I love being out in nature. However I am also a klutz of major proportions. My friends suggest I should be wrapped in bubble wrap considering how often I get injured. This combination makes for an interesting challenge when examining my joy of trail-running. I love running on trails, but I usually end up falling on trails. In fact, this was what led to my first DNF (did not finish) last August, when I injured myself before the mile 11 aid station at Pacific Coast Trail Runs The Ridge, the last trail race I attempted. And prior to The Ridge, I had only been running trails for fun and for training, with the exception of a few New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day races put on by Brazen Racing.
However, when I heard about Vacation Races Trailfest, being held just close enough to home to be an easy travel experience, and there was a contest to win an entry to one of the weekend’s races, I had to enter. Camping, yoga, speakers, AND trail runs? Sign me up! I had never heard about this event prior to a race ambassador’s post on Facebook and probably never would have been able to afford to sign-up by the time I found out (costs typically rise for race registration as you get closer to the event) – but luckily I won the entry and signed myself up for the Saturday race.
This event runs from Wednesday to Sunday, with registration on Wednesday, races on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, and then checking out and heading home on Sunday. There were a variety of events scheduled throughout the week as well in addition to the runs, from yoga to speakers to massages! You could arrive at any point during the week, but I went straight after work to register and set-up my tent (I wanted to stake out a good spot) before I came back down to the valley for my HMR class. For those people who may not own a tent (or who just don’t want to travel with one and set it up), the festival offered free tents already set-up, or you could pay a small fee for a bed in a bunkhouse (or a little more for a private room). But I wanted to embrace the full trail experience, so I opted to do it all myself.
The registration fee also includes meals. Since I was signed up for Saturday’s run, my dinner on Friday and Saturday nights were included as well as breakfast on Saturday morning. I had brought most of my own food but did eat the steamed and fresh vegetables at dinner both nights as well as enjoyed the fresh fruit in the morning.
When I came back to the festival on Friday, I was admittedly nervous. I have some social anxiety, and showing up a couple days late and all alone to a community-oriented event had me a little on edge. But everyone was very friendly from Amanda, the race ambassador whom I had won the entry from, to the runners I met at the various meals and events.
On Friday night we got the opportunity to meet Sarah Lavender Smith as well as to hear her read from her new book “The Trail Runner’s Companion” – I bought a copy and have already started to read it – I’d recommend picking up a copy! She also answered questions from the audience about trail running, ultra running, injuries, and her own experiences. It was inspiring and grounding at the same time.
The next morning was the race itself, through Pescadero Creek County Park – a 13.7 mile adventure with an elevation gain of 2700 feet – looking at the elevation map, there was never going to be a real “flat” stretch.
The race had a rolling start (aka roll out of bed, roll down to the starting line, and start somewhere during this window of time) which made for a relaxing and fun feel at the starting line. It also meant there weren’t a couple hundred people all hitting the trail at once, a respectful way to treat the course itself and it also allowed runners to be spaced out as we sorted ourselves in the first mile or two before setting into the real climbs.
In talking to my running coach, I knew I was going out to have fun. This wasn’t a race for me, just a fun run and hike through the redwood trees. I would run when I could, walk when I needed to, and while I admittedly paid some attention to time (I didn’t want to miss a cut-off), I never really looked at my pacing outside of those mileage beeps on the Garmin letting me know my pace of the previous mile. In my head, I needed to keep it around a 20 minute mile to stay under any cut-off. In reality the race organizers knew this was the third day of racing for most of the participants and the course was kept open much longer, so I knew going into the race if I needed the extra time I could take it and so I didn’t speed myself up, I just played by feel.
Anyone who has been following my running journey probably already knows I was plagued with injuries in 2016 and 2017. I am a regular at my physical therapist’s office (shout-out to Garrett who is AMAZING), bringing him a new injury every few months. But suffering my concussion in November forced my whole body to rest, so while I was hesitant to flare old injuries like my Achilles tendinitis, I also was willing to take some risks I had been avoiding before, like running the inclines when I could instead of forcing myself to walk.
