Every runner has a story, their tale of how they got the be where they are. Since I hope to be doing this for a while (both running and blogging), I thought I’d share mine.
Like many people, I was not always a runner. It’s cliché, but true; I used to hate running. Instead you could find me in the studio dancing, on stage subpar singing and acting, the orchestra room playing violin, or the football field playing clarinet in the marching band. Yeah, I was that kid. My mind is more creatively oriented. It never even crossed my mind to go for a run up through high school. I was more interested in music and dance.
For as art-focused as I was, I wasn’t super feminine or delicate. I would go backpacking with my dad and his buddies. I liked playing backyard soccer and pickup basketball with my mom even though we were both terrible.
Me and mom post marathon #1
When time came to apply for colleges and start thinking about my future, I wanted a change. I wanted to do something more rugged, intense, something to be proud of. What I wanted was to join the Marine Corps via ROTC.
Those dreams came to an abrupt (and looking back… fortunate) end when I was hospitalized my senior year of high school and diagnosed with severe ulcerative colitis. For those who don’t know, ulcerative colitis is an autoimmune disease that affects the large intestine. There is no known cure and only different methods of trial and error in the hopes of achieving remission. I won’t bore you with all the details, but the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America website has great information.
I was hospitalized for a week, given a blood transfusion, and put on two different medications. I had lost 15 pounds and a lot of blood in less than two weeks and was genuinely lucky to be alive. I got scolded by my pediatrician for putting off the doctor visit for so long (two years), and my gastroenterologist told me point blank that the Marine Corps was out of the question for me.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel any relief from the rejection. I knew I was sick and admittedly didn’t know how I would be able to handle boot camp… I couldn’t be anywhere unless I had a quick escape to the bathroom available. True remission didn’t come for years after my diagnosis, and made college more challenging for me than the average student.
I was accepted into Susquehanna University and majored in Creative Writing, with minors in American History and Psychology. Susquehanna is where I got my start in athletics. Despite battling colitis, I joined the swing dance club, the dance corps, and women’s rugby. I wanted to play rugbyso badly. It seemed so fun, so intense, so… exhilarating. And it was. I fell in love with the sport. I held this sense of pride because rugby isn’t some sport that you can brush off easily. It’s brutal. You take a beating. But, MAN, the feeling of tackling someone, or catching the ball in a lineout, preventing someone from scoring a try…. it’s like the runner’s high at the end of a race.
Despite my slender build, I was placed with the pack, the typically “bigger” players, but we were a pint-sized team and my height categorized me as a “big” girl. This suited me, because the pack was more tackling and less running. Of course, to play rugby you had to run regardless of your position. Every Wednesday, our workout was a short team run down to the Susquehanna River and back and, my God, I thought it was a long distance. Two or three girls would add on and run along the river, but most of us just did a simple out and back. The total mileage for the run? One mile. One freaking mile. We did plenty of plyometrics, suicide sprints, and practiced plays and tactical moves. The game was a great workout, for sure. And it was thrilling, even with the injuries. (I’ve broken my nose, fractured my finger, and lost count of how many times I’ve dislocated my shoulder)
Beer can ice pack. That’s how to roll in rugby.
At least it wasn’t boring old running,
Boring old running came my junior year, when my roommate and I decided to share each other’s sports. She would join the rugby team if I would join the track team. She only ever came to one rugby practice before deciding that it wasn’t for her, but I stuck with track. This meant playing four seasons of sports in three seasons’ time, since rugby was fall, track was winter and both were spring. Between that, the dance clubs, and the accredited dance courses, I was in pretty damn good shape. But not good running shape.
I was easily one of, if not the, slowest sprinter on our team. I sprinted the 55, 100, and 200 meters and found my niche in the 200. I loved the feeling of cutting through air, running as fast as I could, long strides and arms pumping. It was amazing. And if the battles of colitis hadn’t inhibited me, I’m sure I could have gone faster and farther.
