My Running Spouse

One of my dear friends was my first Team in Training coach, Rebecca.  Since my first marathon back in 2007, we have trained and run many races together.  We have shared all sorts of experiences over the years, the vast majority are very amusing (at least to us) but not really things I can write about and still maintain my goal of a PG-13 rating for my blog.

Rebecca’s husband, Rich, joined us a few years ago.  Rich added more fun to the mix and the three of us continued to make running memories.  Two years ago Rebecca decided she needed a break from marathons.  I still had races to run and so did Rich.  Rich jumped in where Rebecca had been to become my running partner.  I guess you could call Rich my running spouse.  (In case you are wondering, my husband is unable to run due to knee and ankle issues.)

We make an odd couple.  Rich is a 6’ 3” former Marine; I am only 5’ 2” so he towers over me.  Rich’s height is always useful in races when I need help finding a path through a crowded field of runners.  As we pound out the miles, Rich endures my endless chatter on all sorts of topics – my dogs (both dead and alive), documentaries I have watched, anything that pops into my head.  I know he is actually listening to me because he will chime in with a witty comment about something I have said.  It all helps keep our hours of running from getting boring.

Our big year was 2013-2014.  We ran the Marine Corps Marathon together in October then we trained together for the Dopey Challenge in January.  I have to say that there has never been a year quite like that one before or since.

Although we didn’t train much together for the Marine Corps Marathon (MCM), we both wanted to finish the race in under 5 hours and get PRs (personal records).  On race morning we both felt we were ready to do it.  Although it started out chilly, the weather was great.  We saw Rebecca along the course a few times, cheering for us.  Rich tolerated my chatter and my crying (long story that I will save for another post).   Things were going as planned and we were staying on track for our objective of a sub-5 hour finish.

John Bingham came up with the term “the Bite Me Zone”.   This is the point in a marathon where you are tired, frustrated, just want to be done already.  In the Bite Me Zone many runners change from being a pleasant person to a not so friendly one.  That was Mile 20 for me in the MCM.

At Mile 20 Rich told me that he didn’t think he could keep up the pace that would have us finishing under 5 hours.   As the 5-hour pace setter came by, Rich told me to go join them.  Things had gotten really challenging for me at that point too.   I knew that I had only gotten as far as I had because I was running with him but I did not want to abandon him.  I will always remember the exchange that followed as we stood on the 14th Street Bridge:

Rich: Go on, Lynn.  You can still make it.

Me: No, I am staying with you.

Rich: You can catch the 5-hour pace group.  Go.

Me: (yelling) No! A Marine never leaves another Marine behind!  I am staying with you!

I have no clue what possessed me to say that.  I was never a Marine but somehow I felt like a Marine that day.

We kept running together, a bit slower, until Mile 23.5 where they were handing out donut holes.  I was hungry but immediately felt ill after I ate just one.  I threw the rest of them away and kept running.  A bit later I looked around and couldn’t see any sign of Rich.  I wasn’t sure if he was ahead of me or behind me.  I just wanted to be done with the race so I kept running.  I ran into him after the race in the runner’s village.  He had finished 8 minutes behind me.  He said he was so hungry when he saw donut holes that he had to stop.  We both ended up with PRs, just not the ones we wanted.

We spent the next 2 months preparing for Disney World’s Dopey Challenge – 4 consecutive days of races, 5K, 10K, half marathon and full marathon in January. There weren’t many people on the trail when we went running in November and December.  I remember one day where there were 20-30 mph winds and wind chills put the temperatures in single digits.  The headwinds were so strong that I was nearly blown over.  I probably would not have even been out on a day like that, if it wasn’t for the commitment I made to Rich.

