Tuesday, March 10, 2015

training and fun and fire

It's been a while since I've talked about training as it is, and I've had some fun crap roll across my plate in the last few weeks soooo here goes a blog post that isn't particularly interesting to anyone except to me (hashtag winning).
I ran a 5K the weekend before I went to Hawaii, it was a hard as shit course and I was so grumpy about my time that we piled in the car and left.  I found out a few weeks later than I placed in my AG and missed sticking around to stand on the box or just tiny dirt smudge and get the glass.  Lesson learned, don't be a snotty jerk.  And my heel-striking soldiers on.
A few days after I got back, Colorado was blessed with one of those bizarre spring days that pop up in the middle of weeks of snow and negative temps.  I managed to ride somewhere sort of around 80 miles if I remember correctly.  My arm warmers were crusty and my lips were chapped for a week but being outside on my bike in the sunshine, that's about as good as life gets for me.  That's my zen, that's where I recharge, selfies and singing Florida Georgia Line at the top of my lungs and all.
Since that weekend, we've gotten absolutely whomped with snow so I've been spending all of my time in the dark of my basement (or someone's basement) sweating my ass off, face down on the power meter.  It means that I don't have any idea what the hell is going on with my bike right now.  I feel like I'm doing good work, having fun chasing the crazy video game of 10s watts, and here and there some numbers float by that make me think hmm maybe I am getting stronger.  But for the most part, I'm not thinking too much about where it's taking me or what it's doing to me, in the spirit of not losing my mojo I am doing my best to whack each session with 100% intention and not really give it much more thought than that.  I am desperately waiting for the day when I can get outside (hopefully tomorrow!) and start doing some work there, mainly because I know having to watch the power meter AND watch where I'm going will feel like a brand-new experience.  

