Tuesday, January 28, 2020

California International Marathon Race Report: Brave or Stupid?

As usual, I've started and deleted several posts about the California International Marathon, the race that I trained for all year in 2019. A few posts started with "I tried and failed, but at least I was brave enough to try." I couldn't complete those because I'm still questioning whether I was brave or stupid, or maybe both.

I started 2019 with the goal of running a Boston-qualifying time at CIM. CIM is a point-to-point race from Folsom, CA to Sacramento. It's known for producing PRs, BQs, and OTQs. Last February, I ran a "test race" marathon in Mesa, AZ, on a downhill, "easy to qualify" course. I went out at my BQ pace of 8:50 and blew up around 13 miles. I knew I had my work cut out for me for CIM in December. 

Over the next 9 months, I trained hard. I ran more miles last year than I've ever run in my life. I got stronger and faster. I earned new PRs at the 10K and half marathon distances. I prepared as well as I could. But my times on my training runs weren't fast enough to go into CIM confident about a BQ and I knew it would take a perfect day to achieve running 26.2 miles at BQ pace. But it was just so tempting. My previous best marathon time was 3:51 and my age group's BQ time is 3:50. If I got just a one minute marathon PR, I'd also get a BQ. It was sooooo tempting.

Kudos to my coach, Nell Rojas, for being very patient with me when I claimed that that was what I was going to try to do. She told me that if I ran conservatively in the first part of the race I could definitely run sub-4. But that's not what I wanted: I wanted 3:50. Because I tried for 3:50, I ended up with a 4:14. I ran strong for 12ish miles, started to try to hang on from 12 to mile 19, where I knew the hills would end. I expected it to be downhill from there, which might help me pick up the pace again...but it wasn't downhill. It was flat. I lost all momentum and fell off my pace. If my amazing friend Shelly hadn't caught up with me at mile 24 and dragged me to the finish, I would probably have run 10 minutes slower! 

Pre-race with Orissa and Shelly. This race was very well organized, including the buses to the start and the many many porta-potties available before and during the race (porta potties! Porta potties everywhere!).

Feeling happy before mile 13.
I wasn't unhappy with my time. I had a lot of fun running the first half of the race with Shelly and I felt like I could fight until mile 19, which is an improvement over my performance in Arizona in February. I missed my time goal by nearly half an hour, but I ran faster than the race in Phoenix, which means I'm getting stronger. 

So I still don't know if I was brave or stupid to race for a goal that is currently outside of my limits. After the race, Nell and I debriefed and she talked to me about the importance of patience: I'm improving, I'll get there, it will take time. We talked about how you should never hope for a miracle on race day - you should never hope to have a breakout race to get a goal. You should prepare and be ready and confident about what you can do.

Of course I know this is true. Every coach I've had has told me this. But after 15 years and 20 marathons, I still needed this reminder from Nell. How many times have I had to hear that I should be focused on the process and not on a specific time goal? Focus on the process and improvement will come.

Having a specific time to race for makes this difficult. It's not like triathlon, where it's understood that times at different races will vary because of the terrain and conditions. At an Ironman, there is no set time for each age group for a Kona qualification - you race against your competitors on that day and that's how it goes. In some ways I know that makes it mentally harder, but it also takes off some of the pressure. You can say "I'm going to do my best today" and then you do it.

So, what's next? Winning a slot to Ironman St. George through my awesome triathlon team, Big Sexy Racing, is probably the best thing that could have happened to me right now. I have no choice but to focus on the process and see what I can do with the bike/triathlon fitness that I can build between now and May. 

For the first time ever, I'm going into a season where I'm doing an ironman but it's not my "A" race. I decided that in order to focus on process and improve my skill at racing a marathon, I need to stop signing up for "easy BQ" races. My next stand alone road marathon race will be the Kansas City Marathon in October. Between now and then, I'll "race" two more marathons - one at the end of Ironman St. George in May, and one on the trails around Leadville in June. Let's see if I learn anything along the way.

It was so much fun to look forward to a girls' trip to Sacramento all year. Racing with friends and having friends on the course for support was priceless! Thank you to Aixa and Sanaa for being awesome Sherpas!

Monday, November 11, 2019

Kansas City Half Marathon Race Report: When You Know You Can Do It, You Can Do It

Nearly a month has passed since the Kansas City Marathon where I ran a 1:55 and earned a five minute half marathon PR. I went under two hours at a half marathon race for the first time since my first attempt at the distance in 2005. It's taken me a few weeks to write about it because I'm not really sure what to say. Here's what's in my head: It's not really even that good a time. It shouldn't have taken this long to achieve this. I've been capable of this for a really long time.

I haven't run that many stand-alone half marathons. I've run almost 20 of them at the end of a half ironman, and I've grazed the 2:00 mark a few times - my personal best time previous to this was 2:00:27 at Buffalo Springs in 2014. I've run 3 sub-4 hour marathons, which means I've run at least the first half of 3 marathons in under two hours. Logically, I thought, if I just enter a half marathon and try to run it in under two hours, I should be able to do it. In the spring of 2017, I decided to make it an actual goal for the season. And then for the next 3 years, every time I tried, I failed.

