Thursday, December 29, 2011

I Get Knocked Down, But I Get Up Again, You're Never Gonna Keep Me Down: 2011 In Review

We'll Be Singing When We're Winning

This is the first time I've done one of those "look back at the previous year" retrospectives. Like the Boston sticker I finally put on my car, it's one of those things I've resisted doing. I've done some things this year, though, that were surprising in both extremes, with some epic collapses and implosions, as well as success and strength at times and places I never thought possible. That might come from getting better at picking myself up, and looking honestly at the failures so that I can move forward with more confidence and success.

I kind of rode into the early part of this year on a wave of the best running I'd ever done; 2010 ended with three truly awesome races in a row, the last one being the Winter Sun in Moab. Cruising into the new year, things seemed to be off to a good start. I hit up the freebie/cheapie Appleton Freezer 4-miler, and stayed competitive with my speedy friend Suzie until the end when she dropped the hammer on in. This ended with those equal parts bliss and nausea, doubled over on the side of the road, knowing you laid it all out there. We were up at 5th and 6th overall in a small but very speedy field, and 1st and 2nd women overall. Being a slow-twitch kind of gal, this was pretty awesome.

Moving on from there, it was more or less all about running long and slow. I'd flaked out of the 55K at the Moab RedHot the year prior, opting instead for the shorter 33K. It was a good move that year; I'd been slightly injured and a little undertained. I hit the long runs but had my doubts about getting through 34 miles to the point of almost bowing out again. A wise friend-the same one who taught me the ways of POSE running-told me I'd regret it for sure if I did that downshift, and just needed to get out there and DO it, proving that it's those running friends who do seem to know me the best.

My other friends who thought they might race it were not registered; I'd be lone-wolfing it. It was, if anything, an opportunity to prove to myself that I COULD run trails-and COULD run really long. It wouldn't be as fast as one of my road races at a similar distance, and that was cool. On that day, I knew my mission was enjoy, keep moving, and finish. I truly expected that a point in time would come when the pain of the distance would overtake me. Imagine my surprise when, as the miles ticked off, I became more and more tired, but never reached the point of being miserable, or of the distance being more than I could tackle. This was one of the most wonderful things about that day. I wasn't there to contend against anyone else; it was all about defeating my fears. Doing it solo, taking pictures and video of the spectacular scenery-it made for a special day.

Moving ahead, my running better way to put it....a little distracted and uninspired at times. The lack of training log or Garmin was fantastic for me for awhile, but I'll be the first to admit that I lost a little discipline with that lack of structure. Heading to Moab for Canyonlands, I battled that miserable wind blowing up the canyon, and I think the canyon, and highway into Moab, won a resounding victory. This fast course has always stymied me a bit, but even I was a little shocked at how bad I sucked on this course in March.

The next weekend promised to be loads of fun, and I looked forward to it; the 24 Hours of Moab relay. This was an example of things coming together organically. Our 5-woman, 1-man team was coming together for the first time this weekend, and we all just meshed. We were just there to have fun, but quickly found ourselves in the running to win the large team division. Our system of handing off to one another, and general organization, kind of flowed and happened. You couldn't wipe the smiles off our faces even when we learned we were NOT the winners, and had taken a close second to another team. The only damper was that damn fall I took, and the only major injury I've sustained in five years of running.

After the initial excruciating pain of the ankle roll and fall on slick rock at 3am, I'd been able to walk around camp at the relay. It was the end of my running for the race, but that was okay. I figured a few days of ice and rest and I'd be good to go. I was horrified, though, as I watched the ankle puff, and could feel the pain getting worse. I don't do pity parties, and I don't cry on Facebook about how my life sucks. I've got SO many blessings and good things going on, but when my regular doctor and ortho doctor told me "No Boston," I was crushed. This was going to be my year to run it for a PR. The thought of my first DNS had never entered my mind. Still, I made plans to go ahead to Boston to cheer on my friends. Plane and hotel reservations had been done ages ago; I could be bummed at home or try to make something positive of this injury.

Enter the miracle man, my physical therapist, Bryan. He'd seen my appointment scheduled for the week following Boston. Bryan called me up, and saved the day with thoughts of a plan of action to get me to Boston. I really didn't want to get my hopes up, but this was beyond exciting. I was willing to try anything, and knew I'd feel better about missing the race if it came down to it. Bryan drove me like a mule for a week and a half, and I did everything he asked of me. When I finally got to my two test runs at the end of all this guerilla physical therapy, he wished me good luck at the race.

