Wednesday, June 19, 2013

WDW Marathon Wknd Post III: The Race.

I have never come so close to a DNF as I did on this day.

Hubs & me prior to the race
I am a solo runner.  Part of running's therapeutic effect for me is that I get out by myself and run my miles alone with my thoughts.  I like to go at my own pace, on my own route, and take my own time.  I believe every runner is different, every day is different, every mile is different.  I believe in my own strength as a runner and as a person.  I think I can get myself through just about anything.  I talk a big game...I completely underestimated the power that another person has to keep you going.

I won't lie, I have mixed feelings about my marathon experience.  I know I shouldn't, I went into the race injured, fully accepting that the outcome of the race was a crapshoot.  My IT band tendinitis was debilitating at this point, and I did not know how or if I would make it through. In fact, if this had been any other marathon, I would have withdrawn.  But, we were at Walt Disney World.  It's a magical place.  My husband and running buddy Tracey were there to run too.  My parents and kids were spectating and enjoying a weekend at the parks.  I had support, I could do this.  If I didn't finish, I told myself, I'm okay with that.

At 3:00 am, I laced up the speedlaces on my Hoka One Ones.  Dressed as a Fireside Girl from Phineas & Ferb, hubs (in normal running gear) and I waited outside the Polynesian for the Monorail.  We were beyond excited.  This was our first marathon.  We had no idea what lay before us.

We made our way with the throngs of runners to the Epcot parking lot, awaiting the hike to the corrals. Having done the WDW Princess Half Marathon almost a year earlier, I knew the routine.  The pre-race gathering place was a block party.  Runners were singing, taking photos, and kicking up their heels while waiting in line for the hundreds of portapotties.

Finally it was time to hike to the corrals.  Hundreds more portapotties lined the route.  Shockingly, despite the fact we were rich in portapotties, runners, female runners even, chose to use the bushes, in full view of the rest of us!  I overheard someone behind me say, "I am from here and I would never pull my pants down in those bushes.  It's not even the snakes and alligators that'll get ya, it's the giant spiders and fire ants."  I briefly imagined what it would be like to have fire ants in my running shorts.  Words cannot express how miserable that would be...period, not to mention before a frickin' marathon.  I quickly put that disturbing thought aside.  Only the safety of the portapotties for me.
Race Start.  26.2 Woo hoo!

The corrals were in sight.  Hubs made his way ahead to corral B.  I had decided to run with Tracey, so we waited in the same corral for the race to start.  While in the corral, we nervously discussed our race strategy while munching on our energy bars.  We decided to continue with the Galloway method, and put my Garmin on a 3 min run, 1 min walk interval.  At one point I thought I was hearing voices, but it was only Mickey Mouse on the microphone, getting us ready to run.

And it was time.  With a firework show and a cheer, we were off. (see route at the bottom of the page)

Most of the race was a blur, but there were several moments that I remember well.

Magic Kingdom at sunrise
The first few miles were exhilarating, as they always are.  We took a portapotty break (while others were still using the woods...what the hell?) and happily ran/walked our intervals.  My knee was tight from the get-go, but felt okay at the pace we were going.  It was interesting to observe the difference in our running form.  Tracey is nimble and light on her feet with a shorter, fast stride, so she was fun to keep up with as she darted between other runners.  My longer legs and long strides make me move more efficiently straight lines.  Darting is not one of my strong points.  We moved along in the dark, talking and listening to other runners around us.  The pre-dawn January air felt great, but it was not cool.  I started to worry that the day would get pretty hot.

The approach to Magic Kingdom at sunrise was unbelievably magical and beautiful.  Running down Main Street USA as the sunbeam began it's slow descent from the top of the castle as it rose from the horizon behind us is an image that will be burned into my memory forever.  That may have been worth the whole race.

Running through the castle
The run through Magic Kingdom was, well, magical.  We detoured in Frontierland for a flush toilet break (what a luxury!) and to splash cold water on our faces.  Soon we ran out of the park, and past the Reedy Creek Fire Station.  Then we made our way past the Polynesian, Grand Floridian, and around the WDW Speedway where folks had set up a car show and we saw my favorite cars, Lightning McQueen and Mater.  At this point we were probably about 8 miles in, and were still feeling pretty good.  We had stopped to meet some of our favorite characters, smiled and high-fived some cute guys in tuxedos, and had run through Cinderella's castle like it was our job.  Our interval was treating us well.

I stopped at a medical tent and chewed some tylenol to stave off the creeping-in knee pain.  We then ran about 3 miles or so, which felt like a LONG three miles, to Animal Kingdom.  My favorite diversion here was some folks tailgating in a camper, ribbing the runners as they went by.  Purely hysterical.  The running route connecting the parks in some cases was cinched down to about three people wide.  We had been slowed to a walk many times because we got caught by groups of walkers with no way to go around them.  I felt like this really slowed down our overall time where we could have covered more ground more quickly while we still had relatively fresh legs.

Once in Animal Kingdom, the park setting helped with the monotony of the WDW backroads.  But, because AK's paths are so narrow, we were bumping along quite a bit with other runners.  And, it was starting to get pretty hot.  We were about halfway through the marathon, and by now it was about 9am.  The sun was fully up and the shade was disappearing.  It was here in the park that we took an extended bathroom break.  We splashed our faces, changed socks, squeezed out our bondibands and retaped our legs.  The parks were beginning to open, and crowds of people were coming in.  Thankfully WDW clearly marked the runners' route through the parks.

The mile 15 mini celebration
On our way out of Animal Kingdom and onto the WDW "inner-state" roads, we were approaching mile 15 and both of us were beginning to feel spent.  The wall was nearing.  We stopped to take a pic at the 15 mile marker, since that was the furthest either of us had run in a race before, at the Charleston Distance Run.  At this point we were out on the open road, in the sun, with no shade, and we were getting hot and tired.

