Sunday, September 28, 2014

Bouncing Back

Fall 2013
I'd be lying if I said the past few months have been stellar. And I'll probably be lying if I speculate that the next few months will be stellar.

Battling an injury since May - some sort of low-grade, chronic, achy pain - has not been fun. It's left me feeling miserable, grumpy, and overall meh. And paired with a busy schedule and an impending thesis deadline, everything kind of compounds.

Tonight I went out for a run. I think I ran 2.5 miles total - the most I've covered in one shot since July. The run started off well enough, but by a mile or so in, Vera and I were at odds and I could feel the grumpy growing. Vera was pulling, not listening, and acting bratty, and I was feeling frustrated. Finally, in the open field out front of the stadium, I had her sit nicely, unclipped her leash, and watched her take off in full-blown whippet-style sprint.
Summer 2014 - North Diamond Peak
Her ears flattened, her back legs tucked up under her chin, and she grinned, she literally grinned, as she flew through the waning light.

I sat down on the pavement on the edge of the freshly watered grass, and gazed up at the stars peeking out in the sky. Vera runs for the pure joy of feeling the wind on her face and that feeling of strength and ability. She doesn't think about how hard it is, or how tired she is. She just loves to run - a sentiment I've lost in the past few years.

It's so easy to get bogged down by the stresses and negatives to every day life, and to let them overshadow the pure joy that can arise from simple moments in life.

I might still not be able to run much, but it is time to find a way to recapture that feeling.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

PRs are fun! Strained muscles are not.

I haven't really been running much since early December of 2013, after running the Tucson Marathon. I took a week off to let my legs recover, and planned on a down-month before jumping back into serious training for the Colorado Marathon in early May. Except that neither my brain nor my legs were really digging the whole "training" thing. A recovery month turned into two, then three, then four and I suddenly found myself toeing the start line for the Colorado Half Marathon (I was at least smart enough to realize that the full marathon was definitely not going to happen in enough time to switch races).

I really hadn't worried too much about the half marathon. I'd been putting in a 10-18 mile easy run every week or two or three since Tucson, so I knew I wouldn't have trouble with the distance. But those longer miles had been at a pretty casual pace, and my weekly mileage had barely ever bumped out of the low-20s. And speed work - what's speed work? A couple of early morning single-digit mile repeats at the cemetery with some trail runner friends and one mediocre 5K in March where I figuratively literally hit a wall and ran out of speed on my legs in the last mile and trotted it in with a 7:24 final mile after starting strong in the 6:50s.  To add insult to injury, I also, at some point in the winter months, strained a couple muscles in my left leg that had bothered me on and off (and mostly on when it came to running fast).

But suddenly, as I was sitting on the earlier-than-5AM bus out to the start-line it occurred to me that all joking about not being at all prepared for this race aside, I was not at all prepared for this race. I've run plenty of halfs with this level of preparation, but I've kind of grown out of the whole "running a race for fun" thing. I really dig the idea of landing on a podium, if only for an age group award, and feeling like I really ran as hard as I could for whatever distance I was planning on running.

I did an easy mile to warm-up and a few striders to get my legs going, and jumped in with the 1:40 pacer as the race started. We eased into the race, ticking off times just under 8 minute miles for the first mile, easing into the 7:38 pace needed to hit a 1:40 half. The pace felt easy and relatively comfortable for the first few miles. As we exited the canyon and dropped the pace a bit more into the 7:20s than the 7:30s/7:40s, my hamstring (well adductor and rectus femoris muscles, to be nerdily specific) started tightening up and I could feel them pulling a hair with each step. I wasn't feeling like I was running that hard, but with 7 miles still to go, I dropped off the back of the 1:40 group and settled into my own pace, judging it off of how my leg was feeling. There were a few times when I thought about reeling the group back in, but every time I picked up the pace beyond a 7:45 or so, I could feel things tightening up and pulling in all the bad places. So I mentally let go of 1:40 or sub-1:40 and decided to hold it steady for a much-needed updated PR. With a mile to go, I gritted my teeth and pushed a bit harder through the tightness just to feel like I was finishing with a bit more of a kick rather than running it in kind of pathetically. I think that last mile ticked off in the mid-7:30s (7:33??). It was really fantastic to come out of the last bit of bike path and onto the turn on to the road and find some friends out cheering for me. I kicked it into gear up the last quarter of a mile and across the line in a shiny new PR of 1:41:29.

