Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Back to Back: Epic Spring Marathoning

Little did I know when I began training for my very first marathon last spring, that I would be setting myself up for a major marathon spring.  A Boston Qualifying (BQ) had been my goal, and I nailed it with enough time to spare to land a coveted bib at the 2016 Boston Marathon.  One would think running Boston would be enough of a challenge for the spring...who is crazy enough to contemplate running three spring marathons in a row?

Me. And my boyfriend, Steve.

Crossing the 2016 Boston Marathon finish line.
Claiming my finisher's medal.

Shortly after I picked up my Boston training, registration for the 2016 TCTC Bayshore Marathon in Traverse City opened.  This is a beautiful course, as I discovered when I ran the Bayshore Half Marathon in 2014, and a Boston Qualifier.  Always the planner, I thought it could be fun to do another spring marathon after Boston.  After all, I’d already have the miles and work in for Boston...what would a few more weeks of training be after a quick recovery from Boston?  And, to top it all off...lets offer to pace another Northern Michigan marathon just four weeks after Bayshore?  It would be a great training run for the 50K ultramarathon on the calendar for July.  How hard could this possibly be?

Hard.  So very hard.  Boston was quite possibly the hardest race I’ve ever done.  Unless you’ve run the course, I don’t think it is possible to truly be prepared for what it has in store.  Compound that with the blistering heat and 100% sunny skies that April 18th offered up for race weather, and I was happy just to finish.  (Listen to my 2016 Boston Marathon Recap with Michigan Runner Girl here.)  Boston shook my confidence in my ability to run marathon distances badly.  I questioned my training.  I questioned my paces that I ran throughout my 16 weeks of training.  Recovery was longer than I anticipated and I felt the pressure to jump back into training to maintain whatever endurance I had for Bayshore, which was my goal race.  

Simultaneously Training While Recovering

After Boston, I was left seriously reconsidering any desire to run another marathon.  My gut reaction was “hell no!” but then that also meant ultra running was out for me.  I didn’t want to give up on that dream, so I gave myself a bit of time to lapse into marathon amnesia.  It took a good two weeks of gentle running with minimal mileage before my legs felt snappy again and my training paces didn’t feel they took extensive effort.  I felt pressure from myself to get back into training so that I had a shot at a new PR at Bayshore.  But rushing the recovery process wasn’t going to help me perform any better.  I had six weeks to both recover and train/maintain.  

Flat Courtney
Leading up to Bayshore, I listened to my body a bit more.  My boyfriend Steve and I recreated the last three weeks of our Boston training plan with a few minor adjustments.  (We use the Hanson Method but used Jack Daniel’s training paces.)  We knew quality workouts were key but the long, slower miles were also critical.  We also threw in a race/tempo training run two weeks prior to the marathon.  

Pre-Race...already warm & muggy

Racing Proactively

During my taper for Bayshore, I took my runs as easy as I possibly could, allowing myself the grace of a few extra rest days rather than stress about missing a run.  The forecast for Bayshore was looking ominous:  humid, scattered thunderstorms, warm.  I did not want another experience like Boston.  Reeling in the impulses to check the weather every hour in  the days leading up to marathon number three, I focused on what I could control:  my race strategy and how I could combat the heat and humidity.  

Negative splits and a new PR were my goals on race day.  I would go out conservatively, aiming for 7:50/mi pace and hold back until I got past the turnaround.  Then I would reevaluate how I was feeling and try to drop my pace down to 7:45/mi.  At Mile 20, I would throw in whatever I had left.  I promised myself I would stick to my plan; going out any faster would spell disaster and my primary goal was to do ‘better than Boston.  

I also searched for ways to keep my core temperature as cool as possible for as long as possible.  We were camping, so access to a freezer for my water bottle was out of the question.  But I used ice and the coldest water I could find to use in my water bottle to start.

A dollar store sponge was my only wild card on race day  I stuck the sponge down the back of my Oiselle singlet, with just a bit poking up for easy access.  My crazy idea was to pour water on it in order to cool down my neck, therefore my body.  I also held off on this method of cooling as long as I could, waiting until about mile 10 to begin double fisting it at water stations in order to  pour water on my sponge.  This truly was a lifesaver!  It was easy enough to grab it and wring water out of it before the next aid station to ready it for another dousing of cold water.  My only issue was that by mile 20, my feet were squishy from the water that had trickled down into my shoes.. Still totally worth it.  I only suffered a minor blister on one toe.  

