Half Marathon Training With a Coach – Weeks 1-4

Hot damn, why did I wait so long to get a coach?! It’s like the first time you got a smartphone or got a decent pair of binoculars or finally saw the Jinx! Yeah, you heard the rave reviews by others and you saw their successes, and yet you still thought, “Somehow, someway I am surviving ok without it” (/sarcasm). But I am here to tell you, my friends, that it is indeed a worthwhile experience!

At just 4 weeks in, it is hard to say exactly what the ultimate payoff will be (will I get faster? Race smarter?) but I sure can tell you this — I have finally cracked the code on how to do all the running stuff that isn’t running. I’ve never had a problem with the actual running or motivation to run but the cross-training? The yoga? The core workouts, for the love of God?? Consistency-wise, those have been a big nope, nope, nope. And I don’t want to get too cocky, since there is plenty of time for me to falter on those, but I am pretty psyched about the direction (with a major assist from Coach Martha) I have finally managed to set sail in.

The Scoop:

The Workouts: I won’t divulge my specific workouts since it seems unfair to pass along free something that Coach has provided as a professional service so I will just tell you about the general structure. In the past I have ran five x/week where 2 runs would be easy, 1 tempo, 1 interval/track and 1 long. I don’t think there is anything necessarily wrong with this tactic, except that I plateaued on it. For this plan, Coach has me running 4 x/week, yoga 1 x/week, cross-training 1 x/week (for me, that means swimming) and doing a core workout 1 x/week. I thought I would really miss that 5th day of running but that has not been the case at all! Plus Coach changes up the order and types of running workouts so it always feels like something new. It actually reminds me a lot of when I was doing triathlons, when each day brought a new workout/discipline. Same thing here, except it is all variations on the theme of running. Considering how much I detest biking, this feels like I am getting my cake and eating it too!

I am happy to report I did not have to skip any workouts in the first block.  I was worried about that, especially with the on-coming field season (busy bees at work) and having to rely on a pool schedule (that can change unexpectedly). The most I had to do were some modifications — I was out of town one week for my beloved yoga class and class was also cancelled once. In both cases, I was able to practice on my own (though I infinitely prefer the class setting). There was also one morning where the lifeguard did not show up and the pool was closed. Drats! But I just improvised and swapped into the next day’s easy run (in my bathing suit and sweatpants/hoodie – not recommended, lol) and swam the following morning. Key for me has been getting my workout done in the early morning, before anything that day can derail it. This has meant some dark starts (including one morning where a skunk chased me?! WTF was up with that?!) but the sweet reward of beautiful sunrises.

Nutrition: Coach has identified nutrition as a place that I can improve upon. My sensitive stomach, combined with some eating issues that are sadly commonplace among endurance athletes, means that I have some work to do. To that end, one thing she has me working on is recovery drinks right after running. This is something I have traditionally eschewed — my stomach revolts against anything entering it right after running. On an hard efforts, the grouchiness can last up to as many as 2 hours until I can eat without cramping. Coach convinced me, though, that I should try and retrain myself to get cracking on recovery almost as soon as the run ends. For me, that means drinking Hammer Recoverite within 15 minutes post run. I have followed this advice and am rewarded with nausea, lol. BUT, I can’t deny that I have actually felt better (in terms of tiredness/soreness) as the day goes on than I have in the past without it. Annnd, I am starting to crave the taste! I have a hard effort tomorrow and am already looking forward to my drink after. I’m calling that success!

General Notes on Being Coached: What can I say, I love it! Actually, you all know me better than that and that I can say way more, lol. The best part, thus far, has been the accountability. In the past, it was very easy to blow off a core workout or yoga, etc. Now I find myself thinking, “But what will I tell Coach? That I just didn’t feel like it?” By and large, the workouts bring me great joy and once I am downward dogging or swimming, I am really so pleased to be there. The one exception to that “by and large” is core workouts. Holy hell, do I hate them! The only think I like about them is crossing them off the list (and recently, that I feel like I can do some of the exercises slightly better than when I started). But again, knowing that Coach will ask about them and that I am just cheating myself really helps. It is sort of like a baking recipe — you can’t do everything right but purposely change one ingredient and then expect a delicious cookie. To ever be able to fairly assess what having a coach is like, I need to do everything she prescribes. So far, so good!

Another thing I love about coaching is the coach herself. Martha has done a great job of drilling into understanding who I am and to what I respond best (CliffsNotes version – positive reinforcement). Sample lines from emails from her:

“You just need to hone on on what half marathon rocks your world and then we will rock the training … and the event! …So excited Kashi!!”

“YAY! This will be fun! Looking forward to writing your plan!”

“Awesome! Super happy that you were able to get in the weekend run and it went well… Onward!!!”

