Tuesday, May 28, 2013

A Fine Balance

Does anyone else feel like they are walking a tightrope during the last month of marathon training?  Walking that fine line between too much and not enough running/rest?

I am just four days out from the Newport Marathon and the last few weeks have been a real struggle for me.  I can't tell if my fatigue and exhaustion are simply due to low iron or if I'm just not cut out for back-to-back marathons and having to train so soon after a hard race.

There is such a fine balance between getting enough training and getting enough rest, especially when attempting two marathons close together.  From my schedule, it looks like I have been erring on the side of rest.  After taking a week off completely, I have run only 3 days/week in the six weeks since Boston.  That's nothing for a marathoner.  But I am also cross training 2 days/week and I am always tired.  Although I'm hitting (most of) my paces on my runs, they seem so much harder than they should.

I feel under-prepared for this marathon and, yet, I'm so exhausted that I can't imagine doing anything more than I'm already doing.

Honestly, I just have no idea what is going to happen on race day.  [Then again, when do we ever really know what to expect?!]  But there is one thing I know for sure and that is that I'm going to leave it all out there.  I have a goal of running a sub-3:30 marathon and while my 3:30:30 at Boston came very close, it's not close enough.

Boston was never my goal race.  When I signed up for Newport a few months ago, I decided that Boston would be more for the experience and Newport would be where I would push my limits.  And my plan still is to run it aggressively and see what happens.  I just wish I had a little more confidence going into it than I do right now.  My body is so tired that my confidence is beginning to waver...

So for the next four days, I plan to rest my body as much as possible and put my mind to work instead.  We have all heard the saying "Running is 90 percent mental and the rest is physical."  I am usually fairly strong mentally but can feel myself faltering as this fatigue wears me down.  It is time to kick this self-doubt to the curb.

Sir Edmund Hillary said, "It's not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves."

Nike said it another way:

Nike ad

While I'm focusing on my mental game and getting ready for Saturday, I'm also getting ready for a weekend visitor!  Kate and I met through our blogs last fall and immediately felt a connection with one another.  We share a love of

a sweaty long run with a girlfriend
a steaming mug of freshly roasted coffee
a soul-cleansing yoga class
an aimless walk through a farmers market market
a spur-of-the-moment dance party in the living room
a lazy late afternoon on the beach
an overflowing plate of vegan food
a beautifully written book
a delicious glass of wine and
anything funny that will make us laugh until we cry.

Despite the fact that we are also opposite in many ways -- as a single gal living in sunny San Diego, her daily life is much different than my married, mother of three kids life in rainy Portland -- we are both soul and sole sisters.

at the finish line of Boston...the day before the race

Anyway, Kate and I decided a few months ago to sign up and run Newport together.  She had never been to Portland and loved the idea of combining a marathon with a trip to Portland.  Our running times are almost identical and we had the same goals for both Boston (running for fun) and Newport (targeting around 3:25).

For almost all of my races, I am alone at the starting line and running by myself throughout the entire race.  Occasionally, my husband and I will run a race together but even on those days, he likes to inch up to the starting line while I prefer to hang back a little to keep myself from starting too fast.  And even if we were to start together, we always have different time goals.  Newport was going to be a first for me in this sense.  Kate and I would travel to the race together on Friday (2.5 hour drive from Portland), start the race together the next morning and, hopefully, run together for most or all of the race.

But as anyone who has ever undertaken marathon training knows, just getting to the starting line healthy and ready to run is a major accomplishment.  Never mind trying to get your friend there, too.

So, sadly, it doesn't look as if Kate will be running much of the race on Saturday.  Her body has been on strike ever since Boston and she finally had to give in to the demand for rest.  She's had a few good runs but even more bad runs.

Regardless, we are both still so excited for the weekend and all the fun it will bring.  She is looking forward to being my biggest cheerleader (my husband is going to stay in Portland with the kids) and enjoying the stress-free role of spectator.  And I am looking forward to her falling in love with Portland so that she will move here one day.

Somehow I have to convince her that this:

Forest Park in Portland

is better than this:

Kate on her fave running trail in San Diego

Wish me luck.

- Kristen

Monday, May 13, 2013

Fatigue, Ferritin and my First 5K

Today marks exactly four weeks since the Boston Marathon.  A lot has happened in the past four weeks and yet, if I close my eyes, I am right back there again.  The panic, confusion, terror, sadness and anger...plus the gratitude, thankfulness and relief at being unharmed.  And then a lot of guilt that accompanies those feelings.

While some of the sharpness of those emotions has begun to fade, I will always carry a piece of that day in my heart.  Like a jagged rock that has water rushing over it for years on end, it eventually will become a smooth stone.  But it will never completely disappear.

[So many others carry permanent physical reminders of that day so, again, I know I am lucky in comparison.  And I am forever grateful for the many, many heroes  who did anything from save a life to loan a stranger their cell phone so that they could call loved ones.  Bostonians opened up their collective hearts and houses to all the displaced runners in a way that will never be forgotten.]

But life does march on, regardless of whether we are ready for it or not.  


