Saturday, October 27, 2018

IMFL 2018: DNS

The long post in which I tell you that I’ve decided to be a responsible adult and won’t be racing Ironman Florida next weekend:

First of all, I’m sorry for the lack of instagram updates post-bike crash, but the truth is there hasn’t been much of an update. You know how microwave minutes are the longest minutes? When you just stand there and watch, impatiently waiting for time to go faster, for something to change? That’s how the past couple weeks have felt. Just waiting and waiting for the extensive road rash to heal and the hematoma to shrink and the headache to go away. (Still waiting on all three, but doing significantly better!)

That sounds kind of dramatic when I write it out, so let me make it clear that this was by no means a serious, dramatic bike crash! It was just a dumb, unavoidable situation (a semi forced me off the road onto gravel and the bike slid right out) and I walked away in great shape overall. In fact, those first couple hours afterward, full of adrenaline and sheer denial and pretending like everything was totally fine? Those were nice. (The next few hours, however, were much less "nice.") I'd rate it about a 4/10 on the bike crash scale. The only problem is the rotten timing in relation to Ironman Florida. That said, I did have a concussion to the point where I couldn’t spell my address, and from a healing perspective, I’ve needed to remind myself to respect that.

As for Ironman Florida... I wanted this one. It was a short training cycle, yes. But I’ve been open water swimming better than ever before. On the bike, I’m holding higher watts and sustaining faster speeds than ever before. My run still isn’t back to “19:10 5K Ashley” level, but it’s definitely strong enough for an Ironman. I was fully anticipating a big PR at IMFL.

As I’ve gone back and forth with this decision, I’ve had those expectations in my head. “How could I *not* race when I’m swim-bike-running so well?” was basically the question I posed to Matt. The poor guy had been nicely playing the “I support whatever you decide” card on repeat, but finally teased in his response, “So, was that before or after the crash? Because right now, you’re limping.” 🤣 Touché. The reality is that these things (and the missed training that accompanies them) have an effect that you can’t just wish away. So then the realization set in that this wouldn’t be THE race... and yet, I still wanted to get out there and fight for a decent race anyway.

I’m the kind of person that likes hard things, for better or worse. I ran my first marathon with a fracture in my hip (that was stupid), I delivered my babies without any meds, I BQ’d in Boston with acute bronchitis, and I set my Ironman PR while puking throughout the day. For me, the decision to race Ironman Florida despite the high potential for bonus pain would actually feel easier than the decision to step away and not race. I hate feeling like a quitter, even though my rational side understands that’s not what this is.

I’m also the first person to say, “There’s always another race!” And most of the time, that’s true. But sometimes, we hope it isn’t. And we hope that maybe, just maybe, our body will be doing something else for the next two years. So there WON’T be another full Ironman for at least that long. There already wasn’t a full Ironman for the past two years because I was hoping the same. And this was meant to be a reset button of sorts, to wipe the slate clean after those couple years and start the clock again. And oh, that makes it that much harder to let go. These things are just silly races, of course, but sometimes they’re emotionally intertwined with other, bigger things in our lives.

Anyway, I’m sure you can see where this is going. (Well, I suppose I told you at the beginning of this post. 😉) The first "I might actually have to pull out" punch to the gut was feeling so uncomfortable just walking around Disneyland for a few hours, and realizing that twice as many hours of racing Ironman wouldn’t magically feel better in a week. Then I attempted an easy run (on day 10 post-crash), only to turn back after 1 mile because I felt awful, had a limp in my stride, had road rash dripping down my leg, and proceeded to have a worsened headache for the remainder of the night. But the moment that made me actually hop on the computer and book my "spectator" plane ticket (as opposed to keeping my earlier "racing" flight) was actually concussion-related. I had to make cookies yesterday afternoon, so I got out the ingredients... and then just stared at them. For the life of me, I could not recall my favorite recipe that I've had memorized for half my life. I had to look it up for the first time in 16 years. So just a little thing, but enough to make me recognize that my brain isn't fully healed yet, and certainly not ready to race 140.6 miles. I'll push through pain any day, but I kind of like my brain, so that was that. My ER doctor in Hawaii (an Ironman himself) had advised that I’d probably be able to run a few miles come race weekend, but "racing an Ironman is a different story." And he was right; it just wouldn’t be wise.

So, here I am, being a grown-up and pulling out of my dreamed-for race. It seems like another drop in the hat in a series of crappy race situations for the past couple years, but sometimes that is just how it goes. The really great thing is that I genuinely enjoy the training, so I don’t regret any of the hard work put into this race prep. It was fun!!! (Minus the freezing pool with a broken heater for an entire month.) And it was nice to feel like myself again. Hopefully I’ll bounce back quickly. 😊

For those of you heading to Ironman Florida, I’ll still be there!!! I still have friends racing and wouldn’t miss the opportunity to cheer. So please say hi! 🤗

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Family Hike to the Hollywood Sign!

Sponsored by Zappos

Our new base is in the middle of nowhere, but that middle of nowhere is conveniently located 90 miles outside of LA. So the weekend possibilities are endless! The back-to-school shopping possibilities, not so much. Ha! Thank goodness for the internet. It was SO easy doing the back-to-school shopping online that I don't think I'll go back to the drag-the-kids-to-the-mall plan ever. Hallelujah! New "gym shoes" were on the list for the new school year, and Jake & Summer were SO excited to hop on Zappos and pick out their own Saucony Kids shoes! Jake picked the "coolest and fastest" pair, while Summer set out to pick a pair that was "really cute and still fast." (I can't imagine where they get this from...)

The delivery trucks may as well have been Santa's sleigh! Jake brought the Zappos box in and they ripped it open right away. It made my mother runner heart happy to see them so excited about their new running shoes! Jake picked the Saucony Kids Voxel and Summer picked the Saucony Kids Jazz (click the names to check them out!). They immediately put them on and as soon as Daddy walked in the door, we were off to the park for races. Since then, they've worn them to school, to Disney, and on Saturday, to the Hollywood Sign!
This little lady fits RIGHT in to that LA scene. ;)
This hike has been high on our list of must-do's after arriving in Southern California. The kids saw the Hollywood Sign in a movie awhile ago, and we told them that we took Jake up to the sign when he was a baby... and they've been asking (and asking) to go to it ever since. We penciled it in for our family outing last weekend and had a blast! It is by far the best way to see the sign, and there are pretty awesome views of the city, too!

