Monday, December 27, 2010

Half or Full?

OK, I know this is my second post in the same number of days, but I needed to get this one out there. I need help!

So last Tuesday, while I was lurking around the fully occupied treadmills at the rec center, I started chatting with another runner who was also waiting. Lean and rangy, one of those old-school 70s Boulder guys who has been running since before I was born and will be running until he keels over, he told me he was training for the Colorado Marathon in nearby Fort Collins on May 1.

Guys like him usually know what they're talking about when it comes to local races. So I looked this one up online when I got home. The course starts high in Cache La Poudre Canyon west of Fort Collins, finishing in town after a net elevation drop of more than 1100 feet. In the eight years of its existence, it has qualified a relatively high 16-18% of its finishers for Boston. And the scenery is apparently amazing.

Immediately, I began toying with changing my plan.

That plan, currently, is to run the Boulder Spring Half on March 27 with the goal of breaking 2 hours, and then to use the results to determine my next step, which hopefully would be a full marathon in the summer or fall (fall being more likely given my aversion to hot weather). Changing to the May 1 race would mean switching to the FIRST program's marathon plan starting in January, and hoping that I have enough of an endurance base to hit my intermediate marathon goal of breaking four hours.

I can't run both races well, so I can choose only one. Both have pros and cons. I laid them out as follows:

The Half-Marathon

  • Builds my endurance base more gradually and probably more thoroughly
  • Race date is sooner and therefore more motivating
  • Easier to recover if sickness hits me or my family over the remaining winter months
  • Shorter training distances easier on my nagging sore foot
  • Familiar course

  • Delays a true test of my marathon prowess for almost a year
  • Kind of ho-hum--I've done this course before

The Marathon

  • New and scenic course--exciting!
  • The most appealing local marathon I've studied--I wasn't planning to do any local marathons, but this one might be the ticket despite the altitude (which I'm used to anyway)--and it means my family could come watch
  • I wouldn't have to buy a plane ticket or stay several nights in a hotel, as I will have to do for any other marathon that appeals to me down the road
  • High Boston potential--it's too much to hope that I would qualify for Boston as soon as this coming May, but doing a marathon so soon would allow me to test the course out and get an idea of how far I really have to go

  • May be too soon for me to do a full marathon; my right foot is still bothering me, and it definitely bugs me more the longer I run
  • Spring Half is already paid for, and non-refundable; the Colorado Marathon would set me back another $125

I'm on the fence. On the one hand, I know I shouldn't rush this. On the other hand, I'd like to get a move on, and a good time in a half-marathon, while it would be nice, isn't my larger aim. Each day brings the big four-oh closer for me.

What do you think I should do? Please leave a comment here or on Facebook with your opinion. I need all the help I can get!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

They might make it harder....

"Smooth seas do not make skillful sailors."
--Old proverb of unknown (to me) origins

Well, it's official. The Boston Athletic Association, the "owners" of the Boston Marathon, came out last week and said they plan to modify the qualifying standards for the race, according to an article in the Boston Globe (which you can read here). The article states, "The final formula will involve a combination of adjustments to the qualifying standards, field size, and registration start date and window during which runners can qualify." The exact nature of these changes could be announced as soon as January--just in time for my 38th birthday.

This is the result of the fact that the 2011 Boston race sold out in a matter of 8 hours in October, with many qualified runners unable to get into the Web site at all. As you might expect with something that lots of people worked very hard to gain entry to, only to be denied at the last moment, this created some resentment, with various people blaming too many spots reserved for runners raising money for certain charities (these runners don't have to qualify), too-easy standards for women compared with men, and other factors.

There was a lot of discussion of this on Facebook last Tuesday when Runner's World magazine posted a link to the article. Both those who have already qualified and those who hope to proposed many solutions. There was one hurt charity runner in the bunch, but most people (even those who may find these changes totally kill their chances of ever running Boston) seem to agree that this race is special, that everyone who runs it should have to qualify (you can still run for charity, you just have to qualify first) and if the qualifying times for younger women, or any other group, are too lax, well, they need to be tightened up.

And I have to say, I agree with that. My current age group, and probably the one I will soon be entering, may be among those that will see a stricter standard. For someone of my abilities, it could mean this dream really will become impossible to achieve. But as someone who has seen too many highly sought-after prizes become easier to get and therefore less meritorious, I'd rather never qualify than be heard to whine about something valuable like a spot in Boston being made appropriately harder to win. After all, it's the difficulty of the quest that makes its achievement so alluring.

All I can do is keep on keeping on. On Christmas Day, I ran the same 9-mile course I had done the prior Saturday, but I did it nine seconds per mile slower. A combo of factors probably played into this, including still-too-late bedtimes, the lingering effects of my cold (though that's happily almost gone), a poorer diet this past week (shortbread, anyone? stuffing?), alcohol the night before and my body's waking up to the fact that we're training hard again and mileage is increasing. Nonetheless, the 9:02 pace was still spot on with what my training plan asked for (9:03), so I figured that was pretty good for a holiday.

Side note: It's so much easier to run with family here! Dan got out for his own run right after mine. Thanks to my brother John, his wife Jessica and my mom for all the help and fun this Christmas.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Out in the Cold....With A Cold

I probably did it to myself by mentioning colds in my last post.

Because sure enough, on Thursday night, just twelve hours after a great tempo run where I felt like I was flying and a bootcamp class where I felt strong as Superman, I began to experience the tickle in my throat that begins every cold I catch. By Friday night, after a scheduled off day and trying to take it easy, I had the full-on snots, the kind that wake you at 1 a.m. and have you tempted to drink Nyquil straight out of the bottle, despite its hideous taste and poisonous cocktail of ingredients, just because there's a chance it might help you breathe and clear your muffled ears (the blocked ears are the worst part of a cold for me).

I am what my dad used to call a "bad sick person." Very fortunate to have enjoyed ringing good health most of my life, I'm sent into a depressed funk by what more stoic folks might term a little sniffle. I sulk on the couch under a blanket and wonder aloud and to myself if I will ever get better. OK, maybe since I've had the kids I've gotten a bit more stiff-upper-lip about it (I've had to; they're sick a lot more than I am)...but the necessary rest and time-biding that even a little cold entail have me tapping my foot impatiently from that first scratchiness to the final sneezes and the healing of my upper lip, chapped from Kleenex too vigorously applied.

