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The Elite Perspective

I wasn’t going to run a 4th of July 5k.

I wasn’t, but when Bryan signed up for Fort Collins’ Firekracker 5k, we realized we both qualified to run in the elite race. Granted, it was a very loose definition of the term ‘elite.’ Women had to run under 21:00 to qualify. I only had one 5k on record for this year, and it wasn’t my best race, but it was a 20:54.  Shut up, I’m an elite!

I knew I was going to be at the back of the pack of a really fast pool of women, but I still decided to do the thing. Offering me the elite designation is like luring a child into a panel van with candy: she knows she doesn’t belong there, but it’s really tempting.

And I did it. I did the thing! We all lined up for the fast-people race (the guy who won it was a former Olympian), then the gun went off and away they all went – a herd of tiny spandexed asses and spindly legs vanishing into the distance.

To my credit I was not last. I was penultimate. I am so proud.

But you know what surprised me the most? Running in an ‘elite’ race feels no different than racing as a competitive amateur; it’s literally the same sport. Look at it this way: when I was running in college, 15-20 lbs lighter than I am now and a good 2 minutes faster, racing a 5k felt exactly the same as last week’s good faith effort. Mentally it started with the same cerebral effort to pace intelligently at first, followed by the same primal cry to dig and push harder than is physically bearable by the end. Physically, I felt same lingual numbness at the 2-mile, the same pukey nausea at the 3-mile. The very same.

My conclusion is that the only difference between me and them (the real elites) is the time on the clock.

That difference is nothing, and everything.

Maybe if my body were longer, leaner, faster, stronger… I could be up there, too. But it’s not. Some athletes have golden-ticket bodies. Some have a vicious competitive drive and determination in spades. And the elites have both. I am not an elite, I have the heart but not the body. Yet I can’t hate on my body, it’s my home! It’s the vehicle that allows me to experience the sport, with the same burn, thrill, high, and drive, as the elite runners.

But I have – I have – to be content knowing that when i capitalize on that drive and commitment, when I use it to train intelligently, diligently, according to both literature and the canonical wisdom of the running community, I am becoming the best runner I can be. Holding out for ‘elite’ is pinning my hopes on a dream. It’s hoping for the impossible.

Yet I can’t help but wonder, “if I do everything perfectly – nutrition, training, recovery and all that, mightn’t the impossible happen?”

Therein lies the dilemma. At least I’ll always have running.

Here’s a picture of some pretty, non-competitive flowers from our camping trip last weekend.

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“So what do you do when you’re not at work?”

Since you’re reading my blog, you probably already know me in real life. Actually, you’re probably 1 of the 5 dear people who actually follow my blog. In which case hi! Hope you’re well! Can’t wait till we see each other again, but I hope in the meantime this helps us stay close.

If you’re not a close friend, that’s okay! You’re probably just curious. Aren’t we all, anymore? It seems like we have the capacity these days to be intensely private on some fronts,  and ostensibly transparent on others. Social media lends that very appealing feeling of going behind the scenes, beyond just staying connected and up-to-date on the pertinent items. There are so many different directions a person can go these days, it’s compelling to look and compare.  At least, that’s what I’m doing on Facebook and Instagram  – full disclosure right there.

Anyway, y’all probably know that I work part-time. That was always the goal. When I chose nursing, I chose it for the flexibility, the livable wage, and the work I could feel good about doing. I put in the hours -the nights, weekends, and 12 hr shifts – to earn myself the resume and credibility to finally land the job I have now.

So I’m perfectly content when I hit my 24th hour for the week and peace out on Friday at 2pm. Which begs my colleagues’ 2 most frequently asked questions:

  1. “Do you have kids at home?” — the answer is “definitely not,” and leads to the next question:
  2. “So what do you with all that time?”

