Monday, October 17, 2011

Race Report: Denver Rock 'n Roll Marathon

I can't think of a creative intro, so let's get straight to the race recap!

The start line for the race was downtown, about a 20 minute walk from my house.  Even though I was so close, didn't have to deal with parking, and the race didn't start until 6:55am, my alarm rang at 4:30.  Yuck.  Luckily waking up was not hard as I slept very well the night before.  I did my best to relax physically and mentally all day Saturday.  I spent some quality time on the couch, watching the Texas-OU game (meh) and the Hawaii Ironman online (awesome!).  I dressed in my race outfit with throw-away cover-ups purchased from Goodwill (warm-up pants, hoodie, and gloves for $8!), grabbed my gear bag, some waffles and peanut butter, and headed out the door.

Gear check opened at 5:30, and I got there at about 5:25.  I was the first one to check my bag when it opened.  I then walked down to the Blue Bear at the Convention Center to meet my running group.   Guess what?  I can stand fully upright underneath the Bear's crotch!  You learn something new every day!

I warmed up, chatted with my coaches and training partners, made multiple bathroom stops, and headed back to the start line.  The best part of having a good night sleep the night before was that I felt very ready and very calm.   When I haven't slept well before a race I have nervous energy to contend with while waiting for the start.

Before the start
I lined up in my corral - (my) lucky number 11!  My goal for this race was 4:45, but I thought I would be happy with anything sub-5.  The official race pace group for a 4:45 finish was in my same corral.  I did not want to run with them because I needed to stick to my 9/1 run/walk strategy.  But I planned to keep them near me throughout the race so I would have a good sense of whether my pace was on track or not.

The race started with a "LET'S ROCK AND ROLL!" and I was off!

I made a conscious effort to go s-l-o-w the first few miles to properly warm up and not get too caught up in the early race frenzy.  I had 26.2 miles to cover, I didn't want to blow it early on.  My Garmin was a little off on mileage (my watch said about two tenths of a mile over each time I passed a mile marker) and I didn't really trust that it was giving me an accurate pace.  I stopped focusing on my actual pace and only paid attention to my average pace, which seemed to be about right, although a probably a hair fast.  I was glad to have the pace group nearby as an extra check that I was on target.

Cruising By Coors Field around the 5K point
I ran slightly ahead of the pace group for about the first half.  I made my way past Coors Field through downtown and up the hill to City Park.  I ran into one of my coaches (wearing a "Coach" bib meaning she could go anywhere on the course) and she ran with me for a couple miles.  I felt pretty good at this point.  My favorite band/song of the day was playing right as I entered the park - "Oh What a Night!"

Next the race worked its way over to Cheesman Park, a regular stomping running ground of mine.  At this point the half-marathoners split off from runners doing the full.  A woman looked at me and said, "I guess there's no turning back now."  Nope.

My experience at my last marathon was, in a nutshell, first 13.1 easy, 14-16 kinda tough, 17-19 second wind, 20-26 OMG get me out of here!  My experience was fairly similar this time, except I thought that the race just got gradually tougher miles 14-19.  Starting at the half-marathon point, the pace group caught up with me.  I passed them, they passed me, rinse repeat. 

The next park was Wash Park, where I have trained at least once a week everyday for the last year (according to Foursquare, I've checked in 27 times in the last 6 months), so it was comforting to arrive there.  I saw a port-a-potty with no lines around Mile 18 and decided to take the opportunity.  I fell behind the pace group at this point, but they were still in my sights.  I decided to take it easy and hold back until Mile 20, then I planned to let go and give it everything I had.

My speed up at Mile 20, pass the pace group, and never look back plan lasted only until about Mile 22.  I caught up with them briefly, but then huge waves of mental fatigue and self-doubt set in.  Why do people voluntarily sign up for this kind of thing?!?  If you look at my splits, I did speed up for a couple miles, but once I got to Mile 23, I needed to slow down back to my normal pace.