This paved the way for an experience I never imagined having-running a major marathon to finish, not for a PR. I hadn't run long in five weeks due to the injury, and knew that even with conservative pacing, I could have problems. While I wouldn't wish those torn ligaments and marrow edema on anyone, the resulting Boston experience was a true gift. I got to really enjoy the course, the hang with fellow runners, the famed landmarks and fans on the course, and open arms that the whole city of Boston throws out on Marathon Monday. I took iPod videos, pictures, smiled, enjoyed, smiled, and had a very special all-out final mile when I knew the ankle would not prevent me from finishing. The icing was that it was only a few minutes slower than the year prior, and another BQ under circumstances when I thought I wouldn't run at all. The cannoli I brought Bryan hardly seemed adequate as a thank you for helping me, but I hope it was enjoyed.

From Boston, there was a month or two of pretty structureless running. I probably needed it, but this got me further off-track in the speed and discipline department. In June, I registered again for the Imogene Pass Run, the challenging, beautiful 17.1 mile trail run that is what I like to refer to as my "extra layer." I refocused on hitting NBT....Nothing But Trail. The higher the altitude, the better. I skipped out on the Bolder Boulder and other smaller 5K's locally to save money and focus on those long runs. I can't say that I ever felt like I was getting faster, but my trail confidence headed in an entirely new direction.

I did do one unique thing racing-wise in June. When our 24 Hours of Laramie team fell apart entirely after injury and illness, I decided to take the rare opportunity to race a double, completing the Children With Hope 10K on roads on a Saturday, and the Turkey Flats 10 mile trail run on Sunday. I had an age group finish at the first race, and was pleased with staying steady on tired legs the next day. And, as it was a Striders freebie race, there was food and Beer Cooler of Awesomess with friends at the finish; perhaps the best part.

Soon I was teaching my friend Loralie the ways of the POSE running, and she was getting good return on investment from the better form as well. We ran high altitude trails all over, doing Turkey Flats near Glade Park outside of Grand Junction, Crags Crest up on the Grand Mesa, and the Bear Creek Trail outside of Ouray, Colorado. Along the way, we to pictures, had fun, ate lots of good, healthy food, and had the occasional beer chillax or two. I also had the incredible experience of cheering/spectating/crewing a little at the Leadville Trail 100 for my friend Bryan, where a number of friends were there all weekend to crew and pace. Being a part of, and witnessing his amazing accomplishment was just more fuel for the mojo fire. I didn't know if sub-4 was going to happen at Imogene, but I felt confident that I could stay on my feet and run strong. There was a little tune-up race at Mary's Loop a week before Imogene, and I ran that to shake out any tension before IPR.

When it came time to go from Ouray to Telluride, I ran a nearly identical time to the year before, but it was with a controlled climb, fast descent, and nice rebound after having to walk out a late-race side stitch. We'd held a party prior to the race, making Honey Badger shirts for any Grand Junction-area runners who wanted one, and it kind of mobilized us as this fun, semi-organized group at the race. When several of our own ran to podium finishes, it was with great pride that we cheered them on to celebrate their success. It was also amazing to see the beaming faces of my first-time finisher friends Sandra and Kevin. This may not be an ultra, but it's an epic race. The elation felt at the end of this race just cannot be matched for shorter trail runs.

The rest of the year was kind of a broken record, but a favorite broken record I don't mind hearing over and over. I ran my fifth Anna Banana 5K in late September (fourth, really, since I paced my oldest daughter one year), and nearly matched my prior year's time, coming in second woman overall to Suzie, and picking off several women late in the race. I've struggled with second mile slumps in 5K's, and with general speed at the distance. I was surprised but very pleased to have success on this day at the short distance thing. It's a special race to me, as well, for the celebration of Anna's life, and those groovy ceramic bananas. It felt good to step it up on Anna's day.

I thought things were looking pretty good going into The Other Half. This race is really special to me, and I've always run it well. I'd done some good, specific training prior to race day, and felt anchored by that, and a solid Anna Banana. Pre-race weekend was very low key and mellow. I didn't sleep great, which in hindsight, had been a problem for months. Any life stress seems to come out in my sleep, and this is about the only answer I have to explain the ugly race that followed. I ran to my second worst half-marathon finish ever by time, and hands-down the worst I'd ever run without considering the time. Inexplicable nausea and fatigue overtook my race. I wanted to walk, I wanted to stop. The victory on this day was getting to the finish, and the fire it sparked to finish the year right, and finish the year strong.

