Thursday, April 16, 2015

Racing roundup, late 2014-early 2015 edition

Oh hey there blogesphere! I bet you thought I had forgotten about you. That wouldn’t be a big surprise frankly, since I haven’t written a blog post in NINE months! It isn’t that I haven’t had anything to say (I have about 10 half-written posts lying around) or that I haven’t been running and racing (there’s been plenty of that). It’s just that on the totem pole of life priorities blogging about my running hobby has fallen pretty far down the list. But I’m putting an end to that today! So bear with me while I spit out a super-quick recap of everything that has happened in the past 9 months leading up to this past weekend’s Cherry Blossom 9.?? Miler up in D.C. I apologize that this is a long post, but hopefully I have learned my lesson and will blog a little more often, thereby sparing you from these marathon posts!

So here we go: nine months of racing, abbreviated:

Lets go way, way back to last summer…after outdoor nationals last July my body decided that I needed a little break (a.k.a. I strained a hamstring) so instead of building on that fitness I took a detour to the local outdoor pool for a few weeks.  This seems to be the theme of racing as a masters runner: whether I want to or not my body demands a full stop a couple of times a year. Lesson learned! Fortunately I didn’t lose much fitness and once I was all healed up I was able to quickly get back to the business of racing and charged into the late summer and the fall with Cross Country on my mind.

Pre race Oiselle team photo!
In late August I ran the Deschutes Brewery 5k with 100 of my Oiselle teammates during Bird Camp and came away with a 6 pack of beer and the Masters win in 18:38. I actually out kicked the masters male winner which I thought should have earned me his 6 pack in addition to mine but no one else seemed to see things this way. While I was a little disappointed in my time I was pleased to have a much better race in Bend than my last racing experience there (Club XC 2013, a.k.a. the race course from hell). Plus it was an amazing experience to race with SO many of my teammates. I am already counting down the days until this summer’s camps!

In early September I started thinking about XC and lined up against a gaggle of college girls for the Adidas XC Challenge. This is one of my favorite races simply because I find it thoroughly entertaining to race against an entire field of girls who could be my children and I love the chance to race with my Bull City Track Club teammates. As we all stood on the starting line I counseled my teammates who were new to the course to not go out too hard…and then proceeded to do exactly that! After the gun went off I got sucked into the pack heading down the first hill and consequently clocked some time in the low 5:40’s or high 5:30’s for the first mile. This made the remainder of the 5k significantly less fun than it could have been but I survived both trips up the 1200 meter hill and was rewarded with a course PR of 18:21, good for 24th place overall (8th if you take the Division 1 girls out of the mix. This seems fair since I am most certainly NOT on a running scholarship!).

Hard at work in Raleigh
Also in September I returned to the NC state road mile championships at the Magnificent Mile in Raleigh. I thought that I might be significantly less nervous than I was last year (when I wanted to throw up or run and hide instead of racing) but nope! My heart was racing right up until the gun went off. Fortunately as soon as I got off the line I was fine. For the first ½ mile I focused on watching my Oiselle teammate Christy Cazzola absolutely kill the competition up front en route to a massive course record and then as the pain set in I just focused on hauling myself home, fueled along by the amazing friends who had come to cheer me on. By some giant stroke of good luck I squeaked out a 1 second PR, broke my own masters course and state record and got the masters win in 5:19. Not sure if I can keep chipping away at that record for much longer but it was fun to raise the bar once again!
Pre-race Oiselle team dinner with Christy!
Hamming it up post-race with Christy,
my incredibly fast and equally
kind Oiselle teammate

Sharing the masters podium with
the incredibly talented Perry Shoemaker
and the legend herself, Joan Benoit
Fast forward to late November and the Masters 12k National Championships in Alexandria, VA. Just like last year Ellen and I set off for our annual “girl’s weekend”, which for us involves Ellen running Richmond on Saturday (where she smashed the 90 minute half marathon barrier!), me running the 12k National Championships on Sunday, comfy hotel rooms, dinner at Bertuccis and a mandatory trip to Ikea on the way home. I had a goal pace in mind (6:10 to 6:12) and unfortunately I realized pretty early on that I wasn’t going to hit it, which makes for an incredibly frustrating race. To keep myself from dropping out I played mind games with myself for the duration of the race (predicting my 5k split, then my 8k split, etc…) Despite being off my goal pace everything was going swimmingly overall…I was sitting in second place, running as hard as I felt I could without crossing the redline, amusing myself while I ticked off the miles as best I could…and then just after the 7 mile mark none other than Joan Benoit Samuelson slid quietly past me. I knew she was back there and I knew I had slowed down a little bit between mile 6 and 7 but I was still somehow shocked when she flew by. But then the most incredible inner dialogue started up in my head. It went kind of like this: “well, coming in third because I was beaten by Joanie is nothing to sneeze at. But wait…she isn’t really gaining on me! Oh shit! I almost just clipped her heel. Allie, do NOT trip Joan. No one would ever forgive you! You know, she really isn’t gaining on me AT ALL. I wonder if I can outkick her! I have been running some pretty good 200’s at the end of tempo runs. Maybe I could beat her! Whoa. If I outkicked Joan Benoit Samuelson it would be the greatest moment in my entire running career. What a great race story that would be! Hmmmm, is beating a legend totally tacky? Will people hate me for it? Will Joanie hate me for it? Shit. I don’t know! But I think I need to go for it.” And so I went. I just hunkered down and hauled myself past her, kicking as hard as I could. I knew that there was a good chance that I could go down in flames, that she could unleash an even better kick than me and could nip me on the line or that I could tie up and stumble in behind her. But I just drove towards the line and didn’t look back. End result? I survived the effort, outkicked Joan by 3 seconds and walked around with a ridiculous grin on my face for the next week or so.

