Friday, April 29, 2016

Friday Five: Eat, Breathe, Sleep Running!

I am welcoming the coming of spring in New England by getting into the running spirit in a BIG way.  I finished the Coastal Delaware Marathon last weekend (check out my race recap here) and I have four more marathons to go before spring is done.   Here goes nothing!  Today, I am linking up with Courtney at Eat Pray Run DC for the Friday Five Linkup.

1. Lately, I've been spending time surrounding myself with "pump up" running books and movies in my free time.  So much inspiration that I hope will carry me through many race miles this coming month!  I just finished reading Marathon Woman by Kathrine Switzer.  

This awesome book tells the story of one of running's female pioneers.  Kathrine was the first woman to officially enter and run the Boston Marathon, as evidenced by this famous photo, where she had to fight off race official Jock Semple to do so.  Kathrine went on to pioneer women's entrance into the early days of the New York City Marathon, and as part of the international running community  in Japan, Russia and across western Europe, resulting in the addition of the first women's marathon at the 1984 Olympics.  Talk about an inspirational, powerful woman role model!  

2. I also watched a running documentary on Netflix last weekend, called The Barkley Marathons: The Race that Eats Its Young.  This 100-mile ultra marathon is as tough as they make it out to be!  The race was inspired by Martin Luther King Jr's assassin's escape from the nearby Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary, and his subsequent 55-hour run through the woods.  The course has no aid stations, no markers, and no official start time - it can start anytime between 11 pm to 11 am on race day - just to keep participants on their toes!  The terrain consists of brush and thorn-covered mountains with gradients nearing 40 percent.  Only 14 runners have ever completed the full race, and many years no one finishes.  Sounds like a pretty cool bucket list item to me!

3. I am excitedly awaiting the beginning of my running club's Summer Run Series next week!  Every Wednesday, I participate in a fun run with about 50 other club members around a local park.  I look forward to the comradery of these events, as we come out of our collective winter running hibernation to celebrate the joy of this sport together and to cheer on each other's accomplishments.  The beginning of this series each May signals the coming of summer and some great outdoor runs.  We have officially survived winter in New England!

My run crew looking like a rainbow (accidentally!)
 4. My company is hosting a Step Challenge in May to promote employee wellness, and I am looking forward to killing it with my coworkers!  Four marathons in the month that we happen to be participating in the challenge kind of makes me a ringer... but I will enjoy pushing myself on non-running days as well to stay active and get my steps in.  To track my steps, I will be using my Garmin Vivosmart - a spur of the moment treat to myself a few months ago.  It connects via Bluetooth to text messages and email, which makes it ideal for use at work as well.  And its black/pink.  Say no more!

5. I am still dreaming of my post-marathon treat from Rehoboth Beach last weekend... a cheesy, crunchy, greasy plate of goodness that I ate by the ocean.  Pretty close to perfection.  This meal consisted of tater tots topped with melted cheddar cheese, bacon, jalapenos, and Sriracha ranch dressing.  It was as unbelievable as it sounds!  I generally eat pretty healthily, but after 26.2 miles, all bets are off.  And I loved every moment of this celebration.

My love affair with Sriracha continues!

Which running books or movies inspire you every time and get you in the mood to run like a champion?  I can use all the inspiration I can get!

What is your favorite post-race treat?  For me, the more decadent the better!  

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Coastal Delaware Marathon: Race Recap (Part 2)

If you missed my Coastal Delaware Marathon Race Recap Part 1 with my pre-race travel adventures, catch up here first!

Okay, so yesterday I left off with a whirlwind tour of Washington DC, Gettysburg and rural Maryland.  Well, before I knew it, after a fabulous breakfast with mimosas downtown, I headed off solo to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.  Once again, I had no idea what to expect as a result of my total lack of planning for this trip!  I knew Rehoboth was a 3-hour trip from Frederick, but I underestimated what that actually meant.  What started out as an adventure turned into its own marathon of sorts as I struggled to stay awake throughout miles of flat, rural farmland.  I learned quickly that past Annapolis, there is pretty much nothing between Maryland and Rehoboth Beach, which is on the complete opposite side of Delaware.  Fun times.
Never so happy to arrive in the middle of nowhere before!
When I finally arrived in Rehoboth Beach, I couldn’t wait to catch my first glimpse of the ocean!  I had booked a hotel room overlooking the boardwalk as a pre-marathon splurge – mostly because I couldn’t imagine going to a beach town and not staying on the beach.  It proved to be the best decision of my trip!  My room at the Atlantic Sands hotel was like a dream come true.  The view from my balcony overlooked the beach below, and I could hear the waves crashing on the shore from my room.  Perfection.  I also loved being able to walk out of the hotel to all of the nearby shops and restaurants – literally everything was walking distance.
View from my hotel room balcony... not too shabby!
To get the lay of the land, I decided to walk to the marathon expo at nearby Dewey Beach (nearby in runner terms, meaning about 2 miles away).  It was a lovely walk, with a mile on the boardwalk in Rehoboth, another half-mile along the sand, and then the remainder along Route 1 in Dewey.  I really need to learn to take it easy before a race!  I enjoyed catching a glimpse of two of the mile-markers for the marathon on my way back to the hotel.  I envisioned myself running strong and soaking up the sun past these miles the next day.

