Monday, December 12, 2011

From fit-LESS-ness to Fitness...

In my mind, the progression into running looks a little something like this:

No running.

First run,
More running.
First run that actually feels good.

First workout,
More workouts. 
First workout that actually feels good.

More running.
More workouts.

First race,
More races.
First race that actually feels good.

More running
More workouts.

A GOOD race that shows your potential...
A GREAT race, that smashes your former conception of your potential...
A new conception of your potential, more dreams, more training...
And repeat.

This morning, after three weeks of doing workouts, I reached the stage of having a workout feel good, and I am pretty darn excited about it. I haven't blogged for awhile because I felt like nothing all that exciting was going on in my running life, but the way I felt leaving Lifetime Fitness this morning made me realize that all these mini-milestones from fit-LESS-ness to FIT-ness are quite exciting, and some of the best parts of running. The human body has amazing potential to get out of, and back into shape, and I am so grateful to be on the upswing into a full winter of base-training. I am also grateful for my coach who helps direct me on my way towards that "great race that smashes my former conception of my potential", and my teammates who are there with me chasing similar dreams, every step of the way.

Now I'll tell ya what I am not grateful for: somehow, my previous draft of this blog got swallowed up somewhere in cyberspace, even though it told me my draft was saved. I had written more eloquently and in more length about this topic, but alas my patience and endurance for blogging has waned, so I leave you with this abbreviated, sub-par duplicate of the original.

Hopefully this reaches you in good health and in good spirits, have a happy holiday season and happy training!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Happy New Year!

About a week ago, I rung in the new year...well, sort of.

You see, last Thursday, November 10th, I started running again after a much-needed, and much-appreciated 2-week break. Meaning, November 10th was Day 1 of training for the 2012 season, which will culminate next summer at the Olympic Trials.

I had plenty of time during my break for reflection, and the primary conclusion I came to about my 2011 season is this: While I am content with my performances, I still have regrets, and things I believe I could have done better. With next year being a big one, I don't want to cross the finish line with regrets. So, I knew in order to get there happy with whatever result may come, is to make a resolution, or resolutions, plural actually.

I have always been committed to run at my very best, but having some new years resolutions, and sticking to them like they were an extra 10 Commandments straight from above, is my plan to get to where I want to go in 2012 (perhaps London would be nice? :)

What are those resolutions, you may ask? Here is my list of 10 things that I believe will help me continue to move forward in my goals, and a little explanation of why...

1. I will have FUN- I have found that having fun correlates to good performance for me. Enjoying what I do keeps the nerves and pressure out, and leaves plenty of room for me to make some enjoyable memories. Enjoying the company of the people I compete against rather than being intimidated by competitors fits into this category as well.

2. I will be be my own ADVOCATE- this one is all about speaking up. As an athlete, I am the only one capable of listening to my body and communicating what it is telling me to my coach. There were times throughout this past year that I second-guessed the plan, but didn't say anything. I have been in track and field for 10 years now, I think it is about time for me to feel comfortable adding my input to my own training plan. Another piece of this puzzle was deciding to represent myself in the coming year rather than using the services of an agent. I think that being in charge of my own logistics will remind me that this is MY career, and I need to take responsibility for it.

3. I will embrace REST as an active part of my training. This fall, I was out on a run with my husband. At the time he was dealing with some plantar fasciitis that wouldn't budge. He said to me, "I don't get it! I am doing EVERYTHING for it, I am icing, sleeping in the Strassburg Sock, getting PT treatments, doing the prescribed exercises, taking ibuprofen...the list goes on and on..." I then asked him, "When was the last time you took a day off?" His answer: January. While I may take a day off more than once every 9 months, I do tend to plan a day off, and then change my mind mid-way through to day and head out for a run. I need to remind myself that sometimes doing nothing can do more than doing something out of "over-achiever runner guilt".
PS, Ben's foot is better now, after he took a BREAK from training. Aren't bodies amazing when they are given a chance to heal themselves?

4. I will be STRONG- more specifically, I will give 100% in the weight room, and I will do something to strengthen my core every day. I have always worked hard in the weight room, but I think the girl in me would always hold back a little bit. Well, what I have noticed is that the girls I can't seem to beat, are bigger than me. Hint taken. Beyond that, I know a strong core means a healthy athlete, so maintaining good core strength will help keep me injury-free.

5. I will race INTENTIONALLY- there were a couple instances last year that I jumped into a race, simply because it seemed like a cool opportunity (eg. China, and the Pan American Games). While I still drew positive experiences through those races, I didn't get the performance out of myself that I wanted, probably put more stress on my body with travel, and missed an opportunity to train for a race that I WILL be ready for. It is time to expect more than some good learning experiences. It is time for results. I want to go into races because they fit well into my entire season plan, each with specific goals in mind, and game plan visualized to get there.

6. I will EAT and SLEEP like an athlete- this is an obvious one. Having a balanced diet, packed with fruits/veggies, whole grains, and more natural/less processed foods is the name of the game. Sometimes the price of healthier foods prevents me from eating as well as I should, but Ben and I have agreed that there is room in our budget to buy the foods that will help us both reach our athletic goals, and will pay off in good health. I am also a dessert-lover, so I have committed to the plan of eating just one sweet goodness serving per day, and be more realistic about what a "serving" means. I am sure some people might criticize that and say I should cut out unhealthy food all the way, but in my opinion dessert is an essential for happiness, and will help me maintain my weight when I am training hard. As for sleep, I am looking for 9 hours/night, usually from around 11pm-8am. Just as important as the amount of sleep, is keep that schedule consistent.

7. I will SHARE my gift- I believe I have been given this gift of running to inspire and help others. I had the opportunity to speak at a high school, to coach, and do a couple other things here and there this year that were so much fun, and inspiring to me as well. In the future, I am going to be open to more opportunities like that, so let me know if there is something I can do to share!

8. I will adopt the mindset of MOVING FORWARD- this is to remind me not to sweat the small stuff such as a bad workout, one bad race, minor setbacks in training due to weather or sickness, etc. Taking a holistic approach and reminding myself that the things I am doing on a daily basis are propelling me towards my future goals will help me see the big picture, and have an ever-improving mindset.

