Friday, October 12, 2018

Race Report: Army Ten Miler 2018

After the Navy Half, things seemed to turn around. The weather improved, workouts went better, the September slump was ending! Maybe I could pull off the same comeback as 2014, when a bad September race was forgotten by a big PR at the Army Ten Miler and the trajectory of the season seemed to shift.

But the weather had one last (please let it be the last!!) dose of humidity to smother us with, just in time for Army. I didn’t want a repeat of the Navy Half, where I completely crumbled in the second half, so I knew I had to adjust my goals even more. I put aside my hopes of PRing at this race and tried to take a more modest approach. I wouldn’t worry about outcome goals like time or place, instead I’d focus on process goals, which are more about strategies used and aren't affected by things out of our control (like weather and other competitors). My new goal became to negative split. I’d go out slow and pick it up at halfway. Surely I could do that and come away feeling successful, which is what I needed most of all.

Mile 2. Taking it so easy I can do this with my eyes closed.
I started slowly, a few seconds back from the line, and tried not to worry about the women surging ahead. But once again, it was hard to turn off my overanalyzing inner monologue. Is this easy enough?? I told myself it was and I hit 5 miles just over 6:10 pace, the slow end of my “start easy” range. OK, first part of the mission was a success. Surely I can pick it up from here. Around the loop by the 10K, I felt good, catching some of the men around me, feeling like I had another gear to shift to. I caught a woman as we started up the long, endless (~2 mile) bridge/highway, and reminded myself this time I was racing smarter; catching people rather than being caught. But the next two miles were more of the same pace-wise, a hair over 6:10. I wasn’t actually picking it up at all.

Mile 8 was even worse, the bridge hadn’t ended yet and went up ever so slightly to swing us around to the off ramp. The split was the worst of the day. Rather than getting faster, I was slowing drastically, again. 

I told myself to really push the last two miles, and coming off the highway (it’s always a joy to get the heck of 395) and seeing my family made me smile through the pouring sweat. But once more, the split was slower than expected, nearly as slow as mile 8. From the bridge onwards I had slowly reeled in a friend and I finally pulled alongside and slightly ahead in the last half mile. I finally found another gear to push with, but it seemed in vain given how ridiculously off my goals I was. At least I can make this mile the fastest. At least I can finish strong.

The last mile.
I finished in ninth, in 1:02:01. If I had known my chip time was so close to breaking 1:02 would I have kicked harder? I don’t know. I was so far off my early season goals it’s embarrassing. I didn’t even get my “surely I can at least negative split” process goal either, as my second half was 20 seconds slower than my “slow start.” Surprisingly, ninth is the highest I’ve ever placed at Army, which shows how much the weather slowed things (my best time at Army is almost 2 minutes faster).

But I am, as always, so sick of blaming the weather. I know it affects times, obviously, but everyone is dealing with the same conditions. I seem to melt a little more: am I psyching myself out too early? Mostly I find that humidity saps me of my fight. I need to find a way to fight back harder.

I hoped that Army would be the moment that things turned around, like they did in 2014. But I need to remember that I can’t capture 2014’s magic exactly, things will be different season to season. (Not least because the weather was nearly ideal for Army that year.) I continue to struggle with learning that lesson, that I can’t compare everything to previous seasons. I need to find a new way to make some magic this time around.

Dream big, 
Teal

Friday, September 28, 2018

September Slump

The summer of speed ended with a thud. My goal 5K was grossly humid (a constant torment, see below) and I went out at the pace my track workouts told me was possible, hoping to finally master the bravery and suffering required of a fast 5K. Instead, I fell apart hard and finished way off my goal.

So I’m still not great at 5Ks, so what? There will be another time to try to conquer that beast again. It was time to get back to my bread and [peanut] butter: marathon training.

The first few weeks went well, surprisingly well. Maybe the 5K training is paying off?! But while on vacation at the end of August I had a bad workout. I blamed vacation and being out of my rhythm, but when I got home, it was more of the same. Every workout was wildly off my goal pace and twice I cut them short, totally discouraged. It was always 98% humidity, but: Hadn’t I managed decent workouts despite the humidity all summer?

