Knowing where the finish line is!
Over the 30 years of racing, I have learned a few things. One of the most important is reviewing the course. I always do my pre-race warm up tracing the last mile of the race and making sure I know exactly where that finish line crosses. Yesterday I ran the inaugural Newport 10 miler. The course was a new one and the race did an excellent job of posting the course on line with mile markers, aid stations, etc. It was a very cool course, starting outside Fort Adams and running around the point on Ocean Drive with spectacular views. I grew up in Newport and now spend my summers there so this route happens to be my daily run, so I knew the course well. The race finished back where it started and if you had not been diligent and reviewed the course, you might have thought it finished in the same spot it started. But it finished a good 1/4 to1/2 mile beyond that , following the walkway around the fort to a side entrance and finishing inside The Fort, actually at the back of The Fort.
I had arrived in Newport the day before the race and had spent the last few months in Florida (yes, poor me!) But the reason I mention this is not only was it a lot cooler but there were plenty of hills in this 10 mile course and I had been running nothing but flats for the past 4 months. I was definitely planning on being conservative, knowing the hills would be a challenge. My husband was being my usual awesome cheerleader, riding his bike around the course and giving me a boost each time I heard his voice.
With a little less than a mile to go we crested the last hill, on the access road to The Fort and I heard him ride up alongside me and give an encouraging, “come on let’s move it. Finish strong”, and then a quiet, “you got company”. I figured there would be someone tracking me, and I tried to stay steady, knowing I still had about 3/4 mile to go. With about 1/2 mile to go I heard her footsteps coming up closer and listened for her breathing. She was working hard and so was I but, she was laboring more. I heard my husband again, this time a little more forceful. “Come on kick it!” Well I am not a spring chicken anymore and I knew what my 55 year old legs had left. I was hanging on and picking it up a little, but it was too early to kick. Then we rounded the corner and I think the girl behind me realized she misjudged the finish and had spent what she had left to catch me. Her steps started to fade as she saw there was still no finish in site. My husband had peeled off and entered The Fort through the first gate. He was waiting inside where we entered The Fort. I burst through the tunnel with about 200 yards to go and now it was time to kick. Using my upper body, pumping my arms a little faster, knowing my legs would follow suit, I began my kick. Glancing over my shoulder with about 100 yards to go, she was spent and I held the lead with increasing the distance between us I crossed the finish line.
I waited for her to cross the line and catch her breath, then gave her a high five and said good race. She was much younger , but I am guessing, next time, she will make sure she knows where the finish line is.
The garbage man in my neighborhood nicknamed me Superwoman more than 15 years ago when he would spot me running all over in any kind of weather. I used to think of myself as superwoman in those days, hitting the floor running at 5:30 Am, fitting in my triathlon training and being a mom and wife, caretaker of our house, gardener, cleaning lady, driver, you name it…it was my job! If I put my mind to it, I could accomplish almost anything. It might have been my strong determined mind set, but my poor body had to keep up with the goals my mind set.
But I learned a little more about myself at the end of 2012. I might not be Superwoman anymore! First there was the lesson I learned when I stubbornly signed up to run The Palm Beach Marathon 6 weeks after running in The Baltimore Marathon. In years gone by, in my younger days, I often redeem a bad race by turning around and running another race to prove I was in the kind of shape I had predicted. In fact, I had done this with several marathons even in the last few years, always running the 2nd marathon much better thus finishing on a higher note. But this time, my competitive nature came back to haunt me and I had to kowtow once again to the Marathon Gods. My result in The Palm Beach Marathon was terrible, at least in my eyes. Yes, I still finished fourth overall female, which I was pleased with, but my time was a terrible 3:25://., my slowest marathon in over 25 years. I had to admit, that at age 54, it might not be the best plan any longer; maybe I might need a little more time to recover. My body was rebelling after all these years of punishment.
Then came the next blow…the dreaded flu! It was just after New Years, when the cough and aches and pains set in. My eyes were burning red and my head was pounding for days. But of course I convinced myself that I could “run it out of my system”. After all, I had run through flues and illnesses before, I could do it again. So there I was, out on the roads, killing myself to get my fix. I am claiming that I was delirious at the time and obviously not running with my head. But that has always been my driving force…I have always run from my heart, not necessarily what I should do! I will say that I was sick for a week and not the 2 weeks that most of the flu victims were ailing, but I did suffer on those runs and although I still like to think of myself as a strong determined woman, I do have to admit that maybe I am no longer Superwoman, except for in my heart.
Do you have that competitive switch you can’t turn off? Sometimes I wish I could turn mine off, but I just can’t! This past October, I ran in The Baltimore marathon and my result was not as I had hoped. I was about 7 minutes off my target time, finishing in 3:12, which, granted is not bad for a 54 year old woman, but not to my satisfaction. It took me all of about 24 hours before I decided I had to give it another go and will run The Palm Beach Marathon in December. I have done this several times in my life, that is, running in a marathon soon after finishing another. While I wouldn’t recommend it for everyone, I seem to be able to recover well and carry my training over for another few weeks to run again, particularly when I have a slower race then I felt I was capable of running. After all, I’ve been doing this for over 30 years, so I feel pretty comfortable with knowing where I stand as far as fitness levels.