The Conditional PR
I just moved to Colorado, I'm not acclimated to the altitude, I thought. I'm just getting older. This must be what happens after 40. A friend of mine, Shannan, confirmed this suspicion. She told me that she used to run a lot faster, but after moving to Colorado and getting a little bit older, she too has slowed down. "We just have to be positive about our achievements in the present," she advised, "we can't compare ourselves to our younger, faster selves. Instead, let's say, this is my 'I'm over 40 and I moved to Colorado' PR!" Shannan is a gifted athlete and is significantly faster than me. If she was feeling this way, I could definitely take joy in my post-move, over-40 achievements. So that's what I did. This May at the Colfax Half in Denver, I got closer to the elusive two-hour mark than ever in recent times. On Facebook I happily chirped about my 2:03, my "fastest half since moving to Denver and turning 40!" A conditional PR.

I've been doing a lot of running since May. For some reason, I have no problem believing that I can run a fast marathon, and I decided to focus this year on earning a marathon PR at the California International Marathon (CIM) which is coming up in about a month. (Because my age group has changed, just a one-minute marathon PR will earn me a BQ, so there's also that.)

My coach Nell Rojas pointed out early in the season that after a year of ultrarunning and all these years of ironman training, I seem to be pretty durable. I should be able to take on a lot of running volume. Let's give it a try. Mix in some fast track and tempo sessions, and I should get faster too. So that's what we did. I've been running more this year than I've ever run in my life.

Because 90% of what I achieve seems to come from what's in my head than what my legs are capable of, the midweek speed sessions are the ones that have really made a difference. In August, I remember seeing a midweek tempo workout with difficult descending times in it, then thinking, well, I'll try it, the worst that can happen is I walk home. I surprised myself by nailing the workout. Two weeks later when it appeared on my plan again, I thought, I can definitely do this. And I did. What a thrilling lesson to learn: when you know you can do it, you can do it. It's true! I really want everyone who reads this to walk away knowing that this is true!

When You Know You Can Do It...
In early October, my friends from Texas, Morgan and Mack, came to the Denver area on vacation. Morgan asked if we could get together and run; coincidentally I had registered for a trail 10K that weekend so they decided to race it too. Like Shannan, Morgan is a significantly faster runner than me. We follow each other on Strava and Instagram and she inspires me daily with her speed, tenacity, and dedication as she works towards her own marathon goal.

Thrilled to run with Morgan and Mack!
On race day, I looked around for Morgan and Mack, but didn't see them. I started the race by myself, and after several minutes passed, Morgan ran up beside me. They had started a few minutes late. We chatted for a minute and I told her not to let me hold her back. She and Mack (with his selfie stick!) ran ahead. My watch beeped with the time for that mile: 8:20. Whoops. That was faster than I was supposed to start, but was right around the same pace as those midweek intervals I'd been running. Morgan wasn't running away from me as fast as I'd expected. I'll try to hold on to this pace, I thought, let me try to keep Morgan in sight. And I did! Because (say it with me) when you know you can do it, you can do it!

I surprised myself by finishing that 10K in just under 53 minutes, within a couple of minutes of Morgan. She was the perfect rabbit to chase. On the out and back course both Morgan and Mack encouraged me to keep chasing and it was fabulous to high-five both of them at the end. I faded a bit at the end, but still ended up running at a much faster pace than I thought I was capable of. I didn't realize until logging my times later that day that I'd achieved a PR for the 10K distance. That wasn't an over-40, just-moved-to-Colorado, conditional PR. It was an actual PR. I have only run a handful of 10K races - but my 43-year old self had just run 6 minutes faster than my previous best time, and at altitude. There were no conditions at all on this PR.

The Louisville Endurance Race Series 10K was a fantastic local event with free, scenic photos as part of the entry.
...You Can Do It
Armed with confidence from that 10K, I flew to Kansas City two weeks later to make another attempt at a sub-2 half. There was no reason I couldn't do it. I would be running in perfect weather (cold and rainy) at sea level and Trent would be at the finish line. My legs and lungs were in shape and my head was in a good place too.

On race morning, I woke up to 50 degree temperatures and light rain. I intended to run from Trent's apartment to the start, about a mile and a half away. He offered to drive me because of the weather but I declined - I've learned the value of a warmup and some good dynamic stretching before a race or tough workout (thank you Nell).

I lined up in the rain with all of the marathon and half-marathon participants. Many were wearing ponchos and garbage bags to protect themselves from the rain. As we started the first mile up Grand Blvd, I knew we'd be running slightly uphill because I'd run down the hill to the start. I kept my pace in check but still ran past the 2:00 pace group and left them behind. Okay, now I'm trying to outrun that pace group. I prefer to run scared than to chase, so I was in the perfect spot. I set my sights on chasing the 1:55 pacer.

As we wound our way through the streets of Kansas City, I recognized several places that Trent and I have visited on my trips here. It was fun to look around and take in the sights. I watched my watch, too - any number under 9:00 would be an acceptable mile pace. About halfway through, I started to feel a little bit fatigued and I wondered if I should back off the pace. Miraculously, right at that moment, the rolling hills turned into a 3-mile downhill segment, exactly when I needed it. By the time I hit the 9 mile mark and the course started to roll again, I knew that I had a buffer of several minutes and that I'd meet my goal. I pushed up the hills and took the chance of running fast on every downhill opportunity.

Finally, I reached mile 12 and the significant downhill stretch to the finish line. I smiled to myself; I knew I had done it. I knew I'd reach the finish line with five minutes to spare. I even ran past the 1:55 pacer (he had fallen off the pace!). I relaxed. Right at that moment, a guy ran by and said something like, "oh no Big Sexy, you need to keep on pushing to the finish line!" as he galloped by in his Hammer kit. Of course he was right. I was going to make my goal, but I should be running as fast as I can, trying to do the best I can! I chased him to the finish line and screamed with happiness when I ran across it. 1:55:07. A five minute PR. Under two hours. More than 20 races and 14 years after my first one. How awesome. I really felt the joy of the achievement.

