Thursday, December 27, 2012

Oh, The Places You'll Go: The Year That Was.

Today is your day.
You're off to Great Places!
You're off and away!

Last fall, I ventured out with my kids to a Dr. Seuss bonfire, hosted by running friends Mike and Julie at their place in Olathe, about an hour from my home. Kaia and Carter had a great time reading the books they'd brought along with all the adults listening attentively. The highlight of the night, though, was Mike reading "Oh, The Places You'll Go," giving note to the uninitiated that the book sort of has cult status in ultra running circles.  With the fire pit sparking and warming us, we were treated to the coolest reading of a night full of cool Dr. Seuss readings. If one did not understand why another might find deep satisfaction in this pursuit, I think Mike cleared it up pretty well that night.

 As 2012 played itself out, my running organically evolved into my first real foray into ultra running, and with it, the limits I'd placed on myself fell one by one. And it seems only fitting that I recall the things I saw, places I went, people I met, and all other great experiences via this great piece of children's literature.

You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes
You can steer yourself
any direction you choose.
You're on your own.  And you know what you know.
And YOU are the guy who'll decide where to go.

 You're lighter if you leave the chains, buffalo pelts, and other such accoutrements at your vehicle. And if you want to be the only dude who runs 30 miles, well, there will be folks who are happy to drink beer, warm up by the fire, and wait for you at the finish while you steer yourself along on the trails. 

Run your own race, at your pace. It'll carry you all the way through 34 miles, whether it's a first-time ultra finish, or a dark horse win. 

Out there things can happen
and frequently do
to people as brainy
and footsy as you.

When a kickass outdoor and sports photographer calls for trail runners to shoot, you put your name in the hat. You just do. Even if you have no idea what you're doing. At a minimum, you get a cool experience, some great photos, and a bit of money. And, sometimes really cool things happen, like that kickass photographer gets a picture of your friend during the shoot that winds up on a magazine cover. And, let's be honest. It's fun to get to play the the superhero version of yourself, if only in photographs.

And if you meet someone at a race with whom you become friendly, and eventually she says "Hey, would you like to be sponsored by a hat company I represent?" You say yes. Especially when the hats are awesome, and it's owned, operated and marketed by some fabulous outdoorsy women stateside. (Thank you Paige, Kim, and WizBang!)

Then, you'll find yourself in Boulder for the annual 10K there. Your two younger kids come along too, and you stay in a house with a bunch of your friends also running the race. And it just so happens that the place randomly found on Craigslist is owned by an Olympian. A marathon runner. This is cool. But then she stops by to say hello to everybody and introduce herself. Then, out of the bright fabric purse/bag she's carrying, she pulls an Olympic bronze medal and asks if folks would like to see it. You can't get that thing off your son's neck.

(Lorraine Moller, a 4-time Olympian for New Zealand, winner of the '84 Boston Marathon, and bronze medalist at the Barcelona Olympics. She is the mom to a 10-year-old daughter, and is still involved in the sport as a running coach.)

And when things start to happen,
don't worry.  Don't stew.
Just go right along.
You'll start happening too.

50 miles is a long way in the brain if you've never run it before. But just keep logging the training miles, and if you're local, run that course every weekend if possible. Practice your nutrition, consider all the what-ifs. You might be one of the last ones out there, but you'll still be out there, happening. One of 29 men and 5 women who were happening in the blistering heat. And you might just have some support from some pretty awesome friends who knew what a big deal this was to you.

You'll be on your way up!
You'll be seeing great sights!
You'll join the high fliers
who soar to high heights.

So there's a little race in California called the Western States 100. It used to be on horseback only. Then this guy named Gordy had a horse go lame in the race, so he finished it on foot. And thus, ultra running as we know it was born. Fast forward...your friend the immigration attorney in New Hampshire has a few pacing and crewing opportunities available to you, and some other solid runners, with a couple of the best female ultrarunners in the world. You say yes to the chance and road trip west, catching views of the starriest skies you've ever seen in the middle of nowhere, Nevada. Then the incredibly blue waters of Lake Tahoe. Then you get to Squaw Valley, meet incredible athletes from all over the world, and work to help them realize their goals on little to no sleep. And it's amazing. Some succeed, while others are unsuccessful. You start to understand the "why" of the sport. 

You will come to a place where the streets are not marked.
Some windows are lighted.  But mostly they're darked.
A place you could sprain both your elbow and chin!
Do you dare to stay out?  Do you dare to go in?
How much can you lose? How much can you win?

Then, with that experience complete, you are excited to do it again. When friends need help in Silverton, in Leadville, and in Steamboat, you go. There's a hellfire-and-brimstone thunderstorm at one. You and your runner consider whether you'd rather die by hypothermia or lightning strike. Your runner lays down and threatens to quit at another. And at a third, your runner is trucking along fine except when he gets lost, and is trying to not succumb to the warm fire that claimed many an overnight runner who just wanted to get a bit warm only to not start again. You're so comfortable now with crewing that you're that girl in the sleeping bag in the bushes, comfortably sleeping away until your runner gets there. And you're never quite in a deep sleep because you know your runner is probably coming in to the aid station soon.

At two of these races, you see a local finish who has won in Leadville, and in Silverton. He ran with you and your friend while training for your second and her first ultra, and never, ever made you feel like a noobish loser. Rather, he was happy to have company on the run, and if you asked for advice, yeah, he'd share. But you'd never guess what a rock star he was. Oh, and he's finished Leadville and Hardrock 18 times apiece. No bigs.

Oh, the places you'll go! There is fun to be done!
There are points to be scored.  there are games to be won.
And the magical things you can do with that ball
will make you the winning-est winner of all.
Fame!  You'll be famous as famous can be,
with the whole wide world watching you win on TV.

And you become aware of The Tony. And decide you liked The Tony. Not in a creepy, stalkerish way, or anything. You simply admire his running. Your friends start thinking The Tony thing is funny so they tackle him and get you a picture with him in Leadville. Because that's not weird at all.

(props to all the elite ultra runners above...Anna Frost, in the pink jacket, working her butt off crewing and pacing for Salomon runners in Leadville, and Hardrock. She paced the winner, Thomas Lorblanchet, in his run which wound up being one of the fastest in Leadville history. Scott Jurek, pacing Tony, center. He was a genuine friendly guy when we asked to get a picture with him at Leadville, got one on his own camera, and tweeted this to his fan base. Joe Grant, in yellow, at bottom, racing at Hardrock. Joe finished second and ran the fourth fastest time in Hardrock history, behind winner Hal Koerner who ran the third fastest time.)

I'm afraid that some times
you'll play lonely games too.
Games you can't win
'cause you'll play against you.

All Alone!
Whether you like it or not,
Alone will be something
you'll be quite a lot.

And there will be a few times you just won't quite nail it. Or just totally miss the target. The inaugural Thelma & Louise Half is just a bit too soon after the 50-miler to have full speed back. Hoping to podium here, it doesn't happen. It's still a great time running an all-women's race for the first time.

