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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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All Training

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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thanksgiving feast 2016.jpeg

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The Aftermath

On the flight home to Portland the day after I ran the Chicago Marathon, I stretched out my stiff and achey legs in front of me, a luxury afforded by exit row seating. It was then that I noticed just how puffy my right ankle was in comparison to my left. I knew my legs had taken a beating from carrying me over 26.2 miles of pavement but the visual of the damage was still a bit shocking. What happened?

I didn’t allow myself to dwell too much on the race immediately after the fact. I was grateful I had finished and happyish with my finish time. I prided myself on my ability to stay positive and look at the silver lining. I kept telling myself it was okay, that I’d get stronger so my body wouldn’t break down next time, that every race is a learning experience. Those things were all true.

Over the next few weeks, I kept myself busy in every which way. I didn’t run because frankly, my body felt like garbage. I found myself finding little ways to exercise once or twice a day by going to mat classes, going to physical therapy then practicing at home, going to the pool with Krysta, even just going on little walks. I couldn’t not be moving. It was only at the beginning of a yoga class during my least favorite part of the hour, when the instructor has everyone lie on their backs in contemplative silence. That’s usually when I’m thinking okay, less contemplating and more downward dog, please! But it was in that space that I thought not only about Chicago, but about year leading up to it. I worked really, really hard to prepare for that marathon. I was stronger than I’d ever been. And it still wasn’t enough. And I was angry about it. Then the tears came, and it was a good thing the room was dark because I let them flow right down onto my mat. I felt that at the very least, I deserved to be upset and sad even if for a little bit.

And that was that. Missing out on a goal sucks! But things are looking up. It’s taken around five weeks (new longest recovery record?), but I bounced back and I’m feeling like my old self again. I’ve been running lots of trails and have opted to run with friends more often than not. There are times I prefer being a loner, but this has not been one of them. My PT Jonathan Eng at PACE created a strength training plan for me specifically targeting my weaknesses so I can (hopefully) prevent what happened in Berlin and Chicago from repeating itself. He also recommended their Oregon Project Stability Routine which you can check out here. Other than that I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing, because this has been a great year despite one bad day. I’ve been planning out what races I want to do next, including some indoor track, outdoor track, and all kinds of road races culminating with the 2017 New York City Marathon. It feels good to be excited about racing again, not that it took long- I wrote out my 2017 fantasy race schedule on that same plane ride home.

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All Life Training

Giving Myself Grace

The miles have begun to dwindle down in my preparation for the Chicago Marathon. As I build up to important races, I like to hone in on certain words or mantras. In the past they’ve centered around being brave, fierce, and relentless- very much of the “I am woman, hear me roar” variety. This time, preceding Chicago, I’m taking a different approach.

I began this year with a healing cracked rib and a fresh start to training after some forced time off. While that hiatus wasn’t by choice, it gave me a chance to rest and rebuild myself from the ground up. I wanted to become the runner I’d always been striving to be- not just dreaming of it, but living it. My coach Greg and I came up with a plan that would center around consistency, something I lacked leading up to the Berlin Marathon last year. I worked on my everyday and race day nutrition with a health coach and took up regular yoga and continued with ballet training to be strong and athletic in other ways outside of running. I strove for perfection this year in a way I never had before by meeting my weekly mileage to a T and preparing meticulously for every race, particularly Chicago. Every workout has been laser focused, every marathon pace run I’ve been visualizing as the final miles of the race, every long run mimicking the flat Chicago course. Once I attempted running 18 miles at noon in ridiculous hot weather so I could practice in case it’s hot on race day (it didn’t go well… I wouldn’t recommend it). Prepare, prepare, prepare. Visualize. Study. Recover. Focus.

In the midst of all the preparation, I didn’t really think of how much pressure I’m putting on myself. In the past week or so I’ve felt as if I’ve been on the verge of breaking. Every day is “go, go, go” then I go to bed exhausted, only to have wild dreams about being in the midst of a terrifying attack on a school campus, to being stuck in Portland in a post-apocalyptic state with no water or power, to simply hitting the wall in the Chicago Marathon, looking at my watch and having it read two minutes per mile slower than my goal pace. One of those things is not like the other! I am making myself crazy.

It occurred to me yesterday that bravery and fierceness is not resonating with me. I think I need to be gentler on myself. The pressure I face is coming completely from within. I fear my instinct on race day will be to beat my legs into submission by running at an unimaginable pace, only to have the wheels come off and live out my “nightmare”. Considering all of the training and preparing, all I have left is to rest and carry out my race plan… and enjoy it! Rather than force magic, I hope to set myself up in a way that will allow it. This isn’t about having the perfect race, as much as I’ll try, but bringing everything I’ve learned and gained to the start line. I will be kind to myself. I will celebrate no matter what. I will give myself Grace.

