Back in the saddle: Sundodger Invitational

There comes a time when you have to get back on that horse.

Oh wait, not that horse. That one.

Back at Sundodger

I took a nice long spring and summer break from racing, hard training, and much of social media. I’m not going to lie: it was really great. I hadn’t realized how much mental space all of that occupies until it went away. Instead of waking up early and rolling out the door for a run, I walked Alexa to the bus stop. I chaperoned her 3-day 4th grade field trip to Lake Crescent in Olympic National Park.

Hiking to Marymere Falls

And we took an amazing vacation to the Bar W Ranch in Whitefish, MT.

This is an all-inclusive dude ranch just outside Glacier National Park where gritty Western ranch activities meet well-appointed accommodations. We spent the days horseback riding, learning to lope, and trail riding through gorgeous Montana backcountry.

And while lodge-style accommodations were a choice, we stayed in an outdoor “glamping” tent. I’ve mentioned my aversion to camping before, so this was a bit of a risky move. It was definitely the cause of some packing stress before the trip.

But I needn’t have worried. The tent came complete with heating and air conditioning, a coffee maker, refrigerator, and luxurious private bath. And gave us a front row seat to the action and scenery of a working ranch.

When mealtime rolled around, they rang the dinner bell from the main house. Though I normally enjoy the research and exploration of new restaurants while on vacation, the freedom from meal planning was one of my favorite things about this trip. We could spend that time together as a family, playing pool or walking the grounds, and sit right down to a hot meal upon the ringing of a bell. This was, hands down, the best vacation.

It’s amazing what happens when you give yourself a little room to breathe. Changing things up gave me a break from the stress of training and pressure to perform. And as a result, I started to want to run. By June I slowly built up easy training runs. In July I added a little more mileage and a little speed work. And once we returned from the ranch in early August, I was ready to start thinking about racing again.

I ran Sundodger last weekend with less training than past years. In fact, as I embark on this cross country season, I doubt I will reach the volume and intensity of running that I maintained last year. It was my slowest finish there – 21st place in 22:21 for 6k – but it felt good to be back out there. It might not be a full comeback but there’s something to be said for sanity.

The fallacy of a photo: Hiding a meltdown

Beware what you see on social media. What you see is not necessarily what you get. On the face of it, this is not the picture of someone in the middle of a major meltdown.

Photo finish, hiding a meltdown

2017 Seahawks 12k

Yet Sunday’s Seahawks 12k win actually served to confirm the fact that yes, this is someone in the middle of a major meltdown. Though I out-kicked the woman who passed me at the 7 mile mark and held off by 1 second the #3 runner (who became #2 at the finish), my finish time of 47:09 was almost two minutes slower than the last time I ran it in 2015. Which is, and this is by no means meant to disparage anyone else’s finish time, an indication that all is not right with me.

According to this Bodybuilding.com post on overtraining, 10 signs of overtraining include:

Persistent muscle soreness
Elevated resting heart rate
Increased susceptibility to infections
Increased incidence of injuries
Irritability
Depression
Loss of motivation
Insomnia
Decreased appetite
Weight loss

Well, I’m hitting just about all of those. And if I’m really honest with myself, probably have on and off since late last summer. Sunday’s race quantitatively proved to me that I need to make some changes. I just hope I haven’t arrived at this realization too late.

I’m exhausted, yet I can’t sleep. I haven’t run a great speed workout in months, and my times across the board are climbing. This, of course, leads to stress and irritability, which makes me a terrible mom and spouse. I’m struggling and can no longer deny it.

So, I’ve stopped running and all other workouts. And the giant red flag, if there ever was one: I don’t even miss it. Yes, it’s only been four days. But four unscheduled days off, without illness or injury (oh the irony), should cause nothing but restlessness to run again. Instead, I’m nothing but tired.

My hope is that a rest and recovery break now will enable a return later this summer and into the fall. I cleared my calendar of upcoming races, mourning the loss of my plans for the Top Pot 5k this month and Bloomsday 12k in May. I’m sad and scared and hope this isn’t the end of my competitive running.

So, take what you see on Facebook with a grain of salt. Though that photo might look victorious, it hides a less rosy reality.

