Want to race well? Don’t do what I do.

The list of dumb things I do when I’m racing could fill a book. Starting a race without looking at a course map? Check. Inadequately warming up? Yep. Track spikes on a cross country course? Is there a difference? (That answer, by the way, is yes).

But I kind of took the cake this past weekend at the Sundodger Invitational. The reason it was so egregious is that I knew better. Or, I should say, was inspired to know better by this great post by elite runner Tina Muir on body/self image and whether or not one believes they look like a runner. Read it, it’s great. I read it the day before Sundodger.

So what happened? I got to the starting line and decided that there were people who looked faster than I do. Seriously. This is the crap that goes through my head. Women who were more ripped, longer-legged, and just looked faster. And therefore I lined up behind them in the starting box. Why? Because I’d hate to hold someone back. Or slow someone down. You know, because I don’t LOOK as fast as they do.

And then the gun went off, and I got caught behind them. They didn’t go out as fast as I wanted to. This is by no means an indictment of anyone aside from me and my lack of confidence. The pack closed in around me, 200+ people with a quarter mile to get to a path that narrows to 5-6 people wide. 

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I ended up finishing the race in 11th place out of 218 finishers. I don’t even think I’m in 11th place on my team in this picture. I dug myself a big hole and had to expend a lot of energy to fight (literally) my way back to the front. And all because I doubted myself, my ability, and whether or not I deserved to be on the front line.

It’s one thing to have a bad race. They happen. But it’s another thing to doubt yourself out of a good one. Don’t do it, it’s a waste of your training. Yes, I eked out a 6k PR of 21:48. But could it have been faster had I not had to sprint the better part of a mile to get back into fighting position? I’ll never know.

Train like a master*

(*as in old, not expert)

Now that you’ve undoubtedly been so inspired by my last post on cross country that you’ve run out and signed up for the next available race, how do you get ready for it? Hell if I know! After 20 years I’m still trying to figure that one out. But I do have some general rules that I’ve picked up through the ages, and a couple new practices that I’m trying to adopt. 

Run.

This may sound obvious, but you can’t get there without putting in the work. I just watched a great documentary, “Running for Jim“, about legendary high school cross country and track coach Jim Tracy. His training philosophy goes like this:

Run longer so the race seems shorter; run faster so the race seems easier.

That pretty much sums it up for me. Right now I’m hitting about 40 miles per week, with two 12 mile long runs and a day of interval training in that mix. In the spirit of cross country, I’ve been branching out of my comfort zone and venturing into the woods and trails, which abound here on Bainbridge. I’m embarrassed to say that it’s taken me more than five years of living within 2 miles of a very large trail system to finally brave my way through it. Yes, I’m the dork with a handheld map and frequent stops to check the trail markers. But it’s been a great addition to my standard running routes and a good way to cut down on the pounding on the pavement.

Strength.

I hate it. But you gotta do it, especially as you get older. It helps, I’m telling you. This summer I ratcheted up the intensity of my strength training by working with trainer extraordinaire Bethanee Randles at Bainbridge Crossfit Outcome.

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It’s a good thing this is a wide shot – you can’t see the ugly face I’m making. I think it took a full two months to adjust to the increased work load. My worry with strength has always been whether or not it would slow me down. But I suppose you can’t argue with a 13 second 10k PR, set this summer at Railroad Days. It can’t be slowing me down that much.

Here’s a sample workout.

It’s just 30 minutes twice a week. Doesn’t sound like much, does it? I’m here to attest that it makes a difference. No trainer, no weights? No problem. Do a couple rounds of GOOD QUALITY pushups and burpees, maybe some v-sits and flutter kicks, and you’ve got a nice little strength routine right there.

Intervals.

They’re like the vegetables of the cardio world. At first you don’t like them, but once you start you can’t live without them. I’m a creature of habit, control freak, and statistics junkie, and love the predictability of working out on a track. I do an interval day once a week, pretty much year-round. This season, however, my coach has convinced me (kicking and screaming, if I’m being brutally honest) to find a looping trail for workouts. I mean, this thing isn’t even measured. How can I tell how fast I’m running? Of course, maybe that’s the point. And as evidence that I am truly crazy, this is what I’ve been fighting against.