Mentally Maintaining

Having run the half marathon at Bayshore a few years ago, I knew that I would be crossing the half marathoners coming down the Old Mission Peninsula as I was heading up it.  Several friends were running the half marathon, so searching for friendly faces and my Oiselle teammates kept from focusing too much inwardly.  This was the most relaxed I have ever felt running a race...I didn’t feel the pressure I felt at Boston to ‘perform’ well...to race and achieve a very specific time goal.  That gave me the mental freedom to relax and truly enjoy the breathtaking course.  

GHRC Marathoners ready for the start.

Hitting the Goal, Not the Wall

I am so incredibly proud of myself for sticking with my race plan and executing it, holding myself pace to a reasonable pace.  Usually, I go out too fast and burn out/hit the wall.  (At Boston, I fell face first into the wall and did so very early on into the race.)  While I don’t think I achieved an actual negative split, my pace was very consistent and steady overall.  I didn’t feel the need to slow down at all until Mile 23, taking the briefest of walk breaks, more for mental regrouping than anything.  Steve was by my side from mile 14 to the very end, crossing the finish line with me, even as I kicked into high gear as soon as my feet hit the high school track for a strong finish.  We even have the same finishing time.

Bayshore is now my new personal best at a 3:26:52 (chip time).  I also came in fourth in the 30-34 age

group and was the 29th woman to cross the finish line.  
Fellow Oiselle flockmate, Val...sporting our singlets

Monday, March 7, 2016

Things I Learned From Marathon Training

Marathon training is daunting no matter if you’re a rookie or a veteran runner. There are so many training plans out there, some with minimal running mixed with cross-training, other that are rely on multiple workouts and several days of running.  

Now that I am over halfway done with my second marathon training plan, I have been reflecting back on the similarities and differences I have experienced.  I have noticed there are several ‘marathon truths’ even though I still consider myself a freshman marathoner.

The biggest difference I have noticed is that it is much harder to juggle training with teaching.(Duh.) For my first marathon, I intentionally chose a race that would not conflict with work and allow me to train throughout the summer when I was not teaching.  I wanted to be able to still have time to be mom to my young son and commit the time to my training.  Now, with teaching, graduate work, family, and Boston training, I find life much fuller and schedules far tighter than last summer.  

My biggest piece of advice to anyone contemplating marathon training: schedule your runs and keep the appointments.  

  • Training plans - trust them

I was skeptical of running easy runs so much slower than what I felt was a steady pace for me. It took only a few weeks of training 40+ miles a week to get me to appreciate the easy runs. My legs, my body...even my head...needed those slower miles to recover.  Easy runs are not about the pace.  Easy runs are about time on feet.  

  • Rest is crucial...so are naps

My training plan calls for one day of rest, which was usually Tuesdays.  I looked forward to Tuesdays for the relief that came with them.  I was by no means a couch potato, but the knowledge that I didn’t have training miles for that day was always welcome.  Rest days are almost always active rest days: Pilates or yoga, stretching, walks, bike rides, etc.  

Naps...are precious indeed.  I now find myself missing my naps terribly.  Never a napper before marathon training, I often needed to nap at least 15 minutes most days last summer.  How did I function before without naps???  Now naps are a cherished bonus when I can squeeze one in after school or on the weekends.  

  • New route: North Country Trail
    along Lake Superior!
    Make it fun when you can
Long runs can become very long and tedious. Favorite routes and trails can become mind-numbing after a few weeks of constant travel.  I tried to find ways to change up the scenery or the company. Summer is full of travel and new places, and I was able to easily fit my marathon training into multiple trips.  New places meant new routes.  Granted, it also meant doing some leg work and scouting out the surrounding area before hand but often I winged my route.  

For one of my longest runs, I posted a shout-out to my run group and invited people to join me for any short distance along my planned route.  It truly was a blast and it chunked up the sixteen miles nicely.  I also spent another long run on part of my marathon course to help me get a good feel for what I was in for on race day.

  • Be prepared to wear out gear/shoes

I ran through two pairs of Brooks Pure Connect 3's and one pair of Brooks Pure Flow 3's between my training and recovery. Luckily, these were older models and I paid less than $100 for each pair, but still...I hadn't figured on that my first go-round. Preparing for my second marathon training cycle, I stocked up on my favorite (and now extinct!) shoes.

Something to ponder:  I went through a ton of laundry each week.  This winter seemed worse than the summer, which makes sense...I was wearing more layers than I was in the summer. This isn’t really wasn’t much of an issue as long as I stayed on top of my laundry and did a load every few days.  But it really sucked when I realized there were no clean sport bras to be found!

