Monday, July 7, 2014

What goes up...

...must come down. And man does it come down.

I debated over posting anything at all regarding the race yesterday, because the side of me that thinks way too highly of myself doesn't want to look bad. But I feel like if you're going to talk about your experiences when everything is all rah-rah-go-me-my-phone-and-Facebook-and-other-social-media-sources-are-exploding-with-congratulatory-messages-yay-everyone-thinks-I'm-cool-all-of-a-sudden, it's only fair to talk about your complete and utter shit shows and screw ups and embarrassments too. Yes, I know I just said a naughty word, but honestly there might be a lot of those today. PG-13 for this one, so leave the kids at home. But it seems like people only hear about and see other peoples' successes, and you get to thinking it should only be that way, which is a bunch of bull crap. On top of that, I only get 24 hours to "grieve" over a bad day, and I am 23 hours in, so whatever I've got to say, I will say it now and move on.

So on that upbeat note....Loon Mountain, this year the USA Mountain Running Championships: where some runners go to win and do rad fist-pumps across the line, and other runners go to die slow and painful deaths. To date, the most nightmarish and embarrassing race of my life, because what went wrong was within my control, and I have to own that.

Sometimes I think you learn more about yourself from the epic, miserable failures than the glowing, shiny successes that seemed to come so easy (even though when you think about it, they never did come easy) and I learned a lot on that mountain.

Although much of it is one if those "well I know what happened but I don't really know what happened" type things, all feelings and emotions aside, tactically it all started with a key failure on my part: a failure to know the course when I thought I knew the course, which culminated in a mental and physical and emotional blow up of such stunning and stellar proportions that I don't actually recognize myself in whoever that girl was who all of a sudden just said to herself, "I CAN'T." Like that. In all caps. Then stopped. I have never told that to myself and believed it, and it kind of surprised me when I did, and that's what sparked the emotional side of said meltdown, which effectively undid the whole race.

So the race...I was jittery for about 2 weeks leading up to it, but I woke up excited and it started pretty much like thought it would. I told myself not to just assume you're going to go out there and blow everyone's doors off because there are plenty of veterans and you will have to compete HARD to earn a spot on this team, but at the same time to be confident and believe in yourself enough to not be surprised by anything good that happens. And I ran well and even handled the downhills better than I thought I would for the better part of the race, and those were initially my only hesitation in coming here. It ended up being Allie--who went on to a huge and much deserved upset victory--out in front, myself, Megan D., Kasie, and Morgan in somewhat of a pack for much of the race, from what I remember. I had checked out roughly half the course the day before, and had studied the course profile, so I was confident that I knew what I was getting into. I didn't check out the uppermost part of the course though, and that's where the shit really hit the fan on so many levels. To be honest though, I was not at all worried that I didn't know the details of it all going in, because hardly anyone seemed to and they were not concerned, but I guess everyone's different. I need details.

