2014 Wrap-up and Racing Resolutions

I know, I know.  It’s almost February 2015 and I am just getting around to posting my 2014 wrap-up.  If you go by the lunar calendar, then this post is just-in-time.  The tardiness of this post pretty much sums up the year — 2014 was insanely busy.

On the home front, my poor boys were constantly sick.  I think my 18-month-old had a fever every other week!  My 4-year-old started pre-school and brought home all kinds of germs.  Also, I think I can sum up pre-school with two words: Birthday Parties.  Holy cow.  For a period there, we had a birthday party EVERY weekend.  I should stock up on pre-schooler birthday gifts just to have it handy!

On the work front, it was a great year.  It took me a couple of years but I stood up an awesome team at work and things were just starting to come together and getting some serious recognition.  Just in time for managers to move me to lead another project!  Now, the move did come with a nice promotion to a senior position and a nice raise, so no complaints.

Running, Racing, Resolutions

On the running front – this has been an epic year for me as a runner.  Starting in March 2014 with meeting my goal of running a Marathon within a year of having my second baby.  Not only did I complete the Marathon (prior to the course time limit), I achieved a personal record by shaving off 36 minutes from my previous personal best.  Then again in November 2014, I was able to slim down my marathon time by 12 more minutes when I completed the Richmond Marathon (new PR: 5:26).

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What I Have Learned In 2014

I don’t know if it is easy for anyone to run a marathon.  It is a mental and physical challenge, one that I have fallen in love with.  What I want to celebrate as a result of my running in 2014 isn’t the PRs but what I have learned from racing:

1. Do Not Let Others Define Your Limits.  People don’t say negative things out of meanness.  In fact, the most discouraging comments about my running have been uttered by close family and friends with the best of intentions. You know yourself best.  Don’t give away the power to define your own limits.

2. If Your Goals Don’t Scare You Just A Little, Then It Is Not Set High Enough. Do what scares you. Just a little.    It is a wonderful feeling to know you conquered your fears.

3. Celebrate Your Achievements. It’s OK.  It’s not self indulgent to do it. Now, I’m not talking here just buying new gear (though I am known to do that…).  I found myself minimizing my achievements.  “You ran a marathon?!  That is amazing” “oh, yeah, I did.  But I’m so slow…”  Can you imagine if your best friend or family just ran a marathon after training for it all winter long and you say to them “yeah, I guess you finished, but man were you slow!”   I would never say that or feel that way so why should I tell myself that?

Looking To 2015

I don’t usually set “new year’s” resolutions.  I guess I usually set goals all throughout the year. But this year, I decided to do things a little differently.  In fact, I am not setting any racing goals… I am setting anti-racing goals.

1. No Marathons for 12 months.  I want to focus on getting faster.  Focus on shorter races, nothing longer than 13.1 miles. Do more speed workouts.  Incorporating strength training and swimming.

2. Incorporate My Family Into More Runs.  The shorter runs will allow me to achieve this goal.  In the fall, my son started riding his bike.  We went on many family runs and it was so much fun, and challenging keeping up with him on his bike, that I resolve to do more of it this year!

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I hope this belated post finds everyone happy and healthy.  I wish all of you an awesome New Year 🙂

Be fearless and run on.

Race Review: 2014 Anthem Richmond Marathon

Overall: Good Race. I probably won’t do it again… but never say never.

Expo:  I did not make it in time for the Expo, so can’t comment on that.  It is GREAT that the race mails your bib to you ahead of time.  Take advantage of that if you won’t make it to the expo.  I also heard from my friends that did go the expo that they met Bart Yasso and sat through his pep talk…I was jealous of that!

Race Tips: You will not need to pack your own hydration for this race.  This race had the BEST organized support stations that I have ever seen.  Water and Powerade ever 2 miles until Mile 20, then EVERY MILE after that.  They were well stocked and never ran out of anything.  There is dry and wet towel stations at two mile markers toward the end of the race.  “Junk Food” stations at Mile 17 and 22.  Also Gu along the way.  That said, you may want to train with the nutrition they use if you choose to shed the fuel belt.

Course / Elevation:  Someone told me that Richmond was relatively flat… I should have asked “relative to WHAT?”  It. Was. NOT. Flat!  No giant hills but rolling hills.  Then of course there’s the infamous “hill” at Mile 19.  I think to call it a hill is being generous – it’s nothing but a slight incline onto an overpass but at Mile 19, it might as well have been Mount Everest.  I was well prepared for it so I ran up it, no prob… but everyone I passed was walking.  I lost my running partner on this hill…  Bottom Line: DO HILL WORKOUTS.

