Category Archives: Blog

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Getting back into running: Take 2 (or 3?) of 2017 (And that time I hired a running coach.)

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Ooops.

I went another four months without a single blog post. Funny how that keeps happening this year. (Note to self: Start scheduling time to blog in your Google calendar.)

To be fair, the past three months have been a bit (a lot) crazy and, at times, stressful.

A family situation in September took up a good chunk of my time until things settled down at the end of October. I couldn’t go to Rock ‘n’ Roll Philly and by Rock ‘n’ Roll Brooklyn exhaustion had crept in, so I skipped that race as well.

In between, my running was all over the place. I averaged 7-12 miles a week most of the time, and somehow scrounged up a couple 20-mile weeks when I didn’t have to work. My nutrition went out the window and I gained weight.

When November rolled around, I knew the time for change had arrived. I tried to coax myself into coming up with a concrete running and nutrition plan. Ultimately, I realized I needed help.

So I did something I’ve never done before — I hired a running coach!

It boiled down to this: I needed someone to hold me accountable to training, to start running consistently, to push me harder than I would push myself and to help me figure out how to tweak a plan if I felt really sore or pulled a muscle somewhere along the way.

I knew Kristen of The Concrete Runner through the Rock ‘n’ Blog team, and my friend Steff completed her Elite Running Academy program and gets custom training plans from her.

I liked that the plan wasn’t just about running — it also focused on nutrition with intermittent fasting and carb cycling (two things I’ve never tried) and strength training (which I desperately needed to get back into my routine). I chose the Elite Running Academy VIP program because, well, I’m needy. I wanted to be able to communicate with my coach whenever an issue or question arose.

I’m about to start week 4, and I’m already seeing results. It’s easier to get out of bed in the morning for my runs. I feel that urge to hit the pavement. The one time I was legitimately too tired to run in the morning, I squeezed in a run after work — and on an empty stomach, no less. I’ve lost a few pounds. I’ve started paying attention to macros for the first time. I don’t crave cheese and carbs as much. I’m no longer overindulging.

I can’t wait to see what the next month of training brings!

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How I started running again after hitting a training wall and dealing with an injury

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It’s been a slow — and sometimes fast — process, but my running game is finally back.

I burnt myself out after ramping up too quickly after the New Year and not taking time off after my marathon in October. By the end of February, I was in serious struggle mode. I didn’t enjoy running and my pace suffered. I ran Rock ‘n’ Roll D.C., and I almost walked off the course halfway.

Now, I’m finally back.

I’ve actually been back for awhile, but didn’t get around to writing about it.

It started with a beach vacation the first week of May.

I’d moved into my new apartment just a week before and barely ran in the week before and after the move, because moving takes an insane amount of work (surprise!). It didn’t help I decided to tackle several furniture painting projects, including a secretary desk I fell in love with.

On top of that, I’d been dealing with low back pain that first materialized in mid-February, then cropped up again a week after my March half. My doctor put me on steroids for a week and I worried about running when I couldn’t feel any pain. I eventually found PT — which started in early-April and finished in mid-May. I’ve had no pain since.

Back to that vacation. Staying in the southern Outer Banks, in the same motel my family has stayed at since I was in elementary school, I once again found running enjoyable.

I went on three runs that week — 3 or 4 miles each — nothing serious. But the sun on my face, the wind in my hair, it reconnected me with why I loved to run.

When I got back to real life, I struggled for a couple weeks with getting up for a run before work, but it sorted out eventually. My weekly mileage in May stayed relatively low. It’s exactly what I needed: I wasn’t pressuring myself, and I added miles slowly — both overall and long-run wise. I ran longer when I felt like it. My first 8-mile run in what seemed like forever felt amazing.

I went from 25 miles total for the month of March (that includes the half), 18 for the month of April to 50 for May. I found once again how much running before work energized me and set my mind at peace for the day ahead.

In June, I felt even more in the groove, and my pace was fully back in the 10-10:30 range. A trip to Quebec late in the month reminded me how much I love to run when I travel. And a full week off at home after that left me so well rested my runs felt almost effortless. I completed two 8 mile runs the final week of vacation, and I felt strong. I topped out at 68 miles for the month.

July was even better. I logged 92 miles for the month, including three 10-mile long runs. Getting back in the double-digit run area was not without struggle. I have not been good about getting up early on the weekend and the 10-milers left my legs tired. The first one was the hardest, of course. The second was on the treadmill (because: swamp outside), and that last mile took forever. The third was back on the trail, with a lovely breeze, and finally felt not exactly easy, but totally doable.

I’ve largely avoided the super hot and humid long runs. I’ve either stuck to the treadmill or completed a shorter run outside. In fact, I may end this summer season without ever running long in hotter, more humid temperatures. (Fingers crossed.) It’s helped that D.C. has had an unusual — but welcome — assortment of cooler, less humid weekends than I remember in the past couple years. And I’ve scheduled any 5-6 mile weekday runs around the cooler days, as well.

There are still days where I struggle to get out of bed to go for a run, days I even say screw it, I’m sleeping in. But by and large, those days are few and far between. And when they do strike, it’s a sign to me to examine whether I need a dropback week, as I did this past week. You know you’re tired when you sleep in both weekend days and still need a 3-hour nap each day.

