Sunday, June 4, 2017

Trying to Get Back Into the Swing of Things

Greetings and salutations, friends! I have taken the first half of this year to step away from the interwebs and try to get a handle on my life. I apologize for the unannounced hiatus.

I briefly touched on my ongoing struggle with depression and anxiety back in January before I went on my little break. Well...the struggle is real and ongoing. In January, it felt like there was a light at the end of the tunnel, but then I got sucked back into the darkness in February and needed to step back from things until I was in a better place.

I may still not be 100% okay, yet, but life is starting to feel a little bit easier, and that is always a good sign.

Here is what I've been up to so far this year:

I ran the F^3 5k at the end of January. This was a bit of a disappointment for me, as I was originally meant to run the half marathon, but had to change distances due to injury. I was happy that I could at least run the 5k and stay to cheer on my friends who were running the half, but it was still very demoralizing changing to the shorter distance and running one of my slowest 5k times since I started running.

Rather than training for anything specific, I just focused on staying consistent with my running this spring. Unfortunately, consistency has been hard to achieve when it takes every ounce of energy I have to simply crawl out of bed. I managed to maintain a somewhat normal running/workout schedule, but I really didn't give it my best effort. All my runs were fairly short and easy, with little to no speed work and only slightly longer runs than usual, which kept me at the same frustratingly slow pace and shorter distances throughout the season. 

In April, I ran the Shamrock Shuffle and achieved my goal of finishing in under an hour. I had hoped to PR when I signed up for the race initially, but I had to readjust my goals.

It was at the Shamrock Shuffle that I realized that I wasn't having fun racing anymore. Races had started to feel like chores. Not having any other races looming on the horizon (the marathon doesn't count - that is its own separate beast), I decided that I won't be signing up for another race until I can find the joy in running again. I've recently started to get closer to that joy, but it isn't quite realized, yet. 

I started running with people again, instead of always running alone. I try to make one of Fleet Feet's fun runs when my work schedule allows (I'm a big fan of their Chick's Night run at their Lincoln Square location). I also have a group of friends who run in the early morning hours a few times a week, and they are incredibly kind to invite me to join them. I haven't really taken them up on the offer (they are all faster than me), but I recently committed to meeting them for their Saturday morning runs moving forward.

I have really been focusing on food in the past couple of months, as I have noticed that I always feel better when I eat better. I've been checking cookbooks out from the library, making sure that the majority of every grocery trip is fresh produce and lean protein, and just generally trying to focus on whole foods.

I started tracking my food - not counting calories or macros, at least not yet, but just writing down what I eat and when. Through tracking my food I've seen the correlation between my mood and what I eat. Sure, I still have my vices, such as coffee or the occasional pastry, but I try to focus first on produce and then protein for each meal and snack.

And that's about it for now! I've been feeling a little better each week, and though I'm still struggling, things are beginning to look up. Marathon training officially started this week, so I once again have a goal to work towards, and I'm making a point of spending more time taking care of myself.

Here's to the future!

Monday, January 16, 2017

Coming to Terms With Not Running a Race (Again)

At the end of October, I had to skip the Hot Chocolate 15k because I was in too much pain to really run any distance, even short ones. Then last week, I changed my entry from the F^3 Half Marathon to the F^3 5k because I'm not supposed to be running more than a few miles at a time right now. To say that I'm disappointed is an understatement. Even though I know that it is the right decision, I feel like a failure. And I'm worried that this is becoming a trend for me, where I sign up for races and then can't run them. I'm starting to get a little gun shy. There are a lot of races coming up this year that I want to run, but now I'm afraid to register for them because I don't want to have yet another let down if I can't run them.

I really miss winter running.
I admit that I get jealous when I see so many people I know posting about their half marathon training and long runs and speed work while I am stuck cross training and doing short, slow runs. I am happy for my friends who are gaining speed and endurance and crushing their goals, but it is hard not to compare myself to them.

There are days when the "woe is me" thoughts take hold. I've had days recently when I wake up and think, "I'm not a runner, anymore, so why bother." I'm trying to find ways to deal with these feelings, but it isn't always easy. My brain keeps telling me that I'll never get back to where I was, that I'll always be struggling to keep up with everyone else, that I'll never be good enough. Even though these thoughts are hard to ignore, I'm finding ways to deal with them.

