Sunday, July 27, 2014

Saucony Race to Kinvara!

I am still waking up from my Irish running dream.  To be honest with you, the experience has brightened, elevated and enhanced my passion and awareness of the awesomeness of our sport and the people who make it what it is.

Stepping back into reality after spending a whirlwind three days surrounded and enveloped by incredible individuals who love running and who believe in the power of our sport to elevate people and change their lives - in a breathtaking part of the world, no less! - has left me feeling so incredibly happy and thankful ... wanting to pay it forward and do all that I can to help others find their inner strength and joy through our sport and the community that makes it so incredible.

As a coach for the Saucony 26 Strong program, I was selected at the last minute to go to Ireland to experience what was truly the race of a lifetime - the Saucony Race to Kinvara.  The Race to Kinvara is an expertly planned stage relay race across Ireland, from Dublin to the west coast town of Kinvara. The race is the culmination of a retail contest Saucony holds each summer (last year was the first one) with their specialty running stores in the US, Canada and Europe.  Beginning in May, employees of specialty run stores received sweepstakes entries for every pair of Saucony shoes that they sold.  At the end of the contest in late June, Saucony held a grand prize drawing and selected 63 individuals to go on this trip!  Everyone who was there was connected to and passionate about our sport in some way - and entirely pumped and shocked and just so dang excited to be there!  Myself absolutely included - I could not take the smile off my face, it just came from so deep inside me.  I don't even really know how to tell you what the energy felt like - it was just electric.  Saucony treated us with such gratitude, excitement and awesomeness ... I could feel it in every single interaction I had with every single person I spoke to, from the moment I met my first fellow travelers at the check-in gate at the airport, to when we had to say our goodbyes three days later to make our connecting flights.

I arrived in Dublin Wednesday morning after an overnight flight.  I slept a lot on the plane (almost the whole flight!) and was so excited when I arrived that the tiredness didn't have a chance to impact me for a while.  We went straight to our hotel - this charming adorable place! - to check in and were given awesome special edition gear as soon as we arrived!  I was just blown away moment after moment, you guys.

We made fast friends and immediately a bunch of us went into the city to explore for a couple of hours before all winding up at the Guinness Storehouse for a sweet tour (so cool!), a cold amazing beer (it was delicious) and dinner!  Saucony divided all of us up into 10 teams with 8-9 runners each.  There were four US teams, two Canadian teams, and then one team each from Germany, France, UK/Ireland and The Netherlands. At dinner we sat with our teams, each named after a Saucony shoe, and got to know one another and plan out who would run which legs during the first stage of the relay, beginning the next morning.

I loved my team.  We were called Team Zealot, named after a shoe that will be released (I believe) in February of 2015.  The shoe sounds awesome and if it is anything like the team that was named after it, it will be pretty much LEGENDARY, paving a whole new road and surprising everyone in the world of running!  The coolest thing about my team, and I believe probably every other team that was there, was that we were all really different and unique as people and as runners, but we were all tied together by our passion for the sport. Running plays a huge role in each of our lives, so much so that we have made our passion deeply connected to our purpose in our lives, whether we are working for Saucony, working part time or full time for our local running store, managing a running store, or coaching for a running store ... we all love running, have been molded by it and want to share that with our communities and beyond.  Even though I only knew them for a couple of days, they each impacted me greatly.  I feel so lucky to know each one of them!

Day One started early in the morning on Thursday.  Each team had our own fancy van with a driver, as well as a "moto" - a personal motorcycle escort for each runner on the windy Irish countryside roads!  I'm not sure exactly how far away the Start was from our hotel because our driver got a bit lost and we arrived late, delaying the start.  It was kind of hilarious at times, and we got a gorgeous scenic view that no other team got to experience because we wandered off the beaten path!  The race began in a little town called Blessington.  I thought this was so fitting, to start the race in a town with the word "Blessing" in its name.  I thought about this a lot on the trip - how being there was such a BLESSING, how every single run is BLESSING, how our community of running is a BLESSING ... and I would not take a second of it for granted.

We started I think around 11am that morning and it was a day of beautiful running and tons of excitement.  I ran in the afternoon along a gorgeous trail by a river.  It was hot and sunny and the terrain for my run was grassy and rocky but it was so beautiful.  I averaged 7:34 for a little over 5 miles and loved it.  Later that afternoon I did a second run, just to move a little more and accompany my teammate Emily on her second run of the day.  It was a little over 3 miles on the same trail but when we got started Em went crazy fast and I wasn't able to keep up with her sub-7 miles!  So I ran it easy and just soaked it all in, happy to be breathing in the fresh Irish air.  It was amazing.  We had tons of fun at all the exchange points too, just hanging out and visiting with one another and with the other teams as they also waited for their runners to come in!

We finished that day around 5pm in a little town called Kilkenny, right outside a pub! Saucony treated us to whatever we wanted at the pub - beer, cider and food! - and also had tables lined up with massage therapists for everyone.  I could not believe it!  The cold cider and massage were just beyond awesome.

We stayed in an adorable hotel in Kilkenny and that night went to Kilkenny Castle to celebrate our awesome day!  We were serenaded by bagpipes upon our arrival, had a visit with the mayor of the town and were treated to an incredible dinner inside the castle that night.  It truly was magical.

The next day truly blew me away though.  We woke up early and drove two hours to the Cliffs of Moher along the west coast of Ireland.  I have never seen a place like this!  It was just AMAZING.

