Saturday, March 23, 2013

The demotivating effects of H2O

I am a scientist...well actually, I just have a Geology degree and I taught science.  Sorta.  But I will say that I am a woman of science and thus I am always making observations.  Actually this isn't true either, I am like the most oblivious person ever, but I have made this one observation: there is strong correlation between snow and motivation.  I have made a super awesome scientific graph to showcase this observation:
As you can see, as snow accumulates, motivation diminishes greatly.  You can't argue with the graph, it has labeled axes.  Add a little wind to the snowfall axis and you'll see motivation drop well below zero and you'll just stay in bed all day and sulk (Sorry, I'm too busy sulking to make another chart, you just gotta trust me on this one).

What is it, you ask, that has me talking about my groundbreaking hypothesis for which I am applying for a government grant to study?   Well, 
I am looking outside to yet another winter "wonderland." It is 10:57am and I am still in my pajamas and I can't seem to get motivated to bundle myself up and get to the gym on icy roads.

Ryan's poor bike
Brendan's poor tent in the backyard
 (actually, the freaky kid loves to winter camp.  I think he got switched at birth...
he was the 2nd twin...this explains a lot)
Site of poor Jill's race where she was SUPPOSE to race today.  Note
Denver skyline in the background (if you squint through the blowing snow).
Why is it that on sunny days I am up and at 'em, but when it snows I can barely make myself get out of bed?  Because snow is evil, obviously!

I have lived in Colorado for half my life now.  You'd think I would have learned by now this is springtime in the Rockies and spring is when most of our snowfall lands.   Apparently not.

I loath, hate, despise, and detest snow.  I would have gone on but it would have involved me getting a thesaurus and as I said, I'm too busy sulking.  

People born here love the stuff.  If you don't believe me just check out my Facebook feed after a snowstorm.  Every status update says stuff like, "Oh goody it's snowing." "How beautiful this snow is." "My life now has meaning because it is snowing." "I'm actually crying tears of joy over this awesome snow." "It is snowing and it is literally the most magical, wonderful thing that has ever happened to me."  Are you kidding me?  Barf!  You'd think it never happens, according to my water bill statement that just arrived with an attached notice stating we cannot water our lawns but twice a week this summer due to severe drought.  I'm really glad now my budget didn't allow me to water my backyard grass last year and it died!  But Denver has on average 48 snow days a year and the only two months that show no average snow fall are July and August.  That's a fact, according to Wikipedia.  I know it's hard to believe the Internet would lie, but I ran up Pikes Peak in AUGUST of 2008 and it snowed!
It sucked!
I don't actually mind all the love for snow....I don't get it....but I don't mind it.  And, I actually love reading the Facebook posts about snow.  But don't expect me to join in the jubilation when it starts snowing.  And please understand where I am coming from - I'm on a roll with my training and this is royally driving me insane when I can't get out and do what I need to.

I grew up in Iowa, winter is much more brutal there, but I was a kid then.  Kids are forced to live where a parental unit reside and besides, kids have no common sense (I have 3, trust me on that one too) and being almost 50 and alzheimer's about to set in, I've forgotten how harsh Iowa winter's can be (and I don't ever plan to remember).

Here is a graph of average temperature in Camarillo, CA.  I've never been there, and I'm not even sure where it is, but it looks like a lovely place to live based on the chart:

As you can see, the four seasons are cool, warm, awesome, and awesomer.  My body drools over these perfectly year-round training temperatures, it doesn't like dealing with 60 degree temperature shifts that happen over the course of an HOUR here.  Now here is the graph for average temperature for Centennial, CO, where I currently reside:

As you can see the seasons here are: too hot, almost winter, winter, still winter, and spring blizzards.  Do you understand my problem now?

I hate snow and being cold.  I do and that is not going to change.  HOWEVER, I do LOVE Colorado (Shhhh, don't tell anyone I said it, but I do).  Despite that fact that it snows constantly (It doesn't but it feels like it does whenever I have some important training day scheduled!!!) this is the place that I now call home.  I love that there are over 300 days of sunshine a year.  I love raising my family here.  I love the culture, mostly the arts.  I love looking out my front door and seeing the Rocky Mountains.  I love the friends that I have made.  I love how active I am here in Colorado and how easy it is to find a great race to do!  It really is a fantastic place to live.   