“This is great feedback and very helpful! Nice job on getting in the 2 x 2.5 mile efforts. Sounds like we dialed into the correct pace range based on the fact that you were hanging at a PE of 7 once settled in.”

It’s so great to meet someone who sees the value in an exclamation point as much as I do:)

Another fun thing is having someone that cares about your training as much as you do. I’m lucky to have family and friends that are super supportive and always there for me, especially come race day. But to have someone who, during the whole process, is looking closely at your paces, your heart rate (this is also new for me! More on that next time), at every workout with an eye for improvement…well, it’s not a stretch to say it makes you feel like a bit of a superstar. Like you are unstoppable because this person (this fast, professional, experienced person) thinks you are. It’s a pretty powerful elixir, I gotta admit.

That’s plenty for now, but there is still so much more! Next month I will tell you all about my adventures in heart rate training as well as what the actual process of putting together my plan looks like. Here is a little preview:

Coach Martha

 

 

Running in Virginia Beach, VA

Two weeks ago I was in Virginia Beach, VA for a meeting. The weather was what I think we can categorize for the winter of 2015-2016 as “unseasonably cold”, lol, considering how mild this one has been! It was well below freezing and quite blustery each of the three mornings that I ran. I was doing my last week of base building for the half marathon training that started on 2/28, but I only took pictures on one morning.

The meeting took place at the Sheraton Hotel, which sits right on the beach and even allowed me to have a partial ocean view out of my room! The day we arrived was about 65-70dF (!!!) and I enjoyed sitting out on my balcony, door wide open, before the cold front came through the next day.

Virginia Beach has a concrete boardwalk (note to shore towns — take a page out of Cape May’s book and don’t call concrete a “boardwalk”. We call ours a “promenade” and I like the honesty in that!). On its southern terminus, it intersects with the Rudee Inlet where I enjoyed great looks at Bonaparte’s Gulls, among other species. They are so dang cute!!

However, there was plenty of man-made eye candy on the run, which was particularly striking in the morning light.

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The concretewalk was pretty empty — likely due to a combination of the early hour, the cold and the fact we were solidly in the off-season. Everyone I encountered, however, was friendly, and we gave each other the smiles and waves that denote the camaraderie come by in less than ideal conditions.

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You know who is tough, though? King Neptune. There was quite a bit of art, in the form of sculptures, along the route and they were all really beautiful. King Neptune was my favorite though, and I especially liked his trusty turtle, with his fierce expression. I don’t often think of sea turtles as bad asses, but I did in this case! I later learned that the statue is bronze, 34′ tall and weighs 12 tons!

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There were many more sculptures to enjoy, some of which are pictured below. These ran the gamut from whimsical fish to more serious tributes to veterans.

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There was also a teeny lil (relatively) Coast Guard Station tucked in the row of skyscraper-y hotels. Dating back to 1903, this pretty building is holding its own!

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As is true for much of the developed mid-Atlantic beaches, this one is highly managed. No dune system or vegetation to speak of, groomed within an inch of its life and basically just a sandbox for people. Sorry, wildlife, no soup for you!

 

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Looking back on these pictures, I am amazed how beautiful of a day it looked — the wind was whipping but you can’t really get that from these snap shots in time. I did pull off my hat and try to show how windy it was — sideways hair doesn’t just happen naturally! It was so BRRR! But a beautiful day, especially given that the next 9 hours were spent inside a windowless room, and one that piqued my interest in doing a VA Beach race.

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Look At Me, Ma – I Got A Coach!

Starting next week, I will find myself back in a place I have not been since I was 16. Not the back of my best friend’s “Big Blue” station wagon shoe fishing or playing Capture The Flag in a dark and endless backyard or Taco Bell for 3 for 99₵ tacos (soft, duh). But alas, it is none of those (though I would love nothing more than one more ride in Big Blue, warm air whipping through our hair, drunk on our first taste of freedom). As of Monday, February 28th, I will officially have a running coach for the first time in over 20 years. You have heard me wax poetic about my high school cross-country coach here and here and given the positive experience I had with him, it’s actually a little surprising I haven’t ever dipped my toes back in those waters.

I don’t really have a good explanation why– maybe I thought that coaches were for elites, maybe it was an inability to spend money on a luxury item like this, maybe I was content with just “coaching” myself, maybe it was a combination of all these. But over the last year or so, I have found myself increasingly curious about what could be accomplished with one. I watched my friend Debbie flourish under the guidance of a coach, nailing her first half Ironman. I watched my friend Carrie put herself through the wringer with a coach, building a bigger, stronger version of herself. I made a half-hearted attempt last fall, asking a friend to write a training plan for me, but we never quite got around to it so I dutifully crafted one for myself. We all know how that turned out.