The Rim Rock Marathon proves to be easily the greatest disappointment of the running year. A course you've always run strong, and almost won once. A marathon PR was set here another year. This time, it's a brutal slog through wind, snow, and frigid temperatures. When your park ranger buddy high-fives you at the Visitor Center, it's one of the only things that keeps you moving on the way to a PW (personal worst) in the marathon, and failure to run a Boston Marathon qualifying standard. Only other time that happened was the five second miss in marathon number one. Despite the disappointment, it's something that motivates you to work harder and do better the next time at handling bad conditions.

On and on you will hike
and I know you'll hike far
and face up to your problems
whatever they are.

That race, Imogene. A woman's name, they say. She's been a bitch to you the past four years, or perhaps you didn't know how to handle her. After trying hard and specifically every year to run the 17 mile race in under four hours, you didn't have any official strategy or formal training plan to accomplish the goal this year. This time, though, things are different. The 50-miler, the pacing through the night at Leadville, the speed work for almost a year with friends who motivate you...somehow, this was going to be the year. It just was, and you seemed to actually know it this time. 

When it didn't seem like it was going to happen for the first 13 or so miles, you didn't panic. You were just excited that it was still going to be your best run here, even if it had a 4: at the front of the time. And then you realized with just a few miles left that it could be done in 3: something. But you're going to have to be all-out for three miles, so all-out you run, and clear that four hour hurdle by several minutes. When a lot of things have come more easily in running, but this deal has always been a "how can I f#ck this up" kind of endeavor, it's a special day when you're there with your friends for the sub-4. Some of them wound up on the podium, and some of them finished for the first time. It's a beautiful day.

You'll also throw a few special running events-not "proper" races, mind you, but stuff that sounded like fun, and a good opportunity to train as a group. For six hours, you'll go up and down on Serpents Trail. Then, coming back from Western States on no sleep, there's a conversation that starts something like this. "You know what would be cool? A six hour run. In the desert. With a gong." So you go on an excellent adventure to locate a gong. Eventually, you own a share of a gong with your two other friends and race-throwers. It's absurd, and it's awesome. The gong rotates from house to house, and sort of takes on a life of its own. It goes to races. Everybody gets to enjoy its sound at the start of the Winter Sun, and later on at the awards. Oh, and you find out that you've got some darn competitive and fast friends, even when they're having a beer or a shot, every quarter mile. You also learn that it's probably not a great idea to compete in both beer and shot divisions at the same event; still, you have fun, and everybody just laughs about the post-run silliness. One of your friends who was instrumental in pulling of these events almost didn't get out of her car at her first speed work session a year ago-now it's like she's been part of all the craziness for years. And that's cool.

You'll get mixed up, of course,
as you already know.
You'll get mixed up
with many strange birds as you go.
So be sure when you step.
Step with care and great tact
and remember that Life's
a Great Balancing Act.
Just never forget to be dexterous and deft.
And never mix up your right foot with your left.

And will you succeed?
Yes! You will, indeed!
(98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed.)

You'll have two hard-fought podium finishes in the last year of your 30s, coming back from an absolutely terrible run at The Other Half the year prior to finish third. And wind up being the runner featured in the race program-an honor that feels really special when you have a special affinity for a race that was your first half, and where you first proved to yourself that yes, 13.1 is NOT too far for you to go. And that you've come a long way since then. For the last trip of the year to Moab, at the Winter Sun, it's clear that making the podium is going to be harder this year than ever before. Laying it all out there, you run your second best time at the race and squeak into 3rd at age 39 in the 30-39 ladies, in a time a few seconds faster than what won you the age group the year before. It feels really good to have fought hard and raced smart. This was no cake walk. Your friends clean up big time, too. People set PRs, and there's a lot of "from Grand Junction" during awards.


There were many other places I went, people I met, and other moments of awesomeness throughout the year. Some strange, yet cool, birds, certainly populate our sport. It's always great to feed into that positive and maybe a little crazy energy. You stop thinking about what you can't do, and focus on what you CAN do...put one foot in front of the other. It's pretty simple. Just never forget to be dexterous and deft. And never mix up your right foot from left. Get out on the trails, or take to the streets (the roads really aren't evil; and I still love those Moab races very much). Because...

be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray
or Mordecai Ali Van Allen O'Shea,
you're off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting.
So...get on your way!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Dog Days Are Over: The 2012 Winter Sun 10K

The dog days are over
The dog days are done
The horses are coming
So you better run

This was playing in the final minutes prior to the start of this year's Winter Sun 10K. I really can't think of a better way to accompany the blog for the last official race of the 2012 racing season.

The Winter Sun 10K in Moab has long been a popular race with Grand Junction runners. Years ago, it was a fairly small affair, mostly made up of members from the Moab and GJ running clubs. From those humble beginnings, the race grew into one of the larger ones in our region, with typically 600-700 runners showing up to run the wickedly fast course. It remains very popular with those of us from Grand Junction for a variety of reasons: the proximity to home, the opportunity for Mesa Monument Striders members to pick up a guaranteed entry into Canyonlands, and the chance for us to represent and compete with some of the better runners in the region. 

This is the only race I have done every year since becoming a runner, and it's a pretty good road map of the path I've taken since first lacing up. I made the podium in my age group at this race the third time I ran it, back in 2009, squeaking into 3rd place for the 30-39 ladies. Then, the next two years, I won my age group, running what is still my 10K PR of 41:45 at the 2010 race. This was to be my last year running in that age group at age 30-39, and I really wanted to close it out with one last age group win before moving up to 40-49/Masters ladies in 2013. Ultimately, though, I realized that ANY kind of podium finish was going to be something I'd have to run hard and fight for; there are a number of fast women in my age bracket, and they're always "game on" at this race.

The weather typically falls somewhere between pleasantly cold and sunny, and brutally frigid, at this event. In 2009, the temps topped out at about 10 degrees; race director Ranna and one of her race crew had to shoo some of us out of the warmth of the high school to start riding buses up to the start, rather than everybody waiting for "round two" of buses. This year, it was truly bizarre to feel near-warmth in the air. I'd only brought down a long sleeved compression shirt, and was wishing I'd paid better attention to the forecast as this was going to be short sleeved/sleeveless racing weather for sure. Oh well-at least I had a running skirt, not tights, so my legs would get to breathe a little bit. I'd ridden down with a small group, and besides us, there were tons of other runners from Grand Junction and surrounding cities in Moab for this unseasonably warm race day. We got our stuff, packed my van full of people, and headed to the start. 

The temperatures just seemed to be climbing, and when I headed down the road to do some warming up, I was really regretting not having a short sleeve option. There was soreness in my body that had me regretting somewhat the decision to cross country ski the previous Sunday, hit a couple of hard speed workouts midweek, and do the "seemed like a good idea at the time," now somewhat traditional day-before shakeout run/hill climb/pre-race bushwhack on trails near the Department of Energy complex, hanging over the river back in Grand Junction. Oh well. It is what it is, I told myself, and even though I wasn't jumping out of my skin with energy, I knew I had to trust my training. A solid year of speed work was in my system, and a number of other running "firsts" in 2012. I was going to choose to be confident that I could hammer out a good run when the gun sounded.