Setting new goals. My original goal this winter was to set a new half marathon PR. That is obviously not going to happen now that I've had to switch distances. Instead of having specific running goals at the moment, I have changed to having overall fitness and health goals.  My new fitness goal is simply to regain the fitness that I've lost. I'm working on regaining my strength and endurance and flexibility so that I will be in a better place when I am able to start running again. I've also set goals for overall health, because I've fallen into some bad habits. I'm cooking more at home, getting more sleep, and making sure that I'm well hydrated.

I'd forgotten how much I enjoy cooking.
Making fitness "appointments." It can be hard to get out of bed for a workout when your mind is telling you that it is a pointless endeavor, but knowing that there is another person who is expecting you to show up at a specific time and place makes it a little easier. I've started making plans to workout with friends a couple of times a week, and it has helped me stay on track the last couple of weeks. I'm less likely to skip an early morning or an after work workout when I know that someone else is expecting me because I don't want to let them down. And having someone text you at 5:00am to remind you that you committed to taking a 6:00am spin class with them and they are going to sign you up for a bike as soon as they get to the gym doesn't hurt (thanks, Eileen).

I'm not a morning person, so making sure that there are people waiting for me at the gym gets me out of bed at 5am.
Making recovery a priority. I want to run, so I'm doing everything I can to make sure that I will be setting myself up for success when I start running again. Rather than dwelling on not running the race I signed up for, I'm trying to focus on preventing future injuries. Stretching, foam rolling, and working to strengthen my weak areas have become my priorities.

Behold! My implements of torture! Why does everything that is good for you have to feel so bad?

Monday, January 9, 2017

Where to Go From Here

It took me longer than I would have liked to start running again after my first marathon, causing me to miss a race that I was looking forward to running with some friends (Hot Chocolate 15k). Once I started again, I jumped right into training for the F^3 Half Marathon, which is coming up at the end of this month. Sadly, it looks like my attempts to grab a new half marathon PR will have to wait a while longer, as it looks like I won't be able to run yet another race.

I've recently started hurting again, and after a visit to the physical therapist it looks like I need to shift my focus a bit. Instead of doing speed work and long runs, I need to focus on fixing my form and correcting the various muscle imbalances before they lead to serious injury. I have been very fortunate not to have been completely side lined by injury, but if I continue to run through the pain, then that could change.

Thankfully, I don't have to stop running completely. Though the bulk of my cardio should be non-running (time to hit those spin classes again), I've been told that I can still run as long as I keep it to no more than a couple of times a week and go short and slow. Instead of focusing on getting a PR or building mileage, I need to focus on strengthening my hips and glutes. I also need to make stretching and foam rolling a priority again, which means no more rushing through everything post workout. I've even been advised that regular massages could help. Basically, I need to start working on actively preventing injury instead of waiting to treat an injury after it occurs. 

I really want to be able to start running again this spring and then start really training again this summer, so I can't sit around waiting to feel better. And, just to add to my already full plate, I would like to lose some of the weight that I've gained. I was feeling and running my best about two years ago, when I was about 20 lbs lighter than I currently am. The cause of my weight gain is easy to pin point. I went from eating little to no processed food and cooking most of my meals at home to eating a lot of processed junk food and getting delivery or carry out far more often than I should. 

I want and need to be able to really start running again this spring and then start really training again this summer, so I can't sit around waiting to feel better. I need to actively work to get strong and healthy again. 

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Let's Get Real

It should come as no surprise that 2016 was a struggle for me. I really didn't post much, though I keep promising to post more frequently and provide better content. Between injuries slowing me down and work continuing to pile more and more stress on my shoulders, 2016 was a year of strain and worry and pain. Add in an oh so fun combination of depression and anxiety and it made for a pretty awful year.

I greatly neglected this blog for the past year, because I didn't really know what to say. I wanted to keep this blog strictly about running and not delve too much into my own personal issues, but those personal issues greatly impact my running. It is hard to get in a quality run when you barely have the energy to get up and get dressed.

I didn't want to write about the deep well of pain and sadness in which I found myself for large swaths of time. I didn't want to broadcast to the world that I felt too overwhelmed to get out of bed some days or that simply going to work used all the energy I had and I couldn't bring myself to do anything else but crawl back into bed when I got home. I kept making promises about new posts, new trainin plans, new race recaps...promises that I just couldn't keep when I was using so much energy to just function as a human most days.

I've struggled with depression and anxiety for most of my life, but 2016 really hit me hard and then continued to pummel me. My main  hope for 2017 is that things will turn around, or at the very least that I'll be better able to manage things and ask for help when it is desperately needed. I'm feeling better, but I know I have more work to do. Every day presents unique challenges, and instead of trying to hide behind a mask of normalcy and pretending that everything is fine, I want to be more honest about what I am going through.

