Sunday, October 29, 2017

Post marathon review of what worked well and where I can improve

The end of September marked the end of the 2017 "racing season" for me and with that, some changes to my schedule and my mindset. October has been filled with rest, alarm clocks set a little later, training lighter, and my schedule a bit more flexible. There's been lots of catching up with friends, a few extra glasses of wine, a bit later nights out, and enjoying the things I don't always let myself while in training mode (i.e. I ate SO MANY donuts in October!!)

It also has been filled with thought and reflection on the year as well as planning and evaluating for what I want to do and what I am capable of (physically AND mentally) in the year ahead. But before going full force into next year and next goals, I wanted to write a post reflecting back on this last year and last season in terms of what went well and what I still could work on. I wrote a post like this after the Chicago Marathon and found it really helpful so wanted to write this out so I can remind myself of it in the future.

Although this is focused around the Berlin Marathon, I am sort of expanding it a little bit in some areas as to what went well / what didn't for the entire season as a whole. So let's get into it.

What worked well:

1. Marathon training with a coach. Although technically last year I worked with a coach while training for NYC, I barely did what he said thinking I knew what I was doing on my own since it was my 4th marathon. I skipped all the cross training he put it, did a bit of speed work, but mostly felt like I knew what I needed to do to cross the finish line and would be fine.

This year, I did exactly what my coach told me to do and nothing else, trusting him to get me to my goal and made my focus just about execution of the plan. The training was very different from anything that I had done before and much of it made me nervous. I didn't know how I would perform on this type of training plan and I had a hard time always seeing progress. I sought out advice from my personal coach, Jerome, as well as the other ITL coaches Adam, George, and Chris whenever I could. I asked for feedback and relied on Jerome mostly for regular encouragement, support, and answers to my questions.

Even throughout this entire year, not just Berlin, the coaching that I received 1000% percent was invaluable. From the very first month in January, during my trip to Switzerland, to the very last stretch of training while I went to Cancun for a wedding - Jerome found a way to make my training schedule fit with my personal schedule. When I realized the timing of Cancun and Berlin, I was so nervous of how I would make it work. And we did. Without a doubt. Everything worked and Jerome never let training compromise something I wanted to do socially. I am so appreciative of that and I can't say enough about how coaching this year helped me to step up my game.

Even right now, as much as I have been enjoying the lighter month, I feel best about myself when I am eating clean and exercising regularly. I have more energy, it affects my mood, and training has also become a de facto way to see friends on a daily basis. I also know that when I don't have a set schedule, I get very lazy. So I took a week off and then after that asked Jerome to keep building my workouts for me. I really have come to rely on what I get out of coaching and having that regular schedule and support.

2. High mileage + variety of running.  I debated putting this as basically a sub-bullet under "working with a coach" along with the next one on the list but decided to leave it as its own thing. In this training cycle into Berlin, throughout August and September I had multiple 50-60 mile weeks of running. Prior to this year, my top mileage in training for any marathon was always 40 miles at MAX at PEAK week. I exceeded that by a lot but never ran more than 16 miles at a time, whereas in other training plans, that 40 mile week would include a 20-miler. I ran 6x a week vs. 4x a week in other training cycles and all of that paid off.

I also for the first time added so much variety to my running of speed work, tempo runs, hill repeats, trail runs, long bricks, etc. and these changes all added up, both mentally and physically, to help me get stronger.

3. Cross training all the way through. I put this as its own thing on the list because in the past I said something that I wanted to improve on was cross training through the entire training cycle. I think I did that well here, including some big bike rides all the way through to the end of July and then had long bike rides + runs into August. Up until I left for Berlin I was swimming at least once a week and had time on my bike at least once a week as well for hill repeats. It all helped! Swimming was therapeutic for me and although it was shorter than what I'd do while triathlon training and there wasn't a lot of intensity behind it, but it was good to have in the mix!

4. No social media before the race. Social media is a blessing and a curse at times. In the days leading up to the race, I felt like it was stressing me out to be on social media so I cut myself off leading up to the race. I think this really helped me to stay focused and remind myself why I was doing this race. I think this is a "best practice" (to use Corporate speak) that I will continue with in upcoming races.