The race started right on the cliffs that morning and we ran all the way to Kinvara that day.  The views that day were just so beautiful.  My run was the most incredibly gorgeous run of my life. The Irish coast was along my left and the countryside on my right. I smiled so big that whole run.  I averaged 6:58 for a little over 5 miles and it felt effortless. I just soaked it all in.

I was so happy to see my teammates when I ran into my exchange. I did not want the experience to end.  When we arrived in Kinvara later that afternoon it was a huge party!  Another awesome finish line, another charming pub and more massage tables!!

That night we stayed in a hotel in Galway (about 30 minutes from the finish) and had a TON of fun.  Saucony arranged an amazing Irish dance performance, gave us a lavish dinner, put together a fun slide show, hosted an awards ceremony (each runner received a metal and the winning team got a bronze trophy of a Kinvara shoe!), and then the night continued with a DJ'd dance party and open bar!!!

I have been home for a week now and I know it might sound silly, but I really truly feel as though this experience changed me.  Yesterday I coached for my local running store, just like I do every Saturday morning, but I felt this renewed and revived sense of purpose doing my job, and a heightened appreciation for the people who work at my store and who coach alongside me.  Running stores, and the people who work at them, ROCK.  They rock because they care.  They take the time to understand anyone who wants to run - whether they are a high school track star, an elite marathoner or someone who has never stepped into a pair of running shoes.  They rock because they believe that running can change your life, and they want to set people up for success by getting them in the right shoes, the right gear, and even coaching them and educating them on how to be healthy and safe and strong.  The only place you can go to really get this, is a local running shop. You're not going to get that level of knowledge or attention, or passion and encouragement, from a department store or from a big sporting goods store.  Saucony knows this and appreciates and values this like no other company, and they make it a huge priority to elevate everyone through our sport.  I am simply blown away and lifted up by my experience and feel so incredibly thankful to have been included in such an awesome endeavor that means so much to me!  I will, without a doubt, carry this experience and the lessons I learned in my heart and let it shine out in all that I do as a runner and as a coach.

Thank you so much Saucony - and everyone who was at the Race to Kinvara (especially my team!!) - for the experience of a lifetime!  I am forever grateful!!!!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

life lately

So many things have happened in the last few months that at times I can literally feel my head spinning when I think of it all!  Last week was a stressful week for me.  I could feel it deep into my bones, my joints and my muscles, especially.  I was getting ready for my Peak Pilates teacher training test out - a weekend packed with a 75 question exam on anatomy and theory, an evaluation of my technique for all of the Level 1 exercises and a thorough assessment of my individual and group teaching skills so that I could become certified to teach Pilates comprehensively and much deeper than where I have been for the last several years.

my big course manual
It was, and is, a BIG DEAL to me.

I think when things matter to us so much we can sometimes worry a whole lot, even when we don't really have anything to truly "worry" about.

Friday came and I was as ready as I felt that I could be.  I took a deep breath and dove into the weekend - trusting my preparation, my knowledge and my instincts to do the best that I could do.  It wasn't that unlike getting ready for marathon day, honestly!  Since March I completed 80 course hours and did well over 125 logged hours of personal practice, observation and practice teaching along with reading and studying Pilates theory, history and anatomy when I could fit it in.  I poured myself into it, just like I do with everything that is so important to me.  It was awesome.

As the weekend progressed and I made it through each assessment I felt stronger and stronger, knowing that I am in the right line of work for me - and that my passion for and my belief in the Pilates system will carry me far and will enable me to help people accomplish their goals.

My excitement and gratitude are huge - I am officially through my first level of comprehensive training and this week I begin working with private clients!  I will move on to my Level 2 training later this summer and into the fall.  Pilates really has changed my life in so many ways, and I just can't even begin to describe how thankful I am to be sharing this with others and to be making a career out of it.

As for my running, there is not a lot of fancy stuff to report with it.  After Boston I felt like I needed to put on the breaks and take it easy for a while and I have been doing just that.  My body, heart and mind all kind of were in sync on this and this didn't really surprise me since my training for Boston was intense for me especially with my knee bruise so soon before the race.  I needed some chill time and I have been embracing it.  At times I have gotten a little freaked out pulling back so much - again worrying when I probably have nothing to worry about! - but ultimately I think what has gotten me as far as I have gotten with my running is my ability to listen to and honor my body and my heart.  All signs were pointing to SLOW DOWN and I am not going to fight that, and will trust that this down time is an essential part of the process and part of the big picture goals I have for myself.

So --- my goal race for the fall is the New York City Marathon (!!) on November 2nd, and I still have a little time before serious training needs to begin.  For now I am maintaining my aerobic fitness by running mostly easy runs (whatever pace comes to me naturally, which lately has ranged anywhere from 7:30-8:15 pace it seems), working on my flexibility and strength (mostly Pilates, yoga and strength training in the gym) and spending time learning about nutrition (mainly how to get the right amount of protein daily, which is tricky for me since I don't eat meat and am allergic to some nuts!) and how to fuel my body better.  I've been running 5-6 days a week, averaging somewhere between 40-50 miles per week lately.  My longest run since Boston has been 14 miles.  I usually train on a 16 week cycle for my marathons so I will probably kick that off in the beginning of July.  I'm starting to feel excited and I think that is a GOOD sign I will be ready when the time comes to kick into action!

Also, very exciting - my first post for Saucony 26 Strong is up on the program's web site this week!  I am so thankful to be a part of this program.  You can read my introduction HERE, and can also follow along with all of the teams by searching the hash tag #26strong on Twitter and Instagram or by following the 26 Strong accounts directly:

Instagram: @saucony26strong

Kathryn and I are going to run the Virginia Beach Rock n Roll half marathon as part of our training for the Honolulu Marathon on December 14th!  Her training won't begin for a little while since it's a December race, and I will have time to recover from NYC before heading to Hawaii.  We are both over-the-moon excited!  It is going to be such a wonderful adventure.

