the sugarloaf marathon

The Sugarloaf marathon was over a week ago (May 18th, 2014), but it’s taken me a while to recover: physically and mentally.  We’ve also been SUPER BUSY with work and recovery and the holiday weekend.

It took a few days for the whole race experience to sink in.  Before the race, I was worried that the end of the race would depress me.  After the hardest year of my life, I used training for this marathon as therapy for my body and sole.  I was worried that I would feel empty after it was over.  However, as I reflect back, I actually feel quite the opposite.

The end of my first marathon wasn’t an end to anything; it was a beginning.

We arrived in at the resort in Maine on Saturday, the day before the race.  The last time I was at Sugarloaf was in February; I remembered it bustling with skiers and snowboarders, crowds everywhere.  However, as we pulled up to the resort, it wasn’t the same packed place I remembered.  The grounds were quite, and the only crowds were the runners and spectators in the lobby.  The uncharacteristc  stillness of the resort fueled my nerves and made everything seem more serious.  I felt happy but focused.  I was here to accomplish something.

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The race bib pick-up was the quickest I remember.  My mom, my dad, Jon, and I soon found ourselves at the pasta dinner.  We filled our plates with pasta, seeking to strike a balance between fueling our bodies and eating smart.  The atmosphere in the room was bright and friendly.  Quite conversations about pace and pre-race rituals were muted by an unusual live musical duo of a tuba and base guitar.  Everyone seemed relaxed.  The months of preparation were over and the long trip to the mountain had been successful.  All that was left to do was eat and sleep and run.

Post carbo-load, we retired to our room to coordinate our race gear and watch some baseball.  We called it an early night; 5am would no doubt come quickly.  Despite waking up once an hour, I arose feeling rested.  It was go time.

We dressed quickly and made it to the lobby just as the first round of shuttle buses was pulling away.  My dad, my hubby, and I waited in the parking lot with a group of friendly runners for about 30 minutes.  We hopped around, stretched, and strained our eyes as we searched for the bus.  After months of training, the thought of the bus not coming and missing the race was too much for me to bear.  After what felt like ages, a shuttle bus came back to scoop us up.  We made it to the starting line with about 15 minutes to spare.

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As we lined up, I felt a wave of nerves and confidence simultaneously wash over me.  I knew I was ready to run a marathon, but I didn’t know what running a marathon was like.

Before I had too much time to think, the starting horn sounded.  I felt myself choke up as I crossed the starting line.  I was really going to do this!

Pre-race selfie.  Duh.
Pre-race selfie. Duh.

 

Although this was my first marathon, I have run my fair share of races and training runs.  I know a “pretty run” when I see one.  I had some exposure to the course from the car and the shuttle, but it was even better in person.  The course wound through the gorgeous Carrabassett Valley.  The tranquil surroundings and quite pounding of all the runners shoes on the pavement calmed my nerves.  I ran without music, enjoying the quite.

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The race started out hilly.  After speaking to some other runners prior to the race, I knew what to expect: rolling hills through miles 1-8, a steep incline from miles 8-10, and then a gentle decline for miles 10-26.2.

Around mile 6, the crowd had thinned out.  I felt strong, but I was concerned that I might have been going a bit too fast.  Still, I plugged along and chatted with other runners.

I struck up a conversation with a girl next to me; she was on her second marathon.  After hearing this was my first marathon, she gave me some really helpful pointers on pacing.  I told her that I hoped to qualify for Boston, even thought I wasn’t sure I’d run it.  She assured me that I was on a great pace for that.  When we reached mile 8, the steep climb began.

Although she was running just as hard as me, she began to coach me.  She gave me pointers on my running form on the hill, and encouraged me breathe in through my nose and out through my mouth.  I concentrated on her advise, and for the first time ever, I hardly lost any time on a hill.  Eventually, she broke away from me…but I kept her in my sight until about mile 20.  I am so grateful to have had her help.  Just further proof to my theory the runners are the best kinds of people.