Answer: lots of things. I exercise aggressively nearly every day, and for at least an hour on the days I don’t work. I’ve started venturing more into the foothills/mountains for my runs, and have also been setting aside more time to stretch out after.  I cook and eat snacks and meals according to my hunger instead of the clock. I love taking naps in the morning or late afternoon; I’m such an unfortunately high-needs sleeper. I putter around in the garden– weed, feed and water the chickens, clean the coop and bring in the eggs. I’m not a naturally tidy human being, so I appreciate having a wider window of opportunity to neaten up our home for myself and the other people who live here. I go to the store, run errands, do laundry. I blog, obvs., and paint/draw. I’ve been trying to get in an hour of creative expression daily, and it feels good to stretch that part of the brain – albeit also humbling. In July I will be taking a pastel portraiture class on Tuesdays mornings, with the retired and semi-retired peeps in town. Let’s see, reading is something else I usually do for at least an hour a day. Then there’s my little coaching business — I haven’t been advertising, but I really enjoy keeping up with the handful of athletes I’m working with.

That’s it! That is my life when I’m not at work. It’s a pattern I’ve crafted for myself to combat depression and anxiety with self-care and adequate sleep. It’s a system that supports my preferences and interests. It’s not gospel. It’s not better than what anybody else is doing. But it is mine, and I just want to communicate that ‘slow-lane life’ is an option, since it’s something I struggled to discover for myself. I want to communicate that as an option, it a valid and legitimate one, because that’s something I didn’t believe myself for awhile. Of course there are sacrifices and consequences – as with any lifestyle – but the payoffs are pretty damn nice!

A Brief Recurrence of Yoga

After a nice little break from training it’s back to the pavement and trails. I took a week off from running after Golden Gate, and another week to run just when I felt like it (i.e. about twice). I also took a yin yoga class –one of only a few yoga classes I’ve done since the 200 hr. yoga teacher training I took a couple years ago. The unanticipated side effect of that intensive program was never wanting to do yoga ever again, hyperbolic-ly speaking. In principle I’m all for yoga as a vehicle towards self-awareness and physical integration. What I do not like is yoga as a weirdly hijacked and displaced form of spirituality. I also don’t know how I feel about its ubiquitous social media presence – seems everyone and their sister is an Instagram yogi. In my experience it’s a personal/private thing that doesn’t need to be photographed. But obviously I’m conflicted, and have kind of just stayed away from the thing as a result. Anyway, here’s a brief review of the YogaPod yin class I attended on Sunday.

Pros: Pleasant restorative poses – nothing ostentatious. I’m a competitive person (who knew) and leave feeling inadequate if I can’t do a full expression. But this class was accessible to pretty much anyone, and it was nice to actually let myself relax in a group setting, knowing I’m 100% physically competent. I didn’t feel the need to mirror-compare, and hat’s a huge personal success! Also, no Sanskrit cuing. Sanskrit is to yoga what Latin is to Catholicism – it lends authenticity, but also obfuscates. Valid arguments exist on both sides for its use/avoidance.

Cons: Closing chant in Sanskrit by the teacher felt uncomfortably religious; see above. In In this case I was bothered by no explanation of lyrics, the only word of which I understood was Ganesha. Ganesh(a) is the elephant god of the Hindu pantheon, and his name was invoked only about 100 times. To me it feels like cultural appropriation, and not terribly compatible with my worldview. For the teacher to sing it loudly  (vs soft background music) during the final Savasana was a pretty blaring focal point.

*Side note, kudos to Kindness Yoga in Denver (facilitator of my teacher training), which was really conscientious about addressing these nuances for their new teachers. They spoiled me, and now I’m hyper-aware. I look to yoga as a secular tool to improve self-awareness, serenity, and compassion for self/others/the environment. The gamble is in finding a teacher who shares that priority.

But I guess I can still learn from someone who sees things differently…

Art is another thing I do when I’m not running. For some weird reason my creativity and running share a fuel source, so when I’m not running I make better art (in my humble and personal opinion).

This oil pastel piece is called “Space Peacock,” and was named by Bryan. I hope it brings you some joy.

