Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A new adventure

TRT 50 mile, 2007. Photo by Scott Dunlap

The photo above was taken in my first year of ultrarunning, it was pre-sponsor days. In fact it was my very first 50 miler. Now looking at this picture, I see an immensely amount of foreshadowing about the course of my running and, more over, being sponsored. What you can't see in this picture is that I am wearing one of my beloved pair of Salomon running shoes. I wore the heck out of those shoes and finally in 2009 became a member of the Salomon running team. At that point in my running career, I was becoming very ultra focused and had my eyes on the 100 milers for 2010. Yes, I was still doing some road stuff, but it was secondary. I loved my time on the Salomon running team. They were amazing generous sponsors and I really loved my teammates.

Last year, I found myself as a runner. Deciding to try and run the Olympic Trials in the marathon was a turning point in my running career. I got back to the root of who I was as a runner and the way that I train best. No, I am not going to say that I found a road runner. Instead, I found an adventurer. And I found someone who can seek adventure within as much as I can seek adventure on a mountain or curving the line of some single track. I found balance, challenge and started to redefine myself. I am a hybrid runner. I love road, trail, combos, uphills, downhills, short and long distance. I just love to run, unabashedly and unbiased. My contract was up with Salomon at the end of last year and I decided not to renew it. I didn't have any other offers on the table at the time, but I could see that where I was going with my running, was not the proper fit for the Salomon team anymore. I am very thankful for my time at Salomon and the opportunities they gave me. 

After the Olympic Trials, I was feeling incredibly inspired in my running. I was choosing races according to my hearts desire alone. Dreaming big and setting some huge goals. I feel like I am exploring the possibilities of who I can be as a runner and as an adventurer. It is a really cool feeling.

When I started exploring the possibilities of potential other sponsors, I spent a good amount of time considering whether I would find a sponsor that would accept me for who I am as a runner. I made a firm decision that I would run for no one if it mean compromising the things I had learned about myself. 

I said the photo above was foreshadowing and looking at it now, I see it was. When I was unsponsored and new to the sport, I simply wore what I liked/loved, what felt comfortable, what made me feel like I could run like the wind. What was I rocking?

I am excited, humbled and absolutely overjoyed to announce that I am joining the North Face team. I am super stoked to be a part of such an amazing group of athletes and represent for a company that embodies the same spirit of adventure that I do. I have some great races lined up for the year and I can't wait to get started!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

I am worthy

I woke up this morning with a hangover. No, not the booze induced kind. The emotional kind. The I let myself get flipped, turn upside down, which was is up kind. The feeling of going from confident and empowered to weak, confused, self-doubting and self-deprecating. This morning on my run, I had to dig deep to work my way out of the tailspin and get back on firm ground.

I am someone who is a lifelong believer in self-work. I search myself for the root of things, look in the mirror face on and continually try to be the best person I can be. I want to be the best me I can be, the most genuine, the most real. For myself and for others.

In my life, one of the things that I have had to work hardest at is not externalizing my self-worth, not depending on others to validate me or tell me I am good enough. I have learn the lesson the hard way, hurtful ways, time and time again. But as a person dedicated to self work, I have gradually learned the lesson. I have learned that the price you pay for that external validation is often too high.

Two weekends ago at the Trials, when the gun went off, I was not brimming with confidence. I didn't necessarily feel like I belonged. For the first two miles of the race, I focused on a single mantra, repeating it over and over again to chase away the self-doubt. "I am strong. I am fast. I am important." By the time we reached the 2 mile marker, the self-doubt had melted away and I was ready to just run my butt off. I knew I belonged. I believed that I was worthy. I found the validation within myself.

Since the Trials, I had not relinquished that self-empowerment. I felt excited, empowered and enthusiastic about the possibilities moving forward this year. Over the past year, I feel like I truly came into my own as a runner and with that, my understanding of myself as a runner. I was feeling self-directed and that I was training and racing the way that brought pure joy and happiness to my life. I felt free of expectations and the need for external validation. It is such an amazing feeling to wake up passionate every day about the life you are living.

But self-work is constant work and old habits can die hard. When you think you are safe, it is often the time to be most vigilant. And yesterday, I relinquished my feelings of self-worth and let others dictate how I felt about myself. By the end of yesterday, I was no longer riding the high brought on by my empowering run at the Trials, I was, instead, my own worst enemy. By externalizing my feelings of self-worth and validation, I simply moved farther and farther away from actually feeling that way. Every attempt to regain it externally pushed me farther down the rabbit hole. I could not talk myself out of it.

So when I woke up this morning, the feeling of being emotional steamrolled lingered. As Nathan and I took off on a run, I immediately started negative self-talk and self-depreciation. I beat myself up.

