Thursday, May 18, 2017

ALWAYS SHINE

Yes, I'm racing on Sunday.  And, yes I'd like to do well.  I've worked hard.  I've given up lots of things.  I've put myself first when, perhaps I shouldn't have.  But, what it really comes down to is this, I live to run.  It is my drug of choice.  It keeps me happy, sane, motivated, grounded.  It makes me a better mom, wife, coach, friend, sister, person.  Running hundreds of miles on a regular basis doesn't make sense to a lot of people.  I'm not a professional athlete.  No one is paying me to run or telling me to do it.  It's my choice.  And every day that I wake up knowing that I get to run is a gift for me; one that I never, ever take it for granted.  The process of training for a marathon is long and arduous and I love it, as much, if not more so than the race itself.  When it's all behind me, it's not just the race I look back on, but the memories from the four months leading up to it....the 22 miler in the snow, the workout that hurt so much I cried when it was over,  the post-run coffee with my training partner when we couldn't talk and that was okay, the 10 miler with Clover when she looked as though she was smiling the whole way.  Yes, I hope it goes well on Sunday.  But, regardless of the outcome, it was worth it.  It always is.


"Always go for a run even if it's raining.  Enjoy the journey, never forget to play and feel the joy of life. Jump for joy when you're happy.  Surround yourself with the people you love.  Live in the moment, have boundless energy.  Listen more than you talk, but when you do talk speak from the heart.  It's never too late to learn.  Look for the best in everyone and be loyal.  Love unconditionally.  And shine with all of your light, all of the time." *

Listen to this:
Right Place Right Time - A Little Nothing


* Thanks to my good friend, Tim Carter, for sharing this amazing story and for sparking this post.

Friday, May 12, 2017

STILL (ALWAYS) LEARNING

"Learning is the only thing the mind never exhausts, never fears, and never regrets."
~ Leonardo DaVinci


In less than two weeks I'll be tackling my 17th marathon up at Sugarloaf Mountain in Carrabassett Valley, ME.  If you'd told me back in 2007 that 10 years later I'd still be at it, I would have laughed in your face.  Now I just laugh at myself.  As a runner, I'm always learning.  Way back when I started in on this madness, I learned never to say never and that has stuck with me through all of them.  After my 13th marathon, the Mohawk Hudson, where I ran my current PR of 3:04 at age 40, I learned that I had more in me than I ever thought possible.  At the same time, I wondered whether I had more to give.  And then I quickly learned that my coach, who I've been working with since 2013, had absolutely no doubt in his mind that this was the case.  So, I've kept at it.  Working as hard, if not harder every time.  For my next two marathons, I learned that shit happens and that I have to deal with whatever is thrown at me.  I learned that regardless of how well I train, I always have to expect the unexpected as there will undoubtedly be things out of my control (ie. metal doors and bad weather) every, single time.  I learned to reset, adjust the plan, stay positive and stick with it.  Which I did.  I also learned that I was still not satisfied and that I was ready and willing to do more to get what I wanted, which in this situation is a marathon PR.  During this particular training cycle, which began back in January, I learned to take the good days with the bad, to be realistic, to keep my head on, to be in the moment, to use humor whenever possible, to lean hard on my friends and teammates and, most importantly, to trust.  Trust myself, my body, my coach, the process; all of it.  And because of that, I've made it to this point.  Oh, and I've learned a few new and somewhat interesting things about both the training process and myself this time around that I hadn't realized until I shifted into this higher gear (see below).  I don't know what will happen next week, but I've learned to believe that anything is possible.

