Falling short

Training for a marathon involves months of preparation, hours of sweat, and seemingly endless miles, all to be laid on the line in an event that lasts a few hours. Last December, I had the goal of qualifying for the Boston Marathon. I needed a 3:40, and felt that I was capable of 3:30, based on my 1:40:03 half marathon time and the McMillan calculator. I was trained, tapered, and ready to run. The race did not go as well as planned. I had persistent intestinal issues the morning of, which led to an unplanned detour into the desert. I wasn’t able to hit the speeds that I wanted, even though I felt like I gave it my best that morning. Fortunately, I still managed to BQ with a time of 3:38:41. With the new, tighter standards, I was pretty sure that it would be enough and I wanted to take a year off from marathons anyway.

After the bombings, I knew anecdotally that there was an increased interest in running the 2014 race and wondered if I would make it in. Still, I was committed to my goal of completing a Half Ironman in the fall and didn’t think I could do that and PR in a marathon. Extra slots were opened up for the race, but yes, more people were registering. I submitted my registration, waited a week and a half, and learned that the cut-off was 1:38 under qualifying time. I was 19 seconds too slow. All that preparation. So close. So far. After I got the news, I thought about my desert potty break. If it hadn’t been for that, I’d be looking up airline tickets right now.

Life doesn’t coddle. Sometimes, what you bring to the table isn’t enough. Sometimes your goals are thwarted by things beyond your control (although I think that I will skip the artichoke hearts the night before a race). In reality, all we can control is our preparation, our attitude, and our behavior in the moment. If something is worth it, we will press on, even when faced with setbacks and the very real possibility that we may fall short. Again.

There are endless quotes and songs about focusing on the journey, not the destination (including one from a fully-clothed Miley Cyrus). That’s where the time is spent, the tears are shed – the growth happens. It’s where we learn about ourselves. Finding strength, tenacity, and yes, weakness. There may come a time to shelve certain dreams, but that doesn’t have to lead to despair. After all, Johnny Depp originally sought to make it as a rock star.

In the grand scheme of things, I know that missing out on a race is not a huge deal, and I plan to make like Joe Dirt and keep on keepin’ on. I have already signed up for the Phoenix Marathon in an attempt to better my qualifying time. After a break from marathoning, I am looking forward to ramping up the miles and going long again. Me, Boston, and 2015? There’s only one way to find out. Happy Training.

Firecracker Triathlon

I have no one to blame. I know better. Don’t mess with things right before a race. Here’s what happened: I had read that one way to decrease rolling resistance on the bike, and therefore go faster, is to use latex tubes instead of the standard butyl ones. They cost a little more, but compared to other my other bike upgrades, it was pretty inconsequential. I had bought the tubes weeks ago and promptly stowed them in the cabinet, where they remained until 9 PM the night before the race. After I swapped out the tube and started to put the tire back on the wheel, I realized that the valve was too short for my race wheels and I wouldn’t be able to use them. The things you don’t think about…

I removed the latex and wrestled the old tube back into the tire and and the tire on to the wheel. It had been a while since I had changed a tire, and my clumsy and somewhat forceful efforts damaged the original tube around the stem and caused a leak.For a panicked moment I thought that I wouldn’t be able to race, but I still had my stock wheels lying around so I created a bike mullet (business in front, speed in the back!). Crisis averted, but I was now worse off that I would have been if I had just left well enough alone. As an aside, I am now the proud owner of two shiny, new valve extenders.

To beat (ha ha) the heat, the race starts early. The youth waves started at 5:45 in the morning, with the adults starting at six. To get people through the course as quickly as possible, a serpentine swim is used and each individual racer is assigned a unique start time. I would be going at 7:21, which gave me some time to kill (all bikes had to be racked before the kids started).

I have a streak of besting my previous time each time I have done this series, and I hoped to keep it going. The last time I did a Tri Tucson race, the volunteer had signaled for me to get out of the pool before I had completed all 825 yards, so I am using my estimated time of 1:13:23 rather than the official time of 1:11:42. Firecracker tends to lead to slower times because the pool was set up long-course (50 meters), you have to somewhat awkwardly duck under lane lines after each out-and-back, and it’s really bloody hot, so I knew I had my work cut out for me. On the other hand, I did have my one race wheel and an aero helmet this time.

13:26 | 750 meters | 01m 38s / 100 yards
Age Group: 1/20
Overall: 56/279

After doing some easy laps, I lined up according to number and got ready for my start. The pool is cooled during the summer and felt really refreshing. The race director double-Snapshot 2 (9-6-2013 8-39 PM)checked my name and number, and I was off. At a recent aquathlon, my training buddy Ross had noticed that my stroke was choppy, so I tried to focus on extending long and keeping my body as flat as possible. After a few laps, I passed a swimmer, and I felt like I had a good rhythm going. Down on one side, flip, back on the other, duck under the lane line, continue. About two-thirds of the way through, I reached a bottle neck. I had caught up with two other swimmers, and I couldn’t really pass them because of how they were positioned. When I tried to make a move, I kicked pretty hard and got some water down the wrong pipe. Coughing, I had to stop at the wall and catch my breath. Thankfully, there was only one 50-meter length to go.