  • Yes...you will become ‘that runner’

Yup.  Happens to the best of us.  Marathon training will permeate every corner of your life, especially if you are training for your first or have a very specific goal.  When running and training as much as I do for my cycles, I spend a lot of social time with other runners.  This leads to conversations about fueling, foam rolling, stretching, gear, hydration packs, etc.  You will discuss and seek out solutions for unusual toe blisters, gastrointestinal issues. and chaffing problems.  You will proudly compare your runner’s feet with other around you.  You might even get to the point where you will throw caution to the wind and run with your shirt off…<gasp>...in only your sports bra.  Okay...I did become that runner.  And it will be a-okay when/if you do, too.

  • Get ready to be by yourself - A lot

Running between 40 and 60 miles over a week translated into at least three or four solo runs a week  But even when I showed up for my group runs, I was often by myself since I was the only one training for my race distance and date.  My training paces often didn’t match up to anyone else either.  Overall, I didn’t mind being solo so often but I did feel like I fell of the face of my running world.  

I did find ways to incorporate running to involve others.  My biggest challenge was a lack of child care on Sundays, when I usually had a shorter recovery run.  So I would suggest that my son race me on his bike while I ran.  Mother-son time + run time = problem solved.  I also tried to time my cool down miles with the beginning of group runs.  Pace didn’t matter as much and the company made those last few miles fly.

  • Take the time to recover well

Recovery...so much more than taking a day or two off.  I found active recovery to be key. Leisurely walks, family bike rides, yoga classes, Pilates on the beach...anything that kept my body moving was fair game.  Nutritional recovery was a new concept for me as well.  I am careful about refueling after long runs, even if I’m not hungry.  A few indulgences aside, I’m a fairly healthy eater normally.  During marathon training, I listen to my body.  If I am more sore than I think I should be or just not perking up during the week, I will re-evaluate my diet, adding quality protein sources.  I also make a conscientious effort to hydrate all day long.

Second time around, marathon training is a bit different: the seasons, work, life.  But there have been these truths that I have found comforting...very comforting through the trials and miles of marathon training.  

Monday, January 18, 2016

Post-Marathon (Looking Back to Move Forward) Part 1

It has been a (very) long while since I have sat down to write and publish a new blog post.  Too long. I will freely admit I let life run its course, and while I did sit down a few times to recap my marathon and recovery, life kept calling on me to be present.  Here is a recap of my first marathon:

Leading up to the big day, September 12, my body was ready to taper.  While my training was solid and I consistently hit my paces and mileage, my last tempo run was a complete bust.  I went out too fast on a late August afternoon that was one of the hottest and most humid I’d trained in yet.  The next morning, I greeted the sunrise halfway through my recovery miles I had to get in early now that the new school year was gearing up.  I was left feeling that perhaps I couldn’t do it...that I couldn’t BQ at my first marathon...that I was too tired and there was no way to redeem myself from that last major training run.  
Miles & Smiles...that's how to race!
Trying to shake the self-doubt away, I focused on tapering well.  It was the last step in my training; the work had been done.  I did everything I could to rest my legs: no heels; sitting often; stretching and yoga; extra naps. Balancing work and running was easier than I expected as I could channel my extra jitters/energy into preparing my classroom for my incoming students.  After 18 weeks of training, I was ready to be done.  
Race day approached.  I never really talked about my goal to qualify for Boston beyond my closest running friends and some members of my running groups.  I never put it out there publicly nor did I chronicle my training paces...because I was paranoid I would jinx myself.  Leading up to my marathon, the Last Chance to BQ.2, I barely acknowledged my hope to BQ despite the fact I had trained for it.  My boyfriend Steve had faith in me, and so did my friends and running buddies.  For me, it remained to be seen.  I had faith in my training to get me through 26.2 miles and across the finish line.  For a first marathon, a Boston Qualification was a very lofty goal.  Finishing the marathon would be the end punctuation, where a BQ would be the exclamation point to finish months of intense training and sacrifice.

Steve ran with me for most of the last half.
The morning of September 12th came and I was as ready as I could have been.  My fueling plan was all laid out, tested and true.  Race outfit had been picked well in advance (I had raced in it all summer).  My GPS watch was charged and my race bag packed.  Steve and I left for Millennium Park in Grand Rapids after our traditional pre-race breakfast of coffee, peanut butter toast, and a banana.  We were greeted by a few of our runner friends who had come to cheer for me.  Then the race started.