Mile 10 finally ended, and I felt my muscles relax.  I felt the pull of the downhill.  The crowd had thinned out even more.  The road remained open, which was awesome because it allowed carloads of spectators to drive by and cheer.

We passed the resort, and I waved to my mom.  I was close to 12 miles at this point.  I felt strong, but knew I had a long way to go.

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Around mile marker 14, a woman screamed: “You are halfway there, Kristine!”  I was halfway there!!  I was thankful that our bibs had our names on them; it was cool to have someone I didn’t know cheering me on.

The very same women was at the mile marker every 2-3 miles after that.  She would cheer some runners on by name, hop on her bike and ride ahead, and stop at another marker to cheer more.  Eventually, she learned my name and would cheer for me as she rode by.

Races bring out the best in people, runners and spectators alike.  It’s a shared sacrifice.  We are all invested in the race, all in it together.

Before I knew it, I hit 20 miles.  I was starting to feel worse.  I had heard about “the wall” at mile 22, but I’d never experienced it.  I knew it was coming.

As if on cue, at mile 22, my brain started screaming at my body to stop running.  “Stop, stop, stop,” I thought, “even for just a minute?”  I started arguing with myself, “You can’t stop now!  You’re almost there!  But you might have to stop!”

This went on for a a few miles.  I started to feel insane.

At this point, I knew my pace.  I knew I was going to qualify for Boston.  I decided to let myself stop for 10 seconds every mile, just to catch my breathe.  I was experiencing exhaustion in my body like I had never felt, and I didn’t want my muscles to freak out.

For the last 4 miles, my mind and body engaged in an epic battle of will.  I couldn’t believe I had been stupid enough to think this was a good idea.  Human beings shouldn’t run this far, not unless it was absolutely necessary!

I don’t remember much about the scenery past 23 miles, but I think I passed more spectators.  I had been taking half a Gu every half hour, and I started to feel my last Gu in my stomach like a rock.  I thought I might get sick.

Suddenly, I passed the sign I had been waiting for.  The finish line was ahead!

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I heard a man say “The finish line is just past those flags up there,” and finishing finally felt real.  My running app said “26 miles,” and I pushed on to those flags with all I had.  I reached the flags, but I saw no finish line.

“Now, around the corner,” someone else yelled.

Sure, whatever.

I sprinted around the corner, and I finally saw the finish line!  I pushed my body forward, slammed my foot down on the mat, grabbed my medal, and doubled over in pain.

Photo with my clock time.
Photo with my clock time.

I felt crazy, but awesome.  I had done it.  I was a marathoner.  And with my time of 3:31:35, I had qualified for Boston.

I spent the next hour nursing myself back to life with chocolate milk, water, and orange juice.  I finally got to wear one of those cool silver blankets!  There were also free post-race sport massages, so you can bet that I took advantage of that.

I said that this race is the beginning because I feel like it’s the start of life as a marathoner.  I now know I can do it, I know I can run marathons.  And after a few weeks behind me, the soreness is mostly gone and I can confidentially say that I like to run marathons.  I have never felt as accomplished as I did slamming my foot down on that mat.  I took away a newfound respect for running, my body, and myself.

I can’t wait to do it again.

With my training buddy.
With my training buddy.

 

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Jon, me, and my dad after finishing the race...and recovering for a bit.
Jon, me, and my dad after finishing the race…and recovering for a bit.

One final note: I couldn’t have felt more fortunate to run this race with both my husband and my dad.  It was also so special to have my mom cheering us on.  My parents live in Michigan, and living apart from our family can sometimes be really difficult.  However, it’s memories like this race that I am so thankful to share.

 

Final Numbers

  • Miles ran: 26.2
  • Time: 3:31:35
  • Number of months trained: 5
  • Number of Gu gels consumed: 3
  • Number of times stopped: 4
  • Number of times I questioned my judgement: 3
  • Number of regrets: 0

final thoughts from a first timer

We are on our way up to Maine as we speak, and I can’t believe the race is tomorrow.