While not a terrible performance, the Atlantic City half marathon was a real wake-up call that I have about exhausted my own ability to improve my race times. That race result is somewhat tricky to parse out, since I know that part of the problem was that I distracted by the idea (and training) for the MCM and Philly marathons. Over the break that ensued after those races, I started thinking a lot about getting a coach. Debbie and Carrie have the same coach and I knew from chatting with her at get togethers and seeing her Facebook feed that she would likely also be a good fit for me. Her name is Martha and she owns Dynamic Training. I sent her a message and her enthusiastic response was all the nconvincing I needed!

She asked me to fill out an extensive athlete profile, which was kind of fun – every running nerd has dreamed of a test where every question is about your relationship to running! I provided her with splits from races, from training, my general running schedule, what my goals are, etc. She took that info, mixed it up in her magic machine (i.e. her brain) and we met a few weeks ago to plot out the first 4-week training block. This will be a 12-week plan and the goal race is the St. Michael’s Half Marathon that I signed up for May 21st (I am a bit worried about the potential for heat, but it looks like a great race and 21s are lucky for me, so here’s hoping!).

The meeting with Coach Martha was even more fun than the athlete profile! Her personality is fantastic, meshing well with mine on the positive-o-meter. I am a self-identified control freak so I was a little worried about what it would feel like to put my training into someone else’s hands. And not because I think I know better (which obviously I don’t or I would save myself the money!) but because I stick to a pretty rigid schedule and this will upset that careful (but arbitrary) balance. But you know what? So far, I am feeling really, really good! Perhaps there is hope for this creature of habit yet. Or perhaps I am still in the honeymoon period and no actual rubber has hit the road (training does not officially begin til Monday), lol. Stay tuned to find out just how much change I can handle!

I have the first block of workouts posted on my fridge (that’s one thing that won’t change!). There are things on there that always appear on my plans (hill workouts, long runs, tempo) but also components that have traditionally been weaker links for me (cross-training, core, yoga and immediate post workout nutrition stipulations). I stand in front of the refrigerator staring at it, that familiar feeling of anticipation building. I feel like a caged animal – “let me at that plan, just let me at it!”

My specific goals for this race are to PR (another duh) but also to better understand how to tweak and/or incorporate parts of training that aren’t running focused (strength, nutrition, etc). I also want to work on my mental toughness, which has my attention , especially after AC and more recently, after the recent URP episode featuring Matt Fitzgerald and his new book, “How Bad Do You Want It?” (yup, it’s in my Amazon cart now! Full disclosure — that hyperlink is the affiliate link to Amazon for Ultra Runner Podcast. I don’t benefit from that at all, I just like URP and want to support them).

I will check in every four weeks with an update on the training blocks and then, of course, an entirely too long and drawn out race report (I may not be succinct, but at least am self-aware). I will see you back here at the end of March to let you know how Weeks 1-4 go!

Running on Boca Brava, Panama

28 Jan 2016, 2.7 miles

Ohhh, man, this one was a doozy! You know a run is bad when you get shit on by a bird at the outset and that does not turn out to be the worst part. Oh, so naive to think that it might have even brought me luck (foreshadowing alert!).

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The run started out fantastic. We awoke at dawn in our cliffside hut at Howler’s Bay Hotel to the sound of howler monkeys. I quickly dressed and went outside to admire them. After a few minutes (and a bit of  bird shit in my hair) I set off. GD was going to bird and the trails did not seem extensive enough to think we would not be able to find each other later, so the plan was for him to bird, me to run and take a dip in the ocean and then track him down. We were off!

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I set off in a westward direction and immediately enjoyed the whole situation. It was definitely a little scarier than the other Panamaian runs- there were probably about the same number of people around as there was in Mt. Totumas, but the vibe was not quite as friendly. You know how on the Jersey shore, lots of locals hate the shoobies? In this case, we were the shoobs and it feels pretty lousy on the flip side. It drove the point home even further than shoobie-hate is not for me!  I guess in a way it made sense- if you choose to spend your life on what is essentially a deserted island, you don’t exactly have people person stamped all over you, lol.

Between the vibe and all the sounds of the forest, I was definitely a little jumpy. I kept calm though, and really enjoyed the scenery. This was only improved when I came upon this sign:

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I’ve never been to a batch whose name I shared. Add the fact that it was deserted and the novelty was off the charts! How fun! Took a moment to take a selfie:

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…and a pic of Playa Christina with just my footprints:

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I hit the trails once again and came across two barking dogs. Like most that we encountered in Panama, they were friendly (the exception being the group we had encountered the night before, more on that later). See?

Boca Brava Run (25)

I continued on and was on a teeny path on the side of a cliff when I heard an approaching barking dog. I kept my head down and although the sound of barking got closer for short bit, it then sounded like it was getting further away and I relaxed.

