Time to ‘get my marathon on’

chainsaw jugglingDo you ever feel like you’re juggling chainsaws? Got so much going on you’re afraid of slipping up? I know the feeling …

Sunday is The California International Marathon.  I’m also a week away from completing my first semester in graduate school.  It’s gone fast and now it’s time to get my marathon on. Woo-hoo!

My last day of class will be two days after I get back from Sacramento.  I have two papers due between now and then.  (That’s why you haven’t been hearing from me lately.)

A lot has changed for me since December 2009 — the first time I ran CIM and qualified for Boston. My kids were ages 7 and 3; I just hit my 40s; and I was a full-time mom/part-time professional writer. Today, I’m a grad student; “Tarzan” and “Jane” are 8 and 12; and I’m five years older, which my body reminds me of more than I like.

equinox2I have never been one to shrink away from challenges — hence my chainsaw metaphor.  I believe as we grow older we’re often called upon to evolve.  Sometimes changes are thrust upon us and other times we choose them.  After all, what choices do we really have? We can’t go backward, even if we want to, so forward we go. It’s either that or stay put.  I’ve chosen my current path and I have no regrets.

It’s not easy “juggling chainsaws”: Training for marathons, raising your kids and changing careers in midlife but so far I haven’t caught an edge.  I consider that a success and it makes me happy.

I’ve also made this decision: I plan to take a break from marathon racing while I finish out the rest of grad school, which is two more semesters (spring and fall).  I would like to focus on shorter distances and speed during that time. I will begin student teaching two days a week, plus take four classes, starting in January.  My last semester will include full-time student teaching.  Even though I hope to BQ again at CIM this Sunday, I think my life will get even crazier in the coming months.  I’m grateful that the grad program I’m in has been gradual before throwing us into the classroom. I can’t imagine what it would have been like for me and my family otherwise. Perhaps like juggling chainsaws one-handed?

Once I’m in the classroom I think it’ll be a marathon of its own until I get my teacher’s legs steady beneath me. That’s why I’m creating this break for myself.  I also can’t lie.  I love running short, fast and hard — and I’m better at it, too. I’m looking forward to switching gears and I think it’ll help me keep my sanity during the interim.

If you want to follow my progress on Sunday here’s a link to the.CIM athlete tracker.  Please send me positive vibes.

I hear the chainsaws buzzing and I have to write those papers so I’m signing off now.  I’ll let you know how Sunday goes.  Keep those hands steady and my mind focused  I can do this. 🙂

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“Aging is inevitable, but growing old is a choice. Lace up your shoes, and let’s go!”

Mileage today: 3;  Mileage for 2014:  1,677

The Mount Evans Ascent and “Duct Tape” running

mount evans 032mtevans2Some races we run to fulfill dreams and others to cross off bucket lists. Then there are those we do just because they seem like a good idea at the time but they teach us or show us something else about ourselves or our character. That’s how the Mount Evans Ascent on June 15th, turned out for me. It was also my first 14er in Colorado and it proved to me that I could keep going even when my fear of height kicked in.

I didn’t sign up for Mount Evans to prove anything to myself or anyone else. I did it because I saw a post on in from a Facebook friend of mine, Kathy (http://gottokeeponrunninglong.blogspot.com/). She signed up for it and invited others to join her.

“Share in the misery,” she cajoled, referring to hard it is climb 14ers, let alone race them.

I’m not sure if she thought many people would take her up on it, and  and least of all me, but I did sign up thanks to her post. What can i say? It felt like a triple-dog dare from “A Christmas Story.” What was the worst that could happen? Not making it to the summit or getting my tongue frozen to a rock at the top?

Psssshaw! I can do this, I thought.

schwartz2Photo credit: www.achristmasstoryhouse.com

“Run” is a relative term when it comes to scaling almost 4,000 vertical feet, and starting at about 10,000 feet.  Organizers bill this event as “America’s Highest Road Race” with “road” being the operative word. It traverses pavement the entire way. It starts at Echo Lake (10,800 feet), located at the intersection of Hwy. 103 (Squaw Pass Rd.) and Hwy. 5 (Mount Evans Road). From there, the course climbs for 14.5 miles until you almost reach the summit of Mount Evans, 14,264 foot. I say “almost” because after you cross the finish line you have to climb another 150 feet to reach the true top of Mount Evans. Because it’s a precipitous spot organizers don’t stage the finish there.

In my estimate only true mountain goats  can “run” the entire way during this race.

Mountain_Goat_Mount_Massive

Photo credit: www.wikipedia.com

Most of us mere mortals ran, walked,  power hiked and jogged in spurts at Mount Evans — the idea being to just keep putting one foot in front of the other any way we could and this included me.