I saw another one of my coaches at this point and she ran with me from Mile 23 to 26, which was amazingly helpful.  I told her I felt fine but that I was struggling mentally. I was not in a place where I could smile or talk or express appreciation in any way, but I did really appreciate that she was there.  She re-filled a water bottle from my fuel belt, which were all empty at this point, and she calmly told me periodically how far we had to go.  She asked me if I wanted to catch back up to the pace group and I said no.  As long as I could see them, I knew I was in range of my goal time and that was fine with me.

There was one last uphill on the way back to downtown between 6th and 8th Ave.  I tried to focus on the fact that I only had to get back to 14th, so I couldn't have far to go.  My coach left me and I ran the last 0.2 on my own.  It wasn't long before I saw the finish line and (best of all) my cheering section!

And I beat my goal time!  I crossed the line at 4:43:30 (a PR by 44+ minutes!)

I celebrated afterward with brunch and Bloody Marys.

A week has gone by and I am walking normally again.  I took the entire week off from exercise and focused on getting plenty of sleep and doing plenty of walking.  My legs felt very sore, but as soon as the race was over and in the days after, I felt absolutely great from the waist up.  When I ran the Los Angeles Marathon five years ago, I remember feeling like I'd been hit by a bus. 

Tonight was my first day back at the gym, for a combination weights and cardio class.  I felt pretty tired going in and thought it would be a tough work-out since it's been awhile since I've done that kind of thing.  It was a hard class, but I felt great, especially during the cardio segments.  It's a nice feeling to have the level of fitness I've built up after the months of tri training and running.  It won't last, I don't want it to - I need a break.  But I am glad to know that it's not completely gone yet.

Rock on!

Tuesday, September 06, 2011


The Denver Rock 'n Roll Marathon is a little over a month away!  These next two weeks are the final build phase, culminating with a 21-Mile run.  My coaches noted that this is the time to prioritize running and suggested we do whatever is necessary to make sure we get every training run in.  It was recommended that we do things like write our work-outs down in our calendar and lay out our running clothes...anything that minimizes the amount of effort it takes to get to the work-out.  It reminded me of something Bobby McGee said during his talk last spring: the athletes that have the most success aren't necessarily the most talented, but they are the most well-organized.


I thought laying out my running clothes would be a good idea, too.  Every time I go for a run, I either just woke up, or just got home from work and have 5-10 minutes to change and get out the door to meet my group.  My coach probably meant lay clothes out each day, but I don't trust myself to remember to keep doing that.  Instead, I just gathered together a bunch of complete running outfits and other running gear and tossed them in a laundry basket so I can grab-and-go without having to rifle through drawers or piles of clean laundry.  (I've been averaging about 5 minutes a day just looking for two matching socks!  Ridiculous!)

I also have some Lentil Soup simmering in the Crock-Pot so I'll have some easy healthy meals on hand.  Hopefully it turns out well!

Happy Fall!

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Race Report: Lake Stevens 70.3

This is about 3 weeks overdue, but I wanted to give a brief report and post some pictures from the Lake Stevens 70.3.  (I say "brief", but once I get going, this will probably be as long as my race reports usually are.)   I did already post a "Race Review" on the Beyond Transition website. 

Pre-Race Day

My bike left for Lake Stevens on Tuesday via FedEx, and I boarded a plane from Denver on Friday afternoon.  My parents connected through Denver on their way from Austin, so we were on the same flight to Seattle.

We stayed in Lake Stevens Friday and I checked in and picked up my bike Saturday morning.  At noon, my teammates and I went to the course for a pre-race work out.  We did a quick swim, got an overview of the transition area, biked one loop of the run course, and drove the bike course.

Dad checking out the transition area
My teammates and our cheering section (including my parents) went out for a pre-race pasta dinner.  I had seafood cannelloni - yum! 

Carb-loaded and ready for race day!
Race Morning

I had an awful time sleeping the night before due to nerves.  I tried not to let it bother me, and thought back to an article in Runners World that I quote and think about often.  "As long as you're horizontal, you'll be fine."  I had a stress dream about not getting a ride in the morning and missing the race.  When I woke up, I thought, "Yay!  I must have gotten some sleep!"

