Thursday, November 7, 2013

Starting Over with Eyes Forward

I'm not sure where exactly I came up with the idea, but for as long as I can remember, I've thought it was important to view life as a process of constant improvement.

If I think really hard, I can come up with a few places in my mind that this developed from:

1- My resistance to/fear of aging... If I had a quarter for every time someone older than myself tells me something new about how it's tough to get old, I would be retired already. Whether it's my childhood friend who told me during a pool party, "Just wait, when you get older, your metabolism slows down and you'll gain weight..." (Mind you, we were probably about 11 and 13 at the time, so this conversation was a bit preposterous to begin with, but for some reason I still remember her saying it!!), or the people I help fit at running shoe stores that say how their body doesn't work how it used to, and they can't make a shoe with enough cushioning to save their achin' joints...or my mom making jokes about how she is "Mrs. Alzheimer's Disease" when it comes to remembering things these days, the list could go on...

2- My unwillingness to accept limitations as 'truth'...If you tell me I can't do something, I will be all the more motivated to prove you wrong. This is also true for others, I despise the general notion of telling people what they can and cannot accomplish, as if some external force or general trend of results in the past is infinitely more powerful than the capabilities of the human mind, body, spirit, and will. (Obviously I am still rooted in logic, it wouldn't irk me if someone were to tell me I can't teleport to anywhere in the world with a blink of the eye (though I secretly wish I could!!)) I believe nothing truly great was ever accomplished if not for someone insisting that they CAN do what others thought impossible.

3- My overwhelming tendency toward optimism...As far as I'm concerned, there is really no point in worrying about things you cannot control. You can certainly be smart, and plan and prepare to the best of your ability for the future, but then ultimately we just have to maintain hope, and believe that everything is a part of God's greater plan that we are not equipped to understand just yet.

4- My husbands birthday 'cards'...Every year since we met, I have given my husband Ben a birthday "card" (I put card in quotes because it's actually a 3-4 page typed love letter of sorts). Each year, I write about why THIS year will be his best ever. Not gonna lie, sometimes I curse my 17 year-old self who started this tradition, but it is a great practice in both recognizing life progress, and building up my hubby! Most years I have written about how he will slide gracefully into the greatest year of life, but for his most recent birthday (27), I also told him what he will need to do in order to make 27 be the best, because sometimes it takes work to get what you want.

So with all of these things floating around in my head, I committed to view life as a constant climb, even in the face of dips, dead ends, or drops. So long as I view each victory AND each trial as a stepping stone along the way, then I will always be moving towards 'something better'.

Depending on who you are, your beliefs, and your ideas, 'Something Better" can mean a lot of different things.

To me, 'Something Better' is something that improves the quality of my life, or positively impacts others-
whether it be a major life milestone (graduating, getting married, buying a house, getting a dog, etc), advancements in my running career, growth in my faith, helping the kids I coach accomplish their goals, trying new things/seeing new places/meeting new people, gaining financial stability, growing closer to family members, home improvement projects, increasing my cooking/recipe repertoire, practicing greater generosity, or even just learning more about who I am...

The key for me was/is to recognize and celebrate growth, in any form and any size it comes in, every time.

Before I sound too much like a self-help commercial, I share all this stuff just to set a tone for how I feel as I begin my training for the 2014 season. THIS year will be my peak, on the way to another peak in 2015, and even higher heights to come in 2016. Not unlike Ben's 27th birthday card though, I know that it will take hard work and dedication in order to make this plan into a reality. Last year I wrote up my 'New Year's Resolutions" for entering into a new season, and had my best year of running yet. This year, I want to continue my commitment to those resolutions, but also build upon them.

Even though I was very happy with running new personal bests, and winning more races than I had in the past, one big thing that was missing from my 2013 schedule was consistent, high-level competitions. Sure, I had brushes with great races, but I could have really used some people pulling me along more often. So this year, I decided I couldn't have a 'soft' schedule. It's time to to get tossed into 'deep pools' of talent, and learn how to do more than just float, but swim with the best. I think this is the only way to get the best out of myself.

And in order to get into more of these high caliber races, I'd need someone working on my behalf, so I enlisted in the help of a new agent, Ray Flynn of Flynn Sports Management. I had been representing myself for the past two years, which had gone pretty darn well I thought, but sometimes I have to be willing to accept help (and pay for it, in this case!) in order to move forward.

For now, given that my first scheduled race is not until January 17th of 2014 (The Bermuda Mile again!), it's back to the grind! I am on my third week of the 'typical Dennis Barker fall training schedule', and things are going well! Fall is all about building an aerobic base and tons of strength. Not gonna lie, it's always a bit of a wake-up call to get back into everything, but I know that the work I'm putting in now (and the soreness I am feeling!!) will be what carries me through a long season and fast races! This year will be a little different, in that there is no outdoor world championships to prepare for, but there is an Indoor Worlds in Poland, so that;s what I've got my sights set on right now!

That all I've got for updates at the moment, but stay tuned for what will surely be great things to come!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Camp Kampf

In the summer of 2010, I was sitting in a dorm room in Leuven, Belgium awaiting my last race of the summer season. I received an email that Apple Valley High School was in pretty dire need of a coach with distance running knowledge to help out with the cross country team in the fall. I decided to come aboard. After falling in love with the kids, it only seemed natural to come on as the distance coach for track in the spring, and now I am beginning my fourth season of coaching at the school! Crazy how time flies...

I share all this about my coaching beginnings because it was through coaching at the school that a new and exciting opportunity presented itself last winter. My co-coach called me, and said that in the past, other schools have hosted youth running camps in the summer, and maybe we should host one. And by we, she meant me. ;)

It had always been a dream of mine to host a running camp, I spent many-a-summer in my college days serving as a camp counselor for various running camps and always had a blast. This seemed like a perfect opportunity to get one started. We worked with the district's Community Education Program to advertise and collect fees online, I hired some of my current/recently graduated athletes to help me out as camp counselors, and suddenly, I had nearly 30 kids, aged kindergarten through 8th grade, signed up!

The camp itself took place across four days (July 29th-August 1st), from 9:30-11:30am each day. I have to laugh looking back now, because I originally made very specific laid out plans for each day, scheduling the camp down the minute....and after the first day I realized I had to scrap that mentality! With such a wide age-range and varying levels of experience, I learned quite quickly that it is much better to have a basic outline of the day and go with the flow, rather than micromanaging a bunch of energetic youngsters!

I will be the first to admit that the first day was pretty hectic, but it probably felt more that way to me than it did to the kids because they all left with smiles on their faces. Each day after that, camp got better and better, and I think by the end of the week they learned a lot (as did I)!

Over the course of four days, I got to teach the kids the importance of a good warm up, and we practiced dynamic stretching and good warm-up drills to prepare for workouts and races. We had snack and drink breaks each day, and through that had a great opportunity to talk about the role of nutrition and hydration in running. We practiced pacing ourselves for our recovery days, and working hard on workout days. We did hurdle races, and sprint relays with water balloons for batons (and of course a water balloon fight ensued).

We watched some awesome race videos on a rainy morning, where we got to discuss how different race strategies can be effective if you play to your strengths, we got to see what a cross country race looks like, witness someone diving to cross a finish line to make an Olympic Team (Men's 800m 2008), and even showed the kids some of my own races... I think I have to do that on the first day of camp next year, because after watching my Big Ten 600m fall/get back up video from 2008, one of the kids asked, "You're kind of a big deal, aren't you?" and then I swear they seemed to listen to me better after that??!

We played lots of fun games and emphasized the importance of teamwork, played running trivia, where I was pleasantly impressed to see how much information the kids were retaining from the camp! On the last day, we talked about goal setting, and ran either a half mile (for the youngsters) or full mile cross country race, and ended with a fun awards presentation and picnic lunch.

Even though I felt like things were going really well, it was so affirming to see and talk to all the parents during the picnic, and hear that a lot of the kids were wishing the camp was longer, and wanted to come back next year. My favorite quote was when one of the boys triumphantly proclaimed, "BEST WEEK EVER!!!" as he walked away on the final day wearing his brand new Camp Kampf T-shirt. :)

A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to come speak at a youth Cross Country Race in Apple Valley, and got to see quite a few of my campers from this summer again! (Many of which were kicking butt in the race, I might add... ;) ;)

As I was speaking to the kids about the importance of setting goals and believing in themselves, I was overwhelmed with a sense of understanding of the 'bigger picture'. Looking out into the sea of their young bright faces, I could see a little bit of myself as a kid in all of them. And just like at the camp, I had a speech all planned out in detail, but had to take a detour just to share how cool this realization was. I told them, "You guys, when I was your age, I had NO CLUE that someday, I would be a professional athlete, getting the honor to come speak to you today," just like how I never dreamed in a million years that I could put MY OWN NAME on a youth running camp, and that kids would actually show up!

Reflecting on the whole thing, I'm sure some athletes measure their success in medal counts, prize money, and international fame, but standing in front of that group of kids, all I could think of was, 'I made it', plain and simple.