Team Hansen
Everything was going well...very well.  I started out a bit too fast but settled in after a few miles.  The weather was perfect: cool temps and clear skies.  I stuck to my fueling plan, taking a Huma gel every 30 minutes, and taking a few sips of water every mile.  Steve began to run with me right around the halfway point, and I was glad to have his company.  There was a mild hiccup somewhere in the middle, around mile 14.  My sole sisters, Liz, Donna, and Amanda, popped up at an aid station with an epic cheering section, my son included.  Having them cheering for me and seeing my son stirred up tears and I lost my breathe for a few minutes.  It was all I could to to power up a small hill just after passing them, so I could slow down a bit to regain my race composure.  

My little guy crossing the finish line with me. 
Things were going smoothly until my GPS watch lost satellite signal right around mile 16.  It was still keeping time, but it no longer calculated my mile splits or pace.  I was a bit shaken and really pissed.  Ultimately, I ran the next few miles too fast, wasting precious energy.  I hit the wall at mile 22 or 23.  The last gel was taken and I powered through, although I did slow down, even walking a few times, trying to reset my mental game.  Finally turning right and heading down the home stretch, I focused on the finish line.  Steve veered off just before the finish shoot, letting me bring it in on my own.  My son, Cole, was waiting for me just before the finish line, and we crossed over it together, hand in hand.  My time: 3:30:49.  I had qualified for Boston!

Liz, Amanda, Donna, & I post marathon.

Trica, my virtual training partner & friend.

Upcoming blog post: Post-Marathon (Looking Back to Move Forward) Part 2 - Things I Learned from Marathon Training.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Sweet 16: Marathon Training

The process of marathon training is not one for the faint of heart or lacking motivation.  This task requires a lengthy commitment and dedication that will challenge and test any runner.  I knew this when I began training for my first marathon on the heels of my 25K in May.  My 18 week marathon training plan was going to push me to mileage and extended paces I had never attempted before.  

The Sweet 16 Route
Running six days a week, with two quality workouts, I wrapped up my eleventh week this morning, and I must say, it was a very different my most of my training runs.  Not only did I run the first of three 16 mile runs, but I raced my first back to back races ever in the Grand Haven Coast Guard Festival run (I did the 5K and 10K).
Leading up to this long run, I have been combating loneliness on most of my runs.  There aren’t many local runners who want to join me on my quality workouts (speed and tempo runs) at my pace...and I don’t blame them.  Sweating it out for eight or more miles as the mercury climbs and the humidity thickens is not what I’d call fun.  But the work must be done, and I must do it.  So far I have varied my routes as much as I can within the limits of childcare arrangements and taken to listening to the backlog of podcasts on my iPhone.  I have longed for company on my long, easy runs.  

As an attempt to lure other runners to join me for a stretch of what is one of my longest runs in my training plan, I decided to change up my route and run around Muskegon Lake.  I checked the distance, following the Lakeshore Bike path, beginning at one side of the channel around to the other side.  The distance was the 16 miles that was penciled into my training log.  Next step...find some others willing to get up and brave the warm morning.  I threw the invite out to my run groups, hoping that my easy pace of 8:30ish would be tempting for a few.  
Starting Point: Steven & I at the Muskegon Lighthouse and South Pier Head.

Only my boyfriend Steve joined me for the entire distance (he is in the earlier weeks of a marathon training plan), but we picked up a several other local runners for varying distances along the way.  Their smiles, hellos, and conversations helped the miles fly by in quick little chunks.  Catching up with Alana, Heidi, Colin, and Shawn was a bonus to the sunny, long miles around Muskegon Lake.  With them also came offers of ice water (yes please!), sunscreen, body glide, gels, and words of encouragement.  (Side note:  Heidi, Colin, and Shawn all ran the Kalamazoo Marathon this past spring.)  

Heidi, me, and Alana during the first six miles.
Colin and Shawn joined me at the half way point in North Muskegon
Finished!  We made it around to the other side!
As Steve and I approached Muskegon State Park, we were greeted by a breathtaking view of Lake Michigan.  “Hello my friend,” Steve said as we made our way over the last of the backwood dune hills and into the state park.  Until this run, I had never been in this part of the park before.  I was stunned by the beauty of the dunescape that surrounded us:  gently rolling dunes blanketed with marram grass, patches of milkweed and other native flowers dotting the roadside, a calm and majestic water as far as the eye could see.  Carlo and Sofia awaited us at the end of our sweet 16 miles with water and smiles.  

I couldn’t be happier about how my highest mileage week yet ended:  a wonderful long, slow run.  

