Hey there! I (evidently) have not updated this blog for quite some time. You can find me rambling and writing over at my new site: aliagray.com. Thanks for reading! -Alia
Remember that one cross country race that you executed perfectly? You trained the perfect amount and managed a taper with just the right balance of rest and active stimulation for your legs and lungs. You were able to go out hard, race with confidence and grace and tie it all together with a badass kick, not showing any signs of pain or weakness other than maybe a bit of a grimace for good measure. Afterward, you went around distributing and receiving enthusiastic high-fives and everyone was happy and no one puked or felt like fainting and it was the BEST DAY EVER.
No? Doesn’t sound familiar?
Well here’s something to think about: “perfect” cross country races? I don’t believe in them.
Cross country is painful in its entirety, gritty, and overall not very pretty. Just stand by the finishing chutes of a race and watch the vast majority of the field come stumbling through the line. That situation has got to be one of the most accurate portrayals of the phrase “blood, sweat and tears.” At times, cross country running seems closer to waging a personal war on any given course than running with perfect fitness.
Of course fitness is needed, but at the end of it all, true cross country tends to come down to a “survival of the toughest.” And that is one of the many reasons why I believe that it is as true to the core of running possible.
Too often, we get tied up in exact fitness. We attempt to equate all our workout splits down to the most minute details, factoring in all possible elements affecting performance on any given day at any given time. While diligence and attention to detail are undeniably pertinent aspects training, it becomes easy to get carried away and lose sight of the actual enjoyment of the sport.
Sometimes, we need something to shake us enough to remember why we’re out there in the first place: to kick ass.
As my HTS Elite teammates and I gear up for club cross country next weekend in Bend, OR, I’m trying to keep this in mind. I’m excited for my fitness coming back to me through some painful-cross country specific workouts, but more than anything I can’t wait to race as part of a badass team on a course that is more than rumored to be “true” cross country.
Last spring, as I was spreading the word of my approaching move out of state, I received a certain reaction many times. It would generally consist of a pause, sometimes a head tilt, and something along the lines of:
“You know it snows there, right?”
Yes. Duh. I knew that living in Colorado would mean learning to grapple with a bit more of a winter than I had grown up with. Luckily my move in June secured a handful of fairly warm months before the snow started. And now…it’s actually beginning.
Last Thursday, I woke up to a blanket of white outside which was equally frigid as it was beautiful.
Growing up in Northern California, snow days were a phenomenon that I only saw in movies. I didn’t really have a grasp on what a “snow day” would actually be like, but I knew that I wanted it…mainly because it would consist of no school and also probably a good amount of hot chocolate and other wonderful things I was positive I was being deprived of.
Snow day = a “Christmas-y” day of sorts, right? Sounds logical. It’s understandable why I would find it upsetting that I did not get to partake in this sensational experience. Not to worry though; I’m about to do the “snow” thing many times over in the coming months.
Impact on training
Unfortunately the beautiful white stuff outside also makes for some less-than-ideal running conditions from time to time.
Friday was one of those days.
Our usual morning workout was pushed indoors to the human gerbil machines (treadmills) to avoid ice. Luckily HTS Elite has access to the awesome facilities over at Rally Sport here in Boulder. We took over the long line of treadmills, and noisily got our various workouts in.
Photos curtesy of Brad Hudson
To be honest, there is a part of me that is childishly excited about the snow. I’ve never experienced a white holiday season, and even as cold as it is, the beauty is astounding. Looking up at the Flatirons covered in a silvery dust is breathtaking.
However, I’m generally surrounded by people who have a fairly good idea of what to expect from coming months; they’ve already been here through a full winter and spring cycle. And I’ve heard many times over that the worst is by far yet to come.
So, we’ll see how this attitude of excitement fluctuates as the cold persists past the holiday season and into track.
But for now, I’m enjoying the change in seasons and white-dusted surroundings.
I’ve gotten asked by a handful of people if I’m now looking to a late fall or spring marathon.
In short: no. There are a couple reasons why.
1. I’m effing tired
I loved this segment of marathon training. This stuff, the long, strength-based work, is my bread and butter. I am in my element.
However, it’s draining both physically and mentally. To give a marathon the focus and dedication that I feel it deserves, I need some time away from it.
As frustrating as it was to have to forego a fall marathon due to a stubborn right foot, I’d rather wait for another one when I have the time to prepare again than rush into one unready to fully tackle the monster of a race.
I really believe that these types of breaks are crucial to me in my pursuit of becoming good marathoner. I’ll be hungry for the training and the racing when it rolls around again, not burnt out.