Boca Brava Run (30)

The air was thick and still, the trail was unrelentingly undulating and I was getting tired. This was our first (and only) morning on the island and my bird run list was suffering because I did not have GD’s help or a previous day’s experience to help me figure things out. As luck would have it, just then I ran into the man himself! I had made a few iPhone recordings of birds I could not ID, and he helped me give them a name. Sweet! I told him I was going to head to Hotel Boca Brava, where at dinner the night before we had Mangrove Swallows, to nab that species and then I would call it a day.

I headed toward the path of the hotel (to be clear, this was not our hotel, it was the one next to ours) and came to a dead stop when I saw that the aggressive, barking dogs from the night before were not in their fenced area, but rather out free. The scariest of the bunch was looking in the opposite direction and had not yet seen me. I stood for a moment, weighing my options. On one hand, I did not want fear to win the day and assumed that if the dogs were actually dangerous, they would not be out. I have encountered many dogs when running and have never had a real issue. On the other hand, recalling the ferocious growls from the night before, I thought “why take a chance in the middle of nowhere just to add a bird to your list?” With that, I turned to walk away.

Unfortunately, that slight movement keyed the dog to my presence and it came tearing towards me, barking up a storm. I instantly started yelling in a firm tone, “Stop! No! Chill!” The dog did not seem to be affected by this and kept running at me and barking. It got itself right up next to me and started barking even more. At this point, I was starting to get scared. I continued to yell, pulled my hands up to my chest, folded my shoulder blades in and put my head down. I did not look at the dog, for fear it would piss him off more (which seemed impossible. Ha!).

Suddenly, I detected that another dog had approached. The reason I detected this was not because I looked (I kid you not, I was terrified and could not look down) but because the two of them started fighting in that super nasty, super snarling, super scary way dogs do. The fight was right at my ankle and suddenly I felt a huge amount of pain on my left lower leg. As soon as the dogs started fighting, I started screaming at the very top of my lungs “HELP!! HELP!!” I had enough time to think “how is no one hearing me? I’m right at the hotel!” When I felt the impact to my leg, I just lost it- my “HELPS!” must have sounded like a deranged person because they sure sounded like that inside my head. And yet, still no one.

My leg hurt but I knew it wasn’t that an animal was attached to it so I took slow baby steps away from the dogs. I could hear them continue to fight, but it wasn’t right at my heels so I kept going, very slowly. I rounded a corner and they definitely were not with me but I still could not bear to look. I burst into tears and thought, “well, that was terrifying”. I knew I had to look down at my leg, but I was afraid what I would see. I made myself peek and it was not at all as bad as it felt… there were scratch marks and already the beginnings of a bruise, but no blood. Whew! Below is a video that shows the impact spot — and also my shaking leg, trembling from terror (BTW, it’s been nearly 3 weeks and the area is still tender. Best I can tell, one of the dog’s claws must have swiped me):

 

I headed back to camp because I wanted to wash the area with soap and water and bumped into our host along he way. I was still crying and told him what happened. Amazingly, he told me these were the dogs of the hotel manager?! WTF?! Who the hell would have dogs like that? I had assumed it was a private residence but nope. Our host told me the man has been repeatedly talked to by other residents in the island but just does not care. He said the best thing I could do would be write a bad review online (he also gave us a discount off our room rate, although the incident was not at all his fault. Class move) which I did (you can read it here, as well as the reply from the Hotel Boca Brava, which I call BS on. I most certainly did message them and have again, but still with no reply. Also, there was not one indication  that non-hotel guests were not welcome. Please also note the other review that mentions the dogs). There was no Beware of Dogs sign or anything that would allow safe passage through that path if the dogs are out. The entire thing is super perplexing. I did not confront the owner (and convinced GD out of it later) because I did not want to risk another attack and also because it did not sound like it would make a difference since this was not the first time it happened. So incredibly frustrating and scary.

I got myself cleaned up and put on my swimsuit, wanting to find GD and get a hug. As I hit the trail though, I was realllly jumpy. I was nowhere near the scary dogs, but could not get them out of my mind. I decided to abort looking for GD and just go for a swim at “my” beach to calm my nerves. I felt safe in the water and was able to relax a bit. After, I headed back to the common area of our lodge and waited for GD. He returned within the hour and was understandably angry. He wanted to head over to the hotel and confront them. I argued that it was pointless, as did our host,  and he relented. Our plan was to stay the rest of the day on the island, but with limited food (I was NOT walking past those dogs again and was definitely not putting any more money in the pocket of the hotel manager/dog owner) we decided to head back to Boca Chica early.

It was a lousy way to end my running time in Panama, but it taught me some valuable lessons- namely that I really need a better plan when in a situation with an aggressive dog. I did research when I got home and will now carry pepper spray when I run in new places (this is a far better solution than the others offered online, which basically involve me wrestling the dog. Ummm, no). I won’t let this stop my traveling running adventures, but I can’t pretend it has not had an effect on me. In the three weeks since it happened, I have yelled out in fear more than once (I can think of 3x actually) at what was nothing more than a friendly dog. Still quite jittery on that front! But at least I will be better prepared next time. I never want to experience that level of fear of a dog again!