The Dopey Challenge was another memorable experience.  Just like the MCM, the Dopey races were filled with lots of bantering back and forth between us.   At the 5K we saw lots of guys dressed up in costumes including Disney characters (male and female), tutus and sparkle skirts.  In jest, I told Rich that I would donate $200 to the charity he was running for if he would run the next race in a skirt.  After we finished the 5K, he went to the Expo and bought a gun metal sparkle skirt to wear in the 10K.  I have to say he looked great in his skirt – certainly better than the 6’ 5” guy with a dark beard dressed as Snow White.  Lots of people complimented him on his outfit.  When he posted pictures of himself on social media after the 10K, he got pledges of nearly $1000 if he would run all of the remaining races wearing the skirt.

Rebecca ran the 10K and the half marathon with us, which made things even more fun.  But Rich and I were on our own for the full marathon.  In the Animal Kingdom I insisted that he ride the Expedition Everest roller coaster.  (I am terrified of roller coasters and was just happy to have a moment to rest.)  It is a crazy concept – riding a roller coaster in the middle of running a marathon.  I can’t think of any other place that you can do that.  That was probably the happiest moment of any race I have run.  I enjoyed watching Rich zoom by on the ride.  He looked like a big kid having a great time.

As we continued running, our conversations started to really go downhill.  The runners around us overheard our banter.  At one point a man asked Rich if I was his wife.  Rich replied “No, it’s my mother.”  Although you might think I should have been offended, I stopped dead and doubled over in laughter.  I still laugh about that.  [For the record, I am old enough to have been his babysitter but not his mother.]

Last year I was planning to run the MCM and part of the Dopey Challenge  with Rich and Rebecca when I broke my arm.  I was bitterly disappointed to miss running those races with them.  This year I am making up for it.  Although Rebecca is back on the sidelines, Rich and I are training again for the MCM.  In January he will be running the Dopey again and I will run the half and full marathons with him.  One Dopey was enough for me.  We have only had two weekend runs together but we slipped back into our running routine like a comfortable pair of running shoes.  I chatter away and Rich patiently listens before adding a witty comeback.

I am not sure how much longer I will have a running spouse.  I have races all over the world that I want to run and Rich confessed he is thinking of doing a triathlon.  Rebecca has other interests now besides running.  No matter what the future holds, I can say that I have wonderful memories of running with both Rich and Rebecca – the kind that still make me laugh.  I will be glad whenever Rebecca and Rich join me on the trail.  The miles go by much easier when there are more pairs of running shoes alongside me.

Osteoblasting

My friend, Patsy, is a cyclist and has been since she was in high school.  One night over dinner in Montana, we were talking about the Tour de France and the workout that the cyclists get when they are competing.  Patsy mentioned that the bone density of professional cyclists is continually measured because cyclists can lose bone mass over the course of a season.  She noted that swimmers have the same issue.  I was surprised to hear this and decided that I needed to do some research to learn more.

I started with an Internet search and found many articles and studies about swimmers, cyclists, and even kayakers having lower bone mineral density (BMD).  BMD indicates risk for bone fractures by measuring how much mineral (e.g., calcium) you have in your bones.  There are several ways to measure BMD.  A DEXA (dual energy x-ray absorptiometry) scan is the most common and measures specific areas of the body – spine, hips, and forearm.   The scan results will indicate if your bones have sub-normal bone density (osteopenia) or if you have deterioration of the bone tissue (osteoporosis).   Studies have been done of cyclists and swimmers where their BMDs were compared before and after their competitive seasons.  In the studies I read, there was a decrease in BMDs in both cyclists and swimmers between those two points in time.

I know many people who are dedicated cyclists or Master’s swimmers.  It was hard to think that by being so intensely active in their sport of choice, they could actually be hurting themselves.  Physical activity is suppose to keep you healthy.  But the scientific evidence clearly shows that too much time in the water or on the bicycle seat can be harmful.

My husband can’t run due to an issue with his knee.  He likes to ride a bike and has even completed a Century Ride (100 miles).   His first question when we started talking about this was “why is cycling bad for my bones?”

