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Prague Marathon Epilogue

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It’s been two months since the Prague International Marathon, and I am home from Prague, settled back at my desk in Chicago, and, sixth months after I began this adventure, I’m finally able to take a moment to reflect on the marathon and its impact on my life.

When I first decided to train for the Prague marathon, I had a few specific motivations.  They were:

1. The training will be great physical conditioning for me.

2. Losing these stubborn last 10 lbs.

3. A celebration of what I have accomplished, physically, in these past few years — to push myself to achieve something that for most of my life never even entered my consciousness as something I would be able to do.

4. To keep myself in line in terms of diet and other bad habits: namely, drinking, smoking, and sloth.

What did I do?

5. Great way to continue to avoid working on the novel I have been revising for the past 2 years!

6. To be bad assed.

My marathon epilogue seems like a fine time to revisit each of these motivating factors.

1. Physical conditioning.

Yeah! No one can go, more or less loyally, through the progressive process of training for a marathon without experiencing great improvements in her physical conditioning. I mean, I got to the point where running ten miles was an easy and joyful experience for me. That’s cardio conditioning, strength, and endurance all working for me.  Score: Kathie 1

2. Losing the last ten.

Hmm. Not quite as successful on this front, which may have much to do with my subsequent 6 weeks in Prague and the associated consumptions of beer and dumplings. BUT I have shaped and toned my body better, and my legs look great (if I do say so myself). Score: Last Ten 1

3. Te celebrate and build on what I’ve accomplished through fitness.

yes yes yes yes yes Score: Kathie 2

4. To curb my bad habits.

no no no no no Score: Bad Habits 1

5. Novel avoidance technique

This worked great! However, as a byproduct of my focus on commitment and dedication to marathon training, I’ve picked up and dusted off that old manuscript with the hope of applying the same determination to just finish it and send it off into the world once and for all.  So, 50/50. Score: tie

6. Bad Assery

I’ll admit that I felt anything but a bad-ass in the loneliness and desolation of miles 18 – 23. But then, putting some context to it — those were miles 18-23, for cri-pete’s sake! And Nikki and I still found it somewhere within to rally for the last 5K. And we crossed that motherfucking finish line. Not to mention that we trained in Chicago in the winter, in snow, rain,  sleet and strong winds, and even with painkles. So, hands down: Score: Kathie 1,000,000 .

And what I’ll add to this is that I gained a concrete, indisputable realization that if you set your mind on a goal, and you are willing to put the time and energy and unwavering (okay, maybe slightly wavy) focus towards obtaining that goal, no matter how outrageous that goal may be, or what obstacles may get in your way, you can accomplish it. So far that, score + 1,000,000,000,000

Kathie Wins!

So now the questions, what have I been doing with myself since the marathon? And what do I hope to do next? Is there another marathon in my future?

In the initial weeks following the marathon, I did my best to rest my ankle and let my tendonitis heal properly. This is not easy in a walker-friendly but hill and cobblestone-tastic city like Prague!

And I did yoga. It doesn’t suck to do yoga in the mornings in Letna Park, with a nice view of Prague castle.  And something else about the yoga — when I first started to try the tree pose, and other balance poses, my “painkle” (if you’re new to this blog refer back to past posts for plenty of painkle-context) was too hurty to hold my body weight. But doing yoga, this changed really fast. In fact, I’d say that yoga has been the most effective and enduring treatment of my painkle that I have discovered thus far. And eventually, I did a few little runs — 2.5 miles through the park. And it felt alright.

Then coming back to Chicago and so much settling back in to do and the big heat wave etc., etc., I’ve been a little slow to really start kicking it again. But within the past week I’ve done two runs — a 4 miler and a 5 k — and next week I return to my bi-weekly bootcamp classes after what must be about a 5 month absence. So, I’m working my way back into it. My goal for this summer and fall is to get back up to a fun, easy and comfortable ten miles, and from that point on, to always be able to pull out a half-marathon. That’s just a kind of general life-fitness standard I hope to maintain.  

