Monday, December 23, 2013

USA Track & Field Club Cross-Country Nationals

Saturday, Dec 14 was the USA Track & Field Club Cross-Country National Meet.  It was an awesome opportunity to return to the good ol' days of ripping it up on the cross-country course, and break in my new spot on the Twin Cities Track Club roster.
        Check out the awesomeness at the start of the men's masters...gorgeous!

Side note:  when I started racing competitively, I was originally a part of the fantastic MN RED club, but recently I decided to switch things up and join TCTC.  I'm still working with my same coach (Ron Byland - http://www.miletomarathon.com/), but the time seemed right to switch my club/team affiliation.

TCTC was fielding both a male and female team for the weekend's event, and as we descended upon Bend, OR and the River's Edge Golf Course where the race was taking place, we knew we were in for a treat! The weather was great:  40 degrees and sunny, which felt tropical considering what the weather in Minneapolis had been lately.  There was snow on the ground, but race officials had been nice and snow-plowed most of the race course.  And the course itself was insane!  It was a 2k loop (women would be racing a 6k, men a 10k) that climbed pretty much every hill in sight or involved side-hill running (always tricky), snaked through rough/out-of-bounds areas of the golf course, and even had a sweet hurdle of hay bales along the way. 


Pics from the course.  Hay bale hurdle on the left, super tricky downhill/side-hill/uphill/corner combo on the right...saw a lot of people digger (fall) here.

The TCTC crew did a quick run of the course on Friday as a team.  We took note of particularly good and bad lines on the course and discussed strategy (taking the tangent, which is always done in road racing, was not always advisable on this course).  With a field of 300 talented women and a course that didn't have a lot of good spots for making moves/passing, it was going to be important to be in a good position from the start.

Race day -  I'm up at dawn for an easy morning jog and because my body is still functioning on Central Time so 6am in Oregon feels like 8am (did I just blow your mind?). Luckily we don't race until noon so after the jog, I have plenty of time to grab some breakfast, get my gear together and head to the course.  We arrive, go through the pre-race warm-up routine and it quickly becomes "go time!"

The race starts and it's a mad dash up a 200m hill to a sharp right turn.  Everyone is jockeying for position and a major bottleneck occurs at the corner.  I end up kind of walk-running for several strides.
Great pic at the start of the race.  I wish I could say I was fist-pumping in excitement (I was on the inside), but in reality I was carefully executing a swim-move around another competitor.  It was a choppy sea of elbows and sharp spikes at the start.

From there, things start rolling.  I can see my TCTC teammates Melissa Agnew and Stephanie Price just ahead, we're all sitting in top 40 (or so spectators are yelling at us), and I feel like we're in a great spot.  Not out too hard so that we blow up, but near the front of the pack and together.  By the time we come around the first loop, I'm shoulder-to-shoulder with Steph and Melissa, and hope to work together, but we end up splintering.  I move ahead and end up running the next two loops in a pretty steady position from 12th to 17th throughout.  The backstretch of the final loop arrives and it's a long, gradual climb that culminates in a super steep short hill and then the hay bales before cruising downhill to the finish.  I give it the beans, but I am cashed.  I had forgotten how painful cross-country can be.  Don't get me wrong, it's exhilarating and I love it, but you are basically blowing yourself up for 20 minutes of pain.  Surges, hill climbs, maneuvering on crappy footing...it's a whole different ball game than regular road running.
                                                    Need...more...oxygen...

Cross the line in 22:29, not a particularly impressive time for a 6k on the roads, but considering the terrain of the race, was good enough for 15th place.  I'm pumped.  Had no idea what to expect and this is a pleasant surprise.  I also am handed a card at the finish line that informs me I have just qualified for world competitions (one race in Scotland and one in Trinidad & Tobego)!  Boomyah.  Unfortunately, I'm the last on the list of people invited to the party (I was 15th and they only take 5-9 athletes, so the first finishers get first dibs).  By now I've learned that I will not be traveling with the USA national team, but it was a thrill to even be in the mix of consideration, and it gives me a good goal for next year.

Finally, and most importantly, big props to my new TCTC crew.  The women's team placed 8th and the men's team was 17th (with Joe Moore leading the pack and placing a phenomenal 11th place!).


