Sunday, November 16, 2014

Reflections of a Long Distance Runner

When I set out for my long run this morning, I was feeling a little pensive.  Not sad or worried, mind you, just thoughtful.  Last weekend was a "milestone" birthday for me (45!) and yesterday was the last race of my kids' Cross Country season, so I was thinking a lot about endings and beginnings and the bittersweet nature of them both.

I never get tired of this view.  It was a lovely day to run on the American River Parkway.
Now that I'm feeling better, I'm starting to think a little bit about setting some new goals and looking ahead to racing again.  In the immediate future, I'm planning a 10K Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving and the California International Marathon on December 7th (which I signed up for months and months ago - long before anemia).  It's so weird to go into both of these races knowing that a Personal Worst time is probably all I have in me.  Well, maybe not the marathon, but that's only because I've run some pretty shitty marathons.  My worst ever 10K was run at an 8:32 pace.  Can you imagine?  The likelihood of me hitting anything sub-9 for six miles is...  I believe the term is "statistically insignificant."

It's tough to set goals when you're not exactly operating at 100%.  And, frankly, it's tough to even know where my 100% is anymore.  I feel better.  A lot better, in fact.  But am I back to where I was before?  It doesn't feel like it.  Will I ever be there again?  I don't know.

I've generally set goals based on time or distance.  Many years ago, when I was "fast," I was always chasing a PR.  Then I wanted to go farther, so I slowed down and just kept going.  Either way, I set and (mostly) reached goals that stroked my ego.  To be brutally and embarrassingly honest, since I started running eight years ago, I've seen myself as something of a badass.  Not in comparison to other people who are doing way more badass stuff than me, but definitely compared to the chubby, lazy girl I used to be.

When I'm looking ahead to 2015 and thinking about my running and racing goals, I have some apprehension.  I truly feel that the reason I haven't been physically injured for the past two years is because I've slowed way down.  And I also feel that the reason I ended up with anemia is because I was pushing myself to go a little too far.  This is not to say that I don't have any more fast miles in me or that I'm all done running ultras, but rather that I need to be sort of cautious for awhile.  But where does that leave me right now?  Fun runs?  Ugh!

A perfect fall day.
I was ruminating on these thoughts somewhere around Mile 6 and feeling a little low.  This whole anemia thing has been a months-long crisis of confidence for me.  Who am I anymore if I'm not a badass?  I don't run fast anymore.  I don't run far anymore. More often than not these last few months, it took everything I had to even make it out the door for a run.  And then it hit me.  The sparkly diamond I'd been looking for in that deep, dark coal mine:  even when I felt like crap, I never lost my motivation to run.  There were days when I'd get out of bed so bone tired that I wanted to cry, but I still went for a run.  Even though I knew that a measly three-miler was going to require a two hour nap, I would clear my schedule for that nap rather than skip the run.  I didn't quit, and, according to the internet, either the legendary Babe Ruth, Michael Jordan, or possibly Ben Franklin said, "It's hard to beat a person who never gives up."  That's pretty badass.

I don't think I actually got faster after my lovely little epiphany, but I sure felt better.  I finished 14 miles, the longest I've run since July, with a smile on my face.  I love to run.  I want to run for as many years as I can.  It's long been my goal to run a marathon when I'm 80 years old (since I ran my first one at 40.  It's like an OCD thing), and I know there will be plenty of mental readjustments along the way.  Thank goodness I have so many miles to figure these things out.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Those Three Little Words

Lately, there's been a thought floating around in my head.  At first, it was sort of like a whisper - here and then gone again quickly.  It would build up a little steam, then disappear for days at a time, only to come back a little stronger.  I've been pushing it away, not wanting to let myself think it too loud.  In fact, I've been writing this blog post for over a week in my head to give voice to this thought, but kept procrastinating.  Just in case.  Just in case I shouldn't really be saying this thought out loud yet.

Shameless plug for Instagram.

If you follow me on Instagram or Strava (and, side note, will you please?  This poor ol' blog barely gets any love anymore.  I mean to write more often.  I still read your blogs, but rarely comment.  On the other hand, I'm on Strava every day, handing out kudos like crack.  I post on IG frequently - but not too frequently - and I'm very generous with the followbacks and likes), you might already know what I'm about to say.  Three little words:

I.  Feel.  Better.

Let me quickly follow that up with a few qualifications, because I just know that the running gods are rubbing their hands and cackling in mirthless glee right now, ready to smite me down for my hubris.  Wow, that was a sentence full of SAT words, wasn't it?

Anemia has been a cruel mistress and recovery has been S L O O O O O O O W.  There are still days when I sit down on the couch for a quick second that turns into three hours.  Sometimes when I'm running it feels like maybe somebody replaced the atmosphere with molasses.


Lately, maybe even more often than not, I wake up in the morning feeling like I am ready to tackle the day.  I'm starting to wake up before my alarm again.  I drive to work with a smile on my face.  I'm excited about new things.  The other day I was actually bored.  I ran double digits this past weekend and it didn't require me to spend the rest of the day in a prone position.  I'm running a little faster sometimes.  And I'm thinking about signing up for a race.

*gulp!*  That's the one that scares me the most.  It seems improbably optimistic of me to plunk down money and stand at a starting line as though I can run well or fast right now.  But here's what this year has taught me so far:  I don't have to run well to enjoy running or racing.  I don't have to set goals or chase a PR to have a good day, I just have to run happy.  And I feel like running happy!

So, there's a Turkey Trot in my near future.  Possibly followed by a nap.

Monday, September 8, 2014

On the DL Without Being Injured

Being anemic is weird.  I mean, I've spent plenty of time over the last eight years not running because of one injury or another, so you'd think I'd be totally familiar with this whole "sitting around the house" thing.  But, the problem is, I totally can run.  Except when I can't.

