Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Marathon Recovery

Last year I wrote about recovering physically from a marathon. What I didn't touch on is mental recovery.

At some point during a marathon, well, at least most the runners I know, you find yourself questioning your sanity. I signed up for this? I thought this would be fun? I trained five months for this? This hurts!

If the mental game hadn't started during the taper, it surely appears around mile 22. That voice gets louder and clearer, until you stop running. But that's the lure of the marathon. You've trained your body to physically complete the task at hand. The mental side is the tougher part.

After crossing the finish line, I think most of us experience a moment of euphoria. We've accomplished a great task that not many have. As the euphoria fades, your conscience returns. He's saying something like 'Never. Again.'

A few hours after the first marathon, I announced I wanted to do another.

This year, it's taking a bit longer to come to that conclusion. In the two weeks following the race, a head cold was getting the best of me. The runs up until Hot Chocolate on November 3rd were pathetic attempts. I wondered if I should hang up running for awhile. Even at the start line of Hot Chocolate, I wasn't completely sold on doing the race. I had signed up just days before. I knew I needed to run another race to get me out of my slump. The post-marathon slump.

Since Hot Chocolate, I've had some good runs which is motivating me to run through winter. Even still, 38 days after the race, I have not decided if another marathon is in the cards. My brother commented that he wants to run Chicago next year. If he signs up February 1st, I know I'll be right behind him.

But for the time being, the brother scenario is the one exception. I'm just not ready to talk about it. Yet.

My friend Carrie announced her retirement shortly after completing the Berlin Marathon this year. Though I have since heard that she would consider coming out of retirement for the right race.

And the cycle continues.

Hot Chocolate 15K; "Don't people know they can buy chocolate at the store?"

Ah, the Hot Chocolate 15K. You're good in theory.

You fall on the perfect weekend. If you were a week earlier, I may still have the marathon too fresh in my mind to consider you. I like that you're a 15K. I like that you're on a Saturday.

Your inaugural year was supreme. A smaller field of runners along the lakefront path. No pressure, just an easy long run after having a few weeks off from dedicated long runs. Best of all, there were boxes and boxes of Hershey's chocolate handed out at the end. So much chocolate in fact, that Kim A. and I had our hats and shirts filled to the brim. It was like trick-or-treating for adults and we loved it.

As the years have gone by, you've grown. This year, I heard an announcement of over 40,000 runners. That's a larger field than that of the Chicago Marathon. That's crazy. For the first time, you were held on "all city streets" which was much appreciated by anyone who ran you last year and hadn't anticipated trail running. But even at that, it was way too crowded to be of much joy.

Your expo is held in Union Station which may be great for suburbanites, but not for most city dwellers. You've picked up Ghirardelli as a sponsor, but they aren't as generous as Hershey's. Or maybe it's that you're too big now for any chocolatier to accommodate. Instead of being showered with more candy than you can eat at the finish, you're handed three squares of chocolate, then told to walk a mile to the post race party which happens to be a mud field. After trucking through the mud, we received a ballpark nacho tray including one marshmallow, one pretzel stick, the smallest rice krispie treat known to man and three apple slices. We then received about three tablespoons of melted chocolate to dip everything in. We walk around a big set up in the middle of the mud field where each person hands out one piece of chocolate each. If were were trick-or-treaters at your house, we'd come back and egg it (ok, maybe not, I'd never do that...) After a ten minute walk, I come back with four pieces. Complete waste of time.

Don't get me wrong, the chocolate is delicious. But after running 9.3 miles, I want to take in a lot of chocolate. I've been thinking for the last 90 minutes how I plan on stuffing my face with everything that comes in chocolate, because, after all, this is the Hot Chocolate Run. I even showed the Roosevelt Street bridge who's boss as I ran up it, just thinking about delicious chocolate. Oh, and how much easier it is to run up that bridge after running 8.5 vs. 25.5.

Some of the runners in our group were wise and decided not to trek to the post race party. Instead, they headed to brunch at Anne Sather's. Now, Anne doesn't disappoint. She advertises cinnamon rolls and you get big cinnamon rolls. Brian was there with a few people when Kim and I arrived. We discussed the race. We all had great times, even some P.R.'s.

As the subject of the stingy chocolate distribution came up, Brian posed a question, "Don't people know they can buy chocolate at the store?" In one sentence, he'd wrapped up the entire conversation, and quite possibly, the last chapter in my Hot Chocolate run career.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Walkers vs. Runners

Let me start by saying I think any form of exercise is great exercise. Luckily there's many to choose from to fit each person's likes and needs. I think walking is great exercise.

