Tuesday, January 31, 2012

More on Running Fashion

I bought new shoes today at Boulder Running Company. Here they are:

Asics 2170
Asics may be my favorite brand of running attire in general. I also own a pair of their warm-up pants, a pair of arm warmers and a pair of super-soft capris that I will wear over almost anything else in my drawer unless it's really hot.

But I'm not a huge loyalist to any brand. I also bought a pair of Nike shorts (dark green) on sale for $14 (!) and was excited that the Small size fit me. I'd noticed that my shorts are all looking baggy and shapeless in race photos. I'm not fashion forward when it comes to running or anything else, but I do like to look like my clothes fit. I'm still a little worried about what my friend Kathy calls the "thigh-valanche" in race pictures (and the more thigh you show, the more likely this is--I decided NOT to include an example of me illustrating this phenomenon). But I've decided to take the chance.

Speaking of fashion, I had a discussion with the guy who fitted me for the shoes about attire in women's running. He's a running vet who described his Boston Marathon experiences back in the 70s. Summary: neither he nor I is a fan of the "swimsuit" that elite female athletes wear these days in races. We both like Desiree Davila's look much better. I don't think I'd dress in the running swimsuit even if I looked like Shalane Flanagan or Kara Goucher, which I freely admit I never will. It's their choice--maybe they do feel they run better dressed like that--but I'd feel naked.

Shalane and Desi running in the Trials. What would you wear? They both have Olympic speed and endurance.....
Did you notice the male runners don't feel they need to wear Speedos to be fast? Just sayin'.....

I'd love to hear what you think!

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Spring of Speed!

I'm sort of obsessed with my new McMillan plan for spring.
Before the Houston Marathon earlier this month, I mentioned that my husband asked me not to train for another marathon until summer. So I decided that for the rest of this winter and into spring I will concentrate on shorter races and on getting faster. Once Houston was over, I ordered my third custom plan from McMillan Running (McMillan wrote my plans for both Houston and the Top of Utah Marathon last September; I enjoyed and had good results from both plans).

One of the questions you answer for McMillan ahead of getting your plan is which race you want to target. Since it's not about a marathon and qualifying for Boston this time, I put a whole bunch of races ranging from 5K to half-marathon on there and told him to pick, keeping in mind my main goal of gaining speed without losing too much endurance. I submitted the questionnaire, asking for a start date for the plan of Monday, Feb. 6....and then I waited. I couldn't sign up for any races until the plan arrived, because I didn't know which of the ones I suggested McMillan would choose. Instead, I've been concentrating on gradually increasing the length of my recovery runs and on sleeping well.

Today, at last, the plan arrived. I've been poring over it and calling it "My precious." And I know what my spring race schedule looks like at last! Here's what's on the docket:

The Snowman Stampede 5 Mile--Feb. 18
The Platte River Half Marathon--April 15
Boulder Distance Classic 15K--April 28 (guaranteed PR; I've never done a 15K)
Flat-Out 5K or Westminster Women's Classic 5K--May 13 (the Flat-Out 5K hasn't been scheduled yet, but I'm hoping it will happen that Saturday; if it doesn't, I'll go to Westminster)
Bolder Boulder 10K--May 28

The training looks like a nice switch-up from marathon prep, with things I haven't done in a while like 400-meter intervals and 90-minute progression runs in there. I'm hoping that not only will the frequent races leave me faster (relatively) and fired-up, but also fit going into summer prep for a fall marathon. At that time, if I work hard and stay lucky and humble, I hope to be able to run my Boston qualifying time of 3:44:59 or better at last.

Meanwhile, bring on the Spring of Speed!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

11 Things

Before I launch into the meat of this post, I just want to give you a quick running update. I'm still in recovery mode, but I've had several short runs and one spin class since the Houston Marathon a week and a half ago. I'm feeling great, eager to launch into real training again. I still don't have my spring race schedule, as I've purchased another plan from McMillan Running and haven't received it yet. That's a good thing. My 4.5-mile run this morning indicated to me that I do still need a few more easy days. I wasn't sore. I could just tell I was done at the end. Tomorrow I will sleep in!

I also wanted to point out that due to numerous complaints recently about Blogger's comment system, I've changed my commenting to a free platform offered by Disqus. Let me know if this doesn't work for any of you, but I think it will make commenting much easier for people who don't have Blogger accounts.

Finally, I added a new page called "Race Reports" above. It has links to descriptions of all the races I've done since starting this blog in October 2010.

And now, without further ado....

Christi, of The Pedestrian Runner (who is also a cyclist and will be doing the gnarly Triple Bypass Ride this summer), assigned me the 11 Things tag.

You've seen 'em before, but here are The Rules:

1. Post these rules.
2. You must post 11 random things about yourself.
3. Answer the questions set for you in your tagger's post.
4. Create 11 new questions for the people you tag to answer.
5. Go to their blogs and tell them you’ve tagged them.
6. No stuff in the tagging section about "you are tagged if you are reading this." You legitimately have to tag 11 people!

Here are the 11 Random Things About Me (hopefully not repeating random things I've put in other tag posts):

1. People wonder if everyone in my family has an odd name, but my sister and brother are Mandy and John. (For those who might wonder, my first name rhymes with "Persia.")

2. I met my husband at a wedding in Houston when I was living in New York City and he was living in Denver. He visited me in Russia (I joined the Peace Corps two months after meeting him) and we got married in Missouri.

3. I smell books. My favorites are the old ones, but sometimes the glossy new ones have a nice bouquet as well.

4. Once I manage to get the Boston Marathon monkey off my back, I'm going to learn to play the banjo.

5. I almost never blow-dry my hair. I'm terrible at styling it anyway, and Colorado is so dry that I don't really need to spend the time.

6. Both my mom and my mother-in-law are teachers. Mom teaches social studies and MIL teaches English. They both teach middle schoolers. Needless to say, they both have a great sense of humor and a spine of steel.