Post college, there aren’t many sprint races to sign up for. I still ran short distances, but it wasn’t until my guy at the time was starting to get distance and vague that I really picked up the sport. I was pissed and running was a way to release that. I signed up for my first 5K- a local St. Patrick’s themed race called the Hooligan Hustle- with the goals of no walking and finishing in under 30 minutes. I was so nervous about my colitis and what to do if, you know, nature called. Luckily, she didn’t. I accomplished both goals and was immediately hooked on racing.
And that guy? He didn’t last much longer.
I began signing up for increasingly longer races: more 5Ks, 10k, 10 miler, half marathon, and finally to my own disbelief, I received the confirmation email for my first 26.2- Rock N Roll USA- which I completed exactly one year after my first 5K.
High 5 from Dave at mile 14 of marathon #1
I’ve come a long way from the sprinter I was in college and although I’m not breaking any speed or distance PRs right now, I need to remember how far I still am from that girl who had trouble running a mile to the Susquehanna River and back. Running has given me so much in life. It brought me confidence and friendships, taught me endurance and pushing through when the going gets tough. I learned how to be self-motivated. I learned how to run despite fear and despite a disease that can make it hard to leave the house at all. It’s made me a stronger, happier, and better person. I’ve gotten to see new places and experience great cities through running. I inspired my mom to run and found a new way of bonding with her.
And I gotta say, it put me in the best shape of my life and gave me a pretty hot bod.
The start of Hatfield McCoy Marathon (#3 and 1st postpartum)
What’s your running story?
According to my marathon training schedule, I was supposed to run 12-14 miles this weekend. I ran exactly 0.
On Saturday morning, I woke up exhausted. I couldn’t fall asleep Friday night. Then I had to get up for Riley twice, after which I had more trouble falling asleep. Usually I can sleep like the best of them, but recently it has been a challenge. So while I was sitting on the couch nursing Riley at 9 that morning, Dave asked me about running. But I was so tired. Too tired to walk around holding my baby to soothe her. So I just looked up at him and said, “F*ck it. Maybe I’ll run tomorrow.”
So if you read my last post, you know that on Sunday I ran a 5K with my mom and sister, but wasn’t really happy with my performance. If you didn’t read it, go do that now then come back. I’ll wait.
Read it? Wasn’t it intriguing? Anyway. Last night I was looking at the race results online to see how we did and to my complete surprise, I won FIRST PLACE in my age division! We didn’t stay for awards Sunday because we figured we didn’t need to, so I was totally shocked. I emailed the race people this morning and asked if I could still get my medal and they said absolutely. So yea!! My first 1st place finish!
But I know the real reason you clicked on this post. Because Ryan Hall is in the title and he’s way cool!
Since the Pittsburgh Marathon is this weekend, our company had a mini expo today and reps from asics, Nathan, nuun, P-Tex, and Yurbuds came in with information and giveaways, which is completely awesome. We were also supposed to be able to try the asics treadmill challenge where you can see if you can run as fast as Ryan Hall, but that got rained out. Boo.
An email was also sent around yesterday saying that Ryan would be here and that we could sign up to attend the Q&A session with him so OF COURSE I jumped on that opportunity. He was with asics beforehand and signed a poster for me, which is hanging up in my cube now. The friend I went with is running the half this weekend (her first!!) and she asked him to write, “good luck!” on her poster. But I was a little star struck, so mine is simpler.
I asked him if he had any advice for us on how to get faster and he recommended doing running workouts, especially fartleks. He confessed that he can get bored on long runs and that fartleks make it more fun. I feel like I learned a deep dark secret of the elite marathoner- even they get bored on long runs! It made me feel normal. 🙂
During the Q&A, he was laid back and friendly. An asics rep started by asking him some questions for our benefit, so we could learn more about his background and training. He was very candid with his answers, which made him much more relatable. There were only about a dozen people in the Q&A, so after he talked a bit we all had the chance to ask him some questions. I don’t have the word-for-word transcript, but I compiled some of the highlights and advice he offered to the group.
On How He Got Started
Ryan used to hate running, which shocked me. Then one day, on the way to basketball practice, he decided that he wanted to see if he could run around a lake. He went out on another day with his dad and, wearing basketball sneakers, made his way around the lake. It was 15 miles! He didn’t run it straight through and it’s something that he would not recommend to anyone to start like that, but that’s how he got started.
