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.  

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

the off season

Every year, I take the off-season more seriously.
Last year I was forced into it by a yes-I'll-finally-admit-it-was-broken arm, but that combined with an unsatisfying race meant I was itching to get back training by about mid-December.  I think I gave myself about a week or so of rest and then I filled the rest of the month by trying to do things my body wasn't ready for (see: swimming), getting annoyed, saying fuck it and drinking beer, rinse and repeat.  I was thrilled when the colored boxes of January 1 showed back up in my life.
This year was different.  There was absolutely no itch.  And I think that's part of being incredibly grateful for a solid season.  If we're counting, which obviously I am because I'm the boss around here, I PR'd every leg of every distance that I raced this year, and some of those were significant.  But WAY more important than any PRs, I figured out some of my shit.  I made changes.  I tried new things.  I was healthy, credit should be distributed a few places to all the people in my village who worked hard on my often-uncooperative body, but start to finish 2014 was the healthiest and most consistent year I've had.  And when I closed out my season with the best ironman I've been able to put together - so far - it left me at peace.  Content.  No itch to train, no being mad at people jogging because I had to rest, no driving to the gym "just" to swim twenty minutes, nothing.  More than ready for a few weeks of eating and sleeping and cooking and traveling and all the other things that I fill my life with when I'm not happily bouncing along the hamster wheel of training.
Only because I know I'll look back at this in a year and wonder, I'll share.  I took two weeks completely off.  During the second week, I had a minor medical procedure done that prevented me from any activity at all, but even during the first week I had zero desire to do anything.  We traveled home from Arizona the day after the race, and the next day I boarded a plane back east to visit friends and family.  No swim cap, no running shoes, no spandex.  No checking pool schedules and setting alarms so I could run before anyone woke up.  Just, off.  I stopped being horrified by bread baskets, I stopped trying to keep sugar at a reasonable level, I drank wine, there was obviously plenty of tequila, beer, potato chips, I ate when I was hungry and slept when I was sleepy and those two things took up 90% of my time.

