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2020 Vision My Story

Hindsight is…2020

Coaches have helped many runners progress and excel at the sport, and a lot of runners really like having one. This post is NOT meant to discourage anyone from exploring that option. It is about why I will never have one again.

Since I never did track or cross-country, I had never had a running coach before. After my first couple of marathons I started reading a lot on my own and for the next several years built my own plan. One of the first things I realized after doing some research is that I had had some success doing the “wrong” things. Also, it didn’t take long to find conflicting information on how to train and all the different methods and ideas out there. So I took what made sense to me and ran with it (pun intended). As I kept progressing, a coach was suggested to me more and more. I started to accept that I would get a coach – one day…after I break 3 hours.

Some of you know, breaking 3 hours in the marathon took me a little while. But when I finally did, it was an 11-minute personal best and my 18th marathon. I broke a lot of the “running rules” in the training process. Plus, it was my 4th marathon of the year along with racing a bunch of shorter distances. I went out “too fast” and ran a huge positive split. However, I had already convinced myself that I would start looking for a run coach after getting that goal. I dragged my feet a little and in the next few months I PR-ed in the 5k, 10k, and 15k while training for my next marathon. Still, I was set on trying this coach thing. I found one and decided to start working with him a month before that next marathon. Since my training cycle was almost done I convinced him to let me do my thing until after the race. My goal was to PR again. I came close, but I was about 90 seconds slower than my marathon five months prior. It was on a harder course and at 4200 feet (versus sea-level), so I still felt good about it and like I was headed in the right direction.

Being coached was a nightmare. I didn’t feel good about it at all. I dropped out of the next marathon and fired him. I told myself I wasn’t ready for a coach, but in the future, I would be. I still held on to the idea that I would need a coach. And subconsciously, I still held on to a lot of other running rules that made their way into my head. The rest of the racing year went poorly. I dropped out of an OTQ (Olympic Trials Qualifier) attempt at Chicago and then tried another coach. I gave a poor performance at a last ditch effort for the trials at a marathon in January. My mindset was all screwed up, and I knew that – the passion was gone. I didn’t know why or how to shake it off. I kept working with the coach, until I got too frustrated for it. The coaching side of the relationship was gone, but he was able to bring up what was bothering me mentally. Fast forward until the Logan marathon that I recently dropped out of, and it finally clicked. I was too concerned with what others thought of me in the running world. I was seeking out validation from doing all the “right” things, training and racing the way I’m supposed to – all while also knowing that a lot of what’s out there isn’t true. It created quite the conflict inside.

So now, I’m working on being more confident in what I’m doing. I enjoy making my own plans and trying new ideas. I glean knowledge from all kinds of sources and test out what I want. I throw out what doesn’t work and use what does until it doesn’t and start with something else. It’s not that I don’t know rules – it’s that I reject them. How I train and how often I race is up to me and my goals. Nacho Libre said it best:

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2020 Vision My Story

2020 Vision, Part 3

CHICAGO “Gate.” What is she saying? I don’t know. What? I could hear the crowd of people forming around me, but I hadn’t opened my eyes. “Gate.” I muttered again. “Gate!” I started to open my eyes and see people staring back at me. They were all sideways. “I need to get to my gate.” Ah, a complete sentence. I felt terrible but I was talking. A paramedic told me I wasn’t flying anywhere. They were taking me to the hospital. “No.” They tried to tell me I couldn’t fly. “I will be fine.” I sat up, I drank some water, and I began insisting harder. I knew my name, I knew where I was going, and I could feel control coming back. “What color is my face?” I asked. My color was better they said. “I will be fine,” I insisted again. The paramedic begrudgingly brought out the refusal paperwork, and I was wheeled to my gate.

CARLSBAD This was the most excited I had been for a race for a really long time. Very few people knew I was racing this marathon. It was one last shot at qualifying for the trials. If I got it, I would go right? I wasn’t one hundred percent sure, but after dropping out of Chicago, I wanted a good marathon. My focus was on time over anything else.

CHICAGO I was more anxious to go to Chicago and get the deed done than actually racing it. I was angry at all the naysayers up until this point, and I was ready to prove them all wrong. My goal time was an OTQ, but I didn’t really want to go. I just wanted to get that “reasonable and realstic” accomplishment out of the way so I could really get to work.

CARLSBAD 3:15 a.m. my alarm went off. I wanted to be awake for three hours before the start. I began my pre-planned morning routine and headed to the starting area to finish my warm up. I was calm. I felt good. I was ready. I didn’t feel pressure. I didn’t feel doubt. I visualized the course again before stripping down to my race kit.

CHICAGO The ADP athletes were herded like cattle to the starting coral. We were all nervous, I didn’t notice a single calm athlete. Was I ready? What happened at the airport? I hadn’t had issues like that in months. I kept trying to reassure myself that it’s fine and I fully recovered to run a fast race. “Under Pressure” by Queen started playing. I laughed to myself. Perfect.