Can't wait to see what kinds of times i can bust out this summer, with a hopefully healed up leg and some actual training and speed work on the legs!

Monday, February 10, 2014


I'm sitting at my office, still, after 9PM on a Monday night because I am hellbent on finishing up all (12) short answer essays I still need to crank out by February 15 in order to apply for Dietetic Internships and a scholarship. So obviously this is the ideal time to write up a quick race recap on the Sourdough Snowshoe Race that Alex twisted my arm into running a few weeks ago.

I signed up for this (free!!!!) race way back when registration first opened. Mostly because it was free, but also because it would be a fun opportunity to get together with the big group of friends that were planning on snowshoeing (running?) that day down in Nederland and experience a new sport (snowshoeing). I had literally never seen a pair of snowshoes in person when I registered. Let's forget about actually snowshoeing. Who needs race specific prep anyways?!

At the start of December, I actually had the opportunity to get out on a pair of snowshoes, courtesy of a research group outing organized and outfitted by my advisor (he has a rather large number of snowshoes between all of his children that we were able to borrow). We headed out for a fun day in the deep snow near Cameron Pass in the Poudre Canyon, where we successfully slogged 3.5 miles in a 3 hour time period. I was feeling really great about 30 kilometers in snowshoes. Yep. But it was an incredibly fun day, nonetheless, with some good friends and fun powder to frolic in.

As the big day - my A-Race for the winter season - approached, all other competitors began dropping like flies. Even TNC decided to wimp out at the last minute! And I tried to drop out too. I really did. But after telling Alex my plan to bail (since everyone else had), I got a text from him the day before informing me that he was dropping to the shorter distance and he would pick me up at 6:30am. So just like that, I was running (snowshoeing?) my first ever snowshoe race. I borrowed a set of racing snowshoes from a friend of mine on the Runner's Roost team, and majorly over packed every item I thought I might possibly have a use for at the race.

Alex and I somehow made it to the start-line, despite a consensus from us both that not going would have possibly been preferable. We picked up our packets, strapped on our snowshoes, and hobbled off onto the course. I'm a pretty spazzy person to start with. Put me on snowshoes, and well, it actually wasn't nearly as bad as it could have been. I stumbled my way through the first mile, almost entirely at a run, and then decided it was an extreme amount of work and started trudging. And trudge I did, all the way to the turn-around at mile 5.8. And I'm proud to say I only fell twice outbound. There, I replaced my snow-drenched gloves (I kicked up roughly an entire winter's worth of snowfall onto my right hand, but not my left??), downed some hot tea and a few doughnut holes, and took off again for the finish. The return trip wasn't a whole lot more eventful than the outbound.

With about half a mile to go, I found Alex waiting for me on the side of the trail and we ran it in together. And I actually ran at the end! And picked up the pace a bit! And managed to beat Joe Grant by four whopping minutes (he won the 30K...I ran the 11.4 mile race). But I am disappointed to say that I was a full minute slower than my marathon time from December.

So I'm pretty sure that this was, at best, a pretty mediocre performance (but for real, it was one of my worst showings in the past few years). So, um, I probably won't be turning pro as a snowshoe racer any time soon. But I am glad that Alex dragged my butt down to Nederland to get in on some wintertime fun. Kevin Lund et al put on a pretty incredible, and really well-supported and well-swagged, event. For the whoppingly expensive cost of $0, I came away with an incredibly well-supported aid station, two pairs of new socks, and some random race swag. Pretty kickass. 

Monday, January 6, 2014

2013 In The Books

Freeze-Frame High Five!
In Russian culture, New Years is a huge deal. As my Russian friend, and New Years celebrating partner Dasha, informed us all this year, the way you celebrate New Years Eve sets the stage for the entire year. 2013 started out BIG. If you will, Legen...wait for it...and I hope you're not lactose intolerant because the next part is...DAIRY. Legendary. January the first of 2013. What did I do? Oh yea, that's right, register for the Leadville 100. A controversial move in many circles, mine included, but not because I registered for a 100 mile foot race. Nah. People just get really amped up about the topic of Leadville. But yea, 2013 started off big. We also rang in the New Year in epic fashion, at a kick-ass house party in a gorgeous house nestled at the base of Mt. Lincoln and Mt. Democrat, just down the hill from Hoosier Pass.

