Tuesday, December 31, 2013

so long 2013...

2013 was a year of mixed up motivation.  I’ve said this in previous blogs but I found myself struggling to figure out what I wanted to focus on this year.  I started off feeling a bit burnt out in the stairwell, most of my races ended up being around the exact same times as last year with the exception of Hancock where I blew up mentally and came in sluggish and a minute slower than 2012 but is it what is is.  I was happy when the season was over and I could re-evaluate my training.  

I was searching for new challenges so I took on the Mt. Washington Road Race in New Hampshire in June.  7.6 miles up Mt. Washington with an average of 12% grade and 20+ towards the top. The summit has recorded the most severe weather on the planet, were talking 230+ mph winds and wind chills so far below zero that I cant even fathom.  I dont do well in cold weather nor do I do well when theres a strong wind yet a slight breeze for that matter.  My plan was to target this race, come out strong.  I was running at 11% incline on the treadmill for an hour at the time trying to prepare myself.  But i started to lose my focus and I dont think I took the race seriously enough, I didnt really taper and within the first mile, I could tell that my legs were toast.  I set out with a goal pace and I quickly realized that wasnt gonna happen.  Before the race, I told myself that I wasnt going to walk.  People around me were walking but I stuck to what I told myself, I didnt want to give in yet I never seemed to pass those “walkers”, perhaps they were on to something.  After the race, I thought about how stupid and stubborn I was, I dont really run the steps, why would I run up this whole gosh darn mountain?!?  Maybe if I wouldve tossed in some walking breaks, I wouldve finished up a bit faster.  The weather that day was in the 50s at the start and up in the 20s on the summit with 30+ mph winds, geesh, lucky I didnt blow away.  I was proud of myself for taking on something new but at the same time I was disappointed because I was much slower than I thought I would be.  Oh well, it is what it is.  

After that, I decided to get back into running.  I thought qualifying for Boston again and maybe running the 2014 Boston would give me something to shoot for.  I was obsessed with my training and hitting my mileage but I can tell my body gets worn down, starts getting nagging aches and pains.  Thats what happens when I focus on running, I forget about cross training and just pound the pavement for miles.  I was trying to be smart about giving my body enough rest and recovery, I started doing my easy runs at a slower pace and was enjoying it.  By the time my fall marathon came around, I was no longer interested in racing it.  Racing just didnt appeal to me, I needed something more so thats when I took on my first 50 mile ultramarathon.  After that whole experience, I wanted to focus on ultras and trail races.  I wanted to discover myself out there on the trails and over the course of running for hours on end.  

In November, we started to get back into stair training, which is great cross training and builds tons of leg strength.  I still wasnt totally interested in doing any races in 2014 but I was enjoying the training although not the speed stuff because when it came down to it, Im much slower than I was previously!!  

Here are a few things I’ve learned in 2013:

1. Follow your own dreams, set goals for yourself and get after it!!  Theres no sense in setting goals that arent challenging.  At times, I found myself kinda going with the flow of what others were shooting for or what I thought people expected me to do.  I now realize that I need to follow my passion and stay fierce and focused

2. Trail races and ultramarathons are much different than road racing or stair climbing, you experience so much more

3. I love stair climbing and I am grateful for all the opportunities the sport gave me, I had some amazing adventures but I see myself going in a different direction, at least for the time being

4. When running extremely long distances, make sure you always have snacks with you and that your arm is strong enough to carry your water bottle

5. Compared to last year, I’ve gained some weight but I think I’m healthy and I enjoy not obsessing over the number on the scale.  Its better for me mentally and my body is adapting to the physical challenges that I’m throwing its way.  Leaning towards ultra running instead of stair climbing lets me be happy with the weight I’m at and the muscle I’ve put on, I dont have to stress about being super incredibly tiny so I can hit my fastest times in the stairwell

6. Homemade energy bars made of oatmeal, honey, PB, chia, flax, raisins and nuts are great fuel during long runs

7. Dont be afraid to step out of your comfort zone in all aspects of life, this year I took on several new challenges ranging from running up a mountain, running 50 miles, backpacking in Glacier National Park and giving a speech at a leadership conference in front of over 100 high school students and faculty members

8. Let those around you encourage and motivate you, share your goals with them so they can make you feel accountable

9. Music during the last half of a 50 miler is a major boost, especially when power songs or crazy songs come on, can give you that extra boost you need or make you laugh when times seem rough

10. I still love my pre-workout and race coffee routine.   I still have a love / hate relationship with nut butter and bread

11. Cheering on and pacing family / friends can feel even more rewarding than racing for yourself

12. Olympic National Park is one of the most incredible places.  We started off a trail run where we were surrounded by lush green and it was kinda drizzly.  as the run progressed, that drizzle turned to snow and the ground was covered in white with the bright green peeking through, just amazing

13. Run fast, climb high.  stay fierce & focused, strong & positive

Good luck setting big goals and challenges in 2014!!  I’m starting off the year by running a 50k (31 miles) trail race out in the San Francisco area on my 30th birthday.  Seemed like a good idea to run 30 miles plus 1 for good luck.  After that, I’ve got my sights set on the Ice Age 50 miler thats on May 10th.  

