Still Hurting

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”

That pretty much sums up the first half of 2017 for me. After around three years of really solid training, I’ve been sidelined twice this year with a hamstring injury. The first time around it was fairly minor and I felt better after a couple weeks off. I even managed to get in shape enough to run a personal best at the Bloomsday 12K in May. The second injury has been much worse as I haven’t run in six weeks as of yesterday! I sought medical attention and have been rehabbing, strengthening, cross training, and resting, but unfortunately this seems to be one of the most stubborn injuries I’ve ever dealt with. I’ve been hesitant to write about it, as I really don’t enjoy writing “gloom and doom” posts, but I’m just going to keep this real.

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Within the first few days of this injury, I was really stressed out at the prospect of rehabbing and getting in shape in time for Grandma’s Marathon on June 17th. When it became clear my leg wasn’t going to better anytime soon, the decision was pretty much made for me. The marathon was off. Rather than being upset about it, I felt relieved. I could take the time I needed to get better and not have to scramble to prepare for what would likely be a mediocre race on little training. Here’s what I wrote that day:

I am deliriously happy. It may be heightened emotion, poised to crash down the next time my muscle gives a little twinge, a stinging reminder that things aren’t all as they should be. But for now, I am relieved. I clip away on my fire engine red bike. The sun is warm on my skin. My usual cup of coffee tastes better than usual. I feel present and alive and hopeful.

It really was a wonderful feeling. However, as the weeks went by and my leg continued to sting and twinge, I began to crumple.

From here to there. That is what I miss. To move over the earth, to crest the hill, to discover what’s around the bend. I lunge, crawl, kick, and stretch but I’m grounded. Every so often I give in. I dash up a dune. I get a little dog to chase me. I run hot potato barefoot over the black pavement. If you asked me any other time I’d say I run to train and get the best out of myself. What I’ve realized is that running is the way I experience the world around me.

I wrote that one month ago. I keep telling myself that it will be just another couple weeks, but a couple weeks later it is still the same. A couple weeks from now will have been two months, and I’m still not seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.

There are a few things that have been keeping me going through all of this. My friends, who have all gone through the same thing in one way or another and know exactly what it’s like. Cross training, which will never be the same as running no matter how you frame it, but it makes me feel like I’m doing something. In fact, I signed up for my first bike race a few weeks ago and got to experience the thrill of the chase in another form. I was almost embarrassed at how delighted I felt after crossing the finish line.

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Winded and exhilarated!

Tomorrow I will start my first day as the new assistant coach at Mountainside High School. I got my start running in high school and I can’t wait to hopefully inspire and motivate young men and women that may be being introduced to the sport for the first time. Lastly, I’ve been putting my heart and soul into a new running project that will be announced this week. I’m grateful for what running has given to me, and in turn want to give back to this community which has done so much for me. Stay tuned!

 

Marathon Woman: A Book Review

I’ve read countless tales about and by running legends, from Kenny Moore’s accounts of Bill Bowermen’s “Men of Oregon” and Steve Prefontaine’s gutsy, record-setting runs, to 1968 Boston winner Amby Burfoot’s methodical training and years of eloquent writing on the sport, to Frank Shorter’s famous Olympic marathon victory in 1972 sparking the Running Boom of the 1970s, to Bill Rodgers’ three straight victories in the Boston Marathon, to the unforgettable “Duel in the Sun” between Alberto Salazar and Dick Beardsley in the 1982. I’ve drawn so much inspiration from these stories and have found myself both in awe of and in many ways relating to the runners they’re about. It wasn’t until a friend asked for some inspirational book recommendations that it dawned on me that these were all stories about men.

Marathon Woman (Revised)

Earlier this year, I was sent a copy of a revised edition of Marathon Woman: Running the Race to Revolutionize Women’s Sports by marathoner, sports commentator, and author, Kathrine Switzer. I knew a bit about Kathrine’s story, namely the famous incident in which race official Jock Semple attempted to bulldoze Switzer off the Boston Marathon course in 1967. He was unsuccessful, as Switzer’s boyfriend, a nationally-ranked hammer thrower, shoved Semple to the ground. Switzer went on to become the first-ever woman to finish the Boston Marathon with a numbered entry.