While I am not a big fan of speed work, I know it’s one of those necessary evils, but 2 weeks after The Baltimore Marathon, I was not ready to beat myself up with a fartlek run on the roads. I thought it would be much more fun to go run a 5k to give myself a good quality run with other runners to push me a little. A little being the key word here! So, I show up on race morning to pick up my number and I spot this old rival of mine warming up on the roads. I hadn’t raced against her in probably 7 years or more but there she was and I recognized her stride immediately. Instantly, my heart rate picked up and I started feeling my hands getting damp and I knew this was not going to be just an easy 5k.
The gun went off and she took off. Of course she had spotted me too. She is actually about 5 years younger than me and I tend to start off a bit slower these days, but I know I can build my speed over the first ¼ to ½ miles and catch those who have busted out of the starting gate. But I was worried my legs would be a little dead from the marathon and she seemed to be pulling away pretty easily and pretty quickly. It took me about ¾ mile to catch her and from there my heart was pounding and my legs burning as I had to show off and blow by her building my lead because I knew that last ½ mile I would be holding on for dear life! I did manage to gasp out a “good job” to her as I ran by and yes it was sincere because we runners like to give each other the respect they deserve. No matter how competitive we are with our rivals, it is our own expectations and our own performance that drives us to be the best we can be, but the competition sure helps! And in case you want to know…I did keep my lead beating my old rival. Phew!
Well it’s the day before the marathon and I have just come back from my 25 min easy run with a few 10 second strides thrown reminding my legs what they have to do tomorrow. It’s only 8:30 in the morning and now what to do for the rest of the day? It’s hard to stay relaxed and rested with all the extra energy that is waiting to burst. It’s easier when I am staying in a hotel room, because there is not much to do but read and watch TV and maybe wander the halls a little. When I’m at home I start thinking about things I should do, like, maybe the floor could use a quick vacuum or those weeds I never got to this summer should be yanked. Don’t do it! I know it’s hard but try to get lost in a good book. Stretch out on the bed and put your feet up. Maybe even take a little nap. I try to get a 20 minute nap in but not longer than that because it may keep me from falling asleep on the early side tonight. It’s an early wake up at 5:30 and a long morning, so getting rest is key. I always have trouble sleeping the night before a big race so I want to be sleepy by 9:00. I have already picked up my race number so I am ready for tomorrow. The rest of the day I keep a water bottle with me to remind myself to hydrate all day. You know what they say, when you’re peeing clear, you are hydrated. I think about my strategy a little, remind myself of the course and where the aid stations will be and then try not to think too much more or my stomach starts to get knotted up. All in all, it’s not my favorite day but before I know it, I will be toeing the line once more and hoping the marathon gods will be on my side.
Marathon Taper Time
It’s taper time and this is always a hard time for me. On the one hand, I look forward to the shorter runs but I also tend to get a little anxious about cutting back too soon or too late. There is a general rule of thumb. You should start to decrease your mileage by 20 % starting 3-4 weeks out from your “big race”. I do my last 3 hour run 3 weeks before race day. You still want to maintain your key workouts of the week, the long run (although now that has dropped back in mileage); the speed work and perhaps a tempo run if you have been doing a 2nd quality workout for the week. Your easy runs should be just that, easy allowing for some recovery. You can’t’ beat your body up every day!
I am a big fan of cross training and still ride a bike 6 days a week and am now getting back in the pool again after a year off from swimming. The cross training helps keep my muscles balanced and helps flush the lactic acid build up with an easy spin on a bike or easy swim in the pool. During this taper period, I have to resist the temptation to increase those workouts to supplement the reduced amount of time on the roads. It’s hard for me to sit still!
My focus for the last few months has been The Baltimore Marathon. I planned several races over the past months as tune up races, or key races to check my fitness level. Ideally, I would have run the Philadelphia half marathon which is 4 weeks before the Baltimore marathon. I have done this routine many times, and it is a good indicator of where my fitness level is at that point. This year, however, I had a conflict and have not run a half marathon since mid-august. That does make me a little nervous (hence the pre marathon anxiety that I am starting to feel!) I did run a few 5k’s over the past several weeks, trying to run them at the end of a heavy training week, to give myself a good speed workout on tired legs. The following day, instead of taking a day off, I ran my long run for the week, so I was running my 20 plus miler on tired legs. Over the years, with the more the 35 marathons I’ve run, I have tried different methods of training and tapering for a marathon and this seems to work for me.
But I have had many years of running and what works for me, may not be the best plan for you. The most important thing is to listen to your body. It is hard for an athlete to back off from training, but it is important in order for all your hard work in training to pay off. You have to allow your body to rebuild from all the training you have done. It is in those last miles of the marathon that the tapering will pay off.
