Saturday, June 27, 2009

Am I recovered yet?

From last week's marathon? Probably.

From a severe case of OCD? Never!

A year ago this week I ran what I considered to be my best race to date at the Afton 50K. I was thrilled to finish in 4:36. Though as usual, within approximately 2 minutes of finishing I was calculating where I could possibly have picked up time and promising myself how much better trained and prepared I would be in 12 months time. Part of this plan was less races in 2009 (easier said than done); the following was not:

- 2 weeks prior: attempt to PR in a road marathon; follow that up with another 21 miles by Wednesday

- 1 week prior: after an 8M run at Hyland Friday morning, head to Afton with the usual gang of crazies to start running at midnight... through a thunderstorm no less... ending up with 20 miles by 3:30AM, running the first 10 with John who's easy pace is faster than my race pace; a sunrise swim in the St. Croix followed by a burger breakfast; home by 7am for a 40 minute power nap before heading downtown to participate in a work-sponsored 5K (HeartBeat 5000 - 21:30 good enough for 3rd female)

Yeah, that definitely wasn't part of the plan. But heck it was fun. A little scray at times last night - I was completely awed, and a little freaked out, by witnessing for the first time ever a bolt of lightening hit and fire up a tree on the horizon.

So, not exactly what you'd call a 50K taper. Which has me revising an original goal of running sub-4:30 to aiming for 4:45 and considering it a 'training race' for Voyageur. Because, obviously, I'll be so much smarter in the weeks before that race.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Say Hello to...

Baby Seán... my new nephew!

p.s. I've asked for a 'happy' photo too :)

More photos! Still not exactly happy - but open eyes at least! How about those wrinkly hands...

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Grandma's Marathon 2009

The good news is that I’m writing this tonight and not last night so the story will be much more positive! The bad news is that is doesn't change the outcome. Oh wait, I'm being positive. OK here goes...

The Facts

- This was my 11th road marathon. I ran my first 5 years ago. 5 years prior to that running was something other people did.
- My finish time of 3:17:35 was good enough for 33rd female. And my name in the paper. Yes, as sad as it is, these things are important to me.
- It was my second best time. Just under 1 minute slower than my best on the same course in similar conditions in 2007.
- It was over 5 minutes slower than my goal.
- It was the first race in about three years in which I didn’t achieve or exceed my goal. It takes a bit of getting used to.
- I ran the first half in exactly the time I planned to.

The Negatives

- I ran the second half almost 6 minutes slower than I planned to.
- I wasn’t conditioned enough for the heat and humidity.
- I didn’t really have a back-up plan.
- I didn’t smile nearly enough (sorry Susan... I tried, sort of...)
- For the first time in a long time I started thinking negative long before halfway and never really snapped out of it.

The Positives (This list was much shorter yesterday)

- I can run marathons. Reasonably fast.
- I’m conditioned enough so that I can get up the next morning and run a few easy miles and feel good. The post-race soak in Lake Superior definitely helped with this.
Newskin: it does exactly what it says on the bottle. I gave myself 2 big blisters on my arches last week after stupidly running a few miles without socks. The skin came off completely on Friday morning. That night I put a layer of this stuff on – it was agony for about 10 seconds but once it dried in it was literally like a layer of new skin. A second layer in the morning and then a strip of sports tape around each foot. Zero pain for the race.
- The friends I’ve made doing this. Chatting to so many people I know before the race started and again last night is evidence of how much a part of my life the running community has become. It is about so much more than running and racing.
- Grandma’s remains my favorite marathon. The course is awesome and the supporters and volunteers are AMAZING. Sure the weather can suck but it's June in Minnesota so you can't be too surprised. Though June 19 and 21 were perfect running days...
- Oh and this is kind of mean but... I beat
Nic :)

The Race

The sun on my back felt hot, too hot, as I stretched and ran a few yards up and down the road across the start line at 7am yesterday morning. The records will show it was equally hot two years ago but possibly less humid. I wasn’t too worried though. I’ve run well in those conditions before. And I happened to have erased completely the memory of the horrid 18 miler I’d struggled through several weeks ago in the first truly humid conditions of the season. Instead I thought only of the half-marathon PR I’d run at the end of May (on a cool morning) and focused on my goal. 3:12. I could do it. I knew I could.