Cheryl and I had a friendly wager riding on this race. I have the edge on longer distances, and she claims the short distance end of the spectrum. This was the first time we'd race something in between together, so we figured it would be good motivation for both of us to put a refreshing adult beverage on the line for the one of us who crossed the finish line first. She was also feeling the heat, and made a decision a few minutes before the start to strip off her shirt and run sports bra-only. I was seriously considering this-but, no, sorry folks. I'm pretty physically fit, but after four pregnancies, I just don't let that gut out for the world to see. I was just going to have to deal with being hot today.

When it came time to line up, I reminded Cheryl that it was NOT a chip timed race, and we needed to be right up on that starting line. When we got up there, to my surprise, I saw brand-new mom, 2011 Winter Sun champ and Olympic marathon trials runner Megan Lizotte, looking like there was no way she'd grown a human inside her recently. There were a few other focused looking ladies up there, and of course Kevin K, Kevin O'B, and Marty on the starting line. Another fast Junction runner, Jay Valentine, whom I'd never seen at this race before, was up there. We'd brought the gong along, and Marty's dad was up on the corner, already making some noise on it before the race even started. Ranna welcomed us to the "Last Winter Sun ever, if you believe the Mayans," getting a good laugh from the crowd. In that last minute I shook out my muscles and tried to empty out my brain as much as possible. I didn't need to have an endless loop of "I'm sore, I'm tired" in my head, I just needed to run and stay focused on the run. Ranna gave us an "on your mark," and then we shot off.

Video of start and other portions of race courtesy Kevin and Nora O'Brien:

This race course is net downhill, and the only hills on the course come early. It's pretty crowded in this first mile and I just sought to get out of that lot at the golf course without weaving, and running tangents as much as possible. From the start, there were 6 or 7 women out ahead of me, including Cheryl, Megan, Lauren from Moab who clipped me near the end of the Monument Downhill a few months prior, some gal as tall as me with pink compression sleeves, and Robin from Flagstaff who finished second here last year. Right away, there was also some other gal running very, very close to me. I mean, practically on top of me. I thought about shifting over to get out of her way but thought, no, she was the one cutting into me. With earbuds/headphones at that. So, I accelerated a little to try to get away from her.

It seemed that every time I did this, though, she'd accelerate back up and step right into me, even bumping elbows on one of these maneuvers. Getting into the second mile, she said something to the effect of "instead of trying to pass each other let's try to pick off other people! You're pissing me off.....just kidding!"

Oh, hell no. She then went on to tell me that this was her first 10K. I didn't say it to be Know-It-All Old Chick, but I casually replied "Oh. This is my sixth time running this race." I was here to run MY race. I was a little irritated but knew it probably wasn't intentional to be racing right on top of me; just inexperience. I tried to use it to fire me up rather than get sidetracked. When she next said something about "let's go pick off those guys up there! Come on," I replied with "I'm running MY 10K pace. All the passing I do is going to be later." It was both a reminder to myself, and my polite-ish way of saying you run your race, I'm running mine. Right after that, we got to the big hill climb, and I moved past her, never to be bumped again during the race.

Getting into the third mile, we were beginning the long, steady plateau with slight downhill. That wasn't a lie that this was where I'd begin my passing; it's always a struggle for me to keep up with the lead women and men on the one big hill on the course. In this next mile or two, I've always been able to regroup and make up ground. My friend Tom Ela from Grand Junction was ahead of me here, as was Art Rohr, a 60-something runner from Cortez. We always seem to be near one another at regional races, and I bet we might have a darn-near even split on wins and losses. Seeing him was a good sign that I was right on pace.

I was feeling quite fatigued, and kind of had felt this way the entire time. The year I ran that PR, though, I felt the same way, and I turned this feeling into a game, playing tricks on my head. If I hurt really bad, it meant I was running with the right effort for my best performance today. And..I was also halfway through. I played the "just 20 or so more minutes until you're done, and then you can have a beer!" game. I relaxed. And with that relaxation, I was able to pick up my cadence. With that increase in cadence, I "remembered" what it felt like to run hard and do well here. It's all about tricking the mind into not limiting the body from doing what it can do, and was made to do.

Run Fast For Your Mother, Run Fast For Your Father
Run For Your Children, For Your Sisters And Your Brothers
Leave All Your Love And Your Longing Behind
You Can't Carry It All With You If You Want To Survive

I was beginning to fight that second-half fatigue at the same time that I was really starting to plug away and make progress. I did pick off a few of the guys ahead of me, and could see Cheryl not far down the road, who had now moved past the woman in pink compression sleeves. As I was becoming more tired, I had to dig in even more. I knew there were a number of women ahead of me; Lauren was in my age group and long gone. There was a good possibility that even if I ran my best and hardest, I might not even make the podium.  I dug in, shut off my brain and just ran fast. I wasn't sure where Close Running Girl was, or how old she was.  I also didn't know who might be behind me, making up ground and targeting me to pass.

Hitting the hardest downhill section, I evened out with Art again. He's a really smooth, relaxed runner, and I tried to feed off that vibe. His pacing is also very strong and even, so I used this as another way to trick my brain into thinking I was strong and feeling great. When we hit the turn into the residential neighborhood at five miles, I made a slow, careful pass of Art, making sure not to step into him or cut him off, knowing we'd likely remain pretty close all the way in to the finish.  I could see that the pink compression sleeve girl was beginning to fade. I targeted her now; I wanted to get ahead of her no matter what, but she did look like another who could be in my age group.

Turning onto the bike path, I played more head games with myself. I just needed to run a "mile of awesomeness." All out. Hard. Oh, man, but it sure hurt. There's one spot on the bike path when runners cross over a bridge; a surefire way to tell that one is tired and fading is that they'll turn to the side to see who is coming as they cross. I could see Cheryl cross, and she remained intently focused ahead of her. Compression Sleeve Girl got on the bridge, and looked over her shoulder to her left. Blood in the water; I smelled it. I hammered over that bridge like a woman possessed. She seemed to know she was almost on empty, and should could see where I was as well. I chased her down the bike path, gaining ground, but also running out of fuel myself.

In the past, we would've stepped off the bike trail, headed down the road in front of the school on the road, and jumped onto the track from there. This year brought the first major course change since I started running Winter Sun. We stayed on the bike path, running past the children's garden (nice), moving around the back of the school, and then something really different-crossing a short, uphill grassy knoll. This was killer, but with all the Tuesday morning speed group meetings at Lilac Park in GJ, doing the short, steep hill at the end, I didn't seem to be losing any momentum. Then, it was back onto sidewalk, and a final turn into the stadium. This change allowed for something interesting too-a look at who was coming without having to turn and look over the shoulder, since we made nearly a 180 degree turn onto the track. I could see a few men behind me, but no women immediately nearby.