But as we ran, I pulled myself up short. I stopped punishing myself and being my own worst enemy. I forgave myself for relinquishing my power and my self-worth externally. I simply stopped. I realized that, despite a perception of the world being turned upside down, the world was still exactly where I left it. Nothing had actually changed except my perception of it and my perception of myself in it. Just because I was now telling myself I was unworthy, the world was no different than when I believed I was. It may seem like a very simple thing, but the way we talk to ourselves has infinite power to shape our perception of the world.

People say self-deprecating things about themselves to me all the time. They tell me they are not as good a runner, they can't go that fast, they can't do xyz and it always bothers me. I always tell people that what they are doing is amazing and it is not a matter of comparison. If 3 miles is your 50 miles, then you should feel amazingly empowered by that. To say to yourself, "I am worthy" creates an energy and power inside yourself that makes you feel like you could take on the world. Yesterday, I was reminded that whatever it takes, I need to keep the mantra replaying over in my head. We all do. Our worth is our own. And we should protect it vigilantly.

I am strong. I am important. I am smart. I am beautiful. I am worthy. 

Monday, January 16, 2012

2012 Olympic Trials Marathon- Race report

Photos in this post by Nathan Yanko, Meredith Terranova and Larry King. Thanks guys!!

When I stepped off the plane in Houston, I knew I was ready for the adventure that lay before me. I was finally in a good mindset and had shook off the taper crazies. Nathan and I arrived on Thursday and I deliberately tried to soak in the whole experience because I knew before I could even think about it, it would be gone in a flash.The experience really did go screaming by. And wow, what an experience it was.

I have never been in an event like this. There really is nothing akin to trying to make the Olympic Team. Sure, I have run races with more people but I have never experienced running amongst the best of the best. The only thing I can liken it to is times in my high school days when I went to all-start tournaments with All-Americans from around the country. I played with and against some of the best players currently in the WNBA. But even that experience, doesn't really come close. It was incredibly special, a once in a lifetime opportunity. Looking back now, just a few days later, it already feels like a dream. And it hard to put into words what being in that race truly felt like.

I toed the line with no expectations. It was really hard for me to form time goals for this race because while my training was good after NYC marathon, I just wasn't sure it was enough time to drop another huge PR. I resolved to listen to my body, be smart and see how things unfolded.

Leading up to the race, my runs felt ok, but not great. My cold/sickness seemed to be outbound as I had given it to Nathan, but my energy was still a bit off. I was tired but couldn't manage to sleep in or take naps. Even as I warmed up for the race, running laps around of the exposition halls in the convention center, I couldn't really tell where I was at. I didn't feel zippy but I also didn't feel lethargic.

It was amazing to be surrounded by so many incredible athletes. And though the air was thick with tension and nerves, I felt really calm all race morning. Before the race, I set myself up with my headphones and waited to be called to the start. When we were finally called to the start, I took several deep breathes and remembered to take in every single moment.

Outside we had a huge staging area to warm up in. There were lots of fans surrounding the gates and I could hear the crowds beyond in starting area getting charged. The men were started and before I could form another thought, we were jogging up to the line to begin the 2012 Olympic Trials.

I was surrounded by the best of best in American marathoning. I had been having a hard time believing that I belonged there. Yes, I qualified but I still felt on the outside. I wasn't seen by others or even by myself as a marathoner, I was an ultrarunner. A stranger in a strange land. Standing there on the line though, I knew that labels didn't matter and any dog can have its day. I wasn't there just to be there, I was there to run my ass off and that is all that mattered.

We were set at the line. The pause before the start. I stopped the world for a moment. I stopped my brain. I held the moment. Snapped it in my mind and became completely present. It is a moment to be savored, it is a moment in which I felt completely prepared for the 26.2 mile journey ahead of me.

The gun went off and the crowd pressed forward. We went out incredibly slow and the huge pack of women made it hard to get into stride. I just let myself be carried along with the crowd, unconcerned about the initial miles pace. I knew a few runners with 2:35 time goals and I positioned myself just behind them. We ran nearly the slowest split of my entire race (6:18) but dropped the pace easily over the next mile (5:52) to stretch out the group. My legs felt good as we finished up the first 2.2 loop through downtown and made our first pace through the finish line. We headed back through the downtown and out onto the big 8 mile loop.

I was slightly behind the 20 person deep 2:35-ish pace group, but they weren't pulling away so after a few miles of being slightly (25-30 feet back) behind the group, I gassed it a bit to join the group and benefit from the drafting. It really is a huge energy savings to run in a group like that. Not only does it block the wind, but it takes your mind off of regulating your own pace. I looked around the group several times and felt like I wasn't working harder than anyone else to maintain the low 5:50s we were clicking off. I wasn't breathing hard and my legs felt good. I was taking in my water and starting taking in 1/3 of a GU each time I got one of my bottles after mile 8.

