Marathoner

Beginning with a forty-five minute ride, just long enough to allow the nervous butterflies to settle, on a no seat-belt, cold leather, rattling windows, I-rode-in-this-vehicle-everyday-my-6th-to-8th-grade-years classic yellow school bus, I arrived at the starting line at 5,240 ft of elevation, for the St George Marathon at 5am, with 59 of my classmates, er… fellow runners.  🙂

With a 6:45am start time, and 7,600 runners to transport 26.2 miles outside of town, early arrival at our shuttle-busses was encouraged with prize incentives, and I was game to get to the start early, to relax, drink some hot coffee, and mentally prepare myself for the long run ahead.  A fellow runner and smart-phone owner provided us with a temperature update as we arrived in Central, Utah, the starting location of our race, and informed us that it was 27 degrees.  Hm. “Okay,” I thought, “maybe I should have worn a pair of sweats…”  Stepping off the bus, I was hit with 20 mile an hour sustained winds pushing me back down the hill, away from the start.  I laughed.

The race volunteers were prepared with mylar blankets, gloves, and hot beverages for those of us early up on the hill.  I will be forever grateful for those shiny plastic blankets.  Who knew that one thin layer would keep my upper body so warm for so long?  I quickly made friends standing behind a trailer to stay out of the wind, sipping my hot coffee; we had plenty of time to get to know one another and relax that chilly early morning.  There was no Moon, and the race would not begin until dawn broke.

Just as the sun started adding a blue tint to the dark black of night, occasionally through gusts of wind, I could hear someone singing the National Anthem.  The race was about to begin!  Unfortunately, I was in line for the restroom.  You know, before the race, when everyone decides to make one last potty stop?  I was in back of that line.

In fact, this race wins the medal for “The Most Unfortunate Circumstances”  at the start of any race I have ever participated in.
1. I started coming down with a cold the Wednesday before the race.
2. The eggs I cracked and started to cook for my pre-race meal had worms in them… Ew!  (The up-side? There were more eggs, sans worms.  I cooked and ate those ones!)
3. It was cold and SO WINDY!!!  I stood two hours, bouncing and dancing around to keep my legs warm (my feet did go numb) before the race began.
4. I made it through the pre-race restroom line with plenty of time to spare only to discover my ‘Moon time’ had begun, go figure, right before the longest race I have ever done; I laughed (What’s a girl to do?)  Fortunately, I found a kind, prepared woman who saved my day with some equipment.

After all of the obstacles, I somehow managed to get through the restroom line again, strip off my warm layers, drop them off at the U-Haul, and then had to wait a few minutes (I had time to spare!) to cross the start line with the 4:45 pace group at about five till seven, exactly where I wanted to be in the mass of runners.

Even when the unexpected happened again and again on race day, everything worked out fine!

Sunrise on the Mountains.

The course was beautiful.  Spectacular.  I met a runner moving at my pace before I had even run a mile, and we decided there at the beginning to stick together for the full 26.2.  We were constantly amazed by the amount of aid stations on this course.  The St George Marathon was incredibly supported.  While the overall event is largely on a deserted (beautiful) highway, every two miles there was a fully stocked and staffed aid station, and after mile 19 they appeared every mile! 

Utah’s mountains and rolling rocky hills were a sight to behold.

Sun rising over the hills.
Having fun with my new friend! (photo credit to the great, happy photographers at zazoosh)

Yvonne, my new marathon friend, kept the positive vibe the whole way, and I am SO grateful that I met her and that she chose to spend most of the race with me!  She has so much stamina, and a great athleticism that she has yet to fully step into.  (Let’s just say she had a 3 mile kick and left me 10 minutes behind in the dust…  Amazing!!!).  I fully expect that when we meet for our ‘destination marathon’ she will totally kick my butt.  😉

One of the first big hills.
First glimpse of Snow Canyon, a dramatic sight of white rock amidst outcroppings of red.
The sun was so bright! And the sky so blue!
A much appreciated, long, slow downhill.
Stunning red rock cliffs all around St George.
Still smiling…! (photo credit: zazoosh)

All I wanted at the end of that race was my protein bar (above, in hand), a shower, and a nap.  I was exhausted!  (and a little cranky).  