On Fueling Before the Race
While he usually eats a lot of salads and vegetables, two days before a race he removes them from his diet. He is very particular about what he eats the night before a race and actually brings his on hot pot, pasta and olive oil with him to cook. And Muscle Milk!
One thing he recommended to eat was sourdough bread because it is light, but still filling and easy to digest. Yummm sourdough!
During the Race
He actually didn’t talk much about fueling during the race, other than to fuel early. And to make sure to drink water!
After the Race
The 30 minutes after the race is when it’s most important to refuel and it’s best to have sugar! What are Ryan Hall’s favorite? Gummy bears and candy corn! He doesn’t eat sugar often, but after a race is when he enjoys some sweets.
Focusing During the Race
The first half of the race, he relaxes and enjoys the race. He takes this time to check his body, make sure it’s relaxed, shoulders aren’t tense, his body is feeling good.
The second half of the race is where he really dials in and focuses on his race. When I asked him what he focuses on in the second half, he focuses on the mile that he’s in. He doesn’t focus on the miles to come or whether he ran the last mile faster than he wanted. When things get tough, he reminds himself that he’s been there in training before, that he’s felt this tired before, and that he’s pushed through it before and can do it again.
Some tips he offered on training: he, like most runners, is hard on himself, so if he writes down a training planning he will stick to it. As a result, he doesn’t keep a strict running plan, and has been running by feel. By the same token, he takes the idea of rest days seriously. If he runs hard one day, the next he will only run an hour…of course, for his cheetah like speed, I figure this to be at least 10 miles, but I guess that’s light for him!
I also asked how you learn to pace yourself. For instance, if he is doing 1 mile repeats at 4:45 pace, how does he know the pace he’s running? His biggest thing was to run by feel and effort. He likened this to the race where he won the American record for the half marathon. He had paces written down for how he was feeling on a good day, an okay day, but when he went out his first mile faster than those paces, he didn’t slow down. He felt good so he went with it and that earned him a record time.
But he also said that is he goes out too fast during a training run, then he’s going to keep that pace the entire run even if it’s hurting. Then next time he’ll know not to go out that fast! Haha But it’s a valid point.
Some Racing Tips
His last long hard run is 10 day before a race. I feel like that’s a little close, but he runs more than me so he knows what’s up. He also said that everybody is different. For instance, the asics rep that was with him ran Boston last weekend in 3:17(!). Her longest training run? 12 miles. That’s crazy! But his point is that everyone trains differently and a lot of it is mind over matter.
He uses Vaseline on his feet on race day to prevent blisters
Make sure to stay warm at the starting line! For marathons, he usually jogs 15 minutes before the start to warm up.
Even if you get warm once you start, don’t toss you extra layers aside. He tucks his gloves into the back of his shorts because he pointed out that you can turn a corner and if gets windy you might wish you had those gloves that you less on the ground so many miles back!
For marathons, he wears sneakers half a size bigger than normal because your feet swell over the course of the race and this helps prevent blisters, too.
On His Other Sports
Being a runner, he said, he doesn’t really have time or energy to play other sports…other than some pick-up basketball. But what he does love doing is fishing, and more recently tried his hand at hunting. He didn’t see any elk the day he went, but said being in the woods like that was still cool. As for fishing, he loves to bass fish and was doing so on a stand up board the day after he ran Boston. He hooked a bass, too, but sadly it got a way. He said he banged his hands on his board and yelled because he was bummed it got away and other people must have thought he was crazy.
This is my kind of guy!
And Finally…On His Favorite Race
One of the attendees asked what his favorite race was and he responded by saying, “I always feel like a politician when I answer this because there’s no way to please everyone.” But he decided on Boston being his favorite race. Having just run it last week, it was still pretty fresh and he admitted to being bummed that he didn’t race as well as he would have liked and that he didn’t win. But he came through it healthy and was glad that Meb, an American, won. He said it was something that America really needed to happen and he was proud to be an American running this race. With one million spectators lining the course this year, crossing that finish line and seeing people standing where the bombs went off last year, unafraid, he really felt apart of something special. He said if you ever get the chance and qualify for Boston, that you should definitely run it.
