Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Travels to Berlin Marathon - Warsaw, Poland

Hi everyone, I am writing to you from Warsaw, Poland where I took a break from walking around in the cold and drizzle to come warm up and relax a little before going out for dinner. I left on Monday afternoon for Warsaw, the first leg of my trip to Europe for this Sunday's Berlin Marathon! For a while, when I was traveling more often than I am right now, I would put together really detailed descriptions of my travel and I thought that would be something worth doing at least for this portion of the trip, since it is a new to me country and culture!

When planning out my trip, I knew that I wanted Munich to be a part of the visit following Berlin, and I then added two other cities that were both locations in countries I have been to before. I really wanted to be able to check a new country off of my list so settled on tacking Poland on to the beginning of my trip since Warsaw was a city I could get to Berlin from via train/car. I didn't want to have to do an inter-Europe flight, so when just looking at maps and seeing what major cities were closeby... Warsaw it became!

My travels over here were to be as expected. I always say that the worst part about traveling is actually traveling. I am not a huge fan of flying and some of the logistics that go along with it - however, I have done it enough and enjoy exploring new places enough, that it is just something you have to go through.

I left Atlanta at 3:00 p.m. which, at that time of day, I wasn't too tired so didn't get a whole lot of sleeping done on the flight. I did read my book, watch the movie Moonlight and some episodes of Silicon Valley, and listened to a number of podcasts that I had downloaded beforehand about the Berlin Marathon and got some helpful tips.

The route I traveled had me connecting through Amsterdam, where I arrived really tired and ready to go to bed, but it was actually 6:00 a.m. there. My flight was scheduled to leave Amsterdam at 9:45 a.m. but then got delayed to not leaving until 12:00 p.m. I ended up with about 6 sleepy hours in the airport that I spent napping in various places including a table in a food court area and across two chairs near the gate for my flight. It wasn't the most pleasant of times but I was glad I was able to sleep at all. It is significantly harder to sleep in airports than on the planes and I am always paranoid I will sleep through my flight or have my luggage stolen!

Arriving in Warsaw, I took a taxi to my hotel. My taxi driver gave me a mini tour of Warsaw as we drove through the city. He shared with me his opinions on which hotels were the best in the city, showed me where Donald Trump stayed when he was recently in Warsaw (the Marriot - on the 42nd floor - nobody was allowed on 10 floors below him while he was there!), where Al Pacino stayed when he visited Warsaw years ago, and pointed out to me when we drove by a supposedly famous Polish actor getting out of his car. He also shared his opinion on American actors such as the fact, "I first thought that Brad Pitt was just a good looking guy, but then I watched his movies and he is really good!"

His was my first experience of interacting with the Poles here and them really just being very blunt and straight-forward, not holding back at all with what they share with you. Our conversation turned interesting in the small times that it turned political. I couldn't quite figure him out - but concluded at the end that maybe he is just racist and an Islamaphobic - so that was great! He mentioned to me that he did not like to go to many parts of Italy because there are "too many immigrants," specifically mentioning from Africa and "Arabs."  Later in the conversation though, he pointed out where the nationalist party in Poland has their headquarters but mentioned he was not in favor of nationalism for Poland. His belief is that the country is not strong enough and that they need to be partnering and collaborating with the Germans and Swiss, etc. I didn't ask too many questions further on these topics, but he seemed very comfortable just sharing away. I thought to myself that this is a form of white privilege. Maybe one that I don't necessarily want to have, but, regardless, this guy saw me as someone he could share his views with. I was wondering what he would have talked about had one of my friends who is black had gotten into his cab that afternoon.

The hotel I stayed at is called the Castle Inn, it is a tiny "art hotel" whose entrance is hard to find off of a pedestrian only portion of the city in a really perfect location in Old Town area of Warsaw. There was a big creepy door that opened when you hit a buzzer and every room is different, the one I ended up with being a flower/garden type theme. It was pretty cute. And the location really was amazing.

I didn't stick around for too long, wanting to get out and take advantage of the time I had in Warsaw. I also wanted a real meal. However, first, I cleaned up and showered and relaxed a little. When I was checking in, I grabbed 3-4 of the brochures/pamphlets they had out with things to do in Poland. The girl working the check-in eyed me and goes, "Woah..." I was like, "Oh. Haha. Yeah, I just want to do some research." She totally rolled her eyes at me, which was my second interaction that made me feel like the Polish people really just hide how they feel!

