Popping my Ultra Marathon Cherry

On Sunday, I finally realized a dream that I had been holding on to for a really long time.  I became an ultra marathoner.

The Backstory

I started running in 2011 and ran my first half almost 2 years later in 2013.  One year later, I ran my first Cowtown Half Marathon, which was my second half.  This is the race that made me want to become an ultra marathoner.  I hate to admit it, but I was envious of all the people running the ultra.  Even though I hadn’t even run a full marathon at the time (although I had trained for Dallas 2013 which was cancelled due to ice), I knew that running an ultra was my ultimate goal and I wouldn’t be satisfied until I achieved it.

I trained for Dallas again in the Fall of 2014….too well, because I ended up with IT issues.  But I was too stubborn to quit and “ran” it anyway.  (Those last 6 miles were so slow and painful, but I finished with an embarrassing 5:18.)  I was determined to train smarter in 2015 and took the time to rehab my IT.  Running Dallas again was a MUST – I needed redemption, but Cowtown Ultra was the main blip on my radar.  I signed up for both, convinced that I could do it.  THANK GOODNESS that the running gods had me cross paths with my coach, Brent.  He started coaching me late in the Fall and got me to the Dallas start line healthier than I had ever been and I ran a 4:15 (which was 15 minutes faster than my goal).  But in order to keep me healthy, he recommended that I drop from the ultra to the half at Cowtown 2016.  It made me SO SAD, but I trusted him and knew it was for my own good.

So for 2017, I was registered for the Cowtown Half – I planned to use it as a training run/warm-up for the run portion of Ironman Texas 70.3 in Galveston.  When one of my teammates started asking about the ultra, I asked if I could run it and was given the green light! (And I upgraded my registration in record time – before Brent could figure out what he had given me permission to do!)

Carmen Reed was running her first 10k and Suzanne Kennedy joined her in the fun for her first 10k – they crushed it in their Saturday race!!  Jeri was running the half on Sunday.  We spent the weekend together roaming around Cowtown and had an wonderful time together!!img_4472

The Race

I ran Houston Marathon just 6 weeks ago.  I quickly realized that training for a 50k so soon after and training for a 50k and half Ironman simultaneously was a foolish choice.  Training kicked my rear but I persisted (with a lot of uncharacteristic whining and belly-aching) and I survived.

I typically fret over how I will perform at races, but I didn’t fret about this race.  Houston gave me A LOT of confidence and removed any feelings of having to prove myself.  I have proven myself to ME and that needed to happen because I was full of self-doubt.

I went into the race without any goal times.  Well…..I knew what I would like to hit, but I was prepared to be OK with just finishing.  I knew that hurting at some point in the race was inevitable so my strategy was to run by heart rate and try not to go out too fast.  I felt that I could manage the extra mileage by keeping my heart rate in check, but I was still a little leery because of the time crunch caused by running this so close to Houston made any training for this race short and sweet.  In any case, I had no doubt that I could do it – it was just a matter of how well I managed everything.  Early in the week, the forecast was horrid.  Temps were supposed to be close to 70 with sunny skies and winds gusting up to 30 mph.  Honestly, I dreaded this because it would only serve to make a difficult race even harder.  I didn’t check the forecast again until we were in Ft. Worth on Saturday and I literally started jumping up and down, screaming with excitement (while we were in CVS and I *may* have startled the clerk).  Temps while I was expected to be on the course were to be in the 40s with partly cloudy skies and winds around 10 mph.  I felt like I had just won the lottery!

Race morning was so cold at around 40°!!  Several of the Renegades were racing and everyone who could make it met for a pic.  My fellow Renegade sister, Ashley, said it best when she shared our group pic, “From first time 10k finishers to 50k & everything in between. Love sharing the dreams & then witnessing the successes of these Renegades. We all have our own story but together it’s an even more powerful one.”  Being a part of this group is one of the main reasons I’ve been so successful over the past 1 1/2 years.  This is the MOST SUPPORTIVE team out there – and we support EVERY one of our athletes from slower to faster and shorter to longer distance athletes.  It’s a beautiful thing to be a part of!img_4502-1

I waffled back and forth on whether to do UCAN or Tailwind for this race.  I tried Tailwind at the tail end of training, but I don’t think I found the right balance because I found myself hungry and hitting an energy wall.  I ended up going with UCAN because it really does work for me and I can tell a HUGE difference when I don’t fuel with it.  (Some tweaking will be in order as I extend my distance to the 50 miler later this year.)  In the end, UCAN came through for me again, as you’ll see when I describe the later stages of my race.

The race finally started with sunny skies and temps still close to 40. I started out consistently running 8:45s and thought that I was DOOMING myself to failure.  But I had decided to run by heart rate and my heart rate was in zone 1, so I maintained that pace.  I went over 9 minutes on mile 7 and thinking back it was probably the streets in the stockyards…or the shucking of my t-shirt – I was trying to be extra careful not to twist an ankle (or step in Longhorn dung!).  Early on, it seemed that the day would be sunny and that caused me some anxiety but the clouds slowly rolled in. Winds stayed at around 10, I’m guessing, and I even got chilly coming up to the mile 9 hill and through downtown. I managed the mile 9 hill just fine and enjoyed the cruise DOWN through downtown through the marathon split.

The back side of the course had an immediate hill that I was not expecting.  I could obviously have avoided this surprise by studying the elevation map, but as I said earlier – I did not concern myself about this race at all.  I barely got packed in time to leave town!!