Transition went fairly smoothly, although it took a couple of tries to get my aero helmet snapped on.

Bike (includes transitions)
37:26 | 11.5 miles | 19.9 MPH (estimated speed after taking transitions out)
Age Group: 1/20
Overall: 74/279

I got off to a good start and felt really solid in the aero position. The song “I’m Flying” from the musical Peter Pan popped into my head as I zoomed down the road (I had played Wendy’s daughter Jane in a 7th grade production. It was a small part, but I got to fly!). Not exactly a push yourself song, but it captured the fun of biking fast. Because of the serpentine swim, the course is a little more crowded than it is during the spring and fall races, but the passing and being passed went smoothly. I saw one woman who had a full backpack on and wondered what she might be carrying.

The course is three loops around the University, so there are a lot of turns. I kept hearing Ross’s voice telling me to downshift before making the turn, so I don’t waste so much energy getting back up to speed. There were a few times where having to steer around people and kept my hands away from the shifters, but I did it for most of the turns. I was happy that I was even able to stay in the aero bars part of the time while on crazy-cracked Euclid. It’s been a slow process, but I am becoming a decent bike handler. I had put a Nuun tablet and a bunch of ice cubes in my aero bottle, but the fluid was warm now and not super-refreshing. Still, hydration is hydration. The good news was that there was cloud cover, so I was spared the brunt of the sun. I hoped that it would stay that way for the run.

Transition Happens. Riveting, I know.

20:50 | 3 miles | 6:56 min/mile
Age Group: 1/20
Overall: 16/279

Last year I had made the decision to carry a small hand-held bottle at this race, and it served me well. I could use my bottle to for hydration and pour all of the cold course water directly onto my head. I was feeling good about keeping the streak going, as long as the heat didn’t suck too much life out of me. There were some kids with water guns on the course, but I was next to another runner when I passed them, and he got the benefit of the soakage.   Screen Shot 2013-07-08 at 9.25.09 PM

I saw my friend Pat taking pictures when I made a sharp turn at the east end of the mall, and tried to smile for the camera. The beep of the Garmin alerted said I knocked off my first mile in 6:45, which was much better than I was expecting. I didn’t feel like I was going too fast either, and felt that I could probably hold the pace. I was also passing people at a regular clip, which always makes things more fun. My friend Shannon, who was in the middle of Ironman training and not racing himself, was out cheering, which I appreciated. The second loop was more of the same, and I was almost worried that I didn’t feel worse. I mean, I was running hard, but maybe I was holding back? Mental DJ, cue Linkin Park. I bleed it out, digging deeper… 

The sun started to peek out from behind the clouds as I finished my second lap and headed toward the finish line. Ross was heading out for his run, and we high-fived. I crancked up the effort, but in reality, I wasn’t going that much faster. My heart rate shot up though, and it certainly felt worse.

I bleed it out
I’ve opened up these scars
I’ll make you face this
I’ve pulled myself so far
I’ll make you face… this… now!!!!

Unfortunately, there wasn’t any chase-fodder to provide extra motivation. Still, when it was all over, I had completed my run almost a minute faster than I had in March, and came within one second of beating my official (short) time from that race. It was much better than I had expected to do, and I was thrilled. I also ended my Firecracker podium drought and by winning my age group.

Snapshot 1 (9-6-2013 8-31 PM)Final time: 1:11:43
Age Group: 1/19
Overall: 34/279

San Francisco Half Marathon (A Race to Love)

Racing opportunities thin out during the summer in southern Arizona, so I kept my eyes open for events in cooler locales. I had several friends who were heading up to the San Francisco Marathon and Half Marathon, and I decided to join them. My husband Ted and I volunteered to drive our fuel-efficient Hyundai Elantra and Keith and Monica were game to travel with us. We decided to break the 880-ish mile trip into two days with a stopover in Bakersfield.

We crammed ourselves, luggage, and a couple week’s worth of snacks into the car, and waved goodbye to hundred-degree temperatures for a few days. Before we even left town, we ended up doubling back for sunglasses and a cell phone (the names of the forgetful parties have been withheld). A harbinger of other things to come… Finally, we were on out way, and our GPS (hereafter referred to as Dot) was plugged in and ready to navigate.


