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Weeks 2 and 3 of NYC Marathon Training

Weeks 2 and 3 of NYC Marathon Training

Two more weeks of marathon training are in the books! I haven’t been good about writing about it because I’ve been crazy busy at work, but I have at least stuck to my training schedule (with just one small exception). So here’s how the last two weeks looked:   Week 2   Monday, 8/17: A much-needed rest day after my longest run of the summer to date, although I still did some yoga in the morning. Tuesday, 8/18: I got up early to do some yoga before work and then got a four mile “regular” run in after work, running at an 11:15 pace. Also did strength training and physical therapy exercises for my hips and back after the run. Wednesday, 8/19: Today was a five mile tempo run in the morning – a mile warm up, followed by two 1.5 mile tempo intervals. I finished at an overall pace of 10:52 – not bad! Thursday, 8/20: Still feeling a bit tired from last weekend’s long run and super busy at work, I opted to use this flex day to just do an hour of yoga and no cardio at all. Friday, 8/21: Today was a very, very easy run – four miles at nearly a 12-minute pace. I also threw in strength training and my physical therapy exercises afterwards. Saturday, 8/22: I got up early this morning to get my run in before a haircut and pedicure! Five miles at an 11:18 pace (I swear, I run faster in the morning than I do after work!). Sunday, 8/23: While the  virtual trainer only called for me to do 10 miles today, I upped it to 12 since I did 10 the previous week and because I have a half marathon in just a couple weeks. I actually felt better than I did the week before, although I had to stop several times to stretch. The weather was perfect, though – I was on the lakefront path as the sun was coming up, but it quickly became overcast, which kept it nice and cool. I got home just before a downpour! My overall pace was 11:23 – not bad!   Week 3   Monday, 8/24: Another Monday, so another rest day, albeit with some yoga in the morning! Tuesday, 8/25: I couldn’t muster the energy to run in the morning, so I did yoga instead. My hips and calves have been feeling tight toward the end of my long runs, so I am trying to increase my flexibility a bit with the yoga. I got my four mile run in after work, and then did some strength training and my physical therapy exercises. My...

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Another Year Older

Another Year Older

Four years ago today, I celebrated turning 35 by hopping on a plane and flying to Helsinki to start my year-long career break. Three years ago, I had a bit of a breakdown as I tried to celebrate my birthday in Almaty, Kazakhstan. I was freaked out about the future, feeling like I was falling behind all of my friends in the game of life and wondering whether I would ever find a job again after I returned to the United States a month later. I think I cried myself to sleep that night. Two years ago, I moved back into my condo on the north side of Chicago, the place I had called home for just over four years before leaving on my career break. But it felt like anything but home after suffering the wear and tear of renting it out for two years and lacking all of the familiar furnishings that I sold off before my trip. Instead I returned to an empty living room, half furnished bedroom and moldy bathroom. While the mold is long gone, it has yet to truly feel like home again. Last year, I celebrated turning 38 with a trip to Bulgaria. It was my first truly solo international trip since my career break trip and I was thrilled to arrive in Sofia to a warm birthday welcome from my hotel, complete with a bottle of champagne. That trip reminded me of my passion for independent travel and how much I love to get off the beaten path. And this year, I’m celebrating with my whole family in Minnesota for the first time since I was in law school 15 years ago. I planned the weekend as a surprise to my brother, who shares the same birthday as me (he’s four years younger). And since it was a surprise to him, it was also a surprise to my niece and two nephews and my niece’s reaction to seeing me when I met them at the Minnesota State Fair on Friday made my crazy early morning flight and lack of sleep totally worth it. This year, I feel like I am light-years away from the girl who had a breakdown in Almaty over the prospect of turning 36. The last year has been a whirlwind and I think I have become much more comfortable in my own skin in the process. Not only did I travel solo to Bulgaria, I visited Mali in the midst of an Ebola outbreak and to Burkina Faso just weeks after a military coup – my first countries in West Africa. I spoke at three conferences, visited San Francisco for the first...