It was another three miles before we reached the ESPN Sports Complex, our next "diversion" from the open road route.  We reached for our energy bar fuel.  I thought I had another Luna Bar, but I realized I nervously ate it while we were chatting in the corrals.  Tracey generously shared her granola bar with me.  It was a very nice change from the Gu we'd been sucking on during prior miles.

I had been calling out our run/walk intervals.  "Happy Beep" when it was time to walk.  "Let's go" when it was time to run.  Starting into the Sports Complex, we were routed around in narrow passageways through all the sports fields in the complex.  I suddenly became very irritated with people in my way.  I do not like big crowds, and I had hit my limit.  The intervals were useless here, as we were forced to walk behind others because we couldn't get around.  However, my knee had gone from a whine to a scream at this point, so it may have been a blessing.  But, all I knew was that it was getting hotter by the minute, and the sweaty bodies and heavy breathing around me were almost too much for me to take.  Tracey and I had fallen quiet, and I was afraid of overheating.

Heading towards Mile 20 Spectacular
Thankfully, a medical tent was handing out cold sponges.  I think these wet pieces of magic are what brought us back to life for awhile.  We strapped them under the back strap of our sports bras.  Tracey's knee tape was falling off and she went looking for more tape while I chewed more Tylenol.  Super gross, but I was desperate for it to work fast.

Finally we made it to the MILE 20 SPECTACULAR that had been so highly touted before the race.  It was the 20th anniversary of the marathon, so they put forth extra effort at this mile to make the entertainment special.  Also, I have heard that mile 20 is the effort halfway point in marathon.  After my experience, I'd say this statement is true.  Anyway, I'm not sure if it was the near heat stroke or my general irritation, but I thought the spectacular was, well, meh.

It was also at this point that we saw the race sweeper and sag wagons going in the opposite direction, about 6 miles behind us.  It was my goal all along to not get swept up before I finished the race.  I did a quick calculation in my head and figured that from this point, if we could keep a 15 min mile average pace, we should stay ahead of the sweeper.  That was a good thing, too, because by this time, I had a hatchet fully embedded in my knee, our conversation was beginning to trail off and what little we said was incoherent.  Delirium was setting in.  It was mid-morning, no breeze, the pavement was sweltering hot, and the thought of traveling another 6.2 miles felt unobtainable.  Honestly, if I had not had Tracey there with me, I'm not sure I could have kept going.  Halfway to Hollywood Studios, at about mile 22, we were out on the long, sunny, straight 6-lane road, no runners going the other direction (meaning they had been swept up), and slow, staggering runners around us.  At this point I said to Tracey, "I don't care if I run another step."  She said, "Let's just keep going.  See that girl up there in the pink shirt?  Let's run to her."  So we did.  My knee was raging.  But we kept going.

We are strong! Grrrr!!!
We entered Hollywood Studios and put on a strong face for our pic with Wreck-It Ralph, my kids' favorite movie at the time.  Thinking of them, and thinking we only had a few more miles to go, reenergized me some.  We ran down Hollywood Boulevard and lots of cheering spectators lined the route.  My knee was on fire, but I lumbered on, with Tracey, as we picked out landmarks ahead of us to run to.

The walkway to Epcot was miserable.  It was so hot by then that it felt like a steambath.  I was full-on limping by now.  We were so very hot and tired.  Kids playing in the resort pools were hard to look at.  They looked so cool and happy.

Beautiful Hollywood Boulevard
As we entered Epcot between United Kingdom and France, I almost lost it.  The World Showcase is my favorite part of Disney World.  Hubs and I have spent many hours there, exploring the countries, sampling the foods, and enjoying the drinks.  We have done this before and after having kids.  Even with our kids, we always feel like we're on an exotic date when visiting Epcot's World Showcase.  I felt like I was home in this special place for us.  To my amazement, some of the runners were stopping off for beer and frozen vodka drinks!  I know we were within a mile of the finish line, but wow!  (Kinda wish I had thought of that).  Rounding the turn out of the World Showcase and entering the rest of the park, I saw my parents and kids waiting to cheer me on.  I was so happy to see them!  They brought me gummy bears, my favorite.  Tracey and I put on big smiley faces, and rounded the last turn to the back of the park, sung on by the awesome gospel crew, and finally, finally, the finish line was in sight.  I had been texting with hubs, he had run a strong race and finished his first marathon, having already downed a celebratory beer and was lounging in the air conditioned hotel room.  I was beyond thrilled for him, and dreaming of beer and air conditioning myself...

Six long hours after the start of the race, Tracey and I high-fived Mickey and Minnie as we crossed the finish line.  We were marathoners.  Jeez Louise we did it.  I would have never made it through without her by my side.  The frustration, the heat, and the pain would have been too much for me to bear on my own.  I was so glad she was there with me.  I will never forget how the support of another can bring you through when you can no longer do it on your own.  This is why running and fellow runners are friggin awesome.  It's life, in a magnifying glass, lived way more awesomely.  Miles can definitely bring people together.
The hardware


Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend POST II Marathon RUNcation Logistics

197 days of Marathon Training, and the race comes along just to end it....

This is part 2 of my posts about my first marathon, training for it, and the aftermath.  In July of 2012 I began training for the Walt Disney World Marathon using the Jeff Galloway training plan that came with marathon registration.

Warning: this is alot of information, some of it is a snooze unless you're planning on or have run the WDW marathon.  Again, my attempt to share my decisions and experiences in hopes that it will be helpful to others.  Hopefully this will be timely, as those who have registered for WDW 2014 will be thinking about their race weekend plans.