Tomorrow.

Like, one day from today.

We signed up for this race on New Years Day, and I remember feeling like May would never get here. In January, the days passed so slowly. We lost our newborn daughter on December 1st; at that time, making it through a month felt like a huge accomplishment. I couldn’t even imagine being almost 6 months down the road.

I used training for this marathon as a means of healing, both body and mind. I started training barely able to run 3 miles. It was frustrating, but I had to be patient with my body. It was difficult because there were days I was so angry with my body for delivering early, even though I knew it wasn’t my fault. I had to forgive my body, and I had to take care of it if I wanted to train. I had to eat well, I had to sleep. Sometimes I cried while on the treadmill, thinking of her. I didn’t care if anyone saw.

She was a fighter, and I had to fight too.

I have heard that if you dedicate each mile in your marathon to someone or something, it helps you get through; suddenly, you are running with purpose. That purpose is bigger than yourself, in honor of someone else. Amongst other things, I am running for her. I am running because I am blessed to be able to run. She will be on my mind all day.

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total taper mode

 

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With only two days left until my first full marathon, I have to say that I am somewhat relived.  That’s only two more days of nervousness, two more days of imagining what 26.2 will feel like, and two more days of checking the forecast every 2 hours (right now, 50% chance of rain).

Right now, I am in “taper mode.”  This pretty much means that I am not running.  After running over 40 miles a week for the past 4 months…that feels strange.  I had my last 5 mile run on Wednesday.  Yet, with all of this nervous energy pent up, sitting still is hard.  I think I am going to clean our whole apartment today.

I have to admit that I have really enjoyed training for this.  After the hardest few months of my entire life, it was nice to have something else to focus on.  However, it’s the emphasis that I’ve put on this marathon that has me concerned about the pending let down.

I remember when I was planning our wedding 3 years ago.  I spent hours every day looking at pictures, picking out colors, changing my mind, and making things for the reception.  Once it was all over, I remember sitting quietly with Jon, just the two of us.  It was the first down-time we’d had in about 3 days, and we were exhausted.  All of the sudden, I felt the post-wedding weepies coming on.  I burst into tears; to a very concerned-looking hubby, I turned and wailed, “What am I going to think about?!”  That was fun.  While this marathon cannot be compared to the greatest day of my life (the day I married my best friend), I am concerned about what I’m going to think about on May 19th.

On the other hand,I guess that’s life.  We plan for great things, then they happen, then they are over, and then we move onto the next great thing.  Along the way, we try to keep a handle on the not-so-great things, understanding that they shape and grow us into better versions of ourselves.

I guess it’s time to start planning the next adventure!  What’s next?

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battling “the crazies”

Jon and I run our first ever marathon on Sunday.  That’s only 3 days away!  It’s amazing…it feels like we just signed up.

Only 3 days until I conquer my first full marathon.
Only 3 days until I conquer my first full marathon.

Training for this marathon has been a process; it’s taken more than just a few long runs to ensure we are ready.  Right after we signed up in January, I bought the Runner’s World cookbook.  We started eating like runners.  I threw out my Sour Patch kids, and I traded my potato chips for homemade energy bars.  However, I kept my Diet Coke.  You’ll never take my Diet Coke from me.

Beyond diet modifications, our training obviously includes some really long runs.  What ended up surprising me about these long runs wasn’t how tired I felt during the run.  It was the gross feeling I got after I had finished up.

Jon and I fondly refer to the gross feeling after a long run “the crazies.”  The crazies make you feel sweaty and freezing at the same time.  The crazies make you want to eat everything, but also make you physically unable balance the food you want with all the liquid in your stomach.  The crazies make your legs shake if you stand too long; you look kind of like you’re on a boat, except it’s not fun.

The crazies mean you pushed yourself to your limit, and you should be proud.

