Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Adventures in Running...

Running... I have a love/hate relationship with the sport.  I am by no means a "natural runner."  It just doesn't come easy to me.  I'm not one of those people who wake up on a beautiful Sunday morning and immediately think that I need to go for a nice long run.  Nope, not me.  Never going to happen.  But, every now and again, I get this weird impulse to push myself beyond my comfort zone and give running another shot. 

Even my headband is bipolar!

My latest endeavor... conquering a 10-miler.  What was I thinking?!?

But, before we get to that 10 mile adventure, let's backtrack and talk a little about my love/hate history with running...

I ran a decent amount when I was prepping for my wedding/honeymoon back in 2008-2009 as part of my gotta-fit-into-a-wedding-dress-diet.  The next couple of years were rough on my running regiment.  Due to all my pregnancy drama, I didn't run at all while pregnant in the fall/winter/spring of 2010-2011.  With Georgia in the NICU in the spring/summer of 2011 and then coming home with a preemie, my running days were fairly limited for the remainder of 2011.  Throw in 15 months of exclusively pumping non-stop and it was already the summer of 2012 before I felt like my body even belonged to me anymore!  January 2013 arrived and I decided to give running another try to help lose weight and get back into shape.  I spent the cold months running on our treadmill in the basement and I credit the Couch-to-5K program for slowly easing me back into a sport that I forgotten about for several years, as well as taking off the baby weight plus some.

My first official "race" back was our neighborhood 5K in April of 2013.  Just days after the Boston marathon bombing, I was determined to put in a decent run to honor my home state and to the city that I loved and called home for 2 years.  I  blogged about the impact that event had on me that week.  Little did I know that those hours on the treadmill would pay off because I had my best run ever and it still stands as my 5K PR.  I couldn't walk without limping for a week, but my pride and love for running was at its peak.

I continued to run 5K races during the spring of 2013 and became more involved with the Girls on the Run organization at the same time.  I've run lots of GoTR races over the years as a buddy runner and coach and am a huge supporter of their message and organization.  To me, it stands for everything good about running and what it can do for you, your health (both physically and mentally), and how you feel about yourself.  At the school that I am currently at, it's even more vital since most of these girls don't have a lot of opportunities to participate in group sports or see female role models that are active and living a healthy lifestyle. 

2013 was working out to be a great year of running for me.  I had lost a ton of weight, felt great, and everything was clicking.  Even surgery in the summer of 2013 didn't slow me down and I was running again just 3 weeks post-op.

Lacing up my kicks for a short run while home in MA on summer vacation

But, as always, life tends to get in the way.  By the winter/spring of 2014, I had been slacking big time with running.  Every time I tried to get back into an exercise program, some life event seemed to get in the way.  A miscarriage and extended recovery in early 2014 took me off my feet for quite some time.  Things didn't get better as I battled injury after injury to my right leg all spring.  What started off as some mild pain in my heel/calf turned into an aching knee and then a horrible hamstring pull.  The combination of co-ed softball and spring running landed me in pain for months.  I barely survived our yearly neighborhood 5K and finished a solid 6 minutes behind my time from the previous year limping across the finish line in pain.  My runner's high was long gone and I wanted nothing to do with running by the summer of 2014. 

Barely making it up the large hill at the end of the race

My favorite little cheerleader

In the fall of 2014, I coached Girls on the Run once again and ran in their November 5K.  That little spark ignited again and the timing was perfect for an email I received about the upcoming Cherry Blossom 10-miler lottery process.  On a whim, I entered (convinced that I'd never be selected). 

On December 15th, the email arrived - I was in!  I hadn't told a soul that I had registered for entry and wasn't planning to tell anyone.  I always figured that I could back out if I didn't have time to train.  But, then a friend/co-worker who I coached with and whom I've run with in the past mentioned that she was going to run the race too.  I came out of the closet and admitted that I was planning to run it.  The good news - I had a running buddy for the race.  The bad news - I couldn't let her down and not train or back out of the race.