Steve, me, Jack, Sofia, and Carlo before we headed home!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Race Recap: Nike Women's 15K Toronto

Ever since I began running longer distances, the Nike Women’s race series has been on my bucket list.  I had expected it to stay there for a while because the reality of a single mom on a school teacher budget traveling across the country (or internationally) for a fairly pricey half marathon just wasn’t realistic.  I willingly put dreams of a Tiffany finisher’s pendant off to the side and focused on other running goals.

Then along came a day in March, and word spread that Nike was adding a race in Toronto!  Practically a hop, skip, and a few hours of driving away!  Excitement persuaded reason to take a leap of faith.  So I entered my name in the lottery, fingers-crossed that I have the chance for an international running adventure.  

Early April, I receive an email that made me squeal with glee:  I had an entry into the Nike Women’s 15K Toronto race!  I couldn’t believe it!  A rash of text messages and emails went out, bombarding my inner circle with my good news.  A few hours later, after I began to plan out and coordinate the logistics of this mini runcation, reality set in:  I was going to do this race and most likely, I was going to do it all by myself.  Toronto was not only going to be my longest road trip to date (is that sad for an independent woman in this day and age??) but my first solo international trip (yes...Canada counts...my passport was required!)  

The week leading up to the Nike Women’s 15K Toronto race was flooded with last minute travel arrangements, emailed updates from Nike, packing, and weather checking.  I am fortunate to have several family members who live near Toronto and many emails and messages later, my cousin Kristin helped me find a place to stay.  Arriving in Toronto in the mid-afternoon, I had just enough time to roam about the expo and pick up my packet.  

The Women’s Village was set up on Queens Quay West and chalk full of exciting things to see.  The Crystal Palace (a floating barge in the harbor) hosted multiple classes and exercise opportunities leading up to race morning.  Nike had a very impressive shop with race specific apparel, shoes, running analysts, etc.  The pounding music only drove my excitement to be at this event even further to the edge.  Walking along and exploring the vendors and sponsor tents gave me the chance to stretch my travel stiffened legs and hook up to the complementary WiFi.  (Sidenote:  When doing an international race, check with your cell phone carrier about an addon for international data and minutes.  I overlooked this detail and was at the mercy of Tim Horton’s and Starbuck’s free WiFi!)

Downtown Toronto as seen from the Centre Island Dock.
My Canadian cousins, Deb and Eric, put me up at their house for the night prior to the race.   A few shake out miles and a shower later, we sat down for dinner.  It was lovely to spend the evening catching up and listening to family stories...the ones that only come out decades later once everyone has found the humor in the incidents.  I laid out my race gear and pinned on my bib, a la Flat Courtney style and crawled into bed.  The excitement of my journey and the long car ride had wiped me out.

Flat Courtney

Waking up at the crack of dawn, I quietly dressed and packed while my hosts brewed a pot of coffee.  One cup and I was on my way back to downtown and Queens Quay to catch my 6:00 am ferry.  I had my fingers crossed that I could navigate back without assistance from my GPS on my phone.  Only making one wrong turn, I had little trouble finding parking and following the obvious tide of women runners heading for the docks.  I lined up in my queue and waited with anticipation and the fervent wish I had stopped somewhere for another cup of coffee.  As the sun dawned upon Lake Huron and the Toronto Islands, ferries transported participants and spectators.  I was greeted by a fantastic drumline as I made my way to the starting area, where I met up with fellow Oiselle birds, Carly and Lauren.  There was plenty of time to walk about, find bathrooms, check our gear and warm up before the 9:30 am start time.  

Being in the first half of marathon training, I honestly had no idea what to expect of myself as far as a finish time.  I did not allow myself a taper for this race, instead letting it count as tempo run.  My hope was to beat my prior 15K time of 1:06:13, but other than that, I simply wanted to race well and strategically.

Oiselle Birds ready to fly!  Myself, Carly, & Lauren representing!
A cool, steady light rain began just as I entered my wave corral.  I joined a huddle of runners jumping up and down to stay warm as the announcer pumped everyone up and counted down the start.

This was an amazing course for being on a small island, alternating pavement, dirt, and grassy paths...even an airport runway!  (Yes...planes were taking off as we ran on the neighboring runway!) The drumline that greeted us off the ferry was on the course, as well as a church choir.  It was interested to see a course marked out in both kilometers and miles.  And I could guess if my fellow runners were Canadian or American by where their GPS watches beeped!  One of my most favorite sights on the course was running past the pink lighthouse.  My other was the last mile of the race when I came to the boardwalk along the southern part of the island.  It was slick from the rain, so I wasn’t able to push my pace as fast as I wanted to, but the views of Lake Ontario were breathtaking.

