Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Reflections, Celebrations and The Cherry Blossom Half

Sunday was such a glorious day. Unfortunately, we were all rocked by the news of Boston on Monday. My heart goes out to all the families affected, but if there is one thing, it's that runners are compassionate, united and strong. Grieve how you need to grieve and remember that everyone grieves differently. This runner's flame has not been doused. My heart today during my run will be in Boston, but life does go on, and the best thing I can do for myself is to keep running happy, celebrating trumps and sharing downfalls.

I struggled a bit to formulate a happy recap of Sunday's race yesterday and felt pretty down all day. Anything I wanted to share casting light on my accomplishments felt a bit distasteful. Last night Portland's skies were filled with turmoil, but when I emerged from Whole Foods I saw a crowd gathering to watch the most beautiful rainbow I'd ever seen. This rainbow reminded me that it's okay to smile. There is much beauty in the world, even if we're reminded of the ugliness sometimes. With that I went home, cuddled with my kitties, and started to write this post.

Struggles and reflection time
For the longest time I couldn't break the 2:10 time barrier on a half marathon. Though I made significant gains as a runner last year and had knocked 9 minutes off of my half time from July to December, I still felt hopeless. I felt like the smart kid who tested poorly in class. In October and December I had two really mentally tough races and would stare at my watch, slowing myself down if I felt like I was going to fast, and bonked around miles 10 and 11 always finding a reason to give up. Though I set a personal record in December by a 7 seconds at 2:11:04, I ran an awful race and it haunted me for a few months. Everyone said, hey you set a PR! But a race is so, so much more than that. You can set a record and have shitty race, believe me.

As with everything else I've been doing some internal reflection over this training cycle, and devoting quite a bit of time to the mental aspect of running. My self confidence needed to be addressed and the reason why I ran was also something I thought about a lot. I realized that I run for a lot of reasons. I run to stay healthy. I run to feel like I'm part of something. I run because I love being outside and active. I run because I actually finally love running! PR's are icing on the cake, but making connections and loving what I'm doing is much more important to me. So I vowed to go into my races with little expectation and just to give it what I had that day, whether it be a lot or a little, I wanted to give myself the room to breathe and not obsess over the details. I am a details person, but sometimes we details people just need to turn that part of our brain off.

I know some people need specific goals and I'd be lying if I said I didn't have any, but I've changed how I frame them. Some people tell others their goals so they feel more accountable. For some reason it works the opposite for me. If I tell people the time goal I want to hit, I feel way too much pressure and it sucks the life out of whatever I'm doing. It's not empowering. What is empowering for me is when I allow myself to make peace with how I'm feeling, don't fret if I slow myself down, listen to my body, enjoy the scenery, and end up setting some great memories. It's that connection with my body and mind that has been improving these past few months and that positive head space is what powers me through a tough run or a race.

Putting reflections to the test
Fast forward to the present and I've now had some really super races and runs this season! I loved waking up early and driving up to Mercer Island to run in a new place. Getting to view the sunrise was pretty special.

I went into that race having run 8 hilly miles the day before and with plans to enjoy the race and likely just treat it as a training run. It was a twisty island road and there were some magnificent views of Lake Washington. To my surprise I met someone around mile 2 and we chatted almost the whole race and ended up with a 9:38 pace on the course for a 2:06:14 time. I had broken the 2:10 time by minutes without even trying! (Though there were a couple of whopping hills in the later miles and I did put in effort, but I didn't obsess over time or anything). Coming into the finish and seeing a 2:06 on the time clock after so many 2:11's was pretty darn magical.

After the race on the way back to the car I had someone take my photo. I was wearing a jacket and gloves but took the jacket off for the photo and forgot the gloves. I was in a super happy place!

Intermission! This is already getting quite long but bear with me. Go get a sandwich. Yum. I do have quite a few pictures from this weekend I'll post to keep it interesting :D

Cherry Blossom Fitness Festival Half
This Sunday myself, Deb, Shannon, and Deb's husband Rob, all drove out to the Dalles, Oregon for a beautiful race. Portland was rainy and cold when we left so we were all pretty excited when we got there and it was bright, sunny and clear. The only downside was a nasty wind at times (gust up to 17mph!) but since there was no precipitation I didn't have too much trouble.

Here's a few photos of where we started our run. Views of hills over the Columbia Gorge and nice smooth paths. We ran almost exclusively on a nice twisty paved path by the water.

Seriously, it was so gorgeous!!

Before we started I got Rob to take a picture of Shannon, me, and Deb! I love these girls. We were all in our warmer clothes as it was still pretty chilly then and we had a good hour or more before the race, though like a bad-ass I shed my jacket for the picture. You can see it behind me on the ground. I don't know why I did that.