My running quest has added fuel to this fire of impatience. A missed workout is no longer just a missed workout. It's a setback that in my pessimistic sick-girl musings might mean a delay of a month or more in the achievement of my dream. I used to run shorter or not at all when I got a cold. But no more. Despite my husband's raised eyebrows, on Saturday I put on my shoes, jacket and tights (it's finally gotten wintery here) and solidered on with my scheduled nine-miler.

The pace dictated by my program for this run was half-marathon pace plus 20 seconds a mile (in other words, 9:03 per mile). I wasn't sure that would be happening, but I figured nine miles at whatever I had in me would be better than nothing. Sure enough, I started out slowly. My Garmin at the end of mile one showed 9:18, and that was downhill. The second flat mile came in at 9:16.

Around that time, though, things started to look up. I found myself running behind a girl I'll call Jen, who is the girlfriend of one of my husband's former grad school colleagues and a "real runner," by which I mean she sometimes wins things. She didn't recognize me, but I had seen her cross in front of me when my trail merged into hers. Somewhere into that third mile I realized she wasn't ditching me as fast as I'd expected her to. I didn't catch her, and eventually I turned in a different direction, but the confidence boost of having stuck with her lingered.

Though the course was gradually uphill for a while after that, I started to feel much better, both in terms of my speed and in terms of my cold. My nose was running profusely, of course, and my gloves and jacket sleeve were disgusting by the time I was done...but I became aware that this was clearing my head both literally and figuratively. I even had it in me to tackle a steep couple of hills at the end without slowing down too much. When all was said and done, I averaged 8:53 a mile for the nine, ten seconds *faster* than prescribed.

So now I know I can run with a cold, and I was able to establish some things I did right both ahead of and after the outing: 1) Eat something (I had steel-cut oats with a banana on top) 2) Drink lots, even more than usual, and don't forget the water bottle as I had done on the previous week's 10-miler 3) Expect a long warm-up and 4) Take a nap later (fortunately the kids cooperated on this one!).

Not only did the run go well from a training perspective, it turned what might have been a draggy day into one where I could enjoy getting our Christmas tree and trimming it with two eager four-year-olds and, later, wrapping gifts and writing Christmas cards with my husband. I also slept much better than I had the night Nyquil required!

Merry Christmas, everyone! I hope you're all healthy and with family and friends.

Side note: I have embedded my Garmin data for Saturday's run below, in case anyone out there is interested in more details, including the pace for each mile and an elevation map. This course was largely on the Bolder Boulder race course, for anyone who might be thinking of running that race at some point!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

New Race, New Pace

"The Road goes ever on and on,
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone
And I must follow if I can."
--from The Lord of the Rings

It's now been a week since the Colder Boulder. In addition to continuing to bask a little bit in my happiness at the result, I and my family celebrated Dec. 8, a great day because it was our twins' 4th birthday. We also visited with my dad and his wife who drove out for the occasion from Missouri. With all of the eating out and birthday cake, I completely fell off the good food bandwagon, but will climb back on tomorrow, knowing I have a visit with Martha on Thursday morning and a lot of running work ahead that being lighter will make easier.

I have also shifted into half-marathon training mode, my eye on March 27 and the Boulder Spring Half. I ran easy on Tuesday, kept up the two days of aerobic cross training mandated by the FIRST program (I'll do a post on cross-training later) and on Thursday resumed full-on running with a tempo workout (tempo runs include a warm-up mile or so, a series of back-to-back miles at a semi-hard pace, and finally an easy cool-down). And yesterday I ran 10 miles for the first time in three weeks.

My training paces have all increased. The FIRST program, unlike some where you choose a race pace you're shooting for and then base training paces on that, uses your *last* race to determine proper paces to train. My prior training paces were based on October's Boulder Half-Marathon. Now, thanks to the Colder Boulder, I have a whole new set of (faster) speeds to hit in my runs. Here's how it breaks down (all times per-mile):

*1-mile intervals: Formerly 8:22s, now (gulp) 7:37s (I will do intervals of other lengths, but that's sort of the signature one)
*Tempo pace: Formerly 8:55 or 9:10, now 8:09 or 8:24 (my tempo run on Thursday was 3 miles at 8:09, and it felt hard but do-able--yay!!)
*Long run pace: Formerly 9:25, now 9:03 or 9:13 (depending on the distance and how far into the program I am)

The half-marathon race pace my 5K time predicts: 8:43, or a 1:54:16 (given faithful adherence to my training program). I'm excited about this, as it's right in line with my next goal of beating 2 hours in the half by as wide a margin as I can. (As a side note, my 5K also predicts a 3:57:17 marathon--not good enough for Boston, but *much* better than the 4:19 predicted by my last half. So I have definitely gotten closer! Hopefully March's half will bring me closer still.)

I've been formulating a few ideas not spelled out in the plan that should also help. I'm going to try to do as many of the long runs as possible *on* the half-marathon course itself. It's the same course out by the Boulder Reservoir where I ran my disappointing October half, and so I think getting to know every hill and dip of its gravelly length will give me an edge.

I'm also planning to do a race in February (the 10-mile Snowman Stampede) in lieu of another lonely long run, just to keep it interesting. As with the Turkey Trot, this won't be for speed but rather as a pacing exercise (and I'll try not to let it freak me out as I did with the Turkey Trot--repeat after me: "This is not my target race").

Of course a lot of this will depend on staying healthy. My kids both have a cold now, and though Dan and I have so far avoided this one, I know there's one out there with my name on it and that when it hits I *must* deal with it properly so as not to derail my progress. I've noticed my bedtime creeping later again, too, and I need to get back to 9:30 p.m. lights out at the latest.

So with my work cut out for me, let my Road's next stage begin!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Race Report: The Colder Bolder 5K, Dec. 4 2010

Boy, was I nervous before this race! I spent the prior evening skimming through my running books, reading scary things about the aging runner's muscle fibers and neuromas in the foot, and listening to the chinook winds bear down from the mountains like judgment on our little valley. All day Friday these winds had blown. In the afternoon, my kids and I went for an exhilarating walk in the tumult. Sticks and leaves tumbled by us, and when we reached the park, the gusts gave extra oomph to some "flying" on the swings. Playing in the chinook winds is fun. Running is not. Would the winds still be blowing on Saturday morning?

I also still felt spooked by my slow time in the prior week's Turkey Trot, discussed in last week's post. Was that the best I could do? I wondered.