And there were a LOT of inclines! So I ran when I could and I walked when I needed to. And that mile 6 stretch to the aid station at 7.2 was all walking. I could hear the aid station long before I could see the top of the hill. And when I hit flat ground and started to run into the staging area for the aid station, a volunteer cheering looked at me and asked “Let me guess, mile 6?” and I laughed and nodded. I could only imagine what I looked like after that climb.
Speaking of aid stations, this aid station was FANTASTIC. The volunteers were so helpful, offering to fill water bottles while runners fueled, as well as any additional assistance runners needed. The fuel options could be described as a “spread” from the liquid fuel Gnarly to various snacks including fresh cut fruit as well as potatoes (with salt to dip them in!). I brought my own electrolyte I had trained with (Nuun) so a volunteer refilled my bottles with water while I ate two pieces of potato I dipped in salt. Seriously the best thing ever at the top of a mountain!
For anyone reading who is following the HMR program, these potatoes were fantastic! I also carried with me a variety of baby food pouches that were all fruits or fruits and sweet potato combinations (every pack had between 40 and 90 calories and 2g or less of fiber – most with only 1g). I had a baby food pouch about every 45 or so minutes (tucking the empty pouches back into my OrangeMud pack).
Then it was back down the mountain and into the woods again. Did I mention the mud and downed trees yet? It had rained on Wednesday night, and although the trails were drier than they had been in the previous days, there were still slick mud pits to get through and trees to climb over and under. It was a fun, but scary, obstacle course for the accident-prone runner. I had a few moments where I had to stop and evaluate the route to pick the best option given some of the communication limitations I am still experiencing between my brain, ears, and eyes after the concussion.
As I hit the portion of the trail that was the out-and-back, I knew the end was near. It was just up one more small climb and through camp to the finish line, where I teared up as my wooden carved medal was placed around my neck. This finish meant a lot to me. It meant I successfully navigated a trail without injury. My brain and body appeared to be functioning well. And I got past mental blocks that had hindered my ability to listen to my body. I enjoyed being out of the trail more than I could explain. And while my body isn’t conditioned enough yet to travel many more miles, my mind could have been out on those trails exploring for a lot longer.
The finish line at Trailfest included fresh fruit, sports drink, chocolate milk, and snack boxes full of healthy refueling options like nut butter and trail mix. I personally enjoyed a banana and an HMR chocolate shake for recovery before stretching and rolling and relaxing. I took advantage of the complimentary massage, I enjoyed some yoga, and I relaxed in the woods before packing up my belongings (I had responsibilities at home that prevented me from staying the final night).
The last activity I got the opportunity to enjoy during Trailfest was the final speaker, Dean Karnazes, an ultra marathoner who is local to the Bay Area but is known worldwide for the mileage he travels on his runs. He told us about his he started running on his 30th birthday, about the history of the marathon (interwoven with stories from his running experiences), and then answered questions from the audience. While I enjoyed that he likes to “run a marathon before breakfast” – it was some of his other responses that left me thinking. From his day-to-day routine (he doesn’t sit down) to his views on suffering (we have become so comfortable in our daily lives that we are miserable – find joy in the suffering), I made some mental notes on my own embracement of suffering and finding opportunities to get a little uncomfortable to improve myself (I am standing as I write this).
Overall, this weekend was a fantastic experience and one I hope to partake in again. While the initial fees were high, they included a lot – from camping to meals to a shirt AND a zippered hoodie, not to mention the race and the snacks and the medal (and if you completed all three races you also got a beautiful pocket knife). Well worth the price (plus you could bring friends and family to enjoy many of the weekend activities at no additional cost!). And if you volunteer at a Vacation Race event, you can earn credit toward their races (as can your friends and family – the credits are transferrable!) – which makes it an even more affordable experience.
Now to get back to my regularly scheduled training (I’m signed up to tackle The Ridge again!) while embracing the positive energy and lessons I gained from my experiences this weekend!
