Category Archives: gripes

Race Report: Asheville Half Marathon 2017

Short Version: 1:36:10 for 6th place overall, 1st in Age Group

Easily one of the best parts of the day was running into a friend from graduate school and enjoying post race beers!

Long Version:

One of my running partners used to say “The process is the goal” all the time and while I theoretically appreciated what he meant, I didn’t practically start to appreciate it until this Spring when I had to take a hard look at who I am and who I want to be as a runner. 2016 and early 2017 are probably my least successful 18 months of training and racing since I came back to this a decade ago but improving on that isn’t going to come automatically, so I’ve had to be humble and race even though I’m nowhere near my old form. As challenging as that’s been in some respects, it’s also allowed me to focus on different race outcomes than a PR or a win and the Asheville Half was a perfect example of that.

It was a very early start and they asked us to be at the start line at 6:30, a full half hour before the gun. Thankfully, they just meant in the start area and I was able to do some jogging, drills and strides before the race started. Because I knew the course and knew it had two significant hilly sections, I started conservatively which wasn’t entirely easy because the first two miles of the course are essentially downhill. I didn’t wear a watch but my first mile split was 6:36 and my second was 13:00, so my first two miles were relatively quick for my goals. I just focused on effort, however, and hoped that everything would come out okay.

Right after mile 2, the first hill section starts and winds its way around the community college campus. You go up steep hills only to turn around and go down their backsides. My goal through this section was to float on the uphills and cruise the downhills and just keep my effort and legs intact. The group I was running with passed me here but I let them go because I was dedicated to executing my race plan. Towards the top of the campus, we went around a turn that let me see the field in front of me and I noted two women about 2 minutes up who seemed to have fallen off the front pack.* There was another woman (in bright orange shorts, I might add) just a few steps ahead of me but I sensed that she was in over her head so opted to focus on pulling towards the other two. The first hill section finally ended just after the Mile 5 marker and we got onto Meadow Road/Riverside drive for the 4ish mile flat section that this race features.

As we got onto the flats, I finally found my rhythm and worked at a steady state effort as I pulled forward. I passed orange shorts and her running partner, as well as a few other people from the group who’d passed me in the hills and felt cautiously optimistic. As we approached mile 8, I opened my gel on the first try and took it just before I got to the aid station where I actually slowed to a walk-jog and got a full cup of water with which to wash it down. This move was EXCELLENT. Usually aid stations catch me off guard and I can’t get my gel open or I try to move through quickly and choke on water. I lost maybe 10 seconds here and actually had a great fuel stop.

Shortly after the mile 8 aid station, one of the women in front of me was within striking distance.** She had gone out hard and from the looks of it, was paying for it in a place where she should have been cruising. I set my eyes on her and pulled forward. We passed the mile 9 marker and I knew the biggest hill was coming.

And holy shit was it a hill. I’m no stranger to hills but this was a BEAST to put in a race. It climbs all the way up the back of UNCA’s campus and I would estimate that it’s almost a mile long. It has a brutal curve at the top just when you think you’re done and then almost worse, a screaming downhill that will take your quads off right into another uphill. I passed the woman on the hill but she tried to catch me on the downhill. I didn’t react and just pulled away as we hit the second uphill and never saw her again. Finally, we turned to go down the hill in the front of campus, passed the mile 11 sign and turned onto WT Weaver. The other woman was about a minute ahead of me here but I was pretty sure I was out of real estate to make that up.

My proudest part of the day, however, came on the last two miles on Broadway. This is an insidious f*cker of a hill, climbing just enough that you can’t turn your legs over well. I found my tempo effort and pushed the whole way home. We rolled up Broadway, got a tiny reprieve coming into downtown then I gritted my teeth and pushed up Lexington and made the left onto Walnut. I didn’t have much left for a kick but was thrilled that I actually changed gears and held it for the last two miles rather than falling back, out of fitness.

I finished at a hair over 1:36 and although this is my slowest half marathon time by three minutes, it was also the hardest course I’ve ever encountered and I am really proud of the time. I feel like a totally different runner than I did at Unplugged and had the fitness and mindset to attack the course appropriately. I’m going back into base building phase now but would love to do another flatter half to see where I’m at.

Just a few changes in elevation.

