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!

1 comment:

  1. Loved reading your reflections on your race(s), and seeing the photos!!