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Going the distance, my first ultra

Earlier this year, i was struggling to find motivation in the stairwell. Last year, I set big goals for myself and accomplished all of them. i won all of the Chicago races and did several international races. I loved all of my experiences but my passion for climbing just wasnt there this year, I was having a hard time coming up with new goals for myself thus wasnt able to devote myself to training as much as i normally would and my lack of passion showed during my races. I’m someone who needs to challenge myself and craves new experiences. I decided to get back into running, I wanted to shoot for a 3:10 marathon and qualify for Boston. I signed up for the Marquette Marathon over Labor Day, i was once again obsessed with long runs and felt like i was back to my endurance roots. I started my taper a few weeks out from Marquette and realized, I didnt want to race it, I wasn’t feeling it, I wanted something more, something longer. The ultramarathon was speaking to me, when I first start running I was engrossed in the idea of doing ultra races. I ran my first Boston in 2007 and decided I wanted to run lots of different marathons first before i started to hit the super long distances. I’ve always considered myself an endurance athlete, loved long runs especially so for me to get hooked on stairs was totally unexpected. Stair races are short and intense so for me to shine in the stairwell the way i did was a surprise and i grew to love the sport. But now, i think i’ve come full circle and i’m back to my endurance roots.

I chose to run the Des Plaines River Trail 50 miler, thought it would be a good starting point since it was relatively flat and nearby plus it was a nice trail. Leading up to the race, i did a few back to back long runs (20-18 and 18-16), i also did one 30 mile training run. Originally i thought it would be good to target 9-10 hours for my first 50, i had no idea what would happen during those 50 miles. one article in Runners World said you could estimate your 50 mile time by doubling your marathon time and adding 2 hours!! my best marathon time is 3:14 but to be conservative i took 3:30 doubled it and added 2 hours so that came out to 9 hours. i still wasnt sure if that would be too aggressive, this was my first 50!!

during my long runs, i slowed down the pace and started taking more water and snacks. usually i deprive myself while running, i try to get by running on fumes but i knew that i’d need a lot more energy during the 50 miler and this was not the time to skimp on calories. i used my 30 mile training run as a race simulation, i wanted to eat a snack every hour and try to stick to race pace. i made some homemade energy bars consisting of almond butter, oatmeal, honey, raisins, flax/chia seeds, and mini chocolate chips. they were delicious! i also enjoy stinger energy gels since theyre basically honey with a boost of electrolytes and the probar chews are super tasty and easy on the stomach too. i also tried bananas with almond butter and honey, another staple i could go to. the 30 miles flew by and i felt great, i had someone to run with the entire way and besides some aching knees, i felt like i had plenty of energy and could keep going although i was a bit loop and slap happy the last 4-5 miles. i ended up averaging 8:48 pace while running and 9:48 pace with the stops to refuel and meet up with new people. that training run gave me some major encouragement for the 50 miler, i decided to shoot for that same pace during the race although i wasnt really sure what that equated to in hours and minutes.

Pintar created a spreadsheet we could use to predict my estimated finishing time along with what time i might be at all of the aid stations along the way. this thing was super helpful, definitely made it easier for my crew, spectators and pacers! I started to kinda freak out the week of the race, although i was tapering, my legs were feeling aching and muscles were tight. I just didnt feel all that great, the taper is much needed but so evil at the same time. i was also feeling some underlying race anxiety and stress even though i felt confident at the same time. i wasnt putting much pressure on myself because it was my very first ultra and i was proud of myself for taking on a new challenge. i set several different goals for myself and various expectations for the race. i was thinking of it more as a really long long run instead of a race.

the night before i packed up my drop bags, i tossed in extra clothes including socks and shoes, snacks, elecrolyte water, my ipod, etc. anything i thought i might need. its hard to know what might come up over the course of 50 milers. i put in my energy bars, some chocolate espresso beans, some sprouted sweet potato chips (in case i was craving salt) and some caffeine pills for an added boost.

the thing about ultramarathons is that theyre much more relaxed than road marathons and shorter races. you have aid stations stocked with various snacks such as PB&J, defizzed soda, pretzels, bananas, gels, water, etc. Runners are friendly, talkative and encouraging to one another. it was going to be a brand new experience and i was ready for it.

**Race Day**

the race started at 7:00 AM, i was somewhat freaking out about the weather because the low was in the 30s and the high in the mid-low 50s which is ideal running weather but i didnt know how my body would react to running all day in that weather! i thought i would probably get chilled but at least the sun was expected to poke out, i decided to go with capris and tossed some shorts in my drop bags in case i got too warm. i was also layering up with a tank w pockets for added storage, a short sleeve shirt and a long sleeve. i could easily peel off layers if i got to warm. Brady and I got to the race around 6 AM and it was quite chilly and still pitch dark out so we hung out in the car to stay warm. its quite eerie heading into a porta potty when you cant see anything. we finally got out of the car around 6:45 and headed towards the start, they gave us some final instructions and it was time to toe the line. At this point , after standing outside for 15 minutes my hands and toes were numb, great way to start the race...
**Miles 0 - 14.4**

