Wednesday, April 9, 2014


Hello everyone!

I have an announcement. While "Catching Up" has enjoyed a fabulous run, I am shutting down this running blog.

I have actually started a new blog, following a dream of mine to have my own website, so I will only be blogging there from now on.

But, don't fret! I will still be blogging about running!

Every Monday is "RunDay" on the blog, so I will still be posting about my training and races every week.

Feel free to check it out! And, thank you for reading!


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Tragedy...and perspective

A shiver passed through the running community last week when the news came out that two people died at half-marathons last weekend.

One of them was a 16-year-old girl named Cameron. Cameron and her best friend had excitedly trained together for their half marathon for weeks. Moments after the girls crossed the finish line together, Cameron collapsed and couldn't be revived. She was an otherwise healthy, active girl who played softball and swam for her high school.

Her death was not only sad, but scary. When healthy, active people die with no explanation after a race, it makes me realize: it could be me. Especially since I don't have the relief of already knowing I can safely complete one.

I know, that's a morbid thought. I know how statistically unlikely it is to die in a race and that I can be 99% sure I will be just fine; my chances of dying in a full marathon are actually about .000007%. But I'm not writing this to talk about how scary it is when runners die. Cameron's tragedy gave me some perspective in an unexpected way.

When I first read this story on Runner's World, I read the comments and one woman talked about how she had a heart condition, but still ran several half marathons - she just makes sure to take it slow and go at a pace that works for her body. I realized that woman could be any of the runners around me during a race. Or jogging by me on the sidewalk. Running is a personal journey, and every person in the starting corral is on a different chapter of theirs. We all have our own stories.

It's so easy to assume that all runners are the same, and the only thing that separates us is that some of us are faster and better than others. But we're not all the same. By getting so caught up in competitiveness and finish times, I'm missing something important. Every person out there is an inspiration. Some may run slower, some may have to walk half the race. But everyone out there has made an effort to get up and be active, to work hard to achieve something, to challenge themselves, and to have fun. Each person out there had a choice to get up and run or not, and they all chose to run. They all said no to laziness and inactivity. Every racer, not just the top finisher, is admirable. And I'm cheating myself out of so much of the richness of this experience by ignoring that because I'm too obsessed with my finish time and my own performance. Everywhere around me  are runners who have used running to beat addiction, lose weight, overcome health issues, or just become better people. And we're all here, accomplishing something together. A race isn't just a race, it's a big giant celebration of the best parts of humanity. We do ourselves a great disservice by not remembering that.

I would rather Cameron's tragedy not have happened, and that instead she and the other half marathoner who died last weekend got to absorb all of the joy of their accomplishments and the lives that lay ahead of them. I can only hope that Cameron and her family would be glad to know that her story has made me, and many other runners, more mindful of what really matters and more in tune to the real joys and inspiration that the sport has to offer.

And now, instead of being scared of my first half marathon, I couldn't be more excited about it. Just writing this blog entry has me thinking about all of the fun I'm going to have on race day, running with one of my friends, being back in Kenosha, achieving a huge goal, and being part of the race day camaraderie. I hope I even make a new friend or too :-)

Monday, March 24, 2014

Training Milestone Alert: 13 Miles!! I did it!

Well folks, I've done it. On a clear, sunny, but very cold Sunday morning, I did what felt for the longest time like only a distant possibility: I ran 13 miles.

So, I can do it after all!

I never thought I'd hit 13 miles this far ahead in my training. But I've really been in a groove with my half marathon training ever since I got back from El Salvador/being sick (one of the reasons I decided to skip out on a 15K race I had signed up for this weekend, a decision that clearly paid off!). For the past couple weeks I've been feeling great after my runs, and I rocked my 12-miler last weekend, so this weekend I just went for it. And now I know: I can do it. I can run 13 miles.

I can run a half-marathon!

So, what now? I have 5 weekends left before the big day, and this is what my long run schedule is looking like going forward:

March 29 or 30: 11 miles
April 5 or 6: 12 miles
April 12 or 13: 13.5 miles
April 19 or 20: 11 miles (whoo hoo taper time!)
April  26 or 27: 9 or maybe just 8 miles

So, now that I know I can run those 13 miles? Time to work on that pace! I haven't been thinking about time on my long runs, since the important thing is to take them easy and complete the miles. Even though most of my long runs will be shorter than 13 miles from now until May, I'm still not going to "race" through any of them, but I am going to keep working on my speedwork and tempo runs during the weeks. For the past couple months, I have typically done one speed intervals workout and one tempo run per week (I must confess, I use the word "tempo" lightly - whether I push the pace, and how much, usually just depends on how I'm feeling that day). I did my 6 mile run on Thursday at tempo pace and it went superbly well: 6.12 miles in 57:00, which is right on the heels of my 10K race times! I'm hoping that by really polishing up my speedwork and tempo runs for the next 5 weeks, I'll start getting myself ready to rock this half marathon!

