Tagged: hills

A Perfect Storm of Everything Good

Wednesday night’s six mile run was one of those magically great runs you always hope for when you step out the door. The kind of run that’s a perfect storm of everything good: good weather, good temperature, good legs, good mood, good health, and good friends. The kind of run that feels effortless, as if you could pull a Dean Karnazes and run all night long.

The kind of run that reminds us why we love running so much.

After last summer’s record breaking temperatures, I swore I would never again complain about running in the cold. Every day was a marathon of complaining about the heat, and no one complained more vociferously than I did. I was in a seriously bad mood for about six months. I was starting to think I was becoming a permanently negative person.

Now that it’s finally, finally colder, I’ve found myself some mornings procrastinating and trying to find excuses not to run. I see the trees moving, that means it’s a little windy, and that wind must be pretty cold. I quickly shake it off, though, and remember how any run below 100 degrees used to be something to celebrate.

Time to quit whining and enjoy our few short months of winter.

After wearing the bare minimum of clothing all summer, it’s sometimes hard to figure out exactly how much to wear when the temperatures start to drop. We all usually start out the first few cold runs by overdressing. Somehow, on this perfect night, I manage to wear just enough to stay both warm and cool at the same time.

 (Michael Friedhoff)

There’s something special about nighttime running in the winter, especially on a clear night around Christmas. The run down to the lake is especially dark through the trees, and the cold air keeps the pace brisk. On this particular run there’s electricity in the air since so many people have recently completed marathons. There are enough PR’s and I’m-a-badass endorphins to go around to light up the night. A street lamp goes off as we turn the corner, confirmation that we don’t need the artificial light.

It just feels so good to run.

Once we get down to the lake, everyone converges at the water fountain, even though they’ve all been shut off. The stars are shining overhead, the lake is smooth as glass, and everyone seems to have forgotten that we’re in the middle of a run and not a party. Someone finally sends out a shout to get going, and we take off running again, along the edge of the lake. How many times have we run along this exact same path? Hundreds of times, if not more, but tonight it’s like a route I’ve never taken before, fresh and smooth and inviting.

Two miles farther and another water stop with no water. No worries. Cold beer is waiting just ahead. All we have to do is run up Meadowlake and Sperry, two old friends we know only too well. Even though I usually dread running up these two hills, especially Sperry, tonight I’m looking forward to it. My legs feel fresh and strong, and I’m in love with hills again.

Everyone’s quiet as we run up the hill, and houses glow with Christmas lights and trees in the windows. Running up Sperry brings back memories of training for Boston, when I was in the best shape of my life, and I wonder if I’ll ever be fast enough to go back. Almost immediately I have the thought, I have this, tonight, and that’s enough for now.

Finally, we’re back at Hillside, and into the warmth of Fuzzy’s, good friends, and an ice cold mug of beer. All is right in the world, and nothing could ever be better than this perfect storm of everything good on a cold December night’s run.


Route 66 Half Marathon: SO Much More Fun Than Running a Marathon

I seem to have a love/hate affair with marathons. I love most of the training, especially the long runs with my running group, but usually hate the actual race. I’ve only had one really good marathon where everything fell into place (weather, pace, health, BQ finish time), but I can’t really say that there’s ever been one single marathon I’ve ever truly enjoyed. I used to think this was some type of major character flaw in my running psyche. Now I know that it just means I don’t always love running marathons.

(I’m still holding out hope that this will one day change.)

Last Sunday I ran the Route 66 Half Marathon in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Since July I had trained for the full marathon, but nagging ankle tendonitis and piriformis syndrome made me decide a few weeks out to switch to the half marathon distance rather than cause a more serious injury. Making the decision to switch to a shorter distance caused a lot of anguish and made me feel like I was letting both myself and all the friends I trained with down. Also, training through the hottest summer on record in Texas was miserable, and the marathon was supposed to be the payoff for all those miles of torture.

Once the decision was made, however, everything in me relaxed. I was more than trained for a half, and my only goals were to run the 13.1 miles with my marathon friends, and to make it to the finish line uninjured. My unspoken, true goal, however, was to enjoy a race again, even if it wasn’t the marathon.

All goals were accomplished.

The Friday afternoon before the race, Michael and I loaded up the car with luggage, video camera equipment, ourselves, and the dogs. Yes, the dogs. We don’t travel lightly. The four and a half hour drive north was uneventful, and I even got to see a beautiful starry sky just outside of Tulsa. Our room at the Holiday Inn was surprisingly modern and comfy and, best of all, pet friendly.  I could have done without the room being right next to the elevator, but we spent so little time in the room it was never a huge issue.

Our first morning there we reloaded up the car with all the camera equipment so we could film the marathon course, and Bill arrived just as we were leaving for the expo. The expo was tiny and we didn’t spend much time there, but Heather arrived just as we were leaving, so we waited around to see if she wanted to drive the course with us. Poor Heather was having a slew of bad luck getting to the start line. She had contracted strep throat the week before the race, and on the drive up to Tulsa her husband caught some type of stomach bug and, after having throwing up violently on the side of freeway, had to get a room in Norman because he was too sick to continue. At the expo, Heather’s bib couldn’t be located, so she had to be given a new bib and chip.

Bill decided he wanted to drive the course with us, but Heather wanted to see some family and get some rest. Armed with course map, GPS, video cameras, dogs, and Bill we set out to see exactly what the course was like. The official marathon description had said the course was “relatively flat,” but I’ve noticed almost all marathon course descriptions say something similar.

