Big Sur Marathon Training

I am 5 weeks away from running my 8th marathon. Despite a very unpredictable New England winter, I have really enjoyed this training.  At the onset of training I determined my goals for this marathon as have done for each marathon. This was a bit different because I have no time goal. Big Sur is an experience from all that I have read about it. Runners make their way from Big Sur to Carmel along scenic Highway 1. Everything I have read about it from blog posts to articles imparts the same advice…look around, take in the scenery, and enjoy the experience. That is exactly what I plan to do. Of course I will run and do my best, but I will stop to take a few photos as well. I got into the race through a marathon for first timers so this is likely a once in a lifetime opportunity for me and I want to remember it well.

Like most of my marathons this will be a family vacation as well. We will be spending our first weekend in Monterey for the marathon and then we will spend a week in San Francisco. It’s a first for all of us.  We are definitely open to recommendations?

My training began back in January. After the Manchester City Marathon in November, I continued running regularly and maintained a longish run each week of 8-10 miles. The winter was mild up to that point and I wanted to take advantage of the decent weather to run as much outdoors as possible. After the New Year I began increasing mileage almost immediately with a 12 mile long run. Big Sur is a very hilly course so there has been some hill work on shorter midweek runs. Although I am not focused on a particular pace for this marathon some speed work has been incorporated into my training. I love the variation of runs throughout the week because it keeps it interesting.

I have been working with a running coach for the last 4 marathons. I feel silly even saying that because I am not a professional athlete, but honestly working with a coach has been such an incredible experience for me. For the first three marathons I trained myself loosely following Hal Higdon’s plans. I think I did quite well for someone who never engaged in sports prior to taking up running. Working with a coach after my Achilles injury was important. I was nervous and anxious about becoming injured again. I was also slower and heavier causing frustration with myself and running. It was helpful to have someone guiding me through those ups and downs as I came back from the injury and began marathon training again. I had always trained by miles and the first thing my coach did was plan my runs by time. This lifted the pace pressure right off of my mind. The next big change she made was starting my training plans on Monday rather than Sunday. Seems insignificant doesn’t it? Well it made a significant difference in how I was able to plan my week because suddenly it allowed me the flexibility to do my long run on either Saturday or Sunday for that training week.

Having a coach also allows me to push myself out of my comfort zone. I love reporting back that I was able to hit the prescribed paces in a speed workout or that I accomplished a challenging hill repeat workout. It’s also great to have someone help me figure out why something might not be working. I learn so much about my own abilities as a runner and I am picking up skills that will help me coach others too.

Tomorrow morning I will set out for what will likely be my longest long run at 22 miles. I ran 20 last week. My long runs have (knock on wood) been going really well and I have been incredibly lucky with the weather. The 17 miler was a bit insane. We had snow a few days before and the roads in some places were still in bad conditions. I ran from my house to my mom’s house three towns away. The route is a rather busy one which I thought might work to my advantage because I assumed the roads would be clear. The roads were a mess, no shoulders to run in and sidewalks were untouched for the most part.  I had to stop at train tracks while a train passed. It was a disaster. I felt as though people driving by were annoyed by me running and I was annoyed by the splashes of wet slush flying up at me every now and then.

Overall I’ve enjoyed unseasonably “warm” winter weather. There have been some spring-like days recently. There has been a great deal of sunshine and some beautiful scenery. I have trained in freezing temperatures, extremely windy conditions, and rain. I have only done a handful of my runs indoors on the treadmill. Hopefully the next few weeks of training are just as awesome because the taper weeks will be here very soon.

I tried to capture some of the scenery from this training. These were all posted previously on Instagram. Each one brings back a memory of the run.

