Marathon #3: Indian Celina Challenge

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For several weeks now, I’ve had the following conversation with various people:
“When’s your next big race?”
“It’s in October, I’m running a trail marathon.”
“Oh really? Are you ready for that?”

This is a fair question, and I honestly appreciate it because it was something I had been avoiding asking myself. I haven’t been training for a marathon in October; I’ve been training for an ultramarathon in December. So the training miles don’t really add up as far as long runs. My ultra training plan, though it is a high-mileage plan, never has me running a marathon distance. Some of the back-to-back weekends (long run Saturday, mid-long run Sunday) have a combined score of 26 miles, but that doesn’t really equal running 26.2 in a single effort.

Nevertheless, when the registration opened for the Indian Celina Challenge, I was on top of it. According to the race director, I was one of the very first to sign up. That’s probably because I was sitting at my computer waiting for the specific hour registration opened, and I got my name is as quickly as possible. I’ve been waiting to do this race for as long as I’ve known trail running existed.

All week last week, I was discussing with Ashley and planning my strategy for running a marathon that I didn’t know if I was ready for. The ICC course goes around Indian and Celina Lakes in Hoosier National Forest, and boasts a daunting 5,000 feet of elevation gain on some pretty technical trails. This wouldn’t be easy. If I couldn’t do it, I had to be honest with myself. The course is two loops, so we decided that after the first loop before I headed out again, I had to decide whether I would be able to successfully run a second loop. If I decided I couldn’t, then I’d drop out, and that would be perfectly fine. I was at peace with this decision, which was a very important step to this marathon’s process.

Saturday morning, Eric, Kristen, Ashley, and I were driving out to the race while the sun was slowly rising ahead of us. Between the four of us, we had all the race experiences covered. Ashley was running the 8-mile race, Eric the half marathon, I was doing the full marathon, and Kristen was volunteering at the finish line and manning the aid station at the beginning of the second loop.

As we waited to run in the cold, the sun was coming up over the trees, lighting up the early fall leaves and deep blue lakes we would soon be running around. It was perfect weather for a really long run in the woods. When the race director yelled “go!” we took off around a little loop in the parking lot and then into the trees. With fewer than 150 total runners for all distances, it was a little easier to avoid the positioning bottlenecks that happen on the single track. Even so, once we got into the woods, I tried to stay to the side of the trail to allow for other runners to pass, and a good number of them did pass me up – which was okay. I was playing the long game this time. As I mentioned, the ICC course has some significant elevation gain. Along with big climbs come big descents, which can be just as difficult as the climbing. Saturday’s run was on some pretty technical trails. There were a lot of rocks hiding under nice fluffy piles of leaves, making rapid descents rather treacherous. You never know what’s going to happen when your foot lands, and if it lands poorly – well, you could break your face.

As the miles came along, my legs started to warm, and I picked it up a little bit. At around 2 and a half hours, I finished the first half marathon feeling great. Of course I was going to go out for more. Ashley had finished her 8 miles and helped me refill my Skratch bottle. Kristen was going to fill my hydration pack, but it was basically full. I hadn’t drank much water at all, which isn’t good. I made a mental note to get on top of that, and went back in the woods for loop number two.

Confronting the dark wall.

A few miles in, negative thoughts started to fill my mind. I started to doubt my ability to complete the marathon. I had just gone through the first aid station and was on my way to the second where I could drop out of the race and be shuttled back to the finish line, so I slowed to a walk and had a serious conversation with myself about what to do. I tried to recall the message from Doug Hay from his post about “When is it Acceptable to Quit?” Is finishing worth the pain? Is it better to have a decent 19-mile run, or a really crappy 26.2? Will this marathon screw up my training for the Bell Ringer?

Ultimately, I made the decision to drop out at the next aid station – and really, I felt fine about it. When I got there, I would be at 19 miles, which is quite a good distance. I haven’t been training for a marathon physically or mentally. My longest run so far in this training cycle had been 15 miles, which I ran last week on this same course. I felt glad, relieved even. I was also comforted to know that I had a support group at the finish line that would be there with food and encouragement. Kristen and Eric had brought Tofurky Brats, Ashley made an orzo salad, there were pineapples, and everyone would be understanding, supportive, and encouraging of my decision to drop. There were exactly zero reasons to feel bad about dropping out after a fantastic half marathon followed by a crummy 10k.

So that decision made, I decided that if I was going to drop out, I was going to give these last few miles a good effort and run to the aid station, rather than walk. So I started running again.

Instantly, I thought “What? You’re not dropping out. Let’s do this thing.”

And with that, all thoughts of quitting vanished. I don’t know where they went, but they were gone, and they never came back. My legs were tired and sore. I was drinking water like nobody’s business, trying to catch up from being dehydrated. My face was grimy with salt – but I was going to run my third marathon.

