Saturday, May 24th was my goal race for the season: the 10k road national championship. I wanted a sub 37 minute 10k so badly, and I’d told everyone that was my goal, but my body had other plans. Read more >>
A mother runner chasing big dreams.
I felt like the decision to stick to the 5k and 10k distances this year was an easy one to make. 2017 left me feeling burnt out, defeated, and not excited about racing. I love running, but was tired of my race results not being a true reflection of the training I had done. I knew I was capable of more, but it wasn’t translating on race day.
Running in cold weather with asthma can suck the wind out of your training, literally and figuratively. I’ve battled asthma since my early teens; some days, it is so cold that I step outside and instantly can’t breathe. For many years, my training would taper off significantly in the winter due to my asthma.
Asthma makes your airways extremely sensitive, and cold air is one of the triggers that can cause the airways to spasm. When that happens, your whole chest tightens up and you cough, wheeze, and gasp for air. I would try running in the cold with my face covered and only my eyes exposed, but breathing was still a challenge. I’d find myself stopping and coughing a lot. My inhaler didn’t help much, and the cold weather usually won. It’s hard to enjoy running when it takes so much energy just to breathe.
The first few years I was into running, I would just take the winter mostly off. I didn’t have easy access to a treadmill in those years, and the downtime didn’t bother me. However, I would run the same spring half marathon every year, and for a few years in a row, my finish time was almost exactly the same. The lack of progress started to get frustrating. I could see that to get faster, I would have to avoid such a long break in training.
In 2017, I achieved two major goals that were actually part of a 5-10 year plan: the Boston and New York City marathons. Running them both in the same year, as my second and third marathons, respectively, was unexpected and not in the plan. So I’ve tinkered with the plan, and I’m excited to share what I want to accomplish in 2018.
With NYC behind me, I have fielded a lot of questions about what’s next. I’ve even been asked how will I ever top 2017 from a running perspective. I don’t feel like I have to race a World Major Marathon in order for a year to be considered big or successful. I’m quite content racing locally and focusing on improving my times. Which brings me to what’s next for me on the running front.
I’ve known what’s next for a while actually. Although I wasn’t super thrilled with either of my marathon times this year, my decision wasn’t based on those results. Rather, it’s about the great experiences I’ve had with shorter distance racing, specifically at the 10k distance.
In the fall of 2016, I raced my first 10k, and REALLY surprised myself by running a 37:54. This time was under the Elite B standard for the Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend 10k, which is also the Canadian 10k road championships. My elite application was accepted, but I knew I likely wouldn’t perform the way I wanted to because the race was just a few weeks after Boston. My body took a long time to recover from those Boston hills. I gave my best at the TORW 10k, but I was burnt out. A few days after the race I was diagnosed with low progesterone.
During the summer, I decided that I would train for NYC, but it would be my last marathon for a while. I love the marathon, I loved marathon training. There was something about the structure and the discipline that I thrived on, and I can honestly say that I never had a day where I felt I was forcing myself to run — I consider myself lucky for that. My decision to change my focus for racing was mostly due to my interest in the 10k distance, and of course, wanting redemption for not performing the way I wanted to at the 10k championships in Ottawa.
I ran a 5k and a 10k race during NYC training, and managed to surprise myself again on a hot day racing a 10k. I finished as the 1st place female and 17th overall at the Canada Army Run 10k, and broke 40 minutes for the second time. This race was a breakthrough in my marathon training. I felt like I was heading in the right direction, being able to break 40 minutes on very tired legs, on a hot day at the end of a marathon training week. It was far off my personal best, but I thought, “If I had been focusing on the 10k, and not been training for a marathon, I know I could have done better.” The signs were there during all of 2017, and now I have decided that 2018 will be the year of the 10k.