For me, the past four weeks have been a balancing act of trying to recover from Boston while starting to train for another marathon.  A few months ago when we were feeling healthy, strong and invincible, Kate and I thought it would be a great idea to run the Newport Marathon just seven weeks after running Boston.  It was the first time running Boston for both of us and we had heard that it was a challenging course -- the downhills at the beginning were known to crush your quads and the hills from mile 17-21, culminating with Heartbreak Hill, were said to crush your spirit.  So our plan was to have fun at Boston but not run it too aggressively.  We were hoping to save ourselves a little for Newport, a very flat and fast marathon, where we both wanted to smash our old PR's.

What is it they say about the best laid plans?!  

For days after Boston, I cursed the fact that I lived in a four story house.  Getting from my bedroom on the third floor to the laundry room in the basement was pure torture.  I was convinced I had strained my quads because I had never experienced such pain almost a week after a marathon.  

After diligently taking a full week off from running, I had no choice but to start running again if I wanted to be in decent shape for Newport.  I took it easy that first week back and spent a lot of time pool running in order to minimize the pounding on my legs.  I slowly increased my training and even managed an 18 mile run just two weeks after the marathon but I couldn't seem to shake a lingering sense of deep fatigue.

this run felt much harder than it should have...

I was exhausted by early afternoon each day and ready to go to bed right after the kids each night.  Initially, I assumed it was due to jumping back into training so quickly after a marathon.  But then I remembered Amanda having similar feelings and it turned out her iron levels were low.  So I made an appointment to have my blood drawn to see if there was anything similar going on with my iron.  

Turns out I was suffering from the same thing as Amanda.  As a vegetarian and also a pre-menopausal woman, I am at increased risk of becoming anemic.  Add long-distance running to the mix and the risk goes up even more.  [The constant pounding of our feet against the pavement can cause the destruction of red blood cells.]  Although I am not technically anemic, my ferritin levels are very low, which basically means I am suffering from iron depletion.  If I were a couch potato, having low ferritin levels wouldn't necessarily be a problem.  But it can have a big impact on running performance.

I am now taking an iron supplement that will hopefully boost my iron stores, although it takes anywhere from six weeks to four months to really feel an impact.  I plan to get my blood tested again in six months to see where my levels are at and hopefully transition off the supplements if I can make enough dietary changes to compensate.  

In the meantime, the date of my next marathon is looming closer and closer.  I was able to complete another 20 mile training run last Thursday as well as an 8x800 track workout but my legs just feel constantly tired and sluggish, as does the rest of me.

So don't ask me why, in the middle of all this marathon training and constant fatigue, that I would then decide to sign up to run my very first 5K.  

Run Like A Mother

There are two main reasons I have never run a 5K.  First, it always has sounded like so much hassle -- registering, paying a race fee, driving somewhere, standing around at the start, etc. -- all for an event that will be over so (relatively) quickly.  Second, it just sounded so HARD.  Yes, marathons are hard, too.  But a 5K is a much different kind of pain and one that I am not used to feeling.

However, because it was on Mother's Day, I decided I could endure all the hassle involved and be able to run this 5K guilt-free while my husband took the kids to church.  We would meet at home afterwards and all head to brunch together.  

When I woke up early yesterday morning to head to the race, I immediately regretted my decision to register for the 5K.  My legs simply did not feel recovered from the 20 mile run I had completed three days earlier.  And when I looked at the weather app on my phone and saw that it was already 63 degrees out and 85 percent humidity, I knew it would be a tough day.  

my poor legs just can't catch a break...

I drove across town to the suburban high school where the race was being held and found myself surrounded by hundreds of moms and their families.  There was a kids 1 mile race that was held before the 5K and I couldn't help but smile when I watched them take off at a dead sprint for their race.  

I ran into some friends at the start and one of them mentioned that the top 3 finishers by gun time would receive prizes.  We both thought it was strange to use gun time when we all had timing chips on our bib but she wanted to start near the front in order to improve her chances at winning a prize.  She is a phenomenal runner and I had no doubt she would place in this race -- she had finished 4th woman overall in a half-marathon just the day before!  

I went ahead and started near the front with her and suddenly we were off and running.  My plan was just to run based on feel and not look at my watch.  The first 200 meters were on the track and then we headed out on the streets surrounding the high school.  The streets were nice, wide and empty and the runners quickly thinned out.  I was surprised to find myself in sixth place fairly early on and passed three runners in the first half of the race, putting myself in third place overall.  My speedy friend, Kelly, was in second place (where she ultimately finished) but still far ahead of me.  Amazing job, Kelly!!

The race seemed to go on forever.  I couldn't believe 3.1 miles could be so torturous.  My legs had felt dead from the start but it was my breathing that seemed out of control near the end.  I could feel my body screaming for oxygen but I couldn't get it in fast enough!  Thankfully, it was finally time to turn back into the stadium and finish the last 200 meters on the track.  The 4th place woman was a ways behind my at that point and I cruised to a 3rd place finish in 21:24.  Or so I thought.  

Long story short, despite what was on the website, the prizes went to the top 3 finishers by chip time not gun time.  Of course, that is the only fair way to award prizes and it is how it should have been from the beginning.  And it wasn't like I ever thought I had a chance of winning a prize in the first place.  But that gift basket did look amazing and it included 2 hours of free housecleaning -- what mom doesn't need that?!  Ha!

