Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Bass Pro Marathon Backstage Pass


I could write many wonderful things about the Bass Pro Outdoor Fitness Festival!  I look forward to reading all of the articles about the triumphs, the PRs, the first marathon experiences, the awesome aid stations, the wonderful crowd support, the well-marked course, the nice swag, and the support for the fastest runners and the final finishers (and everyone between).  I thought I could offer a bit of a different perspective, as I got a behind the scenes look at the race this year.
One of the many things I enjoy about Bass Pro is that they have a lead female cyclist.  Many races have a lead cyclist, who typically ends up leading the overall male in, but it’s more the exception than the norm to offer an additional cyclist with the top female.
The lead cyclists lined up in front of the start
2015 was reminiscent of my last Bass Pro full marathon in 2010, as when I turned right and split off from the half runners, a cyclist joined me.  Both years the rider informed me that I was the female leader and that she (2010)/he (2015) would stick with me as long as that was the case.  This year when I replied something like, “Well, it doesn’t matter much who’s leading now, only who is leading 25 miles from now”, the cyclist joked that he was fickle and would leave me if another woman took the lead.  In 2010, I was terrified of being in the lead so early, but in 2015 I was comfortable with it because I was looking at the marathon as a long run and not a race, so it was easy to relax.
With and small pack & the lead cyclist, probably around the 15K mark
I quickly realized that having a cyclist escort would have bonus entertainment benefits.  He was carrying a walkie-talkie 2-way radio that was connected to the 2-way radios of many other people who were instrumental to the success of this race, and I could hear most of the conversation!
Initially, the exchanges focused on starting line logistics:  all marathoners and half marathoners had cleared the starting area, the 5K was lining up and then their starting gun went off, all cyclists were in the correct places with the leaders and the back of the group, etc.  So many people were working together to make sure all of this happened as scheduled, and from the sounds of it, it all ran like a well-oiled machine.
After the logistics of the start were coordinated, the event organizers were on to ensuring the race experience was ideal for all participants.  I heard conversations about getting course marshals to certain corners, and talk about getting traffic control to potentially problematic areas.  The frequent conversation and quick responses were amazing.  “We need someone on the corner of Sunset and Battlefield” – done.  “I need police assistance on Sunshine” – done.  “Additional support is needed at the first relay exchange” – done.  Someone would ask and someone else would answer and take care of it, smooth as could be.
An aid station is running low on supplies?  No problem, someone’s got it – far before it became noticeable to any runners I’m sure. The volunteers and race organizers were all rocking it, and it took a huge team to coordinate all the logistics and meet the needs of all the runners.
It wasn’t only the runners who the event organizers were eager to please.  I heard about a problem with spectators trying to exit the Bass Pro parking lot, causing congestion.  Bam, traffic control was on it.
A few things I did not hear were arguing, blaming, or passing the buck.  I guarantee this isn’t the case with most large teams working together under stress and time pressure.  What an amazing behind the scenes group!
All of the lead cyclists communicated about the positions of the athletes who they were accompanying.  This gave me a fun play-by-play of the half marathon race.  I looked at my watch when both the lead male and female cyclists for that race announced that their runners were passing mile 12, and marveled at their speedy times!  I heard where the lead male marathoner was, and also heard reports on the pace groups.
Around 2.5 hours, I heard the announcement that the lead male marathoner was in.  Then when I was passing 25 miles, I heard that the second male marathoner was behind the Bass Pro building.  This made me eager to get in myself, and I will selfishly admit that I liked hearing “my” lead cyclist call in my position during the race – especially the “lead female is coming around to 26!”
It was due to injury issues and not choice that I didn’t run this marathon from 2011-2014.  I certainly don’t plan to wait 5 years to do it again this time!  Kudos to all of the Bass Pro behind the scenes team, and to all of you who organize races.  Hearing commentary of pro-active actions and quick problem solving for 25 miles sure makes me admire you, even more than I already did!
A lovely porta-pottie backdrop at the finish
Awards were given by Dick Beardsley

Monday, November 23, 2015

How to Run a Half Marathon PR in 15 Easy Steps: 2015 Waddell & Reed Kansas City Half Marathon


1)    Run a familiar event. 
This race is routine for me.  I completed the full marathon at this event in 2005, 2007, and 2011 (early on I believe it was simply called the Kansas City Marathon, and also ran a different course).  I ran the half marathon distance at the event in 2010, 2012, 2013, and 2014.  This is one race I’ve run when I’ve been injured and not even running or remotely fit.  My sister and her family live in Kansas City, and it’s become a tradition for me and my parents, who live in the Wichita area, to visit them every October over race weekend.  We have all watched this event grow from a small marathon to a nationally-known competitive event.