I chatted with Adam, Nic, Kurt and others at the start of the race. Looked for John but didn't spot him. The guys were all lining up with the 3 hour pace group. I, on the other hand, was a little stranded. I’d planned to start out with the 3:15 pace group. Except it didn’t exist. A detail I failed to note when picking up a pace band at the Expo. So I started out just behind the 3:10 group knowing I wouldn’t try to keep with them.

The national anthem and the F-16 flyover. I am not a citizen yet and it will never be my national anthem but I have to say it’s a great one to start a race with. And the low flying jets never fail to make my heart skip a beat.

And we were off.

I was wearing my Suunto, having gone back to it after losing my Garmin, and soon realized that despite calibrating it on the track last week it was way off. So the pace I was seeing was about 20 seconds faster than I was actually running… it didn’t matter that much once I knew and I can’t blame it for putting me off my pace. No, that was all me. Still, I was thrilled to find that Paula was willing to sell me her new 405 that she got a great deal on but decided she didn’t need… so I’ll be back to that next week.

The first few miles felt good. The 3:10 pace group was moving a little farther away each mile as I kept a steady enough pace 7:25, 7:25, 7:24, 7:32, 7:27 for the first 5. I was feeling strong, well hydrated and happy to be a part of this great tradition. I didn’t talk to anyone and unlike previous years I didn’t really listen to other’s conversations. In fact I can’t really remember what I thought about in the early miles. Except that it felt like the time was flying by. I was really surprised by how quickly the yellow balloons in the sky kept appearing. I took this to be an extremely positive sign.

I’d taken a power gel about 20 minutes before race start and another at 5 miles. I had 4 remaining, planned for every 5 miles until 20 and then another one around mile 23. Along with the gel I was taking 3 S-caps. I recall mile 7 being an absolute joy – I have no idea why but I was full of beans – I think there was possibly a light breeze from the lake along here and I suppose I was still feeling strong and energetic at that stage. And the 7:22 felt easy. How quickly it can all change. Mile 8 was a little slow at 7:39 but still I wasn’t too worried. Though I was starting to feel hot. Somewhere along here a girl, with the body of an elite, was passed out on the grass with several people tending to her. The medics hadn’t yet arrived but she was in the recovery position and not looking so good. I never did hear who she was but I guess she ended up being okay or we would have heard about it.

I was running mostly on the left side of the road, grabbing shade where I could, though there wasn’t much of it so I cut corners where it made sense. The crowd was pretty spread out by mile 10 and I was pretty much in my own world. I was still feeling good enough and completely confident that I could turn it on in the final 6 miles. I just needed to get there in decent condition. But somewhere in my mind I knew I wasn’t going about it the right way. In 2007 my fastest mile was 23 in 6:36; yesterday my fastest miles were 10 in 7:09 and 13 in 6:50 - a dash to the 10 mile and halfway mats? Classy move for a 'veteran'. Especially when mile 14 took me 7:51.

I guess it around this point that I started to question how prepared I really was for a 3:12 race. Or a 3:15 race for that matter. Lots of recalculating kept my mind occupied as the miles seemed to pass slower and the water stops were not coming quickly enough. I was drinking 2 cups of water at each station and taking a cup of ice with me. Miles 15-16-17 were OK. Not great but OK. I saw Wayne along here. That was cool. It’s always uplifting to hear someone call your name!

And there was still a chance of the goal and a good chance of 3:15. And then mile 18. In 2007 this was like the best mile of the race. It was where I started to drop my pace, knowing I was going to have an awesome day. Yesterday, it was the first time in a long time that my watch registered over 8 minutes in a road race. I had to stop a few times with stomach cramp. It came on all of a sudden. Looking back it was pretty much exactly what happened that humid day in May on my crappy 18 miler. I guess more conditioning is the answer. I don’t think it was fluid or nutrition related. It seemed to go away again and mile 19 was OK. Back to 7:25 pace. Mile 20 wasn’t so hot. I saw the port-a-potty and went for it – I did need it but really it was as much for the rest as anything. 8:27. Ouch. Across the 20 mile mat in 2:30:01. I had given up looking at the 3:15 pace band by this point. The 3:10 pace band (yes, I actually had the nerve to wear one of them) was hidden beneath it at around mile 10 and didn’t make a reappearance.

