BMO Phoenix Half Marathon Race Report

It’s been a crazy few months as I noted in my previous post. I’ve been coping with all the change by focusing my energy on training for another half marathon PR. My trusty running buddy Allison and I picked out a flat race that was likely to have pretty decent race weather, and begged our running mentor Steve to help us come up with a PR-worthy training plan. The training was challenging and confidence-building, as I was able to complete workouts that were harder and faster than I thought I could handle. I’m pretty sure I was adaptively funneling all of my anxiety about my job and my (lack of) money situation into running, and that turned out to be a great place to work through some of what came up around not having my life neatly following a plan that I set for it.

Fast forward to the day before the race. The forecast for race morning? 100 percent chance of rain, 15 mph winds with 25 mph gusts. This created a flurry of panic for the Sole Sisters and Oiselle team women running the race. Ponchos were purchased (thanks Jenn!), and I obsessively checked the weather up until I finally went to bed at 10 p.m. When the alarm went off at 3:30 am, I could hear the wind howling, but made myself shrug it off. The weather changes quickly in the southwest and besides, there were still three more hours till the race started!

I went into the race feeling confident in my training but nervous about the idea of actually executing a race plan that had me running a pace that I had as recently as September considered my 5k pace…only for 13.1 miles. When it started pouring a few minutes before 6:30 a.m., I relaxed, recognizing this as cue to let go of the things I couldn’t control (the weather), and take charge of what I could (my mental state). I enjoyed running the first few miles in the rain and only looked at my watch to make sure I wasn’t running too fast. By mile 6, I had settled into a groove and was doing a good job of maintaining a positive state of mind and not focusing too much on things that I couldn’t change, like the headwind and the somewhat slick footing due to the rain. It was around mile 7 that I was aware that I was working decently hard to keep my pace. Instead of freaking out like I often do and going into a spiral of “Oh my gosh! How am I going to run SIX MORE MILES at this pace if I’m already tired??” I just monitored my pace and reminded myself that I had been training consistently and had the mental and physical strength to run the race at this pace. At mile 10, I started working on increasing my pace. This was a great learning experience, because by mile 10, I was really fighting the urge to slow down drastically and/or walk. I felt tired, it was starting to feel like work to keep to an 8:38 pace, and 3 miles seemed like a long way to go feeling this way. I didn’t dwell on this feeling, and instead slowly picked up the pace. What was interesting was that running a little bit faster actually didn’t feel much more difficult than trying to keep the same pace. Finally, the Oiselle mantra, “go fast, take chances,” clicked. I knew that my best friend Melissa was going to try and meet me at mile 12.5 to run a half mile with me at the end, and I kept telling myself to keep up a good pace until I saw her. Once she joined me, I picked up the pace even more, partially to impress her with what a badass her best friend was, and partially because finally I knew that I was almost done and I was going to finish strong. I’ll admit, I almost tripped her when she picked up the pace even a little bit more and told me, “You got this.” I didn’t have a finishing kick in me, but I kept up the pace and finished feeling great.

The result? 1:51:57. Faster than my B goal of 1:55, faster than my A goal of 1:53 based on what the McMillan calculator predicted from my recent 10k race, and faster than I had actually believed I would ever race a half marathon. I was pretty pleased when I looked at my Garmin file for the race and saw that my last mile was sub 8-minute-mile pace.

Pretty sweet bling.

Pretty sweet bling.

The icing on the cake was that my running buddy also hit her crazy-fast goal of a 1:35, our birthday girl Sole Sister Kellie came within 3 seconds of her half marathon PR (after racing two back to back half marathons the previous weekend, no big deal), and Sole Sisters Jenn, Gwen, and Natasha all had PRs as well. The rain and wind were no match for our determination! I have a newfound appreciation for the mental aspects of running after this race- I went into it confident that with the right conditions, I could hit my goal. I knew I had trained hard and nailed key workouts, so when my race pace felt difficult, instead of doubting myself, I just focused on letting my body run the race I had trained for.

Post-race, it was great to celebrate with an Oiselle team dinner with 4 other Volee members plus family and friends. It was great to reconnect with some of the Phoenix area birds I had met before, and to meet other members of the flock for the first time. Here’s our demon-eyed crew (photo courtesy of Nicole) post-dinner.

