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Choosing a Training Plan

When I started running – way back in 2010 – I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. I had seen the Couch to 5K training program on the internet and decided to start there. I found that after a few weeks “life” would happen and I’d give up. Even when I tried to stick with it, the amount of continuous running time kept increasing faster than my ability. The plan said to repeat a week as needed but it just seemed hard to me. Around this time I somehow thought it was a good idea to sign up for the Disney World Half Marathon which would take place in January, 2011. No matter that I couldn’t run a mile and didn’t have a plan. I’d somehow make it happen.

During that training cycle I did a lot of “winging it.” A virtual running friend (another newbie like me) was using a run 5 minutes/walk 2 minutes plan in her training so I decided that must be a great idea. I didn’t really have a concept of run/walk nor did I know who Jeff Galloway – the founder of the run/walk/run method – was…yet. As luck would have it, Jeff Galloway would be named the official training consultant to runDisney right around the time that I started to run Disney. The runDisney website made his free training plans available for their races and it was easy to adjust the calendar to any race. As a new runner I loved the concept of run/walk. It allowed me to transition from the couch to a half marathon and then to a full marathon and even race challenge weekends  with minimal injury. By adjusting how often I took a walk break, I could finish even a difficult training run or race and still feel pretty good.

When I made the leap from full marathon to the Goofy Challenge (half marathon on Saturday/full marathon on Sunday), I decided that I should sign up for e-coaching with Jeff Galloway. He created a training plan for me – based on my training goals, my race schedule, etc. – and I had weekly emails with him to discuss my progress. It definitely helped to keep me accountable and, even with a stress fracture in my foot about 6 weeks before the race, I was able to finish 39.3 miles in the weekend.

 

I continued to use e-coaching in training for both the NYC Marathon in November, 2013 and then the Hartford Marathon in October, 2014. I took about 45 minutes off my full marathon finish time from my first Disney Marathon until the Hartford Marathon, which was the last full marathon I ran with a time goal in mind. But I was still frustrated with my speed and I often felt that Jeff Galloway’s goal was more for me to finish strong than for me to finish fast. At Hartford I definitely went out much faster than he recommended and was still able to maintain my pace. And although Galloway’s plan of two 30 minute runs during the week and one long run every weekend (and he sends you very long – I ran 27 miles 3 weeks before the NYC Marathon) will get you across the finish line, I wondered if more training miles wouldn’t get me across the finish line faster.

My training took a bit of a dive after Hartford. Lots of life changes made running lower on my priority list. My fitness level and finish times were both worse than they had been since I started this journey. I was ready to look for a new way of training and Rich had never been a huge Galloway fan as he found the starting and stopping led to injuries. So we started looking for another path.  I think we were both attracted to the science behind heart rate-based training so we decided to give it a go.

The theory of the heart rate training plan that we use is to spend most of your training (80%) in lower heart rate zones and then build speed and cardiovascular efficiency by spending 20% of training doing intervals at higher heart rates. At lower heart rates our bodies use oxygen and burn fat. At higher heart rates not enough oxygen is being delivered to muscle so they use glycogen for fuel (the body “burns muscle”). Over time your pace at any given heart rate will get faster. The process can be frustrating. A lot of base miles are done in heart rate Zone 2. When I started this training, I did A LOT of walking to stay in Zone 2. In many ways it mimicked my Galloway training and was similar to run/walk. Now I find that a Zone 2 run has more running and less walking. Similarly to Galloway the amount you run or walk on a run will depend on how you’re feeling that day and what the weather is like. At warmer temperature your baseline heart rate will increase which means you have to run slower to maintain the desired heart rate.

When I was running Galloway, my target pace for long runs was around 13 to 13:30 min/miles or 2 min/mile faster than race pace. Currently my long run pace for heart rate training is around 12:30 min/mile. I’m curious if my faster long run pace will translate to a faster race pace. I’m running more days per week than with Galloway and logging more miles. My longest long run with heart rate training has been 12 miles. I’ll be curious to see if I can sustain my pace when the long runs start to get longer. Otherwise I can always return to run/walk…

Saturday morning dawned sunny and cool. Cold enough for a debate about how many layers I would need instead of the expected long-sleeves vs. short sleeves with arm warmers debate. At least Friday’s rain had given way to clear, sunny skies. A typical pre-race breakfast including one pop tart, one travel mug of coffee, and one shaker of General UCan and then a drive into NYC. (Ucan is a powder that I mix with water before any long run. It contains a super starch that helps keep blood sugar levels pretty even for about 2-3 hours. It’s one of many types of runner’s fuel. For runs over an hour, I generally need some sort of fuel or I end up feeling light headed.)

