Monday, November 27, 2017

Race Report: Seattle Marathon

In 2010, I ran my first marathon. It was the Seattle Rock & Roll Marathon. I ran it just 11 days after my 40th birthday and when I was done, I declared that I would never run another marathon… in Seattle. That’s right, I didn’t swear off the marathon as a one-and-done adventure - quite the opposite in fact. I decided I’d run a marathon every year after, for as long as my knees would let me. But Seattle… the hill factory that it is… well thank you, but no, I’ll count my miles and earn my medal somewhere else.

Yet somehow, 2011 saw me eating those words as I returned to Seattle in November to run the Amica Seattle Marathon. On a wet and windy day befitting November in the Pacific Northwest, on a much hillier (but also more scenic) course than the RnR event, I cranked out my second marathon. Shivering cold and mentally apologizing to my knees, I said it again, this time with feeling: I will never run another marathon in Seattle.

So how is it that I came to find myself yesterday, at the start line of the Amica Seattle Marathon, on another typical PNW November day, ready to roll through 26.2 miles of a new and improved, 25-30% hillier, Seattle marathon course? Well, recall that declaration that I’d run a marathon a year every year from my 40th onward? At the start of the year, I had decided that for my 47th year, I’d run the Honolulu Marathon, but then subsequent to that I made the decision to race Challenge Aruba with my TRS Racing - Baucco Squad teammates and well, I couldn’t justify Aruba and Honolulu trips in the same year, and so …hello Seattle.

I knew going in to the race that there was no PB on the line. I’m only about 6 months out of an 18 month period that featured 7 calf strains, the last one occurring in the Spring of this year, and so I have been slowly, cautiously, (nervously) building the distance that I can run through mostly flat, easy paced runs. I added a bit of rolling hills and a couple of track sessions in the early Fall, but I have a long way to go to regain my previous version of fast, let alone aim for faster. So with the pressure off to be fast, I was feeling pretty relaxed for race day.

My chill attitude about the day had me not trying to control everything quite so much as I normally would. The night before the race, we had dinner with a couple of friends, at a cool downtown Seattle restaurant that has no set menu but just asks what you like and what you don’t, and then serves up a multi-course meal to suit your tastes and dietary needs - wine included! Happy vegan, right here. Check out Pasta Freska next time you’re in Seattle and looking for a tasty Italian meal.

The weather forecast was calling for non-stop rain and so I found myself at the Oiselle store, yes, cue the angels singing, looking for a rain jacket that would breathe, but trying on [almost] all the items I’ve ever eyed online but wondered about fit. Everything new on race day? Not quite, but almost. No, I’m not kidding - I raced #flystyle in brand new Oiselle pocket jogger tights, wazzie wool base layer and vim jacket.

Yes, I was breaking all the pre-race rules, and feeling no pressure for time. I was a little concerned about my unconventional build for this. I did most of my build in August & September, before tapering for Aruba. The weekend after we got back from Aruba, 2 weeks after the half ironman, and 5 weeks after my previous distance building long run (29K) I did my longest training run for Seattle (32K), and then began to taper. So, I knew this marathon wouldn’t be fast, and that it was going to be a tough day, but I felt like I had enough miles in me to go the distance, as long as my calves held up through the up & down of Seattle’s hills. Honestly, I hit that start line just feeling so grateful to be able to tackle a long run like this again. With no need for speed, my goal was to follow Devon Yanko’s lead from Leadville and be the happiest person out there, running with joy and a spirit of gratitude. 