But…  I did it!
I ran the St George Marathon. 

I ran a marathon…

I am a Marathoner.

Thank you Grampa for all your encouragement and advising: while training, before the race, and after (how to stretch, shake-out, and teaching me to get the pictures so I can remember this event forever and post them in my blog). 😉  I had a great experience doing this race, regardless of all the unexpected surprises.  Thanks also to Mom for answering all my other training questions.  Without you two, I probably would have still made it, but certainly would have been less confident about running so far.  I hope to have the opportunity to run a marathon with both of you, soon.  And thanks Granma Cj for all your support, insight into your marathon experiences, your lightheartedness and giggles, helping me get the ‘right’ color of nail polish for the race, and feeding me and making me well again post-race.

Thanks also to all my runner buddies and Saturday’s Run group!  You are not just the gals I run with, you’re great friends, and I am so lucky to have you all in my life.

So, here’s to the next race!

Where is your next race?  
For me …?  Something at sea-level… 🙂

with joy in running,
~Alaina

Symptoms of Being a Runner

Sunday, September 9th, 2012 I ran my first race in two years.  It is hard to believe that much time had passed since my last personal running challenge.  Looking back, my last race was the Pints to Pasta in September of 2010, and to re-initiate myself in the world of (semi) competitive running, I gladly signed up to run the PtoP 2012 race.  It’s my tradition to run this race (like eating dinner at the Old Spaghetti Factory on my birthday).  This time, I ran in my Vibram Fivefingers KomodoSport LS, taking them out for their first race!

Pints to Pasta 2012 Gear – laid out by the door so as not to forget any items.

This race had the usual challenges; the main one for me was a bus re-route (due to the very race I was trying to get to as a participant).  Fortunately, I met a very kind driver that morning who was willing to make a quick (if not entirely on her route … or legal) stop to let me and another racer out near our destination.  I quickly started up a conversation with my new-found running-mate, and made friends with this runner, Liz.  She was very sweet, had run the race before, has completed a marathon, and her stories of success inspired me.  I now have greater desire to sign up for more races.  And to wear the shirt to work the next day as bragging rights.  🙂

Liz and I, waiting for the race to start so we can warm up!

We were waiting with a crowd of 1585 runners.  And they all wanted coffee!

Mass of runner-bodies near the free coffee tent.

Our race started promptly at 8am, and we were off down the hill!  I love that technology has brought us the timing chip – there’s no mad rush to cross the start line when the race begins.  Everyone just shuffles slowly to the line and then picks up the pace.  Much less pushing and shoving takes place, and the event keeps a more relaxed feel, preventing unnecessary pre-race injuries from elbows and stumbling into others.

My intent for this run was to take is easy; my run pace of late has been comfortably in the 8’15” – 8’45″/mile pace, so I assumed I could probably keep in that range relatively easily.  I wanted to take pictures to document for myself, and for you, what this race looks like.  The first two miles are pretty much all downhill.

The line of runners extending farther than the eye can see.

Giggles burst out from behind me when I took this photo.  I loved it!  No one expects a runner to be photographing as they race!  I was having a blast, probably near the 1 mile mark, and at this point, I thought I’d take more pictures…  But as I continued down the hill on the course, I decided to run and look around, forgetting the camera in my belt, focusing more on the act of running and encouraging my running-mates instead.

I have a long history as a runner.  I ran cross-country in high school for only one season, for reasons I will need another blog post to explain, and loathed every moment of it.  I developed a ritual before practice: make sure lunch is consumed and digesting 3 hours before practice, stop drinking water 1 hour before practice… I was beyond nervous every day, and developed these neurotic habits that I honestly kept practicing half-way through my college years.  I had a love-hate relationship with running; it was mentally the most difficult thing I could do, but it gave me a great connection with the runners in my family.  It wasn’t until two years ago that I finally started feeling that metal block melt, and running ultimately became something I wanted to do – just for me and for joy.  (And I no longer have the limitations regarding food and liquid consumption pre-run.  Food is energy, and water is necessary!)

