2016 Running Year in Review

It’s easy at the end of the year to really get caught up on the last racing season. When I put together this year’s running stats, I came in to it with a bit of a pessimistic attitude. My mileage isn’t its highest ever. How could it be when last year was a gradual buildup toward Comrades and I took the month of June quite easy? I dealt with a bum hip in the middle of the year and again near the end, and I still didn’t break 3:00 in the marathon. But I came out mostly unscathed. This year, despite running like an idiot for about six weeks in the spring, I even ended up with PRs in several distances. I’m 33, so running faster is not getting any easier. That tells me I’m getting smarter, maybe. Or lucky.

Maybe a better way to look at this year’s training is see how I did with the goals I set last year. Ready?

2016 health resolutions revisited

  1. Goal: Strengthen and stretch
    Grade: A!
    I stretch, foam roll and do 10 to 12 minutes of planks nearly every day. I also discovered the magic of a lacrosse ball and sports massage every six to eight weeks.
  2. Arrive at the Comrades starting line healthy
    Grade: D-
    Damn I really didn’t listen to my January self on this one. Wise December 2015 Amanda said, “This might mean not running junk miles in April and May when I most want to bask in the spring running weather.” Guess who raced a whole bunch in May and decided she needed to run a 35-mile long run the week after Boston? And who arrived on the starting line at Comrades unsure if she was going to be able to even run a single mile downhill because she had the beginning of a labral tear?
  3. Take easy runs easy
    Grade: B
    Solid B here because I stopped calling 7:30 an easy pace. For me, “easy” doesn’t just mean I can hold a conversation. It means my heart rate is around 130 bpm. Running easy is hard. I got better at slowing down and listening to my body this year, but there’s room for improvement.
  4. Sub-3 for the marathon and sub-10 at Comrades
    Grade: C
    Well, I ran a 9:31 at Comrades, so there’s that.
  5. Continue with steady mileage
    Grade: B
    Most of my training weeks were consistent. No major mileage jumps except when I was coming back from injury. Plus I forced myself to run fewer miles than I wanted to in the weeks following my fall marathons.

Stats

Some shit I won that I threw away after I took this photo
Some stuff I won that I threw away after I took this photo. Here’s a picture for posterity.
  • Total distance: 4,150 miles
  • Total miles raced: 293.96
  • Marathons raced: five
    • Walt Disney World (Goofy Challenge) Marathon (3:37:46)
    • Boston (3:26:52)
    • Pocatello (3:03:11)
    • Chicago (3:03:59)
    • New York City (3:15)
  • Ultramarathons raced: two
    • Cowtown 50K (3:53:40)
    • Comrades Marathon – 56 miles (9:31:20)
  • First female awards: 1st female PVTC By George 10K (45:08), 1st print female ACLI Capital Challenge (18:47), 1st female Seashore Five-Mile Run (33:26), 1st female Gar Williams Half Marathon (1:26:49)

Top five runs

Looked back through the Strava log for this one. This is a combination of runs where I had fun and emotionally fulfilling stuff.

  1. Wedding day run: Imagine running around Lake Tahoe with your closest friends on your wedding day. Dressed in a cutesy outfit! I used this as my long run. It wasn’t fast. It wasn’t supposed to be fast. It was fun. And given that I wasn’t sure I would even run on my wedding day a few months before, the fact that it felt amazing was even better.
  2. Cowtown Ultramarathon: I wrote about this already, but perfectly executed races don’t come easily. I hit my goal pace dead on, and I hit the finish line with almost nothing left. Recovery was great after the race, even. For me, running  a road 50K so well let me know I could complete Comrades.
  3. 18 miles after injury: I didn’t write much about my labral tear because there wasn’t really a good time to write about it. At no point was I positive it was actually going to go away. I thought I would turn a corner and have it feel amazing after some rest. But the next day, I would have a familiar pulling, aching feeling. Here’s a summary of that injury and why I put this random 18-miler on the list. The aching in my hip started in early May after my longest training run ahead of Comrades. Then I tried to will my way through two short races in May ahead of going to South Africa. Hell, I PR’ed at those races. My fitness was there. I could tell in the week heading to Comrades that something still wasn’t right. My easy runs felt labored. I freaked out when faced with a 15-hour flight where I wouldn’t be able to stand up. I sprung for business class seats. I ran Comrades on a combination of hopes, dreams, adrenaline and willpower. When I got home, I kept my ten-mile Tuesday streak alive and pounded out that run the day we landed. It wasn’t pretty. In the middle of this, I drafted a blog post about the month of June and how it was going to be an easy month. In that post, I made some resolutions about pool running and not running too many miles and listening to my body. I got better at listening to my hip. The next time the hip started talking to me was in September right before Chicago. I listened. I cut my long run and went out the next day. That helped. This 18-miler did not hurt. It took me about a month of easing back in to running to get to this point. I can’t explain how happy I was that day.
  4. ACLI cooldown: For the past three or four years, I’ve come in first print female in the ACLI Capital Challenge. This year I swear there was a woman with a media bib ahead of me. I shrugged it off and said better luck next year and trotted off for my cooldown. I was coming down a bridge on my cooldown run and heard the faintest, “Amanda Hicks?” over a loudspeaker. Then I saw a tiny dot of Meb waving his hands and shrugging his shoulders. I sprinted down the hill. Meb said, “Oh there she is!” and handed me the award.
  5. Epic 35-miler: Alright. Even though it might have led to an injury, I got to run with so many friends and fun people. The pacing on this run was great, and the fueling was perfect. This run, more than the 50K, gave me the confidence I needed to run Comrades and take fuel appropriately.