We knew there were going to be hills, but we had no idea there were going to be that many hills. Except for a six mile stretch along the river, the course is pretty much long, rolling hills–and they don’t let up, all the way to the finish line. We always try to incorporate hills into our long runs, and do a pretty intense hill repeat run called “Crazy 8’s,” but the Tulsa hills were long, nothing like what we have here in Dallas. Also, the sheer number of hills were unlike anything I had ever encountered in a race, which isn’t saying much since I’ve only run six marathons.

Bill wasn’t happy at the sight of all those hills, but kept a positive outlook nevertheless. I was secretly happy that I wouldn’t have to run all those hills the next day, but a part of me also felt disappointed that I wouldn’t be facing the challenge. Even though I complain about them, I generally like hilly courses. Mostly, though, I thought about Heather and how tough this course would be for her since she had been sick all week, and also knowing that we hadn’t really done enough hill work to do our best on this tough course. I also thought about Liz, who was attempting to finish her first marathon after being carried off the course halfway through three years ago in her first attempt, and coming back stronger than ever after surgery and a long recovery. This is not the course I would want to run on for my first full marathon. I also wondered if Don would be able to run the sub four hour marathon he felt was within reach.

At dinner that night, everyone wanted to know about the course, and they quickly caught on when I hesitated. Hari covered his ears and made it clear he didn’t want to know anything about the course. I told Heather and Liz to run the first half conservatively, because the second half had more hills than the first.

Of course we had all been checking the weather forecast obsessively the week before the race, and the forecast didn’t change all week. It called for a very warm, windy Saturday, with temps in the 70’s, with a cold front blowing in Saturday night and the winds diminishing before the race start, and temperatures in the mid 50’s. We were all keeping our fingers crossed that the winds would die down and the temperatures would drop before the race, because Saturday was incredibly windy and warm.

We all came back to the hotel and Michael set up the video equipment to interview everyone about tomorrow’s race. Everyone relaxed and stretched in the hallway as they waited, and then it was time for bed. (When we got home, and Michael tried to download the video, he discovered the memory card had somehow been corrupted. He’s working on saving the data. When he does, I’ll post the video. Fingers crossed.)

I went to bed that night not nervous, merely excited about running in the morning.

RACE DAY: Woke up to 47 degrees and a slight wind. Got dressed and met Hari, Bill, Heather, and Liz in the hotel hallway. Hari and Bill were almost identically dressed in matching WRRC sleeveless tanks and arm warmers. I was glad I had packed for all four seasons and remembered to bring gloves and a headband. Since the hotel was half a block from the start line, the hotel lobby was packed with runners cupping warm cups of coffee trying to escape the cold temperatures.

Tulsa Marathon

Heather, Hari, me, Bill, and Liz before the race – Photo courtesy of Bill

Going outside, it felt colder than 47, and the breeze was a little stiff as we made our way into corral B. Everyone was excited and ready to start, only we realized the start was actually only for corral A, and there was a five minute staggered start between corrals. With only 4500 runners, the staggered start seemed a little strange. Also, I heard some runners around me complaining about the fact that the 4:00 pace group was up in corral A, so if that was your goal and you were in corral B, and you wanted to run with that specific pace group, you were pretty much out of luck.

I’m usually very observant during marathons, but for some reason I don’t remember many details from this race. Maybe it was the course, maybe it was the cold, or maybe it was because I was much more relaxed than usual, but if I hadn’t driven the course twice the day before I wouldn’t be able to tell you very much about what it was like. Also, since I was going to stay with the marathoners and not push the pace, I had left my Garmin home. I must have missed the mile markers because I was never really sure of where we were on the course until we got down to the river, which meant closer to my finish line.

Hari, Bill, Heather, Liz, and I all started together and ran the first few miles as a unit. The start was nice, with confetti and loud music and the obligatory hyped up announcer, but the first hill appeared just after the first turn, and it was an almost mile long uphill. It looked imposing, but it was also early enough in the race to not really register in the brain. One of the first things I noticed as we ran the first few miles was how little crowd support there was. Undoubtedly the cold temperature had something to do with that, but even when we did encounter people there was very little clapping or yells of encouragement. Not once did I hear anyone yell out a runner’s name, which is very different from other marathons I’ve participated in.

Hari pulled away from our little group fairly early, as we knew he would, but we could  usually see him just ahead of us.  The first six miles took us through rolling hills of charming neighborhoods, a Catholic school with students stationed at six speed bumps with signs and warnings, and beautiful trees resplendent in fall colors of red, orange, and yellow. I told Heather to look at the trees, trying to counteract the tunnel vision we all seem to get when running long distances, and to keep us from grumbling about the hills.

We were all very quiet as we ran. I remember wondering about that, and looking back I think it was because of the hills. They weren’t terribly steep, and we were all trained enough to handle them, but there was always another one just around the next corner. The good thing for me was I knew that once we got down to the river after mile 6 it would be flat, and I reminded Heather of this as we got closer. Bill and Liz had fallen a little behind us, but we knew they were close by.

I asked Heather how she felt and she replied “terrible.” I knew she was just being grumpy. Once she asked why we were doing this, and I came up with some BS answer of “because we can, because we’re strong, because of the trees, because we’re alive . . .”

