Saturday, January 31, 2015

10 Things That Happen During Marathon Training

Well, I'm at the very end of my first ever marathon training cycle.  I'm feeling a perfect mixture of excitement and anxiety about race day.  These past months have been a fascinating journey, and now that I'm parked on the couch following this morning's 20-miler, I thought I'd type out some of my thoughts on the process.   I put in some photos from group runs, know...

1.  You will learn fascinating new information about your body.

My right big toe is slightly longer than my left big toe.  In ordinary life, I don't notice the problem at all.  During marathon training, it has caused everything from a bruised toenail to joint inflammation that keeps me up at night.  My right hip is much tighter than my left.  I tense up my left shoulder when I am stressed.  I can't eat peanuts before a long run.

I would not have learned any of this stuff had I not undertaken marathon training.  It makes me wonder...what else do I not know about my body?  I'm 35, so there shouldn't be any surprises left, right?  Right??!

Midwinter running crew.

Beating the pavement on a Sunday morning.
 2.  You will learn fascinating new ways to distract yourself.

Any way you slice it, you will end up doing training runs that are 3+ hours in duration.  That is a loooooong time to be out running. 

I listen to a few songs on the iPod.  I chat with my running buddies (when I have the energy).  I watch the scenery or notice the weather.  I count the miles remaining, and convert them to kilometers.  I count my steps.

One of my favorite tricks is giving myself little cues to improve my technique or focus.  "Relax and do the work" is a calming favorite.  "Stand up," "engage your core," and "enjoy the ride" are all great cues for fighting fatigue.  "Pull your elbows back" is a great way for me to work on my own particular problems with running form.

If I'm having a particularly tough time, I'll use "psychological distancing" to talk myself through it.  It sounds weird and hokey, but it really works!

Up before the sun.

3.  You will become a master of pacing.

After the hours and hours of running required for marathon training, you get a really excellent feel for how your body is working.  For me, that means I can judge the pace I am running based solely on things like my breathing, my cadence, the way my arms are moving, etc.  This has been a huge help on longer training runs, and it's something I never anticipated.  It has been a huge relief to break some of the GPS addiction. 

With a pace group at the Vulcan 10k.

4.  You will eat more than you ever thought yourself capable of eating.

One look at my grocery bill confirms this.  And I always thought, "people who use running to justify overeating are just can't REALLY burn that much energy!"  Well, as it turns out, a run that burns 1,500+ calories actually causes real hunger.  And it doesn't go away.  

I've learned to offset some of this by eating a good meal of complex carbohydrates about 24 hours before a long run.  My favorites are homemade pizza or steel cut oatmeal with a banana.  I also make sure to fuel during a run that lasts more than an hour.  Through trial and error, I've discovered that candy corn pumpkins (!) are the easiest thing for me to eat while running.  They has a nice, neutral flavor, and the texture makes it easy to either chew or melt in my mouth.  I've also had good luck with eating right after a run, even if it isn't "meal time" yet.

"Breakfast" before a long run.
Yep, food. 

5.  You will fantasize about exercises that aren't running.

Oh, how fondly I recall the days when I could spend my precious free time relaxing at a yoga studio, biking, or lifting weights.  Now, if I have an hour of time available, I use it for running.  I can't waste time on more leisurely activities.  Anything weight bearing carries a risk of injury or overtraining.

A "day off" still involves a short gym workout.

I compare it to the late stages of pregnancy, when you think, "man, once I have this baby, and am going to wear SO MANY FITTED WAISTS!"  Right now, all I can think about is how nice it will be to use a few days a week to lift heavy or swim or do ANYTHING besides run for three hours straight.  You know, the little things.

When things started to get serious.

6.  You will have very good runs, and very bad runs, and you will learn to live with this.

There will be days when you fly through your run, surprise yourself with record splits, and barely break a sweat.  There will also be days where you feel like your feet are in cement blocks.  With either type, it's easy to fall into the trap of thinking, "welp, this is how every run is going to be from now on."  And then you end up either overconfident or totally discouraged.  The truth is, there are good days and bad days.  Heck, there are good miles and bad miles. 

Downtown for a course preview.
7.  You will reach a point where a ten-mile run is just a quick, pleasant diversion.

The first time I managed an 8-mile run (my longest thus far), I felt so amazed and accomplished.  These days, I catch myself saying things like, "I won't be gone long...only 13 miles on the schedule."  Yeah.  Perspective.

This map of a 12-mile run fills me with nostalgia.

8.  You will have running-related dreams.

This one caught me off guard.  Since the beginning of this training cycle, I have dreamed about the following:

- being forced to run in a gorilla suit,
- finding pizza at a water stop on my long run,
- waking up late for my long run, and having to do it by myself (horrors), and
- getting lost on a run in an unfamiliar area (a real possibility).

I've also dreamed about running to the point that I wake myself up thrashing around in the bed. 

Pacers with a 15-mile crew.
9.  You will talk about running until your family wants to strangle you.

