Training, sans Carrot

For the past few years I have done a fall marathon, a spring marathon (Boston), and a few random races sprinkled in between.  This year will be the first in which there is no fall “A” race, a decision made out of necessity and self preservation.  The Philadelphia Marathon was the original plan, which even at its very beginning did little to excite me.  Not really my idea of a fun place to go, but no matter, most of our team and coach (yay!) would be running it, so we were on board.  Unfortunately, signing up for a race six months in the future is never without risk, and I’ve been proof of this many times.  With the hubz piling up more frequent flyer miles than road miles, and me being in a generally blah state of training and fitness, it was a no brainer to just pull the plug.  In fact, it felt great to finally just cancel the thing.  A lot of runners think there is not much worse (actually, there are millions of worse things) than bailing on a race like this and letting the bottom drop out from beneath your goals and hopes for the day.  It’s like the minute the decision not to race is made training will become meaningless and devoid of purpose.  But au contraire mes sweaty amis!!  It can bring the very life back into your training and take a giant load off your shoulders.  At least, this is how it felt for me.

It got me wondering though, why more people are not ok with making the decision to just not race.  Most hotels will let you cancel, and flights can be rebooked for a future trip, but I find that a lot of people would rather limp, gimp, cry, and gut their way to a finish line, and for what?  Their slowest race ever?  A shitty injury?  To say they did it?  That just does not do it for me.  It may come down to the fact that I love training, for training sake.  Presumably, most people enjoy their training, otherwise it would be a hell of a lot to put yourself through just to enjoy a few days per year of racing.  However, I feel lucky to be the specific type of running nutz wherein I just love the process.  Even without a race in the near future or a time goal over my head, there is nothing better to me than getting out and pounding myself into the ground at 5:30am (ok, that last part sorta blows).  I hope to turn this mentality for hard training towards racing, but with such bad luck (yes, I’m blaming luck at the moment) with racing in the last few years I find that I don’t really expect a good race.  I hope for one yes, but expect to race well?  Mmmm not yet.  I used to KNOW I would race well.  A mindset that was born from dominating in high school and performing mildly well in college, but mostly, from gaining such a boost from training that it was difficult to doubt what was possible.  Several of the key pieces are in place:  a motivating and supportive coach (who truly knows. his. shit.), time to get the work done (still in school, yesss), awesome (and fast) training husbands and partners, and age (getting up there though).  Now what remains is keeping my fire going as I move from training to race situations and maintaining that belief without question.  My old coach (old as in when I was in college, because he’s not old, just look at his hair!) has a saying that is a propos of this topic:  Believe in Belief.  Short, simple, done.  Well, I can say that I do not have all of my belief back just yet, but I believe I will get there.

Not running in Philly was a great move for my body, mind, and outlook.  My goal is not to tout how many marathons I’ve finished, rather my goal is to go into each one with a solid belief that something great is possible.  Because when that is the case there is no failure.  Disappointment?  Maybe, but that I can live with.  Boston is about five months down the road, and I plan on getting off that cozy bus with a belly full of oatmeal, and a mind that KNOWS what is possible.

Sioux Falls, the other other Marathon Destination

Registration for the 2014 Boston Marathon began this week, and my little crew was able to sign up sans issues.  Hard to believe that less than two weeks ago I was anxiously counting my Benadryl and overpacking for a 26 hour trip to Sioux Falls, SD to accompany my friend and training buddy, Chris, for his Boston BQ race.  My dismal survival run last year was enough to secure me a BQ with a 20+ min buffer, so this trip was about one thing, getting Chris to the starting line in Hopkinton, MA, aka the start of the Boston Marathon.  Disclaimer:  I admit that I like everything about Boston weekend other than the actual race.  The course, the sardine-like crowd, and the scenery are just not my thang.  Yet, somehow we have gone back for the past 4+ years without fail.   Immediately after the tragic events of this past year’s race I felt like not going would be fine by me.  Little did I know at the time, the interest and demand for a spot on the start line in 2014 would only grow over the months to follow.  Surprisingly, so did my own amorphous urge to occupy my earned spot in April.  Who knows, maybe I’ll even enjoy it this time around 😉  In fact, I will enjoy it, because many of my teammates may not be able to.  A lot of people decided to qualify and run the upcoming race simply because of what happened in 2013, but that has left many hardworking and dedicated BQ-ers out of the mix.  Of course, I hope those who are missing out in 2014 get their earned shot at tackling Boston, but if not, I hope they realize that no race or man-made organization has the ability to validate a person’s running ability or achievements.  Rather, by obsessing about Boston and other time-qualifier races, we are in essence, giving our running over to the man instead of defining our own measures of success.  Ok ok, I just broke my soapbox with the sheer length of some of those sentences, so onwards…