At mile 7 Heather commented on how she wished she were halfway done with her race, like me. I was surprised we were already at 7, but was also glad that the course was finally flat. We did get down to the river, but I had forgotten about the 1.5 mile detour off the river down a road that went past every fast food joint and pawn shop known to man. Every city has a road like that, and it felt like running down Garland Rd back home.

Finally we were back at the river, which in my mind meant I was close to the finish line. The faster runners passed us going the other direction on the other side of the road, and we saw Don blaze past us. He looked strong and determined to run his sub 4:00. At this point the miles seemed to stretch out like a rubber band, and it felt like we were never going to reach the turn around. My legs felt good, but I didn’t push the pace, remaining cognizant of the fact that Heather still had 13+ miles of hills ahead of her.

We saw Hari pass on the other side of the road, and finally came to the turn around. We saw Bill just behind us, and became concerned that Liz was a little farther behind. I had a feeling she was running her race plan and saving energy for the second half.

At this point, coming into the last 3.25 miles of the half, each mile felt like twice its normal length. It was flat along the river, and it was monotonous. The Arkansas River is not terribly scenic as it flows on the outskirts of Tulsa, and across the river there were a lot of plants and refineries. It was also cold, with a slight headwind, and I told Heather my legs were numb from the cold and I couldn’t feel them anymore. It felt much colder than it had at the start. Even with gloves, my fingers were freezing.

Step after step, we trudged on. The ankle tendonitis that had plagued me almost the entire training season was completely absent during the race, but the past few week’s struggle with piriformis soreness had made its appearance just after all the hills at mile 6. I felt it every single time I lifted my right leg, and there was nothing to keep me from thinking about it on this last flat stretch of the course.

I was glad for the water stop at mile 12, and suddenly Bill was right behind us, talking, and I was glad Heather would have someone else to run with when I split off. Before I knew it, it was time to cross over to the other side of the road and up the hill to the finish line. I felt so sad to leave Heather and Bill, but also glad to be finished. Just before the split, I called out to Bill and Heather to wish them luck, but they didn’t hear me, and I felt sad again. Even though I knew I had made the right decision to run “only” the half, it was still tough to see them continue on without me.

Suddenly, I heard my name called out from some spectators on the median and was surprised to see an old friend from Dallas. She was just as surprised to see me. Then I saw Michael and the dogs, which gave me an incredible burst of energy, and I gave it everything I had through the finish chute, passing everyone in my path–which felt awesomely badass!

After I grabbed a space blanket, my medal (which is the coolest medal in my collection), some Gatorade, and a bagel, with teeth chattering, I made the long walk back to Michael. IT WAS FREEZING! Thankfully I had loaded up Michael’s backpack with a bunch of throw away race clothes, including two items I couldn’t seem to get rid of: the world’s ugliest Turkey Trot t-shirt and a pair of pink Hello Kitty sweatpants I had bought in the children’s department at Target for $2.45 to wear before Boston. Despite how ridiculous the outfit looked, I couldn’t wait to put everything on and warm up. Even though I had packed for four seasons, I hadn’t brought enough for winter.

Our original plan was to wait at the finish line for the others to cross, but it was way too cold to stand around for two hours, especially when Michael had forgotten gloves and a cap.

We decided to walk to the car to warm up. As soon as we started the car we heard a radio announcer saying the temperature was 37 degrees, with a wind chill factor of 26, which meant the temperature had dropped ten degrees since the start. I’ve run in colder temps before, and was freezing at the finish, but it truly was almost perfect weather for a race.

We decided to drive over to mile 24 to cheer on the runners and possibly run someone in. Almost immediately we saw the husband of the old friend who had yelled out my name just before the finish line, and he was keeping pace with the   3:40 group. Not too far behind him, however, was Don, definitely on pace to run a sub 4:00. He looked strong and very focused, and surprised to see us. I hooted and hollered for all the runners, especially those who looked like they were struggling. I was amazed that some people could look so fresh and alert, and others looked like they would give anything to curl up in the grass. A few people looked at me like they wanted to kill me. I’ve definitely been there!

I was ecstatic to see the next runner from the group: Liz!!!!! She looked very tired, but I was impressed that she had passed Bill, Heather, and Hari to take the lead. I wondered how it had felt when she made it past mile 12, and if she shed any tears thinking of what happened three years ago. Seeing her so close to finishing her first marathon was incredibly inspiring.

Liz at mile 24

 (Michael Friedhoff)

A few minutes behind Liz was Hari. I’d recognize those compression socks and arm warmers anywhere! He was running with a small entourage of people I didn’t know, which made me laugh that Hari would make friends in the midst of all the agony. He looked great!

 (Michael Friedhoff)

Hari and his entourage at mile 24

 (Michael Friedhoff)

Finally, I could see Heather running towards me, and I teared up! I was so proud of her for making it through all those hills. She was as feisty as ever, telling me she was so over all the hills and hoping there weren’t any more (I couldn’t tell her there were indeed more ahead), and telling me how much she hated the course. I ran with her a little way down the hill and we talked about how anyone could train for so many hills. We hugged and said goodbye, and I knew the medal she was looking forward to would make her feel a lot better.

 (Michael Friedhoff)

Feisty Heather and me looking like a dork in the Hello Kitty pants

 (Michael Friedhoff)

While we were running she told me Bill had dropped out of the race around mile 20, that he was having some IT band issues and couldn’t finish. I knew how devastated Bill must be feeling, and felt bad for him. I wished I had been there when he made that decision (though he says the curse words were flying at that point and that I definitely wouldn’t have wanted to be there).

