The Marathon of Half Marathons - Pt. 1 - First Half, Running Between the Vines
I know I know - I'm SO SO overdue! But I had to write about this experience, because the 6 months of this year that I spent training for races I spent doing things that I never thought I would do! I never thought I would challenge myself this much! EVER!
I've told myself that "I'm not a runner" for so long and that I wouldn't be able to do this for SO LONG that the fact that it has happened STILL astonishes me. It's crazy to think that I went from being someone who felt this way about running (and themselves) to someone who ran three 12+ mile races in the span of 2 months. Who am I?!
I'm going to break this whole deal up into pieces, race by race because, well, each race and each training taught me something complete different both about the process and about myself. I'm going to talk about:
- My first half, the success, struggles, lessons, and some of the less glamorous things I learned about the side effects of running.
- My first obstacle course, a Tough Mudder, and how I experienced some of my highest highs and lowest lows in the span of a few hours.
- My second half and big adventure to San Francisco for the Nike Women's Half.
If you're looking for specific deets about what training program I used or what snacks/gear I trained with, scroll all the way to the bottom! :-)
This is going to be a fun story to tell! So let's get cracking with part 1...
MY FIRST RACE - RUNNING BETWEEN THE VINES...
From Inspiration to pulling the trigger...
Running a half marathon was something I'd written on my bucket list way back when. I wanted a fitness challenge, but was admittedly way daunted and afraid of full marathons to tackle that. So I wrote down half. But it has always been one of those goals that I kind of wondered if I would ever do. Like I said, I've always classified myself as "not a runner." I'm short legged, my muscles are very compact and tight, and I've never enjoyed running distances. I'm a soccer player - I am most comfortable in spurts and sprints.
But, I watched my close friend Cullen run in the Flying Pig half marathon in Cincinnati last spring, and I was pretty blown away by that whole event. Now, the Flying Pig is a big event. There was a gigantic expo, events all over Cincinnati for it, but the thing that blew me away the most is how many people there were out on the streets the morning of the race. I mean, the start time was EARLY the day after Kentucky Derby, and still there were all these people out on the streets with signs and cowbells cheering people on. At the finish, I watched all these people cross the Finish line with these looks of elation, exhaustion, and victory painted across their face. I wanted to feel like that! I wanted to do this thing that I'd felt for so long I couldn't do.
So, not 3 weeks later, I used my birthday money to buy myself a new pair of running shoes and register for my first ever half marathon - Running Between the Vines, sponsored by RunningFit.
The first thing I was scared of when I started running? MY bad knees...
One of the biggest reasons I was never a runner before was because of the knee pain I would periodically get when I went on long runs. My 2 knee surgeries were not kind to me in that regard and I was scared of how my knees would feel after 13.1 MILES!
So fortunately, Cullen was nice enough to send me some YouTube videos from the world-renowned running and mobility coach Dr. Kelly Starret. Basically, through these handful of Youtube videos, this guy re-taught me how to run and run with good form so that my knees wouldn't hate me afterward! Here are some of the videos:
I'll add more of the videos that I watched as I find them again! But basically, the BIGGEST things that I learned that helped me in these videos are:
- Keep your feet underneath you. My tendency when I ran was to stride really long for my length. As a result, my heel would strike each time I planted my foot. This put a lot of stress on my knee joint! No WONDER my knees were so pissed after I went running!
- Lean forward. If keeping your feet under you isn't something you can wrap your brain or your body around, then instead just simply try leaning forward. I had the tendency to lean back, which, again, would cause me to stride out and put a lot of pressure on my knees.
If you're not sure if and what you're doing in your running style, film yourself and watch it back so that you can see how exactly you're running.
RUNNING TO PROVE MYSELF TO ME
In the middle of half marathon training, I had my first major personal victory. It was an incredibly enlightening experience for me. Each week was a new personal milestone in endurance training. For the first time in my life, I'd ran 6 miles. But for my first 7 mile run, I didn't have my team with me, my two friends to motivate me. I had to run my long run for this week all by myself. 7 MILES.
