Friday, April 24, 2015

My Running Buddies Who Do All The Talking: Favorite Podcasts To Pass The Miles

As a running mom, my training often takes place at odd times and locations. The crack of dawn on my basement treadmill. Mid-morning on my neighborhood streets. Late afternoon near my parents' home. Even the long run, an often-predictable part of a runner's weekend, switches days and start times based on what the schedule holds. As a result, I roam the mean streets alone when I train.

That's me. Actually, I do belong to a running club, I just never run with them! Image found here.
But don't feel too bad for me; I actually have several running buddies who help make the miles pass quickly (or at least more quickly). They are the folks who host my favorite running podcasts, and together they have formed my training posse through the years. If any of you train alone and are in need of distraction and motivation, any of these podcasts will fit the bill. Below are the top five podcasts who have had my back on every long run, in no particular order:

1. Another Mother Runner. Actually, I lied -- the rest of the list is in no particular order, but this podcast is definitively on top. Dimity McDowell and Sarah Bowen Shea have written three running books geared toward "mother runners," and also have a very successful blog, Facebook page and apparel store. They even held a running retreat last month. The podcast is my favorite part of their brand, however. Even if that week's topic isn't 100% on point for my current running focus, I always tune in to hear Dimity and Sarah chat about their respective family foibles and most recent runs. It is like having two girlfriends chatting it up next to me, and I am more than happy to just be a fly on the wall and listen in. 

2. Embrace Running. If I can't have Dimity and Sarah with me on a run (and really, their podcasts are only so long, so this happens often), I will gladly take Mark and Elena.  This couple lives in northern California, and they run a lot of races so they are always training for something. They talk about their training, news in the running world, race recaps, and sometimes a hot training or racing topic such as hydration or goal setting. They often banter and chat like Dimity and Sarah, and their vibe is light and low-key.  Elena recently ran Boston, so I am looking forward to listening to her recap on the next episode!

3. Marathon Training Academy. Angie and Trevor are another running couple who love to recap their races and banter back and forth. I'm sensing a theme here...but don't those types of people make the best long run pals?? Their focus is often guest-based, and they have interviewed many inspirational runners. They also provide valuable training information through the episode's "Quick Tip," and Angie sometimes devotes episodes to training advice (the couple also run a marathon training program through their website). Angie also recently ran Boston, so when that recap hits I will be all over it!

4. House of Run. This podcast is a relatively new find for me; probably because I have become a bigger fan of the sport as my running has progressed. Kevin and Jason focus on predicting and recapping elite running events on both the road and track, so if you don't follow the front of the pack much, this podcast may not be for you. But if you know your Desi from your Shalane, your Simpson from your Rowbury and your Kimetto from your Kipsang, these guys are on top of their game and also give me at least one laugh-out-loud moment per podcast. Luckily, the routes I usually run are not stuffed with runners, so I can chuckle without embarrassment!

5. Marathon Journey. There are so many podcasts in my feed that could take this last slot, but I went with one of my oldest and dearest long run buddies, Derek Ralston. This guy makes the relatively-chilled-out Mark and Elena sound like they have ADHD.  He is a former police officer turned photographer, Galloway-method run-walker and runDisney race fan. On paper, he seems like my polar opposite, as I have never run-walked nor run a Disney race, but his opinions on the running, training and racing worlds keep me entertained enough to keep coming back for more!

I haven't even scratched the surface of the running podcasts in my listening queue, nor have I mentioned the triathlon podcasts! I encourage everyone who runs with headphones (use with caution -- safety first!) to put away the music every so often and search iTunes for one of these podcasts, or another one that floats your boat. You may find your very own running tribe; and the best part is, we can share the same one! 

Saturday, April 18, 2015

First Call Half Marathon: Breakthrough, Party Of One, Your Table Is Ready

When we last left Cheesy Runner Mom, she was licking her wounds after a decidedly lackluster half marathon in Lincoln Park, Chicago. But marathon training doesn't wait for whiners, and the stark reality of the training plan glared at me sternly: a long run with 14 miles at marathon race pace. This is where we join our heroine, as she flees to her homeland of Wisconsin in hopes of redemption...

There were supposed to be two half-marathons run at the same time -- one on road, one on trail. Unfortunately, the trail half was flooded out by rain earlier in the week, so those folks joined us on the road.
The Goal-Setting Conundrum

Since 14 miles sounds awfully close to 13.1 miles, I had signed up for a half marathon in place of the race-pace miles. I figured I would have a much better chance of hitting my marathon pace in a racing environment, not to mention that I would get a medal at the end. Sounds foolproof, but...I was also still in need of a tune-up half marathon to get a handle on my marathon pace. My 10-miler the following weekend (yes, I signed up for three races in three weeks, why do you ask?) could go great, but what if it doesn't? I will screech into taper time without a tune-up. Besides, 10-mile races are not as good of a predictor of marathon times as a half-marathon.

