Monday, January 20, 2014

P.F. Changs Rock and Roll Half Marathon

After 12 weeks of training, it was finally here! Yesterday, we ran the P.F. Changs Rock and Roll Half Marathon.  After all this work, it was finally time for the end result: fun.

Several weeks ago, it occurred to us that we were going to beat our time from last year.  We looked at our 15k finish time and realized that we had gotten much faster over the past year.  When we ran the Shun the Sun Half in November 2012, our average pace was 11:44.  In all of our training runs, we were averaging a 10:20 pace for long distance runs, a significantly faster pace. We were feeling pumped and energized about rocking this race.  We were both feeling strong and healthy, and excited for race day.

We then ran into a series of roadblocks.  Between Christmas and New Year's, Christi got really sick.  At New Year's I got really sick. And just when we were beginning to taper and I was starting to feel better, Christi got sick again! It didn't seem like we could catch a break, and as a result, we lost our final 7 mile run the week before the race. We moved our mileage to cross training machines at the gym and decided that rest  and getting better the week of the race was more important than the mileage we knew we would be able to complete with no problem.

Another roadblock I had was my schedule.  The week before the race, I started school, trained every single night (late) at my new job, and worked my second job in my "spare" time.  I was on my feet constantly, and my legs felt it hard. And sleep? It wasn't happening. I wasn't getting home before 11-11:30pm at night, which meant getting to sleep about 12:30am and then back up to do it all again at 6:30am. I was physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted, and I was frustrated that after all this time, the week I truly needed the rest was the week wasn't getting any.  I was starting to seriously wonder if my legs would be up to the task, because they literally throbbed everywhere and felt incredibly tight.  In the end, it all worked out.  I got to sleep after midnight on Friday and then slept HARD for 12 hours.  I had my entire Saturday to rest my legs and mentally prepare for the race on Sunday. Oh, and plenty of time to eat (I did a lot of that).

Sunday morning, I was up at 4:30, showered to heat up my joints, had a little bit of coffee and a big breakfast: baked tofu, boiled potato, 2 corn tortillas, and a protein fruit smoothie.  It was a pretty bland breakfast, but it did the trick to fuel me (although AGAIN I needed to eat more: I got hungry about 4 miles in, which by then had been about 3.5 hours since I had eaten breakfast). Christi grabbed me at 5:45 and we headed towards one of the light rail stations to park and ride to the start in downtown Tempe.  The light rail was packed with other race participants.  After a little bit of confusion about which stop to get off, we ended up in Tempe and began to make our way towards the race.  Found the gigantic porta potty line, found gear check, got rid of our jackets and put on our tutus! (Last year, we cheered on the marathon participants as the P.F. Changs full marathon course went past my neighborhood.  We saw girls in tutus and have been dreaming of them ever since!)
 You can't tell here, but it is REALLY cold. I also like how we stopped time in this picture. 

We made our way into our corral (there were 26 total in the half, we ended up in corral 11), heard the national anthem, and waited patiently for our turn to start.  It took about a half hour to make our way to the start line.  By then, I had to pee again, but it was too late to go back out and find a bathroom. (Mid race I decided I would rather get a bladder infection than lose 20 minutes in a porta potty line... seemed logical at the time, ha! And no, I did not get one...)

It was our turn! Just before they counted down our start, one of the announcers reminded us that the first half of the race was a steady incline, followed by a large hill, and to remember to pace ourselves.  We began running and soon got to see what was so exciting about this race.  At every mile marker, there was a band. The bands weren't amazing, but they brought some excitement to each milestone, as well as a crowd of people.  Between each mile marker there were a lot of different groups of people who joined us to cheer us on.  Most of them were in costume, and most of them had really funny signs to encourage us to go forward. These were some of my favorites:
  • Faster, faster (that’s what she said)
  • May the course be with you
  • Keep moving, I farted!
  • You run faster than our government
  • Chuck Norris wanted me to tell you that in our minds you’re all Kenyans!
  • Quit bitching, you paid for this

There was a Roaring 20's group, Alien cheerleaders, Chinese drums, a Pied Piper, Creepy people on stilts, and men and women in tutus to mention a few.  Running along with us was Santa, Batman, a gorilla, a mascot I didn't recognize, and a group with a Chinese dragon. I am not sure how one can run in a fur suit, but they definitely made me laugh.  There was a lot of excitement which I really enjoyed and appreciated.