Now I have new “runner” symptoms or tendencies.  For example, when I see people running, out for their daily workout, and they’re really putting in effort, I find myself cheering and saying (or rather, yelling) “Go, Runner!”  …and I get emotional.  My sister was at the race on Sunday with her cross-country team; they were supporting the racers, handing out water to runners at the first aid-station, and when I heard their claps, cheers, and saw all the hands holding out cups of water… I admit it.  I giggled, choked up, and got teary-eyed.  At mile two. So you can imagine what I looked like crossing the finish line…

Biggest, goofiest smile, Ever.

I cannot say how wonderful it was to finish and have someone there cheering me on through the funnel at the Finish line.  My Gran-ma came to snap my photo, give me a hug, and say congratulations.  (And then we went to breakfast)!  She is so sweet, and I appreciate her so much for getting up early and being present to watch me grin like a fool at the end of this race.  I was the 542 racer to cross the finish line on Sunday.

Happy hug pics!

As it turns out, I finished with a 10K time of 55’06”, knocking four minutes off my last 10K race time.  Right on the money per my guess, and a new PR.  I’ll be setting a new goal for next year!

I am so grateful for the support of my friends and family, and for Run with Paula Events and Portland Running Company for putting on such a great race!  Come join me in 2013 for PtoP!  And check out the other Run with Paula events (I’m a big fan of the Go Girl Trail Run)!

Happy Running!
~A

Motivation

For the past few months, I have been getting out on the road, doing the two to five-mile shuffle at least three times each week.  This for me is a great improvement in consistency over my last two years as a runner.  It’s not that I have put myself on a schedule, so much as I like to run.  So I get out and do it when my legs are itching.  (Tomorrow morning, it’s on!)

But I have no goal set.  No pace to hit, no mileage to train up to, no real structure to my workout regimen.  So, when I wake up, I base my distance on time available before life activities begin (work, family gatherings, appointments, etc.) … and on fear.  I haven’t run more than five miles in… Well, truthfully, I cannot remember the last time I ran more than five miles.  Running in my new shoes, I get nervous about injuries if I run farther.

But let’s be serious for a moment.  I can (and have) run five miles, no issues, in my Vibram Fivefingers KomodoSport LS.  Why should adding one mile cause fear to creep into my bones and tense my legs?

I admit, I have a running injury.  We all do, right?  We did something at some point, where maybe we weren’t really listening to our bodies and we pushed just a little too hard, for a little too long, and maybe it was while we were going downhill, and now our knee hurts when we “run more than five miles”.  Okay, MY knee hurts – more specifically, it has been painful in the past – when I increased my mileage.  What reason does this give me to refrain from at least trying a greater distance?  Every part of my leg is functioning without complaint right now, and I am smarter, more attentive, and running with a much better foot fall, stride, and pace than anytime in my past.  

So how do I push myself through the fear and past my five-mile mark?

I sign up for a race!  I will be running the Pints to Pasta 10K Race this weekend, truthfully one of my FAVORITE races in Portland.  I ran it in 2009, 2010, and due to a lack of consistency, skipped 2011.  It is certainly time to get out and do this race again.  The course is lovely; a great downhill to start us all out at a good clip, crossing the bridge into downtown, running along the waterfront (beautiful!), and finally ending at the Old Spaghetti Factory, my childhood favorite restaurant.  Wonderful memories flood my mind when visiting this family style restaurant of many birthdays and celebrations.  I still enjoy the Mizithra Cheese and Browned Butter (A la Homer they called it, when I was a kid), on my adult birthdays.  I just no longer ask to sit in the Caboose.  😉