Also, some years ago, my friend Chelsey (who is an ultra-runner and a huge inspiraration/intimidation to my own running aspirations), and I had the idea of putting together a feminist and queer-friendly ‘zine dedicated to health, fitness, and well-ness from a real-world perspective. While I have been going through this journey, I really felt the absence of such a publication, and therefore, in January 2013, and with the help of some other real world fitness-minded feminists, I will be launching Ms. Fit magazine . Until the launch, we’ll have this provisional website up, with a call for submissions, a place for you to share your stories and ideas, and some teaser content coming around the bend. I am very excited about Ms. Fit and it’s potential to connect and create community between like-minded feminists across the US and across the world, to share information, entertain, enlighten, and inform. Because truly, in the face of everything that misogony and homophobia throws at us, just being healthy and happy is an act of defiance.

So please, watch out for Ms. Fit, help me spread the word, and click on the “follow” link on the Ms. Fit page to be updated on new content.

Now as for future marathons? I might have my sights on something.

As an aside, you may recall that after trouble getting a legitimate bib, Nikki ran the marathon rogue and didn’t take a metal. Well, after she left, but before I returned home, I found an engraver…

and I had both of our names engraved on the medal.


Race Day!

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Nikki never got a marathon entry.

My start bib.

On our way to Old Town Square!

After looking at a map and strategizing how we might hook up (she’d decided to run rogue – she simply came too far and trained too long and hard to not run. And, we were in this together), we decided to try our luck getting her through with me at the regular starting line-up. I was in the last corral, after all, which just fed out in to the open street. “Just stay near the middle,” I said. So you get lost in the crowd.

Race start area.

It was 8:30 a.m. and Old Town Square was all hullabaloo with pre-race action. We were excited but also a little nervous about our deception. Would we get away with it?
I want you to know that in most cases, we would not be advocates for marathon crashing. It’s unfair to use services and resources and amenities paid for by registered runners. But these circumstances were pretty exceptional. It wasn’t like Nikki wasn’t willing to pay; heck, she was willing to pay more than ticket price for a legitimate number. And she wasn’t going to take a medal, or anything like that.
So there we stood huddled with the other runners in corral “K,” a remote corral at the end of a long, long, long snaking line. Corral K was for the slowest runners, and we huddled there among the grannies, extremely pregnant ladies, and a three-legged tortoise. Suddenly, speakers blasted out Smetana’s “Ma Vlast,” the Czech national anthem, and with a flurry of commotion we trotted forward. And stopped. And trotted forward again. And stopped. And forward. And stopped. Until, finally, the start line was in sight and we were off to a slow trot!
It felt a little harrowing crossing the start line. Would anyone notice that Nikki didn’t have a number? What would happen?
The first stretch of the race, from Old Town Square to Manesov Bridge, was lined with marathon security and police. Suddenly, every television camera, every photographer, every person on a walkie-talkie, seemed like they could be scanning for bib numbers and communicating with each other about potential violators.
The day was chilly. It was about 45 degrees in the morning, which allowed Nikki to wear a sweatshirt, which gave her the ruse of the possibility that her bib was affixed to her shirt under her sweatshirt.

We carried on with our run, trying more or less to keep Nikki somewhat obscured of anyone on the sidelines, and continually suspicious of anyone with a camera or walkie talkie. This was actually pretty stressful. At any moment, we thought, the gig could be up.
But we kept going. Over the cobblestones. Yeah, cobblestones were everywhere, which my tendonitis-afflicted ankle thought was super neat! Except when I say super neat, what I mean is the exact opposite.
So then, we’re not too far into the race yet, say maybe about 3 miles, and suddenly we hear the sound of a motorcycle engine creeping up behind us. You understand that all of the roads were closed to vehicle traffic. The only reason a motorcycle could be on the course if it was in some official marathon capacity. And, it was trailing us. We both kind of held out breaths, waiting for it to catch up with us, hoping it would pass us. Nikki sped up a bit, as if she were trying to keep ahead of the motorcycle. But she wouldn’t be able to outrun a motorcycle forever. Our scheme was about to be thwarted. There was almost no doubt in my mind that we were screwed.
Except the motorcycle finally scooted past us, without incident. Nikki slowed down again so I could catch up with her. We were bundles of stress.
And then there were more cobblestones. We ran down this long long path into what seemed like a suburb and then turned to head back towards the center of the city, including through a scary tunnel that was immediately followed by an uphill climb which led to… cobblestones.