I was scared when I left my house. I had been fighting injuries all week, and I was scared that between those aches and pains and without my team to support me that my mental toughness wouldn't be enough. It had failed me in the past when it came to running, and I was afraid I wouldn't be strong enough to push myself through this. But I hit the pavement anyway.
And something pretty remarkable happened.
I had a presence, a mindfulness during this run that I've never had before. And I learned a lot about running, why it's a struggle, and how big of a part your thoughts and your environment play into that process.
I had aches everywhere, I was all up in my head, and on so many occasions I wanted to stop! I felt so dead for this last mile, but I wouldn't stop. I couldn't stop. This last mile was a battle of wills.
When I hit that 7 mile mark - I could only describe it as elation. Muted elation, definitely, because I was too exhausted to truly celebrate, but I fist pumped, I grinned the toothiest, cheesiest grin...I was ecstatic, and on some levels in disbelief.
I had told myself FOR YEARS that I couldn't do distance running for so many reasons. I'd say..."I'm not built that way," "My knees can't take it," "I get too bored." There were so many ways that I self-sabotaged before, but I realized that day that my biggest sabotage was my mindset....
In the heat of the moment and the rush of motivation, positivity, and elation that I had upon finishing this run...I posted this oninstagram...
That was a STRUGGLE of a 7th mile! I could feel it everywhere but if I've learned anything while half marathon training it's that you can do incredible things if you just let yourself. If you just learn to turn off that damn voice in your head that tells you all the reasons why you can't or sometimes why you shouldn't...you'd be freaking blown away by what you can do.
It's never that you can't do something. It's that you won't. You WON'T let yourself! YOU are HOLDING YOURSELF BACK! Instead tell yourself all the REASONS WHY YOU WILL NOT QUIT. No matter what it is that motivates you...whether it's for all the times you've given up on yourself, all the people that have given up on you, or the naysayers that doubt you...whatever!
Be PERSISTENT toward what you want and what you're working for and you're going to do some AMAZING things in your life!!
Looking back on this run ...it felt like a learning experience. It felt like a testament to the mental strength that I have that I don't give myself credit for. It felt like validation. And it felt like I was making progress in these ways that are seemingly intangible until I really test myself.
LETTING GO OF MY PERFECTION
But before I leave you on that positive note, realize that nothing about this training program was perfect or easy. In fact, the nearer I got to the race, the more I struggled. I got to a point during training when my body really started pushing back against the mileage and my mindset was not helping me. I went from doing my first 7 miles to my first 8, and then when it came to 9 miles...I couldn't break through this barrier!
I am a perfectionist, and I was admittedly very frustrated. For some reason, I got it in my head that if I lay out a plan and do the work that the thing I want will just work out. But as we all know, things don't work like that. So when I kept hitting this barrier week after week, I was mad!
But if there's anything that I learned during my experiences in the last year, it's that personal development is as transformational as fitness for me. I listened to the book Expectation Hangover, by Christine Hassler...and I realized that that was exactly what I was going through. My expectation is flawless and perfect execution as I move toward a goal. and when I don't achieve that I get frustrated. But I'm not giving myself credit for all the positive steps forward I have made during this training.
Things don't work seamlessly. And for the perfectionist in me, that's kind of hard to stomach. But who's to say that I didn't do something really good for myself ANY time I got up and went for a run? Progress is an important part of any journey. But we can't discount how battling through these obstacles is going to make any of us better in the long run.
OVERCOMING OBSTACLES - A NOTE ON RUNNER'S TROTS...
ALRIGHT FRIENDS, I'M OFFICIALLY GOING TO TALK ABOUT POOP.
Haha, okay so I went back and forth on whether or not to talk about this. My sister-in-law would be appalled that I'm going to, but I personally wish that I'd had the balls to talk about this and or ask about it to my runner friends when I initially realized what was going on.
Runner's trots is a really nice way of saying that you get running-induced diarrhea. I know, I know...it seems like TMI. But this IS a thing, particularly for runner's (hence the name!) and is actually something anyone in a running sport can experience! I actually realize now that I've been dealing with this since soccer days! And the reason why it's so problematic is that it's very sudden, in my experience. There's no warning by your body! It's not like your stomach says, "Hey! I'm not gonna feel too hot in about 2 miles so if you could like game plan a rest stop that would be awesome." Nope. It catches you completely off guard, usually when there's no restroom in site.
