Monday, November 19, 2012

Thankful to run Club Cross on a TEAM!

It seems as if I've been back running and working out for so long already, but I just realized today when I looked at a calendar that the workout I did this morning began my 5th week of workouts since my running break, and only my 7th week back overall!

This realization is primarily exciting and encouraging to me, because workouts have been going really well already. Straight out of the gates, I have been running faster in the longer repeats we do at this time of year, and I'm feeling better physically than I usually do as I transition back into heavy training. As more of the 'sprinter' by Team USA Minnesota's standards, simply sticking out long workouts with my teammates (instead of getting dropped) is a joy I still can't get enough of.

The other emotion that comes to the surface as I look at this calendar: sheer terror. Well, maybe not that bad, but a certain sense of apprehension to say the least. Reason being, I am doing something this year that I haven't done as a runner since 2009...I am racing cross country!!

That's right, this 800m/Miler is returning to the grass (something I honestly never thought I'd want to/have the opportunity to do again), to compete at the 2012 Club Cross Country National Championships, in Lexington, KY on December 8th. My teammates (Meghan Peyton, Jamie Cheever, Ladia Alberson-Junkans, and McKenzie Melander) informed me awhile back that they wanted to send 5 women to make an actual scoring team, it sounded like fun to me at the time, so I said, "Sign me up!"

Now that we are just under 3 weeks away from the actual event, reality is starting to set in about what it means to run fast for 3.75 miles of uneven, hilly's painful, my friends. The good news I have to rely on is that despite my brief preparation period, I am feeling good about my general base/long distance fitness right now, and it will make me a stronger person as I head into the 2013 track season!

Even better news is I get to run this XC race with some of my favorite people, and remember what it feels like to be running hard because my teammates are counting on me. I always felt like I could perform even outside my actual ability when I knew I was running for the team in college, it is an exhilarating experience, so I welcome that feeling of commitment and love back into my heart to help carry my through it!

Now generally speaking, before you walk onto a big stage to race something important, it's nice to get in at least one "rust-buster" race. For me, that is going to be taking place this Thursday (Thanksgiving!) downtown Minneapolis at the Lifetime Fitness Turkey Day 5K! If you've never done it before, this is an awesome event. THOUSANDS of people will line up, some in full turkey costumes, pilgrim hats, heck, even Spider Man showed up once, to race/run/walk a 5K before we make our way to feast with family and be thankful.

Two years ago, I remember it snowed and was VERY cold on Thanksgiving morning for this race (So cold, that I had icicles frozen to my eyelashes at the end of the race!), I think this year is going to be a very different (better) story!! I'm hoping to enjoy the fun atmosphere, but also take this opportunity to run with some fast people and remember what it feels like to make a longer 5K race "hurt so good", if you know what I mean, in prep for Club Cross.

I'm sure there are probably some people out there that might want to call me crazy for running cross country when my best chance at making any type of world team exists in the shorter distance events, but sometimes I think getting outside of my comfort zone is exactly what I need to remind myself that I am a versatile athlete that will benefit both mentally and physically from this challenge ahead. Hopefully I will have good news to share after the race this week, but either way I have plenty to be thankful for.

Have a safe, yummy, and happy Thanksgiving!! :)

Monday, October 15, 2012

Keep it clean, people.

Call me old school, but I think the beautiful and most exciting part of running is that it is an opportunity to see what the untainted human body is capable of. Through training, hard work, and dedication, we can do amazing things.

Unfortunately amazing things can be accomplished through other means as well. News just bursted wide open on an athlete I've met on several occasions, Christian Hesch, caught for using EPO. Not long before that, we all heard Lance Armstrong gave up fighting an uphill battle with the US Anti-Doping Agency. (Below are some links to the NY Times, and one to Hesch's own public apology for doping).

At this day and age, when these types of 'alternatives' are available, it seems that someone will always ask, "Why don't they just legalize everything and let the best man (or woman) win?"

I'll tell you why: It take everything PURE away from this sport and turns it into a technology/financial war. The person with the best tech team and the most money would win races, nothing would be left to chance, and there would be no excitement in even watching the sport anymore. There would be no such thing as 'miracles' in this sport, if it were left to become a free-for-all sport.

Think about it in really simple terms, as a kid, if you challenged another child to a race on the playground, would you call it fair if your friend pulls a bike from behind a bush and rides off and leaves you huffing and puffing on foot? NO. While doping might not look the same as hopping on a bike and riding away from the competition, it is not in the spirit of raw competition to take any shortcuts or easy ways out.

Of course, those shortcuts and easy ways out may tempt people at times, especially when they are down. To me, succumbing to the pressures and deciding to dope only demonstrates that you have truly given up, and believe that you are not good enough on your own to accomplish the things you, or others have said you can do.

I don't generally like to bring negative attention to anyone, but I feel moved by some of the responses to this breaking news about Hesch that I needed to get off my chest.

First, I saw a comment a meet director wrote on Christian Hesch's Facebook page. He basically wrote: "No doping controls at my race! ;) Hopefully we'll see you back next year."

SERIOUSLY? I usually LOVE to meet race directors because they are incredibly generous people who take the time to make an honest opportunity for people to race and see who is truly the best. A lot of times they personally do most of the fundraising to provide prize money for the athletes, and truly hope it goes towards clean athletes who are trying to represent themselves and their country in an honorable way. I remember David Monti, of the New York Road Runners mentioning at the 5th Ave Mile that this race does have drug testing, because "If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem." That is the type of man and organization that I truly respect.

If you want to create a doper's race, maybe you should advertise even more publicly the fact that you turn a blind eye to cheating, so that none of us show up to get robbed.

That's how I see it. It is ripping off not only the race directors of their hard-raised funds, but also the athletes (whom he calls his "Friends") that toe the line right next to a him. It is unfair for us to walk away with less prize money at a race because someone else made an alternative investment to cheat rather than to train. More importantly to me, I take my finishing places and times seriously. It robs a clean athlete of the positive morale they deserve for their accomplishments when they get beat by a cheater.

