RSS Feed

Monthly Archives: April 2012

Grinding Out 20 Miles and the Reemergence of Qualms

Posted on

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?

Posted on

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.


25 days to go! Inspirational Meme Edition

Posted on

This past Tuesday, Nikki and I ran 18 miles. That means, we only have one more “long run” to complete before the marathon: next weekend we are running 20 miles. That also means, THERE ARE ONLY 25 DAYS TO GO BEFORE THE MARATHON!!!


I’m freaking out!

But let me backtrack a bit.

Okay, last week, we did 16 miles. 16 seems like such a quaint number now. In reality, the 16 was actually much more arduous than the 18, because for a couple of bitter miles, right at the turnaround, we ran against  really, really strong headwinds. That it sucked is the understatement of all time </hyperbole>.  But it did suck. I remember, at one point, making some kind off offhanded comment about it to Nikki and she laughed that terrifying shrill hyena laugh of the borderline insane. Later (these two miles seemed to go on for about 20 marathons), we jokingly tried to punch the wind to lighten things up a bit, but it was too exhausting.

What’s funny is that at one point, early on, I fancied a notion about running longer than 16 miles that day. But the reality was, when Nikki announced that there were two miles to go, I was like: “Two more miles? Oh my god, you’ve got to be fucking kidding me.” As I slogged and slogged and slogged.

So, what pushes me forward? Well, my feet, really. Sometimes that’s it. My head says no no no but my feet just go go go. That and, I like to give myself little milestones to reach along the way. Since lately we’ve been doing our long runs on the lakefront path, this usually goes like “North Avenue Bridge” “Fullerton!” “Belmont!” “Waveland Park!” “Cricket Hill!” “Foster Beach!” “Edgewater Hotel!” and so on. It’s like one milestone propels me to the next.

The other thing that has been helping is something I picked up from the book, Born to Run. This is, whenever I am scuffling along, I repeat to myself the mantra “easy. light. easy. light.” This is something El Caballo Blanco (RIP) taught the narrator of the book, although in its original form it had three parts: “easy,” “light” and “fast.” (I hope I am remembering this right). The idea was, go in that order, because sometimes easy is all you can manage, and that will be okay. Sometimes easy is hard enough to manage. In the last two miles of my 16-mile run, that was definitely the case. Running against such strong gusts of winds emptied my tank.

Over the week, I was able to manage more of my shorter conditioning runs, and when it came time to run the 18-miler, we specifically chose the day with the lightest wind forecast. In fact, it was a lovely, cool, sunny spring day with very light wind. Ideal conditions.

To work in the extra miles, we included a short run around the perimeter of Lincoln Park Zoo, so we got to see camels and llamas and cows and ponies while we were running, which was neat. This time, the running felt like a breeze and I was happy and energetic. At about ten-miles I downed one of these all natural honey-based energy goo gels which was disgusting but did the trick in terms of supercharging my energy. It was only when we got to mile 17 (mile 17!) that I started to falter. Nikki, who’d picked up her pace like the speedy little rabbit she is, yelled back to me: “only one more mile!”.

“Only one more mile,” I thought. “Hoo-ey!” I followed Nikki’s lead. But then, where I thought she was going to stop, she kept going. It wasn’t a mile yet?  I followed her around a bend. “Seriously?” I started to grumble. She kept running. “No way. That has to have been a mile!” But she kept on truckin’.

“Okay,” I told myself, “stop griping and just keep going. Just do it!” and not to be a shill for Nike, but that worked. “Just  do it. Just do it. Just do it.” And, I made it. Approximate time, 3 hours and 38 minutes.

What about my painkle, you ask?  Well, that’s what Advil and ice packs are for.

Now, I want to take just a brief moment to reality check myself. Okay, prior to Jan. 2, I had never run longer than 3.12 miles nonstop at one time. Just a year earlier, I’d never even run a 5k non-stop; I always walked part of it. But somehow, despite a certain amount of bad behavior, occasional bouts in discipline, and an uncooperative posterior tibilais tendon, I have gotten my self to this point. It’s almost unreal to me. But, I still have my two biggest challenges yet to come: the 20 mile run, and the marathon itself. Did I mention I am kind of freaked out? Time to kick up the motivation and inspiration quotient. Whee! Here we go!

Fun with Numbers!

Posted on

I love numbers! Don’t you?  