There were two super shitty things that happened today that I witnessed. *The first was witnessing my very first course cutting. He passed me early on in the race like his pants were on fire. He was young, so I figured maybe he just didn’t know how to pace well. At Mile 4ish, however, there was a hill and turn that doubled back on itself on two sides of the road with a porto-potty between. I caught him just before this and he was struggling. He stepped off to the side of the road and looked around, then went in the porto-potty. When I came back around 45 seconds later, he came out of the porto-potty, looked around again and jumped back in behind me like nothing happened!

**The second one was almost as annoying. USATF is extremely clear that racers cannot have escorts or pacers, especially if they are competing for money. The formerly mentioned woman that I passed at mile 10 was also young but her dad had been biking with her for at least 6 miles. Not biking around the course to cheer, but actively biking right.next.to.her. Mind you, she was in 6th until I passed her so arguably racing for money and she had started the race in the lead pack. This was a totally empty course; the race happened early and there were not that many spectators so having a friend or family member on a bike was a definite advantage. Not to mention, when I was getting close, he was telling her how far back I was. Anyway, having watched this for a bunch of miles, I decided I would be nice but say something because perhaps they didn’t know that this wasn’t allowed. As I caught her, I said “hey bike guy, you may not know this but USATF prohibits bike escorts or pacers.” And he flipped out. “She’s not competing, that only counts if we’re watching paces and we’re not even timing her, this is just for fun!” I responded (mind you, I’m passing her going up a huge hill), “well, we’re in the running for the money so I would argue that we’re competing.” He sputtered away at me and I (okay, this was not my best moment) said “You seem pretty defensive” and moved on. I passed her and as I said, I never saw her again but a few minutes later, he biked away from her and she completely fell apart. I beat her by more than 3 minutes in the last miles. Maybe I’m oversensitive in light of all the cheating scandals but both of these incidents made me so mad. Play by the rules or don’t play at all…

Recently Read: On Running as a Woman and Olympic Rundown

The good: Jenny Simpson brought home the bronze in the 1500, the first American woman to do so. I don’t know Jenny but really admire her work ethic and her sportsmanship year after year.

The hard but good: A really important piece by Allison Schmitt on depression and the athlete. Although I’m sure the Olympic arena is an even more potent setup for depression and anxiety, it’s an ever-present issue at all levels of competition. Even at our own training camp last week, athletes offered stories about the depression, anxiety and stress that they had either experienced in the past or were currently experiencing. I spend a lot of time talking to people while coaching or doctoring and am acutely aware of how prevalent these issues are but it’s always amazing to hear my girls say things like “I didn’t know anyone else felt this way!”

Not sure I’m crazy about this: There seems to be a current obsession with eating clean, which in my not so humble opinion is just a synonym for disordered eating. One of my favorite blogging runners who I always admired for eating real food and having a normal body while running fast has recently fallen into this trap, shilling her “new style of clean eating” while posting pictures of her shrinking frame and lamenting her recent poor performances. This article seems to perpetuate a similar theme.  I think it makes total sense to make the bulk of your diet based on real foods (grains, fruits, veggies, proteins) but to do a juice fast or “meticulously” plan food just heads down a rabbit hole.

Finally, another important piece that I’ve thought about and talked about with female running friends recently in the light of another set of attacks that have left many of us (or at least, our mothers) on edge. I run alone almost all the time and often very early in the morning. When the attack in Massachusetts occurred, my sister sent me a text imploring me to be careful and I’ll admit, I pushed my morning run to the afternoon the next day because I was a little spooked by the whole scenario. The following morning, however, my alarm went off at 4:30 and off into the darkness I went, a move that was in some part a protest against the idea that I am inherently vulnerable by virtue of being female and a runner.

Don’t Believe Everything You See on Instagram

Disclaimer: I love social media. I once coordinated the volunteer response to a hurricane on social media and continue to do research on the role of social media in public health promotion. I benefit from social media; my relationships with Skechers and Nuun and with countless other companies who send me free things to review or comp my race entries are closely tied to my social media presence.

With that disclaimer out of the way, I am also deeply concerned about the way that social media is changing the way we run. Is is possible to go for a run without posting a picture of your Garmin? Is it possible to eat a recovery meal without first snapping it in pretty light? How many shots does it take to get a good daily run shot and WHO THE HELL IS TAKING ALL YOUR RUNNING PHOTOS?!?