9. I will making running my PRIORITY- this is pretty self-explanatory, but one of the specifics here for me is to run right away in the morning whenever I can. Sometimes I get wrapped up in cleaning my house, doing yard work, shopping, or other random tasks, and then attempt to get a quality run in after that, and it just doesn't work as well that way. I figure if running is truly my top priority job, it comes first, before all those other random tasks that will still be there later in the day.

10. I will BELIEVE- nothing is possible without the belief that it can be done. I know that. Now I just gotta live it.

Ready? Break!

Monday, October 31, 2011

To everything there is a season...

While I reflect on my last race of the season, a bible verse comes to mind:

To everything there is a season,
a time for every purpose under the sun.
Ecclesiastes 3:1

I was invited to compete at the Pan American Games at the beginning of September. Competing for the USA in a big international competition was an honor and opportunity I decided I could not pass up. At the time, I was in the midst of great training for my 'road mile season', feeling good, and thought it would feel like a natural progression to taper back down to the 800m, do some speed training for a month, and finish out the season with a bang. 

Well, I guess you could describe my experience as some kind of a bang, but not the big successful kind that I was imagining when I said, "Sure, sign me up!" Rather, the "bang" was a sharp, yet healthy slap of reality. 

After the 5th Ave. Mile in NYC at the end of September, I was thinking I had underperformed due to the fact that I had traveled and competed at three road miles in three weeks. While this may be true, in hindsight, I think that may have been the first sign of general fatigue, and an indication that it might be best to end my season there. I hadn't taken a significant break from training and competition since I finished the 5th Ave. Mile LAST YEAR...and a year is a long time to be "on".

Rather than shutting it down though, the mindset I took was "press on good soldier!" I came back home, my coach and I decided to experiment with some new training ideas that involved back-t0-back days of working out (with shorter volume), thinking this would help me get through rounds at the Pan American games, and perhaps be helpful for planning for the Olympic Trials next year. At first, this plan was working out well. I wasn't hitting "peak times" in workouts, but at first I thought it was because I was getting back into speed training and wouldn't expect to be at peak yet.

Later, when I still couldn't hit the times, we accredited it to my training schedule, and said once I start to taper and freshen up, the times would come. As the Pan American Games crept closer and closer, and my taper was in full swing, the times were closer, but still not quite where I thought they should be. 

Leading into a big competition like this, you need to feel prepared, so I came up with a few more reasons that my workouts weren't indicating my true fitness. I blamed the wind and the cold that I had been sprinting in the last week before I flew down, and I even told myself that I just wasn't able to "hit it hard" at practice on my own, but when it comes to a race, instincts will kick in and I will have that pop that seemed to be missing from practices.

Anyone reading this is probably asking, "What about your doubts? That had to play a role!" Though I am speaking of a lot of reasons to doubt myself now, at the time, all these explanations for my underperformance at practice seemed entirely logical, and I truly believed great things would happen at the Pan American Games. I had high hopes to win the thing, and was seriously hoping to run a new PR.

So, long introduction short, I think my body was trying to tell me something that my head didn't want to hear.
As you enter the athlete village, all the Pan Am countries' flags

I flew down to team processing in Houston, TX first, where the US team was treated to even MORE gear from the USOC (United States Olympic Committee). I can't even describe how awesome it feels as an athlete to don the red, white, and blue. I felt so entirely blessed and spoiled when I had to check TWO bags of gear at the airport the following morning as we flew the rest of the way to our destination, Guadalajara, Mexico. We took a bus to the athlete village, which was a big complex that held the soccer stadium, some big tents for a cafeteria and other entertainment, and several apartment building that were serving as dorms for all the athletes. Every building had the flag of the inhabitants' country hung outside on balconies. It was like walking into another world, watching amazing athletes representing over 30 countries from Canada down to Brazil in every sport imaginable. 

The USA Building!
Village-life was pretty cool, and very simple. Basically, the only thing any of us needed to do on any given day was wake up, eat, train, eat, rest/treatment, and umm, eat again. It could have been quite boring, but there was enough things right at our fingertips to keep us entertained. I hung out by the pool for a little while my first day there with the 20K race walk girls, I went to a soccer game with a friend I made from the 10K, and every day I was working hard trading pins. Yes, every country gave their athletes pins, and the norm was to walk up to people and ask to trade your USA pins for theirs. It was easy enough to figure out who to talk to, because EVERYONE walked around in their national team gear that broadcasted their country. This was a fun way to start up conversations with new people, practice my spanish, and create a cool/free souvenir collection!

Outside the soccer stadium, with walls made of GRASS! So cool.
They had three cute little mascots of the games that were seen all over the place- I had to take a picture with this one!

Inside the soccer stadium- also beautiful!

The night before my prelim round, some of the USATF event managers told myself and the other American 800m runner, Christina Rodgers, that there was a 98% chance that the prelim would be cancelled, so we would just run a  straight final the following day instead. This came a quite the surprise, especially since all the training I had been doing was geared towards running solid rounds of races rather than just one. This is very uncommon to cancel a round at a big meet like this, but as an athlete we were aware that anything like this can happen, and I started making a new game plan with my coach for just one round.

At the track for a pre-meet workout!

The heat was indeed cancelled, so my time finally arrived the following day, to step out on the amazing competition track and race for the USA. The stadium was filled and the crowd was fantastic. Just before the start of the race they panned the camera on each of us, and when I looked up and saw myself on the jumbo-tron, I could hardly recognize it was me in the USA uniform. It was a cool realization to see that, and gave me the burning desire to make more teams like this in the future. 

The fans filled the stands and made their presence known!
The gun went off, and at first the race was very straightforward. We went through the first 200m in about 29 seconds, just like I was hoping, and so I tucked into the pack just behind the leaders. As we rounded the second curve, the race significantly slowed down. I was physically uncomfortable running as slow as things seemed to be going. So, I decided to make a gutsy move, and cut to the outside to get around the pack and start pushing. We ended up reaching the 400m mark in 64, a time I haven't seen as a split in an 800 since maybe high school? Obviously when a race goes out like that, the second lap will be an all-out sprint. The leaders took off, I pursued, but no matter how much I wanted it, and how hard I tried, I couldn't help but let them get away. I moved up to pass at least a couple athletes on the final curve to finish 6th in 2:07, but it certainly wasn't what I was hoping for or expected. To be perfectly honest, I was dumbfounded. The race was won in a time that I thought I could run, even tired, had we done it more evenly. 