I am training for a marathon. And I am gaining weight. But marathon training didn’t cause this to happen. And I have been thinking a lot about this possible connection as I prepare to toe the start line of the New York City Marathon on November 6.
Let’s examine the facts. Which is going to involve talking about running for a bit. But if you are here for the self-discovery and discussion of weight gain, don’t worry, that will be coming in a little while.
I began training to run the Portland Marathon starting in the summer of 2015. I ended up with a DNS (did not start) after dealing with some injuries late in the summer. Rested. Recovered.
I started training for the Little Rock Marathon in October of 2015. I ended up getting different injuries but finishing the marathon. Albeit with time goals thrown out the window.
And two days after Little Rock in March of 2016, I confirmed I would be training for New York. But after not recovery properly from Little Rock, I have spent a large amount of time in physical therapy with yet another injury (shockingly these are all linked to some genetic issues, not shockingly they are all uniquely different injuries). However, I do have adjusted time goals. But ultimately I want to enjoy what I am openly acknowledging may be my last marathon, at least for a couple of years.
So essentially, for the last 17 or so months, I have been in some stage of marathon training or recovery. And while I haven’t stepped on the scale in a couple of weeks (more on that later) – I know I have gained about 20-30 pounds since May 31, 2015. But to be more specific – I gained 5-7 pounds in the summer of 2015, lost 14 pounds while I was injured and not running at all, gained 17 pounds during my training for Little Rock, struggled for awhile in recovery after (gaining another 7 pounds), and then losing 14 pounds before starting training for New York. So (and I am not the best at math), when I started training for New York, I was about 5 pounds heavier than when I started training for Portland the previous summer. But that doesn’t change the fact that the last time I stepped on the scale, I was 16 pounds heavier than I was when I started training for this marathon.
Going into marathon training, I knew many people had struggled with weight gain. From talking to my health coach, I knew this was something I would need to be mindful about. And so I went and did some research. HOLY MOLY don’t even try Googling weight gain and marathon training. SO MUCH HAS BEEN WRITTEN!
But more specifically, so much is contradictory. The FIRST article I opened (which I just found again near the top of the search page) had 6 reasons people gain weight and several of those reasons literally contradict each other! From being too strict about food to overeating to underfueling during the running to overfueling during the run; the information is endless and quite frankly overwhelming.
However, I realize after 17 months of training/recovering… that marathon training didn’t make me gain weight. I have just allowed it to serve as a mask, or as an excuse for struggles I have battled my whole life.
Marathon-training meant focusing on specific training goals with a specific training plan. A hyper-managed schedule to weave into my already full plate. But luckily, what it really just meant was rearranging my fitness schedule, because I learned after a couple of minor injuries, that I couldn’t add training on top of everything else I was doing.
So in reality, I didn’t increase my physical activity too much over the course of a week. But I did shift my mindset and I began more single-sport training. Which meant I wasn’t getting the same level of intensity 5 days a week, but was having some high intensity days and some much lower days. I have since realized that this threw my use of physical activity as a form of stress management out the window and I found food again as a form of stress relief, a habit I had mostly managed to eliminate, but did not realize had snuck back into my life until recently.
I also began to use the marathon as my excuse, or crutch, for more than just taking a rest day. And as I think about this, I realize that we all do this, even if we aren’t training for a marathon. For example, last year I struggled with stress in a new position at work, and people told me it would be understandable if I gained weight because I “had an excuse” – but while I had new challenges in my job, I also knew that it was just different struggles, and it wasn’t an excuse to eat. But I let marathon training be that excuse because I knew it had a timeframe and I could just start working on weight management after the race.
Finally, I realize now that I just didn’t have a maintainable weight of eating for weight management in place prior to starting marathon training. And long runs on Sunday took the place of meal preparation and planning. And the socialization events associated with training took away the desire to do the meal prep and planning. And because I was now constantly thinking about running, about injury prevention, about travel planning, about being stressed because I couldn’t go work out that afternoon because I had a long run in the morning, and at that point something just had to give.