I maintained splits close to 8:45 but started creeping up toward the 9:00 mile pace in miles 15-17.  Around mile 18, I found myself running next to a man named Joe, from McKinney, who proudly proclaimed his Florida roots with his Florida Gator shirt.  He was running naked (all you non-runners calm down – it just means he was running without a watch!) and was hoping to hit a 4:00 marathon or better.  Well, guess what!?! was hoping to hit a 4:00 marathon, too!! (Even though I wouldn’t admit that to the general public.) We decided to stick together until the marathon split around mile 25.  My friend Joe kept me going during those 7 miles and the funny thing is – he thought I slowed down for him.  WE simply kept at OUR pace. It was a nice relief to share the road with someone.  And I just do better when I feel like I have to keep up with someone.  All my miles with Joe were sub-9, except for mile 19.  I was a little sad saying goodbye to Joe, but I sent him on his way – he should have easily come in around 3:52-3:53 which was under his goal!

I'm past mile 20 at this point and STILL SMILING! :)

I’m past mile 20 at this point and STILL SMILING! 🙂

Honestly, I was amazed that I was able to maintain mostly sub-9 miles up to this point, which made me smile even more. 🙂  And my legs felt amazing!  A tiny bit fatigued, maybe, but my legs felt better at mile 25 than they felt at mile 20 in Houston.  I was extremely encouraged because at this point, I knew if <when> things went downhill fast, I could suffer through a 10k and manage.  I crossed the 26.2 timing mat at 3:53 (which was only +5 from my Houston time) and legs were STILL feeling OK.

Mile 27.  Mile 27 is when my quads started feeling grouchy.  And my brain wanted to be at the turnaround already.  Except I didn’t really know where the turnaround was because I hadn’t studied the race map that well.  I did know that it had to be by mile 28.  Well the turnaround was at mile 27.5.  Mile 28 was my slowest mile of the race, because I stopped for a BEER.  And that beer tasted SO GOOD!!! The aid station volunteers laughed at me because I went on…and on….and on about it!  I drank almost half and realized that I would never finish if I hung around drinking beer all day. (In reality it was maybe 45 seconds.)  So off I went and then I was joined by another male runner – and he rocked the trail runner look with his well-maintained beard.  This guy was a lifesaver.  He was the type of person that oozed positivity.  He cheered on EVERY SINGLE runner that we passed.  Between mile 28-29,we had turned back South and at this point the wind had really picked up.  My legs didn’t want to have ANYTHING to do with running into these winds.  I knew I would be OK if I could just make it to mile 30.  Mr. Positive stayed with me until then, but at mile 30 he cranked it up, said, “One mile, LET’S GO” and was off in a flash. My goal was simply to maintain what I could at that point and I couldn’t have kept up with him if I had tried so I let him charge on.  I was getting so close to that last little bit of the course that is so familiar to me. It seems to go on forever yet I know it isn’t THAT long…and….there was a tiny hill.  I walked just a bit.  I’m a little mad at myself for this, but at that moment I felt that I needed to give myself the chance to collect my wits for the finish.  Onward and upward I went!  And right over the hill was the turn to the road to the finish!

My ONE pic with Mr. Positive - he is waving and I am struggling!

My ONE pic with Mr. Positive – he is waving and I am struggling!

But 5 steps later and I manage a smile....AT MILE 30!

But 5 steps later and I manage a smile….AT MILE 30!

That last little bit of the course always seems so long.  My mouth always starts watering because I want to see that finish line and cross!  My best pace on mile 31 was 8:27 and my best pace on the last .06 was 8:07.  I was SO READY to be finished!  After I fought my way down the finish line chute, I grinned the entire way across.  I came close to crying, but I managed to hold back the tears.  I was BEYOND happy (and still am)!!img_4546

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After I got my medal and grabbed my phone to text Carmen, a woman sitting on the curb congratulated me.  I told her it was my first ultra and that I was over the moon!  She said, “You HAVE to ring the bell!!”  I mentioned getting my friend to come take my picture, but she volunteered.  She stood in line with me, videoed me ringing the bell and then took my picture.  I thanked her and went on my way to get food, finisher shirts and my extra challenge medal.  And after that, I went to find the important stuff – BEER!!img_4542img_4511

I think cold molasses moves faster than I do after a race.  It always takes me SO LONG.  I finally made my way to the building where Carmen, Suzanne and Jeri were waiting on me.  Carmen is my sherpa – she is THE BEST sherpa!!  I can’t believe she hung around in the cold for almost 5 freaking hours just to snap a couple of pics of me finishing.  She is seriously amazing.  Suzanne, deserves her own medal for sticking around as well when she really didn’t have to.  That meant the world to me!!

As we were leaving to walk back to our hotel, I got a message from Brent that simply said “Dude! Podium!”  I read it in disbelief, relayed my disbelief and he sent back a screen shot of my results.  THIRD IN MY AGE GROUP!!!  How in the heck??? All I can say is that it was an amazing day!! I later found out that I missed first in my age group by TWO FREAKING MINUTES. The beer stop and the walk stop would have closed that gap for sure. And maybe I should have tried to keep up with Mr. Positive. But I had a GREAT race and placing in my first ultra is an amazing accomplishment, so NO REGRETS! img_4512

This race was absolutely amazing.  I smiled almost the entire race and I rarely smile during races because I’m all business.  I can sincerely say that I enjoyed EVERY SINGLE MINUTE.  I had just been waiting for so long to cross this threshold. And things work out in God’s time. I wanted to rush this and do it last year, but I listened. I was signed up to run a 50 miler but I listened and dropped when I realized it wasn’t the right time. And I was rewarded with one of the most amazing races that I have ever run!! (I know you’re wishing at this point that I would use and adjective besides amazing!)

What’s next to CONQUER? 

