Head, Shoulders, Knees and Feats

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Portland marathon: 26.2 miles

Cupcake flavor: Pumpkin with maple buttercream frosting

Wakeup time: 4:45 am

Start time: 7:11 am

Finish time: 11:50 am

Temperature: 60 degrees

Mood: Giddy, excited, happy…after a successful pre-race bathroom trip.

Pre-race meal: Honeycrisp apple, almond butter, and a pumpkin ALT bar.

Race fuel: Nuun, pink lemonade and GU chomps, watermelon

Longest training run: 22 miles

Length of time training post-injury: 10 weeks…yikes.

Here I am, a month and a half later, finally blogging about the Portland Marathon. Sigh. Dental hygiene school gets in the way at times. But, I promise this post is full of happiness and cupcakes!

My training wasn’t the greatest this time around and, quite frankly, pretty stupid inadequate. I was apprehensive about what the Portland held in store for me. I’d signed up for this race a year in advance, and I wasn’t about to give up running because of a silly little injury and a lame boot. Das Boot came off the end of June and my physical therapist was adamant that one, I wait at least a month to begin even light running, and two, that I purchase shoes with lots of support and cushion in them. I did my best to listen.

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My first run back was in mid-July. See the picture? I listened. I waited a month to run and I’m even wearing supportive running shoes (and mismatched socks.) These are an old pair of running shoes, but I even went so far as to go and try out 8 different pairs of running shoes with varying amounts of support in them. I hated them all.

I made a valiant effort to try supportive shoes for 3 weeks. And then I ditched them. Not. A. Fan. They felt heavy and entirely too rigid. I’m so accustomed to my Brooks PureDrift or New Balance Minimus, that anything more felt cumbersome. I like the minimalist, lightweight, flexible, 0-4 mm heel drop, kind of shoe. So, that’s what I returned to. Sorry, Kyla.

My few weeks of training were slow, as I eluded to in my last post. It was humbling, grueling, and a little disheartening at times. I never once kept track of pace. But I know I was slow. It was enough of a mental struggle to get out the door each time, that pushing pace didn’t seem like the smartest thing to do. Not to mention that my tibia wasn’t fully healed either. I was not concerned about pace. I needed to focus on distance, on crossing that damned finish line.

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Here I am chucking deuces at the 22 miles of Forest Park I’d just  conquered. Longest training run before the marathon.

What a run. I set out that morning to run 16. Eight miles out and eight back on Leif Erickson trail. 7 miles in, I had a very sudden and large need for a bathroom. And not the kind of need that can be satisfied with jumping off the trail for a moment. From that point, it was 4 miles to the nearest outhouse. Which happened to be at the entirely opposite end of the trail, 3 miles beyond my turn-around point. My other option was to turn around and run the 7 miles back to where I started. What do you think I chose? My 16 mile run suddenly became 16+3+3=22. At least I had a happy tummy at the end!

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Race day came way too quickly. The stats of which I eluded to at the beginning of this post. I’ve been mulling over (for 6 weeks now) how exactly I wanted to discuss my Portland marathon experience.

Let’s talk about songs. These tend to define the overall race experience in a number of ways. Driving to the race with one of my best friends from elementary school and our respective boyfriends, the nerves were almost palpable. I woke up that morning with a rather ridiculous song stuck in my head, and had no choice but to play it for the car: DJ Khaled, “All I Do Is Win.” What can I say? I was ready to win the race.

After my first real experience with multiple race corrals, I really did start to feel like cattle being herded. The song going through my head at the start line is one I’m rather ashamed to admit. Standing there waiting, I kept hearing, “Players gonna play, play, play. Haters gonna hate, hate, hate. I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake. Shake it off, shake it off.” Taylor Swift, you do not need to be in my head this early in the morning. However, I could stand to shake off those nervous jitters that always take hold of me in the minutes preceding a race start. 

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Here I am in the first third of the race, still entirely too energized and happy. Except, that’s surprisingly how I was through the majority of the run. In the first 8 miles, I kept looking all around at the other runners, in awe of the energy surrounding me. We all had put forth so much effort, so much time, to make this day a reality. This sounds rather silly, but the REM song, “Shiny Happy People” popped into my head as I ran down Naito Parkway. The song is rather repetitive, but it basically talks about being surrounded by shiny, happy people. And that is exactly how I felt. I even felt like a shiny, happy, people. Yes, a people. Shiny, happy, sunshine and smiles.

Again, the first 6-8 miles seemed to zoom by. Partially because they had so much live music for us. The other part being the aforementioned energy. The music though! So many wonderful artists, guitarists, vocalists, multi-instrument ensembles. One group was playing MGMT, “Electric Feel” on a particularly boring straight stretch. Thanks guys, I had that song stuck in my head for the next 10 miles.

Overall, the race went better than I’d hoped. A random spectator during mile 18 saved my life with the most amazing banana I’d ever eaten. I really should just start carrying a banana with me during long runs, because they always seem like pure, ingestible gold 2/3 through a marathon. Remember this? Mile 19 of my last marathon, and my aunt handed me a banana. I am fairly certain I had tears in my eyes. That was how happy I was at the sight of a banana.

Mile 20, there were belly dancers! What a random form of entertainment for the runners. I, however, loved it. Little known fact about me: I belly danced for 4 years in high school. It’s such an amazing form of self-expression, not to mention pretty great to watch…except when you’re 20 miles into a run. I stopped and demonstrated my best hip shimmy and hip circle with a huge smile on my face, as if to say, ‘see I know how to do this too! Can’t you tell?!’ Sadly, I am more than certain I looked very similar to someone having a seizure. Sigh. I tried.

The last few miles of the race, I was accompanied by an awesome runner from Seattle. I’m pretty sure our random babble was what kept me sane.

 

This was about mile 23 or 24. I made my new found friend stop so I could capture this. I’ve been taking pictures of random “Hello, my name is…” stickers for two years now.  You can see them here on my Instagram. I promise you, I’ve never placed one myself.

As we ran the last 2.2 miles, every other word out of my mouth was profanity. Poor friend. All I could think about was the burger I was going to feast on afterwards. I detailed every last topping I wanted.

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1/3 pound burger with pepperjack cheese, over easy egg, bacon and avocado.  Craving was indeed satisfied.

Head, shoulders, knees, and feats. Head, shoulders, knees, and feats. Eyes and ears and nose and mouth…Head, shoulders, knees, and feats.

What a random song to pop into my head while running a marathon.

Head: Positive mental attitude is everything. Without that, the race could not have been conquered. It is remembering why you’re out there, why you run. It is remembering how far you’ve come to be in this moment. ‘Wherever you are, be all there.’ I could not be where I am today without the support and encouragement of my friends and family.

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With tears streaming down my face, I could not think of a better way to come across the finish line. This guy even made a shirt to show his support:

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“Team Jessica” on the front and “#werunforcupcakes” on the back.

These ladies. Forever friends. And an amazing support and more hugs at the finish line.20141125-131834.jpg

 

Shoulders: I had the most difficult time keeping my shoulders out of my ears during the marathon. I kept having to conscientiously relax them. Surprisingly, they were the only part of my body that was sore the day after the race. Explain that.

Knees: Going into the marathon, I reminded myself to keep the pace slow and steady. About halfway through the race, my knee started to twinge. Immediate thought: “Oh no! Another injury! How in the world am I going to make it through the rest of the race?” It is amazing how quickly my brain jumps to conclusions. I pushed on.

Feats: Simply, I crossed the finish line. I completed another marathon. I ran 26.2 miles two months after Das Boot and an incredibly humbling injury. I pushed through mentally and physically to cross the finish line of my third marathon with tears streaming down my face and a giant grin.

Don’t worry, the cupcakes were devoured.

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There Are No Problems, Only Opportunities.

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No news is good news. But, this is a blog. I need news to write; be it good or bad.

The good news: No stress fracture.

The bad news: No running.

In other news: Meet my new friend, Sexy Boot. We’ve decided to start going on adventures together around the grand city of Portland. He’s not the fastest means of transportation, and we get some strange looks, but overall, it’s looking like it will be a mutually beneficial (and hopefully short-lived) friendship.

Remember my mention of shin pain in my last post? Two weeks prior April’s marathon, I started getting twinges similar to shin splints in my right leg. The pain worsened, but I still ran my marathon on it. Even when the pain kicked in at mile 2. I gave it a couple weeks post-race to see if it would get any better. It started aching all the time. If I tried walking around on it too much, it would turn into a shooting, sharp pain in the lower part of my shin. The thought of running would make me cringe. I’m not a big fan of doctors. I’m not at all against them; it just takes a lot to necessitate going in. The lack of improvement after two weeks and my complete inability to run was reason enough.

A trip to the orthopedist, an x-ray, and an MRI later and I learned what ailed me: torn tendons in the lower portion of my right tibia. Overuse injury. The Remedy = No running + Sexy Boot + Physical Therapy.

Sometimes, it takes being deprived of something to make you truly appreciate it. Running is a gift. A privilege. I felt that I’d always valued this ability. But, to be suddenly told that I’m not allowed to run, not allowed to partake in an activity that brings me happiness, mental clarity, and most of all, sanity? The world better watch out. It gave me an entirely new perspective. I’ve only been a real runner for 20 months, but it has become such a defining feature of myself. “Hello, I’m Jessica. I’m a runner, an amateur photographer and a lover of teeth.” To have to add a caveat to the first on that list was painful (pun intended.)

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Yes, my house has stayed incredibly clean. I’ve found myself getting anxious and irritable when Sunday rolls around and I’m not heading out on the trails for a long run. I see runners on the road and find myself thinking murderous thoughts that would surely get me in trouble if I verbalized them. Those runners didn’t deserve my negative attitude.  I was (am) surely just jealous. Side effects of not running: mood swings, irritability, insomnia, guilt, crying, irrational behavior, excessive caloric intake to expenditure ratio…

A reality check was needed. I’ve found new activities to occupy my time. Sexy Boot and I have gone on some adventures. We hiked Munra Point in the Columbia River Gorge. This is a view at the top of the hike, facing west.

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It was a beautiful and steep climb that was absolutely enjoyed. The day was warm and none too windy. The hike was 7.5 miles round trip. The only downside of the hike was that the first portion of it, you walk pretty much parallel to the freeway. Once you pass Moffet Creek though, you begin steadily climbing and leaving the road noise behind.

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This is facing south, looking down Tanner Valley. I was perched rather precariously to even get this photo.

In addition to hiking (slowly, I might add), I was given the okay to start biking. This is an activity that Sexy Boot and I are not together for. I’ve been cycling over 100 miles a week to help in my pursuit of the mental clarity that running brings me. I’m also trying to take all of this extra time I have and start learning to properly cross train and strength train. My sister’s wedding is less than 3 months away. As her maid of honor, I can’t be the dumpy looking one of the group…right?!

Sexy Boot is not getting me down. My mantra right now is the title of this post, and comes from one of my dental hygiene professors. She said this to us at the beginning of our program, “There are no such thing as problems, only opportunities.” That is how I’m viewing this setback. It is an opportunity for me to discover new things, new ways to stay fit. It is an opportunity for me to focus on improving my overall body strength, work with physical therapists so as to prevent myself from injury like this in the future. I had three half marathons scheduled for the months of May and June. It has taken a lot of willpower and a humbled attitude to have stepped down from them.

I want to be a runner until the day I die. If that means taking time off to heal now so I can be stronger in the future, then I am ready for it. It is surely a test of my mental toughness, as I have a hard time even considering myself a runner right now. Regardless, this setback is going to set me up for an even stronger comeback. Be ready for it.

Lost: Running Mojo. If Found, Please Call…

…Me.

I started this post awhile ago. In fact, a couple days after I posted about my race in November. You know, over 2 months ago. I wanted to write this post like a motivated cheerleader and impart my love of running to all those that read this, complete with cartwheels and multi-person pyramids. It is the new year after all, and everyone seems to be getting into the motivated, running spirit. If I’m being completely honest, I fell into a little bit of a rut. I lost my running mojo! Initially, I had no idea how to get it back. I’d been battling a respiratory cold/illness/congestion thing. It aggravated my asthma and I started having attacks on seemingly every run I went on. Not really conducive to keeping the cheerleader spirit now, is it?

Two weeks of running without a mojo. It’s nearly impossible. Running didn’t excite me anymore. Three days went by without running and I didn’t feel like I could consider myself a runner anymore. A number of factors went into this: my stupid injury, the suddenly short days, frigid air, and the approaching end of semester with its plethora of projects and endless studying.

In my head, these were just excuses. But, valid nonetheless. I was hoping it would magically reappear. My desire to run, that is. I know all runners face this at some point, but I felt worthless and pathetic. And then I found this article and this song:

Now, I’m not saying these two things were the cure-all. But, you know that feeling when you discover a new song and you want it on repeat for days? You can’t help but sing aloud and dance around your room in your underoos? …Okay, maybe not the last part. Song addiction though. You binge on the song and it gives you a little boost every time it comes on. You smile to yourself. Your days brightens just ever so slightly. This is what happened with “Counting Stars.” It helped me to realize a couple of things:

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First, there is an ebb and flow to most things in life. Not to sound cheesy, but it’s like the ocean tide. At times, those waves ebb further and further away from the shoreline. And sometimes they come in full, crashing waves against the shoreline and encompass everything around. This was clearly an ebb of running in my life. I had to realize that it was perfectly okay. I hadn’t fallen out of love with running. I was tired, stressed and a little disappointed in my performance at the Happy Girls Run in November. (Full report here)
Too much of a good thing is a real concept. So is burn out. As is giving your body time to heal. Even more than that, I realized that I hadn’t been giving myself credit for the running I’d been doing, the accomplishments. It was time to take a step back.

The second thing was really an epiphany, if we’re being real here. I don’t run to continually accomplish goals. I run because it is now a part of my lifestyle. It is my lifestyle. I’m a runner. It’s like brushing my teeth. It is an integral part of my life. With this realization came a bit of relaxation. I don’t have to be constantly on it to consider myself a runner. Yes, goals are healthy and keep one motivated. But sometimes it’s just good to run to relax. Like I used to. Running used to be my catharsis, not something that stressed me out. I needed to revisit that cathartic running and appreciate that I don’t need to be doggedly chasing goals at all times.

I don’t know that I’ve actually found my running mojo again. What I have found though, is some form of clarity and/or sanity in my running little mind. Part of this clarity came when I had a short conversation with an older neighbor of mine, of whom I dearly adore. He looks like Santa Clause, but is a running beast. He runs 7 miles, 6 days a week in all types of weather for as many years as he can remember (30+.) He returns home to Belgium once a year to visit family and they all run a 10k race together. If I’m lucky, I’ll see him on a couple of my usual running routes. We have small chats, and he always, always has a smile on his face. The particular chat I’m referring to though, he greets me by saying, “Lighter feet, lighter feet!” in his brusque accent. I was dragging heavy that day, as I was running without mojo and it was raining. He slows down and says, “Your running has increased tenfold this year. It makes me smile to see someone out here just as crazy as myself.” I laughed and said, “thank you!” He then continued on his hustlin’ way and I on mine (not so hustlin’.) I don’t care what you say, my day was made!

So, here’s a little reflection. Here is what I need to stop and give myself credit for. In 2013, I ran three half-marathons. I ran my first marathon. I ran my fastest mile, my fastest 5k, 10k… PRs across the board. I inspired others to begin their love affair with running. I accomplished goals, fulfilled intentions. There’s something to be said in that.

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The week before beginning dental hygiene school, we took a tour of the main campus (I attend the health professions campus.) Part of the tour included walking through a labyrinth. Prior to walking through, our program director had us grab a stone out of a basket and reflect on it as we started our small journey. The above photo is the stone I drew from the basket. “Inspire.” It could not have been more perfect. This is what I aspire to do in every aspect of my life. As I traipsed around the spirals of the labyrinth, I thought of who had inspired me to get where I am now, how they’d inspired me, and what kind of attitude I needed to reflect to be able to do the same thing. The attitude? Staying positive, rolling with the ebbs and flows of the tide, enjoying the ride, but never forgetting to keep my sails directed towards my goals, intentions, and dreams.

Oh, I sound so cheesy…That’s what overthinking gets you, I suppose. I truly mean these words though! You, lovely readers, are getting the good and the bad in this post. We can’t always be cheerleaders and coaches. That amount of enthusiasm constantly isn’t real, people. What is real though, is being able to take a step back and look at things objectively. Evaluate. Give thanks.

In evaluating recently, I’ve made a decision. Due to an aforementioned leg injury over thanksgiving break, I’ve stepped down from running my 50k ultra next month. (Big, giant pouty and sad face.) It’s not that I couldn’t make it across the finish line, it’s that I want to finish strong. And, of late, I haven’t kept up my base of running enough to accomplish that. I’ve been allowing myself to heal (somewhat), so that I can choose another ultra and rock the socks off it! I’ve swapped my race entry though, and am going to run the 25k on that same weekend. I can’t throw in the towel entirely!

One thing I’d mentioned earlier with my lost running spirit was my asthma. It’s not something I’d touched on before, as I’ve always viewed it as a sign of weakness. Though, it is clearly not. I have sports-induced asthma. When I began training in 2012, I could barely run a mile without my lungs giving me grief. I used to carry an inhaler with me, and I used it before every run. I began testing myself though. I’d start my runs without Albuterol. So I learned that the more I ran, the further I could go without having an attack. The exception to that being the change of seasons. When the air started to turn crisp or suddenly warm again, my lungs would give me hell. This season though, I didn’t get a new inhaler. What a shame that proved to be. For some reason, regardless of my increased endurance, my asthma is right back to where it used to be. Inhaler needed before mile 2. And that is perfectly okay. 

I leave you with a phrase that has been floating in my brain for a few days now. Read it. Chew on it. Slowly.

We run both to lose and to find ourselves.

Holiday Half

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I begin writing this post with a giant, proud smile pasted across my face. These three people with me in the photo above crossed the finish line of their first half-marathon on December 15th . No one can take that away from them. They trained hard and this race was their reward. Well, and the cupcakes. Which are homemade gluten-free dark chocolate with a mint buttercream frosting. They were gone before the weekend.

My sister and her fiancee came up from the Oregon coast for the weekend. What a whirlwind weekend it was! Christmas parties, Peacock Lane, Pioneer Square, Christmas trees, amazing food. Always amazing food. I cannot show someone Portland and not give them a taste of the delicious food mecca they have stumbled upon. That would be absurd!

I also took sister to Foot Traffic for their expert advice in running shoes. Thank you, Kevin! Both my sister and her fiancee had their gait analyzed and shoes recommended. I even talked them into doing a few test runs around the block. I will just say this: running in knee high boots to provide moral support to someone testing out running shoes is not recommended.

We all ran the race in good spirits (holiday cheer, anyone?) and weather outside was surprisingly cooperative. 40 degrees with intermittent light drizzle. No wind this year, and I am eternally grateful for this.

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Sister and I ran in matching outfits because we’re awesome. Running tights, highlighter yellow 1/4 zip long sleeve, head bands and gloves. Glorious gloves, there really is something to be said about them. They’re wonderful when it’s cold out. I find that about mile 3 though, they get ditched. It’s the first part of my body to really warm up.

I need to digress for a moment. I’ve been training on an injury. Again. After my last half, pace became almost an obsession. I wanted to PR the Holiday Half more than anything in the world. So I began running with a focus on my speed. I’m proud to say my current 5k best is 21:18, 10k best is 46:50. Though, with this hyper-obsession with pace (which, if in moderation, can definitely be a healthy and motivating thing) , I pushed myself too hard. The week of Thanksgiving, while visiting family, I injured my left ankle and shin. I was out on my well-travelled 6 mile loop in Gold Hill. I was about halfway through, pacing a sub-7 minute mile and pushing it pretty hard, when my tibialis anterior muscle just seized. I couldn’t flex my foot downwards. I came down hard and crumpled in a pile on the pavement. As any runner knows, the first emotion to hit you is not upset at injuring oneself. It is anger that the injury may interfere with one’s running ability. And interfere it did. Two weeks before my half-marathon and I was lying in a heap on the side of the road, staring at my shin and ankle like they were to take all of the blame. How I wished death glares worked on injuries. Eventually, I got back up and hobble/jogged back to my family’s home. Two weeks before my half-marathon and the realization came that a PR probably wasn’t in the books for this girl.

Injury aside, I still ran the half. I was not about to let this huge day for my sister, her fiancee or D slip by without being a part of it! I am so happy I did. Sister and I ran together until about mile 9. We kept a sub-9 minute pace and great conversation. When I run with someone else, I always feel like I need to preface myself with, ‘I am not responsible for any of my words and/or actions during the first three miles.’ That proved quite true in this race. Profanities, complaints, rants…Sorry, sister! My injury decided to really flare up a little more than halfway through the run. So, at mile 9, I slowed for some water and ushered sister on her way with a, “Get it, girl! Kick some ass! I love your face!” I couldn’t keep the 8:45 pace we’d maintained, and she was still feeling good. Those last 4 miles were hard on me, as they are for anyone. I rounded that last corner of the race and locked it in. I gave it all I had left in the tank to cross that finish line with the exact same time as my current PR: 1:57. And that with an injury. My sister kicked my bum with a 1:55 finish, her fiancee crossing the finish line a full 11 minutes before her. Finish line cupcakes were demolished, post-race beers were enjoyed by the boys and many photos were taken.

20131217-114226.jpgNot long after the race, I convinced all three of my lovely Holiday Half-ers to run a full marathon with me. Honestly, it really didn’t take much convincing. Just a few smiles and words of, “it’s really not that hard, I promise.” Okay, okay, so I lied a little. But, it worked. Portland Marathon, here we come!

In addition, we’ve already locked in our next half. One that I’ve also run before. The second annual Hop Hop Half! The next few months will give them that much more time to improve their pace and really whoop my ass! All in good fun, right?

Pride. Happiness. Elation. Inspiration. All of these emotions experienced over the course of our Half weekend. I am so appreciative of the amazing family I have and our shared loves; food and running, namely.

 

I hope all of my lovely readers have the privilege of spending this time of year with those that mean the most to them. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve some peppermint hot chocolate to drink in front of the fireplace and some crazy family time to enjoy.

Happy Holidays, all!

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