Ideally, I would also like to start doing more strength training. I've been notoriously bad about this in my time as a runner. It's just hard to find the time to work it in when I'm already running 4 times a week. But I will try.

I must admit, folks, I'm REALLY getting excited! The weeks countdown is in single-digits, the weather is starting to get a little better, and I'm really starting to feel in the zone and see improvements in my training!

May 3rd, bring it on. I'm ready for you!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

What I talk about when I talk about "Catching Up"

My blog is called "catching up". I thought it was a cute running pun that also conveys the sense of being on a journey.

But after some introspection I realized, it actually means a lot more than that, more than I could have known back then.

And I'm still learning.

So, what do I mean when I talk about "catching up"?

Am I trying to catch up to other runners?
Well, no, that's silly. Let's say I knew a gal with a half marathon PR of, I don't know, 1:42, and a marathon PR of 3:45. And let's say I took up training with the intention of beating those times. Ha! I'll show her, right?!? Well, even if I succeed....what exactly have I accomplished? Okay, so I beat some arbitrary times. Whoo hoo. In the meantime, I embarked on a running journey that meant absolutely nothing to me and my life. What a waste! It's impossible to "catch up" to someone else because their journey is their own.

Am I trying to catch up on my health and fitness?
Certainly, this is part of it. I can't think of a single runner who doesn't count the health and wellness benefits among their reasons for running. I joined a gym at the beginning of 2013 and got two free personal trainer sessions when I started. In my first session, my trainer asked me (as part of a routine set of questions) at what point in my life was I in the best physical shape. He told me that most people say high school. That has stuck with me ever since. High school?!? That seems wrong, on so many levels. I am an active, vital, healthy person and I don't want high school to be the best shape I was in for the rest of my life!

Am I trying to catch up to finally having a certain race under my belt?
Sort of, but not really. This whole journey started when I decided to train for a half-marathon, and then changed when I decided I wanted to do a full marathon as well. But if I define catching up as being able to say I have this or that race on my belt, where does it end? I may have accomplished a half marathon, but then I'd have to catch up to a full. And once I tackle a full, well, I've still never qualified for Boston. And if I do qualify for Boston, I still haven't done an ultramarathon. And once I've done an ultramarathon I haven't done an Ironman. And once I've done an Ironman, I haven't made any Olympic teams. I think you get the idea. No matter how much I accomplish, there's always going to be something I have not done. Running isn't just about races. There are many devoted runners who don't race, and they still have something they are constantly trying to catch up to in their own journeys.

Am I trying to catch up to certain times?
I think this makes sense as a good goal to have, but I don't think it holistically defines why I'm running and what my journey is about. Plus, my goal times are always changing based on the progress I made and, sometimes, just based on what kind of mood I'm in at the moment, so that makes it kind of hard to "catch up" to them.

But, that does lead me into what I really do mean by "catching up". Back when I started this blog, it was called "Anti-Runner Aims for the Half". I called it as such because when I started this journey, I didn't like running yet. I wasn't running because I loved running, but rather, because I had something to prove to myself and I wanted the satisfaction of setting out and achieving a concrete goal.

But after a while, I did begin to love running. So the blog had to change, and that's when it became catching up. At the time, I chose that title because it was a fun play on words and because, in some way, it did encapsulate what I was up to even if I couldn't articulate it at the time. I was trying to catch up, and I have been ever since. I've been trying to catch up to me. With every step of this journey, I've realized that I'm capable of so much more than I expected of myself. Each good training run and successful race show me that I can do more. And I want to do more. I sold myself short in the beginning, and now I'm trying to catch up to the person I know I can be. I feel like I need to catch up for all those years I dismissed running and exercise and didn't get to improve myself the way running is improving me now.

And I guess, in an ideal world, I'll never truly feel caught up. May your reach always exceed your grasp, as they say. I'll always want to do better and reach higher - and I should. But that's okay. Because, as they also say: the journey IS the destination.

The beginning: the Color Run/Walk (haha) in July, my first 5k

The latest: placing in the top 10 in my age group in TWO 10Ks. The highlights of my running far!!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Long May You Run

One of the things running bloggers and runner friends seem to love to talk about is the dreaded long run.

