Saturday, October 22, 2011

Practice Run

It was dark. and cold. and really really really early. Ralph and I dragged ourselves out of bed, and began to get ready, going through the motions in a silent dance of sorts. It was too early for conversation, but we knew the routine. Pour coffee, make English muffins, get dressed in running gear, get shot blocks and Gatorade. In and out of the kitchen, in and out of the bedroom, each of us having our own order of doing things. I prefer to get breakfast first, and then get dressed. Ralph is the opposite. We take turns standing over the sink and eating so all the crumbs and drips of honey don't get on the floor, but we are too tired to use plates.

All our gear and ready to go!

Dressed, fed and ready to go, I pull out or bag of winter gear and we both select a set of gloves. It's not "ice on your windshield" cold, but it was "see your breath in front of your face" cold. We head for the car where I immediately crank up the heat. Obviously the coffee has not worked its magic, I do not feel chipper, or awake, but rather grumpy and sleepy. I know it will all be over in a few hours. I know I will feel such a sense of pride when it is done. I just hate this part. This part where you have time to change your mind. Where you can decide to just go back to bed. Thankfully I know Ralph is counting on me and I cannot, I will not, let him down.

warm hands and fingers are essential!

ready to kick some 13 mile butt!

My favorite thing about training for the Philadelphia Marathon and Half Marathon in all the years I have run them, is the race course is literally in our backyard (now that we have moved its a little more of a trip) how can you not train on the course? As a beginner runner, knowing every turn, every hill, every curve of the road really let me let go and enjoy the run more than if I was always wondering "what's up next?". So I promised Ralph one of the things we'd get to do this training cycle was run the course. And it couldn't have been perfectly timed with his first 13 mile run.

So here we were, at 6:45am on a Saturday, headed down to the art museum to run 13 miles around the city of Philadelphia. It was a quick drive with no traffic, and early enough to get a great parking spot. Now or never.

We had covered 12 miles two weeks before, I knew Ralph was going to do great on this run, but I forget how intimidating a new distance can be. Even just a mile longer, it is unknown territory. And the first time you do it, it can be the hardest thing ever. We started down the parkway, and headed east towards the river. Sidewalks were empty and there were barely any cars on the road but the sun had made its grand entrance and it wasn't long before we were both nice and warm.

Amazing view of the Ben Franklin Bridge around mile 2.5

I talked a lot. I usually talked a lot. But was we ran along Columbus, the sun rising over the Delaware river to our right, I noticed Ralph was very quiet. I finally get him to admit he is psyching himself out, and is nervous. "It's just so far" he says to me, meaning I've been describing the course and its all so spread out he can't imagine covering all this ground and being in one piece in the end.

We run from one end of the city to the other, and back again. Before we both realize we are at mile 7, making our way up our first hill. The course takes us through our old college campus and we spend the next mile reminiscing about all the things that have changed since we graduated. It was pretty smooth sailing for a while. But then we got to...

... the second hill. Now since I've ran the course before I obviously knew there were two hills. But I smartly kept this little bit of information to myself. Ralph was sure to find out about it once he got there so why worry him? That hill I think was the hardest part of the run. It's curvy and long and just about kicks your butt. At the top we slowed down a bit to recover.

The last three miles of the course are on West River Drive, and take you straight back to the art museum. It can be pretty boring, there isn't much to look at other than the side of the highway and the river. It all starts to blend together, and it was at this point that Ralph was really ready to be done. But he kept going. Kept pushing. And even when he said "no faster than this" and "I hope I can finish it" I made him talk about things to take his mind off of running, like the new fish tank he is setting up in our living room. Once his mind was distracted he picked up the speed and it was tough to reel him back in.

And then it was over. Just under three hours, not even 11am yet, and we had finished running 13 miles. I don't think Ralph ever imagined the day he would set out to do something like that. I for one was amazed, proud, and also pretty tired. I hadn't run since last weekends 5k.

13 mile finisher!!! SO PROUD of this guy!

Our plans to run errands in the city changed to getting breakfast from Wawa and heading home ASAP for an ice bath. It's funny how quickly you can turn someone on to ice bathing once they experience how much it helps recovery. And once you've done one, you'll end every run begging to sit in a bathtub of freezing water.

Around mile 11, Ralph said to me he wanted to focus on shorter distances after this half, that he didn't like all this time on his feet. And for a moment I remembered what it was like training for my first half marathon. The first time I ran 13 miles was SO HARD. I felt like I might not finish. I wanted to stop more than anything. Now I can almost breeze through it even after skipping 5 days of running. I told him I don't care what he does, because I honestly don't, I just want him to be happy. But I promised it gets easier. Just like he can now go out and run 3 miles like it's no big deal, there was a day when that was REALLY hard. It's all relative.

