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Tales of a recovering over racer

Thursday, December 4th, 2014

Addiction is a powerful thing. I am not sure exactly when it happened but suddenly I found myself wanting to run all the races! Between the Celebration Marathon in January and Boston Marathon in April, I raced nine times and even joined a new running club just so I could compete in their racing series. No wonder my hamstring injury never healed. After Boston I ran in four more races between the end of April and mid-July. I tried resting the hamstring for a week or two here and there and even went to physical therapy. Finally when I had finished the last of the Picnic Island Adventure Runs of the summer in July I decided to focus on getting healthy for marathon training.

I was set to begin the 18 week Hansons Marathon Method with a group of friends at the end of July. I knew I would not be able to handle marathon training with a hamstring injury. I followed the plan almost perfectly for weeks and weeks. I turned down invitations to race, which is difficult for me to do. I even had to skip one of my favorite summer cross country races. I trained consistently and did not race for 11 weeks. I even stopped having the urge to look at race calendars in running magazines.

Then it was time for the Tower of Terror 10 Miler at the beginning of October. “You are about to discover what lies beyond the fifth dimension, beyond the deepest, darkest corner of the imagination, in The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror™ 10 Miler!” Thanks Disney, I was already both scared and excited for this.

2014 Tower of Terror 10 Miler

On one hand, I was really looking forward to it because my training had been solid and it would be a good test of my fitness. It is such a fun race; probably my favorite Disney race. But on the other hand, I was extra nervous about racing. Would this trigger my racing addiction? Would I revert back to the bad habit of over racing? I am happy to report that as of two months post-race, it has not. I have kept my racing calendar from filling up. I am staying focused on training properly and only racing when it fits in with my goals.

I think much of that success is due to the amazing time I had at the Tower of Terror 10 Miler. I hadn’t raced in 11 weeks so I could only rely on my marathon training paces to guide me. I started conservatively but quickly sped up because I felt so comfortable. A little before halfway I knew I could really race it. I ended up running negative splits, finishing a little over a minute off my PR that was set 12 years ago. I was the 5th overall female and Masters Winner.

Meagan & me in front of the Tower of Terror after we both had awesome races!

I am not sure if my addiction is racing, adrenalin, competition, or some combination, but let’s just say that my competitiveness does seem to carry over to other areas like Toy Story Mania (the best game/ride in all the Disney parks). Perhaps moving into the Masters category has helped me mature as a runner because I definitely learn from my mistakes and train a lot smarter. It took one great race preceded by many weeks of patience, listening to my body, and good training in addition to some serious willpower to stop over racing.

Masters award arrived in the mail a few weeks after the race.

Tower of Terror 10 Miler Results

Running Journal – January 2015 – Page 3

Running Journal

This time it was no picnic!

Monday, August 4th, 2014

One of my all-time favorite races is the Picnic Island Adventure Run in Tampa, Florida. It is actually a series of three races that take place once a month on Friday nights in May, June, and July. Hot and humid do not begin to describe the weather at 6:45 p.m. on the small island in Tampa Bay under a cloudless summer sky. So once you’ve accepted the weather factor, you’re ready for the real challenge.

This adventure run is unique and definitely not one of those mud runs or extreme obstacle races where you sign away your life in a waiver. I don’t do dangerous races like that. Picnic Island is challenging, don’t get me wrong, but it is definitely more welcoming to all ages and abilities who are seeking adventure. The obstacles are minor; you crawl under a cargo net on your knees over sand, run through six big, inflated tubes, and then hurdle, jump, walk, or crawl over one hurdle. The rest of the run is on the beach, grassy areas with hills, a couple of very small sections over pavement, and quite a bit through mangroves. Oh the mangroves! You never know what to expect until you get there. This July 18th, high tide was coming in so the water through the mangroves was pretty deep, very warm, and muddy. Yes, a little bit of “ick” factor, especially if you go splashing through like I did and it hits you in the face.