The Kansas City Marathon Is Awesome
Obviously I suddenly have a special place in my heart for this race now because I achieved a PR here. But besides that, I want to make sure that everyone knows what a great event it is. There was awesome swag - a nice fitted cotton T-Shirt and Goodr sunglasses in the packet! A beer garden at the finish! A perfect course with perfectly placed rolling hills and fantastic volunteers. The race is sponsored by Garmin and they even had a Strava segment around mile 8 with a prime - the fastest male and female on the quarter-mile segment would win a Garmin. What a cool gimmick. Packet pickup in Union Station was easy and the expo was exactly the right size and had a ton of great local vendors. Oh, and did I mention free finisher pictures? I can't say enough good things about this race and I'm pretty sure I'll want to run the full here next year.

Nice swag!
CIM is only a few weeks away and I'm looking forward to racing in Sacramento with my beautiful friends from Texas. We have one more 20-miler next weekend and then it's taper time, and I can't wait! Before CIM, I have a local Turkey Trot 5K where I'm tempted to aim for a PR as well. How cool would it be to get PRs in every distance in the same year? I absolutely love that I've developed the confidence to think this way.

Remember Shannan, my over-40 friend who taught me the value of conditional PRs? Well, she just ran a marathon PR a week ago in New York City. While the conditional PR may be a helpful tool along the way, Shannan has proved that #fasterasamaster is an actual thing. I'm so excited to set my sights on big goals and see what happens next.

A fast "easy" long run with my friends in Texas was another confidence builder the weekend before the Kansas City race. I can't wait to race in California with Shelly and Orissa!  

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Kerrville Triathlon Festival 2019: The Family That Races Together

In all our years in endurance sports, Dad and I have never raced together. We've cheered for each other at running events and triathlons, and he slowed his normal pace to run a couple of 10k races with me at my pace when I was a beginner. He paced me twice up Zombie Hill at the end of Norseman. But we have never entered an event where we were both racing, until this one. It was awesome. 

When I signed up for the Quarter/Olympic/Intermediate distance race at the Kerrville Triathlon Festival this summer, I expected a "just for fun" experience on a borrowed road bike. Of course as soon as the gun went off, all of that went out the window and I went for it, competing at whatever level I could. Swimming in a race at sea level after training at altitude for nearly three years was incredible, and I ran out of the water second in my age group. 

It took about 20 minutes on the bike for the girls in my age group to start catching me, and I'd lose several places during the bike ride to end up 9th at the finish. Even so, I was really happy with my bike split - it felt great, and I told Orissa afterwards that I wanted to keep her bike that she had so graciously let me borrow. I think all the run training I've been doing this summer somehow translated into one good bike ride. 

I went out fast on the run and tried to hold it, but really fell apart towards the end in the heat and humidity that I'm no longer used to, especially running past the finish line for the cruel little out-and-back on the Kerrville River Trail. I'm familiar enough with the course to know at that point that the run was going to be nearly half a mile too long. I left everything out there on the course and I felt really good about my day, finishing in just over 3 hours, which is about 10 minutes slower than the last time I raced here...not too bad! 

Dad's swim wave started 10 minutes behind mine, and Trent had urged him over the phone the day before that it was Dad's turn to to chase and pass me on the bike, like Trent always used to do. It was fun trying to hold Dad off. It was a really fun day, and I have to say that racing a triathlon really makes me want to race triathlons...

Dad was the real star of the show last weekend, earning first place in his age group. I'm so proud and here's his race report in his own words!

Big Sexy Racing on the podium!
Dad's Race Report: 1st Place Male 70+

So, here I am once again, at the start of my second triathlon. My goal is just to finish, but there is also a kick-butt element lurking in the background. Looking at the lake, the morning breeze is whipping up the top-current. The pre-swim the day before had me dreading the headwind. Who knew that wind could create a current like that?

Kristina’s flight had entered the water ten minutes earlier. And I knew she’d make up at least another ten minutes on the swim. Of course, by the end of the day, she would gain on every phase of the event. Go Kris, go!

The water was wonderful, warmer and clearer than last time, but those little waves could spell disaster. I took my first breath of water right after the first buoy. Luckily a kayak was there for me to grab onto to get air flowing again. My second breath of water happened moments later. This was going to be a tough swim. Swimming 1000m in a pool is like a warm-up, but the open water is a totally different story. And to think, I had actually been looking forward to this when I signed up a few weeks ago.

At about 600m my goggles steamed up and I could see just enough to make out the people around me. Hopefully they were leading me in the right direction. Swim-out is elation! The hand grabbing your wrist signifies that you survived once again, without embarassment.

The whole family cheering and high-fiving on the way to T1 is a blast. I took a full minute off my previous T1 time…and I got the whole thing right.

After that swim, climbing onto the bike is like finding an old friend to enjoy the next 29 miles together. The coolish weather made the ride fabulous, and these were my daily-ride roads. We headed out into a strong headwind, and I figured life would be fantastic coming back home downwind. I decided that I would wait until the turn so I could sit up and coast while taking an energy gel. It all worked great, except that we turned into even more wind. How can that happen? We really didn’t get a good tail-wind until the last seven or eight miles. I did plan to ease off the last mile or two - like that was going to happen.

Another chorus of cheers greeted me at T2. I knocked a minute off my T2 time, even though I went to the wrong bike rack. (For a few seconds, I was convinced my bag had been sabotaged.) And then it was off to the run (walk and jog). Six miles is a long way when you’re tired. After a mile, I met Kristina on her way home. She was smiling and looking great, as always. This was the first time we’d ever entered a competitive event together, what a joy to see her on the course.