Much of this has come up for me over the past few months as I continue to figure out how to balance the PR and training components of my running. I am deeply grateful to my sponsors and want to represent them in a good light and demonstrate how their support makes it easier for me to meet my training goals. That said, I also don’t have time to set up a photo shoot after every run nor do I have someone around to take a photo of every workout or run. All of this came to a head a few weeks ago when I was down in our gym doing legs after a workout. I wanted to get a picture after a good workout and was busily trying to set up a timer app on my phone to capture me in the middle of a single leg squat. After 15 minutes of trying to get a shot with decent lighting, however, I was out of time both for squats or to post a picture and as I was showering started to reflect on the sheer ridiculousness of compromising both my social media presence and training to get a good workout shot.

My bigger concern, however, is around the authenticity of content on social media as it pertains to running. No one, and I repeat no one, has good runs every day. Perhaps every run has moments of good but the reality is that if you run regularly, most of those runs are average and run of the mill. And that’s okay. No single workout or run makes a training cycle. It’s the stacking of average run on average run that leads to breakthrough performances and personal records. So why the pressure to talk about how amazing every run was or how fast you were on every repetition? Why the cultivation of the myth that running and training should always be glamorous and photo ready? Some of my biggest breakthrough workouts are the ones where I miss my paces but stick it out anyway or the ones where I drench through my mismatching clothes. Where’s the rush to post those moments?

Part of the story but not the whole story.

Part of the story but not the whole story.

In general, I think I do a good job of being real on this blog. In fact, I think I am a little too rough on myself which is something I noticed when reading through race reports recently. On Instagram, however, I fall into the trap of cultivating my content. Some of this is unconscious; if I don’t have time to post a picture, I don’t. Some of it, however, is 100% intentional. When Will and I have time to run together, I regularly ask him to take pictures of apparel and shoes while I’m running and we do way more than 1 take. As I was flipping through my phone photos this week while planning out this week’s content, I busted myself (thus the impetus for this post) for taking pictures of all the amazing veggie concoctions I’d enjoyed all week. The issue was not that I took pictures of pretty summer vegetables, it was that if I posted just those, it would create the image that I eat perfectly healthy meals and erase the reality that one of those nights of a bright salad was only because we’d opted to eat chips and salsa for the rest of our dinner. It erased the reality of Friday where we had tons of cookies leftover from a dinner party and I literally ate only cookies for breakfast and dinner. Why was THAT not on my camera to share?

Going forward, my personal plan is to be more mindful of what I’m choosing to put on my social media accounts and be less self-conscious about sharing the real moments while taking everyone else’s content with a grain of salt. Hair a tangled mess and face blotchy from working hard on the track? Resist the urge to filter the sh*t out of it. Posting a picture of a great, healthy meal? Own up to cookie breakfasts and lunches or to the days when I eat zero vegetables.

Would you engage with a social media account that was more…average? How do you decide what to post on social media? 

A Small Victory in a Big Battle

Thanks to Ryan for sending me this article this morning!

The old adage goes that where there’s smoke, there’s fire and the training group out of Hebron, Kentucky epitomizes this. People have speculated that the group is dirty for YEARS, led by Mikhaylova who operates as their manager. The Hebron group shows up at small regional races with modest cash prizes (and as Ryan pointed out, the exact same races that I tend to frequent) and almost always walk away with a pay day.

The part about this article that saddens me, however, is that these athletes seem a lot like pawns in a bigger scheme. Distance running is a way out in Kenya and these athletes are just trying to make a better life for their families with the skills and talents they have. Yes, we are all responsible for what goes into our bodies but I can’t help but feel some empathy for these runners who show up here to make a living in one of the hardest ways possible, racing back to back days on the weekends, living in someone’s home only to be disgraced when they are found to be doping.

Nonetheless, it’s encouraging to see U.S Anti-Doping starting to attack this cancer at many levels. Here’s hoping 2016 is a cleaner, more positive year for all of us!

Things People Yell

Level Runner** recently ran a piece on the top 7 things people yell at runners in homage to David Letterman. Many of their top ten resonated with me, especially #3 and #6

I hate being yelled at when I’m running, mostly because it always scares the living shit out of me. I’m usually plodding along, minding my own business and having an internal conversation about why I continue to run when “YEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHSSSSSHHHH” gets screamed at me from a car full of (usually) 20ish dudes. In Lewiston, one car was so gracious as to even try to touch me while I was running. Had they been successful, I might still be in the local jail for assaulting a driver…

The most ridiculous thing that comes to mind, however, came on a shitty winter day a few years back. Erin and I were slogging through a long run with slush up to our shins when a young guy drove by, rolled down his window and yelled “I hate you so much!” Okay then.

