Saturday, November 27, 2010

Losing My First Toenail.

Losing a toenail while training or during a race is a "badge of honor." I lost my first toenail at the end of October. I did some research on the topic and most blogs say to "suck it up" and that "it's no big deal you baby," but this is my toenail we are talking about! I don't care how tough you are, losing your first toenail is a little freaky.

During the Columbus Marathon I started feeling that something was wrong at about mile 17, but some silly toenail wasn't going to stop me. I'm pretty certain that it happened because my left shoe wasn't tied tight enough; I noticed some movement. I felt the pain on my toe for about 30 seconds and it went away. After completing the Marathon the first thing I wanted to do was get my sandals on. Whew, my nail was still there, as well as intense pressure; the not-so-nice kind that feels like someone is pulling up on your nail.

What the heck, I'm here, might as well go to the medical tent to get it checked out. The students at the medical tent gathered around to look at what was "the mother of all blisters." It was a blister that covered the entire top of the toe – including underneath the nail – and you could see right through. They proceeded to sterilize my toe, and the poked a hole in the blister to relieve the pressure. The needle didn't hurt, but the pressure from the guy squeezing my toe did.

The remainder of that day and the next it just felt odd. It hurt, but not extremely bad; just bad enough where it just didn't feel right. It felt like during every step someone was trying to pull back my toenail. I started to wish the darn thing just had fallen off.

I continued to poke it during the next several days to release the pressure from the fluids that continued to build up. I also cleaned it, used Neosporin and put a band-aid on it twice a day. I didn't know what was going on. It certainly didn't feel normal, but my nail was still there. I poked around on the internet to try to figure out what to do; releasing the pressure was about all. Was I going to lose my nail or not? I continued to wear my sandals for the next week, in fear for wearing socks and accidentally ripping off my toenail.

Exactly two weeks later (on Halloween, how funny!) I realized my toenail was pretty much hanging on by a thread. It was kind of like losing a tooth as a kid. I carefully touched the toenail, and it lifted off! I showed mark my foot; magenta shimmery toenail polish on all but one. It felt weird, but it felt so much better!

I learned that your body will take care of itself and do the right thing if you give it time. In a way it's like any other injury, take care of it and give it time and it will iron out the kinks itself.

It's been about three weeks since I lost my toenail and it is already about half way back. After going through the experience, like the other blogs say, "it's no biggie," but it certainly an odd experience the first time it happens.

Friday, November 12, 2010

I Love Hot Chocolate!

Last weekend I ran the RAM Racing's Hot Chocolate 5k race in Chicago. I've ran every Hot Chocolate so far, this year being the race's third year. The previous years it took place at Montrose Harbor; this year it took place at Grant Park to accommodate the growing crowd.

Did the new space accommodate all of the runners? Well, post race yes. There was hot chocolate and chocolate fondue with apples, pretzels and the likes; with lines that moved surprisingly quick. If you are running this race, run for the chocolate.

Not a race for a PR, or even a "run." My pace was somewhere around a 13 minutes per mile due to the fact that I was walking half the time because the path bottle necked everyone. And to put the only water stop for the 5k race at the skinniest part of the race, on a curve, down a hill - bad idea! Poorly executed race course and finish!  When I crossed the finish line there was a crowd of probably eight thousand people "stuck" and building up back into the finish line area. Talk about congestion in Chicago!

The one thing this race wasn't short on was chocolate and porta-potties!  It was like I had died and gone to porta-potty heaven!

All in all fun, but not certain if I'll be racing this one again. If it weren't for the chocolate (I LOVE CHOCOLATE) and the awesome gear (this year they gave out hoodies) I would hands down not race it again.

Oh – and on a completely different subject – there was a Dr. Oz expo happening at Millenium Park a few steps away from the race. That was very informative and fun! A great website they were promoting was; my real age ended up being 26.5! Hurray!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Long Over-due, Columbus Marathon Recap.

Two weeks ago I ran the Columbus Marathon. It's taken a couple weeks to get back on schedule; my apologies for not writing sooner!  Here we go.

First item on the agenda, if at all possible, avoid the Greyhound! Our (my husband Mark and I) trip started at 3am on Friday, walking to Halsted st., taking the #8 bus down to the Chicago Greyhound station. It was a long (and ugly) trip, but we made it to Toledo where my parents picked us up on their way heading to Columbus. My Dad was running the marathon, my Mom was running the half and Mark was there as for support and being the bag boy. Three hours and a Subway sandwhich later we were in Columbus.

