Tuesday, April 30, 2013

St. Luke’s Half Marathon, Lehigh Valley PA: Race Report

The St. Luke’s Half Marathon (formerly known and fondly remembered as the Lehigh Valley Half Marathon) weekend kicked off Saturday, April 27th in Allentown, PA with the opening of the race expo.  I hold this race dear to my heart for a few reasons:

  1. In 2009, I ran this race as my first half marathon, chronicled here.
  2. In 2010, I set a half marathon personal record.
  3. In 2011, too pregnant to run, I volunteered and happily led runners into the entrance of the Parkway.  I also welcomed their pathetic faces as they came out the other side just three miles shy of the finish line. 
  4. In 2012, I followed up a Tough Mudder finish with the half marathon.  Posting a not-so-bad time considering my physical state.
  5. Finally, this race showcases Allentown, my hometown.

I always encourage newbies to sign up for this race because of my personal opinions AND it’s a great course.  This past weekend would be no different; I was sure of that.  A small group of runners from work signed up and I knew a few people from some running circles who would be there.  I personally knew a handful of ‘newbies’ which increased my excitement for the race.  In the months leading up to the race, my training wasn’t exactly regular, but I absolutely could handle the distance.  My longest run clocked in at ten miles and I finished as if I could run another ten.  The bigger challenge would be to balance my diet with my training.  For the past five weeks, roughly, I eliminated virtually all grain from my diet.  What can I eat, you ask?  A lot, actually.  I learned a while ago that the focus should be on what you can eat, not what you can’t eat.  Fruit, vegetables, meat, nuts, deliciousness.  I haven’t had any issues with energy and that ten mile run proved it.  I was good-to-go in that department.I decided to focus on finishing the half and not set any other goals.  I had not run long distances since the November Philly Marathon.  I came off that marathon nursing a hell of an injured calf that sidelined me for the remainder of the 2012 calendar year.  But, my tune soon changed a few weeks out – I felt very confident about my fitness level and got sick with half marathon fever.  I needed to leave everything I had on that course.  I needed to kill it and PR.

Saturday morning, I got up early to head to the expo.  I planned to meet a friend (NEWBIE!!) to grab our packets and relax with a cup of coffee.  Thankfully, we didn’t spend a lot of time in the expo.  I bumped into a lot of people I knew…this absolutely gave me another boost of excitement.  We picked up a cup of coffee – she, an Ethiopian blend, and I, dark roast, of course.  She talked about her training, nerves, excitement, clothing dilemma, food experiments and other topics that fed my fire.  We both parted ways with equal nerves, wishing each other luck.  I spend the rest of the day relaxing with my family while drinking a lot of water and rolling (my trainer would be proud). Before heading to bed, I selected my outfit (which only cost me ten minutes), pinned my Boston ribbon and 4.15.13 bib and packed a diaper bag for the girls.  The hubs planned to hang out in the park (on the course) the following morning to cheer me on.

Race Morning – I love race morning.  I typically spring out of bed and bounce right into the shower.  Sunday morning was no different.  I quietly slipped my outfit on and made my way downstairs to brew a strong cup of coffee.  Delicious.  I spend approximately 30 – 45 minutes watching CNN, sipping coffee and rolling some more.  I also drank another 32 ounces of water.  The weather called for a high of 67 degrees, with the start time temp hovering just below 50 degrees.  The sun was also scheduled to be in full effect.  This time the meteorologists didn’t let me down.  I got there earlier than necessary.  I found a friend in the high school gym and chatted until it was our time to head outside and line up.  I clearly was bouncing off the walls, excited to get the show on the road.  Thankfully, I found most of my runners before the masses headed outside to the starting line.  Just before a moment of silence in honor of Boston, the announcer asked us to hold hands.  It was such a powerful moment; we were all one.  Before anyone could settle in the moment, we were off.  I adjusted the sound on my iPhone while walking to the start line.  As my right foot crossed the mat, I took off fighting my way through a few packs of people until I could settle into a good rhythm.  (As a side note, I don’t usually run with music, but with the thought of a PR in sight, I wanted some motivation that would help me dig in.  And besides, the playlist took me almost an hour to build, I wasn’t going to give up on it then!)  Familiar with the course, I started to chase the 1:55 pace group.  After catching up to them, I slowly pulled away and hovered, comfortably, between the 1:50 and 1:55 group.  I averaged 8:30 minute miles during the flat stretch over Martin Luther King Boulevard.  A few times during these miles, I surprised myself with my capabilities.  As I said earlier, I had not raced since Philly; it felt good to get out.  I prematurely started doing some calculations in my head.  I could absolutely catch the 1:50 group…maybe I could pass them.  And then, it hit me…       