I jogged as much as I could, always on the lookout for other 70 year-old guys. When I saw my competition coming towards me on the out-and-back course, I made sure to jog a little faster as we passed each other. I was a good mile ahead of my only rival at that point, but I kept up the pace always trying to maintain a small reserve for the end. Kristina came back to meet me on the way in - she’d finished an age ago.

The cheering squad was there at the finish, (Maria, Adam, Jen, William, Henry, Hazel, and Kristina) how cool is that? After crossing the line, Jen gave me the news that I was first in my age-group. It’s been years since I stood on a podium, and I almost lost my balance getting up there! My times were a minute or two slower than two years ago (even though I felt better at every stage). But I achieved my goal - to finish, with just a dash of kick-butt in there.

Now the only remaining question is…will I have forgotten how terrifying the swim can be before the August 2020 sign-up date?

Yes Dad, of course you'll forget! I can't wait to race with you next year. #familytradition

It was fun to find our names listed on the banner at the expo.
I loved riding Orissa's bike!
Orissa and I got to start the race together, and I love this picture snapped right before we ran into the water. I think we somehow look like Beavis and Butthead!
An added bonus, Adam, Jen and kids came all the way from Louisiana to cheer at this race. It was so great to spend the weekend with my family.
And it was so great to spend time with my friends as well!

Monday, August 5, 2019

Boulder 70.3 Relay Race Report: Finding My Way Back from Burnout

Before this weekend, Boulder 70.3 in 2017 was the last triathlon I raced. I didn't even write a race report about it. I started a draft, but a couple of weeks later I crewed at Leadville, started running trails and dreaming of ultras, and basically quit triathlon. After my tri bike spent a year collecting dust, I sold it. I thought I had moved on, I thought I was forever burned out on triathlon. Note: If you find yourself feeling this way, think really hard before you sell your bike and beautiful, fast race wheels! (That's foreshadowing, of course.)

In January, a couple of my Big Sexy Racing teammates brought up the idea of a relay at Boulder 70.3. Both ladies were traveling from out of town and weren't excited about swimming at altitude, so I happily agreed to be the swimmer for their relay. Then, a few months ago, our runner dropped out due to injury, so I asked my friend Laura to step in and she agreed. Laura is a fairly new runner who's been toying with the idea of doing a triathlon, so I thought this would be the perfect first step (that might be foreshadowing too).

Exactly one month ago, my parents suggested coming down to Texas to race the Kerrville triathlon in September. I put it on the calendar and pulled my road bike out of the closet. After not riding my bike for nearly a year and a half, I immediately rediscovered the joy of riding. My coach agreed that the Kerrville tri would be a fine idea and that a little bit of biking would only help me towards my marathon goal at CIM in December. I found myself looking forward to the bike rides on my plan more than anything else. In the last month I've joyfully discovered some of the great roads to ride around Lafayette and Boulder. It's literally the only thing I want to do right now. I love riding my bike!

It should be no surprise, then, that when our cyclist for the relay dropped out due to injury two weeks ago, I jumped at the chance to do the bike leg of the relay in addition to the swim. I was not happy that Nina is hurt, but I was really excited that the opportunity to ride a bike in a race had just fallen into my lap.

On race morning as I was setting up my bike and equipment in the transition area, Whiting, who was doing the swim on a relay team of her own, pointed at the running shoes and hat that I'd laid out and asked me if I was intending to run too. "I don't know," I said, "I might be crippled after riding my bike for 56 miles." I had a 4-mile run on my training plan that I'd missed earlier in the week, so if I was able, I intended to at least run to the Big Sexy tent that was about 3 miles away from the transition on the run course. I secretly dreamed of being able to complete the entire race - a relay of one. As someone I admire very much recently said, I like to do stupid things. But we'd see what the day would bring.

The water was barely wetsuit legal and I headed to the beach in my sleeveless wetsuit, accompanied by Laura who was soaking in the experience of the day as she waited to run hours later. Although I'd been worried about time when we entered the transition close to 6:30 and stood in a porta-potty line until 7, the race didn't start until 7:15ish and I found myself standing happily in a pack of five or six Big Sexy teammates on the beach with plenty of time to get in the water for the rolling start. We'd seeded ourselves with the 37-40 minute pack for the 1.2 mile swim.

It was the perfect way to start a race. We laughed and chatted our way to the water's edge and then lined up in chutes to start the swim four at a time, with five seconds between each pack of starters. Although my plan had been to swim on my teammate Tony's feet, I lost him as soon as he started the race and instead I swam off by myself to swim far to the left of the buoys. I think if I ever want to be competitive in one of these things, I'll need to re-learn how to swim in close proximity to others, but today was not that day.

The swim was peaceful and my lats, arms, and hands felt strong as I pulled myself through the water. I did feel like I was drifting to the left, but I sighted enough to correct it before I went too far off course. I felt my Garmin buzz each time 500 yards passed, and when it buzzed a third time on my way back to shore, I thought to myself, "okay, get to the finish before it buzzes again." This would not be the case and I finished the swim in 37:30 with 2214 yards recorded on the Garmin. Everyone says the swim was long. I don't really know if it was, but I do know that I was very happy to be on my feet, running to the wetsuit strippers.