I always sign up for the three race series but this year I was unable to race the May and June races due to my post Boston Marathon rest period and rehabbing an injury. I knew I was not in top shape, but was very excited to race Picnic Island as well as I could. From the gun, I was out of breath and knew I would be. I was just trying to hold on to my spot in the top five overall women as we approached the last section of “non-trails” before the toughest part of the course. I say “non-trails” because they are not trails; they are overgrown areas of vegetation that someone walked through when setting up the course and stomped down a single track area for us to squeeze through. I was almost through this section, which is my least favorite of the course, and I tripped. I had an out of body experience. I saw myself floating down towards the ground, almost as if in slow motion. As soon as my knees hit the rocks at the bottom of the slight downhill I popped up, probably cursed (can’t remember now), and quickly ran off.

I attacked the five or six steep hills that zigzag up and down from the beach because I was so shocked that I fell and a bit embarrassed. But I wasn’t feeling any pain yet so I finished strong and ended up placing third overall and won Masters. Once I hosed off my legs to assess the damage, then the pain kicked in. So this one was no picnic but even now, two weeks after the event, my knees are still scraped, bruised, and recovering but I cannot wait until next summer when I can run all three Picnic Island Adventure Runs!

Exiting the water and heading to the finish line!

 

 

My poor knees!

Listening at the Midnight Run

Tuesday, July 8th, 2014

After several weeks of physical therapy, cross training, and not running, I was cleared to start running again. I followed my physical therapist’s advice and literally started with five minutes of running and only increased by two minutes each day. My hamstring and piriformis were still a little painful and tight but definitely better than before I began the physical therapy and what seemed like a never ending rest period. Perhaps I was overly cautious, but I didn’t want to rush back and have another set-back.

After many weeks of doing more walking than running plus my half-hearted attempt at cross training, I soon found myself heading to Dunedin, Florida in a rain storm for the July Fourth Midnight 10K Run that I had signed up for months ago. As an over racer (recovering) I tend to sign up for races very early when they catch my interest. I was excited about the overnight trip and racing at 12:15 a.m. with friends from my S2 Timing racing team and fellow Suncoast Striders but not very excited about racing ten kilometers. I purposely did not bring my racing flats or “lucky” bracelet and earring that indicate (to myself at least) that I am in race mode.

I first discovered the phrase “listen to your body” when I read the many incredible books by George Sheehan, M.D. Since then it has become a regular part of my coaching philosophy. It is so simple, yet so difficult to do. Sometimes we may hear our bodies telling us that something is not quite right but do we really listen? That is the big revelation in my life recently – learning to really listen. I have realized that I cannot over race and get away with it anymore. Okay body, I’m listening!

At the Midnight 10K Run I had no race plan as far as goal time or pace. Coming back from this injury I decided not to put any pressure on myself. My friend Meagan was really surprised because she has seen me on a “normal” race day and I was definitely not in race mode that night. But I was not going to utter anything pace specific before that starting gun went off. I started my GPS and went out at a somewhat comfortable pace and didn’t even look at the Garmin the entire 6.2 miles. Meagan caught up to me after about a mile or two and thought that something was wrong since she is not normally so close to me during races. I felt a little surge of competitiveness but kept my effort in that somewhat comfortable range. After the turn around she caught up to me again and was about to pass me with about two miles to go. I knew there was no way I could stay with her. I encouraged her to chase down a couple of female runners that were ahead of us. She said that she couldn’t catch them and I yelled back that she could!

And she did. One of them passed her back in the last 400 meters but she still had an amazing race. She ran a new 10K PR, which is not easy to do in the hot, humid Florida summer at midnight, ran negative splits, and took second in her age group. Our other Suncoast Strider and S2 Timing teammate, Diana, won overall female. I was so proud of them and so happy for them! I truly was. I didn’t care about my time or place. I did end up placing fourth in my age group but was way more excited about celebrating their success and the fact that I really listened to my body and ran within its limits that night.