Ironman Texas 70.3 at Galveston is next on the plate.  The thought of it made me throw up in my mouth a little today because I feel like it’s totally out of my league.  I am gaining confidence in the water, though, and that is encouraging for the swim.  I say that my only goal is to make the swim cutoff then manage the rest of the race, but I know you all know that isn’t quite true.  I am competitive (with myself, anyway) and I have a time goal in mind.  I just hope I can get close to it!  In the end, my goal is to enjoy Galveston like I enjoyed Cowtown – hopefully good things will happen! I know that Brent will give me what I need to be prepared. The rest is up to me!

After that, all that is on the calendar is Brazos Bend 50 in December. After this race, I know I can do it. I just need to reign myself in and not set the bar too high. But I can worry about that after Galveston.

I know I want to work on manintaining/increasing my speed, then focus on BB50.  Other than that, I’ll just have to see what pops up!

Until next time,

Jen 💙

The TRIals of 70.3 Training and “Other Stuff”

In an attempt to dig myself out of the blogging black hole that I have allowed myself to fall into, I’m penning this catch up post.

Half Ironman training is…..kicking my ass.  

There is NO other way to put it.  Of course, most of the ass kicking is of my own making because I am terribly over-scheduled.  Some of the ass kicking is because I, um, probably scheduled a big race too soon after Houston…..in my defense – switching from Cowtown Half Marathon to the 50k seemed like a really good idea at the time!  LOL!!  And I think some of the ass kicking is due to my lack of motivation.  I used every single ounce of motivation, determination and dedication that I possessed while I was training for and racing at Houston.  I did what I set out to do and grabbed my BQ.  And since  it was such a huge goal and I spent such a long time focusing on it – the absence of chasing it is causing me to flounder.  I am struggling to maintain focus on these shorter term races and I am most definitely struggling to set my goals for the remainder of the year.  I’m going to get there, though!!

After Houston, I reveled in the glory of my BQ for exactly 5 days, then it was back to work.  (I literally had NO time to waste to get started on my 70.3 training.  The timing of Houston had already put me behind the 8-ball in relationship to Galveston.)  I know planning my workouts caused some stress for my coach.  It sounds so ridiculous when I put it down in print – I’m training for a 50k and a half Ironman AT THE SAME TIME.  Big-time kudos to my coach for: 1) the balancing act (aka training plan) that he put together for me, and 2) choosing to create a training plan instead of strangling me (which, I’m sure crossed his mind)!

The first week of 70.3 training was HELL.  I was SO EXHAUSTED.  The second week – I was still exhausted, but my schedule was wonkier than usual.  I had some out-of-the-norm commitments that required rearranging my training schedule.  I *nearly* skipped a bike workout.  I intended to get up early to do before work; then I moved to the next day (which was a rest/swim day) and planned to do early.  I got up and just skipped it that morning.  I tried to justify to myself that swimming was enough for that day.  But I confessed to Brent that I skipped the bike and whined because I was tired.  All he had to say was, “You’ll be tired at Galveston” and  I decided to do it when I got home…..at 9 PM…after driving Alli to practice and after swimming.  I did it and I was STILL exhausted, but at least I could live with myself.  I needed that kick in the rear and I’m glad that Brent is willing to do the kicking when it is needed. 

I’m now in week 3.  I did my 2 hour ride on Tuesday and it was easier.  (Probably because I had been off work for 2 days, but I’m choosing to believe that I’m getting stronger!)  I have one more really long run this weekend in prep for my ultra in 2 weeks, then the “long” runs won’t be as long.  I finally feel like I’m on the edge of getting a handle on juggling it all again.

Back in the pool

I jumped back into the pool a couple weeks ago.  It had been six long months since I had done swimming of any kind.  I was pleasantly surprised that my fitness in the water seemed about the same as the last time I swam!!  This was a huge mental boost for me, as the swim is the biggest question mark for my 70.3.

But the same day I got back into the pool, I learned that the pool I use was scheduled to be closed beginning Feb 1 through sometime in the Fall.  SERIOUSLY.  I did something completely out of the ordinary for me: I didn’t fret – I just started looking and found another pool across town.  Last week I was able to visit this new pool for a swim and I’m not sure it is going to work.  It is smaller and a high school swim team practices there at the same time that I am available to swim.  Most likely, I’ll head back to the pool in which I started  It isn’t my favorite, but it will get me by.

At Galveston, if I can get myself warmed up and avoid the panic related to that and figure out how to manage the inevitable panic related to all the people in the water, I really do believe that I can finish the swim before the cutoff.

Rocky Raccoon 100 Pacer

This weekend, my long run was to be a very SLOW skip around Huntsville State Park as a pacer for my teammate, Tim, on his last 20 mile loop of his 100 mile attempt.  As it turns out, having a fractured tibia isn’t conducive to finishing a 100 mile race and Tim was forced to drop after 40 miles.  I know that another 100 mile attempt is the LAST thing on his mind right now, but he is going to have to attempt another just so I can fulfill my job as pacer!

The Flu? Ain’t got no time for that!

I drove down to Huntsville for the race and arrived Saturday around lunch.  Around 2 PM, Alli started texting me saying she was nauseous.  Then she texted saying she thought she had a fever.  Then she texted saying she was achy.  UH OH.  I had a gut feeling that she was coming down with the flu.  She was at a friend’s for the night, since I had planned to be running at 12-5AM-ish and Bobby was gone to the lake.  Logan picked her up and brought her home.  I decided to stay in Huntsville, but deep down I wasn’t convinced that was the right decision.

Brent came in from loop 3 and after he got off on loop 4 with his pacer, Alli started texting me again.  She still wasn’t feeling well and Ibuprofen wasn’t working all that well.  My mom knew she was home sick with Logan and was having a fit to go down and stay with her.  (My mom is 83 and notoriously fretful.  I knew she wouldn’t sleep a wink unless I came home.)  So I decided to leave my Renegade family behind to go home and take care of my little girl.  It was a tough decision, but the right one.  I was home before midnight.  We arrived at the clinic as soon as it was open on Sunday and, sure enough, Alli had the flu.