I didn’t hit the wall, but something was preventing my feet from comfortably pounding the pavement.  Sounds like an oxymoron, but I prefer running on the road, as opposed to racing on trail; I do, however, love trail running.  It’s complex…perhaps I’ll save that for another post.  Nevertheless, my legs felt fine, my breathing steady, but my feet, damn my feet.  I started to feel a blister on the inside of my right foot and, strangely, that blister slowly moved itself into my head.  That blister caused everything else to fall apart.  My pace slowed dramatically and I attempted to change my foot placement to minimize the rubbing.  Nothing helped.  As my mind started to fail me, I felt my core disengage and I visualized myself with spaghetti arms and legs – NO CONTROL.  All this before I came to the Parkway.  As I expressed in my mini-post this am: The Parkway – HATED IT.  I run the Parkway on a fairly regular basis.  I run it alone.  I run it with friends.  I run it in the cold.  I run it in the heat.  I do not like it, Sam I Am.  I need to figure out why and fix it, but that reactive solution jumping was not going to help.  I tried to make the most of it. 

As the blister infected my mind and caused chaos in my physical body, I became obsessed with a sudden urge to pee.  Well, maybe sudden isn’t the right word for it.  I had gone twice before the start of the race.  Just before we lined up, I had to go again.  Fearful that I would be stuck in a line as the gun went off I passed up the opportunity.  Grrr.  So, as I said, I had to pee suddenly and obsessively searched for the perfect spot.  I know the location of every bathroom, but I felt that this would waste time.  The 1:55 pace group had already gained and passed me, but there was still the hope to PR.  Just after mile 9 we slowly climbed a paved hill leading to a gorgeous home overlooking the Little Lehigh River.  This where my nemesis musical act is stationed.  For some strange reason I want to punch the Frank Sinatra impersonator in the face.  I really don’t know why, but the blister slowly encapsulating my brain and the extreme urge to urinate made me so angry.  I powered past him and flew down the hill.  At this point, I needed to take matters into my own hands. 

With each step I scoured the landscape for the perfect location: too far out, not enough coverage, too much brush.  And then I saw it, an oasis in the barren desert – the perfect tree.  Without losing my pace, I veered off the trail with the gasps of the runners behind me, high stepped through some vegetation and came to a dead stop behind the tree.  In one fluid motion, I dropped my skirt and squatted.  What a freakin’ relief!  I must have let out a long sigh because for a moment the brain blister started to drain.  The pressure started to release.  I got up, pulled up and high stepped out of the brush with some weeds wrapped around my right leg.  I weaved from left to right, trying to get my balance, while moving towards the trail.  I only lasted another mile before stopping at the hydration station.  I grabbed two waters and a Gatorade enjoying them under the shade of a tent.  I must have stopped for about 3 minutes – definitely out of character.  The brain blister was back and the sun started to annoy me.  I just wanted this race to be over. 

I tossed the cups, picked up my feet and started along the trail out of the Parkway.  As the heard of people rounded the corner, back on the road, I smiled.  The Parkway was behind me and I only had three more miles to go.  The rest of the race is a bit of a blur, except when I saw my cheering section in Cedar Beach.  I just kept going.  I powered up the final hill to get into the stadium.  My feet hit the cushioned track and I barreled towards the finish line.  After receiving my medal, foil blanket and water, I collapsed inside the track with my arms outstretched.  A few minutes later a lovely police officer ordered me to ‘get up and get off the track’ – two simple commands, yet so difficult to execute.  I conceded and hobbled over to the medical tent.  I planned to just hang out for the shade, realizing that I should use the time to check out my feet.  Sadly, the blister on my right foot was actually three large blisters and two beauties popped up on my left foot.  I, ultimately, had all drained by a podiatrist with a sense of humor.  I dilly-dallied around the finish line, eventually getting some food and heading towards the car.

Sunday wasn’t my best race.  I was determined to PR, but shit happens…and shit happened.  It could have been worse.  I crossed the finish line in 2:05.  All that mattered was finding my cheering section to soak up the love…and a more comfortable pair of shoes.     

      LV Half Marathon 2013 and my cheering section

Monday, April 29, 2013

Half Thoughts

I expect to compile a full race report from yesterday's gorgeous half marathon held in the Lehigh Valley, PA, but there are a few things I don't want to lose memory of...

At the starting line, every runner grabbed the hand of their neighbor during a moment of silence for Boston. It was a powerful moment.

I started the race with all intentions of breaking my standing course time (and half PR); this didn't happen. I caught up to and hung strong ahead of the 1:55 pace group with a slow move towards 1:50. By mile 6 I could feel my feet giving out on me. It was a disappointing moment considering my legs were strong and I felt great.

As usual, I hit the Parkway and HATED it (please read with Damon Wayans' character voice - if you don't get that reference you're too young to read this. Please Google In Living Color).

For the first time in my five years of racing I ran off the course and found a good tree. :)

The weather was gorgeous. I haven't run in that weather since last summer...I think that might have been the icing on my feet.