I just was to interject something. 26.2 miles covers a lot of terrain. You really don’t have any idea how much terrain until you are on the ground, running it. Every stretch of distance seemed to go on forever.
We were pretty far in the back of the pack. It wasn’t that long before we started to recognize a core group of other sloggers and a sort of end-of-the-pack camaraderie developed among some of us. We reached a point where we realized that it was highly unlikely that anyone was going to call-out Nikki. The volunteers were mostly high school-aged kids who really couldn’t give a shit. This loosened us up a bit.
Something cool that they did for the marathon runners, is that they lined the course with live bands, who played a variety of everything from jazz and ambient synth to Metallica covers and everything in-between. So, the stress of being collared gone, the pleasure of live music, and beautiful city of Prague. “We’re just on a fun run,” I told Nikki (also trying to convince myself of this).
We were approaching mile 14 or so, just about half-way, and I have to tell you: one look at Nikki and you could see that this run was anything but fun. I was feeling this, too. My feet hurt, my knees hurt, my hamstrings hurt, my hip flexors hurt. I trod on, trying to institute some mind over matter. Because that is what you have to do. As long as you have average human physical capabilities, your body will do what you tell it to. It’s convincing your mind of this that is the trouble. Your mind (or at least my mind) has a hard time believing that. Nikki was having a hard time believing it. And anyway, who wants their mind to tell their body to “keep going” when it is in so much pain and the road ahead seems interminable.

Nikki is not happy here, despite the fact that she is eating jellybeans.

But I was 100% committed to finishing, and because Nikki had propped me up and motivated me through so many gruelling runs and work-outs in the past,  I had no choice but to be an annoyingly positive cheerleader for her. “You’ve got this! You can totally do this! You’re not going to quit, are you? You’re not a quitter, are you? Let’s sing a song! What song do you know all of the words for? Well the east coast girls are hip, I really dig the styles they wear. And the northern girls with the way they look, they knock me out when I’m up there… What’s left? 12 miles? How many times have we run 12 miles? Hey, Nikki, I was just out for a fun run – wanna go on a 12-mile fun run with me in Prague? We can start here and run way the hell far out that way and then come back and finish in Old Town Square, how does that sound? You’re a rockstar! Check you out! This is what you have been training for and you are going to finish it! You’ve totally got this! Yeah, it sucks and yeah it hurts but you’re going to do it anyway. You know why? Because you’re bad-assed. Oh yeah, you’ve totally got this! Sweet Caroline! Good times never felt so good… Hey visualize this: there is hot oil running down over all of your leg muscles, over your tendons, between your joints. Doesn’t that feel good? Light and easy, light and easy. We’re not racing anyone. You are going to do this! Is this all you got, Prague marathon? Is this all you got?”
In part, Nikki would get disheartened when we would cross paths with the groups of runners who were finishing a bend we hadn’t gotten to, yet. You know, those 3-4 hour finishers all massed together? We really were pulling up the rear, and in general, Nikki is pretty speedy, but there would be no way we’d finish this thing if we tried to run fast. We’d burn out. But for Nikki it was depressing to be so far back.
And it’s true that when we went through refreshment stations, they looked like New Orleans the day after Mardi Gras, except with less vomit. The street was strewn with thousands of discarded cups, and the volunteers would be in the process of breaking the whole station down.

But what could you do? It was what it was and we weren’t stopping.
Slog slog slog slog.
But you know what? Every single slogging step we took brought us closer to the finish. And eventually, we had ten miles left,and then, nine, and then eight…
Me: How many times have we run 8 miles? Lots of times, right? We’ve totally got this!
Nikki: Go fuck yourself.
Here’s a little back story. Back in 2006, Nikki tried to run the Chicago marathon, but she’d undertrained and the weather was really terrible and at about mile 16, she threw in the towel, which she has felt bad about ever since. Now, for me, Prague was my first ever attempt to run a marathon – I had no paste experience to build expectations around. Nikki did have a history with the marathon and it was a history where, in her opinion, she failed. So, as her body began to experience the same physical sensations that were her downfall in 2006, Nikki suffered a crisis of confidence. She was battling with the inner demons who were trying to convince her that she should quit.
But eventually, as we got closer, Nikki would offer a half-convinced “yeah, we’ve got this. Whatevs.” which eventually became a teeth-gritting steely and determined “We’ve got this.”
Man, my feet were killing me! Like, I’d heard that there were cobblestones at the beginning and end of the marathon as you ran into Old Town. That was true. But there were also cobblestones in lots of other places that no one bothered to mention. All in all, I’d say 25% of the course was on motherfucking cobblestones. They say the Prague marathon is a beautiful run but all I saw were those godforsaken cobblestones.