Back in February I hosted a run-focused training camp for about a dozen of my athletes.  I recapped the weekend over on the coaching blog that Jenni and Heather and I run so I won't take up lots of space here, but it kicked ass.  The best part of the whole thing was being able to see my athletes in person - I learn so much from face-to-face interaction, our relationship improves, I understand the kind of athlete they are far better after just a few days.  And for me, I got to run over two hours on trails chattering away, hang out with an awesome group, eat, swim, and run some more.  The fact that my fitness was coming up and around to a place where I could drop a long run like that into a week already packed with training and travel stress and hosting camp stress made me pretty happy about where I was.
February also brought the mama's birthday.  She was graced with a birthday swim set from her coach and handed it out to a few of us as well: 4100 for time.  After some shit-talking throw-down on Twitter, she set us all up to try and finish around the same time (breaking an hour) which for me in short course yards meant the worst: NO TOYS!!!  So, I don't drink coffee, although I'm not sure I can say that anymore since I learned the magical fairy dust BLAZAMMO effect it has on my swim.  That morning I drank a cup of something frothy with about 17 shots of espresso in it and then vibrated my way down to the pool.  I think I dropped my keys six different times trying to get up the stairs and into the locker room.  I don't often talk about times and shit like that in training because it's not really important, but I was happy to pretty evenly split that sucker: 14:32, 14:41, 14:39, 14:30 + 1:27 for a 59:51, and don't even be pissed about the picture of my Timex because I've got one of my Garmin coming up in another minute or so.
I felt like a beast for swimming that hard and long, and also it completely slaughtered me (the caffeine crash is a such a dick).  I spent the next couple of days holding my eyelids open with toothpicks and bitching about where all my watts went.  But I want to remember that my swim is changing.  My workouts in the water have been starting to address some of the holes/next steps that I need to take which means sometimes I swim 5K and don't get to put on paddles which is insane, and I spend a lot more time wanting to puke than ever.  I also stopped going to the super early morning master's swim with all my boyfriends because the coaches and schedule have all changed.  Instead I'm going to one workout a week where I am the slowest person in the entire pool by a LOT and yesterday the (very cute with a little accent) coach on deck tried to explain to me where my lats were.  My first day testing out the session I think I went in too smashed and maybe slightly under-fueled and inside fifteen minutes I quit swimming, triathlon, wearing a bathing suit and leaving my house ever again as I got neatly lapped every 300 yards.  I've gone back since and it's much better when I get a real warm-up and have enough food in my belly.  There's less laughing and shit-slinging and quoting Caddyshack start to finish but there's more getting my ass absolutely fucking handed to me and for now, in a twisted way, I am having so much fun, that is what I want.  My swim has been relatively strong for the past few years and I think that's part of why I've been coasting, because as everyone has constantly told me, there is so much gain to be found in the other two sports.  But I also think the truth is that I love it and if it makes me happy and fitter and even a little bit faster, if it's not hurting me, then why shouldn't I be working on it?  Why not fill my life up with that which makes my heart explode?
I've still been lifting, it's just about time to start turning the focus of the work there but I did have a good 6-8 weeks of solid heavy sessions in the weight room coming out of the off-season.  It makes me happy for no other reason than the big lifts feel good, I feel strong and solid and unbreakable when I'm doing this kind of work consistently.  This winter I was able to PR my deadlift, my front squat, how many pull-ups I can do before giving myself a hernia and quite a few other things including the number of times I hit myself in the face with the resistance band doing shoulder mobility before I actually tie it properly to the bar.  I also have a secret weapon which is not multiple pairs of ridiculous pants but does make me feel like I am lifting smarter than I have ever before.  We have been specifically addressing my weakness in triathlon which we all know is the run.  I've learned a lot about the body and function and progression and movement patterns and I feel lucky that I have so many smart people in my life that work hard to keep me from falling down a flight of stairs in the dark and no I have never dropped a weight on my bare foot.
So what's left is the run.  I did a long run in Hawaii that was cruisey and felt good especially because I got to be warm but was otherwise unremarkable.  I really like the work I've been doing, it's been specific and interesting to watch what it's doing to my body, it's been hard work and I am not breaking.  I did the long trail run with all my athletes but I was able to run most of it with one of the fastest runners that I coach and my heart rate was not one billion (he did run a half marathon about five minutes before and was in recovery from that but let's pretend I'm awesome too).  
But even with that in the bank, I felt like the run wasn't coming around the way the swim and the bike and the throwing heavy shit in the gym all were.  And I said that exactly out loud to a few people, the poet and my training buddies and Michelle, I feel like my run is just not coming around but I wasn't worried about it, more noting it as I went by.  After a few weeks of still feeling like that, I dug back through my training log from last winter and found January through early March covered up in exactly the same comments.  That made me laugh, at least I'm consistent, and then it started to pop up just a little.  Tiny little fitness flowers poking their heads out of the ground.  I had a few good moments in a midweek run, then I felt amazing running off a hardish bike, and then last week I went out to do the longest run that I have ever done that wasn't during a race, and there it was (told ya it was coming).  Hi.
It wasn't the time or the pace or the distance, it was how absolutely effortless the miles felt.  How quickly the time went by, I dropped bottles for myself earlier in the day and I was so surprised when I realized an hour had passed and it was time to swap out the first.  It wasn't perfect, I didn't eat the best lunch so I blew through my fuel pretty quickly and it got REALLY cold in the last hour once the sun went down and I got a nosebleed on my pale blue shirt.  But that's all just stupid crap, the fact of the matter is that I went into this being worried about the slog and ready to ignore the splits and pop out the miles, just watch the heart rate and keep it grooving, check the box, my mind was in a good place and my britches were not twisted and somehow I ended up having the best long run of my entire life.  And I was jazzed up from it, I texted all my girlfriends and made them listen and poor Rosalyn was visiting and had to hear about it 16 times over the next two days.  I didn't even care that it smashed me so hard I missed every single interval in my swim the next day even the easy ones, I couldn't believe that I had something like that inside me and it just fell out when I wasn't even looking (more coffee paired with swimming, no it did not help).
When I can't sleep at night, I look at instagram feeds and hashtags.  I read a really good article lately on using instagram for inspiration instead of just clicking like on all the pictures of your friend's babies that are showing up over on Facebook anyway.  So I've been trying to adjust my view, to make it a place that I go to for the very specific and bizarre kind of inspiration that I want.  And it's a crazy mishmash of golden retrievers and ocean photographers and female weight lifters and other people obsessed with speed shorts, but it works.  I follow the guy whose handle is a bunch of letters and posts the pictures of typewritten words on the page, and a few days ago he posted something that said: we have more in us than we want to believe.  more life, more fire, and more soul to burn.  sometimes nothing is something, even if we cannot see it for ourselves.

