Running

Heart Rate Training, Explained

There’s been quite a bit of chatter lately about heart rate training. What is it? What does it mean? What good does it do? I’ve spent a lot of time talking to people about how it works and why it’s important, but explaining it in a thread of Facebook comments is somewhat cumbersome and I think it’s worth diving into further. So here we go.

When I first started running, like most new runners, I was entirely focused on pace. I wanted to be fast, so I ran fast. As fast as I could, all the time. Every run ended the same way. Me, in a pile of exhausted, panting in the living room floor. Pooped. Kinda feeling sick. Must take a nap. Now.

What I didn’t realize was, I was shortchanging myself. I was running too fast. Yes, you can run too fast.

Let me explain.

Two process help our bodies bring necessary fuel to our muscles during exercise: aerobic metabolism and anaerobic metabolism. Though they never work exclusively, one will always dominate depending on the intensity of exercise. The less intense aerobic process uses oxygen to turn fat into fuel and the more intense anaerobic process converts stored glycogen (sugar) into energy in the absence of oxygen.

Confused? Stay with me.

When you run slowly, you’re not working hard; your heart rate is low and breathing is slow. Your body is burning mostly fat. Fat metabolism is an oxaditive process – meaning your body needs oxygen to turn your fat stores into usable energy. If your heart rate is low, and your breathing is controlled, you are providing your body plenty of oxygen to burn your fat.

The faster your move the more your fat metabolism revvs up and the more oxygen your body demands. As soon as your body demands more oxygen than you can effectively deliver (a.k.a. you start breathing hard or panting), an oxygen defect is created and your body starts looking for an alternative source of fuel that doesn’t require oxygen for metabolism- enter glycogen (sugar).

If fat is your gas tank. Sugar is your nitrous oxide boost.

The heart rate in which your body switches from primarily fat burning to sugar burning is called your lactate threshold.

As long as you stay in that happy, I’m-not-panting zone your exercise is self-sustaining and you can almost run forever off stored fat. But with only 2,000 calories of glycogen (sugar) available, there’s really not that much there. Wanna know why marathoners hit the wall? They’re exceeding their body’s ability to burn fat and they run out of sugar. That’s it.

Got it? Good.

But what does that have to do with running too fast?

You can manipulate how your body burns fat and sugar by how fast you run during training. Your body adapts to the stress placed on it. Which means, the more you stress your body in the oxygen demanding, fat burning, slow, I-love-running, happy zone, the more efficient your body becomes at delivering oxygen to your muscles and burning fat.

How does it become more efficient? Inside, you grow more capillaries to deliver available oxygen to muscle cells and you produce more mitochondria which use that oxygen to turn fat into fuel. You’re literally growing new body parts. Pretty cool, huh?

This is aerobic development. And guess what? You don’t grow body parts overnight. Aerobic development is a slow process which takes WEEKS, MONTHS and even YEARS.

Run a lot. Run slower. Become more efficient. Be patient. Get faster. It’s an easy process that pays off.

What is the secret formula for determining the ideal heart rate for training?

If you’re an advanced athlete, getting a VO2 max test done will be beneficial. Use the results and stay at the top end of zone 2 – but most recreational athletes can get by with using an age based formula.

180- your age with the following modifications:

-10, if you’re recovering from major illness or are on regular medication, or you’ve never exercised before
-5, if you are coming back from a layoff, or workout 1-2 times per week
+/-0, if you work out 3-4 times per week
+5, if you’ve been running injury free for at least 2 years and/or work out 5+ times per week, or are older than 60/younger than 20

In case you’re wondering, I’ve not had a VO2 max test done and am training with the 180-age formula. I’m 38 years old and I add 5 because I run a gazillion times a week.

180-38=142

142+5=147 is my target.

I’ve spent the past 15 months running at a heart rate of slightly less than 147, with the exception of a handful of speed sessions leading up to Boston, and it’s paying off, in spades.

Wanna see the proof?

This was my first heart rate based run (see image below), April 20, 2016. I had qualified for Boston only three months earlier; I was in the best shape of my life. I thought I was the sh!t. I was served a big fat piece of humble pie on a giant silver platter.

Average heart rate 145. Average pace 10:30/mile. Chew on that. Ugh. Maybe I wasn’t in as good of shape as I thought.

Notice the peaks and valleys in the heart rate as I struggled to keep it under control? Just a slight change in pace caused a significant increase in heart rate as my body teetered on the edge of being able to deliver enough oxygen to my muscles.

Fast forward a year and three months. This run was July 20, 2017 (see image below). Average heart rate 142. Average pace 9:10/mile. The cool part is, this includes my warm up. The further into the run I got, the faster I could go as my heart got in sync with what I was asking it to do. By the time my body was moving efficiently at mile 3, I was at an 8:13. For me, that’s sub-BQ pace, at a heart rate of 147. Pretty freggin’ cool.