Here are some interesting numbers:

Number of days since I decided to train for the Prague Marathon: 98

Number of days until the marathon: 32 (yikes!!!)

Number of blogs I’ve posted tracking my progress: 26

Number of views on my blog since I started: 5,584+

Number of countries where people have viewed this blog: 111 (!!!)

Which countries view this blog the most, and in what order?:

United States, Saudi Arabia, U.K., Canada, France, Mexico

Number of views to my blog led by a key word search for some derivative of the terms “big butt”: 423

Number of miles I’ve run since I began training: 260+

Number of miles I ran today: 16.

Off the Rails with Exploding Woman Parts

Posted on

My training has gone completely off the rails.

 It is so far away from resembling anything like the Higdon training plan I subscribed to back when I started that it is pathetic. Mostly, I blame my ankle — heretofore referred to as my painkle — for this.

Admittedly, I did complete the Chi-town Half Marathon last Sunday (yay!), with an on-target time of 2:30. 


 That was awesome! How, now, I wish my goal had only been to complete a half marathon! Heck, that’s ten miles further than I had ever run before I got this crazy marathon idea! What a sense of accomplishment! I’d be done! Instead, it’s only one mile marker on the road of a longer journey.

fat butt

Since the half marathon, I’ve done two runs at just over 3 miles each, and, yesterday, ran close to 9 miles. The problem here is that when I look over my original training plan, I was supposed to run this:

Tuesday 4 miles; Wednesday 9 miles; Thursday 5 miles; Saturday 18 miles.


See what I am talking about?

By and large, my painkle has been manageable. I mean, it is what it is. When I run, there is a low-grade but consistent burning feeling, centered on my ankle tip, that radiates upwards. Occasionally, after a while, the pain becomes more intense; this is intermittent.  Treatmentwise, I’ve had physical therapy, tried more structured insoles, done the rest-ice-compression-elevation thing, had acupuncture, and sports massage.

The only thing I haven't tried.

Of all of these, what has worked the best is the acupuncture, and lots of ibuprofen.

big titties

So, we have the painkle, and we have the undertraining. It’s pretty discouraging. And the marathon is only five weeks away!

OH MY GOD I AM SO FUCKING SICK OF COMPLAINING ABOUT MY PAINKLE, and all of the navel gazing attached to it! Honestly, aren’t you sick of hearing about it? You can tell me. I can take it.

But, guess what? Since I committed to this training three months ago, I’ve run almost 250 miles. That’s a lot of running and it’s got to count for something.


DID YOU KNOW that prior to 1972, the longest official race distance a woman could run was 1.5 miles? That’s because women were not considered physiologically able to run longer distances. Probably because it would hurt their woman parts.

However, in 1966, crafty Roberta “Bobbi” Gibb hid in the bushes by the starting line of the Boston Marathon and joined in once the race once the gun sounded.

Roberta "Bobbi" Gibb

 As she ran, word spread that a woman was running the race and the audience waited in silent excitement, scanning the crown for her and cheering as she zoomed past. She had to run the race in nurse’s shoes

 because at that time, there were no athletic shoes made for women (thanks, Wikipedia!). She finished Boston in 3 hours, 21 minutes, 14 seconds — faster than most of the men. Too bad her ovaries fell out.

The next year, Bobbi unoffically ran Boston again, only this time she was joined by the first registered woman runner, Kathrine Switzer. Except (and here’s the big but)

Kathrine Switzer registered under the androgynous initials K.V. Switzer. When race organizer Jock Semple realized he’d been duped by a broad, he chased after her, trying to pull the race bib off of her.

 Her boyfriend, who was running with her, shoved Semple out of the way and she finished the race in about four and a half hours. Then her breasts exploded.

As for me, it is time to recalibrate my training plan. I’ve had a few weeks of half-assed training, but that was preceeded by many more weeks of good training. It’s not too late to get things back on track. I do have to make up a little bit for lost time and missed milestones, but I also have to provide ample rest time for my injury (and honestly, I do think the injury is getting better. I used to only be able to run 2-3 miles without it becoming excruciating. Yesterday, I ran about 7 miles before the discomfort started to amp up).

I’ve laid out a new plan that gets my endurance up to where it needs to be, but still allows me  two weeks of dialing down my training to rest up my legs before the big race.  Now I just have to stick to it, woman parts be damned.

Pussy in Peril!

Chi-town Half Marathon

Posted on