Where I’ve been Running & The Climax of Marathon Training

For having a running blog, I haven’t blogged too much about running lately. For being about to run a marathon in 20 days, I also haven’t blogged too much about training!

The past two weeks have been a whirlwind, that’s for sure, with quite a few highs and lows along the way.

While in San Diego I did some absolutely spectacular runs along The Strand, which is the strip of land connecting Coronado Island to Imperial Beach. That was definitely something to check that off the bucket list!

In the Spring of 2011 I actually lived in Chula Vista and worked at the Hotel del Coronado, so I drove The Strand daily. Back then I wasn’t a runner and didn’t take advantage of that beautiful trail even once. My one goal for my return to the area was to make up for lost time and get some miles in out there! Mission accomplished.

I figured go big or go home and decided to recreate my own version of the Goofy Challenge. You know, where you do a half marathon one day followed by a marathon the next. I really just wanted to see if I was up to it. So Monday of last week I headed out for my own half marathon. Easy breezy and I finished first – haha!

The next day I woke up at 4 a.m. and went out for the second half of the challenge, running 23 miles.

Sure, I was 3.2 miles short of the total challenge, but I proved to myself that I could definitely handle doing 13.1 + 26.2 miles back to back.

For the 23 mile run I started at The Del and ran almost the entire way back to my apartment in Chula Vista. That was a fun throwback to all the drives home from my internship at the Hotel del Coronado that spring.

When it came to the actual run though, I was a little worried because there was almost no elevation gain the entire route, so I felt like I was cheating myself.

That is, until I looked up the elevation map for the Marine Corps Marathon, which is almost equally as flatline. After I saw that I went from thinking it was inadequate training to perfect training!

Recovery was surprisingly not too bad. Obviously after the 23 mile run I went back to the hotel, collapsed into bed, and didn’t move for about 4 hours. But that afternoon I was up and out on the town with Abe. The next day I would say I was at 85% and by the next day I was at 100%.

The run marked the peak of marathon training for me. While I was thrilled to have topped out the miles, I almost instantly felt a mentality shift. I could feel my motivation begin to taper off along with my training.

Anyone who has run a marathon will tell you that the race is almost secondary, it’s the training and the process that is the most meaningful. For me, entering the taper stage was almost like starting the final chapter of a good book. I’m excited to see how it will end but am already lamenting the fact that it actually does have to end.

Feeling a bit deflated, this week I ended up taking two days off back to back on Monday and Tuesday. I was definitely in a weird funk, feeling sad and anxious about the marathon and just plain antsy! I knew I had to snap out of it though – two days are really the most I can take off in a row before I let it become five days and then two weeks off and I didn’t want to end up sacrificing 16 weeks of hard training!

My runs this week were brutal. No sugar coating – they were hard and slow. We were in Santa Clarita, CA which seemed to be in the middle of the mountains! There was an enormous hill to summit in mile one and although I got to run down it during mile two it just meant another climb on the way back! On a cool note, I did see a TARANTULA one night on my run.

My pace has gone to hell lately too, which has me concerned. If anyone has any suggestions for why this might be or how I can get that pace back down I definitely want to hear them! I had been training at an 8:40 pace for my shorter ~5 mile runs and around 9:00 for my longer runs. This week I could barely maintain 9:00 and truthfully creeped into the 9:30 range for many of my miles.

Luckily, on my long run, some kind soul had chalked some random inspirational sayings along my route. I don’t know that I would have made it without these little pick-me-ups along the way. There were about 5 of them!

Here’s what I’m thinking. I’ve probably (read: definitely) overtrained. My long run this week (13 miles – I was going to do 16 but didn’t think I’d survive) was the worst run I’ve done in my life. My legs were SHOT.

I’ve also gained weight, which could also be contributing to the slow down. Yeah, whhaatt? As someone who has struggled with weight gain, weight loss, and weight maintenance, this has definitely contributed to my weird mood lately. I run 50 miles per week and gain 5lbs?

This week I have one focus: recovery. That long run this week was so miserable that I know my legs need some TLC and that means taking it easy. So while I’m clamoring to get my pace back down, I’m hoping that if I invest in slow runs now it will pay off with a better pace on race day, which is when it counts.

