Sunday, December 22, 2013

Santa Barbara Bathrooms - Best Places to Stop and Go

Regrettably, I have become an authority on "during the run - pit stops."  I'll do you a favor and skip the messy details and suffice it to say, I intimately know every public bathroom and private thicket in Santa Barbara.  When one spends so much time on the porcelain throne, there's a lot of time to contemplate favorite "stopping" grounds and compare the various features one may enjoy during their visit.

Before I get to the review - My mid-run/mid-race pit stops date back a few years and I have a favorite story that I love to share about a particular incident.  It is rare, but on occasion I have had to stop mid-race to use a porta-potty or cluster of bushes.  One such occasion occurred in 2010 when I was competing in a grueling, dusty, hot half marathon held on Camp Pendleton in North San Diego County.  The race was aptly named Heart Break Ridge.  The course is in a rural area of Camp Pendleton (not surprising because 98% of Camp Pendleton is rural) and the jovial race director announced very specific instructions at the start.  Most notably, he warned to stay on the road and avoid the bushes at all costs.  There in lies rattlesnakes, scorpions, and an occasional buffalo, not to mention perhaps a training exercise that involves bullets.  It's not good to visit the bushes in Camp Pendleton.  The race director was happy to announce that there is a porta-potty located on the course which we pass twice (it was an out and back course).  Fine, I thought.  Works for me, no worries.  I had no plans of GI issues.  So off we went and I had a lovely, enjoyable jaunt down the course on the dusty, dry road all the way to the bottom of the canyon to the turn-around point.  Then there was the climb back up and out of the canyon.  By the time I dragged my body up that road, I had amassed at least a mile lead on the next female in the race so when my body decided to begin to have issues around the 11th mile, I contemplated my options.  I had just passed the single, solitary, humane and dignity saving porta-potty and I wasn't about to back-track.  Since there was no one directly close to me on the road, my eyes started scanning the forbidden bushes for a good spot as I went through the race directors instructions one last time in my mind.  Do NOT go into the bushes.  In doing so, many are never seen again.  But, as they say, when you gotta go, you gotta go, so I ran off the road at a 90 degree angle into the cloaking sage pulling my shorts down while I ran.  There is an art to getting this done quickly and I knew the clock was ticking.  There wasn't anyone around to see me at that point, but even if there was, my focus wasn't on modesty.  It was a quick pit stop.  I got all my tires changed in less than a minute and began running back to the road.  Again, modesty wasn't my first priority and this time I wasn't so lucky.  Coming out of the bushes I had an audience and there I was bounding along while still pulling up my pants.  One of the guys was rounding the bend and witnessed the tail-end of my ... um, that was a poor choice of words.  But it's a race so somehow none of this matters and I join my new "friend" on the road to finish the last few miles of this bad boy.  He chuckles a bit in jest and pain (because this was a brutal race) saying something like, "aren't we supposed to stay out of the bushes?"  I tried to apologize between labored gasps for the little display and explained, "I had to go."  All runners understand what that means.  After the race, my "potty friend" had to approach me one more time with friendly comments and we laughed a bit about the situation and again I apologized.  What the heck, in San Diego, a location full of people, the odds of me ever seeing this guy again were very slim so I never gave it another thought.  But here's the rest of the story.  The very next Saturday when I arrived to meet with the runners that I often train with, there he was.  Jeff.  Jeff, my "potty-buddy" somehow heard of our little meetup group and decided to join us.  I mean, what are the odds?  Hi Jeff, it's me Cindy.  Remember ... from last weekend ... the bushes ... caught with my pants down?  Ha ha ha!  Yah, of course.  Hi Cindy.  Oh hey, I have to tell you.  When I first saw this person (you) randomly running out of the bushes I thought it (you) was a guy.   Ha ha ha!  Hmmm.  Gee, thanks Jeff.  That makes me feel a whole lot better.  Well, the conclusion of the story is that Jeff has become one of my very best and beloved running buddies and I have enjoyed many, many great training runs with him.  Every time we visit San Diego, we run with Jeff.  I have absolutely no problem asking Jeff if he minds if I stop at the bathroom along the way.

Now back to the best places to Go on the Run here in Santa Barbara.  Since, as I mentioned, I am an unfortunate authority on the topic, I've decided to name the best and worst according the various IMPORTANT categories.  Disclaimer: These categories may be more important to females than males.
  • Least Private - The bathroom at the top of Shoreline Park wins this category.  Both toilets boast an "open space" concept and are therefore door-less.  When I stop here I make it fast and make a lot of noise.  This bathroom is ideal for quick in-and-out.
  • Best Smelling - The bathrooms at the Cemetery easily win this category.  While technically joggers aren't allowed at the cemetery, I am a runner so it's ok for me to stop here.  I somehow feel guilty entering this floral smelling rest area while dripping with sweat but the melodious odor beckons me.  This bathroom is not so good for the quick in-and-out because one wants to stay a while.
  • Most Energy and Resource Efficient - The bathrooms at the Westmont track.  This bathroom features automatic lights, automatic flush, and automatic water so nothing is wasted here and you don't have to get your hands dirty.  Just make sure you don't lean forward while still seated, or else you'll get a localized shower.  This bathroom is great for frequent visits during the same training workout.
  • Wettest Toilet Seats - The bathroom at East Beach.  For some reason, those who visit this bathroom have poor aim as evidenced not only by wet seats but also sticky floors. 
  • The Most Conveniently Located but Not Really Allowed to Use - The bathrooms at the private tennis courts on Las Positas.  When visiting this bathroom, make sure you look like a tennis player as you approach it.  If questioned, apologize profusely for assuming these were available to you and then let them know you'll go ahead and use the bushes behind their building instead.  But, oh, can I borrow some of the toilet paper?
  • Use at your Own Risk - The harbor bathroom near the boat launch.  This seems to be the home of a "not mentally stable" woman who sings loudly and talks to imaginary friends. She gets mad at her friends a lot too.  This is another good one for quick in-and-out.  Don't make eye contact and don't bother washing your hands. 
  • The Best Toilet Paper - The bathroom at Los Banos Pool has quilted, super-soft toilet paper and cool toilets that give you the option to flush up for liquid waste and flush down for solid waste.  I always flush down.
  • The Good Luck Trying to Find a Usable Commode - The Chase Palm Park bathroom seems to get a lot of use.  Among the three toilets, it can be a challenge to find a workable combination of a) Toilet paper available, b) no floaties, c) a door that actually latches shut.
There it is.  Santa Barbara Bathrooms in review.  Now you know the best and worst places to Stop and Go. 

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Thanksgiving for PR's and Things that Really Matter

"In a race, all the runners run but only one gets the prize. Run in such a way as to win the prize." This remains to be my favorite verse in scripture and I often quote it in my head not only as a way to approach running, but even more importantly, as a way to live my life. The Apostle Paul, who penned this verse, wrote it in the context of spiritual living; the race being our life, the prize being eternal life. I love it because it inspires me to be the best runner I can be and also the best person I can be. I would never want to be one without the other.

This year on Thanksgiving Day, like so many others, John and I, along with a few fellow Santa Barbara runners, competed in a turkey trot - the Ventura Turkey Trot. I targeted this race early in the year, hoping to reach it healthy and ready to run fast. I had a goal. In fact I've had this goal my whole life. Quite simply, I wanted to break the 18 minute barrier in a 5k. This is something that had eluded me too many times without mercy. When assessing my performances at other distances, all signs indicated an ability to reach this. Earlier this year, on a speedy course I came close with an 18:06 but that result felt empty having fallen short of the goal.  I hadn't run to my potential yet.  It wasn't my day, but I hoped "my day" was still ahead of me, waiting for me.

In the months leading up to Ventura TT, there were positive signs that my fitness and potential were improving just a bit, to the point that I felt I had a good chance of finally dropping a perfect race, in perfect conditions, at the perfect time.  In training, my quality workouts were feeling good and generally getting better.  To take full advantage of this, I eased off on my other training days so that I always had the legs and lungs to hit it hard when I needed to.  Most of my recent races had gone well, and I was feeling stronger in the closing miles than I used to, breathing was easier and I felt finally that my base of endurance was working in my favor.

Although the Thanksgiving Day forecast threatened rain, we were met with dry, partly cloudy skies and a moderately cool temperature. Winds were mild on this notoriously windy course. My spirits were also lifted by the presence of my husband John, who likewise was ready for a fast race, and by my friend and teammate Jessica.  Nervousness electrified the air around us as we focused on our goals for the day, putting pressure on ourselves and asking ourselves "why do we do this?"  I listened closely to my body as we warmed up, waiting for tell-tale signs of what I should expect. I ran through the race plan in my head and recalled the mile splits I would have to make in order to break 18. Deep breaths filled my lungs and I pushed all negative feelings out with each exhale.  I would soon know with each passing mile whether it was within me to hold on for the race of my life.

One of the qualities of this particular race that makes it fast is the nice flat course, void of sharp turns. The other quality is found in its participants. There is most always a fast field and I was hoping to use that toward my goals. It meant possibly having to run differently than originally planned and from there I'd have to remain calm and focused. I was happy to have the presence of my Oiselle SBRunCo blazing fast teammate Drea. Drea is in her final preparation for a marathon so her goals here today were a bit different but I felt strength in her presence and knew she was going to be leading things out for a fast day.
Getting ready on the starting line.

