Friday, April 11, 2014

Post-Race Epiphanies

Welp, lots and lots of sweet road and track races in full-swing now, and after Gate River last month, I got lucky and had the chance out to San Diego with my college team--although I guess I can't really say "my" college team, because compared to these kiddos I am practically an old lady--to run a 5k at UC-San Diego.

I went there with the hopes of FREAKING FINALLY running a PR in the 5k. Heck, I didn't even care if it was a 1 second PR. I have run 16:5X in EVERY sea-level 5k I've ever competed in literally since I was 19 years old. Indoor track, outdoor track, doesn't matter. 16:5X, 9 years. No joke. Sooo...come on legs, it's about time to get after it. This seemed like the perfect opportunity, because there were a couple girls entered in low 17's and high 16's, so it was a pretty ideal set-up and I figured a PR, even a little baby PR, would be a given. But well, the aforementioned girls scratched and I time trialed a 5k in low 17's. Uh, yay? Except not really.

I should start by saying that I am very grateful and thankful for the chance to have gotten to run it. Yes, I am: I am healthy, training is going well, and I got a free trip to a great place with great people, oh, and I got to see this track at Point Loma:
Look. Look at this beautiful track. LOOK at it.

I am thankful for all of that, I do not mean to sound like an ungrateful little turd just because I didn't run a time I wanted. However, in spite of that, when I glanced at the clock as I crossed the finish I nearly had a Girl Moment and just about cried. I didn't, but seriously I think I felt my lower lip quiver, I think, it's hard to say. Although I wasn't positive because I didn't hear splits after the mile (there was a clock by the lap counter, but it's hard to do math when your brain is in the haze of race-mode) but I thought I ran so much better than that. I figured 16:40-something would easily be a shoo-in, because how is it actually even humanly possible to train for like a decade and legitimately get no faster? It's an icky pill to swallow.

So I ran a cranky cool-down while I attempted to wrap my head around the fact that I just ran another race, right in a row, that indicated that well, stuff's just not moving in a great direction however much I am willing it to. Granted Gate River was just straight up painfully bad, this time I felt fine but apparently just ran slow. But in any case it seemed high time for some good, quality Re-Eval, woo! That would be Re-Evaluation. It's all great and shiny and wonderful to win a race, but I'd rather get lapped by the whole field and run a tiny PR than win by a landslide in a time I've run 80 zillion other times. Some might not be in agreement with this, and that's cool.

Sometimes, you've gotta face the music. Even though success doesn't always necessarily directly correlate with effort, generally speaking running's pretty straight forward and relatively logical, and when it doesn't go well, it is usually from one or more of the following:

1) You're not doing enough (mileage, intensity, etc.).
2) You're doing too much (mileage, intensity, etc.).
3) You're doing enough, and it is hard enough, but you're doing it wrong.
4) Other external factors (stress, sleep, nutrition, injuries, head-case-itis, etc...)

I chewed on that for a while, and I picked numbers 1 and 4 and occasionally 3. I chose 1, and that one was the hardest to swallow, because realistically at the post-college level it is highly unlikely that you will be competitive with women running 120 miles per week when you're doing 65-70. The other glaring error was the fact that it is highly unlikely you will run fast 5k's when your idea of speed-work is mile repeats on a dirt loop and nothing on a track, ever. I don't like track. I said it. I don't. It's flat, it's oval, it's laps, it entails short intervals which I don't like, it messes with my head, and I get Mental Pussitis when I'm on one. A 10k on the track seems so absurdly far compared to say, a 17 mile long run. I know, it doesn't make sense to me either. So I don't run on it and our relationship has always been rocky. Unfortunately track races are what usually yield PR's. I like PR's. But how do you expect to get good on a track when you're never ON a track? Yeah, that's right, YOU DON'T. Additionally, track is where you get speed, cross country stuff is where you get strength, road races necessitate both of those things. Track has been a big missing ingredient for some time now, as has more volume in general. I don't know why I had a crap-load of success in the latter part of college on SO much less volume than I did earlier in college on SO much more volume, but that was a long time ago and it doesn't seem to work anymore, and sometimes it's kind of pointless to compare yourself to um...yourself....at a different point in time, because for a multitude of reasons (whether you can figure them out or not) stuff changes.

Number 3 is relevant because oftentimes while I might be doing the right things, if there is no definitive direction or goal toward which to channel those things, then I'm just going through the motions and it's comparable to being blindfolded throwing darts at a dartboard and hoping you hit the bull's eye. It doesn't matter how good you are at throwing darts, hoping's not good enough.

I picked 4 because, well, everyone deals with "other external factors," it is called Life Outside of Running. You just have to decide which of said factors you can control and which ones you can't, and which ones are worth keeping around because they benefit something, or which ones you should get rid of because they don't benefit anything. I know when I heap a crap-ton of stuff on my plate, I end up (grumpily) doing a really mediocre job at all of them, rather than doing a great job at a couple of them. I think being "well-rounded" is actually really over-rated, and being busy for the sake of busy-ness is also really over-rated. I know, how very un-American of me. I also know I make myself a head-case when I overanalyze and over-think EVERY. THING. See? All things that are not beneficial and yet very much within my control! Yay! Progress already!