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There’s Kathrine Switzer wearing bib 261, Jock Semple in black, her boyfriend Tom (bib 390) and her coach Arnie Briggs (bib 490). Photos by Harry Trask.

What I didn’t know was anything about Kathrine’s story leading up to that moment. When she began running, it was at her father’s suggestion in order to get in shape for her school’s field hockey team. She relished in being fit and enjoyed the success it brought her on the field, plus she found herself going from being a skinny kid to a strong, athletic woman. She had few female role models to look up to and was instead captivated by photos of the statue of Diana the Huntress as she was both athletic and feminine, just like Switzer.

Switzer raced as one of two women on the men’s track team at Lynchburg College, then she transferred to Syracuse University where she trained with the men’s team but couldn’t race, as women weren’t allowed in the NCAA conference. It was there that she met Arnie Briggs, who would become her training partner and coach. Despite running day after day with Briggs, and him believing in Switzer as a capable runner, she still had to convince him that a woman was capable of running a full marathon by running the 26.2 mile distance in a training run. It was only then that he believed her and helped her register for Boston under the name K.V. Switzer.

The altercation with Jock Semple on the Boston Marathon course along with Switzer’s finish as the first-ever registered woman to finish Boston thrust Switzer into the limelight, albeit unintentionally, as a pioneer. She found herself with a platform and part of a growing network of competitive women in the sport. The book takes you through her journey as a not only a runner, but as a journalist, entrepreneur, and advocate for women’s running. She co-founded the first women’s only road race, the New York Mini 10K, along with creating the Avon International Running Circuit of women’s only races in 27 countries which convinced the International Olympic Committee to adopt the first women’s Olympic Marathon in 1984.

I learned from reading this book the power of courage and persistence. Switzer prided herself on being annoying, from her conviction to her ability to run a marathon (and run it well) to getting her ideas heard in the male-dominated world of event directing, marketing, and sports journalism. It made me think of my own role in the sport as an athlete and coach- how I can both represent and support women in the sport by being an advocate and a role model myself. I’ll start by recommending this book. I got all fired up with my own ideas after reading it and I think you will too.

In other news, speaking of coaching and being a role model, I’m thrilled to share I just took on a role as Assistant XC Coach at a brand new high school in the Beaverton School District, Mountainside HS! I always knew I wanted to coach high school one day. Who knew this year would be the year? I can’t wait to meet the runners as we begin summer practice and help build the program from the ground up. Go Mavs!

The Bloomsday Trials

I have never started a race without a healthy dose of optimism. This was true as ever at the Lilac Bloomsday Run yesterday. I had my first experience racing the challenging 12 kilometer course last year. I finished with a time of 47:32 and thought immediately after crossing the final timing mat, “I can do better,” (as any runner does) and vowed to return the next year.

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The Bloomsday course is a tricky one. From the starting point in downtown Spokane, you run west out of the city, plunge into a valley 1.5 miles in, run up a long gradual hill until you’re back at the elevation you started at the halfway mark. Then you drop down into another valley, cross a bridge over Spokane River, then up and up the infamous Doomsday Hill which brings you to starting elevation again, this time over just three quarters of a mile. From there it is 2.5 mostly flat miles to the finish.

Last year, knowing that the dreaded Doomsday Hill was coming, I start the race fairly conservatively and saved a little something for the climb. It paid off as I felt good on the hill and even passed a few people along the way.  The final 2.5 miles, however, felt like dreck. It was as if I were running slow motion through sand. My legs were so tired from the hills and I just could not kick it in at the end.

Going into the race this year, my plan was to start the race more aggressively and drop a few more seconds on the downhills while I actually had fresh legs and momentum. I remembered wishing I had stuck with some faster women at the start the year before, as 7.5 miles really wasn’t too far relative to the longer distances I usually race. I felt I had approached it more similarly to a half marathon than a “10K + some.”