So, this Sunday, I will complete a 10K, in my favorite Five Fingers, and see what my pace is at the end.  If how I’ve been running recently is any indication, I will surely come out of this race with a significant PR.  Times to beat:  2009 – 59’17” overall time, 9’32” per mile, 83 out of 216 in my age division, 947/2032 overall.   2010 – 59’13” overall, 9’32” per mile, and finishing 119 of 304 in my age division, 1252/2528 all runners.  Until now, I wasn’t aware that I had achieved nearly the same time on both those races!  For this year’s race, I’m going to guess conservatively, say I run about 9 minute miles, I’ll be crossing the finish with about 55’48” chip time.  Should be fun to see how it turns out!

Please note, I will not be running this full-out as a race.  I do truly enjoy this run. It is stunning; I like to take the time to look around, breathe in, and just have fun.  My purpose of signing up for this race is to see where a good dose of fun and much improved technique get me on a fast, downhill 10K.  Are you up for a race?

Come join me!

Bridge view on the waterfront.

I am a Runner

After two days of rest to prevent injury after possibly over-doing it, I decided I was ready to run again.  Last Saturday, I enthusiastically and joyfully went running in my barefoot shoe of choice, the Vibram KSO, and may have stressed my calves out a wee bit.  But this morning, it was a delightfully cool near 60 degrees and I decided I would go out for a run, and really go for speed.  For this, I wore a shoe with some sole.  🙂

For me, going for a morning run has always meant waking up 15 minutes before heading out the door.  I’ll drink some water, get dressed, grab my phone and keys, shoe-up, and head out the front door of my apartment complex at a steady jog.  Recently, I experienced some Achilles pain, and while lamenting my woes to a fellow (more experienced) runner, I was advised to allow my legs a warm-up.  Walk for five minutes, then start to run.  Since implementing this practice over my last two outings, and I have noticed a huge difference!  My legs do not get that tight, unhappy feeling when I first start out on the pavement.  This five-minute warm-up is now a part of the daily run routine.

Needless to say, when my five minutes of walking were up, I felt good.  I spontaneously decided to run a different route, and that I would run the first mile (which later became 10 minutes rather than a mile) as fast as I could, comfortably.  Pushing a little, but still breathing regularly and not needing to stop to recoup.  After the first half mile, I came to an intersection that was more congested with locals heading out to their jobs in their cars, and as I was slowing to stop for a car to cross in front of me, the driver kindly waved me across.  As he continued on his way, he rolled down his window and proclaimed “Nice stride!”  A broad smile crossed my face, and I turned to wave, hollering back, “Thank you!”

There is nothing so encouraging as having a stranger offer up a positive comment while running.  During this first leg of my run, I was concentrating on my gait: keeping my turnover quick, and stride shorter because I know this keeps my pace at a nice clip.  Before I encountered this gentleman, I had actually been pondering running, as we are like to do while practicing the sport, and noticing that I felt different.  I felt my legs moving in a way that until that moment, I had only observed seasoned runners with lean legs and an unfailing stride demonstrate.  I suddenly realized I felt like a runner.  During this revelation, a passerby noticed, and affirmed that what I felt was truly visible.

I have been running off and on for about thirteen years, and something has finally shifted within me to be able to claim “runner” for myself.  I am willing to push myself to the point of some discomfort, whereas in years past, I would only jog if it was easy; not daring to push myself past that invisible wall, afraid of encountering potential pain.  Perhaps, after a year of some pretty extreme ups and downs, and moments of leaps in personal growth, I am finally able to bear pain due to moderate stress because it no longer causes anxiety; I am finally comfortable breaching that line which leads to the unfamiliar.  I am, of course, still conscientious of the fact that there are limits to the body, and I will not knowingly do something that I think will hurt me (and make me unable to run for an extended period of time).

I am simply willing to test my limits and be comfortable with being uncomfortable.  I want to work on improving my mile pace, my stride, increasing turnover, and to continue really feeling like a runner.

Because I am.

Barefoot running: Vibram KSO