As our big weekend neared, I had many big decisions ahead of me:  first, whether or not to go ahead and run the race, given my bout with a raging case of IT band tendinitis (see prior post).  But second, and probably most important, WHAT TO WEAR?

My best running friend Tracey has a creative gift for all things theatrical, so her costume had been long decided and designed.  Brilliantly, she chose to be Fireside Girl Isabella ("whatchya dooooo-in?") from one of the best-written cartoons on television, Phineas and Ferb.  Hubs was running this marathon too, so I debated between dressing up with him or with Tracey as a duo.  Hubs and I originally had a costume idea to be the female and male characters from Tron, wearing all black, and attaching glow string (since about three hours of the race is in the dark).  However, as I suspected he would from the get-go, hubs backed out of the costume thing so the decision was made for me: I too, would be a Fireside Girl.

Fireside Girls
Donning our yellow tops and brown sparkle skirts, calf sleeves and complete with a Fireside Girl sash and bow-adorned Bondi band, Tracey and Hubs and I met under the streetlamps in the Epcot Parking lot, awaiting the opening of the race corrals.

But before I get too far ahead of myself, let me back up a few days to our logistical mobilization to the race venue.  Also, I need to tell you that I am a logistical nerd.  I love logistics.  I am actually trained in process improvement and efficiency, certified by GE to be a Six Sigma Master Black Belt.  I now use my MBB training to run our family and household, as I stay at home with our little ones, working part time from home.  I LOVE mobilization planning and logistical strategy, so bear with me.

In the days leading up to our scheduled departure, hubs and I went over all of our gear, again thankful that we only had to run at this race, not prepare for all the gear required for a triathlon.  However, preparing for a family vacation to Walt Disney World AND a marathon proved to be quite the strategic challenge.

Luckily, our family regularly visits WDW.  We live 5 hrs away, and can drive there easily.  Because of this, we have our trips honed to a science.  We love to observe other groups of visitors to the parks, slapping their foreheads in utter confusion and frustration, or walking around in a daze, their precisely calculated, to-the-minute touring plan sabotaged in the first hour of the day by their kids who cannot walk past an attraction or a character without planting their feet and demanding to ride, see, or meet.  Dragging the kid past their desired attraction to the one on your touring plan can result in a kid meltdown and refusal to do anything BUT what's in front of them at that moment.  That used to be us, we say to ourselves, as we happily skip through the park with our kids, sans map or touring plan.  Multiple trips per year allow you to do this.  

Our park plan usually consists of a list of "must-dos" for the day, compiled by all of us before we set out.  We diligently get up and out early, hit the parks until about noon, and then race back to the room for some downtime, a nap, or a cool-off at the pool.  Hubs and I usually take turns running during this time, just a 5k or so.  It's amazing how much better our feet and legs feel when we go for a midday run.  We are glued to our TouringPlans app on our iphones to tell us wait times, showtimes, and park hours.  We plan our next move while in line.  After a generous midday break, we head back out to the parks and stay late.  We delight in seeing the park crowds going in the opposite direction as we are.  Most of the crowd is arriving as we are leaving the parks, and those same folks, hot, tired, and having completed only 2 of the things on their extensive list, trudging to the exit as we, refreshed and fueled, are heading back in.

My race toiletry bag
Our race gear:

  • Bondiband
  • sunglasses
  • Body glide & skin strong spray
  • sunscreen
  • run shirts - tank for me, compression top & tech tee for hubs
  • UA compression shorts
  • Nike run shorts for hubs
  • sparkle skirt
  • spi belt for me
  • nathan gel pack for hubs
  • kt tape for my knee
  • Zensah compression calf sleeves
  • ininji socks
  • Hoka One One shoes for me, Brooks Adrenaline for hubs
  • ipod (didn't use it)
  • Garmin watch
  • Road ID
  • iPhone
  • Snotrag
Krispie Treat Carboload
Race fuel:
  • Prerace
    • Ensure
    • Gatorade
    • Clif Bar
  • During race
    • Gu (about every hour to two hours)
    • Gatorade & water at aid stations
    • Luna bar
    • Advil/tylenol
    • Salt Tabs
Night before:
  • "Runner's special" pasta dish from Captain Cook's at the Polynesian
  • Giant rice krispie treat on Main Street USA
  • Gatorade & water all day hydration
WDW gear:
Disney makes it easy
  • Osprey cross-body bag that holds my large camera, etc.
  • North face backpack carried by hubs
  • Select stuffed animals & Disney themed toys for kiddos purchased on prior trips
  • Breakfast foods (for quick getaway in the morning) such as clif bars, etc.
  • Pediasure nutrition drink for kiddos (way to keep them full with nutrients)
  • Park snacks; apples, carrots, nutella sandwich makings, fun size candies
  • Laptop, electronic chargers for phones, etc.
  • Road IDs for entire family
  • Refillable water bottles
  • Wipes, advil, tylenol, chapstick, sunscreen
  • Hand sanitizer & sanitizing wipes
  • Shoes: flip flops (for around hotel), keens (for wet days), and running shoes
  • Family Uniform: sport shorts/capris or cargo shorts, tech tshirt & fleece if needed
View of WDW Half Marathon
from Monorail in Epcot
We had planned on my parents and our family of four to stay in one room at the Polynesian for race weekend.  We chose this hotel for several reasons:  One, the room was big enough for us all to stay comfortably, and it cost the same as two value resort rooms.  Two, for race day mobility, it offered the most and easiest travel options.  Being on the monorail route, hubs and I jumped on the monorail to take us to the race start line, and my parents and kiddos were able to easily spectate the race from the Polynesian grounds.  Also, on race day, the roads and wheeled transportation shuts down after the race start  because of the race route.  However, the monorail continues to run, and those who are staying in a monorail resort, Polynesian, Grand Floridian, or Contemporary, can travel to the Magic Kingdom or Epcot easily during the race.  Plus, since my parents were to be in charge of our kids on race day, riding the monorail was the easiest way for them to get to and from the parks without a hitch.