Going into my first race of the season, the Navy Half Marathon, I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t really have the long, hard efforts to back myself up, but I tried to focus on the workouts I was hitting just a few weeks ago. I hoped to run around 1:20 (6:06 pace) and thought that would put me near the top. Given my shaky confidence, I decided starting at 6:10 would be more realistic. When that seemed ambitious too, I tried to stay positive. Don’t give up on yourself before the race even starts. I didn’t look at the humidity. Better to not psych myself out.

For the first mile I tried not to go out too hard and found myself with two other women; collectively our pack was in second. I kept telling myself to take it easy and when the split (6:16) was slower than my plan of 6:10, I took it as a good sign. Over the next couple miles I kept trying to run relaxed and not worry that the splits were closer to 6:15s than 6:10s. It is humid, so slower is probably smarter.
The early miles.
[Photo credit: Cheryl Young]
But despite trying to stay relaxed, I was obsessing over my effort way too much for so early in the race. I couldn’t shut my brain off and was constantly scrutinizing how I felt, which ended with thinking that I really just wanted to drop out. I told myself I had to at least make it to my family (around mile 7) but that reminded me I couldn’t drop out there either. I had dragged them to DC for this race, I had to make it worth it. (Having my family at races continues to be one of my best mid-race motivators.)

Around mile 4 my old teammate Kerry caught up to me. I was happy to get to run with her, it’s been a long time since we’ve run together. I remembered that (possibly?) the last time we had run side-by-side through Hains Point was a workout leading up the 2016 Trials. Despite Kerry’s valiant efforts helping me that day, the workout had gone terribly. Yikes, don’t think about that! Today will be better.
Side by side with Kerry.
[Photo credit: Cheryl Young]
Last year, the combination of a super caffeinated gel and seeing my family had been like rocket fuel, so I tried to replicate it by scarfing down a gel before mile 7. But I struggled to get it down and lost Kerry. I knew if I let her go I’d fall apart and sure enough, the unraveling began.

I did get to see my family just after that, and Baby had learned a new phrase “Go, Mommy!” which was the highlight of the race. But on the out-and-back up Rock Creek Parkway I was slowing drastically and waiting for the inevitable. When will I be caught? I was now in third and figured the women from the first few miles along with other friends couldn’t be far behind. I couldn’t believe how much I was slowing and I just wanted to stop. But maybe the reason I was running so poorly was because I had given up on myself too much recently, and I really needed a longer, harder effort. No matter what, I need to finish the workout.

"Go, Mommy!"
A slight change in the course meant we had to endure a steep hill at the turn around at mile 8.5. I slowly shuffled up it and on the way down could see my competitors coming for me. Despite the cheers of the other runners heading for the turn around (thank you all!!), I continued to crumble. Around mile 11 another old teammate, Maura, caught me. She, like Kerry, tried to urge me to keep up but I couldn’t hang on. By the last mile it was all I could do to not stop and walk. In the last quarter mile I was passed by yet another friend and had no response.

I finished way off my goal pace and place and left feeling completely defeated, similar to how I felt after my last 5K. But a half is more in my wheelhouse, what’s wrong with me? I did at least finish and was crazy sore (and dehydrated) afterward, which told me that—no matter how slow—it was still a tough workout. 

Which reminds me of something I wrote after a nearly identical race, 2014's Rock-n-Roll Philly. It was also humid, my early pace was too ambitious, I fell apart and essentially jogged it in. But despite a similar September slump, that season ended well, with a huge PR at CIM. Sometimes I get caught up trying to prove my fitness in a workout or at a race, but that’s not the point of these early season efforts. Instead the point is to gain fitness, so I’m focusing on doing the work, taking care of myself, and knowing there’s plenty of time to turn things around.

In the meantime Baby continues to say “Go, Mommy” at random times, which is always encouraging.

Dream big,
Teal

Friday, July 27, 2018

Race Reports: Cul-de-sac 5K #3 and a Track Mile

The summer of speed continues with the last race of the Cul-de-sac 5K series and my first track race in 15 years.

Cul-de-sac 5K #3

After coming in fourth and second in the first two races, I really wanted to win one. And in the back of my mind, where the crazy-over-the-top ambitious part lives, I thought if I could somehow pull out a win, there was a teeny tiny chance that I might be able to pull off the series win. The series is scored like a track meet (10 points for first, 9 for second, 8 for third, etc.) and after two races I was two points behind. Getting the overall title involved some kind of World Cup elimination math: not only did I need to win, but Current Leader needed to get third, giving us the same point total. Then it would come down to cumulative time; going into the last race she had sixteen seconds on me, so I also needed to beat her by at least that much.

