Sunday, February 27, 2011

Week(s) In Review

2/21 through 2/27:
35 miles
6 runs
1 day off
0 soft surface runs
4 days in Chicago

2/14 through 2/20:
60 miles
8 runs
0 days off
3 soft surface runs
3 days in ATL

So, what have I been doing in the weeks since the marathon? As you can see, not a whole lot of running.

Actually, that's not entirely true. The week immediately following the race I covered a fairly ambitious 60 miles, which initially might seem a bit too high but in reality was one of the most enjoyable weeks of running I've experienced in quite some time. Don't misunderstand me: the first two days after the race were rough. My calves were tight as clenched fists after enduring 26 miles in racing flats, and my first two runs post-marathon probably averaged nine minute pace. That said, the rest of my body felt surprisingly fresh and not nearly as beaten down as I'd anticipated. It also helped that I took advantage of the opportunity to run with friends who were willing to both meet me at soft surface locations and accomodate my recovery pace, so that by Friday I was feeling more or less normal. I even logged a 95-minute long run along the trails of the Chattahoochee River in Atlanta on Sunday and felt that I could've easily run farther, but ultimately I decided to call it a day before Jordan and Jennie and Leo ate all the muffin tops that we'd snagged at Whole Foods the night before.

After a 60 mile week immediately following the marathon, I was faced with a decision. Should I back off and take a true down week (including--gasp--a day off??) or should I jump right back into normal mileage? After all, my body felt fine. And my motivation, buoyed by the excitement of my Trials qualifier and my eagerness to embrace a spring track season, was higher than ever. The temptation to return to business as usual was almost irresistable. Fortunately, I chose to heed advice from Jordan and Leo and instead took another week of almost total rest. It helped that I would be spending the majority of the week in cold, blustery, slushy Chicago, which would ensure that I was mostly too busy and too sensible to brave the elements. Whenever I felt myself getting antsy, I reminded myself that, barring injury, this would be by far my lowest mileage week until after next January's Olympic Trials. I might as well enjoy it.

As I'm typing this on Sunday afternoon, I am ecstatic to report that I feel fresh and well-rested and 100% healthy, with no aches or pains and no burgeoning illnesses despite being surrounded by sick people for most of the week. (At this point, allow me to issue a hearty "knock on wood" in the direction of the previous statement.) Tomorrow will be the first day of my return to "normal" training, which will include a week of moderately high mileage and a half marathon race in Miami Beach on Sunday. Since I will already be there to work the event, the race will double as my first workout and first long run since the marathon, and should serve as a reliable gauge of both my fitness and my marathon recovery. If all goes well, I will move straight into some speedier training with my eye set on qualifying for outdoor track nationals in the 10k. I'll need to improve at least 45 seconds on my PR from last year, but with marathon strength under my legs and several months to train I believe it is possible.

But enough talk. It's almost time to get back to work! In the meantime, I'm going to enjoy this gorgeous early spring afternoon and the remaining hours of my down week. See you on the roads and trails again soon.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Week in Review

80 miles
1 double
4 days in Atlanta
3 days in Birmingham
1 goal accomplished

Normally my weekly recap is posted on Sunday, but for chronological reasons I wanted to make sure it appeared after my marathon recap entry. One could also argue that a weekly recap is a bit unnecessary after Sunday's events, but I suppose old habits die hard. Believe it or not, I've been keeping this blog for over two and a half years. It's crazy to think about how much has changed between now and then, but I wouldn't trade the journey for anything. In the coming weeks I will look toward future plans for the spring and fall, but for now I plan on enjoying some much-needed down time and relaxation. To everyone who has read, commented and followed me thus far, thanks for the support!

If At First You Don't Succeed...

...make sure you keep your second attempt under the radar.

So, I would be lying if I didn't admit that the Mercedes Marathon immediately came to mind after dropping out of Houston two weeks ago. I was already planning to be in attendance to work at the expo on behalf of Karhu, so that part of the decision was a non-issue. Further investigation indicated that the race offered some pretty legit prize money, which served as an added incentive, and my friend and account partner Scott Strand from the Trak Shak had graciously offered to cover my entry fee. The only other key components that needed to fall into place were the weather conditions and the state of my body, both of which wouldn't become readily apparent until very close to game day. So, with a mindset that I would describe as tentatively optimistic, I penciled Birmingham in on my calendar. Unlike with Houston, however, I made a conscious decision not to herald my intentions via Facebook or my blog or any other medium that might result in hundreds of people becoming aware of my potential failure. The few individuals I did tell seemed to understand and agreed to keep the information to themselves (even Caitlin, believe it or not).