MARATHON #17:10 NEW THINGS I'VE LEARNED

1. I'm capable of napping anywhere, any time.  During a hair cut, in the waiting room while my daughter is having her teeth cleaned, in the car at soccer pick up.  Literally....anywhere.
2. Compression is my friend.  I only used to wear compression socks and tights once in a while.  Today I wear them almost daily as the support they provide my tired muscles is invaluable.
3. A new song or playlist can make or break a workout.  Music always gets me going but sometimes the same old thing is not enough.  A handful of fresh tunes can make a notable impact on performance.  It can also help me motivate to get out the door.
4. I'm now capable of eating a pretty substantial meal at noon and then going for a run less than an hour later.  It's not ideal, but I've had weekly doubles during this cycle and I was often short on time so it had to be done on a regular basis.  Random?  Yes. But a really good skill to have.
5. An epsom salt bath can be a border-line religious experience.  This one is pretty self explanatory.
6. Even when I'm not up for it, my dog is always ready and willing to go.  Snowing, raining, windy, hot...doesn't matter.  She's in.  She's also not afraid to give me the stare down when I'm procrastinating before my departure.  Dog coach?  Sort of.
7. I'm now able to have a cup of coffee at 3:00pm and still easily fall asleep at 9:00, if not earlier.  I used to avoid caffeine after noon in fear that it would keep me up at night.  This time around I've needed it more than usual to get through my days.  Thankfully, it hasn't impacted my sleep routine in the slightest.  Good and bad, I suppose.
8. Even when I'm 99% sure that I can't do it....I can.  My running partner often reminds me that my coach wouldn't have given me the workout if he didn't think I could do it.  She's always right.
9. More mileage and harder workouts means absolutely nothing to my children.  My exhaustion has been higher than ever this time around.  Not only do they not get it but they could care less.  As far at they're concerned, I'm just doing more of what I love.  Which I suppose is true.  Fortunately for me (and, really, for them, too), I've mastered lesson #1.
10. All the runs, regardless of pace or distance, add up and make an impact on the big picture.  There have been days over the past few months when I could barely muster a shuffle.  They all count and the harder they are to get through, the stronger I am become.

Listen to this:
Ultralife by Oh Wonder

Thursday, May 4, 2017

RACE REVIEW:EARTH, ROCK, RUN 13.1

Yes, it's yet another race review.  I apologize for the lack of creativity on post subjects lately.  But, as I continue on this quest for a marathon PR, the races are a big part of the story and I feel like it's important to share the details.  So, here we go.  I've done the Earth, Rock, Run half (ERR), part of the Greenstride series, for the last few years.  Eli Bailin, the race director, who has become a friend of mine, puts on an amazing event every time so I always look forward to it.  This year I was doing it as a final tuneup before the Sugarloaf Marathon, which I'll be running on May 21st and I was excited to test my fitness on this last long run in my training cycle.  If you recall, my running partner, Kirsten, and I ran the New Bedford half back in March, also as part of our training.  I won't re-hash that story but in a nutshell I'd felt like a rock star up until mile 10 and then I turned into the wind and felt like I was running in place for the final 3.1  Needless to say, it was not the time I'd hoped for but given how well I'd felt for the first two thirds of the race I was eager to run another half without the added battle with the wind so I could get a better sense of what I was truly capable of.  I knew the ERR fell right around the same time as my last long run for Sugarloaf so it worked out perfectly to give it another go at this particular race.  On Sunday night, the week before the race, I pulled up my training plan to see what my coach had in store for me for the days leading up to the race.  I've been putting in a lot of miles in preparation for the marathon, so I knew to expect that.  I didn't, however, anticipate seeing this:

WEEK OF APRIL 24th
Monday: 22 miles
Tuesday: 8 miles (AM)
               6 miles (PM)
Wednesday: 11 mile tempo run
Thursday: 10 miles (AM)
                  6 miles (PM)
Friday: 8 miles
Saturday:rest
Sunday: race
Total: 88 miles (w/ 71 of them before the race)

My knee-jerk reaction?  Holy. SHITE.  How the hell could I possibly run a solid race after churning out this much mileage?  So, I emailed the sensei himself and posed the question:
Hey Lowell,
Just curious....do you think it's possible to run 22 miles on Monday, do 2 doubles and do a tempo workout and then PR in the half?? I realize my eyes are on the prize (Sugarloaf), so I understand the logic.  But, I was hoping to bust out a good time for that race.  If it's not feasible, I want to set my expectations accordingly!

