Yesterday, while perusing my Facebook newsfeed, I was taken aback when I scrolled past a post from the Honolulu Marathon advertising that there were only 50 days left until the race. FIFTY days! And that was yesterday, so now there are only 49 days until the marathon. Woe is me.*
I’m not gonna lie, the fact that the marathon is quickly approaching and becoming a more tangible obstacle to surmount is kind of scaring the sh!t out of me. When I signed up to start training with this running group, the marathon seemed so distant that I didn’t really have to think about actually running it. Sure, I was training for a marathon, but I didn’t have time to consider the enormity of that goal when I was so busy worrying about being able to run 8, 10, 12 and then 14 miles. Let me focus on the task at hand and worry about the big one when I get there!
Well, now I’m there. Or at least close enough to there to start worrying about it in earnest. I don’t think it is coincidental that every time I start thinking about actually running in the marathon I feel a bubbly burning in my lower intestine and my shoulders involuntarily get rigid. I’m not doubting my training; I think Mike has designed a good program for us and in past years everyone who has done their training, in his group, has finished in a timely manner. I’m just doing what comes naturally to me whenever I’m faced with a big challenge: I’m doubting the extent of my grit and questioning my talent.
I think what is most terrifying about the marathon is that it feels like my one chance. I’ve never done anything like this before, and, while, sure there will be other marathons I can enter in the future should I want to, the groundwork it takes to get to the starting line is so extensive and requires so much dedication that to have a really bad experience in this first one would risk knocking the wind out of my sails to attempt another one. I’ve gotta get to that finish line.
I’ve been seeing this (appropriately timed) Nike commercial all over social media and the blogosphere, and it is quite inspirational. I’m hoping it will prep me for the view I will see during the marathon- everyone else’s backs disappearing over the horizon!
Something else that I’m using to help inspire me when the going gets tough (and it will get TOUGH) is something that I encountered a couple of weeks ago on another running blog written by the Unsporty Woman (check her out, I think you’ll like her!). She finished a marathon last weekend and on the way used this positive visualization video to help strengthen her mind so that she wouldn’t get caught up in negative feelings during her race.
I’ve heard from many sources that the last 10k of the marathon can be the most difficult. I keep hearing stories about runners hitting the wall around mile 20 and going from being on their way to finishing in under 4:30 to taking another hour to run the final 6 miles. I think (I hope!) mental preparation will help me when I encounter my wall. I’m well on my way to being ready physically; I’m feeling stronger and faster in my running than I’ve ever felt before, but I need to strengthen my mind so that it can deflect those Debbie Downer thoughts when they try to dissuade me from finishing the race. When I’m hot, tired, and sore, it will really be a case of mind over matter.
*And woe is you, too; if there are only 49 days until the marathon, then there are only 61 days until Christmas. Better get shopping!
At least, that was my thinking yesterday, after I finished a 14.5 mile run, until I lay down in bed to go to sleep last night. There is NOTHING like lying down in bed.
It seems that the forces who created us (God, Mother Nature, Flying Spaghetti Monster…take your pick), conspired to make the things most critical to our survival, as individuals, also the most blessedly wonderful experiences. This is why there is no better feeling than eating/pooping/sleeping when you’re really hungry/gottago-gottago-gottago-RIGHT NOW/tired. After yesterday’s run, I was totally diggin’ the divine luxury that is sitting down.
The run was titled Beach to Beach because in past years it started at the Kailua Beach Park right here in our humble little town and ended at the Ala Moana Beach Park in Honolulu. Unfortunately, a few factors combined to make Kailua Beach not an ideal starting point, so our group met at the Kalapawai Cafe instead. This change in starting line shortened the run by a mile to about 13.5, and also made the title an uncomfortable misrepresentation for those of us who like to split hairs over the literal meaning of things. Since I really wanted to run the Beach to Beach from one beach to another beach, Don humored me and we got up extra early to walk from our house to the closest beach from where we ran to the Kalapawai to meet up with the rest of our group. Thanks Don! A handful of others had the same idea, and, although it didn’t give us a running edge over anyone, it did give us the self-satisfaction of being literally correct and of being in a full sweat before the run officially started. I know what you’re thinking: what a bunch of weirdos!- and you’re without a doubt correct.