Last time we did this hike, it was more like a little nature walk -- maybe 3 miles at most, and we wore flip flops (along with other questionable 2011-era attire) (proof at the end of this post). But apparently that route was closed due to a lawsuit, so all of the new popular routes are longer! We picked the 6-mile round-trip and it was just right for a family hike. The kids did such a great job!!! We gave them piggy back rides here and there, but they did most of it on their own. And they kept running up ahead, so I suppose this counts as their first trail run, too? :) Zero complaints about tired feet, so the Saucony Kids shoes have officially passed all family tests. It was such a fun afternoon!

Teaching the kids how to tourist.

Hahahaha. Also, Baby Jake is adorable.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Phoenix Marathon 2018 Race Recap -- 3:18 (PR)

It was kind of a strange feeling going into this race. There wasn’t the usual pre-race hype and nerves – I was weirdly calm about the fact that I was about to race a freaking marathon. It felt almost business-like: I was going to run hard, I was going to hurt, I was going to feel my legs rebel in the final miles, I was going to fight through, and I was going to cross that line before my watch ticked over to 3:20. Like marking items off a checklist.

It sounds obvious, but I’ve learned first-hand that the bigger the base and the higher the training volume, the stronger I feel in the final miles of the race. The problem this time is that I was just coming back from 6 months of dealing with a foot injury. Therefore, I was far removed from my previously-freaking-awesome base and had a shorter training cycle with lower volume than I’d prefer. I get that none of that sounds like PR material, and I know I’m not as fast, as strong, or as fit as I was one year ago. But thanks to having a bad case of bronchitis in Boston, my PR wasn’t from last year – it was from October 2015. So I didn’t have to be as fast as I’ve ever been, I just had to run faster than I did 2+ years ago. I just wanted to break 3:20. Judging from my huge negative split times at the WDW Half Marathon in January, I knew it would be difficult but within reach. Matt told me not to discount my training either: “Maybe it wasn’t ideal, but you still put in the work.”

And frankly, I felt like I could will my body into it either way. I had a lot of question marks about my physical abilities going into this race, but full confidence in my mental game and my ability to maximize whatever my body could bring to the table. I knew, due to the limited number of miles under them, that my legs would feel heavy and slow toward the end of the marathon – whether I’d run fast or slow up until that point. I also knew that the way to push them when they wanted to stop would be to have my goal within striking distance. So my plan was to not push but also not hold back in the first half, and then try to keep it together as long as possible. Reasonable enough.
Pre-race dinner with Kindal
Kindal (@runningwithstrength) and I woke up at 3 a.m. for the 6 a.m. start time. I had my typical pre-race breakfast with 1000+ calories (2 bottles of Ensure Plus @ 350 calories each, plus a bagel + peanut butter + banana combination). Then I grabbed a Gatorade to sip on throughout the morning along with a mini Clif Bar to eat closer to go time. Plenty of gas in the tank! We got ready and hit the road around 3:45. It was supposed to be a 25-minute drive but there was a ton of traffic getting into the parking area, so we ended up parking around 4:30. Kindal headed off to the half marathon buses and I met up with a group of friends to bus to the marathon start line. Such a fun ride to the top! I was still weirdly relaxed about the whole thing – I knew there was a chance that I would blow up completely and I was okay with taking that risk, but I really planned on making that PR happen no matter what.

I was also in an entirely different headspace than one would normally be heading into a race. Exactly one year before this race week, our dear friend-like-family Matt Brown had a seizure in his sleep and never woke up. Losing Matt was heart-wrenchingly tragic, and my soul still aches over that hard, hard week of his death and his funeral. Needless to say, the week of the race was a very emotional time for me. And all I could think about that Saturday morning was that Saturday from the year before, at his funeral. On one hand, the perspective made something like a marathon seem extremely trivial. On the other hand, Matt was a runner, and I was going to Never Stop fighting to make him proud that day.

Up at the start, I waited and warmed up and took care of business with Heather (@triandrungirl), Tam (@tamarynnleigh), and Heather’s husband Trevor. I’m always grateful for chip starts – we finally made it to the start line at 6:04 a.m. Quick hugs and good lucks and see you laters, and we were off! It was pitch black, so I couldn’t see my watch and decided to ignore it entirely for those first few miles. The Phoenix Marathon, if run with an even effort throughout, is a positive-split course. In the first 11 or so miles, you lose about 800 feet and have a long, gradual 200-foot uphill. The rest of the course is flat. Combine that with the positive split desert conditions – cooler at the start and heating up quick once the sun rises – and yeah, an even effort on that day would yield a positive split. So I just wanted to let my body run at a nice, steady effort regardless of pace for as long as it could and then fight for it when my legs started to quit – and I just hoped that would happen as late into the race as possible.

That first half went according to plan. I clocked in low 7’s on the downhill miles and tallied a 7:44 and an 8:16 on the two uphill miles that came with a bonus headwind. I had no interest in burning matches on those early hills so I really just kept that even effort right on up. I wanted to hit the half marathon mark between 1:36 and 1:37, and got there at 1:36:25 – a 7:21 average pace for the easier part of the race. I felt surprisingly good at this point. My fueling was right on point (Huma Gels every 45ish minutes and water/Gatorade/both at every aid station). Cardiovascularly, I was great! My heart rate was fine, my breathing was fine, and my perceived effort seemed quite reasonable for the first half of a marathon.

My legs, on the other hand, never felt awesome and were starting to feel heavier and heavier as the miles passed. This is where the missing training volume and missing muscular strength could/would start to be exposed. It seemed like a ticking time bomb. I started breaking the race down. If I could just keep cruising until mile 15, then mile 16… until that aid station at mile 17… okay, now mile 18…
Mile 15ish
Outwardly, I was keeping it together. But inwardly, I was a mess. My mind kept going to where it was that same Saturday a year before, at the funeral. I’d find myself choking back the grief and not being able to breathe while holding back what was sure to be a complete and utter emotional breakdown. You go on with your life, you know? But that pain is still there. And it felt so fresh and raw that morning, pushing my body’s limits as I ran through the desert in honor of my dear friend. I’d been counting on my mental strength to get me through this -- but that seemed to be severely compromised by the fact that in my head, I was an emotional wreck for that entire marathon. I had to keep forcing myself out of my head and to tune into the Hamilton soundtrack that was playing in my ears… I tried not to think and to “watch” the play instead. And so it yo-yo’d, for 26.2 miles.