Bird List

Too worked up after to have written it down! I know Mangrove Swallow was not on it, lol

Running in Los Pozos, Volcan, Panama

25 January, 3.3 mi
“It’s our last morning in the cloud forest so this is your last opportunity to run in one! Get up!” This is what I was telling myself from the cozy comfort of the bed as the wind howled and the bajareque seemed extra, well, wet. I knew I would regret it if I did not run in this amazing place, though, so I pulled myself together and got out of the luxurious cocoon that was our room at Mt. Totumas Lodge (we stayed in the Mamacillo Room in Bellbird Lodge if you are curious. Ballers! lol).

Part of my reticence was that my sneakers were the last dry pair of shoes I had- my Tevas, fabric flip flops and boots were all soaked through and not drying (nothing ever dries in the rain forest!). But I realized this was the type of worry that makes you old before your time and got myself out the door. (note: It was raining enough when I started that I did not want to take my phone out in it, so the following photos are all of places I saw on my run, but taken either two days before or later that day).

Within a quarter mile, I was so pleased I had! I choose not to run the trails because I would have been soaked (from wet grass and trees dripping water down) and the previous day’s 6 hour trek in it was enough for this xeric- loving gal! I stuck to the main “road” (a rough and tumble 4WD affair), which went down, down, down. I knew on the way out I was going to regret this but it felt so fun!

To break up the down, I did do a short spur on the Bajareque Trail (sorry for blurry photo!), which went up for a bit before opening into a wet, exposed field. I turned back at this point and went back to the road.

Mt Totumas Run and Drive to Boq (16)

As I descended, the bajareque was left behind and the orientation of the road meant the wind was blocked. Wow! What luck! “You only regret the runs you don’t take” was all I could think. The air was so fresh smelling, like the most perfect day of spring, and the sounds were only those that nature and my shoes produced. There were no cars, planes, boats or anything else to break up the wonderful symphony around me, which coming from a human-dominated place like NJ, is truly a unique experience.

Mt Totumas Run and Drive to Boq (19)

I passed a few workers – one of which I mistook for the guide GD was out with and was wildly waving “Hola, Renaldo!”. He gave me a half-hearted nod, looking for all the world like “what is up with the crazy runner?” This made total sense once I got back and saw Renaldo at the Lodge and realized the worker must have been his doppelganger, aka his brother. Whoops!

Even though the road was steep, I had it in my mind I would get to 2 miles and turn back. Well before I hit that mark, I heard the unmistakable sound of buzzing and looked around to see that there were hundreds of bees on the side of the road! They did not seem interested in me so I continued on until I saw that the mother load (thousands, it seemed) was just up ahead, on both sides! “That’ll do for now!” I thought, as I turned back. As I tend to do, I was bummed that I had not made it to the (completely arbitrary but round) two mile mark, but I was soon singing the bee’s praises when I realized just how hard the climb back would be.

I spent the back half not actually running, but rather huffing and puffing up the road, hiking. It was tough for this flatlander from sea level! Then I hit a particularly steep part and looked up to see a rainbow. One major benefit of all the rain we had were all the rainbows and this one was phenomenal! I smiled and continued on. There were also lovely views of the Lodge:

Mt Totumas Run and Drive to Boq (13)

There was a dog on this route that loved to run with you and he darted out to play for a minute or two- such a cute little golden thing.

Here is a video of the road that I was running on (obviously taken on the drive up! It was a little scary, I much preferred running it!):

I was trying hard to get birds for my run list, but it was hard, as usual, without GD’s help. I had learned the various hummingbirds, though, and figured a well-timed visit to the feeders at The Homestead would net me a max of 6 species. I tiptoed towards the feeders and realized they were empty! Of all the times! I quickly justified to myself that it would still count if I refilled them and went into the kitchen where the solution was stored. There was just a bit left so I split it between the two feeders, but the birds could not really tell there was food so I then combined all the solution into one feeder and stood back.

Mt Totumas Run and Drive to Boq (10)

“Oh good, here’s comes a Magnificent!” (its actual name, not hyperbole!). But wait, what is this? Ohh, he is so dang territorial! Would not let anyone else near his feeder. At this point, it was getting ridiculous to call these run birds anyway, so I headed up to Bellbird, figuring I could grab a few up there. That worked well and extra bonus was the rainbow that was still proudly shining over the valley. Nothing short of spectacular. Check out a short video (this was from the day before, but the rainbow was there again and so were the hummers — it was Groundhog’s Day in the best way ever!)