What's your longest training distance? Can you still remember what it felt like the first time you ever ran it?

xx Sara

Monday, October 17, 2011

The makings of a marathoner (and a 1/2 marathoner)

Don't quote me on the exact words, but I believe the conversation started something like this:

Sara: Jason, how'd you like to be my first trainee - you can be my guinea pig to see if I'm any good at this coaching thing. What do you say?
Jason: Sounds great!!

A month before getting certified as a running coach, I knew I needed a project to test my skills. Never one to charge someone for something before I'd perfected the craft, I would need an eager running looking for help in achieving their goals. Lucky for me I knew a few, and was able to convince my friend Jason to let me coach him to the finish line of his first marathon and to meet his later goal of finishing the goofy challenge (running the Disney half marathon on Saturday, and the Disney full marathon on Sunday).

And then a few months ago I started training Ralph for the Philadelphia Half Marathon in November. I stared a weekly ritual of sitting down with my coaching manual, reading, thinking, planning, making notes in my notebook and sending out weekly training plans. The more plans I made, the easier it felt, and the more I thought about things, the more I enjoyed really planning out the schedule, adding up the numbers, making everything work in j
ust the right way.

Over the past seven or eight months I have learned A LOT.

Ralph - First race since being injured last fall

Jason and his first EVER full marathon race bib at the expo

I have had to learn to explain myself, explain my reasons, motivate, inspire, encourage, become flexible in my approach, figure out what to do when others don't want to listen to what you have to say, and change the way you say things to better help others understand and hear what you are saying. My goals are not always others goals. I don't always agree with others goals and the struggle for me is to give the best advice I can even if its something I don't agree with.

But this is something I'd like to do for the rest of my life, and something I'd like to keep working at and keep making better. There were plenty of days where I just felt like nothing I said was getting through, and there were plenty of days where I was incredibly proud of the progress these athletes were making. When someone runs a given distance for a first time, it brings me back to my first years of running and how every week was a new achievement, a new something to be proud of. Finishing the race distance for the first time was always so emotional, all the days and weeks and months of training leading up to one day that you hope all goes to plan. I love being able to help runners see a new way of training, or when they hit a pace they didn't think they could achieve. I love when I figure out a way of explaining things so it hits home and I love when people are proud of their accomplishments, because at the end of the day I make up the plan but they do all the work themselves.

Despite all the ups and downs, I was an incredibly proud coach on Saturday watching Ralph give a great performance at his first race since injury, and watching Jason finish his first marathon. It's one thing to train and depend on yourself for the results. It's something else entirely to give someone all the right tools and hope they listen and use them to succeed.

Proud marathon finished and proud coach!

Have you ever given someone advise that they were slow to accept or follow? How did you change their minds? How do you inspire/motivate others when they are struggling.

xx Sara

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Race Report - Hartford 5K

Ralph and I post race

This year was supposed to be the year I was going to switch gears and run some shorter races. Focus on some 5K's and really see what I could do.

And then there was a wedding to plan.

And then there was the race I signed up for but never went to.

And then there was work.

And then there was all the traveling for work.

But somewhere a few months ago, I suggested to Ralph that we run a 5K during Hartford marathon weekend, and we could be around to watch my friend Jason who I'd been coaching for the marathon. It seemed like the perfect plan, and I would have plenty of time to train and run a race I could really be proud of. But even with another race on the horizon I couldn't get myself in gear to train for it. I was running along with Ralph as he trained for his half marathon, but I didn't feel all that fast. I was starting to become pretty disappointed in myself.

As we picked up our race numbers, and meandered through the expo, I was more excited for Jason's first marathon, and Ralph's first race after his injury, than the fact that I was actually running something for myself the next day. I didn't really take the race as seriously as I have in the past, I ate chinese food for dinner, and even had a few glasses of wine because it just felt good to relax.

5:30 am came fast, and in the dark morning hours I dressed in my regular race attire, and packed my race gear bag. It seemed so strange to be packing gear for such a short race. I was packing real snacks, and not worrying about having enough shot blocks or Gatorade, it was strange.

By the time we arrived, parked the car, removed our bikes (and parked mine - more to come on the reason for that later), and checked our gear bags, there was only enough time to do one of two things, warm-up, or use the bathroom. I know a million people out there are thinking "obviously use the bathroom" but no - I insisted we needed to warm up. I said farewell to Jason and his girlfriend and Ralph and I headed out for a 1 mile easy jog. With about five minutes until start we headed behind the line and I was regretting that not going to the bathroom thing. I enviously eyed up the people darting in and out of the port-a-potties all the while reminding myself one of my biggest nightmares is being IN THE PORT-A-POTTY when the race starts.

And then we were off.