Here is the preview of the course Nike released:

Nike Women's 15K - Course Preview
Your training got you here. Your best will take you home.Get your sneak peek of the Nike Women's 15K Toronto course.
Posted by Run Nike Women Series on Sunday, June 7, 2015

As with most races, the best part was the finish line:  Olympian Joan Benoit Samuelson was high-five-ing finishers!  A very sweet and unique ending to a race that gave me a new PR: 1:05:54!

And yes, I got my Tiffany blue box with my race pendant.  

Overall, this was an amazing experience.  There were a few hiccups, as there are with any first time race.  I don’t believe it was necessary to have the runners on ferries as early as 6:00 am when the race began at 9:30 am.  The course was a slow one, even though it was pretty flat.  The combination of pavement, dirt and grassy paths, several turns, and a slippery boardwalk did not allow for blazing fast times.  

In spite of these minor issues, Nike did put on a wonderful event from start to finish.  The entry fee and travel was worth checking this race series off my bucket list.  

Friday, May 1, 2015

From Veterans to Newbies: A Gazelle Girl Half Marathon Recap

Even two weeks later, my memories from my seventh half marathon flood me with emotions.  The 2015 Gazelle Girl Half Marathon & 5K was the best one yet...and largely due to a few amazing women.

Liz, Donna, Amanda, & myself. (Photo courtesy Becki Mueller)
After one of our group runs, my sole sisters Liz, Donna, and Amanda all decided to begin training for Gazelle Girl.  For Amanda and Donna, this was a giant step in their journey as runners:  a commitment to train for their first half marathon.  For Liz, it was a chance to push herself in her training and guide other runners to a new distance.  I happily chimed in, saying that I would rally troops and have a cheering section for them along the course.  The Gazelle Girl Half Marathon is a perfect first because of the spirit of the event:  to empower women.  I loved that they chose this race, also my first half marathon three years ago and Liz’s first half marathon last year, as their first.  

At first, I was dismissive about running the Gazelle Girl Half Marathon again.  I had yet to run the same event more than twice and I was hesitant to load up my spring race calendar with a half marathon only a few weeks before my second attempt at a 25K.  (Remember how I promised myself to fix my racing problem? Heh...well...I tried.)  But as the chilly winter weeks wore on, and I was asked about training advice and my experiences, I began to ask myself, “Why not run this one? Why not keep the Gazelle Girl streak going?”  So I plunked down another spring race fee and joined in the fun, witnessing their journey together with a sense of joy and honor.

Training through another harsh Michigan winter, Liz, Donna, Amanda, and I cemented our friendships as only running hundreds of miles, through thick and thin can do.  

Here is a recap of their training and their 2015 Gazelle Girl Half Marathon experience:

Why did you run the 2015 Gazelle Girl Half Marathon?  What were your motivators?

Amanda:  II remember the moment when I said that I would run the race. I fully expected that I would back out, because I had no faith that I could actually do it. But through slow and steady training runs, I began to see that it was possible. I was motivated by pride first of all. I didn’t want to be the only one in our little group to not do it.  The more time I spent running and thinking, I realized I was doing it for my fitness, for the friendships I’ve made through running, and for my spirit.

Donna:  I ran it to push myself farther than I've ever done before. I wanted to prove to myself that I am a strong woman.  Once I set a goal, I seek to achieve that goal. I was motivated by my friends, and by myself, to complete my first marathon surrounded by women of all ages, fitness levels & abilities.

Amanda, Donna, & Liz at the Gazelle Girl 2015 Expo.
Liz: Gazelle Girl 2014 was my first half marathon.  It was such an exciting, positive event and a life moment that I knew I had to do again.  There is nothing like joining 3000 like-minded women to achieve goals that at times feel insurmountable, on the journey to the finish line. I also ran this for myself- my health, my sanity, my life.  For this race I was motivated by besting my half marathon time from the fall, the sense of pride of being a “half marathoner”, my girls/training partners, and my boys in my life.

Tell me about your training process.  You did both group and individual runs...how did those help you?

Amanda:  I wanted to follow the Gazelle Girl half marathon training program but found that I couldn’t do it with my schedule. For about half of the winter I did speed work on my treadmill once a week, the Wednesday group run, and the weekend long run. But I found that my Monday speedwork ended up getting pushed to the wayside more often than not. The long runs with the group were highly motivating. I did a few solo long runs and they seemed so much harder.

Donna:  For the most part, I followed the Gazelle Girl half marathon training program.  However, I usually only ran about 2-3 days a week on average.

