Friday, October 23, 2015

Hit the trails

This particular post comes from a column I wrote more than 10 years ago for the Fredericksburg Area Running Club's newsletter. I came across it recently when searching for samples I could use for a potential writing opportunity. It immediately made me think of Samantha and her dog, Rusty. We ran 1,000s of miles on those trails over many years. Then, it made me think of Christy, who is new to trail running and loves it as much as Samantha and I did. So, ladies...this one's for you.
It’s a Sunday morning, and I’ve missed the regular group of early-morning long runners. So, I resign myself to running on my own this cool spring morning, and I set off through the Lee Drive trails, which are still pretty bare.

There’s a lot to be said for running with a friend or a group, especially on those really long runs where the company helps to make time pass less painfully. On the other hand, though, I truly enjoy the times I am alone with my thoughts, tempered by my own breathing and modulated by the rhythm of my stride.

Today is no exception. The sun is shining (finally), the air is cool but not cold (finally), and there’s a light breeze that smells like spring (turned earth, mulch, clean laundry). My thoughts wander and then scatter as the past week and its tribulations rush through my head and off my shoulders. I’m relaxing as the initial jolt of the effort of running wears off, and I settle into a comfortable lope.

I don’t know what it is about trail running, but I always feel faster, taller, stronger. Today, I am Joanie Samuelson, and my legs are eating up the miles, with little effort. Today, all things are possible. I can run a personal best at the next race, finally breaking through my own barriers. This year, I will run my fastest marathon, qualify for Boston and maybe even win an age group award or two.

As I zip by the trees, my possibilities expand: I will finish my 20-page paper today, complete with annotated bibliography, and then I will get an early start on my heavy load at work. During my spare time this week, I will paint the kitchen and finish that cross-stitch project I’ve been working on for five years. I will plan a month’s worth of dinner menus, go to the grocery store, do all the laundry, and still have time to read that overdue library book.

TRIP! CRASH! THUD! Ouch! Damn root!

And reality settles back in. Well, okay, maybe I won’t accomplish all those things, but in the meantime, when I’m not tripping over an errant root, I am the fastest biped on the trails.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Marathon Training - Week 1

Total Miles: 30.4
Long Run: 14 miles

It's been 3 years since my last standalone marathon. That doesn't count Ironman Lake Placid 2 years ago because, well, those 26.2 miles are vastly different than the 26.2 miles you do without the swim and bike. And the training is vastly different.

I thought I might "chronicle" my training for my 19th (or 21st, depending on how you look at it) marathon here. It will be interesting to see how it goes, and if I can successfully stick to my plan and come out the other end satisfied with my effort. 

I have 14 weeks to get ready for Houston. I would love a 4-hour marathon. My body and the training I have been able to do to this point tell me that likely is not possible this time. The training plan I am following, however, accommodates my need for more recovery time and easy miles, but it also includes interval work, hill repeats, tempo runs, pace runs, and the like. Total mileage will max out around 40, and I'll do three 20-mile runs. (I have a "fun" run planned for that last 20-miler.)

This whole thing is an experiment. It's the first time in many, many years that I have trained myself for a marathon. It's the first time I've done a marathon while having to manage my Hashimoto's. It's the first time I've done a marathon as an officially over-the-hill person (got the word from my doctor just a couple of weeks ago).

I'm playing a lot of it by ear, using my heart rate monitor for some guidance, and being flexible with what I need to do to say healthy.

Week 1 went perfectly. I managed all five runs, including a set of hill repeats and a 20-minute tempo run. The 14-miler was done with run/walk intervals and was hard, but ended up being better than I had anticipated. 

I decided to do the long runs as run/walk (right now, 10 minutes running/30 seconds walking) because it occured to me that my most successful marathons in the last 10 years were run/walk. In the last few, I ended up falling apart at the end because, I believe, I attempted to run most of the entire marathon. So, no more of that. Run/walk will also help me recover more quickly from the long stuff.

The last 3 marathons I pretty much trained for and ran by myself. This time, I have running partners. We are committed to training together, at least the long runs, whenever we can. And I'm kind of excited for when we actually run the marathon. I hope that we can stay together for the entire race. The last time I did that was 10 years ago. (Egads.)

The first run of Week 2 is today. Just an easy 3 miler with some cadence drills. Need to work on my fast feet. 

Friday, October 16, 2015

Race Report: RyanMan Triathlon

It's been years since I've written a race report. Not that I haven't been racing. I guess I just haven't felt as if my experiences were worth "reporting."

This race was different for a few reasons.

First, it's genesis was in an outpouring of support for a fellow triathlete who, last year, had been training for Ironman Chattanooga. In the midst of that training, his young son was diagnosed, for a second time, with leukemia. The decision to not race in Chattanooga was a no brainer. His friends decided, though, that all of his training couldn't go to waste and hosted a full ironman distance event just for him. So, one very hot day in September, Ryan's father, Austin, completed his first 140.6 miles, with friends by his side every step of the way.

