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.

One more week

I have one more week to keep my shit together. One more week until USATF National Club Cross Country Championships in Tallahassee, FL. One more week of workouts, one more week of a year’s worth of planning, preparation and focus. I’m finally in the homestretch and I’m not sure that I’m going to make it.

The edges are fraying around me. Some idiot (me) planned a family vacation that leaves 3 days after I return from Florida. Somewhere in those three days there will be a day-long swim meet, a day of work and a mountain of laundry and packing. And while there’s nothing I can do about those three days now, I can’t help but wake up at 5 a.m. stressing about it. Which is super useful, I know.

In addition to the self-induced sleep deprivation, I’m battling a downhill mental game to maintain the intensity of key workouts. In other words, I’m having trouble bringing it.

I can’t help but look forward to the break that comes after club nationals. A three-week stretch to enjoy family time, a mental break from scheduling long runs and workouts, and a chance to do different things. Recently I mentioned to Mike that I’ve found myself wishing for seasonal sports for more variety in training. He suggested competitive eating.

As I ponder my hot dog eating potential, here’s a look at last week’s workouts, as I straggle into the finish.

Sunday: 12 mile long run
Monday: 9 miles with 21:00 tempo in the middle
Tuesday: 800 yard swim, 30 minute strength workout, 3 1/2 mile trail run
Wednesday: 8 miles total. 2 1/2 miles warm-up; timed progressions at 80% intensity: 10:00, 8:00, 6:00, 4:00 with 3:00 recovery jog in between; 1 1/2 (ish) miles cool down
Thursday: 800 yard swim, 30 minute strength workout
Friday: 6 miles total. 1 1/2 miles warm-up; intervals on the track: 200m/400m/600m/800m/800m/600m/400m/200m; 1 mile cool down
Saturday: Off

brooksxcspikes

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.

Rain, the pity party and PNTF XC Champs

Seattle just broke the record for rain in October. By the end of last night, we recorded 10.05 inches of rain for the month. As a point of reference, the typical month of October sees an average of 3.48 inches, so we almost tripled our suffering. And while rain will always trump heat in my book, I’ve had it. This pretty much summed up my feeling this morning as I headed out the door for ANOTHER RAINY RUN.

Rain face

Between the rain, morning darkness, and a couple of intense weeks of training, how does anyone stay sane? I mean, do you know how hard it is to keep this guy clean in weather like this? It’s like trying to dry off a dirty mop.

bailey

Yep, I’ve been throwing myself a big ol’ pity party lately. Last week was a big week of workouts. Almost all of them involved some combination of rain, mud, and running in the dark.

But today I discovered something good in the rain. This morning I tried out my new Brooks Drift 1/2 Zip and found the perfect rainy day top.

Brooks Drift 1/2 Zip

The yellow part of the shirt is windproof and water resistant and kept me dry for the entire run. It’s the perfect layer for days like today, fairly warm and definitely wet. I could stay dry without overheating and the bright color and reflective stripes provide needed visibility on dark, rainy roads.

By the end of my run things cleared up a little, at least in my head and attitude. Which is good because I need to get my head right. With Club Nationals on December 10th, we’re only halfway through cross country season. I’ve been flagging a bit since the weekend. But sometimes all you need is a good race. Luckily Sunday is USATF Pacific Northwest Open & Masters Cross Country Championships at Lower Woodland Park in Seattle. Interested in running? Sign up here by Thursday 11/3.

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.

Incorporating a pre-run warm-up routine

Fill in the blank: I am too old for… ?

For me it’s my pre-run warm-up routine. I turned 43 over the weekend. Previously I liked to think of age as just a number. A state of mind, blah, blah, blah. But it’s official. I’m too old for my standard warm-up routine, which looked a little something like this.

Wake up and brush teeth.
Tie shoes.
Run.

You’d think that the last three months of dealing first with a quad strain, then a hamstring strain would have taught me something. But it wasn’t until I stumbled across this Competitor.com article by Jason Fitzgerald on the Mattock Dynamic Warm-up routine that I decided to make a change. Fitzgerald is the head coach at Strength Running, where he blogs about running and staying injury-free. Last week I started to incorporate his Standard Warm-up into my schedule, and I have to say that I’ve become a warm-up convert.