And also, I have to say that I am fairly convinced that it is more physically arduous to run a marathon slow than to run it fast. Because you are out there, doing it, longer. While faster runners are already drinking a pivo and massaging their calves, you are still out there, moving.
By now we were on the part of the course where we basically repeat a part that we ran in the very beginning of the race: the part that culminated with the scary tunnel and the hill, before spitting you out onto more cobblestones. Before that, we’d joined those towards the end who’d slowed to a walk. Yes, we were walking. All in all, over the course of the 26.2 miles, I’d say we walked about a mile total. But then you know what happened? Somehow, we got to the point where we only had about 5K left to go. And how many times had we run 5K? Lots and lots and lots of times. 5k? Why that was practically just a warm up, and screw it if we were going to walk a 5k. No way. No how.
Is this all you’ve got, Prague marathon? Is this all you’ve got? Well, look what I’ve got!
We ran. We ran through the tunnel and over the hill. We ran over the tram tracks and turned up Paritzka street, heading towards Old Town Square. Amazingly, there were still people hanging out on the sides of the streets, cheering on the tortoise contingent. A group of people ran and cheered as we passed, and I affected as a casual voice as I could muster, shrugged and shouted across to them, “It felt like a nice day for a jog.”
And then, there we were at Old Town Square. Nikki had mentioned before that she was not going to cross the finish line, so at this point I said to her, “You are crossing that finish line with me!”
And she did! When the volunteers were giving out medals, she just veered away while I got mine. But really, that medal is ours. We both earned it, and I don’t think either of us would have earned it without the other. Because when I was working so hard to pep up Nikki, I also had to convince myself the same things. And when I had a job to make sure Nikki finished this marathon, that meant that I had to be 100% committed to finishing myself.

After the race, we needed to sit down, so we found a nearby pub and ordered some water and a beer. The guys working at the pub saw my medal. One gestured to it. “Did you win?”
“Yeah, first place.”
Back at home, Nikki made us a little snack of bread and cheese and apple.

All I’d consumed that day was a piece of toast with jelly and three Honey Stinger Gold gel packs. After our snack, we showered and then lay down for a nap and I tell you, I have never experienced a time where laying down ever felt as exquisite as it did then. It was like everything else was worth it just to be able to experience a feeling so sublime.

I also used a bag of frozen peas as an ice pack.

Our final times were about 5 hours, 35 minutes.

T-10 Hours and Counting.

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Jitters, yet?
Kinda, jitters, yet?
KInda, I guess, but also not really. I mean, my mental attitude is mostly that I am going to just have fun and enjoy myself running all over Prague.
Alas, Nikki and I have pursued every avenue we can think of, and she still doesn’t have an entry into the race. But she is going to run with me when she can, and we’ll see what happens.
We have been carbo loading all week. I’ve consumes loads of pasta, rice, bread, dumplings, French fries, bananas, beer, a liter of rose wine (hey beer and wine have carbs, don’t they?).
It’s 10:45 P.M. here. We just got in from our welcome dinner for the students, which we held at a cool 200-year old Czech pub (carbo-loading: I had potato soup, bread, and beer), and followed that by a floodlit, nighttime walk over the Charles bridge. And now… I have my gel packs out, my tram pass and ID and a 500 crown note (sound impressive, but it’s actually worth less than $30), I’m about to get out my clothes for tomorrow, and affix my bib to my shirt.
6:30 wake up, breakfast of toast with jelly, and maybe an apple (although you don’t want too much fiber before these things), and I am off. Gun time is 9:00 a.m. I am in the appropriate-for-me “K” corral, which is the pokey (or maybe po-“k” ) corral, which means I will probably cross the starting line at about 9:30.
Weather tomorrow is supposed to be cold in the morning, warming up to the high 50s by the afternoon (and I will definitely still be running in the afternoon! ). 10% chance of rain.
The next time you hear from me
Little Kathie Bergquist,
Will be a marathoner.

