Friday, December 12, 2014

The jumping off point: Not really a training recap

The first week of my official training plan for IMCDA is behind me! The workouts were short and manageable (I'm being lured into a false sense of 'I can handle this!'.) but the week itself was kind of a mess. This post will be kind of a mishmash of what's going on the first week of training, and a brief mention of the actual workouts. I haven't really decided how much detail I want to provide in my recaps of training.

Training this week kicked off with a rest day Monday!! My training weeks are written Mon-Sun and I liked having a rest day. At first I felt a little lame beginning my training with a big fat 0 in the training spreadsheet, and I had considered a short run because this week's workouts, as I said, were short, so rearranging, or throwing in a 20 min run wouldn't have been a huge issue. I ended up having a ton of errands to handle though (including taking my car for emissions and renewing my horribly overdue tabs. Whoops?!) so the rest day stood.
The plan. The food. 

As far as swimming goes, I haven't been in the water since August for my sprint tri, and only about 2-3 swims before that-none longer than about a half mile of swimming. My first lunch swim this week was ROUGH. My shoulders were burning before I made 100 yards, and my splits on my watch weren't exactly promising. I kept reminding myself "what if this was your first run in 4-5 months? what if you had only run 3-4x this year?" which helped me keep my focus in check. That is why the road to ironman is so long. I wish I had been swimming sooner, but it's okay that I wasn't.

The second swim of the week was at Master's swim! That was intimidating as all get out. I emailed the coach beforehand to ask her/reveal my skill level and make sure I wouldn't be a hindrance to the class. She reassured me I would fit right in, so I showed up, nerves and all. There were only a handful of women there, since most athletes are still slowly coming back from off season. This allowed me some extra 1:1 time with the coach though, which I greatly appreciated. She told me she didn't see any major issues with my stroke, and it actually looked "really good" and that she had been under the impression my swim would be a lot worse than it actually was. Turns out though, that I swim flat, and need to work on body rotation. I started working on this and whoa wake up call! It feels so exaggerated and awkward to rotate enough for her to say "that looks right".

On to #bikelove! Since summer, I have been increasing my rides, and simply spending more time in the saddle than ever before. My bike, which is named Baby, as in "Nobody puts Baby in the corner" because she spent a lot of time in corners, has seen more of my butt than in the last 5 years combined. I've LOVED my bike time, other than the saddle! I was battling some numbness this summer when my ironman boyfriend set me up for a bike fit at the shop he goes to. That included testing a couple different saddles, and finally deciding to try the Cobb V Flow Plus. We took our bikes out the next day to ride a portion of the IMCDA course, and by the last 8 or so miles, I was almost in tears from the pain of the saddle. I was miserable for the next few days, we pulled the saddle and tried another, with no luck. Then I tried his saddle with no split in it, and it was worse. I went back to my stock Scott Contessa saddle and it was okay, but I was sitting pretty far back on the seat, and not using my legs and booty to power myself enough (in my opinion, I'm no expert). After chatting with my ironyoda, I went back to the shop and asked to try the Cobb JOF 55. I was prepared to give it a few weeks, and not assess based on one ride. I bought chamois butter and feared the worst for my lady bits. But, I am in love. This saddle is amazing for me!! I definitely have some residual soreness from adjusting to new pressure points, but I am much more forward 'Off the Front' as the saddle promises, and I don't find myself adjusting repeatedly. I have made an effort to sit up and back on the saddle as well since duh, IMCDA boasts some climbing that will require that position as well. Between the saddle and my undying love of Coeur's seamless chamois, I'm a happy camper!
I used a video to check my form and saddle position! And #noangrykitty

Running of course, is my comfort zone. I'm working on adjusting to heart rate training though. *Cough Cough* I'm choking on all the pride I have to swallow to accept the paces I'm running. For now, I am utilizing the MAF 180 formula for my numbers. I keep reminding myself I don't have to be fast right now... and that if I could maintain the pace I'm running now at Ironman, it would be a dream. But, it's also within the realm of possibility. I'm not training at a pace that would be completely out of reach on a perfect race day. That is how I stay patient.

The only messy part was that, in typical Monica form, I fell down the stairs! Thursday morning I was (slowly, cautiously) carrying my cereal and coffee down the stairs and I slipped, landed hard on my back, hit my head AND spilled everything all over the new carpet. Fortunately it wasn't as bad as summer's fall, but still did some damage to my ragdoll neck. Fortunately, I still got in all the workouts without hindrance, but what a way to start!

 My recaps will probably change format without so much 'background' needed (did anybody need it anyway??) but this first week totaled 6 hours of training and a few doubles.

I am ALREADY so grateful for the mentors and role models I have, both close and far, who are going to be seriously invaluable to this journey.

And away we go!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Thoughts on the Hanson Marathon Method

A lot of my running happened before I started blogging. My two best marathons (okay, ALL my marathons) were run without training recaps!

If an 18-week marathon cycle is run, and never recapped did it really happen? Yes! Any time someone on Twitter (or anywhere) mentions choosing a training cycle, or the Hanson Marathon Method comes up in the conversation, I jump right on it. I am a strong believer in their training method and philosophy. But, sadly, I wasn't a blogger for the two races I have used their training plan. The best thing I can do now is attempt to recap and review my experiences (and answer ALL the questions!)

The first time I decided to use their method was after reading New Year New You: Way of the Renegades  in Runner's World. In January of 2011. I was intrigued, but a marathon wasn't on my agenda. At that point running was barely on my agenda. I had run the Portland Marathon in 2010 and had only run a handful of times since. I saved the article and the plan anyway. I slowly started getting back into shape around March, "raced" a 12k in early May and then jumped into a 6 week quick ramp up to a half marathon. I was training with my sister for her first half, and we had the goal of finishing, nothing else. We ran our half marathon in mid-June and she began toying with a full. We discussed Tri-Cities (a small race a few hours from home in late October). I hadn't intended to run another full, but not so shockingly, the marathon sucked me in anyway. My sister and I both decided to use the article and included training plan. 

For that first training cycle, I used the article. I didn't read their book. Our paces were loosely determined at first. We had no idea what our 10k pace should be and we aimed for simply "sub-8 min pace" in our early workouts. She was training for a 4 hour finish, and I was hoping to run a 3:45. My sister followed the plan strictly. In the interest of full disclosure, I did not necessarily do so. I joined a local women's running team midway through training.  At this time, instead of following the Hanson's Tuesday speed workouts, I replaced them with the workouts of the group. I also made some variations to the Saturday workouts, occasionally participating in the 'Swifts' workouts instead of simply running easy mileage. Usually this included things like 10 x 1 min pick-ups. I did match the mileage the rest of the time. And the most important part: I abided by the 16 mile long run and did not run further. One 16 mile training run was actually a 25k trail race. On a mountain. That I ended up walking/hiking a large majority of. My paces this training cycle were a little more willy-nilly. I stuck with the goal marathon pace (around 8:25) for Thursday's runs but on occasion, my other runs would be faster. It was all over the map at times. Running with the team had caused me to progress a lot more than I had expected. 

Long story short there, I raced my unicorn race. It was perfection. I ran a 1-minute negative split which to me is about as good as it gets. I exceeded my pre-race goal of 3:45 and finished in 3:35.22 feeling strong the whole way, no wall to speak of. My sister also executed a great race, finishing in 3:47 with about a 5 minute negative split.

In 2013 I raced the Eugene marathon with the same plan, based off the book. I followed the advanced plan as it was my 4th marathon. I read it cover to cover more than once, trying to beat into my brain their philosophy on the easy days. I would say I followed it with 97% accuracy. I raced a half marathon about 8 weeks out from Eugene but continued with the plan as written before and after.  I missed/altered a few runs due to aches and pains or sickness. As my throwback recap explains, my taper week was a disaster. All things considered, I executed a pretty solid race despite the setbacks, finishing in 3:37.05.

What I love about this plan:

-The overall mileage. A lot of marathoners, especially newer marathoners run less mileage than this plan will have. For some that works. I learned I thrive on higher mileage. The first time around I peaked around 57 miles in a week. The second time, I hit a 63 mile peak week. I felt amazing. Once I broke that 50 mile barrier I felt stronger than before. For me, the volume was a huge game changer.

-The easy days. I didn't take these as easy as I should have, but I was conscious of my efforts on those days. I was proud of my slower days, knowing there would be another hard workout to push myself. I diligently focused on keeping a pace at least 30 seconds/mile slower than goal pace and paid attention to my perceived effort. I was coached personally in my most recent marathon instead of following HMM again, and there was a lack of proper easy days. I paid the price for pushing hard too much. The easy runs MATTER!!

-Marathon paced tempo. These are a weekly run, beginning with 6 miles and increasing to 10 miles by the end. I ran the same route every time that I felt simulated the Eugene course. I struggled with watch stalking on these, shooting for a 7:58-8:02 range and was all over the place mentally. Eventually I allowed a faster pace (7:51-52) which felt natural, and I could click off mile after mile without adjustment. While I didn't run my race at this pace, I felt that the effort I put into the runs matched what they had written, and saved me from the frustration of trying to keep a pace.