When I was visiting Phoenix in November, I made sure to run the last 8 miles of this course so I would have some familiarity when the going got tough on race day. I was, therefore, very much looking forward to getting to mile 18. I reached that point still intact, which felt like a big win on the day. I’d kept my average pace in the low 7:30s since hitting the flats and was holding on okay. I knew what to expect from here on out and was grateful for that. My legs were getting heavier by the minute and I could feel the slowdown coming, but I felt capable to fight. I’d glance down at my watch, see Matt’s phrase “Never Stop” on my bracelet, and pull myself together, willing my lead-filled legs forward.

Somewhere in those late teens miles, I calculated that the last 6.2 miles would take about 50 minutes at 8:00 pace, so if I could hit mile 20 by 2:30 on my watch, then I’d just have to average 8:00 to beat the 3:20 mark. So much easier said than done – and yet doable at the same time. My watch was just over 2:29 when I passed the mile 20 marker. That’s also when my pace started to slip, and I glanced down and saw 8:20 as my moving pace. Literally seconds later, Ashley Anderson/Sorenson (@run4coke) came running up. We went to high school together (hence her always being Ashley Anderson in my head!) and Tam coaches her now, so I’d just seen her for the first time in years that weekend – and she saved me. Ashley was running strong, holding 7:40s. And doing well enough to have a conversation! We chatted a little bit and I was able to hang on for a couple miles before slowing down at an aid station and telling her to go ahead. She was rocking a negative split marathon and I definitely didn’t want to hold her back!
Major thank you to Ashley Sorenson (@run4coke) for pulling me through my rough patch!

It was a great feeling to hit mile 23 and realize I could run 10s at that point and still pull out a su-3:30 (BQ-minus 5). At least I knew I wouldn’t have to run another marathon this year, I thought. (These things are hard!) That sub-3:20 was still in reach if I could just keep pushing. My legs were fading fast, though, and I worried that if I let up the effort at all, I’d lose the sub-3:20 and the PR and maybe even the BQ entirely. It was so crazy because I still felt so fine on the cardiovascular side of things, but my legs had never felt so heavy or hurt so much. I wasn’t breathing heavy but I was wincing from the pain of picking up my brick legs and putting them in front of me, over and over and over again. I was locked into a robotic motion for those final miles and have never fought so hard through that kind of muscular rebellion in my life. But I was so close, and my goal was so close, and if I let up at all, I would lose it. Never Stop, I repeated to myself over and over again as I mechanically made my way through that last 5K.

And like, literally, never stop – I skipped the aid station at mile 24 completely because I felt like the tiniest pull off the throttle or the tiniest variance from my robotic motion would cause the whole thing to collapse. My legs were teetering on an edge that I’d never felt before. But they were going to do this and I was going to do this and that clock was going to have a 3 followed by a 1, no matter what.

I finally saw the palm-tree lined finish line, ran through the chute, found Kindal, and burst into tears all in what seemed like the same step. I bawled for a few minutes straight while she hugged me. “I’m fine,” I explained. “It’s Matt.” She knew that, though. I’d just spent more than 3 hours holding it back and I just needed a good cry. It was harder than I’d expected to race on the anniversary of his funeral, but also probably the best thing I could have done. I felt him with me and hope I made him proud.

The finish!
No better sight than a finish line.
SO fun sharing the race weekend with these speedy friends of mine!
(@ashkickn1, @triandrungirl, @tamarynnleigh, @ runningwithstrength)
My husband Matt texted my official time – a 3:18:52!!! Goodness, I fought for that. Not just on race day, but while getting back in shape through a brutally cold winter. I know that I maximized every single ounce of fitness that I had to give right now and I’m beyond proud of that. SO happy and grateful that I was able to pull it off!

And if that’s what I can do under those circumstances – 6 months of averaging less than 10 miles/week followed by a 12-week training cycle – then I’m super excited to see what I can do with a proper base + build for my next 26.2. But first, I’m switching gears and training for Gulf Coast 70.3 in May! My bike has been calling my name. J

Monday, May 1, 2017

Boston Marathon 2017: The Recap!

My 4th marathon and 1st Boston Marathon. And another BQ with a 3:29! Here are alllll the details. ;)
Boston to Hopkinton:

I woke up on race day at 6:15 -- to a phone call from my mom saying she was on the front porch! She and my brother booked flights that Friday night to come to Boston just for the day, just to cheer me on. So that was basically the best wake-up call ever.

I got dressed and ate my typical pre-Ironman breakfast -- which is 1,000+ calories, because I'm all about making sure I have as much fuel in the tank as possible on race day. How do I get so many calories in without feeling overloaded? Easy! I chug two bottles of Ensure Plus. 700 liquid calories consumed in about a minute. And no worries about my body having to process them, if you know what I mean. Score. Of course, I like to have some real food, too, and do the half-or-full bagel + peanut butter + banana thing. I used to just do that without the Ensure, which just seems like so little to me now. Then I always have Gatorade and a Clif Bar around to munch on before race start. I eat them in training both right before long workouts and during, so I don't have to worry about how my body will handle those either.

Kindal's friend Tess was awesome and drove us to the buses! There was no traffic coming from the South, so it was an easy ride into the city. I facetimed Matt and my littles for a some pre-race good luck on the way, and the Tess was able to drop us off literally right next to bag check. The whole process was so smooth! Kindal and I wore our sweats out of habit (plus I was thinking/hoping it might be cooler in Hopkinton?) but were hot before even loading the bus. The volunteers were so fun and the bus was such an easy process, too. Boston has this stuff down. There was a 60-year-old rockstar across the aisle from me on the bus, wearing a tank for the Huntsman Cancer Institute in Salt Lake City. (A place near and dear to my heart -- my best friend was cared for there before he passed away when I was in college, and now we go caroling there every Christmas Eve.) So of course I started talking to her and we had a great ride up to Hopkinton! The ride takes about an hour and I feel like it's always a little daunting to realize *just* how far away you are getting yourself, so making friends is always a nice distraction.