THIS is how I define success- to be respected enough and successful enough that adults would invite ME to be an influential part of their kids' lives (I don't have kids yet, but I'm wise enough to know that this a a BIG deal!). I've always hoped this sport would give me the opportunity to inspire and help others, but ironically it feels that running is the gift that keeps giving- because I always walk away feeling a little more inspired and motivated every time I get to share my story.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Operation #PRlegs (aka, Euro Conquest 2013)

When I ran 2:01.05 in the 2007 Outdoor NCAA Championships as a sophomore for the University of Minnesota, I thought it would be a year, two tops, before I broke 2 minutes in the half mile.

As most of you know, that 1-2 year plan has turned into a much longer journey than I originally expected. At first, it was discouraging to be running at or near my personal best for so long. I began to question whether I was physically capable, or if I was ever ‘meant’ to break through this seemingly unsurpassable barrier. Of course, that doubt seeped in, and forced me to question whether or not I should even continue along the path of professional running if I couldn’t even run a time that would put me ‘in the mix’ for winning world-class competitions.

Time went by. I ended my college track career with a disappointing final 800m race at the NCAA Championship, but knew in my heart that I had more. I bounced back and had my best ever season in cross country to finish out my eligibility with the Gophers, and went pro immediately following graduation. I joined Team USA Minnesota, and soon after signed with ASICS America, and thought surely now, as a professional athlete, I will break 2:00 in the 800m.

I didn’t.

I chalked that first year up to experience, and decided 2011 would be the year (because logically, I knew it would take some time for me to adjust to a new training regimen with a new coach). That second year training under Coach Dennis Barker, things starting happening.

I WON a race for the first time since becoming a professional in Kortrijk, Belgium.
I won AGAIN at an 800m race in Italy about a week later.
I ran a new PR in the 1500m a couple days later, I was on a roll.

And then, at my final European race in Lignano, Italy, I ran 2:00.41. I was pumped to FINALLY have a sub-2:01 PR after so many years, but also slightly devastated that I still didn’t break through 2 minutes.

It certainly humbled me to realize that 2:01.05 sounds like just a hair over one second away from breaking 2:00 but I forgot how long a second really is when you’re right on the precipice of something so rare and so great. I gained an appreciation for what breaking 2 minutes actually means, and what it will mean to me (more on this later). I also gained perspective, and even created my own ‘math’ metaphor about this journey I’m on.

I call it the “Asymptote” Theory. For those of you who recently completed high school math, you may know what an asymptote is, for those of you who don’t know here’s a visual: (thank you Wikipedia!)

The Hyperbola y=1/x:

So basically, an asymptote of a curve is a line that infinitely approaches closer and closer to zero without ever reaching absolute zero.

For the purposes of running, pay attention only to the upper right quadrant of this graph. Lets make the x axis the passage of time (the years you put in training and competing). The y axis is your performance axis (the closer to zero the faster, imagining that “absolute zero” is your absolute best possible performance in your event.

**Note-I would argue that none of us ever actually reach that ‘absolute best’. I say that not as a pessimist, but as an optimist. Tell me if you disagree- whenever you cross the finish line and see you’ve ran a personal best, the first thing you think is, “I can do it faster!” right?

Sooo, back to the theory. In the beginning of your running career, you drop time crazy fast, because you totally don’t know what you’re doing (or at least that was true of me!) Then as the years go by that you invest in this sport, and you inch closer and closer to your absolute best potential, the drops in time get smaller, or you may simply hang out near a PR for several years.

BUT- what I love about this visual is that it is INFINITELY approaching absolute zero in some way or another. So as time passes, and you may not always see the drop in race performances that you’d like, but you’re gaining experience, you’re building training cycles on top of one another, you’re getting stronger, learning from your mistakes, trying new strategies, and most all, mounting up this burning DESIRE to make that next drop.

Ultimately, you’re still MOVING FORWARD, and that’s key.

Some people might argue when you don’t run a new PR for years that you’re stagnant, or ‘plateauing’. I personally hate this metaphor because it gives me the mental imagery of climbing up a bell curve towards greatness, and then leveling off at the top, knowing the only place to go from here is the same dang thing, or worse, back downwards.(Insert disappointing sound effect here: wuah-wuaah).

I think this metaphor can work for more than just running, so I encourage you to apply the asymptote theory whenever you might feel a little stuck. It certainly has given me a better outlook on life, that’s for sure!


WHERE WAS I? Ah yes, Europe...

I decided before I even left for this 2013 Europe trip, that it was going to be a conquest.

I was coming off back-to-back near-PR performances in the 800m at the US Championships, and knew I was ready to drop a chunk of time off my 1500m best as well. In the past I’ve made excuses about bad weather conditions, sparse competition, etc. for not achieving what I believe by the grace of God I am capable of doing.

But there’s no crying on a conquest.

I felt fully prepared and equipped to come out here, and run faster than I ever have. Period.

My final Tweet on the way to the airport before I flew over here was this:

Always worry I'm forgetting something when I travel. But as long as I've got my #PRlegs, I'm good to go!

So with this mentality, I boarded the plane for my first destination, Cork, Ireland.

Not including an emergency landing for a man who was really sick on my flight (poor guy!), travel went smoothly. It always feels like an accomplishment in and of itself, just to arrive, see your checked bag slide through the flap at baggage claim, and then find the guy holding the sign with your name on it by the door.

I technically left on June 30th, arrived on July 1st, and raced in the Cork City Sports 800m on the night of the 2nd. Other than nearly tipping over when I attempted to toe that line (haha, the first thing my mom said to me after she watched the race online was I needed to work on my starts! I blame jet lag?), the race went surprisingly well. I tucked into the pack which moved well through 350 meters or so, and then started getting antsy when the pace seemed to be slowing. Re-surging on the backstretch I was moving well with the front crew, until with about 100m to go, all I could see was one runner in front of me, and all I knew was Phoebe Wright, my friend/a studly 800m woman in her own right, had to be coming close behind. I drove hard to the finish with all I had, and managed to eek out the win, running 2:01.57.

Great start. Onward we go.

While in Ireland, I caught wind that a meet was looking for a 1500m pacer in Oordegem, Belgium on July 6th. How convenient, I thought, because I was looking to be confirmed in a 1500m race! I offered to take the job on the condition that after I took the field through the prescribed distance/pace, I was allowed to stay in and finish the race.

At first I was told I’d be expected to pace the field to a 4:10, but learned after arriving in Oordegem that Cori McGee was there chasing the B Standard for the World Championships (sub 4:09). So, the plan then became to run 66 second laps, which equates to about 4:07-4:08 for total race time. We ran pretty dang close to that, 66-67 first lap, 2:12 at 800m.

At about 1000m in, Cori started a long drive for the finish. I did all I could to keep the pressure on from behind, staying right on her heels until about 150m to go when I heard that familiar whisper in my mind, “you have more to give...”. I made one final blitz for the finish, and came away with another win and new 4 second PR of 4:08.37. Cori just missed the standard there (in her defense, this was her first race off the plane!), but of course as we all know now, she killed the standard in Heusden to punch her ticket to Moscow!

I’m not sure if it was because I was pacing and had the ‘option’ to drop out at any moment, but I felt pretty dang awesome in that 1500m, and was pumped about my future in that event.

My ‘future’ in that event came the following Wednesday, in Liege, Belgium.

In hindsight, this was one of those races that I probably should have forgone. Originally, we were expecting a least a couple faster professionals to be in the field, but when we checked in, I was definitely in the minority for my age and fitness level. I thought maybe all I needed was a track and a clock, and I could shave a little more time off my race, but as it turns out this wasn’t the case. I still ran a respectable 4:11 in a solo effort, which was my second fastest time ever, but felt a little bit bad about stealing the show from some of the younger local competitors in the field!

I chalked that one up as experience and a solid workout, and set my eyes towards the next thing: an 800m in Kortijk, Belgium on Sunday the 14th.

Race day in Kortijk was calm, warm, just a tad bit humid, but nearly ideal for racing. Again, some of the ‘bigger dogs’ in the field ended up getting into other races, so I was the only person in the field that was at least willing to admit I was shooting for sub-2. The nice thing about this situation was I got to tell the rabbit exactly what I wanted, and she executed perfectly. We went through 200m in 28ish, 400m in 58ish, and we were still sub 1:15 at 500m when she stepped off the track. At that point, I knew the stage was set, I felt pretty good, and started that long solo drive with 300m to go. I was sub 1:30 through 600m (a very good indicator for success in an 800m), and had decent turnover around the curve. With maybe 80m to go, I could see the clock ticking from 1:51 on up.. I tried not to focus on the clock, pretended like there was someone right in front of me that I needed to beat, and made my best effort to prevent my form from deteriorating.

As I crossed the line, I saw the minutes tick from 1 to 2. My time was 2:00.12. A new PR, a 4th win in Europe, and one minuscule step closer to the dream...