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Day 8: Hiking to the Triangle Border and Back to Kosovo

Day 8: Hiking to the Triangle Border and Back to Kosovo

I awoke with the sun in the shepherd’s hut in the mountain village of Doberdol, unsure if I had really slept at all. I spent the night tossing and turning and getting up to use the outhouse due to some, uh, digestive issues that had started two days earlier in Valbona. Now, I tried to be quiet as I tiptoed past the four sleeping Frenchmen sharing the hut with me to head to the outhouse once again. I washed up and managed to change clothes under my bedding while the French guys continued to sleep and then quietly packed my things together. Mentor (my guide) and I planned to leave by 8:00 a.m. (in part to avoid the heat and in part because I was getting anxious to return to civilization!), while I think the guys were in no hurry. I still felt sick at breakfast, but tried to have at least a few spoons of yogurt and some fried potatoes. I had eaten almost nothing at dinner the night before, so I knew I really needed some nourishment, but everything I put in my mouth just made me nauseous. Just after 8, I filled my water bottle from a spring and said a cursory goodbye to Gaspar and Alex (two of the four French guys), figuring they would eventually catch up to us and I could say a proper farewell to them all at that point. For most of the climb out of Doberdol, there was no real path – I just tried to follow Mentor’s zig zags through the high grass. I implored him to go incredibly slow due to how sick I felt. It was already quite warm even at 8 a.m. and I felt even weaker than the previous day. I struggled to just put one foot in front of the other and I paused about every 10-15 minutes for water. It took an hour to make it up the first section, but there was still a lot more to go. Mentor gave me a choice of going a shorter, harder way or a longer, easier way and of course I chose the latter. However, even that so-called easier way was incredibly difficult. The last few meters of that way were just so steep that I felt like I might fall backwards off the mountain if I took one wrong step and lost my balance. As we were climbing through tall, slippery grass, there was often no good place to step without slipping a bit. Without strong ankle support in my shoes (I had low hiking shoes instead of ankle boots), my ankles and feet were constantly turning over. As...

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Day 7: Hiking to the Shepherd’s Village of Doberdol

Day 7: Hiking to the Shepherd’s Village of Doberdol

This may be too much information, but I will forever remember the hike to Doberdol as the time I spent all day trying not to poop. You may recall I started to feel sick after arriving in Valbona on day six of my Peaks of the Balkans trek. I got the chills, felt super fatigued and lost my appetite. When I woke up the morning of day seven, the fatigue remained, my legs felt like jelly and, to put it nicely, some digestive issues set in. I popped some Pepto Bismol before we set off by car for Cerem and hoped for the best. We skipped the hike between Valbona and Cerem due to my limited time and the fact that most of the route was just asphalt road – not very interesting. I warned Mentor (my guide) that I needed to go very, very slowly that day. Luckily, it was not as hot as the previous day and, like the way from Theth to Valbona, part of the trail went through the woods, shielding the sun. The hike was very up and down, but luckily not of the ascents or descents were overly steep. As we got closer to the village of Balcin, we passed a large herd of cows and a flock of sheep, of which I took about a hundred pictures (ok, maybe not that many, but at least a few dozen). As we headed through one pasture, several young kids came running out to greet us, inviting us to their hut for some Turkish coffee. Now, strong Turkish coffee was about the last thing my rumbling stomach needed but I didn’t want to turn down the hospitality, so I accepted. I also thought I could use the rest. I popped another Pepto right afterwards, just to be on the safe side. The kids were hilarious – one boy was from a different family and as I finished my Turkish coffee, he asked if I wanted some tea, trying to get me to go to his home too. Before we left, Mentor took a picture with me and the children and after he did, the boy in the red tank top below told him “it better not end up on Facebook.” What?!? Shortly after that, things got a little confusing. Mentor was up ahead of me, leading the way through a field of tall grass when he paused and told me to wait where I was. He proceeded to walk one way and then the other, eventually heading further away from me toward some woods. When I met up with him again, he said the path had moved – that it...

