Thursday, May 18, 2017

A New Starting Line

To answer the unknowns from the last post, my longest race to date started eight weeks ago (four days later than estimated) and ended with one hell of a finisher’s medal.

The short version of the race report: I labored an ultra’s length of time and pushed for multiple marathons worth before ultimately getting a DNF and requiring a c-section. Baby and I are healthy—obviously far and away the most important thing—but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed about needing the C. The disappointment didn’t come from worries of a serious operation, or in failing to finish the traditional way, or even the more intense initial recovery—and longer stay—at the hospital. The disappointment was mostly in the long-term recovery: when could I run again?

While that might sound ridiculous—given I was going on no sleep, had the demands of a new baby, and couldn’t even sit up in bed unassisted or lift anything heavier than Baby—in those stressful first days and weeks, all I wanted was a good mind-clearing, endorphin-releasing run (even more than a nap). As everything in my life drastically changed, I wanted to do something that felt like me again. I had gained this huge new role (that I didn’t really know how to take on) and I needed a reminder that the old me was still there too.

Before giving birth, my doctor had told me, based on how my pregnancy had gone, that I would be able to resume exercising pretty quickly, “unless you have a cesarean.” At the hospital, a doctor told me I might be fine after a month, but I was scared given everything I had read about c-section recovery. (It should be noted that, just like every pregnancy is different, every recovery is different. Once again, that ambiguity proved frustrating.)

I was able to go on walks, but they didn’t have the same effect as a run, so after a month or so I sent a note to my doctor in desperation, asking if there was anything I could safely do besides walking. A nurse emailed me back, saying I could increase my exercise in intensity and duration as I saw fit. I didn’t know what to do with that; it was so vague. Why can’t someone just tell me exactly what to do? (The same goes for parenting; although everyone loves to give advice, it’s all contradictory, negating any helpfulness. What should I actually do??) How can I listen to my body when my body feels so different these days? My abs were complete mush; although expected, it was shocking to be so devoid of working muscles. I was desperate to do something, but simultaneously terrified I’d hurt myself.

Walking with Baby.
I decided to start with a couple elliptical workouts that were so short they didn’t feel like workouts at all, but more like a waste of time; I don’t think I broke a sweat. But caution was key and when those seemed to have no ill effects, I went for a little longer, taking a least a day off in between. I started walking faster and one day broke into a run for about 30 seconds. Running felt foreign; I was completely stiff and uncoordinated, like an un-oiled Tin Man trying to jog. And my abs, not my legs, were clearly working the hardest. (A reminder that we use our core a lot when we run, though we don’t notice until it’s gone.) A few days later, I ran for one minute at a time, walking a few minutes between each, for a total run-walk (mostly walking) of 30 minutes. My boobs hurt more than my abs or incision, which I took as a good sign (and learned to wear a better sports bra).

After what seemed an eternity (one’s sense of time is totally morphed by a baby), at six weeks, I had my check up with my doctor. Seeing her in person and hearing I was healing well made me feel a lot better about my attempt to start exercising again, and she confirmed I was fine to run, lift, do yoga, etc. so long as I took it slow, taking a day off in between efforts and stopping if anything felt weird (and waiting a week to try again).

Armed with new confidence, I’ve continued my run/walks while slowly inching up the run parts and decreasing the walking. I don’t feel like I get my heart rate up or get out of breath, but it's surprisingly tiring. I feel uncoordinated and heavy, even though I’m much lighter than the last time I ran (at 39 weeks with an 8+ pound baby in me).

Since Baby, I’ve often felt overwhelmed—not unusual in a new parent, of course. I have no idea what I’m doing 99% of the time and I’m constantly worried about this perfect little child and how I can screw things up. The first few weeks involved many moments of tears and thinking I just couldn’t do it. I couldn't possibly keep up this constant crying/feeding/crying cycle. But my running-centric Instagram feed offered this quote, which struck me as perfect for a new mom: “Strength doesn’t come from what you can do. It comes from overcoming the things you once thought you couldn’t.” (As many people told me, it gets better and indeed it already has.)