7. Right now I'm in the middle of reading the Little House series of books to my twins. We're at On the Banks of Plum Creek. I am LOVING it. I have a whole new perspective on it as a parent than I had as a child (also loved it then). Pioneers were tough folks.

8. My high school mascot was the Kewpie. No lie. Here's a picture:

9. I've broken only one bone in my body. It happened when I was two years old, fell out of bed and snapped my collarbone. I don't remember any pain, but I do remember getting an X-ray. My mom told me she didn't even know I had done it until I complained a little about my shoulder hurting. And she didn't have to do anything other than let it heal. Kids' growing bones, apparently, heal that quickly.

10. Sometimes when I'm running in town, I think of stoplights as gates. I ask myself, How many gates can I get through before they close (that is to say, turn red)?

11. My favorite place to travel to is Ireland. I've been there twice, once as a broke college student and once with Dan in 2004. I love the music, the chill and the rain, the ancient tombs and dwellings, the hip cities, the sea and the cliffs that border it. If someone offered me a chance to visit somewhere new or go back to Ireland again, I'd be hard pressed to turn Ireland down.

11 Questions from Christi:

1. Which actor played James Bond the best?
Dude. Daniel Craig. Hands down.

2. Are you a cat person or a dog person? 

I like them both a lot, but if pressed I'm a dog person. And to refine that, I'm a BIG dog person. No ankle-biters.

3. What is your favorite race to date?

This is so hard to answer because they've all had something good about them. But I really enjoyed doing a series of now-defunct trail races called the Frozen Ass Trail Run, the Frosty Trail Race and the Alferd Packer Half-Marathon. They all involved icy water crossings, mud, sand cliffs--and they were all in the dead of winter.

4. Do you prefer beer or wine?

Wine. No contest.

5. What is the first race that you ever completed?

The Advil Mini-Marathon 10K in Central Park, NYC, 1995. I had no idea I could run six miles. It took me just over an hour.

6. Do you have a coach to help you with your training?

I don't have a coach, but I do buy my custom plans from Greg McMillan out of Flagstaff, AZ. I love his plans. If I could afford the fee to hire him as a coach, I would.

7. If you could compete in any long distance triathlon and race fees were not a factor would you choose IM or Rev 3 races?

No tris for me!! The swimming part gives me the heebie-jeebies. And having to deal with flat bike tires during workouts/races? Meh. If it were a running race.....the London or Great Wall Marathons!

8. How many blogging friends have you met in person?

Let's see....I've met Erin, Jill, Beth, Amanda, Laura, Corey, Kelli, and Holly. I've known Kathy since long before either of us contemplated blogging. And I've met Dimity and Sarah (celebrity mother runners, bloggers and authors).

9. Who is going to win the Superbowl, New England Patriots or New York Giants?

Geez, I don't know. I do know it won't be the Broncos.

10. If you could meet one person alive or dead, who would it be?

Tina Fey. I love her sense of humor. The older I get, the more I think that a sense of humor is the most important virtue a person can have.

11. And finally the big question, do you prefer Star Wars or Star Trek?

It's nearly impossible to choose, much harder than dogs vs. cats. Star Wars evokes my childhood, and beyond that I love the concept of the Force, the theme of redemption and the swashbuckling black/white conflict of it all. Star Trek, however, is much more cerebral, real-life, with complex characters and relationships. I really like them both. Despite the space theme, they're very different from each other.

My Questions for Those I Tag:

1. Which U.S. state do you most want to visit and what would you do there?

2. If you are a parent, what's the most important piece of advice you have for those of us who are also parents (and I want to know this even if your kids are still young)? If you don't have kids, what's the best thing your parents ever did for you, even if it was unpleasant at the time?

3. Name your favorite sport (running, tris, cycling etc.). If you couldn't do it, what would be your next choice and why?

4. If you could pick a totem animal, what would it be and why?

5. What's the scariest thing you ever did?

6. If you still live in your hometown, are you glad you stayed? If you don't still live in your hometown, would you like to go back and live there?

7. Are you a fan of motivational posters?

8. Do you do well on standardized tests?

9. Which countries/regions did your ancestors come from? Do you strongly identify with any of those places?

10. Which do you like best: baseball or football?

11. Name your favorite movie of all time.

People I'm Tagging:

1. Corey 
2. Cynthia 
3. Jessica
4. Kara
5. Katherine
6. Kathy
7. Lacey Sue
8. Mandy
9. TNT Coach Ken
10. Trent
11. Tricia

Sunday, January 22, 2012


"....Age is number that you put in your head.....If you work hard and believe in what you want to accomplish.....go out there and put the work in and you will achieve it."
--Meb Keflezighi

Yesterday I turned 39!

I love birthdays. I've never had a bad one. My dad always said having another birthday is better than the alternative. There's a lot of wisdom in that.

Since 39 is a multiple of 13, and since some of you might think for various reasons that you will someday have trouble with this birthday or the next one that ends in a "9" or a "0" for you, here are some thoughts on why I'm happier now than I was the last two times my age was divisible by 13:

I'm happier at 39 than I was at 13 because:

  • I have good friends. At 13, I entered a new school and knew almost no one. It took my introverted self two years to meet kindred spirits. Many mornings, I was so lonely I just wanted to stay in bed. These days, I am surrounded by people I like, and I have a long past that includes COUNTLESS people I like. I saw some of them in Houston last weekend. That was as happy a thing as my marathon PR.
  • I see physical activity, and especially running, as a celebration, not a sentence. The worst part of my day at age 13 was PE class. The best part of my day now is my early morning run.
  • I (mostly) like the way I look. I'm no fashion model and I'll never have an "elite" physique, but I've learned how to be comfortable with what I've been given (it helps that, unlike at age 13, I'm not sporting a God-awful Orphan Annie shopping-mall-salon perm).