The long in the short: there was a false summit. Simply, I ran absolutely as hard as I could up a 500ish meter long hill thinking it was Upper Walking Boss and I just knew everyone had been exaggerating it all along, because I could see the gondola at the top with a tent next to it and a ton of people cheering, and I didn't know there were two of those so I thought, "GO NOW." So, being in 3rd place at the time and hell bent on making a team, I kicked as hard as I could up that mofo. Legs and lungs screaming like they always do in the final stage of a race, I crested the summit expecting a finish line but was instead greeted with a 1 Mile Left sign. And it is the absolute hardest mile of the whole damn race, and I knew that. Mentally I deflated. Completely. I didn't even fight it. I heard this voice in my head that said, loud and clear, "I CAN'T." I can't because how could I ever make a world's team? I can't because it's not like I'm special or something. I can't because I'm just normal and and slightly socially awkward and I have a normal job and a normal life and I'm normal. I can't because I'm from Franktown and what cool thing has ever come out of Franktown besides cement. I can't and I am going to disappoint everyone and myself worst of all. I can't because I had this perfect race plan that just went way out the window and I'm not really sure how to handle that. Not, I CAN because I trained my ass off and don't deserve to shortchange myself. Not I can because I'm tough enough to still salvage something from this race. Not I can because someone has to, so it may as well be me. Not I can because I AM good enough. Just I can't. And I truly believed that just long enough and in precisely the worst moment to totally give into it. And the next thing I knew I stopped. And worse, I was sitting, yes, SITTING (how the hell did I end up sitting?! It really was that bad.) on the course apologizing OUT LOUD to...me? Yes, I guess to me because I let me down, and even to God because I felt like maybe I wasn't doing the best I could with what I had and was taking it all for granted, and that's just not what you're supposed to do in life, I don't care what you believe in. But it was totally f***ing weird and awful and embarrassing and I probably looked like a raving, sweaty, strung out, crack addict on the side of a random mountain, which is about what I felt like. On a scale of One to Psychosis I would solidly put myself on the furthest end of that spectrum. I lost all dignity then and there--actually no, I think I saw a tiny shred of it poking out from beneath a rock but it blew away shortly thereafter--and I joined the ranks of the most colossal head cases to ever grace the sport, or maybe I've been there for a while, but this was a whole new level. Regardless, I would rather crap myself in a race on camera wearing bun huggers on national television than repeat that feat. I hope onlookers appreciated that they were witnessing an unprecedented meltdown that may (hopefully) never be seen again, but unfortunately no one asks for autographs for these things.

But, since I just couldn't bear to not finish, after what felt like eternity I mustered up what pathetic amount of stamina remained and tried to rally, while feeling like there was a 20 ton elephant sitting on my chest and a 200 pound monkey on my back, to shuffle downhill and then crawl up Upper Walking Boss. I don't remember much of that other than than realizing it's not exaggerated. It was like one of those bad dreams where you're running as hard as you can and everyone is just flying by you. I don't know what place I was. I don't want to know. Anyway, hopefully they got a photo of my pitiful teary finish so that it can be put on the Loon Mountain Facebook page next year to show just what you can be reduced to in this race if all physical, mental and emotional elements combine to create the perfect storm. It's really something to behold. Hey, laugh and the world laughs with you...I guess.

But this was one of those "cry and you cry alone" things. And I did. A lot. Alone. Not because I felt sorry for myself, because it WAS my fault, and not over a bad race, but mostly because I told me "I can't" and it was like I REALLY hurt my own damn feelings or something, if that's possible. Also mostly because even if I would have gutted out a proper finish, which would have been ugly, it still would have trumped giving up on myself. And also because this is not a real problem and so I feel bad for feeling so bad. And because I've spent enough time injured that how could I let myself do this to myself? And because this has never happened before. And because what if because you give up on yourself once it gets easy to do it again and again? And because I want to make people proud of me but I didn't. And because there will always be someone who's glad you failed. And because it reminded me of Kathy Ormsby who totally lost it in the 10k at NCAA's in 1985 and ran off the track and off a bridge and wound up paralyzed, and because if there was a bridge around at the time I'd have done the same thing. And because I'm reading The Fault In Our Stars which is this brutally sad book where all these kids have cancer. And because on Letsrun everyone is so mean to each other. And all this other really weird random shit and I don't really know how else to articulate it other than that I think my brain exploded at approximately the same time my legs did.

For the record having a Psychology degree is absolutely worthless.

I would like to think that maybe that was the best I could do and I just screwed up plain and simple. But I would only agree with the latter half of that statement. Because in the back of my head I know that was not the best I could do, it was up until a point then wasn't anymore, and no one could say anything that would make it excusable. I totally panicked and I overreacted because I put so much stock into this race and executing it perfectly that I let myself get totally thrown when perfect didn't happen. But if that broke me then I had no business on a Worlds team anyway, and the group that's going absolutely earned it, and I absolutely did not, and I'm proud of them. I don't believe there is a valid excuse. It was embarrassing, and I regret it. But anyway, that's how it went.