There is a mental piece to the whole equation, of course. After coming up short of my goal at last week's half, my self-confidence as a runner was not at an all-time high, to say the least. I was not at all sure I could even come close to my half-marathon PR (1:43:27).  But (so went my internal monologue) if I couldn't, wouldn't it be better to know that? Otherwise, at the Cellcom Green Bay Marathon, I might go out at my supposed-PR pace and bonk in spectacular fashion!

It's kind of embarrassing how much time I spent during the week, going back and forth between the various options. As I rolled up to the start line/parking lot/packet pickup location, I was still pretty much undecided.  This went against all the Type-A bones in my body, but I decided I was going to wait to see how my body felt when I took my first step off the start line.


The race was held in Waukesha, Wisconsin, a super-easy 90-minute drive from my house. As proof that I hadn't surrendered all my Type-A bones, I was one of the first cars in the parking lot. No worries; I picked up my packet, pinned on my bib, chilled with my iPhone, and watched the volunteers bring in the containers of food for the post-race festivities.

Pre-race car selfie -- let's do this!
As more people started to arrive, I noticed a lot of serious-looking folks -- more so than at other races I've attended. Warmup jogs and dynamic stretching routines were starting early and often. With about 25 minutes left until the start, I decided to join them, and went for a half-mile jog around the neighborhood streets. While standing near the start line, I decided to join the dynamic stretching parade and did some high knees, arm circles and butt kicks. I'm mentioning this because I think this might have done me some good, and I'm going to continue the practice in the future!

As race time drew near, the race director stressed that although we had timing chips, the race results were going to be based on gun time because that is the only USATF-certified practice. I'm all for a USATF-certified course, so I lined up a little closer to the start line than I normally would (but still not all the way in front). The gun went off right on time, and we were off!

I'm posting this mostly because I'm airborne! I almost never get an airborne shot! From the Silver Circle Sports Events Facebook page.
The Race!

The course was an out-and-back along the paved Glacial Drumlin Trail. I was familiar with part of that trail from Ragnar Chicago (my super-hot-and-sunny second leg at high noon with little shade...good times...). I wish my Ragnar leg would have covered this portion of the trail, which was much more shaded (although not 100%). I was super-pumped to see a 7:53/mi pace on my watch for the first mile, as my PR average pace was 7:54/mile. My happiness may have made me a little excited, as my second mile was 7:43.  Oops. I pulled it back and found myself running with two girls for the next mile or so. There was a slight headwind and I found it was better to stay in a group. Unfortunately, the two girls were slowing, so I moved up and found another pack, and then pretty soon I was by myself, in a straight line of runners that faded into the horizon. My splits until the turnaround were 7:52, 7:58, 7:56, and 8:04 (not sure what happened there other than a loss of focus and the eating of a gel).

During these miles, since my splits were a few seconds off pace, I mostly judged my success by my position relative to those around me. Even in the 8:04 mile, I was heartened by the fact that I hadn't been passed by anyone and was holding my position in the race standings. I was proud of myself for keeping it close to PR pace (unlike last week's race), and I felt like I could sustain this pace for a while. However, since I was a few seconds off the pace each mile, I knew I would have to negative split the race for a PR finish, and I knew it would be close. I was cautiously optimistic, however, because I thought that I might have another gear.

The course description on the race website reads: "From mile 2.6 until the turn around there is a slight, gradual grade increase.  Make the turn and it's all downhill from there." Truer words were never spoken, my friends! Almost as soon as I made the turnaround, my pace jumped into an instantly speedier gear. This gave me a psychological boost, which made my legs turn over even faster. My next four mile splits were 7:48, 7:45, 7:44, and 7:47! Since these splits were in the second half of the race rather than the first, and I needed a negative split for a PR, I pushed all thoughts of a possible bonk out of my head and went with it! There are some races where you feel like you have locked into a groove, and these miles were definitely examples of that!  