Notice how steady my heart rate is? My body isn’t struggling to deliver oxygen. My heart is easily able to keep up with the oxygen demand as I slowly increase my pace.

Both runs are public on Garmin Connect if you’d like to click the links and look at the data.

What does it boil down to? The aerobic base is secret speed training.

Think about it this way. Everyone has a maximum heart rate which doesn’t really change except with age. So, if my heart is beating at 145 bpm at a 10:30 and my max heart rate is a 185, by the time I get down to an 8:00/mile I’m thinking OMG-I’m-going-to-die! BUT if at the same heart rate I’m running an 8:15 instead, my OMG pace is closer to a 6:30/mile. All of a sudden my performance is no longer limited by my heart, it’s limited by my legs.

Woah.

This aerobic base is the key to running fast over time. Though speed work has its place in training – its effects are lost more quickly once de-training begins. Aerobic development, however isn’t lost so easily, so you don’t loose quite as much speed between training cycles. And when it’s time to train for a race you can do significantly less speed work.

What’s more, the slower pace is less stressful on your body, allowing your body to naturally build up it’s smaller stabilizing muscles as your pace increases over time and lowering your chances of overuse injury. So next time you’re tempted to up the pace of your run remember, you have to run slow before you can run fast! Slow down!

UPDATE: I wrote this article in mid-July and I’ve since had a VO2 Max test done (9/14/17). Since I have not yet been able to use the results of the test in training, I am refraining from including any of that information in this post. I will write a separate post about the test itself and the results.

Triathlon #1: Cypress Triathlon

The road to Ironman started this past Sunday, when I did my first triathlon. Cypress Triathlon was a sprint distance event held in a local neighborhood with about 1000 participants. It was a FUN event and I’m already planning on doing it again next year!

I’m not going into much technical detail here because no one really cares about splits and transition times instead I’ll just let you look at the pictures and talk about the pleathora of things I learned on Sunday.

Because when you do something for the first time it’s nothing, if not a learning experience. Right?

First of all, when they say sprint triathlon, they really mean SPRINT triathlon. There was panting. There was grunting. And expletives. And PAIN. Because me being me, I couldn’t just enjoy it and have a good time while figuring out how to do an entirely new sport, oh no. I had to give it an all out effort – because I don’t have an off button.

I was excited before the race. I met a friend and we ran a warm up mile and just prior to the start I climbed in the lake and did a little open water warm up. Everything felt good. The lake was warm and getting a chance to experience the water before the start helped ease my nerves, of which there were many.

I had done the practice swim the weekend prior so I had an idea of what open water swimming would be like but I’d never done it in a race before. The biggest lesson of the day was that open water swimming does not equal pool swimming. It really is a free for all. No rhyme or reason, no passing on your left, no organization of any kind. Every man for himself. There’s kicking, grabbing, and all sorts of blind inappropriate touching. Yeah.

It kinda resembles this:

It was HARD. I had a tough time finding a rhythm because people kept stopping in front of me. About 100 yards from the swim exit I started feeling tired, slightly claustrophobic, and a little panicky. All I wanted was to get out of the water and fast.

Transition #1 went well. I had practiced in the back yard the week before, so it was not unfamiliar. Wipe grass off feet, put on bike shoes, helmet, glasses, and gloves. Grab bike and go!

Things were better once I got on the bike. I’ve spent a lot of time on it lately and I’m getting used to it. I’m finally comfortable riding in aero, which honestly is terrifying. No lie.

Transition #2 was uneventful. Drop off bike. Take off helment. Put on running shoes. Done. Onto the run.

Those first few steps were exceptionally painful. Apparently, running after biking leaves me with the flexibility of a steel post. For the first time EVER I hit the magic 180 steps per minute on a run…because it was physically impossible to make my strides longer than two feet. But apparently, I can penguin waddle a 7:40/mile. Pretty impressive.

3.1 miles of torture later and finish! Not too bad for a first attempt! In four weeks, I get another shot. Town Lake Tri is on Labor Day! Until then, you can find me in the pool.

Listen To Your Body

Listen to your body.

You hear experienced athletes say this all the time. But what does it mean?

A few weeks ago I went through something which is all too common. I felt off. You know when you can just tell that something isn’t quite right?

I hadn’t been sleeping well. I fought bouts of acid reflux. I had a hard time concentrating. I didn’t want to meet my friends for our Saturday morning trail run.

On top of that, I lost my running shoes. I lost my running shoes.

I. Lost. Them.

They were gone for two days before I finally found them.