So here we are, 20 days until race day! I’m thinking about posting a motivational quote each day just to keep me pumped up and avoid getting too taper nutty!

Good luck to everyone else training for fall marathons and congrats to anyone who has run one, especially all those folks at Chicago this weekend!

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Touristy Tuesday: Fresno, CA Edition

Let me start off by saying that when we told people we were going to Fresno we heard absolutely NOTHING positive. Not one kind word about the city. Ghetto, hot, and boring were all common ways to describe the place. Personally, my only familiarity with Fresno was from the Fresno Bulldogs, a violent urban gang featured on the show Gangland. Abe and I had low expectations for the place, but I am excited to report that Fresno was an absolute and total blast.

Touristy Tuesday this week doesn’t actually start in Fresno though. As soon as Abe and I got into town we stopped by Hertz and I picked up a rental car for the night – I was headed off to Monterey! Remember Cleveland Dave who I met in the tattoo parlor while we were in the area with work? Well, Fresno isn’t too far from Monterey so we planned a little spur of the moment rendezvous.

When I left Fresno it was 107 degrees. By the time I pulled into Monterey the sun was replaced by dense clouds and the thermometer was reading 58 degrees! I had quickly forgotten that Monterey doesn’t do summer!

What was memorable about Monterey was the great dinner Dave took me out to on our last night in town. He kept his track record up by taking me out to the Whaling Station – a fine steak and seafood restaurant right off Cannery Row.

This place didn’t joke around with their steaks. Our waiter showed us all of the (enormous) cuts of meat they had available and also told us about the fresh salmon that was caught that morning.

I couldn’t resist! Dave ordered the biggest steak on the menu (or waiter commented it was definitely a “man’s meal”) and I went with the salmon – both were incredible choices. There wasn’t a bite left to be had of either!

The waiters were absolutely hilarious and completely charming. They let us both try cuts of the prime rib that they serve table-side. If you get the chance to have dinner in Monterey, this is the place for good wine and good food!

After dinner we headed out on another adventure – dessert at the Navy Lodge. Being in the Army, Cleveland Dave had the hookup with the coolest place to stay in town. (No question it easily beat out the Best Western Plus of Salinas!) It was a beautiful, historic hotel with 12′ ceilings – I felt like I could have been staying at the White House in my corner room!

I kept the theme of recent Touristy Tuesday posts alive with my choice of dessert for the week – S’mores! On the way into Monterey I stopped and grabbed wine and the fixings for my favorite treat.

After having two delicious variations the last two weeks, it was awesome to have the real deal. Granted, we made them in the microwave, but still delicious.

Because we only had one day off this week I had to say goodbye and take off for Fresno early in the morning. On the way there I had passed one of those brown interstate signs for roadside attractions that had caught my eye – Dinosaur Point. Eager to get into town I had forgone stopping, but on the way back I just couldn’t resist and pulled off the highway.

Luckily the drive was absolutely gorgeous because the final destination was a bit of a disappointment. I was expecting a geologic marvel. Turns out it was named Dinosaur Point because from the sky this portion of the reservoir kindof-sortof-but-not-really looks like a dinosaur. Luckily I asked the park ranger what the deal was before paying the $10 park entry fee!

With our one day off, Abe and I made the most of it. First on our agenda was a tour of the Kraft Capri Sun plant. You get special treatment with the Wienermobile sometimes and because Oscar Mayer is also a Kraft brand we were lucky enough to score a private tour. Unfortunately, due to top secret German engineering, I don’t have any pictures to post from inside the plant. What is interesting though is that Capri Sun and Kool-Aid Bursts are both made start-to-finish, including the packaging – nothing is shipped in! We saw the bottles and packets being made, then, filled, then packaged!

After our insider look at the technology behind the favorite drink for sack lunches, Abe and I went to check out the Forestiere Gardens. This was a TripAdvisor find of the highest quality.

The gardens were developed by a Sicilian immigrant Baldassare Forestiere who originally worked as a subway tunneler in New York after coming to America. He moved to Fresno to start his own citrus garden though and eventually the heat inspired him to dig out a space underground to stay cool. From there, his two passions collided and he started burrowing out rooms.