Running really isn't the issue at all.  I can run any ol' time I want to.  I can also swim or bike or lift weights or dance or any other sort of exercise my heart desires.  As long as I don't go crazy and do it (whatever it is) for more than about 20 minutes.  Thirty minutes max.  Except for that time that I ran five miles (which obviously took me way more than 30 minutes) and felt great!  That one time.  As opposed to yesterday when I ran five miles and felt great until after my shower when I laid down to pet the cat and all of a sudden it was almost two hours later.  And then spent the rest of the day feeling like all of my limbs were full of lead.  I still managed to go grocery shopping and take Little Boy for a haircut and make dinner, but that was everything I had in the tank.  The rest of the day I was on the couch.

The thing that sucks (welcome to my Pity Party, by the way, sorry you didn't really get the chance to RSVP "no") is that I have no idea that I'm doing too much until I've already done too much.  Like yesterday's run.  I felt great the whole time I was running!  No trouble breathing and my legs were super happy to be out in the world.   I made it home and thought I was going to be fine.  Ate breakfast.  Took a shower.  All good!  Walked into the bedroom and saw the cat on the bed, so I laid down next to her and... snoozeville.  I didn't even see that nap coming, sneaky devil!

I'm still capable of being active.  In general.  Like, exercise doesn't hurt or anything.  And, honestly, that's the strange part.  I'm totally used to the self-limiting pain of being injured.  The sharp pang or the dull ache that tells you that it's time to quit.  But with anemia, I feel pretty much normal right up until the thought of getting up to make a sandwich is so overwhelmingly exhausting that I burst into tears.  Sweet UltraIronHubs has had to make me a LOT of sandwiches lately.

I'm trying to be patient, but I think you know how that's working out for me.  I have a client who is a doctor, and she very kindly explained to me that there is no quick fix for anemia.  (Yes, I'm going to put a disclaimer on this part of the post:  I am not a doctor and it is incredibly likely that I misunderstood some or all of what I am about to tell you about anemia.  Please don't take my word as medical advice.  Or possibly even factual information.)

We were working out and I was telling her about my very low hemoglobin and iron and I mentioned that I was going to take iron supplements and planned to take two weeks off from training and then assess how I felt before getting back to my regularly scheduled marathon training.  To her credit, she didn't actually say, "Wow, Pahla, you're a fucking moron," but her look sort of did.  Apparently it takes months to recover from anemia.  The life cycle of a red blood cell is about 120 days when everything is working normally, but when your iron is low, production slows.  In my particular case, I spent a lot of time this past spring slaughtering innocent RBCs with all that ultra training I was doing and my body didn't really have the chance to keep up production.  Iron got low, iron storage got low and hemoglobin got low and now they're all trying desperately to catch up.  She used the analogy of building with LEGOs, but for the life of me, I kept picturing Lucy at the candy factory.

So.  I'm taking it easy.  Sitting on my ass.  Reading an actual book for the first time in waaaaaay too long.  Watching some TV.  Hanging out.  Eating red meat, even though I don't like it at all, but apparently it's "good for me."  Whatever.

I'm still running, of course, and filming workouts for my YouTube channel, and working, and being a mom taxi, and all that other stuff I do every day.  I'm just not "going long" for the time being.  Through trial and error, it feels like three miles is just about my don't-need-a-nap running threshold, so mostly I'm running three-milers.  Except when I run five.  Just to see what happens.  Yes, I am an actual moron.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Summer of Suck (and a Belated Race Report)

So a couple of weeks ago, I ran this 5K and it was pretty awesome, but I totally didn't blog about it.  Oops!

Happy to be finished!
I ran it with a client of mine, pacing her to a huge PR, which was very exciting and very nearly puke-worthy (for her).  She did such a great job, shaving 15 seconds per mile off her previous best pace.  I was so bummed that she didn't place in her age, though - she came in 4th - because I ended up walking away with 2nd place AG hardware.  Again... oops!  I felt sort of bad about that.  It pretty much goes to prove that placing well in your age is all about who else shows up, the real win is a PR.

The race benefited the Sacramento Sheriff's K9 Association, so there were lots of dogs around.  I love dogs, but have a healthy respect for the working ones, as evidenced by the arm's length I kept from this one.  I totally thought I was standing right next to him.  LOL!
I think I didn't blog about the race because, well, to be honest, it kind of sucked.  In fact, it was really strange accepting an AG award for a race that was a Personal Worst time for me!  I felt guilty that I got an award and my client didn't, when she was the one who had run so very, very hard for it.  And then later I felt bad because she really struggled with accepting how hard racing is, mentally and physically.  Like running as hard as we did almost took the joy out of running for her.  As a trainer, I have to accept (some) of the limits my clients want to put on themselves, but this one was hard for me.  She has it in her to run fast, but she's choosing to run for fun instead.  The competitor in me is still trying to wrap my head around that.  I mean, obviously, I run for fun at longer distances, but at a 5K?  That's all about speed, baby.

So let's talk about speed, shall we?  I have none.

This summer has been really, really hard for me.  I took time off after the Gold Rush 50K, and really thought I was ready to get back to training.  June's mileage was low, but I managed a fast-for-me 5K and was excited about ramping up the miles again for the CIM in December.  But then July came and went with a mediocre half marathon and every mile seeming harder and slower.  Every time I've gone for a run lately, I've come home feeling worse and more worn out than when I left.  I've started dreading running, which I can honestly say has never happened to me in the almost 8 years I've been doing this!

I kept telling myself that it was the heat, it was my schedule, it was this or that, but in spite of running slower and taking more days to rest, I could still feel myself dragging down even worse, rather than getting better.  I can't remember another time in recent years when I have felt so utterly drained.  Adding to the fatigue has been these awful allergies, that I thought I had kicked to the curb after this spring, but have come back with a vengeance this past month.  My chest feels tight all the time and my breathing always seems labored.  This, in case you were wondering, is not exactly a winning combination for running well!