Finally we were heading towards town. And somewhere in my mind I still thought I could pick it up. I actually felt like I was running much faster than I was. Well, I probably was doing 7:10’s or thereabouts but I had to stop at least once a mile with the pain in my side so that my splits were 7:44, 7:39, 7:43. No sub-45 minute final 10k today. But possibly I could still PR. Lemon Drop came and went without much fuss. John was about half way up though I was almost gone by before I saw him as my eyes were firmly fixed on the ground at this stage. And somewhere along here I came across Nic and Kurt. The conditions scuppering their plans also.

I was looking forward to the next mile and nice downhill. This was my fastest mile in 2007. I remember it well as Susan had joined me for a few hundred yards and I was completely ecstatic. How different yesterday’s experience was! Mile 24 was a little better in 7:34 – no doubt helped by the cheers of Shelley (who'd ran well in the half earlier), Paula and the guys along Superior Street. But I quickly leaned that speeding up brought back the side cramps. I had to stop and walk a bit so that mile 25 was a miserable 7:59. Around the corner, over the concrete bridge and I tried to do what I could. The crowds along here are wonderful and it definitely helped me to keep going. I knew that Tanya was likely spectating somewhere along here. It is a winding mile though and I longed to just be able to see the finish. 7:34. And finally, the home straight.

I apologize if the race report thus far has been less than inspirational but if I can give one piece of racing advice it is this: no matter how awful you’re feeling, no matter how lousy the day has been, there is always juice left in your legs and more importantly in your heart, for a sprint to the line. Sure, it might not actually fit the definition of a sprint, but giving it everything you have for the final few hundred yards, with people cheering you to the finish, has the wonderful effect of making you feel like an Olympic champion. And that feeling, even for a few short seconds, is hard to beat.

Did I reach my goal? No, not the 3:12 one. But the “feeling completely spent at the finish line” one? You betcha.

Congrats to all who participated in this event. It was a rough one but I guess we have to take the bad with the good. Though it wasn't bad for everyone...
John's sub-3 was phenomenal - he was ready for it but still to be able to pull it off on the day that is was deserves huge credit.

Photos courtesy of Tanya...

No match for Newskin.

The Olympic Finish.

The first smile in several hours.


A well deserved post race beer. In the shade.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Reality Bites

Well, that kinda sucked. It was hot and humid but I've ran well in those conditions before. I wasn't in shape for 3:12. I should have managed a PR but couldn't pull it together in the last few miles.

Finish time: 3:17:35

More to come later.

Congrats to all who raced today - especially John Maas who ran an awesome race to go sub-3:00 and PR by several minutes.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Are you ready?

I've only been asked about a hundred times this week. To which my response was always "We'll see..."

I've raced more than I planned this spring. I've traveled more than I planned. I've worked more hours than I planned. And I've eaten waay more than I planned. But all in all my training has probably gone as well as I could have expected it to. My training pace has definitely gotten faster and I've been happy with the races I've done. Well, for the most part. Chippewa still bugs me but I'll get over it. Someday :)

I'm going to start with the 3:15 pace group (7:26's) and see how I feel at mile 10. Hopefully good enough to kick it down to 7:20's... and downwards from there for the next 10 to 7:00 minute miles. Continue at that and I'll cross the finish line in under 3:12. If things start to go downhill I'll change strategy and try to stay strong enough to PR (sub-3:16:43). If things feel like they are still going well by mile 20, I'll try to push it a bit more for the final 10K. My goal is to feel completely spent at the finish line unlike two years ago when my immediate thought was 'damn, I could have run faster'. No, there'll be none of that on Saturday!

No doubt I'll feel a bit out of place lining up with the 3:15 group. Or any group under 3:30. I'm sure I'll be about 20lbs heavier than the rest of the females around me. At 150 I'm 15 heavier than 2007. NOT where I intended to be when I signed up in January. But then January plans never quite pan out... still, it doesn't seem to have affected the running much so far. Though I'd definitely be happier to be closer to 140 which I think is a good weight for me. Not that the donought I had for lunch would know anything about that.