I'm happier at 39 than I was at 26 because:

  • I have a husband who loves me. When I was 26, I was on the third in a string of lousy boyfriends. My family and friends were starting to wonder if I liked only men who were bad for me. Now I see that every loser who dumped me, cheated on me or lost his fruitcake temper with me was doing me a favor by getting out the way of the one I was really waiting for.
  • I am a mom. I'd always wanted to have kids. But at 26, I wasn't sure that was ever going to happen for me. Now I have beautiful boy/girl twins who build spaceships out of cardboard boxes and come to me when they need a hug.
  • I am a librarian. My job is to help people find the information and entertainment they need and want. I don't please all of my library's patrons all the time, but every day at work I make someone happy. When I was 26, I was an unhappy business journalist. It might have been a more prestigious job in the worldly sense of that term, but I made almost no one happy, especially myself.
  • I am a sub-4-hour marathoner. At 26, I was a marathoner, but I thought that was a one-time thing I'd done a long time ago, wasn't very good at it and would never do again. I'd still say I'm not very good at it in an absolute sense (let's be real: I did just watch the Olympic Trials). But I have proven to myself that I can get better, much better than I thought I could be. And I do believe I haven't touched the ceiling that marks the limit of how much better I can get.
Now....wouldn't YOU rather be 39 than 13 or 26?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Race Report: Houston Marathon

I slept well the night before the Houston Marathon, images of the Olympic Trials races still spooling around in my head like a movie reel. Kathy and I set the alarm for 4:30 a.m. and 5 a.m. (just in case we had a hard time shaking off sleep—turns out we didn’t need the second alarm).

I took my accustomed pre-race shower and shaved my legs like I always do, being careful not to nick my ankles with the cheap disposable plastic razor I had brought (two days earlier I had skinned both ankles with that thing). We hung out in our hotel room until about 5:20. It was really nice to be staying so close to the convention center and starting line because we were able to take care of private business in our own clean flushing toilet.

We arrived at the convention center just in time for Mass. Mass was crowded—lots of Catholic runners in Houston, I guess. The priest, pointing skyward, called his homily “a brief word from our sponsor,” eliciting laughs from the nervous crowd. I couldn’t hear much of the rest of it because there was loud music echoing from somewhere else in the giant concrete space. They somehow managed to distribute communion to the crowd, and the service was over in a half-hour. We both realized we had to go to the bathroom again, so we went back to our hotel room (like I said, convenient!).

On the way back to the start area, I heard someone call my name—and there was my friend Jenne, who I know from library school!! It was so nice to see another friendly face! She had driven all the way down from Huntsville, where she is now a professor, to see me run. She was supposed to be in the 5K that morning, but hadn’t realized there was no race-day packet pick-up. But she came anyway just to cheer for me. The three of us worked our way into the steady river of runners exiting to the streets where the marathon and half-marathon starts were.

Jenne got a shot of Kathy and me pre-race. Yes, Jill, I used my Rock Canyon Half shirt as my throw-away!
I said good-bye to Jenne inside the convention center, and outside said good-bye to Kathy. My corral assignment was “A” (this was the case for everyone who predicted a sub-4 time). I was still clutching the bib in memory of Sherry Arnold that Caroline had sent me to wear on my back during the race. Jenne had located some safety pins, but there hadn’t been time to pin it inside. I saw Amanda, the other Boulderite with a press pass whom I’d met the prior day at the Trials finish line. She and her friend were headed to the half-marathon A corral. We chatted a bit about the Trials and then all wished each other luck. (I late found out Amanda ran her half in something like 1:26. Ah, Boulder!)

The scene at the entry to the A corral was a mob. I stood in the group for a while and chatted with two nice women, who pinned the bib on my back and asked me questions about Sherry. One of them turned out to be a reader of Beth’s. I think we all had a catch in our throats. But I left them because I really wanted to get into the A corral and find the 3:50 pacers. I wended my way through the crowd. Once I was actually inside the corral, things opened up. I found the pacers easily and hit the port-a-can one last time before the start (port-a-cans in the corral! Great idea!). Bill Rodgers and Frank Shorter both spoke over the PA system. Shorter called it “no excuses weather.” It was cool but not cold, maybe in the low 50s, with some cloud cover. Perfect indeed!

Through all of this, I felt stomach-clenchingly nervous. And when that gun went off, I cried a little, just to myself, thinking of the past year and of Sherry and of the Trials runners (especially Dathan Ritzenhein and his little girl) and of Jenne driving all that way and of everyone who sent me good wishes and of how I want to qualify for Boston. I knew today would be a good day, but I wasn't sure it would be Boston good and I was worried I would disappoint many people. It was such a relief to start running. It felt familiar and safe.

I had found the 3:50 pacers, but by using the bathroom that last time I had lost them again. I was OK with that because I wanted my first mile to be slower than they were planning to go. It turns out that in the first couple of miles I was behind the 4-hour pacers, too, because I passed both of them in miles three and four. I’m starting to be skeptical of pace groups. I had a great experience in New York 2005 with my pacer, but the groups in the Top of Utah Marathon started too fast, as did the groups in this race (I ended up passing the two 3:50 pacers in miles 22 and 25, too, even though my finishing time was three minutes slower than they were supposed to be posting). I know pacers are human, too, and anyone can have a bad day in a marathon, but still…..

The first few miles went quickly. The crowd support throughout the course was amazing, and there were lots of bands as well. My favorite, in the early miles in the Heights neighborhood, was playing some kind of bluegrassy gospel stuff that I would have stopped to listen to longer if it had been a different kind of day. My legs were feeling good—I noticed no talking from the ankle cuts, my left glute and hamstring or my calves as we ran past Rice University (my alma mater, where the Marching Owl Band, or MOB, was playing). The only physical issue I experienced the whole race was sore feet. I had been expecting that as it had happened on long runs too. It’s time to switch back to my prior shoe brand, Asics—I think they just work best for me.