Just after the first 200m, I am out wide to try to pick up the pace...
It was a great learning experience for me to see that you need to be prepared for any kind of race the field might throw at you, but I also need to hold myself accountable. I am generally a front-runner, but for some reason I committed to myself not to lead this race. I can't help but think the outcome could have been different if I had controlled the race from the front rather than the runners who took us through in 64. I also need to allow reality to finally settle in. There's a good chance that no matter how fast or slow that race went out, I would have been struggling in the second lap because I was trying to push myself beyond my seasonal 'expiration date', so to speak.

In college, after every season, I would sit down to reflect with my coach, Gary Wilson. He would always ask me, "So, what have you learned?" The question was maddeningly open-ended to me, but always sparked some valuable conversation. Ever since, this is a question I continue to ask myself as the seasons pass by in my professional career. I think the biggest thing I learned (or, re-learned if I am being completely honest), is I need to listen to my body, and be willing to allow it rest when it says so, not when the season's races dictates it is time to take a break. If I were truly paying attention to what all my physical signals were telling me, I would not have been so dumbfounded at my performance, and perhaps I would not have even allowed myself to go. 

Despite everything that happened, I would still say the trip was worthwhile. It was an AMAZING EXPERIENCE that I was so grateful to have had. I learned so much about village life (which is very similar to the Olympic Village), and mentally preparing at large competitions. I learned a lot about timing my season appropriately for the meets that count. I had access to great support staff from massage therapists, to coaches, and event managers. All-in-all, I think the things I gained from going to Guadalajara outweigh the upsetting performance. 

After I arrived home, my mom kept asking me if I had cried, and if I was doing alright, etc. I told her I had not, and that I am actually doing just fine. This is certainly not because I didn't care about this opportunity, I think I am at peace because I have a solid understanding of why things didn't go my way, and I know how to prevent this kind of disappointment in the future. 

For everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under the sun.

Right now is a time for rest and renewal. A time where doing nothing is the best thing. It is a time to reflect and learn. It is a time to enjoy life without running. I can honestly say I am doing all those things to the fullest, so that I am fully prepared to do running to the fullest when that time comes around again.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Another day (or month) in Paradise!

Ya wanna know one of the reasons I love to run? It seems like every day I step out the door, and witness something amazing that I wouldn't have seen if it weren't for my running-route taking me there. Sometimes it is something inspiring and beautiful, like the light shining through the fall-colored leaves that makes me think about how amazing God's creation is. Sometimes it's hilarious. 

Prime example: yesterday, I accidentally took a route that was longer than my workout, so I was walking the remaining distance home. On my way, I saw a field trip of kids outside by the Minnehaha Falls Park, and I gathered that they were participating in some kind of a nature scavenger hunt. One particular boy spots something on the ground, and takes off for it. He picks up a pine cone, holds it up in the air for all of man-kind to see, and yells to his chaperone, "I FOUND A COCONUT!" She kindly smiles and says something to the tune of, "Oh, coconuts aren't on the list, but pine cones are!" Haha, loved it.

Another fun occurrence on yesterday's run was seeing TWO pomeranian dogs. Now, anybody who knows me well, knows I have an odd love-affair with small dogs, particularly poms. There is a pom that lives just down the street from us, and I purposely make a lot of my warm-up and cool-down loops pass it's house, just in case it is outside and I can look at it and think about how cute it is, and if I owned it, what I would name it (Bella), and wonder how soft it must be! Ok, so I am slightly crazy, but whatever, a girl can dream! Back to the point, on my way towards the pom's house, I caught up to a woman walking TWO of them! One was on a leash that she was holding, and the other was attached to a leash, but the dog was dragging it behind her, and trailing a good 20 feet behind her owner. Of course I stopped to talk to the owner, and asked why her she wasn't holding both dogs' leashes. She said the one trailing behind was a little older, so she liked to let it go at it's own pace. The younger one was actually the old one's daughter too! Apparently the owner used to breed poms, and the original pom (that I was en route to see if it was outside) was the daughter of the old one too! I met the whole family minus the dad! SMALL (dog) WORLD! haha....

Ok, enough about my dog/child sightings, the intent for this blog is to catch up on my road racing experiences over the past month or so. 

The road tripping crew TO Meg and Paul's wedding- Elizabeth, Ben, and I
The Gopher crew at the wedding!
First up, was the Minnesota Mile. This was kind of a crazy weekend altogether, because one of my good friends and former teammate/roommates, Megan Duwell (or shall I say, Megan Herrick now!) was getting married on 9-10-11 in West Bend, Wisconsin, and the race was on 9-11-11, in Duluth, Minnesota. There was no way I was going to miss out on that wedding, which was absolutely amazing by the way, so I rode out to Wisconsin with Ben and another dear friend Elizabeth Yetzer on Friday night, all three of us slept in my parent's hotel room for the night, we attended the wonderful wedding and reception, and then had to leave in a hurry to start the drive to Duluth. I rode with my parents and Ben and Elizabeth headed back to the cities, both carivans arriving in their northern and southern MN destinations later Saturday night.

 Sunday morning, RACE DAY! I felt a little bit out of it, and I couldn't tell if it was from all the driving and festivities of the weekend, or if it was because this was going to be my first 'real' race since I ran in Europe earlier this summer. Regardless of where I was at mentally, I felt pretty confident in my mile fitness, so I went out there, and found myself leading the race for about 3/4 of the mile. It was a pretty nice temperature up there in Duluth, but we were running into a head wind, so it was probably not the most intelligent plan to lead the race for so long, but sometimes you have to just have to commit, and try to finish what you started. Within the last quarter mile, the race busted wide open, everyone was sprinting to the finish, and places were shifting all over the place. Finally, we were out of real estate, and I ended up crossing the line in third. I wasn't 100% satisfied with my performance, but I wasn't exactly upset either to place in the top three. Given my early race strategy out front, things turned out pretty well for me, and that race remains one of my favorites of the year. Duluth is beautiful, I get to race other professionals in my wonderful home state, the course is fast, and the organizers are incredibly well-organized and generous in their accommodations and prizes. All-in-all, a wonderful weekend, and I placed 3rd at that race last year... two days after my own wedding, so I guess I can say I am at least holding steady doing post-wedding-races in Duluth!