The girlies - Melissa Agnes, me, Stephanie Price, Lisa Baumert, Laura Paulsen




   \
                                                                              Joe Moore...look at that great hair

 Additional fun photos of the event here:  http://www.mikealbright.com/Galleries/Sports/Running-Events/2013-XC-Club-National

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

US.Dot Road Racing Championship Recap & Media Links

All right, it has been way too long since I've had some race news to report, but I'm happy say that I am BACK IN THE GAME!  Booyah.
         This is a perfect illustration of where I'm at racing-wise right now.
           Mentally: I am ready to rip.  Physically: there's work to be done.  :)

A little over a week ago I went out to Alexandria, VA for the US.Dot Road Racing Championship 12k.  This race was the first of its kind.  It was an invite-only, culmination-of-the-season, cherry-on-the-top of the USA Track and Field summer circuit of road races.  Competitors were able to toe the start line only if they had placed in the top 10 at one of the USA T & F championship races earlier in the summer.  This meant that the field of runners was insanely fast and talented.  I had earned my way via my 3rd place finish at the Half Marathon Championship.

Luckily, I am FINALLY starting to feel healthy.  It only took three darn months!  But I haven't been able to train with any consistency so my level of fitness is pretty low (relatively-speaking).  However, despite this, I figured I had to participate because...why the heck not?!  I earned my spot and I am planning on getting right back on the horse and kicking butt sooner rather than later, so let The Comeback begin!

Flew out to VA on Friday.  Chilled at the hotel on Saturday.  Race day on Sunday.  Weather was perfection.  Mild (40-50 degrees), calm, and overcast.  The course was mostly flat (which I think actually helped me since I'm kind of a slug right now).  Only three significant climbs/inclines, which were tough, but manageable.  There was going to be NO WHERE to hide since the field was so small.  My plan was to go out conservatively.  After all, considering the competition, even a "conservative" effort was going to be laying down some serious tracks.  Oh and my two goals for the race:  finish in 42 minutes (5:40 pace) and don't get DFL (that's "dead flippin' last," for those who don't know).  
 
Race morning selfie...aw yeah! Actually felt great, low expectations = no reason to stress. 
Time to play!

Went out mid-to-back of the pack and basically maintained position throughout.  Crossed the line in 41:31 and 18th place.  Mediocre by comparison to the other women, but holy cows, I was super pumped!  I mean, when the top two women set the world record (or world "best" since road races don't officially count as "world records"... which don't even get me started because now I'm getting off topic), the field of competitors is basically all professionals, AND I'm not anywhere near my peak?  I'll take it.  I'll take it like Adrian Peterson...ALL DAY!
        Post-race:  not anywhere near the winners, but SO happy with my race! 

Pretty pleased to be among these amazing athletes:  Shalane Flanagan (2nd place) & Molly Huddle (women's champ).  Both women finished the 12k race faster than the current world record.  Yowzers! 

Also, since this was the first time USA T & F put on this event, they made a solid effort to generate a lot of press around the race.  Here are a few fun links to some of my interviews and press from the weekend:

Pre-race interview with Runnerspace.com:

http://www.usatf.tv/gprofile.php?mgroup_id=45365&do=videos&video_id=101134


Pre-race interview with MN T & F:
http://youtu.be/lhYeMdcybDQ

Post-race interview with Runnerspace.com (what is with my googly eyes?):
http://www.runnerspace.com/gprofile.php?mgroup_id=30069&do=videos&video_id=101198





Friday, November 1, 2013

Recipe Index

By the way...

Check out my new feature on the right:  a recipe index!  BAM!  Wait, is Emeril going to sue me for saying that?  Let's hope not.

Anyway, as I make this transition to being g-free, I've rediscovered my passion for cooking.  Sure it takes a bit longer than grabbing a quick bite from a fast food joint and/or restaurant.  And yes, it involves a little planning to get the right ingredients stocked in the kitchen.  BUT it's totally worth it when you take that first, delicious bite and realize you've just made something fantastic.  And personally, it gives me the warm-fuzzies to know I've made something that isn't going to result in me being sick for the next 3-4 days because I accidentally munched some gluten.

Now cooking is pretty manageable in today's gluten-conscious world, but baking is the real challenge to g-free living.  Baking is a science and taking gluten out of the equation can really throw a monkey wrench in the process.  However, since anyone who knows me knows how much I love my delicious desserts (especially baked goods), I will be trying my hand at some g-free baking soon.  My kitchen is already stocked with xantham gum and brown rice flour!