This is pretty much exactly how I felt
post-race. For days.
I have thought about this race a LOT since November. It makes me very uncomfortable that I was so excited to beat someone else because in general I am not racing to beat other people; I race to challenge myself. I felt especially uncomfortable about how excited I was to beat an American distance running icon. But after lots of reflection I realized that the joy I felt following this experience was two-fold: first, I never, ever imagined that I would be capable of racing on the same level as Joan Benoit Samuelson. Never. It is truly far beyond my wildest dreams of my running abilities. Second, I was just immensely proud of myself for being able to talk myself up during a race and to lay myself out there like that. I struggle with negative self talk quite a lot during races and I have never put myself out there like that in previous races. It was almost like some other, significantly more confident person took over my brain for 30 seconds and conned me into taking that chance. I would like to invite whomever that was to come back and join me for all my future races!

Z sported his Oiselle colors and flew
through the Turkey Trot kids race.
The icing on the cake of the whole experience was having Joan tell me that I was “feisty” afterwards. I have never received a greater compliment and I now have a new race-day mantra (when I can remember it…see below).

After the glory of the 12k I ran a low-key Turkey Trot in 18 something. I really cannot recall my time; all that mattered about this race was that Ellen and I finished 1-2 and we both took home some amazing shiny gold plastic turkey trophies. Some races aren’t really about the racing and are more about the race day fun. This was definitely one of those days!

BCTC Masters women. I am SO lucky to
get to race with these amazing ladies!

The year wrapped up as it always should, with Cross Country Nationals. The Bull City Track Club masters women’s team headed up to Bethlehem with the explicit goal of improving our 4th place team finish from 2013 to a 3rd place finish. We ran a truly stellar team race with all of us finishing within just about a minute of one another. I ran a fantastic first 5k and a miserable sixth kilometer but it was just enough to land me in 9th place and net me a lifetime 6k PR. Unfortunately, based on our post-race scoring calculations, we ended up back in 4th place as a team. We spent the rest of the day feeling pretty frustrated by this but also looking forward to what we needed to improve for next year. Given this, imagine our surprise when we learned during the awards ceremony that we should not give up running for math because we had actually finished SECOND! Never in your life have you seen 4 middle aged women more excited to have NOT won something. Holy cow. Our little team is comprised of an archivist, a pediatrician, a veterinarian and me (a stay at home mom/50’s housewife) who all only started running seriously as post-collegiate adults so it is a huge accomplishment for us to be able to compete with all the ladies who have significantly more extensive and high-level running backgrounds than we do. But, as our fearless team director pointed out, there is no resting on the laurels of second place and all the little things we talked about working on still need to happen, especially since we probably can’t mosey around under the radar anymore.

Post-race with 2 of my favorite Oiselle team-
mates, Jackie Gruendel and Jen Found
Early in the race, Oiselle teammate and friend Jen Found
in the background and surrounded by a who's who
of masters women

After Club XC I tried to keep training; indoor track was right around the corner and I was hoping to parlay my fitness into some fast times on the track. Sadly my body once again had other plans for me and I ended up tweaking my left leg the exact same weekend in January that I had hurt my right foot last year. Next year I will NOT be running at all that week! The injury took me out for 3 weeks, during which time I learned how to do insane VO2 Max workouts in the pool (swimming, not even aquajogging!) and semi-mastered my flip turn, all thanks to my awesome masters teammate Ali Klaitman. All that swimming left me with a great base level of fitness and some ridiculous shoulders, and it got me back to running without too many fitness losses. Unfortunately my left glute went on vacation sometime in early March and just stopped firing. Because of this I decided to forgo indoor masters track nationals and saved my still pesky and unpredictable left leg for Raleigh Relays, which is a collegiate meet. I have been registered for this race for 3 years now, but the first year Z woke up puking and last year I was in a boot so I had yet to actually make it to the race. I was absolutely determined to NOT be absent from the starting line this year, even at the expense of Indoors.

Mid-race, probably thinking more about coffee than
Despite the fact that my left glute wouldn’t wake up and fire during my race warm up I switched into my spikes and trotted up to the line with 29 college girls and one other lone masters runner, hoping that my body would get with the program when the gun went off. The glute did cooperate but race itself, unfortunately, was nothing to write home about. I don’t think that my fitness or my glute were the culprit; my brain was. Somehow I just completely forgot all about positive self-talk and my nifty new mantra ("feisty!") for the entire race. I mentally was NOT into it, as evidenced by my internal monologue, which went something like this “Gah! This is SO boring. Why am I here? I’m not feeling super and this is just hard. I am going to stop. Today just isn’t my day. But shoot; if I stop Allison and Ellen are going to be so mad at me! They came out to watch and cheer for me. I can’t drop out! Okay, I will keep going. Ooohh, look! That girl is from a college in Ohio! I should ask her if she lives in Cleveland! No Allie, you can’t talk to another runner during a track race. Focus. Gah! This is boring and hard. How many more laps do I have?”

Ultimately I made it through the race and ran an 18:19. It was hard and I was spent at the end, but I think this was partly because I ran the first 1200 or so in lane 3 (rookie mistake; this was just my 6th track race ever) and partly because I obviously just wasn’t mentally present. But as I thought about it more I realized that last year at this time not only could I have not run 18:19 but I was in a boot and couldn’t run at all. So I have decided to be happy with this time as a rust buster and to work on my internal monologue a bit.

Post-run with Heidi. I am DEFINITELY 
not taller thanshe is in real life.
After Raleigh relays I headed home to visit my parents, sleep a lot and just enjoy running for the week. My glute continued to bug me but I had some great runs, including logging a lovely long run with my Cleveland friend (and Salty Running founder) Laura Pizmoht and a bunch of miles with my Oiselle teammate Heidi Greenwood. These runs ended up coming in handy just a couple of weeks later as they showed me that I could, in fact, run through having my glute act up a little bit instead of thinking that I needed to just stop every time it stopped firing and my hip flexor seized up.

