spartan races

Biting off more than I can chew?

We gain strength, and courage, and confidence by each experience in which we really stop to look fear in the face

… we must do that which we think we cannot.

Eleanor Roosevelt

Yesterday I survived another round of Boot Camp- push-ups and all!  I was actually excited to go.  I guess that makes me a glutton for punishment.  lol Each time the drill instructor gave us a challenge, I wanted to yell “bring it on!”  Every time I was tired and wanted to quit, I reminded myself that marathon runners don’t quit, Tough Mudders don’t quit, Spartans don’t quit, and I certainly don’t quit.  When I was told to push, I pushed as hard as I could.

That being said, I woke up this morning incredibly sore.  I wanted to stay in bed, but it was the only chance I’d have this week to get in a long run.  I truly regretted not doing a better job stretching before and after our class.  In the theme of not being a quitter, I dragged myself over to the Bridle Trail and started my 17 mile run.  My legs were heavy and my body was fighting me at first, but eventually I settled, and it felt like less of an effort.  By the time I hit nine miles, I was still feeling strong and really thought I was going to get through the run unscathed.  I knocked out my first 10 miles in just over 2 hrs, which was pretty good for me given I had on my vibrams and a weighted pack.

By the next mile, I was not feeling so hot.  Another mile in,  my IT bands were SCREAMING.  I panicked for a minute, but kept pushing.  Then my body came to a grinding halt.  I tried to force myself to run, but the pain was searing up my legs.  I couldn’t get back into a rhythm.  I couldn’t even walk straight.  I still had over 5 miles to go- a very long distance to walk.  I figured I would walk a bit and see if it got better- no luck.  Then I got the brilliant idea to pull my compression sleeves over my knees, which worked like a charm!  Then next five miles weren’t easy, but at least were doable.

By the time I got to the end of the trail, the GPS was whining flashing that it’s battery was low.  I thought it was very nervy for it to be complaining when I was doing all the work and still had to keep going. 😉  At the same time, I was a little proud of myself for outlasting it.  In the aftermath, I have to admit I am having a bit of trouble moving- especially up and down stairs.  Adam has been getting quite a chuckle watching me limp around.  He assures me this is normal.  I was hoping to make-up tomorrow evening’s Boot Camp class in the morning, but now I’m not sure 1) if I’ll be able to move by then, and 2) if it’s even a good idea.  I have not really been good with taking rest days, and now I’m paying for it.  Another lesson learned!

17.19 miles in 3:45!

Getting muddy...again! And sporting my awesome hot pink compression sleeves!

Just in case anyone needs a laugh, I read this post a while back from a HILARIOUS blogger- the Bloggess.  It’s about a metal chicken.  It made me literally laugh out loud because I could absolutely see my mom and myself doing this.  Then yesterday my mom and I were at the Home Goods store, and look what I found!  I immediately took a photo (see below) with my iPhone and sent it to my sister with the following message “Look, it’s even on sale!!! Lol I think mom needs one!”  She replied “No, I don’t think so,” but I’m sure my mom would have loved it and totally appreciated the humor in the situation.

That’s all for now!  Tomorrow we are California bound. 🙂  My next post will likely be the race recap, so everyone have a wonderful weekend!!!

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Victories and Setbacks

“I assess the power of a will by how much resistance, pain,
torture it endures and knows how to turn to its advantage. “
Friedrich Nietzsche

Life is composed of victories and setbacks.  Great victories are always eventually followed by setbacks, and setbacks by victories.  It’s all a cycle. That’s just the way of things. Keeping this in mind helps me maintain perspective.  When I’m doing well, I do my best to enjoy it knowing it won’t last; and when things get rough, I remind myself that it will pass.

