing in no time.

I’m knee deep in my taper period as we speak, so as a typical, self-focused runner, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to this time in a training cycle – what it entails, what it brings, and what it means. Every runner, every training plan tackles the taper a bit differently. Through research and some tinkering, I’ve found a taper plan that’s effective and fun for me. Most of my runs these last two weeks are speedwork: a couple interval runs during the week, 5 mile race this weekend, and another interval period next week. This keeps me loose and feeling fast during a time when my total mileage is minimal compared to previous weeks.

The taper is a time for freaking out – about lowered miles, slowing down, hitting your time, gaining weight, about how much you’re freaking out, hopefully for naught. But this taper has really brought a new joy and vitality to my running. In thinking about reasons for this, it could be my level of fitness, the great weather, or the many great running experiences I’ve been a part of lately (Meg’s NWM, witnessing new runners getting excited about the sport, Born to Run, my new Kinvara’s). I suspect it’s a combination of those things and more.

How good have I been feeling? Well, lately I’ve gone into introspective Survivor dork-mode on my easier long runs. I really don’t know anyone who watches Survivor like Meg and I do – never missing an epsiode, season after season, all while drafting teams to follow, fantasy style, throughout each season. The winner of the draft gets to choose a fun dinner destination after the season. (Let’s just say that over the last several years, Meg has only “tasted” her choice of victory ONE time.) Anyhow, bear with me through this little analogy. At the end of each Survivor season, when only a few people remain – during the show’s taper period – they go ultra-corny and have the remaining competitors walk along the beach to find the lit torches of all their fallen comrades. At each torch, they stop to remember the person it represents, saying a few blurbs about the guy or gal they barely knew through reality tv. “Boy, that Russell sure was a character. Loved him some coconut and rice. But he hated the rain!” Basically the show milks the chance to have the remaining few look back on the challenge they’ve faced and overcome. How did they get so close to achieving their ultimate goal?

That’s what’s been flooding my mind on my recent runs. My treks up and down the Monon have been like beachside runs past the torches of my previous efforts. I’ve had the chance to remember what got me to this point, and relish each small accomplishment, each large blowout, each weird character or scene I passed. I remember being on the stretch around 71st where I clocked my fastest recorded mile. I notice the spot where I ducked into bushes just north of 38th for an impromptu bathroom break (I’ve been to the gas station on the corner of 38th and Fall Creek in an emergency – it wasn’t emergency enough, as it turns out). Here’s where the car turned onto the Monon and nearly ran me over by Mama’s. Didn’t I almost make it on the morning news here by BR Brewpub one day at 6 am? Yep, the 116th bridge is definitely where I saw the guy giving his dachshund a ride in the bike sidecar designed for children. And I’ve bonked from dehydration right here on the towpath at Meridian. I’ve had every muscle in my leg fail me during a 95 degree day right outside the Monon Center. And it was all Zen as I saw the lights from the 96th street overpass shining in the dead of night on a Friday night 20 miler.

Training periods are seen as greuling 3-6 month trials for a reason. They are full of roadblocks, traps, challenges and test of will. So the taper is useful for more than just prepping your body for the final run; now we can look back and appreciate what we’ve done, and learn from it. Now I can look at my training, as a whole, for what it is, unbiased by the race result that will one day be the only tangible thing that remains. The 5 am runs, the 95-degree runs, the early saturday runs, the perfect runs, the hard runs – they are fresh in my mind, and they are the torches that will eventually go into the fire of my marathon. Because without them, that fire could never see light.

I guess my rambling boils down to this point I’ve come to realize lately: I love races. After all, I’m a runner. I thrive on them. I suspect that brewers love drinking their beer (the Sun King guys endearingly display this often) and cooks love eating meals. But I suspect that brewers and cooks also love the process just about as much – toying with ingredients, changing recipes, trying new things, tasting along the way. And that’s how I feel about the training process. I appreciate the taper for allowing me the time to appreciate the process. I got a jolt of this feeling this week during the 3/4 mile – 1 mile rung of an interval ladder run. My quads were spitting fire and crying uncle, but just ahead I could see our neighbor riding his three-wheel bike my way. He hasn’t been able to walk unaided for a few decades now. I gasped hello, passed by, corrected my form, took in the fall trees, and pressed on. I took in the pain and fed off it. Asked for more of it. Because that’s just part of the process we rely on. And that’s Freedom, in its purest.

