Hot off the Stove – and the Presses

In case you’re not boarding an Alaska Airlines flight this month, I’ve brought my latest in-flight magazine wellness column in for a landing. This month’s topic – sneaky little eating tweaks you can add or swap to boost your diet’s nutrient density. Special thanks to nutritionist JJ Virgin, co-host of TLC’s “Freaky Eaters” and dietitian Marianne Smith Edge of the International Food Information Council for contributing their expertise.

To read the column, launch the November digital edition and scroll to p. 125.

What are you favorite healthy small swaps and additions to your diet? Lately I’m savoring a sprinkle of sunflower seeds and smear of homemade red-pepper basil hummus on my sandwiches.

I Did NOT!

In our mainstream culture, we are what we DO. Often, what we do for income. Sometimes what we do to feed our passions, what we do because we have to, or what we do to serve others.

This blog’s focus is no exception. Much of it is a journal of what I’ve done as a marathoner, yoga instructor and practitioner, and wellness educator. By nature blogs record their blogkeepers’  achievements, pastimes, and instructions for how to DO things. (In the case of mine in 2010, the lack of  regular updates may also imply how engaging and high-octane non-virtual life is lately. )

A big “I DID IT!” and the topic of my previous post, April’s Glass City Marathon, seems much longer than about two months ago.  Glancing back through  my athletic and wellness pursuits since that PR day in Toledo, the mental highlights reel plays out as a montage of what I Did NOT:

A month after Glass City, Lloyd and I went to Madison, Wisc., to serve as pace group leaders in that city’s marathon. It would be my first official pacing job, but I was confident thanks to practicing the very relaxed pace I would keep and to coaching from my more experienced husband. We also love Madison, one of my childhood homes, and were excited to spend a few days hanging out on the UW’s lakefront campus and seeing some local friends.

Madison's weather was more suitable for lakefront people-watching than marathon running.

The forecast, on the other hand, was nowhere near as friendly: We would be running under full sun and 80-plus temperatures. Out on the course I coped as best I could, guiding my group to every water stop and any available shade, but even at two minutes per mile slower than my race pace the sun blazing down and radiating back up off the road was grueling. Ironically, just as we reached Mile 22’s breezy, cooler lakefront section, race officials began shutting down the course due to a heat index over 100 degrees and countless distressed runners. Disappointed and confused, I opted to jog the mile back to our hotel rather than board the buses race officials told me were being dispatched, stopping to aid another pacer’s distressed and disoriented runner along the way.

My second marathon DNF (Did NOT Finish) reminded me how badly unfinished business stings. Though I felt I did the right thing by following race officials’ instructions and by aiding a distressed runner, I kept thinking about the three remaining women still hanging on with me, running on, trusting me to get them to the Finish as their pain and effort increased after Mile 20. We were moving forward collectively at that point, not as four separate bodies. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d let them down. It took a little while to feel better about that. Talking about it with our pace team captain Jim and more experienced pacers helped.

Although it had a low note with the race interruptus, our Madison trip completed a happy and busy month of celebrating birthdays and PRs, the end-of-semester madness that still doesn’t feel routine after six years, and two fun road trips that took us from North Carolina’s Atlantic surf through the Blue Ridge Parkway’s watercolor skyline to Chicago’s striking architectural profile.

I welcome adventure but thrive best with routine, and could barely lift my arm to wave hello to June after May’s happy mayhem. Seeking my own renewable energy source, I decided to DO another cleanse. Last year’s 11-Day Nutrition and Yoga detox gave me a major recharge of vigor and joy, so I figured the 21-Day Cleanse Oprah popularized would be no less than (organic, vegan) blissful rocket fuel. I bought and read the book, planned a menu, contributed substantially to Whole Foods Market’s bottom line and waited to radiate inner peace as I dined on gluten-free, sugar-free, animal-free, alcohol-free meals. (You are supposed to eliminate caffeine too, but this die-hard coffee addict compromised by cutting back to one cup of organic brew a day.)

Cleanse author Kathy Freston cautions that the detox process can cause unpleasant side effects, flu-like symptoms or emotional releases. Seismic stomach, check. (Though that could have been the vegan diet’s high bean content.) Scratchy throat, check. Moodiness, check. And also: a side of joylessness and deprivation with most meals, rather than the empowering feeling of self-care I’d had during the less restrictive 11-Day cleanse.

I was surprised. I’ve been curious about full-tilt veganism. I often prepare and enjoy vegan dishes because they are nutritious and just plain tasty. I share many of veganism’s values: humane treatment of other beings, sustainable planetary practices, opting out of our mainstream culture’s less-than-mindful status quo. I envisioned I would feel ultra-pure, uber-compassionate, and positively peaceful as a vegan.

Instead I was gassy and cranky. I had resentful thoughts about poor Kathy Freston, who comes across as a perfectly lovely and mindful person. And then, despite meticulous meal planning and smart supplementation, my energy plummeted in the cleanse’s third week. The shining eyes and glowing skin of last year’s cleanse were dark undereye circles and breakouts this year. Worst of all, I had never felt so weak during runs. After feeling like I was on the verge of collapsing for 10 miles, I surrendered.