For those of you who have followed my health and fitness story for awhile, you will realize I have struggled with this balance before. And I know this about myself. But I let the marathon mask this, and managed to put myself on the back burner at the same time I was supposedly focusing on myself.
I have some plans in mind that I look forward to sharing soon about how I will be working to lose this weight while finding a way to better manage it long term. I know I will always struggle with my weight. I will continue to gain and to lose (hopefully with a lot less gaining in the future). I will continue to have to confront myself and figure out the trigger of the moment and will have to reframe.
Right now, I will continue to make healthier choices. I am not going to focus on losing weight until after the marathon because that’s a week and a half away and I am not going to add the additional stress to myself right now because I would be setting myself up for failure. But you should expect there will be a number of blogs in the coming weeks both about the marathon, but also confronting the scale, and starting the process to lose the weight I have gained. I look forward to sharing more, but for now I am off to my weekly physical therapy appointment!
It’s been almost a month since I landed in Little Rock and yet it feels like it was just last weekend. I still can’t believe I finished my first marathon. After months of training and years of dreaming, it’s over. But before too much time passes, I wanted to write out my “race report” of the 2016 Little Rock Marathon because this blog has been my place to record my struggles and success and this was a lot of both. However, I am warning you, this post is LONG and I didn’t want to break it into parts.
I spent almost the entire training season in physical therapy working on a muscle imbalance in my left hip/glute area. And I was definitely getting stronger as time went on. My training runs were going great and I was feeling better every time I laced up my shoes.
About six weeks before the marathon, I drove to Los Angeles for a half marathon I was helping at. It was a drop-down week in terms of miles, so after running 18 the weekend before, I would be running 10 to 13 miles, with some intermittent stops during the race. I had a great time that weekend, but what I hadn’t predicted was how driving solo 6+ hours each direction plus running a half marathon would do to my right calf/Achilles. My right calf was where I had injured myself in 2009 the week after the Los Vegas half (in a Zumba class!) – due in part to the tightness and shortness of the muscle. And while I had been caring for it ever since, I didn’t think about how tight it would get driving so far.
After the weekend in Los Angeles, I spent the next four weeks struggling with ankle pain – my Achilles was giving my trouble whenever it was cool. However, as soon as it warned up, it was totally fine! So I worked on stretching and rolling and increasing the flexibility of the region while icing the Achilles and heel whenever I had the opportunity. And then I ceased all exercise a week before the marathon to allow it to rest.
But the damage was already there, and in order to ensure I could finish the race, I told my sister (who I would be running side-by-side with) that I would need to run the race at our training pace instead of a faster pace. We had been training on opposite coasts but had kept a similar training pace in anticipation of running together. She had started experiencing shin pain in the last few weeks of training and was happy to drop our pace back.
Flying into Little Rock, I saw at least a half dozen passengers with various race shirts. I was pumped! Landing in Little Rock, I was excited to see even more runners in the small airport. My sister and I united in the baggage claim area and headed straight to our hotel, which also happened to be the location of the race expo (and finish area!). The expo had opened just a few hours earlier and was one of the larger expos I have been to. While not attracting any major sponsors like a Disney or Rock’n’Roll series expo, it was quite large. I’d venture to say somewhere between the San Francisco Marathon and Disneyland Half expos. Lots of regional races and running stores had booths, and the official race store had all sorts of adorable gear. But we wouldn’t allow ourselves to purchase a finisher’s shirt until we had passed that finish line. I refused to jinx anything less than 48 hours before the race.
A couple of days of light play and lots of rest and on race morning I was pumped and ready to run. We walked from our hotel to the starting line (by the way, after early morning race calls, this California girl was excited to wake up at a semi-reasonable hour for what I considered to be a late start).
