Thursday, April 17, 2014

10 Things I Learned in My First Year of Running

I can't believe it's been over a year since I started running. For some reason last March, I decided that I really wanted to become a runner. I signed up for a 5k and trained with the Couch to 5k program and eventually wound up training for and running my first half marathon in September. My journey to becoming a runner has been full of ups and downs, as any other worthwhile journey is and I've learned some important things along the way that I thought would be worth sharing.

1. Getting fitted for proper shoes is so important! This is one of the first things you should do when you get serious about running. Joe made a deal with me that if I stuck with running for a full month, we could go get fitted at our local running store. I ended up getting a pair of Brooks PureCadence 2s and they are fantastic. I even bought backups once they released the PureCadence 3s and the 2s went on clearance.

2. Not all of my runs are going to be awesome. In fact, some of them are really going to suck and make me wonder why I do this in the first place. Some of those sucky runs will end up being races that I paid good money for, like the Yuengling 5k last week (sad, short recap coming soon). All I can do is learn from it if I can and move on.

3. Signing up for a big race is scary. When I signed up for my first half marathon last year, I was terrified. What if I couldn't finish? What if my family is there watching me and sees me fail? I learned that the saying is true though, if your goals don't scare you, they aren't big enough.

4. Do the training. Seriously... Do. The. Training. Find a plan that sounds good to you and stick to it as closely as you possibly can. I used Hal Higdon's half marathon plan and loved it. It was simple and completely manageable. I skipped maybe two or three of my runs during training for the Pocono Lake Region 13.1 and I had a fantastic experience there. I hardly ran in the three weeks between that race and the Hershey Half and I had an awful time. Put in the time and it will make a world of difference.

5. Runners are the most amazing group of people. I was only about a month into running last year when the Boston Marathon bombing occured. I barely even considered myself a runner at that point, but I found myself glued to the television watching for updates and as the stories poured in day after day, I was amazed and proud of the support that the running communities around the country gave to the people affected by the bombings. It solidified my desire to be a part of it, a part of something so strong and united.

6. People are going to think you are weird. Unless you are really lucky and have a big group of runner friends, which I don't. And you know what? They are right. Running for two hours straight is a weird thing to do. But it's also challenging, invigorating, satisfying, and strengthening.

7. I want to run a marathon. Desperately. I almost signed up for one yesterday. The thought of it scares the absolute crap out of me, but I want to be a marathoner at least once.

8. I can run faster than I think. I almost dropped dead in shock when I ran a 5k with an 8:40 average pace a few weeks ago. But guess what? When you push yourself, awesome things happen! I spent so long thinking that I couldn't run faster than a 10:30/mile pace, but when I actually started pushing myself, I found out I was capable of much more.

9. Hills are my friend. There are literally no flat places to run anywhere near my house, so either way I go, I'm running hills. Guess who isn't afraid of a course with some hills? This girl.

10. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, that can compare to the feeling of accomplishing your goals. I ran the Scranton Half Marathon at the beginning of April with the goal of running under 2:10:00 and honestly, I didn't really think I could do it that morning. I ran a 2:07:41 that day and I've been on cloud nine ever since. I break into a huge smile whenever I see my medal hanging in my bedroom and the thought of that run gets me out the door on days when I really don't want to.

I've played sports, but I've never taken them seriously or considered myself an athlete until I took up running. I've made huge progress in this past year not only as an athlete, but as a healthy person as well and I can thank running for that. I can't wait to see what I can do in this next year!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Inaugural Scranton Half Marathon 2014 Recap

When I found out back in September that Scranton was hosting a half marathon in the spring, I knew I didn't have a choice but to sign up. We don't have an abundance of local races (other than 5ks) and this one looked like it was going to be especially awesome. I got plenty of emails to keep me updated leading up to the race and Joe said packet pickup on Friday night was a breeze.

The morning of the race, we got up at 6am, got ready and out of the house shortly after 7am, and arrived around 7:30. The race was scheduled to start at 9am, so we hung out in the car for a while to relax and stay warm.

At 8:30, we got in line for the bathrooms and then made our way to the start line. The "corral" area was crowded and cramped and it took us a minute or so to get past the start line and into a light jog once the gun sounded promptly at 9am.