The room choice was superb, and I believe that anyone who plans to participate in the Marathon with family in tow would not be dissatisfied with any of the resorts on the monorail line.  Yes, they cost ALOT more than other Disney resorts.  However, the reduction in the logistical challenges of staying at other resorts on race weekend is probably worth the premium price.  I maintain that all Disney resorts are ridiculously expensive, but we keep coming back to them because staying there removes some of the hassle factor from your vacation.  In contrast to staying at a monorail line resort, runners must wait in line for a bus to the race route.  This part is very easy for the runners.  The problem arises for their families and spectators.  For anyone who wants to spectate and cheer their runner, and want to see them on the course, spectators will have to be on a bus by 5:45am to avoid transportation route closures.  Once on the course, spectators can take the monorail between the Magic Kingdom and Epcot.  Or, if they want to meet you at the finish line, they can board a bus later in the day and go directly to the finish, missing their runner en route.  

Runners must be on Disney transportation by 3:30am...just an fyi...that is an EARLY morning.  But the race day adrenaline kicks in quickly!

WDW offers free runner tracking for spectators to keep track of their runner on the course.  Anyone can track marathon runners on the course by setting up a text message to come to their phone as the runner crosses milestones along the way.  This helps those on WDW campus to predict where their runner is, and get themselves in position to cheer them on as they pass by.

Other logistical issues to consider:
  • I would recommend taking WDW transportation to and from the Expo for packet pickup.  Parking at the ESPN Sports Complex is a disaster.  Plus taking the race transportation is fun, and you get to check out and talk to other runners.  
  • I would also recommend hitting the Expo on Marathon weekend (if you're only doing the marathon, and not the Goofy Challenge) at the last possible moment, Saturday afternoon.  By this time the expo crowds have significantly lessened, and packet pickup has no wait.  The only downside to this strategy is that by this time, the marathon merchandise has also significantly lessened.  So if you are hell-bent on getting lots of WDW marathon souvenirs, you may be disappointed.
  • Plan time to visit and tour both before the marathon and after.  Some folks make the mistake of thinking they'll be too tired to tour parks after the marathon.  I argue the opposite.  Time on your feet before the marathon can impact your marathon performance.  Time walking around the parks after the marathon is excellent for helping to lessen soreness and stiffness.  
  • The best part about walking around the parks after the marathon is the knowing looks and celebratory experience that continues for days after the race.  Runners wear their medals and race tees through the parks and congratulate each other.  WDW cast members congratulate the runners as well, and the thrill of completing your marathon and the afterglow of the race continues at WDW like no other race venue.
  • Bring shoes other than running shoes to tour the parks after the marathon.  Blisters, swelling, chafing, and general foot soreness can make wearing enclosed shoes painful.  Bring a supportive pair of sandals or flip flops, preferably a shoe that will accommodate compression recovery socks or sleeves.  Yes, you will be much slower limping around in the parks after running a marathon.  But, you will not be the only one, and it's quite humbling and comedic to see others hobbling around.  The groans from runners as they sit or stand (especially in the bathroom or on a ride) is hilarious.  It's a hobble of pride.  
  • Bring your own race day breakfast in case the hotel breakfast is not suitable for your tummy.  Remember, nothing new on race day.  So if you haven't had eggs and waffles prior to a run, I wouldn't recommend downing them at 3am prior to the marathon.  WDW resort hotels provide a runner's breakfast, consisting of something like a bagel and cream cheese, fruit and coffee.
  • On race morning don't forget the sunscreen and sunglasses and/or visor.  It is dark when you leave your room and when the race starts.  It's easy to forget that the sun will come up mid-race, and you will want your shades for the Florida sun.
OK, that was a novel.  But, hopefully someone will find it helpful.  Next post:  The race itself.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend 2013 POST 1: TRAINING & KNEE INJURY

WDW Marathon 2013!
Well these posts are long, long overdue.  I have spent several months mulling over my marathon experience, and now I'm finally ready to write about it.  My hope is that someone will read this post who is having a similar injury experience and can learn from it as well.

At the beginning of 2012, hubs and I debated whether or not we wanted to dedicate 2012 to training for a marathon or a half ironman.  We decided that by doing a marathon first, the half marathon at the end of the 70.3 would be mentally easier to do after having completed 26.2.  13.1 was the furthest either of us had raced.  

So marathon it was!  We decided to go big, and do it at one of our favorite places on earth, Walt Disney World in Florida.  I had run the WDW Princess Half Marathon the year before, and resolved then that if I ever did a marathon, it would be at Disney.  Those folks know what they're doing!  At Princess, the miles flew by, and the venue and logistics were seamless.  They make it hard to feel tired when so many Disney characters are cheering you on! 

On the day of marathon registration, we were at my Dad's camp in the cranberry wilderness of West Virginia.  We used a cell booster to get the signal we needed to register for the WDW marathon.  My parents were with us, and they agreed to come too, so a family weekend at WDW was planned!  My best running friend, Tracey, who also ran the Princess Half, the Charleston Distance Run and the Savannah Half also registered for the WDW marathon.  She is the only friend of mine who is as crazy as I am over planning fun and challenging race venues.  Soon after our registration, we texted each other, "WHAT HAVE WE DONE!?!" but resolved to keep each other going as we trained for the marathon.  Little did we know how much we would need each other before it was all over.