Happy spring! Nice peaceful run on this gorgeous day. #bigsurmarathontraining2017
Scenes from my favorite running spot . The weather  was almost 60 degrees. I loved the contrast of the warmer air against the snowy scenery.
20 miles, hills, snow, ice, darkness, clouds, quiet, a little bit of sun ☀️ #winterrunning #bigsurmarathontraining2017
Sights from my 20 miler on 3/19/17. I ran two towns away up and over “the mountain” as it is referred to around here. That is Mt. Tom in the bottom left. Although I did not run the actual mountain, the road to the town below is quite long and steep. 
Today is one of my favorite races, the Holyoke St. Patrick's 10K. Good luck 🍀 to 1000s of runners! As always the luck of the Irish is with them as the sun peeks out of the clouds. It couldn't be more perfect running weather. I'm just finishing up an easy run before tomorrow's 20 miler. #bigsurmarathontraining2017 #winterrunning
A short 6 miler on the day of my favorite 10K. I decided not to run it this year in order to focus on marathon training, but I really missed it. I’ll be back next year!
So much for an early spring #bigsurmarathontraining2017 #winterrunning
Another nice day for an outdoor run.
The run that almost wasn't today. Many excuses-cold, snow, no school for Carlos, a ton of paperwork but the sun came out, the grandmother came over, and I hit the road. There's just something about running over bridges I love. #winterrunning #bigsurmarathontraining2017 #noexcuses
I love running over bridges.
It's hard to believe that after a day like today snow is on its way tomorrow. It was really windy but temps were in the 50s. Thankfully today was long run day. #workfromhomeperks #bigsurmarathontraining2017 #winterrunning
A lovely run along the bike trail turned into a powerful workout.
Morning run sun #marathontraining #winterrunning
An early morning run near Carlos’ school after dropping him off

Happy #internationalwomensday  I honored myself by going for a lovely lunchtime run on what was supposed to be a rainy day. Instead it was all blue skies, sun, and a tinge of spring. #bigsurmarathontraining2017 #winterrunning
Barely a cloud in the sky
When there is no path ahead create your own. I swore I wouldn't do another spring marathon and struggle through winter training, but here I am back at it. #bigsurmarathon here I come. This is a bucket list race and an opportunity I couldn't pass up. #winterrunning
On Instagram I wrote: When there is no path ahead create your own. I swore I wouldn’t do another spring marathon and struggle through winter training, but here I am back at it.
Why is the wind never at my back?!! #winterrunning #bigsurmarathon
It was super windy out on this day and I swear no matter which way I turned at the reservoir I had the wind in my face!

Looks cold but feels like spring. Taking the path less traveled on my way to #bigsurmarathon #winterrunning
I didn’t feel much like running on this day. I forced myself out the door at lunchtime. The run was horrible, but there is always a lesson in the run.

Long run day #bigsurmarathon #winterrunning
Taken during a fueling stop on one of my early long runs. That is the Connecticut River going by.

Time to get to bed. I have a very early wake up call before I hit the road. After watching the big rain cloud with 60-90% chance of rain on tomorrow’s weather forecast, it now show only a 20% chance of rain and a sun peeking out from behind the cloud. I will take it!

Post Marathon High

After the marathon I enjoyed spending time with my friends and family. First lunch with my family an BFF Amelia and her adorable family. Then I took a much needed long hot shower. We enjoyed a delicious dinner at the Farmhouse Tap and Grill. The energy in Burlington was electric. And yes I wore my medal the entire night!!

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On our way home from Burlington we stopped in the tiny state capital of Montpelier. We wandered around so I could stretch my achy legs! I really love Vermont and these two handsome guys.

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The Vermont City Marathon seemed to have the complete opposite effect that Montreal had on me. I have been on the post marathon high since I finished and it’s been two weeks. Maybe it’s the psychological effect of having another tangible goal in the near future. Since I registered for the New England Double I am automatically registered for the Hartford Marathon in October. Just knowing I have that race to run has made me incredibly excited about training. I usually take a few days off of running after a marathon in exchange for nice walks, not this time. I couldn’t wait to go for a run.

Part of that enthusiasm was due to my new running shoes. My sister had purchased a pair of Hoka One One running shoes while I was running the marathon. She suffers from neuromas in both feet. These are essentially caused by thick skin that grows over a nerve in the ball of the foot typically between the 3rd and 4th toe. They are very painful and she is almost always uncomfortable no matter what shoes she wears so she keeps a sharp eye out for comfortable footwear. She was raving about her new Hokas and offered to buy me a pair as a congratulatory gift . I really wasn’t in the mood to try on shoes, but she convinced me and after taking a little spin in the purple Hokas I was sold. My sister’s husband bought a pair as well.

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Team Hoka One One

I feel like I’m bouncing on air when I run and my toes don’t hurt anymore something I had come to believe was normal.

I have been running, made a return to strength training and I am hiking whenever I can. I have enjoyed a few trail runs too. I love them. They are so refreshing and tranquil. Moving more translates into eating better too. I’m not perfect, but the last couple of years have proved to me that I don’t have to be perfect to continue to achieve goals and overcome obstacles. I just have to keep trying and doing my best.