Sadly, my next two mile splits came back down to Earth, at 7:57 and 7:56, but I had banked some serious time in the previous four miles. I snuck a glance at my pace band, and was happy to see that if I could just hang on, a PR should be well in hand.  Instead of focusing on my watch, since I was feeling good, I concentrated on reeling in people in front of me and picking them off one by one. One woman darted past me at about mile 12 like her pants were on fire and stripped down to a sports bra. I had held on to my arm sleeves until this point and had just been slowly rolling them down my arms, but when I saw that, it was game on and I flung them to the side of the path! A strip-off in Waukesha!

I am proud to say that I ran down that lady during the last mile and managed a mini-kick to boot, with a 7:40 split for mile 12, and 7:37 for the last tenth of a mile.  

I have ordered this photo, but it hasn't been delivered to my inbox yet. I will replace this proof photo when I get it!
Final Time: 1:42:39 (7:50 average pace) -- 48-second PR
Age Group Place (40-44): 1/10
Gender Place: 3/59
Overall Place: 18/96

Post-Race Fun

The results were supposed to appear on a smartphone app, but no one could seem to get it to work. Luckily, there was only a short time to wait before the award ceremony. In typical Wisconsin fashion, people were super-nice and I spent the 15 minutes-or-so making small talk. The race director started the awards ceremony with the oldest female age category, so I didn't have long to wait before finding out my time and that I had won first place in my age group!

Fun fact: A dude who finished right in front of me had registered as a woman and got first in my age group according to the results. Luckily, the race director recognized the man from previous races, confirmed that he wasn't undergoing gender reassignment, and awarded the 1st place medal to me!

I accepted my medal, stayed for a couple more awards, and then wandered out into the parking lot (gotta take the selfies, you know).  I finally got the results app to work when I was sitting in my car, ready to head for home. I started scrolling through the overall results, and I noticed I was pretty close to the top. I counted the females, and (excluding the gender-bending dude) it looked like I was third woman! I immediately exited my car and beat a path back to the award ceremony. Luckily, they weren't done with the half marathon awards yet, and they hadn't yet announced the overall winners. I got my third piece of bling, a $25 gift card to Fleet Feet, and my photo taken with some Fleet Feet folks.  This was my first time receiving an overall award, and to me, it felt as awesome as the laurel wreath at Boston.

I had left my other two medals in the car in my haste to get back to the ceremony, otherwise this would have been one blinged-out photo! From the Silver Circle Sports Events Facebook page.
What Does It All Mean?

Hopefully, this result means that I have finally started to emerge from my race result plateau that has plagued this training cycle.  I have only been chipping away at my PR, and this result was finally more like a breakthrough. I hope that I can keep the momentum going through the Cellcom Green Bay Marathon, and that I can make the time translate. Onward and upward!

Chi-Town Half Marathon Race Report: It is Clear When It's Not Your Day

To quote Florence & The Machine (well, Thomas Fuller, but work with me here), "It's always darkest before the dawn." What this means for runners is that sometimes you have to have a bad race day before you can have a good race day. For me, both types of race days happened on consecutive weekends. Let's deal with the bad one first, but only as briefly as possible -- click here for the good stuff!


I signed up for this race because my training plan called for a tune-up race -- basically a time trial to figure out what marathon race pace I can predictably sustain. My running friends assured me that the course was flat and fast, and that its Lincoln Park location allowed for ample parking (a requirement for me when I'm driving myself). I have also done several events put on by this race company, and I always admire their competency with course signage and logistics. What I'm trying to say is, the race looked good on paper...just reach out and grab the PR!

Unfortunately, my fortunes began to change mid-week, when my monthly visitor arrived and I had a minor medical procedure. I remained hopeful that these things wouldn't impact my race, however, and I soldiered on. Parking was easy-peasy (albeit expensive) in the Lincoln Park Zoo lot, and I picked up my packet with no problem. I sat in my car until close to the start, as temps were in the high 30's with wind, and I wanted to wear my patented tank/arm sleeves combo.

I really like that tank top -- it needs to be worn in a better race later this year, for sure!

I ended up bringing a throwaway hoodie to the starting line, and as I stood just in front of the 8:00/mi pace group, I entertained the idea that I might be underdressed. I usually heat up ultra-quick during races and have been comfortable in a tank at temperatures colder than this (most recently the Get Lucky Half Marathon, and the Schaumburg Half Marathon before that), so I pushed those thoughts to the side and got my game face on.