I had a split-second mental lapse here, and momentary drop from 200% all-out finish effort. Wait, what the hell was I doing? I put my face down to that zone just a few feet ahead, forward lean, kicking like it was the last lap of my life. I mean, maybe the Mayans were right. After the first quarter I passed Kevin K on the infield-he yelled at me to pick it up. I thought I was picked-up as much as possible but found another gear. I got another 100 down the track and saw Ranna, who yelled at me to push and finish strong. Dangit. Do I really have another gear left? Okay. I could see pink sleeve girl and I'd narrowed a lot. Turning the last corner I saw Marty, who gave a few claps and yelled "C'mon! Push! Push!" I could see the time clock and it looked like I might have one of my best efforts here. I didn't catch Compression Sleeve Girl but this was all about what I told Close Running Girl-Run My Race. Finish strong. I was thinking of my kids now; I'd really wanted them to be able to come down today but they had rehearsals and prep for their dance studio float with the Parade of Lights. I thought of them and ran hard for them. I finished in a time of 43:22. Going back later, I would figure out that this was my second fastest run at the Winter Sun 10K, and 11 seconds faster than the previous year. I finished, and saw Ed on the gong, now banging away for finishers. I felt totally wasted, and knew I'd left it all on the course today. Now it was just a matter of waiting for awards, and seeing how the age groups shook out.

I mingled with friends after; lots of outstanding performances, whether first-time finisher, runner returning to the game, or competitor for the top spots. Marty regained the title he'd taken twice here before. Kevin K finished a very strong third overall, and Kevin O'B had finished fifth and ran a PR. Cheryl knew she was around 4th or 5th woman overall, virtually assuring her a podium spot, and also guaranteeing her a drink from me. The wager had turned out to be a fun thing; an added kick to keep both of us on our toes, and working together while running our own races. Then, the prize drawings and triple crown awards (for finishers of all three "open" races in Moab, Thelma & Louise excluded). I was really, really nervous. Did I make the podium?

Ranna started with overall, and then Masters divisions, before starting with the oldest age groups and working down. Liz from GJ was surprised and excited to podium in the 50-59, then Elizabeth Schnittker, a long time regular, did likewise in 40-49. This was very cool. Then, they moved to 30-39 women. As soon as I heard "In third place...from Grand Junction...a longtime supporter of the Moab races....," I jumped up with a smile and relief. Yeah, I really wanted one more win. But I worked my ass off today. Without working my ass off, I wouldn't have worked into that third place spot. It was a faster time than what won me the age group the year prior, and somehow this was very satisfying in and of itself. I was officially 3rd out of 122 in the age group, and 7th woman overall. In the "Random Factoid Interesting Only To Me" department, the overall female champ, 1st place 30-39, and 2nd place 30-39 were all 30 years old. Which means I don't face off against them in age group until age 49! On the other hand, I join Robin from Flagstaff's age group next year. And Cheryl, who is strong across the board and wound up taking second in 20-29/5th woman overall, will be someone fun to race even when we're not going to ever be in the same division. Always some tough chick out there to keep it fun and keep it fast.

(First in age group, Lauren from Moab, 40:53, Second in age group, Pink Sleeve Girl, who is also named Lauren, but from Salt Lake City, 43:10, and me, 43:22)

Much but not all of Grand Junction gathered for some pictures. Anyone missing ought to be photoshopped would be nice to get a picture with everybody who was there but not right there when we gathered for the photo. In our attempt to have fun, we'd talked about getting Snuggies for the whole crew at the race; it's a good thing that instead, we got organized on bringing the Junction Gong, not Snuggies. It was 60 degrees or so by the finish, and we were enjoying being out on the grass in the sun and warm air. These people are my "sisters and brothers," if you will. We see each other at our best and worst, meet each other to run whether we feel like it or not. It helps forge tight bonds, and part of why our running community is so close-knit yet always gathering new folks.

I'm still on a quest to set a 10K mark faster than what I did in my best racing season ever, fall 2010. That said, this was exactly the kind of race I wanted to with my body, my mind, and my heart. I did it the best I could at any given moment (well, save the split-second letup entering the track). And it was pretty fantastic to see a big podium cleanup by my friends-not just regulars, but others who made it up for the first time.

There's one more event for the year-that's the Beverage Mile Of Awesomeness which will be hosted at my friend Angela's place by several of us who are also officially kicking off a racing team(!) for the first time in our city. It's an exciting time of progress and change. I've also registered with my guaranteed entry for another Canyonlands Half Marathon. This time, I'm planning a very focused and specific training season, with the end goal of making the podium for the first time there. I came close but no cigar last year; it's a good carrot to dangle for myself now, and something that'll keep my training focused over the winter. And with that, it's just about time to bid 2012 adieu, and welcome 2013. How will I do that? Running, of course. With friends, as the clock strikes midnight, another year of great opportunity ahead of us.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Weather With You: The 2012 Rim Rock Marathon

Great song which I have used on a prior blog, but it's my blog so I reserve the right to bring it out again.

 Last weekend, I ran the 4th annual Rim Rock Marathon. This race went on for many years as the Rim Rock Run, a 37K run across the Colorado National Monument from the Grand Junction gate to Fruita gate. In 2009, about a mile was added from the start, and a little over two miles from the finish, to make this annual tradition a true 26.2 mile marathon. After swearing it off as a volunteer the last two years of the Rim Rock Run, I joined in for that inaugural marathon, which was far and away an experience well beyond my expectations. Since then, I've been back every year.

Preparation for this race seemed to be going well. My lineup of fall races, from 5Ks to the Imogene Pass Run, had all gone well to quite smashingly, in the case of the IPR. The Other Half would probably fall in that territory as well, with what was not a PR race but a strong bounce-back from a poor performance the year prior. Additionally, Rim Rock has always been a course where I could "show my stuff." A lot-a LOT of Colorado runners will tell you how much they hate running roads, and especially hammering downhill on roads. Well, I love that stuff. And, that tends to be an area where I excel. The layout of the Rim Rock course, with the climb early, rolling middle miles, and downhill nearly to the finish are well suited to me. I went in feeling like I was trained and ready to go. Wondering what the next year of my life will bring has been a constant concern and worry. Still, I'd been compartmentalizing pretty well when it came to racing, and able push away storm clouds when I felt them looming over me on race day.

Watching the weather all week, it was clear that there would, indeed, be "weather," as we like to say in Colorado, of some sort. First it looked like rain. Then snow. Then a possible combo of the two. And cold. This was an odd juxtaposition to the 65 degree days we were experiencing leading up to the race, but weather forecasters assured us that there would indeed be weather on race day. With that in mind, I started considering various race day possibilities. I'm usually all about the "battle armor" for race day, usually consisting of some brightly colored skirts, socks, and other apparel that fires me up to race. Rim Rock, though, has some cold and shady sections even on nice weather years. I opted for something I'd never done before-a compromise-with a favorite skirt plus tights underneath. My product sponsor, Wizbang Hats, did bring some added color to this year's show, so the bright orange and pink on the head would be kind of taking the place of my bright pink socks on the legs this time.

The night before the race, I had a very chilled out dinner with Cheryl, and our friend Bryce, a local chiropractor who had run one marathon many years prior, and was now diving back into the game. We joked around, I gave Bryce my .02 on his options on race day attire, and had a good time carbing up for the next day. In the morning, Cheryl and her fiance Skip showed up to get me, and Skip gave us a lift to the start. This was nice; most other people were taking a bus from the Fruita side. I live close to the start, but there's no parking allowed at this funky little "Gem and Mineral Society" building where race staging takes place. 