He Sings The Songs That Remind Him Of The Good Times, He Sings The Songs That Remind Him Of the Best Times

The final official stops on the 2011 tour were the Rim Rock Marathon, and the Winter Sun 10K. It would be my third time at the marathon, and I realized going in that it was a great gift after The Other Half to take NOTHING for granted...not how much I love the course, or that I've run it well before, or that the weather looked pretty good for race day. Being a somewhat competitive gal (ha), I'd already been checking out the entry lists, and knew that the multiple-time defending champ would not be there. I had a real bug up my butt to win the race. I spent all my time running on the Monument, or doing hill repeats of the Serpents Trail. Some of us did the Run To Whitewater, 18 miles on trails, as a challenging tune-up long run for the marathon. I consulted with a few trusted training partners on how to best accomplish this goal. All that was left to do was show up, and execute my plan according to the training.

The race that followed was one of the most amazing, surreal experiences of my running life. It didn't hurt that this was right in my own beautiful backyard (quite literally). If I picked the one race out of all I've ever done to name as the one where I did the most right leading into the race AND on race day, this might be it. Yes, I kick myself a little bit on occasion for a three-second margin of defeat, and second place overall finish. Overwhelmingly, though, I feel joy for bouncing back from other bad races, general crap and stress, and getting my body and mind totally in the game that day. 26.2 miles coming down to an all-out sprint in the last 100 feet? What a gift to be a part of that. I also never expected all the love, positivity and support from my friends, fam, and fellow runners, though I don't know why not. They rock, and it was so neat that they didn't think I was a schmo for coming up a few seconds short of my ultimate goal.

As the year started coming to a close, an idea was hatched. It was such a great experience at Imogene to come together with other Grand Junction runners. We've got a lot of people who like to run here, who are very self-motivated, and who like to be as competitive as possible. Right before Rim Rock, a speed workout group was formed, and we began having practices weekly at a local high school track. There were four of us the first week, and things just grew from there. Runners who don't typically do track workouts or short distance started showing because they heard it was fun, and a good workout. Newer runners looking for general improvement, not necessarily hardware, started getting their feet wet. Many of us had sights on the Winter Sun 10K, and we were doing workouts that were going to pay off (hopefully) in Moab. I was also working at getting in fast downhill runs and other quality runs to make me faster on the net downhill course, and did two local 5K's with results that were some of my best in about three years. Heading down to Moab along with most of the regular Grand Junction runners, I again had thoughts of winning in my head.

Getting up on race day, it was a little breezy. Still, I had my game face on and ready to go. When I got word that Olympic Trials qualifier Megan Lund-Lizotte was there, I laughed, and shifted my strategy to seeing how long I could see her in the early stages. The race that played out was not a perfect, magical pixie dust run. I think that's what made it the perfect way to end my year. Well, no. Perfect would've been a magical pixie dust run. A "Work The Problem" kind of race with good execution, though, and not a total collapse when it gets rough, is not the worst way for things to play out. I started too fast, got passed, had to calm down, refocus, and then mount a consistent build into the finish. I wasn't close to an overall title with my fifth place finish among women, but from that rough start came a second consecutive age group win, and a sweep by ladies in our speed group of the 30-39 women.

The rest of the Junction crew (and honorary Grand Junctionite Ilana from Durango) killed it too, occupying podium slots overall and all over the age groups, and knocking out PR performances right and left. Being with this familiar, comfortable crowd, and celebrating one another's efforts-I wouldn't want to end the year any other way. Nobody's life or running is ever perfect, and there have been bumps this year for me in both regards. Sometimes it's easy to get into a funk, to get exasperated, and to not deal with these things well. I know, I've been there, done that, bought the tee shirt some days. Being a runner, though-having most of my best friends coming from this environment of working hard, having fun, and supporting one another-it is a wonderful thing. It's moving me forward into 2012 with confidence and hope.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

You Spin Me Right 'Round Baby: Speed Group Fun, and Trail Runs

I have found myself increasingly pulled by the current of work, end-of-year school, music and dance performances, a couple of "special assignments" that required my attention, and general holiday mayhem. With all that craziness, keeping to a regular running and exercise routine has been more important than ever. It's not that these events haven't been fun; to the contrary, it was fabulous to see my son and middle daughter perform instrumental solos for the first time, and I'm looking forward to a dance concert and two parties this weekend. It's just been nonstop, and getting in good running time has been crucial.