Just four days later, I boarded a plane, Maui-bound! Sponsored by Bubba Gump Shrimp Company, the Front Street Mile had invited four elite men and women to participate in their event, held in conjunction with a big running weekend in Hawaii. Besides the road mile, Maui was hosting their marathon, a 5K, a 10K, and a sports/fitness expo. I would venture that any weekend in Maui is a good weekend, but as a runner, it was a blast to be there when so much running excitement was going on! To add to the excitement, the day of the race was Ben and I's first year anniversary, so of course I used my sky miles to bring him out with me.
A sunset anniversary kiss, aww...

Now, as much as I would like to lie to everyone, and say how much Hawaii sucked, and how the meet organizers didn't take care of us, and whine and complain about how expensive the food would just that, lies. (The reason I'd like to lie to you, is because there are limited elite entries in the race, and I want to come back next year, so I figure if I tell you it was a horrible experience, no one will try to get in....Ha!) Truth be told, however, we stayed in a gorgeous beach resort (the square footage of the room itself was larger than the apartment Ben and I used to rent), we got a pre-meet pasta meal covered by the Hard Rock Cafe, and a post-race banquet from Bubba Gumps, the organizers were more than willing to help out in any way they were able to make sure we had everything we need, not only to perform well in the race, but just to enjoy everything Maui has to offer too. All-in-all, it was a BLAST. I think what really made the trip so much fun for Ben and I was spending so much time with the other elite athletes- David Torrence, Jon Rankin, Garrett Heath, and Brandon Bethke for the guys, and Angela Bizzarri and Lea Wallace, for the girls. Not only are these runners extremely talented, but they are such cool people, we quickly became a pretty tight crew.
Our awesome Maui Crew!
Onto the details of the race itself! Besides being in Hawaii, this was unlike any other road mile I have ever done. First, rather than it being a straight, point-to-point mile, we ran out about 650m, did a 300m loop around a block, and then came back on the same road strip we started on. Secondly, we were seeded in the front of the open race, so rather than just competing with the other professional women, we toed the line with plenty of other local racers as well...this made the out/back loop really fun, because as we were coming back in towards the finish, we were running by some of the women who were still on their way out to the turnaround point, and they were cheering for us as we went by! Next on the list, would be our pacer. Usually, women pace women. However, they didn't have a pacer lined up for the women's race, and since my hubby just so happened to be there, the elite recruiter asked Ben if he'd be willing to pace us for the first 600m or so. So picture this, the race is about to start, the announcer introduces the three elite women, and then they introduce my Benny as the pacer!! While he was being introduced, Ben also let the announcer know that it was our anniversary, so of course he called that out for the crowd to hear! I give him a big hug, the gun goes off, and now suddenly we're racing, following close behind Ben who paced the group exactly on target. My goal for this race was to remain patient, and wait to make the final move when I was ready to kick and never look back. I followed that plan to the T, and with a quarter mile to go, all three of us were neck-and-neck. It was cool because I kind of felt like we were working together, not competing against each other. I bottled up a little bit of that synergistic energy, and then when it was time to make my move, I went for it, and just managed to run away from Angela by a second, and Lea not far behind. Afterwards, the crowd was congratulating me for the win, and for my anniversary. What a fun day.
The ladies decided to race with flowers in our hair for a little Hawaiin flair!
The jump spot! Gorgeous...
The next day was pretty fun too, with the race being over, we had the freedom to live up the island life! I laid out by the pool and read an amazing book, and then later, the whole crew went to a big rock ledge on the edge of the ocean, and jumped in! I am adventure fanatic, so it was actually me who asked our elite athlete organizer where we might be able to find a place to jump, and he was cool enough to drive us over there. IF I get invited back next year, I think I'll have to visit that rock again because it was soo much fun.

Next up on the schedule for road miles was the 5th Ave Mile, in New York City. While I knew all year long that I wanted to come back to this race again, sometimes in professional running you can't just decide to come to a race without a formal invitation. My agent, coach, and I kept begging and pleading the race director to get me into the race, but the field this year for the women was pretty loaded (the world champion in the 1500, Jenny Simpson, the world leader in the 1500m, Morgan Uceny, and several other AMAZING athletes were highlighting the field). The race director kept telling us there was 'no more room at the inn' so to speak... 

On the day before athletes we scheduled to depart for the race, persistence paid off...I got a text from my agent at 5:30am that said if I am willing to get myself to NY, I have a spot in the race. I felt if I didn't go to that race, I would always wonder what I could have done, so I quickly booked a flight with the last remaining sky miles I had saved up and a few extra bucks, found covers for my jobs, and was on a plane the very next morning. It was a whirlwind of events, but I was grateful to be given the opportunity and planned to use it to the fullest. Come race day, it was hot and muggy in NYC, and I was feeling sluggish. I ended up finishing mid-pack, placing 12th of about 22 and running a 2nd-best-ever time of 4:33. I think the weather, and trying to run my third road mile in three weeks did a little number on me. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed, but at the same time, I went out there to prove I deserve to be in races like that, and I ended up beating a lot of girls that not only got their flights paid for, they got paid appearance fees just to show up. I figured I at least demonstrated that I was a valuable addition to the race, whether I was compensated or not. Like I always say, if it were possible, I would do this sport for free, and be grateful for every opportunity despite the cost.

