Monday, January 18, 2016

2015 Year in Review & Houston Marathon Recap

2015 RECAP

I'll try not to bore you to tears (no promises), and stick to a bullet list:

Back story - November of 2014 - resume training after taking basically all of 2014 off due to mystery illness, vaguely categorized as an "unclassified auto-immune condition."

January & February 2015 - pull a calf muscle (technically last weekend of December), out for 8 weeks. Doh! Not off to a great start, but I have a goal for the year: re-qualify for the Olympic Trials. In order to do so, I'll need to run a 2:43 marathon. A tall order for sure, but I'm feeling so hungry to compete again, I'm ready for the challenge!

March & April - resume training and start rebuilding a foundation of miles. No high-intensity stuff because I'm out-of-shape-as-balls, AND because I'm trying to protect calf from getting strained again.

Beginning of May - first real road race since Jan of 2014! New Prague Half Marathon, 2nd place, 1:25; the point was to have fun, and I did. I had NO expectations, just grateful to be out on the roads again.

End of May - three weeks later, head to beautiful Des Moines for one of my favorite races: Dam to Dam. This event used a be 20k, it's now a half marathon. On only a few sessions of "speed" training, I'm excited to place 4th and make progress dropping my time to 1:19.

June - gearing up for Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon (aka Grandma's Half Marathon), I jump in a local church 5k as a tune-up. After dropping a couple of 5:30 miles to start and feeling good, I end up pulling my hammy on the last turn into the finish line. OUCH! I go down like a ton of bricks. Back on the IR (injured reserve list) for another 8 weeks. GAAAAAAAAA! 

July - while sitting on the sidelines because of hamstring injury, my coach and I make the decision that because of my broken training cycles and lack of base (from 2014 debacle), we're going to call an audible and try qualify for the OT (Olympic Trials) by shooting for the half marathon standard (1:15). It's arguably more difficult, but I'm running out of time to punch my ticket and these injuries keep shooting holes through my sails. 

August - resume training, but coming off of a major muscle pull, Coach Ron and I are cautious about doing too much high-intensity speed work, too soon.  It's troubling to know I need to start doing speed work to hit the 1:15 half mark, but I also can't just flip on a "speed switch" post-injury. Frustration (with MYSELF) is at an all-time high.

September - 3rd race of the year...are you kidding me?! This was NOT how I envisioned my "come-back year." I opt to double in the Victory Labor Day races, competing in both the 10k and then also the 5k less than an hour later as a good workout. Place 4th and 2nd respectively, but am the only top female runner to do both so I end up taking home the double-title. Feels good to race again and make a little progress. I average around 5:50s in the 10k, but will need to run 5:43s in the half to qualify.

October & November - win a local 10k, but SLOWER than previous race, GRRRRR... Also take down the women's title in a SMALL cross-country 8k, but it's hard to judge whether I'm making pace progress because of the course topography.

December - USA Track & Field Club Cross Country Nationals (translation: a lot of fast folks looking to qualify for the US World team). I raced in the same event (different course) in 2013 and missed the World team by one place, so even though I know I'm not in the same kind of shape, I have a bit of "anything could happen" excitement. That excitement was swiftly put to bed when the leaders took off like race horses from the start, literally (we ran on a horse race track for about a mile of the course). I run almost a minute faster than my previous mark, but place 58th (out of 350ish women). It's like a cold glass of water thrown in my face.

January 2016 - last chance to qualify! After two broken training cycles and two major injuries, I feel cautiously optimistic about the Jacksonville Bank Half Marathon. Event organizer Richard Clark-Fannin has dubbed the normally small-town race, "The Olympic Trials Project," and it shows. He's attracted about 50 men and 50 women still chasing the qualifying mark show up, work together, and try to punch their tickets to LA (where the OT marathon will be run). Despite near perfect conditions, the pacers go out a bit too hard (:10 per mile on two of the first three miles). It may not sound like much, but it is, especially considering I'm pushing my limits just to meet the 1:15 mark. It's too much, too soon in the race, and I loose the group at the half-way point. I end up finishing in 1:17 (my fourth best time ever), but I am bitterly disappointed that I didn't make the OT cut.


January - two weeks later - my last LAST chance to qualify. After my performance in Jacksonville AND an almost unprecedented adjustment in USA Track & Field's B-standard for the women's marathon (new standard is 2:45!), I go totally crazy and decide that I don't have time to get physically fitter and shave 2 minutes off my half marathon time. Instead of giving up though, I decide to run a full marathon and try for the new, 2:45 standard. What?! I must have been out of my mind, I haven't run a full marathon since April of 2013! 
But for some reason, I have an over-inflated sense of confidence. My reasoning is: I qualified on a whim in 2012, so why not this time too?! 

I qualify for a spot in the elite field for the Houston Marathon, a rock-star running event with one of the most competitive fields in US marathoning. I make a plan to run the first half of the race conservatively and then negative-split on the back half. For maybe the first time in my life, I execute my plan...kind of. I actually run the first half of the race according to plan and am feeling super comfortable.  I was actually smiling...not something that usually happens when you're looking to chew faces off (figuratively, of course). I was also taking in calories via my personal fluid bottles which I had filled with a combo of water and a gel (dissolved in the water). Unfortunately after a great 18 miles of effort, things started getting shaky. Then by mile 20, it became an absolute death march to the finish. I wanted to quit with every step as I kept watching my dreams slip away on the race clocks along the course. But I was absolutely powerless to do anything about it, I was dead. Somehow I made it to the finish in a very unceremonious 2:51:58. My muscles don't feel terrible (they're taxed for sure, but nothing is cramping), but despite that, my body is just d-u-n. Moving is an effort that I don't have the energy for.

Looking back, I'm second guessing everything: 
*Should I have run the half?
*Was it a nutritional deficiency? I drank more fluid than any other race I've run, but was still only taking about 5-10 sips out of each bottle, so even though there was 100+ calories in each FULL bottle, I was probably only getting about 10-20 calories at each aid station.
*Was I not recovered from my half two weeks ago?
*Am I THAT far out of shape and really had no realistic chance to run 2:45?
*Am I still feeling the effects of auto-immune deficiency, and if I am, will I ever get back to where I was (this is an especially interesting/troubling new line of thought considering Ryan Hall's recent retirement and revelation that he's battling testosterone deficiency that has left him unable to run more than 12 easy miles PER WEEK)?


I'm sure it will fade, but right now, whenever my mind isn't occupied (and a lot of times even when it is), I question EVERYTHING about my quest for an OTQ. I can find a small amount of solace in knowing that no matter what "the plan" was at any given point in time, every single day and every single workout, I gave everything. I did doubles, I got up early, I dragged my butt to the track, I hopped on the dreadmill, I lifted, etc. But if I admit that, then do I need to finally concede that I've peaked and will NEVER return to my full potential? Will I constantly be chasing my own impossible standards of performance? Yuck. That's enough of my whining, but the wound is REALLY fresh and I'm REALLY sad about failing.