    35-mile training run through DMV
    35-mile training run through DMV

Best running discoveries

  1. Jasyoga: In the last month, I’ve added Jasyoga as part of my daily or every-other-day recovery routine. Just a few minutes a day of doing this in addition to the planks and strength training I was doing before has made me less stiff and more centered.
  2. Takumi Sens: Found some new racing flats and bought a whole bunch before they discontinue them. Thanks, Paul Karlsen!
  3. Nikki and Katy: I had been a pretty solitary runner before this year. Starting in late 2015, I got to run some great miles with Nikki, who pushed me to hit my MP splits, and in early 2016, I met Katy, who Strava tells me I ran 48 hours with! That’s two days! I still consider myself a bit of a lone wolf, but I really love ticking off miles with these two.
  4. Hot Hands: Nikki introduced me to Hot Hands, and I don’t know why my hands were so stupid cold before. Why did I use two pairs of gloves when I could have put these nifty packets into my gloves?
  5. Overnight oats: Pinterest has a million recipes for overnight oats. I prefer mine with unsweetened almond coconut milk, chia seeds, Sun Warrior protein powder and maybe some dried berries. My poops have never been more regular.

2017 health resolutions

  1. Take easy runs easy: The next day’s run is better if I run slower than I think I should the day before. When the training plan says easy, I run easy. Period. Also, I need to continue to listen to my body. If something hurts, I need to stop. Missing one run isn’t a big deal, as much as my Type A, OCD self says it is.
  2. Continue with steady mileage: My training has gone best when I’ve kept my mileage consistent with a down week every four or five weeks. With a long training block leading up to Boston, consistent mileage is going to be key.
  3. Race strategically: I am promising myself to not sign up for another spring marathon. I injured myself worst when I raced far too often last May. This year, I am going to take a long look at my calendar before adding any random pickup races. And I’m planning on maybe just one fall marathon. Gasp!
  4. Whittle down my marathon pace: I plan to run marathon pace workouts at 6:45 instead of 6:52. I was locked in to 6:52 for a while, so this is going to take some work. I need to get used to going a little faster than the absolute minimum so I don’t have to worry about tangents for that sub-3 attempt in the spring.
Year Mileage Avg./Day Avg./Week
2010 2,492.5 6.83 47.93
2011 2,653 7.27 51.02
2012 3,136.5 8.57 60.32
2013 3,328.5 9.12 64.01
2014 3,968 10.87 76.31
2015 4,371.3 11.98 84.06
2016 4,150 11.34 79.81

Of running 40 marathons and resting

The marathon is my favorite distance. You start off feeling good, amazed that you can run so far at the pace you’ve dreamed about. The pain and fatigue set in at some point. You know that going in. And you hope that point is late. But you know it will happen. It’s a metaphor for lots of things in life. You go all in, but you know it might not work, but you still, foolishly, give it your best shot.

The training is a metaphor. You get out what you put in. Or if you put in too much because you love it and you are worried you aren’t doing enough or don’t recover well enough, you get hurt. You learn to deal with the hurt. Dealing with the hurt makes you stronger and smarter. It teaches you to not get hurt that way again.

When I started training to run my first marathon about nine years ago, I didn’t think about any of these things. I thought about running a long way and trying to hold a pace for 26.2 miles. I didn’t know the pain of mile 24 or what hitting the wall feels like. I didn’t stretch or strength train or do speed work. But I had a damn good time running that first marathon. I knew this distance was the one for me. I was sad I couldn’t race it more often.

My 40th marathon was not anything special. It was not in a foreign country or a race I hadn’t run before. It wasn’t particularly fast or memorable. It came as the third marathon in 11 weeks to end a strong fall marathon season. It was damn fun, but it all kind of blurred together.

New York City 2016
New York City 2016

I had restarted training after Comrades in June unsure if my hip would let me run more than a few miles at a time. With grit and some legitimate cross training and strength work, I’d been able to build up a lot of mileage over the past four months. I set PRs in the five-mile and 10K along the way. The smart runner in me says I need (deserve?) some downtime. If I am ever going to break 3:00, I need to put in a good, long block of training. The stubborn runner says downtime is dumb.

But. I just finished my 40th marathon. I am not dumb, most of the time. I’ve learned that rest and recovery are sometimes more important than the training itself. November is for turkey trotting and a bit of resting. I will run for fun and run for me. I’ll enjoy that I have come so far, relatively unscathed, and I’ll set my sights on 2017.

First marathon throwback
First marathon throwback: Madison, Wisc., in 2008

2015 Running Year in Review

Again, this year was my highest-mileage year yet. I set PRs in marathon, half marathon, 3-mile, 5K and two new ultramarathon distances. And I ran in the Cherry Blossom 10-miler on pace to set a PR if the course hadn’t been cut short. I know these kinds of gains won’t continue forever, and the gains I’m seeing right now are incremental compared to the leaps I’ve seen for the past five or so years. I was injured once with a hamstring strain and can chalk that up to running like an idiot. I just looked over my training log, and damn it if I wasn’t consistent. Again, I ran every day and kept up my 10-mile Tuesday streak for the fifth year straight. I made some resolutions last year, but I sucked at keeping them. By March, I’d forgotten most of what I’d planned, but I still managed to run well.