GOOD LUCK to everyone running this weekend.

One more goal... that Grandma's remains my favourite race!!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Weather

Keeps changing but I (really) like what it's telling me today (Thurs)...

Duluth, Saturday June 20, 2009

7 AM / 52F / 50% rain - 10 AM / 56F / 10% rain

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Dream

Well, I had the pre-race dream last night. It was definitely one of the weirder ones. There was nothing familiar about the setting. It was in a city but not one I've ever been to. I was sitting in the sunshine on a grassy section watching the elites go by. I had on shorts and t-shirt but not my planned race gear. I was eating chocolate cake (imagine that). Somewhere in my mind it clicked that if the elites were running I should probably make my way to the start line - I think the main race started a half hour later. I went in search of my running gear bag - I think I knew where it was but then I got distracted by the fact that I had not picked up my timing chip. In fact I think I'd by-passed packet pick-up completely. I didn't know if it was still open but figured I wouldn't have time. Next think I know the runners are coming towards me. I didn't even know where the start line was but that didn't matter now... I spotted a girl coming out of a building and joining in the race and contemplated doing that. But then I remembered I'd wanted to run a PR and what good would that be without the evidence of the timing chip! The funny thing was I wasn't even panicking...

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Good Run. Bad Run. Good Race?

Well, after a good run last Thursday along old Hwy 61 I was feeling all confident about Grandma's and was even harbouring dreams of a 3:10 (one of my 'lifetime' goals). I was all ready for taper and figured I'd just run a few miles twice before the race. Originally I'd planned an easy 6-8 miles today and then a few fast miles on Tuesday. But then last night I decided to consult "Run Less. Run Faster." Even though I am a strong advocate of this approach I have only vaguely followed the training plans laid out in the book - going between the 3:10 and 3:15 plans to figure out what I should be aiming for with my goal of 3:12.

So I opened the book to the 3:10 plan to see what was suggested for the final week. Two "key runs" - the first being speed and the second an easy run. Since the were so neatly laid out at #1 and #2 I decided I'd do them in that order. Note to self - stick with your original plan and not what it says in the book. Even though I think the book tells you to do the weekly workouts in whatever order you want...

Anyway, the speed workout plan was as follows:

10-20 min warm-up, 6 x 400m @ 1:24 (400m RI), 10 min cool-down.

Helen's "speed" workout went as follows:

15 min warm-up, 6 x 400m @ 1:50, 1:36, 1:46, 1:58, 2:05, 1:59, the RI were mostly walking (and sulking), and the cool-down was in the St. Croix. For reference, 1:57 is the 400m interval time for the 4:15 marathon training plan. Excellent.

I decided to run at Afton (along the river path) since I was going as far as St. Paul to climb and I figured it would be a nice flat surface and softer than the road or track. Which if course it was - and I suppose I can attribute a few seconds of each interval to the surface. But not forty. Oh well, maybe it's a good thing to have a crap run right before a big race. Keeps me grounded.

I worked off some frustration at the climbing gym on my way home. Actually had a great climb getting a few 5.8's that I've been working on. Slow progress - especially when you see 4ft nothing 10 year olds doing it in half the time - but fun and rewarding all the same!

Rather than accept tired legs and take the rest of the day off I wanted to be outside enjoying the sunshine so I biked 25M with Pam, Susan and Nic - hadn't been on the bike for a month so it was never going to feel great even with fresh legs... and of course our great intentions for a 'casual' ride went out the window almost immediately! And this after Pam's stellar 5:00:00 half IM at Liberty yesterday - awesome job. She came in 3rd female. And it was a "B" race for her with no taper!! Despite my legs it was a good ride and great to catch up with everyone.

Afterwards I decided to go to the track to calibrate my Suunto. I have this watch a long time but never got around to calibrating it and I knew it was slightly off (there's another 2-3 seconds I can take off the morning run... I'm down to a 4:05). I wouldn't be using this watch at all only I managed to LOSE my beautiful shiny relatively new garmin 405 sometime 8pm at FANS last weekend. I remember having it at the end of the 12hr race but no idea what I did with it after that. It was in my pocket as I'd taken it off when I'd got done running earlier in the day. Have searched the car and house several times but no joy. And nothing turned in after the race. So, it's back to the foot pod Suunto. Anyway, the calibration involved running 2 laps at 'marathon' pace - even on more tired legs this felt comfortable at 3:30 for 800m.