This trip especially reminded me how lucky I am to have the support I do. I am coaching the girls cross country team at Apple Valley HS, and in the week leading up to 5th Ave, I was telling my girls about my trouble getting into the race. Trying to think on a positive note, I said, "Well, if I don't get into New York, at least I get to be here for your race this weekend!" (They were hosting the Apple Valley Invitational the same day as 5th Ave.) One of my girls responded, "No offense, Heather, but we'd rather you be in New York." How AWESOME is that? She would rather see me get the opportunity to run in a race than to be around to help coach her at her own race. This team is filled with selfless, kind and considerate girls that I am so proud to say I coach. ESPECIALLY after they won their second meet of the year at the St. Michael Invite last night. Way to go ladies!! :)

While at first I thought it was appropriate to title this blog "Another day in Paradise", given my trip to Hawaii and all...but I realized by the end of writing this thing that it's been a whole month of the Paradise that is my life. Sorry this has been a long one, but I think our world can always use a few people saying good things about their wonderful jobs (whether they get paid a lot or not), their wonderful husbands, and this wonderful world filled with amazing opportunities to see/do things just by placing one foot in front of the other.

The next step for me shall be the Pan American Games 800m races on October 24-25th in Guadalajara, Mexico. I just got my USA uniform, warm up kit, back pack, suitcase, and everything else I could ever wish for in the mail yesterday. It is starting to feel real! My coach and I decided we're going to experiment a little bit with the way I've been training to prepare for this event. The intent is to gain more strength so I can run well through multiple rounds of the 800m, as I will need to do at Pan Am's, and of course, the Olympic Trials next year! The work has definitely been tough, but I believe in it, and I am looking forward to seeing how it plays out in action in Mexico!! Until next time...thanks for reading!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The action returns!

This blog is starting to look a lot like diaries that I committed to write in...and failed. Starts off strong, and then fizzles when life gets too crazy to write about life anymore.

Well, life certainly has been crazy over the past...umm, month since I last blogged. Highlights include Ben and I moving into, and settling in to our new home, Ben turned 25, so I planned him a surprise birthday party/housewarming party, my sister Kara got married to a wonderful man Alex, I started coaching Apple Valley HS Girls' Cross Country again, I had a cool opportunity to be a motovational speaker at Northfield HS for parents, coaches, and athletes, and I got to compete at a couple "low-key" over distance races such as the Rosemount High School Alumni 2-mile race, and an Owatonna 4-mile race the next day!

Long story short on all these topics:
The house is amazing, Ben and I are loving it, though we can't help but feel like real life has finally hit when we got our first mortgage statement in the mail. Yard work is keeping us busy, we've already got new insulation put in the attic, and re-doing our gutters soon too...the projects will always be there in a 100-year old home, but all hinge considering it is is great shape, has awesome character, and is more than enough room for us to stay awhile!

Ben had a nice low-key birthday, he actually worked most of the day, and then I took him out to dinner and gave him his traditional gift of love mix (I am pretty sure I have already blogged about this excellent trail mix concoction!), some beer, and the usual 3-page, typed, single-spaced birthday letter....I wrote one for him the first year we we're dating, and somehow turned it into a tradition that I don't regret until it is time to write another one! What Ben wasn't aware of, was two days later, he went on a short afternoon run with his buddy Dan Greeno, to come home to a house full of friends, good food, and birthday candles stuck into peanut butter skotchie bars (he doesn't really like birthday cake). The surprise was a success, but not without a few necessary changes in the plan!

Next up: Kara's wedding! It was a great day, starting early with a trip to get our hair done in sweet updoes with so much hairspray you'd need a small army (or a shower the next day) to make your hair fall out of place. Next up was getting dressed in our dresses and taking some pictures out in Edina at Centennial Lakes Park. A beautiful backdrop to take pictures for a wedding! My sister looked amazing. I couldn't stoo staring at how gorgeous she looked even while I was driving us out to take the pictures! We stopped for some quick lunch and then made our way to Maple Grove. Both the ceremony and reception took place at Elm Creek Reserve's Ski Chalet (the ceremony outdoors, in perfect weather), and the reception indoors. Kara got in touch with one of our favorite pastors from our home church, who came down from her new congregation in Duluth to officiate the wedding. The food was great at dinner (and for the entirety of the week to follow, as we had lots of leftovers!), we got down on the dance floor a bit, and all in all had a grand 'ol time welcoming my new brother, Alex into the family.

Coaching Apple Valley started a couple weeks ago for summer practices. The girls came off the summer looking strong and ready to run. They have been so impressive in their attitude towards workouts, attacking everything with intensity, it is fun and inspiring for me as I am coming to almost a full year since I have taken any significant break in training. They have competed twice now, once at intranetsquad against each other, and then last Friday at the Dakota County Invite. Pretty much ALL of the girls have improved their times from last year, many by over a minute, so I am very excited for where this season is heading. Beyond that, this is such a fun-loving, respectful, and classy group of young women that I love working with!

I wasn't really sure where to begin when I was invited to come down to Northfield High School at their annual pre-season student-athlete/parent meeting as a motivational speaker. I thought long and hard and was avington trouble condensing my ideas into one solid testimony or story, so instead I made a list. The Top Ten Things I Learned While Running In Circles. I was a little nervous getting up there, but quickly felt really comfortable, and had a blast up there. Afterwards I was met with such a positive response it made me think I'd like to speak for people much more often!

Next and last on my list of highlights was my back-to-back races in Rosemount and Owatonna. Both were so much fun, and really encouraging indicators of my fitness. I guess I broke my own record for the 2-mile by 27 seconds (running like 11:23) at the Rosemount Alumni Race, which was very surprising because I had a mentality of taking it easy and just putting in a good effort. I had done a hill workout the day before, and had the 4-miler the next day, so I kind of "coasted" through the race. I was certain it'd be a slower time than what I'd run in years past, but I guess that must mean I am in much better endurance shape than i usually am at this time of year! It was great to see some other alums, former coaches, and the new team looking so strong this year as well. As mentioned, the following day, I took a trip down to Owatonna with my current teammate, Emily Brown. We were jokingly calling ourselves "the ringers" because we were called to make appearances at this big community event. Again, we were met with such positive enthusiasm, they made us feel so special just for being there. We started the 4-mile race on Owatonna's high school track, and then took to the roads, where I did most of my work with the high school boys' cross country team athletes. Again, I was encouraged to hit the 2-mile mark in about the same time that I ran the Rosemount race in the day before, and then continued to feel good and move up in the race for the next two miles. Ironically, 4 miles is the longest race I have ever competed in, so to actually enjoy it was sort of surprising, haha. Brownie, who is a longer distance specialist left me in the dust of course, but the ringers did end up going 1 and 2 for the ladies at least;)

I had a fantastic Labor Day weekend, several out of town friends came to visit, and then yesterday my whole family: Ben and I, my mom and dad, and Kara, her new husband Alex, and their two dogs Chucho and Lola took to the river on my dad's boat and had a blast all day long. Cooking hot dogs and eating junk food, i got buried in the sand, went waterskiing, played fetch with the pups, and my personal favorite, cruising around looking for big waves to catch air on the boat. Ahh, boating is like the one thing that totally reminds me of summers growing up, so going out there was fun on all sorts of levels.

