Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The race don't lie.

And just like that, I was running my first half marathon in over two years.

It's now been 48 hours since I raced. I really want to talk about what I got out of this race.

First, a few memorable moments:

My plan called for 3 miles easy at a 10:00-9:50 pace. We all know how the first 3 miles of a half marathon feel.

Needless to say, I may have over-run it.

The next 3 miles, I was to have my pacing down for the rest of the race. That pace was supposed to be 9:46. I nailed it.

That pacing gave me a 10K PR. Of course, you all didn't know that at the time you got the text message. But, I knew that when Mr. Tea got the message. I knew that he knew.

When I left the hotel room, the last thing I said to Mr. Tea was, "In Vegas, I passed the 10 mile marker at 1:42. If I pass 10 miles in anything faster than that, you know I'm having a very good day."

I passed 10 miles at 1:40.

About miles 7 through 11 are uphill.

Halfway up the hill, an extremely fit woman about 15 years older than me passed.

Do you not realize we are at mile 10 of a half marathon?

At mile 11, I realized why I stick with shorter races.

At mile 12, I heard Dave W asking me, "How's that pain taste, Tea?"

Then, I ran under the overpass and over the next. I saw Mr. Tea yelling for me.

I knew I had my PR.

The PR was awesome. It was the biggest PR I've ever had at the half marathon. I had a 10K PR within the half marathon.

I can look at this race and say, "I did this well" and "I did this not so well". One of the things I did better this time was the last 5k. In the past, the last 5k did me in. I would walk. I would stop. This time I ran. I know there is a giant gap between "not giving up" and "excelling", but I have to take my wins where I can. My pace didn't drop off as much as it did in Vegas on a much harder course. That's progress.

The reality hit me around mile 11. I had brought my ipod and never turned it on. I was running and really hurting. I was in a group of about 15 people. It was quiet as we went under the bridge. It's that lonely section before you can see or hear crowds. I could hear the echoing of our feet scraping along the ground.

That's when I heard the voice in my head.






Every person around me was hurting.
I always thought I was different. I am feeling more pain than they are. I'm not a runner. This is harder for me than it is them. That's how I could justify my lack of pushing through. But I'm not special. Those people were just pushing through, and I was never willing to go there. 

The fact is that I am where I am. I want to believe I'm that sub 2 hour runner. I've had people tell me that I will run sub 2, but I'm not that runner. I might be in the future. I might not be. I have to accept where I am. I am a 2:14 half marathoner. I need to let go of what other people's expectations of me are and be who I am, now. Today.

It doesn't mean I will quit trying to be a sub 2 hour half marathoner.

I ran this race because I wanted to get an idea of what I should aim for at my 70.3. On Sunday, I ran a 2:14. I know this is crazy. I know this is aggressive. I know this is completely unrealistic......but I'm going to aim for a 2:14 off the bike at my HIM. That alone will give me a huge PR at my 70.3. That doesn't even include swimming and biking improvements. Because although I can be better at the standalone half marathon....I can make even more improvements in my running off the bike. I have an even bigger gap there.

If anything, this race was an awakening for me.

I'm a really strong swimmer. I'm really strong on the bike. My goal has always been to improve on the bike and swim where I can and close the gap on my run. Bit by bit, I'm doing exactly that.

Thursday, January 14, 2016


I know two women. They are in my age group. Two to three years ago, we were about the same speeds. We'd finish around the same time. Recently, one of those women said, "You've blown right past us. We're not even in the same league anymore." 

First, I disagree with the language. 

You know that saying: Don't compare your start to someone else's middle?

How about we stop comparing ourselves to other people? We are all in different places in our lives.

The only difference between me and those two women, is that two years ago, I made a commitment. Liz and I see eye to eye on so many things. The BIG one has been that she doesn't believe in goals. Goals don't mean shit if you aren't committed to what it takes to reach those goals. Liz asks her athletes, "What are you willing to commit to?"

If you say, I want to do Ironman. Liz will say, "This is what is required. Are you committed to that?" (She said those exact words to me when I started with her).

This is where, I believe, the disconnect comes in for many people. You want to do Ironman. You want to qualify for Kona. You want to qualify for Nationals. You want to move up to middle of the pack.  But, they aren't willing to do what it takes.

I was thinking about this conversation. I have made tremendous strides, some can be seen in race finish times; some can't. More often than not, the progress that I've made has been mental. Liz has helped me understand pain and how to deal with it. Ultimately that will show up on race day. However, it is a lengthy process.

Still, the conversation got me thinking about some of the changes I've made and other "traits" (I guess) that I have that have really helped me over the last few years.

1.) I won't be outworked. At every workout, I give what I'm supposed to give to that workout.  In strength work, I will go to failure. Rest. And go again. I'll do it again. It hurts. Sometimes it hurts so bad, I think I can't do another set or interval. I know, I will because the pain of not reaching my goals is more painful than any interval.