I emailed the following to my health coach and I think it sums up perfectly how I’m feeling and where I’m heading:

Vermont City lit a match under me. I have placed way too much emphasis on the outside of my body. I am never going to be a super model. I’m going to continue to age and my body will inevitably change through that process. After reading about the 92 year old woman who finished the San Diego Marathon I came to the conclusion that I would much rather still be running marathons when I’m 92 than be thin. I enjoy being active and in the middle of a race I could care less what I look like. However, I really would like to see what my body is capable of doing, how far I can push it and what else I can accomplish. 

 

The Vermont City Marathon – Part 2

I wasn’t really going for the dramatic effect when I ended that last post. It was just getting too wordy. I finished Part 1 of the Vermont City Marathon recap when I was still on the congested trail winding along Lake Champlain. Eventually it came to an end and we re-entered the city. I began to hear the rhythmic sound of the Taiko drummers signaling our ascent up Battery Hill. I got so caught up in the intense energy of the drumming and the unbelievably enthusiastic spectators on both sides of the street that I almost missed my family. My sister suddenly jumped onto the course and told me she was going to run with me for a bit.

I was losing steam at this point as we took off up the massive hill at mile 15. I felt a stitch in my side as we rounded the top of the hill and I had to walk a bit. My stomach could not tolerate a gel, but I felt so parched. I was extremely grateful when someone handed me an orange slice. I wanted something cold and refreshing, not sickly sweet.

I wasn’t expecting my sister to run with me. It was a complete surprise, a very welcome one. Having my sister there with me was more special than she might realize. She may be my younger sister, but I’ve always looked up to her and admired her. Nicole was the athlete when we were growing up. She was a terrific soccer player and physical fitness seemed to come natural to her. I spent years envying her slender figure, petite features, friendly personality and the way she seemed so at ease in every situation.

From a young age I convinced myself that I was everything she wasn’t. I told myself the same story for so long I actually believed it and it strained our relationship terribly. Until one day after having Carlos I told Nicole I wanted to learn to run. That sounds funny doesn’t it. Who doesn’t know how to run? Well I didn’t know how to run without getting winded in two steps. Nicole told me to run the long sides of a track and walk the short sides. I did just that until I could finally run a full loop around and then two and so on. Nicole and I ran my first 5K together, in the pouring rain. That was the moment I caught the running and racing bug. Nicole has been one of my biggest supporters throughout this journey and I am grateful to have this second chance to rebuild our relationship.

My sister stayed by my side until we neared mile 17 where I had another very special guest waiting to run the last nine miles with me.

For the last year and a half I have been seeing a Health Coach. I sought help about 6 months after the Montreal Marathon because I simply could not push past the funk I had fallen into and whatever it was that sent me hurling back into old behaviors. Laura is part running/fitness coach, part nutritionist, part life coach and part therapist. She has been a steady source of support throughout my injury and has really helped me come to terms with the runner I am today post injury.

After I made the decision to register for Vermont City she offered to run with me for a bit. I never imagined she would run 9 miles with me. Those last 9 miles were mentally and physically challenging. The stitch in my side would not go away and when it finally did my legs started to feel the stress of the mileage.

As the miles ticked by so did my personal goals. My A goal to come in under 4:29 (aka beat Oprah’s time) came and went. My B goal to finish below my Philly marathon time of 4:38 also came and went. At that point I was just aiming to finish in under 5 hours. I never doubted my ability to run the distance. If worse came to worse I knew without a doubt I could walk to the finish. It didn’t come to that thankfully. I did take walk breaks in those last 9 miles. However, as we approached mile 25 I refused to walk at all through that last mile. About a quarter mile before the finish I gave a quick hug to Laura as she made a graceful exit off the course. My eyes welled up. I really couldn’t believe that she stayed with me through all those miles. Her support meant more than she will ever know.

As I turned my gaze back on the course I could hear the excitement of the finish line. I rounded a corner and the lake was to my right sparkling alongside the final stretch of the Vermont City Marathon. The runners were received by a huge crowd of cheering spectators, loud music and enthusiastic announcers. I caught a fleeting glimpse of my family as I entered the finish chute. I slowed to a walk as the gracious volunteer placed a medal around my neck. Tears poured down my cheeks as I wrapped myself in the silver blanket (which should not be used like a tissue to wipe said tears off hot sweaty face…bad and rather painful idea!).

