Thursday, December 20, 2012

Mind Games

Recently, I've run in a few races to kind of test the waters and see where I am at physically after the whole process of training for, racing in, and then recovering from my first marathon in Chicago. I honestly didn't know what to expect and how my body would feel getting back to the shorter distances and higher intensities. But really, who does when coming off a Marathon, particularly your first one??
Because of my very low key 2 to 3 week break after Chicago, I knew racing a Half- Marathon so soon would be a gamble.  But I wanted to experiment, see where I was at, and try to earn a few dollars by cracking top 5.

Aaron Linz, me and Laurie Knowles getting our medals after the Turkey Trot!
  So On November 18th, 6 weeks after Chicago,  I ran in the Philly Half and it turned out to be a great experiment.  My pace was a little sporadic with some of the hills, but I ran a 1:13:12 officially which is the same exact time as my Personal record that I ran in Naples at the beginning of the year.  I came in 3rd place overall, and it felt good to be back out on the racing scene.  3 days later, I came back to run and win the 8k Turkey Trot right here in Charlotte.  Although I've more or less lived here for 8 years, I very rarely get to race in Charlotte, so to come out on Thanksgiving Day and run with 9,000 other locals was seriously a cool experience; the best part being a 20 minute drive home instead of a 24 hour return trip ordeal that usually ends up in missed flights or delays.  Of course, the supposed to be "workout" that I was doing for "fun" ended up turning into a race.  Fellow elite runner, Laurie Knowles who recently moved to Charlotte, crept up behind me at mile 4 and tested my leg speed by forcing me to switch gears.  But even though my plan of running "comfortably hard" went out the wayside, in all honesty, I loved the competition, and was glad to recover so well from the Philly Half.:)  Thanks Laurie!!

My Soccer sisters, Swiney, Heidi and myself after the Main Street Crit "8k".....they cheered LOUD!!
Most recently on December 8th, I ran in the Main Street Crit 8k down in Columbia, South Carolina.  It was actually a really cool venue and great idea to have a Criterium race set up for runners.  Usually, a "Crit"is a short loop that is set up for cyclist races.  So although running at night and going around a block was really different for a road race, it turned out to be a great experience!!  Unfortunately, the course was short and turned out to be about 7.2k instead of 8k, so my time of 23:16 was more equivalent to about 25:50.  On lap 2, when I realized it was short,  time and pace went out the window and I knew it came down to just trying to win.  
Looking back now, my one train of thought says: it would have been really nice for me to post a legit 8k time which I have never had the opportunity to do before,.. BUT on the other hand, at least it was shorter rather than longer:)!! that wouldn't have been as fun.
Chillin with Susan and Heidi before the race at Starbucks. Yes, I had coffee!!
Anyhow, the true blessing and what really put the experience over the top, was being able to race with some of my really close friends, former soccer teammates and  Coach Mark Hadley cheering me on!  They obviously were able to see me a lot more than they would have in a normal road race, and their presence was priceless.

So all in all, I would say the last few segments of training and racing have gone pretty well since coming back from Chicago. It's nice to know that I haven't lost too much speed since the Marathon, but the results as usual, do leave in me with a  hint of in-satisfaction.  I know I can post faster times in a wide range of distances, and  as most athletes and competitors want, I too want to do better. I am excited to focus and race in more Halfs, 15ks and 10ks throughout this upcoming winter/spring seasons.  The Naples Half-Marathon in January will be a great opportunity to try and notch up the speed and get a personal record.  So this next little blurb to sum up my blog, is not really about my Philly Half experience,  nor the 8k turkey trot,  nor the Main Street Crit 8k.. ...  It's about what all runners need more fitness in,.... and what I plan on taking to a whole other level in this 2013 year.  MENTAL FITNESS! This year I want to step it up and experiment with some mind games that will help me to get through every hard workout and race.  My 2013 goals are ambitious. But if these type of things can help just a little bit in achieving them, then its worth trying!!

Here are a few past tricks that I've used in hard workouts and races. Maybe they could help you too!!???

1)   The Counting Game!

I have found that when I am at the end of my rope and I truly feel that my legs have had it, that they have gone as far as they can go and the lactic acid is absolutely burning, ....sometimes it helps to do the exact opposite of what the brain and body want to do; which is to slow down.  
What I have learned over time, is that sometimes, just sometimes, it can actually help to speed up for a short amount of time.  Some people call it surges or pick-ups.  Call it what you want, but for me, I see it nothing more than changing your running gait.  I have discovered, that for short amounts of time, by picking up the pace and turning my legs over at a very fast rate, no matter how much pain I'm in, I am actually giving certain muscles a break by using a whole different set of muscles.  Obviously, most people who do this at the end of races will call this their finishing "kick", but I have used this trick in the middle of races too.  When I feel I am slowing down, burning out, or even after ascending a hill, I have found that one of the best things I can do is change my gait a bit.  So I will get on my toes, and run really fast while counting to 17. Don't ask me why 17 seems to be my number, but it just seems like the right amount of time for me to pick it up in an anaerobic surge before I have to get back to aerobic breathing and am unable to lift my legs at that rate.  And although you may think it can make things even worse or the body even more tired, I believe that by changing my gait slightly and getting on my toes, it's a way to make my body use different muscles and suffer a different kind of pain. This in turn, gives the mind and body a break from the monotonous task that we call steady running, especially in the longer distances.  For some people, 10 or 15 seconds may be just the right amount of time to fuel the fire.  Others might try to do surges for a whole minute!  In either case, by counting to a set number, you are taking control of what you know you can handle. And really, it's all about what feels best for the individual.  I would say that experimenting in tempo or progression type workouts is the best way for you to throw a counting surge in because those type of workouts are not anaerobic in nature.  Being a Newton runner helps me a bunch because the shoes have lugs on the bottom that make it really easy to get on your toes and get your sprint on!!

2)  The song game! 