I stuck to my plan and my first three miles were each about 5 seconds faster than the year before. My 4th mile was a tad slower, but overall my goal of sub-47:00 was well within reach. I didn’t exactly bound up Doomsday Hill as I had done the year before, clocking in at 3:10 vs. the previous year’s 2:54 (they place timing mats at the bottom and top), but even so, I passed through the five mile mark ten seconds under goal pace. However, while I anticipated feeling terrible in the next couple of miles, I wasn’t prepared for just how terrible. Well after the hill I was still gasping for breath. I tried to stay light on my feet and get my legs to turnover, but they simply wouldn’t.

If there was ever a point where I lost the race, it was the sixth mile. I was aiming for an overall pace of 6:17 per mile, which I had managed so far while feeling pretty good. Then I ran that particular mile in 6:52, despite it being mostly flat as a pancake. Ouch. My reasoning was, just get past Doomsday Hill and you’re home free! I couldn’t have been more wrong. The sixth mile was by far the hardest part of the race. If I had been competing against my past self, 2016 me would have passed 2017 me at that point with a 6:31 mile. Slower than I would have liked, but still it would have made my goal salvageable! All that work to bank some time (which I now can’t believe I thought was a good idea) was out the window and I was worse for the wear.

One of my goals for this race was to be mentally tough and to push through the really nasty parts and make myself run fast anyway. I’m generally so quick to just accept discomfort as a sign that I’m running beyond my abilities, so I back off- but that’s exactly what my brain wants me to think. Pretty nifty survival mechanism, but not great for racing! I’m still wondering if only I were better at overriding that pain signal, could I have run better than a 6:52?

I felt so unbelievably dejected by how hard I was working for the numbers steadily creeping upward on my watch. How cruel running can be! I told myself all kinds of things through that last mile, anything to pick it up just a little bit. Pain is temporary. Less than ten minutes to go- what a short amount of time! What did you even drive all the way out to Spokane for, if not to try? See that church? Just get to the church and around the corner then you’re home free!

My next mile, which I didn’t even see at the time, was 6:26. Not enough to balance out the last mile, but an improvement. From there I had just half a mile to go. I sped by the church, rounded the final corner, then began the very welcomed descent to the finish line. From a distance I could see the clock at 47:01, 47:02, 47:03. I was so tired and felt compelled to close my eyes as I do when I’m fatigued, but I really made myself focus on that clock because I would have been so upset if I missed beating my previous best of 47:32. The clock was literally flipping from 47:30 to 47:31 as I crossed the timing mat! The agony! The suspense! In the end, my chip time read a comfortable 47:26. A six second improvement from last year!

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The Lilac Bloomsday Run, as it was last year, was a great challenge and humbling experience. On paper, I looked at my 47:00 goal and thought, of course that’s within reach! I badly want to qualify for the 2020 US Olympic Trials Marathon within the next few years which will take a marathon effort at around the same pace of 6:17/mile. Surely I should be able to run at least 12K at that pace. And then I couldn’t! That’s a tough pill to swallow.

On the positive side, I ran a personal best. It was only by six seconds, but still. I did something with my body that it’s never done before. World record for one Liz Anjos running a 12K! And more significantly, it’s the first race I’ve improved on since last year. My Shamrock 15K time last year was 59:55; this year it was 61:07. My Corvallis Half Marathon time last year was 1:24:54, this year it was 1:27:12. Bloomsday last year 47:32, this year 47:26. It took some time following an injury earlier in the year, but I’m finally starting to feel up to snuff.

I’m a long way from where I want to be, but I hope with consistency and small improvements over time, that next breakthrough will come. My next goal race is Grandma’s Marathon on June 17th and I’m just entering the meatiest part of training. You can follow my progress on Strava. ‘Til next time!

Roots and Blossoms

Last weekend I had the pleasure of shooting with photographer, runner, and fellow Portlander Bobby Rivera. We met while working at Portland Running Company and he recently landed a gig at Columbia Sportswear! This is one of my favorite shoots I’ve ever done. We began at the waterfront where the cherry blossoms had just begun to bloom.

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Next, I took Bobby to a section of my every day running route on NW Cornell Road, bright green moss galore.

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Finally, we landed in a gravel path behind the Washington Park Amphitheater, my very favorite spot in Portland. This photo to me, with all the lush green trees, is emblematic of my roots in Oregon (I was born in Salem) and its rich history of running, fittingly complete with Nike trainers. Huge thank you to Bobby for capturing that so beautifully.

