Sunday, December 31, 2017

2017: Highs and Lows

2017 was a year of high highs and low lows. 

The year started off with a strong and enjoyable training season determined to BQ or Bust after missing my BQ time by 1 min 12 secs before.  I felt great and strong from January-March, then felt some hip flexor soreness and rested a week then hit a very strong final 20 miler with a negative split.  Later that night walking to dinner my quad seized up causing it hurt to walk/run .  I ran zero miles during my 3 week taper and still decided to give my April marathon a shot anyway figuring I had nothing to loose and I always would wonder “what if?”.  Made it 20 miles and then the quad hurt so I walked the final 6 miles.  I didn’t want to risk further injury knowing I wouldn’t make my time goal anyway...but seriously walking 6 miles through the strong desert sun took forever...I would have rather run!  

That injury lingered with me the rest of spring and the whole summer.  I took up a lot of water swims and strength sessions at the gym.  It was frustrating and felt like it was never-ending- always two steps forward, one step back.  

Fall came and I really wanted to do another marathon.  I wrote out a plan and started training lightly but doing runs on back to back days stressed out my quad.  I realized a marathon wouldn’t be in the cards, my leg just wasn’t ready.  I could run but it would take 3 days for the quad to recover. 

I joined Orange Theory Fitness and began going 2x per week which includes treadmill speed intervals.  I truly had no running goals for fall as my mileage was so low.  I had races on the calendar that I had registered for long ago and still decided to run them anyway.  I completely surprised myself with a close to PR 5k, an 8k PR, a 10k PR, a 10 miler personal course record at the Turkey Burnoff, an Annapolis Running Classic Half Marathon personal course record, and a half marathon PR at Richmond!  They felt like they were out of the blue and just what I needed to jump-start my motivation and spark my confidence in myself as a runner again!  

Now it’s winter- my favorite training season and where I had so much fun marathon training last year- but I need to think about myself and my goals.  I want to train for another marathon...having that so close to BQ marathon will always hang over my head but I’m also terrified to train for one again since I got hurt doing so last time and I’m fearful of it happening again.   I think I may just focus on the half this spring and make sub 1:40 be my goal.  I will run with my run group partial distances as they train for Boston.  I feel confident in that goal- but now to make a training plan that incorporates my OTF workouts since I attribute them to my comeback! 

Sunday, May 21, 2017

What Went Wrong This Training Cycle

I had a super strong winter training cycle. 

I registered for the same spring marathon that had gotten me a 3:41:12 in 2016.  I was out for redemption and feeling confident on where I could shave that time to earn my 3:40 BQ.  I started a bit earlier than usual (just after Christmas) and hooked up with a great group of runners who were all qualified and training to run Boston this year.  It was a fantastic fit for me and our long runs kept me at a solid pace and pushed me to tackle very hilly routes I would not have chosen on my own!  I had been consistent with weekday 5am runs and Tuesday track.  I was feeling confident, solid and proud of myself for putting in the work. 

Then peak week arrives......I was pushing myself to hit the high mileage and stay strong.  I started to feel uncomfortable-ness in what I thought was my hip flexor but turned out to be my quad muscle at the insertion point, so I rested it for a few days to take it easy.  Had my final 20 miler coming up that weekend and decided to still give it a go though I wasn't sure how it would go.  Well, the rest worked wonders and I felt incredibly strong and even finished the final 2 miles at race pace.  If that day had been my marathon, I would have been golden. 

I was feeling on top of the world and ready to tackle my marathon.  I was looking forward to a well earned three week taper.  Unfortunately, I was also feeling invincible.  Later that night, we had plans with my BRF Kara for dinner and it was about a 2 mile walk from our house.  With it being a gorgeous night, I suggested we just walk.  The hubby suggested metro but in my mind I thought, what's walking 4 miles after a 20 miler when a marathon is 26.2miles?  I can surely handle that!  Why couldn't I?