I came back inside, exhilarated from my adventure, dried off and sat down to a wonderful breakfast by Alma. My kicks weren’t even that wet:) It was our last morning at the lodge and we hit the road shortly after. I hope this will not be my only run at Mt. Totumas, but if it was, it sure was a stunner.

Bird List
Rufous-collared Sparrow
Black-faced Solitaire
Thrush (could be either Mountain or Clay-colored, could not ID)
Magnificent Hummingbird
Green Violetear
Scintillant Hummingbird
White-throated Mountain Gem

Plus a bunch of others that I could not identify well enough to check off!

Running in Santa Catalina, Panama

23 Jan 2016, 4.25 mi
I was looking forward to my first run in Panama (country list, check!) and got up bright and early in Santa Catalina to hit the beach/trail/streets before we headed inland to the cloud forest. We planned this trip so that it would be book ended by coast- the world’s edges are my favorite places to be and I did not want the Panama versions to be over and done in the first few days. It was a lot easier to drive away from the sea later that day knowing I was coming back to her in less than a week. But first, a run!

I woke up at 630a and was out the door by 650a. We were staying at Coibahouse, in an incredible location right by the sea. This was the view from the lodge’s deck:

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I knew there was a trail off the beach (Punta Roca) and thought I would give that a try. It took all of two steps on the beach before I felt super stoked. The sunrise was beautiful and there was a flowering plant making the air so fragrant, it was intoxicating.

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I had to make a water crossing to get to the trailhead, so I pulled off my shoes for that. Water felt great!

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There were a few dogs running around playing with each other, but they left me alone and vice versa, which has been the norm when I have traveled in Central and South America.

I found the trail head easily enough and started up it. It was a bit sketchy because it wasn’t labeled and was hard to tell if public or private property. There was a home along it and then a gate. I could see that others had opened the gate to pass though, though, so I followed suit.

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I ran a bit but it soon became clear that this single track not heavily traveled and was bordered by long grass. We had read that chiggers are an issue in this part of the area and I just could not convince myself to take the risk this early in the trip. Chiggers and I are mortal enemies and I prefer to avoid them at all costs. The price this morning was not getting to see the rest of the trail, which bummed me out because I hate missing out on what is around any given bend, but the threat of chigger induced misery was enough to turn me back.

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The beach was not too long, so I headed back to the road and struck out on the road towards Santa Catalina Hotel, an area we had not yet explored. The road was a bit hilly, but the views were great! The heart of the town is a jumbled mix of restaurants, hostels and outfitters but very shortly off that drag was a beautiful agriculture area.

Agriculture in Panama, like in most of the world, has taken a serious toll on natural habitats. I know and understand this, but a Salem county girl likes myself still enjoys a viewscape like this:

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I saw a horse tied to the fence who didn’t even glance my way as I passed but shortly after, I heard her neigh. I then saw that a local guy was approaching her and she was saying hello. That was pretty adorable.

I followed the road and could not help to continue on when I saw this sign:

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I made it to the end of the road, which pleased me immensely (salve on my heart after not being able to get to the end of the trail!). This was Estero Beach and it was lovely– minus the ORVs. Really? Even in Panama I can’t escape this nonsense! People, for the love of God and all that is holy, beaches are not roads! Predictably, Laughing Gulls were crowded around the cars, enjoying the scraps of breakfasts.

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I ran around the bend on the beach and thought it might be possible to run back to the hotel. I soon realized that the rocky shore was going to make that entirely too difficult, so I simply backtracked, enjoying the company of my shadow on the way back. Both of us were incredibly psyched to be running around paradise in shorts and a tank. The glorious, glorious tropics! I finished the run happy, my mind ablaze with the fantasy that I, too, will one day migrate with the birds and spend my winters in a warm climate.

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Bird List (if only GD were with me, this list would have been at least tripled!)
Laughing Gull
Orange chinned parakeet
Spotted sandpiper
Willet
Little Blue Heron
Snowy Egret
Great Egret
Sandpiper sp
Great-tailed Grackle

 

2015 Philadelphia Marathon Race Report

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Running Momma’s race report, yay! It’s been a few months since the race and we still haven’t wiped the smiles off our faces. The bulk of this RR is my narrative and then we’ll wrap it up with low- and highlights. Sound good (well, even if not, that’s what you’re stuck with lol). 

Expo and Pre-race

Mom and I headed into the City on Saturday afternoon. We got checked into the Marriott Downtown and then headed over to the Reading Terminal Market for lunch. Mom had a turkey sandwich and I chowed from the salad bar.

We then hoofed it over to the convention center. The line for the bibs was reasonable and it was pretty exciting to see Running Momma get her first marathon bib.

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We checked out the vendors and were stoked to run into Fonso, of beach nesting bird fame. Ma also replenished her GU stash and we hydrated on Nuun samples.

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We headed back to the hotel, where we rested our legs, laid out our flat selves and charged our Garmys.