One more thing.  The finish line is at the bottom of a pretty steep hill.  I guess it’s good to finish down hill – but DANG, it was a sharp decline for Mile 26…  My knees actually hated that downhill finish.  BE CAREFUL if it’s the same course.  You will be inclined to spring down that hill but you may risk injury.  I had to slow myself down about halfway down the finish stretch.

Logistics:  BOOK THE HOTELS EARLY!  I tried to book the hotels 6 to 7 months in advance and the hotels were completely booked.  I ended up in a hotel about 7 miles from the start line.  It actually worked out well because the parking wasn’t too terrible at the start.  A couple of tips:

  • HOTELS: Check a week or two before the race.  A running friend did and booked the hotel right at the start line – which was great.  We hung out in her room until 10 mins before the start and used the nice, warm restroom in her room instead of porta-potties.
  • PARKING: If you stay a little ways from the race, do not fear.  Race day morning, drive in and park in garages about 3 blocks NORTH of the starting line.  We did that and had no problems but saw the traffic jam of cars completely stuck in the road about 1 block or so from the starting race route.

Anything Else? This Marathon is termed the “Friendliest” Marathon.  And it was friendly.  But I was told by another runner that had ran previously in Richmond that the spectators weren’t out in full force because it was freakishly cold (read: Polar Vortex) this time around.

They put the runners in “waves” but it’s all one start.  Meaning, no separate gun starts for each of the waves – which was great because you didn’t have to wait, standing around in the cold, to start 50 mins after the actual start time.

The stretch along the River… Gorgeous.  If you do run this race, enjoy that stretch 🙂

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Nutrition Strategy: Richmond Marathon 2014

Fail to prepare, prepare to fail

This is a quote that I have seen many times on social media and it definitely holds true to Marathon running. Race day nutrition can make or break your race experience. As Richmond approaches, I have settled on a race nutrition strategy.

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This is my first time running Richmond so I don’t have experience with the support stations along the route. By looking at the course map (here) it looks like there will be a water station every 2 miles on the even miles, then every mile after mile 20. And they will provide gel at mile 14 and 17. There is also a junk food station at mile 16 and 22 (not gonna lie, this was one of the deciding factors for signing up for this race!).

That said, I don’t plan to partake in the nutrition provided on the course. I am more of a BYON – bring your own nutrition kind of gal. And water. For a couple of reasons. I’m SLOW. Meaning, in past races of this magnitude, by the time I get to the stations, they often have run out of Gatorade or sometimes even food. Though, this race looks pretty well supported and may not be an issue. Secondly, if you’ve read my other posts you know that I struggle with my blood glucose as a prediabetic. A lot of the gels and nutrition provided are all carbs and I prefer to take my calories as a mix (carbs+protein+fats). For some that upsets their “system” for me it works (VERY IMPORTANT: everyone’s different. I’m just sharing my experience)

A note on the junk food station. I love the idea. Like I said, it was one of the reasons I decided to sign up. But… No, I will not be taking part in it. Miles 16 will be one of the toughest miles. It’s a tough segment of the marathon (physically but especially mentally), there’s also a big hill in this mile, to mix in junk food, if you didn’t train with it, may spell disastrous stomach trouble! And mile 22? I will hopefully by in my “don’t talk to me, touch me, or even look at me”-focused, hard to the finish zone.

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Here’s my plan:

– take nutrition roughly every 5 miles (equates to every hour for me)
– alternate between honey stinger chews (all carbs) and chia bar (mixed)
– take the picky bar at mile 20 – this is when I get hungry. So something more substantial helps me feel better.
– bring my own water but partake in the powerade as needed in the second half of the marathon
– avoid water stations as much as possible and the slippery paper cups on the course!
– I probably will skip the pizza at the finish line too

Man. I sound like no fun! But I’m Richmond Ready.

Have a great race everyone!

Race Reflections: Don’t Let Others Define Your Limits

I raced the 2014 Leesburg 20K/5K this morning.  Even with the hills, heat, and humidity, I ran a great 20K.  But that’s not what I am writing about in this post.  In this post, I am reflecting on the 2013 Leesburg 20K/5K, the first race I ran after having baby #2.

Except for family members and a few close friends, no one knew about my postpartum complications after delivery.  Long story short, I had some internal bleeding that was missed by the hospital when they discharged me to go home. The bleeding caused a [very painful] hematoma and I was rushed back to the hospital for CAT Scans  and put on bed rest. 

I was scared.  Terrified.  I’m sure the raging postpartum and breastfeeding hormones didn’t help matters.  I was heavily medicated so that helped with the pain, but I still couldn’t stand up or walk… so running was completely out of the question.