TowneBank Shamrock 8k, Brooks Hyperion, and compression socks

The luck o’ the (honorary) Irish was with me last weekend for the TowneBank Shamrock 8k in Virginia Beach, VA. Not only was the travel smooth the entire way (in stark contrast to last year’s Carlsbad 5000), but the sun came out for my course preview/warm-up run.

Disbelief that there is no rain in this photo

The 8k course runs south parallel to the beach for 2 miles before turning around and heading north up the boardwalk for 2 1/2 miles. The last 1/2 mile finishes with a turnaround back southbound down the boardwalk into the finish chute. Though temperatures hovered in the mid-30s during my warm-up run Friday, I quickly shed layers. Words cannot describe the relief I felt to run with the sun on my face and an absence of water in my shoes.

Though I rolled into the hotel around 1 a.m. Friday morning (and couldn’t go right to sleep), I forced myself to get up and run by 8 a.m. Start time for the race on Saturday was 7:45 a.m., which would feel, to me, like 4:45. 3:45 if you count the fact that we moved the clocks forward a mere six days earlier. It was a Hail Mary attempt at acclimating to the time difference and it actually worked.

Dawn in Virginia the next day didn’t feel as awful as I thought it would.

TowneBank Shamrock 8k start

Yep, still a bit dark outside

The race itself went as well as it could have, given my rough patch in training lately. This winter I’ve alternately struggled to get back into shape after the holiday break and then possibly overtrained to prepare for this 8k. I tried to go out aggressively and hold on as long as I could. Though I held third place (overall female) for most of the race, I lost it turning into the last half mile stretch to the finish. I don’t love the time I ran (29:54, more than a minute slower than my last 8k last spring), but it was enough for 2nd place in the masters race, and since the masters winner is in an older age group, another national championship title for women 40-44.

TowneBank Shamrock 8k

Race photo courtesy of MarathonFoto and TowneBank Shamrock 8k

I also tested out some new gear during this race. How cool are these Brooks Hyperion shoes?

Brooks Hyperion

They are the most cushioned of any road racing flat I’ve worn, yet still maintain the lightness and flexibility you want in a racing shoe. Moreover, they make you look fast and isn’t that half the battle?

I also tried out compression socks for the second time in a race. While they were certainly comfortable, I’m still unconvinced that I felt a difference when running in them. I did, however, get right on a plane after the race, so perhaps there is something to them. My lower legs were not remotely sore in the days following the racing and traveling.

Though it wasn’t pretty, it was a solid race weekend. I can’t thank Mike, my coaches (Jim Lilly and Bethanee Randles), training partners, and friends for all of your support. It takes a village. Really.

Running off course to get back on course

Ah, the misadventures of racing. Going into last weekend’s Love ‘Em or Leave ‘Em 10k I had realistic expectations. I knew this race was not going to break any personal records. What I didn’t realize, however, was the extent to which this would be true. My finish time of 38:55 was close to 2 1/2 minutes slower than my 10k best. Yes, it’s early in the season and I’m climbing my way back into shape. But I, the guy in front of me, and at least two people behind us, also ended up running around 10.2k. We all ran off course.

This was the first year Love ‘Em or Leave ‘Em offered a 10k distance. It’s usually a 5k race, just one loop around the outer road around Greenlake. They started both distances at the same time, and I assumed that completing the 10k would just mean racing a second lap around the course. Which, through 3.9 miles, seemed like the case. At the 4 mile mark, however, we diverted to the inner pedestrian loop of Greenlake, instead of turning onto the outer road. Another 400 meters of dodging pedestrians and kids on bikes and the guy in front of me figured we had missed the turn and needed to get back out to the outer loop.

So mid-race, not only did we slow to discuss what to do, but then cut back to the outer road and raced the last two miles on the outside loop. This actually set us off course and thus added extra distance. Yes, I managed to preserve the win, but it wasn’t pretty.

Awards after running off course

A Bainbridge sweep! With Keith Laverty, fellow island resident and winner of the men’s 10K.

The best thing about the race, though, was the focus it gave to my training. There’s nothing like the prospect of a painful race and a documented finish time to scare some intensity into your workouts.