Except for one wedding reception, I lasted a total of 16 days on the 21-day cleanse. While not especially physically rejuvenating for me, the experience did clarify some things in my mind:

  1. While I will enjoy vegan food regularly, I can’t go 24/7. Every individual’s physiology has unique and different nutrient composition needs throughout life, and my activities now demand a higher percentage of protein. The only way I could physically consume the tissue-supporting protein I need to feel and perform like a strong athlete would involve more beans than my poor gastrointestinal tract can deal with, or more quantities of highly-processed, likely genetically modified soy foods than I am comfortable with consuming. Many endurance athletes excel on meatless and high-carb eating plans, but the vegan diet’s higher carbohydrate content wasn’t supportive for me.
  2. This cleanse did eliminate cravings for foods with added sweeteners (sugar or otherwise), which I can be prone to when stressed. I’m an occasional light drinker, but also felt the break from alcohol was beneficial.
  3. I ate more processed foods (brown rice cakes, gluten-free waffles, energy bars, etc.) on this cleanse  than my normal whole foods omnivore eating. That didn’t feel cleansing to me.
  4. It was fun to find and try new cooking techniques and recipes. Dry-frying tofu, for instance, makes it firm and golden-brown. Here’s a curry recipe I will be making again.
  5. I spent a lot of time thinking about the global impact of food sources. For instance, does consuming more industrially processed, packaged, and long-distance shipped soy for protein really make less of an impact on our Earth’s resources than buying organic, grass-fed meats directly from a local family farmer? While doing this cleanse I read Barbara Kingsolver’s delightful and thought-provoking “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” and it spoke to me as more authentic, connected, and yes, joyful take on sustainable, nutritious food sourcing. Obviously this is a complex issue with no one conclusion that feels right to all people, and this is just my take at this point in my own exploration.

Chalk up DNF No. 2, though a worthwhile and enlightening one.

The endurance athlete’s standard DNF consolation is so common it’s cliche, “A DNF is better than a DNS (Did Not Start).” Well, I logged one of those too. Last weekend our town hosted its first 5K race. I selected the Brecksville Home Days 5K as an early summer fitness test and looked forward to having home course advantage, though the course features a mean climb for most of Mile 2.

This time my body wasn’t its usual cooperative self. Slight hamstring tightness I’d barely acknowledged seized up my left leg two days before race day. Attempting a set of strides after a tentative warm-up jog was all the data I needed to make the smart decision. I Did NOT Start; instead I cheered on competitors and felt grateful my aggravated leg still let me run at easy pace and maintain aerobic fitness. A week later 90% of the pain and stiffness is gone, and I’m penciling in another 5K. Yes, another DO.

I can’t do everything I put my mind or body to, though as a classic overachiever I come close. Applying perspective, the Did NOT’s of June and July are balancing, even complementing, the DID’s of April and May. Instead of just checking off a list of accomplishments and events, I can remain open to the lapses when the pendulum redirects, when a body can use some rest, when a mind needs to think — or when the weather’s simply not cooperating.

I can’t finish everything I start and I can’t always start, even when I plan on it.

Just don’t remind me this next time I am on a Start line and healthy, OK?

The Glass City Marathon Takes the Cake

Event: Glass City Marathon
When & Where: 7 a.m. April 25 2010, Toledo, Ohio
Results: 3:37:22 (PR by 3:40, and 1:50 negative split); 104/455 overall, 17/170 women, 5/35 age group; My 9th marathon

Training: Consulting with my husband Lloyd, a certified running coach,  I was able to take my training to a new level. It included 6-7 days of running per week with hill repeats, two cycles of tempo running, interval workouts, and four runs longer than 20 miles. I averaged about 57-60 mpw and peaked with a 70 mile week. In two tune-up 5Ks I went under a 7:00 pace for the first time which was confidence-boosting, as was a practice race pace half marathon in 1:48 that felt very comfortable. I also included weekly strength, core, balance, and plyometric workouts as well as teaching and taking yoga and pilates classes 2-4 times/week.

I absolutely love training but balancing this and finding energy to train and handle a heavy workload, freelance, and do my share to keep our home in order was a struggle at times. As much as I wish I were one of those adrenaline-fueled superwomen who appears to thrive on juggling two dozen eggs while riding a unicycle on a tightrope, unfortunately I’m more the opposite and thrive on lower stress and life balance. Honestly, one of my motivations for meeting the goal of running sub-3:40 was if I did, I promised myself I would take a break from serious marathon training for a little while.

Pre-race: All week Lloyd, who was also well-trained and racing, had his eye on the forecast. I ignore forecasts until a couple days before a race, so for 10 days he provided me constant regular updates which changed from 60% to 80% to 100% chance of heavy rain and wind. Both of us were concerned, but I continued to think and say that weather is unpredictable and could easily change for the better or worse. Four days out, I made the classic race week mistake of using all my extra energy to overdo another activity. I took a deep stretch yoga class which felt good, but later my groin/hip flexor felt like it had a mild strain – it was really tender and sore. I did round-the-clock ibuprofen doses for two days and thankfully it calmed down.

