Adventuring with Alia

Chronicles of a distance runner


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MIA at the US Marathon Championships

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.

The deal 

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.

Recovery presents

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.

The group

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.

The take-away?

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.

Get excited!

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Learning to run slow

One of the most important caveats that I’ve had to learn at altitude so far is the importance of running slow.

Wait, what?

I know, I ultimately moved here to run faster, not slower. Hear me out. 

Changing thought

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. 

Fair enough.

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.

rollinsville_run

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.


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Thoughts on graduation

Graduation season is upon us my friends. Every year, without fail, Facebook nearly goes into overload with pictures of grad caps, sashes, celebratory drinks, and mushy status updates about how proud people are of their loved ones who make it to walk across that stage in oversized gowns.

Guess what?

I am totally one of those mushy people this year.

My little(ish) brother Landon graduated from high school Friday. I feel that I have to include the “ish” because in recent years, he racked up a couple mean growth spurts and has turned into some kind of adult, or man-child. I’ll stick with the latter description for now.

Landon did his thang Friday, had his grad party at our house today, and then I ship out for Boulder, CO tomorrow morning for my not-so-patiently awaited move.

Graduation and grad partyGraduation and the grad party 

All of this has thrown the entire family into a hyper-sentimental/nostalgic time. I’ve caught my mom just staring at me and smiling several times within the last week. And I’ve randomly received old pictures of me striking Charlie’s Angeles poses and the like with my high school comrades, dug out from the shoebox archives, courtesy of my dad.

I know, they’re a pretty adorable duo.

My in-house performance playing the role of annoyed offspring has been practically award-winning.

In other news, I have to admit I’ve gone a bit mushy as well.

Sappy-ness

My younger brother is off to the University of North Texas to study trumpet performance. Not music education. Or something that secures a bit more of a stable career path. And I’m leaving to continue doin’ what I’m doin’ with other people who are doin’ the same thing in Colorado.

Somehow my two completely sensible parents with medical professional jobs raised two ragamuffin kids. In case I didn’t completely shoot their nerves in the first go-around, Landon has to have done some real solid follow-up damage.

Well done, bud. I’ve taught you well.

In all seriousness, this post originated from some reflection on how my brother and I have gotten to where we are, and the abundance of opportunities that we’ve each been fortunate enough to have. And it really seems to stem from our parents.

The support that they’ve given each of us through everything (hovercraft creation, flamenco dancing, flute playing, choir, horseback riding, to name a few), has always been laced with the empowering underlying notion that we truly had the capacity to do whatever we set our mind to (cue, “aww”).

These guys deserve some major credit.

Many times they haven’t fully understood what we’ve each chosen to set our minds to over the years, and I know that they are far from done trying to understand the many more decisions that we each make in years to come. But they’re incredibly supportive on a core level. On a level that I’ve come to realize not everyone has the good fortune to grow up with.

Family at graduati

Tomorrow!

Antsy doesn’t even begin to describe how ready I am to get out there (ready being a loose interpretation of the word…I’m staring into a couple open suitcases as I type).

That said, I should put some more stuff into them. I’m going to take the sun setting fully as my cue to get serious about packing my life into suitcases.

Until next time, folks!


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Back to the track

Anyone who read my last post knows that my 15k in Gate River wasn’t exactly up to my performance standards as an athlete.

My training in general was yo-yoing for whatever reason. I was frustrated. A little exasperated. I tortured myself by reminiscing on the splits that I was running in my fall segment of training. I briefly fell into what I call “post-breakup panic.”

Essentially, the familiar phenomenon that occurs when something in the present isn’t quite going as you had perfectly mapped out in your head, and you make some aspect of your past out to be better than it probably was…failing to acknowledge the pitfalls during that time, only seeing the good attributes somehow now enormously (and typically undeservingly) magnified.

You aren’t thinking rationally. All you know is that something in you wants to do anything to get it (him, her, etc.) back. This genre of panic often leads to some interesting choices.