Team S2 Timing at the 2014 Midnight 10K

[Originally featured in August 2014 Running Journal]

Grateful

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014

When training and racing are going well, it is easy to start to take it all for granted. I have been running and racing since 1986 when I began a run/walk program to earn a fitness badge in Girl Scouts and then joined the varsity cross country team later that fall when I entered seventh grade at our junior-senior high school. I have had my share of injuries over the years, especially in college where I missed more competitive seasons than I raced. Since college I have been self-coached, which has been quite the learning experience. I have had a lot fewer injuries but I still make mistakes despite all of my trial and error, coaching education, and just “knowing better!”

In February while racing the Gasparilla 8K in Tampa, I felt a weird painful twinge in my left thigh. It hit me about halfway through the race and would not let up no matter how I changed my stride, sped up, or slowed down. I was fortunate to be able to finish and won the Masters division. I was definitely concerned about the pain but with only eight weeks to Boston, I could not afford any time off. I continued training and racing and racing and racing. Confession: I raced way too much this spring. With over ten years of coaching experience and 28 years of training and racing experience, I should know better. Yet here I am making this major rookie mistake. I think I have become a race adrenaline junkie.

I made it through the eight weeks of training with consistent hamstring pain which also hurt quite a bit during the Boston Marathon. After Boston I took five days of complete rest before the DeSoto 5K in Bradenton that Saturday night. I had committed to run it for my racing team, S2 Timing, and I had also challenged my track team that if any of them beat me, I would treat them to frozen yogurt but if I beat them, they would treat me. They definitely had the advantage since I was just five days off a marathon. I was hesitant to race but decided to just go out comfortably and not push that hamstring at all. I ended up running negative splits, finishing second female, and winning Masters. And let’s just say that I am getting treated to frozen yogurt sometime soon! Two of my track girls set new personal bests that night, which was fantastic.

2014 DeSoto 5K with my Track girls

 

S2 Timing Racing Team at DeSoto 5K

I was making excuses for why I won Masters – it was a very small race, my time was not that great compared to what I usually run, etc. I took another week off from running to rest that hamstring but had another race commitment the following Saturday with the S2 Timing racing team (which I am incredibly grateful for!). For the Miles for Moffitt 8K in Tampa, I had the same mentality going in; I would go out comfortably and let the hamstring pain dictate my pace. I finished sixth female, second Masters, and just missed winning Masters by six seconds! I think my friend Meagan’s comment was “you’re ridiculous” or something like that.

With Meagan after the DeSoto 5K

I started making excuses again saying things like I only placed because I’m over 40 now, and then she stopped me. I should not make excuses for how or why I placed in these races. I should be thankful that I have been able to run all these years. I should be grateful that despite the hamstring injury and missing two weeks of training, I was able to run these two races and place in them. I am grateful for all of my amazing friends who have come into my life as a result of running, so thankful for the incredible support of my husband and family over the years, and grateful for all of the athletes I coach. I just need to remember to be grateful for the fact that I must have some running in my genetic code and that I am ABLE to train and race at the level I do. Running is a gift.

#runhappy

 

Close to Home

Saturday, May 3rd, 2014

I remember receiving all kinds of text messages, phone calls, and facebook messages last year asking if I was in Boston.  Thankfully I was not.  I could not imagine being there during the bombings.  My heart went out to everyone there and continues to go out to everyone it affected, especially those who were physically or emotionally hurt.  I wasn’t there physically, but it still hit close to home.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a Yankee as a person from New England.  I am most definitely a Yankee.  I grew up in Monson, Massachusetts (about an hour west of Boston) where I spent the first 22 years of my life.  We had Patriot’s Day (Marathon Monday) off from school and always watched the Boston Marathon on television.  My dream as I became a runner at age 11 was to run it one day.  I have run it five times so far in 1997, 1998, 2001, 2011, and 2014.

After last year’s bombings, I wanted to be part of the 118th running of the Boston Marathon more than ever.  Luckily I had already run a fast enough qualifying time in January 2013 to register and make the cut.  My husband and I decided to make Boston our vacation this year and spent almost a week enjoying the true history of our great nation that can only be found in New England.  Somehow the whole experience, despite it being my fifth time there, seemed more exciting and special than ever before.  Maybe it was the fight, the spirit, and the determination to show that we were one year stronger.  It was literally all around us.