I was lying on the couch after our 20 miler a few weeks back, dealing with my crazies; I started to make a list of what I should do to get rid of them.  With the marathon only 3 days away, I decided to share my list.  I’m sure I’ll be referencing this on Sunday afternoon.

How I Battle the Crazies

1. Chocolate milk: A lot of runners agree that chocolate milk makes an awesome recovery drink because of the great balance between carbs and protein.  I love it because it makes me feel good, and it’s chocolate.  I add a pinch of salt, and then I chug it.  If chocolate milk isn’t your thing, or if you are lactose intolerant, I’d suggest checking out this list.

2. Tennis ball: I like to use a tennis ball to roll around under my foot.  It works out any tension and helps prevent soreness.  The more miles I log, the more my arches hurt.  I keep a tennis ball under my desk at work, and I like to use it during a long afternoon at my desk.

3. Compression socks: After a trip to the hospital a while back, I was given a pair of compression socks.  As I was leaving the hospital, I tried to throw them away.  A nurse picked them out of the hamper and told me to take them; she told me they were “awesome.”  I’m so glad that she did, because it turns out they are a great recovery tool!  After a night of sleeping in my compression socks, I wake up with virtually no calf soreness.

Compression is very popular in the running community.  Before our recent half marathon, my hubby picked up a pair of compression sleeves (the same as my socks, but footless).  There is a debate right now in the running community as to what is better for recovery: compression sleeves or compression socks.  Again, it comes down to preference.  For help in making your decision, check out this list.

4. Foam roller: Lots of runners have come to LOVE the foam roller.  “Rolling out” your muscles after a long run is a great way to prevent lactic acid build up, and helps stretch out tired muscles.  You can get foam rollers that are totally smooth, some that have ridges, and some that look downright painful…like they are straight out of the Middle Ages.  We decided to get a foam roller with some ridges: it works our muscles over, but it isn’t cruel.  For more information on foam rollers, check out this link.

5. Light workout the next day: Working out the day after a long run is usually the last thing you WANT to do; however, it’s a good idea to stretch out your muscles.  I like to use the elliptical or ride the stationary bike for a short time, and I usually mix in some core exercises.  If I have a long-run on a Saturday, I also try and make it to a hot yoga class the next morning.  Whatever workout you chose to do, don’t push it!  No need to be a hero.

A montage from our 20 mile training run.
A montage from our 20 mile training run.

 

For recovery, I really try to focus on stretching and refueling.  I try to be smart, and I have gotten good at listening to what my body needs.  The list I just shared works well for me, but each tip won’t work for everyone.  For example, if my hubby usually likes to have a (non-diet) Coca Cola after a long run, for the sugar; I don’t think this tip helps me it all.  I can’t usually finish my can, it’s too syrupy.  However, a lot of ultra marathoners swear by it.  It’s all about knowing your body and figuring out what works best for you.

Runners: did I miss anything?  If so, I’d love to hear more ideas!

a really bad run

I have a confession to make.  About two weeks ago, I had a terrible “long-run Saturday.”

Terrible.

This run wasn’t just a bad time.  It wasn’t like I had to shorten my run due to weather.  No, it was just bad…really bad.

It was one of those runs you want to forget, especially if you are “in training.”  Although I will undoubtedly be better because of it, after I finally got home, I must admit I was questioning my upcoming marathon.  Was I crazy? If this run literally floored me, how was I going to get through running 8 more miles on May 18th?

Let’s recap.

The day started out slow. I woke up late (even for a Saturday), made oatmeal, drank coffee, and clicked around online.  I did some laundry and cleaned.  Before I knew what had happened, it was late afternoon.  Oops!

I hurried up and changed into my running clothes. I had to get out there soon to be sure I’d finish at a decent time.  I decided to try to run 20 miles!  Why not?!  I had to do it some time, why not now?

