Active – Half Marathon Birthday Parties

I thought it might be time to include a post dedicated to one of my ‘Active’ pursuits.

A few months ago I coerced my dad and boyfriend into running the Route 66 Half Marathon in Tulsa. It was my birthday weekend and I was celebrating a big one so I really felt like I held sway over how we should celebrate. Truthfully, they both happen to be endurance junkies – my dad runs marathons like some people go to brunch (as in all the time), and Jeff does long training runs without batting an eyelash.

I started training a little bit later in the game than is typically advised. I think by the time I decided I was ‘all in’ we had approximately 9 weeks to go from 0-13.1. We have all run our share of races in the past but admittedly I was not in ideal half marathon shape. I put myself on a modified training program knowing that it was unlikely I would have enough time to commit to an advanced training program that involved very specific running workouts including hills, speed work, and additional endurance runs and demanded 5-6 runs per week.

This year my training runs were faster than they had been in the past. Some were even down just above 8minute miles. That used to be my dream! I used to think that people who could run 8:30 and faster miles were made of gold! They were highly revered endurance athletes in my eyes with amazing resting heart rates and training runs that were so fast, and so effortless that I envied their speed and agility. Somehow I had joined the ‘elite’ – and realized it hurts just as much, your lungs don’t feel any more comfortable, your heart is still pounding, your brain is still screaming SLOW DOWN… you’re just moving faster!

In late summer and early fall I started working to improve my overall body strength and stamina. This actually grew out of a frustration in my yoga practice. I felt I couldn’t fully access and use some core muscles needed for pressing into handstands. I was also starting to realize that some of my inflexibility and stiffness was due to weakness in opposing muscle groups (ex. my hamstrings are tight because my quads are weak). I had tried going to the gym to weight train with machines, but honestly that is just not my scene. Too many over developed dudes grunting and straining their neck muscles. The sight just made me cringe. I had started using Amanda Bisk’s Fresh Body Fit Mind program in order to address these weaknesses and also build cardio health (One of these days I will talk about how this workout system along with a highly structured practice regime helped me prepare for and win two orchestra auditions within a month of each other). I also kept working on a home yoga practice that focused more on the tight corners of my body (hello hips!) rather than just the fancy pretzel poses. The result? Strength and flexibility really do yield results in running and endurance sports.

Other than it being my birthday, there was one other reason I really wanted to run this race; one of my heroes was coming to Tulsa for it. BART YASSO!

It is important to have role models who inspire you. Bart Yasso is one of my heroes. He took something so simple and used it to turn his life around. He used running as a means of exploring the world, pursuing adventure, and bringing order to a life that was headed in an unhealthy direction. He was also diagnosed with Lyme disease and yet even as his body ails he stays committed to running, he doesn’t abandon what gave his life purpose. Even though he can't run as much as he once did, he is still so actively involved in the culture and community of running. He makes running not only seem worthwhile but also life changing, inspiring, and just generally cool. I’ve read his book, Runners World articles, follow him on social media, and even watched his Comrades Race videos. I am a big fan and have always really wanted to meet him. This was my chance. He gave a presentation at the Route 66 expo – and guess who sat in the front row like a fan girl? Yep – the birthday girl. Meeting him was definitely the icing on my birthday cake this year.

Me, Bart, my dad, and jeff at the expo before the race. I'm trying to play it cool and not look like the over excited fan girl I really am

Me, Bart, my dad, and jeff at the expo before the race. I'm trying to play it cool and not look like the over excited fan girl I really am

The Race/Birthday weekend finally arrived. Everyone was excited. Well except maybe my mom who  was talked into cheering us on at not one but TWO mile markers. We pass on birthday cocktails and a late night of reveling in favor of an early bedtime, ample protein, and some serious hydration. This was clearly the beginning of a new era in my life. We set out our clothes, shoes, chews, energy tabs and cold weather gear and go to bed. It was time.

The morning of the race was cold! We got downtown early and huddled in the lobby of a hotel trying to stay warm. We had all registered late so were put in the last coral reserved for slower runners (and late registrants). I ran this race several years ago and it is now at least three times bigger than it was then. There were so many runners everywhere!

