Thursday, October 16, 2014

A Tough End to an A+ Weekend

Because my recent excursion to Chicago was based all around the marathon, it was very different from my usual go, go, go vacation. I'll need time before I can regurgitate the play-by-play, as it just wasn't what I'm used to. An ideal getaway involves eating and walking my way through a city, and while I got to do a fair bit of that, I relied a lot more on public transportation than I'm used to (i.e., to keep the legs fresh) and thought much more about what I ate than I do in even my daily life. I also opted not to do a ton of research before heading to out to avoid setting my self up for disappointment. Though I've been to Chicago, I know I missed much on this trip. You can rest those worries though, I was again able to eat plenty and enjoy much (in a not so efficient manner); the trip was organized day-by-day. But lest I sound depressed, this trip--for the marathon--was incredible; I had a stellar race with so much support to thank for being both there and there in spirit.

I intend to share my lessons learned from my first marathon in an upcoming post, for those interested. For me, the biggest "regret" is not running my first marathon locally. Washington, D.C. actually hosts one of the larger marathons and it would have been super nice to not have had the stress of travel added to the all-consuming marathon. But Chicago was so, so, so good to me with its perfect temperature, pancake flat course, and crowd support, I can hardly regret the outcome.

As someone who likes to travel, but also likes to forecast (i.e., control) my future, the return trip was one reason running the Marine Corps Marathon would have been more convenient. I built in plenty of time for things to go wrong heading to Chicago by choosing to arrive on Thursday, however, I thought nothing about what it might be like for things to go awry on the return trip when I was exhausted and sore.

At 1:30 pm CT on Columbus Day, I learned my 4:10 pm flight was cancelled. This was a curse I placed on myself after waking up to a gloomy Chicago and immediately wanting to teleport home. I had not slept more than two hours the night before thanks to the writhing pain throughout my body. Marathoners, is this par for the course? After arriving at O'Hare International Airport shortly after 2:00 pm, Boyfriend found Customer Service to discuss our situation. We'd been rebooked on a 9:08 am flight out on Tuesday, a WHOLE DAY LATER. I absolutely could not miss work on Tuesday, a rarity. I had already bailed on an important meeting Friday and felt terrible about the thought of missing another one. We'd had our fun. That's where my head was at. And oh yeah, I was exhausted and sore.

We were given standby tickets for a 3:10 pm flight. There was hope. After rushing through some fancy security line (e.g., no shoe removal, no liquid removal--I complain not), we found gate B11, where we saw we were two of many looking to standby. The flight left without us, obviously. Then we played this game of bouncing from Terminal B to C for flights to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport or Washington Dulles International Airport every hour following. And since my left knee disintegrated entirely throughout the course of 26.2 miles, this was super fun. At 6:30 pm we were on a delayed flight to Dulles, which is not nearly as convenient as Reagan, but more so than Baltimore Washington International Airport. With economy seat assignments, we boarded.
That's me on the "Cleared Standby" list on the top left, wahoo!
Then we sat on the runway. And sat and sat. And I'm being real dramatic because I had to go to the bathroom and in order to do that we had to be in the air at some 10,000 feet with the seat belt sign off. There were no announcements made as to why were were sitting, waiting, wishing. I was also exhausted (i.e., impatient) and sore. I don't think I've mentioned that. At 7:48 pm, we were suddenly taking off... on a rough flight. I don't think I would have noticed had I not stood almost the entire duration of the flight. I got up to relieve my bladder as soon as I was able. And I guess the crew started serving beverages simultaneously. My seat, being far up in the cabin, was blocked while all 38 rows were served. I did kindly asked to squeeze through to no avail.

In a normal situation, it's best to move while flying. Perhaps this is not the case the day following a marathon, then walking one inside the airport? My legs swelled so much they got stuck in my normally comfortably fitting boots. I was sitting on the floor of the plane trying to pull them off to relieve the pressure and I could not budge them. This was a terrifying scene, if you're curious.

Though our captain flew us home quickly, we landed at 10:14 pm ET having picked up an hour. And we were on our running way to the 10:35 bus shortly after. But if you've never flown to Dulles, it's likely you've never experienced the worst "people mover" ever. This contraption is from the dark ages and progresses slower than Grandma. I was prancing around as if I had superpowers to will the mover faster because, as mentioned, we had a bus to catch.