Buckle up, friends, it is going to be a bumpy ride.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Getting Back Into the Swing of Things

I planned to take a few weeks of recovery following the marathon in October, but that few weeks ended up stretching into a few months, and now I'm struggling to regain the fitness that I've lost and get back into a regular running/workout schedule.

I've lost strength and endurance, and I've gained quite a bit of weight. I'm not happy. In fact, I'm pretty disappointed in myself. I slipped back into old habits and started indulging in too much junk food and spending too much time on the couch. Now I feel sluggish and soft, and I'm angry that I did this to myself.

I've spent the last couple of weeks trying to get back into the swing of things. I set a training schedule for myself, I purged my kitchen of all junk food, and I started tracking my meals and snacks. hasn't been easy or enjoyable. My long runs are...not very long. Speed work is painful and terrible again. And strength training? Don't get me started about my current hatred for strength training.

It is a lot harder getting back on the horse than I thought it would be, but I know that if I work hard and stick to a schedule, then I'll eventually lose the weight and regain my fitness.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

2016 Chicago Marathon Recap

I can finally say that I ran a marathon. 

I ran it really poorly, but hey, I finished within the necessary time to be an official finisher, and that was what I was aiming for, so I'm pretty sure that I can call my efforts at the 2016 Bank of America Chicago Marathon a success.

I was terrified of this race from the moment I registered, but I can honestly say that I'm glad I ran it. It was an incredible challenge, and though it was painful and disheartening at times, I learned that I can really push myself when needed and that my body is capable of much more than I give it credit for. And hey, running through the streets of my city with 40,000 other runners was a pretty incredible experience.

Read on for my full Chicago Marathon recap, including training, expo, and race day.

This race was a big deal for me. I know...I know...the marathon is kind of a big deal for everyone, but I honestly wasn't sure if I was going to be able to finish. 

My training didn't go very well. In fact, pretty much the entire year didn't go too well running wise for me. After last year's success with setting new PRs, improving both speed AND endurance, and generally being in the best shape of my life, I slowly slid backwards starting mid to late January - I dealt with a few injuries that I stupidly insisted on running on, gained a lot of weight, and generally lost my running mojo.

I was both terrified and excited at the thought of running a marathon, and was considering it for 2017. Then a friend approached me about taking a sponsored spot on the charity team she works with for the 2016 Chicago Marathon. A 100% free, guaranteed entry was just too good to turn down.

The marathon took over my life. From June until October, my days were spent thinking about running and nutrition and generally freaking out. My training schedule looked like this:

Monday - Rest/Stretch
Tuesday - Easy Run/Hills
Wednesday - Cross Train
Thursday - Speedwork
Friday - Cross Train
Saturday - Easy Run
Sunday - Long Run

I was generally exhausted all the time, and my small nagging pains in my hip and calves because large screaming pains. I saw my doctor and a physical therapist and was told that all my pain was due to weak hips and glutes, so I was given a series of exercises to help strengthen my problem areas as well as instructions to stretch and foam roll twice a day, even on non-running days.

Between the pain, my asthma, and the heat and humidity of summer, I was running more slowly than ever, experiencing terrible upset stomachs during every long run, and regretting even thinking I could complete a marathon. My long runs got longer and more difficult. Luckily, I had an amazing support system of other runners and Chicago Endurance Sports coaches and pacers who cheered me on and helped drown out my negative self talk so that I could finish even the most difficult of runs (my 16 mile long run was AWFUL). 

My 20 miler was one of the most difficult things I've ever done (I think it was actually more difficult than the actual marathon). There was a lot of walking that day, a couple of bathroom breaks (my stomach was not happy), and one prolonged break to try to work out a giant knot in my calf. But the fact that I finished it at all gave me that little extra boost of confidence I needed.

I have never been so happy for taper! As everyone else worked through taper madness, I welcomed the shorter runs and less intense workouts. I was still afraid of the race, but I was finally starting to feel rested.

The expo was big. I've been to many race expos, but this was the biggest and most smoothly run expo I had ever seen.

I made the trek out to McCormick Place, aiming to get there on the first day of the expo, as soon as it opened, to try to avoid the lines as much as possible. Apparently I wasn't the only one with this strategy. There were already sooooooo many people there when I arrived. That being said, the folks working the expo had everything down to a science. I had my race bib and my shirt/race packet in my hands in under 10 minutes of arriving.