-Speed/strength days. Goes without saying, I love me some speed work. The longer strength intervals were fun too! The paces were a step back from what I was used to running with my group (aiming for more of a half marathon or 10 seconds slower than marathon pace, whereas I was used to 10k paced long intervals). My mantra for all of these days was 'control'. It was too easy to want to push. An interval begs to be pushed, to see what you can do with it. I had set paces that I KNEW I could nail and control was the word to keep me checked in.

-That 16 mile long run. This is the one thing that turns a lot of athletes away from the plan. "What? Only 16? But... but... the marathon is 10 (!!) miles longer than that! How?!". My sister using the plan as a first time marathoner speaks to this. 16 is enough. If you read the book they detail the reasons why a long run should only be 25-30% of your weekly volume, not 50%. I have trained with a 20 mile plan, so I can compare them, and this was effective.

Overall, this plan boosted my confidence so much. Even with the shorter 16 mile long run, knowing I had run a 63 mile week (including a 14 mi Thursday with the tempo plus warm up and cooldown). I was willing to run longer cooldowns to increase my mileage, and more importantly, I had the strength after the workout to do so. I wasn't shuffling through a half mile cool down just to get it done.

I would highly recommend the Hanson Marathon Method to ANYONE! I am also happy to answer questions more in depth about my experience and training with it!

Happy Racing!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

It's okay.

Do you ever feel like you need to sit yourself down with a cup of coffee, and talk to yourself like you are a friend? Does that make me sound crazy? I'm hard on myself. A lot. I've been reading (slowly, and still with flawed absorption) Daring Greatly by the wicked smart and sassy Brene Brown. Side note: read this book. Then read it again. Take notes. Watch her TED talks. She's so smart, and so spot on. What I've picked up from this book (besides EVERYTHING) is that I am HARD on myself. If I talked to my friends, my loved ones, the way I talk to myself... I wouldn't want to talk to me.

So I have my cup of coffee. And the things I would say to myself if I was talking to a beloved friend.

It's okay. I know it's hard, I know sometimes you feel inferior, incapable and lost. You feel like you can't juggle all the balls in the air above you... and it's okay. You are doing the best that you can. You know that, right? You are doing your best. Maybe it doesn't feel like it today, maybe it feels like a hot mess, but you are doing it. You can do it. You got this.

You are a good mom. A GREAT mom even. Sure, you don't always do it perfectly. Sometimes you snap. Sometimes your words are harsh, and his little face falls in pain. That feeling when it happens SUCKS. But you don't have to be perfect. Find the words that make his face light up. Don't worry, you aren't damaging him permanently because you were a little bit 'mean mommy' about him picking up the things on the floor, or putting his bowl in the dishwasher after you asked 5x. He needs to listen. You can speak a little kinder next time, and you can hug him now, every day, all the time, and tell him you love him, but that you need him to listen to you. You are a good mom. It's okay to misstep sometimes. It's okay that you aren't perfect, nobody is.
You did this. You are raising a great son.

It's okay not to know what you are doing with life. To have 28190 ideas of what you want to be when you grow up, not pursue any of those ideas, change your mind constantly, and never stop dreaming. Sure, you're 31, and most people have college degrees by now. Some have multiple degrees. You don't have to know. You do you. You are making a living, and you are chasing the goals you have outside of the job world. You don't have to be ambitious with a career. It's okay to be better at running a household than running a bank. And it's definitely okay to want that. If you want to sweep kitchens, cook dinners, grocery shop, do the laundry, and run a house, it's okay! You don't HAVE to climb a corporate ladder. If you want to climb though, then do it! Find the job, the path, and GO! But if you don't? It's okay. It doesn't make you less of a 'modern woman' to accept your gifts for what they are.
"Were you working? Eh."

You have to be selfish. Selfish is such a harsh word though. It's all negative, and implies greed. You have to choose you sometimes. Do you want to wind up on 'The Biggest Loser' as the contestant who put everyone else first and ate her feelings? You do that anyway, so go for the run. Fitness isn't selfish. Yes, you lose some time with Ben, but the mom he gets back is way better than the mom who never went for a run. Yes, Ironman is going to be a CHALLENGE as a single mom but you can do it. It's awesome for Ben to see you dream big, and chase big goals. It teaches him early that you can do whatever you want. That dreaming big crazy out of reach dreams is not only possible, but AWESOME! It will show him that he can do it too. He can be whatever he wants to be, do whatever he wants to do. That is an important lesson to teach.
Chase your dreams, and he'll chase his.

You ARE enough. Even as imperfect as you are. Yes, you mess up. A lot sometimes. But you are still enough. You don't have to be like someone else. It's okay that you cry over stupid things. That you cry a lot. It's just who you are. It doesn't mean you're weak, it's just you. It's okay to let things get to you. It's okay to feel it all. Sure, there are other people who handle life differently. There are pros and cons to both, but this is who you are. Don't try to smother it, or be someone else. Be you. You. Are. Enough. I can't tell you that enough times. You are enough. As you are. You will change, and learn, and grow. Someday the things that made you cry won't. Someday, new things will make you cry. But it is okay to feel so much. It's good. It's a victory to be soft and caring in a world that would tell you not to be.

Stop waiting for the day you suddenly change and become the woman who has adorable fashion like all the pinterest models. Your yoga pants are fine! Sure, you always think someday you'll suddenly have perfect outfits, a perfectly decorated home, a nice clean car and look all chic. You probably won't. Let's just accept that and move on. It's okay if this is your normal. It's okay if it never looks like something else. It's okay that you rarely do makeup or hair. It's okay to just be the woman you are, because you're still beautiful, and there are people who see you clearer than you see yourself.
You want to wear this every day? Do it! Undecorated house? Who cares.

Love. Love with everything you have. Never let your cynical side trump your optimism. Be who you want to be.  People love you for exactly who you are, the good, the bad, the ugly and the crazy. You don't have to have everything perfect. I know you thought by now you'd have it together. The picture probably looked different than it turned out, but you know you have a great life? You really do. Don't worry so much about letting people down, or disappointing them. It's your life, you answer for it. We all make mistakes. It's okay that sometimes yours are more visible. And you know what? In the end, they aren't remembered as a mistake. They are the things that make you who you are. Nobody is looking at Ben now and thinking "she made a mistake when she was 21". They are thinking "this kid is awesome, and so cool to have in our lives". Don't beat yourself up over the things that have happened. So you said the wrong thing. So you miscommunicated. So you overreacted. It happens, and it'll happen again. Roll with it and keep going.

Just keep going. You are enough. It's okay. It sounds like a bundle of cliched mantras... but it's the simple little words that matter the most. I love you, you're beautiful, you're amazing, and you're strong. You are a badass. Keep going. Don't worry so much. You are enough.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Portland 2010

I have spent a good amount of time wondering how to write what I want to write, or even if I should. I think "this is not my story to tell" and telling it makes it feel like a blatant request for sympathy. It is not that. And while I can say it's not my story, a part of it is my story, and always will be.

Four years ago I was training for the Portland Marathon. It would be my second marathon, and my goals had progressed from simply to train and PR from my 4:41 to bigger goals. I registered with a 4:15 goal. I set a sub-4 goal as I began training, and eventually the stretch goal to BQ (at the time 3:40.59). Training went so well, and I felt pretty confident in my goals. I PR-ed the half with a 1:45 a month out from Portland, and I was ready.

The Monday before the race, I got a text that set the rest of the week onto a path I couldn't have foreseen. I could have handled that week differently than I did, perhaps. But I don't think I would have. For everything I can remember with painful clarity, I don't remember the exact words of that message. But it told me something was wrong with my dear friend's son. This friend I had met a few years before. We were both single parents to little boys, and I babysat his little one from time to time when he needed it. We connected simply due to our circumstances and lives. We dated off and on, somewhat hindered by baggage we each had.

I could relive all the details of that week, but I won't. The situation itself is a matter of public record. While there was a lot of confusion at the beginning, the truth came out that the babysitter of little C had pushed him down in frustration, and he had hit his head. It caused bleeding in his brain and he was immediately unconscious. It was the kind of nightmare that you see in a Law and Order: SVU episode. You don't see it happen to people you love. Little C, who I had seen 2 days before at a softball game chasing Ben around getting into mischief, was in trouble.

What followed was spending almost every hour I could at the hospital, staying by his dad's side. I could have visited once or twice, I could have told him I was so sorry, offered to help and be there a bit. But that's not me. It seemed like the right thing to do, the right place to be. My mom cautioned me not to throw away my training in the last week, which was mostly coffee, occasional snacks, a few short runs, a few hours of sleep and constant care of others. She might have been right, but I did what I did. I stayed late into the night. I brought coffees or milkshakes to people. I sat and held my friend's hand, and listened to so much information that I can't imagine hearing as a parent. I shared the grief. I tried so hard to shoulder as much of the burden as I could. I sped back to the hospital one night, doing 90 past a cop who somehow exited the freeway without pursuing me when it came time to say goodbye. I saw the last rites. I held this precious boy's hand and stroked his hair and tickled his feet and said my goodbye. And I walked out of the hospital Friday evening next to a parent who was doing the most impossible thing I can imagine: letting go of a child. It was some of the heaviest grief I have ever witnessed or felt.