And what do you know… it worked! When it was rainy & windy at the start and through the first few
miles, I reminded myself how lucky I was to be able to do this (again). When the rain stopped and the sun came out, and I got to really enjoy the beautiful sights of Seattle, the gratitude came easy. When runners cut me off at aid stations or threw their half full cups of water behind them towards trash cans without looking to see if anyone was there, I had to work a little harder at it. When the skies opened up and the rain came bucketing down so hard that the cops manning the road closures scrambled for their cars, and I struggled to get my jacket back on while the wind was whipping it and threatening to blow it right out of my hands, I laughed and reminded myself that racing in ideal weather conditions hasn’t really been my “thing” the last couple of years. Ironman Canada 2015, I’m looking at you. When the hills before and in the Arboretum were kicking my ass, I thought of a very good friend who is sidelined from 2 planned marathons next month as she recovers from a serious illness, and appreciated how lucky I was to be there, no matter what my glutes and hips were telling me.

And so 4 hours and 51 minutes after starting, I cruised across that finish line, feeling joyful, grateful and more than a little bit soggy. Not my fastest (by a long shot), not my slowest (by an even longer shot) but still one to smile about. Isn’t every finish line? OK, maybe not those sub-2-half quests that I kept missing by seconds (seconds!), but we don’t talk about those. In the warm indoor finish area after (yes Seattle, you do that right!), they were selling finisher gear and "vintage" race shirts. I always wondered who would buy a race shirt from a previous year, no matter how good the bargain? Wondered until yesterday when I saw the 2011 finisher shirts for $2. When I ran this race in 2011, I had to squeeze into an XL. It's um, maybe a little too big now?  I still wear it, as pyjamas (hella sexy no?) but yesterday I thought it was a good opportunity to "downgrade" to the S. And hey look, my boobs magically got bigger!

Thanks for marathon #6 Seattle. Now don’t stop me if you’ve heard this before, because I really mean it this time: I will NEVER run another marathon in Seattle! It’s not me, it’s you. You’re just so damn hilly! And does every step need to be on pavement?

Next marathon? The run at IMC in 2018. Next open marathon? I signed up for Portland less than 24 hours after hitting the Seattle start line. Hoping to find a little more speed for that one, but just as much gratitude.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

And then this happened...

Liquid courage is a thing. (Just go to any karaoke bar.) And liquid courage following on the heels of some exercise endorphins is a potent, perhaps dangerous thing. Before I tell you why, let me take you back in time.

It was the August long weekend in 2014. Do you remember what you did that weekend? I do. I was training for Challenge Penticton. It would be my first iron distance race and I was on a training weekend with some of my best girl friends. It was my first time riding the bike course in its entirety. And it was also Ultraman Canada race weekend. 

For those who are wondering what Ultraman Canada is, it's a 3-day multisport stage race:
  • Day 1: 10 km swim + 150 km bike
  • Day 2: 275 km bike
  • Day 3: 84.4 km run 
On Day 1 of the 2014 race, we would be sharing a part of the Ultraman bike course with athletes while we were on our training ride, though I don’t think we realized that when we set out. I remember stopping in Oliver for water and the clerk at the store asking if I was doing the race… “ha ha no… but thanks for thinking I could be!” 

Later, when the Ultraman course branched off from the Challenge/old Ironman Canada course, one of the volunteers was signaling to me to turn on to the Ultraman course. Again, I remember feeling flattered that someone thought I could actually be competing in that race.

That weekend got my Ultraman curiosity piqued. I spent a bit of time perusing the race website and discovered that to race Ultraman, you had to race a qualifying iron distance time, and then apply for entry to a small field of athletes. A qualifying iron distance time is 14:30 or better. Heading into my first iron distance race, I was worrying over making that 17 hour cut-off. The idea of getting under 14:30 was laughable. Well, no need to spend any more cycles thinking about Ultraman anymore! That’s a level of racing well beyond me!

And then a few weeks later, I raced my first iron distance event. And finished in 14:15.
Challenge Penticton Finish Line. 3 years ago today.

Suddenly, the idea of racing Ultraman “one day” wheedled its way back into my brain. So then what happened?