Runners gathered at the start and after a few comments from the race director, the gun went off and into a fast first mile we all went, like we were caught in a tidal wave of momentum. I immediately worried that this was a bit too fast but I already was seeing a small pack of women gather just ahead of me and next to me. They were all keying off of Drea's pace and for me it was either stick or be dropped. I stuck, and our first mile rang out in a silky 5:33. I felt settled and comfortable with the pace at least for the moment. Positions jockied just a bit among our pack of 5 women and I continued to assess myself along with assessing what I could of my fellow competitors. One seemed not to belong as she was pudgy and didn't look the part (it seems a part of racing to size up your competitors - I wasn't trying to be judgmental, it was just an observation). But she proved strong and capable as did all the others. Everybody was clearly running within themselves at this point as breathing was steady and the pace remained strong.  No one dropped off.  Before too long, one girl began to pull away. I tried to react with an attempt to go with her but her pace was not sustainable for me. This left me in a no-man's land when we turned the corner and found the head-wind.  What else could I do at this point but push on. I reached the second mile with a 5:43 split and tried hard to feel elated by the reality that I was still ahead of pace, but the elation was squelched by a growing feeling of exhaustion. I had another mile to go and my prevailing thought was "don't fall apart now - find a way to hold it together." It is amazing the mental component involved in racing.  The body may be willing but if the mind is weak, the body will fail.  A lot of intense thinking occurs in the dark moments of a race, and every race, if it is truly raced, has a dark moment.  It was during this thought process that I was passed by one of the girls in our pack and as we came into the final 800 meters, I was keenly aware that the others were right there not far behind. The blond pudgy one was close behind as evidenced by her coach yelling at her to catch the pink girl - me. At mile three I remained under pace though I had clearly faded. I came through in 5:52. I rounded the corner to race for the finish (a finish line I had long since wished I'd already reached) and with my focus seared into the ticking clock I crossed in 17:46. As I unceremoniously wobbled through the chute, I felt nothing but pure relief and unbridled satisfaction. Then I doubled over in search of oxygen.

In no time at all, John had breached the finish line with his century PR of 18:23 and Jessica soon after. We were all there, gathered with Drea and Tim Strand, a very happy group of Santa Barbara runners, all of whom represented very well on this day.

As I mentioned, breaking 18 minutes in a 5k has always been a goal. I began running competitively when I was 9 years old.  In my college years I focused mostly on cross-country, so never managed it then, and my middle years were devoted to raising my family, so too, it was not achieved then.  My strength grew in my early 40's but injury interfered.  Here at 45 years of age, I finally grabbed hold of it, achieving with it, an 89% age grade. This PR was a 20 second drop, albeit on a smoking fast course, but having this under my belt presents new goals, dreams and opportunities. In the moments and hours of reflection since, many things come to mind.

1. I had always worried that I would some day regret giving up my "best" competitive years as I opted to focus on raising my family through my late 20's and all of my 30's. Not that I'd ever regret putting them first, but would I regret never reaching my potential as a runner?  However, my master years have been my best years and I am still able to explore what I am capable of in the context of my age.  My plan and hope is to continue to get faster as I grow older and when I crest that limit, make a graceful and strong decent.  I remain incredibly inspired by women who are older and faster than me.  It gives me hope that it's not time to slow down just yet.

2. What brought me to this day and this achievement: a loving, supportive husband, who not only encourages me and believes in me, but also trains and races with me. The help and guidance of a veteran master runner and phenom - Nash Jimenez. Nash has gently guided John and I and has believed in us, giving advice that has fortified our experience, and putting wings to our dreams and goals. This has multiplied our joy in training, running and racing.

3. An increase in mileage this year, along with a long span of injury-free running. I have found that I have been able to hold on to a hard pace longer because I finally have a solid base. After facing two years of debilitating injury, the last year and a half have been devoted to gaining back.  Thank you to Dr. Ferrel for working on us and nipping would-be injuries before they take us down.

4. Friends and running partners that care and believe in you. I'm thankful for you!  I don't place trust in people easily, but you have made it easy and worth it.

"In a race all the runners run but only one gets the prize. Run in such a way as to win the prize." Think about that for just a moment and what it means in life. The description of achieving a life-long goal also means something to me in how I have chosen to live my life. Not without failure but with the intent to live with the highest level of integrity and pursuit of Godly character. My goals in life are to be a positive force in the life of everyone. This is a high calling and an ongoing race. May we all finish the race well, having done everything to run in such a way as to win the prize. The prize in life worth winning is even better than a Personal Record.  Today I am thankful for both.  From The Gladiator: "What we do in life echoes in eternity."  Thank you God for another race, another day to train, another day to make a difference.  Praise be to You for all of this.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Pacing the Race

On a bright, crisp morning in November, I find myself gearing up in anticipation as the SMIVM (Santa Barbara International Veteran's Marathon) lead runners approach the half-way mark.  I'm watching at the half-way mark because I will be taking over the Official Pacing for the 3:30 pace group.  It will be my job to carry them from mid-way to finish ensuring they'll break a 3:30 marathon.  For many in the group, this will qualify them for Boston.  Though I'm not racing today myself, I feel the typical pre-race tension.  In this case it may be due more to the pressure I feel of accomplishing the task at hand, not for myself, but for those who are relying on me.  The pace I will be keeping for them is not a difficult one for me, but keeping it straight on for them will be difficult.  My warm-up is minimal.  I'll warm-up some more once I take the 3:30 Pacer Sign and settle into the feel and rhythm. 

Several spectators have gathered at the half-way point, and we clap and cheer as the first two male competitors move through.  I note that they don't look particularly good at this point but perhaps their pace will be manageable and they can stay with it to the finish.  Next through was the first female.  She came through the 1/2 marathon mark in 1:19 - an amazing third position overall.  She looked focused and smooth but she was working.  I wonder if hitting the half-way mark is a positive or negative.  One might say, ah, now I can begin counting the miles back down to ZERO.  Another may worry that they have to cover that same distance again before reaching the finish.  If it were an out-and-back course, it's easier to mentally work it out that once you are half-way, you are headed back home, but for a lot of these folks coming through on this point-to-point course, a look of dread seemed to linger.

The first Pacer group (3:00) came through.  In nice even increments of 5 minutes, soon there was the 3:05 group, the 3:10 group, the 3:15 group, and on it went.  In some cases, the same pacer journeyed on, and in other cases, the duty was handed off to the fresh new pacer.  I was happy to be a fresh new pacer.  I saw in the distance, a dancing "3:30" sign and my eyes widened as I jogged backwards on the course to meet up with my pacing partner Dan Rudd!

Dan and I had this perfect plan of continuity.  So that we didn't lose track of a single second, Dan wore my Garmin watch and started it at the race start line.  Our exchange consisted of transferring my watch to my wrist while jogging through the half-way point, and the sign was put in my hand.  There were quick introductions and with a simple nod and thanks, our little pace group said goodbye to Dan and hello to Cindy.

Dan had the group perfectly ahead of pace by one minute.  Our plan was to ultimately have them ahead of pace by two minutes at the base of Cliff Drive (mile 23) in order to fully factor in the difficulty of climbing that hill in the final miles of the race.  We didn't want our 3:30 group to crest the top of that hill and have to scramble to get back on pace and possibly miss it in the end, so we planned to bank it and any left over could be spent gliding on the final descent.

My first observation was that the sign was difficult to keep up in the air.  Some of the other Pacer groups dumped their signs and went on only with the Pacer t-shirt announcing them.  I had it in my mind that I would rather keep the sign and use it as a beacon to those lingering behind; a target bouncing along in front of them.  The sign also came in handy every time we passed a group of spectators.  It showed them that this group had a goal and they cheered them accordingly.  I soon found that the sign wasn't so bad after all and I held it high with pride most of the way. 

My second observation was that with the variations in the course, it was not practical to run a straight 8:00 min/mile pace.  The down-hills allowed for a pick up in pace and the up-hills caused an obvious slowing.  Along with this, the GPS watch is inaccurate to an ever increasing degree so it could not be fully relied upon.  I had to keep the projected and required mile times ever present in my mind and make mental notes every time we passed another mile marker.  In this way, it was difficult to perfectly judge the pace and I worried constantly that I was either too slow or too fast.  Either one could kill the day for these runners.

My third observation was that when I first took over the Pacer sign from Dan, there was a notable group of runners hovering close by.  Within a few miles, the number of runners hanging in there with me was dwindling.  I worried if my pace was much altered from what they had been running with Dan.  As we ran along the bike path, past miles 15-19 I still had a group and though I opted not to talk during the race, I took a moment to recommend they grab a gel from the aid station at mile 19 so that they could consume it a bit later on.  Somewhere between that bit of instruction, and mile 19, I lost most of my group.

There were a few running along with me still and I saw that our 1 minute banked time had grown to 2 minutes of banked time and we hadn't even gotten out onto Modoc yet.  I announced to those laboring along-side me that we had all the time banked that we need and now we can afford to take it easy when we got back out on the road!  Which we did.

