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Because I’m a mom, I often find myself feeling guilty for doing something so self-indulgent as marathon training. I know that running helps to relieve stress, boosts my energy, and makes me an all-around better mother, but still…guilt likes to creep in.

While letting the kids bike with me on runs is okay, it’s really not ideal for me.

I do enjoy spending the time with the kids, hearing their observations about nature, and how red my face is, and how drippy my hair looks, but the white space I find on my solo runs is good for my soul.

How much do I give them? And how much do I give myself (without guilt)?

I think I’ve found a compromise. It began with a new old bike and my bad knees.

I found a bright pink bicycle for Libby at the Junk Shop, and she wanted to take it for a spin. I had a run to do, but I wanted to try doing a warm-up, followed by stretching. So, off we went together, over the hill and through the fields for 2 miles.

It was blistering hot that afternoon, but with only a few uphill boosts from Mom, Libby did the entire 2 miles. I did my stretching at home, and then set off again.

My knees did not hurt at all during the next 8 miles.

This is a big deal, since normally, my knees start complaining after 6 miles.

It was so terribly hot that not only did I drink all the water from my hydration pack, but I unsealed the bladder in order to dump the water stuck in the corners on my head.

I was unsuccessful, as the clear rubber bladder looked as if it had been shrink wrapped. Fortunately, I had brought apple slices with me and was able to shove enough handfuls in my mouth to make it home without collapsing.

It was a terrible, brutal, horrible, hateful run. EXCEPT, my knees didn’t hurt, and my little girl got to be a part of it; two facts which made the day a success.

It was such a success, this idea of actually warming up and stretching, that I tried it with the other kids.

William ran my short run with me (the entire two miles). He kept up, ran ahead, jumped in circles, ran with his arms down by his sides, and monologued the entire way (a little breathlessly). I beat him, by the way (but not by much). I still have better endurance:)

Noah ran an entire mile with me, happily chatting. I ran slowly, for the benefit of this almost 9 year-old, until he smiled up at me and said, “Okay, I’m going to run now,” at which point he left me in his dust. He promises to run a marathon with me when he’s old enough.

Katie cheerfully and quietly biked 2 miles with me as the sun was rising and the rain clouds were moving in. She was content simply being with me–something that both puzzles and humbles me.

I love my kids, and I love running.

Now it seems I can enjoy both, no guilt required.

Running downhill with the wind at your back is easy; it’s when you turn around you find out how well you’ve prepared.

Saturday’s long run is a good example. I knew I had to run ten miles, so I gave myself two hours, which should have been plenty of time to warm up, do the run, and cool down.

But instead of getting myself out the door, I sat around drinking coffee, while glancing at my watch occasionally. When I pulled out of the driveway, I realized I would have just enough time to get to the trail and do the run.

Of course, I failed to take road construction into consideration.

By the time I was sneakers on the ground, I was literally running late, which means, my warm-up was non-existent, which means, at 8 ½ miles, I had run out of time, and my knees were hurting.

It was at this point a light bulb switched on in my “learn it the hard way” noggin: every time my knees hurt, my muscles were tight.

There might be a correlation here.

Because I didn’t give myself enough time to properly warm up (which should have been a mile jog followed by light stretching), my knees suffered.

So, in my usual, human guinea pig style, I have vowed to try a proper warm up next time with stretching, and THEN begin my run, even if it means waking up with the chickens on a Saturday morning.

Only by doing a proper warm-up can I determine if my knees are paying the price for my own laziness, or if there is a real medical need to slink back to the physical therapist, tail between my legs.  

In marathon training, it’s not the wind or the rain or even the mileage I’m fighting; it’s my own proclivity towards procrastination.

Time and time again, I willingly slide my toes into the warm, comfortable tar-pit of failure.

Because if I don’t give 100%, I can always say, “Well, I didn’t really try,” or “I needed more time,” or “I had to stop because my knees hurt [because of my own neglect].”