I'm not entirely sure why I decided to run a 100 in 2013. I think it might have had something to do with Pete goading me about registering last minute for the Run Rabbit Run 100 back in September 2012 (a move I am beyond grateful I didn't make - NEVER make decisions at the Trailhead - NEVER register for races at the Trailhead - occasionally it's okay to buy engagement gifts via iphone there, though).

2013 was punctuated by running events and achievements, more so than anything else. I called it the year of the ultra, and it sure as heck was. By the numbers, here's how 2013 went...

2,184 miles run
316 miles: biggest single training month
100 miles: biggest single training week
100 miles: longest race run (Leadville 100!)
65 hours: longest time I've ever gone without real sleep (just a couple catnaps)
16 races total
3 PRs (2 in the 5K and one in the Marathon)
3 Pacing/crewing experiences at different 100s
3 Ultras run (Moab Red Hot 55K, Grand Canyon R2R2R, Leadville 100)
1 BQ
1 100 mile race

I got to participate in several friends' journeys through 100 mile races. Those are their stories to tell, but I am beyond honored to have been asked and allowed to participate in their weekends. Ultras are tough on all that are involved - the crew, the pacers, the runners, the family, the friends, and the dogs of those involved. But at the end of the day, being able to share in such an intimate experience of joy, sorrow, pain, laughter, and elation is worth every sleepless night and hangry comment that it illicits. So thank you to Victoria, Pete, Alan, and Rob Howard for including me in your adventures. And thank you to Cat, Mike, my parents, Kristel (and Victoria, Pete, Alan, VFuel, and so many others) for your support, patience, and participation in my own 100 mile adventure and training.

But now for 2014...
In 2013...I laughed a lot, I ate a lot, I learned a lot, and I had some totally awesome times, all around. But I find myself hitting 2014 feeling kind of let-down by 2013. I'm not sure why, but I have a feeling it was the singularity of focus that I gave to 2013. It was completely awesome running so much. And if anything, I want to run more in 2014. But I also forgot to rock climb, and bike, and climb mountains. I hit the summit of precisely zero 14ers (or 13ers or 12ers) this year. I went on no backpacking trips. My year was so consumed by training, that I let go of a lot of the other things that I really love to do. So in 2014, I want to do everything I did in 2013...but then do more awesome in 2014. And not run a 100 this year. Maybe in 2015. Or 2016.

I love to exercise, not for the sake of exercise, but for the ability to do.

I bike to spend time with friends, to go really freaking fast, and to see parts of the road I might not pay attention to when driving. I want to spend more time biking in 2014.

I rock climb because I love the challenge, the feel of rock and chalk on my finger tips, the sensation of barely holding on when falling would really suck. It's also the only motivator I have to lift. I want to be strong to climb better, not to be strong. In 2014, I want to start lead climbing more consistently. I want to get outside more.

I run pretty much just to run. It gives me the ability to see so much of the mountains and cover trail systems it would take others days to hike around. Running gives me community and some of the best friends I'll ever have. It also makes beer taste better and food more delicious. Trust me. I ran a lot in 2013. I don't know that I'll run more in 2014. But I want to savor it more. And I want my running to be more about the journey in 2014, not the destination. I also really want to run a 3:15 marathon, so maybe a little bit about the destination.

I want to spend more time in the mountains. A lot more time in the mountains.
I want to start taking steps towards a real and lasting career, and carving a path that will be fulfilling, worth-while, and enjoyable.
I want more awesome, and less suck.
I want to simplify my life, and eliminate the clutter.
I want to read more and watch less TV.
I want to be more in the moment.

If I can do all of those things at least halfway, I think I will be able to call 2014 a success. Bring it!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Tucson Marathon

December 8, I ran the Tucson Marathon. It was my first road marathon since October 2009. For some reason, the idea of running a marathon a mere 4 months after my first hundred seemed like a really good idea back in July when I registered. An even better idea, or so it seemed at the time, would be shooting for a goal of a 3:15. HAH! Six weeks after Leadville, I was still barely running. And when I did run, my legs felt like they had lead weights attached to them. After a run where I managed to...barely...knock off an 8:20/mile average for four whopping miles, I made the decision to do something unprecendented. I decided to find a coach, and significantly revised my marathon goal time down to a 3:30, or at the least a BQ. I contacted Mike Chavez off the recommendation of two friends who were currently working with him, and we set to work creating a plan to get me to the start-line of the Tucson Marathon in 9 weeks.