I'll only post things that I've made and enjoyed.  Hopefully that will limit the amount of dud recipes that I pass along.  And keep in mind, most regular recipes can be translated into g-free versions with just a few modifications.  If I find something like that, I'll try to post the modifications I made in the post's title so I don't lead you astray.

Final note:  if any of you have good g-free recipes, and don't mind sharing, send them my way.  I'd love to create a nice little recipe box for anyone looking for a g-free dinner idea.

Bon appetit!

                               Sour Cream Chicken Enchiladas...NOM NOM

Monday, October 28, 2013

R.I.P. Gluten?!

Despite having no race report to contribute, I thought I'd give another "regular" post a shot.  So, what's on the proverbial menu?  Gluten.  Or rather, gluten is NOT on the menu.  Anyone who knows me, or anyone who read my last post, knows that I've been dealing with some mysterious health issues for the last few months.  And not mysterious in a fun, entertaining, Scooby-Doo sort of way.  Mysterious in this scenario means I continue to have my delicious blood stolen away by lab vampires, and yet the doctors continue to scratch their heads and I continue to feel sub-par everyday.
                      The perfect pictorial representation of how I've been feeling...
                                   thanks again, Hyperbole & A Half.

Also as mentioned in my last post, the best course of action so far has been to do a trial run of eating gluten-free (lactose has been re-instated, thank god.  Long-live cheese!).  Now, some of you smarties are probably wondering why not just test for Celiac's disease (a digestive disease in which people cannot tolerate gluten, a protein that is in wheat, rye, and barley).  That's a great idea, but unfortunately, it seems the answer isn't quite that easy.  You see, people don't have to test positive for and/or have full-blown Celiac's to suffer from gluten sensitivity.  This article is pretty interesting (in a depressing way):  http://www.rodalenews.com/gluten-free-diets?cm_mmc=MSN-_-Is%20This%20Healthy%20Plant%20Wrecking%20Your%20Health-_-Article-_-Some%20People%20Really%20Are%20Gluten%20Sensitive

This is what I imagine gluten looks like...


It's been nearly a month since I cut gluten from my diet, and I must say, I think it's the solution.  My energy level seems to be slowly returning to normal, the aches and pains in my head and body have significantly improved, and my tummy is much happier these days.  Not only that, but on several occasions I have relapsed and had stretches of days of feeling like absolute garbage.  And without fail, I've been able to trace back and make a connection between my "illness" and eating something that likely had gluten in it (spices, salad dressings, restaurant food that I thought would be safe but wasn't labeled gluten-free, etc.).

So as much as the idea of having to be high-maintenance and gluten-free for the rest of my days totally bums me out, the alternative of feeling sick is much worse.  And looking on the bright side, the prevalence of gluten-sensitivity and Celiac's seems to be on the rise.  As a result, more and more restaurants and food companies are offering/labeling g-free items which helps fill the hole in my soul created when I cut out delicious g-filled treats.

From a running/performance standpoint, this whole situation has definitely taken a toll.  I am miles and miles, figuratively and literally, from where I was at the beginning of the summer and unfortunately there's no magic switch to turn my fitness back on.  But hopefully, I've found the solution to what's been ailing me, which is a huge first step.  With the mystery apparently solved, I have no doubt that gradually, I'll make up what's been lost and be ready to rip next year.

                                      Who doesn't get inspired by Rocky?

By the way, a huge THANK YOU to all of my friends, family and competitors who have been an amazing support system through this all.  So many of you have offered suggestions about ailments to check for, advice on good docs to see, recipe ideas, and general well wishes.  Seriously...you guys and gals are amazing!


Monday, September 30, 2013

Twin Cities Marathon - Better Luck Next Time

Sunday marks race day for the Twin Cities Marathon which, this year, also happens to be the USA Track & Field Marathon Championship race.  How exciting!  TC is one of my favorite races not only because it's on my home turf, but because the scenery along the 26.2 mile route is fantastic and the crowd support is unparalleled.  I don't think I've ever felt good during one of the four TC marathons I've done (cramping issues, no tapering, etc.), but despite this I have always enjoyed myself because of the sheer awesomeness of the event.  And my fond feelings can also probably be partly attributed to the fact that I've been able to run some decent times at this race.
                         Snapshot of the start line on race day...it gives me goosebumps!!!