On Modoc I was aware that I only had maybe two guys hanging in there but we were going nice and easy and they seemed to be handling it fine.  We chatted just a bit up the incline and when we approached a water station I suggested they take their gel at that point.  From there, I watched every mile very carefully, actually trying to pull it back a bit so as not to continue at a faster pace than was required.  We hit the nice bit of downhill on Las Positas and I lost one of the guys.  He slowly drifted back.  I was hoping he'd recover before the hill.  At mile 23 just before the climb, we were exactly where I had planned, 2 minutes ahead of pace.  When I began climbing the hill, I lost the other guy and hoped he'd come back to me at the top.  In the meantime, as I had caught up to others along the course and a few hung onto me as a guide.  Although I had lost the initial group, I was able to pick up others who had gone out at a faster pace and were still hoping to make it in under 3:30.  I found that the Pacer sign did a lot for those around me, including the spectators who were anxiously awaiting their friend or loved one.  They asked as I went by if I was "on pace" and used that as a gauge.
 
Hoping my couple of guys would catch up, I made my way slowly down the hill toward mile 25 and came across it only 50 seconds ahead of pace.  I couldn't afford to lose any more time in waiting and coasted on down.  I came into the La Playa Stadium alone with my little 3:30 sign feeling a bit odd that I was the only one in my Pacing group - my Official 3:30 Pacing group.  But there were a few who ran ahead and a few that might still make it behind.  As for me, I crossed in 3:29:03. 

Walking through the chute I immediately doubted that I had done a good job.  I had pictured the whole experience would be quite different than how it turned out.  My whole purpose today was to help others achieve a goal and really nothing else mattered.  I had the "mother hen" mentality as we ran along but this mother hen didn't have any of her chicks with her in the end.  It was a tough day for some of the chicks - was there more I could have done to help them?

This will be my question until the next time comes.  Like anything else, experience makes us better and wiser and this was my first time as an Official Pacer.  I was so happy to have done it and will certainly do it again (if they let me).  It was an honor.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Avocados and Foxes

The signs of Fall are upon us!  The shadows get longer, the days get shorter, the air just a bit cooler and drier, football has begun, and you can just feel the change.  Like we've just rounded a corner into the next season.  Fall also means there's a slight shift in racing, from roads and tri's, to cross-country.  Last year John and I did a full set of cross-country races, just for a change of pace.  This year we did just two cross-country races so that we could take a bit of a break before training hard for a big target race coming up in February.

The hot, dry air hit us in early October with some out-of-the-blue sweltering days with low humidity.  Running hard in those conditions usually spells disaster for me.  In hot, dry air (even cold, dry air) my lungs seem to have an adverse reaction which resembles asthma.  I often will wheeze my way through a race in such conditions and deal with painful breathing for the week to follow.  I was a little nervous as the Big Avocado 5K off-road race approached and temps were in the 90's.  But what are you going to do?  You have to deal with what's dealt and I rather resigned myself to what I thought would be a painful race and lingering lung inflammation.

Ricky Ho with Ollie, Cindy with shoes, and John just looking awesome!
The morning of the race, as we feared, was clear, sunny, warming very quickly and drier than beef jerky.  But I was going to be racing in a brand new pair of flats (Adidas Adios Boost) so that gave me a spark of hope (brand new as in, "I bought them the evening before the race and didn't put them on until the warm-up" brand new).  Just as a point of sound advice, never run a race in a brand new pair of shoes that you have not broken in.  Lucky for me the shoes fit great, felt great, more importantly looked great, and became my new best friends.  The Avocado course is not a fast course.  It is fully on dirt (packed and loose) or grass, has many awkward turns, some hills and poor footing.  But since I had run the course before (2 or 3 years earlier) I had a fair gage for what time to shoot for.  It would be one of those races in which my GPS watch was more of a fashion statement than a useful tool.  This one needed to be by feel.

Our morning began with a warm up jog, covering most of the course and I felt great.  How I feel on any given morning prior to a race makes no sense to me.  It's unpredictable and uncontrollable so I just go with what I've got.  When it's good it's like something has aligned in the stars and I just marvel and enjoy.  Even though it was 0% humidity or something like that, I was not only not wheezing, I was breathing easy.  This made me happy because when the gun went off a few minutes later, I had a fun first mile.  The narrow course is crowded at first.  Crowded mostly by folks going out too fast so there ends up being a lot of dodging and having to work your way around those ahead of you.  Within 1/2 mile things cleared out a bit and I could see the small group of speedy dudes up ahead and my race buddies around me, making up the chase pack.  I rounded one of the sharp, loose-dirt turns and breathed in and out easily and thought, "wow, I'm almost 1/3 of the way through this race and I'm not even breathing hard."  This was so weird.  I knew there were tough parts ahead so it wasn't like I picked up the pace at that point, but I was very pleased when I came through the first mile in 5:45.  Since I was able to breath, the hill back up from there went well, felt strong and I was happy to be hanging with Geof Gray.  I could tell by his persistent pace and watch-watching that he had some goals and was going to be running hard all the way to the finish.  Across the top of the course then back down the other side we went and as we were well into the 2nd mile, the downhill section was perfect timing for a good recovery before hitting a hard final mile.  Mile number two was a bit slower, 5:51, but that was understandable as it contained a harder section.  The final mile would be the hardest as it was 3/4 hill and 1/4 "kill your legs" grass.  We turned into the final hill and air was definitely becoming scarce now but my feet were still happy in the Adios boosts and I leaned into the angle of the slope and pushed the pace.  I was very happy to crest the top and make the sharp left toward the finish.  But there was still that dreaded circle around the grass that teases you to near death.  You look at the finish line the whole time but it takes FOREVER to get to it.  I was set in my pace though and just kept up the effort, thankful that I didn't have to fight to the end against a close competitor.  That is until I heard foot falls and heavy breathing approach from behind within about 10 meters of the finish.  I was passed by a puppy (20 year old dude) and we ended up clocking the same time - he passed me as we crossed ... whatever. 

It was a fun race.  I definitely slowed down in the final mile but finished in 18:45 which was an 8 second improvement over my last race on this course.  I was happy with that ... real happy!  My lungs did end up giving me trouble afterwards but they recovered by the end of the day.  John was only about 1 minute behind.  A great race for him as well.  We picked up our succulent and fresh cut flowers from the race directors (they have one for everyone!), hung around with some great running buddies, cooled down and were off to the Avocado Festival for some avocado sorbet.

Cross-country race #2 was two weeks later.  The Fall Fox XC Classic held on a beautiful course around Lake Los Carneros.  Carneros always reminds me of beef, but the theme of the event is Oktoberfest - Brats and beer.  I don't drink alcohol but hmmm, brats and ... how could I forget, Chocolate Chip pumpkin bread baked fresh be Drea.  The morning of the Fox XC race was the exact opposite of the Avo.  It was foggy and soggy.  That just happens to be the other weather condition that can make breathing a bit difficult - soggy air.  I often wheeze in these conditions too but for different reasons.  In soggy air water can collect in my lungs and create wheezing and difficulty breathing because of fluid collection.  This again caused some uncertainty in my expectations of how this one would go.  This course was more technical, and quite narrow, very sharp turns, unexpected rocks and roots all over the place, and it was a 5 mile course.  This called for shoes that were slightly more rugged, so no Adios Boosts today. 
Follow the BIG arrow Cindy!

I wanted to have fun on this course but I still needed to race it.  I wanted to relieve myself of some pressure and the atmosphere among the other runners, and race volunteers was helpful.  There were a lot of smiles and encouragement.  The course was fabulously marked and there was really no way to get lost - that was nice because it allowed the runners to enjoy it that much more.  Just follow the white arrows and Tim Strand issued one reassuring remark before starting us, "If you get lost out there just run around for about 5 miles and come back."  Sounded good to me.

Off we went and I found myself racing too seriously at first.  There were a bunch of puppies in the race (again this means guys in their 20's) and I wanted to run with the puppies.  I held my girl among puppies place (4th overall) and stocked the one non-puppy who lurked just ahead.  He looked to be more my age and darn it, I wanted to catch him.  But as the race and course bore into my body and psyche I made the conscious decision to pull back and keep it fun.  So miles 1 and 2 were about equal in pace (6:11 and 6:10) but the next two slowed a bit.  I was close to catching the non-puppy but in the process of slowing, I was passed by another puppy.  Where were these guys coming from?  It was all good though.  I truly enjoyed the race and held my slower but still respectable pace all the way into the finish, completing it just behind 3 puppies and a non-puppy for 5th overall and just at 31:00 minutes (31:03 on my watch) which wasn't too bad considering the course, the day, and my mental lack of effort.  I then enjoyed watching the others come in all seemingly with some semblance of a smile on their faces.  They were probably smelling the brats cooking.


Cindy can you JUST BE SERIOUS?
We looped back through the course for our cool-down and arrived back to receive awards of fresh baked Chocolate chip pumpkin bread (which lasted about 5 minutes after we got home).  I wish I could have managed a brat but I just can't seem to eat after that type of exertion.  So I didn't end up participating in the Oktoberfest part but it was festive none-the-less and such a fun race.

With these two final races, John and I are taking a bit of a break (except Thanksgiving - there has to be a Turkey Trot) as we will begin prepping for the USATF Cross-Country Championships to be held in Boulder, CO in February.  It's been a good year of racing and although I completed about 12 running races and 3 triathlons, I feel far from burned out, but for sure happy for a mental break.

Happy Fall to you and Happy Fall running!

Friday, September 27, 2013

A Busy Summer

I have about 10 blogs in my head which are sitting inside there because I haven't had time to spit them out though my fingertips onto the keyboard.  It's been a busy summer which is why there are both 10 blogs in my head and why they are still in there instead of on a page.  On a bright, late afternoon Friday, sneaking it in before my run/swim, I finally have the opportunity to report on the summer happenings.  On this rare occasion I actually have a few pictures to help illustrate the many topics on which I am about to report in rapid fire.