So that finally brings us to Cherry Blossom! Last November, Ellen and I decided that in lieu of a spring marathon (for her, not me!) we ought to check one of our bucket list races off the list so we registered for Cherry Blossom. I figured that it would be good for me to get a little bit of longer racing experience back under my belt in hopes that doing so would help me with that pesky 6th kilometer at the end of Club XC. Seemed like a great idea at the time! Fast forward to this spring, and I have done exactly one long run over 10 miles and have a bum glute that just can’t decide if it wants to fire or go on a tropical vacation every time I head out for a run. Needless to say, my training was a little iffy. I honestly never pondered NOT running Cherry Blossom, but I was pretty dead set that I would just fun run it with Ellen. And then 2 days before the race I got this text from my dear friend and BCTC masters teammate Ali: 

“I would like to add (since there's no sugar coating) that I think you should not fun run this race. Trust your've said yourself you don't feel like the top end speed is there without all the quarter repeats, etc. but damn, think of all the tempo runs you've crushed! Just go out in control, see how you feel and adjust from there. My guess is that it's going to feel easy and good, then go for it! Even if you can't place technically, do it for yourself. No negative talk, you've done the work, this distance in some ways is going to be perfect at this point. I know how tough you can be...”

Well, um, okay then! I may have some blind spots but I am smart enough to know that sometimes our friends know us better than we know ourselves. I was lucid enough to know that this was one of those moments, so I decided that I should be grateful to have friends who know me so well...and I should give it a go at the race. I had already dropped back from the Women’s Advance Start (where the elite and pro women start 12 minutes ahead of the field) and into the first seeded wave. The day after I made the switch I learned that my Bull City Track Club teammate Rachel was racing in the WAS and I was pretty bummed to not get to race alongside her as we are incredibly compatible pace-wise. But I also knew that given my (lack of) preparation and injury woes I was in the right place. My last minute race plan was to get started around 6:20 pace and run that for as long as my left leg cooperated. Then when it punked out I would just drop back and finish with Ellen. In my mind I expected that to happen at about mile 2 and certainly no later than mile 5. 

Perfect day, 9 year old version
Armed with this crackerjack race plan, Ellen, Rachel and I drove up to D.C. with Z in tow and reenacted as much of our fall girls weekend routine as possible. But this time, instead of staying at a hotel we got to stay with my friend Jackie Gruendel who proved herself to be the best hostess ever! We were greeted with treat-filled goodie bags and while we adults went off and raced Jackie gamely carted Z off for what may just have been the best day of his life featuring a kids race, duck petting, fire truck visiting, lots of dog cuddling and a healthy dose of miniature donkey and horse feeding. It just doesn't get much better than that and I am incredibly grateful to Jackie for not only watching Z so that I could race but also showing him such a good time!

Race morning was gorgeous and after a warm up spent mostly marveling at the stunning cherry blossoms, Ellen and I cheered on Rachel as she got underway, shed our layers and headed to the start. As we stood on the starting line the race director announced that due to an active crime scene out on the course the race had been rerouted and would now be shorter than 10 miles by some mystery amount. I had the strangest reaction to this news: instead of being frustrated I was instantly relieved! All the pressure was off; since this wasn’t a 10 miler it became just a fun run in my head. It also seemed SO much easier to run 9.?? miles than 10 miles. All totally illogical, I know. Logic aside, when the gun went off I felt completely at ease.

The view from our warm up
I also, evidently, felt faster than I thought I would. My first 3 miles were 6:06, 6:06 and 6:11. I wasn’t trying to go fast; in fact, midway through the third mile I saw Ellen approaching in an out and back section and I took the time to run over to her, hop up on a median and give her a big high 5. Not exactly racing behavior. By mile 4 I thought I should slow down a little bit, so I split a 6:14. But then in the fifth mile who should pass me but Joan Benoit Samuelson! Cue the internal dialogue: “well, this race is much more her forte…I mean, it is a LONG race (as opposed to the 12k, which was short?!?!). Nothing wrong with being passed by Joanie, especially because I’m not really ready for this.” Of course I went on to split a 6:10, but whatever. But then, somewhere in the next mile we went up a little incline and I passed her back. Mile 6 was a 6:11 and I was starting to wonder when I was going to fall apart. I mean, here I was, running MUCH faster than I had intended to…faster than I have been running my lactate threshold workouts, faster than I thought my 10k pace was. Surely I was going to just blow up soon. And my glute…when was that going to fail? It definitely acted up during the race; at one point my leg almost just went right out from under me. But each time I was able to calm down and get back on track.  When I hit the mile 7 mark I did start to slow a little bit. I couldn’t convince my body to choke down any more gel and the effort was getting harder. But I clocked a 6:15 and told myself I only had a few miles to go. Mile 8 was a 6:14; I was getting tired but still feeling much better than expected. But I knew that the finish was uphill so I made the mistake of letting that fact get to me and consequently I slowed down in mile 9 to 6:21. I was pretty tired by then and I told myself that I needed to slow down so that I could get up the (not very long) hill. Hmmm, I think I may still need to work on that mental toughness thing a little more. The only saving grace of that last full mile was having Jeff Caron appear by the side of the road yelling my name. (It seems to be a special talent of Jeff’s to appear right when I need a pick me up right the most.) Finally the signs marking the last 1200, 800 and 400 meters came into view and I just tried to imagine running one last repeat in a track workout. When I saw the clock I honestly just couldn’t believe the time: 58:47 when I crossed the line. When all the dust settled I finished 5th in the masters field, behind Jen Rhines (who still races as a pro and clocked a 53:10) and 3 women who all have marathon times in the high 2:40’s and low 2:50’s. Definitely NOT what I had expected when I got up that morning!