Liz:  I feel like I have been perpetually training--always running and ready for any race opportunity.  But with each long distance event, I usually restart my training from the beginning of the training plan and adjust it to best fit my life’s schedule.  I followed the Gazelle Girl Low Mileage plan- completing a day of speed work (usually on the treadmill the majority of the winter), a group run on most Wednesday nights, and a long run on the weekend.  Some weeks I was able to run more than others.  Group runs are hard at times being a slower runner and a walk/run method runner.  Sometimes those runs are the ones that create the most self-doubt in my running experience, but on the flip side can also motivate me and push me to run faster and harder/farther than I would have solo.  I loved my long runs with my training partners.  After training last year solo on the long runs- due to I was the only runner at that pace training for Gazelle- it was so nice to have someone with me to share those hours/miles while working on achieving 13.1.

Liz, Donna, & Amanda on a winter training run.

What was the best piece of advice you were given for your training?

Amanda:  There were so many! I think the equipment that helped me the most was the foam roller. But advice about the metronome, timing Gu fueling, handheld water bottles, etc. all helped immensely. The run/walk method wasn’t really “advice” but it kept me running the long distances. I try to tell myself that I can do anything for a set amount of time.

Donna : I believe the best advice I received was to be introduced to metronome running. It help improve my form, which in turn decreased aches & pains.

Liz: The one thing that I did change from my previous training was the use of a metronome.  I have found that to be really helpful with my running form and cadence.  Listen to your body and know your limits.  Don’t let pride create injuries--know when to stop and recover.  Compare yourself only to yourself as a runner.  All miles are better than no miles, the hardest part is getting out there.    

Race Prep:  What did you do?  What did you wear and eat?

Amanda:  I tried to eat healthier the week leading up to the race and drank tons of water. The morning of the race I had a couple of cups of coffee, an English muffin with peanut butter, and lots more water. I wore capri tights, a loose fitting tank top, and arm sleeves. I made sure that I didn’t wear anything that I hadn’t run in before.

Donna:  I tried to get more rest the 2 days prior to the race. On race day, I only ate a piece of toast with peanut butter. I wore a loose tank top & capris, with a pair of arm sleeves.

Liz:  I hydrated more than usual for the entire week prior and more each day closer to the race.  I tried to rest as much as I could during the week.  I ran some easy miles throughout the week to keep my legs fresh for the race.  I made sure the night before to have all of my gear out, bag packed so I was ready for the morning.  I wore a tank, capris, and sleeves for the race.  I ate an English muffin, lots of water with Nuun, and had half a can of diet Mt. Dew morning of the race.  

What were you thinking and feeling in the moments leading up to the race?

Pre-race prep in the VIP tent.
Amanda:  I couldn’t believe the fact that I wasn’t nervous. I was just excited. I had trained hard and well, and I felt complete confidence that I could do this. I’ve never had that feeling before a race before.  I usually have terrible race anxiety. The atmosphere of the event helped, as did being with my “training group.”  I keep going back to the fact that I was just so excited to be a part of this event.

Donna:  In the week leading up to the race, I felt prepared and ready to achieve my goal of completing my first half marathon. This was the first race I have not been nervous about. The day of the race, I remember being at the start line and feeling happy to embark on a new journey.

Liz:  I remember being excited to be here at the moment that we had trained all winter for together.  I was calm and not too worried about time or pace for this race as I had completed a half before and my end goal for this year was my next race (Fifth Third River Bank Run 25K).  I wanted to enjoy this experience and take it in creating memories.  And truthfully I was hoping that I wouldn’t finish too far behind everyone else.  

How did you feel during the race?  What was the most memorable moment for you?  What was the most difficult thing you had to overcome?

Amanda:  I felt great for the first 10 miles or so. I was enjoying looking around at the scenery, looking at the other runners, and being cheered on by spectators. The last three were difficult for me, mentally. I felt so close to the finish line, yet so far away. I had a few moments of self doubt, not that I couldn’t finish the race, but that I wasn’t going to meet my goals and was going to be disappointed in myself. I dedicated every mile to someone in my life that helped me get to where I was and I really just tried to think about that person and honor them to get me through the tough times. The most memorable moment for me was at mile 11. A woman running just in front of me passed the mile marker, turned around with her arms in the air, and yelled “I’ve never gone past 11 miles before!” All of the racers were exhausted, but we all cheered and clapped for her and it buoyed our spirits for a few minutes. It was a total “we are all in this together” moment. I felt honored to be part of her moment.