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 Dad and Sis had joined by now and after not too long we found ourselves walking towards McCormick and Schmick’s, a favorite pre-race spot for mom. We were shown to a cozy cubby on the second floor where we could look out over the restaurant. I know it’s the 2-st century teens, but I was still surprised at how many people were on their phones. I am addicted to my phone, but restaurants is where my line is — no phones at dinner (unless you have to look something up briefly, which we all do since apparently smartphones have rendered all our memories worthless).

I had the rare tuna (with rice and seaweed), mom had shrimp, chicken and potatoes and sis had steak. Dad (who was not racing, but let’s be honest, spectating is just as much work!) also had tuna. The three of them had one drink each, I stuck to water.

We headed back to the hotel and settled in for a Kisiel night in a hotel, circa 1987. All four of us crammed into one room, yet it was more fun than frustrating and after shoving our ear canals full of foam, we hit the sack. I slept pretty well, Laur and mom slept fitfully.

We popped up race morning and were ready to go and out the door in no time flat. We got outside and felt a little chilly, but it was very seasonable (you know, back when it was actually cold before that crazy, delightful warm December). We headed towards the start line and were soon greeted with the sights of security. Uggggh. It was nowhere near as bad as MCM had been and yet we all have memories from when Philly had zero security. I pined for those years, but considering the race was mere days since the Paris attacks, I understood the perceived need.

We settled into a line and I have to give them credit – it did move (ahem, MCM). It felt like it took a loooong time but when we actually looked at our watches, it was only about 20 minutes. Hmm, not bad. My advice would be for them to have more volunteers directing runners. From the direction most runners were coming from, it appeared there was only one way to get in. I vaguely recalled from the map at the expo that there were more, but in the dark and with time ticking, it seemed risky to go investigate and lose our place in line. A few loud cops or volunteers directing people to other openings would have gone a long way.

One unintended consequence was that the bottleneck at the checkpoints made it so once you were through it, it felt practically empty! It was the shortest wait I have ever had at Philly for bag check or the portaloos, so no complaints on that! The national anthem started playing and we teared up a bit – thinking both how lucky we were to do this together and also taking a moment to think of those that were no longer with us, their passing still fresh in our hearts. We were in a later corral, so we still had a bit of a wait. The wind was kicking up, tge sun stayed nehind the clouds and we realized we were in for a chilly day! We were all dressed for it, but only because we kept on “throwaway” clothes.

Race

We finally inched out way to the start line and it was just a breathtaking feeling! We were going to do it! Mom’s dream was about to come true and Laur and I had a front row seat!

Mom got a slight cramp early on and it messed with her mind a bit, but we gave her some encouragement and some advice (“just ignore it for awhile and see if it disappears”- works like a charm). It stopped bothering her and moved past the start line excitement and drilled into the task at hand — chipping away the miles.  The day was cold, but it was dry for which we were grateful. We took our walk/run intervals as Mom felt — she does not follow a specific protocol on that, just goes with her gut.

The bane of many runners is their digestive tracks and although we did our best to avoid any issues, mom’s stomach was bothering her and caused her to make more stops than she would have liked. She was verrrry happy to have the portaloos, but bummed that the stops caused her so much time. We solidered on.

We made it to Chestnut and saw Dad! It was very exciting to see him and we were happy to report to him that Mom was doing fantastic. Her spirits were high and her muscles were feeling good. It was about this point that Sis and I realized we were going to be treated to a new Philly experience – the back of the pack. We are solid mid-packers, used to the hubbub that comes along with the middle of the bell curve. But here at the back, as it is on the front, is a much quieter undertaking.

We looped around the zoo and headed into Fairmount Park. Our favorite dancing 80s neon people were still rocking and we apprecaitted that! At this point, the crowd had thinned but since we were still with the half-marathoners we had a lot of company.

We headed towards the split and this is where it suddenly got real… almost everyone we were running with split off to the half finish and just a handful headed left, towards Kelly Drive. It was now that I knew the race was going to be really special and quite different than anything else I had experienced.

There are two out and backs in the second half — one at a bridge and one in Manayunk — where you can see the people ahead and behind you. There were just a skinny thread of runners and we started to form a little bond with them, checking on on each other, taking turns passing and being passed as various people stopped for the portaloo or for walk breaks. The pace may have been slower but it felt as though the determination was higher than I had ever felt at a race.

If you have been lucky enough to finish a marathon in a place with a lot of spectators, you know how much that cheering helps you when you are tired and feeling weak. Imagine all that taken away and yet the miles still need to be covered. It was inspiring to watch this pack dig deep and just.keep.going.

Philly has a 6 hour time cut off and it was clear we weren’t going to make that. We weren’t sure how Philly was going to handle that, as some races escort you off the course or totally shut down any support. We planned for this contingency, stuffing our sports bras full of GU and armed with the knowledge that there was a bike path parallel to the course and water fountains that were still turned on. No problemo!