A part of me feels overwhelmed by the long road ahead of me in running as well. I haven’t been this out of shape in nearly a decade and I have a whole new load of responsibilities at home now. I’ve never come back from pregnancy or major surgery, so I have no script to follow. I worried about this constantly on my walks-that-weren’t-runs. How will I ever get back to where I was? But now that I’m running, even for just a few minutes, those endorphins have started working their magic. I don’t know how to be a mom (though I’m learning), but I do know how to run (despite what I look like on my Tin Man-esque jaunts). 


The pregnancy/labor finish line means a new starting line—as a parent and a runner with eyes on 2020—and overcoming the things I once thought I couldn’t.

Getting back in shape might be tough,
but I've got an adorable new fan to cheer me on.
Dream big,
Teal

Monday, March 13, 2017

Preparing for the Race of Undetermined Distance on an Unknown Date

Imagine trying to get ready for a race you don’t know the date of. There’s a roughly four-week window that it’s most likely to happen, but it could also come before then. How would you prepare? Maybe you’d be totally 100% ready at the beginning of that window, ready to hit the starting line. And then you’d wait… get a little antsy (You’re packed and ready! You’re tapered and eager!)… and wait some more. Or maybe you’d tell yourself it’s unlikely to be right on that first day, so you’d dilly dally and focus on other things… “There’s no way it will be before the last possible moment”… and then you’d find yourself scarfing down a gel as you rush out the door because HOLY CRAP, the race is starting.

As an added twist, you also don’t know the race’s distance. It could be anywhere from a marathon or two to some crazy-a$$ ultra that is 48 hours of wandering around in the woods for two days losing all your toe nails and your sanity. (And oh yea, all you get for sustenance are some ice chips.)

Right, obviously not a race anyone would be eager to sign up for. But such is the end of pregnancy. I’m 39 weeks, so the baby could come at any moment… or not for many more moments. The likelihood that a baby arrives on its due date is just 5%; really it’s perfectly normal that the baby arrives anytime between 38 weeks and 42 weeks. (A friend’s doctor referred to it more accurately as a “due month” rather than a due date.)

Am I ready for this race of undetermined length that could start at any moment? Yes and no. I don’t think it’s possible to be fully prepared for childbirth (let alone BEING A PARENT), but ostensibly, we have the supplies, our bags are packed, and we’re beyond eager to meet our little one.

It's no longer an empty room,
a
lthough it is still missing one major element... 
In that way it feels a little like the days before a marathon, fluctuating between feeling eager and ready and feeling scared and ill prepared. You can’t wait to just get out there and finally do what you’ve been preparing for months to do, but simultaneously wish there was just a little more time to nail a few more workouts and boost your speed/endurance/confidence. I can go from “OMG, get this baby out of me!” to “OMG, this baby is going to come out of me?!” in ten seconds flat.

And like a pre-race taper, things are calming down. I’ve handed in my major work assignments, am attempting to rest up, and am repeatedly trying to assure myself I can do this crazy thing I told myself I could do. Even Husband is feeling his usual mix of emotions before one of my marathons: nervous, excited, and also sure that in a few days everything will be okay.

But also it’s not at all like a marathon, because of that not so minor detail of not knowing when the heck it’s coming. Without a time frame, it’s hard to be fully prepared. You can’t just sit around twiddling your thumbs for four weeks. (Well, I suppose you could, but ugh.) But anything else you do could be interrupted by baby’s arrival. And importantly, how do you know when to start carbo-loading for your ice-chips only ultra?? (Oh right… 9 months ago.)

When I told Husband that I didn’t totally agree it feels like the lead up to a marathon, he said he could tell because I’m not as nervous. That’s a bit shocking, because I’m actually a lot more anxious about labor since I have no experience with it and no idea what to expect or when to expect it. (I have a feeling that as soon as labor does start, I’ll have a surge of panic, and Husband’s experience in calming down my pre-race panic attacks will come in handy.) So far my defense mechanism has been to try not to overthink it.