We started off and it was strange not darting off the starting line, it was a smooth relaxed pace. i settled in the first couple of miles and starting chatting with another girl (the girl in green) and a few guys who were running the same pace. they were all ultra veterans and had finished the race last year, the girl in green placed 2nd with a time around 8:20 and the guys finished around 8:40 so i figured they would make good running partners at least for the time being. i continued to stay relaxed as the miles ticked by, time was cruising by. i kept getting little rocks in my shoes. i knew that in a race of this magnitude, little nagging things can turn into big things if you ignored them so i was stopping constantly to pluck the rocks out. i was looking forward to the 3rd aid station around 7.9 miles because Brady would be there and Lisa (my first pacer of the day) was going to jump in and run 4 miles with me. At that point, i was still running in the little pack and it was nice to have Lisa run with us for a few miles, the miles were still flying by. Lisa left us 4 miles later and we continued on our way, i stopped briefly at the aid stations to refuel my bottle and eat a snack if it was my “designated” snack time. i actually almost missed my first snack because of all the chatting going on and i was barely looking at my watch. I found it easier to unwrap my snacks and chew them while refilling my bottle instead of doing it on the go. the aid station volunteers were awesome, they’d fill my bottle for me and ask if there was anything else we needed. some folks would breeze by the stops while others would linger a bit longer loading up and taking a break. i was feeling good but then again, i should be feeling good considering it had only been about 12 miles at about 9 minute pace give or take.
the first drop bag zone was about 14.4 miles in, the 5th aid station. i knew brady would be waiting for me there so i was counting down the miles. before the race, i told myself that if it started to get rough, i only had to think about making it to the next aid station and the furthest that would be was 6.7 miles (between 14.4 and 21.1 and then on the way back 31.7 to 38.4). i was excited to see brady and was still feeling great, my knees were aching, which was nothing new but otherwise no major issues. Brady filled up my water, the only problem with the water from the aid stations is that it was cold!!! thus my hand would get cold carrying my bottle, good thing i had my gloves. i prefer room temp water, i had electrolyte water in my drop bag but forgot about it, I was also taking an elecrolyte tab every hour too. I came into the aid station at the same time as the girl in the green but she scurried off to go to the bathroom, i wasnt sure whether or not she was still around and i hesitated as to whether or not i should wait for her. i think my mind was set on, hey you have a friend to run with which will make this more enjoyable instead of hey, youre in a race, stop dilly dallying and get going!! brady told me to head out so i said goodbye and was on my way. my watch hit the next split and i did some quick math, i probably spent about 4 minutes there. 
**Miles 14.4 - 21.1**
i ran the next few miles solo which was kinda lonely, i passed a couple of people and then caught up to the girl in the green a few miles later. both of us said we were happy to see one another and we got back into the groove. during those few lonley miles, i picked up the pace a bit and hit an 8:34 mile. around mile 19 or 20, the girl in the green asked what kidna pace we might end up with at the finish. i was like i have no idea, i cant even think about that now since theres still 30 miles to go!! i figured once i hit the turnaround, i could let myself do a rough estimate on my finishing time. but i didnt wanna think too far into the future, just wanted to take it one mile at a time. 

the next aid station was at mile 21.1 and i was expecting to see brady, melanie & pete with the dogs plus my parents. but before that, i found my dad waiting beside the path somewhere around mile 20. he started running ahead of me and i was like hey dad!! he kept on running, finally caught up to him and settled into a pace. he made a comment about how it seemed like we were running pretty quick, we probably clipped off an 8:45. it was a pleasant surprise to have him waiting there for me. we were coming up to the aid station and icould spot the dogs first, i was really excited to see everyone and melanie had some really clever signs which made me laugh and brought a smile to my face, one said “i drove < 50 to see kfrey run 50”, love it! i stopped to fill up my water and to eat a bar, i saw my mom running over and i was like sorry, gotta go! 
**Turnaround - 26.4**
the next stop would be the turn around at 26.4 mles, by then i wouldve ran a marathon. during the race, i kept see the same people. i’d pass someone then they’d pass me, some people were doing a walk run. everyone was really friendly and conversational, always complimenting eachother as we passed asking how the other was doing and offering a few words of encouragements. i asked one guy if he was doing a walk run, he said 5:00 run, 1:00 walk and that he found it to work better than running 30 miles straight. interesting tactic and ive heard that before. i could tell that i was getting a bit dehydrated, i was running out of water sooner than expected between the rest stops and this was the long segment (6.7 miles). my breathing was a bit more rapid which happened during the 30 miler so i could tell i was getting a bit tired and needed some water and snacks, i also made a mental note to inform brady about how i was feeling. we turned the corner to head to the turn around point and i checked my watch, 26.2 - 4:03! not a bad marathon time. i told myself i would leave the stop by 4:10 and be on my way, once i left, i’d double my time to estimate a projected finish. i found brady, my parents and melanie and pete waiting for me. brady had already filled up my pink water bottle, i was switching it out in hopes it would give me a mental boost. i also changed my shirts, put on 2 orange layers and tossed the bright pink long sleeve on over them. orange is my favorite color so thought it might give me strength and power when i needed it, simple but little things can make a difference when youre out there running for hours on end. i took a bite of a banana but it really wasnt doing it for me, the texture and taste just didnt appeal to me. i also took a caffeine pill for an extra jolt of energy. i chugged some water, brady had already packed my handheld with a couple of snacks. i was pretty flustered at this time and i think brady could tell i was frazzled, i was a bit on edge and kinda loopy but i was still feeling really good and didnt have any negative thoughts. one of the volunteers was introduced to me before the race and knew it was my first 50, she was encouraging at a few of the other stops but at this one she said “wow, youre going really fast for your first 50!!”, i replied, “thanks, i feel really good” then she said “youre going really fast and its your first race, its not a compliment”. gee thanks lady!! i dont need your negative energy and you know nothing about me and my athletic achievements or what im capable of. i let her comment roll off my shoulder and didnt let it get to me, i had more important things to think about. in the midst of everything, i forgot to load up on more snacks. i had 2 in my handheld but forgot to toss extras in the pocket of my shirt, i originally started off carrying extra honey gels and some chews in case i needed them. somewhere around mile 23-24, i actually pulled out a honey stinger because i could sense that i was running a bit low on energy.