Miles 1-5 brought us through a few different communities, including a row of gorgeous houses (and some hills) in Greenridge. The main hills for this course were here, although they weren't too bad. I had a hard time getting into a good pace because of the congestion so my first mile was close to 11 minutes but I picked it up into the 9:40/mile range for the next few. My goal for this race was to run under a 10:00/mile average pace and at first, I didn't think I could pull it off, but as I kept running I realized it just might be possible.

I also realized at this point that I could've done without my jacket. Even though it was only 35º, the sun was out so I warmed up really fast. It was annoying to run with the jacket tied around my waist for most of the race, but we live and we learn and there was no way I was tossing it.

It was so cool seeing the huge hoard of people running up the hills in front of me. Normally, I'm driving down these roads and I'm grouchy from the other drivers and the pot holes, so it was a nice change of pace to run through town with so many other people who were clearly enjoying themselves as much as I was. 

Miles 5-7.5 brought us into the downtown area down North Washington Ave and past my very favorite local restaurant, Cooper's Seafood House. Seriously, best crab bisque ever. I kept logging miles around a 9:30 pace and was excited to have a small bank of time for the second half in case I really started to lose it.

The part of the course I was most excited about was running on the Lackawanna Heritage Trail, which I've never done before. It was beautiful even though nothing was blooming yet and I'm really looking forward to getting some runs in here over the coming months.

However, this is the part where I started to struggle. We logged miles 8, 9, and 10 here and I started to have pains in my knee and hips. I took a gel at mile 8 (Salted Caramel Gu is amazing, FYI) and once I hit mile 9, I knew it would be rough but I could tough it out until the end. I switched my watch to show me my current pace and fought hard to keep it under 10:00/mile.

It wouldn't be Scranton if there wasn't at least one train sighting! Well, train car anyway. This was during mile 12, I think. The last mile or so was pretty much downhill, so it was a great chance to make a good push to the finish. I pushed myself really hard in the last two miles and I'm really proud of that. In fact, the last mile was my fastest of the day at 8:45!

The half ended on the track of the Scranton High School with TONS of crowd support and cheering. As I came around the corner, I saw 2:08:something on the clock and knew I had surpassed my expectations for myself. Once I passed the finish line, there were volunteers handing out Scranton Half fleece blankets (I didn't know about this beforehand and was so excited to get one!) and finisher's medals. One of the volunteers put a water bottle in my hand and I hobbled around the food tent to grab a banana. I wish I would have thought to grab a photo of the finish line area, but I was so thrilled by my finish time and exhausted that all I could think about was my water and banana and finding my parents and Joe.

I ended up with an official chip time of 2:07:41, which works out to be a 9:45 average pace. I'm still so thrilled about this and I'm not sure I've even fully processed it yet, but I feel so accomplished. I've never considered myself an athlete, but running has changed that for me. And besides that, look at that medal! It's soooo heavy and absolutely gorgeous! Scranton doesn't mess around; this was the inaugural year and they threw one hell of a race.

And what's better after an awesome run than a burger and sweet potato fries? Not much, I think. My parents joined us for Red Robin after the race and it really hit the spot! Apparently other runners thought so too since we saw quite a few medals around the restaurant! :)

All in all, the one and only complaint I have is that the start was a little congested and it took a while for there to be enough breathing room to run comfortably in the beginning. There were nearly 2400 runners who finished though, so I guess a little congestion is to be expected! But I will DEFINITELY be back next year and I'm already looking forward to it. This was one kick ass race and I'm proud to have been part of something so awesome in the area!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Where did that come from??

My plan for my long run last weekend was 11 miles. Imagine my surprise when I pulled out an unexpected half marathon PR... by 7 minutes! Every mile I hit starting with mile 9 was under a 9:40 average. I just got into a groove and decided to ride it as far as I could; my watch kept beeping every mile and I'd just look at it and laugh because I couldn't believe how fast I was running and how awesome I felt!