Post race, all smiles with Ellen and Rachel. Upside of a
novel race distance: PR's all around!
In case you are wondering, my watch showed the revised course as 9.47 miles; it was hitting each mile marker after the reroute right at .47 for the entirety of the race. At first the race organizers recertified the course at 9.54 miles but later they revised it way down to 9.39. I am guessing that the 9.39 is the closest to being accurate; I know that while I did really try to hug the tangents it is impossible to do so perfectly. But truth be told, I really don’t even care!!! I am honestly just overjoyed that I was able to run that far at an average pace (6:12) that I never, ever imagined being capable of running. I went through the 8k in a time I would be happy with for a stand alone 8k and through the 10k in my second fastest ever 10k (38:19). Is it a little bit of a bummer that I cannot claim a new 2 plus minute 10 mile PR? Sure, a little bit. But the effort is what counted on this given day, not the specific distance PR.

Now that the shock of Cherry Blossom has begun to wear off I realize that I just need to hunker down and, more than anything, work on my mental game. This spring and summer are littered with mile and 5k races and while the fitness is there, I know that my challenge is going to be raising the bar on my mental toughness. Time to work on being a little more feisty!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

After the experiment comes the comeback

In my previous blog post I wrote about the major changes I have made this spring to my training plan. So the question is, did cutting training volume, doing more auxiliary strength work and changing up nutrition actually help? Well,  the short answer is yes. Absolutely yes. The longer answer is still a resounding yes but it took a lot of time, tweaking and patience to get to the payoff. Here's how I got to the yes:

Shamrock 8k. Not a pretty race but a
cool pic!
March: When I wrote my last blog post in March I was still struggling with my odd foot injury. I kept
trying to run but with no success - my foot hurt like crazy. I did manage to string together one good week of training and show up at the Oiselle Team spring meet up in Virginia Beach capable of running the Shamrock 8k. While the weekend was incredibly fun the race itself wasn't much to write home about. I had no speed to speak of and not enough endurance to get me through 8k very happily but I did manage to finish second in the Masters field. Score 1 for being over 40! Unfortunately my leg tightened up after the race and I didn't run again for weeks. I was back swimming 7 days a week and doing core work twice a week for the duration of the injury, but that was it.

My first pain-free run! Cue the
rainbows and puppies. 
April: With the help of my amazing PT's, Shefali and Hannah at Athletic Advantage Physical Therapy I finally got to add some running into the mix. Patience paid off and I had my first "real" and pain-free run in California with all of my fellow LUNA athletes when I was there for our annual Summit. I can't imagine a better time to start feeling like a runner again than running along the San Francisco Bay surrounded by dozens and dozens of ladies who all represent the same amazing company at varying levels. LUNA Summit is undoubtedly one of my favorite weekends of the whole year. I returned from that trip both athletically and emotionally rejuvenated and determined to represent both LUNA and Oiselle well this year. Ironically I knew that the way to do that was to start with a very conservative return to running.  I was up to 7 miles by the time the Boston marathon rolled around so I made the (easy for me) choice to not even attempt the race. (I ended up with food poisoning the night before the race so I would have been out of it regardless so that worked out fine.) Instead I had a wonderful time cheering on my Oiselle, LUNA and Bull City Track Club teammates running the race.  After I recovered from the food poisoning I spent the rest of the month easing my mileage up to 30 miles a week, running without a watch more often than not, ignoring my paces and just taking it easy. It is hard work as a runner to practice patience in a return to running but I knew that if I didn't work back slowly I would pay for it down the road...and I didn't have time for that!
Pre-Boston Marathon Oiselle team dinner. It was kind of like a
junior high sleep over...laughing, discussion of teen
crushes and really bad jokes abounded.
Lots of watch-free running
in April and early May. 

May: May brought my first attempts at speed and tempo workouts. Running fast was pretty tough at first but frankly I was amazed by how much fitness my body had maintained through 4 months of not running consistently. We started off with fartleks and then moved to more structured work. Until just this week my speed sessions have been shorter than they used to be: 4800 meters max as opposed to 6000. During this month I started adding UCan into my pre-run routine on workout days, drinking one serving 60 minutes before a workout. I was surprised to find that it really worked well - my energy was incredibly even during many of my hard effort days with no crash at the end.

At the end of May I was able to pace my one of my favorite people, Carter, through one of my favorite races, the Running Of The Bulls in Durham. This race is a tough 8k put on by our local running store and I had a great experience here last year. I knew my fitness wasn't where it needed to be yet to really race this event so I took advantage of the situation and spent a lovely morning keeping Carter company as we romped around Durham, chatting, catching up and running a better race than she had anticipated (but one that I knew she was capable of!). 

June: With just under 7 weeks to go until my "A" races for the summer, June brought a lot of hard work, my first true racing effort and the introduction of heat training. Speed and lactate threshold workouts continued and on June 7th I laced up my spikes for the Southeastern Masters 5k. I really had no idea at all what to expect, but I knew that the most important goal was to have a good, confidence building racing experience. This is a great track meet but unfortunately this year they split the men's and women's fields for the 5k, which meant that I ended up running the 5K completely solo. Fortunately I had my trusty split timer and photographer, Oiselle teammate Allison Camp, there to make sure that I stayed on pace for 12.5 lonely laps. I spent my time counting laps, running on the conservative end of the race pace spectrum and watching Allison expertly juggle the stopwatch and the iPhone camera every time I passed her. The race certainly served its purpose: I got my pre-race nerves out, ran a hard effort and learned that I was well on my way back to having racing endurance again. The time was nothing to write home about: my 18:43 was 28 seconds slower than my time here last year. This was pretty disappointing to me at first but Allison doggedly reminded me that the time wasn't the goal at this race; the positive experience was. Thanks to her persistence I shed my pace concerns and ultimately was satisfied with the outcome.

