Once I got that first shitty run out of the way it was time to get back to work. I gasped my way through a few miles that week- a combination of getting back into the swing of things, the increasing temperature and a sea of pollen everywhere I turned. The effort it was taking to run an easy three made finishing a marathon seem like something I had dreamed. I told myself that every run I pushed through was one step closer to getting back to business. All I wanted was to have something to work towards again, to be tired and sore.
And boy did I get what I wished for. During strength training the last few weeks my legs had been given a pardon for all the upcoming work they had to do. But with that job now complete it was back to squats, back to lunges, back to SORENESS. But despite the ache in my legs I had a stupid grin on my face. Sore felt like work, and work felt good. Calluses and all.
Next up was the pool. Swimming for me is usually something between a half mile and a mile at a nice, comfortable pace. Before Boston I had made the mistake of mentioning that swimming wasn’t feeling very hard. Rookie mistake- you never tell your trainer something feels easy. Suddenly this complex swim workout appeared on my schedule. It seemed pretty advantageous for my skill level, let alone post marathon. But despite my hesitations I dove in (literally and figuratively). Each set left me gasping for air, but with a sense of accomplishment.
And for the first time in over a year and a half, I had a tempo run on my schedule. “Speed work” (Can you call it that when your speed is slower than a turtle?) had simply become a figment of my imagination after a year of injury and building distance. To see it back is both invigorating and terrifying at the very same time. Speed work means getting uncomfortable, but it also means new bad ass accomplishments.
I’m not sure if this new found motivation is simply a burst of springtime energy, or is the result of realizing that finishing a marathon means I can handle hard things. I was afraid I would lose motivation after Boston but it’s actually been the exact opposite. So bring on the callouses, sore legs, and gasps for air… I’m ready.
As my running shoes sat collecting dust by the door (yes, cobwebs can grow in just one dramatic week) I scoured the internet, hungry for my next challenge. Something that I’ve found myself doing after every big accomplishment over the last 3 years, but there was always more to be had. Until now. With a Boston Marathon medal hanging on my wall every race I pulled up on the computer just seemed trivial. I was slightly worried that maybe I had reached my pinnacle; maybe I was done with this training business. I mean it has been one hell of a ride.
And just as I was thinking I would spend the summer kicking back on the couch I got this thought thrown at me: “I’ve always gone bigger, but have I ever tried to get better?” I knew the answer instantly. I’ve been chasing distance after distance, barely finishing one race before I’m training for the next. Running for me had become this challenge of how quickly I could climb to the top, how fast I could prove that I could cover these distances. But challenging myself to do them better? I’ll admit I don’t really know what that’s like. Most of my PR’s have been purely accidental.
Suddenly my answer became clearer. My challenge this summer is not to prove to the world how high I can climb, but to prove to myself that I can give it all I’ve got. I didn’t become the Half Ass Bad Ass because it’s a cute and catchy name – it happened because I far too often half ass myself through things. And I want to know what it’s like to push myself. To get comfortable being uncomfortable. To get better. To become faster. To feel stronger.
After a week off my feet I was finally given the go ahead to head out for a run. I was giddy with excitement as I slipped on my running shoes and turned on my Garmin for the first time since April 20th. With a gorgeous spring afternoon and legs that were well rested I imagined a perfect three miles. Instead my legs felt like they were made of brick, I couldn’t catch my breath. It may in fact have been the shittiest three miles I have ever run. But it was a start. Again. I realized that my journey with running runs parallel to my journey with weight loss: it never ends, it just changes direction. Completing a marathon doesn’t mean I’m done – it means I’m just beginning.
I can’t quite put my finger on when it happened. Or how it happened. Or even why it happened. But all of a sudden, I’m starting to see some changes.
It all began with my hip. For a decent amount of time I was putting in the bare minimum, doing exercises only when I was reprimanded about them. Essentially I had regressed to the student who does as little homework as possible to get through class. When I started getting sick of this on-again-off-again pain I realized that the rehab activities were there for a reason. So I started spending more time stretching post run. Setting an alarm on my phone to remind myself to do my band walks. Taking the extra 15 minutes at night to go through my routine because believe it or not… this shit actually works! There are still times the pain comes back (I have an ice pack glued to my hip as I type this due to an intense 10 miler this weekend) but I’m starting to get back to higher mileage and more importantly, a happier runner. Lesson learned.
