becoming a runner

False Starts

I thought 2014 was going to be a good year for me. I had looked forward to the business being stable enough, having enough employees to cover shift and allow Nathan and I some real time away from the bakery. I looked forward to getting my OT qualifier and maybe running a few races actually well trained.

I had hoped Boston would be my great comeback of 2014 after recovering from severe anemia and just under a year after opening the bakery. Instead, I had to DNF at mile 16 due to being severely ill. I was disappointed,  but also knew that sometimes patience is required in a comeback and bad luck happens. After the DNF and a good two months of working myself to the bone with no days off from work, I toed the line at Rock and Roll Seattle Marathon and won! I felt like my mojo was coming back. I felt like I was running happy and excited to sink my teeth into some big goals.

The summer promised for some good training. I ran SF marathon as a training run, easily running a 2:49 with no taper (it felt easy), did some fun adventures in the mountains- Rae Lakes Loop with Nathan and 4 Passes in Colorado with Krissy, got to do a train-cation in Colorado and ran another great training race at Akron marathon in 2:49. I was feeling fit and excited to go after a great time at Chicago which was my next planned A race, closely followed by Fall 50, the USATF 50 mile road championship two weeks later.

But instead of racing Chicago, I found myself at home in bed, seriously ill with what the doctors thought was an ulcer (hence determined not an ulcer). I was unable to eat much of anything for the week after Akron and tearfully had to withdraw from Chicago. I watched my plans, dreams and goals slip away. It was hard, I knew I was ready and my chance did not come. Once I felt better, I was determined to absolutely CRUSH the Fall 50. I was looking to better my 5:59 50 mile PR and felt that dipping under 5:50 was possible. My chance did not come. Things at the bakery became so busy and all consuming in those weeks that there was no opportunity for me to leave and run the race. I was feeling mostly better from my "ulcer", but to fly across the country to race was just impossible with work.

Honestly, I felt crushed. I watched everything I had worked for over the summer slip away. I knew it was not simply a matter of taking my fitness to a different race, I had missed my chance this time. While I did in fact sign up immediately for California International Marathon, I knew that race would be after not having a single day off from work (which I lovingly call Bakery-Cross Fit since it is such physical work) and my training would likely not be what I wanted. My schedule changed to nights and I worked every day with no days off. I did what I could in training, but struggled. My mind grappled with my goals slipping away, I became disheartened by so many runs feeling absolutely awful. There were times when I just wanted to quit, when I wanted to give up. What was the point anyways? I am not becoming a better runner, I am not getting faster, I don't love it anymore, not to mention that I don't have any sponsors and I am not winning races. I was just mad at running. I pondered whether giving up my goals and dreams would allow me to just love running again.

During the summer of training, I had gotten really excited about my 2015 schedule. LA marathon, Two Oceans, Comrades. I was ready to crush it. I was excited. The hard fall wore at me, made me wonder if I should give up those goals. I didn't want to, but I also didn't want to just run those races, I wanted to RACE, I wanted to be in the mix, fighting it out to the best of my abilities. I don't want to just run, I want to push myself to become something better. I want to challenge myself and my limits.

I refused to give up, I refuse to give up. I love to run. I love to explore and challenge myself. Yes, this year has sucked and it has beaten me down, but I have faith I will rise again. I am excited to be in a place where I can just dig in and do the work and have an amazing comeback.

California International was not my comeback. I ran my fastest time of the year 2:46 and felt comfortable at my goal pace through 16 miles until my mind failed me, the doubts crept in and when I needed my mind to say "YES, FIGHT", I had nothing left. I slogged 8 miles in misery before my true self rallied at the end dropping my pace back down significantly at mile 24. This was not my race, but I learned that deep down I am still fighting, still committed to the comeback, still inspired as ever to see what I can be.

This year has been a series of false starts giving me false hopes and challenging my perseverance and fortitude more than I ever thought possible. It has been an amazing test of will and stamina. While I wanted more for my running this year, I cannot say that it wasn't worth it. Nathan and I have built a thriving business. And I have learned a lot. Now, standing here on the edge of a new year, I look forward with hope and commitment that I will be able to pursue my dreams and goals with relentless fervor. I look forward to going into my own little training world and emerging on the other side as something even beyond what I ever thought possible. The fire is lit and I am ready to ignite.

Long term relationship

Seriously serious about running

I don't recall the exact moment that it happened and I can only recognize it now that its true: I've gone all in with my running. I know it started with pursuing the Olympic Trials qualifier and simply grew and grew from there. And now I find myself at a place where, for the first time, I am taking a long view of my running and development as a runner. I am making plans and setting future goals.