When we arrived, the bathroom lines were long. I immediately saw Keri Nelson, a 4-time winner of the Rim Rock Run/Rim Rock Marathon, and was pleased to see she'd made it. She'd been noticeably absent from regional races, and I'd heard it was due to a back or some other injury on the job. I was curious, though, if she was healthy and ready to put on a clinic for the rest of us, or if injury had caused some changes to her running.

I'd barely gotten through the bathroom line when they began calling us to the starting line. Skip was hanging out until then, and Cheryl and I made our last second clothing drop in his truck. BRRRRR. It was definitely cold out, but I felt like I'd made the right choice with a long-sleeved compression tech shirt, hat, gloves, and of course the skirt/tight combo. Others were in all garden varieties of dress and undress. I lined up near my friend Kevin from Paonia, who had been scheduled to run the New York City Marathon but elected well before the cancellation of the race to stay local and run Rim Rock. We didn't have to wait long before an executive from US Bank, the race's title sponsor, counted down and sent us off. Here we go! Trip number four for me across the Monument for a race I swore off as a course volunteer in 2007.

I don't know what it was like to start the Rim Rock Run without this first mile of the marathon, but I have to say that I think it is fabulous to get in a nice warmup before the climbing begins. Moving down the road, I was close behind Keri and some other ladies, and near Adam, whom I'd paced at the Hardrock 100. I passed Jessica and Morgan, two ladies who sometimes come to Tuesday morning speed group, and we waved at one another. They were supposed to run the marathon relay together, along with a number of other teams. Unfortunately, that portion of the event was called off. It was way cool, though, to see them along the course, sending runners on their way.

Approaching the Monument, Adam and I chatted here and there, which was cool. We joked about Hardrock, and kind of kept plugging along at a good warmup clip. Keri was right ahead of me, and this was my first indication that she might not be at 100% health. She owns the course record, has won major races like the Pikes Peak Marathon and the Imogene Pass Run, and is a general badass. Finally, she started lengthening out a little bit, and Adam moved up ahead a bit as well. I am not a standout climber but Imogene taught me that I can still make gains and use good technique for better times uphill. I relaxed and just focused on keeping my cadence high, and eyes focused a few feet ahead on the road. It was cold but the sun was shining. There was a breeze but it wasn't gusting. 

This first, challenging section of climbing switchbacks seemed to go by with the least mental effort I've ever expended. It was kind of like climbing from Ouray at Imogene; challenging, yes, but after doing it several times, experience was on my side. I just kept plugging away, and eventually, Cold Shivers Point was visible. And then, I saw her-Keri, with hands on hips, walking slowly downhill and away from this first major marker on the course. She was out. What a bummer; I felt her pain, as a runner, at having to quit due to whatever was ailing her. Her gait had looked a little "off" for the little bit of the course I'd been following her, though, so it seemed like she made a logical decision to call it a day early rather than an emotional decision to power on and risk long term injury.

Things ain't cookin' in my kitchen
 Strange affliction wash over me

It was right around now when that damned w--- word first reared its ugly head. Wind. It was no longer just breezy. A headwind started smacking me in the face, just like the past several half-marathons in Moab. Really? C'mon. It also felt like the temperature had dropped as we'd climbed 2000 feet. I tucked my head down, and just ran into it. I didn't feel like I had bucketloads of awesome to spare, and wasn't sure why. I'd rested the day before, slept well. Things just didn't feel great. I'd been in this position before, though, and didn't let myself fall apart mentally. This came right back to the basics of "run the mile you're in, run the moment you're in." Thinking about how much of the race lay ahead of me would've been a losing proposition. It was about dealing with the weather and the conditions RIGHT NOW. Or, as I was actively trying to do, tune them out. Shut off my brain. Just run.

Once I hit the high point on the Monument, the reward was a few rollers with some downhills-finally! While it was still sunny, that Mother Nature was becoming a feisty gal. The wind picked up, trying to demoralize me with every step. I did my best to ignore it but I just wasn't moving as fast as I had other years here. Eventually, arriving at the big hill climb halfway through the race, I felt a little sense of victory at being a half marathon away from finishing, with my strong suit still to come. Climbing the 13 mile hill with two men who had been pacing near me for a bit, we saw a runner ahead of us drop and start walking back down the hill to the aid station. IT Band, he said. While I've logged a DNS, I've never logged a DNF. I felt for this guy when he had to call it a day; I had an IT band injury several years prior, and it's just nothing one can tough their way through.

The next stretch, while rolling much of the way with no significant climbs, is one that requires a lot of focus. In a way, the climb is "easy" because one is so singularly focused on getting through it. Here, in the middle miles, there's still so much ground to cover. And that mothertrucking wind. It was becoming furious at times. The skies darkened as clouds moved in. There were some frosty patches on the road. This was a Rim Rock Marathon unlike any I'd run prior. After some Garmin repair mishaps which left me concerned that I might not have one at all for race day, I'd been able to secure a loaner. Looking down at my loaner Garmin, I checked to see how I was doing. This was definitely a lot slower than I'd been at this point in prior races. Undeterred, though, I kept pushing forward. This wasn't over by a long shot.

Over the next few miles, I just kept my head on combatting the weather at any given moment-and it was changing dramatically from moment to moment. There were periods of brief sunshine, but mostly, there was a lot of gusting wind. It was so loud I couldn't hear anything much of the time. It was tiring. A little bit of me really wanted to say screw this. It's just a stupid marathon. But then I realized that was an attitude that would get me nowhere.  Literally, nowhere. Nobody was going to hold my hand or carry me in to the next aid station if I decided to bail. So, onward I went. I was struggling but so was everybody else; as I focused on getting to the Visitors Center at 20 miles, I was passing runners occasionally. This gave me a little levity at a time when I was feeling very heavy and fail-y. My friend Nick is the Head Interpreter on the Colorado National Monument; he's a runner and knows how much this race meant to me. I knew he was working today, and hoped I might see him when I got near the Visitors Center.

After several more miles, I realized that some of the aid stations seemed to be in totally different locations, or just absent from where they were in previous years. It kind of threw me off, as I was expecting to see them in the spots they'd been since I started running this race, only to find out they'd been moved. Oh well, keep rolling with it, I told myself. Then, hitting a downhill stretch, the wind became nearly unbearable. I felt a few wet,hard, things, hit my face. Yep, now it was snowing. Hard, dry, angry little flakes to the face. I felt like a sail being caught by the wind, unable to make forward progress. It made me angry. This was the one thing in my life I was supposed to have control over right now. And I had no control over this snow and wind.

Finally, it let up a little. The snow ceased, but the wind was still nasty as ever. I could, though, see the Visitors Center approaching. 20 miles. From there, I'd take a big plunge down and off the Monument, and then had just that short but tough stretch of Highway 340 into the park in Fruita awaiting. There was a gradual but steady climb to the VC. I saw one truck blocking the way into the lot, and continued up the road. There was a park truck at the other end of the lot, and as I drew near, I saw a door fly open. A familiar park ranger, distinctive Ranger hat on head and coffee mug in hand, jumped out, ran over, and gave me a high five. Seeing Nick right then was exactly what I needed-he yelled something like "finish it!" and I focused on doing exactly that.