I pounded some Gatorade and oranges at the next aid station, then half a banana and some more oranges and Gatorade at the one after that. I was well over two hours ahead of the cutoff time and the guys at the aid station told me I was in fifth or sixth place for the marathon. The woods didn’t necessarily fly by. I didn’t negative split or have some kind of glorious running comeback after deciding to quit. It was kinda painful and slow, but I was in the zone. I did once come out of that zone when my foot caught a rock and I fell onto my hands and knees. My left leg almost cramped when I stood back up, and I would have to deal with that almost-cramping for the rest of the run (around 4 or 5 miles). Brush it off, check out the damage, get back into the zone.

I finished at 5:30:46; I think seventh place overall for the marathon.


Lessons learned.

While we were driving to the race that morning, someone asked, “Are you excited about running a marathon today?” I didn’t really know how to answer that question. For my first two marathons, there was a huge build up to the event. I thought about it for weeks leading up to the race with mounting anxiety.

That didn’t happen for the Indian Celina Challenge. For the most part, I avoided thinking about it at all. What if I decided I wasn’t ready and dropped back to the half marathon before even getting to race day? What if I decided it wasn’t smart to run a marathon? I didn’t want to give up before even starting – and I definitely didn’t want to think I’d failed before giving it a chance. Self-doubt, it seems, will always be a creep in the corner of my running party.

So, on Saturday morning when we were headed to the race, I couldn’t say I was excited about it. I was curious about it. Curious as to whether I had a marathon in me, and curious about what I would do when faced with the option to quit.

Turns out, I will decide to quit, but then shortly after that, I’ll decide not to quit after all.

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2014 in Review

I have always found great closure in a sort of review of what I’ve done over the last year. I try to avoid falling into nostalgia as long as I can, but some days when I think back to the sweaty trail runs and 100 mile bike rides, my eyes glaze, and I get a stupid look on my face. I love my fitness hobby and the places it takes me – the sights I get to see and the miles I cover on foot or on two skinny wheels.

The Year of the Beast(y)
Miles ran: 549.17
Miles biked: 683.72

It has been a heck of a year.

I started it off by running 4.5 miles to Oak Hill Cemetery, a beautiful, quiet location. My last run of the year mirrored that, only I looped around inside the cemetery to get a good hill workout. Ashley also joined me for what would become a 6-mile run.

Here are some highlights between my first run of the year on January 2 to my last run on December 31:

Bobs February 22: Competed in my first duathlon (run, bike, run), Bob’s Indoor Duathlon. I won first place in my age category! (pictured left)

photo[5] copyApril 12: Undertook the Kentucky Century Challenge, beginning with the Redbud Ride Century in London, Kentucky, for the second year in a row. Redbud is one of my absolute favorite rides. The course goes through Daniel Boone National Forest. The most-discussed portion of the century route is the 22% grade Tussey Hill at mile 50 (pictured right). Approaching a hill sloped at 22% is akin to approaching a wall. I would ride 2 more Kentucky centuries in 2014, cycling quite a bit less than in 2013, focusing instead on running. I plan to bring my cycling mileage back up in 2015.

April 19: Finished my second half marathon at the Kentucky Derby Festival in Louisville. In 2013, this was my first half marathon. In 2014, I beat that time by 8 minutes and 32 seconds.

April 23: While running my regular 5k route from home, I found out that the water at the little park was turned on – signaling the beginning of spring! I noted it when I uploaded the run to Garmin. Thank goodness that seemingly endless winter was over.

IMG_2118May 10: I graduated with my master’s degree and immediately drove 26 straight hours to stay in a cabin in Maine for a week. (pictured left)

 

June 9: I began training for my second marathon.

July 3: I started this blog.

“This year, I’ve learned a lot about strength training, fueling, and strategy for these types of events, so I’m hitting the road with fresh legs and determination.”  – Welcome!

July 12: Arena Challenge: 1,000 stairs, dozens of obstacles, Ford Center in Downtown Evansville.

“They also, graciously, provided us with five exercise stations between sets of stairs…” – Running: A Full Body Workout.

 

IMG_2481On September 6, I ran the inaugural Rugged Red Trail Half Marathon in Red River Gorge, Kentucky. My first trail half, my first time in the gorge. It is one of the most grueling events I’ve done.

“…all the energy in my body was gone. I’ve never felt so depleted where the only option is to sit, which I did.” – Race Report: Rugged Red

IMG_20141004_170638October 4: I ran the Evansville Half Marathon, besting my (road) 13.1 PR by another 6 minutes, finishing in under two hours. This was followed a few hours later by the Dog ‘n’ Suds 5k, where Sadie, Ashley, and I won 3rd place trophies. (Sadie and I pictured left – click for a larger image where you can actually see Sadie.)

 

IMG_2510October 19: I ran my second marathon, setting a marathon PR by beating my first marathon by nearly 10 minutes. (pictured right)

“I raced down the road, my eye on the clock. I crossed the finish line strong and elated.” – #RNRStL


I’m a few days into training for Gnaw Bone, and I can see the challenges lining up. I also feel like this year is going to be a big one for reasons not connected to Gnaw Bone or even to running. There’s an entire year ahead, with all the clichés attached to give us pause and adrenaline.

I’m excited to share it with you all, as well as I am excited to hear about your adventures and plans.