The next race on my calendar is Rock ‘n’ Roll Philly, and I know I’ll be ready to tackle the half once again. After that I’m looking forward to enjoying fall’s cooler temperatures and lower humidity once again — and not having to consider hitting the treadmill to avoid the heat.

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Blog

Back in the running groove … and finally blogging again

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So that happened. I didn’t write on my blog for four months. Four.

And my last two posts were not exactly motivating.

Oops!

Here’s the short list of what happened:

— That back strain I mentioned redeveloped and derailed me starting a week after the March half until mid-to-late April. I completed four weeks of PT in mid-May and haven’t had any pain since.

— I moved to a new apartment in mid-to-late April. I’m much closer to work and no longer have to deal with the insanity that is 66 and 495. And the best part is I’m only 3/4 of a mile from the W&OD. (Also, moving is hard work!)

— A beach trip the first week of May helped really me get back in the running grove. I slowly built back up after that, making sure not to do too much too soon and either reinjure my back or burn myself out again.

— I’m back in the double-digits for long runs and tallied 28 miles total last week, 92 overall for July. Even better: My speed came back. I’m no longer struggling in the 11-minute mile range. All my runs, even my long runs, are coming in at 10-10:30, despite the heat.

— My weight loss is back on track. Only 5 pounds left until I’m back to normal.

— I’ve been taking a cardio kickboxing class twice a week this summer, and already signed up for the fall version. It’s a ton of fun and incorporates a lot of strength training.

I’ll be writing a longer post this week after how I got back into running. Stay tuned!

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Blog Training

I don’t want to run. And even 3 miles feels like forever.

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I don’t want to run.

My alarm sounds, and my motivation to climb out of bed is 0%. Actually, if we’re being completely honest, it’s -1,000%.

The mileage doesn’t matter. Whether it’s 10, 6 or 3 — it all makes me go “ugh.” Not helping — my pace on all runs is stuck at 11 minute+ miles — slower than ever.

I’ve tried the “just go out for 2 miles” and the “just go out for 1 mile” … and all the other tricks in the book — ” ‘I regret that workout,’ — said no one ever,” tuning into music, focusing on one mile at a time.

I’ve been running for 3 1/2 years, and I’ve never felt quite like this. Sure, I’ve gone through individual runs or weeks where I wasn’t really feeling it, but I always powered through — and relatively quickly.

It’s been seven weeks since I dived back into running after a self-imposed three-week break around Christmas to give my legs — and mind — a rest. AKA, things I should have done after running my first marathon Oct. 9.

I have an inkling of what happened — I jumped back into running, and all other areas of fitness, too quickly. Four of those weeks I worked out 7 1/2 to 8 hours (yes, I double-checked my Fitbit stats just now) — higher than many of my marathon training weeks. I completed more strength, cycle and swim workouts in addition to my normal routine, which included one strength session and one yoga class per week on top of 4-5 runs.

I’d also stepped on the scale and realized my holiday indulgences hadn’t added 5 pounds — but 12. I wanted all that extra weight gone as quickly as possible — because now is never too soon.

At the same time, I also focused on dislodging bad habits I’d developed, specifically walking up somewhat-difficult hills instead of running (actually the best thing I could do, and I will stick with running vs. walking) and not skipping runs on some days my legs felt tired (I should have been kinder to myself).

It’s not surprising looking back that in the same seven-week span, I developed a virus that left me sleeping 15 hours a day and lower back pain that steered me to an entire workday spent on my couch — something that’s never happened before.

I ranted about my runs feeling so hard to my friend when we ran 5 miles on my birthday. I told her how my back injury seemed to develop: I ran 10 miles and the next day felt a dull ache (not entirely uncommon after long runs), but ran 4 miles, swam 20 minutes and went to a yoga class anyway.

She immediately honed in: “That sounds like overtraining” and “Kat, you did a lot of workouts in one day.”

I can’t be overtraining, I thought. I’m not running high mileage weeks. And I’ve always run the day after a long run and done yoga after. And yoga isn’t really a “workout” workout (Yes, I know it actually is). And I only swam 20 minutes, which isn’t a lot. And I’ve done similar strings of workouts before without “overtraining.”

The comparison game — to my own self — and the drive to ramp up my fitness quickly somehow developed into a beast in my brain.

It took a few days for my friend’s wisdom to sink in. As a result, I retooled my training plan — I’ll just focus on a 10K PR in May.

Then I talked to my trainer, and when he said I should stick with 10 miles for my long runs, even in 10K training, my heart sank.

It wasn’t until then that I fully realized I’d been looking for an easy way out instead of dealing head-on with the issue at hand — burn out, both physical and mental, and so early in the year.

Normally, this is part of the blog post where wisdom and wit combine into a solution, or at least some sort of light at the end of the tunnel. Except, I have no solution. I am living day-to-day and considering my runs in the same way.

I don’t know when I’ll get my running mojo back, but I do know it will return again — someday.

Blog

The Treadmill-Dreadmill Dance Runners Play and Why the Machine is Worth it

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“I want to stop.”

The treadmill display stared back, unwavering — 0.8 miles down.

“At least I’m almost to mile 1.”

After what seemed like five minutes later: “I’m only at 0.88?!? WHY is this going so slowly?!?”

A half mile later, I knew it was time to check in.

