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.


AKA Darkwave, AKA Anarcha, AKA Cris. said...

These posts are a lot of work to write, but fun to read. Thank you.

I think your post also illustrates what I try to always remind myself - in athletic careers, there are highs and lows. Having a bad race or a sequence of injury sucks, but you can rely on the knowledge that another high point is ahead.

Girl In Motion said...

Great write up! Here's to 2012 offering tons more of the good stuff and...well, that's it: *all* good stuff. :)

Still Wandering said...

What a year Karah! Great work! on to more adventures in 2012!

Allan Marsh said...

When your goals are tough and challenging, achieving them is even more pleasure! What helps me attain my fitness goals is I’ve learned there a lot of things about trainings and dieting. Never before I’ve been having as much motivation and energy!