Saturday morning began the way most of our days do, with Will and Ruthie's invasion of our bed at around 7 a.m. Ruth was chatty in the way of almost-4-year-old morning people everywhere, and Will was sullen, having misbehaved at bedtime the night before and lost the privilege of opening the next window on his Advent calendar. Lying there, with a little over two hours until my start time, I felt the butterflies in my stomach begin to flutter.

I got up and, following the advice of Nancy Clark in the sports nutrition book, I ate a much bigger breakfast than I would have done in the past before a race. It was just Cheerios and milk, washed down by some Nuun water, but even that was a lot more than the single banana I would have had in the past. Then I stepped outside to gauge what I should wear. It was overcast, much colder than the day before (temps in the 30s)....and still as stone. The winds had moved on. Whew!

At this point, I made a couple of decisions about the race. The first decision was to leave my Garmin at home. I love the Garmin. It's fun and useful to see my paces and the altitude profiles of my training runs. It also takes the tedium out of planning long runs (because I don't really have to plan them). But during the Turkey Trot I found it distracting and worrying. So for this race, which mattered more, I just put on my old Timex digital watch. It was time to be a grown-up, and try to feel my race pace without technological help.

The second decision was that I would run with my iPod. I had been on the fence about this ever since failing to meet my goal of going under 2 hours in the half-marathon in October. I used the iPod during that race, and I felt the music made me push the pace too much in the middle, perhaps contributing to my major bonk at the end. But since the 5K is so much shorter, and speed so much more important, I figured having some super-fast tunes going couldn't hurt.

The kids and Dan were headed to the Christmas pageant rehearsal at church at about the same time as the race, so I wasn't to have any spectators. That was OK with me this time. I was still feeling nervous and fluttery, and wanted to be alone. I said goodbye and rode my bike up to the University of Colorado campus, about a mile from my house. Bike riding is a great warm-up for me. It gets some of the jitters out, gets me used to being outside and helps me break a light sweat.

The packet pickup and finish area for the Colder Bolder are in Balch Fieldhouse, which has an indoor track and bleachers and an old-school running feel to it. Heats for the race start early, with the fastest Bolder Boulder finishers going first at 8 a.m. My race was at 9:10 a.m., so I got to watch a few of the finishes while putting on my number. I also saw the awards ceremony for the fastest finishers' race. Then I went outside to do some strides, and was time.

There were 52 people in my wave, which as I've mentioned before was for people who finished between 54 and 55:59 minutes in the Bolder Boulder 10K. The start, which leads you downhill for about 1/4 mile, was fast. But I felt warmed up and good, with the BoDeans singing "Fadeaway." I also imagined I heard my friend Angela's dad, a track coach, telling me to "use the downhill." The course then turned up for the first climb. I am very familiar with this hill. I passed the first mile, according to my old Timex, in 7:39.

That probably should have worried me, but it didn't. All of the prior night's fears and my disappointments over the half-marathon and the Turkey Trot seemed to fade away. I knew I would slow down a bit on the second mile, which is up and down (more up, I think!), but I pictured the flat stretch at the end, on which I've accelerated at the end of several 10 milers, and told myself, "I'm going only 3 today, and I've felt good there at 10. I can do this." There were some small changes in the course from last year, but that didn't bother me either.

I ran on, through two repetitions of Mumford & Sons' "Little Lion Man" (love that song--apologies if its f-bomb offends anyone; for me hearing it makes me feel tough and angry, good things when you're trying to rip it) and one of their "Roll Away Your Stone." And still I ran, through Uncle Tupelo's "Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down" and Man or Astroman's "Philip K. Dick in the Pet Section of a Wal-Mart" (couldn't find a video for this; think surfer punk).

Finally, I turned that corner onto the flat, and Men Without Hats' "Safety Dance" came on. I knew I was almost done. Which was a good thing, because I was hurting. A group of three people running together, whom I'd passed early in the third mile, repassed me. I wish now that I had tried harder to re-catch them, but I just trailed on behind them, trying to hang on to my pace.

Then I entered the field house and saw the clock. The first two numbers on it were a 2 and a 4. That was enough to help me find my kick. And so...I did it! My goal had been to finish in 24:51. My official time was 24:24, a 7:52 pace overall, a post-pregnancy PR in the 5K and good for 14th in my heat (which was won by a trio of male sandbaggers who all ran faster than 21 minutes). I was so happy about this that I almost cried on the massage table ten minutes later.

Nothing like a few disappointments to make a small victory sweet. In the evening, we went out with a big group of friends to celebrate Dan's 40th birthday. I had one glass of champagne for Dan (may we celebrate his 80th and beyond together!) and one glass....for my race.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Running Solo...and Insecure

Boulder is such a running town that our local paper, the Camera, has a regular running columnist, Mike Sandrock. Mike is also a library patron, so I've struck up an acquaintance with him. I'm still too shy to tell him that I'm trying for Boston (this is a guy who has run with Ryan Hall, whereas I am a librarian who once saw Ryan Hall at Pei Wei Asian Grill). But I do sometimes share my weekend mileage with him.

In one such conversation, when I was ramping up for the Boulder Half, I told Mike I had run 14 miles that weekend.

"Wow," he said (he always pretends to be impressed because he's nice). Then, "Who did you run with?"

When I told him no one, he looked really surprised.

This got me thinking about why I run alone, when so many others run with partners or girlfriends or groups. Much of it has to do with timing. The best opportunity for me to get my runs in usually comes at around 5 a.m. That's too early for most groups, and with the exception of my friend Christine, whom I meet once a week for a crack-of-dawn climb up Mt. Sanitas or a spinning class, also too early for most individuals.

But there are other reasons too.

1. Because (total honesty) I still feel like a poser when it comes to running. There's still a big insecure part of me that believes real runners are the ones who win races and/or age groups or at least finish close to the top of their races or age groups on a regular basis. Since I am not one of those people, I prefer to keep the spotlight of even one witness's eyes off my running (which is why putting this blog out there was a very big deal to me).

2. Because if I feel tired or unmotivated on a particular run, or speedier and more inspired, I don't have to worry about how that will affect a partner who won't have planned on either a too-slow or too-fast pace. I want to run as my own body and mind dictate that day.

3. Because as a mom and as a person who works daily with the public, I relish time alone. When I run, I can listen to the music I want instead of that mix CD we got at the last 4-year-old birthday party. Or I can listen to nothing but the woods around me or the passing cars. I don't have to talk, be polite, pretend I'm happy about fixing the copy machine, or answer questions having to do with how downloadable books work or don't work on someone's iPad. I don't even have to think if I don't care to.