1.  Santa Barbara Triathlon (long course):
This year John and I did the Santa Barbara Triathlon (long course: 1 mile swim, 34 mile bike, 10 mile run).  I entered the race in the elite Master's category which gave me the opportunity to go out in the first, least crowded wave, have access to the best rack in the transition area, and get passed incessantly on the bike leg by every bike-blessed male in the competition.  Quick synopsis: My swim was sub-par (at least 2 minutes off my normal mile on the same stretch of ocean) because I was alone in the wake of the elite swimmers.  My bike fell way short of my expectation.  The bike is always an unknown to me as far as how it will go.  This particular bike course is tough but I felt very ready for it, knew it as well as anyone, but didn't do a great job of pushing my legs and pace.  My run was really good and I was happy with that part.  Even though that is my strongest discipline, it's hard to totally rely on it because one never knows how the body will hold together over the long haul and how the nutrition and energy will play out.  For me in this race, my run held together nicely and saved my race to some extent.  I place first in the Master's Elite Category.  However, I should also point out I was the only one IN the category.  Never the less, I would have won my age group had I entered in it and I was the second overall Master female.  I can't say I'm totally happy with the race, but not fully disappointed either.  I came out of it simply recognizing that I have work to do.  I want to thank all those who have been advising me, particularly on the bike.  And of course I want to thank my husband for helping me in the swim and for all of the open water workout opportunities he presented to us over the summer.  They helped tremendously.  And I want to thank Nash who has been helping John and I train as runners.

2. Mammoth
Because it is hard to take a vacation that spans the middle of a week, John and I planned two 4 day weekends in September.  The first of these was our first-ever trip to Mammoth Lakes, CA.  We have a dear friend who let us use his house up there which made it possible for us to do this and we are grateful.  I have never been at such a high altitude.  I didn't realize Mammoth was so high.  I thought Tahoe was high altitude but Mammoth makes Tahoe look like Death Valley.  We spent our four days trying desperately to run and bike.  The slightest grade upward made our lungs burn and it took us a couple of days to figure out that it's best not to go up hill if you don't have to.  Prior to figuring this out, we journeyed onto the Mammoth Crest trail.  It sounded lovely but we should have known that Crest often refers to the tippy top of the highest possible point.  Starting at 9000 feet, we ran up, and up, and up, and up.  The sounds and words that were coming out of John's mouth are not ever to be printed or repeated.  I think he hated me for about 50 minutes and then ah, the spectacular view from over 11,000 feet, panoramic and almost worth the climb.  On our beautiful Mammoth trip we saw a bear, two deer, a Mountain bike competition, the most beautiful trees, streams, lakes, awesome trails and views that are incomparable.  It was a wonderful trip and when we came back down out of the heavens to the reality of sea level and met with Nash the next day for our track workout, we were feeling good.  After days of sucking eggs and a constant altitude headache, we could finally breath again.

3. GEF 4 Miler
One of my favorite local races and courses is the Goleta Education Foundation 4 Miler.  I've done it twice before, both with good results on this speedy course.  It is well organized, well marked, well laden with volunteers, spectators and cheers, and the best of the best running friends enjoying the always perfect weather.  It is just fun.  This year I have to admit I came in with very tired legs (tired from biking because I'm trying to work on that, ha) and the morning was warm very early.  I am not a good heat runner, especially if I haven't had time to acclimate to it.  So I wasn't feeling it at the start.  Well I was feeling something, but it wasn't the "it" I was hoping to have.  My legs lacked "pop" and I was already feeling the warmth from the warm-up and was just hoping my body would end up feeling better than it presently was.  The exciting and redeeming part of the whole experience this year was that I was sporting a brand new race uniform from my new local running store (Santa Barbara Running) Oiselle team.  Santa Barbara Running is in excellent support of this women's line of running clothing from Oiselle, and I have been invited to participate as a member for our local team.  My team-mate Desa was also there sporting her new uni and we were thus "Twins."  Well Maggie Mason thought we were.  She saw Desa from behind and didn't recognize her and asked me if she was my sister.  I of course said, Yes, she's my twin.  Who doesn't want to be a twin of Desa.  Holy cow.  Getting back to how the race went, it didn't go or feel very good.  I was and will forever be eternally thankful for Jim Triplett who suffered with me.  Without him I would have been in no-man's land and who knows how much I would have thus fallen apart.  Jim hung with me, and me with him all the way until the end.  I placed 3rd overall, just a few steps ahead of Jim, though my time was not great (24:05 by my watch).  But it was the best I could do on the day.  I really ran it hard all the way to the end and then spent a fair amount of time trying not to puke.

4. Sedona
Our second 4 day weekend took us to Sedona, AZ, which is so unexpectedly breath-taking.  It cannot be described except to say you have to see if for yourself.  I've been there before several times and each time is like a whole new surprise.  As if I had forgotten how striking it is.  We enjoyed the fact that the trails were flatter and the altitude was more bearable (4,400) than Mammoth but alas, the footing was treacherous and technical.  Not knowing the trails, we opted to use a trail guide that listed them as Easy, Moderate, Strenuous.  We discovered that this had little to do with footing and technical aspects as these were not rated according to running on them, but rather hiking on them.  Again, I heard words and noises out of my husband's mouth that should never be repeated nor recorded.  But he kept a smile on his face and we did a new trail every day. 

I was given the opportunity to try a new trail shoe from Teva - Tevaspheres, and I had received my pair just days before our trip.  What better way to break them in and try them out than on rocky, red clay soil.  I didn't know what to expect with the new shoes as they have new features such as a spherical heal and a wide mid-foot base.  They are not as light a shoe as I've been using and they seemed not to have much cushion though they fit well and were comfortable.  After the first trail run (8.5 miles) of the most heinous ground, something like 10 dry creek crossings (if you saw this dry creek you'd know why this was a challenge), kicking several well planted rocks, maneuvering single-track twists, turns, up's, down's, shear cliff rocks, I came out a believer in these shoes.  They kept me on my toes, protected my toes (and ankles), I felt the ground and loved it, they gripped, they felt like they were a part of my foot, no blisters, no discomfort, no rolled ankles.  I'm a fan for life!  I didn't love them as much when I went on the roads, but as far as trails, they were awesome!!  I tried so hard to get them all red and dirty but even the red clay dirt and dust wouldn't stick to these angelic shoes.  Wow.


5. Santa Barbara Running
I want to thank from the bottom of my heart miss Monica DeVreese, Santa Barbara Running, Oiselle, and Nike for the opportunity they have given me to be a part of something truly special.  I am again referring to our local running store Oiselle race team.  We have been outfitted in amazing clothes that not only look good on females but also perform well with us.  Monica deserves all the credit for initiating and perpetuating this venture and it is nothing but fun and exciting.  As well, Nike provided a pair of shoes (a pair of Pegasus for me) for us and I want to publicly thank them for that generosity.  Our team will be doing many races together, not so much to win as a team but to represent a great STORE, a great BRAND, and a great AFFINITY for friendship and camaraderie.  Thank you Monica and thank you fellow team members.  I look forward to all that is ahead.

Summer's over but Fall is here and it brings a whole new set of challenges and fun.  This weekend John and I along with so many others will be doing the Carpinteria Triathlon (sprint).  I am excited, nervous and need to get going out the door for today's run/swim workout.  Thanks truly for taking the time to read this!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The WestMONSTER!

The Hills Have Eyes!  Aaaaaaah!  Run for your lives.  Sadly I have to admit that I love horror films so this was the first thing that came to my mind when I saw the WestMonster 2013 Logo.  For those with the memorable experience of running this 5K before, the site of the logo causes you to pause and take a deep breath.  Get that deep breath now because there won't be any of that available at the top.

This year was the 4th annual running of the WestMonster, a challenging cross-country style 5K looping through the gorgeous Westmont College campus.  This was my third visit to the race and I arrived as the two-time defending women's champion.  There was that little twinge of pressure to make it a three-peat which made it hard to approach it with a "let's just go out there and have fun" mentality.  I so wanted to just go out and have fun but the memory that most stuck in my head from the previous confrontations with the course was that of pain, relenting hills, and oxygen debt.  But there is something about it that grips you, digs into your skin and makes you come back for more. 

I've been training for the Santa Barbara Triathlon for many, many months but my main focus and mode has been putting extra miles in on the run.  In an effort to work on my overall endurance, I've grown in strength this year and I've enjoyed the running events so much lately.  Though my success has been up and down, good races and not so good, for the most part the training has been going well and the racing has been getting progressively better.  John and I recently competed in the Goleta Beach Long Course Triathlon and had a really fun experience.  I was so relieved to find that after the 1500 Meter swim and the 22 Mile bike, I had a really solid 5 Mile run to finish it off and it has helped my confidence.  To know that you can run well on tired legs with a pre-fatigued body has it's benefits as you toe a line to run a 5K on rested legs with fresh lungs.  So training for the triathlon has fed nicely into some successful running races and I came into this years WestMonster staring it right in the eyes.  Bring it on!