To which he responded:
Rebecca,
If you take all the miles except the tempo slow and don't cross the line and run too hard in the tempo, you can run a solid half.  We can't have you 100% for both the half and the marathon, but a 95-98% you should be good enough to PR in the half.

So, that was that.  New goal...95-98%.  I guess we'll see what that is for me at the moment, I thought to myself.  Then I put my head down and cranked out the miles leading up to Sunday.  And I did my best to trust my training and my coach, as I hoped (prayed) that I still had enough in the tank for a decent time on race day.

Fast forward to Sunday morning.  I woke up to a beautiful, clear, crisp, sunny day; which was a huge relief because it had been humid and in the 80s the day before.  One of my race day rituals is to get up a little earlier than I need to, make a (large) cup of coffee and, weather permitting, chill out with Clover on the front porch.  I've come to look forward to this little window of time as I attempt to do a little visualization and relaxation while Clover sits next to me on squirrel patrol.  The race start was 9:00am and it was taking place up in Amesbury, MA so around 7:15 I drove over to grab Kirsten, who was racing with me again, and together we headed North.  Kirsten had a similar agenda to mine for this one.  She, too, has been training for Sugarloaf and was planning to use this race a final hard push before the marathon.  I'll go ahead and say how grateful I am to have a friend and training partner who shares my passion for running and racing and is always up for the next adventure.  To have a wingman to share stories with, freak out with, commiserate with and laugh my ass off with is invaluable.  She keeps me honest and helps me stay motivated, which lately has been no easy task.  Bottom line, I'm very, very lucky.


We arrived without incident around 8:00am.  One of Eli's goals as a race director is to create a fun, easygoing atmosphere for runners, while keeping the logistics quick and easy to navigate and with the added bonus of providing killer race swag.  To date, he has never let us down and this race was no different.  We picked up our numbers, grabbed our race shirts and hoodies (that's right, every runner gets a hoodie) and made our way back to the car to drop our stuff and shed some layers before taking off for our warm up.  We chatted strategy and goals as we ran and after a couple of miles we were ready to rock.


When we got back to the car we could hear the familiar raspy, surfer-drawl of Michael Bernier, the race announcer, calling us all over to the start so we knew it was time.  



THE RACE
The race was in a different location this year and the course was substantially more challenging with several rolling hills, none of them terribly steep but most of them notably long.  I did not know the extent of it when I lined up and that was probably a good thing.  I'd reached out to Lowell the night before to discuss pacing and he told me to aim for a range of 6:35-6:40.  He also reminded me that my legs would be tired from the marathon training and warned me not to dip under 6:30 as this wasn't my goal race and I need to stay relatively fresh if I could.  Whatever you say, Boss.  As you can see from the profile above, the first mile was uphill and from where we stood we couldn't see the top.  Awesome.  I tend to have a hard time adjusting to the pace I'm shooting for in the beginning and this didn't help. I see-sawed between goal pace for the first few miles (6:43, 6:29, 6:44) until I landed at 6:35 for mile 4.  Then I told myself to settle in, focus on my breathing and chill the hell out.  I ran with one other gentleman for a few miles as he seemed to be running my pace and it was nice to have someone doing the work with me.  Miles 5-7 went smoothly (6:36, 6:36, 6:37) and by the time I hit mile 8 I was solo again.  Not good.  It's always tough for me to hold on to my target pace when I have no one near me and my body wants to slow down.  I was pretty off for these next few miles (6:22, 6:45, 6:41, 6:43) likely due to this and to a section of rollers that I was now dealing with on tired legs.  But, my watch shows average pace and I was holding steady at 6:37, so I knew I was still within range.  With two miles to go, my time was 1:10.  Fortunately, I had the mental capacity to do the math and realized that if I ran 2 more miles at 6:30, I had a shot at a PR (sub 1:27:24).  So, I bucked up and went for it.  I gave it everything I had for miles 11-13.1 (6:43, 6:30, 6:22).  Unfortunately, we had a couple more hills to duke it out with, so everything I had wasn't that much faster at first.  But, once I was in the home stretch, I knew I had a shot.  I continuously looked at my watch, something I never do during most races at the end, but knowing how close I was, I was going to be ticked off if I didn't check and then came in a couple seconds after my best time.  The last .1 was on a downhill so I just opened up and flew.  I saw the clock and a sense of relief washed over me as I knew I'd finally broken through and snagged the PR.  Not by a lot.  And that's okay.  Because it was just enough to remind me that the work is paying off and that, despite my doubts, it is definitely still worth it.