We made it to the Athlete's Village and there were people everywhere! I scored a major win when I, for the first time in my entire life, picked the *shortest* porta potty line (like, by a lot. Message me if you want to know the secret -- can't have this gold getting out too much haha). We made our way through the line quickly and then hopped right back in for maintenance purposes. But then the fast line was too fast, so we just sat at the front and let everyone go ahead of us until we heard an announcement that white bibs should have already left for the start? It was only 10 o'clock and the Wave 2 start was at 10:25.

So we moved our bums and then started casually walking over to the corrals (we had plenty of time before the start, right?). We stopped for pictures and paused for hip swings and such. Yeah, well... somewhere we had missed the part where it is a solid mile+ walk to the start! We had no idea. By the time we made it over there, we were near the back of Wave 2. I figured we started somewhere in corral 7ish, which in my brain shouldn't have been too bad because it should be 3:26ish marathoners and that wasn't too far off my 3:21-3:23 corral assignment. This actually turned out to be a HUGE mistake on my part, as was having an 18-month-old qualifying time. I now know that if you want to run well in a crowded race, it is *crucial* to be properly seeded!

Hopkinton to Boston:

We crossed the start line about 6 minutes after the clock and casually picked up the pace. All smiles all around! And then, almost immediately, there it was: the Wall of Humans. Have you ever been to Disneyland on a crowded day? And tried to walk down Main Street after fireworks? It looks like this:
Now picture trying to run a marathon through that. Through, not with, because everyone is going at 60-90+ seconds slower than you. Yep. Horrifying. Here's the deal with downhill marathons: No, don't be an idiot and fly down at your 5K pace to "bank time" and then blow up later. But PLEASE don't be an idiot and brake down the hills and blow up your quads for later!!! I kid you not, the Disneyland-closing mob was running 8:30-9:00 minutes per mile. On a steep downhill. In the opening of a marathon, in which according to qualifying times, they should be averaging between 7:40-8:00 pace overall. It was mind boggling and so confusing. In retrospect, I think this "problem" was magnified this year because it was the 2nd hot year in a row, so people were purposefully slowing the pace WAY down from the get-go. Which is fine to an extent, obviously. But man, as the random dude casually running a 9:00-minute mile observed as we were stuck behind him, "This would really suck if you were trying to run for time."

More than the clock element, though, was the problem of simple physics: if you brake downhill, you literally tear up your quads. I'm 5'9" and it's all leg, so I naturally have a long stride. I'd run three downhill marathons prior to this and just floated down the hill with a conservative effort. But here? My stride was cut in half. There was no getting into a rhythm. Instead, I'd try to find a hole, then come to a stop, then try to move to the outside, then use the curb space to pass a few people, then wait for Kindal to shoot the same gap, then be stuck behind the next layer of the wall at 9:00 min/mile... over and over and over again. "This is a nightmare," I said to Kindal.

Of course, that was intermixed with getting high fives from kids on the side, saying "thank you" to the police officers, waving to the spectators standing out on their lawns, having the cheesiest grin on my face, and commenting, "Oh my gosh, how crazy is this? We're finally running the Boston Marathon!" So strange to have such polarizing thought processes co-exist.

(PS- I checked the results of bib numbers around me in a couple dozen of my photos just to make sure I wasn't crazy. And sure enough, all throughout the race, I was passing people averaging 8:30-9:30 pace. Only one person in all of my photos had a faster finish time than me, so at least that constant feeling of "Oh my gosh, how am I going to get past these walls of people?" was valid haha.)

Interestingly enough, we still hit 7:15-7:20 in those miles, which is technically on the conservative end for the steep downhill portions of a marathon in which you'd want to average those very paces. But it's the way it was done -- with the surging and stopping and parkour-style movements on the outside edges, and with the shortened strides and ALL THE BRAKING -- that was so awful. (And yet it was better than falling in line with the constant 9 min/mile brake-shuffling.) "This is a nightmare," I repeated, fully aware of what all of this would mean on a muscular level.

Meanwhile, remember the bronchitis? My cough started up at mile 2. Shoot. And the heat? Well, we were hot when it started and the sun was beating down directly overhead -- and where were the early aid stations??? One of the most important things is to make sure you get those early aid stations. Instead, I didn't see one until mile 4. And speaking of mile 4... that's when I realized that my legs had already been torn apart. At MILE FOUR. They felt like they had at mile 24 of a previous downhill marathon. Alarm bells started going off in my head.

Right about that time, Kindal started falling off the back, so I'd wait or go back (it's quite hard to stay together in these crowds). She told me to go on ahead and leave her. I kept nudging her along, telling her we weren't supposed to have a talk like this until mile 20, or at least the half mark. We could do this. She could do this. After about a half mile of this, though, she stopped dead in her tracks and pointed: "GO." And she meant it. At that point, the clock is ticking and I know my legs are already too shot for a super-fast day, but there's still a chance at a PR and I'd promised myself I'd give my best effort no matter what. So I ran back, gave her a hug, and said I'd see her at the finish line. And then went off on my own, which was an emotional hit.

Then at mile 6, I noticed that my fingers were swelling around my rings. It was hot, and it was clearly affecting me. Luckily, I've had good practice managing the heat in Ironman so no worries -- time to take care of business. I grabbed the first water cup I could from a spectator and poured it over each shoulder. I was still ticking off sub-7:20s just fine but knew that heat management would change that quickly. And frankly, things were spiraling so quickly so early that in hindsight, it's laughable. Let's recap:

Mile 0: Met the wall of humans
Mile 2: Coughing starts, will continue for remainder of race
Mile 4: Legs are shot from the forced stride-shortening and braking
Mile 5: BFF is lost 15-21 miles prematurely
Mile 6: Fingers are swelling in the heat

I mean, honestly. Hahahaha. And there were 20 miles LEFT to go. How is that even real life?

