On Running My First Half Marathon

When I started this journey, I had never run more than 4 miles. On Sunday I ran all 13.1 miles of the UPMC Health Plan Pittsburgh Half Marathon in 2:16:32 — that’s a 10:25 pace, which is 30 seconds faster per mile than my training pace [insert a happy dance here]. But more importantly, I had the most fun running it, and frankly, I was awestruck by the support of the crowds, my family and my friends.

My dad and I after 13.1 miles. We are RUNNERS OF STEEL :)

My dad and I after 13.1 miles. We are RUNNERS OF STEEL 🙂

Training and running this half marathon has been an incredible journey. But before I reflect on the 13.1 miles, let’s review last week.

Last Week:

Planned Schedule
Monday: 4 miles
Tuesday: Boot Camp
Wednesday: Resting
Thursday: Resting and hydrating
Friday: Resting and hydrating
Saturday: Resting and eating delicious carbs
Sunday: RUN 13.1 MILES OF THE HALF MARATHON

Actual Schedule
Monday: Day of Rest
Tuesday: Boot Camp
Wednesday: Rested
Thursday: Rested and hydrated
Friday: Rested and hydrated
Saturday: Rested and ate delicious carbs
Sunday: RAN 13.1 MILES OF THE HALF MARATHON

So I didn’t run at all last week, I merely consumed carbs, hydrated, slept, and mentally prepared … and it actually worked.

Running the Half Marathon

The Night Before: I oscillated between excitement and panic all evening. What if I hadn’t trained enough? What if I hadn’t clocked enough miles? What if I slept in? What if I blew up and failed? My kind boyfriend comforted my crazies. I couldn’t fall asleep until 11 p.m. and spent the first hour battling anxiety dreams before finally really resting around 1 a.m. Good thing I had to wake up at 4:30 a.m.

All of my gear the night before! My chews, my clothes, and my bib!

All of my gear the night before! My chews, my clothes, and my bib!

Before the Start: I woke up at 4:30 a.m. unbelieving that the day had finally arrived. I stumbled to gather my gear, and made sure to eat a full breakfast — half of a bagel with peanut butter, toast with jam and an egg — before getting into my car. I didn’t face any traffic (phew!) and found parking at 5:30 a.m. in a gravel lot on the North Side (but not before panicking and stopping to ask race officials where to park). I walked from there over to the Liberty Ave to hit up the gear check and find my dad. If I am being totally honest, I just wanted to find my dad. I felt like a small child for a few minutes there, and just wanted the comfort of knowing my dad would make sure it all turned out alright.

Pittsburgh at 5:30 a.m. What a beautiful sight from my walk over to the starting line.

Pittsburgh at 5:30 a.m. What a beautiful sight from my walk over to the starting line.

Starting Line: Once I found my dad (cell phones are a dream), we hung out by Corral D (the last corral, which we lovingly nicknamed the party corral) and used the Port-A-Potty. We entered our corral at 6:30 a.m., little did we know that Corral D would not be able to start the race until 35 minutes after the race started — that’s not the fault of race officials, it’s just the way it works, but it was the worst. Here we were, standing there, shivering in the cold, anxious to start, watching the race begin.

My dad and I at the starting line!

My dad and I at the starting line!

If I have any advice to future runners, if you plan to run the entire time at a moderate pace, go to Corral C. And another thing, while we waited, the Racejoy app, which is supposed to track you for friends and family spectating, promptly crashed (don’t waste your money). By the time we finally began, we were flustered and frazzled, but excited.

Miles 1-3: The Worst Miles

I always hated the first few miles when training, but I had heard from others that these beginning miles would just float by on a cloud of crowds and happiness. They did not. I spent the first few miles surveying my body — my ankles hurt already and I had to pee — and panicking that it would be a bad run. It took a while to find our stride (we went off too quickly in our rush to just start already), and it took a while to learn how to weave amongst the many walkers.

Another pro tip: There are lines at every single set of Port A Potties. That means stopping and standing in the middle of the race. I know this is horrible to say, but hold it if you can. I only say that because it’s exactly what I did.

Miles 4-7: The Fun Miles

Once I reassured myself that I was okay and felt fine, my dad and I started to hit our groove. We found our stride and I let myself enjoy the spectators. Since we were in Corral D, all of the crowds had been cheering for at least a half hour before we arrived, but they kept up their energy to greet us. I was most awe-struck by the crowds. People who spent their Saturday mornings cheering on strangers. I wanted to thank them all individually. They made the race downright enjoyable. We spent these miles cruising, and looking back at my Nike App, we ended up running our fastest miles during this time, enjoy it!

It was hard to fathom the finish in the early miles.

It was hard to fathom the finish in the early miles.

Miles 8-10: Oh Wait We’re Running A Half Marathon

By Mile 8, we had a lot of people walking. And while I respect anyone who walks, I was angry by those who didn’t have the courtesy to get to one side or the other. Some would stop in their tracks right in front of you, others would walk with a line of their friends — I hate to admit it, but I got so angry at a line of five people walking, blocking all others from passing that I actually yelled, “Don’t walk in a line!!” — tensions start to run high at mile 8.

My mom was planning to spectate at Mile 9 (station square), so I actually called my mom on my cell phone while running (how ridiculous). As we approached where she was spectating, I grew incredibly anxious to find her. I just wanted to see her, and suddenly, there she was (along with a very kind and dear family friend). I was so happy to see my mom, I yelled, “Mom, I’m doing it!” as she shouted and cheered me on. Seeing her boosted my morale and made my absolutely jubilant. My dad said, “You needed that.” And with that energy, we blasted through mile 10 like it was nothing.

Mile 11: The Hill  (Which really wasn’t that bad but still was not pleasant)

By Mile 11, we knew we were going to finish without walking (an original goal), and we felt confident, which is really all it takes to step up our game. Throughout the entire race, my dad had been cheering me on from beside me, running with me step-for-step and telling me how great we were doing. I leaned on his motivation heavily in the hilliest mile, and I am so grateful for his unwavering confidence and support. With his help, we made it to the top of the hill without any major problems.

Mile 12 and 13: Victory Miles

Once we reached the top of the hill, we took off running — meaning my dad started really pushing the pace since he knew we had the energy. I think I may have entered a slight state of shock. Here I had been training for this event for three months, through many weeks of sickness, self doubt, and hard work, and I was actually doing it. I was actually running a half marathon. I just reveled in that feeling as we ran that last stretch. I called my mom again to let her know we weren’t far out, and I ate my last energy chew (I ate one HoneyStinger chew at every mile and they were great).

The cheering crowds were really roaring now, but all I saw was the finish line and my dad yelling, “Come on!” I had a stitch in my side by Mile 13 (and even though you think you can ignore those things, they hurt just as much as they did in fifth grade gym) and I sprinted with him the last .1 miles. We crossed the finish line together, and we had done it. We had finished the half marathon.

Runners of Steel at the finish!!!!

Runners of Steel at the finish!!!!

I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t process that we had just run 13.1 miles. It was all a blur until we met up with my mom and boyfriend at the food stands. I couldn’t stop hugging them and saying, “Wow, that just happened.” I gorged on chicken on a stick as we recounted our miles for them. With medals around our necks, we sat amongst the other runners, and I just couldn’t believe I was one of them. My dad and I hugged and parted ways, and it just felt wrong — like we should go spend the day just talking over the run mile-by-mile, reliving it. But alas, we had to head our separate ways (mostly to shower … I was gross).

The rest of the day, I was tired and experienced some pretty painful stomach cramps (probably from dehydration), but it didn’t stop me from performing in an improv show that night. I wasn’t very sore the next day, but instead, I was amazed at the number of friends and family who reached out to congratulate me. Even though I have been keeping this blog, running the half has always been a personal goal, so I was amazed when so many people reached out to hear how the race went. I felt so loved. (Which sounds silly, but truly meant the world to me).

I think what surprised me most about the run was how much fun we had. I knew the race would be fun at times, but it’s also work, because of the whole running 13.1 miles thing. But I really, genuinely enjoyed every step. I never hit a wall. And with my dad, I never faltered.

How did it feel for all of you fellow runners?

To all of you reading this, thank you so much for your support. I couldn’t have done it without you (seriously, I could not have trained without someone holding me accountable). Thanks for your advice, comments, and readership. And thanks for joining me on this journey to complete a life goal. I don’t know what my new goals are, but I hope this inspires you to complete yours. If there is anything I’ve learned it’s that you can do anything, if you work hard and have an amazing support system.

Your partner in running always,

Jessie

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Heading into Week 12: On Pre-Race Jitters And Anxious Enthusiasm

Guys, the UPMC Health Plan Pittsburgh Half Marathon is one week from today. By this time next Sunday, I will have completed my first ever half marathon. [INSERT YOUR FAVORITE SQUEAL HERE] I can’t believe that after 12 weeks of training, the time to run is finally upon us.

This is after 12 miles last weekend (with a crooked hat?) — look out for this chick next weekend on the streets of Pittsburgh very early in the morning (she'll be the one moving at a pace that is barely considered "running")

This is after 12 miles last weekend (with a crooked hat?) — look out for this chick next weekend on the streets of Pittsburgh very early in the morning (she’ll be the one moving at a pace that is barely considered “running”)

Before I share all of my pre-race thoughts, let’s review last week and my plan for race week (!!)

Last Week:

Planned Schedule
Monday: Day of Rest
Tuesday: Boot Camp
Wednesday: 3 miles
Thursday: Boot Camp
Friday: 2 miles
Saturday: Day of Rest
Sunday: 7 mile run

Actual Schedule
Monday: Day of Rest
Tuesday: Boot Camp
Wednesday: 2 miles, Yoga
Thursday: Boot Camp
Friday: Day of Rest
Saturday: Day of Rest
Sunday: 7 miles

Okay so I didn’t hit my overall milage, but I hit the major points in my first week of tapering, and my boot camp so crushed my legs this week that I needed Friday and Saturday to recover. (Dead lifts are a killer — that’s my theory on why they’re called “dead” lifts.)

I accidentally wound up running through Oakland during some graduation photos. Congrats class of 2014! Sincerely, the sweaty girl who photobombed your picture

I accidentally wound up running through Oakland on Sunday during some graduation photos. Congrats class of 2014! Sincerely, the sweaty girl who photobombed your picture

This Week’s Plan:

Monday: 4 miles
Tuesday: Boot Camp
Wednesday: Resting
Thursday: Resting and hydrating
Friday: Resting and hydrating
Saturday: Resting and eating delicious carbs
Sunday: RUN 13.1 MILES OF THE HALF MARATHON

This week actually sounds like quite a delight. Resting, sleeping, eating. Sign me up!

Though I have to admit my 7-mile run this past weekend was beautiful enough to be considered almost R&R!

Though I have to admit my 7-mile run through Bloomfield, Shadyside and Oakland this past weekend was beautiful enough to be considered almost R&R … almost.

Topic of the Week: Pre-Race Jitters and Anxious Enthusiasm

Seeing as the race is this weekend (in case you didn’t get that in this post already), I wanted to review what I’m most nervous about and what I’m most excited about, because it’s the internet so that means it’s the time to be vulnerable to strangers, right? Right.

Most Nervous About:

–Parking. I know that sounds lame, but all of the logistics of just getting to the race are incredibly stressful. For the race, they shut down all of the streets around 6 a.m. (and some the night before), so I need to wind my way downtown, find parking, and not panic before the race starts at 7 a.m.

Bodily Functions. As a naturally anxious person, I am going to have to pee approximately 100 times both before and during the race. How will I find places to pee? What if I throw up out of nervous energy? What if I openly weep? Egad.

Weather. After I hit the wall in 86 degree heat 2 weeks ago, I know the incredible effect weather can have on my run and my own energy. I want it to be cold, but I don’t want it to be so cold that I have to start bundled up and then shed layers (I can’t afford to shed my clothes, so they will have to be tied around my waist like a cool kid). Rain would also be challenging, and would prevent spectators from cheering us on, which would be sad.

My Asthma and Ankles. These are my two biggest personal struggles. As an asthmatic for my entire life, I always worry about it flaring up during sports events. My ankles, despite many shoe changes, continue to cause me constant pain from about mile 6 to the end of the race. It’s not unbearable, but I don’t want to be so focused on pain that I can’t enjoy the run.

The Hill. The only big hill on the course occurs at mile 11. A cruel joke, I know.

Survivor Shuffling My Way to the Finish. The Survivor Shuffle, according to my father, is when one spends the last few miles either walking and running or painfully running to the finish, because you have hit the wall. I understand that this happens, but after all of this training, I really want to run the whole thing (not walking was an original goal). And I want to end strong, both because it feels less like death and because I want the spectators to see my finish strong (shallow, I know).

I interrupt discussion of my fears for this picture of tulips. How can tulips not cheer you up?

I now interrupt discussion of my fears for this picture of tulips from Sunday’s run. How can tulips not cheer you up?

Most Excited About:

Carb Loading. Seriously. I get to gorge (appropriately) on delicious food and it’s encouraged behavior. Please and thank you.

–My Supporters. Both my incredibly supportive boyfriend and my mom (who really doesn’t get enough credit on this blog. She is a huge inspiration to me as a strong amazing woman who owns her own gym.) will be at the finish line. These two non-morning persons will be making their way downtown at 9 a.m. in the midst of crazy traffic just to see me complete this run. I am so humbled and grateful to have such support.

The Energy. From the crowd, the runners, the city of Pittsburgh! I can’t wait to be a part of the teeming energy that takes over Pittsburgh on Marathon day. I can’t wait to high-five strangers and slug through the hard parts with fellow runners. I can’t wait for the shouting crowd as we pass the finish line. I just can’t wait for all of it!

–Doing Something I Never Thought Possible. I am the girl who had to take remedial throwing and catching. Who was always picked last for any and all sports-related activities. Who never, ever thought of herself as athletic. I am the girl who is running a half marathon. I wish I could tell my middle school track coach (who was always very patient and kind to her slowest runner).

Finishing The Race With My Dad. I am getting a little choked up just thinking about it. My dad and I have grown closer than ever over the past 12 weeks of running together. It’s so amazing that during my first post-grad year, I’ve had this opportunity to really spend time with my dad. And we will be stepping over the finish line together. Him, a 50-year-old man with decades of marathons under his belt, and me, his daughter who’s completing a life goal.

My dad and I, ready to tackle this challenge together.

My dad and I, ready to tackle this challenge together.

Veteran runners, what are you looking forward to? I hope to say hi along the way!

And I wanted to say a big thank you to all the readers who have followed this blog throughout my entire training (don’t worry, I am going to write a post after the race too, so don’t think this post is my last). But truly, you all have been a huge part of my motivation to keep running.

Your partner in training (and racing),

Jessie

 

Heading Into Week 11: On Gear, Gels, and Running 12 Miles

Happy Easter weekend all yinz readers! I spent Easter Sunday successfully completing my last long run — 12 miles!! After I hit the wall last weekend, yesterday’s success felt all the more exhilarating, and it marked the first time I actually thought to myself, “Hey self, I can physically run the 13.1 miles of the UPMC Health Plan Half Marathon.” And my brain responded, “Good to know.” (My brain is practical like that)

My dad and I after 12 miles! (pretty adorable if I do say so myself.)

My dad and I after 12 miles! (and a touch of Daddy-Daughter cuteness)

With two weeks left to the race and the hardest part of training behind me — we’re tapering the next two weeks — here’s a look back at last week and the week ahead.

Planned Schedule
Monday: Day of Rest
Tuesday: Boot Camp
Wednesday: Boot Camp
Thursday: 3 miles
Friday: 3 miles
Saturday: Day of Rest
Sunday: 12 mile run with my dad

Actual Schedule
Monday: Day of Rest
Tuesday: Boot Camp
Wednesday: Yoga
Thursday: 2 miles
Friday: 4 miles
Saturday: Day of Rest
Sunday: 12 miles

Though I swapped out one boot camp for a yoga (my aching muscles thanked me), I really stuck to my schedule this week. And for me, this was one of those weeks that really epitomized what training is all about: putting in the time even when you don’t want to.

My family traveled to Deep Creek Lake (pictured below) Thursday evening to Saturday afternoon, so I woke up early Thursday morning to run at home and ran in Deep Creek on Friday instead of opting to lounge and read (which we all know was a much more suitable alternative).

Though the views at Deep Creek Lake Maryland are gorgeous (this was not taking whilst running for those of you keeping score at home).

The views at Deep Creek Lake Maryland are gorgeous (this was not taken whilst running for those of you keeping score at home).

Then I arrived home Saturday afternoon, performed in a show Saturday night, and while everyone else drank and hung out, I stuck to water (who’s the fun kid? this water-gulping nerd) and while others went out, I went home to sleep before waking up at 6:45 a.m. on a Sunday (ew. gross. never again. mornings are the worst.) in order to run closer to the 7 a.m. race time.

So to all those out there looking to train, know this: training is a sacrifice and a challenge, but it’s also one of the most rewarding things I’ve done in a long while — I am stronger than I’ve ever been in my life and I’ve run more consecutively than I ever thought possible. How amazing is that? (#worthit)

Next Week’s Schedule

Monday: Day of Rest
Tuesday: Boot Camp
Wednesday: 3 miles
Thursday: Boot Camp
Friday: 2 miles
Saturday: Day of Rest
Sunday: 7 mile run

This is the first week of tapering for me. For those of you who are unfamiliar with running vernacular (as I was until very recently), tapering occurs in the last few weeks before the race when you cut down on your work outs and long runs in order to rest up for race day. Marathoners have been tapering for several weeks, but for half marathoners, like me, you typically hit your peak two weekends before (this weekend for me), then taper down 30% two weeks before, then really slow down the week before the race.

Look how happy I am to complete 12 miles (and taper away this week).

Look how happy I am to complete 12 miles (and taper away this week).

Topic of the Week: Gear

Gear:

When I was preparing to train for the half, I spent a lot of time hemming and hawing over what gear I did and did not need. Here’s where I netted out from toe to head (it’s seems far more logical than head to toe, doesn’t it?). Also, just for the record, none of these company’s paid me to write about these products, I just love them:

Feet: I sport the Brooks GTS Adrenaline 14 running shoes— they cost a whopping $139 (yikes) — but all those who follow the blog know I really struggled to find the right pair of shoes (these are my third pair), and I am madly in love with these supportive, guide shoes. Amazingly, the people at True Runner in Shadyside let me trade in my shoes (from another store) that weren’t working for me. Customer service wins every time. I also discovered that insoles were not for me, even though I’m a knock-kneed runner.

For long runs, I don quality running socks — I have two pairs of regular Feetures and one pair of wool Feetures socks. I cannot speak highly enough of the wool socks (Wool running socks? Who even knew there was such a thing?). They were a lifesaver on cold long runs. But for those of you looking to invest in socks, for my 12 weeks of training, I only needed 3 pairs.

Me and my shoes (and some weird salt on the ground because it's Pittsburgh)

Me and my shoes (and some weird salt on the ground because it’s Pittsburgh)

Legs: I own one pair of Under Armour running tights … that I have had since high school. That’s right folks, one pair. These bad boys and I rock out on the regular. I also own several pairs of running shorts and running capris (I have no particular brand to recommend). Caution: Running pants are the only place I’ve wasted money. I purchased a $60 pair of fleece-lined running pants. Presumably, I bought these with the assumption that I would don these for cold temperature runs. But, let me tell you, if it was cold enough to pull out the fleece-lined pants, I went running for the treadmill. So unless you live in a tundra, don’t waste your money on fleece-lined, and don’t invest in dozens of pairs of running tights (just wash them regularly — I beg of you).

Tops: I won’t go into undergarments, because, ew, it’s the internet (though I did, in the making of this post, discover the term “runderpants,” which I think is just hilarious). But anyways, I’ll just skip ahead to tops. I wear dry-fit, non-cotton t-shirts and long-sleeve shirts. I have one Columbia omni-heat long-sleeve shirt (you know, the kind with the silver dots that hold in warmth). But the best purchase I’ve ever made on any piece of running clothing is my beloved hooded fleece/sweatshirt/top layer from Saucony. I wear it multiple times a week. You can zip up the hood to warm your head, and BONUS, you can poke your thumbs out of the sleeves and pull part of the sleeve over your hands for built-in mittens (let me repeat that: built. in. mittens.) Worth every cent of the near $70 I shelled out for it. Here I am with my top layer, if you follow the blog, you’ll recognize it from every other blog post on this entire site.

Me and my sweatshirt. And also Deep Creek. But mostly me and the sweatshirt.

Me and my fleece. And also Deep Creek. But mostly me and the fleece.

 

Top of my head: I just purchased a mesh running hat for $10, and I’m madly in love with it and highly recommend it. My dad can run with shades and a hat (how do the shades stay on when he bounces around, I ask you?), but I am a fan of my new hat (sans shades) and ran with it for my 12 mile run to test it out for race day. Pro tip: You should never wear new clothes on race day, because you never know what will chafe, what will feel weird, and what ensemble is just plain unlucky (not that I believe in that sort of thing, but I mean, look at that fleece!).

Gels: I’m new to the gel world. I tried out liquid gels on my fail of a 9-mile run last week, and they bothered my stomach, so I switched to Honey Stinger chews this week and LOVE them (pink lemonade forever). It’s like I get a gummy reward every mile (you pop one per mile). The chews do the same things as the gels (boost my glucose and carbs to give me energy), but the chews are easier on my stomach and taste a bazillion times better (no exaggeration, it’s really a bazillion).

So what I’m telling you, intrepid readers who have made it this far, is that you don’t need that much gear to run at a high level. Yes, you need to invest in a few quality pieces, but quality is far more important than quantity. And most importantly, you need to find what works for you, and what doesn’t work for your body. A lot of what I’ve learned from training is how to be totally aware of my body — how are my ankles feeling? how is my digestive system? where am I mentally? If some piece of gear, or even some piece of advice, doesn’t work for your training, discard it, and run on. It’s always best to run with a lighter load anyway (see what I did there?).

Veteran runners: What piece of running gear are you absolutely in love with? New runners: what gear do you have questions about?

Thanks for reading the blog, and I’ll check in with you next week (when I will be in pre-race JITTER FREAK OUT mode).

Your partner in running,
Jessie

Heading Into Week 10: The First Run I Truly Hated

On Sunday, everyone celebrated the unseasonably hot weather. “How delightful,” they said. And I joined their pleasant chorus. Naively. Until I ran in 82 degree heat for the first time in my training for the Pittsburgh half marathon. And proceeded to hate every single step.

Me, tortured, with my dad on our training run. (Please note: Tums Hat = Cool Kid)

Me, tortured, with my dad on our 80 degree training run. (Please note: Tums Hat = Cool Kid)

Before we get to my endless laments about warm weather running, wheezing and a picture of my dad’s new puppy (!!!!), let’s review the past week and the week to come as the half marathon races ever closer (pun intended).

Planned Schedule
Monday: Day of Rest
Tuesday: 3 miles
Wednesday: Boot Camp
Thursday: 3 miles
Friday: Boot Camp
Saturday: 1-2 miles
Sunday: 11 mile run with my dad

Actual Schedule
Monday: Day of Rest
Tuesday: 3 miles
Wednesday: Boot Camp
Thursday: Sick
Friday: Sick again
Saturday: Sick again
Sunday: 9 miles

Not only did I get another sinus infection (that’s my third illness this training season for those of you keeping count), which halted my weekly training, I couldn’t even run the full 11 miles on Sunday. It was the first time I actually experienced the feeling that I could not put one more foot in front of the other.

Here's a picture from my delightful and manageable 3-mile run through Bloomfield Cemetery. They even have lakes there!

Here’s a picture from my delightful and manageable 3-mile run through Bloomfield Cemetery. They even have little ponds there!

Next Week’s Schedule

Monday: Day of Rest
Tuesday: Boot Camp
Wednesday: Boot Camp
Thursday: 3 miles
Friday: 3 miles
Saturday: Day of Rest
Sunday: 12 mile run with my dad

Hopefully, this week I will be more successful at the putting one foot in front of the other thing (otherwise known as running). I will be traveling Thursday-Saturday to Deep Creek Lake, Maryland, which I hope will lend itself to some beautiful and picturesque runs around the lake! (Crosses fingers for blog photo ops)

Topic of the Week: How to Cope With Your Worst Ever Run

I say, without any exaggeration, that my 80-degree 9-mile run this past Sunday with my dad was the worst run of my life. Each mile was a struggle. Every step I chanted in my mind a mixture of encouragement and expletives. And as a girl tracking my training, I think it’s just as important to talk about the challenges as it is to talk about the successes.

Does my smile look forced to you?

Does my smile look a little bit forced to you?

The cards were stacked against me from the start: I had only been on antibiotics for my sinus infection for 3 days, so I was still mildly wheezing/coughing and my body was already slightly fatigued (not to mention I attended a wedding the night before). We ran in the middle of the afternoon (my fault: I just didn’t know what sun felt like until this run). And we were supposed to run 11 miles (our farthest yet).

From the first steps, I felt off and wheezy. The first hill killed my lungs and it took a while for my breathing to get back under control. I felt weak already.

The sun beat down on us, with no shade to be found, through every aching step. Around mile 4, I had my first ever doubts about the half marathon. What if I can’t do it? What if all those people are cheering and my family and friends are there to support me and I am resigned to walking and panting and nearly vomiting? What if I fail my first half marathon?

I know now that those thoughts were heat-induced irrationalities, but in that moment, I felt like I wanted to cry. Like I hadn’t trained enough (even though I ran 10 miles just two weeks ago). Like I wasn’t strong enough. It was a horribly scary and vulnerable feeling. But I do believe, cliche as it may be, that it is only when we reach our limits that we grow. (Or in my case, that we find the strength to push to 9 miles when you want to stop after 3.)

I now pause this post for a picture of my dad's adorable puppy Mabel, placing her small head into an old running shoe (of which she is approximately the same size).

I now pause this post for a picture of my dad’s adorable puppy Mabel placing her small head into an old running shoe (of which she is approximately the same size).

Thank goodness for my dad. Through all of this he kept encouraging me and telling me that to really be prepared for the race, I had to do a cold long run and a hot long run. And given the fact that it was my first ever long run in weather above 55 degrees, 9 miles was an amazing success even though it didn’t feel like it at the time.

Even with his encouragement, by about mile 6, I knew I couldn’t reach the 11-mile goal. I kept asking to slow the pace (we were running nearly 13-minute miles at this point, almost 2 minutes slower than our typical pace). I felt nauseous, my ankles hurt, my breath was ragged and my body begged to stop with every step. I panicked thinking how this would not even be halfway on race day.

I perked up at mile 7, but when mile 8 came around, I hit a wall. I internally cursed any other person on the path who was an obstacle to the finish — be it kids on bikes, friendly dogs or darling families. They were all the enemy to me completing the run (And yes, for the record, I do now recognize that I was a crazed woman).

I had to stop at mile 9. And my shaky, lightheaded, gelatinous body thanked me, while my racing heart tried to get itself under control. While I mentally punished myself, it was the right thing to do given the fact that I combatted shakiness for the rest of the day.

So here is my advice to all those considering training: When you have one run that kills you, that you really hate, that you truly loathe, it’s okay. It doesn’t make you weak. It means you’re working hard. It just means you’ll appreciate the next run you do. And you should listen to your body when it tells you to stop.

Other lessons learned: Heat running is the worst. The. Worst. And I really need to work on my mental game while running. I tried to stay optimistic while I ran, but it was a real struggle.

To any veteran runners out there: What do you do on your worst running days? How do you stay positive on the go?

Thanks for checking in with the blog and keep running (even when it challenges you).

Your partner in training,
Jessie

Heading Into Week 9: On Traveling and Training

I return to our Steel City exhausted and exhilarated after a weekend (and two runs!) in Chicago. Though I didn’t conquer a long run while in the Windy City for the Chicago Improv Festival, I did squeak out six miles one day and two miles the next as part of my training for the Half Marathon.

Running with a different skyline this week: Chicago's!

Running with a different skyline this week: Chicago’s!

Before I expel my newfound wisdom on training and traveling, I’ll review my progress last week and my plan for this week.

Last Week In Review

Planned Schedule
Monday: Boot Camp
Tuesday: 3 miles
Wednesday: Boot Camp
Thursday: 3 miles
Friday: 8 miles in Chicago?
Saturday: Traveling in Chicago
Sunday: Traveling in Chicago

Actual Schedule
Monday: Boot Camp
Tuesday: 3 miles
Wednesday: Boot Camp
Thursday: Day of Rest
Friday: 6 miles
Saturday: 2 miles
Sunday: Day of Rest

So while I didn’t manage one long run of 8 miles in Chi-town, I did find time for 8 miles total! And I had to take Thursday off, because my boot camp class was incredibly challenging this week, which makes sense considering I ran 10 miles on Sunday than proceeded to attend Monday’s boot camp class replete with sprinting suicides. My quads were so sore by Wednesday that I was reduced to wattling. Now that’s a good workout.

The windy city lived up to it's namesake!

The windy city lived up to it’s namesake!

Next Week’s Schedule

Monday: Day of Rest
Tuesday: 3 miles
Wednesday: Boot Camp
Thursday: 3 miles
Friday: Boot Camp
Saturday: 1-2 miles
Sunday: 11 mile run with my dad

11 miles [insert gulp of fear here]. Another double digit run, here I come!

Topic of the Week: On Traveling and Training

My trip to Chicago posed a very significant threat to my training schedule because I was staying with friends (so I didn’t have access to a gym there and I wanted to maximize my limited time with them), I didn’t know what kind of weather I would find, and I didn’t know where to run (or, more importantly, where to safely run on my own).

A wonderful urban trail wound me by the lake on my 6 mile run in Chicago.

A wonderful urban trail wound me by the lake on my 6 mile run in Chicago.

Not to mention, my boyfriend and I were flying on a limited budget so we had reduced our baggage to one carry on each and one checked bag between the two of us (it’s $25 a bag, so we weren’t about to drop that kind of cash on a second bag). I thought I wouldn’t be able to fit my running shoes, and what if I wasted valuable space taking them only to not use them at all? Once all the packing was done, I forced my running shoes and gear into the small amount of leftover space in our checked bag. A part of me thought I was silly to bring them, but pack them I did!

And if I can give one piece of advice to all you runners who are traveling and training, it’s this: Pack your shoes and basic running gear, just in case. You really never know when you will have the chance to run. And even if you don’t use them, and you just look at them guiltily thinking of the runs you should be on, at least you have them.

One of my friends living in Chicago used to run cross country in college (and track before that), and he kindly offered to run with me. He took me on a wonderful trail down by the lake, and it was really nice to have that hour to chat with him and catch up on life while I ran through unfamiliar terrain.

Me and my friend Kyle, who graciously ran with me (and served as my de facto running guide) while in Chicago.

Me and my friend Kyle, who graciously ran with me (and served as my de facto running guide) while in Chicago.

Running while traveling also taught me another surprising lesson: Seeing a place while running through the streets is like taking a city tour — only you look like a local and there are less photo opportunities. It was so nice to see so much of a place in just one hour.

And since Kyle has so much experience running, he had some great advice for my ankle pain: A series of foot/ankle strengthening exercises. Here’s how it works: Once you’re back indoors after a run, you walk approximately 100 meters in socks or barefoot on the outside of your feet, then the inside of your feet, then bow legged, then with feet pointed in, then on your heels, and then backwards on the balls of your feet (note that each one of these exercises has a corresponding exercise so you balance your strength-building). He said this set of exercises helped him regain his natural arches and helped prevent injuries. Even though I had to leave Kyle in Chicago :(, I am happy to bring these exercises back with me!

I am interested to hear about other runners who have trained while traveling — what have you learned? Any tricks to pass on?

Thanks for checking in on the blog, and keep running!

Your partner in training,

Jessie

 

 

 

Heading into Week 8: Surprise Lessons from Training

I finally felt better this week (YAY!) and hopped back into my training for the Half Marathon with full enthusiasm (and full lung capacity). I had missed running when I was sick, and my renewed enthusiasm when I returned carried me through my first 10 mile run! Hurrah!

A perfect overcast run down the Three Rivers Heritage Trail!

A few moments from a 3-mile fabulous overcast run down the Three Rivers Heritage Trail!

Since I’m just over the halfway point in my training, I wanted to take this post to reflect on what’s surprised me thus far when it comes to training. But first, I’ll report on last week and my plan for the week to come.

Last Week In Review

Planned Schedule
Monday: 5:15 Boot Camp
Tuesday: 3 miles
Wednesday: 5:15 Boot Camp
Thursday: 3 miles
Friday: Day of Rest
Saturday: 2 miles
Sunday: 8 miles

Actual Schedule
Monday: 5:15 Boot Camp
Tuesday: 3 miles
Wednesday: Day of Rest
Thursday: 3 miles
Friday: Day of Rest
Saturday: 3 miles
Sunday: 10 miles

Though I missed a boot camp, I completed more milage than I anticipated this week! And for perhaps the first time ever, I actually completed the runs on the days I had planned. Even when it meant running in the rain (as evidenced below).

Running in the rain. Like Singing in the Rain ... without the musical numbers.

Running in the rain. Like Singing in the Rain … without the musical numbers.

The 10-mile run, which I completed with my trusty running partner (my dad), exhausted me (probably due to the fact that I’ve missed my last two long runs due to illness) but also inspired me considering I had never run four miles before this training began.

Next Week’s Schedule

Monday: Boot Camp
Tuesday: 3 miles
Wednesday: Boot Camp
Thursday: 3 miles
Friday: 8 miles in Chicago?
Saturday: Traveling in Chicago
Sunday: Traveling in Chicago

This is the first week where my training — specifically my long run — will be logistically challenged. I am visiting friends in Chicago Thursday through Sunday. I don’t know how I will find the time or the place to complete my vital long run. Do any of you have training and traveling suggestions? (Please keep in mind that I will be staying with friends and not in a hotel with any sort of work out facility.)

My dad and I after 10 miles! Looking nice and sweaty.

My dad and I after 10 miles! Looking nice and sweaty.

Topic of the Week: What I Had All Wrong About Training

I had a lot of assumptions going in about what it would be like to train for the half, how it would go, and how I would feel. Here’s what I never expected:

1. Finding shoes is the hardest part (outside of the actual running). I always knew shoes were important, sure, but I never anticipated the sheer amount of time I would devote to finding the right pair, trying them out, adding inserts, and then returning everything and starting again.

I’m now on my third pair of shoes during this training cycle alone! I don’t know if a shoe saga is the case for every runner, but due to my recurring ankle pain, I’ve gone to both Fleet Feet and True Runner to talk to experts about what shoes I should be wearing given that I’m a heel-striking, knock-kneed gal. (I’ve also learned fun shoe jargon like “heel-striking.”) So for all new runners out there, my advice is this: don’t to be afraid of searching for shoes, because the right pair makes a huge difference.

My newest shoe, the Brooks GTS Adrenaline 14. Very fancy and fabulous.

My newest shoe, the Brooks GTS Adrenaline 14. Very fancy and fabulous.

2. There is no need to follow a training plan that works for someone else, but just isn’t for you. (AKA, there is no need to follow a strict 12-week schedule that only increases milage, but doesn’t account for cross-training.) There are a lot of schools of thought when it comes to training for a half marathon, and originally, I planned to follow the “old school” approach of running five days a week and increasing my milage each week. See my original plan detailed here.

While this may work for some, I quickly found that it would never work for me. Given my love for boot camp and yoga ,my non-running background, and consistent ankle pain, I formulated my own training plan (with my dad’s experienced guidance): 2 days of high-intensity boot camp, 2-3 days of short runs, 1 day with a long run.

Who's that? Just a happy runner who didn't feel tied to her original training schedule.

Who’s that? Just a happy runner (in the rain) who doesn’t feel tied to her original training schedule.

3. You must set aside time for running — it won’t just fit politely into your schedule. But don’t be surprised when you don’t complete your planned schedule from week to week. While it may seem obvious, I think the biggest lesson I’ve learned is just how much time and energy it takes to stick to a training program. I feel like I started out training with a laissez faire attitude, and quickly realized that it’s a bit more serious to run at this level. I’ve had to prioritize, rearrange, and make sacrifices to train, but so far, it’s all been worth it.

I also learned to forgive myself for never quite reaching my weekly goals. It’s nice to have a plan, but it’s also nice to know that as long as I hit the key points (for me) — one boot camp, one short run, one long run — I’ll be fine. I was even more surprised to learn I could take off a week and a half due to asthma and actually find myself reinvigorated when I jumped back into my training. (Perhaps a short break in the middle of training could actually be encouraged?)

I've taken to running right after work to save time. The view isn't half bad!

I’ve taken to running right after work to save time. The view isn’t half bad!

4. You can take pride in being a slow runner, because running a fast mile has nothing to do with running a solid long run. I knew from the beginning I was a slow runner. But clocking myself on early long runs, I deduced that I was running an 11 minute mile or so, which was way slower than even I had anticipated. At first I worked really hard to be faster, but (as any smart person would expect) I wound up burning out quickly. I began embracing my slow runner-ness and wound up running at a comfortable, sustainable pace. (I remain only slightly embarrassed when scores of other runners pass me on the street/path/trail.)

Ironically, when I stopped worrying about my speed, I found myself growing faster throughout my training, and this week I ran an 8:40 mile randomly in the middle of a 3-mile run. But don’t worry, during the long run, I slowed back down to a nice 10:30 or 10:40 pace. Moral of the story? Rock on, slow runners! You are my people!

 

Just some slow-running feet of mine.

Just some slow-running feet of mine.

5. Running can actually be fun. But I have still never experienced a runner’s high. If you are someone who reads this blog but hates to run, I assure you that I understand. You’re pounding your joints into the hard ground. You sweat. You’re most likely in some kind of mild pain. But there’s more to it, I swear! You find a groove. You spend more time outside. You find regular routes where you can look forward to beautiful sights. You wave to other runners and feel cool — like some sort of “insider.” You feel stronger and more confident. Or at least, that’s the case for me.

Overall, running has helped me reduce my personal anxiety. I now find it soothing to grab my gear and hit the ground running (pun totally intended). I think part of it was getting over that learning and confidence curve. Getting over the hump of “do I have the right clothes/shoes/mindset/music/route/partner/knowledge.” Once you feel confident in yourself, running can be downright delightful. And though the mythical runner’s high still deceives me, I know it’s out there. Perhaps it’s saving itself for race day.

I’ve learned much more, but I’ll save it for another day. Other runners, what have you learned from training that you didn’t expect? Non-runners, what have you always wondered about running?

Thanks for checking in on the blog!

Your partner in running,
Jessie

Heading Into Week 7: On Boot Camp, Yoga, and Cross Training

Despite my best efforts to will myself back to health, my lungs aren’t having it. They continue to wheeze. And hack. And be general trouble makers. (If you missed the background, check out how I fell from asthmatic grace last week.) What that means is my training for the half marathon has taken an unexpected, and rather lengthy, siesta.

I am finally feeling better today, and cautiously hopeful, but I plan to reintegrate myself slowly. And even though I’ve been woefully incapable of working out lately in any capacity, I figured this post would be a fun time to chat about my cross training, and more specifically, my love of boot camp and yoga.

My one run this week left me wheezy for the next 2 days due to cold air in my lungs. Hurrumph.

My one run this week left me wheezy for the next 2 days due to cold air in my lungs. Hurrumph.

Before we dive into cross training specifics, let’s review my last week (however embarrassing it may be) and my plan for this week.

Last Week In Review

Planned Schedule:
Monday: Day of Rest
Tuesday: Day of Rest
Wednesday: Day of Rest
Thursday: 3 miles
Friday: No running, 5:15 Boot Camp
Saturday: Day of Rest
Sunday: 9 miles

Actual Schedule:
Monday: Day of Rest
Tuesday: Day of Rest
Wednesday: Day of Rest
Thursday: Day of Rest
Friday: 3 miles
Saturday: Day of Rest
Sunday: Day of Rest

Not only was I unable to run, but I was unable to work out at all this week due to my lungs. I know that may sound like an exaggeration or simply laziness, but when it comes to asthma trouble, it’s just not possible for me. And, believe you me, I missed working out. So much. So here’s my plan to get back on the proverbial horse.

At least my one run this week took me through the gorgeous twists and turns of Bloomfield Cemetery.

At least my one run this week took me through the gorgeous twists and turns of Bloomfield Cemetery.

Plan For Next Week

Monday: 5:15 Boot Camp
Tuesday: 3 miles
Wednesday: 5:15 Boot Camp
Thursday: 3 miles
Friday: Day of Rest
Saturday: 2 miles
Sunday: 8 miles

My fingers and toes are crossed that I will be able to stay on track this week. And have more runs like this one:

Another shot of Bloomfield Cemetery from Friday. How could you resist this light?!

Another shot of Bloomfield Cemetery from Friday. How could you resist this light?!

Topic of the Week: Boot Camp, Yoga, and Cross Training

There are many schools of thought when it comes to training for a half marathon. Some say to strictly run and increase milage at a steady rate each week. And while this approach may work for some, it’s not the approach for me. I am not a runner by trade. And the half marathon for me is about becoming stronger, and that means all parts of my body. Since I don’t have the background in running, cross training has been instrumental in my training.

I attend Boot Camp twice a week at Panthro Fitness in the Strip District and I absolutely love the place. I am a big believer in group training as an ACE-certified group fitness trainer myself. My mom owns a small fitness studio in Mt. Lebanon called Training By Tami where I used to teach and attend classes. It’s the kind of place where everyone knows each other and swaps stories of life while working out. When I moved to Bloomfield in September, I was really missing my fitness community until I found Panthro Fitness via a GroupOn (which is still available, if you’re interested).

Panthro Fitness' Strip District studio.

Panthro Fitness’ Strip District studio.

The coaches at Panthro Fitness push me harder than I’ve ever been pushed in an exercise class. We begin with interval training (:30 seconds of intense workout, :15 seconds of rest, continued for several minutes), and then move into specific strength and/or cardio work. We run sprints, hit the battle ropes (those things kill me every time), heave a sled, work arms and legs on TRX ropes and free weights, perform box jumps, and so much more.

But even better than the workout is the vibe of the studio. My 12-person class has become my cheering squad and my workout buddies, and that makes these twice weekly workouts both challenging and genuinely enjoyable. My boot camp classes have made my long runs much more manageable, and have made me feel more prepared for the half marathon.

Outside of Boot Camp, I try to attend yoga once a week. When I was in college at Ohio University, I attended my beloved Inhale Yoga Studio twice a week, where I learned to touch my toes for the first time (I wish I was kidding), trust my body, soothe my personal battle with anxiety,  and do a head stand (which was a bucket list goal for me … I’m constantly terrified I will flip over and break my neck … logically).

My old yoga studio in Ohio: Inhale Yoga!

My old yoga studio in Ohio: Inhale Yoga!

 

Since coming to Pittsburgh, I haven’t been able to find just the studio for me (as any yogis know, finding your studio is half the battle). I currently practice at YogaFlow in Shadyside, and I love the classes, but I’m not a huge fan of hot yoga (I think it’s because my old studio wasn’t hot yoga … a personal bias). But when it comes to training for the half marathon, there is nothing better for a runner than stretching out all of those aching muscles, focusing on the breath, and just letting all the tension go.

So for me, when it comes to cross training, I go to Boot Camp for the strength training and the vibe, and I attend Yoga for the anxiety relief and the release. There are many other types of cross training if those don’t tickle your fancy: swimming, spinning, Cross Fit, etc. Do you have a favorite form of cross training while preparing for long runs? What do you look for in a fitness studio or class? (I’m a sucker for good energy.)

I hope you all stay happy and healthy this week!

Your partner in (wheezy) running,
Jessie