And also to refuse to believe it’s going to happen. After a mad dash trying to get all the essential things done, in the last few days I’ve gone into denial she’ll arrive anytime soon. I’ve been thinking about this for so long (since the Trials ended/since high school health class where they try to scare you from ever reproducing/since childhood days of carrying around a baby doll) and the fact that the moment is almost here is hard to wrap my head around.

It’s unbelievable to think, but she could even come before I get around to posting this blog…

...but she didn’t. So we’ll have to keep waiting for the starter’s gun to fire. 

Dream big,
Teal

Friday, February 17, 2017

One Year Later, One Month Left

One year ago, I was lining up for the Olympic freaking Trials.

Now, eight months pregnant, I feel like that was another lifetime ago. Did I really do that? I am still running shuffling a few days a week, but—while I realize cutting back/slowing down/stopping entirely is a normal part of pregnancy—I have this weird blur (pregnancy brain?) about my previous running self. I am so far removed from that version of myself I struggle to picture it.


For example, I was recently in the grocery store, debating which flavors of Halo Top to buy. (Unsponsored plug: Halo Top is a low-calorie/high-protein ice cream that is surprisingly delicious. Not that I don’t scarf Ben and Jerry’s as well... but sometimes it’s nice to tell yourself you’re eating ice cream for the protein.) A stranger asked me for a flavor recommendation (Red Velvet is a current fave) and if I ate it because I was really into working out. (My bump was hidden under a winter coat.) I said no. 

No? The stranger walked away before I realized that wasn’t actually true. I am really into working out. Maybe not at this particular moment, but that is a pretty big hobby in my life and a pretty essential part of my sense of self. But for some reason it felt more natural to say no, because I don’t feel like that person anymore.

And honestly, that’s the worst part about pregnancy. I’ve been blessed with a pretty easy pregnancy thus far, and what I miss most—by a landslide, since before the beginning—is being able to push myself in workouts and races. I’m not complaining—I’m super pumped to start a family and taking time away from competing is beyond worth it, no hesitations there. But the nausea/heartburn/sleepless nights/constant pee issues/back aches/24-hour uncomfortable-ness and eight zillion other less-than-pleasant symptoms don’t have anything on the not competing. So maybe I’m repressing my former self as a coping mechanism. Telling myself (and grocery store strangers) I don’t even like working out.

These days, I’m run/walking maybe three times a week, between 4 and 6 miles, with more walking and less running each time. I elliptical on some of the other days, but I also take more days off than I used to. I’ve completely given up on strength training, which I’m bit bummed about since I promised myself early on I would at least stick to that. But I haven’t because (a) I’ve never been particularly great about keeping up with strength training and (b) I’m exhausted and there’s just too much to do, especially when getting in four miles takes almost twice as long as it used to.

So, as expected, the third trimester brought the most drastic cuts to my mileage and frequency, but I’m lucky to be running (okay, shuffling) at all. From a not-at-all scientific survey of my running friends, about half of them were able to run through their pregnancy and half hit the third trimester and had to stop, because it just got too uncomfortable. (From an actual scientific survey, only 31% ran through their pregnancies.) (I wear a maternity belt, which I think helps back issues, but I also wonder if it makes the needing to pee worse.) If you’re pregnant, the most important thing is to do whatever your body is comfortable with and be happy with that. My runs take a completely different form these days than they used to, but I'm grateful to be doing anything.

Running through pregnancy is like normal training in reverse—rather than runs getting faster and easier, they get harder and slower. Obviously, that’s totally fine (and necessary) when your body is more focused on forming another person inside of you, and I’m running these days to keep Baby and me healthy, not because I believe these shuffle/walks will lead to some breakthrough performance down the road. That’s quite a different attitude than I usually have, so maybe that’s contributing to my different opinion of myself. Also, I don’t know if you noticed, but pregnancy lasts a really fudging long time, so it’s been a while (i.e. exactly a year) since my competitive/always-striving-to-beat-my-past-self side was allowed out. No wonder she's been a little forgotten.

But as I jealously watch runners glide effortlessly down the road, I try to remind myself that I used to be like that. And someday I will again.

