I can't believe it's marathon weekend.

It's now almost exactly six months since my last marathon. I've had six months to think about all the mistakes I made in NYC. Six months to wish I hadn't gone out too fast then. Six months to prepare for what I have to do this Sunday. Now it's all passed. I've done everything I can do. I just have to wait and see.

In the running coach class I took two weeks ago, i learned a lot about visualization. Visualization is a powerful tool that well trained runners use to prepare for an upcoming event. The thinking is if you are very focused and visualize something from start to finish, even the seemingly impossible, it actually can happen.

Here goes an abbreviated version...

I see myself at that starting line, waiting with anticipation. I hear the starting gun and go -- SLOW! I picture myself running along the water, nice and easy. I visualize myself picking up the speed just a bit, maybe, after a few miles in. I see myself running up a few hills, enjoying the change. I see my family and friends along the route. Reaching the half marathon mark. Starting to run at that threshold of pain, so my hip joints don't explode! Taking my water and fuel. Reaching the 17 mile mark, one of my least favorites. Tuning out the boredom and the pain. Reaching the 20 mile mark! Getting excited now. Just a few more miles. Mile 22, 23, 24... Time to let it all out now! Finally closing in on that 26.2!

Boston Marathon will happen one day, but providence must come first.

All I have left to do now is think.

Oh, and go to the expo tomorrow. Yay running stuff! :)
Tomorrow is Friday, which means the next day is Saturday and the day after is Marathon Day! YAYAYAYAY!!!

Just a little excited here.

Despite the excitement, it's still hard for me to stay focused and positive all the time. A Boston qualifying time seems like such a tremendous goal to achieve. I'm having difficulty believing it will really happen. I have moments when I think it's in the bag... Like when I finished my last half marathon in 1:40... Then I have moments when I think I'm still far from my goal.

When I finished the NYC Marathon last fall, I was just 11 minutes from a Boston qualifier. And even then, when I didn't have nearly as many miles under my belt, I thought I could have made the time. I went out way too fast. If I hadn't done that I really think I could have finished in 3 hours and 40 precious minutes.

But I'd have to wait to try it again. I'd have to wait till this weekend.

The day is almost here! Must stay positive.

That's my bib number for the big day. Now I just have to get the rest of me ready, including figuring out which of my sneakers to wear. Kind of a big question. Frees or Equalons? Have to figure this out fast.

Here's a status check otherwise:

* Carboloading is under way. When is it not, though, really?

* Movement is minimal. And I'm losing my mind. Have to run tomorrow. I can't take this.

* Drinking more water. Woohoo! BIG accomplishment for me.

* Marathon outfit picked out. Very important.

* Early dinner reservation booked for Saturday at Andino's on Federal Hill. Bring on the pasta.

Just a few more days..
Quick look at my background:
* Born in Danbury, CT
* Raised in Marlboro, NY
* College in Kingston, RI (Go Rhody!)
* Live in Boston, MA

I also have a husband who's a Mets fan, a mom who's a Red Sox fan and a dad who's a Yankee fan. Let's just say, my dad and I are not that close.

But I digress.

I lived in Rhode Island for four years in college. My mom actually moved from NY to Jamestown, RI while I went to school, so I never really left the state much after my second semester. That said, I didn't do any serious running then, which is crazy because there are so many beautiful places to run. I never ran a road race. Never ran any regular routes.  I spent more time in the gym than outdoors. That's the exact opposite of what I do now.

Surrounded by beaches, cliffs, rocky shorelines, trails and waterways... I must have been nuts not to run outside.

Well I'll be making up for some lost time this Sunday. I'll get to run along a harbor in a city where I spent my college years -- in front of many of my closest friends. That's another first. My husband has been at the finish line of my two marathons so far, but no one else has ever seen me run one. I can't wait to see my friends along the route. I can't imagine anything that would kick my butt more into gear.

I'm so excited for Sunday. Rhody here I come -- again!
Providence Marathon Course Map
One year ago I ran the Big Sur International Marathon -- my first marathon ever.

Some people thought I was nuts for taking on a marathon that's considered one of the world's hardest. Some people thought I was nuts for even trying to run a marathon. But I'd run several half marathons and my times were improving. It was time to take the next step.

So three days after my 32nd birthday, I ran Big Sur.

Here are some highlights from that day:

* Waking up at 2:00 am to get on the 3:30 am bus to the starting line.

* On the bus ride, in the dark, trying to ignore the fact that I was leaning far forward on a long downhill ride toward the start -- a downhill that would later become a monstrous uphill in the middle of the marathon.

* Arriving at the start to the freezing cold morning hours. And waiting. And waiting.

* Spotting the 4:30 pace group and deciding at the last minute to join them.

* The starting gun and all the whooping that followed.

* Sticking close to my pacer -- thank god for her. She kept me laughing and distracted the whole way to the finish.

* Running along the first few miles in the cool woods. And losing that last extra layer of clothing I'd saved for the first few miles.

* Coming to the ocean and getting my first big breaths of the sea breeze.

* Seeing that water and almost having my breath taken away. I intentionally did not drive the route before the race because I wanted to be surprised. I sure was.