Don't get me wrong. I *love* working out with other people in other contexts. My Mondays with Christine always refresh me for the day ahead. My Tues/Thurs bootcamp class is full of inspiring women, including a 75-year-old who can hold a plank way longer than the rest of us can. And running with others can be great when good company, not pace, is the point. In 2004, my husband and I had a blast running Bay to Breakers in San Francisco. It was fun running with Kathy in the trail half-marathon two weeks ago. Time goes quickly when you have someone to talk and joke with on the way.

But having someone else depend on or expect anything from my running in any way is anxiety-inducing for me. Case in point: last July I was on a team with two other women from the library in a 5K corporate challenge race. They both ran sub-24 minutes. I ran 26 minutes and change. Our team would have won the women's division if it hadn't been for me. My teammates were really nice--they seemed genuinely excited about being second. I put a good face on (I think), but in reality I was deeply disappointed and demoralized. When I'm on a team, I want to contribute, not be dead weight.

I don't know if this attitude will be a plus or a minus in my Boston effort. On the one hand, no one can do the work to help me qualify but me, so perhaps it's good that I prefer the lone wolf approach. But on the other hand, I know there's a defensiveness about it that won't serve me well. I know I need advice and support. And I know I need to be willing to accept failure, public failure, and bounce back from it without bitterness.

Which brings me to the holiday weekend's race report. I ran the Turley's Turkey Trot 5K last Thursday less as a race and more as a fun way to get the day's scheduled tempo miles in (and burn some calories before the afternoon meal). It was right across the street from our condo complex at CU's Potts Field, so I just walked over there and started my warm-up mile. My chip time was 26:01; my official time was 26:16. Though I stuck to my planned pace and didn't push it, I was still disappointed that I didn't go faster. I hope that time isn't what I will see in this weekend's Colder Bolder.

Food report: Pumpkin pie was consumed, but I'm hanging on. It's been hard. I did do the "half your plate is veggies" thing at Thanksgiving dinner, but Thanksgiving Day was also Dan's birthday. Dan is a guy who, most of the year, eats exactly the way all of us should: he eats slowly and stops before he's full, he avoids sweets and eating out and he genuinely prefers healthy food to unhealthy. But on his birthday, he asks every year for one of those trans-fat-laden grocery store white cakes with the grout-thick white icing, and feasts on it for a week. So I've had that thing in my house since Friday. I've managed to mostly avoid it by eating a lot of sugar-free popsicles. But I'm glad he finished it off last night, easing the sweets pressure....until the kids' birthday on Dec.'s always something with me and food.....

On tap this week: my second meeting with Martha the nutritionist and of course the Colder Bolder 5K on Saturday. I'm hoping the little funk I'm in will end once I realize, as I always do a day or so after a fun holiday weekend, that getting back to the routine really isn't so horrible. And unlike the Turkey Trot, my race this weekend will be run on two full days of rest preceded by two days of easy workouts. Don't fail me, training!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Delusions of Grandeur

The Colder Bolder, the 5K race I am hoping to run well in two weeks, has a clever pitch. They place runners in heats based on their finishing times at last May's Bolder Boulder 10K, setting up the tantalizing presumption that anyone in the heat can cross the finish line first, because we all finished the longer race around the same time. "You can win this race!" the postcard they send you proclaims.

I had a great 10-mile run on Saturday. My average pace was 9:13, with an 8:24 for the last (downhill) mile. The last 2.5 miles were on campus at the University of Colorado on the Colder Bolder course, which starts downhill, features a couple of steep-ish climbs in miles one and two, and then, for the last mile, reverts to downhill and finally flat. I felt so good at the end of this run that I started to wonder, "Could I, who have never won a running event outright in my life, actually do that in this race? Could I walk away with one of the coveted Snowman trophies?"

Ah, runner's high and the daydreaming it spawns!

History, alas, suggests that despite the marketing I am not going to win. My heat is for 54:00-55:59 Bolder finishers. I looked at the top three Colder Bolder finishing times for that heat for the last four years, and in each case the winning runner has finished under 22 minutes. Looking at the top three times, I do think, should I have a very good day (as in sub-24 minutes), I might crack the top three. But as I said, it would have to be a *very* good day. (I actually looked at the finishing times for all of the heats and found that the winners were consistently much faster than their BB times predict. Maybe they run the BB with their elementary school kid or their aging parent? Such sandbagging!)

So given that the glorious victory is just a fantasy, what will my strategy in the race be? Well, the last 5K I ran where I was happy with my time was the Flat Out 5K in May, which I ran in 25:22, an 8:14 pace. So I plan to try to equal that pace on the first mile of this one, beat it on the second and really smoke it on the last mile. I'd love to see a number with a 7 in front of it for that last one. An average pace of 8 minutes a mile would give me a 24:51. So that's what I'm making my goal. And I recognize that, though it would represent progress for me, it won't be a top three finish.

Maybe next year.... :^)

Meanwhile, just in time for Thanksgiving, I'm going to be working more on my eating. The Nancy Clark guide for marathoners arrived yesterday, so I'll make it my evening reading this week. My biggest problem is clearly planning. When I plan, I do well. When I don't, disaster ensues. This happened yesterday, when I failed to plan for my lunch at work (I work Sundays), and found myself en route with only ten minutes to spare before my noon start time and no lunch to eat ahead of three hours on the reference desk. I got to work and snarfed down one of those horrible noodle cups from the vending machine and a peanut butter cookie someone brought in--and that was my decidedly non-marathoner lunch. Gotta do better than that.

With Thanksgiving on the horizon, and my family's plan to hit a local restaurant buffet for the big meal, I'm hoping to put one of my nutritionist, Martha's, concrete pieces of advice into practice: fill half of my plate with veggies and fruits, one quarter with protein and the other quarter with "good" carbs like brown rice or sweet potatoes. I will try (but can't promise) not to go back for seconds. And I will run the Turkey Trot 5K or its equivalent that morning before the pumpkin pie makes its tempting appearance.

What am I thankful for this year? My and my children's (so far, fingers crossed) good health. My running, which even when not fast makes me feel so good. My wonderful family, who all make me laugh, especially my awesome husband. The roof over my head, the paycheck in my pocket, the beautiful place I live (purple mountain majesty!) and the people who inspire me.