Luckily, the internal bleeding had stopped on its own by day 4 and I didn’t have to be readmitted into the hospital.  I remember asking my doctors, when can I start running?  Little did I know she had wanted me to stay in bed for another week or so before she would even want me walking around.

It was a difficult time but I healed.  At 7 weeks postpartum, I started running again – actually it’s more of a run-walk.

After a week of “running,” I decided I would challenge myself (with the approval of my doctor, of course) by signing up for a 5K.  And I did.  The Leesburg 5K.  The race was 3 weeks away. Plenty of time, I thought.  I knew that even if I had to walk it, I can finish a 5K.  I was excited.

I posted it on Facebook.  I told my friends.  Much to my surprise, instead of overwhelming support, I was getting well-meaning, but negative advice from almost everyone.  “You can’t do it,” they said.  “That’s far.” “You know, you don’t HAVE to do it.” “Are you sure you can run 3 miles?”  It seemed that my limits have been defined for me.

Part of me started to think… maybe they are right.  I guess there’s no shame in not showing up to the race.  I did just have a baby a couple of months ago.

Despite the negative self-talk, I was too excited about running my first race.  I packed up the family in the car, drove out to Potomac River Running Store in Leesburg and picked up my packet, carrying my baby in my Ergo baby carrier.  The energy from the other runners was infectious. I remembered how much I loved running.  I even ran into a couple of running friends that were signed up to run the 20K.  Wow, I thought to myself, maybe one day I can do the 20K too.

The next day, I drove to the race start.  Soaking up every minute of it.  I even enjoyed waiting in line for the porta potties!  I watched the elite runners warm up.  Got into the starting line. and I was off! 

It wasn’t my best time, but I didn’t have to walk.  I finished, averaging 10:23min/mile, well under my own expectations.  It was a feeling I can’t describe in words.  I cried at the finish line.  I’m sure people looked at me weird.  Someone even checked to see if I was OK.  “I’m great!” I responded.

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Two months after the 2013 Leesburg 5K, I ran another 5K in Ashburn.  I PR’d the 5K averaging at 9:26min/mile — my first 5K under 30mins.  A few more weeks after that, I PR’d a 10K, finishing just under 60mins.  The rest of the year, I ran 2 half marathons and a full marathon.  I was able to achieve my running goals and believe in myself all because of that 5K a year ago in Leesburg.

And today, I am back running the Leesburg race.  This time at packet pickup, I didn’t have to carry my little one in a baby carrier.  In fact, both of my kids ran around like maniacs.

The baby had fun at packet pick up!

The baby had fun at packet pick up!

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So did my four-year-old

I met up with my good friend Laura and other Distance Training Program (DTP) Ladies – Erica, Catherine, and Kathleen.  We started the race together, chatting.

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The course was hilly.  Gradual hills, but hilly nonetheless.  Most of the race was on the W&OD trail and that made it difficult trying to weave in and out of people and dodging bikers.  But I pushed through.  I was racing for me from a year ago – the girl who helped me get to where I am today.  My goal was to average 11:00min/mile and ended up with 10:45 min/mile average with negative splits:

Mile 1: 11:52, Mile 2: 11:17, Mile 3: 11:09, Mile 4: 11:01, Mile 5: 10:44, Mile 6: 10:43, Mile 7: 10:25, Mile 8: 10:50 (the hills got me this mile), Mile 9: 10:24, Mile 10: 10:17, Mile 11: 9:56, Mile 12: 9:52

Overall, an awesome day.

When people tell you that you can’t do something (well-intentioned or not), it is usually a reflection of their own limits.  Not yours.  The Leesburg race will always serve as a reminder of that. 

 

 

 

Running and Blood Sugar Control – Lessons Learned

“Prediabetes means you have blood glucose, or blood sugar, levels that are higher than normal but not high enough to be called diabetes…  If you have prediabetes, you are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke.” (Source: NIH)

The week before Boston Marathon 2014, I was diagnosed as “prediabetic.”  I had failed the 2 hour glucose test and my A1C test results came back elevated.

My doctor: Eat less carbs, lose some weight.  Oh and start an exercise program

Me: Um…Does marathon training count?

I wasn’t surprised at the diagnosis.  With both of my pregnancies, I had gestational diabetes and was informed that it raised my risk for type 2 diabetes.  Knowing the risks, I started running as soon as I was medically cleared after having my second baby.  In the year after my second son was born, I ran a 5K, 10-miler, two half marathons, and a marathon — and even with losing all the baby weight within 4 months of giving birth, I could not escape prediabetes. (I know, I’m whining).