The Central Park Spring Classic 10k is put on by New York Road Runner’s (NYRR), the same organization that puts on the NYC Marathon. This race was billed as a throw-back race. No race shirt. No finisher’s medal. But at a throw-back price of $10. For comparison runDisney has recently opened early registration for the new Wine & Dine 10K race. The privilege of running a 10k at Disney costs $120 and includes a long-sleeve technical shirt, on-course entertainment with Disney characters,  and an elaborate medal. That price does not include park entry after the race…or any travel expenses associated with a Disney trip.

Rich and I found parking on 5th Avenue, just a few blocks north of the 102nd Street transverse – which is where the race headquarters was located. Same day bib pick-up was quick and easy. Our confirmation email had a QR code which was scanned at any of several stations. The bibs were not pre-assigned so you got whatever the next bib number was. A corral letter was affixed to the bib, although corrals seemed to be more “suggestions” than assignments. The last several corrals seemed to be mixed together. There were plenty of port-a-potties near the start line. The national anthem was sung and then we were off.

Central Park is hilly. I must have a selective memory because, despite having run several races in the Park – including my half marathon PR, I seemed to have forgotten the hills. The biggest hills were in the first two miles which included Harlem Hill. I probably started too conservatively as I planned the first 2 miles in heart rate Zone 3 and the rest in Zone 4. Since my heart rate seems to skyrocket with hills, I ended up walking a lot of the Harlem Hill to keep my heart rate in Zone 3. I averaged about 12 min/mile for the first 2 miles before switching to Zone 4.

I love running races in Central Park. I think it’s beautiful and I love seeing bits of Manhattan outside the protected green space of the park. This was a sunny, lovely day. I was slightly overdressed by mile 2 but not so much so as to cause a major impact. There were more than enough water stops. And it just felt good to run outside.

I’ve had a difficult time trying to figure out how to translate heart rate training into race performance. I haven’t found a formula that says, “run a 10K in Zone 4” or “run a half marathon mostly in Zone 3.” So it’s a work in progress. My training has recently stabilized after 18 months of sporadic running where I lost some speed (and gained some weight). I’ve seen some improvement in pace on my training runs this year so I was hopeful for a decent finish time. I was pretty satisfied with my finish of 1:11:39 (which translates to 11:32 min/mile). I was hoping that I could compete with my 10K PR (1:07-ish) but that will wait for another day. At least I’m getting myself back to where I was. And I definitely could have run the whole race in Zone 4 as I had enough juice at the end to know I could go faster.

Next training stop will be a pair of half marathons on my way to the NYC Marathon…. If you want to contribute to the Children’s Hospital please click the link below…

To most people March 8, 2016 was just another date on the calendar. For the 82,172 people who entered the lottery to run the NYC Marathon this year, March 8th was Selection Day. 19,083 runners won a spot in the NYC Marathon. Unfortunately, I was not one of them. Outside of the lottery, there are several ways to gain entry into the largest marathon in the world. If you are super speedy, you can qualify for the marathon based on your finish time in another race.  You can gain automatic entry by having run the race 15 times in the past. New York Road Runners (NYRR) offers a 9+1 program where you run 9 NYRR races and volunteer at 1 race in the previous year to guarantee a spot. Or you can run for charity. Which is what I’ve decided to do.

I have previously run the NYC Marathon for charity. My mother, who had been my biggest running fan, died unexpectedly at Christmas in 2012. A few months later the Boston Marathon bombing occurred. The combination of the two tragedies convinced me that 2013 was the year for me to run in the NYC Marathon. I wanted to run for my hospital – Montefiore Medical Center – but they didn’t have a running team…yet. I decided to run for Team for Kids, a great charity that helps children get and stay healthy through running. Besides the obvious advantage of helping children, running with Team for Kids offered several benefits. As the official charity partner of the NYRR, Team for Kids had convenient bussing to the start line and a large tent in the starting area – not insignificant for someone starting in the last wave who would be sitting in the starting area on Staten Island for hours.