The Race

This race can be broken down in two parts: the first three miles and the last 10.1. After a disappointing Mile 1 split of 8:08, I was buoyed by my mile 2 split of 7:59. I hoped that I just needed to get warmed up, and now it would be smooth sailing (I am using these water references intentionally...). Then just before Mile 3, I encountered a volunteer yelling at us about a water main break in the tunnel. What did that mean? Should we go in the tunnel? A bunch of us peered in and saw water gushing into the tunnel from both sides. A few guys in front of me turned away from the tunnel and started to run up a hill away from it. I'm not that familiar with the area, but I figured there must be a way around, so I followed them. We ran a short distance and then encountered some guys coming back from the direction in which we were running, saying "Wrong way! We have to go through!" With big war whoops, they started sprinting through the ankle-deep water. (I found out later that they closed the tunnel and re-routed the course shortly after I crossed.)

I didn't sprint, but rather reluctantly slogged my way through the tunnel, and squish-squish-squished my way down the course as my watch beeped for mile 3: 8:07. I knew with those three splits, anything close to a PR would be tough to salvage, if not impossible. My feet were heavy with my soggy shoes, and my legs were inexplicably heavy, as well.  I faced reality that this wasn't going to be the tune-up race I had envisioned.

I felt like sending out an APB for sure. Image found here.
I know this kind of race happens to all runners eventually, and I guess I can consider myself fortunate that this was my first encounter with such a train wreck. A couple of options floated through my mind:

        (1) I was planning on racing this race and counting it as my long run for the week; should I DNF the race or jog it in, and do a longer long run tomorrow? I quickly dismissed the idea of a DNF. I have always prided myself at finishing what I start, and there was no obvious medical problem to make me stop. Also, Sunday was Easter, so there would be no time for a long run with family obligations.

        (2) Next week's long run included marathon race-pace miles; should I make this race a marathon-pace run? I dismissed that idea: I wasn't at all certain I could hold that pace, the way things were shaking out, and if I came up short, I would have strained my legs and whiffed on the workout.

As Miles 4 and 5 came and went with splits of 8:24 and 8:26, I decided to try to keep my finish time under two hours, and my pace ideally under 8:30/mile. Mentally, however, I had completely checked out of the race, and the finish line seemed incredibly far away.

My shoes were now dry and I had ditched my arm sleeves, but the occasional wind gusts were making my arms chilly and I wished I had them back. The power songs on my race playlist seemed to be mocking me, and I considered changing to the podcasts I would listen to on a long run, but I didn't think I could do it while running and I didn't want to stop; I wanted the race to be over as quickly as possible. I just kept making forward progress. 

The current front-runner for Race Photo of the Year, because of the dude in back of me!
Each mile felt like ten. Nothing hurt on my body, everything was just...there. No pep, no get-up-and-go, no mojo. I became used to the sight of people passing me. I stopped looking at my watch, figuring the split times would be what they would be. When I heard a group of people coming up behind me late in the race, I was certain it was the 2-hour pace group, but it was actually the 1:50 pace group. I spent the remaining mile or so trying to keep them respectably close.

Final Time: 1:51:05 (8:28 average pace)
Age Group Place (40-44): 9/92 (Ironically, the same age-group placement I got in the Get Lucky, when I ran almost 8 minutes faster, although that was a 10-year age group!)
Gender Place: 141/1068
Overall Place: 388/1789

What Does It All Mean?

For the rest of the day and a few days afterward, I wasn't sure what it all meant. My friends tried to reassure me that many runners would be over the moon with my finish time. In fact, I would have been over the moon about it just one year ago! But I, I knew...that I was capable of better.  My monthly visitor and my medical procedure, underdressing, the wind...these were all possible excuses, but nothing completely explained it. Was I overtrained? Was I undertrained? Did I eat the wrong foods? Was my training plan working? What did this mean for my marathon chances?

After some wallowing and a nap, and a lovely Easter spent with my family, I was ready to put the result behind me and get back on the proverbial training horse. It was too late to completely overhaul my training anyway; my plan for the week was to keep my recovery days super-easy and stay the course on everything else. I had registered for another race the next weekend as a marathon-race-pace run. Perhaps I could tune-up at that race or nail a wicked race-pace time? I had a week to ponder my options, and then it was time for another start line...

Stay tuned, and click HERE for the sequel, which in this case (spoiler alert!) is infinitely better than the original!

Trying to put on a happy face, hoping for better race days to come!

Thursday, April 9, 2015

The Invisible Runner: How I Make My Training Work For Our Family

For parents of young children, free time is a commodity more precious than gold. The chance to let your freak flag fly and indulge in the passions that make you who you are, without being interrupted by crying and snot. My husband works long hours at a demanding job, and he deserves some down time to relax with his books and video games. His wife burst through the door with running shoes on her feet two years ago, shaking up the family dynamic. As of this writing, I'm knee-deep in training for my third marathon at the Cellcom Green Bay Marathon, and I have managed to find a way to get my miles in that works for both of us. If you are struggling to balance your half or full-marathon training with your family life, hopefully you will be able to glean some wisdom from this post.

