“America’s Friendliest Marathon”, Anthem Richmond Marathon 2013

This weekend I ran the Anthem Marathon in Richmond, Virginia.  It was my last race of the year, and one I signed up for on a whim when a American Odyssey Race (AOR) teammate told me, “It’s what all the cool kids were doing this year.”  I am so weak when it comes to “runner peer pressure”! Ha!  I had told myself I wasn’t going to run a marathon this year, since I spent all of 2012 painfully recovering from a torn plantar fascia and the marathon distance had always intimidated me to begin with.  I had only ran two marathons, was not nearly consistent enough with my training either time, hit the wall hard during both races (Between mile 16-18). Then agonizingly limped the rest of the way to the finish line, with disappointing finishing times of 4:51:59 (2011 Shamrock Marathon) and 4:55:53 (2011 Marine Corps Marathon).  Not that a five hour marathon isn’t respectable; crossing the finish line of a 26.2 mile race is an accomplishment in itself!  I just knew I had cheated myself in my training, suffered unnecessarily through both races; which had let “the marathon” get into my head like a big, school yard bully.

Soooo, am I a gluten for punishment?  Actually yes, that is a very real possibility! However, by the time I ran the AOR in April, I had six solid months of 30-35 mile weekly base mileage under my belt and was feeling stronger than ever.  I looked up the Anthem Richmond Marathon, which boasts of being “America’s Friendliest Marathon”.   According to reviews it’s a small race, with a relatively flat course, beautiful scenery, and great support.  That AND all of the cool kids were running it this year….so I was sold!  I started ramping up my weekend miles, and six weeks later I started a 20 week intermediate training program I found online at “Cool Running”:

(http://www.coolrunning.com/engine/2/2_4/128.shtml)

To be 100% honest, I was not perfect during training.  I still missed a few scheduled training runs, and my nutrition fell short more often than not, but I was CONSISTENT.  On my worst weeks, I still ran four days, and I NEVER missed a long run or a speed-work day.  I decided to peak at 20 miles, which I kept repeating as the long run until it was time to taper.  I ran my last 20 miler on the C&O canal in 2:59:59.  I was stoked and felt confident that I could meet my goal this year of beating the 4 hour clock in Richmond!

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(After my last 20 mile training run, beat but feeling strong and confident).

Danny, Ilana, and I drove down to Richmond the night before the marathon.  I felt nervous, but focused on pushing out all of the negative thoughts and doubts that tried to creep into my head.  Like questioning whether I trained enough, wondering if I would just hit a wall again in spite of the training, thinking I MAYBE I over-did the whole carb loading thing…(Actually there was no maybe about the last one.   I managed to eat enough pasta and bread over the three days prior to the race to gain an impressive, and glutenous 6 lbs! Moderation is not my strong suite! Lol)  I enjoyed a nice dinner with Danny and Lana in the hotel, worked out last minute logistics, and spent the rest of the night relaxing and mediating on the next days race.

I didn’t get much sleep, but I sprung out of bed at 4 am and began my pre-race routine.  Slathering myself with body glide, getting dressed, eating a light breakfast, drinking coffee, and praying to have a good poop before the race.  I know that is probably TMI, and women aren’t supposed to poop and all, but seriously, that is my #1 pre-race anxiety!  I’ve had some horrible experiences with the trots, and it is a the #1 guaranteed way to totally ruin my day!  Oh sorry….moving on! Lol  Danny was up with me at 4, we had everything packed, and woke up Lana at 5 am to check out of the hotel and drive to down-town Richmond to find parking within reasonable walking distance of the starting line.  Ilana was not a happy camper, asking, “Who in the world gets up at 5 in the morning! On a Saturday!”  (The answer to that incredibly valid question….runners do!)  She was a good sport about it though!

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Early morning in downtown Richmond with my awesome daughter Ilana.

We finally found parking around 6:30, and spent some time relaxing in the car.  At this point it was pouring down rain and I started to get butterflies in my stomach again.  I got a text message from Theresa, the AOR teammate who had started all of this back in April (cool kids, huh?), letting me know she was meeting up with some of her other running buddies in the lobby of The Omni hotel.  We headed that way so I could wish Theresa good luck in her first marathon (she’s amazing!) and so I could hopefully find an unofficial pace group.  I lucked out, and found three people to run with.  Danny and Lana hugged me, and wished me luck, as I rushed with my new running friends to strategically place ourselves in the starting coral.  It had stopped raining at this point, but my shoes were all ready a little damp.

