Morning Warm Up

The best way to get up and running everyday.

The Hard Knocks of Running

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You would think I as an adult and an experienced albeit non-competitive runner I wouldn’t suffer any significant hits to my psyche when it comes to running.

Running is an enjoyable activity and most races are supposed to be fun celebratory events. Especially if you aren’t a top contender, you just do your best. And most adult runners are grown up enough to mind their P’s and Q’s and be somewhat supportive of each other. But it isn’t always that way.

If you look though my blog you see the up and down struggle of how I continually battle my running demons and physical problems that throw cogs in my wheels. I don’t really have any major illness or injury to blame unless you count an aging body. But there always seems to be something tripping me up.

Most recently I had knee issues (running on asphalt) and my last trail race I had a toe “blow up”. I finished but near the bottom.

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After that I turned down a friend (an accomplished marathoner/ultra runner) frustrated by my poor performances, who wanted to create an extensive training plan for me. When I declined he blew up on me too. He said some nasty things and questioned my commitment to running. He believes in Pygmalion projects and named all the people he’d made better and said I wasn’t worthy anyway–a waste of time and he didn’t work with quitters.

Well thank you. I already felt bad enough. I have felt the snub of “superior” runners since I began lacing up eight years ago. Thankfully their influence on me has faded as I gained experience and a smidgen of confidence.

Now I am left with myself. How to fix myself up and make my running better. Alone. And there is a lot of work to do.

It just didn’t work out for me to be surrounded by enthusiastic supportive running friends who shared my same goals and abilities – that’s mostly geographical. That’s okay. I do have a fantastic trail running community in Ohio that has been really wonderful. Bless them, they invite me to numerous Fat Ass races all over the state (that I could barely complete if I wanted to) and I feel their love and support. If I didn’t, I might just quit right out, right now. I would still be on the trails hiking and occasionally running but I wouldn’t enter a race.

After taking hit after hit (about half self inflicted) racing, I made a plan. Next year I want to run better. I want to do it on my own terms and follow the collected wisdom I have gleaned from books, forums and runners I know.

Instead of taking the season “off” I already have spent a month training for next season and will continue to do so all winter long–just like the more serious runners I know. I have some BIG races planned next year. Those trail races intimidate me but nothing gets you off your butt like a challenge. Especially when it’s just barely within your abilities and that’s what motivates me. I have never failed when I make a decision to take on a big goal.

Demons will be harder than ever to push away, but that other runner was wrong about me. What I do is not a waste of time and I don’t give up.

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Freedom to Run (Any Pace) in the USA

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Yesterday after I finished my tenth half marathon I was having a conversation with a friend about course time limits. The friend is an experienced and talented (pretty fast) international marathoner and ultra marathoner. What he told me, meaning no harm, still crushed me—temporarily.

He’s from Spain and he told me in a number of races over there, my friend and I would have been disqualified for taking too long on the race course. For that reason I am glad we have generous cut off times in most races in the U.S.  I could not imagine the disappointment and embarrassment of being pulled from the course for running “too slow”.

After training since June as recommended, following a training program I do not want to imagine my friend being disappointed and sent home without a medal and her first finish line celebration. Finishing a race like a half marathon or a marathon is a big experience for every finisher, a confidence builder, a life changer.

The conversation about course time limits piqued my interest so I did a little research. Checking the course rules for a dozen or so marathons internationally and in the U.S I found plenty of good news! There are some very cool races worldwide that don’t put on the pressure the “velocity challenged” or inexperienced runner.

The London Marathon for example has a 24 hour time limit! Only a guy juggling a football all the way needs that! The Athens Marathon has an 8 hour time limit and although the Tel Aviv Marathon has a six hour time limit, I would risk trying it anyway just because it looks like it would be worth it. “The Party Marathon” is what Tel Aviv’s Marathon is nicknamed…Woo hoo!!

