The tl;dr version: it was a LOT of work, but also tons of fun.
When I joined Pearland Area Road Runners (PARR for short) in July, I hadn’t ever run more than 5 miles and some change during any given session. I’d taken up running on April 2, 2016 using Active.com’s Couch to 5K app, and was somewhere in the midst of the 5K to 10K training program. Because of my spinal stenosis, I found that I had to increase my speed slowly — that is part of the reason why I chose to start with a walk/run program. From my podcast network‘s community, I’d found a couple of advisers in Ollie and Trevor; they helped set me on the right path when I was learning how to run.
In mid-July at the start of the season we ran our Magic Mile and I was placed in Platinum, the 3rd fastest of 4 groups. On the first day of running hills during the week I came across Marsha, who was at the time training for the half marathon but who nevertheless ran my pace; we became sole sisters and did all of our weekday runs together. She started training with Platinum on the Saturday long runs as well, and eventually switched to the full. For a good half of the season I ran with her until she got injured. About that time I’d also found that I’d progressively sped up, but I didn’t really know anyone who ran my new pace so this left me training solo. While I’d trained from April to July by myself, I’d gotten rather accustomed to running with other people and so this affected my morale. I was also suffering some signs of over-training as the schedule didn’t allow for much of a breather, so I had to dial back. This was about when the Warm-Up Series of races began, with a longer race every 2 weeks. I needed to allow myself time to recover before getting back to it, and also on race weekends I missed the long runs with the group and thus my schedule was getting progressively more mixed up.
It was right about the time that I was really wondering if I could hang in there and manage everything that Laurence messaged me to see how my training was going. I believe he is the fastest person in PARR; he is also one of the two leaders of the fastest pace group. He became my new mentor as Ollie and Trevor had gotten too busy. He invited me to run with his group when I could and introduced me to Kaylin, who runs something close to my pace. Although the scheduling didn’t work out as often as I’d liked, I was able to run with the “fast kids” a couple of times, and with Kaylin individually a couple of times besides that. But just having that connection — someone checking in with me to see how things were going (this was Laurence consistently, and also Kaylin after I met her) — made a real difference in my morale and although from the end of November onward things in my personal life became rather stressful and hectic I got in as much training as I could and listened to my body about when I needed to change things up.
Somewhere in there after I’d lost my original group, I also met Jeremy from United Fitness when he ran a running form clinic. Especially after Marsha became injured (and with my body showing signs of over-training), this was a subject that was important to me. Having previously taught Tae Bo, I am quite aware of how proper form can make or break the effectiveness and safety of your workout — so when he offered a form analysis, I took him up on it and began working to adjust my training. After that, PARR began holding events with further form training with speakers who were physical therapists; I attended the one that I could schedule in, took notes and incorporated that information with what I’d learned from Jeremy.
The main thing that came up was that runners need to cross-train. This is something that I love to do and something that I have always done, but after I took up running my body was overloaded and just trying to get a handle on what I was doing, and I was only doing yoga and bellydance as cross-training (as opposed to my normal variety of strength training, HIIT, Tae Bo, INSANITY, etc). I decided to develop a set of pre- and post-run strength training exercises adapted from what I’d learned were particularly useful movements, adjusting them to my personal style of training. While I did in fact become a stickler for doing my strength training warm-up, I will admit that I have been less prone to finishing my post-run strength work. (That’s something I will work on becoming consistent about after I recover fully from the marathon.) Here is my current regimen — I perform each exercise/combo for 1 minute:
In December, I attended a “strength training for runners” series of classes twice a week for the entire month over at United Fitness; I was a member of the Launch Team and also took TRX and spin when I could fit them into my schedule. These combined with the work I was beginning to reintegrate really made a big difference. I slimmed and toned up, and I noticed that as my hip stabilizers became stronger my form improved and some of the aches and pains I’d struggled with — most notably the sore knee — just completely stopped.