It’s not the ‘easy way out’
To me, my decision makes a lot of sense. To others, they keep asking me which marathon is next, and when I reply that I’m taking a break from that distance, they wonder why. In my opinion, the 10k is just as much work as a marathon. I know that I have to get a lot stronger and focus on some of the things I let slide a bit when marathon training. My ultimate goal is to run 36:XX in the 10k. This goal scares me, but it also motivates me. The drive and motivation are there. I know what I have to do to achieve my goal. I’m ready to start chasing it.
Have you made a decision to focus on racing a shorter distance after a string of longer distance races? How do you decide what’s next after a big race?
The NYC marathon: 26.2 miles running through the streets of NYC. A unique way to see the city, covering all 5 boroughs, along with 51,000 other runners. On Sunday, Nov. 5, I toed the line at the 2017 NYC Marathon.
I went into Manhattan Saturday to pick up my bib and check out the expo. I arrived right when the expo opened — I didn’t want to be stuck in the city all day (I wanted to be able to rest during the evening). I walked straight up to the desk with my bib number range, collected my bib, and went into the expo. I looked at the New Balance NYC Marathon gear online before arriving at the expo, so I already knew what I was looking for. I found each of the items and then visited the nuun, Run Ottawa (for a little taste of back home!) and Saucony booths before leaving.
Sunday night was the time change, but fortunately our clocks were turning back an hour. I was a bit nervous about missing my alarm, but ended up waking up a few minutes before it went off at 4:30 a.m. I already had all of my gear laid out and items for athlete’s village packed. I got dressed quickly and my husband drove me to MetLife Stadium to board the bus at 5 a.m. Knowing that this was a huge race, I wanted to be there early, because I wasn’t sure how long everything would take. I was in Wave 1, Corral B, which also meant I didn’t have any time for delays.
I boarded the second bus and arrived at Fort Wadsworth before 6 a.m. It was dark, cold, and the ground was wet from the rain that stopped shortly after I woke up that morning. I spread my rain poncho out on the ground and tried to close my eyes and relax for awhile. I had a LONG time before I had to move to my corral, and the place was still pretty empty. I was too cold to fall asleep. As more people arrived, everyone started talking about where they were from, if they had run NYC before, if this was their first marathon, and a variety of other topics. It was fun to meet other people from all over and to have conversations to help pass the time. At 8:20, they started moving Wave 1 into our corrals. I offered my rain poncho to another runner, as well as a pair of my throw-away gloves, and made my way over to my corral. There wasn’t a lot of space, and the ground was still wet. One of the volunteers graciously offered me a plastic bag to sit on. It was large, so I opened it up and shared with some other runners so that they had somewhere dry to sit too.
Around 9:30, we were able to move from the corrals to the bridge. On the walk over, someone yelled my name, and I was so happy to have run into another runner I knew from back home (Hi Colin!). We hadn’t seen each other since Boston, so it was nice to catch up! The cannons went off, the rain started, the wind picked up and we were off. Running over the Verrazano Bridge was incredible. It was difficult to get through the crowds, especially because you didn’t want to go too far out to the sides where it was incredibly windy. After we were over the bridge, it was a bit easier to break out of the packs that had formed, but there were still people everywhere. It stayed that way for the first 10k or so. The crowds were absolutely amazing. I had been told that the atmosphere was like nothing else, but it’s truly something you don’t understand until you’ve experienced it. The energy from the crowd was contagious, and likely why I spent the first half of the marathon feeling like I was on a cloud. The crowds through Brooklyn were so big, and everyone was so supportive.
I ran fairly even splits the first half, with the first 5k in 22 minutes, hitting 10k at 44 minutes, 15k at 1:06 and the halfway point in 1:34. Around the 16k mark, my Garmin started going haywire, and was telling me I was dropping 3 minute kilometers, and I knew by feel that I definitely wasn’t. The distance was also totally off (in the end, my Garmin says I ran 44.9km, not 42). I didn’t panic very much, but felt totally confused and was a bit lost on my pace, as I knew that I couldn’t trust my watch from that point and would have to figure my pace out manually at the clocks.
