As a runner, I obviously enjoy some degree of pain and suffering. But a trail half marathon was a whole new kind of enjoyable and unbearable pain and suffering. My first trail half is definitely on the list of the hardest races I’ve ever done.
The Kansas City Trail Nerds hosted the 8th Annual North Shore Trail run on September 7, 2013, at Clinton Lake near Lawrence, KS. This used to be an 8-miler and 5K race but has now become a 5K, “10K,” and “Half Marathon” distance event. I use quotes because the 10K (6.2 miles) turned into 7 miles, and the half marathon went from 13.1 miles to 14 miles. Rumor is the Clinton Lake State Park got the race date mixed up so the Trail Nerds had to use a different loop of trail than usual – and that loop was 7 miles.
Now another mile doesn’t seem like no big deal, especially if you’re a long distance runner who thinks half marathons are the best distance ever, and I was training for my first full marathon. Not for trail running. Trail running is brutal. And it takes FOREVER. My 8 to 9-minute miles become 11-minute plus miles. Depending on the terrain. Depending on the weather. Depending on how tired I was by that point.
To set the scene: it’s September. A cool, crisp morning – perfect for capris and a t-shirt ensemble or perhaps shorts and a long sleeve tech shirt. The leaves are changing. The breeze is blowing. The woods are just begging for you to traipse through them the next few hours.
THIS IS KANSAS.
IN SEPTEMBER (also known as Another One of Those Endless Summer Months Round These Here Parts)
By 9am start time, it’s already well into the 80s, probably will be a heat index of almost 100 by the time we’re done. The sun is beating down. The lake breeze is as dead as my feet will soon be. The gorgeous wooded trails are what they call “technical trails.” Technical being the Trail Nerd term for “lots of freakin shit for you to climb and trip over.” The inviting shade is suddenly a suffocating canopy of humidity. Rocks, roots, branches, uneven terrain, and giant spiders are out to get you. Every muscle in your lower body will be used today. And maybe your arms too – brushing a branch out of the way or hoping to God that spiderweb was empty.
My first trail run was the year before in August 2012 – the Trail Nerd’s Psych Night 10K. So that gave me plenty of time to forget HOW FREAKIN HARD A RUN IN THE WOODS IS. (read “How to Look Good While Running: Run a Night Race” for more about nighttime trail running and how to avoid being eaten by raccoons) I knew I’d be slower, knew I’d be sorer, and knew it’d be hard, but by mile 3, I was starting to really, really reconsider having signed up for a HALF MARATHON of trail running.
It took me over an hour and a half to complete the first 7-mile loop. I emerged from the woods gasping for air and dripping sweat. I’d been soaked since about 10 minutes into the race. I found water at the aid station and something else I’d never experienced at a race before – Coca-cola.
I’m clearly a Mountain Dew girl, and I can’t stand syrupy colas, but ice cold Coke on a hot ass day was THE BEST THING I’D EVER TASTED IN MY LIFE. I was amazed. Apparently the soft drink is an easy way to get easily digestible carbs (sugar) back into your body. I didn’t care the science behind it – I just felt like life had been breathed back into my body.
I started the second 7-mile loop feeling refreshed and had a fellow runner to talk to. He’d run the Portland Marathon, which I was training for, and he gave me some tips. We exchanged race stories, but I soon had to leave him behind. He was run/walking a lot, and I just wanted to be DONE. So I kept my slow but steady jogging pace and wished him luck.
Then it was just me. And the woods. And the raccoons? Do raccoons eat people? Maybe only at night? What’s that sound? Is there anybody out there? Will I survive this? Is this gonna last forever? I started stumbling bad. Zoning out is dangerous because that’s when you miss that rock or don’t see a branch coming. I started walking every so often. I’ve NEVER walked in a race.
I kept drinking water. I ran out of energy chews but was more worried about water. I filled up when I found a water tank. I even gave some of my water to a girl with a Camelbak. A Camelbak and she was OUT of water. THAT is how HOT this damn run was. My Garmin wasn’t helping either. It kept saying I had a LOOOONG way to go. Are you sure, Garmin? Can you read accurately in the woods? Why are you being such a bitch today? Where’s the end???!!!
Everytime I saw a person, I kept asking if the end was near. They kept saying it was just up ahead. I was pretty sure it was in the next ten seconds when I’d melt into a puddle. Finally, the steep hill that lead me out of the woods was there. I wanted to run up it, conquer it in my usual Hill Master style, but I was so. tired. and. couldn’t. breathe. anymore. I looked up, and there was Jason, my fiancee.