CARLSBAD It was a small race, so I knew I would probably end up in the top ten, but as the gun went off I was leading lady. It bothered me, but I tried to put it out of my head and focus on the effort. I wasn’t going to pay attention to my watch either. The first six miles flew by and I felt light and fresh – like I was moving smoothly, but not at a hard effort. Shortly after hitting mile six, my stomach started to cramp like I had to crap, which I thought was odd because I thought I emptied out pretty good before the race.

CHICAGO The herd took off and I quickly settled into pace, but it was labored. I reminded myself it was normal for the first few miles of any marathon, let alone a big one like Chicago. I started falling behind pretty quickly and reached the 10k time clock at 39:17. Uh-oh. I re-grouped my thoughts and told myself I can still PR, even if my time goal was out of reach. I reached the 15k and continued to slow down quickly. Forward motion was really hard. My heart felt really heavy. Am I going to be able to finish? Of course you are, keep moving – it’s Chicago. Halfway point and I felt even worse. I needed to stop. This wasn’t going to end well. I moved over towards the side of the road the medic tent was on, but jerked away. I couldn’t. Not yet. Give it a few more miles.

CARLSBAD Was this it? Was this going to be the race that I crapped myself? At mile six, really? Guess so…I went through it all in my head and decided that even though it was early and I’d have to deal with sand paper between my cheeks for 20 more miles, I’d still rather keep going. I tried to relax. I couldn’t. How could I not just go? It was really hard to relax my anus while running. I developed a new level of respect for those I’ve known that were able to do so, because I didn’t see how I was going to do it. The cramps worsened, so I decided stopping to use the porta-potty would be faster than trying to run with the cramps. I stopped just after mile nine. I was still in the lead, but not by much.

CHICAGO I gave it a few more miles, but I felt like I was trying to run with the flu – no energy, and my heart was still so loud and heavy. I’m not going to finish am I? No matter how much more I slow down, if I push much farther I’m going to end up collapsing and I don’t need any more of that drama this weekend. At the next medic station (30k) I stepped off the course and said I needed to quit. I couldn’t believe I was dropping out of Chicago.

CARLSBAD Since relieving myself, the cramps lessened and over the next few miles they went away. Working through that and it not completely derailing my head was a mental boost. Shortly after that I got a side stitch and did the exact same thing. I gave myself a pat on the back. At mile thirteen, I grabbed a cup from a volunteer at the aid station and took a swig of WHAT WAS THAT?!?!? Was that rubbing alcohol? That is exactly what that tasted like. It couldn’t have been that though…I grabbed another cup from another volunteer to try and wash it out of my mouth, but I had already swallowed a gulp. I told myself it was fine and it couldn’t possibly have been alcohol.

CHICAGO After being cleared by the first set of medics, I loaded on the shuttled bus back to the starting line. I was so angry. I had to go through medics again at the start and that took a little longer, but Kyle was able to meet me with my stuff and take me back to the hotel. Physically, I knew nothing was seriously wrong and that all I really needed was rest. Mentally, I was not in a good place.

CARLSBAD My stomach tightened a little, and I still had no idea what pace I was at, but still held on to the lead. I expected to be overtaken any minute, but she never came. It was hard to drink much after that fluid stop at mile thirteen, but I tried a little. At mile eighteen I was able to finish most of my first gel, but was really slowing down. Unaware of my actual pace, I kept pushing and hit the final turnaround. Once I got to mile twenty, I knew I was going to finish but I felt my goal time was long gone. Pain in my ankles and calves got really bad. I avoided any more aid stations for my stomach from that point on. Surprisingly I was still in the lead, but I didn’t feel like I really cared. I just wanted the pain to end. I also wanted this dumb motorcycle “leading” me to move over and let me breath real air and not exhaust. For the next four miles he stayed right in front of me. Finally he moved beside me and I yelled at him for the exhaust. He stayed behind me for the next two miles, but other people doing the half marathon still had to deal with him. I didn’t understand why they couldn’t hire cyclists instead. Anyway, I kept slowing and slowing and just after the 26th mile, 2nd and 3rd female, who were running together, passed me. I saw them go and I couldn’t respond. I just let them go. I didn’t care I just wanted to the pain to end (of course, later I did care that I didn’t even try to surge or tag along). I made the final turn and saw 3:08 on the clock. I hadn’t realized I was going that slow. I crossed the finish line and sat down right away against the fence. I need to be off my feet. Someone handed me a bottle of an electrolyte drink that I noticed was different than what was on course and I started to sip that. I told the medics I was fine and just needed to sit for a minute. Before I even finished the drink, I began to feel much better.