Strands.

Check out my review of Strands! It is featured on their blog, http://blog.strands.com/.  

I am becoming obsessed with this site. In fact, tonight, I had no interest in running, but the idea of being able to enter my workout put me over the edge – I laced up my shoes. Strands is based in Corvallis, OR and so the majority of the users reside on the coasts. I am hoping to help promote this site to more Midwesterners -that way we can talk races, events and training logs locally. So… read my review, register as a user and then follow me!

Yep, I think I just became a Strands evangelist. Now I just need a cape.

Run vs Race.

If you have no chance of winning, is it still called a race? Or is it just another run?

A coworker (ahem, Jeff Bishop) asked me this…of course implying that I had no chance of winning a race. He is right. I don’t. But let me tell you – once a bib is involved. A race chip tied to my shoelaces. When there is a start line and water stops. When it’s over because I cross a finish line. That’s a race. I don’t care if I don’t beat another person…it’s still a race. I’m just racing myself.

This Saturday, JD and I are doing The Pleasant Run Run. It’s in Irvington, IN which is supposedly haunted. The tag line is “Indy’s oldest competitive 5 mile race.” (See? It’s a race!) It’s going to be in the 30s when we line up at the start (which will be a good reminder for Miss Crazy Pie Pants over here that she does NOT want to train for a marathon this winter).  JD did this last year and placed 16th. If I don’t care what I place, am I still racing?

I am not overly planning for this five miler (my comfort distance) by carbloading or buying a new outfit. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve set some goals, but with marathon dust still settling and another looming in the near future, I’m am mainly doing this for fun. When I am finished, I’ll knock down a Peppermint Hot Chocolate from Starbucks and congratulate my speedy spouse on a job well done. He will race. He will place. I will just participate. Is there a difference? Maybe, but that’s why running is an individual sport.

I run to improve my time. To take on new challenges. To lose weight (or simply maintain weight after I devour fried Oreos at the State Fair). “Winning” to me doesn’t mean I cross the finish line first. If that was the case, I would consider myself a constant failure and never stick with this sport. Winning means that I am becoming a master of my own running game, not someone else’s. Whether that’s on the MononTrail, Crown Hill Cemetery, or with a bib safety-pinned to my chest.

So I’ll race on Saturday (you say potato, I say puhtahto). A short little jaunt through the crunching leaves and ghastly ghouls of Irvington.

Shoes.

It’s been one week since the marathon and I can now say with certainty that all ten toenails survived. This is a big deal, people. I have yet to run 26.2 without losing one!

It’s not difficult to understand why these frail little things don’t survive long distances. With approximately 1500 steps/mile, runners’ feet get a beating. And it’s not just my toenails that suffer. I also get huge, painful blisters usually on the outside of my big toes. As I have mentioned before, I tend to wear 3″+ heels everyday. If my feet hurt in running shoes, they certainly aren’t going to do well in my red power pumps. I used to blame these foot ailments on the distances, but I now know that shoes can certainly make a difference. And after 5 years of running, I have tried just about every kind.

I have always relied on the shoe experts at The Running Company to aid my decision. From the very first time I went through their gait analysis, it was determined that I need a “stability” shoe due to overpronation. (The analysis consists of running on a treadmill, while your feet are videotaped. The experts then replay this in slow motion to see how the foot strikes the ground which determines their recommendation.) So I started off running in the Mizuno Alchemy Wave. You are supposed to change your shoes about every 500 miles and so when I reached this landmark, I would just order up the newest Wave version. Then, as my mileage increased, I started getting blisters. It was always in the same spot – on the outside of my big toe and embedded deep beneath the skin. If I couldn’t find a way to pop the blister, it was too painful to even wear shoes. Needless to say, this motivated me to check out something different, the Asics GEL Nimbus. Topping the charts at $125/pair, they certainly felt worth the extra coin. However, after a year upgrading these, the blisters remained. I tried other things: Toe socks. Moleskin. Athletic tape. Bodyglide. Nothing stopped the blisters and so I assumed it was just a normal side effect from marathoning.

The last time I went to buy shoes, the guy at The Running Company took one look at my torn up toes and told me that it was indeed not normal. The shoes I had worn up to this point were great, but clearly we had to try something else to prevent further damage to my tootsies. He suggested I look at a shoe with a wider toe box, specifically New Balance 760 Stability. I could immediately feel the difference. Though the shoes fit snugly, there was also significantly more space for my feet to move around.