I am not a treadmill fan per se, but I tolerate what runners often call the dreadmill fairly well. I regularly log some of my miles each month on the treadmill, including many speed workouts. I definitely play mind tricks to get through the sessions — sometimes focusing on the mile I’m in, other times thinking of a regular route on the pavement that’s of the same distance and where I’d be at any given point in that route, and occasionally switching up the pace even if it’s an easy workout.

In early 2016, I spent about a month with the bulk of my mileage on the machine because of the weather, including an 8-mile long run the day after up to three feet of snow hit the D.C. area. I don’t care how dedicated you are — there was zero way to do a long run outside that day. (Fun fact: After running those 8 miles, I spent 2.5 hours digging out my car. That’s how long it took to carve out that small, single space at my apartment complex.)

So. Much. Snow.

So less than a mile and a half into my 4-mile treadmill run after work I realized it was time to take a step back — not literally, for fear of falling off the machine — to examine what was happening in my mind.

“OK,” I said to myself. “What is so bad about this … and you can’t say everything.”

I thought about my legs — are they sore or tired? A tiny bit, I weighed in, but nothing significant. Did it take longer for them to warm up? I’ve spent several treadmill runs with tightness in my shins or calves for the first mile only for it to dissipate quickly after hitting that 1.0 mark. That wasn’t the case here, either.

I checked my breathing. It was definitely harder today than previous days, but I wasn’t out of breath at my easy pace.

I thought about my recent bout with a virus that left me sleeping for 15 hours a day and resulted in two days off work. Am I run down to the point I need a break? Maybe. Let’s be perfectly honest — my doctor probably would say yes. But I felt a lot more energetic by the afternoon that first day back at work.

What else?

“It’s hot as hell, like actual hell, there is zero air movement and I am actually going to die,” I said exasperatedly to myself.

That’s it. That was the issue. I realized I was wiping sweat away every two-tenths of a mile.

My work gym is nice, but there is one large fan for the entire cardio area that’s probably three times the size of my apartment. Basically, if you’re not right next to the fan, you don’t feel it. On top of that, most people apparently don’t like it. The gym staff turn it on each day, and someone usually turns it off.

Apparently I am the only person who relies on it. I usually come in and take the treadmill right next to the adjacent fan, shift it to point directly at my machine, turn it on to medium and enjoy a nice breeze that keeps me cooler, and clearly happier, for my entire workout.

That day, someone was on that treadmill, the fan was off anyway and I was stuck far, far away. Two miles in, I almost switched machines when the other one became available because I felt that hot. And then I almost tripped because it’s apparently hard to look 90 degrees to the right while running on a treadmill.

Then I took apart my earlier statement. Was it hot? Yes. Hot as hell? OK, probably maybe definitely an exaggeration. Was it so hot that I could overheat? No, and I had my water bottle with me if needed.

From that 8-mile treadmill run after the Blizzard of 2016.

I stuck with it. I didn’t die. I made it through those 4 miles and ended with a shirt far more soaked than if I’d been near the beloved (by me) fan.

I distracted myself with HGTV and reminded myself that a shower would immediately follow. I picked up the pace the last half mile. And, after I stopped, it was interesting to see the steady climb in my heart rate chart from the beginning to the end of the run — a clear indication of the effort when it feels warmer.

This is the treadmill dance a lot of us runners deal with, but beating that combination of boredom and downright loathing for the machine we come to depend on at times — even if it’s a love/hate relationship — makes us mentally stronger in the end, and it’s totally worth it.

Also, “Fixer Upper” helps, a lot.

 

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Blog

Hardest Thing I’ve Ever Done = Training for My First Marathon. What I Learned.

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In case it’s not been underscored enough here, on this blog, or elsewhere in the running community, training for a marathon — particularly your first — is not easy. It’s actually been the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

You’d think that statement might be reserved for race day itself, but early on in training, I realized race day would be a relative piece of cake — barring unlikely and unforeseen conditions — compared to the hours logged on the trail, the early alarms, the constant hunger, the feeling of always wanting a little bit more sleep, and most importantly, the mental aspect of it all.

Here are just a few of the things I learned in the 18 weeks of training.

Sleep

I’ve always been a big sleeper. I feel best when I get 9 hours of sleep. Marathon training cut into that at times, and at other times amplified it — a lot. I found there were more times I was in bed around 9 or 9:30, sometimes even in the 8 o’clock hour. And originally, I felt a relative rest day on Monday — with only yoga and maybe a bike ride on the plan instead of my normal short run — would feel like too little given I am off that day. Instead, as my mileage increased, I found I needed to sleep in the day after the long runs. After the 18 and 20 mile long runs, even with a nap the afternoon after completing them, I logged 12.5 hours sleep the night after. And, I needed every minute of it.

Food

I definitely felt the increased hunger everyone warned about early on. I was running 30 mile weeks regularly when I’d been more used to 20 mile weeks. At first, I tried to keep calories in check, thinking I could lose a few pounds during training. My friend Natalie made me see the light — that might not be the best idea.

I decided to stop trying to eat less than my body needed and try to remain relatively in line with what MyFitnessPal told me I needed on any given day, without stressing too much. I also ate more bagels that I have in a long time. I needed something solid after logging 6-8 miles before 8 a.m. As time went on, the hunger subsided. I no longer was constantly starving by 3 p.m. or by 10 a.m. if I hadn’t eaten that bagel. Sure, it’d still be more hungry than pre-marathon training at times, but nothing significant.