Well I was in no rush - I thought I’d work on getting faster, buy a tri-bike, save some money (this race isn’t cheap!) but it was on my list of things I wanted to do “one day”. Firmly on my Bucket List. In the years that followed, Ultraman became Ultra520K Canada and then last year, they announced that 2018 would be the last year for the event. The qualifying ironman needed to be in the previous calendar year and mine wasn’t.  So I took the Ultra520K Canada logo (paired with my believe/fierce ambigram), off of my vision board and thought “well, it was a long shot anyway”.

So then what happened?

Fast forward to this year. The August long weekend. Ultra520K Canada race weekend. During the race, the organizers posted to social media that they had decided they would do a 2019 event, and that they’d “relax” the qualifying standard, and that those interested should get their application in ASAP. Now, this might have gone unnoticed except a friend tagged me on the post... Shelly, I'm looking at you.

I posted on their Facebook…

So then what happened? 

I went for a swim. Then a run. Then a ride. Had a few post-ride drinks with the hub and one of my best bitches (who did nothing to discourage me... Diane, I'm looking at you). The next thing I knew, I was at home, filling out an application form and hitting submit.

I’m not gonna lie, the next day, I was freaking out… What have I done?! But, I’d thought with the Ultra520K Canada window opening, it really was now or never, and that I shouldn’t let the opportunity pass. As I waited for the official word on my application, I wondered if I’d be relieved or disappointed if they declined my application. As it turned out, the official word was that those who had expressed interest race weekend, should officially submit (or in my case, resubmit) their application. An opportunity for a sober second thought! So what did I do? Of course I applied. Bucket List, remember?

And then this happened:


I'm not kidding. Let that sink in. If you're going to call my crazy, get in line. I've already heard it a couple of times today! 

Today, the race organizers issued a press release that the race will continue for the foreseeable future and I briefly wondered whether I should have waited but then... waited for what? I'm not getting any younger. In 2019, when I toe that start line, I'll be 49 years old. What a fabulous & fitting start to the last year of my 40s given that I started them by running my first marathon, 11 days after my 40th birthday, not even halfway through my weight loss journey. Can I do this? In the words of the inspirational Chad Bentley: You will only know if you try. So I'm going to try.

Left: summer 2006. Right: summer 2017

The woman on the right tackles challenges that the woman on the left never would have contemplated for herself... not in her wildest dreams. Applying for Ultra520K represents more of that dreaming big, leap of faith, embrace the journey thinking that has been so transformative over the last decade - transformative in so many ways, all positive! 

Huge thanks to friend and phenomenal athlete Ann Barnes for reaching out and being such a voice of encouragement and support these last few weeks. She has me believing! 

I'm not exactly sure what the next 2 years of preparation are going to look like (and by not exactly, I mean I have no clue) but I do know that they begin with a cork popping tonight.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Happy new year! The Goal Post. 2017 Edition.

I’ve written before about my goals. So when I sat down tonight to articulate in black and white the goals for 2017 that had been forming in my mind as 2016 came to a close, I took a moment to revisit my previous goal declarations. Some of them are still out there waiting for me… like swimming 2000m “unassisted” in the pool in 50 minutes. Some are goals I’ve achieved and set year-in and year-out …like that marathon-a-year thing. And some I look back on fondly as I remember how hard-fought they were… like that sub-2 hour half. Oh yes, I finally crushed that goal. It was in the 18-month blog silence, after missing three times by seconds… yes, SECONDS…  I knocked that monkey off my back with a 1:57:39 at the Vancouver Rock’n’Roll Half in October 2015. I should have posted about it… about the emotional turmoil race morning where I ducked between two buildings on the way to the start, to cry, sobbing to the hub “I keep telling myself that my worth as a person isn’t dependent on whether I can run this under 2 hours but… but… but I just don’t believe it!” Oh yeah… I was in fine form. Anyhoo…

The 2017 List

1.      Post on the blog at least once a week, every week. An intention declared in my last post, when I turned the lights back on here. I’m going to stop writing them in my head. I’m not promising that they’ll be interesting, funny, or insightful… but there will be something!