What has been yelled at you lately?

**Also, if you’re not reading Level Runner or following them on social media, you’re missing out. They are doing an incredible job of covering what is going on in New England and with New England athletes all over the country.

Literally No One Cares What You Ate (Last) Wednesday

Of all the blogging trends, WIAW is among the weirdest. At best, people share interesting approaches to fueling their workouts but overwhelmingly it’s an opportunity to humble brag about the various disordered eating patterns and faux sponsor foods that many of the “famous” bloggers eat. In reality, most serious runners I know eat really well and look at food as a key component of their training. In contrast, if you follow the trajectory of the standard orthorexic blogger, you’ll see a cycle of really excited about training/big goals –> injury “out of nowhere” –> depression/healing/vowing to be stronger –> really excited about training/big goals and on and on.

One of the first questions I ask athletes when they have an unexpected mismatch between training and performance is about diet. Sometimes consciously and sometimes not, it’s relatively common to find that people just aren’t putting enough fuel in the tank to train well. I used to use a car analogy when coaching but have now switched to a cell phone. I start by asking my girls if they would leave the house with a cell phone that only had 30% battery. Overwhelmingly, they’ll say no. But ask them if they would leave without eating breakfast or without their water bottles and their answers are more varied. Sometimes they are just using the wrong charger; in an effort to eat a healthy diet, many of my athletes opt for large salads at lunchtime which is GREAT for vitamins and general health, but sometimes lacks the carbohydrates needed to power through a 3:30 pm workout. We get around this by adding things like a bag of pretzels or a buttered roll plus plenty of toppings like nuts, seeds or beans.

My own personal philosophy towards fueling falls along the lines of the 90/10 rule. Eat well 90% of the time and don’t worry about the 10% of foods that don’t have a ton of nutritional value. This past weekend is the perfect example. With barbeques and time off, we all ate lots of grilled meat and drank way more beer than we normally would. By yesterday morning, all of us were ready to get back to normal foods and happily went back to huge salads, lean meat and water. In a normal non-holiday week, it’s common for Will and I to go get a creemee for dinner (Vermont soft serve ice cream) after a workout. Is it super nutritious? Probably not. Does it derail our training? Definitely not. We enjoy our vanilla with rainbow sprinkles (me) and black raspberry-maple twist (Will) and go back to oatmeal the next morning.

What’s your philosophy towards fueling your runs? Do you like reading WIAW from runners/athletes you follow? How do you evaluate your nutrition?

Week in Review 1/19/15 to 1/25/15

We’ll try this again. Pro-tip for anyone who thinks the migration from WordPress.com to WordPress.org is easy: it is not. I’m still not totally sure where in cyberspace this blog is and almost paralyzed at the thought of clicking any more buttons for fear that I’ll lose half my content again, which is how I spent most of yesterday afternoon. Regardless…

Monday: Tempo with 5 by 5 minutes at T pace on the treadmill and 8 miles total. Legs after.

Tuesday: Recovery ski, 1 hour.

Wednesday: 9.2 run/skate in running shoes with LT.

Thursday: Workout! 5 by 3 minutes hard, up and down Riverside. Down sections felt great, up sections were humbling. Legs after.

Friday: 3.5 mile recovery run.

Saturday: 5.5 mile run with 4 striders and arms afterward.

Sunday: 11 mile hilly long run on Spear. Chilled to the bone by the end.

Total: 45.2 miles

2 leg lifts, 1 arm lift.

Upside? Got two workouts and two longish runs in. Downside? Mileage still pretty paltry. Working on accepting that as my fate until the Boards are done.

 

Warning: Posts in Blogosphere May Be Rosier than Reality

MirrosI love blogging and even more, I love reading other running blogs. There’s something about reading someone’s first hand account of training, of racing or even of life as a runner that makes the running community feel even more tight knit. Increasingly, however, I find that reading other blogs causes me to compare myself to other runners and not always in a positive manner. For example, with so many people in my speed-clique running Chicago this year (which is the same weekend as Albany), I’ve found myself anxiously comparing workouts and progress. When I have a bad workout or rough run, it’s not many steps to a total running meltdown. Granted, this can happen on in-person teams too (I see it as a coach all the time), but sometimes I suspect the digital component heightens anxiety and comparison because we just have to believe what people are writing.