Yes, there was tons of shopping to be had at the expo, but, being rather cash poor at the time, I came in knowing what I wanted:

Although the line at the Nike shop was rather intimidating, it moved incredibly quickly. And I had my new favorite t-shirt to wear the day after the race.

Although there were a ton of booths, shops, etc. that I didn't visit, I'm glad that I went in with a plan, because the expo quickly became incredibly crowded and my anxiety kicked into high gear. The crowds were officially becoming a little too much for me to deal with.

I spent the rest of the relaxing, foam rolling, and generally trying to pretend that I wasn't running a marathon on Sunday. Saturday morning dawned, and I did a quick shake out run, treated myself to brunch, and spent the day packing and unpacking my gear check bag and generally freaking out. 

I set multiple alarm clocks for Sunday morning, laid out my race clothes, charged my phone, and mentally prepared myself for what was to come.

The morning of the race, I woke, prepared my pre-race breakfast (bagel, almond butter, banana), got dressed, fed my cat, and headed out to meet my ride. Having very generous runner friends who have cars has proven to be pretty great this year. I was dropped off bright and early at Chicago Endurance Sport's Race Day Resort. 

The Race Day Resort was one of the big perks of training with Chicago Endurance Sports. Private gear check, post race medal engraving, pre and post race food, and, best of all, INDOOR RESTROOMS. It was also nice being able to see all the coaches, pacers, and other runners who helped me get to that marathon starting line before the race. 

I made myself comfortable and watched the sun rise as I ate my breakfast. I did my best to ignore the nagging voice in my head asking what I was doing and telling me that I was going to fail. I had one goal for the race: be an official finisher. That meant that I needed to finish in no more than 6 hours and 30 minutes. 

I reviewed my race strategy: run/walk intervals of 5/1, keeping the pace slow and steady, taking in fuel regularly even if I felt that I didn't need it, etc. 

Once it was time, I added one extra layer of sun screen, used the restroom one more time, and made my way to my start corral. I was really doing this! There was no turning back now! I was going to run a marathon!

Even though I was at the back of the pack (corral J, to be precise), there was a ton of excited energy flowing through that start corral as everyone prepared themselves to run 26.2 miles through the city streets. Once the wave started, we slowly began inching our way towards the start line.

We managed to have the perfect weather for a race. It was cool but not cold, there was a light breeze, the sun was shining. As we got closer to the start line, the butterflies in my stomach started trying to escape. I had my phone and earbuds with me, but I had promised myself not to listen to music unless I was really struggling during the race.

I checked that my watch was ready to go, made sure my shoes were tied, and told myself that I could and would finish this race. Then we were off!

Thankfully, as soon as I crossed the start line, my terror switched over to genuine excitement. I was running a marathon! I ran with a huge smile on my face for the first 10 miles or so. It felt great! 

My pace was right where I wanted it to be, and I felt strong. I was happy to see so many other people doing run/walk intervals, so I didn't feel so alone. The spectators were amazing, the volunteers were awesome, and I was actually enjoying myself. I think the marathon may just be the best tour of the city!

I had a friend who told me she would be spectating near Elvis. I didn't quite know what she meant, but it became clear right around mile 10.

I saw some other friends around the half way point. Even though I was still feeling good, it was so nice to see some friendly faces and hear words of encouragement as I realized I still had another 13.1 miles to go.

Sadly, my happy feelings began to dissipate shortly after the half way point. My calf started to cramp and I started to slow down. By mile 15, I was dragging and badly needed a bathroom. I made a pit stop as soon as I spotted some port-o-potties, refilled my water bottle at the aide station, and then tried to get back to business. I had to repeatedly tell myself to just keep moving forward. I had run 20 miles before, so why was I hurting so much at mile 15?!?

Thankfully, around mile 16, I was feeling better and was able to pick things up a little bit. Just 10 more miles to go? I can run 10 miles! I've done that plenty of times before! And I can really run/walk 10 miles!

I finally gave in and put one earbud in and turned on the Hamilton soundtrack. I was at the point where I needed any help I could get, it just happened a lot sooner than I was expecting.

Yes, I was hurting, but I was still moving forward and seemed to be faring better than some of the folks around me as I started to pass people who had passed me in some of the early miles of the race.

Soon, I was at mile 20 and only had a 10k left. I was proud to have made it this far, but that final 10k felt like an insurmountable obstacle. My stomach was not happy with me, my legs kept cramping, and I was starting to worry about not finishing.