Most international marathons have a time limit of 6:00 hours:  Buenos Aires, Paris, Barcelona, Copenhagen, etc. but with ample training I think most of us who train diligently enough can hustle up enough to meet that. It’s reasonable, but not too “walkable”. It never occurred to me that some races would have even shorter cutoffs –Casablanca in Morocco has a 4:30 time limit. No.can.do.

American marathons on the other hand have plenty of options and more generous cutoffs, six and a half to seven hours is typical. Can most people walk and make it to the end of a marathon in 6-7 hours? Not at twenty-minute miles. No one is talking about leisurely walks here. To “walk” (13:44 – 16:01 minutes a mile) a marathon in six to seven hours, you need to move your buns. And believe it or not, some people run, yes run, really slow.

So today I am grateful for the generosity of Race Directors everywhere that allow a little “wiggle room” for slower runners–not a free pass to stroll. I think the Grand Rapids Marathon website puts it best:

“We’re having a 7:00 start for walkers (and velocity-challenged runners:-)). No time limit on either race, HOWEVER, if you use that as an excuse to stop and have a picnic or go out to breakfast, we will disqualify you.  This is a race, after all.  At least ACT like you’re in a hurry.”

AMEN and Thank You!

Thanks for Following!

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Recently I have gotten a number of new followers of this blog and I just wanted to say THANK YOU!

The Internet if full of places to go, people to see and things to do and read. I feel honored you spent time here reading what I have to say and it really does motivate me to want to bring you the best I can. I will be working harder on this blog to make sure you stay interested!

I would also like to invite you to check out my new Instagram account “wildflowersinohio”.

Cheers! And have a great day!

Birgit

Trying to Enjoy the Taper (Before a Half Marathon)

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I think my 10th half marathon is coming up next Sunday. I can’t remember exactly how many I have done.

There are 6 days until I run this one though. And so I am tapering. What’s that even mean for a half marathon?

It means BE SENSIBLE!  Don’t try to squeeze in one more long run or go heavy at the gym and cross training. Just go light and rest up, try to stay healthy.

What’s on the schedule this week then? Two seshs of cycling class and a couple of easy run/hikes with my dog.

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The diet? Wouldn’t it be nice to magically drop 5 lbs. this week? Not going to happen. Buuuuut….I will try to eat healthfully, nothing exotic the last couple days. And drink enough water to be hydrated.

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Emergen-C, hand washing, cold and flu and any sickness avoidance, same with tripping off curbs and running into trees.

Oh…and sleep. Lately I am doing 6-7 hours a night and that is not good. Extra sleep, check!

Most importantly experience reminds me that you can’t control everything that happens on race day no matter how well you prepare so just roll with it and enjoy the journey.

What Do Your Running Goals Mean?

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Early on, or if you are a beginning runner, you probably knew exactly what you wanted to get out of running.

You probably had a goal. A 5K race or a half marathon maybe. And completing those first races were significant and meaningful. Right?

I have been running since November 2007. I’ve completed so many races I can’t remember how many. Countless 5Ks, a handful of 10Ks, 8-9 half marathons, one hellacious 15 miler, three 25Ks, four marathons and one ultra marathon. Oh, and a number of races of 4 miles, 5 miles, 8 or 10 miles. Between road and trail the races have been around 50/50 either or, but I think of myself as primarily a trail runner now.

It’s almost 2015 and 2014 so far has been a radical year of dialing down my running and concentrating on three half marathons. Feeling hardcore I do not. But that is not to say a half marathon is an easy race. It’s actually a kind of hard race for distance runners because we are used to going longer and slower. A half mary is like the 5K of distance running.

Truth be told I am probably most comfortable with a half marathon which is why my performance in a trail half later this fall in October is kind of important to me.

But still I don’t know where I stand or what running means to me anymore. I don’t hunger for a distance PR, I am not reaching for a clock PR in a half or a marathon or a shorter race. I am not sure what it all means to me anymore.

There was a time when I felt like conquering a marathon or a 50K would make me feel important or special. I was surprised when I didn’t feel any more accomplished than before I ran those firsts. I found out I wasn’t very good at either even though a lot of people are content to just make it through races of those distances.