2)    Win a free entry. 
I won a free entry for life into the event in 2011 in a photo contest -- possibly the best prize I have ever won!  In 2010 I received an elite comp entry, so I have received a comp entry for the past 6 races.  I would absolutely pay the entry free to run this race, but a comp entry and family to stay with makes it that much sweeter!

3)    Don’t make it a goal race. 
My season goal race is the full marathon in Dallas, and my half goal race has been ever changing, but it was never Kansas City.  Who tries to PR on a course with around 580 feet of elevation gain anyway? 

4)    Make sure the course is hilly, and the race extra competitive. 
See #3.  The course is tough, but it’s also deceptively fast if you’ve trained well on hills (and don’t all of us living in the Ozarks train on hills by default?).  You climb a lot in miles 2-3 and 7.5-10.5, but you come down a lot from 4-6, and again from 10.5 to 12.
This was my first race in quite a while where I wasn’t gunning for an overall female or top 3 female placing.  Past results showed the top 3 women consistently running under 1:20, something I’m not capable of.  This helped me during the race because I didn’t focus on, or even know, where I was place-wise (I ended up 5th overall female, which I was ecstatic about).

5)    Work with a coach. 
I started working with a coach for the first time since college in July 2015, because I decided I needed to go all in to try for a sub-3:00 marathon.  This has changed the way I train, and I have hit paces and workouts I never thought I could. 
This has also shown me what a control freak I am!  I have had some very challenging workouts, but the biggest challenge has been giving up control of my schedule.  It was clearly a good decision for me though!

6)    Don’t listen to your coach. 
I am probably a bit of a nightmare to coach.  I am the one who adds a few miles here, a race there, and a tempo run there (not to mention I shuffled several races around while I was recovering from cryptosporidium at the end of the summer).  My coach told me to run Kansas City as a workout.  I know he was looking at my long-term goal of a PR at the Dallas Marathon, and I really considered listening to him.  In the end, I couldn’t justify driving 3 hours each way to the event without racing it, and I also really wanted to see where I was at with my half time at this point in my training.

7)    Find a training partner with similar goals, and push each other to speed up your long runs. 
When my coach advised me to do my long runs around 7:30 pace, I panicked a little.  In past marathon training cycles, my long runs were at a relaxed easy pace, which rarely dipped under 8:00 pace.  I even remember one hot 23 miler before my PR marathon that I ran over 9:00 pace – over 2:00 slower than what I ended up running for my marathon!  I felt comfortable with 12-14 milers at 7:30 pace, but the thought of doing 20-24 at that pace running alone terrified me. 
Fortunately, though a mutual friend I connected with Jamie, who was also chasing a sub-3:00 marathon and had quite the impressive collegiate resume (I knew because I Googled her before I knew her, after she beat me at the Medical Mile 2.5 mile “5K”).  I was really excited to find a female to train with, even though I feared she would be too fast for me! 
We started meeting for Saturday long runs, and quickly realized that we were the perfect match on these runs (plus, she is an awesome person in addition to being a talented runner).  In fact, she and I seem to be so evenly matched in our paces, I think anytime we race each other it will simply come down to who has a little better day.  Neither of us could imagine running the paces we hit on our hilly training routes alone, but when running together it was easy.  I never thought I would run 20 miles with over 1300 feet of elevation gain at 7:25 pace and call it easy, but I believe speeding up my long runs and running them on tough courses was the biggest training change that contributed to my PR in Kansas City.  In addition, running the race with Jamie was instrumental to the PR, as she pushed me throughout and made me feel like I was on a training run, only with near silence instead of constant chatter!
See how closely matched we are?
8)    Have the most supportive, yet somewhat doubtful spouse.
My husband is extremely supportive of my running, and as a runner himself he understands what it takes to PR.  He is interested in my workouts, my splits, and my races, and he never complains about the abnormal things I do for the sake of running.  He encourages me and not only spectates at all my races, but genuinely wants to be there (even when I offer to find a sitter for our daughter so that he can race too, he usually responds with, “I would rather watch you!”).  All in all, he couldn’t be more perfect, but he was pretty doubtful that I could run a PR at Kansas City – so much so that he offered to find a “good half course” for me to run instead that weekend and complained that I was wasting my PR-level fitness on this event.  I was stubborn – I wanted to visit my family and run Kansas City, and I was determined I could PR there!