I'm not sure where I found my energy, but I really felt great the entire race.  In the end, I felt like I could have continued running.  When I was done, I was tired, and I felt it in every muscle, but the race itself felt comfortable and relatively easy.  I grabbed the gatorade from the water stands each time, which normally I do not like, but sounded really good and refreshing.  They were kind enough to serve it to us cold.  It's funny how some things just sound and taste really good when you need it the most, even when you wouldn't ordinarily want to consume it.  I think the added sugar and electrolytes kept me moving! The announcer was right: the first 6 miles was a steady incline (the kind that isn't very visible to the eye, but your legs definitely notice it).  The mile 8 and 9 turn around on McDowell was the giant hill heading into the Papago Mountains.  That was steep, but we seriously powered through it.  I was really proud that we weren't one of the many people who had to stop and walk it.  The remainder of the race was mostly downhill, with the exception of some small hills in Papago Park.  The race finished at Tempe Beach Park, with the finishing stretch across the Mill Bridge over Tempe Town Lake. I really liked that being the finishing stretch, it felt very dramatic. :)  I was hell bent on finishing the race just before my podcast finished, and it ended just as I was crossing the finish line.  (Last year, I had to restart it).  In the end, we did beat last year's time (by a lot!), and each set a PR.

I am feeling REALLY proud of us.  When we did our first half marathon, it was scary and hard.  We didn't know if we could possibly run that far.  We were sore, exhausted, and I was injured.  When we set out to train for this race, we really wanted the end result to be fun.  Most importantly, I wanted it to be easy, and injury free.  We each ran into our own issues throughout training and even throughout the race, but nothing that we couldn't overcome.  I personally was very pleased that I wasn't injured AT ALL during this race. No tape, no swelling, no fears I would make something worse.  I felt relatively strong, and while I knew that I would have areas that might be extra sore, I wasn't petrified this time.  When I crossed the Mill Bridge, I teared up a bit, because I feel like I have come so far.  If you had asked me 2-3 years ago if I would feel this way, I would have thought you were crazy.  It's finally clicking and it feels amazing.

Training recap:

What we did well:

  • Rest days: Taking a full day off between runs was the best decision we ever made.  It made some days extra long (doubles), but it made the run days so much easier.  Win.
  • Recovery: We got a lot better at the recovery aspect from each run and workout.  Recovery food and drink, hot tubs, epson salt baths, rolling muscles with the stick and/or foam roller, icing even if it wasn't necessarily needed at the time. 
  • Adapting the schedule to meet special circumstances: Not only did we train through the holidays, but we trained through 3 bouts of sickness.  And for the most part, we stayed on point the entire time.  We found creative ways to get our miles in, as well as learned to recognize when our bodies needed a little extra rest.  We were able to rest without feeling like we failed our schedule, which helped the mental game a lot.
  • Food: We have figured out the foods that we really like consume before a run, and what we never want to eat again before a run because they do not sit well (add to the list: bananas, peanut butter, bell peppers, and anything spicy).  In addition, we got really good at eating while running! Favorites are dried cranberries and honey packets.  A little bit of carbs, sugar, and potassium to give us a little boost in energy, and in an all-natural way (I'm personally a bit scared of the Gu packets, and not a fan of the added chemicals).

What we didn't do well:

  • Cross training. It just seemed to be hard to fit in the schedule on a consistent basis. We were good at integrating it weekly at the start, and at the end when we were sick, but during the middle section of our training schedule it just seemed to go away.  It was coincidentally the day we were supposed to work out on our own, and clearly, we weren't very good at keeping ourselves accountable.  
  • Water: There is always going to be room for improvement in this area.  I think because we weren't training through the summer, we weren't as mindful about how much water we needed to consume every day. As a result, we ended up chugging water while we ran our long runs because we were dehydrated.  
  • My shoulders: I need to figure out how to keep them loose.  I woke up with a bit of tension in them, and the knot in my left shoulder was painful the majority of the race.  I generally tend to carry my water in that hand, which is probably part of the problem. I need to get better at switching the bottle back and forth, since I prefer to run with the water on me.  This has been a common issue in almost all of my races, since I have such tight / knotty shoulders to begin with.
In the end, I am super excited about how well we did, and very excited to move forward! We are going to participate in the IMS Marathon as part of a relay team, and the rest of the year is TBD.

This is Camelback Santa.  We ran into him several times throughout the course and he did nothing but cheer other people on and take pictures with them.  He had a blast and was definitely part of our race experience. :)

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Food. The story of my life.

For as much as I love food, get super excited about eating it, and for as many good choices as I like to think I make on a weekly basis, food has been the bane of my existence over the past year.

It's New Year's Day, which means it has officially been a year since I began my crazy elimination diet to try and figure out what was making me feel sick all the time.

So, a year has past, and I would like to think that the giant mystery has been solved, but unfortunately, only part of the case can be closed.  It seemed like the farther I delved into the search, the longer the list of questionable foods became.