More life, more fire, and more soul to burn.  
In some ways I haven't changed, in some ways I never will.  I shove my foot in my mouth all the damned time and I sing along into the mic while teaching spin and I take so many selfies that I felt the need to hang a warning sign on all my social media feeds.  But life is great.  Training, is great.  It's bringing me joy.  It's work, it's hard and it's uncomfortable that I like to dig around in my guts trying to figure out how to work on the things I want to change and there are still days where I jog my twenty minute warm-up and then stand at the bottom of the hill with the Garmin paused in a blizzard and say to myself, fuck.  But my fire has come back.  I'm starting to get excited to race, not because I want to see a time on a clock somewhere, but because I'm curious about what it will be like to take this always-in-progress experiment of one out and see what happens when the gun goes off, when it's not heart rate or send-offs or watts or anything except ability, brains and heart.  To see if I will fall into all the same old traps and have more work to do, or maybe I'll skim over all my old shit and make completely new mistakes.  I don't know.  But I'm just about ready to find out.  

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

just...different

I posted my last emotional internet missive the day before I left Hawaii.  I thought that I had had some good lightbulb moments, I realized that back home in training I had been coasting a bit, I had a few days of experiencing what it meant to actually bear down and work, to chase a wheel, to swim hard on not enough rest, I thought I knew.  I even had a really nice chat with Michelle after a glass of wine about how I felt like some of the things I thought to be true about myself had been broken a bit after the week of training.  And then I had one more day of swim bike run in the sunny hot sunshine.  We started out with a pretty hard swim.  Coasting on the success of my Monday morning time in the water, I slaughtered it, I felt great, I swam my ass off...and got out of the water so smashed that I had the thought umm I really wish that was the only workout I had to do today because I might have just emptied my tank.

