Best Laid Plans

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I am the captain of a team that runs a 100-mile relay race along Vermont’s scenic Route 100, the appropriately named 100 on 100 Heart of Vermont Relay. The race is an exercise in teamwork. The route is divided into 18 segments of varying length and difficulty. Each team usually has six runners, each of whom runs three legs of the race, passing a wristband as a baton to the next runner at pre-determined transition points along the course. Our team loads up the vehicle at about 3:30 in the morning and gets on the road by 4, to make our 6 o’clock team check-in time and 6:30 start in Stowe.

As team captain, I do the planning and race management. I’m pretty detail-oriented and the team generally appreciates that I take care of everything. When I say “everything,” I mean a host of tasks, from registering the team to forecasting our running times for each segment to managing our fans along the course. One year, I predicted the nearly 15-hour running time within two minutes! In essence, I am a “planner,” and my team was following a well-thought-out plan on race day. This year, our plan was to run most of the race with four runners (instead of six) and be joined by another team member mid-race, who would run a 12-mile stretch to help us out.

En route to Stowe early race day morning, the tire pressure warning light came on. I told the team not to worry, because it was just a slow leak in one of the back tires. We had plenty of time to get air, after we got off the highway in Waterbury.  And we did.

Starting Line

(Our 4 core team members at the starting line. Left to right: Bill, Erica, Bridget, and me.)

After team check-in, we took some team photos at the starting line, watched my cousin Bridget start the race, and then went back to the car. That tire looked pretty soft again—so much so that a runner from another team even pointed it out. My brother suggested I go cheer Bridget on while he and our fourth team member, Erica, changed the tire.  After Bridget ran through the first transition point and proceeded into the second leg of the race, I walked back to the car and found all of our duffle bags, other gear, and cases of water and Gatorade on the grass. When he saw me, Bill shook his head and said with a slight hint of frustration, “There’s no spare.”

Bridget on 2nd Leg

(Bridget completed the first leg and started the second completely unaware of the situation with our team vehicle.)

We loaded back up and headed out to look for a service station, truly believing that the low tire might have been an optical illusion caused by the car tilting downhill on grass. As we pulled out of the parking lot, I stopped a guy directing traffic and asked him how the tire looked. “Pretty flat,” he said. Instead of heading down the mountain, we turned into another parking lot and jumped out to check the tire on level ground. “Pretty flat? Is he nuts?” I yelled. We were looking at metal on asphalt. The tire was completely flat and our race vehicle was not drivable.

We quickly reviewed several possible solutions and decided to have my father bring the spare tire up from Ludlow—where it was sitting in our garage—and  for me to hitch a ride with another team in time to get the baton from Bridget at the next transition point, in about 45 minutes. Since I was also going to be running two legs in a row, we hoped there was enough time to get the spare up to Stowe and on the car, and the four of us to meet at the start of the fifth race segment.

Range Rover

(Unfortunately, this was Bill and Erica’s view for over four hours!)

As it turned out, we were not reunited until after 11 o’clock. While Bill and Erica waited at the starting line in the car for my father to overcome several obstacles of his own on the drive up with the spare, Bridget and I kept running and passing the baton to one another for four-and-a-half hours and bummed rides from other teams to each subsequent transition point. I was truly ecstatic when I heard the familiar sound of a ringing cow bell and looked up to see my brother hanging out the window of our team vehicle and then, moments later, when I passed the baton to Erica for her to complete the remainder of the uphill climb of segment six, outside Waitsfield.

In addition to the grace with which my team dealt with both planned and unexpected challenges, it was extremely heartening how every team we approached for help gave it without question. At the starting line, the “American Bandits” welcomed me, a stranger, and gave me a lift down the mountain. Later, when I explained my predicament to my friend Stacie, her “Sole Sixters” team was enthusiastic about adopting Bridget, while I ran more than 12 miles. After Bridget completed her first run and passed the baton to me, utterly exhausted, Stacie’s calm and smiling face made the difference, as I briefly explained the situation of our team’s catastrophe before turning around to start my run. Then, when Bridget took the baton back over from me for segment five, an acquaintance named Stephanie and her team brought me along to Waitsfield and fed me cookies and water before I was handed the baton back again and started the uphill climb of segment six.