Dec. 27 in D.C. looks like this. Too humid for a shirt after about six miles.

A post shared by amandahi (@amandahi) on

Stats

  • Total distance: 4,371.3 miles
  • Total miles raced: 277.92
  • Marathons raced: four
    • Austin (3:16:40)
    • Boston (3:01:26)
    • Big Sur (3:15:36)
    • Hartford (3:14:01)
  • Ultramarathons raced: two
    • The March 50K, actually 33.25 miles (5:09:28)
    • Stone Mill 50-miler (10:22:47)
  • First female awards: 1st female High Cloud Snapple Half Marathon (1:29:09), 1st print female ACLI Capital Challenge (18:59), 1st female The March 50K (5:09:28), 1st female Teddy Roosevelt 5K (19:55), 1st female Christmas Spirit Classic V 5K (19:34)

Top five runs

Last year I had a tough time coming up with five runs. I had the top three, but the rest were a little meh. This year, I had a hard time narrowing down this list to just five. This was a big year for scenic, fun runs. Wow.

  1. Forest Park proposal run: Some dude proposed to me on a run this year, guys! Michael and I run a lot of trails together. We run long together. We know the drill with the fueling and the GU and the probable getting lost. Even in new places, we kind of go with the flow and expect the runs might not go as planned. This run in Portland felt different. We’d never been to Forest Park before, so we took the light rail to the bus to somewhere close to the park. This was supposed to be a 24-mile trail run, but the significant ups and downs quickly told us otherwise. Around 10 miles in, Michael started saying he wanted his GU in a little while and that we needed to stop soon. He never broadcasts when he’ll take his GU. A mile later he said I needed to remind him to stop. OK? Then he stopped near a bench. I took a panorama of the forest because it was damn beautiful. I turned around to see him down on one knee. It was a short run. It was the best run.
  2. Ophir Creek to Flume Trail: After Portland, we went to Tahoe. Two of my favorite runs are from our week here. This is one of those runs where we spent 15 minutes taking pictures. We cheated by having my mom drop us off at the start and then running back downhill to Incline Village. I love this run so much, I’ll be doing it on my wedding morning.
    IMG_4945
  3. To the top of Squaw: We gained almost 3,000 feet in this run. Also busted my elbow wide open and didn’t care at all. I don’t know if my smile could be any bigger in this photo. Tee hee. You can’t even see where we came from down there.
    IMG_4799
  4. Boston Marathon: The weather sucked, but I ran the fastest marathon I’ve ever run. And I was smart about not going out too fast. This result is what is keeping me going toward that sub-3 goal.
  5. Tennessee Valley Trail: The shortest run on this list but the most beautiful one. It was a simple five-miler in the Marin Headlands with the ocean in the middle. This was the kind of run I should have been doing all week in San Francisco between Boston and Big Sur instead of the crazy running I was doing.
    IMG_3163

Best running discoveries

Trigger point massage: I now sit on top of a tennis ball some evenings and wait for the muscles in my ass to loosen. I make noises no human should make, but man, you wouldn’t believe how good that release can feel.

Salt tabs: My coach got me hooked on salt tabs when I was wiped after my first 50K training run. For my first 50-miler, they brought me back from the dead several times, and they helped power me through a few longer training runs.

HOKAs for recovery runs: Every shoe can’t be a lightweight racing flat or a midweight almost racing flat. Every run can’t be a trail run or a speed workout. HOKAs are perfect for slower runs where I need a bit more cushion. They slow me down a bit and remind me to straighten up. I’m trying to get better at engaging my core when I run, and the Cliftons seem to help with that.

Chamois Butt’r: I tried out about five different anti-chafe products this summer when I was spending three or four hours sweating and had trouble with red marks on my sports bra and shorts lines. This product seems to work best. It’s a cream, so it absorbs better for me.

2016 health resolutions

  1. Strengthen and stretch: I’ll continue to develop core strength and strengthen my glutes. Compared to last year, I do at least 200 percent more strengthening and stretching every week. When I don’t do it, my legs feel tight, and my form breaks down. I guess this is what getting older and being smarter feels like.
  2. Arrive at the Comrades starting line healthy: This might mean not running junk miles in April and May when I most want to bask in the spring running weather. When I came to the Boston starting line healthy, I ran a PR. The Boston taper was the best taper I’ve ever had.
  3. Take easy runs easy: The next day’s run is better if I run slower than I think I should the day before. When the training plan says easy, I run easy. Period.
  4. Sub-3 for the marathon and sub-10 at Comrades: I’m putting time goals on my resolution list. I know I can pull off a sub-3 if I let the marathon come to me instead of getting worked up before the race. It’s a mental issue. I have no problem putting in the work for this time goal, but I need to concentrate on staying calm during the taper and before the race. And gosh, I should be able to run a 50-mile PR on the road if the weather cooperates.
  5. Continue with steady mileage: I don’t want to set a mileage goal for next year. Something like what I ran in 2015 is probably reasonable. If I can continue to run healthy and stay consistent, I’ll be happy. Looking back over the past six years of running logs, my biggest strength has been consistency. I see big gains when I put in hard work balanced with easy days. I’d love to keep that up.
    Year Mileage Avg./Day Avg./Week
    2010 2,492.5 6.83 47.93
    2011 2,653 7.27 51.02
    2012 3,136.5 8.57 60.32
    2013 3,328.5 9.12 64.01
    2014 3,968 10.87 76.31
    2015 4,371.3 11.98 84.06