At the very end of December and the training season, I got a new heart rate monitor. While I have used Polar products for years and was happy with my M400, Garmin devices offer more metrics and better connectivity and battery life. My Polar had nearly died during one of the long runs and when I doubled up and did a long run followed by some other activity (hiking, indoor rock climbing, a race, etc), so I wanted to ensure that I got something that would be able to handle a marathon and my occasionally high activity days. I invested in a Garmin Fenix 3. I will say that Garmin hardware is of a much better quality than Polar’s, and again Garmin has better connectivity to apps, running websites, social integration and so on. However, I greatly prefer Polar Flow to Garmin Connect. Garmin Connect’s desktop site is a joke whereas Polar’s is intuitive, informative, easy to navigate and offers better cross-training metrics. Garmin is devoted to running and triathlons and the types of exercises that have categories are mostly outdoor types such as skiing, rowing, golfing, etc. Polar however tracks progress, overall training time, heart rate zones and more by category of training and includes martial arts, dance, weight training and various other sorts of activities both indoor and outdoor. Polar also has a Recovery Status metric that shows how much strain your body is under given your personal biometrics; as I am accustomed to pushing hard it can sometimes be difficult for me to figure out whether I really need to rest or am just mentally out of the game. If you can’t tell, I am really in love with Polar Flow. If Polar would develop a training computer that includes more of the metrics and connectivity of Garmin devices I would immediately switch back. However, in the long run I am more accustomed to my other types of training and how to sort out results and recovery for same, so it is not absolutely essential that I have access to the various Polar metrics that Garmin lacks.
Since getting my Garmin and connecting with the fast kids on the app, as I open it up and see their average paces for their training runs it makes me want to push harder. While I was already pushing during speed work sessions when sprinting, I had gotten into the habit with Marsha of walking during the low intensity “breather” intervals — so I switched to walking for a few moments if I really needed it and then picking back up into a slow run, or just slowing the run and not walking at all. My pace post-sprintervals also increased during the cool-down phase, leaving my average pace in a better place than it had been when I’d lost my training buddy and was a bit disoriented. So going forward, the Garmin is better on my accountability in addition to being a more powerful and durable piece of hardware.
Other tidbits that I learned during the season, mostly via trial and error:
- Most gels upset my stomach; Honey Stinger gels don’t but especially on long runs are too sweet; Huma gels work best for me personally, especially if coupled with Tailwind mixed into my water.
- However, I can’t run with just Tailwind in my hydration pack as after a long enough run I want real water and find myself really thirsty despite having liquid, because it’s not water. Solution: plain water in the hydration pack, and probably a little bottle shoved into my pack somewhere with Tailwind in it to sip. During races, so long as there are enough water stations I can run with Tailwind in my pack and just pick up water at the stations.
- I take a gel 15 minutes before a long run, and then every 5 miles thereafter. I tried every 6 miles, but that seemed just a tad too long of an interval for me.
- I carry an extra gel just in case.
- I wake up very early to run in the morning because my stomach is especially sensitive at that time. I have to eat a good hour and a half before I run, in order to avoid stomach cramps. However, I don’t seem to have nearly so many stomach issues when I run in the afternoon or evening.
- Varying my running times helps a lot. I ran exclusively in the morning with Marsha for the first half of the season, but after I began to train solo I would run both in the morning and afternoon, on different days. During the marathon, the experience of training at both times was useful in keeping me from wearing down the same way others seemed to.
- I prefer to have a sweat towel at least during long runs, because it gets into my eyes regardless of whether I have a headband, hat or visor (I have tried all of these).
- To keep my phone from dying during long runs, I turn on low power mode. I only just figured this out in the last few weeks, when I was tapering. 😛 But during the marathon I listened to music the whole way and my phone was at 73% power at the finish line. I’d carried a portable battery charger just in case, but I didn’t end up needing it.
- I pack snacks for after a long run — a bottle or two of plain water, a protein shake, and depending on how long the run is also some fruit like an apple or banana, a protein cookie, or something else easy to grab and eat. If I don’t bring food with me I will still have the water and protein shake on hand to cut immediate hunger, and then go get food before I shower.
- Blister prevention: don’t wear cotton socks if you’re running for a long time. They’re okay for shorter distances but over an hour to an hour and a half and you’re likely to get the sweaty rubbing going on. You may be able to prevent blisters AND still wear cotton socks if you use Vaseline or Body Glide between your toes, but I haven’t done that — I just avoid the cotton. Man-made material (like my compression socks) works better and also doesn’t get as heavy when you get wet (i.e. get caught in rain, sweat a lot, do an OCR, etc). It’s still a good idea to use Vaseline or Body Glide between your toes if you are on a long run, even with socks made of man-made material.