Driving was pretty uneventful for a while, which is a good thing. We broke into our snacks and talked about our goals for the race. Monica wanted to break two hours. Keith, who averages over a marathon a month, had set a PR of 3:01:18 a few weeks ago and was feeling good. Personally, I was just wanting to go under 1:45 (My PR is 1:40:03). I knew it was a hilly course, and my training had been very short-distance focused lately. I had met my goal of breaking 21 minutes in a 5K and simply looking forward to getting out of town and having fun. We stopped in Phoenix for lunch and took few more pit stops along the way. It’s funny, no matter how much food you pack for a trip, you always want to buy more. Monica bought some gummy octopi, which led to her sharing this video with all of us: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=astISOttCQ0. Warning: Watch only if you like obnoxious things.


Standing outside the General Patton museum at a California rest stop.

Keith brought his Sirius radio, and we listened to some classic rock and old school, “new wave” alternative music while it was sunny out. As night fell, our moods mellowed, and we dialed in Sirius XM Love. Easy 70’s tunes abounded, which was fine for everyone except Ted. Then it happened. The moment that set the tone for the rest of the trip. Minnie Ripperton. Loving you. Tweeting birds. La la la la! La la la la! La la la la la la la la la! Doo doo doo doo doo! And… ahh ahh ahh ahh ahh! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kE0pwJ5PMDg Yes, we sang. And it sounded awful. Runner’s lungs are not necessarily singer’s lungs. Our vocal chords strained and sputtered. But there was lots and lots of love in the car, and we dubbed this the road trip of love to the city of love. We were still feeling it when we arrived at our Bakersfield Super 8 super late that night.

Keith, Monica, and I met in the morning for an easy five-miler before we hit the road again. It was slightly cooler than in Tucson, which was nice. After we hit the road, Keith handed us his iPhone so we could hook it up to the auxiliary, and Minnie’s high notes poured through the speakers. The miles rolled by, and I gave Dot the expo address and she dutifully took us to Treasure Island. We saw a marina with a lot of expensive boats, but nothing that looked like a convention center. Then I realized that I had chosen the wrong zip code. Oops. We made our way back over the bridge and right into the heart of downtown San Francisco. Dot did her best to guide us, but the GPS signal frequently got lost amid the tall buildings, so some of her instructions weren’t very timely.

We were about to give up on the expo for that day and just head to the motel, when we passed several people carrying marathon bags and saw the convention center. When we arrived, we decided to split up so we could each look at what we wanted to. I started searching my purse for my phone to make sure I had everyone’s number, and I couldn’t find it. I frantically emptied my whole purse on the floor,and it wasn’t there. This amused some people… Ted had his phone, so he was stuck with me for a while.


Yeah… I keep a lot of stuff in there.


To paraphrase Templeton the rat from the first animated Charlotte’s Web movie, the expo was a veritable smorgasbord, and I tried almost everything. Bars, snacks, bars, drinks, chews, bars… Apparel, massagers, hydration systems, and all the usual stuff was present. I ended up buying a Tiger Tail and some sunglasses. Keith, who is an Ambassador for the race, met up with his fellow Ambassadors at their booth. He was also interviewed by a local news station because he had been at the Boston Marathon. We also messed around at the TRX station. Photo ops abounded.


Because Keith was an ambassador, he was invited to a special dinner at a Thai restaurant and we were able to come as guests. The food was delicious and plentiful. After dinner, we walked around by the waterfront. The Bay Bridge was lit up beautifully. I had brought my sweater, but I still felt chilly.


We decided to drive around so we could see the Golden Gate bridge and get a feel for the course, which went right over it. When we turned around in the little park, the bottom of the car scraped on something, and one of the underguard thingamajigs came loose (are you overwhelmed by my automotive knowledge?). Ted and Keith wrestled with it for a while, and were eventually able to completely detach it. More Minnie was needed… Ah, feel the love.


We spent the next day at the Expo, and then Ted, Monica, and I took a side trip to Sports Basement, where I scooped up some running and tri gear and Ted got a free beer. Then we stopped at Trader Joe’s for some lunch salads and more snacks. I ended up finding my phone in one of my other bags. Who knows why I had put it there instead of my purse.

We decided that it would be fun to go to Little Italy for our pre-race dinner, so we piled into the car (people who live in the area might be laughing at us right about now). All of the parking lots in the area were full. Roads were blocked off due to some kind of street fair. Dot sounded annoyed as she repeatedly told us she was “Recalculating.” Traffic was congested. Dot faded in and out, and gave us our directions after we had already passed the turns. We drove up and down some of those crazy, steep hills that you see in the movies. An hour and a half later, we returned to the motel and ate pizza at a place across the street. I ended up having a veggie pizza sub and a salad.