Ready to run!!  Let me at it!
On marathon day, I woke up bright and early once again (4:30 AM somehow seemed pretty tame compared to my previous 3 AM wake-up call!).  The start line was just a few miles away at the Delaware Seashore State Park, and parking was plentiful, which I always appreciate.  I had about an hour to relax in the car, visit the porta-potty, and watch the sun rise over the beach. It was 48 degrees and sunny at the start - chilly in my shorts and singlet, but I knew I would warm up quickly once I got started.  Perfect running weather!

Sunrise over Tower Beach at the marathon start
The marathon started right on time at 7 am.  I appreciated that the marathon started separately from the half marathon, which kicked off at 7:30 AM, and the 9K which began at 8 AM.  The staggered start meant that I didn't spend the first few miles dodging other runners and was able to get to my target pace almost immediately as we headed from the Delaware Seashore State Park into downtown Dewey Beach.  I was feeling strong as we passed Dewey Beach, where the race would finish, and crossed the bridge over Silver Lake, a beautiful residential community on our way to Rehoboth Beach.  By mile 3, we were running on the boardwalk along Rehoboth Beach, with great crowd support and a beautiful view.  I was feeling strong and loving every minute!
We ran right past my hotel along Rehoboth Beach!
The course continued along the boardwalk past mile 5, where we entered Cape Henlopen State Park, an extensive nature reserve bordered by the Atlantic Ocean and Delaware Bay on each side.  From here, the boardwalk turned into a packed gravel trail until mile 8.5, where we ran on a paved bicycle path through the park until mile 12.  Here, we encountered the course's only three hills (only about 50 feet of elevation each - other than that, the race was wonderfully flat!)  The three miles of gravel trail were challenging for me, since I had only trained on roads and packed dirt.  I found my feet slipping slightly back with each step forward, similar to the sensation of running in sand, and by the end of these three miles, my quads were burning from the control it took to push forward.  Note to self... train on terrain similar to the race course!

aOn the elevated boardwalk leading to Cape Henlopen
My second wind came when we reached the city of Lewes, a small residential community between the state park and Rehoboth Beach.  This part of the course was four miles alongside a paved road - not overly scenic, but refreshingly similar to my training, so I was able to settle back and refocus.  I repeated my mantra, "Trust your training" as I passed the halfway point right on my target pace.  I was starting to pass runners who had passed me earlier in the course, and this rebuilt my confidence after the challenge of the trails.

Suburban bliss... there's no place like home!
I knew there was another short portion of trail coming, but I hadn't paid much attention to this part of the course map, so I wasn't sure how long the trail would last.  I was praying it would be short!  As the course turned back to packed gravel after mile 16 on the Junction and Breakwater Trail, my legs started to fade.  This was probably one of the most beautiful parts of the race, following a section of the former Penn Central railroad, and crossing through a shady pine forest, sprawling farmland and a coastal marsh - but I can't say I was really at a point in the race to appreciate much of it.  Instead, I spent  the next three miles wondering when the trail would end, and we would get back to paved roads.  Three LONG miles was the answer to that question.  Again, note to self, actually read the course map!

It really was beautiful, I shouldn't complain!
Just after mile 19, we crossed into downtown Rehoboth on our way back to the boardwalk.  This part of the course had beautiful ocean views and incredible support at the aid stations.  It was the friendly encouragement of the volunteers that got me in the right frame of mind again, and as my legs adjusted back to the paved surface of the course, I worked to push back to my target pace, after having slowed by almost a minute per mile on the 3 miles of trails - yikes!  