Nevermind the fact that my watch was beeping every mile much too far ahead of the actual mile markers, thanks to all the weaving. Just basically every little thing that can go wrong in a marathon, all happening simultaneously. Happily, a little pick-me-up was right up ahead! I got my first Huma Gel out and then spotted my crew -- my mom, brother Christian, and Kindal's friend Tess. They had talked about being around mile 4 and then at the finish, so I was bummed that I missed them -- and then thrilled when I saw them! That slapped a huge smile on my face and was the perfect reminder to enjoy the day, at the precise moment where I could have started to think otherwise.

My people!!!
So I went on my way, finished my gel, and kept running through Framingham to the next aid station (mile 8ish?), which I walked through to take care of business: Some Gatorade, some water, one cup of water poured on my arms, and another on my head -- which resulted in the taste of pure salt. Yikes, definitely running a hot marathon, definitely sweating, definitely need to stay on top of that! Luckily, I had a tube of BASE salt in my back pocket, so as I was running, I reached back, grabbed it, and had my first few licks (of many that day). And then grabbed a cup from a spectator and washed it down with a quick swig. Check. Everything's under control. Still running 7:20 pace but aid station walk added 20 seconds. That'll have to be fine. And look, I'm almost to Natick!

I continued on and saw a kid holding a sign that said: "Only six 5K's left!" And I thought, "I honestly don't know if I can do that." Not a great feeling to be 8 miles into a marathon wondering if you'll be able to make it the next 18. You should be feeling *awesome* and totally relaxed until at least the halfway point! I had that moment of doom, and then told myself not to be silly. (Actually it went something more like, "Don't be ridiculous, Ashley. Of course you can finish a marathon. You're a good runner. And you're a freaking Ironman. Suck it up." Haha!) So then I forced myself to smile until I felt it, and went back to the "I'm running Boston! That was Framingham! I'm in Natick!" mode.

Watching Boston: The Documentary a couple nights before really helped me recognize and be excited about different points along the way. Little things, like a store with reflective windows and a sign that says something like: "Check yourself out!" And you glance over and see this huge crowd of runners on the move and realize you're part of it and think, "K, this is pretty cool." (Also: "This would make an awesome picture." Ha) All along the way, the spectators were life-saving with the extra fluid and ice. I'd never felt so hot or flushed while running, which was weird because I've run and raced in much hotter temperatures. So oh my word, the ice people made my day! As did the hose people. Bless your souls, hose people. Then, of course, the encouragement and energetic atmosphere is unmatched -- and you can get as much out of it as you put in! I "touched here for power" on signs, I danced along to the music, I thanked the volunteers. I ran mostly on the right side so I could interact with the spectators and tried not to miss giving any kids high fives. Just so, so fun!
Only 6 more 5K's, everyone!
Sometimes, you hear the famous landmarks long before you see them -- like the scream tunnel at Wellesley College. Those girls are awesome! That was probably the only time that I didn't load up on the high fives, though -- because everyone else (ahem, of the male variety) was darting over instead haha. The entertainment factor is sheer gold. Definitely one of the fastest (mentally) miles of the day! Afterward, it got much quieter and I could hear my music (Hamilton!) again and realized it was like four songs further ahead in the story -- that's how long the screaming lasted. :)

Right after leaving Wellesley College, I hit the 13.1 mile mat at 1:39:47. And I literally laughed out loud! Because that is the exact same time I hit that half split when I ran a 3:21 in St. George -- and I knew I would be landing nowhere near that mark today. (I'm glad I was able to find comic relief in the dwindling situation...) Then I weirdly felt bad for my family and friends tracking me back home who saw that and therefore still had hope that I could pull out a PR race. "Sorry, friends!" I thought, hoping they wouldn't be worried about me the next few times I hit the timing mats. I was fine; it just wasn't my day for a myriad of reasons. And I was emotionally fine, too, because I'd accepted that beforehand and wasn't going to let the clock tell me how much to enjoy my day.

My body was hurting, though. I was coughing and my legs were over it and I was just lacking energy overall. It was tempting to pull way back and just joy ride jog it in. But every time I was tempted to do so, I glanced at my arm and was reminded to "Never Stop." (Story here.) And I kept pushing. It might not be my "best day," but I was going to give the absolute best I had to give on that day!

Tess is the cutest! And so is this Hyperthreads tank! All the love.
Just still ridiculously crowded going into mile 16.
As I approached Newton, I got the best surprise of my day: my crew had made an extra cheer stop! It could not have been better timed and was the perfect boost before hitting the hills. I was feeling the love! My brother yelled, "That's my sister!" And I was like, that's right -- best brother ever.

And I'm just going to say it -- I didn't think the hills were that bad. People talk about them like they are mountains you have to climb. Yes, the timing stinks. And yes, it especially stinks if you trashed your quads early on the downhill (if you are just seeded properly, though, and can avoid braking downhill, you'll be fine! Downhills are only bad if you don't run them right). But if you train for them, you'll be able to handle them, no problem. I'd done hill sprint workouts, incorporated hills into some of my normal runs, and found as many hills as possible for my long runs. If not for that, in my degraded state, I would have been toast. But as it was, I chugged up the hills just fine! Slower pace, sure. But steady and strong. Highlights of those precursor hills were 1) the sprinkler tunnel around mile 18ish and 2) running into my friend Jenna and sharing a high-five and encouragement for a moment before going ahead.