Not sure where this was....
Soon after Rice, we entered the West University neighborhood where my aunt and my friends Colin and Mimi live. Colin and Mimi and their two daughters, it turns out, were the first friends I saw on the course. They were handing out oranges and bananas just after the half-marathon mark. Mimi called my name and I was rocketed out of my trance. I got a glimpse of her face and saw their two girls, then saw Colin a little way down. I’m sure I ran 10 seconds per mile faster for a long time after seeing them. It was a great boost (even though I didn’t take an orange, as their daughter Alexa pointed out to me later).

I was still feeling good along the stretch by Highway 59 and into the Galleria shopping area, but by mile 18 it was getting a little harder to hold my pace. I thought about the Top of Utah marathon, where I bonked hard at mile 18, and realized I felt nothing like that bad this time. I kept my legs churning and the doubts passed. It happened again around mile 20, and I told myself that moods and sensations change in the marathon. How you feel now isn’t necessarily how you’ll feel later in the race, even in the last crazy miles. It worked, and I kept on trucking.

Heading into Memorial Park, where many Houston-based runners train, I saw my friend Amy from Denver. She was in town visiting her brother and had made a sign for Kathy and me. I didn’t see her or it until she called my name (which I’m glad she did loudly because I’d put my headphones on as planned at mile 18). When I saw her, I inadvertently called out Kathy’s name, because I was reading the sign and because, well, I was in my trance again, but then I corrected myself and called out “Amy!” She snapped a photo of me, and I moved on, again having gotten a huge lift. No one’s ever made a sign with my name on it for a race before! Thanks, Amy!

Amy's wonderful sign! Just what you need around Mile 20!

Here's the pic Amy got.

Jenne was the next friend on the course. She had walked all the way from downtown to her spot at the entry to Allen Parkway, and she was working a shiny hula hoop. Again, a lift right when I needed one, and I felt ready to tackle the Allen Parkway hills. They aren’t really hills, just spots where the road dips under overpasses, but as many of you know, any incline in the last miles of a marathon feels like a mountain. So I prepared to bear down for them.

And you know what? They were over before I knew it, and….they weren’t that bad. I knew then that I could finish this race strong.

But I had one more happy surprise: my friend John! He and Rosann, his wife and also an old friend of mine, live near the early miles of the course, but didn’t put two and two together in time to see me go by at that point. So he had driven up to catch me at about mile 24. He told me later I looked much better than I did in my prior showing in this race in 1997, when he’d helped change my shoes in the freezing rain. It's always nice to hear, on the doorstep of your 39th birthday, that you're looking better at any moment than you did at almost 24! Seeing him gave me one more giant boost, and that along with the sight of downtown Houston’s buildings getting taller and taller and a slight cool breeze sent me sailing toward the finish.

The finish line was the same as the one for the Trials the day before. Its bleachers were lined with cheering spectators, and as I rounded the turn for the last tenth of a mile, I thought of Shalane Flanagan finishing her race the day before in that same spot with that grin on her face, and I broke out into my own huge smile. My Garmin put my finishing pace for that last bit at 7:50. I got my medal and had a finish photo taken before I headed into the convention center for a needed massage, some Honey Milk and an ice cream sandwich.

The final result? 3:53:28, a six-minute personal record good for 2,150th place overall out of 7,649 finishers (only 28% were ahead of me), 509th woman (only 18% were ahead of me) and 95th in my age group of 35-39 year-old women (again, only 18% ahead of me). Data from the race say that I finished ahead of 66% of male runners, and that in the last 4.5 miles I was passed by 29 people but passed 183.

Here are what my splits looked like:

In the end, I’m most proud of my relatively even pace throughout the whole race and that I never seriously considered walking or slowing appreciably (though I did slow after the 25K mark--will have to work on that!). This was true even when it became obvious that I wasn’t going to qualify for Boston. Because when I DO qualify for Boston, that steadiness will be a key skill set that will get me there. And I am glad I didn't give in to negative thoughts.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Olympic Marathon Trials

Kathy and I woke early on Olympic Marathon Trials morning. She was slated to work as a Medic for the race and had to report for her shift at 6:30 a.m., and I wanted to get out early to scope out the action. I was hoping my press pass would get me into the finish area, but in the end Kathy got a much better front-row seat than I did (read about it on her blog! incredible close-up shots from the finish line!).

I got to meet some bloggers--two of whom I already followed (Amanda and Laura) and three of whom were new to me (Corey, Kellie and Holly). All of us were running either the full marathon or the half-marathon the next day and were excited for this rare chance at professional-runner inspiration.
Laura, Kellie, me, Holly, Corey and Amanda
It was chilly out there--perfect running weather, but definitely coat and sweater conditions for spectating. We all stood near the 26-mile mark. Since the course consisted of several loops we actually got to see the contenders go by four times. And since the men and the women were running the Trials on the same course at the same time, we got EIGHT sightings of Olympic-quality running.The men's race started at 8 a.m. and the women's 15 minutes later.

That's Desi Davila, who went on to finish second, in front of the women's race on the first loop.

The women's pack--even the slowest was FAST!
After the runners made their third pass, I left the group to try to get into the finish area, but by the time I arrived security had closed it off to everyone but medical and race officials. I stood by the gate area for a while, thinking they'd open it up. But soon I heard the roar of the crowd as Meb Keflezighi, Ryan Hall and Abdi Abdirahman came in to claim spots on the Olympic team. I watched the podium photo op through the fence.

It was during that time that I witnessed the most poignant moment (for me) of the Trials. A woman with a stroller carrying a little girl and a toddler boy pushed past. The security officials stopped her just as they had stopped me.

"No one but race offiicals, ma'am," one of them said.

"But my husband's in there," she said.

"Sorry," he said.

She stood back next to me on the curb, pushing the stroller back and forth. The men who had finished behind the winners were trailing out, meeting family who led them into the convention center to get warm. Most of the runners were elated, just happy to have been out there with such a group. But when this woman's husband came out and I realized who he was, I understood why she was so frustrated at being unable to get to him.