Back to the ocean and the pavement!
Surprisingly, the last six miles passed quickly, as we turned back onto the boardwalk at Rehoboth Beach, which at that point in the weekend was familiar to me.  As I passed the landmarks from my exploration the previous day - first my hotel, then the downtown shopping area, and then the residential part of the boardwalk leading to Dewey Beach, I knew we were getting close!  We turned off the boardwalk at Mile 23 and crossed the Silver Lake bridge again to the most enthusiastic group of volunteers and yet.  It provided a much-needed boost of energy as I tried to push the pace and focused on picking off runners one at a time to pass.  At this point in the race, it was all mental for me, and this helped to make the miles go by for me while still feeling surprisingly strong. 
More views from the boardwalk - the dunes were incredible!
Before I knew it, the course emerged from a residential area into downtown Dewey Beach, where we ran along Route 1 for about a quarter mile before making the final turn.  The finish line was in sight with less than 100 yards to go, and I still felt great!  One final push to the finish line, as I heard my name over the loudspeakers, with an enthusiastic, "She's still smiling!" by the race announcer. 
Thankful for a strong finish (and a great finish photo!)
I collected my medal and a water bottle, and then headed straight to gear check, where I couldn't wait to take off my running shoes and slip on the recovery flip flops that I had remembered to pack.  The race finished right on the beach, and I was more excited than ever to feel the sand between my toes!  The after-party offered pulled pork sandwiches, potato salad, grilled chicken and chocolate chip cookies - and obviously I had to sample it all!  The race also provided free beer tickets, and I have to say, I wasn't sad about laying on the beach and drinking a beer after 26.2!  

Pretty freaking perfect
The medal was stained glass with a painted version of Tower Beach, and it reflected the sun just perfectly as I laid near the ocean.  I could have laid there in the sun all day!  At that point it was 58 and sunny, and although I was tired after an early wake-up and the miles I had traveled since then, I felt remarkably good - the strongest and most limber I've ever felt after a marathon.  It was exciting to feel my hard training this year pay off - not necessarily in a super fast race (this was only my 3rd fastest marathon) but from such a strong finish and a relatively pain-free experience.  I had a smile on my face for 26.2 miles, and I can't ask for much more than that!  Thank you Coastal Delaware for an incredible race and a fabulous getaway to one of my new favorite beach destinations!

Linking up with Running with Spoons for Thursdays are for Thinking Out Loud.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Coastal Delaware Marathon: Travel Adventures (Part 1)

When I registered for the Coastal Delaware marathon a few months ago, I knew nothing about Delaware… including where exactly to find it on the map!  Which is why when my best friend since kindergarten informed me that she lived only an hour from the Delaware border near Baltimore, I was psyched.  I decided to make a long weekend of it, and to explore the mid-Atlantic states while I was there.  

After landing in Philadelphia at an ungodly hour on Friday morning (I had to leave my house in Massachusetts at 3:15 am), I picked up the rental car and drove down to Washington DC for some quick sight-seeing.  My friend was getting out of work at 1 pm, so I had some time to self-entertain in the morning.  Totally winging it, I parked near the Capitol building and followed the signs to the National Mall.  I had visions of a leisurely walk by the monuments… until I realized that I was embarking on a 5-mile adventure.  Who knew all those famous sights were so far apart?!  Oops… planning fail!   

Exactly as far away as it looks!
So my leisurely walk turned into a bit of a power walk around the National Mall… from the Capitol building, past the Smithsonian, over to the Washington Memorial, past the White House, along the Reflecting Pool and to the Lincoln Memorial.  Several miles later, I was sweating profusely in the humid 70-degree DC sun.  So much for taking it easy before the marathon!  I can’t complain though… it was beautiful and inspiring and totally cool for a spur-of-the-moment adventure.

Not bad for a one-hour sprint around the city!
Finally back to the Capitol building area (after forgetting where I had parked my rental car, and what my rental car looked like), I headed west to the small town in Maryland where my best friend had moved after attending veterinary school.  We’ve known each other since kindergarten, and although we don’t have the opportunity to see each other much anymore, every time we meet up, it is like we were never apart.  Along the drive, I was mesmerized by the green, lush rolling hills of farmland and fields of horses and cows grazing near red-painted barns.  It was beautiful.

This field makes me want to frolic!

My friend could tell I was easily entertained by the farms and cows (which incidentally, as a vet, she saw every day) so offered to take me on a scenic drive of the area.  We drove up into the mountains of western Maryland to the nearby national parks, and then across the border to Pennsylvania, which was only about ten miles north.  Who knew all these mid-Atlantic states were actually so close together?!  Apparently my geography is not so good!

Barns, fields and cows are my favorite!

We ended up in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and by accident happened along the Gettysburg Memorial self-guided auto tour, which sounded like a fun adventure.  It ends up there is quite a bit to see in Gettysburg, throughout 20+ miles of beautiful countryside and various memorials where battles were fought.  The auto tour took us through the Gettysburg national park, using an online visitors’ guide to point out the historical significance of the battlefields and memorials we passed.    

