Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The highs and lows of training

Alternate title: The highs and lows of training and a hundred selfies and pics of me.

Gosh. I am a week and a half out from my marathon and already in taper! I can't believe that. I actually just opened up this blog entry to edit it as I originally wrote it (apparently) two weeks ago because the opening line was "I am 4 weeks out from my marathon and at the point in training where I feel like I am just trying to hang on. Take one day, one workout, one run at a time and focus on that - not thinking about what I have to do next or what I have already done."

Yet, just like that, I am through all of the hard stuff and sitting with my feet in an Epsom salt bath after a rest day just trying to catch up (also - I will probably be posting this a different day, so that may not be literal in the moment.)

Berlin Marathon will be my 5th marathon, which I could say over and over but it still boggles my mind that saying statement is true. There is so much that has changed from the time that I sat down to write in this space when I was training for my first marathon. Yet so much is also the same. I am still scared and nervous for the race itself. I am still intimidated and humbled by the training process. I am still doing workouts with friends who motivate and encourage me and help carry me through the tough times. I am still fighting the elements and managing throughout challenging weather and other unpredictable things that pop up (oh hey Hurricane Irma!) I am still having fun and loving the sport of running.

You'd think that transitioning from training for triathlon to marathon, I would be more in my element. A race I am more seasoned at. One sport. One pair of sneakers. One thing to do. One focus. I am more experienced and have done this many times before, right?

Well, despite how much is the same there is also so much that is different. My goals have changed from just finishing the race to meeting specific times. My training has changed from just going out and hitting mileage to hitting paces. I'm running tempo, speed, and hill workouts instead of just running. I am running 6 days a week instead of 4. I'm fighting heat and humidity vs. snow and ice and freezing temps (from my first round of marathon training for Paris.) I am trying to figure out how I can run comfortably with as little clothes on as possible instead of those Paris-training days that involved two pairs of pants, two pairs of socks, foot warmers, duct tape, up to 4 layers on top, and ski masks that covered my whole face. My training partners have changed. My city has changed. I have changed.

But with every training cycle there are ups and downs, highs and lows, things that break you down and things that build you up and inspire you. That part of marathon never changes and that's one of the reasons I love it so much. There are days you feel like you need to be scraped off the sidewalk and days that you are blasting the music as soon as you get in the car and dancing your way to work because that runners high is just so good. No? That's just me having solo dance parties in my car? Okay, that's fine. I wouldn't trade it!

I decided to share some of the highs and lows that I have experienced throughout this training cycle. I didn't really want to use the word "low" because I don't really feel like I ever got super "low" during this training cycle. However there were certainly things that tested and challenged me and so for that reason, let's use the world "challenges" and start with those.

Berlin Marathon Training Challenges

- Struggling with change in myself. I documented this a bit in my past blogs but seeing myself change from a casual runner to one with more aggressive goals has mostly been exciting but has also left me at times feeling nostalgic and missing easy morning runs with my friends. Managing that adjustment has been one of the challenges throughout this cycle.

- Early mornings and evenings. To be honest, this has been less of a struggle than in past years. I think because training for a marathon at 30/31 is a bit different then at 27/28. Those couple of years make a difference and have changed the social activities that my friends and I like to do. Most of us don't like to stay up late, enjoy activities that take place earlier in the evening, or have their own races that they are training for as well! However, there have definitely been more than one occasion where I have turned down activities that sounded like a lot of fun because they were taking place past my desired bedtime. It makes me feel really lame when I have to do that and had me question my goals and decisions.

- Balancing relationships. Along those lines, I maintaining relationships has been a bit of a challenge through this training cycle as well. I won't get into it too in depth, but ultimately I've had some struggles with balancing my time. Whether it is making the time to respond to text messages, see everyone as much as I would like, or just fit everything in. It's hard. And I've had to make choices and I'm not always sure if they are the right ones.