“Hey, you! How are you doing?”
“Don’t look at me!” I cried, ashamed he caught me walking up a hill. But then I didn’t care. We walked up the hill, and I mustered a last little jog past the finish line.
That race was exhausting. But I got my AWESOME finisher medal. The medal was the only reason I didn’t switch to the 10K like Jason. Was it worth wandering the woods in a hot inferno for 3 1/2 hours? HELL YEAH. I’d always wanted a Trail Nerds medal and here it was. In my hand. My sweaty, sweaty hand. We also got sweet shirts with the race poster illustration on the back. I wasn’t a big fan of the yellow color, but that’s probably because it so loudly announces my position to the raccoons.
I remember getting a really delicious lunch with Jason and my friend Michelle who also suffered through the half in Lawrence afterwards. She is an awesome inspiration when it comes to trail running. But I was so tired I wasn’t really noticing my food. I even got a Coke to go, but it didn’t taste the same as during the race.
I was so tired we ended not going to the KU football game that night. But I didn’t care. I had survived! The difficulty of this race – both the terrain and weather – definitely helped my marathon in October seem easier. I had my struggles during the marathon, but they were much easier to work through. Especially without the eminent threat of death by raccoon.
*Thanks to Mile 90 Photography for the cool pics!
Why do English teachers even bother to tell us to avoid cliches? They happen anyway. Everywhere. Horrible cliches are a dime a dozen.
And none of them annoys me more than the annual “New Year! New You!” No, I’m not new. Trust me. I wasn’t born yesterday. Or the day before that. Or the day before that. Or the day before that…
I’d like to think I’m still new and young, but let’s not fool ourselves too much. After all, self-deception is on the list of things I shouldn’t do this year. Although I can’t help but occasionally entertain thoughts of ruling the world and having a swear jar for cliches. I’d be rich, which would be a lot easier than the other ways English majors can go from rags to riches.
Accompanying the “New Year, New You!” cliche is all those silly resolutions you’re supposed to make. And they’re always the same. Lose weight! Be a better person! Attain Nirvana! But there’s more than one way to skin a cat, so several articles are always written about these same few resolutions. But a lot of these resolutions seem so shallow.
So what if I lose weight? Now what? I’m skinny. And now I have to maintain a diet of salads to keep this body? What am I able to do with my skinny body besides stand there and look pretty? Why did I want to be skinny in the first place? Because all of the glossy girls in the glossy magazines act like it’s so great?
Instead of focusing on a checklist of things we’re supposed to do or not do this year, we should think more about the key items we want this year. What dreams do we want to attain? And why?
To succeed, your goals need specific desired results. And your resolutions need tangible steps you can measure and do to get these results. But mostly importantly, it has to be because these steps get you to what YOU want.
So for example, you could want to lose weight. But just writing down “Lose weight” doesn’t mean anything. Writing down “I will work out for an hour 3x a week to lose 10 pounds by spring because I want to fit into my jeans from college” is waaayyy more motivating. But maybe losing a specific amount shouldn’t be your focus.
Say after adding this to your plan, implementing it for a few months, the scale still reads the same. But do you feel happier? Can you now workout without dreading it? Does it feels easier? Then perhaps you’ve attained your true goal. Maybe your end goal is to be a healthier person or feel better about yourself.
It’s not fair to measure yourself against others. Or even your past self sometimes. Knee problems and the Freshmen 15 (more like 20) hit me hard my first year and a half in college. I stopped running, there were curly fries served in the dining hall, and there was nothing like an ice cold soda (or two or three) to get me through that late night assignment. But then I got tired of feeling horrible, not being able to sleep well, having to buy new clothes…
So I signed up with a personal trainer and learned various ways of working out since I couldn’t run. Suddenly going to the gym for a couple of hours was a great way to put off that dreaded Shakespeare paper. I came out of college in the best shape of my life. I weighed about 8lbs more than I did in high school, but I had muscle definition and was able to run half marathons with much better times than back in the day.
So when making resolutions and trying to decide how to measure that you’ve accomplished them, you can’t always measure yourself in the same ways you used to. Age, your lifestyle changes, new jobs – they can all affect how you will attain your goals.