The RyanMan Foundation was born, and a little more than a year later, the first annual RyanMan Triathlon half iron distance race was held. The goal: support the fight against childhood cancer in Mississippi by raising money for organizations that lead that fight. This year, the money raised from the race was donated to Batson Children's Hospital.

Not only is the race for a wonderful cause, these people are my friends. I wasn't able to support Austin at his ironman last year, but I sure could be a part of this event.

Second, it's the only half ironman distance race in the state. And it's almost in my backyard. 

Finally, my brother chose to do this race as his first half ironman. I was so excited. Now, I wouldn't be the only crazy one in the family. 

Our Mississippi summer this year seemed to be extra hot. Ninety degree days nearly every day since May (or at least that's how it seemed). Next to no rain. Dry. Sunny. Hot. Humid. Training was brutal. And October in central Mississippi? At best, a crap shoot. Based on weather history, it could go either way...excruciatingly hot or kinda' cold.

And I was certain that there was no way the reservoir would cool down enough to be wetsuit legal. 

At first, the weather gods appeared to be smiling down on us. It would be sunny but temps and humidity would be dropping. On Friday morning before the race, it had cooled down. But the wind picked up and turned the water into a washing machine. Then, the cloud cover came. The wind got stronger. The temperature went down some more. David and I did a practice swim on Saturday morning before the race. It was miserable. And cold. The water had already reached wetsuit legal temps earlier in the week. It was steadily getting colder. We comforted ourselves by believing the weather forecast that called for sun and slightly less wind.

We were foolish to believe any such thing.

That morning, the wind continued unabated. Stupid weather app said 6 mph. It was easily 10-12 mph. It was cold (for us southerners, including my Floridian brother and sister-in-law) and in the 50s. All day it stayed in the 50s. The sun never came out. The water was measured at 64 degrees. Someone said 3-foot chop. (Pretty sure that was an exaggeration. But it sounded good.)

As I was putting on my wetsuit and reviewing my strategy for the swim (freestyle for 10 strokes, breastroke for 5 to find out where I was and settle down in the churn), the word came that the swim was cancelled. Not a good thing for the stronger swimmers among us, but a bit of relief for me. I knew, with where my fitness level was (not where it needed to be), the swim would exhaust me before even heading out on the bike. 

So, after a quick little 1.2-mile run, we hopped on the bike. My brother, David, was already 45 seconds in front of me, a lead he would continue to increase throughout the rest of the race. 

Knowing that a chilly run feels even colder on the bike, I kept my long-sleeved shirt on over my tri top. We started out right into the wind, and I immediately regretted not having my bike gloves, but glad I had put socks on, not that it helped a whole bunch. I had ridden the course 2 weeks before, so knew it was fairly fast. Rolling in parts, but nothing that was too hard to climb. Really, it was the wind that was the biggest factor. That meant not fighting it when heading into it and taking full advantage when it was at my back. It also rained on us a little bit. Even in the wind, I ended up riding the course faster than I had the 2 weeks previous. 

David was now 12 minutes in front of me. He had a great bike!

My hands and feet were frozen when I got back to transition. Took my time leaving transition for the run, not really sure I could do it. Walked the first couple hundred yards and then started a little shuffle that was right around an 11 min/mile pace. It was still cold and windy so kept that long-sleeved shirt on. I really would only warm up when I was out of the wind. My 11 min/mile shuffle-walk the aid stations strategy worked well for the first 8 miles, but right about then, my legs got the message that I hadn’t done very well in the run training department. Luckily, 2 of my friends from work showed up and stuck by my side for those last, very slow 5 miles. Everything hurt…even my arms! There was a lot of extra walking. Then, mind games, like running the next 6 light poles over the bridge. And, then, finally, it was done. 

David ended up running more than half of the distance on a sprained ankle. By the time I saw it, it was really ugly…bruised and swollen. He still managed a great run for a strong finish at his first try at the 70.3 distance. 

In the end, just looking at the bike and run, it was one of my slowest half ironman races to date. But I was pretty pleased, anyway, because I followed my race plan, and I really am still figuring out how to train for long distances again. I've had Hashimoto’s most of my adult life, but it's only been recently that it's begun to kick my butt. If I overdo it, I feel like crap for the next several days. It ended up dictating my training for this race and it mostly affected my run. Feel normal for a week, swim/bike/run a lot. Feel like poo the next. I had thought the Garmin 920XT would be overkill for me, but it has turned out to be an excellent feedback tool as it warns me about my recovery (“Good,” “Fair,” or “Poor”) each time I start a run or bike, and then tells me how long I should take before my next workout. I ignored it pretty much at first…just kind of a novelty…but it’s been fairly accurate, and when I am mindful of the feedback, I am able to train more effectively. 

Third place in my age group was a nice bonus to a great race that I will definitely do again next year. 

