Sunday, August 10, 2014

Run 9, 20, and 12: Perspective.

"What is a 'bad' run? What makes it so bad?"
- me, two-ish years ago.

In the Team In Training half-marathon training world, your 10 miler is the first "big deal" long distance run.  It's typically the longest run the majority of the teammates have ever done in their lives, and its your first double-digit mileage before your event.  It's a little bit pomp-and-circumstance, which is understandable, because it kind of is a big deal if you're not a runner.  Post-10 miler, I started to write a long post about the experience, and realized that it was, well, underwhelming.

But the view was really pretty!

It was underwhelming in the sense that it was a pretty easy, normal run, minus the crazy long hill at the beginning (which I walked most of).  The weather cooperated, the temp was cool, and we were running around Griffith Park, which provided a nice change of scenery.  When I finished, mentally and emotionally, I felt like I had not actually run 10 miles.  I will admit I was a little disappointed that it didn't seem like a bigger deal to me, but I chalked it up to the fact that my training season, all together, had been pretty easy.

My 11 miler was the complete and utter opposite.

Here are the things that were going against me going into my 11 miler day:

  • 4 hours of sleep
  • Air quality deemed "unhealthy" by local news stations
  • Crazy humidity and heat the week leading up to it (100+ degree days)
  • Forgetting to go to the store and being out of bananas and bread, therefore eating a protein bar as "breakfast"
  • A forecasted temperature of 94 degrees
Because of all of these things, I was a little nervous but not overly concerned.  I had run in the heat before, I had run on little sleep before, I'd eaten a protein bar for breakfast before, and my 10 miler was easy.  An extra mile wouldn't be a big deal, right?

My first 6 miles around were… okay.  The humidity was making it hard for me to breathe well and it was very, very warm, despite the 6:30 start time, but it wasn't the worst.  I was sluggish from the lack of sleep but the anxiety over the distance caught up to me and woke me up.  I had given the Mission Moment that morning, so I spent most of the that time reflecting on my time as staff with Team In Training.  (My first two miles are always my hardest - my legs take for-ev-er to wake up - and I often spend that time thinking about my TNT family to push through it.)  I was annoyed, but I was otherwise fine.

At the 6 mile mark, I swapped running partners.  Katie had been running in dead shoes and was suffering from crazy shin splints and needed to stop, so Josh (my mentor) and Natalie (one of the assistant coaches) offered to run with me for the last 5.  We never run together as they are much faster than I am, so I looked at this as an opportunity to get to know them better.

It felt like in the 5-10 minutes we had stopped to swap running partners, the temperature had gone up 10 degrees.  The sun was blazing, and the first two miles have no shade.  I felt nauseous every time I tried to run longer than a minute and a half and then had to walk longer than usual to get rid of the feeling.  My clothes were totally soaked through from sweat and I was huffing and puffing constantly, running or not.  My whole body started to tingle, like pins and needles, from head to toe, and I was getting a sharp, stabby pain in my right foot every half a mile or so.

Needless to say, it was rough.  But… I finished.

I finished even though, afterwards, I found out the tingly feeling is dehydration.  I finished even though I accidentally took way too much salt and probably should've sat out for a while to rehydrate properly.  I finished even though it was in the high 90's with a crazy high humidity level and I couldn't breathe because my allergies were going haywire.  I finished because all I could think about was how I spent the morning talking to my teammates about why I'm going down this crazy road, and I absolutely, could not let my friends down.

I also finished so I could finally earn this:

A delirious but happy BAMF.

To say my 11 miler was hard is a severe understatement.  It was discouraging and worrisome and made me very, very nervous about the upcoming 12 miler, the longest distance I would cover before taking on the Disneyland Half.  We tapered back the following week, running 7 miles with the rest of the California Southland chapters through the hills of Pasadena and (literally) into Angeles National Forest.