Right, well that seemed unlikely, especially since I had not beaten her at all yet. But if none of that worked out, I at least wanted to have won one of these races. That was motivation enough.

The weather was in between the previous two races (88° with a feels like temp of 94°) but at this point I felt mostly used to it; I wasn’t obsessing over it at least. (Acclimatization at its best!)

Race plan was to run relatively relaxed the first mile, but not obsess over pace, and then start pushing at mile 2. I was of course hoping to go faster than the previous two, but I didn’t want to obsess over the pace; I just wanted to focus on pushing and not berating myself for going too slow (like the first race) or screwing myself up thinking I was going out too fast (like the second race). I forbid myself from looking at my watch at all the first mile and tried sticking with a guy who I regrettably let get away from me in the previous races. I allowed myself to glance at my watch at the 1-mile marker, but I hit the wrong button and couldn’t really see the split; I think it was 5:55ish. (For the amount of time I use my watch and obsess over splits, you’d be surprised how often I screw it up mid-race.) Whatever, doesn’t matter, good enough. Time to push, only two miles left.

Through the three out-and-backs I was in first and saw that Current Leader was in third. (Second place was a woman who got second in the first race, but skipped the next week so wasn’t eligible for the series competition). Seriously, is this happening? Could I actually pull off both wins? Wait a minute, don’t get carried away, I’ve been caught and beaten by both these women before.

Through the second mile I tried to press harder than I had the other weeks and to use the fear of being caught to keep pushing. Once again I only allowed myself to look at my watch at the mile marker. (12:01 for two miles, so the second mile was probably too slow, but not as bad as previous weeks.) Right, ok, whatever. This is the last mile, the last time I have to run this race, the last chance to push all the way to the finish. With half a mile left I tried to push harder still, but wondered whether I had enough to fight if anyone caught me. The negative thoughts started swirling (I’m going to lose this right at the end!); I had to keep reminding myself that so far those were just fears and not reality: I was still winning and just needed to focus on getting my butt across the finish line as fast as possible and not worry about anything else.

I didn’t believe I had it until I rounded the final turn and crossed the line in 18:36, my fastest time of the series. I was happy to run faster each race, but the time still isn’t where I hoped it would be at this point. I was also happy to finally get a race win, but still wasn’t sure about the series competition; while waiting for the results I convinced myself that I had gotten second. When they finally announced the results, it was a shock: I had pulled it off. The tiebreaker rules worked in my favor and I won with a slightly faster cumulative time. (Happily, they didn’t have to go to yellow cards.)

Prize for the series win was a trophy that's
basically the same size as my 16 month old.
Summer Series 1 mile

In a serious departure from marathon life, the races for the week weren’t over. Two days later, I raced a mile as part of the Richmond Summer Track Series.

In the day leading up to it, I had to constantly remind myself why the heck I was racing a mile. 5Ks are enough out of my comfort zone, but a mile?? I haven’t raced on the track since high school, I don’t even know how to properly warm up for a track race. The truth was I hoped for a PR because my current mile PR (5:19) is from the last interval of a 3x1 mile workout before the 2016 Trials. Surely I could run faster in a race, having focused on shorter intervals (rather than tons of marathon miles), and if I was just running the one (and not three), right??

Wrong. I went out in 80s (5:20 pace) and held that pace for two laps, but the third lap was too slow. My chest and lungs were starting to burn but I simultaneously realized I was still too comfortable for such a ridiculously short race. I tried to kick it in, feeling my last lap would be my fastest and maybe I could make up what I lost in the third lap, but it was another 80 and I finished in 5:23, exactly the same split as I ran in a 3x1 mile workout in April before Pittsburgh.

Racing on the track for the first time in too long.
The reality is I’m just not in as good of shape as when peaking for a marathon; I’m still building my mileage and getting my legs back under me after Pittsburgh. A few weeks of 5K training has not gotten me in the same shape as months of marathon training. (Which also explains the ridiculous fact that my 10-mile race pace from April remains faster than what I’ve been running for 3.1 miles.)

