Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Insanity is a Humbling Experience

18 days ago, I ran 26.2 miles in 4:13:00. A week later, we popped in Disk 1 of the Insanity workout program. I felt pretty good about my fitness level and my endurance. I was about to have my ass handed to me.

If you're not familiar with Insanity, it's another program from the Beachbody people, the company that produced my beloved P90X. Insanity is a completely different type of hell than either P90X or marathon running. It's based on High Intensity Interval Training, which roughly translates to "Shaun T is going to make you work until you can't feel your legs and you melt, a whimpering heap, into the puddles of sweat that have collected on your basement floor."

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These workout tapes are deceptive. The first month includes a set of workouts that are only about 40 minutes long. 40 minutes of cardio work? That's nothing. I can do that in my sleep. Yeaaaaaah, not so much.

The program started with a tape called Plyometric Cardio Circuit. Yes, PLYOMETRICS. The same type of exercise that caused me great embarrassment during P90X. We pushed play, and Shaun T started right in with the workout. We jogged in place, did a million jumping jacks, a million more heisman plyo moves, some heisman 123s, butt kicks, high knees, and mummy kicks. We finished the first circuit, which was about 3 minutes worth of ass-kicking, and then got a 30 second water break. Rinse and repeat, rinse and repeat. 10 minutes and two repetitions later, and I'm already soaking wet from head to toe and ready to die. And that was just the warm up. 30 minutes later, we were ending with Level 1 Drills - stand up, jump your feet back into plank, do 4 push-ups, 8 counts of plank run, jump your feet back in, jump up, and repeat until you puke.

Like this, but he's doing it very slowly for the purposes of demonstration.

We won't even talk about the Skis and In and Outs.

Wow. WOW. I thought I was in better shape than that.

Because I've been asked, I haven't decided if I'm going to blog about Insanity the way I did about P90X. I'm leaning more toward doing some kind of "Fitness Friday" theme, more generic posts about things I'm doing and things I like and articles that I've read about health and fitness. Maybe every other week. It's something that I find interesting, but not something that I'd want to dedicate an entire blog to. Besides, I'm not really all that hard-core. I still like to sit on my couch and watch TV and eat junk food. And drink beer. Can't forget about the beer.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Marathon Recap Part 3 - The Longest 10K

Note: This was the part of the race that really took a toll on me, mentally. I scribbled down as much as I could the evening of the race, so that I wouldn't forget all of the raw emotions (defeat and elation and everything in between) swirling around in my head. I left it all in there for this post, including the plethora of f-bombs, because I obviously felt, at the time, that certain points needed that emphasis. Besides, I'm from Jersey. That's how we roll.

There was a water stop just past Mile 20. I reached for the cup, my legs slowed down, and I suddenly found myself walking. It felt completely involuntary, like my body was entering survival mode and forcing me to slow down, regardless of what my brain and heart wanted it to do. Walking?!?! Are you kidding me? I'm here to RUN a marathon, not to WALK it! But that water tasted so good, and I knew that I was making the best choice. I counted 20 steps and then forced myself to start running again. One foot in front of the other. Just keep moving forward. I thought to myself, "You have gone through CHILDBIRTH! If you can do that, you can do ANYTHING!" But for that, at least I had an epidural.

A little farther up the road, I saw one of the Spot coaches running in my direction. I croaked out "I need help!" as he passed, and he quickly darted over and matched my (pathetic) pace. He asked what was wrong, and I realized that I didn't even know how to answer him. "I'm tired."

That's the best you can do? No shit you're tired, you've been RUNNING for 20 miles. "I just need someone to talk to."

And that was the truth. Even though there were hundreds and hundreds of people lining the streets, I needed someone who KNEW what I was going through. Someone who had been to the wall and back, someone who had lived to tell about it. He ran with me for a few minutes, telling me that it was almost over and that I was going to finish and it was going to be great. He handed me off to a second coach when he got to the end of his territory. The second coach was just as awesome. He asked me if it was my first marathon, and I said yes. He reminded me that most people don't even bother to start training for marathons, let alone actually run them. He told me that I was making great time for my first marathon. Everything I needed to hear. Then he suggested that I consider walking through the water stops, so that I could make sure I wasn't getting dehydrated. I almost cried with relief - "I have been!" I practically shouted. He gave me a high five and sent me on my way. I weakly jogged up a sad little hill just before Mile 22 and walked through that waterstop, too. Then I pushed myself to start running again. That was what I had been afraid of - that once I started walking, I would never be able to start running again. But I did. I walked through two more waterstops at Miles 23 and 24, my knees cramping with every step - it was a brutal irony, when I walked my knees were absolutely killing me - running made them feel better, but oh god, it was so hard. It was also extremely disheartening to watch my average pace climb from a 9:10 to a 9:40, and seeing the 10-minute miles start popping up on my Garmin was just horrible. But I had to finish. I couldn't come this far and then give up. I couldn't come this far, and tell this many people, and set this lofty of a goal, and then fall short. I was going to drag my ass across that finish if it fucking killed me.