I think there comes a time we runners have to sit down with ourselves and mull over what we are trying to do exactly when we run. How is a race goal or performance going to affect us–for the good or the bad–and why exactly we do this.

Do I like to run? Sometimes. Will I stop? Doubtful. As for running goals going forward? No idea.

Maybe goals are not necessary. Maybe running is all we need.

Long Slow Builds and Strength Training

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What am I talking about? I am talking about working slowly and steadily towards a goal instead of jumping in and rushing a build up of your running base (endurance and strength) like I did LAST YEAR (read my sad tale of woe here) with…well, some not so fabulous (pain, chronic injury, mediocre race performances) results.

Like most people, I don’t learn from other people’s mistakes. No sirree, I must make those mistakes on my own, eschewing time tested advice and warnings. In our defense — those of us that do this — it’s possible that learning the hard way is often the best way. It has a way of sinking in better.

But if you are a super smartie hear me now: Obey the 10% rule. if it helps, use a sensible official training program for your level of skill/experience and stick mostly to it. You will most likely find that gets you through your goal uninjured in a sane way with less stress (both physical and mental).

Hal Higdon’s training program is what I am using for my next half marathon. I like that he includes strength training along with a sensible, not overwhelming running plan. STRENGTH TRAINING (yes in caps) because it helps keep you strong and prevents injuries. That’s why. I like TRX, kettlebells and free weights, by the way. Youtube has a lot of 10-20 minute free videos to take you through a quick strength workout.

I am 48 1/2 years old. This *%#$@ ain’t so easy anymore, just running half a marathon seems to take more of a toll than 7 years ago. Even if it is easy now for you, do your future body a favor, strength train anyway.

Lastly, I ran solo for the past 4-5 years. The long runs were both dreaded and cherished, but mostly dreaded because I was alone. I have a new running partner! Which makes all those long runs feel like fun runs! 😀

To recap:

  • Don’t be cocky, even if you have gobs of experience, tweak and obey the 10% rule
  • Learning the hard way is human but….just don’t over do it.
  • Strength training because your future body will love you more and vis-a-versa
  • Running partners make it easier (and I like running alone)

Happy roads and trails!

 

 

 

The Joy of Being Lazy!

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It’s fall, it’s cold, you might even have snow already and there probably isn’t a better season to step into “athlete hibernation mode”. I have friends who are doing 50Ks and still racing and will keep racing all through winter. I’ve done it before myself. Oh but not this year! If you’re very competitive I don’t recommend down shifting to the degree I am. You’ll lose base miles and get fat.

YES! You will get FAT! Oh…the drawbacks to being LAZY…but here’s my trade off: peace and time to pursue other things, maybe a body that isn’t always hurting. Don’t get pissed off at me though. I got one toe in the water still, I never just let it all go. I signed up for the Turkey Trot!

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This is not going to be any PR attempt. I won’t be running as fast as a wild turkey (30 mph), I am doing the big community Turkey Trot with my son, we are doing it to be sociable with our friends and family. We are both going to be trotting, if that and it’s okay with me. Lately with this free time usually spent running a lot, I am reading more, writing more, cleaning house more, reflecting on how next year will go with my athletic pursuits. I have a bitchin’ mountain bike I really want to put to more use for example so I am learning more about how and where to do that.

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Instead of being out on the trails and roads so much I am finally visiting the local coffee shops to see what they are like. Drinking lattes (no syrups – a reasonable diet is even more important now). The downside is without a training plan, I spend way too much time on Facebook talking about stuff I want to do. So I am winding this “freestylin'” thing down and aim to go out hiking every other day just to stay in touch with nature and explore new territory.

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I don’t work up as much of a sweat walking – it’s not running, but it’s nice. I know if I get serious about running next year I have to start early and start from 0 base miles, but I think that’s okay with me. My body shape is already changing – hips filling back out – running, no matter what they tell you is a great way to lose weight, trim your butt, thighs, but you have to keep doing it, a lot! Once you stop you get the body you had before back…hard truth. If you do some aerobics and weights a couple times a week at the gym and then hike a few times a week like me, it’s good but, it ain’t the same as running 25 miles a week – not for weight control it isn’t.

