Race Recap: Chicago Marathon 2015

I’ll start with the positive stuff:

This is a really great marathon. I’ve only run a handful of marathons with 10,000+ runners (Philly, NYC, Marine Corps, Disney) and Chicago was the best organized. Your corral assignment (which can’t be changed) determines which security gate you go through, which porta-potties you can access, and when you start the race. Congestion was never a big problem, despite there being 40,000 runners (unlike my experience in NYC!). The route is mostly scenic and/or interesting, and the spectators come out in full force. It’s flat, but not painfully flat. The weather is the biggest issue/question mark, which it kind of is anywhere at this point. I highly recommend.

Chicago is a really cool city. I had never been there before (unless you count the airport, which I don’t) and I liked what I saw. My friend Sue and I did an architecture boat tour, pizza at Lou Malnati’s, and drinks at Three Dots and a Dash postrace, and it was a grand time. I’d like to return and spend more than 48 hours there.

Sue did well. She broke four hours for the first time! Yay, Runner Sue!

Me and Sue, the night before she became a sub-4 marathoner!

Me and Sue, the night before she became a sub-4 marathoner!

My legs feel pretty decent. Because I ended up running not much faster than my average long-run pace, I can descend stairs and sit on toilet seats without too much of a problem today.

—–

And onto the lame stuff:

I felt like I was going to barf pretty much from the get-go. And, I felt like that until I was able to sit down at the postrace party.

Nauseated, but finished.

Nauseated, but finished.

I spent a lot of time Sunday being like, “I don’t know what happened! And that’s scary!” But I think I figured it out, and it’s so incredibly stupid.

I ate a pack of Honey Stingers about 10 minutes before the race began. Yes, I had tried them in training, but not a whole pack of them immediately before I started running. I had used them midrun, one every five to 10 minutes, with ample water. I think I pretty much dropped a massive sugar bomb on my stomach, which was already trying to digest my normal race-morning breakfast, and it was just like, “Nope.”

Why did I do this? I think I thought, “Well, I feel sick in a lot of marathons, so I should try to process as many calories as possible before I start running.” Why a red flag didn’t go off in my brain at this obvious violation of the Never Try Anything New on Race Day rule, I’m not sure. Instead of starting to feel sick when I started taking gels, I felt sick the entire time. Not an improvement.

My stomach has kind of emerged as the limiting factor in my running, even when I’ve “trained” it to use whatever kind of gels. I don’t really know what to do about it.

My next plan might be to train with whatever sports drink will be on the course and just take sips at most aid stations (chased with sips of water), so I’m never dropping sugar bombs onto my guts. That’s what people did before gels (which are disgusting anyway, and chewy things are better, but I can’t chew and run fast).

—–

Some other points of note from the race:

Kudos to the trumpeter playing “The Final Countdown” around mile 23. That brightened up a rough part of the course. Also, thanks to the 20+ people around mile 8 who spotted my name on my shirt and started chanting “Meghan! Meghan! Meghan!” in unison. That was probably one of the highlights of my 16-marathon career. (Ugh. Too many.)

Speaking of having my name on my shirt… I forced myself to smile every time someone cheered for me by name, which likely helped my mental state some…until I stopped to walk and take off my name tag near mile 22. I haven’t walked during a marathon in a while. I didn’t do a lot of it—I think I took maybe four or five short breaks total—but I knew I wasn’t going to be happy with my time and I have another marathon coming up (dear God) and figured it couldn’t hurt to save my legs some.

I keep telling my mom she should open an Etsy shop to sell these quilted, reusable name tags to runners.

I keep telling my mom she should open an Etsy shop to sell these quilted, reusable name tags to runners.

Speaking of “too many” marathons… I had a bit of a mental breakdown postrace and pinky-promised Sue that I wouldn’t run any marathons in 2016. I really mean it this time. There are a lot of non-marathon races I’ve been wanting to do (Broad Street! Brooklyn Half! Fifth Ave Mile! A Ragnar!) that I haven’t because of marathons, and 2016 is my year for those. I swear.

Do you know what happens when PowerBar gels expire? I was carrying some that were marked “BEST BY FEB 2015,” but I thought, “Meh! It’s all chemicals!” Well, the gels are apparently made from chemicals that become gritty after their best-by date. It tasted like 90% gel, 10% sand. So, that really helped my stomach situation.

Great jams, Chicago. I heard Gloria Estefan’s “Conga” in the last mile or so and it pepped me right up. Someone was also playing Next’s “Too Close” from a boombox earlier in the race, which was good for a chuckle.

