The Finish Line

I had planned to write a beautiful, detailed recap on my empowering experience running The North Face Endurance Challenge CA Half Marathon. Alas, I got hit hard by some kind of virus after the race and ended up doing a whole lot of nothing over the past week. The effects of missing just five days of running and working are really starting to show. I find myself scrambling to catch up on everything that piled up while I was out of commission and home solo with two kitties while Andre was traveling the world. If I ever knocked on myself for being slacker, well, after trying to play this impossible catch up game I’m learning that’s absolutely not the case. Way to go, me!

Back to the half marathon. In a nutshell, I had been dreading the race after hearing about the relentless and very steep hills all through the course from my friends who had run the 50K over the very same trails the day before. In the end, it turned out to be the most fun I’d had racing in a long time. I’ve always said I’m terrible at hills, but it turned out I was stronger than I thought. I was able to catch a bunch of people in a long ascent in the later miles of the race. Since any kind of time goals were pretty much out the window, it came down to pure racing which I really liked. In the end I placed 6th overall and won my age group!  While my big goals remain on the roads, this experience inspired me to put a few trail races on the calendar in 2017.

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I have one final goal for the year which I set in January, to average 50 miles per week in 2016, about 2600 miles total. I set that goal specifically because my main focus for this year was to be consistent. And it worked! I was right on track up until last week. Stupid virus! There are 17 days left in the year and I’ve got 123 miles to go, so just under 8 miles per day til January 1st. It’s a bit of a stretch for me (I’m more of an easy-6 kinda gal), but I think I can do it! You can follow my progress on my Strava page.

That’s all for now, short and sweet!

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A Tale of Three Runners

On Saturday morning as the sun started to peek over the dusty, desert-like slopes of the Marin Headlands, I gave one last hug to each of my three shivering friends, Dani, Sarah, and Shasta before they joined a small crowd of mismatched, backpack-toting trail runners lining up for the North Face Endurance Challenge 50K. As the race got on its way, I watched the runners wind their way up and up around a bend and into the unknown.

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I quickly hopped on a shuttle and made it just in time to see the runners come flying down a hill toward the first aid station just past the fourth mile mark. My friends were each just a few minutes apart. Dani gave me the thumbs up. Shasta seemed uncertain about the whole situation and told me the course was extremely hilly. Sarah smiled and waved and asked how far ahead Shasta was (a few minutes). And then they were gone. There were no other accessible points for me to see them, I had zero cellular reception, and it would be hours until they came through the same aid station again en route to the finish. Now what?

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It was about 45 degrees out and I could no longer feel my feet, so I decided then was as good a time as any to get a run in. I begrudgingly stripped down from my triple layer of clothing to tights and a long sleeve and set off along the 50K course. I ran by a few 50K runners and offered some words of encouragement until I veered off past a sign pointing toward the coast. The new path took me to a small, deserted cove with a stunning ocean view. The sun rose higher and higher into the sky, and the temperature jumped up maybe 15 degrees. I thought of the runners who were making their way up a steep, exposed hillside not even a 1/3 of the way into their run.

After returning to the aid station, I bundled back up and was overcome by hunger. One thing I hadn’t thought of going into spectating a 50 kilometer race was how long I would be going without provisions! Luckily I had stashed some Honey Stinger waffles and a banana in my bag, plus just before the race Dani told me I could have her huge bottle of water. Life saver! I wolfed down my snacks at a picnic table, doing my best to ignore the glorious smell of cheeseburgers and fries that the group next to me had wisely brought for themselves.

The crowd at the aid station began to grow as more people drove in and I heard someone shout that the first 50 miler was coming through. You see, a 50 mile championship had already been underway for hours and the top runner, Zach Miller, was approaching the 46th mile of the race. I was struck by how unbelievably fresh and peppy he looked. And how FAST he was running. No one should look like that after 46 miles! As the next top 50 mile racers came through, men and women, it was the same thing over and over again: lean, mean, running machines bounding up the hill in the most effortless fashion. The spectators and I would just look at each other and gasp each time one of them came by. It was not logical. I was in awe.