I know that people who do great things are those who commit themselves whole-heartedly. They give every ounce of their being to do something well. No excuses.

I get this.

I comprehend this on an intellectual level.

But it is incredibly difficult to lace shoes on it and go.

It is much easier to fail if you have an excuse.

What if you give not just what you think is your best attempt, but a genuine, 100%, to-the-point-of-collapse effort, and you still fall short of your goal?

That’s scary.

That’s being human.

But that is the fear I must overcome—and soon.

No excuses.

In six days I will ride the beast. That’s what a friend of mine calls running a marathon: riding the beast. It encourages me in a do-or-die sort of way.

I am not sure how I got here. I know training was involved. I know it began when there were still patches of snow on the ground. Yet, as I review all that’s happened, it’s hard to believe I was the main character. If not for the muscles on my body, where no muscles had been before, it would be easy for me to think this was all just a book I read. The blonde runner is as vivid a character as Jo March or Elizabeth Bennet.

I can picture the runner, her blonde hair tamed by a headband, choosing the roller coaster route, passing a man, being chased by a woman, Guten Morgen-ing the Nordic walker (twice), dodging manure trucks, avoiding tractors, waving to farmers, running past fields of yellow, green, gold; following, and overtaking, Pink Shirt Lady at Rothenburg; wearing her SuperSuit, mittens, rain jacket, tank top, sun hat; making war and peace with the treadmill; trotting with various assorted children on bikes, gliding  joyfully beside her prodigal brother; but mostly running alone, with only her thoughts, prayers, and imagination as companions.

I can picture the group of deer, startled from tranquility, bounding across the hills. Large, brown rabbits sit up and watch bemused as the woman runs by. A flock of crows mocks her. A lone bird hovers high above the sugar beet field and chirps like a car alarm until she passes. Cows stare as she disturbs the music of their belled collars by dashing through their alpine haven.

The blonde runner laughs at the ducks by the Main River and admires the swans. At the Brombachsee, an elderly man smiles and salutes, just as she feels like stopping. She forces her grimace into a grin at mile 15, so her children won’t see her in pain as she finishes.

I envision her legs dangling from the exam table as hope is revived with a simple roll of tape.

I can see this woman, this blonde runner, and all she has done, but I can’t quite believe it was me.

I don’t know how I will feel when the marathon is over, and the celebration, like the training, is placed on a shelf of dusty memories. I may be happy pulling it down for the occasional re-telling. Or, this marathon could be a new storyline in this character-driven series.

As in all good narratives, this one is to be continued…

My permanent medical record clearly states something I have suspected for years: Mrs. Keri S. Wellman has fat thighs.

The doctor was not quite that blunt. However, the diagnosis of Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome basically means I need to replace the flab on my thighs with actual muscle.

I’m in unmapped territory here.

About mile eleven on Sunday, my right knee began to ache. I stopped and stretched. By mile twelve I was popping Ibuprofen. I walked a good portion of mile thirteen. During mile fourteen, I tried willing myself into an out-of-body experience. It was mentally counter-productive, since the Grim Reaper, who is often involved in such things, is not the most inspirational running companion.  I was elated to reach mile fifteen without the help of paramedics.

Ten minutes after my run, my knee felt fine. It occurred to me that perhaps subconsciously I was creating pain as an excuse to not perform well. Because as we all know, when you are slow, it is better to be hobbled than lazy.

The doctor assured me I’m not that psychotic. I’m just flabby.

So, it’s time for some strength training for me. I also foresee many squats in my future, which do not include picking up stray M&Ms from the floor.

This could be my chance to change history: medical history, that is.

The next four weeks will be a battle between Lazy Keri and Someother Keri. Lazy Keri may not come out of this alive. Frankly, it’s hard to do away with someone I’ve been so comfortable with for so many years.

Yet, the fact remains: Lazy Keri cannot successfully train for a marathon. Someother Keri must take her place.

I just hope she’s strong enough to win.