It was a little more of a hike than a run.  Kelsey's excited!
At the finish of this run, we had an Honored Teammate Potluck, where we were surrounded by photos of friends and loved ones.  We had celebratory mimosas and were surrounded by photos of friends and loved ones who have been affected by this awful disease.  We heard from the Be the Match Registry on how important it is to get tested and be added to the registry, as you could save someone's life.  It was beautiful and fun and a great way to finished a Saturday run, but it didn't eliminate my worry for my 12 miler.

I spent the week leading up to the 12 miler thinking about how far I've come; how just a few short months ago, I couldn't even run a mile; how I'm now signing up for another half marathon and planning my first full; and how, when I ran my first 10k, I came in absolute dead last.

Googling yourself is fun when THIS comes up!

My first ever race bib, which I totally thought would be my last.. until now.

I asked friends on Facebook to send me names of loved ones that had been affected by cancer so I could think of them while I ran, and so many people responded.  After our quick walk clinic by the awesome Chuck Fowler, I spent the first two miles thinking through each person - mom's, dad's, sisters, best friends mother's, friends of friends, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins.  For our last 6 mile loop, Katie and I were joined by Jen, a woman who had run LA Marathon and Tinkerbell.  She asked about how I got involved with TNT, and I told her about how my friend Dana had run the Rome Marathon and I was so impressed, I looked into jobs at LLS, and:

  • Applied for the admin position at LLS only to have Dana (who was interning there) recommend me for the TNT position instead
  • Went to my first TNT cycle practice only to have a participant go over her handle bars and need an ambulance
  • Watched that cycle team finished a century ride in Lake George in torrential downpours, despite the fact that the race was officially called off due to weather
  • Spent 3 hours in Walt Disney World texting with my race coaches, hoping one of our participants would finish the Goofy Challenge and not get swept, and finally got to see her round the corner at the finish in Epcot, completing a half and full marathon in just two days
  • Met a participant, Merle, a survivor, who raises thousands of dollars every year for LLS and is one of the greatest email cheerleaders on earth
  • Signed a team of 20 people up to run a half marathon in Providence who wanted to raise $20,000, just to watch them go on to raise $61,000 in just a little over two months
  • Witnessed a coach give his bike and his shoes to a participant so she could finish her century ride after her chain broke halfway through.
By the time I stopped talking, we were 2 miles away from being done with the 12 miler.  I had the sudden (and really emotional) realization that if I could run 12 miles, I could absolutely, 100% run a half marathon.  All those mornings I worried and fretted about not being able to run 4, 5, 8 miles seemed ridiculous.  That awful, terrible 11 miler seemed like it had happened years ago.  Coming in dead last at the Lone Gull 10k became sort of a comical, now "this funny thing happened way back when, and now look where I am!" story to tell my grandkids someday.  Most importantly, 12 miles seems like nothing compared to the heartbreaking and incredibly difficult challenge of battling cancer, when you spend your days never knowing when it'll be over.  I know my run is done when I've finished the mileage, but patients fighting this awful disease don't know an end until they've heard it from their doctor.

All I need to do is completely focus on why I started on this journey and nothing else matters - and that, if nothing else, will get me through 13.1 miles on what will most likely be the hottest day in August.

Okay, AND my amazing, Sparkle Athletic skirt, too.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Run 7: "You look very 'Girl With the Pearl Earring.'"

The good news: I survived my first Oxy Alumni Reunion Weekend!  Worked 12 days straight, three of which were 17 hours in a row, and not only did I NOT get sick, I was still mildly functional in work the following week!

The bad news: I got in zero runs in two weeks.

I could have should have gotten up early and at least done my midweeks, but it was hard to be motivated when I was leaving the office at 8 pm on a nightly basis.  I knew I wasn't getting in my long run on Saturday of reunion weekend, which really should've been the ass-kicker I needed, but I didn't.
That made run numero 7 that much scarier.