I started to ride the pain train when crossing over the Queensboro Bridge. I had been warned about this bridge. I’ve driven over it, I’ve watched footage of the marathon over and over to make mental notes about the bridge, but none of it prepared me for running over it. I felt like it was never going to end. I slowed down a bit and took the opportunity to take in some Cliff Bloks. I tried not to think about the fact that the course only gets tougher after this bridge, but it consumed my brain. Coming off the bridge, I was waving to people in the crowds and trying to pump myself up. It worked for a few kilometers, but entering Manhattan and running up First Avenue also felt like it was never going to end. We would ascend uphill for a bit. Flatten out for a bit. Ascend some more. I felt myself getting slower and slower — and colder and colder. It had been raining on and off during the first half, but was raining very consistently at this point. It was a bit windy, but wasn’t actually that cold outside, so I couldn’t figure out why my body felt so cold. My hands and legs were so cold, my joints were starting to stiffen and my hands were looking a little purple. When I looked at my race photos after, my legs were reddish-purple during the second half as well.
I would look at the clocks, do the math, and was getting a bit discouraged as I realized how much slower I was running. I don’t usually stop and walk, but I was walking the water stations to try and drink more. Although I didn’t go into the race with a specific time goal, I had been hoping to run somewhere around my PR, which is a 3:17, but knew NYC was a hard course and was also aware that maybe 3:25 was more realistic. As I started slowing down, at that point I just told myself I’d be happy with another BQ.
As we approached Central Park, I knew we were getting closer to the finish, but also knew that the course wasn’t going to get any easier. The crowds thickened throughout the park and it definitely helped boost my spirits. Once I saw the 800m to go sign, I felt instant relief. The race was almost over, and I would run another BQ. I crossed the line in 3:30:48, definitely not a negative split. The second half of that course is no joke. I can think of a million things I would have done differently about this race, but I’m not beating myself up over it. I ran 10 minutes faster than I did in Boston, which is a big positive.
After crossing the line, I asked the volunteer that gave me my medal how Shalane had done. “She won!” replied the volunteer and I couldn’t stop smiling. I was so happy for her. She is a runner I admire, and she fought hard for this. She got the big moment she was hoping for. I still can’t get through race footage of her finish without crying — I probably never will.
I selected the finisher poncho instead of the baggage option, and made my way to the designated area as I ate a bag of pretzels and downed a bottle of water. I had my poncho placed around me and made the trek from Central Park down to Port Authority to get on the bus back to New Jersey. We have cousins in New Jersey that graciously allowed us to stay with them that weekend. Due to the weather, I told them, and my husband and kids to just stay at the house and track me online. I didn’t want anyone getting sick or the kids being miserable in the rain. It was just as easy for me, because I could just exit the park and get to the bus station.
I think the 24 block walk actually helped with my recovery, as my legs were feeling pretty good the next day, and by Tuesday I was able to do stairs, which normally doesn’t happen too quickly for me after a marathon!
The NYC Marathon capped off another banner year for me on the running front. I ran Boston in April, raced my first event in the elite field during Ottawa Race Weekend, won a 10k race in Ottawa that meant a lot to me in September, and ran NYC.
NYC also marked the start of my marathon hiatus. I’ve only run three marathons, but they all took place over the past 17 months. During that time, I also noticed big drops in my 5k and 10k times, but marathon training often got in the way of me pursuing my goals at the shorter distances. For the next year or two, I’m going to focus on shorter races and getting faster. It’ll be just as challenging as training for the marathon, but I am ready to put in the work.
To the City of New York, the NYRR, race organizers, the volunteers, the spectators, my friends, family and everyone else who has been along for the ride with me this year, from the bottom of my heart, I thank you.
Before I begin, I want to reinforce that I consider hormone therapy to be a last resort to boost my low progesterone levels. Fortunately, I’ve found a naturopath that is working with me to help me boost my progesterone levels and also properly fuel my body as a runner, in his words, an “elite athlete” (bless his heart). During my second appointment with him, we reviewed my food and sleep journal and conducted a physical exam.