Carbo-loading commenced.  I used FitDay to carefully adjust my macronutrient ratios to 70% carbohydrate and only slightly increase calories, rather than simply eat too much as I’ve done before. I felt fueled, but not bloated or too full. So dedicated was I to sports nutrition that I did something for the first time in my life: I passed up cake on my birthday, which fell on marathon eve. Anyone who knows me knows this was no easy task. I’m somewhat obsessed with cake and for all the natural running talent I lack, I make up for with cake eating prowess. I should probably change sports to the Cake Walk.

We made the easy drive to Toledo Saturday morning, kept our trip through the small expo on the University of Toledo campus to 20 minutes, and spent almost two hours driving the course. Having the preview was so helpful. We could anticipate windy areas, the few short gradual uphills, and the exciting-looking finish on the 50-yard line of UT’s Glass Bowl stadium.

Lloyd with the statue commemorating Toledo ultrarunner Sy Mah, about Mile 16 of the Glass City Marathon course.

We found a great local Italian spot for the perfect pre-marathon pasta meal, and then relaxed in the hotel watching “Seinfeld” for laughs and the Penn Relays for inspiration. I also read several race reports written by the late Joe Truini, a Marathon Maniac from Akron who suffered a fatal heart attack last July at age 37. Three months before that,  Joe had PR’d at the Glass City Half Marathon. I knew it had been a goal of Joe’s to break 3:40 (his PR was 3:40 at Chicago ’08) and vowed to give it my best shot for him.

Neither of us slept well due to hallway noise and the clock radio alarm going off at 3:00 a.m. Who would set it for that? Oh well, who expects to sleep like a baby with a marathon the next day?

At 4:00 we were up to allow plenty of time for breakfast to settle and get to UT for the 7 a.m. start. This went like clockwork from finding parking to not-too-long port-a-john lines. It had poured overnight, but we rejoiced a forecast that looked a little humid, but not warm, rainy, or even very windy! Fog was the only weather oddity of the morning. With six minutes to go I lined up, feeling almost too calm and a little dull. I wasn’t finding the usual excitement I feel to run a marathon, and felt ashamed to find myself momentarily wishing I’d changed to the half marathon and just gone for a huge 13.1 PR. I hoped my mindset would improve or it would be a very long morning for me!

Miles 1-5: 9:02, 7:52 (marker was short), 8:31, 8:25, 8:19
The race started and we snaked our way off campus and into a surrounding neighborhood. For the first time I was trying to run the first couple miles easy pace and gradually find my race pace groove. Lloyd always does this and it works great for him, but I was skeptical about starting behind goal pace. I spent the first mile chatting with another Brooks ID girl who was shooting for a 3:45 and wished her well before picking up my pace a little. We cruised through a beautiful neighborhood bursting with flowering trees for about three miles, then got on to the flat and smooth University/Parks Bike Trail. About Mile 5 I caught the 3:40 pace group and decided to hang out with them for a while. Their pace felt comfortable and I wanted some company, as I wasn’t feeling my head in the game yet.

Miles 6-10 8:22, 8:25, 8:26, 8:15, 8:08
I chatted with the pacer for a few miles which made the time go by quickly. I also noticed the muggy air and my legs feeling fatigued in the 7th and 8th miles, and still felt “dull.” Hmm, maybe it was not to be my day? The pace still felt very comfortable so I decided to stay with it. After mile 9 we exited the bike path and were now running on open roads – open to traffic and prevailing southeasterly winds. I’d already started sipping Gatorade at water stops to offset too much sodium loss in the humidity, and here I took water and the first of 3 1/2 Gu’s. There was more to think about with these surroundings and I felt myself liven up a bit, pulling away naturally from the pace group.

Miles 11-15: 8:16, 8:21, 8:25, 8:13, 8:22
This was the longest “open” section of the course, out in the country on the northwest edge of metro Toledo. The foggy fields were pretty, but windy with miles 12-14 into a headwind. I came through the half in 1:49:36 (3:39 pace), and had doubts about being able to hold that but decided to withhold a final verdict. Along here I passed several runners including a fellow woman shooting to go under 3:40. Everyone was friendly in this small marathon, and we chatted and encouraged each other. We would play leapfrog with each other for the next 10 miles. She looked really strong and relaxed, and I was excited for her. Finally after Mile 14 we turned out of the wind and down another pretty neighborhood with quite a few residents out to cheer runners – that was nice.

Miles 16-20: 8:20, 8:26, 8:21, 16:51 (miles 19 & 20)
This section included two parks separated by a two-mile stretch of road into the wind, and flanked with cars. Course marshalls and police were doing a great job, but it still wasn’t fun running in a bike lane so close to traffic. I was passing people quite a bit here and took advantage of drafting behind them and chatting with them on the way. Turning into Wildwood Preserve Metropark and arriving on the paved winding trail through gorgeous woods was so welcome! Although I was feeling achiness in my hamstrings and form start to stiffen, somehow I came through mile 20 well below the 3:40 split I’d written on my bib which was encouraging, but I still expected I’d inevitably slow and struggle in like I have in many of my marathons. There was nothing to do but find out.

