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!