We decided to follow the Jeff Galloway training plan, since it was easy to download to our calendars.  Plus it was fun to be on the same plan as so many training for the marathon, sharing our experiences on Twitter and DailyMile.  If I had one regret about the training, it was the lack of cross training that it includes, but I know now that I should have dedicated more time to cross and strength training myself.  More about that later.  
Training in the heat of
summer in SC means
lots of running
before dawn!

On July 4, 2012, we kicked off our marathon training.  At first it was a step back from the mileage and pace I had already been running.  But I loyally followed the plan, and ran my long runs on the weekend and a 30-45 min run twice a week.  I stayed with this until the marathon in January of 2013.  Along the way we registered for and ran the Charleston Distance Run 15 miler as a "training run" (see prior post), and ran several 5ks, Savannah Rock and Roll Half Marathon, the Savannah River Bridge Run (hubs), and other various running events.  One thing I noticed quickly was that marathon training made 5 miles feel like 1 mile, but my average pace at all distances was slowing down.  Looking back, I really should have built in some regular speedwork and tempo runs.  
My best running friend Tracey
and me at Savannah Rock & Roll Half Mary

After finishing the Savannah Rock and Roll Half in November, I was standing in the middle of Forsythe Park looking for Tracey who had also run the race.  As I stood and swiveled back and forth, scanning the crowd, my left knee "popped."  It felt like a tendon rolled briefly over a bone and snapped back in place.  It hurt, and was sore, but my crazy bumpy joints pop all the the time so I didn't think much of it.  

Between the Half Marathon and my next long run, I ran a few 30 minute runs and had no soreness in my knee.  My next long run was to be 17 miles.  By about mile 12 my knee was really aching, and by mile 13 I pretty much had to stop running.  This was the first time I have ever had an injury that made me stop.  Walking was fine.  Running was excruciating.

After that, anytime I ran over about 2 miles, my knee forced me to stop.  Frustrated, I made an appointment at the Orthopedist's office and went in for a consult.  He confirmed that I had a case of IT Band tendinitis, and sent me back with the recommendation to rest as much as I could and when I did run, go until it hurts, then walk home.  Also he told me to ice 3 times per day and ibuprofen around the clock to dampen the tendinitis.  He said that if I couldn't get the tendinitis under control before my long training runs and the marathon, he'd give me a cortisone shot to get me over the hump. 

My one & only 20+ training run
Two weeks later I went back for the cortisone shot, right before Christmas.  The shot definitely prolonged my "run until it hurts" runs, but did not kill the pain completely.  I still had to stop at about 6 or 7 miles.  By this time I had one 20+ mile run to get in before the race.  Just after the first of the year, my family and I were in FL and my parents kept the kids while hubs and I embarked on our 20+ mile training run.  I used the Galloway method and ran/walked the run (4 mins run, 1 min walk) and completed all 22 miles.  My body hurt, my knee was not too happy with me, but I got it done.  To me, that was the important part.  Now I believed I could probably do all 26.2 in the state of injury I was currently in.

Ocean ice baths are the best
Per my Orthopod's recommendation, I went to a physical therapist before the race to learn how to tape my knee with KT tape, and some pointers to avoid pain during the race.  At this point I knew there would be no running without pain, it was just a matter of how far I could get before the pain forced me to stop.

Unfortunately my knee pain got progressively worse up until the start of Marathon Weekend, probably because the cortisone shot was wearing off.  I was disheartened, with all the time spent training, and I even considered withdrawing from the race.  Honestly, if it had been any other race, I would have withdrawn.  But my family was coming down for the weekend to make a vacation out of it, and we had so much invested.  I felt safe attempting this race at WDW, knowing that the race is very well staffed and I would not be left alone on the course.  

How to tape my knee
So I was prepared for the worst: a DNF at my first marathon.  But, I knew Walt Disney World would not let me down.  The magic of the place and the miracle of help from a friend taught me a lesson in human perseverance and a reliance on others that I would not have ever learned if I had run a healthy marathon.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Charleston Distance Run 15 miler - Capitol Punishment

The Charleston Distance Run celebrated its 40th birthday this year on the banks of the Kanawha River in West Virginia.  I celebrated my 37th a few days prior to the race.  Twenty years ago, near my 17th birthday, I emerged from the Kanawha River after competing in the 1.5-mile Charleston Distance Swim and watched the start of the Charleston Distance Run 15-mile race.  Back then, the events were part of weeklong Charleston Sternwheel Regatta festivities that brought hundreds of thousands of revelers to the Kanawha Valley and downtown Charleston.  In 1992, watching the start of the race, I was in awe of the throngs of mostly men as they chugged past me, running towards the mountain looming in the distance, as they tested themselves on a challenging 15 mile race.  Even though I had just swam over a mile, the thought of running 15 miles in our hilly valley astounded me.

Beautiful Capitol of West Virginia
Fast forward to 20 years later, and I am sprinting from the parking lot to the starting line, barely reaching the crowd of participants before the cannon goes off.  I step in, we lurch forward, and the race has begun before I even have the chance to process the fact that I was actually amongst the runners attempting to run the 15 mile race.  The night before, we arrived from South Carolina to my parents' house in my West Virginia hometown, just downriver from Charleston.  In a flurry of activity, we got the kids to bed, our running gear gathered, our packets inspected, and bib numbers distributed.  I ate my traditional night-before-race-day giant bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios as I mentally went through my running gear checklist.  My entire family was to participate in Charleston Distance Run events:  my mom and dad would do the 5k walk with our 3 year old, my 7 year old son would run the 5k with my brother, and my husband and sister-in-law would be running the 15 miler.
Bro & Sis-in-law before the start

All of these logistics made for a frenzied getting-ready process the morning of the race.  I am usually extremely organized, with sharpie-labeled baggies of nutrition and gear.  This morning I just grabbed my dedicated running duffle bag and hit the door.  We arrived at the Laidley Field parking lot with only minutes to get ready and hit the bathroom.  We ran to the start in the already-hot and muggy morning, with temps in the upper 70s and 100% humidity.  I was immediately slicked in sweat.  Eww.