I was texting my running partner about my epic case of scatterbrain and you know what he told me?

Listen to your body!

I hadn’t thought about that. He was right.

Something wasn’t right and my body was telling me about it. It was my job to listen.

I am constantly telling my clients to “listen to your body,” and it’s true. Your body is constantly communicating with you. You can learn a lot about yourself if you tune into its cues. I listen to my body a lot – especially when it comes to random aches and pains but I hadn’t thought that the other random symptoms I’d been experiencing were my body’s subtle way of telling me that something was wrong.

Listening to your body means knowing what is normal for you and what isn’t. It means getting to know your body on an intimate level. Is that slight ache below your knee new, or has it been there for a while?  Is it normal for you to have a tightness in your hip after a run?

How has your sleep been? Have you been overly tired? Cranky? Are you unusally forgetful? Craving carbs? Do you normally struggle to get out the door?

Listening to your body, means reading your body’s subtle cues and actually taking action. Yes, it’s hard to take time off but it’s easier to recover from a injury if you catch it early. It’s always better to take a few days off now than being forced to take a few weeks off later.

In my case, I wasn’t fighting a physical injury but I WAS fighting a mental one. Some significant stress in my personal life, in addition to maintaining my hefty weekly base mileage, was enough to send my body into the early phases of Overtraining Syndrome.

That next weekend, I let my Saturday morning trail crew go alone. Instead of waking up at 4:00 am, I woke up at 6:30 am. Instead of running, I sat on my back patio and drank a cup of coffee – and I was totally okay with it.

coffee on patio

I took THREE DAYS off. I normally run six days a week, often times twice a day, so taking three days off is a big deal.

Instead of running I caught up on my sleep, spent the extra time with my family, took my kids to the playground and to the pool at the Y. I cleaned the house and did the laundry.

By the next Monday I was ready to run again. I wanted to run again. My energy level was higher, my reflux was gone, I was able to concentrate on my trail runs. I was happier. My poor body needed the break.

As runners, we all love our hobby, and it’s easy to let that passion overshadow the very real possibility of injury. The next time something feels off take a step back and ask yourself what your body is saying. It’s your job to listen.

2016 Year in Review

The year started with two goals: to qualify for Boston and do a one pull up. Two completely different things, both of which would be very challenging. I’d come into the year well trained for Houston in January so I had a feeling a BQ would happen but the pull up was a different story. My upper body has always been weak so it would be a challenge.

January 17 – I ran the Houston Marathon got a massive PR (3:29) and as expected qualified for Boston! Unfortunately, I came away with a horrible case of shin splints which left me swimming, rowing and biking instead of running. It was my second major injury in as many years and left me wondering what I was doing wrong. Internet research commenced. I read article after article about overuse injuries but couldn’t find any concrete causes. In the process though, I stumbled on a class called Healthy Running which would be coming to Galveston the following month, after a little consideration I realized I didn’t have anything to loose other than the registration fee and a weekend. I registered, ordered the textbook off Amazon and spent every spare second reading and learning.

February 27-28 – Healthy Running Class. It was two days of relatively intense medical classroom instruction, plus running lessons and drills – the goal is to teach you how to run safely without injury so that you can help others do the same. I am not exaggerating when I say it changed my running life! Suddenly everything that had happened to me made sense. Though 10 months later I still haven’t completed the last step to become a Certified Healthy Running Coach (I still have to make an instructional video, ack!).

I started incorporating core and balance into workouts by doing things like box jumps, planks, jump rope, single leg balance on a Bosu ball, kneeling on a swiss ball, skips and lunges. I still wasn’t running because of the shin splints but at least now I knew why they happened and what to do about it.

March 5The Woodlands Marathon. It didn’t end well (4:07). Though my shins behaved my IT band didn’t. My body needed more work. What I was doing was working but it would take some time.

Just a couple of weeks later I was back to running slowly but only three miles once a week and it wasn’t pain free. After each run I was massaging a massive knot on the inside of my right shin and using a heating pad to loosen it up at night. Every day it got a little better. One morning I woke up, stepped out of the bed and onto the floor without shin pain and had a little party in my head. I might have even done a little early morning dance in the bedroom.

April 3 – After nearly three months of injury, I finally had a completely pain free run! Yes! I was back and made it a goal to never have it happen again.

April 15 – The Healthy Running class taught me that the primary cause of my injuries was weak supporting muscles in my core and hips (specifically gluteus medius and minimus). Faster pace equals higher impact and my core and hips weren’t strong or smart enough to properly stabilize the higher impact of speed work.