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Golden Gate Dirty 30 (12 mi) Race Review

Read more about the race I’m reviewing here: https://trailrunner.com/event/golden-gate-dirty-30/

On these counts, running at Golden Gate was fabulous: a gorgeous course with a wilderness feel, conveniently located just 45 minutes outside of Denver, with frequent water crossings, aggressive ascents, and adventurous terrain. A well-marked trail, adequate pre-post race support, and some truly committed spectators. HOWEVER, there are some things about this race that are not ideal. The race director is the most loquacious person to ever send an email. Her pre-race missives are 17 paragraphs at minimum, and she claims it’s the edited version. She communicates excessively. Going in I was skeptical because I did NOT think she was a person who has her shit together.

But she did. She does. She merely over-shares the whole race-directing process. There were shuttles to assist with limited parking (which she freaked out a lot about early on). There was good food, and enough of it. The prizes were excellent, and a lot of them, too. My only complaint the day-of is that she started the race 4 minutes early, at 7:56 instead of 8 AM. Who does that???? There are still people on the shitter at that point! Granted, most runners know not to be in the toilet – or in line for it – less than 15 minutes out from the start of a race, but c’mon lady! Not cool. I contemplated sending a disgruntled email, but am compromising by venting here because overall she does a good job, and other than that it was great.

Also, I confirmed that I really like trail running! (You win, Erika Donaghy.) The caveat exists that I’m still not an ultra-runner. I always thought I would be, but that was before running a marathon. If I can’t walk the next day, I’m not interested. If I can’t run at least 98% percent of the thing then I’m also not interested (yet…). But I concede that racing in the mountains is a marvelous experience. What really stole my heart is that one of the women who beat me last weekend is 37, and the oldest female participant in the 12-mile race was 70 years old. I have so much time left to grow!

Can you tell I’m feeling mortal on the road-racing platform? 5 years out from graduation and I still haven’t beaten my collegiate 5k or10k PRs. It’s exciting to do something completely, entirely new –free from former ghosts, demons, and untouchable PRs. Also, the older I get, the more I look to running as a way to get out of the city, away from so-called civilization. I’m not a camper or a back-packer – just a day-tripper at best, and more often an excursion-er of just a couple of hours. I like to delve into the wilderness, and return shortly thereafter to reflect on my experiences from the cleanly comfort of a shower, a mug of tea, and a cat on my lap.

To that end, trail running is perfect. Now I’m excited for my new trail shoes to show up! I hope they make the descent process feel less like surfing on gravel.

 

May is for Racing

May’s been busy. I got sick 2 weeks ago, as I do every 2-4 months (it seems), so right on schedule. T’was nothing drastic — just the telltale throat tickle, then 4 days of fatigue, cough and congestion, and a week of persistent pulmonary junk. It’s a routine I’m used to — so hit me up if you have any questions about training through minor illness: I’m a pro.

Fortunately I recovered in time to fulfill my volunteer obligation at the Quad Rock 25- and 50-mile races in Lory State Park. Beautiful course, shitty weather. For several reasons — not having kids is one of them — I signed up for the 3:45-8am time slot. Just call it paying back the Fort Collins running community for being so awesome. Unfortunately it was a very soggy, foggy, drippy morning, and I had the miserable task of handing over parking passes to sleepy runners as they drove up into the park. I was literally never warm the entire rest of the day as a result. I took not one but two hot showers later on, in an attempt to get warm.

The sun never made an appearance, but things brightened up a bit after dawn and revealed a dense settling of fog. I am glad I was not running 25 or 50 miles that day!

 

photo cred (because it was too cold and wet for me to take my phone out of my pocket, or my fingers out of my gloves) — not from this year, but it looked just like this:

Here’s the race website if you want to check it out: http://gnarrunners.com/quad-rock-50/. Gnar Runners puts on races that are fun, well supported, and sport an abundance of high-quality prizes. Highly recommend, and looking forward to their Black Squirrel Half and Blue Sky Marathon this fall.

Fast forward to last weekend, and I ran the Colfax Half in Denver. The course was flat and fast, the weather cool (but not wet). Even though I did not run as fast as I wanted to, I did throw up upon crossing the finish line, which is something I’ve never accomplished before and of which I’m very proud. In all honesty I rarely ever run as fast as I want to — in rare moments of brutal honesty, I suspect my ambitions are bigger than anything of which my body is capable. Shhhh.