Now, a good 600 miles later, the blisters have been few and far between. I need to purchase another pair soon, but am going to knock out this last marathon before I do. Never would I have guessed that New Balance would have provided my dream shoes, but I am now a loyal fan. After 15 weeks of training, I came out of last week’s race with only two blisters and all ten toenails. In addition, I have run races where my feet felt like I had walked over hot coals for 4 hours. After the NWM, however, my feet were the least of my concerns. Those New Balances did what they were supposed to do – supported and protected me.

The great thing about running shoes is that there really is something for everyone. And places like TRC, which allow you to take a pair home, run on a treadmill and return them if they aren’t right, want to fit you with your perfect set.

If you have seen people running or walking around in those silly shoes, Vibram Five Fingers, there is a good reason. After much hoopla about barefoot running, people all over are taking interest. Vibram provides a lightweight shoe to protect your feet from rough terrain while still allowing the benefits barefoot running provides. You won’t see me going this route anytime soon. I’ve read Born To Run and I listened to the supporting points on why it may be better than shoe-running. But as long as I stay blister free and keep my toenails, I’m not fixing something that isn’t broken.

So for all the beginners out there who want to make distance running a hobby - take heed! There is a good shoe out there for you. If you haven’t been formally fitted for your shoes, that’s step one. And don’t be afraid to try out new brands or styles as you replace your current ones. I would have continued acquiring blisters and scars had I not opened my mind to something new! Also note the importance of wicking socks. They aren’t as cheap as your cotton tube socks, but you’ll thank me later.

Then again, if you hate running and can barely motivate yourself to lace up your current tennis shoes to run that first mile, ignore everything I just said. Just throw on a tshirt, some pajama shorts and your tennis and get out there. The best part of running is that you don’t have to have a gym membership, expensive equipment or natural athletic ability to get started. Just put one foot in front of the other. Gait analysis, bodyglide, wicking socks…those things can come later.

NWM 2010 – A Review.

I did it. I ran the Nike Women’s Marathon in 4:41:44.

And so it began…We landed in San Fran on Saturday morning, met my brother and sister-in-law in the airport and immediately hit the expo. Having been to the coolest race expo only a few months earlier (Boston Marathon), I had high hopes for what this could offer. When I turned the corner and looked at Union Square, decked out in yellow and pink, women everywhere, I was ecstatic. However, the rest of the expo wasn’t nearly as exciting. There were only a few booths and all of them had long lines. Compared to Boston, where freebies were everywhere, celebrity runners were aplenty, and merchandise was easily accessible, this was a bust. Needless to say, we spent little time there.

I am not sure which is more unreliable in downtown San Francisco, finding a cab or AT&T 3G service. Both caused us headaches throughout the trip. Not having internet access on my phone was frustrating, nevermore so then when my sister-in-law, Nicki, asked me if I had seen my best friend Nathan’s tweet earlier. I had been receiving so many well wishes from friends, family and coworkers, and was couldn’t wait to see what he wrote. As we are standing in the hotel lobby, checking in, she shows me it on her phone….he had tweeted a picture of Union Square and the NWM expo. I was so confused as to why he had a picture of something we just saw…until finally, I turn around to see Nathan and his boyfriend, Hunter, standing in the lobby! Nicki was the only one who knew about this little surprise and I hugged them fiercely while yelling “SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP! What are you doing here?!” I could not have been more shocked and thrilled. They didn’t just show up to watch me race, they came with tshirts that said See Meggie Run for everyone to wear. Nathan is my oldest friend…we’ve known each other since kindergarten and have been best friends ever since. The fact that he and Hunter made this effort to see me, along with my brother and sister-in-law, is completely unforgettable and humbling.

We spent the day exploring the city (walking up and down hills) and enjoyed a lovely meal together. While my spectators formulated their cheering plan for the next day, I mentally prepared myself for the race. I had seen some of the hills in San Fran and no longer could downplay the course. I just needed to stay mentally strong and let my body do what it was trained to do.