But I also think it was silly to just race the mile once; I suspect (for me anyway) the shorter the race, the more practice it will take to get it right. (Or maybe it’s just that shorter races can be practiced more often.) If I ran another mile I think I could improve based on my experience and not letting myself get so comfortable in the middle. The 5K is the same: I’ve improved in time and strategy with each race. Hopefully on the last one I can get it right.

Dream big,
Teal

Friday, July 13, 2018

Race Reports: Cul-de-sac 5K 1 and 2

The summer of speed has kicked off with two 5K races, which I’m using as practice before aiming for a big PR at the end of the month.

Cul-de-sac 5K #1
These races happen on July evenings in Virginia, so you know what you’re getting into when you sign up: it’s going to be hot. Still, the first one was even hotter than I expected: by 7 pm, the temperature had only dropped to 91°, with a real feel of 101°. I knew all time goals were out the window, but I did want to compete well; everyone would be dealing with the same conditions. No matter what, this would serve as a baseline for the rest and let me know where I needed to improve most.

But the heat was making me really nervous. The purpose of these 5Ks is to learn how to push myself, even when (especially when) I feel like it’s safer to hold back. To resist the urge to go into marathon savings mode, as if I have 10 or 20 miles left instead of 1 or 2. But could I fight that hard in the heat? The weather was helping me wuss out before we even started.

I hit the first mile in 6 minutes and second place. That seemed decent but I was immediately passed. And mile two was a mess; I tried to stay with it and continue to push when it got uncomfortable, but I was falling apart. My split for mile two floored me, 6:26. Seriously?? I tried to get back on it and when another girl passed me I didn’t immediately let her go. I remembered the DC Half, when I stuck with a woman trying to pass me longer than I thought I could, and tried to channel that fight. I tried again to not give up because I had been caught, but to use it as a wake up call to get back on it. It worked for a little bit but eventually she gapped me. And another woman caught me too. Geez, this is terrible. Why am I so bad at these?? Why I am running these?? Mile 3: 6:22.

With just the 0.1 left, I finally found a way to push and managed to squeak back into fourth in 19:23 (6:14 pace). I think my exact words upon finishing were, “That super sucked.” I was at least glad to have a kick at the end, but as usual disappointed that I don’t use that energy to push harder from farther out. Maybe that’s because it was freaking hot, but also I just never push hard enough. That’s what I’m supposed to be working on. Blaming the heat for the slow time is easier, but it was hot for everyone and I didn’t compete well. Next time.

The final sprint for fourth.

Cul-de-sac 5K #2
Next time turned out to be about ten degrees cooler (a chilly 82°) and far less oppressive (a real feel of only 83°!). Once again I wanted to compete well, but this time I also had time goals. I figured 6:00 pace seemed doable, given the cooler temperatures, my knowledge of the course, and geez, hadn’t I run faster than that for ten miles three months ago?? I mean, c'mon. My strategy was to hit the first mile in 6, same as last week, and then really focus on pushing the second mile to hit that one on pace too. I generally slip way behind in the second mile but thought if I could just hold this seemingly not too difficult pace for two miles, I could still find something in the last mile to kick it in. I wouldn’t get too far into a hole I couldn’t climb out of.

The race gets its name from three cul-de-sacs you run through in the first mile; three quick out and backs where you basically turn around a cone. I kept my eye on my watch (as I always do, often to my detriment) and it was hovering in the low 5:50s. I tried to relax a little and not get ahead of myself, but it still read sub-6 pace when I hit the mile in… 6:06. What?!? Damn those out and backs for probably screwing up my watch. Damn me for relying so much on my watch.

On to mile 2. I didn’t try to immediately make up those seconds but just tried to stay with it, to not let the woman who had gapped me slightly (when I was busy worrying about going out too fast) get any farther ahead, to try to hit two miles in as close to 12 flat as possible. But mile two was slower still, a 6:11.

And that’s when my strategy changed back to the old RunnerTeal strategy: screw up the first two miles and then push the last one when you finally realize, “Oh hey, there’s only one mile left!” With half a mile to go I tried to push harder still and rounding the final corner, I put on the same sprint as last week, finishing in 18:53 (6:05 pace) and second place. In the last mile I finally felt like I was doing what I was supposed to be doing, feeling the fatigue and still pushing, but it was still only a 6 flat. I didn’t make up any distance on the woman ahead, although she had been steadily pulling away in the second mile and I did stop the gap from growing.

