Saturday, May 26, 2018

The Mental Game

Last we spoke, me and running weren't on the best terms. My legs took much longer than expected to regain any sort of life after the Illinois Half Marathon. The following weekend, I cut my long run short and couldn't even consider trying to run the workout. ALL runs for almost 2 weeks were "recovery runs." My legs had hit a wall and needed some serious rest. 

Speedy and I agreed that my body needed to be reset. True RnR. No active recovery in the pool or on the bike. No running. For 3 whole days. It was... miserable.

Ryan's response after I told him how bad my long run was the week after Illinois

I did what I was told. I came home from work and twiddled my thumbs. I cleaned my house. I went to Wrigley Field one night (because come onnnnnn a girl's gotta do something with all her free time!) I got multiple massages. I made sure to give my hamstring some extra TLC. My left hamstring might not have been an issue on race day, but I could definitely tell it was more tired/tight/sore than my right hamstring at all times. I've sat in my boots more than ever this past month. I recently invested in a tens unit that has turned into a true Godsend. After I used my mother's tens unit a few weeks ago, I was sold on how well it triggered deep into my muscle. It's so simple really, but it took so long for me to put the pieces together. It's safe to say that I zap my leg back to reality about once a day now.

A little shock to the system never hurt no one ;)

Last weekend my legs were FINALLY ale to pull out 16 miles and nail the workout at the same time. It wasn't a struggle to hold my steady pace. My legs didn't fight me. I felt fluid. I felt smooth. I felt like I could have set the cruise control Three weeks post Illinois Half Marathon, it's about fricken' time. If only you knew how much I needed that run, mentally.

I'm about to head out the door for my biggest training run in almost 2 years, 20 miles with a workout mixed in. To say I'm not nervous would be a lie. My body has been through alot recently. So has my mind. And double digit mileage is usually when the body starts to really break down. But there's something about breaking that 20 mile barrier that can really mess with your head.

What endurance athletes do best

The glycogen storage is depleted around mile 20. Your body starts running off of fat instead of glucose (because your glucose is damn near gone) at mile 20. And your mind... your mind starts to play tricks on you. It's been said by many runners, the marathon doesn't even start until you finish your 20 mile warmup. Combine that with the lack of glucose in your body you best hope that the voice between your ears keeps your legs moving at the rate you can only pray for.

But Megan, you've run 20 miles so many times! So many races, so many Ironman's, so many training runs! Right... but I've never cared about the clock as much as I do this time around.


I like where my mental space is at at the moment. Which is why I wanted to make sure I told the world about this daunting workout I'm about to do. I want you all to keep me accountable. Ask me about the run. Text me. Call me. Message me. Demand the truth about the run. Because as of today we're officially 3 weeks away from Grandma's, and I need all of my spare thoughts and energy to be focused on this race.


Thursday, May 10, 2018

The Ugly Truth

I've spent the last almost 2 weeks debating on whether or not I should write about this race. Reliving it crushes my spirit a little bit each time, so the thought of creating something concrete where the memory will live forever.. stings a little. And everytime I sit down to try, I find "something better to fill my time with."

But the truth is, I am able. I am willing. And I'll be damned if I'm gonna let one bad day win the mental game.

Highlight of the day: watching these 2 have amazing races!!
Going into Illinois, my head space was as clear as it could be. I had put in the work. My long runs had all been pretty on point. I was nailing my weekday workouts on the road. Recovery was going well.. up until the weekend before.

I had a nagging tender hamstring/IT band after the last long run going into race weekend. Nothing to be nervous about. Just a longer than normal recovery. I paid extra attention to my legs during race week, including a deep tissue massage and a cut back on mileage to make sure everything was ready to go. And on top of this, I am the adult that has acquired allergies as they go through life. My first experience happened about a month prior to Illinois. My 2nd experience? Illinois Half Marathon race week, of course. I pretty much bought stock in Allegra and popped those pills like candy to keep as much phlegm out of my lungs and sinuses as possible going into race day. It seemed to do the trick, so long as I overlapped the medicine dosage juuuuust a tad. Surprisingly, neither of these 2 reasons are why I had such a bad race on race day.

I rolled off of my air mattress at Beth and Jordan's new house at approximately 4:55am and started my pre-race routine. Banana. Coffee. English muffin with peanut butter. Let the magic happen. Get dressed. And ready to go. The college crew had relaxed over the years and they didn't seem as antsy as I was to get to the race site, so I hopped in the car and told them I'd see them there. {Turned out to be the best decision. Beth, Jordan, and Brian left about 10 minutes after me and barely made the start of the race. Yikes}

I parked the car and met up with Jacqui (who was considered an Elite so had her own little private room in the iHotel) and we took off for a short little warm up together. We both got a little reminiscent as we ran through familiar parts of town and eventually spotted the track. Jacqui competed on that track in college while I admired her. I still couldn't help but be a tad emotional.