Baldassare wanted to create an entire underground resort and over the course of decades he dug out almost five acres, complete with a ballroom, chapel, bedrooms, and a kitchen!

Each room in the garden had an individual skylight which allowed the trees to grow upward.The amount of engineering and science, combined with the necessary green thumb, was incredible. It was very cool to see this guy’s life work!

Friday we were off to work at the Naval Air Station in Lemoore, CA. Let me get this right, I get to essentially work on the set of Top Gun for the day? Best. Job. Ever. We were at the Commissary and then surprised the daycare with a visit as well. I bet those daycare workers really appreciated our visit after we gave all 80 children Wiener Whistles!

While on the job we also met the base Fire Department. Perfect timing because it was our day to wash the company car. They said they would help us wash it, so we headed over to the station after work. Immediately they started hosing it down and Abe and I asked how we could help, to which they replied, “sit back and relax.” They washed the whole thing for us! How awesome was that? Thanks guys!

 Because Abe has a military ID our day on base continued with a trip to the gym. It’s not every day i get to workout with our Military Might!

After our workout Abe and I cheers’d in the one way that’s OK in the company car – to muscle milk!

Although we left Lemoore after that, my day wasn’t done with men in uniform! Cleveland Dave was making the same drive I did the day before and coming to visit me in Fresno! He had a little better ride though – an absolutely beautiful Sebring Convertible! I don’t know what looked better – him or the car!

We grabbed dinner at a local “creative Japanese cuisine” place. Sushi is a cuisine I admittedly haven’t explored much and have been reluctant to try. Trusting Dave, with some Sake for liquid courage, we tried three different rolls!

Saturday Fresno got even better! That evening Dave let me drive his rental, and I have to say – it just might be better than the Wienermobile!

I had been running in Woodward Park all week, which is this absolutely fantastic park that the Eaton Trail begins at. In addition to some gorgeous views, the park is also home to a Japanese Garden that I took Dave to.

It was beautiful and at $3 it was a fun and cheap date!

After that we met up with Abe and Matt, a friend he met while I was in Monterey, at this wine bar called Vino & Friends. (My two favorite things!) You could order wines by the half-glass or glass and they had what was essentially a wine vending machine.

The dispenser allowed you to try 1oz, 3oz, or 6oz pours of different wines – from $7 to $70 wines. Abe just loved all the red wine options! Dave got the boldest red wine on the menu, and again the server commented on the manliness of his choice. Noticing a trend here? Matt and I both went with the sweetest white wines available!

This was easily the best night of Fresno and the new friends were a blast to hang out with, not to mention absolutely hilarious!

I spent Sunday night recovering from the weekend with a 10.5 hour nap, followed by an 8 mile run Monday morning.

Monday made for a great last day in Fresno. Professionally, it was fantastic – we had six interviews with local Fresno media!

After work, we celebrated by checking another item off the Abe & Kelly bucket list – going to the shooting range. This is something we wanted to do since Prescott, but didn’t get the chance to until Fresno. We got a .22, some zombies for target practice, and grabbed a lane. This was my first time shooting (outside of summer camp in middle school) and I couldn’t believe how much fun it was! Maybe I lived in Missouri too long, but I could definitely see myself buying a gun now!

I’m glad Abe was with me because his military experience was really helpful in teaching me the best way to stand and hold the gun. I didn’t kill any kids, so that was a plus.

We offset the bruteness of the afternoon activities by a nice Italian dinner to carbo-load for my morning run. Matt joined us for dinner again and I got to pick his brain about his job. He works for the Economic Development Council for Fresno and told me all about what he does. How have I never heard of this job before?! It seems right up my alley! After filling up for the morning run I went back to the hotel and promptly entered a food coma.

This morning I took advantage of my final chance to enjoy the running trails of Fresno. We lucked out and our hotel was connected to a fantastic bike path that went up to Woodward Park and connected to the Eaton trail. The views from it were absolutely spectacular.