My dad is all about family bonding before the race. Making promises to 'stay together, run this as a family' blah blah blah. I know from running a marathon ‘with him’ that this is just lip service. As soon as the race starts he promptly leaves you in the dust and heads off at a clip most people can’t keep up with. At least I certainly can’t! (Jeff tried – but he couldn’t either). Once I had been officially abandoned I plugged in my headphones and focused on MY running. I was aiming for negative splits (the last half is faster than the first half) but was also worried about not starting too slow. Tulsa has hills – it is not flat like most of Oklahoma. I had also run into some dull knee aches late in training and was anxious to finish without pain and without having to stop. I definitely played it safe with my pace….or so I thought.

Before (top) - Waiting in our coral for the race to begin looking cold but excited. After (below) it was all over with celebratory beers in the sunshine courtesy of the Route 66 race sponsors. Cheap beer never tasted so good! Family bonding pre and post run.

Before (top) - Waiting in our coral for the race to begin looking cold but excited. After (below) it was all over with celebratory beers in the sunshine courtesy of the Route 66 race sponsors. Cheap beer never tasted so good! Family bonding pre and post run.

I always like to give myself a challenge when preparing for a race or event. Nothing fancy like win the gold medal or anything (although that would be pretty awesome), but more along the lines of pushing myself to always improve. This is the 3rd half-marathon I have run. Each year, and with each race I try to get faster.

My goal for the Route 66 was to beat 1:56 – my finishing time from the REVEL Rockies half-marathon the previous summer. That course was purported to be fast; aka it was a dramatic descent down the side of a mountain. You spent the entire run trying not to tumble down the course. It was harder to stop than it was to breathe, and trust me – it was hard to breathe! (High altitude is no joke!) I couldn’t walk for days after that event. My quads were destroyed. But I had completed my goal of finishing in less than two hours.

I was the last of my little family we-don't-stick-together group to finish. My final time was 1:52. I had beaten my previous time by 4 minutes! Who cares that my dad finished 8 minutes ahead of me and won his age division! I was so happy that training had paid off and my race time was still improving. It definitely called for an enormous celebratory brunch…and a nap!

All said and done it was a great birthday! My parents and Nana came to visit, I ate great food, I ran a race AND beat my speed goal, I met one of my heroes, and I heard from so many friends and family members all over the world who thought of me on my birthday. If that doesn't scream success I don't know what does!

There are so many lessons to learn from training and endurance events. Here are just a few from those months of training:

  • Set goals. You can’t run a race without a goal. With each event your goals can change. But by deciding to participate you have already set at least one: show up!
  • Pace Yourself. You don't want to give everything you have at the very beginning. There is maybe a kernel of truth to Slow and Steady Wins the Race
  • Training programs are not a one size fits all solution. Jeff and I did more or less the same training and his knee did not ache at any point during the training and he finished before I did. Some training runs were easy for me, some were tough. 
  • Discipline and perseverance. Much like with practicing the violin, sometimes you just don’t feel like it. We all have lazy days but with a race, if you haven’t done the (almost) daily work, you will suffer at the event and that suffering could be an injury.
  • Take care of your human needs – Eat good for you foods! Drink water! Sleep! For consistent and continued improvement do not ignore the non-running elements of life.
  • Strength and Flexibility reap rewards in all aspects of life. Don’t focus solely on running. You will exhaust yourself, get bored, and max out faster than if you improve your entire body and increase mobility, stamina, and strength. How can you apply this to the rest of your life? That, my friends is an entire post in itself!
  • Be competitive with yourself. Endurance events are fun, and sure maybe you are an elite athlete and can compete with someone or a group of people but focus on yourself. Use the event to motivate your own improvement.
  • Reward yourself for a job well done. Whether you had to walk or stop or slow down, you completed the race. Do something special – however small – to acknowledge that.
  • Listen to fun stuff. Interesting books, fun podcasts, and good music. I love that workouts and runs become an excuse to learn new things or dive into a new work of fiction. I like to listen to audition repertoire during speed workouts and runs. Nothing makes me run faster than Mozart or a Mendelssohn scherzo! (well maybe Prokofiev).
Somewhere around mile 10. Finally at a flat spot. I remember feeling tired but happy at this point - only a few miles left until food!! 

Somewhere around mile 10. Finally at a flat spot. I remember feeling tired but happy at this point - only a few miles left until food!!