Weight

With the thinking about my food changing, my thinking about weight also needed to change. I realized that gaining a few pounds, so long as it wasn’t to a point it made my runs slower or made me feel sluggish, was not the end of the world. For the first time in a few years, I stopped weighing myself regularly. I am pretty sure I went at least four weeks or more at one point without stepping on the scale. Before this, I’d been weighing myself basically every day — sometimes multiple times a day. The only time I’d skip was if I forgot.

Marathon training also made me rethink what I consider my ideal weight. At one point a couple years ago, that ideal was 125. I realized I was exercising a lot more and upped that to 128-130 to 1) consider added muscle and 2) have a range instead of a single number. Still, I struggled — I always seemed to hover around 135.

Now, I realized maybe my body was telling me something all along that 135 is the weight that works well for me.

Wait until you’re really ready

I originally penciled in running my first marathon in the spring of 2015, which would have been one year after I finished my first half marathon. I look back now and wonder what I was thinking. I got injured, and that changed the sketch I’d made in my head for that spring, but even without that, I know now that I wasn’t ready.

I didn’t respect the distance and hadn’t even run 3 half marathons when I thought about doubling the distance. That injury sucked, but it also changed my plans, for the better.

Summer is hot, but you acclimate (to a degree)

I cursed myself early on in marathon training when I fully realized how many of the super long runs would need to be completed in the worst heat and humidity that D.C.’s summers offer. With half marathon training, I only needed to do 10 miles max for a long run, and even then not every where. Now, 12 miles was my dropback mileage and I needed to run 14, 16, 18 and 20-milers on the higher weeks. That meant more 5 a.m. (and sometimes 4:45 a.m.) wake-up calls than I’d care to recount. But I got it done. By early July I’d mostly acclimated to the worst the heat could offer, and it made my runs significantly less difficult, even though I would trade them in a heartbeat for the cooler temperatures of fall or spring. Still, there’s something awesome about getting to the end of summer and thinking 75-80 degree weather without a ton of humidity is great for a long run.

Running with buddies is a must

During my week 3 freakout, the universe sent me a sign. At the tail end of a simply horrible 13-mile run, I ran into two other women at a water fountain. We chatted a little, and I asked which way they were headed down the trail. Same way I was. I asked if I could run with them. Sure, they said. What pace are you doing, I asked, praying it was something doable. Well, we do a 4:1. Huh?

Turns out the 4:1 is a run/walk method of running 4 minutes and walking 1 minute. I still wanted to blurt out but what pace is the run part, but kept my mouth shut and kept up with them. I really struggled on that run, and we were heading back slightly uphill and with the sun totally in our face. It was definitely a bit faster that I was capable of on that particular run, but I kept up. At a stoplight where we needed to head separate ways, we exchanged numbers.

The next week I met up with one of the two women — the other wasn’t available — and that’s when everything started to go right. Running with friends is a huge boost. I’d always known that and loved running with other people, but if I needed to log 10-12 miles solo, I was OK with that too. I spent the rest of marathon training running with one of both of the two women I’d met that day.

Pushing my limits

More than anything, I learned I am capable of far more than I thought. One week, I needed to move my long run to Saturday instead of Sunday, and I realized I could log 50 miles for the entire week — a new record. I pushed through, and it felt great accomplishing that goal. I also felt a surge of energy and exhilaration at the end of my 20-mile long run, when I’d instead expected to super eager for the end of it.

Knowing when not to overdo it

Let me be clear. I missed a lot of runs during training. Or at least it felt like a lot to me. I didn’t miss any of the key long runs, but I skipped some of the shorter runs when I got sick, felt run down and needed to sleep in, or just felt too sore to complete the run on the schedule for that day. Instead of trying to make it up later, I let it be. It was hard, but it helped me get to the start line.

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What’s Next For Running + Resolutions for 2017

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It’s that time again. “New year, new you” slogans abound everywhere you look. And while there is something lacking in those sentiments (hey, what’s wrong with old me? answer: nothing), it can also be a powerful kick to get off the couch.

It’s been exactly two weeks since I’ve run, in a purposeful three-week break to give my legs some much-needed rest. And for the first week, I didn’t work out at all.

Now, it’s time to get back in shape, and drop the weight I gained in the past few months from relaxing on my healthy habits.

I’m sticking with my breaking from running, but next week I start two 10-week classes I’m excited about — cycle core and tae kwon do. I’ve obviously done spin classes before, but this is a dedicated class each week that I paid for, giving me more incentive to go, and also with the knowledge I can look to improve weekly.

I also be picking my personal training sessions, focused on strength, back up as well.

Then, after my three-week break with running is over, I’ll pick that back up — slowly but surely, with no races on the calendar until March.

Speaking of that race schedule, I’m looking to do fewer half marathons this year, probably ending around four or five, with a late fall marathon. I’ll also have some 10Ks thrown in (see goals below) and the Cherry Blossom 10-Miler in April.

New year, new medal wall.

Here’s a look at my resolutions and goals for the next year.

No drink January: This is a bit of misnomer since I didn’t start Jan. 1, and since I don’t plan to forgo all alcohol. But I do intend to take a full month off regular drinking, with the exceptions of if I eat out or go out with a friend. I have gotten into that bad habit many get into from time to time where you come home after a long-days work and want to wind down with a glass of wine or a couple beers, and before you know it, half a bottle is gone or you’re through more than half a six-pack. I also would like to lose the weight I’ve gained as quickly as possible, and this is a sure way to cut a significant amount of calories.