We’ve all been there, or watch good friends go there.

Except in this case, I couldn’t sit by myself, get sloppy drunk on whiskey, and blubberingly hiccup myself through a phone call that I know I’d come to regret even through the thick liquor-induced haze.

That training cycle was gone. There was no getting it back.

The perfect training cycle

The Gate River race, and really the entire weekend, was a great wake-up call for me. I was training, but something wasn’t clicking.

I was out of the city setting, back to great trail running, a flexible work schedule, and nightly home-cooked meals. Not exactly what you call a charity case.

Essentially, it was time for me to pull up my big girl spandex and get back to work.

I had stupidly been waiting for perfect workouts, perfect training weeks, and was pissed that things weren’t snapping into place. I mentioned that I was missing my fall fitness, but I was failing to remember that that cycle hadn’t started so amazingly either. I had started in arguably the worst shape I’ve been in in years, post-Europe, aka post-five-week-love-affair-with-olive oil-and-sangria-and-occasional-running, at best.

Is there such thing as a perfect training cycle? Who the hell knows.

Swiftness of change

Coming out of Gate River, I wondered if it would even be a good idea to run at Stanford. The date was creeping closer, and I had felt so drastically under prepared for the 15k, that my competitive confidence wasn’t exactly soaring.

However, with a refreshed attitude, training started to turn around after Gate. I ran some workouts that surprised me, and left me actually excited to race, all within the span of a few short weeks.

I felt renewed.

Going into last week, someone astutely noted that perhaps my most significant change was that I had decided that I actually wanted to race that weekend at Stanford. So true.

I toed the line of the third heat, raced the 5k and pr’d by 26 seconds for a final time of 16:14.

The rest of the weekend was spent with my face hurting from smiling, feeling overwhelmed by the support and excitement around me, and humbled by how quickly things had taken a turn for the better.

Stanford 5k

Photo (and coaching) cred. to Mr. Gary Towne

I’m off to the SacTown 10 miler this coming Sunday. Yip!


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Uptight Laid-Back

A friend once told me that I was the most uptight laid-back person she had ever met.

For better or worse, the seeming oxymoron of a description of a person seems to fit me all too well. It also seems to describe my current situation.

I went from feeling suffocated by the strict scheduling of my work/training/life juggling act in San Francisco, to not knowing what the fuck to do with myself in this floater phase that I’ve found myself back in.

I don’t have a regular job, but I don’t necessarily feel relaxed.

For now, I’m trying to strike a balance between allowing myself to be present (aka, chilling out), allowing myself to enjoy the perks of being in-between work, and keeping my eyes on the future.

On taking advice

I’m in a space of life where I’m receiving a lot of advice. And here’s the thing: I truly want to talk to everyone and explore the plethora of options that life has to offer. But, I have to say, the responses have been kind of all over the place.

Why don’t you just get a full running sponsorship? (Ha!)

You should look into a career in computer programming.

Isn’t journalism dead anyway?

You should pull on your spandex, walk into a gym, and demand a job as a personal trainer just based of athleticism.

You’re batshit crazy for even thinking about leaving San Francisco.

You’re batshit crazy for even thinking about living in San Francisco in the first place.

You’re just batshit crazy. Period.

Through all of this, I’ve drawn one conclusion: I am the only one who is to make my life decisions.

SHOCKING, I know. Is this what growing up is?

Studying for class, I mean life…

Lately, I’ve found myself gravitating toward literature and film/video relating to living life, for lack of a better description.

Here’s what I’ve intellectually consumed within the past couple months, for anyone who wants to follow the made-up class that I’ve haphazardly constructed for myself.

  • The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey
  • Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler
  • Happiness (a documentary)
  • Bossypants by Tina Fey
  • The 4-hour Work Week by Tim Ferris (in progress)

I’m not running to the self-help section of the bookstore and sobbing in a hernia-inducing manner or anything. I’m merely insatiably fascinated by the different ways that people have found to live, the different ways that people find fulfillment on a regular basis.