Donna:  I felt good the entire race. I did not have any moments of self-doubt, and each mile I ran was dedicated to someone special in my life. The most memorable moment was probably when I was running my last mile; the mile I dedicated to myself, and realizing that I had done it. I was actually running my fastest mile of the race, and I felt emotional, excited, and truly like I was flying. The most difficult thing I overcame was the guilt I felt when I kept on running & my friends were behind me. I was torn as to waiting for them, or running my own race.

Liz:  I felt pretty good during the race.  I put my faith in my training.  The first eight miles or so, my gals and I were running pretty close together.  It was nice to be doing this with them.  At a water station, I needed to fill my water bottle and they continued to run.  Once my bottle was filled I continued running.  I was behind.  That was difficult at first; only because I felt disappointed in myself for not keeping up with them. Shaking it off,  I knew that I was going to have to rely on my solo training from the prior year to finish strong.  I felt good and was running strong.  It was time for me to run my own race.  Every once and a while I would get a glimpse of one of my training partners and that would be motivating, because I wasn’t as far behind as I thought.  Just after mile 11, I saw one of them and I thought I could catch up to her if I pushed it.  When I finally caught up, I felt relief and excitement knowing we could finish together.   Turning into finishers alley, with all of the crowd cheering, is such a motivating and blissful way to finish.  It also helps when you see the finish clock and know that you are smashing your time from the year before and are going PR.  That was an awesome moment!  Another fantastic moment on the race course was when I was able to see a dear, dear friend who lives out of state cheering me on- her hug and cheers were priceless in helping me strive to keep pushing!

Rocking it at Mile 4! (Photo courtesy of Tracy Dorton)
How does it feel to now be a half marathoner?

Amanda:  Amazing. I never knew that I could accomplish something this big and this physical. I’ve never been an athlete and NEVER been any sort of runner. To be able to say I completed a half marathon, with the desire to continue doing them, is a huge badge of honor for me.

Donna:  It feels amazing!  I have been on cloud nine since, and it has given me an even bigger urge to push myself to do a marathon before the year is over.

Liz:  I am still amazed to think that I am a half marathoner x4.  I never in my wildest dreams ever imagined that this is something I would do and now it is something that I can’t imagine not doing.  I love it!  I am a distance runner.  

What is the next step for you on your journey as a runner?

Amanda:  The Fifth Third River Bank 25K will be another first for me in few weeks. I’m looking forward to crossing that off my bucket list, then see where running takes me. I am definitely planning to keep running and am excited to do more half marathons. After the River Bank, I plan to work on speedwork and endurance.

Donna:  I will be running the Fifth Third River Bank 25K in a few more weeks. I am looking forward to a new race, and a new distance.

Liz:  In a few weeks I will be running my second 25K.  I am excited to be participating in this race again this year.  I am excited to run this year because I am feeling stronger and healthier as a runner for this race.  This distance and race has my personal goal for this race season..  After that, I intend to bring my training back a bit and work on speed with no major races planned for summer.  I am planning on running another half in the fall.  

Donna finishing strong the final mile. (Photo courtesy of Carlo Pozzobon)
Amanda & Liz crossing the Gilette Bridge. (Photo courtesy of Carlo Pozzobon)

What did you walk away from that race with?

Amanda:  Pride. The knowledge that I can really do something of that magnitude. Gratitude that my body allowed me to do it. Gratitude for the people in my life that helped me make it possible.

Donna:  Pride. Inner strength. A desire to never give up on myself. 

Liz:  Joy.  Pride.  A PR!  Wonderful memories.  Satisfaction of a job well done; knowing that all the hard work training through the winter months had paid off on race day.  A hopeful feeling that I will be able to achieve my goal at River Bank….  Some amazing friendships that have been developed over the many miles we have traveled on this journey together.  

Their words...their journey...sums of the spirit of the Gazelle Girl Half Marathon and 5K so perfectly. Separately and together, each woman overcame challenges and went on to improve their wellness, strengthen each other, and had fun doing it.  The four of us have our sights locked on to new goals and another race:  The Fifth Third River Bank Run 25K.  

Post-race with these amazing ladies!  Off to celebrate.

More race pictures of these amazing ladies.  (Stellafly did an amazing job of covering both races and posting free images.)   

Donna running strong around mile 11.  (Photo courtesy RAE Anglen for Stellafly)

Amanda pushing herself on the Gazelle Girl course.  (Photo courtesy Rudy Malmquist for Stellafly)

Liz crossing the finish to set new PRs.  (Photo courtesy Bryan Esler for Stellafly)