My ‘Summer’ on the Cape

Sometime around 10:30am on Monday, August 15 I was on a great run on the outskirts of Boston. My partner for the morning was Jeff Caron, and he had taken me to one of the parks he regularly trains in. It consists of a network of fire roads and single-track trails that weave around reservoirs and through forest land. It was pouring rain, we were covered in mud, and I suddenly had a moment of realization that “This is my life!” There are definitely some distinct alternatives, such as spending my Monday morning sitting at cubicle or in a classroom, watching the clock tick as I wait for the moment when I can finally escape to my run. But instead, I was splashing through puddles on the other side of the country from where I live, at the tail end of a great weekend and with a new friend.

My trip to Massachusetts for the Falmouth Road Race reinforced everything I love about being able to compete at the elite level.  The weekend blended the ability to see a new part of the country, meet new runners, go on some great runs, and of course, the best part, to take advantage of a competitive race opportunity.

I spent my first two nights back east in Lexington with Jeff, who was extremely welcoming. One of the things I love about the East Coast is all the revolutionary war history and I was thrilled to spend my first day in Massachusetts in the town where the first shots were fired, running along the Battle Road Trail.

Battle Road Trail

Frances Koons  joined me at Jeff’s the second evening and then together we set off for the Cape on Saturday morning. I had a great time getting to know Frances and exploring Falmouth with her.

The race itself was also a positive experience. Seven miles is the longest I’ve ever raced, so I was fairly tentative early, which worked out well since a lot of women went out fast and I had people to focus on picking off in the late stages. The best part of the event was the atmosphere along the course due to all the spectators. It seemed like the further into the race we ran, the denser the crowd on either side of the course became. The energy from all the cheering was a huge boost in the final miles. Even as I dug deep to hold off surges or even just hang on, I was still able to enjoy the environment around me and appreciate the opportunity to run in a beautiful setting and against very good competition.

The race proved to be a great physical and mental stimulus for me. I came down from my time at altitude feeling tired and nervous about how I would perform at Falmouth. After allowing myself some time to recover and then having a great race I am now more excited than ever about what lies ahead this fall. I’ve always wanted to run at the US Road 5k Championships but this is the first year the timing has worked out for me.  I’m already looking forward to my trip to Providence and the training that awaits between now and then.

Disrespecting Altitude

During my first altitude stint in January of this year, at La Loma Centro Deportivo, there were a myriad of factors that caused me to approach the trip with caution: long travel to get there; training in a foreign country; lack of confidence in my ability to communicate with the locals; and of course, it was my first time doing an altitude training camp, and I had no idea how I would respond. I doubled my iron intake for six weeks prior to the trip, contacted and picked the brains of as many altitude experts as I could, and finally relaxed about a week into the trip when I realized that I really wasn’t struggling at all.

Before my recent trip back to elevation, all I really thought about was how I didn’t find altitude that challenging last time, and I zipped up to Donner Summit in an hour and a half, ready to get after it.

Realizing that the preparation for this altitude stint was much more relaxed, my coach emphasized heavily that I had to “respect the altitude.” And in case his words weren’t enough, I met Jake Schmitt and Magdalena Lewy-Boulet for a run on my first morning up there and Magda used Drew’s exact line “you have to respect the altitude.”

But, alas, I like to learn things the hard way. And so I proceeded to run one of my highest mileage weeks ever in my first week at Tahoe/Donner and allowed myself to get far too wired into the data my Garmin was giving me. These things were both magnified by the fact that I chose to go up there and train alone. In retrospect I think I may have spent more time thinking about running than actually running.

I don’t want to make it sound like it was all bad. There were certainly some great moments, and overall it was a positive experience. The first ten days I spent at the Cal Lodge up on Donner Pass. The lodge is run by three brothers that have very relaxed attitudes towards life. There were hundreds of moments that made me laugh inwardly as I watched them go about their lives. One brother, Steve, would sporadically play a set of African drums he kept outside his room. He didn’t play with any discernible kind of rhythm (at least one that my untrained ear could detect), and he only ever played for a few minutes at a time. It almost seemed that something in life would frustrate him, he’d walk outside and spend a few minutes releasing the frustration on the drums, and once it was gone he would stop and carry on with life. Steve’s birthday week also corresponded with the time I spent up there, and I learned that every year he celebrates the entire week leading up to his birthday by building himself a sweat lodge. For seven days there was fire burning constantly outside the lodge, and Steve spent the afternoon heating up rocks and building a sweat lodge that he would sit in after dinner. His brother, Paul, offered to make me dinner every night, and must have made over a hundred cookies in the ten days I was there. He was full of stories, the sources of which came from a life that has involved breaking his neck twice (once when he took on a bet to ride a bull and the other when he was thrown from an angry mule in the Grand Canyon), 14 years in the army, 3 years living in Peru, and a lifetime of skiing around the world and the accidents that have come with that lifestyle.