I have a confession to make. Last week, I had every intention of blogging. I even wrote two posts, complete with pictures and fun stories. But did I actually post them? No. No I did not. #bloggerfail
I had a pretty great week, too. I started running again on Thursday the 10th with a sweet 8:17 average pace run. My first mile post-marathon was a 7:44 pace and at one point I (very briefly) dipped down to a 7:17! Saturday I went out for another short, sweet, but slower 4-mile run then last Tuesday (the 15th) I did 5 miles of sprints and it rocked my freaking asics socks. Since it had snowed(!), I ran on the treadmill, with my sprints getting down to a 7:30 pace. Hell yeah! Boston, here I come! (in my wildest dreams…)
Wednesday, I went out on a 5k run with Dave and we averaged a 9:44, so it’s all in moderation. It was a really fun, easy run. We didn’t wear headphones and instead chatted, casually looked at houses for ideas of what we’d want, checked out some tennis courts, and didn’t track pace (until we were finished). It was a really nice time.
Then we came home to check out the goodies in our CSA basket that I had picked up coming home from work! It’s the first CSA basket either of us have done and so far it looks promising. Lettuce, pea sprouts, tomatillo salsa, Forbes cheese, watermelon radishes, Braeburn apples and red skin potatoes. I see recipe experiments in our future!
Friday night we drove back to Berks County to be with our families for Easter weekend. I had planned to run Saturday, but instead spent the morning with my sister, Ronnie, and playing with our dog, Murphy. Dave took us to Panera for lunch and then we enjoyed the goodness that is a Target outing, complete with dried pineapple and Starbucks (when Ronnie and I go, these things are necessities). I also got a super cute shirt! Win.
I also planned to run Easter morning with my mom, but the weather was chilly and I only brought home a t-shirt and shorts…and well, I slept a little late and spent the day with my family instead. Again, totally worth it.
But now it’s Monday and I really need to get my butt back in gear for a 5K race at home this weekend. I’m racing with my mom and Ronnie. Then in June, Danielle and I are running the Heartbreak Hill Half Marathon that up in Boston. She just beat my PR in the half marathon, so now I really need to bust my butt to get back on top! A little friendly competition never hurt anybody, right?
Annd speaking of Boston, today was the Boston Marathon!! I was really pulling for Shalane to win! She’s so kickass and such an inspiration to me as a runner. But even though she didn’t win, she went out with everything she had and it reminded me of the Steve Prefontaine quote, “Most people run a race to see who is fastest. I run a race to see who has the most guts.” I love that quote! And Shalane, she has the most guts.
But Rita Jeptoo was incredible! Course record! You go, girl!
And Meb! Holy cow! He just blows my mind. And he’s so smiley, I feel like he channels Steve Prefontaine’s super star attitude. He’s a very incredible, serious athlete, but I feel like he really enjoys himself! Does anybody else get that feeling from him?
Did you follow Boston live via Twitter this morning like I did? How far did it inspire you to run today?
The Knoxville Marathon expo wasn’t huge, but it was really nice. I got my race bib and swag bag with no trouble at all. The chip timing was attached to the bib itself, so there was nothing to stick on your shoe, which was nice. The bag included a Bear Naked bar, which was oh-so-delicious, and a small bag of rice because…carbs. I also love that the marathon shirts were different than the half marathon shirts. And the full ones were yellow. Winning!
After we picked up my essentials, Dave and I wandered around a bit, enjoying samples that included chocolate and glass bottles of water.
I talked to the pacing group to learn a little more how pacers work. Because of my stomach, I ended up not using one, but I know for next time. Dave talked me into buying another shirt, too. We were stuck between two. He liked the one that said “It’s not just a hill, it’s a rite of passage,” but after much debate, I settled with this one. It had a cool back side and the other one didn’t.
That was kind of it for the expo. It was fun and pretty chill. There was nothing overly wow-ing about it, but it suited me. I have to find out where I can buy those Bear Naked bars, though!