But going back to fall/winter: one of the pleasures of cold weather is a hot drink after a cold hike and my sauna. LOVE my sauna. Not sure why more Americans don’t have them in their houses. I lived in Canada when I was in high school and all my friends had saunas at home. In Scandanavia they are common to have around too. I insisted on a sauna when we built our house. If I don’t want to feel like a total sloth (not the pervert kind, just the slow moving kind), I jump on the elliptical trainer in my basement for 30 minutes then get into the shower and pop into the sauna for 15 minutes. Nothing better! Toasty…

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Run Into the Ground – Why I Want to Stop Running

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Yes. I said it. Stop running. My dozens of running friends will be disappointed in me. But I am following my body’s signs.

In December of 2012 I got my spine surgeon’s blessing to start running again. I drove directly from his office to package pick up for the 2012 Holiday Run 4 miler.

When I took a year off of running (sort of – unofficially I did a few shorter races cautiously)  after surgery the thrill of being free to run again was overwhelming. So December 31st, 2012 when registration for some big marathons opened, I was on the couch with a glass of wine in my hand and my iPad lining up my race schedule for 2013.

That night I signed up for two marathons and an ultra marathon. I already had signed up for a half marathon for August 2013 too. And during the year I sprinkled in some shorter races to use in my training.

I probably should have stopped after I did my first ultra marathon in May. But after three weeks of rest, in June I began training for my fall marathon. By the time the second round of marathon training got underway I felt sapped. I kept having pain in my piriformis  and hamstring (chronic now for a year) and knees from asphalt running.  Training was not going well at all overall. In fact my longest run before Air Force was only 14 miles. How in the hell was I going to run 26.2 with such a lack of training?

On a wing and a prayer as the song goes.

Before 2013 I had this vision of a new back would mean I would run pain free and faster, more efficiently. I would PR a lot. I’d be the runner I thought I could be.

None of that happened. When you reach for bigger longer races coming back all you can do is get through them. My base was back to “0”. Why didn’t I know that? I should have signed up for a “Couch to 5K” not an ultra marathon or marathons. Did I get through them all? Yes. Yes I did. And the first marathon was very tough (Flying Pig, Cincinnati). The ultra marathon was actually easier – just because it was mostly grass and dirt trail and I had a running partner along.

Anyway…now that I met my final goal for the year – the Air Force Marathon I decided to take a hiatus from running long distance.

I get to decide how long that will be. But I am going to participate in my usual holiday runs – the 5K Turkey Trot next month, the 4 mile Holiday Run this December (I haven’t missed one!)  and the 7 mile Winter Run (never missed this one either – even jogged and walked it in a back brace in 2012) in February 2014.

My goal for 2014 is to try to avoid doing any races over 30K! It will be hard but I think my body needs work on functional fitness. Like strengthening, flexibility, balance and speed before going long again.

It’s been 4 weeks since I have run more than a few miles at a time and I go only once a week. I miss it but I am also happier for now. I like this break. A lot.

Running on a Wing and a Prayer – Air Force Marathon 2013

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I shouldn’t be standing her with this medal around my neck. I shouldn’t have even made it to Dayton, Ohio for the Air Force Marathon the week of September 21st.

My training from June to September for this marathon started out strong and then pain and injury turned it into a real ordeal. My longest long run before the marathon was only 14 miles. I had extensive spinal surgery and hadn’t run for a year before this year. After running races all year including another marathon and an ultra marathon and experiencing injuries and pain a smart person would have curbed it. But not me.

So how in the hell was I going to run 26.2 miles after weeks of limping along?

Wait. It gets better. I went to the dentist the week of my marathon. They decided I needed five fillings and a number of teeth sealed to prevent more cavities. All in one session, two hours I had my mouth open and fingers and drills going in there. The next day I came down with a bad cold. Fever, chills, headache. Mouth sores formed and pain from the dental work got worse.