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Week One of Marathon Training – Again!

Week One of Marathon Training – Again!

As I write this, the New York City Marathon is just 74 days away!! I restarted my training last week and so far I am pretty excited about it. To keep myself going, I invested in the New York Road Runners Virtual Training program. For just $49.99, I entered a bunch of info about my running history and current habits and it not only spit out a custom 12-week training program for me, it adjusts as I go along depending on the info I enter about each run. While I should probably have chosen the conservative plan, I thought it was too conservative for me (giving me a target finish time well over five hours when I definitely want to finish closer to 4:40 or so). I went with the moderate plan instead, which has me running five days a week (something I have not done consistently in years), with one “flex” day and one rest day. My first week on the program looked like this: Monday: Rest (I did some yoga in the morning). Tuesday: “Regular” run of four miles at an 11:11 per mile pace. I also did resistance training afterwards. Wednesday: Five mile interval run, with four 1000 meter bursts of speed. Thursday: I used my flex day to cross-train on the elliptical for 25 minutes. I also did yoga in the morning and resistance training after the elliptical. Friday: I made the mistake of waiting until after work to run and it was crazy hot! Nonetheless, I got in a four mile run at an 11:00 per mile pace, with several 15-second bursts at the end. Saturday: An “as you feel” run of four miles – basically this means I ran without a watch and just ran at whatever pace I felt comfortable at on a route I knew well. Sunday: My first long run on the plan! While the plan called for eight miles, I upped it to 10 because my last long run was nine miles. I also have a half marathon in just a few weeks so I want to get ready for that. It was 90% humidity when I got up at 5 a.m. to get the run in, but I managed to get through it at an 11:14 per mile pace. Not bad! And I had the added bonus of enjoying a beautiful sunrise over Lake Michigan like the one above. The heat did get to me and I was exhausted the rest of Sunday, but I’m used to that with marathon training during Chicago summers. Overall, I felt good about getting in five runs and hitting my mileage and paces each time (and really...

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Day 6: From Theth to Valbona

Day 6: From Theth to Valbona

After a not-so-restful day off in Theth, Albania, I was ready to move on to the village of Valbona. I begged Mentor (my guide) to start early to avoid as much of the heat as possible (it was in the 90s nearly every day), so we departed our Theth guesthouse just after 7:00 a.m. instead of 8:00 a.m. as we had on other days. The initial walk out of Theth was retracing our path into the village from two days earlier, a wide gravel road that sloped just slightly uphill.It wasn’t long before we turned and starting heading up a more steep set of switchbacks through the woods. The morning was breezy and the trees blocked any sun, so the hike was quite comfortable. Coming out of the woods, I had a showdown with a cow who insisted on blocking my way: After sneaking past the stubborn cow (he refused to budge!), I was pleasantly surprised by my next discovery: a small bar-café! There, we found the Austrian couple we met as we arrived in Theth and a Kosovar couple who had joined them. Against my better judgment (because it would make me have to pee!), I enjoyed an ice cold Pepsi as we rested a bit. There was also a small outhouse with possibly the nicest squat toilet I’ve ever seen – the only one we came across anywhere on the trail! By mid-morning we reached the Valbona Pass, the highest point of the day’s hike. We got there a lot faster than I expected – a sign of how easy the hike was compared to the previous few days! The descent toward Valbona was nowhere near as challenging as those into Babino Polje or Theth and it wasn’t long before we reached the village of Rragam, from where the rest of the way was basically flat, albeit over an uneven rocky road. Once again, I was on the lookout for a bush to pee behind, but the fact that we were running into a good number of hikers in both directions made it tricky (the route between Theth and Valbona is popular for day-hikers). I also randomly had this vision of getting bit in the butt by a snake as I squatted to pee and just a few minutes later, Mentor suddenly whispered to me to take out my camera as he pointed toward a snake just a few feet away from the path. It was a viper – an extremely poisonous snake! I stopped where I was and quickly zoomed in with my camera to get a shot of it before hurrying on along. And then was a lot more careful...