The physical exam didn’t show anything unusual, which is what I expected. My food journal provided some insight into some improvements that could be made but also showed that I didn’t have terrible eating habits, I just needed to eat more leafy greens and increase my consumption of phytoestrogens. Phytoestrogens are found in soy, legumes, and flaxseeds. I also needed to increase my fat consumption to support my body when it comes to running. I ask a lot of my body during training, so I need a diet with a very high nutrient profile in order to keep my body performing at a certain level.
This was tougher than it might sound. To be honest, I was a VERY picky eater growing up. I didn’t start eating a wider variety of vegetables until I was pregnant with my son. Like, I wouldn’t eat salad. Knowing now that vegetables and legumes are important in my journey to feeling better, I am prepared to dive in. My doctor recommended the “Oh She Glows” cookbook as a starting point for creating yummy meals that incorporate many of the foods and raw vegetables he recommended. So far, I’ve been satisfied with all of the recipes I’ve tried in the book. My go-to smoothie is the Tropical Green Monster. I’ve also even eaten salads most of the days this past week — which is something I thought I’d have a harder time incorporating. I am not big on dressing, which probably isn’t a terrible thing. My favorite ingredients to mix into a salad so far are pears and walnuts with carrots and spring mix.
In addition to the dietary inclusions, I’m starting two supplements. One is magnesium and the other is ADR Px Balance Capsules. According to my naturopath, the adrenal capsules will help with adrenal function. Since stress impacts cortisol levels and acts as a progesterone blocker, these capsules should help with proper adrenal function. Magnesium helps with a variety of things, including muscle function, aids in balancing cortisol levels, and assists in a range of other areas that will get me back on track. You should always consult with your doctor (or naturopath) before taking any supplements.
Finally, sleep is another area on which I am focusing. I do my best in this area, given the fact that I have young kids that still wake up in the night. Right now, I’m trying to justify the price of the gear in the Under Armour Sleep Recovery line. Hey, if it works for Tom Brady, it must good — right?!
I’ll check back in with you in a few months to give you an update on how things are going. I’m hoping to report some consistent improvement, both in how I’m feeling and how I’m running!
How do you incorporate more leafy greens into your diets? What are your favorite salad combinations?
1:27:08: The half marathon time that got me into the 2017 New York City marathon. It was a huge PR for me in autumn of 2016, more than 5 minutes faster than I’d run before, and I couldn’t wait to run NYC. Now, here we are, with race day looming on Nov. 5.
People ask, “Are you excited?” The easy answer is to smile, nod, and reply “yes.” But my original excitement has faded. Deep down inside is a version of myself that is terrified to run another 26.2. The version of me that is still haunted by a bad day in Boston earlier this year. I have tried to put it behind me, but I still think about it, and I still beat myself up over it.
In Boston, I ran a 3:40, which was a lot slower than my 3:17 qualifying time. A number of things went wrong for me that day. I could make a bunch of excuses — blame the heat, blame my foot that cramped at mile 3 — but it just wasn’t my day. Shortly after Boston, I would learn about my progesterone imbalance, which also wasn’t helping me.
I know I need to let it go, and I’m running out of time. I’ve made some changes to my training since Boston, and I’m hoping that these changes work in my favor. Cool temperatures and overcast skies on race day would also be greatly appreciated (got that, Mother Nature?!).
NYC holds a special place in my heart, and is a city of wonderful memories for me. We have family there. My husband and I got engaged there. We’ve traveled there countless times, and spent a lot of hours walking many of the same streets (and driving over the bridges) that I, along with 50,000 other runners, will run during the race.
It is those special memories, and the presence of family, that will get me to Central Park. If my race starts to go down the drain, I will fight, but I will also accept it and enjoy the beauty of the city. It is such a unique way to see the city I love.