**Miles 26.4 - 31**

 i finally took off and realized i had spent about 10 minutes at the station, i saw some people were still there so they were taking longer but it was just more time than i expected but at the same time, i think i needed it. at that point, i also grabbed my ipod, an added motiviational treat! i had a burst of energy after i left the stop and was cruising along. i ate one of my snacks but knew i was running low. my dad ran a mile or so with me again, i enjoyed his company. the race had thinned out and i was no longer with a pack, i was running solo. it also got really chilly, windy and kinda rainy. i pulled my sleeves down, put the gloves back on and put my head down to power through it. i said outloud for the rain to go away and it didnt last long, power of positivity. i checked my total time around 30 miles (another milestone to estimate fmy inishing time) and i was almost at the exact same time i was at during my training run (4:45ish)!! i reached the next aid station at mile 31 (the same crew was there) and was super frazzled. i needed snacks and i needed them bad, my energy was dropping. i asked brady where my stuff was and he was like umm, i dont know in the car. i was like i need something!! i frantically asked my parents and melanie but nobody had anything, it was all in the car. my dad started to run back and i was like forget it, i dont have time. the aid station volunteers offered up powerbar gels but i knew i couldnt take those because they would give me cramps almost instantly. they had PB&J but i just looked at them, i just wasnt thinkiing straight at the turnaround (when i forgot to grab extra stuff) and i was too frazzled to find a solution here. i got impatient and i ran away, big mistake.
**Miles 31 - 38**

about a mile later, i ate my snack and then i knew i was in trouble. i was almost out of water and my snacks were gone, i still had about 6 miles until the next aid station at mile 38.8 where my drop bag and my running concierge service (i.e., Rob, Dan and Brad) were waiting to run 6 miles with me. i really started dragging, my energy levels were dipping extremely low and i just couldnt handle the consistent pace i had kept until that point in the race. i could see the girl in green and another girl or 2 in front of me. i actually pased one of them and then she’d pass me, we went back and forth like that for a mile or two. i started to walk, i just couldnt keep running. during any other race, this wouldve been disheartening and extremely discouraging but i knew that this was normal during ultras and that i would still be ok. i started to walk for a minute or two, i would pick a spot, like a certain tree or rock and would start running again. i forced myself to make it to the next mile before i could start walking again. my splits dropped from 9:00 to 10-11. but i wasnt discouraged, i stayed postivie and told myself to be strong, that i would make it through and that it would be better once i reached the aid station, could load up on snacks and water and would have pacers for 6 miles. i actaully felt like i had more energy when i’d start running after a walking break but that was short lived. my knees were no longer aching but my quads were taking a pounding, i could feel them tightening up and getting sore. starting to run after the walk break was a bit rough, it took a few steps to get going. everytime i started feeling a bit down, one of my power songs would come blasting through my headphones, the first to come on was Roar by Katy Perry, shortly thereafter i heard Stronger by Kelly Clarkson. awesome that they came on exactly when i needed them to and gave me a burst of confidence; i’d actually pick up the pace and hang on for longer.

i weeved into the 38 mile aid station a bit out of it and saw the guys (Dan, Rob & Brad) waiting there. i told them i was crashing bad and needed snacks. brady was nowhere to be found (i later found out that he got there early, grabbed some snacks and ran back along the course to try and find me a few miles sooner but took a wrong turn and ended up missing me). the guys were awesome, they pulled out my snacks, got my water and said they’d carry things with them. the chewies tasted delicous now, i was craving carbs and i popped a few chocolate espresso beans. Rob said he’d never seen me eat so much. i changed my socks and shoes, i had to lean on the guys, felt like a cripple. i couldnt bend over and honestly i was afraid to try because i didnt wanna cramp up or fall over. i lost my balance a few times during that shoe exchange.

**Miles 38 - 44.9**
we left the aid station and they let everyone else know we were on our way. brady was getting a bit worried because he wasnt sure where i was or if he had missed me so was pleased to hear the guys were taking good care of me. i’d have them with me for 6 miles and it was awesome having them there to take my mind off of things and to carry my supplies so i had constant water and snacks. dan was the designated water carrier and brad handed me snacks. i asked him to calculate the pace i needed for the next 12 miles to finish under 9 hours, he estimated i needed 15 minute miles. that seemed doable unless something totally bad and unexpected happened but i should be able to walk that pace and finish up. i took a few more walking breaks, especially up any inclines that appeared. on the way out, i ran all these inclines but on the way back, they seemed much larger and took more energy. i also walked to eat snacks, seemed easier that way. it took me a few miles to regain my energy but the guys knew i was getting my kick back when i started singing “what does the fox say”. i tossed this song on my ipod because i knew it would make me laugh and provide some comic relief which it did.

 my dad jumped in with us again, somewhere around 41 or so. we had a nice little pack going on, we approached the aid station at mile 42 and i just flew on through since we had everything i needed. brady still wasnt there, he was struck in traffic along the way. Stronger came on again around then and i picked up the pace without warning, we were back to running close to 9:00 pace and i was feeling better. my quads were still feeling it, i was pretty sure my left quad was going to fall off and the right one was hanging on by a thread as well. up until then, i didnt have too many other issues. i was surprised the knee pain had subsided and my calf felt fine, no hip problems. all in all, i was holding up pretty well. my arm wasnt cramping from the water bottle either which was a plus. during my 30 miler i carried the 20 oz bottle and my arm couldnt handle it, haha so i was back to the little 10 ouncer. at some point during those 6 miles, i had some shooting pain in my shin which seemed to come out of nowhere, i pushed it out of my mind recalling a section from Scott Jurek’s book where he says “not all pain is significant”. i kept on running, ignoring the pain and staying strong and positive. every now and again i’d have the guys estimate my finishing time. they were shocked how strong i was running when we approached the next aid station. 