The drills and balance work I was doing made a big difference, I was now running slowly without pain but every time I tried to add speed the shin splints returned. Realizing that I needed help, I hired a personal trainer and started working with him 1-2 times a week. I also shared with him my pull up goal and we’ve worked on them weekly since.

May 7 – My husband’s employer sponsored a 5k so we packed up the kids and went downtown for the event. Jason walked/ran with the kids in the stroller and for the first time I actually raced a 5k. I had no expectations since I wasn’t doing any speedwork but I did win my age group (22:53). Unfortunately, it didn’t mean much because the entire race was only 100 people, most of whom worked with my husband and walked the whole thing so in my mind it didn’t count as a real podium finish but it was fun anyway and it gave me a confidence boost. It also made me particularly popular with the hubby’s coworkers. And as a bonus, speedy running with no pain!

June 1 – After 5 years of being an anti-social runner I finally joined my local running club. I’m pretty introverted and somewhat standoffish so this was a big deal for me. It’s easily been one of the best things that I’ve ever done for myself. In the months since I’ve met a handful of people who have quickly gone from being friends to family. I don’t know if I’ve ever bonded with a group as quickly as I have my running friends and I couldn’t be more thankful I found them.

September 2 – We went on a week long vacation starting in Virginia Beach and then to Maine. In Virginia we got to see my husband’s family and run Rock N Roll Virginia Beach. Then onto Maine where we stayed with my sister-in-law’s family who are generational lobster fishermen. What a beautiful place for a morning run! Also, I’ve never eaten so much lobster.

September 16 – I got accepted into the Boston Marathon! I knew I would get in because I qualified by more than 10 minutes so I was surprised at how emotional I became when I got the email. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I sobbed almost uncontrollably for a half hour.

My 5 year old daughter asked me what was wrong and I told her, “Mommy gets to run a race, I’m crying because I’m happy.” Explaining it to her in that way made the whole thing sound trivial and I could see her little brain trying to figure out exactly why this was a big deal.

Just after I stopped crying my husband’s brother called to congratulate me. Tears started flowing all over again. It was like that on and off the rest of the day.

October 19 – My husband was laid off. He came home from work two hours early with a 6 pack of beer and a severance package. He wasn’t the only one they let go that day. They also let go the comptroller, the head of IT, an accountant and a guy who was a partial owner and served on the board. That week I ran 52 miles, simply trying to relieve stress. My weekly mileage hasn’t come down since.

November 19 – I ran the Shiner Beer Run Half Marathon. I got a PR (1:38) and won my age group! My first bonafide podium finish! Yeah!

The race was hilly and I had an unexpectedly hard time with it. The hills made me realize how truly unprepared for Boston I am. I started doing research on how to train for a hilly race when you live somewhere flat and started writing a training plan.

December 10 – First and definitely not last trail race! Brazos Bend 100 – full marathon distance, which really ended up being a baby ultra at 28 miles (4:10). It was a tough race and I learned a lot of lessons.

December 26 – Boston training officially began! The first workout was the first of many hill sessions. 9 miles total. 1 mile at 0% grade to warm up, 1 mile at 1% to get used to the idea of running uphill, 6 miles at 2% and one mile cool down at 1%.

The results of working with the trainer since April have been phenomonal. I am stronger, leaner and healthier than I have ever been. I’m faster and running higher mileage than I was before training for Houston and all of it is pain free. No shin problems. No IT band problems. Occasionally I feel tightness in my knees toward the end of a long run when I get tired but I know it’s due to tightness in the hips. A little light stretching. Problem solved.

For the first time in my running career, I feel like I actually know what I’m doing and it’s a great feeling!

This past Tuesday when I met with my trainer I had him take a video to document the progress I made on my pull up goal. Here for you, not one but THREE wide grip pull ups! An entire year of work summarized in 20 seconds.

What did you do this year?

Trail Running & Brazos Bend 100

14884596_10154488233718564_6498371586880915198_oI’ve been running a lot of trails lately. Near our house are several miles of wooded trails that run through the flood zone of a creek. I’ve always been a little afraid to wonder out into the woods alone to run them but this past summer I stumbled upon a group who runs them regularly and now I am getting my fill of saunters through the woods. I love the trails. I love being outside, I love jumping over logs and roots and the endless switchbacks. The trails are great for running, maybe not so good for ankle sprains, but if you’re careful the uneven footing of the trails and the necessary hopping and skipping do wonders for building your foot, calf and ankle muscles as well as offering multiple opportunities to practice stability and balance.

Trail runners are a different breed. Not only are we all just a little more crazy than road runners, there’s something about the snakes, bugs and constant threat of falling that makes the running friendship a little stronger, a little more intimate. When you run on the road, you come home sweaty. When you run the trails you come home, sweaty, dirty and possibly bloody. It’s much more fun. Though I have only known them for a few months, my trail friends have quickly become my family.