This year TC was my main goal for the racing season and I was ready to rip.  I had an awesome start to the summer, setting personal bests right and left, and feeling fabulous doing it!  Not only that, but with the help of my new coach, Ron Byland (Mile to Marathon, LLC), I was putting in some serious training.  Starting in late June and consistently through early September, I was killing it on training runs (if I don't mind saying so).  100+ miles per week, always hitting goal paces, and arguably mentally tougher than ever because of the wave of confidence I was riding from early summer results.  Then, mid-July things started getting...weird...

I won't bore you with too many details, but I just started feeling like crap.  Exhausted all of the time, weak, dead legs, head aches, stomach aches, and all kinds of other fun stuff.  I went to the doctor multiple times and each time was told, "you just need to rest."  This was beyond frustrating. For someone who is accustomed to not only being active, but competitive, being trapped in this lethargic state was maddening.  The docs didn't seem to realize that I had already cut WAY back on training and I was still miserable almost all of the time. 

Fast-forward two months and the latest development is a recommendation to go gluten and lactose free.  Not ideal for someone (me) who loves to eat, and particularly loves delicious gluten-containing treats.  There is sneaky gluten EVERYWHERE!  But at this point, although it's annoying and kind of embarrassing, I'm willing to try anything to get myself back to feeling normal.
         There is gluten in all the things I want to eat!  (photo credit:  Hyperbole & A Half)

Oh, and because of this on-going mystery, I have been forced to withdraw from the TC Marathon.  I might be able to finish a marathon, but there's no way I'd be able to race one.  And although it might sound conceited or arrogant, if I can't be at 100%, I don't want to be out there at all.  Not only that, but at this point, trying to scrape together a decent  marathon (not even great, just decent) would likely put me deeper in the hole of feeling icky.  So Plan B = no race this weekend, a few more trips to the doc to figure out what's going on, and then back to ripping it up!
  And finally, here is a picture of a puppy in a cup...because it makes me feel better.  Enjoy.





Tuesday, September 3, 2013

USATF 20k Champs - The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly


So I don't know where the phrase came from, but there's a phrase out there that refers to "the good, the bad, and the ugly." This weekend at the USA Track & Field 20k Championship race in New Haven, CT, I did not have a good  race...that leaves two alternative options, bad and ugly, both fit what unfolded for me.
 
Anyone living in MN knows that we've been having some pretty nasty weather.  Hot, humid, and generally unbearable to exert oneself in.  I had been tackling training as best as can be expected, but was looking forward to a race out of the state, foolishly thinking the weather conditions couldn't possibly be as bad anywhere else.  Well, I was wrong.  CT wasn't as sunny, but it was 90% humidity and hot enough that being outside wasn't super awesome.  
 
I arrived in CT on Friday and since the race wasn't until Monday, I had two days of light workouts in the conditions.  The first day went okay, just a 5 mile shake out jog.  The second day (the day before the race) was worrisome.  I did a quick 4x 200m tune-up session, and by the fourth 200m I had to stop due to nausea from heat exposure.  I was absolutely gushing sweat and due to the humidity, none of it was evaporating and I just wasn't getting cool.
 
Eventually I pulled it together, jogged back to my hotel and made it my mission to rehydrate, get plenty of electrolytes, and even take some extra sodium (to ward off any potential muscle cramping).  The weather was going to be a challenge, but everyone had to deal with it, so I planned to take care of myself and be smart about dealing with the reality of the situation.
 
The field of competitors was super strong, but looking at it and considering what I'd done at the Half Marathon Championships in June, I went in confident that I could be competitive.  Time goals were out the window, due to weather, instead the goal was to just keep in contact with the leaders and hope I had a shot at a top ten finish in the end.
 
Warming up I felt okay, but was immediately soaked with sweat.  Race time came and I lined up right next to team USA MN athlete, Meghan Peyton.  She and I had battled two weeks prior at the MDRA 15k with me eventually taking first and her second.  In that race, I let her set the pace during the first half and gradually distanced myself from her over the second half. As soon as I saw her, I figured the same kind of game plan should suit me today.
 