You need an ipod for this one!
In my longer runs or boring treadmill runs I will sometimes wear an ipod. I love running to music and have used it as a tool since I started in the sport.  Whether it's Christian Worship music, Alternative (Cold play or Goo goo dolls) or country (Taylor Swift, Kenny Chesney) I try to have different genres and albums for every mood that I''m in or pace that i want to run.  For example, listening to Christian Rock really pumps me up, so on days where i want to just stroll and run easy, I'll sway on the side of some low key country.  I do not listen to music on every run and especially don't for my real hard workouts where I need to focus and be alone in my head. HOWEVER, I have been known to wear my ipod for certain races that i am treating as a workout.  I feel like it's a great boost for races where I am not trying to run super fast or get a P.R., but just want to put in a good solid effort.  In fact, runners world even commented on it once! check out number 4 on this list:

3) Memorization and Mantras!

Where as music is used for my low key type training days, Memorization and Mantras are used for the times when I am HURTING and the brain starts to think of all the negatives and reasons why "I can't".  Over the course of my life, I have literally memorized hundreds of scriptures and chapters from the Bible.  It's funny because I can barely remember to get gas or brush my teeth some days, but I have stored in my head life giving Bible verses that have really pulled me through some tough life situations and races too.

I have come to find out that if I recite 1 cor. 9:24-27, I can get through at least a quarter mile or 90 seconds of hard running.  I know others who have memorized poems or inspirational quotes that they say over and over again to keep themselves in a positive mindset. Some runners recite things like "I AM STRONG" or "I CAN DO THIS" over and over again.  In either case whatever you say in your head has got to be positive, encouraging and/or inspiring.  And even though we all have negative thoughts sometimes, dwelling on things like "I'm not fit enough"or "I hate this", or "I am slow", will not help the situation!!  They definitely go through my mind sometimes, but dwelling on them does NOT help me get through a hard effort, no matter how true they may be!!:)

1 cor. 9:24- "Do you not know in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.  Everyone who competes in the games, goes into strict training.  They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.  Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly.  I do not beat my body like a man beating the air.  No I beat my body and make it my slave, so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize."

NOTE: Paul isn't necessarily talking about running here, but it's still a great scripture to recite!!:) 

Anyways stay tuned for more mind games in 2013. The cool thing about the sport of running is that you can make whatever you want of it. Sure it’s a physical sport, but it’s your mind that dictates how fast, far and frequent you want to run. It’s really a beautiful thing!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Chicago marathon

 "Now to Him who  is able to do immeasurably more than all we could ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us to Him be the glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus." (ephesians 3:20)

I have decided to write two blogs for my Chicago Marathon experience.  This one is more about the race itself and the other which I'll post at a later time, is a little more personal and more about people.  But in both blogs I talk about running, relationships and faith..... so read at your own risk!!:)

Chicago Marathon Pre Race Interview; Newton-Team Alchemy

As I was getting ready for bed the night before the Chicago Marathon,  a couple thoughts ransacked my mind. Besides the thought of,  "Oh my Gosh, tomorrow is the day I will run my first marathon and I have no idea what to expect",.... I thought to myself that my last month had been really different. The crazy, non-stop, nomad lifestyle that I live and had always lived, had been pretty tamed.  I didn't have any stories about forgetting my Ipod on my car, running out of gas on the road or paying the cashier with a power bar thinking it was my credit card. I had made few mistakes in getting ready for workouts and in my daily tasks. Life, for this month anyway, (just this month) had been well.....kind of BORING!!!

 This was due in part, because I had a made a vow to myself about a month before Chicago, that apart from training, I would be taming things down for awhile.  After the USA 20k Championships on September 3rd,  I was happy to finish 8th place. It was my 5th top 10 performance of  the year for USA National Championship races. But every Championship I competed in  (1 mile, 5k, 10k, Half-Marathon, 20k) were all 13.1 miles or shorter.  I knew my next race, the CHICAGO MARATHON, would be a little different than getting prepared for the Mile or a 5k.  I was thankful to have coach Mark Hadley to help me see how different.

In my prayer time leading up to the race,  I really felt God calling me to hide out  in the "Kerith Ravine." The Kerith Ravine was a place in the mountains where God told Elijah to hide out for awhile away from people and society in the midst of chaos and hardship in his country. It was only then after spending that extra time alone with God, that Elijah had the clarity and power to know what to do next. God provided for him in every way during and after his Kerith Ravine experience. The string of miracles that happened after, were nothing short of well...miraculous!!!  My personal "Kerith Ravine" has always been the one consistent routine in my life. My early wake up time where I spend reading, praying and studying the Bible, and any books Christian or Non- Christian that help me to get in a good mind set for the day. But  for this short period of time in my life, I wanted and needed my  "Kerith Ravine" to be more. I wanted to rest as much as possible, engage in a few less social activities, and try not to drive all over the place to meet people for coffee, go to sporting events, train people... the list goes on!!  So I chose to take even more extra time everyday before my morning work outs to read, pray and study.  I went to bed earlier than ever, said no to a lot of great and fun opportunities that I usually would engage in, and tried to drive as little as possible unless it was to training or appointments. I knew the lifestyle was temporary, but this was hard for me because  I hate not being there 100% or being available to say Yes to a lot of things. .....People Pleaser 101,.. I know, ...but that's a whole other blog!

 Anyhow getting back to my thoughts the night before the race, about how the last month had been kind of uncharacteristically tamed, I had no idea that the morning of the race would be just the opposite!! The first couple hours of the day were calm. I woke up at 4am, grabbed my book bag and immediately did some reading, praying and reflecting.  I reflected on a verse that had come up all month really hitting my spirit and soul.  Ephesians 3:20 says "Now to Him who  is able to do immeasurably more than all we could ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us to Him be the glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus." I had heard it in sermons, books, on the radio, in my devotionals and other unexpected places but I was a little confused as to what the verse meant.  I know that it does NOT mean that having power through Christ is when we always get what we want, when we want it.  God is not a Genie or Santa Clause. And as I posted on Facebook on October 3rd before leaving for the race,  "Delighting in Him" does not mean we always get what we want or are completely satisfied with results of what we do. I think it is more along the lines of meaning that, in doing what we do, we can have joy and freedom in the process, no matter the outcome.