Allison, Dana, yours truly, Ashley, and Nicole

Allison, Dana, yours truly, Ashley, and Nicole

As for what’s next…who knows. After two fairly intense training cycles for CIM and Phoenix and two big PRs, I’m planning to relax and run for fun for a few weeks. I did sign up for the North Fork 50 miler in Colorado for the end of June during a moment of temporary insanity on a whim, so we’ll see what happens with that!

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Hiatus

It’s been a while since I last updated this blog, not for lack of events in my life. Suffice it to say, the latter half of 2013 was not without its professional and personal challenges, including getting laid off from my job for the first (and I hope last) time in my life. This setback made me realize how much of my sanity and security comes from having a plan and the illusion of control over said plan. I suppose the silver lining is I’m learning how to roll with the punches (or hugs- sometimes life throws you hugs mixed in with the punches), like it or not. In the midst of this darkness, running was the bright spot that kept me somewhat together. Focusing on training was a way to funnel all the frustration about the things I couldn’t control into an area where I could at least have some semblance of control. And dealing with a significant amount of stress and emotional distress made it seem less terrifying to embrace the discomfort of a difficult workout or a faster pace. So, even as one area of my life seemed to fall to pieces, my running finally came together in a way that it hasn’t ever before.

A quick rundown of some running highlights that I wish I’d blogged about:

Joining the Albuquerque Sole Sisters, an absolutely beautiful and inspiring community of women runners who have consistently pushed me to run further, faster, and enjoy doing it. I hope to do a separate post about this soon. The Sole Sisters embody the spirit of Oiselle, and it’s been nice to have a supportive and encouraging community of women runners in my everyday running life.

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A small sampling of our fast fierce Sole Sisters

Finally hitting my sub-2 hour half goal at the Buffalo Thunder Half Marathon in September with a healthy margin.

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My trusty speedy running buddy Allison & I both PR’d at Buffalo Thunder.

Running the Ragnar Trail Relay in Arizona with fellow Oiselle teammates Paulette and Sophia as well as repeat-relay buddies Trisha and Susan and some of their friends. I would love to do another Ragnar Trail Relay. It was a spectacular adventure!

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Rockstar Ragnar Trail AZ team after we finished! Such a blast. I can’t wait to do another trail relay!

Running a crazy 5k PR at a Thanksgiving Turkey Trot. I can’t count the time as official (it was a 23something) since the course was short, but the pace was what shocked me. I don’t think I ever imagined that I would be able to race even a 5k at under an 8 minute mile pace.

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5K PR: 24:32!

A huge marathon PR at CIM after losing my job 2 weeks before. This race was like a 4 hour therapy session. I ran the last 3 miles of the race at a pace that I had not so recently considered my 5k race pace, and learned that the mental toughness that I have built in other areas of my life does indeed translate to running. I ran this race looking to find myself, and I emerged with the realization that I am strong, resilient, and capable of not just surviving but thriving in the face of adversity.

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4:08:55 at CIM. Smashed my goal of 4:15 or under!

My first 10k race, the same race where I had completed my first 5k a year earlier. I ran well and faster than I thought I could.

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My first ever 10k: 51:05! I was shooting for 55 or under!

I still haven’t regained my footing career-wise, but I am so thankful to have running as a place to work through life’s challenges. And so grateful to have a loving partner who tolerates the 4:15 am alarms, knowing that I’ll be better equipped to handle whatever the day throws at me with my running therapy under my belt.

Race Report: 4th Annual Run with the Kenyans 8k!

So I have had the best intentions of writing a blog post per week, including a post about injury and another about what it means to compete as a mid-to-back of the pack runner, but sadly those posts still are suspended in the liminal space.

Anyway, since my somewhat ego-stifling performance at the Shiprock Half Marathon, I’ve been on an anti training plan. This has looked like running when I feel like it, for however long I feel like it, and at whatever pace I feel like running- usually without a Garmin. This anti-training period has been wonderful for reminding me of what I love about running: the sheer joy of it, the ability to see things from high up places, the adventure of it all, the companionship–and for minimizing the parts that have felt frustrating since coming back from an injury: the uncertainty, the unpredictability, the difficulty of trying to push past a stuck place.