The whole week before my marathon I could not eat solid food. The right side of my mouth was swollen and very painful. I sipped soup and smoothies only, and painfully when I had an appetite.

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But who among runners hasn’t had the NIGHTMARE scenario I am describing at least once if they have run enough races? It happens. So hell or high water I was going to show up in Dayton and do whatever I could. At least get to the start line. This was my last planned marathon…maybe forever.

And…we had a severe thunderstorm the night before with torrential rain. The 5K scheduled during the Expo was cancelled.

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Woke up at 4:45 a.m. on marathon day and the right side of my face was still swollen. I couldn’t chew still so I went liquids and gels for my energy which was kind of a good plan.

My pre-race goal was just do what I could. I expected I might drop…DNF at about 18 miles.

Well…at 13.1 miles I was feeling strong, in fact I was doing a decent pace – way better than expected – and feeling okay.

At 18 I was having stomach issues, probably from taking gels and Gatorade but I didn’t want an electrolyte imbalance like I suffered from in Flying Pig. Still, extra stops at the port a johns. No big deal.

I felt happy. Happy because I was here, doing it and I felt okay! It stopped raining, I had lots of company running – I didn’t really talk to many people for long but I wasn’t feeling like I was all alone either.

Mile 20 is usually the mile marker where I feel a surge of positive energy because it means I only have a 10K left and it’s TOTALLY DO-ABLE at this point. But at mile 20 I felt unimpressed. I was stalwart. On a mission, pacing evenly and looking at my Garmin thinking…yep, keep this up and you have a PR.

Wait, what??? A PR? Yes. It shouldn’t be possible but I was on track to PR at mile 20, despite lack of training, illness and pain that I was mostly ignoring. I was happy. I felt like something was just helping me pull through. It felt too easy! I mean, in a relative sort of way. Not that a marathon is ever easy.

Wheels came off at mile 23. Not in a spectacular, I am road kill now way. Just a gradual slowing like when your car runs out of gas and you begin to coast. You push on the gas but nothing…watched my PR fizzle away. That was a bit sad but I just chugged along in. a lot. of. pain. grinding out that last few miles…arrrrrrggggh…

Missed the PR by 2 minutes. *&%$#&!!!

Dizzy and spent, I fell dramatically into the arms of a woman medic at the finish line and burst into tears. First time I ever did that. Usually I make a wooden trot across the finish line and get my medal and move on like 26.2 didn’t just happen. It was embarrassing.

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I passed through the food tent and met my husband and son in the spectator area. There was no way I could eat anything anyway. I went straight to the ground. My husband took my beer coupon to the truck and brought me back a nice, tall cold one. Yes. exactly what I wanted – a beer and I am not much of a drinker. Done. Relief. Miller Time.

In retrospect, I am okay with not having PRed – besting my best marathon time. Because at the beginning of the race I didn’t expect to get past 18 miles or 15 for that matter! Heck, I had my doubts I would be in Dayton on that day so I felt satisfied.

I’ll be back next year. To do the half marathon. 😀

Stuff I Learned From Ultrarunners

I just spent at 72 hours up at and around Manistee National Forest in Northern Michigan with a group of mostly women ultra runners from my region of Ohio.

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It wasn’t the first time of course that I’d been around ultra runners but it was the first time I’d ridden 16 hours round trip in an SUV full of them, slept and eaten and flopped out at a campsite with that many runners. And not that many of those hours were spent sleeping either.

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Among the things I experienced is getting up very very early.  Like when it’s dark, maybe even at 4 a.m. to travel to Michigan. And the next day again, 5 a.m.  to arrive at the race, find parking, use the port a potty and be at the starting line. I have run more half marathons and marathons than ultras (I did one 50K). This getting up at “insane o’clock” like 3 or 4 in the morning is normal for ultra runners but not for me normally. I am not a morning person, but it was okay. In fact I got used to the early bird routine by Sunday morning’s drive back.