WHEW. Now on to talking about the Chevron Houston Marathon 2017!
Thanks to my family, friends, coworkers and the Duckfeed community for helping me to raise a whopping $1,336 for Alzheimer’s Association!
First let me say that it was hot and humid. There were heat advisories in effect for the marathoners. 8 runners were taken to the hospital and 750 required medical care. All the same, the course took us through some really awesome parts of Houston and were a nice tour of some of my usual haunts (as well as some areas I don’t normally traverse).
TWO WEEKS BEFORE
- I began to wind down training per the PARR schedule.
- I double-checked my stock of gels and other running needs to ensure that I had enough of the things I would be using during the marathon.
- I read over the information about packet pick-up, the course, etc, so that I was familiar with what all I would need to do and where I’d need to do it.
THE WEEK BEFORE
- I did some meal planning and cooked tons of nutritionally balanced food to last me the rest of the week and at least part of the week post-marathon.
- I began really concerning myself with sleeping more than my usual amount — this meant skipping bellydance class on Wednesday and doing my best to wind my day down by 7 or 8p so that I would get 8ish hours of sleep (or more if I could manage it).
- I stopped drinking diuretics (namely coffee and tea, but alcohol had I been so inclined would have also been in this category as would soda) as of Wednesday.
- Nothing sweet as of Friday.
- I attended Alzheimer’s Association’s pre-race pasta party on Thursday night, which was held for fundraisers.
- I went to Grazia Friday night for a free plate of spaghetti marinara.
- I went to the fast kids’ final carb-loading pasta party at Gina’s (they were kind enough to invite me even though I’m not that fast yet).
- I put in my time doing easy runs and enjoyed these by running with my darling coworker Lorie as well as my new friend Ferdinand who always runs at the trail by my house (where I’d been doing most of my solo training).
- I went to my chiropractor for an adjustment on Wednesday.
- I went for a massage to work out final kinks on Friday.
- I wrote a list of everything that I would need and what bag it needed to be in. I did this a few days beforehand so that I would have time to mull it over.
SATURDAY (day before the race)
- I participated in the ABB 5K, but I took it easy and ran with Marsha, CJ and Chastity. This was a fantastic opportunity to spend some time with the wonderful people I’d begun my season with.
- I went to the Expo at the George R. Brown Convention Center directly after the 5K, picked up my race packet and whatever free goodies I could find. This included Hot Shot which Marsha pointed out to me — and I can’t thank her enough as I suspect this is what prevented me from having any real problems with muscle cramps during the race.
- I trimmed my toenails.
- I filled my car with gas.
- I charged my Garmin.
- I chewed one Pepto Bismol tablet (a half dose) just to be sure that my stomach wouldn’t freak out on me.
- I did the final playlist uploads for my Running Inspiration list: I’d asked listeners and my fellow co-hosts of The Level to send me audio messages to listen to once I needed encouragement. I received 14 of these and made a special list. Shout out to Dan, David P., Dennis, Eric P., Jake, Jeremy, Kole, Mai, Michael P., Ollie, Sam, Sporky, Trevor and Zach for going out of their way to help me out!
- I packed my hydration pack and gear drop-off bag, pinned my bib on my shirt, prepped my pre-workout drink and laid everything for the race out.
- Hydration Pack
- Cell phone
- ID/credit card/insurance card/cash etc
- Ziplock with Salt Stick caps
- Run Gum (7 pieces)
- 6 Huma gels
- Portable battery charger + cable (didn’t need it but just in case, for my phone)
- Ziplock with several tissues
- Sweat towel
- 2 bottles of Hot Shot, with the plastic ripped off already.
- 40oz Tailwind — if it’d gotten sunny I might have drank more of that, but I only consumed about 10oz. Next time if the weather is about what it was this year I will take something more like 20oz as I’d still rather have more than I think I need. I was regularly sipping but did not require as much, which is a trend that I’d pointed out on my last blog post.
- Gear Check Bag
- Gym towel
- Full change of clothes
- Recovery flip flops
- Moist towelettes (currently using Acure Coconut + Argan Oil wipes, which smell better to me than baby wipes)
- Bottle of water
- Lenny & Larry’s Complete Lemon Poppyseed protein cookie — in the future I will want something else which is not at all sweet, given that I consumed several Huma gels during the race. Something like protein granola/nuts/etc. — a protein shake would also be good.