Besides, I got in a couple great runs with last week before this latest onslaught of white evil....let's just look at those pictures and ooh and ahh and remember, eventually, all this white crap will melt.  Around July.
Cheyenne Mt. in Colorado Spring; sight of an upcoming race
Running with my dear friend, Kathleen (Happy Trails), at Cheyenne Mt.
Even with a pulled calf muscle at mile 2, she still dragged my sorry slow butt up
those steep hills, which she deemed "manageable" and I deemed "deadly".  She's a rock star trail runner, even injured!
Deer Creek Canyon 
Grateful (seriously grateful) I didn't encounter a mountain lion


My hands may be cracking and bleeding every winter, and my training is thrown out the window on days like today....

...but Colorado is home for me now and I couldn't imagine leaving.  But I am still going to complain about the snow though...I am so over dealing with it.

Now excuse me, that's all the time I have for now, I have a little treadmill 5k PR to set....

Btw, I just looked at my phone app to see how many more inches we're going to get today and all is says is, "BLIZZARD".  Does anyone live in Caramillo and can get me a job?  I make great charts!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

34 Minutes to Grace

Grace: a pleasing or attractive quality or endowment
(I like it, I'm going with it) 

"I feel the need....the need for SPEED"
Be still my Iceman heart...
Something really nutty is happening to my running: I’m getting faster - and it doesn't even seem like I'm really trying. It kind of makes me doubt the reliability of my Garmin, but for now, my ego likes to go with the idea. I hadn’t mentioned it because I didn’t want to jinx the whole thing, but now I’m riding the wave like I own it.

My first coach didn't exactly like me racing while building my base.  I get that.  I really do.  Regardless, I snuck (I know "sneaked" is the standard past tense and past participle form of "sneak" - whatever, it's my blog) in a couple 5ks and a half marathon back in the fall.  They were slow.  They messed with my head.  So to torture my ever so fragile slow pace psyche further,  I signed up for a couple more short races this year, just to confirm my slowliness (Webster's soon going to contact me for that brilliant new word).  But I didn't get to do them.  January's 5k was traded for a night on the bathroom floor hugging the toilet (and losing 5 lbs in a weekend - a fair trade-off, if you ask me) and February's 5k, I mistakenly showed up 24 hours early for the race (genius me).  By the following day, race day, I was totally over the race and didn't want to do it anymore, so I didn't (mostly because I had a big bike day planned and since I suck so much on the bike, and have a big biking event in June, I thought the time was better spent on the bike).  Now enter March 10th, and short race #3: a hilly St. Patrick's 7k (I triple checked the date, and confirmed date with a friend - twice).  Whatever microscopic amounts of Irish blood I have in me loves this race.  I love the spirit; I love the camaraderie; I love all the GREEN; I love the challenge of the course; I especially love that it's not a 10k (is there anyone that loves to feel like puking for 6.2 long miles?  If so, you're my hero).  Maybe it's all the free Killigans and corned beef sandwiches post-race, but people are genuinely happy at this race and it's incredibly infectious.  

Because I wasn't able to do those two earlier 5ks this year, I don't have much of an idea how fast I am right now at anything speedy, so I asked my coach, of a whole one week, what my race strategy should be.  I basically did one failed tempo run a week before this race (I thought death would be a better alternative), which is the first speed workout I've done in probably a good 3 years - give or take a year.  I'm sure his guess at a sustainable pace for 4.35ish miles was as good as mine, which was equivalent to throwing darts at some random pace chart and going with whatever pace the dart hit.  8:20s was my given crest.  Gaaaasp.  I have fallen so low.  I told my neighbor, Dennis, who drove us to the race that morning, "Please shoot me and put me out of my misery if I run an 8:20 pace."  Yet in my head, I had no idea if I even COULD run an 8:20, or even close to it.

My B-goal was to beat the guy dressed in all green.
(A-goal was to not get shot by Dennis) 
Dennis made me start up near the front with him.  With people I had no business starting with.  I didn't really have a choice, you see; I had to pee as people were already lined up to run, so when I was done doing my business, I latched onto Dennis' shirt so I wouldn't get stuck in the tail end of 3500 green-clothed souls as he wormed his way through hoards of green masses.  Front line was where he landed (he's fast) and thus I did too (I'm not that fast).  The gun went off, runners were weaving around me, leaving me in the dust so that I felt like I was running in that dream where you don’t move at all even though you’re grinding hard on your feet. 

I was having trouble getting a consistent readout from my piece of crap Garmin, be it the height of downtown buildings or the viaducts we ran under.  I didn't know what my pace was that entire first mile, and as a result, I did the opposite of what my coach advised (as you can see, we're off to a good start!) and I hit mile 1 at 7:33.