Got home, stuffed some food down, and rolled out.  There were four of us, and Michelle was good about planning our ride, this person rides here and gaps back from this wheel etc, so we would get our work done without tripping all over each other.  It was one of those days where you groan, loudly, when you push the first pedal stroke around because your quads are not particularly interested in waking up.  But we got going, and I started putting calories down (act of desperation), and then it was time to start the work, so I sat up and soft-pedaled so that I could peel off the back and when I was far enough out of the draft I popped down into my bars and hit lap.
The first few minutes of an interval are always chasing power, first it's 700 and then it's 50 and then back to 700 and it takes a moment to dial in the effort.  But once I did, I was inching up on our quarter-mile long pace line, and I didn't really think I was supposed to be, so I stayed glued to the meter and was really careful to not be overly hammering.  As we worked through the first one, I crept around and ended up sucked onto Heidi's wheel who was sitting on Michelle's, and there were four more minutes to go, and my power dropped into the basement and there was a literal shitstorm going down in my head.  Somewhere along the way, I've been taught that going off the front can be taken as a huge sign of disrespect, and I've ridden with people who have felt the need to say fuck the workout I'm going to teach you a lesson for doing so.  But that was crossed with, oh man, my power numbers aren't even close to where they should be and I'm going to get in so much trouble for this (which is also, of course, completely ridiculous, but like I said, shitstorm).  Another minute went by and I finally decided that not hitting numbers was the worse sin so I swung out and pushed past, yelling I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry over my shoulder as I went.  I spent the rest of the interval wanting to jump out of my skin, waiting for I'm not even sure I knew what I thought might be coming but it felt bad.  It ended, I hit lap and sat up into the recovery and a moment later Michelle pulled up next to me and hollered GOOD GIRL!! at just about the top of her voice and I almost burst into confused-and-relieved-head-case tears right there on my bike somewhere in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.  
But it isn't the breakthrough, exactly, that matters.  The breakthrough is fun, and that day, on the bike, I rode exactly what I supposed to ride and I surprised myself and something broke, something small but definite, shattered.  We got off the bike and ran hard downhill repeats and I surprised myself a bit more, and I'm sure I slobbered all over the place trying to explain to Michelle why I was such a freakin' bag of crazy, but that's not what is actually important.  A breakthrough is just one day.  And there are a shitload of Nike commercials and instagram quotes that say something along the lines of doing work, quietly, where no one can see it, day in and day out is what builds a champion.  What matters is the aftermath.  It's what I do with the breakthrough.  Do I write it down, chalk it up to an awesome experience, and fly back to Colorado and fall back into all my same old patterns?  Because it's easy to shake my sweaty hair out of the bike helmet after a ride like that and declare to myself everything is going to be different now but to come home, to hold myself to that thought, those ideals, day in and day out, when I'm tired and it's cold and snowing (or, all right, 65º in February and perfect sunshine) and I'm not in Hawaii being sparkly in front of my coach anymore, can I still find this feeling?
The first few days, it was easy.  Colorado was graced with a magical slice of spring, and it's not hard to be motivated and at the top of your game when you can be running around outside in shorts.  But I feel, quietly, a little bit different.  My attitude feels different, the work feels different.  I'm not drifting towards the future, I'm not doing much wondering about what this will look like in a few months, I'm simply trying to start every day with the intention of giving 100% to everything I do, including mid-ride pit-stop selfies.  
I read an article just this morning about expectancy theory.  A coach creates expectations about an athlete; expectations influence the coach's behavior towards the athlete; the athlete becomes aware of expectations and adjusts self-perceptions and behaviors; athlete performance falls in line with initial expectations.  I find this kind of thing utterly fascinating.  And to remove the coach-athlete relationship, and replace it with my relationship with myself as an athlete, there's something fun to chew on.  If I believe that I have high expectations for myself, I'm going to be pleased when I perform up to those expectations and unhappy when I don't reach them.  But what if I am actually holding myself back with these expectations?  This is the shift I'm working on.  One of the first hard workouts I had back in Colorado was in the pool, and instead of looking at the send-offs and calculating what I needed to swim to make them, I swam as hard as I thought appropriate and then was startled by the time on the clock.  I continued that way through the workout, to the point where I actually adjusted the send-offs down by 10" because it was more than enough.  I removed the expectations I had placed on myself and my performance and over the course of an hour, surprised myself over and over in the water.  I wonder what in the hell kind of athlete I would be if I could do that day in and day out?



It won't always work out, it won't always be a grand slam.  This past Sunday, I was tired in the water, I had a 1K to descend and the 200 split I caught made me snort, stop, and pull on gear to finish it out.  But then I got pissed off at myself, I spent 300 yards arguing about why I had done that, returned to my coasting behavior, and I ended up taking off the paddles and descending that motherfucker right down.  I had some hard 50s and 25s to swim after that and I know the difference between good enough and the best I can do.  And it's just some 50s at the end of a long day that capped off a long week, it certainly would have been acceptable to swim a bunch of 38s at the end of that session but being able to write in my log :35 :34 :36 :35, it made a difference to ME.  The same thing happened in my long ride on Saturday, the same thing happened during my hill repeats, this tiny weird crazy argument with myself is showing up all over my training and there's no wonder why as I've been giving into it for a long time.
I work hard, I'm a workhorse, it's what I do.  I'll never forget talking to my horn professor in graduate school after a disappointing performance and telling him that I thought I needed to work harder and him telling me, no, you don't, it's what I tell so-and-so, no one works harder than Katie.  But I wonder if sometimes I hide in this work ethic.  I'm checking the boxes, putting in the miles, but I'm holding back in small ways that sure do add up.  When we got off our bikes in Hawaii, Michelle looked at me and said, this is a good thing but now my expectations have gone way up here (imagine holding hand above bike helmet) and that was a little bit scary, but it's what I need.  This is why we have coaches, by the way, because someone else standing outside looking in might be able to figure out the tiny little key to unlocking your bullshit and then pushing you up and over the line.  So I'm back in Colorado, I'm surrounded by friends and training partners alike, and every day I feel a little bit more like something is rumbling, getting ready to turn over.  Different.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

