Saturday, December 3, 2011

Becoming a Runner

A couple of weeks ago, I attended a congratulations party for some friends who had just completed their first Ironman. As with most discussions that include more than one triathlete, the conversation turned to training, and someone asked me, "So are you a runner?"

And I immediately answered, "No. Not really."

Which is odd, isn't it? I've completed three marathons and four half-marathons in the last eighteen months. I run 3-4 times a week and get worried and cranky when I don't run that often.  A three mile run is "too short."  I'm less than 24 hours away from Marathon #4, and have signed up for two marathons and an Ironman in 2012, with plans to do two more in 2013.

But my immediate instinct is "I'm not really a runner."  Hmm...interesting psychology at work here. I've always wanted to be a real runner, but have always felt too . . . not like a runner. Runners are taller, lankier, fitter, faster. There's really such a thing as a runners' build. That's not me. There's also a runner vibe. I don't have that either. I do run, but I don't consider myself a runner.

And since I woke up at 4:00 a.m. local time on the morning before Marathon #4, I took some time to retrace my steps on how I got to Sacramento, California this weekend.
It started with this new townhouse in a new city

With one final piece of mail from my old house that made it's way into my new house, advertising this group

That led me to an organizational meeting, which gave me the outlet to the "OMG I'm turning 40" midlife crisis that was brewing. Which led me to my very first road race of any sort, the San Diego Rock and Roll Marathon in June 2010 with this lovely new friend Tisha.

Me and Tisha, crossing the finish line hand in hand.

Newbie runners - I don't recommend that your very first road race be a full marathon.  Try a 5K first.   A little easier.

But I now had a desire to "Try that again, only train better for the next one".  So I kept running and joined the Galloway group, 400+ strong in Raleigh

Which introduced me to the run-walk method and more trails around the greater RDU area.  Trails mean roots, which are sometimes treacherous

But I met more fantastic running women, like this group that went to Virginia Beach:

Renee, Rekha, Amy, Michele

And Myrtle Beach

Amy, Tisha, Michele - and the coolest medal ever

Meanwhile, Tisha was slowly but persistently convincing me that I will love cycling and that I should buy a bike and do a triathlon with her. So on Black Friday 2010, I decided to buy this

But I didn't ride it yet.

I had my "redemption race" yet to go.  Another Rock and Roll Marathon

The tall blond on the right in red is Michelle. I hope to connect with her again someday - this was her first half.

Bonus points for those of you who recognize the location. Here was my first PR, lowering my San Diego time by 47 minutes.  Still could do better - that was a double-digit mile pace.  And oh by the way, total weight loss in 2010?  Nothing.  Not a pound.

Tisha and I sign up for the Festival of Flowers triathlon in June 2011.

In the meantime, I had been invited by a co-worker to go to Disney and do the Goofy Challenge (a half-marathon on Saturday and a full marathon on Sunday). That's where I met this group

I am not in this picture above. I was in the hotel room on six work conference calls. Because I am an idiot.

You get excellent medals and shirts for Goofy, as modeled above by Blake, Julie, Stephanie and Brad. However, I ended up walking the second half of the full, thanks to a dumb decision to wear compression socks that I had never trained in.

So I have another date with Goofy in my future, where I will take him down. The goal is to run both the half and the full in the amount of time it took me to run the full, with time to spare.

The Goofy crew and friends, hereafter known as the Brier Creek Posse, held a chili cookoff and invited this guy, Coach Marty.

Who coaches the Cary Masters swim team. Once I realized that "Masters" refers to age instead of ability (although there are a lot of swimmers there who swim two laps to my one), I was excited. Time to start swimming again, which introduced me to 4:45a wake-up calls. I learned that I loved structured swim workouts and confirmed from Coach Marty that my swim stroke did not have any "fatal flaws".  Good.  Less chance of drowning, I think.

I learned how to ride that beautiful bike above. Those who say you never forget how to ride a bike have never taken 15 years off and then bought a tri bike with clips for your first bike back. Important tip - clip out when approaching a stop.


But I kept trying to ride.  15 mph!  Woo Hoo!  I am FLYING, baby! 

