Monday, September 23, 2013

Hay is in the barn.....

Only 6 days to go, but who's counting? I AM!  Training is done.  Some of it was really difficult and really sucked a lot because this summer was so hot and humid, but the last few weeks of cooler, dryer weather have given me the confidence I needed going into this race.  I had some really awful long runs and started to doubt myself and really wonder how much this marathon was going to hurt.  My 20 miler on Labor Day weekend was easily the worst run/death march I have ever experienced.  But in hindsight, I did have some really solid 14, 16, and 18 mile runs.  There was that one week in July that the heat index was over 100 every day and I didn't run at all.  Probably not all that bad though to take a week off from running.  In the big picture of my training for Berlin I think that was actually exactly what I needed at the time.

Last week, I cut back my mileage and just did two shorter runs.  6 miles along the Charles on Tuesday (although I felt amazing and could have gone longer).  My pace is finally back where I like to see it for shorter distances and I'm feeling really good about my fitness level right now.  Wednesday I did a nice easy 4 miles through Lowell with Kim.  I hadn't seen her in a while so it was really great to catch up.  I had feared all summer getting a text from her to run because my pace had slowed so much with the heat and humidity that I was embarrassed I might not be able to keep up with her.  But that was not the case and we had a great run.
Thursday I went to see my good friend Peri for my pre-race acupuncture treatment.  It helps balance my Chi, give me good vibes, positive energy, mental focus and healthy healing electricity to all the right areas.  I left feeling totally blissful and relaxed.  Friday I had booked myself another 90 minute massage.  It was really tough to get through the day at work because admittedly I was not thinking about work at all, all I could think about was Germany, the marathon, and of course the amazing massage I was going to get after work.  Once again it was a great experience.  She did some deep tissue work on my quads and hamstrings and loosened things up.  I was a little sore afterwards, but not more than after a good workout.

Saturday was my last 'long' run.  I had planned to do 10 miles near my house, but when I ran with Kim earlier in the week she mentioned that she and Cherie were doing 8-10 from her house so I decided to join them.  We met at 7:30 and ended up doing a nice flat 9 mile loop through Ayer.  It was perfect.  The first few miles I took it really easy, my legs were still a little sore from the massage.  In the last 3 miles I decided to pick up my pace a little and just test out my legs and see if I could hold a little more uncomfortable pace.  I pushed it a little and visualized the last few miles of the marathon finishing strong and leaving nothing on the course.  My new favorite running mantra is something I thought of a few weeks ago, find the pace between uncomfortable and unconscious and HOLD ON.  I finished the run really strong with a little left in the tank feeling really good.  Overall, I averaged 10:17s for the total 9 miles.  Exactly where I want to be!

I really really wanted to go skydiving one more time, but the weather didn't cooperate.  It was foggy in the morning Saturday and then the winds picked up in the afternoon and the forecast was calling for 25mph gusts so I figured it just wasn't meant to be.  Since we finished the run so early I had the rest of the day and nothing to do really.  I had all kinds of ideas, like maybe trying to learn to ride my unicycle or trying out the slackline I bought earlier in the year, but both presented a certain amount out risk of injury that I wasn't really willing to test out.  I ended up just chillin at home and catching up on some TV shows and back to back cheesy movies the USA Network.  I haven't done that in a while so it was nice.
Sunday, it was raining and kind of gross out for most of the day.  I woke up super early and couldn't sleep so I did some cleaning and laundry.  Then I set up my bike trainer and put 'American Flyers' in the DVD player and did a ride along with Kevin Costner.  I was dripping sweat even with my windows wide open and a fan on.  Pretty fun.  I may have to make a habit of this new Sunday morning routine (minus the waking up super early part.

So, the plan for this week is just to take it easy, maybe do a few short 3-4 mile runs.  HYDRATE.  Rest.  Mentally prepare.  Pack and then take off.  Oh and try to get some work done.  That will be the hardest part.  Luckily I only really have a tough day today, then it's a pretty low key week.  Nothing left to do really, just get there.  I am so excited.  This is going to be a great trip and a fun experience to check off my 'to-do' list.  Marathon followed by Oktoberfest.  Yup, I'm expecting nothing short of AWESOME.