Stats:

Miles: Sunday 15, Monday 0, Tuesday 2, Wednesday 6

Miles projected: the goal is to have an 18 mile run this weekend. I’ll keep the rescue team on speed dial.

Weather: it was perfect for my long run on Sunday: cool, and overcast with sprinkles. It amazes me whenever I call that type of weather “perfect.” The forecast is for sunshine & warmth—70s & 80s.

Terrain: for the 15 miler, I went all the way around a big lake we have here in Franconia. It was partly forested, had a moments of elevation, and lovely little beaches. The path changed from pavement to rock at times. It also split off between pedestrians and bicycles, so there was no fear of being run over. A fantastic running trail.

Wildlife: the usual deer, rabbits, and birds. However,  the Brombachsee trail had areas containing wild boar. These big, fuzzy pigs were begging food from passersby at the fence.

“If you have so much energy, come and help me hoe this field!” The farmer’s white cap shook as he laughed. I smiled and politely called out, “Nein, danke.”

One minute people are cheering for you as you cross the finish line, the next you are joke fodder for farmers.

It is back to the world of dirt and mops and scrubby brushes. It is back to being teacher, nurse, cook, diplomat, judge, jury, and cleaning lady. It is back to carving out time for training. Yet, no matter how weary I get hearing cries of “Mama!” while I’m in the bathroom, I wouldn’t trade this life for any of the glitz, glam, or bling of this world.

Life is not always a breezy downhill slope. Sometimes you fight against the wind.

Running helps.

It takes patience to wait for a six year-old to tie her shoes when you should be on the road already. It takes a calm mom to hear all sides of a story. It takes an energetic mom to clean the house. Running helps me achieve these things.

Because of the half-marathon, I have learned by simply shifting my weight forward a bit, I can run faster and more efficiently. It is a little harder, but the more I run this way, the easier it will become.

After all, maintaining comfort is not always best. Taking chances, working hard, and striving towards a higher goal may lead to something greater than you could imagine.

If you want more energy, then run when you’re tired. If you want to be patient and calm, then run when you’re stressed. If you feel hemmed in on all sides, then run alone. If you feel alone, then run, and talk to God about it.

“Oh, Keri, you are crazy!” exclaimed my landlady, as I reached the house after Tuesday’s run.

Maybe I am. But then again, maybe there is method in it.

Running is not about trophies or accolades or even about earning the respect of farmers: it is about clawing your way out of your comfortable box and seeing what kind of “you” emerges.

To not run would be madness.

Stats:

Miles: Monday 0, Tuesday 3, Wednesday 6

Weather: Tuesday it was cool & cloudy when I began and hot & sunny when I finished. Today was long-sleeved shirt weather with winds that tried to keep me from returning home.

Music: because the wind prevented my normal appreciation of nature sounds, Superchick, Casting Crowns, and Jack Johnson were my companions today.

Wildlife: a few out of control birds, one rabbit, a beleaguered butterfly, and two tractors.

 

If it weren’t for my impaired mobility this morning, I would not believe I ran a half-marathon yesterday. I have photographic evidence of the race. I have personal, eyewitness accounts, yet it all seems dreamlike to me. I ran 13 miles yesterday—at Rothenburg: a course so challenging, they had an ambulance stationed on each hilltop.

I’ve never been an athlete. I have ten pounds I can’t seem to get rid of at any price. And though gummi bears are fat free, they don’t qualify as health food. I have kids and a husband and a dog. I have laundry to do and floors to wash. If I can run a race of 13 miles, it’s possible for anyone.

Sitting here trying to stretch my legs while typing gives me time to reflect on yesterday’s race (if indeed that was me running).

Lessons Learned:

*Though drinking coffee is NEVER a wrong thing to do, I also should have done a short warm-up run before the race. Instead, I had a carafe of coffee while the kids ate ice cream.