Everyone met up at the hotel afterwards, exhausted and happy to be done. I was tired, but felt nothing like I usually do after a marathon. In fact, I felt exhilarated. Running the half was fun, and I loved being able to run in a race with everyone I had trained with without dreading all the miles ahead of me and worrying constantly about my pace and hitting a PR. The only battle wound I had was a small blood blister on a random toe, which was also a huge change from the blisters and black toenails I’ve had after past marathons.

Running “only” the half was a blast. I really loved running that day, and it was exactly what I needed. I came home looking forward to running again, and started thinking about running more halfs and less full marathons. I got out my running books and started thinking about a training plan to bring my speed back up to par. I couldn’t wait for the muscle soreness to go away so I could run again.

Running a race just for fun, with my friends, was a good reminder to me that it isn’t always about the PR, or proving how tough we are, or testing our limits. Sometimes you can go out and just run–and that’s enough.

The Hardest Part: Running When Everyone Else is Walking

Saturday’s 18 miler reminded me of something I had forgotten, something that, for me, is the hardest part of running a marathon.  Worse than bad weather, worse than being sick, and worse than the blister from hell, is trying to keep running when everyone else is walking.  Saturday’s long run reminded me of how much I continue to struggle with this huge mental obstacle.

Our route took us onto the race course of a new half marathon in town.  We ran four separate segments, three of which put us right in the middle of the back of the pack walkers.  Other than confusing some of the police officers when we veered on and off the course, no one took much notice of us.

There was one segment, however, where I was very much aware of the walkers.

There is a hill around mile 14 of our route that always gets my attention.  On this particular day I was feeling pretty tired by the time I got to the hill, and was dismayed to see that it was part of the race course–and everyone was walking up the hill.  My goal on that hill is always to not stop, to keep going if it kills me, and I knew it would be tough to block out all the people walking if I was going to make it to the top.

And I did.  I put my head down, didn’t look at anyone, and kept going all the way up and beyond to our next water stop.  I have to say, though, it was incredibly hard to dig that deep and make it happen.  And the strange thing was, I wasn’t worried about that hill at all until I saw all the people walking.  There was something about seeing everyone walking that made my brain go into panic mode and doubt that I could make it to the top without walking myself.  Running up that hill on Saturday was definitely the hardest part of those 18 miles.

My first two marathons were both extremely windy, warm, and humid.  There were lots of walkers, especially the last six miles.  I did better in the first marathon than the second one, mainly because I didn’t know any better.  The second marathon was only four months after the first, and I hadn’t had enough time to forget how tough it was.  When the second marathon rolled around with even worse weather conditions than the first, my heart wasn’t in it.  I wasn’t ready for a repeat performance in battling the elements.

Because of the strong headwind and 45 mph wind gusts the entire second half of the race, by mile 21 almost everyone was walking.  A strong headwind takes so much out of you, and it was all everyone could do just to push against the wind and make it to the finish line.  Michael waited around mile 23 to run me to the finish line, and kept telling me that my pace was still good, trying to convince me I had enough energy and strength left to keep running, but I couldn’t swim against the tide of walkers.

I’ve always known that the mental side of running those last six miles is what I most need to work on, and ignoring the walkers is a part of that.  The same thing happened to me in Death Valley.  When I’m tired, and see others walking around me, my legs instantly feel 50 lbs heavier and my brain becomes a whining mess.

The only thing that seems to work is to keep my head down, ignore everyone around me, and just keep going.

Stats: 18 miles @ 9:35 pace

Walking: The Other Cross-Training

This weekend I missed my long run.  I might not be the most consistent with my midweek runs, but I never miss my long run.  They’re too important.

Sometimes things are beyond your control, like getting sick, or not getting any sleep the night before your planned 18 miler.  As in zero hours of sleep.  As in the clock says 3:30 and my alarm is going to go off in less than an hour and I haven’t closed my eyes once all night.

By 3:45 I knew I had to surrender and let my friends know I wasn’t going to make it.  I felt like I was letting everyone down.  I felt like such a loser.  Runners are like that.

The next day I knew I still wasn’t up for running, so I decided to take a long walk with one of my dogs.  My only plan was to make it to the lake, which is just under 3 miles from my house.  Once I got there, I would assess what to do next.

Before I was a runner I was a walker.  I used to walk just about every single day of the week, either 3 or 4 miles, and afterwards I would  immediately do 20 minutes of yoga.  I loved those walks, and I loved doing yoga even more.

Being outside, enjoying nature, has always been like church for me, even if outside is nothing more than concrete sidewalks in my neighborhood.  I used to live in a huge apartment complex that had two ponds encircled by a walking path and I loved watching the seasons change as I walked daily around the ponds.  There was a kingfisher I used to see almost daily, sitting on an overhanging branch, as if he was waiting just for me.

Being outside, and noticing the changes in nature, was like rejuvenating my batteries.

I loved yoga.  I loved doing the various poses, and became the most flexible I’ve ever been.  I felt completely relaxed after only 20 minutes of yoga, as if time slowed down.  Yoga was like blowing the dust off the clock face, only to realize the hands were still moving.