2.      #17in17.  17 new experiences in 2017. I’ve set a similar goal before, focused on new experiences in the year, but never this many. Last year, a good friend was pursuing a goal of 50 new experiences before her 50th birthday. I joined her for many of these… some terrifying & crazy… like trapeze school. Yes, I’m serious.

3.      Ride >= 8000 km
No, not in one go! Normally I set a run mileage goal but after an injury plagued last year, I’m inclined to set myself up for success by focusing on bike mileage instead… something maybe a little less likely to land me on the injured list right out of the gate. Last year I rode 6144 km, which was a big jump over 2015 (4530 km). Well, this girl’s got a new bike and she’s not afraid to get out on the road with it! Just kidding… that was tough talk. It’s snowy and cold outside. But between the road and my Kickr, 8000 km is the goal.

4.      Read 25 books. According to Goodreads, I read 11 books in 2014, 17 in 2015 and 22 books last year (short of my 30-book goal). You can follow what I’m reading on Goodreads… currently Siri Lindley’s book “Surfacing”. If you’ve got any must-read recommendations, I’d love to hear them. My favourite read of 2016: The Choices we Make (Karma Brown).

5.      Continue my streak of running a marathon at each age of my post-40 life. If this is going to be a 2017 goal, then I’ll need to run that baby between June and December of 2017. I’ve got my eyes on the Honolulu Marathon in December. (On an unrelated note, I’m also hoping for a visit from the money fairy.)

6.      100 hours of yoga. 55 hours of yoga in 2015. 82 in 2016. I think 100 hours is totally doable, especially without the time burden of Ironman training this year. Shout out to Believe, my epically fantastic yoga studio. A beautiful space and wonderful teachers with enough yoga variety to host you on your mat, no matter what you’re needing.

7.      Master crow pose. I’ve been wanting this for a while. Not enough to actually do the work and be intentional. But that’s probably just because it was waiting to help round out my 2017 list at 10 goals, right? #Believe.

8.      Crack 25 minutes in a 5K. I wanted to avoid focusing on outcome goals (and yes I know mastering crow pose is an outcome goal) because man, they can really eat at me. I don’t want to find myself crying before every start line because I think I’m going to fail and make my own “people who suck” list, but… I also want to push myself. To feel hungry for something. And this something means I have to get back to the run shape I was in before the 5-calf-injury-year (yeah I didn’t write about that either) and find 12 seconds over 5K. I’m up for it. And I’ve got 6 5K races already signed up and waiting. Oh, and just in case you’re on the edge of your seat, this is more likely to happen at the 6th than the 1st race. You might want to get a snack.

9.      Really, actually train, with focus and see where that takes me. I’m not sure I’m articulating this very well. I’m really good at following my training plan and checking the boxes next to the workouts. Yup, did it all. I have not been so awesome at listening to my body. If it tells me it doesn’t want to do something, I will usually tell it to stop trying to be a slacker, and I do the workout anyway. Even if it means running on a calf that was torn that morning. Hashtag stupid. And I have shied away from sessions where I feel “less than”… like coached swim workouts, where I felt self-conscious for being the slowest person in the pool, electing to swim on my own, without the watchful eye and needed instruction of a swim-coach on deck. This year, I will listen to my body and try to train smart (I’m experimenting with an app called HRV Training which I’ll post about another time), to avail myself of opportunities that can make me a better athlete (no matter how scary), and to make the hard workouts HARD and the easy workouts easy. And then there’s the whole sport fueling thing. I’m going to pay attention to that too.

10.   Give meditation a go: at least once/week for 20 minutes. I’ve tried meditation a time or two and honestly have joked that for me, it’s facilitated napping. But there’s so much out there espousing the benefits of meditation that I’m going to be approach it this year with an open mind and a willing heart. What’s the worst thing that could happen? Another 17 hours of sleep this year? Not a terrible thing.

Well there they are. I’ll check in throughout the year to update you on my progress. And with this post, I’ve got #1 well in hand. 51 to go. I hope you’ll still be here!