On December 4, 2011 I ran the California International Marathon. My running partner, Megan had trained diligently and did all her speedwork but had to pull out of the race for health reasons. I, on the other hand, trained haphazardly and did barely any speedwork. Plus my ass (piriformis) hurt. A lot. I had low expectations for this race.

Turns out, I did pretty awesome. I didn’t break 4 hours, but I was damn close. I’m kind of glad that I didn’t break 4 without Megan and with such crappy training. I didn’t want to encourage the slacker mentality.

The second semester of nursing school wasn’t nearly as busy as the first, but it was still pretty study intensive. Along with studying, I was commuting 3 hours a day, doing paperwork for clinical, going to clinical, spending time with my family, running every day, and somehow sleeping every night (for short periods of time some nights). My training peaked around 42 miles a week, which is not nearly enough to result in a fabulous race experience. I was randomly doing speedwork every few weeks. And, like I said, my ass hurt really badly. Regardless, I decided to stay the course (ha) and do the stupid marathon.

I am so glad I did. It ended up being my best marathon experience so far. The race was fabulously organized with a net downhill. Megan was right, the hills weren’t that bad. I would go up a little hill then cruise down a little further. It was a fast course. Even though I had many setbacks, I ran my best marathon. I felt fantastic for most of the race. I was actually ahead of the 4 hour pace group until mile 23ish, which is when I started to lose steam.

I ended up finishing at 4:01:28. At one point during the race, I was damn sure I was going to break four hours. Then I hit mile 23ish and was totally okay with “close to 4 hours.” Honestly, I didn’t deserve to break 4 this race.

I will run the CIM again next year and I will put in the training to ensure I break that elusive 4 hour mark. Megan will be with me this time, I hope. It just wasn’t the same without her.

The year 2011 brought me wonderful running experiences. Let’s review, shall we?

2/13/11: Willits Classic 10 Miler, 1:21:48, PR

4/16/11: Donut Run 5k, 23:30, PR

5/15/11: Spring Has Sprung 10k, 49:00, PR

11/24/11: Day 365 of Running Streak

12/4/11: California International Marathon, 4:01:28, PR

Yearly running total: 1629.7 miles, 2 full marathons, running streak maintained.

Not bad. The mileage could have been better but I was in a running funk for the month of December while I let my ass heal. I can feel my motivation brewing again. You know, just in time for my third semester of nursing school.

I am looking forward to 2012 and what it will bring me. A sub-4 marathon, I hope.

Well, this is embarrassing. I am a neglectful blogger. Not only has it been months since I updated this, but I failed to report on the San Francisco Marathon after I finished.

Unfortunately, I did not break 4 hours at San Francisco. I finished in 4:09:32 and I was damn happy with that time. I don’t know if you are aware of this, but that course is hard. My running partner, Megan, told me the hills weren’t that bad. She lied. The hills weren’t particularly huge but there were many and they were quad burners. I felt bad because I told fellow RunningAhead posters Phil and Michelle that I heard the hills weren’t that bad. They were, of course, delighted at this news. I’m sure they hate my guts now.

I stayed with Michelle and Phil the night before in the host hotel. The hotel was supposed to have double beds but it turns out that Michelle and I were to share a king size bed for the night. We ended up talking into the wee hours of the night because we both suffered from race nerves. I had a lot of fun and hope to be able to hang out with her again in the future.

We were packed in like sardines at the starting corrals. Fortunately, we had barely made it to the start line in time so we were only subjected to this for a few minutes before we were sent running into the foggy morning. I had dutifully choked down my strawberry Pop Tarts and cup of coffee that morning and was feeling ready. Stoked. I wanted to scream Hulk style. Instead I cheered with the rest of the crowd when the announcer asked if we were ready. I was Hulk-screaming inside, though.

We were cruising along on pace through Crissy Field and then we hit the first hill. I thought to myself, “This isn’t a hill!” We passed quite a few people on our way to the top.