It was another really cold evening, and I was regretting not bringing warmer bottoms to the race. I decided to ask the front desk for trash bags, figuring I could wear them to keep warm before the start. The desk guy raised his eyebrows, but gave me the bags. Monica kindly gave me a pair of throwaway gloves and let me borrow one of her fleece jackets. I had at least had the foresight to bring some tube sock “arm warmers” to toss.

I set my alarm for 3:20 the next morning. Bruce and Terri, who are also from Tucson but were staying elsewhere, kindly offered to drive me and Keith to the start. Ted was going to drive Monica to her start because she was running the second half of the course and didn’t have to get up as early. Bruce and Terri were also having problems with their GPS, but we made our way to the start in plenty of time. Security looked through our bags, but it didn’t take very long. It was a cool morning, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. With my extra layers and garbage bag, I was completely fine.



*******************Skip if you don’t care about potty stuff********************************

Being an Ambassador, Keith was able to wait inside a restaurant and drink nice beverages and use plumbed toilets. Meanwhile, I made my way to the port-o-potties, and thankfully didn’t have to wait in line. If you have read my other race reports, you might have picked up on the fact that when it comes to the solid stuff, I usually have to go early and go often. This morning, nothing. Not at the hotel. Not in the plastic blue facility. Not even after taking a caffeinated Clif shot. It must have been that pizza sub. I don’t normally eat white bread. I knew that white flour can be used to make paste. Add some gummy cheese, and well, you get the point.


I put Monica’s fleece in my gear check bag and headed toward the second corral. The air was cool, but I was fine in my tank and arm warmers. I also chucked my trash bag. It was crowded at the beginning, but I didn’t have to weave too much. My mental DJ cued up Republica’s “Ready to Go”.

It’s a crack, I’m back yeah standing
On the rooftops shouting out,
Baby I’m ready to go!

Because I wasn’t feeling the need to be aggressive in this race, I was fine with a slow start. I hit the first mile mark in 8:16. We ran along the waterfront, which was beautiful. The next couple miles were just under 8 minutes, then in the 7:40 range. The aroma of sourdough permeated the air. There was a steep climb as we approached the bridge. Now, My Chemical Romance’s “Famous Last Words” coursed through my head. I am not afraid to keep on living… That mile was run in 8:36.

Now for the highlight of the course: running on the Golden Gate Bridge. While it was still crowded and I needed to make sure I didn’t crash into anyone, I made sure to look to the side from time to time and take in the view. I had discarded the “arm warmers” and gloves by this time. The air was cool, but it felt wonderful. I saw Keith making his way back across the bridge around mile seven. There was some gentle ascending and descending, but I didn’t feel like it made that much difference in my pace or effort. At the end of the bridge, we ran into the park for the turn-around and then ran back across. A live band played some classic southern-style rock. I was feeling really, really good and decided I’d try to push the pace a little. Cascada’s “San Francisco” was in my head now. I had recently taught it in RPM, and well, I was in San Francisco. At least “Loving You” did not make an appearance. 

19913_4294477140486_1286549467_nAfter leaving the bridge, we headed inland a bit. After a sharp ascent, there was a nice view of the houses below. Then it was time to fly down a long, steep hill.  The last couple of miles were more up and down, emphasis on the up. I was still feeling good, and cranked up my effort and started passing some people. I saw someone with a sign that said “Lauf, Micha, Lauf!” I speak a little bit of German, and pretended that the sign was specifically encouraging me to run.

264894_4294477260489_1691156455_nAs I approached the finish line, I was passed by one person, and I decided to see if I could reel him in. I dug in and went for it, and I got him. My chip time was 1:43:17, and I was really happy with it. Ted and Monica had been able to see everything from the sidelines and got some great shots.


Behind the guy in gray…


Not anymore

I met up with Ted and Monica and got my dry clothes at bag check. While the weather 1005875_3280320263584_1794908932_nhad been perfect for running, it was a bit cool for just standing around. I picked up some Greek yogurt at the finish, which was delicious. I appreciated that they provided something with some protein. Soon it was time for Monica to line up for the Second Half, and Ted a I took a long walk to the car and drove to the finish line. 

Keith finished his marathon in an impressive 3:03:49, while Monica was happy with her 2:06:12. Bruce gutted out a 4:55:32 for his fifth marathon this year. I never saw one of our other Tucson friends, Brian, on the trip, but I saw that he won his age group with a 1:23:46. I ended up seventh in my age group of 431, which was a pleasant surprise. We headed to Pizza Orgasmica for some post-race fueling. Was it as good as it sounds? A lady doesn’t eat and tell 😉


After lunch, it was back into the car and we headed to Bakersfield. When we asked Dot to take us to a Mexican restaurant that had been recommended by a local, she led us to a cemetery. Tall buildings weren’t the problem this time, so we banished her to the glove box for the rest of trip. On the way home, we refueled at a Love’s (where else?) travel stop.