Post race, the elite coordinator Paul sent me an email and this was part of it:

"Hopefully today you can walk away with something of value in much the same way your Mt. Washington of 2 weeks ago was walking away with awesomeness."

So I started wondering to myself what thing of value could I possibly have just taken away from the most embarrassingly low race of my life. And it didn't take much thought. I thought about other races I've had where in spite of my best effort, they were horrible. But the thing that was missing from the aftermath of them was regret. I learned that no matter how brutal and ugly and painful a real finish would have been, it would have far surpassed giving into physical and mental pain and essentially giving up because of it, and that no matter how cheap talk is, I will never, ever let that happen again.

So that's kind of all I have to say about that, there is great and good and bad and ugly and downright pathetic and that's just how it is. I just had to put it out there though. I don't believe in carefully curating and promoting some best-case scenario version of myself. Shit happens and it hurts really bad when it does.

On the upside, I met a bunch more awesome mountain running peeps and I seriously love the mountain/ultra/trail running community the more races I run, totally different vibe and I am so glad I stumbled on it. And Nuta taught me how to make Turkish style coffee, so there's that.

It was no Mt. Washington and there was no glory in it, but at least I get to try again. There's still another mountain that needs to be run up next month.



Sunday, June 29, 2014

Running Up More Things

We've all had those races or seasons where, after they're said and done, you KNOW that you're gonna remember them for a loooong time. Maybe even not necessarily PR's, but breakthroughs or milestones or whatnot that make your mindset kind of shift and it's like, "Oh, I didn't know I could actually do that." I think racing Mt. Washington last weekend was one of mine.

Mountain races aren't really your traditional, balls-to-the-wall-from-the-gun type races, and the race doesn't seem to always end up going to the fleet-footed little gazelles with the flawless running form. Heck, some people probably look at the times from some of those races and write them off as not even being real "races" (however, I would encourage said people to actually try one before making that call). They present a lot more unique challenges and a hugely different atmosphere than what I'm used to, and I can see why people who give the MUT scene a try don't always go back to the roads and track. It's just so different, not only do you have the excitement of the race, but you also get to see things you would never see on the roads, and you meet a whole lot more quirky people who love the same things about it. I have had more fun training in the last couple of months than I have in the last few years. Don't get me wrong, I love training and competing and running in general, but if I was really honest with myself--and I would not admit to myself till recently--I didn't really realize that I was actually kind of mentally fried doing the same types of workouts in the same places and running the same sorts of races, and getting basically the same results season after season. But I get so freaking excited now over all the different workouts and training routes and trails in Colorado Springs that I never even knew existed till fairly recently, and in a way I feel like someone hit the "reset" button on running, in a REALLY good way. Rather than getting nervous and jittery over the fact that I'm pretty sure the earth will spontaneously burst into flame and there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth if I don't hit my 800 meter splits on the track, instead I'm like a fat kid in a candy shop wanting to see how fast I can fartleck my way up Columbine Trail without rupturing my aorta. Or whatever else Taskmaster Cody comes up with. It's pretty rad.

But anyway, I haven't talked about Mt. Washington yet.

First, I have to start with my long and obligatory list of Thank You's, leading the list should be the elite coordinator Paul Kirsch, who even let me into the race late. I should start by saying that the hardest part about the race (aside from the race itself) is getting to it. It's out in the boondocks (spectacularly beautiful boondocks I might add), so it took some serious organization to get all of the elite field out there. Transportation to and from Boston, which was no joke, was all set up for us (thanks John), as was housing. And somehow Paul miraculously accomplishes all of this via 8 million emails. On top of that, housing is all squared away too. Sage Canaday and myself stayed with Sharon Morrison, who kindly adopted us for a couple of nights in her awesome house in the middle of the woods. I crashed at Beth Merica's house en route back to Boston the day following the race, and I guarantee that Beth is cooler than the coolest grandma EVER.