When I started running (six years ago this month), I was hooked from the first step.  Even though I thought I was pretty fit from walking and doing yoga, it still took awhile to build up my endurance.  I loved the feeling of freedom I felt when I ran, and I loved pushing myself faster and farther.  From my first 5K to six marathons, running has challenged me like no other physical endeavor has.

Most runners don’t run every day, of course.  Some do, but most run 3-5 days per week and either rest the other few days, or do something else, usually cycling, swimming, or strength training.  I’m sorry to say I’ve pretty much always fallen in the first category, as in REST.  I’ve tried to incorporate yoga here and there in my training, and I sporadically take the dogs on long walks, but I’ve never been the best at cross-training.

So when I missed my long run I decided to take a long, brisk walk.  It would be my cross-training.  I have always read that walking burns the same amount of calories as running, even if it doesn’t have quite the same heart-healthy impact, so at least there was that.  Once I got to the lake I would decide how much farther to keep walking.

 (Michael Friedhoff)

My dog made the final decision.  When we run together she is usually only good for about 3 miles, then she fades fast.  You would think that walking 3 miles would be a lot less taxing that running 3 miles when you’re a dog, and she would be able to go farther, but this was not the case at all.

Here are some things I noticed about walking:

1. You miss a lot when you run.  I almost couldn’t believe I was walking the same route I run nearly every Saturday.  There were houses and gardens I swear I’ve never seen before.  Some of this is because I’m running the opposite direction–uphill–and I’m working hard and focusing on making it to the top.  Some of it is just not paying attention.  I seem to pay more attention to things around me when I walk.

2. Your muscles still ache when you walk long.  I could only cover 3 miles an hour walking with my dog, which meant I walked almost 2 hours.  By the end of the walk my hamstrings were tired and achy, something I didn’t expect.  I guess 2 hours is still 2 hours, even if you’re “just” walking.

3. I felt a lot more relaxed during the walk than I ever do when I run.  I’m caught up in how many miles I’ve finished, how many more to run, how I feel, how many more hills, etc.

4. You don’t feel the hills like you do when you run.  I can always tell when there’s the slightest incline on a run.  Hills are much tougher when you’re running.  I hardly noticed them on the walk.

5. Some runners don’t look like they’re having much fun when they run.  Some look downright miserable.  Just an observation.  (I hope I don’t look like them.)

6. Walking makes you sore in places you don’t usually get sore when you run, such as buttocks and the lower front part of your legs, just above the feet.  I heartily welcome anything that will help the buttocks muscles stay where they need to be.

7. I enjoy walking alone more than I enjoy running alone.  For me, walking is more solitary, and running is best done with others.  When I walk I can be alone with my thoughts; when I run, being alone with my thoughts is not a good thing.

8. I didn’t feel like I got the same level of cardio workout from the walk, but it was a good workout nevertheless.

As runners, we tend to discount walking as another type of cross-training.  It’s time to reconsider.  Perhaps walking has such a negative stigma attached to it as runners because some of us feel like failures if we have to walk during a marathon.  My running friends and I struggled with having to walk so much this summer in the extreme heat, and we all kept apologizing to each other for it, as if walking was a sign of weakness.

I’ve always said that if I ever had to stop running, for whatever reason, I look forward to “just” walking.  I really do, too.  Sunday’s walk was a reminder of how nice it really is to slow down, look around, and still get in a pretty good workout.


Crazy 8’s and a Hill Mantra

9/21/11 – HILL REPEATS

Wednesday night I had a fantastic run. We we ran Crazy 8’s, which are hill repeats on a 1.3 mile long route with three hills, the first of which is the steepest hill I’ve ever run up.   It was only the second time I’ve run the Crazy 8’s route, and it kicked my behind.  After the first one I thought I would be lucky to do two, then I told myself I would somehow make myself do three, then I felt great and decided to follow my new friend Rick’s lead and run an extra repeat.  We talked Genevieve into sharing the punishment with us, and pulled off a bonus Crazy 8.  In a grueling, gut-busting, glutton for punishment kind of way that only someone training for a marathon can appreciate, it was awesome.

It was very warm, 90 degrees at 7PM with no breeze.  It was also very dark.  I stumbled and almost fell at the very top of the first Loving hill when a car turned onto the road.  I am determined these days to stay upright and scab-free.  These knees have seen way too much trauma and I have the scars to prove it.

The first hill is to the top of Loving–which is anything but.  It’s STEEP at the top, and the worst part is that when you reach the top and feel like you’re going to DIE, you turn the corner and it keeps going up.  After that there’s a nice long downhill, then you turn left and run up a gradual incline, turn the corner again and run up another pretty steep hill, then the long downhill and back to the bottom of Loving.

It doesn’t look that steep in the photos, but it’s used for hill training by both runners and cyclists.  Getting to the top of that beast, in addition to the other two hills, is definitely a good workout.

As always when I run hills, I had my hill mantra ready:  Just keep going.  I keep my head down and repeat those words, over and over.  I don’t think about the pain, the difficulty, or anything else.  I focus on those words and let them take me to the top.   I used it a lot the other night, especially on the very steepest part of Loving, right at the very top before the turn.  Every word was said with a footfall.  Just.  Keep.  Going.

A very experienced marathon friend told me about hill mantras years ago, and I swear by them now.  His hill mantra was:  I love the hills.  The hills are my friends.  Sometimes I use that one as well, especially on smaller hills.