The next section is my favorite part on the course. I've run downhill races or section of races before, but nothing beats this series of back-and-forth switchbacks leading up to a tunnel and then a huge curve downhill through a canyon. At the 2009 Rim Rock Marathon, I actually hit the wall of glycogen depletion at mile 25 for the first and only time in a marathon due to hitting this section too fast. It's just fun to run. Oh, and spectacularly beautiful. This section is what makes the race for me, and why I think all the Marathon Maniacs and 50-Staters ought to visit us in Western Colorado for this race.  The wind was coming from all directions, though. And I was simply getting more worn down at this point than I'd ever been in other years here.

Rounding down through the tunnel, around the huge curve, and hitting the switchbacks off the Monument, I knew it was time to focus. Traffic flies by on the road, most of the drivers unaware and not really caring that you're now more than 24 miles into a footrace, and ready to be done. The exhaust fumes and concern about being hit by an errant passing truck are now piled on top of all other fatigue and race day concerns.  I looked at the Garmin somewhere along here, and it all but confirmed that I was on track for my slowest marathon ever. Not just slowest Rim Rock, but slowest since I started tackling this distance. And on the course where I'd run a PR two years prior. If I were more of a novice runner, this might have gotten to me. But, I know that some days are rock star days with great conditions. Other days, you don't feel your best, and the conditions don't exactly help your performance. My goal was to push with anything left in the tank now. "It is what it is," and make the most of that "is" in the moment.

There's a small boat made of china 
 Going nowhere on the mantlepiece 
 Do I lie like a loungeroom lizard 
 Or do I sing like a bird released

I don't remember much of this section here. I didn't feel great but lots of speed work and experience in marathons was on my side. I knew I couldn't and wouldn't collapse and die. I wasn't going to walk, even when the wind was clobbering me. I was going to show the elements that they couldn't deter me, even if they had slowed me down. Onward I moved, marking off traffic cones in my mind as I passed them. Getting to the bridge over the river, the air grew very chilly again, and the wind was about to blow me sideways into traffic. Screw this, I thought. I am getting over this bridge one way or another. I was angry. At what or whom, I'm not sure. But it got me over.

Finally, I could see that I was approaching where I needed to turn into the park, but I felt a little disoriented looking for the turn. Finally, I saw the path. Some high school boys working the turn cheered, and then one, in mock emotional moment, said, "you're an inspiration to us all!" He picked the right girl and right moment for that one-I busted out laughing momentarily. I mean, really. As much as I hate not killing every single race,  that's sort of a first world problem to not be killing it. I hit the final stretch of gravel trail to the finish, and kept plugging away, and finally saw that turn to the finish-sans arch, because it would not have been able to stay up in the wind-and hammered toward it. I crossed the finish line in 3:47:37, my slowest marathon finish ever, 7 out of 64 among women, and 2nd (really, 3rd, but the overall woman came from my age group) out of 19 in the 30-39 ladies. I'll repeat what I said after my stinkfest at '11 The Other Half in knowing where that puts me in the grand scheme of things, but acknowledge that I was disappointed in falling way short of my own expectations for this day.

Getting through the finish, I was immediately medaled and greeted by my friend Angela who had been volunteering since 6am on the Fruita side of the course, and just never left because the help was necessary. She said everybody had finished, looking and sounding like me, and that our friend Kevin had totally killed the race with a second place finish overall, but wasn't doing well at the moment. I eventually caught up with Kevin and Nora, and it was apparent that he'd given it all to the course, still shivering and not quite his normal self (thankfully, later in the day, after warming up and getting some food and beer in the system, he was good as new).  Cheryl was soon through in a little over four hours, doing a great job running her own race after training well, and putting up with listening to those of us with experience here doling out well-meaning advice. Bryce was in not much later, and then went promptly to work doing his A.R.T. thing on race finishers. And Liz, a regular at our speed groups about to cross into the 60-something age bracket, took about an hour off her time from a year prior. So, all in all, a great communal experience with a bunch of freaks like me who think this stuff is pretty cool. (I really wanted to use The Samples' "Underwater People" for this blog had it rained, as promised, for the element of being where you belong with your weird friends. Alas, that'll be saved for a day when I'm really running in a downpour.)

I won't lie...I was totally okay with my performance on Saturday, but on Sunday, Monday, into Tuesday, even feels kind of rotten. I avoided blogging until now because it would've been a darker and more self-absorbed piece on writing than it needed to be-and that's not who I am. But, the upside is that those rotten races have always fired me up to come back and tear it up, not go away, tail between the legs. Will I run Rim Rock next year? I don't know. But I am still focused more than ever on running the Leadville Trail 100 next year, come hell or high water, with everything in my life in a state of flux. And I do have one more shot to close out my thirties an age group win, at the Winter Sun, in three weeks. I plan to take this disappointment, and use it to light the fire to do something big there. In the end, "it is what it is," but I plan to define that "is" with a lot of pure, unadulterated hard work, and heart for this sport that I love so much.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Sounds Like Rain

I've been fighting and holding on
But it's time to let it all go

There are not words for how much I love the video for Sounds Like Rain as performed with Ballet Nouveau when they collaborated on the ballet Carry On, over in Denver. The increasingly crappy and precipitous forecast for marathon Saturday brought the perfect opportunity to let those gorgeous Paper Bird girls sing on my blog. If you have access to Spotify or other streaming internet radio, check out the entire album. No, they're not paying me to say that.

Since The Other Half, I've continued to run and train without any breaks. I felt great after so there was no reason to take any time off. I raced a 5K put on by the local Catholic school, wore no watch and did reasonably well there, winning my age group and coming in a few seconds back from a speedy local teenager. The next day, very tired and not really feeling it, I set out for a long run of indeterminate length on the Colorado National Monument, starting from Cold Shivers Point, about mile 5 on the Rim Rock Marathon course. I was ready to call it a 17 or 18 mile out-and-back across the middle miles on the Monument, so it was a good thing when Cheryl was dropped off by her fiance an hour into my run. She'd just left her car at the marathon finish line area at the park in Fruita, so this meant I was going to get in a good, quality 21 miler in when I was tired. I started feeling less sucktastic about ten miles into my run, but by the time we got off the Monument and hit the last 2 miles on Highway 340 to the park, I was ready to be done. Cheryl having 14-15 mile long run energy at this point was a good exercise in trying to stay on her pace. 

In the next week, we hit several runs on the Monument, and rather than doing one single taper medium-long run, we tried something different. Friday night, we set out from almost the beginning of the marathon course, climbing up, doing what I call "tunnel fartleks" on the climb, and then turned down as the sun was setting for some speedy downhill practice and fairly hard intervals as we tried to stay not too far behind our much faster friend Marty. When Cheryl checked our mile splits, it turned out that we'd done a good job keeping a steady pace moving uphill, and just really killed the downhill miles, so we were pleased. 