Okay now on to Mt. Washington.

<"Only one hill".... Let's just say when Sage (a previous Mt. Washington victor) took Ryan Bak and myself on a course tour (as in, he drove us up the mountain) the day before, I had a bit of an "Oh S**t" Moment. I mean, crap, this thing is steep. And it just keeps going. And treeline is at like, 3,000 feet and it looks like you're on top of a 14-er at that point. I thought maybe I was seriously about to embarrass myself tomorrow, because who RUNS UP THIS?! I was thinking at that moment that should have stuck with the Portland Track Festival.


The view from about mile 4, the white tents down below that you can barely see is the starting area.

But somehow I made it to the start line the next day. After Simon taped up my plantar and I warmed up, I mentally went through all the zillion of tips that people had given me who had run the race before. Scott Elliott, who ran the race a few times not to mention won Pikes Peak half a dozen more times, had given me some advice a few weeks prior. Don't start out too fast. Got it. Don't bother with a watch. Check. When you see the dirt parking lot on your right up near the summit, start going for it. Cool, sounds great, hope I get that far. Heading to the start, I reassured myself with the comforting statistic that in 120 years, Mt. Washington has only seen 120 deaths, and none have been in this race. Hooray.

Reassuring.
Sounds about right.

After the gun went off, we ran the only flat section in the entire race for a whole 200 meters before the road abruptly changes to a 15-ish percent grade, which will be unrelenting for the next almost-8 miles. I don't actually remember a whole lot save for wondering how and when I got ahead of Brandy and Valentina, because they're no joke on ascents. It made me awfully nervous, but after a while I just thought what the heck, just give it a try and see what happens. The rest of the race passed in a haze of just grinding up to the summit, which you actually run into the clouds to get to, and to be honest I don't even remember the "Wall," which is the 23% grade of a hill that marks the final push of the race, maybe 100 meters out from the finish. I had heard horror stories of The Wall. All I could think of was, "Sweet! I get to break tape!" I've won some races, but there's never been tape to break. Not even like a strip of toilet paper strung out across the finish line. So I was really excited to break tape. The time was 70:12, which was apparently a solid time but knowing what constituted a good Mt. Washington time was another thing I was blissfully ignorant of going into the race.

The Wall that I don't remember.

So anyway, that was that. I got my first big girl mountain win and even better, I qualified for my first USA Team for the WMRA Long Distance Challenge on Pikes Peak this year! It was a great day.

Speaking of Team USA, next up is another trip back to New Hampshire, which is seriously growing on me, for the Loon Mountain Race, aka the USA Mountain Running Champs! I'm pumped.
Winning our fancy salad bowls, Brandy's came with a baby!

How I trained for my 26.2 Grandma's Marathon

I have not started a blog ever because I thought why, I don't have anything interesting to say or I'm not really funny.... But, the other day someone said to me “your one determined mom”, how do you stay so fit with 2 kids, I don't have the time. I thought in my head, yeah I have some big goals, and I don't have a ton of time but, I do get it in!

So for all you busy moms out there let me give you my best running mom tips. I hope they help!

1.Get out the door/treadmill before everyone is up and moving! Because, when mom is up everyone needs you and the feeding frenzy begins. I want milk, I want cereal, and can I have a strawberry.....which leads to a Mount Everest pile of dishes. Then you have to perfect the perfect pony, can't find my shoes, I did not wash the favorite outfit.... Love them but, mornings can be rough at times and when my run is done I am ready and on point!

2. Prepare as much as possible! I chop everything up and put into containers for the week. Wash strawberries and cut them up, make 2 dozen pancakes one day and reheat. Sweet potatoes in the Crockpot wrapped in foil so they r ready to go. Whole chickens that I can use for sandwich meat for the next couple of days, hard boil eggs. Big dishes and quiches. To eat healthy use your precious time, prepare as much as you can and become a planner, There is no other way.

