The past five weeks have been truly transformative in more ways than one. Both mentally and physically, I’ve seen a big shift in myself. What has changed in the past five weeks? Well, I started strength training. And I never thought I’d say this, but I actually really love it. Like, I’m obsessed with it.
It’s not like I’ve never done strength training before. Little known fact: that’s how I met my ex-husband. He was my assigned personal trainer at a gym I joined many years ago that offered 30 days of free personal training when you bought a membership. But even though I liked hanging out at the gym with him, I still hated strength training.
I think I hate strength training because I’ve never liked the feeling of pushing my muscles to the point of failure. Doing that made me feel like a failure, and I feel like that often enough without inviting it into my life unnecessarily. Over the years, I’ve made a few attempts to join gyms and start strength training, but it never sticks. Barre was a really great strength training option that I loved doing for a few years, but it’s undeniably different than weight training in a gym. Not better or worse, just totally different.
After the Prague Marathon, Bobbi and I talked about using this summer to do some speed work. Long runs in the summer are really hard for me because of how much I sweat, and I just don’t run well in the heat and humidity. It doesn’t make sense to train for a marathon (or anything, really) when I’m totally miserable, so shorter workouts seemed like a good idea. The problem? It’s really hilly, hot and humid where I live. Not ideal speed work conditions. So, Bobbi suggested I join a gym and get access to a treadmill. Because I am cheap and because I know how much I hate gyms, I decided to go on Groupon and join whatever one was closest to my house, just to see if I would stick with it. When I saw they offered personal training, I thought “Maybe this would be a good time to focus on strength, too.”
See, the truth is, I’ve been feeling really down about my physical appearance for the past few months. I’m about 10 pounds heavier than where I prefer to be, but more than that, I just felt flabby and bloated. I feel like I don’t look like myself in pictures, and I was starting to get really down about it. At the same time, I have to face reality – I’m getting older, I don’t run as much as I used to, and uh, I don’t have an eating disorder anymore. I might just be this weight now. But that doesn’t mean I have to settle for feeling out of shape, so I decided personal training might be a good idea.
I met my trainer – the owner of the gym – and immediately was hooked. The gym is small and family-owned, 5 minutes from my house…and full of hardcore power lifters. There are national body building champions there – including the owner himself, many years ago. At first, I felt intimidated – I mean, I am clearly not a hardcore power lifter or body building champion – but I quickly realized that the gym is a family. And my trainer, huge and intimidating though he may be at first, is excellent. He 100% understands my back problems because he has them, too. His attention to detail and focus on form is incredible, as is his memory for every single client that he has.
We started out just focusing on improving my range of motion at first, and have slowly added on more weight. There are some movements I physically cannot do safely because of my back, so we don’t do them. But guys? Here’s the thing. It turns out, I’m pretty strong. Like, oddly strong for my size. And people are noticing and commenting on it, because they find out that I am a marathon runner who hasn’t lifted weights in years and they can’t believe it. At first, I thought my trainer was just blowing smoke up my ass to make me want to keep coming to the gym, and who could blame him? But I got curious, so I decided to look up different weight standards for different exercises – basically, what amount of weight you should be able to lift at your body weight if you are a beginner, novice, intermediate, advanced, elite etc. When I saw those tables, I thought they were BS, because they said I was intermediate-advanced in nearly every category – and I’ve been lifting weights for a month. So I took them back to my trainer and said, “Can you believe this crap?” And he said “Uh, yeah. That’s what I’ve been telling you this whole time. You have something here. You have serious potential.”
I’m not telling you this to brag, I’m saying it because I can’t believe it myself. It’s so weird to be decent, or even good, at something athletically. While I know some people would say that being able to run a marathon makes you a “good” runner, the truth is, it has never come easily to me and it never will. I have not seen nearly as much improvement as I should have for the many years I’ve been running. My body isn’t built for the sport, and I’m ok with that! I run because I love it, not because I’m good at it. That won’t change. But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t a little surprising to finally be actually good at something, and to enjoy the fact that finally, some athletic pursuit is coming easily to me.
LEAVE A COMMENT: What’s your favorite strength training exercise? What workout are you best at?