The timing of this illness couldn’t have come at a better time, for me. On Monday, I did NOTHING.  I actually thought I was coming down with something.  But I believe it was my body finally being able to relax for the first time in….forever….and it was letting go of all that exhaustion and tension.  Alli was still running fever on Tuesday, so we stayed home again.  I felt much more energized and got several things accomplished around the house, which also helped my mood and energy level. 

Yesterday, Alli was back at school and I was back at work.  She was zapped after school, though, so I made the decision to keep her home from practice. 

Hopefully, the time off will give me enough of a boost to make it to Spring Break.  Alli’s team will be heading into qualifier season, which is difficult because of the amount of travel. But I’ll also be two weeks away from Galveston and a break will be in sight!! 

I’m trying not to sign up for any races for a little bit of time after Galveston. I am beginning to think that a couple week break, then maintaining base might be the best plan for a while, to give my mind and body a little break. 

Happy Thursday!!

 

My One Word 2017: Conquer

Since January is already over, I guess I should formally announce My One Word for 2017.  I have picked a word of focus for my year over each of the past two years and I believe the practice helps to shape my year in many positive ways.

The first year, I chose “balance” because I felt my running was out of balance ( I was always getting injured) and time management in my life was out of balance as well.  Of course, maintaining balance is an ongoing struggle but I do believe that I handle it better since maintaining focus on it for an entire year.

Last year, I chose the word, “uncomfortable”, because nothing good ever happens in your comfort zone.  WOW! I had NO idea how uncomfortable I could make myself, and I also had NO idea the amount of growth that could happen once I pushed myself to live in that uncomfortable place.  To say that 2016 was an amazing year would be an understatement.img_3507

Moving on to 2017…..I wanted to choose a word that would build upon what I accomplished last year.  At first, I toyed with “risk”, because I wanted to risk “failure” in training and races.  I felt like the best way to grow was to push myself to do something that wasn’t a sure thing.  However, after some input from friends, I realized that “risk” implied that I was leaving things to chance.  And I am doing anything but that!  So after my Sole Sister mentioned the word “conquer” (and explained some of her reasoning), I realized that “conquer” would actually be more difficult for me to achieve.

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Sooooo, as Jenn pointed out, I actually DO need to conquer self-doubt, second guessing and feeling inadequate.  WHY does she always have to be right??  Even so, I really didn’t want to settle on “conquer”.  Putting myself in a situation in which I might have to deal with failure would have been MUCH easier than working on these other issues.  I even had a race picked out that I didn’t think I would finish – I think I could DNF a difficult race and be OK with myself before I could conquer self-doubt.  Conquering myself is definitely going to be the bigger challenge, by far!

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Fast forward to Houston Marathon.  Contrary to my normal mental outlook, I was actually VERY confident going into the race that I would get my BQ, even when the weather conditions went South and the race was to start under caution.  But going into a race with confidence and actually achieving the goal are two different things.

Earning that BQ has been a game-changer where my mental state is concerned.  I know it won’t last forever and I know that I’ll find myself in a place of doubt again at some point in the future, but for now, I actually believe in and am proud of myself.  Before, I felt like I had something to prove (maybe only to myself??) and I feel like I have proven it.  I am legitimate and enough, in my eyes anyway, which has calmed the restlessness of feeling inadequate (for now, anyway).

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Right now, I’m in a really good place.  I have some big races coming up, but I am still basking in the glory of my performance at Houston.  Obviously I want to race well anytime that I race, but I am not putting a lot of pressure on myself at all.  These are bucket list races and I am running them for the pure joy involved.  More on those adventures next time!!

Happy February, all!

Jen

My BQ Attempt: Houston Marathon Race Recap

So much has been happening in the World of Jen, but I haven’t had the time to blog about it!!  I am going to make a concerted effort to post on a regular basis again.

This weekend was the culmination of more than 9 months of focus and hard work.  In the beginning, this goal seemed so far out of my reach and the race so far away that it seemed like a dream.  And now that the race is done, it still seems like a dream!  Someone needs to pinch me.

The week before the race was the SLOWEST WEEK EVER.  It seemed like time was standing still.  I had worked so hard for so long – I was just ready to race and find out – could I do it or not??

Despite all the hurdles and doubts I experienced during training, I had gained a lot of confidence about the race.  My training had been going SO WELL.  But my last long run was horrible.  I figured out after the run that I had let myself get dehydrated.  As bad as the run was, I stayed in zone 1 for the majority of the run and was only one minute off my marathon goal pace, which was very encouraging going into the race!  My goal was 3:45, although my *official* BQ time was 3:55.  I knew that a 3:45 would give me a big enough time cushion that I wouldn’t have to wonder all summer about actually making it into Boston.img_3778

Moving on to the race

Race morning finally arrived, with the race starting under “Yellow” (caution).  The humidity was 97% and temps at the start were in the mid-60s.  Race officials urged runners to slow down as heat exhaustion and dehydration were expected to affect a lot of people.  Now, I’m a Texas girl and I consider myself a pro at dealing with humidity, but this humidity was tougher than anything I had ever dealt with.  Even so, I felt fairly confident that I could run close to my goal of 3:45.

Renegades Alex and Janie with me in the corral

Renegades Alex and Janie with me in the corral

We made Emily an honorary Renegade for the weekend!

We made Emily an honorary Renegade for the weekend!

There were a couple of Renegades staying in the same hotel and I met them in the lobby to walk to the corrals.  Renegade Alex was in route and planned to meet up with us in corral A.  And one of my childhood friends, Emily, that I grew up with in church met us in the corrals as well.  Alex, Emily and I planned to start slower than goal pace and warm up a couple miles before getting into race pace.  The gun finally went off and we started and managed to pace mile one exactly as planned.  Seriously though, I was sweating by the end of mile one.