I am blessed to know many people who may or may not believe in God and the Bible, but are content whatever the circumstances. It's their attitude that makes them inspiring and joyful, even in the midst of some very difficult times. These people have pulled me through valley's of the past that are just too tough and hard to describe. But although it's been a tough journey at times for all of us, it is because of them, that I'm still standing. In fact, for this 2012 year, I have felt the most physically and menatlly healthy that I have ever felt. Back in my 20's and whole life for that matter, (I am 30 years old now:)) I could never have imagined feeling so much more free and clear-minded.  So maybe that's what the verse signified for me right now?

 Anyways, back to my "Kerith Ravine" time before the race, I reflected back to 2005, my senior year in college when I first decided to try out for the Penn State Track Team after my soccer career ended. Back then I just wanted to make the team for fun, but prayed that He would take control and help fulfill the desires of my heart, one of them being to be able to use my love of competition.  My best mile time which I knew from Fitness tests for Soccer was in the 5:40's at that point.  I was required to run a 5:15 mile to make the team and I remember vividly saying that all I could do was my best in the tryout and God would have to do the job of making it good enough.  I did make the team and the season went well. Looking back now, I'm not sure how I have run 26 miles in the 5:40's range, but I guess that's what faith,  a handful of great coaches and a lot of supportive people can do for you:)!

  After my quiet time and eating some breakfast, (couldn't stomach more than toast and jelly), I grabbed the Garmin that I was going to use for the race because this is what happened to my own the night before.:....
Thankfully, Susan Black, a woman that I live with in Charlotte and an angel sent by God to help me in my Chicago Preparations knew she was staying with me the following night and I sent her the hundredth text of the weekend to bring something that I had forgotten back home. She borrowed a friends Garmin who had the same model as mine and I charged it as soon as I got it ....(or so I thought)..

Anyhow,  time passes quickly when you are getting ready for a Marathon, and there is just a lot to think about in getting everything together. Bottles, clothes, gels, shoes, bibs, coffee, and going to the bathroom (probably the most important if you know what I mean) were just a few of the things on the list. By 5:40 am I was feeling a little rushed but made it to the lobby for Elite Check-in at 5:45am. I was the last in line to check in and thought man!..these people are punctual!  As I looked around and saw everyone bundled up with winter coats, hats and gloves etc., I realized that I wasn't in Charlotte 98% humidity anymore. It was 35 degrees and cold out, which was absolutely perfect for race time, but I needed something warmer than a jacket to cover up with until then....OOOPPPs #1.

So once again, I texted Susan to bring something warm down, along with a couple other items. She delivered very quickly, but  it wasn't long before I started to get reprimanded by the officials because I didn't have my uniform on yet with my number attached. I typically like to warm -up in different clothes before putting my uniform on. In soccer, we always warmed up in different clothes and then changed before game time. It's my routine for every hard workout and race and has always been very helpful because I am a heavy sweater. I don't like to be wet before the race starts.  But apparently Elite Marathon officials do not like that idea!...and so I had made OOOPPS #2!!!  Then while they were checking our shoes, I was just a about to take the first sip of coffee and I spinned around while one of the elite women turned at the same time and SPLASH!!! whole Starbucks coffee spilled on her hair and then to the floor.  OOOPPS #3. She said she was "sooo sorry" and I said "oh no, I am SOO sorry!!"... and thankfully it did not burn her head!  That was most important.

 However, the thought of not having a coffee before the biggest race of my life was not good.
I always drink coffee before a race and every morning for that matter.
So I asked the Elite officials if I had time to go to Starbucks in the hotel to get another coffee.  They said probably not.  I took that as a YES, and sprinted to the Starbucks in the Hilton to tell them what happened. They saw my panic and rushed to give me a free coffee ....No time to pay.... (Thanks Hilton Chicago!!!) So, With the shoes and clothes hanging out of my bag in one hand, and a coffee in the other, I ran out to the bus making me the last athlete to get on, but good enough for the 6am cutoff time!

I thought my "ooopps's" had been over until I got to the Elite tent and I started hearing my friends Garmin that I was using randomly beeping. For some reason the battery was going down and down by the minute until it was close to low battery. Not good seeing I needed it to last for 26 miles!  Either my friends Garmin was broke or I didn't charge it correctly, but in any event, this was OOOOPPS #4, and I started scrambling!! I texted poor Susan who was still at the hotel getting ready to take a shuttle to certain spots of the race. I knew there was not much time, but asked if she could bring her Garmin to the start of the race. Hers is a much different model, but I thought it would certainly be better than nothing. Once again the race officials looked at me like I was crazy when I said what she was trying to do. (I think by then, EVERYONE could tell that this was my first marathon)  They said that there was NO way she would be able to get through all the camera crews, barricades and police to make it in time.

There was no sign of Susan with 10 minutes before gun time and I was getting mentally prepared to run without a Garmin while changing into my uniform.  And then OOOPPs #5! My bib number ripped while getting my uniform on. On any other day that would probably be the last straw for me.  But the strange inner peace I had had all morning remained, and so I safety pinned it together in little time, and headed to the start line with crooked bibs hanging off.