The Standard Warm-up looks something like this:

1. Walking deadlifts (10 reps)
2. Knee hugs (10 reps)
3. Groiners (20 reps)
4. Donkey kicks (10 reps)
5. Mountain climbers (20 reps legs in, 20 reps legs out)
6. Iron cross (10 reps)
7. Lunge matrix (2-10 reps per lunge type)
8. Leg swings (10 reps)
9. Lateral leg swings (10 reps)

Previously the thought of adding a warm-up routine seemed incredibly arduous. Like I’d have to set the alarm an hour earlier and find some sort of special workout space. Instead, I need an extra five minutes, and use my hallway and living room to get this done. And once I’ve finished these nine movements, I actually feel loose and ready to run.

The instructional video is helpful for learning the movements.

Though a week ago I had blown off the thought of a pre-run warm-up as something that other people might need, I now acknowledge the error of my ways. So for y’all who are still walking out the door and starting you run, it might be worth the 5 minute investment. It might be just the thing you’ve been missing.

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

Sundodger Invitational and how to race cross country

The leaves are changing. The rain is falling. So, you know what that means. It’s time to shake off that summer funk: cross country season begins again!

battlepointfall

I opened my season on Saturday at University of Washington’s Sundodger Invitational. It was a Northwest cross country kind of day at West Seattle’s Lincoln Park with rain and mud and 284 of us sprinting 300m across a field to get to the place where the course narrows to a 5-foot-wide path. No polite road race starts (slower people in the back) here. Instead, due to the team-event nature of the sport, everyone starts together, lined up in starting boxes across a wide starting line. This is where things get dicey, and therefore makes the start one of the key elements to running a good cross country race.

Start of the masters race at USATF Club Cross Country Nationals 2015, photo by Michael Scott

Start of the masters race at USATF Club Cross Country Nationals 2015. Photo by Michael Scott.

Execute this well and you can settle into a pace and, if you’re on, continue to move up on the field. But get caught sleeping when the gun goes off (my usual M.O.) and you get stuck in the pack. When there are 284 people in the race, this means getting tangled up in the sea of legs and racing spikes, running a slower pace than you want to run, and spending valuable energy surging around others to improve your position. Due to an outside box position and a determination to go out hard, I actually managed to get a good start on Saturday.

Then there’s the varying terrain. Sundodger’s 6K course covers a grassy field, gravel paths, and some muddy spots for good measure.

sundodgerxc

Last year’s Sundodger – Mike was on soccer game duty so no pics from this year’s race

Running on grass, gravel and trails uses stabilizing muscles that road running does not. I never thought much about tailoring my training to the different surfaces of cross country. But once I started running more on the trails around my house, I found it easier to handle the uncertain footing that changes in terrain create.

battlepointpath

Last week’s long run included a two-mile tempo run at the park above. This began with a moderately paced 7-mile trail run getting to the park, two miles at 6:30/mi pace at the park, and 3 more miles to get home. Additionally, this is also the time of year when I swap out some track workouts for a rolling loop on local farmland.

Overall, and surprisingly to me, things went well at Sundodger. Training has been rough lately, but somehow things fell into place on Saturday. Though this was only the first meet of the season, I felt competitive amongst the college kids.

sundodger2016results

If you’ve been feeling stale on the roads lately, cross country is a fun alternative. This fall abounds with cross country opportunities. If you want to join a team, these local clubs all run cross country:

Club Northwest
Seattle Running Club
Eastside Runners

Then check out these local races this fall:

Saturday October 8, 2016: 43rd Annual Western Washington University Cross Country Classic
Saturday October 15, 2016: Emerald City Open
Sunday November 6, 2016: PNTF Open/Masters Cross Country Championships
Sunday November 20, 2016: USATF Northwest Region Open & Masters Cross Country Championships

The black lining to the PR rainbow

Black lining PR rainbow

Didn’t think there was any downside to a PR, did you? I know I didn’t. In my mind a PR should be nothing but pink unicorns and fairy dust. And it is, for the most part. But this summer I’ve stumbled upon the realization that it can also be an inadvertent ticket to crazy town. A ride on the PR-seeking crazy train, which, over the summer, has pulled me through the stations of doubt, fear, and mild injury.