Field and mountains - sensing a theme?!
We got out several times to climb observation towers, where you could see the rolling farmland below for miles around.  It was pretty incredible to think about the scene of 93,000 soldiers covering that same terrain during the battle.  It was also pretty fascinating to see the memorials dedicated to the different battalions from all over the United States that  fought in Gettysburg – as far north as Maine and as south as Florida.  I couldn’t imagine riding on horseback from Florida to Pennsylvania!  I also loved the miles of rolling country roads through the park - so much so that I am thinking the Gettysburg Marathon may be the latest addition to my race wish-list! 

Loved the historic wooden fences - so rustic!

 That evening, my friend took me to Frederick, Maryland – a small nearby city with a cute downtown area of restaurants and shopping.  It was quite a contrast to the totally rural farmland just a few miles away, and I loved the quaint storefronts and outdoor seating at each restaurant.  After dinner, we took a walk along the canal in Frederick, where they have live bands and activities in the summer.  I have to say, I fell in love with Maryland on this trip… both the gorgeous, peaceful rural scenery and the charm of the small southern towns.  I could totally see myself there one day!

And a covered bridge... my day was complete!

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Running for Life: Diagnosed with Crohn's Disease

One of the big driving reasons in my life that I choose to run is because of Crohn's.  At times, Crohn's can deplete me mentally and physically - but when I run, all that fades away.  My body feels strong and healthy, and I know I can overcome any obstacle life puts in my way.  Having Crohn's, that feeling is something I no longer take for granted.

I was diagnosed with Crohn's disease shortly after moving to Massachusetts after college.  I had just started a new "big girl" job in healthcare management, moved far away from my friends and family, and moved into an apartment on my own.  Looking back now, I had been experiencing symptoms for quite some time before that, but then the disease became undeniable.  I lost weight rapidly - down almost 15 pounds in a few weeks - and experienced excruciating abdominal pain.  The more I tried to ignore it, the worse it came back with a vengeance.  Finally I found myself admitted to the hospital with a nasogastric tube and preparing for a colonoscopy - and in the next few days, was officially diagnosed with Crohn's disease. 

Shortly after moving to MA at less than 100 pounds
  The news was devastating.  At the time, I knew nothing about Crohn's, so I did as much research as I could.  I learned that there was no cure for this chronic condition, and that physicians weren't even sure what caused it.  I learned that in addition to abdominal pain and other unpleasant GI symptoms, it could cause fatigue, weight loss, joint pain, mouth ulcers and more.  It explained so much of how I had been feeling.  

As the next few months passed by, I learned that I could help to control these symptoms.  My gastroenterologist tried a number of medications before we found one that worked - an oral medication called azathioprine, which works by suppressing the immune system (and putting patients at higher risk for other diseases, since white blood cell production is suppressed).  I also learned that diet played a huge role in the inflammation and pain I was experiencing.  The foods we traditionally think of as healthy - like whole grains, vegetables, fruit and dairy - wreaked havoc with my GI system.  Over the years, I have learned through trial and error which foods work for me, and which I can tolerate when my disease is flaring versus when my symptoms are in remission.  

Yikes, check out that prednisone puffiness!
 I also found that exercise was critical to help relieve symptoms (as well as, for me, to reduce stress levels - is commonly thought to be a trigger for Crohn's flares).  So although running could not have been harder at the time, as I found myself sometimes doubled over in pain or experiencing crippling joint pain, it felt like one of the very few things I had control over during a very uncertain and scary time.  

When I completed my first marathon after being diagnosed with Crohn's, I knew I had fallen in love with this sport all over again - and felt like nothing could stand in my way.  Running with Crohn's has proven to me that despite the physical and mental challenges of this chronic disease, I am stronger and braver than I sometimes feel.  Crohn's has taught me patience - knowing that there will be days where just getting out of bed is a struggle, and I need to work with what my body gives me on a day-to-day, and even moment-to-moment basis.  And Crohn's has made me grateful for the days that I do have - those incredible runner's high moments where it feels like I could go forever.  I know with this disease that life has no guarantees - but living with Crohn's gives me a reason to push past all that, and to experience every moment of the run. 
First marathon post-diagnosis - victory!

 Why am I writing about this now?  Well this week, I received some not-so-great news.  It appears that my miracle drug that has kept my Crohn's in remission for the past five years or so is no longer working for me.  That's not altogether unusual, as the body adapts to a certain class of drugs and requires a more aggressive form of treatment.  However, I was hoping to have at least a few more years on this one.  Now all I can do is wait for more testing to figure out what my body up to now... including my fifth colonoscopy in as many years.  