It’s only taken two years and god knows how many near death instances- but I’ve also finally started to get a handle on nutrition when it comes to fueling myself for workouts. I started paying attention to what I’m eating the night before long runs because I know it will affect how I feel mid run. I’m hydrating throughout the day. My days this summer are long and full and I was discovering that by the time I get home I could eat nearly the entire fridge. I started paying attention to what I was eating mid-day, and making sure that I wasn’t heading out on my evening workouts already starving. Sometimes this means eating a PB & Banana sandwich in traffic but if it keeps me from eating both mine and my fiancees dinner at 8:30pm- I’ll gladly take the extra time to pack it.
The combination of all of these things have slowly but surely been showing me that I can become a better runner. But something even more crucial, even more exciting, even more important? There’s something different going on in my head.
As my mileage started increasing a few weeks ago I decided that I needed a change of scenery for my long runs. I remembered being told about a nearby bike path/trail and decided it just might be worth the earlier wake up call. So I set the alarm a little earlier, packed myself up and headed to the park. The sun was just coming up, the air was still cool, and as I ran I felt this energy I hadn’t felt in a very long time. I was shocked and how much easier the miles passed, how much faster I ran. I returned week after week, only to find the same magic in my miles. I was convinced that the running fairies were sprinkling dust in the path over night. Negative splits during a long run? 10 miles with an average pace 2 seconds faster than my 8 mile run? Reminding myself that I’m stronger than I think I am? That shit doesn’t happen to me…. EVER.
I don’t know why I’m suddenly doing all of these things. Maybe watching all these other talented runners around me is finally getting to me. Maybe all the lessons I’ve been taught are finally sinking into my thick little skull. Or maybe, just MAYBE – I’m finally starting to see the potential in myself. We’ll see how long this lasts.
As I’ve learned over the last year or so, part of what makes me a runner is my thirst for a new goal. No matter how much I declare I hate running in the thick of the miserable, it doesn’t take long before I want to find something new to work towards. So once I had worked out all my angries and lessons learned it was time to plan what to do with my summer. My hip is finally at a place where it doesn’t hurt more than it does, and I’m ready to work on getting back some “speed”. My break plus an injury really derailed any and all progress I had made from my fat days. It makes me want to cry when I think about my 26:41 5K PR (which I understand isn’t breathtaking but to me that was FAST guys!) and how now I’m applauding a pace that’s anything under a 10 minute mile. I keep telling myself that I’ll get back there- it’s just going to take some time and some hard work.
It’s crazy to think that a year ago I was deeply consumed in triathlon training (and nightmares when I woke up in the middle of the night in a panic). Unfortunately I can’t do Iron Girl this year, but I’m almost okay with it because I know that it would never compare to what I experienced last year. I’m happy with those memories for now. And while I’m not spending a large amount of my summer swimming, biking, and running I have the sprint I did last Labor Day Weekend to look forward too – hopefully faster & better this time around.
On the topic of triathlons there’s a new twist to my summer… a Half Ironman!
Well, kinda. I’m doing the run portion of a relay team… in other words, another half marathon! I’m excited because I really want to try the whole thing next summer (did I really just type that so nonchalantly? WHO AM I?) so it’s a good way for me to see what it’s like. I’m nervous at the same time. This is the first big race I have to do on my own and also without my cheerleader fiancee waiting for me every few miles. It’s going to be me and only me pushing myself for 13.1 miles. I want this to be the race where I defeat my fears and doubts and crazies. I want to prove that I CAN do it. If nothing else I’m banking on the fact that a DNF would let the rest of my team down- so hopefully that will keep me going.
If you weren’t getting tired from following my calendar … let me throw another half marathon in there.This one isn’t until October, but I’m using it as a redemption race for Chilly and Heartbreak – and I want to PR the pants off that baby.
And there you have it. A triathlon, 2 half marathons, a few other road races thrown in… oh and remember that I’m getting married in 2.5 months? Let’s just say I like to stay busy!
I wish that I was sitting here writing a post about how awesome “Operation Make Kathleen Faster” is going. As I said a few weeks ago, it’s much easier to write the good posts than the bad ones. It’s easier to talk about the positives, when you’re getting it done, when you feel on top of the world. Admitting how hard something is feels weak, whiny, pathetic. So I’m sitting here writing a blog post about how my training has been going — and it ain’t pretty. It sucks. It’s hard. There have definitely been some breakdowns and tears. I haven’t talked much about my upcoming race here or in person because to be quite honest, I’m not the least bit excited for it. I’m dreading it. I feel like my goal is completely out of my reach and I know how disappointed I’m going to be if I don’t make it. I also know that if you go into a race thinking you can’t do it you won’t be able to … but that isn’t helping me turn off the negativity switch.