5am on Sunday – wide awake and pumped. I was bouncing off the walls singing “Dynamite” by Taio Cruz and probably annoying everyone in our hallway. JD came with me to the start and made sure I was lined up with my pace group. Other than the burning desire I had to empty my bladder, I was ready to go. I met Kathryn, the pacer and felt confident in letting her lead my way. I also met Heidi. It was her first marathon and she and I became instant running friends. When we turned the corner towards the start line, I had visions of her and me at the finish line – embracing and knowing we’d gone through 26.2 together. Unfortunately, these things never quite work out the way you imagine.

Overall, I was not impressed with the way this race was organized. It’s a Team in Training race and everyone who raised money was able to start at the front. This meant that if women wanted to walk 4-wide throughout the course, they could and it left us runners bobbing and weaving through the first 5 miles. We would sprint when the field opened up, only to be forced to slow while breaking through the walking groups…it was miserable. But I always kept Kathryn in my sight and Heidi by my side. Those first 5 miles were the most fun I have ever had in a race. I didn’t look at my watch, didn’t pay attention to the mile markers and didn’t listen to my iPod. I was having a blast. Serious face for marathon running.And then I lost my iPod. As I reached into my fuel belt to get my first course of jelly beans, it popped off. I ran backwards to pick it up, and sprinted forward to catch my group. Out of breath at having to increase my speed, trying to force down jelly beans, I was very conscious of the fact that I was approaching as the biggest hill of my life. At the foot of the hill, mile 6, I looked at Heidi and we fist bumped….we can do this! We started to climb. And climb. The Golden Gate bridge is to my right and one might think that was beautiful, but I could barely see straight as I was exerting so much effort. My face felt like it was going to explode, my heart was racing, my calves screaming. Up and up and up. For an entire mile. Steep. I lost the pacer. I lost Heidi. I was devastated…but I knew I could catch up with them on the downhill. When I finally got through that hill (which trust me, if hell exists, mine is running up that hill for eternity), the downhill was just as steep. I let loose – forgoing all the advice of lean back, heels first. I was flying down the hill and could see Kathryn and Heidi in front of me. I advanced to about 5 feet behind them and then we reached another hill. At this point, I turned on my iPod and decided that goals 2 and 3 were long gone. I had to run my race, alone and do my best to enjoy it. I watched as they surged again up that next hill, leaving me behind.

My spectators were awesome. I saw them at mile 3, 4.5, 9, 16, and 25. They busted their bums to find me as much as possible and I can’t explain how great it felt when I would see those yellow shirts up ahead. Seeing my best friends, husband, brother, sister-in-law, screaming their heads off for me – it was exactly the energy boost I needed. Not to mention, they all made efforts to keep my at-home-listeners abreast of my progress through Twitter (#meg262). At mile 9, JD ran up the hill with me. I told him how I gave up on my time goal and just hoped to get through it. That I had run up 8 hills already, 3 of them I didn’t even see coming. (In Indiana, they would have been the worst of a course, but in SF, didn’t even register on the elevation map) He told me to just run my race and to enjoy it.

I have no memory of miles 10-12. Weird how that works, but every marathon I have done, there are missing miles.

At mile 12, my legs were on fire. My muscles were tight and hot and I kept thinking that someone had replaced my quads with porcupines. I thought to myself, if I quit right here, it would be the hardest race I have ever done. And then I ran 14.2 more miles.

After another round of jelly beans, I had a surge of energy. Miles 13-16 were fantastic – I think partly because my mind was so preoccupied in finding a bathroom. I was almost to the point of ducking behind a bush when I found an open porta potti. Though I had passed by many since the start line, I refused to lose time standing in line. At mile 15, that open stall called to me like a beacon.  I eagerly entered to find the most disgusting scene possible. A lot of runners, me included, have stomach issues when they run and at mile 15, I was seeing it all in plain view. I ignored my natural desire to run as far away as possible and did what I came to do. I felt immediately better and at the next water stop, took two glasses of water to wash my hands.

I found my spectators again at mile 16. JD told me that the pace group wasn’t that far ahead of me and that I was actually doing really well. By this point, the time on my watch was null and void. I forgot to take the “auto-pause” setting off my Garmin and as a result, whenever I lost a GPS signal, the time stopped. So though hearing that my goal time was within sight was encouraging, I still had 10 miles to go. By this time, I was on flat land for the first time since mile 3. Though the hills had disappeared temporarily, the wind and rain had picked up. I was running along the coast and the sideways rain found a way to chill my entire body.