Somewhere on Eastern Avenue, deep in the weeds.

I eventually passed the 25 Mile marker, and I knew that the Finish Line was within reach. There was one more short hill, so I massaged my knees and forced my legs to start moving faster. The hill is barely a blip on the elevation chart, but it felt like I was trying to run up Mount Fucking Everest. I made it up the hill, and passed the 26 Mile marker.

(Source: Flying Pig Marathon)

FINALLY. And it was right.freaking.there. I wanted to stop so badly, wanted to just slow down and crawl, or, even better, lay down in the street, but I told myself YOU WILL NOT WALK ACROSS THE FINISH LINE. YOU HAVE COME TOO FAR TO FAIL. YOU WILL RUN ACROSS THE FINISH LINE.

Me at Mile 26

I had tunnel vision. By the time I heard Charlie yelling out to me from the side of the road, just before the finish line, it was too late and I was already passing him by. I looked over just in time to see him cheering me on with Toddler Charlie in the stroller. I think I tried to yell back to him, maybe even tried to wave, but I don't think anything intelligible came out. Then all of a sudden I saw the blue timing mats only steps away from me, and I did the only logical thing - I raised my hands in the air and screamed yelped in victory relief.

And crossed the line. I looked up to see my BFF waiting there for me, having already finished her leg of the relay. I gave her a giant, sweaty, gross hug (more accurately, I probably just collapsed on her in what I thought was a hug - sorry, Alison!) and told her that I was never going to run another marathon again.

I got my medal and my lovely tinfoil jacket, and then I saw FOOD. OMG! Food is the BEST THING EVER! Poor Alison didn't know what she was in for, waiting around for me to finish. I couldn't decide what I wanted to eat, so I made her go to every table to see what they had. I grabbed a banana and a bag of sun chips. SUN CHIPS! I LOVE SUN CHIPS! BEST EVER! But then I saw HO HOs! OMG! HO HOS ARE THE BEST FOOD EVER INVENTED!! I completely devoured them, not even bothering to take them out of the package. Just tore the top off and did the best I could. (I don't even like Ho Hos.) We got our picture taken together and then we went in search of our bags.

(it's ok to post this, I'm buying a copy)

The bag pick-up felt like another mile away. I don't know who put it all the fucking way out in the middle of nowhere, but I was cursing his name by the time we found it. All I wanted to do was to take my shoes off. I grabbed my stuff and then sat down on the ground. Holy cow, sitting down was the BEST THING EVER INVENTED! My flip flops weren't sitting right on top, so I did the obvious thing and turned my bag upside down to dump everything out until I found them. I ripped off my shoes and socks and had to literally pull my toes apart to get the flip flops on. That's how cramped they were. But OMG, sweet fucking relief. Fuck the HoHos, FLIP FLOPS ARE THE BEST THING EVER INVENTED!!!!

And that's about where it ends. I hobbled home and took a nap, then went out to dinner to celebrate with my family. I was moving slower than my 75-year-old grandmother, who was also in attendance. I had a Stella and some deep dish pizza. Yum. By the end of the day, my declaration that I would never run another marathon was a fuzzy memory, and I had already texted my running buddy to start talking about training for the US Air Force Marathon coming up in September. Yes, I AM that crazy.

