If it were easy, everyone would do it.

Over Memorial Day weekend, I ran the Bayshore Marathon. It promises a flat and fast course along the picturesque Old Mission Peninsula in the Leelanau Bay.

My training had gone pretty well, but I was ready for the race to be over. The months of thinking about my A goals, B goals, and C goals were taking their toll. I needed mental relief.

During May I anxiously watched the weather. A month out, sunny and 80 degrees was predicted. Being a bit of a weather geek, I calmed myself that predictions a month out were never right. It could change a dozen times over the next few weeks. And it did. Temperatures at race time fluctuated between 50 and 70; sky cover moved from clouds to partly sunny to thunderstorms.

 

Then Race Day came. It was 70 degrees and sticky at 7 am. I’m not a hot weather runner, but figured I could stick it out as long as it remained cloudy as the weather app promised. And perhaps, the peninsula would be cooler because it was surrounded by the cool lake water.

But my stomach was churning in anticipation. I hoped that once I started running the nerves would dissipate and I could deal with the temperatures and humidity.

Once we were moving, the nerves eased and it was such a relief, I was almost in tears. I didn’t have to sort over what would happen anymore, I could just run.

 

But the heat and humidity were a factor. By mile 6, I was feeling empty and dizzy. I opted to walk on the theory that going easy now would give me more strength later. Probably a good decision.

My husband met me at mile 11 and walked with me for a bit. I was ready to quit, but he made it sound like I could finish. Time goals jumped in the bay as I focused on the turnaround. At 13.1 miles, it would be a new race. I could forget about the miserable first half and start over.

 

Well, I was completely soaked, so I shed my tank top (sorry onlookers!) and forced myself to keep going. Somehow spots on my sports bra were still dry. I ran and walked. It probably would have been easier to keep running. Each time I switched, my stomach cramped for a few seconds.

While the sun stayed hidden, the heat was affecting more people. More people took walking breaks. We played leapfrog as we switched. I chatted with a man who tore his IT band. He was still walking, claiming the hot and humid weather was his favorite racing weather, proving I wasn’t the craziest one out there.

The spectators were awesome. Many people came to their front yards to cheer. Some had make shift water (or beer) stations. Some played music (although that made me feel old since I didn’t recognize many of the pop songs.) And there was one guy in a too-small wool sweater, a crazy wig, ringing a cowbell. Thank you all for giving me something to smile about.

Throughout the race, I contemplated whether this was my last marathon. Five is a nice number. I’ve run two that were reasonably tough, two that induced tears, and one that was spectacular. Maybe this wasn’t my distance.

I gritted my teeth and pushed through the last mile. After I crossed the finish line, I gratefully kicked off my shoes, happy to not have to run for a few days.

Despite it being a brutal experience, I have some take-aways:
-I need to find better gluten-free ways to carb load.
-I need to do more strength/cross training workouts.
-I need to keep my head in the race. I lost that battle too early.
-Body glide rules! Despite sweating half my bodyweight, I didn’t have any chaffing and only one small blister.
-I got to run with my college roommate for a bit which was really cool.
-It probably isn’t my last marathon. I’m considering a fall one–late fall when there’s no chance of it being 70-plus degrees (although we are talking about Michigan where anything can happen).
What have you learned from a tough race?

Flashbacks

Last weekend I did a half marathon on the course where I did my first marathon in thirteen years. While I was prepared for the distance, I wasn’t prepared for the memories that would find me along the course.
The course followed the bike path around the lake. One lap for 13 miles, two laps for 26. When I did the marathon (my first in 13 years), I expected there would be less people on that second lap and that I would probably be running by myself for most of it. I could handle that. I did most of my training runs alone. It wouldn’t be much different. Right?
Wrong.
The first lap went well. There were lots of runners. The course was beautiful. The weather was perfect. There were spectators everywhere. My husband was biking around to take pictures and fill my water bottle, catching me every mile or so. It was great!
At mile 13, the majority of my running companions siphoned off the course to the finish line and I had to keep going.
In two miles, my kids would be cheering, so I had some motivation to keep going. I was also working on my caffeinated energy gels. Got to keep fueled up and the caffeine gives you an extra boost, right?
Wrong. Well, maybe for you.
I’m not a coffee drinker. In fact, I turn into a carsick hummingbird after a dose of caffeine. Unfortunately, I hadn’t made this connection with my energy gels. I figured my woozy stomach was from lack of fuel and water. (Let’s just say it took months to make this connection rather than days.) So I swallowed more gels. Those last miles were more unpleasant than they should have been. My husband missed me at one of his stops and didn’t catch up until I was 6 miles past him.
As I ran this past weekend, flashes of this race triggered in my head. Seeing the crowds cheering as we came around a corner and tackled a hill. Walking by a house. Walking by another house. Nobody cheering at that corner. The hill where I leap-frogged with another runner who had also adopted a run/walk strategy.  Walked by that house too. This stretch by the park, yes, this is where the swearing started.
As I came through the final mile, I remembered watching the half-marathoners veer to the right and the finish as I turned left and headed for the second lap. Their cheering sections were meeting them to celebrate.  This course ended at a different place. Again I had to keep going. I had lost sight of the runners in front of me and was once again running on my own.
But not really running on my own, I was running with the memories. As I came through that final stretch of the marathon course, some fellow runners who had completed their half were cheering me to the finish. I took that support with me through the last mile of this year’s half.