Johnson Farm Training Loop

Horrible, right? Last week’s workout, here on a .34 mile loop (okay, I cheated, my friend Doreen clocked the distance on her GPS watch) at Johnson Farm went like this:

10 minutes at 80-85% perceived effort, 4 minutes recovery jog
6 minutes at 85-90% perceived effort, 3 minutes recovery jog
3 minutes at 85-90% perceived effort, 2 minutes recovery jog
1 minute hard

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Cross-train.

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No, I’m not a good enough swimmer to own a cap like this. It belongs to my kid, but I do swim twice a week. I’m pathetically slow and I’m sure it’s good physical comedy to watch my stroke, but it feels great to get in the pool and work out some of the pounding. It’s also a bit of a mental break from running, and hopefully aids in injury prevention.

The separation is in the preparation.

Russell Wilson’s words to live by. Happy training!

It’s cross country season!

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T-minus one week until the first race of cross country season. It’s the sport I love to hate. What is cross country and how does it differ from other types of distance running? On the face of it, it really shouldn’t be all that much different than the road races I enjoy. For women, it’s a 6k course, generally on natural terrain – grass, gravel, dirt – usually in a park-like setting. Sounds nice, right? It’s short, so theoretically it doesn’t require a whole lot of suffering. It’s also scored as a team sport, where your individual place determines the number of points you earn. The lower numerical value of the team score, the better. It’s like golf, just a little less frustrating.

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It’s this team aspect that brings me back for more. It’s also the thing that I hate most about it. You’re always racing for place. I think there’s a perception that competitive runners are, well, competitive. That if you’re a *competitive* runner, you’re competing to BEAT those around you. That you can’t stand to lose. Perhaps this is why I’m nowhere near qualifying for any national teams, but this couldn’t be farther from the truth for me as a runner. When I toe that line I’m really only worried about what I’m doing. Whether or not I’m running a time that’s good for me. If that gets me a good place, great. If not, so be it. And that’s what I love most about my Club Northwest teammates. They seem to share the same vibe.

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But cross country takes me out of my comfort zone. It’s about running for place. The changing terrain requires more strength than road or track racing. The changing contours of the course require specific trail training that I don’t typically do. And for all of the reasons that I struggle with it, many people love cross country. It’s the ushering in of fall. The courses are beautiful, a break from the pounding of the roads, and a way to compete in the same way one did in high school or college.

If I’ve piqued your interest, there are several opportunities in the Seattle-area for cross country competition this fall. And though I’ve highlighted the team aspect of the sport, you don’t need one to compete. Enter as an individual. Get out of that comfort zone. It’ll be worth it.

Seattle-area cross country races, fall 2015

Sundodger Invitational, September 19, 2015, Lincoln Park, West Seattle. Hosted by the University of Washington, this is a cross country meet with competitive invitational races, as well as open races. Registration information can be found here.

Western Washington University Classic, October 10, 2015, East Lake Padden Park, Bellingham, WA.

Emerald City Open, October 17, 2015, Lower Woodland Park, Seattle. 

USATF Pacific Northwest Open and Masters Cross Country Championships, November 1, 2015, Lower Woodland Park, Seattle. Registration information should be posted to their website closer to race day.

Got zucchini?

We do. At this point it’s coming out our ears.

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Oh yes, we’ve made the classic chocolate zucchini cake.

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And a great recipe for blueberry zucchini cake from I Am Baker that we turned into muffins.

We’ve done zucchini noodle phad thai from White on Rice Couple.

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But at a certain point you can only take so many zoodles and sweets. When you get to that point, there’s this recipe for Zucchini Bread With Moroccan Spices on My Recipes.