The truth is, sometimes the most interesting part of my day is my run.  Work is a grind, family stuff is routine, and dinner isn't memorable.  But!  While I was out running, I may have seen a parade, cops, a wreck, a weird dog, a cute house for sale, a homeless man pooping, or a rainbow!

There will come a point where virtually any question you are asked can be answered with information about running.  You should probably avoid doing this past a certain point.  When your mother or your priest or your neighbor asks, "how are you doing?" you should probably avoid mentioning weekly mileage or your left shin.  

Another Saturday morning, 6 am.

10.  You will become abnormally focused on pooping.

...even moreso than during a pregnancy.  You're welcome. 

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Our Week: January 10 through January 16

Pictures only, this time!

Saturday long run, January 10.

Splits and a terrain map...18 miles is a lot of miles.
At Hop City with the boys.

Ommegang Dubble

Relaxed to the max!

Cross training is awesome and awful all at the same time.

Weirdly enough, marathon training is making me muscular all over.  I'm not complaining.
Happy Three-Year Adoptaversary, Nico!

Standing Up: January 14, 2015

Monday, January 12, 2015

Our Week: January 3 through January 9

First of all, hi!

This is my happy face.

To help my dad with treatment for his broken knee, I have been spending more time at my parents' house.  They have gorgeous full length mirrors and great lighting.  Such a difference from my tiny medicine cabinet and Edison bulbs.  I've been living in these jeggings for months, so I finally bit the bullet and bought some nice jeans from Made in Heaven.  It's an accomplishment, I guess.

Saturday morning long run...oh, how I love to hate you.  Working as a pacer has really made me more accountable for getting mileage in.  This week was 17 miles at a 9:30mm pace.  I guess things are serious now?

Almost three hours of running :|

Decent splits, moderately hilly route.
Later on in the week, temperatures dropped very low.  Wednesday morning, the thermometer said 8 degrees, so I noped myself right on down to the gym treadmill.  This photo is a perfect depiction of how the treadmill makes me feel...exhausted, dehydrated, useless, sad, and bored.  Ha.

Did I mention I hate the treadmill?

And of course, running goes hand in hand with food.

Breakfast at Crestline Bagels has become a weekly family outing.

My homemade pizza recipe has been perfected!  This is the perfect meal on nights before hard workouts.

I've been eating this for breakfast: raw oats, kefir, dried fruit, and raw sugar.
I'll leave you with this photo of my poor dad's knee x-ray.  Yikes. 

Just looking at this makes my knee hurt.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Our Week: December 27 through January 2

Hello again, it's 2015!

First of all, I know this is terribly late.  I have had a few weeks of travel and sudden schedule changes, like probably every other American.  In addition, my dad was injured the day after Christmas, and he ended up requiring surgery.  He is doing much better now, although I think the whole family was frightened for a while.  I will say that I generally take my family's and my health for granted, and we are so fortunate that this type of thing is a rarity.

At any rate, here are some photos of our week:

W got to spend so much time with his cousins.

We went out to eat a few times, and W LOVES grilled cheese. 

My parents borrowed an inflatable bouncer toy from the neighbors, and the kids had a blast. 

I thought W would be too little to enjoy it, but he did great!
We were still away on Saturday, the day I usually do my long run workouts with the Birmingham Track Club, I was on my own for a lot of my mileage.  My parents live in a very rural area of northern Mississippi, surrounded by state highways and logging roads with steep hills, sharp curves, and no shoulders or sidewalks.  I was at a loss for planning water and restroom stops, and figured I would just do shorter runs or "laps" around the neighborhood.  After my dad's injury and hospitalization, I had an especially hard time finding motivation to run and calming the anxious thoughts in my head.

Fortunately, this week was a low-mileage week in the club marathon training plan.  I did the best I could, with a few six-mile runs in less than ideal conditions near my parents' house.  I did one shorter run at a 7:00mm pace with my brother in law, who is working to improve his Air Force PT scores.  On Monday the 29th, I drove to a city park so I could do my longer run away from traffic and near water and a bathroom.  I treated it like a tempo run, and got in eight miles.

Laps on a flat course.
Marathon training is going well, and I am still feeling strong.  I will do a separate post about my training very soon.

On a related note, the rest of this entry is going to be about food, sorry!  On Monday night, Nate and I took W out to dinner with my sister and her family.  We found a family-friendly restaurant, because three toddlers at a table is NO JOKE.  It was a wild experience, let me tell you!

Chicken sandwich and home fries bathed in Tabasco.
We got home to Birmingham on  Tuesday night, and I couldn't wait to get back to home cooking.  I am working on perfecting my recipe for home baked pizza.

We're almost there.
And, of course, I made a super traditional meal for New Year's Day.  

Hoppin' John, boiled cabbage, and sweet potatoes.
Hopefully, I won't have to rush through another late post for a while.  The holidays are past, my dad is doing much better, and we are back in our ordinary routine for a while.