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Running-wise, things have been looking up. I’m feeling healthy and all the nagging little pings and tweaks have been subsiding. I’ve been getting a lot stronger thanks to Tracey Katona, who I met through Kara Goucher’s Podium Retreats. Tracey owns Katona Pilates in Beaverton and she’s been whipping me into shape this winter. She’s intent on helping me align my wonky hips and posture—and it’s working!

Next on my radar is the Corvallis Half Marathon which is already coming up next weekend (you might notice a familiar face on their homepage)! On the one hand, I feel nowhere near prepared to race a half marathon. I haven’t gone beyond 40 miles in one week since January and my longest run this year was 14 miles last weekend. Zilch speed work. On the other hand, I’m feeling optimistic after running a solid 15K at Shamrock earlier this month. Part of me wonders if I can match that pace in the half. Just another 3.8 miles. NBD, right?


Friday Gems are coming at you early this week- here’s what I’ve got!

I have to give it to David Willey, Editor-in-Chief of Runner’s World, for putting his goal of qualifying for the Boston Marathon out into the world and chronicling his journey via the Runner’s World Show. He’s working with the same team conducting Nike’s “Breaking2” project, in which three runners will be attempting to finish a marathon in under two hours. Not only does he have a team of technical professionals behind him to get him physically prepared for the attempt, but he has also received help on the psychological side from Dr. Robert Swoap. He recorded their session for the podcast (episode 46), which struck me as a deeply vulnerable thing to do. I really took to heart the advice and coping strategies Dr. Swoap offered, including visualizing how you’re going to react when things don’t go as planned.

Speaking of the psychological side of running, you’ll see the full scope of the mental ups and downs of completing a 100 mile race in Billy Yang’s documentary Life in a Day, where he follows the journey of four women vying for the win at the Western States. I was particularly moved by Devon Yanko‘s back story, from her origins in how she came to running, monstrosities she overcame at a young age, and how it has all shaped her into who she is today.

“It has been 9 years since I first ran the Boston Marathon. I still have never watched any race footage, it is still difficult to talk about. In fact, I am teary eyed as I type this out. But I have forgiven myself for not winning. Not only have I forgiven myself, but I have learned to appreciate Boston 2009. Over the years people have told me that it was the most inspiring race they saw, me going for it, fighting for the win. That has helped heal me and value what I did that day. I didn’t cross the line first, but I gave it all I had. I let everyone in, and they weren’t disappointed in me. They knew I did the best I could and that was enough.” -Kara Goucher on her first experience running the Boston Marathon. I’ve written it before, but I am among those who consider that run the most inspiring they’ve seen. Kara made it no secret that she wanted to win that year and she fought for it tooth and nail. She’s known for wearing her heart on her sleeve, but there’s no doubt she’s one of the fiercest competitors out there, evidenced by that race among many more. If you haven’t read it yet, here’s a great interview on where she’s at now.

And some fun news, I’m now a contributing writer at Minneapolis Running! In my first contribution, I wrote about how despite popular belief, there are shortcuts in running.

‘Til next time! -L

The Thrill of the Chase

The sun began to cast its first glimmers of pink and orange across the Willamette River. I rummaged through my sock drawer until I found what I was looking for: my white knee-high compression socks, reminiscent of those made famous by local Olympian Shalane Flanagan. I told myself I wasn’t going to race in the Portland Shamrock Run that day. I would run the 9.3 mile course, maybe at a slightly-faster-than-usual pace. I had missed out on some winter training after pulling my hamstring in January. I had already registered though, so I might as well earn my commemorative bottle opener for finishing, right?

I donned my running gear, took a look in the mirror and frowned. I was in layers since I’d surely get too cold if I wasn’t racing racing. However, the long sleeve shirt under my singlet looked frumpy and out of place. I tried again with just the singlet. Much sleeker. I reached for my lightweight training shoes but then a pair of low-profile racing flats that I had acquired on a recent trip in Japan, the adidas Takumi Ren, caught my eye. I mean, it would be a shame to have bought these cool racers and not even take them out for a spin, I thought. I grabbed them instead.