Another tactic I sometimes use when I run up a really long, tough hill is to talk to it:  You’re not going to conquer me, I’m stronger than you, and so onI probably get a fierce look on my face to go along with the words.  Then when I crest the top I have a little celebration in my head:  Yes!  You couldn’t get the best of me.  I was stronger than  you!  I’ve been known to throw a fist up in the air, even when I’m alone.

My other favorite mantra is one I borrowed from Kara Goucher and I use it any time I need a boost of strength, energy, or confidence:  Fighter.  Short and sweet, and it really makes me feel instantly stronger and more determined. Fighter.

I’m going to need that one for tomorrow’s 18 miler.

STATS:  7.67 miles @ 9:54 pace, 4 Crazy 8’s

Reassessing the Training Plan

This summer truly beat us all down with the extreme temperatures.  Since running in the heat is my Achilles heel, I feel kind of proud that I managed to run as much as I did.  It was certainly a challenge, and it definitely has had an impact on my training.

Last weekend I decided to reassess my training plan. I realized it was too ambitious, considering the challenges. My planned weekly mileage was too high and was causing me to need two days of recovery between some runs, where normally I would only need one.  This meant some weeks I was only getting in three runs a week, which isn’t enough for a marathon–especially when I’m not doing any cross-training (which is a whole other issue in itself).

Over the years I’ve discovered that four days a week of running works best for me, especially at my age.  When I trained for Boston I ran five days, but the soreness never went away.  A few days out from the race I felt overtrained and not well-rested, and wound up getting sick the day I arrived in Boston.  It was a high price to pay for all that work, and in a race that meant so much to me.

I’ve known people who run only three days a week and swear by it.  Most of them do some type of cross-training, though, and that’s always been another weakness of mine.  At the start of this training plan I tried to do yoga a few times a week in addition to my running, but it made my muscles so sore that it really affected my running.  After this next marathon I’m definitely going to pick up the yoga again and shoot for doing it at least twice a week.  Even “just” walking everyday would help.

I knew when I first made my training plan that trying to do two midweek 8-10 milers, in addition to a Saturday long run, was unrealistic.  Now that I’m 10 weeks out, I need to tweak the plan to make it more realistic.  This is, after all, not my first rodeo.

After checking all my marathon books and comparing the various training plans, I decided to plug my numbers in to the Smart Coach program on the Runner’s World website.  It was actually a decent plan, and it told me exactly what I wanted to hear, namely that I can do two 4 mile easy runs, a 6-10 mile midweek run (either tempo, hills, or track), and a long run, and be ready for the race.  This is essentially the plan I’ve followed for every other marathon I’ve run, and it’s worked.  I’ve decided to stick to the tried and true.

I know I should be doing more speedwork, but it’s honestly my least favorite type of workout.  The bottom line is, at the moment I’m just not as concerned with my speed as I used to be.  I’d rather do hills than trackwork any day and in the past running hills has always made me faster and stronger.  Tempo runs I can also live with, but track–ugh.

I think I’m a true long distance runner.  I don’t really hit my stride until after five or six miles, then I’m good to go.  5K’s are torture for me.  Running flat out until I want to puke is not my idea of fun.  I guess I’d rather prolong the torture over 26.2 miles, and at a slower pace.


Celebration Run

9/15/11 – 6 MILES

Last night we celebrated running through–and surviving–the official Hottest Summer on Record. Everyone met at Fuzzy’s and the weather gods smiled down upon us, giving us cooler temps and a nice breeze at the start.  We ran 6 miles total, including the last two being 90% uphill on Meadowlake and our old friend Sperry.

A small cool front blew in and the humidity was down in the teens. It was still 92 degrees at the start, but the low humidity made it feel surprisingly pleasant.  Michael brought the dogs and they were extremely excited to run, especially Nevada, who can’t stand it when she’s not right at the front of the pack.  She pretty much pulled the entire way, and Michael turned around at mile 2 and came back on his own while Genevieve and I continued on.  Once again I was surprised at how early it got dark, and we ran those last 2 hilly miles in the dark.  We both decided that Sperry should always be run in the dark.

We had a few new people running with us, including Kristin, who decided to turn around at the 3 mile mark and do an out and back in case she got too far behind on an unfamiliar route.  By the time we got back to Fuzzy’s it was pitch dark, and when Kristin still hadn’t shown up after 15 minutes or so, I decided to jump in the car and see if I could find her.  After my experience of missing Michael at the lake a few weeks ago, I knew how scary it could be to run alone in the dark.  Plus, I felt really bad because it was her first time running with us and there was no one running at her pace to keep her company.  In the end, she made it back on her own, safe and sound.

Everyone bought drinks to celebrate the end of the extreme temperatures (hopefully), and Genevieve got a huge, pink, frozen margarita.  Chris and I reminisced about the infamous 17 miler, aka The Worst Training Run Ever, and talked about our future running plans.  I told him I wanted to take a break from running marathons, then proceeded to list all the marathons I still wanted to run.  He said he wants to concentrate on speed and run some really fast 5K’s and 10K’s, something that doesn’t interest me at all.  Maybe I’ll run some half marathons in the spring.  Maybe I’ll try some trails.  Maybe I’ll just run.

In the meantime, there’s still a marathon to train for . . .

Stats:  6 miles @ 9:39 pace – 92 degrees at the start, with hills

Lost at the Lake

The other day was just one of those days.  You know the kind, where despite your best efforts, everything seems to be a little off.  The kind where the day you’ve envisioned in your head doesn’t quite match up to the one that actually occurs.