**Miles 44.9 - 50!!**
Barb was waiting for us there, mile 44.9. Brady was also there along with greg smith. they were going to run the last 5 miles with me. brady was thrilled that i was doing so well and decided to jump in with me, wearing his jeans and all. i was shocked because he was still feeling banged up from dominating the chicago marathon a week earlier (with a PR of 3:11) and wasnt planning to run with me at all. we ran for a few minutes as a big pack then they exited the course, i said thanks and i had 5 miles to go. i jokingly told brady that i had over an hour to run 5 miles to finished under 9 hours. he didnt comprehend that i was joking and pretty much saying i had it all wrapped up and would do it easily. as the miles ticked by, i kept estimating my pace. i walked a few times during those last few miles to eat snacks and gain energy going up the hills. with 2 miles to go, i knew i had to dig deep and stay fierce and focused. i was almost there and was still feeling pretty good. we picked up the pace a bit and i hit a mile around 9:00. saw my dad waiting by a bridge to run the last mile or so with us. i powered up the little hill and started to pick up the pace. with a mile to go, i really had to push it. i was running a killer time and wanted to finish with a kick. i wanted to tell brady i was working and pushing myself as hard as i could but i think it could see it in my face. i could see the finish and i started sprinting, i gave it all i had and according to my watch finished in 8:15:55 (8:16 chip timing but thats ok). i also finished 6th women and 1st in my age group.  and i got the sub 9 hour belt buckle i was shooting for!!

**Post 50**

i was shocked, i totally blew away my expectations and felt like i crushed my first attempt at an ultra. i was so happy and i knew that i couldnt have done it without all my friends and family coming to support me along the way. it meant a lot to me to have them out there along the course either cheering or running with me. and brady was there the whole entire day!! 
my legs locked up when i finished, i was toast. my quads were the worst, everything else was sore too, i couldnt even bend over to put some pants on. my arms, my abs, my back, everything was sore plus i had a giant bruise on my shin. i was walking around slowly but i was still smiling. i had a smile on my face almost the entire time although im sure it was a little less during the energy crash from 32-38. i cant say that i’ve smiled that much for any other race. this was such an incredible experience and i loved it, i cant wait to challenge myself again and get faster. im already planning other ultras, brady and i are gonna target a trail 50k in the san francisco area on my 30th birthday. then i’ll probably do the ice age 50 in may and another 50 in the fall. im obsessed and totally motivated. this is exactly what i needed to get me going again. 
i got in the car and looked at the giant bruise on my shin, what the heck?!? i didnt fall or hit it on anything but i do recall the sharp shooting pain. honestly, i wasnt sure what had happened, i thought maybe my shin was broken or a stress fracture and was fearing the worst. i was exhausted but could barely sleep that night, my legs were so sore and twitchy plus i was starting to get a cold making it hard to breathe. after tossing and turning, i got up to read and finally fell asleep on the couch. sunday morning we were up bright and early (5 am) to head to springfield to watch brady’s sister in laws first marathon, being crammed in a car for 6 hours total was not ideal. i could barely get in and out, i was still exhausted and walking was slow and painful. my quads were totally obliteraterd but at least the rest of my body was a little less sore. my shin was still bright red and sore and my ankle was tight and having sharp pains. i was a complete mess plus that cold was starting to nag. i googled that shin bruise and it seemed somewhat common, some broken cappillaries and blood vessels from the pounding of running, strange but glad i wasnt broken. trying to sleep sunday night wasnt much better, i was still tossing and turning, couldnt breathe and my legs were throbbing. as far as recovery goes, it was still a bit hard to move around on monday, i was super sluggish at work. i was exhausted and had the nagging cold almost the whole week but at least my legs are getting better day by day. i’ll probably give myself another few days to a week of rest before i start running again, wanna make sure im fully recovered from this and prevent injuries.

**Lessons Learned**

** trails and ultras let me really enjoy running, took in my surroundings and just loved being out there, smiling throughout the race and felt free

** find your power song and mantra - my songs are Stronger & People Like Us by Kelly Clarkson and Roar by Katy Perry.  My mantra is strong & positive, fierce & focused
** bulk up my arms so im capable of carrying the 20 oz bottle without my arm flaking out

** when changing shoes during the race, have a new pair to wear. i busted out some old ones that were almost at their peak, didnt feel all that great and probably caused my feet to be sore/tired and the shin bruise

** not sure if i should cut down time at aid stations, hard to know if i wouldve been faster or if the extra rest gave me an extra boost. i was only 6 minutes behind first place!!

** make sure to stock up on extra snacks, think about things before rushing off
** better recovery, probably not the best idea to get up uber early and be crammed in a car for 6 hours the next day
** liked changing clothes at the turn around, wasnt as sweaty and chilled then plus gave a mental boost. 
** music is definitely motivating, enjoyed having it the last 24 miles, gives added motivation instead of having it the whole way

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

running ultra long...