The Marriott Hotel we stayed at was great, with an ideal location about 4 blocks to and from the start and finish line. We parked the car, dropped off our gear and walked to the race expo just blocks from the start. The expo was nothing special to write about. It was your typical expo, minus all the free samples I'm used to seeing – Mark is always looking for the Cliff bars! One good thing the expo did give us was a glance at where the finish line was. Nationwide Boulevard, all extremely down hill. A grilled cheese sandwich and a beer (gotta carb load!) finished off the night at a local brewery.

Saturday – the day before the race – consisted of race mandatories: the proper breakfast, lunch, diner and snacks; Gatoraide and water; going over the race course maps (and even driving the course in the car); charging the Garmin; laying out all the gear and pinning on our bibs so there is no fussing in the morning; etc. Oh! And painting my toenails and fingernails a sparkly bright fushia color to match my bright fushia shirt! I'm normally not a matchy-matchy type of person, and I think I've painted my nails once in the past 2 years, but for some reason I really wanted to have sparkly nails!

A well rehearsed diner at Noodles and Co. completed the day. We tried to catch some zzz's after watching the Ohio State v. Wisconsin game in bed (sorry Ohio State!) but soon enough it was Sunday, 5am and the alarm clock was buzzing!

Sunday, race day morning. The organized piles served us well.  Eat, drink, get dressed, put on the Garmin, Ironman, Fuel Belt, SPF, take extra TP, etc. Time to go! The lobby was buzzing with other marathon runners; adding to the excitement. With 50 minutes to gun, we began our walk to the start.

What is a runner's dream? Porta-Potty heaven! That's what we saw when we got to the start. We each had our turns (with no wait) and then headed over to the corral. I gave my Dad a hug and "good luck" – he's one of the fast people who qualified for a seeded start.  His bib read XXXX-2 (giving him special access to the fast people's spot), and my Mom's bib and mine read XXXX-4.  In concert terms "4" was like "general admission" and 2 was "special seating."

It's 7:30 a.m., the band is rocking, the sun is just starting to light up the buildings. The race starts with a bang and an awesome explosion of fireworks!  As my Mom and I make our way to the start we are singing with the band "You gotta fight, for your right.... to PARTY!" I knew this race would totally be a party (and a fight!). The start line was one of the coolest I've seen. The full band and stage was set up directly at the start. Another "good luck" to my Mom and a press of a button on my Garmin and on my Ironman and I was off!

I was a little apprehensive about the first mile; the race director said that it was all uphill for the first mile and to be careful "not to burn out" here. Turns out I had nothing to worry about. The entertainment (bagpipe players, bands, cheerleaders, etc.) were about ever .5 miles it seemed. I kept repeating to myself "bring it on." The weather was perfect, the pace was feeling really easy, and it literally felt all down hill.

Mile after mile I was about a minute too fast on my splits. I tried to slow it down, but the next split was still too fast. It just felt good. I thought "it doesn't get better than this."

Somewhere near mile 7 (maybe) there were speed bumps to travel over. A girl next to me said watch out for the speed bumps. I said "what speed bumps, do you mean speed boosters?" We chuckled and I mentally used those speed bumps as a launching pad for my next 30 seconds of running until the next launching pad.

Around mile 11 I ended up next to two girls, one who was running her first half, the other who was helping her finish. The girl made the comment, "we're lucky we aren't doing the marathon." I said, "hey now" and we carried on a light conversation for several minutes. The half-marathon virgin looked pretty defeated, and the other girl was trying to help her out. I asked the newbie girl "have you ever run a 20 minute training run?" she looked at me strangely, then answer, gasping, "yes." I then said, "well then you got this - 20 more minutes." I then split from the girls and carried on.

At mile 13 the half-marathoners turned left and the full-marathoners went straight. It felt like it was just the beginning of the race. I saw my husband Mark at mile 13, he asked me how I was doing. Everything was feeling really good and I was still ahead of pace. When I continued on straight, the pack extremely thinned out. I remember seeing about 4 people ahead of me on about a 2 mile leg; as opposed to having about 25 people running right next to me for the first half. The party kind of felt like it ended, but I knew I had to keep up the intensity!