on sunshine & being uncomfortable

I keep half-writing blog posts on planes or buses or in coffee shops, and then a few days pass and I realize it's all totally out of date, that the crap I had to say that seemed so important just gets command-A + deleted.  But I want to get something down, if for no other reason that to remember the things that I keep repeating in my head, ranting or venting or celebrating or just pondering over and over while my body pushes out the miles.  (Seen on the run two hours before departing Colorado).
Backing up a bit.  It's kind of hilarious, I said to the post as he drove me to the airport last Sunday through four inches of fresh snow.  We moved here because Boulder gets 400 sunny days a year, yet every February I pack up and leave to go train in the sunshine.  Three years in a row now I've done this, dismantled the bike and picked a fight with United on social media and headed west with all the running shorts I can current shoehorn myself into.  On the surface, traveling to the sunny days, to riding my bike outside without being layered under every piece of warm gear I own, running without a shirt (sorry) and soaking up the vitamin D, but it's also a few lucky days of laughing, moving, and some good reminders about why I do what I do, and where I want to go from here.
The last two years I've been lucky enough to crash Anabel's training in southern California but this trip around the sun has brought Michelle into my life.  We had a short conversation back in the winter that had me booking a plane ticket not to the palm trees and beaches of Santa Monica but instead a few zillion miles further west to Hawaii where we apparently cannot take selfies with our helmets on straight.
Coming out of the fall, I had some shit to figure out.  The off season helped a ton.  It was a relief to land there with a THUD the day after IMAZ, I needed the downtime to focus on other things.  And by the time January rolled around, the wheels had started to turn again.  Someone posted one of those quizzes on Facebook a while back, about whether you make progress better as an abstainer or a moderator.  Is it better to go cold turkey or to ease out of the mess?  And for me, always, cold turkey.  There is so much less decision fatigue involved in nope I am not doing any of this for X time than the exhaustion that comes daily with am I going to train?  eat?  drink this?  So at the beginning of January, I kicked off another adjusted-for-training-whole30.  The first few days were uncomfortable, but in a way that is familiar, I am doing something good for my body and I am on track and this will pass kind of uncomfortable.  I remember on day eleven, I woke up and felt goddamn amazing.  I floated through my training, I felt good about everything I ate, I was rolling.  The better I ate, the better I felt, the better I slept, the better I trained (and the less my husband wanted to strangle me).  I was in the groove, firing hard, and then there was a tiny blip when my back went out again.  At the time, of course, it felt like the end of the world (so much for not wanting to strangle me).  And even though this is the third time it's happened in my life, I still didn't recognize it right away as my wacky sacrum tilting and rotating and jamming the whole joint up.  (This is the I haven't gotten out of my sweatpants in three days selfie, plus a dog butt). 
Yet again, I rang all the alarm bells I could ring, sent off all the bat signals and the only reason I guess I'm mentioning it is so I can remember, it happens, it goes out but someone can always slam it back in, and all the while, life goes on.  It went out on Monday and I was able to get back in the pool by Friday morning, I went to masters and swam about half my usual yardage and every time I touched the wall, I popped up to the surface of the water bubbling over with the sweet and overwhelming relief that comes along with finally, the absence of pain.  The summary of all of this, I suppose, is that sometimes your body is just a jerk for no reason even if you are doing everything right but maybe (?) the universe was actually helping me out because I landed in Hawaii a bit more rested and motivated and eager to really get after it than I might have been otherwise.