I definitely don’t have the free time to work out like I used to. Which means I’ve gained weight and had to change my workouts to get the most bang for my buck. But I ran my first full marathon last year. And because of my training, I was able to finish the marathon without walking and my muscles weren’t sore the next day (can’t say the same for my joints though – it was no picnic). But my goal was To Run a Marathon. And I did that. And now I don’t ever have to do that again. (just kidding, I have a running addiction, it’ll happen again just probably not for awhile.)
So keep the bigger picture in mind too. It would be nice to go down a size in my jeans now, but if I can still run years down the road because I keep my thunder thigh muscles strong, well, that’s more worth it to me. Running is my passion.
I think a lot of these typical resolutions aren’t inherently bad, but the way they’re presented in the media and the motivations behind them are. Think of the dreams you have and focus on why you want to make them happen. When your resolutions are your own, there’s nothing cliche about that.
Today is NOT the first day of the rest of your life. It’s just a newer version.
Like when iTunes asks you if you’d like to upgrade (NO!!!!). It’s still inherently the same program, but a supposedly a better, easier to use version (then why does it take me two days every time to figure our where my playlists are!?). So this year, I have list of what’s new for Jenny v.2014.01.01.
-Ability to do at least ONE unassisted pull-up (using the bench to reach the pull-up bar does NOT count as assistance)
-New last name since you just got married; you will do this by filling out lots and lots and lots of paperwork and then later decide if you were going to go through all this effort, you should have completely changed it to something cool like Veronica Foxwell
-Improved raquetball skills by playing more/actually hitting the ball
-Ability to run faster a get new PR (personal record) for a half marathon by running more and running faster and not getting bronchitis this year
-More frequent blogging and covering new topics that don’t always involve running
-Growing a few more inches so you can reach the pull-up bar WITHOUT the bench
-Cutting back on sugar and alcohol because although great vices for writers, these things tend to have undesired consequences when not done in moderation
-Help Jason mow the lawn because it’s really not fair to make him do it ALL the time but as soon you’re pregnant this update will quickly become outdated
Of course, this program will never be perfect. And as I go I might find certain additions cause other parts of the program to not work as well. For example, my love affair with Mountain Dew and beer might not be compatible with my goal of eating healthy, but if I modify it to just having a few on the weekends, that would still keep the program on track. I owe it to myself to put my best foot forward and go for the gold.
I also owe my cliche swear jar roughly $14.
P.S. Please do NOT go back and count through this entry all the cliches. I already did that for you. And if I’m off by 2 or 3 or 10, well, I’m only human. And by human, I mean English major.
I ran 13 races in 2013. This was in no way on purpose, as evidenced by my English major fuzzy math. If you’d asked me how many races I was running last year, I’d have calculated that give or take a few, carry the one, and round up that I was running roughly…uh… A LOT.
13 races equals out to be 1.14 races per month, which doesn’t sound like much, especially since .14th of a race has to be like 2.45 miles, especially considering I’m making all this math up because my fingers don’t do decimal points. But it was the most mile-heavy racing schedule I’ve ever attempted. This schedule included completing 6 half marathon in 9 weeks. Something I never would have done without being under the influence of an incredibly powerful force: Jason.
Our relationship starting by training for the KC Half Marathon in 2011 – 4 weeks before the race. He’s notorious for saying “We’ll be fine!” and doing crazy things. Like a bunch of half marathons in a row. Or marrying me.
I started the racing season off easy with the Westport St. Patrick’s Day 4-mile run on March 9. I like the promise of beer afterwards and seeing other runners’ fun costumes.
This year, the goal was to BEAT JASON. A PR (personal record) would be nice, but mostly I had to BEAT JASON. I’d spent weeks tortuously training on the treadmill with sprint workouts and was ready to be reminded why I run them (it’s not for the love of the alliteration, but that does help). I knew the course and when to use my Secret Weapon.
At mile 2, I saw Jason waaaayyy up ahead of me. “Son of a bitch! How’d he get up there?!” I was on high alert making sure he didn’t pass me. How had he slipped by? He was the only dork in a bright red Hospital Hill shirt in a sea of St Pat’s Day green. “He only trains like once a week!“
“Hey, baby!” My head jerked to the side. There was Jason. Wait? How?
“I thought you were way up there,” I pointed to his distant doppelgänger. “I thought you’d passed me.”