We caught the bus, thankfully. And then caught an Uber because Metro was being it's usual inconvenient, holiday self. I was in bed around 11:30 pm, which should be considered a win... when I reflect on how much worse it could have been.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Thank You So, So Much

By this time, due to the shared efforts of social media, my fan base, and myself--who understandably proud, did some of my own bragging--the world knows that I completed the Chicago Marathon on Sunday. This accomplishment would not have been possible without the support of so, so many.

Thank you to my parents for traveling to Chicago, Illinois to cheer me on at four separate miles--2, 13, 17, and 26--along the course, completing their own marathon of sorts. An additional thanks to them for all the meals they provided to fuel me before and after the race. Thank you to C.D.H. for riding a bus from Atlanta, Georgia to surprise me! I'm not one for surprises, but this one--oh man, it meant a lot. Further thanks to him for breaking down the marathon with me on at least three different occasions. And lest I forget my youngest brother, the fastest H as far as 5Ks are concerned; he sent me a wonderfully encouraging text the night before the longest race of my life. For him, I'm thankful.

To H.M.M. for being at mile 7, when her out of town family was in town, and screaming for the nine seconds I spent running past. Thanks for providing the burst I needed. To Boyfriend's parents for using the Runner Tracker feature to track me during the race--for caring because I cared. To J.L.W. for always thinking I can, for knowing I could, and for responding to my texts of agony with understanding. To R.D.S. for sending a timely card right before the race. And repeatedly asking about training throughout the course of the year. To A.J.S. and S.D.G. for dealing with an exhausted, moody friend and accepting "Sober S.M.H." into their lives. To K.A.B. for listening with intent as I spewed running jargon over multiple weekend stays. To K.S.D. for pulling me out of the apartment for timely calorie-dense meals when the stress of training turned me hermit-esque. To S.K.H. for the Instagram well wishes and for playing the role of "cousin" so well. To Sweet Neighbor for sending me a bazillion emojis to lighten the intensity of the experience. To K.F.A. for letting me know I was in the "speedster" coral, which was actually more terrifying than helpful. Thanks, K.F.A., thanks a whole bunch.

Before Boyfriend, a final thank you to M.E.K. for encouraging me to enter the Chicago Marathon Lottery and, after winning said lottery, later assuring me I could run 26.2 miles regardless of how impossible that sounded way back (in January) when I was barely running at all--during the marathon winter.

And last but not least, Boyfriend, thanks for doing all of the above on repeat. Since March. It should be noted, Boyfriend has zero interest for running, participating in sports (outside of downhill skiing, ugh), or the thrill of a good sweat. Yet he managed to manage me during several long months of marathon training, which rest assured was no easy feat.

Thank you all--and so, so many more--for caring so, so much about my race. There is no way I would have made it to the finish line without all of you; this much is true.

I'll continue to speak miles and paces and training until Boston because I QUALIFIED. Y'all will be around in April 2016, right?

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Chicago Marathon, Goals

I am ready, ready, ready, ready, ready to run (Dixie Chicks, anyone? Running playlist, anyone?) the Chicago Marathon because I am so ready, ready, ready, ready, ready to stop over-thinking marathoning. The miles. The fuel. The distance. The sleep. The pace. The million things that could go wrong. The million things that can't possibly go wrong. I am o-v-e-r this. This final week of easy runs and monitoring every jag (or worse, cough) has turned me into a crazy person (i.e., crazier than I was previously). I'm crumbling under the self-induced pressure. On Sunday, I must rise... I have enjoyed training, much more so than I previously imagined possible. Let the marathon be a celebration of all the miles run to train for The Race.

That said, I have some goals.

Goal A: 3:32:XX This time will ensure I qualify for the Boston Marathon, I think. Though I technically only need a 3:35:00 finish time to meet the women's Qualifying Standard for the 18-34 age group, fewer and fewer runners are "squeaking in" to Boston as the field increases in competitiveness. For example, the 2015 field is set, and those women in my age group who did not run at least 3:33:12 were left out of the mix. For the numbers geeks out there, this article answers the questions posed by those trying to qualify for Boston 2016. So with that, I present this Goal A finish time, in hopes of "guaranteeing" my entrance to the iconic Boston Marathon. With the hours of training and miles logged, this is a feasible A+ day.