Team Swim Blueberry Lake

(Erica, Bridget, and Bill in Blueberry Lake during a welcomed break mid-race, while Lee was cranking out 12 miles for the team.)

We finished the race at 8:48pm, by far the fastest performance for my team in the six years we’ve run the race.  And, more importantly, we all had a blast, made a lot of new friends, and gained many new stories to tell than can possibly be told here. It’s a great reminder that the best plan of all is to have a great team to start with, and to have fun, no matter what.

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Semi Annual Report

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We’re exactly half-way through 2014. This means that I am also half-way through my New Year’s resolution not to drink alcohol. What an amazing 6 months it’s been. I’m a few pounds below the weight I was striving for, after losing more than 20 pounds this year and exactly 30 pounds overall. I also achieved my lifetime PR (fastest) marathon time already and still have two more on the schedule. And, most importantly, I cannot remember feeling happier, more centered, or more confident.

Since this is a major landmark, I finally put some effort into “before and after” photos.  Below is a photo that Bruce took of me yesterday, before we left the house for a wedding. Right next to it is a photo taken when I was 20 pounds heavier last Thanksgiving. 

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What I particularly like about the before photo is the ever-present glass of wine. I can see a big difference in my face in the two photos and, upon looking more closely, also in my arms and stomach. For those just tuning in, you can find out more about how I lost twenty pounds here and thirty pounds here.

Since I’ve been exercising a lot, I was able to lose the weight without cutting out anything specific except for the alcohol. Although I kept close track of my calorie in-take in order to lose the weight, I wasn’t following a low-carb or a low-fat diet. I ate pretty much what I wanted, but controlled calories through portion size and, if that failed, I exercised more.

Speaking of exercise, I have a dramatic set of “before and after” photos of me running.  In the first one, I am running a relay race in August last year and I look terribly heavy at 155 pounds. It’s difficult for me to look at this photo and believe that it’s really me. The second photo was taken during a marathon in Phoenix in 2006, when I weighed about 145 pounds. The third photo is from about a month ago at the Vermont City Marathon at my current weight.  

 

 

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Just imagine how much more work it was for my legs, my heart, and every other part of my body to run 26.2 miles carrying 20 additional pounds.

Over the past month, I’ve grown accustomed to my return to a smaller size. Luckily, I had a few boxes of really nice summer clothes from when we lived in Arizona tucked away in the attic. These things had made the move with us 7 years ago, but never saw the light of day since, until now. I filled up those boxes and more with things from my closet that are now just too baggy to deal with. I also have a pretty good sized pile of other clothes that I plan to take to a tailor sometime soon.

Even though I’m still working through my closet to find out what still fits and what doesn’t and what’s salvageable and what isn’t, it’s no longer stressful to think about what I’m going to wear. That’s because I feel great.

Analyzing how I feel about myself now, it’s not easy to pinpoint the most important cause. Is it because I’m not drinking? Is it because I have lost so much weight? Is it the buzz I get from running? Or, to quote my friend Camille, is it all of it? Luckily, I have 6 more months to figure that out and also to decide what to do next.

 

Embracing Stretch Goals

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To be completely honest, when I set my secondary New Year’s resolution goals of losing 20 pounds and getting my Personal Record (“PR “) marathon time, I knew that I would be successful.

Sure enough, last week, I announced that I’ve already lost the weight. And — knock on wood — with my first marathon of the season just a few weeks away, I feel confident that I will get my marathon PR early.