Oh!  And this weekend I am heading to West Virginia to run the Ragnar trail relay with some of my best buddies and my sister!  Team Honey Badger is going to have so much fun out on those trails.  I cannot wait.

There are so many exciting and wonderful things happening this summer and fall.  I am coaching with the Potomac River Running Store Distance Training Program in Reston again and we kick that off tomorrow night at a happy hour at the store!  If you are interested in signing up you can do so here: http://prtrainingprograms.com/ - it is a really great program and we have so much fun!

I hope that everyone is enjoying the start of summer and the fall marathon training cycles as they begin!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

26Strong & Saucony Shoe Giveaway!


Those three words together mean so much to me, they're meaning going so far beyond the trails or the track or the most difficult to reach finish line.

Finding my strong is something I do on a daily basis.  It's how I get through the most chaotic moments of my life as a working mom of three young children.  My strong is always inside of me, though it's not always so easy for me to connect to.  I reel myself in with these three words often, when I'm feeling myself slipping into negative thought patterns or having moments when I feel weak or when I doubt myself or my abilities to do hard things ... or in some cases, to just keep it together.

I connect with my inner strength in many ways, but over the years I've learned that for me, the best place to do that is while I am running.  Sometimes fast, sometimes up hills, sometimes coasting for long stretches of time.

Me on the run is me finding my strong.

A few years ago when I started working towards getting my first ever Boston qualifying time, I felt ready to try a "faster" shoe for track workouts and tempo runs.  I went to the running store and tested many pairs of shoes and decided that the Saucony Kinvara 2 was the perfect solution for me at the time.

I will never forget the shoe's bright blue color, or how light and fast and strong and brave I felt in them.

Buying those blue shoes symbolized courage and strength for me.  I was stepping into them as I stepped up to work towards a dream that for many years I never even dared to consider as a possibility in my life. That training cycle I wore my Saucony Kinvaras every week for speed work and gradually spent more and more time in them.  I wound up wearing the them for my marathon - my first ever Boston qualifying time and a 8 minute PR.

Over the last few years my feet have found themselves happiest running in Saucony shoes.  I wear the Rides and Cortanas for my longer runs and when my legs need some recovery.  The Kinvaras are still my favorite shoe for longer intervals and tempo runs and I've raced in them for every distance from the 5k to the marathon.  I enjoy the Mirages for easy runs and long runs sometimes too.  The Type A6 made its way onto my feet last summer for the first time - they are a true "fast shoe" in my eyes as they are a racing flat - and I have worn them for fast track workouts and 5ks.  I recently ordered my first pair of Fastwitch and will be working my way into those for track workouts and some racing distances like the 10 miler and half marathon this training cycle.

Needless to say, I really love my Saucony shoes and they have been a huge part of my journey as a runner.

Finding my strong in the Saucony Cortana 3
My love for my shoes is about more than the shoes though.  I've learned that the company is really, really amazing - the brand and the message, the history and the products, the support for the running community and for everyone who runs whether they are a "newbie" or an elite or somewhere in between, the passion and the dedication to our sport - it's a big package of awesomeness that I am really proud and thankful to represent with the shoes I choose to put on my feet.

So a few months ago when Saucony reached out to me about participating in an amazing program they created called 26Strong, I could not have been more excited.  It is truly incredible and to say I am honored and grateful to be a part of it is such a gigantic understatement.

Saucony has chosen 13 experienced female marathoners (including me!) to coach and mentor 13 women as they prepare for their first ever 26.2 mile journey.  I gave a lot of thought to who I would pick to be my partner and how we would go about making this the best possible experience for her and also hopefully inspire others along the way.

My "cadet" is my friend Kathryn.  She came into my life recently, just this past winter, at a time when I was really in need of some help with my own life's path and purpose.  I am so grateful to have this opportunity to help her do something amazing.

Just as she has helped me find my strong, I am going to help her find hers.

And we are going to have a ton of fun along the way.

Kathryn & me
I have a lot of stories to tell you guys, and this is just the beginning.  The 26Strong program will officially launch on May 30th, in just 10 days.  I hope you will enjoy following along with us as we embark on this amazing adventure!

You can read about us here and also visit the 26Strong pages and search the hashtag #26strong:

Twitter - @saucony26strong
Instagram - @saucony26strong
Facebook - Saucony 26Strong

To top it off and kick it off with extra excitement, Saucony has offered to give a pair of shoes away to one of my readers!

a Rafflecopter giveaway


The giveaway ends at 11:59PM on Thursday, May 22nd.

Winner will be announced some time on Friday, May 23rd.

One winner will receive any Saucony shoe they choose.

Winner has one week to claim the prize - I will contact you via email or social media.

All entries will be verified.

Winner will be chosen at random via Rafflecopter.

Open to US residents only.

Thanks so much and please let me know if you have any questions!  Good luck!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

time for a coach

It's been a little more than three weeks since Boston and in some ways it feels like the race was just yesterday, while in other ways it feels like it is eons behind me.  I think this happens with a lot of life's most amazing moments that you work towards or wait for.  The emotions and energy are so enormous, the meaning behind everything so rich and yet so simple ... it's a lot to take in and then it flashes by you in what feels like an instant and I wonder how SO MUCH was able to happen and fit into this little blip of a weekend.  I felt that way last year, too - I feel that way on some level after all of my marathons - and I'm left feeling emotionally wiped out, yet filled up at the same time.  I poured my heart into that race, into the experience of being with loved ones all weekend (people who mean so much to me but who I rarely get to spend in-person time with), into being present for new connections and opportunities and into just letting it all happen as it was meant to and savoring it all.