I spent the rest of June slogging through the Southern heat and humidity, doing my workouts in the late morning swelter to prep for my July track races. In late June I had finally fine tuned my pre-run nutrition protocol and that definitely helped. While running in the extreme heat and humidity was challenging, I was finding that all but my longest lactate threshold efforts were coming in at my non-heat training paces. I figured this was good news, but I still didn't quite know what it meant!

with one of my favorite people,
Margaret, pre-race.
July: I started July with the Carrboro Four on the Fourth, where my goals were to run sub-6:15 pace, test out my ability to run hard in the heat and, hopefully, place in the Masters division so that I could win a third handmade plate from the race series. (I figured that once I got the third plate my whole family could eat lunch off of matching pottery.) While I had a truly disappointing pace fade, descending from a 6:03 first mile to a 6:15 fourth mile, I did still manage to meet all of my goals. My pace came in at 6:10, I was the first Masters woman, fifth female overall and I won that third plate. Its the little things! The race was also a wonderful, fun morning with my local Oiselle teammates as Ellen and Jolene both raced and Carolyn cheered us on at JUST the right spot on the course.

Oiselle Team NC post-race!

Third plate!

Despite meeting all those goals I still walked away from the race a little dissatisfied with my racing. My pace faded dreadfully and I struggled mentally during the tough spots on the course. I'm guessing that these were related. (I also failed to take my full pre-race gel, which might have factored in.) But instead of wallowing in the disappointment I used it as a wake up call. I have ALWAYS struggled with the mental aspect of racing. I know so many runners who fill their minds with positive mantras and self talk, but I always seem to find myself ruminating on how much pain I'm in. I spend a lot of time just making deals with myself to try to avoid taking a walking break (and I'm embarrassed to admit how often I give in and actually take said break!). But this race was the wake up call I needed. I knew that I had two big, daunting, difficult races just 2 weeks later and I needed to get my mental game together. 

What did I do? Well, not much actually. I just thought about it. But I thought about it A LOT. I nodded off at night visualizing myself being positive during races. I practiced the one mantra I have ever used, over and over and over again. I would say it to myself during speed and tempo workouts, while driving my son to camp, while cooking dinner...any time I thought about the upcoming races I made sure I thought about being positive. I reminded myself that the painful moments in a race often pass if you just ride them out for a few minutes. I channeled my LUNA teammate Kara LaPoint, who is the toughest, grittiest athlete I know. This certainly was no scientific sports psychology program, but it definitely helped. By the time race week arrived I had done all of these things so many times that I was confident that at least SOME of those positive thoughts, triggers and mantras were firmly implanted in my brain. I certainly felt different: I was oddly calm, no big nerves, no racing heart as I tried to fall asleep at night, no queasiness. My last workout pre-race was stellar and my runs felt easy. All of this, of course, totally freaked me out. But I realized that I really had nothing to lose: there was no one putting pressure on me other than me. I wasn't going to let anyone down if I didn't race well. And I only had 10 weeks of workouts under my belt so I wasn't at peak fitness anyway. So instead of my normal basket of nerves I showed up at the races with a lot of respect for the miles ahead of me, a healthy dose of intimidation of my competitors and a strange sense of calm.

These two "A" races were the 5k and the 1500 meters at the Masters National Track and Field Championships. The 5k was run Friday morning and the 1500 meters was run 24 hours later. Miraculously, the Southern heat and humidity took a vacation and we were greeted with cool morning air. I was lucky enough to be joined at the races by my crackerjack Masters teammates from Bull City Track Club. Alison, Nancy and Caren are incredible runners, caring friends and great travel partners. I really couldn't ask for a better group to race the USATF Masters circuit with!

Nancy, me & Alison
Alison, Nancy and I were all registered for the 5k and Caren made the last-minute decision to come along and cheer for us. During the 90 minute drive to Winston-Salem I downed my bottle of electrolytes and Osmo and my bottle of UCAN. Once there we (all track novices still) navigated all the formalities of track racing: pinning bibs all over our singlets, checking in with clerks and officials, sticking the sticky numbers on our chests. After gulping down my pre-race gel it was finally time to line up. Going into this race I was seeded seventh. You will not be surprised to learn that in advance of this meet I had google stalked the entire field and based on this research I figured that if I had a good day I might finish as high as fifth. But as I stood on the line I tried to banish any thoughts of the potential race outcome from my brain and just concentrate on the task ahead. The goal was to go out with Alison in 89 or 90 seconds per lap (that's a 5:56 to 6:00 pace) and then pick the pace up later if I felt strong. Caren was in the stands, watch ready to holler splits at us and cheer encouragement, so (completely out of character for me) I didn't even wear my watch.

When the gun went off there was about 300 meters of total mayhem. I clipped and was clipped by a bunch of women as we sorted ourselves out but I never felt like I was going to go down. By the end of the first lap we had settled into a 90 second pace and the group had strung out a bit. I sat in 5th place for a much of the race: the undeniably super-human Sonja Friend-Uhl was way, way off the front en route to a stellar solo effort and then I was trailing just off the back of a pack of 3 other women. One of them is a local runner who I know is speedy and the other two, I gathered from the announcer's commentary, are former collegiate stars. Over the course of the first two miles the pace dropped consistently: after a few 90's I heard Caren shouting 89's. Good, I thought...I'm confident that I can handle 89's. Then after a few laps of that she switched to 88's. This was my dream pace for this race...the pace I figured I could run if everything went just right. So when I heard the first 88 I checked in with myself. Much to my surprise I found that I was feeling completely smooth, aerobic and in control. So
I just kept cruising along. With 6 laps to go, doubt crept in briefly. I found myself thinking that is usually at this point in a 5k that I start to lose my form, get tired and, honestly, get a little bored. Not surprisingly, just after I had those thoughts my form got a little wonky. But I was even more amazed to find that I was able to banish those thoughts from my head, channel Kara's grit and get my act back together. Caren yelled at me to keep my eyes up on the corners and hollered that I was strong, which were the best verbal cues anyone could have possibly given me as they helped keep my form from deteriorating and kept my confidence up. Somewhere after 6 laps to go I slid up into fourth place and was delighted. I was feeling good and was confident at this point that I could finish the race at this pace and exceed my fifth place finish goal.