At mile 17 I finally took IBUprofen and at mile 18, when I should have been having my third course of jelly beans, I just couldn’t. My stomach was a mess….I was nauseous and crampy. I was craving water yet felt the more I drank, the worse it made my stomach. I forced down a few beans for good measure and plugged along.

At mile 19, I see Heidi. She wasn’t walking, but you could hardly call it running. I slowed down to talk with her. Apparently, dear Kathryn never let off the accelerator. Though she promised to slow down going uphill, according to Heidi, she raced up and down them. Every time she looked at her watch, they were doing a 9:36 pace. She had nothing left and though I wanted to stay with her, and still have a chance for my fantasized scene of the two of us at the finish, I knew I needed to run my race. I told her she was fantastic and that she was doing so well considering the weather and hills. I reminded her that her 5 girls were going to be so proud of their mama when she completed the race. I told her to stay strong and then I surged ahead, this time, leaving her behind.

At mile 21, there was another damn hill. I had given up counting them long ago but I really felt the angst of this one. I just had nothing left. The power to propel myself forward comes from my hips and upper thighs…and that tank was empty. Every part of my body ached. At mile 22 I stopped to stretch. The minute I stopped forward progression, the tears came. In buckets. God it felt good to release all that emotion that I was holding back. I wasn’t crying because of the pain. Or because I was scared I wouldn’t finish. Or because I wasn’t going to get a personal best. I cried out of respect for the course and the magnitude of what I was doing. Luckily, a Team in Training woman walked by and offered me a pretzel. No, I didn’t want one, but thank you for snapping me out of it. I started running again. For the rest of the race, I would run 8-9 minutes, walk 2 minutes. I have never walked so much in a race, but I knew if I wanted to get through the last 5.2 miles, it was the only option I had. At mile 23, there was a downhill and I begged my body to unleash and let gravity do the work. But my legs were too weak and too tight, the pavement too slick and I cruised down at a slow 10:33 pace. At mile 24, I ditched my fuel belt. My stomach was no better and I thought having that thing off my waist might help.

At mile 25, I see JD. He, wearing his khackis and a backpack, runs with me for the next 9 minutes. He tells me I am amazing and inspiring. He tells me that Nathan and Hunter are waiting for me up by the finish line and will run with me then. I can see the finish line and am thrilled it’s almost over. A spectator gets right in my face and yells “Number 19201, YOU are a mar-a-thon-er!!” God bless that man for making me smile. Nathan meets me when I have only .2 miles to go and screams at me that I can do it and that I am fantastic. He definitely put his former University of Iowa cheerleading skills to use.

As I make my way to the finish, I find energy to pick up my legs and some speed. At this point, I am sobbing. It’s the hardest thing I have ever done and I am finally through it. I made it.

As I cross that line, I sink to my knees in physical and emotional exhaustion. A volunteer comes over and asks me if I need medical attention. I answer no. Then he asks if I need him to hold me, and I say yes. I literally fall into his arms and cry on this stranger’s shoulder. God bless this man for hugging not just my body, but my heart. I look up at the firemen who are holding my prize on a silver platter. That little blue box.

By the time I make it through the finish area, I have a bag full of crappy food, a Tiffanys necklace, a finisher’s tshirt and some chocolate milk. My fans find me immediately after and I hungrily grab the dry clothes JD brought for me.

We make our way to the spectator busses to which I paid $15/ticket for transportion back to the start.  The queue for the busses is at least a mile long. I ask a woman how long she’s been waiting and if the line is moving fast. “Oh yeah…I have been here for 15 minutes but I have moved a little. You just have to have faith and patience.” I look down at her bib and see that it’s pink, indicating she is a half-marathoner. Maybe I would still have faith and patience after 13.1 too, but I lost those well into the second half of the race. We hailed a cab.

I had three goals for this race – the most important one being to enjoy the race. I can’t say that I did that.  The scenery was beautiful and had I been in less pain, maybe I would have noticed it more. I will say, that I somehow managed to keep my mind strong throughout. I never doubted that I would do it. I never played the mental games or let myself get crazy. And the fact that I was a mere 8 seconds slower in San Francisco then I was in Champaign, IL last May, means my body is definitely in the best running shape of my life. Had that course been flat, a PR would have been mine.

So onward and upward! Less than 3 weeks before I do this again, this time in Indianapolis. I haven’t thought about goals or strategy for this one yet. Hell, I’m still applying Bengay 3x daily from this last one.