Moving on.

Weather for next weekend keeps changing - 2 days ago it said a high of 69. Perfect. Then it was predicting 75. OK. And now rain is forecast. Bummer. Hopefully it changes just as quickly again.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

SHT Vacation

I decided last week that I wanted to take my b'day (yesterday) off... not that I care to make a big deal of it but a good enough excuse to take a day off. Work has been mental and will continue to be so through the summer so I have decided to take a day here or there when I can. So what would I do for the day? Chill out? Catch up on my reading? Cut the grass? I guess I may have done all of those things but then I saw a message from Lisa on the SHT construction project. Perfect!

So I spent the last two days up north (too far to just go for one day!) working with Larry Sampson and crew on a new section heading south from the Rossini Road trailhead (about 20 mins from Hwy 61). It's a very nice section - will be about 5.5-6mi when complete. Larry and a range of volunteers, including a group of school kids who spent a week out there, have been at it since early May and are about halfway in. It was pretty tough going due to the endless tree roots. Not many rocks though. But lots of bugs... the only downside to summer in MN as far as I'm concerned!

Took a few photos...

Rossini Rd trailhead - I ran a few miles of the section north towards Lake Co Demo Forest this afternoon - nice trail, some rolling hills and a few rocky sections

About a mile in along the new trail heading south from Rossini Rd - nice wooded trail with a soft surface - reminded me of the section north of Sawbill, around the base of Britton Peak

Despite all the trees... in the interest of saving toenails... not a root in sight...

Well, except for this beauty...

Some nice overlooks...

The trail doesn't climb much in this section but the road in does so it's quite high up hence the lake view.

We had a debate over this tree - beech (which would be unusual in this area, apparently) or ironwood - I have no idea so I took a picture.

Some boardwalks...

And a beaver pond. Albeit an abandoned one...

Last big run before Grandma's...

Before heading to the trail this morning I got out for a 12mi run along the course - started at mile 15, ran to mile 9 and turned around. Started around 6:30am - it was still very cool so I wore a longsleeve over my vest. I'm assuming it will be warmer on race day but I might go with my arm-warmers. I had planned to start out at just under 7:30's as my current plan for the race is to start with the 3:15 pace group which will be a 7:26 pace - so I figured I'd simulate the first few miles of the race. Well, I hope I didn't do that since I started out with 7:05's... slowed down a bit but then everytime I started to concentrate on form, tight core, aligned pelvis, shorter stride, landing on mid-foot etc - I would automatically speed up. Good, but then, not good. Averaged 7:12 for the first 5, had taken a gel at mile 4, had water stashed at the turnaround, and then took 2 clif bloks at around mile 8. Sped up in the last few miles trying to stay close to 7:00's or below, to average 7:06 overall. With a 6:30 final mile. Which hurt. A lot. Which is EXACTLY how I want to finish the race :)

Sat in Lake Superior for a few minutes after I got done. It was f-r-r-r-e-e-z-i-n-g, my feet could only stand 10 second intervals so I held them up while trying to cool off my hamstrings. The left in particular has been really tight. I really need to get in for a massage in the next few days...

So, the training, such as it was for the past few months, is over. And now the taper. I'll run a few easy miles over the weekend and a few fast ones Monday night. And then nothing. And we shall see...

Sunday, June 7, 2009

A Fan of FANS

What can I say? After watching an amazing mix of athletes from aged 13 to 80+ circle Lake Nokomis time after time, in horrible conditions throughout most of yesterday into a chilly June night, I am at a loss for words... I have taken part in a variety of mostly tough races over the past few years but there was something incredible about this event. Watching Mike Henze crush the 24hr course record to hit 147 miles and being a part of John's team as he pushed his way to 80+ miles in 12 hours was sufficient reward for putting in a few volunteer hours throughout the morning and last night.

I had an absolute ball doing the record keeping for the 7-8am hour of short laps this morning. It was awesome watching runner after runner blast up and down the 1/8 mile strip to the sound of many cheering supporters. I have never seen so many tired bodies get a second - or most accurately a tenth - wind as they rounded the cone time and again to make every second count.