Over the past few weeks, we've been seeing our new local speed workout take off, and have recently added a new component to the workout-an optional, but highly encouraged mile time trial at the end of the workout. We did it for the first time last week, and I found myself briefly cursing an idea that was hatched with fellow runners while relaxing in a hot tub post-race in Moab a few weeks ago. There was no denying that this was a great workout, though, and a mental one as much as anything else. Running 6 x 400's can be hard enough, but knowing you're going to do a hard sustained mile effort after a brief recovery period really takes mental stamina and discipline.

Last week, I did my mile in 7:07, which wasn't bad for tired legs after a long week and good speed workout. We had eleven runners stay for the mile, and when we moved to our new location this week at the municipal Stocker Stadium track, it was pretty awesome to see that we had about 16 or 17 runners for the workout, and about ten who committed to stick around for the mile. What was exciting this time is that one of them was a brand-new runner. I can remember the intimidation of being new and feeling slow, and it was cool that this woman was going to put herself out there for a mile that would be hard for everyone at maximum effort.

After our regular warmup, drills, and intervals (this time, having enough of a pace divide to split up into two groups), I borrowed a watch from a friend, and log sheet for times from our coach/leader who had to depart early, and set up to time the mile. As I'm not fast enough to be first around to then time everyone else, and being a little sore this week, it was no biggy to skip the mile myself. I knew there would be plenty more opportunities in the future to make up for it.

Everyone got off to a rolling start, and then I just made sure I shouted out splits loud enough when the runners came around. In the end, we had runners coming in from 5:16 to 8:45, and it was a pretty cool thing to know that we were having success in beginning to draw the newer, less experienced runners. I'm pretty thankful for the folks who paid it forward with me when I was brand spanking new to running, so it just feels natural now to be welcoming and encouraging to the folks who show up for runs and races, not quite sure what they've gotten themselves into, but wanting to give it a try nonetheless.

After the mile, I cooled down (or...more like, warmed up after standing to time) with a couple of other runners, and picked the brain of one who ran a local 50-miler that seems to be calling my name. It's the Desert RATS Trailrunning Festival, and is a double-loop of the 25-mile course available on the same weekend, during which half-marathon and 5-mile trail races will be run as well. I must say that I get nervous about such a long race for a variety of reasons. When I finished the Moab RedHot 55K last year, I was SO happy to be done and wasn't sure how people ran a step further than 34 miles. Then there's that nasty ankle roll I took last year. On the other hand, I feel the need to do something bigger and longer than a road marathon or standard 30-something miler. So, it's been nice to talk to several local runners this week about it, hear their experiences, and think about how to best prepare for a hypothetical 50-mile run. I have not officially pulled the trigger, but am moving closer and closer to making the official jump up in distance. It's scary, but exciting.

In preparation for my potential long, slow trail run, I'm going to be taking advantage of time on the many beautiful and challenging trails in the greater-Grand Junction area. Yes, I said greater-Grand Junction. There are so many places to run long around here and I am getting excited to hit them up this winter, explore unfamiliar territory, and get ready to test myself next spring. There are other cities in the region that are certainly more well-known as trail running meccas. This is a sweet spot for access to great trails in all directions, both within city limits or nearby. With an already strong running community locally, it's been an added boost to know that we're mobilizing better than ever now, and hopefully creating a movement by example.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Windy With A Chance Of Nausea-The 2011 Winter Sun 10K

Every year since becoming a runner back in 2007, I've finished out the year with a cool 10K in Moab, Utah called the Winter Sun. For many years, this was a smallish affair, mostly comprised of runners from Moab and Grand Junction's running clubs with maybe a few dozen runners showing up. Over the past several years, though, this race has grown exponentially, in part because the first 100 entrants get a guaranteed entry into the Canyonlands Half Marathon, but just as much because it gives runners the chance to run a fast net downhill course. It's also the third race in the Moab Triple Crown (the Canyonlands Half and The Other Half are the other two races), and again, Triple Crown runners also earn a coveted guaranteed entry into Canyonlands.

The first time I ran the Winter Sun, I ran 48:59, finished 11th in my age group, and couldn't believe I could go that fast despite being pretty sick going into race weekend. I'd wanted to make the top-10, and finishing just off it hooked me, and lit my competitive fire. Over the next three Decembers, I worked hard to move up the ranks, finishing 5th in age group the next year, and then onto the age group podium the next two years. I was 3rd in my age group in 2009, and ended a really special fall/winter 2010 running season with an age group win, PR, and 3rd woman overall in the race. After an up-and-down 2011, I came into this race weekend as ready and well-prepared as I'd been for any race this year. I didn't know who might show up, but I did plan on racing to win in my fifth time at this race.

