Sunday, December 14, 2014

How Awesome Is Your Ultrasignup Score?

In October I mentioned that my friend John commented that my UltraSignup score would suffer after choosing to run the Condor 25k with a friend rather than race it. It wasn’t the first time I had heard someone from the Corvallis trail running group make mention of Ultra-Signup scores. My friend Scott once went on about how small races help your USU score whereas the big well known races are likely to hurt your score. I had heard the guys playfully banter about who had a higher ranking. And my friend Gaby asked me at the conclusion of the 2012 Gorge Waterfalls 50k, “Jeez, did you have to win by so much? You made this one of my lowest Ultra-signup results!”

Yes, it is obvious people are paying attention to their Ultra Signup scores, but just how important do people really think they are??

Ultrasignup arrived on the ultrarunning scene in March of 2009 as the brainchild of Mark Gilligan. Today USU handles the registration for approximately 80% of all ultramarathons and many shorter distance events as well. The company tries to upload all of the race results that they are aware of, even if the race does not use USU for registration or timing. RD’s can assist in this massive data collection by submitting results to USU in a spreadsheet format.

Mark admits that he was interested in knowing about his competition going into races, but looking up each person individually took an enormous amount of time, especially for the larger races. He said he was interested in putting together a system to help participants (including himself) easily analyze the competition. The idea for quantifying results came to him one night while having beers with friends after work: The score for each race is calculated by dividing a runner’s time by the winner’s time and the percentage becomes the runner’s score for each event. An individual’s aggregate score is just an average of each individual race score. It was a simple calculation that allowed people to see how many races someone had run and what their quantified average of past results were, which created a general runner rank. The system also benefitted ultra fans, allowing them to quickly identify top competitors or “race favorites”.

The system is decidedly less complicated than something like the BCS ranking system which involves a combination of expert polls and computer calculations. It is this simplicity that it allows it to be applied universally to the ultra-running community, but unlike football there is no accounting for “strength of schedule”. The formula does not take into account the number of participants in a race, the number of people a runner beats, or the strength of the competition in the race. The winner of a ten person fat-ass in the middle of December gets the same reward as the winner of Western States on Ultrasignup. Likewise, a runner could have an exceptionally good race but if the winner destroys the course record on that particular day, the Ultrasignup score may not reflect the accomplishment. But the method of dividing one’s time by the winner’s time was certainly not a novel concept in Ultrarunning: race series, like the Montrail Ultra Cup and the Oregon Trail Series, predated Ultrasignup with their use of the same formula to determine runner rank within the series.

Mark says he has gotten numerous suggestions on how to improve the algorithm, but few are as simple as the current system. And Mark states: “It is not our intent to inject subjectivity, it really is just your average of how you have done over the course of your running career.”
But recently there have been changes to the USU system and the ensuing discussions on the Ultrasignup Facebook page made me realize a lot of runners take this rank really, really seriously. In fact, Mark says he knows of a few situations where egos have been put in check after people have been called out on their low rank. And there are stories where people have sized up potential dates based on their Ultrasignup scores. Now that’s taking it seriously!
One of the changes involved timed race events. Previously these had not been calculated into the score, but these results have now been averaged in (using a modified formula of runner’s distance/winner’s distance). Those who frequently run timed events were strongly in favor of this, basically stating they wanted “credit” for these results. But opponents stated these races are often used for training or running a specific distance with no intention of running the entire time and they didn’t want to be penalized for this. The second change involved listing the DNF’s, though that had no effect on the actual score.
With all the banter and importance placed on the Ultrasignup score, I have decided to share my wisdom and experience (61 Ultrasignup results!) on how to achieve an Awesome Ultrasignup Score:
- If you are having a bad day, you should DNF. Sure the DNF’s are listed now but they don’t actually hurt your overall ranking. On the other hand, sticking it out through a tough day will earn you a score significantly lower than you are used to. My rough day at Western States in 2012 earned the ranking of 58%!
-Never run competitive races. Whenever a lot of fast people show up, the time between you and the first runner is likely to be a lot greater, meaning your score goes down even if you think you had a good day.
- Run a bunch of small, non-competitive races to pad your score. Better yet, go to a fat ass with Ultrasignup registration and race it all out. I like to race and I like to have some runs as training runs. Local races are perfect for this. And high placings at these races that nobody outside of your state has ever heard of (or cares about) can not only boost your ego, but also you USU score!
- Do not do any races for fun. Do not do any races for training. And certainly don’t run with anybody slower than you.  Two years ago, I ran the Pac Rim One Day with my daughter. I thought it was pretty fucking awesome to run an ultra with her when she was only 8 years old. But Ultrasignup didn’t - they reamed me with a 35%. My recent endeavors to help a friend meet her goal at the Condor 25k were also frowned upon in the USU system.
- Do not race outside of your strengths. Last year I thought it would be fun to run a mountain half marathon to mix things up and get some good vert for Western States. But I am not great at steep uphills or steep downhills and I certainly don’t have the speed to compete in a half marathon. Ultrasignup corroborated this with a lower than average score for the day.
- Never race against Ellie Greenwood. A couple years ago, I had a decent run at Chuckanut (it was on the top 20 all time list at the time). But Ellie set the course record that day. Likewise, her two speedy runs at Western States hurt my scores on the day. Fast chicks and dudes can do a number on your score even if you have a good day. It’s best to just not run any races against them at all.