Monday, September 16, 2013

RTB-NH 2013: Goldilocks and the five bears

So, this weekend I did the Reach the Beach relay in New Hampshire with the team "Cops N Runners".  I was a last minute addition and found myself in a van with five guys I had never met before about to spend about 30 hours together sweaty, stinky, and sometimes slightly inappropriate.  Similar to the childhood story, the group was a little bit a grizzly bear and a little bit teddy bear, but just the right combonation of both to make it a good time.

The fun started Thursday night.  We all gathered at the team captain's house for pasta dinner and introductions.  We talked about the plan for the next morning and put a few things in the vans then I went home to get the last little bit of sleep I would get for the next few days.  I had set my alarm for 4:00am but I woke up at 3:30am.  Got up, took a shower, drank some tea, and headed out the door to meet everyone at Nashua Police Dept. at 5:30am.  We were on the road and off to the start area at Cannon Mountain by 6:00am.

When we got to the mountain it was overcast and a little damp out, but not raining......YET.  We did all the check in stuff, decorated the vans, took some pictures, bought some gear, and waited....then waited some more.  It became the theme of the weekend - Hurry up and wait.  Finally, our start time approached and we were ready to get the ball rolling (the icon for our GPS just happened to be a beach ball rolling down the road).  At 10:20, the clock counted down and our first runner began Leg 1 of the 200+ mile relay race.  A few minutes into the run, the skies opened up and the rain began.

Van 1 was off and running while Van 2 could relax and head to the first van transition area for breakfast.  For the most part, our first few runs were downhill.  It was raining really hard though and that made it pretty miserable.  Someone must have been looking down and watching over me because when it came time for me to run the rain stopped just long enough for me to complete my 5.5 mile run.  I felt really good.  It was downhill or flat the entire time and I ran the fastest I have run in a LONG time.  I averaged 8:50s.  I went out way too fast though and ran the first mile at an 8:25 pace.  I pulled back a little knowing I still had two more runs to do.  I handed off to our last runner and the rain started up again as we headed to the first Van Transition to meet up with Van 2.
After we handed off to Van 2, of course, the rain stopped and the sun came out.  We hopped in the van and went to North Conway for some dinner.  I suggested Flatbreads pizza, my all time favorite RTB pit stop.  Unfortunately, the grizzlies in the van grunted and ganged up to over-rule my suggestion in favor of a smokehouse/brewery (Moat Mountain) instead.  Beer is good, sadly for me (mostly vegetarian and allergic to eggplant) 99% of the menu was inedible smoked meats or contained ingredients that would make me violently ill.  I made due and ordered the only thing left on the menu that fit my particular dietary requirements - cheese pizza (which was kinda chewy and not even close to as good as Flatbreads).

After dinner, it was still too nasty out to do anything fun so we just drove to the next Van Transition and waited for the other half of the team.  Around 9pm we started our second legs.  It was clear out finally, now that the sun was down, but it was actually perfect running weather, cool and in the 50s, a little humid, but not unbearable.  Since I was #5, I didn't start my run until after midnight.  It was the hardest of the 3 legs I had.  9 miles with two giant hills.  The hills definitely sucked a lot out of me.  I was doing great on the miles that were not so steep.  I averaged 10:30s, but I wasn't consistantly running 10:30s.  I did 9:30s on the downhills and 12:30s on the climbs.
Around 1:30am I handed off to our last runner and we were just about done with the night time runs.  I changed into my PJs and curled up on a bench seat in the middle of the van and tried to get some rest.  We handed off to the other van and then drove to the next Van Transition at Bear Brook State Park to try and sleep a little before our last legs.  I think we maybe had about 3 hours by the time we got to the park and no one really got solid sleep.  Half slept outside under the stars and half slept in the van.  Neither option was very comfortable.  But on the bright side, in the morning when we woke up we got hot breakfast served by local Fire Fighters. Yummy.  hahaha