Right outside of my hotel is the Castle Square. It reminded me of the squares in so many little European cities and I love sitting outside and eating in places like this. Since I was in need of lunch, I sat down right away and enjoyed some Polish perogies and a beet and goat cheese salad. The food was all really good - the salad was great - and the perogies were a bit greasy but still yummy. I was expecting Polish food to not be too high on the health meter so that was to be expected.

It was a gorgeous night and I continued to just walk around and explore Old Town, before starting to walk down Krakowskie Prezedmiesce street stopping into various shots and cafes along the way, checking out the trinkets, clothes, and ice cream flavors at each stop.

I've been very much debating whether or not to have ice cream while in Poland. I promised myself no ice cream before the marathon, but ice cream stops are EVERYWHERE in Warsaw and one of my favorite things is to try ice cream from all around the world. So far, no ice cream, but making no guarantees that will stick.

After walking around and shopping, I eventually made my way to meet up for dinner with colleagues of mine that are based in Poland. I have been working on a project to support the team in Poland for the past year and we have weekly calls but never met in person. A nice surprise on this trip was that the team was all in Warsaw this week for trainings, so we were able to connect and meet in person!

Dinner was an interesting experience! The group was very welcome and talkative and curious about my trip to come to Poland - as well as my decision to run a marathon! I let them know that I would eat/try whatever and wanted to experience some of the Polish cuisine.

As a first course, the waiter brought out essentially a jello mold with meat and carrots inside called Galaretka. This picture is not from the restaurant because I was too nervous to take a picture and didn't want to be rude, but this is pretty much exactly what it looked like.

You drizzle vinegar or lemon on top of it and then eat it, finishing it with a shot of vodka. The shot of vodka is part of eating this, so in addition to taking 2 bites (I felt like I needed to prove I could do more than one bite!) I also took the shot of vodka. I let the team know that it was not really a texture I was used to. Cold meat stock jello with chunks in it?  Not so common in the U.S. One of the things most people know about me is that I have a very expressive face. I did my best to not have my face show exactly what I was thinking but I was glad that the table seemed satisfied with my only 2 bites of the jello meat dish!

Thankfully, the rest of my dinner was delicious and ridiculously filling. As an "appetizer" the team ordered me a bowl of soup that came in a sourdough bread bowl. This was really, really good! I believe it is called "Ryemeal" soup and it was a light broth with brown specks in it, white sausage, and hard boiled egg. It was pretty tasty and the best bites were eating the parts where the bread soaked through into the soup.

For a main dish, they ordered me more perogies, which I only ate 3 of - I was way too full from the soup! They also had me taste the dishes that they ordered, which is usually my favorite thing to do, but in this case, I could have passed probably and been okay. I tried some beet root and cabbage as well. The soup definitely stole the dinner for me though!

The other notable thing about dinner is that after that first shot that went along with the jelly meat, the shot glass in front of me continued to be filled up by the waiter. He was tending to it similar to how waiters at nice restaurants continue to fill your wine glass when you order a bottle. I wasn't sure if we had ordered a whole bottle of vodka or not, since all of the ordering was done in Polish, but it made me feel like we did. Even when I would signal to him not to fill it up again, my colleagues would respond back in Polish and then my shot glass would be full again. Mind you, there is also no water or other form of beverage at this table - except for a beer that was also ordered for me!

I was sipping that beer super slowly, not wanting to risk it going down to the bottom and someone ordering me another one. Plus, I had started to only drink 1/3 of the shot every time someone proposed a toast/cheers (which was happening routinely) and needed the beer as a chaser. Super smart moves for someone prepping for a marathon in 5 days, right?

Eventually I asked for water and had some ordered for me, and just stopped with the shots of vodka all together. Getting really drunk in this situation was not a part of my game plan, and for someone who doesn't really drink liquor, I could feel what I had been given going to my head.

Dinner wrapped up at about 9:30 and since I didn't want to go to bed too early, I opted to join the group as we head to a venue for live music at a bar with an open mic / featured artists night. A beer was promptly ordered for me as soon as we walked in, which I held on to for the rest of the time that I was there, which was about an hour or so, before heading out. The rounds of vodka still kept coming even at this second place and I was just amazed at how much everyone could stomach. I was really glad that I went to the venue, because the live music was really good and the venue was very cool. I was happy to be able to experience it and it actually reminded me of my trip to Nigeria, where I also attended a live music / open mic night with colleagues!