If you love wine and you love running, I have good news! There’s a half marathon called the Napa-to-Sonoma Wine Country Half Marathon, and I just ran it. Now, I will tell you about it in exhausting detail, because I know you expect no less. (PS – sorry it took me so long to get this post up. No excuses.)
Apparently, the weather in California’s wine country is normally quite moderate this time of year, so I was really looking forward to a cool morning for running! I think I thought that if the temps were in the 50s, it would suddenly make up for the fact that I’ve only done one long run since the Prague Marathon two and a half months ago. Too bad I never got a chance to find out, because the high temperature on race day was 103 degrees, and starting temps were in the 70s. The bright side of this is that I can continue to delude myself into thinking that I really am in great half marathon shape for fall.
Knowing that the temperatures wouldn’t be ideal and I wasn’t in PR shape or anywhere close (I’d probably run about 2:05 right now), I decided to run the race for fun and take pictures along the way (and drink wine!). When I found out that one of the other journalists, Claire, would be attempting to run her very first half marathon, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to run with her. If I remember correctly, I was like “Hey, person I just met! I’m going to talk your ear off for 13.1 miles! It will be great! You’ll love it.” And she was like “Oh good.” No, just kidding, she loved it, probably.
The morning started bright and early when we caught the 6:20 am shuttle bus from near our HomeAway vacation rental home in Sonoma (where the race finished). There was a huge line for the buses by the time we got there, and the final buses were supposed to leave around 6:30. I saw some of my Marathon Maniacs friends while we waited for the buses – always a nice surprise!
Claire, Ashley (another journalist who was also running) and I hopped on for the ride to Napa for the start of the race. There was a ton of traffic, but we had time to hit the porta potties (no lines!) and take some photos before the race started. We also got to admire the team names some people had selected for their running groups, which included, but were not limited to, “Everything Happens for a Riesling,” “Wine About It,” “Running Off the Riesling,” and more.
The start of the race was delayed by 10-15 minutes to make sure the other buses arrived, so we started around 7:15. Ashley was hoping for a PR, so she took off, while Claire and I set off at an easy pace. Of course, literally as soon as we turned out of the start area, there was a pretty steep hill! Not exactly the ideal way to start your first half marathon, but we made it work. The race is a very popular destination event, and people come from all over the world to do it. It’s very walker friendly and many people come in large groups to run together – some even with personalized shirts! Since we started at the very back (by choice), we did a good bit of bobbing and weaving around other runners and walkers in the early miles of the race, which were quite congested due to the narrow road.
Claire had instructed me to tell her my entire life story over the course of 13.1 miles so as to take her mind off the fact that she was running a half marathon, so I happily obliged. We had really no idea what to expect from the course in terms of hills: I had heard it was very hilly, but Ashley had been told it wasn’t too bad. I would say it wasn’t particularly hilly to me, as someone who lives in an area with tons of hills, but if you run in a flat area, there would be quite a few tough spots. We decided to just enjoy the scenery, swap stories, and see where the race took us!
The water stops early in the race were about 2 miles apart until mile 8, when they were about a mile apart. Straight up, the water situation was a problem. There were not enough volunteers at the early stations and runners were waiting in long lines, trying to pour their own cups, etc. We waited for several minutes to get a cup of water at the first aid station. While it wasn’t a big deal to us, since we were just there to have fun, it would really suck if you were trying to run for a PR. Fortunately, there was plenty of beautiful stuff to look at while you waited.
The early miles of the race really flew by. It’s always fun to run with a friend, but it is even more fun to run with a new friend when you still have so much to talk about! We were keeping a nice easy pace around 10:30 per mile, but it felt like we were constantly passing people. The race is extremely walker friendly and many people choose to entirely walk the race or do a run/walk combo. Since we started at the back, we got to do a lot of passing in those early miles! There were a couple of times when we had to stop and wait to cross the street, which I thought was really odd. Again, it was fine for us, but for someone trying to run a fast time, it just seems totally ridiculous. This race is well known and sells out immediately – you’d think traffic control would not be a problem. But apparently, it is. Just an FYI.