On the plane, on the way here, I was thinking a bit about the last time I shipped myself off to training camp, and how different of a space my brain is in right now.  I was chasing all these carrots, some dangling from ego, from vanity, from shame.  I wanted to run well in ironman, I wanted to be able to ride with the big boys, I wanted to not hate the way I looked in running shorts.  And all of those things were really motivating, for a while.  But now a year has passed and I'm not altogether sure what I am chasing.  I talked a couple weeks ago about working on my run, but I'm not sure that's exactly it.  Thinking about it on the plane, I was a bit unsettled, but now as I've worked through this week that feeling has melted away.  There is so much happiness for me in the here and now of training, I will take a good solid day over a race in a second, sunshine and pedaling and feeling strong, those are my best days, and this week has been full of them (still crooked).
Something I realized, maybe I always get a taste when I train with new people or just remove myself from my tiny bubble of Boulder, is that I love training with people who love to train.  There's no bullshit, no whining, no one wants to talk about how they feel, no it's raining so let's just bail to the treadmill or even any discussion about anything except the how and the when, it gets done, check the box and move along.  On Tuesday, it was pouring and crazy with rain, we swam in it and then we ran in it.  And there was no IF about it, we just changed into run clothes and headed out and you know what, we got the work done and we got a little wet and that was that.  No fuss, no muss, I don't think anyone even posted on twitter about how much of a badass they were.  I love that, and I think it's something that has maybe been a bit lacking in my environment in Boulder, in my circles, and in my own brain.  (The other bike I rode in Hawaii selfie).
We did two long rides while I was here.  I spent some time in the first hour, especially on the second day, with a feeling that I recognize and it's called you guys I am really not sure I can push the pedals like this for the next four hours but both days, I was surprised to find that I could hang.  I was more than fine.  On the second day I chased a paceline that broke away too quickly for me to really be able to latch on but I chased it for 30+ minutes anyway, and I found that could push myself in a way I honestly didn't know that I could do.  But here's the fun.  Now?  I know.  
That feeling, realizing that, it comes with a truckload of emotional garbage.  It's startling, and also I feel a bit silly, but it also opens my eyes super wide to the potential that might be out there for me.  One of my biggest takeaways from this week, I think, is busting through all the crap that I've been thinking about myself as an athlete.  For months, even for years, all these things that I have believed about myself - they are just plain old not true.  It's that simple.  Michelle is strong as fuck and yes, we were doing a nice long aerobic ride and I was saving plenty of watts by glomming on her delicious wheel, but I hung onto that sucker and after the initial oh shit oh shit oh shit faded away, it didn't even hurt that much to do so.  Ceiling, shattered.  (And then there were donuts in the bike-to-swim transition area because Michelle is goddamn amazing).
And I found that feeling again and again.  I didn't swim well the first entire week, I felt out of sorts and the pool was long and slow and I was trying to adjust a few things in my stroke and shit, sometimes the swim simply isn't there and I wasn't all that worried about it but when it did finally decide to show up, just this morning, hot damn did it feel good.  It was uncomfortable, it wasn't nearly as much rest as I wanted and it was effort dialed up to the max, and I had the thought, I wonder if I was doing this session on my own, if I would be pushing myself like this.  And just the fact that I was even thinking that thought tells me, WELP, probably not.  Not all the time.  About a year or so ago I had a realization that I wasn't pushing myself in training, and it was a big AHA moment for me when that happened.  And certainly now, there are some workouts that I bust my ass on (15x1', looking at you), but if I honestly reflect, do I bring that kind of intention to every single session that I do?  Or do I sometimes still coast a bit and then throw on paddles to make the intervals and call it good, because I'm staying out of the place in training where it's not hard, but it's uncomfortable?  The latter, definitely, and that's a tough truth to admit when I consider myself a workhorse.  But turning the boxes green and getting in the miles isn't the same as bringing 100% of my effort and just plain old TRY to training, and I've got one more day here to soak in that feeling before I take my bike apart and return to windy snow breezy snow sunshine snow where I do most of it alone and have only myself to hold me accountable in those moments.  

