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Archive for January, 2011

Up to the challenge

Monday, January 31st, 2011

Sunday’s Florida Challenge Trail Run 5K at Alafia River State Park in Lithia is the toughest 5K trail race I have ever done.  This year I was defending my overall female winner title.  This year seemed tougher than last.  Maybe it was the fatigue and soreness lingering from Saturday’s Warrior Dash or the fact that the course was reversed this year or maybe I forgot the course just enough from last year…

The race starts on a paved road and basically you have to sprint a little over a quarter mile to get out fast enough to get in the position you want because once you enter the woods, it is all single track.  It is nearly impossible to pass in the woods.  The course is run over the most difficult of the mountain bike trails at Alafia.  The trails are single track, narrow, winding, zipping up and down short steep hills, covered with rocks and roots, and oh yeah, don’t forget to duck under the low hanging trees!

The trails are so challenging that you really cannot look up to see where the competition is or to glance at your Garmin.  You literally have to keep looking down so you know where your next step will go.  You are not able to get any kind of rhythm going either.  I think that’s what makes it so exciting.  You can’t really tell your pace.  I did wear my Garmin to record my data but I did not look at it once.  My knees were beat up enough from the Warrior Dash that I did not want to risk trail diving.  I kept telling myself that as long as I was sucking wind then I was running hard enough.  If I let up and the breathing got easier, I knew to press on and pick up the pace.  Somewhere in the middle of the trail section, which makes up 90-95% of the race, I cruised down a short steep hill and tried to use that momentum to get up the very steep uphill covered with wet, light colored dirt.  This was the only part of the trail that I found slippery, but then again, it all went by so fast.  I ran the race in my Brooks Adrenaline ASR trail shoes.  I am so thankful that I did!  The extra traction in the forefoot is what saved me on that steep, slippery uphill.  If I did not have that extra traction, I know I definitely would have slipped; it was that close.

That’s another cool thing about trail racing.  It seems more primitive – back to our roots.  You race against the clock, yourself, and certainly your competition, but the main competitor is the trail itself.  How you navigate the uneven terrain, sharp twists and turns, rocks, roots, and the many short, steep up and down hills will determine your success or failure.

Sunday when we were deep into the trail I felt like I could have been in the middle of the woods anywhere.  It was just woods all around us as we twisted and turned following the single track trail.  I tried to keep pushing the pace based on effort and breathing alone.  I did finally catch up to a guy during the last third of the race, maybe in the last half mile or so, I really couldn’t be sure.  But it was single track so I was not able to pass.  That is the only frustrating part of single track racing – being held back by others.  But as soon as the trail changed from rocks and roots to the more sandy area, it widened slightly so I sprinted by him partly on the trail and the other part of me was crashing through the bushes on the right.

Once out of the woods I was [doing what felt like] sprinting for the finish even though I was not exactly sure how far away that finish line was.  I thought I was in second place ever since we entered the woods so I finished strong but not as strong as usual.  The TampaRaces.com races offer a very cool trophy to overall and masters and then the top 30-40 receive a nice finisher award like a campfire mug or hat.  So thinking I was second overall female, I just cruised into the finish chute and when the finish card was handed to me, the scorer said “first female.”  I was definitely surprised and very happy to hear those words, especially since back in the woods I had already settled for second place in my mind.  I was thinking “all or nothing” and I am okay with second since I can’t even see anyone ahead of me.

The course was run in the reverse direction on the trails from last year.  I don’t know if that made it more difficult or about the same but my time was about a minute slower this year from last year.  Maybe it was the fatigue and soreness in my legs from the Warrior Dash the day before.  Whatever the reason, I was just delighted to have repeated as the overall female winner.  That’s one of the cool things about trail races – time does not really matter.  It gives you a chance to just run.