Perfect morning at the Alma Mater!
I made my way to the starting corrals after I dropped my bag off and let myself relax as much as possible. At one point I turned my head and looked straight ahead of me and I was practically face to face with Tatyana McFadden. She was an arms length in front of me as she wheeled into position for the start of her race. My jaw dropped as I admired the broadness of her shoulders and enormity of her upper body strength. Anything you've seen on TV or in pictures doesn't do her physique justice in person. The women is truly a machine. 

The head wind was coming in from the North, but being short in a corral full of tall, thin men has it's advantages. I tucked in behind the 3:05 pace group because all of the men seemed to hide me from the wind pretty well. The national anthem played and before I knew it, we were off. 

I came out of the gates and knew instantly the pace was to fast. I dialed it back right away and choked back a lump in my throat as a I ran under the American flag, hung on the corner of 1st and Kirby by 2 fire trucks, ladders fully extended. It's a site that I'll never forget. And one of my favorite parts of this entire race. I got comfortable and started to glance around me. Where are all the women? I don't understand. Shortly after I began to wonder, I saw looked up and saw that I hadn't quite gotten rid of the 3:05 pace group like I had planned on. I was  cruisin' with all the 18-34 year old men trying to BQ. Of course you're the only female in this group Megan. I passed my old apartment on 1st and Daniel and immediately my watch beeped. 7:13. A few seconds faster than I'd hoped for, but onto the next mile. 

We turned right onto Green St. and into the sunshine and I was hoping I'd be in my groove at this point in the race. I was maining the 7:15-7:20 pace I needed, but every single step felt HARD. I convinced myself I wasn't completely warmed up yet and by mile 3 I'd be ready to cruise. 

SIDENOTE: Running down Green St. had me all sorts of nostalgic. Station? Ummmm how does anyone get in that bar right now? Construction practically up to the front door and you have to climb dirt mounds just to get in. Can you imagine that place around midnight on a Saturday night? Then Starbucks. Nowadays, I cruise through a Starbucks drivethru and walk away with a black hot coffee. I ran by this Starbucks and instantly I had memories of Vanilla Lattes with books on books during study groups. I could practically taste the Vanilla syrup. Rob's old apartment building. 309 E. Green St tower. Back in the day, the only highrise in town. Now... 1 among many. Gameday Spirit seemed to have received a facelift as well. Once we hit Green and Wright St, the construction hit once again and we were taken to 1 lane. Wow, this could get crowded farther back in the packs. Hell, how do 2 cars drive on this section of Green St!? It's gotta be a 1 way right here! 

Thankfully I had enough to distract me during mile 2, so my 7:17 didn't feel quite as labored. But once we hit Urbana, my struggle set back in. I cruised through the streets of downtown Urbana and honestly, everything is kind of a blur. At one point I remember around mile 4 or 5 I got passed by Abe Lincoln. Yes, that's correct. A man dress like Honest Abe passed me. A few times throughout the streets of Urbana I heard a few "Go RyBread!" cheers. I have no idea where they came from, or who they came from. But they definitely put a hop in my step when I needed it (as short lived as it might have been.) I held pretty strong through mile 7. Once I got to mile 8 (through the park), my legs decided they were done charging. Slowly I dipped into the 7:45 range and held on for a few miles. Everything was a struggle. Breathing. All of it.

Once I exited the park, my spirit was officially broken when I saw a photographer at the top of a small hill and I was doing everything I could to make sure I didn't appear to be walking up the hill. 

Lemme tell ya about this thing called the struggle bus..
I know I've said it a milllion times, that SO much can happen during a race. You can't check out until the finish line. But in this case, I knew for a fact my legs weren't going to let me do what I wanted to do today. I had 4 miles left when I decided to run "comfortable" to the finish line in and effort to save myself from injury. Sometimes, it's best to listen when the body says no. I made my way back onto campus down Race St and then down Pennsylvania and ran by my old dorm. I heard my name around mile 11 from a spectator, a girl that I had ONE class with in college. I looked up, spotted her, and couldn't believe my eyes so let out a small laugh in response. Any other type of response would have required to much energy, 

We made it back to the heart of campus and I saw buildings like The Armory, The Sixpack, and Huff Hall. Nostalgia started to creep back, but this time the effects weren't quite as great. I rounded the corner and took my first steps onto the turf of Memorial Stadium and crossed that finish line in an hour and 42 minutes. 

 Speaks for itself.

