Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011: The Year In Pictures

Well friends, yet another year of running has come to a close, and this is a great time to look back on all that has happened in the last year.  I could sit here and type up a table of statistics and make up some pie charts for you (which actually sounds like a lot of fun to my engineering brain), but I know you'd all rather watch paint dry.  So instead, I'm going to look back on 2011 in true SLAP style: pictorially.

I logged a total 1,932 miles in 2011.  (That's over 500 miles more than I ran in 2010!)  And every one of those 1,932 miles had a purpose.  Some of the miles were fast, many of them were slow.  Some of them were race miles, most of them were training miles.  Some of them were logged on my own, and some of them were logged with friends.  But every mile made me a stronger runner in some way.

So without further ado, let's look at some of the highlights of those 1,932 miles!

The first event of 2011 was the Icebreaker Indoor Marathon in January, where I PR'd with a time of 4:53, finally breaking the 5-hour barrier.  After that, I told myself I wouldn't run anymore marathons in 2011.  Turns out I lied to myself.

In April, I ran under an assumed identity, along with several fellow FASTies (who ran under their real names) at the Lincoln Presidential Half-Marathon...  and Honest Abe didn't seem to care about my fraudulent behavior. 

My BFF, Shelley, and I had a blast at Flying Pig weekend in Cincinnati, where we ran the 5k, 10k, and half-marathon events...  just for fun!  We also ate a lot of cupcakes.

In Indianapolis, I broke 2 hours in the half-marathon for the first time.    I began contemplating a very aggressive  fall marathon goal of under 4:00, despite having told myself in January that I wasn't running anymore marathons in 2011.

In the stifling heat/humidity of July, Kristi and I tackled the super-hilly, super-fun Bix 7 race.   And we took full advantage of the post-race food and frosty beverages.

In August, I forgot to bring my running shoes to a race weekend in Madison...  so I ran the half-marathon in $15 Walmart sneakers.  My friends Becky and Kristi teased me mercilessly.  I deserved it.

At the Pekin Marigold Festival 5k, I set my third 5k PR for the year and took home a 1st place trophy.

At the Fox Valley races in September, it was PR-city for several FASTies, including Katie, Kristi, and me in the half-marathon.  And as a completely unexpected  bonus, I took home a 3rd place trophy too!

Of all of the wonderful races I ran in 2011, Milwaukee's Lakefront Marathon in October was the pièce de résistance.  It was both the most difficult and most rewarding event of the year.   And the post-race beer was outstanding.

Shelley and I ran all the way from the USA to Canada in the Niagara Falls International Marathon.  It was Shelley's first marathon ever, and my first marathon in another country.  How come every time I run with Shelley, I'm wearing a tutu?

And there you have it...  just a few of the most memorable miles of 2011.  What will 2012 bring?  Only time will tell, but I have a feeling there will be many more memorable miles to come.  Happy New Year from SLAP!

Peace. Love. Train.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Those Three Special Little Words Every Marathoner Loves To Hear...

"It's taper time!"

Hard to believe it, but the Goofy Challenge is only 3 weeks away.   That means we are entering our beloved taper phase.  *sighs contentedly*  As such, I think this is an excellent time to reflect on the highs and lows of this relatively brief training period.

Training for the Goofy Challenge is similar to training for any marathon: run a lot of miles.  The main difference is that one needs to become accustomed to running two long-ish runs on consecutive days.  For me, this meant doing a middle-distance run on Saturdays, followed by a long-distance run on Sundays.  My training buddy, Kristi, took the opposite approach, by doing a long run on Sundays followed by a middle-distance run on Mondays, just because this worked better with her schedule.  Either way, the idea is to get the legs used to running while tired.  And boy did we tire our legs out!

As I mentioned earlier, training for this event was relatively brief.  We both ran late-October marathons, which we then had to recover from before we could ramp up our mileage again in preparation for Goofy. So my weekend training schedule looked like this:

Week 1: Saturday - 6 miles, Sunday - 14 miles
Week 2: Saturday - 7 miles, Sunday - 16 miles
Week 3: Saturday - 8 miles, Sunday - 18 miles (and a brutal 18 miles it was, thanks to three straight weeks of building up)
Week 4: Saturday - 6 miles, Sunday - 12 miles (ahhhh, relief!)
Week 5: Saturday - 10 miles, Sunday - 20 miles (that was today!)
Weeks 6, 7 and 8: Taper!!!

So yes, this was a very condensed and accelerated training plan, simply out of necessity.  I would not recommend anyone but the most seasoned marathoner / crazy person attempt this plan.

After logging 30 total miles this weekend, I now feel well-prepared to take on the 39.3 miles of the Goofy Challenge.  And I now have a pretty good idea of how I'll feel after finishing the Goofy Challenge: very, very tired and pretty damn sore.  But at least I'm prepared for that feeling!

The great thing about this training weekend was that it felt much better than my training weekend two weeks ago.  The 8/18-mile weekend was definitely a low point in this training schedule.  About 6 miles into the 18-miler, my legs started to feel like lead (and Kristi said the same thing, so it wasn't just me!).  The last 3 miles of that run were a death march for both of us.  Kristi and I both commented that neither of us had felt so completely and utterly horrible during a long run before.  Needless to say, it shook our confidence a little bit.

But it's amazing what a recovery week can do for the mind, body and soul.  Week 4 of training was exactly what we both needed to rest our tired legs and prepare for peak training week.

So the lesson out of all of this is that, at least for me and Kristi, three weeks of mileage buildup in a row is a bit too much.  But the recovery week worked its magic and we were able to finish our peak training week with renewed vigor.  Or something resembling vigor.

I would like to take this opportunity to give a little shout-out to Mother Nature for being relatively cooperative during this training period.  Late fall / early winter marathon training is not easy.  Especially for those of us who are self-proclaimed cold weather wusses.  I hate the cold.  And I hate the wind.  And did I mention that I hate the cold?  But somehow, we managed to run three of our five long runs outdoors, including today's 20-miler.  We battled some serious wind during these outdoor runs, but it still beat running around in circles at the gym.  

And now I'd like to give a HUGE shout-out to my training partner, Kristi.  I wouldn't have gotten through all of my long runs without her.  Indeed, it's extremely likely that I would've bailed on my 18-miler at about Mile 10 if she hadn't been there suffering right alongside me.  Misery really does love company!

People often ask me "What do you think about while you're running for so long?" Maybe a better question would be "What don't you think about while running for so long?", but when you have a buddy to run with, it really does make the miles go by much more quickly.   We certainly don't talk the entire 20 miles, and the last several miles tend to be very quiet as we become more internally-focused on our bodies and just putting one foot in front of the other, but there's something calming and reassuring about having someone else to share the experience with. So thanks, Kristi, for the camaraderie.

And you know what else Kristi is always there for?  The post-long-run food.  The best part about long runs is when they're over and we get to go eat delicious things at our favorite local restaurants.  Today's cuisine of choice?  Gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup.  Is there anything better on a chilly winter's day?  I think not.

So it seems to me that successful marathon training is really composed of two critical features: running many miles (with a good friend), and eating tasty food (also with a good friend).  Yes, I think that about sums it up.  Now, without further ado, let's get this taper started!

*does happy taper dance*

Peace. Love. Train.