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Archive for May, 2010

Talk about being humbled!

Saturday, May 22nd, 2010

I hope I do this race and this course justice in my description because I do feel humbled by the whole experience.

When I first found this race online I was so excited about a race at Northfield Mountain.  This is the place where many of my high school cross country races were held.  A place where I experienced great joy and success and also great frustration.  A place where more friends and family than I can count all gathered to watch me run my senior year when I placed second at State.  It is a ski area in the winter and there’s a reservoir with tons of trails for hiking, walking, running, orienteering, and mountain biking during the spring, summer, and fall.

To say it is hilly would be like saying the ocean is a little bit salty.  It is not called Northfield Mountain for nothing.  This race was billed as the USA Track & Field New England Trail/Mountain Championship.  Originally it was to be a 10.3K race but due to the draining of a reservoir and all the truck traffic along that route, the course had to be changed at the last minute (yesterday) to a 5.3 Mile race.  THANK GOODNESS!!!!

Here’s a quick overview of my splits for each mile:  8:36, 10:26, 11:26, 6:36, and 6:25.  That should give you a glimpse of what I am about to tell you.

We started on a hill we ran on in our high school races.  I was conservative, but didn’t want to start out too easy – it was a race after all.  But instead of using any of the trails that flatten out from the high school course, they had us go UP.  We kept going up and up and up.  My legs and lungs were burning and a bunch of people passed me so I glanced down at my Garmin to see only 0.91 miles.  Are you kidding me?  My legs and lungs were burning this badly and we had not even reached the first mile marker.

We were blessed with a couple of short declines and flat sections here and there but mainly the first 2.7 miles were uphill after uphill.  Not just up hills or inclines, mind you.  These hills were so steep that even the speedier runners ahead of me walked up them.  Yes, that’s right; I had to walk at least three times up these steep, tortuous hills.  We were told that there was an unmanned water stop about half way.  I was SO looking forward to water.  But that meant stopping, grabbing a cup, pouring the water, then getting to drink it.  I didn’t want to stop; I just wanted this to be over.  So I skipped the water because I figured it was only 5 miles plus I could see where the down hills started.  I had to get to the downhill! 

Walking up those steep hills almost made me laugh the first time because I thought about all the “hill” training I did the past six weeks on the Green Bridge and Ringling Bridge at home to get ready for this race.  Ha!  Who was I kidding?  Well if I hadn’t run those bridge workouts at all, maybe this race would have been even more punishing for me.  So it was better than nothing I suppose.

So we are more than halfway into the race and have finished the 785 feet of “climb” that the race director emailed us about the day before.  I leaned forward a little and just let gravity take me down the hills.  The last two miles were almost entirely downhill.  And not just a gentle sloping decline.  These were steep trails with rocks, roots, grass, and dried leaves.  They twisted and turned us back towards the finish.  I tried to let go and run them with reckless abandon.  Now I felt like I was back in high school!  No fear.  I was passing quite a few people who passed me on the uphill section.  I was flying by runners who were older and I suppose wiser since they did not want to chance falling or twisting an ankle.  I didn’t catch the whole thing, but one guy I flew by on the downhill said something like “I used to run suicide down hills like that when I was younger.”  For an instant, I thought, “Am I crazy to run them this fast?”  I guess I could have fallen.  Oh well.

I don’t know if I can fully explain how fast I was running down these hills.  I really felt like I was flying.  I did hit one soft spot where my left ankle turned a bit and I thought for sure my legs were going to give out and I was going to eat dirt, hard.  Thankfully I caught myself and was able to keep going.  That would have hurt big time.  I continued on, flying down the hills, maybe a tad slower than earlier once I felt my legs almost give out.  There were two smaller up hill sections towards the end where I was able to use the momentum of the down hills to power about halfway up and then try to maintain to the top.

A quick turn, steep downhill, sharp right, then probably the only real straightaway of the race, led us to the finish line.  I could not sprint to the finish line, I was just happy to be finishing in an upright position at that point.  I exited the finish chute then kind of half smiled at how unbelievably wobbly my legs felt.  I was exhausted but so happy to have finished and not fallen.  I was greeted by my husband and Grandma.  What a great day.  The weather was absolutely perfect too.  Warm in the sun yet cool in the shade.  Very little humidity, if any.  None that I noticed anyway.  We stayed for the awards ceremony because I wanted to applaud those hardcore runners who finished ahead of me.  I was not expecting anything today, especially with the hills and those veteran trail/mountain racers, plus they only went one deep in ten year age groups.