Finally, Van 2 arrived and we only had a few more miles between us and hot showers and the beers on the beach.  The sun was shinning and the temperatures were cool.  It was absolutely beautiful out and the perfect day for a run.  My last leg was relatively easy.  Just one hill, a little over a mile then mostly downhill or rolling hills into the transistion area.  4 miles total and I averaged 9:30s feeling good and running strong.  A little tired and my back was sore from sleeping on a bench seat, but overall I felt good.  
And then I was done.  18.5 miles all around or under my marathon goal pace and felt really good about it.  Didn't get to eat at my favorite RTB restaurant and had to listen to hours upon hours of oogling and critiquing other female runners 'assets' trapped in a van that smelled about as bad as a hockey locker room, but I am extremely happy with how I did and confident that my body is now ready for Berlin (and some much needed rest days).  At the Van Transition area where we handed off to the Van 2 for the last time, you could pay $5 for a shower and I wasted no time getting my towel and shower shoes.  There was a line in the women's locker room, but one shower was ice cold and no one wanted to use it so I took it.  Just like an ice bath, only it froze my brain when I washed my hair.  I didn't care, it felt good just to get the sweat and salt off.

After we all showered and changed into clean clothes, we were off to the beach to wait for Van 2 to finish.  We got there and still had about 2 hours to kill.  Had some food, hung out in the van, drank some beers, and waited.  Eventually we got the text that Van 2 was getting close and we went to the finish area to meet them.  31 hours after we started the journey, we all crossed the finish line together - We Reached the Beach!
So you might think that would be enough running for one weekend and I would be ready to chill and relax for a day or more.  Well, that's where you would be wrong.  Before I was recruited for Reach the Beach I had already registered for a half marathon, since it's two weeks out from Berlin it would be a good test run to see how my training went and what my potential finish time could be.  Sunday, I got up super early again and ran to another beach in Revere.  Considering the fatigue and slightly sore legs and back, I did AMAZING.  I ran the best half marathon I have run in a while, maybe even all year (I'll have to check).  I finished in 2:13:33 (10:11 pace).  I think based on that, my goal of maybe getting close to a 4:30 finish in Berlin is well within reach.
NOW, it's time to really relax and rest and taper for Berlin.  All I have planned for the next 13 days is acupuncture, rest, maybe another massage, rest, a short easy run to shake out the legs, rest, oh and hydrate, then rest some more, maybe jump out of a plane again, rest, then pack, get on a plane, and have a lot of FUN!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Near Perfect Weekend

So, I guess my weekend fun started on Thursday night.  I went to a 'Rock and Jock' charity softball game in Lowell with Denise, Rich, and Liz.  We went to Beerworks first for dinner and super slow service.  anyway, the game was pretty fun.  A lot of current Boston Bruins vs. radio/TV personalities.  The jocks won it 16-0, kind of not a fair match up.  Only thing that I didn't really like about the game was that everytime they scored they fired an old school musket that was REALLY loud and scared the crap out of me.

Friday I got to work and really didn't have a lot going on, a few meetings to schedule and some training to complete but nothing urgent or important.  I was thinking about maybe booking a massage for after work if I could and then I got an email for Daily Deals at the spa I usually go to - 25% off a 90 minute massage at 4:00.  PERFECT, as if it was a sign from God that it was meant to be.  so, as soon as the spa opened I called and booked the appointment.  Then I just needed to get through the rest of the day at work to get there.  The massage was perfect.  I told her not to be afraid to hurt me and to get in there deep and work sh*t out.  She focused on my legs but also did a lot of work on my back and shoulders.  I definitely started drooling and almost fell asleep (which means she probably could have used a little more pressure, but I don't know if she was strong enough to).