The sun started beaming at about mile 15, and the shirt sleeves got rolled-up into a make shift sleeve-less shirt. I am so glad I brought my own fuel and water, and that I had so much practice at refueling during the Summer. I emptied my Gatorlytes packet into my water bottle at about mile 16, right around Ohio State's campus. I was starting to feel cramping coming on, but was able to hold it off with the Gatorlytes.

At one point in the Ohio State campus (where you could see inside the stadium) there was a really big descent.  I ran past a guy my age walking and said "this is awesome, you can't walk through this, you gotta run dude."  He said, "I'm doing intervals, it's my walk break." I said "ok." About 15 steps later he was next to me running and said "you're right, this IS an awesome downhill" as he proceeded to pass me. No Ohio State cheerleaders as I was hoping for; I had to be my own cheerleader at this point.

The stretch between the Ohio State campus and the next residential area was pretty challenging from a mental standpoint. There wasn't a whole lot to look at, it was semi-industrial for a bit. I also noticed that I was developing a blister on my middle toe on my left foot; my shoe was slipping a bit, but it was nothing compared to the fatigue I had in my hip flextors, so I carried on.

Around mile 20 I noticed that I was passing and being passed by the same people over and over. We were all going around the same pace. There was one girl in orange who kept passing me and then I would pass her. After about 2 miles of seeing her I started a conversation with her. She was pretty pooped out (as to be expected) just like me, this was her first marathon and she was getting cramps in her hamstrings. I offered her a swig of my Gatorlytes drink and she took it. I told her that I was running 4 minutes, and walking 1 minute and that she could run with me if she wanted to.

We ran the next couple of miles together. She was a great help in bringing my focus back to the race. I remember her saying "mile 23"... and I was like "really? no way!".  About a few steps beyond the 23rd mile marker she had to stop and stretch. I continued on, "see you at the finish line!" I yelled back.

Just a 5k to go, I can do this! From mile 23 to the finish it just kind of happened, one step at a time. I passed the last strip of restaurants withpeople sitting outside watching and then the last park with the beautiful pond and knew I was almost home. Next thing I saw was my Mom and Husband cheering me on at mile 26! Was it really mile 26?! They said my Dad was at the finish line too.

Just a turn to the right and all downhill! I ran through the orange and white balloons knowing that I would finish. They announced my name as I crossed the finish line, and I kept moving forward to the boy who made eye contact with me, who was giving out medals. I bowed my head, and he placed the ribbon around my neck. Yes! Success! I had beaten my goal time by about 19 minutes, and had a PR of over 20 minutes!

I continued through the shoot where I found my family. I waited at the finish line for the girl in orange to finish; when she crossed I gave her a big hug! I ate my Cliff Builders bar and put on my sandals (to find that the blister was no joke, another post about that coming soon). My first thought was "how did you guys do?"... both of my parents got PRs! My second thought was "I want a massage!" We proceeded to the free massage room and all three of us got our messages; victory!

I then went over to the medical tent where the medical students had a field day with my "mother of all blisters".  They popped the blister, said I'd probably lose my toenail. I told them it was no biggie – I just finished a marathon! The afternoon continued on with stories about our races, a dip in the pool, martinis, buckeyes (thanks Deb!) and a walk around downtown Columbus. And I continued to say to myself (just like I did in the race) "It doesn't get much better than this!"

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Marathon PR by over 20 Minutes!

5:41:09! What a great day and great course!  My only trouble was a blister on the end of my middle toe (started to feel it around 19). Going down stairs is tough today, but to be expected. More info to come!

Click here for more details on my race time.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Running the Columbus Marathon this Sunday!

Only four days away from the Columbus Marathon! My dad will be running the marathon this year; and most definitely finishing at least an 1.5 hours faster than me at half my age! And my mom will be running the half; her first half going solo!

I'm using an application called Tweet My Time that will post my time during 5 spots on the course to my twitter account at I'm hoping to finish under 6hrs!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Accelerade Accel Gel Review / 20 Miler.

"Nothing new on race day." This is the golden rule most runners stand firmly by, that you hear over and over again. Stick with what works and what you've been training with.

Two weeks ago I stumbled acrosscompelling research pointing to the importance of protein with exertion of over 3 hours. Most of the information was found at Somewhere on the site it stated something like "Do you want your body to cannibalize it's own muscle tissue when you run our of fuel, or would you rather take Accelerade?" Wow. Of course I don't want to my muscles eating themselves away for fuel; no brainier right?