Miles 21-26.2: 8:22, 8:09, 8:04, 8:05, 8:03, 9:18 (7:45 pace for last 1.2!).
In the 21st mile we came to a long gradual downhill leading to a covered bridge. I love downhill running and this was where I took off. I was sad to leave behind my leapfrog partner, who said she had a side stitch. Part of me thought I should help pull her along but I also knew I had my own race to work on. The winding park path intersected back with the University/Parks bike trail which I knew was the way “home” to UT. Something about this supercharged me and I was able to effortlessly pick up pace. When I saw the 22nd mile had been a fantastic-feeling 8:09, I ignored any ideas of playing it cautious and charged ahead. Finally, I’d found the sense of excitement and joy I usually have about marathoning. Each mile felt stronger and smoother and I made a game of catching the next runner up on the path. I thought about Joe, and thought about how much I wanted to run well to show a couple of friends going for PRs that they could do it too. Please, I thought, let me run this race in a way that will inspire and help others to have great races. I kept seeing a bigger and bigger cushion to break 3:40 with each mile and kept flying forward to make the cushion bigger. Amazingly, my body felt no fatigue or physical discomfort any more. For whatever reason, I had the luck of running in what athletes call “the Zone,” a state of balanced excitement, fun, and relaxation.

The bike path ended back on the still-foggy UT campus and there was less than a mile to the Glass Bowl. I was looking for Lloyd who I knew was long finished by now, and was so excited to see him with a little more than half a mile to go. “This is awesome! I’m having the race of my life!” I yelled. Somehow despite giving his all and running his own PR, he could still chase me and encouraged me the rest of the way.

This final part of the course was poorly marked and disorienting, winding around half marathon walkers, campus buildings, and through parking lot rows. It was my typical race anxiety nightmare come true of not knowing where the course was, and all I wanted was a clear beeline to the finish. Another beautiful long downhill appeared and I charged harder, seeing the stadium. I knew I would break 3:40 easily and felt so thrilled that training, weather, and my race had come together just right. Most marathoners need great training to meet their race day goals, and all of us need a little luck. Less than 2 minutes later, I burst in to the Bowl with arms raised. The race clock had just turned to 3:37 and I steamed ahead shouting “Yeah!” and smiling to celebrate crossing the line.

Post-race: Lloyd collected his age-group award for his incredible 2:54:58 finish and we made our way back to the hotel, where a chocolate Muscle Milk Light was the most delicious thing I’d ever tasted. Then, as the rain that had held off all morning began pouring down again, we met a handful of Toledo and NE Ohio runners for a delicious and fun Mexican lunch complete with a flaming cinnamon schnapps shot (on the house) and surprise belated birthday cake Lloyd had arranged. It was certainly icing on the cake (buttercream, my favorite) to a successful race and the reward of dedication to training.

Milestones at the End of a Decade

Happy New Year from paradise, I mean, San Diego, where there’s year-round good running weather.  Beside the spectacular views and ideal temperatures, I felt fortunate to be part of two especially noteworthy runs this week.

On Dec. 29, Katie Visco became the youngest woman to complete a solo run across the United States, just two miles south of where we’re staying. Lloyd and I connected with Katie in June when she ran through Ohio, and I had fun tagging along with her for eight miles on Summit County’s Rt. 303, where we talked about community, writing, dreams, life, running, and more. As Katie neared her “Finish” line (the Pacific Ocean), we realized we’d be able to accept her invitation to complete her final miles with her. Tuesday morning we set out and came upon her small group of family and friends a little more than a mile from her destination. Katie was like Forrest Gump as she led us along the Mission Beach boardwalk, and we cheered her on as she continued alone into the ocean. Katie’s message to people is “follow your passions,” and she emotionally repeated it again at the water’s edge, holding a flag: “You can do anything! You can do anything!” Congratulations Katie on accomplishing one of many dreams I’m sure you’ll achieve!

Here are a couple photos of Katie’s big finish:

On New Year’s Eve day, I got to enjoy my own realization of a run I’ve wanted to do for a few years – a 5K with my parents. Both are active and love to walk, and though they don’t run I’ve often thought it would be fun for them to enter a race. As a huge bonus, 10 other members of my extended family, from my adorable 6-year-old second cousin Ava to her grandpa, my Uncle Ralph, all came out to run or walk the San Diego Downtown YMCA’s Resolution Run. After taking a “Fitness Pledge” together, we started out on the challenging mostly cross-country and trail course in Balboa Park. Lloyd came in 7th of the men and I was 10th woman. Being cheered in by Ava made crossing the line especially sweet. Then we waited at the finish to clap, yell, and take photos as everyone else made their way in.  Lloyd and I ran back out to encourage my dad and mom as they speed walked and jogged a little in the last mile. It was one of the most fun times I can remember having together, and made me wish we lived closer so we could get together and play more than once every few years. Way to go Team Schuler!

Finally, I was excited to achieve my own mileage milestone. Seeing how close I was getting to logging 2,300 miles for 2009, this week I added a few extra miles and a second run on New Year’s Eve. Lloyd accompanied me on a gorgeous 4 mile jog along Pacific Beach. With the waves on one side and full moon rising on the other, it made for a pretty romantic evening for us running nerds.

Here’s to being part of more milestones in 2010. Cheers!