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Day 5: A So-Called Rest Day in Theth

Day 5: A So-Called Rest Day in Theth

Day five of my Peaks of the Balkans trek was supposed to be a rest day, but I may forever remember it as the day I lost my patience. Or the day I started to get sick. Definitely not a rest day. Mentor (my guide) had told me to be at the guesthouse down the hill at 8:30 a.m. for breakfast and that we would leave at 9:00 to spend the morning exploring Theth. But when I got to the guesthouse, after bringing me tea, the waiter completely ignored me in favor of the dozen or so Albanian guests. Mentor finally came down just before 9:00 and acted surprised that I was there. He asked if I had eaten breakfast and I said no, and then he explained that I was actually supposed to have breakfast up the hill at the guesthouse where I slept. How was I supposed to know this?? So then he went back and forth, asking where I wanted to eat at, to which I just kept replying I really didn’t care, but if the woman at the other place had already prepared breakfast for me, then I should go back there. This went on for like five minutes until finally we agreed to go back up the hill. It was minor in the overall scheme of things, but after a similar back and forth the previous night about which guesthouse to stay at, my frustration with Mentor was just boiling over. I was also annoyed that we were starting so much later than planned as it was already quite hot out and this was supposed to be a rest day. As it was, we ended up leaving just before 10:00 to visit an old tower in the center of Theth and then hike to a waterfall. Mentor told me it would be an easy walk and that I wouldn’t need my hiking poles. The tower we visited was once a “lock-in” tower, where men would be locked in during a feud until their families figured out how to settle it. From there, the hike to the waterfall was definitely more challenging than Mentor made it out to be – steep, rocky and narrow! And it felt like Mentor was making everything more difficult than it needed to be, always choosing the harder path for us to take. My legs were already like jelly from the first four days and I really needed the rest, not another difficult hike! All that said, the waterfall was pretty cool. After the waterfall, though, things went downhill. The descent was pretty easy (which left me wondering why we didn’t go up that way!)...

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Getting My Marathon Training Back on Track

Getting My Marathon Training Back on Track

Remember when I said I was going to journal my training for the New York City Marathon this fall? Remember when I wrote a post about my first week of training and then kind of never got around to writing a second post? Yeah, so things got a little off track. Back in June, I came up with what I thought would be an awesome 18-week marathon training plan, based loosely on Hal Higdon’s plans, which I have used in the past. The one tricky thing was that in the middle of said plan I would head to Europe for 17 days, including eight days of hiking the “Peaks of the Balkans” through Kosovo, Montenegro and Albania. I thought that this wouldn’t seriously affect my training too much. Indeed, I thought it would be beneficial as I would be hiking for up to 7-8 hours each day – far more than I would otherwise be doing in training. So I gave myself a break in the middle of my schedule, but planned to start up again just a day after returning to Chicago. That didn’t exactly work out so well. The trek ended up being far more difficult than I anticipated and I was sick for my last five days in Europe, barely able to eat anything. So when I returned to Chicago, I was completely drained – not to mention jet-lagged. I did manage to run three miles just two days after returning, but my legs felt like lead – it was incredibly difficult! A few days later I got up to four miles and it was a bit easier, but my long run that weekend of eight miles certainly felt tougher than I thought it should. Nine miles the following weekend felt like I had never run so far. To make matters worse, the trek seemed to reactivate a neuroma that I have had in the past on the bottom of my foot, so my left foot was starting to hurt just 30 minutes or so into my runs. I also had a lot to catch up on at work and several work events to attend in the weeks after my trip, so my schedule was all over the place. I cut back on cross-training in an effort to save myself for my runs, but then didn’t even get all of my runs in. So as of today, with 12 weeks left until the marathon, I am re-setting. I ordered a customized virtual training plan through the New York Road Runners (the organizer of the New York City Marathon) and I am determined to stick to it by the letter. It’s all...