Each and every person out there was an inspiration. But a few runners come to mind - Karen Gall smiled even more than Carl which says something! I was blown away by her good mood as the day wore on and right through the night as she ran her way to over 100 miles. Janine Knutson - who just ran her first ultra at Chippewa - ran a super 12hr race to hit something like 55 miles. Wow! Kim Martin never seemed to slow down - I couldn't believe her pace on the short laps - to end with ~121 miles. It was awesome to see so many trail running friends - Julie (glad to hear Topaz is on the mend), Adam (who just made me laugh with his lack of enthusiasm when he stopped by on what was to be his final lap - never before did it seem so okay to not encourage someone to keep going!), Zach (where did you disappear to?!), John Taylor, Joel (way to run those short laps!!), Wayne, Kurt and several other familiar faces including Holly who was at AS 1 with me for a few hours in the middle of the night. And the kids out there were something else - Sue Olson's son John and his friend Nick who are 13 and 14, respectively, and another Nick who is also 13 - these guys ran the 24hr and all hit over 50 miles. I think John was close to 70 by the end. And they were so humble and good natured every time they came by the aid station. Really something.

No question I will be back at FANS next year. To volunteer again? I suspect not. More than once I have said this isn't a race for me but by 8am this morning that attitude was forever changed. A year is a long time but please God I will continue to stay healthy and (relatively) injury free... and find myself toeing the line at 8am. As for when to finish... I guess I have a while to think about that one :)

In the other big race this weekend... HUGE congrats to Matt on his awesome 6th place at Kettle Moraine 100M!! What an achievement. And so very well deserved after a dedicated early season of training. Congrats to Kevin on his first 100 mile finish. To Steve on his second in 2 months!!! To Pierre for... yet another one! And to Wynn on a new 100K CR. Sweet! Looking forward to the race reports.

Friday, June 5, 2009


Nooooo I have not decided to sign up at the last minute. I do some crazy things but not this one :)

But I will be down there bright and early for the 5:30-8:00am shift and again tomorrow night for the long haul. Though nothing compared to the runners... especially with the weather forecast. I know that it can be very hot some years but I'm not sure that high 40's and rain - possibly up to 1 inch tomorrow - can be that much better. Hopefully it doesn't come down quite as heavy as that.

Planning a 10-12M tempo run after I get finished up in the morning. Aiming for sub-7:30 pace though I haven't run 3 days in a row for a while so perhaps I'm being a bit optimistic. Will run from Nokomis up the parkway to Harriet and back - or something like that - and see how the runners are doing. Myself and Val had a blast at Afton this afternoon. Work has been mental all week, including a trip to DC with a flight that took 5.5hrs instead of 2.5... via Pittsburgh to refuel... what fun. So I badly needed to get out early today. We met up with Pam who'd biked with Colin from the park up to Stillwater and back and some more... 2hrs at a good clip and that after a tough swim workout this morning (and our track session last night!). Needless to say she was a bit tired so we did the Snowshoe loop and then Pam headed home while myself and Val went back out and over to the bike singletrack. Love it! I haven't been over there since last fall. I need to do it more often... there is something about singletrack that just makes you want to go FAST. Not that we were really going that fast but it felt like it. Legs felt great. Though my right knee was a bit sore by the end. We finished up with a run up the first hill on the race course and then soaked in the river for a few minutes before heading back to the car.

Got stuck into some gardening this evening. I am the least green-fingered person in the 'hood but I'm hoping the lawn fertilizer and a few flower pots will do the trick. Of course if it rains an inch tomorrow the fertilizer will end up in the drain. Though some moisture should help the little tree I planted. It'll need help seeing as I planted it about a foot shallower than instructed and used potting mix instead of tree stuff... can't be that different right? Not for the first time I imagined my neighbours looking out their window at me shaking their heads in dismay. Pam had given me a load of Iris' from her Mum's garden last night so I put them down also. Ha, 'put them down' - most likely.

Better think about bed soon I s'pose. 4:30AM won't be long coming around.

Hopefully all the FANS and Kettle Moraine runners are sleeping soundly. Good Luck to all!!