Saturday, March 26, 2011

McKay Hollow Madness 25K Unofficial 2011 Race (Saturday Morning Edition)

The challenge in running is not to aim to do the things no one else has done, but to keep doing the things anyone could do---but most never will.

--Joe Henderson

Do you like doing things that aren't easy?  Do you like doing things that are scary or even unsafe?  When you really want something, are you willing to sacrifice comfort in order to get it?  As I woke up on Saturday, March 26th, little did I know that I would be forced to answer these very questions about myself.  This isn't just any old race report! 

On Friday night, I readied all of the things I would need for the race on Saturday--trail shoes, running belt, clothes, race number, and towels for the rain we were all expecting.   My fuel ended up consisting of a small baggie of jelly beans since I was out of my usual Sportsbeans.  I ate all of my favorite colors already (white and pink), so I was left with the ones below:

Good running fuel

I woke up to my alarm clock around 5:15 a.m. and then lay in bed for awhile wondering why I'd set it so early.  Thunder was shaking the house.  Lightning was lighting up our bedroom as if we'd left the lamps on.  A part of me wanted to just roll over and go back to bed, but I decided to check my email and then head up to the Monte Sano State Park to see for sure if the race was being held or not.  I sure didn't want to be known as the runner who stayed in her bed since she thought the race was cancelled when it wasn't.  The radar was showing a 70% chance of rain, and I heard it start as I was getting ready to go.  It looked pretty bleak, as seen below.

Not looking good
I saw cars--lots of them--when I arrived at the parking lot, so I figured this was a very good sign.  I was over thirty minutes early, but I wanted to see what the news was, so I battled the rain to get a spot inside the picnic pavilion.  Once I was inside, my friend Dana spotted me and gave me the report: We had to have 30 minutes without any lightning or thunder in order to start the race.  Blake (the race director) got up to make an announcement and thunder boomed in the background as if on cue.  Things weren't looking good.

I chatted and speculated with several friends while waiting on more news.  John Christy, our local "famous" climatologist (oh, I hope I got that right) talked with me about the conditions and mentioned how few races had ever been cancelled due to weather in Huntsville.  I chatted with my friends Kathy, Anne, Julia, and others while we waited.  Finally, Blake got up around 7:45 and said, "I hate to be the bearer of bad news..."  He went on to say that the race was indeed cancelled but that there would be a "training run" tomorrow at 7:00 a.m. and that we could pick up our shirts as we left.  Many people were still in good spirits, talking about how they'd hit a coffee shop now instead of running.  I'm sure they were at least a tad relieved that they didn't have to run in the rain. 

The decision
I stood in the T-shirt line and weighed my options.  Of course, I could always go back home and run nothing.  I could do the distance later today if the rain stopped.  But I'd come all the way up here.  Rick was at home watching the children, and I was on a much-deserved break.  I needed a long run today to wrap up my training for my marathon in two weeks.  Running the training run on Sunday morning wasn't an option for me since I had church.  And I just plain love the trails and wanted to run on them.

There is one more reason that I decided to run, and I'd be holding out on you if I didn't reveal it too.  It is summed up in the quote on my blog home page: "The challenge in running is not to aim to do the things no one else has done, but to keep doing the things anyone could do---but most never will." This run had suddenly become much more than just a race; it became a way to do something challenging and risky and just plain fun.  And something that most people would never even try to do!  Sure I expected to get cold, and sure I'd wish I'd have an aid station out there.  But I wanted to do it to prove to myself that I could do it in these tough conditions.  I wanted to prove what I was made of.

The run
After mulling all of these things over, I was glad to hear that there would be some people running today after all.  I talked with my friend Linda, whose kind words of encouragement under her nice, dry umbrella convinced me that I could do it.  I uttered a quick, "Okay, I'm in!" while trying my best to sound brave and tough.  I made a speedy trip to the bathroom and to car car to drop some things off, called Rick on my cell phone to explain the (good) news, and quickly caught up to the small group waiting for me.   