And then, just before 4 to go, it seemed like the pace of the 2 women in front of me slowed. I honestly didn't make a conscious move past them, but I felt like I either needed to hold my pace and pass them or slow down significantly. All of a sudden I found myself in second. I had a brief "holy crud, what am I doing here" moment, but again I checked in with myself, found that I was still running entirely within my fitness and so I just kept going. At 3.5 to go Caren hollered out 87 and I freaked out a little bit again. That's my goal 5k pace and I was NOT expecting to hit it during this race. But I just kept going. 2.5 to go and I hit another 87. And then with 600 meters to go Caren shouted "85!" What the what?!?! I just ran an 85 second quarter? I am happy when I hit an 85 in a workout! I honestly didn't feel like I had picked up the pace at all since the second lap of the race. But instead of freaking out I checked in with my body again, found that I was doing fine, had a little positive chat with myself and just kept hauling along. 200 meters to go brought news that my last full lap was one more 85 and from there on in I just kicked for the finish line. I actually had the realization during my "kick" that I could probably go significantly faster than I was going at that point, but I actually decided against it because it sounded like too much work at that point.

As I approached the finish line I realized that the clock was frozen on Sonja's winning time of 17:22 so I had NO idea what my time was going to be. But just as I crossed an official with a watch called out 18:15. And that was it. I was done. I wasn't spent. I didn't have to lie down to recover. I just felt totally...fine. If you know me, you know this is never, ever the case for me after a race. I have sat or laid down just beyond almost every finish line I have crossed in the last 5 years. So this was very, very odd. But once I got over the shock of how much energy I had left I can honestly say that I just felt completely satisfied. I ran a negative split 5k, the first one of my life. I closed with a 5:43 mile. I finished second in a strong field of women. Does this mean that I think I am the second fastest masters runner in the 5k in the country? Absolutely not. I KNOW that is far from the truth. But the placing was really the least of the victories in this race. Placing is external; it is somewhat dependent on who shows up at the starting line. My satisfaction came from the knowledge that all the focused, hard work I had done over the last 10 weeks had completely paid off. Had I known I was capable of running 18:15 so comfortably I would have probably run faster earlier on. But I would have gained what? Five, maybe ten seconds? That would have been cool, but I don't know that I would have had as satisfying of a race experience.
Post-race Bull City Track Club love 

Alison and Nancy finished hot on my heels and, after some sweaty hugs and big cups of water we jogged through a cool down, packed up and headed home. I had a grin plastered on my face for the remainder of the day but I was also a little concerned about my race the following morning. Was I going to feel totally flat when I stepped on the track? Did I even know HOW to run a 1500? Fortunately I didn't have too much time to worry about it; before I knew it I was packing up my son in the early morning hours and heading back to Winston-Salem to meet Caren for the 1500.

Once again we went through the regular pre-race hoopla and finally got called to the line. As I looked around I began to feel completely out of my league. Most of these women were 800/1500 meter track ladies. They looked fit and strong, long and lithe, and I was intimidated. But the gun doesn't wait for everyone's nerves to calm down so before I knew it we were off. The start was pretty dreadful. I thought I was boxed in at the start of the 5k but this was 10 times worse. I was literally jogging for the first 200 meters, trying to get out of the crowd! I finally succeeded and, much to my surprise at 300 meters in I found myself in third place. I was running fast, but I was also pretty darn relaxed. That said, I was petrified to pick it up lest my legs crap out with a lap to go. I just had NO idea where I was in regards to the top end of my capabilities. 400 meters in I heard the announcer say that Caren had pulled into fourth and I was relaxed enough to reach back and give her a thumbs up (I don't think she saw it, but I did it!). I just kept cruising along, but unfortunately my negative self-talk did crop up in this race a bit. The woman in second had a small gap on me and I just was sure that I wouldn't be able to close the gap and catch her so I stayed content with my position, all the way up to the end. I crossed the line in 5:03, two seconds out of second and just shy of my secret, fresh-legs goal of 4:59. Like yesterday, after I crossed the line I was able to just walk away. No sitting down, no need to even really catch my breath. I just walked away, turned around and cheered Caren in to her stellar, strong finish.

As I drove up to visit my parents after that second race, I was acutely aware that I could have run faster in both events. I had 7.5 hours to think about both races, replay them in my head, discuss them with my obliging 8 year old. But unlike past races my "underperformance" didn't make me mad at myself. Instead it gave me confidence that I am doing exactly what I need to do to meet my time goals for both the 5k and the mile this year. Before this weekend of racing I was in the midst of a big training experiment but now I am forging forward with a proven plan. Next stop, 17:59.


Just for fun, here are a few of the pro runners who ran RIGHT by me at Boston. Not being able to race has its perks!

Joan Benoit Samuelson

Alex Varner. Not a celeb runner to all, but
to his NC fans he is! He had just run a 50
miler the weekend prior to Boston. Crazy.

Desi Davila Linden


Shalane, looking fierce and in control

After the layoff comes the experiment

It would appear from my blogging frequency that I'm not particularly adept at this whole "writing regularly" game. That's partly true - I do have a hard time getting blog posts completed and published, but the main issue is that I don't want to write when I don't have something that may actually be useful or interesting for others to read. But, at long last I have something to say today that you runners might find interesting, so settle in for part one of a recap of what I've been doing with my training, racing and pacing as of late and how it is actually all one giant experiment that I'm conducting on myself this year.

To fully understand the nature of this experiment let's start with a quick look into how I have trained during the last few years: I was a high-ish mileage runner (for a recreational runner), logging 60-70 miles a week over 6-7 days of running. I incorporated core work sporadically and often ignored my coach's instructions to do drills and strides within my workouts due to lack of time or proper facilities. I also was happy to do the bulk of my speed work on my treadmill: I'm comfortable in that environment and as someone who never ran on a track until adulthood I've historically found the track to be daunting. (Yes, I just admitted that I was intimidated by a rubber oval. Silly, but true.)