Every year, I still feel it. Every October I remember the dates of that first notification, that last night we left the hospital, and everything in between. I boarded a plane the next morning and flew to Seattle then drove to Portland for my marathon. I was in a fog. I couldn't not think about it. I woke up Saturday with a cold (no surprise, given how little I'd taken care of myself) and with that time of the month. I was exhausted, sick, and facing a marathon. A race I had worked so hard for, and that now felt like a mountain to climb. This was 2010, so anyone who ran Portland that year knows. It was the rainy year. I learned that day just how much 26.2 miles of grieving and weird joy can feel. C was free, at least. The waiting of the last week was over. There was finality, instead of questions. I ran for Cohen. I wrote those words on my arm in magic marker and I ran for him, and for all the pain and emotion of that last week. I thought of him as I ran past the train yards. I talked to him about the trains. I cried in the later miles of the marathon. From the sheer physical pain of the task at hand, from the joy of running a marathon, from grief, from release. I cried when I crossed that finish line cold, wet and alone.

I came home from that race feeling a sense of peace. I had had time (3 hours and 56 minutes) truly alone with my thoughts and feelings. I was ready to be strong for his dad, to hold his hand and support him as best I could through the next week. Through the storm of emotion, and information, and decisions. Through the candlelight vigil, the funeral mass, the fundraiser. Through the weeks and months that followed. Eventually, I was no longer strong enough to bear the weight. We made the decision to part ways, and after that, I chose not to attend the sentencing of the babysitter. I chose distance, and let that be the way to move forward. I haven't seen or spoken to the majority of the people I came to love since then. I am far removed from the people, but not from this time of year.

Every October, it weighs on me. I remember it. Small details, insignificant seeming moments that were the end of a life cut tragically short. Death is hard. It is always hard, and truly, I think it is no easier to look at a life fully lived and think it's less painful than one cut so short. Watching my little man grow I remember the age C would have been. I think of the moments his family doesn't get to share with him. This is the sort of sadness I won't forget any time soon. Sometimes I feel guilty, because I am no longer connected with everyone who went through it that I should not feel so much anymore. But that's not true, and I know that. That I remember this little boy every year, on more days than not keeps his memory alive. It is easier to remember, even if that hurts, than to forget.

Friday, September 12, 2014


After what felt like years, but was actually weeks (or maybe just hours, once I was honest with myself) I made the decision not to continue to train for the Portland Marathon. I knew in my heart from that first disjointed post that it was the right decision to make. But, we are endurance athletes. We don't quit when the going gets tough. We don't back down from a challenge. We push through a lot to reach our goals. It was a battle of wills in my head. The runner who didn't want to be seen as a quitter, to feel like a quitter. Who didn't want to give up an entry fee, a marathon, a training cycle. For once though, the smarter part of my brain won out. I talked through the decision with several other people, all of whom offered support and encouragement to my ability to run the marathon, but also those who could see it more clearly, and who told me it was okay not to race. It was okay to step back. It was okay. After waffling through all the possible outcomes, I knew I wouldn't race. 3.5-4 hours is a loooooooooong morning when your heart isn't in it. Mine wouldn't be. I struggled even to get out the door and run. The apathy was all consuming while the decision hung over my head.

Now that the decision is made, I'm sort of at the mercy of my training whims right now. Which is interesting. I've always been a runner, always. I have my lovely little road bike, but rarely, if ever, do I see cyclists out on the road and think "I want to be riding!". When I see runners, I always want to be running.

This year though, things have changed (and oh Thank God!) and I constantly want to be out on my bike. Every day I think "I want to ride!!" even if I don't get a chance. I say Thank God because I have an infinitely increasing amount of bike bonding coming my way the next several months. So, it's a relief to have that passion to be on the bike growing.

Running has always been my haven. It still is, but lately, my haven has been infiltrated by external goals. Every run, no matter how good or inspiring or bad, felt like it was measured for it's value. It was no longer a place where I could clear my head, and zone out. Then, slowly, the bike has become that haven. Before this year I could count the number of rides I did in any given calendar year on one, maybe two hands. It was never many. I assumed I wasn't a good cyclist because I didn't improve. Oh, really? If I only ran 5-10 times a year, what kind of runner would I be?! Then it clicked. Right now though, it's just about bike joy.

It's not about improving just yet. Some days, it's about 'how low can I keep my HR' just for fun. But mostly, it's just about riding! I LOVE tucking down into aero position, and just cruising! I have found that rhythm with pedaling where it feels like I'm really riding instead of dawdling and forgetting to keep pedaling. My cadence sensor is dead, so I really have no idea what I'm doing. I rarely look at my Garmin until it's all over. I just ride. And ride. And daydream about IMCDA. About the long rides. I drink my Osmo every ride to practice, and I think it might be the magic elixir, every ride seems to be infinitely better with that in the bottle (and faster! Science?). I purchased my first ever actual triathlon apparel from Coeur Sports so every time I get on the bike, I feel like a legit triathlete (with no angry kitty) in the most comfortable tri clothing I've ever put on. Sometimes I visualize racing. But mostly, I just stay in the moment, the mile. It feels like freedom. Like peace. I don't stop smiling (and have inhaled the bugs to prove it-protein?) and sometimes, I'm ashamed to admit I hang my tongue out of my mouth like a puppy with her head out the window. Or like Miley Cyrus. Either way I'm sure the other riders are not amused by my antics. I sing out loud to whatever song I'm listening to. Free concert folks, you're welcome.

I wasn't sure I'd see the day where I evolved from the runner who wanted to do triathlon, but wasn't willing to sacrifice the weekly mileage, or all the running PR goals I held so dear, into the athlete who was eager to saddle up and ride, mileage be damned. I might be in love with my bike.

I'm so ready for this journey! Except I need to get a few (dozen) more pairs of Coeur shorts...

Monday, August 25, 2014

A year of gratitude

Disclaimer: This isn't really running specific. It's mom specific. I did throw mama-hood into my tagline though, so it's totally permissible to talk about mamahood. 

There is, I suppose, a certain amount of background needed since I haven't really completed my section of 'the mom story' on here. It's hard to know how to write that. How much to share. The story is no secret, and if there is one area in my life that I am not sensitive or thin-skinned in, it's the story of how I came to be a single mom. No question fazes me. There are no secrets. That said, it's not a story I run around bombarding people with, unless asked.
Celebrating 30 with my main man

The brief overview is that kidlet's father has never been involved. He has never met kidlet, or had any interaction. For the first 5 years, I didn't receive child support, and he stayed way off the grid. Eventually though, the courts found him and he had a job! They enforced the child support order and suddenly, I had help. At least financially. I was thrilled. We've always gotten by, but that extra every month was definitely a big boost. We were a little bit ahead. It felt like floating, instead of floundering. Eventually, I trusted that income. I made life changes that relied on that income. I took a new job, that was a better fit, but involved a pay cut. I made up for it with that support.
On our own in our first 'home' (not apartment)

On top of that, I was hearing from the father. Not regularly, but he would reach out every few months. I left a guarded invitation to meet Ben at some point, with stipulations, but that was never acted upon. He sent Christmas gifts "from Santa" to help. He sent me occasional Starbucks cards. He was available when I needed information about his elementary years, trying to understand struggles we were facing. It was nowhere near a second parent, but it was someone who was at least making a small effort. Others were skeptical, but I was accepting of this. It was better than nothing.
Mother's Day

A year ago, I reached out for the first time ever to ask for more money. Just a little for school shopping. He agreed but tried to flake out. I was relentless and eventually got my little extra. A few weeks later I had the realization that I hadn't seen my usual check. They arrived twice a month like slightly off-kilter clockwork. I started paying attention to the days ticking by. I reached out via Facebook to the father (simply for the 'read' stamp that comes with those messages.) I grew increasingly anxious. Until the day I finally called my caseworker and she told me the words I feared, "we got notice that he's no longer employed". I felt sick. I hung up the phone, and cried. And cried. And cried some more. The whole evening. For me, it was a storm.