It may be strange to think that I have ever been any other way about running, but the fact of the matter is, my racing has always been about short terms goals. I have always seen my running as something I want to do perpetually for a long time, but my racing has always been only on the micro scale. I never thought in terms of how my workout today might lay groundwork for a breakthrough in 3 years. Since I switched over to ultras, I have raced so often that my mind has never had to really plan longer than 3-6 months out. I have thrived and developed through intense 8-10 weeks of training at a time. I build on one race to leverage another, but the goals are always close at hand and readily upon me before I have time to even think about it.

After my recent success at NYC marathon and the Olympic Trials, I am chomping at the bit to see what I can develop into as a runner. I am eager to see what kind of runner I can become. I am back training intensely when many of my fellow competitors from the Trials are only now just considering going back to serious running. I have new goals and am pushing myself towards them. I am focusing back on the details and working on new ways to develop myself as a runner. I am all in.

Last week, after asking my coach Howard to up the intensity and difficulty of my key workouts, I was treated to more butt kicking than I have ever experienced. I ran so hard in my key workouts that I finished them completely drained and spent. I had moments where I bordered on wanting to puke or give up or fall apart but made it through. It was intensely satisfying and I am excited to do this tough kind of work.

And then yesterday afternoon, I had one of the worst runs of my life. I felt dead, I felt drained. My legs felt disembodied and I couldn't get my head right. I let it stress me out because with a short training cycle, every day and every decision feels so much more important. I spent a good amount of time contemplating how I was feeling, what my problem was, and generally just beat myself up about it. I finished the run and was worried that my important workout today would be compromised by fatigue or soreness that seemed to wrack my body.

When I woke up this morning, I felt a lot better and set out to my hill repeats up Strawberry Hill. Howard had 6 repeats planned for me, but being the glutton (mileage/intensity) that I am I was thinking that I would try and do more if I felt good. I started the workout and felt fine. Not good, not bad, just fine. And then I had an epiphany: Sometimes you just have to get in there and do the work. Some workouts are just building blocks for the long term goals. Every workout, run, decision is not a make or break. I realized that this workout didn't need to be a perfect one, it didn't need to be a breakthrough one, it didn't need to be THE workout. Instead, I realized that it was about getting my hands dirty and digging in, a building block for the future. I realized that I had put too much pressure on myself in individual workouts or decisions because I was not seeing the long term plan. I forgot that gardens take time to grow.

After my run, I was reading an article by Greg McMilan about Traits of a Successful Runner and this quote jumped off the page:

We have a saying in our Olympic training team that you must train consistently for two straight years -- no unscheduled interruptions due to injury or illness -- to even begin to see how good you can be. This reality applies to all of us. A year of consistent running is more beneficial than a few stellar weeks of training.

I had been living in a constant state of a "few stellar weeks of training" mentality. I realized on my run today and upon reading this, that I am, in fact, amid a much bigger period of uninterrupted consistent training. I hadn't seen it before, but I was working for the bigger picture without even being able to clearly see it. Furthermore, I had skewed my mentality to focus on the importance of short-term gains.

I see now that, while I have short term running goals, speeding very quickly up to meet me, they are only a part of the plan and their importance should not overshadow the pursuit of long term development. In essence, by allowing myself to look at the big picture, I am relieving the pressure to achieve everything NOW, NOW,NOW (or soon, soon, soon). By seeing that I am working towards the big picture, both successes and failures feel much more like the gentle ebbing and flowing of the tide instead of gigantic 100 foot waves. I am released from feeling like I have to do everything perfect because I can see that somedays simply cutting myself some slack is as important as the hardest most lung burning workout.

I am all in, but now I see that being all in, doesn't necessarily mean being unbalanced or single minded. It means methodically doing the work, taking steps in the right direction and constantly cultivating the garden where the seeds of my future will grow.

Being all in, doesn't mean stopping your life, either. Cheers to that.

Once upon a runner

I was about to write a post about how I was having a bad day. A tired, worn out, didn't do what I had planned to do kind of day. But then, instead, I decided that I have already been there and done that, and I can have a change of plan day without having to talk myself through it. I have come a long way and made great strides with cutting myself some slack and not beating myself up when I am doing the right thing and listening to my body. Its not like I took the day off to watch soap operas and eat bon bons- I ran 13 miles today, did a hard gym workout with my trainer; that's just not what I had envisioned starting out.

Instead, I'd rather take the opportunity to look back and celebrate how far I have come as a runner.

Nervous smile before my first marathon: Edinburgh Marathon 2005

I often site my introduction to long distance running as the Edinburgh Marathon 2005. It was, in fact, my first marathon and the tipping point of running as a primary focus in my life. However, it was not the beginning of my running career, I think it was simply the point in time when I began to see myself as a runner.