We spent four hours at the expo.  We have never spent so much time at an expo before but there were so many amazing people to meet, including Dick & Rick Hoyt, Hal Higdon, Jeff Galloway, Deena Kastor, Kara Goucher, and one of my favorites “Boston Billy” Bill Rodgers.

Boston Marathon Expo with Deena

 

At the expo with “Boston Billy” Bill Rodgers

 

Team Hoyt

 

The weather was pretty cold for this Yankee who has lived in Florida since 1995, but race day warmed up to a near perfect 60 degrees and sunny.  Everything was pretty much perfect the whole trip.  Even my first half splits were near perfect; sadly, a little too perfect on those down hills.  I did try to hold back and stay relaxed like you need to that first half.  I had a pretty strong emotional moment in the first three or four miles when we ran by a large crowd outside a bar screaming, holding signs, and blaring music.  When I reached half way, I knew my legs were toast and this would not be a good second half.  Despite how annihilated my legs were with 13 miles to go, I never even considered dropping out.  I knew I had to finish and be part of the 36,000 who were there to show that we were one year stronger.  I am a very competitive runner so it was quite the epiphany for me to stop caring about my finish time or mile splits and push through the pain for something so much bigger than myself.

Running down Boylston to the finish

Right on Hereford, Left on Boylston.  Words cannot adequately describe the feeling you get when you turn left on Boylston and can see the finish line.  You cannot hear your own thoughts.  I almost had tears running that last stretch to the finish.  I am definitely not happy with my finish time, but I was incredibly happy to have finished Boston Strong.  This city, this marathon truly inspired me.

Exhausted in the Public Garden after the finish

Forgetful bliss

Saturday, July 30th, 2011

I couldn’t agree more with Frank Shorter, 1972 Olympic marathon gold medalist:  “You have to forget your last marathon before you try another.  Your mind can’t know what’s coming.”  I have not felt the inspiration to blog and to be honest, have not really felt it in my running since that last post about Boston either.

One thing that triggered my inspiration to write was delivered by the mail carrier this week:  2011 Boston Marathon Racers’ Record Book and certificate of completion with my official time and place.  Results on the web specifically state that they are unofficial until we receive this book and certificate in the mail.  The B.A.A. is clever.  They know that whether you had a good or bad race at Boston, the experience and the memories are the good things that we remember.  By mid July, enough time has passed since the race so we forget how much it may have hurt.  Now we have this record of wonderful memories, results, photos, and that certificate.

And to be honest, I have forgotten how painful my last 4 miles at Boston were.  I mean, I know they hurt, but it’s not a vivid memory where I can practically still feel that pain.  In May, I was still feeling it.  But now, I just think about how I can better prepare for the next one.  Yes, there will be a next one.  I guess that’s the thing about runners.  We just can’t stop trying to attain those P.R.s or reach whatever other goals we may set.

I have reviewed my training for Boston and have made notes about what to do differently when training for my next marathon in November.  The marathon is such a major life event.  Even if you are just running it for “fun” or running it with someone and helping to pace them, you still have hours, months, and many, many miles to devote to it.  Marathon training, adequate sleep, and proper nutrition are all demands that end up taking time away from family, friends, work, school, and social life.  When race day rolls around, I often think about all the time devoted to the training.  That coupled with the pain during the race make me swear off marathons!  Then enough time passes and I seem to be signing up for that next one.  When will I learn?  ;)

The fine line

Thursday, March 17th, 2011

Just under five weeks left until Boston.  Months ago I planned out an amazing training program for myself.  I clipped it to the front of my file folder that sits next to my computer so it would be a daily reminder.  A reminder that training runs are a priority and how everything else I hope or plan to do might influence that training and my goal.

I followed the schedule so well for the first four to five weeks, doing the long runs at the proper pace, doing the tempo runs, and doing the speed workouts on the weeks I did not race.  I was feeling very confident in my training plan and my ability to execute it.