I was the first female to cross the line.  And that was awesome.  I was also the first master (40+), and on top of that, of the 8 men who came in before me, only one of them was in his forties.  I was incredibly proud to have been competitive with those young chickens at age 42.  Just last year I'd reached out to my coach after my 3rd, unsuccessful attempt at a marathon PR and asked him if he thought I had peaked in my ability and whether I should change my goals because of this.  His response?  Absolutely not.  I won't deny the fact that I had to work a lot harder to see these results, but just knowing that I'm capable of it is enough to keep me going.  


Shortly after I came in, Kirsten followed, also with a fantastic time.  We found Eli, thanked him for another great race, and let him know that we'd undoubtedly be back again.  Then we headed out for our cool down followed by our hard-earned coffees.  Which, in the end, aside from the challenge, the adventure and the love of the sport, is really what we do it for.  Kidding.  Sort of.

#teambacon

Listen to this:
Ultralife by Oh Wonder

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

BOSTON MARATHON:PART 2

Yeah runnin' down a dream
That never would come to me
Workin' on a mystery, goin' wherever it leads
Runnin' down a dream
~ Tom Petty

On Monday, April 17th, we woke up to a beautiful and, to our dismay, very warm day.  As usual I was up early, around 6:00am, but Joyce and I wouldn't be starting to run until 11:15, so I tried to pack enough food and hydration to last all morning.  Oh, and I threw in the sunscreen as well.  If you read my previous post, you know that the days leading up to this one were full of activities and insanely hectic for me.  But thankfully, I'd had a chance to reset on Sunday afternoon, followed by a really solid night's sleep, so I was ready and eager to get to Hopkinton and get things going on Monday morning.  For those of you reading this blog for the first time, a little back story here.  In 2016, I ran the marathon as a member of Team With A Vision (TWAV), an organization that raises funds and awareness to support individuals living in MA who are living with vision loss.  I had the great fortune of guiding Joyce Cron, a mom, athlete and superwoman who has big goals and absolutely no limits.  We successfully crossed the line in 4 hours and 30 minutes (read that story here) and once the dust settled, we agreed to put our heads together to determine whether we would do it again in 2017.  We stayed in touch through the summer and fall and then in January we decided it was time to get serious about our plan.  Not surprisingly, Joyce wanted to run Boston again, but she had two big obstacles that she was worried about.  First, she had wicked plantar fasciitis in her right foot, which had been plaguing her for weeks, and second, her vision had deteriorated a bit so she was no longer capable of training on her own at all, something she'd been able to do the year before.  She did not, however, see these as a reason to bail all together and was determined to figure out solutions for both so she could get to the starting line, which clearly, she did. (read that story here)  Come April, her injury was at bay and she'd gotten all of her key training runs in so she was ready to rock.  Which brings us back to marathon Monday.

Calm before the storm 

The one thing I noticed as I sat outside and caffeinated at 6:00am was the light breeze which happened to be on the cooler side.  This was definitely going to be our best friend for the day.  My friend and teammate, Kirsten, was also guiding for TWAV and her husband had offered to drive us out to Hopkinton so they came by to scoop me up around 8:30.  We made it to the State park without incident around 9:00am, said our goodbyes and then hopped on the shuttle that would take us over to the Hopkinton Vision Center where we'd be meeting up with the rest of our team and hanging out for the morning.  Given the typical chaos of this day along with the weeks leading up to it, it's almost ridiculous how easy this process was for us.