When the 50K runners began to come through, I began to get antsy and wondered how my friends were doing. I started counting the women that had come through and made it to 11 before I spotted in the distance some familiar coral shorts and long ponytail whipping back and forth. It was Dani! I screamed then cheered her on as she charged by. I gave her space as she navigated the large table of food and sports drinks set out for the runners. For as strong as she looked out on the course, her face was full of doubt and worry. She told me she was having trouble keeping food down, that at one point she had gone off course, her leg was cramping, and that she wasn’t sure she would finish. I wanted to tell her she was almost there, but that’s probably the worst thing you can tell a runner unless there is a finish line literally right in front of them. And you shouldn’t even say it then. Just don’t do it. I told her she had another big climb ahead but that she was getting there and that she could do it. I’m not entirely sure she believed me, but onward she went.

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I ran back to my spot on the sidelines to look for Sarah and Shasta. I panicked, thinking perhaps I had missed them as I’d followed Dani through the aid station. As I scanned the runners emerging around the far off bend almost a quarter mile away, I spotted a brunette in a hot pink shirt with a hydration pack which could only be Sarah.. and wait, next to her in neon yellow shorts and a Oiselle singlet was Shasta! They were running strong and working together. I threw my hands in the air and hollered then ran toward them. They smiled and waved but as they got closer I could see they were hurting. I asked what they needed. Pretzels. Pretzels! I sprinted up ahead them toward the aid station and located the pretzels. I didn’t really know the appropriate etiquette, but I figured the organizers probably didn’t want spectators digging around in the food so I settled for pointing and saying “pretzels right here!”. After that I had no idea what to do or say. What do you say to someone who has over 4 miles left to run in a 31 mile race? I waited with them in line for the port-a-potty and listened to what they had to say about the race. They were so tired. They told me how they’d found each other and how this one certain downhill portion of the course was a bitch. Their eyes were kind of glazing over. Sarah’s leg was in pain. Shasta said she would not run up the next hill. I’m not sure they felt they could go on, but they went on!

Once they were out of sight, I hightailed it to the shuttle to make it back to the finish line. I knew I would be missing Dani’s finish, plus the cellular reception was terrible. After getting dropped off, I ran toward the mob of people in the finish area to look for her. It was like trying to find a needle in a haystack. All around people were taking photos, hugging, laying in the grass… but no Dani. After circling around a few times I finally spotted a weary petite runner in pink shorts, sitting and hugging her knees in the grass. Dani!! I called out her name and she looked up, calm and smiling. I bent down and gave her a hug. She said she was doing alright… but maybe needed to puke. Minutes later, Shasta came tearing down the final stretch followed moments later by Sarah running strong and determined to the finish line. I snapped this photo of them right after they had reunited.

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I’ve never felt so proud of or more inspired by friends. They showed so much strength and grit even through their lowest moments. They went on without the certainty of knowing they could finish. They ran farther than they ever had in their lives. The next morning I would be following in their footsteps as I was entered to run the half marathon distance. It wouldn’t even be half of what they ran, but after hearing tales from the course I was slightly terrified. More on my race next time!

Hello, San Francisco!

As I write this I’m flying southbound toward San Francisco for a weekend in the Marin Headlands for The North Face Endurance Challenge! I’m traveling with three of my closest friends, who all happen to be trail monsters and will be running the series’ 50K tomorrow. That’s 31 miles! I, however, will be cheering them on and will run the half marathon distance on Sunday.

We’re staying in Japantown in San Francisco, so you can bet we’ll be fueling up tonight with some ramen and celebrating later over sushi. I’m looking forward to seeing many familiar faces from the running community near and far this weekend. If you’re going to be out there cheering or racing this weekend, give me a shout.