In going forward and actually mapping out more clear-cut goals and applying some the aforementioned missing ingredients, I also got to thinking that honestly, if the next several months still see no reasonable progress, then there are other alternative avenues to pursue. I had a revelation the other day that really, no one gives a crap about how I run. I don't mean that in a bad way or a boo-hoo-woe-is-me kind of way, it's just that I think we all make a much bigger thing of it to ourselves than it really is. That realization was-- for a little bit--really depressing, because so dang much goes into gaining so little ground, and it can be rough on occasion, and at times a wee bit lonely, but that thought was also sort of liberating in a strange way because all of a sudden you realize that you are free to do whatever you want with it and you're ultimately only trying to beat yourself, and that failing or succeeding will only ever matter to you. So whether that will end up meaning moving on from road and track races and switching to trail and mountain stuff or ultras just to shake things up, or--who knows--maybe straight up moving on altogether, there's not a lot of sense in driving yourself nuts banging on a door that won't open just to prove something to an imaginary audience that doesn't exist. But that is a bridge that will be crossed if/when I get to it.

So those were some of my epiphanies following the last few weeks' running adventures. And going back to what I was saying before, I am thankful--even though I ran like a donkey--that I've had some crummy, very sub-par races the last few weeks, because sometimes there is nothing like a swift kick in the @$$ to get you to actually look at what you're doing, if you're doing it right, and addressing and owning up to your weaknesses.

Anyway, this hasn't been terribly up-beat but it sure was cathartic. On to the next thing.
Meaningless self-absorbed blabber foreclosed...till next time.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Green Monster Musings

Welp, we survived the winter, and with that, we're about to be rewarded with an onslaught of awesome spring and summer races coming down the pike, the most recent being the Gate River Run/USA 15k Champs that were out in Jacksonville this last weekend.

I will start by saying that Gate River has absolutely THE BEST and most supportive race staff there is. This is not opinion, this is fact, so don't argue. There are too many names to name here, but it would be remiss of me to not give Richard Fannin first dibs on the thank you's. As the Elite Athlete Coordinator, he is the one who presents to all of us the opportunity to be there in the first place. And let me tell you, he treats ALL of them as though they are the most elite of elite runners that he's ever had there, whether they've got Olympic medals under their belts or they're straight out of college and he even thinks they may have a shot at being competitive on the national scene sooner or later. He takes nearly all of the logistics out of traveling there, which is huge and is the hardest part about traveling to races if you normally just kind of do it all on your own. He organizes everything from assembling the field to rooming to travel reimbursement to finding the best flight deals to organizing the shuttles for everyone to and from the course and hotel and the airport. I probably didn't even cover half of his job right there. And he does it all with unbridled enthusiasm. If you mention any of this to him then he will get all bashful and Southerny and shrug it off like it's no big thing. Then he turns around and he THANKS us. Dude, what?! So seriously, when Richard floods your Facebook message inbox with Gate River invites, you better not turn him down.

Then there is the race director. Admittedly, I don't know what his name is, so I'll just call him The Race Director. I've never met The Race Director, but he must be a brave, brave man to host an after-party for a bunch of runners in his backyard, where on this particular evening there is an abundance of alcohol and a pool-sized fountain and I don't really know how nothing happened involving a combination of those two things. I should add that this is an after-party of epic proportions. How often do you get just hang out with the Shalane Flanagans and the Janet Bawcoms of the running world, and not to mention meet a million others who you are usually just competing against but never actually get to know before this? Runners are pretty awesome people as a general whole. We also spent an hour or so the day prior to the race hanging out with some little kids at The Sanctuary, and their excitement to have people there to see them pretty much made any pre-race nerves evaporate for a while.

Then there's also Carolyn Mather, the sweetest lady ever who shepherded all of us around to wherever we needed to be, and who was not afraid to rock the leopard-print at the after-party. Then Wendy Shulik, who puts together some really sweet race footage and photos, also Santa Claus (I'm almost positive that's not his real name), Phil-From-Jacksonville, Dick Beardsley, and a zillion other people who put forth ridiculous time and energy to make it a great experience, but since I am horrible with names I'll stop here.

All this is to say, the experience as a whole was phenomenal.

Then there was the actual outcome of the race.

Let me hop into the Way Back Machine for a minute, "way back" to 2010, Gate River was my first experience traveling to and being at a road race of this size and this caliber. Needless to say, while I was excited, in the back of my head I didn't feel like I belonged there and for that reason went in with zero confidence even though I didn't acknowledge that, I had no experience with any race distance over 10k, no real plan or idea of what 15k race pace should be, no workouts conducive to racing 15k under my belt, and let myself get so nervous that I actually never went to sleep the night before. Sounds like a real stellar recipe for success. Let's just say it all showed: out the back door from the gun and a deer in headlights for the rest of the way. I walked away pretty rattled and pretty disappointed that my head just never got in the game.

Fast-foward four years, total opposite. I knew what to expect, I had some great workouts in the weeks leading up to it that went fantastic, I had a goal that I was shooting for, and I wasn't afraid to be there. The result however, didn't reflect any of that, it was a mere 20-odd seconds faster than four years before, which I had since thought of as my "worst race ever." It was kind of hard to wrap my head around once I realized that yes, that just happened. I assumed it would be a given that even if I had a sub-par race, it would naturally be bound to surpass what a "bad race" was with four less years of experience. But it didn't.