We worked our way around the loop and I soaked up each stride, each cheer, each time someone recognized me and screamed my name or cheered "Go Fast Foodie!!!!". It was so cool. A few people would drop out of the group and others would join, but a decent sized pack was still together as we completed our first loop. I hit the 10 mile mark in 59:29, which is by far a 10 mile PR.

Before the race, I toyed with the idea of not wearing a watch. After the first loop I decided that, just like my gloves and sleeves, I was going to toss my watch. I had purposefully worn a simple watch that I wasn't attached to, so as I headed out for my second loop, I tossed it to the crowd and decided to continue to run by feel.

The group got smaller and smaller as we headed towards the half way mark. I kept taking my water and GU, but noticed that my stomach would become quite unsettled each time I would take a gel. I made sure that I only took a small nip and backed off the pace a bit each time I took one in. I maintained the mid 5:50s through the halfway mark, cruising through just under 1:18 (another huge PR).

Soon thereafter the group splintered and I was pretty much by myself. Looking at my splits now, I clearly downshifted just after the halfway mark. I consciously decided to run comfortably instead of gambling by pushing too early. 

I like loop courses. For me the familiarity makes each loop seem smaller and smaller. In the blink of an eye, I was back in downtown finishing up my second loop. I kept my head up and smiled and smiled and smiled. I just kept telling myself "what an adventure!!!". It was incredibly. The crowd was electric. While I liked the loops, I definitely don't think the course was that fast. The surface we ran on was pretty taking and there were lots of tight turns. 

About 4 miles to go.

I took a moment to think about the fact that I was about to start my final loop of the Olympic Trials. I knew it would go by in a blur and so I made my mind a sponge and absorbed every detail I could. I decided that I would keep maintaining pace until about mile 23 and then really go for it. Before the Trials, I thought I might gamble and try to red line for a long time, but as I started the final loop, I knew that I was on track for a PR despite the slower pace I was holding and didn't want to blow up.

3 miles to go!

I never bonked, I never felt really bad. My stomach did flip flops a few times and my energy was not 100% even from the start (from being sick), but I couldn't have asked for a better race. At mile 23, I started working my pace down back into the low 6s. I started reeling women back in and focused on whomever was right in front of me. I didn't want to get caught so I just kept pressing towards the next target. Coming back into the downtown I saw Mike Spinnler (race director of JFK 50 and friend), he had been cheering all day on course (which was hugely appreciated!) and he informed me that the next lady in front of me was 4 time Olympian Colleen De Reuck. And I was going to try and catch her.

With less than 2 miles to go, the emotions of the experience were starting to catch up with me. I told myself not to cry, that it didn't make breathing easier. I just pressed as hard as I could to try and catch Colleen. She was a good bit ahead of me, so I had my work cut out from me (I nearly caught her, but she got me by 3 seconds!). I floated towards Discovery Green and the mile 26 sign. I was flying.

I hit the mile 26 marker and couldn't stop the tears or the huge cheesy grin on my face. I beared down as hard as I could, trying to leave it all out there and rounded the final turn to the finish line. I pushed as hard as I could, arm swinging, feet flying.

I crossed the finish line in 2:38:55, 36th overall and a huge PR on the biggest stage there is other than the Olympics themselves. For a moment, I felt exhausted, but then just like NYC marathon, the feeling passed and I did a little happy dance saying "first ultrarunner!!!". There were many other women who had just come in and many of them looked like they were about to pass out and die. One of the volunteers remarked that I didn't even look tired and I said "well, I am use to running another marathon plus 10 more miles usually". I made my way out of the finishing area and was reunited with Nathan before being ushered back into the convention center. I cried when I saw him, the whole experience, the accomplishment washing over me. I was so blessed to have Nathan, my mom, Sarah and Steven there to support me. They made the experience so special for me.

Happy Finisher!

Finishing the race and having such a huge PR didn't feel like the end to me, instead it felt like the beginning of an entirely new adventure. When I crossed that finish line, I knew I belonged there. I knew it was not a crazy fluke or out of my mind insanely good day. I had run within myself and my training had brought me continued improvement. I know now based on how good I felt all day that I haven't even reached my true potential. 

It is amazing for me to think that until March 20 of last year (LA marathon), my PR was a 2:49. In less than a year, I have steadily improved at the marathon and begun to learn what makes me body adapt and develop. While I put all my eggs in one basket for this race in the last 10 weeks, I still did run 4 100ks and 4 marathons and plenty of long adventures as well. In the past year, I have had my cake and eaten it too. I feel out of my mind with joy right now and not simply because of the accomplishment, but because I see that my potential is only beginning to be tapped. By far the coolest feeling is knowing that there is more to be discovered, deeper to dig, more to uncover. 