- Frustration with weight. This training cycle my weight has been a little bit of a struggle for me. I keep it all in perspective so I go into this being very, very aware of how far I have come and where I am right now. I started marathon training at my lowest weight I have ever been in my adult life. That is because I started marathon training after working on my fitness and diet throughout all of 2017 as I worked towards Chattanooga Half Ironman and my springtime goal. I started in an amazing place and have maintained a weight that I have never even really seen in my adult life for months now. Here is a pic I took months ago, but it was the first time I ever have gotten on one of those slidey scales and not had to put the big one on "150" and could start it at "100" so I thought it was picture worthy.

That being said, I had the hopes to keep the trend going and continue to lower my weight. I set a goal that is about 5 pounds lower than where I am right now. I thought it was a really doable goal but I really struggled these past months. I went week after week of being stuck without budging. And yes, I know the whole building muscle logic. And I know I in a great place. I feel comfortable with how I look. However, I have felt frustrated when week after week of training hard, skipping alcohol, avoiding dessert, and managing my meal plan - the number doesn't budge. Then it would, and I'd have a set back from vacation or my birthday or travel. So it's just been "a challenge" although I am really proud of where I am right now at the same time.

- Chafing. Whyyyyyy has it been so bad this time around?? I am going to get into a little bit of "real talk" in this bullet in a number of different ways, but this marathon I have had more problems with chafing on my best than I ever have before. I am pretty sure I have a couple scars that I wouldn't be surprised if they were there permanently. Now, my guess is that it has had to do with changes in my body and me not adapting my gear/clothing. As I have been working on getting leaner, stronger, and fitter, I have been working to lower my body fat percentage and with that, my chest size has gotten smaller. I have not replaced all of my bras in this one year so I think many of my bars are slightly bigger for me than they need to be, which causes them to move around a bit more and hence - really bad chafing.

- Trying new things. You are going to read this later in the post under the "highs" so before you think I am crazy. I fully think it is possible for something to be both a challenge and a high. I did a lot of new stuff in this training cycle and that can be really hard. There were so many runs where I was unsure if I could do what I saw in my schedule. So many weeks that what I looked at felt undoable and I was scared. I was scared because it was different and unlike any training I'd done before. I worried that the new things would cause me to injure myself or if I would be ready. I have run a high weekly volume throughout this training cycle but one new thing that has been a challenge is not going really long on a single run. The most I've run this training cycle at one time is 16 miles. I usually get up to 20 in my marathon training and that makes me nervous and scares me! I have to just trust in my coaching and my plan but straying from a training cycle and a process that is familiar to me since I have done this 4x before is a bit of a challenge for me.

- Wondering if you're making the right choices. I love what I do. I really do. I wouldn't do it if I didn't love the way it made me feel and the time I spend with this sport. Maybe it's the world of "FOMO" or maybe it's a natural feeling that people have always had. But as I have a goal that is more aggressive than I feel comfortable that I can achieve, I wonder to myself, if I don't make it... will all this work be worth it? I also wonder, if I do make it, will all this work be worth it? I am 30 years old and there are other things in my life that I would like beyond just running a marathon in my goal time (or doing a triathlon in my goal time.) I wonder if I am making the right choices by putting so much of my time into this one goal and not working harder at others. OR, I think about all the pain and bad things in the world and the amount of time and energy I put into a goal that ultimately does little to impact the world and just serves me, makes me question why I do it. Sometimes I sit and wonder, "What if I spent all this time that I spent training and focused on improving my running times on solving some of the real problems of the world and our society?" It's a lofty thought and would make for a better conversation over drinks than a blog paragraph, but something that creeps into my mind.