9)    Make the most obsessive pace band in the history of the world.
Since I have run Kansas City so many times, I knew a consistent pace strategy would never work.  There are some fast net downhill miles on the course, and there are some slow primarily uphill miles.  And I had my race data from 4 previous halves there to refer to!  I analyzed all of my past splits, along with the course elevation chart, and came up with a formula to get to me to a 1:26 finish.  The fastest planned mile was 6:12, and the slowest was 6:59, but the goal splits averaged 6:37.  This was a more painstaking process than I expected going in (the initial strategy was just to take off 10 seconds per mile from my splits from when I ran a 1:28 on the course, but I quickly made it more complicated than that!).

10) Form an unofficial pace group with PR goals.
Jamie and I planned to run Kansas City together and push each other, just like in training.  I also connected with Jerry, after pacing off of him for the Panther Run 10K at the beginning of October.  He wanted to run a 1:26 also, so our unofficial official OMRR PR-chasing pace group was formed!  Even though it wasn’t a goal race…

11) Pee behind a dumpster.
Believe it or not, this was integral to the PR!  I used an actual bathroom in Crown Center before starting my warm-up, but after a 2 mile jog and plyometrics I knew I needed to go again but didn’t have time to go back to Crown Center or the porta-john area, then get back to the starting line in time.  With the race being in an urban area, there weren’t a lot of options, but a few blocks away from the starting line I found an area tucked away between buildings with several dumpsters that provided the best possible option.  After all, no one can PR with a full bladder!

12) Start out too fast.
Ironically, my #1 strategy in races is to never start out too fast, because you will always, always pay for it later.  Although our first mile was slow, after the field thinned out significantly Jamie, Jerry, and I kept clicking off miles faster than my obsessive pace band planned pace, and the miles really flew by.  In the end we ran negative splits, so the too fast start was just relative!

13) Run the middle miles too fast, and stop looking at your Garmin and doing the math.
We kept passing course miles faster than our planned pace, and it felt like a challenging but do-able half pace.  I stopped looking at our pace, as it was super intimidating!  My previous half PR was 1:27:08 – 6:39 pace – and I knew we were averaging somewhere in the 6:20’s and mentally I just couldn’t fathom that.  Usually in longer races I will take inventory of where I’m at time-wise and project my finish time, and although I knew we were on PR pace I couldn’t quite comprehend our split times.  At some of the course miles I checked our progress and let the others know that we were under pace, and hoped I wouldn’t bonk!

14) Run the final 5K in 19:10.
Miles 11 and 12 of this course are fast, and Jamie and I were pulling in another female quickly which really spurred us along.  Our mile 12 split was 5:59, which I would never have expected in anything over a 5K.  The final mile flattens out before a challenging long incline to the finish, but I managed a 6:10 final mile, and 6:05 pace for the last bit up the hill.
Coming down (actually up!) the final stretch, I was thinking that I might run a 1:25, but my math skills were out the window well before mile 12.  Once I was close enough to read the clock, I realized that I would run a solid 1:24!  My parents, husband, and daughter were on the sidelines screaming, and I crossed the line in 1:24:33 (6:27 average pace) – a bright and shiny new PR that was faster than I ever thought I could run.  Jamie and Jerry also ran huge PRs!  I don’t think I could ever have done it without running with them!
PR-ty time!
Garmin + obsessive pace band
15) Realize that you’re not dreaming, be thankful, and plan your next PR! 
Just after Madam President Stephanie asked me to write this race report, I received an email with the subject line “It wasn’t a dream – KC Marathon/Half Marathon 2015 photos prove you did it”.  The experience was a bit surreal and dream-like to me, so I am thankful for those photos, my Garmin data, and my official certified course time!  It’s rare that I am completely satisfied with my performance, but for this race I was.  I don’t think I could have run it any better, and taking my PR from 1:27:08 to 1:24:33 after several months of chasing a 1:25:59 was HUGE to me. 
I am thankful that God gave me the strength to run a PR, and that He led me to training with someone with similar abilities and to working with a coach, as both were key in my performance (all of these blessings came to fruition through a lot of random events!).  Now, I am going to find a flat course and chase a 1:23:59.  One of the beautiful things about running is that you can always strive to improve on your best, and you always gain far more than PR along the way. 
This race had the most awesome runner tracking app I've ever seen
I was 5th overall female