Cemetery

#RNRStL

IMG_2483
I ran marathon #2, and it was pretty great. My official time was 4:45:04, which is slower than I had hoped for, but there’s more!

The Run
Ashley and I walked from our hotel to the starting corrals. I got in line for the port-a-john and did my business in plenty of time to get back to my place. We scouted out the 4:30 pace group, and started the day off hanging with a group of people that I would run next to for the next few hours.

I don’t normally use this platform to review the vocal performances preceding these races, but I’d like to note here that the individual singing the National Anthem before the starting gun was not nearly as good as the person who sang it before we ran the Evansville Half. It did not affect my performance, thankfully, and I soon forgot about the voice that couldn’t choose between singing flat and singing sharp (maybe it evened out in the end?), but perhaps my remembering it is noteworthy enough to mention.

Once we finally got through the starting banner, we ran toward the sunrise under the city’s strange and stunning Arch, but not for long. The course had us winding around the downtown streets in a large elbowy circle. It was exactly as I remembered it from last year. The footfalls of runners, cheers of onlookers, and the music from a few bands echoed off the tall buildings. The rising sun beamed on us occasionally between the buildings, but we were in the cool shade for the majority of our time down there.

I don’t know if I mentioned the major draw of a Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon/Half Marathon event is the music. There are live, local bands every mile, usually playing familiar songs. It’s the first thing I learned about the RnR runs, and it is definitely my favorite. Bands ranged from rock ‘n’ roll, to Americana, to a DJ spinning his mixes underneath the curve of an overpass. Each was distinct from the other, and always something to look forward to.

Mile 10
The full marathon course split from the half marathon at around mile 10. There were volunteers and signs saying “HALF MARATHON ON THE LEFT; FULL MARATHON ON THE RIGHT,” and I had a surge of adrenaline. I was again taking the path that would wind me away from a 13.1 mile finish to the more crazy 26.2 mile finish. I prayed for Ashley as the barrier came up dividing the two distances, and I followed the 4:30 group. We were a pod of probably 25 runners completely separated from a mass of people. While we ran with the half marathon course, it was difficult at times to make sure I was not losing the group. But once we separated, it was incredibly obvious who we were and what our intention was. We were the 4:30 pace team.

Our course took us around the buildings of the Anheiser-Busch Brewing Company, which was neat. We’ve toured the facility several times, and it was cool to see familiar buildings from different angles, and several different buildings. It smelled heavily of hops. It was almost like drinking a light, crisp lager.

Miles 13-20
Mostly, this part of the course was a long, straight line for several miles before looping around the beautiful Carondelet Park (St. Louis knows how to do parks) and heading back on the same course. This out-and-back had its benefits, as I could observe the course for what I would be running on the way back. For instance, a great portion of the long, straight road was an easy downward slope on the way out, which meant we’d be going up on the way back. There were a few other hills I watched runners struggle up while I went down, knowing that I’d be struggling up those same hills in 45 minutes or so.

I started losing the pace group once we got inside the park. I had to stop to stretch my legs and get a drink of water, and I couldn’t catch up with them again. This left me to count my footfalls over and over again to keep my cadence up. 1-2-3-4, 2-2-3-4, 3-2-3-4, 4-2-3-4, again and again.

As the miles racked up, my legs got sore, and it became harder to run. After 20 miles, I had to walk briefly, which I would do off and on for the next few miles. When I felt my form failing, I’d walk to get it back and then start running again. I don’t like to sacrifice form for a few reasons. It’s not healthy for the body. Poor form causes more strain on the knees and hips, which would cause more suffering in the long run. Additionally, a person running with poor form looks terrible in pictures. You can see the broken down body and soul, and I don’t want to imagine myself looking like that. So, partially practical, partially vanity – but I guess whatever works.

Finish strong!
We joined back up with the half marathon course just before mile 24, and I ran the rest of the race. My legs were sore, but I felt good otherwise. The Arch was coming in and out of view, and I knew we finished at a park near it. I got close and closer, and finally turned the corner where I could see the finish line. I started scanning the street sides, and finally saw Ashley waving at me. I had another surge of adrenaline as I reached both arms above my head to wave back. I raced down the road, my eye on the clock. I crossed the finish line strong and elated.

I can smell the bananas!
I can smell the bananas!

How did it feel?
It felt great. I didn’t hit my target, but I held onto it for a long time. Finishing this marathon injury free was more important to me than a time goal, but striving for a certain time was an excellent motivator for training. I’ll hit the 4:30 soon enough. Someday, I’ll finish sub-four hours.

I’ve learned new things. I’ve set new goals. I’m headed for the next! Next, incidentally, is this Saturday in Audubon. The Chilly Hilly 5k is upon us once again, and for the third year in a row, I’ll hit those trails in racing form. Once I’m done, I’ll write about it right here for you.

Wrap up and next steps.

Right now, I’m recovering from running my second marathon. I wrote this post well in advance and scheduled it to post while I’m away. My past self, unfortunately, does not know how my present self is feeling, so we’ll move on to what I do know:

What’s next?