Now I'm swimming and riding some. Finding that running is getting a little easier. Back to Disney for a total girlie princess weekend in February.

Tisha, Me and Princess Bella in the front

It was a really strong run. Not easy, but a lot easier than any run prior.  Hmmm . . . there is a bit of payoff brewing here.

Galloway season starts up, and I've been nominated to be a group leader. It's the largest Galloway group in the country, and we get a visit from the man himself:

Fellow group leader Cara, Jeff Galloway, Me

My first brush with an Olympian. I have his autograph on one of his books. There will be another post about that conversation and book. Stay tuned.

A lot of swimming and biking and working, it's time for the first triathlon at White Lake

If you squint really hard, you can see the start of a bicep there. Marty had incorporated TRX work into our swim workouts. Ten pounds down, 20 mph on the bike and 9 minute miles regularly. And the biggest shocker of all:

That's me on a podium. Second place in novice females. With that, my mindset changed. The more hopeful casual approach gave way to "I want to get better". Because once you've been on a podium, you want to get there again.  I ran for a year because I wanted the shiny medal and the cool t-shirt.  Now I want more than that.

Time to put that running to the test. Run for the Dream, a new race in Williamsburg, VA. I was ready. I finally understood the importance of a warm-up, slept really well the night before, and had trained well.

And it didn't really work out like I had hoped. Oh, I set a PR by 15 minutes. But it could have been more, and I didn't feel like I had run the race intelligently. I had developed lofty goals and serious expectations, but  needed the right way to get there.

I'm lucky. I have a job that rewards me for working really hard and a manager who is understanding when I'm really sleepy on swim workout days. That means that I usually have some customer trip on the same week of a race, but it also means that I can work with great coaches.

Coach Bri and Coach Marty of One Step Beyond, with Tassie in the front. That's Logan under the stripes - we'll get a better picture of him in a few days.

So on my first run with OSB, I'm introduced to "strides".  Let me just say that there is nothing more humbling than running next to someone, thinking that you're doing a pretty good job of keeping pace, and then she turns on the jets and dusts you off in a matter of seconds. While she's five months pregnant.  But it was fun. A lot of fun. And inspiring.

Within two weeks I start asking Coach Bri, "can I do this" and "can I do that", which also implied, "please don't think I'm crazy". Because this whole triathlon thing is starting to develop into an addiction.

That's me and Tisha holding our awards for second and third Masters novice at Festival of Flowers in June.  Like I said, addiction.

No more "novice" categories though. Time to sit at the big kids' table.  Which means that I have to get fitter and faster to get more hardware.  Okay, I'm game for that.

Along the way, I meet more and more wonderful people:

Brad, Jen, Steffen, Blake, Julie, Scottie, Dave, Jon

Steve, Deirdre, Tisha

Tisha, Michele, Alan, Jaime - in a photo taken by


So I was doing a lot of swimming and biking and some running. On weeks where I didn't travel, I would log 4-5 miles swimming, 80-100 miles on the bike and 15-30 miles running. I was also logging a lot of miles on my new car.

Yes, I made a major life purchase with the criteria of "it has to fit my tri bike in the back". I took my bike with me to the car dealership and was sold by the very cool storage compartment in the back that holds all my tri stuff. Is that so wrong?

Let me put those earlier numbers back up here:  On weeks where I didn't travel, I would log 4-5 miles swimming, 80-100 miles on the bike and 15-30 miles running.

That's not a lot of running. My weak area is the bike, so that's where I have to devote the majority of my training time. I would run more when I traveled for work, so those weeks might be closer to 30 miles. My friends who were training for their marathons only were easily topping 50-70 miles in a week. So it would make sense that the discipline in which I'm spending the least time is the one where I'm not seeing as much improvement, right?

I like to be contrary. I got faster at running. Go figure. I have definitely had some setbacks and have had weeks where my total run miles are less than most marathon runners log in their long run.

But six triathlons, four half-marathons, three marathons, a 10K where I won my age group, two 8K's and three 5K's later, I still have an instinctive response of "no, I'm not really a runner."

Let's see what happens tomorrow :-)

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