I told myself I wouldn't over-analyze the thing to death at least till I got home. And now I am home and so will allow the overanalyzing to commence.

On the warm-up, admittedly I felt crummy; tight and tired and jittery and sluggish, but it's the warm-up, what else is new? I didn't think much of it. I had debated over whether or not to bother turning on my watch at the gun and ultimately decided not to. I remembered from the last time that I had used it with the intention of hitting certain splits, and when I went through the first mile too fast I sort of freaked out. I didn't want that to happen this time, I see the benefit in having splits to hit, but also sometimes I feel like you sort of assume your limitations. We race at altitude all the time, so naturally going through the mile faster here than you would in a 10k race at home could lead you to panic and feel like you just flushed your race down the toilet even though it may well be a pace that could be maintained at sea-level. So I scrapped the watch and decided to hang at the back of the pack going out--since Shalane was gunning for an American Record and was likely to set a blistering pace that even in this crowd not too many could hope to remotely compete with--and with any luck gradually move up throughout the race.

That didn't really happen though, the wheels came off a bit over half way, an unfortunate place to have the wheels come off, and I don't know if I have ever felt like that in any race. Having the men roll by like I was walking just about made me want to veer off into the trees and not come back out. And by the time the bridge (AKA the Green Monster) came up, it was pretty much all about hang-on-for-dear-life-and-holy-crap-just-finish, there wasn't anything left to be able to use the downhill coming off the bridge. When I first finished, my initial reaction through the haze of feeling like I got steamrolled flat then got up and was promptly trampled by rhinoceroses was actually excitement. I thought for sure to feel like that certainly indicated a great time, but nope.
(The Green Monster)^

I've gone over it in my head a few times (obviously) and ultimately there are no excuses. Sometimes your absolute best on a given day is not even close to good enough, and for that reason running's not a great sport for you if you get your feelings hurt easy. And I know that I could do the whole, "Oh but I'm just so grateful to be here," thing, and I am because I've been on the other side of that more times than I can count, but that can be a cop-out. You don't travel halfway across the country to a National Championship to just show up. But I find it hard to be truly disappointed with myself given that there wasn't anything else I could have done. It is one thing to check out, throw in the towel and finish knowing there was more to give and you sold yourself short, then yes, you should absolutely be disappointed in yourself. But it's another thing to expect the body to give something it just didn't have to give for whatever reason. Maybe physically I wasn't as prepared as I thought I was? I don't know. Either way, there are always a million "I should have's" but those don't matter because you didn't, and all you can do is make sure that next time you do. One of my favorite things about running is that there is a lot of self-ownership, YOU do the training, YOU run the races, YOU get the results. But that also means YOU get to own your failures all by yourself. Running--even with as black and white as it is--can feel like such a crap-shoot sometimes, but like Brie said, if you put in the work, someday you'll have your day.
(NOT what I looked like running over the Green Monster. But I wanted to find a way to work this guy into here.)

Ultimately though, while I'm horribly disappointed with the outcome, I can't really be disappointed by the effort.

Sometimes stuff like this is a good eye-opener though on a lot of levels, one reason being because you see how far you still have to go and what kind of changes you need to make if you want to get any further. I know I have some "weeding," if you will, to do in life right now in regards to eliminating things that are taking time and energy I'd rather be investing elsewhere and aren't truly all that beneficial. Sometimes I think it is too easy to blur the line between being productive versus just being busy. Somehow I've morphed into one of those people who can't say no to anything and just keeps heaping more stuff on the plate, mostly all in the name of being more "well-rounded" or being more "helpful", but all that stuff adds up and starts to nudge some of the the things out of the way that I intentionally made space for in the first place, because I wanted to devote time to them. Rather than making me feel more well-rounded, it's actually made me feel weirdly resentful toward some of the things I've said yes to doing or committed to doing that I don't truly want to do, but for whatever reason felt like I should.

I also know that I need more of a plan than what I've got now. When people ask me what's next and my response is everything from track to half marathons to mountain races, all in the next two months, then um, seriously? There's not a plan and there's not a direction (kind of like this post). And like they say, dreams without plans are just dreams.

But in all seriousness, next up actually is a track race. I retract any statements I've made about never doing track again, of which there have been many. It is in San Diego and what kind of idiot would turn down the chance to race at sea-level? Not me. So that's next, and then I'll get to work on that plan.
All the girls--Ali, Mattie, Brie and Wendy snatched up the team title--and some random dude. Just kidding Tommy.


Sunday, February 9, 2014

Um, But Why Is It Snowing?

Seriously Winter, it's not funny anymore.

Normally I try to post something, you know, like, deep and thought provoking, perhaps even uplifting. Not today. No, today I would like to give full vent to my pure and unadulterated hatred of wintertime. More specifically, this wintertime. And yes, hate is a strong word. All of my friends who like to "Shred the gnar gnar pow pow" (in Coloradoan that translates to "go skiing") you should probably quit reading now.

Anyway, the cold is fine. The dark early morning runs that could induce clinical depression in pretty much anyone in about two days are okay. The wind is bearable. The fact that it stopped snowing at the beginning of last May and started again in early September--meaning we had FOUR months of non-winter last YEAR (global warming? Yes please!)--all of that is acceptable. Annoying, but acceptable. I know I know, we live in Colorado, and it's winter, and there's still a couple months of it left, so get over it.