Working to get faster sounded fantastic in my head until I actually had to put on my shoes and do it. I knew it would be hard but I guess I didn’t know what “hard” actually meant. I’ve never been an athlete, this concept of pushing myself towards physical goals is still vague and unclear. I will fully admit that I don’t think I had any idea of what I was getting myself into.
Even after two lessons at the track I was still apprehensive about attempting the workout on my own. After painfully watching the clock all day there was nothing left to do but quit whining and get it done. As painful as it was the first two times… it was 10 times worse on my own. The workout wasn’t in my watch correctly, and because I had to change the units to kilometers I couldn’t figure out my pace so I just ran until it hurt. I’d finish each lap gasping for air with no idea if I was doing it correctly and I kept saying to myself “How many left? I’ve got to be at least half way by now”. I don’t know what made me keep going-but it took every last ounce of willpower I had to not click off my watch and head back to the car. Finally the long awaited “Congrats- you survived!” sound chimed and instead of being proud that I survived I felt defeated and miserable. I wanted out. Tears hurt so much more when its 15 degrees and windy.
I don’t know why I can’t get out of my own head, why I don’t have that gene that makes me want to push through the pain. My brain is so quick to say “This hurts. This is hard. This doesn’t feel good. Let’s stop”. In the breakdown of my breakdown at the track I was asked the question “Why am I doing this?” (Trying to get faster, not why am I being a wimp). For the girl who usually has an answer and a wise ass comment to everything … I had nothing.
With some mild weather and some free time to myself I decided to head down to one of my favorite beach combing spots. As I hunted for sea glass and driftwood I thought all this over. My mind raced with a thousand thoughts and questions. Losing the weight didn’t happen overnight- it was hard and painful and yet I was patient (at least from what I remember). I worked through the pain because I knew the end result was worth it. So why is this so hard for me? Why can’t I be patient and work through this? Part of me wonders who the hell I’m trying to fool acting like I’m some athlete. I haven’t been one my whole life- why am I trying now? Why can’t I just be happy that I’ve picked up running and be content with my slow-ass half marathon time? Why can’t I just go for a run without a time or a pace in mind and just be happy running? What’s making me want to set these (what seem to be) un-obtainable goals? And what is making me get up and do this day after day? If I woke up tomorrow and decided to quit there would be no one to stop me. No one is forcing me to do this – it’s all on me.
I’m sure there’s a large group of you who were able to relate with me on being overweight, and parts of the weight loss journey. And maybe there are some of you who understand this “fine tuning”… but I totally understand if you don’t. You may be reading this and wondering why the girl can’t just shut up and be happy with what she’s accomplished. That’s okay- because I’m wondering the same thing. And you may be thinking that there are bigger problems than how fast you run and again- you’re absolutely correct. But at the same time I think we all struggle with some kind of internal debate. And this right here is my beast for the time being. If I could only find a reason as to why I’m holding onto it…
After my mini meltdown/rant last week I’m happy to report that I’m in a better place- both physically and mentally. After almost a month of continuous cold and flu like symptoms I better survive the rest of this winter illness free. My energy is back, and I’m finally back to all of my regularly scheduled workouts. And just when I needed a little reminder of “Keep doing what you’re doing” I found myself talking with two people that I look up to and trust. Their knowledge, wisdom, and experience helped me defog a little bit of what’s been going on in my brain, helped me see the bigger picture, and brought me back some much needed focus and drive. I don’t say it enough how thankful I am to have those kinds of people in my life. Yes, I’m in a much better place.
And now that I’m feeling back up to speed I’m ready to focus on some goals. I’ve been slowly putting together my race calendar for the year. It’s turning out to be a nice mix of some repeat races (the competitor in me wants to destroy my newbie times from last year) as well as some new ones to look forward to (to challenge that inner badass, of course). Oh and did I forget to mention that somewhere in that mix I’m getting MARRIED? Clearly I have a hard time sitting still.
My first order of business is a 10 Miler next month.. with a time goal. Just saying that out loud raises my heart rate slightly. Now let’s be real here- when I say “time goal” don’t let that lead you to believe I’m gonna bang this out in 45 minutes. I’m not attempting to perform any miracles. But it’s definitely a goal that’s going to push me for last inch of those ten miles. Any races of substantial “distance” I’ve run have been purely survival. In fact, if you happened to be that poor person stuck with me for those last few miles of my first half marathon you might refer to it as a painful crawl. I’ve just come to the acceptance that my body can actually run 10 miles and now you want me to do it …faster?