If this race were a 10k (or more), this 47 second overzealous pace would have instantly had me  pull back my overzealousness so I could survive to the finish without crying for mercy the last mile.  But I only had 3.35ish miles left, and so what if mile 2 was one continuous ginormous hill and hill running is my weakness - isn't racing about seeing what you have in you and learning what you don't so you can improve upon that for next time?  Maybe not for an A-race you've spent half your life and sacrificed every close relationship you've ever had training for it, but sometimes I like to see what I have inside me and this race was just for fun anyway (see comment above to Dennis about shooting me if I ran too slow).

I felt too good to slow down, so I laughed at my watch and continued on at my neck-breaking pace - wondering at what point my legs were going to be coated in lead with cute little lead sprinkles.  The thing was, I really didn't care - my insatiable desire to run anything above my 145 max HR MAF zone was so strong right now, I was willing to crawl the last mile if need be; just let my damn legs - and my heart - race.  Fast!

I sent my mind to focus onward at whatever I had in me, 8:20s be dammed. 

Mile 2's continuous hill reiterated my weakness moving upwards (coincidentally, I suck biking up hills, too. Yippee).  If I had my HRM on, I'm sure I would have had a heart attack just looking at the number displayed.  Thankfully, I had the foresight to know this ahead of time (for once) and didn't wear it or I know I would have slowed down at the voluminous number displayed.  I slowed moving up this monster hill (a series of two hills, the 2nd being 150' in a half mile - I'd have thought it was Mt. Everest the way I complained about it post-race), but I felt strong and miraculously managed an 8:16.  Mile 3 I started losing some steam, but I also started passing a few of the runners who’d dusted me at the start of the race, which always gives you a kick of energy, and I was holding my first mile pace (even a second faster. Narcissist race reports must always announce to the world every minute molecule of speed).  I was a bit surprised I wasn't doing the proverbial death march by now, by the grace of something, I wasn't.  I think when there is a goal that I want nearly to the point of entitlement, there’s only pursuit.  It can be a big, fat goal, like when I Boston qualified, or it can be a stupid little private determination like the time I averaged 1:40 splits on 20 x 400 meter repeats. The visceral drive makes me weigh them equally because I am in a zone where I will not lose, and if I do, it’s not because I didn’t fight like a bitch.  Mile 4 and change suddenly wasn't going down without a fight even though I felt those leaded sprinkles starting to decorate my quads and my lungs were about to explode (and to add to the fun, two more short hills to boot); I needed to own this race, it became an obsession.  Mile 4: 7:40 (which I contribute to dropping my water cup and stopping to get another - excuses are also part of a high quality race report).  Another .35 miles (.38 according to my trusty Garmin, whom never lies) up the last hill, turned the last corner, and there it was - the finish.


7:47 pace (take that 8:20!)

Truly, a pure act of grace.  Or badass determination.... take your pick.

Dennis and I and a fellow track mom, Kathy, whom we ran into post race.
No, Dennis and I do not have matching shirts - his is from Moab 1/2 Marathon,
mine is from the Park City Marathon.  Utah race directors must have got a good
deal on neon green that year.
Celebrating post-race with a fellow teacher I just happened to run into
Btw, it has to be DAMN cold for me to wear tights in a race - like sub 19 degrees.
As soon as I crossed the finish line and kissed the nearest green clothed creature (thankfully, it wasn't goal-B man), I rushed in to find Dennis so he didn't get trigger happy, grab his car key so I could run to his car, find my phone, and text the boss that I ran like a big girl and was, indeed, still alive.  And smiling.  He was happy, I think.  

Running fast gets to my core and rocks my world simultaneously from the inside out and the outside in. Calling it therapy doesn’t do it justice. It’s so much better. I don’t know about you, but when I feel the burn on umpteenth mile whatever, I’m thinking less about how much this sucker hurts and more about shredding my muscles to make me stronger. 

For better and mostly worse, I am a competitive person, which gets particularly tricky when I'm  also somewhat wishy washy.  Competitive people aren’t known for being indecisive, but most of the time, I’m not sure of stuff.  My mind is a crockpot full of question marks. You should see me in a new restaurant with a menu.

Because I am so often indecisive, when I do know a thing I want for sure for sure for sure, I will fight the good (and okay, sometimes not so good) fight to achieve it. I want to be a nice girl, I really do. But I also want to kick ass. I suppose my indecision isn’t all that much of a mystery. 