Bro & my 7yo son running 5k
The Charleston Sternwheel Regatta is sadly no longer, but the Distance Run has survived despite the festival's demise.  At this 40th running, it has maintained its draw: America's 15 miler.  The race directors have been pressured in the past to make the run a 13.1 half marathon, or to take the Hill of Death out of the course, both strategies in order to attract more participants.  But, I am glad the race organizers have stuck to their guns: the 15 mile race is unique, and The Hill makes for a tremendous challenge and a breathtakingly beautiful ride down the other side.  Those of us who have participated in Half Marys in the past welcome the challenge to race "just two more miles," and will find that those last two miles will be some of the hardest in the race.  Marathoners love the shorter distance, and the challenge of The Hill is a great test of even the strongest marathon legs.

Hubs looking strong at mile 11
Photo by Dan Todd
Speaking of marathons, many folks I talked to prior to the race were using this race as "a training run" for an upcoming marathon.  Hubs and I also took this strategy as we train for our first marathon this winter.  My goal was to run an actual race, at marathon pace, testing hydration and nutrition strategies, as well as clothing and gear.  I learned a whole lot on this race, and despite the heat and humidity, posted a pace that was close to my goal marathon pace.  I also learned that my long slow distances are making me a long slow runner.  I even had a wise friend tell me so, which was very helpful.  I learned that in order to not lose my speed during marathon training, that I need to work more speedwork into my training, and register for some shorter distance races in the meantime.  I also got the chance to test out the saltsticks during this race, as the high humidity made the hydration very tricky.  In longer endurance events, I have a tendency to cramp in my legs, causing what my brother and I jokingly call the "fainting goat" cramps...our legs stiffen and we literally almost fall over, with straight legs.  The saltstick strategy worked, and I had no cramps during the race.  My nutrition and hydration strategy was:

  • Honey Nut Cheerios and coffee at 5:30am
  • Ensure at 6:30am
  • Gatorade and water on the way to the race
  • Clif Shot Double Expresso 10 mins before the start
  • Saltstick at 40 mins
  • Clif Shot Strawberry at about 50 mins
  • Saltstick at 1:30
  • Clif Shot Strawberry at 1:45
  • Saltstick at 2:00
  • Alternated Gatorade and Water at each relief station
  • Saltstick and Gatorade after finish

My hurried start to the race caused me to forget several items, but running without them turned out to be fine, and was a good test as to what I really needed on a long race.  I forgot my calf sleeves, sunscreen (thankfully it was cloudy), patellar strap, and sunglasses (again, not needed).  The rest of my gear consisted of:
  • Headsweats visor (which I ditched at mile 11)
  • iPod shuffle (used intermittently during the race when I needed a music boost) 
  • Under Armor tank, Champion sports bra (my favorite from Target)
  • Under Armor compression shorts
  • North Face shorts
  • Hippie Runner expandable pouch belt
  • 3 Clif Shots, Strawberry and Double Expresso
  • 4 Saltstick caplets
  • iPhone
  • Thorlo Experia socks
  • Asics Gel Nimbus 13
Me at mile 11ish
Photo by Dan Todd
I was not happy with my expandable pouch belt and shirt combination.  The shirt was billowy, and the belt had to go under the shirt, and it bounced and irritated my bare skin.  Everything else worked great, even when soaking wet with sweat.  My shoes squished as sweat ran in rivulets down me into my socks.  The Experia socks are by far my favorite, they have not let me down yet!

The Course
The race course is a beautiful representation of the city of Charleston WV.  Runners start at the stunning capitol building, one of the prettiest in the nation.  

The Boulevard
The first few miles are along the flat Kanawha Boulevard, a favorite route of local runners.  The view from the Boulevard is breathtaking: stately homes and buildings to the right, the Kanawha River to the left, and the mountains rising from the riverbank on the other side.  Then runners cross the South Side Bridge, and run downriver on the Old Kanawha Turnpike until turning up The Hill.  

The Hill
The Hill (affectionately known locally as the Hill of Death, or HOD for short) is a long straight uphill along a main thoroughfare, Corridor G.  Nothing scenic about this part of the run at all.  Just a good two miles of uphill chug, staring at the pavement in front of you.  Then the hill breaks, and turns left into South Hills, an established affluent neighborhood with an eclectic assortment of creatively-built hillside homes.  The hill continues on for another mile or so, and just before the summit, the George Washington High School band plays, encouraging runners up that last steep section.  

The Downhill
Then, finally, runners start their cruise downhill, along a beautiful shady road.  Spectators line the route in their driveways, cheering them on.  The last section of downhill reveals a spectacular view of the river, capitol, and city skyline with the mountains behind it.  Back across the South Side bridge, the run takes you through the flat East End, among Charleston's largest and oldest homes.  Residents were standing in front of their homes and on their porches, cheering on the runners, and a few lovely souls had their garden hoses out, spraying us off as we ran by.

The Capitol and Boulevard (again)
The East End section ended and the Capitol grounds began.  A scenic but quick run through the capitol complex, a turn right, and by mile 9 we were back on the Boulevard where we started.  Fortunately the aid station here offered cups of ice, which reenergized me for the last 10k.  A long run along the Boulevard, and runners turn right into downtown, past the mall, and a final turn right toward the finish.