So I did what every normal, rational person would do – I Googled “prediabetes.”  There is a lot of information on the Internet for managing blood sugar, preventing type 2 diabetes.  However.  I was not able to find much information on prediabetes and endurance sports (perhaps I have not found the right key words to search).

I’m not going to lie. Part of the reason I run is so that I can eat cupcakes, ice cream, all the fun, sugary stuff.  And I love carb-loading before a big race.  I love pasta, rice. Now with my new diagnosis, I had to find a new balance with the amount of carbs I *think* I need for running.  The following is a list of lessons I have learned SO FAR from my research and experiences.  I hope to share future lessons with all the prediabetic and diabetic endurance athletes and invite your input!

[DISCLAIMER: I am not a medical or nutritional professional.  Just a fellow prediabetic runner trying to figure out what to eat and when to eat in order to best manage my blood sugar levels.]

1.  Everyone is Different. 

One message I found to be consistent in most of the literature is that different foods’ effect on blood sugar levels can vary drastically in each person.  For example, when I eat pineapples, it spikes my blood sugar but when a diabetic friend eats pineapples, the rise in her blood sugar level is not as drastic.  Also, the time of day matters as well.  I find that my blood sugar is the most sensitive in the morning.  Some of articles online recommend people to eat the carbs early on during the day so you can burn off the sugar all day – well, it doesn’t work for me. I can only eat small amount of carbs (less than 25 grams) in the morning, unless I’m going out for a run.

2.  Not JUST About Cutting Carbs.

One mistake that I made initially was just cutting carbs.  I didn’t go fully Atkin’s diet, but I significantly reduced the amount of carbs I consumed.  This did manage to help me lose weight… initially.  After two weeks of carb-cutting, I went out for a 10-mile run.  About 8 miles in, I started to feel dizzy, my muscles tightened and cramped.  My blood sugar had dropped to such a low-level that it was not only hurting my performance but extremely dangerous!  I quickly took 2 Gu’s and sat down.  Diabetes is not just about lowering blood sugar, it is about controlling and managing it.

3.  Get a Blood Glucose Meter

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The previous lesson leads me to this: bottom line, I need to carefully monitor blood sugar levels with a meter.  But this is tricky.  Prediabetes is not a “covered” condition under some health insurances (mine).  So the test strips for these devices can be very expensive.  Luckily I have some left over from my gestational diabetes days and plan to use that until I run out.  This is worth it to me to make sure I stay healthy, I consider it an investment.

4.  Keep a Log

I have decided to meet with a nutritionist and having data helps tremendously.  I JUST started to keep track of my blood glucose level for the following times in a spreadsheet for my weekend long runs (runs that take more than 1 hour).  I try to write down the amount of carbs consumed before, during and after a run and WHAT food was eaten.  Hopefully this will eventually help me determine what works best for me to optimize my performance.

Time/When Carbs (grams) Blood Glucose (mg/dL) Comments
Fasting (wake up) 0 Eat breakfast after taking blood glucose and at least 1 hour before run
Before Run (breakfast carbs amount) Taken just before the long run
1 Hr Into Run (Gu or Sport Bean taken) I have started to try different foods to test how my blood sugar is affected
2 Hr Into Run (Gu or Sport Bean taken)
1 Hr After Run (Food eaten immediately after run) I try to eat within 30 mins of completing a run

5. Plan Ahead

Running and taking blood glucose levels can be challenging.  Planning ahead helps.  Trial and error helps too.  If you’re like me, especially in the summer, I am a sweaty mess when I’m running.  If you use a blood glucose meter, you know that sweat on your finger tips will mess with your reading.  I try to keep a towel at a convenient point on the trail and I make sure that roughly every hour I run by that point to take my readings.

It is a pain in the butt to have to do this during a run but it is temporary.  Hopefully after I have taken quite a few of these readings, I will get to a point where I know exactly what to eat and when to eat it on my run that I don’t need to continue to take my blood glucose levels.

These are just some of the lessons I have learned so far.  I’m sure there will be many, many more.  I hope whom ever reads this post will benefit from this and please do leave me any suggestions if you’re an experienced diabetic, endurance athlete, I would love to learn from you as well.

Stay Healthy.  Stay Strong.  Run.

 

 

Mile 21.4

I love reading race reports by other runners, so I set out to write one for the 3/15/2014 Rock N Roll USA Marathon. As I began to write, I realized that “I started slowly, ran slowly, stopped for the porta-potty, and finished the race slow” wasn’t exactly an exciting read. Instead, I want to share a race moment – Mile 21.4.