I counted on that. Our lives counted on that. I was brokenhearted. Not only had I lost a large part of my income, but he had taken the most cowardly route in not bothering to tell me what was coming. Not allowing me to prepare myself. I was blindsided, hurt, and afraid. Selfishly, I thought of what I was losing. I realized I shouldn't travel (albeit not far) to my planned marathon. Or pay my coach. Or even race. Or have coffee. I let myself sink into despair that night and cry it out.
Ocean vacation just before the crap hit the fan

But then... an amazing thing, a beautiful thing began to happen. People knew of the struggle. I opened up about my fears, I talked, I vented. I didn't do so with the expectation that people FIX my situation or take care of me. I just needed to talk it out. But people began to do things for us. A family did a food drive and provided us with a bunch of groceries. My incredible running team all came together to entirely take care of my marathon trip/hotel/entry/coffee. When they presented me with this gift, I was speechless and choked up (for a week, at least). Friends contacted me to offer to help in any way that they could. It was the most incredible time in my life of being blessed by others. I've had people come alongside me in the past, but not like this. I can't even list all the ways people gave me a safety net, and peace, every day.
Photo cred:

Slowly, I found my feet. I still felt underlying frustration and anger at the situation, but I had perspective. I did some math. I figured out I could make it work. I knew it was temporary and we would make it until the support came back. I lived in a place of gratitude. I would have drowned without all the family, the friends, the people in my life throwing out life preservers one at a time. With their words, and their acts, and their kind compassion.

Now, it's been a year. I never thought it would go on this long. I try not to dwell on the questions. Is he working under the table? Is he doing this with intent? It makes me angry, and bitter. A year. How far we have come in a year. I have learned so much about gratitude. I have wanted and wished to be able to pay it forward. I try to, when I can, in little ways. Over the last year though, life has changed, and continues to change for the better every day. I don't think constantly about the situation that threatened to derail me anymore. I am (not so humbly) proud of where we are now. We've made it a year. Okay, we've made it 9 years, really. Every day that I am a single mom, I am grateful. For the people in our lives, and how deeply they care for us and love us. And for the people who are not in our lives, and how we are stronger for it. That sometimes absence of things or people, subtraction from our lives leaves space for the addition of so much more.

It's not even about the money, in the end. Although this year, I bought all the school supplies myself, without panicking. I didn't have to do it myself... I could have asked for help, but, I could also do it. It's about the journey to really understanding what it means to be grateful. That asking for any type of help, and accepting that help without apology is okay. It doesn't mean I am weak and incapable when I can't do it alone. That just having the courage to say "I need help" doesn't need to come with guilt or pity.

So we've made it a year. And what a difference that year has made in our lives. We are physically in a better place, that I couldn't have dreamed of living in. We are emotionally in a better place, with people in our lives who love us. My guard over the last year, the wall of protection, has been breached. A lot. Okay, it's basically laying in rubble. And I had done some damn good construction. People tore it down and held my hand, carried me when I needed it, and never left my side.
My life motto 

So here is to another year of continuing to live in a place of gratitude, grace, joy and most importantly, in the present moment.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em

But how do you know?

This post could be pretty real, raw, and whiny. All of that emotion brought to you by Barefoot Moscato.

Let's start at the beginning... which I think takes us back to Eugene 2013. I went into that race well trained, ready to chase a big goal, and suffered a week of setbacks prior to race day. I accepted any potential outcome and released my goals. I raced well, all things considered, but still took it hard. I came home, recovered from the dehydration (wow, that takes time! And countless jars of pickles...) took some downtime, then found a coach, and began the preparation for my fall marathon in Tri-Cities. My coach was tough, and very talented. She pushed me hard and I saw huge leaps in some areas, but struggled in others. Particularly the long run. I was honest with her, but we didn't quite mesh, and she continued to push, with me crawling through runs, crying, and suffering repeated knocks to my confidence. I didn't see it then, but I was over-trained and burned out. I ran a terrible (for me) race, barely convincing myself to finish and spent weeks afterward with an IT band injury. I was done. My pursuit of the Boston qualifier and PR was over for now. I had no desire to run the marathon again for a long while, and I accepted that and set different goals once I returned from my injury.

Fast forward to April. Watching the coverage of the Boston Marathon, and Meb's beautiful race and the goosebumps that I felt when he won lit that fire again. The marathon, like that ex who texts you just when you think you are over them, came calling again. When my friend emailed me that she had signed up for Portland, it didn't take much (okay ANY) work to persuade me to sign up too. I was ready. I was tired of my lower volume training and eager to work hard, build up, and go for it. I shifted my perspective from the outcome, the finish time and instead focused on goals within the cycle (certain mileage peak week, certain paces for my speedwork splits). Things were going just swimmingly. The build up was going flawlessly, I was feeling strong, and I was making improvements.

Then there was the Missoula half. I went in with the expectation that I was strong enough to race a PR. There were other factors at play by the time I lined up on race morning that impacted the outcome, but it was the first domino. After 5 miles of the race, even though I was spot on for my A goal pace, I turned off my watch and just ran. I was completely apathetic. Sometimes I would push, other times I cruised. I was annoyed to be out there running at all. I wanted to be done. It was uncomfortable, but not hard. I was in it, but not. Around mile 8-9 I walked through an aid station eating my gel. Just... walking along, not caring. After that, in the morning heat, I walked through every aid station after that as well. Sipping my water and then carrying on. People would pass me and I would let them go. I would pass people, and not feel a spark. I just ran along, willing myself to the line. I finished, in 1:43.02-my second fastest. In hindsight, if I hadn't walked through all those aid stations, I would have PR-ed. Old Monica would feel frustrated, upset, and beat herself up over it. I simply accepted the time and that was it. I was numb to the race.
Post Missoula. Beers because. With RocketCityRun and Alyssa

A few weeks later, I reached moving day. Packing up 5 years of my life with kidlet wore on me, and by Friday, I skipped my run. A 9 mile tempo workout. I skipped Saturday as well to move. That was a long day and took it's toll on me, and I simply didn't want to work running into my schedule. Then... I skipped Sunday. A long run. I did put in an hour bike ride, but that's not the same now is it? Although being on the bike filled me with joy.
Bye North Spokane. There was no running, and tons of caffeine this day.

Since moving day, I have struggled to capture my drive. I have completed workouts well, strong, hitting my paces, or exceeding them. I've also skipped some runs, because I am not a morning runner, and the heat in the afternoons was too much, and by evening, I just didn't want to do it. I set out a few times in tears just not wanting to go. I would get over it, and nail the workout, and feel better, but the next day... down again.

I raced the CDA scenic sprint and was completely ecstatic the WHOLE day!! I smiled so hard the whole time. I was full of my old spirit and couldn't stop talking about HOW MUCH FUN I had had, and how great I felt about the day. I expected it to carry over into training. It sort of did, but then, my achilles tendon flared up. Mid run. With no sign it was even aggravated until I was 5 miles from home and was walk/run/cursing it the whole way back. I took the next day off, then ran again, feeling good again. I committed to the Huckleberry festival 5k in my boyfriend's hometown. I went into that race with the intent to win. I've never shown up to a race stating, out loud, that I wanted the win. I felt strong the whole race, hovering probably 20 ish seconds behind the 3 lead men (boyfriend included) for the first half. The second half is a gradual downhill, and the men opened up a bigger lead but I still finished 3rd overall, 40 seconds behind the boyfriend who defended his overall win title, and 20 seconds behind another fellow. I was giddy. Again, I felt like maybe this would be the boost to light the fire for Portland again.

The next day I was scheduled for 18 miles. I didn't sleep well the night before and pushed it to an afternoon run. My sister was here as I was preparing to leave and I grabbed all my gear and headed downstairs. Wouldn't you know, I slipped off the top step from my upper level of the house and fell down to the landing. I landed on my ass, made some weird corrections, tweaked a shoulder, a wrist, and landed on my stomach, narrowly missing a table corner. No run. No walking. Just icing my butt and assessing the damage. By the next morning, I was struggling to take deep breaths, and my entire back, neck, sides, everything hurt. I went to urgent care and had to have x-rays. Fortunately nothing was broken or fractured. I was given a shot of painkiller, muscle relaxers and super duty ibuprofen and sent home to recover from whiplash and other pain. The first day was horrible. Yesterday was better, and I was moving normally again but still feeling sore and limited in my range of motion with headaches and nausea. Today I felt sore but functional. I could have run. I should have run. But, I didn't. I got dressed, and my garmin was dead. I cried, I took off my shoes, and I didn't run. I didn't want to anyway. And I felt guilty and distressed at that.
"I love racing! This is so fun!! MORE!" why can't I capture this?!

And that's what scares me the most. I am not used to this kind of apathy toward training. I usually want to run. Nope, not right now. I want to ride my bike, a lot. I put in 30 miles Saturday after the 5k because I just didn't want to get off my bike. I only stopped because I was hungry! I WANT to run, in a way. But I don't, because I am scared of what this last month means for Portland. My mileage has not just dipped, it has gone down like the Titanic. My goals feel impossible. My coach asked me if my apathy stemmed from the fact that maybe I have already written off Portland and allowed IMCDA to take over my brain. At first, it did. When I signed up, it was ALL I could think about. I still think about it a lot, and cannot wait to take on the training... but no. That's not it. I didn't write Portland off when that came along. I was still in it. So why am I not now? And the harder questions... do I keep going? I have missed two critical long runs, and several other important training runs. I have had some setbacks, which happen, and it's possible to move past these... but do I want to? Do I race Portland with no expectations? Do I accept that it could be a personal worst (okay, unlikely) or nowhere near the day I want? Do I just run? Do I keep trying to find my spark?