This race was one where I was able to simply enjoy being a runner. I came into it without any real expectations, pressure, or plans. I just let my body do what it felt like doing and enjoyed the moment. Sometimes the fact that running is a celebration of being healthy and alive can get lost in the splits and mileage logs. Any day that I can move on my own power in a new and beautiful place is a good day indeed.

Race data: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/329579065

Meet Me Downtown 5K

It was the final Southern Arizona Roadrunners race before the summer break, so why not embrace the hundred-degree heat and have an evening race while the sun is still out? Two thousand and thirty four people besides myself evidently thought this was a fine idea. I arrived around five to help with registration, and it was a good thing because the table was swamped with people signing up at the event. We were only accepting cash and check, and constantly having to answer “I don’t know,” when people asked where the nearest ATM was. A free mile run was also being held, and several people signed up for that as well. I saw a few people from my office building at the race, which was a nice surprise.

We were partially shaded as we worked the tables, but definitely felt the heat. Standing and sweating for an hour and a half before a race probably isn’t the best thing to do, but sometimes you have to take one for the team. We got some relief volunteers with about twenty minutes to start, so I dropped my stuff off in the car and managed to get a warm-up mile in (“warm-up” sounds funny on a day like this). I really had to pee, but with the lines at the port-o-potties, I knew there was no way I’d make it in time.

Waiting in the crowd for the race to start was extra toasty. Something about being around all of those warm bodies? I could also feel the heat from the asphalt seeping through the bottoms of my shoes. This race was the first leg of the Gabe Zimmerman Triple Crown. Gabe was a local runner who had been killed in the January 8th shooting targeting Gabby Giffords. Gabe’s father thanked the crowd for for coming out and encouraged everyone to have a great race. It was a poignant reminder to appreciate every day that we’re able to do the things we love and see the people we love.

The course was flat and would probably be very fast if this race was held at a cooler time of year. Still, last year I was only two seconds off my PR at this race (21:27), so I was hopeful that I could do well again. My new PR, which I had just set three weeks ago, was 20:43. I took off at what felt like a good pace, and navigated the congestion. Some of the downtown residents sprayed us down with hoses, which provided welcome (if brief) relief. The song “Running On Empty” rattled around my head, but I pushed it out in favor of “Running Down A Dream.” It was only the first mile, for crying out loud! This eventually gave way to “Pour Some Sugar On Me.” Hot? Yes! Sticky? Yes! Sweet? Eh, maybe.


After the first mile, I started passing several wilting people. The split was 6:47, which was not quite my 6:40 PR pace. I resigned myself to the fact that a new best would probably not be forthcoming today. I passed Ragnar teammate Steve O., and I hit the next mile at 6:54. Bah! I did some back-and-forth with a girl wearing aquamarine. While the course was relatively flat, there was a definite incline toward the end and I felt every inch. I heard someone cheer for me, but I wasn’t sure who. At least I didn’t feel the urge to pee anymore.


I mustered up a kick at the end, but it wasn’t much. I had been involved in a hard-fought rundown at the end of the aquathlon a few days before, and had managed to scrape out the lead. It was one of those rare, fun, amazing, yet agonizing times where I wasn’t sure how I was able to run with the force that I had. I think my brain was feeling a little rebellious and not wanting to go there again so soon. So, in the final straightaway, I was passed by aquamarine, Steve O., and a few other guys. Crud! I was a little disappointed in myself, but my heart rate was also a little on the high side for the end of a 5K, so maybe I had given most of what I could for that day. My chip time was 21:15, which was good enough for second in my age group after the overall winners were taken out of the age group ranks.


Race data: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/321775031

Tucson 5000

This is it. The big race. The culmination of 5-plus months of training. Twenty or so minutes to lay it on the line and not screw up. Optimistic much, Michelle? I was actually feeling really good about this race. I had a great 10K the week before and felt that my goal of running under 21 minutes was well within my grasp, but anything can happen out on the course.

Thanks to Body Pump, I had been listening to a techno cover of Lady Gaga’s “Edge of Glory” by some group called Red Beans and Rice on the way to the race. Not a bad song to run to, though, so I was resigned to having it stuck in my head. I got my number, had a Chocolate Cherry Clif Shot, and headed out for my warm-up miles. I passed one of the park bathrooms on my run and decided to duck in. It was far enough away from the start that there weren’t any lines. On the way back, I used it again. Nerves, I guess.

The course is a flat rectangle around a local park and attracts local PR seekers and even some out-of-state talent. As we lined up, the announcer gave us 35-39 year old females good news: the blazing fast former Olympic Trials marathon runner Paula just had just aged up. I started near the front and after some weaving through people was off at a good clip. I could see speedy masters runners Michelle H. and Merry ahead, and figured if I stayed near them, I’d be doing well. They had both run well under 21 minutes the year before. I hit the first mile at 6:49 and felt good.