I tried to do a cool down jog but after about 200 meters, I could not jog anymore.  I had to walk the rest.  I honestly could not remember my legs ever feeling as wobbly and spent as they did today.  This has to be the toughest race I have ever run in my life.  And I have run a lot of races.

As I said before, I did some “hill” training back home to get ready for this race so I thought I would be somewhat ready to tackle the mountain.  I clearly had no idea what 785 feet of climb on paper would mean on my legs.  So to say that this race humbled me is an understatement.  I have never felt beaten by a course before.  I have never run a trail/mountain race before.  I guess they have a whole crazy mountain series or something.  I couldn’t imagine. 

Well maybe I could.  If I lived near this type of terrain and could train on it regularly, that would be a different story.  When I lived in New England, I loved hills – training on them and annihilating the competition on them.  But now that I am a flatlander from Florida, I humbly bow to the mountain at Northfield.  You trail/mountain racers are on a whole different level.  And I respect that.

Finishing at Northfield Mountain


Northfield Mountain

Age 36 course record or “How to pick your races!”

Saturday, May 22nd, 2010

Holyoke Elks Reservoir Run

When I first planned this trip back home I only intended to race the USATF New England Trail/Mountain Championship race on Saturday but once I looked at the website for the local running club and saw that I had a shot at the female age 36 course record for their Thursday night cross country races at the reservoir, I had to do it!

I grew up running these 5K cross country races during the summer as part of my summer training.  They were held every Thursday night from late spring to early fall.  My parents and I would go to a few each summer.  The cool thing about these races is how low key they are.  You show up, pay your $4 (yes, that is correct, only four dollars), pin on your laminated number, and head down to the reservoir for the race.  No frills.  Just a weekly race in a beautiful place, no cars or exhaust, no road closures or cones, no goody bags or shirts, no mile markers or split callers, just run on a cinder path around a reservoir, enjoy the beauty and see who you can beat this week or try to beat your time from the last time (since it is the same basic course each week).

Since I was racing on Saturday, my only goal going in was to run fast enough to set the female age 36 course record.  They have a course record for each age male and female.  I turn 37 next month so this was my only chance at it.  Once I started the race, I saw two women ahead of me – one “youngster” who was probably a high school runner or possibly college age way ahead and a woman who was probably over age 40.  I stayed comfortable for the first mile, knowing I was running only what I needed to for the record.  We passed the girl who “won” the first mile shortly after my Garmin buzzed letting me know we reached that first mile.  I closed in on the over 40 woman and just stayed behind her since I was running the pace I needed to.  But once we reached half way, I felt like I was maintaining my pace and she started to slow so I went by her.  Then when I felt the 2 mile buzz on my wrist, I picked it up since I felt good.  So I ended up racing a couple of guys in that last mile.  I looked at the Garmin again and saw we had about a half mile to go.  I leaned into the downhill and took off.

Saw the clock at the finish line in the high 20s and thought how cool it would be to drop that old 22:36 record down to below 21:00.  But my slower pace earlier set me back a little and I didn’t want to kill myself trying (Saturday’s race in the back of my mind).  I did sprint to the finish where I outkicked and out leaned a gentleman at the finish line.  Official time was 21:02 but this was an age graded race so my age graded time was 20:46.  I don’t know how that works, but I will stick with my 21:02 new age 36 female course record.  Oh, and I was the overall female winner.  That was a nice bonus.     :)

Sometimes the best thing you can do is “pick your races” and find a small race, low key race, and who knows what might happen.  I overheard the race director say how tonight’s race was their biggest weekly race ever with around 134 runners.  Very cool.

First run home

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

My husband and I headed back to my hometown to visit family.  Slept in a little today after a very late night of travel.  But a late morning run is no problem when there is no hot sun or humidity!  I knew it would be cooler in New England but this first run was a bit of a shock.  It was a cold, rainy 52 degrees!  I ran 5 miles and don’t think I ever broke a sweat.  [To my fellow Floridians…] Can you believe it???