5. Don't look at or stress about the weather, just plan for it all. Okay, so I didn't do a super good job at this at all before Chattanooga Half, so I forced myself to try and be better before Berlin. There was rain in the forecast at times but I honestly just tried not to pay attention. I packed clothing for a variety of temperatures and conditions - hot, cold, rainy, sunny, etc. Last year at NYC I had packed and planned for cold weather and then was too warm. So this year, I was smarter and just prepped for everything and hoped for the best - putting together a plan in just the day before the race vs. obsessively checking the weather for any changes every hour.

6. Marathon week hydration. I worked really hard all year to stay hydrated and was worried about it while traveling overseas for a race. On the flight over to Europe and as soon as I arrived, I was drinking as much water as possible in that week leading up to the race. I was buying and carrying water with me everywhere, using the bathroom constantly, but I made sure to drink a ton of water, even though it is hard when traveling and in Europe. I was really happy with my diligence in doing this. I drank a ton of water the week before through Friday, then Saturday just drank to taste. I also threw in a Nuun a day. Sunday morning I used the bathroom before going to the race and didn't have to use a porta potty at the start or have the urge to use the bathroom at all throughout the race. I was happy with my plan!

7. Focused on the little things. Okay, so this is the opposite advice that people give about life, but in this training cycle I really worked to try and pay attention to the "little things" to stay healthy outside of the workouts. Foam rolling, massage, chiropractor, stretching, nutrition for training runs, sunscreen, core work, lunges, etc. all were a part of training outside of the runs and rides themselves. My hip injury I had earlier in the year forced me to focus on planks, leg lifts, etc. and all of which I hated, but knew I had to do to stay healthy. I got a standing desk at work as well which REALLY helped me I think to not be sitting all day, as well as I altered how I sleep to alleviate pressure on my right hip. It was a struggle to adapt to, but it helped. I kept these little things in my mind throughout the year and asked my coach to build in even just 15 minutes of stretching into my schedule. I know now that if something is in TrainingPeaks - I WILL do it. So having that dedicated stretching time was really helpful.

8. Assign purpose to what I was doing on race day. This might be a bit wishy-washy but I felt like I had a really good mental focus on race day. I had a very strong mental plan to carry me through the race and part of that was to assign bigger purpose to what I was doing beyond just trying to run a specific time. I thought of it as another run that I just needed to go out and execute on for the first half, and in the end, some of the things that carried me through were thinking about my friends and others who I wanted to be strong for. This really helped keep me pushing at the end of the race.

9. Go after a scary time goal. Well, this is the first time I went into training with a time goal in mind. It scared me a lot but I think it was a good thing to go after something that was a reach for me. It forced me to be diligent, to stay focused, and to work hard. It made the feeling of accomplishment different and a bit more deeply satisfying. I had time goals for everything I did this year and although sometimes that always might not work out, for me and for this year, it helped me to push.

10. Reminding myself to have fun. Throughout everything I had to continually remind myself to have fun. Scary goals are good and focus is good but the end of the day we do this all for fun. Reminding myself that the night before the marathon when I started to stress was important. And the runs I had with friends were so important to this throughout the entire training cycle. Jerome helped me remind me of that as well. I definitely amped up my training this year, but I can confidently say that I didn't lose the fun in it at all, which I am proud of. I did have to remind myself a few times, which I will continue to do as time goes on I am sure.

  • Traveling early. The decision to fly to Europe earlier in the week was mostly due to logistics but I loved having a few extra days to adjust time wise. If I do more international races, traveling a week ahead of time needs to be on the list of things to do.
  • Running in shorts. This is the first year I ever have felt comfortable running in shorts!! I really liked it and invested in some new shorts this year and wore them for the marathon for the first time. 
  • Shake out run the day before. I debated if I should do my last run two days before or the day before the race, but it seemed to work well doing it the day before. Will plan to continue that!
  • Seeing a movie the day before. I don't know why I never thought of this but it was the perfect day-before-a-race activity. You're sitting down, legs are up, relaxed, take your mind off things for a while. Perfect. And bonus points if it is a motivating or encouraging movie.
  • Body glide! This race was so successful for me with no chafing issues and I have this to thank for that.
  • Not having any fans there. Now, this isn't something that I am necessarily going to tell people to NOT come to my races, but it is important for me to remember that I did fine without having anyone at the race and it actually alleviated any stress of looking for people on the course. I was able to focus on myself the entire race vs. searching crowds for family at specific points. This was actually a good thing for me.
  • Listen/read race recaps. I was really glad I had listened to the Berlin Marathon podcast recaps on the way over and had read other people's race recaps before the race. It helped to know what to expect!
  • No music. I didn't listen to music AT ALL and it worked out great for me. I carried my phone with me in case I needed it but never pulled it out. I was really happy with this decision all around and it worked out well for this race.
What could have been done better:

1. Sleep. I have never been good at getting enough sleep. I spend way too much time in my evenings on my phone and on social media that would be much more value add in my life if it were sleeping time! I really would like to get better at disciplining myself to just put the phone down and go to bed at the end of the night.

2. Sneakers. Since I began running I have been running in Saucony Rides. However, since last year and the latest edition in the Ride line, I have not been finding them to be comfortable. I purchased an older version of the sneaker off of Amazon and ran in those this year, swapping with a few different other versions I have, but I never tracked mileage on them and at this point, am not sure which ones are the oldest. I think that I need to find a new sneaker beyond the Saucony Rides since I don't like the new versions and I also need to be better at tracking miles on my shoes. Right now, I think all of my sneakers I am rotating are probably past their prime but I have been putting off buying new ones. I would also like to get trail running sneakers as well and just have been procrastinating that as well. Becoming more diligent about my running shoes is an area where I definitely need to improve. 

3. Do not think about and compare with others. This could be on this list multiple times. I really need to drill this in to my brain somehow. Running and training is about me and the goals I set for myself. But I always struggle with looking at others around me and comparing or focusing on what other people are doing. This is definitely an area for me to improve moving forward.

4. Diet and nutrition through to race week. Now, I will be honest that I did SO much better with nutrition this year than any other year and got my weight down to the lowest I have ever been in my adult life. I felt great and strong. However, in the last 6 weeks before the race, my nutrition faltered a bit. Due to various celebrations such as birthdays, weddings, and my trip to Cancun and that darn buffet - I backtracked and struggled a bit in the home stretch. I know that there is always going to be SOMETHING and I need to be able to live life, however, the pattern remains that as the training ramps up, my nutrition struggles. I would love to keep working at that.

5. Pay even more attention to the little things. So, I had this on my list of things that went well, but it also belongs on where I could improve. I did much better at this than in the past but there is still so much more room to grow here. I found myself dropping some of the core work and strength exercises once I was feeling recovered from my hip injury. I made it through this training cycle okay with that but need to keep really focused at all these little things the more aggressive future training and goals become. I have told my coach to keep the stretched on my TrainingPeaks moving forward.

6. Go to the race expo as early as possible. Ugh, that expo in Berlin stressed me out so much and the clothing situation was insane! Newly added to my list is to get to that expo as EARLY AS POSSIBLE at a race. In and out, get it done, buy your stuff, and go home. I don't want to deal with that again!

7. Sports bras. Okay, I wrote about this before about how my sports bras fought with me throughout the year and I had some major chafing issues. Although race day bra was ok - I have to make some improvements with the others in my collection. It is about 5 weeks since the marathon and I still have scars on my chest from the last weeks of training and chafing issues, so I think those bad boys are here to stay. Just call me Eve from now on.

8. Not spiking HR at the end of the run. So this is one I am not sure about but have been thinking about a lot. As I wrote in my race recap, I was super steady throughout the entire marathon and then when I got to mile 20 (kilometer 32) I decided to try and push it. At this time my HR spiked really high and it never recovered. Should I have just stuck steady where I was? I a little bit think I should have. This strategy and race plan is something I will need to evaluate in my next marathon.

9. Don't read your own race recaps from races you weren't happy with. Future Katelyn: just don't read your NYC or Kansas City marathon recaps the night before your race. Just don't. They'll stress you out.