I drank a cup of coffee and ate half a peanut butter sandwich (couldn't finish a whole one) on the drive to the course.  After setting up my transition area, I headed out to get in line for the port-a-potties.  I found my parents and then stepped into my wetsuit and hopped in the water to warm-up.


At 69 degrees, the water temp was a little warmer than the air and felt great.  It was a treading water start, so we lined up on the dock and jumped in once the wave in front of us started.   As soon as the canon sounded, it suddenly hit me how little sleep I had gotten.  I felt really tired, but I just kept swimming.  What's neat about this course is that there is a rope submerged beneath the water holding the buoys up.  If you position yourself right, you can focus on the line underwater and don't have to lift your head up to sight.   It was crowded at the start, so I pulled to the side, and just sighted the old-fashion way.  More people passed me than I had hoped, but I decided that was ok.  I finished the swim in 39:19.  While this was three minutes faster than my previous effort at this distance, I still feel that I'm capable of more.  I've always made the executive decision not to focus on my swim since it is already my strength and will not gain me much time overall.  However, that is a decision I may revisit next season.   I'm toying with the idea of packing in lots of 100m intervals this winter before training officially begins.


Clipping in

Managing a smile
Beautiful and hilly about sums it up.  No one hill was significantly harder than the others, but there were a lot of 'em, one after another, with some false flats in between.  One part was basically like a roller coaster - straight up, straight down, straight up, straight down.  It was a two loop course, but the loop did start right away - it was about six miles in.  Those first miles were fast and partly downhill.  I thought I might be in for a pretty fast (for me) bike split.  I was wrong.  I tried not to get too discouraged by my average mph and just kept pedaling, but I think I focused too much on my Garmin, and not enough on the pretty scenery.  I repeated my mantra over and over again -- "use your granny gear, get over it" -- and tried to keep my legs as spin-y as possible.  I had to stop for a bathroom break around Mile 40.  I spent awhile convincing myself to just wait until transition (I had already stopped once), but I'm soooo glad I decided to stop again.  The volunteers at the aid-station were so nice!  They held my bike and filled up my water bottles while I was taking care of business.  That little breather gave me a much-needed second wind to head into T2.  My bike time was 3:44:55 (14.9 mph) - nearly 20 minutes slower than the 5430 Long Course two years ago.  Boulder was a fast course, this was not. 
Such a pretty course!

This was the highlight of the race for me.  And it was the last time I did this distance, too.  I struggle so much mentally with running, but for some reason biking 56 miles beforehand seems to guarantee that I'll feel strong and happy during a 13.1 mile run.  I guess it just take me a long time to warm up. :P  I set my Garmin so it would give me the 9min/1min intervals and did not let myself check my pace or overall time.  The course was two loops, more like two figure-eights, and the first chunk was uphill.  I forced myself to go slow and let my legs recover.  I didn't know my exact splits, but I could tell I was keeping a consistent sub-11 pace, which I felt really good about.  As in regular half-marathons, it started to feel really hard around Mile 9.  The second part of the figure-eight was an out and back beside the lake, which was mostly up on the way out.  On that last hill, I kept telling myself to shorten my stride, lean forward, and keep my turn-over quick, hearing my coaches' voices in my head.  I saw a few of my teammates while on the course which was a good boost.  It was tough, but I felt really strong the entire run.  And it wasn't just a feeling.  It was a PR!  2:16:25 (10:25/mi) - faster than my stand-alone half-marathon PR in Moab this year!

One day I'll learn how to not look like a complete dork in running pictures.

My overall time was 6:49:23 - about six minutes faster than the race in Boulder two years ago.  That's pretty good considering my bike split was so much slower.  It was great to have my parents there cheering me in and out of each transition and racing alongside teammates was a blast.

A few relaxing days in Seattle afterward was the perfect way to rest and recover the body and mind.

What's Next?