The next morning, Cheryl and I met out in Fruita, and this time ran the end of the course, starting near the finish, running onto the Monument from the Fruita side, making it up to the first tunnel before turning around and heading back. This was, oddly, the first time we'd encountered other runners training for the marathon on the Monument. Realizing we were starving, we chowed down, feeding trough-style, at Starvin' Arvins (doesn't that name just scream good health and nutrition?), a bit of a celebration for the end of marathon training.

Since the weekend, I've been in full-fledged cat juggling mode. Kind of trying to hold on and get stuff done, but in truth my sleep and nutrition have not been awesome. I've had a lot of other things on my mind besides the marathon, and that can creep in and wreak havoc on the week when I'm supposed to be getting tan, rested and ready. I'm trying to refocus here in the final days, though, and did string together two restful nights of sleep in a row on Tuesday and Wednesday nights. That's a hugely neglected component of marathon training for a lot of runners-even the best of them-at times. You can train well but if you're not getting enough sleep, the body is not going to do what you need it to do on race day.

My goal today and tomorrow is to only put things in my system that benefit me nutritionally, and, well, to make sure I EAT regularly. I don't mean that in an "ohmigodshesananorexicrunner" kind of way; don't be alarmed. Trust me, I LOVE my food. With the nature of my work plus an extra full in-box of stuff to accomplish this week, though, sometimes I've gotten focused on completing a task, getting the kids out for fresh air, and then realize as I'm getting them down for nap and tummy is growling that "Oh. I haven't eaten today." Today and tomorrow are all about staying on top of having a little food here, a little food there, all day long. I have some things to throw in the juicer, too, so that when I am on the run, I have something good to put in my system.

On one hand I feel better prepared for this race than any of three previous Rim Rock Marathons. On the other, the outside "noise" and lack of zen this week have me a bit nervous about race day. I don't feel well rested with tons of energy to spare. I've put the time in to train, though, and have done so in all the right ways. I'm seeking to execute a race in which I cash out all those training deposits I've made. And, like the last like of Sounds Like Rain, I get my courage from this feeling that what I'm seeking is looking for me too.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Into The Wind: The 2012 Other Half Marathon

 I'm happy to share a classic Freddy Jones Band tune to accompany the blog today from the Chicago band's eponymously named album. 

 Over the weekend, The Other Half Marathon, a rite of autumn-for me, anyway-came to pass. This was the first half marathon I ever completed, back in 2007. Then, I initially set a goal of simply finishing the race. As training went on, I set a goal of a sub-2 hour finish, squeaking in just under that mark. Moab, and this race in particular, are special to me. I've completed The Other Half every year since then except for 2008, when my first marathon was scheduled within a week of the race. Besides being my first, this was also the site of my best half (2010) where I ran a time that qualified me for guaranteed entry into the New York City Marathon, and my worst half (2011) where I just had one of those days when nothing went right. You could say I've had a lot of experiences-positive experiences, learning experiences, on the race course from the Dewey Bridge to Sorrel River Ranch. 

 When race weekend arrived for the 2012 edition of The Other Half, my base was as strong and balanced as it had probably ever been since starting to run. The speed work, trail work, hills, long runs, recovery runs, and some cross training to boot have been yielding consistently good results for me this fall. In taking on new challenges and dropping self-imposed boundaries, I've been able to do a lot of things I didn't think I could do in the past. 

 Running has also been my rock and my strength as of late. Though I hesitate to bring it up, I can't NOT mention anymore that I am in the midst of a lot of big changes in my life. There's no pretty way to say it. My marriage is coming to an end, and it's a sucky, emotional experience for everyone in my family. Some days are good, but a lot of the time, I've felt awful. Focusing on my children, and on my running are always two bright spots that can bring me up from a low point. My two big challenges for this weekend were to a)bounce back from a very poor 2011 race, and b)tune out any negative emotions and outside stress. If anything, I needed to draw strength and resolve from those personal challenges to get through the race, and channel that energy positively. I needed to focus solely on trusting my training and translating that into the best race I could run on Sunday. It sounds weird but I had no pressure on me, and all the pressure in the world at the same time. 

 Before even leaving town, messages starting coming in from friends already in Moab. Every year, the race program features some sort of article or runner profile, and this year, I was honored to be the subject, with a piece about my running journey, and the way The Other Half and Moab races have been woven into the history. I'd done a phone interview with the writer about a month prior but hadn't read it yet; still, it was quite humbling to hear the positive feedback and comments. Even though blogging is a public forum, I am an outgoing introvert deep down, so to be "out there" in the program and have people identify with the weight loss and fitness journey was a strange-feeling yet very cool thing.

 I was staying with a group of friends that included both first-time Other Half-ers and racers contending for the very top spots in the race, and the energy within our group was great the night prior. Everyone was excited, joking, being silly, and having a good time with one another, and everyone fed off that energy. I decided, while walking around with Angela (a first-time Other Halfer) and Kristin (a first-timer halfer) that we needed mood rings from a gift shop on the main drag. Realizing I was serious and they weren't going to get out of the store without a mood ring, they relented and we left with cheap rings on our fingers that constantly changed color. Moving on to dinner, we met with about a dozen friends at our now traditional pre-race haunt, Miguel's Baja Grill. Later, it was a soak in the outdoor hot tub at our place, a "racey" pedicure for my toes, and a few bangs of the Grand Junction gong, which was here for our entertainment and good mojo for the race. I have to say that each of the people in my company that evening have been tremendously positive influences on me lately, whether they know it or not.  Being able to laugh and joke was a huge win tonight.

I did not sleep awesomely, but did sleep that night. It was rather warm outside when I walked out to do a temperature check very early in the morning. Usually, one could count on it being pretty chilly pre-race, but this was not bad at all. I walked around with my camera and checked out the early scene. This was a place that felt so familiar and good, with the sun rising over the red cliffs, casting long shadows of runners moving about.

When it was time to strip off layers and throw my gear bag in the truck, I stopped taking pictures and got in a good warmup. Moving down to the bridge for the start, there was a bit of a delay. As it turns out, there had been a snafu with one of the buses to the start, and I was starting to get antsy and shiver. Soon, though, that bus arrived, and I blocked everything out of my mind but my own race. I hopped around to stay warm, and focused on staying loose. When the starting gun went off, I had nothing in my head but a resolve to run this whole race like I meant it, and not back off or give up if I started feeling bad or like it wasn't my day. It was time to run MY race and find my pace.

The Garmin I'd received as a top GOTR fundraiser several months prior had decided to crash on me shortly before the race, and I thought about going sans watch, but in the end borrowed one from a friend just to be able to check my time at key points during the race, and look at data later. After hitting "start," I stayed true to my plan and settled in to a short stride/high cadence that was now muscle memory after nearly a year of speed work. The 1:40 pace group leader was ahead of me and I was having a hard time keeping up, which seemed weird. I soon realized that he was going MUCH faster than a 1:40 pace, and felt pretty good about being able to keep him in my sights. I relaxed and moved down the road, with my friends Ilana and Ernie running nearby. 