I have two possible explanations for this. The first is that eating half a pizza the night before a long run is the perfect carb-loading (this is kind of a joke, but I think also kind of true). The second, and more probable, explanation is that my cross training must actually be paying off and helping me run faster. I've started noticing changes in my body since I started taking cross training seriously about a month ago, so this is great stuff.

I am so freaking sick of winter, but I thought this photo was so beautiful with the snow and the reflection in the water. We'll be kayaking here in four weeks and I'm seriously hoping that it will be a lot warmer by then!

Along with cross training, I've also been really serious about eating better the past few months and I think it's making a huge difference in how I feel. I almost always feel full and satisfied without feeling bloated and stuffed. Five small meals a day seem to work out perfectly for me, which wasn't possible this past three weeks while I was doing work training at a different branch, so I'm really excited to be back to my normal routine/schedule this week. This mix of roasted green beans, sweet potatoes, and quinoa and a salad have been my lunch staples lately and I'm still not sick of it. So good!

My sister joined me for yoga yesterday morning and then we had a Panera and shopping date afterwards. I'm pretty sore today but I've actually come to love being sore after a workout. It lets you know that it's working!

The asian sesame salad was incredible, but I was disappointed with the turkey avocado BLT. First of all, I was expecting it to be warm (like a panini I guess), and secondly, I expected the avocado to be a mashed replacement for mayo but it was just slices of not-fully-ripe avocado. Next time I'll definitely just go with the full size salad.

I also realized this weekend that our local YMCA is only a 15 minute drive from my house, so now I'm seriously considering getting a membership there. They have an awesome schedule of classes and I'd love to be able to start swimming, but I'm not sure how often I could realistically get there during the week.

We're exactly three weeks out from the Scranton Half and I'm so ready and excited! I have high hopes for this race since the organization and social media presence seem to be top notch so far.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Protein Pancakes & PRs

I didn't run as many days as I wanted to this week, but today's run was so good that I don't really even care. A little bit of good news though: I got a full time position at my bank! I've been working there part time since July and am so thrilled to be full time now, especially with the wedding coming up this summer. I'm still trying to figure out how to work in my runs around my schedule but they'll get done one way or another so I'm not worried.

So how about that 7 miles under a 10 minutes average pace?? It's only under by one second but still! I'm so thrilled! It started with wanting to run my personal best for a 10k, which I did, and then figured I should round it up to 7 miles. Awesome way to start the day!

After this awesome run, I made some of these protein pancakes and topped them with banana slices and shredded coconut. I wasn't crazy about these the first time I made them, but they have grown on me and I look forward to making them after a particularly tough workout now. The Perfect Fit Protein is expensive though so I don't use it everyday.

Obligatory red-faced post-run bathroom mirror selfie. This is also my current favorite running outfit... I may just be suffering from a small Lululemon addiction. ;)

I seriously can't wait to be able to run outside again. About the lowest I can handle is 30ºF and it's been single digits or low teens for the past two weeks. Someone needs to tell mother nature that this is Pennsylvania and not Canada...

Sunday, January 19, 2014

I'm baaaaaaack!

I feel like I have a lot to catch up on here, but I also feel like I haven't done much of anything the past few months. After the Hershey Half Marathon, I had shin issues and ended up only running nine miles in the entire month of November. I spent a lot of time on the couch and eventually in December I decided it was time to stop being lazy and get my butt back in gear. Not surprisingly, I had to take it really easy since my shin splints came back as soon as I started running again. I ran through them though and they got better pretty quickly (with lots of ice, stretching, and compression as well). My biggest goal for 2014 is to run 1000 miles, so I've been trying to run 20 miles a week and have been successful so far.

The Scranton Half Marathon is in twelve weeks, so that means training starts now! I had plans to stick with the training plan that I used for my first half, but I honestly think I'm just going to wing it and try to get at least 20 miles in per week. I'm willing to cut it back if I end up feeling overly fatigued or injured, but I think I'll be able to swing it.

It's sucky that all my runs have been on the treadmill lately but I just can't force myself outside to run when it's less than 30º. I know people run in much colder weather, but I'm just a wuss. All I want is for it to warm up, but I guess I have to whine for two more months until spring arrives. :(

So other than getting back on the running wagon, I've also gotten on the healthy eating wagon. We were able to snag a juicer for less than $50 from Bed Bath and Beyond, so I've been venturing into that territory and I love it! We've been cooking a lot more from scratch lately too and that feels like an accomplishment in itself, besides the fact that we've been making healthy food.