Swim, bike, run, that was my week by the teeth.  But closer to the core, oh - oh - OH - AHA - those were the things I found in Hawaii.  I'm coming out of this week full of questions.  What would my swim look like if I sought out that uncomfortable feeling more often in the water?  What in the actual hell can I do on the bike if I push myself on aerobic rides like that all the time, instead of believing the same old story I've been telling myself oh Katie just can't get her heart rate up oh well?  And the run, I don't even know what questions I'm supposed to be asking there, but, what could that look like over time?  (I know Garmin pics are obnoxious but I haven't posted one in like four years and it's my longest run since ironman and shit, at least it's not another selfie right?)
Last year, in January, I decided that I wanted certain things in my life to change.  I took a picture of myself squashed into a pair of run shorts and made it the background of my phone, because I wanted to be reminded, often, every day, of what I wanted, what was important, what motivated me.  I wanted to be faced with the thing I no longer wanted so I was making choices through the filter of desire, to change.  And even though I was mortified more than once by someone picking up my phone and asking do you like your ass so much you want to see it all the time?, I kept it there, and it worked.  Little stupid shit, that's what we do, but if it works, who cares?  Who is it hurting?

The background on my phone for the past two months has been this.
Because that's where I am.  That's what I need to be reminded of, that is what I need.  I know that the thing that is holding me back the most in this sport is confidence.  I don't do things on race day because I don't believe I can.  But I also have learned that the breeding ground for confidence in myself is surrounding myself with people who believe in me.  Who see potential, strength, greatness, despite my many and varied flaws as a human wandering this planet.  That's how I finally cracked the nut of the ironman run back in November, and I'm going to finally say, in print, that I think that run is just the beginning.  I think - no, I know - that there is a better run inside me, a better day entirely, and it's a complete 180º from how I felt last July going into IM Boulder, but it's my joy.  And I'm going to chase that motherfucker down.  

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Polar Prowl 5K: race report

So, this post comes along with a higher-than-usual amount of navel-gazing and vanity reflection.  If that kind of thing makes you want to set your eyeballs on fire, this is your warning to click away.

Last January I raced a 10K in Bear Creek Park.  On the scale of all of the things in the universe, it ranked a relatively awful.  My knee hurt, a lot, it had been hurting for a while and I was rotating through shoes and bike fits and physical therapists and general acts of complete desperation.  I slaughtered myself for a 57:11.  My biggest superfan in the world came along and cheered and took pictures and I spent most of the drive home reviewing them in abject horror.  I never even posted a race report about the race, I was so disgusted with myself, the day I had, the state my body was in.  Frustrated that I've spent so much time and energy and certainly money on this sport that I claim to love and I can't even run 9 minute pace for an hour on a random Sunday morning and I end up facing pictures of myself with four ass cheeks and extra boob hanging out all over the damn place.  
For that reason, yes, vanity indeed, that was the day that I decided, enough.  Enough bitching about how unhappy I am about the way I look and feel and sleep and run and move, enough settling for the body and mind and life I have instead of making the hard choices to seek out the one I want.  The next day was a Monday.  After masters, I dragged a giant bag of shoes into the office of yet another physical therapist who swore up and down he could straighten me out.  I limped home from that appointment and read It Starts With Food in one afternoon, I ordered a pair of running shorts that were a full size smaller, and I replaced my bedtime mixing bowl of ice cream with a cup of tea.  And just like that, in one day, everything changed.  

So. This little 5K.  I have always professed a pretty severe hatred for the distance.  Suffering and I are not friends, I have never understood those who revel in the pain of it, I would much rather cruise along at 75% of what I've got for hours and hours than smash the shit out of myself for 25 minutes.  And the things we hate...are probably the things we should be doing more of in life.  A few weeks ago I ran the Santa Stampede 5K down in Littleton.  I had an athlete racing the 10K so I hopped on board, ran my guts out for a 25:02 and called it good.  That same athlete decided to race an early January half marathon (insanity) and when I learned that the race had a 5K option, I invited myself along for the day.  I managed to drag another one of my athletes into the fun and there we go, it was a party.
I kicked off the day by not getting nearly enough sleep (HUNTER) and then forgetting my Garmin and my sunglasses.  We made a quick stop at WalMart for a cheap Timex and some aviators and then rolled down to Bear Creek.  I didn't realize until we turned off the highway that this was the same park that I ran that 10K last January, the one that will go down in my universe as the race that flipped my switch.  But it was.  And I'm only right now a few weeks back into training and eating properly and not drinking like a fish but the contrast between where I am and where I was a year ago, to me inside my own tiny fluff ball universe, is staggering.
The half marathon left and Emma and I headed out to warm up, I realized three steps into it that I had forgotten both of my inhalers so my warm-up was a weird out-and-back-to-drop-bags-to-the-car-back-to-bags-now-strides-bags-again.  I felt okay, certainly not sparkly and fresh but I've learned that it takes me a good 20+ minutes to be loose enough to race a 5K and that was there.  We lined up, the race was pretty small and there was a tiny girl in racing flats hanging out at the front, I asked her what she was planning on running and then made a mental note not to try and hang, settled myself a couple of rows back and off we went.