Tri season is over, but I'm already back in training.  I'll be running the Denver Rock 'n Roll marathon on October 9th!  

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Boulder Peak

In case anyone has noticed or cares, I've been slacking on blogging lately.  I failed to recap 3 out of 4 races from my self-imposed "May madness" series.  Now that it's July, I'm going to forgo all that and skip straight to a brief race report of the Boulder Peak, which was this morning.

During the drive from Denver to Boulder, I spent some time thinking about my goals for this race and what I wanted to accomplish.  This isn't my "A race" and I've raced this course twice before.  This was also my first time this year putting all three sports together (the Summer Open Tri I did in May turned into Du because of high E-coli in the water).  I decided that I just wanted to make it up the (crazy hard 15% grade) hill on the bike and see what I could do on the run.


I made somewhat of a rookie mistake at the swim start (though, ironically, if I were an actual rookie, I probably wouldn't have made it because I would have been paying closer attention to the rules.)  I hopped in the water a few minutes before my wave started to warm up.  When I finished, my fellow W30-34ers were already lined up in the start corral, so I swam under the rope to join them rather than swim back to the beach and walk over.  At one minute before the start, I recalled that I had heard at the pre-race meeting the day before that there was a timing mat you had to cross before entering the swim (for safety reasons, so they know everyone made it out of the water.)  This is a rule change since Ironman took over this race.  At about 30 seconds before the start I looked back and noticed a "Swim Start" banner with a timing mat underneath.  I asked a fellow athlete if I needed to cross the mat before starting.  She was like, uh, yeah.  So, I ran back to the beach, quickly explained to a volunteer what the heck I was doing, and then ran back into the water Baywatch-style, chasing after my competitors who had already started swimming.
approximation of how I looked at the swim start

Needless to say, my swim was only ok.  Though I probably only lost about 30-45 seconds on this endeavor, it threw off my mental game a little.  I thought I did a pretty good job of putting it out of my mind, however.  I was worried that I didn't actually tag the mat in the right place and that I would get a "DNS" (did not start) for the race.  I decided that even if it did go in the books as a DNS, I would know in my heart that I came out and raced, and that helped set my mood for the rest of the day.


Yes the Boulder Peak has a swim.  Yes there is a run that is usually hot as f*&k.  But really, the Boulder Peak starts and finishes with the bike up Olde Stage Road.  After 6 miles of false flats and steady climbing, the bike leg culminates in a 600 foot vertical climb in just 2/3 of a mile.  The final 20 miles are downhill with a few rollers, easy peasy in comparison.  I usually make a point to practice the hill before race day, but wasn't able to this year due to construction.  I didn't really doubt my ability to make it up, but I was a little nervous.

The main difference in my approach this year was that I gave myself permission to stay in a lower gear and focus on spinning my legs.  I used to stay in my big ring as long as possible, but I've been convinced that it's better to save energy using a lower gear than to muscle through the false flats, especially when such a hard hill is ahead.  In prior years, I put off switching into my granny gear as long as possible...this year I wasn't afraid to granny it up as soon as it felt right.  I made it up the hill and never felt tempted to stop and walk.  It sucked, but at the same time it was great because there is such great crowd support and reaching the top feels like such an accomplishment.  I tried to make up as much speed as I could on the rest of the course and headed back to the Rez for the run.  Even though I didn't have a time goal for the bike (and I kind of worried that I wasn't really pushing myself), I finished almost 3 minutes faster than my previous best effort.


I emailed my coach a few months ago with my goals for the season.  After listing my "real" goals, I said that one day I would like to be able to run a sub-10 minute mile on an Olympic distance tri, but I didn't think it would happen this year.  Well, sports fans, at the 2011 Boulder Peak I managed a pace of 9:44!

