Monday, May 16, 2011

Comrades Marathon and The Starfish Greathearts Foundation

I am super excited to be running Comrades in 2 short weeks--20,000 runners and incredible crowd support in a setting that will be like no other ultra I will ever run. It was a last minute addition to my schedule after I figured out (or a friend pointed out) that I would be in Africa for work around the time of Comrades.  Obviously Africa is a large place and my work is nowhere near Durban, South Africa where the race starts, but the fact that I was even going to be on the same continent when it was happening--I knew that I needed to try to run it.  Luckily, the stars aligned, I figured out the logistics, and then re-figured the logistics when work dates changed, and it is going to happen.  I'll be in Kenya for a week for a conference, then will fly to Durban for a "long" weekend (10 p.m. Friday night through 7 a.m. Monday morning--race is on Sunday) and then head to Juba, South Sudan for 2 more weeks of work.  I'll get home from Juba 2 weeks from Western States.  My plan is to land in PDX at 10 a.m. Saturday morning after 28+ hours of travel, and cram in 2 last long runs before starting a shortened version of a taper.  Good times!  Have I mentioned how much I love traveling for work?  Seriously though, I can't complain.  Sudan is going to be a fascinating adventure, as well--let's just hope I can find a treadmill.  I have yet to not find one...

Anyhow, now that the logistics have all been worked out--flights booked, hotels reserved, entry confirmed, and calf injury behind me, I'm finally confident that Comrades is really going to happen.

And to my loyal blog readers I'd like to request that you visit the following link and consider donating to the Starfish Greathearts Foundation that works with children orphaned by HIV/AIDS in South Africa.  It's a great cause, and I hope that with the support of family and friends, I'll be able to give a small amount back to the communities that surround and support the Comrades Marathon.  While I sometimes do complain about work travel, I'm also incredibly grateful for the opportunities that I have, and the chance to see and experience the all of the amazing diversity and contrasts that exist around the world and work with communities that are far less fortunate.  And in the hopes of making a difference where it's most needed, I ask you to give a little if you can.

A link to my fundraising page is found here.  Thanks!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

10:02:41, again.

Heading up from the beach on the second big climb. (photo by Brett Rivers)

I am not a superstitious person, but I do like to paint my toenails bright red and pink and sparkly, consume gnocchi in the days prior, and wear my lucky red undies the day before any race.  So, I could tell the Miwok weekend was off to a shaky start, when in unloading the car in Ashland on Thursday night post cinco de mayo margaritas, my lucky undies mysteriously vanished. They were in my hand, and then they were gone. I looked in the trunk, on the road, on the sidewalk, etc, but they were nowhere to be found. Sean was drunk--did he take them? Could I even justify running on Saturday?  Luckily for me, Darla came to the rescue on Friday morning, when while taking in the lovely landscaping found them under the neighbor's fence. That would have been fun for someone to explain. Regardless, while I had been questioning for weeks whether or not I should run Miwok because of a calf strain, I could not back out on the grounds of losing my lucky undies.

I went into Miwok with few expectations.  My 5 week training leading up to Miwok looked something like this:

April 3: calf strain
5 weeks out: 22 miles
4 weeks out: 5 miles (re-strain)
3 weeks out: 30 miles
2 weeks out: 54 miles (including 22 and 10 milers the weekend prior)
1 week out: 12 miles

I don't know what your training log looks like, but averaging one-third of my usual mileage is not what I hope to be doing 5 weeks out from a big 100K, and during what would be my big training push for Western States.  I did do more than just lame attempts at running during those 5 weeks, with a bit of spinning and walking, and bikram yoga 3-5 times/week.  I also saw my massage guy twice a week, as he worked out the issues in my calf.  But, one can not run a 100K on massage and bikram yoga alone, and my training log might have implied that a fast 100K was not in the cards.  The miles I did run were purposefully slow and flat, as I had re-strained my calf early on during an attempt to run uphill, so I had avoided all hill running until a couple of trial runs 2 weeks out--one of which was a hilly 8-miler, and the other, a hilly 22-miler the Saturday prior.  The 22-miler left me confident that my calf was on the mend and could handle hills.

