The subtitle for this post could easily be “Or What I’ve Been Up To Since Chicago.” Following the Chicago Marathon, I took some time off from running. Truthfully, all I wanted was a break from the sometimes unrealistic training expectations that I put on myself when I know I have a big race coming up. I’d basically spent all year in training mode– first for the June 2014 Minneapolis Marathon that I backed out of in April because of burnout and injury that was ultimately cancelled due to severe weather, and then for the October 2014 Chicago Marathon that I started training for in June. Frankly, I wanted to just live how I wanted and not let a training schedule take over my life.
None of this means that I wanted to stop running, however. Actually, for the first time in my life as a runner, I am feeling motivated and appreciative for my sport. I feel like I rose to the challenge of running the entire course at Chicago, and I was hungry for more challenges like that. But right now, I only want to rise to the challenge of becoming strong overall so I don’t get injured again. I want to push myself when it gets hard and embrace the pain that comes with getting out of your comfort zone and getting stronger. I think, now that I am on the downhill side of some incredibly tough hills over the past two years of my life, I have really nothing to fear anymore. All of my worst nightmares came true and I got past them. So, after what I experienced, what is so scary about a quad burn when you’re running a 7:45 split at the end of a 6-miler? What do I have to fear when my arms feel like they’re ready to snap when I have a loaded barbell over my chest on a tricep set? Am I really going to let a pushup take me down? No way! I think I’m finally ready to stop being afraid. I’m ready to push my own limits now that I know I can handle what’s on the other side.
Armed with a newfound sense of accomplishment and ready to really start giving my all and start racing marathons instead of “just” finishing them, I did the logical thing: I gave myself a strict one week of recovery from doing anything exercise-related. Okay, six days off. Well, okay, not really….a friend talked me into swimming laps with her at the pool the Wednesday after the race, but my quads were still so sore I could really only kick around on the board for about 300 yards before I just played around in the deep end, pretending to be a mermaid then a scuba-diver. The first time I felt good enough to go to the gym– and seriously, I was dying to do something else besides run– I went to a Body Pump class that absolutely, seriously, 100% kicked my ass. It was the first Body Pump class that I’d taken in over a year and, while I was used to the structure of it, I decided to take it easy and not load up my barbell too much. I think I only went as high as 7.5 kg on the squats and 5 kg on the lunges and 2.5 kg on everything else. About halfway through the class, and I don’t know if this is because a) the gym was extraordinarily hot, b) I was seriously dehydrated from sipping too much Powerade and not enough water (no more Powerade for me, ever!), c) I did too much too soon, or d) all of the above, but I got so dizzy I thought I was going to pass out. That’s really never happened to me. I left feeling strong and accomplished, which is a feeling I hadn’t had in awhile. I give that class credit for helping me get faster in 2013, so I was ready to make that part of my workout regimin during my off-season and even into my next training season.
Unfortunately, that one Body Pump class showed me just how underworked my deep inner hip and glute muscles, arms, and core really were: I could barely move for the next four days. It hurt to sit down, it hurt to take long strides, it just plain hurt so bad I thought I’d really torn some stuff up and I was truly concerned I’d injured myself. It wasn’t until Wednesday that I felt good enough to try a run.
Earlier that day, I had also seen a Facebook update that the Richmond Half-Marathon only had 300 spots left in it, so obviously I signed up. I had a goal to complete two more half-marathons before the end of this year and I’d been wanting to run this race for a number of years. Obviously, last year I was sidelined from any East Coat race because I had moved back to Nebraska, and there was no way I was going to miss out on running Richmond. Plus, their lineup of finisher’s swag is seriously unbeatable: a medal, a finisher’s blanket, and a finisher’s hat. All I could think about was wearing my medal and hat and cozying up in my blanket on my drive back up to DC. Plus, I am always up for a quick trip out of town.
So, almost two weeks after running the Chicago Marathon, I was back in a brief training mode again. I could tell I wasn’t quite ready to take up training again because mentally, I sort of rejected it. I didn’t want to have to worry about getting my run in for the day, I just didn’t want to make room for it in between the classes at my gym that I was just getting back into. So, I decided that this race would just be for fun. Truly. Whatever kind of race I could run that day, I’d take it and be grateful for the opportunity to leave DC and see a town I’d never really explored before and enjoy the community of racing. I always try to realize that my independence and singlehood is a gift and that I (hopefully) won’t always have the opportunity to just take a day off work, book a nice hotel, order pasta and beer wherever I felt like dining that night, and waking up fully rested and ready to run a good race. Of course, it’d be awesome to have someone with me for the weekend, but the spontenaity of a road trip and race weekend is what I love most about this particular half-marathon.