What do you do when training takes on a bleak feel and you can't find that joy?

How do you move past the setbacks and trust your training?

How do you readjust your goals for a race? 

Monday, August 11, 2014

The long road to ironman

So yeah, I kind of wrote a handful of posts, threw out a huge "signed up for ironman!!" announcement and then went off the grid. Life got crazy. From IM weekend, til now, it felt like there was barely a weekend free.

Quick life recap: 4th of July fun, Missoula half marathon/getaway with mom-friend Alyssa, Seattle weekend with my ironman and kidlet (amazing and much needed), then we moved our whole life a whopping 30-40 minutes from where we lived, but to a whole new community (freaking awesome new location!!), one weekend of downtime, and then my first sprint tri in 2 years! Does that sum it all up? I should recap some of the fun that happened in those weekends, but I probably won't. So let's just start with the tri!

After I registered for IMCDA, I figured it might be smart to get in a little refresher before the summer ends, and more importantly, get my face into the open water at least once before next May! My favorite sprint fell on the weekend I was moving. The first time I did it was the day after I moved into my old house... so it wasn't unrealistic really, but not ideal. The ironman raced it, so I was still up at the crack of dawn after moving day to go cheer! God bless quad shot espressos. Just sayin. But when my friend Alyssa decided impulsively to sign up for the CDA scenic sprint, it didn't take much to talk me into it. The CDA Scenic Challenge has previously been only an olympic distance and boasts a challenging-hence the name-bike course. I  lack a lot of confidence, not to mention fitness, on the bike, so the olympic wasn't up my alley. However, a sprint? I could get on board for that. It still contained some decent hills. In fact, it was essentially the run course from the CDA 1/2 marathon I ran in May. I have an irrational fear that even in my granny gear, I will lose all momentum on a climb, roll backward, crash and die. But, I bit the bullet and signed up. The ironman decided to race the olympic, and he signed kidlet up for the kid's tri (his first)!!

My training prior to the race included a good amount of running, since I'm training for the Portland Marathon. I put in approximately 3 swims, but none since early July. I also got in 3 rides in 2 weeks after a lovely teammate gave me her old aero bars for my bike. So, with a whopping 3000 yds total swimming, and 48 miles on the bike (all flat) I was extremely anxious about how it would go. I set zero expectations. Well, I had a loose goal of 1:40 for my finish time, and the plan to make it as far through my race as possible before my boyfriend could catch me on course.

Race morning we were all up around 4:30. I didn't sleep much the night before... I would guess MAYBE 2 hours total due to a plethora of reasons. I was puffy eyed and congested when I woke up (well that sounds like I cried all night. I didn't. I was just exhausted). But, I popped in my headphones and turned on music trying to psych up for the race. Transition opened at 5:30, with the olympic race starting at 7:10 and my wave of the sprint was not until 8:05. For breakfast, I had a nutritional shake (generic brand ensure) and eventually a banana. We got all the adult bikes (our friend JJ was also racing the sprint) and kidlet's into the truck and headed out around 5:30. I love triathlon. There's so much morning prep involved, but it's just more fun to prepare for in the morning than a straight road race.
Alyssa and I battling our nerves! 
We met Alyssa and her mom at the parking lot where she was waiting with coffee I asked her to pick up. Bless this woman. We got our gear, pumped tires and headed in to be marked and set up our transitions. I set up next to Alyssa, and we chatted out our nerves and I made several trips to the porta-potties due to a really sketch stomach. We eventually cleared out of transition, and headed toward the water. The lake was choppy, and my nerves were increasing. This race was 1/100,000th of the IMCDA distance I will face next year, and staring out over the same venue was wake up call. The ironman warmed up and then after a quick good luck kiss he hit the water for his race and I wriggled into my borrowed wetsuit for the first time in years. Note to self: new wetsuit. I obsessively body glided my neck and we watched the lead olympic racers come out of the water. Once the ironman was out, we headed down to the beach to warm up. Alyssa wasn't getting in beforehand, so JJ and I got into the water. It was warm as bathwater. I waded out and started to swim and was immediately surprised by the comfort level. I didn't have any panic about being in open water and despite the waves smacking me in the face each breath, I felt immediately better about the odds of completing the swim. It sounds silly but it was truly a concern for me.

Gotta love mom photography. Ready to swim!

The race swim is 500 yds, clockwise in a triangle. When our wave was up, nobody was really moving forward so I found myself in the front row of the swimmers as we waited. I am not a fast swimmer, but I stayed put and told myself to just go for it! As the start sounded, I ran in like I knew exactly what I was up to and as soon as the others began to swim, I followed suit. I took off fast-for me, and my breathing was immediately ragged. I breathed to the right every stroke (in the pool, I can breathe bilaterally, but to stay calm in open water, I tend to breathe every time to the right, until I calm down) and didn't feel any sense of panic! This was new!! People passed me, but I wasn't feeling jostled, or like I was being dropped. I sighted a few times and green caps were plentiful ahead of me, but I was holding my own and even attempted to 'stay on feet' although I really have no idea how. Once I realized we were turning to the shore, I eagerly picked up my pace. I'm sure my swim was akin to a drunken crab, and will require a lot of work, but I made it out of the water feeling really pleased and calm. I got goggles off, unzipped the wetsuit, pulled it down to my waist on my way through the run to transition and cap off. Every step was smooth which shocked me. I expected to wrestle the suit, slip and fall in the grass, any number of unfortunate outcomes. But I made it to my bike feeling like I had my wits about me!
Thanks to Alyssa's mom for this pic. Swim exit is not flattering is it?

Time: 10:35

T1: 1:39

I got the rest of the suit off my feet without much difficulty, and without having to sit! I got my shoes on and strapped, helmet on and clipped, shoved a packet of Honey Stinger chews (cherry blossom) into my top and grabbed Baby off the rack! I trotted cautiously to the mount line and came to a complete stop to shakily mount and take off!

Heading out with Baby - photo and apparently editing done by kidlet?!

The course was 13 miles (or 14.53 per Garmin but I'm not complaining!) out and back. The course rides through downtown CDA and then out along the lake. It's gorgeous. I told myself to sit up for at least a mile until my breathing regulated. I also waited about that long before drinking a little. I had one bottle of Osmo on my bike (this stuff is amazing, and I'm loving it so far in my testing for nutrition). In my past (also wildly undertrained) races, I am passed by everyone on the bike. Everyone. Oh, kids with training wheels? They fly by me. So I was surprised to find myself passing cyclists as we wove out of town. Once we were out, on the first gradual uphill I stayed in aero and continued to reel in athletes, just waiting for the athletes behind me to fly by. After we pass the back side of the resort, it is a subtle downhill and then a flat stretch to Bennett Bay Hill. I just peddled what felt like a good cadence, drank every 2 miles or so, ate a few chews here and there and never stopped smiling! I was having a BLAST! As we came around the bend to the hill I'd been fearing I lowered my gears and sat up and told myself to just stay steady. I passed a few cyclists up the hill and felt pretty good. I was moving well for me. I never once looked at the speed on my watch so I just rode on effort. Once we reached the top, I worked up the nerve to get into aero and 'fly' down the backside!! Again, more smiling. We cruised down, turned around in the parking lot at Higgins point and began the ride back. It is a longer more gradual return up the hill, and a steeper descent. I continued feeling strong, chasing athletes, and smiling my ass off. We flew down Bennett Bay which is a little rough and I hit a few bumps that scared me but I just held on and rode it out. We followed the road back into town, and while I was excited to run, I didn't really want the ride to end. We merged with the olympic distance athletes coming off their extended loop and I did some quick math at that point figuring out where my ironman might be on the course. Per my math, he was about to the run, which I think was correct, or at least close. We cruised back into town and I was still riding strong and loving life. As I passed a volunteer through town I got a discrete "chick them!" as I went by. I did. If it sounds braggy that's not the point. I am not sure in the history of cycling I have ever passed other riders, and not had every racer fly by me as if I am walking my bike. So to ride strong, and handle the hills I had feared much better than expected filled me with excitement and joy! I chatted with or cheered for other athletes the whole ride, and thanked as many volunteers as I could on course. I came around the last corner to transition, hollered at my mom and dismounted my bike.

Time: 46:43/19mph per Garmin

T2: 1:05

I quickly racked Baby, got out of my shoes and into my beyond old Brooks ST-5 racers. My beloved orange and blue pair were retired after last fall's marathon, but as they are my only shoes with speed laces, I pulled them out for a 5k. I also tossed on my bright yellow Montana moose trucker hat that I picked up coming home from Missoula so that I would stand out. I clipped on my number belt, tucked in my tank and headed off. I came out of transition confused, and headed out the 'swim in' path. I was quickly corrected, but those couple seconds would haunt me later.