Poor Don had a terrible day. Not only did his beloved Chargers admit defeat in the waning minutes of their game yesterday afternoon, but, as he was discussing their chances with a fellow runner, he stepped on a nut, fell down, and twisted his ankle in the process (foreshadowing the football game to come?). We were only 3 miles into our trek, and, luckily, as he began to hobble back to our house, one of the aide cars happened by and was able to give him a lift home. Don was a good sport and met us at the finish, but his ankle was very swollen and painful. Hopefully it is just a small twist and he can still run the marathon in December, but we are awaiting the professional opinion of a Doctor tomorrow. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that we’ll get some good news because even more than Don wants to run the marathon, I want him to run it. Don has missed a couple of our long Sunday runs because he was out of town, and I’ve noticed that my suffering is easier to bear if I know that Don is also suffering. The marathon will be less miserable for me if I know that Don is out there, somewhere, also wishing he would be temporarily kidnapped or inadvertently backed over by a slow-moving car.
Yesterday’s run presented two challenges. The first was the long, steep climb over the mountain to the Pali lookout, and the second was the last two miles running along the highway to the Ala Moana Beach Park. If you’ve never had the opportunity to visit Oahu, you may not know that Kailua is located on what we call the Windward side of the island and Honolulu is on the Leeward side with the Ko’olau Mountains lying, like a sleeping dragon, smack-dab in between them. The mountains are so steep that it is impossible to build on them and to get from one side to the other, the highway tunnels through the mountains. To get from one side to the other by foot requires following a steep, slippery, narrow trail that gets you up and over the mountains while simultaneously making you feel the burn in your quads (and glutes, and lungs, and heart…) and providing you with breathtaking views making you wonder if you’ve accidentally crossed over into Narnia.
At times, the path was so narrow and slippery that walking was the only option and we even once had to crouch under a low overpass and ascend a rickety wooden ladder to reach the trail on the other side. Had I not been with my group, I certainly would have become lost. Once we reached the top of the mountain and the Pali lookout, we were rewarded with snacks and drinks and a singalong led by the father of one of our runners. Jim is a former camp director and the song he chose to sing with us featured a chorus of “happy all the time” with a lot of hand clapping; it is a pretty good mantra for distance running. After the Pali lookout, our route was mostly downhill.
Running downhill can present its own set of problems. Some runners complain about the jarring on their knees or the pressure put on their toes, but I find that as long as I maintain a comfortable pace and remember to Body Glide my feet before I run, the down hills don’t bother me. I was keeping up a pretty good pace until we got through Chinatown and turned left on the highway for the last two miles of the run. There, the route flattened out and the misty coolness that had made our ascent up the mountain so refreshing disappeared. The breeze was blocked by tall buildings and there was no longer any beautiful scenery to look at- just cityscape with the occasional glimpse of industrial boatyard. As I wondered how much farther we had to run, I saw the red tank top of the person I had been running in front of, then alongside, and then slightly behind diminishing as he maintained his pace and mine faltered. I took a few short walking breaks, drained the remaining tepid water from my belt and tried to talk myself out of sitting down on a bus stop bench and having an impromptu nap.
When I get really tired on these long runs, I start to get cold chills and I assume that it is my body’s last line of defense when I have ignored all of its other cease and desist orders. First my lungs light themselves on fire to protest the continued running. When that doesn’t work, my heart threatens to explode. If I fail to respond to either of these threats, my legs turn to cement and refuse to cooperate with my desire to propel forward. Then my brain will take over and remind me that I’m not a runner, I hate running, I have no business being out here with these other people who ARE runners, and oh yeah, my lungs are on fire, my heart is pounding, and my legs are TIRED. As a last resort, I think my body sends these cold chills to warn me that it is going revoke my right to be in charge and shut itself down- like rebooting a computer when it isn’t doing what you want it to. Luckily these warnings have started to occur later in my runs and with less frequency. As I get more fit, my body doesn’t feel the need to protect itself from my crazy whims and even my brain has resigned itself to simply reminding me that I’m pretty slow and I look dorky in my water bottle belt, but I already knew that.
It was with great relief that I finally reached the Ala Moana Beach Park. I drank Gatorade, I ate grapes, one of the members of our group owns a Mexican restaurant and he had breakfast burritos delivered, we jumped into the turquoise waters of the Pacific with our running clothes on, and we were shuttled back to the Kalapawai Cafe where we were greeted with fruit salad and freshly-baked cookies. I’ve said it before and I’m sure I’ll say it again; I could not do this without the support of my running group. I don’t need to chit chat while I run, I don’t even really need to run alongside someone, but being able to squint into the distance and see a cluster of brightly-colored running shirts or look over my shoulder and spot a dorky running hat bobbing along the trail reassures me that I’m not the only one who is crazy enough to give up a morning of sleeping-in in exchange for a few hours of sweaty suffering.