At the beginning of last year, I thought the journey was to the 2012 Olympic Trials. I thought that that is where the chapter would end. Now I see, it wasn't the end of a chapter, it was the introduction to an entirely new book. I look forward to discovering what I can do, following the thread of adventure and discovery before me.

For now, I am just going to soak it in. Soak in every fleeting morsel of pride and endorphins. Bask in the accomplishment. Allow myself to have this moment be everything and the only thing for just a bit. Soon enough I will be heading towards for new adventures and climbing new mountains. I am so excited for the challenge and adventure that is before me.

Fast Foodies unite. AR record holder Deena Kastor and I after the race.


A Texas sized celebratory meal at Chuy's.

Mom and my sister after the race. Love you guys!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Spirit of Adventure

Krissy and I celebrating our FKT at the Grand Canyon
(photo: Ultraspire)

This time last year, I was gearing up at my first attempt at making the Olympic Trials qualifying standards.  I decided at the end of 2010 to shift my focus towards that goal and for the first time in my running career really see how fast I could be if I focused on running the marathon. I had never really given the marathon my full attention and had never really put all of myself into it. I ran my first marathon in 2005 and by August 2006, I ran my first ultra and was hooked. From then on, the marathon was just a training distance, an afterthought. Yes, I PR'd a few more times at the marathon distance, getting down to 2:49 at the end of 2008, but I categorized myself as an ultrarunner. That is where my heart was.

I got into ultrarunning because I wanted to get away from my running being dictated by time, pace, and the constant pursuit of PRs. I didn't get into running for that reason and I didn't want to cultivate that part of my running. I run because I like to challenge myself, I like the adventure, I like the journey. Ultrarunning is a great way to explore those aspects. I hadn't ever considered that I could race marathons hard and retain that. I entered last year with a bit of trepidation, scared that the marathon training and the pursuit of the OT qualifier would change me as a runner and not for the better. I didn't want to become type A about my training.

My first attempt at the qualifier at Houston didn't work out like I had hoped but it served as the perfect catalyst for more clearly understand myself as I pursued this goal. I realized that it had to be more to me than just pursuing a time goal; it had to be about the spirit of adventure of pursuing such a goal. I found a way to retain who I am as a runner and why I run. 

Adventure: Can I battle through a 100k race 2 weeks after a DNF/food poisoning?
Go to the well, have the well be dry and keep going?

Ultimately, last year was a great adventure and exploration of seeing what my body could do as I pointed it towards getting as fast as I could in the marathon. Last year was also an adventure because I did this and still ran four 100k races, set a Fastest Known Time at the Grand Canyon R2R2R with krissy and spent the better part of the summer training with and then pacing Nathan for Hardrock 100. I didn't just spend the year obsessing over January 14th and my progress towards that. I work best in short training cycles of 8-9 weeks and this year have discovered what really works for me in terms of developing as a runner. The adventure has been within, exploring what my body can do at the speed end of the spectrum instead of the endurance end. I have discovered some cool things along the way, such as my ability to run uphill has improved extremely though the amount of time I spend on the skill has drastically decreased. My endurance hasn't waned and I am starting to learn how to race a marathon, which is such a different feeling than an ultra. Instead of trying to stay comfortable for as long as possible, I am trying to figure out how to run "eyeballs out" for as long as I can. I have challenged myself to confront my limits and have been pleasantly surprised to find that I have only begun to scratch the surface. The past year has brought me to a place where I am unafraid to be who I am as a runner. I am a hybrid runner. I run on trails and roads, I run marathons and ultras. I love it all and have finally been able to empower myself to follow my heart in choosing races instead of trying to fit in or be someone I am not. Over the past year, I have stoked and cultivated my curiosity and sense of adventure. Nearly every race that I have succeeded at, I have toed the line with one thought "I have no idea how this will go". Run at 100k National Championship 3 weeks after making my OT qualifier? Adventure. Finishing UROC 100k two weeks after DNF at World 100k and food poisoning? A Journey. Race NYC marathon two weeks after deciding NOT to race JFK 50 miler and after a 35 mile training run? Curiosity. 

I know have 3 days and 19 hours until I toe the line in Houston for the 2012 Olympic Trials. My recovery went quickly after NYC marathon, my month of December had some fantastic training, but it also had some really bad days and a cold lodged itself in my system last week that has yet to shake. It has been both good and bad, but that means I am back to the same place mentally: curious. I have been through the thought process of what a bad race would mean, I have shredded up time goals and ideas of what pace I might go out at. I am holding on to the sense of adventure and wondering, "what can I do with this race?" For me the most important part of any adventure is being present for it, soaking it all up and smiling through the obstacles that will undoubtable arrive. I don't think I have to state that I want to have a great race, I believe that is self evident. On Saturday I will race with curiosity, wonderment and a spirit of adventure, chasing after the best that I can be. I for one am excited to see what I discover.

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