Successes from this most recent half marathon are:

  • Good pacing: negative splits, easing into race pace, and not burning out too soon.
  • Slowing down to actually drink all of the water out of the little paper cup, instead of throwing 75% of it up my sinuses and choking on the remaining tablespoon under the illusion that this will cut minutes off my time.
  • Using Clif shot blocks. You can tuck one inside your cheek (like a hamster) to soften and dissolve, without having to swallow a bolus of nasty goop. And they don’t make my stomach clench up like the liquid electrolytes do. Also divisible so you can take a leisurely 15 minutes to consume the 200 calories. I find it helps prevent awful GI problems.

Up next: Golden Gate Dirty 30 (except I’m doing the 12-mile). Hopefully this time there will be no ill-timed illness.

Mothers Who Run

Hello!

“What, back so soon?”

Yup, just trying to be accountable here. Look at me go. This is my preemptive Mother’s Day post. Just in case I don’t get around to it 🙂

Mothers are rockstars. Adoptive mothers, biological mothers, teen mothers, “advanced maternal age” mothers, grandmothers — props to you all. I couldn’t do it.

Seriously. I couldn’t. As you probably have picked up on by now, I dedicated a lot of time and energy in the last 5 years to managing anxiety and depression. I realized just how important daily exercise — as well as daily sun exposure — is to my mental health. I’ve come to accept my exorbitantly high sleep needs (thanks, genetics), and I’ve found joy in a less-acute job, with part-time status (and a pay cut).

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Pictured above: non-pharmaceutical tools for happiness. Can you spot the kitty?

I also take an antidepressant. This medication is teratogenic to fetuses in the 3rd trimester, which is medical-speak for  “causes birth defects.”

All of this means that I’d be foolish to attempt motherhood. But I admire you who do. I admire women who have carried a child to term. I do not think I could do that. I admire mothers who miscarry — you will always be mothers, and no, I could not handle that either. I admire every mother who undertakes teaching tiny humans about right and wrong, as well as simply how to stay alive. That’s amazing!

That is what I think of when I encounter mothers who are runners. I don’t know how you do all this, and also get out and run. Sometimes I think our media trivializes mom runners — like every mom can run, all you have to do is wake up at 5am, hit the pavement at 5:30am, get home by 6:30am, get the kids clothed and ready for the bus-stop by 7:20am, be at work by 8am, and holy moly when did you do your hair and eat breakfast too? And yet there are hundreds-of-thousands (millions?) of women out there, doing exactly that every day, and it will never cease to be amazing.

Articles like this one: https://www.runnersworld.com/marine-corps-marathon/marathon-winning-mom-of-four-busts-the-no-time-myth kind of trivialize the average [amazing] mom, don’t you think? Its message is “well, if you prioritized your time better, worked together as a family better, really optimized your weekly mileage, then maybe you’d be a 2:45 marathoner and get into races for free too. C’mon, Runner’s World, don’t take that tone with us.

Anyway. What I want to say isn’t that moms are too busy to run, or that they shouldn’t try to work out on top of everything else. What amazes me is that they do. Runner moms are above and beyond. They’re role-models. My favorite athletes to coach are moms striving to achieve a PR or a new racing distance, because the challenge is as real as their dedication — and they have dedication in spades. Like “sheesh, you do all that and you’ve still got more to prove??? DAMN, girl, you’re on FIRE!”

Moms out there — you’re pretty freaking impressive. You know that, right?

Happy Mothers’ Day!

 

May Races

It’s such a perfect time of year, before summer gets too hot and with a couple of spring races left to tackle. I’m disappointed by how poorly I paced the Horsetooth Half, but I can’t deny I learned from it. As my sister likes to say in times such as these: “the universe will provide infinite opportunities to learn.” Which essentially means you can just keep on failing until you pick up on what’s not working and get it right. Somehow the way she says it just makes it feel more reassuring. 

