Reflections of a Citizen Runner

In less than a week, I will toe the line at the 2015 Berlin Marathon. As I reflect on my training and how ready I feel for the race, I’m a little uncertain. I blame that partially on what I call the taper crazies, in which I feel like I’m totally out of shape from not running as much in the past week (tapering), when really, cutting back is just a necessity of being well rested and recovered for race day.

When comparing my planned running schedule for this season to what actually went down, there were quite a few differences. I had aspirations of upping my weekly mileage in comparison to previous seasons, but in various shapes and forms, life got in the way. One day I fell hard while running out on the trails and went home limping and crying (and taking a few days off to take care of my hurt knee). Another week I got a terrible stomach bug and spent the night in the hospital. One weekend I simply had no way to run while on a festival run with my band (Three Coasts, Three Festivals, Three Days).

On the flip side, I did a good job of adapting and focusing on the important things like quality long runs and workouts. Despite some missed runs, I actually still ended up running at a higher volume most weeks compared to last year. Greg, my coach, suggested that maybe I’m actually at my best when I’m improvising on a crazy schedule. Overall I feel healthy and fit. My marathon goal pace felt very comfortable in a recent workout. I have two years of uninterrupted, injury-free training under my belt. These are the things I keep telling myself.

In terms of my goals, for this race and beyond, I so often think of what I want to achieve in the form of personal records, placing among the top women, or achieving a qualifying mark for a race like Boston, New York, or, you know.. theolympictrials. These types of goals will always motivate me, but I’ve come to this sort of realization that I don’t have to take myself SO seriously. Yes, I’m coming to this conclusion now, 10+ years into my recreational running career. I always, always want to get the very best out of myself, but going forward I would like to enjoy it a little more on the way. Maybe as I’m running along the streets of Berlin I can think, “How cool is it that I’m doing this?” vs. “Ugh, three seconds slow on that last km!” I think it’s okay throw a bit of wonder in the mix with drive and competition. On that note, I give you my goals:

A – 2:55

B – Better my PR of 2:59:22

C – Have fun!

Berlin, Here I Come!

I can picture it now… I’m dashing through the streets of Berlin. The Brandenburg Gate is looming in the distance. Sweat is dripping from my brow. My legs are heavy and my lungs are ready to burst. The clock is ticking. The crowds are going wild. Someone hands me a Berliner Pfannkuchen which I promptly devour. I get a sudden burst of energy. I charge across the finish line and throw my arms up in jubilation. The sports commentators are beside themselves! She did it! On this most monumental day, Liz Anjos ran the race of her life!

Or I mean, you know, whatever. Maybe something like that! However it goes, I couldn’t be more thrilled to be running the 2015 Berlin Marathon! It has a legendarily fast course and a fascinating history. Fun facts:

1.) Nine world records have been set along its notoriously flat route, including Dennis Kimetto’s current record of 2:02:57 set in 2014. And remember when Haile Gebrselassie dipped under 2:04 for the first time in history in 2008? Yep, that was in Berlin.

2.) When the city was still divided, the marathon was limited to West Berlin. It was only in 1990 that the course was altered so athletes were able to run through the Brandenburg Gate and both halves of the unified city. Many runners had tears in their eyes as they ran through the gate. Remind me to pack tissues.

3.) The aid stations set up throughout the course offer water, sports drink, fresh fruit, and… tea? I mean, I dig that. I just hope it’s not too hot, in case someone mistakes it for water and dumps it on their head! Ouch.

So far training has been going swimmingly. Coach and I aren’t changing too much about our approach from when I ran the Philadelphia Marathon last year, with the exception of delving into slightly higher mileage. As the saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. I’ve been hovering around 65-70 miles per week for the past month. It was a pretty tough adjustment at first, especially since I just happened to be on the road and at high altitude for the first two weeks, but I feel like I’ve finally found my daily double-digit groove. If you’d like, follow along with my training on Strava.

I’m targeting 2:55 as my time goal, though I’d be happy with anything under my current PR, 2:59. Another goal I have is to place as one of the top Americans. There are no elite American entries this year as of yet, and the top finishing times for non-elite American women have been hovering around 2:55-3:00 for the past four years- right in my territory.

Until next time, here are my questions for you:

I’m arriving in Berlin five whole days before the race. What must I absolutely see and do?

This will be my first time racing the marathon internationally. Any words of wisdom?

If you could run any marathon in the world, which would it be and why?

Great Expectations

2014 was a breakthrough year for my running. I spent the first portion of the year regaining my fitness after a setback from injury, then later in the year I knocked four minutes off my half marathon best and fourteen minutes off my marathon best. My train of thought was, if I can run those kinds of PRs after a setback, imagine the possibilities after uninterrupted training! So I charged into 2015 with very, very high standards set on myself.