“I am now!” And the cheeky bastard took off. But my Secret Weapon was approaching. Almost all of mile 3 is this long gradual uphill. It sucks. But not for the Hill Master! I passed Jason about halfway up. I used my thunder thigh powers to put some more time between us. I eventually did pass Jason’s doppelgänger in the last half mile of the race, but then I was super paranoid because if I saw a red shirt it could either be Jason OR his bearded hipster body double (turns out he just looked the same from behind).
I finished in 30:56 minutes – 7:44 min/mile. I was STOKED. I had beat my previous time by almost 2 minutes and the year before that’s time by like 5 minutes. And I BEAT JASON. But not by much. We celebrated with a beer crawl. This was an AWESOME start to the season. Half marathon PR here I come!
The next race was the Dallas Rock N’ Roll Half Marathon on March 24. This race I was nervous and excited about. It was a weekend road trip with 3 of my friends from the Athletic Club where I used to work. Knee problems were flaring up so my training was somewhat behind – my longest run was 9 miles…on the treadmill. Originally Jason and I just had 5 half marathons on the schedule, but the opportunity for a fun girls’ weekend was too cool to pass up.
The Rock N’ Roll series races are not cheap, but they are totally worth it. True to its name, we had lots of music all along the course. We spent half the day at the expo checking out clearance gear, sampling fitness foods, learning about other races, discovering recovery techniques, and taking lots of goofy pictures. We enjoyed the free giveaways and came out excited for the race.
This race taught me to pack one of EVERYTHING no matter where your out of town race is at. When we left Kansas, it was supposed to be 50s/60s in Texas, so I packed shorts and flip flops. That morning it was almost 40 degrees with this freezing cold north wind whipping around. We got lucky and hung out inside the hotel lobby by the starting line, but I was regretting not packing more. Usually as a girl I pack too much, but you’ll never be sorry when it comes to racing.
Besides my knees, I’d also gotten a cold the week of the race. I probably should have stayed home from work one day, but I figured it was just a cold. So I spent the race paying attention to my knees and blowing my nose a lot – not that the cold wind helped. I finished in 1:52:39 – about 8:30 min/mile. It was again a very good sign. My PR to beat is 1:49:23 from 2008. I was one out of six half marathons down and already just 3 minutes off!
I returned from Dallas with more confidence about this racing season. This was it! My season! Two days later I was at the doctor’s office being diagnosed with Bronchitis. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
Two weeks later was Rock the Parkway Half Marathon on April 13. And I still had bronchitis. But I had the go-ahead to run from my physician. My mother was less than thrilled, but I assured her, “It’s ok, Mom. The doctor says I can.” I didn’t mention that my doctor’s actually a nurse practitioner. But mostly that she’s also a runner. She took a nap in someone’s yard during the Hawaii Marathon. Which she assured me was perfectly fine, as this was the 70s.
Even though I lost my 1:50 pace group on mile one, went through half a box of Kleenexes during the race, coughed every 3 minutes, and was tired as hell, I ALMOST PRed. I was FOUR SECONDS off my PR. But, I can’t lie to my fans (and by fans, I mean my mother). I was a dirty runner on steroids. Prednisone to be exact. Actually I was on Prednisone and three other prescription drugs.
But, I figured, if I could almost PR while sick with bronchitis, I could for sure pull out a PR next time. I was so close! With injuries! With illness! On Roids!
One week later, April 21, was the Kansas Half Marathon in Lawrence, KS. I had the home team advantage as I ran up and up and up and sometimes down around the KU campus for years. The huge hill at Mile 8 was my way back to the dorms freshmen year. But…
I’d never really run up that hill AFTER 8 other miles. ONE WEEK after doing another half marathon. The first three miles of this race were promising. I was with the 1:45 group and feeling great. Then I slipped back to the 1:50 group. Then I ran into my friend Sam, and we ran the rest of the way together. If I hadn’t had his encouragement and energy distracting me from my pain and keeping me going, this race would have been more of a disaster than it was.
Mile 6 is when I started to feel like, hey, didn’t you just run one of these things? The hill at mile 8 was brutal. Then the hill at mile 11 was EVEN MORE BRUTAL. I was no longer on any meds except an inhaler, but my breathing was definitely not as efficient as it used to be. We finished in 1:55:08, making our goal of under 2 hours.
Disappointed but not defeated, I geared up for the next half marathon that was thankfully two weeks later on May 11, Running with the Cows. This is a small race out in the middle of nowhere Kansas but it’s AMAZING. We got SO MUCH FOOD at the end of this race I’ve almost forgotten how long and hot and horrible it felt running it.