But do you see this?
Do you know what this is? Snow? Ice? It's both and neither. This is in fact a basterdized, hybrid version of frozen and re-frozen-and-re-frozen-and-re-frozen-again snow, ice, and slush that is everywhere right now. Every. Where. On every trail. You can't shovel it. You can't frolic in it. You can't play with it. And you can't really run on it. You can't escape it. It's not good for anything. I mean, LOOK at it. It's just sitting there. It's even more insulting owing to the fact that because it is RE-frozen, that means it actually got warm enough at one point to partly melt, and now it's not anymore, it's a tease. Ever tried to do workouts in this nonsense? Good luck with that. You have to pick your way along at 10 minute mile pace and watch every step and try not to eat s*** or break anything.

In really desperate times there's always the option of running in a parking garage, which is great till you get the boot. Then there's treadmill, which can be quite the blessing, but in a way I feel as though succumbing to the treadmill comes with a certain amount of shame, as though one must hide their face while using it, because it means the weather defeated you. But whatever you gotta do.

Sometimes winter days are wonderful and beautiful and magical, like this:

But on the whole our winter's been primarily composed of the unfortunate snow/slush/ice combo as I mentioned before. I've lived here my whole life and I dunno if I can remember a winter as long and unrelenting as this one. Sorry friends who like to shred the gnar gnar pow pow, but I'm over it.

But hey it all sure beats cross training, so there's that.

But enough of my gripes about the weather, I just needed to get that out of the system, and it's out now. So on a more upbeat and excited note, USA Cross Country is less than one week away, which is my favorite, and which I am stoked for, and after that Gate River Run is on the docket, which even though I've only run it once, still remains one of my absolute favorite road races. Not to mention it's in Florida, the land of never-winter. After that, I think I might put track on the back burner this year in favor of racing up mountains instead, but I haven't really decided.

In the meantime, I'll be crossing my fingers that Punxsutawney Phil was wrong, and trying to convince myself that winter training makes me feel like this happy little guy, instead of like a Grumpy McGrumpkins.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Hooray Marathon Learing


                        2012                        2014
                        2:14:04                 2:13:26

Mile 1             5:00                        5:07
Mile 2             5:02                        5:05
Mile 3             4:58                        4:59
Mile 4             4:57                        5:02
Mile 5             4:57                        5:01
Mile 6             5:00                        4:59
Mile 7             5:02                        5:00
Mile 8             4:54                        5:04
Mile 9             4:57                        5:06
Mile 10            4:58                        5:05
Mile 11            5:01                        4:56
Mile 12            5:01                        5:08
Mile 13            4:58                        5:03
Mile 14            5:00                        5:00
Mile 15            5:00                        4:55
Mile 16            4:52                        5:05
Mile 17            5:02                        5:02
Mile 18            5:03                        5:04
Mile 19             5:06                        5:14
Mile 20            5:07                        5:09
Mile 21            5:12                        5:04
Mile 22            5:25                        5:05
Mile 23            5:25                        5:04
Mile 24            5:27                        5:09
Mile 25            5:43                        5:04
Mile 26            5:42                        4:59



            Just wanted to write a quick blog about my recent pr in the marathon and what I think I’ve learned from my brief experience with that distance.  The above mile splits were recorded from the two marathons I’ve completed – the 2012 Olympic Trials and 2014 Houston marathon.  Both races were in Houston, and though courses were different, the terrain was basically the same.  They were mostly flat and fast with the 2014 course having a few more rolling hills.

            Obviously, you can see I absolutely cratered in the 2012 race but stayed relatively strong throughout the 2014 edition.  Going off just the splits, the inference would be that I went out more conservatively in 2014, and thus, had more in the tank at the end.  However, I believe it was my nutrition and calorie intake during the race that made the difference.  In 2014, I started cramping around miles 18-19 (which is the same time I remember cramping in 2012 – the cramps kept getting worse as indicated by the splits).  It was at mile 20 I consumed a second power gel and a drink mix with a sodium packet included (I only had one powergel at 13 miles and no salt packets in 2012).  Instead of my condition worsening from mile 19-26, like it did in 2012, I was able to hold off severe cramping and finish relatively well.  I truly thought my race was over after I dropped a 5:14 on mile 19, but the powergel and drink mix did the trick.  

            These two races demonstrate how important nutrition is during a marathon.  I’m fairly positive I was in better shape in 2012, but had a better race plan for 2014.                 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Cinderella Goes to Houston

I've never been a huge fairy tale fan--fancy, puffy dresses really aren't my style, and I guess just was never convinced that those perfect, happy endings were representative of REAL life. There were no posters of prince charming in my childhood bedroom. Some people might say that I had a mature perspective for a kid, or maybe I was just a cynic from a young age...

As an alternative to dreams of riding off into the sunset on a white horse, I've always been a strong believer in hard work as a vehicle for accomplishment, and a believer in reciprocity for said work. Study hard, get good grades; train hard, run fast... I was never waiting for the perfect life to drop in my lap, but I guess I always had this expectation that if I gave my best effort I would have something to show for it. In some ways, that expectation was my version of a fairy tale, the embodiment of how (the ideal) life should work.