This week while Jessica, my physical therapist, worked on my arm, I asked her to explain why cycling and swimming would lead to lower BMD.  Jessica put it in very basic terms for me.  She explained that there are three primary types of bone cells – osteoblasts, osteoclasts, and osteocytes.  In order to build up bones, our bodies need osteoblasts.  Osteoblasts are bone cells that create  the framework for new bones (or bone remodeling as she put it).  Stress on the skeleton from weight-bearing exercise increases the workload on the bones and triggers osteoblastic activity or the remodeling process.  Osteocytes are mature bone cells that originate from osteoblasts.  Osteoclasts are cells that break down the bone.  Reduced workload on the skeleton from things like prolonged bed rest and some medications will increase the osteoclastic activity and lower bone density.  And yes, prolonged sitting is bad for bone health.

Swimming is a great exercise to build and maintain muscles and improve flexibility and balance.  Jessica says that she recommends swimming for her patients that have arthritis and have to avoid high impact activities.  But swimming doesn’t put stress on the skeleton because of the buoyancy of the water.  It is almost like an anti-gravity exercise.  Therefore, swimming doesn’t trigger osteoblastic activity.  (As a side note, astronauts in space lose BMD, indicating that we need the stress of gravity on our bodies.)

Cyclists are sitting on a seat when riding and likewise cycling doesn’t trigger osteoblastic activity (though standing up on the pedals may make it a modest weight-bearing exercise).  The same is true for kayakers who are seated when they are paddling.  No weight-bearing exercise there.  Elliptical trainers are popular in the gym but according to the Mayo Clinic, they are not helpful for improving bone health.  Ellipticals provide great cardiovascular exercise but not weight-bearing exercise.  According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, weight-bearing exercise is any activity you have to do on your feet like running, walking, climbing stairs, racquet sports like tennis, and strength training.

So what is a swimmer or cyclist to do?

Building bones during the 2015 Tokyo Marathon

Building bones during the 2015 Tokyo Marathon

We need to have a variety of exercise activities.  Replace some of those swimming or cycling days with running or strength training exercises.    I am a runner but my coach mixes up my training activities.  I only run three times a week.  The other days I ride a recumbent exercise bike or do strength training exercises.   And I try to squeeze in a daily stretching routine.  I have always believed that too much of anything is bad.  This is true with exercise.  We need to have a balance of exercises – cardiovascular, weight-bearing, strength training, stretching and flexibility.

This weekend I will be out on the trail for my long run, “osteoblasting” my way through 18 miles.  I will be thinking about all those strong leg bones I will be building up as I run.

I Can! I Will!

During the summer, my morning runs on the trail were lonely, except for the occasional mom pushing her toddler in a stroller or a retiree out walking a dog.  Now that we have hit August, I am joined on the trail by high school cross country runners and the Naval Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (NJROTC) cadets who are both busy training.

Last week as I was heading out, the cadets were heading back in from their run.  I was watching them as they passed me.  There was a mix of runners – some fast, some slower.  I saw one girl running alone.  She reminded me of myself in high school – not exactly what you would envision as an athlete.  As I passed her, I heard her say under her breath, “Don’t quit.”  I understood why she said that.  I have said the same thing to myself many times, taking tests, running races, even in training runs.  Although I would not call what she said a “self-affirmation,” I think she was trying to mentally psych herself up to finish her run.

Source: psychologydictionary.org

Source: psychologydictionary.org

I recently read about a study published in the “Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin” that found self-affirmations help people perform better.  According to Sonia Kang PhD., the lead researcher for the study, your actual performance in situations like taking a test is closely related to how you expected you would do.  If you don’t have high expectations for yourself, then you probably won’t do as well.  Dr. Kang notes that self-affirmation – thinking “I will pass this test” for example – is a way to neutralize the negative thoughts.  Both thinking and writing down self-affirmations can help, though research indicates writing them down may be more effective.

While the study was informative, it was not as easy to digest as the book I read “How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big” by Scott Adams, best known as the creator of the “Dilbert” comic strip.  In his book Scott writes about his successes, his failures, and things he has learned from both.  Scott explained how self-affirmation helped him in his life.  According to Scott, self-affirmation “helps you focus, boosts your optimism and energy, and perhaps validates the talent and drive that your subconscious always knew you had.”