Lose 5 pounds by mid-February, 10 pounds by end of March: I plan to work hard and sweat a lot in the coming months to decrease the number on the scale as well as gain back muscle I’ve lost. I’m hoping that I can drop even more weight than planned in this time span, and gain more muscle so I feel and look better.

Run a 10K PR: My 10K PR has stood for awhile, and I didn’t even run a single 10K race at all last year. I want to work on getting faster this year and a 10K PR to beat the one that is from my first 10K ever seems like the perfect idea. I probably technically bested my 10K PR last year during my sub-2 half, but that doesn’t count!

Add second (or more) strength workout per week: Strength training is super important, and adding a second routine — the first being with my personal trainer — to my week should help a lot. I’ve also been looking at various DVD and book routines, so we’ll see where those take me.

Keep up with yoga: I fell out of a regular yoga routine in the fall with the big vacation out West and the Chicago Marathon. I’ve only gone a handful of times since October or November, and I’m really missing it.

Add old PT moves to post-workout routine: I’ve pretty good about doing a few stretches after every run, but I want to add more to the post-workout routine, especially the moves I was given as part of physical therapy when I was injured a couple years ago. They were great moves for runner-injury prevention, and I’ve been meaning to add them to my routine ever since.

Nix Splenda habit: Last year, I nixed my Diet Pepsi habit. This year, it will be Splenda. I use way more than I should each day on my cereal, and I’d like to cut it off completely. That would leave me with extremely limited added sugar/artificial sugar counts in my diet. I don’t eat sweets a lot so this can only mean good things for my body.

Use elliptical more as second workout: There’s less impact with the elliptical and it wouldn’t be hard to tack it on at the end of a run for a cooldown or before a strength workout as a warmup or just as a secondary workout for the day to help drop the weight more quickly.

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2016: Recap of a Crazy, Amazing Running Year

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Ten half marathons — most of them travel races. My first sub-2 half. My first marathon. A total of 1,000 running miles for the year — a new milestone. An incredible vacation out West.

Yes, I basically went a little crazy with my running and travel adventures this year, but I wouldn’t change a moment and still can’t get over how amazing 2016 turned out.

It all started when I found out I’d been accepted to be an ambassador for Rock ‘n’ Roll races, through their Rock ‘n’ Blog program. My plan to skip the local RNR race went straight out the window and I started hunting for more races I could add on. I ended up with 9 Rock ‘n’ Roll halfs.

Looking back at this blog, I called 2015 the year of travel because of trips to New York, London, Paris and Rome, with smaller travels to Chicago, Philadelphia and Virginia Beach.

In comparison, 2016 was the ultimate year of travel: San Francisco, San Diego, Chicago (twice), Virginia Beach, Philadelphia, Sedona, Ariz., the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Zion National Park, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and San Antonio.

I saw the Pacific Ocean for the first time, and went back twice more, experiencing the vast difference between northern and southern California. I fell in love with the West when my parents and did a 9-day tour of its natural wonders. I laughed at how crazy Las Vegas is, and spent hours with a smile plastered on my face at Harry Potter world in Los Angeles.

Along the way, I met incredible people everywhere — many just acquaintances at races or in the what feels like the 1 million airports I went through, but some will surely be lifelong friends.

One of my favorite acquaintances was a man I met in Los Angeles at the race who’s run 500 marathons, all in the past 20-22 years. And in terms of friends, there’s Steff — we first met briefly at RNR D.C. but didn’t hang out with until RNR Chicago — who I’m sure I will stay in touch with for a long time. She’s just one of the amazing runners I met through Rock ‘n’ Blog and I know I’ll hang out with others from the gang again for years to come.

Then there was that vacation out West. Seeing the Grand Canyon is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, and I finally wore down the parents to make it an excursion to see a bunch of different places out there. The views there and in Sedona, Bryce Canyon and Zion were all absolutely amazing, and I’d definitely recommend a trip.

Shortly after getting back from that long vacation it was time to jettison off to Chicago for my first marathon. I still can’t believe what an incredible experience it was running 26.2 miles through the Windy City. It was the perfect day, with perfect weather and I enjoyed every minute.

I ended the year with three more travel races after the marathon — Los Angeles, Las Vegas and San Antonio. I could tell my body — and mind — was in need of a bit of a break, but I kept pushing forward and enjoyed the final days of running in 2016.

I finished up the year a few days before Christmas by hitting the 1,000-mile mark for the year. It felt like the perfect way to end my crazy year of running.

Here’s a look back at all my races for the year, with links to recaps.

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Gallery: My Year In Races for 2016

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Here’s a look back at all my races this year.

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I Nailed My First Marathon! Chicago Marathon 2016 Recap

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Incredible.

That’s the one word that comes to mind when I think of Sunday’s Chicago Marathon — my first 26.2.

It took four months of training, a ton of doubt and some great runs that boosted my confidence for me to finally get to the start line of a marathon. Along the way, I hit the 3 year mark since my first 5K in August 2013. At that point three years ago, I had yet to run for 30 minutes outside without stopping. Running 26.2 miles seemed impossible.

My training plan for Chicago mirrored my goal of finishing feeling strong. It was the best plan for me — I needed one that slowly increased my mileage and incorporated those extra long runs without stressing me out.