A Classic Finish to a Stand-out Season

Event: Cleveland Fall Classic Half Marathon
When & Where: Nov. 22, 9 a.m., Cleveland Metroparks Mill Stream Run Reservation
Results: 1:44:42 – PR! (8:00 pace); 5/46 Female 35-39 AG; 39/233 overall Female

After a successful and healthy fall running season, I decided to use my residual fitness from the Grand Rapids Marathon five weeks earlier to try to add one final PR to my 2009 collection. I set my sights on the Cleveland West Road Runners’ Club Fall Classic half marathon, where I needed to better my 1:44:56.25 from 2 1/2 years earlier at the Norfolk East Beach Half Marathon.

Recovery from Grand Rapids was trouble-free. It was the best I’ve ever felt after a marathon, and soon I was back to 40+ mile weeks made up of all easy pace running. Last week I did a 4 x 1 mile Tempo cruise interval workout on Wednesday then Saturday ran the Twinsburg 5-mile Turkey Trot as another tempo workout in 38:27, although the hills, gravel footing, and 60+ temperatures made it feel more like a race effort. On Tuesday of this week I did a 3-mile sustained Tempo pace run (average 7:31, probably a little fast) and that felt very comfortable. I was confident I could PR and ready to shoot for a 1:42-1:43. My plan was to start easy and settle in to a 7:50ish pace, then finish the final miles in whatever I had left.

After last year's wintery Fall Classic

The race day forecast was extra encouraging: temperatures in the 40-50 range with no wind or precipitation expected. In contrast, year’s Fall Classic had started with snow and 20 degrees and sent us skating over patches of ice.This year I would be comfortable in shorts and short-sleeve tech tee instead of encumbered by slippery ice and bulky layers.

I got in a 2 mile warm-up, did some dynamic stretching while waiting and chatting with some first-time half marathoners in the Port-o-John line, and jogged to the start where I stashed warm-ups in my car. Lloyd would use it to drive to his volunteer post – Miles1 and 5, where he would call out elapsed time.

In no time we were off and running. As always, even though I held back and watched dozens of runners blast by and felt like I was going slow, I was faster than the desired 7:50-8:00 pace. Lloyd and the Mile 1 marker came in to view at 6:08 by my watch, and I slowed to almost a walk to pass him at 7:13. He said the mile was short, and as I moved past now my task was to find a suitable pace. Mile 2 came at 8:37/15:50; now my pace was too slow. Feeling like Goldilocks and the Erratic Mile Splits, I kept looking for a good groove through miles 3 (8:13) and 4 (8:18) and finally found it coming in to Mile 5 (7:51) where Lloyd read a time of 40:10, just on the slow side of my target.

The Fall Classic also includes a 5K race, and I caught the tail end of that field at Mile 5. Just as I’d found a good rhythm, the next 1.5 miles broke it with a constant need to pass and weave around slower groups of 5K participants with faster half marathoners approaching as they started the second 6.55 mile loop out. Most of the slower groups of 5K entrants congregated in the middle of the road rather than staying over to the right. It was crowded and challenging, but I told myself not to become frustrated as that would only waste energy. Much of the 5K field consisted of the local Girls on the Run chapter, which is an organization I think highly of and as an older, wiser(?) “girl on the run” I didn’t want to seem unsportsmanlike to the girls who were having a good time out there.

Finally the 5K and Half Marathon fields split and I estimated I was half-way through the race at 52:30ish. I need to have a stronger second loop to make my goal. I came in to Mile 7 in 56:12, so I was still on the cusp. Problem was, the 8:08, 7:55, and 8:22 (could that mile marker be off, I wondered?) mile splits for 8-10 felt harder than they should. “I’m working for this,” I told Lloyd, who had joined to help at a water stop. “Dig in,” he replied. I wasn’t sure I could and was beginning to doubt my ability to PR, but I kept plugging away anyway. The weather was so perfect, I wasn’t hurting, and it was my last race of the year. No excuses, I told myself.

I arrived at Mile 10 in 1:20:40 (8:04 pace) and though by now was fantasizing about stopping and putting my feet up, decided to try a little surge. Surprisingly, that felt better than the slower pace and got me to 11 in 7:53. So I made up my mind, no matter how much it eventually hurt, that I was going to stay with the more aggressive pace and refuse to give in to discomfort, no matter what. I had fallen in step with another runner and by the way we stuck together, without speaking it was obvious we were helping each other out. This and seeing Lloyd one more time was a boost that put me to Mile 12 in 7:42 more minutes. I knew the last mile of the course well and plotted out points where I would step on the gas a little more. Before long, we got to the last little circular path section. I had run it to warm up and knew at 1:41 in it would be a fight for a PR, but I was prepared for battle! No way was I going to waste the morning’s effort to barely miss it. With each turn, I pushed harder, coming to mile 13 in 1:43:56. I pressed on with more intensity to cross the line and stop my watch at 1:44:41. I was disappointed that my new personal record wasn’t by a bigger amount of time, but still pleased that I’d managed to barely eke it out.