A few years ago at our Florida Athletic Coaches Association summer cross country coaching clinic, we were fortunate to have the featured guest speaker Coach Dan Green of The Woodlands High in Texas.  I learned a lot from him but one thing he said about cross country racing has really stuck with me.  He was talking about how the terrain varies so trying to compare XC times on different courses was nothing like comparing track times since everyone runs on a 400 meter track.  But he basically said in cross country you just get out there and race – try to beat the guy next to you.  Don’t get fixated on splits or times, just race.  It was so simple, yet with all the technology we have now and the focus on pacing and splits, I think we forget to just race.  I challenge you to just race – against your competitors or that voice in your head that tells you the terrain is just too tough.  Once in a while, don’t look at the watch or Garmin, don’t figure out your splits, just run hard, just race, and be satisfied with the effort.  The Florida Challenge Trail Run or any trail race near you can give you the perfect opportunity to just race.

Results   |   Photos

The “old” warrior

Sunday, January 30th, 2011

This weekend was the second one of the year where I raced both Saturday and Sunday.  I am not a big fan of back to back racing and would not recommend it to others.  But sometimes when wanting to always race my favorite races (trail races by TampaRaces.com) and try a new race or run one that is part of a series or whatever other reason I can think of to justify it, I feel it just has to be done.  ;)

Luckily on Saturday I was running with Sayuri who was the one who talked me into doing this Warrior Dash in the first place.  This way I could focus on spending time with her, enjoying the whole warrior experience, and saving a little to try to defend my title at Sunday’s Florida Challenge Trail Run 5K.

The title of this entry refers to how I felt on Saturday and not my actual age, despite what the teenagers I coach say!  I am only 37 and far from old, but the obstacles at the Warrior Dash really pushed me out of my comfort zone and made me realize that I am not a teenager anymore!  I no longer feel invincible and was overly cautious and slow on all of the obstacles that took me off the ground and required balancing several feet up off the ground over thin boards, huge nets, scaling walls, crawling under barbed wire, etc.

The photos of me at the end of the Warrior Dash show a huge smile as I jumped over fire and then dove into black, smelly, muddy water to crawl on hands and knees under real barbed wire.  So many people have commented on my big smile.  I tell them I was simply happy, delighted, relieved, and overjoyed that it was over!  As I approached the fire, I could see the finish line so I jumped over two fire pits and gladly dove into the nasty water because I was near the end.

Sayuri is only 22 and I think the years that separate us made all the difference in the world in our differing opinions of the race.  She cruised through all the obstacles with no fear.  I had to use the sections of trail running in between the obstacles to catch up to her since I was so slow on the obstacles.  She had a blast and would do it again in a heartbeat.  I definitely had fun and am glad that I did it, but once was definitely enough for me.  I will proudly display my Warrior Dash finisher’s medal and wear the T-shirt.  I would definitely take a group or travel with a group to this event again in the future but next time I would happily serve as photographer and support crew.  It is a fun and crazy event, but once is enough for this “old” warrior.

I will stick with the challenge of trail racing, like Sunday’s Florida Challenge Trail Run 5K at Alafia River State Park in Lithia.  This year I am defending my overall female title on the toughest 5K trail course I have ever run…


I raced in a purple and white Brooks Sprint singlet, black Brooks Infiniti short tights, and white Brooks Adrenaline shoes.  I kept the short tights and they seemed to come clean, although they are black so it’s tough to tell.  I thought I could wash the mud out of the tank but that was pretty much useless so it hit the road along with the shoes.  Luckily the shoes were on their final miles anyway so the Warrior Dash was a fitting farewell…their final challenge.  If you plan to do this race, definitely wear something you don’t plan to keep!

Running clubs and why I run

Sunday, January 16th, 2011

When I first started running I guess it was as part of a club – my Girl Scout troop was working towards a fitness badge.  The next year I joined my school’s cross country team.  I raced as part of a team in high school but also raced as an individual in road races and track since we did not have a track team.  Then off to college where I raced as part of Brown University’s team in cross country, indoor track, and outdoor track, but I also raced as an individual in a few road races.  After graduating in 1995, I decided to tackle the marathon and so began my long solo journey into road racing.