I returned to running in early January, following a three-week planned break, and then a week of the flu. The first week I ran 5.5 miles. The second week was about 15, and the third around 22. The first attempt at speed came at the end of week 3, in the form of some hill repeats. Every year that I do this, I forget about the two-steps-forward-one-step-back process this entails. I like things that are linear, but unfortunately running is not always a forward progression.

Training over the last six weeks has had its ups and downs. Some days are great, others miserable. The thing that has been the most difficult has been returning to interval training. It just plain hurts. But then the sun came out yesterday. Not only literally, after days of pouring rain, but figuratively as well. For the first time in what feels like forever, I did not leave a track workout feeling completely dejected.

To anyone out there struggling to start or build back a workout routine, it happens. The hard work pays off. Eventually your strength returns and performance improves. It just takes time and patience.

Need a confidence building workout that works on endurance and turnover? Here you go.

1200m @ 10k pace
400m @ 5k pace
2000m @ 10k pace
400m @ 3-5k pace
800m @ 5k pace
400m @ Fast

Happy running and run happy!

Racing in a new year with Club Northwest

Sunday marks the start of a new year of racing for Club Northwest/Brooks. I am so happy to be representing Club Northwest/Brooks for another year. Though I don’t train with them regularly, I can’t say enough about how nice it is to be part of this team. To arrive at a race and see friendly faces and know that you’re not alone.

Unfortunately, no amount of camaraderie is going to help me on Sunday at Seattle’s Love ‘Em or Leave ‘Em Valentine’s Day Dash. I frequently open the year of racing at this fun Greenlake race. It always comes on the heels of my year-end break from running, a 3-week slothfest when I decompress mentally and physically. Though I do love the break, I would also love to be able to skip this stage of training. Coming back from it always involves some amount of gnashing of teeth. It’s a miserable climb back to a state of fitness where running starts to flow. When speed sessions don’t feel like an exercise in futility. I’m not there yet.

The thing about returning to running after a break is that you can’t just pick up where you left off. It’s tough to be patient during the build-up phase. Especially when mother nature decides to throw curve balls.

Let me tell you something about people from the Pacific Northwest. We don’t do anything in the snow. Our kids don’t go to school, we don’t drive, and don’t expect to see a shoveled walkway. It’s not happening. We shut down, break out the sleds we bought 4 years ago the last time it snowed, and wonder when everything will melt. But I had a long run scheduled. I need every workout I can get before Sunday’s race. So I strapped on some Yaktrax and headed out the door.

My takeaway? Yaktrax are not the most comfortable things in the world. But I also have an older version that lack the toe plates that would probably alleviate some of the discomfort I felt in the ball of my foot. As traction in the snow, however, they worked well. Even so, 10 miles devolved into a discouraging 7 and the slog back to shape continues.

With the specter of a painful race ahead of me, I’m comforting myself with new shoes. What else can you do? I love my Brooks Adrenalines and would run in them even without the Club Northwest connection.

Club Northest/Brooks

I tried to capture my funky lacing system. A few years ago, out of the blue, the top of my foot started bugging me, right in the middle of the laces. When I asked at my local running store – Poulsbo Running, holla! – they suggested skipping a hole in the middle of the laces. That simple trick helped and I’ve been doing it ever since.

Though we’ve returned to our normal windy, rainy February, prospects for race time on Sunday look sunny. At this point there’s not much more to do but take a deep breath and go for it. Hopefully I’ll end up in better shape than our Pacific Northwest snowman. He spent a day listing wildly before giving up the ghost.

Race planning and mom guilt

When our kids were babies, Mike worked a lot. Beyond the long hours each day, he also traveled out of town for work multiple days each month. With the birth of our eldest I went from 10-hour workdays in a hectic hotel kitchen, to endless hours of solitude punctuated by regular intervals of desperately bouncing and rocking a crying baby. At a certain point I became someone I didn’t recognize: someone who spent the day watching the clock waiting for her husband to return home. Was this 1950 or 2005?

I started running with a jogging stroller as a way to fill time, picking up the sport I had largely abandoned during my working years. Yes, even in those years I still ran a few days each week, but that was more out of vanity than anything else. I didn’t like the way I felt or looked when completely sedentary.

