Thursday, August 17, 2017

Thoughts on the Titletown Utlramarathon: Better Late Than Never

I suppose it's been a while? You probably wouldn't think I'd run my longest race ever and then just fall off the planet for a couples of months... but here we are.

I didn't literally fall off the planet. I did travel around the planet for some time which was amazing. It just so worked out that after I completed the Titletown Ultramarathon (where I logged my very first 100K!) my family and I picked up and left for the most bonkers travel adventure through Germany, Austria and Switzerland. It would have been a fantastic getaway just on its own but taking that time to take a break from running (and a lot of other things in the world) was the absolute best way to let my body and mind recover from the monster training cycle I began this past January. It feels a little strange to go back two months and try to recapture how I felt at the race but I do like to rehash the bigger races I complete so I'll give it a stab.

I'm not really sure why I had such a laid back attitude about approaching 100 kilometers. It's not that I think I'm super good at running ultras, I just didn't let any negativity leak into my brain throughout the training process. It probably helped that the first block of my training was focused on trying to lock down some better Boston Qualifying times at the Circular Logic and Bloop Marathons back in April. I didn't turn my full attention to Titletown until after the Bloop was behind me and by then I already had a HUGE base I could launch from. I also think my decision to use this race to fundraise for Girls Rock Milwaukee gave me the feeling that no matter what happened on race day, I was going to find a way complete the race. How could I not after everyone donated all that money? I remember saying to myself the week of the event, "There is really no reason why you won't be able to finish." Obviously, the rational side of my brain knows that a catastrophic injury would surely end the race for me- but barring anything crazy I should be able to stay on my feet and get the thing done. Being a 15.5 hour timed event, my goal of 62 miles meant I could go at a very conservative pace and I could afford to do a lot of walking. (Oh and believe me I did!)

The race was a loop course of a little under 5 miles and there were three events: a 6 hour, an 8 hour and a 15.5 hour. We literally ran loops from sunrise to sunset on a trail that wound its way around the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay campus. The trail was a mix of everything- dirt, wood chips, crushed limestone and little bit of asphalt near the start/finish. It's not a road race, but it it's also not a super technical, tough trail race either. Still, 62 miles is 62 miles right? RIGHT. Let's not act like this stuff is easy.

Sample viewing of the course

I admit that running ultras is not always the smartest thing. Or at least not the most understandable thing? There were some times during the later miles where I was literally saying out loud (to no one), "THIS IS STUPID. I'M NEVER DOING THIS AGAIN." And while can't say for sure they're not stupid... I do know I'll find myself doing it again. There's something really alluring about knowing you will be out on the trail all day with nothing to do except put one foot in front of the other. It doesn't matter how fast you go, you just GO. I didn't have anywhere else to be, anyone to worry about ,or anything to do. I could just be there in whatever moment I was in, move forward, and breathe.


Moving forward and breathing.

Most of the day seemed to fly by. It's funny how when you let go of everything you become less conscious the passing of time. Looking back at my Garmin now I can see that for much of the race I was averaging around one loop per hour but I didn't have any pacing plan or strategy going in other than "Walk the hills. Eat what you want when you want."  This seemed to work for the most part other than instead of eating food all I really wanted to do all day was drink soda. I don't tend to drink it in my "normal" everyday life but during ultras and long trail runs I always crave it so I slammed a cup of Coke or ginger ale at every aid station and it gave me a boost every time. I suppose I'm lucky it didn't backfire? I'm a firm believer though that your body knows what it needs in situations like these- or at least my body does- so things were good. I did also partake of a slice of pizza and a beer when offered it on my final lap, which may or may not have saved my life. At that point I was full on walking so I knew I could at least stumble it into a finish.

No actual runners were harmed at this event.