Up next in my adventures, I'm going out to my dear friend Megan Duwell's wedding on Saturday in West Bend WI, then to a road mile race in Duluth, the Minnesota Mile, the following morning. Then Ben and I will be flying out to Hawaii by Thursday next week for dual purposes. I got into another road mile, The Front Street Mile on the 17th, which just so happens to be our first year wedding anniversary date, so of course I sprung for a ticket for Ben with my sky-miles to come out with me. We'll stay Thursday to Sunday, a long weekend in paradise to celebrate our first year together! Finally, the following Saturday, the 24th is the 5th Avenue Mile in NY, NY! This was where I ran my fastest road mile ever last year, so I am looking forward to going out there again, and trying to break 4:30 if it hasn't happened already in Duluth or Hawaii! Road miles are one if my favorite events to do, so it shall be a fun September! I will try to keep you better informed of how those competitions go. Like I said, i haven't taken a consistent break from training since after the 5th Ave Mile last year, so I am pretty amazed and happy to feeling in pretty darn good shape at this point and uninjured. As always I feel so blessed to say that.

Speaking of injuries...a short extra note:
Say a prayer for my Ben, if you think of it, as he goes through some heel pain/plantar fascia issues just a month out from the marathon. I know he's got some people praying for his heel, but I think most important is to pray for the man attached to the heel. Injuries are tough, especially when you've got something you've been working so hard to prepare for, for an entire year basically. It's more than just a physical battle when you have to decide whether you should continue training and race on a bum foot, or say goodbye to the opportunity, heal up the heel, and move forward.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The last hoorah's of Euro Trip 2011!

I don't even know where to begin.  

Let's try the present moment.

I am writing up this blog on a plane again, but in a wholly different place emotionally than I was about three weeks ago on my return flight from the US Championships. On the way home from Eugene I was fighting back tears, and seriously questioning my place in the professional running world. However, I concluded by saying I have faith that I am ready for a breakthrough...

Well, I cannot be happier to report that I was finally correct in my assessment, and a breakthrough is exactly what I experienced in my final three European races.  I had a little Italian racing spree, competing on Wednesday, Sunday, and Tuesday in Nuoro, Padova, and Lignano, respectively. From those three races, I won my second ever pro race in a near-best time, I ran a big 1500m PR, and then topped it off with a LOOONG awaited PR in the 800 last night. I can't even describe how good it feels to be coming home after such a successful trip...though at the same time, I almost wish I could stay and keep the train rolling! 

Currently going on my 20th hour of travel, and no sleep...I'm borderline-high. I keep catching myself gazing out the window at the endless sky, the sun finally setting...then closing my eyes, breathing it in deep, and letting a smile creep to my face. I realize how incredibly cheesy and stupid this sounds, but it is the truth, and at this moment it is such beautiful truth. I am loving this sense of renewal, affirmation, and peace that I have right now.

Ok, so let me share some of the details of this past whirlwind of a week.

I left my house in Leuven early last Tuesday morning...but not without a proper goodbye. I was the first from our group of athletes to leave the city, so on Monday, everybody decided to celebrate my last night in Leuven like it was my birthday or something. We all went out for dinner, and enjoyed one final round of Belgian waffles and ice cream for dessert. It was pretty fun, I must say. 

I flew from Brussels to Rome (another exotic place to check off my list of "places I have been"...haha, if you count the airport), and then connected to a smaller airport on the southern Italian island of Sardegna. We then took a van from the airport to the official meet hotel in Nuoro, another hour or so of driving, but definitely an entertaining drive. Sardegna is endless mountains, green, and beauty. We cut through the sides of mountains, up and down hills, and even through tunnels that went straight through the rock. Besides the gorgeous location, my other first impression was: dang, it is HOT here!
I got to rest for maybe an hour or so after arriving to the hotel before a bus was taking athletes to go to the track for a pre-meet workout. I still hadn't had a chance to run, so I hopped on. We drove for kind of a long time again, and suddenly I noticed a glimpse of red like track surface through some trees. I blurted out: "oh, there it is!" to my seat mate, but then as soon as I said it, I thought no...that can't be it...

This track, to say the least, was not in the best of shape. It looked oddly small for some reason, the surface was worn and replaced, and worn again, it had a dry dirt infield rather than grass or turf like we're used to seeing, leaves were blown in and collecting in the first get the picture. Not to mention the fact that it was hot like the surface of the sun out there, and like most things in Sardegna, it was basically a small flat area, carved into the side of a mountain (meaning for all you distance people, no logical place to warm up around the track without hitting some serious hills in every direction).

I am describing all this in great detail because what happened next was one of the funniest things I have ever seen occur as a collective group of athletes enter a track for pre-meet. We all got off the bus, walked through the gates, AND JUST STOOD THERE. It wasn't the usual routine where you usually just find a place to drop your spike bag and get straight down to business. It was almost as if no one even knew where to begin in the heat and on this poor dilapidated track in the middle of hill country.           

As a kid, have you ever had your parents do the thing where they stop the car and make you get out to "walk home" because you were fighting with your siblings in the back seat? Haha..I don't think I have, but this situation kind of reminded me of what some kids might look like as the car drives, "They're coming back, right...? This is a joke, right...?"

Eventually the shock wore off, and rather than just standing there, we all got to business. Not without a couple nervous laughs and people asking, "is this REALLY the track we are competing on tomorrow...?" I was already feeling pretty awful from all the travel, so this environment was not exactly encouraging to me, but like everything else on these trips, you just have to go with the flow and make the most of every opportunity.