No one likes being out of control, yet our jobs, families, health, relationships aren’t always things over which we have power. But setting your mind to something like a half or full marathon, training for it, completing it – that is something we runners decide and something we control completely. Come rain or hills or injuries or pain, we make it happen. The sense of achievement from doing the Nike Women’s Marathon is my little nugget of pride buried deep within me.

I won’t do this particular race again, but nothing will take away the reward of completing the NWM. Having my loved ones cheering for me. Having friends surprise me. Having tons and tons of messages, tweets, texts and emails waiting for me when I finished. Knowing that I took on a horribly difficult course and prevailed. When I wear this little silver necklace, it is those things I will remember. Always.

Ready or not. Here I come.

Two days to go before I am lined up at the start of the Nike Women’s Marathon in San Francisco. And this week has been dedicated to preparation.

  • My runs have been easy - 2 miles at 100 Acres on Monday, 3.5 miles at Crown Hill on Tuesday, 2 miles on the Monon last night. No run is going to make me faster or stronger this late in the game, they are just about keeping my legs warm and loose. And dear heavens tapering feels good.
  • I’ve been sober for 6 days. Might as well treat my body like a temple for the week preceding the race.
  • I hit up The Running Company for last minute gear and couldn’t resist purchasing a new shirt. So before I get sweaty and have salt deposits all over my face and chest, I will at least look good.
  • I am in love with my new iPod nano. It’s so cute and little and clips right onto my clothes. No more armbands, no more chicken wing. I’ve loaded it up with fantastic new songs and have my podcasts all set. I’m a big fan of talk radio when I run. Though I love some heart-pumping music, nothing occupies my mind better than Real Time with Bill Maher and 60 Minutes. So I’ll listen to a couple episodes of Bill’s hilarious political rants, one episode of 60 Minutes and then switch over to music to take me home. A unique conglomeration of showtunes, acoustic songs and dirty rap beats will surely keep things interesting.
  • I’ve laid out all of my gear and had my inspector (Harper) check it out.
  • My running plan is set. Right before mile 6, I’ll take down my first packet of Sports Beans (jelly beans that are packed with sugar, carbs, caffeine. Eaten at regular intervals, they keep my blood sugar high, postpone muscle fatigue, and enhance performance. Some people use gels, or chews…I stick with jelly beans.) Mile 12, more jelly beans. Mile 13.1 – halfway done! Mile 15, IBUprofen. Mile 18, more jelly beans. Mile 23, last packet of jelly beans. 26.2, I look for my tux-clad fireman with a little blue box.

So nothing left to do but stay fierce mentally. I know my miserable miles are 15-21. I am prepared for the self doubt to creep in and for me to be highly sensitive to every pain and twinge I feel during those 6 miles. But at least I know it’s coming…and my pep talk is ready: ”I am a warrior. I can do this.” It will be looping through my head throughout the race, hopefully gaining momentum with each passing mile.

I’ve received an outpouring of support from friends this week, which has certainly helped keep my attitude strong. My coworkers put together a goodie bag for me and 26 of them signed up for a mile. In May, I created a wristband and dedicated each mile to a person in my life. At every mile marker, I consciously spent time thinking about that person, the memories we had together, their encouraging words before my race. The fact that my colleagues did this for me brought me to tears. Other friends have sent me cards and motivational email messages. My client, who has run more than 20 marathons himself and recently completed one in 2:45 (INSANELY fast), tweeted me this: “@meggiehd Watch this before Sunday. Then go out and be awesome: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7dFgH_vDh6E” It’s an amazing video of the first women’s marathon, and not only gave me chills, but more tears. It’s funny how a marathoner knows just what to say to motivate another marathoner. Thanks, Pete.

For those who want to follow my progress, there is supposedly a way to do so through Facebook. I’ll learn more at the expo tomorrow. Otherwise, you can follow via Twitter. My husband (@jtdials), brother (@pecansandie79) and sister-in-law (@stull30) will be tweeting throughout the race when they can. They plan to use the hashtag #meg262 to make it easy for those to follow along.

Thanks for all of the support and cheers. 26.2….I’m coming for you.

I choose left.