The first run on a trip home always results in a rush of memories and emotions.  Running by the places I drove or ran by as a teenager, wondering who lives in those familiar houses now, wondering if I will see anyone I know or if anyone will recognize me running down the road.

I only wanted to run 5 miles because I am racing a 5K cross country race tomorrow night plus a 10K mountain race on Saturday.  It was difficult to run by all the familiar streets I ran on during high school and not go explore them.  The most tempting was the Thompson Street hill.  I looked up the hill and the memories rushed back of my cross country team and I running repeats up the long, steep hill with my dad (who was our coach) standing at the top.  Those were some of my favorite workouts.  They were certainly the toughest too!  I can almost remember the sensation of legs and lungs burning when nearing the top.

Thompson Street Hill

I wanted to run through downtown on Main Street, up to the old high school cross country course, up to the cemetery to visit Bepa’s grave, and even way up Brimfield Road (the side of a mountain really) to East Hill Road to run by our old house and Westview Farms Creamery (my first job!).  But I stuck to my easy 5 mile run with the rush of memories and despite the chilly rain it was very satisfying physically.

Emotionally I definitely needed a longer run to process it all.  When running “back home” it’s hard not to think about loved ones who are no longer with us, former teammates, schoolmates, teachers, coaches, and just all the people who knew me as I would run down the street.  When I ran in high school, I felt pretty famous running through our small town because it seemed everybody knew me or knew my parents and knew they had this crazy running daughter.  Even after we moved away, I would come back to town to visit family and run through downtown and still people knew me, waved and honked.  As the years went on, this happened less and less.

On this run I mostly thought about Bepa who passed away last summer on my birthday and how strange it is being back here again and not seeing him.  Each time I go back to my grandparents’ house whether from a run or other outing, part of me expects to see him when I walk in the door.  Man that is hard to get used to.

Also fresh on my mind on this first run home was Michael J. Kane.  He passed away recently from Cancer too.  He was the most amazing man.  When I first met him, Mr. Kane was the Principal of our junior-senior high school.  I thought about all the positive ways he influenced my life and the impact he has had on so many lives since my days here.  I read his obituary online and it is simply inspiring to read about all that he has done for student-athletes in Massachusetts.  One day I hope to leave a fraction of the impact he has on young peoples’ lives.  I think it is the strong, positive influence of people like Michael Kane that have made me want to be the best coach I can be to the high school students I coach.  I know how important that can be during those critical high school years and I think that is why I stick with coaching high school; it is where I feel I can do the most good.

Anyway, running back in my hometown is never just a run anymore.  There’s too much history.  I can’t just run.  It just doesn’t work that way.  But I guess I wouldn’t want it any other way either.  The whole reason we go back home is to reconnect with family and be with the ones we love whether that be physically or emotionally.  And on the run, my mind goes where it needs to go.

Get inspired!

Tuesday, May 18th, 2010

A good friend gave me the DVD “Spirit of the Marathon” and I finally got around to watching it.  It’s funny because I watched it yesterday afternoon after I returned home from racing the 1500 meters.  I had lost my real interest in marathons.  I had a good run back in 1995 through 2001 when I ran a dozen marathons in some pretty cool places like Monaco, Paris, Boston, Hartford, Orlando (Disney), Tampa (Hops), and San Diego.  In 1998 I set my marathon PR of 3:18:05 and haven’t been concerned with trying to better it.

A combination of realizing I no longer have the fresh, speedy legs of an 18 year old (see 5/16/2010 blog entry about 1500 meter race) and being truly moved by the movie “Spirit of the Marathon,” made me seriously start thinking about doing more marathons.  If you have not seen this movie, I highly recommend it.  I don’t know if yesterday afternoon was the perfect storm of fatigue, emotion, and post race mellow or what, but I felt a strong emotional reaction when I watched that movie.  Wow. 

If I had known how good it was, I guess I would have watched it a lot sooner.  As I said, though, I had lost my passion for the marathon so it was not a high priority to watch a movie about it.

I guess our running lives go through cycles just like our lives do.  Hobbies and interests change as do jobs, friends, where we call home, favorite foods, and just about anything else.  I think because I was injured so frequently in college, I wanted more than anything to run marathons as soon as my final track season was finished.  I wanted to escape the 3 competitive seasons per year (cross country, indoor track, outdoor track) and all the cross training I was doing during my injured times.  I was sick of the pain of the short distances.