I’m confident that I’m exactly where I need to be right now, and I’m determined to explore the different ways people make the jigsaw puzzle of life work.

*Disclaimer: For anyone who hasn’t read Bossypants, you may actually be putting yourself at risk for a hernia from laughing too hard.

Right meow

I’m back in Santa Rosa, soaking up the absurdly beautiful February weather, the red-dirt trails of Annadel State Park, and trying to prove my worth as a daughter by doing dishes and dropping my mom off at work in the morning.

That should do it, right?

My first real race of the season will be Gate River on March 9 in Jacksonville, FL for the USA 15k Championships (I admit, I didn’t know there was such a thing as a USA 15k Championship before this…but why the hell not?!). As the date creeps closer, it is becoming apparent that the volunteer elite coordinator Richard Fannin does a hell of a job pulling in athletes. The field is going to be ridiculous, and I can’t wait to be in that atmosphere, surrounded by badasses. AND three other ladies that run for SRA will be there, making a team score possible.

In the meantime, I’m working on getting work, and picking up freelance jobs on the side. My hope is to find some type of part-time work that will allow me to continue pursuing my freelance and running bum ambitions simultaneously.

Why not?

Yip!


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Adjustments

I began my internship in the beginning of November in San Francisco. I dove headfirst into a move, full-time job, and full-time training.

Since then, my mind has been like some sort of real-life rigged pinball machine, seizure-inducing flashing lights, obnoxious noises and all. I really, really wish that there was someway to record my complete stream of consciousness.

…on second thought, maybe not.

Anywho, the past three months have been a rollercoaster. I’ve had a lot of really amazing experiences, and they haven’t come without their fair share of difficulties. I could sit here and write out endless cliché phrases about finding your way in life and all that good shit, but when I was feeling particularly low, my mom threw out this one that stuck with me.

“You are in a transition. Embrace the bumps, they make you ask the important life questions.” 

Well said, momma.

With some writing, ocean air, a healthy dose of honesty, and the help of some red wine, I’m proud to say that I’ve done a lot of growing up in the span of three months. This is a quick post to catch y’all up on where I’m positioning myself next (mentally positioning, at least).

Plight of the working runner

Growing up, I’d always looked to San Francisco as a place that I wanted to live, at least for a bit as a young adult. It was close enough for my family to come in occasionally for a “city day,” or, (when I got my driver’s license) to drive in with a friend for concerts.

In case you’re wondering, yeah, I felt pretty damn cool driving into “the city” for concerts as a high schooler. Even cooler because they were concerts for bands like Something Corporate (try not to laugh too hard).

San Francisco has definitely not disappointed in the way of something new and exciting. I’ve never lived in a city as urbanized as this before, and I’ve learned a hell of a lot just in my day to day operations.

A handful of my adjustments/learnings/observations to life in San Francisco have been some of the following:

  • Nocturnal running is necessary with full-time work, in the morning when the moon is still bright and at night after hours (when the hell is daylight savings?!?)
  • Stretching on my bus ride into work is a good use of time, as tempting as it is to sit the whole time
  • The anger and cursing that follows chasing a missed bus and can be almost completely cured by a cup of coffee while waiting for the next one
  • Avoiding hills is impossible. Impossible.
  • Moving a month before the peak in a training cycle is doable, but not the way I would choose to make a move again
  • Colorful buildings are fun to look at.
  • Colorful people are also fun to look at.

What now?

To keep saying that “I’ve learned a lot,” seems to be putting the description of this entire experience to a disservice.

This internship has been great for me for a multitude of reasons, but ultimately I have simply felt stretched too thin, trying to accomplish too many things at once. The way that an agency operates doesn’t generally accommodate a variety of schedules. Not a bad thing, but possibly just a cue that it’s not the best fit for me.

Running is obviously an important part of my life, and also happens to be incredibly time-bound. I’m feeling such a strong pull toward training, and I really believe that there is a way to pursue the elite lifestyle without completely screwing my career outside of running. Time to get creative!