I had no planned pace, I had no Garmin (I had lent it to Ralph), my plan was to run a pace that was somewhat challenging but manageable and see how it went. I had pretty low expectations, and if nothing else maybe I'd do bad enough to guilt myself into some real training. I swiftly began passing people, lost in thought, but looking back I couldn't tell you what I was thinking about. I was watching kids keep up with their parents, I was watching spectators cheer on the runners, I was concentrating on my pace making sure I wasn't pushing too hard. As fast as it had started, we were already passing mile 1. I glanced down at my watch to check on my pace, thinking it would be somewhere around 9 or 10. What I saw instead was 8:20. I was literally in shock but I kept going.

The second mile was spend wondering where this speed was coming from and trying to hold on to it. I hadn't run in maybe eight days. I had done virtually no speed work. And yet all the same I was pulling of mile splits that were close to what I had done when I was in the best shape of my life. As we approached mile 2 I wondered if I could hold on to this.

As I pushed through the third and final mile I started to feel that familiar nauseous feeling deep in my core and knew I had to back off just a little. As we rounded the last corner I saw that same uphill climb that led to the arch and had an instant flashback to my finish at the Hartford Marathon in 2008. As much as I wanted to push it, I couldn't do it. I let my pace in that final mile slow down to around 9:20. Despite holding back at the end I was surprisingly impressed with my finish. My final time was only about 1 minute slower than my PR from over three years ago.

A month ago I was looking over past race times and feeling a little bit sad. Almost all my PR's were over three years old. I had some great performances and since then have not had the time to dedicate to training. I was starting to wonder if my best times were behind me. Which is awfully depressing considering I am only 25, but something that maybe I just had to come to terms with. Until yesterday. Yesterday restored all the faith in myself that I thought I had lost. It made me want to run again, to race again, and I was finally for the first time in a long time, proud of myself instead of spending so long being proud of others.

Have you ever been pleasantly surprised during a race? Pulled off a performance you were not planning on?
How did it go?

Official Stats:
Time: 26:45
Overal Place: 311/1447
Sex Place: 100/885
Age Group Place 19/153

xx Sara

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Fall Indulgence

I know you wouldn't know it from last weekends amazingly warm temps - but it's fall! I think I love fall a little something extra because it's when Ralph and I started dating and we bonded over our love for everything pumpkin, from pancakes, to scones, to coffee, to beer, and chili.

Lately I have been spending a little more time on myself, and makes a world of difference in how I feel about myself every day.

Hair cuts (and head massages mmm...).
Recently Ralph and I found ourselves a new salon, and a shared hair stylist. Which I think is kind of adorable. My parents both get their hair cut by the same hairdresser in town, its like having a friend you never hang out with together. I used to neglect ever cutting or styling my hair. SuperCuts every six months or so, which only took fifteen minutes max for them to wet my hair and cut it, that was the extent of my hair care routine. But I have to say I love our new stylist. I have come to terms that it is worth the extra money to get a little bit pampered (head massage - instant stress reliever, hair cut, blow dry and styled) and having a great hair cut, as superficial as it sounds, makes me feel just a little bit more pulled together in the morning.

I love nothing more in fall than everything pumpkin flavored. Right now our office has AMAZING green mountain Pumpkin spice K-cups. I look forward to pouring it over ice every morning. Last week I whipped up an amazing batch of pumpkin scones that could rival Starbucks any day. I eased the pain of the Phillies loss with the cool taste of Sam Adams pumpkin beer. It's the right combo of spicy and sweet, and something that's around for such a limited amount of time how can I say no??

Sweaters and Boots (and new running clothes too)
I like to tell Ralph that "fall and I just don't get along" when it comes to getting dressed. It's not too hot, not too cold, I never feel like I have the right clothes, or clothes that make me happy, or make outfits. So this weekend I went on a shopping trip with a friend of mine and decided I could no longer keep putting off buying clothes while continuing to hate everything in my clothes. I made a few wise purchases, and then decided to CLEAN OUT my closet of all things I just plain don't ever wear. It felt refreshing to get rid of things I looked at morning after morning and just didn't want to put on. Even though I cleaned out a lot, I feel like I have more, because I like everything in my closet. Next I want to re-discover my own personal style. What do I like to wear (regardless of where I work).

Running for myself again
I love training runners, I especially LOVE training Ralph. But somewhere in the chaos of the summer I forgot what it was like to run for myself. To set my own goals, to go on my own runs and clear my head. Funny how I used to run alone on Saturdays and see all the couples running together and wish I could have that. Now I have that and I feel like I forgot to take a minute to myself. I tend to do that a lot, get wrapped up in what I think other want and I forget about myself. So starting this week I have resolved to run alone at least one if not two nights a week. Ralph and I will still do long runs together, and some medium runs (medium for him, short for me) through out the week. I think it will prove to be the right balance of together and separate, and give me time to think about what I want out of running.