—–

And I’ll just leave my results/splits here:

Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 12.22.01 PM

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Race Recap: Via Half Marathon 2015

First, let me show you a picture of my recovery dinner. (I had a pretty boring postrace brunch, simply because I was queasy from the run.)

salad

That’s supposed to be a salad, guys. It was probably 25% lettuce and tomato, 25% buffalo chicken and egg, and 50% bacon crumbles and shredded cheese. There was too much bacon and cheese, and I don’t think I’ve ever put the words “too much” before “bacon” or “cheese” before.

Anyway, onward:

On Sunday, I ran a new-to-me Lehigh Valley half, the Via Half Marathon. I’d never run this race (or the marathon that happens with it) before because race day tends to be humid and warm, and the course is almost entirely on a rail trail (zzz). But I figured I’d need some kind of goal to get me running again after my Spring of Laziness, so I signed up back in March.

I was hoping I’d be able to go sub-1:40. I finished in 1:39:40. Score! And I did it all without a watch. (Well, technically, I was wearing a watch—for the time, I didn’t want to miss the start—but I didn’t use the stopwatch function or look at it pretty much at all.)

You know what's confusing? When the two women directly ahead of you have your same name. I heard a lot of strangers saying,

You know what’s confusing? When the two women directly ahead of you have your same name. I heard a lot of strangers saying, “Go Meghan!” and I was like, “Do I KNOW you?”

Some thoughts on this race:

On the start. Is 15-20 porta-potties for 1,000 runners enough? I don’t think so. I arrived, waited for 10 minutes, and pottied. When I was done, I saw how long the line had become and immediately got back in it for a second visit. After that, I had just enough time to warm up. Luckily, I had used my new fueling plan the day before the race—that is, not gorging on dairy and/or gluten—so I didn’t desperately need to go.

Also, the starting “gun” was a blast from a firetruck’s horn that must have woken up everyone in a one-mile radius. Sorry, Bethlehem residents.

On not wearing a watch. It sure feels nice to just run what seems to be an appropriate pace without looking at your wrist every few minutes. To think of the mental energy I’ve wasted, especially in marathons, angsting over every “too-fast” or “too-slow” mile.

On the course. Now that I’ve experienced the half course (which is the second half of the full marathon) I can promise that I’ll never run this full. There’s an obnoxious hill right at mile 6.9/20 that leads onto an obnoxious fire road with potholes and occasional rocks that are just big enough for you to turn an ankle on. That’s where I developed a side stitch, possibly due to worrying about wiping out. (It went away with some fancy breathing.)

And in the final mile, you can see and hear the finish line…across the river. First, you must conquer an out-and-back stretch, plus a couple more hills. (I’m down with hills, but considering these are two of the just three on the half course, ouch. Poorly placed.) I considered swimming to the finish line just to avoid this B.S.

On my finishing time. I’m counting this race as a win. I’ve gone sub-1:40 twice before, but both times, I had done a half-marathon-specific buildup. My training right now is geared more towards marathons…and 5Ks, I guess, because my intervals are at roughly 5K pace. (Yes, I know that these kinds of workouts aren’t super helpful for marathoners, but they’re fun, so shut up.)

Dude did NOT want to get "chicked" right at the end. (His time was over a minute faster than mine so he must have started farther back.)

Dude did NOT want to get “chicked” right at the end. (His time was over a minute faster than mine so he must have started farther back.)

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Here I Am Again

Oh hey. I haven’t blogged in a really long time. The whole wedding-planning and getting-married and honeymooning process kind of took over my life for a while, and it was so, so worth it.

Click on this picture to see MORE pictures. Our photographer was so great.

Click on this picture to see MORE pictures. Our photographer was so great.

My primary concern going into the wedding was: “How can this single day possibly live up to our expectations when we’ve spent nearly a year and a half building it up in our heads?” (And assembling favors for it and designing programs for it and writing checks for it and handling the billion other tasks you must handle when planning a party for 130 people.)

And then the wedding day was perfect. The amount of love and positivity our friends and family brought for us was overwhelming. And there was Yuengling, pie, and so, so, so much dancing. (Which is exactly what we wanted.) The most catastrophic thing that happened was the zipper on Paul’s tuxedo pants breaking during the reception. (Ha.) And I, being an extremely prepared person/runner, had a few safety pins in my purse, so no wardrobe malfunctions.

And then the honeymoon—in Bermuda!—was perfect. And so far, being married has been perfect. (Which might have something to do with the fact that we’ve spent more than half our married days to date lounging on pink-sand beaches, but you know.)