But why the heck does this happen!? Trainfora5k.com says:
The way our intestines are constantly jostled as we run can cause you to have to make a pit stop at a portapotty. Comparing the constant impact a runner undergoes with the relatively smooth movements of a cyclist or swimmer. It’s no surprise that this constant jarring might loosen up what's contained in the intestines.
So you can kind of see why this would be a problem for distance runners, right?! You're definitely exercising your extremities, and your circulation is trying to keep up! And you're definitely dehydrating yourself! For me, it usually occurred with some intense shooting pains in my joints, particularly my shoulders. These were pains that I had never experienced before, and really had no legitimate reason to be experiencing them!
When I finally got the courage to talk to my runner friends about this, I realized that this is like laughably common and nothing to be ashamed of.
It was suggested to me to try a few things.
1) Run with a snack. A lot of runners use some sort of mid-race energy, carb, and electrolyte packed snacks. A lot of people recommended recommended Gu packs. These are pretty common among runners and a lot of races give them away at water stations. You kind of slurp them, but I found that I didn't like them because the consistency was a little bit too much like toothpaste and kind of made me gag. So I personally have found that I really like Cliff Energy Bloks. Not only do I feel like I'm eating gummy candies in the middle of my run, but I like their packaging because it fits so nicely in my belt - which I'll talk about in a second! If you want to stick to a more "natural" option, I have a friend who ran the New York Marathon and she used dates as her snack!
2) Run with your own hydration. A lot of people run with water bottles attached to their running belts. I personally didn't want to do this. Dehydration during a race and cramping have never been an issue for me, so I didn't do this. But this is totally an option. Especially if you have a particular type of sports drink or workout hydration drink you use. If I ever did this, I'd probably use Beachbody Performance Hydrate cuz that shit is da bomb!
3) Take an anti-diarrheal. I feel like this is another one of those TMI ones, but c'mon - aren't we past that point in our friendship!? ;-) I don't know why I didn't think of this one. Like I mentioned, I used to experience the equivalent to Runner's trots when I was playing competitive soccer, and I used to just keep Immodium on hand. So, I started doing this too! I would take the recommended dose 30 mins before the race, and then carry an extra one just in case while I ran.
So - moral of the story - upset stomachs during a run or a race IS A THING, and it's definitely not something to be embarrassed about because it happens to a lot of people! Lesson learned!
FLIP-BELTS...THE BESTEST FOR YOUR RUNNING TOYS (& TREATS)!
When I realized all of the stuff I would be bringing with me on the run, I kind of started to panic! I didn't want one of those big, bulky, fanny-pack looking belts that I saw other people running with because I knew that that would irritate the hell out of me. But I needed something to put my stuff in! I would be carrying my iphone, Clif Bloks, car keys, extra immodium, etc. So I started googling, and found this amazing little tool!
Accessories really are a girls best friend - and fitness accessories are no exception to that. Actually, they're about the only accessories I use day-to-day. When I found this belt, I pretty much fell in love! It's called a FlipBelt. You slip whatever you want in the little cut-outs and then flip it so that that the openings are against your body. That way all your stuff doesn't fall out. BONUS - it doesn't bounce when you run either like those big, bulky fanny pack looking belts! AND you can wash it after the race - because let's face it, you're gonna get real sweaty! I've even started using this when I lift weights in the morning. I just slip it on and tuck in my iphone so that I've got music to listen to while I workout (without pissing off my neighbors!!). This thing is AWESOME!
NOW (FINALLY!) - LET'S TALK RACE DAY...
The day before my race I was pretty nervous. I'd found out the week before that my friend wouldn't be running with me, I had just purchased my FlipBelt and had never worn it on a long run before, I'd never used the Clif Bloks, and everything I'd read online had told me not to do anything different on race day. I was planning on taking a lot of "risks," and I was nervous that they wouldn't pan out and that I would spend the 2-3hrs running my race in some state of discomfort.