I was just noticing that I would be the only Elite Runner without any kind of watch, when  I saw Susan who was wearing a bright yellow shirt out of the corner of my eye!!  It really was like seeing an angel, because let me just say,....THIS POOR WOMAN,  had no idea what my request would entail! She seriously competed in an unexpected workout that morning and I think it was her mission to prove the officials wrong!!  She literally had to find a way to get through 50,000 people and hundreds of other tents to find where the Start of the race and the Elite Runners were. To make a long story short, she ended up getting on the phone with a very nice volunteer woman with a headset and this woman tried her best to talk Susan through squeezing in and jumping over the barricades. When I finally saw her, there was no time for explanation. I could tell she had been through a lot and she was huffing and puffing behind all the gates and trying to find me.  I somehow got the watch from across the barricade, had just enough time to learn how it worked, and within a few minutes the gun went off!!!

And WOW!!, was it surreal to run through that first mile in a tunnel with some of the best marathoners in the world!! The 5k came and went and I realized that I did not even think to grab my first bottle! Elites are allowed to have 8 personal bottles with drink, gels etc. They are set up in a special way to grab and go without straying too much off the course.  But being in the adrenaline filled state that I was in, I of course forgot to take my first one and dropped my 3rd. OOPPSS#6! I was sure to drink some at the regular aid stations.

After that, all my ooopps's were behind me. I knew it was time to do what I had came to do ...and just run.  The crowd support, the course, and the scene itself were amazing.  Miles 1 through 10 felt good and I had a deep joy in doing what I was doing.
 Unfortunately as had happened some in training,  my left foot and leg started to seize up at mile 11 and I knew that I still had over 15 miles to go....ugggh.:(
That's when the thoughts, doubts and physical pains can really start to take over for any runner.  The left side seized up so much that at one point, I bounded in the air, and yelled out loud at it telling it to "Shut Up and Loosen!!" The guys running near me definitely looked at me funny but I had to do something? I know from other runners, that sometimes nerve and muscular pain can go away for awhile or at least move to another spot if you can fight it the right way. So like I have seen and heard about many other runners doing, I mentally pushed through the pain, and hoped for better at Mile 12.

When it finally did relieve some at about Mile 12.5, I felt a surge coming on in my spirit. At this point, I tried not to think about pace or splits too much.  It started to feel like I was in the "Zone" and I just wanted to go with it.  I had come to run my own race and really had not even thought about where the other Elite Women were.
In fact, there was a  span in the middle where I didn't even really think at all or feel like I was in my body. I knew that Coach Hadley had trained me well, but was very surprised to hear after the race how even paced my splits were. Consciously, I was not thinking about it.  Miles just kept clicking off in the 5:40's and low 5:50's, and at times, I forgot where I was!

But of course, no "Feel Good Zone" can last forever. At mile 21, the monkey jumped on my back, and even though my breathing felt great, both legs started going sour.  I knew it was common for most runners to feel the "hit the wall" sensation for that last 10k of a Marathon. I had heard all about it, from runners of all abilities.  But once again, Mark had prepared me well physically and I had worked very hard to be the most mentally fit I have ever been.  The "one mile at a time game" becomes the "one step at a time game", where you just keep going one step at a time. And whether I was going with the wind or against the wind, (after all we were in the windy city) I tried to maintain Newtonian running form.

Months before the race my initial goal was to break 2:40 for my debut marathon. Being more of an anaerobic type runner who had less than a year ago been a 3k Steeplechaser, (less than 2 miles in distance,) I thought running 6:05 per mile for 26 would be hard enough. In training, I felt at times, like a worn out old hag with soccer quads that were bigger than 2 Elite Marathon runners legs put together!  And that was just the first of my physical inadequacies for running an Elite Marathon! (You can see more in blog #2!)  As training progressed and I started to get some quality workouts in and build my long runs up to the 20's, I thought I could run somewhere in the Mid 2:30's.   Realistically, between 2:34 and 2:36, which would be about 5:53 to 6 min pace per mile. Mark may have thought different, but I thought that on an absolute ideal day with great weather, I could maybe break 2:34 and run 5:52 pace per mile.  But even then, my longest tempo run of the buildup (which is a run designed to be close to marathon pace) was 10 miles at 5:53 pace and it hurt a lot!  So the thought of clicking off 5:52's for 26 miles seemed out of reach.  Also, there were plenty of tempo run days where I could not run even 6 miles at 6 minute pace.  I remember one workout in particular with mark on the bike, where I was aiming to do 10 miles in the 5:40's to 5:50's range and I ended up giving everything I had to only come away with 9 miles at 6:06 pace!  Mark's positive spirit and ability to make me see that the training plan would work as long as I put in the effort,  along with my support crew of Triathlon Coach Jim Reavis and some of the Charlotte Running Club members, really pulled me through some tough workouts.  But still you can't help but have doubts on days where it is tough to run 2 miles at Marathon Pace!

Sooo, with all that can imagine that I was pretty excited to realize that with 2 or 3 miles to go, I could possibly achieve our ultimate goal of breaking 2:34.  When I turned the corner for the last 100 meters of the race and saw the clock at 2:32: "something",  it was beyond imaginable and I just did what I could to get to the line and straggle over to the side.  And that's when it hit me;  To finish in 2:32:42, 10th woman overall and 3rd American in the Chicago Marathon, was "immeasurably more than all I could've asked or imagined."  Immediately Ephesians 3:20 started flashing through my brain!