3. This summer kids have swimming and I use that hour to do core work and hip strengthening exercises, along with some yoga and stretching. Yes, I did look a little silly and got the, “what a great idea, you should lead us all in your routine”. Use every min for all the small stuff! They add up!

4. Don't think you have to get massages and take naps to succeed. I think they help a ton if you can find time and afford them but, I have never received them in my trainings and have tallied maybe 6 naps in my running career. Do it if you have the time but, don't dwell on it! If you’re at home like me you never sit so you are constantly flushing the legs! By walking around :) that is what I tell myself.

5. Sometimes I run laps around the cul de sac, push kids to park and run around the park in circles. Boring yes! A couple weeks ago a group of moms were at a table drinking wine and watching there kids play, they said great idea but, obviously not that great of an idea they kept drinking wine :), that is a good idea! Goals and sacrifices. Getting in my second runs mandatory!

6. Be ready in workout clothing at all times and seize it when it happens! Yes people think I am dresses up when I wear a nice shirt and jeans. I get in push ups and lunges and any of the little things while the kids are riding bikes, drawing with chalk. Or I play red light green light, Mr. Fox and I do lunges to them:) athletic wear is the new style really!

I wrote this on my spin bike at 5 am so don't judge my writing or grammar! A happy mom means good things. Get crafty! Take the tips or don’t! Just an insight into my routine.

Brianne

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

#allin or nothing

When adidas first came out with the #allin, admittedly I was a bit confused.  The first thing that came to mind was, "oh, it's a new word for ballin" and I couldn't come up with a better explanation.  I thought maybe it had been shortened like Puff Daddy-P Ditty-Ditty...I don't know, I purposely don't pay attention to pop culture.  When I heard it was "all in" I was pretty excited, as this pretty much sums up my view on athletics.  My philosophy in running is simple; make yourself tired, keep running, then run faster.  I view every time I put my adidas kicks on and step out the door as an opportunity to improve.  It's also why I became a runner.  I viewed running as a sport in which hard work pays off more so than other sports.  This is mostly true, until you get to the elite level where you basically red line your body about three times a week.  The danger becomes 'overtraining,' a word I have always hated and basically didn't believe in.  Why? Because overtraining is also how you improve, and fear of overtraining leads to under training and under performing. #allin or nothing

2013 was a huge breakthrough for me because I has spent the last three years with no real improvement in running.  I accomplished my long time goal in running, a qualifying mark for the USA Track & Field Championships.  The road there wasn't easy.  For almost three months I was afraid that a worsening breathing problem would end my running career.  I could barely run a track workout without couching to death afterward, making it almost impossible to run a mile specific workout.  Warmer weather helped get this under control leading up to my June races.  I had also been banished from my previous college team, something that weighted heavily on my mind.  When I got to Des Moines for the championships, I was confident and felt great….except for my breathing.  Allergies destroyed my chances at making the final.  On the cool down I could hear a whistling sound when I attempted to inhale.  I was later diagnosed with vocal chord dysfunction (a camera was shoved up my nose while riding to exhaustion on an exercise bike...that was fun).  This led to the decision to have my deviated septum fixed in hopes it would help, as I couldn't breathe through the right side of my nose.  I had the surgery in September 2013.  It helped my breathing but has basically destroyed my ability to race a mile.

The 2014 racing season has unarguably been the worst track season of my life.  Despite my hardest training, work ethic, and giving up alcohol entirely, my body didn't have it.  Maybe it was my reaction to the surgery and anesthesia, maybe I overtrained, maybe I just need a month off of running.  Ever since the surgery I have not had a single good middle distance track workout.  Long runs and tempos were better than ever, as well as distance races at altitude which was a huge breakthrough.  So what happened? Probably the most damming thing was an internal sore that refused to heal post surgery.  That made for a nice seven months of nearly constant pain and hopelessness.  Maybe putting in the nastiest training Ive ever attempted with that going on was just too much.  During this battle, the last thing on my mind was giving up at running.  I needed it to take my mind off the sore, and the doctors told me training didn't effect it.  Maybe I should have run easily for a month.  It also didn't help that it wasn't accurately diagnosed until I had been in pain for six months.  Two months of treatment and its better.