Processing it all has been just that - a process.  I spent a lot of time thinking about how incredible the weekend and race was.  It felt like a dream, and honestly it still does feel that way.  I will cherish my Boston 2014 memories forever.

I thought too about my race - the nitty gritty details - what happened with my stomach was, as my friends and I say, NO BUENO.  I'm really proud of my execution of the race, but what happened those last 4 miles just wasn't right.  It was more than just my typical "GI issues."  After talking with friends who are experienced runners and coaches, I believe it was my body shutting down due to an electrolyte imbalance.  It was a warm and sunny day and I was pushing myself hard - my usual water and Honey Stinger gels just weren't enough for me.  Racing at the level I am capable of is going to require better attention to my fueling and hydration plan and I am ready to buckle down and figure this out.

And I'm not going to do it with guesswork or so much trial and error (and error, and more error) anymore.

One thing that has been on my mind for the last year or so has been the idea of working with a coach.  I looked into it at one point and then decided to just continue to "coach" myself because I still had a lot of things to try each cycle and I knew that disciplining myself wasn't an issue because I'm a pretty self-motivated runner at this point.  Boston told me it's time for a coach though.  I am ready.  I believe if I want to reach my full potential I need help with the science of my running, especially when it comes to optimal nutrition and hydration.  When I explored my options for a coach I thought long and hard about it.  There are really some incredible coaches out there who I admire and respect and feel would give me great guidance.  When it came down to it though I realized it was important to me to work with someone local, someone I would really connect with and who I could see and meet with on a regular basis throughout my training cycle.

So last week I began working with Coach Brian Crow.  Brian is a running and triathlon coach and a personal trainer at my gym, Lifetime Fitness in Reston.  He and I met over the winter and he did my VO2 Max test for me for the first time in January.  The test intrigued me and also intimidated me.  Brian gave me some advice on training zones and paces for Boston - basically telling me I could and should be running faster than I was - and I took all of that into consideration as I trained for Boston but didn't necessarily follow all of his advice.  Over the course of my Boston training cycle I would see him practically every week in passing and he would ask about my training and racing, how I was feeling and doing, etc.  He always made me feel like he genuinely took interest in and cared about my running.

About a week after I returned from Boston, I asked Brian if we could sit down and talk and he was more than happy to.  We went over what happened in Boston and leading up to it, we talked about my goals and dreams and plans for the future in my running.  He was very thoughtful about the approach we would take and believed that he can not only help me learn and grow as a runner but also get down to the bottom of my fueling issues and make it work for me instead of against me.  I am really excited, and really scared.

I have been working with Brian for about 2 weeks now.  He has me run a lot less than I was planning to run, telling me to remember that I am still recovering from Boston (not just the race but the whole training cycle) and that with big plans ahead I need to give my body and mind a chance to reset and rejuvenate for what's next.  It made me squirm a little at first but I also really know he is right.  I have been resting more and running less and I believe it is making a difference.  Working with Brian is going to require a whole new level of trust and bravery for me.  I'm going to be training in a very different way for me - based on heart rate zones that we determine with regular (monthly) VO2 and metabolic testing.  I will continue with my strength, core and foam rolling routines.  Brian will also do some tests to figure out my nutrition and hydration needs so we know exactly the right combination for my runs and races.

It is time for this for me, and I am so excited about the possibilities that are ahead.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

the sweet spot

The other day Maddie and I went for our first run together since crossing the finish line in Boston last week.  It was easy and light and neither one of us could have cared any less about how fast or how far we were going.  Really.  We talked about nothing and everything all at once ... jibber-jabbering on and on ... sharing our stories about Boston, catching up on all that is happening in our personal lives, and dreaming about the future -- in running and in life.  I could have run with her all day.  Could have chatted with her for miles and miles and miles more.

And it makes me so happy because I know we will do that.  We have miles and miles ahead of us to share and reflect and dream.  To just run and do what we love.

Side-by-side, step-for-step, breath-for-breath.   We are in it together.

When we are in the midst of serious training, we are focused so much of the time.  This winter we were both as dedicated as we could possibly be - we trained indoors when it was too icy or freezing out.  We showed up for one another and pushed one another when I am certain we both could have been persuasive and given ourselves permission to turn hard runs into easy runs or run fewer miles than planned or just not run at all.  We dialed ourselves into some pretty intense and totally confidence-boosting workouts.

It was hard.  And it was awesome.

high five after completing our last long run for Boston!
After our run on Monday we talked about the plans for the rest of the week.  We were both all smiles, so happy, so chill.  We said this part of our running lives is like a "sweet spot"  - if we let it be.  It's so necessary to have this time between training cycles - time to recover, recharge and reset.  We aren't worried about the pace or the mileage, but we are still moving.  We feel so grateful for how far we've come and for the races we just ran and are excited about the dreams we have ahead of us, the mountains we want to climb.  Right now though, we get to enjoy this sweet spot, this time to reflect and dream and plan and run for the pure joy it brings us.

I was thinking about it after we finished our run, because I can sometimes get really grouchy when I'm in both the taper and recovery phases of my training.  I BELIEVE in them and I stick to them and I certainly honor them, but I don't always EMBRACE them or savor them for how sweet I think they are truly meant to be.  My taper for Boston was peppered with a lot of moments of anxiety because I didn't know what was going on with my knee bruise or how fast it would heal.  That uncertainly on top of the normal taper-crazies just made me feel all kinds of nutty.  I had to very consciously choose a positive attitude, over and over again on a daily basis, to trust it would all be okay -- however it was meant to be.