At this point, all six of you readers may be thinking, “wait a second, Sioux Falls?  WHY?  WHAT?  HUH?”  And trust me, I was and still am with you.  I am no stranger to small towns, this is true, yet I am unquestionably a medium-big city person.  Anxiety can set in at any moment when I calculate the distance between myself and a Starbucks, not to mention that living in a small “city” often requires boarding a peewee airplane and bouncing around in the air for 2+ hours at the mercy of a regional pilot, which we all know is code for “d-list”.  There is not enough Xanax in the world to make that fun.  The best answer to the question “why SF?” is pretty simple, it was one of, if not THE only, marathons on the very Sunday before Boston registration. Technically, it is also further North than Austin, TX, so the weather was expected to be less asphyxiating.  Saturday alone was full of wins; 11am flight meant no early wake-up, no bags to check and no delays meant smooth travel, and I made it two flights with the help of only one Benadryl.  What a start!  After arriving at the Sioux Falls airport we waited a while to catch the free shuttle to our hotel along with another guy decked out in a burnt orange longhorn polo shirt and cowboy boots.  Subtle.  Turns out, this guy lives in New Jersey via Austin and knew many people in our running scene.  It would later become apparent that there were about 3 possible reasons that people would cite for running (let alone traveling to run) the Sioux Falls Marathon, which are as follows:

1.  I am trying to run a marathon in all 50 states

2.  I am making a last minute, nail-biter BQ attempt

3.  I have poor judgment and this is reflected in my life decisions

Well, this overtly proud longhorn fell into the first category, Chris the second, and well…

Fortunately for us, our shuttle driver and his wingman were fountains of knowledge and enthusiasm about the race.  It was never entirely clear if this was genuine interest or simply an overactivity of dopamine circuits in their brains as a result of the Mountain Dew flooding their systems, but it was welcome all the same.  They got us.  No matter that the driver, who we decided looked like a “Dennis” and will now be referred to as such, fell quite solidly into the Clydesdale category.  In fact, they offered to take us to a convenience store to buy gatorades and waters on our way to the hotel, what service!  Once at the hotel we quickly understood why the shuttle had taken an eternity to arrive at the airport.  Dennis was basically the backbone of the hotel.  Checking in?  He’s your man.  Need a cab?  Call Dennis.  Rowdy neighbor on your floor?  Call security, which is DENNIS.  After checking in, reading over the rules (below) and taking a breath it began to sink in, we were finally in Sioux Falls.

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Good thing Chris left his children at home and I decided against bringing my helium tank.  We could have been “evicted” from the hotel, which definitely would have affected us on race day.  But as it turned out, we were able to get a decent enough dinner in town, though I would warn that cab service has not fully evolved in the great plains of Sioux Falls.  Our cab driver appeared to be selling mini-bar refills out of her van, along with questionable test tubes filled with neon liquid, conveniently located in each cup-holder.  Instead of asking questions, since the authorities would likely take a similarly relaxed approach towards their work, we pretended like this was not (probably) illegal.

Eventually, it was time for some shut-eye.  This is one of the most dreaded parts of race weekends for me.  For the most part, I do not get very nervous for races, but marathons have such heft that they weigh on my brain a bit more than the shorter stuff.  By this I am referring to the amount of months spent specifically targeting each race, the course-specific race plan, the travel involved, and then there’s that whole “it’s 26 miles not 3” thing.  To say there is not more at stake would just be false-o.  Somehow, I had very little trouble sleeping this time around.  Unfortunately, the lack of concrete goals (other than finishing) along with a feeling of this not being my race probably helped my sleep, yet definitely did not help my run.  Obviously, a healthy dose of nerves, which I define as excitement and expectations, is necessary if I want to get the best out of myself.