Andrea Croak...smiling, of course

This woman, the amazing Andrea Croak, has everything to do with this.  She is the mastermind behind our team, the chief organizer, main question answerer, key problem solver and holder of all TWAV knowledge. She also happens to be one the calmest people I know, a key trait given that the rest of us on the team are often borderline freaking out come race day, and she's always smiling.  I can not say enough good things about this gal.  So much of our TWAV marathon experience banks on her and all that she does for us and she has got it so dialed in that we never have to worry.  Not surprisingly, she was the first person who greeted us when we arrived at the Vision Center.  She let me know that Joyce had already arrived, that there were bags for our gear over in the corner and that hot coffee was already brewed and available for us up in the kitchen.  See?  Amazing.  I made my way in to find Joyce and put my stuff down.  As I did this, I happened to notice that Scott Jurek was hanging out in the parking lot with his wife and baby and a group of our runners.  I tried to act cool, but was totally starstruck because...well...because it was SCOTT JUREK, one of the greatest runners of all time.  Later I learned that Scott's mom had MS and at the end of her life she had some vision loss so he has always been a big TWAV supporter and was out with us for the day simply to cheer us on and thank us for all we do.  How cool is that?  I wanted to grab Joyce and tell her he was out there as I knew she'd read about him and would be as excited to meet him as I was.

w/ Joyce and Scott Jurek

Scott has got to be one of the warmest, friendliest and most humble guys I've ever met.  He applauded Joyce for all she does despite her vision loss and wished us well on our Boston journey.  After our conversation, Joyce and I went back inside to grab some food and chill out for a while as we had a few hours before we'd be leaving.  If Joyce was nervous, I couldn't tell.  She was calm and cool as a cucumber as we ate pretzels, drank water and chatted about stuff both running related and non.  Around 10:45 we headed back outside with our other guide, Bob, who would be running the first half with us, did some final stretching and took some photos before going over to the start.

#TEAM CRON

As it was last year, the crowds in the beginning were tricky for us to navigate.  Bob and I wove our way down the street with Joyce, working to keep her from bumping into people or obstacles like the corral gates.  We found our section and planted ourselves in a shady spot to wait until we our wave took off.  Bob has run a ton of marathons so he told us stories of past races which was a welcome distraction.  Finally, at 11:15, they sent us on our way and we crossed the start as Tom Petty sang Runnin Down a Dream'.  Just...amazing.  

THE RACE
Miles 1-5
Joyce's plan was to run a 10-10:15 pace and it was my job to hold us there as she doesn't wear a watch.  By the time we took off it was already in the 70s so we decided we would get water at every stop to avoid dehydration issues.  Our plan was to have Bob get the water and bring it over to us rather than try to fight the crowds at the tables ourselves.  We did this last year and it worked well so we figured we just stick with it.  Our first few miles were relatively smooth.  We were right on target for pacing and Bob and I wove through the people and got vocal when we needed to pass them.  At mile 5, Bob ducked in to get us water and, as we had been doing, Joyce and I kept going.  After a few minutes, Bob hadn't come back, so I managed to get water for both of us and we plowed on assuming Bob would find us eventually.  I continued to look behind me to see if I could spot him but it was a bit of a distraction to do both this and to focus on Joyce.  After 10 minutes or so I told Joyce that we were on our own for the time being and that we'd be able to make it work between the two of us which she seemed good with.  It was right about here that I was thanking the stars above that this wasn't my first time guiding!!!

at Mile 6 w/ Joyce (and officially on our own)

Miles 5-12
Okay, so Bob was totally out of the picture and we'd decided that it was not likely that he was going to find us so we forged on and didn't stress about it.  It's worth noting here that the BAA gives every TWAV runner one registered guide.  The rest of us who guide have qualified for Boston and are basically donating our numbers to TWAV so that the athletes can have at least two to three guides with them at all times.  So, case in point here as to why this needs to happen.  Joyce and I laughed a bit as we wondered out loud what she would have done if she'd only had Bob to run with and lost him.  She claims that she would have just linked arms with someone else around her and hoped for the best which I'm pretty sure would have worked though I hate to think of her having to deal with that at all.  From this point on we made a new system for the water stops.  I'd bring us right over to the volunteer and Joyce would hold her hand out for the cup directly.  After doing it a few times, we found it worked well so this is how it went for the next few miles.  The heat was taking it's toll on us and we were both having to drink 2-3 cups of water per stop.  But, we made it to the transition area without incident and scooped up our second guide, Tony, who would be running the remainder of the race with us.