Of course I’ve thought about it. I was thinking about what comes next before I even began training for what I just did. I’m basically motivated by a carrot dangling just out of reach. I keep my eyes on it, always pursuing my carrot goal, but I’ll never reach it because it’s always moving.

Though I do occasionally catch a carrot.

So…
The world of running is ever expanding. Elite runners are always pushing the envelope of what the human body is capable of, and those of us who don’t make a living out of running are glad to follow in their wake. We tackle the races and distances that they created. And as long as the next bigger race is appealing to me, I will pursue it.

I’m going ultra.

An ultramarathon is anything that is longer than a regular marathon. So, technically, 27 miles could be an ultramarathon, I guess. But it would be a silly one. The most common ultramarathon distances include 50k (31 miles), 50 miles, and 100 miles. One of the greatest things about ultramarathons is that quite a few of them are run on trails. I love trail running.

Aside from the distance and training, one of the more difficult parts of going ultra is deciding where that first one is going to happen. Luckily, I figured that part out already: on May 19, 2015, I’ll run 50k at Gnaw Bone in Brown Country State Park.

How? Are you crazy?
This is where I get really excited. First of all, yes, I am certainly crazy. Truly, an ultramarathon is not what makes me crazy. Everything else I’ve already done (and enjoyed!) up to this point is what makes me crazy. (Did you read my post about the Rugged Red? I want to do that again!) The ultra is only a continuance of this insanity. To wrap this up with a nice bow, the 50k is only the beginning. I would love to run 100 miles some day. I would love it. But not today. These distances are nothing to sneeze at, and training must be smart.

It has been clear that attempting these distances would be unwise without coaching from an experienced ultrarunner. I’m very fortunate to have actually won an opportunity to have a personalized coaching plan made for me, along with personal coaching from an experienced running coach and ultramarathoner. You may recall me mentioning Doug Hay of rockcreekrunner.com. He has been working with me lately to get me to my first ultra, and it’s really exciting.

Goals
Going ultra is the ultimate goal here, but there are underlying goals that are going to help me get there. These sub-goals come about naturally with such an ambitious goal that I’m headed for.

  • Lose 20 pounds. (Less weight = less strain on body)
  • Run a 20-minute 5k. (Made possible in part by weight loss)
  • Go vegan.

So that’s what’s going on now. Training for Gnaw Bone should begin in December. I’ll be exploring new places to run, finding new races, and getting more connected to my local running community. All of these things and more I’ll share with you as they happen.

Soon, I’ll post about the marathon I just finished. Stay tuned!

Gonna go run now.

I’m leaving today for an extended stay in St. Louis to run the Rock ‘n’ Roll St. Louis Marathon. I’m super excited, and I’ll be back to tell you all about it. Some day.

We’re going to Wisconsin on vacation after the weekend’s events, so you may not hear from me for a while. Rest assured I’ll be alive, and I will have finished the race.

If you want to track me while I’m out there, do this:
1. Go to https://www.competitorwireless.com/
2. Select The Quinn Family Foundation Rock & Roll St. Louis Marathon and Half Marathon – 2014
3. Enter my name (Andrew Carter) in the box. (Search for Ashley Carter, too, as she runs her fourth half marathon!)
4. Select the one from Evansville.
5. Enter your cell phone number.
6. Follow the rest of the instructions.

I’ve been thinking about doing a series about questions I get asked a lot. Whether or not I do that, here is one I would talk about:

“What do you think about while you’re running for that long?”

It depends on what type of run I’m doing. If it’s short, I could be thinking about any number of things. I could be counting my footfalls to make sure my cadence is up. I could be listening to my music, podcast, or audiobook. Short runs aren’t so bad. It’s the long runs where my mind can turn on me. My most recent 20-mile run took me 3.5 hours. When I run on Sunday, I’ll be out there for at least 4.5 hours of constant running. When the fatigue starts to set in and my thoughts turn toward quitting and questions like “why the heck am I doing this?” begin to arise, it’s important to be able to combat that with something else. My mind wanders in a million different directions. Here are just a few of them.

1. What my blog will be about next.
I was encouraged by a friend to write a training blog. It was something I was sort of thinking about anyway, and hearing someone say it was something they would read about was exactly the push I needed to get started. It has become a very welcome creative outlet. It’s a lot of fun to think about how I’ll communicate my runs and workouts to you in such a way that it won’t be mundane or boring.

Thanks for visiting!
Thanks for visiting!

It truly has been encouraging to see you all come here consistently week after week. I have a stats page that shows me how many people come to this blog and where they come from. There’s a certain number of readers every week, with a few spikes depending on what I write about (the Rugged Red post was very popular all over the country, so that was pretty cool). I don’t have a group of people I train with, so it’s nice to have a support of you who come back here to read about what I’ve done. So, thank you – Thank you for joining me on this particular journey. There’s more to come!

