Wednesday, June 12, 2013

I DID IT!!!! 50 Miles in the books!

I did it! Still after almost 2 weeks I am finding it difficult to believe that I ran The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 miler! But I did and crossing the finish line was one of those moments that I won't ever forget. It was the most exciting, exhausting, fulfilling, awe inspiring moments of my life and the best part was that I was able to share it with my family and the best running friends a girl could ask for. As I have taken time to rest my muscles and reflect on the journey and the actual day, I find it hard to describe the fact that I had the most perfect day. I have said it 100 times already, but the running gods were with me, the stars were aligned, I was in the zone...words simply can not describe how amazing it was.

As far as the day itself goes, it was far from perfect. The DC Metro area had suffered from a relatively cool spring. Prior to June 1, the thermometer had not hit 90 degrees once and probably only hit 80 two or three times (very unusual for this area), but for June 1, they were predicting over 90 degrees and humid. NOT ideal running conditions, especially when you plan to run 50 miles and have not trained in the heat at all. However I did the best I could to prepare and not focus on the predicted heat. This was a factor I could not control but rather had to accept.

I bought lightweight running shorts and shirt (from my favorite running store, Potomac River Running), a camel pack to carry water and hoped for the best! I knew the race organizers would do a great job with the aid stations, but to be on the safe side I packed a cooler full of ice, water, Gatorade and Coke for my support crew to take to Great Falls. I made sure I had plenty of Gu, Power Blasts, and snacks (even Swedish Fish!) for refueling. I did everything I could to prepare and then just let the day unfold.

There were five of us who had planned and trained together since the start of the year. We were ready, we were excited and we had a plan. We had spent the last several long training runs trying to prepare our bodies for the challenge that laid ahead. We planned to eat every 30 minutes though out the day and to drink as much as we could. This strategy had worked well in training, so we felt confident it would work on race day.

We started out in Algonquian Park at 5:00 am and headed down the Potomac Heritage Trail towards Great Falls. This stretch from Algonquian to Great Falls was about 15 miles, then we had three 7 miles loops to do in Great Falls before heading back to the finish line. Starting out we just wanted to find our pace, settle in and stick to our plan. Jodi and I agreed to stick together on our way out. For the most part is was an uneventful 15 miles. The scenery was beautiful! I always finding myself thinking about the amazing history in the DC area and wonder what this area was like in the early years of this great city. We chatted, we laughed and we genuinely had fun. At one point we had a very pleasant surprise when Jodi's mother-in-law, Roz, appear along the trail to cheer us on! It was the first time (of many to come) when I was over come with emotions and felt the love and support of so many others.

About 8:15 am we entered Great Falls, where we were eagerly greeted by family and friends, who proved to be the best support/pit crew in the world. We refilled our water packs, grabbed a quick bite, had cold water poured over our head, hugged, high fived and took off for our first loop. The best part was that we knew in 7 miles we would be back to see the smiling faces, cheers, ice, drinks and food!

Great Fall is a tough place to run, even under normal circumstance, but add the fact that we had already run 15 miles, it was even more difficult. Each loop consisted of two steep out and backs and one loop across the rocks overlooking the Potomac River! In order to conserve energy we walked up most of the hills and then ran down the other side. This was a great plan, except that I am a big chicken on the down hills! But I did the best I could by trying to relax on the down hills. This plan seemed to work well, so we stuck with it.

We looped around, came back into Great Falls and were again greeted with cheers! It was such a happy feeling to see so many wonderful friends and family. It also felt like a NASCAR pit stop. Jodi and I each had 3-4 people fussing over us all at once and before we knew it we were off again. Each time we left our support I had to take a few deep breaths and relax again. It was such a rush and I felt so good as I headed out on the next loop, but I knew I needed to relax and just stick to my plan. To me if felt as if each loop got shorter and went by faster. I am sure this is simply because I knew what to expect, but I was thrilled as I crossed the rocks for the last time and came back into the park, hand in hand with my 8 year old Tarynn (both my girls met me on the final set of rocks and ushered me through the check point)!