As race day drew closer, I became increasingly intent on registering. For starters, my legs continued to carry the unusual spring and pop that had been present ever since Houston, even after multiple runs on sidewalks and pavement in Atlanta earlier in the week and even after working two 10-hour days on my feet at the expo. It also helped that the anticipated weather for Sunday morning appeared to be a
s close to perfect as one could hope for: lows in the 30s, highs near 60, with low humidity and bright sunshine and negligible wind. This was what Houston was supposed to be, I thought ruefully to myself as I filled out my registration form on Saturday afternoon.

Though this may sound surprising, the one variable that hadn't factored into my decision to run was the course. Simply put, the city of Birmingham is hilly. Very hilly. And while I knew that the race directors had altered the course a few years previously to reduce the level of difficulty, I also knew there was no way of getting around the undulating terrain that would surely accompany Sunday's run. Further, the "new" course was now a two-loop format, which meant that all the rollers from the first 13 miles would only seem amplified the second time around. But Houston was considered "flat" and that didn't exactly guarantee me success, so who's to say that I might not actually run better on a more challenging course? I chose not to dwell on it.

Race morning dawned cold and perfectly clear. My best friend Brooke--who, along with her fiance Lance, acted as my hostess and personal assistant and chef and cheerleader and general lifesaver throughout the weekend--dropped me off downtown about 30 minutes before the start. I sought refuge inside the auditorium where the expo had taken place until about 10 minutes before the start, at which point I reluctantly
stripped down to my skivvies and hit the line. It only took a moment for me to locate some familiar faces: my friend and frequent marathoner Camille Herron, who was hoping to break the women's course record of 2:40, and fellow Charlottean and CRC member Mike Kahn, whose goal rested somewhere between 2:48-2:50. Since I hoped to finish midway between the two, I realized there was a strong chance I might not see either of them during the race. In fact, once the half marathoners split from the full marathoners just before 13 miles, there was a chance I might not see anyone during the race. From both a mental and physical perspective, I fervently hoped that wouldn't be the case.

I'm the particularly cold-looking lower half in the black spandex to
the right of the screen. Photo courtesy of The Birmingham News.

The gun sounded at 7:00 on the dot, signaling the beginning of what I hoped would be a (pleasantly) memorable journey through downtown Birmingham and Homewood and the surrounding areas. I settled into a comfortable pace, intending to check my progress at the first mile marker. Unfortunately the clock for this marker was positioned incorrectly, which became apparent when it read sub-5:40 as I passed. Several GPS-sporting runners around me voiced that it was closer to .85, which meant that I was actually running somewhere around a 6:15 pace. As a non-Garmin wearer, from this point onward I was faced with a dilemma. I had no idea when or if the ensuing mile markers would "catch up" to where the actual markers were supposed to be or whether they would all be consistently off. Right then and there, at mile 1, I decided not to split my watch for the remainder of the race. I would run on effort through the half, try to maintain pace through 20, then fight with everything I had to the finish.

The first 45 minutes of the race passed surprisingly quickly as I cruised along in the crowd. I wasn't necessarily running with anyone, but there were plenty of bodies around. As I slowed for a water stop around mile 8, I was surprised to see a familiar face stealthily trying to sneak by me. "Mike?" I yelled to him. "Are you sure about this??" His previously stated race plan was to run 6:25 pace through halfway, and I was aware enough of my clip to know that I was not running nearly that slowly. My concern about his potential future implosion was quickly overshadowed by my (selfish) appreciation for his presence. The next five miles passed almost effortlessly with him at my side and acting as my wind-blocker during some breezy sections. He seemed to be feeling great, high-fiving spectators and encouraging other runners as we passed. I was content to remain mostly silent and let him act as my entertainment, and I hoped we'd be able to remain together for as long as possible.

As expected, the race thinned out quite a bit once the half marathoners peeled away at 13. Though I never saw a 13.1 marker, a few glances at my watch gave me an estimate somewhere around 1:22:30. Perfect. My legs felt strong and my breathing was controlled, and
I'd hardly been winded by the previously feared hills from the first half. At this point I caught up to a short girl in a K-Swiss triathlete kit wearing earphones. As I passed, she called out to see if we wanted to run together. I agreed, but after hearing that her goal was 2:50 I realized that one of us would have to seriously adjust our expectations if the proposed partnership was to work. At about the same time, I saw Trak Shak employee and low-2:20s marathoner Daniel Ellis approaching. Registered for the full marathon, Daniel had paced his brother to a 70-minute half before lingering on the course with plans of meeting me halfway. He arrived right on time with a smile and encouraging words, and I asked him to keep me locked in between 6:15 and 6:20 for as long as possible. He agreed, and almost immediately we began to pull away from K-Swiss and Mike. I turned around and motioned for them to come with us, but from that point on I would only be focused on myself.

