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. 

 

 

 

Raising Little Men

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I have no idea how to be a good mom.  There. I said it.  I let my kids watch television. My 14 months old just had his first popsicle. And when the boys are bad, I raise my voice at them.  I probably over use time-outs…It’s true.  When it comes to being a parent, I never know the right thing to say.

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I recently signed up to be a volunteer with a local charity organization to work with under privileged children in my community.  With all the violence and unrest in the world, I hoped that whatever good deeds I can do will feed some positive energy into the universe. (Yes. I am crazy…a hopeless optimist).

Last night was my first time volunteering and I had a great time.  I had decided to bring my four-year-old with me.  I don’t think he fully understood why we were there but it didn’t matter.  He had a wonderful time.  He played with the kids.  Made new friends.  He didn’t care that they were “under privileged” or poor or orphaned — didn’t even understand what that meant.

At the end of the night, my son turned to me with the biggest smile on his face and said “Mommy, can we come back please?”

I’m never going to be the perfect mom. I don’t even know what that means. What I do know is that if I can have more nights like the one I had with my son – bringing joy to others and having a wonderful time doing it – then I have succeeded.  My kids drive me to be a better human being so that I can lead by example for them as they grow up.

That was all I needed.

Celebrating Our First Volunteer Night

Fro Yo to Celebrate Our First Volunteer Night!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Am I A Runner?

I overheard my husband describe me to someone as an “avid runner” last week. My first reaction was – I was flattered. But that reaction was immediately followed by self doubt… “Am I really a runner?”

What a stupid question, right? I describe myself here and on twitter as a “runner.” Why am I questioning it? I don’t know. But I do. I have always thought of running as something I DID, not who I am. A distinction that probably makes no sense to people reading this.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. I have ALWAYS wanted to be a runner. I just never thought I would ever be one. I’m not fast enough. I’m not skinny enough. I don’t run far enough. This isn’t all in my head either. I remember when my husband used to make fun of me: you can’t call that running, that’s more like jogging! (Whatever that means)

I got so used to the slow comments that I even came with the phrase, “oh, I don’t run, I just walk in a running motion.” That usually gets an obligatory chuckle from the receiving end.

But now my hubby thinks I’m an “avid runner”?! What changed?

What changed is precisely the distinction I made earlier. Running isn’t just something I do, it defines a part of me. Being a runner isn’t about how fast you run, how far you run, how you look doing it. Runners run with heart. Runners are mentally tough. Runners constantly challenge themselves to be better. And runners are supportive and encourage other runners. These traits belong to all the runners I know.

Today I proudly allow myself to wear that label.

I am a runner.

(This post is a shout out to one of my fav runner and blogger Kimberly Westrich #believeinyourself @KimberWestrich, kimruns.blogspot.com)

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.

 

 

Run To Me (Not A Post About Running)

I saw this post on Instagram today (Text with the photo by @yoga_girl: My mothers hand. My grandmothers hands. The foundation of us all. The reason that I am. Mormor. Mom of moms. Today is her birthday and today she took her last breath. I am so sad. So sad. The last thing I told her was I love you. Don’t worry. Everything is ok. We are all so happy and so safe. The last thing she told me was I love you. We are going to Aruba. Where is your mother. I love Dennis. I am wearing an orange dress to your wedding but I can’t find it. Promise you will come back. And I did. I came back. But all the times I saw her after that she didn’t speak. I sat there listening to the space between her breaths. Now there is just space. Jag älskar dig Morris.)

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It made me cry.  I don’t know yoga girl (Rachel Brathen).  I started following her on Instagram because I loved her photos; I think she is vibrant and beautiful.  I admire her for her spirit – I see a girl who is not afraid to live, knows what she wants and goes after it. But mostly I saw a girl who knows how to love.  I felt her pain through her post.  It made me cry.  It made me think.

I used to be that girl.  Full of love and life.  Fearless.  But somehow after 7 years of marriage and 2 kids, I lost that girl…  I lost me.

I had always been fearless.  Even as a little girl, I was the leader of my group of friends – much to the dismay of my friends’ parents.  Growing up in Taiwan, I went to an elementary school in the mountains.  We didn’t have school buses.  To get to school, we had to either walk up a long, paved road or (literally) climb the side of the mountain. I rarely took the paved road.  Everyday I made my friends take a different way to and from school… even got lost a few times.  But I always managed to find the way home.

There’s not a time that I can remember where I took the easy way.  I liked adventures. Moving to a new country and not speaking a word of English. No problem.  After graduating college, I wanted to move to Washington, DC.  I did it.  Got a job, packed up my car, and moved into an apartment by myself. I wanted to audition for American Idol.  I drove up and slept in the streets of New York City.  I sang my heart out (even made it to the second round – story for another time).  I wanted to buy a condo by myself, for my birthday.  I did it.  I worked hard, saved money for a year and signed the contract on my 24th birthday.  I did these things even when I was told constantly, “you can’t do it.”

Not anymore.  Now I live in fear and constant self-doubt.

I don’t know when exactly it happened.  Maybe after hearing “you can’t do it” so many times from people who are supposed to believe in me… it sticks with you.  Or maybe I forgot how to be brave.  Now I just follow other women on Instagram and live vicariously.  There are no risks when you live vicariously… except the biggest risk of all – not taking any risks.

My grandmother is getting older.  My grandma raised me since I was a baby. She is still living in Taiwan, by herself, in the apartment that I grew up in.  We talk on the phone occasionally, mostly small talk about the weather and what’s on TV.  When we have the chance to video chat, she doesn’t say much, just stares lovingly at me through the screen of my computer.

I haven’t visited her in almost 10 years.  Every year, I so want to see her.  I think about going back to Taiwan to see her.  And every year I talk myself out of it because i’m afraid. Traveling with a baby, for THAT far, it’s just too much… I don’t know if I can do it.  It’s such a long flight.  And now, five years later, with two kids…traveling with a preschooler and a baby… the broken record of fear plays over and over in my head.  I have dug myself a little hole where I am comfortable and buried my head in it.  I’m a coward.

This post by @yoga_girl made me cry.  It made me think.  The spirited, fearless girl that I admire from Instagram lost her grandmother.  Yet I am too afraid to travel the distance to see mine.  Is there irony in that?  I don’t know.

People always ask me “why do you run?”  My go-to answer: I run for my health and quality alone time.  Truth is, I love running because it is the only time that I catch glimpses of my old fearless self.  If that voice in my head says to me “you can’t run another mile,” I prove it wrong by running another mile, faster.

If life is a marathon, I have hit the mental wall at mile 20.  It is time for me to refuel and push through.  Today, I run to the fearless me.  Today, I started planning my trip to Taiwan.   I am going to say “I love you” to my grandmother in person, because I can.

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!