WARNING: I don’t take photos during races. So, not many pictures, but some fantastic written imagery. You’ll love it.
On Sunday, I woke up briefly at the unholy hour of 3am, afraid of missing my alarm. I re-woke up at the equally unholy hour of 4am, this time intentionally, and dragged my butt out of bed for breakfast. I made a peanut butter sandwich and sat on the hotel room floor by the bathroom, so as to not wake Dave up by turning on the room light. I wasn’t hungry and found myself irrationally angry at the poor sandwich. It wasn’t the peanut butter’s fault. The bread didn’t do anything wrong. I just wanted to go back to sleep. But I forced that sandwich down, sans crust, and made sure to drink enough water first. Then I tried to get another hour of sleep, but without lying completely down so my food would, ya know, digest. It took some finessing and a lot of pillows, but I finally fell asleep again.
Then 5:30 hit and the real alarm sounded. It was go time. Up, showered and dressed, feeling nauseous the whole time. Like seriously-I’m-going-to-puke-right-now, nauseous. I will say that my body was kind enough to let my colitis alone on Sunday, probably one of the best days it’s been in a while. And I am incredibly grateful for that.
Bib, check. Hat, check. Nathan bottle with nuun, check. Extra nuun, check. Swedish Fish, check. Tissues, check. Tampons/pads because yeah I got that lucky, check. I had everything. My Under Armour bra was stuffed to capacity. After about the 10,000th trip to the bathroom, we left the hotel a little after 7am to make our way to the starting line (and porta johns). I don’t know if it’s because I have a nervous bladder, colitis, or it’s just normal for runners, but race mornings are basically just a series of bathroom stops with getting ready interjected in between. Apparently I’m all about the TMI today.
The corrals were labeled A-E and I was in Corral C. The weather had cleared from Saturday so instead of being rainy, it was overcast and cold. It was 34 degrees, but was supposed to hit the mid 50s over the course of the run, so there I was standing in a Nike running skort and long sleeve Under Armour HeatGear, freezing my butt off. Dave kept his arms around me until the National Anthem was sung and the starting gun had gone off. Then I scooted into my coral and was amazed at how quickly it moved! Definitely quicker than any Rock ‘N’ Roll race I’ve done. I was across the line within 2 minutes of the gun start.
There was a brief dip as you crossed the start line, then the uphill began. It really wasn’t bad. I kept an easy pace, taking in the buildings and the scenery. It was still grey outside and there is something s cool about running a race in the early hours. Yes, the waking up early sucks, but having this big event going on while so many are still sleeping is something special.
The first porta john didn’t come until mile 2.5. Made a stop and was on my way. The sun was rising by this point and the temperature rose into the mid 40s (I’m guessing) and it was perfect. I absolutely loved the first half of the race- every bit of it. People were out front of their houses cheering us on, one man had Krispy Kreme doughnuts if we wanted them (no way, José!) A house had a sign saying that runners could drop their jackets there if they were hot and pick them up later. Southern hospitality for the win!
Around mile 4 we reached an area called the Sequoyah Hills. ABOSLUTELY BEAUTIFUL. Nice houses, green yards and trees, a gorgeous view of the Tennessee River. Of course, as we turned into the Hills there was a giant sign that read, “Welcome to Sequoyah Hills – Where All That Hill Training Pays Off!” Consider us warned. But Elizabeth was right. The hills were rolling and encouraging. I was listening to Rob Thomas, jammin’ out, air guitaring, drumming, having a grand old time. I later realized I should have saved this energy for miles 20-26. Hindsight is 20/20.
The signs in the Sequoyah Hills were fantastic. Some were naughty! “Blah Blah fuels with (picture of a chicken) Breasts!” “Blah Blah gets a nipple massage!” “Blah Blah isn’t a virgin anymore! (with a picture of cherries)!” I’m assuming the last one was for someone’s first half or full. Anyway, the signs cracked me up. Then came a mile or so stretch with a series of signs. The first sign was a picture of a dog’s head, the next sign “Goes,” the next sign “WOOF.” Then a picture of a cat’s head, “Goes” “MEOW.” Going through a whole string of animals. Do you know where I’m going with this?