Two days later I found myself in Lignano, Italy, for my final race of this trip, and by far the best field of 800m women to race. I was feeling just a little bit ragged from racing so much and traveling a lot to get to Italy the day before, but a lot of times this year I had come to the track thinking I felt tired, and then ran some awesome workouts, so I expected things to happen like that for just one more race.

Given the history of Lignano women’s 800m races, I was all but certain if I ran for the win, I would have the bigger prize, a 1:5anything personal record in the half mile. I went out there, and competed well with the group. I had a minor misstep where I had to dodge a runner in front of me that was tripping up a bit at about 300m into the race, but we still were through the quarter in a great 57high-58low pace. I thought about maintaining speed and relaxation on the backstretch like my coach always tells me to do in practice, and when the race really started to pick up (largely led by Lea Wallace who made an awesome surge just before 600m), I went with it. Coming down the homestretch, I looked up and saw the clock was well below 2 minutes, and then looked away so as not to get distracted. I fought to be the first to cross the finishline, and turned around to look at the clock...


I didn’t know whether to laugh or drop a string of F bomb’s. I still felt good when I finished, too good of course, and wanted the race to start over again so I could give it even more right then and there. I didn’t want to be the jerk that is angry with a 5th win in a very competitive field with a new lifetime PR, but that wasn’t what I wanted out of that race! What I wanted was 5 hundredths of a second away. A blink of an eye. You can’t even start and stop you watch fast enough to get .05 to come up on your stopwatch. (Trust me, I’ve tried.)

That night, I realized I needed to have some perspective. I should be overjoyed that I am legitimately pissed off when I run 2:00.04. Just looking back at how far I’ve come, to be at a place where I am THAT CERTAIN I can break 2 minutes that I can beat myself up over a new personal best is phenomenal. Beyond that even, I am healthy, I got to travel to some pretty incredible places and spend time with some pretty incredible people. That is a blessing. It’s also an incredible blessing to have the support that I have back home while I go on all these adventures.

Since my times were still coming down, I wish I had had one more race lined up before I came back to the states, but the next day I took my flight home. I’ve been looking into getting a couple more track racing opportunities after the World Championships in Moscow, but have not gotten confirmation from any meet directors yet. Granted, I only asked to get in the really big meets, but I am at a point where I know I need to compete with the best in order to bring out my best- and I truly believe I deserve it.

The irony in this sport lies in the order of operations. It seems that in order to get in a really big meet like a Diamond League, you need to have already placed in a Diamond League, and how do you place in one until someone gives you the opportunity to race one? A similar pattern exists for a lot of funding and resources allotted through the USATF. The best athletes, the ones who have already proven themselves by making Olympic/World Teams, get the most resources such as performance workshops, health insurance, medical support, and all kinds of funding at their disposal. While I do understand and agree with rewarding those who have been successful in representing the US, I would argue that those athletes are probably already well taken care of by their sponsors, and the funding they receive may just be money in their pocket rather than that essential extra bit of money that might allow another athlete to travel to a big racing opportunity, or work one less job and focus more on their training.

I don’t want to sound petty or ungrateful, and I would never condemn the athletes that are receiving more help than me because they have earned it and certainly deserve compensation and continued support to keep them at the level they have achieved.

All I am trying to get at is how incredibly difficult it can be to prove yourself without someone believing and investing in you prior to your success. I can only imagine the incredible DEPTH in athletics that we could have in this country if the ‘extra’ resources were allocated to the “up and comings” rather than the “been there-done that” athletes. It’s a dream I have that our organizing body will evolve over time to be investors in potential, not only just for resources but also for competitive opportunities.

It may be old news now, but it was quite a big deal when the Men’s 5K at the USA Championship in Des Moines this summer had just 9 athletes in it, and there were people there ready and willing to race that were denied the opportunity to compete. Those athletes that weren’t allowed in may or may not have made any difference in the final outcome of the race, but getting that experience to race at the national level could have made a huge difference for their own development as an athlete, and maybe change the outcome of future events.

Again, I can see it both ways- of course you need to have established rules or this sport would be chaos. Obviously you can’t just go adding anyone to national championship fields without some guidelines for how this should look. But if it were me making the call, I would have saw an opportunity for change that clearly needs to be made, allowed the athletes that were present to compete, and used that situation as a springboard to iron out all the details of new legislation in these matters moving forward. Just like the old adage used by many a salesperson, “The customer is always right”, or our country’s legal system, “Innocent until proven guilty”- I feel that our sport should first and foremost be in the business of allowing opportunities and supporting the ATHLETES, not the rule book.

This blog is running way off course, but the reason I am discussing some of these things is so I can bring it all back to what I mentioned earlier- what it will mean for me to break 2:00 in the 800. It’s like a two-sided mirror in many ways-

In my mind, I’ve told myself that I will be content in my retirement from running if I break 2:00, but at the same time, breaking 2:00 would open the door to so many new opportunities. When you post a time like that even just once, it seems like you are a more marketable athlete who gets into bigger competitions which ultimately means running as fast, or faster, again! I would see breaking 2 as the closing of one door (like, I could quit anytime and be happy), and the opening of so many new doors (like, I’m only getting started!)

Breaking 2 has been a goal of mine for a very long time now (a good 6 years at least), so to finally achieve it will be incredibly gratifying. In a way it will ‘prove’ that I was never crazy for thinking I could do it, that this journey has been ‘worth’ it, and be a lasting reminder that hard work, faith, and dedication really do pay off. Simultaneously, it will mean nothing, because I know I’m not crazy for setting my sights on this goal, this journey has been worth it every step of the way, and I’m not going to start believing that hard work, faith, and dedication is worthless if I don’t break 2.

If I’ve run 2:00.04 or 1:59.96, is it really going to change who I am? Am I any more or less of a ‘worthy’ human being either way? Will I drastically change the way I live my life, see myself, or treat others? No, no, and no.

A couple times this season, I have tried to visualize what I’ll do, the first time I turn around and look at the clock and see that I’ve finally done it. Will I throw up my arms in jubilation? Will I fall to my knees with gratitude? I guess I won’t know the details, but ultimately, I simply see a huge, genuine smile on my face, and a wonderful sense of accomplishment as I look back on all the attempts that have led me to that place.

So while I think I’ve prepared myself enough to know that breaking 2 isn’t the be-all, end-all, I am still chasing just as intently, to smile that smile, and feel that way for the simple and pure joy of knowing I traveled through the space of a half mile faster than I ever have before. That’s pretty dang cool all in itself isn’t it?

Sunday, July 14, 2013

USA's Recap

As usual, I’m long overdue to knock out a blog update!

So first order of business, let’s talk about USA’s:


I don’t know what it is, but the week leading up to any Outdoor US Championship is always a roller coaster for me. I think it must be that I’m on the edge, knowing I put a year’s worth of time, energy, and hard work into something that will ultimately come and go in a few shorts days’ time, and when it’s over, that’s it. Done. Finito.

This is a concept that is hard to grasp for me especially, because I believe I have been one of the most consistent runners in the ‘middle-to-upper’ echelon of US Middle Distance running, but have failed to put it all together when it ‘really counts’ just yet.

This year was no exception, I found myself blowing off steam at my husband (sorry Ben!) one day, over some strawberries he left in the sink, and crying over just about anything.

In the past, leading into the US Championships or the Trials, I’ve had a slight sense of impending doom, because I felt I wasn’t quite ready yet. Maybe I didn’t run a standard that I wanted to hit before coming in, or maybe I’m thinking back to the days that I could have worked harder, but didn’t. It’s scary to toe the line when you know you aren’t 100% ready, because usually in this country, it takes your 100%, plus a little extra somethin-somethin, to get you on a World Champs team.

This year I thankfully felt ready. It was a whole different kind of pressure and excitement leading into USA’s, because I believed I had a legitimate shot at making the team. I was in the best shape I’ve ever been in, hands down. Even without having run the A-standard yet, I felt confident I could run it given some good competition. I still was riding that range of emotions, but this year the underlying factor behind it was “what if I DO?” rather than “what if I don’t?” Either way, it’s always a question mark, especially when there are 3 rounds of the women’s 800m where anything could happen.

“Anything” did happen in the 2010 US Outdoor Championships the last time it was held at Drake University. I got tripped from behind with 200m to go in the prelim round. Officials called it ‘incidental’ and refused to reinstate me into the semi-final race despite the fact that I was leading the field when I got clipped down. Coming back to Drake for USA’s this year was a little bit of a grudge match for me, though I tried to think of it more as a redemption round instead.

Here's a couple throwback photo's from my 'incidental' fall-


The trip down to Des Moines was great. I got to drive down with my teammates and wonderful friends, Jamie Cheever (steeplechase stud), and Meghan Peyton (10K extraordinaire). ADDED BONUS, I got to bring my dog, Ricky, along for the adventure!