The group I set off with was a few girls that I knew only a bit--Cheryl (?) from Fleet Feet, Casey Fritz, Christy Scott, Clarissa, and a guy I had never met before who introduced himself as Jay.  There was another group of guys--Shane, Eric C., and James who had started before us to run the course unofficially too.  My group started off with some good friendly conversation.  Christy Scott told Jay that he was running with the top three women from last year.  He commented that that was good because if he ran faster maybe the water would shake off of his socks and his feet would stay dry!  With fun conversation, I barely noticed the chilly (50 degree) weather and the cold rain pelting me.  Luckily I'd thought to wear a hat and to keep my long-sleeved shirt on too.  

I wasn't trying to run fast, only to run fast enough so that I'd warm up a little bit.  I was soon in the front of the group but tried holding back a little so that I could keep the company.  Jay was new to this distance on the trails and thought the section we ran through the Stone Cut boulders was pretty interesting.  Around the second mile, the lightning got pretty bad, and I started to wonder if this was such a good idea after all.  That feeling passed and we rather quickly finished the first 5 miles.  1/3rd done!  I chatted with Jay for the second 3rd of the course.  I enjoyed seeing the new section that they added right before the second aid station.  It had one of the biggest fallen trees I'd ever had to navigate!  My cold hands stung after I used them to grab the tree's bark to swing over it.  The heavy rain caused the creek beds to be fuller than usual so there were plenty of waterfalls to run through, and I loved that part.  I thought, "How many people get to experience a rainstorm this way?"  

A little after the turnaround on Monte Sano Boulevard,  I spotted a man carrying an umbrella and a child with another child next to him.  The child on the ground had an unmistakable orange jacket that I could barely see through all the fog.  Could it be?  It was Rick and our children!  Wow, what an unexpected and happy surprise it was to see them!  I have a dedicated, loving, and supportive husband who's willing to come out with both kids in the a rainstorm to cheer me on!  The children were both wearing their rain boots but were still wet.  Actually, as I got closer, I saw that they were both crying!  My daughter had just fallen and was cold, and my son had gotten a cut from his umbrella when a piece of the metal supports came off unexpectedly.  When I saw the blood, a huge part of me just wanted to stay with him and help them make it back to the car.  I later learned that the first group of runners had been surprised to see them out in the rain ("We're spectators!" Rick had told them quite matter-of-factly) and that the children had been having a great time until right before I came.  After a quick kiss for each child and a promise of a Care Bears DVD for the car trip home, I continued on.

This sums up my brief visit with them. Can you tell they're both crying? One's cold and one's hurt!
You can even see the blood on my son's right ear if you look closely.
The last 5 miles were nice because Christy Scott joined us.  The other girls had not planned to do the whole course and had headed back, so I was really glad she caught us and wasn't alone up there.  We chatted about her 100 milers (she's done two) and about the really tough uphill.  I opened the jelly beans and enjoyed the only aid I had on the course (little did I know that when I packed them!).  The last mile had that huge climb, so the going was slow.  We finally saw what we thought was the finish and stopped our watches at 3:19.  High fives were given all around.  Christy later saw the new finish and we jogged under that and headed for the cars. 

After the run
Priority number one was a hot shower, followed quickly by two pieces of pizza and a bunch of macaroni.  My family and I enjoyed a movie at the dollar theater and the free post race party at the Furniture Factory.  The cookie cake that I missed terribly at the finish line was waiting for us at the party.  It was a sweet reward for the effort I put forth on the trails that day.
Yet something all the more sweeter was how I proved myself---to me and to my three special spectators.

The Unofficial McKay Hollow Madness 2011 Teaser

Well, the severe weather (lightning and thunder and LOTS of rain) may have cancelled the "official" McKay Hollow Madness 25K 2011, but let's just say my legs are feeling pretty tired from a certain run this morning on the trails with these ladies and a few others...

Hate to leave you hanging for now, but I do have a really good story for you later.  I kept thinking, "Oh, this will be so great for my blog!"  We didn't melt, and I have some fun times to share. 

See you back here soon!

Christy Scott, me, and Clarissa (2nd, 1st, 3rd places) at McKay Hollow 2010 
Little did we know what 2011 had in store for us!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

McKay Hollow Madness

So what does the crazy snail statue pictured below have to do with this weekend?  Why, it's the annual McKay Hollow Madness!  I can't even describe how much I love this race.  Sure, the prizes are super silly and the shirts are pretty bizare, but I love this distance on the trails and love this time of year for a good trail run.  Rick has always done the Rocket 10 Miler (held last weekend) since we had our daughter, so this race has been mine to run.  I've done it three times in a row.  Now, I should mention that I haven't actually run any trails since Mountain Mist.  I'm sure not going to let that stop me from having fun out there on Saturday!