The walk there was fine.  On the walk back, I took a step and felt my quad on my right leg seize up/tear in a very sharp and sudden pain.  Then it seemed to sort of go away.  It didn't hurt as bad and I was able to walk home, albeit gingerly.  I decided to rest it because I was not sure what that was or what had happened.  Two days later I tried to run with my daughter to get in her run club miles and the push off to accelerate was very painful.  I decided to just rest it.  I tried a few other times testing out the leg and each time, I could feel that right quad.  I decided to play it as smart as I could and rest it completely during my taper along with lots of ice, rolling, dry needling, massage.  This even meant taking a DNS at the BAA 5k while in town for the hubby's running of the Boston Marathon.  But of course a taper is supposed to be a gradual descent of less mileage not a steep cliff of no running at all.  

 After much rest, the week of the marathon I decided to test out the quad with a 10k at marathon pace.  I didn't have pain, but the quad just didn't feel peppy or strong.  Then two days later, I took it out on a five miler with a race pace downhill section.  The leg felt good.  So I decided I was probably okay to race my marathon.  


Long story short, I flew to NV and ran the race.  I felt if I didn't try- I would always wonder what if and perhaps feel I missed my shot.  The quad made it until about mile 19 when I started to experience pain.  I decided to play it smart, reduce risk of further injury and took a solid walk the final 6-7 miles in....mental torture. 

The rest of my body recovered in a matter of a few days, but the quad not so much.  Now being 3 weeks out it is finally feeling a bit better and I have been taking it very easy.  This week I ran a 1 miler, a 2 miler, a 1 miler and a 4.5 miler. 

So what went wrong?

Every experience is a learning experience and room to grow.  With lots of thinking, here are my insights.

1.  I should NOT have walked those 4 miles that day and that will haunt me.  My leg was in a over-tired state and I should have remembered that.  My muscles don't seem to like to be in recovery mode and then be forced to do work.  I think it would have been different if I walked 4 miles directly after my 20 that morning, but allowing my muscles to cool down and begin their recovery process along with some dehydration, I think they were just not happy and decided to tell me so. 

2.  I did not make cross-training and weight training a priority this training cycle.  Past training cycles I had the spin class I instructed to keep me honest about cross-training and I did a weight session once per week.  This training cycle I was so focused on high miles and to run, run, run.  I thought the more miles would get me that BQ this time around.  It is really hard for me to make time for high miles, cardio cross training and I just ran.  With no longer having a gym membership since I gave up teaching my spin class due to developing vocal nodes, it was much easier to just grab my shoes and run.

How will I move forward?

It will be hard.  I am trying not to feel a bit down on myself and not feel like I am having to start over a bit.  I can tell I have lost a lot of fitness being a slug these last 6-7 weeks.  I wish I could say that I have been the model example of an injured runner and swimming laps, water running, weight training, spinning, etc to stay in shape while not running and I haven't.  I have swam laps like two times.  I did just join a gym moving forward cross-training WILL be a priority. 

I am gearing up for another marathon training cycle (Chicago Marathon) but I am trying to not place any goals on myself.  I don't think this will be a BQ attempt.  I know myself and I know that I don't train well in the summer heat.  And knowing Chicago it could also very well be a hot race!  My goal for this training cycle is just to become a better all around runner and I plan to accomplish that with not neglecting my strength training and my cardio-cross training.  I plan to take advantage of the summer - outdoor lap swimming, open water swimming, paddle boarding, and trail running.  Plus I plan on hitting up the new Orange Theory Fitness opening just a mile from my house!  I can run to it!  Wahoo! 

I thought about giving up on my BQ dreams...that maybe I was not cut out for this, but I refuse to give up! 


Saturday, April 22, 2017

How to Make the Most of Your Winter Trip to Iceland

A trip to Iceland had been on bucket list as soon as I started seeing pictures of the Blue Lagoon.  I had also always wanted to see the Northern Lights so this was the perfect trip to get both in one trip.  Visiting during the winter allowed the only chance to catch the Northern Lights.