Uncle!  I can't handle this!  So off to the doctor I went.  A thousand vials of blood and a lung capacity test later, here's what I know:  I'm anemic right now, with iron levels way under the normal range, and there's a possibility that I've got some allergy-related (or possibly exercise-induced) asthma.  How does a person who eats as healthfully as I do and exercises as often as I do suddenly have health problems like this at age 44??  So freaking crazy!  And yet, in a weird way, such a relief to put a name to all the suckage I've been feeling.  Honestly, I was a tiny bit worried that all the tests would come back normal and the doctor would tell me I was just being a big baby.

Dr. Google has assured me that my iron loss came about from overtraining (rather than scary internal bleeding or some such thing), so I'm taking days off from running like it's my job.  Sadly, though, my actual job does include running with a handful of clients, so I'm still doing that, but thankfully that tends to be at a manageable pace and lower mileage.  I'm going to give it a couple of weeks of rest.  We'll see how I feel then.  I'm glad I still have so much time before the CIM - I have several other races on my mental calendar, but I haven't plunked down money on any of them, so it's not a loss if I can't compete.

I have high hopes of getting back to the business of being badass pretty soon.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Davis MOO-nlight Half Marathon - Race Report!

As part of my "Race More to Race Better" training strategy, I have signed up to race pretty much any distance that falls on a day I can actually participate.  I work six mornings a week, including holidays, so that really limits my choices to Sunday races, or - ta-da! - a Saturday evening half marathon, a/k/a the Davis MOO-nlight Half.

Lemme just throw it out there right away that I am not normally an evening runner.  If I didn't have an afternoon running client, I would pretty much guarantee you that I had never run at a time that included the letters "PM."  In fact, I can count on one hand the number of times I have gone for a run after eating dinner.  No, let me amend that:  before Saturday night's race, I could count on one finger the number of times I had run while the sun was going down instead of coming up (last summer's Twilight Trail Adventure, a super fun and blazing hot 10K that I apparently never blogged about, sorry).

Suffice to say, I felt a little ill-prepared for a 13.1-mile jaunt in the dark.  Not mileage-wise, just... everything else.  Like what the hell do you eat before running at 7:30 PM?  Should I take a nap so I wouldn't be tired?  Would it be hot or cold when the sun went down?  Will I need a headlamp?

Answer key:  a light, early meal, yes I should have but didn't, still hot, and yes.

Walking to the race start with Big Boy, who ran the 5K.
The half marathon went off in two waves, with the slower runners (2:40+) leaving at 6:30 and the rest of us at 7:30.  The 10K started with Wave Two of the half, and the 5K began at 7:45.  All told, there were about 3,000 runners running three different but overlapping courses at three different times.  I arrived a little later than I would have liked, due to traffic and parking issues, but still had plenty of time to hit the porto-potties and do a nice warm up.

I had absolutely no time goal for this race, other than hoping not to run a Personal Worst.  With a belly full of dinner, temperatures in the 80s, a race course that can best be described with the word "convoluted," and 14 hours of being awake behind me, I couldn't even begin to imagine what I was going to feel like on this run, so I figured I shouldn't aim too high.  And, hooray!  I totally aced my goal!

Right out of the starting gate and I'm already blurry - ha!
About a mile and a half into the race, we ran right past the start on a bridge overcrossing.  I got to holler "Good luck!" to Big Boy, who was lining up for his 5K start.  See that one guy wearing a blue shirt on the far right?  He was one of the Wave One runners swimming like a salmon upstream through all of the Wave Two-ers and 10K runners.  I felt so bad for him and the other Wave One-ers.  Nobody seemed to realize that the course doubled back on itself at this point, so we were sort of hogging the whole road.  :(
I started off at an easy pace, mostly because there was absolutely no other pace to be run.  The street was crowded and I had purposely seeded myself near the middle of the pack so as not to go out too hard.  Well, no problem there.  I focused on my breathing and my effort level and just settled into my run.  I felt pretty good.  It was hot, but not suffocatingly so.  My stomach was surprisingly fine and my legs felt strong.  Everything was smooth sailing until somewhere in Mile 2 when my lower back/upper butt/hamstring suddenly seized up.  WTH?  I could still run, but I wasn't super happy about feeling pain so early in the race.  It reminded me of the lower back pain I had several years ago when I was dealing with sciatica and degenerative disc disease.  Not cool.  I walked through the water station and carried on with it.  My back/butt/hammy never felt better during the race, but thankfully it never really got worse either.

In fact, I think my back issue pretty much sums up my whole race:  I didn't exactly feel good, but I never really felt bad either.  My pace never picked up, but I also didn't slow down very much.  It wasn't awesome, but it didn't suck.

Wonky feet?  Chicken wing?  Check and check!  Cruising past the start - again! - a little after the halfway point.

This is the race course.  Seriously.  We ran through neighborhoods, under several tunnels, on packed-gravel paths, through parking lots, on sidewalks, over bridges and on paved nature trails in people's backyards.  I'll give them points for being scenic, but dude.  Waaaaaaaaaaaay too many twists and turns to actually hit the tangents.  I was just happy my Garmin only came up with 13.3 miles for this.
This race was pretty different from my last half marathon, in that I didn't feel nervous before the start and wasn't the least bit competitive while running.  Mostly I was gutting it out.  I traded places back and forth with the 2:05 pacer quite a few times, but I never really cared about staying in front of her.  I passed a few people and I got passed by a few people.  I ran for awhile with a girl whose feet were clomping so incredibly hard against the ground that it sounded like she was chopping wood.  It hurt my knees just listening to her.  I felt a little bit bad for the runners I passed who had been out on the race course an entire hour longer than me.  I remembered what it was like at the World's Toughest Half when literally the entire field of athletes passed me by on the bike leg.  When it started getting dark, I took a glow stick from one of the cheerful volunteers, but had to ditch it less than a mile later because it was annoying the crap out of me.  At Mile 8, I thought I was at Mile 9 and came up with the very silly mantra, "Any fool can run four miles, P, keep going!"  When I got to the real Mile 9, I had to laugh, because...well...what else are you going to do?  I walked through every single water station, but ran everything else.  With less than a mile to go, I took a wrong turn following some spectators - they were taking the direct route to the finish line, but I had to go the long way around the parking lot.  I may or may not have dropped an F bomb in front of their child when I realized what I had done.  Oops.  But finally, there I was!  At the finish line!  With another race under my belt and a really, really sweet medal to hang on my display rack!  Woo hoo!