And now, more importantly, the best parts about this whole process. The highs :)

Berlin Marathon Training Highs:

- Pushing myself.
I'm not going to lie there have been a couple weeks that I have looked at my training schedule and the thought of how I was going to get through the weekly mileage has made me want to puke. Or the track workout scares the crap out of me. Or the number of lunges my coach gives me to do feels impossible and like my legs will give out. However, this whole training cycle, I've kept pushing myself. I haven't quit any workout. I haven't skipped any workout. I haven't stopped short on any amount of lunges or cut minutes or corners off my big workouts. I have pushed myself in new ways and am training in a way that I never thought possible to me. I see every week and every workout as a challenge and I don't want to back down. And that doesn't mean that I treat every workout like race day. It's quite the opposite actually. I want to do my easy days easy. I want to do my hard days hard. I like to execute my training plan to the T and sometimes "pushing myself" means getting myself to hold back. If that makes any sense at all.

- Day to day high of nailing a workout. Man, I can't tell you how many mornings I have gone into work already with a pep in my step and a smile on my face because I was so proud of myself for how I did in a morning workout. I have always loved the feeling of accomplishment going into work in the morning already having worked out. Or during past marathon training cycles when my morning runs would get to 8-10 miles it would feel so exciting to go to work with that already accomplished. But that doesn't even compare to how good it feels to finish an 8 mile run in the morning that included 5 miles at a target pace. Or to feel super intimidated when a track workout is read aloud, I do my best to push myself through it, and then hold my breathe as my data uploads to my phone and I see I nailed it. Nothing compares to that high! These "highs" are immediate and felt in the moment, unlike some of the longer term affects of marathon training that take longer to be realized. It has been a challenging year and especially few months for work, so having this day-to-day high of a killer morning run has been so needed. They keep you motivated on a day to day basis.

- Trying new things. Pushing myself and nailing workouts are highs that come with every training cycle, those aren't necessarily unique to this one. It's funny because as I write this, memories of past training flash into my mind from even with the very early days, starting with "running to the beep" and never finishing a run until my watch said the exact mileage needed. When I did my 20-miler in Barcelona in preparation for my first marathon, my watch died at 19.2 miles. I went back inside, charged it, and returned to run until it said TWENTY. In that training plan (for my first marathon I used Hal Higdon's Novice 1 plan) I ran every single stinking mile that was on that plan, when I was supposed to run it - except for TWO AND A HALF miles. And those 2.5 miles still plague me. So some of the things above aren't totally new to me BUT this training cycle has brought so much other new stuff. This time around I am running a lot of my long runs based on time. My workouts involve new elements. I have been able to run in new places and with new people. And I have found little ways to just switch up my routine or try something new - whether it is nutrition, a new running belt, new shorts, or running in a hat vs. a headband. It might sound silly but little new things have been fun for me throughout this cycle.

- Diversity of running. Moving from triathlon training to marathon training and knowing I was going to be getting up to 6 days a week of running, I was a little worried I would get sick of it all. However, I really haven't! The diversity of the types of running I have been doing throughout this training cycle has made even a week of 6 days of running all feel really different. A normal week could consist of a track speed workout, hill repeats, tempo run, easy run, long run, trail run, and lots of things that have made every day feel so different. Changing things up on a daily basis has also caused me to change up who I see and where I go on a normal basis. I've been trying out different routes when I needed a change, running with different groups of friends, and just really exploring new sides of running I've never really done before. The diversity of running has really kept me from going 6 days a week and not getting stale and boring for me! I really enjoy it (except for when it's hard and I am hating it!)

- My skin. So, this is not training related but it has become apparent during training because usually one of the things that I am battling is my skin and the affect that can have on how I feel. Being in sticky sweaty clothing and the stress on my body would often cause my skin to break out worse with psoriasis and always tended to be something I struggled with during marathon training (or any training.) Since trying a new medication this year, it has been such a blessing that my skin has been clear. I hardly even remember that just earlier this year my skin was covered with psoriasis breakouts. This photo was from March and it wasn't even when it was at its worst.

Earlier this summer, I remember sitting on my floor stretching after a workout and looking at my legs and realizing for the first time "Wow. My skin looks so good right now." It made me so happy. Small changes happen slowly so I didn't really notice it right away until this moment and I snapped this picture and sent it to Brick.

I'm so thankful that the treatment plan I am on has continued to work for me and I have not had to worry about my skin AT ALL during this training cycle.