I ran with my best friend Jen, who’d come to town specifically for this race. It’s a long inside joke that we call Jen a cow (she’s tiny!), so she had to run her namesake race. Jason and Jen have a long competitive history, more so than he and I do, so when he passed us mile 1, Jen was a bit on edge. But no big deal. We had 13 miles to out pace him.
But then mile 6 at the turn around point he was STILL ahead of us. Jason said as he passed us on his way back he could “feel the hostility.” We assured him we were happy for him…mostly. Again I got lucky and ran into Sam during the race, so the three of us had fun talking and plotting how to catch Jason. But I was starting to die. As beautiful as it is to run on gorgeous (paved) country roads out in fields and see cows and farms around you, it’s also Allergy Hell. Mix recovering from bronchitis with allergy season, and I was starting to sound like Darth Vader.
Mile 11 though we caught Jason. He was dying. He’d run very well but maybe had gotten a bit too eager and was now capping out. Jen told me if she couldn’t keep up, to keep going, that at least one of us had to beat Jason. So I dug in and passed him and ran the last two miles on my own. The last two miles were soooo long. You could see everything for miles in the country but never seemed to get any closer to anything.
I finished in 1:51:57 with Jen and Sam close behind and Jason not far behind that. We celebrated by getting not just a finisher medal but TWO finisher medals. The past 3 half marathons were part of the Heartland Series – the first year you complete all three races you get a medal. Next year, we get a giant belt buckle. Serious swag. We also found the cafeteria full of food – both homemade and catered. The best was I got an ENTIRE Chik-fil-a sandwich. I went over to the booth, they held out a sandwich, I looked at them in post-race bewilderment, took it with two hands and held it like a squirrel with a coveted nut, mumbled thank you, and stumbled off. It was one of the most beautiful things I’d ever seen. And tasted.
One week later on May 19 was the notorious Leavenworth Five Trails Half Marathon (now renamed the Buffalo Bell Stampede because we can’t impress upon you enough that this is Kansas!). People complain about Hospital Hill being hilly. NO. This half marathon has it beat. The goal for this race was to just finish because it’s so hard, and it was our last race in the Leavenworth Race Series. I ran 10 miles of it the year before as a long training run since Jason was signed up for it. But last year had gone really well. The weather was cloudy, I was having a great running day, and all those hills were so much fun!
This year, I couldn’t breathe still, and it got hot and humid. And suddenly there seemed to be like 10 times more hills than I’d remembered. Mile 11 I was still going up a long ass hill on the side of the road with the sun beating down on me. The girl I’d been following the whole race started talking to me.
“Great job. Keep it up.”
“Is this your first time?”
“I’ve run…some of the…course. But not…this far.”
“It’s a tough one.”
“Yeah..Is this your…first time?”
“No. My aunt’s one of the race directors. We have to run it every year.”
“That’s cool… Hey, when do…the hills stop?”
And that’s when she stopped responding. And that’s when I knew it wasn’t going to get any better. And it really didn’t. The last half mile you run around the high school until you finish by doing a lap on the track, which was kind of cool. Like how they finish in the Olympics. Except this wasn’t the Olympics.
I finished just under 2 hours – 1:59:15. I also beat that girl. I’d been stalking her the whole race and used her as motivation to keep my pace up. Ironically, she got first place for women in her age group. I was only ONE year older than her age group. And I got 4th place in mine. But then I got bumped up to 3rd place because the overall women’s winner was in my age group. So I was awarded a bottle of wine, and the younger girl just got a medal. Winning!
June 1 – Two weeks later was Hospital Hill Half Marathon – this was The Race. This is my favorite KC race, usually one of my strongest races because of the hills, and where I really really want to get my PR. Jason knew how much it meant to me and got us a room at the race hotel, the Sheraton at Crown Center. We relaxed that evening, knowing we could wake up and just pop on down the elevator to the starting line. No leaving home 2 hours early to play the stupid parking game.
I also was a blogger for this race. Several of us wrote entries about running to help people prepare for Hospital Hill – whether you did the 5K, 10K, or half. I met a lot of these people both in person and through their blogs, and it was really cool to get more involved in the running community. To hear stories of what inspired them to run. To hear stories what inspires them to keep running. It made the race even more special and personal.