50K race fail

Scanning through my recent posts here, it might seem as though nothing has gone right with my training or racing. I didn’t meet my 3:00 marathon goal in the fall, I pulled a hamstring and dropped out of Marine Corps, I had an awful trail training run where I sobbed and fell down a bunch of times, I busted my knee at Stone Mill. But really it’s easy to take the good days and great outcomes for granted. Just now I hunkered down with a jar of peanut butter and a sour expression to try to write through the shitty experience I had this morning. (I’ll get to that in a bit.) But before I do that, I’m going to list 10 things that have gone well lately. My problem is because I turn to writing to vent about a bad race or a terrible injury, this blog ends up looking like a list of failures. I’m actually improving! And in reality, things are not bad.

  1. I ran my 4,000th mile of the year. Already! My goal for 2015 was to run 4,000 miles, which is just slightly more than the 3,968 I logged last year. I blew through that goal on Dec. 1.
  2. I set a 5K PR (19:24) last week. It was 12 days after my 50-miler.
  3. My hamstring is pretty much healed. I haven’t had significant hamstring pain since before Stone Mill. The injury forced me to take a few easy weeks and slow down. There are worse things. Plus I am taking more time to strengthen and stretch because I’m more mindful of the hamstring.
  4. We booked our hotel and trip to South Africa. Comrades is starting to get real!
  5. My recovery after Stone Mill went as well as I could imagine. I didn’t overdo it for once! The first day was a little rougher than after a hard marathon. After that, I recovered in the same way I do for a hard marathon effort. A week after Stone Mill, I was back to running a steady 7:35 pace. On Thursday, my steady pace was down to 7:17.
  6. I’ve returned to feeling great running roads. In preparing for trail racing, I neglected road running a bit. Now I’m remembering how great it feels to glide along and not worry about my footing.
  7. We’re about a month away from the Disney races, and I have two great costumes lined up. And I’m not too concerned about times there, so it’s going to be a great vacation too.
  8. My diet has stayed remarkably not awful during the first few holiday weeks. I’m trying to cut down on sweets until I have my aunt’s chocolate pie on Christmas Eve. With less sugar, I’ve been able to maintain a pretty steady weight.
  9. I have a great week of running planned for my trip home to Dallas.
  10. I have two fun holiday races coming up: a holiday lights fun run in two weeks and a 5K in my hometown on Christmas Eve.

OK. That’s all great. But today I royally bombed a 50K. I signed up for a trail 50K kind of on a lark a few weeks ago as I was recovering from Stone Mill. And the problem today was not that I hadn’t recovered. It was that I haven’t taken care of myself this week. Our neighbors have thrown late-night parties twice this week — on Wednesday and Friday. They’re so loud we can’t block out the noise with our normal tricks like shutting the door or turning up the air for white noise. They’re the loudest they’ve ever been. That means I got five hours of sleep, maybe, for two nights this week. And on Thursday night, I was up half the night with awful cramps. My workday Friday had me moving to a new building and having one of the all-time worst workdays. I lost my key fob on the first day in the new building and managed to lock myself in an elevator well. Then I got more crap sleep on Friday night because of the partiers.

Maybe planning to run the 50K on a somewhat technical course I already know I hate wasn’t the best idea in the first place. I knew I was tired going in. I gave myself an out. Told myself I would be happy with 20. What I was not happy with was the terrible stomach cramps I had around mile 4 that had me dry heaving behind a tree at mile 5 so people would stop asking if I was OK and then cursing under my breath as I returned to the start at a jog. Not even a jog. A stagger. My planned “50K/maybe 20 miles is OK” became “10 will have to do” and then on the way home when I realized I’d been driving for longer than I ran, it became “fuck it all I’m going to pound the steering wheel and cry at this gas station goddammit I’m exhausted.” The only bright side to this one is I didn’t have any pain at all. I feel like I didn’t run. So I’m going to try for a low-key long run tomorrow on roads.

When things don’t go as planned, I lose my shit. Really. I have to get better at letting things go. If I don’t feel great, I shouldn’t feel bad for giving myself an out. There’s no reason to push through something if you aren’t feeling it. At least that’s what I would tell someone else.

No more trail races for a while. I don’t know why I thought this one would go well, given the week I’ve had and the disdain I have for trails. Roads, stupid.

Fail.
Fail.

2014 Running Year in Review

This year was my highest-mileage year so far. I set 10K, half marathon and marathon personal records, I made it through a celiac disease scare, and I started treating food as fuel. I even was stung by a bee and kept up a quick pace to finish my 20-miler in all kinds of pain. I’ll count 2014 as my best running year yet, but I know I have a ton of work and bigger plans in store for 2015.