The whole night made me really happy to have been able to see a side of Poland culture and Warsaw that I normally wouldn't have. I am so thankful for my job and my colleagues that introduce to me to different cultures around the world. This wasn't a work trip, but that doesn't change that work put me in a position where I even know people in Warsaw, Poland to give me that experience. I was a little worried about having multiple drinks so close to my race, but it was also a cultural experience that I didn't want to miss out on. I am really appreciative to my colleagues for taking me out and today, I was even more focused and committed to treating my body with the food, water, and sleep it needs for the next few days before the race!

This morning, I let myself sleep until I woke up - which happened to be pretty late for me, around 9:00 a.m. I felt like I could sleep for much longer, but wanting to get myself back on a normal schedule, I forced myself out of bed. I couldn't tell if my lethargy was due to the drinks or the jet lag, but most likely both. However, I put on my running clothes and went outside to get in an easy 3 mile run. My plan for my coach for this week was to do 2-3 2-3 mile runs. The point of the runs was to start easy and then find race pace for a short bit.

I'd scoped out where to run the day before and not far from my hotel was a path along the river that runs through Warsaw with a bike/running path. I head there to do my 3 mile run, then stopped to get some water, and returned to the hotel. I wore capris and a t-shirt to run outside and it was about 55 degrees. I definitely could have gone with another layer but also didn't feel terrible once I was actually running. I am starting to feel a bit nervous about the temperature for the race and what layers I should manage but thinking I will figure that out later. It was funny though because this morning everyone was walking around in long coats bundled up and I was out in a t-shirt and capris. There were other runners out as well, but I was less dressed than they were.

After showering and stretching, I head out in search of getting something to eat and exploring the Old Town a bit more. As I head out of my hotel and started to walk, I very quickly came past a tour group that was walking through town with an English speaker. I didn't initially intend to crash it, especially if it was an organized thing people had paid for, but then I realized that he was carrying an umbrella advertising that they are one of the "Free Tour" groups I have done in various cities that basically just operate off of tips. I decided to hang about for just a little and walked with the tour group a bit.

We saw the home where Marie Curie was born and heard more about her story (yay female scientists!) and then walked to the memorial for the Warsaw Uprising as well as the Memorial of the boy soldier. A number of these things have somewhat controversial opinions from the Polish people and I thought that the tour guide did a good job of explaining these topics in a transparent and honest way.

The tour guide also reiterated that the Poles do love their ice cream, explained that the two main rules in Warsaw are to not walk in the red lanes designated for bikes and do not drink in public, and shared other small lessons in both Polish history and culture. We saw the gates to the city, learned about some of the stereotypes of Polish people, and learned the history of the Polish constitution. Eventually, my need for food won over the last stop on the tour and I ducked away when I spotted a coffee / sandwich shop that I thought looked cute.

I had a long leisurely lunch of a spinach wrap and a coffee at a very cute shop that tempted me tremendously with their delicious looking cakes and cookies as well.

The afternoon was still cold and rainy and I decided to spend it at an indoor activity and made my way to the POLINE: Museum of the Polish Jews. The museum talked about the ancient history of the Jewish traders traveling through and later settling throughout Eastern Europe, their perception and place in society through the 1300s - 1900s and eventually went into much detail on the Holocaust.

The Warsaw ghettos housed more than one hundred thousand Jews that had been deported to there throughout World War II. Later, the ghetto was deported again and this time sent to concentration camps such as Auschwitz. It was really disturbing and unsettling to read through the conditions of how people were treated and knowing that this took place in the streets and areas I was walking through at that moment. It made me sick to read and think about the numbers, the sheer volume, of individuals and people that went through this, as well as the individuals who enforced it and allowed it to happen. It really wasn't that long ago and there are so many things going on today that draw parallels to some of what happened during this time period. I am currently reading the book "The Nazi Officer's Wife" and this as well has made this top of mind to me lately.

The picture above is the only picture I took at the museum. I took one more photo of a quote I liked but it came out blurry so I will just rewrite it here. I felt it was very fitting and relevant to today.

"Should equality be the reward for social change or the condition for achieving change? "Jews say: Let us live where we wish adn do what we wish. Give us an opportunity to improve our economic and social position and soon you will realize that all the faults you ascribe to us and see through a magnifying glass of prejudice inherited from your fathers are not congenital."

I walked around some more following the museum and made my way back to the hotel to warm up and relax a bit before dinner. I hope that you are having great weeks and enjoy my recap of my trip so far! As I mentioned, I haven't done a true travel blog such as this one in a while so thought it would be fun to do. I love looking back at this stuff in the future! I didn't really know what to expect when I came to Poland but I have been totally charmed by Warsaw. I really enjoy the Old Town part of the city, the riverwalk is amazing, there are so many restaurants and bars that seem inviting and that I would like to try out, and the people have been really hospitable. Plus, the music we saw last night was amazing! I don't know if I would normally have had Warsaw high on my list of destinations to visit but I am really, really glad that I have been able to see the city and look forward to the rest of my time in Poland!