Today I checked my long run off for the week with a 16 mile run, which went great. I decided to transition from the water belt to the full-on Camelbak – you know that means these runs are getting serious.

I did reminisce for a bit about my last 16 mile run, which I did along the Charles River in Boston over spring break. It seems so crazy to think I was doing the same run, just four months ago, on the verge of finding out I was about to become a Hotdogger driving the Wienermobile!

So that was Fresno – more new friends, lots of adventures, and quite a few good stories from it all. Now we’re off to Susanville, CA (yeah, who knows where that is – Mt. Lassen anyone?) and then Salt Lake City later on in the week!

Bolder Boulder 10k

This weekend I participated in the largest 10k in the nation – the Bolder Boulder.

This was an especially important race for me because I was doing it with my Aunt Karla, and we were celebrating losing more than 110lbs between the two of us!

Over the last year, my aunt has been a tremendous source of inspiration for me. At 50 years old, my aunt lost 60+ lbs, completed a triathlon, and completely revamped her life. All 22 years I’ve known her, she was overweight. To see her transform herself and embrace a healthier lifestyle inspired me. If my aunt could do it at 50, certainly I could do it in my twenties!

Karla ‘before’ at my high school graduation in 2008

Karla ‘after’ – 60+lbs lost later at the Bolder Boulder 10k!

Karla also did Weight Watchers and having her to talk to about the program and the weight loss process has been invaluable. If I’m ever struggling, I can always count on her to remind me that tomorrow is a new day and to forgive myself.

So the two of us formally-fat-turned-fit ladies took to the streets of Boulder for each of our first 10ks! My friend Tarah from back at the University of Missouri (who did the Chicago Monster Dash with me) also did the race with us, but she was running it while we planned to take it easy and just walk it.

Getting to the start was a breeze. I was wondering what the logistics would be like with 50,000+ participants, but they clearly have a method to the madness. There were military-precise waves for the start, beginning at 7:00 a.m. and going ever three minutes until almost 10:00. Because of that, the crowds were nicely staggered. We took a shuttle bus into Boulder which worked great!

Tarah planned on racing it and her wave was at 7:20 a.m. That meant an early morning wake up to make the drive from Estes Park, but the sunrise coming through the canyon was gorgeous. We waited in a line for the gear check that felt like a 10k itself, and then sent Tarah on her way.

Because Karla and I planned to just walk the course, we weren’t scheduled to start until 9:20. Tarah would already be done by then! (Shout out to her for reaching her goal of sub 60:00!) Karla and I got some breakfast and then headed to the roof of a nearby parking garage to watch the action.

I’m really glad we signed up for a late heat, because the ‘run/walk’ division was filled with many more costumes and nonsensical outfits that weren’t present with the serious runners. See if you can spot all the Waldos! 

The course itself was a blast. With all the participants and entertainers it was impossible to be bored! I was a little worried because walking six miles seems like it could be a little dull, but between the Marshmallow Mile, Elvis impersonators, and the mountains there was plenty to keep you excited!

If you hadn’t noticed, Elvis race pictures are kind of my thing!

Being Boulder, there was at least one keg stand per mile. Part of me wished I wasn’t with my aunt so I could get in on the action – even though I knew she wouldn’t have cared and maybe even would have joined me! 

The race ends in the University of Colorado stadium, which was incredible to run into. I know a lot of races in college towns do this, but this was my first experience. Another reason I liked being in a later wave was that the stadium was packed when we finished, making it a fun climax to the race! 

This was my second year in a row out to Colorado for Memorial Day weekend. My Grandma’s birthday falls perfectly at this time, and I think it just might become a tradition for me to head out there. Karla and I definitely plan on doing the Bolder Boulder again and next time I think we’re going to run it! It was a great experience to share together and I am so proud of the both of us! 

Chicago Monster Dash: My First Half-Marathon!

Chicago Monster Dash 2011We did it! Tarah and I ran our half-marathon! 10 weeks in the making, we both crossed the finish line!

Preparation:

In September, before school started getting hectic, Tarah and I both had the crazy thought that we should run a half-marathon this fall! We had both started running further distances and we’re both pretty competitive. After doing some research, we decided we absolutely had to run the Chicago Monster Dash half-marathon. It’s in Chicago, on Halloween, and as part of your registration you got really awesome medals and fleeces. It was just too compelling not to!

