The 90/10 Rule

Sickness has prevailed over my running for the past few weeks.  Each time I attempted to step out the door, my body would scream at me in the worst way – by coughing uncontrollably.  Most might think sickness and injury are a runner’s worst nightmare, but that’s not true. Sometimes we need to be brought back down to reality and remember that our bodies need to be taken care of before training, workouts and racing can resume. And that can be a good time to boost our mental and emotional strength.  It’s often said,  running is 90% mental and 10% physical, and there’s a reason why.

I’ve been running for a long time.  Even though I ran cross country in high school and college, I was still nervous about running my first marathon two years after I graduated. But I finished. And I ran another. And another. And eight more after that. And I have learned something from each.  But the most important thing I learned is that confidence in your training and a positive attitude can change your entire race. The ability to visualize your strength is huge. But it takes time.  Time and training that only come with experience.  Too much confidence and you might push yourself to injury.  To little and you might not reach your goal.

I ran six marathons before I qualified to run the Boston Marathon, and I’ll always remember how I felt during that qualifying race. Confident. Strong. And optimistic.  I knew I could do it.

Me after my first marathon - Seattle - in 2002.

Me after my first marathon – Seattle – in 2002.

After having twins, it’s been a bit of a rough road getting back into distance running. My daily miles are the only time I get to myself – and I cherish them. And sometimes I have to sacrifice them because life gets in the way.  But in the end, they are always there waiting for me. And there will always be another race to train for.

Enjoy it while you can. And then, be prepared.

A few weeks ago I experienced my first real “winter” run of the year.  And it was depressing.  Icy wind and spitting sleet turned me into an instant hater of all things winter-related. And I LOVE winter.  The truth was, I just wasn’t ready. I wasn’t ready for hats, gloves and layers of moisture-wicking clothing. I wasn’t ready to fight the battle of the bitter winds. And I wasn’t ready to see my breath exit my mouth in a white cloud. 

Last winter, I experienced my very first symptoms of frost bite – a swollen, red earlobe that didn’t return to it’s normal size for almost a week.  Heading out under-dressed on an early long run meant turning around too soon because of unbearable pain in my hands from sub freezing temps.  It’s pretty simple:  going outside in winter just means taking the time to prepare.  And in the past, I have failed miserably.  Many times. My number one goal this year is to be well-prepared most, if not all of the time.  That means stocking up on hand warmers, having adequate fuel, utilizing a hydration system that isn’t hand-held, and wearing lots and lots of layers.

Fortunately, for now, the weather has turned back to its beautiful, crisp self, as it always does in Central Oregon.  I am slowly adjusting to the colder temps, while embracing the dry, sun stricken trails of fall – running on them as much as possible before Old Man Winter decides to drop some doozies.

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A dark cloud above my favorite butte in Bend, OR.

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Race Report: 2013 Super Dave’s Down & Dirty Half Marathon

Sunday was my last official race of the season and I couldn’t have asked for a better day. Beautiful, crisp, fall weather greeted us at Seventh Mountain Resort – the location of the start and finish of the race. Besides the half, there was also a 10K which a few friends showed up for as well. Cory and I tried our best to stay warm prior to the race – temperatures dipped into the 30’s and the sun just wasn’t rising fast enough.

Finally, with 10 minutes to go, we hopped out of the comfort of the warm car and made our way to the start. Being a local trail race, we ran into quite a few friends and fellow running buddies which made for a great pre-race vibe. After few quick announcements from Super Dave, including the fact that the mile markers were not quite accurate, we were off.  A quick route around the resort and we headed out onto the trails.  The first few miles included wide trails and dirt roads – enough to handle both the half marathoners and 10Kers, who quickly turned back after three miles. Half marathoners continued on and up. After about two more miles, I was still feeling great – no problems with breathing or keeping pace. Only then did we hit a long gradual hill that kept climbing for a good two and half miles.  There was a runner far ahead of me – and every time he hit a hill, he would put both arms up, elbows sticking straight out with his hands on his head.  That’s how I knew there was another hill awaiting me.  This seemed to continue  until we finally hit a spot in the trees where I could finally see we were reaching the very top. Once we arrived, we found aide station #2, and our friend Glenn cheering us on. 

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Closed eyes, but happy to be on top of that hill.

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This is Cory’s happy face at the top of a hill.

And then it was down, down, down. Windy, rocky single track awaited our descent, and we all flew. It felt good to pick up speed. Winding around and down, we made our way back to the resort in negative splits (I didn’t time myself, but I am absolutely positive of this fact).