Based on my anti-training mantra, I decided to sign up for my first 8k race this weekend “just for fun.” There were other reasons: The 4th Annual Run with the Kenyans for Global Health 8k is a race that supports a cause that I believe in (improving the quality of and access to preventive and primary health care for Kenyan children) and the race is organized by a friend in the running community. Also, it’s an out and back course with legit elite Kenyan runners participating in the run, so it’s actually like, for a millisecond or two, you get to run *with* elite Kenyans.

Elite Kenyan runners at the start. If you look really hard you can see my shoe in the back of the picture. Just kidding, you can't.

Elite Kenyan runners at the start. If you look really hard you can see my shoe in the back of the picture. Just kidding, you can’t.

Okay, the other thing is that all entrants get a hand-carved giraffe. And if there’s one thing that pretty much everyone needs in life, it’s a hand-carved giraffe. I was pretty excited about mine.

Best race goodie ever.

Best race goodie ever.

So race morning, I skipped breakfast like a anti-training champ, and hopped in the car with my running buddy Allison. We see lots of our running pals at the start of the race, and since I was wearing my Oiselle Long Roga shorts which comfortably fit my iPhone 5, I clearly needed to take lots of pictures to take full advantage of this perk.

If you stand next to a speedster like Arlene, some of their speed might rub off on you. Or so I hoped!

If you stand next to a speedster like Arlene, some of her speed might rub off on you. Or so I hoped!

It had been a windy and ominous sounding night, but the race ended up not being too windy, and the breeze was helpful as it was a rather warm morning. I wasn’t really sure what to do with myself at the start of the race. I wasn’t really nervous because I was running “for fun.” I decided I should try to run at an even-ish pace and maybe speed up at the end, and try for an average pace under 9 min/miles, so basically treat the race like a tempo run. And when I say treat it like a tempo run, that’s hypothetical, because I almost never do tempo runs. Anyway. after a ceremony where we got to hear about how superfast the elites running in the race were, which was pretty neat, we were off and running.

Heel striking like a champ!

Heel striking like a champ!

Mile 1: 8:50. The first mile felt great. I kept noticing that I was inching towards an 8:15 pace and trying to slow down. I felt like I could run superfast forever, but was also aware that this was a delusion. I was running behind a girl wearing a shirt that said, “I need my space,” which I found pretty hilarious.

Mile 2: 8:49 The second mile was also pretty easy, I was just bopping to my music and smiling at people and feeling happy to be alive and running.

Mile 3: 8:44 During this mile, I started seeing the elite Kenyan runners as well as all of the fleet-footed front of the pack runners as they turned around on the out-and-back course. The first three elites that I saw all had the same, faraway and focused look in their eyes. It was if they were completely attuned to an internal world and their eyes weren’t really noticing much else. However, I grinned at each one like a dork and gave them a thumbs up just in case. Once I turned around, I got to do my share of high five-ing and smiling at all the runners I passed. The mile went by pretty quickly.

Mile 4: 8:50 At right about 3.4 miles, I decided that this had been great and all, but I was tired and hot and totally over running. The “I need my space” girl was still in sight, so I focused on keeping her close (don’t worry, I honored her need for a personal space bubble) and thinking happy thoughts about coffee and safari animals. I was filled with an inexplicable urge to walk.

Final .97: 8:36 (8:49 pace) I’m not going to lie. I took a leisurely walk break to get a drink of water at the beginning of this mile. My legs were all, “meh,” and my head was all, “meh,” and I was aware that since I didn’t have a race plan, whatever I was doing was actually my race plan. I passed the “I need my space” girl.  I did start running again, at a decent pace, but I was totally over the running feeling. I was ready for the drinking coffee feeling, or walking slowly while breathing in full gulps of air feeling. Which must be why, a mere half mile before the finish line, I stopped for a walk break. Then the “I need my space girl” passed me again. And then a dude ran by me and said encouraging things, but the subtext was “Are you serious? Freaking run already!” and so I started running again. Then I passed the guy who had said the encouraging things, and said some encouraging things back, and then we ran a few steps together, turned the corner, and Encouraging Guy is all, “LET’S SPRINT THIS IN! C’MON!” And so that’s what we did. He out-kicked my butt.