Then came the Golden Gate Bridge. I was really looking forward to running across this, imagining myself gliding across gracefully. Instead, I had to shove my way through a throng of people who were walking or running very slowly due to starting in the wrong freaking corral. Be honest with yourself, people. Start in the right corral. Pick a reasonable finish time. You will be happier. Other runners will be happier.

I was considering using my Hulk-scream at this point. It was packed. Runners were elbow to elbow. Megan and I took turns leading through the crowd, weaving our way across the bridge and back. I was starting to feel claustrophobic when we finally finished the bridge. Sadly, I didn’t even get to enjoy it because I was so irritated at the crowd.

We climbed another hill and I was still feeling pretty good. Megan had a hip issue but she did a little jig and shook it out. We cruised into Golden Gate Park, which happened to be the suckiest part of the race.

Golden Gate Park looks flat, but it lies. It’s filled with lies.  We had to do some crazy loopy stuff around the park and it seemed like we were running uphill the whole time. At mile 16, Megan and I both hit a wall. She was ready to bag it in but I talked her down from the edge. Her husband took this picture.

We look tired, right? We were. We sucked it up and tromped through the rest of Golden Gate Park. A volunteer was handing out little cups of beer. I considered taking one briefly but Megan talked me out of it. Just before we headed out of Golden Gate Park, we turned to go a different direction when we approached a stupid hill. I shouted an expletive. It started with “F.”

Finally we made it through Hell Park and cruised through the Haight and Mission. The Haight was my favorite part, actually. There were some hills and my quads were on fire. At some point during this period, I said, “Running is stupid!” Finally, it started to flatten out.

Around mile 23 or 24 (Honestly, they all blur together at this point), Megan stopped and told me to keep going. I tried to get her to keep running but she was adamant, so I continued on.

Some time after that, volunteers had set up a temptation station. People were dressed as the devil and offered whisky, beer, candy, and massages. The temptation was strong but I knew if I stopped, I wouldn’t make it to the finish.

Finally, I could hear the roar of the finish line and I hauled ass the best I could. I probably looked like I was hobbling along and honestly, I was just concentrating on remaining upright so the finish line photographer wouldn’t catch me eating pavement. I crossed the line and waited for Megan. Fortunately, she was just 2 minutes behind me at 4:11. At this point, I needed food and beer as soon as possible or I would surely die. I didn’t break 4 hours but the hills of SF humbled me and I was very happy with my time.

The course was challenging, the race was well organized, and there was beer at the finish. I enjoyed the race, but if I were to do it again, I wouldn’t race it. I would run it like a tourist. I would take pictures and drink the beer volunteers were handing out. I would enjoy myself and pose with people in costumes. I wouldn’t worry about time or miles left. I would high-five spectators and cheer obscenely at firemen dancing on top of fire trucks. I would have fun.

I ended up doing another marathon in 2011, the California International Marathon. That deserves it’s own post, though. Megan told me the hills weren’t bad on this one, either. Was she lying? You’ll just have to read the next entry to find out.

Exactly four years ago, I started running. I had given birth to my youngest kid about 8 months before and gained a ridiculous amount of weight due to my eating like a cow. I was fat, hungry, and sleep-deprived. I decided to make a change. So I donned my best pair of extra-large sweat pants, one of my husband’s white cotton t-shirts, and headed out into the summer night for a single mile of torture.

I started trotting along at a speed I was sure my crawling baby could beat. I knew that I couldn’t run the entire mile. In fact, I was expecting to walk most of it. I ran for as long as possible, which turned out to be about 30 seconds or when my lungs felt like they were on fire and my shins felt like they were going to explode. It was at that point that I started to walk until I caught my breath. I repeated this for the entire mile, passing by my neighbors with my head hanging low, hoping they didn’t see my massive ass jiggling under my sweats. I arrived back at my house and I was sure that I had run the world’s slowest mile. It. Felt. Awesome.

Within a week or two, I could run the whole mile without taking a walk break, though it was very slow. Gradually, I increased the distance until I was running 2 miles at a time. Eventually, I could run 3 miles at once. I ran 3 miles a day for a long time, never leaving my comfort zone. But I noticed that I needed to run. I was on edge until I finished my run that day. Basically, I was a bitch unless I went for a run. Running had become a part of me. And I liked it.