On the drive up we ate a huge breakfast at Bob Evans — all 20 of us at one long table. That evening we all had a “night before race dinner” at a local steak and seafood place in town. I had expected a lot of health conscious eating. No. There were major calories consumed, like big rib eye steaks and plenty of beer. Doing just the half marathon the next day I felt like I should have ordered just a salad but I went for a steak too – a smaller one wrapped in bacon and topped with blue cheese plus a side of mashed redskin potatoes. “It’s okay, you’re burning it off tomorrow,” someone said. “Doing 13.1, not 50 miles.” I kind of murmured. Big difference! My calorie burn was probably somewhere in the neighborhood of 1500 calories which I am sure I ate right back on – drive home we stopped for McDonald’s (I got a grilled chicken wrap and a light iced coffee) but blew it with a splurge at Coldstone Creamery for ice cream.

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Oh, yes, I am on a diet now that I am back  home. Race day I wanted my breakfast light. I had a Lara bar and a cup of herbal tea to keep myself from feeling heavy. My biggest mistake last weekend was running just a half marathon. No one else in our group did the half marathon but me. Most ran the marathon and about 25% did the 50 miler.

A marathon, 26.2 miles of hilly trail is a pretty big challenge but that distance was like a 5K fun run for most of them. It also meant a lot of waiting around for me. I didn’t feel trained up enough but at least I could have tried the marathon! A half on the trail is still a big challenge for most runners, but in trail races, especially when there is an ultra going on, there is no pressure to finish too quickly.

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Let me tell you, the course is not easy and this is typical of most trail races. Not for a half, not for a full marathon and certainly you can imagine not for 50 miles. I had a lot of time after my half marathon to hang out at the race finish area with the party in full swing, burgers on the grill, kegs tapped, tents pitched to think.

All kinds of people came out to run the half, the full, the 50 miles. Of course most of the ultra marathoners were in fantastic shape but not everyone looked like they could grace the cover of Trail Runner or Ultrarunning magazine. There were plenty of normal looking people of all ages and body types even in the ultra. That was reassuring.

Another thing that was reassuring was while talking to women in my group, every race is a challenge no matter how many they’ve run before. Among them we had half a dozen who won awards in their age group – no easy feat with about 500 runners registered.  I heard more than a couple runners mention how much of a struggle the first 25 miles of the 50 miler was. These are veteran ultra runners.

I know I have that battle in my head every darn race, especially those over an hour and a half long. I didn’t imagine an ultra runner with years of experience thinking of quitting before their race was half over! But they do think it sometimes. For me it means it’s normal to feel that way. Will you be the one who goes on or the one that gives in? That is the thing that sets them apart. I’ve never given in – I mean quit. Oh yes, I’ve gone slower but I keep going – finishing is what counts.

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Yesterday I finished. I had a cramp in my hamstring – a chronic painful problem. My first 5 miles were really pretty good, it was wonderful, running the roller coaster hills and switchbacks in the middle of the pack and then channeling Kilian Jornet I took a steep downhill leaping over rocks and roots and felt my hamstring tighten. It was a little scary. Then it was mostly painful. I knew I had to slow down. I ran when I could, trekked up the steepest slopes (apparently most of the toughest hills were in the half marathon portion of the course!) and stopped to take photos. My finishing time sucked but I was there mostly to have fun.

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In the end I got my medal like everyone else, my shot glass, my bag, my medal hanger. Had one of those burgers, the beer and shared 8 boxes of large pizzas with my group at 11 p.m. back at the hotel. We’d spent a total of 16 hours at race. At 9:15 p.m. some of us ran in bare feet or flip flops down the trail to find our last runner and bring him in. He had just a bit more to go to finish the 50 miles after he ran 13 hours and we escorted him in under the moonlight.

The most important thing I learned about the ultra runners is that they really, really stick by each other and leave no one behind to finish alone, no matter how long it takes as long as you’re moving, they’ll be there for you. There might be hope for me yet…

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