Despite all of these erupting negative feelings, the good Lord creeped in to reveal himself in a really unique way to me that evening. He showed me beauty like I've never looked at it before. Maybe it was the shabby condition of the track that served as such a perfectly stark contrast to everything going on there, maybe it was the breathtaking views of the mountains surrounding us on all sides...I don't really know...

All I can say is, suddenly I felt an incredible sense of awe at the beauty of track and field- all of it. I was captivated by the graceful elegance of athletes running so quickly, efficiently, and smoothly through space with bodies perfectly sculpted for movement.

As a woman, I am hard-wired to be my own worst critic about my physical appearance, but while I was appreciating the beauty of everything and everyone else there, I came to the realization that I am in the midst of all these other athletes because I too am beautiful, and I am capable of making something beautiful with my very movement. My sport can be a work of art, and I can be both the subject and the artist. This was a nice, idealistic conclusion to come to at that less than ideal track. Luckily, as we were being picked up to go back to the hotel, word was spreading fast that this was NOT the track we would be competing on the next day! :)     

So the next day was race day! The track was indeed nicer, but the weather still quite hot and windy. Even in the shade as I waited to warm up, the heat was radiating through me on the blacktop, and I was slightly concerned about my odds of running very well that day. It felt like the conditions were much better for napping than racing, but I tried to put that in the back of my mind, and convince myself that heat is good for the 800m! 

Funny international racing experience: Immediately before the start of the race, we were all divided into our lanes, pacing and waiting for the starter to send us off. I was literally facing the opposite direction from my starting line, not paying attention at all, when suddenly I realized all the other athletes were toeing the line, waiting for the gun! Oops! I guess I should learn "on your marks" in Italian! As soon as I turned around and got in my set position, the starter shot the gun! I am sure it was only like 3 seconds for me to figure out what was going on, but I bet it seemed like forever to everyone else who was already set before me, so sorry!

Anyway, I got out hard, found myself in first position at the break line, and just kept pressing forward. I wasn't sure how close everyone was behind me, but I wasn't about to look back. Because it was so windy that day, i hadn't really anticipated to run that fast, but at 600m, I heard that my split was still 1:29, and thought to myself, shoot! I can still run pretty fast today! I poured it on for the last 200m to win in a time of 2:01.96, and I was very encouraged to run such a fast time in less than perfect conditions, without people to chase in front of me. Plus, it was pretty cool to earn my first and second-ever professional wins back-to-back!

Next stop: Padova! It was a nice change from Nuoro because it was cooler in temperature, had a few more cool places to walk around the city, and was much flatter for running. There was a river just two blocks away from the meet hotel, so  we pretty much ran there every day. They had a nice warm up track to do our premeet, and an even nicer yet stadium to compete at. The weather threatened to storm, but held out, and we had some excellent conditions for a fast 1500m field. Since there were so many talented women in the field, I pretty much felt like I was destined to run a faster PR than what I did in Ireland. I set my sights on trying to run 4:12, even writing down specific split times on my hand that I should try to hit in order to run that time. The race went pretty much exactly as I had hoped, I hit my splits, and felt pretty darn good running a new PR of 4:12.11! It was another happy night for me to make a big drop in my 1500, and gave me this feeling that my last race in Europe, an 800 in Lignano scheduled two days later, was going to be a good one too.

So last but not least, I returned to the beach town of Lignano. We only had a day to travel from Padova to Lignano and also recover and prepare for the next night's race, so it was pretty quick-turnaround time, but we still managed to take a walk on the beach and enjoy the place a bit. The next day, the weather couldn't have been more perfect, the race had a stacked field, and yet again, I felt like it was inevitable for me to run a new PR in the 800. I went out there, and jumped somewhere in the middle of the pack, and rode the energy through to a 2:00.41. I was slightly disappointed to be the first woman in the race to NOT go under two minutes, but I would be crazy not to be happy about s new personal best time since 2007. It had been a long time coming, and I actually felt so great in the race, like there is more good to come- a good note to end the trip on. 

Now it's time to go home, see my family, my hubby, and move into s new house in a week! I am so blessed, and so happy.      


Sunday, July 10, 2011

From Ireland, to Belgium, and soon to be Italy!

Considering how little I have done in the past week, it is slightly shameful that I haven't updated my blog until now...But, at the same time I would argue that doing nothing has been just exactly what I've been needing for awhile.

Rewinding just a bit, I will pick up where I left off in my last blog, the 1500m race in Cork, Ireland! Well, I was very pleased with the way the race went. Because I had just gotten across the pond a couple days prior to the race, and not 100% adjusted to the new time zone, I took a conservative approach to the race, telling myself I will run my own race, and not let other people influence me too much. I calculated out the splits I would need to run for a 1-second PR, and decided I would just try to run like clockwork, staying as close as I can to those split times. Well, I did just that, ran a tiny personal best of 4:15.11, and felt amazing doing it. Had I known I was going to feel so good already, I would have tried to get up a little higher in the race, because after finishing that one, I had a feeling of complete certainty that I can be even faster than that next time. It was very encouraging, and fun to run a personal best right off the plane. I am working on trying to get at least one more 1500m race in Europe to really see what I'm made of in that event right now. Beyond that, I have decided it is so nice to switch things up and run other events. Jumping in a 1500 after some disappointing 800 races gave me some perspective, and the pace being just a bit slower, made me feel really relaxed out there.

Next on the agenda after Cork was flying to Brussels, Belgium, and then taking a short train ride over to Leuven, Belgium. I've been based here for a week now, and as I mentioned earlier, haven't done a whole lot of anything. When we first got here, it took some time to settle into the big ol' house I am staying in (this house, by the way, is crazy! It has like 5 stories, with two bedrooms on each floor, winding up and up the stairs seemingly forever. We've got one community kitchen downstairs, one community bathroom for the 6 of us living here, and things are working out pretty well). The house is a bit of a distance from the track, some nice running trails, the grocery store, and city center (basically all the places I might go here), so the first day a bunch of us went to rent some bikes to get around. Turned out to be a great idea! Last year, I walked sooo much back and forth from the track and stuff, these bikes are really saving my legs from some extra miles! Other than that, we've made it a point to take as long as humanly possible to go to the track, run, make breakfast and shower in the morning, so by the time we're done with all the essential items of the day, it is usually well past noon. The rest of the days have been filled with reading books, going on some bike rides, trying to keep in touch with people from home (Internet was a bit sketchy for the first few days, had to bike into the city center to get the free McDonald's wifi!), and going out to buy ingredients, and make fun dinners. It's a lifestyle I'm not accustomed to, and sometimes get bored, but I also appreciate it so much and can see the value in de-stressing my life, enjoying the company of the other athletes here in my same position, and focusing on what I came here to do: run well.