What happened in Chicago was physical, and an episode that I’ve had many times before, but I thought I had it under control. I hadn’t had any issues for several months leading up to Chicago and I haven’t had any since. Mind and body are connected in more ways than we understand. I think I cracked under the pressure and my body responded in negative way. At least going into Carlsbad, I felt better mentally. I was way off my goal time, but there were some good things to come out of it. I am continuing to work on getting back to my focus for running.

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2020 Vision

2020 Vision, Part 2

This race was supposed to be the second part of a recovery experiment I had been working on for a few years, but since I had to drop out of Ogden, all that went out the window. The initial plan was to race Ogden at a hard effort, follow a planned recovery regimen and then two weeks later race Utah Valley at another hard effort and see if I could produce the same finish times. In other words, could I plateau my fitness to hold hard efforts that close together. The courses looked similar enough (and they are), and the marathons were both local for low expenses. I couldn’t do this in training because I don’t have the funds to set up race “simulations” and I needed verifiable results, so these particular races back to back were my best option.

I dropped out of Ogden at the halfway point because I had been vomiting and felt something was really wrong. I made the decision a little before the mile 11 marker, but needed to get somewhere where I could find a ride back. Long story short, I had irritated my stomach ulcer. It sounds worse than it is, but there are levels and having pushed too far in the past I knew I made the right decision to drop out. That being said, I was really disappointed and frustrated that my experiment was ruined. I didn’t know if the opportunity would come up again, and even if it did, I wanted to be done racing so often. I wasn’t sure if I should even bother doing Utah Valley anymore. Even if I healed enough physically to be able to run it, I knew racing it was almost assuredly out. It took me about 20 minutes to decide what I was going to do, because what if…

It was – racing was definitely out of the question. But I didn’t know that for sure until race morning. No matter what the odds are, I will always hope for the best possible outcome.

The two weeks in between Ogden and Utah Valley were a little rough as far as my running life went. I was frustrated, sad, and unmotivated (and it wasn’t just because I couldn’t have coffee). But I knew I had to get those runs and workouts in, give Utah Valley a go, and move on with Chicago training or else I was going to spiral into a funk. I was reminded of Scott Jurek’s book when he would say, “Sometimes you just do things!” This was one of those times.

My alarm went of at 2:45 a.m. because the buses to the start started leaving at 3:15 (GEEZ!). Everything was pretty typical of a race morning, and the organization of the event seemed pretty good. I decided this marathon was all going to be about effort and I wouldn’t pay attention to the splits. My stomach had been feeling fine, but given the distance I wasn’t 100% sure it would be okay. There were definitely improvements made in the last two weeks, but I didn’t want to backtrack or run myself into the ground.

At 6:00 a.m. we were off and as I said, I simply went by effort. Rolled with the downhill for the first seven miles, tried to relax for the uphills in the middle, and did my best to focus on forward motion for the last six. Because it was a small marathon, the hardest part was not racing. I happened to be third until mile 18, but I couldn’t push to keep it. My stomach was okay, but I still felt it.

You read and are told that the gut is the core to your energy source, but reading and knowing is different than feeling. These past two weeks I could really feel that. My legs felt ready, and I realize that’s why I still thought I could maybe race, but the endurance and energy required for your body to perform at it’s best wasn’t there.

When I was able to see the finish line, I felt so grateful that everything went relatively well and it was almost over. I was reminded of why I love the marathon so much. Whether you finish in two hours or six, it’s hard. It will always be hard. I was advised not to do this marathon. It wouldn’t accomplish anything or help me achieve my running goals, and would reflect poorly on my “resume.” My response to that doesn’t need to be said here, but you can imagine. I will drop out or remove myself from the starting line if I am seriously ill or injured, but I will not throw in the towel because of a poor performance probability. Respect the distance. There’s no cherry picking and no guaranteed goal getting. If you’re not willing to be humbled, then the marathon is not for you. This one gave me my focus and motivation back.

Final Stats

Time – 3:03:45

42nd of 889 overall

5th of 375 female

1st of 54 in age group

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2020 Vision My Story

2020 Vision, Part 1

The Salt Lake City Marathon could not have been an OTQ attempt, even if I was physically ready. Not only does it have a net elevation loss of 680 feet (the max allowed is 450), but it’s sanctioned by the RRCA and not the USATF.

Last year I ran this course in 3:08 finishing 3rd, and I wanted to give it another try. This year I had a much better training cycle, and I wanted to race this course hard…maybe even go for the win.

After CIM, I took a month off from training because it was time, and because I needed to fix the IT Band/Quad issue. I didn’t stop running altogether, but I stopped training. It was a good break. I fixed my knee and came back feeling refreshed with sixteen weeks to train for the Salt Lake City Marathon.

During a marathon training cycle, I always have found myself reflective on some particular aspect of life. This time, it was unfortunately death.

