Return to Racing

Watching the runners in the Chevron Houston Marathon last weekend was the final treasure in a cache of inspiration I’ve been filling to motivate my running game for 2017. I didn’t race at all in 2016, not counting the Ragnar I did. I don’t know if I just didn’t feel like I had anything to prove, which is a good thing, or that maybe that I wasn’t going to run well anyways because I wasn’t training the way I used to, which would be bad, but I lost interest in keeping track of my running performance. By the end of the year, though, I missed having benchmarks to learn from and work towards, some and I decided to race at least once a month this year. Since then I’ve had a good amount of conditions and circumstances that are breathing life into my running goals and workouts, so I think I’m on the right track.

 

The last run I went on wasn’t planned to be anything special, but it felt kind of amazing and I had to stop myself from tacking on more mileage. I had been nursing a knee injury, and with it gone, so I wanted to see where I was at with my endurance. I was happily surprised with the outcome. The workout was pretty simple- five minute warmup jog, straight into 10 x 1 min hard run with 2 mins recovery jog. I didn’t target any particular pace for the hard run before I started, but I figured if I could hit between 8:15 and 8:30 I’d be satisfied, as long as I didn’t walk during the recovery phase.

 

Boy, was I off. Way off. My fast intervals started out in the mid to low 8 minute pace, but quickly dropped to sub 7’s, while I was maintaining the ability to jog for recovery. The thing was, I felt great. Not dying, not just ok, but great. I was working hard, I mean, I felt it, but everything that was supposed to be kicking in physically and mentally to keep me running fast was there. It was awesome, and I wasn’t expecting this quality of run when I really haven’t been putting in consistent mileage in the previous weeks. After I finished the interval run and a cool down, I had run a total of 4.5 miles and with energy to spare. That was the night before the Houston marathon, and the confidence boost from the workout woke up my competitive streak as I watched the race, reinvigorating my spirit for being in the field.

 

A few changes to my lifestyle and strength training have put me in a good place to start competing again as well. For one thing, I’m getting stronger. At the end of October I cut a bunch of crap out of my diet, using the Whole30 eating plan as a guideline to start. I quickly lost weight- thirteen pounds in six weeks. Yes, this is a big achievement, particularly on my frame, but I was concerned, if not disappointed, with what that weight loss looked like on me. I was fooling myself about what lay underneath the layer of excess fat I had shed- I did not look as muscular as I thought I would. I’d been working out the entire time, but it was obvious to me that I had been slacking on it, or as I am learning now, was maybe just not doing the right kinds of workouts for the results I wanted- while generally underestimating my own strength and abilities.

 

Around the same time I find myself perusing Instagram and checking out my friend’s rockin’ bod, which she attributed partly to lifting to heavier weight (Check out ThisFitBlond). I thought to myself- I should probably be doing that now, too. I had been actively avoiding heavier stuff because I didn’t want to get big. I’m that girl, or at least I was. I’d been focusing on HIIT workouts that utilized bodyweight for the most part. I like those workouts, they’re fun to me and I give them credit as cross training for running. I was getting bored with them though, and realized my training had hit a plateau. The most telling evidence of this to me was the realization that though I used to loath bear crawls, they now didn’t seem that difficult.

 

Additionally, I was motivated to come at strength with more tenacity because I was signed up to start schooling to become a certified personal trainer with the National Personal Training Institute (NPTI) at the beginning of the year. The classes include a gym session and I didn’t want to be too far below the curve. So, I started lifting heavier weights. The result: 5 more pounds of weight loss and a wee little showing of my abdominal muscles in a place they hadn’t been before. Now I’m in the third week with NPTI, killing it with the weights even more. (For anyone curious about NPTI, I can say at this point the course is thorough, I feel that I’m learning a lot and gaining valuable experience).

 

A benefit of having NPTI structure my strength training 4 days a week is that it leaves my brain free to focus and figure out the running component. That one little run last weekend left me feeling exhilarated for speed again, and has me itching to find a track to use. As I write this, Houston is underwater and expecting more rain, so I might have to use a treadmill till the weather clears up. The thing is, I’m not dreading that dull machine as much as usual because the goals I’m forming make the boredom worth it.

 

My first race of 2017 is this weekend, The Horseshoe Trail Run in Hitchcock, Texas, just south of Houston. I found it on the website for Trail Racing Over Texas, or TROT, an organization that puts on a number of trail races each year. As it is a trail race my time won’t be a super accurate measure of my overall performance, especially as I expect the course to be a muddy mess after this weather. I’m going to be more curious to see how my mental game flows. The last few races I ran before breaking my ankle in 2015 were pretty stellar in that area. I was able to override pain signals and push through discomfort, past my preconceived pace limits for a 10k and half marathon, and I hope I can recall that skill. In any case, I’m happy to be getting back into the pack, and looking forward to working towards the front of it!

New Attitude

A few years ago, I thought my edge had all but disappeared when it came to running, but after some moderate successes in community races, I started dreaming of developing as a competitive runner. After high school, my running had been either for fun or fitness, but I became hooked on being fast again. I started trying to win, but would become agitated by being passed by faster runners- the nerve of them! The manner in which this perceived competition manifested with my running became toxic to my growth as an athlete. I’m genetically blessed with faster than average leg turnover, it’s as simple as that, but I introduced only as much work as I felt like each race.

I had a complete change of heart last year during the Rose Bowl Half Marathon in Pasadena, California. I knew the course well, but the first five miles were hell- I felt shaky and unsure. I was running within a group of five or so women, probably mid-pack for that race, and we all took turns in the lead. I became irritated that they weren’t “letting” me keep the lead, when it occurred to me that if I wanted to get ahead, I might have to push harder, not wait for them to falter.