So, nearly a week after the Body Pump class from hell, I went out for a run. There’s something about the first run post-marathon that I love deeply. There’s this residual bad-ass, veteran feeling you have when you start running. You have nothing to prove– no pace goal, no run type, sometimes no planned mileage. You’re a free agent doing what you love. It’s that sweet spot of having nothing to train for but knowing you have goals that aren’t totally defined yet and you can take all the time you need to label them. The first run post-marathon is probably as close to flying as I can imagine. And this one in particular was awesome. I planned to only run 3 miles just to get back on the horse, and wow, those 3 miles felt SO great. I remember charging so fast that my paces dipped down around 8:30 and I remember thinking to myself, One Body Pump class did this!?! I hadn’t run like that for….I don’t even know how long it’s been. For all the frustration that training and running sometimes gives, you stick around for that feeling. My splits were 9:23, 8:43, and 8:33 with my last 7-second sprint at a 7:53.
After running like that, I took a day because I could start to feel some residual injuries coming back to my legs and the last thing I wanted to do was go back to physical therapy. Friday, I took another Body Pump class in anticipation of a work trip to Las Vegas that would go from Saturday through Wednesday the following week. For this trip, I had packed my running shoes and some workout clothes, but it wasn’t until I actually got to the hotel that I found out that using the fitness center cost $20 per day. TWENTY dollars. Per DAY. If I had been training for a marathon, I’d have likely paid to use the treadmill for a long run, but using it every day would cost me the equivalent of 2.5 monthly gym memberships (mine is $40 a month) for all 5 days. I’m not a cheap person but I’m also not stupid either. The other option I had was to go running on my own around the city. However, the problems I faced with that were threefold: a) with work being my priority for the week, my only options were to wake up at 4:30-5:30 AM to run and I just couldn’t come around to the idea of running alone in Las Vegas (a city I am not familiar with) that early in the morning, b) the cumulative effects of jet lag, adjusting to a 3-hour time difference, the adrenaline of having to be on my professional game for 10-hour days, and the over-stimulation of living in a casino for 5 days left me feeling totally drained, and c) the food options were too good to pass up. Just being honest. On Monday morning, there was an unofficial 5K “fun run” around the golf course that I wanted to attend, but I woke up 38 minutes after the start time. Oh well….the conference wasn’t a total loss, fitness-wise. Between all the walking my colleagues and I did between sessions, the hotel, and the convention center, my coworker’s FitBit logged nearly 5 miles walked per day. Good enough!
Following my work trip, my first priority was to get back on East Coast time. My next run was Friday evening, Halloween. Since I hadn’t run in over a week, I decided on another 3-miler. With the day off from work, I’d spent my time cleaning my apartment, buying groceries, and exercising my right to vote at the county courthouse. The day was growing dark early and I knew I had to make some tough choices: finish baking the loaf of bread I was making for my weekend and early week meals or get my run in. I decided to do both. As soon as I hit the time for 60 minutes for the bread to rise, I threw on my running clothes (I chose all black since it was Halloween!) and headed out the door to the running trail. Honestly, I’d have had plenty of time to get in a leisurely run if my Garmin had decided to pick up a signal, but it took nearly 13 minutes to locate a satellite (which I later learned was due to a solar storm of some kind). I really only had about 47 minutes to get my run in and get home to put the bread in the oven, so I knew I had to make my run a fast one with now only about 34 minutes to make it happen. Without even expecting to, I took off like a bullet and ran wicked fast. My first split was 8:27, second split was 8:42, and my final mile was 8:34 with a 6:34 sprint to close the mile. Average 8:34. Where were these paces coming from!?!!? It was a joyous feeling. Suddenly, I was feeling like I was back where I wanted to be as a runner; my only hope was that it’d be sustainable.