She’s right though; it’s a process. My big mistake is getting wrapped up in the race and surpassing the lactate threshold way too soon. I’m pretty sure I made the same mistake last year at Grandma’s, but it got covered up by the nascent anemia anyway. It’s easy to convince myself I’m a faster runner than I actually am.

The Colfax Half is in less than a month, and then the Golden Gate Dirty Thirty (I’m doing the 12 mile) is only 2 weeks after that… Looking forward to my husband and sister breaking out the unicorn-and-viola routine again. They’re thinking about staging a Mad Tea-Party somewhere along the course, which sounds just peachy.  And then I’ll take a breather and enjoy a brilliant Colorado summer without sweating excessively under the blazing sun.

That said, can I say how much I enjoy having an outdoor sport?  Part of the Horsetooth Half swag was a 7-day pass to Raintree Athletic Club — a local gym. It’s not exorbitantly expensive, but it’s swank enough to have a cafe inside, and towels. The rec center I usually use only charges $4 per visit, but you have to bring your own towel to shower. They also don’t have a lap pool, sauna, or hot tub. These perks were excellent for rehabing the minor hip pain I sustained from my over-ambitious race. HOWEVER, what I could not handle were the 12 BIG SCREEN TVs on the wall in front of the cardio equipment. It was seriously terrifying. With CNN, Love it or List It, Bob’s Burgers, NCIS, Pool Kings, and god-only-knows-what-all-else playing at the same time, it was sensory overload. Even with the sound off. I think the worst part was when multiple channels went to commercial at the same time, and you just kind of sink into a morass questioning what humanity has come to, and wondering what ‘civilization’ truly means anymore.

Dang. I don’t think I deserve a gym membership.

Thank goodness my hip’s back to normal. It’s good to be out running in the world again. Today I got out in the foothills, under the most wonderful bluebird sky. Then I stopped by my parents’ house for a walk with my dad and his golden retriever puppy (which he adores possibly even more than me or my sister), and got smoothies. Much better. 

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Cheers to moving on from bad races with some modicum of good humor

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Also, a good nature-scape is so much better than reality TV. No fucking clue what these pelicans are doing in Fort Collins. It happens every year, though, so we must be on their migratory circuit?

*Just did a little birding research — the pelicans are attracted to the stocked reservoirs and dams. They’re a recent phenomenon, and continue to winter in California and the Gulf of Mexico.

Horsetooth Half

Yet another year of the Horsetooth Half went off last weekend. What a tough course! I sincerely thought I was ready to pace appropriately this time around, but crashed a bit instead. Despite ramping up hill training this year I really struggled to stick to a realistic half-marathon pace.  Ah well… always next year. In the meantime, I think I’m learning to bear disappointment more gracefully. I did not even cry about it.  Ha.

For anyone who has problems beating themselves up after a non-PR performance, I highly recommend hanging around to cheer for the people who finish behind you, to recognize the effort and accomplishment of finishing a race, and to help you appreciate the value of what you did that day. It sure makes me feel all warm and fuzzy about all the other people in my town who also paid money to run a ridiculous amount.

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Mostly it was worth it because my husband dressed up like this to play the viola along the course:

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So sexy.

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So gothic.

And my sister wore her unicorn onesie:

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They really are special, my family :).

All that said, I’m really happy I have the Colfax half in a month to make some reparations. It goes through the zoo! Not that I’ll have time to stop and gawk. My goal between now and then is to get a couple of 16 mile long-runs in, and revisit my much-neglected weight lifting. The thing about running is that there’s always something to improve upon. Still got 2 more races left this season!

In other news, the backyard chickens are laying, and it legitimately feels like spring. Happy spring, y’all.

April Runnings

Heyo, eventually I’ll get this consistent posting thing down. I almost feel stupid listing it as a goal at this point, because clearly I’m failing. I think that was actually my new-year’s resolution… But we’re only 4 months out from that so… I’ll work on it.

On the good news side, I changed roles at work and am officially down to part-time. I’m banking on no kids and a frugal lifestyle to maintain solvency. I mean, my plastic surgery is bought and paid for so…?