I’m not ashamed to admit it — I’m neither a mountain goat nor Scott Jurek when it comes to mountain running. I I did the best I could with my limited vertical training I got in beforehad and the rest I chalked up to  “Duct Tape thinking” to power me through it. (Stay with me. I’ll explain more as I go.)

Sure, in the several weeks leading up to Mount Evans I ran lots of hills and lifted weights, but I never got a chance to run the road itself beforehand. Park officials usually don’t open it until after Memorial Day and even then, it’s weather permitting. I also I never got to train above 10,000 feet before the race, which I believe would have been better. I live at 6,000 feet and I did run Mount Falcon (about 2,000 feet of climbing and close to an 8,000-foot summit) and other trail runs, but that was it.

The week before the race the road opened to the public and I drove it with my husband and son.The first section was wooded and secluded and then it opened up. From there it snaked back and forth, quite exposed, until the summit. Most of the sections have few or no guardrails to them. If your car goes astray, you can plummet off the side thousands of feet.

As we drove up, my heart began racing and breathing became shall. Soon I was hyperventilating.

“Did I ever tell you I’m afraid of heights?” I said to my husband as we reached Summit Lake — the first cut-off point for the race. “Turn around, please.”

“Seriously?” he asked. “Are you sure? Don’t you want to see the rest?

“NO! Get me the hell down. NOW!”

My husband saw me gripping the door handle and terror in my eyes, then obeyed.

For the next week leading up to the race I panicked, Forget my lack of ideal training. I thought, “How am I going to get through this?”

That’s when I remembered a trip I took to Eastern Europe a few decades back and all the Duct tape there and came up with a strategy.

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Back in the 1980s my sister and I visited my parents’ homeland. I didn’t know it at the time but it was a trip of a lifetime and one that would never be repeated. Many of the places I saw have either been destroyed or changed by the civil wars that took place in the Balkans during the 1990s.

My fondest memories are of the many people who helped us while were there (we speak the language). Many of them offered to drive us places in their cars. We were in a Communist country at the time and because of the circumstances not everyone owned a car. Most of the time they had these cars in the proverbial sense. Sure, they had steering wheels and tires, but most of the time they were falling apart — broken mirrors, door handles, doors themselves and windshields, Almost everyone we encountered had used Duct tape to keep their vehicle or something else less than ideal intact in some form and it worked for me

It occurred to me that Duct tape and “Duct tape thinking” was the way they carried on despite being dealt a difficult hand. It did not stop them living life or enjoying it as best they could. It was a valuable lesson to be learned.

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In the days leading up the race I hedged back and forth. “Should I run it? Should I drop out of the race and not do it? How am I going to do this? That view, those drop-offs that road — I’m so scared  of it.”

I finally decided I need to strap on some Duct tape thinking myself and just get through it as best I could.

The day of the race  I met up with a great group of Columbine friends to carpool up and hang out with — Tina, Janet, Melissa, Jessica and Morriah

Here are pictures of us at the start and then at the summit, too

mount evans 030mount evans 031I credit them for helping me through my fear of heights and making it to the top, particularly Morriah. We ran from the start to Summit Lake together and then I took off a bit faster from there.

Yes, I still had experienced serious fear and vertigo during Mount Evans but being with Morriah — getting to know her, having someone to talk to, the good company —was a godsend. Thank you Morriah!

The race itself was both spectacular and scary. The first four miles I ran a lot of it. Then the road opened and so did the winds at gusts of 40 mph plus. This added to my vertigo so I kept my eyes on this horizon and put one foot in front of the other. I took in the alpine scenery when I could.

Morriah and I stuck together most of the way until we got to the first cut-off point for the race. (You have to get to Summit Lake in 2 hours and 45 minutes and the summit in 4 hours and 30 minutes or the organizers would turn you back.) You are also not allowed to run on the inside or mountainside of the road, just to left side of the yellow line or you can be disqualified. They do this because the road stays open to traffic during the race. Most of the time, the cars give you the right-of-way, but this rule also added to my anxieties and course marshals do enforce the left-side-of-the-road rule, too.

I ran and climbed up the road at a conservative pace and I felt good most of the way. I was surprised to see potholes in the road near the top, especially when we got above the tree line, but I guess in perspective it makes sense. Since the road is closed most of the year I am sure repairs are difficult to do.

The last few miles were peaceful and yet eery and lonely at the same time. The strong winds hollowed in my ears and made it colder. I tried to make conversation with a few people after Morriah and I parted but most of them didn’t want to talk. In fact, almost everyone but me wore headphones with music. My guess is they were too tired and depleted and focused on getting to the top to talk.