Dinner on the beach. Yes, please.

Dinner on the beach. Yes, please.

I am so glad I let myself take it easy running-wise these past few months. Planning a wedding takes a lot of time. (Unless you’re the kind of person who has a “meh, it’ll all come together somehow” attitude. I got the impression from our vendors that most people aren’t as detail-oriented/anal as I am.) If I had to worry about completing hard workouts on top of everything else, I would have been miserable. And running is supposed to make you less miserable!

Now that we’re back in Pennsylvania, I’m feeling ready to start Training (with a capital “T”) again, but that’s a topic for another post.

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Why Do I Run? …No, Really, Why?

I’m taking a hiatus from Training right now.

That’s Training with a capital T, because I’m still running, and lifting, and swimming, and skiing, and dancing to “Uptown Funk” like a spaz every chance I get. (I hope that song isn’t too obnoxious and overplayed by the time our wedding rolls around in late May.)

I’m active. I just don’t have a Goal Race. I’m not planning any Big Workouts. I don’t want to Compete.

I’m having some inner turmoil about this. I’m an editor at a running magazine. I’m writing a feature about hiring a coach and working with her for a year. (Which, for the record, was a positive experience!) I’ve been Training for the better part of the last five or six years. And I just don’t want to do it anymore. Here’s my attempt at figuring out why:

Burnout. The most obvious and likely culprit. I hoped—nay, expected—to totally ace Wineglass and then take a month or two to relax and regroup. Instead, when it didn’t go my way, I chose to try again. Soon. I didn’t want to waste my fitness and I knew I could do better, but my heart was never really in it. I still ran a great race in Phoenix—I absolutely couldn’t have gone any faster on that course—but I didn’t have much fun, prepping for it or racing it.

Painful realizations. As much as I enjoy the sense of accomplishment that comes from finishing 20 miles with 14 at marathon pace, my last training cycle (plus the time off I’ve had since it ended) made me realize something that hadn’t previously occurred to me: Intense marathon training leaves me too wiped to do or to enjoy other things in life I’d like to do/enjoy.

For example: It’s amazing how much I’ve gotten done around the house during this hiatus. I spent a Saturday ShopVac-ing and organizing a particularly filthy part of the basement. That doesn’t sound fun, I realize, but it kind of was. It needed to be done, and I did it, and now that room looks awesome. (Well. As awesome as a grody, unfinished, freezing cold basement room can ever look.)

And that’s just one example of a Life Thing that not running so much has freed me up to do! I can think of at least two others! Behold! There’s more to life than running!

The tiny room is finally furnished, complete with hanging wall art, thanks to Not Running (TM)!

The tiny room is finally furnished, complete with hanging wall art, thanks to Not Running (TM)!

Soul searching. On that note: Why do I run, anyway? To stay healthy and fit, for one. But beyond that, why?

When I met my coach after the race in Phoenix, she said, “You have to choose a goal that inspires you.” And that made my head explode. It sounds so obvious, but it got me asking myself, “Is training to run a fast marathon so I can qualify for and run Boston still inspiring me?” No! Not really! It’s making me feel frustrated and self-critical and all kinds of other negative emotions. And, because I’m not a fan of enormous, crowded races—hey, NYC Marathon!—I don’t think I’d even enjoy running Boston very much if I did get in.

So, what was the appeal of Boston to begin with? I wanted one of those blue-and-yellow finishers’ jackets. I blogged about that ages ago. And why did I want one of those jackets? So I could wordlessly communicate, “I am a faster and better runner than you are.” I run races partially to compete with myself but also to say to the world, “Look how fast I am! I could maybe beat you! And you, I could definitely beat you.

Which makes me sound like a jerk! And I am kind of a jerk! And I don’t want to be a jerk anymore! What’s with this need to compare myself to other people? That is a part of my personality I don’t like, and training and racing seems to fuel it.

Doing other things. You know what’s kind of fun? Swimming. And skiing. I’m not very good at either, but that’s part of the appeal. I can get a good workout just because my body is doing something it’s not used to doing. And I couldn’t really do either of those things while I was marathon training.

Ski selfies from two consecutive days, because who cares if I'm sore for the rest of the week? I don't have to run! (I ended up not being sore anyway.)

Ski selfies from two consecutive days, because who cares if I’m sore for the rest of the week? I don’t have to run! (I ended up not being sore anyway.)

Also, I miss feeling strong all over. I used to take these strength classes at the gym that are totally butt-kicking but will make you look and feel SO RIPPED. And I stopped doing them because they made me too sore to do hard running workouts. That is silly, and that is why people who run all the time at the expense of other activities get hurt.