The week leading into the race was busy, but I got in some workouts that were good tuneups for the Winter Sun, including some hill work with a focus on downhill running, and a track night workout with a focus for our growing group on the race, which a number of us were scheduled to run. I'd already been to yoga twice during the week, and had planned on laying low Thursday and Friday with all physical activity. As it turned out, I felt the need for some serious stress relief on Thursday, and hit up another yoga class. It was good for me but afterward I did find myself kind of wishing I'd sat on my butt as planned. I was good on Friday, though, resting, and heading down to Moab in the early evening for dinner with Ilana, Kevin and Kevin's wife Nora. Kevin was injured and would not be running, but he and Nora came to Moab to cheer on the many friends they've met via running in our area. This was super cool of them, and Ilana and I were pretty excited to know we'd have friends waiting at the finish. After dinner at Eddie McStiff's, Ilana and I headed back for the rest of the Patented Karah And Ilana Pre-Race Hang®, which consists of a soak in the very hot outdoor hottub at the Gonzo Inn. It has magical pre-race mojo, I'm convinced....or is just really relaxing with the hot water and cold air. We laid out our gear, turned in for the night to rest and prepare our bodies and minds for fast running the next day.

My night of sleep was pretty decent-good enough that I woke up around 5am and couldn't fall back asleep. Ilana must've been doing about the same, because close to 6am she said "Well, I'm up!" We got dressed and I checked the weather for the first time. The temperature was great-cold, not freezing. It was kind of breezy, though, and seemed to be of the headwind variety as it related to our race route. Heading over to breakfast at the Moab Diner, I received the first of several texts from Grand Junction friends requesting point weather forecasts on the drive down. This was amusing, and I really thought my friends shouldn't trust a weather forecast from a woman who said "hey, it's not snowing after all" just seconds before the 2009 Rim Rock Marathon snow squall. I was getting excited that so many local were here or en route. After breakfast, we headed over to the high school, mingled for awhile, checked out the entry lists, and got on the first round of buses to the start.

Stepping off the bus (or, large passenger van in our case), the wind had picked up noticeably. Really? C'mon. I was not excited about this. I don't ever remember Moab being particularly windy, and I thought we'd met our wind quota for the year at Canyonlands back in March. This was going to be somewhat of a factor today. The temperature was still perfect, though. We hung out near fire barrels, chatting with other runners. Some time while we were here, I got a text from a friend informing me that Olympic Trials runner Megan Lund was entered. I kind of laughed to myself knowing that running to win this race was off the table now, texting back that I'd have to see how long I could run fast enough to keep her in my sights.

As race time drew near, Ilana and I got in some warmup time. I wasn't quite as springy as I'd felt in the prior year when I ran my 10K PR, but wasn't feeling crappy either. I wasn't too worried about it; I have never tended to be someone who feels great in warmup. We stripped off our outer layers about 15 minutes pre-race, lined up about 5 minutes pre-race, and saw that other than Megan Lund, it looked like what I call Hardworking Midpackers Delight in the womens race. There was Keith (she's a lady), a great Masters runner from GJ, Annie, a petite 20-something speedster who also teaches at the yoga studio where I've been practicing, and another woman I didn't recognize lined up near the front. The the front of the pack in the mens race was clearly going to be very fast, with no easy pick for the winner like Megan on the ladies side. Race director Ranna gave her traditional greeting to all of us, and then the countdown was on. The starting gun sounded, and off we shot.

Right away, I had a problem. I was using a newer model Garmin Forerunner with the bezel, and I am NOT a fan of it at all. I'm a simple person and liked my old-school, 1970's calculator watch Garmin 205. Sure, it's big and ugly, but I never had issues with basic functions before it decided to fry itself. Somehow, I'd touched something funny on the bezel and brought up a graph of some sort. Oh well. Guess I wouldn't have splits or time during the race today. It was just going to be one big surprise at the finish with regard to my time. After two 5K's now without a watch, it didn't throw me off one bit, and was almost a relief to know that I'd be focusing entirely on how I felt, and on racing my competitors.

Running away from the golf course start, there was already a medium sized pack of men ahead and beginning to string out, and I could see Megan up there too. I immediately charged ahead, running second woman from the start. This felt realllllly fast but I went with it. There were several men from our track group in the lead group, and they were looking strong as they forged ahead.