I fear a lot of people will read this as a public criticism towards Hesch alone. This is not my intent. This incident is just a perfect example for me to use to write public criticism towards the behavior of doping in general. To me, even if the doping behavior is done 'responsibly' and 'safely', it is still wrong, and still dangerous and damaging to the sport that I hold near and dear to my heart. I know a lot of people don't take cycling seriously anymore because they say "They all dope." I don't want that to become true of running, and I especially don't want people lumping me in this category because I am associated with high-level running.

To me, the decision not to dope comes down to one simple fact: it's not worth it. Doping must come with incredibly conflicting emotions, especially if it's going well for you. You'd feel guilty for your success, and wonder how much of that success if from "you" and how much is from what you're taking. You wouldn't feel comfortable acting as a positive role model for anyone while living a lie, and you rob yourself of the opportunity of knowing what you COULD have done without it. Worst of all, when you get caught (I'd like to hope that all eventually do get caught), everything you did prior to doping is tainted, and if you return to competition, people will always associate you with your past, and it will never just be accepted as a great pure performance.

I know these things probably take place more often than I know, and more commonly than what gets splashed around in headlines. I also know I am extremely naive when it comes to this issue, so forgive me for any remarks that might seem unfounded. These are my feelings on the issue and this is my public proclamation that I believe in this sport, and I believe in me, so hopefully the only headlines you'll see from me are from when good ol' hard work pays off.

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Road Mile Groove

One of my all-time favorite animated movies is The Emperor’s New Groove. If you’ve never seen it before, I highly suggest you check it out at your earliest convenience- I would argue it is funny for all ages.

Why, might you ask, am I telling you about this? Besides the (obvious) reason that I don’t want anyone to go through life without the pleasure of seeing such a fantastic show, there’s a scene in it that sort of came to mind as I was reflecting on the latter half of my 2012 competitive season.

So, basic synopsis of the movie: there’s this fictional Emperor named Kuzco, he’s immature, irresponsible, and incredibly self-centered. Of course, that makes him a holy terror to work under or even just to be a citizen of his domain.

One of the very first scenes is Kuzco literally dancing through a day as the emperor (to the music of his very own ‘Theme-Song Guy’), when suddenly he moonwalks right into an old man hunched over his walking stick- bringing the theme-song music to a screeching halt. Kuzco is obviously upset, so in pops one of Kuzco’s brawny guards who says, “I’m sorry, but you’ve thrown off the Emperor’s Groove...” Naturally, the next thing you see is the little old man getting tossed out the window of Kuzco’s gigantic palace, and the theme-song guy resumes his fanfare.

(In case you’re more of a visual person, here’s a 33 second video link.)

I’m not referencing this scene as a literal reflection of my late-season competitive experiences (I threw no little old men out the window of my nonexistent palace, and I like to think I’m not as egotistical as Kuzco started out), but I can relate to the feeling of being in an unstoppable “groove” and even when things came up that had the potential to derail that groove, I found ways to toss that aside and move on to the next line of my ‘theme-song’.

Originally I thought the score of that song would include a trip to Europe for some track races after the Trials. I was content with how I had competed this summer, but felt I had some better times in me if only I could compete in the ‘right place at the right time’. That plan fell through when I didn’t get entry into enough races that I felt would be worth the big trip across the pond.

I was a little disappointed, but I also knew I was still in good shape, and just wanted an opportunity to prove it. It was then that I turned to the American circuit of road miles to fill that racing void. I discovered a couple new races for me, and signed up for two of my favorites in September: The Ryan Shay Memorial Mile, The GNC LiveWell Liberty Mile, Grandma’s Minnesota Mile, and The 5th Ave Mile.

It’s been way too long since the last time I blogged,and four races is a lot to talk about in one entry, so I’m going attempt to be brief, and share a few of the highlights from each!!

First up: The Shay Mile, held on July 28th in Charlevoix, Michigan. Charlevoix is an incredibly beautiful, friendly little town right on the waters of Lake Michigan. The highlight of this trip for me was that the elite athletes were housed with host families, rather than in a hotel. I was a little bit nervous that it would be an awkward situation until I met my host’s four daughters. They were adorable, and made me feel right at home immediately.

I stepped out of the van that drove me to their house and the first thing the 2nd youngest girl, Megan says: “You’re really pretty!” Wow! I liked her, and I could honestly tell her she was beautiful too :)

Later, I was chatting with Megan and her younger sister Claire about the race to take place the next morning. Here’s a brief summary of how it went:
Claire: “I’m so glad we don’t have a BOY staying with us...I wouldn’t want his greasy, rat-head on my pillow!”
Me: “Oh gosh, I hope you don’t mind that I’m sleeping in your room!” (Mind you, their room had pink walls, pink linens on bunk beds, a pink TV set, One Direction boy-band posters lining one wall, and a life-size Justin Bieber cutout on the other. No joke.)
Claire: “Nooo! You don’t have a rat head, you have a BUTTERFLY head! I hope you win tomorrow...” (as she smiles with adoration and cups her chin with both hands like she’s taking a glamour shot)
Megan: “OH MY GOSH!” (I’m thinking she’s going to make fun of her sister for being so freakishly nice, but nooo.) “I just got the BEST idea! We should make posters to cheer for Heather tomorrow!!”
Claire: (While sipping water straight from a squirt gun on the couch) “YEAH! And can I squirt you when you go by?!?!”
I told the girls I liked both ideas, and they totally followed through on both (see attached pics).

Thanks to the girls I was feeling built up, confident, and I really wanted to win for them! On race morning, the whole town had lined up lawn chairs along the course, probably because the town “Venetian Day” parade was to follow immediately after our race, but it made for a lively crowd! It was a unique course in that it was mostly flat until the 3/4 mile mark at the top of a steep hill. In interviews from previous years, and word on the street was people’s races are made or broken on that hill.

In the race, we were still all bunched together at the top of the hill, but as I started sprinting down it (yes, it felt like sprinting to keep my legs moving fast enough to avoid falling!), I started to pull ahead. At the bottom of the hill, there was still a fair distance to go to the finish line, but since I had already gained so much momentum off the hill, I decided to continue my finishing kick, ran for my life all the way in to cross the tape first in a time of 4:31.83!
I was super pumped to run a great race in honor of an even greater runner who lost his life too soon, and was excited about running just a second off my road mile personal best of 4:30.95. At this point I hadn’t raced since the Olympic Trials, so I was uncertain of what to expect. It was fun to celebrate the win watching a boat parade and fireworks on the water later that evening as well!