Final 2 miles
Probably the hardest section of the race, the final two miles was demoralizing and tough.  Again, I have run several 13.1s, but these last two miles proved to be tougher than I anticipated.  Spectators dropped off, runners were spread out, and the scenery turned into the warehouse district, which is not exactly a scenic area to run through.  The buildings blocked any hint of wind that may have been stirring in the valley.  Runners can hear Laidley Field (the finish line) from this part of the run, the announcer calling the finishers' names as they make their way around the track in the stadium, with spectators cheering from the bleachers.  Knowing I had to run that last 300 meters in front of a large crowd, I found myself taking frequent walk breaks in those last two miles, mainly to make sure I could finish strong.  I also was starting to experience chill bumps, an indication that I was getting too hot and had to slow down.  Boo.  By this time, in these conditions, runners had been sweating profusely for over two hours, the sun was high (but luckily it was cloudy), temperatures were heating up, and gumption was running out.  

However, my final two miles were probably less ugly than others', because my brother showed up to ride with me on his bike, having finished the 5k, offering funny stories and a much-needed towel.  His comic relief helped me forget my aches and pains and trudge on.  And yes, at this point, it was a trudge.  

My friend Tracey and me cooling off at the finish
Photo by Dan Todd
I was so happy to finally enter Laidley Field.  The place where I ran my track meets as a high schooler, this track has many memories embedded in it for me.  I watched my brother play high school football here, and spent many hours here myself, running the 400, 800, relays, and 200 and 300 hurdles in my super awesome racing spikes.  The good ole days.  I rounded the last turn for the finish line, where the finish line was for track meets as well.  A flashback to the early 90s hit me as I crossed that line.  A volunteer handed me a cold wet towel, and I was glad to finally have the Charleston Distance Run behind me.  And guess what?  I immediately thought, "I cannot wait to do it again."  Ok, I can WAIT to do it again, but I definitely WANT to do it again. 

I was proud to finish the race, and I was very proud of those who also finished that day.  My husband finished with a strong time, my sister-in-law finished speedily, as always, and my long-distance running friend Tracey finished well, topping off just over a year of running.  My parents and 3yo finished the 5k walk, and my brother and 7yo son finished the 5k race.  Race medals were earned all around.  The volume of folks out being physical that Saturday morning made me proud for my family and proud for West Virginia.  

Overall the race was a great experience.  Yes, the conditions were miserable.  The humidity was stifling and to be sweating for that long is agonizing.  The mental challenge of running up The Hill is a significant test of will and toughness.  Training for such a race throughout the hot South Carolina summer is not easy.  I learned that many trials await those who take on this race, and those who finish come through stronger and more confident for their future races.

It took me 20 years to work up the guts to run the Distance Run.  Now I hope I'll still be running it in another 20 years.  New goal.

7yo & 3yo show off their muscles and medals after finishing 5k

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Going to the Dogs: Dirty and Dancing

This was my third year running the Dirty Dog 15k in Charleston, West Virginia.  This race is special to me, because it was my first race longer than a 5K and my first big challenge as a runner.  This is also the race that I registered my husband and brother for in 2010 (without their permission), so that they would be forced to train and run it with me.  Our first Dirty Dog kicked off a passion for racing challenges which led to our first triathlon and half marathon.  And if those aren't reason enough, my friends are the race directors, and the t-shirt is awesome.  Oh yeah, and you get to run with dogs.

The Dirty Dog 15K is a fun but incredibly challenging race set in the beautiful and mountainous Kanawha State Forest just outside the state's capitol city.  KSF is especially rugged and remote, spanning well over nine thousand acres.  The trails are mostly single-track and challenging, with boulders, creek crossings and fallen tree hurdling.  The best part about the race is that runners can run with their four-legged running partners off-leash.  The presence of the dogs knocks the seriousness of the race down a few notches.  It's hard to get uptight about running performance when the sound of a baying bloodhound is echoing through the valley, a golden retriever is sniffing your rear, and a lab is joyously splashing through each creek crossing.  Dogs of all shapes and sizes come out for the race, along with their runners of all shapes and sizes.  Many of the duos look amazingly alike.

The Dirty Dog 15k was written up in Runner's World Magazine as the "Best Doggy Race."  The race had a record attendance year, with almost 300 runners and over 50 canines.  Major kudos to Tracey and Dan Todd, race directors, who managed the throngs efficiently.  Robert's Run Shop in Charleston hosted a race day eve packet pickup party which helped reduce the registration line on race morning.  Volunteers directed traffic and a jamming pre-race party mix helped everyone get on site happily and easily.

Post-race Ice Bath
The race is very well organized yet delightfully informal, with lots of great food at the end, and a park atmosphere at the start-finish line.  The trail has absolutely no flat places in it...runners are either climbing or descending the whole way.  The route is shaded by the dense forest, and the mostly single-track trails are muddy, bouldery, or mossy.  The spectating is family-friendly.  There is a playground for the kidlets and a crisp cold creek that many of the dogs and runners took advantage of post-race, including myself.  

My four-legged partner, Daisy, unfortunately did not get to run this year.  She was limping the morning of the race and I didn't have the heart to run her for 9.3 miles not knowing what was causing her soreness.  She has a hot spot on one of her footpads, so I was hoping that is all it was.  (turns out it was just that)  Regardless, this was no race to take any chances.  So, my husband and I were to run it without our furry friend this time.  

My Dad and Alex taking their job very seriously
A huge bonus that almost made up for Daisy not running with us was that my brother, dad, and 7 year old son volunteered for the race and manned aid station 3.  I looked forward to seeing them, and knew that around mile 6 or 7 I would see their smiling faces as they handed me much-needed fluids.  Seeing them gave me the adrenaline boost I needed to get through the final three miles with a smile.