As I mentioned in my pre-race post, a sub-5 hour time goal sneaked it’s way into my brain early on, later becoming more ingrained as I conquered long runs of 16, 18 and 20 miles close to or faster than the pace I’d need to finish 26.2 miles under 5 hours.

I’ll tell you now: I crushed that goal. My official time — 4:52:33.

Now I’ll let you know how I got there.

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chicagomarathon-2FRIDAY

As I mentioned in the pre-race post, I flew into Chicago on Friday afternoon. The expo was my first stop after checking into the hotel. Everything took forever and a day because traffic was horrible. I got my packet and plenty of extra souvenirs from Nike, New Balance and the official commemorative merchandise booth. Essentially: Here’s my credit card, I want all the things.

I've never seen one of the bridges in downtown Chicago go up before!

I’ve never seen one of the bridges in downtown Chicago go up before!

On the way back to the hotel — Sheraton Grand Chicago — I got to see the city buildings shining in blue and red — the colors of the Chicago Cubs, who were playing their first playoff game that night. One building was lit up with a little Go Cubs! sign and the ferris wheel on Navy Pier beamed with a Cubs logo!

With family in the Chicago suburbs, there’s always been a soft spot in my heart for the Cubs.

I grabbed a bite to eat and a beer at the hotel bar, then spent a hour+ lounging in bed (P.S. I LOVE Sheraton beds), watching the Cubs game before it was lights out.

***

SATURDAY

The benefit of flying in Friday versus Saturday was I got to sleep in, lounge around and basically relax and chill all day. I took a quick trip back to the expo in the morning to exchange my race day T-shirt — it was too small — then spent the rest of the day in the room. I set out all my race day clothes and other gear I’d need and took my flat Kat photo. Then, I rented The Secret Life of Pets for some laughs.

chicagomarathon-4My stomach was a little off all day, and I equated that to nerves. I was dealing well with pre-race anxiety until the afternoon, when I started to get more nervous. Watching the movie and going out for dinner helped ease that.

A couple months ago, I set up a restaurant reservation for dinner to be on the safe side. I headed over to Sweetwater Tavern and Grille — what’s become my go-to pre-race dinner restaurant in Chicago — a little after 5. A buffalo chicken wrap and sweet potato fries hit the spot, and I was back at the hotel by 6:30. Time for more chilling in bed and watching game 2 of the Cubs in the playoffs.

I started to feel tired and it was lights out around 9:30 or so, with an alarm set just a few minutes before 6. I tossed and turned for a good long while, but finally got to sleep, and actually slept quite well!

***

SUNDAY — RACE DAY

chicagomarathon-7I woke up and it was go time. There were some pre-race butterflies in my stomach but nothing too bad and I definitely wasn’t as anxious as I had been Saturday afternoon. I jumped into my race clothes and ate my normal race breakfast — a bowl of Cheerios and a bagel. I left the hotel room around 6:30 for the walk over to the start line at Grant Park.

I spent all my spare time that morning leading up to the race to focus on my strategy, reminding myself to take it slow in the first miles, to not speed up to fast after mile 5 and above all to get my gummies in so I didn’t bonk.

Normally, I’m not into getting to the start line so early, but with a race this size — some 40,000 runners — I needed to do it. As I got closer and closer to Grant Park while walking down Michigan Avenue, it got more and more crowded. The security lines were super quick. I didn’t need to do gear check, so I headed straight for the porta potty lines. I got there around 7, and was done by 7:15. The race officially started at 7:20 with the wheelchair division and 7:30 with the elite runners. I found a place to sit for the next 30 minutes before my wave would start to move up to the start line ahead of its official 8 a.m. start time.

I wore lightweight capris and a T-shirt for the race, which started with a temperature around 50 and ended around 60. On the walk from my hotel, with a throw-away sweatshirt wrapped around me, I worried I’d dressed too warmly and maybe should have worn shorts, but it must have just been the crowds and excitement. By the time I was done with the porta potty, I knew I’d dressed correctly. I was a bit chilly at the start, even with my sweatshirt. Overall, the weather ended up being absolutely perfect for running throughout the entire race — 50s with a light breeze!

chicagomarathon-9My friend Natalie, who has been so amazingly encouraging during my training and leading up to race day and during the race itself — and I texted back and forth, which helped pass the time. She was running the Twin Cities Marathon in Minneapolis, her 14th marathon.

Finally, it was time for the race! We slowly shuffled up to the start line, and it was 8:10 when I crossed the start mat.

***

Miles 1-5: 10:34, 11:01, 11:02, 10:58, 10:47

14 CM Course MapI struggled to keep my pace slow and kept reeling myself back. My legs felt good and the crowd support was so awesome. I couldn’t help but have a smile plastered on my face. My Garmin quickly stopped being accurate for pace or mileage with the tall skyscrapers. I manually hit my lap button for each mile marker. Once I started hitting the water stops — I walked through all of them — that helped slow my overall pace down a bit.

My plan called for taking my Glukos gummies at mile 5, but I felt like taking them earlier, so I ate my first half pack around mile 4. I got water at a few of the water stops and at least one Gatorade cup.

I felt amazing. It was like I wasn’t even running because the pace I was at felt so comfortable.

I knew I’d need to hit up a porta potty during the race — I had taken in enough water pre-race. The lines for the first few toilets at the water stops were insane. I finally found a huge row of potties right before mile 6 without many runners lined up.