For years I trained and raced alone in Florida and enjoyed it.  In 2001 I moved to the south of France to attend the International University of Monaco’s MBA program and had high hopes of joining their athletics team and training on the beautiful all weather track inside Stade Louis II.  But it just didn’t work out due to the vibe of the team, the language barrier, and my crazy MBA schedule.  So I looked for the next best thing – road races!  I went online to search for local road races to train for and only found the Monaco Marathon.  So I trained solo for that, raced it, and thoroughly enjoyed it with my future husband and MBA friends/classmates there to meet me at the finish line which was on the track inside Stade Louis II.  So I did get to run on that beautiful track!  ;)

But by November 2001 the Monaco Marathon was over and there were no other local races to do.  So when I went home for Christmas break I searched the race calendar in the good old USA.  I chose races I could do over Spring break when I would be back in the states and also looked ahead past graduation when I would be home in the summer of 2002.  This gave me something to focus my training on when I was back in Monaco, studying, going to class, and enjoying the amazing Riviera.

Flash forward past the June 2002 MBA graduation, a little travel in July with my fiancé, then back to Florida to finalize the August wedding preparations and race more!  After the wedding we were back in Chicago since that was where my hubby’s job was and I was settling into my new city, being back in the USA, and of course seeking out the local running scene.  Chicago has an amazing running scene!  So many specialty running stores, running clubs, and so many road races!!!!  I’m not sure why I never joined any of the running clubs, maybe because I had so much more success and fewer injuries when I trained by myself and could listen to my body rather than do whatever a coach told me or do whatever the rest of the team was doing.

In December 2002 I joined my first running club as an adult because they offered a discounted entry fee for club members for this race I wanted to run in when I was going to be in Florida for Christmas.  I knew we would move back home to Florida eventually, which is why I decided to get involved with this Florida running club even though I was still living in Chicago.

Once we moved back to Florida in 2003 I was very actively involved in the club for many years and became very good friends with other members.  Part of me thought, why didn’t I do this sooner?!?  As the years went by I was more invested and started to get defensive if I ever heard criticism of the club – positive or negative.  After many active years with this club I recently stepped back and dialed down my involvement to let others have a chance at leading the way and carrying the workload.

The most important thing I realize now is that running clubs can be amazing, life changing, friend finding, support systems but they can also suck the life out of you if you’re not careful with how much you give.  So I urge everyone to seek out all the running clubs in your area and join them!  Step up once in a while and do your part to support the greater mission of those clubs – promoting health, fitness, running, walking, etc.  Support your community!  Be part of the good that those clubs are doing.

Just remember as with any group or club out there, don’t let the politics and pettiness of a few members spoil things for you.  Don’t let the club take over your life and define you.  It’s easy to let it happen when you are so passionate about running.

Take that step back and remember why you run – for yourself, for your own health, fitness, well being, sanity, and family, to satisfy a competitive drive within you, to run away from disease, to rack up the hardware and PRs, to make your life more fulfilling, to spend time with friends, or whatever your reasons may be.  I run to be free.  I run to become the person I am meant to be each day.  Sometimes when fully invested in a running club it might be difficult to find our personal running identity.  When I took a step back, it was actually refreshing to find myself again and to run on my own, to run away, if you will.  I still run with the club when it fits my schedule but I no longer feel the obligation to go to all the club training runs.  I now remember why I run.

I have since joined three other local running clubs and thoroughly enjoy the camaraderie and great friends I have made in all of the clubs.  I have the opportunity to drop in at a wide variety of group training runs, run in a variety of races put on by these clubs, and enjoy reading all of their club newsletters and web sites and sharing in the experiences of so many different members.  Being a member of multiple running clubs is definitely the best of both worlds – running clubs and running alone.  You can share in the running community, training runs, races, and social events while training however you choose (solo, with a partner, or with a group).  Just don’t let the excitement of joining a running club and belonging to a group that seems as passionate as you are about running turn into obligation down the road.  Be supportive of your club but keep your personal mission and goals a priority.  Always remember why you run.  And seriously, keep it fun!!!  :)

The good old college try

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

When I ran cross country and track at Brown University, there were so many levels of competition.  We competed in NCAA Division I and the Ivy League, yet the highest level of competition always seemed to be amongst ourselves, as we were all trying for one of those coveted top seven varsity spots on the cross country team or trying to hit a qualifying time or be in a top spot for an event in track so we could make the traveling team.