And with my feet bandaged, I start another Monday morning. Happy day!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Rock and Roll

I continue to find ways to make my body move more efficiently and with yoga being more of a constant in my life, I, more than ever, listen to what’s going on.  I’ve had this left hamstring twinge for a few months.  I believe it was the root of my calf knot during the Philly Marathon (November 2012); running the remaining 21 miles on that leg didn’t help.  Hindsight – I would have run anyway. I took time off; I stretch; I roll; I cross train.  I still feel that nagging pain.  So maybe a few months is actually six months.    

Late last week, I had the opportunity to meet with a personal trainer for a functional movement screening.  Because I’ve known this trainer for almost seven years, I felt comfortable going into it.  He measured everything from range of motion to core dynamics.  Turns out (shocker) that the majority of my weakness sits in my left leg and my core.  We worked through some dynamic stretches I could do for my calves and gave a little insight, muscularly, as to what I needed to observe and correct.  Using a resistance band, he demonstrated two movements designed to engage my core and assist with its stability. 

Finally, we rolled.  Almost two years ago I purchased a foam roller for twenty bucks.  The internet, as always, provided me with enough information about specific movements to aid in myofascial release.  I rolled after longer runs and, along with ice baths and BioFreeze, the roller became my go-to during marathon training.  Confident I could handle the last set of movements, I sat on the roller to work my glutes.  He had me shift ever so slightly to the right and I swear I saw stars.  A sensation of warmth shot up my back and down my right leg.  I yelped in surprise.  That, he stated, was my sweet spot.  With each glute roll I needed to find that groove and work it out.  I fearfully shifted to my left (the weaker of the two) and breathed through each pass.  A similar scenario developed with the remaining two exercises – I knew the movement, but wasn’t able to find the spot without a little coaching.  At the end of the hour session, my legs were joyfully throbbing.  Since that appointment, I have been applying what I learned to my now daily, rolling routine.  With a half marathon next Sunday, I plan to warm up with some rolls and kick this road race in the glute.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

I Am a Runner: Unabridged

I started running in 2008 a few months after a gluttonous pregnancy and difficult birth of my daughter.  Once I got my groove I was hooked.  I ran a few small distance races and decided to try my legs at a half marathon.  In April of 2009, I pushed my plump body through a cool drizzle ultimately finishing in 2:31.  I experienced so many feelings from the moment I signed up.  Dread, drowning, fear, joy, excitement, anxiety, pride, sadness – the list goes on.  At times during my run I may have even felt all those emotions, but some of those details are a little foggy (perhaps I should re-read that post).  Okay…now I remember…  I absolutely cried when I crossed that finish line.  I cried for so many reasons – I accomplished a major feat of physical and mental grit; I was done; I needed water.  My journey, my half marathon project, had ended, successfully.  It was over.  Everything I did, or didn’t do, everything I ate, or didn’t eat, and every mile I ran, or didn’t run, got me to this proud moment.  I needed to feel it again. 

I am a runner. 

As I have developed my running ‘career’ I continue to push myself.  I consistently shave time off of all my race distances while I change the terrain and the complexity.  Training for a big race gets my ass out of bed at 4:30 am (some days) and focuses my mind.  A good run sets the tone for my day and keeps my head in check.  I have strengthened friendships and picked up new buddies along the way; I lost some weight and gained a hell of a lot of respect for myself.  I fail to find any negative in this situation.  I run to be free.

I am a runner.

The Boston Marathon begun in 1897 and continues to be the 'pinnacle' of races for runners.  Not just anyone can run it...most must qualify.  There's a crazy matrix of sex and age related to times.  There's no wiggle room.   You're in or you're out.  Sure there are charity slots, invitations and the elite group, but for Mr. Joe Blow, there’s the qualification (Boston Qualifier – BQ).  People spend months training to run a marathon to qualify for Boston and then they train to run Boston.  It's really amazing how much these people dedicate their lives to getting to this point.  After running the 2012 Lehigh Valley Health Network Marathon relay last year, I chatted with a runner at the finish line.  He, beside himself with devastation, had just missed his BQ by one minute.  ONE MINUTE.  Like I said, no wiggle room. 

People run for so many reasons and all those reasons were taken away yesterday.  A race finish is so exciting…maybe you’ve been there.  All those fans band together to cheer on the finishers.  Pride rocks the crowd and feeds energy to the runners that carry them across the timing mat.  The buzzing of cheers, accented by cowbells and clapping, unifies everyone.  It’s strangely magical. That was taken away.  Lives were lost.  Lives were shattered.  No one feels safe. I don’t know how to help in this situation, but I want to do something.  I do know that I will keep on running.  Maybe I’ll even be so crazy as to try and qualify.  I never wanted to BQ – never had a desire to run Boston.  Strangely, now, more than ever, I’m interested.  Why?

I am a runner.      

Philly Pride

I am a runner

This am I woke early to run. With one eye opened I navigated the shell of my plastic-enclosed kitchen to hit the basement. I got on the treadmill. I run.
I run because I can.
I run because it makes me feel.
I run just because.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone