Early 2017

When the running blog takes a backseat it doesn’t mean we aren’t running and racing. We have been enjoying running in central Pennsylvania since DAY 1 of this year by starting with the Cat’s Crawl 5k. There were sections of black ice along the hilly course in Mifflinburg, PA. Thank goodness it was held during the day instead of  New Year’s Eve the way it had been last year. That didn’t keep me, Terri, from falling hard on a patch of ice by the port-o-pots right before the race. Bloody knee and all, I ran just fine and avoided the shadows where any more ice might be on the course. The day was sunny and very pretty and we enjoy the finishers etched glasses they have. A sad trend we have noticed in some races though, finishers goodies are being given at the beginning of races when we sign in. I dunno about you but that little trinket at the end it something I keep in mind as I run. When they hand it to us at the beginning, we look at each other as we walk the swag back to the car and say, “Well, we got the goody without running the race. Want to just go home?”

Of course we never just ditch the race because running is the thing we enjoy most. The races are just goals that keep us headed in a direction rather than over all fitness. When a race is on the books in the dead of winter, it makes it so much harder to blow off a run if it is cold or bad weather. When there is a tangible reason to train, we find a way to put in the miles instead of rolling over in the dark of the morning when the blankets are warm and inviting.2017-01-07 19.05.53

We didn’t get t-shirts for the Cat’s Crawl 5k because we signed up for the race the morning of. They were out of shirts all together. It was pretty2017-02-11 09.45.03.jpg late when we signed up for the Sweetheart 5k but did score long sleeved race shirts (in our sizes even). This was a race in downtown State College and we ran through familiar neighborhoods. Being a Valentine’s Day themed race, we dressed up in our Love Bandits costumes and ran together.

The best part for me was to run by the office where I had surgery on my leg last November. I had a painful cyst removed from my leg that set my training back for months. It was a very frustrating winter of limited running and I was, yet again, reminded how much running means to me. You miss something most when it is taken away.

March was dedicated to finally building back mileage for our Spring races. Jim was injury free all Spring and was training for a 15k and I took another hard fall with serious road rash as I trained for a 19k.

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April allowed Jim to continue to streak the Business and Professional Women’s Wellness 5k (now in their 7th year) and it was a great race for both of us. Jim got 3rd place in his age group and I got 1st. The best thing for me was that I beat my time from last year by about 15 seconds. Not my course best but I knew then that my fitness level was returning even though my surgery set me back this winter.2017-04-25 11.56.09

That incentive kept me working hard to improve my pace from last year. I had been adapting the old Couch to 5k run/walk intervals to run/jog intervals. After a warm up mile, I did the April race with a ratio of running hard for 3 minutes then jog for 1:30 then run hard for 5 minutes and jog for 2:30. I did a couple of sets of those then pushed as hard as I could until the finish line. Between pushing hard, still carrying extra weight from over the past couple of year and then wearing dead shoes I really injured the metatarsal area of my left foot. What was to be a regular 4 miler had me come up short and almost not able to walk after 3 miles.

2017-05-06 09.11.35This nixed not only the 15k for me but I was too injured to come back in time for the 19k. Jim’s training was spot on. He tapered just a bit before the Mastodon Challenge 15k and was able to clobber hills and pass dozens of other runners in the last few miles. He was very pleased with how he felt during the run and how he recovered afterward. This was the last race Jim has on the books this year but he is back to running and had a great 8 miler this past weekend.

My injury didn’t even allow me to switch to the 5k option at the Mastodon Challenge series. I was careful all of the following week and got in some pain free miles. The Right to Run allowed me to switch from the 19k to the 5k and I was able to run it with our dear friend Rosalie. She too, had to switch from the 19k as she was nursing a Baker’s Cyst 2017-05-12-16-10-14.jpgbehind her right knee. Uphills were problematic for both of us so, the night before the race, Jim and I took a drive along the course to see how bad it would be. As we cut through one neighborhood, we drove past the Elizabeth Cady Stanton House, HQ for the Women’s Suffrage movement (thus the 19k distance for the 19th amendment of our country’s constitution). What luck we had driving by right then as we saw the inspirational Kathrine Switzer speaking to a group from Girls on the Run. Jim practically slammed on the breaks and breathlessly said, “Is that Kathrine Switzer? No. It couldn’t be.” I assured him that it could be because she was scheduled to give local talks and be at the finish line. We sat there in our car and stared like the running geeks we are as she shared her story with the young girls and their coaches. It was the highlight of our evening.