Encouraging Guy wins the race! But really, aren't we all winners?  Sad truth: no.

Encouraging Guy wins the race! But really, aren’t we all winners?
Sad truth: no.

Overall time: 43:48 (average pace: 8:48).

Must stop the Garmin or it didn't happen.

Must stop the Garmin or it didn’t happen.

I actually was 3rd in my age group of 30-39 and as such, got a hand-carved zebra as an award. Amazing!

Getting my zebra award on the red carpet.

Getting my zebra award on the red carpet.

Lesson learned: Next time, don’t stop and walk DURING THE LAST MILE OF A RACE so you can be a cheetah, not a zebra. The 2nd place woman finished less than a minute ahead of me.

Sometimes you are the predator, sometime you are the prey.

Sometimes you are the predator, sometime you are the prey.

After the race, there was a totally delectable feast of Kenyan food, accompanied by music and dancing. The whole event had a really unique feeling. I will be definitely be running it again next year!

What I learned from this race:

It was a nice change of pace to go into this race with no real expectations for myself. Even though I am far from fast, I am very competitive by nature, especially with myself. Once I started making improvements in my running, I started to get so competitive that I think I was psyching myself out for every race. I could have run faster today, but the point was to enjoy the race, which for the most part I did. I did a 8.5 mile hilly training run the day before this run, so I feel pretty good about keeping a sub-9 pace for 5 miles. I was just happy to be out there racing in my Oiselle jersey with a healthy body and an open mind.

So about that walk break 4 minutes from finishing the race…this seems to be a recurrent theme in my races this year. I realized that this is pointing to one major shortcoming in my training: a lack of tempo runs. I generally enjoy speedwork and can consistently hit my paces for 400s through mile repeats, but I can do it because I know I have that little breather in between efforts. What I haven’t practiced much is maintaining an effort over an extended period without the physical or mental equivalent of a walk break, and I think that’s showing up in my races. As much as tempo runs intimidate me, I think I need to commit to incorporating them into my weekly training if I want to see more consistency in the second half of my longer races this fall.

Overall, the 4th Annual Run with the Kenyans 8k was a great experience, and I look forward to doing it again next year and hope that I can run fast enough to win the CHEETAH!

Starting is the hardest part

I meant to start this blog back in Spring 2012, when I was training for my first 50k race. I realized as I kept putting off the moment where I sat down and created actual content for my blog though, there are so many parallels between writing and running. The one that is salient here, of course:

Starting is the hardest part.

I returned to running in 2006 after a 6 year hiatus, and the day that I was going to start that Couch to 5k program was always on the horizon. And the horizon kept on moving. It turns out, there is never a morning when you wake up and say to yourself, “Today, I’m going to get up before dawn, drive to the gym, and have a borderline asthma attack on the treadmill while feeling my fat jiggle up and down and almost die trying to run a tenth of a mile.” It’s just never going to sound like more fun than, say, sleeping in. But, eventually, I did it. 

I can’t misrepresent the experience here; it did in fact suck every bit as much as I had anticipated. In fact, I had not added to my anticipatory dread the indignity of athletic apparel. However, after that first 20 minute interval session of very slow running and even slower walking that was excruciating and embarrassing and very sweaty, I did feel some sense of accomplishment. I had done something that I had been dreading, and I survived. 

The synopsis of that 6 year journey since then is that I fell completely and totally in love with running. This despite having no athletic aptitude whatsoever, having exercise-induced asthma, and a vocal cord dysfunction issue that makes both breathing while running and talking while running quite challenging. I never would have guessed when I got up at 4:45 a.m. on that fateful fall morning for my first jiggly, sweaty, uncomfortable run that I would eventually go on to run a marathon and beyond. But I stuck with it, and I did. And along the way, I made some unlikely and truly wonderful friends, and learned a thing or two about myself.

I’ve often been struck by how running can serve as a form of insight-oriented therapy, and I suppose the purpose of this blog is to examine how my running serves as a metaphor for other parts of my life. I don’t know if this blog will ever have an audience, but I’m taking the first step and starting it anyway.