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What have I gotten myself into???

Now that the holidays are over, I have had time to settle down and focus a little more on what the new year will bring me– in particular, Comrades Marathon, my *big* race of the year!

I was first drawn to Comrades after running my first 50-miler last Spring. I had heard of it, and now that I had completed a similar distance, I wanted to do it. A top ultra-marathon located in South Africa. 56 miles. Coast to mountains. Uphill. A "must-do". Another bucket-list item.

So when I was looking for a new challenge after Ironman, Comrades is what I chose. The timing seemed to be perfect for a few reasons: (a) I had a running buddy to do it with me- Becky! (b) my mom volunteered/agreed to watch the kids while Ross and I traveled to South Africa and (c) let's face it, I don't think that my family was ready to support me through another Ironman so soon. :)

So, here I sit, 5 months out and time to really buckle down and start my research on exactly what I got myself into. I know it is going to be hard, but my other 50-miler was hard. Ironman was hard. I can do this, right?

Hmmm... things aren't looking so good when I get more into my research.
Here are a few things I find right away:
- Articles pop-up with titles like: "The Endless Run"
- Another subtitled: Fifty-five brutal miles. Five torturous climbs. A ruthless clock.
- More: Some races are humbling, this one stripped me bare.
- And yet more: The Alan Paton scenery is spectacular, but an ultra crushes your appreciation for aesthetics. It turns you inward, where a nagging voice says, "Put your head down. Focus. Get through this mile...then the next one."
- Adjectives I see over and over: hard, degrating, uphill, mountainous, relentless, fatigued, dreaded, infamous climbs, punishing descent, need I go on?

And these articles aren't written by average runners, like myself. No, they are written by seasoned ultra-runners-- one even by a Boston marathon winner. Great.

So, here I am sitting scared. Wondering what have I gotten myself into?
And I come across the Comrades ideology:
This spirit is not to be found among the champions, but among the many hundreds of ordinary people who run not to win, but just to complete, in the allotted time, one of the worlds toughest challenges.

And I ask myself again: What have I gotten myself into?
And this time, the answer is different.

- Competing in "the world's greatest race". As one writer put it, "I mean, it's 55 miles long-- the type of race that usually lures about, oh, 71 runners. Comrades has the magnetism to draw 12,000." (This year it will be 18,000.)

- A chance to honor the fallen comrades of my country, as well as the world.

- A race steeped in tradition and culture-- from the Zulu mining songs and rooster crow at the beginning to the symbolic medals to the dramatic course closure 12 hours later by the executioner.

- The opportunity to run alongside runners of all nationalities, drawn together for one common goal.

- A race a whole country stands behind (Can you say 12 hours of live. National. Television.)

- Unbelievable scenery as you run from the coast to the Drakensburg mountains.

- Cowies, Fields, Bothas, Inchanga and Polly Shorts.

- The greatest challenge of my life. I can do it.

So in exactly 5 months from today, I (again) will be facing one of the toughest, mind-boggling, body-pushing days of my life. Ready to enjoy every moment of it. Pain. Grit. And glory.

For more info, or if you just want to read some cool articles on Comrades:
The Famous Comrades Marathon
The Endless Run
Runner's World Archive on Comrades
Lots of Info on Comrades (logistics)

You'll only ever have ONE first _________

Since Ironman, I have realized a few things and here is one that I find myself sharing with friends repeatedly, so I thought it my be best to share it here, too, since I think it is good advice/insight, and would like to share it with whomever will listen.

If you are a friend, and I have already told you this, sorry. See ya next post.

I ran my first marathon 9 years ago. I did what I knew to do (which wasn't much). I trained what I could. And I got through it. I didn't hate it, but I didn't love it either. Luckily, I had some circumstances that had me sign up for another one-- which is where I got hooked.

A few years ago when I was living in Green Bay, my friend Marcie trained for her first marathon. She and I ran with a group of people and Marcie trained a different way. She got advice and support from us all. She learned what she needed to. Having a bunch of marathon-junkies around, she knew what to expect. Running a hometown race (it was the GB marathon she did), she had support from friends, family, running-buddies, etc. And it was just an AWESOME experience for her. I was SO HAPPY for her, and at the same time, sad I hadn't known to do the same for myself.