Within a few weeks of resuming training, one of my friends lost their baby girl just two hours after giving birth. It was heartbreaking to see what was supposed to be a celebration of new life turn to death. Instead of a baby shower they were having a funeral.

I was hitting paces in training that I hadn’t been able to hit before, and I made new personal bests in the 5k, 10k, and 15k during the cycle. I was staying injury free, and grinding away the workouts. Everything was pointing towards a new personal best – one that I could be proud of.

My husband is a cyclist, a roadie, and of course there’s always a worry in the back of my head. I trust he is careful and tries his best to be safe, but a car against a bike is not a fair fight. And then it happened – Kyle was out on a ride when a truck turned left in front of him. He didn’t have time to stop and slammed his shoulder and head into the cap of the truck. He ended up with just a broken collarbone, but yeah I thought about all the possible outcomes.

I have enjoyed “coaching” myself and making my own training schedule. Trial and error has gotten me into A LOT of trouble, but has also taught me things about myself and how my body works that you can only get from experience. Nevertheless, I knew there’d be a day when I’d be ready to get a coach, or at least try to get one – finding someone who was willing to put up with me might be a challenge, but I reached out to one I was particularly interested in and asked if he maybe might possibly be potentially willing to coach me…in the future. Things were going so well with this training cycle, I didn’t want to switch things up just yet.

I like to brag on my immune system. When I do get sick, I can usually feel it coming on early enough to kick in 12 hours. But this was a whole different ball game. I woke up one morning feeling “off.” I was fine, but something was weird. When I was driving to work later that day, I started to feel really tired, and a little sore? even though I hadn’t done anything that day. Then in the middle of my first appointment, I found myself struggling to finish the hour. I didn’t know what was going on. I felt awful. I left work early and had a fever by the time I got home. I tried to sleep it off, but my spine felt like it was going to explode. It hurt to exist. I drove Kyle to work the next morning and told him I was going to urgent care later if I didn’t feel better. On the way back home, my vision started tunneling. “No, no, no” I thought as I moved into the far right lane as fast as I cou – BLACK. What? Cars were whizzing by, horns were honking, I could hear. My foot was planted firmly on the brake, hands gripping the wheel, I could feel. I was conscious, but I couldn’t see anything. What do I do? How am I supposed to get out of this? “Jesus, I need to see!” I started to get some sight back and saw a drive I could pull into just a few yards ahead. Drive, park, key, fall into passenger seat. I didn’t think I was going to die from the virus, but I understood how someone could.

After telling this coach my plans, my less-than-ideal race schedule, my current personal bests, and future goals, he offered to put me on his elite team. I wasn’t expecting that, but was I ready? He gave me a training schedule for the next four weeks, at this point with the marathon just a few weeks away, and I completely freaked out. No! I cannot change things this drastically so close to race day. No way. Not for this one. After stressing out way too much about it, I asked him to let me finish my training cycle for this race and he agreed.

Kyle dropped me off at the starting line, with fresh snow on the ground. It was cold, but the forecast said it was going to get warmer and be perfect racing conditions. I did my usual pre-race things, and lined up in the starting corral. I wanted to win, but my goal time was more important. I told myself to stay focused. On this course, you just have to roll with the hills by effort, so I knew my splits would be all over the place. Right away, with less than half a mile run, the lead escort tagged me. “Okay, I guess we’re doing this,” I thought to myself. Taking the lead early can be nerve wracking, but I wasn’t going to purposely slow my effort to not be in the lead. I sailed on, feeling strong. Halfway, past most of the steep hills, I felt I needed a few grace miles, so I took them before trying to get back to goal pace. My heart was full of energy, but my quads started really feeling all the elevation changes. My goal time was slipping, but I seemed to have a pretty strong lead as first female, even top 10 overall. I continued to press on and watched the miles come and go. I thought about some of my hardest marathon finishes and this wasn’t even close to being that bad. I was evolving. Just three more miles! They were slow, but they were steady, and I got my first marathon win – lucky number 19.

At first, I didn’t understand why I was losing my mind over my coach taking over my training. Isn’t that the deal? Was it really just a control thing? Because I was sure I convinced myself it was time to let go, and bring in “the big guns.” Why was I being so protective of this race? But then a few days out I started to understand. I needed closure. Training on my own for the past eight years has been quite the journey. And this training cycle, this race, was going to be the one where I used all those “lesson learned” disappointments to give my best performance ever – a poetic end to an emotional and dramatic roller coaster. And though it wasn’t a PR, it really was my best run marathon.

When one thinks about death, one inevitably thinks about life. We think about who we are, who we were, and where we’re going. We think about the level of importance we give to different areas in our life. As much as we fight for those people or things, we never have the guarantee of another minute of life on earth with them.

Final Stats

Time: 2:56:35

9th of 683 overall

1st of 263 female