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If you’re intimidated by working with yeast, don’t be. It’s pretty forgiving and bread, overall, is easier to mix than other types of pastry. I mean, anything that you can make by throwing all of the ingredients into a machine and hitting a button can’t possibly be all that hard. The tricky thing about yeast is keeping it alive. The general rule of thumb is that it likes temperatures around 110°F to 120°F, which most recipes describe as being “lukewarm”. Apparently my body must run cold because those temperatures feel warm to hottish to me. If you end up using water that is too cold, it deactivates the yeast. Too hot and it kills the yeast. If you’re not using a thermometer to gauge the temperature (and really, who is going to do that in the middle of making bread?), you’ll need to figure out what 110-120°F feels like to you.

Now, I’m not going to lie, this recipe takes some time and effort. It’s kind of the opposite of the 5 ingredient jam, and if you make the “biga” starter, which will give the bread a nuttier flavor than if you skipped that step, it becomes a two day project. But if you’ve exhausted your other zucchini recipes, I think you’ll agree that this was worth it. I chopped and measured all of the ingredients the same day that I made the biga, which made mixing and baking the next day seem a lot easier. This recipe makes two loaves.

Ingredients

Biga: In a bowl, sprinkle 1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast over 1/4 cup warm water. Let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. Add an additional 1/2 cup warm water, then with a wood spoon stir in 1 1/2 cups bread flour until mixture forms a soft dough. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 12 to 24 hours.

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Biga after 24 hours

(Shortcut: To skip the biga step, increase yeast in the following recipe by 1 1/4 teaspoons, the bread flour by 1 1/2 cups, and the water by 3/4 cup.)

3/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
Biga
1 cup grated zucchini (about 4 oz.)
About 4 1/2 cups bread flour
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
3 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1/2 cup diced red bell pepper
1/2 cup finely chopped unsalted roasted pistachios
1 Tablespoon ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons hot chili flakes
About 1/4 cup cornmeal

Directions

In the bowl of a standing mixer or another large bowl, sprinkle yeast over 1 cup warm water and let stand until foamy, about 10 minutes.

Add 3/4 cup water, biga, zucchini, 3 cups bread flour, whole wheat flour, and salt to yeast mixture.

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Beat with dough hook on low speed until blended. Gradually beat in 1 1/2 cups more bread flour, 1/4 cup at a time until mixture forms a soft dough. (At this point you might need to add more bread flour if the dough is still very sticky. It should be slightly sticky, but you should be able to handle it without a lot of it sticking to your hand.)

Beat on medium speed until dough is smooth and pulls cleanly from the bowl, about 6-8 minutes.

Add parsley, bell pepper, pistachios, cumin, and chili flakes and mix until incorporated. If this has significantly increased the stickiness of your dough, you might want to add a little flour at this point too.

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Place into a large bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise at room temperature until doubled about 2 to 2 1/2 hours. Punch down and re-cover dough and let rise again until doubled, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Scrape dough onto well floured surface and divide in half. With lightly floured hands, roll each half into a ball then stretch and tuck edges under to shape into a loaf with tapered ends. Line two sheet pans with parchment paper, and sprinkle liberally with corn meal. Place loaf in center of pan, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and let rise at room temperature until slightly puffed, about 1 1/2 hours.

Preheat oven to 450°F. With a sharp knife, make three diagonal slashes 1 inch deep and 1 to 2 inches apart across loaf tops.

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Bake until crust is well browned, around 35-40 minutes.

Do you have a favorite zucchini recipe?

Michelob Ultra Seafair Pirate (Torchlight) 8k

If racing, for you, is all about having fun, then get out your calendar and add the Michelob Ultra Seafair Pirate Run to next year’s schedule. This was my first time running this race and it’s a blast. Literally. The Seafair Pirates lead things off with a shot from their cannon. 

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Then the race runs along the Alaska Airlines Seafair Torchlight Parade route, which means that you’ll feel like a real athlete with cheering spectators high-fiving you through the stretch. It’s a gradual downhill along 4th Avenue, into a steep downhill on Seneca. 

Seafair Torchlight Run Seneca Street

I took it out conservatively knowing that it starts heading uphill once you hit the turnaround on the Alaskan Way Viaduct. I’m not sure that there is a cooler stretch of race course than this.