Racing without the Garmin was pretty brilliant and I think I'd like to keep doing it for shorter races.  I spent the first mile having no idea how fast I was running, so instead I had to focus on effort and form and control (weird).  I counted five women that went out ahead of me, and another one flew by about 20 yards into the race, so there were six up there.  But as that first mile went by, I started to reel them in, and by the time I split the first mile, I was in fourth.  Mile one, a bit friendly terrain: 7:20, mental check: this is either going to go really well or you are so totally fucked.
Mile two had a short up and then a long down and then a steep up and then we turned around a tiny cone in the middle of the trail and headed back.  By the time we hit the turn-around, I had caught another woman and I counted as I headed up to make sure my math was right, I was in third.  But I watched behind me as I headed back and learned that the next woman was less than 10 seconds behind me.  Laughed at the second mile split, which I knew was going to be slow because of all the climbing on the trail, 8:35 (ouch).
There was one more long up at the start of mile three, I tried to keep form under control although race photos reveal there is still so much work to do here, and every step I was running completely fucking terrified of being caught.  My shoe came untied at some point in the second mile and there was no way in hell I was going to stop and tie it.  I remembered the 5K I ran in PA a few years ago, where my brain cruised in instead of chasing the girl that landed me in fourth overall as opposed to third, and how pissed I was at myself after the race for not going for it.  I caught a couple of men in front of me that were walking, the woman in second place was long gone, I was breathing so hard and my bib was flapping and I couldn't tell if someone was right on my shoulder or if I was just hearing my own noisy racing elephant self stampeding towards the finish.  The mile three marker came into view (8:00) and footsteps came flying up behind me, my angry brain yelled NOOOOO inside my head and I tried to find one more gear, the footsteps passed me with less than 10 feet to go to the finish and I choked out I AM SO GLAD YOU ARE A MAN before staggering across the line and to a stop (24:55). 
I am sure, I am completely 100% positive, that I have never hurt like this in a race before, ever.  The only thing I was thinking about during that last mile was what I could do to not get caught, I don't think I've ever understood quite so clearly the motivating power of fear but it was there and pulled the best race out of me that I was going to find on Saturday.  Not the fastest 5K of my life (although I will tip my hat a little to the difficulty of this course) but certainly the best, cleanest, hardest I have ever run this distance.  And with that, strangely enough, comes a desire to do it again.  
I've never been on an overall run podium before, even at tiny races the best I've done is to place in my age group, and no matter how much I want to qualify this with the size of the race and the time of the year (who runs fast in January?), I haven't and I won't, but I'm also not going to spend a lot of time reveling in it.  I worked hard for that place, I wrecked myself and was lucky enough to land on the box, and I spent a few minutes in the car on the way home smiling a little bit and feeling a bit proud, but that was it.  No pancakes no new running shorts no fancy hot tea, the things that I usually use to treat myself with when I'm feeling particularly up or down.  Instead I went home to my puppies, I realized that the weather was nice enough to ride outside for the first time in several months and I enjoyed a peaceful spin on a quiet afternoon.  Reflecting.  Another day, another opportunity to realize that while I always want to be working, changing, looking ahead, I am at peace with myself right now.  Mind and body.  And there is no greater feeling in the world, than that.