Just two more hard workouts in the 5K plan, and then things start easing up ahead of the race. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Food Post

I'm lucky that at the moment I have no dysfunctional relationships with people (unless you count the odd library patron here and there). I love my parents, siblings and in-laws. My husband is my best friend. I have lots of friends, including a fellow twin mom who gets up at 5:30 a.m. once every week to hike or spin with me, and a college roommate with whom I can pick it right back up where we left off even though we're thousands of miles apart now. I like my co-workers. I go to a great church.

But there is one dysfunctional relationship in my life. It's been there since puberty, with ups and downs. That is my relationship with food and, by extension, my own body. Somewhere along the line, I started to eat for more than just the ordinary pleasure of satisfying a biological and social need. I eat too fast. I eat too much. Food is my first thought when I become bored, anxious or celebratory. I crave sweets. I have trouble limiting eating to set, planned times of day.

The result? I have never been lean, and I haven't liked my body since I was ten years old.

Now before the protective watchers of body image chastise me, I will say that I know I am not fat. I have running to thank for that. Living sedentary is good for at least another 20 pounds on me, as I found out when my time in the Peace Corps ended with five weeks of limbo at a hotel in China where the only things to do were eat and watch pirated DVDs and wonder in a depressed fashion if the Russians were going to renew our visas (they did not). When I came home from that experience, I weighed somewhere around 150 pounds, the most I've ever weighed in my non-pregnant life. Starting to run again is what got me back to normal.

But my normal isn't good enough for Boston. A classic pear shape, I still carry too much fat in too many places (more places since I entered my late thirties and had my kids). I remember visiting a New York City gynecologist, who weighed me at the beginning of the appointment and, with raised eyebrows, asked "Where do you put it all?" and then once the clothes came off, said, "Oh, you have heavy hips and thighs." When I first met my husband's ultimate frisbee friends, one of them told me how great it was that Dan had chosen a "normal-sized girlfriend" this time (his prior girlfriend was a size 2 or so, with the kind of colt-like legs I have always envied; I did not take being "normal-sized" in this context as a compliment and remember trying not to sound sour when I thanked her).

At five feet six-and-a-half inches and around 137 pounds, I'm still carrying 10 pounds of baby weight and have an out-of-control sweet tooth. When I ran NYC five years ago, I hovered between 125 and 130 pounds. To qualify for Boston, it's safe to say I need to be 10 pounds below that.

This is the scariest part of my Boston quest for me. When it comes to food, I'm like St. Augustine: "Lord, help me to be good...but not yet." My hope is that it's possible not to entirely give up the occasional piece of pumpkin pie, the odd ice cream cone, pieces here and there of good French bread and still get to the weight I need to be. But my fear is that that is not possible, not for me, and that I will have to cut out all of that stuff entirely, because I can't have just a little--I'm an all or nuthin' kinda gal when it comes to food indulgences.

This morning, I met with Martha, a dietician working with the Boulder Rec Centers where I get a free membership thanks to my job at the library. I was armed with a three-day food diary (full of indulgences) and stats about my cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar (all good). I had also told her in advance about my Boston goal.

I was with her for more than an hour. She was upbeat, recommending two books by Nancy Clark (her general sports nutrition book and her food guide for marathoners). I will definitely get these through the library and, if they are working for me, will buy them. Martha also said that I don't need to diet given the amount that I exercise, but she feels that small tweaks amounting to 250 calories less a day will help me gradually get my weight down. Such tweaks, she thought, could include less guacamole when I get a Chipotle burrito; higher fiber cereals at breakfast (Wheat Chex and Cheerios don't have enough fiber; I was surprised!); and a smaller sized latte. She also wants me to have a little protein with every meal and snack. I'm also going to practice better meal planning, especially for my lunches and snacks at work and dinners.

We're going to attack my cravings and sweet tooth issue at our next meeting, on Dec. 7 (after the Colder Bolder). For now, she thinks I should try the out-of-sight out-of-mind strategy with things like my kids' Halloween candy. I will do my best!

Changing my diet, I know, will be hard and slow. But it's important. It's a sub-goal that has a finish line and a ticket to Logan Airport attached to it.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Light Turbulence: Sick Kid, Sore Feet and Eating Issues

On Saturday morning, as planned, I ran a slow half-marathon, the Highlands Ranch Backcountry Wilderness 1/2 Marathon. Slow meant slow: 2:31:08, a half-hour slower than I ran the Boulder Half last month. But there was no disappointment this time, because I did it on purpose. The course, though I wouldn't really call it backcountry (more like undeveloped suburbia), was super hilly the entire way, and featured about four miles of rugged single-track. I ran it with my friend Kathy, and we took walk breaks every four minutes for the first half, slowing down even more during the second half and especially in the single-track portion, when the rocks and scree started to get to her bum knee. She sent me off during the last two miles, and thanks to all the walking, I was able to clock an 8:27 for the last one. I felt great. It was exactly what I wanted in the day's training run: proof that I could still tackle the distance, and no soreness (with one caveat to that, which I'll get to below).

I am a big believer in walk breaks. This isn't to say that I am a believer that I could qualify for Boston while taking them (though Jeff Galloway and others do believe that). What I believe about them is that, once this goal is accomplished, walk breaks will be my way of ensuring that I can continue to enjoy beautiful long runs like Saturday's for the rest of my life. If it's the experience, and not your time, that you care about, I wholeheartedly recommend walking during your runs. You will be both fit and happy, and you will rarely be sore.

Saturday's race almost didn't happen. The day before, my daughter Ruthie got sick to her stomach. We weren't sure if she had caught a bug, eaten something bad or just gotten herself worked up. I was prepared to bag my race plan, and even called Kathy to say I might not be coming down. Fortunately, Ruth recovered enough by the time Dan got home from work that it was clear I would be able to go. But the uncertainty, I realized, was something I need to get used to.

Something I'm also getting used to (and this is the soreness caveat mentioned above) is a pain in my right foot. Since having my kids, I've had a mild-ish bunion on that foot, and a vague soreness on the ball between the second and third toes. During my training for the Boulder Half, the soreness got worse. And after my 10-miler a week ago and again after yesterday's race, it was the worst ever. It felt like I was stepping on a marble. I've decided to see a podiatrist about it (and the bunion--might as well cover it all while I'm spending the money!). My fear is that I will be told to stop running for a while. Cross your fingers that this doesn't happen! I am one grumpy person when I can't run.