1.  Find cheap airfare on WOW airlines or Icelandic Air.  Book early and you can find amazing deals for about $300 roundtrip.  Pack light and with a small backpack that fits under your seat, you wont need to pay baggage fees either.

2. Book a camper van.  That way you can tour all the sights you want to see without having to drive back to your home base.  Since normally you will have to book a rental car and a place to stay- why not combine the two and stay in your transportation?  It was actually a lot of fun and there were plenty of places to camp, we would find a nice parking lot and wake up to views of  a waterfall.
Our campervan parked at a waterfall, waking up to this view.
It also saves a lot of money by eating breakfast and lunch in the campervan using the mini-fridge that is provided, along with a cooking stove. It really is a mini-house on wheels, and our mattress in the back was comfortable.  When booking and comparing companies, note that some include sleeping bags and pillows, plus dishes, cups, etc. Other charge extra for each one of those.  Also, some campervans don't include the heated back area.  You will want to make sure to book one that does have a heater if you are going in the winter.  The batter for the heater charges when you drive during the day, and will keep the van plenty warm all night.
View of the comfy back of the van
3.  Book your tickets to the Blue Lagoon in advance, it does sell out a few weeks in advance.  You may hear that it is touristy, but we loved it and I think it was a great part of our trip.  We spent the entire first day there from 8am to 4pm.
Warm comfortable water in a beautiful icy setting at sunrise
Since we took an overnight flight from the states in which we didn't sleep, it was a very relaxing first day in Iceland.  When you book your Blue Lagoon tickets you must arrive within that 30 min window for entrance.  My advice is to book the first slot (which is cheapest) and then once in, you are allowed to stay as long as you want.  Book the most basic package, then when you arrive add on the bathrobe for $12.  It was so worth it.  The bathrobe acted as our towel also since we didn't have room to pack one. There are restaurants and cafes there, and even a swim up bar in the lagoon, so you have reason to stay for awhile!
Light blue water with a swim up bar...The Caribbean? Nope, Iceland!
Glacial-blue stream leaving the Blue Lagoon amidst black lava rocks, stunning!

4. Pack light by packing only the necessities.  You will need waterproof hiking boots (which I advise wearing on the plane for space sake), waterproof jacket AND waterproof pants, hat and gloves, waterproof iPhone bag, car charger for iPhone- the kind that goes in the cig lighter, a

5. Buy beer in the airport duty free shop when you land.  This is where you will find it the cheapest.   You can store in your campervan mini-fridge.  Always nice to have after a long day of hiking.  We enjoyed a few beers over a miraculous show by the Northern Lights out our campervan window. 

6. Buy food at the grocery store.  We though the grocery stores were pretty reasonable priced (comparable to the United States), but the restaurants were very expensive compared to back home.  There are lots of grocery stores around.  We bought skyr,  tortillas, peanut butter, bananas, apples, raisins, ritz crackers, oreos, and peanut m&ms to fuel our adventure.  Each day for lunch was a peanut butter banana roll up. 

7. Before you leave the States, download an app called 'Here' onto your phone.  Then download the Iceland map from it. (It's all free).  That way you don't have to use any data on your phone to get around via GPS.  We had our phones on airplane mode the entire time in Iceland since international data usage (and texts, even incoming) are very expensive.  The GPS will still work in airplane mode, and the map downloaded to your phone via the app will allow you to use it.

8. Download an app to check for the Northern Lights.  We used 'My Aurora Forecast' as it provided a nice hourly forecast, including the chances of cloud cover and where open / clear skies may be.
Watching the Northern Lights before heading to bed
9.  Fly on the left side of the plane to Iceland so you look out to the North.  Since the flight is usually an overnight red-eye you will be looking towards the Northern Lights out your window at night and could get a nice show as you get closer to Iceland.  On the way back, fly on the right side of the plane, again so you are facing north. Since the flight is usually during the day, you will get a nice view of Greenland to the north, along with icebergs in the ocean coming off the Greenland glaciers.