But the baby jogger was a way out of the house. An escape in the days when the walls threatened to close in on me. It was also a way to find a little piece of myself again, when every other part seemed to belong to someone else.

Within a few years Mike was lucky enough to find a business partner who helped him stop the insanity. Who shared the same work-life philosophies and helped create a business that enabled him to get off the road and out of the office. We moved out of the city. The kids grew and started school. And I kept running.

In the years in high school when I fought to get into a good college, then fought through college to achieve anything academically and athletically, I always felt that I was working toward something. A respectable college, a good job, financial security. I never realized this was all achievement for achievement’s sake. That there is never an end until you say there is.

I never went back to a serious full time job. But once both kids spent a majority of the day in school, I needed to justify my time. A reason to exist, something to achieve. For the last few years running has given me this, and more.

At first it was a way to organize my day. Then it was a way to connect with my friends who continued to work. Something to talk about beyond the platitudes about how great it is to be a stay-at-home mom.

But now that it’s gotten more serious, it has circled back around. Now, instead of running to justify my time, I find myself chasing achievement to justify my running. To alleviate the mom guilt I feel for the mental space I dedicate to running and cross training. For traveling to out-of-town races and missing swim meets and soccer tournaments. For sticking Mike with the parenting responsibilities made easier by the presence of two people.

I find myself striving to earn my running. To achieve higher heights to justify its existence. To make it cost as little as possible in both time and money. And as I look ahead to 2017 races, and back at those of 2016, I’m realizing the fallacy in this. That all the victories in the world will not fill that hole. That no amount of free gear, prize money, or recognition will make me an elite runner or bring about the end of the achievement wheel. Or release me from the mom guilt.

Pre-race mom guilt

May 2017 be the year that I release myself.

Camaraderie in Racing? Yes, at a national championship.

Is it possible to have camaraderie in racing? Or does it need to be a battle? If racing in 2016 taught me anything, it’s that I believe in the former. And here’s why.

Misery loves company

I spent last weekend at USATF National Club Cross Country Championships in Tallahassee, FL. I have to admit to a significant lack of excitement about this race. It’s a tough time of year, both from a running perspective (burnout from training since mid-July), and from a scheduling perspective. Everything seems to want to happen on the first weekend in December. As a mom, it’s a tough time to get away. I’ll be honest, I didn’t want to fly to Florida.

And then there was the weather. The benefit to dragging oneself to the other corner of the country – the southern corner – is warm weather. And yet I found myself angry packing a suitcase full of things that hardly resembled those of my dream beach vacation. Full tights, gloves, hats, and long sleeves instead of my simple race kit. The polar vortex that brought an unusual snow day to Bainbridge reached all the way down to the Sunshine State. It was 34°F at race time in Tallahassee.

But flying into Panama City, FL, I hooked up with my friend and new teammate Camille Shiflett, who gamely agreed to join Club Northwest at the last minute. And I remembered why Club Nationals is the best race of the year. It’s all about the team: the men, the women, the open and the masters. We’re all leaving important things behind to come together to compete in the sport that we love. We’re all going to hurt. But we’re doing it together.

2016 Club Northwest team in Tallahassee, minus Camille and I who were already en route back to the airport

Trying to BEAT someone sets you up for negative thinking

I realize this may sound like some hippie-dippie yoga-speak, but for me, my intention makes a difference. Standing on the starting line trying to beat someone else sets you up with a negative mind set. Now the race is out of your hands because it depends on what the other person does. I’ve done this. Gone out way too fast being a jerk, thinking I needed to stay with someone in order to beat them. Things got ugly real fast, and though I didn’t actually die, I really wanted to.

This is supposed to be fun. It’s more fun to work WITH someone than against them.

The race started at 8:00 a.m. east coast time. This meant temperatures in the 30s and 5 a.m. biological west coast time (see aforementioned “misery”). When the gun went off and I looked over, I was so happy to see this amazing gal by my side.

Photo by Michael Scott

I think it’s well documented at this point that Sonja Friend-Uhl is an incredible runner. But in the last year she has become a good friend and I love that we can race together and work for faster times together.