The other thing coming up this week is that I have an appointment with a nutritionist on Tuesday. I have told her that weight loss for running faster is my goal, and I will dutifully bring in a food diary with three days worth of my inconsistent meals and snacks recorded. I have paid for three further meetings with her, so I'm hoping that being held accountable for my eating habits will help me (finally) change them. I hope she won't be one of those kind folks in the medical and health fields who praises my "normal" weight and pegs me as a closet anorexic for wanting to shed some of it. I am not and never have been even close to anorexic. I really like eating. It's just that I need to channel my liking for good food into a healthier relationship with it that supports my body image and my running. Stay tuned for more on this after the appointment.

P.S. Congrats to my cousin Zach, who ran a 1:44:11 in a half-marathon in Riverside, CA. That's 7:57 per mile! Another source of hope: I share part of his gene pool.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Mountain Standard Time

On Sunday morning, 6:30 a.m. became 5:30 a.m. This made it easier for me to wake up for my 10-miler....and harder to sneak out.

Now that cooler weather is here and I'm training for a 5K instead of something longer, I don't always have to get up this early for my long runs. But since I ran Sunday instead of Saturday this weekend, and I take my kids to church on Sunday, I had to get it done before that. So it was briefly back to the crack-of-dawn alarm. The crack of dawn, though, wasn't as early as it had been the prior weekend. And that meant a possible encounter in the dark house...with one of my kids.

My son, Will, is one of those children who hate to miss anything. If Dan and I are talking about something he doesn't understand, he'll ask "what?" and "why?" questions until he's satisfied (or until we temporarily fool him into thinking he's satisfied). In the morning when he wakes up, he flings his bedroom door open like Henry the 8th shoving aside the heavy wooden portals of the palace, as if to announce, "Here I am! What have you been doing without me?" (Usually nothing, as we are usually in bed.)

So when I get up early to run, I creep around like a cat burglar in my own house, fearful of waking him (and therefore my husband, and probably our daughter, Ruthie, too--Ruthie's like her mother; she likes her sleep). And since the clock switch meant my running hour was closer to Will's natural wake-up time of the past months, it meant more of a chance that his active, rousing little mind would put two and two together should he hear any noises in the hall.

The mud room, through which door I exit, is literally right across a narrow creaky hall from Will's room. So I get dressed in our bathroom, eat my banana and drink my water in there too, and only when I'm ready for the final step (shoes, iPod, exit) do I slide down the hall in socked feet with the lights out, avoiding the creaky places, easing the mudroom door knob down, easing the door open, easing the knob back up--and only then allowing myself to turn on the light.

The light makes me nervous even with the door closed. I heard somewhere that the human eye can sense a mere one photon of light. Dan, who is a physicist, tells me this isn't true. But there's a lot more than one photon coming under the mudroom door crack, and if any eyeball can sense them and their meaning, it's Will's. And if Will catches me in the act of departing, as he's done twice now, it means delays and more work for his sleepy dad (who is *not* a morning person like the rest of us!).

So once I'm in there, I wriggle into my shoes and anything else I haven't put on in the bathroom (gloves? hat?), taking care not to stand in front of the dryer--the floor is *very* creaky in that spot. Then I carefully, slowly, nervously open the door to the garage and close it quickly. Only then am I free to really contemplate the run ahead.

Happily, Sunday morning brought no appearance from Will (though Dan told me he emerged about ten minutes after I left--whew!), and the run after the sneaking was gorgeous. The sun was pinking the clouds as I started, and as I scaled Baseline Hill, it turned the still-colorful autumn leaves a mixture of gold and burgundy. A chilly breeze blew. All of my senses were tingling. I felt grateful for this, as it will probably be my last early morning run for a while.

My plan for the next year has solidified now to the point that I can share it. My design right now is to train for all of my races using the FIRST program, designed by exercise scientists at Furman University and billed as especially good for people who have a lot of other things going on in their lives but want to run faster. My race plan goes like this (getting less and less specific as I go out in time):

December 4--my next target race, the Colder Bolder 5K; I am deviating from the FIRST program only in that I'm keeping my weekend run at 10 miles or longer instead of reducing to seven or eight mile weekends, so as not lose my half-marathon endurance. Next weekend I will do a half-marathon trail race in Highlands Ranch, and I plan to do it slowly, taking walk breaks a la Galloway. I also plan to do a Turkey Trot 5K on Thanksgiving (if I can get a sitter, as Dan will be picking his mom and stepdad up at the airport), but I won't run that fast either. I'll try to save my speed (such as it is!) for Dec. 4.

March 27--the Boulder Spring Half-Marathon. My goal? To beat two hours, hopefully blast through it. Looking at the FIRST speed workouts and tempo runs is scary, but at least it won't be hot training for it. I *hate* hot weather.

Interlude: run the Bolder Boulder 10K with my dad, who hasn't run it before. In fact, I don't think he's done an organized road race. I think he'll be hooked once he's done it, and running with him again will be SO FUN. I won't worry about my time in the least.

June--an as-yet un-chosen marathon, with sub-4 hours as my goal. Hopefully wherever it is, it won't be hot.

October 1--my first (probably not last) attempt to qualify for Boston, hopefully at the St. George Marathon, if I can get in (yes, there's a lottery for that one!). It's got lots of downhill portions, and it's not horribly far from here.

So there it is: my agenda for the next year! Just reading it makes me feel good. Like all nerds, I enjoy homework.

Monday, November 1, 2010

What I've Got Going for Me

On Saturday morning I ran 10 miles and felt great doing it. And I felt great later, too, though I really wanted a nap and didn't get one (see prior post with mention of small children and their effect on sleep). I wore my current favorite shirt, an orange one that has a picture of a snail and says, "Feeling a bit slow. Run anyway." Not that I want to feel or look slow, but I feel there's a humility in the sentiment that will serve me well when setbacks occur--and give me an added feeling of triumph when something goes unexpectedly well.

Which leads me to the topic of what I've got in my favor as I embark on this perilous quest. It looks paltry compared to the obstacles, but I'll take all the assets I can get.

First some practical matters:

--I'm starting off with decent endurance. Though I didn't run my half-marathon last month as fast as I wanted to, it ensured that I now see 10 miles as an easy long run, a springboard for building up to the longer and longer runs (20-miles plus) that will be necessary once I launch my marathon training. My intermediary goal, because I don't expect to qualify on my first try, will be to beat 4 hours (date as yet unchosen, but June 2011 is my initial thought).