I couldn’t figure out what had me in such a funk. A nagging hamstring strain had me questioning how hard I should be training. Which, in turn, probably meant that I wasn’t training as hard as I would under normal circumstances. Two local races resulted in completely lackluster performances. Then a friend posted this great article on the extremes of training for a PR that snapped my reality into focus.

Neither of these extreme states is the smartest, right? Uber-Fitness Mode might give you an amazing body but it can also result in unhealed injuries and (eventually) misery and abandonment if you don’t listen to your body. Meanwhile, Super Sedentary Mode gives you the Couch Body which eventually leaves you cranky with friends and family, and also unhappy when the extreme carb rush is over. (“Oh no. Look at me. What have I done? And why am I covered in powdered sugar?“)

The problem with a great PR is that it’s a rush that feeds itself. There’s no topping the feeling of exhilaration that happens when you see the magical number next to your name. You want more. You know you can do it again, with a few more miles, a little more work. And now, that thing you do because it makes you feel good and enhances your life? It becomes something else. The workouts ratchet. The stress builds. You worry that you’re not doing enough to run well in the next race. The chase for another PR is now an addiction.

My friends, as the amazing Lauren Fleshman put it here: “…there is no pot of gold waiting at the end of the achievement rainbow.

It’s time to step off the crazy train. In the past this has meant a swing of the couch-surfing variety. But I still have a 5k road race and cross country season on the impending calendar. I also have that hamstring thing that, incredibly, has not managed to magically go away on its own. It’s time to learn about the dimmer switch. It’s a mental shift of letting go, of enjoying the process and forgetting the results. Here goes nothing…

The pain train and the recovery run

The pain train is back and it’s taking names. It’s also reintroducing me to the concept of the recovery run.

Friday morning repeated a workout I’ve mentioned before.

1 1/2 miles @ 8:51
1 1/4 miles @ 7:13
1600m @ 5:51
1200m @ 4:23

With 3-4 minutes rest between intervals, this is a workout that challenges not only physically, but mentally as well. The last three intervals got the lactic acid good and pumped and I struggled a bit to get it all done.

Normally after a workout like this I look forward to a full day off. But this week Jim scheduled an easy 5 miler. This looked suspiciously like a “recovery run”, which I’ve always blown off as bullshit code for a run that’s interfering with my rest time. Traditionally I reward myself with a nice day off following a good hard effort. Day after a race? Sit on the couch. Run a crazy hard interval workout? Enjoy a leisurely Saturday morning.

Recovery run

So, it was with some reluctance that I set off for a 5 mile recovery run. I felt a little sore and tired and questioned whether this would do anything aside from exacerbate those qualities. But you know what? As I started running, the soreness and fatigue started to disappear. Keeping the pace easy helped a lot. I maintained a conversation pace the entire way and never felt out of breath. But my legs loosened up and I returned home more energized than I was when I left. This piqued my interest: what’s up with the recovery run?

According to author Matt Fitzgerald on Active.com, the recovery run builds fitness by forcing you to run in a pre-fatigued state.

There is evidence that fitness adaptations occur not so much in proportion to how much time you spend exercising but rather in proportion to how much time you spend exercising beyond the point of initial fatigue in workouts. So-called key workouts (runs that are challenging in their pace or duration) boost fitness by taking your body well beyond the point of initial fatigue.

Recovery workouts, on the other hand, are performed entirely in a fatigued state, and therefore also boost fitness despite being shorter and/or slower than key workouts.

Fitzgerald explains this more in an article on Competitor.com:

In a key workout you experience fatigued running by starting fresh and running hard or far. In a recovery run you start fatigued from your last key workout and therefore experience a healthy dose of fatigued running without having to run hard or far. For this reason, although recovery runs are often referred to as “easy runs,” if they’re planned and executed properly they usually don’t feel very easy.

Elite runners utilize the recovery run throughout their training, as Roy Benson describes in this Runner’s World article. If a 12:48 5k runner trains regularly at 8:00/mile pace, maybe I need to rethink my Saturday mornings. Pancake morning can’t disappear entirely, but maybe it’s worth a little shakeout jog beforehand.