The gun fires and we're off. Meghan takes the lead from the start and I'm sitting in her pocket thinking, "this is gonna be great!  Just like the 15k, MN girls unite!We roll through the first mile in about 5:16 and I'm thinking, that was a little quick, but I'm okay.  We cruise upon a steep, medium-sized hill that leads to mile 2 and Megan, along with a small lead pack, gap me a bit.  No problemo, I'll just catch them at the top.  Here's where my body decides it's not going to cooperate for the day...let me remind you, this is at MILE TWO!  I crest the hill, another pack moves by me and in my mind, I latch on to them, but my body doesn't get the message.
 
It's at this point I notice how profusely I'm sweating, how fast my heart is beating, and how utterly dead (I'm mean toasted) my legs feel.  Crap.  This just went from day of wonderous potential to all-hands-on-deck-we're-going-down day!
 
I get to mile three, longest mile of my life, and I seriously consider dropping out.  I feel like grade-A garbage and there's still 9+ miles to go.  I can't count on my body today, but my mind is still strong.  It coaxes me to continue on and do whatever I can to catch whomever I can despite the devastating realization that today is going to be a huge disappointment. 
 
I labor through the rest of the run (get it, on Labor Day...come on, people, if I don't laugh about, I'll cry) and stumble across the line in 1:16:31...for a 20k (that's only 12.5 miles).
Photo credit:  New Haven newspaper (hence the screen shot)...This was right before the finish line.

For those keeping score (and because I like to rub salt in my wounds), let's put this race into perspective.  
 1:16:31 for this 20k is:
1) SIX minutes slower than my Dam to Dam 20k in June (same distance)
b) FIVE minutes slower than my half marathon at the end of June (a race that was about a half of a mile LONGER than this run!)
3) THREE minutes slower than my Dam to Dam 20k from June 2012 (before I had a coach and a good training plan)
4) a pace that is :20 per mile slower than my most recent 10 mile training run
 
Now, I'd love to blame my lackluster (understatement) performance on the humidity, but everyone else seemed able to perform, so it can't be that.  I'd love to blame it on the fact that this wasn't a goal race for me and so my mileage and workouts were still high and intense leading up to the race, but many other runners are gearing up for a fall marathon and didn't taper either.  So, hmmm...that leaves the blame on...ME. 
 
For whatever reason, I couldn't perform during this race.  There are no words that can describe my level of disappointment and frustration.  BUT...I learned that I can battle on even when the wheels fall off (and trust me, today the wheels were not only off, but on fire, and screeching away from me at warp speed).  It was a tough lesson to learn at such a high-profile race, where I feel like I had a great opportunity to continue to try making a name for myself in the world of USA distance running, but it was a valuable lesson nonetheless.
Photo credit:  New Haven newspaper.  This one is an absolute gem!  I can't believe they published it.  But this is me, one step AFTER the finish line.  Didn't trip, wasn't cramping, just pure exhaustion.  My finish time and place don't reflect what I feel was my best effort, but this pic is proof that I poured everything I had into the race...my "everything" just wasn't what I expected it would be.
 
Side note:  huge props to Meghan Peyton.  The MN girl took the lead from the start and never looked back, WINNING the dang race!  Fun to see a fellow MN ripping it up.  Job well done, Meghan!
                                         20k Champ Meghan crossing the line


Thursday, August 22, 2013

Fifteen's 5k for Drea

Non-runners often question why I devote so much time and energy to competitive running, and usually I mumble about my passion for running and the sense of accomplishment that comes with improving upon past performances.  BUT when I was asked to run Fifteen's 5k, the answer to why I would compete was simple:  Drea Bear Clawson!
                                                            Baby Drea
Recently a dear friend of mine had a beautiful baby girl, Drea, who was born with Cystic Fibrosis.  Turns out Minnesota Twins relief pitcher Glen Perkins has a personal connection to CF and hosts an annual 5k from which the proceeds are donated to the CF Foundation (check out the foundation here: http://www.cff.org/).  So when asked to run to help Drea's cause, the obvious answer was, "yes, please!"

The race was very low-key, no official clock even, but it was a great celebration of the advances the CF Foundation is making, and a golden opportunity to raise even more awareness and money for the cause.  Many people were running for loved ones affected by the condition, and there was an atmosphere of fun and hope unlike any other race I've been involved with.

As an added bonus because the race was put on by a Twins player, we got to finish inside Target Field.  Super cool!  Twins players were also handing out the finishers' medals on the plaza after, but I went for a cool-down run and missed that!  Dang it!
Runners entered Target Field via a tunnel that opened up at the left field wall, ran down third base line, and crossed home plate to finish!  Sweeeeeeet!