Going into Ironman, I knew this could possibly be a one-and-done deal. Ironman training takes a lot of time, dedication, money, energy. And not just from the athlete, but from their supporters as well. I thought that this might very well be the only opportunity to do an Ironman and how sad it would be if it were like my first marathon-- just getting through it. Right away, I knew I didn't want any regrets. The idea that I would only have "ONE FIRST" (possibly only) Ironman, and I wanted to treat it that way.

So this past year, I made a big deal of my Ironman. That isn't like me. Rarely do I solicit support or even mention what I am doing to most people. But I knew if I wanted to succeed in my goal of reaping the most of my experience, I would have to change, and I am so thankful I did. So here are a few things we did:
  • We hired a coach (priceless), so that we would have a source of knowledge to tap.
  • We joined a tri club (that we LOVE) and another source of knowledge and friends.
  • We reached out to others we knew doing the race-- made some AWESOME companions along the way. That we then shared pre-race, race and post-race memories with!
  • I had my husband to train with-- mentally and physically. Do not underestimate the value of training partners.
  • We invited family to races- believe it or not, I had never done this.
  • I started this blog to help get my family more involved in what we were doing-- I knew I needed their support.
  • I learned to love every bit of training-- especially the hard days-- for I knew they would prepare me.
  • I shared what I was doing with everyone I knew (who was interested), so that they, too, could journey through us.
So, that is what we did. And it worked. I enjoyed the day from start to finish. Sleep-deprived, food-deprived, energy deprived and I still smiled from ear to ear for 17 hours straight.

My main point is not to give you a list of things to do to prepare you for your first Ironman. That would be a much longer, lengthier post that I don't think I am even qualified to write.
My point is this: For any goal you have, to really wrap your mind and your training around the experience as a whole. To not just train for it solo, but to bring others in. Be it a 5k, half, tri, whatever it is that is a challenge and/or a goal for you. To embrace it. To love it. To not play it down because if it really is important to you, then it should be important to those around you as well. When you reach out, you will realize how much people want to support you. I am continually grateful to my friend Sonja who constantly invites us (her friends) along on her journeys. We can't run 100 miles, but we can run 6 (over and over again) or bike alongside her during training. It is a joy to support her in her endeavors.

YOU WILL ONLY EVER HAVE ONE FIRST ______, so make it great. Make it an experience you want to repeat.

My first "race" in 7 years

Sounds weird, but even though I have been participating in races and triathlons the last 8 years, yesterday was the first time I truly raced in a long, long time. I went out with the intent of running as fast as I could, pushing my body as far as I could and leaving it all out there. As much as I have wanted to do this over the past year+, I think there was something mentally holding me back... and I know what it is: the fear of failure. And it stems from my past.

Shortly after I got into endurance running, I was training for a spring marathon-- this is when we lived in Milwaukee, pre-kids. I trained a lot in the Petite Center (indoor arena) and I was putting up some mad, crazy, fast numbers (for me). It got my hopes up (high) for my upcoming marathon. So when said marathon came along, I went out quick, strong and way, way too fast. I hadn't taken into account that my training in an indoor arena would not equate to running a race in the wind, with hills, etc. and I bonked. Hard. I hated the race. Had the worst second half (probably to date) and never wanted to do that again. What I disliked more than the race was the feeling I felt of failure. I hadn't met my time goal I set out for myself.

Since, I have run numerous races and triathlons, but all with the intent on "finishing". I started choosing my goals not by how fast I could complete something, but just getting it done. While this is a worthy goal, I think I have decided it is time to push myself a little harder.

So that was what the Pueblo Half Marathon was about. I have been training my endurance for the last year and lately have been working on speed as well. I wanted to put the two together and see how I could pull it off. And I did.

The half itself was a beautiful run. You run two laps around the zoo (2 miles), then head out on a trail along the river. It was a rolling course, not bad at all. A little more downhill on the way out and uphill on the way back.

As for how I raced, normally I settle into what I know I can comfortably hold and then try to pick it up at the end. Today, I settled into what I thought was my limit, with the intent of pushing myself even harder at the end. So, with that in mind, I went. I went and went and went. The miles ticked by and I just tried to keep pushing myself, while also being smart about it.