* Running alongside a hillside covered with cows that began mooing at us. Our spectators for the morning.

* Starting the climb at mile 10... which would last till mile 12!

* Passing the awesome drummers at the start of that climb. That drumbeat kept me powering up that hill.

* Reaching the top of the hill! Only to be crushed by the wind at the top. I didn't care one bit. I was elated to be done with what was considered scariest part of the race.

* Running slowly down that long hill, into a valley where the sun was pouring in. Again, breathtaking.

* Coming to the halfway point and crossing Bixby bridge. Woohoo!

* Losing my thought in my pacer's story of how she met her husband. That story lasted miles 17-20, when I needed the distraction most.

* Reaching mile 20. MILE 20 of my first marathon!

* My pacer telling me to dedicate each of the next few miles to important people in our lives. One mile for our significant others who miss us while we run. One mile for our relatives who may be too sick to run. One mile for our friends who don't understand why we can't stay out and drink with them...

* Hugging a volunteer and snagging a strawberry at mile 22-23. I loved that volunteer!

* Then mile 24, the pacer said to go. Just -- go. And I did. I picked it up and felt like I was flying.

* The next two miles I felt no pain. No hurt. Only complete and total elation. This must be the runner's high.

* Last 2/10 of a mile. Last 2/10 of my first marathon. Now I'm surrounded by spectators. And my husband is at that finish line.

* Time to RUN.
Just finished running one of my favorite routes. It goes down Beacon Street, along the Boston Marathon course, passed the reservoir, into Boston College campus, then back.

I like this run because it's not all stuck in traffic. There are quite a few peaceful spots for thought and reflection, especially on a quieter Sunday night like tonight.

As I ran down Beacon Street at an easy pace, I thought about all of my long distance training over the past two years and running my first marathon. It's hard to believe it was just one year ago tomorrow that I ran my first 26.2 in Big Sur. I remembered how I felt in that first race and how well I finished it... which I'll save for tomorrow's blog post.

Today I was just trying to prepare myself for the challenge to come in just a few short days. I kept repeating, 'Get ready, body. Get ready.' My mind is ready. I can only hope the rest of me can handle the challenge.

As I passed the reservoir, I thought about the countless miles I've covered, all the blisters I've suffered through, all the hip and knee pains, all the dehydration and exhaustion, and, most importantly, all the time I've spent away from my husband because I run.

Then I ran into Boston College campus. There I began to think about all the wonderful mornings out on the road alone, the first signs of spring when I heard the birds singing again, the cool breezes on my face, those days that I felt like I could run forever, and the days when I felt like I could fly.

As I started heading back home, I thought it's probably a good thing that I run so much. My husband would have a much crankier wife on his hands if I didn't run! As I ran back toward him, toward our home, I started feeling excited. The big day is coming and I'm on the last two miles of my last longer run.

I am so close to Providence.

So close to providence.

Fitting that this is the race when I go for a Boston qualifier. I can only hope this really is my providence.

Get ready, body. Get ready.
I spent all of last weekend in an RRCA coaching certification class taught by Janet Hamilton, MA, RCEP, CSCS, ACSM-Registered Clinical Exercise Physiologist and author of Running Strong & Injury Free, and Mike Broderick, certified running coach and personal trainer. While I was very glad to be taking the class, I almost dropped it at the last minute because of my job change and lack of sleep. I dragged myself to the class at 7 am on Saturday and Sunday... half awake... and stayed for the full class until 5 pm both days. Luckily I perked up when I started diving into the content. Especially the parts about ALL OF THE MANY running mistakes I've made throughout my years of half marathon and marathon training. Here are my top 10 in a nutshell.

My Top 10 Running Mistakes (not to be repeated in the Providence Marathon)

1. Crash and burn
That surge of excitement that churns before a marathon makes me want to rush out of the gate. During those first few miles my running feels light and easy -- like a 7:45 pace is no problem! Unfortunately, it comes back to haunt me later. According to my RRCA coaches, running even 30 seconds faster than my anticipated pace at the start of a marathon will add 2 ADDITIONAL MINUTES to my pace by the end of the marathon. I checked my NYC Marathon splits and, sure enough, that's exactly what happened. No thanks. I'll be starting right where I should be in Providence.

2. Not enough fuel
My stomach is not the best when I run sometimes, so I tend to avoid eating anything before a race or long run. The problem is that lack of fuel leaves me with little energy by mile 15. I was quick to jot down some tips for better fueling preparation: I'll be waking up at around 3 am next Sunday morning to eat about 5 hours before marathon race time, then I'll eat something light about an hour before the start. During the race, I was also told to have 200-300 calories per HOUR! I've never done that before, so I'm practicing this week with GUs. Hopefully my stomach will be good and my energy levels will stay high.

