Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Thrice run: Pike's Peek 10k 2014

Since I started running here in DC in 2008, I've been able to sample many of the great races that this area has to offer. One of my favorite races is the Pike's Peek 10k in Rockville, MD, which is run on the Rockville Pike. You make one turn out of a parking lot, and then it's six miles of straight rolling hills. I ran it 2012 (40:55) and 2013 (39:28), both netted PRs. Last year's race was particularly meaningful because it was right after the Boston Marathon bombing, and so there were a lot of tributes at it. It's now one of my favorites - it's a sign of spring, it's a fast course, and the festival after is a lot of fun.This spring my training has been pretty good. I've missed some workouts, but I've also had a lot of good ones as well, and when I've been able to get all of my miles in, hitting about 45 miles per week. I told Sarah a month ago that my A goal was to get close to my April of 39:28, and my B goal was to go sub 40, which she thought was attainable. After all, I wasn't prioritizing running this spring, so my expectations weren't too high. I had also caught a cold last week (only made better by these beautiful tulips...and rest too), so there wasn't really a chance for a race week workout to put some spring in my step.Easy 5, 4, and 3 miles were it. Strangely, I woke up on Saturday with the tightest calves ever, and no explanation as to why? Any thoughts? It definitely freaked me out.I had a good warm up this morning along the course, and even though my legs felt tight, they felt better than when I first woke up. I saw my friend Ken for a minute, but I was rushing around, so we didn't really have a chance to chat. I got into the first corral (this is one of the greatest things about the race, is that they do wave starts, so it doesn't get that congested). Ths year, they even had pacemakers, even one for 40:00. I figured I would keep an eye on this guy, and just try to stay a few paces ahead of him. We were off and I was going fast - too fast - through the first mile in 6:15. It didn't freak me out though, it just meant I could ease off the gas, and averaged the second mile at 6:25 pace. Things had spread out a bit, and then I was falling into step with the pacer. This gave me a push to pick it up a little, and try to get ahead. I went through the 5k mark in 19:52, which had me right on track for today's goal. Sometimes it felt like it was getting hot, but a few times we hit a great breeze that felt heavenly. I like to pick up the pace at mile 4, and I feel like it is the 10k that I have the best handle on pacing. I was running between 6:20 and 6:24 pace pretty consistently and feeling strong. I was holding off on the bigger pushes until mile 5, when I finally started to get closer to some of the people I was chasing. This is a rolling course, so once you finish climbing a hill, you go back down. I knew that towards the end, it's all downhill, but I couldn't remember exactly when. I just kept waiting for that point where someone is yelling "It's all downhill from here!" That would be the time for the all out kick. And finally, I created the last hill, and was using gravity to propel myself for the finish. I told myself I wouldn't check my watch anymore, just run hard until the finish. I was happy as I saw the clock ticking, because I knew I had made this race a good one.39:336:22 paceOnly 5 seconds off of my PR121/2370 overall16/1241 women7/127 in age groupWhat's crazy is that I got beat by 2 50 year olds!It was a great race - not perfect, but pretty close. It means I've retained my fitness, and with more work, will be able to nab a PR, whenever that happens. Yes, I haven't set any PRs since last October, but Sarah says at this point, it's more about consistency. I'm not at a plateau - it just means PRs don't come as easily. I was happy to have more time to catch up with my buddy Ken afterwards (who scored a great PR), and I found out later from facebook that there some other friends of mine there - this wasn't one to miss! Although the Nike Women's DC Half Marathon was that day too, which meant 15,000 women were at that. I compared my results from PP last year, and I had placed 32 among women, and having run nearly the same time this year leads me to believe that a lot of the competition was running downtown that day. Regardless, it was a great race - my last race as a Taylor before I come a married lady - 18 days to go! 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Rejoice, we have conquered! Boston 2014

I generally don't reference my age, but I was born in 1986. Since I have been alive, no American, male or female, has won the historic, beloved Boston Marathon. The last American man to win was Greg Meyer in 1983. The last American woman to win was in 1985. I haven't followed Boston my entire life, but since I got into running and marathoning, I have (along with many) been hoping for an American to pull out the big win. There have been some close ones - Desi Davila even came in second when I ran in 2011. But if there was ever a day where an American needed to win, it was today. It was to show the bomber, and the world that what American do is overcome and conquer, even in the face of adversity.
I watched the first hour of the race at home in Rochester, then headed to the airport to fly back to DC. I was checking the 5k splits, anxiously watching Shalane hold onto her lead, hitting the half marathon point at course record, and whoopnng with surprise when Meb took the lead in the men's race. But really? A 38 (soon to be 39 in 2 weeks) year-old man, who was ranked 15th going into the race, leading? Could he win?
I was wearing my 2011 yellow Boston Marathon shirt while I was at the airport, and at security, a man with a 2013 Boston Marathon jacket came up to me and said "Boston Strong." His name was Mark, and we ended up on the same flight, which was delayed. Mark and I sat and chatted, as if old friends swapping stories, instead of perfect strangers. Because when you've run over the hallowed ground of Boston, you know the 26.2 mile course and the beauty of this magical event, which made us kindred spirits. And while we can't watch it live, we were tracking Facebook (I'm glad my friends were posting so much) and tracking the splits, we let out a woop when we heard that Meb won the race.
This was a big deal for so many reasons. Increasingly, there has been frustration - the Americans keep coming close, nabbing 4th, 3rd, even 2nd place, but still no win. So Meb's victory ended the drought. But his own story is one of persistence and dedication. He had a silver medal from Athens almost 10 years ago. He won the NYC Marathon in 2009 - when I hadn't heard of him yet. Meb could have been com placement - he went to the Olympics 3 times, was one of the fastest American marathoners, has a wife and three girls, and could have rested on his laurels. But his story is also one of overcoming - an immigrant from war-torn Eritreaa, suffered a devastating stress fracture and lost one of his friends due to cardiac arrest at the 2008 Marathon Trials, and a number of other injuries and challenges. He finished 23rd at NYC last yaer - his worst performance of his career, but he finished to show that NYC could overcome after Superstorm Sandy. Likewise, he signed up for Boston again to show that Boston Strong is real, and that the city and marathon would overcome last year's tragedy. Meb even had the names of last year's victims on his bib - he took this personal and wanted to honor the victims.
This wasn't just a superficial act - he took this personally, and ran with huge heart, and tremendous tenacity.
I was very weepy watching the recap video and Meb listening to the Star Spangled Banner - it was just a perfect moment. And the joy in the air was palpable - online, everyone is abuzz with it - this was a big deal and offered hope and joy. You don't need to be a marathon runner to appreciate it - the event is generally-recognized as one of the greatest physical tasks one can do.. To think that it's been three decades since an American was the first to complete the 26.2 mile journey. Meb changed the game and wiped the slate clean.
Look at this picture - his excitement and joy was electric.
The first man who ran a marathon, Pheidippides, may have died when he completed his journey from Athens to Marathon, but his words are immortal, "Rejoice, we have conquered!" They still ring true today.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Brave, Roar, and Let It Go: Power Songs, Mantras, or Both?