I'm also have my competitive spirit on my side, which rarely gives up on me. I'm physically ready for Goal A, mentally... well, there are still 20 hours to go.
Goal B: 3:40:00 This is the pace the majority of my long runs have averaged. All along I have said if I miss qualifying for Boston, I'm likely only to miss it by a couple of minutes (or even seconds, in the case presented above). I know I can run this pace and absorb the atmosphere. This pace will allow for lots of fun while crossing 'finish a marathon' off my Bucket List.

Goal C: Finish. Though I've set my sights higher and I'm thinking positive, positive, positive, tortoise or hare, I'm going to be proud of finishing.

At 7:30 am on Sunday, October 12, the gun will sound in Chicago and I will run. I've always appreciated running for the simplicity in lacing up and taking off.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Apples picked. Pumpkins patched.

This last weekend was the Washington, D.C. area''s first fall-like weekend. The mornings were crisp with an almost winter scent. As the days wore on and the sun to rose, the earth was heated to give us comfortable, warm afternoons. And with that, Boyfriend and I partook in the quintessential fall activity: apple picking. I have only picked apples two other times in my life, and the first time, I don’t actually remember picking a whole lot of apples from trees so much as purchasing pre-picked apples from barrels. Regardless, visiting apple orchards has recently become the thing I look forward to most about fall, more so than even football and pumpkin-spiced everything. With at least eight varieties to pick from, caramel apple rewards, and cider - heavenly cider - it's hard not to anticipate this outing. 
Is it gorgeous everywhere apples grow?
We’ve found our apple picking home at Hartland Orchard, in the not so distant Markham, Virginia, where the trees are already turning. And the drive there is littered with fall colors, which is simply delightful.
We couldn't leave without bringing home our pumpkin, from the conveniently attached patch. This year there wasn’t a bad pumpkin in sight, which made it tough to find a pumpkin with the character, necessary in the likely event our pumpkin is gutted for seeds and left uncarved; he needs to stand alone.
It’s actually fun to pluck the perfect apple from each tree (and a pumpkin from the patch). All the while dreaming of the delicious goods that will come. We brought home a bushel of apples, a gallon and a half of cider, and a pumpkin for seeding. The caramel apples didn't survive the trip out of the parking lot. We demolished them while an elderly man and his grandson pressed apples into our cider. Since this weekend, I’ve made a delicious apple fritter cake and a batch of applesauce. I've also consumed a good many apples smothered in almond butter.

An apple a day keeps the doctor at bay. 

Monday, September 29, 2014

Team Mathias Walk-A-Thon

On Sunday, a walk-a-thon was held to raise continued awareness of childhood cancer and above-all support Mathias in his personal fight. The pictures speak for themselves. This community is fighting for Team Mathias. It was a moving event--SO many people showed up, from infants to teenagers, adults to grandparents; we walked for Mathias. 
The neighbor streets and driveways were littered with Team Mathias emblems.
There were motivational signs standing along with half-mile loop.
People set up water stations in their front yards to quench the thirsty of sweaty walkers.
Mailboxes were strung with gold balloons.
There was a quilt signed by all the walkers for Team Mathias.
The neighbor club house was filled with festivity--a DJ, food, games, a silent auction, and decorations galore.
Ike Hilliard even joined in on the fun!
And the late September heat stopped no one, hundreds of people walked lap after lap with smiles on their faces.
To make this day possible, dozens volunteered. I'm grateful for today. We love Team Mathias.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Time To Taper

I'm honestly surprised how long it's taken me to tackle the marathon. When I knew nothing about how exhausting adulthood would be, at the ripe old age of 16, I promised myself I would complete the marathon by 26. I thought running 26.2 miles at 26 would be cool. Yes, cool. This was the sound reasoning behind electing this age as the latest possible year of my life to complete the marathon. Well, that didn't happen. I'll be 27 when I cross the finish line in Chicago, Illinois, if I cross the finish line in Chicago. I did, however, enter the lottery for the Chicago Marathon way back when I was 26. And a large chunk of my training happened during the final months of 26.