But I feel like my nerves started to dissipate as soon as I got out to the winery. Yup - the race was at a WINERY! Sandhill Crane Vineyards to be exact. They would be plying us with wine at the finish line...and if that doesn't get a girl pumped to run then I don't know what would!
I got to the race absurdly early! I mean, they told us too because they weren't sure how parking was going to be. But I'm glad I did! It gave me a chance to make sure I checked all the boxes in my pre-run routine, digested my mini-breakfast, and enjoyed the beautiful sunrise!
Since I was running the race by myself, I tried to chit-chat with people and they were all so sweet and supportive that this was my first race. They told me I chose a good one - yay!
When we actually got going, I was nervous! It was hillier than I expected and I started to get really paranoid about my pacing, especially when I noticed myself passing people. But I very quickly realized that I run in what I like to call "consistent pace" - I run approximately the same speed whether I'm going uphill or downhill. This is as opposed to those that run with "consistent effort," which tends to be slower on the uphill but faster on the downhill.
I found certain people on the course that I ran similar to and stuck with them, and really - the race kind of flew by! I only started to struggle around mile 11 - which was my new PR (since I'd only gotten up to 10 consecutive miles leading up to the race). I started to feel myself getting tired. So, I picked the next big hill, charged ahead to the top, and then let myself walk for a little bit. Once I felt myself get my wind back, it was a race to the finish.
The last mile or so was exhaustingly tedious! Not only had my MapMyRun tracker told me LONG before the finish line that I had hit mile 13, but I was a good few miles past my PR before the race! I was pooped as I approached the finish line with all the race volunteers! So I just kept telling myself:
One more hill and then the home stretch.
One more hill.
Just one. Come on.
I had like this crazy self-talk kick in, and I'm pretty sure a kick-ass song came on and I was busting ass down the last quarter mile stretch. I turned onto the final leg, back onto the winery property, and I saw the finish line. I remember seeing the time ticking up, and me seeing the 2:26 and saying to myself "sub-2:30! Go girl! You go this!" and I ran through the finish line!
There was nobody waiting for me at the finish line. I didn't have a fan club or a group of friends to reconnect with, but man I didn't care! I sat down in the grass, ate my banana, pounded down my water, stretched out my tired leg muscles, and put on that finisher's medal! My first finisher's medal ever - and my finisher's wine glass! Musn't forget that!
I spent the rest of the afternoon very leisurely enjoying my 5 complimentary tasting tickets (and the 5 extras I purchased), bought myself a bottle of delicious wine, and stuffed my FACE with some good ole fashion comfort food in the form of mac n' cheese and a homemade cookie! Because it's all about balance, especially when you spent 2:30 hours running your bootay off doing something you told yourself for 25 years you couldn't do!
I realized that day how much I LOVE races! Of course, I love the fact that they have snacks and water and bathrooms on the course, but more than that, I love running with people! Training runs were hard for me because I felt so alone when I was in struggle. But here, not only do you have people around for you to unofficially keep pace with, but there's people around that you can help inspire and motivate, that can help inspire and motivate you! You're essentially surrounded by a tribe of hundreds of like-minded people and that was something that I loved SO much about this race!
Hooray for getting uncomfortable and doing something that I thought I couldn't do!
Training deets, snacks, gear, etc - to RECAP:
- I used Hall Higdon's Novice 2 Training Program- Note that I modified this training program a bit! I was doing Insanity Max 30 during training (my cross training!) to keep my strength up, and there were definitely days when my legs were WAY too toast for a run! So I just listened to my body and changed around the schedule as needed.
- Favorite running gear, check out my FAVES page for the running belt I used, my favorite running shoe brands, etc.
- Want to avoid Runner's trot, aka Runner's diarrhea? I don't blame you! I wish I'd known about it sooner! I personally HATE the texture of Goo packs, but those are a good option and I know plenty of people that swear by them! My personal favorite snack that I still use to this day even while hiking are the Cliff Energy Blocks! They're like electrolyte-infused gummies! If you're looking for a natural option, dates are great too!