I went on a big unfollow streak this week after reading one too many disingenuous and borderline dangerous blog entries from a fairly big name blogger. I never should have followed that blog as long as I did; she complains about extreme exhaustion but keeps hammering 10 miles a day, runs through stress fractures and serious injuries and generally sets a horrible example of what it’s like to be a runner. After unfollowing her blog, I started to go through my Reader and remove other blogs that didn’t feel like brothers or sisters of the road. If you truly love running every single day and always have perfect workouts, my assumption is that you are either lying about them or you aren’t actually doing them. Everyone blows workouts once in a while. Everyone has days where they just really don’t want to fucking run.

Laurel has written about this before, as have others. It’s not that most little bloggers like ourselves try to be cheery all the time, it’s just not as fun to write about bad runs or races and no one wants to be the Debbie Downer of the Interwebs. The reality is, however, that running is hard and sometimes not that fun. We still get out there and do it every day, but we’re not exactly skipping down the sidewalk. As I go forward with this blog, one of my goals is to find the balance between inspiration, motivation and reality.

In the spirit of honesty for anyone else who finds themselves playing the comparison game, last week SUCKED for me. My mid-week workout was slow and I felt like I was dragging concrete pins and on my Sunday long run, I only did one section of tempo running when I was scheduled to do two. At 7 weeks out, it was disheartening and terrifying and I cried to Will more than once that I didn’t know if I wanted to step on the start line in October.

Am I alone in this? Anyone else find their perspectives swayed by what they read on blogs?

 

What’s the Point?

No, I’m not having a runner tantrum or questioning the meaning of life. Training is going really well and I’m looking forward to a solid Phase III. Asking “what’s the point” however, is one of the most critical questions an athlete can ask of a coach and of themselves.

Every run should have a purpose. As such, every run has an appropriate length and pace and (spoiler alert) as hard as you can doesn’t count. I just came out of Phase II, where I was focused on getting my long run to 2:30 and on building the strength to do some big workouts in Phase III. This strength came from a steady diet of intervals with 90% rest, tempo runs and most importantly, recovery runs. Early on in Phase II, I almost derailed myself because I started to push the pace on my easy runs. I should know better but my foot called me out on the behavior and I’m back to running my easy runs somewhere between 8:30 and 9:00 pace. Yup. I race over two minutes per mile faster than I do most of my mileage.

One of the biggest challenges as a coach is convincing athletes to slow down on their recovery runs. People want to push, want to rush the acquisition of fitness or recovery from an injury. They get about two weeks out of this approach, three if they’re lucky. Think I’m being dramatic? Just read a few running blogs and look for the trend. People celebrate the return from an injury or pick a goal race, pop up their mileage way beyond the 10% rule, start hammering workouts and low and behold, just don’t know what happened when they are totally out again three weeks later.

Last year, I decided to start telling my girls about the point of each workout and run and found that in so doing, I was able to alleviate anxiety. I think we have a natural tendency to assume that a particular run or workout “determines” our future success. In reality, a goal race depends on workout stacked on workout stacked on workout and showing up every day and asking ourselves what we’re aiming to accomplish that day and then executing that. One run does not a training cycle make.

How do you make sure that all of your runs have purpose? How do you structure training cycles? What are your tricks for not pushing it too far, too soon?

 

How I Came to Land on the Hood of a Car

To The Woman Whose Subaru I Landed On Last Night:

I know you were probably distracted or late to pick up your kids or thinking about something from work or home. After all, it was 5:30 and you were pulling out of work. I understand distracted and late. I understand thinking about something other than what you are currently doing. That’s why I run, actually. I run for time to think and process.

What you don’t know about me is that I’ve been running for over 15 years. In that time, I’ve certainly had close calls but I do my part to make sure I don’t land on the hood of the car. I run on the sidewalk. I wear bright colors in the summer and reflective gear at night and in the winter. I don’t wear headphones outside. I always give cars the benefit of the doubt. You also don’t know that I had a friend from high school who got hit by a distracted driver when he was a freshman in college. In an instant, his life and the life of his family changed. In an instant he lost his memories, his future in cycling, his ability to live independently. His story is not unique; every month there are stories of runners, walkers and cyclists injured or killed by distracted drivers.

Like I said to you last night when I slid off your hood, you are extremely lucky I saw you and jumped before I ended up under your wheels. You’re lucky all you have is a dent in your hood. You’re lucky I am a nimble 30 year old and not a small child or older person. You’re lucky I’m calm under pressure.

So when you pull out of work tonight and tomorrow and next month, slow down. Look up. Whatever it is can wait.

Thanks,

Sarah