Miles 6-10: 12:55, 10:33, 10:46, 11:04, 11:16

I lost 2 minutes with the porta potty stop, and hoped no one tracking me would worry when they saw my 10K split. The crowds were still great in these miles and I sped up a bit. I took in more gummies around miles 8 and 9. I focused on getting nutrition in here, when I knew it was key this early in the race, including grabbing a couple Gatorade cups at a couple of the water stops. I saw that focus was resulting in slightly slower splits at mile 9 and 10, but I knew it was more important to get as much carbs as I could handle in before the halfway point or mile 15 so I could avoid bonking.

I was still feeling great energy wise and having just a grand time with the race.

Miles 11-15: 10:44, 10:40, 10:47, 11:00, 10:18

With my nutrition handled for a few miles, I was able to focus on picking up the pace slightly and keeping my walks through water stops to 1 minute each. It had taken me awhile to get into the rhythm of the stops because they were 2-3 city blocks long. If I literally walked them from start to finish, it would have been a 2-minute or so walk.

At this point, I began figuring out ahead of time whether I would take only Gatorade or water or both at the stops and planning appropriately. It was also just in general hard to run through the stops, especially quickly, because there were so many runners and so many cups littering the roadway — the last thing I wanted to do was slip and fall.

My cousin’s wife texted me around mile 12 with some encouragement that I was almost halfway there and my splits were looking great. My cousin and her would meet me later in the final mile of the race.

Crossing the half way point was both exciting and scary. I felt great and knew I still had a lot left in me, but it’s crazy to think the race is only halfway over and I need to run for another 2 hours and 25 minutes to finish!

I took my second set of gummies at around mile 14. Then, mile 15 ended up being my fastest of the race! There were no water stops to walk through for that entire mile, and I was feeling good, even though I could tell my legs were starting to get tired.

Not too long after the water stop a little after mile 15, I realized I would need another porta potty. ASAP. My stomach wasn’t upset or anything, it just needed to go, and soon. I couldn’t remember exactly where the next stop was, but I knew it wasn’t much more than a mile or so away. I kept my eyes peeled for anything earlier and found it right before mile 16. Two porta potties near a medical tent, which ended up being a good half mile away from the next water stop. No lines = perfect.

Miles 16-20: 13:25, 10:51, 11:36, 10:22, 10:56

The porta potty stop cost me at least 2.5 minutes, and it felt like a little rest for my legs. My legs slowly had been getting more and more tired and I began focusing on making it to mile 20 without any extra walk breaks beyond the water stops. I once again hoped no one who saw my next split would be worried because they wouldn’t know I’d taken a bathroom break.

The race was getting harder, but I knew I could make it to that point before needing to go to a run/walk split. My pace was still going pretty well, and that bolstered my confidence. Mile 18 ended a little slower as I took in a full half pack of gummies all at once, and my jaw locked up. I needed to get them down, though. I knew at that point I might not be able to get in a ton of gummies for the rest of the race — or I’d have to stick to just 2 per water stop going forward.

Natalie had also texted me as I was coming up on the 18-mile sign to see how I was feeling and I wrote her a quick note back to say I was starting to feel it and focusing on the water stops. Two miles later, I felt ecstatic hitting the mile 20 sign, even if my legs were tiring — I’d made it to the last 10K!

Miles 21-25: 12:11, 11:25, 11:17, 11:21, 10:58

When you take out the potty breaks, mile 21 ended up being my slowest of the race. I think that happened mainly because I switched to a 4:1 run/walk after the first water stop after mile 20 and there were two water stops in that mile. There was some extra walking time because I wanted my 4:1s to hit on the 4s and 9s in terms of the minutes because that’s what I was used to. I think I ate a couple more gummies, and took a couple more salt tabs — which I’d been good about taking all race long, and got myself focused on the miles ahead. I knew this was my last chance to get some fuel in that would help for the next 5.2 miles.

Switching to the 4:1 run/walk was the smartest thing I did. I definitely slowed slightly as a result, but I felt like I was running faster than I would have if I’d stuck to only walking through water stops. I’m also just so so thankful I ran into those two running buddies months ago who introduced me to the 4:1. Without it, I wouldn’t have known how to go about my walk breaks with some sort of structured timing in these final miles.

chicagomarathon-11The bottoms of my feet hurt the most, and as the mile markers ticked on, I felt more and more sore all through my legs — from calves to quads. Mile 24 was when it started to get really, really hard — my legs just plain hurt. But I only had 2.2 miles to go and I was enjoying the race and spectators, so there was no stopping me. I was certainly looking forward to my walk breaks at that point, but I never felt like taking more — that’d only delay getting me to the finish line.

At this point, I also knew a sub-5 was totally in the bag. I’d been on track for it all race, but didn’t want to get too far ahead of myself in case something out of the blue happened.

Around the same time, I also realized I hadn’t hit the wall I’d heard so much about. My legs were certainly tired, but it never felt like I couldn’t take another step or needed to walk the rest of the way.

Natalie texted me somewhere between mile 23 and 24, but I didn’t text her back, even during the walk breaks or at the water stops. I was focused on getting to the finish line and making sure I saw my cousin and his wife, who came downtown to cheer me on.