I've spent the last few months running, running and running a little bit more.  I had my sights focused on a marathon, qualifying for Boston and potentially breaking 3:10 or at least coming away with a PR.  I became engulfed in my training, I was back to doing long runs, the ones that I loved so very much.  I had weekly mileage goals and I was hitting them.  I was doing tempo runs on tired legs and attempting to push the pace during my 20 milers.  Yet something was missing, I was reluctant to actually sign up for a race, I had a few in mind but it took me a while to pull the trigger.  I eventually decided on the Marquette Marathon up in Michigan over Labor Day.  I kept on running, but found myself wondering, do I even want to race a marathon?!?  Could I just keep training but not actually race the darn 26.2, could I just keep running and then switch my focus to stairs and on Sears?  I wasn't sure where I was at as far as target pace goes, I hadnt' done a road race since April, I assumed I was faster than that but who knows.  The thought of ticking off 26 miles at 7:15 pace seemed virtually impossible.

I hit the 3 monster weeks where I polished off back to back to back 60+ mile weeks with a 24 miler, a 20 miler and a 22 miler.  The training all made sense to me, however my focus or excitement for the race was lacking.  I started to taper and it became evident, that I didn’t want to race, I wanted to keep on training, I didn’t want to ease up.  I wanted a new target, perhaps a moving goal?  During the first week of my taper, I decided I wasn’t going to race, I’d go to Marquette and I’d pace a few friends who wanted to qualify for Boston with a 3:25, which would also qualify me despite being 11 minutes off my PR.  I could be content with that. 

I was setting my sights on something bigger, something longer.  I wanted to do something unique, challenge myself in a totally different way.  This year I’ve been struggling with motivation when it comes to racing, nothing seems to interest me as much as it should and I seem to be burnt out which is confusing and hard to explain.  I just know that mainstream racing doesn’t do it for me anymore, I’ve done 12 marathons, qualified for Boston 10 times and I believe there’s always room for improvement, ways to get faster but this year I’m just not interested in that.  I’m interested in just doing what I want to do, going against the grain and trying new things.  I want to experience different obstacles and challenges and find out new things about myself.  See what level I can push myself too and see what I can discover. 

For several years, I’ve been thinking about running an ultramarathon (which is considered any race longer than 26.2).  Initially I put my thoughts aside because I wanted to focus on running fast marathons, then I became obsessed with climbing high and scaling skyscrapers, which totally didn’t jive with ultra-running.  But now I’m getting the urge again, its calling me.  I believe you can definitely find yourself over the course of 50 miles.  So that’s what I’m going to do, I’m going to target a 50 mile ultramarathon for this fall.  My marathon training is a great base; I’m going to use Marquette as a training run and as stepping stone.  I’m going to start hitting back to back long runs on the weekends and I’ll do some 4-5 hour runs.  I don’t expect to go out there and crush this distance the first time around, I’m doing this for the challenge.  I’m doing it to prove to myself that I’m strong enough, both mentally and physically.  I want to see what I’m made of, can I force myself to go on when I want to quit.  I’m doing this for me and because I want to, I want to go my own way and do my own thing.  I don’t want to be stuck in the norm or doing what others think I’m supposed to. 
I know some people will encourage this challenge and absolutely love the idea; those are the people who are also contemplating stepping into the unkown.  Other people will think I'm totally crazy but will support me regardless and I know there are some who will not understand at all but I'm ok with that. 

Sometimes we need to find new things to inspire us, change it up and go a different way :)  I signed up for the Des Plaines River Trail 50 Miler on October 19th, so it's time to get after it and see what I'm made of!  Will definitely need to be fierce and focused, strong and positive for this one!!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Craving Endurance

My marathon journey started with the 2005 Chicago Marathon. I had no idea what to expect, I wanted to run a marathon just so I could say I did it. At the time, I didnt know that my obsessive compulsive inner beast would kick in. I was hooked during the training, it overtook me. I craved the weekly long runs especially when they got to be 15 miles or longer, there was just something about it that kept me coming back for more. My initial goal for the marathon was something around 4:00 but as my training progressed, I kept taking that goal time down a notch. I finally set my target time at 3:45 with the thoughts of qualifying for the Boston Marathon (3:40) lingering in the back of my mind. Well, I finished that first marathon with a 3:41 and change, missed Boston by like 30 seconds. I was elated and was already targeting Chicago 2006!!
I ended up qualifying in Chicago in 2006, ran Boston in 2007 and 2008. I was completely obsessed with the marathon, it became everything to me. I absolutely loved Boston, I loved the prestige, I loved the hills, I loved everything about it. It was special being able to say that I qualified for and ran the Boston Marathon. The whole thing kinda brought tears to my eyes. When I ran in 2007, I was lucky to have my parents and my best friend there with me to support me and cheer me on. Seeing them around mile 18 was incredible, i even stopped to jump on Cory and give her a giant hug!! I couldnt stop too long because I was running a great time. After that first Boston, the marathon was even more a part of who I was then it was previously. It was all I wanted to do.
I started cranking out 3-4 marathons a year which lead to injuries after my fall marathons, obviously my body wasnt a fan of the abuse. Since my first marathon in 2005, I've finished 12 marathons and have qualified for Boston 10 times. I missed it my first year and then again during the Chicago Heatathon where they actually ended up cancelling the race due to extreme temperatures. Throughout those years, I progressively cut time from that 3:41 I ran in 2005. In 2009, I finished up Chicago with a 3:14 and thats still my best time.
In 2010, I climbed my first skyscraper and was hooked on something different. I still ran the Chicago Marathon that year and had my sights set on 3:10, I was totally ready for it too but it was another warm year and I ended up with a 3:19. That was the end of my marathons, I was going into a marathon hiatus. I wanted to focus on stair climbing, see where that could take me. I was a good runner but I was never gonna win any major races but I could win major stair climbs and I could place in the top 3 against world class international climbers. It was a niche I could really excel in. In 2012, I traveled all over the world competing and didnt really focus much on running. I started to consider myself a stair climber instead of a runner and thats what I was getting known for.
Running friends would always ask if I was doing a marathon, nope! Not even interested. I was still hitting up some semi-long runs just for the heck of it because I'm an endurance junkie but really had no focus on running. I ran a few shorter races in 2012, finally broke 19:00 in a 5k but other than that, didnt do too much. I liked having stair climbing as an excuse plus then I didnt have to push myself during road races or be disappointed if I was slower than I was when I considered myself a "runner".
This year, I just haven’t really been focused or motivated on much of anything.  Been struggling with finding that drive and passion to really get into my training and push myself.  I struggled through an entire stair season but luckily, still ended up with some decent results and won the major Chicago races which I was happy about. 