I saw Whiting as I approached the transition; she had finished a couple minutes before me. She'd already handed her chip off to her relay cyclist, and she cheered at me to hurry. I laughed as I immediately stopped at a porta-potty before even reaching my bike. I'm not considering this to be a race; I'm going to take the time to stop and pee. Then I ran to my bike where Laura and Whiting were waiting. I put on my aero helmet, gloves (it takes a long time to put on gloves when your hands are wet), sunglasses, and race belt with bib (which was not necessary on the bike! Whoops). I put a few packs of honey stinger chews in the back pocket of my kit. Pulled on my socks and shoes, started the Garmin on the bike, and ran out of transition.

Based on previous races, I assumed my split would be around 3 hours. I know I'm slower on my road bike than on a tri bike, and I didn't have aero bars or race wheels. I did have my aero helmet, which made me laugh. My bike split at this race two years ago was 2:45, but the course was two miles short and, more importantly, I had actually trained for the bike portion of the race. For this race I had ridden a total of 135 miles distributed among seven rides, all within the past month. My longest ride before the race was 38 miles. There was really no telling what would happen.

For the first 10 miles on the Diagonal Highway, I felt really strong. I got in my drops, got as aero as possible, and rode my way to a zone 3 heart rate. My teammates cheered as they passed by one by one. The first part of the bike is a really fast section of the course and I was feeling great. But around 15 miles into the ride, my back started to hurt. This is normal because I'm just getting used to riding my bike again, and being in the drops wasn't helping. I started to wonder not only if I'd be able to run off the bike, but if I'd even be able to complete the entire bike race.

I stood up on the pedals to stretch my back frequently. I backed off the level of effort. I took advantage of spinning up the hills. On my road bike, I'm more confident handling the bike on the downhills, so I took advantage of those too. All things considered, it was a good ride, but it didn't feel good to be passed by literally 1000 people. As a relatively strong swimmer, I'm used to being passed on the bike, but the effect was multiplied at this race by my lack of an awesome aero setup and, again, my lack of bike fitness. I did take the time to look around and take in the awesome views of the mountains that still have snow on their peaks in August.

Road bike, aero helmet, and unbeatable scenery around me.
With numb hands and an aching back, I was happy to roll into transition when it finally came. I posted my slowest half ironman bike split ever: 3:13. Even my first race in Austin was faster than that by nearly five minutes! But today was a day where I was just happy to be out there. I wondered what my back would feel like once I put on my running shoes.

As I jogged through the transition, I spotted Laura immediately; she was dancing a little bit next to the bike rack, looking happy to run. We transferred the chip to her leg, I changed my shoes, and we ran out of the transition area together. She asked if I was planning to run the whole thing with her, peppered me with questions about my day, and chattered about hers as I struggled to breathe. I looked at my watch, saw a 9:30 pace, and warned her, "you have to pace us. I always run too fast off the bike." She agreed and we tried to slow down.

Pretty much as soon as we started running I knew that I wanted to run the whole half marathon with her. I know that I was bending (okay breaking) rules by running on the run course with my relay partner, but I felt like this was a forgivable offense; I wasn't pacing her to a win or anything like that. I don't know. Judge me if you want to. I'm normally a strict rule-follower and I do feel guilty about it.

The first of two loops was relatively easy for Laura and harder for me. It took time to get into a groove running off the bike. Once I got there though, I became insanely happy. Starting at mile six, I chattered at Laura and to all the runners around us. As the temperature rose on the exposed, mostly gravel run course (it was reported to be 97 degrees but I'm not sure how accurate that is; it did feel like we were on the surface of the sun at times), it seemed like everyone was suffering except me. This only made me happier; I felt proud that I have the fitness to fake my way through a half ironman, albeit at a much slower pace than I've ever biked or run during one of these things before.

We ran to the aid stations and walked through them with purpose. I was unstoppably positive and managed to even annoy myself with it. I was just so happy to be out there. At one point I jogged ahead, bursting with joy and the realization that this is what I love to do! This is my favorite thing in the world! My heart was screaming with happiness and it started to overflow into tears. I forced myself to control my breathing and I turned excitedly to Laura to report to her what I'd just learned.

Laura had slowed to a walk, and I jogged back on the jeep path towards her. She made a little sound and I tentatively asked her if she was laughing. When she said no, I realized that Laura was crying too, but for the opposite reason. She hated it. She felt sick and she wasn't having any fun at all. I dialed back my enthusiasm and talked her through the rest of the run, walking when she needed to walk and running when she could. I was proud to see her run from aid station to aid station, refusing to walk until she really needed to.

After the race, we talked quite a bit about mental toughness, and although she thinks she doesn't have it, I saw it many times during the last five miles of the race. She didn't quit. She kept moving forward. She doesn't know how important that is, but one day she'll look back and I know she'll be proud. I hope she decides to continue with her plan to try a triathlon, because now she's already done the hardest part of one.

When we approached the finish line, she ran ahead and I jogged around to the other side of the fence to cheer her across the line. Whiting and the rest of our friends were there; they'd been finished with their relay for probably hours and had come in 7th place in the relay division! With a 6:51 total time, I don't even know where we placed, but of course it doesn't really matter, our day was never supposed to be about speed.

Talking to my coach, Nell Rojas, afterwards, I admitted that there were times during the swim and the bike where I asked myself, do I really like this? Those thoughts never came up during the run. "Maybe I just really love running," I told her. "No," she laughed, "if you were that happy during the run, I think you really love triathlon." She's right. The next one is in seven weeks in Kerrville. I can't wait!