The corrals were crowded if you stayed up near the front, so we lingered in the back and chatted with runners around us. Lots of half marathoners in the mix and tons of people who had run the race before surrounded us. After the wheelchair athletes started, there was a couple of minutes and then everyone else started to cross the starting line. There wasn’t a staggered start, which was surprising and meant we were off a lot quicker than I had anticipated.
The first few miles were incredibly crowded as we headed over the bridge into North Little Rock. Lots of people were along the streets cheering and a brewery was handing our beer less than two miles in! My sister grabbed a sip, but I was definitely not taking anything in other than my planned race fuel. We kept our planned pace, sometimes getting a little quicker to get ahead of a crowd. Because it’s a popular local race, there were a lot of groups running together who unfortunately would run four and five people wide. But we had run Disney races together and had our own way of communicating to each other to maneuver through the crowds. I was feeling awesome, like we couldn’t be stopped!
The weather started out cooler, so we were both bundled up. But by mile 7 or so, all the layers were off. It was heating up quickly and we were beginning to feel it.
We were still in the first half, so the hills were small and just rolled together. We were conservative in our pacing, but with stops and walk breaks were averaging about a 5:35-5:40 finish time. However, as the heat and hills picked up, we struggled a bit, and decided playing leapfrog with the 5:45 pacers was in our best interest since we were beginning to learn that we had some differences in our training programs and terrains that meant some irregularities in our planned pacing. So we would run our pace and if one of us needed a quick break to fuel, etc then we would use the 5:45 pacers passing us as an indication to get back to our pace (where we would pass them again since we were slightly faster in our training pace).
We continued to chatter as we approached the split between the half and the full. I had been at this split many races prior and for the first time, I would be taking the less populated route – we split off from the half marathoners (and the audible finish line somewhere in the opposite direction) and headed up the hill to the state capitol building. At this point we were ahead of the 5:45 pacers by a few minutes. Only after leaving the Capitol Hill and seeing the balloon arch ahead up us indicating the halfway point did we see what we were truly up against. Instead of small rolling hills, we were looking up at the incline the “What Hills?” training shirts had warned us about.
The inclines were hurting my sister’s legs and so we slowed our pace and waved at the 5:45 pacers as they passed us for the final time. She wasn’t feeling well and we kept hearing that the first big climb was brutal but short. While it wasn’t as brutal as some of the training I had been doing in anticipation, it also wasn’t over quickly and it seemed to stretch on forever. And it was heating up. By mile 15 I was dumping water over my head instead of in my mouth.
We would start to hit our pace again in the flats but just as we would get in a groove, there was another incline and we would need to slow again. All of the slowing would cool my Achilles and I found myself in a lot of pain by the time we began the downhill segment. We were less than 17 miles in and both struggling with our respective injuries. But a flat stretch was in site and we started to pick up the pace again. Although damage had already been done to our bodies, and some of it I wasn’t even aware of yet.
Passing the mile 19 marker, I started to feel a little funny. My body started cramping up in a way I hadn’t felt before and I started to feel nauseous. We slowed our pace to a jog and kept moving forward (up the barely visible but definitely existent incline). As we approached the mile 20 marker, I started to feel dizzy and my body felt like it was locking up. I bent over, holding my knees, trying to assess what was going on. I was hot, tired, and a little disoriented. I thought maybe some stretching would help and so we moved to the side of the road where I spent a significant amount of time stretching everything on a metal railing. I told my sister that I needed to make it to the next aid station to figure out what was going on, but by this point I was beginning to realize that I had been so focused on her injuries and on my Achilles that I had probably not been following my hydration and fueling plan. So something was off with my blood sugar or hydration or electrolytes. Something I could fix at the aid station.
Bless the biking groups who had a party going at the next aid station. They were handing out towels in ice-cold water, they had Cocacola, cookies, pretzels and trail mix. And water. I am sure they had other items as well, but I had a bite of a cookie, a couple pretzels and peanuts, and a couple of swigs of cola along with water. After signing their “Wall” and waiting for my sister to use the loo, I felt a thousand times better. I felt like I could run the last six miles at our planned race pace – I wasn’t going to attempt it but that’s how good I felt!