In the second mile, I caught up with Michelle H. who was trying to pace a friend to a sub-21. I ended up passing them and enjoyed it, full well knowing that I’ll probably never pass her again. I ended up passing Stu and Merry as well. Stu is still coming back from injury and Merry as having one of those off days that all runners get from time to time. I did a quick swig-and-splash at the water station. The mile 2 split was 6:39.


I was still feeling good, but I knew that I was getting close to that point where I wouldn’t be. A few friends were cheering on the side of the road, which is always nice. I was running hard, but I felt like I could run harder, but at the same time, I just couldn’t. Does that make any sense? Edge of Glory was still in my head, along some rotating mantras. Choose it, Kick it, No mercy! Sometimes in races I need to remind myself that this is what all the training has been leading up to and I had better not waste the opportunity. I sped up toward the end. Hang on, the finish line is in sight. All of a sudden, I heard loud footsteps behind me, and I picked up my pace some more. I fought hard to stay ahead, but was overtaken at the last second. A little disappointing, but my official time was 20:43, well under 21 and a big improvement from the 21:25 PR I had set at this race last year.


Couldn’t hold him off!

After the race, a guy who had read my Tailwinds article introduced himself which was pretty cool. My coach had also come down from Phoenix to watch his brother race, so I got to chat with him as well. I also have to give a shout-out to my amazing friend Keith who ran a PR of 18:21 the weekend after a double marathon. I won’t say how old is is, but let’s just say his twenties are in the rear view mirror. I ended up getting first in my age group and an insulated coffee tumbler.


Race Data: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/311700831

Cinco de Mayo 10K

The Cinco de Mayo 10K holds a special place in my heart. Twelve years ago, I made the transition from a  fitness runner who raced occasionally to someone who actively trained in pursuit of faster times. Cinco was my first serious race and 50 minutes (about an 8-minute mile pace) was my goal. I ran it in 55:55 (8:59 pace). It took me five years to break 50 with a time of 49:51. This year, my sights were set on cracking 45. All of my 10K PRs have been set at this race, despite it being a hilly course, because I’m usually in good shape this time of year. I call it my A-minus race of the spring.

It was a warm morning, but May in Tucson could definitely be worse. Ultimate suffering The competitive 10K started at 7, and I arrived in time do a mile and a half warmup and duck behind some bushes before heading to the starting line. I chatted with a few friends, but soon it was time for business. I headed out at what felt like a strong 10K pace and hit the first (net uphill) mile at 7:05. “Let’s Get It Started,” which had been playing before the race, rolled around in my head. If I could just keep that pace, I’d be golden. As I thought about how I might feel, look, and sound toward the end, an image of Inigo Montoya talking about ultimate suffering flashed through my mind. Time to run like your father was slaughtered by a six-fingered man, girlie!

I saw my friend Stu around mile two. Will he stop to have a Gu? Who makes his running shoe? Argh! No more rhyming and I mean it! Anybody want a peanut? Alright, no more Princess Bride references. May I live a thousand years and never hunt again. As a woman caught up to him, he said “Good job Kristen.” When I pulled up alongside, he said “Good job, Michelle,” which caused the other girl to say, “Oh, I’m Kristen?” We hit a downhill section of the course, which was a pleasant break. “Love in an Elevator” was in my head now. ♪Living it up as I’m running down…♪ The course is an out-and-back, and I saw the lead man 2.66 miles in. I also started passing some of the walkers who had started a half hour earlier.


After the turn-around, I got into a back-and-forth thing with Not-Kristen. I felt like I was keeping a consistent effort and wished she’d either pass me for good or stop trying. After I pulled ahead for about the sixth time, I didn’t see her again. The road turned, and it was head-on into the wind. I mentally chanted: “I must! I must! I must defeat this gust!” I had spend a lot of my recent evening workouts fighting the wind, so I was prepared for the battle. Soon, I hit the long downhill section of the course, and it was time to fly.


Once things flattened out again, the song “Running on Empty” popped into my head, which was fitting. This is where racing becomes as much mental as physical. With the events of Boston still fresh in my mind, I felt really grateful to be out there and I was determined to stay strong and run my best. ‘Cuz I can (mental DJ, cue Pink).

In the distance, I could hear the announcer’s voice say “Second female finisher. Third female finisher.” Was I that close to the front? I picked up my pace and finished in 44:01, sixth woman overall and second in my age group. I had more than exceeded my expectations time-wise, but was just a little disappointed that I had been so close to 43 minutes. I don’t like to stare at my watch when I’m running; I’ll quickly check my pace and overall time on occasion, but run by feel for the most part. Still, maybe someone should invent a feature that would shout at you if you were close to a certain time: “Hey you, stop lollygagging! Pick it up and you’ll break 44!” Or not.