And now that I'm on the other side of that (and by the way, miraculously my knee did not bug me ONCE during the race and has been pretty much as good as new ever since!), I am reminded of how the perspective I choose is - and really always has been - up to me.  It is my choice.

So today I am choosing to enjoy rather than to endure this time in my running.  The next month or so is a sweet spot to be in for sure.  Full of post-race bliss and ripe with possibility.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Boston 2014

It's been a week since I ran the Boston Marathon and I am still floating on the whole experience, still reflecting on it all and still processing everything.  I think it's safe to say I probably will be for a while.

It was a magical weekend. An incredible race.

I feel so thankful for the experience.  For the people I shared it all with.  For the miles and for the memories that were all truly SO unforgettable.

I have sat in front of my computer screen several times over the last few days, trying to find the words to tell my story, to share with you guys all that transpired from the minute I stepped off the airplane - the little things that were in fact big things and the big things that were truly BIGGER than BIG.

Boston is every bit of what it's cracked up to be in my opinion.  I am absolutely someone who drinks the Kool-aid that is this race.  I am "all in" for Boston and I soak up every inch of the energy and excitement and pride that makes it such a magical experience.  I consider myself truly blessed to toe the line there.  To even be sitting on the school bus out to Hopkinton makes me feel giddy inside.  It is just one of those things that I intend to never let get old or stale on me.  I want to forever love Boston and to forever be grateful for it and for my experiences there, no matter how fast or slow, how strong or broken I may feel.

What I realized this year when I was in Boston is that I don't just feel that way about Boston, but that I feel that way about running in and of itself.  Running is not just a hobby for me or something I do to be in shape or to reduce stress ... it is a part of who I am and has given me so very much in my life.  It has given me, ME.  Running connects me to who I really am and shows me that there is no need, really or way, to hide from that.   I do not ever want my love for running to fade or diminish.  I am sure it will change over time - I will run for different reasons and with different goals in mind - but I will always love it for what it is, and will protect my love for it fiercely so that I always keep it in my life.  To some of you this may all sound so corny and over-the-top, and I get that ... but the fact is I am a corny and over-the-top kind of person so this is just me being me and being very honest.

So, anyway, this post is going to be a long one.  I want to tell you the story of my second trip to Boston for my most favorite race in the whole wide world, and how I found out how truly bold I can be, and how much I love to run...

I traveled alone to Boston this year and stayed with my dear friend Meghan who I stayed with last year.  I could not imagine going to Boston this year without her, and was so thankful and excited to be with her again.  She is one of those people who was just meant to be in my life, who would not be in my life if it weren't for our mutual love of this sport.  We met via Twitter and because of our shared loves of Nuun and Oiselle she contacted me last year in search of a roommate and thought we might click.  She was so right.  We definitely click.  She is one of my most favorite people ever.  So this year when she invited me to stay with her and her family I was over-the-moon grateful.  We stayed in a nice two bedroom, one bathroom apartment in the South End and I slept on the couch in the living room and was very comfortable.  Meghan's parents and husband could not have been more welcoming of me - they made me feel like family from the second I walked in the door.  I will be forever thankful for that.

Not long after I arrived we took a nice walk to the Expo to get our race bibs and do some geeking out over all things Boston and running.  The excitement and energy in the air was so incredible and I could not take the smile off my face.

yep, we click :)  sooo happy at the expo together!
The expo at Boston is really, um, GIANT.  There is so much STUFF there and it's all amazing and exciting - and overwhelming!  I was really happy we went there on Friday so that we could take it in without worrying so much about the race yet.  On Saturday morning we went back to the expo to see a bunch of the incredible women who run and work for Oiselle (including Lauren Fleshman and Kara Goucher!).  Meghan runs for Oiselle's racing team and last year she introduced me to so many of these wonderful women when I was there with her, and they all treated me as if I were part of the team.  This year was no different.  I really cannot find the words to tell you guys how thankful I am for all of them.  Traveling to Boston by yourself, without your family, can be be hard.  Meghan and her family and the women from Oiselle made me feel like I wasn't alone.  They made me feel so cared about and celebrated and looked after.  I can't even begin to tell you how much this meant and means to me.  We had a ton of fun chatting and shopping at the expo, and yes I was completely starstruck upon meeting Kara and Lauren that day!

so fun!
Saturday was a really awesome day from start to finish.  Before we went to the expo we went to the 5k because Meghan's family was running it (they did great!) and there were also lots of elite runners and Oiselle ladies racing it.  We had tons of fun cheering everyone on - and I loved seeing some of my favorite runners do their thing out there!  It was absolutely a highlight of the weekend for me.