My first relay finisher's medal. And the t-shirt has a PRAIRIE DOG ON IT!
The entire weekend was a super fun Big Sexy celebration. Teammates had come from as far as Australia to compete in this half ironman. The pre- and post-race team activities added a layer of joy to the event, and their cheering on the run course was second to none.
At bike check-in with Laura and Whiting.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Training and Racing Is Good for the Heart

I've had a few noteworthy races this spring and I haven't written a single thing about them, so I wasn't surprised when my lovely, well-meaning friend Linda asked, "why haven't you written about the Leadville half yet?"

Here's why. I have these moments of euphoria during training and racing, and I'm even joyfully happy when I'm planning for training and racing. Maybe it's the "runner's high" we all talk about. But the last couple of months, by the time I sit to write down my thoughts after a race, I'm already back in the swamp of emotions that make up my daily life lately. I don't have the energy to write about the things that made me very happy in those moments. So I post up a happy picture and a brief comment about the day and I move along.

There's been a lot of chatter about how the stuff we see on social media isn't real, how everyone's painting a picture of a happy life for themselves and that it's fake and untrue. I've been thinking about this and I would argue that maybe that isn't the case at all.

For example, on Sunday I posted this supremely happy selfie after a bike ride - my first bike ride in nearly a year. I sold my tri bike last year. I lost my inspiration to race. But on Sunday after a really happy conversation with my parents in which my dad and I decided to race the Kerrville tri together this September, I dusted off my road bike, grabbed my very willing and wonderful friend Laura, and hit the trails. Adventure! It was amazing. I was thrilled to be back on the bike, even riding at 12 mph on a little creek path. For our whole little 9 mile ride I was laughing, remembering the freedom that only comes from putting your feet on the pedals and riding down the road to wherever you want to go, physically (and spiritually and emotionally, if you want to get really deep about it).

My picture on Facebook was an expression of pure joy and I meant it.

But, back up five hours. The reason I was on the phone with my parents was so they could help me talk through something I was struggling with, a hard decision I was trying to make with a lot of emotion around it. And yes I am perfectly aware that there are people who are poorer, hungrier, sadder, and more oppressed than me in the world and you could easily throw hashtag "first world problems" on my distress. But I was really struggling that day, having a hard time trying to think through something difficult enough that I needed my parents' help to figure it out.

I don't really want to share details here because it's not necessary, but I will say that most anytime I'm upset these days, you can be sure the root cause is that Trent is in Kansas City and I'm in Denver. Intellectually I know Trent's move out of the state this year is what's best for our future. But sometimes I can't help feeling powerless and sad and out of control of my own life when I'm here and he's there. I'm resentful about it sometimes. I'm sad and angry about it sometimes. Long-distance relationships are hard. This resonates through everything in my life right now and I am struggling a fair amount of the time.

As Mom and Dad talked me down a little bit, I imagined them gathered around their phone on speaker mode in the kitchen at home in Kerrville and I just got terribly homesick. I immediately looked up flights to Texas. Dad had said he was going to race the Kerrville Triathlon this year; I looked for flights around that date and there was one available! I mentioned the race and without missing a beat, Dad said, "yes, come for the race. You should race too." Mom agreed.

Since I was 20-something and Dad suggested running our first 10K together, Mom and Dad know that when I'm in a tough place emotionally I thrive if I have a physical challenge to chase. They're the smartest people in the world to suggest a triathlon to me at this time.

I immediately had three offers of bikes to borrow; I could write a whole separate post about the love and generosity I feel from my beautiful friends and family, both here and there. And just like that, I'm back on the bike, looking for routes around my new neighborhood, excited to race in Texas in the fall.

Triathlon helped me through a rough part of life before, when I was lost and unhappy and trying to find myself. It's going to help me through a different kind of rough time again. Besides the days that I'm with Trent, I've been happiest this year while running and swimming, so adding a bike can only make it better, right? Regardless, I'm happy to have found my way back to it, even if it's just been one little ride and I'm only signed up for one race.

As for social media - well, now you know the other side of my happy Facebook bike pic. Three days later as I write this, I'm not euphorically happy like in that picture, I'm not on the verge of tears like I was on the phone with my parents, I'm back to "normal." All of those things are real, so I'll offer a reminder to be kind and practice compassion daily. You never know what people have going on in their lives, even when they're posting truthfully happy pictures.

Thank you for reading and see you at the races, including (surprisingly) a triathlon for me this year!

The Leadville Heavy Half was a bit of a breakthrough for me. I ran 2 8-minute miles at the end of it and truly felt like I was flying through the chute. It's the first time I was really aware of the progress I'm making in running this year, and it's really exciting.

Part of my joy this year has been escorting my friend Laura along in her running journey. This is us at the Colfax Half Marathon in Denver - her first of four this year plus CIM in December!

I've also been swimming and running my way through the Stroke & Stride series this summer - a 1500m swim and 5K run held on Thursday nights at the Boulder Reservoir. I love this picture because it shows how my form has improved along with my speed. All of this is thanks to my amazing coach Nell Rojas.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Mesa-PHX Marathon Race Report 2019: The Importance of Having a Good Time

The Mesa-PHX Marathon was meant to be a test race on the way to my next attempt to qualify for the Boston Marathon later this year. In September, in the world of Boston qualifying standards, I'll age up. This means I'll need to run a 3:50 or better (8:50 pace) to get a BQ. I planned to sign up for the California International Marathon (CIM), held in in Sacramento in December, when general registration opened in March, but first I'd run this race in Arizona and get a baseline for what my legs could do.