I remember staring at the bottom of Heartbreak Hill and being SO excited to run up it! The Hamilton soundtrack had ended at mile 19 so I was onto a normal race playlist and the perfect song came on right then: Good ol' Rihanna singing, "Baby, this is what we came for." And I was like, Heck yes! THIS is what we came for! Everything crazy and hard and awesome. Like Heartbreak Hill. Let's do this!!! So I kept on trucking, got myself a few high fives, danced to the spectators' music, and smiled all the way to the top! And man, what an exciting place to be -- at the top of Heartbreak Hill! All (well, mostly all) downhill from here into Boston!
Of course, there was the physical aspect that was not ideal. I somehow managed a decent running pace throughout -- while actually running, but that was pulled down 20+ seconds per mile by the heat-maintenance aid station routine. I'd walk long enough to make sure I was getting enough fluids in me, alternating Gatorade or water, sometimes a little of both, then grab and dump multiple cups of water -- on my head, arms, back, legs, everywhere -- because I was still so hot. And I was on top of my gels and salt. But my body still felt awful on multiple fronts, from being sick to the shredded quads to the now-cramping calves to just the overall malaise. I'd never cramped like that before and was, therefore, pumped when I saw a couple spectators handing out HotShots on the side! That's what Matt uses for Ironman, thanks to all the research I'd done on the subject. Basically, it's a spicy little drink that shocks your nervous system into relaxing the cramps. So hallelujah for the HotShots! I grabbed one, immediately chugged it, and started looking for a cup of water to grab. Those cups of water were honestly everywhere from mile 10 on, with spectators constantly saving the day. And then suddenly, at the precise moment that I downed a spicy drink, they were missing in action! Hahaha. It took probably a whole mile to find some fluid to wash that taste down with, and I was so amused the whole time thinking how Matt would get a kick out of this. But it kicked the cramps, so success! One less thing to worry about.

But still, there I was, feeling crappier than I'd ever thought I could feel toward the end of a marathon. And I'd have the fleeting thought, "I don't know if I can run five more miles." And then respond by telling myself, "You only have to run four more miles. The last mile runs itself." And then, a mile later, "I don't know if I can run four more miles." Followed by a glance at my arm and, "It's okay, it's like you really only have three left because the last mile will run itself." I was also doing the math and realized I'd be cutting it awfully -- awfully -- close to a sub-3:30. I thought I could maybe make it if I kept pushing, but knew that if I let up at all, I'd lose it. And then who's to say that if I let up, I wouldn't totally implode and lose a BQ altogether? No, I had to keep fighting. Never Stop.

Probably wondering if I can run another mile or not.
And then getting my crap together one second later. Haha

As I made my way toward Boston, I turned my background music off and let the 3- and 4-person deep crowds carry me the rest of the way. I was hurting but giving it everything I had left, and I was loving every second (well, probably 99% of the seconds), knowing I was about to finish THE Boston Marathon. I saw the Citgo sign in the distance and finally made it to the announcement: there was only one more mile left!

And I was right -- that last mile took care of itself. I soaked in the sights and the sounds of those streets and those crowds. I went down and up that tiny little blip, and then I saw the famous turns. I made a right on Hereford and a left on Boylston. I saw that finish line off in the distance and began to follow the three blue lines toward it.

A thought entered my mind of the people who were following that same path and the spectators cheering them on just four years ago, so I said a quick prayer for those affected by that attack and others. I felt all the more gratitude toward the spectators lining the streets today, standing in the very places where others' stood, choosing to never let evil win, likely not even thinking about it as they cheered for the runners. And for me. That's the most amazing thing about the Boston Marathon. The crowds aren't just there for their friends or family. They are there for every runner. They are supporting every single one of us. And all of the runners are supporting each other, helping one another along the way. It's really a beautiful show of humanity.

The sounds of cheers and cowbells are deafening as you make your way down Boylston. I reveled in the experience and took mental pictures of that channel lined with rows of spectators, leading to the celebratory blue and yellow line in the ever-nearing distance. I felt so lucky to be right there, right then.

And in that moment as I ran toward the finish line, my first Boston Marathon was everything I'd dreamed it would be.

I crossed the line in 3:29:44, which was far from my best, but it was the absolute best I had to give that day. I'm really proud of that. It actually was a good performance on the day, sick or not -- I finished as the 1442nd female and 6983rd runner -- which is more than 5000 people faster than I should have finished (bib 12005). It was the 2nd hottest Boston Marathon in a decade and just a tough day for everyone out there!

After receiving my prized unicorn medal, I walked back toward the finish to figure out how to wait for and spot Kindal. A med person asked if I was okay and I responded "Yes..." Then paused and added, "My hands have been numb for that last few miles, though?" I expected him to be like, "Oh yeah, just do X and you'll be fine." Instead, that earned me a ticket to the med tent. Inside, I told them I was fine, that I just had numb hands. No, this hasn't happened before. They asked about my toes... hm, I guess those were kind of numb, too. They took all my vitals, asked if my blood pressure was typically on the lower end (no), and had me lay down and answer a bunch of questions. Meanwhile, in my mind, I was missing Kindal crossing the finish line, my mom and brother were only here for a few hours and I was losing precious time... They asked if the numbness was going away ("No, but I'm really fine"), and I asked what I had to do to get out of there. To which they explained that my blood pressure was really low and they couldn't release me until it came back up. Well, crap, because there's no faking that. Thank goodness that I'd handled the hydration + electrolytes game well, because if that was combined with the low blood pressure, I actually might not have been fine. The consensus was basically just that being sick + being on an antibiotic that makes you more heat sensitive + all the heat while being cold-adapted caused the low blood pressure? That made sense to my ER doctor friend back home so I'm rolling with it. Anyway, it was all rather non-dramatic but just time consuming. I felt awful that everyone was waiting for me and was quite happy to be released after an hour. Hopefully that's the last of my med tent visits.

After that, I met back up with Kindal, took our finisher photos, and finally found my family! We sat in Panera Bread while the crew grabbed food but I was too nauseous to eat. Then we hurried back to Tess's house, I took the fastest shower of my life, and my mom, brother, and I grabbed an Uber over to the North End. We walked the entire Freedom Trail and I was giddy like a kid in a candy store the whole time. All of my 11-year-old run-loving, history-loving self's dreams coming true all at the same time. It was SUCH a happy, happy day!!!

And it was made that way because of the people. The volunteers were amazing, as usual. The spectators were life savers all along the way, both with their bonus "aid stations" and their encouragement. They are the reason the Boston Marathon is such an incredible experience. On a personal level, it was so kind of Tess to open her home to me for the weekend and join cheer squad forces with my family for the race -- they couldn't have seen me three times during the race if not for her Boston savvy. Then to spend the whole weekend with Kindal, one of my very best friends who I shared this whole journey with? It's a runner's dream come true. And I couldn't possibly be more grateful to my mom and brother for coming to Boston to support me. Matt wasn't able to get military leave, which meant that he and the kids couldn't come, and I knew that all along and was okay with the girls' trip. But then my mom and brother called the Friday before to say they had just bought tickets to be there for the marathon, and I was so excited about it all weekend. They flew a red-eye across the country, were with me in Boston for 14 hours, and then flew right back. I mean, who does that? They do. I am so lucky and felt so, so loved. My people made all the difference.