2.) My commitments and goals are aligned. I have no interest in being on my bike for 6, 7, 8 hours....whatever period of time is required to train for Ironman. Even if I want to do Ironman, I won't commit to that training. I don't do it. Instead, I have a laundry list of goals for shorter distances. All of which I am committed to. 

3.) I stopped being realistic. I'm not interested in mediocrity. My goals go far beyond that. When I stopped being "realistic" about what I could do, I started making the biggest strides. When you stop putting a ceiling on yourself, you see there is a lot more than you ever imagined. I've been saying that I'll go sub 6 for a few years now....even back when I wasn't committed to the goal. My best 70.3 is 6:40ish. Is sub 6 realistic this year? I don't give a fuck. It's what I'm going to do. I recently shared a story with Liz that I have never told anyone. Not one person. It was a goal that I set for myself after I finished my first 70.3 in 8:45. It wasn't a realistic goal back then. That's why I never told anyone, but I knew one day I would do it. This will be the year. When I do, you can be sure that I will blog all about it.

4.) Focus on every seemingly small detail: sleep, recovery, fuel. I don't skip workouts. I don't move workouts around. You'll never hear me say, "I wasn't feeling it". I don't cut workouts short. Training isn't a 2 or 3 hour a day thing for me. It's a 24 hour a day, 7 day a week venture. No thank you, I would not like a piece of cake right now. I won't be able to hit up at 9pm movie with you.

I won't complain about workouts. I will do them. This is what I signed up for. This is what I committed to.

5.) I'm all in. I learned that to be successful, you can't go into this sport half assed. If you hire a coach, then skip workouts or move them around to fit your fancy, you're not going to get the results you want. If you do the workouts but don't focus on nutrition, you aren't going to get the results you want. If you focus on nutrition but don't focus on the workouts, you're not going to get the results. The list goes on and on and on. 

6.) I'm a very patient person, but I don't hesitate to make changes when I don't see results. Results don't happen overnight, but there should be results. If not, you need to make a change. A couple of years ago, I was getting really frustrated with my swim. When I started with my (previous) masters program, I made improvements in leaps and bounds. Then, I plateaued...for a year. I kept going to practice, patiently waiting for a jump in my speed. I knew I still had room for improvement. I researched and switched masters programs. Within a few weeks, I started seeing improvements again. 

Patience is important because it takes a long long time to get good at this sport. (Long time as in years). I was ok with that. It can be tough to know when you need to make a change. It was hard switching masters. Looking back now, it was the best thing for me. I need to be pushed. I will always take the easy way out. 

None of us are perfect. Some of us just work better with our own limitations.

7.) This might be the most important one for me. I always want feedback. I don't trust people who tell me that I'm doing fine. I know when I'm doing well and when I'm not. I will lose respect for someone if they tell me I did well.....when I know damn well I didn't.

Then there are times that coaches will recognize behaviors that I'm not even aware of.  When I started with Liz, after a few races, she said to me, "You're steady state Sally. You're afraid to go fast."

NO ONE EVER SAID THAT TO ME BEFORE. When she first said it, I was mad. I didn't respond. I took a few days, and I realized that she was right.

I went back to her, and I asked, "how do I stop being steady state Sally?"

More recently, I shared this story with Liz. 
At masters this week, Coach D started the set. He says to me, "I want you to do something different than everyone else."  

Of course, I'm like "whut?"

He says, "You start too fast. You do it every time. From now on during long days, we're going to start working on your pacing. Starting like a bat out of hell is great for 100's, but your races start at 600's."

He had me do 8 x 75 (basically a broken 600 in swim speak) as sort of a test. He timed each of my 75's.  At the end, I learned that I failed miserably. 

He even said, "Do you even look at the pace clock?"


Then he had me do a straight through 600. I did better. After the 600, he said, "Still too fast.  You need to start slower. It's going to feel stupid easy. Over time, Your first half will go from being :03-:05 slower to :02-:03. Our goal will be to get you to an almost even first half to second half. "

Then I swam a 500. I did it perfectly. I was surprised at how hard it felt in the second half compared to my actual pace.  He said, "That's something we're also going to work on. We're going to work on matching your effort with different paces. It WILL feel harder at the end, even though your pace is staying the same. The goal will be to learn that THAT'S ok and to match up the effort with early pacing and effort with late race pacing."

Feedback on something that I would NEVER have picked up on if it weren't for a coach that really cared about helping me improve. 

I changed my mind. This next one is the most important one for me. 

8.) If you haven't figured it out, I surround myself with the right people. 

I won't name everyone by name because I will leave out someone inadvertently. I have Coach Liz as my tri coach. I have my swim Coaches Andrew and Dotson and to a lesser degree but still important Elliott. I have my lanemates who are much faster than me and have said, "You can do it, Tea." They have never told me to move down a lane. They don't mind lapping me, and I don't mind getting lapped.