All in all, the race was a great experience filled with spots where I felt very strong, very weak and sometimes just ok. At certain parts I ran with a couple groups of guys and other times I couldn't see a soul in site. It was great to see Susan and Newton Shoe people at key spots throughout the streets.  The Newton staff was great in being so supportive of my Chicago endeavors and I was excited to wear a new model of shoes that were perfect for the Marathon distance. I had never worn them before because I had only received them a day before the race, but I had been in that position with Newton before and I always felt great wearing whatever they gave me. As long as they have those lugs on the forefoot, I'm golden:)

I know that I still have a long way to go in achieving what I want to achieve in the running world. To many Elite Marathoners in the world and to a few in our country, a 2:32 is not really that great and is certainly not jaw dropping. But again, for me, knowing where I have come from, and what my body is capable of, it was all I could have asked for for now.  And if that was the last race I ever run, if tomorrow I break my other ankle, if I live the rest of my life working in a 9 to 5 job with no physical competition, I will know what Ephesians 3:20 means just a little bit more.  My last 7 years in the running scene have gone beyond all that I could ask or imagine.....immeasurably more!!!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Posted on JULY 22nd, 2012

Eliminating the good, to shoot for the Great!!!!( July 22nd, 2012)

I made a "big" decision about a month and a half ago.  A decision that in the grand scheme of things and in life, may not be that big of a deal.  But for me, at that time of my life, deserved some thought:) I know we all make these decisions at some part of our lives. you know....the kind that leave you a little double minded and crazy in the process.  But I guess the important thing is to believe that once you make the choice, it was the best choice to make, ....and looking back is not an option!!!
This past fall, winter, and part of the spring had been a new adventure for me in the running world.  Everything was happening so quickly and unexpectedly too. It was fun, new and exciting to hit up road races of every caliber and distance. I absolutely treasured new distances on the road, meeting great people at the races and getting to see some of the most interesting parts of our country.  September through January saw lots of 5ks and 10ks, a couple USATF national Road championships and even my first half -marathon.
March and April continued to challenge me with bigger and better things.  The NYC Half Marathon and the Cherry Blossom ten mile were probably the most prestigious of the bunch. I still can't get over how awesome the race directors and organizers took care of the Elite Athletes!
With all this going on, I knew in the back of my mind that track season and the Olympic Trials was approaching quickly and May would be here before you know it. It came so quickly in fact, that at one point I had no idea where I would be racing or what event I would be racing in!  But after a series of circumstances, and a very tough debut 10k track race at Stanford in May, we thought the 3k Steeple was still the best shot for me to place high at the Olympic Trials.  I already had set a good standard from last year, and  figured I could devote about 6 weeks to specifically train for the event and be ready at the Olympic Trials to compete well.  But as I started to really engage into the training and be prepared for my 2nd track race of the season, something really hit me??
First and probably most important, was that I realized I don't really like track all that much.  Yes, is a sport, and anyone who knows me, knows that I love competing in all sports!! But overall, sitting all day in a hotel across the country waiting to compete in a ten to 15 minute race, was just not all that appealing to me anymore. Sure, I had had some good experiences with it over the years, and I am grateful that I was able to take it up so late in life. But due to the high costs of all the traveling, and the little to no experience I had in high school or college, I did not feel it was a path that I wanted to continue to take for much longer.
I had always felt way more excitement and vigor when thinking about experiencing different venues and courses in the Road Race scene. Track had been kind of an after thought all year and I really had not been looking forward to it as much as some of these other endeavors.
Secondly, to be completely humble and honest about the whole situation, I had proved to be "good" at track and the 3k Steeplechase over the last 2 years, but not "GREAT." (relatively speaking anyway)  It is one thing to come in top 10 or top 15 at Nationals, which I had done in 2010 and 2011, but it is a whole other thing to be top 2 or 3,.. and I just wasn't there. Qualifying for the Olympic Trials is a lot different than qualifying for the Olympics where you have to finish 1st, 2nd or 3rd to even have a chance to contend.  Maybe if I had devoted more time to technical work going over the barriers, ....maybe if I hadn't shattered  my ankle and quit running for 2 years, maybe if I did the Steeple in college, maybe if I ran in college instead of playing soccer???  Blahh blahhh blahhh....the list went on. Playing the "what if" game can only take you so far.  I decided to look where I was at right then and there.
And where was I??
Since my comeback from ankle surgery in 2010, my times had improved on the track and roads in a variety of distances.
But this past 2011/2012 year was different. I was kind of turning a corner in some distances on the road and I felt blessed to be a part of Team Alchemy and Newton running, (which happens to be a company that produces shoes for road races, not track:)
So the question arose??  Can I continue to devote everything I have to being really great at the steeplechase, (a 2 mile event with barriers and water pits).. while at the same time try to be really great on the roads and the longer distances? Maybe I could, but it didn't mean I should!! I finally felt ready to focus on one thing.
In the past, I probably would have sucked it up, did what I could and said Yes!! "sign me up. I will do it all!!"  That's what people expected and that's what some elite runners do.   And of course, The question from others and myself, "why would you choose NOT to go to the Olympic Trials??!!", loomed in my head for a bit.  But life is too short to always try to please other people and I am not afraid to say where my biggest strengths are and are not.  I don't want to be "good" at a lot of things when I might have the potential to be "great" at one.  So ....I prayed to God, I discussed it with my coaches and mentors, and I made a decision.  I eventually chose not enter the 2012 Olympic Track trials and in the beginning of June I committed to running in my debut  marathon in Chicago on October 7th this coming fall. Seeing I normally don't know where I'll be from one week to the next, never mind 5 months down the road, this was a pretty big commitment!
In order to be as best prepared as possible for this race, I knew I had to hit up some key road races to tune up. The last month has seen me competing in the USA Half marathon Championships in Duluth, Minnesota, a fantastic experience in which I came in 9th place in 1:13:43 ( The 15k Boilermaker in Uttica NY where I finished 10th overall, and 3rd American, not spectacular, but not bad coming off some pretty hefty Marathon training.( and most recent, the Beat the Heat 5k in Winston Salem NC where I won finishing in 16:22.