Here's Ricky living it up on the car ride down, and lounging at our hotel:

I think I honestly had the most nerves going into the first round of the 800m, not because I wasn’t confident, but you have the most to lose, so to speak, if something goes wrong there. I got out mid-pack, made a move to get into a better ‘striking position’ on the home stretch before 400m, and then worked the last lap, battling to the line and finishing 4th, by a heartbeat. Technically top 3 make it automatically, but I tied for the first fastest qualifier by time, and lived to see another day in Des Moines!

Photos from Prelims:

If prelims are where you have the most to lose, semi-finals are where you have the most to gain in my opinion. Do well in the semi-final, and you punch your ticket to the final, and thus have an opportunity to make the team. Once you MAKE the final, anything can happen, and you have the right to put it all out on the track and walk off content no matter what.

Before the semi-final, my prayer was simply for God to invest in me. He certainly has invested a lot in me already, I’m fully aware, but I asked for Him to fill me with His strength, his courage, and freedom, so that I might be able to act as a mirror, reflecting His good work through my performance, and glorifying His name. And as with every gift He provides, I prayed that He would give me the courage and the motivation to offer it all up to Him, rather than absorbing all the credit as my own.

The semi-finals presented a different set of challenges, because there were no time qualifiers. To make it to the final, you must be top 4, period. After the first round, the take-away I got was that I didn’t like having to do extra work to get around people, so I asked my coach, “would it be ok with you if I got out harder?” He replied, “as long as you’re ok with the possibility that you will be leading, yes.” He turned out to be exactly right, I got out to a better start, and found myself confidently running in the lead position, and kept it, for nearly all the race. I held everyone off except Brenda Martinez (total stud) to the line, and just to show how close these qualifying rounds are, I was 2nd in 2:00.51, Geena Gall was 3rd in 2:00.53, and Laura Roesler was 4th in 2:00.54. This was one of the best races of my life, and I’m so thankful that God showed up in such a big way for me.

After semi’s, there was a day of rest, and then comes the final. The cool/frustrating thing about a final, is that what you did to get there doesn’t matter. I was ranked 3rd overall coming out of the semi’s, but it would take a top three finish to make the team. Given my strategy of running from the front and holding off competitors worked so well in semi’s, this was the plan going in to finals. I executed, as planned, well through 500m, but then unfortunately didn’t feel as good as I did the last time around, and was unable to drive home the last 300m like I would need. Brenda Martinez started to make her move there, and actually said “Come on Heather, let’s go!” IN THE RACE (amazing!), and I tried so hard to move with her, but ended up finishing 6th, running 2:00.68. I’d like to think if I had another opportunity to run that exact same race, maybe with a slightly different strategy, I would have made the team...but at least I know I made myself open to possibilities and vulnerabilities, and the outcome was a mix of them both.


It’s always disappointing to miss making the time by a little over a second, but coming away from this meet, I am thankful. This year was by far my best performance at an outdoor championship, all around. Especially running 2:00.51 and 2:00.68 two days apart (knowing I’ve only broken through 2:01 once in my life before for my PR of 2:00.41), is a signal to me that I am ready to dip under 2:00, a conquest I have been on for quite some time now. I am grateful because I did receive SO much support from friends, family, and fans, and feel I made my presence known, displaying the potential I’ve always believed I had.

I walked away happy, healthy, humbled, and hungry for more, and that is a blessing.


Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Get Comfortable- Racing Update Of Like, The Whole Season So Far...

A little over a month ago I wrote an optimistic update on the status of my injury, and preparations for my first race of the 2013 outdoor racing season. It seems like I’ve been racing through life (both literally and figuratively) since then.

Lucky for those of you who might like to read what I have to say, I have a rare break from the madness and feel it’s a good time to catch you up on the state of my running/existence.

Ok, so first was the BAA Road Mile, held in Boston on Sunday morning, April 14th. As all openers go, I wasn’t really sure what to expect in terms of my fitness level, not to mention the fact that the race course was basically 3 loops around one square block in the streets of Boston, circling around the big finish line archway for the Boston Marathon (to take place the following day). It was a bit of a cold and windy morning, just sprinkling a little bit when the gun went off. I think due to the conditions and the course, the race didn’t go out particularly fast. I positioned myself mid-pack, reminding myself to stay as relaxed as possible until the race really takes off. This strategy had worked really well for me in straight road miles last year, but I found myself caught in an unfortunate position, making tight 90 degree turns and trying to catch people with 200m to go, rather than matching strides with the leader. I made my best effort to chase, finishing 3rd behind Brenda Martinez and Gabriele Anderson (both are world-class 1500m runners), so while I wasn’t happy with my place, it was a good basis to start from, and I was still quite thankful just to be healthy and racing once again!!)

>>>Link to finish line race video:

>>Link to post-race interview:

Little did I know how thankful I should have been that day. After the race, I caught an early evening flight home to Minneapolis, before the tragedy at the Boston Marathon occurred the following day.

I feel like whenever catastrophic events such as this happen, you remember exactly where you were and what you were doing at the moment you learned that the world isn’t as safe as you once thought it was.

I was packing up a snack in my kitchen before driving down to Apple Valley High School to coach. I got a text from my husband saying he just heard there were explosions near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, and I should turn on the news. My initial thought was simply, ‘Holy crap, I was just there!’ Before I got a chance to tune in to any coverage, my internal optimist made some assumptions, all of which, unfortunately, were wrong.

I figured these explosions were newsworthy simply due to the coincidence of them happening during the Boston Marathon, but there was surely no way that someone had intentionally detonated explosives at the Boston Marathon. I also assumed that these explosions couldn’t have possibly been very large, or damaging to people or property.

It was with that mentality that I hopped into my car and turned on the news radio station for my drive down to practice. I was completely stunned at what I heard. The radio anchors were on the phone with someone in Boston, describing the exact location of where the explosions occurred. It was surreal to hear them talking about places I could easily picture in my mind, having been there just 24 hours earlier. I had literally run circles around the block where these explosions occurred, and I even stayed at the Lennox Hotel, near the site of the second explosion, on more than one occasion for races in Boston.

Words like ‘carnage’, and phrases like ‘death count’, and ‘possible terrorist attack’ were already being used. People still weren’t sure about the possibility of further explosions, or what might detonate them. And then, they played the recording.

Somehow not seeing, but just hearing the joyful cheers of the crowd, abruptly interrupted by the booms that shook my car stereo speakers, then screams, and the obvious confusion and chaos that ensued is still the most impacting memory of this event to me. Even after I saw the video that night, where runners were tossed into the air like rag dolls on the street, it is still that sound recording that first welled tears in my eyes.

After the fact, I experienced a wide range of emotions, as I’m sure everyone did. First, I was just in shock that someone would choose a marathon as the setting for this attack. I was angry, and couldn’t help but feel as if this were a personal attack on a community that I so integrally identify with. I was worried about my next big running events and possible copycats. Felt stupid for being paranoid, but upset over some people taking away the simple joy and innocence that I associate with running.

But then through it all, the lasting emotion I have is one of pride. The running community did not disappoint in our efforts to unite, and help those who were affected by this incident. I am so thankful and proud to be associated with such a positive, committed, and kind group of individuals. Thank you for continually reminding me how incredible you all are.


Next on the schedule was a “week’s vacation down South”, as I was jokingly referring to a racing double in Des Moines- the US Championships Road Mile on Tuesday April 23rd, and a 1500m on the track at the Drake Relays on Friday the 26th. Turned out that the phrase ‘down South’ was a big joke indeed. On race day for the Road Mile, it was dreary- hovering around 40 degrees and windy. When the gun finally went off (it misfired a couple times and extended the time we had to stand freezing in our little race uniforms), I found myself shooting straight to the front. I wasn’t necessarily planning on leading, but I ended up staying in front and sharing the lead for much of the race. When it came down to about 500m to go, the race picked up and I went with it. As we neared the finish-line, I was battling back and forth with my Asics teammate, Sara Hall. I thought she had it, then I had it, then she had it, then a streak on my left! Kate Grace took the win at the bitter end, Sara second, and I third. (4:43.02, 4:43.61, 4:43.69 were our super close times, respectively!) I was disappointed not to defend the US Road Mile Championship title, but I was also pretty pumped to have taken 3rd in a field that was much better than last year’s.

>>>Here’s the link to race video, just fast forward to 1:55 in if you don’t feel like listening to the pre-race commentary:

The Drake Relays are a special event for a lot of reasons, but for an Asics athlete, it’s our one big sponsored event of the year where we’re all encouraged to come out and race. So long as I was spending a couple extra days in Des Moines between the Road Mile and the Relays’ 1500m, I got to get involved with an Asics photo shoot on Wednesday, and then did a product video shoot on Thursday (I’ll be sure to share it once it comes up on the website!) It was a lot of fun to feel like a valued member of the team, though in hindsight I think maybe I went a little too gung-ho on the media stuff on my two recovery days before I hit the track on Friday.