Last year I was invited to join the newly formed Champions for CHAM, the running team started to support my hospital. CHAM stands for the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore, an amazing institution that I’ve called home for almost 9 years. Unfortunately my life wasn’t in a place where I could commit to training for a full marathon. This year my boyfriend and I both entered the lottery, mostly in solidarity with a dear friend who had committed to running NYC for charity. We were both shocked when he won a lottery spot in the marathon. At that moment we both agreed that I would reach out to the Champions for CHAM team and see if I could join them. I consider myself lucky to be running for a charity that means so much to me. In addition to training to run 26.2 miles, I will be adding meaning to my miles by raising a minimum of $3000 for a great children’s hospital. I am so excited to begin this endeavor.

In upcoming posts I will be sharing the great training debate, updating on my training and fundraising, and talking a bit about why I love working at CHAM in the Bronx. I also hope you’ll consider donating to a great cause. Even $5 can help!

 

Pre-Race Thoughts

Tomorrow morning I will run the MORE Magazine Women’s Half Marathon for the 5th time. I think it’ll be half marathon #15 but I may have missed one or two in my counting…
I love this race. It’s usually a beautiful spring day in Central Park and tomorrow’s weather forecast is consistent with that history (the year before my first time running this race the weather was awful with rain and cold). I have PR’ed this race 3 out of 4 years that I ran it. And I had high hopes of getting another PR this year when I registered. Then winter happened…
Anyone who lives on Planet Earth is probably aware that this was a particularly cold and snowy winter. To save money I quit my expensive gym in December and didn’t join an inexpensive gym until the winter was almost over. The treadmill in my basement died and would have cost almost as much as a new treadmill to repair. While I know many people who were able to get outside and run in single digit degree weather, I was not one of them.
This winter also represented a huge transition in my personal life. Life is full of change and we can go with the flow or get stuck in our own thinking. The last 6 months have required me to learn how to move forward and find a new normal for myself. It hasn’t been an easy time and there have been lots of ups and downs. The future is coming and I think I’m finally getting ready to meet it head-on. Change is hard and that impacted my motivation and my drive. “Now is the winter of our discontent” could definitely apply to this past winter. But I also found this quote, “No winter lasts forever; no spring skips its turn.” And with the coming of spring I am re-finding my mojo.
My training has not been ideal. After finishing the Dopey Challenge in January, I basically didn’t run for almost 2 months. My come-back has been spotty. I managed one run over 10 miles – a really pleasant 12.5 milers on a lovely new trail (for me) 2 weeks ago. I used a conservative run 15 sec/walk 30 sec ratio and finished with a 13 min/mile average pace. I felt good afterwards and felt hugely encouraged. I have done a few runs on hilly courses but haven’t done the hill training necessary to kick butt on this hilly course. I have done no speed work. And barely got in my mid-week maintenance runs. But I will finish.
My strategy for this race is to start slowly and conservatively. I know I can easily maintain a 13 min/mile pace because I did it in training. So I will start around 12:30 min/mile and see how I’m feeling. I’m planning the same super conservative ratio – probably run 15 sec/walk 30 sec – for the race. This will work really well on the hills. Instead of walking up the BIG hill in Harlem, I can run for 15 sec without trashing my legs or bringing up my heart rate too much. Hopefully on the second lap I’ll feel good enough to pick up the pace a bit.
I love racing. The adrenaline rush. The feeling of camaraderie amongst the participants. The support of the spectators. The joy of crossing the finish line. I’m hoping that re-claiming that feeling will get me ready to start training again. I want to work on speed for shorter distance races over the summer before tackling another half marathon over Labor Day weekend.
Tomorrow is the first day of the future…