DSCN0659I can recall many situations in my own life where my mind was ready to throw in the towel.   A few years ago, I had to take a professional certification exam.  My past experience taking standardized tests had not been good.  I would panic and my test scores reflected it.  It didn’t help that I heard horror stories from others who had taken this particular exam and failed.  When I was preparing for the exam, I used self-affirmation.  Sitting on my desk was a Franklin Covey bag with the words “I will”.  Every day I looked at that bag and read that out loud. “I will.”  My cubicle mate had to listen to me saying my daily mantra.  He even joined in and would respond with “Yes, you will.”  When I took the exam, the man who scored my exam said he had never seen scores as high as mine.  The next day I crossed out “I will” on the bag and wrote “I DID!!”

One of my mantras for race day

One of my mantras for race day

In a pre-race show before April’s Boston Marathon, Frank Shorter said that the half-way point of a marathon is not at mile 13.1.  It is at mile 20, when your body says enough already.  But you still have 6.2 more miles until the finish line.  Self-affirmation becomes the tool that gets me through those last miles.  I have used lots of mantras to remind myself that I have done the training, I am ready, and I can finish.  My mantra changes with the race, depending on how training went and how I feel on race day.  Yes, self-affirmation works for me.

I would love to see that young girl on the trail again.  I would tell her to change “Don’t quit” to “I WILL finish!”  She needs to really believe it to do it.

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I highly recommend the Scott Adams book “How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big.”  Although Scott points out that people shouldn’t take advice from a guy who writes a comic strip, his stories are things you can understand and relate to in your own life.  My husband and I found the book to be informative, funny, and inspiring.  After finishing the book, my husband made positive changes to his diet and lifestyle – and he is sticking to them!  Don’t ask to borrow my copy of the book, though.   We have parts highlighted and pages flagged with Post-its so we can quickly refer to things we read.  It’s a keeper.

My Rocky Mountain High

Last year was my “Year of Stupid Races“.  I ran several multi-race events including the Dopey Challenge, the Nut Job, the Heartbreak Hill Hat Trick, and the Dumbo Double Dare.  I decided that I had to be stupid to run all those back-to-back races.  It looks like I am setting a different trend this year.  I think this year will be called the “Year of the Climb”.

It started back in March when I ran the Caesar Rodney Half in Wilmington, Delaware.  The course started at an elevation of about 92 feet above sea level and climbed to over 247 feet before descending back for a finish at 104 feet.  We ran steadily uphill for over 4 miles.  I thought that was bad and could not understand why people run this race every year.   Then in May I ran the Flying Pig Half in Cincinnati, Ohio.  The course started at an elevation of approximately 466 feet above sea level and climbed to about 840 feet.  I remember running continuously uphill from about Mile 5 to Mile 9.5.  It seemed like we would never stop climbing.  Every time we turned a corner, I expected the course to flatten out but it didn’t.  The run back to the finish line was all downhill but very hard on my knees.   We finished back around 500 feet.  I swore I would never run that one again.  This weekend I ran the Rocky Mountain Half Marathon in Estes Park, Colorado.  That race took climbing to a whole new level.

Bear Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

Bear Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

The race was organized by Vacation Races, a small company that puts on races at elevations of 1,200 feet and up.  The races are held near some of the most beautiful national parks in the United States – Zion, Grand Canyon, Grand Teton, Yellowstone, and Yosemite to name a few.  The Rocky Mountain Half was held outside Rocky Mountain National Park and celebrated the park’s 100th anniversary.  With this race I would be checking off Colorado on my 50-state endurance challenge.

Estes Park is located at 7,522 feet above sea level but I live around 400 feet above sea level.  Altitude sickness was a risk.  Altitude sickness can cause headaches, breathing problems, dizziness, fatigue and a bunch of other unpleasant things like brain swelling.   All the literature I read on altitude sickness said to allow time to adjust to the higher altitude and drink lots of water.  With that in mind, I arrived in Estes Park two days before the race.  My husband accompanied me on the trip so we spent a day driving up into Rocky Mountain National Park, reaching over 12,000 feet above sea level before returning to Estes Park.  Ascending and descending is one strategy for acclimatizing.  I also drank nearly a gallon of water a day while I was there.  Interestingly, I noticed if my head started to hurt, I felt better almost immediately after I drank water.