From the very beginning, I felt a little out of control, and flat. It was pretty unfortunate I had a rough day out there because it was an incredible field of athletes to race and a great opportunity. I really can’t pinpoint what went wrong for sure because I thought I was primed and ready to run a big PR, but as I’ve been told, sometimes it’s best to just let a bad day be what it is, forget about it and move on to the next thing.


The next thing was Re:Run San Diego, on May 5th. This was a pretty cool new event that focuses on making track more accessible to fans, and supporting athletes who choose to run big races in the US. It took place at Balboa Stadium, a stadium with a rich history in track and field. I ran the mile on the track that day, something I haven’t done on the outdoor track in a long time (if ever?!), and ran a decent race, but certainly not a great one. I felt I just didn’t have the gusto to really fight and race out there on the second half for some reason, but still was feeling very confident in the workouts I had been doing at home, and excited for the direction my season was to be headed. I placed 7th in a pretty stacked field of milers, running 4:34.88, which is a 2+ second PR from the indoor mile.

>>Link to race video:

>>Link to post-race interview:


And onward the season continued! Just four days later (May 9th), I was back at home in Minneapolis, prepared to run the TC-1 Mile.

Besides running a race in San Deigo so near to the date of the TC 1-mile, the more memorable and exciting piece of news that week was that I became an auntie the day before the race!! My sister delivered her healthy baby boy, Liam, on the morning of May 8th! Here’s a couple adorable pictures:

Coming into this race as the local returning champ, I was working hard to mentally interpret the pressure as ‘positive expectations’, rather than a target on my back. I was also working on processing the fact that it was cold, windy, and dreary on the evening of the race (something I was far too familiar with this “spring” in Minnesota!).

Funny (only now that it’s over and everything turned out all right) story from this race:

Given the cold temperatures, I decided to overdo it and wear a pair of super-warm running tights just so I didn’t have to think about being cold until I took them off just before the race. Well, what I hadn’t planned for was how TIGHT my tights were around the ankles! When the starter gave the command to take off our warmups, I leisurely took off my jacket, and began to strip off my tights when I realized they were getting stuck trying to fit over my racing flats. In a state of trying-not-to-freak-out-but-slightly-panicking, I tugged and tugged, trying to simply rip through the tight elastic bands on the ankles, but they wouldn’t budge. Finally, the starter being counting down from a minute until the start of the race and I decided the only way out was to take off my shoes.

I sat down on the ground about 20 feet back from the starting line, ripped off my flats with the laces still tied, FINALLY pulled off my tights, and tried to stomp back into my shoes. Of course, luck would have it that I laced my flats up so tight that I couldn’t fit my feet back in my shoes without untying them, so I did that (with the help of my teammate Jamie Cheever, who untied the other shoe for me!), and was literally retying and tucking a wayward lace into the side of my shoe on the starting line as they got down to 5 seconds before race time.

I’m sure you’re thinking, why didn’t they just wait for you? Well, I’m sure they would have liked to, but the race starts are specifically chosen to fit in with the light rail tracks that intersect the course about a quarter mile into the race, so they had to start at the ‘official’ start time despite my co-competitors yelling, “HEATHER KAMPF IS NOT ON THE LINE!” (Thanks for trying though, guys!) So, needless to say I burned a fair amount of adrenaline simply getting to the line, but I’m proud of myself for keeping a cool head and doing what I needed to do in order to start the race on time.

This race ended up having a lot of similarities to my race in Des Moines for the US Championships in the road mile earlier in the year. First, as the horn sounded for the start, I got out pretty quickly to the front lines. Then, as the end was nearing, I was battling neck and neck with one athlete (this time Nicole Sifuentes). Then, another athlete came barreling in with a strong kick (Sarah Brown) for the win in 4:33.3, Nicole took 2nd in 4:33.3, and I rounded out that less than one second of time in third at 4:34.1. Last parallel I can make to the US Champs Road Mile, I was upset, but encouraged to place 3rd in a field that was much better than the people I had beat a year prior, and I ran quite a bit faster than what it took to win the whole thing a year ago.

Though it all, I absolutely LOVE being a local at this race, and can’t thank everyone enough who was out there cheering, because I was getting support every step of the race down that street.

>>Link to finish line footage:

Next up on the racing schedule was the Occidental High Performance meet, back in California (LA), on May 17th. This was to be my first 800m race of the year, and actually my first since the 800m final of the Olympic Trials last year!

The nice thing about going to Oxy (as we call it), is you can pretty much guarantee the weather will be perfect, and you’ll have good competition. It’s a pretty low-key atmosphere, with no prize money on the line- people just want to run fast and get qualifiers taken care of.

I went into this race ready to tack on to the pack and just see what I can do, pretty confident in my fitness, but feeling like I could hardly remember what the ‘hurt’ of an 800m feels like! The race got out fast (as it should when it’s only 800m long instead of mile, I realized), and I was toward the back of the pack 250m in. On the home stretch I felt I made a smart move on the outside to get into better position at the bell. I moved with the group on the top of the curve, but lost a little bit of contact with the leaders on the back stretch (probably where a little bit of fear or doubt crept into my head about whether I was going to be able to finish well if I kept pushing it). The good news is, I finally felt like I had a kick for the first time this season in that race, and finished pretty 6th in a time of 2:01.14.

That time is my fastest opener in the 800m ever, it is faster than any time I ran all last year in the 800m, and it felt pretty awesome. What I took out of Oxy: confidence and excitement for more 800 races!! :)

>>>Race Video:


We’re coming up on nearly current events now!!

Last week, I flew out to St Louis to run the Speed Factory Athletics Women’s 800m at the Festival of Miles on Thursday night, the 30th of May. I came in feeling confident after having run such a good time at Oxy, and excited to return to a meet that I had won last year. The fans are always great at this meet, as it starts out as a high school meet, and then culminates with the professional women’s 800m, a crazy fast heat of the boys high school mile, and then the professional men’s mile.

This race had an interesting start, the rabbits got out super fast through the 200m, so the field of actual racers stayed off a little bit and did our own thing. We ended up coming through the 400m slower than I would have liked, right about a 60, so the race was still quite tight at this point. I battled it out with two athletes that second lap, and it all came down to needing to pass them both with 100m to go for the win. I put it all out there, and I got it! :) My winning time of 2:01.96, surpassed the meet record I ran there a year earlier, and it won the “Battle of the Sexes Bonus” between the women’s 800m and the men’s mile, which is an extra fun thing to come home with! Though I was hoping to run closer to 2:00 or below, I was still excited about the come from behind win, and finishing close to my time at Oxy in a field where I wasn’t just carried along by a talented pack of athletes.

>>Race video link:

Last but not least, I hopped on a plane from St Louis straight to Nashville Tennessee, where I raced in the Music City Distance Carnival’s 800m, and paced the 1500m.

In the 800m, rabbits fell through, so I was out there running solo for 75% of the race, but was content with a win in 2:02.51. About an hour and a half later, I jumped in to pace the women’s 1500m, and probably should have just stayed in the race because I paced them all the way up to 350m to go! The winner, Nicole Bush, ended up running 4:13, which is just a second slower than my personal best, and I’d like to think, given how I felt (pretty great actually!), that I may have PR-ed if I didn’t stupidly step to the side and start cheering on the race instead of finishing what I started. (Still kicking myself over that one, if you can’t tell!) I think I was in a mindset of helping others so much, and felt like I was running so smoothly, that I didn’t even consider that this might actually turn out to be a great race for me. It certainly is encouraging to have felt so good though, and that’s the primary take-away message I’m keeping at least!

>>Video of the 800m race:

>>Post Race interview:

>>Video of the 1500m pacing:

So, there you have it! My season so far in an unreasonably long blog-shaped nutshell!

I PROMISE PROMISE PROMISE to update sooner on coming events, which at this point, will be USA Outdoor Championships, back down in Des Moines Iowa, June 19th-23rd.

Until then, thanks for sticking with me, I’m out!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Injury=History, Plus How Running Can Feel Like a Blind Taste-Test...just go with me on this one...

The last blog I posted was all about a knee injury that was slowing me down. The first thing I'm happy to report today is I am now referring to that injury in the past tense! Aka, it's history!! All-in-all, it took 3 weeks of no workouts before I was cleared to get back into things, and since then, I've had four weeks of pain-free training to try to make up for lost time- both physically, and mentally.

For any runner, at any time of year, injuries can be quite frustrating. For a professional, facing an injury so close to the beginning of a new season is especially intimidating. During those three weeks of unwanted down-time, I did my best to remain calm, focus on the things I could control, and keep my spirits up.

I'm sure my fears were similar to many other runners in my situation, so I'm not ashamed to share what I was worried about during this lapse. I feel compelled to expound on this because it seems to me that a lot of professional runners are so secretive about their injuries, as if talking openly about what is going on will make them weaker than they already are feeling.

Here's my quick list of things I was most afraid of losing, and/or gaining...