* At about mile 7, one of the runners made the mistake of asking where I was from. This began a 1 mile, one-sided conversation, where I blabbered to kill some time. And time I did kill, for my pace slowed down to a 12 minute mile. Finally the guy said, “I need to go faster now.” Oops. (For the record, I picked up the pace and ended up beating him).

*Bring headphones. The last mile included a long, uphill slope, straight from Twilight Zone, that seemed to never end. A little Superchick would’ve helped.

*Going downhill is easier than going uphill—use it to your advantage.

*Focus. At times, I felt simply mindless. I wasn’t thinking about anything in particular, though I do remember staring at some ponies. More focus on the actual running might have helped.

*Shoe laces. The shoe with my timing chip came untied at the start. Because I had to stop, I was left behind by the quick-paced pack.

*Holding back. I was so worried about not having enough energy left at the end of the race that I held back in moments when I should have pressed on.

*My Nathan Hydration pack was a lifesaver. I tried drinking the lukewarm mineral water at the water station but ended up splashing it all over my face.

*PowerBar Refuel Gel packs helped me to keep going when I felt like giving up.

*My shoes and socks were perfect! No foot aches at all.

*Positive attitude. With few women entered in the race (and most of them younger and belonging to racing teams), I knew I would not be getting any trophies. However, I opted to be the friendliest runner of the day. While my fellow runners didn’t seem to appreciate my congeniality, the spectators who waited along the road were awesome. Each one of them deserved (and received) a smile, a wave, or a ‘danke’ from me. The little kids, I applauded. It was fantastic that people would sit out (for two hours or more) just to watch the runners. I loved it.

*Cheerleaders. It was such a boost to see my friends & family along the route. They waved & cheered & took funny pictures of me. Even though the other runners were uber-serious, I had people who loved me, rooting for me.

*Training. Even though I slacked off during vacation, I can tell my training has paid off. Many times during the race, Pink Shirt Lady was ahead of me (she was faster than she looked). However, she was breathing really hard, whereas I was able to cheerily converse with her. I ran with her for a while, and then passed her on the hilly side of the course.

*Best of all was having the kids run the final stretch with me. It was worth all the effort just for the photo finish.

The Rothenburger Halbmarathon was a success for me. I kept a good pace (despite hills that could send people into cardiac arrest), I kept a good attitude, and I did not finish last.

Now, onto Füssen!

Post Race Stats:

Miles: 13.2

Time: 2 hours 15 minutes

Average Pace: 10:17 minutes per mile

Calories burned: 1680

Weather: partly sunny in the 60s, a few sprinkles at the end—perfect running weather.

Overall feeling: if I can conquer Rothenburg, I can conquer anything.

The problem with running on a summer evening is that because sweat runs down your back like the Mighty Mississip, there’s nothing left with which to spit out bugs.

This is why I run in the morning, while the bugs are still sleeping.

I have been released from the depths of dingy hotel workout rooms and am back pounding the pavement of the lovely country roads of Franconia. My schedule became more tangled than the kids’ kite strings during vacation, and it is proving a challenge to straighten it out.

To answer last week’s questions:

1) One does not train while on a cruise of the Rhine River. Instead, you sit and drink coffee for three hours while listening to Brazilian tourists sing drinking songs. Judging by their stout bodies, these men had years of experience in the drinking of beer.

2) The climbs up to the castles in the sweltering heat were workouts in themselves. Simply arriving at the top without dehydrating was an accomplishment. I didn’t even think about doing hill repeats.

3) After a day of tromping around castles, I sought out the hotel workout room. The place was deserted, so I was able to choose whichever TV channel I wanted: SpongeBob in German or tennis. The match was less than spectacular.

4) Perhaps I was “supposed to” run 15 miles the day we drove back. However, I have discovered “supposed to” is a relative phrase. In reality, I am supposed to balance having a real life with marathon training. I postponed my long run until the day the guests were safely on the train to the airport. I couldn’t do 15 without injuring myself, so I did 11 instead. And honestly, I was quite proud of the 11.

