Big Cottonwood Marathon Recap

It started innocently enough…. I was analyzing my splits from the Hot Chocolate 15K I ran last winter and noticed that I was a good 45 seconds to a minute faster on the downhills than my regular race pace. I told a friend about this and she said “what you need is a downhill race!” Sounds rational enough, right?

I signed up for the Big Cottonwood Marathon in Utah at the beginning of June with the goal of qualifying for Boston. This race looked like a dream! There was literally nScreen shot 2013-09-25 at 10.13.12 PM.pngo uphill at at all (aside from a few mild inclines at the bottom of the canyon) in the fall in Utah. It started at a little less than 10,000ft and ended around 5,000ft. It would be beautiful, fast and cool.

The race was the 14th of September so I had a little more than 3 months to prepare. It turned out to be a total of about 11 weeks for me because of a hip injury I got doing cross training.I’d been in physical therapy at ProHealth for about a month and my pain was better…better than it had been and minimal enough so that I believed I could run a marathon.  I did the FIRST marathon training program and felt pretty good about where I was in terms of fitness so despite the injury, I hopped on the plane on Sept 12th and was on my way to Utah!

I had two friends joining me out there; one, Lacy, was a local running buddy who had friends in Salt Lake and the other, Natalie, was my dear friend from college. We trained together; Lacy and I in PTC and Natalie in Maryland (we used Garmin Connect to compare workouts). Thanks to Lacy’s friends we had a lovely place to stay less than a mile from the end of the race.

I arrived in Salt Lake on Thursday evening. Lacy and I went on a short and easy run on Friday. I felt good and couldn’t tell that I was at 5000 ft above sea level. We picked up Natalie from the airport on Friday and went off the the expo.  *insert pic of Expo We picked up our numbers, got out t-shirts and drove to the Canyon to check out the course. The race was take place in Cottonwood Canyon at Guardsman Pass, so the first 17 miles would be inside a National Park. It didn’t cross my mind at the time, but because it was in a park there would not be any public access during the race…which meant no crowd cheering. *insert Pic of Course Preview.

Our Easter Time Zone bodies woke up at the healthy hour of 4:15am. We were ready to go because time change really worked in our favor. It was in the 50’s and was drizzling slightly. There was a 40% chance of rain race day so we were kept our fingers crossed that it would hold off until after the race. With our gels, water, throw-away jackets and our great expectations/trepidations we were dropped off at the buses. *pic of us at buses The race organized a fleet of buses to drive us up the mountain- which seemed like a great idea until one took a hairpin turn to close and got stuck. We were 3 miles from the start, stuck in a bus and we were told we “just had to hang tight” …..can you imagine how it was for the bus drivers? Telling buses full of eager marathoners who could run 3 miles in their sleep to “hang tight” (Ha!)… it took all of 20 minutes before the mutiny. We piled out of the buses and trekked up the mountain. Luckily, the stuck bus was towed shortly thereafter and the abandoned buses were able to  pick us up. As nice as it was to get a warm up, I really wasn’t interested in doing 29.2 that day!

The view from the top of the mountain was glorious. I bee-lined for the porta-potties (funnily enough, they were called “honey pots”) and then got in line with the 3:35 pace group. *pic of me stretching at start. Before I knew it it was time! We were off!

The first few miles flew by. I ran the first 5k in 22:20 min- it was impossible to run slower than a 7:30 pace. It felt easy and effortless. My friends and I were able to stick together most of the time. Pretty soon I found myself catching up to the 3:25 pace group around the 10k at 43:44 into the race (just for a reference point: my 5k PR is 21:50 and my 10K is 46:23). I was PUMPED. I was flying and aside from a little hip pain I felt like I could meet my time goal.