Camaraderie in racing

Photo by Clay Shaw

Yes, there will still be a winner

USATF National Club XC Championships 2016

Photo by Michael Scott

And no, it wasn’t me. Though we ran through 4000 meters side-by-side, I had fallen off the pace by 5000m, and finished the 6k 22 seconds back in a time of 22:37. It was my slowest time of the cross country season, in conditions much more favorable to a fast race than any of my other races this fall. Is this evidence against camaraderie in racing? I still think not. I had a fun morning running with friends, and my gals Camille and Deborah Fletcher helped clinch the team title for a second year in a row.

With Camille Shiflett and Deborah Fletcher, 2016 national champions, 40s team

In the end I’ll take a runner-up national champion place and camaraderie in racing over contentious win any day. Perhaps that makes me a weaker competitor, but life’s short. You gotta do what makes you happy.

Scenes from a cross country season

I just blinked and three four weeks went by. What happens to time at this time of year? Life takes off at warp speed and before you know it, it’s Thanksgiving. The local cross country season has come and gone, wrapping up last weekend at the USATF Northwest Region Open & Masters Cross Country Championships at Lincoln Park in West Seattle.

USATF Northwest Region Cross Country season Championships

This cross country season was a bit of a blur, which I can best describe in one word: mud.

mudsplatter

Every race had some combination of rain, wind, or mud. This was especially true at the USATF Pacific Northwest Junior Olympic Cross Country Championships, held two weeks ago at Woodland Park.

PNTF Junior Olympic Cross Country Championships

The amount of cross country participation at the junior levels was astounding. Colin ran the Boys 11-12 (years old) race and we arrived to find a packed parking lot, the likes of which I have never seen at the open level. I need to give some serious props to this kid. He will jump into just about anything with enthusiasm and a cross country race for which he had never trained was no exception. The 3,000 meter course twisted and looped around Woodland Park, ending with a terrifically brutal uphill finish, directly into a gusting wind. These kids were amazing coming up that last hill. Fifty-eight boys ran the 11-12 race, which is really exciting for the future of the sport.

That was also the weekend we had a fun visit with friends from Oregon. My friend Sarah drove up from Eugene and after a morning of cross country, we saw the sights of Seattle.

butlervisit

The kids loved the flying fish at Pike Place Fish Market and the limitless treasures at Archie McPhee. And I finally got my post-race brunch at Blue Star Cafe.

Last weekend’s mudfest at Lincoln Park really captured the essence of cross country season in the Pacific Northwest. Though the rain held off for the races, epic mud covered several parts of the course. This slowed things down a bit, but I still eked out a 22:00 6k. Can’t complain too much about that one.

PNTF Cross Country season Championships

And now we have less than two weeks to go until USATF National Club Cross Country Championships on December 10th in Tallahassee, FL. Yep, I’m dragging myself across the country on a super sketchy no-seat-assignment-until-check-in Delta ticket that gets me as far as Panama City, FL. Provided that I make it onto that flight, I’ll drive the two hours from Panama City to Tallahassee. It’ll be fine, right? Because cross-country travel usually goes super smoothly in December. Between now and then I’m just trying to stay healthy and hit a couple more quality workouts. No, I’m not counting down the days. Of course not.

Battling the elements at Emerald City Open

When you’re feeling sorry for yourself for having to compete in the middle of Stormageddon, what do you do? You buy donuts.

Vegan must mean they're good for you, no?

Vegan must mean they’re good for you, yes?

Despite the pre-weekend cancellation of just about every sporting event around, both Alexa and I had Saturday activities that were proceeding as scheduled. Our plan (it was a good one) was for me to race at Seattle University’s Emerald City Open cross country meet, then keep rolling east to her soccer game in Bellevue.

We arrived at Seattle’s Woodland Park amid a steady rain. As I huddled underneath a picnic shelter pinning on my number, I couldn’t help but wonder why. Why do I choose to do things like this? 

Emerald City Open

This is not the face of someone who is loving what they are doing. All race photos by James Lilly.

But sometimes the road forward is through, and with no other choices, I did what I do.