On the wedding front, we've been kicking ass and taking names. We did our menu tasting (FANTASTIC!), started a registry, booked our honeymoon, and ordered save the dates! We are officially less than six months away and I'm starting to seriously get things done.

In totally random news, another leaf just unfurled on my very favorite plant and now I'm thinking I want one of these for every room in my house.

I'm going to try to do weekly training recaps again because I feel like it really helped keep me on track and accountable during the week. After the Scranton 1/2, I'm hoping we can get into the Broad Street Run, and I also signed up for the Oddyssey Half Marathon in Philly on June 8th! :)

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Hershey Half Marathon 2013 Recap

Before I say anything regarding the actual race weekend, let me just say that I was definitely under-trained for this race. I ran the Pocono Lake Region half marathon three weeks before and tried to run as much as I could in between the two, but it wasn't nearly enough. Anyyyyyyway...

We arrived in Hershey around one o'clock in the afternoon on Saturday and had a bit of a hard time figuring out where we needed to go in order to get our packets. The email we got beforehand said to go to the Ice Palace/stadium, but there were no signs for the Ice Palace and we ended up at an arena where Disney On Ice was finishing up. One of the security guards there pointed us in the right direction and we eventually made our way to the correct place.

The expo wasn't anything spectacular, but it was organized well and it took us all of three minutes to get our packets and activate our bibs. We each got two tickets to the park included in our packets, so we headed there for a little while and rode a couple of roller coasters. There were on and off rain showers the whole day, so around six o'clock we decided to go check in to our hotel and hang out there until our dinner reservations at eight.

I thought our hotel was about a mile from the park, but it turned out to be around two and a half miles, so we decided to just drive to the start instead of walking on Sunday morning. I'm glad we did because it was freezing after we finished and it was nice to get into the car and turn the heated seats on. ;) We arrived on time in the morning but ended up starting about nine minutes after the official start because we were waiting in line for the potties.

The beginning of the race was miserable for me. The support and spectators were great, but it was so chilly! I wish I had pants and gloves on. I wore a random half zip fleece sweatshirt that I found in the back of my closet with the intention on tossing it once I warmed up, but thankfully I had the sense to tie it around my waist and hold onto it. I didn't end up taking it off initially until mile four and I ended up putting in on to warm up a few times during the race.

Okay so, the course! The first few miles were very boring. You basically run out of the parking lot and along the highway before making your way back to the park, which was the interesting part! It was so neat to run through the park. I kept thinking about how awesome this was and how much more awesome it'll be to run one of the Disney races through those parks.

There were a couple sections where you looped around and passed by runners that were heading into the area that you just left, which was pretty cool because there was a lot of cheering and encouragement going on between the two sections.

Eventually we made our way out of the park and out into the town of Hershey. We ran past the old Hershey's factory stacks.

 And on a lot of highway.

 I had some great chin action going on.

And apparently I didn't think to actually look for the photographers on the course.

In what seemed like a freezing eternity, we finally saw the Hershey stacks again which signaled we were around mile eleven. I was really hurting at this point. I hadn't been stopping at the water stops because I brought my handheld bottle with me, but I made it a point to walk through each one I saw past mile seven because I needed the break. I didn't want to start walking the whole thing because I just wanted to be done, but I was definitely in pain.

As we made our way back to the park, there were lovely volunteers handing out chocolate as you ran by, which I stashed in the pocket of my handheld because, despite how much I love chocolate, the last thing I wanted to do was eat. We ran across the parking lot, which had a lovely crosswind blowing directly into my face, and looped around the stadium. The finish line was set up about halfway through the pathway in the stadium, so I ran as fast as I could, wanting to be done and out of the cold. 

I got my medal from an adorable little boy who also gave me a high five and went to track down some water and this lunch bag full of food. I'm really excited about the lunch bag (I don't have one!) and honestly, I love free food. I've said it before and I'll say it again, any race that gives out chocolate and giant cookies is good in my book. 