This is where my foot was injured.

But then a few things happened: first, it occurred to me that I probably wasn't going to hold onto my top end speed forever and that I needed to get my act together if I was going to set any more PR's. (I just turned 41.) Second, I got injured. And I remained injured for four long, boring, excruciatingly painful (at times), frustrating months. As a result of these factors, when I was finally able to return to running I made a very conscious decision to step outside of my comfort zone and shake up my training in hopes of kick starting my speed, staying injury-free and hopefully achieving some of the goals I've been (not so secretly) holding onto.

Basically, as I returned from injury in late April and early May the plan was this:

1. Lower mileage. I built my mileage back up more slowly than I ever have post-injury and I'm now topping out in the mid-40's at best. I run 5 days a week now.

I swam so much that I destroyed this
swim suit in less than 4 months!
2. Swimming. I fell back into swimming after becoming bored to tears with aquajogging midway through my injury. My iPod broke and I couldn't stand one more minute of staring at the pool wall while running in place so I strapped on my goggles and went for it. I haven't really swum since my triathlon days (which ended in 2002!) and I'm by no means a talented swimmer but I quickly remembered what I love about swimming: a) it is completely solitary. Yes, I'm an extrovert. But I also love a little quiet time and swimming gives it to me. b) It stretches me out. All my aches and pains seem to dissolve in the pool. c) It increases my aerobic fitness enormously. Aqua jogging does this as well, but swimming is just much more meditative for me. So I swapped out 2 of my recovery runs for swims and have stuck with it.

The tools of my core and strength training
routine: stability ball, medicine ball,
wheel, rubber band and airex mat.
3. Consistent, functional, extremely challenging core work. Twice a week, every week. During the school year I get to do at least one of these workouts with my fantastic running friend Ellen Moss, which means that a tough 20 minute core workout is also a hilarious gossip session. We have fun and we kick our abs into shape. It has been hard to keep this up solo in the summer but I've been diligent. Also, all the work I do is geared towards running fitness. There are no vanity exercises, no crunches; just 12 or 13 really tough exercises designed to help maintain form when my body gets tired.*

mid core-workout with Ellen.
Laughing is a workout, right?

4. PT exercises. I do these in conjunction with my core work and they take 10 to 20 minutes. My injury was having a hard time healing due to the classical runner's woe of weak glute medius so I was prescribed a series of injuries to help with that. Since every single injury I have had in the past few years has in some way involved my weak flute medius it finally sank in that I should probably just do these exercises all the time. Who knows...they may help me avoid some injuries in the future!*

5. Drills and strides. And not just when I feel like it but every time my coach writes them into my workout. These take about 15 minutes and I do them between my warm up and my track and tempo workouts and after my long run. Drills help teach proper form, strengthen muscles and connective tissue and provide a dynamic warm up. Strides help train the neuromuscular system to run faster. Who wouldn't want those benefits?*

In Chapel Hill, even the track is Carolina Blue!
6. Running outside for my workouts. All the time. It dawned on me that skipping workouts on the track in favor of my treadmill just because I found the track daunting was pretty stupid considering my racing this summer centered around 2 track races. So I got my rear to the track and learned how to pace properly so that every workout wasn't a disaster. I also took my LT workouts outside, finding a mostly flat and somewhat shaded route that gave me a controlled environment while still putting me outdoors. I am amazed by how much faster I am able to run these workouts outdoors at the same perceived level of exertion. If nothing else, that fact alone gives me a confidence boost!

7. Finally, I switched up my nutrition. I'm still a huge fan of my LUNA and Clif products and they are heavily featured in my new plan but I have added UCan and an Osmo product into the mix. In the past I used to train on either an empty stomach or on a single LUNA bar. Post-workout I would eat when I got around to it. Sometimes that was right away, sometimes it was hours later. And I actually wondered why I was having a hard time recovering from workouts?!?! I was making the mistake of listening to my hunger cues and, unfortunately, running actually decreases my appetite for a couple of hours. (Not so with swimming!) The change here has been really quite drastic. I now consume a bottle of UCan one hour before any of my hard workouts: track, tempo or long run. If it is going to be extremely hot out I also drink a full bottle of Clif electrolytes with a scoop of Osmo pre-load hydration. I use the same nutritional prep before races, but I also add in a Clif shot espresso gel 15 minutes before the race. The change in my ability to hold my paces has been nothing short of astounding. My energy really just doesn't drop is actually a little freaky. The first time I tried this combo I thought it was a fluke, but week after week during my workouts I found the same results. I honestly still do not fully understand how its all working but its phenomenal to feel so good throughout my hard efforts that I am sticking to it!

As for post-run and race nutrition, I consume another bottle of electrolytes and a LUNA bar as soon as I can after my workouts. This actually stimulates my appetite so I am much better about following up quickly with a healthy meal. Sometimes "healthy" gets swapped out for a BLT or a milkshake, but I do try to keep things balanced.

So there you have it! That's a lot of change, right? The obvious next question is - did it work? Well, in the interest of not making your eyes glaze over too much, you're going to have to wait for that. The second half of this story will be posted later today or check back!

* I want to address why I am not detailing exactly what core work, strength work and drills I do in this post. While I am a NASM-certified personal trainer and a USATF-certified Level 1 coach, I think that this medium, blogging, is a pretty awful place to dispense detailed training advice. I simply don't feel comfortable posting the exercises I am doing here out of concern that someone will read about them or see photos and then perform them incorrectly. It is very important that core, strength and drill movements are performed with correct movement patterns; if not they can cause more harm than good. That said, if you are a local friend reading this and want to talk in person about what I've been doing I am more than happy to meet with you!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Fall down 7 times, get up 8

Well, hello there blog!

Has it really been 7 months since I last published a post here? Ack! I honestly cannot believe that blogger hasn't just given up on me and closed my blog down by now, but since they haven't I will do my best to write a catch up blog post and get to where I am today (and the meaning of the the post title).