Flippancy aside, I’m excited about the change. It’s a position focused on diabetes teaching and management, as well as hospital follow-up and transition of care. Cool stuff! However, it’s still the horrible early days of training. Fabulous team and all, I just hate being behind the curve. Mastery is very important to this one. Speaking of which, does this count as job #5 in 5 years even though it’s with the same company?

Yes. Yes it does.

Ok, running-related: Horsetooth Half is next week!!! Only been training for this for about forever. I’ve gone through an entire bottle of iron supplements during this round, so hopefully some of it got absorbed.

I was privileged to sit on a Q&A panel with running notables Libby James and Annmarie Kirkpatrick this weekend in advance of next week’s event. Libby James is a bright and spunky woman who doesn’t look anywhere near her 80+ years. She said when people ask her if she’s still running, she tells them

“Yes. And are you still brushing your teeth?”  Which is to say, duh.  <– she didn’t say that last part. She’s too nice.

At 80 she ran a 25:11 5k. Do you know how many 80 year-olds can hardly walk? Or are already dead??? She’s amazing. And then there was Annmarie Kirkpatrick, who just qualified for the Olympic Trials in the marathon. As a local elite she was kind, humble, and quite possibly the fastest person in the room. What else is there to say?

Sitting between us was Dr. Timothy Flynn, a resident expert in the realms of physical therapy and pain management. I enjoyed a lovely discussion with him about shoes during the run earlier. Running shoes, of course. All in all, it was a neat thing to be part of. I’m honored, and also acutely aware that I was the least qualified person up there. I look forward to growing and improving within this incredibly supportive community.

Keep the Horsetooth Half on your radar for future years — it’s a good one! Hopefully I’ll be back next week to tell you how it went. I have no excuse if I don’t, and that’s just bad manners. I got this, you guys. I got this.

 

 

Accidental Overtraining

We’ve all done it, right? Gone out for a hard run. And then a long run. Longer than was appropriate… and ended up in pain.

Last weekend Bryan and I took a day-hike for his birthday. He was the birthday goober, and that’s what the birthday goober wanted to do. After all, we moved up here to be closer to the mountains, so it’s dumb not to use them.

Ain’t he cute?

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Anyway, I thought to get a little downhill training prep in for the Horsetooth Half, and run down the mountain. It’s just shy of 2000’ of elevation change over maybe 4 miles. You know, quality time up with the husband, quality training down with the legs. Efficiency at its best.

No surprise I woke up sore on Sunday. All week I’d been looking forward to an 11 mile Sunday long run with the FCRC. They’re cool people, and Sundays are the one day a week I run with others. It’s a nice change for this introvert, plus we were going to meet back at the Rio Grande downtown for margaritas on the cheap. So sore legs, schmore legs. I showed up…and missed a turn in the last mile out of an out-and-back, for total mileage closer to14 than the 11 I was shooting for.

 

Dumb dummy moron move right there. I have a terrible sense of direction. I shouldn’t break away on a new route like that.

 

So today I can’t walk. Well I can, but I look like I have a stick up my ass when I do stairs. Or curbs. And flat surfaces, actually.

Case in point, I went down the hill in our backyard to see if the chickens had laid any eggs, and practically fell on my face. There were no eggs. I did some pushups after work, but stopped because it hurt my thighs. That’s right, the pushups hurt my thighs. My arms were fine.

I’ve been running for over 12 years. That’s a lot of experience, and I still do dumb sh*t. Not as often as I used to, but every once in awhile. And you know what? It’s okay. When your social life, athletic goals, and recreational pursuits are all rolled up into one, sometimes you’re gonna overdo it. When that happens you just take some ibuprofen, drink some water, have a snack, and take a nap. You’ll wake up in pain, hungry, and all out of sorts, but it’ll be ok. No harm done – even if there’s pain, it’s probably all soft-tissue. Give yourself a couple days to get your feet back under you, and you’ll be good to go again.

 

I promise. And I’m right there with you.