So far, everything this year has gone swimmingly as I’ve prepared for the Eugene Half Marathon on May 10th. I’ve had solid workouts, long runs, and mileage. I ran a 10K personal best by 42 seconds at the Linfield College Icebreaker Meet on March 6th, then a week later lowered my 15K best at the Portland Shamrock Run by 9 seconds, drenched in rain. Yet, after every tempo run, speed workout, and race, I’ve found myself thinking, “Wow, that was really hard,” and was disappointed that it didn’t come easier or that I wasn’t faster. Maybe it’s because I’m an overachiever, or because I’m greedy, or maybe the two go hand in hand. With every milestone I reach, I am always wanting more. I pride myself by having ambitious goals, but comparing those goals with my current fitness leaves me feeling dissatisfied with the smaller successes.

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With that on my mind, I’ve found myself looking to the wisdom of athletes I look up to. I recently read “Run to Overcome” by 2014 Boston Marathon champ Meb Keflezighi. I wish I could find the direct quote (I tried), but he said something along the lines of practicing patience and looking to improve by bits at a time, rather than leaps and bounds. With that mindset, you can set yourself up for success rather than constant (perceived) failure, not to mention putting yourself at a much lower risk of injury by not over-training. It is very hard for me to practice this kind of patience. With running, my career, life in general, I’m constantly feeling this sense of urgency, like if I don’t accomplish all I want to by some arbitrary timeline, I will never reach my goals and all will be lost.

In a recent piece on Ryan Hall in the New Yorker, he was quoted saying, “Running can be such a beautiful sport…An amazing experience for everyone. But I’ve also been on the other side of that, where I’ve lived for the victories and the performances and I just—I know how shallow and fleeting and chasing-the-wind that is. So it breaks my heart when I see other people doing that same thing I’ve done, and knowing what they’re in store for…It’s like, ‘Dude, no matter what you accomplish, it’s not gonna fill you up. It’s not what you’re looking for.’”

When asked why he keeps racing if victory has had a diminished meaning for him, Hall’s response was, “To never compare myself to myself or anyone else. I think comparison is bad. It’s bad in sports, it’s bad in life, it’s bad in writing, it’s just bad. But it is called a competition, so how do you do a competition the right way? For me, that’s where it comes back to excellence. I try and get everything out of my body that God’s put in me, the best I can. You hear it a million times—‘Just do your bestbut, really, that’s all you can do.”

I took away so much from what Hall said in that article. Driven people, no matter what career and no matter where they are on the spectrum within it, are always looking to reach that next level. If that’s their only motivation, they will never be satisfied. I don’t think that should diminish anyone’s ambition, but I do think it’s important to dig a little deeper and really understand the motivation behind it.

Here is my motivation. I want to be a living example that a slacker high school kid with little talent can go on to work really, really hard and accomplish amazing and impossible things. I want to bridge the gap between art and athleticism. I want to show that people don’t have to pigeonhole themselves based on their interests or occupation. We are limitless! We can do our best.

XC, Maui, and Modeling

January has been all about strength building, prepping for a national-caliber cross country meet, and landing my first gig as a runner model!

 

After enjoying some time off during the holidays, I got straight to work at the beginning of the year. I decided to sign up for the USATF National XC Championship taking place in Boulder, Colorado on February 7th. It will be extremely competitive and I may be a bit out of my league, but it will be a good racing experience to learn from. My coach built a training plan for me leading up to the race, and as he’s also planning to compete in Boulder, we’ve been meeting up on Fridays for various hill workouts in McMinnville, Oregon. McMinnville has some pretty incredible scenery. Our first workout took place in a cemetery with a sweeping view of Mt. Hood at sunrise, with fog rising over the surrounding grassy hills. The second workout took place in Miller Woods, surrounded by dense and dark trees with every footstep seemingly muted on the dirt trails covered in pine needles.

I spent this past week in Maui on vacation, and little did I know what a valuable training experience it would turn out to be. With the combination of the humidity and hilly terrain I was unaccustomed to, I was huffing and puffing through almost every single run. I had two fartlek (speed play) workouts scheduled during my time there, and “half marathon effort” and “5K effort” took on whole new meanings. Sometimes those efforts would mean 8:30/mile on an uphill and 5:45/mile on a downhill. My actual splits became meaningless, but I did my best to keep my efforts honest.