We got so lucky that the weather wasn’t scorching hot – it started out in the 60s and wasn’t the humid mess Kansas can be that time of year. I paced the race really well. I ran by myself – I never found Sam, and Jason knew he wasn’t going to keep up on this one. No music or anything. Just me and my thoughts. I was mostly worried about Broadway Hill at mile 10. The year before I let it break me and lost a lot of time slowly climbing up it.
This year the last three miles was a lot of looking at my Garmin and doing math in my head. Which is a pretty big deal for me since I can’t do math hardly standing still and here I was trying to figure out how many minutes per mile I needed to get my PR while wheezing uphill. There were definitely several times during the race when I had to slow down a bit and try to breath. Even with taking my inhaler beforehand, it wasn’t the same. Ever since getting bronchitis, my sprint workouts had suffered and just a nine-minute mile felt like I was pushing it. But I wanted my PR so bad!!! Just suffer through now and enjoy the victory forever!
I finished in 1:50:56 which was NOT a half marathon PR but it WAS my Hospital Hill PR. So I tried to be happy with that, but thoughts of Next Year I’m Gonna were already popping up. I still celebrated with food and beer. The next race was months off, and it was time to recover!
Just kidding! In our usual crazy runner style, Jason and I found another race that we just had to run one week later. But this was a fun run – Martini Mile. It’s a relay race for teams of four people; each person runs a mile. We had Jason, myself, a co-worker and his former cross country star buddy. We almost got 3rd place for the mixed gender teams! We’re ready for next year now we know there’s two decent sized hills in the mile and ways to make handing off the baton faster (we used an empty bottle of Mountain Dew, which I may or may not have finished drinking that morning before the race at 1pm).
Later in June, we got the cool opportunity to meet a running legend – Billy Mills. The only American to gold medal in the 10,000-meter run. We went to his birthday dinner hosted by the KC Track Club and heard him speak. I definitely am blogging more about this. We met him there, and he was also there as part of the Double Road Race. Bob Anderson, Kansas high school alumni and founder of Runner’s World, was starting a new race. You run a 10K and then an hour later run a 5K. Your overall score is the two races combined. It definitely involves a lot of strategy and figuring out how to pace both races and recover in between without your muscles getting stiff.
The day of the race was June 30, and it was gorgeous! It was high 70s and no humidity – Bob got really lucky because he obviously did NOT remember his summer days in Kansas, or he would have NEVER scheduled that thing in late June. But it was not an A game day for me – still suffering from what my doctor now called either adult asthma or allergy-induced asthma, my breathing was killing me. Looking back, my race times are still pretty good, but I guarantee you that I did not feel good pulling those off. And I had a lot of disappointing training runs. I just wanted to breathe again!!!
The 10K went ok – my main motivation was to beat this 10-year-old. Seriously, he was 10. He was ahead of me most the time but that last mile I passed him. It’s hard for someone that young to understand how to keep an even pace. But he beat me (by not by much my pride must add) in the following 5k. It was a boring race that went around Corporate Woods through parking lots and business streets – the 10K was 2 loops and the 5K was one loop. So we saw the same lack of scenery three times. But the shade was nice. I remember sprinting hard at the end of the 10K, finishing strong like I always do, and looking up to suddenly see Billy Mills there. He won his race by sprinting hard at the end, so he said something about my strong finish and congratulated me, shaking my hand. I was so out of it. I think I said thanks. It was surreal.
Our next race wasn’t for months. Finally. We had the Portland Marathon on October 6. Before that, I convinced Jason to sign up for the North Shore Trail Half Marathon with the Trail Nerds on Sept 7th. It would be a good way to get a long training run in with all the fun perks of a race. Or would it?
Ha ha. This race really was HELL. I don’t ever want to repeat it, but I’m certainly thankful for how much stronger it made me. I have a full entry coming soon about this race so I won’t say too much. This race started out at 9am in the 80-degree, 90% humidity of Kansas in the woods by the lake in Lawrence. Also trail running is A LOT harder and slower than regular road running. I knew this going into the race from doing the nighttime trail 10K the year before, but I’d never tackled 13.1 miles.
I figure it’d take me 2 1/2 hours to complete this race. I’d be slower but not bad. Nope. I walked every so often. I NEVER walk. But sometimes you wasted more energy trying to run and struggle up a rock-studded hill than just walk up it. My legs tired of dodging things all the time. And with a marathon coming up I didn’t want to twist anything. And it got so hot.