Then the racing calendar really started to fill in.  I realize that I am in control of what races I sign up for but they did seem to creep up on me.  It’s hard to say “no” to the trail races (my true passion) and I also wanted to get some fast times on the roads so I knew where I stood.  Before I knew it I was racing almost every weekend from late January through mid March.  I was feeling pretty strong and almost invincible.

Then on February 13th during a 10 mile trail race my left foot slipped off a root and I twisted my mid and forefoot.  It happened around mile 7 or 8 and REALLY hurt but I guess I had enough adrenaline pulsing through my body that I was able to finish fairly strongly.  After the race I hopped in the car and during the hour drive home, my foot started hurting like I had tied my shoe way too tight.  So I untied the shoe and loosened up the laces yet it still hurt.  When I arrived home, I saw how swollen the foot was.  After a week of resting, icing, elevating, and no running, I tested it out on a ten mile training run on the trails near my house.

With that week off I was concerned about the Gasparilla 8K on February 27th and worried how the missed training was going to affect me at Boston.  I decided to wear my training shoes instead of racing shoes for the Gasparilla 8K and ended up second overall female with a new PR.  I guess that week off was a nice recovery for me!

The following week I was back on track with the Boston Marathon training plan which included a 20 miler, some hills, a 15K trail race, and a tempo run.  Also throw in there standing for hours and hours at track meets and track practice each day.  So my left knee and both lower legs in the tibial tendon/shin area started to hurt a bit.  Now I’m worried again that I’m not going to be able to finish all my training for Boston or even worse, end up injured on the starting line.

After three days of rest I debated whether to run the Sarasota Half Marathon on March 13th.  It was a tough decision but I ended up running.  I think that was why my mile splits for the first nine miles were so erratic.  I was not able to go into the race with a solid plan.  Once I hit mile nine, I put the hammer down, mostly out of frustration of the inconsistent first nine mile splits.  My last four miles were my fastest and most consistent in 6:59, 7:03, 6:54, and 6:51.

This week I am still in recovery mode from that race.  One easy three mile run, a spin class, strength training, a massage, and acupuncture.  Now I feel ready to jump back into the training plan on Friday with a 10 mile run at goal marathon pace.

I have not trained on this fine line in a very long time.  It is exciting and scary at the same time.  My goal now with less than five weeks to go is to stay healthy.  It’s a lot more difficult than it sounds.  I also want to be race ready on April 18th so I can really race at Boston.  Between now and then I have to get in those hard training runs, but I will have to do it carefully by getting enough sleep, eating right, taking a recovery day when I feel that ache or pain, and doing the necessary body maintenance of massage and acupuncture.  Training is definitely a balancing act and my goal is to do it without slipping off that fine line.

With a little luck and some common sense, I’ll be fine.  ;)

Talk about being humbled!

Saturday, May 22nd, 2010

I hope I do this race and this course justice in my description because I do feel humbled by the whole experience.

When I first found this race online I was so excited about a race at Northfield Mountain.  This is the place where many of my high school cross country races were held.  A place where I experienced great joy and success and also great frustration.  A place where more friends and family than I can count all gathered to watch me run my senior year when I placed second at State.  It is a ski area in the winter and there’s a reservoir with tons of trails for hiking, walking, running, orienteering, and mountain biking during the spring, summer, and fall.

To say it is hilly would be like saying the ocean is a little bit salty.  It is not called Northfield Mountain for nothing.  This race was billed as the USA Track & Field New England Trail/Mountain Championship.  Originally it was to be a 10.3K race but due to the draining of a reservoir and all the truck traffic along that route, the course had to be changed at the last minute (yesterday) to a 5.3 Mile race.  THANK GOODNESS!!!!

Here’s a quick overview of my splits for each mile:  8:36, 10:26, 11:26, 6:36, and 6:25.  That should give you a glimpse of what I am about to tell you.

We started on a hill we ran on in our high school races.  I was conservative, but didn’t want to start out too easy – it was a race after all.  But instead of using any of the trails that flatten out from the high school course, they had us go UP.  We kept going up and up and up.  My legs and lungs were burning and a bunch of people passed me so I glanced down at my Garmin to see only 0.91 miles.  Are you kidding me?  My legs and lungs were burning this badly and we had not even reached the first mile marker.