Finishing the second race.
My time was thirty seconds faster but considering the better conditions, my experience on the course, and that last week I was really only getting my feet wet (quite literally as my shoes were totally sweat drenched after that race) I thought I would do better than that. I did improve from fourth to second, but that’s only because two of the women who beat me last week didn’t come this week. And really, given my time goal for the season, it’s not enough of an improvement.

Afterward, a friend asked if my problem with 5Ks is that it takes me longer to get in the groove of it. I hadn’t really thought of it that way but remembering the last mile (which was harder but also felt better somehow) made me wonder if that is my problem. I’ve debated a longer warm up but never sure that’s a good idea on a hot day. I do strides but perhaps not enough. Somehow I need to find a way to conjure mile 3 Teal (or even mile 26 Teal) earlier on.

One more “practice” 5K to go.

What’s your go to strategy for a 5K?

Dream big, 
Teal 

Friday, June 29, 2018

Summer of Speed

Summertime means sports bra tan lines, sunlit morning and evening runs, an unimaginable amount of sweat… and another attempt to improve at the 5K.

My 5K PR just does not stack up to my marathon time. Although I still think running calculators are not always accurate and need to be taken with a grain of (sweat-encrusted) salt, it’s striking that plugging in my recent Pittsburgh time predicts a 5K over a minute faster than I’ve ever run. The women I compete against run 5Ks a minute or more faster than me, and as I aim to get more competitive, I need to address my weakness: the dang 5K.

One of my problems with the 5K is I don’t give it enough respect. I do one or two a year, at most, usually in the summer when I’m not totally committed and really just waiting for marathon season to start again. (I admit I’m pretty much doing that again, dedicating an 8-week mini-season before gearing up for a fall marathon.) My other issue is that the 5K is a different kind of pain than the marathon; while the marathon starts off comfortable and gradually becomes a slow burn that settles over you in an achy exhaustion, the 5K is holding your hand in the flame almost from the gun. It’s a fiery, I-want-to-throw-up feeling in your chest and stomach that you have to maintain even as your marathoner’s brain is yelling to pump the dang breaks. It always seems too far to keep up the pace. And yet... the 5K really isn’t that long, but I never seem to understand that until it’s over. I always give up slightly in the second mile then kick it in more than I thought I was capable of and end up mad I didn’t push harder earlier. Doing well in the 5K means being comfortable being uncomfortable. I’m just so used to the feel of marathon pace, I can’t seem to deal with the shorter, sharper burn.

So I’m trying to work on getting comfortable with 5K uncomfortable-ness. I found a plan in an old Running Times (RIP) for marathoners dropping down to the 5K and have been doing the track workouts. They start with super short reps (200s!!) and short rest (30 seconds!) and build up to 1K repeats at 5K pace. I’ve been having fun with the changeup (I have no idea the last time I did 200s) and they haven’t been that hard yet, which is a good sign, since they are still so short. It’s comforting to see the progression and know I just have to hold that pace a little longer each time.

Track workouts from Terrace Mahon.
Move up to the next when you can hit or better the projected paces. 

As for getting used to the distance and pacing, I’m going to run a 5K for three Monday evenings in a row as part of Richmond’s Cul-de-sac 5K series. The times won’t be fast (it’s generally 100 degrees and humid), but I’m hoping I can improve each week, if only in giving a more even and fuller effort. And because Richmond is full of fun summer running events, I’m also going to race at the Summer Track Series. I’m looking to do a mile and also taking on my husband in a Spouse Showdown* at 800m. (Because nothing says true love than trying to out sprint each other, right??) My only reasoning behind the track races is they seem super fun (I’m even less a miler than a 5Ker), but that’s reason enough. They certainly aren’t the focus of the season. (Or that’s what I’ll be telling myself when Husband destroys me in the 800.)

The summer of speed begins.

The focus and serious PR attempt will be at the Pony Pastures 5K at the end of July. It’s a flat, fast course and a morning race so hopefully it won’t be too blazing hot. And even though “it’s just a dinky 5K” (my words, which I’ve spoken at least ten times when describing this race) I’m putting it on the calendar early and trying to start giving it the respect it deserves (i.e. not calling it "just a dinky" 5K). Hopefully this year’s attempt at a summer of speed will pay off with a big PR, and if not, it will still be a fun changeup.