Losing fitness- I have always visualized each workout I do as a building block that accumulates into a solid pyramid of fitness. When I was missing workouts, I was picturing blocks being pulled out, and there was no way of knowing how many can be missing before the whole foundation cracks. Even though people always say that you can't lose fitness that quickly, the fact that I wasn't continually gaining fitness felt equivalent to losing it.

Gaining weight- I've always found it unrealistic to cut out all junk food from my diet. I often joke that I run so I CAN eat dessert, and feel I earned it. However, when I was limited to working out maybe only half as hard as I usually do because of my injury, I found myself eating about the same as I always do. In my mind, I just KNEW my energy expenditure vs. energy intake was not balanced, and began seeing myself a little differently in the mirror. For me, as an athlete, the fear of gaining weight is not so much of a personal vanity issue (though that is certainly part of it, I won't lie)- even more important, is the anxiety that comes from watching my body evolve into something that looks and feels less swift, efficient, and powerful. Since I invest a good part of my identity in being a runner, and I house that identity in my runner's body, it felt a little like losing part of myself to perceive myself as looking less like an 'athlete'.

Losing opportunities- In my entire running career, I have never had to pull out of a race due to injury. I know I am VERY blessed to say this, trust me. Having never done it, however, makes it seem that much worse. To me, pulling out of a race would mean admitting defeat, and walking away (or more accurately, never even approaching) an opportunity. I would hate to watch results come up for my first race (which, at the time, was going to be the US Championships in the Road Mile), and know that I wasn't even there to attempt to defend that title.

Losing money- In this sport, I'll be honest. I make a little bit for representing Team USA Minnesota and Asics (something I am oh-so-grateful for!!), but much more of my earning opportunities come from racing. If I am unable to race, I am unable to earn. I am primarily driven by non-monetary dreams in running, but it is also a reality that I want to be a responsible, income-earning member of society, so the prospect of not racing is daunting. Especially if I were to be injured long enough to make my sponsors drop me.

Losing respect/being forgotten- As I was going through the ups and downs of recovery, I had to at least consider the possibility that this injury would be long-term. I daydreamed about what it would be like if I just had to walk away from professional running, as many athletes have done due to injury at some point or another. I thought about how I have said before, "Whatever happened to her?" in reference to athletes who are curbed by injury. I cringed at the idea that someone someday could say that about me. I'd hate for people to assume I 'gave up', or wasn't tough enough to run through pain, and lose respect of the people who follow my career and have supported me on this journey.

I realized that there is a cruel reality in professional running- people rarely retire on a high note. No one walks away from an Olympic Gold and says 'That's good enough for me!" We keep running. We run, pursuing our dreams until we either get hurt, get old, or admit that we no longer believe we can achieve what we once thought we could. (Sorry to be a downer on this, but I think it's an important truth to recognize, so when my day comes to hang up the spikes, I will have processed these thoughts, and be prepared to reflect positively on my accomplishments and experiences. At this point in my career, I am grateful to say that I think I could accept that.)

Thankfully, this is not the end for me. My knee healed up well, and workouts post-injury seemed to come back almost exactly where I left off! I was thinking that maybe that disruption in training was God's way of giving me the rest He thought I needed, in order to prepare for the good things that are to come this season. Each workout I did was giving me more confidence, helping me to loosen my grip on the fears and uncertainties I felt while I was dealing with the injury. With this positive momentum in play, I decided to jump into a race even earlier than my originally planned 'opener'.

That race is the BAA Road Mile, to take place this coming Sunday (the 14th) morning, in Boston.

At this time of year, I can't help but read into everything I do in training as an 'indicator' for what is to come...

Have you ever accidentally taken a sip out of a glass, expecting one thing, and then experiencing something totally different? (Say, you thought you poured yourself water, but it is actually milk in the glass?) It's oddly shocking, and sometimes it takes a few seconds to even realize what just happened. That's pretty much how I'd describe my final preparations for this upcoming race.

Last Thursday, I set out to run a 1200m time trial, so I'd at least have one 'race-like' experience under my belt before I arrive in Boston. I had a time I intended to run for it, and I thought it was optimistic, but realistic enough. However, after 400m into it, I was already 2 seconds off. I fell off the pace by 4 seconds on the second lap, and then managed to scrap back up to 2 seconds slow on the final quarter. Needless to say, I left the track feeling a little bit like I had taken a sip of pond water, when I was expecting something much more refreshing. Over the weekend, my analytical brain went into overdrive, convincing myself that maybe I just thought I was in shape, when in fact, I am soo not ready to race.

Finally Monday rolled around, and it was time to work out again. I figured I'd have just a lighter workout on the schedule in prep for the race, but my coach surprised me when he sent me a workout that sounded about as challenging, if not even harder, than the time trial I had attempted on Thursday. He even asked via text, "Do you think this is doable?" (Whenever Dennis asks that, there's a solid chance it might not be doable.) Out of frustration from the week before, and desperation to prove my previous 'indicator' workout wrong, I said I'd try it. I even recruited my training partner from last year, Lance, to run it with me.

I am SOO happy I did, because I totally ended up kicking that workout's ass (excuse my language, young readers!). I ran faster than Dennis had prescribed, on every leg of the workout- which included an 800m repeat that was 9 seconds faster than what I ran through the first 800 in the time trial on Thursday. This time, I came to the track metaphorically expecting more pond water, and got a sweet, thirst-quenching taste of my favorite sports drink instead.

Afterwards, I was talking with Lance about how weird it is to have one day of running go so poorly and another go so well. He agreed, but every-the-optimist, reminded me that no matter how well the workout goes, I am still gaining fitness from the effort I put it. This point of wisdom really drove home the metaphor I was working with: whether it's a sip of something I like or not, I am still hydrating myself and doing something good for my body, and it doesn't have to mean I will always be drinking pond water if I taste it every once in awhile.

As I pack to leave for this first race of the 2013 outdoor season, I am bearing this lesson in mind, knowing the race could go in any degree of two possible directions, but either way, it is hydrating- priming me for what is to come. And what use is there to expect something bland or tasteless? Better to expect the finest wine for my future in racing. Cheers!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Commit or Quit vs. Quit to Commit

There's a phrase I use quite often when I'm running: "Commit or Quit".

The context is usually when I'm deciding whether to cross the street when cars are coming or not. Either you go, and do it fast, or stop, to avoid certain peril. A lot of times I'll be running in a group, so half of us might 'commit', while the other half 'quit' and dutifully wait for the cross-walk light to come on, but in the end we're all just taking care of ourselves.

I think this phrase is easily applicable to a lot of other circumstances in running as well. Like, in a race, you need to give 100%, otherwise you shouldn't even toe the line (in my opinion). I disappointed myself by not following that mantra earlier this year at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix. The race went out slow, and rather than taking charge, and making it a worthwhile trip to Boston, I ran a slow time in a slow race that had a blanket finish of many runners within a second of each other, with no one happy about it.

On the opposite side of that token, I've adopted another phrase when it comes to my running: "Quit TO Commit".

I've realized that sometimes less is more, and actively showing my commitment to running might mean NOT doing something.

Exhibit A: This past December, my job as a personal care assistant was becoming quite stressful. My client was severely understaffed, and as her lead PCA, I thought it was my job to pick up the slack. I'd receive a call from either my client, or the office at the company I worked for, to hear that my client has been all alone with no one to even take her to the bathroom for hours. As a compassionate human being, I would drop everything to help her whenever I could- oftentimes sacrificing time that I should be working out, to help her out. As this problem continued, I began to feel as if I were more concerned about her life than my own, was constantly wondering when I'd get another call, and just felt unhappy in general about the situation (which is unlike my usual demeanor). After a long time of trying to "commit", sticking it out because I genuinely like and care about my client, I realized that I had to abandon this sinking ship to save myself. If I intend to make running my Career, then it needs to be my primary focus, especially when I've only got a limited amount of time to do it. (As a side-note, my client is doing well, is staffed for more properly, and I get to see her every now and again when I fill in for someone!) :)

Exhibit B: Last Sunday night, I got an email from my coach describing the workout plan for the week, this is what it said:

Mon: a.m. 1 mile wu, 4 mile LT p.m. 4x150, 3x300, 1x400
Tue: 2 easy runs
Wed: a.m. 1 mile wu, 4 mile LT p.m. 3xmile with 2:00 rec.
Thu: 2 easy runs
Fri: a.m. 1 mile wu, 4 mile LT p.m. 8x400 with 1:00 rec.
Sat: 2 mile wu, 10 miles at sub LT
Sun: light jog or off

Citius, Citius, Citius

Whether you know his lingo or not, that's three treadmill workouts, three track workouts, a long run, and two runs on every 'recovery day'. In addition, I was meant to keep up my supplemental weight lifting and plyo's in there too. Maybe this is what other professional athletes do every week, I don't know, but for me, when I saw this, I was stunned. I don't generally do that many two-a-day workouts or runs EVER, so having 5 in a row was a shock. I joked with a friend that I don't know how I am ever going to get through this week, but I'll let you know how I feel on Saturday after my long run.