The place where we’ll be honeymooning is in a remote part of Bermuda, and I’ve heard the roads around there aren’t so great for pedestrians. Why should I spend a single minute on the treadmill in the gym when I’m in BERMUDA? (As I would feel compelled to do if I were really training.) Especially when we can use the resort’s stand-up paddleboards for free? And I could do that with Paul, instead of by myself?

This has turned into a ramble. I am trying to justify to myself why it’s okay for me to not run very much right now, or ever again, if that’s what I want.

I think I fear falling back into college mode, where I’d run maybe three miles a couple times a week and do nothing else except eat pizza and drink beer, and I wondered why I was a disaster, health-wise.

But health and fitness are more important to me now than they were then. And I do enjoy exercising. I just think the pendulum may have swung too far in the opposite, extreme direction for me for a while. It’s time to find some balance.

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Race Recap: Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona Marathon 2015

Surprise! I ran another marathon!

Well, kind of a surprise. I tried not to tell too many people I was doing it but, since I work among runners, I kind of failed.

It went…fine. I wasn’t 100% ready, mentally, to take a crack at another fast marathon. (I still remembered how bad the last one hurt!) I wasn’t particularly stoked to run on this course. My training was just okay. I missed a couple key long runs due to illness. The runs I did, though fine, were kind of sad—it’s hard going from seeing the parks packed with runners in the fall to being the only one out there on the frozen tundra. My heart wasn’t as in it as I wanted it to be.

And I ran a 3:38:46. Fine! It’s a fine time. I’m happy with it, and with how I raced. I went out as planned (at 3:35 pace). After 10 miles or so, my legs were voicing their displeasure with the flat, flat, SO flat course, and I thought, “Not happening today. Finish as fast as you can.” So, that’s what I did. It felt less bad than Wineglass, because I’d slept and my stomach was not as angry. So, good.

And now for some other notes on the race:

I ran in a sports bra. First time ever doing that. I felt kind of nood at first but was much more comfortable during the last 10K than I otherwise would have been.

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Race photogs, capturing me at my finest, as usual.

The heat was kind of bad but not really that bad. The end was really sunny and exposed and probably in the low 70s, but the first 20 miles, I was pretty comfortable. The lack of humidity makes a big difference! As does dumping lots of water on your head.

No more flat marathons for me, thx. Between this and Disney, I can say with authority that my legs don’t like nonstop flat. Especially when they’ve not trained on it. (And I can’t around here. Hills everywhere.) Chicago has moved from my “let’s do this soon!” list to the “maybe I never want to run that one” list.

On Rock ‘n’ Rolls. I’d never run an RnR race before this one and wasn’t sure what to expect. The verdict? It was fine. I can’t speak for all races in the series, but this one had plenty of water stops, ample entertainment (as promised), and an adequate amount of stuff in the postrace area. (Including The Wallflowers, who performed at the finish festival and are apparently still a band.) I wouldn’t go out of my way to run another one of their races, but I wouldn’t not sign up for a race just because it’s an RnR, either.

^Heard as I was rehydrating and looking for Paul. It’s no “One Headlight,” but I’ll take it.

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Stuff I Learned from My First Trip to Arizona

I don’t really like Phoenix, but it does have some good restaurants. If you’ve never been to Phoenix, allow me to paint you a picture of it: Imagine a long, straight, flat road lined with shopping centers (and the occasional cactus and palm tree). Then imagine like 100 more, all intersecting with one another. That’s Phoenix. But we did have some tasty peetz at Pizzeria Bianco (located in one of the aforementioned shopping centers). And the tacos (and $3 margaritas) at Paz Cantina hit the spot after marathon #15. (Obviously I was there to run a marathon. To be discussed in a later post.)

peetz

The Sonny Boy: tomato sauce, mozzarella, salami, and olives.

 

Don’t eat the oranges that grow on bushes in people’s yards. I kept telling Paul, “They’d harvest them if they were any good,” but no, he did not listen to me. Apparently they taste like lemons, but worse.

Don't do it! And not just because it's stealing.

Don’t do it! And not just because it’s stealing.

The prettiest way to get from Phoenix to Flagstaff is through Sedona. It’s also kind of a treacherous drive up the mountain, but worth it for Oak Creek Brewing Company and their Simon’s Hot Dogs counter. The Colombian, with pineapple and potato chips on top, was shockingly delicious.