Summer of Speed Schedule
Cul-de-sac 5Ks – July 2, 9, and 16
Track mile – July 18
Pony Pasture 5K – July 28
Spouse Showdown* (800m) – Aug 1

*The Spouse Showdown is our own creation; everyone else is just racing an 800m and not risking their marriages over a track race.

Dream big,
Teal

Friday, June 15, 2018

No Buildup's Perfect

“Erase from your mind that your preparation must be perfect. Hard work plus dedication equals a shot at your dreams.” – Kara Goucher

In March, a day after my failed attempt at 16 miles at sub-2:45 pace, Brother asked why I was wallowing over the workout. He laughed, “Marathon pace workouts?! Those things are so freaking tough; no one hits those dead on.”

I snapped back, “But I did! Before CIM! That’s how I knew I could run the Trials standard.”

And so I kept wallowing. I wasn’t sure I could run 2:45 pace in a race if I didn’t in practice. So I attempted the workout again. And failed again. And yet… on race day I did run sub-2:45. Because marathon pace workouts are so freaking tough, and it’s rare to hit them dead on.

Just because I didn't run well on this one day... 
I feel like I’ve done you all a bit of a disservice. Here on the blog and in interviews I rattle on an on about the one workout that helped me get to the Olympic Trials the first time, to the point that people have reached out to me to ask more about it. (Which is awesome! I always love hearing from you guys!) The gist of the workout: a long run of 18-22 miles with 12-16 miles in the middle at goal race pace. (I peak at 16 pace miles after building up to it over the years and over the course of each season.) I’ve always said that if you nail this workout, you are ready to nail the marathon. It’s a hard grind that you’ll likely do alone, in the middle of a high mileage week. If you can nail it then, you’ll be ready on race day when you’re tapered and high on adrenaline.

But what happens if you don’t nail the workout? Is the inverse true? Does failing at this one workout mean you’ll fail at the marathon?

No, because it’s only one workout. Every season is an accumulation of workouts, long slogs, hard tempos, intervals, easy days, strides, core, strength, eating right, sleeping enough. No build up is perfect. It’s too long, life is too messy, the weather is too uncontrollable. Every season has its share of bad days. The trick is to focus on the things that go well and forget the rest. (“Remember the compliments you receive. Forget the insults. If you succeed in doing this, tell me how.”)

Before Pittsburgh, those failed attempts weighed on me. How could I be confident enough to go for a Trials qualifier when I didn’t run my tried-and-true confidence booster? But I was giving that workout too much power; just because I made it to the Trials by one route before, didn’t mean I had to take exactly the same route this time. I looked back over the rest of my workouts and everything else—tempo runs, track workouts, tune-up races—was on par with that magical CIM season. I was in similar shape overall. All that work didn’t disappear because of a couple of bad days. So I put my faith in the total, in the accumulation of miles, rather than in one or two big workouts.

And honestly, I wasn’t wildly off. I’ve had some seasons where I’ve tried to force things when I didn’t have too much evidence to go off, with disastrous consequences. (If there are more bad days and than good days, it’s probably time to reevaluate your goals or give your body a break before it breaks.) But I did run pretty close to my goal (four seconds per mile slow the first time, six seconds the second time), even if it took some convincing for me to see that. I whined and moaned at the time that it wasn’t close enough; it wasn’t perfect. But I wasn’t that far off. I looked back at my past marathons (other than CIM) and realized I often ran about five seconds per mile faster on race day than in a workout. Hoping to run a little faster on race day wasn’t being totally unrealistic.

(I still think marathon pace workouts are the most important workouts of marathon training; they are the most similar to the marathon physiologically and psychologically. They deserve to be given top priority and hard effort. But if the effort is there and the pace is a few seconds slow, it’s not the end of the world. They aren’t the only workout.)

... it doesn't mean I can't run well on this one.
The thing about nailing the most important workout is it’s an easy confidence boost; if you run a long effort at race pace, you’re ready. It’s harder to see that you might still be ready, even if you don’t quite hit it exactly. It takes confidence and knowing your body and the kind of shape you’re in, based on the total season. That can be tough. Experience and looking back on old training logs can help, as can coaches and outside perspectives.

