Wednesday, October 22, 2014

My First Marathon!

A few days ago I ran my very first FULL marathon.  Yes folks, a full 26.2 miles.  Don't worry, I think I'm crazy too.  Before I became a runner I thought people who ran were ridiculous (didn't matter the distance, weather, etc).  I didn't understand it.  I didn't want to.  Then one day I ran a 5k, well not exactly, I participated because you can hardly call what happened that day running.  I hated it, I was slow, it took me almost an hour to finish.  That was close to 2 years ago and in that time I've learned so much about what it means to be a runner that I can't ever imagine my life without it.  Even a year ago I never would have imagined that I would be running AND finishing a marathon.  It's still a little surreal to me.

So let's get to the start of this story.  New Year's Day 2014 registration opened for the Detroit Marathon.  Just as the clock struck midnight I logged onto the registration site and filled in my information.  (there may or may not have been some alcohol involved in this decision)  As I awoke from my slumber and scanned through emails there was my confirmation.  That really happened.  I signed up to run a marathon.  I posted it all over social media because ya know, accountability.  I wanted everyone to know that I would be running a marathon so that they could be a part of my journey.  I researched training plans and a myriad of other advice to get me prepped for the big day.

A few weeks ago as I was winding down my training plan and reality began to set in.  It was overwhelming.  I hadn't trained as much as I would have liked to, skipped the 20 mile run altogether, and wasn't in the mindset I needed to tackle such a gargantuan task.  Holy shit, 26.2 is a lot of miles kid, get it together.  I was psyching myself out.  The only thing I could think to do was to reach out to my running family for support.  Within minutes I had phone calls, text message and all the reassurance I needed that I was ready.  My friend Juan gave me the ultimate pep talk a few days before the race.  He had me laughing, crying and rejoicing all within a few minute conversation.  His final words, "you have the heart of a lion, you got this".  Yeah, I do, I got this!

At the expo, this just became real life
Friday before the race Sam, Umber and I packed up our stuff on the Amtrak and headed to Detroit.  My parents were there waiting for us and we got in just before 1am.  The next morning I had some errands to run in the morning before we headed to the expo.  As we wandered up and down the aisles of vendors we ran into some fellow Chicago Runners and even one of my sorority sisters.  My nerves were finally starting to calm down a bit and dare I say I was actually looking forward to this race?  After grabbing my bib we headed over the border to Canada to do some exploring.  Turns out Windsor was a bit of a ghost town that day so we ended our adventure early to head home and carbo load.  We gorged ourselves at dinner amongst my family and then settled in to put the final touches on my running playlist before going to bed.  The playlist is probably what I was most looking forward to as I had asked several friends to make recordings for me of songs, motivational words, jokes, etc to help me get through those rough miles.  I was blessed with an influx of emails and thankfully Sam put them all together for me on my iPod.

I'm really doing this
Race day.  I woke up with my stomach aflutter.  I can't believe this is really happening.  I tried to do everything I could to settle my nerves.  Even though I wasn't hungry I ate some food and drank some MESTRENGTH.  Things were going great, everyone was excited.  On the way downtown we listened to my friend Andrew's recording that I didn't get in time to add to the playlist.  We laughed at his rendition of "You dropped a bomb on me..." and it lifted my spirits.  My mom dropped us off near the starting line and I started to freak out a little.  What was I thinking?  Am I even ready for this?  Then it came to me, everyone's voice whispering in my ear "you can do this, trust your training".  I made a final stop at the porta potty (the only porta potty stop I made that day) then headed towards the corrals.  Just as I was about to jump in, Sam and Umber pinned a sign to my back and sent me on my way.  I didn't even have time to consider what might be on it.