There are many options for mid-run nutrition, and most of them are, regrettably, quite terrible. I’ve been told by people who do this sort of thing often that “you just get used to them, eventually,” but as our runs got longer, I was starting to worry that I hadn’t yet found an energy option to eat during a run that I could stomach.
As advised by seasoned race-runners, Don and I have been experimenting with nutrition options to eat during the marathon to keep our energy and electrolyte levels up for optimal performance. Options for during-activity nutrition come in a variety of forms like powdered drink mixes, gummy chews, and gels. Gels are the most common of these options, and unfortunately most of them have either a weird snot-like texture that is hard to swallow or a strange chemical flavor that initiates my gag-reflex- or both the gross texture and flavor making them doubly impossible to stomach!
Don has found some flavors of the popular GU brand of energy gel that he likes; his favorite is the Salted Caramel. I like both the HoneyStinger gels and the Hüma Chia gels. Neither of us could stand PowerGel (we tried two flavors, strawberry banana and chocolate and both were beyond gross), and I was disappointed because I was a big fan of the original PowerBar- remember that flexible, flat, brick of a bar that somehow managed to be both gummy and grainy simultaneously? I loved them- even the banana flavor that nobody else liked! The PowerGel truly is gross, and, as much as I wanted to like them out of loyalty to the crumpled banana PowerBars of my youth, I just couldn’t. We have, sitting on our kitchen counter, two packets of the chocolate flavor, and, since I can’t seem to be able to offload them onto anybody else, I’ve been toying with the idea of mixing them with some confectioner’s sugar to try and make an icing that I could maybe spread on brownies. Brownies can make anything palatable, right? I could start carrying them around in my purse to give to the next homeless person who asks me for money for food (I give food items over money since I never seem to have money but I always seem to have food; I guess we know where my priorities lie), but that seems like a cruel joke to play on someone.
I don’t like the GU gels, and I think it is because they have caffeine in them. I drink coffee only rarely- I’m an Earl Grey gal- and soda even more rarely, so the weird chemical flavor that I taste in the GU could be whatever they use to make them caffeinated. Don, who loves his caffeine, found the Espresso Love flavor to be tolerable and the Salted Caramel quite tasty. He sampled a non-caffeinated Root Beer one yesterday and declared that it was fine, but that he wouldn’t buy it again because he wanted the caffeine. The texture of the GU was better than that of the PowerGel; a little easier to swallow and a lot less reminiscent of having post-nasal drip.
The gels I prefer are coincidentally either all-natural or organic and do not have caffeine. The HoneyStinger was quite sweet and had a sticky texture that I assume comes from it being made with honey. It was easy to swallow and not bad at all. The Hüma Chia gel (I had the mangoes flavor) was delicious. The texture, because of the chia seeds, was similar to applesauce or baby food and it tasted like mango jam. I’m looking forward to trying the other flavors on offer and was actually sad when I finished my packet during yesterday’s run. I opened it at the halfway point, put it to my lips with some apprehension after my PowerGel experience, and was delighted by the taste; it is good enough to spread on toast for breakfast.
We’ve tried both the Gatorade Chews and the Clif Shot Bloks and liked them. They both have a texture similar to that of organic fruit snacks, and taste fine. I like them as a pre-run pick-me-up if I need one, but prefer the gels for eating while in the midst of a long run because they are easier to take in; spending the small amount of energy it takes to chew seems counterintuitive when I’m struggling to keep one foot landing in front of the other. Don liked the Mandarin Orange Tailwind drink mix, but, while I liked the flavor, I found it gave me too much of a tail wind, if you catch my drift. I really wanted to like the Hammer Perpetuem drink mix because it has protein in it- something that, as a vegetarian, I have to work to get enough of- and came highly recommended by Jeff at Be Fit Kailua, but I didn’t. I may have diluted it too much, so I’ll try to revisit it. I like the idea of a drink mix because I can customize it a bit with dilution, so I’ll keep looking out for one that suits me. So far Gatorade, specifically the fruit punch flavor, is my go-to electrolyte drink and I’ve come to crave it after a long run.