The Hershey Half has this cool system where they email you once you pass the halfway point and again when you finish so you know your times right away. I never really had a specific time goal for this race, but my general half marathon goal is to finish under 2:30 and I did that with just 21 seconds to spare!

I'm not thrilled with my time, but I know I didn't train enough for this race and I did have fun, so it's all good. Unfortunately, I ended up with some bad pain on my inner right shin for five or six days after the race, so I spent a lot of time resting and icing it. I'm hoping to try to go out for a short run tomorrow and see how it feels. But anyway, I'm very happy with my experience at the Hershey Half. It was organized very well and the course really was beautiful this time of year. It was less hilly than I expected it to be (yay!) and there were plenty of water and restroom stops. Plus, look at this adorable magnet I got for my car!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Pocono Lake Region 13.1 Recap

I wanted to write this post as soon as I got home on Sunday, but I also wanted to let the experience sink in a little bit before I spilled my thoughts on the interwebs. Also, I was exhausted and didn't really want to do anything other than lay down and eat. :P

I suppose we should start from the beginning, huh? Joe and I set our alarms for 5am and 5:15am respectively and I ended up getting out of bed at 5:20am. I had oatmeal with peanut butter and chocolate chips for breakfast and was actually pretty calm. I made sure to pack my stuff the night before, so I double checked everything and got ready to go. We were in the car by 6am and made it to the finish line location to catch a bus to the start line at 6:30am.

The start line was at the Honesdale elementary school and they had the school open for us so we could use the bathrooms and wait inside in the warmth. It was about 45º out by the time we started running at 8am (exactly on time!), which I complained about but first but was really happy about once I got about a mile in.

The beginning of the course was shrouded with fog and made for some absolutely stunning foggy farm landscapes. The whole course was gorgeous to be honest and really made me appreciate the area that I live in even more. It was laid out and marked very well and the support was amazing. There were water/Gatorade stations every two miles and the volunteers were the best. Even people who lived along the route were out cheering the runners on. I saw two portapotties as well, I think at mile 4ish and again at 11.

How much prettier does it get really?
I know I did the training, but I was shocked at how easy the first 8ish miles went. The course was very hilly and I heard a lot of people saying how it was one of the hardest half courses they've run. I just kept taking it one hill at a time and running on feel. When I started to feel tired or out of breath, I slowed my pace until I was (relatively) comfortable again.

The last 3 miles were the best and the worst. I knew I only had a 5k left at that point and knew I was going to finish, but my legs had really started to ache. The final half mile was up a gradual incline that led to the Wallenpaupack high school parking lot and down onto the track. My IT band on my right leg was acting up and I was ready to be done, but I honestly expected to feel much worse. I guess all that training really did pay off? ;) 

The way they had the finish set up was so awesome. I've never really competed in anything in my life, so it was a great feeling to have the announcers call my name and see my family cheering me on as I ran to the finish line. Joe finished about half an hour behind me. He did walk/run intervals since he has been having knee issues and I'm so proud and happy for him that he finished.

I stopped my watch when it hit 13.1, which was a bit before the actual finish line. My official bib time was 2:21:07 and my watch time was 2:20:23. My goal was to finish in less than 2:30 so I'm extremely happy! I'd love to get down to around 2 hours, but I was pretty consistent for this race and I will definitely take that for now.

We spent the rest of the day icing, stretching, and eating. I had a bagel and banana after I finished, but my stomach would not settle down. I couldn't stand still for more than a minute or so before it started bothering me. Later on in the day it started to feel better, but I still got a nauseous feeling whenever I would stand up and move around after sitting for a while. I'm thinking this means that I didn't eat enough during the race and that I need to bring more gels with me next time.

Overall, I am so happy with my first half marathon experience. It was such a positive environment; everyone seemed so excited to be there and didn't hesitate to be encouraging to the runners. I don't have a single complaint about anything, the entire day went off without a hitch as far as I'm concerned. The course was challenging but I definitely think I will run this race again next year. Nothing beats the feeling that I have knowing that I accomplished such a seemingly impossible goal for myself.

I guess my next goal is to build something to hang this lovely piece of metal on?