Official finish time 2:06:59, 10/59 AG, 238/855 OA.  Nothing beats finishing a race with a smile!
Big Boy had a great race, too, running a (road) 5K PR time of 19 minutes flat and coming in 9th place overall!

Have you ever run a nighttime race?

What's the coolest medal you've earned?  This one glows in the dark!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Superheroes 5K - Race Report!

I ran a 5K yesterday!  What?  That doesn't sound like a big deal to you?  I agree, it's not exactly stop the presses material, except for the fact that I really don't run a lot of 5Ks.  In fact, yesterday was the first time since September 2011 that I've toed the line at that distance, and only the seventh 5K I've done, ever.  Weird, right?  I find the 5K distance to be incredibly difficult.  You really have to run at puke-threshold and that is not something I'm great at.

Why so long since my last one?  Well, here's the thing:  I don't like to lose and I don't race for fun.  When I race, I train hard and I race to beat my previous times.  After that last 5K almost three years ago, I truly knew in my heart that I was never, ever going to run faster than that.  It was everything I had to give.  So I stopped running 5Ks and started running longer distances, because hello automatic PRs!

Of course, that ended up slowing my paces way, way, waaaaaaaaaaay down and further convincing me that I would never run a fast 5K ever again.  But time has a strange way of humbling you (*ahem*, me) and showing you (again, I'm talking about me) the error of your way of thinking.  This year has been all about re-framing my goals and seeing things in a different light.  (Let's call this "maturity," rather than "getting old," shall we?)  I'm not running anything shorter than a 50-miler at PR speeds these days, but I have found most of this year's races to be incredibly satisfying and/or terrific learning experiences.  Case in point, yesterday's not-my-fastest race, which was one of the happiest finishes I've ever had!

You might have already guessed from the name of the race that the theme was Superheroes!  No, I did not run in the cape, but it did provide a nice little photo opp at home.
I got to the race venue in plenty of time to score good parking, so I sat in my car for a bit to stay warm.  It was a totally balmy 60-ish degrees, but I was a little nervous and therefore cold.  Eventually it was time to get moving and find the port-o-potties, and as I was walking there, I started chatting with a nice woman who was also racing.  She looked about my size and my age, so I sort of took a mental note to see if I could keep up with her on the course.

I honestly had no idea what sort of a time I should even set as a goal.  My previous 5Ks have run the gamut from around 30 minutes down to 23:34, so my pretty-sure-I-can-do-it goal was under 27 minutes.  My hope-I-can-do-it goal was 26, and my damn-I'm-faster-than-I-thought-I-would-be goal was 25.  I really, really hoped I could hit 25, but the idea of running an 8-minute pace seemed a little outside my current reach.  I haven't run 8 minute miles since the last time I ran a 5K!

I did a really nice, thorough warm up, which is something that has become increasingly important the older I get.  I used to just give it a little half-hearted walkaround, but now I make sure to run for a good ten minutes or more, plus a handful of dynamic stretches.  By the time I finished warming up, it was time to line up and run - perfect timing!

The nice woman from the walk over lined up a little ahead of me, as though she knew I wanted to try and keep pace with her.  She was wearing a racing jersey, so I sort of figured my chances of staying with her were somewhere between slim and none.  The announcer counted down and we were off!

I went out on the conservative side of hard.  I didn't know how my legs or lungs were going to feel and I didn't want to die at Mile 1, so I didn't push it too much.  Less than a quarter mile in, though, I knew it was going to be a great day.  I felt amazing!!  My legs were turning over effortlessly and my breathing settled into a rhythm very easily.  Wow!

As we rounded the first corner and everybody was finding their paces, I got passed by a few people.  I didn't worry about it.  I had my eye on Port-o-Potty girl and she wasn't too far ahead of me.  I focused on relaxing and running hard.  I reeled in a kid who had gone out too fast.  Next up was Hot Pants girl.  I felt good and this effort wasn't too much to sustain.  I refused to look at my Garmin just in case I was actually going very, very slow, but I felt like I was flying.

At Mile 1 there was a balloon arch and timing clock - nicely done, RD, I totally appreciated knowing my split! - but I couldn't quite make sense of the number I was seeing.  I was apparently running a pace in the high 7s and frankly, that didn't compute.  I haven't run that fast in years and I certainly wasn't expecting to do it now!  I checked my Garmin and the number was the same.  Holy cats, this was exciting!

I felt competitive and it felt good.  I reeled in more people who had gone out too fast.  I was gaining on Port-o-Potty girl.  I wondered if maybe there wasn't going to be a mile marker at Mile 2 because it was taking a really, really long time to get there.  But, no, that was just my perception.  There was another timing clock at Mile 2.  I couldn't really do the math, but it was somewhere in the 15s, which meant that I was still somehow miraculously holding a sub-8 pace.

I passed Port-o-Potty girl.  I passed Green Skirt girl.  I passed Comic Book Shirt girl.  I found myself at the head of a small pack with a big gap between me and the next group of people and I heard my son's Track coach in my head, "Catch up to them!  Make them do the work!"  I caught up.  I picked off two teenage girls.  I felt 100% certain that I was going to vomit.  This was too hard, and I really wanted to slow down.  But you know what I wanted more?  To not slow down, so I kept hammering it.