Though we're all race buddies we all ran our own race. Shannon and Deb both started out a lot faster than me, though I was keeping up on the steep downhill because I knew it'd take off some time on the way back. The first mile was a bit faster because of this, but then I slowed myself down to a comfortable pace and settled back watching Deb pull away quite a bit. My comfortable pace happened to be around a 9:25 pace, which was pretty awesome. I have to say though that marathon training really does improve your endurance and speed without really doing much besides increasing your volume. The fact that I've also been incorporating a lot of trails and hills plus weekly speedwork has really made a world of difference!

I checked my watch a couple times during the race, but didn't obsess on it at all. As I've mentioned already, I had really bad back pain for the past 10 days leading up to the race and my expectations were really low. I wanted to enjoy running in such a beautiful place and not end up with even more pain, that could potentially still be here come marathon time! When I woke up on Saturday after some good sleep my back felt pretty darn good. On Sunday it felt even better! I should also mention that I had a very deep sports massage on Saturday afternoon. Oh, I know how many people caution on massage before a race (especially the day before) but I was willing to risk it for some relief. The sports massage was AMAZING but he found some spots in my calves and glutes that were incredibly tight and I was pretty sore afterward. I was still sore on Sunday, but I think the race adrenaline picked up because I had no complaints.

Halfway there
Around the halfway mark, I started to run with Shannon for a few miles. There was a timing mat there for relay runners so it was neat to see our half splits. At 6.55 miles my time was 1:00:11 and my average pace was 9:11/min miles. I was feeling really good and really enjoying the scenery and everyone's big smiles. Shannon had even commented on how happy everyone looked. We passed Deb as she was running back (her half split was a couple minutes faster) but she was so in the zone that she didn't even see us. That girl has major focus. Damn!

We were fighting a lot of wind for the first few miles after the turnaround. I started my music up around this point so I would avoid focusing on fighting the wind. It was a nice boost. During the race I was spot on with fueling and ate a shot blok every 15 minutes, so I never hit a patch of low energy. I drank only water at the aid stations and still have a lot to learn with running and drinking because I'm pretty sure I spilled more water than I drank! Some of the cups were hard plastic too, so the bending the cup into a spout trick doesn't really work on those.

As the wind picked up on this one straight-away I ran in really close behind this one girl. I used Shannon to my left and the girl to my front to shield me from the wind and felt pretty smart doing so. We turned off this path and Shannon and I pulled ahead and caught up to two other girls about a mile down and trailed them for awhile. I've never really passed a lot of people, but I will admit it felt pretty good to have the energy for this option. After trailing the girls for a good 5 minutes I felt like it would be fun to surge ahead and pass them both and we did. I have no idea if Shannon was thinking the same thing as me, but I mentally high-fived her if she was.

The looming hill near the finish
Both of us saw Deb getting closer and closer as our pace was hitting high 8's / low 9's towards the end. The wind wasn't as bad on the twisty path at times so in those moments that's where I chose to speed up. Shannon has this intense determination at every race I've run with her and it was no different this Sunday. At mile 12 she caught up to Deb on one of the final climbs. This part was where we gained about 110 feet over 1/2 mile. It wasn't incredibly steep but at the end of a race it kind of sucked! I couldn't tell she was running up a hill because she barreled up it somewhere in the 8's. Deb had no idea she was that close to her and yelled out, "holy shit!" which I didn't get to hear, but heard about later.

Sadly, I walked about 20 seconds of that hill. This was one of my slower miles at 9:27 though, which would have been my fastest mile just a couple months ago! So no, I'm not disappointed one bit. My heart was pounding and I knew that if I didn't chill out for a few seconds that I'd have a tough time finishing strong. Once we crested the hill there was still about 1/3 a mile until the end and I am the queen of fast finishes. The other thing that got me was the photographer. At the end of the Mercer half we ran up a short steep hill and some cruel person planted a race photographer halfway up. Why race photographers decide to do these things I'll never know. I had been telling the story on the car ride over to everyone and it felt pretty darn ironic at this point to encounter someone else on a hill again. I apologize now to the photographer for my excessive grumpiness, but at the time I wasn't putting up with it. I yelled at him and said "no! don't take my picture!" He tried to reason with me, but you can't reason with someone in the last mile of a race on a hill.