In terms of my life and ongoing struggle with daily existence after trauma, I’d say I’m on the victory side of things.  However, running has fallen into the setback zone.  My entire life I have been plagued by knee problems.  As long as I’ve been walking, my knees have popped out of place. The pain and other joint issues associated with this have always limited my running.  When I started using the Vibram Five Fingers (don’t ask me why it’s “fingers” and not toes), I noticed a dramatic improvement in my joint pain.  Basically, I didn’t have any.  I was hurting all right, but it was all muscular.  Everything was going fine and dandy until last week when, deluded with my new sense of limitless, I decided to up my mileage by a full hour instead of 30 minutes.

That is how I became rudely reacquainted with the nagging pain of IT band syndrome.  It’s a running overuse injury that I am all too familiar with.  Initially, I was not aware of its reemergance due to the new location of the pain. However, when it got to the point that even gently brushing anything against my tibial tubercle (the bony knob just under your knee) caused me to jump in agony, I decided to do a google search on “lateral knee pain” and then “pain, tibial tubercle”.  What I found was my familiar nemesis IT band syndrome.  Apparently, if you continue to run when your IT band is irritated, you develop terrible point tenderness –you guessed it– at your tibial tubercle.  So after patting myself on the back for pushing IT band syndrome to new personal heights, I looked up the treatment: six weeks of rest and stretching.  This was not an acceptable option.  Six weeks of “rest” would have me in the loony bin.  I needed to exercise for my sanity sake!  More reading.. there was also a mention of strengthening weak muscle groups- this seemed more palatable.

At the moment, I am trying very hard to limit my running.  I have been spending quality time with the stair climber and doing general conditioning/strength training.  There was a moment or two that doubted I would be able to run the marathon in Oct., or ever.  Of course, then I came back to my senses and realized I would never allow myself to quit.  Plus, if I tried, my best friend Randi would assuredly put me back in line.

Everyone needs a good friend to hold a mirror up when you need it, tell you what you need to hear (even when you don’t want to hear it), and hold you accountable.  Randi has been my best friend since high school; and while I have many incredible, amazing friends who I cherish, Randi is the one I can count on to do all these things.  I, through coercion, begging, and even a little arm twisting, have convinced her to do the Diva Half Marathon with me.  I have been “encouraging” her to do the Hartford Marathon with me as well.  Every time she comes up with an excuse or says she’d never be able to run that far- I assure her that I’m convinced she can.  When her motivation starts to wane or she gets discouraged by running injuries, I do my best to encourage her (like buying her cool running gear and books for her birthday).

I have to finish that marathon, IT band syndrome or not!  I need to prove to myself I can do it.  Plus, I want to show Randi that she can do it.  After all, she is the athletic one!  I would not only be letting myself down if I quit, but also my best friend.  There’s just no way that’s going to happen.

In the meantime, I’ll be training for the NorCal Tough Mudder next month.  On this afternoon’s agenda, time at the gym with my very own personal trainer (my boyfriend Adam- the seasoned marathon runner and Tough Mudder alum)

“I am woman! I am invincible! I am pooped!”


“I am woman!  I am invincible!  I am pooped!”

  ~Author Unknown

The amazing view on my run today.

Today I continued my quest toward running a full marathon!  I figured it would be a good day for a long run because I have not run much this week and will be working the next two days without a lot of other opportunity to get mileage in.  Earlier this week I had attempted a light, fast paced run; but my body was not cooperating, and I ended up at the gym instead.  I was a little disappointed, but got some solace in the fact that I survived 15-whole-minutes on the stair climber- which I hate more even more than push ups (and that is saying a lot!).

None-the-less, I wanted to make up for my less than par workout and gain some ground.  I got up early and straightened up the house a little before setting out.  It was still cool and looked like it was shaping up to be a beautiful day.  I headed over to the Bridle Trail, a relatively flat, gravel path not far from my house.  I had not been there in several months, and thought it would be a nice change in scenery.  The trail runs through the woods, so it stays well shaded and keeps the temperature significantly cooler than running on the road.  I was actually a little chilly when I started, but quickly warmed up as I settled into my pace.  I chose my beat up asics over my vibrams because I don’t like running over gravel (or pavement) in toe shoes.