Thanks to their encouragement, I ran my first trail race on Saturday! With just 7 weeks notice I decided that Brazos Bend 100 – the full marathon distance – would be my trail debut. I didn’t do much training specific to this race. Since I was focused on training for Shiner, I didn’t do traditional mileage building. I threw in an 18 and 20 mile run (18 on the road and 20 on the trails) and that was about it.

I didn’t have a plan for the race. I figured I’d see what pace felt comfortable and go with it. Just a couple of miles in I settled at around an 8:05. It was cold outside (low 40s and breezy), my heart rate was low, it felt sustainable. The trails were flat and fast. Obviously trails aren’t going to be as fast as a road but they were mostly crushed gravel access roads and well worn paths with few roots and almost no elevation change.

20161210_071536Mile 1 – 8:23
Mile 2 – 7:55
Mile 3 – 8:04
Mile 4 – 8:06

At mile 4, I ate my first Gu which I immediately regretted. It felt like someone had taken a chainsaw to my stomach.

Mile 5 – 8:03
Mile 6 – 8:04
Mile 7 – 8:02
Mile 8 – 8:03

Hoping the issues with the first Gu had passed, I took my second Gu and could barely keep it down. It took a mile to eat the whole thing and once it was gone I decided I wasn’t eating any more. Ever.

Mile 9 – 8:07
Mile 10 – 7:57
Mile 11 – 7:45
Mile 12 – 8:04
Mile 13 – 8:28
Mile 14 – 8:08
Mile 15 – 8:09
Mile 16 – 8:16
Mile 17 –  8:34

The lack of quality training runs and the trails caught up to me. At Mile 18, I could feel the stabilizing muscles in my hips start to get weak – I had to slow down because I was worried I’d catch my foot on one of the large rocks in the trail and my hips wouldn’t have the strength to keep me from falling over.

It was also around this time that I accidentally ran into a family friend. At the mile 17 aid station a tall Scandinavian man who looked incredibly familiar started running beside me. As we ran he began asking me very specific questions, almost like he knew me. I was a little confused, how could this mystery Scandinavian know me so well? After a half mile of listening to his thick accent, I realized knew him! It was Andreas, my sister-in-law’s, brother’s, wife’s, twin sister’s, husband! Did you follow that? I have only met him a handful of times thus me not immediately recognizing him. I knew he was a marathoner but I had no idea he was running BB100. It’s a small world!

He was facing similar discomfort due to an IT band problem and we ran on and off together for the remainder of the race.

Mile 18 – 8:28
Mile 19 – 8:50
Mile 20 – 9:58

Around the magical mile 20, the lack of adequate fuel and my poor tired hips collided. The one-two punch slowed my pace to what felt like a crawl. My glute minimus and medius were burning like they’d been set on fire and I had no energy at all. I had a moment where I was seriously considering burning all my running shoes and finding a different hobby.

From that point forward, I decided to begin a walk/run strategy – run until the lap beep went off on my Garmin then walk until I felt I could run again. The walking interval started at 2 minutes and went up to 4 minutes and the run intervals were at about a 9:30 pace. Though I could have run straight through I’m not sure it would have been much faster and the run/walk strategy helped in the motivation department significantly.

Mile 21 – 11:13
Mile 22 – 8:45

Andreas and I stopped at the aid station at mile 22 and I saw a friend who was volunteering. She picked me back up emotionally, told me I looked strong and that it was almost over. I ate 1/4 of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, sucked it up and we went back out onto the course. Andreas pushed me to run to the next aid station without walking and though he left me he told me he would meet me there.

Mile 23 – 11:10
Mile 24 – 11:23

At the last aid station I drank a shot of Coke and it was like nectar from God. The most wonderfully delicious thing I’ve ever put in my mouth. Ever. And another 1/4 PB&J.

Mile 25 – 11:04

Andreas informed me his IT band tightness was going away and I told him to leave me. I didn’t want to hold him back.

Mile 26 – 11:03

This is where a marathon should stop. This one kept going. Recent rains flooded the trails in the back of the park and race organizers had to change the course at the last minute so this particular race was almost 28 miles (27.79 according to my Garmin). I was joking to friends about this change in the days before the race but those last two miles were no joke. They were the tipping point from the race being pleasantly uncomfortable to downright painful.

Mile 27 – 12:04
Mile 28 – 9:02

20161210_131615As I was finishing I saw Andreas giving me the thumbs up, I returned the gesture as I passed and went through the finish chute.

Official time was 4:10.04 – which if it had been an actual marathon of the 26.2 variety would have been a 3:49. It’s a good time considering the conditions, and the lack of training. It was also my personal distance record, the furthest I’ve ever run. I am happy with that.