Jason dropped down and did the 10K, which actually turned into 7 miles. My 13.1 miles ended up being 14 miles. The state park had gotten the race date mixed up, so we were running on a different trail loop, which was 7 miles. I remember finishing the first 7 miles in almost 2 hours and thinking there was NO WAY I wanted to run those 7 miles AGAIN. But I had to. Because the finisher medal was epic. Legendary! And I’d never not finished a race. As long as I could still move, I was doing this. It was 3 1/2 hours later that I emerged from the trail melting, delusional, and so thankful I didn’t die alone in the woods. I didn’t want to be on that show 1000 Ways to Die – #451 Death by Raccoon.
Having a three and half hour race in the heat of Kansas though made the Portland Marathon feel that much nicer. It was beautiful fall weather the day of the race. Jen, Jason and I had a great time running it. This time breathing didn’t matter so much because our average pace was 10:45-11:30 minute miles. It was about the experience and finishing the greatest race of I’ve run to date – The Course is Strong With this One: My First Marathon Saga.
After running 6 half marathons in 9 weeks, running a new kind of road race, meeting one of my running heroes, surviving a trail run in a heat advisory, and completing my first marathon, you’d think I’d be pretty satisfied with myself and call it a year.
I had one more race to do – aka one more way to worry my mother. We ran the Kansas City Half Marathon just two weeks after the full marathon. It wasn’t a completely off the wall idea – I researched first. Most running experts tell you to take a whole week off of running and some recommended a half marathon a few weeks after. It was kind of pushing it though.
I did take it easy with the running. I returned to Cross Fit less than a week after the full marathon because my muscles never got sore – just my joints had bothered me during and after the race. But I was still kind of dying. My coach kept telling me to get my strength from my hips, and I kinda wanted to tell him to try using his hips after running for five hours straight. For once my little T-Rex arms looked good.
But since this race started Jason and I’s relationship, and we were getting married the next month in November, it seemed appropriate to run it. Also, the past two times I’ve run the half I haven’t had a lot of training in. This year we were over prepared.
The race went well for being two weeks after our first full – I finished in 2:02. I was aiming for under two hours, but it was pretty obvious that wasn’t going to happen. My legs were still tired from the full, and the KC Half is deceptively hard. It doesn’t seem like a lot of hills like Hospital Hill, but it’s got a lot of gradual uphill.
Then, finally, we had just one more race. This race we ran with Jason’s family and my friend Bridget. The Monster Dash 5K. It was a great way to end racing season because I finally did a race without caring about my time. In fact, for the first time ever, I wore a costume. While running. Bridget was Cat Woman (she wore her running shoes not the stiletto boots during the race) and I was Bat Girl. We quickly discovered Halloween costumes don’t breathe. So, if any sports companies out there want to make the next new thing, I recommend sweat-wicking workout costumes. Seriously, they’d be a HUGE hit in the running community. We’re a goofy group who’s easily amused.
I had several other fall races I would have liked to run in November and December, but with the wedding that wasn’t going to happen. We’d already put off enough wedding planning by running half marathons then spending the rest of the weekend sleeping and eating and drinking beer. It was time to recover and focus on the next race – the rest of our lives together.
And time to sign up for next year’s races.
It’s finally Marathon Week, and I’m trying my darnedest not to freak out. It’s been a long time since a race has made me nervous and stressed out. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I was almost afraid of running a race, not knowing what was going to happen (for those of you who have run one, please leave comments! I’d love to hear what you did for your first!).
This is what it feels like to be a newbie again. I’m a half marathon master now – I did 6 halfs in 9 weeks this past spring. I had a lot of pressure on myself to PR at Hospital Hill Half, but I knew I could run the race. And I knew how it would feel. And I knew the course by heart. And I knew how to prepare for running a race in Kansas City on the cusp of summer.
But a Full Marathon in an unknown city in an unfamiliar climate? I can’t even FATHOM what that will feel like. What mental games I’ll have to play to keep going. How physically exhausted I’m going to feel. Or even imagine how great the finish will feel to motivate me at the worst moments.