After the mile two, I was ready to get going.  I could tell that maintaining my pace would be difficult late in the race and I knew that I couldn’t waste any more time getting up to speed.  Emily’s plan was to warm up a bit more, so Alex and I went ahead to try to get into our groove.  Alex and I had discussed running the entire race together, but he had some sickness that interrupted his training.  The plan on race day was for him to hang with me as long as he was able.

Truth be told, he drug me along.  There were a lot of times that I wanted to slow down, but having Alex there was enough to push me to maintain the pace.  I am certain that my race would have derailed in the first half, if he hadn’t run with me.

Mile 7 was definitely a highlight, because Renegades Ashley and Ryan had set up camp to cheer all of us on.  I am always amazed by how much of a boost seeing familiar faces along the route gives me!

Seeing Ashley and hearing her cheering us on was a huge motivator!!

Seeing Ashley and hearing her cheering us on was a huge motivator!!

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Alex and I kept plodding along, right on track until around mile 16.  Our splits up to that point had been mostly between 8:30-8:40, but our pace was beginning to slow somewhat and we were hitting around 8:45.  I was tired, but I wasn’t exhausted and I didn’t feel much differently than I had at mile 5.  Alex told me that his legs were starting to cramp and that he wasn’t sure how much longer he would be able to keep up the pace.  I stayed with him another mile or so then decided that I needed to go on without him so I could try get back on track, even though leaving him killed my soul!!

This was taken by @simonebfd at mile 22.

This was taken by @simonebfd at mile 22.

I remember hearing someone say Jen, but I was too tired to turn my head at that point!

I remember hearing someone say Jen, but I was too tired to turn my head at that point!

Approaching mile 20, I began to struggle with turnover in my legs.  But I was able to push to gain a little ground when I felt like I was losing too much.  I had been told that beer would be served at mile 20, but when I passed the aid station at mile 20 and saw no beer in sight, I started feeling a little sad and a little panicked.  Michelob was actually camped at mile 21.  I drank that Mich Ultra (if you know me – you know how much that I dislike Mich Ultra) and at the time it was the most delicious tasting beer that had ever passed my lips!  The beer always gives me a boost late in the race and it was no different this time.  I really wanted to pick up the pace for that last 10k, but I just couldn’t maintain the turnover in my legs.  The last six miles were up and down and not consistent coming in at: 8:31, 8:48, 8:31, 8:41, 8:54, 8:27.  I remember the last turn into downtown that took me to the finish.  My mouth was watering when I saw the 40k sign, then the 26 mile sign, then the FINISH!!  I crossed the mat with 3:47:45 and GOT MY BQ!!!

I could see the finish and my mouth was watering....literally!

I could see the finish and my mouth was watering….literally!

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I swore I wouldn't show the masses but Sole Sister talked me into it.

I swore I wouldn’t show the masses but Sole Sister talked me into it.

I don’t remember much about the course, honestly.  I was so focused on maintaining my pace and staying on track.  Alex kept me going for the first 2/3 of the race.  My homemade pace band was a LIFESAVER.  I had noted all the water stops and where I should be in 5 mile intervals.  I stopped at ALL the water stations up to mile 20 and after my beer, decided that I was good to go and needed to keep pushing.  I never hit the wall.   My nutrition was perfect and I had ZERO issues with nausea or GI stuff.  I didn’t experience any chafing or blisters, either!!  After my dehydrated training run, I had been hyper-focused on being well hydrated for the race and I believe that helped as well.  (People were down all over the course those last 6 miles.)  The entire race, I felt confident that Sunday was MY day to BQ.  The race went so well (except for the humidity making it feel like I was breathing through a straw) that I felt more secure every single mile.  I remember thinking at mile 20 that I totally had it!! But 10k-to-go is a lot of race and I quickly cautioned myself not to get cocky and comfortable.  I really did push as hard as I could on that last 10k, but I just didn’t have the ability to really pick up the pace like I wanted.  I need to figure out how to give myself that kick in the rear that is needed to make a last-ditch effort and grind out the best time possible.  Guess I’ll go back to the drawing board on that one!

Seriously. I didn't have to think much about where the next aid station would be or try to calculate how far off pace I was. This saved me A LOT of mental energy.

Seriously. I didn’t have to think much about where the next aid station would be or try to calculate how far off pace I was. This saved me A LOT of mental energy.

I am still on cloud 9.  I still can’t believe it!!!  I am also unsure what to do with life at this point.  I have been laser-focused on this race for the last 9 months.  It’s an odd feeling to have no BIG races coming up (unless you count my first 50k and my first half Ironman as BIG ;).612209_246376053_xlarge-1

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Celebration

Celebration

BIG thanks to all who supported me along the way!!  I appreciate you so much!

Brazos Bend 100 Half Marathon: Race Recap

I had the BEST.  WEEKEND.  EVER!!  I went to the Houston area for Brazos Bend 100 – but I only ran the half marathon.  So many Renegades were running it that I couldn’t resist the opportunity to hang out with my awesome teammates!  Seven of us were running the half, one was running the full marathon and four brave souls were attempting the 50 miler. Side note: I was originally signed up to run Big Cedar with this group and I dropped that race to attempt to qualify for Boston.  Even though I know it was the right decision, seeing them attempting the 50 really made me want to be out there with them – and made me a wee bit jealous!

Fellow Renegade Jeri and I made the trek down to Houston on Friday afternoon.  We met the crew for dinner, then brought Renegade Melinda back with us as the three of us were all staying at the same hotel.  (Somehow, we didn’t take ANY pics of the group at dinner!!)