In preparation of my new goal, and the overall theme of “Operation Make Kathleen Faster” something new has appeared on my weekly schedule… TRACK WORKOUTS. I was both giddy and panicked when I saw it written on my training plan for the first time. Giddy because I’ve always envied the friends and runners with their workout of mysterious numbers. (Side note: never imagined being a runner would require so much math?) And panicked as all hell because I knew this meant this was going to be of those “time to get uncomfortable” events.
We headed down to the track for my first workout in the pouring rain. I took it as a sign from the running gods that they were either tears of sympathy for the pain I was about to endure, or tears of laughter at how bad I was going to mess this up. The first lap made me want to curl up in a ball by the chain-link fence. My lungs felt like they were bursting out of my body. That feeling of “isn’t being a slow runner so nice and comforting?” filled my head. Before I could get my breath back to a steady pattern the watch beeped signaling that my recovery time was over. You’ve got to be shitting me.
And we were off again. I didn’t talk, didn’t cough… I tried not to even BLINK so that I could focus all my energy. With each lap that I finished I felt a little more accomplished. A little stronger. Maybe even a teeny bit faster? On the last one I was tired, so sick of my lungs burning, so ready to be done. But I saw the line ahead of me and knew that I couldn’t quit now (Mostly because I feared the wrath if I stopped). As we headed home I felt absolutely exhausted, but in a good way. First track workout… done. Now let’s make me a faster runner.
Ever since “Operation Make Kathleen Faster” was put into effect I’ve been feeling like I have a lot more pep in my (running) step. A new driving force. An end result to strive for. While I’ve been getting to know this “new self” of mine I’ve come to learn that I am a much more productive (and happier) runner when I have something I’m working towards. It gives me something to visualize when I want to stop. I like having a schedule of workouts, I like carefully transcribing them into my log book, I like counting my mileage and being able to check things off…. I just really like training. Is this normal? Do most runners? Am I just in the honeymoon phase? Guess we’ll find out eventually.
With this surge of energy I was pretty excited for the first race of the year. It’s just a small, local 5K but last year I set a pretty big PR for myself that even today, I’m still not sure how I managed to pull off. A year later, some actual training, and I figured I’d cruise across the finish line hours ahead of my previous time (Slight exaggeration, obviously).
And then the week prior to the race life happened… of course all at once. I got sick- nothing life altering but enough to have me checking to see if I threw a lung up after every run. (I still managed to get my long run in while sick, and in the freezing rain/snow. Dedicated? Bad Ass? Mentally insane? Verdict’s still out on that one). Simultaneously we were hit with some of those charming New England features of black ice patches, negative wind chills, and a decent sized snowstorm. Oh and the icing on the cake? Those lovely shin splints have decided to grace me with their presence again. Between the weather, my constant hacking, and my nagging “shin bumps” I was forced to take a few days off. And it. was. TORTURE. There was a day when I would get angry that swimming or bootcamp made it onto one of my “rest days” and suddenly one day of complete and total rest threw me into a frenzy. When did that happen?
So while I shouldn’t have been expecting miracles on race day there was still a teeny part of me that wanted to impress myself. I’m still trying to learn that not all races can, or will, end in PRs. Not every race can be your best. And while in my head I was hoping I would fly like a little Kenyan it took not even a mile for me to realize that wasn’t gonna happen. Between the cold, the wind, my cough, and my shins I was pretty miserable. It was an out and back and it seemed like only seconds before I saw the first runners heading in (How was that even possible?). They made it look so easy, like they were just breezing by. I eventually hit the turn around as well and told myself I just had to make it back and it would all be over. I passed the walkers who looked so happy chatting and laughing as they went and for a split second- that looked so good to me. As quickly as the thought entered my head I shut it out. I remembered that burning desire of wanting to be better. “Shut it and run” I growled.
The course ended up being super short (barely over 3 miles) so on paper it looks like I flew, but I can’t rightfully claim it as a PR. It was however, a very real and painful reminder that this is going to take a lot of work. And it’s not going to happen overnight. Suddenly, I’m reminded of being overweight. I remember all those diets and quick fixes that seemed ideal at the time. I remember spending 10 minutes on the elliptical and expecting to immediately be 10 pounds lighter. I remember looking at the overall amount of pounds I wanted to lose and feeling incredibly overwhelmed at how long it was going to take me. But I did it. It didn’t happen overnight. It took a lot of hard work, every single day. Same concept, new goal. I’m not going to wake up one morning and be a better runner. It’s going to take time. It’s going to be hard, and it’s going to hurt sometimes. But as the saying goes, nothing worth having comes easy. I’ve been here before. I’ve worked hard for what I want. So I’ll do it again. One lung bursting step at a time.