Molly Huddle!!  She won.  Goooo Molly!!
Lauren and Sally soaring!
Meghan and me cheering!
Ben True - truly rocks!!
I spent the rest of the day being as mellow as I could possibly be, which was in fact not very mellow at all.  I got to spend time wandering around Newbury Street, hanging out with dear friends and shopping at Whole Foods for my dinner that night as well as food for the rest of the weekend.  When I finally got back to the apartment I knew I had been on my feet way too much, and Meghan felt the same way.  We put our legs up the wall and decided to take it easy for the rest of the night and to be as laid back as humanly possible the next day.

laughing with our legs up the wall :)
Sunday morning came and it was more than I ever could have dreamed.  We met up with the Oiselle ladies early for a little (2.5 mile) shake out run and some delicious coffee.  And when I say "delicious" here, I am really not exaggerating - it was seriously the BEST, most amazing-est cup of coffee I have had in all my life! - at a little place called Render.  Lauren and Sally arrived not long after we did and for a while it was just a few of us sitting and talking about nothing and everything.  I have looked up to both of these women for a long time and it was incredible to me how down-to-earth and kind they were to me, how they made me feel like an old friend, how much we had to talk about with such ease, and yet how much I admire them and look up to them for all they have done and do for our sport and especially for women in our sport.  We were all a-buzz with chitchat about the race that morning and it was so much fun, but I have to admit that as the time ticked by the reality of the fact that I was preparing to run a marathon the next day began to start hitting me.  I'd been floating on this amazing "I'm-in-Boston!!" high and the whole "I'm racing 26.2 miles" thing was just not at the top of my mind up until about mid-day on Sunday.  Meghan and I went back to our apartment and chilled out for a while after that, and later that night we went to the home of one of the Oiselle women, Rebecca, and she and her husband hosted all of us for this incredible pre-race dinner.

A house full (but not too full) of amazing women, all running or supporting someone who would be running, the Boston Marathon, on Race Day Eve.  We laughed and talked and ate.  Some of the conversations were hilarious, some were very emotional and serious.  Some had us in tears from laughter and some had us in tears over memories of Boston last year or of dreams for the future.  I don't know quite how to sum up this night, but it was really surreal to me and just so, so special.  As the night wound down and we got ready to head home, I found the courage to ask Kara for her advice and thoughts about racing Boston.  I told her I wanted to be brave and to take some chances on Monday, but that I also wanted to play it safe and be smart with my execution.  That I wanted to protect my love for this race, and that I was worried that if I put too much on the line and was too risky I would be miserable, unable to soak in the amazingness of it all, and have bad memories of this race I loved so much.  She was so engaged in our conversation and genuine with her response.  I won't ever forget it.  She talked to me about believing in myself and about being bold and taking chances at the right time.  We talked about the challenges of the course - how the first 16 miles hammer out your quads with all the rolling downhills and then miles 17-21 are both a relief and a pounding with the uphills...and then those last 5 miles is when you leave it all out there, racing your heart out into the city of Boston -- Right on Hereford, Left on Boylston -- and the glory of the finish is yours to celebrate.  While talking with her, just like talking with Lauren at the coffee shop earlier that day, I was both amazed at how incredibly much I admire her for the runner and woman she is, yet I was also so comfortable and felt like I was talking with a good friend who I'd known forever.

sandwiched between my heros :)
Before leaving I had a weird idea and asked Lauren if maybe she would entertain me with it.  I said "I'm about to ask you to do something sort of psycho..." and she said "cool, I love psycho!  Go for it."  I asked her to write a mantra, something I could look at during the race when things got tough, on the inside of my wrist.  One wrist for her, one for Kara.  She was excited about it and grabbed my wrist and pulled it in front of her.  I had no idea what she would write.

She wrote BE GRATEFUL.  And she told me that no matter what - no matter how bad I hurt or how much it sucked or how hard it was to keep moving forward - to remember to BE GRATEFUL.  Grateful to be in Boston.  Grateful for my body and for what it could do.  Grateful for the support and love that surrounded me.  Grateful for the strength within me.  Grateful that I can hurt.  That I can feel and move and BE.  Just grateful.

Kara wrote BELIEVE on my other wrist.  She told me to believe in myself.  To believe in all that I can do and to trust myself and to be bold.  Not foolish and reckless, but brave and courageous.

That night I went to bed feeling ready to race.  And grateful beyond words.

When I woke up the next morning I was as ready as I could be.

Meghan and I planned to take the T to the Commons to get on the buses, our station was closed so we had to walk about a mile and a half to get there.  Surprisingly, neither one of us was phased or stressed by this glitch at all.  We had plenty of time and we were really calm and relaxed that morning.  After dropping our bags off at Gear Check in the Commons we got in line for the school buses.  When we got on the bus to head to Hopkinton my heart skipped a beat upon seeing Maddie and Meg sitting there - their smiling faces just lit up and I was instantly floating!  We had planned to meet up at Athletes Village but this was WAY better!  With 36,000 people running this race I was relieved that we wouldn't have to search for one another.  It was pretty much the perfect thing and I knew it was going to be an amazing day no matter what.

Our time in Athletes Village was fun - we chilled out and were nervous and excited all at once.  We peed a lot, laughed a lot and were just full of energy!  I was so so happy to be sitting with my close friends before this race - feeling both calm and excited to share this with them.   Meghan was in Wave 1 so we had to say our goodbyes to her early.  I couldn't wait to be reunited with her at the finish.  Last year we ran the first 20 or so miles together, and it felt strange not to head to the same corral with her.

Not too long after that though it was our turn.  I don't remember our exact words, but Maddie, Meg and I hugged one another and told one another how much we believed in the other and to have an amazing time.  It was a wonderful way to start a race, telling your friends how much you love them and believe in them, and feeling the same come from them.

I started running and instantly fell into a groove.  I dialed into a pace that felt easy and controlled and as though I was holding something back, saving it for later.