Vacation has been a lesson in flexibility. The trick is to determine how much flexibility I can have without compromising performance. The test of my flexible vacation schedule will come on Sunday, when I run my half-marathon.

I’ll bring extra water, so I can perfect the fine art of bug spitting.

Stats:

Miles: Tuesday 11, Wednesday 4, Thursday 6

Aches & Pains: My right knee was just killing me after the long run. I’ve dedicated more time to stretching, which has helped a lot. On a positive note, I was able to climb up the castle paths with relative ease. It felt great to not gasp for breath or fear a heart attack on the climbs.

Weather: Intermittent summer. Sunny & in the 70s low 80s on some days. Cloudy & in the 50s & 60s other days.

Wildlife: lots of deer, rabbits, bugs, and farmers’ wives hoeing the fields.

The next time I suggest marathon training easily coexists with real life, please fill my inbox with tersely worded, confrontational letters to the contrary.

Last week I ran 15 miles total. I was supposed to run 27. What happened?

Life.

And drizzle.

I discovered I can get up at 5am and run before anyone knows I’m gone as long as the sun is shining. But when the irises are being pelted with rain, and my knee aches, and the sun feels every inch of 93 million miles away from the earth, I’m likely to stay in bed until I smell coffee brewing.

On Saturday, the sun streamed in through the window, alerting the overzealous budgie, whose cheerful morning song reminds one of a malfunctioning fire alarm.

I was awake.

I ran my errands early and then went down to the trail by the river. During the four days I had not been running, my joints and muscles had formed a workers’ union. Saturday was their first official strike.

Despite the silent protest, I went on with business as usual.

At mile five, I put on my headphones.

By mile six, my knee became belligerent. As I considered giving in to the demands of my body and declaring a shorter work day, a song from Superchick forced me to keep going. The refrain of that particular song exclaimed: “One more! Go one more! Don’t stop now! Go one more!”

I couldn’t let Superchick down.

At mile eight, the music ended, and the trail merged with a side road. As I looked both ways before crossing to the path, I saw behind me, a woman in a fluorescent yellow shirt. The shirt was piped in white and black and had words etched across the front. The woman had spiky black hair and a scowl on her face.

She was a runner.

And she wanted to catch me.

It didn’t matter if my knee hurt, or if my joints ached, or if my fingers were growing as thick as bratwursts, I would not, could not let her pass me. 

I didn’t have time to mess with the headphones. But now that the music had ended, I could hear her footsteps behind me. Soon I was running a nine-minute mile.

Garmin tracked the mileage. ¼ mile. ½ mile. I thought ¾ mile would never come. The sound of footsteps roared in my ears like thunder. Finally, my watch beeped to signal mile nine. 

I turned around. She was still 100 meters away. I had won! I casually checked my watch then smiled at her. Surprise flickered across her face, which quickly reformed into a scowl. I headed towards the parking lot. To my relief, she didn’t follow me. She didn’t smile either.

If my body screamed during mile eight, I didn’t hear it. If it complained at all during mile nine, I don’t remember. The sun was shining, and I had won.

I wonder if my fair-weather friend will be at Füssen July 25th? Or if I’ll see her at the Rothenburg Half-marathon June 13th?

I’ll bring the sound of her footsteps with me, just in case.

Stats:

Miles: Saturday 10, Monday 3

Weather: Blah. But the forecast is good.

Questions: How do I train while cruising the Rhine River? Is it rude to do hill repeats while touring a castle? Am I really supposed to run fifteen miles the day we drive back?

Answers: To be determined.

I was two miles into my twelve-mile run when a duck flopped out from the woods. It rapidly waddled along the trail, trying to escape the daunting footfalls of the intrepid marathoner. The duck quacked, flapped its wings, and rose a few inches before hitting the pavement. It complained loudly and hobbled down the path, as quickly as its webbed feet and odd body would allow.