That should have been my first clue.

I know my coach wanted to get a big week of workouts in because I am not racing again until April, but I should have talked to him about my trepidation to ramp it up this much so fast. Instead, I stupidly posted my week of workouts to the world as a way to 'Commit' to it. I figured if it's out there in the world, I will have to do it. I looked at it as a challenge, and I was getting excited about how all my hard work out pay off. I approached each run individually, checking them off in my training diary, and things were going well!

Or were they?

I had been having a little bit of knee pain even leading up to this monster week, but it had been at such a low pain level, I figured it'd be gone soon and I wouldn't worry about it. As I went from one workout to the next, to the next day of more running, etc, the knee was getting worse. After my morning run on Wednesday, I could barely bend my knee high enough to put on a pair of pants, but then it was getting looser as the day went on. I went to do my track workout that afternoon, and it seemed more sore during the warm up (before it only hurt after I run). I didn't say anything (again!), and completed the workout, even though my knee would get super tight during the rest, hurt for the first full lap of the next mile repeat, and then tighten up again afterwards.

Finally, I decided it was at least worth mentioning to coach. After the workout, I described the pain I had been experiencing, and Dennis said we should back off and just run easy for a couple days to get it settled down. I did that, and things seemed to be improving. Saturday, I decided I'd try my 13 mile long run- the run went decently well, and my knee didn't hurt quite as much afterwards. I thought I was out of the woods.

Unfortunately, come Sunday, and especially yesterday's run, the pattern changed. My knees became incredibly tight and hard to bend from the very first step of the run. I made it 11 minutes yesterday and decided to walk home it hurt so bad. It is especially frustrating how this injury changed symptoms, now it hurt while running instead of afterwards. It was time to re-evaluate, see a doc, and rest.

AKA- Quit, to commit.

So that's where I'm at now, I think we've nailed down a possible diagnosis (nothing career ending, as far as we can tell!), but I'm just going to have to commit to allowing my body to heal, and in the meantime, NOT run. Instead, I'm heading over to swim for cross training/my sanity, and we're seeing if the RICE method plus a magic taping job makes me better soon! Hoping to be back "getting after it" in running again soon, but as always, I'll be a little bit wiser due to this bump in the road.

I know a lot of people, runners especially, are hard to talk down from training even when they're in pain, but I'm hoping this story might save someone from making a similar mistake!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

A Guest Post- Incorporating Exercise into Traditional Cancer Treatment

I was recently contacted out of the blue by a person named Melanie Bowen, who I have come to learn is an advocate and blogger for the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance Blog. She thought that my followers might benefit from an article she recently wrote about the benefits of fitness and eating healthy during and after a diagnosis of any kind of cancer.

As I am in total agreement with the idea that exercise can be used as a means to battle SO many diseases, illnesses, depression, post-traumatic stress, etc., not to mention the preventative power of exercise, I agreed to post her article in my blog!

It seems as if more and more people are affected by cancer every day. When I heard from Melanie, I thought immediately of my teammate and friend, Gabriele Anderson, who has battled her way through two cancer diagnoses at a young age, and is the embodiment of how exercise (aka, training as a professional runner) can help a person get through such a scary diagnosis both physically and mentally. Last year, she placed fourth in the Olympic Trials in the 1500m (meaning she was only one spot away from going to London!). Since then, she's rallied back and run even faster times in several events, and inspires me and many others every day.

Since this is her story to tell, not mine, I'll stop here, but she's certainly worth a follow on Twitter! (@GabrieleAnde)

Without any further ado, here's Melanie Bowen's article:

Incorporating Exercise into Traditional Cancer Treatment

Whether you have mesothelioma or were just diagnosed with breast cancer, it can be difficult to feel better every single day. You probably go for traditional treatments recommended by your doctor, but you might not even realize how beneficial and easy it can be to exercise each day or at least a few times a week. Exercise helps you to become stronger and to improve the quality of your immune system. People who exercise regularly tend to evade sickness more than people who are sedentary. By working out regularly, you may be able to see the benefits that exercise can provide to you.

You should never think of exercise as a cure for cancer but you should think of it as a necessary supplement. Exercise should be used to complement your regular treatment so that you feel more energized and active throughout the day. Working out can help to improve energy levels and the levels of mood-boosting hormones in the brain. After you workout, you probably get a feeling of contentment and accomplishment that is unrivaled by anything else. Just think of having these types of feelings while undergoing routine chemotherapy for your cancer and what a benefit it can be for your everyday life.

Before you simply buy a workout DVD and start exercising at home, you need to discuss your options with a professional doctor or registered nurse. This healthcare professional will be able to tell you how much exercise is appropriate and what you need to avoid in order to prevent hurting yourself. As a cancer patient, you may not be able to workout the way a normal and healthy person would and because of this, you need to make slight adjustments to your daily workout routine to reflect on your current state of health.

It does not matter what type of cancer you're battling or even if you are currently in remission, exercise can still be a wonderful addition to your everyday life. You might enjoy taking walks or going for a jog on the treadmill in your home. Other people love doing yoga and find dance classes to be a lot of fun. It is up to you and your doctor what type of exercise you partake in, but make sure that you do not overexert yourself while doing it. The aim is to make you a healthier and happier individual because of a more regulated exercise routine.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Happy Birthday Indeed!

What a whirlwind of a weekend!

For my first race of the year, I had the great blessing of flying out to beautiful Bermuda to run the KPMG Bermuda Front Street Road Mile. As with any first race of the year, I had some trepidation about where my fitness level was at, and how I would feel in this 'rust-buster' race.

The one thing that bolstered my confidence, however, was that I got to start out on the roads, where I experienced so much positive momentum as I closed out the 2012 racing season. Adding to the fun was the fact that I got to fly away from chilly MN (*where the current temperature 'feels like -31 degrees...gross*) to a warmer, tropical, beautiful climate, AND the race took place in the eve of my 26th birthday!

First, just because I felt like I knew NOTHING about Bermuda before I came, I thought it would be cool to share some fun facts I learned about the island while I was there:

The entire island has a surface area of 20.6 miles, population of about 64,000 REALLY FRIENDLY and awesome people.

Our taxi driver informed us that pretty much everyone knows everyone, which we noted as we were driving from the airport to our hotel, it seemed every other car and moped that rode by would send a friendly honk in our direction! (Most people own mopeds, rather than cars!)

Currency= The Bermudian Dollar, which conveniently translates to 1 US dollar, so we didn't have to exchange money, and you could pay with either form of money anywhere. One thing to note if you decide to head out there, however, is things don't come cheap! I was amazed at how expensive things were, for example, I saw a normal sized container of blueberries at the grocery store (something I usually get for $2-$2.50) priced at 9 dollars!!

Homes in Bermuda are impressive for many reasons...they have really strict building codes to make sure they will hold up against hurricanes. We saw one in the process of being built- essentially they're concrete and limestone. After work is complete, they paint all the building various shades of vibrant colors that make the landscape incredibly cool! And, if you decide you would like to own one of these homes, good luck, they'll run you at least a million dollars, no joke.

Back to the race a little more, the mile was just the first of three races taking place on the island for runners of all ages and experience levels throughout the Bermuda Race Weekend. Following the mile on Friday night, they had a 10k on Saturday morning, and either a half or full marathon option on Sunday morning. I was impressed to learn that many runners come out to do the full "Bermuda Triangle" (meaning they run all three races!). This year was the 25th year of this tradition!

As is common practice for a lot of road miles, the elite women's and men's fields took place after an evening of earlier community events. They started with the "Triangle" wave (meaning those who were competing in all three events), then boys and girls Primary School aged, boys and girls Middle School aged, boys and girls High School, men and women local, and then it was us! What was less common about this race was the course: we basically started in one direction for 200m, took a quick 180 degree turn around what everyone was referring to as a 'birdcage' (see below), then we passed through the start line, ran out about 600m more, and turned around again to finish almost exactly where we started. This course worked out well to keep fans engaged in the action, but it did make for a more tactical race! Haha, I remember emailing my coach about how I thought I should tackle this race, and he wrote back in agreement, "Yes, run all the non-birdcage parts of the race, those are words I never thought I'd use in coaching..." :)

So when it came time to race, we got out pretty conservatively as I anticipated, we took our loop around the bird cage and started our way towards the other turnaround point. Through the half mile, I think I saw 2:27 or so on the clock, which is pretty slow for an elite field, thus we were all pretty bunched still at this point. I decided that I would be leaving a little bit too much up to pure luck and a strong kick, so after the halfway point, I moved to the front with Sarah Brown, and she and I started pulling the race along a little faster.