Next on the road mile tour was the Liberty Mile, held in Pittsburgh on August 17th. This year was the inaugural race, but based on the incredible organization and execution of elite athlete care, you can tell that Three Rivers Marathon, Inc. is experienced in putting on top-notch events. One especially drawing piece of this race was the fact that they were offering more prize money than the organization can even afford, taking a net loss on the race just because they like to support us athletes.

After having won the US Road Mile Championships this spring, and then defending my road mile reputation at the Shay Mile, I was feeling a little bit of pressure to continue my streak in Pittsburgh. It was certainly going to be a more competitive race, largely because my teammate Gabriele Anderson, who was 4th in the Olympic Trials 1500m, and just came off a big 4:04 PR in Europe was in the race too! It was both a comfort and a stress to have her out there because I knew she would help make it a great race but she’s also tough to beat!

This race started out pretty similarly to the Shay Mile, pretty conservative through the first three quarters, and then we started to move like crazy to finish it up! Momentum shifted back and forth between myself, Gabe, and Sarah Bowman until I got this little itch just to take off NOW. I followed my gut, and went for it. It was earlier than I like to start a kick, but I continued to tell myself just to keep form and take a shot at it. That night, under the lights of Pittsburgh, it worked! I crossed the tape in 4:35.8, just pulling out my third road mile victory of the year by half a second.

Next on the list was the Minnesota Mile, held as we Minnesota native like to say “Up North” in Duluth on September 8th. By far the highlight of this trip was the road trip up with my teammate Jamie Cheever, my husband Ben and our dog Ricky. :) I was so happy when I learned our hotel allowed dogs! I know it’s silly, but I was excited to race to the finish with my pomeranian pup watching. Not only was he waiting, but my parents made the trip to Duluth to watch me as well. I felt surrounded by such great love and support in my home state with my family all there.

The weather was nearly perfect come race morning, cool and sunny, but a little but of a headwind. This race got off to a quicker start than the last two, but I heard someone watching the race call out, “Stay smooth and relaxed!” I’m pretty sure they were talking to someone else, but I took his advice, and just rode the pack until someone decided to make a break for the finish. That someone turned out to be Barbara Parker, making a decisive move about 350m out. Again, my teammate Gabe and I covered her move, again, we made for an exciting finish, and again, I managed to eek out a win for my family and Ricky!! ;) (Photo credit for these go to Dan Swanson Photography!!)

Last on the road mile circuit was the 5th Ave Mile in New York City, on September 22nd. It’s a fast and exciting course down 5th Avenue down the East side of Central Park. This is by far the most prestigious and competitive road mile of the year. I wouldn’t call it being negative on myself, but I knew it would take a whole lot more to win this race against Olympians and other amazing milers from all over the world. My goal for this race was to break 4:30, and try to finish in the money (top 8) for the first time. I knew these two goals were certainly realistic.

Another interesting twist to this race is there is a $1,000 prime for the athlete who crosses the half-way point first, so long as they finish sub-4:32 for the women or sub-4 minutes for the men. This pretty much guarantees that it will be an honest/fast race. After the gun went off, there was no settling in like there were at my previous road miles, it was keep-the-gas-pedal-down, fast racing. Obviously this kind of race hurts a bit more, and for a longer time than a kicker’s race. As I worked through the pain I tried to keep in contact no matter what, so that when I neared the finish line, I could pour out whatever I had left and have no regrets. My confidence may have waxed and waned throughout the race, but I put it all out there, and ended up accomplishing both goals, finishing 6th and running 4:27.8!

It was a little bit of a letdown not to finish higher in the placing ranks, but when you finish behind three Olympians (Anna Pierce, Hannah England, and Shannon Rowbury), and two athletes who have been lighting the track on fire all year (Brenda Martinez- who won in 4:24.2, and my teammate Gabriele who got me by a second this time and finished 4th), I was pretty happy with the way I ended my season. Twelve of the 13 athletes in this race finished at 4:30 or better, anytime you can even call yourself at home in a field like that is something to be proud of I figure!!!

In hindsight, the decision to stick to the roads this year was a great one for me. Not only is the road racing business quite a bit more lucrative than the track (I think I earned almost $9,000 in these four races! I’m grateful that these wins will help pay for us to insulate and re-side our 101 year old home before winter this year!), I had so much fun and regained something that I think I had been missing for awhile- the mentality and confidence of a winner. That, to me, is more valuable that any prize money a race could offer. Reclaiming that sense of confidence to believe that no matter the weather, or how I felt leading up to the race, or what I ate for breakfast that morning, I REMEMBER what it is like to cross the finish in first, I KNOW what it takes to get there, and I BELIEVE that I can do anything I set my thought on. It is one thing to say this, and a whole new ballgame to truly internalize that feeling and carry it around with you.

I’m hoping that this new inner vision for myself is something I will be able to carry with my through my break, motivate me through my early training for next year, and show up right where I left off! I want to stay on this groove, and throw every doubt out the window where it belongs;)

Friday, July 13, 2012

Olympic Trials Reflection

I've been putting this off for awhile now. I'm uncertain as to whether it's taken me this long to write any reflections on the Olympic Trials because I have been incredibly busy, or because I still haven't sorted out exactly how I feel about it all.

It is with mixed emotions that I concurrently celebrated my success and accepted ultimate failure.

As the final results show, I ended up placing 7th in the final of the 800m, and was a semifinalist in the 1500m as well. It has been a big goal of mine since I graduated college to make the final at an outdoor US Championship meet. It may not sound like that big of an accomplishment just to make the final, but when you have to run through two back-to-back rounds just to get the opportunity to contend for a top three finish, it requires a lot of strength, good tactical running, and a fair amount of luck. A lot of great athletes made the final, but a whole slew of incredible athletes missed out as well, so I was honored and proud just to have made it that far.

On the other hand, in an Olympic Year, the final isn't good enough. If you make the final, you earn the opportunity to realistically dream about making The Team. Having four people between myself and London is a tough disappointment, but not as tough as one of my very good friends in the 800m, Molly Beckwith, who placed 4th, and had about a hundredth of a second separate her from the opportunity of becoming an Olympian. I think all of us in the final who didn't make the team feel that bitter taste of loss.