Of course, you need to have an accumulation of something; you can’t run well on optimism and hopes alone. I know I also blab on about dreaming big and believing in yourself, but obviously you have to do the work too. Dreaming big gets you out of bed in the morning to do the work (and maybe also into bed early to get that crucial sleep!) Believing keeps you in the game when doing the work/running the race gets really freaking hard. But behind it all is a base of hard work. Of grinding, of sweat in your eyes, sun beating down, muscles aching to quit, stomach urging to rebel, of hard freaking work. Dreaming and believing won’t get you anywhere without those really tough workouts.

But that doesn’t mean they all have to go perfectly.

Dream big,
Teal

Friday, June 1, 2018

One Year of Nursing

Almost exactly a year ago, I was returning to running after having a baby. My body felt stiff and foreign, but more than anything else, my boobs hurt. Last week, I found myself in a similar spot: my body stiff from a marathon and time off, with my boobs crying the loudest. This time around, instead of my body learning how to run and feed Baby, it was learning how to cope as I stopped feeding Baby.

When I had Baby, I set a goal of breastfeeding her for one year. I wasn’t sure that would be possible, especially in the early days, and I didn’t know what to expect as I added running and racing to the mix. Below is a summary of how that year went for me, but I’m curious to hear how other mamas dealt, so feel free to share your experience in the comments! (Also please know that I am a stay-at-home mom who works from home part time. I’m sure I would have stopped nursing earlier if I had to pump at work and am uber-impressed with all you Mamas who deal with that!)

But before I get into everything about nursing, let me start by saying more generally to Mamas everywhere: cut yourself some slack and be happy with whatever path you’ve chosen, not just regarding breastfeeding, but running too. I know Moms who are crushing marathons/Boston qualifiers/Trials standards who didn’t run much when their babies were small, and Moms crushing it with babies in diapers. If racing and trying to run fast makes you feel more overwhelmed, by all means take it easy. If it makes you feel more like yourself and gives you a break, then go for it. Don’t let other people and the path they take make you feel any less proud of your own. 

And in that vein, don’t feel pressure to breastfeed if it’s not for you. Don’t feel pressure to run while breastfeeding if it’s not for you. For whatever (often unknown) reason, some babies are super demanding and fussy, some boobs struggle to produce enough, some bodies are injury prone. Do what you can but don’t drive yourself crazy forcing anything, breastfeeding-wise or running-wise. If you do choose to breastfeed and run, know that the combination puts a lot of demands on your body. Take care of you and your baby first; running takes a backseat.

The first few days of Baby:
Breastfeeding-wise, these days were a nightmare. I dreaded having to feed my daughter and the lactation consultants at the hospital made me feel worse, not better. But the more sympathetic nurses helped by recognizing how hard it was, reminding me I was doing a good job just for trying, and not judging if I wanted to stop. For the first week or two I opted to rotate between pumping* and breastfeeding; pumping was less painful and gave my boobs a bit of a break from Baby, who was also struggling to figure out how the heck to do this. (This has nothing to do with running, but it’s a reminder to not feel bad if it’s a struggle; it is for nearly everyone! Also: try not to think about how long you want to keep it up, just take it one day at a time.)

*To feed a newborn pumped milk, you may need to syringe feed her, which a lactation consultant can give you the supplies for. No one mentions this beforehand, but it is totally an option.

The undisputed best part of nursing is the closeness.
Now I just have to settle for these incredibly rare moments. 

The first few months:
When I started running again, I quickly learned to splurge for better sports bras (i.e. not the Target ones I’ve had for five years). I was also careful to time my runs around Baby’s feeding schedule: I would nurse her right before I left and be home before she needed more. At that point she was going about two hours between feedings and I was not running anywhere near that long, so it wasn’t an issue so long as I planned it out.

Starting to train again, 4-9 months postpartum:
I started pumping in the morning before my run, so she’d have milk when she woke up (and I could get out the door earlier to fit in more miles). Pumping also enabled me to totally relieve myself; Baby had a tendency to only drink from one side first thing in the morning, leaving me uncomfortably lopsided. If I noticed I pumped a little less one morning, I would be sure to eat more that day, but it was never really an issue. I also periodically checked I was still producing enough by self expressing a tiny bit after Baby finished nursing, reassuring myself there was more there if she had wanted it. (This was really just to ease my always-worried mind: Baby was a healthy weight and seemed happy and satisfied.) At six months, we introduced solid foods (and by “solid” I mean pureed mush) so even though I was still nursing she was no longer relying on me 100 percent.