I love racing, even when I don’t think I do, even when it feels like such gut-sinking torture that I want to quit the sport altogether. I am scared of racing, scared of failing and losing the thing I want for sure for sure for sure (right now, it's the Leadville Silver Rush 50-miler in July - my for sure for sure for sure; it scares the shit out of me). And so because I’m compelled to do something scary, I believe in forcing myself to master areas that are scary and potentially fatal.  You really can sum up my approach to life with: “I hate (suck, same thing) running long, vertical, hilly mountains. Thus, I will sign up for the Leadville 50-miler.” (the race has almost 9000' elevation gain, all starting at 10,000').  I’m convinced that racing and competition are intractable traits. They’re qualities that both intimidate me and drive me, almost without my permission. I pin on the bib, stand at the Start, start the run, and the drive takes over.

I think 2013 will be a great year in running for me (can I hear y'all say, "FINALLY!!!!!!!!!!"?), one where my potential, power, and ability in sport matches the lightness of life.  I'm in good hands, I'm loving my new training approach my new coach is giving me, and I feel the drive to succeed taking over.  I am so ready to start a renewed focus on speed work, volume, and the training that gives way to whatever I desire. 

Next up: the Platte River Half Marathon on April 7th.  This will be my last race before I turn 50 (just a reminder: it's on the 19th for all those lavish running related gifts which need to be ordered and mailed to Colorado ahead of time .... ) - I kinda get choked up whenever I think about leaving my 40s.  There were some good years sprinkled in there amongst the mostly bad ones (but that's a post for a later date); but what competitive freak isn't excited about entering a new, and MUCH easier-to-place age group?  Um, that'd be me!

Oh, and one last speedy note: My son, Ryan, had his first track meet of the season Saturday.  It was touch and go if he'd do it as he's been sporting what I was convinced was a stress fracture on the top of his foot.  But race he did....

That was the best run mile race I have EVER watched (and I raced the mile in high school and college - I've witnessed a few 1-mile races in my lifetime!).  I'm not sure if you've ever witnessed a group of 30 or so high school males all fighting for a win, but it is gut wrenching (for me :)) to watch.  Ryan made his move and pulled out in front with about 700m to go and I thought for sure this was too soon and he'd be crawling the last quarter with those lead sprinkles I got in mile 4 of my race.  But low and behold, he held on and won the whole enchilada - with a 5 second PR.   He's never won a varsity race before today.

My heart is singing!

I guess that pretty much sums it up, for now. Now, go kick some ass...

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Moab Red Hot 33k

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-- 

I took the one less traveled by, 

And that has made all the difference. 

--Robert Frost
Moab, Utah
Source: Me

Without trying to turn this post into a mellow-dramatic emotionally-filled marshmallow of long rambling paragraphs, let me just sum the Moab Red Hot 33k trail race as one of those little things you do in life where you just happen to come out a different person than when you started.  Not always necessarily better or worse -  just different;  different perspective, a change of goals, a more fond awareness of just what you're doing just might actually be okay after all.   In picturesque Moab, somewhere amongst all that red sand, red dirt, great vertical walls, and vast slick rock sandstone, I smiled.  I was in love again - a love that has been buried under a heap of old pace times, slow MAF miles,  lost endurance.... to name a few things.  I've hated running for so long now and wondered if 'my time' was ever going to come back to me.  Somewhere around mile 10, I can whole heartedly say it did, and I came home eager, and excited, about my running future.

I stood on the start line of Moab a bit over two weeks ago.  Nervous  - yet excited.  Definitely uncertain of what lied ahead of me (y'all know I'm not much of a trail runner and I wasn't exactly race fit for this thing), and a little bit... empty.   Empty because four-ish days before the race the coach and I parted ways (parted ways?  That's such a super lame expression...but I'm going with it because that's what happened and I'm way too lazy to actually put a lot of thought into this post to come up with something more eloquently written.  Whatever);  I'm not going to get into the nitty gritty of why - there is no real reason why other than we just didn't mesh.   Though it was meant to be, it didn't mean it wasn't painful (queue the violins).   So when the gun went off at Moab, my one prevailing thought was: use the race to let the past go - literally and figuratively - and to enjoy the amazing day ahead of me.  And that was it.

En route to the race bright and early

I went to Utah with a couple women I work with, both of whom I don't really know that well - which always makes for an interesting trip.  Kerry (blue jacket) is an incredibly gifted trail runner and tons of fun; she also ran the race.  Kim (orange jacket) didn't race;  she came as a cheerleader, race start/finish chauffeur, and shoulder lender a time or 90 for me.  She's the warmest-hearted woman you'll ever, ever meet!
Are you drooling over the scenery yet?  If not, you will!