Thursday night, 5:00 PM, I arrived at Westmont College to check in and warm up.  I smiled as I looked around at the assembling runners and thought to myself, "ah, so many fellow crazies out for some evening, mid-week suffering."  I warmed up over the first loop, trying to shake out nagging bursitis that was flaring up in my right hip.  It lingered but it was more of an annoyance than a problem and I hoped it would not factor in to tonight's race.  Summer has been very cool and overcast, but of course tonight was warmer than it had been, darn it.  The shade was nice and I stretched for a long time in it.  Another half mile on the track and some strides on the grass and I was ready to go.  John had intended to race tonight as well but texted me to say he didn't think he'd make it.  As I got ready to head over to the starting line I was surprised to see him hustle by.  John is a great multi-tasker.  He was walking and pinning on his race number all at the same time.  No warm up for him but he made it.  This was a good sign and brought a smile to my face.  I love that we can share these things together.

There was a smaller crowd this year and as I can't help but do so, I scanned them for potential competition.  I began to think that maybe I wouldn't be closely challenged by any other female this year but then Bethany Nickless arrived to the starting line.  Bethany is a top-notch runner and is in her prime.  I have all the respect in the world for her so I accepted her presence and recalculated my will and heart to win. 

A few race instructions and then we were sent off on our way and I eased into the first mile, passing the young boys who quickly blew themselves out on the first hill.  I tried to settle into a pace as soon as possible and from past experience, knew to take it out moderately.  The first mile includes a downhill start which hits a short but significant uphill, right turn onto a slight decline which flattens out before you finally begin a steady climb up.  The steady climb up can take you by surprise but I was prepared.  Bethany came alongside me at this point and I decided I would test it out and see if she might be my tool to a PR on the course.  Either I would hang with her or she'd run away from me.  By the time we hit the first mile mark we were settled into a group which included Bethany, myself and Eric Widmer with Jim Triplett striding just ahead of us.  Not a bad group to be stuck in.  I hung on Bethany's shoulder through the passage of the middle of campus and when we came back out again to the downhill section I passed her.  My intent wasn't to pass and run away from her but rather to share the pressure of leading.  Bethany hung on my shoulder around the second loop, down the hill, back up the short, steep section and around through the middle of campus again.  We came out and were directed to the right which as I well knew was in the direction of the Monster.  The Monster is the portion of the course that can suck the remaining life out of you faster than a dementor (Harry Potter reference).  It is a significant climb, that gets steeper as it progresses and gives you the added gift of a false flat at the top.  It isn't longer than maybe 200-300 meters but it comes at the end of the 2nd mile of an already tough course and things burn as you climb.  Eric and I ran side by side up the Monster and Bethany slipped in between us to take the lead.  She was sweet and said "excuse me" as she passed.  We hung with her and all crested the top as a group and let the legs chill a bit as the incline began to transition into a nice long decline.  We wound around tight corners, across pine needles, dirt paths, sidewalks and finally onto a dirt road that led back to the paved road.  Bethany and Eric, like many that day, were unsure of which direction to go but I directed them and we regrouped as they recovered from a near disastrous wrong turn.  I tucked in behind them and we added Jim to our happy little group as Bethany and I spat directional instructions throughout the remainder of the race.  "Up there turn left and then go straight across."  "Just up ahead take a sharp right."  We came down the hill, across the main road, around the tennis courts, back through the parking lot, down the steep hill and whew! onto the track for a 350 meter sprint to the finish.  Jim was leading the way, then Eric, Bethany and myself.  This was gut check time and I attempted to imagine running intervals.  Nash Jimenez, who has been adding his years of knowledge, experience and success to John's and my training and racing, has had us do intervals with a jump in pace at the end of each.  You have to believe you have that extra gear and I'm thankful that he had been teaching us and reminding us of that.  At the 200 meter mark (that is 200 meters to go) I picked up the pace around the turn and passed Bethany and Eric.  Eric responded and picked up his pace while at the same time finding the breath to say "good race" to me.  Thank you so much for that Eric.  That was awesome.  He also urged me on in the final stretch and I gutted it out to finish just behind him.  Boom, race over, time to double over and try to find extra oxygen in the atmosphere.  I know it was a gutsy race for all of us as we stumbled about afterwards.  I'm thankful it wasn't just me stumbling around.  Bethany finished just behind and I puzzled over why she hadn't run away from me and dropped me early in the race.  Later I talked with her and she had taken some time off after the track season and hadn't been training much.  She came out to do the race as a training run and wasn't in excellent shape but she said she worked hard and her competitive juices had kicked in.  That explained things a bit and in the end I was so very thankful to have that challenge to push me to my best time on that course by 22 seconds.  And a three-peat!

The Santa Barbara Triathlon is a week away and I couldn't have asked for a better race for final preparation.  It was a race challenging enough to test me mentally and physically, and the boost in confidence to complete it and feel like I had a really good race was priceless.  It hurt but not too much and I totally enjoyed it.  There was no panic, no time that I didn't think I could hang with my fellow racers and I had the guts to finish well. 

Monday, July 8, 2013

Semana "Not"ica 15K

Weather and life can't always be perfect in Santa Barbara ... sometimes there's humidity.  The week leading up to this year's July 4th long time traditional running of the Semana Nautica 15k, can best be described as goopy, sticky, heavy air.  I love humidity (our version of it) most of the time but I got a little nervous during the days before the 15k.  My legs and lungs lacked enthusiasm and each run was rather depleting.  My confidence was up though and I wasn't going to let a little soggy air dampen my outlook.  Never mind the fact that I had to take extra care to cough fluid out of my lungs every 5 miles.  I rattled like I had pneumonia.  Yep, humidity.

But race day was kinder than the days leading up.  It remained mercifully overcast and "cool", somewhere I think in the mid to upper 60's, but still on the humid side, making if feel warmer than it was.  I usually like calm days with no wind, but a little breeze moving things around a bit would have been nice.  But what are you going to do?  It was near perfect for a July 4th race.

Training has been good.  Somehow my body has held together and has allowed me to continue to increase my weekly mileage.  I trick it by throwing in some bike training and swimming so it gets confused and forgets to get injured.  See how that works?  So I've been sneaking in an extra 10 a week just so I could look this 15k in the face and say, "You ain't so bad.  I could waste you in like, 58 minutes and not lose any sleep over it."  Yah, long miles make long races feel short.

Confidence.  That's what the extra mileage has given me.  Even though I wasn't feeling great the day before the race when I did my light 4 miles and strides, I trusted my body was ready.  I studied my training paces, recent race paces and picked my goals for the race.  I squinted a bit thinking about what it will feel like to hold a 6:11 pace.  I couldn't do that in training even if I were being chased by a rabid raccoon.  But I knew those mysterious systems would take over and it would be more than possible.

I lacked nervousness the morning of the race.  That's an oddity.  I just felt happy, calm, and resigned.  I did have this dilemma which was driving me crazy.  Should I wear the Hokas or the Newtons?  I brought both thinking I would probably opt for the Hokas and chose them for the warm up.  But I had a last minute change of heart and ditched them for my trusty, though worn-out, Newtons.  I was happy because as I strided out several times prior to the start, I felt more agile in them.  So the Newtons prevailed, and my dilemma was solved.  Now onward to the starting line.  Getting to the starting line is half the battle.  From there all you have to do is finish ... which today as it turns out was going to be a losing battle for me.

I was happy to see Drea sporting the same Olympic team uniform that I was.  I wore mine only once before, at last year's Semana Nautica.  You must wear a red, white and blue for that race.  I am proud of my Olympic uniform.  It is the real deal.  I bought it a few years ago because I was entered in the Master's World Track and Field Championships but failed to compete due to injury.  But I'm proud of it nonetheless.  I had to mention to Drea that I cut the elastic band that forms the bottom support of the running bra portion.  I seem to have a larger ribcage than some and everything fits perfectly except for that tight band.  It leaves little room for my lungs to expand during exertion.  So I totally sliced up my Olympic team uniform just so I could breathe.

Back to the starting line.  We gathered, heard last minute instructions and soon the word was given and we were off.  The first 2/3 of the course can best be described as anything but flat and straight.  There were false flats up, then sharp turns to the right, more false flats and then a long false flat.  And then a left turn and then a hill.  There is a lot of character to the course and the worst mistake is to take that first 5K too fast.  I was faring well although my mile splits were all over the place: 6:09, 6:17, 6:06, 6:19 and so forth, but that was the profile of the course and I kept my effort steady.  I settled into the race after the first mile and paid little attention to what other runners were doing.  I had to run my own race for the moment and leave the gut wrenching part (where you pounce on your prey like you haven't eaten in a week) for the last 5K.  For now I didn't want to succumb to the temptation to go too hard over the hardest part of the course.  I watched those ahead of me and kept my goals in sight.  My first 5K split was right on pace but I can't say it was as easy as I'd hope it would be.  I blame that on the heaviness that still lingered in the air.  Yes, the humidity was still a factor and needed to be considered.

I pushed onward down the slope that began the second 5K portion of the race, gaining without extra effort on the female that ran ahead of me.  She had gone out too fast.  Too bad.  I passed her as we moved into the upward slope and focused on keeping a steady pace.  I felt the pressure push against me as I strode up the slope but I reminded myself that there was not much "hill" left on this course so just get through it.  Don't let the hill beat you.  Up and over, and then soon, up and over the last significant rise.  I grabbed a cup of water at the aid station, rinsed my mouth, took a few strides of easy motion to recover and pressed on.  Mentally I began to feel the need for deeper concentration because I was feeling the pressure of my pace and wasn't gaining much on my competitors who lingered just ahead.  But there was calm.  I was in fact nearing the 10K mark and was collecting my confidence so that I had something left for the pouncing.