What are your little (or big) fall indulgences?

xx Sara

Thursday, October 6, 2011

I feel like I have been in a wedding induced coma for the past nine months.

Oh wait, I kind of have.

It started small, a few magazines here and there, an appointment on a Saturday and maybe talking about stationary and decorations one or two nights over dinner. I was ahead of the curve, things were going great (they still are) and I was checking things off the list left and right. Venue - check. Dress - check. Photographer, DJ, florist, bridesmaids dresses, invitations, - check, check, check, check, check and CHECK! I was going full steam ahead and loving every second of it. I became obsessed with wedding blogs. I became obsessed with designing stationary, place cards, centerpieces, you name it I was sketching and planning it. I mean, come on, I did go to design school, I have a lot of pent up creative energy and what better output than a HUGE party to celebrate a new life with my favorite person ever?

Somewhere in the middle of all that, I decided, for a bunch of personal reasons, I needed to remove myself from Facebook. with that, somehow I ended up spending less time on twitter. I stopped reading running blogs and I was barely even running myself. My work life was getting crazy busy and I felt like I didn't have the time to write about anything worthwhile. And if I did think of something great to say, I just didn't feel like carving out a chunk of my day to write it. It was like I was becoming a bridezilla (in the nicest sense of the word) I was just all-consumed with the wedding. Now don't get me wrong - I understand it is "only one day" and it is really all about our life together and our marriage - I am totally on board with that. In fact I am SOFREAKINGEXCITED to get married because I love this man so much. But this weekend, as we crossed the last few major things off our list I started to realize I could finally have my life back for a few months.

My life. What was my life. What did I do in all this time before wedding craziness struck? I ran. A lot. And I loved it. And I wrote about it and talked about it and lived for it. I want that back!!!

I've had a lot of time to myself to think this week, and with that I've realized I want to re-embrace the runner in me. I want to resurrect my dreams from earlier this year of finally being in shape to run a 5k I can be proud of.

Have you ever had a life changing event or just the stress of daily life kick you off your path? How do you get back up and keep going - and why the heck does it take so long to realize I've been off track?

xx Sara

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Blazing a new trail

About four months ago, Ralph and I moved into our first apartment together.
About two months ago, he deiced he wanted to run his first half marathon and asked me to train him. Of course I was elated.
However as he gets more into running, I have noticed my own running mo-jo hasn't been hanging around too much. There are plenty of days where I just don't feel like lacing up my sneakers, and plenty of days where Ralph has actually just left me home and gone running with out me. While it is awesome to know he is motivated enough to run on his own, it is depressing to think I am loosing my drive. Right now the only thing pushing me to run is my fear of getting fat before the wedding - NOT an option!
So I've started to think - and what I've come up with is I feel stuck where we live. It is not a super safe neighborhood to be running through, especially this time of year when it gets dark pretty fast. There are no sidewalks outside of our complex, or trails like Kelly Drive to run to. At my old apartment, in fact at both of our old apartments it was as easy as lace up your sneakers and go. There was no driving to someplace, or driving home. Now if we want to walk out the door and "just go" it means running around the apartment complex. And I'll be totally honest. IT SUCKS. It's small, and there are lots of turns. I feel like I am always turning. Or stuck on a hamster wheel. It is not inspiring, it's not pretty to look at it, it doesn't let me clear my mind. And Ralph is there with me and we are always talking. (and sometimes arguing)

I miss the freedom I used to have to just go out and clear my mind. To think about things, even wedding things, or work things, or relationship things and just think and run, run and think. I love that Ralph and I have something to bond over, I love that he finally understands my love for running and I am SO AMAZINGLY PROUD of him for what he has accomplished so far. I just miss the way it used to be. And I never thought in a million years that would happen.

Has your life ever changed in a way that affected your running? was it a good change? Did you ever find yourself getting back on track?

Although yesterday I had quite an amazing run. There is a trail by our apartment that is long and flat and amazing, it just doesn't go through the best neighborhoods, so we avoid it. But Ralph is away on business this week so I decided the hell with it. I put on my (brand new!!) sneakers, threw on my BRIGHT orange running jacket (seriously best purchase I could have ever made) and headed out the door. At first it was strange to be running alone and outside the complex. But then I hit this great groove and just went with it. I didn't want to turn around and go home (except for the fact that things were starting to look pretty sketch). I will even admit I maybe starting singing to myself out there - don't judge it's like the "talk test" except I had no one to talk to so I just start signing a little bit...

While running together has proved to be a great routine and a good time to spend together to talk - I think maybe we should try running apart one day a week, maybe two. Just see how it goes.

xx Sara