The only “flat” run I did during my time in Maui was at the Maui Oceanfront Half Marathon, an out-and-back course on a coastal highway. I had been planning to run 12 miles for my long run that week, but when I found out there was a half marathon happening that weekend, I decided it would be way more fun to add another 1.1 miles to my run with the benefit of having people to run with and water stations along the course. While I went into the race with the mindset of running for fun, I couldn’t help but scope out the competition and wonder who I could keep up with. As soon as the race started, some runners took off right away, including a woman that I saw for maybe all of three seconds, seemingly sprinting into the pre-dawn darkness. She went on to win in a blistering 1:18:41- that’s just a hair over six minutes per mile! I found a good group to run with, but noticed my breathing was becoming quite labored in only the first two miles. I let them go and trailed behind a bit, opening up a gap of about 20 seconds. I didn’t like the seeing the figures ahead of me get smaller and smaller, and I really didn’t like it when I got passed by two runners during that time. As I continued to run, my breathing wasn’t getting any more labored, and my legs, despite being quite sore from all of the hills that week, weren’t feeling more tired than they already were going into the race. I decided that I was better than where I was at and threw in a little surge to catch back up to the group over the next two miles. I began to pass runners one by one and eventually settled into a pace I felt I could maintain, finding that sweet spot between gliding and red-lining. I finished the race feeling strong and ended up placing 2nd overall female with a time of 1:29:32. I felt great about it. Just one or two years ago, that would have been an all-out race effort. This time, it was a training run in January!

Also this month, I got an unexpected invitation from Sarah “Mac” Robinson to come up to Seattle to model Oiselle’s Spring 2015 collection! I was more than thrilled, and of course said yes. I don’t have modeling experience, but Sarah explained that Oiselle hires their athletes as models as often as possible because they have that “healthy, strong, runner look.” How cool is that? I ended up spending a day in Seattle in the studio with the fantastic crew from Oiselle HQ, modeling the new looks and having an absolute blast. Some of the photos have appeared in the new arrivals section on Oiselle’s online shop, with many more to come!

Need for Speed in Nebraska

It was a perfect, sunny day in Omaha, NE. From my starting point at the Hilton Hotel, I laced up my bright cobalt running shoes and reveled in the fact that I had an entire afternoon to run wherever I wanted for as long as I pleased.

In the past two weeks I had logged 135 miles of running and played in ten rock concerts in ten different states and one Canadian province. Two days before, I completed my longest ever training run of 24 miles on the lake shore path of Chicago. I had been feeling good to a point, but I could feel my body beginning to revolt. My recent easy runs had been slower than usual by 10-20 seconds per mile. In the previously mentioned long run, I felt ready to stop at mile ten. Eight hours of sleep per night was no longer enough.

As I set out to run around the city, I told myself that I wouldn’t look at my watch, I wouldn’t worry about pace, and I wouldn’t even worry about where I went. It would be a run purely for the joy of running. I explored downtown, ran along a river canal, and looped around a pond. The sky was clear, the temperature was right around 50º Fahrenheit, and I had all the time in the world.

While I was enjoying running for the bliss and fun, I couldn’t help but think how perfect the weather would be for a speed workout. I had planned on waiting another day or two to give my legs a break, but it seemed silly to not take advantage of the day and the weather.

The workout was 8 x 1K repeats @ 10K pace with a 400m jog between each. Since the units of measurement on my watch aren’t set to the metric system and I couldn’t find an open track, I decided to do 0.6 miles on; 0.25 mile off. I found a long enough stretch of bike path by the Missouri RIver to run the intervals back and forth on. My goal pace would be 3:44.6.

The first rep flew by in 3:42.9. It felt effortless.

I turned to face the other direction for the second rep and got smacked by a blast of wind. So THAT’S why the first rep felt so easy… I had 12mph wind to my back the whole time! The next rep was head-on into the wind. It did not feel effortless. 3:44.9.

Third rep, 3:42.5. Right on.

Fourth rep, I battled with the wind again, finishing in 3:45.7.  I began to feel sorry for myself for having to face such windy conditions, and told myself it was okay that I missed my goal and that if things kept going that way, I could still easily average out in the end to my goal pace.

Fifth rep, 3:43.5. My slowest wind-aided effort yet. Was I really already slowing down? It was then that I told myself to snap out of it. Wind or no wind, 6:13 for six tenths of a mile should not feel hard. 6:13 is the pace required for a woman to run an entire marathon in order to qualify for the US Olympic Trials. I also thought that if this was the hardest part of my day, I have a really freaking good life. Perspective is everything.

I snapped out of whatever funk I was in, took a deep breath, and ran directly into the wind with my fastest split yet- 3:39.9. Take that, wind! You don’t own me!

7th (wind-aided) rep, 3:39.8. Easy peasy. I thought of how amazing and wonderful it would be to run an entire marathon at that pace. 6:06 per mile. That’s a 2:40 marathon. Some day?

8th and final split, with what I swear were the strongest wind gusts yet and yet nothing for me to lose. I pumped my arms and focused on taking short, choppy strides and light steps. Wind? What wind? 3:37.7.

Running for fun is great and all, but this little impromptu challenge came at a perfect time. I may be a little tired, but I feel confident in my fitness. My taper for the Philly Marathon has started. My legs are awake and ready for what’s to come.