A week later, and I'm going through some serious Marathon Withdrawal. I did it, and I can do it again, and this time I can do it better! It was so much fun, and I get so nostalgic when I drive those roads to get to work. I think about where I was and what I was feeling and what it was like to be a part of that energy. And this is where I have to, again, mention the crowd support. There were tons of people out all along the stretch of Eastern Avenue and Riverside Drive where I thought I was going to meet the end of my marathon dreams. They just kept shouting and yelling and telling us that we could do it! Calling us out by name, telling us not to give up, telling us that we looked great. At one point I even laughed, knowing that they were totally full of shit on that one. I certainly did not look great. I felt like I was going to collapse, and I'm sure the agony was reflected in my face and body language. I knew my posture was total crap at that point. But they cheered, all the same. It was amazing. There were belly dancers, people in costumes, groups handing out hawaiian leis and flashing peace signs, a guy channeling Sinatra, and a house that was serving Jager and donuts.

(Source: Flying Pig Marathon)

(Source: Flying Pig Marathon)

(Source: Flying Pig Marathon)

Of course, I had to make it official as soon as I got home.

When all was said and done, it took me 4:13:00 to run the course. I was 84/326 in my age division (women 25-29), 376/1785 for all women, and 1428/4298 overall. The average finishing time was 4:38:32. Pretty much everyone I trained with was way off their goals, and they all blamed it on the humidity. Even the most seasoned runners, with multiple marathons under their belts. I beat myself up about it for a few days, but I'm over it now. There is no doubt that I left it ALL out there. I couldn't have pushed any harder than I did. And that's what matters.

I finished 7 minutes faster than my "A" goal of 4:20:00, but 6 minutes slower than my "B" goal of 4:07. We're not even going to talk about my "C" goal, except to say that I fully expect to reach it at the USAF Marathon on September 17th! 130 days to go :)

Friday, May 6, 2011

Marathon Recap Part 2 - The Drive, the Pig Pens, and the First 20 Miles

Did I mention how awesome my family is? No? Well, they are. My aunt and grandmother flew in from New Jersey to cheer me on at the Flying Pig. Not only did they make the 600-mile trip, but their plane was delayed and they didn't get to their hotel until 3:00 Saturday morning. That didn't stop my Auntie Ann from getting up with me at 4:00 to drive me down to the Starting Line. She picked me up at 4:45 and we were on our way. I forced myself to eat my waffle, even though my stomach was doing backflips. It felt like I was eating sawdust. I checked the weather again. The rain was definitely headed our way.

When we got downtown, I hopped out of the car and went to find the bag check buses. Ann continued on to find my mom, because they were planning on following me around the city so that they could cheer for me at various points on the course. I knew that I would also be seeing my BFF around Mile 6 and my Running Buddy around Mile 14. I checked my stuff and then made my way toward the stadium to meet up with my running group. We wrote our names on strips of neon duct tape to stick to our race bibs, monitored the rainfall, and tied and re-tied our shoes while we chatted nervously about our plans for the race.

When 6:30 started to draw closer, we made our way out of the stadium and down toward the start corrals, or Pig Pens. My projected finish time of 4:00-4:30 earned me a place in Pig Pen C. As we made our way through the crowds, we heard the opening ceremonies begin. I panicked about not being in my Pig Pen and briefly considered hopping the fence, but then images of broken legs and sprained ankles shook me out of it, and I just kept going until I found an opening in the fence. "Blah blah blah, national anthem, blah blah blah, 30 SECONDS TO START!!, blah blah blah, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1! I don't even remember if there was a start gun or not.

(Source: Flying Pig Marathon)

All I knew was that the crowd began to move forward. We shuffled along, foot by foot, slowly picking up the pace, until we were RUNNING! I crossed the Starting Line and hit the Garmin. Holy Cow! I'm running a fucking marathon!

(Source: Flying Pig Marathon)

All of a sudden I was overcome with emotion and excitement, and I could feel my eyes starting to sting. I heard someone calling my name, and looked over to see my mom, her boyfriend, and my aunt waving and yelling from the crowd. I gave them a shout as I passed by. We were off! The first mile ticked away as we started over the first bridge. I looked down at my Garmin - right on track. I tried to take it all in - the excitement of the crowd, the shouts from the spectators, the fact that I was just one of thousands of people hauling ass through the streets of Cincinnati. I try and try to remember it, but it's all a blur. I was flying high.

(Source: Flying Pig Marathon)

Second mile ticked by, and I was really happy with my pace. I kept telling myself over and over "Just keep it consistent. You don't have to push. Slow down a little, you'll need it at the end." Shortly after Mile 3, when we were crossing the Clay Wade Bailey Bridge, I knew that I was going to go for it. I was going to give it everything I had and try for that miracle 4:00 finish.

