Sunday, November 24, 2013

No more turbo-flexing: Why Lauren Fleshman and Carrie Tollefson Rock

I've made it clear that I follow the elites and love to read about their training. I especially love reading their blogs or hearing them on interviews - it is just fascinating to get insights into those running at the highest level. In the past few years, there has been a new niche in the elite community: mommy runners. They still are trying to compete well, but now doing it after having children. And in the era of sharing everything on FaceBook, Twitter, they not only share what training they do, but the post-baby body! I loved Lauren Fleshman's column "Keeping it Real," where she, a 2-time National Champion in the 5k and now the mother of a 5 month old, showed her post-baby belly and legs. Carrie Tollefson, a 2004 1500m Olympian (who also was the newscaster for the Championship Race) has a podcast and recently posted a 5 minute ab video. And she raises a few good points:
1) Everyone has 5 minutes in their day - I could get off the computer for 5 minutes and do this
2) You don't have to be an Olympian to train like one - you don't need a fancy treadmill or machine to do the same drills that they do.
3) Just because you are a runner and are in shape doesn't mean that all of the core muscles are there. I know that I'm in shape and look fine, but still. It's something we need to work on intentionally. And that's the boat that I am in. Every year I swear up and down that this is the year that I work on core strength. And it happens for a week, and then goes caput. But hey, if I have extra incentive, I am getting married in less than 6 months (6 months!!) - let's get everything all toned and fabulous for the spring!
And I discovered after doing the workout that really, I have accumulated a series of strength workouts that I do, I can add in the core work too. I'll never have 6 pack abs, but the goal is to not have to do any "turbo-flex" when I run in the summer and totally rock a bikini with confidence.
In sum, game on.
Finally, thank you for all of the well wishes after the .US Road Racing Championships. It was such a great race, and gave me such a high. They finally released the finish pictures, so...
The abs may not be there yet, but the smile totally is.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

A brush with the greatest: US Road Racing Championships

How often do we get to meet our role models? The people we look up to, who we follow regularly, whose hard work and commitment to excellence play an indirect, yet significant role in our lives.
Growing up, I was not an athlete and accordingly, did not have any role models who were athletes. I knew some of the big names like Michael Jordan and...were, but did not have real interest in sports. But once I got into running, I quickly became engulfed in the world of track and field and road racing. Now, I can rattle off the big races and top competitors, where they train, their backgrounds, etc. And reading about these Olympians and Olympic hopefuls and the 100+ mile weeks they put into training inspired me and motivated me to train hard too.
2008 Olympic Bronze Medalist Shalane Flannagan
I've known for weeks that on the 17th, Alexandria, VA, just a hop, skip, and a jump from my home in Vienna, planned to host the National Road Racing Championships - the culminating race in a year-long series among elite runners. The race (a 12k) was also open to the general population, and they had a 5k as well. I kept thinking about it, and in hearing all of the hype, it was hard not to get excited about it. But my race season had just ended and I was supposed to take it easy. But how often does this happen, when Molly Huddle, Shalane Flannagan, Chris Solinsky, Matt Tegenkamp, Abdi Abdirahman, are all in the same place, same race, and I could be a part of it? So, on a very last minute whim, I signed up for the 5k - just 2 days before the race. At packet pick-up, I saw Abdi Abdirahman in the lobby, but he was talking with someone else. I smiled, he smiled back, and that was all of my failed exchange with the 3 time Olympian. But after I grabbed my packet - it was very cool to see everything with the USATF logo, I headed over to Pacers Running Store, which was doing a meet and greet with some of the greats: Shalane, Chris, and Matt!

Matt Tegenkamp and Chris Solinsky
Prior to arriving, I only knew Shalane was going to be there, so this was a great surprise - a triple whammy of American excellence. I waited as patiently as possible to meet them, all of whom were very kind and took time to speak to each person and take pictures. I tried to just express my admiration for their accomplishments without looking like a blabbering fool. The cool thing was, I had chatted with Chris Solinsky at the Wharf to Wharf in California, and he remembered meeting me. Pretty cool. They all signed my bib with good mantras to keep in mind:
Dream big - Shalane Flannagan
Run fast, have fun - Matt Tegenkamp
Hard work pays off - Chris Solinsky
Anyways, I was a kid filled with all of the anticipation of Christmas before the race.
It was a beautiful morning in Alexandria, and the fog was just lifting as I did my warm up around the historic town. I was totally relaxed. This was a low pressure race - I was here to have fun and partake in this major running event. Now, I think many people were drawn to the 12k because they could run in the same race with the elite runners, so I think many of the more competitive runners did that. I looked around at the start of the 5k and didn't see the usual I yelled as I crossed the finish - I won!
Along the waterfront in Alexandria
It was my goal to go under 20 minutes - anything else was gravy. The siren blared, and we were off. A few women were ahead of men, including this little girl - a pipsqueak who held sub 6:20 pace for at least the first half mile. Impressive! Before the first mile mark, there was a sharp turn and a steep hill, and this was my chance to make a move - hills are my strength. I got myself to second place, and just before hitting mile 1, got in first. Mile 1 to 2 was entirely straight, so I couldn't see how close the other girls were behind me. I was feeling good with my pace - nothing out of control, but still fast. It was beautiful to run along the Potomac - Alexandria was so pretty and the streets were so fun to run on.What was cool was as I made my way through the street, people would clap and say first woman. That doesn't happen often! There was no indication that the next woman was right behind me, but this wasn't verified until after mile 2, when I could sneak a peak at a turn and check. As my first cross-country coach in middle school said when you run on hills or turns "Run like a thief" - make a quick break, and then by the time the person behind you sees you again, it can be psychologically demoralizing. And so I did! I finally got onto the last stretch and could see the finish line in the distance - there was even a big banner held up (and you can watch the finish
Me and my friend Maggie
19:45 - I got my sub 20 and then some.
I did my cooldown beaming, and watched the elites finish. They looked so fabulous - these are strong men and women. I congratulated Sara Hall on her 6th place finish, and she asked me how I did in my race. When I said I won, her and a couple of the Boulder team runners said congratulations. What?! How was I in the same space as these people? I saw a friend of mine who I met when we both volunteered at Pacers races - she did the 12k and ran 47:39!
Bib, finisher medal, champion medal
Another friendship brought to you by running. Then they had an award ceremony. Right before they started, I spotted Deena Kastor - I knew she was in town doing some of the coverage, but suddenly my biggest running hero and role model was just a few yards away. I have always wanted to meet her - her bronze medal, American record, and other tenacious races just make her amazing. I have blogged about her a lot - above all other runners, she has given me the most inspiration and drive. They called my name to come up, and there she is, clapping for me and saying "Go Vanessa." Seriously? I was just beaming. By the way, that little girl was 9 and ended up in 3rd place - she was speedy! They gave my medal and then I stepped down and got a chance to talk to Deena.
Thrilled to meet my hero, Deena Kastor
I was beside myself - she congratulated me, and then I talked about how much I looked up to her and was so impressed with her recent 9th place finish at the IAAF World Championships Marathon in Moscow at age 40. It was a dream come true - I got to meet my hero, and not just standing in line for an autograph, but because I won my own race.
Heroes are there to inspire, and I certainly got a big dose of inspiration this weekend meeting some of America's best runners.
Good mantras to keep in mind