After the race was over, I looked for Andreas but I lost him in the crowd. I walked out to the car, changed clothes, ate some tacos and drank my first Coke in almost two years. It was easily the most delicious thing I’ve ever tasted! Clearly, I needed the sugar. I then sat for an hour and 45 minutes waiting for the rest of my group to cross the finish line.

This was my fifth marathon but the first I’ve done alone. Jason took the kids camping for the weekend instead of coming to the race and since I was the first to finish from our group there was no one was waiting for me at the finish line. There were not no post race hugs, no congratulations. No one to ask me how I felt or to help me over to the car. No one I could complain to about how badly my legs ached. It was a little depressing, I’m not gonna lie. It was a lonely time during which I had plenty of time to think about the race.

Though I am still thrilled with my time (I was wanting a sub-4 hour, 26.2) I am disappointed in how I let myself fall apart the last 7 miles.

I haven’t trained with Gu since March. After The Woodlands Marathon I decided I was going to work on my fat adaption and aerobic development which meant I didn’t need the sugar in Gu. All my runs (including that 18 and 20 miler) have been at an aerobic pace and slow twitch fibers don’t need sugar to operate, they need fat. The shorter, tempo runs I did leading up to Shiner fell solidly into the anaerobic sugar burning category but they were all so short that I didn’t need fuel. Since I was fat adapting I didn’t need all the complex carbs in my diet so I cut almost all of them out. The results have been great. I’ve lost the last little bit of extra fat I was carrying around and the extra protein coupled with strength training has made me stronger than ever. My stomach however was no longer used to the carb bomb in a Gu. It revolted with a vengeance.

In addition, I wasn’t prepared for the trail. Although, I’ve been doing almost all my weekend long runs on trails for almost six months, all of that running has been at a slower pace. Our trails are technical. Rooty, hilly, winding, dirt paths. You can’t run any faster than an 11 minute mile on them or you’ll end up tripping on a treeroot and diving headfirst into a prickly bush.

Thanks to all those long trail runs, my stabilizing muscles were prepared for the total body workout that trail running provides and training for Shiner made my body more than ready to sustain race pace.

Unfortunately, this being my first trail race, I didn’t think about what would happen to my body if those stabilizing muscles had to do the work of the trails and support the extra force that comes with speed. Rookie mistake. I was ready for race pace on the road OR a slow trail run. I wasn’t ready for race pace on the trails.

Every race you learn and adapt. So now I know. I will begin to experiment with UCAN, which I’ve wanted to do anyway, and I need to put some extra time into working more on my hips (something I already knew but have been actively avoiding because it hurts!) and hopefully next time I will be more prepared.

Somehow, amid all this I still managed to win my age group. I have no idea how that happened. I had given up hope of placing when I started run walking at the end of the race so needless to say I was a little surprised when the race results were finally posted.

Overall place: 14; Overall Female: 4; Age Group (F 30-39): 1

Marathons are hard, they never get any easier. No matter how many I run, how good of shape I’m in or how well prepared I may be, I am always going to push myself. I am always going to give the course everything my body has. For me, marathons are meant to be raced, not just finished. For that reason, they will always be hard. They will always push me to my limits of pain tolerance and endurance.

In 2017, I will run my first real ultra. I don’t know when or where or what distance but I do know one thing…between now an then I need to learn to slow down!

Shiner Beer Run Half Marathon

139781-127-027hTwo weeks ago I ran the Shiner Beer Run Half Marathon. After my relatively good performance at Virginia Beach in September on zero training (and zero sleep), I went into Shiner with the intention to fully train and to give it everything I had. I tried a different training strategy this time around, focusing on getting in quality aerobic runs and not starting speedwork until 6 weeks before the race. Speedwork included a tempo run on Monday and alternating hills and intervals on Wednesday (intervals were 1/4 mile repeats @ 5k pace and 1/2 mile repeats @ 10k pace). Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk about the race.

THE RACE

Like the town it’s located in, Shiner is a small race which starts and ends at Spotzel Brewery. The course first takes you through the town of Shiner, then loops around the surrounding country roads. Y’all, this course is hilly – there’s no other way to describe it. I don’t think there was a single section that was truly flat. When coupled with the steady 15 mph north wind that was leftover from a cold front that came through the day before, this was a tough race. Honestly, I don’t remember much of the details. The only thing I remember is how much my quads burned after going up the giant hill into the wind at mile 5  – everything else is just a blur of thoughts that included but were not limited to: OMG, ouch and holy s%^!