Coming into the second mile, I was starting to pay for that too-fast start. I was kind of nauseous, could feel my heart rate out-of-control, and naturally slowed down. If anything, I wish I had Garmin data to see my split on that first mile because I know it was much faster than I had any business going. Soon, the masters-age-looking woman I didn't recognize passed me. Next, Annie passed me. Then, Keith passed me, saying something encouraging, but I can't quite remember what it was now. I knew I had to find my reset button, settle my body back down, and find a pace I could sustain all the way through.

As we hit the one big hill on the course, Ilana was now creeping past, and looking good. Dropping four slots within a mile was not part of my plan but it was still pretty early. I kept my cool, relaxed, and shortened my stride. After getting up the big hill, I felt like I was getting myself together again. No one else had passed me, and I seemed to be pacing pretty evenly with a couple of guys. Megan was long gone, but I could see the other four ladies. I was still in this.

Hitting the halfway point on the course, I was-dare I say it-starting to feel stronger, more competitive, and less nauseous. The headwind, though, was quite noticeable. I was not digging it at all. It helped to employ a strategy I'd been taught to use recently, though, and brought my gaze down to just a few feet in front of me, focusing on running in the now, and not on down the road, or putting my face up in that wind. I saw Keith move past Annie up ahead, and I was now making up some ground on Annie. Ilana had moved past Keith and Annie but was behind the unfamiliar masters woman.

As I reached the four mile point, I felt like I was in a good rhythm, and dialing in to that sweet spot on pace where I was slightly nauseous but still able to breathe well and turn the legs over quickly. I was really close to Annie now, and eventually caught up with her, running side by side for a bit. I said "let's hold off the other ladies back there!" and a minute or two later, I started inching ahead. I was getting pretty close to Keith now. Turning off the main road and into a residential neighborhood, I flew ahead, trying to catch her, and any other runners I could pass. We ran the road for a bit, and then made the awkward zig-zag around this funny gate at the beginning of the bike path portion of the course. I'd always felt clumsy here, but I think the track workouts and running into turns helped a bit this time, as I didn't feel as if I was going to hit the gate or stumble.

This last section of the course is not so much physical to me as it is an exercise in mental fortitude and stick-to-it-ness. For some reason, there are always people who start dropping like flies on the bike path and in the final stretch before the infamous track lap. It's slightly downhill, so it can be a great opportunity to pour it on and get some help from gravity near the finish. I reached the Taiko drummers, and got a real bump out of the festive atmosphere there. The drummers are a staple at The Other Half and Canyonlands, but had not appeared on the residential neighborhood course until about two years ago when we were pleasantly surprised by three or four drummers. This year, it seemed to be the entire Taiko Dan with a ton of kids and families there as well. I flew threw the party scene, determined to do as much passing as possible in the home stretch. I could see Ilana ahead, crossing the bridge, and saw her look to see who else was coming. Keith was just ahead of me, and when she turned on the bridge too, it was clear she didn't know I was back there. She started pushing harder, and I started pushing harder to stay with her.

The bike path made its final turn underneath a bridge/through a little tunnel, and then climbed up to the sidewalk. Soon, we were on the final stretch, coming down the road to enter the track for our final lap. I'd never turned around to see where Annie was, and wasn't about to now. I also didn't know if any other runners were sneaking up on me, and just laid it all out there. Keith was flying now and I wasn't going to get her today. I entered the track and saw Nora, who hollered and cheered for me. Tucking the head, I rounded the corner and pushed as hard as I thought I could go. I saw another friend from track group/track night at half a lap to go, and he yelled "Push, push, PUSH!" at me. Somehow I found one more gear and cranked it up some more. I wanted to hurl but I was SO close, and kept going at this pace.

Turning the last corner for home, I got my first look at the time clock. It was not going to be a PR at all, but I was cruising to what would be my second fastest of five runs at the Winter Sun. I could also see that I was not going to be caught by anyone at the finish, and had held on to that fifth female slot for more than four miles after that too-fast start, and brief fade in the second mile. I didn't let up and hammered through the finish, crossing with a finish time of 43:33. Yes, A PR or something close to it would have felt best, but the rebound after the shaky second mile and momentum build for the rest of the race felt great.