At this years' BolderBoulder 10k, my watch was out of batteries, so I couldn't use it to pace myself.  I was pretty freaked out by this because I really wanted to finish in under an hour.  Well, I ended up smashing that goal by a good minute and a half, and finished in 58:29 without the help of my fancy pants Garmin.  I also enjoyed not staring at my watch the entire time.  I felt more engaged and more tuned in to my internal pacing and perceived rate of exertion.  The one thing I missed, however, was not being able to time my 9-minute/1-minute walk/run intervals.  For this race, I thought about ditching my watch completely, but settled on using only its interval feature, and not allowing myself to switch to the other screen and check my pace.

About halfway through mile 1, a guy ran up next to me and we chatted briefly.  When it came time to start my first walk break, I said, "This is part of my strategy, I'm going to walk for a minute" and he ran on ahead.  Once I started running again, I caught up to him and passed him in Mile 2, and at some point later he passed me again.  I made this the game--catching him or passing him after each walk break.  I was able to do it every mile, and I knew I was making good time based on where I was in my 9/1 interval when I hit each mile marker.  I saw him again in Mile 6 and we chatted, then he took off.  Then I passed him again.  This happened a few more times, until I passed him definitively and crossed the finish line first.  You got CHICKED, sucka!  And I accomplished a pie-in-the-sky goal and beat my previous best run time on this race by almost a minute per mile!

Overall Results:  3:18:29 overall time / Swim 31:49 / Bike 1:37:43 (16mph) / Run 1:00:26 (9:44/mi)

Next up, the Courage Classic, then Lake Stevens 70.3!

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Race Report: Cherry Creek Sneak

Sneaking in a quick race report before bed (gotta rise early for a 6am swim)!

Picture of the Race T-Shirt (because a bunny chasing after a cherry with legs is never not funny)

The "Sneak" 5-miler was definitely not an "A" race.  I'd never done it before, so I just decided to sign up (a) for fun and (b) to do a self-assessment for the BolderBoulder.  That said, I felt really nervous beforehand.  I'm just not a big fan of running in "Zone 3" (5k/10k pace) and I hate knowing that I'll have to spend almost an hour running at an uncomfortable pace.

My coaches have been talking a lot about goals lately: process goals, performance goals, and outcome goals.  Process goals relate to the process of training (e.g., I'll go for a short jog every time I get off the bike so my legs get used to that transition), performance goals relate to your individual performance (I'll maintain x pace during this run), and outcome goals relate to factors that you usually can't control (I'll win my age group).  A performance goal I've set is to negative-split all my running races.  This worked well for me in Moab and I think it is a good strategy for me given how long it takes me to warm-up.

My goal for the BolderBoulder is to finish under an hour.  (The last time I ran, my time was 1:00:17 - so frustrating!)  I will need to average 9:39/mi for a time of 59:59.  In order to practice for this goal, the strategy I decided on for the Sneak was to hover around 9:45/mi for the first 3 miles, and then punch it up to a 9:25-9:30/mi for the last two. 

The Cherry Creek Sneak was a pretty fun course.  Flat, lots of spectators, people in costumes, and bands playing at every mile.  It is a very crowded start, however, and during the first mile, I understood why it is called the "Sneak."  I did a lot of sneakin' - around other runners, up on to the median, over to the other side of the road.  It was difficult to run fast enough to keep a 9:45 pace in this atmosphere, so I ended up doing a bit of an interval work-out to play catch up every time I had extra space to run. 

My motto for the first half (well, 3/5ths) was "hold back" and for the second part, "let go."  I spent a lot of time checking my Garmin during the first three miles to make sure I was keeping the right pace.  But once I got finished mile 3, I just sped up without caring as much about my precise pace.  I caught my watch in the 8s a lot (always exciting!) and a few times in the 7s.

The finish line is a bit of a tease.  You turn up First Avenue heading towards the mall with the big FINISH LINE sign in plain view, but then they make you turn and run about 0.75 miles more.  Once you do get to the finish for real, you turn a corner, and it's right there.  My coach warned me about this sudden finish and advised me to start my finish line surge when I hit Milwaukee Street.  I didn't realize that I would pass Milwaukee twice in the final zig-zag, so I sped up a little too early.  I'll know better for next year. :)

My final time was 47:35, 9:31/mi pace, which I was pretty pleased with!  The BolderBoulder is a lot hillier, but I think this puts me in good shape to break the hour barrier on Memorial Day.