My nutritionist still checks in on me; even though we stopped working together at the end of October. I received an email from her today wishing me luck and asking what my fueling looked like for Sun and Sat.

Mr. Tea: 

New friends: You know who you are. The ones who always say encouraging things or make me smile when I've had a tough day.  You might not have been with me from the start, but you are an important piece of where I am today.

Old friends: There are no words for this group. The people who have been with me since I started. Some of whom have seen me go from runner to triathlete. They've put up with my moods. They've listened when I thought I had no one left to listen. They've been through every pivotal moment with me. You make me laugh and make sure I know when I'm taking myself too seriously....which hopefully, isn't very often. 

Wherever you are in this process, start there. None of this happened overnight for me. Each day, do one thing better than you did the day before. Before you know it, a year has gone by. You've made 365 small changes that will pay you huge returns. 

Don't compare yourself to other people.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016


How to track me this weekend, click here. I am not notified of who tracks me.

If you haven't read Coach Liz's most recent blog post. It is worth a read.

My race plan?  Will Smith says it best.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Here we go

Today is my last long run.  What a training cycle it has been.

Leading up to Thanksgiving, we had pretty decent weather. Then Mr. El Nino hit. We got a major snowstorm right before Thanksgiving and the temps plunged. From then on, the temps stayed in the teens, and we got blasted with snow on a regular basis. As I look out my window, today is the first day that the temp will be above freezing in a long time, and I see the story of this training: run outside with spikes or run on the treadmill.

When I signed up for a Jan half marathon, I knew the risks of training during a super El Nino. We live at the NE edge of the Palmer Divide, at 6500ft. We get more snow than Denver; more snow than Boulder; more snow than just about every city on the eastern slope of the Rockies. An El Nino, for us, usually means, big snow and warmer temps. We didn't get that. We got big snow and plunging temperatures. 

I was mentally ready to do most runs on the treadmill; then, take my long runs outside with my spikes.

Being that this was the first half marathon that I've ever trained with Liz, I thought my plan was solid. After all, I've done so many half marathons that I know the routine. I started getting into the training and realized that Liz don't play when it comes to half marathon training.

Before I knew what was happening, she had me running faster long runs, for shorter periods of time than I've ever run. 

Liz turned my whole idea of half marathon training upside down. We worked with heart rate zones, but we primarily worked with pacing. There were days when I looked at the paces and my first thought was, "how am I going to do that?"  In the back of my head, I kept hearing, "She wouldn't put this on your plan if you couldn't".

For the first time ever, I enjoyed half marathon training. No. I didn't enjoy it. I loved it. I felt like I was making very real strides in my fitness level. She took what I loved about short races and turned it into a half marathon plan that I enjoyed.

Still, the weather made training tough. On the day that I was supposed to run a 10K, I was broken. I'd reached my limit. I did a walk/run for most of the race, cursing the entire time. I was furious at myself for thinking the race course would at least be decent. (Decent in Colorado terms). When I hit my time limit, I walked over, turned in my chip and took a DNF. I wasn't going to take a stupid risk running outside fast, risk ANY type of injury/fall when I had a big goal on the horizon.

I sent off a blast email to Liz saying, "NO MORE OUTSIDE RUNNING. I'VE HAD IT."

She went through my training log and started giving me treadmills instructions. Do this, but DO THIS if you are on the treadmill.

Repeatedly running 2 hours on a treadmill is mentally draining, but I learned tricks for making it easier. 

Keep all nutrition close (as in within reach). If I stopped once, I will stop twice, three times, four times....

Keep the curtains open. Turn on the tv for extra light. Aim the SAD light directly on me.

With my race being in AZ, I took the opportunity for heat acclimation. I turned on both space heaters, set them to 80 degrees, and had them blast me; one in front,one on the side. I refused to turn on the fans on the treadmill. I ran uphills; I ran fast, all with sweat pouring down my face,while looking out the window at a snow packed, ice covered world.

In a way, I thought if I was going to have to suffer a run on the treadmill, I was really going to suffer. 

Day after day, week after week, I ran on the treadmill. Every week, I found a way to make it harder, more miserable.

I'm down to my last two weeks. I'm down to my last long run. Today and for the rest of the week, the temps are supposed to be in the 40's. Too little, too late for me. At least, I know that my last two weeks of training will give me the chance to run my easier runs outside.

Now, it comes down to race strategy. Liz and I talked about my plan. She sent me an email that was the most touching email I've ever gotten, from anyone. It brought tears to my eyes, probably because there are few people that I respect as much as Liz (as a person and an athlete). After I read the email, I knew that no matter what, I will do this.

We can't control any external circumstances when it comes to racing and training. We can only control our attitude.

On January 17th, I'm going to line up at the start. I am willing to experience any amount of physical pain to make that PR happen. I don't care what the weather is like. I don't care what the course is like. I have a coach that believes in me. I believe in me. Now, it's up to me to make it happen.