I had signed up for this marathon as a part of my post-baby running goal of doing a full marathon before my baby boy turned one. I signed up for a distance training program with Potomac River Running (an awesome local running store) to prepare for the marathon. A few weeks out from the marathon, I completely freaked out… as one can see from my previous post. I needed a mental kick-in-the-butt but instead I got an email from RNRUSA a week before the race with the subject: “Course Time Limit.”

The course time limit, according to the email, was 5.5 hours. It was stated clearly on the registration page and it was stated again in this email but somehow I managed to miss it. My goal time was around 5.5 hours! A week before the marathon, I was just informed that I may be picked up by the sag wagon and not finish the race. The email outlined various cutoff time and locations:

Mile 12.3 (Full/Half Marathon Split) by 10:40 am
Mile 18 (S. Capitol St./Nationals Stadium) by 11:50 am
Mile 21.4 (Anacostia Roller Rink Loop) by 12:35 pm

Panic set in.

I remember having conversations, in person and on twitter with my PR Running coaches Shannon Scalan (@ShannonScalan) and Adam Lesser (@ajlesser, lesserismore.blogspot.com). Shannon helped me strategize: the course limit is 5.5 hours from the time the LAST PERSON crosses the starting line. If I get into an earlier corral, I can start earlier and “beat the roller rink loop” by 12:35pm. Adam’s post on “taper crazies” helped me get into a better mental state.

With the support of my family, friends and coaches, I got to the starting line. I focused on pacing myself and made sure I stayed off to the side and didn’t block any faster runners. I met an awesome mom runner at mile 14 and ran with her for 6 miles. I smiled at all the cameras (hoping that all of them were official race photographers). Most of the race was a blur. But there was one vivid moment, captured in the photo below: Mile 21.4.
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I remember looking down and seeing 21.5 on my Garmin and thought, “I did it.  I am going to COMPLETE a marathon.”  I started to choke up  with tears but stopped myself. (Note to self: do not cry while running, it makes it very difficult to breathe. #runningtip).

It is one thing when others doubt your abilities but for me, my biggest enemy has always been myself.  And this is the moment that proved me wrong and will stay with me from now on in every race I run.  I CAN finish a marathon.  In fact, I picked up the pace.

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I want to take this opportunity to thank everyone that helped me achieve this goal.  My husband, for staying with the kids every Saturday morning so I can do my long runs.  Adam and Shannon – the best running coaches EVER. And all of my friends that encouraged, supported me even when I wanted to quit.  I couldn’t have accomplished this goal without you.

What about you?  Have you ever had a memorable, defining moment in a race?

Marathon Countdown: 6 Weeks and Freaking Out!

Three months ago when I signed up for the Rock N Roll USA Marathon, I thought it was a great idea.  I wanted to complete a half marathon within 6 months of having the baby and a full marathon before he turned 1.  Now that I am 6 weeks away from the marathon… WHAT WAS I THINKING.  Ok, yes, I am freaking out.

Physically, I am prepared.  I have been training consistently.  I even signed up for marathon training program with a local (and awesome) running store, Potomac River Running (www.potomacriverrunning.com).  I have made all of my long runs and some in the freezing cold.  My long run yesterday went great.  It was a recovery week yet I still managed to sneak in 2 miles towards the end of the 12-miler at marathon race pace.

Mentally, however, not so much.  I have read many blogs and articles that discuss the mental aspects of running and racing.  But I always thought, “those are for real runners, not me,” or “I’m not going to qualify for Boston, or break any records.  No pressure to finish!”  It is exactly this self-defeating thought process that has made me mentally weak for the upcoming race.

The Mental Un-Preparation.  I didn’t tell many family members or friends that I signed up for a marathon.  In fact, my husband only found out when he saw the charge on the credit card bill.  I purposely signed up for a marathon that included a half marathon option so that, you know, in the event that something came up…  I can switch (read: wimp out).  As for my goal time? Well, no big deal, I just want to finish before the courtesy bus picks me up.  I have been talking myself out of running this marathon before I even signed up for it.

Reset and Reboot.  I just posted on Facebook that I will be running the RNR USA Marathon in March.  In fact, 2 friends signed up to do the half marathon so they can run the first 13.1 miles with me and make sure I go on to run the second 13.1.   As for records, I am hoping to break a record – my personal record.

I ran/walked the 2008 Marine Corps Marathon in 06:12:45.  I want to obliterate that time.  My goal time for this marathon is 05:12:00.  And if I can finish under that time, I will do a happy dance at the finish line and then probably collapse.  This is it.  No more self-defeating thoughts.

Hey Everyone, perfect strangers, I’m going to run a marathon on March 15, 2014!