The Mile 3 clock came into view.  I was so close I could taste it!  A woman who had been on the back of my hip caught up and moved ahead.  I looked at her and wondered if she would be the difference between third place in my AG and fourth place.  I joke all the time about being the Queen of Fourth Place, but it wasn't good enough for me just then.  I had more in the tank.  I pulled ahead as we rounded the final corner into the finisher's chute and gave it everything I had.  One of the teenage girls went flying past me.  I choked back happy tears when I saw the clock because I had not even let myself think of a number this low, but there it was anyway:

Official Finish Time - 24:19Overall - 63/692AG - 2/70

What a happy and exciting day!  I honestly didn't think I had a run like that in me, but what the hell do I know?

Have you ever completely surprised yourself in a race?

Thursday, May 29, 2014


As I headed out for my run yesterday morning, I started writing this blog post in my head.  (Do you do that, too?  I write the best posts while I'm in the shower or driving or running, and the ones that actually make it to the internet really pale in comparison, to be honest.)  The title was going to be, "Loose Ends," or "Drifting," or "Undecided."  Something that reflected my current mental state about running and racing.  I can't say that I'm struggling with running, because I'm still totally getting out there and putting in some miles, but without a plan or a goal, I have definitely been feeling less motivated and excited about running.

I've been cruising around the internet, looking at races and trying to figure out what I really want.  Am I looking for another ultra?  A bunch of 5Ks?  Maybe a summer full of half marathons?  Nothing has really floated my boat, so I haven't plunked down any money or noodled out a training plan.

Less than half a mile into my run, my thoughts had drifted off topic and on to other pressing things, like my kids, summer vacation, what to eat for dinner, etc.  Big Boy's end of Track season banquet had been the night before, so I thought about that for awhile.  He had a good season, but in all honesty, not the stellar season I thought he had in him.  We all had some terrible allergies this spring, and he ran pretty inconsistently.  Don't get me wrong, he PR'd at every distance with some excellent times, so it's not like the season sucked!  I thought about how there was one particular race that he ran with his whole heart, where he beat his previous best time (and a very fast teammate), and I wondered what the secret formula was for that kind of performance.  Big Boy is very much like me, in that he occasionally psychs himself out of his best running by overthinking it.

I love this photo.  I may be the tiniest bit biased, but I think this is one handsome kid!
I've been working on the mental side of running and racing for years, and I definitely do not have the answers!  But like a weird bolt of lightning, right around Mile 4, I had a moment of total clarity and I knew exactly what I wanted for the rest of 2014:  I want the CIM.  I want to run my very best, and hopefully fastest, marathon at my favorite race.  I want to overcome, once and for all, that stupid voice in my head that says I'm not good enough.  I want to train hard enough and smart enough to squeeze in under four hours.  I want to run with my whole heart.

As I finished up the last two miles, I formulated a plan in my head (again, these tend to be better than the ones I capture on paper.  *le sigh*).  There are a couple of areas of weakness that I will need to work on in the next six months before the marathon:

  • Core strength and flexibility.  I'm actually pretty good about core work and cross training, but I think it's time to change things up and try something new.  This is way, way, waaaaaaaaaaaaay outside my comfort zone, but I am looking into doing some yoga.  I've never been to a yoga class before, so wish me luck and tell me your stories about how awesome it is, please!
  • Racing nerves.  This one is easily my weakest link.  I am absolutely guilty of sabotaging myself into terrible race performances, so the best course of action here is pretty obvious:  I need to race more.  To that end, I have found a handful of races in a variety of distances over the next few months.
  • The right training plan.  For last year's CIM, I used the Hanson's marathon training book.  It was awesome, except for that whole DNF thing that happened.  I've used Hal Higdon and the Runner's World free plans, too, with varying success.  I'm working on my own version of  a hybrid plan of the elements that I liked from each of these - high volume, consistent speedwork, short taper, plenty of recovery miles, and confidence-building long runs.  I'll let you know what it looks like when I get it put together.

I'm excited about this!  I feel hopeful about the rest of the year, and I'm happy to give my running some purpose again.

Are you consistent with cross-training?  What's your favorite type to do?
Do you use other people's training plans or make your own?  Which one has worked the best for you?

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Avenue of the Vines Half Marathon Race Report

Call me crazy - "Crazy!" - but I'm not really a fan of the half marathon distance, in spite of the fact that I've now run two of them in the last two months.  For me, it's too long to run fast, but also too short to run at a leisurely pace.  I'd much rather suffer for a very short amount of time, or all day.  Preferably all day.  Honestly, the real reason I like ultras so much is that I get to run nice and slow.  And eat a lot.  But, I digress...

So I ran a half marathon today!  I totally signed up for this thing on a whim, pushed by my ego's need to race something after last week's not-entirely-satisfying 50K.  I haven't tried to run anything fast for quite some time, and even though I was pretty sure I didn't have any "fast" in me, I wanted to see what I could do.  My goal for the day was to try and run sub-2:30, and I thought I might get it a little closer to 2:15 if I was feeling good.

I deliberately kept the day low-key, leaving my cheering fans at home and heading to the race venue by myself.  On a scale of 1-triathlon, my nerves were a very manageable "4."  The butterflies were flying, but I didn't feel like crying or throwing up, so that was good.  I got there in plenty of time to use the port-o-potties and take a selfie at the starting line.

The race venue was sort of out in the middle of nowhere, on a two-lane country road at a winery.  A lovely setting, for sure, but something of a clusterfuck for parking.  The starting time came and went and the line of cars waiting to park was still incredibly long.  It seems to me that the online race description should have included a warning about the necessity of arriving early, but oddly, nobody asked me.

Anyhoo, we were off just fifteen minutes later than we were supposed to run, which wasn't dreadful.  The weather was absolutely gorgeous - mid-fifties with a few clouds and a brisk wind.  I had lined up somewhere near the mid- to back of the pack, hoping to start at a conservative pace.  I really didn't know what my legs had in store for me, and I didn't want to blow them up in the first mile!  I had my headphones on and I just wanted to find a nice groove and stick with it for as long as I could.