I set the alarm for 4AM to get up and meet my friends for our first speedwork session at the SMU track field, but I wasn’t looking forward to it.  Speedwork is my least favorite type of workout, and I was dreading it–especially at 5AM.  When the alarm went off at 4, I hit the snooze button twice and fell back asleep.  When I woke up it was 4:45, still enough time to get up, throw my clothes on, and race over to the SMU track field.  I fell back asleep.  I’ll get up at 6 and run on my own, I thought to myself, and went back to sleep again.  I woke up at 8, feeling grumpy and guilty.

The whole day was blah.  The dogs were tired of being inside because of the high temps and kept whining and looking out the front window.  When I let them outside all they wanted to do was bark. I felt unmotivated and guilty all day for not running, and hoped it might turn cloudy by the evening so I could make up my missed morning run, knowing I was completely deluding myself about it magically turning cloudy.

I decided to punish myself.  Thinking it might get a little cooler by 6PM, and knowing it wouldn’t, I resolved to run a loop at the lake all alone.  When it was still 102 degrees at 6, I knew a loop wasn’t going to happen, so Michael talked me into taking the dogs to the dog park.  He said he’d stay with them and I could go for my run.  I figured I could still get in 5 or 6 miles and let go of my guilt for missing my morning run.

We didn’t leave the house until 7:15PM, and it was “only” 100 degrees.  When we got to the lake, I told Michael I would stay on the hilly path on the east side (remember, I was punishing myself), and if the dogs got bored after awhile he could come meet me on my way back.  As I ran off I yelled out over my shoulder, “Remember, I’ll be on the path.”

Path in the Woods

This is the section where we crossed paths and missed each other.

It was actually a very good run.  Except for the broken up path, which would feel like a cheese grater if you tripped and fell (which I am prone to do), I always enjoy running on the hilly path.  The hills are not extreme, but still steep enough and long enough for a pretty good workout.  Most runners stay on the road on the east side of the lake, so the path never has many people to dodge like on the newly paved section of the west side.  The hilly path also stays mostly in the trees, where it’s cool and shaded.  I pushed myself and kept a 9:18 average pace for the first half.  Not bad with the hills and 100 degree heat.

I decided to run 5 miles instead of 6, mainly because it was getting dark so quickly.  I turned around at Sunset Bay and headed back to the dog park.  The path here is in pretty rough shape, so I knew I had to be extra careful not to trip in the low light.  I trudged on.  It really was getting dark much earlier these days.  I had noticed on the weather website a few weeks ago that the days were getting shorter by a full minute every day.  This was good news considering our ungodly high temperatures this summer. (The days are now getting shorter by almost 2 full minutes.)

I barreled around the Stone Tables and up the hill, through the trees where coyotes are often seen in the evenings.  I hoped I wouldn’t see any tonight.

By the time I got to the Bath House it was pitch dark, and kind of creepy on the path.  There was hardly anyone around, and those who were stayed on the road.  A police car passed me on the road, then parked down the road facing the path.  This particular part of the path goes up the hill into the trees, and I wondered if the police had seen me running and were watching out for me.  I felt better just thinking that.  I also considered going down to the road, but remembered how I had told Michael I would be on the path.  I didn’t want to miss him in the dark.

Just before I got to the top of the hill I heard rustling to my left.  A male runner came running up the hill onto the path, headed in the opposite direction.  It totally spooked me, and I picked up the pace.   I was surprised I hadn’t run into Michael and the dogs yet.  This section of the path is pretty high above the road, tucked in between Big Thicket and some neighborhood homes, and it was full on dark.  By the time I got to the bottom of the hill, just before entering the last segment of the path, the part that goes directly into the trees, I decided it was too dark to stay on the path.  Not only was the path in bad shape, it just didn’t feel safe.  I decided if I hadn’t seen Michael by this time he was probably waiting for me at the dog park.  I ran the last quarter mile in the road, against traffic, and kept an eye on the path just in case Michael and the dogs passed me.  Several cars passed by, none of them Michael, and I was ready to be done with this run.

When I got to the dog park, no Michael, no dogs.  Great.  He must’ve been on the one part of the path I didn’t stay on, the part at the very end that was so dark.  Thinking he might be sitting at the top of the hill with the dogs, waiting for me, I walked back over the bridge and up the hill.  No luck.  By this time there was almost no one walking, running, or biking at the lake, and there was only one woman and her two dogs at the dog park.  I walked back to the dog park to try and figure out what to do.  Not only did I feel unsafe, the dog park is located in a swampy area of the lake and the mosquitoes were ferocious.  I started pacing.

Pedestrian Bridge at White Rock Lake

The dog park is just to the right of the bridge.

I had no phone and no car key.  I didn’t want to get back on the path alone in the dark, and knew I probably wouldn’t catch up with him anyway.  I walked back over the bridge a few times, hoping to see them headed back, then talked to the woman at the dog park who assured me the park was safe after dark.  I thought of a recent rape that had been reported at the lake, and the dead body being hauled out one early morning run.  Maybe I’m a scaredy cat, but I don’t think a female alone after dark is safe anywhere in the city.

