Best Marathon I’ve Ever Run, Part One!

It was my first marathon, so that title might only be funny to me. But it was actually a great experience. Saturday night I went to bed as early as I could make myself. I set two alarms for 3:00am and read for a bit in an attempt to calm my mind and fell asleep around 9:30pm. I did not sleep soundly, though. My mind was too active. I was nervous and excited and a bit concerned about the heat. At about 2:30am I gave up trying to sleep and got up. I fussed around for a while, ate my breakfast of two eggs and a banana with peanut butter on it and headed out the door a few minutes later than I meant to.

I arrived at the shuttle buses right on time, thankfully, and hopped right on the lead bus in the line for the full marathon and off we went. I wasn’t with anyone I knew so I listened to the commentary around me. It was really nice to hear the people from out of town express their appreciation for Missoula and for the marathon organizers. Many of them were experiencing our area for the first time so I heard a lot of comments about how gorgeous it is here. I was really excited for them to get out on the course and see how gorgeous most of it is.

We arrived at the starting area and a volunteer hopped onto our bus to give us a rundown of helpful information. Once we all piled off the bus we were greeted by more volunteers, music and an announcer giving us more instruction. The atmosphere was very festive. Having never run a race before, I was mentally prepared for some confusion but honestly, things were so well laid out and organized that I had no trouble at all.

While wandering around the starting area, I came across one of the ladies from my Galloway class pace group. While we were chatting and asking each other if we’d seen any other classmates, an older gentleman (in his 60s maybe?) gave us quite a chuckle when he began to sing along with the song playing over the PA while he rushed frantically about. The song was “Call me Maybe.” After I put my gear bag away, got myself situated and used one of the many porta-potties, we got into the chute together with another lady from our pace group (yay!) and waited for the race to begin.

I was a little bit shocked when the fireworks started to go off, as we charged over the mat and out of the chute. Nobody had told me about that. But it was really cool and it was the first of many things that day that made me feel a little bit emotional.

The group starting at 5:00am was technically the walkers group, with a 6:00am start for runners. But as we started on our journey it was very clear that many of the people in our group were run/walkers (not necessarily Galloway style) and shufflers.

The night before the marathon, our class had been invited to a special pep-talk with Jeff Galloway. In addition to encouraging us and building us up, he cautioned us about the heat. Particularly, he advised us not to push harder in the beginning, even though it might seem like the thing to do, to get out in front of the heat. He strongly recommended starting out at a slow, easy pace and conserving our resources for the latter portion of the marathon when we would need them most. Given this advice, the three of us decided to use our training interval of 30 seconds running and 45 seconds walking.

Along the way we got to watch the sun rise over the mountains in the east and it was gorgeous. Before long, we started to pass a few folks out to cheer on their family members as well as the rest of us. In particular I was struck by a mom and her toddler son, waiting for someone special to run by. The little boy was adorable and had a little cowbell that he clearly loved ringing. I’m also fairly sure that the person they were cheering on was behind us or not very far in front of us for the first 2/3 of the race, as we saw them again a few times along the course.

We heard the fireworks go off again when we were a couple of miles down the road and checked our watches in confusion. It was only 5:30. I wasn’t sure how long it would take the runners to start overtaking us after their 6:00am start, but I was actually pretty excited about it.

Along the way, we chatted with the walkers and run/walkers that we passed or were passed by. That is, until Negative Ned (not his real name) came along. At our pep-talk the night before, Jeff had mentioned that some people approach marathons with a positive attitude and other folks are negative and whine. I’m not sure he had anybody like Negative Ned in mind, but it felt a bit like a prophecy coming true. See, Negative Ned is a run/walker as well and has been for quite some time. But he disagrees very strongly with Mr. Galloway’s approach and was happy to tell us all about how wrong Mr. Galloway is and why.