And without further adieu, some gems from the running world for your weekend:

Listen

I’ve been playing some major catch up on podcasts, including listening to The Runner’s World Show from the very beginning. They’re 30 episodes in and each one is well worth taking the time to listen. I was particularly moved by episode 13, The Legend of Pre. An excerpt from Nike co-founder Phil Knight’s memoir “Shoe Dog” was read. Knight described witnessing history in the making when Steve Prefontaine won the 5000m in the 1972 US Olympic Trials in front of his home crowd at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon. Some call it America’s greatest distance race of all time. Later in the episode, Frank Shorter is brought on to talk about his memories of Pre as a friend and competitor. He described the last conversation they had together before Pre lost his life in a car accident that very night. He spoke about Pre’s legacy now and what he has meant to generation after generation of young runners. I’ve heard and read so many stories about Steve Prefontaine, but I never get tired of hearing them.

Later in the same episode, Julia Lucas was interviewed about her devastating 4th place finish in the 2012 Olympic Trials 5,000 in which she missed a spot on the Olympic team by 0.4 seconds. Lucas was such an eloquent speaker and described in great detail of how the roar of the crowd down the final homestretch was so loud she couldn’t hear if any opponents were coming up behind her, then the anticipation of seeing whose names would appear in the top three spots on the scoreboard after the photo finish. It was almost painful to listen to because you could hear the heartbreak in her voice as she recounted the moment she learned she didn’t make the team.

Read

Speaking of the heartbreak, check out this write up by photographer David Bracetty on a project he took on during the 2016 US Olympic Track & Field Trials where he took portraits of 3rd and 4th place finishers. AKA, those who made the Olympic team contrasted by those who did not. You can also see the photos in print in the latest issue of Meter Magazine.

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It is my hope that my story, and yours, will inspire all young women out there to push for greatness and follow their dreams with steadfast resilience. We must continue to dream big, and in doing so, we empower the next generation of women to be just as bold in their pursuits. -Serena Williams in an open letter to women that strive for excellence.

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In case you haven’t heard:

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I’m so excited to see Lauren Fleshman on the USA Track & Field Board of Directors. I believe she will be an excellent advocate for all athletes in the sport.

That’s all for the weekend. Follow me on Twitter and Instagram for updates!

Poised and Ready

This year has been all about getting back on my feet and better than ever after ending 2015 with a bout of pneumonia and a cracked rib. I had a breakthrough in the Corvallis Half Marathon this spring and knocked a few seconds off my 5K PR this summer.  I had high hopes for the Chicago Marathon but it chewed me up and spit me out. Even so, I came out of it in one piece. It was exactly one year ago that I was at my worst. Today I feel recovered, healthy, and ready to roll into the new year.

This past Sunday I decided for no other reason than wanting to make my week’s mileage a round 45 (okay and maybe to run off some pumpkin pie), that I wanted to run 15 miles for my long run. It was one of those runs that can only be described as perfect. I zipped through the first three miles by myself on a caffeine high then met a friend for the remaining 12. After the buzz wore off, I felt as if I were just floating along effortlessly. As fatigue set in toward the later miles, I felt compelled to sink my teeth into the run more and find my edge. There was something almost primal about it, the way running an unseemly distance through the woods made me feel powerful and free.

The first six weeks or so after the Chicago Marathon, even after a break, I couldn’t run without a new thing bothering me every day. A tight hip flexor, an achy knee, a strained ankle. I told my coach I felt as if I’d aged and he told me he was offended by that statement. OK, poor choice of words- I suppose I felt like a 31-year-old that practically busted her leg finishing a marathon! The best part about my long run, and the past week or two really, was that not an ache, twinge, or ounce of soreness was felt.