But then I go full circle, and realize, yes, it is an accomplishment to make a final in any year, but it is ESPECIALLY great to make it in an Olympic Year, when the competition is about as steep and deep as it ever gets!

So this is the see-saw of emotions I faced coming home from Eugene, as friends and family congratulated me with question marks written on their face, as if to say, "I think you did a great job, but are you happy?" The answer, of course, is yes and no, but if I look beyond the results of this one competition, and take my wonderful life as a whole, the answer is a resounding YES.

As with all things, I continue to approach life and running with a "moving forward" mentality, and I know I truly did move forward at the Trials. I think I also turned a few heads, competing in both the 800m and 1500m to display my range of abilities, and perhaps a glimpse of my future in the longer event. By the time I got to the 1500m semifinal, I was starting to feel the race fatigue accumulating, so my race wasn't that pretty in terms of placing results. However, I still have to be encouraged by the fact that I ran only 2 seconds slower than my lifetime PR in my 5th race in 7 days! I know I am in much better 1500m shape than the results show, I just need to get in a fresh race sometime soon to prove it to myself.

So where do I go from here? In the past couple years I've headed straight out to Europe to continue racing after the US Championships are over. This year, I am excited about the opportunity to stay home, train a little bit harder again, and then try heading back to Europe after the Olympics for a late-season racing schedule in August-September.

In the meantime, this week is going to be the week of speaking engagements! Tonight Ben and I are co-collaborating a presentation at a distance running clinic in Eagan, then we fly out to NYC tomorrow for me to speak at a sales conference on Monday where they are using my Big Ten 600m video footage as a metaphor to keep pressing on if sales are low. As long as we're getting a free trip to New York, Ben and I are excited to utilize this opportunity to see Wicked on Broadway, and catch a bunch of other touristy sights while we're there. Then when we return, I'll speak at the U of M Running Camp on Wednesday and Carrie Tollefson's camp on Thursday!! OH BOY! It sounds like a lot, but I truly enjoy getting the opportunity to share my experiences and advice with others, and feel like maybe I'm making a difference.

After all, no matter what big teams I make (or don't make), my primary goal still is to utilize and refine this gift God has given me, and share it with others, so that I may serve as a window to Him.

I especially feel a sense of duty to share the good things about the true nature of my sport in a time where there seems to be a lot of political turmoil surrounding us. This year at the Olympic Trials, more than at any other Championship I have attended, I got a sense that people were unhappy with our national track and field governing body. There was a lot of grumblings going on about unfair treatment to athletes and interpretation of rules, and the conflict of interest USA Track and Field has by being associated with just one brand. I'm not saying I haven't noticed these issues, or grumblings before, obviously these things have been in discussion for awhile. It just seemed to me that the public outcry is getting louder, and change must be imminent. I am not about to say that I have all the answers, because I don't, but as an athlete, I do care about protecting the virtue of our sport and seeing things resolved so that we can all worry about more important things than what logo is on our uniforms. A revolution seems to be coming, and I hope to be a voice for good clean competition, fair and unbending rules that protect the rights of athletes who have all trained hard for their competitive opportunities, and finding ways to help our country see how cool the sport of track and field is- in hopes that we can gain further support and attention on amazing feats of the human body and heart, rather than doping scandals and dates with celebrities.

More on this issue to come in future (hopefully not the distant future!!) posts.

Monday, June 4, 2012

A photo says a thousand words...

I already wrote a bit about the US Champs Road Mile, but here's some great photos people have shared with me after that fact!!

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Willing to Hurt in order to Triumph

Have you ever driven by a homeless person on a street corner who has a sign that reads something to the effect of "will work for food"? I happened to see that the other day, and was moved in more ways than one by his simple, yet profound statement on a piece of flimsy cardboard.  First of all, the plainly obvious takeaway message I got was how desperate life situations can become to force a person to beg for work just to eat. We may all say that we work "so that we can put food on the table", but generally speaking, that work also paid for the table, in your dining room, in your house, on your land, that you also work to pay for. I am not one to judge the person who finds himself in dire need, nor the person whose needs are fulfilled. All I know is I am in the latter category, even if I still refer to myself as a "low-income athlete with a mortgage", I feel a certain calling to help those in need. Even if it just starts with keeping a few extra snacks in my car that I can share as I drive by a familiar person with a plea for help on a sign, I am asking my friends and family to hold me accountable on this one! :) Nextly, I came away with a metaphor about my running that I thought worthy of sharing (of course, leave it to me to glean running perspective in the most unlikely places!) What I thought was, as an athlete, what would my sign read? What do I feel like I need, and more importantly, what am I willing to offer to get it?  The first thing that came to mind came out a bit more like an odd craigslist posting: 'Olympic A-Standard Wanted. Willing to hurt for 1:59.89 or better.'     Before your mind wanders to all kinds of craziness, let me clarify. I am not willing to get clubbed, stabbed, or poisoned to run the Olympic A. What I mean by this is I am willing to run my guts out, and I am willing to feel a pain that I have never felt before to achieve my goal, because I know when the pain subsides, I will feel the greatest bliss.  I was talking to my mom on the phone sometime after one of my first races this season, and she repeated something she has told me several times before. She said "you never look absolutely spent at the end of your races, I think you've got more in you." Usually when she says this to me, I take it as a compliment, and say how I always try to look like that at the end of a race so that I am intimidating to my fellow competitors, even if I feel horrible inside. The more I got to thinking about it though, the more I began to believe that I need to be willing to run ugly, to truly run beyond myself and put it all on the line, in order to achieve this dream I have been chasing for so many years. Who cares what other people think of me if my time can speak for itself? I need to stop worrying so much about keeping good form at the end of a race (which is obviously still important to some degree), and rather dig deep and do whatever I need to do to come across the line under 2 minutes. At the time of my last post, I was just about to race Fortaleza, Brazil. That race went much better than the hot and muggy 800m I competed in Belem, but I was still dissatisfied with the results. I ran 2:02.24, just one hundredth of a second behind the Columbian woman who jumped me at the line for the win. I am not saying I wasn't trying my hardest at the end of the race, but I could totally pin-point a place in the race where I had hesitated to take the lead (about 320m into the race), when I should have went for it with gusto and never looked back. I took that experience to heart as I went into the US Road Mile Championships right at home in Minneapolis. It was a windy day, and probably wise to stay in the pack for wind block, but with a little more than a quarter mile to go, I decided my best shot was to go for it, make my move decisively and never look back. Thankfully it worked just as I had hoped! I won my first professional national title, and became the first Minnesotan to win the US Road Mile Championship in MN. I couldn't have asked for more a more supportive setting than my home sweet home, the crowd was amazing, I never stopped hearing my name throughout the entire course. Before the race, I had visualized myself crossing the tape first, and getting the US Flag draped over my shoulders as I run into the street a champion. What a dream come true and a moment I hope to replicate in the future! I can't say enough thank you's to Twin Cities in Motion, the USATF, my teammates, coach, and supporters of Team USA Minnesota, my Apple Valley High School distance squad who came to watch again this year, my husband, my family, and the entire MPLS running community that stuck around to watch. Next up for me is an 800m race in St Louis, just hours away. I am hoping to carry some of that confidence from the win on the roads, and some of that frustration from a narrow loss on the track, and turn it into an awesome performance.  Here's to dreams coming true, hard work paying off, and a willingness to run ugly!      Ps, pictures from US Champs to come when I am using a device other than my iPad to post!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Long Due update!