Walking into the track stadium around 6:15am the next morning had us feeling quietly, yet cautiously confident.  Chris was more than ready to go sub-3, even in the middle of a build for his fall/winter “A” race, but with warm weather and many unknowns being smart and staying focused early and often would prove to be important.  Of course, being so clearly fit and charismatic, we attract attention in spades.  So it was of no surprise to us when the local ABC newswoman wanted to feature our athletic achievements in her spot for the local news (please exit post now if sarcasm-detection is one of your emerging social skills).  The sheer size and awkwardness of her camera equipment sort of manhandled her as she dragged it across the infield grass, elated to have found her marathon muses.  It would quickly become apparent that she had no specific knowledge regarding running, or really about sports in general.  In fact, I pictured her, dejected and frightened, as she pulled a slip of paper out of a small hat designated “B Roll News Topics”.  No matter, her luck changed quickly when she found out we are from Texas because a still-shot of a Texas flag flapping in the wind can easily take up at least 4 seconds of tape…

*Click here for a personal showing*

The three of you (optimistic estimate) still with me are probably tirelessly waiting for the textbook race report section of my blog to finally (dear god) appear.  Though, to be fair, I will warn you now that I am simply not going to go there for several reasons.  I used to write race recaps with details regarding the races themselves, and I shudder to think that I may have forgotten to include that one GU I tried to take but I dropped it and then the other GU wouldn’t open right so I had to rip it and then I accidentally split my watch but it wasn’t at the mile marker and I HAD NO IDEA WHERE I WAS.  But really, does anyone benefit from this other than my future mental healthcare provider?  Other than the boredom factor of race details that not even I want to recount for myself, is the fact that with this race and most of the destination races I have run (including Boston), the bread of my race-trip sandwich has been way more enriching, exciting, and interesting than the meat.  Yes, the races happen, good and bad, fast and slow, positive and negative, and they are worth recounting in order to learn lessons and provide feedback to el coach.  Good blog-fodder they are not.  What I have found in the last few years of non-collegiate running is that 99% or more of my time and energy in this sport is spent training and learning about myself and my Team Rogue teammates.  Racing is what keeps a lot of us motivated and gives us a chance to test the lessons we have learned, the fitness we have worked our asses off to gain, and to test out that new GU flavor we wonder if will make us puke or not (because trying it beforehand?  Where’s the adventure in that?).  It’s funny, in my head this is so clear and totally not as chaotic as it is coming off.  BUT, the point is, other than relaying the fun fact that Chris squeaked in under 3 hours (by 2 seconds!) and is officially accepted to run the 2014 Boston Marathon, I have little else to say about the race.  Oh, and this:  the actual “falls” of Sioux Falls?  Highly disappointing.

Hopefully, all of my teammates will be safely on board the Boston train come Friday and I can read all about their mid-race bathroom mishaps and download the PDF to their sock-choice decision tree.  But, if this shall not be, then I hope they can remember that each morning we kick our toned booties out of bed for 5:30am workouts well, thats the stuff.  The stuff that matters, creates memories, and keeps me, and maybe them too, coming back for more.

Post race doing what else?  Waiting for a cab.

Post race doing what else? Waiting for a cab.

FAY-MUSSS

FAY-MUSSS

Covertly collecting evidence, just in case

Covertly collecting evidence, just in case

Vancouver by Foot and Stomach

Last week we made our way to Vancouver along with about 100+ other Rogues for the LuLuLemon SeaWheeze Half Marathon.  Somehow we were convinced to do this race many months ago, so when it got closer to the date I was not so sure.  The race falling in the middle of the exam/paper/wrap-up portion of the summer semester, coupled with my late-onset flight phobia, had me feeling a bit uneasy about jetting off to Canada for five days.  However, the excitement was growing around me in anticipation of the race, and I couldn’t help but soak it in.  And so, two flights and three benadryl later, and we were on Canadian soil!!