Somewhere along the course of Facebook connections through connections through connections, I met Doreen who was also running and we hooked up a couple times while there.  Awesomely accomplished woman who I instantaneously formed a special friendship with.

If you've never been to Moab, Utah, you truly must put it on your bucket list, if not to run, just to sit and admire its beauty.  I'm not a well-traveled girl but in all the places I've ever encountered, Moab's scenery is incredibly unique; it's a magical place where you come to find peace.  It is country filled with vast red rock sandstone, canyons carved from the Colorado River, and the La Sal Mountains, over 12,000', located to the SE as a backdrop.  The area is filled with technical and slick rock sandstone and has become the mountain bike capital of the country.  Within these demanding, yet drop-dead gorgeous trails, I stood on the start line of the Red Hot 33k about to enter a trail running world I knew so little about.

There is a colossal difference between trail and road running.  In the almost 19.5 miles I ran in Moab, I encountered so much diversity of terrain and scenery that my mind never had an opportunity to become mush, my vision was continuously rewarded, and every muscle constantly challenged.   I never had to think of strategy or my pace or where I was positioned - those things meant nothing here as I climbed sandstone outcrops, stood and wondered which way was the course, ran down gnarly broken rock, slugged through red sand up to my ankles - and then climbed (and climbed and climbed and climbed) to then do it all over again (and again and again).  I sit here and look at my Garmin data and I honestly cannot remember much about the data it's displaying, the only visions I can muster up are those of the incredible people I encountered along the way, and how every single step brought a different path than I was on just mere moments ago.  
First mile of the race was straight uphill, and the only section we
encountered slippery ice.
Red dirt trail found after the first icy mile
Red sandstone vertical cliffs became my backdrop early in the race
A posse of runners I hooked onto early on; they were having a
blast and I loved their company.  Until I dropped them at mile
4 and left them in the dust! :)
People - way in the top center - to give a scale of this section's
enormous openness 
Climbing up vasts amounts of slickrock sandstone... come upon views like this!!
And then  back down....
Follow the pink and black stripped ribbons....if you can find them.
I spent several times stopped dead in my tracks, wondering
where to go next.  Which made it all the more - fun!

I have so many pictures and so many thoughts, I could spend hours upon hours posting them all.  I hope the pictures bring a small glimpse into this incredibly amazing race.  I was so absorbed in my surroundings and never thought much about the task at hand; I just did it.  I ran hard when I could and walked up the sheer vertical walls when I couldn't.  I latched on to various people throughout the course, so as not to get lost (and to have a little entertainment :)), and I dropped every single person at some point.  I wasn't breaking any speed records, but I felt fantastic.  When I came to the last aid station around mile 15, I set up my mind to run those last downhill miles as fast as my fatiguing body would allow me.  I was starting to get choked up at how incredibly good I felt and I was passing people like it was my job; it was hard to corral my emotions but I had to finish this job.

With about a mile to go (I actually didn't really know how much longer to go since I had run off-course many times and no idea where I was exactly), I saw Kerry just ahead of me so I kicked it in a bit to catch up to her.  I knew something wrong had to be going on with Kerry since she's so much faster than me (or I was having some magical super human powers :)); poor girl was having some IT and hip issues and struggling a little but we grabbed a quick picture... 

...and headed down the last stretch of rocky trail together, feeling stronger than ever, and chatting away about the race thus far.

We crossed the finish line together and heard our friend Kim cheering from the side.  3:56 and some change (and 25/72 in the 40-99 age group....yes, this is an age group in trail racing), which FAR exceeded any expectations I may have even slightly thought about prior.  

I was stunned, and kinda an emotional mess!  Kerry went to kiss me on the cheek, and tears were literally streaming (I'm a dork!).

I am truly blessed!

There's nothing more motivating for success than success itself.  The gains I have made with my running, albeit slow, are noticeable and reinforces my dedication to the sport I once loved so much ... and fell in love with again out there on Moab's trails.   I have new-found confidence and I am where I need to be right now.

It feels so good!

Official Race pic, I'm guessing around mile 9.  These two nice woman,
 whom I followed for about 5 miles,
I passed and never saw them again.
Smiling on the slickrock

It may not look it, but we climbed almost 3000'.

You can now put those violins back and don't worry about me and my once fragile emotions over the coach situation (I appreciate the songs while the lasted though); I am fine.   I have no regrets over what happened, I feel fantastic, I've lost all the excess weight I put on in my woe-is-me foot fiasco, and I have a brand new sparkly ultra coach and I can already tell we'll work together well.  As far as running goes, life is chugging along quite nicely, and you can't argue with that!

Run strong, my friends!