10. Confidence. At this point, I think I can say I am a seasoned marathoner. I have done 5 standalone marathons. Five!! I have gained some experience in what works well for me, what doesn't, what it is like to push hard for a long time, and what I need to do to toe the line healthy. I need to start to have a bit more confidence in myself as I go for more marathons and races in the future. Confidence doesn't come easy for me but want to keep working at it.

Up for discussion:
1. Crowds at the race. Okay, the first of two points that I am still evaluating on and am curious about following the marathon is the crowds. I have always considered crowds and big marathons to be a good thing after my bad experience in Kansas City. However, I did get crowded and boxed in a number of times in Berlin and ended up running a half a mile extra. Would I do better in a smaller race where I could run a straight line? That had crowds but was not crowded? I am not sure and have been debating this in my head. It is something I'd like to explore in the future and take another stab at a smaller race to see how I do. At this point I have done four HUGE marathons and one small marathon. I am curious to try something in between.

2. Recreating every detail of past races that went well. Part of me felt a little stressed trying to recreate every detail of past races and what went well. Although I think it is certainly helpful to stick to what works (nothing new on race day!) I didn't need to become obsessive with it. I feel like I did a good job of finding that right balance but something I can keep in my mind moving forward. I am still up in the air as to what traditions are helpful and what traditions are not just superstition in my mind as it has worked for me once. There is more to test out and explore for me in the marathon world with some of my race day/week traditions here.

So there you have it! My good/bad of Berlin Marathon and thoughts of where I can improve and what I should continue. This is a list that I know I will look back on many times in the future and hope it was somewhat valuable for everyone else as well!

Monday, October 23, 2017

Eurotrip final recap: five cities, six days, seven girls

So I have gotten you caught up on everything right through the marathon so let's continue on with my vacation recap. I want to wrap up my vacation so I can get back to posting about where my head is now, what I've been up to in the now month after the race, and all that jazz. However, I know that I love having these vacation recaps on the blog to look back at so want to finish up documenting this experience.

After the marathon and meeting up with the Atlanta Triathlon Club and ITL friends at the finish line, I started my way back to the hotel, hobbling along with some friends. I was chilly and looking forward to some food, a warm shower, and getting out of my race clothing. I also was already tracking down my friends at Chattanooga Ironman and getting updates on how they were doing at the race.

I won't keep mentioning that portion, but all throughout the day my friends in Chatt were on my mind. I loved getting the text message updates from Lauren's husband, refreshing my Facebook feed to see new photos, and seeing everyone move along the course through the Ironman app. My excitement for them was big and I loved cheering along from afar. I only hoped my good day translated over to them!

Back at the hotel, we showered and cleaned up and I responded to some text messages, then I swear, I don't even feel like I even sat down before we were out the door again (side note: most successful post-race shower I have ever had with barely any chafing!) The Marathon Tours group was holding an evening reception of drinks at one of the hotels we were all staying in and the girls and I had planned to meet up there. We were able to all toast, talk about our races, meet other marathonser, and believe it or not, even start to talk about what next. My feet and legs were definitely wishing that there were chairs around, but other than that it was great.

When my feet needed a rest I ducked over to the side and sat on the floor / windowsill and had a long conversation with Jerome on the phone, as well as went through some of the pictures from the day. I still needed time to process because everything that happened hadn't really sunk in. I think I was still in a bit of disbelief when I talked to Jerome.

We moved from the reception to a German biergarten to meet up with the rest of the Atlanta Triathlon community for a big group dinner which I loved. I have never had such a big group all celebrating the same accomplishment and thought it was such a cool thing to have these amazing athletes all around me.

My meal wasn't my usual post-race burger, but there was beer and good company! All of us were naturally pretty tired, so we returned back to our hotel room not too late, since we all planned to be up early in the morning. Unfortunately, I didn't sleep well that night, as I usually don't on the evening of a big race - my body doesn't seem to know that it is not under attack anymore and can never seem to shut down on rice night. But I was okay with that as it allowed me to watch the live feed of IM Chattanooga on my cell phone in the bathroom sobbing, like a totally normal person does.