The whole experience of being lined up for another marathon was so surreal (really, what was I thinking?!) I didn’t hear the “gun go off”, but I saw other runners moving forward, so I did the same.  I talked with my new running friends and was completely oblivious to the fact that I was running, as we passed a blur of impressive buildings, statues, water, and bridges.  The next thing I knew, we had ran 8 miles and were turning into a park.  The next 7 miles we ran along side the James River, which was absolutely stunning.  I was 15 miles in, and still feeling strong.  There were plenty of spectators cheering us on, live music, and water stops every two miles.  It was so much fun it was easy to forget you were even running a marathon.

This is when I realized, we were on pace for a 3:38 marathon finish.  It had started raining again and I was starting to feel pain creeping into my thighs, so I decided I had to slow down.  My goal was to beat 4 hours, and I did not want to crash and burn.  I watched my friends disappear into the distance.  I entertained myself by taking in the scenery and absorbing the energy of the crowd, and by chatting with other runners along the course.  I was soaked from the rain, with my shoes squishing and starting to rub my feet.  Also, my running pants, which were too big to beging with, were feeling incredibly heavy.  I was starting to feel annoyed, wishing I could just take off my pants and run free in the wind.  I forced myself not to think about the wet, squishy, heaving clothes and focused on other things.  When I passed the 20 mile marker with a split of  2:49:15, I had the biggest grin across my face, because at this point I knew I was going to make my goal!  😀

I felt myself getting more sluggish, wanting to slow down, between miles 20-22.  It wasn’t “the wall”, I had just reached a point in the race where it didn’t feel “easy” any more.  At mile 22 the agony began, and the fight I had with myself for the last 4.2 miles was apparent in my final splits.  While the first 20 miles were ran at a steady pace of around 8:30 per mile; I ran my final miles alternating 9:30 and 10:30 splits.  I dug deep and just focused on keeping my arms moving to propel myself forward, determined not to “blow it” when I only had a couple miles left to go.  The final mile felt just as long as the 25.2 that I ran before it.  I was conjuring up everything I had (and more than I thought I had) to keep myself moving forward.  On a side note (and maybe an interesting topic for a future blog) It’s very strange the places your mind goes when you are in that much pain!  It’s actually a pretty spiritual experience!  I turned the corner to run the final half mile, down hill, with spectators cheering on their friends and loved ones from either side of the street.  Half way to the finish line I hear voices call out on my right, “Kristine!”….”Mommy!”  I look over and see Danny and Lana smiling and waving at me.  I realized they both looked genuinely excited and proud of me.  (Talk about a humbling experience)  Ilana is jumping up and down, laughing.  At that moment, I forget about all the pain, I grin and wave back at both of them, then “sprint” to the finish line.  (Well, it felt like a sprint, looking at the pictures after the fact, not quite sure what I was doing.  I looked quite possibly possessed!  Lol) I look at the clock as I pass over the finish line, 3:50:24!  I beat my previous PR by over an hour and achieved my goal of running a sub 4 hour marathon!  And I got to share it with two of the most important people in my life! It doesn’t get any better than that!

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Happy to see Danny and Ilana cheering me on.  Their support was amazing and meant the world to me!

Running Mindfully and Injury Free (Chi Running)

Yesterday my boyfriend took me to a Chi running clinic taught by Mark Lawrence (Member and former president of the Steeple Chasers) at the William R. Talley Rec center in downtown Frederick, MD.  It is wonderful having someone in my life who not only tolerates my obsession for running, but supports and encourages it! 😉  He heard about the Chi running technique from his younger brother, who is an avid enthusiast.  Chi running was founded by Danny Dreyer, who began teaching this “injury free” running technique in San Francisco back in 1999.  I have to admit I was skeptical, because I come from the old school mindset of running with your natural form and stride.  If a runner happens to run with pigeon toes and arms flapping wildly in the air like Phoebe in the episode of friends when she goes running in the Central Park, and embarrasses, Rachael, so be it!  Don’t mess with it nature man!  Interestingly enough, that was one of the first remarks Mark made regarding skeptics of the Chi running technique as he began his clinic.  He said, “By that logic, when a tennis player picks up a racket for the first time, how ever they naturally swing it is right, and should not be adjusted.”  Well I guess when you put it that way….admittedly my logic was flawed.  My interest was piqued and I decided to keep an open mind for the rest of the afternoon.