I’m not sure why I didn’t have a stronger showing at the Fall Classic. Though I feel great, I’m probably not in peak condition 5-weeks post marathon with lower mileage and only three Tempo workouts. It’s possible I’ve run my Tempo workouts too fast and overestimated what I could do. Or, since the faster 3 miles felt  better than any other, I wonder if I played it too safe and should have been a little more aggressive with pacing. My hydration balance has felt off the last couple days despite drinking enough fluids, so maybe I’m just slightly off-center.

No huge matter. It is time now to put my legs up, reflect on and appreciate my most successful season to date, and recharge for the next one!

One Grand, Rapid (for me) Marathon

Event: Metro Health Grand Rapids Marathon
When & Where: Oct. 18 2009, 8 a.m., Grand Rapids, Michigan
Results: 3:41:02 – PR! (8:26 pace); 409/1554 Finishers; 78/634 Females; 8/90 Females age 35-39

024Word of mouth is a powerful thing.  After hearing nothing but positive experiences and rave reviews about the Grand Rapids Marathon’s fast and scenic course, high probability of running a PR, runner-friendly touches, and supreme organization, I decided to target the race for a fall marathon.  Two days after crossing the line, I am happy to report the entire race experience lived up to its excellent reputation and certainly helped me progress and record another personal success in marathoning.

Of course, it wasn’t just the race. I needed a LOT of luck in the forms of decent race-day weather and good health, and both came through. And, oh yeah, there was training to do. After three very rewarding, fun, and successful years of working with accomplished DC-based runner and coach Mary Davison, I couldn’t pass up the undeniable advantage of 24/7 access to another talented coach and runner, my partner and now-husband Lloyd Thomas.  Many runners would probably prefer to NOT have their spouse coach them, but this new joint venture turned out to be a seamless and comparatively small part of our overall relationship.

This training cycle began differently with a phase of daily easy-pace running to increase my weekly mileage base to 60 on 6-7 runs per week. Then we progressed through quality phases of hill repeats, intervals (my favorite), and tempo running (my absolute least favorite). I completed every scheduled run except for one due to a head cold, and stayed injury-free. Despite the challenges of juggling training with a very busy job and planning our wedding for the week before Grand Rapids, my motivation stayed high throughout as usual – I simply love training! For the first time, I ran the whole 26.2 mile distance as an easy effort, using the Road Runner Akron Marathon on September 26 as a final long run. I also used the Buckeye Half Marathon on Sept. 12 as an opportunity for some marathon-pace running and dabbled in a little multi-sport cross training to increase my volume of aerobic exercise, as well as to prepare for the Akron Women Only Triathlon Sept. 13. The only tune-up races I did were a July 4 5-Mile race, and two 5K’s in August and early October. Though these races were short distances, all were very encouraging: each yielded a PR and age-group award, and moreover, my 21:46 5K on Oct. 3 predicted a marathon time of 3:32 when I plugged it in to a race predictor.

With a previous marathon PR of 3:44:41, the thought of leaping to 3:32 sounded thrilling, but a bit extreme. I did feel confident that I could target a goal of sub-3:40 and decided to aim for a finish in the 3:37-3:38 range.

067Race week arrived just as we said good-bye to our wedding guests. After all the excitement and busy-ness of the wedding, I was exhausted and diligently slept as much as I could the entire week. I was a little concerned about gaining a few pounds, because combining one of my very favorite things in the whole world, cake, with tapering is not so good for weight management. Between all the buttercream and some bad monthly cycle timing, I was definitely up a few pounds from my final bachelorette days, but still at a comfortable weight for racing. That is, until the carbo-loading phase began on Friday.

Normally I am not a consumer of any processed/refined carbs, and I think I overcompensated with two days of bagel, pretzel, bread, Gatorade, low-fat cookie, pancake, and pasta feasting. For past marathons I’ve followed a formulaic carbing prescription based on body weight  and never hit the wall during a race, but did not like keeping track of how many grams/calories I’d taken in. This time I was trying to be more intuitive and ended up feeling ashamed, like I’d overindulged. I was bloated and uncomfortable, though lucky to not have any digestive distress. Carbo-loading is definitely an area in which I seek to improve and find a better way to fuel up to run without feeling so stuffed.

Other than the continual desire to unbutton my jeans, pre-race was relaxed and fun. Lloyd and I arrived in Grand Rapids Friday evening, and took race director Don Kern up on his open invitation to meet at the Hideout Brewing Company. We spent an hour sharing beer and stories before the busy RD had to leave to attend to one of many last-minute tasks. On Saturday we ran the beautiful Millennium Park section of the course and later shared a low-key, pre-race dinner with a half-dozen friends. I stayed up late catching up on grading so didn’t get a full night’s sleep on Saturday, but slept very soundly.

Race morning was uneventful and I felt relaxed and confident, although I was startled when we had to scrape the car before driving to the Start – it was cold, just below 30 degrees, and still dark. Luckily, one of the Grand Rapids Marathon’s very best attributes is the city’s palatial, gorgeous new YMCA that opens its doors for runners to warm-up, use real bathrooms, and keep warm until just before the race. I did just that. At 7:50 Lloyd and I strolled around the block to the Start area, where I took off my warm-ups, handed them to him, and jumped in the corral less than a minute before the gun went off.  This pampered, relaxed start dramatically decreased the pre-race jitters I’m prone to at big-show, big-city marathons I’ve run and was definitely a factor in my race outcome.