2015 Disney World 10K

One day after running the 5k, my alarm went off even earlier for me to run the 10k. After dragging my Night Owl 10 year old out of bed, we were off to the monorail for a slightly warmer trip to the same starting area. Luckily the Epcot monorail was running this time and our trip was easy. The temperatures were at least 10 degrees warmer and lacking the brisk winds from the previous day’s race. We stayed in the same tent from the previous day until it was time for some group meet-ups.
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Unfortunately for my introverted son there was only one other elementary school child in the group (and she was a girl!) so he was stuck with the adults. We were lucky to be in a starting corral with some friends of mine from Team Shenanigans and I was grateful that they helped to entertain Nathaniel.
I had chosen a conservative run 30 sec/walk 60 sec for this race because Nate had never really run further than 4 miles. I was really worried about him going out too fast and crashing and burning towards the end. About 0.5 miles into the race he asked me if we could go faster and I wisely suggested that we waited until at least the 5k mark before speeding up.
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Mile 1
I gave Nate the option of stopping for some character photos but he declined. He told me that he wanted a “real” finish time for the race. I didn’t give the same choice to the younger two children for the 5k because I was worried about not finishing.
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Mile 2
The first half of this race is on roads outside of Epcot. There were some fun characters out. Elsa and Anna were on an overpass with “snow” coming down onto us. We saw several character stops with decent lines of people waiting. I learned during this part of the race that Nathaniel likes to sprint for 30 seconds and then walk at snail’s pace for 60 seconds. This meant that he would get way in front of me on the run intervals and then I’d catch up and pass him during the walk. As we reached the mile 3 mark (which came out too blurry to share), Nate started complaining about feeling light-headed. I gave him some Clif Bloks and he perked right up.
Once in World Showcase we were able to have some fun. In honor of Nate’s drum playing with Joe Weeks during the Wine & Dine 5k, we took a picture in the African outpost with the drums.
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Our time was well within the limits so we started having a bit more fun.
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(Random family with mile 4 marker)
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Nothing like watching the sunrise from World Showcase!
We made a much-needed pit stop in Morocco. After seeing long lines for the restrooms in Germany, I was worried about losing too much time in the bathroom. Luckily the bathrooms in Morocco were nearly empty and we were quickly on our way. I think the lesson is that the bathrooms in the first part of World Showcase have long lines but if you can wait until the end of World Showcase, there are no lines at all!
As we were getting ready to exit World Showcase for the Boardwalk, we decided to increase our intervals slightly. I changed us to run 30 sec/walk 45 sec. A special treat awaiting us at the Boardwalk! A group of running friends formed a cheering squad and it was amazing to get lots of hugs from some familiar faces!!!!
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Nate was starting to lose steam a bit at this point in the race but we were in the home stretch. As we passed the Beach Club we met a mother and daughter running together. They were so impressed with Nate running a 10k at age 10 and I think the compliment really energized him. We re-entered Epcot and Nate’s energy levels increased. He was even hurdling over orange cones!
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As we approached the finish line, my dear friend Rich was ready to text Race Announcer, Rudy, Novotny, that we were coming. We were thrilled to hear our names as we finished! Another friend Fast Eddie got some photos of us finishing.
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I was very proud of Nate’s accomplishment!
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And I think he was proud of himself, too!!!!
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A big thank you to our amazing friends who were cheering at the finish line!
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Running 6.2 miles at age 10 is certainly a challenge. Nate was an awesome running partner. He never complained even when it was hard and he was really fun.