So yeah, things were decent and time flew by but I didn't feel awesome the entire time because despite my nickname I'm not an actual robot. The major thing that worked for me when times eventually got dark was to drop kick any negative thoughts straight out of my mind. Yes, there were points where I did say that ultrarunning is dumb and I'm never doing it again- but every time I started to think that I told myself to SAVE IT for when the race was done. I let the thought happen and then I tucked it away for later. There would be plenty of time to evaluate my feelings when I was back at the hotel, showered and shoveling a Culver's cheeseburger into my face. (Yes, that happened.) In the moment though, those thoughts are not going to help me, so I turned them off like a lightswitch, Book of Mormom-style.

Jazz hands!

I finished 62.65 miles in 14 hours! That last loop especially was a saaaad little walk shuffle. Plus, when I got to the "finish" I was only at 61.75 miles so they informed me if I wanted to get credit for 100K I had to hoof it almost ANOTHER mile down the road to the first aid station and someone would give me a ride back form there. Yes, I technically could have tried to fit in another full loop since the course was still open for another hour and a half but um... no. I took that car ride back. I was super proud of myself for completing my 100K goal and honestly at this point my brain had shut off, seeing no reason to take even one more extra step.

Swag

I don't have a finishers photo because I forgot to ask someone to take my picture when I rang the gong after I was done. (Yes there was a gong. It was awesome.) I did get a sweet mug though and a hat and a finishers shirt and oh, the satisfaction of reaching a goal that I worked really hard for so I'll take that over another sweaty photo of me to post on the internet.

I know there's tons of stuff I'm forgetting, especially because the experience softens over time and the feeling of accomplishment washes away the parts where my legs felt like they were on fire and I was questioning the meaning of life. Overall I'm glad I did it. I'm glad I raised over $1000 for Girls Rock Milwaukee. And I'm glad I got the chance to step away from running for a bit afterward and let my body recover.

But now I'm back and that's another chapter but I've already written enough for tonight so I'll save it for next time. :)



Sunday, May 7, 2017

Bleep Blop Bloop: A Race Report

So.... I won a race! Sure, it was a teeny tiny race with only a handful of runners but that doesn't change the fact that I was the first female marathon finisher! As my daughter Juliana said when I tried to downplay it afterward: "You showed up and did the thing!"

Official finish time: 3:42:12

Not only did I show up and do the thing, I shaved another 25 seconds off that dang BQ time that is still hanging over my head.

Ugh, that BQ time. I really really wish I could have run a sub-3:40 and guaranteed my entry for 2018 but my body was definitely not recovered from the marathon a ran four weeks ago. I'm not even really sure how I managed this one at all, other than pure strength of will. The "plan" was to just show up and see what happened. If I felt like crap I was totally going to take it easy and just use it as a "training run" for the 15-hour ultra I'm running in June. BUT, if I felt good I was going to ride that Boston qualifying pace for as long as possible.

The Starting Line: Where hopes and dreams live.



I felt.... eh? Not bad enough to shift out of race mode but also not *good* enough to feel optimistic about my chances. I was hanging on to an 8:20 pace but I knew I was WORKING for it. My heart rate definitely felt higher than it was at the Circular Logic Marathon earlier this month. BUT, I didn't bonk like a chump this time! Sure I faded the last third of the race but I didn't completely fall apart. It was actually right before mile 22 when something clicked. I was already off of a sub-3:40 pace so I was having an internal conversation with myself trying to give myself permission to jog the final four miles in. I wasn't going to get into the 3:30s so why push it? Then when I looped by the start/finish at mile 22 my friend Bill (who was the race announcer) came up to me and pointed out the woman just in front of me and said

"THAT'S THE FIRST PLACE FEMALE RIGHT NOW."

Initially I rolled my eyes and groaned. I think I said something like, "Uhhhhh don't tell me that!" (Or at least I thought it.) I looked at her up ahead and thought there is no way I can speed up and catch her the way I'm feeling right now.

But... I kept at it. I didn't speed up, but I didn't slow down either. I told myself, "I have four miles. Maybe I can slowly chip away at it and then kick it up at the end?"

I should have given myself more credit! It only took one more mile and I realized that while I was holding a steady pace, she was clearly slowing down. I passed her just before mile 23 and promptly FREAKED OUT. I knew I wasn't going to get my PR today but I suddenly had a new, incredible goal. I WAS GOING TO WIN THIS RACE.