The world of blogging is trying to prevent me from making this post, but I vow it will be done!! (I wrote this post several days ago, on my iPad, but have not found a single place to get wireless internet here in Brazil, so I decided to re-type it at the business center computer so it can finally come out! With less than a paragraph to go, the computer froze and I lost my, please appreciate what I am about to say (again!) ;) I think every runner at my level expects to compete at a higher level in an Olympic year. Why? Because you HAVE to, if you want to make the team. You have to plan on warking harder, being more dedicated...thus, attaining a higher level of fitness, and running faster from the very beginning of the season, all the way to the final finish line. It is both a curse and a blessing to have such high expectations for myself. I truly beleive that I have put in the work, and I am ready to rock. But, until my first race, I had no way of knowing where I was at. Finally that opportunity arrived to ´test the waters,´so to speak, and get a true gauge on my fitness. I recently ran my first two races of the 2012 ourdoor season, and have good things to report! The first race was the Grand Blue Mile, on Tuesday night. It is a road mile in downtown Des Moines that basically kicks off the Drake Relays week of festivities. We had an unually small field of just four elite female competitors. With so few athletes in the race, it seemed no one wanted the disadvantage of leading so we got off to a slow start. I focused on staying smooth and relaxed until somebody decided to make a break for it. We went through the first half in 2:32, fairly pedestrian-paced for everyone in the race. We picked it up a little bit through the half-way poit, and then significantly busted it open with a quarter to go. As the finish line approached, it was Sara Hall and I battling for the win (Sara is the reigning national champion in the road mile, I took second to her last year). We were truly neck-and-neck with a block to go, my peripheral vision at one point told me I got her, and the next: she bursted through the tape just inches before me (Results listed us both at 4:45). As much as it is a heart-breaker to take such a close second place, I was still quite pleased with the fact that we closed our second half in 2:13, and I felt pretty darn good doing it. The race gave me confidence in my closing speed and ability to run a tactical race. However, it didn´t tell me much about my true potential thus far. I was immediately excited to get another chance on the 1500m on the track in a few days. Finally Saturday rolled around, and coditions were taking a turn for the better! (Frday produced some serious winds and storms, Saturday was just a bit cold and windy). Before I can describe the race, I must say it is always such a joy for me to return to the Drake Relays. The officials working there are the best in the world, as far as I am concerned. They are kind, courteous, and always thank us for coming to the Relays. Thank YOU for putting on such a classy meet! The fans are equally supportive and awesome as well. As the announcer Mike Jay was introducing the athletes in my race, it was amost comical to hear my long and heartfelt into that turned out to be equally as long as Jenny Simpson´s (who just so happens to be the 2011 world champ in the 1500m, and a native Iowan). That just goes to show they truly appreciate every athlete, and treat us all like World Champs on our come turf. Incredible. So the race itself went a little something like this: Jenny got out well on the tail of her own rabbit, I was following Heidi Dahl, the leader of the chase pack. It immediately became apparent that this would be a race for second...I rode right along, the pace felt comfortable, but quick. I had trouble hearing most of our lap splits, but was mentally in it for the race, and it seemed to by quite quickly!! (odd, for an 800m runner to say a 1500m went by fast) Before I knew it, we had a lap to go, and people were starting to make their final moves. I managed to slip through a little gap to start trying to form my own gap between myself and the race behind me. By 100m to go, Maggie Infield (who has been patiently waiting to make her move in the back of our chase pack), was coming on well, and together we started to chase down Jenny on the home stretch. In the end, I was third behind Jenny and Maggie, but we managed to get within a second of the world champ. I turned around to check the clock, anticipating to see something around 4:17 or so, because it felt so comfortable to me. I was shocked when I saw I ran 4:13.89! That is just a second off my PR from last July (not bad to be running near-PR pace in spring, and feel relaxed doing it!). Later I found out I had closed my final 300m in 47 seconds, which again gave me some happy thoughts about my ability to finish with a kick! It seems to me that was one ingredient I felt like I could not harness last year: the kick. So, having something to work with was a nice start! All in all, I had so much fun, was thankful for my loyal family and husband who came as fans to one or both competitions, and I was excited to get down to business in my next two races, 800m competitions in Brazil. One of which is already said and done, the other one will be happening tonight. I´ll update when I get home! Here´s to dreaming and beleiveing that all things are possible (especially in an Olympic year! ;)

Sunday, April 1, 2012

More than a Woman, More like and Olympian!

So just to be clear before I begin the true 'meat' of this blog: I thought of the title of this blog before Google-ing "More than a woman" and finding it to be an annoyingly high-pitched disco song released by the Bee Gees in 1978. In no way did I intend to plagiarize their song title, and in DEFINITELY no way did I intend to put that song in anyone's head while reading this entry. It simply was a fitting phrase that came to mind in a workout last week that I want to share with you now.