As a kid, I decided I liked Left better than Right. I don’t remember why I thought I needed to make a choice about them, but I always went with Left. And I could write a power paragraph about why. “Right” can be so many things (Something being correct. Something being proper. An entitlement. 90 degree angle.) “Left” is just that. So I picked the underdog and have been a loyal left supporter since then. I don’t enjoy being right handed. I don’t like it when someone ends a sentence with “Right?” or responds to my statements with “Right.” Left it is. I would rather hook a golf shot than slice it, I like loosening a screw more than tightening and I vote blue over red every time.

That being said, you would think that after a lifetime of dedication and commitment to left, I wouldn’t be betrayed. Yet since marathon training, it’s my left leg and hip that have caused me pain. Never have I had a single issue with my right leg…it’s strong, obedient and low-maintenance. My left leg, on the other hand (pun intended), is a trouble maker.

While training for my first marathon, I developed hip pain on the left side. After researching stretches and doing my best to ice it (do you know how hard it is to ice a hip?), I finally stumbled upon compression shorts. Now these aren’t the type of lightweight spandex briefs that men wear under their running shorts to prevent the family jewels from chaffing. These are specific for holding, protecting and stabilizing muscles. And by God are they hideous looking. Imagine the material of a wet suit – very thick, barely pliable spandex, sewn together with seams in very unique places and a waist band that would make Oksana Baiul look like she had love handles. They cost me $99 for one pair and despite how disgustingly ugly they made me feel, they worked. The pain I felt went away…and nary a discomfort I felt during the race.

While training for my third marathon, I developed knee issues. The IT band runs from your hip to your ankle and is a common running injury. Guess which leg hosted this injury? Yep. My favorite. I purchased a knee brace to keep the IT band in place while I ran. It seemed to help during my training runs, but by mile 8 of my marathon, the pain started. I made a conscious decision earlier in the day to not bring IBUprofen with me. There are plenty of debates on taking any sort of pills before rigorous exercise so I decided to forgo it. Big mistake. I tightened the band. Loosened it. Moved it above my knee. Below my knee. While my knee was throbbing, my Achilles and hip started to work overtime. The tri-fecta. By mile 16, I stopped to stretch. By mile 17, I was hobbling. I saw my husband at mile 18 and sobbed as he finally brought me those 3 little brick-colored magic pills. He ran that mile with me (I use the word “run” loosely) and once the pain pills kicked in, I kicked in. Full speed ahead for the last 7 miles, limp and all. When I crossed that finish line, I dropped to the ground and a woman brought me a bag of ice. I laid in the grass icing every joint on my left leg. That night, I couldn’t even bend it and walked with a peg leg to my celebratory dinner (Wearing flats, mind you! I don’t do flats. I wear 3″ heels just about everywhere I go so when I wear flats, you know that I am either in a lot of pain, or am rebelling about something I hate – like jury duty.)

So now on marathon 4, it’s once again my left side that I feel. This time, in a brand new place…my tailbone. (Or somewhere in that vicinity.) I notice it most when I take my first few steps after sitting down, just after a long run or when sitting on something hard like a tile floor or a wooden chair. I can’t ice it…hell, I can’t even reach it. So I am just ignoring it. We’ll see how that strategy works come Sunday. Trust me, I’ll have reserve IBUprofen at the ready.

Injuries are no joke. We have a plethora of running tape, ace bandages and ice packs at our house. I often fall asleep in a room smelling like a nursing home after an Icy Hot massage. While training for my first half marathon, I took a class organized by Bricks to Bricks. The most valuable thing I learned about was how different parts of your body can get injured through running. Runner’s knee, sciatica, plantar fasciitisshin splints, we covered them all. I’m not promoting self diagnosis over seeing a doctor, but, there is a great section on Runner’s World on Injury Prevention. Tell them where it hurts and an abundance of information on running-specific injuries, treatment and stretching will appear. In addition, The Running Company is doing something really cool. They have partnered with a Sports Medicine group that will talk with athletes about what ails them. What a fantastic and non-intimidating way to make sure that what you think is just a little twinge, isn’t in fact, a stress fracture. I’ve been lucky that my injuries have never forced me to stop training, but knowledge is power. Listen to your body. Know what possible causes are and take action quickly.

So, tonight I am going to have a little fireside chat with the left side of my body. Left has two strikes already…I hope I don’t have to reconsider right.

BHAG.