We had seen a couple of short hills that seemed like Rosalie and I could tackle if we listened to our bodies. We agreed that we would walk if we needed and it was ok for one or the other of us to go ahead if needed. Race morning was a little drizzly but that didn’t dampen our reunion. Jim snapped photos of us hugging and catching up before taking our jackets to the finish line as it was an end to end course.

Neither of our injuries gave us much problem but I was shocked at just how quickly I had lost my speed. Rosalie kept an easy pace and wonderful conversation as I pushed myself to keep up. It was so worth it, I finished with my fastest 5k time in well over a year holding the hand of my dear friend overhead as we crossed the line.2017-05-13 09.55.05

Kathrine Switzer and her 261 Fearless organization were at the expo near the finish line. She was such a pleasure to chat with, as was her 261 Fearless  club representative. Kathrine signed our race bibs then was off to hang medals around the neck of the 19k finishes.

That brings us to date. I am recovering well and inspired by the pace I was able to keep. I have one more 5k in June then, like Jim, have no planned races. In August, I will be attending a workshop at the Center for Cartoon Studies as I continue to work on my graphic novel, You Run Like a Girl.

All of those crazy little running comics that you see on this blog are just the tip of the iceberg. I am writing/drawing a book that will cover my life as a runner and highlight US women running legends during the decades of my life. It will also include real life experiences of other women as they ran as girls. It is an exciting topic and I am passionate about it.

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Rough sketches of US women’s running legends for You Run Like a Girl. Can you spot Kathrine?

Full Circle

#52toNYCmarathon
Week 51/52 recap

5 easy – 5 easy – 8.6 easy

Exactly a year ago I posted Down Time and had to admit to being injured enough to take a break from running. It was before I started to try longer planks every day (“Planksgiving” last November), sacrificing form for endurance. That was even before I gimped my way to getting X-rays when I couldn’t walk a half a block without needing to stop.

My 52 week journey to running the NYC Marathon (#52toNYCmarathon) started with me in pretty bad shape. Even as I volunteered at the 2013 NYC Marathon I had to skip out early because the standing in one spot for 3 – 4 hours was excruciating on my lower back and piriformins. I then had a terrible time trying to walk after standing in the cold at the marathon to cheer my running friends. When my friend, Rosalie, ran up to me for a hug I accidentally dropped the Gatorade Chews that I had for her. It hurt so badly for me to bend over that I hesitated a split second, thinking she might bend over to get them. She had just run 18 miles and I was hoping that she might bend over to pick up something I dropped!

Knowing I had a guaranteed entry into this 2014 NYC Marathon, I knew I had to pull it together and that it was going to require a full year to do it. I remember the day of the marathon being really scared that I wasn’t going to have enough time to recover and train to that level. As I stood on 1st Ave I looked at Amy, who was cheering with me, and expressed real doubt about being able to run it in a year.

Folks with a solid running base can make good use of 16 week training plans to be marathon ready. It was a 16 week plan from Marathon Training Academy that I used in 2012 to train for my first, the Wineglass Marathon. It was a well paced plan for me with running 3 times a week and cross training. To get to the point of running those distances, let alone walking without pain, required a huge step back. When I posted that I was pressing a reset button on my running last October, I had no idea what that was going to take.

It took months of physical therapy during which I started with running 2 miles or less just a few times a week. The winter of the polar vortex attack had me at the indoor track running some laps then stretching out my psoas before running some more laps. The psoas and hip flexor stretching after a run has been a mainstay during my entire #52toNYCmarathon year. Now that it is getting colder on some of the mornings I have been running, I can feel the threat of those areas becoming problematic again. I remain vigilant.