I enjoy the ten minute walk each morning and evening from work to the bus or train stop. Or taking a long walk and taking care of a few errands.

When I trained for the Susan G. Komen 3-Day (60 miles), I counted every where I walked, not just training walks. I thought I didn't need to walk as far as the schedule said since I'd run a few 5K's. Truthfully, the main reason I didn't train completely for the 3-Day: walking gets boring. Followed closely by reason number two I didn't train completely: I liked to sleep in and stay out late. As I side note, I was not monitoring nutrition or the amount of sleep I was getting. When I did train, it started whenever I felt like it. I walked until I got bored and then I went home.

That was me. I was not smart then. That's not every walker.

Distance walking seems to get short changed on training compared to, let's say, half marathon training. 

This is where walkers and runners are so different.

When I started training for my first half marathon, I did a lot of research. I consulted known running greats like Hal Higdon and Jeff Galloway. I read up on nutrition, stretching, cross training, recovery and form.

I printed out the chosen training schedule and had it taped in my office at work and at home on the fridge. That way, I could never forget how long I needed to run that day. I went to bed early every Friday night so I could complete a long run early Saturday morning. I started each mid-week run from my condo after work.  I logged every mile in a running journal. I played out my iPod.

That's when I started make running part of my life.

For the last five years, I've thought nothing of giving half of all my Saturdays to running - Up and running by no later than 8am each day, going anywhere from 5 to 20 miles. But in order to keep a routine like this up, you're forced to become a little O.C.D.

My running friends are all* the same way. They have their routines. Their routes. Their plans. Their special shirt or socks. Their pre-race meal. Their power song. I know Sara has to have Apart Pizza for breakfast the morning before a long run. I know Kim always wants to start a run running into the wind.

When my friend(s) say 'Let's meet at 5am on Saturday to get 16 in before it gets too warm,"  I agree, even though this is an hour and a half before our training group usually runs. Whether it's two people running that morning or six, we all arrive on time and ready to go. We have a plan. We execute it. Then we eat. There's no questions or gray area. We're all the same that way.

Every once and awhile, one of us does a walk for charity. Inevitably, we come back with stories of how other walkers aren't taking training seriously. They aren't punctual. They lack focus. As this conversation plays out, I'm reminded of my training walks.

We're just different that way. Maybe the walkers are smarter?

(* except for Brian)

Chicago Marathon 2011

Brian and I cross the start line with positive thoughts. I've been saying 'We're going to kill it' for the last few days, so how could we not?

The Chicago Marathon is such a spectacle. It's easy to forget you're running - At least in the beginning. As a runner, you find yourself looking to the sides of the road or overhead to take in the sights and spectators. In those first few miles as you travel through the packed downtown streets, you marvel in what a cool experience a marathon is. Why wouldn't everyone want to do this?

Unfortunately, the miles of feeling amazing are short lived in the long 26.2 journey. Brian and I ran a solid 10 for the first 7 or 8 miles. As we headed up north on Sheridan to Addison, I started feeling ill. I tried to assess if it was the head cold or something else. I needed to give myself some time to work through it and see if I felt better. We saw Kim and then my Mom, Tricia and Dave around the ballpark.

As I passed my Mom, I wondered if I should tell her I wasn't feeling well. If I was to slow down or go to the medical tent, how would she know?

The ill-feeling became worse. I started to wonder if I would know when I needed to stop. As long as I could keep running, did I feel well enough? Or does your body not tell you when you need to stop? Is that how people pass out while running a marathon?

Then I thought through the process of quitting. If I kept feeling worse, I'd have to stop. So, how does that work? Do I walk to the side, ask the spectators to make way, remove my bib and start walking on the sidewalk? Where would I walk to? I have no phone, no money, no keys, no form of identification; nothing. All I have is five packets of Gu Roctane, my fuel belt, and the clothes on my back. All my stuff is at gear check which far away from Lakeview. Should I walk up to a spectator and ask to use their phone to call my Mom? How embarrassing would that be?

So instead, Brian and I kept going. I didn't tell Brian about any of this until much later in the race when we both felt like complete hell.

Around mile 10, we saw my friend Carrie. I was excited to see her. She told me I looked great. I realized the sick feeling had passed.

We headed back downtown in a blur, then out west. Way west. Have you ever been in bad traffic heading west on  Fullerton or Belmont where it takes you forever to get to Ashland? Imagine running to Damen. At that point in the marathon, it seems like the mental end of the world.  You can look a block south to see you're just going to have to turn around and run all the way back.