Best. Kit. Ever. Looooove Coeur. And a great final race to retire my Brooks for real.

The run was a 5k out and back through City Park, along the "dike road" toward Riverstone and back. The 10k also went that way, so it was impossible to know who I was chasing and who I wasn't. My breathing was obnoxiously labored while I adjusted to the run. Again I didn't check my watch and just tried to move. I checked when each split beeped off but that was it. First mile was 7:14 and just after that I passed a woman with 30 on her calf and tried to stay ahead of her. We ran past the sewage plant and I willed myself not to gag. At the turnaround, I told the volunteer "God bless you!" in relief and headed back. I was behind two 16 year old girls. One immediately took off, and the other stayed just ahead of me for the rest of the next mile. Mile 2 clocked in at 7:18 and by now, my quads were screaming! The hilly (to me) ride had gotten to me, and that spot right above my knees in my quad muscles?! Holy cow it was knotting and I was worried I might eat it. Just before the park I passed the 16 year old, but once we reached the park, and less than a quarter mile to go, she passed me back and began her kick. I said good job as she passed, but I was worried about my legs. Mile 3 was 7:27, and I finally found the next gear and trusted my legs wouldn't seize up and leave me face-planting so I kicked too. I didn't catch the youngun ahead of me, but I ran in strong to the finish! Final .16 was 6:24 pace, thanks for playing nice, legs!

Run: 23:02

In the end, I finished in 1:23.03 which blew all of my expectations out of the water. If I hadn't taken that minor detour out the wrong path, I might have pulled off a sub-23 run, which was the only thing in the run I could even complain about. Or maybe if I had just trusted my legs a little more in the last mile. It's hard to compare any sprint races due to varying distances in each discipline, but this was a 5k PR for my triathlon racing by over a minute.

The icing on the cake was finding out I was 4th woman overall, and had won my age group! What?? I was beyond giddy (...but what if I hadn't let that 16 year old outkick me. Nope, no what ifs. I ran my day).
Huckleberry ale and a first place medal. Things I don't normally have! 

Anyone who knows me knows I finish most run races complaining or disappointed in something. I was ALL smiles after this race, and couldn't stop saying how awesome it was and how much fun I had. That's my standard reaction after every triathlon I've ever participated in, which is a big indicator to me that I am heading in the right direction with switching my focus to triathlon a little more. I love it so much! I was so stoked that the entire day felt so smooth. I was worried about so many little things that could go wrong, and considering how unprepared I was for this, I felt like it was the best possible day I could have had. I had run a solid amount of faster than usual miles in the week before and yet my legs came to play. The bike especially surprised the hell out of me. I felt like I was in my element, which is something I never feel in a triathlon bike leg.

The rest: I raced in the Coeur chevron kit which was love at first wear (NO ANGRY KITTY! Those shorts are the best thing that I've ever worn on the bike and run ever). The top rode up on me, due to my 'narrow' waist and hips that don't lie. But after I reached out with sizing questions, Coeur and Kebby responded with so much enthusiasm and friendliness to help me get the right fit to avoid the ride up! The moose hat was the size of a bucket, sure, but I loved it.

Then I got to see ironman finish his race, and we ate some free BBQ, had our post race free brews, and then watched kidlet race. This was the cutest thing I've ever seen, and I think he smiled as hard as I did all day. He was hooked immediately, and watching my ironman, and our friend JJ and my mom cheer Ben on was one of those things that just melts your insides into sappy pieces of sunshine. It was an amazing day.
Moose on the loose and her triathlete dudes. 

Cannot wait to begin my Ironman journey now that I have reminded myself just how much I love triathlon!!

Thursday, July 3, 2014


Over the last 6 months, I had a front row seat to watching someone train for ironman. I've known people who were training before. I've watched the race for the last several years in Coeur d'Alene supporting friends and acquaintances. I am always filled with excitement driving into CDA seeing the cyclists riding up over the overpass to head out on Hwy 95 on their quest. I get chills, butterflies, and teary eyes watching total strangers make their way down Sherman Ave to the finish line. I was seduced by ironman before I even thought of chasing a BQ.

But for the last 6 months, the view was much closer. Kind of like seeing... for lack of a better analogy... how the sausage gets made. I saw the ugly parts, the downsides, the struggles. I did the best I could to support and encourage. For the first time in my life I was on the other side. I wasn't the athlete striving for a huge goal, but the woman behind the scenes watching someone she loves chase down a finish line of epic proportions. There were days I thought "I couldn't do this, what he's doing. Not yet."

I made the trek to CDA more often than he could make the trek here. I did whatever I could to make things easier and not to demand too much of my super tired athlete. There were days when we didn't see eye to eye, and frustrations bubbled up. There were tears on my side, behind the scenes, as I faced growing pains. I learned a lot. Not just about someone training for a race, but about our relationship. By the time we rolled through race nerves weekend, and into the final days and then to the start line, I was eager to see the culmination of the journey. When he took to the water, his nerves probably dissolved. Mine skyrocketed.
Pre-race morning

Ironman Sunday was a bizarrely emotional day for me.  I was so excited, so anxious, and so weirdly teary eyed over it. I stalked his splits. I didn't leave downtown. I didn't go nap for fear of missing something. I might be a bit of a crazy ironfan. But I couldn't believe it was happening finally. Every time I saw him on course, I was more excited. I was so proud to be the ironfan, the sherpa, the girlfriend of the athlete on that day.
So. Much. Fun. 

And the desire... for my own day, was growing. I was so inspired by the journey, by his drive and as always, by the race itself, by every friend and stranger on the course. By the time I finally saw him running down Sherman toward the finish, toward Mike Reilly and the words "You are an ironman" I was so full of happiness, pride, and ridiculous excitement. I can't really contain the cheesiness even now. We screamed at him and then sprinted down past the finish, trying to listen to for his name as we raced to the finish corral. After he got his finisher picture, I got the hug I'd been waiting for since the start of all of it. I was so happy to hug him, and say "You freaking did it!". It meant so much afterward to hear words of thanks from him for what I could contribute to the journey. It was an amazing day, and it wasn't even my day!
"Are we smiling? Does he care that I'm plastering this all over my blog? Nah, nobody reads it anyway!" I took the leap, I signed up for IMCDA 2015.

Here we go!

Monday, June 16, 2014

The great slowdown aka swallowing my run-pride

So as I've mentioned in nearly every post since I started this blog (err... so 5 posts?) I am challenging myself to respect the easy days/easy paces. I would like to think I always have, and that I'm just faster than I think... but if I'm perfectly honest with myself, I was being an idiot.

In the last 6-7 years since I started seriously running again, and more specifically the last 3-4 years where I became more of what I would call a 'competitive age grouper' I have made a lot of progress. When you start from ground zero you have a lot of room to improve at first. And I did. Then I joined my running team, and made another big leap. I PR-ed every distance I raced (okay, several were new distances anyway...) and was running faster than I had in years. Until I plateaued. And I've been stuck there. I have recently eeked out a few PRs but not by much... and in my cocky opinion, not by enough to truly reflect the training. Joining my team, and the last few training cycles really challenged me in what I believed I could do with speed work and tempo, and I made jumps in those areas. But the easy run was still elusive and not surprisingly, the race results weren't coming.
Random pic from my 30th bday 30k last year. Def ran EASY this day (/walked and died). Also, nice cross body arm swing... that's good form.

Easy days always followed the same process. I would dread the run a little bit. I would creep on my watch CONSTANTLY and get irritated with paces I saw. I would push harder. I did NOT listen to my body EVER. I did not allow myself to run on feel. I beat myself up over any pace that was above 8:30 for instance (yes, that was the number in my head that I HAD to be faster than). At every stop light on some runs, I would pray for a red so I could stop. I would take 'stretch breaks', to catch my breath from my 'easy run'. Are you seeing all the red flags? Because I sure didn't. Don't get me wrong, some days these faster paced easy runs felt amazing, but overall.. I was digging myself into a hole my body just couldn't recover from. I just kept digging. I could not swallow my pride and allow myself to try something new. I read tons of articles about easy days (there are a million out there, this is obviously scientifically legit) but I just kept pushing myself.
Who would have thought I feared a pace over 9 minutes more than any other workout? 

Ironically, the quote "if you do what you've always done, you will get what you've always gotten" rings true for me, possibly in the opposite way that most would see it. At first I would read it as feeling I should push harder, dig deeper, run harder. But for me, that's what I've always done. Out of 17 half marathons, about 9-10 of them are in the same 1:43-46 range. To me that shows a pretty big plateau and was an indicator that doing what I've always done (pushing my easy pace) was getting me nowhere new.

It took Sarah's blog, and more specifically, her DailyMile account to push me into really challenging myself with this. She runs amazing races, and wicked fast speed work, but she is mindful of her easy day like few others. I've used the Hanson Marathon Method twice, and their book details the importance and value of the easy day. But I still couldn't quite commit until Sarah's blog came onto my radar. I've been focusing on this for I think about a month. I really like lists (hint: when you slow down more, you can make lists on the run) so here's the positives and negatives I've felt so far in this self-challenge.