That day, I decided to push my preconceived limits. I set a goal of 20 seconds per mile faster, and to hold that for at least one mile. Soon the awkward feeling I had in the first five miles dissipated and I was flying- I could hold the pace, and go even faster. I glided past each new person within sight, seeing them as goals, not obstacles. I finished the race 4th in my age group, and I had dropped my half marathon down past 1:50, which was 7 minutes faster than my previous best. My race had nothing to do with the other runners, and everything to do with false beliefs I held about my ability and grit.

Less than a mile from the finish at the 2015 Rose Bowl Half Marathon. Happy lady, running at ease.
Less than a mile from the finish at the 2015 Rose Bowl Half Marathon. Happy lady, running at ease.

For the past two years, I have had the opportunity to challenge myself against some strong women in races. I was honored when a young lady asked to take a picture with me at a mile race. She placed second and myself third, and I began to sense that team spirit that I had loved so much about my high school cross-country team. I feel that the women I run against are friends, not foes- especially the fast ones! They pull me and I push them.

I was floored when this young lady asked for a picture together after our neck and neck race.
I was floored when this young lady asked for a picture together after our neck and neck race.

I’m going to keep with the tribe now as best I can. I know sometimes I will try to run harder or faster and fail, but I’ll learn more about myself in the process. I recently went running with a two friends, and they kept a pace that was faster than I could do that day. Instead of being annoyed that they were going faster, I was excited to be running behind them, because their hard work pulled me to be better.

Finding a familiar face in the crowd at the Nike Women's 2014 Half Marathon.
Finding a familiar face in the crowd at the Nike Women’s 2014 Half Marathon starting line!

Race Recap: Los Angeles Marathon 2015- My First DNF & Lessons Learned

In 2014 I completed my first marathon, the Asics LA Marathon. I was in love with the enthusiastic civilian support I encountered along the route. I accepted candy from strangers. I ran without headphones, and entertained myself taking in the crowds both in the race and on the sidelines. My favorite stretch of the course was West Hollywood, where the wide berth the previous onlookers gave us was removed and all the dashing ladies and gentlemen of WeHo bumped and grooved right up on us, creating a sort-of running Soul Train.

This year I decided to sign up again, with reservations from the start. Though the first 18 miles of the 2014 marathon had been great, I suffered pretty intensely for the last 6. In addition, there came another feeling of foreboding in the days leading up to my would-be second LA Marathon, and it had nothing to do with the actual running. I was in a totally negative space around personal issues, and my head was not in the game. I believe our thoughts influence our behavior, even down to one foot in front of the other.

Back to the race: My pre-race adventures with my running buddy Annie (see last post) finally had me excited to make the trek to Santa Monica. I departed the Dodger Stadium parking lot patient and intent upon running a smart race. After 40 minutes of running, I was warm and energetic. I was keeping about a 9:30 pace, which was sustainable. I grabbed a cup of whatever at the mile 5 station, and started running on the diagonal back to the middle of the pack. I missed seeing a dip in the road, and I felt my left ankle start to roll.

Normally, when I think I’m going to fall, I just fall, because I’d rather come down hard on some other body part than risk injuring my knees (I had two knee surgeries in high school). This time, however, I was in the middle of a pack of people, so I tried to stop myself. My thought was, “If I fall, I’ll become a hazard, get stepped on, and bring others down with me.” 

I tried to stay upright while my ankle continued to invert. I fell anyways. I got up and tested it out, hobbling, walking, and even trying to jog…my ankle felt what can best be described as “loose”. I went into planning mode. The next official first-aid table was miles away, according to my marathon app. Instead I found a civilian-managed aid table and asked for help. By the time the ambulance arrived my ankle was the size of a baseball. Good move not trying to go further. A very kind woman (I want to say her name was Lisa but I was in a daze), held ice on my ankle and kept me alert and breathing normally as I started to go into shock from the pain and trauma. I couldn’t believe what was happening to my body, as other runners continued onward right past me.

At the hospital, I found out my ankle was broken. Through the mental fog, that settled in with the addition of morphine to my physical and emotional exhaustion, I tried to organize in my head what to take care of next. My phone was dying and I needed to reach Annie to let her know I wouldn’t be at the finish line. I needed my gear check bag because it had my keys in it. I wouldn’t be able to run or work. I work retail, managing a stockroom, which is no easy task on crutches. I finally was released from the hospital and took a cab back to Annie’s house. Luckily I had given my spare keys to a friend that house-sat for me earlier that month, and I was able to track her down to get the keys back that day.

Thanks to Annie and her family, I was able to get my medication, my gear check bag, groceries… kind acts that further alleviated the anxiety over this short term lifestyle change I was embarking on. For the next six weeks I spent most of my awake time on the couch, where I contemplated my dependence on running to stay happy and feel like “myself,” and if maybe I was missing something there…

Some Lessons Learned from My DNF

LESSON #1: Be careful when approaching and departing water stations. Its like the zombies are attacking. Everyone is running on the diagonal and completely entranced in their own movement.

LESSON #2: Just freakin’ fall. Just fall. I’ve fallen a lot on my runs, and learned how to float down with minimal scratching and bruising. This particular time I was afraid of getting trampled or tripping people. I wish I hadn’t been so considerate. A foot to the face or serving as a landing pad would be well worth avoiding a broken bone.

LESSON #3: Keep your damn keys on you if there is a lot of mileage between start and finish, say oh, 26.2 miles. Until this race, I had always kept my keys on me for races of distance longer than 10k. You just never know.