Each year, I try to complete 1-2 half marathons. Of course, I have aspirations to run one in each state (who ever came up with 50 states half marathon club idea... gold!). But who knows as that would mean I'll be doing half marathons well into my 50's. Hey, it's do-able! Someone will need to help me to convince Mike that Hawaii and Alaska are included in this journey ;)
This year, I completed Tennessee and Michigan. The Nashville Rock n' Roll Half Marathon (April) was one of the worst half marathons I've ever ran and trained for. Not only was I suffering from bad piriformis pain, but I completed all of my training inside due to a harsh Michigan winter. Yep, that means 11.5 miles on a treadmill. It was terrible. When I arrived in Nashville, I learned about this hilly-monster course literally as I am in the starting line. People were talking about the difficult course and how they personally prepared for the hills. Well, I couldn't contribute to this conversation as I had ran on a flat treadmill surface all winter.
I am telling you this Nashville back-story because it was what propelled me to:
train differently. I will never take a training plan based on pure mileage ever again.
write my own training plan, full of speed work and strength training.
sign up for my next half because I was so disappointed in Nashville.
Sometimes races won't go your way, but I use this as motivation and desire to be better next time. And that is exactly what I did for the fall Detroit Free Press Half Marathon.
Since this was my best training session to date, I want to give some context as to why. In the past, I have trained for half marathons using simple free mileage-based training programs. This means, each day I have a mileage goal without any indication of how fast I should be running these, no emphasis on speed workouts, or any information on the importance of strides or negative splits. With this kind of approach, my body takes a toll from pure exhaust and lack of motivation. For the DFP half, I created my own plan with structured speed days, tempo workouts, long runs at a true easy pace, and strength training involving power + muscular endurance. With this approach, my body thrived. I was running my easy runs faster, yet still easy. I never felt pain in my hips or knees because of the strength training components. My tempo runs were growing easier. With a set goal for each workout, my anxiety of completing a certain mileage diminished. It was by far the most fun and easy training I've ever had.
But, nothing can ever be that easy...
During my last long run, I twisted my ankle on a huge acorn-like tree falling. I was on mile 5 (out of 12), and my ankle popped. Initially, the popping was the worst part. I kept running until I reached mile 6 and realized how far away I was from my car. I ended up having my husband pick me up and let the pain actually set in. I went straight to a foot and ankle specialist who clarified I'd sprained my talo-fibular ligament; a ligament attaching my tibia and fibula. This makes pivots and twisting painful, but walking forward and backward a bit more tolerable. On this day, I needed to decide if I was to defer my race to 2023 or else I'd lose my money but most importantly, all of the hard work. I decided to not defer, but to give myself one week before calling it quits. I took an entire week off of running (three weeks of a long run, gone). During this week, I kept my cardio-fitness up by biking. I didn't change my nutrition and still increased carbohydrate intake as the days led up to race week.
24 hours before...
I thought it would be fun to share a recap of how I prepare for race day with a full 24-hour "day in the life":
I started my morning with breakfast. I had cereal; this breakfast is the same as I had before every long run during training season. This cereal wasn't rich in fiber nor the "protein cereal" I normally enjoy; I wanted simple and quick carbs that could be utilized as energy. My go-to is pumpkin cheerios or special K. After eating, I headed to the gym for a quick 20 minute run and 20 minute bike ride. This was meant to get my heart rate up without fatiguing my legs. I knew I'd be sitting in the car for 4 hours on the drive to Detroit, so this would help shake out my legs early in the A.M.
Pro tip: always fuel your runs with what works for your body and that you have tested already! I brought both oatmeal and cereal to Detroit because I know that those supply me with energy. Both cereal and oatmeal weren't the "health" versions; I have no desire to consume fiber-rich carbs. I looked for easy digestible, quick carbs such as quaker oatmeal and cheerios.
There are two camps with what to do before race day; some like to take it completely off and some like to have light movement early in the morning. Normally, I do worse if I sit around and do nothing the day before. So I made sure to get a light run + bike in; something to work my cardiovascular system without fatiguing my legs.
Pro tip: take everything you need with you to your destination race. Don't assume anything! I brought bananas, oatmeal, cereal, water, and a throw-away sweatshirt.
Post shower, I made sure to pack all of my diabetic supplies. I needed to re-apply a continuous glucose monitor. This is super important for diabetic runners; the ability to constantly track your glucose while running can save you from lows during your run.