It appears I have lost something fundamental to running.  What it is I can't exactly say, I can only try to explain.  My aerobic capacity has stayed the same if not improved.  Sprinting was nearly impossible, though I regained that ability in March.  What never came back was my ability to run 1500 race pace at a relaxed effort.  I ran three 3:50 1500s this year, all in great weather with great competition.  I spent the last two months running on legs that barely worked.  I tried everything to get them back, but every workout involved calf pain that got so bad I dnf'd my last race.  So now I begin the task of regrouping and analyzing what happened.  I have exhausted every option in running besides one; rest.  It is the only option I see for the next few weeks, followed by a relearning of how to run.  Back to working on the fundamentals….maybe that's why Renato Canova calls the initial phase of training 'fundamental training.'  So its June, the US Championships are next week and I'm not even on the list.  I just had the most disappointing track season ever.

So why am I smiling? Because I went #allin or nothing.  There was no other option.  I left left no stone unturned as far as running goes this season.  I gave it everything.  After showing poor fitness in January I spent about six weeks (Feb-March) with basically no easy days and 100 miles per week with killer workouts.  Some may say this was dumb but I couldn't have lived with my self had I not gone #allin.  I don't know what my future in the sport holds, but I will give it my all till all options are exhausted once again.  However, I will purposely put in a few rest periods in my training next time, cause I did learn something.


Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Cross Training Adventures


I am entering week five of cross training, and hopefully I will be able to start running again next week. I am recovering from my second stress fracture in about a year. This one is also in my second metatarsal, but in the other foot. Last time, I spent a lot of time in the gym, which is incredibly boring in my opinion. This time around, I wanted to get outside and cross train. It's been an adventure to say the least. My training has been mostly biking, walking, yoga, core and gardening. I am going to try out an EllipitGo soon, which I am really excited about. I think the elliptical is really the best form of cross training for running . I'm sure it will be awesome to be able to get outside on the EllipitGo. I'll report back after my first ride.

I was ok with cross training at the gym on the first day because it was snowing outside. I got on the spin bike and started pedaling as fast as I could, which lasted approximately 55 seconds, until I decided that the seat needed to be readjusted. After the seat was set to the correct height, I started pedaling again with my heel to protect my injury and promptly lost my footing and fell off the spin bike. I was slightly embarrassed, but otherwise fine. Having made it through the next 59 minutes without incident, clearly I was ready for a new challenge. Mountain biking.

Day one of mountain biking started out on a chilly morning. I set out with my husband who has a lot more experience on the bike than me. I did a little bit of mountain biking last year when I was hurt, but nothing very technical. The trails by our house are quite a bit more technical than what I did last year, but I was up for the challenge. We rode up the most forgiving route on single track then up a dirt road to the top of Cheyenne Canyon. I kept up with Scott fairly well, but I had to walk a couple of times on the technical parts of the single track. No big deal.

Getin' rad on the mountain bike. Our attempt at selfies. I think we are naturals .


Then we started back down the hill. 57 degrees is freezing going downhill on the bike. By the time we got down the road, teeth chattering, we decided to go the direct shorter (steeper) single track route home because it was so cold.

To say that I am bad at riding single track downhill on the bike would be an understatement. I think I used half of the life of my brakes in that one mile stretch. Another woman came flying past me. While walking her two poodles. There was one point where I was full on white knuckled squeezing the breaks, but still moving forward. How is that even possible? The trail was steep and full of loose gravel, so I was sliding down the hill at a terrifying crawl, pretty sure that I was going to go over the handle bars. Concerned that this was sacrilegious to the trail, sort of the equivalent to shaving moguls in skiing, I got off and walked the remainder.