Flying finish! Elation!
I turned the corner and sped up the final hill section and onto the flats for a fast finish. My last 1/3 of a mile averaged out to a 7:30 pace and I was flying! I passed three people along the way and was determined to finish less than a minute after my race buddies. I couldn't tell where they were but I was pretty sure they had already finished. I hit the finish running 6:40 and saw Deb on the ground. Turns out they had finished only a minute ago, and Shanon's first words to me were "Can you believe it?? 2 hours!!" I hadn't been paying attention to the elapsed time at all on my watch and had no idea what she was talking about. The race clock said 2:45 because there was a dualathon that had started before us. But by 45 minutes! I scanned back on my watch and saw that I came in just a handful of seconds past 2 hours and was elated and shocked at the same time! Deb also had no idea because as I congratulated her and made sure she was okay (she was!) she was in disbelief and said she had to find the official time. I think she really laid it all out at this race, something which looks really darn painful. I've never crossed a finish line that exhausted before, which makes me wonder if I'm doing it wrong. I recover within minutes and am usually just riding a super runners high after! The endorphins were in full effect this Sunday!

Results and a happy surprise
As we all went over to check our times I saw my friend Trish! I have to admit I was in such a happy head space that I don't full remember much besides giving her a hug, introducing her to Deb and Shannon. It was so cool to see someone come out and support me at a race. Aundria came out to a race last year and it was really amazing. Sometimes it's tough without family here, but my friends are really great! <3

I think I remember Deb rushing over and giving Trish a big hug because she found out she came in at 1:59:30! Deb's lofty sub 2 goal had finally been realized and she was so freaking ecstatic. I remember her hugging me at one point and telling me that she was so proud of me, to which I replied something about Shannon completely killing it at the end. I was so proud of them both! I think I forgot though that Deb and I have been running together since June of last year so she's definitely seen me grow the most out of anyone. She's been someone that I've looked up to for guidance and support and it was pretty awesome racing with her... and mostly keeping up!

Shannon and I both placed in our age group! She placed 2nd and I placed 3rd (we're in the same age group). Deb was #4 in her AG, bummer! Her husband also set a new personal best on Sunday, which was pretty darn amazing since he has been nursing an injury. It was nice to get to know Rob a little better. Deb and Rob are really awesome people and we were all chatting about how nice it was to celebrate together on the way back, rather than driving alone.

Since Shannon and I placed, we got to stand on the podium! I love small races. Alright, so there were only 6 people in our age group that raced (we counted 8 signed up) but I still deserved that spot. Ha ha!

I wasn't really sure how to pose, but I was glad I brought my camera.

I think Shannon and I scared away whoever #1 was. We had fun dancing on the podium.

All in all it was really a fabulous race. I'm so proud of everyone and had a really great time running in a new place. I've noticed that if I have an early wake up call and I'm running in a new spot or a spot I don't run often, I tend to have the best races. Hopefully this is good news for Big Sur! I cannot wait for that! I have one long run left of 10 miles this weekend and then.... race day April 28th!! The excitment will go into many more posts over the next week.

For anyone wanting some extra race details...
This was my first negative split race, though nothing drastic. My second half split time was 1:00:02 for a 9:09 pace. This worked out to an average pace of 9:10, which is just crazy!! I ran the race at a very even effort. The few 8 minute miles I ran really pulled down that average pace as I also had a few 9:30's. My heart rate was steady and slowly climbing until the end, where it topped out at 187. Average cadence was 90 steps per minute and maxed at 96spm at the end. I've really gotten the 90spm cadence thing down! All in all I feel like I ran this race very smart.

There were quite a few twists on the path at times and this always throws off GPS. Checking my file I can definitely see a few funky jumps. I've come to really see how GPS can be off on certain paths and trails. I also know about how it works the opposite way, when a course is not run on tangents, you can really add quite a bit of distance! My watch hit short at 13 miles. It was not a USATF certified course, though I mapped what we ran to the 13.1 distance. As it's not certified I think this means that it's not mapped on tangents, and a bit more on point to point turns.

My splits aren't course splits, which I would like to get into the habit of doing. Some of my miles hit before the marker and some hit after, so they're not really that accurate.
8:47 / 9:09 / 9:20 / 9:34 / 9:26 / 9:23 / 9:30 / 9:36 / 9:14 / 9:07 / 8:53 / 9:27 / 8:48

But really, it's all just details! It's the feeling I got from this race that was awesome. That mushy feeling having support and running buddies is pretty darn swell. D'aaaww 'shucks!


  1. Brie, we are so excited for you crushing your time! Cliff and I were actually talking this weekend about how much your running has changed/improved over the last year. To think that at the Moonlight Five that was the first time you had done five miles without stopping. From then until now is pretty awesome. Congrats!

    1. Thank you Kim!! It really is pretty crazy! I'd gone more than 5 miles at that point, just always had to take walk breaks after 4.5 miles. Now, less than a year later, I can't believe I'm running 13 miles almost a whole minute faster than I ran 5!! I guess it shows that with determination and persistence a whole lot of ground can be covered in such a short time.

  2. Holy crud you had two amazing races. What a great feeling going into your big race on such a high. Oh, and I have never age group placed in anything so even if it was just me I would have been dancing on that podium too.