I was beginning to think I've been doing something wrong, because long runs haven't been bad for me. Long runs are demanding, sure, but they've never been hellish for me like they seem to be for other runners. They never required me to summon Herculean amounts of strength and energy and they never completely wiped me out for the next 1-2 days. Granted, my long runs haven't been that long so far, relatively speaking, but whenever I hear runners griping about the long run I can't help but think: are long runs really THAT bad, folks? Or am I not doing them right? Do I just have a higher pain threshold? Are some people just natural complainers? What gives?

The other day, I was discussing long runs with a running friend of mine and she mentioned how a long run ruins not only that day, but sometimes the whole weekend if it's on a Saturday or the following Monday if it's on a Sunday, too. I didn't really know what to say because this has not been my experience, but I didn't want to be all, "well I always feel fine after MY long runs!" My long runs are always pretty exhausting, and make me kinda sore, and some of them don't go as well as others, but I usually am able to go on with the rest of my day and feel normal once they're over.

That is, until yesterday. Yesterday I did an 11-mile long run (it's amazing how close I'm getting to 13.1!). It wasn't a bad run and went swimmingly for the most part, but on my way back I hit a wall at about mile 8.5. Suddenly home seemed another 11 miles away. My legs ached and it felt like torture trying to pull myself through those last couple miles.

I got through it. I managed to make it the rest of the way, without stopping or walking. But when I got home I just crashed. I curled up in bed, not even bothering to change out of my cold sweaty running clothes, and slept for an hour. And, it felt great. Today my knees still ache a little bit.

So, you win, long run haters. You were right and I was woefully naive: they are hard and they do sometimes torpedo the rest of your day. I'm gonna be optimistic and chalk my extreme exhaustion up to the fact that I was coming out of a 2 week hiatus and trying to compensate by jamming 19 miles into a span of 4 days (that may not seem like a lot, but up until this point I've been doing that much and sometimes less in a whole week).

While I was running on that wall, it was impossible to believe that I could get through a half marathon in 8 weeks. 11 miles is SO close, but it sure didn't feel that way yesterday! I could not have handled another two. So, how much better can I really get in 8 weeks? Each week that goes by and the half marathon gets closer, I wonder more and more what it's going to look like. I toy with different time goals, but the truth is I really have no idea what I am or am not capable of. What does May 3rd have in store for me? What will 13.1 miles really feel like? So much wondering. I'm so anxious and excited and want race day to hurry up and get here, but at the same time, I'm constantly worried that I'm not prepared enough and that I'm going to let myself down. Will I regret all that hill training I didn't do? Should I have increased my weekly mileage sooner? Am I doing speedwork right?

Anyway, regardless of what it means, I'm choosing to let it motivate me instead of discouraging me. This week I am increasing my tempo and easy run mileage and I'm excited to kick a 12 miler's butt this weekend (12. Holy crap. That's 1.1 miles away from a half marathon)!

Here's to you, long runs: the (mostly) good, the bad, and the ugly.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

A new chapter in training: the Mikaela Method

Buenos dias!

I'm back from a wonderful trip to El Salvador with Habitat for Humanity. It was a terrific experience and building a home definitely got me caught up on some strength training!

Unfortunately, as much as I wanted to dive right back into running, I have had to delay running even further because I came back to the US with an ear infection and have not been feeling well enough to run. Needless to say, I am not happy. I have about two and a half weeks until a 9.3 mile race and less than two months until a half marathon and I am starting to get really stressed about whether I can be ready in time. Before I left for El Salvador, I was actually ahead in my training, with long runs up to 10 miles. I'm hoping that these miles will still be "in the bank" once I start running again this week, even if I am behind. Big races loom on the horizon, and I have no time or miles to waste!

Anyway, this break came at a perfect time, because I have been doing a lot of thinking about my training. I recently read an article about Mikaela Shiffrin, the 18-year-old skiing phenom who won gold at the Sochi Olympics. The article was about Mikeala's training and how her central strategy is to "compete less, train more". Her coaches actually have her opt out of most of the skiing competitions throughout the year so that they can spend that time working on the basics and getting her better at the sport. Apparently many athletes, including Tiger Woods, have similar training philosophies. Competition-focused athletes are doing what it takes to beat their competitors, while training-focused athletes are actually trying to get better at their sports.

I wonder how much better I could be at running if I applied this methodology to my training. Instead of putting so much effort into getting good times in all of my small races, what if I focused that energy on training and becoming better at running? Instead of simply getting the miles in so I can have a good showing at the next race, what if I decide to really get serious about speed work and strength training and long run technique? Do I really want to get through my first half or full marathon, only to wonder how much better I could have performed if only I had spent more time solidifying the basics and less time just trying to beat my race PRs?