So sure, from a performance perspective, this marathon may have been "a nightmare." But the experience? That was everything I'd hoped it'd be and more. Such a special race and a happy day in Boston! :)

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Boston Marathon 2017: The Variables

Before diving into the race report itself, I wanted to touch on a few things that would otherwise turn into huge tangents in the recap. (Ha!) Just a little peak inside my brain regarding a few of the variables that went into race day -- getting sick right before, having a "hot" forecast, and adjusting/not-adjusting race goals.

The Sick

During the second week of taper, my 3-year-old daughter came down with a cough. And that sweet girl would climb into my bed at 1 a.m. each night and snuggle up close, nose-to-nose with her cute little hand on my cheek... and proceed to cough in my face all night long. For multiple nights in a row. So it didn't exactly come as a surprise when I woke up sick the Sunday of race week (8 days out). To make matters worse, it *started* in my chest, which for me is always a bad sign. By Tuesday night, I realized that there was no way this was getting better any time remotely soon on its own and got my bum over to urgent care. The doctor called it acute bronchitis and, bless her soul, she loaded me up with all the good stuff in hopes that I could be functional come marathon day. Meanwhile, I was staying up all night coughing, my heart rate was rocketing, I couldn't take a full breath, and things were looking a little bleak. But I just decided to just think positively and trust that the meds would sort everything out!

On Saturday, my optimism cracked when my heart rate was still through the roof and my cough was ever-present during our final shake-out run. Then that night, we had a quick turnaround between events and I forgot to re-take my medicine before heading out the door for a night out at the Boston: The Documentary movie premiere. And then there I was, mid-conversation at a fancy cocktail party, suddenly hacking up a freaking lung. You know, those huge rack-your-body cough attacks that last and last? Yep. So horrifying -- first to be that person at the party, and second, to realize that I was actually still that sick and had just been masking my symptoms with all the heavy-duty prescription meds. Crap. The really "good stuff" makes you drowsy, so I already knew I wouldn't be taking that after Sunday afternoon... Sooo I'd just have to cross my fingers that the bronchitis wouldn't affect me too much on race day. (Spoiler alert: Coughed through 26.2 and was still pretty sick for the next 8+ days before finally starting to improve. Still haven't totally kicked the leftover cough.)
The optimism-cracking shakeout. My legs felt SO GOOD, but I was coughing and my heart rate wasn't having it either.

The Weather

As soon as a forecast was available, it predicted an ideal race day in Boston. Partly cloudy in the low 50's. It looked fast. And it also made me nervous, because we all know that forecasts like to change! And sure enough, as the race neared, the forecasted temps started creeping up. And up. And up. Finally, the highs were in the mid-70's and the marathon was sending out heat advisories to the runners.

Intellectually, I know that this slows you down. However, literally every other time I've covered the marathon distance, it has been "hot." The St. George Marathon temps were in the mid-70s at all three of my finishes. And don't even get me started about Ironman -- IMTX was real-feel triple digits during the marathon! (Temps in the 90s with high humidity.) And I lived! So I decided the heat wasn't worth a freak-out and if it *did* become an issue, I'd just cross that bridge when I got there. (Ironically, I got there somewhere near Bridge Street. Ha!) All optimism and positivity pre-race!

In hind sight, I realized that St. George heat wasn't an issue for me because I ran during hot summer afternoons all the time leading up to the race, so my body was adjusted. (Plus, you start in the mountains, which were 60ish, whereas Hopkinton was already "hot.") And even Ironman Texas was in May, which allowed for some warmer runs -- plus you run slower in Ironman and approach the run differently from a logistical perspective. But my Boston training, on the other hand? That happened during a freezing cold winter, with 90% of my running in below-freezing temperatures. Our very last 20-miler just three weeks before the race started in 17-degrees, for crying out loud. So yeah, zero heat adaptation in my pre-Boston world. (This was a VERY apparent trend on race day -- the vast majority of people who were still able to run near potential were from hot states like Florida, Texas, and Arizona. Whereas runners who had trained through cold winters were much more affected by the temps.) We actually did some purposeful heat adaptation for Ironman Texas, and I figure, forecasted heat or not, it wouldn't hurt to do it for the next round in Boston!
Already HOT in Hopkinton!

The Goal(s)

I hadn't run a marathon since my Boston qualifier way back in October 2015. I ran a 3:21 back then -- a whole 18+ months before Boston 2017. It's not exactly crazy to expect improvement in a year and half, even though my focus had been on Ironman training and not strictly running. In fact, despite rarely stepping out of Zone 2, I *had* gotten faster in that time. My half marathon time improved from a well-trained 1:38 to a very un-trained 1:34. My 5K pace had dropped nearly two minutes -- which is HUGE when you consider that it went from a 20:59 to 19:10 (6:45 to 6:10 average). And thanks to all of that Zone 2 Ironman training, I had the aerobic base to back up that new speed. Just give me a good training cycle and I'm on the train for a big marathon PR, right?

I wanted to rock 70 miles per week, nail my speed workouts, pay my dues on the hills, and then try to hit the New York standard, which is 3:13. Dream goal: 3:12:59. Yes, in Boston.

Of course, life is rarely that simple. Immediately after Ironman Florida on November 5th, I had a plant-and-twist mommy accident in which I hurt my knee (the doctor was initially worried about my meniscus but thankfully it was just pes aserine bursitis). I took a few weeks totally off and then tallied less than 20 total miles before lining up for the Tucson Half Marathon on December 10th. The PT gave me the green light to do the race, saying I wouldn't make my knee any worse -- but cautioned me to be smart because if I compensated too much, I could hurt something else. I ran the first 10 miles at what felt like a totally manageable 7:06. And then started limping fairly hardcore and therefore immediately pulled back a minute+ per mile until the finish (a 1:36:49).