With 35 miles done we were ready to head back to Algonquian. We did our final checks, made sure we had enough water and food for our final stretch and picked up our pacers. We hugged and thanked everyone and started on our way. Because we had no idea how we would be feeling, both Jodi and I had planned to have pacers join us for the final 15 miles. My friend, Brian, had offered to be my pacer and to run me into the finish. I was feeling so good at this point and so excited to be heading back I could hardly contain myself.

Almost immediately after leaving Great Falls, we had to climb (yes I mean climb) up a huge hill! And the first negative thoughts popped into my head. I quickly shook them off, reminding myself that this was just one hill, that there were downhills after this and I could do it. These were my only negative thoughts for the day. Once I got up the hill and caught my breath, I felt great and continued to feel good the rest of the way. There were several other big hills, all of which we had gone over earlier in the day and I was as prepared as I could be for each one. At the bottom of one, I came around the corner and realized that it was the final hill of the course! I couldn't believe it, I was thinking I had one more hill to go! I was so excited I starting jumping up and down with a huge smile on my face and look at Brian in utter disbelief, "This was the last hill?!" I said, still not quite believing it myself. Brian laughing at me, said "yep" and we are almost back! Only about 5 miles to go!!! Wow, I thought! This was the first time I realized that I was going to finish 50 mile! I was so excited and proud, I just wanted to keep running towards the finish.

We plodded along, mostly jogging but with short walk breaks. As we approached the final aid station I was feeling really good, but I was ready to be done. I was ready to see my family and friends and to express my gratitude to them all for being there for me. From the aid station, we had a 2 mile out and back before we followed the path the final 1.6 mile. I knew I needed a plan to get through these final 4 miles. So I planned to run the first mile, then walk a mile and run the rest of the way in. "I am running across that finish line!" I exclaimed! This proved to be a great plan!

As I made the final turn from the gravel path to the golf path leading to the finish line, I saw Simon and Ellie (Jodi's husband and daughter). They were such a welcome site! They gave me that little extra boost to keep on running towards the finish line. As we continued a man walking along the path congratulated me and I began to tear up, but smiled the best I could and kept on running. Approaching the final 100 meters, I passes a large group of spectators who cheered so loudly for me (and they didn't even know me!) I really started to cry. For the first time I looked at Brian and said, "Oh my, I am going to do this. I am going to finish 50 miles! I can't believe it!" Brian smiled back, equally as proud and said "of course you are, you are awesome!" (what great support).

The next thing I saw blew my mind! I saw all of my friends and family just outside the finish line, literally jumping up and down screaming and yelling for me!! I couldn't believe it and that feeling of love and support still brings me to tears! Once again Tarynn ran out to meet me and together we crossed the finish line hand in hand!! It was so amazing to be able to share this with her and the rest of my family!

Needless to say, the hour that followed was filled with lots of hugs, high fives, laughter, tears, recaps of the run, food and drink and amazement of what we accomplished! Jodi, Jess, Michiel and Chris all crossed the finish line with smiles! Together we did it and are thankful for each other and astonished at the accomplishment we achieved. I am eternally thankful to my husband Bill, my girls Ashlynn and Tarynn, my brother Kevin and friends; Dora, Brooke, Maddie, Kira, Little Brian and of course Brian for being the best pacer ever. 

Will I do it again? Probably, but for now I want to enjoy my amazing day and feel good about just finishing! This is certainly a moment I will never forget!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Keeping a Positive Attitude: Not always easy to do

When I started to train for the 50 miler, I did something that I had never really done before. I wrote out in a calendar what each run was supposed to be, how far in either miles or time. Then, focusing on the weekend long runs, I noted which days on the weekends I knew I would get my runs in, which ones I had conflicts and would not be able to run and the Saturdays and Sundays I might be able to run if I was creative and motivated. In other words, I made a plan. As I am sure is the same for many of you, making a plan and sticking to the plan are two entirely different things. How would I grade myself for sticking to my plan? About a C-, I am always harder on myself than anyone else would be; but then who am I doing all of this for? ME!