This though is where my race slipped through my fingers.  There are things we can control and things we can't.  As I began the slight decent back toward the bike path my body began to signal intestinal distress.  For me this is one of those enemies that may show up at any time, in any race, at any point and if it decides to attack at the wrong time, I'm basically doomed.  Within a couple of minutes of the first warning, and as soon as I had reasonable opportunity, I dashed off the course, down a private ravine.  It was a steep ravine and I slid several feet trying to gain footing for stability.  The clock was ticking and I was seemingly moving backward.  It's like that bad recurring dream.  You know the one I mean.  I left my watch ticking the whole time and I lost over a minute in the whole process.  My pit stops are not quite as efficient as Nascar.  This occurred at the 6 mile mark.  I dashed back to the path (more like stumbled) and I struggled to regain my stride.  Miraculously I hadn't lost my placement in the race but did lose all contact with those I had been running with.  I tried to keep the frustration at bay and do my best to regain as much of that minute + as I was able.  My 10K split reflected the devastation to my overall pace.  Minus that lost minute, the pace would have been right on.

Not much went through my mind over the next mile.  I just ran and hoped everything else would stay put until the finish line, but often this enemy doesn't strike just once.  And so it happened that as I neared Hollister the warning came again.  I was forced off the course, dragged down into another ravine and this time I watched a group of runners pass by, two of which were females.  Females that were 2 minutes behind me but were now in front of me and moving on without me.  I dashed out from the grips of the enemy once more and gained my stride again but now the mental anguish was setting in.  I had now lost over 2 minutes and had just over two miles to go.  I had lost my place, lost my pace, an had very little hope of even breaking the hour barrier whereas I was on pace for a sub-58 minutes.  And then there was the lurking reality that the enemy was probably not done with me yet.  When the warning hit a third time at mile 7, I stopped my watch, stopped running and left the course.  I took a few steps the other direction, turned around, started my watch again and rejoined the race for about 10 steps and then stopped for good.

I was done for the day.  I lingered and watch other runners go by.  I would have cheered for them but my heart was downcast and all I could do was watch them go by.  I wouldn't be celebrating at the finish line today and they would be.  I waited until John ran by and then I started my slow jog back through the neighborhood so I could watch many of them complete the race. 

Somehow as I made my way back, I realized, other than my GI tract (which, by the way, I hate), that I felt pretty darn good.  I just completed 7 tough, fast miles and had something left in the tank.  That was what lingered with me for the rest of the weekend.  I wasn't sad and I didn't feel devastated.  It just was what it was.  I have to admit though that I did punish my body a bit the next few days with a 6:52 paced 10 miler on Friday and a 44 mile bike ride followed by a 6:48 paced 5 miler on Saturday.  I just wanted to make sure it was still there.  And it was.  I consoled myself by entering the next possible event I could, the Goleta Beach Triathlon.  Take that you GI Joe enemy.  You stole my 15K but you ain't getting nothing more than that.

I'm still frustrated because I have to find a way to keep that enemy away from me.  This week I will be doing a food sensitivity test and will be experimenting a bit with my diet ... again.  I'm pretty sure strawberries are a no no - which is a HUGE bummer.

Thank you whole heartedly for the Semana Nautica 15k organizers and volunteers.  It was awesome and you are the greatest.  And congratulations to all the finishers.  Getting to the starting line is half the battle but getting to the finish line is the other half. 

Monday, June 10, 2013

2013 State Street Mile - Dream On

Picture taken by Ruth Morales
If you'd have asked me about two weeks ago, my opinion regarding the mile distance, I wouldn't have even needed to ponder before answering.  It sucks - it's stressful and painful: my hands and feet go numb at 800 meters; I get sick with nerves for a week beforehand; it's too short for old people like me who have lost precious speed; there's too many things that can go wrong and one mistake can blow the whole thing.  There's no way to train hard enough to not feel the searing pain of the red line.  There is no comfort zone in the mile.

I was a miler in high school.  In fact, still to this day, my single greatest moment in running and racing occurred when I won the mile at the State Championships.  I was not supposed to win "on paper."  But tell that to a 17 year old girl who ran in honor of her father who had passed away at the age of 47 just a few months earlier.  My dad always told me, "Cindy, you're going to be in the Olympics some day."  That memorable mile race just happened to fall on his birthday (it would have been his 48th birthday) and I gave it to him.  I gave it to the competition as well.  I won.

Was the mile easier back then?  I wonder.  I don't remember it hurting the way it does now.  Was that because I was young and had greater pain tolerance?  Or was it because I had not yet learned how to really get deep down into the hurt locker and stay there a while?  I think that pretty much sums it up.

I hadn't run a mile race since the few track events I did in college.  A few years ago, in 2010 I decided on some odd whim to enter a road mile in La Jolla, CA.  I entered as an elite.  I was 41 at the time, the oldest to enter the elite division, the only master female to toe the line with the youngins'.   The nerves just about drove me out of my mind.  I was unprepared for how crazy the mind and body get before a stinkin' mile.  Then there was the ensuing oxygen debt that began to build at the 800 meter mark and finally my body succumbing to it by denying oxygen to my extremities.  I placed third in that race and had a new respect for the mile.  Ouch.  I'm not sure I want to do another one of those.

The next road mile I finally had the chance to do was the 2012 State Street Mile.  It must have taken me a while to forget the pain, and then there was the little matter of injuries that began to plague me.  I entered initially in the elite division but switched to the Master's elite division after seeing the depth of young competition.  I finally decided that I would embrace my age and run as a Master and in the process, go after the Master's Elite record.  The down side was that I ran the race alone as there was such a variance in the speeds of the different women.  Each did amazing for her age, but in the raw speed category, there wasn't anyone to run with.  Somehow or another I still managed to send myself into some place of hell and string myself out to the very limits of my cells' ability to carry oxygen (as in, my hands and feet went numb around the 800 meter mark).  I was able to break the record but fell short of that sub-5 minute mark. 

The next mile I did is a bit of a sad, boring story.  It was in August of 2012.  It was the USATF So Cal Association Championship Road Mile.  That's a mouthful.  We just call it the Irvine Mile for short.  It is a straight shot from start to finish on an old abandoned airstrip, and it draws some talent.  I didn't have to worry about running alone in this one except that I might possibly be left in the dust.  The bummer is that I had committed to participating in the Santa Barbara Triathlon as the runner in a relay.  So on the day before the "Irvine Mile" I ran a 10 mile race.  I thought I'd be fine, no problem.  Plenty of time to recover.  Reality hit at the 1/4 mark of the "Irvine Mile."  Every other female in my race took off in some kind of an all-out sprint - even the old ladies.  What were they thinking?  My legs were pretty much glued to the tarmac (which was actually concrete) and I watched them all run away from me.  Then, (this was getting predictable) my hands and feet went numb at the 800 meter mark and I wildly made my way to the line somehow from there.  I remember wanting to quit.  But mostly it's a blur.  I do remember passing a few at the very end and eeking out third place in the Master's division, but I didn't feel my weak 5:18 time deserved anything but a trash can.  The pain from that one lasted for several days.  The air had been hot and dry leaving my lungs feeling scarred and damaged.  This is not the distance for me.

The next mile finally brings me to the point of this blog, the 2013 State Street Mile.  Nerves began to build one to two weeks before the event.  I hated even thinking about it and began wishing I hadn't entered.  The pressure was too much.  It wasn't so much any competitive pressure, it was more of a goal oriented pressure AND the fear of pain.  It was just going to hurt ... no if's, and's or but's.  As well, I desperately wanted to break the 5 minute barrier.  Last year I did it in 5:03.  I needed to shear off 3 (or 4 to be safe) little seconds.  I spent several nights falling asleep as I envisioned the race I wanted to run.  I saw every 1/4 mile marker, heard my splits, felt fresh and bouncy, heard and felt the cheer of the crowd and saw myself cross the line in 4 minutes and something.  The "something" part was insignificant.  It was the 4 minute part that I kept trying to see. 

This is how my goals work these days.  First is my time goal which is only a reflection of how I run and has nothing to do with any other person in the race.  This typically is my most important goal.  For State Street this one was set firmly as a goal to go under 5 minutes.  The next goal pertains to making a mark on history.  I wanted to break the record (which in this case I already held) and lower it so that it would be able to stand for a longer period of time.  The final goal was to win.  The Master's elite race is scored by age-grade so even if you cross the line first, you will only win if you also ran better for your age than any other woman.  I wanted all three of these goals.  I figured if I could manage that first goal, the other two would obviously be met.

Arriving about 90 minutes before my scheduled start time, I was able to enjoy watching the other races.  I loved seeing so many familiar faces, smiling faces.  I couldn't help wonder, "why are they smiling?  Obviously they've never run a mile before."  The weather was just perfect.  Overcast and cool, no notable wind.  Ah, the nerves just began to mount.  I kept taking deep breathes and going through the mental exercises I've learned over the years.  You finally just have to let it go and just know that you will survive (most likely) so just give it to God. 

It will forever baffle me how it is possible to run so much faster in a race than you are ever able to do in training.  You cannot run race pace for race distance in any other circumstance than in a race.  This tells me that there is something inside of us, beyond our control to summon at our whim, that is beyond ourselves.  The hormones that surge in times of greatest demand take us to a whole new ability.  It is something in our make up as human beings that was knit into us.  We can't be praised because of it.  It is God-given.  Only He can be praised for it.