Haven’t quite figured it out yet, but I’m getting there.

This being said, I’ve decided to take a step back from the city, to figure out a way to make this life and this dream work. I’m still searching for that work/training/life sweetspot, and I’m excited and ready to try something new.

Open door?

Despite the challenging circumstances, the decision to leave the city has not been an easy one. I really do love San Francisco. It’s a socially, intellectually and culturally stimulating place to breathe in. There is always something to do! And it really is a beautiful area to live in…no wonder why it’s so damn expensive.

But, with the price tag of living here being so exorbitant, the work schedule required to pay rent can be quite the juggling act to figure out. And it most certainly doesn’t leave a whole lot of wiggle room for someone in-between jobs.

I’m not necessarily saying a final goodbye to San Francisco. I’m simply finishing up my internship this Wednesday, and taking a step back, evaluating my options, and, most importantly…

breathing.


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The Times They Are a Changin’


Literally.

It’s the eve of yet another year, and somehow, I’m right back where I was about a year ago, dumbstruck, and wondering where in the hell all that time went.

All right, that’s a little bit of a lie. I have a pretty good idea of where all that time went.

Quick and Dirty

This past year has been one hell of a ride, to put it simply. When I really contemplate all that it happened, I can’t believe my good fortune to have had so many opportunities, experiences and encounters with amazing people.

I’m one lucky gal.

The quick and dirty summary of my year goes something like the following.

  • Kicked off the year with a roadtrip up to Portland (one of many places I’ve toyed with in my quest to find a place to live)
  • Ran several PRs on the track for a really special senior season, and received my fourth collegiate All-American to cap it off at nationals in Colorado

Final NCAA with Kara

  • Graduated from college (though didn’t officially walk across the stage…I had a more ‘casual’ graduation. Hanging out in Colorado before nationals sounded like more fun.)

Graduation (kind of)

  • Found out my name was stamped on an international plane ticket leaving for London, only three weeks before the departure date
  • Loved every second of my five week adventure in Europe

Burano Houses

  • Made it back alive from traveling solo (a serious accomplishment, considering my (lack of) directional skillz)
  • Saw my cousin get married in Delaware (think My Big Fat Greek Wedding style…kind of. BIG family)

Wedding

  • Joined the Sacramento Running Association for my first move in post-collegiate running

Ancil Hoffman XC

  • Started a full-time internship at TriplePoint PR
  • Moved to San Francisco
  • Ran my first marathon

…well played, 2012.

Gearing up for Spring

My fall session of training was an enormous learning curve in itself. Competing after college is a whole different game, but the change has been a bit liberating, and exhilarating the whole way through. I’m already itching to be back on a workout schedule. “Easing” back into running has taken some restraint, as I often find myself so immersed in thought that I end up running at a clip I have no business holding in my first couple weeks back on the trails.

With all the mud and fresh air out there, can you really blame me?!

As nice (and necessary) as a break from a long bout of training can be, returning to the grind is pretty awesome too. It’s my outlet, and I always return feeling more balanced, happy and sweaty. (Ha.)

The excitement definitely isn’t lacking as it’s time to start looking at a brand spakin’ new racing schedule. I’m still working out the details with my coach, but just talking about my options for the spring has got me rearing to get back at it.

Taking Deep Breaths

It’s difficult to not come off a year like that and think, “what’s next?” I’m lucky that I’m at an age and in an area of my life to keep dreaming, keep fine-tuning, keep striving to find what really makes me tick.

It definitely hasn’t been my easiest year, but it’s been my fullest.

I’ve never felt so alive.

If I’ve learned one thing this year, it’s to not be afraid to grab life by the cajónes and give whatever crazy notion currently resides in your head a shot. Or to do it anyway, especially if it scares you.

I’ve got a couple resolution-type ideas swirling around in this brain of mine.

How about you? 

Ready…

Set….