(Source: Flying Pig Marathon)

It was still cool and rainy, but it was just the perfect combination for running a long, long way. We passed the bread factory, and I remember one of the other runners commenting about how good it smelled. So warm and inviting. Garmin beeped to tell me that we had gone 5 miles, and it was time to eat. I pulled out my Chomps and choked them down, grabbing a cup of water at the next stop. Hmm, that didn't feel quite right, I thought, as my stomach cramped up for a moment and I thought I was going to be sick. But I kept going, and the yucky feeling passed. I knew the hills were just ahead, and I kept reminding myself to slow down, take them slow. "Equal effort, not equal pace!" BFF would be waiting for me at the top of the first big hill, and then after that there would be one more steep climb before the rest was all downhill.

We turned the corner and I saw Gilbert Ave Hill looming large in front of me. The climb began. There was a band playing under the cover of the Greyhound Station at the base of the hill. I thought of my sister and wished she had been able to make the trip, too. There was a water stop towards the top of the first hill leg, staffed by a local running club. There was one big guy rapping for us - "It's Ga-to-RADE, Ga-to-RADE, Ga-to-RADE, in the GREEN cup!" I laughed out loud as I passed. I laughed even harder when I saw Spider Man handing out water cups.

(Source: Flying Pig Marathon)

I started looking for my BFF as we ran into Eden Park. I was kind of sad to see that the relay station was ridiculously crowded, and I realized that I didn't stand a chance in hell at picking her out of the crowd, or vice versa. Onward! I turned my attention to the next piece of the climb, still reminding myself to slow down and take it easy. I was on the right track. Made it up to the top of the hill, and completely forgot to look to my right so that I could catch the amazing city view. I totally missed the most picturesque part of the course.

Me at Mile 6.5

Another mile of incline, and the worst of the course was over! The Half/Full Marathon split was just ahead, too. I got a high five from a spectator wearing a giant blue wig and holding a "High Five Guy" sign, then turned right at the split to follow the Full Marathon course.

(Source: Flying Pig Marathon)

(Source: Flying Pig Marathon)

It felt good! I'm really doing it! I'm really running a marathon! And I'm going to smash my time goal, too! We ran past the Running Spot store, the home of my training group, where I got a high five from the guy in the Spot costume.

Then it was into Hyde Park.

(Source: Flying Pig Marathon)

I had picked up the pace a bit after the hills, and was still right on track to meet my goal. Garmin reminded me that it was time to eat, so I grabbed my second bunch of Chomps and went to town. Again, my stomach started bubbling and I instantly felt sick. Well, that's not good. I concentrated really hard on not puking and managed to pull through, but I was stuck - I needed that stuff to get through the race! I only ate half of them, figuring I'd be ok for a little while longer.

Me at Mile 12ish

Hyde Park came and went, including the super steep but mercifully short Paxton Hill and the 13.1 mile marker. Whee! Halfway there! Right on pace, too, with an average of 9:18/mile. Perfectly set up for negative splits and on track to meet all three of my time goals. Oh my, how wrong I was.

We headed into Mariemont. Around a few corners, up another short and steep hill, and then I saw my Running Buddy! Well, actually, I saw her car before I saw her. I smiled when I saw her triathalon bike stuffed into the backseat. I could hear her yelling - "Is that my Running Buddy?? It is!" She was carrying a "Free Hugs" sign, and at that point there was nothing that I needed more than a Free Hug. I had just tried to eat again, and my stomach was still staging a revolt. But I was too afraid to stop for a hug, because I thought that if I stopped running, I would never start again. And I still had a long way to go. 11 Miles, to be exact. The rain had stopped, and a sticky humidity was settling in to take its place. And it was hot. 65 degrees. Which doesn't sound very hot, but when you add in the humidity and the fact that we were on a fucking marathon course, it was HOT. Someone was handing out twizzlers, and I grabbed one in desperation, hoping that my stomach wouldn't reject the innocent candy the way it had rejected my Chomps. Complete failure. Even worse, my mouth was so dry that I could barely even chew the damn thing. I did something I never do - I threw it on the ground. I'm sorry, course clean-up crew - the mere smell of that cherry twizzler had me on the verge of throwing up. Please forgive me.