With the exception of combining weeks 5 – 8 when I was so blue from not being able to run, I have faithfully logged this journey weekly. I am as proud of that as I am about being marathon ready. I disappoint myself when I waffle on commitments and although it looks like I may have been backing out of dedicating this year to getting to the NYC Marathon during that second month I wasn’t. I was working hard at not running and writing about a goal nearly a year away was real salt in an open wound. By the end of 2013, the holidays and all of their drama had passed and I saw there was hope for my ability to run again.

The year had it’s ups and downs. A cold set me back in January not because didn’t feel like running but the coughing made my back seize up again, my upper back that is. The old song “Them Bones” about the this-bone’s connected to the that-bone is true. I had to release my upper back to loosen my lower back to help my SI joint etc etc. I worked hard all year on keeping everything in working order.

Family emergencies took up a big part of the beginning of the year but my Dad is now still recovering at home. He is getting around really well and in better spirits than he has been for quite a while. About the time he was able to move home in the spring was when I got to the point of taking on my coach, Angie Spencer of Marathon Training Academy. I was still months out from the marathon but needed her support for every aspect of training. I told her straight up that I was a head case. It had been a rough few months prior, I needed more than just a 16 week training plan to get me to the start line. As soon as I graduated from weekly PT sessions, I started officially marathon training.

That brings me to the 6 days before I toe the start line. I promise to recap marathon week, my week 52 of #52toNYCmarathon. Big race aside, there are a few really exciting things I am looking forward to while I am in the city and I am relying on iCal to keep my whole week straight. I intend to be picking up my racing bib at the Javits Center at the same time Kathrine Switzer is being indicted into the NYRR Hall of Fame. I am wrapping up an interview an NYU student is doing on me and the day after the marathon I have been invited to a panel upon which Meb Keflezighi is speaking. I also intend to see a couple performances at Lincoln Center!

The weather forecast for Sunday looks perfect at this point. Cool and sunny would make for a fine day to run by that spot where I didn’t want to bend over to pick up Rosalie’s Gatorade Chews. I might not feel like bending over as I pass by the spot but I know I am going to make it to the end and bring this year long journey to a successful closure.

Be Fearless

2012 NYRR Women's Mini

2012 NYRR Women’s Mini

On the morning the Boston Marathon was run this year, Another Mother Runner webiste featured Kathrine Switzer and her role in the famous marathon. It made me remember that last June, when I ran the NYRR Women’s Mini 10K for the 3rd time (see my blogs from 2011 and 2010), I had met her along with other groundbreaking women runners. That weekend also marked when I first started my training plan for my first full marathon. Those weeks totally consumed my energy and I never had a chance to share the awesome photos Jim took of the inspiring great women I had the opportunity to meet that day.
2012 racing bib

2012 racing bib

The wind was taken out of my sails blogging when the bombings took place that day. I now return to the thoughts I then had and want to share what Kathrine Switzer shared with me last June. After I PRed the 10k, I had her sign my racing bib. “Be Fearless,” she said to me as she wrote it in black Sharpie and I assured her that I was.

At the time, I only half-heartedly believed I was fearless. I worry about a lot of things, incessantly, and I wonder if they actually become fears when I dwell on them too long. I worry about my family when I am not in contact with them. I worry about retirement and where we will live. I worry about my aches and pains and my heart issues. Are they fears? I hope not.

200 meters to go and I am beat.

200 meters to go and I am beat.

When I started running, I had concerns over health issues but I didn’t let them stop me from putting one foot in front of the other. I took time to have my heart murmur checked and my doc, also a runner, gave me the ok for running. I think about it sometimes when I can feel it acting up but I am not living in fear of it. It has taken me on a 4+ hour run and if I keep treating my body right it will be able to serve me well.

As a female runner there is always the concern of running alone at the remote outdoor track or on the road. I think it is one reason a lot of women take to the treadmill but I do not. I love running alone and don’t have the resources for a gym membership nor the space for a treadmill in my apartment. I ran 6 miles on a hotel treadmill once and didn’t feel any more safe in that facility than I do out on the road. It comes down to not being foolish and staying aware as I run.