014It took less than 30 seconds to cross the Start mat and I never felt boxed in, even in Mile 1. Miles 1-4 on this year’s new course took runners over the Grand River twice as we toured downtown Grand Rapids. The sun was shining and there was absolutely no wind, so the city and placid river sparkled. The first footbridge was actually slick from lingering frost, so I was careful with my footing. Crossing another bridge back in the fourth mile, I enjoyed the sight of a sculpture of a large table and chairs that read “Love Life.” What fitting words for a marathon morning! I was also encouraged that my Mile 3 split showed I’d already found the pace for a 3:37 finish, according to my wrist band. Around Mile 4 I saw Lloyd and gave him my long-sleeved layer. I was comfortable and running cool in a short-sleeve technical shirt, shorts, thin gloves, and “Run Happy” cap to shield my eyes from any glare.

We headed southwest out of town, past an industrial area, along a wide, paved park path through fields of tall golden grass, and came out around Mile 7 on a 3-mile stretch of gently sloping, country road surrounded by trees in various shades of autumn regalia. It was the scenic, inviting kind of road you look at and think “I want to run on it.” I chatted with a few fellow runners in this section which made the miles rush by, but I wanted to focus on smart running: staying focused, taking tangents, and checking my effort level. By Mile 10 when I made it to Millennium Park, I was a solo act again. Lloyd was using the chance to cheer me on and take photos as a fun way to get some miles in, so I was able to see him three times by the time I entered the park where we’d run together the morning before. I knew its curves and small hills, which helped me cruise through confidently, still in time with my pace band.

Leaving Millennium Park, our road trip continued toward the river. Everything was still feeling very easy and I was having a great time. I started greeting as many runners as I could when passing and briefly chatted with a few, including a woman I caught up to at Mile 13 (1:47 in by now) who told me this was her 122nd marathon and all had been sub-4:00. Amazing! The course crosses the river and continues west on a road hugging the banks. With still water and surrounded by trees, it was like being on a beautiful run through the woods. I don’t need cheering crowds for motivation, but appreciated always seeing other runners, the aid station volunteers’ friendliness, and the spectators who were out in good numbers at more points than I expected.

Around Mile 15, the leaders were coming back in on the road leading me outbound. Watching each one fly by helped keep my energy and motivation up. I was still feeling fine and on 3:37 pace, with only a little feeling of starting to work. Mostly I felt joyful for getting such a perfect day and beautiful setting to give the marathon my all. At about Mile 17 I ran over a timing mat and was now heading back. I  smiled at runners going out and could see where I was in relation to the one pace group I vowed would not catch me: Dubya’s Running Mates, the 3:44 group. The marathon features creative Celebrity Pace Groups based on finish times of the famous. If the group based on former President George W. Bush’s time caught me it would not only mean I was far off pace, this would also inadvertently make me a running mate of sorts! (Though I’m no G.W. Bush fan, let me be bipartisan by admitting I also certainly didn’t want the 4:58 Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Pace Team anywhere near, either).

At Mile 18 I was still squarely on pace for a 3:37, but realizing it would take a lot of focus to hold it. At the same time, with each mile beginning at 16, my conniving, loophole-seeking brain kept calculating how easy I could run the rest of the marathon and still qualify for Boston. I could significantly slow down from that point on and re-BQ. This was good assurance, but not what I needed to push me at this stage of the game. I needed to “forget” I could get a ticket back to Beantown with a very do-able sub-3:46 finish. I had trained hard and worked into excellent condition and had the perfect day to test my limits. I started fighting a bit of a mental battle about this, not coincidentally as my legs started feeling the first signs of fatigue. Remembering Lloyd’s advice, I fought back with a surge that pulled me up to a group of three women who I’d been eavesdropping on from 10 seconds behind. We chatted a little and I complimented them on their great pace and how fresh and energized they looked. As soon as I started running with them most of my fatigue disappeared and I felt a real energy boost. Unfortunately we separated around Mile 20 (2:47) -21. Those couple miles gave me a short taste of how beneficial running in a small pack can be, and I would really like to try it in a future race. I never fell far behind two of the women, who ended up finishing 20 seconds before I did, and one periodically turned around to wave which was so nice. I was also greeting and encouraging as many runners as I could, because I find it gives me such a boost in races to put out positive energy, even though it takes energy to talk in the later stages.

035I crossed the river for the final time and now the task was to retrace my steps back to the Finish at the Y. My mindset was swinging wildly between “keep pushing,you trained to do this” and “c’mon, you can jog a 10 min/mile and still BQ.” I struggled to hold on to focus. I knew I needed to dig in, but couldn’t seem to reach deeper. Lloyd was in and out a few times in this section, once handing me Gatorade, but I was foggy-headed and completely consumed with the task of holding on to a good pace. With the past couple miles in the 8:30-8:45 range I wasn’t on a 3:37 pace any longer, but still grasping for sub 3:40. There were only about two miles left, but my legs were progressing from fatigue into heavy stiffness and my hands were so swollen my normally loose new wedding ring was tight. Moreover, my cheery disposition suddenly shifted into SuperGrump. I scolded Lloyd for lurk-running slightly behind me, telling him he either needed to run right by my side to help, or meet me at the finish. Then I furiously chewed out a large group of spectators slowly strolling across the course, forcing the runners to veer around them! I have never experienced such a sudden mood shift during a race, and along with the physical changes suspect there was some fuel or electrolyte imbalance.