2015 Walt Disney World 5k

On Thursday, January 8th I woke up at 3am and quickly got myself dressed in race clothes. Soon after I found myself waking up my 6 year old son and my 8 year old daughter and getting them dressed in running gear. My weather app on my phone said it was 46F outside but predicted it would get colder. In the weeks leading up to the race, we had carefully planned cute outfits. Jessica and I were going to dress as matching Elsa’s – matching capes and all – and Zachary as Bumblebee from the Transformers. Unfortunately a cold snap in Florida meant dressing for warmth before cuteness.
We hopped on the monorail from our lovely Villa over to the Ticket and Transportation Center where we were sad to learn that the Epcot monorail was stopped. We waited in the cold wind for Disney to send over bus transportation. Eventually a Disney bus (one of the typical theme park buses, not a race transportation bus) arrived and we were happily on our way to the start.
One downside to running Disney races with younger children is that you have to get to the starting line very far in advance. I’m sure for a typical local 5k you can arrive soon before the race starts. But at Disney the huge race size and complicated logistics mean that you are there at least 60-90 minutes before race start. Add cold and windy weather. Super early morning starts. And it’s easy to have some unhappy children.
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We were lucky to hear from a friend that there was room in an unused massage tent for people to wait out of the wind. The tent wasn’t heated but since it was filled with people and relatively wind-proof (if people would remember to close the darn door behind them!), it was still a welcome reprieve from the cold wind. We were starting in Corral E so I wasn’t in a huge hurry to get to the starting area so we waited inside as long as possible. It did mean missing any runDisney team meet-ups but it was more important to keep my children from being miserable.
We finally headed towards the starting area and I encouraged my children to use the porta-potty before getting to the corral. They were reluctant but fortunately agreed. As we were waiting in line for a bathroom, corral A started. Luckily for the 5k the corrals are only a short walk and we were in the corral when corral B was released.
Another downside to the Disney 5k is that there is a relatively long time lag between starting corrals. With children I have always started in a late corral and many people have already finished the race before we started. This, combined with the cold wind and the early hour, meant that my 6 year old was ready to give up the race before we even started. With some coaxing and a reminder of the cool medal he would be getting, he agreed to wait it out.
The children and I had chosen a run 30 sec/walk 60 sec strategy for the race. We had practiced at a run 15 sec/walk 60 sec interval but I thought the race-day adrenaline would win out. Jessica was given her own run/walk timer in case she got frustrated with Zachary’s slow pace but she decided to stay with us the whole time.
Zachary has mild cerebral palsy and didn’t walk until age 2. Physical activity remains difficult for him although his disability is subtle and wouldn’t be noticed by a casual observer. The early hour and long wait to start had made him a bit cranky and he got fairly whiny early in the race. We had a difficult race during Wine & Dine Weekend (Mickey’s Jingle Jungle 5k) with lots of whining and he had promised this time would be different. I gently reminded him of his promise (ok, it might not have been very gently). After expressing some anger and frustration at me, he soon changed his tune and decided that we were going to have fun.
We passed the 1 mile mark before entering Epcot and by the first water station, Zachary had apologized for being crabby. He soon invented a fun game where we had to jump over any lines in the sidewalk and we started singing and dancing our way around World Showcase. We were a little disappointed as we were belting out “Let it Go” along with Demi Lovato and the music started to skip and have problems. But mostly we just had fun.
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Here we are singing along….
The course then heads into Future World. Jessica loved running by Nemo where she was yelling “Mine. Mine. Mine” along with the seagulls. We came around by the iconic “golf ball” before heading to the finish line.
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Zachary is trying to catch up!
One of the amazing things about running Disney over and over again is the special people that you get to know. For me a huge highlight of this trip was meeting famed runDisney race announcer, Rudy Novotny, at the Race Expo. I told him a bit about my kids running the 5k and especially about Zachary’s disability. My friend was waiting for us at the finish line with instructions to text Rudy as we were getting close. My kids were thrilled to get a special shout-out from Rudy as they were finishing! Definitely a highlight of the race!
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Finishers!
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I was SO proud of my kids for finishing with big smiles on their faces!
I think the Disney World 5k is a really fun race. I’m not sure it’s worth the HUGE price tag now attached to it but I’m glad that my children have had the opportunity to run this race. While we didn’t stop for character photos along the course, we still enjoyed seeing the characters. My best advice for this event is to HAVE FUN!