During one of my many trips to the porta-potty, I gave my State Street Mile to God and I knew I would be capable of something beyond myself.  There were 6 of us women in the Master's elite race.  All older than me except for one.  That just made it all more uncertain.  An older woman could beat me but still finish far behind me.  So I needed to run to my utmost for the entire length and then wait and see.  I had a plan and splits in my head.  We toed the line, and then the start.  I ran hard at first and was relieved to hear footsteps close behind.  I wanted to be pushed.  As we neared the first 1/4 mile though, I no longer could hear anything behind me.  In fact, it was as if I was in a cloud of complete silence, like everything around me was in slow-motion.  I heard and saw my first 1/4 mile split, 68 seconds (I glanced at my watch to confirm).  Oops, that was not the plan (a bit faster than I expected).  But at the same time, I felt good, my breathing was calm, I was relaxed and I went with it.  The 1/2 mile mark was quickly within my sight and I concentrated on my form, staying relaxed, running a straight line and passed that mark in 2:24.  I still had enough oxygen in my brain to calculate - "Oh, hmmm, that's ahead of pace.  Good."  I still felt decently good.  I knew my hands and feet would go numb so when it happened, this time it didn't bother me as much.  I had experienced this 3 other times and I knew I could still keep moving.  It was just my body's way of conserving precious oxygen for my heart.  I'd rather my heart continue to beat than to have sensation in my hands and feet.


Picture taken by Fritz Olenberger for Noozhawk
Here's where my dream began.  I was pushing on to the 3/4 mark feeling strong, beginning to feel the pain, but not too bad.  I was in deep concentration and a million thoughts were fluttering through my mind but not distractions.  If I could just hit that 3/4 mile slightly under pace, I'd have a chance.  I felt like the Terminator or Iron Man crunching little red numbers in my peripheral vision.  The crowd lined the street at that point and I became aware of comments being made, and in some cases I heard my name.  The feeling at this point is hard to describe.  You almost feel like you're asleep but are vaguely aware of things going on around you.  You feel it, to some extent hear it, but it seems like it's a world away.  I approached the 3/4 mark and heard John yell "Kick."  I laugh now because John's a swim coach and he's telling me to kick.  I got confused - wait, am I swimming or running.  When you can't feel your hands and feet, really, who knows?  And was he serious?  Kick NOW?  But my 3/4 mile split was 3:38 - still under pace for a sub-5 minutes, so maybe yah, kick NOW.  From there all I remember was my form coming apart, my desire to meet my goal escalated 100%, the shouts from the crowd.  I actually pondered in the midst of searing pain, how amazing the shouts were.  I felt the will of those watching and I grew stronger instead of weaker.  I saw the clock ticking just ahead.  It was at 4:40 when I first could make out the numbers.  But I know all too well how fleeting those precious seconds are - would I make it in time?  Was there anything more I could give?  Please don't let me come this close and falter.  It's amazing how little control you have over yourself when you are completing spent.  I watched the clock and kept my eyes focused on it willing it to slow down and me to speed up.  I watched it until I ran right underneath it with my arms up in victory - 4:56 was what I saw when I crossed.  4:57 was the official time.  I did NOT even need to bend over in exhaustion.  I was floating.  I was energized and I was finally smiling in a finishing chute.  Thank you God for that part of me that is beyond me and is just You.

I managed to meet all three of my goals.  I am still getting older and faster.  I like that!  This is something that would not have been possible without the crowd and the cheers, and my husband yelling at me to kick and I wish there was a way to share the feeling with all of you who were there.  This race will stand as the second greatest running moment in my life, save the aforementioned State Championship mile.  Ruth Morales took some amazing pictures, one of which captured faces in the background that bring tears to my eyes.
Picture taken by Ruth Morales

So if you were to ask me today what my opinion is of the mile distance, I wouldn't have to ponder long before answering - it's awesome.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

New Book, New Shoes, An Interview and a Battle

If I had a bit more time these days, I wouldn't have to cram 4 topics into one blog.  Life has been busy with many good things but I've been trying to get to this blog for a while.

New Book: I've been using Greg McMillan's training calculator and training/racing paces for about 3 1/2 years now.  I use them to guide my training and to give me realistic expectations for races based on what I am able to do in training or in previous competitions.  I had not delved too deep into his philosophy beyond that but knew that he had some interesting insights into different bodies and how training needs to be different from one person to the next.  He finally came out with a book, (which I pre-ordered so I could get a signed copy) that explains his whole training plan and how to build an individualized plan for oneself.  I was so excited when it arrived on my doorstep and dove right into.  As a self-coached athlete I try to be open to what's available but also am guarded about what I try to do in my training.  With so many injuries in the past few years, I've been on a quest to be super smart!

I have since built my new McMillan training plan currently targeting a half marathon distance, although I will be running several different distances in the meantime, including a road mile.  I have increased my mileage this year ... carefully I might add ... because as long as I can keep my body in check and avoid injury, it adds strength, endurance and mental toughness.  From McMillan's book, I learned I am a combo-runner which a slant toward speedster.  Translated into English, this means I do equally well at varying distances but longer race distances and training are much harder on me than the fast stuff.  It takes me longer to recover from a long workout than it does a speed workout and I enjoy the faster, shorter stuff much more than the longer, slower stuff.  So with this in mind, I have been able to build a training plan that includes a lot of mileage (for me a lot means around 45 miles a week) but includes carefully inserted quality workouts that both challenge me and yet sit in my sweet spot.  I have placed enough recovery after the long workouts to keep me fresh for the fast workouts.  I'm still going through the book and building my plan but so far it all feels great and I'm hoping will translate into better running and racing.  I highly recommend the book.

New Shoes: I have talked about my Hokas before.  To sum up what I've said in the past, the shoes are heavenly but for me have to be used sparingly because they have proven to be too much of a crutch in workouts and led to weakened performance and the inability to easily switch into racing flats for fast workouts and races.  I use them on days when my legs are really feeling beat up and usually not more than twice a week, but mostly just once a week.  The that once per week run in my Hokas is what I look forward to.  I wake up excited for my Hoka run.  I now equate running in Hokas to swimming with fins.  The feel great, help you run faster with less effort, but can make you weaker if you rely on them.

Recently I had the opportunity to try a new model of Hoka, which is still in the design stage.  This new model is designed more for fast running and even possibly for fast racing.  They still have the thick cushion and bulk but are less "marshmellowy", more narrow and look a bit more like a typical shoe.  They are very light and somewhat flexible.  I have wanted to see if this new model might bridge the gap between my traditional running and racing shoes and the over-stuffed swim fin shoe and perhaps could be my new every day shoe.

When I first laid eyes on the new model my observation was that they were much more narrow.  This concerned me because my feet need space or else I begin to have some issues with blisters and neuromas in both forefeet getting irritated.  The new shoes were plenty big but unfortunately my feet felt smothered in the narrow toe box.  Their maiden voyage of 7 miles produced blisters on the top and bottom of my right foot, the tongues of both shoes slipped down and seemed to make them bend in the wrong spots, and I felt serious friction in both forefeet.  It was a totally different experience than my regular Hokas but I was optimistic that the next run would fare better.

The next run in the newbies was a 10 miler and I had similar issues but also additional issues.  I first noticed that there seemed to be some sort of clicking going on inside of the deep cushioning of the shoe as if there was a bubble inside there.  It was annoying but otherwise not too much of a problem.  Early on this time I began to feel a pain along the outside of my left foot.  It felt a lot like a cramp and didn't keep me from journeying on but was worrisome.  As I hit the more flat ground the friction began and hot spots developed this time on both my right and left feet and again the tongues slid to some strange location causing the shoe bend to irritate the tops of my feet.  I stopped more than once to pull up the tongues but they wouldn't stay where I needed them to stay.  I also had to stop to remove both shoes and allow my feet to "cool."  The friction that was being caused was intense and very uncomfortable.  In the end, that run ended up being miserable and left me with a slight injury in my left foot which ran up into the calf.  My Chiropractor determined that my foot had to be landing improperly and was compensating.  In general the toe box seems too restrictive and I still haven't figured out why there is friction in the forefoot area.  On the good side, the shoes have that great cushion and impact control and are less bulky than my regular Hokas.  I plan on trying them again but for the moment am hesitant.

An Interview:  John and I were guests on Coach Z's Endurance and Strength radio shoe.  John was the USMS Master's Coach and I was the elite runner :)  It was fun to talk about recent races and strength training advice, but I kind of think the boys (Zack and John) went off on some crazy open water/Wild Flower/Ironman France tangent and I sat there with my mouth open waiting to interject but then cocked my head to the side and just listened.  Ha ha, you know I'm kidding.  It was all good and very fun.  Here's the link to the podcast if you'd like to listen: Coach Z's Endurance and Strength Podcast - John and Cindy

Finally, a Battle:  Every year the Santa Barbara Tri-Club competes against the UCSB Tri-Club (and the Rincon Tri-Club as well) for dibs on the coveted Battle in the Sand Trophy.  The victor gets to possess the trophy until the next year's competition.  Our SB Tri-club claimed it last year and were poised to defend it.  The competition is won by the team which claims two out of three wins in the following categories:  All Women's Team, All Men's Team, Co-Ed Team.  Each team (relay team) has 6 members who switch off between swim and run.  So the first member swims, the second runs, the third swims, and so on until all 6 team members have done their part.  Therefore each relay team has 3 swimmers and 3 runners.  This year I was on the All Women's Team - as a runner.  The run is a beach run and this year is was nice and short (less than a mile).  We were up against excellent competition and after the first swim leg, had some ground to make up.  We remained behind the UCSB's all women's team through our first run leg, but our second swimmer, Tina, made up all the ground (er, water) and passed the other team and put some distance between us and them.  From there we kept the gap or lengthened it making my anchor leg quite easy - which was nice because I was running on dead legs as is typically the case on any given Saturday.  So our All Women's team won, but unfortunately our All Men's team and Co-Ed teams both lost to UCSB meaning the trophy left our possession ... until next year.