I trained hard for this marathon with many lung-busting track sessions and short fast practice races, more miles per week than I've ever run (even training for Leadville), 3 solid 20 mile long runs and a ton of successful tempo sessions. I hit my paces and heart rate zones on nearly every run. I was prepared. The only thing on my plan that I didn't get to do was a confidence-building half marathon at marathon race pace. I unfortunately picked a half in late January that was held mostly on snow and ice covered trails, and my 8:50 practice pace turned into a shuffle for survival in slippery shoes. Of course hindsight is 20-20 and I'm certain I would have felt more confident in Arizona with a successful practice race under my belt. 

When I signed up for the race in late October, Trent and I planned on a fantastic winter getaway from the arctic tundra of Colorado to warm sunny Arizona where I could run and he could play golf. The reality was that by the time the race rolled around, Trent had just moved to Kansas City for work and wouldn't be able to get away for the weekend. I was carrying around the heaviness of missing him and the uncertainty that comes along with this kind of change. Yes, I know we are only temporarily apart and I should be able to stand up on my own for a little while and be a strong independent woman but in early February I was really struggling with the change.

I looked forward to race weekend because in addition to the wonderful warm weather, my incredible friend Orissa had decided to jump onto this marathon journey and we were going to race together and have a great time! The last time Orissa and I raced a marathon together, we ended up literally racing to the finish line at the Austin marathon and getting breakthrough PRs!

Austin Marathon 2014
We arrived late Thursday and enjoyed ourselves in the day or so leading up to the race, eating Whataburger (Hooray, Whataburger made its way to Tempe!) and accidentally staying in the same (roach) motel that we stayed at a few years ago when we volunteered at Ironman Arizona. Packet pickup was a breeze. We were thrilled to find an early entry coupon code to CIM in our packets, and for the first time in my life, I signed up for the next marathon the day before racing a marathon. We ate and hydrated and went to bed early. This was important because for this point-to-point race, we'd have to be up by 4:30 to catch a bus to the start line.

There were a couple of race-morning issues like late buses and lengthy porta-potty lines, and Orissa and I didn't actually start the race until at least 10 minutes after the gun went off. This was fine because it meant we'd be passing people all day if we did things right. The race started in the desert of Mesa and went downhill into the town. We'd driven the course the day before so we knew what to expect. Basically downhill until 13.1 miles and then flat to the finish line. We had beautiful scenery in the first half of the race to look forward to and then a million turns on city streets for the rest of it.

Orissa's goal pace was different from mine so although we started together, we didn't expect to stay together for long and that was okay. I wore a headlamp even though it wasn't really necessary. I carried my backpack with all the water I'd need for the day and that turned out great. The first few miles were gorgeous with the sun coming up through the Saguaro-covered hills. My music was making me dance and I felt joyful for the first six miles even though my pace was inconsistent and slower that I'd like. 

When 10 miles came around and I was having to work more than necessary to hold the already-too-slow pace, I knew my day was not going to go as I'd hoped. The last 16 miles were harder than they should have been and I was frustrated to see my pace slowing. I couldn't turn over my legs even though my lungs were celebrating the amazing oxygen that lower altitude brings! I was pumping my arms to try to get my legs to move and nothing was happening. I'd passed a bunch of pace groups and when they started to pass me back, I felt defeated. 

The last time Orissa and I raced a marathon together in 2014, I'd gone out too fast and she'd run a conservative pace, which meant at mile 25 she caught up with me. I found a way to race with her to the finish line that day. We both squeaked in at 4:30 which was my fastest marathon by 15 minutes at the time. It was an incredible day! I knew that if she caught me today that I wouldn't be able to run with her. The only thing that kept me running as fast as I could was the fear of Orissa running up behind me and shouting "come on!" like she did 5 years ago.

I finally reached the finish line with a time of 4:25. That's 35 minutes slower than the time I'll need to BQ. Oof.

So relieved to reach the finish line.
A few minutes later, Orissa crossed the finish line, beaming and high fiving everyone. She had a great time. She didn't just meet her goal pace - she had a GREAT TIME - she had fun running the race. And of course there's the lesson for the day: it's not about having a good pace. It's about having a good time - enjoying it! You're always going to do better when you're smiling and having fun, racing with joy instead of heaviness. I know this. I just somehow have to keep relearning it! Thank you Orissa.

Having a great time!
Not having even a little bit of a great time.
When I got home and met with Nell, my amazing coach, she assured me that I'd had a bad day and didn't run to the potential that all my training runs had pointed to. We agreed that the lack of a solid practice race was an issue. She asked me if I felt motivated to train and I said YES OF COURSE and I meant it. Together, we made a plan for CIM that includes running a bunch of shorter faster races to pick up some speed. That 8:50 pace needs to feel easy in December. I have my work cut out for me.

In the last two weeks, as part of that plan, I ran 2 5K races. One happened to be in San Antonio when Trent and I traveled down last weekend to visit family. I was thrilled to get to race with Orissa again, and with Shelly, and we smiled and laughed our way through that race, plus the warmup before the race and the cooldown and tacos afterwards. I'm really excited that both of them are going to be racing in California in December too!

You can tell that this race went better than the marathon, right? Hooray for running with Shelly!
Today I raced a little 5K in Golden and was thrilled to pace myself properly and run my way to 3rd place in my age group. My times are not as fast as they used to be, but the speed is coming back. And maybe more importantly, today I ran at marathon race pace and a fair amount of it felt "easy." Trent's not here this weekend but he encouraged me on the phone before the race and I ran light. Here we go again, moving towards a new normal. I'm excited about December and the journey to get there. Thanks as always for reading, for your encouragement, and for coming along on this journey with me!