As 2015 rapidly approaches and 2014 comes to a conclusion, it’s time to reflect on my year of running. This year was filled with big changes in my life and in many ways my running reflected those changes. January, 2014 was my 4th year running in the Disney World Marathon Weekend (my 3rd year running the full marathon that weekend). It was also my first experience with group running. I ran the marathon with a group of 11 incredible people, most of whom I didn’t know before the race. As I look back I’m still not sure how I was invited to run with this amazing group of runners but I am certainly grateful for the invitation. I truly believe that this race will always remain a pivotal experience in my life – both running and otherwise. Life-long friendships were forged and strengthened that day.
From there I went on to run my 4th More Magazine Women’s Half Marathon in April. I have PR’ed this race 3 of the 4 years that I’ve run it. Although my target was sub-2:20, I was pleased with my new PR of 2:24:41. I love the vibe of this women’s-only race and saw several friends at the event. It will always be one of my favorite non-Disney races. I also PR’ed the women’s-only Mini 10K in June. I didn’t do well with the heat and humidity and was disappointed in my finish time. I will continue to work towards a sub-1 hour 10k.
The summer brought travel – to Madison, WI for my brother’s wedding and then France to visit my other brother. Travel is disruptive to my training, especially since I took 3 children by myself to Madison. I did have the opportunity to run the streets of Paris at dawn and then to run with my brother in the French countryside. Both were memorable experiences.
I ran a fun but very hot 20k in New Haven on Labor Day. Not a fast race but certainly a fun one. That led into my intense training for the Hartford Marathon. I had originally signed up for this race following the excitement of the Disney Marathon in January. Many of my co-conspirators from that race had promised to run Hartford in October. Unfortunately life has a funny way of happening and only 2 of us ended up running the full marathon (and a few more doing the half marathon). Despite difficult weather conditions – cold and raining – I managed an almost 25 minute PR. My time of 5:07:31 was not the sub-5 hour that I had dreamed of achieving (I knew going into the race that I didn’t have a sub-5 hour in me – yet!) but was very satisfying. I was blessed with supportive “race chasers” to cheer me on at various points during the race and several other running friends sending text messages of support. The post-race festivities were very enjoyable with a fun group to celebrate with food and drinks.
After Hartford my training has truly fallen off. As I transition through so many changes in my personal life, it is hard to prioritize running right now. And honestly I miss it. I ran the Miami Beach Halloween Half while in Miami for a work conference. A running highlight was finishing Mickey’s Jingle Jungle 5k with all three of my children holding my hands. And the I swam through the Wine & Dine Half Marathon. This was truly disappointing to me as I had looked forward to this event for so long. I hope to be able to run again when it isn’t pouring rain!
Luckily the weather for the inaugural JG13.1 in Atlanta, GA was ideal. What an amazing weekend of friendships – both new and old! The whole weekend was a celebration of running and of Jeff Galloway’s amazing contributions to running. Through my friendship with the Extra Mile Podcast, I was invited to a private meet with Jeff. While it is always a thrill and inspiration to talk to Jeff, the real benefit of the meet was getting to spend time with all of the Extra Milers who I knew only through the podcast and social media. I am also lucky enough to have local running friends who gave whirlwind tour of Atlanta. The race itself was quite hilly but lovely. We weren’t running for a PR but still managed to finish in 2:25 – just 19 seconds off of my PR. I’m not sure I’ll be able to journey to Atlanta next year right before Christmas but I can honestly say this is a great race.
Now I’m finishing up my training for my first (and likely only) Dopey Challenge in January. As I look over my training for the past 3 months I see that I have missed many mid-week runs. My long runs have been cut short. The mojo just hasn’t been there. I’ve been physically and mentally exhausted recently and I need to find my inner strength again. I’m hoping that 2015 brings back my love for training. I’m still hoping to achieve my sub-2 hour half, not likely in 2015 but I think I could do sub-2 hours, and eventually a sub-5 hour full (again, not in 2015 but some day). I had hoped for 1000 miles this year and will fall quite short of that goal. Maybe next year I can achieve that. After Dopey I have no races on my schedule. I need to really think about what I want to run next year and plan the schedule. I’m looking forward to new beginnings and new experiences.

A runner’s gratitude

Today, on the Eve before Thanksgiving, is a day for thinking about gratitude. Running has brought so many positive things into my life and this is a time to reflect on how much I have changed because of running.

I am grateful for the ability to run. My body doesn’t feel good every day. Not every run is a good run. But I am so lucky that I am physically able to run. I can run 26.2 miles without injury. I have had injuries along the way – stress fracture in my foot, various minor injuries and minor illnesses – but nothing that affected my ability to run for more than a few weeks. Every time I don’t want to run or my run is difficult, I need to remember how blessed I am to be able to hit the road. So many people have been denied the opportunity to run and I need to remember that it is a gift.

I am grateful for my family – both my biological family and my running family. My mother, may she rest in peace, was my biggest running fan. Not a week went by without her asking about my training. Not a blog post was written that she didn’t read. She watched me run my first race and my first marathon. My dad and my siblings continue to cheer for me. I had the opportunity to run a few miles with my older brother while I was in France this past summer. My sister and her husband (who is a Boston qualifier) always check on me before and after big races. My other brother and his wife (ok, mostly my awesome sister-in-law) are always posting about my races (usually something about the early hour and the bad weather…). My other sister-in-law asks about my running all of the time. My dad and his girlfriend are joining me in Disney in January to help with the kids so I can run with Dopey Challenge. Amazing support from my biological family!

My running family is truly a gift from God. The friendships that I have formed through the running community have changed my life. People who have never met me in person will text me or message me to check on me. I get text messages during long runs and races from people who might not even recognize me on the street. And when life gets difficult, I can’t imagine a better group of friends. Supportive, encouraging, unparalleled. During Mickey’s Jingle Jungle 5k the other weekend, 2 friends who had never met my children helped me by running most of the race with them. And then one of my friends made sure that I was able to finish the 5k with all 3 of my children holding my hands. I am grateful for friendships that know no limits and the ability to share running with my children. In January I had the joy of running with a group for 26.2 miles (plus a bit extra due to on course antics and fun). I still can’t believe I was invited to join such an amazing group of people for that race. Running with friends is a life-changing experience and I will forever be thankful.