- 1 bottle of Hot Shot
- A plastic bag for my wet running clothes
- Ziplock with mini first aid kit:
- Aqua bandages (I used one on a blister)
- Mini Body Glide
- Salonpas pain relief patch just in case my spinal nerve wigged out (this has the same ingredients as Tiger Balm, so Tiger Balm would also work)
- On wrist: Garmin
- On head: sunglasses
- In car: another bottle of water, charger cable for phone
- I went to sleep as early as I could manage.
We lit up the race with our PARR orange!
- I woke up at 2:30a.
- I ate two pieces of Ezekiel sprouted grain toast with almond butter and honey, as well as a banana. I took my pre-workout drink, vitamins, some ibuprofen, and drank a full bottle (my bottle holds 21oz) of water.
- I considered sunscreen but it was cloudy so decided against it (I didn’t need it).
- I put Body Glide in between my toes and on the front pad of my foot, as well as in other places which I don’t generally chafe but which are common chafing areas, just in case.
- I went to the bathroom as many times as I could.
- I left by 4:30a.
- I parked on the street as it is free on Sundays — and because I was there so early I found an actual marked spot so I didn’t get blocked in.
- I went into the GRB, found my running group, checked my bag and went to the bathroom at least three more times but notably NOT around the time we were scheduled to take our group photo, so that way I wouldn’t miss it.
- Took 1 bottle of Hot Shot and 1 Huma energy gel before making my way to my corral.
- Checked my pace and ran a bit faster than my goal pace, knowing that I would need to stop for a bathroom break or two and would need to compensate for it.
- Zenned out and enjoyed my running playlist, my fellow runners, and all of the awesome spectators. Thanked officers, the performing bands/singers/dancers along the way and the phenomenal Race Crew. Gave kids high fives. Read all the signs everyone held up.
- Took small sips of Tailwind intermittently.
- Consumed a Huma gel every 5 miles.
- Took water every couple of stations or so, or whenever I felt I needed it.
- Took water every several miles and dumped it over my head to cool myself off. When they were available, took a cold, wet sponge and sponged my neck, chest, face and arms.
- Stopped for a bathroom break at miles 7 and 18.
- Stopped to see my friends Renee and Ana at mile 15. Took my scheduled gel, as well as 1 bottle of Hot Shot.
- Began to feel tired around mile 18 and slowed down; second bathroom break took longer. I listened to my Running Inspiration playlist of encouraging messages and found myself smiling from ear to ear, laughing, relaxing…and speeding back up again to the pace I’d been running at! (Until I ran out of messages…)
- The rain started at mile 20.
- I slowed down and never sped back up after mile 21. I’d begun taking walk breaks finally. My legs were still able to go but were feeling progressively heavier; because of my now-wet socks, I got a blister. I felt weighed down thanks to the rain. I began to feel lightheaded here and there — 4 or 5 times — and had to slow down, sip Tailwind, possibly splash my face with water if available or just towel it off and shake my head to clear it. I had a minor, intermittent cramp in my right calf along the side near the ankle, but it never grew worse and was really just a nagging sensation.
- When I hit the wall, I turn external. I started cheering people who were bonking and encouraging them to continue, and looked for anyone going roughly my pace who seemed to not be inclined to stop and tried to match their pace. I did not at any time feel like I could not finish; I did not at any time feel like I needed to walk the rest of the course. I knew I could do it, I knew I could run it, and I knew that my problem was that my mind wanted me to stop although my legs could keep on going at a run (even if slower).
- At mile 25 I found my running angel. His name was Robert. Robert cheered me on and said we needed to finish strong. He was running at about the pace I felt I could manage, so I caught up to him and told him that I’d run it in with him. It’s silly, but because he said “thank you” in response I felt I needed to run it in or die rather than apologizing and dropping back again when tired. I’d promised, so I’d deliver. We talked about the race, and he asked how I got into running and why I decided to run the marathon since I’d already said that this was my first. I told him the story of how I was trying to work around my spinal stenosis, and how I upped the ante from half to full marathon as a show of faith in my friend Roben that she would stick to her training plan. The talk helped distract from the running and when we got to downtown my Garmin said I’d run 26.2 and yet I hadn’t even seen the 26 mile marker yet; when we passed that, I still couldn’t see the finish line and became antsy as I was getting lightheaded again. The crowd was thick and the cheering grew so loud that I couldn’t hear Robert anymore, but by this point I was focused on only running that last bit in before the dizzy spell got me and didn’t see any of the people around me. We turned a corner and I saw it and Robert and I ran the thing in together, so several of my finishing photos show him next to me, or slightly behind me as he was just a smidge slower than what I mustered.