Stats

  • Total distance: 3,968 miles
  • Marathons: four
    • Rock ‘n’ Roll USA (3:07:09)
    • Boston (3:11:28)
    • St. George (3:02:21)
    • Marine Corps (3:16:26)
  • Age group awards: 2nd Female 30-34 in Rock ‘n’ Roll USA, 2nd Female in Roosevelt Run 5K, 1st Female 30-34 in Erie Half Marathon, 1st Female 30-34 in Battlefield Half Marathon

awards

Top five runs

  1. Paris in the Bois de Vincennes: Imagine losing yourself in a prototypical Parisian park on a beautiful late summer day. Michael and I ran along the Seine to get to the park and realized my planned 14-miler would have to end unless we could navigate our way back using the Metro. We took a (good) gamble and put in another eight miles in the Bois de Vincennes park. The park had enough trails, roads and even wood-chip paths for many more miles.
  2. Boston Marathon: This year’s Boston was particularly emotional after the 2013 bombings. The spectators came out in full force, and running it helped put an emotional bookend on the events of that day.

    Wild Rivers Recreation Area
    Wild Rivers Recreation Area
  3. St. George Marathon: Any time you can shave five minutes off a marathon PR is a good running day. St. George is a beautiful race that I highly recommend to anyone looking to set a PR and enjoy beautiful scenery.
  4. Catoctin Mountain Park: A simple 10-mile loop we read about in Run Washington turned out to be one of the most challenging, punishing runs of the year. I loved it, even though giant bugs kept swarming Michael and me as we ran.
  5. Wild Rivers Recreation Area: In May I found myself running on the roads right before a massive wind and rainstorm in a random recreation area in the middle of New Mexico. I was able to stop to look down in to the Red River gorge. I saw no other runners — no other people except one elderly couple in their RV.

Best running discoveries

  1. Caramel macchiato GU: This flavor of GU makes me look forward to fueling mid-run. It tastes like coffee and caramel and sex, unless it’s frozen. Then it tastes like caramel.Caramel macchiato GU
  2. Beet juice: I read a book by Matt Fitzgerald that recommended beet juice before races to help improve performance. It seems to work pretty well, though the placebo effect might be in effect a little bit. Either way, I’ve incorporated beet juice and smoothies into my diet this year, and I’ve noticed myself feeling fuller longer.
  3. Oiselle Scantron bra: I’ve slowly swapped out my old sports bras for this model. It provides just the right amount of support for a smaller-chested lady like me, and it doesn’t chafe on my chest. That’s what I want from a bra.
  4. Strava: If you’re not on Strava — either the free or paid version — you should be. Strava’s most impressive feature is its segment tracking. I can tell how I’m trending on segments and courses I run often. It also lets you compete against other runners for course records.


Full video: on Strava

2015 health resolutions

  1. Hire a coach: Having a coach in the new year will be huge for me. I’ll say more on this in the next few weeks. I have big goals with Boston 2 Big Sur, breaking 3 in the marathon and running my first ultra, and I think a coach can help me get there.
  2. Listen to my body more and play the long game: In my 90- and 100-mile weeks, I typically push pain aside. I need to remember that I’m going to be a runner for the rest of my life. My body needs to last a while. I should remember to work in recovery weeks with high-mileage weeks. For every three up weeks, I need a legitimate down week.
  3. Eat fewer sweets: Ugh. Sweets and liquor are the reason I’m not five pounds lighter. I’m resolving to cut out sweets and stick to wine during the week for the month of January. That should be easy, right?
  4. Arrive at the Boston starting line healthy: This will be tough with high-mileage weeks in February and March, but if I listen to my body, I can get to Boston and Big Sur in good shape. That means I’ll have rested legs, a good base of mileage, speed work, and I’ll be ~126 pounds. That’s when I feel my best.
  5. Choose races strategically: For the past few years, I’ve fallen in to a pattern of  throwing in races because someone has a spare bib or because they sound interesting. I love to race, but if I’m going to throw in fun races, I don’t have to race them. I should use them as building blocks, which is what I intend to do with my first race of 2015 in 10 days.

Winter Storm Stupidity and a Canceled Marathon Too

My first planned race of the year was supposed to happen the first weekend of January. The Al Lewis 10-Miler is a race I’ve run twice before. Sure, it’s been cold both times. One time it snowed in the second half, but that just made for more awesome race photos. This year our first snow storm of the year left the trail covered in snow and bumpy ice. I decided to not even show up since an injury just isn’t worth it.

There was a trail half marathon the next weekend I might race. That one sold out before I could register.

Trying to see the bright side, I kept thinking how much stronger my legs would be since I hadn’t wasted my energy on racing early in my training cycle. The two injuries I had last year haven’t bothered me a bit since the Philadelphia Marathon, and my normal running pace continues to drop every week. I’ve put in 90-mile weeks and felt not-awful and not-beat-up. That’s why the Austin Marathon was so perfectly timed. I had similar training ahead of New Orleans last year, and I PR’ed there. I can feel I’m ready to do something great.

Austin wasn’t to be, though. Yesterday when we were both working from home, I think Michael got tired of me opening the door just to yell “Stupid!” at the snow and then slam it. The winter storm dumped a good foot of snow on D.C. And about 18 hours before takeoff, our flight to Austin was canceled. On the bright side, I got all our money back for the flights and hotel, and Michael and I are able to defer our entries to 2015. I thought the George Washington’s Birthday Marathon could be a great backup. Nope. Canceled.

