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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Chasing marks

Going into my most recent cycle of training and racing, I planned on the Payton Jordan 10k being my capstone race of spring training. I was excited with the race opportunities as a whole that my coach and I had lined up leading up to this big one. The schedule looked set. I was content with it.

However, after running a huge 5k PR at Stanford, and feeling workouts lock into place, the “A” standard of 33:20 for USA championships began to feel more and more within reach.

I felt fit, fast, and fired up. And I wanted to nab myself a spot on the start line of that 10k in late June in Des Moines.

I ran a good race, got to run nearly the entire thing with Kara (soon-to-be roommate and old teammate, who killed her 10k debut…NBD), and PR’d by almost a minute to nab myself a new mark of 33:37 in the 25-lapper. My time puts me on the qualifying map with a “B” standard, but not the guarantee of the “A.”

Payton Jordan 10kPhoto credit to the one and only Gary Towne.

Overall, it was an awesome night. I was lucky enough to have the support of a good chunk of the Chico State crew, my coach, family and friends who made the drive to see me. Honestly, anyone who sticks around for a 10k that doesn’t even start until damn near 11 p.m. should get a medal. Or better yet, cookies. With chocolate in them.

Anywho: to everyone who stuck around-you are really really really awesome.

Decision to end the season

Within the days following Payton Jordan, I had a decision to make. I could extend my season to give the mark another crack at the Portland Track Festival in several weeks. Or I could call it. Move on.

After thinking on it for several days, I decided to close the season. As much as I wanted another shot to show my fitness, when I looked at what I’ve got going on currently and in the immediate future, I feared that I would show up in Portland strung-out, tired, and not ready to tackle a fast 10k. I felt like it would be a real stretch to get myself there in the mental and physical condition that I wanted.

The decision left me feeling a bit happy/sad, in awe of how quickly my own expectations and confidence as an athlete have shifted, but still sad to see the season end. This mark wasn’t even on my radar at the beginning of March, but it was still a bit difficult to see it go.

I know that I have a lot of unfinished business with the 10k (and with many other distances, for that matter), which is possibly the most frustrating part about moving on from a season. No matter how big the PR is, it can become far too easy to finish a race and still feel a twinge of disappointment by the potential you possess that still has yet to come through.

I’ve learned that what can feel like a conflicting dissatisfaction is part of this whole competitive lifestyle. I’m lucky to be moving forward, to be where I am, with what I have ahead of me. I am anything but done with this sport.

So long as I still have that feeling, that hunger, it just means that I’m still in this.

I’m welcoming it.

New home, new cycle

I’m excited to focus on my move, which is coming up (three weeks from yesterday)! The opportunity to settle into my new home, new surroundings, and lack of oxygen, without the stress of being race-ready is appealing as well.

It feels like a good time to transition. And I’m really grateful for that.

For now, I’m doing my best to take a short break from running before gearing up for the next cycle of training…which will be for a fall marathon! Getting back on the track this spring to continue developing my speed was incredible and incredibly important to keep me moving forward. However, I’m hungry for another shot at a marathon, this time with a bit of experience under my belt and some Colorado mountain trails to build up some strength.

Bring on the miles!


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Holy wow, it’s been awhile!

The last time I posted, I was scrambling to get my wandering ass back from the mountains of Mammoth and into San Francisco for an interview, the longest distance I had raced to date was a mere 10k, and I had access to a sun-spotted, but well-functioning car.

…now, I’m five weeks into a full-time internship at a PR agency in the Financial District of San Francisco, in my first week of down-time post-marathon, and simultaneously holding my breath and pleading with a finicky car battery each time I attempt to start my ’96 Toyota Camry.

My, how quickly life can change!

Never a dull moment, that is for damn sure.

Life in San Francisco

My experience in the city so far has definitely been an adventure in itself.

I’ve been interning for the tech/gaming/consumer electronics public relations gurus over at TriplePoint PR. No, I don’t know a damn thing about gaming, but I am getting a crash course in tech PR.

Honestly, I couldn’t have asked for a more welcoming, knowledgeable, kick-ass group of professionals to be surrounded by while I get my own professional feet wet.