On our way back east, the sun was relentless. It was getting warm. We were heading in to Little Italy now at mile 17. We had stopped briefly to stretch as things were starting to ache.

Here's where I start thinking about my reeler. That's Kim. Instead of thinking about how far I have to go to finish (which you can't process doing anyway), I think of how far until I get to Archer just west of Chinatown. That's where Kim waits for me to arrive, then 'reels' me in, like a fish on line to the finish line.

But before we reach Kim, we have to tackle Pilsen. Pilsen is quite arguably the party area of the Marathon. By far the best music on the course and there's usually some spectators handing out beer. I kept an eye out for my Dad, but never did see him. I had found his camouflaged hunting hat twice last year in Pilsen. Brian did find his friends, which I was happy to see. By the time we reached Pilsen, we had seen my Mom, Tricia and Dave four or five times. They are amazing.

Rounding the corner at 18th and Halsted, we see the temperature reading on a bank sign of 89. Better than 90 something, but far warmer than we'd been hoping for.

As Brian and I headed south on Halsted approaching the south branch of the river, we saw a familiar face. Kim had arrived at her usual spot early and decided to walk further up the course and help us over the Halsted bridge. We were so happy to see her. We forgot about our aches and pains as Kim gave us the race highlights she'd watched on T.V.

Chinatown was a madhouse, but Tricia managed to find us in the crowd. She'd made the best signs!

Now we headed south on Wentworth. For me, this is where I'm transported in to a time warp, or as most people call it, the Wall. There's less than 5 miles to go, yet it mind as well be 10. Your body asks why you're doing this. Regardless, you just have to keep moving forward, however fast that may be.

At 33rd we cross the Dan Ryan. Logistically, this is good. We are heading east and we're very close to turning north. Once we turn north on to Michigan, my very fuzzy brain starts doing math. 35th street minus 12th street equals 23 blocks. I can do 23 blocks. This process continues on until the Roosevelt street sign is in view.

At mile 24, we see Ken, Sara and Kim S. They jump up and down when they see me, which makes me smile. Smiling doesn't hurt, but just about everything else does.

Kim helps me push forward up until 13th and Michigan when we run in to John. John's working for the marathon today instead of running. His job is to weed out anyone who's on the course and doesn't have a bib. He looks at Kim, and Kim points that she'll exit the course on the left. Now I have to prepare to climb the Roosevelt bridge alone.

I can only imagine what I must look like 'running' up this hill. I am sure it's a train wreck. But I'm running, or, I think I am. So many people are walking up the hill. We have a quarter of a mile to go.  I see Jen near the top of the hill. She's also working for the marathon today and cheers wildly when she sees me. As I push up the hill, I see a runner with a prosthetic leg. He wears a shirt that has the Wounded Warrior Project logo on it. I'm inspired by this man.

We turn the corner to see the finish line right ahead of us. I run in at 4:54:09 and hold up four fingers.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Head Cold vs. Chicago Marathon

I've fallen off blogging for awhile. Hopefully this entry can explain (at least partially) what happened.

Saturday, the day before the marathon and following the Salute luncheon, we headed home. The goal was to stay off my feet as much as possible the rest of the day.

As afternoon turned into evening, I noticed something new. I had a sore throat.

I could panic or I could try ignoring it.

Ignoring it would use less energy. I downed Airborne and hoped for the best.

I packed up my gear check bag, double checked my list, and prepped for bed.

By morning I had a runny nose as well. I grabbed advil, dayquil and kleenex, then headed to the L.

During my train ride, I looked up the effects of medications and marathon running. As with any internet medical question, in the end, I thought taking any cold medicine may lead to death.

When I arrived at Michigan & Congress to meet Brian at 6am, I had taken nothing. Brian could tell I was stuffed up, and over the next hour convinced me that Dayquil would probably not kill me, and, well, if I felt bad, I could always go to medical.

Easy to say. Harder to do.

We checked our bags, visited the port-a-potties, then headed to the corral.

We'd discussed a strategy over the last few days. We were going to start at a 10 minute mile pace and see where we went from there. Now standing in the corral with the sniffles, I hoped I could hold up my end of the deal.

In a few minutes, I was about to start my 4th marathon. I was nervous. It seems that all marathoners are that way - you just never know what's going to happen between the start and finish lines. That unknown can make you crazy or keep you coming back for more.

About 11 minutes after the gun went off, Brian and I reached the start line.