Over the past month, since I have last written, I have been able to get in some but not all of the "required" longer runs, 16, 18, 20 miles (several times each) and one 26.2 mile, when I ran the Rock and Roll DC on March 16. I have just over 2 more months to train, put put in the miles and time on my feet needed to prepare my body for the 50 miles of trails! I KNOW I can do this, I know I can complete the distance and finish the run. But that does not keep all of the negative thoughts from creeping into my crazy, overstuffed, swirling brain.

I never quite know when these nasty negative thoughts may occur. Sometimes it is when I am rushing around trying to get my work done so I can get the kids to their activities; I think "how in the world am I going to be able to train and run 50 miles while working and taking care of my family?"  Or it happens when I am doing more mundane chores like washing dishes or folding cloths, I start wondering "am I eating enough to stay fueled for all this training? how am I ever going to pull this off?". Often times it is when I fall into bed, exhausted from the day, when the flashes of doubt start swirling around. However the worst is when all those nagging, unwelcomed, self-doubting feelings invade my head during my long runs! Which is exactly what started to happen on March 16 while running the RnR Marathon.

The decision to register for the RnR was made a couple weeks after I wrote down my training plan. I noticed the weekend of March 16-17, I was set to run 4 hours one day and 3.5 hours the next. "Well," I thought, "I could head out on the trusty WO&D and run close to a marathon by myself, or I could go downtown with a bunch of friends and run the marathon along with 30,000 others? Hmmm? I guess, I will run the marathon!" Many of my friends were participating as well, some in the half and some doing the full. "It will be a fun training run," I thought to myself.

In the weeks leading up to the marathon (training run) I built up my miles and felt ready to run the 26.2 distance. As my friends continued to prepare for their spring race, I continued to tell myself, "it is just a training run, it is just a training run!" And really that is how I tired to approach it. Until the day of the race and my competitiveness kicked in and I wanted more. I wanted to run and do well. I wanted to feel strong the whole way. I wanted to recover quickly.

My running friends and I were excited in the days before the marathon. We went the to expo together to get our bibs and feel the excitement of the entire event. Then early Saturday morning we all met and rode down to RFK together and walked to the starting line. Just before leaving the car I received a text from one of my best running buddies, Brooke, that simply said "Run Strong Run Relaxed".

Jodi and I started out in the same corral, we crossed the starting line excited and ready to take on the 26.2 miles. Jodi is one of the strongest people I know. Last year, just weeks after running the 2012 Rock and Roll Marathon, she blew out her ACL while skiing with her family. Since then she had two knee surgeries and suffered from two (scary) blood clots and has trained for her 10th marathon! She is awesome and I was excited to be running with her. As we headed down Constitution Ave, passing the beautiful Monuments and Memorials of Washington DC, we felt strong, we were in awe of the beautiful city that is our Nation's Capital. We focused on settling into a conservative pace, with the goal of being able to build towards the finish and cross the finish line feeling strong.

As I crossed the Memorial Bridge, about 3 miles in, a stitch formed in my right side. I tried to control my breathing hoping the stitch would subside. With each step and stab of pain the negative thoughts began to creep into my mind."I am not ready for this," "I am not a real athlete," "What was I thinking, I can't even run a marathon, what makes me think I can run 50 miles?" Jodi tried to remind me how hard I trained and that I was more than ready for this training run. I listened and felt grateful for her support. Then I remembered my text from early in the morning "Run Strong Run Relaxed". I realized at that point that I needed to take charge of my thoughts and I began my mantra "I am strong, I am relaxed." I think I repeated it for the next 4-5 miles. My stitch began to fade and I felt stronger. I kept running.