I was looking for unique challenges, ways I could motivate and push myself while still doing something different.  I wanted to be out of the ordinary, wanted to excel.  That’s when we decided that mountain or trail running would be good for me.  I was good at going vertical, tilt the road up and I was on my way.  So I signed up for the Mt. Washington Road Race, 7.6 miles up Mt. Washington in New Hampshire with a grade of no less than 11%.  Yowzas, what have I gotten myself into!! 
I knew plenty of people running the 2013 Boston Marathon and was tracking their progress along the course.  Then came the tragedy, the bombings.  I was shocked and just felt a deep sadness in my heart, this hit home for me.  That race, the course, everything about it, held a special place in my heart.   I could really relate to this and it made me ache for those involved and those who suffered because of it.  I couldn’t believe that something I cherished so much was ruined.  The runner in me was speechless.  This wasn’t going to drag me down, it did the exact opposite.  It lit a fire underneath me and out of nowhere, I became a runner again.  I wanted to qualify, I wanted to show up and run in 2014.  I wanted to be there, I wanted to prove how much it means to me and how no one can take away the bond that I have with that race.  That race helped define me as a runner, as an athlete.  It gave me a goal, something to shoot for, set my eyes on.  It was a great accomplishment. 

I am coming out of my marathon hiatus and will be running the Fox Valley Marathon in September. I will qualify for Boston; I will be there in 2014.  I’m going to shoot for that 3:10 that I missed during my marathon in 2010.  This has given me some major motivation, the motivation that I’ve been lacking.  I feel excited, I ready to do this.  I wanna put in the miles, I wanna put in the hard work.  I was take all that I’ve learned from stair climbing and apply it to running.  Climbing skyscrapers, has taught me how to push myself to the limit, how to give it my all and how to never back down.  I’ve obliterated myself during an 11:00 race.  I used to love the marathon because it was a prolonged dull pain whereas 5ks were short and extreme, I couldn’t handle the shorter distances but stair climbing has taught me how to do that.  Now I’m going back to my endurance roots, back to being a runner.  Back to where my journey started and how I became the athlete I am today. 
Running friends, you’ll be seeing more of me this summer.  Were gonna train hard and do the work together!!  “Step-sibs” don’t you worry, I’ll be back in the stairwell in time for Sears and am gonna hit the training hard for Empire, Hancock and Strat.  I will shine at those races.  

Something I remember from my Boston experiences “Boston – Its all about the promises” and “Impossible is Nothing, Boston is Everything”. 
And as always – Run Fast, Climb High!!

Friday, March 29, 2013

Hancock - Lacking the Hustle in 2013

My burnt out feelings, in regards to training and racing, didn’t dissipate as the climbing season went on. I was still unmotivated to kick up my training and I was majorly lacking time in the stairwell. By this point in time, I’d been feeling this way for a few months but it didn’t make it any easier to accept it. I know that my body needed to recharge, refocus and get back into the groove of it all although I didn’t really expect that to happen before my upcoming races.

I was pleasantly surprised with my first few climbs of the year.  My 2013 time at Aon was the exact same as my 2012 time, I was a bit faster at Empire and had a solid performance during the power hour at Oakbrook. But Hancock would be the real test, this is such a big race and usually its one that I target but I just couldn’t get focused.   Plus I had gained a few pounds, some people may react negatively when I say that and some may criticize saying that I could use a few extra pounds or that I have nothing to worry or complain about.  But at my size, a few pounds feels like more and when climbing stairs, you have to carry your body weight vertically so I could see a difference in my training times at various weights too.  I have a healthy range that I like to stay in, when I go above or below that, I try to get things back in check and I was definitely above that range so I wasn’t too pleased about it yet I lacked the discipline to really do anything about it. 

 A week or so before the race, I got my bib in the mail and saw I was #3.  This just really shook me; I felt like I didn’t deserve to be slated so high despite the fact that I won the race last year and was close to the record.  I thought about my training or lack thereof and I had a mini meltdown.  I needed to get it together before race day.  Thoughts of setting the course record at Hancock lingered in my mind although I knew it was a long shot with my training and lack of mental tenacity.  I’d be happy if I hit around 11:00, I thought if I crashed and burned, I might end up at 11:15 or so.  I took at a gander at my splits from last year, when I climbed a 10:56, and used those as my target. 

 The morning of the climb, I just wasn’t feeling it.  My focus wasn’t there and I was definitely missing the extra fierceness that I needed to really pull out a stellar climb.  Several people asked me if I was ok, said I looked stressed or tired and I was just kinda frazzled.  I’ve suffered from some bad pre-race anxiety when it comes to climbing but this was different, I wasn’t feeling much of anything.  I stood in line waiting for my time to come, the dreaded wait to enter the stairwell. 