Saturday afternoon, I went back to my gym for a Body Pump class. Sunday afternoon, with a very windy and cold day in the DC area, I set out for my first long run since Chicago, only 3 weeks prior. The temps were somewhere around 50-55, so a decent day for running in shorts and a shirt, but I donned arm warmers because I knew the wind would be cold and I’d be out there for predictably an hour. At some points, the wind was so hard it pushed me off balance which caused me to stumble onto the edge of the trail. There were periods of intermittent thinking: The arm warmers were a bad idea; it’s hot in the sun….oh, thank God I chose arm warmers, this wind is freezing! Maybe I should have worn capris instead…my legs are burning in the wind here! That Sunday was also the day of the New York City Marathon and runners were having to run in that same 30mph wind for 26.2 miles. I drew some strength from their determination to push on and finish the race, but by the time my 6 miles were done, I was ready to get out of the wind. My splits were 10:06, 10:03, 9:57, 9:32, 9:24, and 9:30 with a 7:58 sprint at the last mile. Average pace was 9:45. Respectable– I’d be thrilled with a run like that in Richmond in just under two weeks.
My next run in my very “eh” Richmond Half-Marathon training plan was on Tuesday night. Election night. Running on Election Night in DC is something that’s a bit unheard of if your profession is in the political realm. In past years, I spent the evening watching returns come in at election parties for partisan young professionals or with my colleagues on Capitol Hill. In 2012, living with two Republicans and having a boyfriend working in Iowa on the Romney campaign, I hung out at home watching the returns coming in on my own. This year, I went for a run because the party scene was rather quiet. I looped four miles around the Lincoln Memorial, down past the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, around the Tidal Basin and the Jefferson Memorial, back up through West Potomac Park, back around the Lincoln and down the other side of the Reflecting Pool, and ending my run at the corner of 17th and Constitution Avenue. It was a perfect evening to run, even though I was slightly freaked out in the dark (thank you Daylight Savings). Every time I passed a monument, I had a momentary reflection on our country’s founding principles and thanked God that my vote counted here. I’ve lived in DC on and off since 2006 and these kind of thoughts still come to me sometimes. I never get tired of the monuments. I’ve run the same sidewalks around here more times than I can count and I’ve never once gotten bored of them. I love my town.
For the next several days, I barely worked out at all. I took Wednesday off– I still have residual concerns that my injury will come back if I run every day on it. Thursday night, I met with some fellow University of Nebraska-Kearney classmates to have dinner in Northwest DC with the Chancellor from our alma mater. As I left that night, I had probably one of the weirdest, most mysterious backaches in my life. Not a muscle ache– this felt like something was wrong in my kidney. The pain was excruciating; so bad that turning over in my bed that night felt like I was sleeping on a knife. Admittedly, my diet has been terrible these days and I’ve been working to get it back on track. Obviously, the trip to Las Vegas presented numerous opportunites that I shamelessly took to eat terribly and that night’s meal was salmon with a pesto sauce that was incredibly salty. I’m struggling to drink enough water these days. Plus, I have a huge addiction to Trident gum– I chew between 5-10 pieces a day. I took a WebMD-like guess that I’d somehow taken in too much sugar alcohol. The pain in my lower back was still there the next day, though it had subsided some with a night of sleep and a Nalgene of water. But it took working out off the table for Friday and into Saturday. I still don’t know what that was all about and I haven’t chewed a stick of Trident since.
Sunday came and I realized three things: a) the half-marathon was now less than a week away and I hadn’t run more than 6 miles, b) peak week for fall foliage was almost over, and c) I hadn’t run on my favorite old trail since being back in DC. The weather on Sunday was a little on the cooler side but it was sunny and perfect for running an out-and-back easy 8 miles along one of the prettiest trails in the DC metro area: the Washington and Old Dominion Trail (W&OD). My goal for this 8-miler was to take it slow and easy and just enjoy being outdoors. I really didn’t even have a pace goal in mind– I just wanted 8 miles at whatever pace I felt was pleasant enough. Truthfully, when I first started my run, I was kind of in a bad place emotionally. Not really something I want to get into here, but if I didn’t get out there for a run, it had the potential to ruin my day. And because of it, I just didn’t feel like failing at something. I wasn’t “there” for a super speedy run; I just wanted 8 easy miles where I could marvel at leaves. And being back on a trail where I had run countless times for numerous races, it was all I needed that day.
Sunday’s run got me out of my funk alright. I wasn’t thrilled with my pace and time, even though I didn’t have a goal in mind when I started, but I know I’ve only had a handful of runs since Chicago so I couldn’t expect much. Anyway, getting the 8 miles done helped me to feel confident that I would get through the Richmond Half-Marathon and that I should be happy for another race that is sure to be a VERY fun experience….and one that I am thrilled that I am back in DC to be able to run at all. Right now, running makes me feel like I am still part of something and that I have the power to make decisions about how my day will go or how my life will be. Even if it is a daily struggle to get out there.
Richmond, here I come!