Along the route, you hit mile 8, circle around a dam and head back to the start. It was about there I tried to pick it up a little more. I can do 5 miles of this, I thought. By mile 9 I realized that the "pack" was thinning out. In fact, it was really thin. And, on top of that, there were even fewer women out there. Hmm... I may just be doing ok in this race.

Mile 9.5 a guy passed me. This was weird to me and I realized no one had passed me yet, I had been doing all the passing. While I was happy to make this realization, I noted what that guy looked like and kept going at my pace.

As the miles got to the end, I just kept pushing harder and harder. I had the women in my sites and just kept picking them off one by one. This got hard, since there were fewer women and farther apart. I got to a point where I saw no more women, so I shot for trying to pass men. This worked and I just kept feeling stronger. At the very end, I spotted the guy who passed me at 9.5 miles. He heard me coming (the breathing) and he picked it up. I didn't think I could hang with him so I hung back. About 200 m to go though, I felt the adrenaline and I kicked it to the end, passing him. We congratulated each other on a great race, I stretched and headed for a cool-down run.

OK, I'll say it: I was pretty proud of myself. For once, I put it all out there. Fear of failure, fear of bonking, fear of not being able to meet my time goals-- I overcame them all this day. I know that this won't always be the case. There will be days when I fall short, there will be races when I DO bonk, there will be times when it doesn't go so well and I need to use those as learning experiences, not deterrents to my goals.

How did I finish? 1:45:25. 5th place in my age group. 21st women overall. That is pretty good for me. Really, the stats don't mean so much to me as the fact that I know I couldn't have done any better, and that is all I can ask for myself.

The weight issue

I have been wanting to write this blog for awhile, but it is a hard blog to write. Why? The issue is weight.
- Weight is a sensitive topic to write about.
- Weight is also a very personal topic to write about.

In the past year, I slimmed down for Ironman. Of course I wanted to shed pounds (who doesn't), but the funny thing is I barely lost any weight. That may surprise some of you, since IM training requires A LOT of endurance and, thus, burns A LOT of calories. But, also to be able to train that hard, you intake a lot of calories and you have to develop muscle. Despite the fact that I didn't lose that much weight, here were the changes.
October 2009 - October 2010

What? How could I have not lost much weight? I think you can agree I am more toned in the picture on the right. And we have all heard that muscle weighs more than fat, well, this illustrates it.

Now, I am not posting this as a "look how much I changed" post, there is a larger point to this, so please bear with me. I, like many of my friends, have often looked to the scale to give me results. The pounds are what we count because they are concrete. A sure way to measure our "success". But "losing weight" isn't always what makes us healthier people. You can shed pounds and it may not be what is better for you in the long run. It also may not give you the results you want.

So, how could I have basically stayed the same over this past year? When you strengthen your muscles, the muscle fibers are actually woven closer together, thus creating a heavier, denser muscle. While this can make you gain weight on the scale, with your muscle fibers woven more tightly together, you are actually slimming down. If you, in addition, are at a calorie deficit, you will probably maintain your weight (as I did). If you are not at a calorie deficit, you will gain. This often discourages people and they give up-- don't let it! If I had been doing an Ironman with the intent to lose weight, I would have felt like a failure. But, if you look at my body changes, I believe it was a success!

My point: Sometimes you have to look beyond the scale to see the real success.

And folks, there's more:

Since IM, I have been still been training, although it with a stronger focus on running. While I have been keeping up on my strength training, I do want to shed some pounds (for the lightness factor) in running. This has resulted in another 6 lb. loss.
Although the pound for pound weight loss is the same, I think we can all agree the first 6 lb. 'transformation' is much more substantial. I say this, again, not as a "look at me" post, but to illustrate that sometimes when you are losing weight just to lose weight, it shows but not as much as when you are working hard to improve your overall health and fitness.

My second point: While the end result on the scale is the same, the end result in your body can be much different.

So, here I am, 12 lbs down-- do I feel any different? I feel healthier. I feel lighter when I run and exercise. On top of that, I feel stronger. While in the past I have worried about the scale, I think especially as I grow (gulp) older, I am doing it more for my health than my body image. And I think it is a good thing.

Surprising note (at least to me): By industry standards, I am still classified as overweight. Another reason not to live your life by the scale.