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!

Sunday, September 10, 2017

ATL Relay Race Recap: Running to Cloud Copeland

One of the races that I had on my schedule since the beginning of the year was an ATL staple that I had never participated in before - the ATL Relay. The plan to do this race was a part of the celebrations throughout August for my friend and biggest supporter, Brick's wedding. We decided to make a team consisting of the Atlanta based members of the wedding party, myself and Ayanna, and India, official makeup artist of the bride and bridal party! I had never really had it in my mind to "race" and didn't have much expectation for it, but it ended up being both a really, really fun morning and also a bit of a turning point for me mentally (which I mentioned in my recent training recap!)

In addition to our 4-person bridal party team, we recruited two other teams of friends and turned the morning into a fun party. The race is made up of four 5K loops, each person running one 5K. However, there are also options to do it solo or various combinations. Since I needed to get in a long run for the day, I decided to run the first leg of the relay for our team, and then would just continue running additional loops to get in the full 20K distance. That, plus the 2-ish mile run from my apartment would get me to about 15 miles for the day.

The race started at 7:00 a.m. on Saturday morning in Castleberry Hill. To get there, I had to run straight down one road and then just take one left turn to get there. My plan for the day was to warmup on the run there, push the first 5K loop but not race it, then settle into an easy pace for the rest.

I left my apartment around 6:00 a.m. and got to the race a little before 6:30. I love Atlanta local races because it is always an opportunity to bring so many people together that I know in the running community and as soon as I arrived it was fun to say hello to so many people I hadn't seen in a while. However, after not too long I met up with our team and put the finishing touch on our outfit by attaching my "booty veil" to the back of my race belt.

Never expecting to be competitive in the actual running race, our team had set our goals on winning the award for "Best Dressed" given out each year to the most coordinated and best dressed team. We had shirts made with Brick's wedding colors that said "Last Miles Until Cloud Copeland" on the front and our Instagram names on the back. We wore black shorts and "booty veils" which was basically a giant pompom on the back of our bums. We'd gotten together a couple weeks earlier to prep for the race and I had followed a YouTube tutorial to make the booty veils for our team. Brick also had a real veil to wear and a "Bride" crown. We were pretty cute if I say so myself.

As I was running the first leg, shortly before 7:00 I went to the start and after not too long we were off. Immediately on the course you had to run by all of the waiting teams, which was a huge roar of cheers and exciting way to start the race. The only other time I have run as part of a "relay" was with some of the same girls earlier in the year when we went to Birmingham, Alabama for the Mercedes Marathon relay. This was a TOTALLY different experience and I liked it a lot better. In Birmingham, there were spots all throughout the city where the transfers happened so you were alone a lot and not with your teammates. Whereas with this relay, all the transfers happened in one location, which made that spot a big party.

I started out feeling really strong and tried to push the pace but also not push too hard and race it. I kept reminding myself that at the end of this 5K I still had a lot more running to do, so pace myself.

The route was nice with some rolling hills and through a part of town that I don't run in too often so it kept it interesting. There were water stations and people I knew cheering throughout the course as well as a couple out-and-back sections which are fun during races that you know a lot of people participating in. My first mile was 7:35 pace and I told myself to hold back a bit. It seemed fast. My next mile was 7:48, which seemed a little better. Then my final mile of the 5K was 7:33 - which included a big uphill portion! You finished the 5K loop by running downhill to the transition area, but not before earning by going through an uphill. I became very familiar with this route by the end of the day.

I didn't want to put too much pressure on the day as a whole day. I had run a lot that week and still had another long run the next day as well. I wasn't carrying water with me on the course either so I decided that at the end of each 5K loop I would stop and take a break and see my friends before continuing on.  As I made my way into transition, India was waiting for me and I passed the timing chip to her then slowed and stopped to walk, per my plan.

However, standing right there were Ayanna and Brick, who both at the same time yelled at me, "KEEP GOING!" and I groaned, to which Ayanna replied "You signed up for this!" and with that, I kept running.

I continued on for my second loop of the course, trying to go easy and slow at the beginning. I felt like I was going really comfortable pace so I was really surprised when my watch beeped and I looked down and it said 8:05. Wow, I thought, I really need to slow down. I told myself to hold back some more and kept running. It was fun to see so many people on the course and being that it was my second time around, I knew how to pace myself and what to expect in the route.