I love representing that I am a diabetic running a half marathon. I think it's cool to show that even someone who relies on insulin to convert their sugar into usable energy can still run and train! It just takes 1,000,000 more steps (no pun intended) to safely execute exercise like this. Luckily, CGM's allow me to monitor and track when its not convenient to prick my finger.
Things to pack for destination races...
Peep into my luggage! Here are some items I wouldn't leave the house without:
Your race outfit! Be sure to wear your race gear on a run prior to race day to make sure it feels good. Don't forget your sports bra and pack extra bottoms in case the weather changes.
Comfortable sleep clothes for the night before. Sometimes I like to sleep in my workout gear; but not before race day! Flowy and soft material is way more comfortable.
Your reusable water bottle. Even though you'll most likely get bottled water at almost every event, you'll want to have something you can fill up at any time. Think of this as a security blanket!
Your arm band/ waist band. I am old-fashioned and still use an arm band. I have one that fits my phone, passport, Gu and car keys (if needed). Be sure to practice wearing the arm band during your runs too. I recently got a burn from chaffing my arm band to my back; ouch!
Massage ball/gun/foam roller. I actually packed two additional foam rollers as well. I use these before and after the race. You will not be sorry having these handy!
Your intra-run nutrition! I practiced with both chews and gels during training; personally, I suck down gels easier than chewing chews (plus they make me way thirstier). I packed three Gu's in which I used two of them during the trip!
Your personal running straps, bands, braces, etc. I run with a knee strap (always have, probably always will) so I made sure to pack that along with my ankle brace.
Your headphones. Need I say more!?
On the road again...
By this time it was around 12 pm. I was ready to get on the road as we had a 4 hour drive ahead of us. I knew I shouldn't skip lunch (this is typically the easiest meal for me to skip when I run out of time or distracted). I grabbed rice cakes, beef jerky and vegan cream cheese for the car ride.
We headed straight to the expo center to pick up my packet! The packets were in the very back of the space so we walked through the area and got to check out the vendors. Unfortunately, not many vendors stuck out. I was very excited to see a Goodr table; you can always use a fresh pair of sunnies!
Time to eat!
Meal time was a bit complicated on our end; initially, we wanted spaghetti from Mom's Spaghetti. If you know me, you know I love Eminem and can rap about every song he's written. So his takeout spot has been on my list for awhile! I don't typically eat pasta so this was a perfect day to travel down Woodward. Unfortunately, it was getting super cold and we had no desire to eat outside. Mom's spaghetti was located inconveniently far, so walking back with food seemed pretty impossible.
We decided to wait on a table at Mootz Pizza. I've only had pizza here once before so I knew what to expect!
You might be thinking, why the heck would I have pizza before a run?! Runners should consume carbs and a bit of protein. Fat and fiber are left off this list! Fat slows digestion and fiber may cause bloating and GI distress. The fortunate thing about my training process was the fact that we had no appliances for four weeks at our house; I was unable to make pasta and other carb-heavy dishes during training. Therefore, I relied on our pizza oven once a week to make homemade pizzas. I would use vegan cheese to decrease saturated fat content in which I felt these pizza's were lighter! I also made my own pizza crust; this allowed me to not use egg or other high fat additives. So I was very comfortable consuming pizza the night before the race. Mootz has vegan cheese and endless toppings; I was set for success!
I get asked many times, "Do you drink alcohol before racing?"
The answer is, yes. I don't recommend doing anything new before your race; however, I have a glass of red wine with dinner almost every night. It doesn't impair my performance nor cause sleep disruptions if I stick to just one. Wine is relaxing and enjoyable to me; this was something I desired to feel the night before the race.
This is not me giving you the green light to drink the night before performance bouts. It is proven that alcohol can impair performance and cause dehydration; my best advice is to follow and stick with what you practiced during training season.
After dinner, we headed back to the hotel. I showered and set out all of my morning supplies. For me, this was coffee, water, breakfast, my racing gear, bib, headphones, hair ties, diabetic supplies and intra-race nutrition.
I had some ~turbulence~ while trying to obtain a microwave from the hotel staff. After accepting that the staff was unable to help me, I decided that I'd nix the oatmeal in the morning and have dry cereal. I didn't bring milk as the hotel listed microwave availability. So, this was a bit nerve-racking but we'd roll with the punches.