I stepped out my front door and jogged along the river until I reached the staging area of the race. I took my place among the thousands of runners lining up toward the start. From my standpoint, the floating arch over the start line seemed awfully far away. Maybe I should get a little closer to the front… after all, people can get so jumbled up in the first mile. I inched my way up and found two friends I knew through the running circuit. We asked each other about our race plans; they were both going for a time of under 60 minutes, a pace of 6:26 minutes per mile. I told them I’d be happy with anything under 7:00 pace. We nervously shuffled around, shivering under the occasional peek of sunlight through the clouds, until we received a 30 second warning that the race would begin.

We took off and I tucked in behind my two friends, who both (lucky for me) started on the conservative side. We sailed through the first mile in 6:56 and I didn’t feel too bad! From there, they began to pick up the pace but I just went into cruise control, hitting the second mile on a gradual uphill at 7:03. Up and up Barbur Boulevard I went, finding my stride with a few runners in the familiar red singlets of the Team Red Lizard running club. I didn’t worry too much about pace, but every time I looked down at my watch I was pleasantly surprised. 6:48, 7:17.

After a scorcher of a hill cutting up to Terwilliger Boulevard and cresting to the glorious drone of live bagpipers, I did a quick assessment. My breathing was calm and my legs felt fresh. I dashed down the rolling hills, catching glimpses of the sparkling Willamette and snow-capped peak of Mt. St. Helens between the Douglas firs lining the road, when I heard a spectator calling out, “12th woman… 13th woman… 14th woman…” 14th place, not bad! The woman up ahead of me wasn’t too far out of reach. I thought, what if I just catch up and run with her a little? I threw in a little surge and closed the distance between us, but I couldn’t help myself and continued to blow on by. Even after 10+ years since running in high school, it’s been ingrained in me to “pass with authority.” After making that little move, it was as if a switch flipped and I went into full-on competitor mode. 6:15, 5:38.

I then focused on not only reaching the next woman ahead of me, but another woman way ahead of me, who happened to be one of the two runners I started with! In the seventh mile the course led the runners up one last gradual hill, which felt torturous so late in the race. I passed the first woman and we told each other, “Good job!” We came up on a hairpin turn, and it was then I could see just how much my friend had on me, maybe around 30 seconds. I kept trying to close the gap between us, but every time she had a little more to give. 6:19, 6:13.

One mile to go. The last four had started to take their toll on my body. I could feel my stomach churning and legs revolting. When I looked back on race photos, I could tell which were taken in the later miles because my eyes were closed in almost all of them- a dead giveaway that I’m pretty much toast!

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I’m not here. This isn’t real. It’s all a dream!

I reached the last straightaway toward the finish on Naito Parkway, the finish line looming in the distance. I opened up my stride and tried to keep myself together. The woman I had passed earlier moved up alongside me. She said something along the lines of “C’mon, let’s go!” and I wheezed something like, “You got this!” She passed by me and I just tried to hang on. Soon after I heard cheering and cowbells ringing and realized it was coming from a group of my Volée teammates alongside the race course. Knowing there were people rooting for me, I pushed back and strode past the woman again. I could hear her footsteps behind me for a few seconds, but soon they faded. I pumped my arms harder, gasped for air, and powered to the finish line. Last mile, 6:09. Finish time, 1:01:07. 12th woman overall, 1st in my age group! I turned around to cheer on the next woman but was swiftly overcome by the urge to puke. It was a close call. We congratulated and thanked each other for pushing one another. As we walked down the finisher shoot we were greeted by several other women that had finished just ahead of us. While we may have been competitors on the course, I felt such a camaraderie among everyone that had just given their all.

The Portland Shamrock Run was four days ago and I’m still over the moon about it. The string of seemingly random injuries, time off, and low mileage this winter had me feeling a bit hopeless about what the future held. I was convinced I had lost my speed and wondered how long it would take to get back. It turned out that residual fitness is quite real, as my coach has told me over and over again. This race to me was confirmation that I’m not crazy to keep shooting for big goals. It also reminded me of how much I love to compete. The thrill is far from gone… I’m back, baby!