Last Monday, I was a little bit dubious heading into practice. My coach Dennis Barker and I had this text conversation the night before...

Coach: "Tomorrow at 4:00- 4x(4x200) with 1:00 between 200's and 3:00 between sets."
Me: "Pretty fast I assume?"
Coach: "Yes, that's why I broke it into sets. I hope they can be under 30."
Me: "Cool, I'll bring my spikes!! :)"

I was pretty pumped about getting some good volume of speed in for a workout, but as 4pm approached, the weather was quite cold, gloomy, and WINDY. I comfortably drove to the track in pants over my tights, and a T-shirt, long sleeve, wind jacket, and extra all-weather jacket on top, mittens, and a hat. Part of me expected we'd be doing the workout indoors. But, when I arrived, Dennis said he didn't want to do sixteen 200's, that fast, on tight curves indoors. I had to agree with his wisdom, so we sucked it up and started our warm up jog over to the U of M outdoor track!!

So far, the best part about this day was the fact that my teammate, Jamie Cheever, my new workout training partner, Lance Elliot (he's local elite masters mid-distance runner who has graciously volunteered to help me out with tough days when I usually do workouts alone), and a couple of the Augsburg men were penciled in to do the SAME workout as me! I was pumped thinking I was just going to have one training partner (Lance), but then when I found out I'd be in a training group of FIVE?! Unheard of! Oh the little things that excite me soo...

Next, we all arrive at the track, do our warm ups, drills, strides, and final bathroom breaks before we select the best possible 200m stretch (with the wind as much as possible) to get started. I think I can say with some confidence that I was not the only one in our group who was was doubting our ability to accomplish that workout, as intended (2 miles of 200's at sub 2:00 800m pace) in those conditions. We all said we'd start conservatively, perhaps starting at 31-second 200's and making our way under 30 later on if we're up to it...

First one: 29. So much for conservative, I thought. But, I was excited how it felt conservative even if the time said we were on target already. After that first one, I immediately changed my mindset and thought, 'now that I hit 29, I need to stay there!' We rocked through our first set, taking the minute rest between each to jog across the infield to our starting line and go again. The second and third set continued to stay consistently sub-30, mixing in some faster ones as we traded leading duties.

I am familiar with the fatigue that comes from running fast with short rest. I am familiar with all kinds of different pains that one can feel in running workouts. However, the fatigue that I was experiencing in this workout was oddly different, oddly...nice dare I say? As I jogged back after each repeat, I could tell I was getting tired, but my entire body felt equally drained. Usually you feel it more in your legs, your butt, your arms, or back, but that day every muscle felt like it was progressively getting harder and harder to fire up, in kind of a good/cool way. I'm sure I sound crazy saying this, but I was getting excited about this new pain, because it felt like I was taking myself somewhere I'd never gone before. It made me feel like I was introducing my body to a new type of stimulus that would increase my fitness in ways I usually didn't achieve. And the best attribute of this pain was that it was heavy and deep during my break, but I could willingly shut it out for 200m and run with good speed and quality for each repeat.

During the last three minute break before we started our last set of 4, my coach asked us, "Do you think this one can be your best one yet?" He says these things so innocently, but in my head I'm pretty sure he was saying it as a challenge to run faster. I guess even if HE wasn't thinking of it that way, I was! At that point, we were all feeling that it would be a challenge in and of itself just to complete the workout at the level of performance we had in the past three sets. I joked with Jamie, who was also my teammate when we ran for coach Gary Wilson at the U of M, he would always say at the end of hard workouts: "This is the one that will make a WOMAN out of you!" (As in, we will become women, rather than girls if we ran tough and endured the final set.) Dennis overheard me saying this and he chimed in, "This will do more than make a woman out of you, this will make you an OLYMPIAN!."

Well, say no more coach! That was all it took to inspire me to trade off leading, and chasing down my male training partners for the day in our final, best set. We were all pumped that we had turned this crappy day into a workout we'd not soon forget. I left feeling genuinely proud of myself.

Usually, when I come and tell my hubby, Ben that I had a great workout, I say it with an added disclaimer, like, I had a great workout today (for ME, a fairly elite female professional middle distance runner). But that night, I just had to say, "Benny I rocked today." On that day, I had a damn good workout. Period. I didn't just rock as a woman. I didn't just rock as a pro. I didn't just achieve my "woman" status, I ran to achieve my "olympian status." Yesss.

I love having workouts like that. Ones that you come into low and come out of flying. Ones that give you a glimmer of where you fitness level is at and reminds you of where you came from. Workouts like that carry momentum. Workouts like that are what you think of when races get tough, and it helps you overcome. Races where you overcome is what this sport is all about for me.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The little things that make an easy run so Heavenly...

So I've noticed that I usually tend to wait until I have race results to share before I write a blog. I wanted to do things a little bit differently in light of the fact that I have not raced much lately for one, and for two, because I think it is worth talking about the little things that make running so great every once in awhile!!

First of all, just to get the informative portion of this post out of the way, I ended up not competing at the US Indoor Championship in Albuquerque this year. The decision was primarily based on the fact that I was not feeling 100% after competing 3 out of the 4 weekends leading up to the Championships. I had a little knee injury thing going on that I wasn't quite sure would get better or worse if I were to go out there and race a couple more times. Usually I am not so fickle about minor injuries, but in an Olympic year, my focus needs to be on London in outdoors, not Albuquerque indoors. So, I took a week down from training, simply cross training and doing recovery runs while I worked with a physical therapist to figure out what's going on and what I need to do to fix it. Since then, my random shoots of pain have been minimized, and I am back doing workouts once again now, as I officially begin my training cycle for the outdoor season. :)

And now onto the frilly portion of this post...

Some of you may know that one of my many part-time jobs is to be a PCA (or a personal care attendant) for a woman with cerebral palsy. We oftentimes discuss my running while I am working with her, and she inspires me to appreciate my running in a whole new way, given she uses a wheelchair and is unable to run. This past Tuesday, I spent an entire day with her, covering both the morning and evening shifts with a two-hour break in the middle when I could go for my run. As many of you from this area may recall, Tuesday was like, EPIC meltdown day. The sun was out and hot, and whatever snow we had was melting fast. It was a gorgeous day and a wonderful time for me to reflect on how grateful I am to be able to run at all.