2. Speed development
Speed has never been the most natural part of the sport for me. It certainly comes around, but I personally feel the need to keep segments of faster training in my seasons of workouts. I don’t want to neglect that part in my haste to post a fast marathon time.
One of those “working on weaknesses” or “opportunities for growth” concepts. We’ve all got at least a couple of ‘em.
Getting back my routine back
For now, I’m re-introducing my body back to the routine of training. I’m able to run on a soft-surface daily and show up to more and more practices, which has improved my mood drastically.
I’m treating this time period as an opportunity to build a strong foundation going into what will become some incredibly busy running months. HTS Elite recently partnered with Jay Johnson’s training group for some general strength maintenance work, which is a perfect time to implement new good training habits.
We’ve only just started, but I think we’re well on our way to becoming super buff distance running machines.
Watch out world.
Welp, this is not quite the blog post that I had hoped to put up post Twin Cities Marathon weekend.
My training segment leading into October had brought me to a new level of fitness. It seemed that the early patience in my coach’s conservative approach to adjusting me to the new area and altitude had paid off. I had high hopes as the big day approached; this was my first completely focused marathon training segment, and I felt ready.
As far as fitness goes, I certainly was ready. Unfortunately, I this time around I fell a bit short of actually being able to see it through.
I was handling the mileage and marathon-specific workouts well up until 10 days out. During a fairly relaxed workout session, I noticed my right arch cramping and not letting up. To play things safe, I stopped the workout about 5k short of what we had in the books for the day.
At the time, I actually wasn’t too concerned. My foot just felt generally tight and I didn’t want to push it to something worse. I grew much more worried as the pain increased after I stopped running. Not good.
With a solid week of resting the crap out of it, rehabbing it, a last attempt at a workout the Wednesday before the race made my heart-breaking decision for me. After a mere three miles at marathon pace, my foot was so inflamed that I couldn’t cool down. Even attempting to gut out an entire marathon was out of the question.
Getting over it
This one wasn’t an easy one to swallow, but you know what? At the end of the day it’s only a race. One race. It doesn’t mean forever, just right now. I’ve been injured before and let the loss of that immediate competition completely unravel me. And has that ever worked out well for me? Not once.
This time around I did whatever I could in my immediate grasp, but understood that sometimes your body just isn’t in a place to cooperate. I felt that I was taking the necessary steps toward healing, but I ran out of time. My foot just wasn’t ready to be run on quite yet.
Disclaimer: I came to this enlightened state of mind with the help of awesome friends, red wine and chocolate.
My hairdresser brought her A-game when she saw the boot and mustered up a glass of red for me. And my awesome teammates and friends put together a package of kind words, sugar, nail polish and Halloween stickers. If that doesn’t say “get better soon,” I don’t know what does.
This isn’t the first injury that has sidelined me, and it likely won’t be the last. Set-backs are a part of the athletic process, and I like to think that they tend to weed out the mentally tough from those who aren’t willing to work when things get rough.
I am continually amazed by the support and enthusiasm that I’ve been lucky enough to be surrounded with in Boulder, throughout training and during this setback.
(Quick shout-out to my incredible training partner, friend and roommate Nicole Feest, who did make it to Twin and nailed her marathon debut, in 2:41 style. Olympic Trials qualifier!!)
The group that trains out here under the guidance of Brad Hudson has an awesome dynamic that I feel truly lucky to be a part of. Brad’s dedication to his athletes is astonishing as are the character of the runners that he coaches. Pretty awesome.
I know that the months of work leading into this all has made me a better athlete overall and I can’t wait to get the chance to demonstrate it. That work doesn’t just disappear. It’s just hibernating for a short amount of time.
I also know that there are better things ahead, and despite the crappiness of this situation, I still feel lucky to be where I am right now.
Throughout everything, Boulder has become a home to me.
Right now, I’m off to get some R&R in the Virgin Islands (oh yeah!) and rest this baby up. I’ll be back in action with fall cross country racing. I’m already counting down the days until I get to toe the line with my HTS Elite teammates at the club cross country race in Bend, OR come December.
One of the most important caveats that I’ve had to learn at altitude so far is the importance of running slow.
I know, I ultimately moved here to run faster, not slower. Hear me out.
I love my aerobic runs. I love running a decently fast pace on my aerobic runs. However, since moving to 5,000 ft. I heard the necessity of running easy on aerobic/recovery days echoed again and again.
Run your easy runs easy, so you can run your hard runs hard.