The first mile was the longest mile of my entire life.  Seriously.  It was weird.  The street wasn't too crowded - there were under 500 people racing - but I was having a tough time navigating through everyone.  I resisted doing a lot of weaving, because I didn't want to waste energy and add mileage, but I also didn't want to get stuck behind somebody too slow or go out with somebody too fast.  Mostly I tried to stay right in the center of the road, both metaphorically and physically.  Nobody likes to run there because of the reflector bumps, but if you watch where you're going it's not too bad.  Probably what made the mile seem so long is that I refused to look at my Garmin.  There's nothing more soul-crushing than thinking you're flying on that first mile, only to look at your watch and see that you're barely beating the snails.

Somewhere in the second mile, the crowd started to thin out and I snuck a peek at my average pace.  Not too shabby!!  I was actively holding myself back, going out conservatively, feeling really good and strong, and yet somehow my pace was pretty much the fastest thing I've seen in 2014.  Nice!  I told myself to just hang back until Mile 5, where I would do a gut check and then hopefully pick up the pace.

So, I picked up the pace anyway.  I had a few people in front of me that I really wanted to get past.  One guy was weaving through the crowd like crazy and yet not really getting farther ahead of me and it was driving me nuts.  I threw out my fishing line and reeled him in.  Done.  Next up was Lululemon Girl.  Then Pigtails.

I got passed by a few people in the first miles:  a woman in her... 50s, maybe?  Older than me, but hard to tell by how much.  Another woman younger than me wearing a camo hat.  And a woman maybe my age or so who was wearing an Olympic distance triathlon shirt, who was clearly out of my league in the badassery department.  They were all super strong runners, so I was fine with them being ahead of me.

I felt good.  I reeled in Knee Braces and Red Shirt Guy, then K-T Tape Girl.  I walked through the aid station and drank some water/spilled some water on myself and K-T got back ahead of me.  I reeled her back in.  I was starting to gain a little bit on Triathlon Shirt and that was pretty exciting.  It took me until somewhere late in Mile 4 before I passed her.

I don't usually run with the desire to pass other people.  I mean, I'm competitive, but mostly it's against myself, my limits, or my PRs.  It just so happens that other people are running the race with me, ya know?  Well, and there's also that thing where I usually go out way too fast and fade by the halfway point, so it's mostly other people passing me.  But today, with my relatively conservative start, it was the best distraction to pick a person out of the crowd and set the mini-goal of catching up to them.  It totally kept my mind occupied and my legs turning over!

Next up was Camo Hat, but she was running so strong I wasn't sure if I could reel her in.  I gave myself the goal of catching her by Mile 6, but it was closer to Mile 7 before I got her.  In fact, by the time I caught her, I was already up to Bra Straps Girl (who was going to be my next fish).  Nice, a two-fer!!

It was starting to get pretty windy by this point, and so far on this big rectangle race course we'd enjoyed a not-too-terrible crosswind and a really awesome tail wind, but it was time to turn it around and head back.  Into the wind.  Boo!  Thankfully, we did a couple of zig-zags so we battled the headwind, then got the relief of the crosswind again.

I picked off Ironman, Ninja Guy and Very Yellow Guy, but I wasn't going to get any faster than this.  I was at max speed and starting to really look forward to the aid stations so I could take my little walking breaks.  It was getting pretty warm, even with the wind, and at one of the aid stations they were handing out wet sponges to cool off.  My average pace was still coming down - in fact, I'd chosen a new time goal by this point - but I had caught up to the people who were really running this pace.  There were no more fish to reel in and I started to struggle a little.  I wanted to catch Very Yellow Guy Number Two, but he stayed firmly in front of me.  I passed a few people who were walking, but that's sort of like shooting fish in a barrel.  Not very sporting.

I turned my music up even louder and kept moving forward.  I thought about how much happier I'd be with myself at the end of the race if I didn't walk.  I hate crapping out and I knew my legs could take this abuse for a little longer.  I told myself I could slow down a little, but I couldn't quite do the running math to figure out if I'd make my new time goal if I slowed down too much.  I had come this far, I didn't want to miss it now.

The miles were still clicking by, even though they were getting tough.  I don't think I've ever been so happy to see an aid station at Mile 12.  I walked a bit and drank a bit, but it was a short-lived joy, because at the mile marker, we turned west again, straight into that headwind for the final mile!  At the aid station, I saw Older Than Me Lady and I briefly entertained the idea of trying to pass her, but man, she took off!

We could see the finish line for that entire last mile, which was awesome and terrible at the same time.  Fighting the wind was really hard, and I swear that arch didn't seem like it was getting closer!  I kept checking my Garmin.  I was about 99% certain that I was going to make my time goal, but only if I could actually get to the finish!

I took out my headphones and enjoyed the crowd at the finish line.  I fought back some happy tears.  I was here!  I did it!  I just ran my second fastest half marathon ever!!

Official finish time 1:58:46, 116/474 overall, 5/15 AG

The medal was good-sized, the post-race food was yummy and the on course photographers were printing out free photos to take home (I didn't stay long enough to get mine, but they'll be online in a day or two.  I love free race photos!!)  Apparently there was a commemorative wine glass for finishers, too, but I didn't see them.  Sad face!  Overall, I thought it was a really well put-together small race.  I'm super happy with my spur of the moment decision to run it!

While I was eating my post-race veggie wrap, Camo Hat came up to me and we started chatting.  I told her she was an awesome rabbit and that I'd spent several miles chasing her.  She laughed and told me she'd been doing the same to me and to others.  It helped her get through the race, her first half marathon!  As I was heading out to my car, I saw Older Than Me Lady driving away (she beat me to the car, too!) and she rolled down her window and told me great race.  She knew I was chasing her and I complimented her on her amazing finish.  Other runners are so awesome!  I never saw Triathlon Shirt again, I hope she had a good day.

How do you feel about the half marathon distance, love it or hate it??