Unfortunately, after we tried to pick it up and get back to our planned pace, we discovered that in the two miles I pretty much brought us to a halt, my sister’s legs had all but seized up and even fast walking was hurting her. But she pushed through and would run when she could and would walk as quickly as she could bear the rest of the time. We made lots of friends in those last six miles from all over the country. We were told we were “crazy” for picking this race as our first, learned where all the “flat” races are and I started making a mental list of all of the races I wanted to run. We cheered on other runners and had a lot of time to connect with each other because we weren’t worried about pace at all at this point (aside from staying ahead of the 7 hour pacers which we managed to avoid). I was frustrated and upset with myself for allowing my body to break down, but I also realized that this was my first marathon and things don’t always go as planned and it wasn’t just about the race but the entire journey to get to this point that was important.
Somewhere in the last six miles, I saw something that made me mad. A woman, who must have passed us during my two miles of hell, had something on the back of her shirt:
“If you are behind me then you didn’t train either.”
My sister was my rock at this point. I could rationalize that this runner was probably being self-deprecating. But in the process she was diminishing all of the hard work everyone behind her had put into preparing for this race. Including me. So I looked at my sister and told her that if I wasn’t allowed to give this woman a piece of my mind for making me feel like shit, then we weren’t going to allow her to run in front of us. And despite the pain she was feeling, my sister picked up the pace and I did everything I could to hold my tongue and to try to shake off the negativity I was holding toward this woman and her evil shirt because all I wanted to do was run next to her and tell her ALL about the hours of training my sister and I had put in to prepare for this race.
With less than two miles left, I grabbed a cold beer from a spectator and gulped the Dixie cup down. Best. Beer. Ever. It was cold and carbonated and perfect as the sun beat down on us. It was the best thing ever… for the next couple blocks at least. Then the stomach revolted and I thanked the race gods that we had less than a mile to go. And in that last mile my sister and I talked about our finish. We had super cute finishing photos from our two half marathons we had run together but we had always run it in strong. My sister said she would let me know how she was feeling but she wanted to try to run it in again. And as we rounded the corner, with the finish line in sight, she gave me the signal and we began to run toward the finish.
The finish line and everything after is still a bit of a blur. I was crying and laughing all at once. I wanted to be inside in a chair but I also wanted to stay and savor the finish. We rang the PR bell and accepted our gigantic medals (which after the race we had, the medals almost tipped us off balance). Posed for a photo with water still in our hands and then hobbled toward the finish area to get that finisher gear we could finally don.
By the time we made it to the merchandise booth (we totally missed the free beer and food, not sure where it was), everything was 50% off! Score! So we shopped a bit while my legs seized up and by the time my sister was done, I was laying on the floor with my legs elevated trying to convince my body it could make it upstairs to our hotel room.
We found the finisher food area where we were rushed through and dragged our tired and beaten bodies up for our first ever ice baths. I had never felt more tortured and relieved in a 15 second bath (because that’s about all I could stand). And after a real shower and some stretching and rolling (and wine), it hit me. The marathon was over. I had done it.
It wasn’t how I planned my race when I dreamt about my first marathon. I knew it would be hard. I knew I would hurt. But I had trained for a much better finish time. I knew I wasn’t supposed to have a “goal time” for my first full, but I never anticipated taking almost seven hours to finish the race. But then I remember everything I learned during my experience. Lessons that will make me stronger. And everything I fought through. Struggles where I might not have had the cleanest victory over but where I still succeeded.
Upon seeing the medal in my classroom, a student asked me if I won the race. I laughed and then realized I really had won. Maybe I didn’t come in first, qualify to Boston, or even run close to my planned finish. But there was a lesson I could share with my students. That you can practice and train and work your absolute hardest and not have the conclusion you want. But it is still a finish you can and should be proud of. Less than 48 hours after finishing my first marathon, I was paying for my second. New York City, I am coming for you in November. And I am bringing all my newfound lessons with me!