Now, I believe I have a healthy amount of skepticism and I don’t take every word Jeff Galloway says as gospel or anything like that. But here we are, three ladies who are really only able to participate in this marathon because of the Galloway method and Ned wants to tell us all about how it’s wrong? It was quite negative and unwelcome, but we were polite and nice and tried to chat with him in spite of our frustrations. But he just kept right on explaining and it didn’t seem like he would be open to changing the subject any time soon. So when Ned stopped off to make a pit stop at an aid station, we sped up in the hopes of gaining enough distance that he wouldn’t find us in the crowd, and began to joke and laugh and regain our positive attitudes.

It will be no surprise to anyone who knows me to learn that I drastically over-prepared for my nutritional needs during the marathon. My belt holds 4 water bottles. I filled one bottle with plain water and into the other three I mixed two gels each. I also packed 5 extra gels and 5 packs of gummies, in addition to my sunscreen, phone, blister tape and leatherman micra. This is especially hilarious considering that there were aid stations with water and sports drink about every two miles along the course. I’m just one of those people who would much rather have a bunch of things I don’t need than to be missing one thing I do need. But in my defense, I was concerned with the heat and how I was going to deal with it.

I began taking in nutrition early in the race, switching between gummies and honey-waters, with some plain water thrown in for good measure. At each of the many aid stations we came to, we were offered sports drink and plain water by a host of helpful, happy volunteers. After a while, I began taking the water, even if I didn’t strictly need it, out of a desire to keep from disappointing too many volunteers.

Somewhere between 6 and 8 miles into the race, the lead runner overtook us. Keep in mind that he also started an hour later. As he passed, we cheered him on. He went on to win the marathon with a time of 2:32:39. That just blows me away. Not too long after him, the ladies leader passed us as well. She went on to set a ladies course record of 2:57:44. Compared to my 5:58:09, that is smoking fast! And it seems funny, in a way, but it was exciting to be passed by the lead runners. I think starting at 5:00am was a great choice. I got to see both of the lead runners as well as lots of other runners, including friends. Granted, they were passing me, but that’s okay. I wasn’t in the race to achieve any sort of competitive time. I was in it to have fun doing something that most people never do, and I did.

I have much more to say about my fantastic marathon experience, but this blog post is getting quite long and it’s late. Come back soon for the rest of the Tale of the Nerd Girl Who Ran the Marathon!


Shoes and Safety

Monday was a big day for me.  I bought a new set of running shoes that I’m very excited about, along with some toe socks to try and an extra pair of the good socks that I know I like.  I also attended a Runner’s Personal Safety and Self Defense class.  It was presented by Run Wild Missoula and The Runner’s Edge, which also happens to be where I bought my new gear.

The class included some information from local police officers as well as some safety equipment sold by the Runner’s Edge.  My big takeaways from the class were: pepper spray, elbows, practice/preparation/planning, visibility, trusting your gut and be careful with headphones.

Pepper Spray:  The Runner’s Edge sells the Jogger Fogger, which is what I will be getting. The advantage of the Jogger Fogger is that it doesn’t require such accurate aim.  It sprays a mist or fog that will be a bit less powerful, but more likely to actually get into the eyes and mucous membranes of your target. The thing to remember to be careful of is not to be downwind if possible, and to consider holding your breath either way. But you’ll have adrenaline on your side, which will help a bit. One thing the officers emphasized that I thought was interesting was, DO NOT warn your attacker. If you’re in a situation where you feel threatened enough to use the pepper spray, just spray it and get the hell out of there. Warning your attacker will give them (if they’re human) time to cover their eyes or turn away so that your spray has less of an impact. They also suggested cutting the safety tab ahead of time. They seemed less concerned with accidental sprays than I would have expected.

Elbows: If you’re attacked by someone bigger and stronger than yourself, or even if that person just has the element of surprise your elbows are a good weapon to use. Punching them may well break your hand, but your elbows are a bit stronger.  You can go for their face or neck if possible, but other soft spots are good too. Even just using your water bottle to hit them in the face with or spraying your water at them is better than nothing and could give you the second you need to kick them in the old peas and carrots so you can get away.  But a lot of us aren’t experts at any kind of self defense technique. That’s where preparation, practice and planning come in.