Emerald City Open

The Emerald City Open course starts on a grassy downhill then transitions to a dirt path and gravel road that loop up to more grass and mud before returning to its starting point at the 2K mark. The women’s race repeats this loop three times for a 6K race. I’ve mentioned before that I hate wearing spikes on hard surfaces. So despite the mud and rain, I chose to wear flats. It worked for me on the same course last year, in similar conditions, and I got cocky. I thought I could get away with it.

Questionable running form: arms completely akimbo

Spikes *might* have helped this questionable running form

In fact, I was getting away with it. For almost two laps things were going well. I had even pulled into the lead. But just as we were heading into the second turnaround and I began to strategize my final 2K lap, I slipped. And started to go down. And by the time I could get my feet under me and get back on the course (I had gone way wide at that point), I dropped to 4th place.

emeraldcity

Though I tried to battle back over the last lap, I ended up finishing fifth, in 22:34. As a team Club Northwest totally rocked, sweeping both the men’s and women’s races (results here). The women placed 5 runners in the top 8 spots, scoring just 19 points (lowest score wins), while the men placed 5 in the top 6. That’s tough to beat.

The best part about a race like this? How badass you feel when it’s done.

emeraldcityopen1

With a soccer game looming, I cut short a cool down and headed to the car. Only to receive a text cancelling the game. A disappointment, to be sure, but some amount of consolation remained.

donutsinbox

Nothing like a good food reward to save the day.

USATF Masters 5k Road Champion

I can’t help but feel like lightning struck twice.

Nothing beats a welcome home poster after a long flight

I spent the weekend in Syracuse, NY, for the USATF Masters 5k Road Championships, a race within a race hosted by the Syracuse Festival of Races 5k. This is a fantastic event, in its 24th year, led by race director extraordinaire Dave Oja. I cannot say enough about how well organized and supported the whole weekend felt. And I didn’t even take advantage of the host hotel amenities. Started in 1993 as an offshoot of an earlier race, the Syracuse Festival of Races 5k has cultivated record-breaking performances for the last 24 years.

This year was no exception. There were four American records broken, one of which also set a world masters record (Kathy Martin, age 65, with a time of 19:57). And 80-year-old Libby James broke the women’s 80-84 American record, running the 5k in a time of 25:14. Imagine that, running a 5k at 8:07/mile pace as an 80-year-old. Incredible! See the full story on Runner’s World here.

Syracuse also ended up being the perfect location for a travel race. It’s a big enough city to have an airport, yet a small enough town that even downtown hotels had airport shuttle service. So I flew in easily and didn’t need a rental car. And therefore chose to stay at the Sheraton Syracuse University Hotel (instead of the race’s host hotel) to be closer to the course. It’s pretty much right on campus.

Syracuse University

Thanks to my Starwood Preferred Guest status, I even made the Club Lounge level. This meant breakfast in the morning and snacks in the evening. But the best thing about it? Unlimited espresso. I could not have been happier to see that machine.

espresso

Bring it on, jet lag. Bring it on.

Though rain was forecast throughout the weekend, it seemed that the bulk of it fell overnight on Saturday. So race day arrived with muggy but dry and warm conditions.

Syracuse Festival of Races 5k Prerace

Heading to the course, aka, why I don’t take more selfies

Having experienced the alternative, I really appreciated the amount of race support provided at this event. It sounds simple but even a tent for gear storage seemed like a luxury.

USATF masters 5k road championships

The masters championship races always bring out a stellar field of runners.

Syracuse Festival of Races 5k

Photo by Bob Brock

The flat, fast course starts and ends at the Lampe Athletics Complex on the Syracuse University campus. Though I took the lead at the halfway turnaround point, these women are tough racers who aren’t going to give anything up easily. It took all I had to keep anyone from passing me in the last 400 meters.

syracusecloseupfinish

Photo by Bob Brock

In the end I managed to hang on for the win on Sunday. But on any given day it could have been any of us. Which is the thing that makes these races so special. The camaraderie of the other runners is phenomenal. It’s not the winning or the records (easy for me to say, I don’t have any of those!), but the fact that we’re all out there training and pushing and hoping to get to race day prepared and injury-free. Congratulations to everyone on a terrific 5k race weekend.

postrace