2. When things get tough…
As a Christian who is fairly familiar with the Bible, I often turn to its word as a source of comfort. Hours spent in the country or in the woods are also ample time for prayer and meditation as well. Time and again I’ve experienced the singular peace and comfort I’ve only experienced in prayer. Soreness and tough workouts also have a way of bringing up a few Bible verses or other ideas that help me keep moving forward.

“…let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” Hebrews 12:1-2

A poignant sign I saw on a church during a long, hot run this summer:

Faith doesn’t make it easy; it makes it possible.

Which of course always leads me to:

“I can do anything through Christ who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13

3. I think about my wife.

She has had impressive success as a runner, too!
She has had impressive success as a runner, too!
If you’ll pardon the terms, Ashley is without a doubt my biggest “fan” and most loyal and selfless supporter. And it means more than the world to me.

I spend a lot of time running. A lot. I always talk with her about these things, and she never hesitates to encourage me to go for my goals, to put in the time necessary to be able to cover the miles safely. Even before she was a runner and had to be there to run the race herself, she was at the finish line with a camera. Early, cold mornings, wrapped in warm clothes or standing around in the heat. She pores through photos of events and finds all the ones of me, and compliments my form in pure Ashley fashion: “Look at those rippling leg muscles RAWR!” She tells me she’s proud of every little thing I accomplish, whether it’s a fast 5k or just finishing a long run. She’s also there after every daily run to get the details on how it went.

I could go on and on, but I don’t really have the words. She’s the best thing that ever happened to me, and I couldn’t ask for anyone better to be my support and sidekick. So, yeah. I think about her when I’m out running. Usually I’m wondering why she puts up with this nonsense, and how grateful I am to have her.

4. What’s going to happen next?
I usually don’t do one thing simply for the sake of doing that one thing. I tend to set long-term goals and then form a plan to get there – and long runs are a great time to do just that. I ran three half marathons this year to prepare for this upcoming full marathon. I’m running this full marathon to prepare for next year’s insanity. For more on this, stay tuned for a special post in the next few days! I have some really exciting news to share.

That strange motivator.

This one’s a bit long…get ready!

Last week during the Evansville Half Marathon, volunteers had put signs up along the Greenway path with various answers to the question, “Why do you run?” Some of them were funny: “Because there’s snacks at the finish line!” Some of them were not funny: “Because everyone told me I couldn’t.”

That particular answer gave me more pause than others did. It made me really think “why do I run?” I could think of reasons like “to be fit; to be healthy,” but those have never really felt like my reasons. They may be someone’s reasons, and that’s great – but they aren’t my reasons. For me, being fit and healthy are side effects of a great lifestyle change that didn’t even necessarily take them into consideration, not really.

The Track
When I first started going to the gym, I had no clue what I was doing. My first employer out of college had a generous discount for employees to go to the YMCA near where we worked. I signed up, but it was a few weeks before I mustered up the courage to go. I finally went and walked around the track during my lunch break. Sometimes I could walk a mile, other times my legs were on fire and would hurt so bad, I had to quit early – then I’d be sore for days. I was nervous about what the rest of the facility held. I saw people going in all different directions, some were running around the track, some played basketball, some went in other rooms or the pool. It took me months before I strayed from that track to explore what other options were available.

The Elliptical
The day finally came that I walked into a small side room with a few cardio and weight machines. It was a large storage closet they had converted to sort of an overflow room for treadmills, elliptical machines, stair steppers, arc trainers, and various weight machines. Not only that, but there were televisions in there. I used the treadmills for a while before I got on an elliptical. I don’t know what it was about that machine, but I couldn’t get enough. I got on it every day from there on out, burning calories and watching Just Shoot Me. My goal was to burn as many calories as were in a Snickers bar, which was 210. Sometimes I’d hit it, sometimes I wouldn’t. Either way, I’d have a Snickers bar and a Diet Coke in the afternoon.

Despite my dismal approach to nutrition, the fat started melting away. It felt great. I wasn’t rushing out to buy new clothes or anything – it wasn’t quite as dramatic as that. But one day, I was switching the channels on a TV before getting on my machine, and a lady on a treadmill told me she noticed I was losing weight, and to keep up the good work. “You’re slimming down!” I’ll never forget her or those words. I was actually doing it!

I kept going, day after day after day. In the cold, in the rain, in the intense heat and humidity, I’d drive over to the Y at lunch and power through on that elliptical machine until my time was up. Some days I’d skip and get lunch somewhere else, but I always hated myself for doing that. Something inside me was pushing hard to go to the gym, and it wasn’t very clear where that push was coming from. I’d never been to a doctor who might have told me I was overweight and should consider a change. My family loves me, my wife loves me and has been attracted to me through all different stages of appearance…No one ever told me I should; no one ever told me I couldn’t. So why do it at all?

The Road
I have always wanted to be a runner, even before going to the Y. Running appealed to me somehow. Especially long runs. I have always thought it would be relaxing to just hit the road to run and run until I was ready to come home. A few failed attempts at running around the track at the Y had me believe I would never be a runner because “it was too late.” As a 23- or 24-year-old, I told myself it was too late to be a runner. “I can walk all day,” I’d tell people. “But I couldn’t run one mile.” I made up excuses, but the idea never left my mind. It was always there nagging at me. Finally I did it. A few years ago, I ran for the first time, and I was scared. I was scared I wouldn’t be able to make it. My legs would give out, my heart would race, it’d be terrible. But I did it. I continued to do it. Crappy shoes, old shirts with the sleeves cut off, a washcloth to wipe away the sweat…I did it.