Not a burger
Monday morning we drove to the next leg of our trip, which was to Munich. I felt pretty good moving about and although was tired, I was energized by the day before and the beginning of vacation with the race behind me. It felt a bit fast to be moving on from the marathon to beginning of the next part of the trip. I felt like I should be savoring the marathon more, but I had a 5ish hour car ride from Berlin to Munich that gave me lots of time to think about the day before and process.

The Monday after the marathon was very low key with lots of listening to music, chatting, stopping for gas or snacks along the road, and then settling in to our AirBnB in Munich. The home was really adorable and had a gorgeous rooftop deck. The only downfall was that the 2 flights of stairs we had to walk up continued to remind me that I had run a marathon the day before (as well as the stiffness in my legs any time I got in or out of the car.) We got some really funny looks from the AirBnB owners when they spotted us walking backwards down the stairs, which I have learned is a great technique to manage stairs when your legs are sore.

We visited a biergarten called Micheligarten in Ostpark that was right near where we stayed and it was a perfect afternoon of pretzels, sausage, beer, being outside, and lots of laughs from the ducks and geese who tried to attack our food.

The evening was low key as well with a random selection of snacks and foods and wines from the grocery store. We were all tired and had a busy day ahead of us.

Tuesday was Oktoberfest, which was everything I imagined it would be and just so much fun! We had been planning our outfits for months, purchasing things ahead of time over Amazon. I opted for the female version of the men's lederhosen and aside from them being a bit tighter than I would have liked, they were awesome and so much fun.

Oktoberfest is like a giant state fair type setup with tents from all the different beer companies. We had made a reservation in advance at the Hofbrau beer tent and after exploring a little of downtown Munich, we made our way over just as it started.

We had a view overlooking the rest of the tent space so we had prime viewing of the festivities as they got rowdier and rowdier as the afternoon went on. There was lots of singing, people standing on tables to chug beers, pretzel throwing and in our group - FaceTimeing. It all made for lots of laughter.

Lunch wasn't the greatest at the tent, but once our reservation was over and we wandered around the fair grounds, I made up for it with popcorn, nuts, cookies, and all the other junk food and snacks I could get my hands on apparently.

Following the end of our reservations at the tent, we walked around the rest of the Oktoberfest area a bit and popped into some of the other beer tents to see what they were like. I think we were all really happy with the tent that we had been in and the reservation we made. It had been a little confusing to plan, so I was glad it all worked out! We rode the Ferris Wheel before making our way back home after stopping off in downtown Munich near Marienplatz for dinner.

I spent two months in Munich in 2009 and for work and I loved being back in the city. It feels so special to me and I truly loved those two months I spent taking the train back and forth from Marienplatz and exploring the city. There is still so much more to see and do in Munich so I was glad to be back for a short period of time. Oktoberfest was a bucket list item for me and it was so enjoyable. Plus, I got to eat my delicious Kasebretze of a cheese covered pretzel again, so what's not to love?

We had another quick turnaround on Wednesday morning, heading out of the house early and driving to Vienna, with a stop along the way at Neushwanstein Castle. The castle was built by crazy King Ludwig and is nestled in a beautiful part of southern Germany. I had visited the castle once before a few years back on a trip to Munich but with this type of beauty, who wouldn't want to return?

It was a long day of driving, getting into Vienna around 10pm. It was another dinner of wine and cheese and meats and it hit the spot. I had arrived a bit cranky as I was tired and the blisters on my feet that had developed from the race were throbbing after a day of walking around and pressing down on the gas pedal. I didn't have the best night's sleep of my life, but it was at least good to day down!

I had packed blister bandaids and then next morning performed a bit of at home surgery on myself because Thursday was another jam packed day on my feet. According to my Garmin watch, we walked a little over 10 miles that day, which was the highest I had on the trip. Tuesday had 9.48, Wednesday had 7.75, and later in the week Friday was 8.5 and Saturday was 8.92. That's a lot of walking for the week after a marathon!

It was all worth it though and Vienna was gorgeous. We did a walking tour of the city and then did our own exploration a bit. There are so many palaces and gorgeous buildings and so many places I wanted to eat. The day just kept getting prettier and prettier the more we explored.

We had a schnitzel filled lunch where I realized I had met my quota of schnitzel on the trip, and I also ate one of the best ice cream cones of my life in Vienna.