Note:  This article appeared in the November 2015 OMRR newsletter

Not Running was a Blessing

If you ask a dedicated runner to make a list of the worst things that could possibly happen, it's guaranteed that being unable to run will be included. Forced time off can be heart wrenching, and the thought of never being able to train or compete again is devastating.  I was there.

2010 was, up to that point, the best running year of my adult life.  I set PRs in the 5K, 10K, half marathon, and marathon, and won a good number of overall female titles.  Although I was no stranger to injuries, I felt strong and unstoppable.  But then injuries stopped me.

The diagnoses/lack of diagnoses/x-rays/tests/recommendations/physical therapies/etc. are blurry, complicated, long stories, but stated concisely:  hip issues shut me down competitively from mid-2011 until mid-2014.  I had ups and downs throughout these 3 years, and during the ups I could train and race a bit (albeit poorly), while during the downs I was resigned to not running.  I tried and tried again to get back to running competitively, but my hip just wouldn’t allow it, and my pelvis and SI joint wouldn’t stay in place to save my life.  Eventually I gave up.  While running a sub-3:00 marathon had been a major goal of mine, I remember sitting down one day and thinking, “I guess 3:03 is what my marathon PR will always be, and that’s not the worst thing in the world.”

 I now realize that God was using this time to give me some other pushes.  As early as high school, I was confident that I didn’t want to have children.  I adored other’s children, but it just wasn’t for me.  I married my perfect match who felt the same way, but God started changing his heart too.  In 2013, we decided that we would make perfect foster parents.  I don’t even remember how our initial conversation about it started, but we had both been thinking about it individually and quickly agreed to open our home to kids who didn’t have a safe one.  We had room, we could help children who were considered “difficult to place” without having to worry about the influence on biological children, and we had both been around the child welfare system enough to know how to parent the children (myself through my employment and my husband through family members fostering).

Somehow I know that I never would have started this journey had I been running.  Running is such a passion for me, and I am also extremely passionate about my demanding career, so it seemed that, along with my faith and family, was all I needed.  But when I stopped running competitively, after awhile some of my passion went into being a foster parent. 

In July 2014, after 18 other children had walked in and out of our door, we were blessed with an amazing 6-year-old girl.  Adoption was not in our plan even when we started fostering, but we made plans and God laughed I am sure!  Soon, our daughter will legally be our daughter – something I believe never would have happened had I not had so much forced time out of competition.  She was worth every day of it.  Sometimes you have no idea what you need until you have it, but then you wonder how you ever lived without it.  She needed us, and we needed her. 

I don’t believe that it was coincidence that also in July 2014 I began to run consistently pain-free again.  I put in a lot of work strengthening and stretching, but it never clicked until then.  I remember getting up early to run the first morning our daughter was home, just for an easy 5 miler.  I built from there and got back into a few fall half marathons, while also getting back to racing weight.  2015 may top 2010 as my best year ever.  I’ve set four PRs, won several overall female titles, and will be passionately chasing that sub-3:00 at the Dallas Marathon in December, with my daughter watching.

She runs now, too!

Run for a Child's Hunger 1 mile in Rogers, Arkansas on Labor Day 2015

Hugging Mom before the Bass Pro Marathon 2015
Jumping for joy!

Note:  This article appeared in the October 2015 newsletter for the Ozark Mountain Ridge Runners running club