It finally came and I was off, I felt like I was going at good clip but could hear others rapidly approaching.  Within the first few floors, someone was hot on my heels.  I wasn’t used to this, usually I’m the one nipping at guys’ heels, grabbing their hand on the rail and politely asking them to step aside but this time, I was the one stepping to the outside and letting someone pass.  I didn’t really know what to think of this, I was somewhat discouraged but there was nothing to do about it, perhaps if my inner racer kicked on, I would’ve gone with them although it was way too early in the race to risk anything like that. 

 The next thing I knew, Cindy was right up on me too.  Now I really didn’t know what to do.  Thoughts flashed through my mind, do I pick up the pace, do a quick sprint to shake her?!?  Do I just stay where I’m at, do all the work, set the pace and hope she drops?  I knew that she had a tendency to start off a bit quick and then usually faltered so I stuck with option number two and just stayed calm and relaxed.  She was behind me for several floors before fading away. 

When I checked my watch at the first check point, I was slower than my first 20 floors last year.  Last year I was like 2:30 and this year I came in around 2:50 which was my actual goal time.  Normally, I would’ve felt a sense of urgency, I would’ve thought I was behind and picked it up slightly.  But this time, I just continued along at my sluggish pace.  The next 20 floors weren’t all that great.  When I reached the halfway point, I was 10-15 seconds off my goal time.  I came in at 5:40-5:45ish but I needed to be closer to 5:30.  Ugh, that’s not pretty.

I really took a dive during the next 20 floors.  Terry Purcell once told us that the winner of these races is usually the person who loses focus the least, he said sometimes you get into that metal lull during this portion of the race but if you stay focused and don’t let your mind wander, you’ll be much faster because of it.  Well, I definitely let my mind wander during those 20 floors.  I felt like I was lolly-gagging, was I even trying to go fast?  I didn’t have anything in me, mentally I was shot, physically, who knows what I was doing but I knew it wasn’t anywhere close to the kind of effort that needed to be there.  Luckily, Cindy was still behind me and I couldn’t see or hear her so I felt like the coast was clear in that regard.  By the time I hit 70, I was 40 seconds behind!!! 40 seconds, that’s absolutely horrendous, totally unacceptable.  Usually I would get angry and dig deep and push and try to make up the time or at least do something to decrease the hole I had created.  Ok, 40 seconds off my goal so I tried to calculate times in my head, would I finish around 11:30?  That’s not too bad but still off of where I wanted to be or where I should actually be! 

 I didn’t even try to bound those last 20 floors, well maybe I did, but it was the weakest attempt I’ve ever made.  I was totally content with what I was doing and content while climbing is not where you need to be, you shouldn’t feel content.  You should always be pushing it and climbing higher and faster.  I saw like 5 floors to go, at least finish strong so you look like you tried but I didn’t.  I sauntered across the timing mat and sat down on the ground. I looked at my watch, 11:55.  I didn’t know how to react, I felt like such a disgrace.  I hit my watch to clock Cindy’s approximate time and she staggered in me at least 20-30 seconds behind so I felt like I was probably safe from her beating me.  I didn’t feel like I deserved to win, I didn’t feel like I deserved anything.  Numerous people asked me how my race went and I calmly and collectly told them I was lacking mental focus and they told me it couldn’t be that bad.  When I mentioned my time and that it was a minute slower than last year, some people looked at me with shock in their eyes, others thought I was joking and believe me, I wish I was.  They wondered how I climbed so slowly and I could tell they just didn’t know how to respond.  I didn’t really know how to take it either, I said its ok.  It’s a bad mental race, I’m just not there and I’m lacking the drive to really push myself to that level.  I’ll be back next year and I’m taking the record with me!  I had no idea whether my time would hold and if I’d win, who knows what would happen later in the day in the middle or back of the pack.  There are always shockers and someone could take my time out, it wasn’t unbeatable that’s for sure. 

 When the results finally came out, I was relieved that I had won and I know a win, is a win but this one was ugly.  It wasn’t pretty to look at and I really wasn’t happy with it, I just wanted to erase my time from the results.  It was a bad fluke and we all have bad races but this was worse than I expected but I held my head high and continued to congratulate those around me and wanted to share in their joy.  Several people climbed PRs including my dad; several others had discouraging races like I did.  Some of us were way off our goal times but we learn from these experiences and take comfort in knowing that they don’t last and usually the next one will be better.  If this had happened a couple of years ago, I’d be totally distraught.  I recall cutting 50 seconds off my time but losing a race by like 4 seconds and being mad at the world, the guys wanted to avoid me at all costs because I was fuming and sulking and just a burden to be around.  Last year, my attitude towards racing changed, I was much more positive.  I lost at the Stratosphere by like 4-5 seconds and was thrilled that Kourtney beat me, which was a defining moment for me.  Hancock was no different, I was disappointed and discouraged and I made it known that it wasn’t my best race, I couldn’t lie about that or deny it but I didn’t let it drag me down and I didn’t let it get in the way of encouraging and congratulating others.  I kept my inner demons inside and in check and let them fester away on their own, luckily they’re army was dwindling in size so they couldn’t completely drag me down.  I knew that I would get it the next time around, I already have my eyes set on my training come fall and I know I have big goals for the 2014 climbing season and at least the US Championship was only a week away so I could claim redemption, hopefully…