As for the race itself, it was fine.  I think I finished in about 16:30ish and was 2nd place overall.  Wasn't thrilled with my performance, but this race was more about the cause than the race itself.  Plus, I can't be too bummed.  I ran well enough to be the women's winner which scored me a prize of 4 passes to be on the field for an upcoming batting practice session before a Twins game!  Woot woot!  That will be awesome!
Post-race snuggles from my biggest fan of the day - Drea!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

MDRA 15k

The Minnesota Distance Running Association 15k State Championship race was this past weekend, and because it is a part of the MDRA racing series, like a few of the other races I've done this summer, it drew a good crowd of local, speedy teams and runners. 

This year the race was held in/around Crosby Farms in St. Paul. The course started with a small loop that was a little more than one mile, then did a large loop, before concluding with a final little loop at the end.  There were a couple of decent climbs, mostly early on around miles 2-3; there were some sneaky gradual, extended inclines; there were a few killer steep little charges toward the finish; and there were a lot of twists and turns, some pretty sharp, scattered throughout.  The weather was decent:  cloud cover which was great, but extremely humid.

I don't know if was the humidity or the high mileage I've been doing lately, but when I showed up for the race, I was DRAGGING.  I met up with the MN RED crew and went out for a warm-up jog.  Even at our 9:00/mile warm-up pace, my body was begging to stop and just walk already.  Gulp.

Not only that, but prior to the race, another racer/avid follower of local running spotted me and mentioned that it should be a highly competitive race for the women because there was an athlete from Team USA in the field:  Meghan (Armstrong) Peyton.  Double gulp.  I like competition, I thrive on it actually, but this morning was not feeling like a zippy day for racing.  Also to be honest, shame on me, but I didn't know who Meghan was, so I just nodded my head and smiled when she was brought up as one of the front-runners for the "W."  Turns out (I Googled her after the race), she has an extremely impressive resume!   

But despite a lethargic body and some talented competition, my brain kicked into competition mode and I focused on:  1) trusting my training, and b) myself/my race, because I can't control what others do.

Race time!  I started on the line right behind Meghan, and decided that I was just going to sit in her pocket and see what unfolded.  I didn't know how my body was going to respond today, and I find it much easier to run relaxed when I let someone else do the work early on (sorry, Meghan).  So for the first 4.5-5ish miles, Meghan was firmly in control of the race (and TCTC's Stephanie Price was in the mix too).  We were clipping through the miles steady and strong, and it was looking like it was going to be a battle to the finish.  But right around mile 5, I started to make a slow move to put a little distance between the two of us (at this point, it was just Meghan and I leading the women's field).  Meghan came right along with my first couple of surges, but then eventually a small gap started to form.  It didn't happen quickly, and I didn't ever doubt that if I faltered, she was going to be right there to hunt me down, so I kept driving through the second half of the race. 
Toward the finish, hence the tight and aggressive arm swing...using the arms to drive the legs!

For a moment, I was running alone, but just ahead was a small group of dudes so I set out to reel them in.  I caught up to them and hoped we could work together to finish the race strong.  Eventually the pack started to scatter, but I was still able to cut down pace on the last few miles, for the most part, and ended up finishing first for the women, and I believe setting a new state record for my age - 52:15 (5:36/mile pace).  Meghan finished a strong second at 53:02.  My time was a bit of a drop in pace from my half in Duluth, but it was a good exercise mentally and physically for learning how to "turn it on" even when it doesn't feel like all cylinders are firing.
                                                            Post-race Mug Shot




Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Come On Ride That Train...That Training Train! Woot-Woot!


Recently I realized I have only been posting after races, and since I haven’t raced in a while, I haven’t posted in a while.  But then I thought to myself, “Self, even though you’re not racing, maybe it would be cool to get your blog on.  You could talk about training because that’s what you’re doing and one or two people might find the subject interesting.”

So, here we go.  No race re-cap, just some of my own musings on training/running in general. 