All of a sudden, I felt dizzy and started to see spots. I fell down to my knees and just stayed there for a bit. I watched my friends run off. I never even considered calling to them because they were on pace and I wanted them to stay focused. I stayed there for about a minute and a half and then got back up. At this point, if there had been crowd support, I might have quit (or been taken off the course by medical) but because there wasn’t anyone around I really didn’t have a choice. I started running again and found it increasingly difficult to breathe. I stopped and walked to catch my breath and felt my hip for the first time. I think that when I stopped so short I antagonized it. I quickly realized the pain was there to stay. I managed to get to the half in 1:34 ( which for me is CRAZY fast..my 13.1 PR is 1:47) and felt hopeful but I was in serious pain. I kept having to stop to catch my breath so I was essentially running intervals. I kept my eye on my watch and realized by mile 18 that there was no way I would be able to get to the end by 3:35. I knew I could push through and maybe get a PR but I honestly wasn’t interested in a PR. The altitude was kicking my butt, my hip hurt and by now (mile 17) I could feel serious quad fatigue. I went into the race knowing altitude might be a factor but had no way to know how much of one it would be. I made a quick decision to calm down, stop racing and just enjoy it. I was in a beautiful place, surrounded by mountains and foliage. Maybe I wasn’t going to BQ this race, after all. Maybe this was a race for me to learn from and make memories with. I started to wrap my brain around this and continued to the finished. For the first time ever, I meandered through the water stations. I said “hi” and “thank you’ to the volunteers. I high fived kids who were cheering on the runners. I actually got a good race photo! *good race photo pic I even stopped at a Physical Therapy tent and put some biofreeze on my hip and quads. In the end, I finished in 4:29, a full 35 minutes off my marathon PR. I was okay with that (trying to be okay, at least). Natalie made it down the mountain in 3:35:42..which was 42 secs off to qualify for 2014. However, she’s a lucky duck because she ages up next year and qualified for 2015! Lacey came it at 3:48 which was 12 minutes faster than her marathon PR. *pic of us at the end

When I came back to altitude (aka home) I found myself vacillating between pride and despair. I was super sore. For the first 48 hrs post marathon, I walked like a newborn giraffe. I was absolutely exhausted. Being so tired and so sore made it hard to see the silver lining but after the soreness faded and I was able to get a bit of exercise (endorphins!!) I started to come out of my emotional hurricane. I have had about two weeks to reflect and not run (as per my Physical therapist’s order at ProHealth), and despite the race being a monster that I was not prepared for, I would totally do it again. In hindsight, I should have signed up for the half. With the training time I had being affected by injury, I should have compromised but I couldn’t justify flying out to Utah for 13.1 miles. I keep looking back at those splits and think about what could have been…. so NEXT time, I will give myself a year to train for downhill running and go out with enough time to acclimate. It was the experience of a lifetime and I am so glad I was able to try it. I highly recommend this race to anyone who wants to fly downhill (for 26.2 miles!), see a beautiful course and push your body; mentally and physically. In the meantime, I will try and BQ the old fashioned way…on a flat course at low elevation.

Ab Series of Five: Flat Abs Fast!

If you have ever taken a Pilates class chances are you have done the Ab Series of Five. It is a series of 5 movements done to times each. This is a quick “how to” so that you can do them at home. Try and do them in quick succession without starts or stops. Remember to apply the six Pilates Principles to every movement to get the best results.

 1)  Single Leg Stretch ( beginner,intermediate and advanced strength levels)

  • Lie on your back with your knees folded into your chest.
  • Engage your abdominals and curl your head up bringing your gaze to your belly
  • Place your right hand on your right ankle and your left hand on your right knee (think: outside hand on your ankle!)
  • Stretch your left leg straight away from your body. Start with your leg straight up from your hip to the ceiling. Slowly lower it down only as far as you can maintaining abdominal control. Hold this position.
  • Switch legs; holding onto your left ankle with your left hand, your right hand on your knee and your right leg out long and straight.
  • As you get the hang of this position, you can speed up the movement.
  • Do this 10 times.

Watch out for:

  • Don’t let your body rock side to side as you switch legs.
  • Neck tension. This means you are lifting your head with neck muscles, not abdominal muscles.

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Running with a Stroller

Christine in 2009 6 weeks after the birth of her daughter

Christine in 2009 6 weeks after the birth of her daughter

I recently taught a Pilates and Running workshop to some members of Moms Run This Town: a very cool group of gals who run and run a lot. With strollers. I am also a stroller runner and I think that if you run with a stroller you are a) a rock star and b) should be given extra mileage credit: like, 3 miles with a stroller is the equivalent of 4.3 miles without.

First: Let us discuss the pro’s and con’s of stroller running.

Pro: you can bring your child

Con: It is heavy to push.

Pro: you can carry your water bottle

Con:  You can’t use your arms to propel you.

Pro: you can carry your phone

Con: You have to push it uphill.

Pro: you can carry your ipod

Con: The more stuff you carry the heavier it gets.

Pro: um………

Con: It just GETS HEAVIER as your child grows.

So, with that figured out let’s learn some cool stretches you can so WITH your stroller at anytime: before, during, or after your run or walk.