It was Dathan Ritzenhein, who had finished fourth--the most difficult finishing place for an athlete with a shot at the Olympics (remember, Dathan was the top American finisher in Beijing four years ago). He gave his wife a hug--it was obvious from his face that he had been crying. And then (and this is what clenched my heart) he swept his little girl out of her stroller seat and walked toward the convention center benches just holding her, just the two of them alone despite the swell of people all over the place. And she, as if knowing that her daddy just needed a hug, twined her little arms around his neck. As he walked with her toward the convention center, I saw her sober little face, chin resting on his shoulder, eyes looking around, just glad to see her dad again.

It certainly wasn't the time for a photo or a quote, but I was glad I got to witness that very human moment of love shining out from disappointment.

Dathan and his family went inside, and I turned my attention back to the action. Another person wearing a press pass introduced herself to me as Amanda McCracken, also from Boulder. She told me Mike Sandrock had said she should look out for me. She was doing a piece for Running Times and had also been shut out of the finish area. We found our way to a spot near the bleachers and had a great view of the finish of the women's race. Shalane Flanagan rounded the corner first, a periodic grin coming over her face. Then came Desiree Davila and then Kara Goucher. The fourth place finisher in this race, Amy Hastings, also had tears on her face. So hard to finish fourth.

Though I was off the hook for the local paper since no one from Colorado came in among the winners (though Kara Goucher did go to the University of Colorado), I was feeling lame for not taking better advantage of my press pass and felt I needed to redeem that. So I went up into the convention center and secured myself a second row seat for the press conference with the winners. The place soon filled up with TV cameras and reporters. (I was also starving, so I had loaded up a plate in the press lounge--I had to remind myself that I had a race the next day myself and shouldn't get too hungry! Fortunately I wasn't the only person in there eating.)

Soon the men filed in: Meb, then Ryan, then Abdi! Limping, just like we do! Easing themselves into their chairs!

The Trials press officials had microphones and called on the reporters with questions. In the crowd was Amby Burfoot from Runners' World (he was right in front of me!), as well as folks from the New York Times, ESPN, the Washington Post and NBC.

The mood was ebullient. There had been a mention of the fact that on average this is the oldest Olympic men's team for the marathon we've ever sent (average age 33; Meb is 36!). To which Ryan pointed out to the other two, "I watched you guys make the Olympic team in the 10k when I was in high school." (Ryan has a really laid-back California dude way of talking.)

It was during this men's conference that I got to ask a question (they seemed to be allowing each person in the audience one question), so I asked Meb what he does differently to train now that he's on the older side for an Olympic qualifier. I told him he's a big inspiration to all runners who think they are on the wrong side of the age factor. And I also asked him (because this was what my husband Dan wanted to know): Does he still take ice baths in mountain streams? (Does anyone else remember the picture of Meb recovering in a cold mountain stream that was in Runners' World a few years back?)

Meb answered the second question first: No, he doesn't really do that any more because the tap water where he lives is already so cold that when his wife fills an ice bath for him he actually has to ask her to mix some hot water into it because it's TOO cold. Everyone laughed.

On the first question, about running as you age, here's what he said:

"I want to thank Skechers for taking me on. I had no shoe contract until last August until they came to me.....For older runners and all runners, I would say that age is number that you put in your head. If you work hard and believe in what you want to accomplish, beating a five-hour marathon or a four-hour marathon, go out there and put the work in and you will achieve it.

"When the cameras not watching...we work very hard at what we do. There are so many obstacles as a distance runner that we face. Who would have thought I'd be sitting here after having a pelvis fracture?"

I love that guy.

The women filed in soon after the guys left. Kara and Shalane are both tall. Desi and Amy Hastings (who also came; how hard would that have been?) are tiny.

Shalane described the finish stretch as "a cross between savoring the moment and just being grateful I was almost done." Desi said the finish for her was "this internal conflict where I really wanted to make a big push, but my calves were just cramping up and tight." Kara said, "The last mile I was just trying to get to the finish line. The last mile I was really just hanging in there basically." Amy said, "I just didn't have quite enough left. It was an emotional last mile."

It made me realize how different it must be to compete against others rather than yourself and the clock alone as most of us do.

At one point, a question came up about Kara's come-back and how she felt going into this race. I love how human she is. She said, "Honestly, I've been a wreck. I was not confident. I can't remember the last time I've been this nervous, but I also can't remember the last time I've wanted something this badly."

And then she said it again: "I was not confident. I've been a wreck. I'm going to sleep really well tonight."

I found this very comforting. It's OK to not be confident all the time. You can still succeed.

I returned to the hotel tired, a little worried about having been on my feet so much, but feeling very inspired. That afternoon, our feet propped up on pillows on our respective beds, Kathy and I watched the races again on TV.

And the reality of our own looming race started to set in......

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Houston Marathon: Quick Recap

I will write a real blog post later--I'm about to go eat some serious Mexican food with John and Rosann, some of my best friends from college/Houston days.

I'm still on my journey to a Boston Qualifying time, but the Houston Marathon was another step in the right direction: a six-minute PR, lowering my best marathon time to 3:53:28. When the sun rose this morning, I thought I would weep at the finish with anything less than a BQ by 39 (my 39th birthday is this coming Saturday). But there's a reason I gave myself two years for this goal. I look at where I was one year ago and feel proud and grateful. The BQ will come, perhaps this fall.

Race recap to come! Thank you to everyone who supported me in person and virtually for this race. I thought of all of you by name as I ran. I did not walk. I did not bonk. I ran strong. Thank you again. And I'm looking forward to planning my Spring of Speed--more on that to come, too.