Eliminating the "good," to ALLOW for the "great" may have meant no more track and no more 3k Steeplechase, but it does not mean I won't use every opportunity and every shorter distance race to get me better for the longer.
I'm not sure how "great" I can be at the longer stuff anyways and you can never predict times, places or results to an exact measure, but as usual, I'm sticking to the motto that I have had since middle school. In this new phase of training, I will do everything I can in the natural, but only God can do the Superl!!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

NYC Half Marathon- Running My Own Race

NYC Half -Marathon -March 18th

When David Monti from the New York Road Runners Association emailed us the "Invited Elite Athlete" list for the NYC Half Marathon on March 18th, I quickly realized that I was truly just happy to be on the list!!! Top Marathoners and Half Marathoners from Kenya, Ethiopia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Australia, Great Britain, Mexico and of course the USA were just SOME of the countries that would be represented in this event. For sure the highest caliber race I have ever been in.  Celebrity-like names in the runner world (Kara Goucher, Kim Smith, Caroline Rotich, Desi Davilla) would be at the top of the field as well as at least 7 other Olympians in events ranging from the 5k to Marathon! And ....the Men's side was just as strong!

Now I'm as competitive as they come, but I'm not stupid or delusional!! So being that this would be my 3rd Half Marathon and first real competitive one, I knew from the beginning that the goal for this race was simple: Run a personal record by beating my last half-marathon time of 1:13:12.
 To do this, I would have to run my own race and not get caught up with the top leaders.
I read some key Bible verses leading up to Sunday that helped me put into perspective how comparing yourselves to others, different than being inspired by others, is not always the wisest thing whether it's in sport or in life.  I try to believe that confidence is found in doing the best we can with what we have to work with. For some races, this means I can and should go for the win, but for others, it's about going for the win against myself:)

Galatians 6:4(Amplified version)
"But let every person carefully scrutinize and examine and test their own conduct and their own work.  They can then have the personal satisfaction and joy of doing something commendable without resorting to boastful comparison with their neighbor."

I like that thought, so on race morning, my attitude was "I will run my own race!!!".....(well for this one anyway:)
 Anyhow, it was a perfect temperature to run a half-marathon and an awesome scene in Central Park!  I started out the first 3 miles a little faster than I wanted (5:23, 5:28, 5:23), but it was tempting not to go out even faster to try to stay with the top group.  I have to continually remind myself in these long distance races that 13 miles is a lot different than a 3k Steeplechase or a 5k!
In any case, the first 10k in Central Park went pretty well. One of my Penn State soccer teammates was at mile 5 cheering her brains out and it was amazing I could even spot her with all the people!!  I went through the 10k in 34:25, which was actually the same exact time I ran at the 10k National Championships in October.  Only in that race, it wasn't as hilly and I didn't have 7 more miles to run!!! I had some positive thoughts for awhile like "wow I am fitter now than back then" and "I really like these Newton Shoes"!!!!  But positive thoughts can quickly turn sour when the fatigue really starts to set in.  Miles 7, 8 and 9 on 7th avenue were harder than I thought they would be.  Even though there were no more major hills to deal with, the strong head-wind was present. Wind was something I did not have to deal with much in my last few races, and as hard as I tried to pump and fight, my miles slowed a bit. The funny part was that Julie Culley and I would battle and switch leads about a hundred times during this stretch f the race. I would pass her, she would pass me and sometimes we just ran together, but it was a tough battle!

A glimmer of hope came up again at the 15k mark. In the past couple 15k's I have done, I was in the 52 through 53 minute range, so when I saw 51:52 At the 15k mark in this race, I  thought, "Yes! another P.R. I wish I could stop right now and bask in my glory!"   Seeing that time was good on one hand, but on the other hand, reminded me that I still had 4 more miles to go and that I would have to speed up if I wanted to break 1:13.  And then... my right glute started to tug a bit and my whole body started to tighten. By mile 10, doing math in my head went out the window and I  just wanted to finish the race.
In fact, both Miles 10 and 11 were really hard.  I  tried to just keep putting one foot in front of the other, but my stride and pace were slowed dramatically. I think anyways? My garmin had stopped getting splits at mile 8 because the database was full....oooops!(one of many things I probably didn't prepare enough for)!
 I didn't know for sure how fast I was running at this point and the negative thoughts can really start to dominate at the end of any race. Things like "You shouldn't be here"....."you're not really an elite runner" or "you will not finish where you want" will pop into my head briefly, but I have learned to block those thoughts out and just keep going.  I pray for strength and for God's will, and sometimes I wonder "why didn't I just stick to soccer?":)  BUT MOSTLY I try to surrender the thoughts and remind myself how blessed I am to run and engage in any physical activity at all!! 

And what do you know?  I did feel better the last 2 miles.  I pushed off my toes as much as possible, thanks to the Light Weight Performance Trainer Newton's,  and was able to close my last 2 miles faster than the previous 2:) Thankfully the last 2 mile surge lead me to finish 5th American and 20th overall, which was a little better than I was expecting. It also balanced out my time to be 1:13:14, less than 2 seconds off my Naples time of 1:13:12.  So not a personal record but a much better effort seeing that that time was in a completely flat race. 

All in all, the whole experience was truly great.  I come away knowing I can, and will run faster in the Half- Marathon event; and that is encouraging!
Also, staying in the city, the fancy hotel, the great food, the organization of the race itself and the Elite Dinner were all top notch experiences that the New York Road Runner staff go out of their way to make happen.  At the end of it all, coach asked if I would I do it again?....Hell yea I would!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Pressing On !!! On board with Newton and TEAM ALCHEMY!!!

Words cannot explain  how long and how much I've wanted to represent Newton Running!!  There have been soo many reasons, and good ones at that, of why it has been such a tough situation for a small, yet growing company to sponsor Elite Runners.  But since the moment I tried them on, I knew that the shoes and the premise behind them, (natural midfoot/forefoot running) would continue to catch on in the world of road and trail racing!  For the last 3 years I thought if only I could  be patient yet persistent, ...very persistent, something would pop up? And thankfully it did!!!
I am so honored to now be a part of Team Alchemy, an elite Colorado-based running group supported by Newton Running. Its is made up of an unbelievable mix of runners of all ages and specialties who race at an elite level. To be part of their group as a satellite athlete in Charlotte, is such a great boost for my career and is a huge answer to prayer, as I transition into being primarily a Road Racer in 2012.
Most people who know me, know that running and competition may be a big part of my life, but that it is not my WHOLE life. I think this aspect of an individual  goes hand in hand with the mission of Team Alchemy.  Sure,... I desire to do well and be the best athlete that God created me to be, but there are many other aspects of my life that I want to continue to pursue. I like how it says in the mission of  Team Alchemy that "the true test of an athlete is their dedication not only to their sport, but also to their profession, family and community."  Recently I have had the opportunity to devote more of my life to training and resting. I am enjoying it and seeing good results, ....but I know it's only for a season.  The most IMPORTANT things for me even during this crazy stage in my life, are my relationships to God and people.