It took me until about three weeks before the marathon for my legs to snap back into shape, and I found myself on the start line with a 15.5 mile run as my longest since Leadville four months prior. With a light snow falling, a strong wind whipping around, and temps about 10 degrees cooler than forecasted, I was feeling pretty apprehensive standing on the start-line waiting to get going. I bounced back and forth from the porta-potty line to the shuttle buses in the hour leading up to the run and, with 10 minutes to go, shed my layers and jogged out a ways and back again as a warm-up. It wasn't really effective. The temperatures were just too cold given the shorts and t-shirt I was wearing.

I knew the course was pretty downhill (something like 2000 ft of descent??), but it also had a few pretty decent hills thrown in and a handful of rollers throughout the course (not really represented in the elevation chart). I took off at a 7:40 pace (too fast!) and pulled it back a bit before settling into an average just under 8/mi for the first 10 miles. Didn't hold that for the whole marathon, but also didn't drop off it too much. Mile 9.5 or so was hit with an incredibly *fun* (read horrific low point) set of rollers on an out-and-back section. It took more mental fortitude to get through the 5'ish miles I was on that section than any other piece of the course. My pace dropped a touch, but I hit the main highway again around mile 14 or 15 and it was rainbows and unicorns again. Well kind of. My legs felt pretty tired. I was officially at the longest distance I'd run in the past four months. But I was still running strong, and still hitting about 7:5x/mile without the effort feeling strained. Around mile 18, even that was over. I was running 8 minute flat, but it was feeling more labored. Even then, I was grinning ear-to-ear (or in my mind I was - I'm sure pictures would show something that looked like a tortured twisted grimace) because this was the furthest I had ever made it in a marathon uninjured!

The last 10K was pretty horrendous. I know, I know, the last 10K is always a pretty horrendous gut-it-out labor-of-something-that-isn't-love. But this was worse. I think. I actually don't really know. I've run two other road marathons. In marathon 1, I came in still recovering from a bad case of runner's knee, and landed myself with a stress fracture that blew up on me at mile 8. I finished. And limped across the line in 5:47. In second to last place. After walking 0.5/running 0.5 (limping all of each mile??) for the final 18 miles. I should have been pulled. I should have quit. Thank you record-breaking temps for guaranteeing not a single medical person on the course, due to high numbers of heat-stroke. Marathon 2, IT band issues starting at mile 15. So that 10K hurt like hell (or what I imagine hell to hurt like). But it also hurt only in the "holy crap I've run a reasonably hard 20 prior miles off of relatively little training" sense and NOT AT ALL in the "holy crap I'm injured" sense. A last minute course reroute threw in a few extra fun hills at mile 21. They were a real joy to run over. But, at least, I knew when I hit mile 23, I was in the home stretch. Only a 5K to go, and there really was no more decent or ascent. Just a lot of turns. So many turns. Every half mile was a turn. Even as I approached the last two tenths of a mile to the finish, I couldn't see the finish. It was around a final turn.
Just kidding, that didn't happen.

I crossed the line in 3:32:51 (woohoo BQ!!), which was not at all my goal. But I am still, nearly an entire month later, beyond stoked about it. Given how I really never felt prepared, or trained, at any point for this race, I am first and foremost stoked to have actually run the entire whopping distance. Then there was my awesome level of fueling in this race. The thing that totally freaked me out the most about running a road marathon was the separation from my safety blanket of handhelds and hydration packs - where do you put your gels when you run a road marathon?! (I safety pinned mine between a tank top and my sports bra. Undoing the safety pins in near-freezing conditions with chilly fingers while running was scary. Scary.). But despite that, I managed to settle into a good technique of basically perpetually carrying and occasionally sipping on my gels. No bonk! Woohoo! I really should be better at the practice of sports nutrition... Maybe in 2014. But also, most importantly, I ran this race exactly as I had planned. I ran smart. I ran uninjured. And I stayed really freaking positive the entire time. I even had fun! It was awesome!