Somehow we ended up in a limo en route to our hotel, yet no amount of kitschy black leather interior could fill the gaping expanse in my stomach!!  The combination of improper snack-packing and coming out of a self-induced antihistamine stupor is not so good.  Our little group went straight to lunch, and fortunately, the city is quite walkable with tons of neat places to shop and eat.  We hit one last snag when we sat down and the blond fem-bot waitress carded me.  Only me.

After lunch we had a nice little 5 mile run to shake-out the plane-body.  At 4pm it was in the low 80’s and dry.  So, basically it was “cold” for us coming from Austin.  The scenery was amazing along the seawall as we ran past tiny beaches and throngs of people out enjoying the nice weather and various attractions dotting the coastline.  For us, this trip was not about racing since we are in the base-phase of our marathon build.  Instead, we wanted to enjoy the weekend, while also getting in a good marathon-paced workout (the race).  This was enough of a task given how early it is in our fall season, but it doesn’t require excessive rest and sacrificing walking places and seeing things in the days leading up to the race.  Yay!  And boy did we do some walking!!

I won’t go into too much detail about the race expo, but let’s just say it was a cluster like no other.  We waited in line for about 90 minutes for the sole purpose of picking up our wristband and chip.  Boston has between 3-4 times as many participants and is a breeze in comparison.  Fortunately, not racing for real meant that this didn’t bother us too much, but it was still a colossal waste of time that could have been spent tourist-ing!  One highlight of this race was that my favorite nutrition company, Vega, was a sponsor and provided the sports drink for the race.  Within about a 300m stretch I downed 5+ smoothie samples, so it wasn’t a total bust of a morning.  I also got to take a spin on a bike that was hooked up to a Vitamix, which was cool since about the only thing that could get me to bike is the promise of imminent food intake.  While the rest of the female population of Vancouver waited in yet another 60+ minute line for LuLuLemon clothing, we parted ways with the expo and got some much needed lunch.

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Traveling with a Rogue group to a race is a great experience, and this time around there was even more to love since two of our own were coaches as well as LuLuLemon Ambassadors.  Along with the months of coaching leading up to the race, they put on several yoga/run/food events in Austin, made special shirts for the runners, and created a really special vibe around the event like nothing I’ve experienced.  We had dinner with everyone the night before the race, which was provided by an awesome food truck (so Austin) right at our hotel.  Not having to deal with finding a suitable place to eat right before the run was a treat as far as I’m concerned.  I’m blanking on the name of the food truck, but it rocked.  Let’s just say their vegan burger was homemade awesomeness, and that is saying something.  Bellies full, positive energy all-around, and it was one more sleep till go time!

Saturday morning came quickly and we all hung out in the lobby before walking the half mile down the hill to the starting area.  We formed a sea of Rogues taking over the sidewalk en route to what would be for many, their very first half marathon.  Pretty cool place to do it!  Kam and I were aiming for 18 miles for the day, so we headed out backwards on the course right along the water for our warm-up.  We found our little group at the start line, nodded along with the Canadian national anthem as we pretended like we’d actually heard it before, and before long the gun sounded and we were off!

I find it pretty boring when people describe their race mile for mile, so I won’t do that.  Overall, the course was a tad narrow in some places, which made for some interesting behavior by some nervous runners, cutting in and out and making things just a tad annoying.  However, this didn’t last too long and for the most part our group of 3-4 was able to run together nicely.  One particular point of pain was a bridge we had to cross over and back between miles 5-7.  This was pretty much the only “hill” that is worth noting, but we felt it!  A good portion of the route was along the seawall, which provided a backdrop of sea and mountains that was absolutely gorgeous.  I distinctly remember having appreciative thoughts about how lucky we were to be running in such a place at that moment, even if they were clouded by the desire to be done.  Typically I wouldn’t notice a damn thing around me in a race, but this time I was able to relax a bit more and really take in my surroundings.