I'm all kinds of proud of this age group award from the race today.
Did I mention there was Whataburger in Arizona?
We attended a Sun Devils game in Tempe after the marathon! It was so much fun even though we could barely walk to our seats.
Love racing with these two. I'm California Dreaming already.

Monday, December 17, 2018

I'm a Runner! Finding the New Normal

If you know me - if you’ve read this blog around this time of year on any given year - you know that I’ve struggled forever with “being a runner.” These doubts usually bubble up more frequently around the holidays when I’m training for a marathon in the triathlon “off season.” I push myself in the pool but not when I’m running, I’ve said. If I need to miss a workout, I’ll always miss a swim or a bike over a run, because running is my weakness, I’ve said. Then last fall I decided to try running a 50K and in the months that followed, everything has changed. Just a little less than a year and a half later, I’m training for a winter marathon (as usual) and saying proudly “I am a runner” (not usual at all!).

After my “test race” 50K last September, I decided to take a much-needed break from triathlon to pursue a year of ultrarunning. I signed up for the Silver Rush 50 mile run as my big goal race for the year and was so scared of the goal that it took me several months to even be able to say out loud that I was running it. I was definitely excited to try something new.

To say that I jumped with boundless enthusiasm into a new sport is somewhat true, but it’s not the whole story. After Ironman Boulder last year, Trent’s back, which has always been a problem, refused to let him run anymore. That meant he couldn’t be competitive in triathlons. After being forced to quit running he very quickly lost interest in his bike (although he was certainly celebrating dumping swimming, his least favorite sport). Instead, he turned to golf as his outlet, a sport he’s excelled at in the past. To be honest, I was tired and burned out on triathlon. I was ready for a break. Suddenly, just months after moving to a town 45 minutes away from Boulder, the triathlon capital of the world, both of us had lost interest in triathlon.

This change felt like the end of something. Trent and I had met through triathlon. We’d trained together, raced together, spent countless hours talking about triathlon, dreaming together about what was to come. We’d been on the same triathlon team – Big Sexy Racing – and made friends together through the team and through the sport. I remember a conversation we had early in our relationship. He’d said, “you know I’m not going to be interested in triathlon forever. Are you okay with that?” to which I replied, “you know I’ll be a triathlete for the rest of my life. Are you okay with that?” And we’d both said yes. I expected at some point that Trent would find a different goal to chase, but I didn’t expect the same thing to happen to me. Now what? Trent was spending the Saturdays we used to spend on the bike playing golf instead. Clearly I needed to have my own interests as well.

I think I took this picture during my last bike ride this year. It was fun to roll up on Trent hitting golf balls.
Yes, I jumped enthusiastically into a new sport, but I was also trying to find my way, navigating our new normal. I spent the first half of the year feeling like an impostor, trying to redefine myself as “ultrarunner.” I think it was good for me to find my own way in a new sport without a coach. Without any expectations from anyone. Just being a newbie. But there was definitely something missing.

About halfway through the year, I reached out to Nell, who is coaching me now. “Once I’m done with all this trail running, I’d like to find some speed on the road again,” I told her, “I’ve gotten so slow since I moved here.” She agreed and as promised, after my last ultra of the season was complete in September, we started focusing on speed. I’ve signed up with a few friends for the Phoenix Mesa Marathon on February 9, 2019. My goal is to run a new personal best time and prepare to earn a Boston Qualifying time in 2020.

My training plan started filling up with threshold runs and track workouts. At the Longmont Turkey Trot, a 2-mile run (which Nell won, by the way), I freaked out because I tasted blood at the end of the race. I worried that I’d damaged my lungs. “Does it taste like pennies?” Nell clarified. Yes! “That’s great!” she exclaimed, “it means you really pushed yourself.” She explained a little more and then I went home and looked it up. You guys! I really pushed myself at running! This is a FIRST.

Nell in the middle of her group of athletes after the Longmont Turkey Trot.
As the miles have increased and training paces have been dialed in, I’m thrilled to be feeling motivation and drive that I haven’t felt in a really long time. I’m terrified of the track workout every week, but I’m also determined to get out there and do my best. Can I run 4 miles at threshold pace at the end of a 16 mile run? Yes I can. I’m running faster at a lower heart rate on my easy runs. I’m feeling so strong and recovering quickly. I know that most of this is because of a personalized training plan from a badass coach who believes in me and some of it is because of the massive volume that I put in this summer on the trails. It’s all coming together.

Happiness is nailing a track workout, not knowing until later that there were sweat icicles on my hair!
With each week that passes I’m feeling more confidence, even after an occasional workout doesn’t go as planned, like yesterday’s 20 miler. I’m not taking selfies during my runs anymore because I’m working too hard to pull out my phone. I’m not worrying about my weight like before because I’m more interested in how fast I can move my legs than about an arbitrary number on the scale. Holy cow, look what my body can do.

While training for ultras last year was motivating and interesting in its own way, I’m now relishing moving full-speed towards a goal. I missed this. I love this.

You know I’m always looking for the lesson, so here it is. In the spring I was running away from triathlon, somehow looking to escape from myself. At the time I didn’t realize it, but now I know it was always just a little bit empty. Today, I’m running full throttle towards a huge goal that I care tremendously about. The difference in the experience is enormous. Although it may sound pretty simple, it took me a year to figure it out: running towards something is always better than running away.

“Why are you going to bed so early?” Trent complained lightly the night before a track workout the next morning. “Because I want to win this marathon,” I said. He’s looking forward to the trip to Arizona in February because of all the great golf courses in Phoenix. I think we’re finding the new normal.