Let's give Accel Gel a test run. During a 20 mile training run last weekend my first two gels were to be the tried and true CarbBoom and PowerBar brands, and my third and fourth would be Accelerade's Accel Gel. And so the story goes...

Gel One - yummy chocolate cherry CarbBoom, sweet and tasty!

Gel Two - a wake up call with PowerBar Gel Double Latte; just enough caffeine to help me pick it up, mmm, coffee.

And then – when I'm starting to get fatigued and ready for a glorious and wonderfully delicious gel to lift my spirits – Gel Three. Did the product descriptor on the nicely organized package really read "Citrus Orange"? Really? Apologies for my being so blunt, but a more suitable flavor descriptor would be "Upchucked Creamsicle." All I can say is guh-ross! I guess the protein has to come from somewhere; on the nutritional panel in the list of ingredients it lists milk. But I wasn't expecting it. Not a pleasant treat for mile 14, but ok, carrying on, I'll give the next Accel Gel flavor a try at mile 18.

17.95 miles means time to unzip the fuel belt, get the water bottle ready and tear open the next gel - Gel Four. I had lowered my expectation due to my previous experience, but was keeping a fair open mind. Key Lime. Sounds good, and the creaminess from the milk might actually make sense with this particular flavor. Hesitantly - but with an "I know I need this fuel" intensity - I thumbed up the goo into my mouth. Quick! Drink some water! Could this flavor top "Citrus Orange" in regards to God awful terrible flavor? I think so! Trust me, at mile 18, I don't need any help luring the possibility of puking, but the nasty taste really could have put me over the edge. I shared what was left of the Gel with my Dad (who was running the last 6 mile with me), and then he passed it back to my mom (who rode the bike, acting as my "aid station" for the whole 20. "Dar, you gotta try this," he shouted and passed it back. I guess that was my evil way of sharing the pain!

2.05 miles later, with a good sprint to finish it off, it was still top of mind - "Man, I'm never taking that stuff again."

From a fuel/performance perspective, the gels seemed to work just fine. But they were no different from the other gels that I had used in the past that were much more palatable. I guess I'm not "hardcore" enough of an athlete to justify the protein benefits over the disgusting taste. It's just not for me.

And so I choose to amend the golden rule of "Nothing new on race day." to "Nothing new on race day (or during your last 20 mile training run before a marathon)." I had to try it. I'm just glad I did during a training run and not the real deal.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Chicago's (Race-Like) Lakefront Trail.

I am fortunate to live close to Chicago's Lakefront trail. It's a half mile walk (or I should say warm-up) from our condo to the trail at Lake Shore Drive and Fullerton Parkway (photo below). I wait to turn on my Garmin GPS watch until I get close to the lake; all the buildings inland make it harder to acquire the satellite signals.

The walk to the trail feels like the prep before a race. Make sure everything's tied snug, the watch is working, the legs are loose, the hair is snugly secured in the hair tie, etc.

Once you get on the trail it's go time. You hit start on the watch and you start running. In a way it's like getting onto the expressway; you wait for a clear spot in the traffic and then you dart in.

The traffic on the lakefront trail mimics the feel of being in a race. Someone passes you and so you pick up the pace... or you see a girl an eighth of a mile ahead of you with a purple shirt on and you make her your next goal. There's lots to look at, and a lot of ways to track your progress. When I head north there are trees that line the path by the tennis courts near Belmont; I like to count how many steps it takes to get between those perfectly placed trees. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8... eight steps to get from tree A to tree B; next time I'll make it 7 steps. Or maybe every time a bike passes I'll sprint for 10 seconds and try to keep up with him.

Another element that makes running the trail like a race are the Fleet Feet aid stations along the path, where runners pick up their Gatorade or water and scurry along.

The running groups training for Fall marathons also adds to race-like environment. It's good practicing for being in tight congested areas. You'll also get the occasional "keep it up" from the running groups, or high-fives from a random dude carrying a skateboard.

Living in Chicago and running long distances, the lakefront trail is really the best way to go. It mimics a race environment in so many ways and provides a great surface (minus Chicago traffic lights!) to get the bigger miles in.

A great map of Chicago's lakefront trail can be downloaded here (PDF).