Simply put, Daniel's presence was invaluable. He hel
ped me remain calm and focused by foreshadowing each turn, reminding me to run the tangents and absorbing the wind when I needed it most. At 16, when I somehow managed to explode an entire packet of Gu all over my hands, he shared the then-brilliant insight that I might consider grabbing a cup of water and trying to rinse myself off. And once we got to mile 20, reaching the mile long Hill that I'd hardly been bothered by before but seemed like an insurmountable mountain the second time around, he tried his darndest to keep my pace from lapsing to a crawl. (If for nothing else than that one mile I'm grateful I wasn't wearing a Garmin. The world doesn't need to know.) We crested the top after what seemed like an eternity, at which point Daniel peeled off with some lame excuse about taking his three-day-old daughter to the doctor. How selfish is that?? Kidding aside, I cannot thank him enough for his help during the middle section of the race. I barely know the guy and yet he took time out of his day to help me pursue my goal. Daniel, if you're reading this, free Karhus for life! (Just kidding. But seriously, I've got a new pair of the Fast Rides with your name on them.)

Once Daniel departed I was completely and totally alone. Somewhere around mile 18 we had caught up to the second place female, but I only managed a few steps with her before she took off like a rocket. I knew that as long as I kept her in my sights there was a chance I'd reel her in again, but after 21 she was a good 30 yards in front of me and appeared incredibly strong. At the 22-mile marker I looked at the clock and did some quick calculations. Essentially if I didn't royally screw things up in the next 25 minutes I would have the qualifier in the bag. 25 minutes, I told myself. You do warmups that take longer tha
n that. I imagined Jordan's voice in my head, telling me to maintain my form and stay relaxed. Easier said than done given the fatigue that was slowly settling into all of my limbs. At this point I also began to pass some straggling half marathoners, which was both a boon and a hindrance. Their cheers of encouragement helped bolster my spirits, but the general lack of awareness from some of them meant that I wasted valuable time and energy weaving this way and that. Fortunately this section was mostly downhill and I was able to somewhat regulate my breathing, but overall I could feel the weight of the race descending on my body in a hurry.

The final few miles are somewhat of a blur. I remember think
ing about my parents, about Jordan, about my grandpa, about all the people who believed in me and whose support had taken me this far. I remember thinking about my friend Jenna's boyfriend and his family, who are in the middle of an unspeakably difficult time that makes my marathon labors trivial by comparison. I knew that I needed to pass the 25-mile marker at 2:38 or faster to solidify my sub-2:46 finish, and when I eclipsed that milestone in 2:37:45 I wrapped my brain around the almost incomprehensible realization that it was actually going to happen. Again, Jordan's voice filled my head, entreating me to push for six more minutes, then five, then four. The sounds of music and the boom of the announcer's voice signaled that the finish line was approaching, but I still couldn't see it. At 2:42 I felt a surge of panic. What if I'd calculated wrong? Was it possible that I could miss the time after all?? Less than a minute later my fears were assuaged as the finishing chute loomed ahead. I sprinted--or felt like I was sprinting but was probably only shuffling at a marginally faster clip--with all that I had as the clock ticked closer and closer to 2:45. I crossed the line at 2:45 on the dot and immediately heard Brooke screaming my name from the sidelines. I had done it.

Finished! And looking less than daisy fresh.

Even now, as I type this several days later, the accomplishment seems surreal. Three years ago I could barely run a 10k at the pace I maintained for 26 miles, and at the time I was perfectly complacent with that. More recently, after the debacle at Houston two weeks ago, I started to question my fitness, my ability, my mental toughness--all the things that had allegedly improved so much in the past few years once again seemed so distant and unattainable. Down to the minutest detail, Houston had been engineered as my success story; everything from the elite athlete status to the special race fluids to my pre-race taper had been carefully designed to produce a Trials qualifier. In stark contrast, this week leading up to Mercedes could not have been more different. I ran normal mileage every day, worked the expo all weekend, slept in Brooke's guest bedroom and drank two glasses of wine at dinner on Saturday night. I forgot my CarbBoom gels and didn't get elite water bottles and certainly wasn't afforded the company of an "official" pacer for the first half of the race. Heck, I barely even noticed the mile markers. Instead the entire experience was low-key, laid-back and completely unremarkable--right up until the end result.