This competition started in the fall of freshman year in cross country and never let up.  In high school I had always run easy on my long runs, you know, conversational pace for the most part.  Not in college!  I remember cold, slushy winters in Providence when we hit the streets and hammered out hard 10-12 milers with the upperclassmen.  And all we ever tried to do was not fall off the back.

Then spring arrives and it’s time to head to the track.  Brown has an awesome stadium and all weather track.  But, it is two miles away from the main campus.  So that meant a two mile warm up run to the track, hammering away these workouts that left me wondering if I could finish, and then, yes, you guessed it, a two mile cool down jog to get back to campus.  And no matter which route you took back to campus, you had to run uphill at some point.

I remember heading to the dining hall after practice with teammates and as we stood in line with our trays, I recall not wanting to eat.  I had run so hard that although feeling hungry during the workout and knowing I needed to refuel, my stomach was feeling kind of sick and food was the last thing on my mind.  One guy put his tray down and left.  The rest of us knew we needed to eat so we stayed.  After a while, that feeling passed and then we felt hungry and devoured insane amounts of food and stuffed snacks in our back packs for later too.

That feeling I am talking about mostly comes when doing speedwork or really putting forth a strong effort.  I felt that a little today.  And as crazy as it sounds, it made me smile!  I was doing a five mile tempo run on a nice trail but the head wind was strong and cold.  Despite the wind and softer surface, I was determined to complete the workout at the pace I was supposed to so I really had to work.  I fought the wind and even felt hungry during the workout.  When I finished the five miles, slightly faster than goal pace, and started my super slow cool down jog, I felt that sick feeling just a little.  And all I could do was smile as it brought me back to my days at Brown.

I am training for the 2011 Boston Marathon, which his only 14 weeks away.  My training has been challenging and after today’s run and feeling like I used to back in college, I knew I must be doing something right.

Keep your easy days easy, but don’t be afraid to run hard on your hard days no matter what Mother Nature has in store.

Remembering how to play

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011

When is the last time you went outside and played?  According to George Sheehan, my favorite author, “Fitness has to be fun.  If it is not play, there will be no fitness.  Play, you see, is the process.  Fitness is merely the product.”

I have been running and racing for 26 years and I will admit, not every single run or race has been fun or felt like play.  Sometimes I get so focused on training right and getting in shape to try for a new PR on race day that I lose sight of the fun of it all.

Luckily many of the girls I coached in high school came home from college for Christmas break and I was able to go on many training runs with them over the past two weeks.  Between my new training buddies and these special visitors, the past few weeks of training have been so much more fun than usual.  I actually don’t remember my last run by myself!   :)

Today was a long day on the computer with deadlines.  I was a little rushed leaving the house to meet a friend for today’s run.  Traffic was of course slow going – too many people on the road!  So when I arrived a little late and frazzled for our run, I stepped out of the car and we immediately started running as I explained my crazy day.  We were about a mile into the run on top of the steep bridge and although I was out of breath, I was still trying to talk.  It felt good.  We were running faster than I normally do for a longer run.

Neither of us had a route planned so we just ran over bridges, along the beach, through a park, along the water then back over the big bridge.  We ended up with 12 miles total.  The fun part was just running and talking and not worrying about pace.  The route was new and unplanned.  That’s why it felt so much like play.  It wasn’t a route that was pre-measured and that we had run hundreds of times.  We ran a good pace.  Trying to talk while being a little out of breath and not really knowing where this run would take us made me feel like a kid who just ran outside to escape it all.  I ran away from the stress of the day.

I felt like I truly played today.  During the run and especially driving home I couldn’t stop smiling.  Today I felt free.  I was able to leave work at work and enjoy all that today’s run had to offer.

George Sheehan’s words of wisdom:  “Play is where life lives.”  Whatever form of fitness you choose, enjoy it, do it regularly, make it fun, and live life to the fullest my friends.  Play!  I did today and am happier for it.


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