Because this was "just a training run" I had made a plan to take a nutrition break and walk at miles 10, 15 and 20. I ran though the 10 mile marker, so I reset my plan and took my breaks at mile 14, 17 and 21. In between each break, I found the negative thoughts trying to slide back in and each time I focused and repeated my manta again "Run Strong Run Relaxed, Run Strong Run Relaxed."

Before I knew it, I was at mile 24 and could almost see the finish line. I did my best to relax, keep my pace even and finish strong. As I came around the final bend, Dora and Michael were there cheering for me. Dora joined me for about 100 yards encouraging me, "you are strong, you are relaxed" she said. Rounding the final turn I heard cheering from all sides, but then realized they were yelling for me, well at least a group of my friends, including my brother Kevin, were all there cheering me on! I could feel their strength and excited and I crossed the finish line with my arms in the air.

My final time was only minutes slower than my best marathon time. Initially I was disappointed in my marathon, but as I took the time to digest the morning and replay it in my head I realized that what I had accomplished was so much more than just 26.2 miles. I had overcome my running demons. I had negitive thoughts float in and out of my head, but I have beat them. I proved to myself that I could push those nasty, unwanted thoughts away and focus on myself and succeed. In the end I feel one step closer to my 50 mile goal. After all it is just one step at a time, isn't it?

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Creativity and Balance: the goal of this trainging cycle

Before I drive myself totally crazy, I need to start thinking out of the box a little to get the most out of my training plan. It is frustrating to say the least, when I start looking at the upcoming weekends and can not think of one weekend where I do not have some sort of commitment at least one day and in some cases both days are busy. Unfortunately I am not talking about the next couple of weeks, but rather the next few months! This is not meant to be a complaint, I will be doing all sorts of things (some fun and some work related); running a swim meet, working a race, watching my daughter's gymnastics meet, work meetings and the list goes on. This is life and not one I would change. Yes, it would be nice to have the weekends off so I could run anytime I wanted but that is not my reality.

There are lots of different training plans out there for everything from a 5K to a 100 mile trail run. Thanks to Google, I found, what I think, is a very reasonable plan for my 50 miler in June from Running World (50 miler training plan). Basically it calls for Mondays and Fridays off, Tuesday and Thursday tempo/speed work, easy Wednesdays and two long runs on the weekend, starting 16 weeks out from the event. Not too bad, easy to follow, reasonable build up, should be very manageable. BUT, it doesn't take into consideration my crazy weekend/work schedule or life in general.

This weekend was week 1 of my training plan, calling for a 90 minute run on Saturday and 3 hours on Sunday. I had a great week running, getting in 34 miles (the best week I have had in weeks!), I was excited about finding a flicker (the beginnings of a new running spark) and getting started with my "official" training. However this weekend like so many others was busy (and COLD) and I didn't run. Saturday I was working until 4:30 and then went out to dinner with my husband and girls. Again on Sunday I was up early and worked until 1:00. Tired, I took a nap with the thought that I would get out for a 6-7 mile run when I got up (as a friend said, naps fix just about everything!). But in the end I again chose to spend time with one of the kids; we got ice cream, went to the grocery store and just hung out together for a while, something we rarely seem to have the time to do. It was a busy, but good weekend, even if I didn't run.

With this plan, the weekday runs maintain roughly the same milage all the way through, but the goal of the weekend runs is to systematically increase the time on your legs; starting with 90 minutes per run and building to 5 1/2 hour long runs. One weekend when a 4 hour run is planned I have decided to run the Rock and Roll USA Marathon, I figured why run 4 plus hours on my own, when I can run with thousands of others through streets of DC. Additionally I hope to find some new routes along the local trails and to run different segments along the WO&D.  