The Grand Canyon is an average of one mile deep and 10 miles (!) wide. It is also super gorgeous and totally worth the visit. Photos cannot do it justice (but I took almost 100 anyway).

My fave.

My fave.

Only 12 people die at the Grand Canyon each year, and only two or three of those deaths is a fall over the edge. Based on the number of TOTAL DUMMIES walking out on cliffs to get photos, Paul and I were sure this number would be higher. (Source.)

Look at those dummies! Paul couldn't even watch them moving around out there.

Look at those dummies! Paul couldn’t even watch them moving around out there.

Velour has been around since the 1800s. According to the Tusayan Museum in Grand Canyon National Park, it’s been a part of traditional Navajo dress since then. And here I thought it was a relatively new fabric created to make upscale sweatsuits.

Selfie sticks are a thing. I saw at least 20 people with them at the Grand Canyon. I get why they’re useful — the older gentleman we asked to take our picture got his finger in the frame for every single one — but man. So dorky.

Yurgh.

Yurgh.

When you go somewhere warm in the middle of winter, it’s guaranteed to snow the day you get home. We got about three inches after work yesterday, and I was just thinking, “But a few days ago I was eating outside in the sunshine and I was almost too warm!” At least I got to get away.

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Snaccidents and Clam Night and Running, Oh My

I have been thinking a lot about my diet. Here are the reasons why.

1. I’m reading Scott Jurek’s book Eat & Run, and while it’s certainly not selling me on a vegan diet—the prep work! the tofu!—it is making me think that maybe I’d be a better runner if I would consistently put some thought into what I eat. Not winning-Western-States better. (Or even finishing-Western-States better. Or even thinking-about-ever-attempting-Western-States better. Just, better.)

Remember when Scott Jurek came to the office and we all went running? That was cool.

Remember when Scott Jurek came to the office and we all went running? That was cool.

2. I had some serious snaccidents* last week.

“Who eats an entire [nine-serving] bag of Smartfood in two days?!?” says astounded fiance. “You are forgetting that, before we dated, I was known to take down entire [same-size] bags of Jax [off-brand cheese doodles] in a single sitting,” says me.

Then, late Saturday night, I ate quite a bit of cheese, though I had help with that, at least.

This week, I felt less svelte. I don’t weigh myself often enough to know if that is mental or not, but surely, that much cheddar (on popcorn and straight-up) cannot be good for one’s svelteness.

3. This morning I was supposed to run a challenging but totally doable workout that included some time at roughly half-marathon pace and some hill sprints.

But last night I went to the Mercantile Club for Clam Night.

(“The Merc” = a mysterious members-only Emmaus institution I’ve always wanted to experience. You need to know a guy to get in. Literally—you must have a key card to open the door. Look at their effing website. When I got an invitation to go, I could not pass it up.)

At Clam Night, one orders a dozen clams, which come with brown butter, then saves the excess butter to pour over the crab cake sandwich, which comes with chips. And you’ll need some lager to wash it all down. (Yum!)

Perhaps unsurprisingly, that did not sit so well, and a totally doable workout became an EPIC BATTLE. Meghan vs. Stomach! (Spoiler: I won. But Stomach racked up a few points along the way.)


 

Basically, I should probably try to eat better, consistently. I would run better. I would feel better. I don’t know that I would look better—I got pretty gaunt last year, somehow, like see-photos-of-yourself-and-say-“yikes” gaunt—but two out of three ain’t bad?

But here is the thing:

I LOVE FOOOOOD

(Meant to be read like this:)

So much of my identity is wrapped up in eating with reckless abandon. I founded The Ravenous Runner. My future in-laws tell people I’m a “good eater,” and they mean it as high praise. And I like not worrying much about what I eat.

I only have X amount of mental stamina per day. I can spend it on working out (which I am now sometimes doing TWICE a day, meaning run + soul-suckingly-boring PT exercises at the gym) or eating the right things. I’ve never managed to do both at the same time, at least not for long.

And I never want to be the person at the party who is like, “no dessert, please,” or “I’d like a Michelob Ultra, please, and just one.” BECAUSE THOSE PEOPLE ARE NO FUN. And because I don’t want people to think I’m trying to eat better for appearance reasons, because I wouldn’t be, but all the ladies would think I was, because assumptions and stereotypes.

And here is the other thing: There is a big difference between knowing how to eat well and actually doing it. I have the “knowing what I should be eating” part down. Just not the “actually doing it more than half of the time” part.

Halp?

*My friend Rebecca deserves full credit for this term. I would link to her blog or her Twitter feed but she doesn’t really update either one so, oh well.

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