A Complication or Five, Disheartening News, and a Swollen Painkle.

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Okay, so today I was on my way to the Sports Expo top pick up my race bib and shirt, and on the map it looked pretty close to where I am staying which means of course it was further than it seemed, and then I got lost. HOWEVER

(and this is where I would usually insert a funny or ironic picture I swiped from Google images, but the combination of the limited RAM of my netbook and the extremely petulant WIFI where I am staying would cause at least my workstation and brain, and at worst potentially the entire city of Prague, to explode. So, I’m afraid you’re going to have to be satisfied by creating meaning out of these little sound symbols you see in front of you instead.)

HOWEVER, before things went too far amiss, I mustered up enough courage to ask a dude, “Yo, where’s Vystavyste?”

And he said, “Vystavyste?”

And I said, “Yup.”

And then he told me that it was straight down that way. I just needed to follow the curve around, past the yellow school, and then take a left under the viaduct and I’d be right there. And I said, “okay, thanks.”

Except, this whole conversation happened in Czech. Thanks, PIMSLER Conversational Czech!

Pimsler Conversational Czech was obsessed with whether Vodickova street was “here” or “there.” It seemed like 90% of their conversations included the wherabouts of Vodickova street. I don’t know why all the focus on Vodickova street, but kudos to the Vodickova street Chamber of Commerce. Because according to Pimsler, the restaurant you want to go to, and even the nice lady you want to meet: they’re all located on Vodickova street. (voe-ditch-ko-va).

Vystavyste, which is a convention center, is not located on Vodickova street. Actually, it’s located on U Vystavyste, which translate to, “Roundabouts the Vystavyste convention center”. This is a common name for things here. There is U Medvicku pub (roundabouts the little bear), U Maleho Glena (by Little Glen), U Vystrelenyho Oka (by the shot-out eye). You get the drift.

 A week or so after the marathon, Vystavyste will be the site of the Czech beer festival, an event I am looking forward to nearly as much as the marathon.

But why am I going to pick up my marathon stuff today, before Nikki arrives (tomorrow! Early! I can’t wait!). Well, it’s because I didn’t want her to feel bad coming with me. This is because, by the time Nikki went to register for the Prague Marathon, the event was sold out and registration was closed.

Sad trobmone? No, even sadder. Bring out the world’s saddest violins. Bring out the Saddest Music in the World. Bring out Isabella Rossellini with a hollow leg.

After training together through most of our runs, Nikki, who is arriving from Chicago tomorrow morning to run with me in the Prague marathon, will be unable to run in the Prague marathon. At least, to run legally (she says sheepishly, refusing to make eye contact, but definitely EMPHASIZING that she is not implying anything by that comment).

Oh, people, Nikki is what got me through those 16 miles, those 18 miles, those 20 miles — even keeping me in it during some very blechy conditions. How can I run that distance alone? How can I run it without her? What will keep me going? But enough about me: poor Nikki has been training so long! And she was motivated by some unfinished business. In 2007 or 2008, she ran in the Chicago marathon. Although for certain reasons, including undertraining, she had to drop out about mile 14. And she’s had a mission to fulfill ever since.

The marathon site did have a place to leave your email address just in case something opened up, and we did leave the email address and our fingers and toes are crossed, but just the right amount so they don’t symbolically uncross each other, but we’re also trying to be realisic and expect that it is extremely unlikely that Nikki will get a bib and entry for the marathon. And although people run rogue every year, in almost every marathon (although there are lots and lots of reasons why this is not cool), runners without numbers can’t get refreshments, can’t get into the start corrals, can’t cross the finish line. It’s a sad situation indeed.

So, she’s arriving tomorrow, and we’ll make a final round of appeals here, to prospect out any glimmer of hope that may exist. She says, “Well I’ll have to suck up the fundraising aspect, and run the Chicago marathon for sure.” And I joked that this is why things aren’t working out with Prague. Chicago has some unfinished business with Nikki.