I wish I could say that I have been absent from blogging because my husband and I had won the lottery and spent the past 7 months traveling the world, but the reality is that my life has just been very busy. Between training, volunteer work with Girls On The Run, searching for, buying, overseeing the remodeling of and moving to a new house, helping my son through some tough challenges at school and trying to keep up my housewife duties (at least keeping us all fed and in clean clothes) while my husband works his 100 hour weeks, well, there hasn't been much time left to blog.

I spent my fall doing a lot of this...

...and this
and this!

Pain face in the final 400 meters of the road mile

The good news is that my fall racing season was, overall, pretty fantastic. I held off on racing as a masters runner until September, which was pretty great because it gave me plenty of time to get fit and gain confidence in that fitness. Unfortunately it also gave me plenty of time to get ridiculously nervous about that first race back. Despite the nerves I made it to the starting line without a) hiding in the port potty, b) barfing or c) having my heart reach its max heart rate before the race even began. And 5 minutes and 20 seconds later I found myself with a new lifetime road PR, a state championship title and a 6 second masters state record. Needless to say, that was a GREAT way to start off my masters running career! I have worried since then that I may have peaked in my first race, but hopefully that won't prove to be the case over the long run.

After the National 12k Champs
With Carter after a dismal,
but oddly successful 1/2
marathon state champs

The rest of the fall was a series of ups and downs, with a some immensely frustrating races (all due to breathing issues) punctuated by a few great results: a masters trail 10k national championships win, second at masters 5k XC national championships (despite breathing woes), second at masters 12k road national championships and a state 1/2 marathon championships masters win. The season ended on a high note as I travelled to Bend, OR as a part of the Bull City Track Club masters women's team where we produced a stellar team performance, finishing 4th at Club XC Championships. Individually my race was the pits (breathing crud, again) but I am honestly far too excited for my 2 teammates fantastic individual races and our team result to give a damn about how I ran.

Nancy, Alison and me at Club XC.
The were both AMAZING on the
crazy hills!

Despite the success I had in terms of placing at large races, I was definitely not thrilled with all of my race times and as the season closed out I was already looking forward to the big goals I have for 2014. But before goals could be chased I first took a solid break and turned my attention to the home renovation I was managing. We bought a multi-generation house built in the mid-1970's and it was, at time of purchase, a pretty awesome time capsule of its era. Consequently my winter break was chock full of design decisions, materials procurement and packing up our family to move. It may not have been the most relaxing break but it sure was exciting, especially for an architecture and design junkie like myself!

As January rolled around and my fitness started coming back I turned my thoughts to the indoor track season and pacing my training partner to a new PR at Boston. And then I rolled my ankle during a Sunday trail run. It wasn't a bad roll at all...I remember saying a 4 letter word but I felt no lasting pain as I continued on my way. The next morning, however, was a different story. Every step of my run was excruciating! I felt like I was being stabbed in the lateral (outside) side of the foot with each and every step. I had hoped that the run would loosen up whatever was tight but it was clearly not going to happen. Once this became apparent I threw in the towel and called my trusty, talented sports chiropractor. Unfortunately he was unable to find a concrete cause of the foot pain. And its not just him! During the course of the past 3 months I have seen my regular sports chiro, a well-regarded sports podiatrist and a second, also extremely talented sports chiropractor. I have taken a 1 week break from running, a 2 week break from running, taken awful prescription pain killers that made me want to vomit for 2 days straight, had X-rays taken of my foot and done tons of core exercises and strengthening and strengthening for the foot and ankle. And yet...every single doctor has not been able to identify why I continue to have that pain on the outside of my foot right where my peroneal tendons wrap under my fifth metatarsal.

Now I spend a lot of time
doing this...
After 11 weeks of this I am pretty much out of patience with my doctors (whom I continue to respect, trust and really like, but who just can't figure this out) and have depleted what funds I might have initially spent on an MRI on doctor's visits, so when my coach suggested I reacquaint my foot with my trusty boot, I honestly didn't complain. Needless to say, indoor track didn't happen, Boston isn't happening and outdoor track, which was my focus for the entire year, is completely up in the air. To say that I am frustrated would be the most massive, monumental understatement of the year. It is one thing to sustain an injury, have it diagnosed and then know that you need to recover from it for a set amount of time. That is EASY and I am really, really good at it. But this is the THIRD injury in under four years that I have sustained that is not easy to diagnose and has no foreseeable end point.

And that is where I come to the title of the post. "Fall down 7 times, get up 8". I have always loved
Hello old friend...
this quote; I discovered it many years ago when I was witnessing my grandmother will herself, through stubbornness and hard work, to recover from a series of strokes that she was told she couldn't recover from. But every single time she dusted herself off, learned to write again, drive again, walk again. And if she can do that then I can tackle this frustrating setback. Honestly, what other choice do I have? At the suggestion of my doctors, I tried running in pain...and it was AWFUL. I had never really tried to do that before and I don't recommend it. I would rather be in this boot and never run again than run with that level of pain ever again. So despite the fact that I smell like chlorine all the time now and my boot is causing my SI joint a lot of grief, I am grateful to be in the boot and doing PT exercises that will, at least, further strengthen my core and hips. With no end in sight to this mess I am choosing to give myself a little pity party every day but to not dwell on the frustration and anger I could be feeling. I'm just going to put my head down, do the work and hope that someday there will be a pain-free run waiting for me when I lace up my shoes. In the meantime you'll find me in the pool singing to myself (hopefully not out loud) and hanging the last of my art work in my house.

For those who are wondering (because I know I would be) here are a few pics of our house before, and now. We aren't done by any means but we are getting there!

The kitchen before
And now. Same cabinets!

Looking from the kitchen to
the living and dining room

Almost the same view now

The new floating sideboard
Looking downstairs towards D's office

There used to be a stairwell there. Now there's
this fab painting of women running,
painted by my grandmother's cousin.
Much better!