3. Running long runs too fast
Maybe this should be #1 on the list. Running long runs fast does NOT make me a better runner. In fact, the world's elite marathoners run their long runs 2-3 minutes slower than race pace. This is necessary to train the body to store enough glycogen so it can burn fat when you're almost out of fuel. Fat can't burn without at least some glycogen left in the system. "Hitting the wall" is what happens when you're out of glycogen and are unable to burn fat. (This also relates to #2 -- going out too fast burns all that glycogen up so you have nothing left at the end.) I could go on and on on this topic, and probably will once I can call myself a certified coach! But the biggest lesson I learned from my class was DO NOT RUN LONG RUNS FAST! Who knew?

4. Not enough strength training
There's really no point in trying to improve form. Changing running form requires effort and thought -- and running should not involve that sort of forced coordination. I learned that the best way to improve form is to strength train. My body will then just settle into the right form because my muscles will be stronger and more supportive of my joints and ligaments. Wish I'd done more strength training, but I always wish that the week before a marathon. I need to SERIOUSLY get on this next time around, so my husband doesn't ever have to call me out on bad form again!

5. Not enough water
My husband would probably put this at #1 on this list. He is on me all the time for this -- for good reason. I don't like drinking water. I also never feel thirsty. This is a big problem for me as a runner. I'm CONSTANTLY dehydrated and my body has adapted to this state. It's not a good thing. I can go for many many miles without a drink, but it depletes my energy and makes me feel sick at the end of some long runs. I have to force myself to hydrate more, no doubt about it, starting right now.

6. Ignoring pain
My RRCA coaches STRESSED not running with any sort of injury. Any. Sort. They said if a lingering pain shows up, I should stop running for 4 DAYS then test it with a walk/slow jog. If it still hurts, I should see a doctor and possibly stop running for a longer period of time. Runners hate not running. I hate not running. So I ignored my hip pains for weeks. At this point, I'm taking my chances and running the marathon with the pain, at the risk of more serious injury later. If I'd been smarter, I would have rested it better at the first sign, then maybe I'd have no pain at all now. This is something I have to be much more careful about in the future.

7. Not running consistently each week
My schedule has been all over the place recently. Between work, going to interviews, fundraising for Run to Home Base and volunteer jobs, I missed a few runs and ended up loading up my mileage on the weekends. That didn't help my injury, especially combined with my fast long runs. Ugh. Not smart. For the next marathon, I am committing to a week-long schedule not just a weekEND schedule.

8. Not enough miles
The best marathoners have a huge mileage base. HUGE. Now I'm not about to go out and run 100+ miles per week. I won't even run 80+ miles per week. But running 60 miles per week can work wonders. It just makes everything easier and more effortless. My highest mileage week was 48 miles this winter. Last year it was only about 35 miles. I'm definitely getting better, but I could be doing more to build my base. That's for the next training session.

9. Not enough sleep
I rarely get more than 6 hours. I'll try to keep working on this, but I'm not holding out a lot of hope. I have to be good and go to bed earlier every night this upcoming week, if no other time.

10. Too much stress!
Changing jobs is a stressful thing. It's all worth every bit of the stress in the end of course! But it's a stressful process that cuts into sleep and messes with the usual habits. Marathon prep programs always say to avoid stressful situations at all costs during your training. Of course, that would mean I could never enter into a stressful situation, since I'm always training for something! But I understand the reasoning and I do feel the effects. That's why I'm spending most of this weekend and every night this week right here on my couch. :) Time to R-E-L-A-X!

One week till Providence.... one week.... one week... one week... one week...
Today is my birthday! I didn't do much out of the ordinary. Got up. Went to work. Ate a salad at my desk. Stayed at work till 6. Then I got home to open presents from my husband... One of his awesome gifts for me is a night in Providence! The night before the marathon! YAY! That not only takes off some stress, but gives us a fun night out of the house. Well, as fun as it can be when I can't drink and have to be asleep by 10.

Then, while getting ready dinner, the UPS guy arrived with presents from my mom and my new running gear from RRS! Woohoo! Can't wait to test it all out tomorrow. Gotta look good for the marathon, of course

Now we're off to No. 9 Park! So excited...

I am so thankful on this birthday. It was an amazing 2009-2010 and I can honestly say that all the things I could have ever hoped to happen actually did happen. I don't take that for granted for a single moment. Now I look forward to another awesome year, though maybe more relaxed one, with my husband. Love you, Mo!
Nothing like a great race to provide motivation for the big one! I caved and bought my photos from 13.1 New York -- my best half marathon ever. I came in at 1:40:12 just a few short weeks ago. Let's hope I can pull of a different kind of huge PR on May 2. The Boston Marathon qualifying kind of PR.
Chugging along at my 7:38ish pace.
Get jacked! The sun is playing tricks .
Gun time on the clock. Real time 1:40:12!
Over the past few weeks, lack of sleep and busy schedule has forced me to push a lot of runs off a day or two, which means loading up the weekends. Loading up the weekends means a lot of mileage in a little bit of time. As a result, my hips are killing me. Just when they start to get better, I go out and beat them up on a long run, and they hurt again. I'm only a few days from the marathon and I have to figure out how to handle this...

Lots of stretching and cross training
Light easy running the rest of the week
Walking whenever I can

I have to be ready... It's been a long time coming...

I'm hoping not to lean on this list, but I will if I have to later this year:
Top Boston Qualifiers