I’m working really hard to not let this affect my own energy, outlook, and enthusiasm. I mean, after all of the hard work I have put into this goal! After everything with the painkle and my tendonitis! Oh yeah, and that reminds me. Although I have been very careful about resting my ankle as much as possible, my painkle is acting up again. In fact, as I type this, it is quite swollen up.

Pep talks, anyone?

I’m Leaving on a Jet Plane — Today!

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I am all packed and ready to go, and I leave for the airport in 3 1/2 hours.

I am packed to the hilt! The checked bag limit is 50 pounds. My suitcase weighs 49 pounds.

Among the other things a person might need for a two-month stay abroad, I have packed my running shoes, 4 goo packets, 2 pairs running shorts, 1 pair of 3/4 length running pants, 4 running shirts, 3 sports bras, and 3 pairs of running socks.

I’ve been watching Prague’s weather forecast for race day, and see that it is shifting according to my wishes from a 60% chance of rain to a 10% chance of rain. The high for the day is predicted, right now, to be 60 degrees with 7 mph wind. Yes, I can deal with this. Hopefully, this forecast will hold up!


I’m scheduled to arrive in Prague tomorrow afternoon. I imagine I will be sleepy, jet-lagged, and out of it, and I’ll probably just eat something, pickup a few groceries, and then crash.

Thursday will be my last run before the race. Two whole miles, just to get my legs loose. Nikki arrives in Prague on Friday morning, Saturday all of the students arrive (have I mentioned that the whole reason I am going to Prague in the first place is that I am faculty coordintator for a study abroad program for fiction writing students?), and the next day is race day!

The gun time is 9:00 a.m. which on one hand is mercifully not 7 a.m., but on the other hand, for slow runners like us, means that we’ll most likely still be running until 2 or 2:30 in the afternoon.

The course looks really fun. There will be live music played at several locations along the way. The worst thing about the course is that there are cobblestones at the beginning and the end, so I’ll be on painkle high alert.

6 days until race day. I am excited, yet? Yep.

I’ll close with a shout-out to Shayna Kramer — one of the first people who encouraged me that, if I trained right, I probably could run a marathon. She gave me these bits of advice for pre-race and raceday:

Race day running tips:
1. Put a quote on your running bib to empower you. (ex. “i have meet my hero, and she is me.”)
2. Become familiar with the race route. Find the race start. (I got lost once and got there 2 min before the start.) And know exactly where the finish is. …(I thought I was finished once and I wasn’t.)
3. Try to get a real good night sleep 2 days prior to the event. The night before you might not get as much sleep and that’s okay.
4. Dedicate a mile to a person who motivated you.
5. Drink at every hydration stop- it will help you way more than not.
6. Glide… everywhere (pits, cracks, thighs).
7. Wear as little as possible- your body raises at least 20 degrees.
8. Remember, there is no wall. What is everyone talking about.
9. Ice bath after!
10. This is your first race. Dont think about a goal time. Your only goal is to finish.

Any suggestions for inspirational quotes?


Grinding Out 20 Miles and the Reemergence of Qualms

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For three days in a row I analyzed weather forecasts for Chicago to figure out the best day to run our final long-run before the marathon: 20 miles. I analyzed Tom Skilling’s forecast, Yahoo Weather’s forecast, and the forecast on the Google widget on my homepage.

I looked at the predictions hour-by-hour, and I calculated. According to these magical weather seers,

Sunday was supposed to be pretty cool (highs in the low 50s near the lake); Monday was predicted to be warmer but windier with intermittent rain showers and thunderstorms, and Tuesday warmer still, but with continuing wind, rain and thunderstorms. I couldn’t push it any futher than Tuesday, because I needed to allow an appropriate and effective amount of time for tapering.

Here’s a rundown about how most beginner’s marathon training plans work:

(pardon me while I don my professor’s cap).

Each week you run three shorter training runs, that culminate in an end of week long run. Each week, the long run gradually increases in distance.

My first long run, On January 8, was 6 miles. After two weeks of increases, there is a step-back week, where you run fewer miles, and then you build up again so the long runs in my first 6 weeks looked like this: 6,7,5, 9, 10, 7. This pattern continues over the course of anywhere from 12-16 weeks, up until the “final” long run. Then comes the “taper” period, which is typically planned to be 2-3 weeks of decreased training.