I did it! I finished my 4th marathon. In that very instant as I walked away in a bit of a daze I absolutely did not care what my time was. I didn’t care that I took some walk breaks. I didn’t care that I hadn’t had a more thorough training leading up to the race. I did the very best I could given the circumstances and I proved to myself once again that I am so much tougher than I give myself credit for both on the course and off.

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For those who are dying to know my time, it was 4:52:54. This was my slowest marathon yet I can honestly say it was my proudest finish.

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The Vermont City Marathon – Part 1

I really wanted to get this race post up by Monday, but life happened and the blog post didn’t happen. So I’ll jump right into it. Last weekend was amazing!

Last Friday I took the entire day off to accompany Carlos’ class on a field trip to the Heifer International Farm in Rutland, MA. What an awesome experience! The upper elementary class has been selling soup each month to raise money to donate to Heifer International.

We got home around 3:45, I finished packing and we were on the road to Vermont by 4:15. Last year when we were talking about making the return to the Vermont City Marathon, I knew I wanted to spend the entire long weekend in Burlington. I didn’t want to rush through the weekend. We took our time on the way up stopping in Montpelier for dinner.

On Saturday morning we strolled through the farmer’s market in Burlington, tasting the samples including a little wine (sips just sips) and then enjoyed coffee on Church Street. I dropped Carlos and Orlando at the hotel so they could go swimming while I explored the expo…ALONE! I really wanted to soak it up and take my time wandering through the tables and exhibits. I’m so glad I did.

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Vermont City Marathon Expo

 

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My swag bag

 

My sister and her husband arrived in the afternoon and we all met up for a stroll along the waterfront. At dinnertime Orlando and I left to attend the pre-race pasta dinner. I have always opted out of these dinners in the past, but honestly all I want to eat the night before a marathon is a simple plate of pasta. We trek around trying to find just that and this took all the guess work out it while benefitting a great cause. The proceeds for this event went to the Ronald McDonald House in Burlington. I also had the opportunity to hear Olympic bronze medalist, marathoner, Deena Kastor speak. She told a very interesting and witty story of how she became a professional runner.  Her journey is inspiring. I left the dinner feeling motivated and really excited about the marathon. Deena would be running the relay the next day with girls from a local high school track team.

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I slept horribly because I was worried my alarm wouldn’t go off. Typical pre-race fear. I was up at 5AM to engage in all my pre-race rituals. Carlos came down to the hotel breakfast area with me around 6. There were other runners down there and a very high strung spectator who was stressing me out. She kept telling her family to hurry all the while sitting down at the table eating her own breakfast. Her voice became very shrill at one point as she scolded the children and presumably the runner in her family for the 15th time. I told Carlos I had to get back up to the room because she started making me nervous about getting to the race one time.

Carlos begrudgingly posed for a pre-race photo. Remember how smiley he used to be in these photos?

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I woke up an equally grumpy husband. Actually Carlos is truly a morning person, just not a take a photo of me first thing in the morning person. Orlando is definitely not a morning person so I let him sleep as long as possible and at 6:45 I told him it was time to go. The race was to start at 8:03 and I knew there would be a bit of traffic getting me close to the starting line.

They dropped me off about a half mile from the start and as I followed the mass of people down towards the starting area I was invigorated by the collective energy and excitement along the way. Oh how I have missed this feeling!!

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I wandered around soaking up the positive vibes. I took in the gorgeous view of Lake Champlain. The air was tinged with a light chill, but there was a hint of humidity signaling imminent heat that was to come later in the day.

Soon enough I found myself lining up somewhere between the 4:45 and 4:30 pacers. My internal voice kept telling me to avoid the pacers and just enjoy the race, what will be will be, but the hopeful side of me really just wanted to beat the elusive time of Oprah’s one and only marathon. It was a serious long shot though and by long shot I mean miracle.

During the national anthem I got goosebumps and tears welled up in my eyes. Geez what is it about these marathons for me?! I’ve been so lost since I crossed the finish line in Montreal in September 2013, but as the gun sounded I knew I was right back where I was meant to be and this was only the beginning.