The Race
I’ve kept going forward. I was introduced to strength building routines I had never imagined – lunges, squat thrusts, burpees! I toned, I shed more and more pounds, I started running 5ks. My first 5k was a trail run in Harmonie State Park. At 9:00 in the morning, it was 95 degrees or something like that. We raced off into the woods, and I couldn’t make it. I had to walk. I finished running, but only barely. I was so disappointed, but I didn’t quit. I kept going. I don’t know how many 5ks I’ve run now. I’ve gone so many miles running and biking. New things come into my life: “People ride their bikes 100 miles in a day? I’d like to do that.” So I do. “People run 13.1 miles? I’d like to do that.” So I do. “An Ironman is a century, a marathon, and a 5k swim? I’d like to do that.” So I will – haven’t yet, but I will. Because it freaks me out.

The Theme
Whenever I look back, there is one common theme from today, six days before my second marathon (maybe five days now), back to the first day I went to the YMCA and tried to walk a mile on a track. That thread is fear. It’s an odd motivator, but I’m convinced we all have it about one thing or another. I was afraid to go to the YMCA because I was overweight, and there would be thin people there. I was afraid to explore the facility because I wouldn’t know what to do with some of those machines. I was afraid to run because I thought I’d fail. But I did each thing in turn. I was afraid of it all – but I wanted to do it. Something in me said do it so loudly and persistently that I couldn’t ignore it even through the fear. So I did it.

The Takeaway
So many things I’ve set my mind on. At first they scare me. But I study them, then I try them, then I accomplish them. This year, I committed to training better to run a marathon – the same marathon I ran last year that broke me down physically and mentally. But I want to run a marathon is in my head, so I’m making it happen. There are loads of things in my head right now saying I want to do this, I want to do that. Some of them I’m ready for, some I’m not. Most make me nervous. But I’ll make a plan for them. This blog is actually the result of one of those nagging things.

I’ve never really challenged you to consider yourself when reading what I write each week, but this time I’m going to because I feel pretty passionate about following dreams and overcoming fears.

If there is something in your life that you want to do, something that nags at you, but you’re afraid of it – make a plan. Find your support group or person and tell them about it. It’s probably going to sound crazy when you say it out loud: “I want to run a marathon.” or “I want to ride my bike every night.” or “I want to try making sushi.” Get excited about it, and take the first few steps. Nothing will ever feel better than when you do something you’ve always wanted to do. It’ll make you feel like a kid. It’ll make you feel like you can accomplish anything – and it will prove that you can.

Maybe your first step is telling me what your dream is. Put it in the comments below, and I’ll help cheer you on. Seriously – do it now. What are you afraid of?

Also, I came in FIRST in my age category at a nighttime trail run last week!
Also, I came in FIRST in my age category at a nighttime trail run last week!

The Mystery of Missing Motivation

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This week’s training was at once successful and frustrating. My short runs were great and surprisingly strong. Thursday I ran tempo again, and when I felt like I was slowing down, my Garmin told me I was going faster – while I did not feel like I was pushing too hard to maintain the pace.

Despite strong training during the week, I hit the dreaded wall while out for my 6-mile run in Audubon on Saturday. This was perplexing at the time, though hindsight has revealed a few things that could explain it.

  • Difficulty recovering from last weekend’s race and tough trail run.
  • Choosing too intense of a course for what should have been an easier run.
  • 94% humidity, no wind in the woods! Ick.

With that in mind, I am taking this week off from running so I can fully recover from two weekends of tough, failed runs. I realized it’s quite a blow to my psyche, and emotional/mental training is all part of this process, too. I’ll be back next Sunday with a post on motivation! Because that’s what I’ll be focusing on this week. I’ll still be going to the gym during the day, working on building and maintaining a solid core. My evenings, though, will be run free.

Times moves fast…I try to catch up.

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This week flew by without any regard to what I wanted to accomplish. I felt like my runs were a race against time, which was sprinting just out of reach while laughing and flipping me the bird. Most days, I laced up my shoes, took a deep breath, and hit the pavement, closing my mind to the nagging chores around the house. The kitchen is a mess, the laundry is piling up, the lawn is looking a little shaggy. And then it was over. The weekend was upon us, and we loaded the car and headed east. This past weekend was the Wettlauf 5k, part of the Jasper Strassenfest. We camped out, ran a lot, ate a little, and had a great time. I’d love to do a post about ways I balance my real life with my running life, but I’m still trying to figure that all out. Probably one day I’ll need to get up early to get my training runs in before work rather than after, but I’ll postpone that lifestyle change as long as I can.

Now here I am, Wettlauf behind me, Monday is over, and the week has kicked into high gear yet again. I already sense a looming weekend waiting to blaze past me. Here we go!