This may seem counterintuitive.

Wouldn’t it be the most fruitful to continue to increase you distance up to and beyond the ultimate goal of 26.2 miles? Shouldn’t you continue training as hard as possible right up to the wire?

According to marathon-training logic, the answers to these questions are no.

Here’s why.

Obviously, running 20 miles takes its toll on your body. The exertion produces thousands of microscopic little tears in your muscles.

 However, taking time to let those tears heal actually makes your muscles stronger.

(This is what I have gathered from the various things I’ve read — any physiologist is encouraged to correct me). In addition, you want your muscles as relaxed as possible — and you want them to be aching for a running challenge. You want to enter the marathon antsy to run.

But that is only one part of the puzzle. The other has to do with carbo-loading and glycogen stores in your muscles.

Your muscles get energy from burning either carbohydrates (glycogen) or fat. You burn carbs much faster and easier that you burn fats, so the idea is that, the more carbohydrates you have stored in your system, the more efficiently your body will process fuel.

In normal circumstances, your body already stores enough carbs to last the average human 1-2 hours of rigorous physical activity; but running a marathon takes longer than that. It my case, it takes much, much longer than that.

So, the idea is to store up as much glycogen as you can, in part by burning as little as possible. Then, in the actual race, you consume even more carbs in the form of easy-to-absorb energy drinks and gels.

When people “hit a wall” in a marathon,

it is usually because they have run out of their stores of glycogen and their body has to shift gears to start burning fat instead.

Physiologically, this happens to most runners somewhere between mile 18 and 20. From that point on, it is sheer willpower that propels you to the finish line.

And this is one of the reasons you train for 20 miles and not 26.2. Will power is, in part, driven by adrenelin and motivation. You are psyched and motivated to accomplish something you have never done before — finishing a marathon race distance. That desire for achievement is what will give you the willpower to push beyond the wall.

That’s the theory, anyway.

So, back to the weather forecasting. We decided on Sunday. It’d be cooler, yeah, but at least it wouldn’t be raining. Plus running on Sunday left us with a tidy two weeks exactly to taper.  Sunday it was. Twenty miles.

And we decided to keep it simple. We’d run ten miles south on the Chicago lakefront to whereever that landed us, and then repeat the ten miles back. So, psychologically, two back-to-back ten milers. No problem, right?

Except of course I woke up with a visit from my “aunt Flo”.

What that euphemism means is that I had a “special visitor” in my pants. In other words, I’d begun my period (sorry, 3 guys who read this — suck it up). Also, I felt a little unprepared — I hadn’t been carbo-loading at all, had sausage pizza

 for lunch and dinner the day before, and the evening before that, had dinner with friends that included wine, mescal, scotch, and beer.

On top of all this, my painkle was acting up again.

Plus, it was looking pretty gloomy outside.

 Still we laced up, gathered our gear, I popped a couple of ibuprofen, and headed out.

We parked our car at a place we figured was roughly ten miles due north of the Chicago museum campus. It was quite chilly out, but I knew my body would warm up once I started moving. And so, I started moving.

We jogged past all of our usual lakefront landmarks and kept going. Things got a little confusing/twisty turny around Navy Pier as we made our way properly into downtown Chicago but we figured it out and kept going. You know, it’s really hard to visualize what distance ten miles covers geographically unless you are running that distance.

This realization kinds of freaked me out as I thought about the distance we’d be covering in the actual marathon.

Freaked out cat wonders if it is worth it.

I had my first Goo jelly at about mile 8, in proximitey of Buckingham Fountain. Shortly after, we reached the museum campus and ran on the concrete floodwall that bordered the peninsula around the planetarium. Chopping waves lapped up by our feet.

The distance to the planetarium was less than we’d hoped. We’d only gone about 9.25 at that point, so we’d have to make up another mile or so somewhere along the way. We were way behind schedule; we’d already been running for more than two hours and we were not even officially halfway there. And then it started to rain.

Wet cat is not amused.

Still roughly ten miles away from the car, we had no choice but to keep running.