Dream big,
Teal

Friday, January 6, 2017

2:45

Happy 2017! What better way to move on from 2016 than by looking ahead to… 2020?

So get your goal books ready: the standards for the next Olympic Marathon Trials have been set. Well, mostly.


At the annual meeting last month, USATF set the B standards to be invited to the Trials: women need to run a 2:45:00 marathon (6:17 pace) and men a 2:19:00 (5:18 pace).  The qualifying window will open in September (and likely remain open until a month or so before the Trials).

You can also make it to the Trials with a half marathon time: women need a 1:13:00 (5:34 pace) and men need a 1:04:00 (4:52 pace). The window for qualifying with a half time will open a year later (the fall of 2018).

Unlike four years ago, the standards were pretty predictable; USATF kept the marathon times the same as the final 2016 standards, probably because of a last minute mess they found themselves in last time: a month before the window for qualifying for the 2016 US Trials closed, IAAF changed the standards for entry into the Olympic marathon, making the times slightly slower (2:19 for men/2:45 for women) so more countries could send full squads of athletes. USATF quickly revised their Trials standards to match the new IAAF Olympic ones, either because of the immediate backlash from people (“I can qualify for the Olympics but not the US Trials?”) or to avoid a possible legal mess. (Although other countries, like Canada, have standards much harder than IAAF’s, USATF has a rule that it can’t have standards that are harder than IAAF. But that rule applies to qualifying for the Olympics, not the Trials.) I had mixed feelings about the whole thing; I was psyched for the women with times between 2:43 and 2:45 who became qualifiers, I’m sure they were beyond excited, if not also totally blindsided. (“I’m running the Trials in two months? I was enjoying my off-season binge!”) But what about those who had gone for 2:43, realized en route it wasn't happening and given up to finish just over 2:45? Had they known 2:45 was the ticket, they might have made it.

And I have mixed feelings about the standard staying the same. I get that USATF probably doesn’t want a repeat of the 2016 fiasco (although what will happen if IAAF changes their standards again?? UPDATE: If IAAF's get easier, USATF will ease them again) but I am generally pro-raising the bar. Set the bar higher and people rise to meet it. (Despite the standards dropping from 2:47 in 2008 to 2:46 in 2012 and 2:43 2:45 in 2016, the number of qualifiers increased each  time.)

Also not surprisingly, the half marathon times have gotten a tad quicker (one minute faster for the men, two minutes faster for the women). The idea behind the half times is to allow people that haven’t yet tackled the full marathon distance—but have the potential to be speedy endurance beasts—to enter the Trials. (See Galen Rupp in 2016: he hadn’t run a full until the Trials, but got in because his half time showed his capability. He then won the Trials and got bronze in Rio.) So the half marathon standards are meant to be harder than the marathon times. But on the men's side, that didn't seem to be the case. In 2016, 86 men qualified with a marathon time and 125 with a half. (Though it helps that you can run multiple half marathons in a season, where as you can only race a marathon every 6 months or so.) For the women, 198 qualified by the marathon and 48 by the half.

The A standards are still unknown. (The B standard allows you to enter the Trials, the faster A standard means USATF will pay for your travel. The two standards used to mean more -- you had to finish in the top 3 and have an A standard to actually go to the Olympics in 2012 -- but now the IAAF has just one standard, so the A just means a free trip.)

Also unknown: where the Trials will be held, which will also determine when exactly they are. They seem to be sticking with a mid-winter race date (January in 2012, February in 2016) so perhaps 2020 will be a similar time. UPDATE: Sites will bid on hosting the Trials in December of 2017, so hopefully we will know a when and where then. (For 2016, the decision on the host city was delayed a month (because of more USATF messes—the committee chose Houston but the CEO wanted LA) and announced in January of 2014. Let’s hope for no delays and no USATF bickering this time!).

(I’ll update this post as we find out more...)

But even if we do have to wait on a date and a place, we know what it takes to get there: set your quadrennial resolutions for 2:45.

Dream 2:45 big,
Teal