Maybe this means my March marathon and Boston will be much stronger. Maybe the slippery potholes up and down this city’s sidewalks are just Mother Nature telling me to take it easy. Maybe I’ll kick ass in a 10K this weekend because I have more that enough energy to go around from this taper.

I will say I’m a lot less perturbed about this cancellation than I was when I’d made my way to New York in 2012 after Sandy, only to have the race called off Friday night. At least I’m not losing money.

25 Reflections on Marathoning

Yesterday’s Wineglass Marathon marked my 25th marathon. I didn’t realize I’d reached a milestone until I was updating my personal records page with the number of marathons I’ve run. When I started running recreationally about 10 years ago and seriously about three years after that, I could not have imagined how much running has come to define who I am and how I live my life. It made me a healthier, happier person. It helped me stop taking antidepressants and led to some of my best relationships. Now, in a post-marathon high, at that great time when my endorphins are still surging, I’ve jotted down 25 things I’ve learned about running marathons.

  1. During taper week, keep your nerves in check. Don’t take out your nervous energy and/or trouble sleeping on your significant other. Be really careful if your significant other is also tapering.
  2. If you’ve never run the course before, look at the course elevation profile before the race. Is there a big hill or two? Go check them out ahead of time. Doing this saved me from making a huge mistake in the Delaware Marathon in 2012. There is a huge hill in the middle of the park that doesn’t look terrible on the map because it is so long. This thing is no joke, and I wouldn’t have known about it until race day if I hadn’t checked it out early.
  3. If you’re staying in a hotel, ask for a wake-up call, and set your alarm. I almost overslept because my phone alarm had a glitch for Daylight-Saving Time for the New York City Marathon in 2011. Belt and suspenders with the alarm.
  4. Making a marathon packing list pays off. Being obsessive about said list will leave you at the head of the Porta Potty line with a handful of the toilet paper you packed when everyone else has turned away. You win.
  5. Speaking of the bathroom, look for the hidden Porta Potty or the ones near the start line. At the Marine Corps Marathon and at Boston, there are lines of potties near the start. The lines tend to be shorter there if you’re in a pinch.
  6. At the starting line, you’ll get butterflies every time. You will worry you haven’t prepared or that the one speed work session or 20-miler you missed is going to be your undoing. It never will be.
  7. For cold races, stay warm as long as you can. Bring warm clothes that you can throw away, or stay in your car. Don’t use your energy being cold if you don’t have to.
  8. You can’t tell how fast someone is just by looking at them (most of the time). Except you kind of can tell that the Kenyans lining up at the start of the big city marathons are probably going to smoke you. For the most part, you can’t tell whether someone is going to be speedy when you line up next to them at the start. You’ll easily pass the chiseled blond wearing a matchey-matchey sports bra and booty shorts, but at mile 21, some dude who looks like Kevin Federline wearing basketball shorts will just trot on by. What.
  9. Not every race will deliver perfect conditions no matter how well you plan. Adjust your expectations accordingly. You might choose a marathon that promises an average high of 60 and low of 40, and race day comes with highs in the 90s or lows in the 20s. Roll with it. You’ll run another race.
  10. You can master the water or Gatorade hand-off by making eye contact with an alert volunteer. You or the volunteer will still drop a cup every now and then.
  11. Drink a beer during a race some time. If you aren’t going for a specific time or if you’ve given up on meeting your time goal for some reason, find one of those crazy people giving out beer on the course. There are usually a few. Drink the beer, and wait for the next few miles to float by. Woo!
  12. Most men don’t like to be passed by a woman. Most men will charge if you try to pass them.
  13. Most women encourage you when they pass you or when you pass them.
  14. Sometimes when you try to encourage someone else on the course, they might not understand you. My favorite story: In the Dallas White Rock Marathon in 2009, with about a half mile to go, I look over at a guy I’d been running next to for about a mile. “Let’s bring it on home!” I yell, enthusiastically. “Huh?” says the guy. “You know, bring it on home! Bring it hoooome!” “What does that mean?” Sigh. I sprinted ahead in shame.
  15. If someone is offering GU, take it. Unless it’s Strawberry Banana GU. Throw those back. They don’t have caffeine.
  16. If someone is offering Vaseline and there’s even a slight chance you might need it, take it.
  17. After the race, you’re either starving, or you won’t want anything but maybe a banana or a bagel. When you do finally want food, the cravings will be intense. I can only imagine this is what pregnancy is like.
  18. There’s always that one person who throws their arms up at the end of the race like Rocky and flat out stops in the chute. That person is usually right in front of me. Don’t be that person. Please keep moving through the finish line area.
  19. Have a plan for the finish line. Make the plan with the person(s) you’re meeting when you’re of a sane mind, not sometime in the middle of the race. Things you say in the middle of a race don’t count.
  20. You may curse at small children in the middle of races because they didn’t hand you Gatorade and they were the only people handing out Gatorade at the 23-mile mark. Sorry, small children. Who put you in charge of something so important?
  21. You also may select only the most adorable children to be deserving of hand slaps. Note: most of them are adorable, so you’ll slap a lot of hands. Kids are really psyched for a sweaty hand slap.
  22. If you see a photographer, attempt to look happy to be running. After 20-some marathons, I finally got a good photo. This was not for lack of trying.
  23. Run the same race a few times. Multiple runnings of the same course will build confidence. In looking over my race logs, I notice a trend that I run most races better the second time around. For me, not knowing what to expect is what makes me most nervous. That’s why Boston is my favorite race — because after running it four times, I know exactly what it should feel like.
  24. Bring comfortable shoes for after the race. If you’re allowed a gear-check bag, consider a change of shoes and/or socks for just after the finish line. Once I realized I should be doing this, my post-race life changed. Same goes for dry clothes.
  25. Active recovery and stretching are your best bet in the days after the marathon. After the race, foam roll the crap out of your legs even if you don’t think you need it.