I ran my qualifying time in October 2016 at the Fall Colours Half Marathon, just outside of Ottawa. It was actually my second attempt at running a sub-1:32 half marathon in order to qualify for NYC. I had run a half marathon 3 weeks before that on an unusually hot day, and the heat got the best of me. I knew I a sub-1:32 in me, so I registered for Fall Colours, and I’m certainly glad I did!
I made a lot of changes this training cycle. Before toeing the line in Boston, I was feeling very drained. In fact, I was overtrained. I hadn’t been taking my easy runs easy. After Boston, it was discovered that my progesterone levels were incredibly low, which was also wreaking havoc on my body. In order to train sustainably, I knew I had to make some changes. The big changes I made while training for NYC:
- Switching from the Pfitzinger’s 70-mile/18-week marathon plan to the Hanson’s 18-week advanced plan. The thought of the longest run being 16 miles sounded glorious and scary at the same time. Some of the speed workouts looked so intimidating on paper. Overall, the weekly mileage was less than I was used to. I used the pace chart in the book to determine my paces for each run. I also raced during this training cycle, which isn’t something I have done much of before. If I needed to run 5/10k race pace for a speed work session, why not run them in a race setting? I’m hoping that switching plans and running a bit less will keep me from overtraining. I maxed out at 112km per week when training for Boston, compared to 95km this time around (69 miles compared to 59, for those of us stateside). So far, so good: I didn’t feel as physically exhausted when peak week was over. This will be my third marathon, and I am still figuring out what approach works best for me.
- Nutrition was my other big change. I met with a naturopath regarding my progesterone issues and he mentioned that I needed more fat in my diet, as well as more leafy greens (before meeting with the doctor there were roughly zero leafy greens in my diet). I have diligently followed his recommendations and incorporated specific supplements into my routine. I have gone from two salads in my entire life to roughly five salads a week — stay tuned for more details on this! If this has no impact on my marathon performance, at least I can say I made better habits during this training cycle.
Physically, I feel stronger this time around. My legs still have some kick and my body isn’t achy like it was during my Boston training cycle. If the races I ran were any indication of my fitness level right now, I would say I’m in good shape heading to NYC. Both races were on extremely hot days with high humidity. In the 10k that I raced, I managed to place first female and 17th overall, out of about 7,700 people. I wasn’t expecting that! It was also my second sub-40 10k and a very solid confidence boost.
I feel incredibly lucky to by running my second World Major this year. The marathon is still new to me, and I still feel like I have no idea what I’m doing. Over the next few days, I’ll remind myself that I’m ready for this. That everyone has good days and bad days, and whatever happens on Nov. 5 is what is meant to be. I am trying to put any expectations out of my mind. Running isn’t my job. I have two young kids and work full time. I have plenty of marathons left in me — but after NYC, I will be taking a break from the marathon distance until at least 2019. I am switching gears to focus on the 5k and 10k distances next year.
NYC will be Meb’s last marathon. I read an article in Runner’s World a few years ago in which he was quoted as saying:
“If it can’t be today, maybe tomorrow. If it can’t be tomorrow, maybe next week. If not next week, then maybe next month.”
That same thought will be with me on race day, as Meb runs those streets in his last professional race of his incredible and inspiring career.
In my first post on this topic, I explored how I came to a diagnosis of low progesterone. Since then, I have been to an endocrinologist and an alternative medicine practitioner called a naturopath. As many of you can surely relate, when it comes to my body, I don’t take no for an answer when I know something is wrong. I ask questions, press harder, and explore all avenues to get everything back on track.
Sadly, since my diagnosis I have had to work very hard to find a medical professional to take my diagnosis or concerns seriously. I’m one of many women who’ve struggled for answers about my health. But, like I said, I will not be deterred. Read more >>
My body has thrown me a few curve balls over the past few years. As a runner, I feel like I’m quite in tune with my body, almost to a point where I notice when the smallest thing is off. You know like the hangriness creep that starts after eating lunch a mere 30 minutes later than usual.