The biggest breastfeeding-related issue I faced was that my diastasis recti wouldn’t heal until I stopped nursing. While nursing, your body produces hormones, like relaxin, that keep ligaments loose, making it hard for the abdominal muscles to come back together properly. This meant I had to be a little more cautious about my running and I couldn’t do all the strength and supplemental work I’d normally do, but it also served as a reminder that (a) for me, nursing my daughter was more important than running, and (b) some things just take time and I can’t force anything. The only other issue I had was that I was thirstier on runs, but that was an easy fix: I just carried a bottle more often.

I purposely choose a logistically easy marathon for my first (the Richmond Marathon, where I live), so I could pump before I left the house, have a short drive to the start, and then pretty easily find my family after. I ended up not nursing Baby until we were back at home, which was longer than I had planned but Baby and I were both fine. (She had a bottle and a snack while I was running.) Of course, major marathons—and all the waiting around at the start—would make this more complicated), so that’s something to keep in mind when racing and nursing (although Boston does allow you to have a pump at the start).

Transitioning to solid food... and the inevitable mess.

Training for an OTQ, 10-14 months postpartum:
Breastfeeding for a year would have meant stopping in mid-March. I went in to the spring season with a flexible attitude: if breastfeeding seemed not to be causing any issues, maybe I’d keep going through the marathon and not have to worry about how my body might react to weaning.

And that’s what happened: in the buildup to Pittsburgh, I honestly didn’t really feel affected by breastfeeding. My abs started to close (probably because Baby was getting more calories from solid foods) and I started to hit times and mileage that were in the realm of pre-Baby. I wasn’t sure whether weaning would throw my body for a loop: would the drop in hormones make me crazy cranky, gain a bunch of weight, or feel totally off? Things seemed to be going pretty well, so rather than fix something that wasn’t broken, I decided to keep breastfeeding through race day. (Although I did start to slowly cut back starting around her first birthday; by the time of the marathon I was down to two sessions: pumping before a morning run and nursing her at bedtime. I noticed I was pumping less as I cut out the other sessions, but she still had plenty.)  

The final days:
A day after Pittsburgh I cut out the morning pumping session with no obvious effects. Two weeks later I stopped nursing at bedtime. And 36 hours after that, I was so glad I had waited until the marathon was over. I was a mess. Baby was cranky from a cold, but I seemed particularly drained dealing with her crankiness. (The week I cut from three sessions to two was also a rough one. Again, I’m not sure if Baby was just being particularly difficult, but I felt crankier and more overwhelmed than usual.)

But more than my moodiness was something I hadn’t considered: my boobs were incredibly painful. I hadn’t really had any issue weaning to that point—maybe I felt a little full but nothing too bad—and I had clearly been producing less so I naively thought it would just taper off and that would be that. Not so. From about 36 hours to 4-5 days after I stopped I was painfully full; my chest was so sore I couldn’t lift my arms above my head and when I’d pick up Baby, she’d hug me and leave me wincing. (It’s a sad day when your baby’s hugs hurt!) This corresponded to when I started running again and I was happy to only go a few short miles, because while the post-marathon tightness eased after a mile or two, the boob pain did not. I’m glad I wasn’t trying to train hard or race during this period. (Not that it would have been impossible, but very uncomfortable. I’d recommend timing weaning for a down week if you can.)

So in the end, I’m happy with how I timed everything: I was able to run two marathons while breastfeeding and hit a big time goal in the latter. My paranoia about the added injury risk (the hormones that kept my abs apart can also cause joint trouble) made me more cautious then I have been in the past, making me take a few days off here and there, especially in the lead up to Richmond. But before Pittsburgh, I felt healthier than ever. (Even before CIM, where I set my current PR, I was dealing with a cranky butt muscle.) I can’t attribute it to breastfeeding exactly, but I do think that taking care of Baby and having her rely on me made me take care of myself better. I was more conscious about eating well, I took a prenatal vitamin daily (it’s recommended to continue those while nursing), and I was extra diligent about sleep, given everything that I was asking of my body.

Some say breastfeeding slows you down; maybe I would have run faster this spring if I had stopped earlier, but I’ll never know, nor do I really care. (I'm obviously not complaining about how the season turned out!)  I’m just glad to have hit another goal, one that seemed incredibly ambitious in the early days.

Dream big, 
Teal