My mountain biking coach

When we got home I commented on how awful I was at the downhill. My incredibly patient husband said that I was probably just worried about hurting my foot so I held back. It was then that I realized, if one is a runner/novice biker who would like to completely forget about the stress fracture in you foot for a bit, ride down the Chutes on a mountain bike.

Helen Hunt Falls halfway up the canyon
I've gotten a lot better since then on the trails and also ride on the roads quite a bit. I've become a tourist in my neighborhood and pretty much ride up any big hill I can find (no shortage here), which usually ends with the paved side of Cheyenne Canyon. It's 5k from the base to the top with 1250 feet of climbing. It's a pretty good workout.

The Artist's house along my road ride
I usually do yoga or take my dog for a walk in the evenings. I've also added in more core work. My core has always been pretty weak and now is a great time to focus on adding strength. Jay Johnson has posted some great videos of core workouts on his website www.coachjayjohnson.com.

The best guide for me through this injury and cross training has been pain. My doctor wants me to cross train and stay active because he believes this will help the bone heal faster. I agree, especially based on my experiences from last year. However, if an activity causes pain then I have to stop and do something else. It's hard at times to be honest with myself about whether or not I feel pain. As a runner I have taught myself to push through pain and even crave that challenge of pushing through
pain. For now, I am focused on recovery and still tapping into that challenge in cross training.

Running will always be my first choice of exercise. But after two stress fractures in one year, I've realized I am going to have to change things up a bit and add in more cross training and running breaks. I'm excited about adding in these of forms of exercise (biking, EllipitiGo) and interested to see how I respond to this new form of training. Barring another running injury, I plan to do some fall road races so that will be the first test. Since I am now a blogger, I'll keep you posted.



Saturday, May 24, 2014

Running Up Things

I would say that the last few weeks have brought about a fun little change in direction to shake things up a little. Following a couple of road races last month with the Cherry Creek Sneak and the Colorado USATF 5 Mile Championships (insert admiring praises here to the two 40 to 50 year old women--Nuta and Colleen--who went 1-2 and kicked my @$$ all around the Boulder Reservoir that day. Humbling, and encouraging at the same time, because apparently you don't get really fast till you're like 35.) I went to the more western side of the state to the lovely town of Montrose to race the Black Canyon Ascent. Admittedly I'd never done any kind of ascent type race in my life, but I heard about it, and seriously who would not want to take part in a race that sounds more like the fourth installment of the Lord of the Rings trilogy? I expected it to be sort of like this:
The Black Canyon! Just kiddin' guys, this is actually Mordor and those are hobbits.

But instead, it was more like this:

And thus far, even though I entered it more or less on a whim, it is my absolute favorite race to date. And that's a lot of races. Sure, a 6-plus mile climb is a bit of a ball-buster, but it's hard to feel like you're truly suffering when you're surrounded by such ridiculous views. After I had my initial "Um, WHAT did I sign up for this for?" moment on the start-line, with good reason since there weren't many climbing type workouts--well no actually there were no climbing type workouts--under the belt at that time, the gun went off and aside from wanting to stop a few times to sort of just sort of look around and be really impressed, it made me wonder why the heck I'd ever want to go back to the track and roads (I mean, I will, just not today). It was so tranquil and peaceful up there and you just sort of settle in and grind away, and no one is spiking your calf or screaming at you to get-out-of-lane-two-but-don't-get-boxed-in-lane-one-and-oh-by-the-way-your-last-400-split-was-a-second-too-slow. The mile markers just kinda clicked by. I won, and apparently missed the course record by a just a little bit, set by none other than Colorado's own queen mountain goat Kim Dobson and closely rivaled (by one second before Kim broke it last year) by Brandy Erholtz. Both have been qualifiers for the World Mountain Running Champs, so to be close time-wise to two mountain running studs on the first go-around was encouraging.