I spent the final three miles hanging on to my pace by the teeniest of threads, all the while wondering when the woman I passed was going to find a second wind and come charging back. I literally had nothing left in the tank so if she had made a move I was fully prepared to let her go. I just focused on the ground in front of me, swinging my arms and mentally willing my body to keep moving forward. Part of me felt silly for wanting my 3:4X marathon self to win so bad when it's not a race pace anywhere near worth bragging about- but when else was this ever going to happen to me? And at a race that was practically in my own back yard in Bay View! COME ON.

Yay! Turn the Garmin off. Try not to barf.


I won!

A Boston qualifying time -2:48 in the women's 40-44 age group. My biggest qualifying margin yet (although not a PR since my earlier, faster BQs were run when I was still in the 35-39 age group.)

I may or may not have signed up for a Last Chance to BQ race in September. Goddammit.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

2:23

2:23. That's what I have to work with.

I ran a 3:42:37 at Circular Logic two weeks ago- that's 2 minutes and 23 seconds faster than my Boston Qualifying standard for 2018. (Since I'll be 40 in 2018, the qualifying time for my new age group is now 3:45 instead of 3:40.)

Dang! I really don't know if that is going to be enough!

I don't know why I couldn't force out a couple more minutes and get under 3:40 again. I really just started to crumble at mile 19 and my legs felt like Jell-O. No matter what I did I couldn't hold that 8:15 pace anymore and I lost about a minute per mile from then until the the finish. It felt terrible.
So on a perfect weather day on a flat course and great training I couldn't run the time I ran last year (3:38) when there were 30mph winds. Have I mentioned marathons are infuriating?

My mind is spinning right now because even though a BQ -2:23 would have gotten me in this year, there are no guarantees it will get me in for 2018. Seriously with my luck I feel like the cut off next year will be 2:24.The only thing that will guarantee me entry is if I get 5 minutes under my time (which was my goal at Circular Logic. Oops.)

At this point it's not even about Boston itself anymore. It's about finishing something I started.


Monday, March 27, 2017

Focus

Here's the thing: I'm super bad at race week. Sure I follow all the usual rules. I run less, I stretch more, I stay hydrated, blah blah. But it's like I'm literally incapable of thinking about anything else other than race day which is now....5 days away. I'm almost embarrassed to say how much time I spend obsessing over my pace plan, reading race recaps and weather forecasts on the internet, and scouring over all of my training logs from the past 15 weeks.

Which brings me to something I always marvel over at his point. Just how cool is the human body?Back in January I rode the struggle bus to finish a half marahon in 1:51 after coming off of a holiday vacation. But two weeks ago I knocked out a 1:46 half feeling like it was an *easy* training run as part of a 20 mile day. NEAT. It's just so satisfying to look back at all my Strava runs and see the progression happen, even though I didn't feel like it was happening at the time.

What's that? CONSISTENCY. 


So now I just have a couple of easy runs to round out my training and I'm positively giddy. I know that even if I just run EXACTLY what I did last year at this race I will be guaranteed a spot for Boston 2018 simply because I'm aging up to the 40-44 age group. But....

I know I can do better than *just* matching last year. I feel like I've been building to a big breakthrough race for a couple of years now and now is the time for me to finally put the pieces together. No more 30 second mini-PRs or BQ squeakers that leave me on the sidelines. If I know anything right now it's that I deserve a good race. That's Deserve with a Capital D.

Current mood



Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Chicago Get Lucky 2017 + TAPER

Every time taper rolls around I usually feel like, "Wait noooo,  I'm not ready! Can I get a couple more weeks of training in first?" 

This time, however, I am HERE FOR IT.  Sure, I still have time left to get in a few good workouts to top off my fitness but I think for the first time in quite a while I've arrived at this point in training with more confidence than questioning. In past cycles I've always felt generally positive about my training three weeks out, while at the same time wishing I had done "X" better or run "Y workout" stronger.