At the outset of our marathon training, I hadn’t considered the possibility of needing to find some sort of nutrition to eat during the race, but now that we’ve started to run longer and have passed the half-marathon mark, I see why it is necessary. Along with maintaining proper hydration, we need to take in electrolytes to replace those we are sweating out and refuel to replace the energy we are expending. I’m glad I started to sample the options ahead of time to find out what will sit well with my system- had I tried the Tailwind drink mix on marathon day, I don’t think I would have finished in a timely manner or maybe at all.
We had a 10 mile run up the Ka’a’awa coast yesterday (if you’ve seen the new Jurassic World movie, you’ve seen where we ran) that was made difficult by the heavy, humid air. I managed to almost keep up with Don for most of the run with a ten-minute mile pace, but by the end, I was struggling to maintain it and did so, I’m certain, only out of stubbornness. This week, we have a pretty exciting run to look forward to; we will be starting here in Kailua, running up over the beautiful Old Pali highway and ending at a beach in Honolulu. On the map, it looks like it should be about 13 miles, but we have to get over the mountains somehow and I’m sure that steep climb will make this run seem much longer than 13 miles.
On Saturday night Don and I, at long last, signed up for the Honolulu Marathon! We figured that it was time to seal our fate and fully commit to the race. There is no turning back now- yikes!
Yesterday the group and I ran approximately 14 miles- a little more than a Half-Marathon! Mother Nature gave us a perfect day: overcast, light breeze, and rain-free, and I managed to finish in about 2.5 hours. Because my 12 mile run had been dishearteningly difficult and because my right hip has been a little sore lately, I went into yesterday’s run feeling anxious, but I needn’t have worried. The cooler weather definitely helped, and I was able to maintain a steady pace without any walking breaks (aside from stopping at our roving aid stations, and thank goodness for them!).
I felt great yesterday and the route we ran followed the coast from Waimanalo to Hawaii Kai, so I had plenty of good scenery to look at. The surf was pretty high and I saw a handful of surfers (and even one very brave paddle boarder) enjoying the waves, fishermen were out early trying to get the catch of the day, and we were joined by some cyclists participating in a local Tour de Cure. Along the way, I tried to focus on my form; when I get tired, I tend to collapse forward and slouch in a posture I think of as “shrinky-torso” or “the letter C.” This is a terrible posture for anything physically active and is a default position for me when I tire. I actually first became aware of it in college when my riding coaches christened it “the letter C,” and I had no idea it would continue to haunt me years later when running. I guess they say that old habits die hard, and that certainly seems to have some truth to it.
When I shrink into a slouch, it makes it harder to breathe, my stride becomes shorter and less powerful, and my shoulders get cramped from being rounded. None of this is effective for good running, so I tried to notice whenever I felt myself getting tired and shrinking yesterday, and stand up a little straighter and I think that also contributed to the success of my run.
It feels like things are starting to come together; Don and I have been experimenting with the various mid-run nutrition options available to us, and we have found things we like (or at the very least won’t make us gag)- more on those later- I’m getting faster, and we both are feeling more comfortable with the double digit mileage. After yesterday’s run, I was trying to decide if I felt good enough to run the same route again (hypothetically, of course) to gauge how I’d feel if I had to run the marathon RIGHT NOW instead of in two months (Oh dear god. TWO MONTHS?), and while I don’t think I’m fit enough that I’d have been able to run it again in the same amount of time, I do think I could have done it. This is a huge amount of progress; just yesterday my Dad reminded me it wasn’t that long ago when I was complaining about barely being able to run three miles on a treadmill without someone stopping to ask if I was experiencing a cardiac event, and now I’m usually at least five miles in before someone comments on the bright pink hue of my face. The beauty of running is that progress is easily quantifiable in so many ways. Now that I’m officially locked into the race, I feel an added sense of purpose to my workouts and I hope things stay on the upswing at least until I cross the finish line!
I came across this video on my Facebook newsfeed earlier this week; it was posted by the Wellness Center I used to visit in Germany and it does a great job of succinctly presenting advice for healthy eating habits. It’s definitely worth a watch if you have any confusion about what healthy eating means and want to reaffirm your desire to stay away from fad diets that are unsustainable because there is no way in HELL that you can go the rest of your lifetime without eating potatoes or bread!