I grabbed some fruit and a burrito and stashed them in my car before heading out for an additional 4.5 miles. I made it to the awards ceremony right before they announced my age group. I now have a third Cinco de Mayo 10K margarita glass for my collection. Overall, I was really happy with the race and it gave me a shot of confidence going into my A race the next weekend.

Race Data: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/308331859

Leveling the Running Field

One thing that I like about running is that it’s a completely objective sport. Want to win? Finish first. It doesn’t matter if your form is in the crapper or the judge from nation X can’t stand your country. On the flip side, certain inequities become apparent. Women are generally slower than men (a topic worthy of its own post). A fifty-year old will usually lose out to a twenty-something. Even people who don’t necessarily care how they stack up against others can become discouraged when age siphons their speed away.

Enter the WAVA tables. Based on age and gender, a person gets a numeric ranking based on a time for distances from 5 to 100 kilometers. A 100 ranking is the theoretical best a person can achieve, and most world records are scored 98 to 99. A 60 is considered “Local Class”. The number has nothing to do with the percentage of people that you’re faster than; it simply compares your speed to the ultimate performance for your peer group. A teenager can face off against his grandmother. Someone who is 20 years past her physical prime might actually be a better runner now.

I started plugging some of my PRs into calculators and was pleasantly surprised to the see the times a 25 year-old man with a matching WAVA score would run. While I will probably never run a sub-3 hour marathon, if I can manage a 3:31:26 next year, it would convert to one. I hope to someday run a sub-20 5K, but with the adjustment, I am already there.

Distance My PR 25 year-old man WAVA Score
5K 20:43 17:35 71.2
10K 44:01 37:43 69.2
1/2 Marathon 1:40:03 1:26:19 66.5
Marathon 3:38:41 3:08:40 63.5

There is a part of me that feels like this is a big cop-out. Like how in Bull Durham, Crash Davis doesn’t want fanfare for breaking the record for minor league home runs. It’s a “dubious honor” that underscores his inability to last in the majors. On the other hand, it has opened my eyes to how impressive some of the local masters runners really are. Our times may be close on the race course, but their level of performance blows mine away. A few races will even award prizes based age-graded times. Ultimately, I think that anything  that brings more motivation and fun to the sport of running is a good thing.

Here are a couple of calculators to play with:

Cross Country Classic 5K

I like a race with bands, fireworks, and other distractions, but sometimes it’s nice to get back to basics. The Spring Cross Country Classic is an inexpensive, no-frills race. Instead of an event shirt, participants are free to grab leftovers from other races. The post-race food is a potluck (beer is provided, however). Due to park construction, the course seems to change every few years, but hills, gravel, grass, and sand are a constant. This is not a course for PRs.

I was looking forward to seeing my friends who had run Boston and giving them big hugs. Some were running today, and others were there just to support those who were and enjoy this wonderful, crazy community that we’re part of.

The men got to run at 7:30 while the women started at 8:15. I needed to get some warm-up miles in, so I headed to the high school next to the park. There were a bunch of boys in football uniforms getting ready to play, but I got the OK to run around the track. My husband once commented that small children in large helmets look like scrubbing bubbles, and these kids were no exception.

Since it was an all-female field, I lined up at the front. I went out hard and fast to avoid getting bottlenecked during the trail portion. I had learned that lesson the hard way in the past. It paid off, and I was able to run my own pace as we wove through the narrow path. I felt good and hit the first mile at 7:02, which was better than I expected. Next, it was around the soccer fields and where I grabbed a cup at the only water station. Then it was up a sandy hill, and all of the goodness I had been feeling abandoned me.


Back to the dirt road, which was lined cheering male runners.That lifted my spirits a little bit. Thanks, guys! As I naviagted the twists and turns, I was passed by my friend Merry (not in my age group, whew). Two other women also surged ahead, and I later learned the only reason that they were behind me in the first place was because they had gotten off course earlier.


Merry (in the yellow) getting ready to pounce.

There was some deep dirt and gravel in the second mile, which only compounded the ookiness I was feeling. Merry and the other women had pulled pretty far ahead at this point, and I started having one of those “Why am I doing this?” moments. With what happened in Boston so fresh in my mind, I started thinking about people who had lost limbs* and would give anything to be out running in the sunshine, legs and lungs aflame. I’m doing this because I can. Savor the moment, enjoy the gift. All in. Guts, guts, guts.

With about a half mile to go, I saw a guy in an Enron shirt. I sure hope he wasn’t in charge of the race results… As I rounded the final corner, Tim, who was announcing the race, commented on how well I had been running lately, which made me feel good. The race ened with a slight climb, so my finishing pace wan’t amazing, but I was happy with the effort.