One steep crapper of a hill awaited us at the very end and I just didn’t have it in me to charge it.  But I think a lot of people lost their motivation, as well. Luckily, the finish was near and a little weave through the resort popped us onto the grassy lawn down to the finish line.  My time was 1:57, which isn’t a PR for me, but I was happy with it.  Being that this was my first Down & Dirty, I have nothing to compare it too.  Got a mug as a finisher’s prize (my favorite), and an awesome burrito buffet. A warm sun greeted us on the lawn as Cory, Lisa, Glenn and I recapped the race.  A perfect way to finish up the season.

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Race Report: 2013 Portland Marathon

Sometimes you just have to take advantage of the opportunities that come your way, even if it means running 26.2 miles.  On Sunday, I was lucky enough to run the Portland Marathon for the 6th time. It came about as a last minute decision, and I certainly made the right one.

On September 1, I ran the Sunriver Marathon and didn’t have the race experience (or time) that I had hoped for. The race itself was wonderfully organized and the course was great, but my body couldn’t handle the hot temperatures. Fortunately, after completing three marathons since having my twins and not having an enjoyable experience during any of them, the 2013 Portland Marathon finally rekindled my love of running marathons.

My friend Cory was also running, so him and his wife Lisa picked me up early Saturday and off we went. We got to experience PDX in all its sunny glory as we picked up our packets at the downtown Hilton, ate lunch at Pizza Schmizza and enjoyed a few little last minute carbs at Saint Cupcake.  Then it was off to our friends’ house for a little R&R before the big day.

My goal for this marathon was literally to have a “feel good” race.  I would love to PR, but I had struck out on the “Feel Good Meter” a few times, and was starting to think childbirth sabotaged my long distance running career. So all I needed was to feel good throughout the duration of 26.2 miles, and I’d be happy. And many marathoners know, that’s not always an easy thing to pull off.

The pre-race weather was crisp and cool, with the sun rising to a blue sky.  Portland’s reputation for soggy weather was slowly fading as runners flooded the streets of downtown in the early morning light.  Cory and I had similar time goals, and found our way to the 3:40/3:45 pace groups. After a moment of silence for the victims of the 2013 Boston Marathon and the national anthem, we were on our way.

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Amy & Cory – “Before”

I decided to follow the 3:40 pace group, and held on – even pulled ahead of them for a short time.  But short it was.  As we made our way out of the industrial section (an out and back at mile 10), I was starting to feel a little sluggish and that’s when I pulled out my first Roctain Gu.  The fuel helped me stay on pace as we cruised through the neighborhoods out to St. Helens, but I was still a bit behind the 3:40 group, and the gap seemed to be widening.  After I decided to stop at a port-a-potty the gap widened even more, and I knew I probably wouldn’t be able to close back in on them.  But I held my pace going up and over the St. Johns Bridge.  This is by far my favorite part of the course because of the views and the beautiful architecture of the bridge – amplified by the sun and blue sky.

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That’s me in the black visor, black tank, black/pink shorts and pink compression socks. Check out that bridge.

I continued to feel strong on the other side – high-fiving our support crew (Cory’s wife and our friends) as they cheered us on at mile 20. Soon it was down into the guts of the race where there is a lack of spectators and it’s just you and the pavement.  For the next few miles I was able to hold on and cruise the downhills, but by about mile 24 I was starting to feel the fatigue. Knowing that I usually feel this earlier in marathons, my spirits were high.  I knew I’d be finishing with a faster time than Sunriver, but had to dig deep during those last two miles.  I turned the corner at Salmon (counting down each block while running on the Naito Parkway – waiting for that damn fish sign is probably one of the hardest parts of the race for me), and the crowds were there – just as I remembered.  An older runner was ahead of me with #Boston Strong on his back, and the cheers erupted.  Such a great way to finish a race.  My time was 11 minutes faster than Sunriver, and 9 minutes away from my Boston Qualifying PR.  More importantly, I achieved my goal and felt great throughout the entire race.  No stomach distress or bonking, just pure happiness to be out running 26.2 miles.  I even managed to avoid any chaffing, blisters or “major soreness” – don’t get me wrong, my legs were quite tired – but the full body aches were avoided. Cory ended running a spectacular race, as well as a PR.

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Cory & Amy – “After”  

I truly enjoyed this marathon.  After feeling like I might never have another “good” 26.2 miles again, this is one I won’t soon forget. Thanks to my great friends Cory, Lisa, Ed and Martin, for their amazing support and hospitality.  You guys made the weekend.