One day, in March of the following year, I decided to enter my first race, a tiny 5k of about 20 to 30 people. I was reserved and quiet at the race. I ran hard and finished at 28:17. Much to my surprise, I placed in my age group and came home with a tiny keychain medal. I showed my husband, who responded with genuine surprise (I was slow, dude, I understand why he was surprised).

I entered more 5k’s and eventually ran a 10k in May of 2008. After that, the distance became addictive. I wanted to run further. I thrived on the response I got when I told people I ran 8 miles that morning. I ran my first half marathon in October of 2008 and I was completely hooked. I knew, the moment I crossed the finish line at that race, that I would never stop running.

Today, I ran 7 miles. At the same pace I finished my first 5k in. Without a doubt, I have come a long way. I lost 70 pounds, gained speed and endurance, and my legs look awesome.  In some ways I am the same. I still thrive on the reaction people give me when I tell them I just ran 20 miles. I like to know that I’m that “crazy runner chick” in my neighborhood.

But sometimes I wonder if I have learned anything at all. For instance, yesterday I headed out for a run in these tempo shorts that I knew rode up in the middle. I hadn’t worn them in a few years and figured,  “Hey, I have less fat on my thighs now, I’m sure it will be fine.” I lubed up my thighs with the cheap runner’s equivalent of Body Glide (aka Vaseline) and headed out for a nice 5 miler.

As soon as I started to run, the shorts began riding up. I could have gone back inside and changed into something I knew would stay in place but instead I thought that I could make the distance due to the half a jar of Vaseline protecting the skin on my inner thighs. By the time I hit mile 2, I knew I had made a grave mistake.

The Vaseline had worn off. I suffered for a little while before I stopped and tried to think of something to remedy the situation. I tried pulling my shorts up a little higher, which only resulted in my ass hanging out of the back of the shorts for about a half a mile. I tried tearing off chunks of chapstick and rubbing it on the chafed skin. This gave a bit of relief but within 30 seconds I was back to my thighs rubbing together, like they were trying to make sparks.

Could you imagine the headlines? “Runner starts wildfire with her massive thighs. Despite her efforts to extinguish, Vaseline only fueled the flames.”

Finally, I make it home. Despite the carnage on my thighs, I had a fantastic run. But I realized that I was still a running newbie. I have been running for 4 years and I still make rookie mistakes like wardrobe malfunctions. I have a lot to learn.

I have many, many years of running in my future. Those years of running will be full of (minor, I hope) injuries, personal records, embarrassing moments, chafing, pain, elation, and moments where I wonder why the hell I’m still running. I look forward to running for as long as possible in order to learn from those moments and my future mistakes.

Happy “runniversary” to me.

Next time you get a new pair of running shoes, I want you to do this: Open the box. Peel back the layer of tissue paper to reveal your shiny, mud-free shoes. Hold up to your face. Inhale deeply. Sigh loudly. Repeat as necessary.  Stop when your significant other/child/pet starts to give you weird looks.

There is nothing quite like a brand new pair of running shoes. They are so crisp, fresh, and clean. They practically beg to be taken for a spin for a few miles, just to “test them out.”  The first few steps are like running on clouds, airy and light. The shoes are so responsive it’s like they were made for your feet.

A couple of weeks ago, I ordered a new pair of running shoes. My old pair was so worn I could feel the rocks through the soles during my run. They had 430 miles on them and I could feel every bit of it in my hips and knees. They were dirty, dusty, beaten, and begging for rest. It was time. Time to retire my old pair of shoes and order a brand new pair.

I ordered them and sat eagerly by the front window awaiting the UPS deliveryman to come to my house. Okay, not really. I just kept running in my worn down shoes and hoped the new ones showed up as soon as possible. And finally, about a week later, they did. I ripped open the package with the giddiness of a 6 year old on Christmas morning and pulled out the shoebox within.