If I had felt like I usually do, this guy WOULDN'T have finished ahead of me

All the pain.
I crossed that finish line and had no one. Rob wasn't able to make the trip due to work, Jacqui had finished the race but was likely halfway back to the Elite room, and the rest of my friends were still on the course. I grabbed my medal and a water. I went to gear check and grabbed my bag. And then I sobbed. I sobbed like a baby. I called my parents and my brother and sobbed to them. After all of the hard work I have put in, my body just decided that today wasn't meant for me. I know, it's silly. I ran a very respectable time and for the first 8 miles I ran the race I planned. 

BUT, it never felt smooth in the beginning. 

It never felt fluid. 

Nothing hurt, my hamstring actually felt wonderful. My allergies weren't to bad at all and I actually had both airways available for breathing that morning. 

My breathing never reached that steady rhythm that it usually does.

The weather was perfect, the wind was a bit strong at times but it never lasted to long. 

For whatever reason, I had a day. 

Later on that day I spoke with Ryan. He had just crossed the finish line of IMTX in a blazing 8:17 taking home the Amatuer title. A race of a lifetime, some might call it. I felt like the worst friend in the world, but I cried over the phone to him again. His perfect day ended with my tears and that made me feel even worse. He assured me, "Your fitness is there. It's good that you decided to listen to the body and back off. No, you don't need to race again before Grandma's." And the part that truly hit home was this, "Trust me, I know how frustrating this kind of race is. I have more of these races than any other." You might wonder how in the hell this is possible, the man is practically a machine! But it's all relative. He might be blazing fast, so every race he does looks like a winner in our books. But to him, not quite so. 

It's been a hard adjustment for me this winter. One I didn't quite expect. I knew things would hurt from time to time. I knew I'd be in for some lung burning. But what I didn't expect was to have SUCH disappointing results for this particular race. My body has grown accustomed to SBR {Swim, Bike, Run}, and in that order. My legs sometimes feel foreign to me as I head out for a run that DOESN'T immediately follow a bike ride. But that's not an excuse, I was a runner before I was a triathlete. But, I've learned a thing or 2 from this experience. 
  1. Running BEATS up the body like you wouldn't believe. No, not my knees. Those are still in tact. The little things. Tight muscles need ALL the attention. Foam rolling and time in my Normatec boots is a MUST. And sometimes, actual time away from your running shoes is just what you need. Active recovery isn't always best when your primary focus is to RUN. 
  2. You're going to have more lows than highs in the running world. In triathlon, there are so many different ways your day can go right or wrong. The run is just 1 fraction of that experience. If you have a terrible 1st half of a run, but the rest of your race is flawless, you can still cross that finish line accomplishing whatever goal you set out to do. In the running world, it's Right, Left, Repeat. One thing might go wrong and you have to be DAMN prepared with that mental game....
  3. Which brings me to number 3. Mental. Endurance in general is a mental beast. Trust me, I know. I've crossed 6 Ironman finish lines. But this running thing? Talk about a test. I have less than 50 days before Grandma's marathon and the biggest challenge I have ahead of my lies between my ears. 
I stood at that finish line and watched the first of my friends to cross. I found Beth, squeezed her tight and congratulated her on a fantastic PR! We waited for the rest of our group with smiles on our faces. I wasn't about to let my bad day ruin their great success stories of the day. We continued to enjoy the day outside, soaking up the sun, enjoying each others company, and catching up on life. These are the people I don't get to see nearly enough anymore. But everytime I see them, I'm reminded how MUCH MORE of them I need in my life. 

Brian ran in a 20lb weighted vest to raise money for Miseracordia
Sub 2 hour half!
Great success!
The "short" friends
"Hurry let's get a picture before the tall people finish and make us feel like midgets"
I rest my case.
Once more because 💗
Another sidenote: I took my Normatec boots with me on the trip and of course let everyone use them post-race. I'm not quite sure who enjoyed them more, but the picture below.. it's why I love this girl. 

And to top it off, I gained a couple Bridesmaids that weekend. Jacqui, closest thing to my twin over the last couple of years, said "yes" on the car ride down to Champaign on Friday night. And Beth and Heather, 2 of the worlds greatest college roommates turned best friends turned practically sisters, they agreed to stand next to me the day I say "I do." It was kind of fun and special to be able to ask them that particular weekend. Because exactly 6 years ago on the same weekend (Illinois Marathon weekend), Heather asked both Beth and I to stand for her wedding. I guess you could say it was a little dejavu for sure. 

I still have a lot of work to do before Grandma's. Mentally and physically. A lot can still happen and I know what I've got to do in order to see the success I plan for. Cross all your fingers and your toes, say your prayers, and send me all the good vibes. Because the good Lord knows I'm sure as hell gonna need it come race day.