I hope to get in as many of my long runs as possible, but realize that with my busy schedule I am going to have to miss some. I will probably run more some weeks and less other weeks but I am going to have to be creative to make sure I get in as many of the longer run as I can. I am going to have to be flexible and to switch up the days of my long runs. I am going to have to adapt and know that in the end I will do the best that I can and I will finish my race. I have to believe I can do it and not let myself get discouraged when it is too cold to run, I work all weekend or I choose to spend a little extra time with my family. At the end of the day and at the end of the race, I know I have to find creative ways to balance all aspects of my life and I am going to enjoy my journey!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Needing a New Spark

Next weekend, February 16-17, marks the first "official" week of my training cycle for the North Face 50 miler, set for Saturday June 1. And I must admit I am starting to feel a bit apprehensive. The last few weeks I have not trained like I had intended to. My plan had been to run regularly during the week and then build up my weekend runs to 16 plus miles. Well, that just hasn't happened.

Unusually cold/icy weather and a busy work schedule have led to a recent lack of motivation and lower milage than I had hoped for. Like anytime I take a break, getting back to a regular schedule is always tough, but for me the cold weather is only making it more difficult.

If you know me at all you probably know I am not a fan of the cold weather. In fact I hate being cold more than just about anything. Add waking up at 5:00 am, heading out the door to hit the road by 5:30 am is almost unimaginable and even a little nutty.

Sometime, though, it is not the cold that keeps me from running, but my crazy, wacky schedule, especially on the weekends. January and February are typically very busy months for me. Nearly every weekend I am working an event; a swim meet, a gymnastics meet or a 5K for =PR=. In all cases, I enjoy my work and love being a part of such events, but it does often mean that I have to skip a run or two.

I know that, just like I tell my kids, the first couple of runs back are always the hardest. And I know I need to just get out there and run and within a week, I will be back to "normal". I know an early morning run with my friends always start my day out right. It will only take a few days and a few runs to get back in the swing of things and I know I will be ready to train and ready for the 50 miler when the time comes. I just need the spark to get myself going again!

I will find that spark, I will run tomorrow and I will start my training cycle this weekend. Sure, I will miss some runs, here and there, but I will keep trying to get out there and I will succeed! I will train hard and have fun and on June 1 I will cross the finish line of the North Face 50 miler side by side with the Honey Badgers and know that I found my spark!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Track Workouts: The Necessary Evil

It is 5:01 am and my alarm blares loudly, I quickly turn it off so that I don’t wake up my husband or 8 year old who is snuggled up in between the two of us. I take a deep breath and think to myself, “If it is raining I am getting back in bed!” I roll out of bed and tip toe down stairs and am greeted with a frigid blast of air as I crack open the front door to check the early morning weather. It is wet, but doesn’t appear to be raining…Damn! Then I quickly check my phone to see if anyone cancelled for the morning. Nope, just a text making sure I am still on my way…Damn! I stop for a brief second to consider the possibility of climbing back in bed, but instantly realize that if I don’t go I will regret it the rest of the day, so I rush back upstairs in the dark and put on my running clothes making sure I am in plenty of layers ( just in case I get warm). Grab my jacket, water bottle, a banana and head out the door ready to meet up with the Honey Badgers. Thank goodness my truck has seat warmers!

 It is Wednesday morning, which only means one thing…TRACK PRACTICE!  Some people say they love track, others seem to have a love/hate relationship, for me, I guess I would say I tolerate it, but there is certainly no love. It is simply a necessary evil, as far as I am concerned. Track practice and doing speed work are important training tools even for long distance running. It is an opportunity to build strength and push us in ways we can not push ourselves otherwise or on long runs. It is essential, I do it, I am glad when it is over I am energized by rush it gives me…but I never look forward to it.

 I arrive at the Starbucks parking lot at 5:15, just hoping for a few more minutes of the warmth in my car. While I am getting my gloves, ear warmers and head lamp on I notice it is starting to drizzle. “UGH”, I take a deep breath climb out of my truck to greet the gang. Within minutes we are headed off down the trail, on our way to the track, already talking and laughing.