Fast forward 20-something years and thousands of miles run later, and my view of fairy tale endings has gotten more cynical. Forget prince charming, after my my college running career was over, I didn't have much confidence in hard work either. I had no expectation of ever competing, at any level, again. It was easy to see why I was discouraged. After a high school career spent as a the big fish in the small pond of Colorado 3A running, during which I improved steadily for 4 years, I commenced my college career expecting more of the same. With new training partners, a fantastic coach, a higher level of competition, and the obligatory increase in miles and hard work, how could I not improve?

I wasn't really counting on spending my years as a collegiate athlete trying to claw my way back to some semblance of fitness after a freshman year characterized by 3 surgeries and 9 months of no exercise whatsoever. I walked away from my college career with a few great memories and some amazing friends, but primarily with nothing to show for it running-wise except a lot of frustration. Despite diligently completing every imaginable form of cross-training, running 80+ mile weeks, and getting enough rest, my best college race times were slower than what I had run as a sophomore in high school. Not exactly the outcome I had envisioned. It's fair to say I wasn't exactly planning on a post-collegiate competitive running chapter, let alone a successful one.

But life always has a few surprises up its sleeve. And so here I sit, writing a blog as a member of BRC/adidas. My post-collegiate running has already surpassed my expectations: I have been fortunate enough to be able to enjoy running, train hard, and stay healthy. As a bonus, I have set new PRs at every distance from 800-half marathon. The cynical side of me is slowly starting to regain confidence in the power of hard work (mixed with a little patience). Fairy tales? Nah, still don't believe in those. Then I traveled to Houston for the USA Half Marathon Championships.

The best word to describe my experience in Houston is AMAZING. The elite athlete committee was absolutely fantastic--I literally felt like I was living in a fairy tale world the entire weekend. "Do you like dark chocolate? Here, have as much as you want." Yes, that actually happened. They took care of everything we needed all weekend, from food to transportation to hassle-free race-day logistics. And then there was the race. With perfect weather, a fast course, and some very tough competitors, I was able to pull off a 5+ minute PR, feeling controlled and strong throughout the race. Sure, the next time I run a half-marathon I might aim to knock off 3-4 seconds per mile and get an Olympic Trials qualifying time, but when I crossed the finish line Sunday I wasn't thinking about the near miss, or what I could have done to make the race just a bit more perfect. This time, I just enjoyed the moment and appreciated the race for everything it was, rather than all the things it was not. I'm healthy, happy, and getting faster. And when I think about where I was just a few short years ago, the race on Sunday sure feels a lot like a fairy tale.

Now that I'm back in Colorado and the magic carriage has turned back into a pumpkin, I am funneling the glow of the weekend into motivation to keep training and to keep striving for new and higher goals. I may never believe in fairy tales, but this weekend reminded me that even "real life" has great moments that challenge credibility. And just when the cynic in me starts to wonder if the whole thing was real, if it really happened, it's then I'll find that glass slipper...


Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Enough?

So walk down any magazine aisle or stand in the checkout line at the grocery at about this time of year, every year, and every single print publication (minus maybe the Enquirer) on the shelf says the same thing..."NEW YEAR NEW YOU!!!"

Runners World has seriously had that as their December issue every year for the last decade, I swear.

Without intending to sound cynical, it may be a "new" year, but you're still the same you; sorry. It's not as though we're like a bunch of little caterpillars emerging from their cocoons as pretty new creatures just because the clock struck 12 on New Year's Eve, I hate to rain on anyone's parade, but you kind of still are where you're at. Nonetheless, I think something in our human psyche likes the idea of a clean slate and a new starting point and maybe even a Do-Over on some things, even though there are no real Do-Overs, there are only Try-Again-And-Do-Betters.

Try-Again-And-Do-Betters...I like the sound of that. So that said, I'll play along. After all, there's nothing wrong with a good, solid, healthy session of SELF-REFLECTION and GOAL SETTING is there? YEAH! Virtual fist-bump via this blog! Let's get on it! And what better time to do it than teetering on the edge of a year, which had its awesome, its great, good, bad, and ugly. Such is life.

I actually only have one goal, or resolution, or whatever you want to call it. And I guess it's applicable to both Running and Life, but since this blog is about running, we'll stick to that to keep things relatively concise and uncomplicated. Anyway...see, I've got this little problematic mindset called Nothing's Ever Enough, and I think it would be a good thing to be shut of. I think most of the entire Western culture is affected in one way or another by this rather unsavory and icky ailment since we live in a world of constant competition in everything and constant comparison to everyone else and constant need for instant gratification and constant want for more, be it through materialism or kind of whatever, it's just how we've managed set things up; always trying to keep up with the Joneses. And for what? Affirmation? I guess so.

Anyhow, while that's applicable to many things in this life, as far as running goes, I think it's safe to say that we're mostly competitive people here to some extent. And it's great to be competitive, and it's great to let the accomplishments of other people set the bar for us to some degree. After all, if you always only set your own standard and "good enough" is always fine, then you never have any need to rise above it, and you never get any better. But taken too far, too much competitive drive and close examination of everyone else's accomplishments to the point of never-ending comparison to everyone else doesn't so much drive the desire to get better as much as it does flatten it altogether. Because ever notice that no matter how much you do and no matter how well you do it, there will always be someone who seems to be doing more, and doing it better? Always. And that is when this icky downward spiral into Nothing's Ever Enough happens.