Thankfully, I cheered up for Mile 25. Who would want to end a marathon, especially a marathon in which they were still on track to PR, in that state of mind? I was approaching a set of train tracks that meant only 3/4 of a mile remained. Spectators were cheering now: “This is your last turn,” and it was. The cathedral-like YMCA was just a couple blocks up and the white Finish banner was in sight! I hit Mile 26 at 3:39:17 and knew I couldn’t squeak .2 miles in in under 43 seconds. I felt slightly disappointed, but now scolded myself. I was in the last steps and seconds of a solid new PR, a re-BQ, uninjured, newlywed, and finishing my 8th marathon very successfully on a perfect day to run. I smiled wide and carried joy and gratitude across the line in 3:41:02, where I heard my new name announced and was greeted with a big, welcoming hug from race director Don himself. A few steps later friend volunteering at the finish, Tonya, was in front of me with a High 5 and congratulations.

Just a short, staggering walk brought me to the best reward, better even than the feeling of accomplishment or pretty new medal around my neck. Lloyd and I were just getting started on our long-distance journey as a couple the first time I BQ’d in 2007, and I had to leave him voice mail with the happy news. A few months later we met in Boston and stayed together for the 2008 running. Now we share a home, and were able to share the Grand Rapids Marathon, and he was excitedly running toward me to share the wonderful result of our training.


Re-United: 11-Day Yoga Cleanse Wrap-Up

Since beginning a nutritional and yoga cleanse on June 22, I’ve been so busy shopping for new grocery items, finding and preparing new recipes, and taking yoga classes (in addition to a demanding semester at work and marathon training) I’ve barely had time to share the results. The official cleanse finished July 2. sunshine

Really it may be early to use the word “results” to describe differences so far, although I’ve experienced quite a few:

  • The low energy I’d almost surrendered to drastically reversed. All of a sudden I stopped feeling sleep-deprived, despite not sleeping any more than I had been. No longer was it a struggle to get myself going. Though I’m building up a lot of base miles with running daily, I felt like the end of a marathon taper energy-wise. At times I had almost too much energy, but after feeling semi-lethargic for much of the last year, will never complain about that.
  • I’ve been a generally nutritious eater (with an equally healthy appetite for indulgent treats and preference for things that can be quickly prepared, however) for as long as I can recall. During the cleanse eating plan, I was able to feel my body thank me for putting supportive, unprocessed, nutrient-rich, carefully prepared meals and snacks into it. It was almost like my cells were purring. That sounds pretty dumb, but it felt like the cliche “natural high.”
  • I laughed more and was able to more easily be “giving” to others.
  • The nutrition nerd in me had a great time learning about foods that support various organs, new superfoods and supplements to sample, and a little more about how the nutritional detoxification/cleanse process is thought to work.
  • My hair is shinier.
  • Last time I weighed in, the scale read a few pounds lighter. All right!
  • I discovered some delicious foods and recipes that I’ll share soon. It’s a fun process to research and experiment when you have the time, but at times it was also frustrating. I don’t love cooking or grocery shopping or have ample free time anyway, so I hope that the post learning-curve period will not involve so much time in a grocery line or standing over the stove.
  • A negative effect I experienced off and on during the cleanse was feeling more mood swings and negative emotions. Even though they weren’t pleasant, I realized all the extra caffeine and more processed/refined foods I craved were probably masking those feelings, which never works long term despite my stubborn persistence. I can take the insight forward and when I find myself wanting to reach for more coffee or sugar, check in and see if there’s something going on that I could share with a journal, friend, or a few miles traveled under my feet.
  • I re-awakened my desire to continue what I intend to make lifelong study of yoga, nutrition, and holistic health.
  • I brushed off the cobwebs on my poor, neglected asana practice. In 10 yoga classes my body went from stiff, sluggish, and a tad soft to a more defined appearance, stronger-feeling core, and noticeable improvement in flexibility – even those tight runner’s hamstrings.
  • I was able to deepen my yoga practice and study from some very talented, creative, and challenging teachers at Cleveland Yoga.

20081226resetOf course, I can’t revert right back to the “surfing the crave wave” ways of pre-June 22.  Since the cleanse finished I’ve followed the eating plan, but not as strictly. It isn’t a restrictive or rigid program, anyway. I find that I do not want to go back to consuming artificial sweeteners, breads, refined grains, and overly salty or sugary processed foods at this time. I discovered the magazine Clean Eating and its corresponding books and am exploring those and other resources to continue developing this new way of self-care. I’m also continuing to attend yoga classes, though not daily – if only my budget allowed that!

When I began the 11-Day Cleanse, I remember thinking I needed to press my “Reset” button.  It feels comforting to know the next time my body, eating, and energy feel out of balance,  there’s a powerful tool I can access to restore myself.