We got up before the ass-crack of dawn and started the trek to Brazos Bend.  Thankfully, we had an uneventful trip and arrived right on time.  The parking gods were smiling down on us (probably because Melinda is SO NICE) and a park ranger waved us onto the grass to park (we had heard that the grass might be off-limits).  We were LITERALLY as close to our Renegade camp as we could get.  Sweeeeeeeet!!img_3070

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I went to pick up my bib and then started going through my pre-race routine.  I stopped to go cheer the 50 milers on as they started on their long journey.  I spent a little more time getting ready then went to see Ashley off on her 26.2 mile stroll (which was actually closer to 28).  Before I knew it, it was time to head to the start line for the half!

The 50 mile runners

The 50 mile runners

Our lone marathon runner

Our lone marathon runner

Some of the half marathoners. :)

Some of the half marathoners. 🙂

The Half

I really had no specific goals for this race.  Even though this was technically a *trail* race, the *trails* were gravel and smooth, for the most part.  And even though these trails were to be easy and non-technical, I didn’t expect to run as well as I do on asphalt.  I decided to run the best I could but play it smart and hold back, if needed.  With Houston only 5 weeks away, I had no wiggle room for nursing an injury – especially if it was a result of my stupidity.

I started out a little bit fast  and decided to ease up a tad around mile 3 and let myself get into a groove.  Still, I managed to somehow get away from the pack and found myself alone when I came back around Elm Lake – the wind coming off the lake was frigid and I wanted SO BADLY to have someone in front of me to block it.  As luck would have it, there were a couple of guys not too far ahead of me.  I caught up to them and they were running a pace I could live with so I decided to draft them for a while.  I hung with them for a couple of miles until it seemed like they were slowing down (or maybe I was finally warmed up) so I broke up with them and went on my way.

At this point, I was running 8:15-8:20 miles and it felt like such an easy pace. (Add THAT to the list of things that I NEVER thought would come out of my mouth….seriously.)  I figured I would rock along and start kicking it up as I got deeper into the race.  I didn’t account for the swamp section of the course, where the road was rutted and muddy and I had to run around the puddles in the grass.  I felt like this was slowing me down, but the gospel according to Garmin says that these miles were 8:05-8:10 range, so I suppose that was all in my head.  I passed Brent and Tim as they were coming back down this stretch – they were nearing the end of their first loop and they looked strong and seemed in good spirits.

I rocked along until mile 10 and decided I should probably try to get myself into the pain zone some, so I tried to kick it up a little bit.  I’m not sure if my quads were tired from the surface – it definitely was an easy trail but it wasn’t asphalt – or if it was from the flat course.  In any case, I felt a little fatigue in them.  I still managed sub-8 on miles 11 & 12.  I slowed some on mile 13, but was able to finish strong.

My time: 1:52:37 (the course was actually 13.78 miles).  I finished 35th overall, 9th in women and 1st in my age group (40-49).  I was VERY pleased with the results!!  Garmin clocked my time at the 13.1 mark as 1:46:31 – only about 1 minute off my road PR.  Something worth mentioning is that my heart rate on the 1:45 road race was in zone 5 for most of the race.  My heart rate was in zone 3 for the majority of this race and the temps and conditions were similar, so YAY for improving fitness!img_3083

After the Half

After I cleaned up, there wasn’t much to do but wait.  And eat.  And wait some more.  Ashley came in from her first loop looking strong and under her time goal and headed out again.  Then the other half marathoners started coming in.  Brent came through to start his 3rd loop.  Tim came in not too long after Brent.  He was dealing with some plantar and tight calf issues, so I stretched him out and massaged his calves while he grabbed some food.  We got Tim on his way again and then Ryan came rolling through.  We took care of him and he was off in no time.

Before Brent went back out, he mentioned one of us coming pace him on the back side of the course.  Some time passed and Karon mentioned that it was about time to go find him and that I would probably be the best one to run him in.  I went to put on my wet, stinky, cold running clothes back on and headed out to find him.  I was pretty sure I knew where he was, but ran into Ashley as I was headed that way.  I asked if she had seen Brent, but she didn’t remember seeing him – this was on the section of the course that was out and back, so I knew she would have passed him.  I should have kept going but I was afraid that he was back up the course in the opposite direction, so I ran in a bit with her until we ran into Karon.  Luckily Brent called Karon right as I walked up.  He was actually on the part of the trail I had been headed down, after all.  I felt TERRIBLE because of all that time I had just wasted.  So I headed BACK to find him….. I also felt horrible skipping by all these 50 and 100 mile runners. They had been out there so long and I had eaten, cleaned up and taken a nap in my warm car.  I had only run 14 miles, so my legs were relatively fresh. I kept telling them I wasn’t racing – just headed to pace someone. Seriously, it’s such a defeating feeling when people whiz by you like that – it has happened to me during marathons with people running the relay.  I knew Brent had 7 miles to go when I left Karon and I expected to run into him by the time I got to mile 4, but nope. When I started coming up on the last aid station where the course turned around I started to get worried because…..WHERE WAS HE?!? As I got closer, I saw him over at the aid station just snacking and talking.  Off we went to run in these last few miles.  As soon as we got within sight of the finish line, he took off in a sprint…..and met his goal of coming in under 9 hours! I felt so honored to be able to be a part of that!img_3107

Unfortunately, Jeri and I had to head back home and I wasn’t able to see Tim, Ryan or Melinda finish. I really hated to miss it but I also didn’t want to be driving up I-45 after midnight!  But in February….when these guys run the 100 miler…I WILL be there!! Plus I get the honor of pacing Melinda on her last lap. I’m beyond excited!  It is so much fun being able to cheer on your teammates and see them crush their goals!!