Speaking of shoeboxes, aren’t they cool? Don’t you just want to save them to put stuff in or make dioramas or something? I digress.

So I pull out the shoebox and hold it in my hands. Angels were singing. The sun was shining. World peace had been achieved.  Then my kid came running over and broke my blissful moment with an excited cry of, “MOM! You got new running shoes!!!”  It’s funny, because that’s kind of what I was screaming in my head when the box arrived. I opened the lid, peeled back the top layer of tissue paper and held the box to my face.  I breathed deeply, inhaling the scent of brand new running shoes. I inhale again and let out a deep, content sigh. I glanced at my daughter as she gave me a quizzical look.  I asked, “Want to smell my shoes?” In typical four-year-old fashion, she said, “Ewww! No!” and ran away screeching.  Now that I was alone, I went ahead and smelled my shoes a couple of more times.

Only a fellow runner can appreciate the scent of a new pair of shoes. The smell is filled with new beginnings. It smells of the opportunity to create a bond between you and the pavement as you pound the hell out of it during a 10-mile run. It smells of freedom and solitude, just you and the open road. It smells of mileage and speedwork, pain and accomplishment, and of early morning runs in the fresh air. It smells of happiness and wholeness. It smells of running.

Next time you get a new pair of running shoes, I want you to smell them and remember why you love to run. Then, I want you to let your love of running overwhelm you and carry you for the next 430 miles when you realize you have to order a new pair of running shoes. Repeat and run.

I would be lying if I said I loved living a healthy lifestyle. The truth is I love booze, bar food, candy (especially chocolate), ranch dressing, cake, massive amounts of sunflower seeds (not that reduced sodium crap, either), tortilla chips, sitting on my ass, and excessive amounts of sleep.

Don’t we all?

There is one thing that I love to do that is considered the epitome of health. I love to run. I love to run a lot. If I could run all day, every day I would do it. And I would love every minute of it. Except that I have a husband and two kids. And I go to school. So it wouldn’t work. But I can dream!

I’m by no means fast, but over the years I’ve managed to run my ass from the back of the pack to the mid-front packers. This is the result of hard work, weight loss, many miles, running intervals at barf-pace, tempo runs, and running more miles.  In fact, I decided about six months back that I needed to run more miles so I started to run every day.

Yes, every day. No rest days. That’s right, I’m a streaker (and no, you can’t see my boobs). My rest days have been replaced with a 1-3 mile recovery run.  As a result, my race times have drastically improved and I feel stronger than ever. Please note that I am an idiot of the highest order and you should not be like me . . . unless you want to streak. Then be like me. But don’t come complaining if something goes wrong. You have been warned.

Running all these miles gives me a fantastic edge. I can eat pretty much all that crap I listed up in the top paragraph. The problem with that is that when I eat all that crap, I feel, well, crappy. So my love of running forces me to live a healthy lifestyle filled with vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and less beer. It’s actually not that bad (except for that “less beer” part). Vegetables taste pretty awesome, if I do say so myself.

That’s not to say that I don’t miss jalapeño poppers, mozzarella sticks, copious amounts of chocolate, Peanut Butter Captain Crunch cereal, or other delicacies of the “my pants must have shrunk” variety. In fact, I still eat those things every once in a while. Especially during the last 16 weeks.

I just finished my first semester of nursing school and I ate like a ravenous cow the entire time. We ate pizza for dinner at least once a week. As the semester came to an end, I realized that I felt pretty awful. I tried to remember the last time I ate a piece of fruit for a snack and when I couldn’t recall, I decided it was time to go back. So here I am, back on the healthy eating bandwagon.

I have to say that I’m glad to be back. I’ve missed healthy food. I’ve missed being able to prepare a nutritious, delicious meal that my family loves. It’s satisfying to prepare and even more satisfying to eat. Food rocks.

I love to run and I love to eat. Fortunately, the two kind of keep each other in balance. The better I eat, the better I feel when I run. It seems like an obvious choice, doesn’t it?

Now, if you’ll excuse me I have a beer calling my name from the fridge.

Watch out.

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