.. and Good morning!
The first photo is my blood glucose the day before. I was in range almost all day. At 8:16 pm, I went to bed at 123. This is a perfect place for diabetics! The second photo is my unfortunate looking breakfast.
I woke up at 5 am as the starting time was 7 am. This would give me enough time to eat, pee (and poop), plus get to the venue in time.
My blood glucose was high; I woke up in the 200's. This has been an issue for me recently; I'll go to bed almost every night in a good range, then experience a spike around 2 am. I took a corrective dosage along with my normally carb-insulin ratio and waited 20 minutes before eating. This gives my blood glucose time to come down before stuffing my face with processed carbs.
During this time, I rolled my hips, quads, hamstrings and calves. I did proper running warm-ups such as high knees, butt kicks, and running drills. I ate breakfast and drank coffee. It's important to drink enough water along with coffee to prevent dehydration.
And we're off!
We got to the starting line at a perfect time. Mike stood with me until the first heat was released. He said his goodbyes and I waited until corral C took off!
The Detroit Free Press Half Marathon
.. what a race.
They released my corral and Kanye West's "Touch The Sky" played in my headphones. Everyone started in a comfortable pace; it took every bone in my body to not zoom past them. Nope, I decided from the start this race was going to be a celebration of the ability to run. The joy it brings to me without competition. I knew the first "milestone" was the bridge; I'd hit the entrance around mile 2.5. I really liked this as I was running across it at sunrise. This also allowed me to look forward to something without putting thought into how fast I was going.
Everyone had fun on the bridge. People stopped to take photos, videos, FaceTime others... it was exactly what I needed to see. These people were out here running 13.1 miles for the joy of it, not for the medal at the end or their finishing time. I decided to film a bit while I was running so that I will never forget this experience.
The bridge was a hill; but honestly, not that hard. Maybe it was because I slowed my pace down (9:20-- to 9:40) but I didn't care. The hill, dare I say it, was easy. Yes, I am comparing this to Nashville's hilly terrain but I didn't mind this bridge what-so-ever. It was long too; about 1 mile total.
Once in Canada, you were at mile 3.5. But looking at the bright side, you already completed one of the two hills. We ran the Canadian riverfront for about 4 miles until reaching the tunnel.
The tunnel was another hill; this time a bit more steep. At this point, I was at mile 7. The tunnel gets warm and closterphobic, so be prepared. I was chanting with others through the tunnel to keep going and having fun with it. The end of the tunnel is the steepest part, so don't give all of your energy in the beginning. Be prepared to run this incline for about a mile.
I arrived back into the states and was immediately greeted by my dancing husband! He got cool photos and videos of me entering the U.S! Seeing someone cheer you on is vital for runners! It gives you more energy and determination to keep going. I always have Mike meet me at milestones that I know I'll be tired at as it gives me someone to look for in the crowds.
Miles 10, 11, and 12 were pretty insignificant in terms of scenery. My blood sugar dropped at mile 10, so I whipped a Gu out and sucked it down. This was a bit anxiety inducing as I was concerned for the next 30 minutes what my blood sugar would be doing.
At Mile 11, I was feeling pretty tired. This was that mental hurdle moment. I was nearing Campus Martius and Pink's God Is A DJ started playing through one of my headphones (the other one died) and I immediately reminded myself why I am out here running. Joy.
..." life is a dance floor, love is the rhythm, you are the music..."
Crossing the finish line was surreal. I had ran the entire race despite my ankle and significant amount of time off from training. I finished this race singing, dancing, running the entire time without a doubt in my mind that I would finish this.
They had us walk through the crowds of people until we were given our medals. My husband met me right at the end with a smile on his face and acceptance that now he was to take all the photos. We walked through the after party, got all the free food, then headed back to our hotel to shower and rest.
To summarize the Detroit Free Press Half Marathon..
This race was an amazing experience for me. The training, in which I programed myself, prepared my mind to beat the mental battle and my body to work through any injury I incurred. I was strong at the finish, both body and mind.
The best part of this race was the reminder of why I run. I run to see the world on foot; to see people young and old, physically moving their bodies together. I run for the mental strength I gain every time I lace up. I run for the time I get to pray, sing, or move in silence. I got to experience all of these things during the Detroit Free Press Half Marathon and I am so grateful I did.
"Movement is a privilege."- Alex Toussant