I was never a competitive runner in high school. I did one season of track and pretty much just floundered around running everything from the 100m to the 800m. When I wasn't false-starting in the 800, I was actually pretty good and made 2nd team All-City. However,  I was just not that into track. And somehow I never got connected with the cross country team. 

While I didn't run track or cross country in high school, I did adore running. I ran and ran and ran. When I played soccer, my favorite part of the day was when we would do laps around 5 adjoining soccer fields and I would run my head off until I lapped the entire team, even the coach couldn't catch me. They called my "Gump" and I utilized my talent for running in soccer my freshman year (and all of grade school before that). The summer before my sophomore year in high school, my sister and I signed up for a local 10k (the Swedish Summer Run) and I had a blast running through the streets near my house. I was so proud of running such a "far" distance. I was so proud in fact that I signed up for the Super Jock and Jill Half marathon that September. I ran that untrained and underprepared and I can remember that 13.1 miles seemed so incredibly far to me. I finished that race in about 1:56. And I don't think I ever really stopped running after that.

The rest of my sophomore year, I ran to train for basketball (which was my sole focus then). I ran to vent my emotions and feelings. I would do endless loops around Green Lake during my sister's soccer games, trying to see how many I could get before her games ended. I never thought about racing or any sort of more formal running, as I saw myself as "just" a basketball player, but I definitely loved to run. It is amazing to me to think back on it now- then, running was just the simple act of running. I never worried about mileage or splits or times or races. I just ran and ran until I was tired or done and then I would stop. I loved it.

My junior and senior year, I did a lot of speed work at the track with my basketball teammates. And I spent a lot of time running a loop I called the "I hate you so much right now" loop ( watch the video here if you don't know what I am referring to)- it was a way I dealt with the things I was going through, it was about 9 miles and by the time I was done with the killer hilly loop, I would be numb.

When I gave up basketball in 2001, I pretty much collapsed in exhaustion and didn't do much physical activity routinely. I had been working out 8-10 hours a day for the better part of 4 years and I just needed to recover. I would occasionally go to the gym or go for a string of runs, but I didn't do anything routine.

In 2003, I went to South Africa as a part of a study abroad program. There, I not only reconnected with basketball through coaching with Hoops 4 Hope, I found running again. When I arrived there, two of my roommates asked if I wanted to join them for regular morning runs. We slowly built our mileage and better yet, signed up for the Cape Town Half marathon. We successfully completed that race and I was hooked. I returned to the states and started running everyday with my sister. I would run from my house in the Univ. District to Green Lake where we'd meet up and then we'd run around the lake and back up north to where my mom lived. We did the same loop, day in, day out, (except weekends when we'd branch out a bit) but I loved it. I can credit these daily runs with truly putting me in the habit of running again. I also can say that these runs went a long way in rebuilding my sister and my relationship, which had been very tempestuous until that point. Now, she is my best friend (not to mention someone I admire greatly)- each step we took, made that possible. We ran our first half marathon together September 2003 and I knocked my time down to 1:46:10.

By the time I moved to Pittsburgh at the end of the year, I was pondering a marathon. I had always been an all in type of person when it came to sports, self-made and attracted to big challenges, so a marathon seemed natural to me. I didn't know anything about training for a marathon or even signing up for one, so I just started running more and more- in any weather, temperature or time of night. I didn't have a car in Pittsburgh for my first 6 months, and I was know to even run home from the bar on occasion.

I graduated from grad school, moved to London, brining my running habit with me. I ran all over London, saw many places I wouldn't have otherwise discovered and learned that I can be fearless and resilient. I did endless loops around Hyde Park and along the river. In June of 2005, I finally got my chance at the marathon. I ran Edinburgh Marathon in 3:38 and was a complete rookie. I didn't take gels, I didn't have any idea how to pace myself. I just went out and ran. I didn't even know what a Boston qualifying time was, let alone the fact that I had made it in my first try. I just remember feeling like I was going to die trying to get to that finish line and then crossing it only to think "I HAVE TO DO THAT AGAIN!". And so it began.

From there, my nature took the reins. I was a self-made basketball player. I took what slice of talent I had and worked and worked and practiced and practiced until I was a great basketball player. And so, naturally I was the same way with running. I became a student of running. I immersed myself in training manuals, read everything I could and started to focus on learning how to be a runner. I never imagined that 6 years later I would be on my way to the Olympic Trials in the marathon, hold numerous course records in ultras and have two national championships. 

What it comes down to on the most basic level, I realize, is that I love to run. I want to run for many many years to come. I don't care if that means racing, placing or simply just putting on my shoes and going. Running has woven itself into the fabric of who I am. It is not who I am, but it is a part of me. And I love that and I celebrate how far I have come and how many more miles are yet to come.