There are some important things to note at this point.  These are things that I didn’t notice until after my run, when I was dissecting what went wrong:

  1. I drank coffee. Coffee can be good before a run, but not only coffee. I had hardly any water.
  2. I ate around 11 am, and I didn’t eat again.  Saturday doesn’t always feel like a normal day, and I guess I didn’t think about lunch.  By 2 pm, I had consumed under 250 calories.  Considering the amount of calories I’d burn during the run, that was far too little.
  3. I didn’t respect the run. I think a lot of runners may have fallen into this trap at least once.  You’re in great shape, you’re “in training,” so why not just run 20?!  It’s funny because, if I had been running a 20 mile race, I wouldn’t dream of fueling up on under 250 calories and coffee.
  4. I started out too fast.  I was so psyched to be running 20, I took off at a pace that can only be maintained by elite runners.  Every split got slower, and the drops in speed became drastic.
  5. I hadn’t had enough rest days.  As much as I hate them, rest days are as important as any long run is in a successful training plan.

It was the perfect storm of ignorance and cockiness that left me 9 miles from home with my muscles locking up.

My route was 18 miles, and I knew of an extra 2 mile stretch that I planned on adding to the end.  Not anymore!  Now, I just needed to figure out how I was going to get home.

I found myself hunched over, frantically gasping for air.  Suddenly, my ever-loved running playlist was a huge annoyance.  I decided to run in silence.  My lips got very dry as I felt dehydration setting in.

I took my Gu and tried to drink from my hydration pack…only to find out that I had done myself another favor: I didn’t bring enough water.  Nice work!

Jon was away skiing for the weekend.  I had been so excited to tell him about my awesome 20 mile run.  Now, I really wished he was home so I could call him to come get me.  But I couldn’t.  I’d just have to run it out.

The final 9 miles of this run were the longest miles of my life.  I would run about a half a mile, stop to catch my breath, walk a bit, them force myself to keep running.

 

Our own little "heartbreak hill," about half a mile from home.
Our own little “heartbreak hill,” about half a mile from home.

Somehow, I made it home.  My time was not good, and I must have stopped over 15 times, but it didn’t matter to me at that point.

I made it home!

I collapsed on the floor of our apartment next to a very concerned kitty.  Unable (or maybe unwilling) to get a glass of water, all Lady did was lick my shoe.  That would have to do.  I appreciated the concern.

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I eventually scraped myself off the floor, chugged some water, and threw myself in the shower.  I then proceeded to eat everything in sight.  It was a tough recovery.

I kept my runs short the week after this bad run.  My confidence was shaken.  I asked myself: was the upcoming marathon a mistake?

“No,” I decided, “it isn’t.”

I am good shape, I love running, and I don’t quit.  After licking my wounds, I came out of it humbled, and eventually thankful.

I realized that all runners, even the most elite, probably have bad runs.  I thought about what I could have done differently, and the list was long.  I realized that, although that run was tough, it would no doubt help me on May 18th.  I had learned what not to do.

Maybe a really bad run should be a part of every training plan!

About a week later, I was watching the Boston Marathon on TV.  I was filled will respect and admiration as I watched the most elite runners in the world compete in the longest continuously running marathon in the world.  I felt myself choke up as Meb won for the men, the first time an American had won in 30 years.  Inspired, I decided to try another long run.

After an appropriate amount of calories and water, I left home with a mission: run smarter.  I paced myself, took enough water, and forced myself to smile.  I had a great run, 13.2 at above race pace.

I’ll never forget those terrible 18 miles…and I don’t think I want to.  I plan to use this memory during the marathon for when I am pacing myself, and for when I feel like stopping.

I think it’s the really bad runs that make the really awesome runs so much sweeter.

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my first trail run.

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Training for a long race?  Looking to vary your workout?  I highly recommend a trail run.  You’ll never appreciate flat ground as much as you will after finishing with a trail.

Last weekend, my hubby (Jon) was set to go on a trail run.  He loves to run the trails, but trails weren’t something I’d ever tried.  I’d been on many long hikes with him, but never a run.