Not long into my run, I was greeted by another runner with a happily meandering chocolate lab in toe.  His companion lagged behind him enough to keep me company for a while before he wandered off again with his owner.  I made a mental note to start bringing my lab, Penny, out on more of my short runs.  (I used to run with her regularly; however, now that she is getting older, her endurance is not what it used to be. )

I had set the timer on my phone (which I use as an ipod) to alarm after an hour and forty-five minutes figuring I would just turn around and run back.  I hoped to be able to cover at least 15 miles in that amount of time.  For most of the way out I felt terrific.  I soaked in the beautiful views and wondered why anyone would run on the road when they could have a much more peaceful and splendid backdrop.  I was so absorbed in my surroundings that it felt like no effort at all, and I started to think that running a marathon would not be that difficult.  I frequently joke to Adam that “running on a flat surface is easy. I could run forever it’s flat.”

I was just beginning to believe my jest was true when I brushed my hand across my leg and realized I couldn’t feel it.  In fact, I could not feel anything from the small of my back down.  I wondered if this was what an epidural felt like.  Like any other endurance athlete (and I use that term loosely), I figured that if I ignored it long enough, it would just go away.  Besides, I wasn’t having any pain.  I tuned it out and kept going, but it didn’t go away.  Instead, it got worse.  Then my back and legs started to hurt.  I looked at the time.  I had only been running an hour!  This was disheartening.  I wondered if my asics were a bad choice.  Yet, I kept running because it was not just about the mileage- it was about training my body to keep going when it didn’t want to.  I knew I would have to get used to this feeling if I was going to get through over 26 miles.

By the time I was ready to turn around and head back, it was becoming increasingly more difficult to move my legs.  I was afraid to stop and walk, convinced that I would not be able to get my body to run again.  I began to doubt my ability to complete this task, and kicked myself for adding an additional 15 minutes each way.  At times, I was distracted by butterflies and bright yellow birds who seemed to follow me along with curiosity.  There were also a wide variety of wild flowers in white, purple, and yellows abutting the tree line.  I tried to concentrate on the scenery: a lovely pond, tall fields, small cottages.  However, my legs were aching and numb.  I didn’t think it was right that they could be both at the same time.  I kept plodding and hoping the time would go by quickly.

When I finally reached a stretch of the trail I remembered from early in my run I was elated- only to be crushed again by the long stretch before the next familiar site.  I thought it was funny how quickly I went from feeling like I could run forever to feeling like I had been running forever.  I dreaded the idea of doing this for over 5 hours and began to question why I ever thought it would be a good idea.  Maybe I was capable of running 10 or 15 K thanks to my vibrams, but this was starting to seem insane.

Then, before I knew it, I was back at the 2 mile mark.  I remembered how I used to struggle to run from my car to this spot and back when I was first breaking in my toe shoes.  Now it seemed like such a small distance!  Over and over in my head I chanted “TWO MORE MILES, JUST TWO MORE MILES!!!!”  I kept pushing; my body kept trying to quit.  I wanted to finish running, not walking.  I continued to drag myself until the sites became more familiar; and, finally,  I knew I was almost there.  I dragged myself all the way back to the car, and a funny thing happened.  I didn’t die.  I didn’t fall over.  I didn’t even throw up!  Instead I drove myself home and tried to stretch- until my lap was filled with a very happy lab and bulldog.

it got a little muddy

another view from the trail

Motivation

“The greatest pleasure in life is doing what people say you cannot do.”