the sun rising over the bridge as we leave Detroit
Here we go.  Feet don't fail me now.  I'm off and running.  It was cold and dark but I almost didn't notice.  My playlist had started and I was focused on keeping my pace steady.  A few songs into the playlist I heard Gaylon's voice telling me I'm a beast.  Thanks girl, I needed that.  Good thing I put this thing on shuffle, I'm glad the voice recordings will pop up randomly among the songs.  I hit the first water station and snap a picture, post to social media...hey I have to keep everyone updated right?  Instantly the Detroit Free Press replies to my tweet saying "Good luck, you got this!".  Things are looking good as I make my way to the bridge and head into Canada.  During this uphill battle, Season's voice fills my ears and I can't help but laugh for the 15 minutes she rambles and plays miscellaneous songs for me.  I pause in the middle of the bridge to snap a quick picture because hey, I'm in 2 places at once (USA & Canada)!  As I pass into Canada I turn my phone off and just enjoy the course.  Just before mile 5 I see Gessel then grab an orange slice from a spectator.  We wind through Windsor then end up at the tunnel back to the Detroit.

halfway between USA & Canada
Gessel snapped this action shot of me, mile 5
Just left Canada, 8 miles down
all smiles just after the tunnel (sorry for that dude on my right, hope he's ok!)
Because churros count as carbs right?
That tunnel is HOT.  I mean seriously, I was sweating like crazy.  The energy was palpable.  You're in a tunnel surrounded by thousands of people in search of glory.  I've never felt anything else like it.  As we exited the tunnel and reached American soil I took a quick picture of the Underwater Mile sign and then started searching for Sam & Umber.  They got a sweet action shot of me, all smiles, I told them I was feeling fantastic then kept on trucking.  Sam told me my brother would be waiting for me around mile 10.  Great, that's my next checkpoint to look forward to.  As I got closer to Mexicantown my brother text me to let me know exactly where he'd be and that he had a churro waiting for me.  Thank the heavens because I was HONGRY (yes, I was so hungry that I in fact was hongry, that's a thing).  After grabbing that sweet delight of a treat my brother and his girlfriend walked with me for a bit then told me they'd find me later on the course.

Oh hey beer, you're carbs too!! Yay :D
Time seemed to slip by pretty quickly.  I decided early on not to use any kind of timing or GPS, I just wanted to enjoy the race.  The only markers I kept track of were the miles as I passed them by.  Before I knew it I was at the halfway mark and Sam jumped in to see how I was doing.  I was still going strong and genuinely happy to be running this race.  As we approached mile 14 the US only half marathon began and I got smoked by all those runners on fresh legs.  I had to walk here for a bit as running beside them made me want to run faster and I knew that would be a mistake.  I let them pass me then got right back to my pace.  This stretch of the course is relatively boring and uneventful.  A few miles later as we started running through residential streets things I started to really let loose and have fun.  There were spectators a plenty and each with different treats.  I drank beer, ate pretzels, chomped on a few jelly beans and even enjoyed some chilled apple cider.  Here's the thing, if I'm gonna run 26.2 miles I need to have fun and do it my way, no reason to be miserable the whole time.  I played some sweet air guitar, sang at the top of my lungs and basically made an all out fool of myself.  (there's video evidence of this somewhere on Sam's phone)

The beauty of Belle Isle
As we got to the entrance to Belle Isle I was starting to feel tired.  We were at about mile 19 and it was taking a toll on me.  I had to take more walk breaks than I would have liked and I was seriously starting to wonder if all my toe nails would survive this endeavor.  I posted pictures with captions like "I'm hanging in there, just like my pinky toe nail" or "less than 10k left, let's hope I still have 10 toe nails left".  Belle Isle is gorgeous and it was the breath of fresh air that I needed.  We made a loop around and then crossing the bridge we ran into Umber and my family.  Umber jumped in to join for the last grueling miles and my family handed me snacks and water.  I started to tear up a bit but pushed it back and tried not to let the emotions overcome me.  Once I was refueled and recharged from seeing my family it was time to press on, still 3.2 miles left to go.