The first 4 miles flew by. Then we found ourselves on the out and back portion of the course along a relatively flat highway. I thought it would be boring, but since you were able to see everyone ahead of you as they looped around it was fun cheering them on. The miles ticked away surprisingly quickly and before I knew it I was heading back into the city toward mile 9. I knew I would see my family very soon.

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Orlando, Carlos, my sister and her husband were waiting for me just before I turned onto Church Street. I was so excited to see them. They had a Vega gel and a Perfect Fuel waiting for me. I stopped for a minute and then kept on going right down through the enthusiastic spectators along Church Street. This was without a doubt the best spot along the course.

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Once we left Church Street there was a bit of a lull in spectators. We wound through some nice neighborhoods and eventually reached the halfway point. I knew I ran a strong first half, not fast, but consistent. I felt terrific and I went with it.

However, shortly after the halfway point we entered onto a bike trail. It was narrow and suddenly I felt like I was in the midst of a herd of cattle on the verge of being trampled. I was stumbling to hold my pace and became claustrophobic. I had nowhere to go so I tried to just hold steady. Prior to this I was ahead of the 4:30 pacer and I thought maybe, just maybe I could hold onto it, but as we inched along this congested trail the 4:30 pacer passed me. I didn’t care. I just wanted off the trail. The scenery to my left was stunning and I tried really hard to focus on the lake instead of the 20 people at my heels.

The tightness of the trail and the heat started to get to me. I felt a bit nauseous. I longed to catch a glimpse of the road again, but all I could see were the runners at less than an arm’s length in front of me. I needed to take a gel or eat some pretzels, but the thought of what I had in my spy belt made me even more nauseous. I just wanted to drink. The water bottle in my hand was warm and uninviting. My insides were crawling and screaming “MOVE! Get out of my way people and get me the hell off this trail.”

Defeated and nauseous

I filled my CamelBak yesterday. Orlando and I stopped at Whole Foods last night on our way to dinner so I could pick up the Vega gel I use during long runs. I had a simple dinner, never anything spicy or fancy the night before a long run. We were home by 8:30 and I took out my running clothes, made my chia overnight oats for the morning and prepared my pre-run drink. I thought I had the Vega Pre-Workout Energizer I usually drink before a long run, but I couldn’t find it so I substituted it with something called Carb-igniter that I got at some running expo. I set my alarm for 3:55 and I was in bed and asleep by 10. I felt good mentally and physically. I was ready for my 22 mile run in the morning.

My alarm went off and I was up. I followed my pre-run rituals. The Carb-igniter was a little funky, but I drank it. I set out just before 4:30. It was still dark, but so peaceful. I started out feeling great. I knew it wasn’t going to be a fast run for me, but that was ok as long as I was running a comfortable steady pace.

I chugged along. I grabbed a gel at mile 5 and after just a taste my stomach turned. By mile 7 I was so nauseous I could barely stand to sip water. I walked most of mile 13. As I turned onto a road littered with shops, gas stations and restaurants I told myself I would just run to McDonalds where I could use the bathroom. Sorry if that’s TMI!

As I exited McDonalds I tried to convince myself I was feeling better so I set off at a slow jog. Nope the nausea was right there and felt stronger. I knew there was a convenience store less than a mile away so I told myself to just keep going until I reached it. I figured I could by a small package of plain crackers and maybe that would settle my stomach. No such luck. Every cracker was covered in some kind of cheese, jalapeño flavoring, pizza flavor or other equally nauseating topping.

Back on the road and about 6 miles to go. I ran a nice downhill as I neared mile 17. As soon as Map My Run announced mile 17 I started crying. I felt so sick. I was close to home at this point. I didn’t want to give up, but the run downhill jostled my sick stomach even more. I slowed to a walk and weighed my choices. I kept walking and as I reached my house I was just shy of 19 miles. I couldn’t go any further. Of course my legs were sore by this point. I crumbled in tears as I took off my sneakers and my water pack. I have never ever walked so much on a long run. I have never not made the distance I set out to run. Damn Carb Igniter! I know that’s what caused the nausea. Never stray from what normally works when you’re training. I should have known better.

So I ate some saltines, had a little pity party, and then I called my sister for some support while I walked those last 3.22 miles. I should have kept going because in a real marathon you don’t get to stop at home if things aren’t going well. I hung up with my sister after about a mile and a half. I spent the next mile and half reminding myself that this bumpy road I’ve been on full of inconsistency, doubt, and challenge is just part of life. This too shall pass and I will be a better person for it.