I'm registered for a lot of races this month - I'm calling it May Madness.  It probably wasn't the best idea since I'm very susceptible to race burn-out, but I'm going to do my best to just think of them as training exercises.

Here is what's in store for this Month:

May 1 - Cherry Creek Sneak
May 7 - Barking Dog Duathlon Walk for MS
May 14 - Sean May Memorial Run (9 mile option)
May 22 - Summer Open Triathlon in Longmont (sprint distance)
May 30 - BolderBoulder 10k

Happy May!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Race Report: Canyonlands Half In Moab

My first race of 2011 is under my belt - I raced the Canyonlands Half last weekend!  It was a BEAUTIFUL course, a significant PR, and a great time.

the View from my Hotel Room
 This is the most consistently and strategically I've ever trained for a half-marathon, so although deep down I really wanted to beat my previous times, my official goal was to "see what I can do out there."  I usually write down my race goals and strategy on a piece of paper and keep it with my gear.  I didn't do that this time, but (since this is 2011) I did Tweet it:

The race didn't start until 10am and I road the shuttle from the hotel at around 8:15.  Since the run literally takes place in a canyon, the start line was pretty chill.  No music, no traffic, no mass chaos, just a bunch of runners hanging out and getting ready.


The race start was also chill-y.  I raced in a tank-top and capris and had to give up my warm-ups about an hour before start.  I had intended to buy some cheap cover ups from Goodwill to cast off right before the start of the race, but I didn't get around to it.  I will definitely not forget next year!

In the two halfs (halves?) I've run before, I managed just under an 11 minute mile pace.  I knew I could beat that--knew it!--but I didn't want to get too cocky, too soon.  So I planned to keep an average pace of 10:55/mi for the first seven miles and after that, if I felt good, I would speed up. 

I started off running with a teammate who I ran most of my long runs with.  The first hiccup was that I had to stop for a bathroom break . . . at Mile 0.5.  It wasn't ideal, but it didn't take long for me to realize that I wouldn't be able to make it through the whole race without stopping and I figured it was better to be comfortable sooner rather than later.  I had to run an 8:30/mi pace briefly to catch up with my running mate and stay on track, which again, was not ideal for the "leaving gas in the tank" plan, but it worked out fine.

At mile 1, I realized that my Garmin was slightly off from the course (i.e. it beeped for 1 mile shortly before I reached the mile marker on the course).  Since I was heavily depending on my watch to keep us well-paced, I made a mental note that our actual pace would be about 5 seconds slower per mile than the watch said.  (I had it set to display both the current pace and the average pace in addition to the overall time and distance.) 

 The first few miles were downhill, so it was a challenge to slow down and not take full advantage of the "free speed." And it was an interesting experience figuring out the pacing while taking into account my Garmin's margin of error and the impact of the walk breaks.  I did the 9 and 1 interval - 9 minutes of running, 1 minute of brisk walking.  I've decided I LOVE this strategy!  It helps so much in terms of breaking things up mentally and it actually makes me run faster.  I decided I wanted the 10:55/mi average pace to include the walk breaks, not just the running intervals.   So each 9 minutes I did the math -- if we slow down to/maintain/speed up to a 10:47/mi average, we'll probably finish the walk break with an average pace of 10:50/mi, which taking into account for the Garmin means we're right at 10:55.  I ran with my fuel belt and water bottle.  I didn't want to - I hate that thing - but I'm really glad I did.  I loved just being able to drink when it was convenient and not having to think about when to hit up a water station and whether it coincided with my walk breaks.

We were a little fast for the first three miles, which was ok given the downhill, so we slowed down at miles 4-7.  That was pretty easy around Mile 5, which was mostly uphill.  I stopped at the Team In Training tent at Mile 6 to ask for some anti-chafing lotion (I had put on some Vaseline in the morning but hadn't correctly guessed all the right spots -- another mental note for next time.)  I had to run an 8:30 for a bit to get back on track again, but I was still feeling good for my plan to speed up the second half.