**If you are not very interested in running, please stop reading now and tune in next week, when I promise to write about something else.**

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(Above: My view during my half marathon last weekend. Having my brother as my pacer, helped be achieve my best performance since 2005.)

To help ensure that I get my PR, I already contacted the Vermont City Marathon’s 4.5 hour pace team to introduce myself. Since my fastest marathon time so far is 4:31:10, sticking with this group will help me squeak in a new record. I’ll let you know whether or not I am successful over Memorial Day weekend. 

Since I realized early on that these two sub-goals were sandbagged, I announced another goal for my dry year about a month ago. It’s the big kahuna: qualifying for the Boston Marathon. This is a “stretch goal,” defined as a goal that “cannot be achieved by incremental or small improvements but requires extending oneself to the limit to be actualized.” Some people might even say that it’s impossible for me to “Boston Qualify,” or BQ. I mentioned my current PR marathon time above. To qualify for Boston, I need to cut more than 35 minutes off my best time.

Do I think I can do it? You bet. However, like everything else worth striving for in life, it will take goal setting, commitment, and follow-through. This is a great summary on how to set athletic goals. In order to BQ, I am now approaching every single workout with multiple goals in my head: the minimum I will accept, the true goal, and the stretch goal. I find that I am reaching these true goals and, such as in the half marathon last weekend, I am sometimes even surpassing the stretch goal. 

I’ve already significantly improved my chances of cutting 35 minutes off of my marathon time by quitting drinking and losing 20 pounds. In a previous blog post I shared this summary given to Princeton athletes on the negative impacts of alcohol on athletic performance and this Runner’s World article about how running weight makes people faster.

Additionally, I am committed to a more aggressive training plan, Hal Higdon’s Marathon Intermediate 2. Compared to my past training, this plan requires me to run three times during the work week, with the Wednesday run peaking at 10 miles. It also has a very rigorous weekend running schedule that features a Saturday run at my planned marathon pace that also peaks at 10 miles. Running at pace on Saturdays means that I have to run the Sunday long run fatigued. Speaking of the Sunday long run, a beginner’s training program peaks with an 18-mile run, and an intermediate program peaks with one 20-mile run. This plan requires that I run three 20-mile training runs. Honestly, that’s rough.

A seasoned, marathon-running friend, who is affectionately known as “B-Rad,” once told me, “I run marathons at a minimum every third week, because I hate those long training runs.” I do, too. So, with B-Rad’s training in mind, I have scheduled two marathons prior to my BQ race, as well as three half marathons. This helps me mentally by limiting the number of long training runs. From here on out, I just need to do one each of a 15-, 16-, 18- and 20-mile training run in preparation for my BQ try on July 25th.

Since my recent half marathon performance exceeded my stretch goal, I absolutely believe that I can qualify for Boston. This was my first sub-2 hour “half” since 2006 (see my Arizona Road Racer results here). My time of 1:55:57 in the Middlebury Maple Run was 21 minutes faster than my own performance in the same race last year. A year ago, I placed 44th out of 62 women in my group, women in their 40’s. This year, I placed 10th out of 54, well into the top 20% of my group.

I checked in with Runner’s World’s Race Times Predictor to see how this half marathon performance should translate on marathon day. It equates to a 4:02:00 marathon time, 29 minutes faster than my current PR but seven minutes slower than what I need to BQ. This is great news! Vermont is hilly, while my BQ course is flat. Middlebury has a lot unpredictable and varied terrain, while my BQ course is a five-mile loop that I will run multiple times.

For good measure, I also put my target marathon time into the Race Times Predictor and learned that a 1:52:00 half marathon time is equivalent. I’m trying for that time, a PR for that distance, in the Crowley Road Race in early July. Wish me luck. And, as you might expect, I’ll let you know how it goes.

Dogs As Running Partners

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For the third year in a row, I am training for a marathon. This year, my secret weapon is my new running partner. She was carefully selected from hundreds of available options. She is relatively tall and lean and from a long line of very energetic stock. In fact, you could say that she was bred to run around all day long. She is always ready to go and, no matter what, she encourages me forward, particularly on my longest training runs.