Saturday, January 14, 2012


I have a lot to say about the Olympic Marathon Trials, but I'll have to post it later. There were times during the day today when I did forget, but the fact remains that I have a marathon to run tomorrow! :^)

My goals for the race are:

C) Bad-day goal: beat my PR of 3:59
B) Realistic goal: run a 3:50 or better
A) Dream goal: run a 3:45 or better and qualify for the Boston Marathon

My plan for the race is: line up with the 3:50 pace group at the back of the A corral (I am number 5119 if you want to track me). Run slow and smart at first--no too-fast starts this time. Check in with my body and mind periodically to see if I have it in me to speed up from there--and if so, run down the dream. If I can run a smart race, I'll have checked another lesson off my list, no matter what my time at the finish.

I certainly haven't lacked for inspiration. This is my first charity marathon (it's not too late to donate to the Houston Food Bank--and thanks again to those of you who already have). My training has been solid, if not spectacular, and I'm proud of my long runs. I've spent lots of time with family and friends this weekend (thanks Kathy, Aunt Terzah, Colin, Mimi, Dimity, Sarah, Laura, Amanda and all the wonderful new bloggers I met today). I will be seeing more friends later (Jenne, Amy, John, and Rosann). I watched some amazing runners contend in a fantastic race. I've shaken hands with Olympians (most recently Adam Goucher, about 20 minutes ago, here in the hotel lobby). And I am proud and humbled to run this race for my cousin Katy (serving in Afghanistan), for my friends Max and Angela and in memory of Sherry Arnold, the Montana teacher you've all been reading about this week. I also want to run well for my husband, Dan, and my kids, Will and Ruth, who have put up with lots of months of long runs and running talk.

I'm ready. It's time to do this.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Marathon Weekend: Part 1

This photo pretty much describes my mood tonight:

From the firework show after the Trials opening ceremony
During the firework display, I shook Joan Benoit Samuelson's hand.
Here's how close I was to her!
Others around me were swarming her for pictures together. I decided just to ask for a handshake, for luck on Sunday. Her hand was small, cool and dry, the hand of an Olympic Gold Medalist, one of the pathfinders for all women who like to run marathons.

Joan, Frank Shorter, Meb, and Deena were all gathered, along with many of the athletes running in tomorrow morning's Olympic Marathon Trials, for the opening ceremonies. I broke down and bought myself an iPod Touch last night, so for once I was actually able to take some pictures.

Yep, that's Meb!
Meb and Deena in the chairs reserved for the athletes; each one got a little flag and a bag of snacks
That's Frank Shorter in blue.
I wasn't able to avail myself much of my media pass during the day today. Before I was granted the credential, I had volunteered to work a 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. shift as a greeter and direction-giver outside the convention center where packet pick-up was being held. All of the press conferences were happening during this time, but it's not at all noble to renege on a volunteer commitment. And I found out later that my team captain had six no-shows for the shift, so I'm really glad I showed up.

In my neon yellow "Ask me" vest
It was also just fun being an answer person (I AM a reference librarian for a reason). Runners are such nice people, and it was nice to chat with a couple of Houston Marathon veterans about the course. There was plenty to keep my mind off the Big Task looming for me on Sunday.

But first, there is tomorrow--the morning of the Trials. Kathy is volunteering in the medic area (read her post about that) and has to be there at 6:30 a.m. The men's race starts at 8 and the women's at 8:15. I will hopefully meet up with some other bloggers for the start, and after that I plan to be lurking in the press area at the finish. And I'll definitely attend the winners' press conferences.

That's the Trials start line in the background and my media credential around my neck. And yes! I'm wearing a down vest over a sweater! In Houston!
Speculation is that a course record or two could be set tomorrow. The weather is almost too perfect to be believed: I was actually teeth-chatteringly chilly during my volunteer shift. I can hardly wait to get out there and watch the action. As I type, I'm sitting in the hotel lobby. The athletes in the Trials are doubtless upstairs with the lights out (which is where I'll be going soon), but there's a party vibe in the lobby among those of us who don't have to race until Sunday.

It's like Mardi Gras for runners!

There is one sadness in the midst of all of this: the death of Sherry Arnold. My friend Caroline has created a bib to wear this weekend in her half-marathon in Sherry's honor. I plan to print and wear this bib myself. For Sherry's family and friends. For women everywhere who deserve to run free (and alone if they wish) without fear.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Taper Interlude: The Alter-G

Giant steps are what you take/Walking on the moon/I hope my legs don't break/Walking on the moon/We could walk forever/Walking on the moon....
--The Police "Walking on the Moon"

On Tuesday I took a break from taper angst (so no more pity parties this training cycle, I promise!) and took a little ride on....the Alter-G! Dan came with me and took pictures.

Does this giant bag filled with air make my butt look big?
I won a session on the anti-gravity treadmill because I "like" Boulder Center for Sports Medicine (also home to my amazing doctor) on Facebook. About a month ago they acquired one of these devices, which allow you to run at less than your body weight, good for both training and rehabilitation from injuries, and they are trying to get the word out that it's there. For $65 an hour (the amount of time I won!), you too can ride the Alter-G.

The Alter-G (also made famous in a story in Runner's World a while back that showed a pregnant Paul Radcliffe training on one in her house) works by sealing the runner's lower half in a giant bag. The treadmill then calibrates, taking in the runner's weight. When you start your workout, and tell it you want to go at, say, 85% of your weight, the bag then inflates with just enough air to lift you up and make it feel to your astonished lower body like you just lost that much flab.

Dan and I arrived and were greeted by Adam, a young-looking guy wearing bike shorts and a Western States 100 race shirt (typical of Boulder, and BCSM in particular!). We chatted about Houston as he led us back to the area where BCSM does bike fittings and some rehab activities. There in a corner stood the Alter-G.

My plan was to do the 40-minute easy run dictated by my training schedule and then come back next week for a 20-minute recovery run post-Houston Marathon. Adam asked me about my goals for the race, then told me my marathon pace of 8:34/mile was going to feel easy on the Alter-G. Exciting!

But first....the shorts. Ah, they were lovely, the special Alter-G shorts.

They're sort of like a reverse tutu. Putting them on was like putting a second pair of compression shorts over the first (they had told me to wear tight biking or yoga shorts; compression shorts were all I had, but they worked just fine).