Hold on a sec while I digress a little bit. So there is this woman, Lize Britten, she lives in Boulder now and was, at one time, one of the greatest runners in the nation in her younger days. Anyway, for many reasons her brilliant running career came crashing down, and now, many years after, she's a writer. She once wrote a post on her blog about how she was considering quitting the writing profession altogether, because she knew she'd never be a Steinbeck or a Dickens or a Hemmingway or any of those other people who are considered to be "the best," and everything she wrote would pale in comparison to that stuff, so what was even the point in doing it at all? At the time I thought that was such a sad way to look at something that you love to do and are good at doing even though you're not necessarily what the rest of the world deems to be "the best."

Then I realized I do that very thing ALL the time, I mean ALL THE TIME. I'll be all excited because I hit some certain number of miles in a week that to me indicates that things are really going well, only to hear about someone doing twice that. Or I'll run a PR, but maybe it's not even within 90+ seconds of what people I know are doing. Or I'll have some workout or race that, for me, is great, and I should be happy with it, and I am, till I realize that's someone else's worst day. And it's this endless cycle of comparing, and needing to control the uncontrollable, and being constantly reminded of where you are versus where "The Best" are, and of your best never being quite "enough", when really, you ought to just be satisfied and thankful with what you just did, and the fact that you can do it at all, and that you've still got somewhere to go from here and that you're actually capable of doing so. But instead you're wondering whether you should hang them up because you're not "the best" and because Nothing's Ever Enough. But at the end of the day, would you be hanging them up because you really want to, or because you felt that you "failed" to measure up to...uh...someone's--actually I'm not even really sure whose--standard(s)?

All this is to say, I haven't entirely figured out how to quash this often self-sabatoging attitude, in running or any other area of life. It's a constant work in progress with no actual end in sight. Maybe use other people's accomplishments as a standard to strive for rather than a mandatory bar to be reached (even though sooner or later someone will always move the bar just a little bit higher)? Maybe close off from hearing about what everyone else is doing altogether, which is hard because none of us lives in a vacuum. Ultimately though, competition is a wonderful and valuable thing, but only if you don't use it as a means of avoiding complacency rather than a destructive means of self-comparison. So while I'm not really all that into painting ooey-gooey verbal pictures of sparkly unicorns that poop Skittles and whatnot, I think this little quote sums it all up really well and that everyone, whenever you go about doing whatever it is that you do, ought to keep in mind:

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Club XC

Another year another Club Cross in the books. Clubs is and will always be my #1 favorite race of the year (don't worry Richard Fannin, Gate River is a close second!) and this time didn't disappoint. It was its usual adventure of never-ending amusement with the most fantastic group of people ever to be assembled onto a single team, or piled into a single van. Then of course there was the race. I know, I know...too cross-country-ish for some, which is understandable, but I loved it. I will say though that a few months ago in wondering and questioning and agonizing over whether or not to get my knee fixed or wait till after Clubs, that I am so, SO glad that I did it when I did, absolutely no way could I have picked my way through that course with stuff the way it was. You can always think of a million things that you could or should have done differently in a race, but all things considered I'm pretty grateful for how it all turned out, and we came away with second place, which was great considering how loaded up that race was.

Another reason big races like this are awesome: they're like one big runner-fiesta-gala-reunion-pow-wow-shindig-of-running-and-merrymaking...thing. I geek out over stuff like this, and I'm not ashamed. I mean, almost got taken out by a panic-stricken looking Alan Webb sprinting to the start and I was actually excited about it. I stood next to my biggest runner-girl-crush EVER, Lauren Fleshman, on the line and I wished SO bad that I had a Sharpie on me at that moment so that she could autograph my bib real quick before the gun went off. Plus, it's always good to look down the results list and see names of people who seemed to disappear or have flown under the radar for a bit come back out of the woodwork and start the climb back up again (Angela Bizarri, Jess Tebo, and Mel Lawrence to name a few. I'm sure there are some guys too but I'll admit that I'm woefully inadequate when it comes to following men's running. Horribly sexist, I know). Also, it was great to see little Laura Thweatt get the win, that makes two years in a row of a woman from Colorado taking the individual title.

Anyway, this post is slightly devoid of any personality whatsoever. I feel sorta like, I don't know...mentally hungover right now I guess (not that kind of hangover, there were no Amaretto Sours at the after-party unfortunately. Must be a Bend thing.), from getting so amped up for so many months for that little 6k race, considering that was the biggest carrot to make a strong post-op comeback last fall. But now there's USA XC in Boulder on the docket--8 weeks away, so best be keeping the nose to the grindstone.

Here are all of us telling everyone to have a Merry Christmas:

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Back At It

Well I said I'd post back here after I had a race under the belt, and I've got one, the Colorado Club Champs race up in Boulder last Saturday--only 4k long but a race nonetheless and a pretty good indicator of where stuff is at.