As unsettling as all the uncertainty is right now, I am doing my best to take each challenge as it comes.  I am focusing on being grateful for how strong my body has become over the years, both as a result of this incredible sport of running and of fighting this disease.  Crohn's has put many obstacles in my path, but for now, I appreciate every moment I have to keep running on.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

A Two-Race Weekend and April Snowstorm in New England

When I signed up for two races this weekend, it all seemed so logical.  After all, who doesn't love spring in New England?!  Hmm... famous last words!  It POURED on Saturday as I drove an hour in each direction to run 9.3 hilly miles for my running club's April Grand Prix race, and then I woke up this morning to three inches of snow for today's 5K.  Happy Spring to me.

I should have known I was in for a good time on Saturday when my alarm went off at 6:30 AM, and I started driving into this.
Great running weather, right?!
 Although despite the driving rain all morning, I had a great time at the Frank Nealon Boston Tune-Up 15k.  This race, held by the Tri-Valley Front Runners, is considered a prep race for the Boston Marathon, and more than half their field this year was club runners, which made for a fast and competitive race.  I enjoyed running with the more experienced runners and many of my own club members, which made it easier to push my speed by sticking with runners who were around my target pace. 

The awesome Colonial Road Runners!
 The only thing that I had conveniently forgotten about this area of Western Massachusetts is that it is hilly.  I mean HILLY.  My Garmin tells me that the race had a total elevation gain of 323 feet, and I can say that I felt every one of those.  This course was not for the weak, but after the first few miles, I actually found myself getting into a good groove.  The miles passed by quickly as I focused on getting to the top of one  hill, and then rejoiced in a downhill, and then refocused on the next hill.  I honestly didn't spend as much time enjoying the scenery as I usually would (and it was beautiful!) because I was so intently focused on the hills and keeping up my pace.  

 Although I was exhausted by the end, I was proud of maintaining a strong, relatively consistent pace on a rainy day on a difficult course.  I was completely soaked when I finished, and couldn't have been more excited to see the race volunteers ladling hot soup into bowls right near the finish line.  Awesome!  Inside the school gym where the race finished, I enjoyed a slice of pizza and a chocolate chip cookie as well.  My only moment of sadness occurred when I realized that I had forgotten dry clothes to change into.  Let's just say it was a COLD hour-long drive home...

I spent most of the day recovering and mentally preparing for my 5K today.  The race director for the TCS Shovel Town 5K is a fellow club member, so a large group of Colonials were planning to head out to support him.  I was looking forward to racing a 5K, since I've been mostly focused on longer distances this past year.  Excited, however, until I woke up to a winter wonderland!  

April in Massachusetts.  Thank you very little.
The weather forecast had said "flurries" starting at 10 am, so when I woke up to two inches on the ground and snow continuing to come down rapidly at 6 am, I was less than impressed.  But this is what we runners do, right?!  Onward!  True to form, the snow didn't keep many of my club members away, although it did cause us to break out our winter clothes once again... hats, gloves, jackets, and even ski goggles to ward off the blowing snow.

Surprisingly enthusiastic for this race!

Almost immediately, I stepped in a huge puddle and my feet were soaked in icy water.  Also, although I felt fine when I woke up, my legs felt heavy and tired almost immediately after starting to run - testament to the previous day's hills.  It was the race volunteers that kept me going - over 75 volunteers out on the course, manning water stations, giving splits at mile markers, taking photos and just cheering us on, while they themselves were covered in snow.  The support was pretty incredible, and it kept me motivated.  As I sprinted across the finish line with snow and hail blowing in my eyes, I felt unstoppable.

Although I was over a minute from placing in my age group, I was proud of my time, 26:51, an 8:40 pace.  Not bad on tired legs in the snow!  As is the theme pretty much whenever I race, my immediate thought was food... so one of my running buddies and I changed into dry shoes and socks (I remembered this time, lesson learned!) and treated ourselves to a fancy breakfast out.  Smoked salmon benedict on a sweet tomato brioche with chive hollandaise.  Unreal.  

With the unpredictable nature of New England weather this weekend and some challenging race conditions, I feel stronger than ever with two sub-9 minute mile races down.  This weekend also reminded me once again how much I love being part of a running club.  Had it not been for my teammates, I would absolutely have pressed the "snooze" button both mornings and watched the rain and snow from the comfort of my couch.  Instead, my running friends motivated me to finish both races strong, with a smile on my face.  What a weekend!  I am starting to feel ready for my next race - the Coastal Delaware Marathon on April 24th!  The countdown begins...

Foyer full of wet running gear... a runner lives here!

What spring races do you have planned?

Any tips for racing in the rain?

What is your favorite post-race treat?