Upcoming events:  Next week I will be doing the State Street Mile as a Master's Elite.  Road miles and other short races are so nerve wracking and I'm already nervous but yet looking forward to it.  Last year was my first State Street Mile and I broke the Master's record with a 5:03.  Of course you can't come that close to breaking  5 minutes and be satisfied so this year I have already heaped pressure on myself to go under 5 minutes.  That would require me to get older and faster which I'm not so sure is happening.

Thanks so much for reading.  I feel like I'm a bit caught up now with the blog and hope to follow this one up with a race report next week.  Blessings to you!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Stellar Night

At the waning of the day, the air began to cool.  It was a nice kind of cool, while the sun still hung, rich and gold on the horizon to the west.  I arrived at Elings Park early, an hour before the race.  I was unfamiliar with the park, the course and the routine.  My legs were heavy from a long 14 mile run the day before, and a spirited effort at the Cbad a few days before.  I wondered if there was much wisdom in running the Stellar Nights Trail 5K on tired legs, but a trail always beckons you.  A trail is always a good idea.

The Stellar Night Trail race series had been going on each Wednesday for over a month.  My training schedule and race preparation plans kept me from participating but I put April 10th on my calendar, thankful to partake before the final opportunity passed.

There is most definitely a uniqueness to trail running, and trail racing, and I had done very little of either here of late.  I ran a short cross-country series the previous fall and a few of those courses were challenging, off-road adventures that I never quite felt prepared for.  Then there were a few wonderful, blissful ventures out on our local trails with John over the winter-time.  Those were great ... except for the endless hills.  What is it with trails and hills around here?  When someone mentions a trail run, what registers in my mind is a 4000 foot elevation gain in 10 miles.

The Stellar nights 5K (oh, and let me be clear here, it was farther than a 5K), is what I would call a "killer" course and I mean that in both ways.  I was indeed lucky to come out the other end mostly unscathed, but it was mere luck.  There were plenty of opportunities to fall off the mountain, suffocate in the sand pits of hell, pop an ankle in a ground squirrel hole, inhale a big bug, tumble down stairs, slide off embankments of bark chips, and exactly how many sports fields did we have to traverse, because every time I thought we were done, there was another soccer field in the way.  But most everybody eventually finds their way to the finish unscathed.

I intended to run with moderate effort because I didn't have enough in me for much more than that.  Oh, and I was hoping not to paint the trail with my recently eaten salmon patty.  But I soon discovered that it is impossible to run this course with moderate effort.  It required everything.  I discovered that my Hoka's were a bit on the loose side and rounding all the hairpin turns caused some unauthorized movement inside my shoes and my feet took some kind of insane battering.  It was not a course for the faint of heart or the weak knee'ed.  What were all these kids doing out here?  Are you kidding me?  This is a grown-up course.  Or maybe the reality is that it is a kid's course - kids run for fun, grown-ups run at your own risk!  The kids are crazy and fearless - perfect for such a race.

The starting line was upon one of the sports fields (a softball field I think), and we gathered in a
crowd near there for instructions.  When it was time to start, I wasn't quite sure which way we were headed.  Have you ever gotten into an elevator and instead of facing the door like everyone else, you turn and face toward the other passengers?  Well that's how I felt when all the veterans who had run the race 5 times were facing one way and I was facing the opposite way.  Um, hm.  But I eventually figured it out and we were off.  Watch out for that big hole in the middle - the one with the garbage can on top of it.  It was a narrow area around the field so unfortunately I ran harder than I otherwise would have liked, just to get a clear position.  We headed all the way around the field until we popped out onto the roadway and headed up.  There was a lot of up, and this was just the beginning.  We followed the paved road (I should have appreciated the even ground when I had the chance) up toward a trail-head and of course went onto the trail from there.  The sun was vibrantly bright and shining directly into our eyes as we wound up in one direction, then switch-backed toward another direction, and I think we did that a few more times before finally cresting the top.

The top was my favorite part of the whole course.  It was a spine along the mountain and we followed what became a narrow single-track trail which compassionately sloped slightly downward.  The spine became treacherous though as it narrowed and descended along a down-ward switch-back pattern.  There was the incessant need to slow your pace in order to stay on the trail when you hit the turns.  My feet were in pain and I feared my knees would not make it through the next mile, and this was the "easy" part.  Down, down, down we wound, and I had trouble staying on that single-track.  Toward the bottom, where spectators had gathered to watch the suffering, I almost launched myself into the crowd like a drunken concert-goer (although I've actually never been drunk).  The trail turned but my body had a delayed reaction.  Then it was back up again, not quite to the spine and then back off the trail onto, ahhhhh, pavement.  That was loop #1.

The pavement lasted only a short while and then it was off onto more sports fields.  We first ran by the starting line, and then in cruel fashion, we ran past the finish line, around a field (softball again I think), then around another field (soccer I think) and then another field and some kind of BMX bike course.  This part was flat or slightly downhill but the footing was rough.  After the final sports field (more sports fields to come later) we came back out onto the main road, making a sharp right turn (which of course I was unprepared for so I ran way out into the road instead of turning onto the sidewalk) and down a bit until we cut into a final loop.  By now, I was fully fatigued from both the uphill effort and the downhill pounding and my legs were beginning to feel gelatinous.  I thought maybe I had one more hill in me but being that I didn't know the course, I could only hope that it was doable.  What I soon discovered is that there is a beach in Elings Park.  Why is there a beach in the middle of a trail?  It wasn't actually a beach because that implies "flat."  This was more of a dune.  Yes it was a sand dune.  At the base of the sand dune hill I thought "ok, I can get through a little sand.  As long as it doesn't swallow me, I'll be fine, and it will soon be over."  But the base of the sand dune was like the tip of the iceberg.  It was a sand hill that just wouldn't end.  If I had any energy at the moment, I would have laughed.  It was like, "just keep moving because if you don't move forward, you will surely go backward."  Backwards into the sinking sand of doom, mua ha ha ha.  And getting to the top and over the top didn't really help that much because you had to go back down the sand hill and on Jello legs that doesn't work.  My saving grace was my clown sized Hokas.  I swear those shoes were made for sand ... or snow shoeing.

I desperately looked at my watch.  Is it 3.1 miles YET?  It almost was but not quite.  Back down off that beach loop and then it was back up toward the sports fields again.  I caught up fairly even with the guy who had been running just ahead of me and I focused on what I thought must be the finishing stretch.  According to my watch, we were past 3 miles so the finish line had to be just up ahead.  He grunted out something like, "great job.  Now all we have is heartbreak hill."  Heartbreak hill?  Aren't we mostly done with hills?  And before the thought fully formed in my mind, there lay before me some sort of embankment of loose bark which was worthy of being crawled up, and above that was the "stairway to heaven."  I would rather refer to it as ankle-break hill, and not only that, but also we were running up while other runners were still running down.  Collisions were eminent.  I managed somehow to drag my body up the bark, up the stairs and back onto the nearest sports field.  Ah, this is the field around which must lie the finish line.  I picked up my pace, seeing as how I was already over 3.1 miles, and prepared to gut it out around the back of the softball field.  When I came around to where the finish line was SUPPOSED to be my every bit of strength fell flat.  There was no finish line around this softball field.  Wrong one.  They all look alike to me.  I had another one to go around before reaching it and I had totally misjudged the entire finale.  By the time I reached the actual finish line, my legs were barely functioning and I might have staggered a bit after stopping.  I'm not sure what words came out of my mouth but I don't think they were pleasant words.  You want to be always appreciative of the volunteers and organizers, but as I wrestled to rip off my race tag (I had accidentally removed it before the race, so had to pin it onto the rest of the race number) I was looking for someone to strangle.  MUST HAVE OXYGEN.  And an Americano.

And people do this race week after week.  They think it's fun.  I limped around, breathing as much as possible, reminding myself that I ain't gonna be back next week.  Yah, that's what I said after my first Camp Pendleton Mud Run, and I ended up doing at least 10 of them after that.  That's sort of what I said after giving birth to my first child, but somehow I managed to have another.  It's funny how we soon forget the pain and begin to see all the beauty in the challenging things.  It's like a cream that settles on top after the agitation stops.  That was a Stellar race on a Stellar night and as I cooled down in the warm sunset I was so glad I'd done it.  I began to wonder ... what if?  I knew the course now, what if I did it again - could I do better?  What if I gave it a go on rested legs in tighter shoes?  The Stellar Nights Trail Series gets under your skin.  I think I'm going to get a Stellar Nights tattoo.  It would say something like, "I lived to tell the story."

Thanks to Zack Bertges and Nancy Kaplan for all your work and effort in creating this event and offering such a unique opportunity to our running community.  You and your many volunteers did an exceptional job week after week and with such a great turn-out of runners, it's clear Stellar Nights is here to stay, etched into running history and a new tradition.  I'm going to be back next year and take back the part of me it claimed.