Jackie Dixon was kind enough to chat with me before signing my racing bib.

Jackie Dixon was kind enough to chat with me before signing my racing bib.

Granted, there are always situations out of a woman’s control but I am choosing to run outside as wisely as I can. I do carry pepper spray occasionally for loose dogs. I am also a backer for a terrific sports watch, Bia Multi-Sport that will have a button that sends out an SOS alert and send your location to loved ones and emergency services at the press of a button. I haven’t made those choices because I am afraid; I am thoughtful and realistic about being a woman runner on my own.

Spunky Nina Kuscsik signs my racing bib.

Spunky Nina Kuscsik signs my racing bib.

When I first started racing, I was shy about my capabilities and chose races that were set up only for women. My first 8k and half marathon had the terrific spirit of many women coming together and doing their best. Some of them were no less competitive than men but the overall atmosphere was empowering. I wasn’t afraid of a mixed gender race but I was a bit shy. Choosing Wild Women’s 8k and Run Like a Diva Half Marathon allowed me to try on the race scene without feeling overwhelmed by the seriously sculpted men who can dominate the starting line. Even if I had a higher BMI, at least the sculpted women I had a more in common with. It felt like a tribe running together from where I started and finished each race.

Kathrine Switzer and me - I love this photo.

Kathrine Switzer and me – I love this photo.

As I built up my running base the first year, I think I did so with a little too much vigour and landed myself a heel spur along with plantar fasciitis. My anxiety increased as my ability to run without pain decreased. It was frustrating to have something that I loved to do snatched from me through my own stupidity in training. After the x-ray confirmed the heel spur, I knew it was going to be a long row to hoe getting back to where I wanted to be but I faced it with determination. I wasn’t afraid to put in the work because it meant so much to me to be able to push myself to accomplish distance running. I am very proud to have stuck with it and trained for my first full marathon.

I did have real moments of being overwhelmed by the training required for a full 26.2 miles. As many first timers, looking ahead at a marathon training schedule to see a 20 mile training run can be daunting. I had only ever run a very painful 15 miles as a maximum distance prior to training so to imagine running 20 was almost frightening. As veteran runners can tell you, you don’t tackle it all at once and the training leads to the longer distances gradually. I wasn’t foolish at how I approach such a huge undertaking. With the guidance of Angie Spencer of Marathon Training Academy I trained well and got myself to the starting line last September.

Looking me directly in the eye she told me, "Be Fearless."

Looking me directly in the eye she told me, “Be Fearless.”

Toeing the line at the Wineglass Marathon didn’t allow room for fear. The forward momentum of all of my preparation and training bolstered any real doubts and, whether I finished the full distance or not, I knew I was prepared. It was only the unforseen that might derail my journey and success.

With the horrific bombings in Boston still fresh in my mind, I am saddened to think of those who had their journey (in life or the marathon) cut short that day. Those many dear people on Boylston Street to support and cheer were forever damaged or killed in the midst of joy on Patriots Day. Thousands of runners, who may have been trying for years to qualify for this race, were blast aside and denied the joy of the finish, the heartbreak of a finish line spoiled and a day of glory turned into tragedy.

Footage of the elite runners that morning had included running dignitaries standing in the background at different spots along the race course. Kathrine Switzer was among those on the photo bridge covering the race for television. That afternoon I wondered if she was ok and knew she was again facing a very frightening time at the Boston Marathon.

Staring down the fear of a physical attack by the race manager during the 1967 Boston Marathon allowed Kathrine to be the first woman to officially enter and complete race. Her bravery paved the way for women like Nina Kuscsik to be the first official woman to win Boston five years later and Jacqueline Dixon to win the 1972 Women’s mini. All three of these women paved the way for Title IX, the law passed in 1972 that requires gender equity for boys and girls in every educational program that receives federal funding.

For all the women who have run before me, who have blazed the trail for women’s running, I thank you. If I too am fearless, I can hope it be to ease a better future for someone.

Nina Kuscsik, Jackie Dixon, Kathrine Switzer

Nina Kuscsik, Jackie Dixon, Kathrine Switzer