Monday
My Monday easy runs are a choice between 3 and 4 miles now. I’m glad to do 4, since I like running. Easy is nice. I bring my Garmin to track miles, not to worry about pace. So it’s a more relaxing run; I can just have a good time. It certainly doesn’t hurt that the weather has been unseasonably cool, enticing me to stay outside as long as possible, for whatever reason I can come up with.

Tuesday
Still running Interval A on Tuesdays for the time being. I like being able to push my self and see what I’m capable of. This was my fastest pace yet, running pretty comfortably in the 7:20 – 7:30 area during the speed portions. I never slowed down quite enough during the recovery portion; for some reason I couldn’t seem to get there, but that’s okay. I recovered well to pick it back up again in time for the next interval, so I felt good about it.

Thursday
Thursdays switch between hills (Audubon trail run!) and tempo A (three miles at a consistent, comfortable push). This week was tempo, which is kinda hard. These are important runs as it is where the endurance gets built up, so I have to push through when my legs burn. There’s no recovery portion of the run until the three-minute cool down at the end. I had very nice consistency in my pace, which is good. If there’s a lot of fluctuation, I would need to consider what my pace should actually be and probably slow it down a bit to something more manageable. Thankfully I don’t need to do that. I don’t like having to slow down.

Saturday
Race day!
Races are typically done early in the morning, probably because if the sun is up for too long, heat really starts to be a problem. The Wettlauf 5k started at 8:00 a.m. Jasper time, which is an hour ahead. We also needed to drive 30 minutes to get there in time to register and warm up. Basically, this meant we had to wake up at 4:30 a.m. our time. We rolled out of our campsite before the sun was up. By the time we got to Jasper, it was raining and cold. Not a pleasant start to the day. The rain went away, though, and the high, positive energy of a small-town 5k became palpable. The town square filled with people ready to run their hardest. These shorter races are great because you can really go all out, since 3.1 miles is quite manageable at a fairly aggressive pace. The course was great, with gently rolling hills the whole way. It was also a packed course; quite a few people came out to run. I also think the whole town of Jasper is on the track team. They’re fast and fit! I came in at 25:36 (8:20 average pace), which is getting very close to my personal best of 24:36. I’m really hoping to be able to set a new 5k PR this year, and that’s looking pretty likely.

Sunday IMG_2423
We stayed another night at Lincoln State Park in order to take advantage of the lovely trails with delightful history to go along with them. I needed to run 12 miles, so I decided to do that on the trails. Along the way, I passed a place where a guy named Gentry had a house and a store. It’s just a mowed lawn now. I also looped around a mill site where the area’s residents would hitch their horses to walk in circles and mill their grains. The site was frequented by none other than Abraham Lincoln, who lived in the area with his family, as the name of the park might suggest. A historical marker informed me that the very trails I was running on were once busy roads on which people would cart to and from the mill and Mr. Gentry’s store. It’s hard to not imagine what that must have been like.

At around mile 7, I realized I wasn’t going to be able to run the whole 12 miles. My energy was quickly depleting, and I was starting to get very irritated with sweat, heat, etc. I was disappointed, but I ran 8.63 miles of rolling hills in the beautiful woods, so I shouldn’t be too hard on myself. I did learn something, though. I realize that running increasing miles in the challenging environment posed by trails is likely to require that I eat something while out running. I haven’t had this problem before during a training run, but I’ve not done a training run as grueling as this one was. In the coming weeks, I’m going to be experimenting with energy gels to see how that will help me when dealing with the bonk. I have a commercially made gel, but I will also make one of my own.

HIIT(ing) the trails!

This week, I noticed my countdown go from three months to two months. It’s sort of strange to have one goal in mind that I’m working hard to accomplish while at the same time pursuing several other goals. I guess this is how I keep things exciting and keep the motivation fresh!

One of my upcoming other goals is the Rugged Red half marathon in Red River Gorge in Kentucky. This is a trail half, so it will be quite challenging and will take longer than my current half marathon PR of 2:05:10. I’m trying to wrap my head around that as being an okay thing. Even though I know that trail running is more technical, typically resulting in a slower overall pace, I never really like to see that happen. With this disappointment serving as motivation to run stronger on trails, I’ve compiled a trail running conditioning workout that works really well with high intensity interval training (HIIT – you thought that was a typo, didn’t you? Well, shame on you.). This particular HIIT routine involves 30 seconds of fast, intense effort followed by 10 seconds of rest, which is really just enough time to get ready for the next 30 seconds of fast, intense effort for a different exercise. HIIT is time based, rather than repetitions based, but the idea is to do as many reps as you can in 30 seconds. As an added bonus, I do this routine barefoot outside in a nice patch of grass.