Initially this post started out as one of my, how shall I put this, Immediate-Post-Race-Emotional-Vomit-Rant...things. But I deleted that after I actually had time to mull it over and figure out it wasn't the end of the world (surprise!), and not even bad for that matter, and that maybe it wouldn't be such a bad idea to pick out the positives and--gee I dunno--actually be thankful for the outcome. I don't really know what outcome I was expecting in the first place, but I didn't really want to go into it with a "this is just a rust-buster" mentality, because I kind of feel like that's a ready-made excuse to pretty much run like crap and feel okay about it. I guess I just thought I'd pick up right where I left off, go right out there and run the race of my life and have it feel effortless like it does every time you have "the race of your life". Amazing how easy it is to forget that racing actually hurts, a totally different kind of hurt than you can give yourself from a workout. In any case, I came away with 11th place, a really hard-to-get-hunched-over-hands-on-knees-at-the-finish-line 11th place for that matter, and our team got 2nd, which I was admittedly feeling salty about.

So that said, I spent a solid 36 hours beating myself up in the following fashion:

"I didn't spend that long on the sidelines, I shouldn't have lost anything. This is inexcusable."
"I crossed-trained like a mofo, if anything I should be in better shape than before. This is inexcusable."
"I feel fat. This is inexcusable."
"Usually I'm (fill in the blank) number of seconds ahead of (fill in the blank), definitely not today. Not even close. This inexcusable."
"Usually I'm up there with (fill in the blank), but nope, not even close again. This is inexcusable."
"Umm helloooo I've done like 3 actual workouts in the last 2 months, I should be in like, PR shape right now today, this is inexcusable."

Irrational much?

But later Taskmaster Cody presented to me the mind-boggling and radical notions that 1) You got knee surgery 12 weeks ago for s**tsakes. 2) You did, in fact, not run for a few weeks following. And this does, in fact, affect performance. 3) It was a loaded up field, and you were right up with people who are fit and ready to go.

Okay. So maybe he was just going all Dr. Phil on me in order to stem the crankiness and quell the oncoming tide of neuroticism that was rapidly impending like an inescapable wall of molten magma erupting forth from deep within the bowels of Mt. Vesuvius, threatening to engulf and destroy all in its path, leaving naught but death in its wake...but either way it did sound sort of completely sensible and rational and sound and reasonable and logical and basically like the opposite of anything that I normally come up with on my own on any given day. I was positively dazzled, and I ate it up.

And then, there is such a thing as being grateful that you're out there. Yeah yeah, I know. we've all heard it before: "It's okay that you're running like dookie*, at least you're out there!" That's not really what I'm going for here. For one, as mentioned above I am forced to concede to the fact that I'm actually not running like dookie, it's just kind of where stuff's at right now, and it's not so bad, it just needs to get better, which might not happen right now today because immediate gratification just isn't really part of the whole running thing, otherwise its popularity as a sport would be unmatched...which it clearly is not. But what I'm really getting at is that less than a third of a year ago, I felt like there was an angry little man with a pickaxe just going at it on the inside of my knee, every. Single. Run. For almost two years (how'd I even do that?!). And now it feels like nothing ever even happened, actually I think I forgot what normal even felt like. And for the record normal feels pretty neat. 3 months ago I was walking around like a peg-legged pirate, nevermind even thinking about running for 5 minutes, or even pool running for that matter. Just a few weeks ago I was pretty sure I wasn't really going to feel the same as I ever used to. And now racing on an absolute ankle-breaker of a cross country course and being back to doing what I was doing before and having no issues whatsoever? That's nothing to sneeze at...the body's a freakin' miracle. Sometimes you've really got to get off your own back, you actually are pretty ridiculously fortunate to be back at it.

So with that being said, that was a dang good starting point and there's really nowhere to go but up. And if we thought last Sunday's course was an ankle-breaker, by the sounds of things it was just a baby ankle-breaker compared to what's waiting for us in Bend for Clubs.
Bring it.

*If you're not sure what dookie is, refer to the following: http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=dookie

Fake It Till You Make It

This last weekend I got to participate in the first US National Road race championships 12k in Alexandria VA and had such a great experience. I can not say enough how much of an honor it was to be involved in the amazing field. USATF did a great job with everything! The course, hospitality, location and competition were all top notch! I can't wait for next years event.

Unfortunately my race was not as top notch as the event. The last couple weeks before the race I had thoughts of dropping out. I knew my speed wasn't back yet and lining up with girls going for the American record was really going to make it show. Yet ultimately being invited to this event was a big deal. It was the first one ever and you had to place high in a USA championship race to be allowed in. Since I knew what an honor it was I figured let's just go and do what we can and enjoy the experience.