Alas, I've learned much through this process; it's been a time-consuming ride.

In March, I began supporting a new project. And with that came stress. And with that came a renewed interest in running. I set off without a plan. With a couple weeks of running under my belt, I signed up for a half marathon as a goal to work towards. I searched my archive of Runner's World magazines and settled on Ryan Hall's training plan. The Virginia Wine Country Half Marathon came and went in May. I was pleased with my performance and excited about the possibility of qualifying for the Boston Marathon in October. I spent first half of June reducing my mileage and prepping myself to begin a 16-week training plan during the third week of the month. I was ready to tackle the new couple months with gusto.

Then, you'll remember, I was sidelined with a nagging case of bursitis. I succumbed to physical therapy. I antagonized about how slowly my body was healing. I started to lose motivation. I started to worry my goal--to qualify for the iconic Boston Marathon--would slip away. I condensed my 16-week training plan to a 12-week, significantly more intense plan. The new plan required quality miles each  time I laced up with essentially no "junk" miles. And I altered my goal, to a more "normal" first marathon goal--finish. Just finish. Focus on finishing. Your time does not matter.

As far as the running goes, I have loved marathon training. I enjoy both the mental and physical aspect of running long miles. I've learned to break down 20-mile runs into manageable five-mile segments and mastered running long (and short) with (and without) music. I continue to work on warding off boredom. These runs can be so, so boring. I have had to create things to look forward to, whether eating or napping. If I think about how accomplished I'll feel when it's all over, I'm usually motivated to continue. Further, it's been a great excuse to spend time outdoors before gluing myself to a computer screen all day. And on the weekends, a great activity to begin the day. Plus, running has covered the 'hobby void' I've been attempted to fill for some time. 
If the running is not time consuming enough, there is significantly more time--and SO much thought--required to "prepare" for the marathon. While I have a plan, I must adapt the plan to the my reality. What day works best for a mid-week long run? As the sunrises later, when will I train? I have plans that will provide less sleep Monday night, can I squeeze in a track workout on Thursday instead? I'm out of town Thursday through Sunday, and therefore will not have access to my weights, when can I fit in strength training for the week?

Then there is eating, an awful lot of eating. I'm hungry ALL the time, not that I'm complaining. I need carbohydrates, fiber, and protein. But not too many carbohydrates or too much fiber. I've read (and read and read) how common weight gain is during marathon training, especially the first. While this hasn't been the case for me, I've been extremely cognizant of this. And have come to understand how easy bulking up could be, despite the remarkable number of calories burned. That being said, I don't allow myself to eat whenever I'm hungry--which again, is ALL the time, but I do eat significantly more than before. One more time: I'm not complaining. Seconds? Yes, please. The difference is most obvious when dining out; I no longer have leftovers. And at home, I opt for a cup of frozen pineapple as a pre-dinner snack. There are often times I'll go for seconds too. Like in the case of last night, when I consumed two multi-pound burritos and still needed dessert. On the days I'm so hungry I can't stand it, I have a mid-morning snack as well, often some sort of nut.

The food I eat is even more nutritious than before. I plan out breakfast, lunch, and dinner each day of the week--Sunday to Saturday. Before, I selected a few recipes for the week, allowing spontaneity and leftovers to fill the remaining gaps. Lest I sound too mighty, I eat way more "junk" calories than ever before; a bag of peanut butter M&Ms has nothing on me. Although I attempt to consume as many good calories as possible, I've had no problem eating a pound of Goldfish or Pop-Tarts for dinner the night before a run.

One might reckon that the toughest aspect of marathon-ing is, well, the tough elements of training: long runs, long tempo runs, and lifetime highs in terms of weekly mileage. But while I've found the running to be a formidable challenge, it hasn't been the most difficult piece of race day preparation. Sleep has. I try my very best to go to bed at 9:00 pm on the nights without an activity on the agenda, which leaves me about an hour to relax after dinner and dishes. On these nights, I often can't keep my eyes open until the sun goes down. (It's gotten easier as Fall has approached, wink.) Because of this, I've cleared the work week agenda quite a bit. I notice the largest discrepancies in my mood, run quality, and work productivity when I do not get a mandatory eight hours of sleep--a dangerous combination.