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Day 4: Hiking from Montenegro to Albania

Day 4: Hiking from Montenegro to Albania

I awoke with the sun on the fourth day of the Peaks of the Balkans hike. Exhausted from the previous day, I lay in bed in my Plav hotel room until just after 6 a.m., but then dragged myself up to go check out the nearby lake before meeting my guide, Mentor, for breakfast. Plav was the only town I would really visit during the hike and it would have been nice to explore it some more, but my legs just didn’t have the energy. After a breakfast of three hard boiled eggs, ham and cheese, Mentor and I left by car to go to the town of Vusanje. And while this official leg of the trek goes from Vusanje to Theth in Albania, we drove about 3.5 kilometers further into the mountains, cutting out a couple hours of hiking. After starting in a small meadow, we headed through some woods and soon arrived at what looked like another open meadow, but was actually a dried up lake. The way down to the “lake” was another non-existent path through tall grass, which immediately frustrated me and reminded me of my difficulties the previous day. It didn’t last long, though, as we quickly reached the lake and crossed it to find an old stone border marker from Soviet times. Goodbye Montenegro, hello Albania! From there, we started a very long ascent through an oak forest that turned into a pine forest. The terrain was relatively smooth and the switchbacks through the trees made it not seem quite so steep, even though we ascended about 500 meters in just 1.4 kilometers. Once we emerged from the forest, the route was quite flat or very gradually uphill. We passed a bunker from Soviet times and an old military outpost. We also passed a shepherd’s dog that barked and barked at us, but luckily never got too close. Our high point for the day was the Pejes pass, where we stopped for lunch, sitting on some large rocks near a wooden cross at the top. It was crazy windy and I almost lost my hat! I also had a heck of a time eating the lunch that the hotel in Plav packed for me – a salad with chicken, tomatoes and cucumbers and a ridiculous amount of dressing! Not only that, they didn’t pack a fork to eat it with! So as my hair blew into my face, I used my fingers to eat as much of the salad as I could and then wiped them clean with baby wipes. Then came the descent. More than two hours of nothing but downhill switchbacks covered in all sizes of...

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Day 3: Hiking from Kosovo to Montenegro

Day 3: Hiking from Kosovo to Montenegro

As we drove from the village of Drelaj toward Leqinat, the starting point for the third day of the Peaks of the Balkans trek, my heart sunk a bit. We were rolling over rough dirt roads, climbing higher and higher into the mountains and I couldn’t help but feel like I was cheating. The Belgian men I had met were going to spend the day hiking along the section that I just bypassed by riding in a four-wheel drive. Was I really going to get the full Peaks of the Balkans experience by skipping entire legs of the route? A few hours later, as I huffed and puffed my way through tall grass on an almost non-existent path, I felt foolish for thinking I was missing out. It was sunny but cool as we started off, but I immediately felt a burn in my calves as we headed steeply uphill – zig-zagging back and forth did little to ease the steepness. We reached a burned out forest before descending a bit toward the first of two lakes, known as Liqeni i Kucishtes. As we rounded the lake near the shore, it was fairly flat so Mentor (my guide) urged me to pick up the pace as we had to make it to Babino Polje between 3:00 and 3:30 p.m. to meet our transportation to Plav. I tried, but the path was so narrow and the grass so high, I felt like I was tripping over my own two feet whenever I tried to go faster. As we ascended up from the second lake, known as Liqeni i Drelajve, Mentor assured me that we just had one “not so steep” section remaining and then the rest of the day would be downhill. Well, I quickly realized that his definition of “not so steep” was not the same as mine! Not only was the next section steep, it was rocky, which made it impossible to fall into any kind of good rhythm. It was noon when we finally reached the top, which was also the border between Kosovo and Montenegro. It felt completely weird to just walk across the invisible border with no checkpoint, no lines, no passport stamps. Instead, Mentor carried a permit that allowed both of us to cross through the borders of these two countries and Albania at certain points around certain times of day, but in reality, no one was around to check. So my only evidence of setting foot in Montenegro (and Albania!) are my photos and the permit. The next section was indeed downhill, but it was still on narrow paths through high grass, which meant it was still challenging....

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