--I am not afraid of speed training (puke-inducing laps on the track) or hills. Trucking up Baseline Hill toward Chautauqua park in Boulder--a steep hill that's nearly 3/4 of a mile long--is now a routine part of my Saturday, as is running the gritty Mesa Trail. Right now I am focusing on the 5K, training for the Colder Bolder on Dec. 4 and hoping to get my time in this speed contest back into the range it typically was before I got pregnant (anywhere between 23 and 24 minutes would put me over the moon, and anything under 25 minutes will be progress). I know hills and speedwork are key to this. Ultimately, a little more speed will also be important to my Boston effort.

--I train at altitude but will run my attempts to qualify at (or closer to) sea level. This doesn't make as big a difference as you might suspect, but hopefully, combined with the aforementioned hills and speedwork, my extra red blood cells will help me come race day(s).

--Knock on wood, I am not easily injured. One good thing about having been a teenage couch potato is that I am not saddled with muscles that have been twingy since 10th grade or tender spots where surgery was performed on my joints. I've spent exactly four nights in a hospital (not counting my own birth), and those were one for a premature labor scare and three following my C-section. Aside from that C-section, the only surgery I've been through was the insertion of tubes in my ears at age nine. It's true that, while I am in better aerobic shape now than I was at 18, I can tell my body isn't as springy and lithe as it once was. But (and please let me stay lucky this way!) the only real chronic pain I deal with is in my lower back, a hangover from pregnancy-weakened abs and carrying toddlers on my left hip. Running actually makes it feel better.

And now some psychological factors:

--Other people who bill themselves as average runners have done this. Check out this blog. Her best marathon time prior to embarking on her quest was 4:16:52, almost three minutes slower than mine. Her first few attempts failed. But she finished by blasting through her qualifying time with 12 or so minutes of cushion--inspiring! Granted, she hired a coach to help her along, something I patently can't afford, and her marathon efforts weren't interrupted by pregnancy. But her story gives me hope. (Her diet scares me a little, but as I've said, that's a whole post of its own some other time.)

--I have lots of support from my family and friends. My husband, Dan, is a runner, and he understands my obsession and gives good, realistic advice. Unlike me, he ran cross-country in high school, so he knows about race strategy and toughness. I know a lot of other runners, too, who will offer sympathy and advice.

--Boulder is a fantastic running town, with lots of races, specialty running stores and running groups like the one I joined in Houston all those years ago. There are trails, roads, and tracks at my disposal. The vibe is pro-runner and literally "pro" runner. You see a lot of sponsored athletes around here, amazing fit specimens; the gold medalist in the last Olympic Marathon lives in a nearby town. I try to let this be inspiring instead of intimidating.

So do those advantages outweigh the obstacles I described in the last post? I'm going to keep putting one foot in front of the other until the big four-oh, by which time we'll have the answer.

Monday, October 25, 2010

What I'm Up Against

People often describe the Boston Marathon as the Olympics for amateurs. I can't remember where I first heard that, but it's apt. Only about 10% of female marathon finishers and 10.7% of male ones qualify, according to another blogging runner's estimate.

To qualify, you have to run a marathon within the 18 months ahead of your target Boston date and beat the time standard established by the marathon's parent organization, the Boston Athletic Association, for your age group on the date of your target Boston (you get all that???). If I want to qualify for my current age group, 35 to 39 years old, I must meet or beat 3 hours 45 minutes. To qualify for the next oldest age group, 40 to 44, I must meet or beat 3 hours 50 minutes. In both cases, that's around a full 30 minutes, or about a minute a mile, faster than my best time set five years ago in New York. And according to one calculator, my recent half-marathon time predicts a 4 hour 19 minute marathon. Obviously *that* won't cut the mustard!

As if all that's not tough enough, there has been much publicity lately, some of it in my old employer, the Wall Street Journal, about the women's qualifying standards being too lenient compared to those for men. So it may get tougher before all's said and done.

And that's just the objective stuff!

The subjective stuff--personal issues of mine--could fill a book, a long and whiney book that I hope never to write. I'll just summarize it here, and expect to return to some of it in later posts (hopefully with "I came, I saw, I conquered" stories).

1. I am lazy and self-indulgent! I like running, but it's safe to say that I like sleeping more, while eating (especially counterproductive food like Reeses Peanut Butter Cups) goes neck-and-neck with running in every "how I like to spend my time" contest. Luckily, wanting and needing lots of sleep is good for a marathoner. The food thing...not so much, but I'll address that in another post down the road.

2. I have other more immediate responsibilities. I have two small children who, I'm happy to say, no longer cry when I leave for a run and actually root for my running, but also do inconvenient things like get sick, interfering with training schedules and that key 8 hours of nightly sleep. I also have a job where--get this!--I'm expected to show up at certain times and stay for a certain amount of time (30 hours a week, to quantify). I realize having both children I love and a job I like and that requires no overtime makes me extremely lucky. But those things do mean I can't always go spend three hours running when that's what needs to be done for my goal.

3. I lack grit. This probably goes along with being lazy, and it's true of lots of areas of my life. What does this mean? In the case of running, it means there has been many a race where I gave in to the negative voices in my head ("your legs are dead; slow down;" "the headache is setting in; you didn't drink enough water; it's over now;" "these hills are huge") rather than doing what the elites do: call upon some inner strength to power them past the tough times. Grit is something I know I *must* develop if I am to succeed in getting past all the other stuff above, the objective and the subjective things. And while I find many comparisons between running and life cheesy, I do think that developing some grit will serve me well in other times and places (see above about sick children and lack of sleep!).

So that's what I'm up against.

Next post: what I've got going for me. Fortunately it's not nothing. :^)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

End of the Introduction (I Promise)

Pregnancy threw me for a loop. My original plan was to run through it until it was no longer helpful or comfortable. In the earliest weeks, I did just that, sticking with a relay team I had joined (my leg was 10K) and doing short runs on other days. Though I got out of breath quickly and slowed considerably, running helped me with nausea and kept my spirits level. But when I found I had two babies in there, I did what no pregnant woman should do: I checked out every book and visited every Web site I could find. One particularly scary book said that I needed to stop the running, because twins are "high-risk," and gain at least 50 pounds. I didn't run again until the spring of 2007 and, to a pound, I gained that recommendation. My twins were born by C-section, small and early but healthy, in December 2006.

All that worry about exercise now seems foolish to me. Of course I can't say how things would have been had I continued to run, and if staying sedentary helped my babies, it was the right thing to do. But my gut feeling now is that they would have been healthy anyway, and my mental health post-partum would certainly have been better had I kept on running.