I actually don't know the whole story about why the huge snail is the official "mascot" of this race, but I can say that it's funny and very unique!  When I was given the ceramic snail last year, I accepted it gladly!  I used to be a science teacher who taught a unit on snails, and now I am a mom to two preschoolers.  My kids swarmed the snail when I brought it home!  And now it resides with our running trophies and other McKay Hollow Madness awards (which got me thinking to show you how we display our marathon medals--see below.  How do you display your medals and things?). 

The race has gradually gone from being a half marathon to a 25k, which is what it will be this Saturday.  Oh, and if you are running, don't forget that this race has a 7:00 a.m. start and not the usual 8:00.  I keep reminding myself of the same thing!

Here is a short description of the course from the website listed above:

The McKay Hollow Madness Trail Run is roughly 25 kilometers (15.5 miles) of mostly single track trail. The course is run on sections of the Sinks, Panther Knob, Stone Cut, Mountain Mist, Goat, Warpath Ridge, McKay Hollow, Arrowhead and Natural Well Trails. This is a technical race with some difficult climbs and descents. There will be TWO aid stations: the first at O'Shaughnessy Point (~5.1 miles) and the other at the South Monte Sano Trailhead off of Monte Sano Blvd (~9.8 miles).

McKay Hollow 2009 Finish

Female Overall McKay Hollow Madness 2010 Prize

Previous McKay Hollow Madness Awards from 2008

Our Marathon Medal Display Holder

Monday, March 21, 2011

Unexpected Surprise!

I opened my mailbox on Friday and was surprised to see it stuffed full.  A package AND a large envelope!  The package was from the Myrtle Beach Marathon, and boy was I surprised!  It was my age group award, the one they weren't supposed to be able to mail to me (I read that from their website and had given up on it).  And here it was!  I don't know how or why they decided to mail it to me, but it was a great surprise.  It is nice and GLASS, so it's amazing that it survived the trip in the mail!  The marathon also provided free finisher's certificates from Brightroom Photography, so I ordered one of those, and it came on Friday too.  They were great reminders of the marathon, one month ago exactly.

Certificate and Age Group Award

Doris Brown Heritage Comes to Huntsville

Rick, Doris Brown Heritage, and me
I have mentioned some of the benefits of the Huntsville Track Club before (see here).  The newsletter, getting to be scored in our local Grand Slam competition, race discounts, and just supporting the activity you enjoy are some of the ones that come to mind.  A recent benefit I discovered are the meetings with guest speakers.  Last year, I went to a presentation called "Fire and Ice" where some of our members shared their experiences in the Alaska marathon (the "ice") and Badwater (the "fire").  And last Tuesday, March 15th, I went to hear Doris Brown Heritage's presentation.  The meeting was held at 6:00 p.m. at the Monte Sano Lodge and came with a free meal of sandwiches, chips, salad, cookies, and drinks.  All free to HTC members!  One event like this covers the cost of the membership--what a great deal!  Rick and I were glad to take a date night to attend this presentation.

Doris Brown Heritage was a two time Olympian in the '68 and '72 Olympics, a 5-time international cross country champion, a teacher and coach at Seattle Pacific University for 40+ years, and the first woman elected to the IAAF Cross Country Road Race Committee in 1988 (information from the HTC Meeting Notice).  She was a tiny little thing, and she told the most interesting stories about how things were for her back in the '60s and '70s. 

She told many stories, but here are two that I particularly enjoyed:

Doris set the one-mile world record in 1966.  I loved this story, as did the high school girl sitting at my table.  Her eyes just lit up as Doris talked about that race.  We also got to watch the actual video footage.  A girl from Canada was supposed to have a good chance at breaking the world record, and she started out in first place.  They had to do 11 laps around an indoor track.  This girl had terrible form and basically dragged one arm as it hung down in front of her.  Then here comes Doris, and she passes that girl!  Doris ended up winning the race and getting a sub-5 minute mile.  The announcers were just stunned!  Doris won a silver tea set for a prize.  What I liked about this experience was that Doris believed in herself and didn't let what others thought about her get in her way.