Reasons Why I’m Freaking Out
- The Weather – ah, this is every runner’s biggest worry (after what kind of beer is going to be at the finish line). I learned from my half marathon in Dallas this spring that even though the weather says it will be nice, it’s probably is lying to you. So I’m prepared by having at least one of everything. But acclimating is going to suck. We’ve trained all summer in hot and humid Kansas. By mile 2, you were soaked. The hardest decision I had to make about what to wear was figuring out which tank top was clean. It’ll be refreshing to run in a cooler climate – but Portland is weird in between weather. It’s chilly but humid but usually rainy but sometimes hot. I haven’t gotten to try out my new water-proof jacket or my cold weather tops because I haven’t run in cold weather in FOREVER, which brings me to
- New Gear – because I live in the land of heat and humidity, I have new running gear I haven’t gotten to wear…at all. They tell you nothing new on race day, but I didn’t need a rain jacket for Kansas, and I didn’t have much for fall weather because in Kansas we have two seasons – really hot weather and really shitty cold weather. In between the 90-degree, 90% humidity summer and the cold as balls lots of snow winter, we get like two days of 70-degree weather.
- New Shoes – I’ve been training in Mizuno Wave Rider 14 and 15s for the past two years now (I love a running shoe clearance!) I finally got the latest model, the 16, which I started breaking in beginning of September – plenty of time to get miles on them but not wear them out. Well, the 16s are different than the 15s. On short runs they seemed the same. But anything over 8 miles and my feet started hurting A LOT. It feels like they sacrificed the cushion to brag it’s a lighter shoe. So I went to the local running store, Gary Gribble’s, which I will shamelessly plug right now because they are AWESOME. I told them my problem, explaining I didn’t have time to find new shoes but my old ones were too worn for a full. They found me some insoles and gave them free of charge (I should note I bought the shoes there, so they understood since the product hadn’t lasted as long as it was supposed to, they should do something about it. But as logical as that sounds, customer service like that is still lost on lots of places. I appreciate how this store maintains quality in products and service and understands that as runners, we need things to work right!) But it’s been taper time the last few weeks, so I have no idea how having the insoles will go after a few hours.
- Our (Lack Of) Training – we definitely have trained for this full marathon, but not as much as most marathon plans say, but definitely more than a lot of people I’ve met who pretty much winged it (one of the racquetball players I know did the Portland Marathon with just 3 20-mile training runs). We ran 2-3 times a week. Our longest run mile-wise was 16 miles. My longest run time-wise was 3 ½ hours – a trail half marathon that is probably the hardest run I’ve ever done. But I’m trying to tell myself that we did a lot of really long runs back to back (we did 2 13-mile runs in less than a week) to make up for our lack of time to do 4-hour runs. I also have been doing Cross-Fit 3-4x a week as well as racquetball 2x a week. So it’s not like I’m out of shape. But anyone who’s ever run knows that running is such a different sport – the only way to really fully train for racing is to run.
And yet, despite all the unknowns and the factors that will probably work against me, I’m excited.
Reasons Why I’m Excited to Run a Marathon
- Bucket List Item – I can finally cross it off my Bucket List and never do another one ever again if I don’t want to
- Time to Level-Up – I’ve been running long distance since 8th grade and have done several races now, from 5Ks to 10Ks to half marathons, and now the next step is the full marathon. It’s time to join the ranks of veteran runners who have the bragging rights to say they went all the way – 26.2 miles.
- I Get Stuff – I get LOTS of race swag for this race. We get TWO finisher shirts, a medal, a pendant of the medal, a rose, a mylar blanket, all the goodies in the packet, and lots of food and beer at the finish. I’m going to be SO DAMN PROUD of that finisher shirt I’m going to wear it ALL week, especially to Cross-Fit, so when I can’t do a pull-up, I can point to my shirt and say, “No, but I can run a MARATHON!”
- The Experience – physically I don’t look forward to feeling like I’m going to die (but then again I go to Cross-Fit every week and am a runner), but I’m excited to experience such a huge race. I get to run with my fiancée Jason and best friend Jen. We’ll meet new people and be motivated and inspired by all the runners, supporters, and entertainment on our journey. And I’ve only been to Portland for a few hours, so it’ll be cool to see a new city instead of the same old Kansas City skyline.
- I found Pocket-Sized Body Glide for the race. Nuff said. Best shit EVER.
- I’ll have new material for my blog
- I can finally quit worrying about the race and start worrying about my upcoming wedding in November; it’s running-themed so I look forward to incorporating the marathon into our slideshow and running decorations; hopefully I will still be able to WALK down the aisle
- I can eat all the food and drink all the beer (and Mountain Dew!) I want that day (although I’ll probably want a huge dose of NAP before that). I’ve read you can lose up to 7 pounds in water weight running a full marathon, and I fully intend to replace those and help my body recover with carbs and protein…lots of carbs.
What was your first marathon? How did you handle it? Any advice for a first-timer?