 During the school year, we usually finish track about the same time school starts and learned (the hard way), that we do not want to get stuck in the parking lot as the students are coming to school. So we park about ¾ of mile away and run along a trail to the local HS Track, where we finish our warm up and stretch, before the workout begins.

 Today we are doing 3 miles warm up (and yes, I did warm up and even took off my top layer), then a fast 800, easy 400, fast 400 (1 mile total), four times, followed by a 2 mile cool down, which includes the run back to the cars. The one nice thing about track is even though we are all different speeds; we can pretty much stick together, we there to encourage and push each other throughout the entire workout. We might not be running side by side, but we are all in it together.

 As we finish warm up it starts to rain harder, and it is cold. Fortunately, our bodies are warm and our minds are numb (or maybe our bodies are numb and we are just out of our mind! It is hard to tell this early in the morning!) I grab a quick sip of water and start on the speed work, 800 fast (that is two laps around the track). “I am only going to do three,” I tell myself. Knowing full well I will do all four in the end. But somehow pretending I am going to do less makes me feel better.

 As I complete the first hard 800 and settle into the easy 400, I started reminiscing about college, when I would get up early in the morning to head to the pool for practice. I swam all four years at West Virginia University on a scholarship, so practicing early in the morning was something “I had to do.” But now, 20 years later, I am running around in circles (strangely similar to swimming up and down the pool) on a cold, dark, rainy morning, by my own free will! My how times have changed! I start my fast 400, trying to focus on my speed. By the time I finish the first set, it is raining hard, the rain drops stinging a bit as they hit my face.

 It is still raining as I finish up my third set, but I am in a groove and don’t mind quite as much now. I am almost done, that is all that matters now, the finish line is in sight! I start my final set and run by the others taking their break between sets, “Great job” they yell, as I run past, which gives me that little boost I need to get through the final set. Finally I am done, I am breathing hard, I am wet and steam is pouring from my body, emphasizing the extreme temperature difference. The rain is beginning to slow as I start my cool down laps. Within minutes we have all finished the hard part of the workout, once we are all together we let out a little victory “WHOOP” and finish our laps. We gather our things and head back down the trail to our cars.

 As we head home, we talk about our plans for the day, what we have going on and plan our next run. I start cooling down and I am getting cold, but I am exhilarated by the workout and love sharing this with such great friends. I know there was no way I would have stepped out my front door on a cold, rainy morning,  if it wasn’t for my  friends waiting for me and there to encourage me. Track is a necessary evil, but I guess really it is not all that bad! Until next Wednesday!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

For the Greater Good: =PR= & Saucony Trail Run

It is mid-January and the weathermen predicted a beautiful, sunny and 60 plus degree day: perfect for a trail run in Algonkian Park. Potomac River Running (=PR=), a locally owned Running Apparel Company and Saucony joined forces and planned a trail run on Sunday January 13. Algonkian is located in Sterling, Virginia and is home to a beautiful trail that stretches and winds for miles and miles along the scenic Potomac River. It is also the home of the North Face Endurance Challenge, where I will be running the 50 miler in June.

In May of 2012, I starting working for =PR= as part of their event staff. While there a many aspects of my job, one of my responsibilities is to help with various events hosted by PR. We have hosted holiday parties at various stores, scavenger hunts along the WO&D trails, evening fun run and more! (for a complete listing of PR events see the calendar page).

Today, along with Saucony, we hosted a trail run, complete with water, donuts and hot chocolate! PR provided the treats and Saucony was on site to provide trail shoes for runners to test drive and ViZoPRO vests to wear.

The trail run provided a great training opportunity for me, since we would be running along the same course as the North Face. I planned to meet up with my friends (the Honey Badgers) and we were going to tackle the trails together. I was excited and really looking forward to fun, the challenge and the training.