Preparation, Practice and Planning: Being prepared doesn’t just mean having the right shoes or knowing whether or not you’ll be out long enough to need water. You should also make sure that someone knows where you’ve gone and when you should be back. That way, if you’re not back on time, they know where to start looking. If you’ve never taken a self defense class, consider watching some self defense vids on youtube and practicing a bit so that your body will know what to do in a scary situation. Plan your route and know your surroundings. If you get into trouble, knowing which way to go to get to the nearest open business or the friendly neighbors’ house may make a big difference.

Visibility: I’m lucky to live in a pretty safe community. There haven’t been many attacks on joggers over the years, but of course even the few we’ve had are too many. Visibility is helpful because anyone who is planning to attack a jogger is a little less likely to go after the person who is drawing a lot of attention, but also it keeps you safer from vehicles. Wearing lights when it’s dark out and bright clothes are great ways to stay visible to traffic and to other pedestrians.  There are so many options when it comes to visibility gear, too. Here’s just one set of good ideas.

Trust your gut: If you’re out on a run and somebody approaches you and makes you uncomfortable, trust your gut.  Cross the street if you need to. Draw attention to yourself by yelling, singing or using a whistle. Do whatever it takes, even if you look like a nutjob. If they’re not a bad person and you’ve just hurt their feelings, that’s sad but they will live. On the other hand, if they are a bad person you’ve just made it less likely that they will bother you because you’ve just drawn attention to yourself from all the other people in the vicinity. Also, walk and run confidently with your head up.  Know who is around. Look them in the eye.  Don’t stare at your feet like I do, when I walk.

Headphones are a problem. Many of us love to run with music, but you need to be able to hear what’s around you. Cars and people make noise and you need to be able to hear them coming. There are headphones out there that are designed to allow external sound in, including a very fancy and expensive brand called earHero. Their earHerosport model is out of my price range, but they look really fantastic.  One of the officers who spoke to us today has a pair and they’re tiny little things that don’t plug your ear and block the external sound. There are other options as well, but I haven’t explored them yet.

On Tuesday I ran in my new shoes, and so far I love them.  They’re light and comfortable. Sadly, I don’t think the toe socks fit me properly.  They work great on my toes, but they’re too loose and slippy under the ball of my feet.  On Thursday I will run in the same shoes, but with socks I am more familiar with, just to make sure it’s a sock issue. And I’ll run in my Asics for our 20 miler on Sunday. I’m not taking any chances, there!

The marathon is in 73 days and I just keep getting more excited!

Quick Link Post!

While browsing yesterday I came across this spotlight post about Butte’s running club, Butte’s Piss and Moan Runners.

Having lived in Butte previously, as well as having visited a lot, I was struck by this running club and wanted to share it with anyone who might have the opportunity to visit Butte and run in any of their events.  I find the Whiner’s Award to be particularly amusing.  Butte’s Piss and Moan Runners sound like my kind of folks.

And just a reminder, if you are a runner in Montana and you blog, you can add your blog to’s blog list, by following the link at the top right of the Blog Directory page, and I hope that you will.

This coming Sunday is my 15 mile training run!  I’m excited!

Fitocracy: A love story

Today is my rest day.  I know rest days are important, but that doesn’t mean I have to like them.  I find that even though today is a rest day, I can’t stay away from Fitocracy.  I’ve joined a new group for Heinlein fans called Time Enough for Fitness, and I’ve wandered around the site giving out props.  I really am a Fitocracy Addict.

I’ve touched on Fitocracy before, but I’ve never really gone into detail about why I love it so much.  So here you are.