When results came out, I learned that I had indeed finished 1st out of 78 runners the 30-39 women, and 5th out of 342 women overall, marking my second age group win at this race. It wound up being an awesome day on the podium for Grand Junction runners, and runners from our track group in particular. The 30-39 women's podium was a track night sweep, with my friend and Dirty Girl relay teammate Shannon coming in second (I embarrassed her by yelling "Dirty Girl" loudly as she was collecting her medal), and group runner Michelle just behind her. The overall title went to another one of our group newcomers, Jake, and our head cat wrangler at track night and two-time Winter Sun winner Marty took the male Masters title. Shannon's husband Kevin, a Leadville 100 finisher, was fourth man overall and winner of his age group. Keith, Annie, and Ilana (the "Durango Interloper") all won their age groups, and local runner/track grouper Ben also nabbed hardware in the 20-something men. There were also strong finishes and PR efforts from many other locals, and it was just very cool to see all the smiling faces and camaradie in the finish area. Keith joked with me about how "Yeah, you went out way too fast" and how she didn't know she had anyone behind her until that last turnaround. Then there was runner friend Ray declaring that next year, we'd all have to show up at the finish area wearing Snuggies. I'm not too sure about that last idea; at least I've got a year to think about it.
Clockwise from center: Keith (in lime jacket), Me, Shannon, Julie (who placed in women 40-49), Ilana, and Loralie (my frequent high altitude training partner over the summer)

Lastly, this is a fun little video clip shot by Kevin. I really can't thank him and Nora enough for coming out just to cheer on and support the rest of us who were running. His attitude in injury recovery has been great, and having cheering friends at the finish was all the more appreciated in knowing that he would have much rather been running. Oh, and I didn't mention it earlier but Megan Lund did kill the women's field, finishing in 36:xx despite a pit stop halfway through. Watching this video clip, it was cool to see how strong and fast we ladies can be, and admire the speed of one of the best ones around these parts. I don't know who will show up next year, but I'm going to work hard and come back next year aiming for the top of the leader board again.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Hope's A Funny Thing-It Shines Like A Ring: Turkey Trotting And Speed Working

Firefighters over the starting area of the GJ Firemans Turkey Trot
Photo by Me

I have to admit to being rather unmotivated to blog this week; or, more accurately, so busy with other stuff that I've not wanted to do much of anything when down time finally came to me. Good things have been happening, though, so they're worth sharing.

First of all, this new weekly speed work group we started about a month ago is REALLY taking off, from four of us the first week to ten the day before Thanksgiving, and twelve yesterday. It's not just straight-up speed work; we do a warmup, some drills and exercises for strength training and injury prevention, intervals (of course) where we already seem to be pairing and grouping off with other similarly paced runners, and cooldown. Interestingly enough, three of the four workouts have come before races for me, but we're learning how to modify the speed work pre-race so that it loosens us up and gets us ready to go rather than taxing or exhausting the body. I wasn't sure if I should go last week, since I decided late to do our local Turkey Trot the next day. Our fearless leader assured me it was a good thing if I ran my 400m intervals at around 70-80% effort for the first 300 meters, opening up to race pace in the last 100 meters. When I went to bed that night I did feel a little tired, but I think this was more to do with two races and a bunch of speed work less than two weeks after a marathon. The Turkey Trot was not some huge target race of mine, so it was a great time to experiment with racing a little tired, but with high hopes and confidence for a good race based on my recent running.

I showed up about an hour early for the Turkey Trot, which I figured would be plenty of time to pre-register. It was, but I learned that unfortunately, they only had 900 timing chips and already had more than 900 runners registered. The good news here was that they'd lowered the race day registration to cost to $15 to make up for this. I wondered, though, how they were going to record times for those of us who were unchipped.

I warmed up on the riverfront trail pre-race, and just tried to keep it about going through the motions with good form. I didn't want to overthink and remind myself that my legs were a little tired-I just wanted to get out there and run as fast as I could. To that end, I'd ditched the Garmin again, as I did previously at the Holy Family 5K. I was just going to run fast and hard, and have no idea my actual pace.

When it was time to line up, there were all the usual local speedy people out there, as well as what appeared to be some non-local speedy people in to visit family and friends, and whup up the locals. There were actually close to 1200 people toeing the line today-an amazing number in a city with a population somewhere around 46,000. It's great to see so many people-from competitive local and regional runners to recreational walkers-out to start the day off right, and support several local firefighter charitable groups. Soon we counted down and took off.