And it was good.  I blew back through Colorado and then headed out to California to support several of my athletes that were running the marathon.  I swam a little with them while I was there and I probably ran seven miles in two-minute-sprints doing bottle hand-offs and check-ins all over the course.  There was a gorgeous early morning run right with Ashley before I got on the plane, but none of it was because I had to, it was simply because this is the rhythm of my life.  I flew home Monday night and spent Tuesday getting my shit together to start training again, so of course I woke up Wednesday morning bright and early and ready to head to the pool, with a sore throat.  
My only guess is that my body wasn't ready to be done resting.  I waffled between taking days off and plowing through some training anyway, and after about ten days of that and (shockingly) not getting any better, I ended up in a doctor's office getting a stern lecture and almost a month of antibiotics, which I hate because I believe that antibiotics are creating a world that will one day be wiped out by a super-bug a la The Stand but that is completely beside the point, which is this: one of these years, I will learn.  
I always really enjoy coming back from a training break, at least for about two weeks, and then I'm just annoyed that my fitness doesn't magically spring back and that none of my running shorts fit.  But the first little while is happy, I spend the time laughing to myself about the paces I have to run to keep my heart rate low and checking the batteries in the power meter over and over and at least the swim is somewhat okay because all of the added buoyancy is sorta helpful, those weeks are fun for me and, more importantly, I think they are necessary.  I ran a 5K in there somewhere (seriously, maybe someday I will learn?), a coughing choking hip-collapsing effort that left me wondering when 8-minute pace got so hard.  
The antibiotics kicked in (FINE modern medicine is wonderful) and I got moving again, enough for me to rip off a 10K swim on New Year's Day without too much struggle.  This is the third 10K swim I've done in my life.  The first was way back in 2011 with my good friend Emily in the sketchy basement of the LA Fitness where I trained for ironman number one and I'm really only mentioning it so I can post this amazing photo of our goggle marks.  
The second I did alone, this year, the day after my birthday with an absolutely appalling hangover.  And the third was last week, I had the company of two of my athletes (not to mention two separate master's groups that came and went while we continued to flip, flip, flip) and an awesome and not-that-crazy-at-all set from Michelle.  It was fun (it was long), we all know the pool is my happy place and I do well on anything steady with good intervals, I settle into the clock and counting flip turns and calculating send-offs and all of a sudden 9600 yards has gone by and it's time to cool down.  
One more tiny thing in my long list of random gibberish.  This post doesn't really have a point other than spitting out things I'd like to be able to look back on next year when I am bitching about being fat and slow, and the biggest thing that happened in December is that we brought home another (yes, a fourth) puppy.
After my last blog post, the poet and I had a conversation, maybe the thousandth one, about bringing another love home, and it was finally the right time.  It happened quite quickly, there were some emails and then I went to meet him and the next day we had our foster visit and he was home.  Ours.  His name is Hunter, he has a very sweet personality with just the slightest hint of side-eye.  I know that saying this in a public place is going to bite me in the ass, but out of our four, this is the easiest puppy-transition we've had.  He mostly sleeps through the night, he cries for just a few minutes in his crate, he knows how to sit and wait for his dinner, and there have been not that many potty-training incidents in the three weeks that he has lived here.  Sofie has only tried to kill him twice, Graham is thrilled to have a new playmate and Molly refuses to acknowledge that his existence other than to throw him a look of sheer disdain if he happens to get within eight feet of her.  
I'm not planning on a 2014 recap post (which is good as it's already January sixth and I think that blogging ship has sailed).  Everything that I want to remember is already up in this space and I don't have the desire to rehash it all (other that the video I put together in the days before Christmas because it made me happy to do so).  It was a good year.  Life, relationships, training, friends, dogs, love, travel, races, all of it.  Hundreds of spectacular moments.  
I am looking forward to 2015.  I'm not about to spout off a list of goals as that isn't what gets my fire burning hot, but I am quietly starting to piece together the shape of the year.  Someone on Twitter shared an except from the book Burn Your Goals and I downloaded it to read (although the shared excerpt, so far, is the best piece of the book).  The author says, I want to know what you are committed to doing with your 24 hours a day to close the gap between who you are and where you want to be.  I've been thinking about that a lot lately, about the concept of being in the moment and not worrying too much about what's going to happen in the future, and it helps to ground me.  What can I do today to be the best wife, friend, athlete, coach that I can be?  And, in my athletic space, what are the controllables that I am ready and willing to commit to working on?  That's easy - my weakness in this sport is very clear.  So I've spent the past few weeks asking questions, analyzing, approaching the work with intention instead of just checking off the boxes, picking the brains of anyone who will let me rifle through their personal encyclopedias of knowledge, forcing myself out of my comfort zone, adding to the village I have built.  I am committing to learning more about myself, about my body and what it needs outside of the carousel of swim-bike-run that I ride ten or eleven months out of the year.  And last year I learned a good lesson about the effect that small changes can have, done regularly and consistently and applied to time, I learned that, how after even a few short months, your life can become unrecognizable.  
But along with commitments, thinking about the gap.  I learned last year that I am light of heart in that gap, living, flying, weightless in the space between the two trapezes.  I learned that change is cumulative, I know that there is still a cavernous distance between who I am and where I want to be, but I learned that it is okay to exist, there.  Last spring I spent a week training in southern California with a good friend and it was on that trip that I realized that my happiness comes from the work, the chase, plotting, planning, working, growing.  And the work I did last winter spring-boarded me into one of the most joyful - albeit imperfect - years of my life.  Now it's January.  Simply time to begin, again.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

happy new year

Life has been crazier than usual lately, and blogging has gotten pushed pretty far down the priority list, but I put together this little video instead of the year in races and year in photos recap posts I usually do.  Happy New Year, everyone!