Then I had to be zipped into the Alter-G.

That's Adam helping me zip in. Not sure I could do this on my own....
Once I was in, he showed me how to use the screen, which was a little far away for me (I'm 5'7") but fortunately very responsive. Buttons allowed me to adjust my speed up in increments of .1 mph or 1 mph. I could adjust the incline as well, though Adam warned me that steep inclines on the Alter-G can do funny things to your gait (I never set this above 1% during this session).

And of course the fun part: I could toggle my weight between 100% (that is, my actual weight) and as low as I wanted. I generally stuck at 85%, which is what they recommend for people using the Alter-G for training rather than rehab, but I did at one point go as low as 70%. The Alter-G didn't display what I weighed in at, but I know right now I'm around 128 pounds. So running at 85% made for an instant 19 pound weight loss, putting me at about 109 pounds. Seventy percent? That's 90 pounds. It's doubtful either of those weights is something I'll see unless I get very very sick. But it sure felt fun to float along like that!

Yes, that's me running a 6:31 pace! Easy at 109 pounds (but with my 128-pounder's muscles)!
For the entire 40 minutes I never ran slower than an 8:41 pace and spent most of my time at marathon pace. At Adam's suggestion, to make things more interesting, I alternated between my full weight and 85% for one-minute intervals for a good part of the run. And a couple of times I ratcheted it up to a 6-something minute-per-mile pace, just because it was so much fun.

I could have made it even more fun. They offered me a mask that would have furnished me with some oxygen-rich sea-level air, but I declined that. I wanted to save some advantages (however slight) for my actual race!

There were a couple of things to keep in mind: Adam warned me to avoid the loping moon-walker gait that's easy to slip into when you feel gravity losing its hold. So I tried to keep my stride short, my steps light and my knees low. I also think it's easy to get carried away--my quads were a little sore after the workout. It's probably not a good idea to push the pace (even in an anti-gravity environment) quite that much during taper week.

It was HOT inside that bag. My lovely Alter-G shorts were soaked when I finished and sweat was pouring down my calves.
 But I have to say...that may have been the fastest 40 minutes I've ever run, at least in the sense of how fast the time seemed to go. I had a big silly grin on my face the whole time, despite having no music and no TV (Adam said eventually there will be a TV there for entertainment). And I can see what a boon this machine could be to injured runners who need their fix but whose stress fractures or strained joints can't quite take full impact yet. I also thought a lot about how great this would be for pregnant women. Run at your pre-pregnancy weight...at eight months!

Blissed out!
I was also quite comfortable the whole time. You do have to hold your arms a little high to avoid hitting the bag with each stroke, and it felt weird having that apparatus around my hips at first (it was sort of like being Ursula the Sea Witch, with a large bag instead of tentacles in place of legs). But I quickly got used to it. The only time I felt out of control was at the end, when Adam demo'd the backwards running feature. I actually had to hang on to the front for a bit until he suggested I lengthen my stride. But even then I felt out of control.

Final verdict? I heartily recommend the Alter-G, especially if you're injured (insurance will cover it for some people, they tell me!) or pregnant and can afford a few hours here and there on it. And anyone who gets the chance should try it just for the fun of running so light. I'm glad I did.

Now....there's this little matter of a race on Sunday...I better go finish packing....:^)

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Taper Thoughts Part II

Abrahams doesn't like losing.....

When the new issue of Runner's World showed up late last week, the first article I devoured was the one about Chariots of Fire, my favorite running movie. My favorite scene? The one where sprinting phenom Harold Abrahams, having just lost to his Scottish rival Eric Liddell, is sitting in the now-empty grandstand reliving every nano-second of his defeat.

His soon-to-be fiancee, Sybil Gordon, tries to coax him out of his funk, noting that he's lost a race, not a relative, and that he still ran like a god. Harold's having none of it. He cries out:

If I can't win, I won't run! 

I'm really relating to that right now as taper madness starts to touch me. It's not that I will ever "win" in the absolute sense (which was of course the sense Abrahams meant--he goes on to become an Olympic gold medalist in the 100 meters). But sometimes it seems like this running thing comes easy to everyone but me, and that I never will "win" by the definition I've written for myself.

This could be because I read too many blogs, and too many of you bloggers are awesome runners. The PRs flow, no matter how tough the circumstances (or so it seems). Same thing for qualifying for the Boston Marathon. I've read several blogger accounts of BQs happening on second (or even first) marathons. Because I, like many others, like to read about success, these seeming-overnight success stories are the bloggers who become popular. They are inspiring, and, consciously or not, our standards for ourselves rise as we read about them.

High standards and lofty goals are good. But the downside is that if it doesn't happen for us like it did for them, we can start to feel like failures. Yes, I know even the people who look like overnight successes work hard, putting in lonely miles and grinding speed work day in and day out. You can't NOT work hard and be a successful runner by any measure. But the hard work yields results faster for some people than others. It's just the way it is. That's a hard thing to teach kids. And it's a damned hard thing to teach ourselves.

For me, with my history of giving up, wanting to quit when I can't quickly achieve something is still an attitude that I struggle with. As a young person, I was able to enjoy only activities that came easily, that I was a natural at. I didn't mind working hard, but if hard work resulted in an outcome that put me at merely average in any kind of ranking, I simply wouldn't play. That meant that I poured myself into two things: writing in particular and school in general. At these things, I could be at least a best (if not always THE best). Avoiding everything else was my equivalent to Abrahams' sentiment...if I couldn't win, I wouldn't run.

Then I discovered that I actually love running, good at it or not. It helped that in the early days, I didn't set goals that were particularly tough. When I realized I could finish a marathon, I trained for it and did it. I didn't care that it took me five hours. I just liked being out there and telling people later that I was a marathon finisher. And in the middle years of my running, I actually had some success of the ranking variety that kept me going. I won my age group in one 5K race in 2005 and placed in it in several other races. I even took third woman in a cross-country race (because there weren't many other runners in it, but hey! it was still success at the time).