With all that said, I do have a lot coming up in the next few months regarding running, and I want to be prepared!!:)
Some of my main focuses are the NYC Half -Marathon on March 18thand also the Olympic Trials on the track in June. Today I ran in the USATF South Carolina Reedy River 10k Championship and it was a chance to learn a couple of "painful lessons" as my new teammate Kara Henry put it in her last blog:)
 Unfortunately, I learned in my run from the day before and in my warm-up for today's race, that I did not quite taper enough for this one. My legs felt like they were filled with a mixture of sticky glue and cement.  It was a good thing I wore the MV2 Racers, or I might not have been able to lift them at all!:)
We didn't think I was going to feel totally fantastic, as I've been  putting in a lot of miles to get ready for the NYC half-marathon. However, you never know how you will feel on any given day in this sport, which is why I think racing is such a cool endeavor!  You can constantly learn and experiment with things even as an elite or experienced runner.
It was a muggy but overall nice day in Greenville, SC and Sara Porter and I ran at a pretty solid 5:25 pace for the first 3 miles or so. We both slowed a bit going up the hillier miles and she pushed through after about 5 to take the lead and keep it. The fatigue in my legs and steep hills put a dent in my usual more chipper form, so I had to settle for second, or bust!  Not a good feeling!  Thankfully, Sarah  is a very accomplished and talented runner, who happens to run for a very accomplished and talented group in Zap Elite:).... so I didn't  feel sooo bad about not winning, and  was at least happy to win some money and use the race as a great workout for what lies ahead.
This verse in Phillipians always helps me to regain perspective after a tough race.
"Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what's ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus!!"
phil. 3:14
I love this verse, because even when things don't always go exactly how we want while in pursuit of our goals, I believe that the main prize is to trust in God's will and His plan. Yes, ...I try to be proactive and do everything I can in the natural to accomplish my goals, but I believe that His perfect plan can be better than anything I desire on my own anyway!  That may not make sense to everyone, and is obviously not something everyone believes in. But I guess to keep things from getting too deep, all I am trying to say is as an athlete    you learn from your competitions, you move on, and you use every experience to get ready for the next!  Thank goodness I don't have  a 50 miler coming up like some of the members of Team Alchemy!

p.s.- official results and pictures coming!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Road Races Galore!!!! (a 7 month blog in one!)

    You just never know what will happen from one day to the next.  Each day, week, and month can be perfectly planned, ...but for me, being flexible with plans has been the theme of this year. Actually.... when I really think about it, flexibility has been the theme of my whole life??!
 To anyone that knows me, it may seem as if  I have lived out of bags, cars, airports and different homes since birth. And seeing I lived in about 8 different places before the age of 17, that is pretty much the truth. I start to lose count after college, so we won't even go there!!
This year being no different than usual, has included changes in my running, professional and personal life. The last 7 months have been a whirlwind of activity with moving back to Charlotte from AZ,  starting to work with Mark Hadley as my coach and attempting new distances in the sport.... among some other unforeseen events!  But no matter how much instability and craziness is going on in my life or the circumstances surrounding it, I know that the Lord  is always there and He has never changed. His promises never change and His plan never changes. His ways may not makes sense all the time, and none of us can understand it all, but I cling to this verses every time I'm tempted to think otherwise.

Numbers 23:19 (New International Version)

"God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill? "


With that said, I thought I'd give a little tidbit of whats been on my plate the last 7 months, knowing the whole time that God's promises never fail.

One week after making the USATF National Steeple Chase finals in Eugene Oregon last June, I thought it was time to take a break from a long track season that had been mixed with a bunch of road races ranging in a variety of distances.  Although I had a good race in the first 3k Steeplechase race and was happy to make the finals, my second Steeple race in Eugene did not go as we all planned.  My lack of experience in High School, College and Post College was really coming out in the event.  I was not satisfied AT ALL with my 13th place finish. What went wrong? and what do I do now? were the questions that immediately flooded my brain.
 Seeing that racing in Europe was not a viable option for me, the next logical step was to take some down time, get ready for some fall road races, and then reevaluate the whole Steeple endeavor ....and the whole running endeavor for that matter!  The day after the finals, I was physically beat up with aches and pains from doing 2 Steeples within 2 days. Mentally however, I felt something stir up that I was not expecting. It was the same feeling I had my senior year at Penn State when our #2 Nationally ranked Soccer team lost in the 2nd Round of playoffs in a total fluke of a game.  My season dramatically got cut short that year, and I had lots of negative energy to contend with!!  So in an effort to keep my body moving before summer soccer, I decided to try out for the spring track team as a senior at Penn State. I didn't know I would still be competing in the sport 7 years later!!