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After the race we packed in a full day of sightseeing and experienced Vancouver as best as we could.  We had a group of two other Rogue couples with us and took a ferry to Granville Island to the giant market, then onward to Kit’s Beach for some sun and water time.  It was great to get to see the city and spend time outside of running with people who we rarely see with shirts on or at any other time than 5:30am.  We made our way to the Gastown area and even hit up this amazing vegan restaurant called Gorilla Food, which did not disappoint.  Crowds of people stood around a steam-clock like it was an alien, and I didn’t quite understand the awe, but we saw it!  Vancouver was a ton of fun, and running a race is always an awesome way to get to know a new place in quick fashion.  We appreciated the short reprieve from the triple-digit temperatures of Austin, which was the cherry on top of a great first Canadian experience!

Pre-race giant Jenga action

Pre-race giant Jenga actionphoto 5 photo 1 photo 2 photo 3

Trails!! If you didn’t fall, did it even happen?!

Last year I managed to complete the Rogue Trail Series in one piece.  One muddy, bloody, tired piece.  And it was great!!  Due to the distance, 30k, and the difficult terrain on the second and third courses, I really got to dig deep to push myself to maintain pace and finish it out.  In my opinion these races are similar to the marathon in that they work that stubborn muscle, the brain, to the max.  Obviously, tough 20+ milers and race preps do this as well, but there is something different about being out in the wilderness with the heat and sun, possibly alone for an hour at a time, with every reason on the planet to just lay down on a rock and rip off your chip.  My husband always says to me when I’m struggling, “just slow down,” and maybe it’s just my brand of crazy, but that suggestion just does not compute with me.  I might slow down, but it will probably never be voluntary.  I’ve definitely had my share of bad races and disappointing endings, but not giving into it mentally, even if it doesn’t change the outcome, allows me to keep one last shred of fight for the next time out.  As I recall, my finish in the last race of the series was more like a reverse kicks, that is, slowly slowing to the finish.  Even so, I managed to win the series and more importantly, complete the challenge that I took on at the beginning of it all.  So, did I love every minute of each race?  HELL NO.  Did I regret doing it?  HELL NO.  Should you give it a go next year?  HELL YES.

This year was a bit different in that I only competed in the last race of the series due to conflicting race schedules.  Boston sat right between the first two races, and since I was training full bore for that, I didn’t think it wise to run two tough 19 mile races on either end.  Hopefully next year I will be able to enjoy the pain of all three courses again.  If you have ever wondered what these races are all about or toyed with the idea of running one, I highly recommend it.  Not only are they extremely well organized races, but there are neat things specific to this series that are not to miss like the tech shirts in cool colors, hand-made awards, and the opportunity to camp out before the finale.  Check it out!!

Don’t worry, you’ve got some time to commit and train with a Rogue trail group 😉

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RogRP 1D #-545

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Who Doesn’t Love Running in a Sauna?!

Somehow we have made it all the way to May without more than a handful of truly brain-boiling early morning temps, which has been pretty amazing.  It wasn’t until after college that the Austin heat began to wear on me in training, which is mostly due to the fact that I run a bit longer these days since my race distance has quadrupled in length.  Either way, it is a tough time of year to train in Austin, yet it also tends to be a good time to experiment with training, races, and those little extras since all that really matters is a consistent diet of  high mileage (for me anyhow) in preparation for a fall marathon.  This year, we have opted to run the Philly Marathon in November, but not before I run the last of the races in the Rogue Trail Series and the SeaWheeze Half Marathon.  My coach has decided to throw in a bit of 5k/10k training in the coming weeks as we lay down a base, so that is sure to be fun and interesting.  It has been too long since I’ve hit the track consistently and put some raw (and hard fought) speed in these legs.  I am positive that it will help my marathon since, as more of a strength runner (code for “no natural speed”), I am always lacking in the speed department.