The guy in red was my running angel, Robert.
I anticipated that I would become emotional after I crossed the finish line, but instead I was just excited that I’d finished. “Oh good, so that’s done now.” It was a fun experience and a great challenge, and I’m looking forward to returning to my training after I’ve had some recovery time, but I didn’t have the sort of dramatic welling up that other people in my running group had when they finished. I wondered what my final time was; I started to mentally run through the list of things I had to be sure to do before leaving the GRB; I wondered who’d finished and was still around inside the convention center; I wondered how my fellow runners who were still on the course were doing.
You can see me crossing the finish line on the left side – I have on a purple headband and orange singlet.
After grabbing my medal, water and banana and taking my finisher photos, I parted ways with Robert with a hug, and he kissed the top of my head and wished me well before he headed off. I met up with some of PARR, and was told that I still looked strong and fresh. I laughed and decided that I must have one hell of a poker face, given that I felt like I’d been run over by a truck. In all honesty though I wasn’t at critical shutdown mode — I’d paced myself well enough to remain capable of running the entire thing without getting injured or so tired that I was unable to rally. I knew what I needed in order to push the rest of the way: a running buddy, someone next to me to run for and with, or the audio inspiration from my friends telling me I could do it, making me laugh and smile and feel like I needed to give the rest of what I had. I didn’t have enough of these things to go around for the entirety of final leg of the race but what I did have kept me going to where even given the adverse weather conditions I was able to finish at only 5 minutes slower than my goal time.
I checked my heart rate zones, and I remained in zone 5 (of 5) for most of the race with the exception of the times I took it down to a walk (zone 4) or stopped for a bathroom break or to see my friends (zone 3).
My finish time was 4:20:13. The average finish time was 4:37:03 so I was, at the least, a bit above the median. Given that this year’s average finish time was lower than it has been since 2000, it was a tough day to race and I managed to run this first marathon of mine solo and with proper care to where I did not crash and burn.
Directly after I finished and chatted with my PARR peeps, I grabbed my finisher shirt and double medal for having run the ABB 5K and marathon. I picked up my gear bag and went to the changing area, using the wet wipes to clean off as best I could and then toweled dry and slipped into comfortable, warm, dry clothing. I buzzed over to get my massage and then it was time for me to go to United Fitness/United Cryo for my first-ever cryotherapy experience, as well as some time in those fancy Normatec compression boots.
Pretty swank recovery lounge, amirite?
I’ll say that both the cryo and the boots had an immediate, noticeable positive effect on how my legs felt — and that effect lasted. After I finished up there, I grabbed some food and ate dinner with my mom, regaling her with the stories of the race. I unpacked all my stuff, did laundry and put it all away once it was dry, walked and played with the dog, popped onto the internet to check on all of my PARR peeps and thank the people who’d been tracking my progress…I did go to bed early, but although I was sore and tired I was not a zombie. The day after the race, I had another massage to work out the rest of the lactic acid. I still abstained from diuretics for Sunday and Monday and drank lots of water, which is something you should do after races, cryotherapy, Normatec boots and massage.
As of today (Tuesday), my legs are still tired and my body overall feels worn down like it needs to rest and recharge but I am not down for the count. I took care of some errands today and tomorrow will be returning to some of my cross-training via bellydance. In a day or two I may start going for easy runs but I won’t be considering speed work again until February as especially after my first marathon my body needs to repair itself.
Some notes about what I would like to do differently during my next marathon training season are as follows:
- More 20+ mile long runs — I missed several of these due to this year’s Warm-Up Series. Next season I will not be doing the Warm-Up Series, so I will be able to get a few more in the bag.