Last year I improved my first-year time by a significant amount.  However, this year, even though I felt fitter, I did not believe I would be faster.  A few months after the Dirty Dog 2011 my family and I moved to coastal South Carolina from our hilly West Virginia home.  I knew that the lack of available hill training would affect my DD15K performance.  I was prepared for that.  I knew this race was going to hurt.  Bad.  But what I didn't realize was how much my yoga training would help my race.  Yoga is no substitute for hills, but I did learn some key techniques in my Baptiste-style yoga class that improved my race and my recovery.

Here's the story:
I joined a yoga studio when I moved to Beaufort South Carolina which promotes the Baptiste style of yoga.  For lack of a better way to put it, Dancing Dogs Yoga Studio teaches power yoga for athletes as part of their menu of classes.  I have done yoga for almost ten years, but I have never reaped the benefits like I have in the classes at Dancing Dogs.  These power yoga classes are a form of cross-training that I would recommend to any runner or triathlete.  The yoga practice not only strengthens and tones muscles, but teaches body awareness and a presence that translates to everyday life in a powerful way.

Top Dog Macey Warner
awesome photo by Joel Wolpert,
So what makes Baptiste yoga different?  I asked Shelley Lowther, owner of Dancing Dogs this question.  According the Shelley, "The Baptiste method speaks to True North Alignment by emphasizing stacking your joints and bringing your spine and body into optimal alignment.  This translates so well into all sports.  If you keep your spine long, tailbone tucked, core engaged, you gain access to your body's strength.  You lose strength when you fall out of alignment."  As a yoga student of hers, I can attest to the fact that bringing awareness to your body's alignment helps you engage your muscles and lift the pressure from your joints.  I have a tight pre-arthritic knee that has bothered me for years.  Being aware of how my quadricep muscles can either bang on that knee or lift the weight off of the knee has been incredibly helpful to me and how I not only do yoga but how I run and bike.

Shelley explains further, "True North Alignment is being true to yourself, and physically it’s bringing your body to anatomical neutral.  The easiest way to think about this is to look at a skeleton hanging on hook like you see in doctor's offices.  The joints naturally stack on top of one another.  While your body is aligned, it is easier to access your strength potential.  When your shoulders are back, core is in, it enables you to find all the power that you have.  The stacking of the joints is especially important in injury prevention and it helps minimize abuse.  Joints get pounded while running, but if you stay in alignment, you allow the muscles and tendons to do their job and absorb it." 

In the weeks leading up to the Dirty Dog, I attended a workshop hosted by Shelley's studio and taught by Mark White, who is a Senior Baptiste Teacher and owner of Baptiste Affiliate MBody Yoga in Jacksonville, FL.  The workshop was called "Creating Tadasana" and it was all about how to create balance within your body and learning True North Alignment.  The workshop made so much sense to me, and I found myself reflecting on I continued to train for the Dirty Dog race. 

The finish line...I'm in lime green
During the race itself, I heard Shelley and Mark's voice in my head telling me ways to get over the tough terrain.  Key phrases like, "keep water on your joints," "keep your spine long," "SMILE!" and "engage your core" helped me maintain an awareness of my body as I traversed the rocky and hilly terrain.  Other runners stiffened and fell all around me, but I stayed true, applying what I had learned in my yoga classes.  I spread my toes and stayed on the balls of my feet, grounding into the four corners of my feet.  I kept my thoracic spine lifted and shoulder blades down and back to allow for full breaths.  I stayed aware of my breathing and forced myself to keep an even, steady breath.  My balance was great, and I did not fall, although I had a few close calls.  

Dirty Dog Daisy
I learned to be nice to my body, even while I was in the middle of a technically challenging and pounding race.  This, above all the miles of trails and roads I had run leading up to this race was the key to my success this year at the Dirty Dog.  I did not shave many minutes off of my 2011 time, but I definitely improved my overall performance.  This year it was not about finish time.  It was about body awareness, injury prevention, and true enjoyment and celebration of strength and power.

Dirty Dog 2013 is already on my calendar.  I will always love this race!    


Sunday, April 29, 2012

Stand Up Paddleboarding as Cross Training

If you ever get the chance to go Stand Up Paddleboarding, drop what you're doing and GO.  This activity is by far one of the most fun, adventurous, peaceful things I have ever done.  I'm lucky enough to be able to go paddleboarding with a group that meets regularly, but going solo is a very zen way to tune in with yourself and nature.

Even though it's easier than it looks, paddleboarding is quite a workout.  In order to propel yourself through the water you have to fully engage your core and pull the paddle alongside the board.  How fast and hard you paddle affects the intensity of the workout, as does environmental factors such as tide/current and wind.

I use paddleboarding as a form of cross training between running and biking sessions.  I love the impact-free workout that works arms, shoulders, obliques, abs, and back muscles much like a weight training session.  Quads are engaged, as are ankles, knees, and inner thighs while balancing on the board.  Combine a Bosu ball, free weight session, and an intense full ab workout and you start to get close to the benefits of paddleboarding.  Get out of the loud stinky gym and out in the fresh air on the quiet water with a paddleboard!

Side benefits of paddleboarding include:  up close and amazing wildlife sightings, views of shore that cannot be seen or appreciated by large boats, the "cool factor" of driving around with a board on top of your vehicle, the cute outfits (think Athleta catalog) and being part of a relatively new sport.  And my kids think I'm a pretty cool mom for doing it too.  Score.

Many outdoor outfitters are now carrying paddleboards both for purchase and as rentals.  I prefer flat water paddleboarding, but some boards are made for breaking waves and for paddling beyond the breakers.  Next time you're tempted to rent a kayak to explore the waters, try paddleboarding!  You'll love it, and you'll get an outstanding workout.