Aside from being a ton of fun though, I think this uphill/mountain type stuff attracts a different sort of crowd. It's sort of like, "Okay let's all go run up real steep sh*t as hard as we can, then let's go run around some more and look at pretty things that you will only see if you ran up a mountain to see it." Or something like that. Very competitive, yet without the uber-tense atmosphere that permeates track. At least, that's how I feel about it. So I've retired from track. In all likelihood I'll retract that statement next season when I feel compelled to try just one more time. Maybe.

Anyway, since I don't have a ghetto flip-phone anymore (that is a phrase likely to only be uttered in First World countries), I was able to take some nice touristy photos on my self-guided pre-race tour:
Happily waving bear around mile two. He is not to be fed.

Maybe somewhere around half-way.

Trotting up the road.

I heart.

So coming up, I was initially set on doing the Portland Track Festival in a couple of weeks to have another go at the 5k. But that's not on the docket anymore as it got replaced with Mt. Washington, a 7-point-something mile long ascent which sounds like quite the grind to which Black Canyon was just a warm-up for. So that will be another adventure and will lead up to the USA Mountain Running Champs, not too far away from Mt. Washington on Loon Mountain, so the next few weeks will see lots of up and lots of New Hampshire. Onward and upward (ha?)! Okay bad pun.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

How do you know when to hang them up?

How do you know when to hang them up? I dream of going out on top. My fantasy running retirement would be to win the New York City Marathon then announce retirement the next day. Here's the thing though, I doubt any runner, including myself would be able to do that. I think we've all learned that when you achieve something in this sport, you immediately challenge yourself to do better. So it's really hard to know when to give up and stop pushing.

Love running at Stanford. Field was amazing.

For the second time in almost exactly a year, it appears that I have a stress fracture. I am also cursed when it comes to the Payton Jordan 10k, but I don't have any solid proof of that, so I will stick to the facts. My foot felt a little weird the week leading up to the race, but it wasn't so bad that I thought I couldn't get through it. Thought it was just one of those little niggles that happen just about weekly when you train this hard. It felt pretty good the day before and during strides, so I didn't really think too much about it. I started the race and felt pretty good for the first mile. The pain got progressively worse and by 5k I knew there was no way I could make it another 5k, so I limped off the track. Bummer.

Standing on my good foot
I'll be honest, I debated hanging up the spikes for good. I thought about how much easier my life would be if I didn't run competitively and just went out for a nice peaceful jog every morning. But, here's the thing, I love the challenge of running. I love doing workouts and pushing myself. Not one to choose the easy route, I decided to stop feeling sorry for myself and move forward. The thing is, I'm not going to know when I've reached the pinnacle of my career until it is well behind me, so I might as well stop trying to time it. Meb's Boston win is a great example of why you shouldn't give up if you still have the fire.

So, now the focus is on getting healthy and trying to prevent this in the future. It's three days later and I still can't walk  properly, which means it's time to go to the doctor. In an effort to be well educated about my foot injury, I did the thing that doctors love, googled it. I thought this would be a good way to narrow down my questions. So, after spending some time on the web, my list of questions has gone from about 10 to somewhere in the range of 50 and I think I might need surgery. Turns out there are much worse foot injuries than a simple stress fracture, which has completely changed my point of view. Now I'm praying for a stress fracture instead of a Morton's neuroma or plantar plate tear (thanks WebMD). Trust me, I've seen pictures of these things, they look pretty gnarly, even by running feet standards.

I now find myself with a lot of free time since I haven't really started cross training yet. I don't blog a whole lot, but figured it might be a better use of my time than googling running injuries. I will try not to bombard all of my friends and family with Facebook and Twitter posts, but I will keep you all updated. Thanks everyone for the messages and support!
Spending time with my better half at Half Moon Bay

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.