- Run these 20+ mile long runs at a faster speed than I did during this season. The two times I ran over 20 miles, they ended up far slower than what my race pace was going to be. While I know that during training that is perfectly fine, at least one 20+ mile long run should have been done at a semblance at least of what my goal marathon pace was. I ran 24.3 miles with Platinum (after I’d gotten faster, so this was pretty slow for me) and I ran 22 miles at first with Kaylin and the fast kids but then after Kaylin started having stomach issues I slowed down with her. She had to cut her run short, and I had to run the last 7 miles by myself on the track and I ended up stopping to talk to people and had lots of breaks between the segments of my run so it wasn’t as good a test of my endurance as I might have wished.
- Focus more during speed work, the way I did after I connected with the fast kids rather than how I was slowing down drastically during breaks before then.
- Incorporate more cross-training all season long rather than just in the last couple of months leading up to the race. I didn’t this season because my body just couldn’t handle the additional load, but next season I will have been running for awhile and thus acclimated enough to juggle.
Laurence posted a link to this article about how temperature affects marathon performance and said this: “Yesterday was a teachable moment many of us, myself included. Our starting temp was around 64 degrees and went to 68 by 10 a.m. Based on this study, we should have multiplied (1.096 x our predicted final finishing marathon time in minutes) as our pace. A predicted 4 hour marathoner would have multiply 1.096 x 240 minutes = 263 minutes or 4:23 marathon. Instead of going off at a 4 hour marathon pace, that marathoner should have adjusted and ran at a 4:23 marathon pace or almost a minute slower pace. Once it got to 68 degrees, then you multiply by 1.128 which means we needed to run even slower.”
What this indicates to me is that my 4:20:13 finishing time could have easily been a sub-4:00:00 finishing time, had the weather been better. That is, by the way, my goal for the 2018 Chevron Houston Marathon, which I have registered for.
MY FAVORITE SIGHTS DURING THE RACE
- Renee and Ana, my dear friends and supporters who came out to cheer me on
- Jeremy and Kendall from United Fitness
- Samantha from Alzheimer’s Association, who cheered wildly when she saw me running
- All of my fellow PARR peeps as I came upon them during the race
- All of the PARR supporters, who cheered, “GO PARR!” regardless of whether they had any idea of who I was
- The guys who had on “my 100th marathon” shirts, etc
- All of the Race Crew, many of whom would read my name off my bib and cheer me on, “Go Jala-chan! You’ve got this!!!” (Interestingly those who did this actually pronounced my name correctly! That’s pretty rare!)
- The two dancing Tiggers who kept on cropping up at random locations
- All of the performers: the Sirrom Studio bellydancers, the marching bands, the bagpipe guy, the singers and bands
- That guy with the 3D Mario Bros question block with the invincibility star above it — I totally ran up and Mario jumped to the block
- The lady dressed as a whoopie cushion
- The guy in the T-Rex costume who ran up on another spectator and surprised her
- The little kids calling out, “I believe in you!!!” and giving everyone high-fives
- The people who’d just gone out for coffee and were chillin’ out watching the race
- The people in the Rice Village area who had lawn chairs and watched everyone run by their homes — many of them handed out bananas, water, mints and tissues
- The people handing out sweat towels (I held on to mine)
- The awesome signs some of the people were holding. Favorite sayings:
- You think this is hard? Imagine dating you!
- If Trump can run, so can you!
- I believe in you!
- I trained for months to hold this sign
- Seems like a lot of work for a FREE BANANA!
- In my heart, you are all KENYANS
- Keep going, keep going! (That’s what she said)
- Go random stranger go!
- Worst parade EVER!
- The finish line
Several people have asked me what’s next, but as I perpetually have a rolling series of goals I have easy answers for these:
- To run the Wine & Roses Half on April 23 at Messina Hof which was my goal last April when I began running — that is to say, this was my first running goal and the time has come to knock it out.
- To run it sub-2:00:00. This would mean cutting at least 2 minutes off of my finishing time from my performance during October’s Houston Half.
- To train for and complete my Spartan Trifecta. I am registered for these, and am currently working on my training plan:
- Houston Sprint on March 11
- Austin Super on May 20
- Dallas Beast on October 28
Between the above races I have a few others, but they are for fun rather than for PRs.
Laurence and the fast kids will be training during off season. Their track sessions will be on days that I can participate, so I hope to join them after I recover. In the meantime, I need to concentrate on bellydance as we have an encore performance of the Khidni Habibi fan veil choreography coming up at Aradia Gala on February 4.
That’s all for now!