Do you like to pass the miles by chasing rabbits/reeling in fish, or just finding your groove and zoning out??

Monday, May 12, 2014

Finding My Limits - the Gold Rush 50K Race Report

Astute readers will have looked at that title and thought, "Hey, I thought you were running a 100K!"  Yeah.  Not so much.

UltraIronHubs has this thing he says to me after a race doesn't go exactly like I had hoped:  Win or learn, there is no lose.  And the good news is that I learned a lot, so I definitely don't feel like a loser!  I finished a really tough 50K and I got to spend the day with my favorite husband - that's a winning combination right there!

But about that 100K...

For the first time maybe ever, I did a great job managing my nerves.  I knew I could run 63 miles.  I was physically and mentally prepared for a tough day.  My training had been fantastic and I had learned so much over the last few months about fueling and pacing.  I was as ready as I was ever going to be.

Parked car pre-race selfie!
The day started off very nicely, with perfect weather and relatively easy terrain for the first ten miles.  UIH and I kept an easy pace at the back of the pack and were eating and drinking so well that we both had to go to the bathroom by the second aid station at Mile 8, which was already closer to Mile 9 by my Garmin.  Hmmm, little bit of foreshadowing right there.

Cruising into the first aid station at dawn.
It wasn't much longer before things started coming unglued, unfortunately.  During our pre-race scouting runs, UIH and I had had a really tough run through this section and try as I might, I couldn't get that image out of my head.  My hands were starting to swell, in spite of what seemed like the right amount of water and salts.  We met up with some hikers who asked us if there was a race going on and UIH said, "Yep, but there's almost nobody behind us!"  He was sort of joking, but it was true and for some reason the idea of being in last place totally fucked with my head.  By the time we got to aid stations #3 and #4, my Garmin was significantly over the official mileage, even though we had been on the marked course the entire time.  I was giving it everything I had - in fact, I even worried that I might be expending too much energy too early in the day - and not only were we at the very, very back of the pack, but we were dangerously close to the course cutoff times.  This wasn't fun anymore.

I fretted, and my stomach started to churn.  I walked a lot, trying to clear my head and give my body time to figure out what was the what.  When we saw my sister at aid station #5, I burst into tears.  I was so disappointed!  The day had gone from awesome to crap in less than 18 miles, how in the world was I going to run another 45?  The answer:  I wasn't.  During the starting line announcements, the RD had told us that the 100K runners could opt down to the 50K distance at the turnaround, but I made the call right here.  I was going to finish the 50K, of course, but that was all.

Portrait of a day gone sour:  Me smiling through tears and UIH on the phone, cancelling some previously made arrangements for our kids.
We headed out of the aid station and even though I was throwing myself a little pity party about not completing my "A" goal for the race, my overwhelming feeling was one of relief.  I wasn't going to make the 100K in time, and now I could focus on just getting to the 50K before the time cutoff.  It was still going to be a stretch, believe me, but it felt a lot more manageable than trying to sustain my pace for 12 more hours.

On we ran.  The terrain was getting a lot tougher, but we were familiar with it, so I just focused on moving forward.  UIH assured me repeatedly that he wasn't disappointed to be stopping at the 50K, that he was just as relieved as I was.  He has been having some strange hip tightness recently that was flaring up pretty badly while we were running.  We both agreed that the full distance would be a lot more likely to result in injury.

You can't really have a bad day when this is your view.
When we reached the aid station that was allegedly at Mile 21.4, I was feeling a lot better.  We were way over halfway done, my stomach was starting to cooperate a little better, and even though the toughest hills were still ahead of us, so were some lovely long downhills and lots of runnable parts.  I refilled my hydration pack and grabbed some food at the table.  We were getting ready to head out and talking about how much time we had until the cutoff, when my sister, trying to put a positive spin on things, remarked, "You're doing great!  You're only six minutes off.  You've totally got this!"  Wait, what?!?  We were now BEHIND the cutoff time somehow??  WTF?  The average pace on my Garmin was almost a minute less than the advertised cutoff pace!  But my mileage was also well over a mile past the advertised distance of this aid station.  UGH!

Stupid long course!  Stupid cutoff time!  Now I had a real fire in my belly.  I may not be able to complete the 100K, but there was absolutely no fucking way I was going to run 50K of hard terrain and not have my name listed in the official results!  The next two miles were all very steep climbing, so there was no time to be made up here, but I picked it up to a good hustle every time I could.  The downhills were steep, but I ran them to the best of my ability.  Eventually, our average pace started creeping downward.  We were making up time, I just had to keep moving!

Sorry, Andrea!  This guy was super slow-moving, thank goodness.  He really couldn't have cared less about all the runners on his path.

More pretty views.  This is definitely one of the most scenic courses I've ever run!
I was getting tired, but on we ran.  At this point, the distance on my Garmin was so far over the course description that I was having trouble doing the math.  I knew we had gotten faster.  I knew we still had until 1 pm to finish, but what I didn't know was exactly how far we still had to run.  We cheered for the 100K runners coming back at us (it's an out-and-back course), and they kept telling us we were getting close, it was just another big hill away.  And finally, there it was!  We could see the finish line for quite some time before we reached it, but eventually we made it!  And we even had 12 minutes to spare!

Finished under the time cutoff!!  Official finish time - 7:47:59.  Yeah, the clock was a little off.  At the starting line, there was a countdown clock and when it reached zero, nobody said, "Go!" so we all stood around for a bit, not sure if we were supposed to start running or what.  It was sort of funny.

With our amazing crew, aka my sister!  Funny story:  she was taking our picture when this random guy came up and started offering all this advice about how to get the best shot.  Face this way, the background is prettier.  Put your phone sideways for a better view.  Finally, she just handed him her phone and let him take the shot.  It's a phone, dude, we're not professionals!  But this is a really nice picture.  :)
Well, I sure as heck didn't win, but I also didn't lose, so what did I learn?