Another story was about how Doris had run two times a day for forty years.  What an impressive feat!  Then in 2008, she had to have hip replacement surgery and would not be able to run again afterwards.  Instead of being sad or bitter, Doris just enjoyed her last run and spent some time reminiscing about how much joy running had brought her.  We watched a video of a news story about this, and the room of all of us runners was just so silent.  I think it made us all appreciate what we have a little bit more.

This is what Jim Oaks shared with us:
Although not associated with the marathon, she ran two in 1976. Her first, run on a whim in May of 1976, was actually her fastest. Several athletes from her college team at Seattle Pacific University had decided to go to the Vancouver International Marathon the day after graduation, and Brown Heritage went along. She not only won the race with ease but her 2:47.35 was the fastest-ever female debut and only nine minutes above the world record.

Later that year she also ran the New York Marathon, finishing second in 2:53.

Relative to the New York race she said, "I learned you don’t go to a marathon after coaching intramurals and getting on a plane in the evening to fly to New York, losing three hours, and then getting on the bus at 5:00 in the morning."

I loved the chance to get to meet someone with such an impressive record--from the one mile to the marathon!  She inspired me to appreciate each run and to believe in myself.  If you want to learn more, there is a book about her called The Fragile Champion: Doris Brown Who Always Ran the Extra Mile written by Ken Forman.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

UAH Spring 10K and Not (Really) Running for 2 Weeks

2010 UAH Spring 10K (photo I used for the Fleet Feet racing team website)
Photo by Bob Gower
2011 UAH Spring 10K
Photo by Gregg Gelmis

The UAH Spring 10K was held on Sunday, March 6 at 2:00 p.m.  How exciting for me to have my mom and dad watch the kids while I ran alone for the first time all week!  I got to the race at 1:30 and set off for a cold warm up.  Temps were in the 30's that day--brrrr!  I am not in much shape for 10Ks, as I noticed soon after the start.  My first mile was 6:30, but I knew I couldn't hold that pace for another 5 miles.  Second and third miles were both 6:47, then I dropped to 7:09 and 7:15.  Mile 6 was 6:43 (finally back to a sub-7!), and I finished in 42:44, a 6:53 pace.  It was nice to have my Sunday School friend, Patrick, nearby for most of the race.  He pushed me and kept me going.  He finished with me and ended up with his PR that day by something like 6 minutes!

Upon my finishing the race, my parents returned the kids to me.  Apparently the kids had spent the entire race throwing acorns at a utility box (I was assured that they were not throwing them at people!).  We went inside the UAH fitness center to wait for the awards.  I was trying to keep the kids contained and quiet, and they were just wild!  There was a ton of extra food (in fact, the volunteers were asking people to take whole bags of bread and boxes of cookies), so I got some honey sandwiches, bananas, and cookies for my kids to occupy them during the awards.  I was second overall female and first in my age group.  The prize was a $20 Fleet Feet gift certificate.  It is a great race when you can win your entry fee back in Fleet Feet gift certificates!  I plan to buy a Life is Good shirt there tomorrow with the certificate.

I didn't set too much of a goal for myself in this race, just to get roughly what I was doing in 10Ks last year.  The best one I did last year was 44:01 in Cotton Row, so I aimed at 43:00 to get a little better than that.  It was a really rough goal (I didn't even know the pace that it would require) so I managed to meet that goal merely by luck.  I looked back at last year's results and found that I was also second to Candace Jacobs, but my time was 45:20, a 7:18 pace.  It is good to see my times getting faster, but I am still 2 minutes off of my 10K PR.  I mentioned it to Rick.  I told him I know that endurance (all the marathons and marathon training) doesn't equal speed, but after PRing in the marathon last month, I guess I was expecting to suddenly get a 10K PR too.  Well, it doesn't work that way!  Seriously though, he gave me a website, Vdot Calculator and Training Paces, that can help you figure out what your pace should be in an event when another distance's time is given.  (It is actually probably alot more complicated than that but I found the calculator there to be helpful and thought you might too!)  I entered my recent marathon time and the 10K time it gave me was--you guessed it--the 43 minutes I was aiming for all along.  So sometimes intuition is right, above all of the formulas others can give you.  The website also gave me a bunch of other times that I am supposed to aim for when running easy, marathon pace, intervals, etc.  It seems a little too complicated for what I want to do right now, but it is nice to know that is what I should be able to do.