I have spent the majority of my time today stalking the progress of my friends who ran the Chicago Marathon. While I lounged around in jammies this morning, ate scrambled eggs and went shopping for new fall boots, these three girls ran 26.2 miles. In 80 degrees. While people dropped out of the race due to heat exhaustion, my girls finished. I am so proud of Kelly, Annette and Katie (Katie on the left, Kelly on the right) and I know their success will fuel and inspire me next week. I am in awe of them. It’s not that they had the courage to complete the marathon, it’s that they had the courage to even try.

I remember talking to my British friend before my first marathon. He did the London Marathon when I lived over there and his experience gave me my first taste of what an undertaking 26.2 really is. He called me the day before the race to remind me that I had already completed the tough part. Those Saturday morning long runs that I did on my own, with no water stations, no fans, no gun-time to see me off. Eighteen weeks of sacrifices to get my miles in. Those early nights. Sober nights. Boring nights…to prep my body for a sixteen+ mile run the next day. Those were the hard parts and race day is purely the reward. I kept those words with me as I battled my first marathon and continue to believe them now. That being said, with only one week until the marathon, I can feel the jitters starting. This week, when rest is crucial, I’ll be up at all hours of the night in anxiety. I’ll think through my race plan and make modifications up until the last second. And it’s highly possible that I’ll get a little bitchy (oopsies.)

It’s not that I am nervous about completing 26.2. I know I can do that. I am nervous about missing my goals. Up until this point, I have been hesitant to talk about them. I can manage my own disappointment in myself, but letting down those that support me is a whole different ball of wax. Case in point: My last marathon (May 1st), I told my colleagues my goal – a 4:29 marathon. Instead, 4:41 was what I came home with. One coworker cringed when I told him my results and said “Oh….a bit slower huh?” in the most condescending tone imaginable. Because I loathe excuses, I said nothing as I walked away…yet wanted to scream “I ran the last 7 miles with a swollen Achilles, a throbbing knee and a limp. Is that not good enough?” The last thing runners want to feel is that they disappointed their fans.

But saying my goals aloud makes them real. So…. drumroll please.

Three goals:

  • Number one, and most importantly, I want to enjoy this race. I want to feel like the Tarahumara tribe. Smooth and easy. Smiling. Enjoying. Remembering always that it is a privilege to run. I want to run with a rational and focused mind. I want to enjoy the beautiful scenery, laugh in the face of the hills and dance across the finish line. If that means that I finish in my worst marathon time, so be it.
  • Goal number two is a PR. My best is 4:35:45 (a 10:31 pace.) Though I am currently faster than I ever have been, I have missed some key long runs throughout training . The hills intimidate me. And I have no idea what to expect of climate, time zone and altitude differences. But if presented with those variables, I still manage to achieve a personal best…I will crown myself a bad ass.
  • My BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) is to hit 4:29. (I would say 4:30 but I have this weird OCD issue with things being divisible by 5 so alas, 4:29 it is). This is the icing…do this, and not only will I be a bad ass, but I will be a frosted bad ass.

So there they are. Goals 1, 2 and 3. Out there for the world to know. It’s good to be accountable and have some pressure. It’s good to know that there are people who will be following my progress and watching to see what I do. I take the risk that people will judge my success based solely on a number but do I really care?

Regardless, when I cross the finish line, a tuxedo-clad fireman will hand me a little blue box from Tiffanys with a finisher’s medal/necklace inside. My husband, brother and sister-in-law will be there to embrace me. I’ll return to my phone to find emails, texts and tweets of support and love. And when I eat that delicious post-run meal, and drink that celebratory beverage, I will have earned it, regardless of goals 1, 2 and 3.

Slice of Crazy Pie

I did something crazy today. I signed up to run the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon on November 6th. That’s 3 weeks after I run 26.2 in San Francisco.
Now, when I say crazy….this really isn’t that nutty to me. In fact, it’s more like I am finally letting everyone else in on my little secret. I have run enough races to know that 2 days after I cross a finish line, I am always looking for my next race. This flat, local marathon has been in my head for awhile. I did it last year, and though I promised I would never run that course again, here I am…back for more.
Yes, I realize that it takes 18-21 days to recover from a marathon. But I am going to rely on my base fitness level to get me through these races. And the best part… I have options. If the hills break me down and I am not happy with my performance in San Fran, I have another chance for redemption. If I dominate 26.2 at sea level, then this Indy race will be for calm, relaxed, pressure-free fun. Either way, I always knew I was going to run this race. I just finally pulled the trigger.
And how many times in my life will I be able to run 3 marathons in one year?
-October 5, 2010