Stroller Stretches: Lower back and shoulders

This first one is great for a tight lower back (lumbar spine) and tense shoulders ( ’cause you know as you are pushing that thing up a hill you are using your shoulders, girl ):

  1. Stand with your arms long out on the stroller handle bar, your feet in a parallel position, hip width apart and in line with your knees.
  2. Gently lower your chin and  engage your abdominal muscles (think belly button to spine!), keep your shoulders down and round over your hips extending your torso out from your hips. Try and keep your hips over your ankles.
  3. Get a nice lengthening in your spine by sinking your weight into the stroller bar and reaching your arms as long as you can.
  4. Round your spine (imagine you are a Halloween cat!) and roll up one vertebrae at a time back to your starting position.

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Running with a Stroller: Tight Hips

The second part of the Stroller Stretches is specifically for your hips but also feels good if you feel tight in your lower back. Honestly, it feels good regardless! If you feel a little pain in your hips while you run or walk, take a moment and try this stretch:

  1. Stand with your feet hip width apart, hands on the stroller, feet parallel.
  2. Lift your right leg off the ground and cross it over your left leg (like a man would sit in a chair). Make sure your right leg crosses above the knee on top of your left quad.
  3. Bend your left leg watching the alignment of your knee and foot. Do not let your knee pass your ankle!
  4. You will feel a stretch in your gluteals and hip on the right side. Try and keep your right leg as open as possible. Count to 10 as you breath deep (slowly. sometimes it’s hard to count slow if you are in the middle of a run).
  5. Repeat on the left side.

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Running with a Stroller: Calf and Hip Flexor Stretch

The third installment is a calf and hip flexor stretch. Your calf muscles induce foot flexion AND help stabilize your ankles. Your hip flexors are a group of muscles who’s primary action is to lift the upper part of the leg to the body. If you are walking or running, you use your hip flexors and your calves.

  1. Stand with your feet parallel, hip width apart.
  2. Lunge your right leg forward. Remember: your knee should be directly on top of your right foot and your foot should still be parallel.
  3. You will feel a stretch in the hip flexors on your left leg at this point. If you want more of a stretch, try pulling your left hip forward a little. Be subtle; it won’t take much.
  4. Lift your left heel and press into the ball of your foot.
  5. Lower your left heel slowly, pressing the heel into the ground. This is your calf stretch.
  6. Switch sides by bringing your right leg back and lunging out with your left leg.

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Ab Series of Five: Am I strong enough?

 Go ahead: Throw out your preconceived gym class notions that hundreds of sit ups are the only way to get a strong and flat abdomen. The Ab Series of 5 is absolutely the BEST way to get a complete core workout in a short amount of time. Ideally done in quick succession (without stopping) it uses all the muscles in your core to their maximum capacity. With that being said, the Ab Series, when done correctly, is HARD. If you are a beginner, start slow and build up to the full series as your strength level increases. How do you know if you are strong enough? Follow this quick check list before you get started:

  1. Can you hold your neutral spine/abdominal connection with your hands behind your head, elbows wide and shoulders off the mat for more than 2 minutes?
  2. Can you lift your chin to your chest, round up and look at your tummy without straining your neck?
  3. Can you lift your shoulder blades off the mat?

If you answered “no” to any of these questions, you need to build up your strength before you go crazy with your bad self. Don’t worry, you will get there. The brilliance that is Pilates is that when movement is done with precision and control you will get the maximum result in a small amount of time. Just remember: the six Pilates Principles are there for a REASON: they work.

Finding Your Neutral Spine

Feb. 23, 2010

There is no need to point out the obvious (but I can’t help myself) that it has been A LONG time since my last post. To be honest, I have had difficulty finding the time to write in the midst of all the responsibilities motherhood has brought. I stopped writing in my third trimester because all I could thing about was “pregnancy, pregnancy, pregnancy” and the last thing I wanted to do was to turn this into another “look at me, I’m pregnant” blog.  And now, of course, I find myself wanting to write a  ” look at me, I have a baby!” blog. Yes, I’m a mom. Okay, so what? We all have mom’s, many of us are moms… this is not a new thing.  New to me, yes. But to the world? Um, no. Don’t get me wrong- it’s beautiful, rewarding, and difficult but there has to be a balance  So, the challenge I have in front of me now is how to balance being a mom with being a teacher and student of Pilates.

I took about 4 months off from teaching and taking Pilates at the studio where I am completing my apprenticeship. I was nervous and intimidated when I walked back through the doors in September. I immediately wanted to start where I left off and GET MY BODY BACK.  But my body had changed- my pelvis was unstable, my abdominal muscles were…well, let’s face it. What abs?  My core had disappeared! My instructor, Mary Ann,  and I had to start at the beginning. To start at the beginning we had to do the most basic and important: neutral spine exercises. Before I could move on with my Pilates workouts, I had to find my neutral spine again!