Even though it’s just November 29th, I feel as if I’m writing one of those year-end wrap up posts. I think it’s because I can’t stop thinking about the future. I’m hungry for what’s next. But the year’s not over! In fact, I’m heading down to San Francisco this weekend with three good friends for some trail adventures at The North Face Endurance Challenge. For a long time I had been planning to run the 50K. It would have been my first one. However, with recovery not going exactly as planned after Chicago and with all of my big goals for 2017 and beyond, I worried the risk for injury and another long recovery period would be too great. I would have been running the 50K simply to finish, whereas my goals for shorter distances in the new year are much more concrete and meaningful to me. So in place of the 50K on Saturday, December 3rd, I registered for the Endurance Challenge Half Marathon on Sunday, December 4th. Since it’s on trails with some pretty major climbs and descents, I don’t have a certain time goal. My hope is to hone into the same strength and freedom I felt in my run last weekend… plus a little competitive fire for good measure.

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Ode to the Turkey Trot

Every Thanksgiving I’ve spent in Portland I’ve made the trek across the Columbia River to take part in Vancouver’s Clark County Turkey Trot. Thinking back on what initially drew me to this event in 2009 as a newly married college grad, it might have been the enticing low entry fee. What I found at the event was a festive small town vibe, a flast course (okay, that was me trying to type flat and fast at the same time. I left it because it kinds of works, right?), and an emphasis on the spirit of giving with 100% of the race proceeds going to the local food bank. The organizers stressed that it’s meant to be a FUN 5K and 10K, though they still invited faster runners to the front and offered small awards to the top finishers.

That first year, I went out fast and ran an all time best of 19:07. And I won! I was exhilarated. André came with me to cheer me on and take photos. Then we went home and prepared our first Thanksgiving feast ever. It was the beginning of new traditions.

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Clark County Turkey Trot 2009
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Thanksgiving 2009
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Had to dig deep in the facebook archives for this one. Me with Andre (right) and my brother-in-law Josiah.

The next year in 2010, we went back to Vancouver, this time with my mother-in-law Elizabeth, and we both ran the Turkey Trot. That time I placed second but I ran a new personal best of 19:00. And again, we went home and prepared a magnificent Thanksgiving meal.

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Side by side with my college track teammate Randy. He lost his life to cancer less than three years later. I’m glad we could share that moment.
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Clark County Turkey Trot 2010
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Thanksgiving 2010

Somehow, six years flew by and it took me that long to return to Clark County on Thanksgiving Day. Some years André and I were traveling, last year we were on tour with RAC, and I think another year we were home but I might have been injured and unable to run. Regardless, 2016 rolled around and I was ready for my Clark County Comeback.

This time one of my besties Shasta joined me for the 5K. André and Alex, Shasta’s boyfriend were on cheer duty and puppy duty as Alex and Shasta were puppysitting for the holiday. It was cold, it was wet, it was the pacific northwest at its best on Thanksgiving Day. Shasta and I went out pretty fast with a good small group, mostly men, hitting the mile mark right around 5:55. The effort felt relaxed and I felt light on my feet. It had been a few months since I’d run so fast. I was having fun! After the turn around at the halfway point, I lost most of my group because many continued on as they were running the 10K distance. I was pretty much alone at that point. There were one or two men ahead of me. My breathing was getting more labored. I was getting tired. There were hundreds of participants going out the way I’d come that I had to dodge on the way back as were sharing only a bike path. I splashed through some mud puddles. Some participants cheered for me as I went by and I smiled and waved. I had definitely eased up on the pace, and looking back I could have been a little more tough. But I wasn’t feeling tough. It was Thanksgiving Day and I was happy to be out there and happy to be in the lead. I zipped around the final corner to the finish, smiled at the volunteers and spectators clapping and cheering me in, and crossed the line in 19:24. Shasta finished soon after in 19:48, close to (if not) a personal best!

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So close to the finish!
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Alex cheering on Shasta
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Team Lurz and Sheesta
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Found my Volée teammate Angela at the finish. She ran a new personal best of 25:48!

Per tradition, even with the six(!) year hiatus, we went home, dried off, and made a spectacular Thanksgiving feast.

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