My Double Dipsea

When I put together my running bucket list in April, I included completing the Dipsea trail. But this wasn’t my first attempt. Back in 2012 (on July 6, 2012, to be precise), I tried to run the trail, armed with an online guide I found and some kind of idea about what the trail held. Boy, did I not know what I was in for. I turned around about three miles in. I got lost a few times. While I got a great workout, I didn’t get to enjoy the water. Anyway, I felt like last time was both a major win and a major fail. Last year if I’d been smart, I would have brought a credit card or cash and kept going to the end of the route. I would have hailed a cab from Stinson Beach to return to my car parked in Mill Valley.

This year when Michael and I traveled to the West Coast, I told him we had to run the full Dipsea course. I would count ending up on Stinson Beach as a victory. He, of course, was excited to run it because he loves trails. He’s a stronger trail runner than I am because he’s basically fearless. I’m a wimp who would rather run on roads.

Favorite Gatorade
Favorite Gatorade

So armed with an iPhone in a plastic baggie with the same course guide and GPS enabled, we started our run up the steps at 6:45 a.m. Oh, and also, I had a swig of the elusive Limon Pepino Gatorade we picked up at 7-Eleven before we started.

The first two sets of steps are a doozy. They aren’t all spaced evenly, so you can’t get in a rhythm to start. Getting to the top of the second step kind of sets the tone for the rest of the run. This thing is probably going to hurt. We wound our way through the neighborhoods at the top of Edgewood Ave. We got lost at around the same point I got lost last year. Oh well. It made for a nice downhill. By the time we reached the one-mile marker on the trail itself, we’d actually gone almost two miles. We were 30 minutes in.

Dipsea trails: looked like this a lot.
Dipsea trails: looked like this a lot.

The next portion of the course where we hit a sharp downhill toward Muir Woods is where the pretty portion starts. This is what I remembered about the trail and why I wanted to come back. Lots of steps and lots of views of big, sweeping meadows. We got to the Muir Woods water fountain without incident. Things were going well. Last year I saw two deer at this point and got a little freaked out because on the narrow part of the trail there wasn’t anywhere to go.

After the water fountain, I started to remember why I turned around here last time. The forest is beautiful — peaceful and it smells like Christmas — but the climbing is intense. The course is muddy in parts, and you start to realize you might have made a mistake, especially if you take a bad step. Mostly, though, it’s beautiful and calm and perfect. We saw just five other people when we were out there: a couple hiking and three runners.

The portion of the course called Steep Ravine in the course guide was particularly challenging on the way down. The stairs were slick and not at all well-spaced. The scenery was beautiful, but we both were watching our footing so closely it was hard to take it in.

I caught myself saying, “Wow,” and “Aww,” aloud when I came to certain parts of the course. The part where the course dips in to the sea is as beautiful as you think it is. No, it’s more beautiful. This photo does not do it justice. I started to get teary eyed, but I had to focus to keep running. I can’t even explain it, but I want to do it again.

Prettier than this
Prettier than this

We emerged a little after the seven-mile marker on to Highway 1 on Stinson Beach. We stopped at Stinson Beach Market to grab a banana and Vitamin Water and eat Salted Caramel GU (me) and some trail mix, Gatorade and Salted Caramel GU (Michael). I was pretty sure I was going to head back to the car in a cab because I had done what I’d set out to do. I would have been fine with going home right there. “OK, time to call a cab,” I said. “I thought we were running back,” Michael said. Oh shit. I did a quick calculation of the cab fare and how long a cab ride would take. Running back made a little more sense in my giddy, altered state.

So we started running back. We agreed we could walk the whole way if we needed to, but we didn’t think we’d have to. At that point, it was about 8:45, and we had nowhere to be until lunch. This seemed really doable when we’d been running/scurrying down hills for about two hours. What was two more hours, we thought.

If you look at the elevation chart at the end of this post, you’ll notice there’s a big hill at the beginning of the route. We had to climb that same hill on the way back. Wikipedia tells me there is a 2,200-foot elevation gain and loss on the course. We decided to do that again.

A few miles in and not too tired
A few miles in and not too tired

It started off just fine. We were going through the same hills and fields we’d run through before — the ones with breathtaking views. We made it to the top of the hill and past the jaggedy stairs just fine.

Around four miles in, I was a little ahead of Michael (this doesn’t happen often, so I mention it here), completely cruising along, and I saw rustling up ahead of me. A deer was in the path. As a hardcore deer hater, I kind of froze up and waited for Michael to catch up. “Deer deeeeer,” I said. “What?” “In the path there’s deer.” Actually there was just one deer. This whole thing was very dramatic in my mind, anyway.