We were getting to practice earlier than usual, and we'd be running our longest distance thus far - 8 miles.  I had missed hill practice the week before and sent a mildly panicked email to Coach Dee Dee expressing my worry about this 8 miler.  She kindly reminded me that I did the right thing (sleeping instead of running after a crazy week of work) and to basically STOP WORRYING.  One of these days I will actually listen to that advice.

Look at all of those smiles at 6:30 a.m.!  That's dedication.

I am beyond thankful that we started as early as we did.  By 7:30 it was getting warm, and the lack of shade at Balboa Park was felt the entire time.  Since my mileage is only getting longer, I thought I'd spend this week giving fuel gels a try, just to see if I liked them better than the Honey Stingers or Gu Chomps.  I brought a pack of margarita flavored Clif Shots juuuust in case.  Better safe than sorry, right?

I should've known this wasn't my bag when it took me 5 minutes to actually open the gel pack.  Even with my teeth it was a struggle.  I'm not sure what I was actually expecting the consistency to be like - Jello, maybe? - but it was AWFUL.  Green apple (not even the sour kind, just the boring regular fake flavored green apple) and it was HOT.  I have tried, for over a week now, to come up with what to compare the texture to, and the only thing I can think of is gravy.  Disgusting, right?  Gravy is amazing when its gravy and made with turkey fat and flour, not when its green apple flavored and yet also the temperature of your body.  Gross, gross, gross.  Glad I figured this out now and not on race day!  #trusttheprocess

I'm not going to lie - I was feeling every one of those days I hadn't run.  I usually hit my stride and don't need a lot of motivation to cover the miles, but this day I was slacking.  My feet felt like bricks, I had completely forgotten about my walk form, and I was tempted to stop and take photos every few minutes to give myself something to distract me from feeling so heavy.

"Don't wait for me!" - Me.
Some of our teammates were only doing 5 miles since they are training for the Nike Women's Half in San Francisco and that's a full month and a half after Disneyland.  I was given the option to also do 5, and was VERY, VERY TEMPTED.  I thought about it for a while; how nice it would be to wrap up, foam roll, drink some chocolate milk and get in the shade.  But then I had thought about how, a few weeks before, I missed practice due to an ill-informed decision to drink one margarita the night before, and how annoyed I was at myself.  I spent the morning feeling guilty and dumb and had a severe case of FOMO - so much so that Nancy actually tagged me in the team photo from that practice even though I wasn't there.  I decided I'd just keep going until I literally physically couldn't.

I ended up running with Nancy and another Disneyland participant, Julie, who was in my pace group.  We talked race outfits and Disney course support and the Sad bus, and both agreed that we would run together on race day and take photos with every character we saw.  It made the last few miles fly by, and we even stopped to take at least one photo.

Julie and I sprinted towards the team tunnel at the finish and I had never been more excited to actually finish a run.  When Nancy checked her watch, and I checked my RunKeeper, we realized we went a wee bit further than the 8 miles we were supposed to run:

Almost 9 miles?  I'll take that!  RunKeeper also gave me this nice boost of confidence:

Even though I'm really just competing with myself, it was a great feeling knowing I had reached a goal that seemed so far away just mere weeks ago.  I also had to recognize that I did have the option of getting out and running 5 miles, and I'm so glad I didn't.  I didn't hurt that bad afterwards (nothing some foam rolling couldn't fix!) and Julie came through with some chocolate milk at the end which was exactly what I needed.

If I can run 9 miles, I can run this half marathon.  Bring it on, Disney!

Monday, July 7, 2014

Lessons from the Road: No NASCAR for me.