Coming around a bend, I got a long, wide view of the curving road. Off in the distance, I could see Kenyon Neuman, who was here trying to break the course record, a tiny dot already far down the road. A minute or two later, I could see a small white speck-our friend Marty, running solidly second, with nobody else near him. Then, I focused back and assessed my running. I felt good. Not bulletproof, but I suppose feeling bulletproof would mean I wasn't working hard enough. 

Continuing down the road, I took a peek at my watch each time in beeped to let me know another mile had passed. I got through the first 5 miles on what was well under a 1:40 finish time pace, and stayed disciplined to a "run the mile you're in" approach. Taking time to look around here and there, I marveled at the beauty of this place. A whirring noise in the distance got louder and louder; it was a small airplane, zipping close to the river and red cliffs. It was cool and kind of took my breath away to see it zooming up and down along the river, circling and doing tricks. I'm not sure if it was legal for the pilot to be flying like that, but it was pretty spectacular.

By now, Ilana had pulled ahead of me but I could still see her. Ernie and I seemed to keep leapfrogging, and that 1:40 pace group leader kept getting way ahead, stopping and jogging in place. I carried no water bottles but instead took a cup at each aid station of Gatorade or water, pouring off the top, and then sloshing the rest into my mouth. There had been a woman or two who passed me in the first few miles but I was now passing back a few men and women. It wasn't so much blazing a trail as outlasting people who started too fast or were having trouble as we entered the second half of the race. Coming into the 7th mile and beginning of the hills, I was ready to get to work, and kind of happy to see the hills. Running flat routes is its own challenge, and despite the pain of some of the climbs, the rhythm of the hills, and constant up and down can be a good thing. I got a little speed on the gentle downhill before the climb, tucked my head, and just kept moving. I could feel some wind now, but didn't think it would last. 

Cresting the top of the hill, I could feel that the wind was not going to let up. It was whistling loudly in my ears, almost taunting me. I remembered the year prior when I almost quit in the hills-well, that wasn't going to happen today. I was pissed at the wind-didn't it know I was going to run sub-1:40 today? I felt like I was working twice as hard now to move half the speed I was in the first seven miles. Bullshit. I wasn't going to be done in by the wind today. Some woman kept leapfrogging me and it fired me up. I worked to stay with her on the next hill climb. When the downhill came, I flew. Oh, man, did it hurt. I wasn't sure if I would have anything left in my legs by the end but I needed to race hard all the way through no matter what. On one of the uphills, I climbed with Ernie but then he said something in the wind that I couldn't quite hear, and I pulled ahead. I expected he'd leapfrog back up but that was the last time I saw him during the race.

Now came one of the toughest stretches of the race. The course still had roll but much was uphill. And that wind! I thought of the scene in Forrest Gump with Lieutenant Dan on the shrimp boat in the storm...the one where he "made his piece with God." I knew I'd slowed down but I wasn't going to let that wind ruin my race. I was going to use it to fire myself up and get kind of angry, and turn that anger into energy. I turned and could see my shadow running-I tried to pull up use good, strong, fluid form, and checked the shadow. I wouldn't say I was winning against the wind but I wasn't letting it defeat me today. Soon, I could see the Taiko Dan drummers on the horizon. I couldn't really hear them, though. That wind was just too fierce. I broke the course up into smaller sections, focusing on getting to the next sign or next divot in the road. Then, I'd reached the drummers. As one racer did to the mountains at the Imogene Pass Run, I looked at the drummers and gave them a Namaste and small bow, as I ran past, thanking them for sharing their musical gifts with us today.

Then-finally! I could bomb downhill a bit, and start that long, horseshoe-shaped stretch toward the finish. My legs were super noodley now, and my strongest suit as a runner-fast downhill road running-was not there. This was all mental game now, and I went to the arms to try to swing and get some additional forward momentum. I briefly checked my time, knowing that based on past experiences here, I was right on the cusp of a possible age group award, probably fighting for that third spot on the podium. I couldn't let up any and remained singularly focused on an effort that would get me on the podium. My body wanted to quit; instead I told it to shut up and keep moving by keeping my eyes on fence post after fence post, accelerating to one and then moving through to the next, never looking all the way down the road. The wind was pretty nasty and I don't remember it ever feeling this hard to run at the end of the race. I wasn't going to hit sub-1:40 today but my effort and intensity was everything I could have wished for at this point. There was nothing in my brain but RUN...RUN...RUN....finish strong! 

Making the turn into Sorrel River Ranch, I found it harder and harder to move forward but fought the fade. I saw Marty, who had probably been done for about 20 minutes, alongside the course, and he yelled "C'mon! Push, girl!" as I ran past. I fought to put out everything I had left in me and lay it all out on the course. I passed a sign that said "800 meters to go;" usually, this wouldn't bother me that much, but today it was not nice to see that sign.  Lots of people dotted the finish chute now, and I fed off the cheers, plowing through the late race fatigue.

Continuing along the chute and curving toward the finish, I poured it on. I heard a familar "Ka-RAH!" and recognized the voice as Marty's dad Ed. He's a staple at all the races in our city and region, always cheering for and supporting all of us runners. Today, he had two kids racing, with daughter Rochelle running her very first half (I'd see her come in later, looking wonderfully chill and happy despite the wind). Hearing that cheer was a great added boost and I let it carry me closer to the finish. 

Soon, I heard the finish line announcer calling me out by name and mentioning my appearance in the race program. I didn't realize 'til later that it was Kathaleen, wife of Jeff, who routinely does the finish line call but was out of town this week. She sounded like an old pro, reading off names and times quickly, and announcing where runners were from, or other little details. The time clock said 1:42 and I threw myself toward it with everything I had left, crossing the finish line in a time of 1:42:41. It wasn't a grand slam but more of a hard-fought home run in challenging conditions. That was everything I had today, and now it was a matter of waiting for results to see if it was good enough to place. Soon, the results started going up on a wall near the finish area and I went to look with anticipation. I knew I was on the bubble, and checking the results, I learned it had not burst on me today. I'd finished 3rd out of 177 in my age group, and 16th woman overall. This was a hard-fought effort from start to finish, and one of the best feeling awards to receive ever.

The day was a mixed bag of results for my friends. Some had rough days and others had amazing races, yet everybody seemed to take away the satisfaction of just being out there to do this race in a beautiful place, even though the conditions were challenging. The leaves would blow. The 3.1 beer flowed. Smiles and hugs abounded. 

After this amazing emotional high of a day, it's been a busy return back to life of being a mom and trying to get through each day, and find good things in each day. Family and friends for whom I'm grateful, and blessed to have in in my life. My running, and what it does to keep me together physically, and mentally. This beautiful region of the country where I'm blessed to live. There's a lot of uncertainty in my road ahead and it scares me to death. At times I've felt like a failure. A lot of times. I know I have to keep moving ahead, though, and try to do so as positively as possible, even when every fiber of my being wants to cry, yell, or just stay in bed. There's nothing good to be gained from that-for me, for my family, or anyone else. Am I "faking it until I make it" in some sense? Yes, absolutely. And I know there will be lots of times when I'll feel like I've got the fiercest of gale force winds pushing me back. In the end, though, I WILL make it. One way or another, I will get there.