A little loop around town square, an obnoxiously steep hill in the worst place possible, and suddenly we were heading into the most difficult part of the course - Mile 17.5 and on was nothing but a looooooooooong stretch of flat road. I tried, again, to eat - one last ditch effort to get some kind of food calories in my body - but again, I couldn't manage to choke down more than one. I knew I was starting to get dehydrated, too. I never had quite mastered the whole drinking while running skill. I knew that I wasn't getting nearly enough water. I was sweating a ridiculous amount, but it had started letting up. I was covered in cakey salt. The humidity felt like it was pressing in on me, and I needed water in a bad way. The only option left was to walk through the next waterstop. It was coming up soon, after the 20-mile marker.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Marathon Recap Part 1 - The Expo, the Piglet, and the Antici... pation

If I was told once during marathon training, I was told a thousand times - a marathon is really just a 20 mile warm-up for a 10K. I didn't really understand just how true that was until I was right in the thick of things, and the idea was reinforced once again when I finally sat down to write up my Flying Pig recap. I started writing with Mile 20, while the thoughts and emotions were fresh in my mind. It ended up being really, really long for only 10K of the race, so the recap of the entire event will come in three parts.

Part 1 - The Expo, the Piglet, and the Antici... pation

I dragged Husband Charlie with me to the Flying Pig Expo on Friday afternoon. He had very little desire to go, but I needed someone with me to calm my nerves. I also needed someone to take pictures. First stop was to pick up my race packet and get my bib number. I made Charlie take a picture so that I could post it on Facebook. I was so excited!

We wandered around the expo, checking out all the cool stuff. I was able to resist buying things, for the most part - I needed to buy some Gu Chomps for the race, and while I was visiting the Spot booth I decided to go ahead and pick up my "26.2" car magnet. But other than that, I managed to leave empty-handed, except for the swag that I got as part of my registration - a tech shirt, a Flying Pig backpack, and a race poster.

On the way out, we visited the Pig that would be guarding the Finish Swine. I gave it a pat for good luck.

Then it was on to a late lunch at Nothing But Noodles, because we had coupons to eat there for free and it was nice and carby. Went to retrieve Toddler Charlie from school after naptime, and was surprised with this awesome poster that he and his friends had made to wish me good luck on Sunday!

How cute is that??

Tried and failed to go to bed at a reasonable hour, but slept reasonably well. I was up bright and early on Saturday - too much energy to go back to sleep once I opened my eyes at 6:00. It was Flying Piglet day, and my aunt and my grandma had finally gotten into their hotel a few hours earlier.

Charlie's Piglet registration included a super cute race t-shirt and his very own bib number. He was very upset about his number - in his last race, all of the kids had been given "1" as their race number. He wanted his number 1. We finally convinced him that this number was ok, too - that it was even better, because it was his own number. I don't think he really believed us, but we climbed into the car and left for the race.

The 5K and 10K races were taking place that morning, and the city was FULL of people. Tens of thousands of people. It was madness. It was also really cool, knowing that I would be running in the main event down those same streets the next day!

Charlie waited patiently for his race to start.

He did a great job, and even agreed to re-create the race so that we could get an action shot. Check out that super cool Flying Piglet medal!

After the race was over, we went home for lunch and naptime. My BFF was running a relay leg, so we had her and her kids over for a giant pasta dinner. Well, I had Chipotle, and everyone else had pasta, anyway.

They surprised me with some super cute signs that they had made to cheer me on in the race the next day.

BFF also gave me a good luck present - a really pretty bracelet with a charm on it, with the most perfect quote for the occasion:

I never wear jewelry while I work out, because I'm always afraid to lose it, but I decided that I just HAD to wear the bracelet for the race the next day. I wrapped it around my Garmin so that I wouldn't forget.

And then it was time for bed. I actually climbed into bed around 9:00 and set my alarm for 4:00 the next morning so that I would be ready when Auntie Ann came to pick me up at 5. I read until about 10, when my eyes felt like they were heavy enough to sleep. I was wrong. I tossed and turned and worried and tossed and turned some more, finally falling asleep just after midnight.

I felt like I had only slept for 10 minutes when the alarm went off, but I was wide awake anyway. I jumped out of bed and hit the shower. I turned on the weather (still showing rain), got dressed, double- and triple-checked my gear bag, checked a fourth time for my Garmin and my iPod, grabbed my waffle out of the toaster, and headed out the door.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Yes, I'm Here.

30 Day Song Challenge has to be pushed back a day, while I recover. That's right, I'm officially a Marathoner! Full story and song of the week to follow, soon!