Recovering from hard efforts is not something to be taken lightly, especially when you’re operating in altitude. Even when you’re acclimated, you’re still depleting your body more than you would at sea level.
I understood, but still had a tough time breaking the habit. I’d wear my GPS watch on aerobic runs purely to keep my pace in check, routinely swearing at myself when I would inevitably see mile splits that dipped too low. There was a constant game of tug-of-war going down between my mental and physical capacities. Highly obnoxious.
The “aha” moment
The tug-of-war game continued until I had what I’ll call my running slow “aha” moment several weeks ago. I finished a decent workout, started my three mile cool-down, and realized that I genuinely didn’t want to run one damn bit faster than I absolutely had to. It was more of a glorified shuffle, if you will.
It. Was. Fantastic. I got it. Running slow…is pretty awesome.
Solo to supported
I could be completely delusional, but the partial neurosis that a year of solitary training propagated in me was difficult to let go of. I didn’t fully comprehend the amount of mental energy I was expending before and during workouts alone until now.
Conversely, I also had a difficult time summoning that amount of intensity explicitly for workout days without allowing it seep into my regular runs as well.
Having a group to run with out here has already changed my training for the better in so many ways. Group runs let me enjoy the recovery that aerobic days should be without getting impatient. It’s more than just a run; it’s a much needed social outlet as well.
One of the many Sunday long run group pictures, courtesy of Brad Hudson.
It’s only been two months here, but I just fall more and more in love with this place.
I hyped up my move to Colorado, then went a bit MIA in the form of updates. That is, aside from changing my Facebook location within the first 48 hours and the occasional Instagram post. I even had a request to step up my Instagram game, particularly with more “selfies.”
Yeeaaaah, no. Sorry, Rach.
Anywho, I suppose I’ve been a bit hesitant to jump into writing and making assumptions/declarations about what I’ve just started, partially because I’ve wanted to give myself an actual chance to experience this new life without immediately trying to get all analytical and shiz. And partially because I’ve just been having TOO MUCH FREAKING FUN.
My life here so far has consisted of running and hiking in beautiful places, meeting new people, eating, and, ahem, hydrating in various forms of the word. I know, rough, right?
I’ve been in this beautiful state for the better part of a month now and can safely say that I am in love. Northern California is undoubtedly beautiful, but Colorado reminds me that different variations of natural beauty abound. Every day I’m out and get a good look at the Flatirons that tower over the city of Boulder I’m practically giddy.
Mountains! Real, big ones!
This place is essentially the Disneyland of outdoor recreation, and for good reason. I see everything from rock climbing, biking, kayaking and tubing regularly on my runs along the Boulder Creek Path. Pretty cool.
Several posts ago, I talked about my decision to end my season following Payton Jordan 10k. A big part of this was knowing that I had a move to altitude, a shift in coaching, and a lot of adjustments in general ahead of me. I wanted to have space to adapt to my new surroundings in peace, without stressing about having to perform immediately.
Sounds extremely logical and maybe even a bit of a serene way to transition, right?
Well, maybe the logical part is true. The serene part…not so much. Right now I’m building a good base of mileage and adjusting to the altitude. So far so good.
What I wasn’t expecting was to want back at full training so quickly. It occurred to me that this is the first time I’ve trained with a group whose training/racing cycle I wasn’t mirroring exactly. Watching people run fast when you’re not quite there yet…oh man. Let’s just say it’s got me aching to join in the fun.
Of course, I know that I’ll have a whole new transition coming to me when the real workouts start. I’m leaning toward the Twin Cities Marathon in October, which means that soon enough I’m going to be in full swing.
One of the biggest reasons that I made the jump to move to Boulder was to be a part of a group again. I’m starting to run with Brad Hudson’s group, and they definitely haven’t disappointed in being an entertaining cast of characters.
The other day Kara and I were talking about the depth of personalities present. Training at this point doesn’t keep happening because it’s convenient. It keeps happening out of a shared labor of love. Each person has their own individual backstory of how they came to be here and is inspiring in their own right.
I’m feeling pretty lucky to have the opportunity to be out here, soaking it all up.
Settling Down, I mean In
Right now, I still feel like I’m on vacation. But I start to feel more of a routine every day, and am getting better acquainted with the town bit by bit. I finally feel like I’m in a spot that I want to settle myself in, not just move on transiently in a couple months’ time. I feel myself winding down from my past year of bouncing around geographically.
It’s a good feeling. A little peaceful, even.
If you can’t find me, check over here.
South Boulder Trail