At at work meeting earlier in the week with Keira, a member of the PR Event & Marketing Team, she mentioned that we had over 200 RSVP's for the Trail Run with Saucony! Wow, 200 people plan to come and run the trail, this was going to be fun! With the amazing weather predictions, we were sure it be a hugely successful event.

As I woke and dressed early this morning I planned for a beautiful sunny day, but as in my usual manner, I took several additional layers "just in case" (I really hate being cold, so I almost always have an extra layer or two on hand!) Fortunately I had the extra layers, because, as is often the case in the DC area, the weathermen were a little off on their forecast. It was in the mid-40s, foggy and misty. As I drove to the park early to help Keira set up, I wondered how many people would choose to stay home snuggled in their warm beds. It didn't take long to get the answer to my question, within about 30 minutes over 130 people had assembled, braving the cold misty morning ready to run the trails. The runners ranged from first timers to well seasoned trail runners. After all of the shoes and vests were handed out, directions were given and we were set to go...

I worked with Keira checking in and greeting everyone, gave general instructions and had a great time seeing friends and meeting more member of our great running community. With so many registered we quickly realized we needed more donuts! As everyone put themselves into groups and set off along the trail, I decided to stay back and "man the fort" while Keira hurried out to buy more donuts for the hungry trail runners.

I was naturally a little disappointed at not being able head out along the trail, test the terrain, and run with my buddies. But I really enjoyed manning base camp and greeting the sweaty and muddy runners as they returned by offering them donuts, water and hot chocolate. The smiles on the faces of each runner as they returned made me smile and realize how much I love my job, being part of the =PR= Team and such an amazing community of people who just simply love to run. For over an hour I welcomed runners back (we asked that each runner check in and out, so we were sure not to lose anyone out on the trail), listened to their stories of mud, rocks, creeks, hills, fun (getting lost) and helped collect the jackets and muddy shoes! Thank you =PR=, Saucony and all of the runners who braved the weather. I will be out there next time, hitting the trails with you!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Making Friends...with my Foam Roller

In all aspects of life it is important to have friends. Friends help in many ways, they laugh with us, cry with us, support us through good times and bad. They can get you into or out of trouble, make you happy or mad. But most of all friends are there to help you when you need it most. Sometime the friend you need most when you are a runner is the one making you do something you just don't want to taking time each day to stretch and foam roll your legs!

If you run any significant amount of miles on a daily basis, you know the aches and pains your legs feel. Even when you are in good shape the constant pounding can really do a number on your leg muscles, joints, ligaments and tendons! Every runner knows they should stretch and or roll on the roller (daily), but seriously and be honest, how many of you really do it (daily). If you are the one sitting in the front of the room with your hand raised, good for you! But if you are like me and the rest of the class, then you are probably sitting there with your eyes on your feet, hoping the coach is not looking directly at you!

Last year I had high hopes and big plans for 2011. I was training for the Marine Corp Marathon and New York Marathon, back to back weekends in October/November and had registered for the Goofy (part of the Disney Marathon Weekend, where you run the half on Saturday and the full on Sunday in early January), it was all going well until the end of August when I started to feel a slight pain on the outside of my left knee. It wasn't so bad that it kept me from running, so I continued to train regularly and did what many do, tried my best to ignore the pain. I even remember saying, "I am not really injured, I just have a "tweak" in my knee!" I made it through the early fall with only a minor increase of  pain, but still not so bad that I couldn't manage.

My plan had been to race MCM and go for a best time, then run NYC just to say I did it. One week between marathons is not recommended or the best idea even under ideal circumstances, but since getting into NYC in nearly impossible, I was going to give it a go. Unfortunately, due to circumstances, unrelated to my knee pain, I had to drop out of the NYC marathon in the early fall, I was frustrated and disappointed but still has my sights set on MCM. As race day approached I was feeling more and more anxious about my knee pain. I was generally able to run at least 18 miles before my knee really started to hurt, I figured with adrenaline pumping and crowds cheering I could make it a few more miles without too much discomfort.