  • A Friday night margarita is not, unfortunately, carb-loading.
  • Powerade Gels probably both taste like and have the same texture as Nickelodeon Slime.  They are made exponentially worse when they've sat in your hydration belt for an hour in 90 degree heat.  Does anyone want my collection of gels?  (No offense to anyone who likes them!)
  • I have come to the realization that I would not, in fact, make a great race car driver.  I can not run the same loop over and over.  It bores me to absolute tears.  RIP, NASCAR career.
  • My Instagram feed is now 1/3 friends, 1/3 Disneyland, and 1/3 pro/novice runners, bloggers and running gear feeds.  This both excites and also scares me.  WHO AM I?!
  • Whenever I come across a puddle on a run, I have a long internal argument - run through, cool down and get blisters, or slow down, avoid, and stay hot?  Still up for debate.
  • I still cannot drink red Gatorade.  Thanks, Labor Day Alcohol Poisoning 2006!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Run 5: Why do they call it "Big Daddy"?

I realize I have a lot of blogging catch up (blog-up?) to do as I've been MIA for the past few weeks.  I can't promise the wait will be worth it, but I will definitely try to bring everyone myself up to speed.

Training Week 5 found us at the lovely and historic Rose Bowl Stadium, meeting up with the SGV team to run "6 miles."  (6 miles is in quotes for a specific reason, but I will get to that later.)  I was looking forward to running in a new location, as I've learned that I get bored quickly running the same route over and over, and because we were getting treated to walk coaching by the legendary Chuck Fowler.

Don't tell this man that power walking isn't a sport.
 Chuck is a Team In Training legend, and his talk is powerful.  His life story is beyond comprehension, and I am certainly not doing it justice by briefly mentioning it here, but he has survived both Hodgkin's lymphoma and prostate cancer, and found race walking to be his venue back into athleticism.  He has been with the program since 2003, first as a participant and now as a coach, and he is very, very motivating.

After a brief training session in proper walk form, we were off to run.  There were only a handful of my teammates that showed, and thankfully Kelsey, one of my favorite mentors, was one of them.  We ran with an SGV assistant coach, and a participant named Ana, who's son had just been cancer free for a week.  This admittedly kept my perspective in check the majority of the course.

If you've never had the luxury of going to the Rose Bowl, it is in a really lovely part of Pasadena.  It's also really, really, REALLY freakin' hot.  It sits in the middle of a valley and is sparsely shaded.  I have been there for both the LA Food Truck Festival as well as the famous Rose Bowl Flea Market and in the warmer months, it is a nightmare temperature-wise.  By the time we started to run, it was almost 8 am and therefore probably close to the high 80s.

To anyone who trains in Arizona, I applaud you.

Before we started our run, one of the coaches briefly went over the route.  In retrospect, I'm glad we were running with one of the assistant coaches because I barely paid attention and had no clue where I was going.  I did, however, catch her mentioning something called "Big Daddy."  What the hell?  What is "Big Daddy"?  Is this some Adam Sandler reference I'm not getting?  Not a single SGV participant balked at this, and she brushed it off like it was a small nuisance so I went back to fiddling with Instagram and didn't think much of it.

That is, of course, until we reached "Big Daddy."

Big Daddy is a steep, switchback climb near the reservoir about halfway through this run.  It is dirt and rock and is about 120ish feet in less than half a mile.  Anyone who can run up this thing is probably half gazelle and not human.  My pace dropped from a 15 minute mile to a 30 min mile because I had no choice but to hike it.  I would have taken a photo but I was too busy keeping my arms available in case I had to rappel upwards.

There was a strategically placed water stop at the top (THANK GOODNESS) and someone with puppies which always brightens my mood.  I could have easily sat there for 20 minutes, but Kelsey kindly reminded me that I needed to move my ass so we could get this over with.  We were only halfway done.  Ugh.

After a quick out and back to a large, random, dirt hole (I don't know how else to describe it) we headed back down Big Daddy.  Because I am a running genius, I thought this would be the appropriate time to pour water on my head.  I didn't, however, tilt my head back far enough, and thus pushed sunscreen and sweat straight into my eyes.  Since we were already halfway down Big Daddy when it finally started to sting, I had no choice but to keep going, and keep my fingers crossed that I didn't misstep and fall down the side of this mountain, which probably would have hurt less than the sunscreen in my eyes.