10. Visit the Golden Circle.  It is also touristy like the Blue Lagoon. But there is a good reason a lot of people visit it.  It has a great overview of Iceland that you can do in one day if you start first thing in the morning.  We did it clockwise, and you can see (in order):

  • At the Pingviller National Park, you can see the continental rift (where the North American Plate is splitting from the European Plate), you can literally stand between the to continents, geographically speaking.
    North American Plate to Jim's right, Eurasia Plate to his left. Separating 1" per year, Jim giving it an extra push!
    The park is also the location of the first settlement and government assembly on Iceland from the Viking era, the Oxrarfoss Waterfall, and there are even places to scuba dive in the lakes there (we didn't do the scuba diving!)
  • The geyser / hot springs area in Geysir (from which all geysers in world get their name from). Strokkur geyser erupts every 5-10 minutes, here is a picture we got of it:
    Geyser eruption! The people standing close get wet, we did that once!
  • The Gullfoss Waterfall
  • And the Kerid Crater.
There are guided tours of the Golden Circle, but it is easy to drive and that way you can spend as little or as much time at any of the locations.

11. Park your van so the back is facing north. That way you can look out your back window while in your sleeping bag and see the Northern Lights dance.

12. After the Golden Circle, you can park the van to sleep at the Seljalandsfoss Waterfall.

Seljalandsfoss Waterfall at sunrise

View of the waterfall from the hike behind it
It is beautiful itself (and even lit up at night, you can see a couple miles away approaching it!), but it is also a great launching off point the next morning to more great places on the southern and southeastern portion of the Ring Road:

  • The Eyjafjallajokull Volcano (that erupted in 2010 and cause flight cancellations across all of Europe)
    There's the volcano, don't erupt now!
  • The geothermally heated Seljavallalaug Pool.  It takes a short, but beautiful, hike. There are changing rooms there, and the while the water is warm, it is not as warm as the Blue Lagoon. 
    Beautiful vistas on the hike to Seljavallalaug Pool
      The pool and changing rooms. The swimmers are Dutch tourists, not us.
  • The  Skogafoss Waterfall.  This may be the most photographed waterfall in Iceland, since it is easy to access directly from a large parking lot and has a great chance of seeing a rainbow there. Supposedly the Vikings hid some treasure behind the waterfall so if you find it please give me a cut!
    Rainbows show up here often, and there is an easy hike to the top for a nice view
  • The Solheimajokull Glacier. There are guided tours on the glacier (and you can self-hike up to the base of it)
    The glacier in the background, about 1/2 mile hike to the base
  • The remains of a DC-10 Air Force Plane that crashed-landed on a black sand beach. It is a 2 mile hike (flat and easy to follow with the markers), we did it as a run. The wind is pretty wicked there so use your wind breaker even if it doesn't feel windy at the car.  The parking lot has been greatly expanded in the last year or two and it is pretty heavily visited now.  Most guides from 2015 or earlier make it seem hard to find, and even the Google Maps street view just shows a small driveway with a little gate at the entrance to the hike.  However, you won't miss the huge new parking lot that is there now, and the hike was well traveled by other tourists. You won't be alone and won't risk getting lost.
    Running to the plane crash

    Victory! I shot it down! jk
  • We didn't make it further than that (so the next three pictures aren't ours, just from websites), but if you keep driving on the Ring Road you can find:
  • The Reynisdrangar rock formations at Vik.

  • The Skaftafell Glacier, which is the biggest glacier on the island and has guided glacier hikes and guided ice cave tours.
  • The icebergs at Jokulsarlon Lagoon

We didn't spend too much time in Reykjavik, but the downtown was easy to park and stroll around. The city seemed larger than we though it would, and had malls, stores, and supermarkets. This is on the downtown waterfront looking across the harbor:

There are also lots of horse farms, and I enjoyed meeting a few of Icelandic horses off the Ring Road:

We can't wait to come back again, there is so much to see!