Cue the panic!  First stop.... Fleet Feet for a new pair of running sneakers.  Next stop... the gym.  My biggest fear was re-injuring my leg, so my motto during the entire training process was slow and steady.  SLOW being the key word.  I started off running/walking and slowly built up mileage.  I didn't just stick to running - I incorporated cardio, as well as weights.  More than anything, I wanted to feel strong going into the race.  I also aimed to get at least 10lbs off my body so that my knees would survive the race.

Starting in February, the Cherry Blossom organizers started to send out weekly and daily training plans.  For Type-A people like myself, this was perfect.  That "long run" email every weekend was certainly intimidating, but I just checked the miles off the calendar and completed my runs as planned.  Slow and steady.  Slow and steady. 

The glamorous side of running!

I survived February with no problem.  Even the "long runs" were still in my comfort zone of 5-6 miles.  Per usual, my right knee pain flared up as the miles increased, but with good icing after every run, it was manageable.  Sunday nap-time for Georgia equaled Mommy on the treadmill time catching up on the latest Tonight Show episodes from the week.  Tuesday became an easy recovery run, Wednesdays were for interval training, Thursday was another easy run, Fridays were weights at the gym, etc.  I had my plan and was sticking to it.  My pace on the treadmill slowly increased, especially during shorter runs, but I kept those long runs slow and steady.  For the most part, I stuck to the plan exactly as it was prescribed with a random skip day when absolutely needed.

March was the month that I was planning to move the majority of my runs outside.  Unfortunately, March's weather did not agree with my plans as snow and cold stuck around the DC region.  So, more time was spent on the treadmill and I banked up episodes of shows to catch up on during my weekend long run.  It made me really nervous knowing that 99% of my training was going to be on a treadmill, but I kept reviewing the course map knowing that the race was very flat with very few elevation changes. 

It was in early March when I realized that our treadmill comes to an abrupt stop at exactly 80 minutes.  Apparently it must think you've gotten bored and left the building?!?!  My first  8 miler and I was lucky I didn't land in a heap behind the treadmill when it came to a halt suddenly.  Once I was onto that trick, I would keep my finger right on the restart button for a quick go-go-go every time I hit the 80 minute mark of a run.

Love that it claims that I ONLY ran for 4 minutes, 49 seconds!!
Unfortunately, March also brought with it bronchitis and sinusitis.  Lack of sleep and Nick's business trip to Vegas (aka - single parenthood) finally drove me to the doctor's at the end of the month, but even a round of antibiotics and cough syrup with codeine didn't totally clear things up and a lingering cough stuck with me for the remainder of training and into race day.  For weeks, I felt like a deep breath eluded me as I prepped to do my longest training runs of the season.  Surprisingly, the long runs were going okay for me and I was gaining confidence, even while hacking away and popping cough drops like candy. 

The movie "Pitch Perfect" got me through my 9 mile training run

Boom - my only practice attempt at 10 miles.

My fitbit loved the long runs...

Note the atrocious lack of sleep the previous night thanks to my never-ending cough!

The beginning of April brought taper and a whole new set of anxieties.  Had I trained enough?  Would all the time on the treadmill and lack of road work hurt me?  Even as I picked up speed on my last short runs before the race, I was filled with self-doubt.

I managed to sneak in one short 4 mile outside run the week before the race.  In our hilly neighborhood, it was tough to gauge where I was at physically and how it would compare to race day. 

My overall goal for the 10-miler was simple... finish.  My secret goal was to finish under 2 hours and to NOT have to resort to any walking breaks (not that there is anything WRONG with walking breaks - I'm a huge fan.  The problem is that I like them too much and once I start, I can't seem to get running again).

Not fast, but not last became the mantra I repeated to myself over and over again.  The constant emails from the race organizers reminding us that we could still switch to the 5K were tempting.  Going back to my comfort zone of 5Ks would have been too easy.  The reminder in the daily emails about the sweep bus and needing to finish before the organizers were forced to re-open the DC roads at 2hrs, 20 min was always in the back of my head too.  Frankly, I'd rather get hit by the sweep bus rather than forced to ride it back to the starting line!

Up next... I recap the race and my final thoughts on the Cherry Blossom 10-miler! 
(Spoiler alert - I didn't have to take a bus ride to the finish line!!).

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