The first 16 miles of this race were perfect.  I ate my gels at miles 6 and 11.   I was carrying my water bottle and drank from it at every water stop, not actually stopping myself but using them as mental triggers to remember to hydrate.  I filled my bottle up once around Mile 10-ish.  The sun was bright and it was warm, but not too hot out.  My legs felt amazing, my stomach was fine.  I was smiling constantly and enjoying every step.  When I came through Wellesley and somewhere around Mile 14 I heard someone call my name and it was Meghan.  She was not in the race anymore.  My heart sank when I realized this, and I gave her a look of concern and confusion.  I was worried about her and she knew it.  She gave me this look like "NO - you are not allowed to worry about me right now. Run your race."  I really tried to put it out of my mind but it was hard.

Miles 1-16:
7:14, 6:55, 6:58, 6:46, 7:07, 6:57, 7:00, 7:05, 7:02, 7:04, 7:00, 6:57, 7:01, 6:56, 7:05, 6:51

I came through 16 and into the Newton Hills after that.  This is when things shift from down hill to up hill and I expected my quads to holler at me.  They didn't.  My legs appreciated the switching of gears and I could literally feel my hamstrings and glutes join the party.  I told myself to maintain my effort - not to work harder on the uphills.  This was my plan all along.  My pace slowed which I fully expected.  Even effort up the hills would mean a slower pace but conserved energy - I would kick it into a new gear after 21.  I ate my next gel at 17 and handled the hills well.

Miles 17-20:
7:27, 7:35, 7:07, 7:31

It was some time towards the end of the 21st mile that I felt it happen.  My stomach twisted up into knots and felt like someone was wringing it out all of a sudden.  This wasn't the kind of GI distress I am used to.  It felt like I had a stomach virus - I had chills and cramping that I have never experienced while running.  I saw a port-a-potty and stopped right away to assess the situation.  My stomach was in bad shape.  I felt the salt all over my face and believed I was probably dehydrated or dealing with some sort of electrolyte imbalance due to the bright sun and heat.

Mile 21:

And just like that a race that was going perfectly, just wasn't anymore.  I honestly was unsure of what the next 5 miles would entail.  My legs felt good, really strong in fact, but I had a hard time holding myself upright, wanting to curl over my tummy as it cramped.

I got back on the course and the energy around me was just incredible.  This is the most amazing part of the race - so many people cheering - I just cannot even believe it!  I kept telling myself "Jess - ENJOY BOSTON!"  I let the spirit of the people around me carry me.  I did not walk and I did not give up, even though so much of me really, really yearned to at times.  I didn't look at my watch once.  Keeping my head up and my heart open, I chose to focus on all there was to be thankful for and to trust that this would carry me across the finish line.  Believe me though, I had some really major moments inside where it was a huge battle to do this.  My stomach hurt so badly and I was sure I was barely moving at times.  I had to consciously choose to be positive over and over and over again.  When I made the turn onto Hereford and then onto Boylston I started to cry tears of sheer happiness.  THE PEOPLE.  The people were everywhere and they were just so incredible!!!!!  It was undeniable to me - the specialness of this race, there is nothing like it.

I ran with all of my heart across that finish line and finished Boston in 3:11:56.  A PR for me by 3 minutes, and 10 minutes faster than I ran Boston one year ago.

Miles 22-26.2:
7:13, 7:50, 7:41, 7:49, 8:21 (7:50 pace for the last .45 on my watch)

That was the toughest I have ever been in a race.  The most brave and the most bold and the strongest willed and the most grateful and aware of myself ever.  I am very proud of this race because I can say for the first time ever -- that I gave it everything that I had.

My stomach was a mess for well over 24 hours after I finished and I could not stand up straight for a while, it just cramped so badly.  I hydrated as best I could with water and Nuun and some ginger ale, but every time I drank my stomach would cramp.  I had the chills and aches.  Despite doing my very best to rally later that afternoon so that I could have a celebration dinner or go to a fun post race party, I never made it any farther than from the couch to the bathroom until the next day.  That night I stayed up to watch marathon coverage - I was so so so happy about Meb winning and Shalane being so brave!  Meghan and her family were so kind to me and took great care of me.

As I've been reflecting on the race over the last week, I find myself just feeling so full of gratitude.  I love marathons because they show me what I am made of, they are a celebration of hard work and dedication and the choice to live a healthy happy life, to being an example of courage and strength for my children and for the people in my life who I love so much, they are the way I connect with and discover how to be the best version of ME that I can possibly be.

The Boston Marathon is that and so much more to me, because being there was a dream that for a really long time I never would have even dared to dream.

Here's to another wonderful race, to my 14th marathon in just as many years, and to many more to come.

Thank you guys for all of your support!  I love this amazing community and am so thankful to share my stories and my journey with all of you!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Patellar Bone Bruise - What I've Learned

My training for Boston was going great.  More than great.  Amazing.  The winter months were brutal but didn't deter me from getting my workouts and long runs done.  I ran on the treadmill more than ever, but made each run count and nailed my paces and mileage despite polar vortexes, icy trails and huge amounts of snow.  I raced a strong half marathon in March at RnR USA and was feeling so good about my fitness and mental strength.  It was all coming together - one day, one step at a time.

Rocking the Rock n Roll USA 13.1
And then, one cold Sunday morning 4 weeks before Boston, I decided to try out the ElliptiGo with my good friends Jeff and Maddie.  Usually on Sunday mornings I take a yoga class but thought why not switch up my cross training and bring it outside with some non-impact running on this super cool bike?!  I still think that in theory this wasn't a bad idea, the ElliptiGo is an awesome form of cross-training for runners and I look forward to getting better at using it, but looking back it was a little short-sighted of me not to consider the risk I was taking.  I had never done it before and the feeling was totally new to me, and when I went to get off of it I fell into the pavement and banged my knee right into the asphalt.