If you're not new here, you know sleep has not come as easily these past four years as it once did. So there have been sleepless nights, followed by rough days. And these days at points turned into week-long spans. And, this, for me, has had the largest impact on my training and me. Though I'm running this marathon for fun, I don't believe in living without giving my best. So it's been a balance of squeezing in a run over an event or friend or foregoing a run (or run(s)) for an important friend--on her wedding weekend. There have been times when it's possible to do both (e.g., Charleston)--on a little less sleep.

Aside from the pain in my left knee and mild pain in the arch of my right foot, which I'm icing daily, I feel at peace with my training (and, admittedly, a bit like a rock star). The bursitis flares up from time to time, though it's a million times better than it was in June and July. And the left hip pain I experienced as a side effect hasn't bothered me in a couple weeks, hooray. I definitely did not have the mental prowess to cover these miles before. Previously, at many points previously, in my running career, six miles seemed far (and tough). This distance now is easy; six miles is a day, like tomorrow, to look forward to.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

NFL Pick 'Em: Week 4

I'm participating in an NFL Pick 'Em league this year, and it's the demise of me. Of course, I paid so I will continue to play through the season's end because I recently discussed my issues with quitting.

The largest contribution to my inability to win are my irrational reasons for picking all sorts of teams. I'm apparently sensitive though; it nearly kills me to pick against "my" team(s), when in reality my only team is the Kansas City Chiefs. Here I encounter problem numbero uno: As might be expected, I can't pick anyone in the AFC-West, the Chiefs' division. I'm looking at the Denver Broncos, San Diego Chargers, and Oakland Raiders. Except, Peyton [Manning], I kind of like him, minus the fact he reigns in Denver.

Then, I move forward, I have Clemson Tigers playing for the Buffalo Bills (and ZERO affiliation with the Bills beyond this), (un)naturally, I feel inclined to pick them. Thankfully, C.J. Spiller and Sammy Watkins came through for me in Week 1 and 2. This "strategy" was unsuccessful in Week 3.

I semi-lived in Atlanta, Georgia during the Michael Vick days, so I feel inclined to pull for him (and, more recently, his New York Jets). And I question my own integrity in even rooting for Vick because he fought dogs(!!!). I went to an ACC school during the Matt Ryan era at Boston College... and also, again, semi-lived in Atlanta, which apparently qualifies me as a part time Falcons fan. For a far less criminal reason, I should also dislike Ryan because he crushed all my hopes and dreams one unseasonably cold November night during my junior year at Clemson University. But I don't because I guess I find him relate-able.

I could go on and on and on.

Pops' whole family resides in Michigan. It's also where both my parents were born and raised. So Detroit Lions, I'm pulling for you. But Boyfriend is a diehard Green Bay Packers fan, and I also babysat for a diehard Packers' fan in college. Are all Packers' fans so nutty? This was a challenge in Week 3 when the two played each other; I ultimately opted for the Lions... for the win.

The Dallas Cowboys are disgusting. I'm unsure of all the reasons why, I just know Pops has said so all my life. On the disgusting front, there is also Ben Roethlisberger (i.e., the Pittsburgh Steelers).

I live in Washington Redskins territory. There hasn't been a second in my tenure here that I've claimed or followed the Redskins. I live on the Capital Beltway side though; I'm Redskins over Baltimore Ravens each and every day.

My former boss was a Cincinnati Bengals fan, so there's that. 

You see? Endless.

The aforementioned is one side of the issue, the other: I'm in a league with 36 people, vastly reducing my odds. In Week 3, four people, including myself, went 13-3. The verdict came down to some bizarre concoction of not one but two tiebreakers, and I somehow ended up in the bottom half of the four (i.e., not the winner). I'm entirely too competitive for this point in my life, which has resulted in Week 1, Week 2, and Week 3 temper tantrums; Week 3 being the utmost painful.

So while I'll endure the final challenges--14 in total, I'm counting the $20 down as a loss.