As I made clear in my introductory post for the Cellcom Green Bay Marathon's Leader of the Pack program, I was not a runner when my husband met me, nor when I became a mother for the first, second or third time. My husband and I were not strangers to the delicate "making time for hobbies while raising a young family" dance, however.  We have always had some interests separate from each other, and prior to running, I was an avid scrapbooker. You know the scrapbooking type; armed with acid-free tape, a paper cutter, and boxes full of photos of their precious children, they gather for nights out with their girlfriends at scrapbooking gatherings called "crops." I negotiated for these much-needed nights out many weeks in advance, and I averaged one night out every other month.

My motto back in those days. Image found here.
When I started exercising on my basement treadmill, the effect on my family was still minimal. I was still physically present in the house for missing-toy emergencies or sibling-fight-refereeing. Even when I started running outside, it was during the spring months, so it wasn't that big of a deal to wake up a bit earlier and get a few miles in on nearby roads before my husband left for work.

However, once I set my sights on half-marathons, and later, marathons, a "few miles" was not going to work for some of my weekday runs. For a while, I attempted to wake up and lace up at an ungodly hour, but my late-afternoon grumpiness due to lack of sleep annoyed even myself. Besides, my husband threw a wrench in more than a few planned workouts due to an unexpected meeting or conference call that required an early departure. The weekends were no better; the miles demanded to be run, but the children also needed to be driven to activities and (gasp!) played with on occasion. My husband knew how much my new fitness lifestyle meant to me and tried to be supportive, but the tension in our home was slowly growing.

Enter the schedule that still stands to this day, that I deem "The Invisible Runner." Here's how it shakes out:

Weekday Runs (School Year, Non-Holiday): On the days only two of my kids have school, my workout needs to be completed by 7:30 a.m. in order to get them ready for the bus. I complete my workout on the treadmill on those days, waking up as early as needed. Usually those runs are just recovery runs, so the wakeup call isn't too bad (an added incentive to train: my wakeup time gets later if my recovery-run pace gets faster!). I try to schedule workouts like intervals, tempo runs and medium-long runs for the days all three of my kids have school in the morning (last year this was two days per week, now it is three days per week). On those days, I can wake up at the luxuriously late hour of 7:20, and run outside after I drop my son off at preschool. Unless the weather is horrible, in which case I hit the 'mill. 

Weekday Runs (School Holidays or Summer): Last summer, I tried to get outside in the early morning hours as much as possible. If that was impossible for whatever reason (weather, my husband's schedule, excessive tiredness), the 'mill was a necessary evil. Braving the treadmill means a later wakeup time (assuming we don't have to get up for a camp or other activity), so I often choose that option unless I believe my workout for that day would be better done on the roads.

Weekend Long Runs and Races: This part of my training is the most visible, but I try to make it as invisible as possible.  My middle child has dance class on Saturday mornings, and sometimes one of the other children has an activity, as well.  I am off on my long run before the family wakes up, and I try my darndest to be home to pick her up from class at noon. Since my training has been invisible during the rest of the week, my husband is more than happy to be Super Dad for a few hours. He has even morphed into the expert ballet bun-maker of the family!

If I have a race, I am often not home by noon, but since I only do a few races per training cycle, my husband is fine with that. Some of my running friends have spouses or children who are either runners themselves, or serve as cheerleaders at their races. To date, I have only had my family at one finish line (my first marathon), and I prefer it that way. My kids' current interest level isn't high enough to make them stand at the side of the road  just to see me one or two times. The very important exception to this rule will be the Cellcom Green Bay Marathon: My husband, kids, and parents are making the pilgrimage to Green Bay, and are psyched about being able to hang out at Lambeau during the expo and the race.

This would be my life if my family spectated my races!
This schedule is not for everyone. Perhaps you have a running spouse, or a spouse with an equally time-consuming hobby. Perhaps you don't have access to a treadmill, or you need more hours of sleep in order to function like a human, or you have to balance your outside-the-home work schedule alongside your spouse's schedule. However you choose to fit in your training, my advice would be to make it a definite priority, but be willing to compromise when needed. Running is important to me, but my family is my world, and I don't like being apart from them any more than I have to.  My "invisible runner" schedule makes me a marathoner, but also a very visible mother and wife. That, for me, is the best of both worlds.