I am grateful for the feelings that running brings. Some days running brings escapism. Some days running brings clarity. Some days running brings invincibility. Some days running just lets me cry until I don’t feel sad anymore. And that’s just training runs. Races bring excitement and adrenaline. And crossing that finish line brings a sense of accomplishment second to none. Exhilaration. Pride. Joy.

Although I have struggled a bit to get out the door recently, running has been an amazing addition to my life. It’s sometimes hard to remember that I only started running in early 2010. What a gift I’ve been given!

Running and Perfectionism

Hi! My name’s Amanda and I’m a recovering perfectionist….
I have been a life-long perfectionist. Growing up I was a good student and a hard-core gymnast. I started competing at age 7 and stopped after my freshman year of college. Few sports breed perfectionism as much as gymnastics (ice skating and diving come to mind as well as certain positions – like pitchers and goalies – in team sports). Every competition you are judged on how perfect your performance is. And every week we were judged by how much we weighed. Perfectionist in training.
I was a high-achieving high school kid who participated in too many activities while still getting near-perfect grades. I played varsity sports during the year and raced sailboats all summer (I won girls’ champs of Long Island Sound at age 16). I followed that with acceptance into a high-achieving Ivy League University. Our sailing team qualified for nationals my junior year of college. From there I went to a high-achieving medical school where I was once again a perfectionist. When it came time to choose a field of medicine, I chose one of the most competitive with one of the longest residencies. And then I had to further sub-specialize and do 2 additional years of training. During that time I had the first 2 of my 3 children and I lived alone with 2 children in Baltimore while I finished my medical training.

I think it’s pretty clear that I have a chronic case of perfectionism.

As a perfectionist I tend to shy away from things that are new for me (not in terms of travel but more in terms of trying new sports or activities). I like to know that I’m going to be good at something before I try. I guess I’ve always been very outcome oriented. As long as the final grade is good, the process didn’t matter so much. (Maybe that’s why I pulled so many last minute all-nighters in college, huh?) So when I signed up for my first half marathon – when I could barely run a mile at the time – it was definitely a change for me.

My running resume at this point is certainly respectable. I’ve run 4 full marathons and 10 half marathons. I’ve completed one Goofy Challenge. I have 2 more full marathons and 3 half marathons on my race calendar, which includes the Dopey Challenge in January. I haven’t finished every race pretty but I have finished every race. For Disney races my times tend to be average while for local races I tend to be in the bottom 1/4 of runners. I’ve improved over time – I’ve taken 20+ minutes off my half marathon time and about 25 minutes off my full marathon time. While I’ve slowly gotten faster, I’m certainly not a fast runner. And it’s unlikely that I’ll ever be considered a fast runner.

I’m friends with some fast runners. My work partner can easily finish a half marathon in the 1:45 range (my PR in just under 2:25). She recently placed 2nd in her age group at a 4 mile race. Her pace per mile average is faster than my fastest mile. I’m friends with someone who has qualified for Boston and placed/won his age group several times. Who could run the entire Goofy Challenge in less time than it would take me to finish a marathon. And even though I respect their ability and work ethic, I’m not sure they get more benefit from running than I do.

Let me explain.

Running has helped me re-think my perfectionist tendencies. I’m never going to win a race. I’m unlikely to ever place in my age group (unless I just outlive everyone). So what makes me get up at 4am in 30F weather to complete a 5 hour training run? And that’s the funny thing about running. So much of the benefit comes from the process. There is a sense of pride and satisfaction that comes from getting your badass self up in the pre-dawn hours to run for longer than most people could fathom. Something peaceful about watching dawn break as you reach the 10 mile mark and there isn’t a soul to be seen. A stillness and calm that washes over me in the early mornings. I know that I don’t *have* to be there. Nobody is making me do it. But even if I never crossed another finish line,  knowing that I can get my body to run 20 miles even when all logic tells me to stop creates a sense of strength, of invincibility.  And even without the elusive runner’s high, the sense of accomplishment lasts forever.