The Good stuff!

  • I look forward to my run! Knowing it's not going to hurt, cause discomfort, or feel like a suckfest makes me much happier to get out the door. It almost feels like cheating, how comfortable and easy these runs feel. Not all of them, there are days where even super slow my body lets me know how tired it is. But that brings me to my next point...
  • I'm listening to my body! I don't stalk my watch. I wear it, and use it as a tool to control the pace and effort, not as something that I have to measure up to. I don't let the numbers discourage me, because I am tuning into my body. How my legs feel, head feels, breathing feels. I honestly miss half the splits, and don't usually check the feedback until the end.
  • I feel like I am doing the right thing. More than ever with my medium hard paced 'easy days' I feel like this is the correct workout. I love finishing feeling effortless and strong the whole way through, and mentally it clicked for me that this is the correct practice. I don't know why it suddenly felt like it 'fit' for me but it did click.
  • I treat it as a workout, the same as speedwork/tempo. Instead of feeling like I need to prove myself to have a faster easy pace on these days, I set slow goals. I celebrate and pat myself on the back and brag about these days as much, if not more than, my hard workouts. I am so proud of myself for sticking to this, and for taking the easy day as serious as every other part for once. 
  • I feel strong. I don't often visualize but I do now on these days. Slowing down and really sinking into the run allows me to think about form, breathing, effort, stride. I picture my body burning fat, running fluidly, and sure... I daydream about the breakthroughs and race goals I have in the future. 
  • Weather doesn't phase me. Windy day? No big deal. Rain? Meh. Sunny hot? I got this. Because I am not fighting the elements or my body or my watch I can just chill and enjoy the day.
  • I can listen to slower music! I don't need pumped up jams to get through my run. I can listen to the cheesy love songs, or my Journey station on Pandora and not need something upbeat to survive. 
  • It's making me mentally tough. I firmly believe now that it takes a lot stronger mind to slow it down and do this right than it takes for me to do a hard workout. Those aren't easy either but this takes a lot of focus. I spend a lot of time talking to myself about control, relaxing, and reminding myself "just because you aren't running fast, doesn't mean you can't. You are making a choice. You are in control of the run. It isn't running you." And I feel like the mental stamina I am building is valuable. 
The struggles I still face
  • Where I might be proud of my focus on slowing it down, I'm definitely swallowing my pride. I sometimes hate accepting paces that I used to avoid/fear. It might be empowering, but it is also really scary for me. It's unnerving how easily my body has accepted slower paces and I fight the constant fear of "oh crap... I'm just going to be slow... I'm slow! Oh no!!" 
  • I still compare. To my past self training logs. To other runners on social media. To my boyfriend even! (uh... no contest). I try to seek out athletes on social media who truly abide by this (which has led to a lot of information on MAF-something I'm very curious about) but obviously comparison creeps in and induces a touch of panic every time. 
  • I run alone a lot. This might actually be a positive too, because I enjoy it... but it definitely means a lot of solo workouts so as to avoid my pace being pushed by others. 
  • ... okay, those few things are really all I struggle with during my easy days. 
So obviously, the pros are outweighing the cons. Granted I don't have any race day evidence that this is working, but I feel like it will come. I feel stronger on my hard days. I've always been able to 'survive' those workouts, but now I feel like I am in control of it. Both hard and easy days I feel like I am in control, consistent, and smart. My coach and I have been increasing my weekly mileage a bit at a time, and the last few weeks have been my highest volume all year, and I feel fantastic. It makes me feel more well rounded as a runner, if that makes sense. It sure isn't an easy journey, but I'm proud of my commitment to it and hoping I will start reaping the benefits soon! 

How do you feel about your easy paces? Would you say you run 'medium hard' all the time? 

What is the easiest/hardest part of keeping your easy days easy enough? 

And the big one: Who thinks the REAL easy day has made a positive impact in training? 

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Weekly recap: 18 weeks to go.

This is officially the first week of an 18 week training cycle, and of course, I did the thing you shouldn't do... compared current running Monica to past training cycles (particularly, both my 2013 marathons). In some ways I am the same, in that the paces I can put in are pretty similar. But mentally, I am far beyond where I was last year. When my coach gives me my workouts, I am excited to take them on. I trust myself, and my ability to do them. I am confident that I will be able to run the workout well, instead of fearing it. And I am consistent. I can dial into a set pace without too much stress. Last fall I had a few tempos (even 2 mi sets) where I would flip out over the pace, stopping every few tenths of a mile to get worked up, almost cry, be frustrated, and my paces reflected this. They were up, down, fast, slow, uneven. Now, I can look at them and think "yes, I am capable of this". But on the flip side, I can also take it with a grain of salt. If the workout doesn't go as planned, or I feel it's a struggle, I can accept that it's what my body had for the day. It's a brick in the foundation. Brick by brick...

This week:

Monday: 6ish easy miles. Felt extra fatigued, and took it really easy. Gold star for listening to my body.

Tuesday: 3 sets of 4x400 at 5k pace. I love 400s! I give myself the allowance to run at a pace faster than 5k, as long as I don't hit the time slide (the splits getting slower). Ran this in pouring rain and a freak hail storm. That was a little rough, but I felt pretty badass by the time I was done. My splits were still where I wanted them for the most part, and given conditions, I was pleased.
Screen capped my own snapchat. It was cold and wet, but those are really earbuds! Soooaked. 

Wednesday: National running day! Also known as my rest day. I went for a 3 mi walk, and maybe jogged a few steps? I do what I want.
Following kidlet on our evening walk/ride

Thursday: Broken tempo. 8 miles with 2x15 min segments at HMGP. I struggled to find the pace at first, and was frustrated with feeling tired (duh, speedwork fatigue in my legs!) and the pace being hard. Stopped watch-gawking and the pace dialed in. Still wasn't the best I've felt, but it was what I wanted to run. I was way dehydrated all night afterward, until about 9, when the 2190 oz of water I'd consumed finally hydrated me and I had to get out of bed every 5 minutes.

Friday: Easy 6 on lunch. It was warm and I made the mistake of wearing compression socks. Too warm! Kept it easy and comfortable.

Saturday: Long run of 14 miles!! I was a little tired for this, but for 2 hours of running, it kind of flew by. I ran out in Coeur d'Alene which was a nice change of scenery for me, and did a double out and back. I tried my first V-fuel gel (cool citrus-delicious actually!) and felt pretty decent until the last couple miles.
Post long run with my coffee and feet up. 

Sunday: 5 easy in the evening. FINALLY a run that I ran easy, but instead of feeling like I needed the easy pace, I felt like I was focusing on holding myself back. It was nice to feel like I had another level instead of just "well, there's no other pace than this easy slog". I wore my HR monitor for the first time in ages, and confirmed to myself that yes, I've got a hummingbird heart and to run in an easy HR zone, I would essentially walk. Not sure I'm on board with that idea yet.
Is there a contest for sweatiest runner? Did I win? Yes, I did. 

Sunday morning was again a morning of spectating! The man friend (I need a better nickname than this, but so far, I'm uncreative, and why would I actually use his real name) was racing a sprint tri. He's doing his first Ironman in 3 weeks! It was so fun watching him and other friends race, and I'm excited to be the ironfan in a few weeks. Unrelated but boy do I have a partially formulated post on what it means to be on the other side of endurance training. It's a beast of a different breed. I had a great time though, and was definitely having tri-envy by the end... uh oh?

Total weekly mileage: 47.5 (highest week this year!)

Do you love running through hideous weather? Or would you rather wait for better conditions? 

What's your favorite coffee drink post run? 

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Eugene Marathon 2013

I am stealing this idea shamelessly from Lindz and recapping past races because I didn't blog when I ran these, and of course they need to be memorialized! Plus it's a good way for me to continue figuring out how to blog! (Oh... just write words. Got it!)

On that note, let's start with the Eugene Marathon last April! This was one of the best 'marathon weekends' I've done, where it was more than just to show up, chill, do the race. 

Background on my training for this race, since there isn't 4 months of blog-log to detail what I did. I followed the Hanson Marathon Method advanced plan. I ran almost every single workout as written, altering a few due to niggling 'is that a potential injury' or due to illness, because heck, it started in winter and of course I got strep. I completed the 18 week training cycle feeling strong, capable, and ready to really race a PR. 