Walter Bagehot

Finisher Medal for the YES Endurance Series

This week is exciting for me because Saturday is the last race in the YES Endurance Series and also my first 10 mile race.  I am bubbling with anticipation for a few reasons.  1) If I finish I will earn my very first shiny medal.  Not just my first running medal, but my first real athletic medal– a VERY big deal for someone naturally unathletic and pathologically clumsy.  As a woman, I am naturally drawn to shiny things, so the promise of some serious bling at the end of the race (pictured above) would be enough to motivate me through 10 miles of tough terrain.  2) I love running on the trails and have not logged much running time this week; so, I am really itching to get out there and go for a run on a completely unfamiliar path. In fact, when I am out running these races, there is honestly nothing I’d rather be doing than taking in the scenery and the amazing energy of the people and course around me.  3) I love being around all the other running fanatics, who run purely for the joy of it.  The people who organize this series do a great job at making the event social and fun.  It’s like there’s a whole intimate running community associated with the series, and the people who come are from all over the spectrum of training, from super competitive to everyday mom’s and novices trying to get back in shape.  Plus, there’s a ton of first timers for each distance (like me in this case!).

Having progressively longer races booked has really helped me stay on track with my training, and I has allowed me to successfully and steadily increase my mileage for several months now.  When I find myself slipping, I add a tougher challenge.  For example, while I was training for the Diva Half Marathon and recently reached the distance necessary several months ahead of time, I added the goal of the Hartford Marathon (only two weeks after) to keep myself on track.  I also have set a goal to do a Super Spartan as part of the Spartan Chicked movement, in addition to the NorCal Tough Mudder.

Another factor that helps me stay motivated is running for charity.  I currently am collecting bottles and cans as a fundraiser for the Wounded Warrior Project in conjunction with the Tough Mudder, and also plan on using my future half and full marathon races to raise money for CT-ALIVE (the CT Alliance for Families of Violence and Their Families).  This way I not only benefit myself, but also others who truly deserve it as well.

Other tricks that keep me inspired to run 1) Reading other running blogs or Facebook pages (I am hoping soon to add a page of links to my favorites and would love to hear some of yours) 2) Reading inspirational books like “The Perfect Mile” or “Born to Run” 3) Watching a movie about runners such as “Without Limits or Spirit of the Marathon” 4) Buying myself some cool new running gear (especially goofy shirts!) because then I will obviously want to use it. 5) Inviting a friend to go with me.  It’s amazing how much longer you’ll run if you’re enjoying good company!

At the core, I would say my true motivation to run comes solely in the ability to do it.  The same way a golfer plays round after round to enjoy the sweet victory of a hole in one, I train and run day in and out for the fleeting moments when it feels completely effortless- when my body is in perfect rhythm with the trail and it feels like running is exactly what I was made for.  To me, it’s an absolute expression of freedom and the closest I will ever get to flying.  Every mile I run is one the doctors insisted I shouldn’t be able to. It brings me a tremendous amount of pleasure and gratitude to be able to run farther than I ever had without pain or limitation other than my own will and determination.

Cannoli Pie…Breakfast of Champions

“Endurance is not just the ability to bear a hard thing, but to turn it into glory.”

William Barclay

My newest inspirational running shirt 🙂

I have putting off my weekly long run for the past two weeks, so this morning I knew it was time to bite the bullet , get my butt in gear, and up my mileage.  The recent heat wave has taken a toll on my motivation to work out, especially with the sporadic use of air conditioning at my local gym.  With the plan of a three-day road trip to Tennessee looming, it was now or never; and putting it off would only make for an incredibly stir crazy car ride. 

I’m the type of person who goes through what could best be described as withdrawal symptoms when I don’t get in a good work out too many days in a row.  For this reason, I was dreading  the idea of being cooped up in a car for days on end with little opportunity to even get out and stretch.  I was hoping that a long run would” get the wiggles out” and make the drive more bearable. 