Bring it on, Boston Marathon 2015! Can't wait to meet you. 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

26.2 and other stickers

The other day, when I was in a car with a friend, we pulled up to a stop sign behind a car with a 26.2 sticker and a 13.1 sticker on it. She asked me if, after running the Leadville 100, I laughed at how short those distances are and the people who displayed those stickers (paraphrased, of course). It wasn't intended as a jab at any snobbery or better-than-thou attitude on my part. It was more just a genuine question - "hey you ran 100 miles, so now does the idea of running a half marathon seem silly to you now?"

I have a tattoo that maybe 10% of the people I know know of. Or maybe more. I don't really know. I also don't really care that much who knows about it. It's a 26.2 in a circle. I cared who knew I had it when I got it, and strategically placed it where no one at my job (at the time, trading a financial product no one has ever heard of outside the industry at a big international investment bank) would be able to see it. Mission accomplished. Minus that I inadvertantly landed myself with a marathon-themed tramp stamp. Oops. Lesson learned. I got that tattoo at a time when I thought I'd run marathons forever. Also at a time when I thought marathons were pretty damn badass. I still think that, for the record. So are 100s. And 5Ks.

The 5K distance scares the crap out of me. Run almost as hard as you can for 3.1 miles, so hard you might actually puke when you cross the finish line? Oh that terrifies me to no end. I was a bundle of nerves leading up to Leadville, but it was nothing compared to how I feel the night before a 5K. Not that the distance is that far, or my pace is even that fast. It's just hard, and those 20'some minutes go on forever. FOREVER. Longer than a treadmill mile.

I have a marathon coming up on Sunday - my first road marathon in over four years. Good thing I have a marathon tattoo, huh? It's clearly a really important distance in my world. I didn't get that tattoo because I love marathons - at the time I was both intimidated by and enamoured with that distance. I still am. I got that tattoo to symbolize my love for running, a twin of one my best friend (a term I reserve only for one friend, who I have been sisters with since we met in shopping carts at the grocery store prior to our first birthdays) got the same day. And also because I really wanted a tattoo. 

So back to that question that was posed to me. Do I think those distances are silly? Hells no. It really shouldn't matter if someone wants to run 100 miles or a 5K or 1 mile. If someone chooses to run repeats for 10 hours on a track, 10 miles on the wide open road, along the coastline, or through the mountains - well that's great. They're out doing something they love - or they're trying to learn to love - they're running! I've certainly fallen into the judging in the past, as I'm sure almost all of us have. But really, aren't we all just different breeds of the same species?

Anyway, um, 3 days to my first marathon in 4 years. A race for which I feel woefully unprepared. But at least it will be warmer than the forecasted 18 degrees F in Fort Collins. Bring it on, Tucson. Let's do this.

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Leaves are a'Changing

At this very moment, I am sitting outside with yellow fall leaves crunching across the cement patio, billowed about by the wind, drinking a hot chai tea and wearing jeans, a light sweater, and boots. So what you say? Well, I'm not sweating my butt off and I'm not freezing cold. I'm going to go ahead and declare this as the Perfect Weather. I might not get a tan (who needs skin cancer anyways??), but I don't want to go inside. And this evening when I go for a run, I'll probably still wear a tank top and shorts. I might finish with a chill on my arms from a light wind and falling temps, but I call that perfection.

Monmouth Coffee Company: some of the only gooooddddd coffee I found in London

The rainy, angry transition to Autumn that Colorado has been having these past few weeks brings me back to the two Autumn seasons I experienced living in London. It's the only time of the year that I ever feel at all nostalgic for the dreary grey city that I was exiled (er...transferred for work) to for a brief blip in my life. This weather, though, makes me crave lazy Saturday mornings wandering through Borough Market to buy overpriced groceries for gourmet cook-a-thons in the kitchen while drinking hot spiced wine or lattes from Monmouth Coffee Company and scouring the craft beer stall for delicious American micros for later indulgence. And it really makes me dream of running through and around Hampstead Heath - the closest thing to a real forest I ever found in London.
I spent many a weekend afternoon meandering around Hampstead Heath - when I could work up the energy to drag myself out into the drear
I'm sure, though, that in a few days I'll snap out of this phase of waxing poetic about a place where I actually really hated living. Not that I'd ever turn down a trip to run on some of the moors and heaths around England, nor a meal at VitaO...