Until then, I have my eyes set on Houston. It’s not going to be easy but I am starting to believe that I can do it!!  Less than 5 weeks to go!!

Happy Tuesday 🙂

Race Recap: Red Blue Half Marathon (Spoiler Alert: It’s a PR!)

This weekend, I ran a much-needed redemption race.  I know a lot of people will shake their heads in disbelief that I said that, but it is true.  I’ve been struggling mentally, off and on, since dealing with my psoas issues that started in April – I’m not going to rehash it again.  I’ve beat that dead horse enough.

After I finally got myself together mentally, I began looking toward this little race as a BIG chance to redeem myself.  I reflected on my race performances over the past few months to see what I could improve upon and I came up with a few things to practice during this race.

This race benefited local police and fire departments. The fire department hung this flag over the finish line!

This race benefited local police and fire departments. The fire department hung this flag over the finish line!

First, I wanted to get out of aid stations more quickly.  The last half of Rochester, my walks through the aid stations got longer and longer – too long.  Even though a half isn’t the same kind of beast as a full, I knew I could use practice getting in and out of the aid stations as fast as possible.  I can’t run and drink from a cup.  PERIOD.  I realized after Rochester that the temptation to slow down while walking through the aid station is too great – especially when I am tired and in the last stages of the race.  I decided to try stopping, downing the water and immediately moving on.  It worked in this race, but the temps were favorable and cooler and obviously I didn’t have to contend with mile 20.  Regardless, I’m sticking with this plan.  It seemed to work.

Second, I wanted to race aggressively.  Last Spring, I was finally learning how to manage taking risks during races but then – psoas happened.  I had to baby it and take it easy and not push too hard.  For MONTHS.  My personality is to stay in the safe zone anyway, so I didn’t need any encouragement to take it easy.  I have to constantly remind myself to get out of the comfort zone.  So my plan for the race was to warm up, keep my heart rate in mid-high 160s and then increase from there.  I executed this part perfectly!!  (Although I may have had some help from the steroids that I’m currently taking for my shoulder.  LOL!!)  Honestly, I was afraid that I started out too fast, but my HR settled into the zone that I wanted by mile 2, so I decided to stick with it as long as I felt OK.  I was still feeling really strong at the halfway point.  I knew I was sitting at 15th female overall because it was an out and back course and I had counted the women ahead of me.  I was a little (OK..A LOT) ticked that I was in 15th, so I used that as motivation for kicking it up at the half.  I cranked it up and ran in the upper 170s until the 10-mile mark.  I passed 3 women (and a handful of men), so I was sitting in 12th at this point.  Number 11 female was still a ways off with her pink pullover and her ponytail braid.  I didn’t really think I had a chance to catch her but figured I might as well keep trying to close the gap.

Side note: at mile 9, I began calculating what my expected finish time would be if I could maintain my pace.  (Disclaimer: I am HORRIBLE at run math!!)  I was on track for 1:45 at the half and I knew I hadn’t slowed, so I was expecting to still be on track for 1:45.  I was at 1:12 and started calculating in my head.  I was running 8 minute miles, on average, so I multiplied….forty minutes to go would put me at the finish at 1:52.  WAIT…HOW is that possible??  I spent an entire mile trying to figure out how I was suddenly so far behind and FINALLY realized that I multiplied by 5 instead of 4.  THIS is why I just run by heart rate!

My third and final goal was to spend the last 5k in the pain zone.  Like I said earlier, I usually play it too safe and end up still having a lot of energy at the end of the race.  It works well for negative splits, but I’m always left wondering if I could have done more.  My goal was to cross the finish line on empty, leaving NO doubt about whether or not I could have pushed harder.  Mile 10 came and I gave it all that I had, which seemed like a lot but didn’t really reflect in my splits.  Miles 12 and 13 were THE MOST PAINFUL miles I’ve ever run or raced.  I was getting close to pink ponytail braid girl, but I was right in the middle of the pain zone so I didn’t feel like I had any extra to give at that point.  I also felt like I was slowing down and really thought I ran mile 13 at an 8:30 pace (until I went back and looked at the splits and saw that it was 8:10).  My Garmin pace was all over the place even when I knew I hadn’t changed pace *that* much – this may explain why the course measured short on my watch.  Even through all this pain, I never entertained the idea to slow down or walk, which was a BIG battle won!!

Happier with mile 12 and 13 splits than I expected.

Happier with mile 12 and 13 splits than I expected.

Another win for the day: I successfully french braided my hair. YAY!!

Another win for the day: I successfully french braided my hair. YAY!!

Regardless of my time, I managed to meet all the goals that I set for myself so this race was a big mental boost.  Speaking of time…..I ran this race in 1:45:11!!!  Going into the race, I felt pretty confident that I could run a 1:45, but I was trying to focus more on the processes which needed improvement as opposed to the end result.  However, I was VERY excited to cross the finish with that time!!  I was pretty sure that I placed in my age group, but had to wait around for what seemed like forever for any race results to be posted.  I did end up 2nd in my age group.  I missed first place by only 21 seconds and…..pink ponytail girl was the one that snagged 1st!!  So close! LOL

I joked with pink ponytail braid girl about chasing her the entire second half.

I joked with pink ponytail braid girl about chasing her the entire second half.

One issue that I have is how to handle these super flat races, as Houston will also be pretty flat.  It does make it easier to manage running even splits, but I ALWAYS think that I am going up!  I seriously thought I was going up virtually the entire first half and was looking so forward to the second “downhill” half.  But then when I actually got into the second half, I still thought that I was going uphill.  And even though going up hills slows me down, I can still make up some time and get my heart rate down on the downhills.  I’ll be working on wrapping my mind around how best to handle this so I can be as mentally prepared as possible at flat Houston!