Initially, I wanted to get in 10 miles, which is the furthest mileage I’ve achieved to date.   However, given the involuntary three-day hiatus ahead of me, I figured “what the hell, may as well push it to the and try for 12 or more.”  With no functional GPS device at hand, I decided I would try to run at least two and a half hours and hope it was more than 10 miles.  I woke up with the determination necessary to accomplish the task, but, admittedly, significantly less enthusiasm.  As much as I LOVE running, I have to confess that the idea of doing it for anything more than an hour feels a lot like work and more than two hours brings on an all out sensation of dread.  In order to prepare myself for the long, arduous task ahead I opened the fridge and scoured for something that would not induce vomiting in the sweltering heat. 

I have tried countless pre-running meals from cereal to yogurt, to protein shakes, to fruit, and even salad.  Generally. I find the result the same.  Within 30 minutes of starting a run, my stomach is growling and my focus goes to mush.  That is unless I am running with my boyfriend, Adam, in which case, I’m already starving by the time we set out due to the additional amount of time required for him to get ready. (He runs on California time…I could afford to be more like him)  So all that being said, I reached for the cannoli pie.  Yes, cannoli pie…breakfast of champions!  I rationalized it as follows:  it was loaded with calories, and there were carbs, dairy,  and even chocolate.  How could it be a bad choice?  Besides didn’t I deserve it for all the hard work and torture I was about to embark on?  I mean I practically already earned it, right?  I had a piece with a glass of water and headed out the door.

I ran to my favorite park and stuck mainly on the trails.  Surprisingly, the cannoli cake stayed down.  In fact, I felt pretty good, and remarkably made it through over two and half hours of running without so much as a rumble in my stomach.  I think I may have found my pre-long distance run meal (just kidding…sort of)  I was also pretty pleased to find all my training was paying off as, even in the heat, the run felt significantly easier than my previous 10 mile run. So, I am now halfway to my goal of running a marathon, and I owe it to the cannoli pie. 

When I got back home I had salad and humus for lunch, partly out of guilt for my indulgent breakfast.  Then a few hours later when my stomach was growling again, I went back and had another piece of cannoli pie and savored every bite.

It all started with a pair of shoes…

Marylin Monroe once said “give a woman the right pair of shoes and she can conquer the world”.

Vibram running shoes

My "ugly" shoes have grown on me. Now they are always close by. 🙂

My boyfriend had been on my case for several weeks that I needed to switch over to vibram running shoes.  I wasn’t paying him much attention.  I knew my limitations.  From the time I started high school, I had a multitude of orthopedists explain to me exactly why I wasn’t built to run and shouldn’t do it.  They told me that my bone alignment was wrong, my arches were flat, my IT bands were too tight, I needed orthotics and knee replacements.  One particularly delightful fellow (and by delightful I mean arrogant and dismissive) even explained that women, in general, are not built for running.  He thought I should not only stop, but also avoid stairs and knee bends greater than 30 degrees.  I have patellar subluxation (a fancy way of saying my kneecaps pop out-of-place when I move), so running for me was always associated with pain.  However, the thought of not running was pretty much on par with not breathing in my mind.  I tried physical therapy, ice, the whirlpool,  medication, tape, stabilizing shoes, and cross training before, I ultimately learned to tune it out and run through it.  However, I was still limited in my mileage.

All that being said, how could a 6’2″ naturally athletic marathon runner possibly think that eliminating the support in a shoe would help me- the orthopedic disaster?  It sounded insane, but I had nothing to lose.  He was so confident that I would love them, that he even bought me my first pair.  I teased him at the time that he was just afraid of looking ridiculous by himself.   Nonetheless, I was now the owner of an ugly pair of toe shoes with a date set to test them out.

The day we planned our inaugural run I had done a particularly hard work out at the gym and didn’t expect much.  We headed to a  flat, gravel trail and started jogging at a slow place.  We were two miles into our run before I felt any pain in my knees, which was remarkable for me.  By three miles, my calves and ankle muscles were SCREAMING.  I was hurting in places I had never hurt before. We did another mile and called it a day.  The following day at work I passed out.  Yup, out cold- like dreaming and then rudely awakened to a room full of people staring…   Maybe I overdid it a little.  My calves were like jello for days, making walking difficult and stairs near impossible.  It was amazing none the less.  I had accomplished something I wasn’t supposed to do in shoes with absolutely no support.