After was seemed like a hot, never-ending eternity, we finished… and we weren't even the last ones.  It was at this point that Kelsey quietly mentioned to me that we actually ran almost 7 miles instead of 6.  Apparently our assistant coach was just as confused by the directions as I was, and we ran a little further than intended.  Had I known this while running, I would have definitely been whining about it the whole time, but since I found out afterwards?  Hell yeah!  That's the furthest I've ever run in one go in my LIFE!

Celebratory foam rolling!

To add to the celebration, I was also the winner of the 100 Friends; 100 Donations; 100 Hours challenge and raised a whopping $880 in a little over two days.  I couldn't believe it.  The outpour of support from so many corners of my life was incredible, including a handful of donations from people who barely know me, but were inspired by my efforts.  I don't know if I will ever get used to the rush of excitement and gratitude I feel whenever a donation is made towards my goal, especially because I know first hand that it is going to make such a huge impact.  It is the most glorious feeling and it makes the long, hot runs that much easier.

After the Rose Bowl Run (and surviving Big Daddy) I had a long moment of "I am so glad I took this chance."  Even when your job is to convince others that they can do this, its another ball game to put yourself into this position, especially when you are as out of shape as I was to start.  I was, and still am somewhat, plagued with worries - will I get injured? will I be unable to keep up? - but the teammates and now friends who I see each week have continually pushed me along and convinced me I will be just fine.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Lessons from the Road: "Should I buy underwear? Should I WEAR underwear?!"

  • "Tiny Dancer" by Elton John is not exactly the most motivating running music.
  • When you stop to take selfies while you're running, your neighbors will stare at you.
  • Chocolate Nut Brownie Luna Bars do not, in fact, taste anything like brownies.  They do, however, taste like tar.

Don't be fooled - this is actual industrial grade highway material.

  • Running is the only sport where I'm not only encouraged to wear a fanny pack, but people find me infinitely cooler because my hydration belt fanny pack is freakin' awesome.  I have found my people.
  • "I'm carb-loading" is the greatest excuse to eat whatever the hell you want.  No one will question that third pack of Skittles you ate in a 3pm staff meeting.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Run 2 - 4: do I really need a foam roller?

A big, heartfelt THANKYOUTHANKYOUTHANKYOU to everyone who has donated to my goal thusfar.  I am humbled to know you believe in me and know I can do this (as much as all of you have heard me say on more than one occasion, 'why the hell would I run?!') and it means the world to me.

I know, I know - I went to my first second third Team In Training practice and have only gotten to updating my blog today.  But that just means I have a lot to share, right?  Hooray!  (Are you excited?)

Our Disney/Nike team ready to get sweaty!

My first official TNT practice was filled with a lot of excited nerves.  Even though I've been on the 'welcome' side of these first practices many times before, its a whole other ball game when you're the one running, especially if you are naturally adverse to running to start.  I was surrounded by our coach, captains, mentors, alumni - all volunteers who are in this to convince me that I CAN actually run a half marathon and, ultimately, help cure cancer.  Pretty intimidating/impressive stuff, right?

Our first run was just a pace assessment.  It was HARD.  It was hot and sunny and there's a particular section of aptly named "the desert" where there is zero shade.  Going through the desert on a hot, cloudless day is probably how a basket of french fries feels under a heatlamp.  I definitely felt like a french fry after that first run - hot, salty and a little burned around the edges.

Based on my pace assessment, I am in the slower pace group.  Even at my current pace in that group, I should finish the Disneyland Half without having to get on the "sad" bus.  But more on that later.

The ladies in my group are all rockstars, and they are all here for different reasons.  There is the woman who's mother passed away from a blood cancer years ago, and she's taking on the hills at Nike in San Francisco for the 7th straight year.  There are two women who both have kids and are trying to lose weight.  As I start to chat up each person in my pace group and find out their reasons for being here, I also realize that many of them have the same concerns I do, like:
  • what should I eat before my run?
  • what should I eat after my run?
  • what kind of underwear should I buy? Should I even wear underwear?
  • and, if I drink a bottle of wine on a Friday night, can I use the empty bottle as a foam roller? (We're still discussing this one.)
It's nice to be in similar company and be able to ask my crazy questions with #nojudgement.  (No one is telling me if drinking a beer before a run is appropriate carb-loading, though.)