We officially began the instruction portion of the clinic with each of the eight students awkwardly running in circles around the small aerobics room.  Mark observed us as he deliberately scribbled notes, critiquing individual running techniques.  I was curious to see what he had written about me, a veteran runner, on his mystery clipboard.  I had no delusions about the fact that there were things I could improve with my running form, I just never had an experienced runner critique me before and my inner perfectionist thrives on constructive criticism.

After watching each of us run, he began teaching the basics of Chi running.  We did a series of drills focused on posture (lifting from the crown with abs engaged), forward lean (1-3 inches), maintaining 180 bpm cadence with arm swing, and running from the core.  Mark also discussed running shoes, and advocated for minimalist running shoes since the elevated heel on “stability” rated shoes encourages heel strike and improper running form.  He also discussed stretches and exercises (lunges, yoga poses,push-ups, planks, and pendulums) that would improve our running and minimize our risk for common overuse injuries.  Some of the drills felt ridiculous, but as the clinic progressed we began to loosen up.  We laughed at how silly we looked power walking with 180 bpm cadence and arm swing, with our hips rotating wildly in front of the rec center.

At the end of the four hour clinic, we were put to the test.  Again we each were asked to run our laps, one at a time, while Mark did his second evaluation of our running form.  This time when we completed our laps, he told us what improvements we made during the clinic and what we still had to work on.  I was told at the beginning of the class I wasn’t using my arms at all, was running with loose/sloppy posture, and not utilizing a forward lean.  I had successfully made those minor adjustments (with a great deal of conscious effort at this point), and it significantly changed how my running felt.  My feet sounded lighter, I did not feel the impact from the ground shooting through my knees and lower back, and my legs felt like they were moving effortlessly.  While mentally working much harder, running in this form felt like I was floating.

Today I put these new techniques to the test when I went out for a 10 mile run on the C&O canal (my last long taper run before running the Richmond Marathon).  It definitely required a great deal of mental effort.  I played with different degrees of lean as I made my way down the trail.  At one inch of lean I felt my weight centered over my arches, at two inches of lean I felt my weight centered over the balls of my feet, and at three inches of lean I felt my toes beginning to grip the ground as I propelled myself forward.  When I began to feel tension building between my shoulder blades I focused on my posture and lifting from the crown.  When I started to feel impact in my knees going down hills, I bent my knees more.  When I felt myself starting to slow down, I leaned forward more and focused on my arm swing, pushing my elbows back behind me faster with my legs simply following behind them.  Because I was having to concentrate so hard on my form throughout my run, the 10 miles flew by and I got back to my car feeling invigorated and refreshed.  Then I looked down at my Garmin running watch and realized I had just ran 10 miles in 1:20:20.  My previous 10 mile PR (in a road race) was 1:21:01.  I was completely shocked!  Wow, maybe there is something to this Chi running thing! It will definitely require a lot of practice and focus to master this technique, but I am sold on the idea of mindful Chi running.  If anyone else is interested in learning about Chi running, there are books out there, but I also recommend taking Mark Lawrence’s Chi running clinic if you live in the Maryland area.  He is extremely knowledgeable and dedicated in sharing his love of running with others.  I encourage other runners to at least check out Chi running and to keep an open mind.

http://www.chirunning.com/

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Self-Propel-LLC/477166535644119

Running is Cheaper than Therapy

I have an obsession for running that is on a level that some find inspiring, and just as many find irritating.  On almost a daily basis I am bombarding my friends through social media with posts gushing about my  “blissful morning runs”, providing mid-race status updates, posting pictures of my newest running shoes, and sending shout outs to friends who are registered for the same races as me.  Step one of twelve for individuals suffering from addiction is recognizing that they have a problem, so this blog is me staging an intervention with myself!  I am  starting this blog as a less intrusive outlet to express my love of all things “runny” or “runny related”.  Those who are interested are invited to be voyeurs, all though my antics will never be as exciting as those with more self-destructive vices.

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Ilana and I after her first 5K (2013 Twighlight 5K in Frederick MD).