All morning long the miles seemed to fly by and even though I had been telling myself to slow down, the miles on the second loop still continued to be under my target long run pace of 9:30 and miles 5 and 6 were at 8:31 and 8:40. At one point when I was on the second loop a woman caught up to me and told me she had been chasing me for a while. She said I was running at an incredible pace. Which, I was a little surprised because I felt like I was running comfortably. We chatted for a minute about what we were training for. I mentioned that I was doing the 20K and she said she was running the 10K and I slowed down a bit more and she got ahead of me into her finish.

As I head out on my 3rd loop, I knew I still had half the run left to do and started to prep myself for that, stopping at the water station and eating my Gu Chews and grabbing some water before continuing. I was plugging along, still feeling pretty good though and continuing to be shocked when my watch would beep indicating another mile and I would look down and see my split. My next miles were 8:38, 8:49, and 8:43. I made sure to drink water and Gatorade and grab some salt as well.

I was a bit worried throughout the race that my friends would catch me. I had passed the second runner in our relay starting the second loop and I had an idea/hope that my pace would be a bit faster than my friends were running, but I also wasn't sure exactly what to expect. I also stopped looking at my watch somewhere around the 3rd loop and was trying to just enjoy it. I felt like my pace was dropping a bit which I was totally okay with from a training point of view, as I wanted to be slowing down! I knew I had been going too fast and I kept thinking about the fact that I had a 2:30 hour run the next day. Running too fast today was going to make the next day suck.

A few weeks earlier I had done one of my Saturday post-bike-ride runs with my coach and he made us stop for water even though I was feeling fine. He said "this water isn't for today's run - it is for tomorrow's run" and that stuck with me while I was running at the ATL Relay. I wanted to be sure that I was running that day with the next day's run in mind.

My first mile on my last loop I saw that I was still running really fast at 8:35 and told myself really to take it easy. Brick was running the last loop of the run and although I know she can log some fast miles and might catch me, I had told myself I would be ok with that. I figured that even if she caught up to me, I could then just run into the finish with her.

By the time I was on my 4th and last loop, it was pretty funny because all of the volunteers, people out cheering, police officers, and water station people were like "You again?!" I think that the fact that I was running with a big pom pom over my bum and was running by them over and over probably made me pretty memorable. I thought it was funny that they were counting my laps as well and were cheering me on though.

The last two miles, I felt good and began to feel confident I would make it to the finish before Brick. Although I had told myself I would be okay with it if she caught me, I really had wanted to be there already and waiting/cheering for her as she came in. At this point I was walking the water stations, making sure that I was hydrated thinking about the next day. I also wanted to take the pressure off of myself and force myself to slow myself down and stop thinking about the pace. I finished the last 2 miles at 9:04 and 9:09 pace, then the last half mile at 8:37 pace.

My finish was a bit funny, although anticlimactic in the end. As I came into the transition/finish area for my last lap, as most people do when someone comes in for a finish, everyone started cheering and shouting!! At this point every team was paying really close attention to the people finishing as they were all on the lookout for their members. Everyone was cheering as I came up, but then instead of going into the finishers shoot or running into the relay exchange, I just stopped running and walked into the spectator area shortly before the finish line. Everyone went from cheering loudly to ".... Oh."

At the end of the run, I immediately felt a bit stiff. My knees were tired and felt achey and I was just drenched in sweat as well. Atlanta humidity at its finest. I found my friends and we walked back up the hill a bit waiting and looking for Brick to come into the finishers shoot so we could all run across the finish line as a team.

It wasn't too long when she came screaming through and we had to shout to her to slow down so we could keep up as we made our way in to the finish line.  I had an awesome time crossing the line as a team. I loved being a part of this relay and loved that my friends make running a part of their wedding celebration.

The day was so much and we hung around after the race catching up with friends until they announced the winners of the relay and what we were most anticipating... the best dressed award!

All of our hard work paid off and we were awarded best dressed, which made us all quite happy! Our prize was four tickets to go on a Atlanta Movie Tour and I am actually pretty excited to do that and experience something touristy in my own city.

The day was really fun, mostly because of all the people I was able to spend it with. I also loved my booty veil. It was a great way to get in 15 miles and it helped me gain a lot of confidence in my training as the marathon got closer. I absolutely recommend the ATL Relay and will definitely be keeping this in mind for next year!!