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Tales of a Slacker

Back in grade school, my classmates and I got to pick an instrument we wanted to learn and play in the school band. I chose the flute because I thought it looked the most delicate and pretty. The sounds it made as I was learning how to play? Not so delicate or pretty. I was expected to practice at home, but I hardly ever did. Well, my parents had something to say about that.

One day after school I was SO excited to watch the special Valentine’s Day episode of Family Matters (I have an uncanny talent for remembering very specific things), but my parents clicked off the TV and said “no more!” until I practiced the flute. Oh, the horror! Well, it turned out that one can actually get better at something if they practice. My breathy, squeaky efforts over time turned into clear, full, beautiful notes. By eighth grade, I was soloist and first chair. Thanks, Mom and Dad!

My main instrument has always been piano. I started playing when I was seven years old and continued to study through college. Throughout my earlier years playing, I practiced, but usually the minimum 30 minutes or so per day. I got by just fine and was happy with my progress, earning blue ribbons and high marks in local piano festivals and the Piano Guild. Then just after I turned 14, I started high school at a brand new school with all new classmates. One of these classmates turned out to be a very good pianist. I stumbled upon him casually playing a Burgmuller piece at blitzing speed for a small crowd of students and I think my jaw dropped. Piano was my thing! From then on, I was highly motivated to practice. A lot. While my motives initially came from a competitive standpoint, I began to move through repertoire more quickly and started learning more advanced works. I discovered my love for Beethoven’s Appassionata and Brahms’ Rhapsodies. I think it was then that I truly blossomed as a pianist.

That same initial period of time, when I was 14 and fresh into high school, I joined the cross country team for fun. I enjoyed it, but did the bare minimum at practice and definitely didn’t run over the weekends and the off season. My 5K times were stagnant from my freshman to junior year. I didn’t like finishing in the back of the pack, but I wasn’t really doing anything to change that. My senior year, fueled by some inner motivation and encouragement from my coach to set a better example for incoming freshman athletes, I actually tried in practice and finished my races without walking or DNF’ing. I also ran on weekends and even some mornings before school. Surprise, surprise- my times started dropping! My 5K personal record dropped to 21:15. If you had asked me three years earlier, I would have considered that an unattainable superhero time.

The theme through all of these stories is a pretty simple one. Put forth some effort, even just a little, and you will see results. Put forth even more effort, and you’ll see even greater results. But what comes after that?

I’ve been dedicated to running for years and years. I am very good at running- to a point. When I look at other aspects of myself as a fit, healthy human in general.. ehhh. Ask me to max out on push ups and I might reach ten. Ask me what I ate for breakfast and I’ll probably tell you I had the most delicious morning bun from the local bakery. I can suck at push ups and eat as many pastries as I want and pull off being a decent runner. But hold up- I want to be a great runner!

So in a way, I’m going back to basics. Like a true New Year’s Resolutionist, I decided to take up yoga in the beginning of the year to become more well-rounded in my core strength and flexibility. I’ve tried it in the past and thought, “yeahhh that’s not for me,” as I was terrible at it! When I went to sign up for classes at my local studio, my user history showed I had attended exactly one class. In 2011. I’m a little over a month in now and have gone to 13 classes. I’ve never been more aware of my physical limits. I am wound up tight and there are moments when I feel like I will never uncoil. The other day in class I couldn’t keep my balance, I couldn’t hold a plank, and my back would not bend. It made me wonder if it was all futile and wondered if I should throw in the towel (or in this case the yoga mat). Then something amazing happened during my next class. The instructor had us sit with our legs straight out with our sit bones on the mat, lift up using our breath and our backs, and reach forward. Not only could I touch my toes- I could reach beyond my toes! I definitely, definitely don’t remember the last time I’ve been able to do that. It was the smallest of victories, but significant enough to give me affirmation that this isn’t a lost cause.

On the nutritional side of things-I know enough to understand what I generally should and shouldn’t be eating, but I’m not above asking for help and accountability- which is exactly what I’m doing. This week I began working with Lottie Bildirici of Running On Veggies with the aim of developing better and hopefully sustainable, lifelong habits. So far I love Lottie’s whole food/plant based recipes. They’re super easy and not time consuming to make (this quinoa pizza crust is a winner). However, the struggle is super real when it comes to my cravings for a post-meal sweet treat. I hope it gets easier, though I’m not sure that it will!

In the same way that one mastering an instrument can add nuance on top of technical proficiency, my hope is that caring for my overall wellness will allow me the freedom to become a better runner. Or if anything, just a better human.