One of the most annoying things about summer training in my view is the necessary and involuntary slowing of paces in seemingly every situation; easy runs, long runs, workouts, and races.  It is natural, and technically the body is working just as hard, but there is only so much it can do when you throw in 90-100% humidity and constant temps above 70.  In my world, heat still trumps cold, which may be due to the lingering PTSD from my Wisconsin childhood.  Whatever the origins, I am lucky to be a pretty heat-tolerant runner, even as that tolerance seems to be diminishing.  One thing I plan to do this summer to lessen my disdain for the weather and  focus on something in my control is to work on some of the things I have not been doing.  Namely, stretching and drills.  Specifically, I plan on incorporating more hurdle mobility drills and dynamic stretches into my routine.  It helps that my dad’s company happens to manufacture adjustable PVC hurdles, so I have my very own set at home.  One would think that this luxury would have allowed me to use them daily up until now, but one would then also be unaware of my lack of motivation in this area of training.  And my genetic predisposition towards an unbelievable lack of flexibility has something to do with it.  Oh well!!  So, why now?  Why is summer a good time to get moving on this stuff?  Well, partly because it is easier for my little muscles to stretch and bend in excessive heat (see lack of flexibility above), but also because I view this time as the real beginning of my running year.  The fall marathon is the race that gets the largest uninterrupted chunk of training devoted to it because by the time we are back up and running, Boston is right around the corner.  This means that I have a lot of time to work on the ground floor of my building, if my body and running were some sort of building, that is.  I would use that whole pyramid/triangle analogy, but that’s so over.  Anyhow, the idea is not only to have strong bricks make up my building, but to have the space between them filled with cement, not play-doh.  Get it?  Good.  Gotta make the parts that connect the parts as strong as possible.

Though we have been lucky ducks these past few weeks, it sounds like the rest of this week is going to be a tad warm come 5:30am.  My hurdles are out, my mind is ready, and now for some speed!

Boston and Beyond

The inescapable truth is that the Boston Marathon is little more than a week away, which most of you probably know already, either because you are running it yourself or you have been trapped in the nervous chatter of “how many gels to take and whether or not arm warmers are necessary” from your running friends.  See?  INESCAPABLE.  Over the years I realize that my tendency is to withdraw from this uber-analysis as much as possible and that this extends well beyond my running circle.  No, I do not want to endlessly discuss the possible questions on the exam because it is pointless and somehow manages to take me from my usual state of confidence to a jittery, bug-eyed, freak of a student who JUST WANTS TO KNOW IF THAT EQUATION WILL BE ON THE EXAM!!!!!!  Serenity now people…What I am getting at here is that before a big race it is natural for our brains to wander towards every possible worry about every single aspect of the weekend.  Weather, fueling, bathrooms, 22 different clothing options, race shoes, germs, food, water, too much water, the wrong food, blah blah blah…and then, the really scary ones creep in:  expectations, pressure, blow-up, humiliation, pain (well, that one is a given), injury, sickness, FAILURE.  And then, just to make sure there is no shred of sanity remaining, there is the thought I have at least once before almost every race:  why the F do I do this to myself.  F.  Many people might deny this in themselves or think I’m just insecure, but I am humble in the face of 26 miles as it has annihilated the best of us.  If you happen upon a trembling, chattering, twitching marathoner who just wants you to weigh in on their choice of sock-weight and discuss their attempts to pee while running without losing pace (thankfully this is one of my skills) please, be gentle friends.  With only ten days to go I felt myself giving in to the aforementioned state of runner dumbassery, but thankfully I was plucked from my free-fall after a night out with some like-minded friends.  Rogue friends, duh!

Last night we attended the Boston & Beyond get-together benefiting the Rogue non-profit, Marathon High.  Besides scoring some sweet Asia-style (spandex) Boston shorts we got a mega-dose of humility and inspiration.  I won’t go into the details of the program here, but please check out their website for the whole story…The fact that 29 high school kids participated in the Austin Marathon weekend is nothing short of remarkable.  17 finished the marathon and 12 the half, and they did this before most kids their age tackle a 5k.  Going into Boston this year, it is understandable that I would be emotional and nervous given my unlucky past at the race, but I am trying to take a page out of the book these kids wrote so poignantly with their experiences.  Photos of the kids starting, running, and then finishing their races are striking because they are utterly thankful, appreciative, and proud of their accomplishments and you can just feel it.  They radiate off the page a sense of accomplishment, even in the midst of their post-marathon hobble.  I met two of the girls in the program and their enthusiasm and excitement for running made me realize how valuable it is to foster that joy and then work to protect it, Gollum-style, because it is precious.  We “serious” runners tend to get caught up in our goals, splits, miles, GPS bullshit, and egos when all the while the joke is on us.  There are 29 (actually, even more) kids out running as early, as long, and as “seriously” as we are but who are keeping the joy with them all the while.  I’m not sure how Ryan Hall defines “joy” as he has written a book about it, but I use it to refer to the feeling that little kids (toddlers?) embody when all they want to do in life is run around and smile like their manic.  That MUST be a good feeling.