After the massage, I headed home first stopping at a few stores, looking for a small lockbox to put in the freezer at work because there is a food thief taking things that don't belong to them and I thought it would be funny to put a lockbox in there, but I couldn't find one I liked for less than $20.  Got home, had some food and hydrated before hitting the sack to rest up for my long run.
Saturday I got up early to do my 18 miler.  I was feeling refreshed and recharged after my massage and ready to run.  Weather was pretty close to ideal too.  Cool and slightly cloudy.  I got started around 7:15 and felt pretty good.  It was actually a little cold and I thought about going back to my house for gloves.  The first few miles were a little slow, but comfortable.  By the 5th mile I settled in and maintained a decent pace a lot closer to my goal race pace and the smile returned to my face, the joy of running was back, no more struggling and suffering.  I was still slow on the hills but a lot faster than I have been in weeks past and on the flats I was running faster than my race pace so I am very optomistic for the marathon since it is totally flat.  I finished up the run feeling amazing and averaging only about 15 seconds per mile slower than my goal pace.

I spent the rest of the day taking an ice bath, hot shower, rehydrating, refueling, grocery shopping, napping, and oh of course bought a powerball ticket because I found money on my run and I always see that as a lucky sign.  I went to bed early again because Sunday morning I had booked another skydive (I might have a new addiction).  
Sunday I got up and drove to the drop zone.  It was chilly and really cloudy, but the clouds were burning off as the sun came up.  When I got there, it was sort of quiet.  Not nearly as crowded as last time, but that meant I got right in and on the first load.  This ended up being a good thing because the winds picked up and they grounded the plane a little after I landed.  I had a different instructor this time, Reid.  Still awesome, seriously I cannot say enough great things about the staff at Pepperell Skydive Center.  They are all so nice and funny.  Great gang to hang out with and jump out of planes with.  This time since it was my second time the instructor let me take the controls of the parachute and steer for a little bit.  I wasn't really sure what to do, he told me how to turn and whatnot, but I was so overwhelmed again by the beauty and grace of the whole experience I don't think I did anything.

After I landed I hung out and had a few cups of coffee, chatting with some of the other students and some of the staff.  Then I went to Kim's house to visit.  I hadn't seen her in a while so it was nice to catch up.  I brought some homemade chocolate chip banana nut muffins and played on the swingset with Ryann for a bit.  I was starting to crash from the adrenaline rush so I went home and took a nap watching a little football and a little Indiana Jones Raiders of the Lost Ark.  Pretty near perfect weekend.  Only thing that would have made it perfect would have been if I won the Powerball, but I didn't. 

20 days to go til Berlin!  I might have to sneak in another skydive between now and then, but first I have to run Reach the Beach this weekend, followed by a half marathon on Sunday.  Getting in almost all my weekly miles in 3 days should be interesting.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Thank God that's done.

I used to measure all bad runs by the 2009 Eastern States 20 miler I ran in a monsoon, nothing could be worse than that.....until this weekend's 20 miler.  I got up early Saturday and as I was getting ready I could hear thunder and saw a few flashes of lightning.  Hoped it would just be a passing storm and by the time I left it would be done.  It let up just as I was heading out the door.  Still cloudy and sprinkling a little, but not crazy hurricane rain or anything.

Well, I made it about half a mile down the road from my house and the skies opened up again and dumped giant quantities of water on me.  I thought about turning around and calling it quits, but forged ahead.  I was already out there and already completely soaked, it couldn't get worse right?  My shoes were making that awesome squishing noise with every step, but I figured the sun would come out and I would be dry in no time, plus on the bright side the rain cooled me off a little.

It wasn't really that hot out, but it was ridiculously humid.  I thought maybe the rain would have pulled some of the moisture out of the air and made it less oppressive, but it didn't.  I felt like I was running through wet cement.  The first 6 miles were ok.  I felt pretty good despite being totally soaked and a little sluggish.  Mile 7 is a long gradual climb and I felt like I was pulling a 50lb. sled behind me, but I gutted it out.  I still felt relatively good.  Legs were fine, lungs fine, not too hot, not too tired....yet.  Mile 8 was slow but sort of flat and I stopped to take a gel so I attributed the time lost to that. 

I turned up High Plain Rd. in Andover for miles 9-11 and I always forget how awful the hills are.  I think the word 'plain' makes me think flat, but I selectively forget to read the word 'HIGH' first.  This was the point in the run where I really started to feel like junk.  I was totally gassed on the hills and exhausted.  I tried as hard as I could to just keep running and push through, but the perceived exursion was off the damn charts.  I'd run a few strides and stop doubling over and heaving, totally spent.  Not good considering I still had 10 more miles to go.  I had a few options to cut the run short, but stubborn as I am I talked myself into suffering through the long run.