much needed break with my support system and snacks
I love the Detroit River Front.  Its beautiful and the last time I ran there was with my mom so I have a definite fondness for it. Once I could see it on the horizon the tears just started to flow.  I was tired, hungry, sore and the pain from the blisters on my feet was almost unbearable.  I could tell Sam & Umber were worried but I couldn't stop.  I was afraid that if I took even a minute to rest or check my feet I wouldn't be able to start again.  I just had to keep on moving.  One foot in front of the other.  There were a lot of tears in these miles, I couldn't help it.  They just fell involuntarily from my eyes.  I had to block everything out and only think of finishing.  I was so close.  I started to reflect on all the recordings I had been listening to.  I never realized just how much I had impacted peoples lives.  To hear person after person (some who I've never even met) tell me how I've inspired them really touched me.  I never set out to do that, but here I was proving that it was possible to do anything you set your mind to.  I almost couldn't believe it, people I didn't even know were rooting for me...they all wanted me to succeed...I couldn't let them down.

After turning away from the River Front I was a woman possessed.  I needed to find that finish line!  I ignored the screams from the blisters, pain is weakness leaving the body.  Just keep pushing.  You're almost there.  You can do this. When we finally hit that final stretch to the finish line I dug somewhere into the deep recesses of my soul and with the last bit of energy I took off in an all out sprint to the finish line.  Note: this may not have actually been a sprint, but it sure felt like one.  As I crossed that finish line and they put that medal around my neck I was overcome with so many emotions I can't even fully put it into words.  I had just accomplished something I never even dreamed was possible.  Just under 2 years as a runner I had gone from running a 5k in almost an hour to finish a full marathon in just over 7 hours.  Still hard to believe.

Post race, hot mess
Midwest Vikings, together we conquer!

In the wake of my post marathon bliss I've begun thinking about my future goals.  I don't have any ultramarathons in my horizon, but I would like to do the Chicago Triathlon Triple Challenge, USAT National Championship Athena Division, and eventually a half Ironman.  Yeah, those seem like a good place to start :)

Limits?  I have none.


still basking in my post race bliss!

Spartan race recap & giveaway!!

The sun rising over Spartan village before the race...

Midwest Vikings Volunteer Crew
So remember when I said I was afraid to run the Spartan Race because I was worried I would injure myself so close to the marathon? Well, yeah, about that...who uses caution anyway? My friends really wanted to do the Sprint distance so I finally caved and agreed to join them. I was originally registered for the Super but was able to transfer the registration to a future race. For the Sprint, we decided to volunteer in the morning so that we could earn a free entry in the afternoon wave of the race. 

Umber and I helping with registration
We arrived at the race site well before the sun made an appearance. Check in was easy then we headed to our posts. Volunteering is a great way to interact with other runners but let's not lie, mostly we wanted that free entry. As the hours ticked by our anticipation and excitement kept growing. When we finished our shift we headed to the car to drop off our things and get prepped for the run. Typically there's about 5 of us who run these OCRs together but that day we had some extra additions to the group. (The Midwest Vikings had an earlier wave time so unfortunately we weren't able to run with the rest of our team)

Pre-race with Umber & Sam
We were all smiles as we made our way to the starting line until we realized we had to climb a wall just to get there. We haven't even started the race yet and we're already scaling a wall. No big deal, I've done this before. With relative ease we're all able to make it over. The sprint distance is about 4+ miles and includes 20 obstacles. Our only plan was to have fun and finish together. 

The obstacles. Well, this race definitely lived up to its name because there were a few of the hardest challenges I've faced to date. I keep saying I need to work on my upper body strength, but seriously, I'm a total sissy on a few of these. For those of you who may not be familiar with the Spartan Race series, there is a 30 burpee penalty for any missed obstacle. Its important to note that for some obstacles you only get one chance to get it right. One example is the spear throw. Out of our entire group, Freddie was the only one who got it on the first try. We all took our burpee penalty as he watched then we kept on going. 