I got up and assessed the situation - my knee hurt a little but it really wasn't bad.  I got back on the ElliptiGo and we hit the trail for a few fun and, honestly, exhilarating miles.  We had a blast!

all of these pics were taken after my fall - it was so fun!
It wasn't until a few hours later when I was home that I noticed my knee was pretty sore and stiff, especially walking down the stairs.  That week was rough.  It was supposed to be my peak mileage week and I ran a total of 31 miles (as opposed to well over 80), ALL of which hurt me -- BADLY.  I saw two doctors who I really trust with my whole heart and they both diagnosed me with a patellar bone bruise. An acute injury to the bone, one that would take TIME to heal and a process that I really couldn't rush.  It would take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months to feel normal again, and that uncertainty was rattling to me.  I really needed to take it one day at at time, to listen to my body and do all that I could do to help myself heal, while also preventing myself from getting another injury as a result of my form changing or muscles tightening or tendons getting grumpy around the kneecap (this was of more concern to me than the actual bruise itself was, to be honest).

As with any injury, recovering from a bone bruise takes time and the healing process is different for everyone and depends on a lot of factors.  A bone bruise is probably not the most common running injury, though I imagine this kind of thing could happen more frequently to trail runners who may fall on rocks and get pretty banged up.  I thought I would share what I've learned from my own experience with this injury though, just in case someone might find it helpful.

Running:  In the first few days following my fall, running HURT.  The pain was constant and didn't seem to get worse as I ran faster or longer, but it did not subside at all.  Despite assurances from my doctors that it was "safe" to run, I hated it.  I was running in pain and in fear and after a few days of that I decided I needed to rest.  I did not run for the remainder of the week.  In retrospect I really think I should have pulled the brakes on my running right away - no matter what anyone advised me of.  If running through pain to you feels wrong then it probably is.  I think I probably slowed the healing process down a little by running through it.  I don't think I made it worse, but I probably could have, had I continued to not listen to my body.  I gradually started running more and more as the pain lessened and I did not attempt to push my pace until it just naturally came back to me to do so.  It was more than three weeks before I was running my marathon pace again.

Pain Management: LOTS of icing, especially after a run.  I would typically massage the painful spots on my knee cap with ice cubes until they melted, or wrap an ice pack around my knee and elevate it.  I applied Arnica gel to it throughout the day.  After doing some research on anti-inflammatory supplements and foods, I started taking Vitamin D, Bilberry, Bromelain, Glucosamine with MSM (vegan), a vegan Omega (similar to fish oil but I am allergic to shellfish and eat a mostly vegan diet so found one I could take), Calcium and Vitamin C.  I also started taking Arnica homeopathically as well, a spray bottle I squirt into my mouth a few times a day.  I considered taking Aleve for inflammation but I really have mixed feelings about it.  I tried it for one run and I am not really sure how much it helped, and the worry that it might upset my stomach is pretty major for me since I already deal with GI issues.

Exercises and Physical Therapy:  For the first week following my fall, I was pretty much resting the knee and avoiding any activity that hurt.  I got on an elliptical at the end of the first week, pain free.  It was boring but I was happy to be moving without discomfort!  I stuck to my regular routine of core work and Pilates all week though, and modified the exercises that hurt me (shoulder bridges and certain lunges - basically anything that stretched the muscles that inserted at the top of the patella).  After a week or two though once I was beginning to feel better I did these exercises carefully at the guidance of my physical therapist - I needed to retrain the quad muscles to lengthen properly and these exercises were great for that.

Medical Attention:  I went to see my chiropractor, Dr. Wong, right away the day after the injury and have seen him once a week since.  In addition to his excellent chiropractic care, he has done laser treatments, stim, Graston and ART and has helped me with correcting the imbalances that showed up in my body as a result of the injury.  He examined my knee and made sure the injury was not more serious - all ligaments and tendons in tact.  I also saw my physical therapist, Rich.  He confirmed the same diagnosis as Wong and has helped with mobility and strengthening exercises as well as releasing some of the super-tight muscles around the kneecap with dry needling technique.  Rich also taught me to massage the tendon above my kneecap with a cross-frictional technique for 3-5 minutes before I run.  I think that has been really helpful.

Emotional/Mental State:  An acute injury really knocks you down - literally and figuratively.  I felt like I was on top of the world with my running and then in an instant I was trying to climb up out of a major slump physically and emotionally.  The thing is though, I believe that everything happens for a reason and that our biggest struggles are truly our greatest opportunities for growth and strengthening.  My injury has been no fun on a lot of levels, but at the same time I think it has been an essential part of my story and it is building me up in so many ways.  I have learned how to trust my body in new ways, and I have discovered a determination and strength in my heart that is so unwavering and comforting.  I feel like this experience is making me a stronger runner overall and is also going to enable me help others who I know love, teach and coach.  The road to recovery is a bit of a roller coaster ride emotionally and that is all part of the process.  There will be downs and ups, just like there are in running and like there are in LIFE.  You just have to hang on, listen to your heart and to your body, and BELIEVE that you will get better.  Because you will.

I leave for Boston tomorrow and I am so excited to run on Monday.  With each day I can literally feel myself healing and getting stronger.  I will lace up my shoes on Monday morning, proudly pin my bib to my shirt and run with my HEART.  I feel pretty sure that my legs will come along with me for the ride now!

Have you ever had a patellar bone bruise or a bone bruise of any kind?  Do you have anything to share or add about your experience with the healing process?

Are you running Boston on Monday or will you be there?  My bib number is 9465 and I'm in Wave 2, Corral 1.  You can track me by texting 9465 to 345678!  

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