So just like at PSU, after the Steeplechase finals, I was hungry for more competition and wanted to keep going.  I found the opportunity to run in the all-famous Peachtree Road Race in Atlanta, GA quite appealing and also a chance to win some $.  Less than a week after Track Nationals, I decided last minute to accept the invite and go. What I didn't know is that that particular race would lead to another.... and to another.... and to another.  7 months and 17 "unplanned" races later, I find myself still running and racing, traveling all over the country!  It's been quite a fall/winter and thankfully the month of February has included a small break from training with no races.
 Now, in an effort to get ready for the New York city Half Marathon in March and Track Season 2012, I look back and do not regret putting my body on the line these past 7 months. Taking one day at a time, one race at a time and trusting that God is in control is the only way that works for me.   I've learned so much more about this sport and have been humbled and blessed to meet such amazing people and go to such cool places. But most of all, I have learned that my biggest support and closest relationships are right here in Charlotte. Where they have been since my junior year in college.  A handful of families, mentors and very close friends that show more LOVE and KINDNESS than I ever knew existed. And it is these people that spur me on to keep going at the ripe age of 29:)

Here are a few highlights of most of the races starting with the most recent, all the way back to Peachtree in July.

15k Boilermaker Video: "God created me....."

Janurary 15th, 2012: Naples Half Marathon, Naples Florida: 
I'm really glad I signed up for this race! After I had made the decision to forgo running in the Olympic Marathon Trials, I knew that running another half would be a chance to maintain my fitness and a chance to lower my time.  I want my debut in the marathon to be a special race where I am ready and prepared. This seemed like it was the next best thing I could do to get ready for that scenario someday!

Time: 1:13:10
Place: First

First Race of 2012!!

Janurary 1st, 2012- Emerald Nuts Midnight 4 mile Run, NYC: What a fun trip to NYC!! It doesn't get much more exciting then racing at midnight in Central Park on New Years Eve!!  This was my first shorter race in awhile and it was good mentally to get in a win after making my final decision to not compete in the Marathon Olympic Trials.  It was not as cold as I thought it would be at midnight, and the competition was good.

Time: 21:05
Place: First
Emerald Nuts 4 mile results

Emerald Nuts article/press release 

Dec. 10th- Kiawah Island Half-Marathon, Kiawah Island, S.C.:
My second half marathon.  The main goal for this one was to come away with some money and beat my last time.  Missions accomplished!

Time:  1: 13:52
Place:  2nd Overall
           1st American

  kiawah results

  Facebook Link

Me and my biggest helper in Charlotte; the infamous
 Jim Reavis!!

The look of being finished!!

November 24th- 4.78 Mile Thanksgiving Day Manchester Road Race, Manchester, CT.:  

What an unbelievable scene in Manchester. The crowd support was absolutely amazing and the costumes could not be beat!!!
The last time I ran this race, my time was 26:52, so I was happy with the improvement, but I was upset with myself for letting the girl right behind lean me out to come in fifth. We got the same time, but she definitely got the better spot and deservedly  so!

Time: 25:27(4.78 miles)
Place:   6th Overall
            3rd American

November 5th- Rock n Roll Half Marathon, Savannah, GA: 
My first half marathon!!!  Even though This was supposed to be like a workout, I was definitely concerned about being in a race that was much longer than I'm used to.  I clung to Philippians 4:6-7 the day before and felt really peaceful the day of. So much so that after a few miles, I felt good and decided to speed up realizing that if I kept pace, I would qualify for the Olympic Marathon Trials by breaking 1:15.   I remember thinking what a different type of pain it is to run a half-marathon than a much faster 2 or 3 mile race.  The burning lactic acid in the legs and arms may not have been there, but the overall ache in my whole body sure was!! 

Place: 2nd Overall
           1st American

October 15th- Run for Hospice 5k, Rochester, NY:  
-Went from sunny and hot 90 degree weather in Boston to rainy, 30 degree weather in Rochester all in less than a week! This was a nice way to earn some $ on my way to Penn State, and was another chance to get my legs turning over pretty fast.

Place: First Overall
Run For Hospice Results

October 10th- USA Women's 10k National Championships, Boston, Mass.:  
 Unseasonably hot!!!  Still trying to get used to these longer distances and not quite prepared to run at noon in such heat, but did the best I could for the energy I had that day! The time was not stellar by any means, but achieved my goal of coming in top 10.
Time: 34:25
Place: 8th American
           9th overall

  Thats a lot of women!!

September 24th- Miles for Meso 5k, Alton Illinois:
  This really was a great race for a great cause and the directors did a fantastic job of bringing in Elites for the first time!Less than a week after the 5k championships, I knew this one would be a challenge not only because of the type of course it was, but also, I had had a lot of moving around and travel time preceding it!  I was super hungry for a win and some $ though and felt that God had placed the following verse in my head and in my heart.  I did end up barely winning with a late kick that took everything I had and realized after that the date of this race was 9/24....just like the verse:)

1 Cor. 9:24-  "Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize.  Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games, goes into strict training.  They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever."

Obviously, Paul is talking about the Christian life as an endurance event here, but it is still a cool verse for athletes to ponder

Time: 16:16
Place: First Overall

Miles for Meso Article

September 18th- USA 5k National Championships,  Providence, RI: What a beautiful day in R.I.! A perfect temperature and great scene for a National Championship.  16:05 was a big improvement from my 16:28 from last year at this race, but the competition was a lot stronger, as my place was 5th last year.

Time: 16:05
Place: 6th Overall

5k National Champ. Video Interview

August 7th- High Street One Mile Race, Newburyport Mass.:  
Pretty Rainy, but fun atmosphere and good crowd support for such a small race!

Time: 4:49
Place: First Overall

High Street Mile Article

July 9th- 15k Boilermaker: 
 Another mind boggling scene of runners! This one was hot and hilly like Peachtree. I was tired, sore and weak going into it, but clung to Joshua 1:9 to help me mentally stay strong! Was happy to run  a P.R. in my second 15k and did better than I thought I would coming off of the last 3 races.

"Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”  Joshua 1:9

Time 51:49
Place-5th overall
          2nd American

July 4th- Peachtree Road Race 10k , Atlanta, GA-
Over 60,000 runners!!
A hot and hilly one I thought, but maybe I was just tired from Track Nationals the week before. The picture below shows I was glad to be done with it!

Time: 34:14
12th Overall
3rd American

Man!! what a scene!!

Why do I run again?????