My client lives near where I used to live on campus at the University of Minnesota, so running from her place was like a walk down memory lane, and I couldn't help but feel overwhelmed by all my realizations and memories along the way. First of all, I was overjoyed to be running in capri tights and just one thin long sleeve shirt. To feel comfortable outside with so little clothes on is just the beginning of the fun we have to come this summer. Then, while I was running in the middle of a street (because the sidewalk was flooded), I came to a point where the puddles were overflowing into the road too, and a car came by with a TIDAL WAVE of freshly melted snow that spritzed me. Some people might argue that it's not fun to have that happen, but for some reason, I felt refreshed and joyful! That puddle meant spring is on its way, and the warmth of the sun made getting a little wet FUN rather than miserable.

The route I took was one of my favorites because it winds around on the top of a hill that eventually opens up to one of the greatest views of Minneapolis. On that bright beautiful day, staring at the cityscape in the distance, I felt a deep sense of pride in the place I live and where I come from, and a stronger desire to represent this place I come from well in my upcoming races around the country and the world.

I think a big reason for me to take so much pride in my home is the fact that I love everyone who lives here with me. On that note, this running route also took me around the cemetery where Jack Johnson was buried (see my previous blog entitled "This one's for Jack!" for more info on him!). It reminded me of a time not long after he has passed away that my teammates and I did a run out to his plot on a Sunday morning, stopped to say hello and a little prayer, and then continued on our run. It means a lot to share your faith and your passion for running with your teammates, and that was a run I'll never forget.

Another joy on the run was when I started running down a steep hill (which was usually when my current knee injury hurts the most), and I felt no pain!! There is nothing better than the realization that you all of a sudden don't hurt anymore, and you don't need to be cautious on a run. Pain-free running is like freedom, it is easy to take for-granted until you lose it.

Believe it or not, there was more. On may way back to my client's place, I decided to take this path called the "diagonal trail." I had done plenty-a-threshold run on that road in my college years, but the one run I remember doing there the most was after church on a Sunday morning, I had my iPod on shuffle, and a great song came on. It's called "Into Marvelous Light", and I suggest you YouTube it or something to listen to it if you're every looking for some inspiration. So on this particular day in my memory, this song was playing, and then suddenly the first few beautiful flakes of winter snow started blowing around on this oddly sunny day. It was a strange and cool experience that I felt like I celebrating, so when the part of the song said, "Lift my hand and spin around, for this light that I have found, oh the marvelous light, the marvelous light!" I literally did skip and spin and throw my hands in the air to welcome the first of our winter's snow. This is probably a "You had to be there" moment, but I am sharing all these little joys for a reason.

Running is amazing. I think when you traverse a piece of land by foot, even just once, the memory is so much stronger than any memory you might make when you're driving through. Somehow, I feel that simply having contact with the ground makes it more meaningful to you. I certainly don't have these vivid memories from every single run, but this past Tuesday, it was amazing how covering my "old stomping grounds" brought back so many memories, and created a few more for me.

These are the things I wish my client can experience. These are the things I wish to share with anyone who decides to start running. It isn't always about the speed, or the competition in racing that makes running so cool. Oftentimes, it's those slow easy miles that are the best, and keep you coming back for so many more.

My client always says the first thing she is going to do when she passes away and goes to heaven, is go for a run. Her idea of Heaven is being able to run. I told her I'd love to take my first run in Heaven with her someday, and I bet she'll beat me;) But until then, I am going to try to appreciate each step closer to London for the Heavenly bliss that it is.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

I'm brave but I'm chicken shins.

I'm sure most of you know what it is like to be singing along to a song on the radio, and suddenly have somebody tell you, "Hey, you're singing the wrong words!" It's actually a pretty fun conversation-starter to ask people what song they've accidentally botched up over the years...

When my older sister Kara was little, Tina Turner's "What's love got to do, got to do with it..." song was pretty popular. However, she popularized a new version of the song in our household when she sang: "What's Love? Cock-a-doo, cock-a-doodle it!!" To this day, if I happen to hear that song, I still think it sounds like Tina is making rooster calls instead of the intended version.

I'll never forget when I was singing along to a song when we were young, and suddenly my sister gasped, and proclaimed: "You SWORE!" I was insistent I had not. The song was Alanis Morisette's "One Hand in My Pocket" and the line I sang was "I'm brave but I'm chicken SHINS" ...As it turns out, she's not saying shins, and I bet you can fill in the blank of what she was really saying.

Now that I've shared that random tid-bit from my childhood, you're probably wondering where I am going with this. Ironically enough, this is the message I took away from my race last weekend at the USA Track and Field Classic: I'm brave, but I'm chicken shins.

I flew out to Feyetteville, Arkansas last weekend feeling confident in my fitness. This was going to be my second race of the year, and my first against some pretty heavy competition. My training had been going incredibly well, and even though I haven't competed in a lot of really tough indoor 1500m races before, I thought I was ready to make it known in a big way that Heather Kampf can run a dang good mile! So we get to the track, I warm up, and then finally find myself on the starting line. Just before the gun goes off, I looked around me at the field of competitors, and could hear my inner dialogue saying: "Common Heather, you can take these girls." Sounds like a good thing to think, right? The only problem was, even in my head, the inner voice was saying it without conviction. It felt fake, almost sing-songy, like something you rehearse saying but you don't truly believe.

I'm not sure psychologically what happened to make me feel like I was forcing my positive self-talk rather than internalizing it, but if you've seen the results, it's clear that my head wasn't on right for this race.

I got out in decent positioning for the first half, but felt like I was all over the place. The race felt chaotic and uncomfortable because I was alternating between trying to pass people and being passed, getting boxed on the inside, and flying out into lane 3, getting stepped on and being pushed. About halfway through the race, I got so sick of all the jostling, that I mentally shut down. I allowed people to pass me, hoping that maybe after they pass I would be free to run my own race. In a nutshell, I "let the race happen to me" (as my coach would say), rather than actively pursuing MY race. Before I knew it, I was near dead-last, and didn't really feel like I was racing at all.