Obviously, there has to be a balance. I don't regret any of the races I've done. Even in Mikaela's philosophy, some competition is necessary. All of my 5Ks and 10Ks are great practice for what the race day environment is like. The small successes I've had along the way have given me great boosts of motivation, and having races throughout the long winter months provides incentive to stick with my training. But I think of how much energy and effort I pour into each one, and I've wondered more than once whether it is only distracting me from my bigger, more important goals.

So, as I start this new chapter in my training, I'd like to try out Mikaela's method. I don't want to just log miles for the sake of it, I want to vary my training and do each exercise with purpose and take it seriously. I want any successes I have in competition to be because I made myself into a good runner, not because I mustered up enough energy to eke out a good performance on race day. My successes thus far show me that I do have some innate ability as a runner. Imagine how much better I could be if I harnessed that ability and fine-tuned it with some good old fashioned training!

I'm going to incorporate more speed work and tempo runs into my training. I'm also going to start strength training again. Not only that, but I'm going to be a LOT better about warming up before runs and doing deep stretches. Ideally, when the weather is nicer I'll be able to incorporate some hills into my training, too. I've never really done hill-focused running before, but I suppose I ought to give it a whirl!

Wish me luck as I dive back into things. It's not going to be easy with all the time I've had off and recovering from illness, but, here's hoping it's not as bad as I fear ;-)

Friday, February 21, 2014

Separation Anxiety

These past couple weeks have been very frustrating for me. Even though I ran two successful races this month, my training is really starting to suffer. I'm not injured, I'm not sick, I'm not tired - I'm just lazy.

Maybe it is something about this month, because it's not just running. I've been terribly unproductive at work. I skip meetings and procrastinate volunteer homework until the point of almost forgetting it entirely. I leave for El Salvador in less than three days, and there have been a bunch of errands that keep popping up. I've been eating crappy take out instead of grocery shopping and cooking meals. And I just can't find it in me to run. I can't get up early, and after work I'm just too drained to go. Usually it's not hard for me to make myself go for a run after work (even in the winter), in fact, I often look forward to it. But lately, for whatever reason, I just can't go. I've been useless and it's so frustrating.

It also worries me because I'm about to take 10 days off from running. When I get back, I'll only have 20 days to get fit for a 9 mile race, and two months to get in peak shape for my first half-marathon. Slacking off this week when I'm about to leave for 10 days isn't going to make THAT much of a difference, but it sure isn't helping, either. What to do?!

A bunch of worried questions keep pinging around in my mind: How far behind will I get? Will I come back and be almost able to pick up right where I left off, or will I struggle to get through a moderately-pace four miles? Will I have enough time to get in peak shape for my May 3rd half?

I've heard various things about how long you can go without running and still maintain your fitness level. Some say as long as two weeks, others say as short as 5 days. Obviously, it depends on the individual, and I can't really know how it will affect me until I get back. And how does the work I'll be doing in El Salvador factor in? I may not be running, but we are going to be doing physical labor all week.

I can't really do anything differently here. This trip is important, and running has to take a back seat for a while to make room for it. So, what matters is what I do once I get back.

Starting March 3rd, running needs to become one of my top priorities again. I really need to get it into my head that these big races are no longer really far off: they are coming up very soon. This is the time when my training needs to kick into high gear and I need to take it seriously. Skipping runs is going to become more and more dangerous from now on. I need to start carving out more time in my days for training. I also need to start challenging myself a little bit more so that I'm actually growing and getting faster.

I need to devise a training schedule for March-April, and stick to it. I haven't been using a schedule for most of my training - I just make sure to do at least two runs during the week, maybe some strength training, and one long run. It's worked okay so far, but I can't help but think that on weeks like this, a schedule might have helped keep me on track. I've found that making schedules and to-do lists really helps me focus and get things under control. I'm more likely to do something if I've simply written it down and planned it into my day.

That schedule needs to include long runs on the weekends, like usual, but I need to beef up my runs during the week. I need to do three runs instead of two, or two runs and strength training, or two runs and XT, or even three runs and strength training. Working out three times a week isn't acceptable for someone who is about to take on some serious distance races.

I'm hoping the slowly-improving weather will help. March isn't exactly known for its lovely weather, but things will start getting better. Yesterday, for example, it's 45 degrees and sunny outside! Gorgeous weather likes that makes me ache to go running!

So, starting in March you will see me enter a new phase of my running. Well, maybe not that new. I'll just be running a lot more :-)