HIIT the Trails Conditioning
30 sec effort
10 sec rest
Four rounds
1. Pistol squats (15 secs right, 15 secs left)
2. Haybales
3. Walking lunge w/weight
4. Step ups (15 secs right, 15 secs left)
5. Stair hops
6. High knees/butt kicks (15 sec each)
7. Bounding
8. Four-square drill

I put this routine together from info gathered from Doug Hay at rockcreekrunner.com and from Jason Fitzgerald at strengthrunning.com. Both excellent sources of running information! Trail running typically involves hills with steeper grades than roads, sharp curves around trees or other obstacles, hopping over roots and fallen trees, and sometimes even splashing through creeks. It’s a great way to mix up a running routine, especially if you like to be in the woods, which I do – quite a bit.

This week was a fairly standard week of training. I found a great running speed calculator that I got fairly excited about. I know that I want to run my marathon in around 4:30, and I knew what pace I would want to get that, but I wasn’t sure what kind of paces I should be training at in order to be best prepared for the big day. So, McMillan’s running calculator helped me find out I was right on pace for the most part, and showed me a few places were I could make adjustments. The information was surprisingly motivating as I hit the roads this week.

On Saturday, we went to the zoo to run a 5k called Dash for Donna, honoring what was once the world’s oldest hippo in captivity. Sadly, after turning 54, Donna died. Now the zoo is raising money for a memorial, and the race is one way of raising those funds. I finished 4th in my age category, which is pretty tough age category to place in, so 4th ain’t too shabby.

At least I was faster than these guys.  Turtle joke.
At least I was faster than these guys.
Turtle joke.

It was a one-mile loop around the zoo that we ran three times, so we got to see a lot of the zoo over and over again. Some of the animals seemed alarmed by the pack of charging people, but as far as I know, no one fell victim to any creature’s resort to instinctual behavior – though it looked like the emus wanted to show us what real running looks like.

Next weekend, we’re off to go camping! We’ll be running a 5k in a small town east of here, and I’m pretty excited about that. My long run next weekend is 12 miles, and I’ll be doing that on the trails in Lincoln State Park. I’ve never run 12 miles on a trail before, and I’m looking forward to it, especially knowing that there is a lake that I’ll be able to cool off in afterword.

Why no meat?

I’ve been a vegetarian for somewhere nearly ten years. I don’t remember exactly when it all happened.

Here are the two questions everyone wants to ask about being vegetarian:

Why?
Originally, it was to be supportive of my then-girlfriend’s ambitions. She said she had always wanted to be vegetarian, but didn’t think she could do it on her own. So I, knight in shining armor that I was, offered my companionship in that pursuit. That girlfriend became my wife, and we’ve continued in our veggie ways (thanks to my gallantry).

As the years go on, and I hear this question again and again, my answer remains the same. We don’t feel it’s a chore or imposition on our lives to not eat meat. We’ve found we don’t really need the meat we’re not eating. So, we keep not doing it.

Recently, someone asked “Why?” and before I could answer, he continued, “I mean, I know the reason. But…why?

I didn’t know how to answer that one.

Where do you get your protein?
Short answer: I get my protein from the food I eat.PlantbasedProteinInfographic-850x1950
Meat may be a good source of protein, but it is not the only source of protein, nor is it the only good source. I understand the concern, though. Especially as an endurance athlete, having protein in my diet is important. But there are about seven million (hyperbole) other vitamins and minerals that I need to have. Over the past several months, I’ve been doing a lot of research into what constitutes a healthy diet for a vegetarian or vegan person (really any person). Here is what I’ve learned: If I eat a healthy diet filled with a variety of whole, healthy foods, I’m not going to need to worry a whole lot about where I get my protein, or anything else for that matter. Lots of whole fruit, lots of whole vegetables, some nuts and seeds if I want (but I don’t really eat a lot of these), and I’m pretty much good to go.

How to handle eating with me:
I’m one of the least high-maintenance persons you’ll ever spend time with. I’ll figure out a way to get food, believe me.

Eat whatever you want! I don’t really care what you’re eating. Enjoy it! We’ll have a good time together. I’m not going to get preachy.

Don’t apologize for eating meat. What a weird thing to do. I’m not going to apologize for eating something you don’t eat.

Don’t make fun of me for not eating meat. Or for not being able to eat the meat you’re enjoying. It’s not nice to make fun of anyone for any reason, let alone the food they eat.

I’d love to talk more about the food I eat to fuel my workouts and runs, but not everyone wants to hear about it. If you want more, just comment below, and I’ll answer any of your questions.

I ran a bit this week.
It was a little tricky to get all my miles in this week, but I made it for the most part. I have five days of running in my planner, but some of them I feel are more important than others (right or wrong), and sometimes it’s difficult to carve out enough time to get every one of them done. The intervals, tempos, and long runs I consider to be more important, so I make sure to get those in at the least. My long run this week was 10 miles. It’s the first double digit run of the training, and it always seems impossibly long. The course I ran took me out into the country for some long, straight, empty roads that seemed to drag on for many more miles than they insisted they were.

There really isn’t much more to say about this week. It was quite standard, as far as training goes. I ate a lot of food, ran a lot of miles, and burned a ton of calories. Tomorrow, I start all over again! Next Saturday, I’m running a 5k at the Evansville Zoo. Hopefully I’ll have some personal record-breaking news to share with you all!