Needless to say, I spent those first ten days at times baffled, but for the most part thoroughly entertained by the slice of life I had landed myself in.

The following week my parents and sister vacationed in a rented a house on Donner Lake, so I moved camp from Cal Lodge to be with them. That week included a lot of laughter, some competitive board gaming (the winning team each night got to sit on the lakeview side of the table at dinner the next night), and an awesome boat tour of Lake Tahoe.

Unfortunately, by the time they got there some cracks were starting to show from my first ten days. I was struggling to recover and carrying over a lot of fatigue from run to run. My original plan had been to go back up to Cal Lodge after my family left in order to complete a full three weeks of living high. I was torn between feeling like I really needed to recover and not wanting to “quit” when I had planned to be up there a few more days. Eventually I realized that I was clinging to the idea of staying up there because you’re not “supposed to” do an altitude stint for less than three weeks and going home a few days early felt like hitting 88 miles when you wanted to run a 90 mile week. I realized that all that really mattered was getting to a point where I felt refreshed before my next race.

When all was said and done, I came back home to Sacramento after only two and half weeks in Tahoe, but I am already feeling like I am back on my game. I’m glad I allowed myself to “quit” and return to sea level early. I’m looking forward to the week ahead, and most importantly to the opportunity to toe the line next weekend at the Falmouth Road Race against some great competition.

Connecting the dots…

Like my most other runners at my level, the choice to run post-collegiately was not an automatic one. It wasn’t hard to know what I wanted; running had been the best part of my college experience and I love to train and especially to compete. However, with a personal best 5k of 16:17, there was neither a shoe contract on the line nor one in the foreseeable future. So how was I going to justify my choice to do this? Clearly I wasn’t in it for the money, and yet the purpose with which I would go about training and competing would make running much more than a hobby. After some reflection, the answer I decided upon was that running was going to be  a vehicle by which I saw the world. Many students graduate from college and decide to travel. I was going to do the same thing, but have it mostly paid for and earn enough prize money to cover the times when it wasn’t.

In the two years since my decision to run professionally my goals have evolved. Like any competitive runner, I am never satisfied with the current state of things, and I am constantly seeking ways to climb another rung up the ladder. So while it often feels that I am still “chasing” the dream of being a professional runner, I can also look back on what I wanted when I started this journey and take satisfaction in knowing that I actually am living this dream.

In the last 13 months running has taken me to four foreign countries and at least half a dozen states. Last summer I experienced heat, humidity, and thunderstorms that I never could have imagined while I was in Nebraska, Iowa, and Illinois. In the fall I was treated to the rich history of Boston while out there for the Tufts 10k for women. My performance at that race allowed me to be selected to represent the US at the International Chiba Ekiden in Japan, and I was thrilled to be able to put on the US singlet for the first time. When I chose to pursue running after college, making a US team was a dream that seemed too distant and unreachable to even say out loud. In a way, that achievement legitimized my choice and gave me confidence heading into 2011 to compete with the runners who were already running at the level that I was seeking.

2011 started with my first altitude training camp in San Luis Potosi, Mexico. I was joined by three other runners, and we had a great time training together with gorgeous weather and wonderful facilities at La Loma, and came home very excited for our late winter/early spring campaigns. For me, that was the US Cross Country Championships, where I finished 8th. That was a tough place to finish; it was one of my best performances to date and yet I fell just short of making the World Cross Country team, which had been the focus of almost every step I took while in Mexico. However, it still qualified me to represent the US for the second time, and two weeks later I was flying to Trinidad for the North American-Central American-Caribbean (NACAC) Championships. NACAC was another great international experience, and I was happy to come home with a team gold medal and an individual bronze.

Track season brought about two major trips: the first a three week stay in Corvallis, Oregon where I based myself to train between racing the Portland Track Festival and the US Championships in June. After the US Championships I chose to run one more track race,a 1500 at the Toronto International Track Festival. While the travel to that race was hard, and I fell short of what I had hoped to accomplish, I was very happy to see Toronto, Lake Ontario, and Niagara Falls.

Now I am back in California and doing another altitude stint, this time at Lake Tahoe. I’ll be based here for three weeks to get some solid training under my belt before embarking on the next phase of races: Falmouth Road Race in Massachusetts, the US 5k road championships in Rhode Island, and the US 10k championships in Boston.

My journey as a professional runner is really only just beginning. I hope that through this blog I can stay connected to the people who I don’t see as often as I would like, especially those that helped lay the foundation for me to run at this level. There is still so much that I have yet to accomplish, so much of the world I have yet to see, and I want to be able to share the experience along the way.

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