@ the half with Tony & Joyce

Miles 12-21
Getting into Wellesley is always a blast no matter what condition you're in and for Joyce it's even more intense because the volume rises ten-fold.  She smiled as she heard the crowds going wild and we both laughed as I read all the various "Kiss Me" signs out loud to her.  The next section to get through was the hills and they were really, really tough.  Tony and I talked Joyce through each one, letting her know when we could see the top and telling her how well she was doing.  She was struggling but she was also fighting like nobody's business.  Toward the end of this section we heard her son shout out so we turned back so she could give him a hug and they could take a quick photo.  That was a HUGE boost for her and put a new skip in her step for the next few miles.  The timing could not have been more perfect.

Joyce, smiling just after seeing her son

Miles 22-26.2
Finally we were in the home stretch.  Joyce was insanely tired and she'd slowed down but she was still okay.  We heard a group shouting "TEAM CRON" over and over and realized it was her husband and daughter.  They had riled up the crowd around them and everyone was yelling it which was awesome because I'm not sure we would have found them otherwise.  Again, we circled back so that Joyce could give both of them hugs and kisses.  It was another massive boost to her spirits and exactly what we all needed to get us through this final stretch.

FINAL PUSH

The crowds through the last 10K of the marathon are insane.  People are 10 deep and all of them are cheering at the top of their lungs.  Tony and I did our best to get people to yell even louder, pointing at Joyce and lifting our arms up so they knew to raise the volume for this amazing woman.  When we turned onto Boylston, I turned to her and said "Do you hear that, Joyce? That's for YOU! They're cheering for you. We did it. YOU DID IT."  She wasn't smiling as she was laser focused on getting to the finish line.  I, however, was smiling from ear to ear and couldn't stop.

THE FINISH
Official time:4:35
Place:5th Visually Impaired Female

We heard the announcer call out Joyce's name as she stepped over the line and then immediately turned to each other and hugged.  We both cried a little, too.  We'd done it.  Again.  And though she didn't PR, she was damn close in some really tough conditions.  Though Joyce was totally wiped, she was in great spirits and she, too, was now smiling ear to ear.  All three of us were floating as we made our way to the family meeting area.  And, of course, despite the fact that it was hot as hell for the entire race, it was now windy and cold.  Only in New England.  We hugged again and then said our goodbyes as we were all freezing and ready to put our feet up.  The next day I got an email from Joyce.  It was long and made me cry (again) but some of it is worth sharing. 

Dear Rebecca,
What a marathon journey!  I am thinking back to the challenges of training.  Would my foot injury cause me grief?  Could I get enough training totally depending on others to run with me?  How much time do I rest a piercing pain after a long run and keep with my training schedule?  And then the flu during tapering!

 Joyce had some serious hurdles to get over in order to make this dream a reality.  But it was never a question of 'if' for her, just 'how'.  How could she stay healthy, get the help she needed and get to Hopkinton?  And damned if she wasn't going to figure out.

I am just so excited to finish Boston and qualify to run it again. Next year's Boston?  To do this, I need to be able to get enough training in and this is very, very difficult as I now depend on a team of runners all the time.  (Thankfully) One of (the main) TWAV goals is awareness so that I and other low vision runners can run, not just races but training runs.  A team is so much fun with having company on runs, sharing run stories and developing a team strategy.  I hope to be back and I would love to run with you.

To which I responded

 Joyce, if you want to run Boston next year, I'm in.  For now, put your feet up and enjoy your hard-earned break.  When you're ready to get going again, I'll be ready, too.  

It's hard for me to put into words how much I love, respect and admiration I have for this woman.  But, after reading this, I'm guessing you get the gist.  Once again, I got so much out of this experience and regardless of whether we run again, I will be forever grateful.  Though, I'm pretty sure we'll see you back on Boylston Street in 2018.  Stay tuned....

Listen to this:
Runnin' Down A Dream by Tom Petty