1.  First stop:  motivation station (because we're on the training train...)!  
I think the biggest struggle most people have with training/running is finding the motivation to lace up each day and just do it.  When your bed is warm and snuggly, and it would be so much easier to continue snoozing, why do you get up and run?  Or conversely, it’s the end of a hectic day, you’re exhausted, hungry, and tired, what makes you peel off the business socks and get down to the real business of the day:  your run?  For me, this usually isn’t a problem.  I’m passionate about running, so whether I'm training for something or not, I look forward to my run each day.  If you’re not a weirdo like me and don’t find joy in running, it’s important to find your own source of motivation.  Maybe it requires signing up for a goal race so you have something to work towards, or enlisting the help of a running buddy/team that will keep you accountable to showing up for runs, or maybe you just need to mix yourself a kick-butt iPod playlist.  I can’t tell you exactly what will work for you when it comes to motivation, to each his own, but I can tell you that without something driving you to get out the door each day, it will be tough, if not impossible, to stay on the training train!
My current motivation = iPhone screensaver photo of Shalane Flanagan. Don't discount the effectiveness of visual aids.  Photos, notes around the house, etc. can really make a difference.

2.  One size does NOT fit all.
When it comes to an actual training plan, I can tell you that I’m currently logging about 100 miles per week.  I can also tell you that I run twice per day most days.  And I can tell you that I hit the track once per week.  So if you want to have performances similar to mine does that mean you should be doing what I’m doing?  Absolutely NOT!  Every runner is different.  We have different bodies, we're at different levels of fitness, we're at different phases of training, we have different goals, we have different lives/schedules...you see where I'm going with this?  So when it comes to training, don’t compare yourself to other runners by the miles, paces, or any other measure, find the training plan that works for YOU! 

3. Listen to your body...kind of.
Let me clarify something here, in the beginning of a training program, or in the midst of a rigorous workout, your body will likely tell you to stop.  In fact, if you’re training correctly, there will be workouts where your legs and lungs will be burning and your mind is screaming at you to just quit FOR THE LOVE OF GOD!  It’s at this point when you need to make a decision:  do you listen to the screaming and back off/give up, or do you push through?  Pushing through is what is going to make you a higher-performing runner.  And as you run more, you’ll learn to distinguish this discomfort (good) from pain (bad).  Unlike discomfort, if your body is telling you it’s in pain, stop running!  Getting injured and being out for weeks will not help your training efforts; backing off for one or two days to ensure your health will (help your efforts).  Learn to listen to your body, at the right times, and your training efforts will be much more fruitful!
                             These two ladies went into the "uncomfortable" zone.

4.  Even MC Hammer takes a break every now and then.
I used to be of the mindset that I was going to hammer out my runs moderately hard for moderate distances every single day.  There would be slight variations to this plan, but for the most part, if I was hammering out 10-13 miles per day at 6:00/mile pace, I thought I would be in decent shape to race well.  Turns out I raced fine, but I wasn’t seeing much by way of improvements.  And not only that, but training wasn’t very challenging because my body learned the routine and my hammer time started to become the norm.  I was no longer pushing my limits mentally or physically.  So:  how to prevent this with your training?  You need to balance legit hammer time (that’s 2 MC Hammer references in one…boom!) with non-hammer time.  It’s so simple to say, but so much more difficult to do.  It means there need to be days when you run shorter distances at super fast (that’s a technical running term) paces where you feel like you’re absolutely blowing yourself up.  The flip side to this will be days when you force yourself to cruise along at paces slower than molasses to let your body actively recover from the aforementioned blow-up session.  You won’t be able to get the most out of your hard sessions if you aren’t fully taking advantage of your easy sessions.  As someone wise once told me, “you have to run slower to get faster.”  The balance of high-intensity and low-intensity is what’s going to get you to your best outcome.  
                                         Who doesn't love The Hammer?

 5.  A yoda, you may need to find (Star Wars people, did I do that yoda-speak correctly?).
Sometimes you won’t know what to do in order to best train when it comes to running because you've never run a step in your life.  Or maybe you're a runner who has set a new, lofty goal, and you wisely realize that doing the same old thing is not going to get you to where you want to go.  Don’t discount enlisting some outside help in order to train smarter.  I had been doing all right on my own (personal opinion) when it came to running for the past few years, but when I decided that I wanted to take things to the next level, I sought out a coach.  I wanted someone who knew even more about running than me, and who could provide an objective perspective when it came to my training and racing.  Enter Coach Ron (http://www.miletomarathon.com/index.html).  I won’t say it came easily to give up control and trust someone else with my passion, but he has become my go-to resource for everything related to training:  mileage, paces, resting, lifting, nutrition, etc.  And with his help, I’ve been able to accomplish some pretty cool things this summer.
It hasn't been an easy road, because I am a major pain in the butt, but good ol' Coach Ron has stuck with me.  Here we are at this summer's USA Track & Field Half Marathon Championships.