Speaking of running, I competed in my second European race yesterday, in Kortijk, Belgium. We took the train from Leuven over there, had some of the meet people pick us up at the train station and take us right to the track, the trip itself took around two hours, so I was a bit nervous about feeling flat by the time we got there, but I went into this windy race feeling alright, and excited to put myself to the test once again. From the gun, I jumped right into the lead, on the tail of the rabbit, who did nothing wrong! Yaaay! She dropped out around 500m into the race, and then it was just me and the wind, and close footsteps behind me, making me feel like I was running for my life. I just barely managed to pull out the win, which again, was very encouraging because as far as I can remember, this is my first professional win! At this level, it is quite a bit tougher to pull that off I have realized.. My race time was pretty slow, around 2:03 mid, but with the wind in basically a solo effort, I was happy, and I got some prize money and chocolates for a prize to top off the fun!

After we got back, I had a great night going out to eat with the ladies of my house here (Gabe, Katie Follett, Julie Culley, Annick Lamar). The restaurant we went to had an odd requirement that you HAD to order a beverage, so I got a "Shirley Temple"...aka sprite and cherry juice. This was a favorite drink of mine since I was a kid and though I was the only one at the table without a glass of wine, I wasn't teased too much over my juvenile taste in drinks. We toasted to better races to come, to meeting and spending time with great people who are all on similar tracks (no pun intended...well, kind of I guess pun intended I guess!), and called it a night.

Next up, I fly to Italy on Tuesday, will race in Nuoro, Italy on Wednesday, and then hopefully get in one or two more Italy races before I head home on the 20th! This trip is going fast, but slow at the same time, but I am doing my best to enjoy it while it lasts, make the most of it, and have no regrets in my races. So far, so good!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Euro trip 2011 starting off well in Ireland!

I made it safe and sound to Cork, Ireland! Arrived yesterday around noon after about 16 hours of travel and little sleep, but was excited about being here. Flying in, seeing all the beautiful green hills I told Ben Blankenship (a runner from the University of MN who decided to start his European racing travels with me here in Ireland), "This might be my new favorite place I've ever been long as the people here are nice..." (my former favorite place was Switzerland, and the people there were very accommodating). Well, I obviously hadn't done my homework, or I would have known that Cork has a huge reputation for being filled with the most welcoming, hospitable people in all the world. I'd have to agree.
So when we walked out from baggage claim we had a woman ready and waiting to drive us the short distance from the airport to our accommodations (some dorms near the track). She was very kind and seemed quite excited about pointing out the sights here as she drove in the RIGHT SIDE of her car on the LEFT SIDE of the road. I sat in front with her, and felt quite odd being in the "driver's seat" without a steering wheel...haha.
Everyone says that the best way to get accustomed to the new time zone over here is NOT to go to sleep right away when you get there in the morning, so we quickly settled in to our rooms, and changed to go on a run. I ran with three of the guys who plan on racing the 1500m here as well, and it was nice to have company to keep me awake out there!
Next on the agenda was showering, which is a glorious/refreshing feeling after being stuffed in a germ-tube airplane all night! Once I was cleaned up, it was time to head straight out the door again though, because we had all been invited to a reception, and were promised "finger food" if we attended. I was pretty hungry at this point, so it was an easy sell. Plus, the meet coordinating people who were taking care of us at the dorms seemed pretty excited about it, and you never want to let someone down who is that freaking nice to you.
As it turns out, this reception took place at an army base-type establishment, and we started off the event by taking a group picture (with all of us athletes, some military officials, and local governing people) in front of two big 'ol tanks. Then we took it inside for the reception, not without shaking hands with all the uniformed folks, who all said "You're very welcome!!!" enthusiastically as way of greeting. We then listened to some speeches, which was particularly tough for me because I was sooo tired, and we were to listen to the speeches standing up. By the time everyone was done talking, and the finger food finally showed up (and was eaten), I was about toasted. Apperntly so was Ben...on the way back to the dorms he fell asleep through a bit of crazy driving on the left side of the road and loud conversations. Well, him being asleep looked so enjoyable, I decided to take a nap when we got back.
It was 5:30, and I was thinking I could take just a short nap before dinner at 6. I set an alarm, and...woke up at 8:35. Wupps, didn't even hear my alarm. Since dinner was only supposed to go until 8pm, I walked out of our secure dorm building, key card in hand, to go next door to buy a little something to eat. On my way back in, I found out my key card must not have been activated for the front door though, because I was locked out. I went to the office that issued us our keys, locked as well for the night. Next try, I went to the cafeteria to see if there were any dinner stragglers still around to let me in. I walked in to find one of the kitchen staff people just cleaning up. He noticed the food I just purchased in hand, before I could tell him my situation of being locked out, he excitedly pulled out leftovers from the dinner I missed for me to take (another example of their amazing hospitality). Luckily for me, he also had the phone number of someone who could help me get inside too. :) After eating the lovely leftovers provided for me, it was time for bed (again!), and I had a fantastic first night of sleep. This ended day one of Euro trip 2011.
Today's been pretty awesome too. In a nutshell, had some breakfast, went to the track (which is surrounded by gorgeous green Irish scenery), ate lunch at a bistro on campus, and then came back to the dorms to free-load off Will Leer's wireless Internet, write a blog, and watch some movies on his computer. First it was Hot Fuzz, now we're on to Justin Bieber's Never Say Never. Whattaday.
Tomorrow will be the 1500m at 3:25 Ireland time (I think 9:45am at home) in the 60th running of the Cork Citysports track meet. I guess Cork is the 2nd biggest place in Ireland, second to Dublin, BUT this is like the only international athletic competition held in Ireland every year. Cork, it's an honor to be here, and I hope to do you all proud tomorrow!