And then there was the taper. One week out from Eugene, I was going downstairs in my house, and caught my heel in my sweats, falling down the stairs on my back side! Immediate panic ensued as I tried to catch my breath/assess my body. It ended up being just a big ol' bruise in my booty and sore back. Test run the next morning and it was painful when my butt jiggled every step (yes, it does that. Also, my thighs touch. Bam) but it was tolerable. I felt relieved. I ran downtown with my sister, her jogger, and was feeling optimistic again. Then, on the walk back to my car, I had put on flip flops, and it was raining. I was thinking to myself to be careful, it was slick. The very next step my feet slipped on the concrete and I landed flat on my back on the sidewalk! Thanks to my Oiselle spike bag I was buffered from slamming my head into the ground but the fall still snapped me. A passing car stopped to check on me, and offered to drive me home. I think I baffled them as I blubbered hysterically trying to explain that I was fine NOW but "I... have... a... marathon *sob sob hiccup gulp*" I iced my neck all day, and the next day. I got an emergency massage and a visit to my chiropractor revealed whiplash, and both guys seemed skeptical about my race. Two days later, I was on antibiotics for strep again as well. It was the taper week from hell. I was so confident, and this week took me down. I waffled from confident, to embracing any finish time, to the possibility of a DNF. I accepted all the outcomes. I let go of my BQ dream. I just planned to enjoy the trip. 

Friday morning I dropped kidlet off at school, letting him believe that he was spending the weekend with Papa and Lori while I traveled. I kept it a secret that he would be going on his first flight! Around lunch, I went to the school and snuck into his class to surprise him with a toy plane and a note telling him he was coming! He was speechless with excitement and then cried. It was so fun to kick off the trip that way. We got cupcakes and then headed off to the airport! 
Sea-Tac waiting to fly to Eugene
 We arrived in Eugene Friday evening to stay with my cousin Liesel and her family. I hadn't seen her in more than 10 years and was so excited to visit! We stayed in her beautiful home and I absolutely was ready to move there within 5 minutes of landing. Ben hit it off with the other kidlets, including Liesel's twin girls! She fed us an amazing meal of mexican lasagna and salad and we relaxed and hung out catching up. I ended up going to bed kind of early because of the travel and I was exhausted.

Saturday morning I was up early and had a yummy breakfast... seriously, I wanted to ask Liesel to adopt me... there was talk of needing a nanny later on in her year, and I was genuinely willing to be said nanny just to stay. She took me down to UO so I could go on a shake out run with Oiselle birds and bloggers. I was a little like a fan girl meeting so many women who's blogs/twitters I already stalked, and several new people who I now follow/read/fangirl. I was tempted to ask them all to autograph my Winona tank, but I contained myself .We ran on Pre's trail and chatted, shifting groups/paces to talk to everyone. It was so beautiful and surreal to be running around Eugene. Running town USA! It wasn't my first trip to Eugene or running on Hayward Field, but it was still incredible.
Working up some allergies on Pre's trail with the birds! 
Liesel picked me up when it was over, and we got ready for lunch. There was a lot of socializing and meetups among the other athletes, but I was content to spend the time with my family and keep from overthinking my race with all the other goal talk that was likely flying around. We got burgers for lunch and they dropped me at the expo. I was so lucky to stay with family who kept Ben occupied so that I didn't have to tote him around to boring things. I wandered around the expo, visiting with newfound friends I'd met that morning and shopping. I picked up a pint glass (because duh) and 'the stick'. Unfortunately I left the expo prior to seeing Lauren Fleshman speak, and I was bummed to miss it! Liesel retrieved me and we went to Vanilla Jill's and the Nike Store before going back to her house. From there we just relaxed and she sweetly made my pre-race meal of Chicken Marsala (from scratch, and it was amazing!). Her parents, my aunt and uncle, came for dinner, and I hadn't seen them in years either. It was so nice to see family. I ate as much as I could, prepped all my things for the next morning, painted my race nails, and headed to bed early-ish.

Race morning I was up early! Due to some last minute scheduling, Liesel had to leave earlier than I was up for a trip to Mexico, bummer! Her husband, the twins and Ben were planning to spectate the race. Unfortunately the text updates didn't work out well, and I was always ahead of them when they tried to find me. They were on Agate near. the finish but I never saw them on the course.

I had my coffee, oatmeal, and banana before the taxi arrived to take me to the start. The cabbies were so cool, 2 guys around my age, and we chatted away about the race and kept my nerves at bay until they dropped me at the start. I carried my Nutella toast with me for 30 minutes, ate one bite and finally tossed it. 

I saw some of the girls from the day before, but for the most part waited solo feeling a little lost and lonely. It was my 4th marathon, and not the first time I have been solo at a start line but it felt weird. I found fellow bird Sarah who was running in the Oiselle bridal outfit for the half and waited in the corral with her. The start is a blur, I believe there were words, perhaps a moment of silence for Boston, and Sweet Caroline played as we took off and the marathon was under way. 

From the get-go, I was concerned. In any race, usually the first mile involves reigning it in, feeling fresh, and being eager to race! I was sluggish, my pace was 20 seconds off of my goal pace, and it felt terrible. I tried to keep calm. I have never been a mantra girl, but had been reading Chrissie Wellington's 'A Life without Limits' the week before. "Ebb and Flow" ended up being the thought that carried me through the highs and lows of the day. It started on an ebb. Around mile 2-3 I had to stop and pee, before it got the best of me. I was watching my watch, trying to find a rhythm and struggling. I came through 5k in 25:31, slightly slower than planned but in such a long race, it was fine.

After that, I finally just decided to 'let it roll'. After following the Hanson plan, I had done week after week of goal pace runs and decided to just let go and run however my legs wanted. My pace dropped down and I felt the rhythm come together. There was always an underlying feeling of fatigue and heaviness which I later realized was from the effects of antibiotics on my hydration, as well as the injuries and setback from the weekend before. I hit 10k in 50:06 feeling solid. The 'hill' Eugene offers came along, and I felt fine on it. I saw the Oiselle cheer squad several times in the early parts of the race and felt a little more cheerful and upbeat! I had to check my pace every time I passed them because I would get giddy and pick it up. 

After 10, I know we dropped into some park paths and neighborhoods, but I can't remember much of the course. I focused on people ahead of me and reeled people in, still feeling like I was doing alright. I was taking gels every 5 miles as planned, and eating Honey Stinger chews in between, as well as drinking at every station. I hit the halfway point feeling good in 1:45.12. My pace was picking up each split and I started chanting to myself "you are a 3:30 marathoner, you are a 3:30 marathoner". Not long after this though, everything caught up to me.
Double thumbs up to K-Met and the Bird Squad around 16! 

As we hit the cheer squad around 16 miles I waved to the Oiselle girls and gave a thumbs up. As we ran past, and crossed a foot bridge (uh maybe? Or maybe I made that up) I suddenly felt exhausted. Maybe this was standard fatigue, but it seemed too early, and too heavy. I started worrying a little more, and around 18-19 miles, I was slowing and finally surrendered to my first walk break. I hit 20 miles in 2:41.47 (an average 8:06 pace, my goals still well within reach). I was struggling hard. I tried to run, and we were in the park where there was some shade, but I was not doing well. 
I was just ecstatic the photographer caught this priceless moment of death face. 
From 17 on, I couldn't take in fuel anymore, and after 20, I started throwing up. I would dump water on my head, and try to drink, but nothing was staying down. I was extremely hot and had chills at the same time. Girls with the same goal as mine began passing me. They offered words of encouragement, and I would try to hang on to each one as she passed, but was soon dropped again.

Kidlet finally spotted mom heading into the finish
Honestly, I remember little of the last 6 miles. I was becoming delirious. I was still trying to do math, clinging to my goal of breaking 3:35 and earning my BQ. My math skills were shockingly bad as I believed it was within reach until the last mile. I made it past our shake out run spot, back onto Agate. I saw the Oiselle girls and heard the roar of crowds in Hayward. I walked. My quad cramped so bad that it was walk or faceplant. And there's really no bouncing back from the faceplant is there? Somehow I pulled it together to turn into Hayward and kept telling myself "You don't walk on Pre's track. And you don't puke here either. Just hold it together. Just finish this thing." 
I look a lot stronger than I felt. Fake it til you make it? 
And I did. I forgot to put a hand over heart for Boston... but honestly, I think I had forgotten my name at that point too. I finished in 3:37.05. It wasn't the goal I set and I was very disappointed at first and definitely cried about it afterward, but as more time passed I came to accept what an amazing race it really was, all things considered. Given the fact that I had accepted a possible DNF, or a 4+ hour marathon, I ran much better than I expected. 
Lindsey, me, Amy, and Sarah. I trained with L & A all winter/spring and they ran great marathons (Lindsey's first!) and Sarah raced an awesome half!
After I finished, I found other friends from the weekend, some of whom had crushed their goals and others, like me, who had not had the day they wanted. I have learned from that day, and since, that the marathon is such a fickle beast. Most of them will not be perfect, or even great. The stars will not always align. Hell, most of the time they won't. But that's why we keep trying. I have had the 'unicorn' marathon where it is magical. Running in Eugene was amazing though, in the end. The weekend was perfect and I would gladly return and run again. (But maybe not in July. Put it back in April!)
Tired selfie at home with my medal. Proud of this race!

Who feels a little like a fan girl when they meet 'friends from the internet'? 

How do you overcome a tough week to try and race well?

Best city you've traveled to for a race??