My goal ever since high school was to one day run the Boston Marathon.  That was a long term goal.  I was lucky to run Boston three times and will be back there in 2011.  My first marathon was Jacksonville 1995 where I missed qualifying by 8 minutes.  My second attempt was Disney 1997 where I reached the goal and then ran Boston in April 1997 followed by Hartford in the fall.  Disney 1998 was my PR then ran Boston again and the inaugural San Diego Rock ‘n Roll in June 1998.  Three marathons in six months – I would not recommend that.  In 1999 I ran Paris in April then Hartford again in October.  In 2000 I ran the Hops (now Gasparilla) Marathon in December then Boston again in 2001.  Then I was off to Monaco for ten months to get my MBA at International University of Monaco.  There were not many races near Monaco or the south of France so when I heard about the Monaco Marathon in November 2001 I signed up (in September) and tried to get ready for it the best I could on such short notice.  After that, I was really done with marathons…

Until the fall of 2009 when I started feeling like I was actually in good shape again so signed up for Disney 2010.  That was by far the coldest marathon ever for me and the most painful because of that cold.  So my return to the marathon was not a welcoming one.  I did qualify for Boston and will run it 2011…but will that be my last?

I guess I have to see how Boston 2011 goes and how it feels to run a marathon in normal weather conditions.  I mean, I am not asking for perfect or ideal weather conditions, just not below freezing is all I ask.  Once I experience a more “normal” marathon, then I will be able to decide if I want to do more.

Although “Spirit of the Marathon” truly inspired me and right now I think I do want to run more marathons and try some cities I have not run, like Chicago, I need to wait and see how the next one feels before I decide or sign up for anything.

I am excited that these marathon thoughts have crept back in though.  I really am.

The right running movie or running book can really inspire you.  The stories are about other people, but as a runner, I can relate and bond with the characters in the story and feel that emotion.  It can be powerful.  Your next inspiration might be on the bookshelf or DVD shelf.

Get your butt kicked

Sunday, May 16th, 2010

Today I ran the 1500 meters in an open track meet.  This is something I have not done since 1995.  I raced with Di and Amanda from the high school track team I coach.  I rarely go “head to head” in competition with the teenagers I coach but today was the exception.  Di beat me by a couple of seconds in our 1500 meter time trial a week and a half ago but I still thought I might have a chance today – meet conditions, adrenaline, competition, and all that good stuff.  I mean, I am a COMPETITOR!  ;)

My finishing kick is not what it used to be so I knew I had to run the first three laps a little faster.  Comparing the time trial to today’s race, I ran the first lap one second faster, the second lap one second faster, the third lap two seconds faster, and the last lap two seconds slower than the time trial.  While my overall race time was two seconds faster than the trial my legs just had nothing left on that last lap.  As predicted, Di flew by me with a little over 200 meters to go.  I thought I might be able to close a little of the gap in the last 100 but no luck.  She ran a perfectly executed race.

As I walked around out of breath after crossing the finish line I thought about how I had no speed left in these 36 year old legs!  Di beat me in a race.  It’s official.

I was a little down for a short time.  Very short.  The trip to the track meet was so much fun with my husband, Di, Amanda, and Taylor.  It’s hard to feel down with such a wonderful group of people.  Between the car ride, name that tune, and lunch my spirits were quickly lifted.

Today helped me make a decision.  I was going to see how I did in today’s 1500 meters before deciding about running in the 1500 at the Sunshine State Games and the Southeast Sports Festival later this summer.  With the lack of speed I felt today, I knew that the only way to get some of that speed back would be to do lots of speed work and strength training.

If there is one thing I have learned since my injury plagued days of running in college, it is LISTEN TO YOUR BODY!  That is the best advice I can offer to anyone.  So based on how my hamstring has felt after my short, fast speed sessions of the past few weeks, I know that my track days are behind me.  I will not race the 1500 this summer.

Instead I will stick to my original plan of racing a few key races between now and the final Picnic Island of the summer (July 9).  I will then take a short break and start working towards my three big races – Daytona Beach Half Marathon in October, Disney Half Marathon in January, and then the Boston Marathon in April…of course racing some shorter stuff along the way.