Loving the Long Runs… on the Treadmill

Long runs are the mainstay of many marathon training plans. They build up each week from 5 to 6 miles all the way to 20 to 22.

That’s a big chunk of time.

It’s wonderful when you can easily carve out those three to four hours on a Saturday or Sunday for that deliciously exhausting long run.

But what to do when you can’t? When your spouse is working and you can’t get a sitter for the kids? When your stomach is acting up and you don’t want to be ten miles from a bathroom when the urge strikes? When the snow is set on sandblast and the wind is coming from all directions at once? When the outdoor temperature is less than your intended mileage?

Well, there’s the treadmill.

I bet that sounds boring. You’d rather be waterboarded.

But if you’re like me, you get twitchy if you can’t cross off your workout on your schedule. So you figure out a way to make it work.

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My training schedule. I don’t like missed boxes.
Here’s some things that work for me:

Running when it’s dark: For some reason, miles on the hamster wheel don’t seem as long when the sun isn’t supposed to be shining.

Intervals: I set a timer alternating between 2 minutes and 3 minutes. When it changes, I bump the speed up or down. It’s not like the effort changes much, but it’s mental. 3 minutes is easier to count down than 200.

Favorite show: I have favorite shows that I only allow myself to watch on the treadmill. Arrow, The Flash, Sharknado. I can watch more episodes the longer I run. I’ve found watching a show also helps with the motion sickness I feel on my next non-treadmill run. If I stare at something that doesn’t move, I’m dizzy for the first few blocks of my next outdoor run.

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The Treadmill Essentials: Darkness, Netflix, and a interval timer
Potty breaks: Make a pit stop, wash some of the sweat off, walk around the house.

A fan: Especially if you poorly place your treadmill (like I have), this is absolutely necessary. I’ve had the hamster wheel directly over the heating vent so the warm air was funneled right in my face. Oops.

These are some of the tricks I used to get through long (and really any run) on the treadmill.

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The hamster wheel timed out twice on this one.

What helps you keep going on the treadmill?

What Keeps Me Going

I’ve had some amazing races and some downright awful races.
Last year I did a marathon that fell decidedly in the latter category. Nothing about it went right. My food intolerances flared. I slept the night before. The inflammation, weakness, and nausea kicked in at mile two. How do you keep going when you know it just isn’t going to be your day?
I prayed, crying out to God for strength. I wasn’t going to get through this on my own.
I set milestones for the race and gave myself encouragement. At eight miles, there wouldn’t be as many hills for a while. At the halfway point, the wind would be at my back.
My husband and kids would appear on the course every mile or so to cheer. That would carry me for a few hundred meters.
At mile 12, I saw someone wearing a sweatshirt from my alma mater. Go Knights!
Earlier in the year, a devastating storm had crashed through the area, taking down trees all along the path. I tried to focus with wonder on the power that could do that. Anything to keep my mind off the pain that burned with every step.
I decided to take walking breaks at mile 14, but my family was there. I couldn’t walk in front of my kids.
At mile 19 that didn’t matter anymore. My husband gave me a hug and I started crying. I wasn’t sure I could go on. The last six miles were full of hills. He dropped the kids off at the bottom of every hill and they pushed me to the top.
Through each stride, I had to find strength somewhere. Each little thing got me a few yards farther down the course.
Sometimes we have big goals, but it’s the little motivations that make them happen.
How do you keep going on tough days?