The first few miles were relatively easy through town. Though there was some pretty significant elevation gain, I don’t remember it being difficult. Fresh legs and race adrenaline made things pretty easy. I tried to focus on utilizing the downhill portions to help make up time lost on the uphill.

Mile 1 – 7:14/mile (elevation gain: 57 feet)
Mile 2 – 7:06/mile (elevation gain: 27 feet)
Mile 3 – 7:13/mile (elevation gain: 47, elevation loss: 56 feet)

At mile 4, we left town and turned north. I found the wind. Thankfully it was a relatively flat mile but the change in pace was indicative of the extra effort it took to fight the wind.

Mile 4 – 7:41/mile (elevation gain: 15 feet, elevation loss: 28 feet)

OMG. At mile 5, the road started climbing. The wind combined with the climb made me feel like I was barely moving. In some ways, I’m happy I can run an 8 minute mile going uphill but the memories here aren’t good ones. At mile 6 we turned a corner and the wind went from being a headwind to a crosswind – which wasn’t much better. The wind blew me all over the road, running in a straight line was a fight and by the time I crested that hill I was in a significant amount of pain.

Mile 5 – 8:07/mile (elevation gain: 48 feet)
Mile 6 – 7:43/mile (elevation gain: 47 feet)

Most of the next mile was on a gravel road. Rocks were about the size of golf balls but in the ruts they were packed down nicely and relatively easy to run on. I was happy during this stretch that I’d been running trails for the last couple of months; nimble is good!

Mile 7 – 7:24/mile (elevation gain: 59, elevation loss 79)

The next couple of miles weren’t memorable. They were downhill and I was doing my best to make up some time. Unfortunately, my quads were shot and my legs felt like cooked spaghetti. Also, I almost tripped over a loose dog. That was fun.

In other news, I clocked my first ever sub 7:00 mile in a race! Yeah!

Mile 8 – 6:55/mile (elevation loss: 12 feet)
Mile 9 – 7:19/mile (elevation loss: 33 feet)

At this point, the race participants had thinned out so there was at least 100 yards between me and the guy in front of me so following the crowd wasn’t working. I was really having to focus on following the course markings on the road. The course turned into a park and I almost missed the turn.

Mile 10 – 7:28/mile (elevation loss: 37 feet)
Mile 11 – 7:41/mile (elevation gain: 8 feet)

Mile 12 never seemed to end. I knew I was close to the finish but since we were still out in the country, it felt like further than it really was. Toward the end of mile 12, we left the country roads and turned back into town, which as it turns out was completely uphill. Pain. So much pain.

Mile 12 – 7:42/mile (elevation gain: 53 feet, elevation loss: 14 feet)

The last mile was great. After we crested the hill at mile 12, it was literally all downhill from there. My legs had nothing left in them but I did the best I could to give that last mile everything I had.

Mile 13 – 7:05/mile (elevation loss: 70 feet)

Official Time: 1:38.04 (In case you’re interested, here’s the Garmin data)

I crossed the finish line and went immediately into the parking lot because I thought I was going to throw up. Thankfully there wasn’t much in my stomach so I didn’t embarrass myself too badly. Dry heaving for the win!

It took a few minutes after the race for my stomach to settle but that didn’t stop me from enjoying the great post race party. I was with similarly paced friends so I had some good company while I waited for Jason to finish, who was behind us by an hour. Once we found Jason, we all sat around for a couple of hours waiting for awards in the area near the brewery. We talked, ate a yummy lunch and drank plenty of Shiner. It was a fantastic time!

As it turns out my time was good enough to win my age group! My first real podium finish!

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It wasn’t the 1:35 I wanted but it was still an almost 2 minute PR. Being able to PR on a hilly and windy course is something I can be happy with. I know I have that 1:35 in me and I’m pretty sure I have a 1:31 in me…if I find the right course. Now, I’m on a hunt for a good flat PR course. I think it’s going to be Katy Half which is in February but I’m not registered yet so that’s still up in the air.

Will I run Shiner again? Emphatically yes. Sign me up for next year!

Weight Loss and Becoming A Runner

dsc03119I took this picture exactly seven years ago today. December 1, 2009 was one of the most important days of my life and I didn’t even know it.

At the time, I was borderline obese and depressed. I couldn’t walk up the stairs to our bedroom without being winded at the top. I couldn’t run a mile – I could barely walk a mile.

I had been skinny through high school and like everyone else I gained a few pounds in college but not anything to be worried about. Before my wedding I crash dieted to fit into a wedding dress that was accidently ordered a size too small and once the wedding was over I let myself go. I gained 45 pounds in two years. I was a size 14 shoving myself into size 12 jeans. I had a nearly 40″ waist.