While I was out for my run today (my longest distance EVER, whatwhat) I thought about all of the wonderful, amazing, inspiring people who have helped me get to this place in my life.  I thought about how I wouldn't have the job I have now if I hadn't worked for Team In Training, and I wouldn't have so many amazing friends if I hadn't taken a chance and applied.  I thought about the perspective they have all given me; the stories of hope and heartache, of victories and setbacks, of staring at the clock not knowing if you'll see it turn again.  And then, I thought about the most sobering facts:

While I ran for 60 minutes today, approximately twenty people in the world were given a blood cancer diagnosis.  TWENTY PEOPLE.

While I ran for 60 minutes today, approximately six people lost their battle with blood cancer.  Someone's mom or dad, sister or brother, aunt or uncle, grandmother or grandfather, girlfriend, boyfriend, best friend, daughter, son.

I was celebrating the fact that I had run a great 4 miles and felt amazing afterwards, but I also remembered that I am doing this so that what happened while I was running no longer happens.  A lot can happen in an hour, and I am determined to take those options off the list.  Cancer ends with me, and it ends with you.  Even though today's run felt great, I am sure that there will be days that won't be so great.  Those are the days where I remember that I run because I can.  I run for those who can't.  I run because this is one of the best excuses to get up early on a Saturday morning - to cover ground and raise a ton of money and do my part in curing cancer.

You can help, too.

Run(s): 2-4
Total Mileage to Date: 27.53 mi

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Run 1: lesson in heat, part 1

I got fitted for my first pair of running shoes yesterday - the first rite of passage for any runner.  It was an added bonus that all of the shoes I had to choose from came in great colors.

I swear, I didn't plan this.
Los Angeles is on the end of a heat wave (90+ temps this past week) and yesterday was no exception.  While I was running on the treadmill so the guys at Runnergy could watch my gait, I definitely broke a sweat.  I'd like to blame it on the heat wave, but the truth is I haven't run in MONTHS, so once I decided on a pair (Sauconys, repping the East Coast - woo woo!) I also decided I'd get up this morning and go for a run.  A short run.  REAL short.

Since I haven't run in months, I decided easing into it with Active's Couch-to-5k app would be the best option to get used to the habit of running.  I realized I could run RunKeeper to track my progress, Couch-to-5k for the play-by-play coaching, and FitRadio (a non-stop playlist) all at the same time, so off I went.  An easy 30 minutes of alternating between jogging and walking.  Easy, right?


By 10:15 this morning it was already in the mid to high 70's and, considering I sweat laying on the couch, I hadn't even made it through my warm up walk before I was ready to jump in the pool.  I kept reminding myself that I was only running for a half an hour and I could make it through half an hour of sweating, but the first mile was rough.  In the past, running any length of time has caused a burning sensation in my calves and almost always shin splints, but after a good 2 or 3 minutes that totally eased away.  Could it be because I'm in proper shoes?  (Answer: tentative yes.)

By the time I started my last jog, I actually felt like this running thing wasn't that terrible.  Sure, I was a little out of breath, and I was definitely sweating like I had run a marathon, and I really just wanted to stop and eat a cheeseburger, but it wasn't THAT bad.

I definitely yelled a victory whoop when I saw this (and then got a really weird stare from one of my neighbors):
Definitely my favorite part of running.
Total run was 2.25 miles over roughly 34 minutes.  With an average pace of 15 mi per minute, I have a loooong way to go.  But this run wasn't that bad, and might I even say, mildly enjoyable?

Sweaty, but smiling!

One run down.  Many, many more to go.

Run: 1
Mileage: 2.25 mi
Total time: 34:23 min
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