Then I started doing the math. Even if I had to walk the next three miles, I should still be able to finish before the cut off. I started running again, though my intervals had changed to 4/2 by this point. Instead of thinking about the final 6.2 miles, I started focusing on getting to the next mile marker. "I only have to run one more mile," I told myself. 

At mile 21, we entered Chinatown. The dragons and drums were great, the spectators and volunteers were still fantastic, but my stomach felt like it was trying to escape my body.

From mile marker 21 to mile mark 22, I slowly walked, trying not to throw up, as feelings of nausea and dizziness took over. As I worked to not allow myself to cry, I did a quick head to toe check in to try to figure out if there was a reason I felt so ill and if I needed to stop or could keep going.

I realized that I couldn't remember when I had last taken in any fuel. That had to be it! I hadn't been properly fueling, and I know from experience that I tend to feel sick when I'm running on empty. I needed to eat something, even if the thought of food made me want to vomit. As I walked, I slowly ate the Teddy Grahams I had with me (food works much better for me than gels or chews do - I learned this the hard way last year, so I usually carry pretzels or mini Teddy Grahams with me on long runs). Thankfully, by the time I hit that mile 22 marker, my nausea had passed and I was able to once again resume my run/walk intervals.

I was moving. I was moving slowly, but my pace was steady, and I no longer felt sick. Doing some more math made me realize that I could easily finish within the necessary time, and it was as thought a weight was lifted from my shoulders.

I saw several friends at mile 23, and they were the best friends a girl can ask for because they came stocked with supplies. Other runners know! They had water, pretzels, gummi bears, ice, pain killers, body glide, tissues, band aides...basically anything a runner might need or want at mile 23. I grabbed some pretzels, hugged my friends, and kept moving.

Before I knew it, I was turning onto Roosevelt. It may take me 6 hours to finish a marathon, but I was going to conquer Mount Roosevelt! Even though my watch told me it was time for a walk break, I charged up that hill! Then I was turning toward the finish line!

As soon as I saw the finish, I started to cry. I tried to hold back my tears, but there was no stopping them.

And crossing the finish line...well...that was one of the most emotional experiences of my life.

I did it!

As volunteers handed me water and bananas and placed a medal around my neck and a heat blanket on my shoulders, I was blubbering mess. I slowly walked back to the Race Day Resort, getting hugs and high fives from my coaches and pacers, and sat down, took my shoes off, and turned into a useless lump on the floor until I had time to collect myself. I turned off my phone's airplane mode (I turned it on to save the battery during the race) and saw the text messages congratulating me come flooding in.

Before I could get up to gather my things, I had various people offering to bring me food and drinks. I'm not going to lie, it was pretty great being waited on, even for just a little bit. While I stretched, someone brought me my bag, and then someone else brought me chocolate milk, someone else suggested I take off my shoes. 

My trainer had offered to pick me up after the race and drive me home, and if I finished in 6 hours, she promised to bring her dog with her so I could meet him. My finish of 5 hours and 54 minutes meant that I got to hang out with Bubba while I got a ride home.

As soon as I was home, I showered, fixed a protein smoothie (I wasn't feeling up to real food, yet), and stretched some more. I attempted to foam roll, but my legs were already so tender that it felt like torture. As I drank my smoothie, I iced my legs. Once I no longer felt disgusting, I went for a very slow walk around my neighborhood because I knew that I needed to keep moving, even if all I wanted to do was curl up in bed and watch Netflix.

The next morning, my emotions were still running high. Yes, I was sore, but I didn't feel nearly as bad as I thought I would the day after the race. I had managed to get the day off from work, so after a leisurely breakfast, I made my way to Fleet Feet to get my medal engraved.

I also picked up a congratulatory gift for myself while I was there.

I am so happy that I followed through with my training and ran the race. Unlike most of the folks I know who ran, I'm not terribly excited about the thought of running another marathon. I didn't finish with the thought that I can't wait to do it again. I was just so happy to finish that nothing else really entered my mind. Yes, I was slow. But I did it.

It was a long, painful, and exhausting summer, but the experience of crossing that finish line was worth it. I don't know if I have another marathon in me or not, but I now feel like I can accomplish anything if I work hard enough. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Marathon Recap On the Way

My marathon recap is on the way! I promise!

I had planned to finish it on Thanksgiving to post on Friday, but then my computer crashed and took all my pictures and my draft with it (this is what I get for not backing things up or saving to a cloud system).

Thankfully, everything was able to be recovered, so I will finish my recap and post it tomorrow.