At around the four and a half mile mark, Michael started to surge ahead on a downhill. He went ahead, and I lost sight of him. When I came to a fork in the road to go right or left, I went left because that looked like the more traveled trail. I ran pretty fast to try to catch up to make sure I was on the right track. No luck. After a little bit of yelling to try to find each other, we figured out where I went wrong and were back on track.

The pain started about a mile from the finish, maybe just because I knew the 688 stairs were coming. We staggered down the sets of steps toward our car parked in Mill Valley in an anticlimactic finish. I think if we’d parked a little farther down the road we might have felt more triumphant. As it was, we both just kind of groaned.

Lunch was at Bar Bocce in Sausalito where the beer and wine were certainly well earned. My legs are still a little shaky almost a week later. And it was worth every step.

Elevation (on the way out)

Dipsea elevation
Dipsea elevation

Map (on the way back)

Dipsea trail
Dipsea trail

Splits

  • Out: 7.91 miles, 1:46:30, Garmin
  • Back: 7.13 miles, 1:38:48, Garmin

Review: Feetures Plantar Fasciitis Foot Sleeve

Leading up to the Delaware Marathon, my plantar fasciitis started flaring up again. I’ve written about dealing with PF before, and I’m largely following my own advice. The pain is not terrible right now — certainly not as bad as it was leading up to the Chicago Marathon last year — but I’ll try almost anything to get rid of any lingering pain. I ordered the Feetures Plantar Fasciitis Foot Sleeve a few weeks ago after my coworker Megan said she’d heard good things about it from a friend.

Cons

  • A little tenderness: So far, I’ve found after wearing the sock for about an hour, my foot is a little more tender than normal. I probably couldn’t go out and run right after wearing the sock, and I certainly couldn’t wear it for a full night and then pop out of bed to run the next morning. I’ve limited my time to an hour because I am rarely sitting down at my desk for more than an hour straight at work where I’ve been primarily wearing the sock. The tenderness goes away about 30 minutes after I take off the sock.
  • Minor swelling: The compression draws blood to the foot, making one of my feet, which is normally really cold, warm up nicely. After taking off the sock, each time I do notice a little bit of swelling around the front part of my foot where the sock ends. The swelling goes away after about 10 minutes. My feet are quite narrow, so if I’m seeing swelling, I imagine people with wider feet would experience the same. I bought size small/medium, and I wear a size 9 1/2 shoe, so I might recommend going up to a larger size if you’re worried about swelling.
  • Inability to walk (or run) with the sock : The product description page says you can run with the sock on. I wouldn’t recommend doing that. I tried walking in the sock with my work shoes on, and I nearly fell over.

Pros

  • Durability: Unlike the Strassburg sock, which I’ve found has lost its elasticity after minimal use, the Feetures sock seems like it will last for a long time. And maybe with continued use, it’ll stretch out a little more, and I won’t get the same swelling.
  • Easy to put on and stays put: Also unlike the Strassburg sock, there’s no mystery to putting this thing on. It’s hard to mess up. And you don’t have to adjust it and reposition the Velcro like you do with the Strassburg sock.
  • Effectiveness: Overall, I actually am feeling less pain in my next run after wearing this thing. I think the blood flow is working.
  • Price: The sock comes in around $22 on Amazon. That’s probably cheaper than a visit to the podiatrist, and if I’m running free of pain, I’m willing to pay $22.

I would say give this thing a try ahead of the Strassburg sock if you’re looking for a fix for dealing with PF. I’d give it about an eight out of 10 on whatever ranking system ranks these kinds of things. I’d deduct a few points for false advertising claiming you’d be able to run in the sock.

Ethical medical running question: What would you do?

I was at a birthday party yesterday where I met a military doctor. “Oh good!” he said. “You’re the marathon runner Jeremy [one of the hosts] was telling me about. I have a question for you.” I’m always excited for running-related questions, and I readied myself with answers about fueling and training plans. But that wasn’t what he asked. Here’s the situation. And I’m curious what you guys think since I know how I answered the question before he even finished the thought.

He said he had a patient who was injured. He was a hard-core marathoner. He used to run around the base to stay sane wherever he was stationed. He took a bullet in the back of one of his legs, and it injured his sciatic nerve. And it turns out there are a few nerves here, which I didn’t know, but anyway, one of them was badly injured. After a certain period of time, he said, the doctors assessed that the nerve was never going to be able to repair itself. This meant the runner had a foot drop, meaning he could not flex his foot. When you can’t flex your foot, you can’t run. But, the doctor said, the patient could have walked or could have been taught to walk just fine. Just no running.

So here’s the thing. The doctor said the patient, on hearing the news, asked the medical team to amputate his leg. He wants to learn to run with a prosthesis. He wants the quality of life he used to have before the injury, not the quality of life that would admittedly be acceptable to most people. As the doctor was going through the story, I said, “Oh, of course, you amputate.” He said he’d asked several runners this question, and they responded pretty much the same.

I know I won’t be able to run forever. People point out that my knees are going to give out eventually and that I will certainly get slower. I actually hope some day, many decades from now, I gradually slow to a walk because I can’t go any faster. I hope I’m not sidelined by injuries in the meantime. I would be fine if it played out like that. But I’m saying right now if I lost the ability to run and there was something I could do to regain it, I would almost undoubtedly make a choice to try to get it back.