  • My sister is, hands down, the best ultra crew in the world.
  • I'm pretty awesome, but I'm not quite awesome enough.  Maybe the 100K distance just isn't going to happen for me.  This isn't a woe-is-me, this is realism.  I'm not fast.  It took every single fiber of my being to make this 8-hour cutoff at the 50K, and that was only because I knew I would be done at 50K.  There was absolutely no way I could have sustained that pace to finish the full hundy.  I think my only chance of going the distance is to find a race with a much comfier cutoff.  Say, 18 hours or so.
  • I worry too much (you're not surprised by this revelation and neither am I).  I thought having UIH with me would make me worry less about the race and it totally did, but instead I fretted about everything else!  The kids, the timing, other people who were shuttling my kids to their activities, whether or not UIH was doing okay, if he was upset at me for cutting the day short... and on and on.  When I'm running alone, I know he has everything else in the world handled.
  • Sometimes your "A" race isn't really your "A" race.  It happens.
  • Fueling is a fine art.  The eating and drinking schedule that worked perfectly for me at the AR50 a month ago netted me a crazy overactive bladder and hands so swollen I almost couldn't bend my fingers at the end of the race.  I'm still not 100% certain what the dealio was with my fueling, but it was definitely off.
  • Three ultras in a row was a little more than these old bones could handle.  I feel completely fine today, soreness-wise, but I am burnt, exhausted, not excited about putting any more races on my calendar, and yet strangely restless and "unfinished" from not completing the race I had planned.  Post-race blues set in within an hour of crossing the finish line.  I think I am officially overtrained.  I'll give myself a week off to get my head back in the right place and cook up a plan for the rest of the year.

Just about 4,000' of upness is no joke.
I don't want you to think that everything about this race was sour grapes, so let's end this on a positive note, shall we??  Here are some things that I am grateful for:

  • Being allowed to officially drop down to the 50K distance.  Twenty-three of us who had registered for the 100K got to the turnaround and said, "Hey, thanks, I'm good here."  The RD deserves huge kudos for letting us still have the finisher's schwag rather than a big, fat DNF next to our names!
  • Ah, yes, the schwag.  A very nice gender-specific shirt and a pint glass:

When we were handed the shirts in the morning, I was sad that it said "Ultra," rather than 100K.  Later in the day, of course, I was very, very glad that the distance was non-specific.  I will wear my shirt proudly!

  • Family and friends who are willing to crew for us and are super awesome cheerleaders when the day gets out of control.  My sister really stepped up her game with cheer cards that involved stickers, beads and special cutouts.  My good friend S (who was supposed to crew, but instead got recruited into kid pickup), made this amazing display to greet us on our return home:

I get to see this every time I drive into my garage.  I'm a lucky girl!

Monday, May 5, 2014

Embracing the Suck

It's been a month since the AR50 and I think I am finally, just now, almost fully recovered.  It's been a terrific month, full of very easy-paced (though I would argue, not easy) running and some lovely trail time with UltraIronHubs.  Just this week, on one of my runs, my legs felt wonderful and fresh - the first time I've felt like that in what seems like a very long time.  It's official:  I'm old and recovery just ain't what it used to be!

My next race includes some hurdling.
While I don't feel particularly spry and energetic, I do feel as ready as I'm capable of being for my next race, the Gold Rush 100K, which is coming up this Saturday, May 10th.  *gulp!*

So that means it's time to talk about what happened last year.  I signed up for the inaugural Gold Rush pretty much as soon as I heard about it.  It was perfect timing on my schedule and I was totally amped about running another ultra.  Training went really well.  I won't say that I was completely prepared, though, because I really didn't pre-scout the course much, but I was doing plenty of mileage and I felt great.  The only things I worried about were the time cutoff and the weather.  The time cutoff was aggressive, which meant that I was going to have to run my absolute best or miss it, and the weather was predicted to be an unusually blistering 95+ degrees.  You know I don't do well in the heat.  It's my own fault, of course, since I rarely make myself train in the heat, but still.  As is my usual MO, I fretted endlessly and I gotta admit, my confidence was not at an all-time high race morning.

It ended up being the perfect storm of sucking:  the weather was brutal, my nerves were stretched too thin, and I went out too fast to try and catch that cutoff.  I was crying, dehydrated, puking, and more than just a little delirious from heat exhaustion when I missed the time cutoff at Mile 44.  DNF.

So why the hell did I sign up again this year?  In a word, redemption.  I want this finish.  I deserve this finish.  And here's how I'm going to get it:

  • I recruited UIH to run with me.  Company is good when the trail gets lonely, and UIH is the best company ever!
  • I trained waaaaaaaay more miles.  (Was that even a complete sentence?  The grammar is atrocious.)  My recovery/cutback/I'm-feeling-lazy base mileage recently is what my super peak training used to be last year.  My legs have a whole lot of miles on them and they can totally handle this.
  • I... wait for it...  actually trained in the heat.  I know you're shocked.  Believe me, so am I.  In fact, I didn't even set out to do heat training, it just sort of happened.  Which is why it's been so successful, because you know I wouldn't make myself do that shit if I didn't have to.  My schedule is so freakin' crazy lately with lots of clients - this is NOT a complaint!  I love being busy! - and I've found myself squeezing in my own training later and later in the day.  Plus I have a running client who can only meet in the afternoons and evenings, so I've even been running some doubles.  Suddenly, I find myself running comfortably in temperatures above 75 degrees.  Who knew that was even possible?
  • I trained on the actual course.  Nothing beats knowing what's coming on race day.  I've seen every single mile of this course, and none of it made me cry.  So I got that going for me!
  • The Gold Rush RD gave me an extra hour to finish this year.  Okay, they actually gave everybody an extra hour.  I suspect they were a little disappointed with the 81 finishers out of 250+ starters last year.  Ya think?

So far, the weatherman is predicting a high of 85 on Saturday, which means that I am predicting my fifth ultramarathon finish.  Woo hoo!