This go-round, though, with my BQ goal, things aren't happening fast enough. And on the eve of my second marathon since I set this goal (my fifth marathon overall), the specter of failure-phobia has returned to haunt me anew.

Yesterday I ran 10 miles with four miles at a fast-finish pace, as directed by my plan. I did those last four miles in 8:40, 9:05 (uphill), 8:30 and 8:24. I felt just fine at the end of that. But to qualify for Boston, I have to average 8:34 miles over the marathon distance. The objective information from my training tells me that it would have to be a VERY good day for that to happen. VERY good days--where weather, rest and training converge--don't come along very often.

Even if I PR in Houston, which unlike BQing doesn't require perfect conditions, I'm going to have to wrestle with myself to not be disappointed if I don't get the Boston standard. Part of the reason is that flaw of mine, the giving up thing. The other part is that I can't train for another marathon until fall. Which means the hard work, the bearing down, the chipping away will have to go on. There will be no moving on to the next thing until this thing is done.

This has one rather loud corner of my tapering mind echoing Abrahams: If I can't win, I won't run! Why work so hard, if I don't achieve what the dream really is for me and if I can't do so in a dramatic winning fashion?

The answer lies in what Sybil, Abrahams' future wife, zings back at him as he sits there wallowing in his loss:

If you don't run, you can't win.

I think I need to type that sentence again. It is the reason the scene is so good. It is the thing we all have to tell ourselves when the going gets tough:

If you don't run, you can't win.

Regardless of what the Houston Marathon brings this weekend, I must keep on, even if I have to change the name of this blog to BQ by 45. Beyond becoming a better runner, it has everything to do with becoming a better person. I clearly have some work to do on that.

If you don't run, you can't win.

If you don't run, you can't win.

If you DON'T RUN, you CAN'T WIN.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Taper Thoughts Part I

Taper madness hasn't yet set in.

I'm still running almost every day, though not quite as long and not quite as fast. And there has been plenty to do at work and at my house over the last few days, like taking down the Christmas decorations. Usually this makes me really sad, but with the Houston Marathon coming up it's hard for me to feel down.

Here is one big thing I'm concentrating on as the taper goes forward:

*Avoiding getting sick.*

Last cycle I improbably caught a cold the week before the Top of Utah Marathon (who gets a cold in early September? my kids and myself, apparently). It was mostly gone by the time the race rolled around, and I don't think it was a major factor in how I performed. But it was a stressor while I was dealing with it, and it interfered with my sleep. So I really don't want this to happen again. Here are the steps I'm taking:

1) I'm not taking my kids to indoor playgrounds, malls or even playdates this week. They still could pick up a virus at school and bring it home--I can't do anything about that. But I can keep them (and therefore myself) away from unnecessary exposure. I am normally NOT a germophobe at all. But this week? I've been tempted to put all of us in surgical masks. :^)

2) Caroline recommended probiotics. I eat a lot of yogurt, so I get these anyway. But I've heard this advice from other quarters and I know Caroline eats a very healthy diet. So earlier this week I picked up some Jarro-dophilus powder and I've been taking it once or twice a day with food.


3) I'm drinking as much vegetable juice as I can. I always have V8 low-sodium juice in the morning, but I don't think I normally eat enough vegetables. Well, for this two-week period I've been having a glass of V8 in the afternoon, too, and I've been buying and downing juice combos that include greens as well. In addition, I'm taking my usual women's multi-vitamin and two Omega 3 capsules every morning.

4) I've been really trying to go to bed early and sleeping in just a touch when I can. There's been only one night in the past week where I got interested in reading something and stayed up past 11. Most nights the light has been out by 10 and last night it was out by 9:30. I will try to improve that to 9 p.m. at least once this week before I leave.

5) I've been more obsessed with hand-washing than I've ever been (with the exception of when Will and Ruthie were tiny infants fresh out of the NICU). My hands are dry, but they are CLEAN.

That, I think, is all I can do! I'm worried about the plane ride, but that, like preschool, isn't something I have any control over beyond hand-washing. Fingers crossed that my strategies work.

Thanks so much to all of you for your advice about the Trials! I'm going to try to hit some of the media roundtables with the athletes on Friday so I can get some of your awesome questions out there. I was bummed to miss a conference call held yesterday with Meb, but I had to tour a school we're interested in for kindergarten next year (yeah, I washed my hands when that was over!).

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Using My Olympic Trials Media Pass

Though I can play an extrovert for a little while, the truth is I'm a pretty introverted person. Parties tire me out after about a half-hour. I can come off as unfriendly or cold with new people, even if I like them a lot from the very beginning, because I'm not touchy-feely and I over-worry about my demeanor, which of course makes it even worse. And crowds? Not a fan.

So even though I'm shocked at my good luck scoring that media pass to the Olympic Marathon Trials in Houston a week from Saturday, I'm a little nervous about my ability to take full advantage of it. I spent the first decade of my post-college life as a reporter and editor--and this reserve of mine, this constant fear that I might be bothering someone, really got in the way of any kind of success at it. I love to write, but I'm a terrible talker. In contrast, many of the best reporters just have a knack for chatting people up and getting them to feel so comfortable that they'll spill (if there's dirt to be gotten) and gush (if they're nice and honest, like most of the runners you read about). I'm surprised my employers paid me as long as they did.

No one's paying me to interview people at the Trials, but I'd love to talk to some of the runners. But what should I ask them? If anyone from Boulder makes the team, I'll have some obvious questions to ask--real news (and a happy interviewee) always make interviewing easier. But that's not terribly likely.

I'm turning to you guys for help. There are probably a lot of personable friendly folks among you--maybe even some genuine extroverts! If you had this media credential, what would you ask the Trials runners? How would you approach them when they are probably going to be tired and sore and really wanting to put their feet up in private and drink some chocolate milk rather than talk to a humble blogger who just happened to sneak past the velvet rope?