As the starting cannon (yes, cannon, this was the Marine Corp Marathon!) boomed me and 30,000 of my nearest and dearest friends started off on our 26.2 mile trek. About 3 miles into the race I ran into one of my training buddies and first time marathoner, Amy! We were so excited to have found each other so early in the race. We ran most of the race together talking and laughing, pushing and encouraging each other, like friends do. Together we tackled Haines Point, flew past monuments, ran past the Capital and "beat the bridge"...then came Crystal City (mile 21-23). By the time I left Crystal City, with the finish line in our "sights" my knee really started to give me trouble. Every step I took felt like a knife we jabbing the outside of my knee. I did my best not to hobble, as I didn't want to cause more problems later, and hung tough until about mile 25. Not wanting to hold Amy back I encouraged her to finish strong and said I would see her after the race. I slowed a bit and finished the best I could. And in fact it was a best, I had run my best time by over 6 minutes and I was thrilled! My knee hurt, my legs were tired, but I had PR'd in my marathon and I was happy.

It is normal to take a few weeks off of running after a marathon to give your body time to rest and recover. Or at least a week off and then start back with a couple of slow easy runs. But, not me, I still had a race to train for, I had a goal, I was running the Goofy in January. So instead of resting or giving my knee a much needed break. I took a few days off and then set out for a 8 mile run. I figured I would start out easy and see how it went. The first mile wasn't too bad, but as I rounded the corner and started on the second mile I felt a pain so sharp in my knee that I nearly crumbled to the ground. I stopped gathered myself and set out again, made it about 1/2 mile and again another jab to the knee. Now at this point, I was nearly two miles from home and about 3/4 of a mile from a friends house, running was out of the questions, so I walked, and then begged my dear friend for a ride home.

After giving me a hard time for running so soon after my marathon, my friend suggested I call a doctor she knew. I really didn't want to go to the doctor because I wasn't really injured, it was just a tweak, right?!. But being the best of friend, she convinced me to call. To my surprise, they were able to get me in early the next week. Upon examination, we found that I had "IT Syndrome" (very common running injury, basically tightness of the ilio-tibial band, which is the tissue on the outside of the leg that runs from the hip to just below the knee) he did tell me I had to take time off, but only 2 weeks and I could still exercise as long as biking and the elliptical didn't bother my knee (which they didn't), so I was able to continue to train for the Goofy. Dr. Thompson is a Sports Medicine Chiropractor and his goal for his patients is to keep them moving. I went in three times a week for various treatments and was told to stretch and roll on a foam roller every night at home. Ugh...rolling every night, really?! But I did as I was told and I started to see improvements.

As it turned out, I wasn't able to keep up with the training like I had wanted and decided that it was best if I sat this Goofy out. I continued with treatments and by Christmas (Christmas Eve day to be exact) I was able to start running again pain free!!! WooHoo! I kept up the rolling, but truthfully only a few nights a week, for a few more weeks. But as I felt better and better, I did less and less rolling. Soon the roller was all but a forgotten toy laying behind the living room chair.

2012 has come gone injury free. I ran a half marathon in March, a 50K trail race in June, then trained and race the Marine Corp Marathon again in October...all without pain! So here I am in January of 2013, still pain free, but training for the longest run yet....50 miles. I have the usual aches, pains and muscle soreness associated with miles and miles, but so far nothing to be worried about. Nearly every day I see my old friend, the foam roller, laying abound my house looking sad and lonely (the kids don't even play with it anymore) and think to myself that I really need to take care of my legs and roll a little bit each night. I still enjoy the love, support and encourage of my dear running friends, so I guess it is time to reacquaint myself with my friend, the foam roller! After all, we all need a few good friends to help us through this journey called life.