Around mile 7 on the course, there was a beer stop (which we did not stop for) but at mile 10, there was a wine stop! Claire started to struggle around mile 8.5, since her longest run had been 8 miles, but we kept up good spirits. By mile 10, I was definitely ready to grab some wine, so I stopped and let Claire go ahead, promising I would catch up. There was a little line for the wine station, but I didn’t mind – that delicious Gewurtztraminer was worth the wait!
Lest you think drinking wine at mile 10 of a boiling hot half marathon sounds disgusting, let me assure you that it was delicious and refreshing. Try it at your next running event. I caught up with Claire and I could tell that she was struggling a lot. You know when you’re 10 miles into a half marathon and you realize you still have to run another 3.1 miles and that seems impossibly far? She had reached that point. “How have you possibly run 51 marathons?!” she said. “I want to die right now! This is the worst!” I laughed because OMG, I have been there so very many times. Honestly, part of the reason I love running with new runners is because their misery takes my mind off my misery, and I can totally relate. I promised that we could walk the whole rest of the way to the finish if we needed to, knowing that we would not.
From that point on, we took it half a mile at a time. I told all the funny stories that I could think of to try and take her mind off of the pain. We walked a little, ran a little, and did the trick of running to the next stop sign or landmark and then taking a walk break. At around mile 12, she told me that she didn’t think she could finish the race. I told her that she didn’t have a choice because we were past the water stops and no one was going to come pick her up, so we might as well keep walking. I’ve been there in races so many times and I know exactly how she felt. I also know how important it is to have someone there to encourage you and keep you moving (thanks, Bobbi!), so I tried my best to be that person for her. I also told her that I bet her she’d sign up for another one within a week, and she gave me a death glare.
We finally saw our friend Denise at about mile 12.8, and Claire asked her how much farther we had to go. Denise told her that we just had to run to the American flag up ahead and then turn right, and we’d be there. Claire TOOK OFF like a bat out of hell. Seriously, I have never seen anything like it. The girl has wheels! For someone who was in tears and wanted to lay down on the side of the road (been there!) two minutes earlier, she was suddenly revived. I did my best to chase after her, but dang, she made it a race for sure! I got in my speed work, to say the least.
We crossed the line and Claire immediately broke down sobbing and hugged me. It was such a special moment! It’s amazing when just like that, hours of pain is erased and all you can think about it what you just accomplished. Moments like that are why I run in the first place. For me, it’s way more fun to run a race with a friend or a new runner and feel all the emotional components of it. If I had been in PR shape, this race would have played out differently, but I wasn’t. So why run another 2:05 half marathon when I could share the experience of helping someone get across that finish line for the first time? That’s way more satisfying. By the way, she signed up for another half marathon the next day.
The race ends in Sonoma Plaza, just blocks away from our HomeAway rental house, which was awesome. There is a wine festival in the plaza after the race with tons of free samples and food, but we were all a little too hot to stay out there for very long. We made the short walk back to the house to regroup before getting our food and drink on – it was #NationalIceCreamDay, after all!
You know what’s not the best idea to do after running an extremely hot half marathon when you’re a very sweaty person? Start immediately drinking all the wine you can find. I mean, it’s delicious, but whatever alcohol tolerance you think you have disappears pretty quickly. Trust me on that one. Someone told me, and I’m pretty sure it’s true. I definitely did not learn the hard way.
Don’t worry, I made sure I got my ice cream, too. How did I even eat this all? They had gluten free cones at this place, which made me so happy I almost drunkenly cried.
Overall, I really enjoyed the Napa-to-Sonoma Wine Country Half Marathon. While there are definitely things that can be improved (the water stops and traffic control), it’s an absolutely beautiful course with a fantastic finish. Making a new lifelong friend definitely didn’t hurt either. I’d definitely recommend staying in Sonoma and walking home after you finish the race and enjoy the food and wine! Hey, you’ve already got a wine glass hanging around your neck – you might as well!
LEAVE A COMMENT: Do you prefer point-to-point courses or loops? What’s your favorite type of wine?
Ok, ok, I’m sorry for not posting my race report from the Napa-to-Sonoma Wine Country Half Marathon yet! No excuses, just laziness. BUT I can promise you it will be up on Wednesday – I know that because I have already written it and scheduled it. So I literally can’t back out now. In truth, I got home at about 2 am on Monday night/Tuesday morning and it threw my whole week off. I feel like I’m just now catching up. And now, let’s talk about all the workouts I suffered through conquered this week.