This dark chocolate ice cream was the richest, chocolatey-est ice cream I have ever had and I enjoyed every single bite of it to the fullest. I could write an entire blog post alone on this chocolate ice cream. It was SO good. I am in love.

For dinner we ate at a vegetarian buffet style restaurant where you paid by the weight and it was fantastic. The restaurant was called Yamm and I really enjoyed being able to try lots of little bites of everything vs. sticking to one item on the menu. Vienna was the only city on the trip outside of Warsaw that was totally new to me and I found it so beautiful and charming. Our AirBnB, although it had the thinnest walls in the world, was adorable and really BIG!

Friday morning we packed up and back into our tiny cars for an early start to drive to Prague. I was excited to get to Prague and start exploring because it was a city I absolutely fell in love with a few years back when I visited for the first time. I was surprised when we arrived how little I remembered and I had no clue how to orient myself once we were there. I couldn't even tell you where I stayed the first time in relation to where I stayed the second time and only a few things seemed familiar to me! It was like a totally different trip and I loved it just as much the second time around.

We had lunch at a delicious Italian place right by our AirBnB that had different salad options you could get varieties of, and ate some amazing bread and olive oil. We wandered the streets and did a self guided walking tour courtesy of Rick Steves and Krystle's narration. We meandered across the Charles Bridge. Sipped champagne with lunch and then stopped for afternoon glasses of wine as the sun went down. We ate goulash and what was supposed to be dumplings but seemed more like pieces of white bread. We got beers at underground bars (and were kicked out of other bars we tried to go to.) We played games and we learned more about one another. We indulged and celebrated our last night in Europe with all 7 of us that had been traveling together for the last week. Friday was a really fun day in Prague.

The majority of us had really early flights on Sunday morning, so Saturday was really our last DAY in Europe. Everyone was flying out of Prague but me, as I had to get myself back to Warsaw before my long-as-heck return flights home with two layovers. In order to make the most of Saturday, a few of us set our alarms and got up early to return to the Charles Bridge for sunrise.

The day before it had been so crowded and the light was so bright that Krystle suggested we return in the morning to see it at dawn and it did not disappoint. I loved it.

Although it was our last day, it ended up being one of the more memorable ones. It started slow with coffee and breakfast, walking through the Jewish quarters to see the cemetery where tens of thousands of Jewish people have been buried over the years. We explored some of the churches of the town. Stopped at a bakery. And then made our way to the river.

One of the girls had been given the recommendation to do a river tour of Prague and we decided that what would be more fun would be to rent paddle boats. We made our way over after Googling a location and paid for an hour long paddle boat that fit 6 people. Half the time on the boat we spent having a photo shoot and observing how beautiful everything was around us. And the other half we spent trying to maneuver our way out of a little bit of a predicament we got ourselves in. We boated too close to shore, grounded ourselves, and despite the rescue attempt from some British men we flagged down, we couldn't get ourselves to budge. It wasn't until crowds developed along the shore staring at us and taking pictures that I finally said "Screw this!" and took off my boots, rolled up my pants and jumped in to push us off the sand. It was a rescue of legendary proportions.

The rescue mission was definitely a highlight and one of the funny points of the trip. I loved the paddle boat adventure and the stories and laughter that came out of it!

With that excitement passed, we grabbed lunch, a liiiiittle more ice cream at Creme de la Creme, and then I head out to make my way to Warsaw. I got a few hours of crummy sleep in the airport hotel in Warsaw on Saturday night before heading back home. It was a wonderful, whirlwind, fast, fun, tiring, energizing, memorable and adventurous vacation with a great group of smart and strong women who inspire me and make me laugh. I didn't know everyone super well going into the vacation but am so glad that I had the opportunity to get to know all of them through the trip.

Traveling is something I have always loved. It energizes and excites me and combining it with races has been a way to bring together lots of things I love over the years. We've already started a list of other races and adventures that we want to do and I can't wait to see what the next few years have in store. We lucked out with wonderful weather and easy, safe travels. Berlin Marathon and Eurotrip 2017 was everything I wanted it to be and I am so, so thankful.