Once the race was over, everything picked up and put away, and everybody back home, I found out that Ryan is now dealing with another relapse of his leukemia. It breaks my heart that this sweet little boy and his wonderful parents have to continue to deal with such a serious, life-threatening illness, and all I can do is pray for them. 

So...that's what I do.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Chasing a younger me

I signed up for the Houston Marathon. January 17, 2016. It will be marathon #19 (or 21, depending on whether you count the 26.2 miles after the 144.4 preceding miles at IMFL and IMLP). It is a goal race. (No. I am not able to do this "just for fun.") A big goal. I want to qualify for Boston. (Note that I waited until I aged into a qualifying time that seemed more realistic.) 4 hours. Flat. I probably need to run under 4 hours to make the cut.

I might actually have to run faster than a 24/25-year old me who ran just under 4 hours at Marine Corps Marathon (either 1988 or 1989...I can't remember. And, yes. I know that's one of the signs.)

Not many details of that particular marathon. So long ago. I had run the Shamrock Marathon that same year (I think). Also just under 4 hours. All I remember about training leading up to MCM was a lot of very long tempo runs. About 2-3 weeks earlier, I ran a half marathon on a hilly course in my fastest time ever. I vaguely recall hitting the halfway point of the marathon somewhat faster and thinking, "uh oh." And I sort of remember that the last 10k of that marathon was exceedingly long. And painful.

Luckily, I am not undertaking this journey solo. I will have a training partner. She is younger. Fresher. Faster. She doesn't quite know it yet, but she is in charge of making me run like I am 25 again.

It won't be easy. My last standalone marathon was in 2012. I had walking pneumonia. That excruciating 4:52 doesn't count. My most "recent" fastest marathon was a 4:11. Ten years ago. The others (unless I had pneumonia or was running with someone else as a pacer), have been in the 4:20 range. I have my work cut out for me. Even the trusty McMillan Calculator has me only at 3:55 when I factor in my fastest half marathon in the last 5 years, but a 4:06 using my fastest half marathon this year.

Of course, I can't keep it simple and just focus on marathon training. I have committed to training for a half ironman in October. Which will leave me about 14 weeks to run myself into BQ marathon shape. Not ideal. But, heck. When is marathon training ever ideal?

How cool would it be, though, if I could run as fast or faster than I did 26 years ago?

Right now, I am probably a good 2 or 3 miles behind that young lady. But I will dog her footsteps, run into her shadow, and keep going until I clip her heels and breeze on by.

If I manage that...well, it's champagne for everyone!

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

From There to Here

Many years ago...maybe 15 or more...I was in the elevator at work and a colleague stepped in with me. I didn't really know him other than to know he worked at the same company, different division, and that he used to be severely obese but had, over a few years time, lost a significant amount of weight. 

He turned to me that day, and said, "I want to thank you." 

"For what?" I asked, confused.

"For saving my life," he said. "You motivated me to exercise and lose weight and finally get healthy."

It turns out, when he had seen me coming back in from lunchtime runs, we had frequently talked about running and why I did it and how I started. I doubt I ever said anything particularly profound or especially motivating. But I imagine I told him if he started slow, he could run too, and realize all the benefits of an active lifestyle.

"You saved my life."

Humbling. Certainly not deserved. 

He saved his own life with his own decisions to change.

Even then, though, becoming a coach had never crossed my mind.  

I had a corporate career that was fairly demanding and that I was fairly good at. I had advanced through the ranks, as they say. I was well compensated. On the side, I ran, and I coached for charity programs. Strictly for the perks and travel opportunities.

I wasn't qualified to be a "real" coach.

'Lo these many years later, I have ditched the corporate job, and upwards of 50 people know me as "Coach Karen." They are runners and triathletes in our Fleet Feet training programs. They are triathletes who have hired me to guide them to their next big race. They are triathletes who simply need someone on the pool deck helping them tweak their swim.

I still don't think I'm qualified to be a "real" coach. 

(Shh. Don't tell my athletes that.) 

Despite the certifications; the continuing education seminars, clinics, and webinars; and the endless research and consultation with other experts.

"Real" coaches are folks with real credentials. I've met them. Jamie Turner, Gwen Jorgensen's coach. Bobby McGee, coach to elite triathletes around the world. Gordo Byrn, who made a name for himself both as an elite athlete and coach to many others. 

Compared to them, I am a poser. But I will continue to pose, for as long as it lasts. 

Because I really, really like what I do. I like writing training plans. I like working one-on-one with all different athletes of all different abilities and experiences. I like sharing what I've learned and, hopefully, teaching folks new techniques that will help make them better, faster, more efficient. 

If you had said to me in that elevator, all those years ago, that I would end up here, working at Fleet Feet Sports and coaching runners and triathletes in the metro Jackson, Mississippi, area, I would have surely thought you had lost your mind. 

Yet, I journeyed from there to here.

And it's all good.