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Stretching and Flexibility

May 9th, 2009

One of my oldest and dearest friends is a marathoner and soon to be triathlete.  I saw her for the first time in about a year when she came to Atlanta to host my baby shower and to visit for a few days. While spending time with me she mentioned her frustration with some of the movements she does in her Pilates class. “I can’t keep my legs straight during the single straight leg kick!” she complained. She chalked her inability to perform the exercise up to not being strong enough- and I told her that was a common misconception many students of Pilates make. Many times a student can not perform a movement correctly because they lack  flexibility; not because they lack strength. The key to successful single straight leg kicks, also known as scissors, is found not only by anchoring one’s powerhouse, but also in flexible hamstrings. Anyone that runs can attest to this: the more you run the tighter your hamstrings and quads become; especially if you aren’t stretching properly. Not being flexible in your hamstrings will hinder your Pilates movements in exercises like Roll- up, Teaser, Single Leg Stretch, Open Leg Rocker…the list goes on and on. I think that not only is it important to stretch, but it is key to find an effective and safe method.

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Pilates and Posture: Pilates in your daily life

A wonderful side effect of practicing Pilates is a hyper sense of bodily awareness. I stand taller than I used to. I sit straighter. I am conscience of my shoulders; are they hunched over while I type? I believe that because of the roll over affect Pilate’s has on my daily life I feel better and am less stressed. I was once a victim of nagging tension headaches for which I had a medical prescription. I don’t need the medicine anymore because the headaches have all but gone away. I credit this to the attention I pay to my posture. With the desire to alleviate these headaches from myNeck pain life, I took inventory of my body. I found that I am particularly tight in my shoulders, which causes my neck to tighten. I keep all stress tension locked in my shoulders and constantly remind myself to relax. Locking your muscles by holding them tight does to your blood flow what standing on a water hose does to water flow. I believe that by making an effort to pull my shoulders down I release tension from my neck, therefore increasing the blood flow to my head. Also, I try to give myself a mini massage, focusing on the trapezius muscle.

So, to get back on point, I credit Pilates with my overall well being. In Joe Pilates book  “Return to Life Through Contrology” he talks about the importance of good posture. For those of you new to Pilates,  Contrology is what Joe Pilates called his method. After his death, the name Pilates became the term to describe his revolutionary method of exercise. He writes ” Good posture can be succesfully aquired only when the enitire mechanism of the body is under perfect control…. the proper functioning of your own body is the direct result of the assembled Contrology exercises that produce a harmonious structure we term physical fitness reflecting itself in a coordinated and balanced tripart of body, mind, and spirit.” Whew! What a mouthful!  To translate ( this was first published in 1948, after all ):  By training your muscles in the body to act as a unified entity rather than separate parts, you can achieve overall well being. You might even compare this theory with the metaphor of your body as a machine; each part compliments the other and when one stops working the machine breaks down.

By focusing on your walk you can alleviate hip and knee pain. Concentrate on the placement of you feet: do they roll in or out when you walk? Imagine your feet like a triangle; the toes are the base and the heel is the tip. Your weight should be evenly distributed throughout from your little toe to your big toe. Try to keep 60% of your weight in the ball of your foot, or the base of the triangle; the other 40% in your heel. This is a great thing to practice while you are standing in line, making dinner, or any other situation you find yourself in. Here is a link to some great foot exercises to create awareness.

Don’t forget about the rest of your body; your hips; are they shifted? If you are like most people, you stand with most of your weight on one side of our body. This can be a habit that is very hard to break but think about it like this:  if a skeletonstructure is built with it’s weight unevenly distributed it will eventually break down and fall. Try standing with your feet like we discussed above and keep your hip bones over your knees, knees over your ankles. Tuck your lower back in so that you don’t put undo pressure on your lower back. Pull your shoulders down, connect your navel to your spine and stand tall. You can apply these lessons to your sitting posture as well. We spend so much time in the car or seated elsewhere it  is a challenge not to sit slouched and hunched over the steering wheel or the desk.  Concentrate on aligning your shoulders over your hips and keeping your spine straight.

There is more to think about and focus on ( of course ) but start slow. Concentrate on your standing posture and on your shoulders while you sit at the desk, in your car, at the computer, ect. I promise you will feel better (and look better too) !

standing tall,

Christine