I was so happy when Rick returned from his two-week business trip a day early, and I could again run in the mornings with my friends.  I missed their company and the regularity of my routine.  I had met a couple of my friends during the week to run, and both times I pushed the double jogger.  It was so much more work to put the kids in the stroller and to keep them occupied the whole time.  The second time I ran, I met my friend Kristen.  We aimed for 6 miles, but when we got back to the cars and were still .4 of a mile short, I told her that was close enough for me and called it quits (I watched her finish the last .4 alone with a secret envy).  I stopped not because I couldn't push them any further (actually she was pushing them for the last mile or so!), but because they'd started bickering and I'd had enough.  It just wasn't fun.  It sometimes takes runs (and weeks) like that to really appreciate the early morning hours of freedom that I do have.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

2011 Fleet Feet Racing Team

Well, the new Fleet Feet Racing Team for 2011 was announced today.  There is a new division of the team, the elite division, and I was one of six women chosen for this level.  What an amazing honor!  Being on the team serves as my motivation to race my hardest and to help out at as many races as I can (even though sometimes that means just watching the kids so Rick can run).  I take being chosen very seriously and do not plan to let them down in 2011!

Click here to see the other 2011 Fleet Feet team members.

The last two weeks have not been stellar for me training-wise.  Only two opportunities to run stroller-less, as Rick's been out of town on travel.  So I've been pushing the double stroller, running during preschool, and using the elliptical machine alot.  I'm ready for some early morning runs with my friends again (finally!) next week.  I did race the UAH 10K last Sunday and finished second in a time of 42:44.  A good time that I'm proud of.  The kids were wild right after the race.  I am planning to do a blog entry on the 10K and on just fitting running into motherhood (especially while your husband is on travel!), but right now I am too busy taking care of the kids! 

Thanks for reading and for checking in on me!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

On Raising a Strong Little Girl

My daughter, the princess
I've been a mom of a girl for a little bit over three and a half years now.  I don't really count the first, eh, year or so because she had the shortest little hair you ever saw and was constantly mistaken for a boy anyway (though I tried dressing her "girlie" with a plethora of pink and bows.  I know.  I know!).  Around age three, I noticed a dramatic increase in all-things-princess at our house.  A tween neighborhood girl brought over her old dress up clothes before we'd even moved into our house a year ago and continued to bring books and gadgets with the princesses all over them.  I broke down and requested a seven-piece princess doll collection from the grandparents for Christmas for her.  The princesses have definitely invaded our house.

With them came my first taste of the challenges of mothering a daughter.  She has chosen to wear princess dresses almost daily for the last six months.  Though I insist on regular clothes most of the time, I pick and choose my battles over here.  Clothing choices are not battles I'm willing to fight most days.  (You have some clothes covering your body and shoes on your feet?  Good!  Let's go!)  She's going to be in a wedding next month and in a recital in May, and I have never seen anyone smile as big as when she tried both of those dresses on.  I'm guessing she feels prettier when she wears these things. 

Then there's her mommy.  Now, I know plenty of women runners that appear very unrunner-like during the week.  They're dressed very professionally, wearing things like skirts and make up and going to things like business meetings and romantic date nights.  I am not such a person.  If you see me when I'm not running, sometimes you are confused because I practically look the same as when I am running!  Race shirt, hair pulled back, little to no make up.  I'm a stay-at-home mom and a preschool teacher.  And I really thought the little ones didn't care or notice.

Lately, my daughter has started to notice this non-girlie trend in her mommy's attire.  And, oh, how she tries to "girlify" my wardrobe.  There was the day when she looked me up and down as I was getting ready for a run and said, "Mommy, I like your pretty... (long pause)... purple running socks!" (they were grey with a little purple trim).  And the other time when I was dressed for the day and she said, "I like the pretty smiley face on the back of your shirt" (I love Life is Good! What can I say?  It's comfortable!).  She may hunt for them, but the "pretty things" in my wardrobe are few and far between.  The older I get, the more liberated I feel to just be myself.  I'd rather focus on the inside anyway.