By the time I got to Haggett's Pond Rd. and was headed to the second section of my figure eight loop I had already started getting goosebumps, a sure sign of bad things to come.  I was still completely drenched but it was impossible to tell if it was from sweat or the rain.  I hadn't been drinking a lot in the first half of the run, so I made a conscious effort to take a few sips every mile, but when the spout of my water bottles touched my lips I couldn't limit it to a sip, I guzzled whatever liquid was left in them.  Obvious that my body was now a dry sponge trying to absorb anything available.

I made it to the bottom of Haggett's pond and thought because it was a long downhill I must have gotten a decent paced mile in there, but no still barely shuffling along.  Seven miles to go, I got this right?  Doing the math in my head trying to figure out how long it might take me to get home.  I pulled out a bottle from my fuel belt....EMPTY.  Checked the next one.....EMPTY.  All of them.....EMPTY!!!  I still had a long way to go and I was out of water.  I knew there was a fire station at the top of the next series of hills, but that was still 3-4 miles away.  I hoped I could make it there and I wouldn't need to be picked up by them passed out on the side of the road.

I slowed to a crawl, almost literally, I think I would have crawled if I thought it would be easier.  I turned my head to look at every car passing by praying for a police cruiser or emergency vehicle of some sort.  I usually see at least a few Tewksbury PD cruisers along this loop, but not this time.  Not a single one.  I made it to the Fire station and wanted to collapse on the ground in front of them.  My mouth was like paper, so parched I could barely articulate the need for assistance.  I explained my situation and asked them for water and possibly a ride home.  I still had 3 and a half miles to go and I didn't think I could make it.  I was dying.  They gave me water and sent me on my way.

Within a half mile from the fire station I had already consumed ALL of the water I got from them.  The voice of my friend Kim was in my head saying "anyone can run a 5K", only 3 miles to go, but it was the longest 3 miles EVER.  I felt a little better because I had replenished some of the fluids lost, but still struggled.  I had told my mom, visiting for the weekend, that I would be gone for about three and a half hours and if I wasn't back in four hours she should come looking for me.  My watch approached 4 hours and I was half hoping that she would show up driving down the road, but at the same time I was embarrassed and ashamed that this run had taken so long and taken so much out of me. 

I made it up the last hill and around the corner to my house and my watch beeped 20 miles - DONE!  It took me 4:16, the same amount of time it took me to run the Boston Marathon.  It was definitely the worst run ever.  I am not even sure I can call it a 'run' because for a good portion of the time I was barely moving at all.  I walked into my house and immediately downed a giant glass of water and then another one.  I wanted to take an ice bath, but didn't have the energy to even attempt driving to the store for ice.  I stripped my soggy clothes off and weighed myself before getting in the shower.  I had lost about 10lbs in fluids. 
My legs were trashed.  I cramped up so bad.  I can't remember the last time I hurt so much on a long run, not even in a full marathon.  I averaged a 12:48 pace, my heart rate averaged 150bpm and maxed out at 200bpm.  According to my Garmin I burned 2300 calories, but I wouldn't be surprised if it was more.  I spent the rest of the day helping my mom scrap and prime my front porch, but I was pretty much useless.  I drank several tall glasses of water and lemonade, but couldn't quench the ridiculous thirst no matter how much I drank.  And even after all the fluids I was replacing, nothing was going through my system, if you know what I mean, so my body just continued to soak up everything I put in it. 

Anyway, I think that 20 miler takes the cake and now replaces the Eastern States race as the worst run ever that I will forever measure all other runs by from now on.  But on the bright side, I survived it and I can now taper for Berlin and pray for cool, cloudy, not humid weather in 26 days.  If I can make it through a ridiculously tough training run like that and survive to run another day, race day should be a breeze.  Like I always say, the race is the reward for the training and this one is going to be one heck of a reward well earned.