What's that rule about 5K races? Oh, yeah. They HURT. BAD. Today was no different, but on the upside, nothing seemed to be hurting me above and beyond the normal pain threshold for short distance. It was a little cold, and my lungs were struggling a bit to adjust at first, but I soon settled in. There was a good handful of women who were off and gone; there were a few others of us who paced kind of near one another in the first mile. Considering that I was 12 days post-marathon, this was a pretty decent run on tired legs thus far. I focused on a high cadence and running with good form, and tried to ignore the small mile marker on the ground at the end of mile one. I didn't want any outside influences other than me pushing and keeping up my own pace; I didn't want to let in any chance of a second mile sag.

Heading down the road and turning toward the Connected Lakes, I managed to pass a guy or two, but also had two local women pass me-with dogs. They are speedy gals, and I tried to pick it up but they were picking up more. Running down to the turnaround, it was so uncomfortable to have to corner the orange cone quickly. I boomeranged around it and got my first look at how close any other women might be to me. I saw two less than 30 seconds back from me, and knew they were good runners who could pick it up anytime. If I'd had any thoughts pre-race of this maybe being a fun run where I let myself coast, they were gone now and I was in full racing mode.

Hitting the second mile marker, I was pleased that although I knew how far into the race I was, I hadn't obsessed about the long second mile, nor did I feel like I'd dropped off any. I was running now on the paved riverfront trail, which curves, twists, and has a number of uneven spots and little bumps. It's a real workout late in a 5K on what had been fairly smooth and flat surfaces until now. I was bound and determined to really hammer through and finish strong, and not sag off or get clipped at the finish. There was a little bit of leapfrogging with various men running about my pace, but there had been no passing or being passed by women since before the second mile ended. Coming toward the finish, I could see the balloon arch and time clock, and got a look at the time...clicking off in the 21:xx range! This was going to be another good 5K finish for me, and I surged ahead with a little bit of a third wind. I crossed the finish in 21:44, and moved through the chute, happy to be finished.

Moving past the finish chute, I saw Ali come in (one of two ladies not far behind), and we hung out and talked, soon joined by another one of her friends. Looking over my shoulder at one point, I saw that our track group leader dude was talking to a reporter from a local TV station, so I knew at that point that he must've won-sweet! I learned later that he did, but it was by the most razor thin of margins, with the #1 and #2 men shoulder-to-shoulder coming into the finish. Still, a win is a win. For my part, I did not have an official time logged but Bryan, physical therapist extraordinaire and host of the race at his PT offices allowed me to go talk to the timers to have my time recorded. With the time clock, I was able to report the exact time I'd crossed the timing pad, backed up with my self-reported time being a few seconds behind a local runner I could identify as finishing just ahead of me. So, that was cool that I was able to log an official result even without the bib.

When the results were published online, I could see that it was a fast race at the front. I was 10th out of 467 women overall, with three women running 19:00 and under, and four more running under 21 minutes. I was 2nd out of 120 in age group, so all in all, I was very happy with my result. The speed work, racing, and practicing good form when tired worked out. I know I didn't just go out there and hope I'd do well-I'd been working hard and working SMART at training for goal races on my schedule-but having self-confidence, hoping, and expecting to do well did pay off.

This week, I again focused on smart training. I did a comfortably paced but still very challenging run on Serpents Trail, an area trail with 1.75 miles of climbing, 900 feet up, and then descent back to the trailhead. There was also a good hour of running early morning running on neighborhood streets, a downhill speed workout in a neighborhood that provides good practice for the Winter Sun 10K, and speed work night again yesterday. I'm feeling a little fatigued, but nothing that won't be all rested away by Saturday. I've also been to hot power yoga twice this week, and am finding that it is making me stronger, recovering me from hard workouts faster, and allowing me to really become tougher with workouts in extreme temperatures. The practice is at 98 degrees, and it killed me in the beginning, but a few months in I'm finding that it's a great supplement to running.

Tomorrow's the big day to hit the road for Moab for my 5th run at the Winter Sun 10K. Other than still being 7-8 pounds up from last year, I find myself as confident, strong and hopeful as I've been for a race. After just talking about how I need more speed work for some time, I'm actually doing it now, and am beginning to see results from it already. The strategic downhill workouts should also be very helpful for race day. I hear the race day weather forecast is getting crappier by the moment, but really am not putting much stock into it right now, or deciding in advance that I can't have a good race. Hope's definitely a funny thing....that, coupled with trusting my training, and being mentally tough when it gets hard, could have me on a road that I believe can bring me to a podium finish in Moab this weekend. If that doesn't work, maybe a pre-race margarita and soak in the Gonzo Inn outdoor hot tub will do the trick.

(The song that inspired this week's blog post by Denver's own Paper Bird)