Coming soon to the Spartan Race Calendar hahaha
Another important note is that having a team is the best advantage you can have. We helped each other through every single obstacle and when someone couldn't do it, we all split up their burpees to help them out. Teamwork truly does make the dream work. We carried each other, leaned on one another's backs and gave more than one helping hand. Our team spirit must have been infectious because we soon noticed that our ranks had grown since we started. We like to think of ourselves as sweepers on the course and try to help anyone who looks like they're struggling or got left behind.  Our motto is, Together We Conquer!
Yes, I swam through this
...and then climbed out of this

I believe I can fly!!!
For me, these races are all about pushing yourself as far as you can go. They challenge you both physically and mentally. Finishing this race with a smile is truly a testament to your will power and also threshold for mud. While many of the obstacles are difficult for someone of my short stature, I don't let that defeat me. I often have to find creative ways to make the race work for me. My goal for next year is to finally earn my Spartan Trifecta (finishing the Sprint, Super and Beast distance races all in one calendar year).  

I loved this race so much that I want one of you to have the chance to also try it out.  I'll be giving away one entry to an open heat (non-confirmed start time) in any Spartan Race in the continental US.  They have a Sprint distance coming up Nov 1st in Milwaukee at Miller Park (I'll be there!) and also a Beast in Dallas, Sprint in Mississippi and many more.  Leave a comment with what your race goals are and I'll pick one lucky winner to become a Spartan. Aroo!!!

**Contest ends Wednesday Oct 29th at 11:59pm CST**

Together we conquered!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Hydration! MESTRENGTH review

I've learned the hard way that hydration is an integral part of endurance training. When I first started running a little under 2 years ago, all I wanted to do was get one foot in front of the other until I crossed the finish line. I didn't know anything about gait, hydration, pace setting, cross training, nutrition...basically I was a total newb. I was luckily able to coast through for awhile without really worrying much about anything. When I ran my first half marathon I was running on pure adrenaline.  I probably could have skipped all of the water stops I was so determined to finish at all costs. This year as I began training for an Olympic distance triathlon as well as a fall marathon I quickly realized how much my hydration plan needed a revamp.

 For those of you who follow along, perhaps you remember my post about the Chicago 10k when I was so dehydrated I had a headache for days afterwords as my body tried to recover. I was in a similar situation during the Biggest Loser Half Marathon when they ran out of water on the course. Stubbornly, I finally decided it was up to me to make sure I had properly hydrated before, during and after a race or training session.

A few disclaimers here: I hate the taste of Gatorade when I'm running, it makes me nauseous and I have to water it down just to drink it which makes me reluctant to try any sports drinks. Also, the drink I'm reviewing were samples I received for free. That being said, I have finally found a drink that is both effective AND has a pleasant taste.

 My first trial for the MESTRENGTH powder packets was my boot camp class with Lita Lewis. I've worked out with her before and lost more sweat than I even knew was possible. If this drink could get me through that, well it could basically get me through anything. I mixed up a bottle full to drink before the class. The flavor was bright and citrusy without tasting artificial (ie, like chemicals). During that hour workout I was sweating like crazy as expected, but thankfully I felt great the entire time. I took a few water breaks, mostly to cool down, but overall I noticed a significant improvement in my hydration have a winner folks. I pretty much fell in love with MESTRENGTH just from that first try. After that I began incorporating it into my long runs. I'm looking forward to keeping a few bottles of this on my bike as I train for tri season next year. 

Let's get down to the nitty gritty here.  MESTRENGTH is all natural and doesn't have any of the usual additives like sugar or caffeine (it's also no carb and calories!).  Curious to see how it stacks up to some of your favorite sports drinks?  Check out this chart for comparison:

I can't stress how important it is to hydrate properly not only before, but also during and after.  It's a tricky thing to figure out what times are best, with what products and in what serving sizes.  You want to make sure that your body not only performs at the highest level possible, but also that you're recovering efficiently and restoring your muscles.  Up until now, my usual plan was drink lots of water and during the event I chew through 3 clif bloks every 3 miles.  It works fairly well in terms of energy but it didn't always keep me feeling hydrated.  Adding the MESTRENGTH into the plan really helped with both my performance and recovery. I even saved a packet to use on Sunday before the big race :)

How do you hydrate?  What other products have you tried and loved or hated?