So sometimes it is good to get your butt kicked to help you realize what PRs might be behind you and which ones are still ahead of you.

Me leading the first 3 laps of the 1500


Check out Di’s smile/smirk as she gives me the “nice race” shake


(Almost) Feel Like a Teen Again

Wednesday, May 5th, 2010

As I mentioned in previous entries, I have gone back to my roots, literally!  Since November 2009 I have raced four trail races – true cross country with hills, roots, rocks, mud, and loved every mile.  I started out at age 11 running cross country.  These trail races have been a way for me to return to some of my favorite running and racing times – high school and college cross country.

I guess I enjoyed the cross country racing so much it seemed like a natural progression to hit the track too.  As a high school cross country and track coach I see the year in seasons – build a base, strength work, speed work, peak at the end of the season in key races, and then recovery time.  I don’t see a year as road racers do – train and race pretty much the same all year.

So as the high school track season has come to an end I find myself entering an open track meet on May 16 where I can race the 1500 meters, a race I have not run since college!

Wanting to be as prepared as possible, I decided to run a 1500 meter time trial today at 1:00 in the afternoon on a black track with no shade in sight.  Let me just say that summer is here in Florida!  Luckily I was joined by some young runners – Di, an 18 year old senior from the track team and two early twenty-something guys, Maverick and Eric.  We were timed by Kaitlyn and Amanda from the track team.  It was great having all this support!  I mention the ages here because it should be noted that I am twice Di’s age.  I am now twice the age of the seniors I coach.  Still trying to accept that fact.

Anyway, today was my day to not be the coach.  So we warmed up as a group and prepared for the task at hand.  I told everyone my goal pace and even though they were faster than me, they ran with me, paced me, and encouraged me.  It was awesome!  I ran the first 2 and 3/4 laps at exactly the pace I thought I might be able to run based on current race times.  It was so cool, 1:07 for the first 300 meters, then 1:30 and 1:30 for the next two laps.  The last lap was the fastest in 1:24, as it should be.  I always aim to run negative splits.  Di blasted by me in the last 200 meters and finished a few seconds ahead of me.

I guess I expected that.  She is amazing in her ability to pace herself and run negative splits.  She does it nearly every race.  She does it so perfectly that I never worry if she happens to be in last place on the first lap or two of her 3200 meter races.  I know she will run those negative splits and catch so many that have gone out too fast ahead of her.  She works so hard and has truly become a student of her sport.  She learns all she can to be her best.  As a coach, I feel very proud watching her races unfold so perfectly.  And she has one heck of a kick.

After the 1500 meter time trial, we ran 6 x 400 meter repeats.  My goal was 1:20 but I really didn’t know if that would be possible after the 1500.  The four of us lined up in lanes, using the stagger.  Something most of us had not done before since we don’t race the 400 and when running them in training we usually just run in lane one.

Maverick started us on each one.  Again, me trying to just run and not be coach today.  I went out pretty fast in lane 4 and crossed the finish line in 1:18.  I could hardly believe it.  My legs were a little wobbly but I was pretty excited.  We hit 1:18 again.  Changed into some racing flats and ran the third one in 1:17.  Whoa.  Didn’t care for the racing flats so ran #4 in them just to be sure and crossed in 1:19 then changed back to my other shoes.  By the fifth 400 my legs were pretty heavy and wobbly as I walk/jogged the recovery lap.  That would be my slowest in 1:20.  But this was my original goal pace so not too bad!  I thought I would have nothing left for the sixth 400, especially as the other three runners made up the stagger and flew by me with more than 200 meters to go but I still managed a 1:16 which is pretty amazing for these 36 year old legs!  I have not run 1:16 since my college days.

It was hot, I ended up sunburned, but had one of the best speed workouts I can remember.  Training with a group is definitely more fun, can really help you push past your personal limitations, and allows you to share in the joy and pain of running fast.  I must say that I did not feel 36 years old today.  I know I have lost some leg speed over the years, but today I could almost visualize myself running track workouts at the Brown stadium or at the old cinder track at the old Palmer High School (Monson did not have a track when I was in high school).  I almost felt like a teen again.  Coaching definitely has great benefits like getting to know amazing young runners like the ones I shared a two hour workout with today.


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