We all have power songs: those that get us going in the morning or motivate us during hard moments. For me, a lot of songs remind me of certain moments in my life: good, bad, ugly/challenging. Some ultimate become too painful to listen to or bring bad too much. Others are a reminder of celebrations or milestones or overcoming significant obstacles.
The Killers "All These Things I've Done" (and a montage of Joan Benoit Samuelson winning the 1984 Olympic marathon, which is no longer on YouTube) was what I listened to before my first BQ at the 2009 Marine Corps Marathon.
The Black Eyed Peas "I've got a feeling" was my go-to song before my first Boston Marathon.
"The Story" by Brandi Carlisle was before my pr of 3:27 at the best Boston ever - 2011.
But other songs represent life PRs too. In 2012, I was really struggling with my dissertation proposal, and I remember listening to "Let me be your star" from the TV show Smash. There was a lyric about remembering the difficult moments, and I remember telling myself that someday that that pain and self doubt would be erased when it passed, and it did the following year. 
Lately, there isn't a lot to write about in regards to running. I'm just trying to stay in decent shape, and in the fall I'll get back to more frequent racing and chasing PRs. I am just trying to chase good dissertation writing. I was pleased to find out that I earned a small grant to travel to conduct some research at the international Marian research institute. This was the first one I've ever won, and I cried when I found out. 
I don't know what it is or how to explain it, but I can often be crippled with self-doubt. I have questioned my abilities at every stage of my graduate career. Every stage. Not self-effacing doubt or just trying to be humble, but truly questioning my ability to reach the next level. There is always a period of painful questions and "negative chatter" in my head. I can vividly recall these, and in moments of victory, I remember these moments too. Perhaps it is so I never attempt to cruise or slide to the next benchmark. I'm at a middle point right now - far into my project, but the finish line (the Ph.D.) is still probably 2 years away. What are my 3 go-to songs right now?
Brave by Sara Bareilles
Roar by Katy Perry
Let it go by Idina Menzel from Frozen
You don't need to be a shrink to see what I'm craving - strong motivational songs to keep going about my power, strength, capabilities. 
They'll remind me to keep my head down and plug away. I can't wait to be at this finish line and have this all be a distant memory.
Last week, I was listening to a podcast interview with Dave McGivalry, the race director of the Boston Marathon. He had a lot of sage advice to give on perseverance and dedication, but one quote really stuck with me (and a quick google search confirmed that this is one of his major go-tos): "the walls of intimidation are crumbling." He was saying that people are increasingly gaining confidence and not letting others' opinions or their own get in the way. So, a big part of this process of writing the dissertation is crumbling, or really smashing my own wall of intimidation. Because it's not just about getting to the finish line, but recognizing the progress made along the way and standing on the rubble of doubts and losses and recognizing the victories.
Let it go, be brave, and ROAR!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

My heart is in Boston today

It goes without saying that my heart is in Boston today. A year ago today, the Boston Marathon went from a celebration to the worst case scenario in the blink of an eye. And while I was hundreds of miles away, as I am again today, my love for that beautiful city and beautiful marathon transplanted me to Boylston Street.
I cannot believe it's been a year. I remember walking home at the end of the day, on that day, crying. I didn't believe it could happen on such sacred ground, on a day that is supposed to be special. And since then, it's been moving to see the outpouring of responses, from fundraising, to those who ran into the danger, to those comforting the victims and their families.
It's hard to look at pictures from my own Boston experiences. Those were days of such joy. I've always said they were some of the happiest of my life. So how can I look at the beautiful finish line from 2011 and not see the pain and sadness that was there in 2013?
It's a lot to process, and I'm still trying to understand it all. Today I choose to mourn and remember what was lost. It was pouring today on my 8 mile run, and in one way, it mirrored my mood. It seemed the clouds were doing the crying for me. But as the 22 mph winds blew and the rain fell, it was a reminder to do what Boston does - persevere during the storm. That city didn't hide - it came out stronger. The world didn't just embrace Boston Strong because it's catchy, but because it represent the indomitable spirit of that city.
I am also filled with hope and anticipation as I think of Monday April 21st - the 118th running of the Boston Marathon. It will be the best marathon ever - it will be a day of honoring and celebrating. I won't be there, but will be watching from home -- rooting for the Americans (go Shalane and Desi!!) and everyone taking part.