NOT JOYFUL:  "Damnit!  I deleted my GPS data wahhhhh!"

NOT JOYFUL: “Damnit! I deleted my GPS data wahhhhh!”

JOYFUL:  "OMG YAY!!  16 miles left YAY!!  A blister of happiness is forming on my heart!!? (too creepy?)

JOYFUL: “OMG YAY!! 16 miles left! A blister of happiness is forming on my heart!!

Now, I will admit that it would take more than good intentions, or even a 12-step program to get me to run without my watch, but I am committed to the Boston Marathon this year in a way I have not been in the past.  My goal, aside from times and paces to maintain, is to get to the starting line with that youthful enthusiasm, excitement, and confidence that I have so many times left in my hotel room.  The Marathon High kids definitely did not forget theirs on that cool morning in February.  Just as the juggle-thoners (or whatever the hell they’re called) have to work to maintain balance and not drop a ball, I will be working to juggle my thoughts and emotions as I hit the inevitable peaks and valleys of the marathon.  And if need be, I will drop a ball or two, but only the negative ones (but seriously, I can’t juggle).

As my good friend Garrison Keillor says, “Be well, do good work (running), and keep in touch,” because I am going to want to hear about all those JOYFUL runs in Boston and beyond this spring.

CHEERS!

Boston Can’t Handle This!

Last weekend marked the first real race-prep workout in our ever-shortening lead-up to Boston 2013!  Anyone who as been a part of Team Rogue probably has very salient memories of their own experiences gutting it out during these super-sized workouts and may even feel a bit anxious at the mention of it.  However, I find that when the race-preps go well, and let’s be real, sometimes they just don’t, they are some of the most exhilarating and empowering workouts of my life.  For this installment of pain there were a grand total of four of us athletes doing the workout.  This small group was the result of multiple goal races within our team, several people using the Austin Marathon as their workout context the week before, etc.  In my case, I was running with my hubs while the other two athletes were at different paces than us.  Fortunately, I know him well.

The workout consisted of 3×5 miles wherein we were to increase our pace slightly each set.  This was followed by a 3-mile progression.  With a 2-mile warm-up and ½ mile recovery jogs between sets the grand total for this effort would be around 22 miles.  As race-preps go, not terribly long but boy was it hilly!!  For those local to Austin, here are a few street names to give you an idea of the rolling (hellish) nature of this route:  Pecos, Scenic, Bonnie, Exposition, Northwood…

We started out with a steep uphill in the first 800m and then were able to ride the downhill portion of scenic for a bit.  Somehow, we still managed to reach the first mile “too fast” in each rep, which was not too concerning considering it was mostly due to our mad downhill skills.  Plus, we would inevitably give up some time during the hills to even out the overall pace of the sets, oh goody!  The most difficult aspect of this run was keeping it under control early on so that our paces could continue to get faster towards the end.  Patience is key, which is exactly like the marathon itself.  It is oh so tempting to go where those early feelings of pop in the legs lead, which is too fast, too soon.  Sometimes the only way to learn this is the hard, painful, gut-wrenching way.  Fortunately for me, I have already taken that course (Madison Marathon) and have graduated to a more mature approach to early race pacing.  Still, it is important to keep that lesson in the back of my mind in these situations because emotions, good and bad, can get the best of anyone regardless of experience and “knowing better”.  We were fortunate during this workout to be in good enough shape that even with faster than prescribed paces beeping across my watch we were in a comfortable (relatively) zone throughout the first three sets.