I hadn't really thought too much about what pace I would shoot for, but in the moment I just decided that I would stop holding back.  If I caught my pace at 9:30-9:45, I wouldn't slow down.  If it felt right, I would just go with it.  I also gave myself full permission to keep running the same pace (or slower) if that was what felt right.  Right after completing Mile 7, I said farewell to my running partner, and took off!

I felt good, really good.  And I was passing a lot of people, which felt even better.  My pace was consistently in the 9s . . . hovering around 9:30-9:45 and occasionally dipping into the 8s.  I decided I would aim to keep up this pace for the rest of the race and focused on getting my average pace to go down, down, down. 

In my experience, half marathons are pretty fun until about Miles 8-9.  Then, the novelty wears off and you are ready for it to be over with.  That feeling hit me after finishing Mile 9, which conveniently coincided with a fairly challenging hill.  But, I was determined to keep up the pace and make a negative split, so I kept on.

The first ten miles are in the canyon and the last 5k goes into town.  While it's hard to make Moab ugly,  the "town" portion of the race does not mean a cute little Main Street with coffee shops and boutiques, it means running on a major highway with semi-trucks and RV Parks and cheap motels alongside.  I had mentally prepared myself for this, but I did not want to leave the canyon!  I knew that Tribal Drummers would be at Mile 10, so when I heard the beat I knew the end of the scenic view was coming.

Once I exited the canyon and began running on the coned-off shoulder of a highway, I did what I could to hang on mentally.  I was still passing people, but it was a little harder to maneuver with less space.  I started focusing on landmarks - run to the RV Park sign, run to the Motel 6, run to the Denny's.  When I passed the marker for Mile 11, I told myself to keep pushing.  Eleven is my lucky number so I decided I had to make that mile count.  I figured once I finished Mile 12, things would take care of themselves.

When I hit the Denny's, that was huge.  It meant turning the corner and heading towards the finish.  It was still a ways though - maybe a mile and a half.  There was a second turn after that to get to the actual finish line, but once I turned that corner I was hoping it would be closer than it was!  I could barely make it out in the distance.  I had skipped my last walk break and just did my best to run it in.  I calculated at Mile 10 that I would probably finish at around 2:17 and I crossed the line at 2:17:33 - a PR of 5:30!

I'm definitely smiling . . . but if you look closely it's not a happy-go-lucky kind of smile.  It's an "I've been gritting my teeth for the last four miles" kind of smile.  My biggest struggle with running is playing it too safe.  I don't like running fast so I tend to . . . not, and I worry that I'm not racing up to my physical potential.  But, I think this is pretty good photographic evidence that I left it all on the field.

I haven't analyzed the data (still haven't set up the Garmin software on my new Mac), but in the last 6.1 miles I got my overall average pace of 10:55 down to 10:30.  My non-scientific analysis?  That's pretty freakin' good!  I must have run the last six miles about a minute per mile faster than the first seven. 

I was really excited about my PR on Saturday and 100% proud of myself for making such crazy negative splits, but on Monday I started to doubt myself and feel a little down.  I PR-ed the half, so what?  I could have gone even faster if I hadn't started out so slow.  These were my thoughts.  But, I've done this enough to know that this kind of post-race depression is normal and it passes.  Today I'm back to feeling proud of my accomplishment and excited for tri season. 

It really helped to think back to my goals at the beginning of the season - none of them were speed related.  All I wanted was to learn to like running more and to re-kindle my motivation to keep at it.  And this morning, something amazing happened.  I set my alarm early to catch a yoga class before work (I've been taking hot yoga at Core Power - love it!)  As soon as I woke up I realized my anti-skid yoga towel was still dirty from yesterday, so yoga was out.  So I decided instead, I think I'll go out for a run . . .