They told me when I was around mile 20 or 21 that they’d be at mile 25. I got a text a little after 24 to look for them on the left side closer to mile 25.5. That helped me focus and combined with all the cheering crowds, I was able to pick the pace up slightly through mile 25. I was beginning to feel a little hungry, so I ate a couple more gummies.

Mile 26: 11:23

I almost missed my cousin and wife at mile 25.5, but caught them at the last second. I gave them a huge hug and left immediately. I was so close to the finish line and so happy, but also so ready to be done. As I gave them a hug, I was on the tippy toe of one foot and felt my leg shake a little — I was definitely pushing my body into a place it’d never been physically before.

I let the crowd carry me in the final bit, and rocked out to the music playing.

Last 0.2: 9:24

I thought about skipping my final walk break, but my legs were just so tired and I saw that hill at the end, so I took it. I think I cut it a little short because I was just so close to the finish and I recognized Kevin, a race-walker I’d met through all the Rock ‘n’ Roll races I’ve been doing up ahead. I propelled myself to get up to him and felt a surge of energy that carried me past him and to the finish line.

Crossing the finish line felt amazing. I’d done it. I’d overcome all the doubts in my mind and finished a marathon. Not only that, I’d finished strong, with a smile on my face.

chicagomarathon-19

***

AFTER THE FINISH LINE

chicagomarathon-15I’ve never felt more sore immediately after a race. Usually it takes hours or a day for the soreness to settle in. Not with the marathon — it was there, immediately. My thought then, and during the last 3 or so miles, was never again — not doing 26.2 another time, nope, no way.

I couldn’t wait to sit down. I kept looking behind for Kevin so I could congratulate him. He found me first. We got some water and were walking to get our medals when I came across a woman who was just putting her hands on her knees, head down and not moving forward. I tried to get her to walk, or drink some water, but it wasn’t working. She wasn’t talking to us either, and after a minute I flagged down a spotter to help her.

Then finally it was time to get my medal! I beamed as the race volunteer placed it over my head. I got a quick photo with my medal to send to my family and friends so they’d know I was doing fine after finishing. Then I continued walking through the chute, which seemed like the longest ever. I grabbed a free beer from Goose Island Brewing Co., and let me tell you, beer has never tasted so good. Eventually, I got over to Buckingham Fountain, where I got another photo and finally sat. It felt amazing. Along the way, I’d been catching up with all the tweets and Facebook posts my family and friends had done while I was running. It was so incredible to know so many people were watching and supporting me out on the course.

The Chicago Marathon prints the finish times of all runners who complete the race with a 6:30 or faster time!

The Chicago Tribune prints the finish times of all runners who complete the marathon with a 6:30 or faster time!

After a few minutes, my revere was broken when I got a text from my cousin and his wife. I totally had forgotten I said I’d meet them in the runner reunite area and the fountain area was closed off to non-runners. Time to get up. I’d heard how much getting up could hurt and be difficult, and it was a bit, but not too bad — maybe because I hadn’t been down that long.

The bottom of my feet were killing me as I walked to find my gang. We finally met up after the slowest crawl through the end of the finisher’s chute. My cousin suggested we grab an Uber back to my hotel, about a mile away, but it was such chaos I decided we should just walk. I regretted that decision about half way through — again it was the bottom of my feet hurting like no one’s business. It took awhile — there were so many people packed downtown and one staircase set I needed to go down — but we made it back to the hotel. I went up to my room to shower and change. I didn’t want to get off the bed it felt so great to sit. Showering felt amazing too.

chicagomarathon-17I wanted to check out Wrigleyville, and with my two family members hanging out downstairs, I didn’t want to leave them waiting. So there was no time for sitting still. I got ready as quickly as I could and we got an Uber out to Wrigleyville. First stop — bar with food. I ate a pulled pork sandwich, and more beer was had. We spent 3-4 hours hanging out, going around to a few bars and getting a photo in front of the stadium. And then, it was a little after 7 and I was done. My lower back was really starting to hurt. Time to sit in a plush bed. I got an Uber back to my hotel.

Sitting in my hotel room bed felt amazing. I elevated my legs a little and tried to watch some of the debate, but just couldn’t. Lights out time: 8:30 p.m.

***

MONDAY-WEDNESDAY

I definitely was sore Monday and Tuesday, but I had expected it to be a lot worse given how I felt Sunday after the race. Luckily, my legs felt just a bit worse than when I ran a sub-2 half. My back on the other hand was hurting more — lower back and now upper. I had talked to my cousin’s wife about going to yoga Tuesday night, and I ended up canceling on her. I was still so sore and didn’t want to risk tweaking or hurting something in the class.

Today, I woke up feeling a lot better. I can tell my legs are still tired — especially when I walk quickly or up a couple flights of stairs, but the major soreness is gone, and my back is only hurting a very minimal amount. My trainer doesn’t want me to run the rest of the week, and that’s going to be hard. I am excited to hit the pavement again.

49798744976__5e46b51e-60f4-45a1-b970-1ae46cb355e8I’m still at my grandma’s house through tomorrow, but I will finally be back at work, albeit remotely. I haven’t worked since Sept. 24 because of the west trip and this marathon! My flight takes off late Thursday and it’s back to the office on Friday.

I went out today to get my final marathon purchase: A 26.2 magnet. I can’t wait to slap it on my car.

As for that thought when I finished of never running another marathon again? Well, that’s faded. I certainly don’t plan to become a runner who does several a year or anything of that nature, but I’d like to do another one … someday.