My goals for Miwok were simple. First, to survive with calf intact, and second, to finish. Deep down I hoped that the 5-week taper was going to be the new hot training plan and demonstrate that training was truly over-rated, but I kind of knew that was a long shot.  I also needed to finish if I wanted to stay in the running for top-3 in the Montrail Cup, as Miwok would be my 3rd race in the series, with Western States my fourth, and four races score.  If I didn't finish, I couldn't score 4 races.  There is a small cash incentive hidden in there, which could equate to a long weekend in Hawaii if I get top-3. I also needed this long run as training for both Comrades and Western. A little close to Comrades, which is a little close to Western, but at this point, I'm out of shape and trying to get back into shape in 7 weeks.  Throw in 3 weeks in Africa for work (including a side trip to run Comrades) in a destination where running is potentially dangerous, and my Western training is pretty much screwed. Alas, I digress....

Last year I finished Miwok 4th in 10:02:41.  I had been gradually building back from a long lay-off due to a torn ankle tendon--my first real injury since college (it sounds like I'm always injured these days, but really, I've been pretty healthy for 25 years of running!), but had been running consistently leading up to Miwok. It was also my first big west coast race since moving out to Oregon, and I went in a bit starstruck, and nervous to be running with the big dogs. I ended up finishing between Krissy Moehl and Darcy Africa and was happy to finish between 2 ultra running stars I'd always admired.

Rather than go through a blow-by-blow of this year's version, let's just say I wasn't feeling great for most of the race.  My hamstrings were tight for the first 15, and my quads were trashed before we even got to the descent down into the turn-around at Randall.  If there is one lesson I learned from the 5-week forced taper, it's that while fitness doesn't fall off too much, quads seem to forget all downhill memory quickly.  I plodded through the first half, and was a little shocked when I wasn't that far behind heading into Randall.  However, my quads were already trashed, and weren't in any shape to make up any ground in the second half. Luckily, I didn't lose much ground either, except to some guys like Jimmy Dean and his training buddy Lukas, who both smoked the second half.  I had passed Helen at the turn down into Randall around mile 32 to move into 4th, and I managed to hold onto 4th until the finish. I was running, for the most part, but walking inclines I should have been running. My mantra for the second half hills was, "Me walk Miwok."  I need to work on a more positive mantra for next time....

I finished 4th in 10:02:41--the EXACT same time and place as last year.  Bizarre, no?  Last year I was happy with my run, and I should be ecstatic to have run the same time this year with my calf still intact considering the past month, but I can't say that I feel happy about the race. Instead, I mainly still feel frustrated.  Frustrated for where I am right now, and for what is coming up.  It's like cramming for a final exam, which you have a sneaking suspicion you could fail at miserably. 

On a more positive note, I was super excited to see Pam in the lead coming out of the turn-around and to hear at the finish that she'd run a strong second half for the win. It's great to see Pam win a big one, and get some of the credit she is due. And with Meghan in second, Oregon took 3 of the top 4 spots on the women's side--not too shabby.  Also, many thanks to Jimmy Dean for his kind words on course.  Most runners are friendly and positive while out there, but Jimmy went above and beyond and was a super positive influence out there. I was psyched to see him kill the second half of the course and finish well under his 10 hour goal. I just wish I'd had it in me to go with him.  Also thanks to my pacer, Sean, for putting up with grumpy Amy. And to the Oregon driving crew--Chris, Darla and Sean--for making the weekend a fun and memorable one. I'd rather drive the 11 hours with you all than fly any day--seriously. I'm looking forward to many more fun weekend adventures in the coming months. 

Next year I'd really like to run Miwok and kill it.  Screw 10:02:41.