With about 300m to go, I felt that itch that it was time to take off, I put in a surge that Sarah covered very well, and even shot ahead of me by a few steps. For a fleeting moment I thought to myself, 'oh no, is my road mile reign over?' Quickly, I changed my mental talk to: 'The race isn't over until it's over', and made an effort to stay as close to her as possible. With maybe 100m to go, I started to feel myself gaining on her, and then passed her just before crossing the tape for the win!

Almost immediately after the race, we got to jump up on the awards stand to be recognized by the energetic Bermudian crowd. It was such a fun atmosphere, and the two girls I'm standing next to are not only pretty awesome runners, but really awesome people too!

After the race, I got selected for drug testing, so I spent the rest of the night sipping on water and hoping to pee 90ml quickly so I didn't have to ring in my birthday with the anti-doping people (who were actually super nice and cool too!). It took about two hours, and unfortunately I didn't quite succeed on my mission, I left the drug testing building at 12:06am on January the 19th.

At a much more decent hour that morning, Phoebe Wright (who placed third in our race) and I walked out the hotel door to do our long run. We passed by Stan, the doorman of our hotel, who asked how the race went the day before. Phoebe quickly told him we both had podium finishes, and that I had won. "And, it's her birthday!", she added. Stan immediately broke into song, singing me happy birthday, only pausing to allow Phoebe to insert my name. It was so funny and nice to be sung to by a perfect stranger. AND THEN, when we arrived back from the run, he was waiting for me with a hand-drawn hilarious "birthday card", a copy of the local newspaper from my win the night before, and two magnets he picked up for me at the gift shop! What a guy!

The Bermuda Royal Gazette Article on my race:

I spent the rest of my birthday with a few of the other athletes, got some great breakfast at a french restaurant, walked around the city, I read a book by the water until I got too cold (sadly, it wasn't the warmest of days), and then we went to dinner at the home of one of the athletes' friends who now lives and works in Bermuda. They even made me brownies and home-made ice cream for a birthday dessert, and we lit a match as a candle that I blew out having no idea what else to wish for!

Come Sunday, it was time to go home. I flew from Bermuda to Atlanta, then Atlanta back to Minneapolis. I sort of had this inkling that maybe Ben would have a birthday surprise for me when I returned home, but when I called to get him to come pick me up, it sounded like maybe I was overestimating his thoughtfulness. We drove home, and as I was walking in the door, the lights in the house flash on, and like 15 of some of my best friends were at the house for a SURPRISE 26th BIRTHDAY PARTY! I was totally shocked! Apparently our roommate Brittany and Ben came up with the idea this past Wednesday, and put everything together quite quickly/quietly. SO IMPRESSED, and SO THANKFUL. It's incredible how loved I felt when I walked into our house.

God is good, and life doesn't get much better than this, my friends. Here's to hoping the blessings abound for you today, and every day!

Race Video Coverage:

Sunday, January 6, 2013

"Success by Association"- My Club Cross Story

For those of you with very good memories, my last post was all about preparing for my first cross country race since college- Club Cross Country Nationals, in Lexington, KY.

For those of you who follow the sport of running closely, you probably know all the details of what went down (including me) that day, but for those who don't, I'll regale you with quite the doozy about how one of my worst races ever made me a 'national champion'....

First let me preface the subject by saying I have come to the conclusion that there are two types of runners in this world when it comes to slippery surfaces. First, are the runners who can float their way over ice, snow, and mud as if it were nothing. These runners I would call 'finesse' runners, because they seem to know exactly how much force to put through the ground to get the desired amount of return/no slippage.

The rest of us (yes, I belong in the second category), are what I would call the 'power' runners. Not unlike 'Tim-the-Tool-Man-Taylor', of the classic show of my youth, Home Improvement, when we start to slip on similar terrain, we say, "MORE POWER!" Unfortunately, with more power, seems to come more slippage, more frustration, more pain, and no gain. The image that comes to mind when I'm running on low-friction surfaces is myself, trying to row a boat with a toothpick...a little dramatic, yes, but I truly feel as if I am rendered entirely ineffective in snow or mud.

Don't tell them I said this, but I have another term for the 'finesse' runners- annoying. Because I already openly discuss this issue with him, I don't feel ashamed to say that my husband Ben is an excellent example of this type of runner. It is incredible (slash incredibly annoying) to be running right next to him and doing great on a run, and then we hit a road with a lot of slush/snow on it, and within seconds he's dropped me like a bad habit.

I swear it would make a great cartoon to depict he and I out on a slippery winter run. He'd be about a block ahead of me, great running form, slow easy stride, with a thought bubble that says, "Ah, what a beautiful winter's morning!" I, on the other hand, would be hunched over, sweating bullets, with my cartoon legs spinning like mad- in one place, while I only dig myself further into a hole in the ground. My thought bubble would be symbols only, because nothing I'm thinking in those situations are suited for children's eyes.

So, with that confession out of the way, the rest of this story will be placed in proper context. When we arrived in Lexington the day before the race, it was raining. It rained overnight, and rained the morning of the race. The course was quite muddy, a fact I tried to equally ignore, but also respectfully prepare for. Despite my earlier rant about running in muddy conditions, I was feeling pretty confident, the Turkey Day 5K a couple weeks earlier had been really fun and I felt like that should be some kind of a positive indication of my cross country strength. I thought on more kilometer on a cross country course would be difficult, but doable.

Immediately prior to the start of the race, we received some advice to get out hard early in the race, as it seemed that no one in the first couple waves of competition were making up any ground later in the race because of the muddy conditions. We had our hearts set on winning this team race, so we all agreed to try it. While that advice seemed to work out perfectly for my teammates, in hindsight I'm thinking that may not have played out so well for me. I managed to stick with them through the first mile in about 5:14, but never really felt in control of my situation and was developing some side stitches on both sides of my abdomen. Despite my greatest intents to stay with my teammates throughout the race, I started losing them after the first mile, and my mantra changed to just staying calm, and concentrating on competing against who was nearest to me. It felt as if hundreds of runners were flying by me as I stumbled around in the mud, but the one thing I knew was that my team was up ahead of me doing an awesome job, and the best I could do was keep fighting.

Just before the 2-mile mark, I was going around a particularly muddy corner, caught my shoe on something, tried to catch myself, but just slid right down into the mud. I think my center of gravity was off because I was hunching over with the side-aches (just to be clear, I know I sound like a baby while I write this...). Thankfully the mud makes for a soft landing, and not unlike another falling race I'm known for, I think I got up pretty quickly. Honestly the fall didn't phase me too much, I was already not where I wanted to be in that race, it was just one more thing. Then, to add insult to injury, I caught a bug in my eye, but had too much mud caked on my hands to try to wipe it out. It was all I could do not laugh at my own sorry self while I ran through the 2-mile mark with people taking pictures and video all over the place.

Not far beyond the 2-mile, I heard someone yell, "You've got 4 in the top 10!" This was both motivating and depressing, because I knew if our team lost, it would be all my fault. I kept going, only because I knew the only thing worse than running slow is quitting when you're the 5th runner on a team of 5. It truly felt like a gift from God when I neared the finish-line, dug deep to pass a couple people on the final stretch, and end that misery.

Ok, I PROMISE, I'm totally aware of how silly and stupid I sound as I recount this racing experience, but I think it's only fair that I'm honest with you about what I was thinking out there. This is where the story looks up!

After I finished, I mosied my way over to where our team was congregating and felt an immediate impulse to apologize for my sub-par performance. I perfectly expected them to bitterly say "It's ok..." through clenched teeth, but like the amazing women they are, they genuinely expressed their understanding (and their concern for how I got so mud-covered...haha). I remember specifically talking to McKenzie Melander, one of my newest teammates, who said, "We wouldn't have even had a team at all if you didn't race, don't worry about it." Though I'm sure it at least crossed their minds, no one mentioned how my placing might have taken away the team title for everyone.

LUCKILY, not long after, individual results were posted. As far as we could tell, we had pulled it off! Team scores still weren't available at first so we kept our excitement to a minimum, and then after our cool downs, results were up and we came out on top. I triumphantly proclaimed, "YES! I didn't suck enough to ruin it for everyone!" (haha...) There was hugging, pictures, and smiles all around.

Ya know that saying, "Guilt by association"...? I can't help but feel a sense of 'success by association' with the way things played out on this one. I certainly don't feel I can claim any of the credit, but I am so thankful to be associated with the women who actually earned that National Title. I find it quite comical now, that I can associate one of my worst races ever with such a positive outcome, all thanks to my incredible friends/teammates.

This was such an incredibly humbling experience, and one that reminds me once again how blessed I am to be surrounded by such incredible people in my life. It's things like this that make me feel confident that no matter what happens in life, so long as I at least TRY to make the most out of my situation, there will be people there to pick me up when I fall, and love me no matter what.

Since then, I've come home and gotten back to work, getting ready for shorter races on much clearer terrain. :) Up next is a road mile in Bermuda on January 18th, then February 2nd I'll be racing an indoor mile in Boston at the New Balance Grand Prix. Looking forward to getting back to the things I do best, and hopefully good stories to tell in the near future!