I had to add clothing layers and even hand-warmers inside my gloves once I got close to the summit. It was freezing!

The last few switchbacks were grueling and felt like a death march but somehow I managed. Once I got to the summit and across the finish line I grabbed my dry bag and added more clothing. As I watched other people finish I noticed some of them weaving or slurring their words — altitude sickness at play.

A few of the gals I was with had done this race before and commented on how rough the winds and conditions were this go-around. I think we were all thankfully to be done.

I don’t know if I’ll ever do Mount Evans again. Right now my thinking is that I won’t repeat it but you never know. That’s the thing about “Duct tape thinking and running” — it gets you past things you think you can’t do. Never say never.

Last week I started grad school. I am in an urban teacher licensing program and I have a feeling that a little Duct tape thinking will serve well there, too.

In the meantime though, I’ll keep on with the Duct tape running. You just never know where it will take you — even up a mountain and beyond your fears.

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“Aging is inevitable, but growing old is a choice. Lace up your shoes, and let’s go!”

Today is a rest day: Mileage for 2014: 995

 

 

What’s your power word?

cropped-meandkiddos2.jpgIf you could choose one word to describe yourself, something to power your running or your life, what would it be?

OK, go!

And if you’re willing, please share your word in my comments section and keep reading to learn what mine is. 🙂

I was thinking about this today because my life and training often mirror each other and I’ve got a lot on my plate. I just finished my application for grad school and I’m probably going back to school in the fall, and I’m also training for Mount Evans Ascent in June.  All of that feels outside of my comfort zone, and that’s why I’ve been playing with words and mantras.  I can use all the help that I can get.

I LOVE words — I always have. Back when I was a newspaper editor one of my favorite things was writing headlines. It always gave me great satisfaction when I came up with a good one. I love how words can paint pictures in your head. This also happens to me when I pick a good mantra. I think mantras can help you stack the odds in your favor during training.  Obviously, nothing is a guarantee but when you’re training hard, you want to draw strength and inspiration from wherever you can. For instance, both of my kids did something cool recently that made me think of power words to describe them.

My son just tested for his next belt in karate. That, by itself, wasn’t a big deal, but he was the only one testing at his level, which meant he had to do it alone with everyone in the room watching him. Keep in mind he’s 8 years. I’m not sure I could have done that when I was 8. I was shy and probably would have cracked under the pressure, but he didn’t. He passed and I was proud of him, but most of all, I was floored by his courage. That leads me to my power word for him: “Courageous.” He’s always had a courageous heart and I admire that about him.

Last week my daughter gave a speech in front of her entire fifth grade class at school. Like many people I know, public speaking scares her.  Later she confided in me, after her presentation was over, that the first time she ever spoke in front of a large crowd, about a year ago, she cried afterward. This time, however, she practiced in front of me and she was better prepared. When it came time for her to do it she came off confident and happy — just the way she is when you’re with her in a small group or one-on-one. She blossomed like a sunflower, which brings me to the word that makes me think of her: “Ebullient.”  She’s always had a joyous spirit about her no matter what.

Last weekend I ran the Greenland 25K Trail Race in Larkspur, Colorado.  Here’s proof:

dirtyfeetGoing to the dirt side: No, that’s not five o’clock shadow — just the dusty remnants of my efforts.

greenland25KBaked runner: This was the path to the start of the race and that was about as shady as it got it.

Greenland was balls to the wall for me and the longest run (15.5 miles) I’ve done since the Tucson Marathon in December.  I knew I was under-trained going in but I went for it anyway.  It was exposed the whole time and my Garmin (timer) crashed at the first aid station, but I finished.  It was good training for Mount Evans in that it had some climbing and some less-than-ideal conditions, although I expect it will be windy and cold and miserable in a different way at high altitude rather than being baked. Still, Greenland was challenging and while it wasn’t a spectacular finish, it was a finish nonetheless and indicative of the power word I choose for myself: “Tenacious.”

I’ve always been a tenacious person and I’m a plucky runner. That’s my strength. I’m not an elite athlete, but I’m willing to work hard and train smart and see where it takes me. Sometimes that’s all you need. Next month I will run up Mount Evans, which is a 14er.  I’ve never hiked a 14er but I’ll succeed because I’ve made up my mind to do so.

“Tenacious” — that’s me.

What’s your power word?  Can you go outside your comfort zone?  I bet you can if you try.

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“Aging is inevitable but growing old is a choice. Lace up your shoes and let’s go!”

Mileage today: 3; Mileage for 2014: 293

 

Throw Back Thursday: 2012 Bear Chase 50K

copy-3442_19_1726-3a.jpg

Me running the Bear Chase 50K in 2012.