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Lisa’s awesome signage was how I was able to spot them amidst all the spectators.

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Another marathon? Heck yeah.

There are two new blog posts in edit mode, and I can’t seem to finish either one. So I am writing a new one on a whim.  Because on Sunday, I’ll be running my second marathon in two months.  This is something I have never done, and I can’t wait.  After the Sunriver Marathon, I almost felt like it was “practice.”  A lot of hype and building anticipation left me feeling unsatisfied.  So much so that I was running just two days later – and feeling great.  So when the opportunity came to run another one, I jumped at it.  And here I sit, 3pm on a Friday, without a nervous bone in my body and an overwhelming desire to run a fantastic race. 

I’ll leave the details for the race report, but promise to keep a smile throughout 26.2 miles, run smart and have lots of fun. Life’s too short not to.

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My family and I at the pumpkin patch this past weekend – on my twins’ 4th birthday.

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Never Question a Runner

If you have ever watched the finish line of a marathon, you’ll see a lot of carnage.  Runners struggling those last few steps to reach the end of 26.2 miles. Strained faces, painful winces and arms raised in victory are just mere samples of body language spoken so often by marathoners. Dare ask an accomplished runner if they’ll attempt another marathon right after they’ve crossed the 26.2-mile finish, and you’ll get the anticipated answer, “never again.” But do not be deceived.  Because 20 minutes later, you can ask the same question and get a completely different answer.

Runners are a different breed.  We push ourselves 26.2 miles, 50K, 50 miles, 100K and 100 miles. Hours at a time. One foot in front of the other. Mentally wavering from mile to mile. And then we cross the finish line, and it’s over. And all those memories of struggle, perseverance, pain, weakness and instability disappear before we can say lactic acid.  For many of us, the wheels in our heads begin to spin, dreaming up the next big challenge.  Let’s try this again.  After my recent marathon, a friend reminded me that once I finished, I was quoted as saying, “remind me why I do these things.” She reminded me because I am currently planning on running another in less than a month.

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The Footzone Dirty Half Marathon in Bend, OR. Photo courtesy of Megan Ann Photography

My friend Cory just finished his first 50K last weekend.  The day after, he was searching for potential 50-mile races. There is no question that running takes both physical and mental strength.  As runners, we seek to push our body to it’s limit, and then some. And we keep doing it.  Because the feeling of accomplishment is one so gratifying, it’s hard to replicate. And so, we keep running.

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They Told Me To Get Over It

The above title is a line of one of my favorite songs by Sallie Ford and The Sound Outside.  And it is a great description of my childhood. When I was young, I ran because I wanted to. No one told me I had to run on the track team. I wasn’t pressured into running cross country.  Running was a sport I began on my own free will.  And there were definitely other activities I participated in where that was not the case.  While I always recognize my father as my biggest influence in running (he ran numerous road races and marathons during my childhood), I also recognize that running was my choice, and my choice alone.

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Amy running the 2008 Boston Marathon.

But the choice did not come without opposition.  I remember being invited to join the middle school cross country team by a male acquaintance. When I got cold feet and didn’t show up to the first meeting, he saw me in the hall and called me a Bitch.  There’s motivation for you.  Or the time I was running a local 5K the summer before my junior year. I had been seeing a guy I worked with who had just graduated, and was also a cross country runner.  “Maybe you just shouldn’t run,” he told me. I never forgot that. And I went out for the high school cross country team the month after.

What I like to believe is that with all the negative energy that crossed my path, I used it as my personal launch pad, if you will. Give me a negative, and I’ll turn it into a positive.  I wasn’t the best runner in high school or college.  But I continued to pursue my dream. A dream that began inside a little seven year-old girl and blossomed 19 years later as I crossed the finish line of my first marathon. But that was just the beginning.  The person I became after my first marathon was the person I always knew I could be.  I finally had my first taste of success, and there was no going back.

Amy crossing the finish line of the 2008 Boston Marathon.

Amy crossing the finish line of the 2008 Boston Marathon.

I want to share that with all the girls and women who feel like people are standing in their way, telling them to give up. I want to tell my daughter that she can do anything she puts her mind to, and if she works hard, there is nothing she can’t do.

And to never, ever let anyone tell her to get over it.