What happened, though, was better than any contingency plan. Our first hint of how Philly dealt with their back of packers was when an extremely friendly and kind man pulled up in his minivan around mile 21. He said “I have good news and bad news. The bad news is you will not make the cutoff and we are going to have to start breaking down the water stops and open the course to vehicles. The good news is that you will finish this race. The sag vehicles will keep an eye on you and you can use the bike path. Is that ok? Can I get you anything? Want water?”

I could have hugged this man to death! I was worried about how Running Momma would handle the psychological hurdle of a race ending before she did and was haunted by the less-than ideal response of the staff at the Hartford Marathon. But the City of Brotherly Love delivered! For the rest of the race, we could always see a sag car in the distance, lights on, following along with the group. At each water stop, which were in the final stages of being broken down, there were volunteers who kept cheering and offered us water from the few cups they had set aside for runners like us.

It is always fun to run on a road closed to traffic during a race. There are so many others around you and all you hear is the footfalls of hundreds. But on this day, on this race? We practically had Kelly Drive to ourselves. The runners ahead and behind us were far enough away that it felt like it was just us Kisiel girls, out on an adventure. It was one of the most memorable parts of the race.

Nearing miles 24 and 25, Sis and I were beyond pleased to see how well Running Momma was holding up. She was still thinking clearly and her attitude was A++! Her stomach issues continued to plague her, but like everything in her life, she chose to ignore the negative and be swept up in a wave of positive. She put her headphones in for the final miles and was rocking out. We were all laughing, drunk with the feeling of anticipation for that sweet finish line.

We did not know what to expect — would there even still be a finish line? Where would we see Dad, who had been joined by best friend JoAnn , sister Bean and our spectator extraordinaire Liz? Would there be any hoopla at all?

We soon found out and the result was fan-freaking-tastic! Yes, the race clock was turned off and the Mayor had JUST left (no complaints, he had put in a very long day, love that guy!) but there was still a cadre of volunteers and our family to cheer us in. They draped a medal  around Running Momma’s neck and the official race photographer was still there. Smart move, buddy! I almost never buy official race pics, but these were too good to pass up — see?

Mom finish arms up

Mom finish

Family finish

Fam and fans finish

We were over the moon blissed out! What a joyful finish line! Before too long, though, we also started to feel pretty cold. And tired. And hungry! 

We moved the party to a nearby restaurant and regaled our family with tales from the road. It was an immensely satisfying end to a fantastic day.

That was clearly a verrrry long race report but I’m #noregrets because it was a day I want to remember in detail for a long time to come. To cover all our bases, let’s also hear what Running Momma and Lil Sis had to say, low/highlight style:

Lowlights

Running Momma:  I’m not disappointed with my time but I thought I would be faster. I would have liked to come in at 7 hours. The porta potty stops were part of that and thank God for them but I wish there were fewer. The wind and the chilly conditions were tough as was walking the mile back to the hotel.

Lil Sis: Not too many. I had a few blisters and my feet were a bit tired at the end.

Kashi: Just the cold. I was hoping it would be a bit warmer and less windy, but it was dry so no complaints!

Highlights

Running Momma: Highlights were running with my daughters, finishing line fans. My husband always being there. The officials were great. They kept making sure I was okay. Fans yelling our names. Going left when I always went right. The crazy group at Mike 11. The sightseeing was great. Hearing my daughters yell at mile 24 you’re going to finish a marathon! The volunteers who waited and took pics with us.”You are a marathoner!” So many tears at the end. All happy.

I’m thinking of a destination marathon for the next one. Not sure where. I would do Philly again. I’m only interested in doing marathons with my girls. I would maybe do a half by myself but even then I would miss the company. I train all alone, all the time. It’s okay but I like races better with my girls. Maybe in two years or less. I like training. (I think, lol) .

It was an awesome day I’ll never forget. I have to say the training plan worked. I felt back to normal by Tuesday. I tried very hard to keep to it. I still have some nutrition stiff to work on. But all in all, I am one happy marathoner!

Lil Sis: Running a marathon with my mom. I know this sounds crazy but how many people do you know that can say “I ran a marathon with my mom”. Not many. And that highlight far surpasses all others. But Philly came through for us and had the finish line open and medals and everything.
I will most likely do Philly again. I’ve done that race as a relay, two fulls and three halfs. I really do love it.
Another marathon- Yeah, I’m sure that’s on the horizon. As long as I have company ☺️

Kashi: Definitely running a marathon with my mom and sister while our dad supported and cheered us on the whole time. I kid you not, one of the top 5 memories of my life, especially of my family. Can’t top that! Dreams know no bounds! Thank you, Philly! We felt the love!

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