He asked if I wanted to come along, and I agreed.  I wanted to get off the treadmill and enjoy the weather, and I honestly didn’t think it would be that hard.  As the day went on, I started my normal long-run procrastinating.  I did the dishes, vacuumed, and started laundry.

“Are you sure you want to come along?” he kept asking me.

“I’m sure,” I answered.  I really didn’t see what all the fuss was about.

He asked a few more times, and I finally quipped, “I’m sure!  It’s not like we’re climbing Everest or anything!”  Correct statement, wrong mentality.  It was clear that I didn’t know what I was saying.

We live in Metro Boston, about 12 miles outside of the city.  On the way into Boston, there is a reservation off the highway called the “Middlesex Fells Reservation.”  It is fondly referred to as “the Fellsway,” and is a hidden gem.  It’s great to have access to trails without having to drive all the way to New Hampshire.  This is where Jon had mapped out our run.

Driving over, the once vibrant sunlight was giving way to clouds.  Perfect.  Overcast and glum, the mood was a good precusor of just how difficult this run would be.  At least I got to try my new running jacket, right?

We parked the Jeep, got ready, and jogged to the trailhead.  Ideally, we would be running along the “Skyline” trail.  I say “ideally” because it didn’t quite workout that way.

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We started our run.  I realized very quickly that we wouldn’t be going for time. Jon kept reminding me of that, but it frustrated me.  I was used to working on my pace, and going so slow felt lazy to me.  However, every time I tried to go fast, I would trip on a rock or a root…only to get more frustrated.

Maybe this wasn’t my thing.

After a slow mile, I asked Jon, “Are we getting a good workout?”  It’s funny because, in hindsight, I was so out of breath when I asked him this that I could barely form a sentence.  “Are you out of breath?” he asked me.  I had my answer.

We kept going, and the dodging of puddles and roots kept my mind occupied.  I was going to make this my thing.  I run, I’m a runner, and this was just another run.

Around mile 3, my optimism was faded and my feet were killing me.  I had kicked more rocks than I care to remember.  It’s funny because the expression, “Kick rocks,” means “Get lost.”  Right around the time I realized I was literally kicking rocks, we got lost.

When running or hiking trails, it is important to keep an eye out for the next blaze.  It’s typically a strip of paint on a tree, or a pile of rocks, and it tells you which way to go.  White blazes marker the Skyline trail.  We hadn’t seen a white blaze in about 5 minutes…which is a long time.

To put it in perspective, we weren’t in the middle of the White Mountains.  It wasn’t like we were in danger of spending the night out there.  It was a nature preserve, and I could hear the highway in the distance.  I was just concerned because my legs were telling me that they didn’t want to run any farther than we’d planned!

After turning around a few times, we found a trail.  It wasn’t our trail, but it was a trail.  We knew that the green blazes would eventually lead us to the white blazes.  We were happy about that.

After about 4 miles, we made it to the top.  The view from the top of the trail was awesome.  It felt like we were far away from home, but Boston loomed in the distance.  The sky was coated with patches of dark clouds, with bright sun peaking through the gaps.  It was beautiful.  As it is with everything difficult in life, the view from the top made it worth the climb.

 

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Gotham city? Nope…Beantown.
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#happyrunner

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The last 3 miles were the tough.  It was getting harder to pick up my feet as far as I needed to.  The terrain was the rockiest, and I eventually fell on a giant rock.

I fall a lot while running, so no surprise there.  I take pride in my running injuries, I wear them as badges of honor.  The bruise on my forearm made for awesome conversation at work on Monday.

My first trail run is one I think I’ll always remember.  It pushed me harder than I was used to, and taught me not to care so much about speed.  It worked my leg muscles in ways I am still feeling a week later.  It toughened me up for the marathon.  It had me begging for flat ground.  It taught me not to take the treadmill for granted.

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Call me crazy, but looking back…I can’t wait to go again!

(I apologize for the grainy photos…I only had my iPhone.)