Here's why:
Problem #1: "Nothing" is wrong with me. (Some might beg to differ... but I digress. :D )
I spent a hell of a lot of money on tests to try and figure out the root cause of my digestion issues, stomach pain, muscle inflammation, headaches, etc.  I was really hoping there was a giant indicator that would come up on an ultrasound or during an endoscopy, but no such luck.  Truly, I am glad I am healthy, but that may have just been easier.  It was determined that I might suffer from bouts of gastritis (inflammation of the stomach lining), and that I also might have IBS.  It was also determined that I had developed food sensitivities and an intolerance to many foods that might be causing a lot of the problems. I ran out of money waiting for a doctor to find the cure (and patience) and decided to play Nancy Drew on my own.

Problem #2: My reactions lack consistency.
There are certain foods that give me an almost immediate reaction, every time.  That makes it really easy to never eat these foods again.  The rest of them give me a delayed reaction, some of them depending on quantity, and the rest depending on what else I happened to be eating that week. The reaction may be the next morning, or days later, and it may only happen when paired with certain foods (but again, it's not the same reaction every time).

What I have figured out:
#1: I've learned to pick my battles.  
I do not question the seasoning anymore but make note of it if it specifically is mentioned on the menu. I do not cook with any questionable seasoning (i.e. paprika and tumeric), but I do incorporate sesame on a semi-regularly basis. I said goodbye forever to dairy and egg, and actually, aside from small moments of weakness (i.e. I'm hungover), I honestly do not miss either one.  I can eat the "maybe" vegetables but I make a point to not eat them on a daily basis.  In other words, I will buy 5 mushrooms for dinner so there isn't a contained in the fridge to eat all week, or buy just large portabello mushrooms that will be consumed in a single meal.  Wheat has been a bit of a hard one. I do not cook with it, and actually really enjoy gluten free soy sauce, gluten free rice pasta (I have been really happy with all of them), have found gluten free bread I really love (Schar from Fresh and Easy), and even gf flour tortillas (Rudi's).  I love asian inspired dishes however, so I make concessions (perhaps far too many) on regular soy sauce when we are at a restaurant, as well as the occasional pizza crust (provided there is no dairy in the sauce or the dough). I find the treat of a quarterly slice of vegan pizza rewarding and worth the possible problems following me the next day.  I have yet to find a gluten free pizza crust that tastes remotely like pizza, and most gluten free products still contain eggs anyway.

#2: I definitely suffer from occasional gastritis, caused by an excess of acid in my stomach.
After Thanksgiving, when I had had a lot of wine, coffee, and spicy foods, I was literally nauseous after every meal for several days.  I have also had major stomach pain (like someone lighting my stomach on fire) after eating certain foods, and only a combination of pepcid and prescription stomach pills can alleviate it. This puts me in check immediately, since these feelings feel awful and are a good indicator that I'm making too many dietary concessions and bad decisions.  I haven't had pain that bad since this all began 5 years ago, and am certainly not in the position to go get a bunch of medical tests done again, so it makes me remember to behave. :)

#3: I definitely have IBS, albeit a mild form of it.
When my gastroenterologist suggested I might have IBS,  I didn't want to hear it, since I was focused on my food intolerance list and didn't think I could handle another list of foods to eliminate from my diet.  However, now that I have completed the first year, I have realized she was probably right. Many of the foods on both lists are actually duplicates of each other, and while I cut out a bunch of foods initially, almost all of them have been reintegrated to a certain degree, and I still am not always feeling great.  So clearly, the mystery has not been solved.  Then there are other foods like cruciferous foods (cabbage, broccoli, etc), garlic, and quinoa, on the list for IBS triggers, and I thought these were a load of crock. Honestly? How can broccoli and quinoa, foods that are so nutritiously dense and good for you, possibly hurt someone? Well, the answer is, a LOT. They are tough to digest and if your stomach is at all irritated, you are going to be punished. Quinoa has been my toughest food lately, which makes me very sad. :(  (It's also loaded with protein and I love that!) The part of IBS that isn't so mild, is the stress trigger. Still working on that. Alcohol is also a trigger, so I have cut out most hard alcohol (especially juice mixers) and stick to wine/gin, which even then sometimes gives me trouble.

As for the protein... Still eating fish, and still not eating a ton of nuts and beans.  I have been making a huge effort to integrate them into my diet again, but the moment my stomach gets even mildly irritated, I have to cut them back out again. This is tough when I'm in training.  What I have learned, canned beans are out (super hard to digest) but if I soak and slow cook, I do pretty well.  Nuts are good but in small quantities.  Cannot be combined with other iffy foods (i.e. don't put in the quinoa and steam up a pile of broccoli to go with it).

Throughout the year, I have definitely noticed the knots and inflammation in my muscles have tremendously improved.  My stomach issues are more poignant and obvious when they happen, so even the delayed reactions are easier to pin-point.  I have been able to pin-point almost instant neck and head pain after eating gluten, so by cutting that out I have had less problems there.  I have been feeling better, and I feel that I am on the right track, so I must be doing something right. :)