I’m definitely still settling in, enjoying the colorful scenery/people that the city has to offer, and getting used to an exorbitantly different paced life than I was living. Between work and training, I haven’t been left with a hell of a lot of free time to fully explore, but I’m looking forward to having a little more time to play with.

StreetArt

A bit of random street art on my commute into work via Muni. 

So far, I think one of my favorite parts of San Francisco has been living in what has to be a people-watching hotspot and discovering its widely distributed oddities, like the sign I pass on almost every run from my apartment, pointing me in the way of ‘nipple justice.’

I’m not exactly sure what nipple justice is, but I’m pretty sure that I want it.

Marathon Business

Ah, the marathon: a distance that even those who know next to nothing about distance running regard with devout respect.

The 26.2 mile race obviously calls on endurance-based athletes for the challenge. Almost immediately after I began running, it became evident that my strength in the sport lies within, well, my strength.

During my brief years of high school running, my two mile mark was far superior to my mile. My collegiate years didn’t prove to be too much different, generally yielding superior 10k marks than my 5k attempts.

In other words, I’m about as endurance-geared as they come. The transition to the distance was definitely a long-anticipated one for me.

I managed my first semblance of a season outside of collegiate athletics this fall. In fact, I managed it pretty damn well, and got myself into arguably the best shape I’ve ever enjoyed. As an athlete, you really can’t ask for much more than that in terms of growth.

I ran some low-key cross country races and a strong half-marathon mid-November, but kept my eyes on December 2, when the gun would go off for the California International Marathon.

Now, here’s the thing. December is a known winter month. I have personally come to associate December with the holidays, long coats, scarves, hats, heated blankets, peppermint lattes, and about 23 separate renditions of “Santa Claus is comin’ to town.”

Christmas music aside, to me, December=Cold.

Simple enough, right?

Here’s the thing. Predicting weather in Northern California has proven to be tricky and/or impossible. Sometimes the winter months are rainy/windy/cold, and sometimes they feel like the first day of autumn.

December 2, 2012 was both. Unfortunately the latter of the two weather varietals didn’t come until about a half hour after the race was done.

This year’s event will be remembered as one of “the storm” years of CIM, with flooding and 30 mph winds to hammer through. Some of the buses didn’t make it to the start line in time because of accidents caused due to flooding, and apparently part of the race was re-routed at a certain point because of a down power line.

Despite the less than perfect conditions, I managed a 9th place 2:44.22 debut, and enough excitement to have me dreaming about what kind of marks I can get after in better conditions and with gained experience.

Marathon

Photo Credit: Gary Towne

I left the race with a severe fear of stairs for the next several days, a purple toe nail, and an ear-to-ear grin that sure as hell is carrying me over into my next round of training.

Mimosa+Michaela

Enjoying a mimosa post-race…because I’m classy like that. And lucky enough to have my high school friend Michaela brave the conditions and make it to greet me at the finish line!

Transitions

I’ve experienced huge shifts in life within the past half year, kicking it all off by bidding the student lifestyle adieu and jumping into a wonderful stint of travel and non-location specific living. Then (slightly unexpectedly), I got my foot in the door professionally, interviewed, accepted a position, and started the 40 hour-a-week life within less than a three week span.

I wish I could say that I’ve effortlessly jumped into my new life in San Francisco.

I wish I could say that I’ve instantly perfected the balance of full-time work and intensive training.

I wish I could say that I’ve mastered the art of time-travel, managed to live out several lives in the span of one normal one, and have been nominated for a Nobel prize.

…I could go on for awhile.

Pure and simple, the change has been a lot to take in, and has definitely been the most drastic life shift I’ve experienced in awhile. More than ever, I’ve been forced to evaluate my priorities, what makes and keeps me happy, and ultimately take responsibility for them.

You know what? Life could be a hell of a lot worse.

Just because it isn’t easy doesn’t mean it isn’t good. To say that I’m “learning a lot” seems a gross understatement of the concept. And isn’t that what life is all about-learning?

A little cliché, but clichés stand for a reason, right?