Sometimes it’s good to remind yourself of an earlier time that you stepped out of your comfort zone, especially as you prepare to push yourself again. 🙂

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“Aging is inevitable, but growing old is a choice. Lace up your shoes, and let’s go!”

Mileage today: 5; Mileage for 2014: 276

My Tucson Marathon Recap: Saguaros and Sisterhood

TucsonMara2013 wasn’t my best year for Boston or Botox or otherwise, but thankfully it’s ending on a good note.  I ran the Tucson Marathon well and finished in 4:02.

A few weeks ago, as I prepared to race Tucson on Dec. 8th, I mentioned that my blog got hacked recently.  That’s part of the reason why I haven’t written much this year.  The other reason is 2013 was difficult for me personally; oftentimes I didn’t have the stamina in me to blog.  I think we all face challenges some time during our lives; 2013 was one of those years for me.  An example: I had surgery a few days ago to address a health concern.

In a way, however, it was perfect I found redemption in the Arizona desert because at its worst moments 2013 felt barren to me.  However, the one thing I can tell you from having lived in New Mexico for many years is that the desert is NEVER void of life or hope, no matter how it appears from the outside.  Even the prickly yucca bears flower and fruit.  You just have to look for them with an open heart and mind.  The challenges we all face in life and running, I believe, are much the same.  Hope for the better is always possible and within our reach.  That’s where I find myself today – blossoming like the yucca after the rain.  I am ready to blog, run and live more fully again.  Thank you for your kindness, support, and patience during my dry spell.

yuccaYucca plant: Photo credit: en.wikipedia.org.

Now, without further ado (Drum rolls, please …) I give you my Tucson Marathon recap.

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Success in the Sonoran Desert

It’s been more than two years since my sister and I have traveled and raced together so this race was a treat.  The last time was in Moab, the Canyonlands Half Marathon, March 2011, a month before I ran Boston.

Even though I ran the full and my sister ran/walked the half, this trip became about two similar things for both us: Family and finishing.  We accomplished both and had a wonderful trip together.

We flew in and out of Phoenix so we could visit our cousin who lives there. Then we drove into Tucson the day before the race and stayed at the hotel hosting the race, The Hilton Tucson El Conquistador.  The grounds were really beautiful.  The Tucson Marathon course has had many incarnations from what I read about it and apparently it used to finish near the hotel.  It doesn’t anymore.

The Tucson Marathon, organized by ultrarunner Pam Reed of Badwater fame, is a cumulative downhill course, with more than 2,000 feet of elevation drop according to the race website.  It’s considered a fast course and for the most part I think it’s true, although I’m not sure the variation of it that we got this year was its speediest version.  Apparently a few weeks before this year’s race, organizers changed the last five miles of the course.  It affected both the half and full marathon course.  From what I heard from locals who had done the course in 2012 and this year, it was supposedly harder.  It didn’t matter though because for me and my sister it was just the course we got that day.

Aside from the changes to the last 5 miles I liked the Tucson Marathon course and I was mostly impressed by the organization that went into it.

I caught my bus to the start from out hotel and was happy to learn that it was both heated and had a working toilet while we were shuttled to the start.  Once we got there we were allowed to stay on the bus until almost the very start of the race.  That weekend it was unseasonably cold in Denver when we left the airport, with temperatures hovering around zero, and subsequently it was also unusually cold in Arizona with it being 32 degrees at the start of the marathon. By the time I finished it was only in the mid-40s.

I loved the start of the race, it was dark as ink at dawn, and I watched the sunrise the first few miles.  The downhill was severe at the start, especially around several first turns and I forced myself to take walk breaks so as to not go out too hard or fast at the start.  I started out doing Galloway Method for the first 5 miles; running 9 minutes on followed by 1-minute walk breaks.  I abandoned it, however, so I could just walk through the water breaks when I wanted and fortunately there were plenty of them every few miles.

Several miles into the race we fit an open road and highway and we passed the Biosphere.  I remember finding the course to be more rolling hills and uphill than I expected, especially between miles 10-13.

Between miles 15-20 I hit my stride and I felt great.  I ended up meeting a runner from New Mexico, Cara, and we ran and chatted together.  She had run the course the year before and warned me about what was coming as she had driven the course the day before and I hadn’t.  Like me Cara was shooting for a BQ. For me I needed to run 3:55 or better. She had just turned 50 and needed to run under 4:00.  As we were coming up on mile 19 she told me she would not be able to keep up with me and to go on.  I was really hoping she would get a second wind because I enjoyed her company but it didn’t happen.  Around mile 20 I dropped her and picked up the pace.