Monday, July 17, OFF: I literally spent the entire day on Monday traveling, between leaving for the airport at 7:30 am and then having delay after delay. I made it home around 2 am and was so cracked out that I didn’t fall asleep until 4. Hell of a rest day, right?
Tuesday, July 18, personal training – arms and shoulders, 30 min hill walk on treadmill: I knew there was no way in hell I was waking up early on Tuesday (obviously, since I didn’t go to sleep til 4), so that meant that running wasn’t happening. After all, temps were in the upper 90s with almost 100% humidity every day this week. I felt both lazy about going to the gym while also really wanting to get back into my routine. I’m so glad I went! I pushed through a solid workout and then did a 30 minute hill workout on the treadmill, just walking. It’s good to be back.
Wednesday, July 19, 5 mile run, personal training – legs, kickball: I was so glad to be back running with Pearce, but not so glad to be back running in the heat and humidity of South Carolina summers. The run was nothing special, but it was nice to get back to it. I have a secret fear that if I take too many days off of running in a row, I will never do it again, but that has yet to happen. Leg day at the gym is always my favorite because it goes by the fastest, and I got to do some new things this time, like weighted lunges! Hooray! We won our kickball game, too – no thanks to me.
Thursday, July 20, personal training – upper body, speed workout: This week was a big deal for my speed workout! If I succeeded, it would be my last time doing quarter mile intervals before bumping up to half mile intervals. And succeed I did! I did the first 7 of the 8 intervals at 7:45 pace and the last one at 7:30! It was 6 miles total and I felt great the whole time. Probably had to do with the air conditioning. I also had a great upper body workout and did my first fully unassisted dips ever (for those who know what I’m talking about when I say that). On to half mile intervals next week! While I was doing my speed workout, AJ came to the gym for his first ever personal training session! It was mostly an orientation so our trainer could get a feel for where he is and so AJ could see if he liked it, and he did! Hooray!
Friday, July 21, 4 mile run, personal training – legs: This run was awful. I really should not run the morning after I do a speed workout because I tend to be super depleted in terms of my energy levels, but I really didn’t want to run both mornings this weekend. I took walk breaks after every mile. It’s funny how one day, you’re powering through a speed workout and the next day, you can’t run a mile without stopping. And by funny, I mostly mean horrible. Another fun leg day at the gym – this time, with weighted box squats! I’m not able to do “real” squats with the bar across my shoulders because of my back (my trainer doesn’t want me to do anything that puts that much pressure on my spine), so we find creative ways to do them. For this one, I held a 25 pound weight and did sumo squats down onto a box, then stood back up. Harder than it looks!
Saturday, July 22, personal training – upper body: AJ and I went to the gym together and met with our trainer! YAY FOR AJ GOING TO THE GYM! I did upper body and ended up increasing my bench press max to 105 pounds! I have my eye on 135 and can feel myself getting a little stronger each time. I hate chest exercises in general, but the bench press is the one I like. PS – AJ said his muscles shook for hours after the gym. Bless his heart.
Sunday, July 23, 5 mile run: Ok, I’m done. I am quitting running for the summer. I am so over it. Pearce and I met at 6:30, hoping to do 6 miles…and I literally could not do it. I felt nauseous, my heart rate was maxed out, and it was just all around awful. Despite running in the heat for well over two months now, I have not acclimated at all. It seems like every day just gets worse. There is a strong possibility I will be doing all of my runs on the treadmill until October. Seriously, summer, screw you.
LEAVE A COMMENT: What fitness goal are you working towards?
Ahh, the dog days of summer are upon us and gone is my will to run. Ironically, this week brought my first long run since the Prague Marathon, but more on that in a minute. I always welcome July because July means that it is almost August, which means it is almost September, which meansRead more
Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who’s the most motivated one of all? Me, apparently. I don’t know what has happened, but I’m going out of my way to get my runs in, enjoying my time in the gym, and even forcing myself out of bed to walk and kayak while on vacation. I even limitedRead more