I have not had a perfect training cycle. Still, I've been working towards this particular goal of mine long enough to know that reaching this point in training with all my pieces in working order is an absolute gift. I know I've done the work. I also know I've made some adjustments that will hopefully help bridge whatever gap that seems to always pop up between me and a true "breakthrough" race.

Last weekend I ran my third 20 miler of this cycle. I rolled it into the Chicago Get Lucky Half Marathon and planned to run 10 of those miles in my goal marathon pace range. This was the first time in quite a while that I didn't go into a half marathon intending to race "all out" and for some reason just knowing I wasn't pushing it to my maximum made me feel like running 20 miles was no big deal. I mean, I do know in my brain that 20 milers are never easy but something about being in a race environment while not really racing took a load off me mentally.

The plan was for 4 miles easy just before the race, run the half marathon, then knock out an easy cooldown 3. I was also instructed by my coach to go out the first 3 miles at a pace that was about 30 seconds slower than my marathon pace, gradually speed up every couple of miles, then finish all out as fast as I wanted. This is kind of advice I always give myself but somehow am never able to execute.

Until this race!



I don't think I've ever felt so good at a half marathon. Sure I wasn't racing full out but I also wasn't slumming it either. I was pushing it by the end, just that slow start made all the difference in the world. From mile 3 to the end I consistently passing people- and I'm not really sure if I was even passed at all. What a huge confidence boost that was! I never really think about racing other runners at events but it definitely helped me mentally to run so strong. Even a brisk headwind throughout all of the second half of the race couldn't take me down. *pew pew*

After finishing the race I took a couple of minutes to refill my water bottle, stuffed my medal in my pocket, and headed out for my last 3 miles. Bing bang boom. 

Now all I have to do is execute with the same precision on April 1st! Obviously easier said than done (my race history a case in point) but after last weekend I feel like I've acquired a new skill to help get me there.


Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Hi

So.... remember that time I put my heart and soul into training for Chicago Marathon for four months and then never wrote a race recap afterward?

In short: That big PR didn't happen. In yet another shocking twist, I had an amazing training cycle and then on race day things never fell into place and I finished short of my goal. Again!

Unlike other races that didn't go as planned though, I didn't feel like my spirit was crushed. It was a beautiful, perfect, marathon day. It just wasn't *my* day. For whatever reason.

Nope. Not today.


But I'm not here to to talk about that. I'm here to talk about now.

NOW IS GOOD.

The first few weeks of getting back to training in December were Capital-R-Rough. I started week 1 getting sick, went on vacation during week 3, had a terrible half marathon in week 4- after which I promptly got sick again, only to have it linger for a couple more weeks. Not exactly a recipe for success. Through all of this I was still managing to get all of my runs in, hitting the prescribed paces... but never feeling good about any of it. All of it was hard. All of it felt like WORK. (Yes, I always expect marathon training to be hard work, but it's difficult to feel like you are improving when you go though a long stretch without seeing signs of actual progress!) During every run my heart rate always felt too high and I was tired all the time- even on slow recovery runs. I was sticking to my plan day in and day out but everything about training was feeling like one big shrug emoji.



But somewhere over the last couple of weeks something started changing and the result is that I'm finally beginning to feel like myself again. Even better than myself, if that makes sense?  Out of nowhere I've had a series of particularly "hard" workouts and long runs that have been nothing short of Fan-Tastic. Last Saturday I finished a 20 miler feeling super strong and the last 5 miles the fastest-- while just a month ago I was riding the struggle bus to the finish of a half marathon. This past week I've even been running extra hills to run on my routes instead of avoiding them because I want the added challenge. That is NOT normal for me.

Suddenly I'm like, "Ohhhhhh all those days I thought I was doing crappy were really helping me get stronger and I'm NOW JUST REALIZING IT." 



Now is a good place to be. I hope it lasts. Like maybe through race day this time?

Goal: Sub-3:35 at Circular Logic Marathon, April 1st. (BQ +10 minutes for 2018)