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Race Report: 2013 Sunriver Marathon

Yesterday I completed my 10th marathon in 3 hours and 58 minutes.  I finished fourth in my age division (and was given a 3rd place ribbon, but later discovered that was a mistake after reviewing the results), and placed 37 out of 111 finishers. 

This was my first marathon this year, after training for the Newport (OR) Marathon in June only to DNS due to an illness the day before . The illness, which ended up being a minor virus, hindered my running most of the month of June and finally gave way so I could train for Sunriver the rest of the summer. Training during July and August was stellar, without any major setbacks.  I felt strong going into this marathon, without having ever run the course or even in Sunriver, for that matter.

Race day nerves were plentiful, but I focused mostly on deep, full breaths before the start to keep as much tension out of my abdomen as possible.  The last couple marathons have been sabotaged by a feeling that I can only explain as a large rock in my stomach which sticks around for a good 17 miles.  Not the ideal way to run, and I can only attribute it to nerves since it never happens on training runs.  Fortunately, I was able to resolve that issue and the start was fairly smooth.  Being that there were only 100+ entrants, it felt like the start of a local 5K or 10K, and that threw me a little. The course was beautiful though, and I remained a couple minutes ahead of my goal 3:40 pace in the first half while traversing the bike trails around the golf course.  But my stomach had other plans after I downed a GU around mile nine.  After a little cramping, I tried to resolve the issue by downing only water for the next few miles.  That plan seemed to work, until my energy levels dropped around mile 17 and the extra GU I was about to toss was needed immediately.  I tore it open and downed it without any water, and it seemed to help.  Unfortunately after mile 20, the heat took a toll.  I was struggling to keep energy and motivation – walking a lot more than I had planned, and continuing to struggle even though there were plenty of aid stations.  Nothing seemed to help with the heat, which I never anticipated to be an issue.

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Somewhere around mile 20. Photo courtesy of Cory Smith.

I stopped to walk multiple times, which I remember doing maybe once in Boston because of a foot problem, but never before in prior marathons.  I definitely struggled on this one. My time was one of my slowest, but yet again, I am motivated to get stronger and beat my 3:38 PR.  Running one marathon a year puts a lot of pressure on marathon day, which in turn, puts a lot of significance on finish time.  I know that yesterday’s time was not proof of my strength, and will continue to pursue a marathon experience where everything goes great.  I have had a few, and know they exist.  But I also know that if I race more often, I will have more diverse experiences. Easy enough.

My upper body is sore today, but I am looking forward to getting back out there and running again.  Running on trails and up hills.  Running to feel happy and strong. Running to inspire and be inspired.  Here is a blog post I happened upon today via Ultrarunnerpodcast.com.

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Marathon Countdown

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My legs. Ready to run.

Thursday is coming to an end, which means my marathon is that much closer.  I’ll be running on Sunday, and I’m not exaggerating when I say every ache, sniffle and stomach lurch throws me into a panic.  Somehow I forgot about my last two marathons where stomach issues threw me for a loop – but all my memories flooded back this week.

Am I ready? 100%.

Will I survive? YES.

Can my legs make it 26.2 miles?  MOST DEFINITELY.

Will I do all I can to mentally prepare myself so that my stomach cooperates and stays calm. WITHOUT A DOUBT. 

I can visualize running the route and crossing the finish line until I am blue in the face, but if I don’t get enough fuel the week prior and morning of, I am setting myself up for failure.  And I refuse to let that happen.  I’ve done it before, and you better believe I can do it again. Only faster.

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Post Storm Pace Run

After a full afternoon of thunder, rain and lightening, I was able to escape the kids and jet off for a quick run at marathon pace.  The marathon I am running, the Sunriver Marathon, is a week from today, and I wanted to make sure I did a little speedwork this weekend. After the rain has stopped, everything is damp and the air is cool.  This is prime running time. 

While I’ve been experimenting with running technology, I am not planning on using anything except a stopwatch and possibly a pace bracelet next weekend.  No music, no GPS, nothing.  I did, however, take my phone with me today to see how I felt at the pace I was holding.

My breathing was somewhat labored, but my legs felt great on the way out, which amounted to about 800 feet of elevation gain. I now realize I am in shape because I can get up a few hills and recover quickly after, while continuing to run at pace.  I am feeling good (knock on wood). Fortunately the pace averaged 7:50 min/mile and I only need to hold 8:15 to hit my goal.

The smells of damp juniper trees, pine needles, asphalt and rubber track all heightened my senses and helped engage me.  Now it’s time for  a real 26.2-mile race next weekend.  Can’t wait.

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