We were blessed with a couple of short declines and flat sections here and there but mainly the first 2.7 miles were uphill after uphill.  Not just up hills or inclines, mind you.  These hills were so steep that even the speedier runners ahead of me walked up them.  Yes, that’s right; I had to walk at least three times up these steep, tortuous hills.  We were told that there was an unmanned water stop about half way.  I was SO looking forward to water.  But that meant stopping, grabbing a cup, pouring the water, then getting to drink it.  I didn’t want to stop; I just wanted this to be over.  So I skipped the water because I figured it was only 5 miles plus I could see where the down hills started.  I had to get to the downhill! 

Walking up those steep hills almost made me laugh the first time because I thought about all the “hill” training I did the past six weeks on the Green Bridge and Ringling Bridge at home to get ready for this race.  Ha!  Who was I kidding?  Well if I hadn’t run those bridge workouts at all, maybe this race would have been even more punishing for me.  So it was better than nothing I suppose.

So we are more than halfway into the race and have finished the 785 feet of “climb” that the race director emailed us about the day before.  I leaned forward a little and just let gravity take me down the hills.  The last two miles were almost entirely downhill.  And not just a gentle sloping decline.  These were steep trails with rocks, roots, grass, and dried leaves.  They twisted and turned us back towards the finish.  I tried to let go and run them with reckless abandon.  Now I felt like I was back in high school!  No fear.  I was passing quite a few people who passed me on the uphill section.  I was flying by runners who were older and I suppose wiser since they did not want to chance falling or twisting an ankle.  I didn’t catch the whole thing, but one guy I flew by on the downhill said something like “I used to run suicide down hills like that when I was younger.”  For an instant, I thought, “Am I crazy to run them this fast?”  I guess I could have fallen.  Oh well.

I don’t know if I can fully explain how fast I was running down these hills.  I really felt like I was flying.  I did hit one soft spot where my left ankle turned a bit and I thought for sure my legs were going to give out and I was going to eat dirt, hard.  Thankfully I caught myself and was able to keep going.  That would have hurt big time.  I continued on, flying down the hills, maybe a tad slower than earlier once I felt my legs almost give out.  There were two smaller up hill sections towards the end where I was able to use the momentum of the down hills to power about halfway up and then try to maintain to the top.

A quick turn, steep downhill, sharp right, then probably the only real straightaway of the race, led us to the finish line.  I could not sprint to the finish line, I was just happy to be finishing in an upright position at that point.  I exited the finish chute then kind of half smiled at how unbelievably wobbly my legs felt.  I was exhausted but so happy to have finished and not fallen.  I was greeted by my husband and Grandma.  What a great day.  The weather was absolutely perfect too.  Warm in the sun yet cool in the shade.  Very little humidity, if any.  None that I noticed anyway.  We stayed for the awards ceremony because I wanted to applaud those hardcore runners who finished ahead of me.  I was not expecting anything today, especially with the hills and those veteran trail/mountain racers, plus they only went one deep in ten year age groups.

I tried to do a cool down jog but after about 200 meters, I could not jog anymore.  I had to walk the rest.  I honestly could not remember my legs ever feeling as wobbly and spent as they did today.  This has to be the toughest race I have ever run in my life.  And I have run a lot of races.

As I said before, I did some “hill” training back home to get ready for this race so I thought I would be somewhat ready to tackle the mountain.  I clearly had no idea what 785 feet of climb on paper would mean on my legs.  So to say that this race humbled me is an understatement.  I have never felt beaten by a course before.  I have never run a trail/mountain race before.  I guess they have a whole crazy mountain series or something.  I couldn’t imagine. 

Well maybe I could.  If I lived near this type of terrain and could train on it regularly, that would be a different story.  When I lived in New England, I loved hills – training on them and annihilating the competition on them.  But now that I am a flatlander from Florida, I humbly bow to the mountain at Northfield.  You trail/mountain racers are on a whole different level.  And I respect that.

Finishing at Northfield Mountain

 

Northfield Mountain


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