If this were a story of fiction I would say, as I drew near, the duck suddenly launched itself into the air, soared above the river, and led a column of its compadres to the safety of the nesting ground. I would then tell you the duck inspired me to keep moving, no matter how inelegant I felt.

But this is not fiction.

The duck flopped back into the bushes. I heard a splash and a lot more quacking.

I had ten miles left to contemplate this message from nature.

The literal interpretation suggested I was a creature out of her element: waddling along looking ridiculous, while the real runners passed by.

If the interpretation hinged on flying, then it meant I would be unsuccessful in my attempt to soar. Nature was telling me to fling myself through the bushes and plunge into the easy stream of my pre-running life.

Or maybe, just maybe, I was reading too much into things.

Sometimes, ducks just fall into your path.

I read messages in nature: they are the Creator’s sticky notes, attached to the massive calendar of my life. Some notes challenge me, in order that I might grow. Other messages encourage me to press on, to stay the course.

At mile nine, I saw the swan.

Stats:

Blog Neglect: high.

Family and training neglect: low.

Miles: last week 26. Monday 5.

Total Miles (since training began): 222.

Weather: Last Tuesday I did the treadmill, and subsequently vowed to do the treadmill only if tornadoes were actively ripping up my running paths. Otherwise, I had good weather. Saturday was gorgeous (though a little too hot), and today is also sunny and in the 60s.

Something New: I began doing pace training. 200 meters fast, 200 slow, 400 fast, 400 slow, etc. I did that for the first two miles of my four mile run, and while I thought I had slowed down for the last half of the run, I was actually running faster than ever. I ended up averaging a 9:16 mile (on the roller-coaster route), which is a personal best.

Some things I Never Thought I’d  Say:

“It was too sunny on Saturday.”

“After the first five miles, I was ready to really run.”

Something Funny My Six Year-Old Said: “You have a LOT of muscle! I can’t even feel your bones!”

Aches & Pains: I was fairly rubbery-legged after the 12 miles. I discovered muscles I never knew existed. Also, my fingers swelled up like sausages after my long run. I quickly pried off my wedding ring. The swelling was most likely from the way my water pack had been pressing on my shoulders. Nothing serious—just weird.

1 bottle of wine shared between 2 friends over 5 hours does not a hangover make. Rather, it was staying up until an hour I’d not seen since the last baby was weaned, which made me a little less than sporty for my eight-mile run.

I couldn’t help myself. Not only were my brother and mother here, but so were two friends. One was a new friend, but the other knew me when I was still feathering my bangs. When everyone else retired, my dear friend and I stayed up, talking until the candles burned themselves down to nubs.

Hospitality and marathon training can live in harmony.

Sunday morning found me on my scheduled run, with my brother, who had skipped the high school girl giggle fest, biking beside me. Even with nearly half a liter of wine in my system, and only 4 hours of sleep, I could still keep under a ten-minute mile. The delightfully flat trail by the river Main (pronounced “mine”) helped immensely.

Marathon training is entirely doable when you have company. In fact, training is better when someone you love is riding a bike or running with you. I was blessed with good running weather while my brother was here, and he was able to see firsthand my tangled maze of running trails. Together, we happened upon an idyllic trail, which ran for miles along the river Main.

While the path along the Main will be a perfect place for my weekly long run, I can never see it again without being reminded of my brother, and the five thousand miles that lie between us.

From this point on, the river trail will be a place where joy and sadness are forged into kinetic energy.

Stats: I am proud to report I have not slacked off during training. I didn’t do the half-marathon, but I can catch the next one.

Miles: May 3rd-May 9th a weekly total of 21 miles.

May 10th-May 16th a weekly total of 21 miles.

Terrain: my brother was able to do the shorter runs through the countryside with me without his knees killing him. On the long runs, he took a bike. We went all through ‘my’ territory. Then we ventured to the next town, where we found the trail along the Main River. These were the best runs I’ve had. My brother sets a good pace–and talking to him made the time fly by. He also motivated me in a way only brothers can by simply saying, “I’ll race you home!”