Yet I have a three year old (and her precious self-esteem) to think about.  I want her to grow up and be strong and confident and beautiful on the inside.  I want her to see her mommy running and to know that I choose this over the fancy dresses and the pressed business suits.  It doesn't have to be that way for her, as long as she sees that she is beautiful to me no matter what.  And it is my secret hope that she continues to find me beautiful too, running clothes and all.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Shaving 35 Minutes Off the Marathon in Less Than 1 1/2 Years

My marathon times have followed a pretty clear pattern over the past 17 months.  They're getting faster!  And by leaps and bounds too.  Here are the dates and times of the last 5 marathons I've raced in:

September 20, 2009 3:53:56
October 18, 2009 3:49:19 (roughly 4 minute improvement)
February 28, 2010 3:35:57 (roughly 14 minute improvement)
November 7, 2010 3:29:25 (roughly 6 minute improvement)
February 19, 2011 3:18:05 (roughly 11 minute improvement)

Now, I'd love to share with you the secret "formula" that I followed to make this improvement possible!  Except... I don't have one!   I don't keep a running log (never have!), but I can't remember making any significant changes over the past 17 months.  About a year ago, I started running with my group of running friends.  They met in the early morning, and I quickly joined their group and began running 6 miles or so three times a week.  The miles were not excessively fast (mostly 10 minute miles).  This was the first time I was running this regularly and this far since having two children.  I think the consistency is such a key for me.  I was finally back to a regular running routine.  My body remembered marathons in the 3:40 pace, then the 3:30, then the 3:20.  It had felt all of those before, but that was before I had children.  I'd love here to insert something about how much I weighed back then compared to how much I weigh now, but I don't weigh myself either (see here).  So I'm not much help in figuring out the secret, now am I? 

Here's something that I do think is crucial to note.  Between October/November and February each time I shaved the most time off of my marathon times (roughly 14 and 11 minutes).  Each year I had run a 50K at the end of January.  In December 2010, I had paced a marathon.  From seeing this, I not only advocate using one marathon as a long run for another (the marathon a month philosophy), I also advocate using slower long runs and runs that are over the marathon distance as a means of training.  I think the 50K truly helped me perform better on the marathon that followed it.  It certainly made the marathon seem easier!

I am probably at a plateau for now (I'm not thinking I am going to get much faster than this based on my pretty poor--though consistent--training).  At this stage, I am planning to make small diet, workout, and running changes to see if I can take "only" 3 more minutes off of my marathon time.  I tried a yoga class for the first time this week and really noticed that I lack upper body strength.  Working my core out would really help me be a stronger runner.  I am trying to eat healthier (that is not hard to do since I love candy and junk food).  And I would like to use several of the 5K and 10K races as speed work for my upcoming marathons since I don't care much for "regular" speed work. 

It seems like the advice you can take from my journey is that speed may, ironically enough, come slowly over time or gradually over a series of marathons that you have planned.  I hope any other runners out there reading this might be inspired by my 35 minute improvement to see if you could do the same.  Maybe you will follow a more structured approach than I did, but the key is to find what works for you. 

Finally, this post would be lacking if I did not point out that the marathons listed above are about much more than the finish time.  I have included one or two pictures from each marathon below.  I hope you will be able to see some of the happiness that running marathons with my husband has brought me over the last 17 months.  The time on the clock is irrelevant to the joy I have felt at each of these races. 

Maui Marathon Maui, HI September 20, 2009 3:53:56

At the beach upon our arrival in Maui.
 IMT Des Moines Marathon Des Moines, IA October 18, 2009 3:49:19

A good ol' hotel picture after the race was over. 

 Rock 'N' Roll Mardi Gras Marathon New Orleans, LA February 28, 2010 3:35:57

Before the race began.  We had just watched the sun rise and were soaking in the other runners' excitement.

 Marshall University Huntington, West Virginia November 7, 2010 3:29:25

The shirts, numbers, and medals

A great spot along the course with beautiful changing leaves

 Bi-Lo Myrtle Beach Marathon Myrtle Beach, SC February 19, 2011 3:18:05

On the beach the afternoon of the marathon