Rest and sleep and nutrition are key parts of the taper too. In the several weeks before my big race, I also worry if the reduced amount of exercise will result in putting on added pounds that I don’t want to carry through a marathon. I am very aware of my diet and have to remind myself to eat a little less, because I am burning fewer calories. The peanut butter M and M’s have to be hidden!
During the week of the marathon, I really back off and run about 1/3 of my weekly mileage. This is the hardest time for me. Of course the anxiety level increases with the extra energy I have and it’s a battle within me to keep from running extra miles. It’s a good time to catch up on desk work, or read a book if only I could tie myself to the chair, that would help!
The first day of fall was a little overcast and seemingly a good day for a 5k, although it proved a lot more humid then I expected. I was running this 5k for a good speed workout in preparation for The Baltimore Marathon in 3 weeks. After a few weeks of heavy mileage, tough speed workouts and hill running, this was going to be a hard run on tired legs. So what would my race strategy be? I was not sure who would turn up for this race but knew a few fast people might show up with cash being awarded top 3 overall male and female finishers.
As I warmed up for the race, I noticed a young girl doing her warm up too. I had already done an easy warm up run on the 5k course, so I was familiar with the route and was now doing some strides to remind my legs to run fast. She too was doing her strides and she obviously had some speed and good running form. I figured she was the one to try to pace with.
When the gun went off, she rocketed ahead with a few of the men. My older, tired legs were not going to keep up with a fast start. At my age, I have learned I just have to start out a little slower and let the speed build and try to keep a steadier pace. I was hoping she started out a little too fast! After the first mile, I could see her ahead and I was definitely making ground on her and I sensed if I kept this pace I would catch her in another mile. I had to resist the temptation to speed up to quickly and run out of gas before the end of the race. Experience has taught me to be patient.
There was a turnaround at about 1.5 miles and she could see when she made the turn back towards the oncoming runners that I was closer to her then she had thought. She threw in a surge and pulled away from me, but I kept my pace and thought she might tire again. I was right and as I approached the 2 mile mark she was an arm’s length away. Do I pass now, or do I shadow her for a while and run on her heels, allowing a little recovery for me, letting her break the wind. But I also knew that her closing speed on much younger legs was something I had to consider.
I had raced in a 5k a few weeks earlier and made the mistake of waiting to pass the girl in front of me with a half mile to go and not surging enough to put some distance between us. She pulled in behind me and ran on my heels until the last 50 yards and sprinted past me to beat me by 1 second. I didn’t want that to happen again.
So this time, I ran by her with my steady pace and listened to her breathing and checked her response. She was laboring, I could tell. Sso I decided now was the time to put on a surge, that she was struggling to keep my pace. Now was the time to put some distance on her and run strong for the next couple of hundred yards, then settle back to my pace and hope to hold her off.
As we rounded the last turn, I looked over my shoulder to see she was about 100 yards back. I knew she would start to kick and I knew I had to do the same or she would see I was weakening. I took a deep breath and dug deep. I was running with everything I had and she was closing. One last surge and the finish line was about 25 yards ahead of me. I crossed the line in first place and held her off by about 5 seconds. I was totally spent, but thrilled I had kept my spot and made the right decision that day. My strategy worked.
There are always lessons to be learned on the road. Split second decisions can make the difference in the outcome and experience whether it is a good result or a bad result will produce wisdom.
How many times have you heard, “I don’t have time to work out. My days are too full”. That is the biggest hurdle for most people; trying to squeeze in a run or some kind of a daily fitness routine. We all have busy lives, but there is a way to include your workout, it just begins with a commitment.
I find the best time for me is early morning. When I was raising our boys and our schedules were crazy, I would wake early, sip a big mug of coffee and run out the door, returning home before it was time for breakfast. If I waited until the end of the day, when the boys were home from school, I never had enough energy left. There was homework, sports, dinner, and time with my husband. Occasionally, I would have a late day workout, but I found my energy levels were highest in the morning and if I woke early and headed out the door before I could make an excuse not to, I felt energized when I came home and ready to face the day. As they say, busy people get things done and you just have to make your mind up and get motivated. After the first few days, you adjust to your new schedule and I bet you will find you look forward to those early mornings, when most people are still in bed and you have the morning to yourself. How nice is that?
How do you stay motivated to run for so many years? That is a question I am often asked. My first answer would be, it makes me feel better. It empowers me, gives me strength to deal with what life has to offer. It is my passion and it is who I am. I am a runner. Take that away from me, and I would lose a piece of myself.
My second answer would be; it is not as easy as it looks. Yes, there are days I wander the house, dressed in my running clothes, trying to get myself motivated to go out the door. That is especially true on those freezing cold winter days. But once I put one foot in front of the other, that familiar feeling of freedom and joy returns. Some days I trudge through a run, but I am always happier when I get home and proud of myself for doing it. Other days, I feel as though I am floating through my runs on the days when all that training seem to pay off. Both the good days and the bad days have their own rewards. The motivation to run for so many years? Happiness.