I had always told my children if they ever got lost to stop and stay where they were, I would come and find them.  It actually worked, too, several times.  I remembered telling Michael that not long ago, so I knew the best thing would be to stay at the dog park and wait it out.  A few more people brought their dogs to the dog park, so I was less alone.  I must’ve looked odd walking around the empty parking lot.

I waited and waited.  I worried.  What if one of the dogs had chased an animal and got off leash and ran away?  What if someone had attacked him?  What if he got hurt and the dogs couldn’t help?  How far would he walk before turning around?  What if all the people left the dog park and I was all alone in the parking lot?  What if I got eaten alive by the mosquitoes?  Would Michael be mad because I hadn’t stayed on the path?  What if he never came back????

A full hour later, I saw them cross the bridge.  Michael came running up with both dogs, sweaty and smiling.  He was so happy to see I was safe.  I felt so stupid.  He had walked 4 miles total, thinking I might have injured myself in the dark and was hurt on the side of the path, unconscious.  What a man!  He’s always told me he has my back, and he certainly proved it this night.

If I had stayed on that last stretch of path I would have met them.  We still can’t figure out how we didn’t see each other from the street and path, how he didn’t see me when the cars passed and shined their lights on me, why the dogs didn’t act a little excited when I passed, and can only surmise he was in the trees when I passed on the road.  We simply missed seeing each other.

Like I said, it was just one of those days.  I’ve lived in Dallas almost all my life, and run around the lake hundreds of times, but it figures that only I could get lost there.

The small section where we missed each other

Another Long, Hot Run

8/6/11 – 12 MILES

What can I say that I haven’t already said all summer long?  It’s hot.  Really hot.

It was very humid when we met at 6am at Fuzzy’s.  Bill had stomach issues and decided not to run, but Heather V. was there for her longest run since February and her first run with the group since her marriage.  I heard Jose also had stomach issues and Genevieve turned around somewhere after 3 miles and went home.  I had to use my inhaler before the run, as did Teel.  The point here is that the extreme heat, coupled with no wind, is creating a lot of pollution and pollen, and it’s making us all sick.

We mostly stuck to running at the lake, which was great because of the water fountains.  There was one small section when the sun came up and it was less humid, and there was a nice, cool breeze blowing off the lake.

I used the new small Nathan water bottle with a hand strap that I bought yesterday.  I debated long and hard if I wanted to run 12 miles holding water in my hand, especially when we were running at the lake where the water is plentiful, but it wasn’t too bad.  I kept the bottle mostly empty at the lake and filled it up before we ran back into the hills.  I think I’ll use if for shorter runs in the future and strap on the hated fuel belt for the longer runs.

We ran 7 mi around the lake, and the sun started to get very hot and intense.  The last 3 miles were the toughest for everyone in my group.  It was all uphill back to Fuzzy’s, and we had the pleasure of running up three of our old friends, Tokalon, Sperry, and Anita.

For some reason my heat addled brain didn’t realize when we turned onto Hillside we were only about a quarter of a mile from Fuzzy’s.  Turning the corner and seeing the finish right there, when I was expecting to have to run another three quarters of a mile, was the sweetest finish in a long time.

All in all a good run, but it was hot.  Again.

Today’s Favorite Quote:  “It’s only 12 miles.  I can do anything for 12 miles.”  – Teel, when I asked her how she could hold her huge bottle of water for 12 miles

Stats:  Run – 12 miles @ 9:39 pace – 89 degrees

11 Mile Long Run

7/30/11 – 11 MILES

A good sized group showed up at Fuzzy’s for our 11 mile long run.  It was 78 degrees at the 6AM start, and more humid than it has been in weeks.  I think we were all just glad it wasn’t 103 degrees, like Wednesday evening’s run.  I had slept horribly last night and hoped it wouldn’t affect my run too terribly.  I couldn’t fall asleep and tossed and turned all night.  I probably didn’t get more than a few hours of sleep in all.

Bill and I were determined to hold back the first few miles, which is hard to do when you’re running down to the lake.  I felt much better than Wednesday night, when I had to make multiple stops because of the heat.

I’m glad to notice I’m starting to feel stronger, especially on the hills.  Maybe all the yoga is helping.  For the first time in a long time, ran all the way through Lakewood from the lake to Abrams without stopping.  Woot!  Ran across Joyce, who had just rolled her ankle and had to call Norm to come pick her up.  Ouch.

I ran with Heather W. down Swiss and it was nice to pick up the pace a little.  We didn’t say much, and it was tough not to stop at the mile 7 water stop on the other side of Swiss where our faster friends were already gathered.  We made ourselves complete the Swiss Ave loop, and finally we were back at the water stop.  The cold water was a gift from heaven (though I couldn’t muster the cold water down my back and chest like Genevieve).  I could’ve stayed there much longer.

Running up the last little part of Swiss was tough, but running up Concho was even tougher.  We were all ready to be done by the time we got to Mercedes, and took a much needed water break.  I had forgotten to take a GU at mile 7, so I went ahead and ate one, at Bill’s urging.

The hill on Malcolm surprised us all, and finally we turned on Hillside, our home stretch.  Seeing the traffic light on Abrams (our finish line) from the top of the hill was sweet, and we all finished strong.  All in all, Bill and Genevieve had a much better run than last week, my legs felt a little more tired, but we were done!  Steph brought towels in ice water and Genevieve brought homemade sorbet ice cream.  Nice way to finish!

Stats:  11 miles @ 9:38 pace – 78 deg @ start, 82 deg at finish