Friday, March 04, 2011

Why I Try

Note that this post isn't titled with the play on words "Why I Tri," a staple in the triathlon blogosphere and a feature in the newsletter or website of every triathlon group in the country.  This is less about what motivates me to do triathlons and more wondering how it ever even occurred to me to make this kind of effort.

I started thinking about this earlier this week when I read two articles in as many hours, both about women's self-esteem in the classroom.  One was about how bright fifth grade girls were quicker to give up on a challenge than their less intelligent male counterparts, and the other was about how women were less likely to be vocal and engaged in law school.   Both articles felt like I was reading my horoscope.

"The Trouble With Bright Girls" by Heidi Grant Halvarson on the Huffington Post posed an interesting theory as to why the smartest girls were often the quickest to give up.
Most likely, it has to do with the kinds of feedback we get from parents and teachers as young children. Girls, who develop self-control earlier and are better able to follow instructions, are often praised for their "goodness." When we do well in school, we are told that we are "so smart," "so clever, " or "such a good student." This kind of praise implies that traits like smartness, cleverness and goodness are qualities you either have or you don't.

Boys, on the other hand, are a handful. Just trying to get boys to sit still and pay attention is a real challenge for any parent or teacher. As a result, boys are given a lot more feedback that emphasizes effort (e.g., "If you would just pay attention you could learn this," "If you would just try a little harder you could get it right.") The net result: When learning something new is truly difficult, girls take it as sign that they aren't "good" and "smart," and boys take it as a sign to pay attention and try harder.
The National Jurist reports on a survey demonstrating what happens when these bright girls grow up and go to law school:
“Female students are less likely to place themselves in situations they perceive to be risky,” said Lindsay Watkins, the survey’s project manager at the Center for Postsecondary Research at Indiana University in Bloomington. “Female students were more likely to report working hard in law school to either avoid embarrassment in front of their peers, or out of a fear of failure, than were their male classmates.”
I read the first article from a link on a friend's Facebook page and one woman commented that in her experience as a teacher, it was absolutely true that telling children they are bright and smart is counterproductive.  It was much more important to give positive feedback for their effort and work habits.  Another guy wrote jokingly but thought-provokingly that maybe video games were the secret to self-esteem:  "As a lad, I learned how to fail, restart, power-up, and reach the next level - with new powers! - again, and again, and again."

Later that night I got to thinking (cue the Carrie Bradshaw voiceover) . . . I've always been more brainy than brawny, why wasn't I more risk-averse when it came to trying sports?  Why did I turn bright red and my heart race when trading essays in high school for peer review, but had no problem competing on the gymnastics team?  (I seriously sucked - a perfect score is 10,  I rarely scored above a 6, and often scored in the 3 range.)  I ate lunch in the library every day 1L year re-reading Torts cases out of fear that I would make a fool out of myself when given the Socratic method, yet I trained on my own for my first marathon without a clue what I was doing and am not embarrassed at all about my time -- 5:27:53!!!  The first few months of my first real lawyer job, I walked home every day with my head hung low, convinced that I was the dumbest, least capable person in the entire world, but during my first half-Ironman I held my head up high starting the second loop of the run course when most other racers were finishing.

Why the discontinuity?  Maybe since I was never naturally talented at sports growing up, I was given praise for my effort and that has stayed with me.  Perhaps I owe my crazy triathlon-ing to my kickball coach in third grade.  My Dad often reminds me that before every game she would say, "What do I want you girls to do out there?," and we would recite in unison, "THINK!"  Or, maybe since school and academic endeavors have always been easier for me, I'm more likely to tend towards perfectionism, which can be very paralyzing.  When I enter a half-marathon or triathlon, I know I have no chance at succeeding in the objective sense, so I can just relax and focus on doing my best.

Speaking of half-marathons, I am racing in Moab in two weeks!  This is the most consistently and methodically that I've ever trained for a running event (a subject for another post), so I'm pretty excited to see what I can do out there.  But regardless of what my chip time ends up being, I think it's safe to say that I'll be proud of myself for my effort and hard work.