My time of 23:28 was good enough for an age group win. Merry had finished about 20 seconds faster (wow, woman!). I did some cooldown miles, then headed to the potluck. Pickings were slim compared to previous years, but there was a chilled fruit and yogurt salad that tasted divine. All in all, it was a wonderful morning: gorgeous weather, great friends, a satisfying race, and I even got a few compliments on my new running skirt.


Race data: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/300562470

*While everyone I knew personally was unharmed in Boston, my friend Amy was not so lucky. Her best friend Roseann lost a leg while cheering the runners on. To read her story or contribute to her recovery, please visit http://www.gofundme.com/roseann.

After the Marathon (My first published article!)

I was fortunate to be able to contribute an article to the May/June edition of Tailwinds (a publication that focuses on outdoor activities around the Southwest). You can view it by turning to page 23 using the slider or print page 21 at the link below.


I’d love to hear about your post-marathon experiences.

Sabino Canyon Sunset Run

Sabino Mile 0

I must really love endurance sports. I hate waking up early, but I am constantly setting my alarm for 0 dark 37 (yes, I want every minute of sleep I can get) for races. A few times a year, however, a night owl like me gets a treat like the Sabino Canyon Sunset Run. I had a leisurely morning of sipping tea and reading, took a midday swim, and headed to the race. The Canyon is a beautiful spot, popular with walkers, hikers, and runners. There are several trails in the park, but the race course is a paved out-and-back that could be described as pancake flat – if mountains were made out of pancakes.

Because this was an evening race, I was happy to volunteer at the registration table. There was an early start option for the non-competitive runners and walkers, and I handed out those bibs. To keep the line moving, I would frequently shout and point, “Early start see us, regular start see them, fun run, see her.” I wouldn’t be surprised if I uttered those words in my sleep that night.

It was a warm and breezy day. The course starts pitching upwards almost immediately, but it saves its worst for the last .7 miles before the top. I had run 56:28 the year before and my goal was to go under 55. I had no idea if that was a reasonable goal or not. It was just a nice, round number, and a good but not crazy amount of improvement. My friend and rival Kristen, who smokes me in short distances, was running. She and I did some back and forth early on, but eventually I kept the lead. By mile one, we were shaded by the canyon walls. I had spent the week chatting with some Facebook friends about whether or not a twenty year high school reunion was in the works, and had written a parody of the school fight song “Gold and Blue.” Guess what was stuck in my head… That song didn’t even motivate me in high school, but I couldn’t shake it. I did some back-and-forthing with another woman who had a blond braid, and then pulled ahead. My stomach felt a little cranky. I suppose one of the downsides to a late afternoon race, is figuring out how to plan the eating for the day so that you’re fueled but not filled. There are several bridges along the course, and in rainy years, water flows over. That wasn’t an issue this year, but the rapid tempo adjustments was one more challenge on an already tough course.


When I hit the three mile mark, my strategy was to hammer hard, knowing that my heart and lungs would get a chance to recover once I started downhill. I see this race as a 3.7 miler, followed by 2 or so miles of a semi-cooldown, then a hard finish. I did what I could, but it was so steep I felt like I was limited in how hard I could push because I was running so slowly. Finally, I reached the top, grabbed a water cup, and tossed it neatly in an open garbage bag on the way back down. Now it was time to fly. I ended up passing Jeff, who is a much better runner than I am, so I figured he wasn’t feeling good (he wasn’t). Evanescence’s “Bring Me to Life” had replaced “Gold and Blue” in my head, and I was thankful. The bridges weren’t too much of a problem on the way down. There was so much downhill running that it was actually kind of fun to power up those short inclines.


WIth about a mile to go, things started to get challenging again. There’s a steep hill, a descent, and then fairly level ground to the finish. I fished for a mantra. I started with “Suck it up,” but I didn’t like the way it worked with the rhythm of my footfalls. I shortened it to “Suck it,” but that just sounded wrong. The blond braided woman had overtaken me by this time. She had a good lead, but was still in sight, so I decided to use “Blond braid.”

I had done a long run with a fast mile at the end with my friend Keith the week before. He had complemented me on my finishing kick, and I decided that I at least had to try to chase her down. I could also almost hear him giving me form pointers like he had during the run. Blond braid. Fast turnover. Blond braid! Use your butt. BLOND BRAID! I was gaining. I pushed hard and felt strong. According to the Garmin, I was running a 5:24 pace at the finish, but I ran out of room and she finished five seconds ahead of me. My time was 55:07, which was good enough for first in my age group and very close to my goal. I was really happy with the run, but wishing that I had started that kick just a little sooner…

Race data: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/297536566