We made it through the three sets of five miles mostly unscathed and I felt an immediate wave of relief and dread in the face of what awaited.  I tend to break things up into easily digested chunks so that I can focus solely on the task in the present moment, one rep, mile, hill, loop, etc. at a time.  Entering the workout I told myself that all I had to focus on was the 3×5 miles, and that once that was over any remaining reps would take care of themselves because the bread and butter had been eaten.  This works quite well until the moment when you admit to yourself that there is indeed more to come.  We felt ourselves lucky when our coach mentioned a last minute course alteration in order to avoid the ridiculous incline and amount of hills that dotted the 3-mile course he had previously plotted.  No joke, the entire 3 miles was almost all straight uphill.  The point of this segment was to take our beaten, battered bodies and churned-up tortured brains and turn up the heat for THREE. MORE. MILES. WITH. HILLS.  During the marathon we can expect to feel this way with as many as six miles remaining (or more, yikes!), yet we will need to keep our wits about us and KEEP. ON. GOING.  Similarly, our biggest struggle at this point in the workout was to overcome our mental fatigue and finish strong.  With a “nothing to lose now” attitude and a shot of water we took off running for the last time.  This last section consisted of two 1.5 mile loops that included Pecos, Northill, and Exposition.  Our instructions were to start out around marathon goal pace or a little faster and progress from there.  It did not matter by how much, just as long as we pressed the pace each mile.  Unknown to us at the time was that we had traded a very nasty course for a nasty one.  Northill (I think that was the name) was a surprising combination of heavenly downhill into lactic acid uphill torture chamber.  Kam kept saying, “just survive the uphill!” and that was an accurate description of what happened.  Twice we had to slog up that thing and attempt to slingshot a hard left onto exposition.  Sadly, it was more like we tossed a pebble onto expo, as we did not get rewarded for our heroic effort with an immediate downhill.  Damn.  It is my opinion that in running, and in life, the uphills sting so much less if you get to cruise down immediately after.  I’m learning that this is unrealistic to expect this.  Damn again.

Ending the run with a half-mile pitter-patter back to the start gave us 22 miles for the day.  Certainly not the longest one of these monsters we have survived, but definitely one of the best.  Even though there were just four of us doing this workout, it felt far less lonely and isolating due to the attention, encouragement, and support of our coach, Jeff.  We were able to get water, GU, and input after each rep with several pace-checks and cheers throughout.  It’s amazing what someone else’s confidence in you can do for your own waning sense of what is possible.  Typically I gain a lot of confidence (or lose it) through the tough workouts that I do leading up to a race.  Once in a while I surprise myself by performing above what I feel that my training indicates, but not as often as I would like.  I consider this an area that I could stand to improve upon in order to let myself race with fewer limits and expectations.  It is upsetting to think that performances come down to a self-fulfilling prophecy whereby my actual potential and fitness are hindered by what my mind thinks it should be, could be, or is not.  It is mostly a byproduct of my personality that causes this pattern of thinking along with conditioning from past races and training segments.  I train with several people who are markedly different than I am in this regard.  They amaze me with how open and optimistic to success they are even when faced with recent sub par training or results that do not logically validate their expectations.  Yet somehow, they show up, do their best, and it takes care of itself.  I think this mentality is rubbing off on me, slowly but surely.  It would serve me well to remember that just because things are not perfect on paper, does not mean that today cannot be perfect (or close) on the roads.  As they say, “we don’t run on paper,” which is a hell of a good thing.

In the end, all four of us Boston-bound race-preppers made good use of the perfect 40-degree weather and coaching support to have a very successful workout.  Of course, it is just one workout so there is really no use harping on it good or bad.  However, I have come to realize that if I fail to give myself credit and don’t allow those great workouts to echo in my mind for a while, then I run the risk of only noticing and remembering those that went sour.  Never being satisfied is not the greatest way to live because it leaves no room for feelings of resolution or content.  Other than an arbitrary personal time goal my biggest hope for Boston 2013 is to leave the course exhausted, satisfied, and hungry for more.

See yah on the roads my Rogues!

 

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