Overcoming the physical barriers was only part of the sense of triumph.  As a survivor of domestic abuse, I had suffered from crippling anxiety and nightmares for well over a year.  Just waking up in the morning was enough to provoke a  sense of the world closing in around me .   I was miserable, exhausted, and completely drained both physically and emotionally.  I never reached the point where I wanted to die, but I certainly wanted to disappear on multiple occasions when facing another day seemed like too tremendous an effort to stomach.  I saw counselors, therapists, and even a psychiatrist who all reassured me that I was experiencing a “completely normal reaction to a traumatic experience”.  It certainly didn’t feel normal, or even remotely acceptable.  I was prescribed medications to help me sleep; but the first one made me completely sedated and irritable.  The second one caused me to outright hallucinate (which made nightmares seem not so bad in comparison).  By the time an antipsychotic called seroquel was suggested I threw in the towel and fired the shrink.

That was when I found Susan Omilian (creator of the My Avenging Angel Workshops) and decided to attend one of her 2 part sessions.  I desperately wanted to feel “normal” again and move on with my life.  I knew there was a happier and more carefree person inside, but didn’t know how to let her out.  Like she has with so many other women, Susan allowed me to get in touch with the part of myself that wasn’t “damaged”.  She helped me rediscover what I am passionate about and establish short and long-term goals for myself.  She and the other women in the group also made me realize that I was not alone, and it was the first time since my world turned upside down that someone told me I was going to be okay and I actually believed it.

So in a sense, that 4 miles was more meaningful to me than any other distance I had ever achieved.  I was redefining myself and my limits, and I didn’t stop.   I registered for my first 10 K with my boyfriend.  It was last-minute and a distance I hadn’t run or even been able to run in years.  However, it happened to be a trail race at one of my favorite cross-country venues from high school; and I (in a viewing myself as the center of the universe sort of way) took at as a positive sign.  During the run, I was convinced that if I did manage to finish it would be well behind everyone else;  yet, that was not the case at all.  I not only finished, but also managed to finish ahead of one other runner.   It was a slow pace, but I was moving and moving pain free at that.  Plus, it was a great experience to realize that most of the people I was running with were struggling as much as I was.  Luckily, that race was part of a 4 race series and I was hooked.  I did the second and third 10K and then decided it was time to set my sights on something higher.  The final race offered a 15K option, so I signed up and kicked up my training.  Then I registered for a Tough Mudder in NorCal with my boyfriend and the Diva Half marathon in Long Island.  I was excited at the opportunity to combine two things I loved: running and helping other people.  I started a bottle and can drive to raise money for the Wounded Warrior Project, then I approached Susan Omilian about using the Diva Half Marathon as a way to raise money and awareness for other victims of domestic violence.

Currently my plan to use all my future half and full marathons to raise money for CT-ALIVE (the CT Alliance for Victims of Violence and the Families).  I would encourage other runners to find a cause to run for as well.  It is a great way to give back and an opportunity to make the whole experience richer.

So, that pretty much brings us up to present date!  If you hadn’t figured it out yet, my purpose for this blog is to encourage other people, especially women, to get out there and do whatever it is that makes you feel alive.    I love running because I feel like it’s the only time I get to be alone and selfish and not feel guilty for it.  It’s my quiet time. Plus, it’s hard to waste energy being anxious when you are using every ounce to push up a tough hill.

I think many people discount themselves thinking they can’t run, and that women specifically short change themselves instead of realizing what tremendous inner strength they possess.  Distance running is a women’s sport- especially ultra running- because women are built to endure better than men.  They are the glue that holds their families together.  They deliver babies. Running a few miles is no big deal compared to that!

That is why I am here to tell you to get out and run because  if I can do it, you can too!