The rain was the heaviest in the South Loop, but remained in the very least a misty sprinkle for the rest of our run. When it wasn’t raining, we were running headlong into gusting winds, reminiscent of our hellacious 16-mile run a few weeks earlier. We were wet, we were cold, we were tired, but we had to keep pushing forward.

As God is my witness, I did not cry.

When we finally arrived back in the vicinity of our car, we’d run about 18.5 miles. Nikki fistbumped me: “that’s further than we’ve ever run!” It was too early for celebrations, though. We still had a mile and a half to make up somehow. In short, we ran in a giant circle around Cricket Hill.

One and a half laps around.

It took everything I had to keep pushing. Towards the end, I got a little extra steam by imagining myself running the finishing lap on marathon day, with people cheering me on.

Nikki, on the other hand, had zipped ahead of me — I don’t know where or how she found the crack rock that she must have smoked somewhere around mile 19, 

(hey, I don’t judge).  All I know is that when I’d finally, finally, finally reached the 20-mile, she was there, with her hand stretched out for me to slap.

“Congratulations, 20-miler!” she said. I had done it! We did it! My time: 4 hours and 4 minutes.

But before I celebrate too much, I have to step back and say that during the run, I began to have some serious qualms about the marathon. Like, when we were at the half-marathon distance, I thought to myself, can I really do twice what I just did? And I didn’t feel very confident about it. Granted it was windy and cold and raining, but who knows what the weather conditions will be on Marathon day? I felt the looming enormity of what I set out to accomplish and I felt very small and inadequate in the face of it.

The cats in the sink are doubtful.

Sure, I ran 20-miles, but it was the most grueling physical thing that I had ever done. My hamstrings hurt, my butt hurt, my feet hurt, my painkle hurt, I had a pinchy nerve in my back, my fingertips were tingling, and in addition to all of that, my knees also hurt.

And so, as I it was with my very first week of training, I find myself wondering, what have I gotten myself into?

15 Days to Go: Who Would Have Thought It?

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What?! Does that countdown clock on the side of this blog say fifteen days until the Prague marathon? Fifteen days?

I better start training!

Gosh, when I started this blog, it seemed like the marathon dwelled in some indistinguishable future realm.

Like, I knew that it existed but I couldn’t really discern the details.

Now that bitch is all up in my face. WTF!

Yesterday, Nikki and I ran 10 miles. It was a fast and fun ten miler — is that something I ever imagined myself saying in my life, ever ever?

Fun, Kathie? Really?

It is not. But we did have fun, and we did run fast, finishing in 1 hour and 48 minutes — the fastest I have ever run for that kind of distance. A 10:48 minute mile.

Out of curiosity, I checked back to the first time I ran ten miles. It was January 29th. I completed the run in 2 hours and ten minutes: a 13-minute mile pace. That was back in those hellacious treadmill/dreadmill days. 

That run was SO plodding and tedious. Looking back, I am actually kind of surprised that I still pressed on. But, I do also remember the enormous feeling of accomplishment I felt after finishing a ten mile run. More so, because I only set out to run 9 miles that day, which, back then, was a significant milestone for me. Remember, prior to the beginning of this year, I had never, ever run further than a 5k (3.12 miles) distance. Back then, I could barely imagine a day where I would think running ten miles was something that could be accomplished joyfully.

Skeptical cat finds this unlikely.

And how did my painkle hold up? My inflamed posterior tibialis tendon, the bain of my training? Actually, I barely noticed it. No, that’s not true. Actually what I noticed was that, for the most part,  it felt normal. It felt fine. It still gets cranky and it’s not 100% healed, but it is, in fact, so much better than it was. Which makes me so glad that I didn’t give up my marathon dream during the worst of it, when it was excruciating.

I’m excited to be heading to Prague so soon! I am leaving in nine days! I’ll be there five whole days before the marathon, so I will have a chance to go check out the course and see what I am in for. And then, after the marathon, I will stay in Prague for six more weeks, whereupon I shall proceed to eat many dumplings and drink generous quantities of beer. Which will not be too different from life now, except then I will be a marathoner. I will join the one tenth of one percent of humans who have completed a marathon. Me! Little Kathie Bergquist!

Tomorrow or Monday we are running our longest training run — 20 miles. After that, it’s all tapering and carbo-loading.