I recognized that I needed more recovery and PT before jumping into marathon training, and accepted that I'd have to work off a 12-week cycle instead of 16. I took another week completely off and then had a few weeks with mileage in the teens while I tried to sort my knee out. (I ended up trading my pes aserine bursitis for trochanteric (hip) bursitis, thanks to compensating for knee pain on a particularly freezing 12-mile run right before the 12-weeks-out mark. I should have just called it early but it was an out-and-back and I felt so much pressure to start getting miles in anyway...) And meanwhile, that goal time shifted to something more of the slight PR and sub-3:20 variety--as in, 3:19:59.

But finally, training started. And it started going really well, despite everything. My mommy knee problem was finally gone and I was able to manage my hip. My body liked adding mileage. I was the overall female winner at a big 5K with that 19:10 PR. I found some good speed at the track and decent power on the hills. I had a few awesome tempo runs and was on a roll! So I started to think about working toward the New York standard again.

Things changed abruptly when we lost someone very close to us. Marathon training fell to the bottom of my cares. And yet, I knew I'd regret it if I wasn't prepared, so I forced myself through low-intensity, lower-mileage training. And since our friend was a runner and was excited for me to get to run Boston, I knew I had to follow through. Running proved to be cathartic at the time, and I got by, but it obviously wasn't what it could have been. Time goals? Not a thought.

Eventually, the fight came back a bit and I was hitting good times again. The hilly long runs felt strong, the speed felt manageable, everything was good. I peaked out at 65 mpw and averaged about 50 for those 9 weeks of pre-taper training, so it was a respectable cycle in the end. Two weeks out, I was on a treadmill doing a 10-mile run with 8 of those at goal half marathon pace. I did 7 miles at 7:00 and the final mile at 6:40 and felt great. During my cooldown, I thought, "Twenty seconds slower than that about three times in a row." And felt confident because that seemed so do-able.

My training cycle was less than I wanted it to be. Yet, for what it was? It was actually pretty solid: strong long runs, good hill training, speedwork and tempo nailed down. So maybe I was missing some volume in this training cycle, but I had a good base under that and good enough speed to tap into. Why not shoot for the moon? In my mind, there were three goals. A) Dream status, perfect scenario, 3:12:59. B) Great day, still a PR, finally that "teens" I know I'm capable of, 3:19:59. C) A BQ with a smile on my face.

I wanted to run an even effort throughout and would just have to see where that would get me. And if my watch wasn't saying happy things, I wouldn't let that ruin my day. I figured it was like your first Ironman: there will always be another chance to race the clock, but you will never get that moment back. I will never have another "first Boston Marathon" and I refused to let anything dampen the joy of that experience.

So when I got sick and the forecast struck fear into the hearts of all the marathoners, nothing changed. In my mind, it was pretty simple: I'd give my best that day and let the rest figure itself out. :)

Boston Marathon 2017: The Gear

Despite the other things that went wrong, my gear was absolutely RIGHT! So I wanted to share what worked so well for me.

Tank: Custom from Hyperthreads! They are THE BEST. Before, Kindal and I had talked about putting our names on plain tanks with vinyl, but that seemed so boring and I really wanted a quality top for 26.2. We were talking about it during a trainer ride, and I commented that I just really wished you could have pockets in the back for a marathon like you do for triathlon... And that's when the lightbulb went off. Of course! So I got in touch with Hyperthreads and they were all for it. They took my rough design idea and made it infinitely better, and then made my dreams come true with these amazing tanks! The fabric is SO breathable and dries quickly, which turned out to be clutch on a hot marathon day. The pockets were perfect and I loved not having to fumble for my gels and salt. And they looked SO good!

Sports bra: I realized I never mention this, but my favorite for days that count is actually the high impact from GapFit.

Sunglasses: Rudy Project Momentum! Rudy's are my *favorite* because they perform really well for the run and bike but also look awesome. I wear them as my normal daily sunglasses, too! (You know, when the sun decides to shine in Ohio, ha.) I wore the pink Momentums for Ironman Florida and have been lusting over the blue ones. Rudy was nice enough to send them to us to match our outfits for Boston. They worked out perfectly on that sunny day and got so many compliments!

Shorts: It's all about the LBS -- little black shorts! Lululemon speed shorts have never failed me on a long run or race. I wouldn't run a marathon in anything else.

Socks: White ProCompression. I actually didn't have plain white and ordered them too late, so my friend Tam came to my rescue and sent them with my momma!

Shoes: The new Newton Running Gravity 6! I was thrilled/relieved when these were released just in time for Boston! Newton was awesome and got them to me a little early so I could break them in before the race. The new foam in ultra responsive and oh my word, the saturation of that pink is heavenly. Love.

Sunscreen and ANTI-CHAFE!: Both from Zealios Sport. I use Zealios sunscreen for Ironman because it's waterproof and super-long-lasting. I also use their chamois cream on the bike, and had the brilliant idea to pack it for Boston to use as anti-chafe on my thighs and underarms. And I made it through a hot marathon with ZERO chafing! I've found my new favorite trick.

Headphones: This was my fail. I've used Yurbuds in the past, which are great at staying put. And last summer, I upgraded to bluetooth Jaybirds -- SO nice! But I lost one of the ear pieces and had so much going on that I neglected to get a replacement... and got stuck with my basic wired Apple headphones (thanks to not having a phone jack in the new iPhone). Whomp, whomp. It was annoying to have to adjust them and I was wishing for my Jaybirds! The less you have to worry about, the better.

Phone holder:
The RooSport. I usually have my phone in a handheld water bottle case (by Nathan) for training runs but definitely didn't want to carry that for the race. I was also not in the mood for a belt of any kind, though I do have a couple that I like. So the RooSport was the perfect solution -- it's small and sleek and just magnetically clips onto your shorts. Super easy and effective! The only time this became a problem was toward the end of the race when my shorts were so dripping wet from all of my water-dousing that they were heavy. My Monday preschool alarm kept going off (oops) and when I finally got my phone out to turn it off, I was worried that I'd give people a show if I tried the RooSport back on my sopping shorts! Haha. But remember my tank pockets? Yep, saved the day again.
Turning off that preschool alarm! Haha
Great gear = happy runner!