For this race I trained for 10 weeks. My furthest run before the program started was one seven mile run that I almost died on, but finished! I used a combination of Hal Higdon’s novice half-marathon training guide and a Runner’s World plan. I ended up going up to 12 miles on the run, just to prove to myself that I would be able to finish all 13 miles!

Driving 500 miles to run 13.1The Night Before:

Tarah and I were staying with some of her family in La Grange, IL and decided to take the train into Chicago to have a carb feast downtown. That was one hell of an experience. On the train in we met some Iowa college student and we ended up having a handful of mutual friends! Not something you’d expect from a stranger on a train into Chicago!

We decided to try Maggianos, which ended up being a terrific/really bad decision. The food was OUT OF SITE. There was a dinner-for-two that had two salads, two entrees, and dessert. Everything was just delicious, but huge! Not only were the entrees enormous, but they also send you home with an additional entree! The meatball on my spaghetti was literally the size of a softball! We ended up giving our extras to some homeless on our way home. I went for the chocolate cake, which was worth it, but was way too much! Talk about stuffed!

The valet gave us the wrong directions back to Union Station though and we ended up missing our train by 8 minutes! Shoot! Tarah and I always have a good time though, so that extra hour wasn’t too bad. We didn’t get home until midnight though. Whoops! Not so good when you have to be up to run 13.1 miles at 6:30 a.m.!

The Race:

This race was an absolute blast! The course went from Grant Park to Lincoln Park and back. They also had great parking at Soldier Field.

Before the race, while we were in our pace groups, I chatted up one woman who had an Ironman shirt on. I couldn’t resist. One of my goals is to complete a half Ironman by the time I’m 25 (maybe even a full Ironman, but we’ll see…) so I had to chat her up about that. Talk about inspiring. She’s done not one, but THREE, full length Ironmans. She recommended I check out The Triathlete’s Training Bible by Joe Friel and The Triathlete’s Guide to Mental Training by Jim Taylor. Talking to her really got me pumped up for the race!

Of course, before the race even began, as we slowly started moving toward the start, I walked into a massive puddle! It’s funny how those things happen!

The race was pretty well organized. We started a little late, which left some people disgruntled, which I didn’t really get. Is 15 minutes really that big of a deal? Just run faster. Haha. My only complaint was that there weren’t mile markers set up at every mile. While that would have been nice, it was also a pleasant surprise when I got to the 8-mile mark and I thought I was at 7!

As if there wasn’t enough to look at between all of the costumes, the gorgeous Chicago skyline, and the beautiful lakefront, there was a lot of activity along the race course, including: great live music, a princess juggling while standing on an exercise ball, and a grim reaper yelling “run for your lives”. The day was absolutely spectacular so that was a bonus!

School was just too hectic the week leading up to the race, so I didn’t have time to put together a costume. That’s one thing I wish I had done. I know, I know – that’s the whole point of a Halloween race! A lot of people were cheering and yelling words of encouragement like “Go Batman!” and I wish I could have gotten in on that action!

Sister of the yearI did have my sister and my fiance’s family cheering me on along the way! My sister was stationed at mile 2 and then also at mile 12. Talk about perfect locations! Her first sign said “Run faster – I’m cold!” and the second one said “Chafe Now, Brag Later”.

Overall, the race went awesome. When I got to mile 11 I knew I was golden. I amped up my speed on those last two miles because I knew there was no stopping me now. I had been keeping a relatively conservative pace to make sure I would be able to finish – so the last two miles I really tried to empty the tank. I think that last mile, no matter how fast or slow you go, is always the best and the worst. You know you’re almost there, but it does seem like it takes forever to get there!

Results:

But I made it! I crossed the finish line with a chip time of 2:04:36! I was THRILLED! I mean, absolutely floored that I went as fast as I did. I had the secret aspirational goal of under 2:00, but that was something I never even expected to come close to. I was expecting more in the 2:09-2:15 range! I could not be more proud of that time!!