As we were walking to the start line Sunday morning we ran in to David Monti who gave us some good advice...fake it til you make it. I figured yeah why not. I know I can't hang with these girls but lets just pretend. Well right after the gun went off I realized how funny that was. You can not fake it in a field like that. At a mile I found myself very close to last place and started to have a pity party for myself. No matter how much you prepare yourself mentally to get a butt kicking seeing it happen is a lot worse. It's a weird feeling to be racing and feel so good but not be able to make your legs turn over and I was frustrated. Luckily I had my teammates in this race so I just focused on catching up to Mattie as I figured we would be able to work together to pick some girls off. Let me tell you though that was a rough mile working my way back up to her. She is one tough cookie! I have had 6 weeks since my marathon she has only had two and she was doing so good. Well it was so good to catch up to her I think after 5k it just helped me relax to run along side her. I was feeling fabulous and at the turn around was so happy to see Laura Thweat and Brianne running so well I couldn't help but cheer for them. My pace didn't change much while me and Mattie were running together. We were talking to one another and trying to encourage each other during our lack luster performances. Honestly at times it was almost comical. Yup it was happening we were not even close to what we should be but sometimes it's good. I came through 10k in 34:15 which is actually only 12 seconds off of my road PR and just pushed through to the finish. I knew top ten was probably not going to happen unless somehow my legs just magically came back but it's still not any easier when you actually cross the finish line out of the ten. Good for me when I crossed I saw the super sweet amazing Laura Thweat with a flag draped around her! I didn't even care about my pity party I yelled for her and gave her an air high five! Those of you who don't follow her or know her better get on it. She is just starting to show everyone what she is made of. Plus she is a great young lady so it's even better to see her do so well!

I'm taking away the positives from the weekend and actually am not at all upset. I have to be 100% honest. After Twin cities heart break I was planning on doing CIM. I wanted redemption and I wanted it now. So I jumped right back in to running full steam ahead and more excited than ever. Well once everything settled down me and Scott talked and with tears in my eyes and a broken heart we decided it was not the best idea for my future marathon career. I know it's the right thing to do but after that decision I was not super excited about training. The thing is speed is something I have to work super hard at! It does not come easy at all to me so I knew this was going to be a humbling time of getting my butt kicked at every workout for the foreseeable future. So I was going through the motions. Speed sessions, predator runs, long runs, easy days just doing what I was suppose to without as much heart as I normally have. Well getting your butt kicked at a race will sure change your motivation :) I'm now super excited about speed work. I'm actually even excited about going to Club XC with my team and actually finally running a great XC race! Plus I am even more motivated for the usa half marathon champs!!! I want a new half PR so bad and it is on my birthday so it'll be a fun race! Also it probably doesn't hurt that I now have a marathon on the schedule. I can always focus better on speed when I know it'll help my marathon down the road and it is going to be so amazing to run Boston!!!!! So no more faking it til I make it. Time to put in some good old lung burning 400's, 800's and miles to kick this old ladies butt back in speed shape. Full steam ahead to the half champs and a new PR!!
Wendy

Monday, November 4, 2013

Pittsburg, Monterrey, Costa Rica ...


There has been a noticeable tone of negativity in the running world lately as people from around the country have weighed in on the decision of Competitor Group to eliminate funding of its elite athlete program.  Most of the articles and opinions I’ve read raised solid points, and I do believe Competitor Group has deserved its criticism.  I don’t really have much to add to the conversation, so instead of focusing this blog on an organization that doesn’t want to help runners, I would like to recognize some of the amazing groups that make professional distance running possible.  Since this list includes most of my racing schedule this fall, I thought it would be worthwhile to give praise where praise is do and unveil my racing schedule at the same time.  Also, this list isn’t comprehensive.  There are many more races that deserve a shout out.  However, I lose interest in a blog that is over a page, so I don’t want anyone to leave mid-blog. 

My first race this fall was the EQT Pittsburgh 10-miler this past weekend put on by Three Rivers Marathon, Inc. and the Steel City Road Runners.  These folks generously fund a full and half marathon, a road mile and have added a 10 Mile this fall.  Additionally, they have announced a grant program for developing athletes.  Most importantly, they see the value in connecting the elite runners with the public.  For example, while the elites were in Pittsburgh, we met with the local running group for a run as well as a high team that had just finished their season.  I think this is the future of road running – trying to find ways to mingle the elites with the local running community to promote the race and enhance the appeal of those who pay to run.  In what other sport can the public compete at the same time and in the same arena as the professionals?  Three Rivers recognizes the value of elites and is dedicated to helping us while also improving the racing experience for other runners.

Two weeks later, I’m set to run the Big Sur Half Marathon in Monterrey, CA.  The race organizers in Monterrey earned much respect from me two years ago.  I had placed 4th in their race in 2011 finishing behind Ezykias(?) Sisay who later tested positive at another race for deer antler spray or whatever drug cheats are taking these days.  By the time the results from his failed drug test were in, the prize money had already been distributed to the top finishers.  The race didn’t have to take any action.  However, they took Sisay out of the results and sent checks to the runners that would have finished in the money had Sisay not run.  I doubt they were able to find Sisay to reclaim their first place prize purse, but that didn’t stop them from re-distributing the prize money.  I have a lot of respect for those that do the right thing when they don’t have to, and I’m honored to be running their race again this year.

Next, I’m returning to Costa Rica for a half marathon in San Jose.  This will be my second time racing in Costa Rica, and I hope it’s not the last.  The atmosphere at races there rivals that of major U.S. sporting events.  The other runners are excited about the elite race and winners spend the next hour after finishing taking pictures and signing autographs.  Given the enthusiasm for the elite race, organizers in Costa Rica have made a concerted effort to bring in elites and offer decent prize money as well.  Again, these organizers see the value that elites can bring to a race, and recognize that an elite competition can improve the overall experience of the race as a whole.  The professional running scene needs these individuals to survive, and thankfully we have many in the U.S. and around the world.   

I have a couple more races after Costa Rica and will talk about those next blog.