Water under the bridge. The fact was, I was back to beginner status.
So I ran and walked, ran and walked, gradually increasing the running portions and decreasing the walking. In September 2007, I ran my first post-baby race, a 5K, in 29:09, nearly 7 minutes slower than my height-of-NYC-prep PR of 22:34. I did what I could, despite fragmented sleep, babies-becoming-toddlers and a pesky 10 to 15 pounds of weight that I couldn't shake. My best race was the 2009 Bolder Boulder 10K, completed in 53:24. But last year, my kids' first in pre-school, brought lots of illness, more lost sleep and difficulty sticking to a training schedule. My 2010 Bolder Boulder time last May was 2 minutes slower than the prior year. And I failed to break 2 hours in my last race, the Boulder Half-Marathon (chip time was 2:04:44).

What else can I do but aim higher? Plenty of people improve their running (often by quite a bit!) while also raising children, maintaining a healthy marriage and holding down a job. My kids are now almost four. My husband is supportive. I think there's room for marathon training in my life. What I need is a plan.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Introduction Part 2

I'll never forget the summer and fall leading up to the January marathon, my first. I would rise in the dark pre-dawn hours and drive to Houston's Memorial Park. Each Saturday I ran further than I'd ever run before. I specifically remember the 11-miler, which brought my first emergency trip to the Port-o-John, and the 20-miler, which we did in four five-or-so mile loops and were later told was more like 22 miles. I remember drinking water out of gas station hoses, and I remember the pea-soup thick humidity soaking my cotton shirts by the end of each run. I remember running into Eric, who I'd gone to college with, and how he became my first running partner since my days running with Dad. We'd meet up mid-week to do the "hill" workout (such as it was in hill-free Houston). On Saturdays he was with a faster group than I was, but we always hung out together afterward to stretch.

Marathon Day itself dawned chilly and rainy, the 24-degree temperature unusual for Houston even in January. I wore a garbage bag for the first half of the race, and lined up some friends to meet me with dry shoes and socks at around mile 16. My dad was there too. I was already pretty tired, and I remember my friend with the shoes saying, "Just hold onto your dad. We'll get your shoes and socks on you." The last six miles were a sodden slog, but I crossed the finish line in 5 hours 26 seconds. I had no clothing to change into, so it didn't take long for me to start shivering violently. Some friends drove me home and got me into a hot shower. For a week I had to go downstairs backwards. The next year, I helped pace Eric at the end of his second marathon, but I didn't run another one myself for 8 and a half years.

I didn't stop running, though. Running carried me through many other adventures. I moved to New York and, after an unhappy breakup and weight gain, joined the New York Road Runners and ran a race every month. I met my husband by asking him on the dance floor at a wedding if he was a runner. I joined the Peace Corps and ran in Far East Russia. I moved back to the states, this time to Colorado, got married to the runner from the dance floor, got used to running in the altitude slowly and decided to try the marathon again. I entered the lottery for the NYC Marathon, which I had watched but never ran while I lived there, and surprisingly was chosen. The resulting training season was even more memorable than my first. I used a Jeff Galloway run/walk plan. Galloway calls for *very* long slow runs on alternate weekends, so I actually entered and ran one marathon to train for the goal marathon (and despite run/walking, I beat my Houston time by 12 minutes in that training race). Two weeks later I ran three legs totaling 20 miles for a team in a 24-hour mountain relay. The Galloway plan also calls for lots of 5Ks as speed tests. As my training progressed, I began to place in my age group in some of them.

The weather for my day in New York--the 2005 running of the race--was the opposite of that in Houston. It was warm, in the 70s, and slightly muggy. I knew I wouldn't be able to make my goal of finishing under four hours. I joined the 4 hour 15 minute pace group and finished in 4 hours 14 minutes, a 40-minute PR. After we crossed the finish line, the pace group leader, a steady woman whose rhythm never faltered, asked me what my next goal was. I told her we now planned to have a baby. Though already I was thinking of Boston, I didn't tell her that.

Five months later, I was pregnant with twins.


Not saying your goals out loud is safe. It's a way to keep from really committing to them, so that if you fail, no one but you knows or cares. Stating a goal aloud or in writing, however, makes a commitment to achieving it real. That's one reason I got married when my husband and I could have gone on living together: stating a commitment in front of a group of people you love and whose opinions you value sets it in stone (at least that's how it works for me).

This blog is my public commitment to the intimidating-and-perhaps-impossible goal of someday qualifying for the Boston Marathon.

I took up running because I thought I wanted to go to the Naval Academy, where my grandfather went, and everyone told me you needed to be athletic to go there. I wasn't athletic. I remember hiding under the bench during soccer practice so I wouldn't have to be goalie, or halfback (too much running), or whatever. I limped through one lap on the track and dreaded the annual physical fitness tests in PE at school (in fact, I hated PE altogether). Adolescence, and too many Dairy Queen Peanut Buster parfaits, made me chubby. But I thought the Naval Academy was cool. And I thought my friend Angela, whose entire family ran, was cool. Angela was skinny and athletic. I thought maybe running could make me that too.

So with my dad, I started heading out to the MKT, a former railroad track converted into a miles-long trail. Starting when I was about 12 until I graduated from high school, he and I knocked out two flat miles every other evening. I didn't get faster (a brief flirtation with the high school cross country team was a flat failure for me), and I changed my mind about the Naval Academy somewhere along the line, but the running and a 4-inch growth spurt did help make me skinnier and I kept running, often with my bulky Sony Walkman playing the tape of Paul Simon's Graceland in one sweaty palm. Once I got to college, I ramped it up to 3 miles at a time (that was the distance of the dirt loop around campus), and the summer after college let myself be talked into my first-ever race, the Advil Mini-Marathon 10K in Central Park, NY. I enjoyed the crowd of that all-female race, but after I moved to Houston that fall I stuck to my easy three-mile loops. And that's where I was, when one day in 1996 a co-worker told me that if you could run three miles, you could run a marathon.

Even after I started to run, I had always written marathons off as the province of crazy people (like Angela's older brother, who ran one when he was 12, the same age I was still downing Dairy Queen on a weekly basis). My officemate, though fit, wasn't crazy. He had joined a training group that organized its members by ability and gave them a plan for all their workouts. The group assembled itself early every Saturday morning for the really long runs, so you had a crowd of fellow sufferers to run these with. I had thought running groups were only for the Angelas of the world, fast talented people seeking to compete. The idea of a non-competitive group really grabbed me. The next year I joined up and began training for my first marathon. I was 23 years old.

To be continued......