Of course, the perfectionist in me wishes I had run faster. Camille, who runs a marathon once a month and earned today's win in 2:43:15, said she felt that the harder than average course probably added four minutes to our finish times. (For reference, she ran 2:38 at Twin Cities in 2009 and, more recently, ran 2:41 for the win at Dallas White Rock in December despite having missed almost half a year of training due to injury.) Whether that anecdotal number is correct will never be known, but even if half that amount is true it certainly helps validate my final time. Either way, it doesn't really matter. I hope that today will be the first of many successful marathons and opportunities to lower my time. Frankly I'll have to do just that unless I plan on getting dead last at the Trials next January. Speaking of successful marathons, turns out my new buddy Mike absolutely crushed his goal and finished less than a minute behind me! It was awesome to see him and congratulate each other at the finish. He was one of the few people who knew my race intentions and, though I don't know him well, I will always feel a special bond after having shared this experience together.

And now, finally, I can say the words that two years ago and even just two weeks ago seemed almost laughable. These words represent the culmination of one endeavor and, at the same time, the beginning of something completely new. They encompass the support of countless friends, family members and CRC teammates. And, more than anything, they affirm for me the admittedly hackneyed cliche that if you put your mind to it, you truly are capable of accomplishing goals beyond your own comprehension.

I am an Olympic Trials Qualifier.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Top Secret Mission: Birmingham Mercedes Marathon

1. Finish
2. OT qualifier (sub-2:46)
3. Enjoy the day

Actual: 2:45:00 chip time; 2:45:01 gun time (3rd female, 8th overall)
Official results

Success! Details to come after my 6+ hour drive to Charlotte tomorrow. For now, another glass of wine is calling my name.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Week in Review

76 miles
3 doubles
3 states (TX, NC, GA)
3 AFDs

I would like to fill this in with more detail, but I've got to get to bed so I can head out the door for Atlanta in the early AM. After a whirlwind week of travel and work, it doesn't appear as though things will be slowing down any time soon. Good thing I love my job! Also I do have something to look forward to...spending time with my bestie Brookelet in Birmingham this weekend! I'll undoubtedly be busy working the Mercedes Marathon expo but hopefully I'll have time to hang out and she'll finally be able to introduce me to her fiance, Lance.

Time to kick off another crazy week!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Strange Things Afoot (Literally)

This morning I ran a Medium Freedom Park Loop. There is nothing inherently remarkable about this. Jordan and I have run this 8.6-mile route, which starts at our house, runs down the bike path through Freedom Park, encompasses a Loop o'Booty and then returns us from whence we came, about a hundred times. When running easy, typically I cover this loop in anywhere from 62-64 minutes. On a "fast" day it takes 61. As far as I can recall--Jordan would have to confirm this--I've never broken 60 minutes on this loop, although one time when I was fit last spring I came in just a few seconds over.

Today I finished in 59:11.

This unexpected development comes on the heels of several days when my legs have felt absolutely fantastic. In light of my long, hard "marathon" run on Sunday, this is more than a little surprising. On Monday I gingerly stepped on the treadmill in my Houston hotel expecting to slog my way through four miles. I felt so good that I continued to five and would've probably gone farther had I not been running late for a conference call. Tuesday brought both a morning and evening wear test run with two of our accounts in Austin, and on both occasions my legs felt unusually peppy. Even yesterday, when the temperature was 16 with a wind chill of 8--less than two days after the high temperature was 70, no joke--I clicked off two loops around Town Lake without so much as a whispered objection from my legs. (In hindsight, this could have been because they were frozen. Regardless, I'll take it.)

Which brings me to today. As I was jogging past Queens midway through my run, I decided to embark on an extemporaneous 10x1 minute "pickup" workout. My legs were feeling light and fresh despite a bit of a headwind, and I didn't want to miss out on an opportunity to take advantage of such a rare occurrence. Before I knew it, the "one minute fast, one minute easy" paradigm turned into "one minute fast, one minute faster"; by the time I reached Freedom Park again I was really rolling. I finished the last minuter with just over a mile to go, and instead of jogging it in I decided to push the last mile and really open up the legs. This section is mostly uphill and usually elicits the slowest split of the run, but today I clocked it at 6:00 on the dot. I finished up feeling fatigued and short of breath but also exhilarated and a bit perplexed by what had just transpired. It is rare for me to feel so strong on a cold, solo windy run, especially just a few days removed from an extended hard effort. Perhaps my legs are finally feeling the benefits of last week's taper--aside from Sunday, my mileage and intensity was cut by more than half due to travel and preparation for the race--or maybe my 10:30am start time had something to do with it. Whatever the case, I'm certainly not complaining about setting a MLWR (Medium Loop World Record). This ability to bounce back and return to training so quickly only serves to reinforce my decision to drop out on Sunday. Time to get back to business!