- Friendships. This has got to be high up on the list for this training cycle but it has been so great to keep finding new friends through this sport. And in addition to the new friends, I also grow closer with older friends with similar passions, and truly appreciate and value my friends who don't do these sorts of things but support me through it no matter what. Every day I am thankful for the people that I have around me to run with, to obsess over running with, who listen and get excited when I tell them the mile splits for my runs, celebrate things with me and stress over things that only a fellow runner would care to hear about. And at the same time, I am just as thankful for my friends who might not fully understand it but try to, OR the friends who could care less what pace I am running my long runs and help remind me that the world doesn't revolve around marathon. You need them all and I am so fortunate to continue to grow my community and my circle of people who are "my people." I am so thankful for the wonderful friendships that have blossomed while training this year.

- Hitting new milestones. I mean, this never gets old, does it? I love new milestones and have hit a number of them throughout this training cycle. I am running faster than I have before on some of my shorter runs, which is pretty cool to see. To be honest, my longer runs are about the same pace as when I was training for Chicago, so that isn't too different. But my weekly mileage has started to climb. Prior to this training cycle my highest weekly mileage I have ever run was 40 miles at the peak week of marathon training. I hit 49.7 one week and thought that was super exciting. I've now been regularly running +50 miles a week and topped out at 61.2 miles a week as my longest. I hit a milestone of 100 miles on the bike. Most number of days in a row of running. Longest trail runs. And so much fun stuff. I love the milestones and they seriously never get old!

- Seeing transformation. I mean this both in myself and when I think about some of my friends who are also training. I love when you can see personal growth happen. I love seeing the way that people talk about something change. Their words or tone or confidence all transform and adapt and build throughout a training cycle. Something that at one point seemed scary becomes normal. Something you once needed encouraging to do, is something you are now supporting others through. It's amazing to see this happen and it is something that happens inevitably when you are training for a hard goal. I have loved seeing this in myself and others over the past couple of months.

- My new watch!!! Okay, so all this mushy touchy feely stuff, I also have to include here that just a few weeks ago I got a new toy of the Garmin Fenix 5S multisport watch and I am in love with it. I have been hoarding and saving these reward points I get at work for literally 6-7 years and had finally found something that I wanted to cash them in for. It has a heart rate monitor built in so no more extra chafing around my sports bra (thank goodness!) and I wear it literally all the time, never taking it off even for work or showers or sleeping. I have never been much of a data person but it tracks everything and is pretty cool. You can build workouts into it, have it pace you, and it literally can do almost anything. It connects to my phone super seamlessly. I get text messages there and can control my music from it! It tells me the weather and my meetings and there are settings to track every different possible type of sport. I love it and it has been a really fun investment.

- Feeling badass. Another thing that comes every marathon cycle and one of the main reasons that I keep coming back to it. This feeling never gets old. There is no way that you can train for a marathon and not feel like a total badass. It is a high in it's own category and I love the badassery of marathon training! I go into work most mornings feeling like I have already accomplished more than I thought possible of myself and there is no way to deny the fact that I take those thoughts with me into the rest of my day. Running miles and miles through heat, hills, humidity, stress at home, work, and everything else = feeling badass. I love marathon training for this!

I want to say in summary, the highs are self explanatory. They are awesome. But the "challenges" are just that, challenges. For every one of the things I listed there, I could write a counter argument to why I love them. In some cases, without even realizing it, I did. "Trying new things" is on here on both lists and in many ways "struggling with change" mirrors "transformation" on the second list And honestly, I really have come to love waking up early in the mornings! I am continually questioning myself and my decisions, self-analyzing, reflecting, and contemplating why I do what I do. And I think that's a healthy part of growing up and maturing. The "challenges" on their own are also things that make me feel strong because they are things I have overcome, so I wouldn't want to not have them as part of this process. The challenges are also what makes marathon training great. Except maybe the chafing, the chafing I could do without!

Thanks for reading everyone. The countdown is on to Berlin!

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