Who is this amazing running partner? My dog, Cleopatra, a 15-month old Jack Russell-hound mix that my husband and I rescued in October last year. This link takes you to the website of the wonderful organization in New York State that pulled Cleo out of a kill shelter in Alabama, from which we adopted her.

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(Above: This selfie was taken the day we adopted Cleo, in the car on the way home.)

I knew at first sight that she’d make a great running partner. I didn’t know how great until one day after an 8-mile run when Cleo ran circles around our house and property in a full-on sprint for several minutes. “Hmmmm,” I murmured out loud, “I guess she can run further than 8 miles.”

When I told my husband and some of my friends about Cleo’s running prowess, each time I was asked things like “Is it good for her?” and “How far can she run?” This prompted me to do some research.

According to all of the articles I found, including this one from Outside, this one from Animal Planet, and this one from Runner’s World, Cleo makes it into the top 10 running dogs on both sides of her family. She’s half Jack Russell which is number 10 and half some sort of hound that is most likely a pointer. The pointers are represented in the top 10 by Weimaraner at number 2 and Vizsla at number 8. German pointer is also on the list.

Animal Planet points to these breeds as being particularly great at running long distances. According to the article, “If your daily journey consists of a ten mile trek or more, then the following dogs will be able to keep up with you because of their medium build and the muscles in their hind parts: German shorthaired pointers, Goldendoodles, Jack Russell terriers, Weimaraners and Vizslas.”

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(Above: Cleo loves to run and has a great build for it.)

This information was very encouraging and also seemed validated in my several training runs with Cleo so far. However, I was reminded by this post at The SparkPeople that it’s important to check with my vet before pushing her too hard. I immediately called to make an appointment and decided to wait until seeing the vet before taking Cleo beyond 10 miles again. I’m very glad I did.

Dr. Heath McNutt, at Riverside Pet Care in Ludlow and Rutland, Vermont, is a wonderful person who is remarkably dedicated to the animals he treats. Based on our experience with him as the vet for our dearly departed and beloved Roxy, I have great trust in his expertise and opinion. During Cleo’s check-up, I told Dr. McNutt what I learned online about dogs running and that I was hoping Cleo could come along on all of my training runs, even the 20 milers.  His response gave me a lot to think about.

“When I think about dogs running long distances, it stresses me out,” Dr. McNutt began ominously. “Human bodies are built better for running. Dogs are generally designed to run really fast for short periods of time. Just because they are willing to do it, it doesn’t mean it’s best for them. That said, I also acknowledge that some breeds are better suited to running than others.”

He then told me that it’s important for me to check-in with Cleo on the faster runs and the longer runs and to stop or significantly slow down if she is excessively panting or has a dry tongue. He further explained that terrain is important. “For example, stay off of asphalt in the summer and watch for sore feet,” he said.

Dr. McNutt could tell that I wanted him to be more specific in his guidance about how to best incorporate Cleo into my training schedule. I was glad when he thought for an extra few moments and added, “I think the long runs at your pace are fine. She can move all day long. But, I would be more concerned about the (racing) pace runs. She won’t complain, because she is a natural athlete.”

This was really great information. I’m so glad that I checked with my vet to make sure that what I had researched made sense in our specific situation. Now, I better understand which parts of my training are appropriate for Cleo and which are not. I have decided to limit Cleo’s pace runs to 6 miles. On the long runs, I’ll be sure to check her feet, panting, and tongue every 3-4 miles. Finally, I’m going to map my longer runs in loops near my house, so that I have a bail-out for Cleo mid-run, just in case.

 

P.S. Since Cleo is so popular, I’m adding some additional photos of her. She is full grown at almost 31 pounds.

Cleo 4

Cleo 1

Cleo 3

Cleo 2