Fitocracy is modeled after RPGs (Role Playing Games), so as a former player of WoW (World of Warcraft) it made perfect sense to me.  Typically toward the end of a day, I log my workout activity for that day, whether it’s my running and walking or my core training.  Based on a whole host of variables including what activity I did, how much I weigh, how heavy any weights were that I used and so forth, Fitocracy awards me points for each activity I enter.  As I accumulate points, I level up.  Right now I’m level 11.

There are also quests that can be completed to gain extra points.  I haven’t been focusing on the quests so much, because my focus is training for the marathon, but I have completed 5 quests so far, including the Consistency is Key (log any activity 10 times in a week) and Oh Hai Abs! (do a set of 20 crunches).  There are a lot of quests that have to do with strength training exercises I’m not doing, but perhaps after the marathon I will get around to completing some of those.

And of course, there are achievements that can be earned as you go along. Often, when I get an achievement, it’s a total surprise.  I have 8 achievements so far.  Most of mine are related to the social aspects of the game, such as receiving props and making comments, but there are also plenty of achievements related to workouts.  I also have the I Seem To Be Lost achievement, which just requires that you log 20 miles of running over time.

Fitocracy works for me as a motivational tool for several reasons.  Obviously gaining points & levels is a nice little motivator.  It can get quite addictive, as many current and former RPG players will tell you.  Also, when you log a workout other Fitocracy users can give you “props”.  I’ve said before that having someone acknowledge my workouts, even if it’s some distant stranger, is helpful to me.  It just gives me that little boost of validation.

Recently I’ve noticed that I’m developing a little bit of an obsession with the little gold stars I get for achieving a personal record in a certain activity.  It doesn’t take a lot to get a personal record.  All you have to do is add one more crunch onto a set than you’ve done in a single set before, hold your plank a tiny bit longer, or run just a little farther than you ran last time, and so on.  I’m finding, though, that I want those little gold stars, so I push myself just a little bit during each workout.  That is very obviously beneficial to me.

Fitocracy is also functioning as an educational tool for me.  When I’m looking at the workouts other people are doing, and giving out props, if I don’t know what a particular exercise is, I can look up the description in Fitocracy’s tracking tool, and naturally I can also look it up on the internet.

Finally, the social aspects of Fitocracy can be helpful, fun or both.  People can follow each other, like friending them on other social network sites and users can join groups.  When you open the main Fitocracy page you’ll see workouts & posts from the people you follow and posts in the groups you belong to.

Users give each other props for workouts and can also comment on those workouts.  We can post comments or questions in the groups that we belong to and other users can reply.  On the helpful side, I see a lot of folks asking for help and ideas when they are struggling to reach a goal, and they’ll get so many replies from other users sharing their own tips and tricks for getting past whatever hurdle it is, or even just offering encouragement when someone is feeling discouraged.  Groups can also post various challenges for members to compete in.  Some are based on points, others are based on specific activities.  Some of the helpful and encouraging groups are Weight Loss, Future Me, Healthy Eating, Long Distance Running and so on.

On the fun side, there are tons of groups for people who share interests, many of which are nerdy and geeky in the extreme.  There’s a group for fans of just about anything you can think of, such as The Oatmeal, Hall and Oates, Doctor Who, WoW, Monty Python and so on.  Sometimes we share information about our shared interest, like Doctor Who news, and sometimes we just post silly things like quotes from Firefly that can be taken in a motivational way. Many members of the One Does Simply Walk into Mordor group post updates on where they are on their walk to Mordor, which I think is pretty fantastic.

The admins and devs on Fitocracy also encourage a supportive environment.  The whole idea is for us to support, help and motivate each other.  Nasty comments or groups are very much discouraged and the devs aren’t shy about dealing with those sorts of issues.

So if you’re thinking about starting a fitness routine, maybe Fitocracy could help keep you motivated.  I’m quite sure I’ll be using it over the next 147 days as I train for the marathon, and beyond.

In case you’re curious, here is a screen shot of a workout I did a few days ago.  I had to go back a few days to find one that would fit on my screen and showed a few gold stars and props.  Click to embiggen.