While I might have started out with a brave front, I ran the race like 'chicken shins', and I definitely regretted wasting a good opportunity to race. I ran 4:16.76, which technically isn't a bad time for me at this time of year, and an improvement from my earlier race this season...but nothing like I thought I was capable of doing that day.


Afterwards, I had the opportunity to talk with my coach pretty extensively about what was going on in my head, and how it turned into a sub-par race for me. I've discovered that somewhere along the way, from college to the pro's, I seem to have decided that I shouldn't expect to lead or win races. I decided that being somewhere in the middle of races, and improving on my own time is good enough. I started to doubt myself, and stopped seeing myself as a champion.

When I was in college, I ran races to WIN races. I got out in front, and made people WORK if they wanted to beat me. I CONTROLLED races, races never controlled me. I didn't care who I was competing against, because their past in running had nothing to do with my opportunity TODAY to run faster than them. That attitude made me pretty successful, and I think it is about time that I take RISKS in my racing, be willing to go where I have never been before, and expect to surprise myself with big PR's and big wins. There is no way for me to reach my ultimate goals if my expectations are mediocre. I keep saying I am so excited about my fitness level right now. I am pumped that I am running faster workouts in the early indoor season than I have ran in later outdoor seasons in the past. All that is fine and dandy, but nobody cares what I do in a workout. I have to do it where it counts.

I am truly thankful to have a coach that reminds me of these things. On a daily basis, he says things that build me up. One of my favorites is, "This is going to be the year of Kampf!" Our last conversation ended with him saying, "If it is going to be the year of Kampf, you need to MAKE it be the year of Kampf." Well said, Dennis, well said.

While I know it isn't possible to change my confidence-level overnight, I am aware that I can make a decision to race with a commitment to make it count, and to run like I mean it. If I race with that commitment, I truly (and I'm not just saying this) believe that the confidence will follow.

I plan to practice that mentality this weekend, where I will race again at the University of Minnesota in an 800m race. This will be my last race before the USA Indoor Championships the following weekend, Feb 25-26th in Albuquerque, NM. I'll keep you posted on how things go, and as always, thanks for the support!

Monday, January 23, 2012

This one's for Jack!!

Happy Monday! I say this semi-seriously, because I know for a lot of you, Monday means getting up early, and going back to work. For me today, Monday has meant getting up at a reasonable hour, 8am, walking my precious pup Ricky in the snow, going to Lifetime Fitness for a 7 mile treadmill run with my awesome teammates Meghan Armstrong Peyton, Elizabeth Yetzer , Jamie Cheever, Megan Hogan, and Matt Llano, and participating in an awesome fitness pilates class afterwards. If you love your job as much as I do, getting "back to work" really isn't a struggle. :) Especially after running a successful first race of the year this past Saturday, getting back to work is like getting back on a ride I don't wanna quit.

Since I last wrote on here (which as always, is way too long ago...SORRY!), my workouts have been progressing well. The past couple weeks, I found myself sounding a bit like a broken record when I would come home from practice- "My workout went really well again today!" My poor husband, who is on a gradual incline back to running after having a small hernia repair surgery a few weeks ago, must be getting pretty annoyed with my running perkiness lately. I for one, am certainly not getting sick of genuinely walking away from a workout with a feeling of confidence, strength, and purpose.

I got to put all the good workouts to the test this past Saturday, racing an indoor mile at the University of Minnesota's Jack Johnson Classic. While the Jack Johnson Classic isn't exactly the deepest or most competitive indoor track meet in the nation, in my opinion, it is the most meaningful place for me to begin my 2012 racing season. Jack Johnson was an integral member of the Gopher family, serving as our equipment manager for 30 years before he passed away battling cancer. Jack was one of those guys who lived, breathed, and died wearing Maroon and Gold. He went above and beyond the call of duty to serve his athletes, who he considered his responsibility as if he were all of our fathers. Jack was the one who made sure we were prepared for ANYTHING. He passed away in February of 2006, but I will never forget the first Outdoor Big Ten Meet at Michican State without Jack. It was COLD, RAINING, WINDY, and miserable by any normal person's standards. Our coaches insisted that Jack was responsible for the nasty weather, to prove that it is indeed essential to pack a tent, hand-warmers, parkas, extra gloves, etc.. to every single meet we attend, and also to give us tough Gophers a leg up on the competition. We were told to go out there in the adverse conditions, and compete like it's a party. With that mentality, we all went out and actually had fun, competing like warriors. We won our first-ever Big Ten Team Title that spring, running our victory lap with our JACK flag raised high (you can see our JACK flag just to the right of young Ben and I post-meet in the picture below).

So, long story short, I can only imagine the pride Jack must have as he looks down on his very own meet, named in his honor. Whether there were people running my pace in that mile or not, I wanted to run well for Jack, as my way to give back to the guy who gave so much of himself to a program that I too, feel forever indebted to. I took it out pretty hard from the gun, intending to run at a pace that would give me a mile PR until I can't run that pace anymore. Some might say it isn't realistic or smart to go out at PR pace for your first race of the season, but I thought it would be a great way to set myself up for a great race, or at least have a solid indicator of my fitness level. I ended up losing a little bit of gusto around 1000m in, but still came away with a 4:41.58 winning mile time and new meet record. I think this is my fastest ever mile opener, so I am content with being just 3 short seconds away from a PR at this early on, feeling healthy and ready to move forward from here.

Beyond the significance of it being Jack's meet, and a good season opener, it was so much FUN! There was a DJ pumping out jams for every race, there were great people everywhere I looked (alums, current and former coaches, my family, friends, hubby, parents of current and former teammates, officials that have worked our indoor meets since forever, and great athletes competing from all over.) Walking into that field house was a little bit like what I expect it to be like entering through the gates of heaven someday: loud heavenly praises, and great people everywhere!! :)

Thanks to everybody there, and to everyone in "my corner," so to speak, as I continue my journey towards my running dreams. It means so much to me to have people in my life that understand this running thing isn't just a selfish pursuit, but something I believe to be a CALLING, something much greater than myself. A chance to display the gifts God has blessed me with. A chance to inspire others to use their gifts for the glory of God. A chance to experience His love, grace, and peace in an exhilaratingly REAL way. What a blessing, and what a blessed life I lead.