Sunday, November 10, 2013

A slice of humble pie: Veteran's Day 10k 2013

            The Army Ten Miler was my big race of Fall 2013, and the PR of 1:05:41 was well celebrated. That was three weeks ago, and after recovering the first week (I was stiff and sore for 4 days after – nearly as painful as post marathon soreness), it was back to work. I did a few more track workouts, a couple more tempo runs, and a couple of solid long runs. I felt great, and was ready to go after it in one final formal race for the year – the Veteran’s Day 10k. I ran 41:27 there in 2011 and 39:50 in 2012 – this is a good race for big PRs. The build up looked good – I had a nice day on Saturday with a little shower thrown by my DC bridesmaid. And just relaxed at home Saturday night – was able to get a good night’s sleep.
            It was a beautiful morning for our race at West Potomac Park. The sun was just bursting across the National Mall, illuminating the backdrop for one of DC’s premier races. And it is definitely a premier one – our British Olympian Clare Hallisey was there, as were many of the DC racing teams – these are people who have qualified for the Olympic Trials.  It was fairly cold outside with some wind, but still very sunny. I lined up at the start and hoped for the best.
            And we were off! Brr, I couldn’t feel my hands! They would’ve been sweatballs with gloves, but it was taking a while to warm up. The pace felt so fast – I came through the first mile in 6:21 (which was my goal pace), and it felt like an all out sprint. It was one thing to feel like I was working hard, but this did not feel like that. I’ve had days where the road rose to meet me, or days where I just had to hunker down, but this was option C. I was just trying to hold on, and as I passed through mile 2, it became more evident that it was not my day. But I just tried to keep going – it’s not as if I was going to stop. I still had a glimmer of hope that I could reel it back in and negative split. But I went through the 5k in about 20:20, and with that I saw my changes of sub 40 slipping away. That’s not an easy feeling, but the race was still going, and I was just doing my best to be steady and not let too many people pass me. You couldn’t ask for a more stunning landscape to run along – monuments rushing by left and right and the Potomac just glistened in the autumn rays. I just focused on that and willed the mile markers to show up.  With about half a mile to go, I felt another woman come up alongside me, and I recognized her. She lives in VA too and places well in her age group – 50-54. We nearly were running side by side – I was only half a yard in front of her. And I just didn’t want to get beaten by someone over two decades older than me, so my final focus was just on that.

And hey, I respect my elders – Joan Benoit Samuelson and Colleen de Reuck can kick my butt everyday, but this was my last thing to get me to the finish line – all the other goals were gone.
I actually moved up in place compared to last year. And while I actually ran this race at a pace (6:37) slower than my 10 mile race pace (6:34), it was nice to see advanced in the standings. Of course, I was a little hard on myself for a bit. This was not at all what I had expected.
            I did my cooldown around the Tidal Basin, and the sun was fully risen – absolutely breakthtaking. And this is my city – I get to do these kind of races any time – what a privilege. I was happy to also see an old running friend of mine who had been in Arizona for Army training – now she’s back! And friendship is more important than a PR. I made my way to my car to head on home.
            As I was driving back, I got a healthy dose of perspective. I have perhaps become entitled to good races – I have come to expect consistently good races. That’s why I love training: hard work + consistency = success on race day. But that’s not an absolute. I thought about the New York City Marathon – Meb Keflezkhi ran a sub-optimal time but still finished the race. At the Dash to the Finish 5k, Shalane Flannagan, a bronze medalist, came in third, in admittedly, not her best race. Kara Goucher pulled out of NYC because of an injury – yet she was come in 3rd in Boston and New York a few years ago. We don’t get good days all of the time, and even those at the highest level of training don’t always get the banner race days that they have worked their careers for. Why would I expect the same thing?

I have all of my limbs. I am healthy enough to complete a 10k race and the synergy all of my bodily systems allow me to compete at a high level. I have a loving family and wonderful friends, and in six months am marrying the love of my life. An off day at the races is not that big of a deal. It was a beautiful day to be a part of a great race.