So there's a handful of my thoughts on training.  Most of them are probably things most runners have heard before, but it never hurts to get a reminder every once in a while.  Now stop wasting time reading things on the Interweb and get training!

Monday, July 15, 2013

April Sorenson Memorial Half Marathon - Sometimes it Rains, Sometimes it Rains Ridiculously!

The April Sorenson Memorial Half Marathon took place this past weekend in Albert Lea, MN.  I ran the race for the first time last year and found it to be a good training opportunity:  it requires relatively little travel, and doesn't conflict with any other big races, so I opted to return again this year.

The race was meant to be a training run. I ran 113 miles in the week leading up to it (highest mileage I've done in quite some time), so there was obviously no taper in effect here. And the plan for the race was to run a cut-down/progressive race. What this meant is that I was to start out at goal marathon pace (6:00-6:05/mile) to learn how to run controlled/restrained, and then then every 3 miles or so, cut a little pace (to practice finishing strong). Oh and do 5 miles on my cool-down to make the day my long run for the week.

So that was the plan.

Saturday morning rolls around and I wake up at 3am to house-shaking thunder, lightning, and a spooked dog sitting on my head. I figure my alarm will sound in 30 minutes or so anyway so I drag myself out of bed and get ready to go (I was driving to Albert Lea that morning - packet pick up is at 6am, race is at 7:30am). It's pouring rain outside, so I do my pre-race ritual 10 min/1 mile jog on the treadmill. I have a little LUNA breakfast, pack up my things, and hit the road. It is wash-out conditions in the metro area. We are talking sheets of rain! I think to myself, "this race is going to get cancelled," but keep trucking along.

I arrive in Albert Lea and it's dry. Maybe I lucked out and the storms will stay to the north. Maybe not. By 7:20am it's pouring, lightning, thundering, and the race gets postponed by 30 minutes. I had warmed-up in the rain expecting a 7:30am start though so I'm soaked and cold. I go to my car to wait out the rain delay. At 8am, they decide to get the show on the road. The race begins and it proceeds to storm, blow wind, and dump buckets (not drops) of rain on us runners for the entirety of the race. Worst weather conditions I've ever competed in...for anything. It was a boring, grind-it-out kind of race, so I won't get into it much. The cut-down was mostly executed and effective, but I didn't shave off hardly any time on each of the cut-downs. I had one 5:38 at mile 11, but all other miles were pretty pedestrian. I finished third overall (there were two speedy dudes who ran 1:10-1:11ish) and was the first female (1:17:15).  Six minutes slower than at the Half Marathon Championships!  Yuck.  But considering the conditions and the circumstances, I will take it.

No race photos because no one was crazy enough to be outside, but this is what I imagine I looked like on Saturday...it rained heavily non-stop!

The bad part of the day was that I woke up that morning with a sore throat (I think I exhausted myself last week with the high mileage and not enough sleep - I'm averaging about 6 hours per night, which some people can do, but is not enough for me to get rested/recovered). Running in the cold rain for 90 minutes, "cooling down" for an additional 5 miles after (while shivering), and then standing around in the rain for another 90 minutes in nothing but my wet race clothes (no drop bags and had to be present for awards) did not help the situation. As I write this (Monday), I definitely feel I have a little sick bug.  And at this point in my life/running career, I know I need to aggressively rest to nip this in the bud.  I will likely take the next two days or so off from running (except maybe exercising my pup Lexi) and focus on getting healthy/rested up.

Side note from the race: THANK GOD for Scott Erlandson's (my adventure racing teammate) mom, Sue. She lives in Albert Lea and volunteered to come out and watch me run/give me a ride back to Albert Lea post-race (race starts in Albert Lea and finishes in nearby Hayward). She had no idea the weather was going to be this crappy when she volunteered, but she showed up anyway. And she waited for me to get my award, AND she brought me a dry towel so at least I had that to try and stay warm with. I would have been hypothermic without her. She gets the super-star award for the day, for sure!