Happy Tuesday!!  Its TRACK day!! <squeals>

Driving the Struggle Bus to my Pity Party

Rangover is REAL

I had serious Rangover this week.  If you’ve never run a Ragnar, then you have no idea how real Rangover is!

I struggled in coming to terms with my performance in this race.  I started having some hip flexor issues and ended up not running my last leg which knocked my ego and pride for a few loops.  I could not shake the terrible feelings that I had.  I HATE making excuses and even though I knew it was the smart thing to do to protect my training going into Houston; I still felt like I was making excuses for my lack of performance.

I have also been holding on to a lot of disappointment in myself at Rochester.  I know that I got a PR.  I know that I got 2nd in my age group.  I know I should be happy with that.  But I went into that race thinking that I needed to run 4:00 or better to be on track for Houston.  And whether or not that is true, my brain is still hanging onto that as truth.  As a result, I still have lingering feelings of that race being a complete and total failure. (OK….it does sound ridiculous when I write it down, but my mind can be a little ridiculous.)

Aaaaaaand I’m still dealing with the emotional scars from my first psoas injury and the battle to get my fitness back that spanned the hot summer months.  I’ve been busy enough in training that there hasn’t been much time for all this to bubble to the surface.

Oh, and now that Ragnar was over, I had nothing to distract me from the fact that Houston is LESS THAN 90 DAYS AWAY.  I may have wondered out loud why in the world I thought I could ever BQ and that I was stupid for even trying.  Yeah, I know.img_2422

Honestly, I wanted a break between Ragnar and the remainder of my Houston training.  I was getting pretty tired and I know how much good just a little rest does for my body and my mental state.  I was relieved when I first saw that Brent had included these few days of rest in my schedule.  But I was SO disappointed with *my* Ragnar performance.  Our team got 3rd and I think that made it worse because I felt like if Kelly and Brent hadn’t been as tired from running my mileage, we could have probably snagged 2nd.  Here I was coming off yet another disappointing race performance and then I had to sit ALL WEEK.  It was the perfect storm.

By mid-week, I was to the point that I was not dealing well at all with all my emotions.  I fell COMPLETELY apart.  I am usually so controlled and so good at holding things together, but I could not redirect my thoughts no matter how hard I tried.  Yesterday, I had a complete and total meltdown at work FOR THE ENTIRE DAY.  My coworkers that knew about it were shocked and scared, I’m sure, because I NEVER cry and I rarely lose it.  Our counselor came strolling by mid-morning during one of my many mini-breakdowns during the day and wanted to discuss, but I wasn’t in ANY mood to discuss ANYTHING at that moment.  In fact, I wasn’t planning on being in a mood to discuss anything at anytime during the rest of the day.  But she has figured me out pretty well so she cornered me at lunch (I literally had NO escape).  And 1,000,000 counselor-y questions later, she had actually calmed me down and helped me come to a point of acceptance (kind-of) about my recent race performances.  (So, thank you, Julia!!  Even though I was super irritated with you at the time and might have thrown daggers toward you had any been in my pocket!)

Basically, she said that maybe my expectations in certain situations are unrealistic.  Ragnar, for example:  I didn’t really have a lot of control over what my hip flexors did yet I was beating myself up for making a decision that protected my long-term plan.  So my expectation that I should be able to “do it all” in that situation was unrealistic.  I’ll admit that she was probably right.  In addition, I think the fear of failure at Houston was a big part of it, too.  The closer it has gotten; the more my anxiety has grown.  I have A LOT of anxiety about not being able to meet my goal.

After our discussion, I felt better but still had a few meltdowns throughout the day.  I got a good night’s sleep and even though I still don’t feel completely over it, I have felt much better today!

The mental game is the hardest

Before this week, I thought I had a pretty good handle on the mental aspect of training and racing.  I am able to keep myself focused and calm and I don’t talk negatively to myself during workouts and races.  So maybe I have that part covered.

It’s the after workouts (and especially after races!) where I need to improve.  I must stop second guessing and over-analyzing my misses in every race and every workout, because I do a lot of that.  I need to find a balance between self-reflection and honest criticism versus the unrealistic expectations that Julia mentioned.  And Brent was right, too.  I do put too much pressure on myself.

I think I have some ways in which I can improve.

Instead of not being able to move on from a disappointing performance, I am going to find something that I can work on to get better.  I already had one from Rochester that I was planning to try during my next half marathon in two weeks: getting out of the aid stations more quickly and not keeping my head down as much – I need to look farther ahead instead of getting lost in my thoughts.

As far as putting pressure on myself – I think a lot of this is coming from this BQ attempt.  I mean, that’s A LOT of pressure to perform.  I have ONE shot.  It isn’t like I can pick another marathon a couple weeks later and try again.  That, in itself, is a lot of pressure.  Plus, I just don’t know how I will react if I miss at Houston.  The fear of failing is real and completely overtakes me sometimes.  So how can I deal with it?  I’m not sure.  I think I am going to 1) get rid of the hashtag #roadtoHouston (…does talking about it increase the amount of pressure I feel?)  2) just focus on one workout at a time and 3) try not to think about it.  I’ll be spending quite a bit of time trying to master #3.img_2191

Finally, I just need to believe in myself.  I have a hard time doing that.

My friends are better than yours

I am SO BLESSED with so many good friends.  I can’t close without giving them a shout-out.  Kelly, who ALWAYS has my back and Carmen, who is honest enough with me not to put up with my whiny-ass bullshit.  And of course, Brent!  He doesn’t put up with my whiny-ass bullshit either.  I know I’ve missed people.  But this if for ALL you guys that believe in me when I don’t really believe in myself (which is sadly, too often) – THANK YOU!!img_2205