I learn something about myself on every single training run I do. Some days I just learn how to clear my head of the daily noise. Some days I learn that my body won’t always be able to do exactly what I want it to do. Other days I learn that I can sometimes exceed my expectations. I learn how my body works. Or how my body doesn’t work. But mostly I’ve learned that I have more mental strength than I ever imagined. I’ve learned that through sheer stubbornness and will-power I can achieve the unimaginable.

And then there’s the feeling of race day. There are so many factors that can’t be controlled. How you feel that day. What the weather is like. And not every race goes the way that I hope. In June I was well-trained for my 10k but the heat and humidity took a toll and I finished slower than I hoped. Was that a failure? Absolutely not. I put in the time and effort to train and did the best of my ability that day. And while I hope to PR my next marathon, I also know that there will be factors that I can’t control. Regardless of how I finish I know that I can be proud of the process. I have prepared for the race and followed my plan.

The most amazing thing about my running experience is how it has carried into my every day life. Jeff Galloway has been quoted as saying,  “The marathon is one of those experiences that people tell me allows them the confidence to be able to do a lot of other things in their life that they thought they could never do.” This is so true for me. I have projects going on at work that I never believed I could do. I’m making changes in my life that require strength that I didn’t know I had. I have new-found faith in myself. Belief that YES I CAN. Because someone who can’t do things also wouldn’t be able to get up at 5am and run for 6 hours (which is tomorrow’s plan).

Running has helped this perfectionist see that it’s not about the outcome, it’s not the destination that matters. What matters most in life is the journey. And I plan to enjoy every moment of my journey to the next finish line.

New Haven 20K and Update

So it’s been nearly 5 months since I’ve written a blog post. Life has a funny way of getting in the way of blogging. And sometimes life gets in the way of running, too. May was a rough month. A work conference in Orlando in May with late nights and early mornings led to some time off to recover from a sinus infections. I PR’ed the Oakley Women’s 10k in June but struggled with the humidity a bit. Luckily it was a nice summer for training and my plan was only a bit derailed by some more travel-related illness in August.
On Labor Day (Monday, September 1st) I ran the New Haven 20k race. My training schedule called for a 26 mile training run that weekend. I ran on Saturday and made it to 16 miles before stopping. I just wasn’t feeling great and I knew I had 12.4 miles ahead of me on Monday.
Labor Day weather reports called for a hot and humid race. Unfortunately some unexpected changes in my on-call schedule meant that I was taking emergency phone calls the night before the race until nearly midnight.
The drive to New Haven was easy and the parking garage was only a few blocks from the race. The starting area had tons of port-a-potties. The day started with children’s races, the 20k, and a 5k. There were no official corrals but some signs with suggested race paces. I was planning a slow run/walk so started all the way in the back of the pack.
After the National Anthem was sung, we were off! Using 30/30 run/walk intervals I quickly found myself at the very back of the pack. While this was somewhat discouraging, I figured with the heat and humidity I wouldn’t be all the way in the back for long. One thing that was immediately apparent and surprising to me was how many locals were sitting outside to cheer for us. There were also several bands playing starting by mile 2. These were clearly local bands but they were very inspiring and enjoyable.
There were many water stops along the course with local groups and families handed out beverages. I tried to take water from the smallest child I could find at each stop. There were locals with sprinklers set up to cool us off because the weather was brutal. The starting temperature was 71F with 90% humidity. Yuck!
I can’t emphasize enough the cheer and support we got from the residents. It was really fun to see people hanging out on their lawns and offering support to the runners. I will say that around mile 6 I wasn’t feeling great. The heat and humidity were getting to me. I’m definitely NOT a hot weather runner. But the atmosphere was so positive that I powered through.
Around mile 9-10 was a lovely, shaded downhill that lasted quite a long while. That really lifted my spirits and helped carry me to the finish. I saw some people really struggling towards the end but I was able to power through. While my finish time of 2:31:08 (12:19 pace) isn’t going to win any awards, it was a rewarding experience. The long-sleeved tech shirt is great and the medal was lovely.
After the finish there was plenty of food, even for the back of the packers. The entry fee included 2 free beers at the finish but the kegs were starting to kick by the time the later finishers got there. The after party was definitely a nice event and probably worth the entry fee alone.
This race is definitely a good event. Unfortunately Labor Day weather in Connecticut is usually quite warm so I’m not sure I would do this race again.
Next up on my race calendar is the Hartford Marathon in October….

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