When I finally saw the results, it turned out another woman had taken almost 40 seconds to cross the start line and she beat me by 3 seconds.  Who knows if I had another 3 seconds in me but I am just happy to finally have a 5K time in my running book.  I will now have to run another one on fresh legs (and hopefully cooler temps) to see if I can improve on that time.  

As much as I didn't like that I-think-I'm-gonna-die feeling that I experienced around mile 2.5, I can see where these shorter races can be somewhat addicting.  You could train specifically for these shorter distances and run them much more often.  And if the race doesn't go as planned, at least you don't have the feeling that comes with knowing you put months and months of time and effort into such a long marathon training cycle and ended up disappointed.  

All that is merely speculation, though, as I still am focused on the marathon for now.  I'm hoping my last 20 mile run goes well this Wednesday and then I'm off to spend a relaxing, fun weekend with six of my best girlfriends before heading into taper once again.  

can't wait to see these ladies (plus one more) in just a few days!!

Anyone else suffer from low iron?  

Am I the only one who finds 5K's harder than marathons?  

- Kristen

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Running with an Angel

It was early spring of 2012 and I was running on a neighborhood route that I have run at least a hundred times.

Turn right out the front door.  Run four blocks and then turn left.  Continue straight for a mile and a half until the street dead ends at the high school.  Run as many one mile loops around the high school as necessary before turning around and heading back home.

I like this route for runs that are under 10 or so miles, especially on runs where I need to keep a specific pace.  It is an easy, flat run that doesn't cross any major intersections and the streets are usually empty enough that I can run in the street without worrying about traffic.  The streets are lined with 100 year-old maple trees providing shade (or, more often, rain cover) for the equally old homes in the neighborhood.  It is the perfect route for the everyday, run-of-the-mill miles that I do mid-week during marathon training.  And ideal for letting my mind wander wherever it wants to go.

Back to last spring...

I was running part of this route on one of my long runs and it was a cold, wet and gloomy day.  My mood matched the weather and I just wanted to be done.

Then, suddenly, there was someone running just off my left shoulder.  I knew instantly that it was my mom's dear friend, Trudy.  I had grown up going on rafting trips on the Lower Salmon River in Idaho with Trudy's family.  These week-long, unguided, filled-with-adventure raft trips were the highlight of our summers when we were young.  Spending a week in the great outdoors with no walls for privacy (and a shared poop bucket that we carried with us in a raft every day) made for some close ties between us all.  Ghost stories told over late night campfires, early mornings watching the sunrise over the canyons, water fights between rafts that left us all soaking wet, quiet afternoons spent reading books with our feet buried in the sand...this is where Trudy's family, along with all the other families, became not only friends and neighbors but like family.

group pic after a game of beach volleyball - Lower Salmon River (circa 1991)
early morning quiet before the sun rises above the canyon walls
Middle Fork of the Salmon (1998)

So it was with joy and happiness that I felt Trudy's presence next to me on that gray, chilly day last spring.  I found myself suddenly noticing the early cherry blossoms on the trees, the bit of sunlight struggling to make its way through the thick cloud cover as the rain lightened, the lone bird singing a song and the tulips that were just beginning to bloom.  My pace quickened and my spirit lifted.

As it turns out, Trudy had passed away just a few months earlier, following a courageous battle with cancer.  Although she obviously wasn't actually running with me in the physical sense, she was there in every other sense -- helping me to see the beauty that surrounded me, to hear the sounds of life in my neighborhood, to smell the freshly cut grass and and to fill my heart with a sense of peace.

When I returned home from that run, I emailed Trudy's daughter, Sara, to let her know what I had experienced and to thank her for "sharing" her mom with me for a little while.  In all the time I had known Trudy, I had never even known her to be a runner.  As it turns out, she was a runner in her younger days and one of the last memories that Trudy shared with Sara in the week before she passed away was one about running with a girlfriend and feeling the fresh air on her face while watching the sun rise.


Fast forward about a year and I found myself again plodding along my same route on a similarly gray day in late March.  I had probably run along this same stretch of road almost a hundred times since that day last spring.  Once again, I was training for a marathon and was just putting in the miles on a day when my heart wasn't really in it.  And, again, Trudy was suddenly with me, just off my left shoulder.

By the end of the run, the sun was bursting through the clouds and my soul was equally bursting with gratitude.  Gratitude for my family, my friends, my health, my life...and for the gift of Trudy.

She left behind a husband, three sons, a daughter, their respective spouses, eight grandchildren and countless friends.  She left behind memories of laughter, tears, hugs, joy and an endless capacity to love others.  Somehow, amazingly so, she continues to do all these same things to this day.  I know I felt her love on those two days this past year and I will always be looking over my shoulder just to see if she wants to run with me again.

Trudy and Dan on their wedding day in 1969
Trudy as a young mom 
Trudy's grandchildren...who will never forget their Grammy

Has anyone experienced something similar?  Been out for a run and felt the strong and distinct presence of someone else?  

- Kristen