You got it! At the end there were signs saying, “But there’s one sound” “No one knows.” Then “What” “Does” “(picture of a fox)” “Say?” Then a shit ton of posters saying “RUN!” At this point there was a big crowd with people cheering, some with fox stuffed animals, some dressed as foxes, all yelling and having a blast! I cracked up at this point. It was just too good. They put a lot of effort into it! Right after that was the relay exchange, followed by another poster that said “If you were running the relay, you’d be done by now!” Yeah, thanks!
Mile 6.8-7.3 was THE HILL. It is a 150 ft. climb in ½ mile. But it’s not gradual. It’s up – brief reprieve – up again. But dammit, I did it, and I passed so many people. Thank you Pittsburgh for your awful hills! This thing was no match for me! But I was grateful for the following downhill.
At the end of mile 8, we were running through a wooded area, when signs started popping up saying “Git ‘Er Done!” “Mile 8 – It Gone!” “Hey, Jack!” And so on. The water station at mile 9 was Duck Dynasty themed and it was friggin’ amazing. The volunteers were dressed in camo, with duck calls, handing us water and cheering us on. I had to laugh again. Too funny. And definitely fitting.
A little before mile 12, I saw Dave in the distance and got stupidly excited. I waved and he actually saw me and waved back. Around a bend and down a hill.
When I got to him, I saw him holding this absolutely fantastic sign.
Each member of my family is a strip of bacon! He made my little sister, Ronnie, a small strip. (She is teeny.) He high fived me, and I grabbed him for a quick kiss, then kept running. We ran around a loop so at mile 13, I saw him again. So I posed this time.
At the halfway point, I was doing good, but the mass of runners was really thin. Mile 16, I wanted to take a walk break, and I walked for literally one step, before going “NO! You are not doing this!” And tagged onto a girl, trailing her up a hill, nice and steady. It was a long ass hill.
Running running running. I don’t know if the course profile lied to me or I was just getting tired, but the second half of the course definitely felt more hilly than the first half! Running running.
Mile 19, I saw Dave again at the bottom of a hill, holding this sign.
7 miles to go! Running on the highway with cars driving by was wild. They blocked off 2 lanes, so it felt pretty safe. And it was a lot of downhill. Hallelujah! After the highway, some ladies were handing out fruit. I know the rule, don’t try anything new on race day, but I took an orange slice and it tasted DIVINE. A chatted with some older guy from Kentucky and we plodded along. This was a long out and back strip and it was actually pretty flat.
IT WAS THE WORST PART. I found that I definitely preferred the hills and the twists and turns. They gave me small chunks to work with. One long flat stretch and my oomph and motivation began sinking. I took another orange slice on the way back. Then a few minutes later *bam.* Sharp pain in my stomach. I walked a little and luckily it went away. Onward. I did have to stop in the middle of a bridge and just stretch out my hip because it was killing me.
At mile 25, I made my final pit stop and then went for it. I almost wanted to walk a downhill past our hotel, but my inner self put a quick stop to that. “A DOWNHILL? Wtf is the matter with you? Coast this puppy.” So I did. And walked bit of the evil final uphill. Then, there in front of me was Neyland Stadium.
I ran into the stadium and they announced my name and I got to watch myself cross the 50-yard line finish line on the jumbotron. It was so freaking cool.
Dave met up with me in the stands afterward and we got some pictures on the field, then had food! YEA FOOD!
So I didn’t make the time I wanted. And I had a total of 8 bathroom stops along the course, so my time didn’t match the clock. But I ran a 4:35:55 by my watch and I am so happy with that. And what’s better is that I really enjoyed this marathon. Way more than DC. Yeah, there were points where I was like “ok, this needs to be over now,” but there were people I ran with and talked to who were so much older than me and still getting out there and that was so inspiring.
If I did repeat marathons, I would do this again in a heartbeat. Knoxville, you rocked my socks! I am already looking for my next race.
Did anyone else run the Knoxville Marathon? What did you think of it? Did you conquer Noelton hill?