The last few miles the course turned into a Tucson neighborhood and around mile 23 we climbed what felt like a monster hill.  In reality it was only 200 feet but it felt like Everest at that point.  The one saving grace was that there was this fun group of volunteers at the top, high-fiving and spurring everyone on.  Their enthusiasm was contagious and pulled up that beast.  Then the reality of the downhill hit me with full force.  It felt like I was dropping, just as steep but covering half the distance to do it, and my quads took a brutal thrashing from it.  I remembered thinking to myself, “Oh God, I’m going for that one!”

Despite the difficulty of those last few miles I miraculously never hit the wall – amen and hallelujah!!  I kept running strong, and I passed a lot of people.  My strategy was to go out conservatively and hope to negative the course until mile 20 and then treat the last 10K like a hard race and give it anything I had left.  That’s what I did when I pulled my first BQ at California International Marathon in 2009 and it worked well. I’m not sure how much true speed I had left that last 10K but I also felt strong and never fell apart either.  I also learned that my stomach tolerated Clif Shots well, which we, the racers, got from race volunteers near the end.

Although I didn’t get my BQ – this time– mentally and physically I ran a great race.  I felt like the Hansons Method, which I used for training, was a terrific fit for me and for my strengths and weaknesses going into the race.  I learned a lot about what I would do to improve next time.

I found out my new friend on the course, Cara, ran a 4:06. The year before, 2012, Cara told me she ran Tucson in 3:57.  Again, I took this as a sign of the course with its alterations being slightly more challenging than expected, although it was still relatively fast.

My only criticism at Tucson was the marathon pacers.  They were some of the worst I’d ever seen at any race.  I was in front of one group of pacers and I heard one of them yell out that they were “four minutes ahead of pace” at something like mile 6.  I remembered thinking that those pacers were going to hurt someone and it was highly irresponsible.  The goal is for them to lead people pretty much spot on.  Any good coach will tell you there is no such thing as positively splitting a marathon (running the second half of the race slower) and not paying the toll for it.

I am happy with my finish at Tucson and it gave me my confidence back to know I will BQ again.  Onward and upward, folks!!

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Where am I today?  As I mentioned earlier I did have surgery a few days ago; but thankfully, I’m already feeling better.  My hope for the next few months is simply to run strong, have lots of fun with family and friends (I have several girlfriends who are doing Rocky Raccoon in the spring and are running trails in the coming months) and focus on my 10K speed and racing.  If there is one area I feel I need to shore up for next marathon it is running my longer tempos stronger.  I believe some solid 10K training will help.  I intend to do another fall or winter marathon in 2014 (I haven’t determined which one yet) and I WILL BQ for a second time in my life.

As for my blog, it’s time for me to finish out those profiles of other great Boston or Botox qualifiers and to get back to writing humor and fun discussions about marathons, motherhood and midlife triumphs.

Tomorrow 2014 will be here.  My resolution for 2014 is NO resolutions for me, except for surrounding myself with joyous people and things that promote happiness and wellness around me and others.  I am up for the challenge.  How about you???  I hope so.

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From me and Boston or Botox, I wish you all the very best in 2014!

“Aging is inevitable, but growing old is a choice. Lace up your shoes, and let’s go!”

Mileage today: 2; Mileage for 2013: 2,028!

 

 

Each marathon teaches a lesson: Roar!

Tucson MarathonPhoto credit: The Tucson Marathon, http://www.tucsonmarathon.com/photos/

It’s T-5 days until I run my next race: The Tucson Marathon. I’m excited.

Each marathon training teaches me some new life lessons. While I’ve trained for Tucson I’ve mastered the art of surrender and when it’s simply time to let things percolate until you’re ready to “wake up and smell The Consciousness.”

Now I’m ready to go after what I want with the ferocity of a tigress ..

ROAR!

Perhaps that’s why we face tough or unexpected challenges in life? So that we can use them to define us, not break us.

Last month, for example. someone hacked this blog and website and it took me some valuable technological time to recover from that. The clean up I had to do was a fitting twist to the kind or crazy, strange, unexpected year I experienced in 2013. I won’t bore you with mundane details but I will say this: I could have choose to let some events beat me to a pulp. I didn’t. I’m still standing, and I’ve bounced back better, stronger, and happier.

I plan to run a solid race at Tucson. I’ve followed Hansons for my marathon training. It has gone well. Whatever comes on Sunday I’ll hold my head high.

I’ll post more in the coming days.

Let the tigress spring forth …

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“Aging is inevitable, but growing old is a choice. Lace up your shoes, and let’s go!”

Mileage for 2013: 1,934