Seafair Pirate Torchlight Run Viaduct

In retrospect, I might have made better use of the downhill section. Especially since it wasn’t until the Viaduct that my shoe came untied. Yep, apparently there was one shoe that didn’t get double-knotted. Thankfully the timing chip held it on enough that I never actually had to stop.

Seafair Pirate Torchlight Run Viaduct

If you’re not preoccupied with other things, this is the view you get to enjoy.

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Coming off of the Viaduct brings you ever closer to the hills that lead into the finish.

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I was definitely worried about the last big one, the one that takes you from Western Ave. back up to the Seattle Center. But that’s the gift of training on Bainbridge – even in Seattle the hills aren’t all that bad. And in the end, a 29:24 8k was good enough to win the women’s race. The first place prize is this cool Michelob Ultra Trek bike. 

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My son is already campaigning to claim ownership. He will be riding a bike to school next year and I’m sure they’ll love the beer advertisement that comes with it.

Next up… a brief hiatus for a pack trip into the wilderness (those who know me know how HILARIOUS this is), then a 10k or two in August. Happy running!

Running like She-Ra: Are strength and speed mutually exclusive?

Angst over this New York Times piece on female tennis players deliberately choosing not to gain muscle because of fears that it looks “unfeminine” made its way through my Facebook feed last week. Reaction bordered on outrage, and it definitely seems crazy that there are professional athletes in this day and age who are more concerned about their appearance than their potential athletic achievements. But for me, this is a debate that comes at an interesting time. I just switched up my strength routine and am now working out with a trainer at a CrossFit gym.

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In a perfect world, the perfect me is outraged about this kind of thing. The ideal me is all hard-charging and proud and ready to embrace any extra muscle mass that might come with this new set-up… and not at all wondering what the hell I’m doing WORKING OUT AT A CROSSFIT GYM. But then there’s reality. I want to be stronger, but I also worry: what happens if it actually starts working? Can I be as fast if there is more of me to carry around?

The truly ridiculous part of all of this is that at my age, the chances that I will bulk up in any way are probably pretty slim. Especially with the paltry weights that I’m throwing around. Conventional wisdom would have you believe that there’s nothing but upside. Injury prevention? Check. Increased efficiency? Check. Jason Fitzgerald elaborates on this on Breaking Muscle:

The stronger you get, the more resilient your body will become to the demands of running. The repetitive impact of running won’t wear you down as much. Plus, when you’ve got a strong body, any preexisting conditions will be less likely to worsen. This is because strength training helps to improve structural weaknesses in your body, whether in the muscles, joints, or connective tissues. Often, this will eliminate the source of many common running injuries.

But there are even more benefits to be had from a small, targeted dose of strength training. Strength training also builds core strength, which is particularly important for distance runners. A strong core will not only look great, it’ll also help contribute to better posture throughout the day and while running. This means you’ll be a more efficient runner.

Whether you simply want to run pain-free or you want to shave some time off your favorite distance, strength training will help. Plus, you’ll enjoy many of the other benefits that come with strength training, such as higher energy levels, increased bone density, a stronger metabolism, and less body fat.

He had better not be wrong. I’m not giving up my skinny jeans for nothing.

It’s not too late …

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… to take part in one of the most fun races of the year. Hop a ferry or come on down and enjoy a truly great small-town 4th of July celebration, complete with pancake breakfast, parade and street fair. You don’t want to miss this!

Elite 5k to be run in Shoreline on Wednesday 5/27

If you’re a runner in the Northwest, nothing says summer like the start of Club Northwest’s Summer All-Comers Track and Field meets. The series kicks off this Wednesday 5/27 at Shoreline Stadium, and, as if you needed another reason to go, there will be a smokin’ women’s 5k that night. Kara Goucher and Christine Babcock are coming to town, shooting for 15:20 pace, and Lauren Fleshman may come out to pace it. Between geeking out over the elites and watching the 3-year-olds run the 100 meter dash, there can’t possibly be anything better going on this Wednesday night. Who’s in?

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