That morning I was sitting at my kitchen table surfing the internet. I had just polished off a giant stack of pancakes, some eggs, toast with jelly, coffee and orange juice. As I sat there I could feel the rolls of my stomach touching each other. I remember it like it was yesterday.

I cried, not figurative tears, real tears. I had tried loosing weight several times, unsuccessfully. I had done Weight Watchers with some friends, I joined a gym and tried working out. None of it worked. I lost weight in the short term but immediately gained it back plus some. I couldn’t stick with anything for longer than a few weeks. After three years of trying to loose weight, I felt like I was stuck in a body that I didn’t belong in.

I’m a smart girl, I knew that loosing weight meant changing my entire lifestyle but it was so hard and I didn’t want to work hard.

But something happened that morning while sitting at the kitchen table. I had what was the most important epiphany of my life, I realized that the only person I was hurting by being overweight was myself. I asked myself, “Why are you doing this? Why are you letting yourself get away with this? Why don’t you stop being so weak and do something about it?”

That very second I got up from the table, got my camera and the tripod and set it up in our bedroom. I put on my swimsuit, took some pictures, I weighed myself, took all my measurements and wrote it in a blog post, hoping that the accountability of the world would motivate me to follow through.

I did some research and found out exactly how much weight was safe to loose in a week (1-2 pounds) and how many calories I could eat to meet that goal (1,500) and I stuck to it.

Y’all, the first few weeks were hard. They were so. hard. I knew nothing about nutrition. Nothing. Zero. It was one big game of trial and error. I started by shaving off the little calories I didn’t need, like the jelly on my toast (50 calories) and the sugar in my coffee (60 calories x 2 cups). I quit putting syrup on my pancakes (200 calories).

Later, I gave up the toast and the pancakes altogether. I quit drinking juice. I gave up bagels. I gave up donuts. I gave up anything that didn’t stay in my stomach very long. By trial and error, I learned that if I ate eggs for breakfast, I would still be full at lunch and all I would need was a handful of almonds to get me through until dinner. I learned to eat something small before we went out to eat and order a broth based soup instead of a hamburger. I learned a lot about nutrition.

By process of elimination, I unintentionally cut out all the extra sugar in my diet and many of the processed carbs I’d been eating. If it didn’t keep me full it wasn’t worth the calories.

By Christmas, just three weeks later, I’d lost 9 pounds. I knew I needed to add exercise for any weight loss to really stick but I had no idea where to start. My previous attempts at being a gym rat failed miserably because I hated the gym. I tried it again anyway. Unsurprisingly, my disdain for that little cinder block building didn’t go away because I was on a diet. I hated the smell. I hated the machines. I needed something I didn’t hate.

One day, some time around the New Year, when it was time to make the dreaded trip to the gym I did something that changed my life. I put on my running shoes instead and slogged through a three mile loop. I walked a lot, ran a little and cursed myself the entire time. It hurt. My lungs burned. I didn’t love it…but I didn’t hate it either. A couple of days later I did it again. That April, just four months after I started running, I ran my first half marathon.

All in, it took nine months to loose 45 pounds. The diet change and learning about nutrition helped me loose the weight but running… y’all, running saved me. I found something that I truly loved, something that brought me joy that I could dedicate myself to every day. If you want to know why I talk about running so much, why it is such a huge part of my life – that’s why. It saved my life; it’s a strong statement but it’s true.

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I spent the better part of the last seven years trying to forget that me – I even deleted my fat pictures off Facebook. Most of the people in my life now didn’t know me then and don’t know this me ever existed. It was a dark time that I don’t talk about much.

Recently though, I’ve met several people who are in a similar situation to the one I was in. Talking with them forced me to think about how my experience impacted my life. I’ve realized that I wouldn’t be the person I am today if I had always been thin. I wouldn’t be as motivated. I wouldn’t be as dedicated. I wouldn’t be as strong. I wouldn’t be as successful. It fundamentally changed me. They encouraged me to share my story.

Now, most days, I run because I found a hobby I love. But on the days when I didn’t sleep well, or when I’m sore or when I would rather sit on the couch and drink a beer but I go running anyway, it’s because of this.

I don’t think about this picture much anymore, but every December 1st I do – not because I want to but because I can’t help it. It was that important.

Today, I’m sharing my story with the hope that it will help one person who feels trapped by their choices find the motivation to make a change.

Just because you’re not happy with who you are today doesn’t mean you have to accept it. Start small. Educate yourself. Pay attention to what you’re putting in your body. Go outside. Take the dog for a walk. Ride a bike. Go for a jog. Find an activity you like or at least can tolerate. Surround yourself with people who share your desired lifestyle. Stop feeling sorry for yourself and do something about it. Make the decision to try. Sometimes, that’s the hardest part.