Packet pickup for the race was held at the Stanley Hotel, known for being the inspiration for Stephen King’s book “The Shining”.  It is a beautiful old building.  The hotel capitalizes on the book with a night ghost tour and “Redrum” glasses in the gift shop.

The race started at 6AM on Saturday morning.  The temperatures were in the 50s with virtually no humidity.  Normally I would be wearing gloves and earmuffs at those temperatures but I found it was very comfortable – certainly better than the 90+ temperatures I had been running in at home.   There were less than 1500 runners entered, which I find is my favorite race size.  The start was one of the most beautiful race starts I have ever experienced.  The sun was just coming over the mountains as we headed out.

The sun coming up as we started

The sun coming up as we started

Normally I go out too fast at the start of a race but there was no worry about that.  The air is much thinner in Estes Park so I found  breathing more difficult.  That slowed me down.  One of the pace setters had told me to add about 30 minutes to my normal half marathon time due to the altitude.  She was absolutely correct about that.  The first 3 miles were relatively easy, aside from the breathing problems.   After that, it was all up hill, or more correctly, up a mountain.

I normally don’t have much of a race strategy, though I probably should.  I just lace up my shoes, put on my bib and timing chip, and run.  Well, this was a race that required some strategy.  The course started at 7,578 feet above sea level then climbed to 7,929 feet.  We would finish back down at 7,578 feet.

By Mile 4 the course was beating me; I could not maintain my normal pace.  Then I decided to change how I was running the race.  I remembered that Jenny Hadfield coaches people to run based on effort, not pace.  As Jenny explains it, the body doesn’t know pace.  The body knows effort.  Jenny has a three color system to help runners determine where they are in terms of effort.  Yellow is the easy zone where you can talk without pausing to get your breath.  Orange is a more challenging; when you talk, you have to pause to get air every few words.  Red is the most challenging; you can’t talk.  If there was a color to describe what is more challenging than Jenny’s Red level, that is where I was on Saturday.  It was tough.

I follow Jeff Galloway’s run/walk method.  By Mile 4 I knew I could not maintain my normal 2 minutes running/1 minute walking routine.  Recently Jeff has been encouraging runners to try a new run/walk strategy with a shorter walk break such as a 30 second run/30 second walk.  I had tried that ratio in the past and found it difficult to follow.  But today I knew that was the only way to make it to the finish line.  By focusing on my effort, not my pace, and changing to a 30 second run/30 second walk, I was able to relax and start to enjoy the race.  I was able to look at the surrounding mountains in Rocky Mountain National Park as I ran.  The race organizers had said that the views when we reached the top of the mountain would be worth the hard climb.  They were right.

Rocky Mountain National Park as seen from the course

Rocky Mountain National Park as seen from the course

Cooling off in Lake Estes after the race

Cooling off in Lake Estes after the race

The finish line was in a park by Lake Estes.  Many of the runners took off their shoes and waded into the cool water.  It felt incredibly refreshing.  My biggest fear when I ran this race was that the blood vessels in my eyes would explode from over exertion.  After I crossed the finish line and found my husband, I asked him to look at my eyes to make sure they were ok (they were).  Later I joined several other 50-State Half Marathon Club members at a local restaurant for brunch.  I decided that I had earned a beer.   Beer with an egg and cheese croissant never tasted so good.

It is less than 2 months until the Berlin Marathon.  I won’t be running any more races before then.  I want to stay healthy so I can make it to Berlin.  I remember our coaches in Team in Training telling us not to take up risky sports like rock climbing before a marathon.  I don’t want to repeat the disappointment of last year where my fall kept me from going.  Maybe this is a good time to get my training runs in and then go home to rest and read a book. 😉

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