A few months ago, I knew something wasn’t right. Sure, I had some vague symptoms when I wasn’t running, but it was my running that really tipped me off that something in my body was amiss. In my case, it turned out to be my progesterone levels. Read more >>
I am not afraid to admit that I always wear headphones when running. When I wear them during races, I am respectful about it and aware of my surroundings. The volume is on low and I can hear people talking, important announcements, and I know where people are around me.
There are a number of reasons I wear headphones when running and racing. Sometimes I find myself stuck in my own head too much and need the noise, especially in races where the distance is long and the spectators are sparse. I can’t handle the sound of my own breathing. I have asthma and hearing myself breathe drives me crazy. I’m one of those people that always has music on everywhere I am. I work from home and often have music on in the background while I work. For me, music helps me focus on the task at hand. I train by myself in a small town, so music keeps me company.
In a recent #SaltyChat on Twitter, we discussed running with headphones, and many people encouraged me to try a race without them. The timing was a little too perfect, as I had an upcoming race where it was against the race rules to wear them.
Here is what I discovered. Read more >>
I wasn’t a kid that dreamed of running the Boston Marathon. I was the kid who cried when asked to run more than one lap of the track. Like many people, I decided to start running because I wanted to lose weight. My first goal was to run an entire 5k without stopping. That was hard, but I did it.
Then a year later, I registered for a half marathon, and, again, my goal was to finish 21.1k of running, which I did in 2:00:01. I ran that same half marathon multiple years in a row. In between, I ran the same route almost everyday, at the same pace, and would get frustrated when my annual half marathon rolled around and my time didn’t change much from year to year. I chiseled my time down to 1:47:xx within the first five years of running, but my ultimate dream was to run a 1:45.
It wasn’t on purpose, but by becoming competitive with myself, I started taking more of an interest in running as a sport and made more of an effort to run more consistently throughout the year.
I started running 11 years ago, when I turned 19. This year, I turned 30. During the past 11 years, a lot has changed on the running front for me. And honestly, I never saw any of it coming. Read more >>
Returning to running after baby can be tricky. In an earlier post, I wrote about my experience with an injury while marathon training a few months after I gave birth to my second child. That injury taught me a lot of things, and was quite frankly the slap in the face that I needed if I was going to take my running more seriously. One of the most important lessons I learned from the injury was that recovery is just as important as running. Your body needs a break and time to repair itself. If you want your body to work with you, you need to treat it right.
Here is a bit more more about the lessons I learned and the practices I apply to my recovery and running strategies today!
Sure babies are cute, but they do some ugly things to our runner bodies. As I explained in my intro post, I didn’t train for a marathon until after I had my second child. Like many eager new running moms, I fell victim to “too much, too fast, too soon” after giving birth. I thought at seven months postpartum I was well past any potential injury related to labor and delivery, but I was wrong.
The bright side? I gained an increased awareness and understanding about what my body needed to stay strong and support a heavy training load. I especially learned a lot about my core and pelvic floor, which were perhaps the parts of my body most impacted by pregnancy and childbirth and, perhaps worse, the parts I most neglected.
But I wasn’t always a runner, far from it actually. At track and field day in elementary school we had to choose one “long” event, 800 or 1500 meters. I remember hating running so much that I started walking about 20 meters into the 800, and walked all 720 meters thereafter. I’m pretty sure I cried too. Instead of running, I spent my time in dance and curling, and later I even fell in love with competitive swimming.
By the time I was 19, I was unhappy and stressed out as I neared completion of my first year of university. I needed an outlet, preferably one that didn’t revolve around a gym schedule, something flexible. Around the same time, my mom joined a “learn to run 5k” group back home. If she could run, I certainly could, or so I thought. I laced up my shoes and ran for roughly 200 meters before I had to stop. Read more >>
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