;) Ok, hopefully, everyone knows I don’t mean any of that! (Well, except the part about Ellie Greenwood. Nobody has a chance against her :). My point is that ultrarunning is a lot more than a computer generated score. Enjoying new places, hanging with other people, being active, and even toughing it out on a bad day are all things that enrich our lives and make us better people. Being competitive and pushing yourself to do better and even beating others is all part of this sport, too, and I certainly relish that aspect of ultrarunning. But it is good to keep it in perspective.
Amongst all the Facebook feedback and suggestions, a few commenters hit the nail on the head. One said his Ultrasignup score was “not something I think about when I am running an ultra. Stats and rankings don’t mean much.” Another person noted, “I don’t need to be ranked to love this sport.” Even Mark Gilligan, the founder of Utrasignup, says: “the ranking is just for fun so don't take it so seriously. It was added to the site after a few beers so take it for what it is.”
Ok, so fess up! Has the ranking system ever influenced your race decisions, such as what races you run or whether or not to drop? Be honest - How seriously do you take your Ultrasignup score?

Monday, December 8, 2014

Camp, Qatar, and Conniving Commies - Part 2

(Ok this took a little longer to finish than expected since writing Part One. I was on call last week which means the little things take a backseat! Hope it was worth the wait!)
We have arrived in Doha!
I was excited about being in a completely new area of the world for me and to be part of the US team, but I had a lot of trepidation about the race itself as things went quite poorly for me after Angeles Crest and I really struggled with my recovery. The first two weeks after AC I ran 2 miles, then 12 miles the week after that, and then just 18 such that 4 weeks out I had barely run 50k. Every run sucked. I was tired all the time. My muscles ached. I skipped runs and cut many others short. But knowing I had big races ahead I pushed myself to 60 miles the next week, but then had to drop to 35 the following week. Then decent weeks of 70 and 80 miles, but after that I was so fatigued I was back down to 28. Not only was I tired but I was so frustrated. I mean, who needs ten weeks to recover from a measly 100 miles? Apparently, I did, but I did NOT like it one bit! Finally, I took 5 days off and then decided I would just run as easy as possible for three weeks. I have been wearing a heart rate monitor since June but this is the first time I really put it to any use. I forced myself to keep an easy effort and I mean easy: I averaged about 9:00-9:10 pace for the next three weeks, but I did 85, then 96 and finally 75 which included Autumn Leaves 50k. It was my slowest Autumn Leaves in 5 tries (including two 50 mile splits!). Remember I only did 85 miles in the 5 weeks between Western States and Angeles Crest and after 3 months of piddly training I was understandably out of shape. But, I felt really good at Autumn Leaves and there was no undue fatigue afterwards. I was ready to train again. Unfortunately, I had less than 4 weeks till race day. I made the most of that time but I knew I wasn’t where I would like to be for such an important race.

Given the circumstances, I figured it’d be a real stretch to break 8 hours, a time that I feel is kind of the bench mark for “World Class” for the women’s 100k, and a good deal off of my PR of 7:43. But part of racing to your best is being realistic and I knew it was unrealistic to target a time much under 8 hours. Besides that is still 7:44 pace for 62 miles!

I laid low in Qatar the few days before the race without running a single step. But there were plenty of other things to attend to like interviews, doping control, prepping for 20 aid station stops, and opening ceremonies.
iRunFar interview with me, Amy and Meghan
Hangin' with the cool kids in doping control

I may be a dope, but I am not a doper! 
 Team USA!!

Finally it was time to race! But the 6 pm start was a novelty to me. What do you do all day and what are you supposed to eat?? I tried to nap, but was unsuccessful due to a phone call from house keeping: "Your 'Do Not Disturb' sign was on so I was calling to find out what time you wanted your room made up." Apparently, 'Do Not Disturb' has a different meaning in Qatar! For food, I decided on my usual pre-race breakfast, just at 4 pm!

Pre-race I did about a half mile "warm-up" though it was still plenty warm at 6 pm (around 75 degrees) and then used a camel for a few hip stretches. ;)
(My camel photographer sucks!)

My teammates and pretty much everyone else was out in front of me at the start. Of the 199 World Championship starters it looks like my 23:48 first 5k put me in 193rd place and that was still 7:40 pace! Well, Thank Allah for the 15-20 locals in the open race or I would've been battling for DFL! But you can't say I went out too fast or that I wasn't running my own race! I told myself I was the "sweeper" for our team - bringing up the rear but there in case anyone ran into trouble. Unfortunately, the US ladies ran into a lot of trouble and being calm and in control early on was the best thing I could do for the team.
Here we go loop de loo

This course has been talked about a lot with its three U-turns
and its very unforgiving surfaces. But overall, I don't think it is a slow course, as many people have said. Max set an American record, Ellie had a fast women's time, and there were 13 men under 7:00 and ten women under 8:00 (both records), so fast times were possible. But the course was just so hard on the body, that the real challenge was enduring the completely unforgiving and unrelenting pounding on the rock hard tiles.

The course featured cushy brick tiles ;)

I was already feeling the beating by 35k and by 40k I knew my legs had some serious damage on them - not good when you've got 37 miles to go. My quads burned like I had done some serious downhill repeats, my hamstrings were strung super tight and the rest of me just ached. But ultra-running is all about enduring, right? Buck up and keep running! 

It was a little encouraging to be passing so many people and knowing I wasn't the only one hurting. But it wasn't fun to see some of my teammates struggling, too. By 25k, Larisa had dropped (with what ended up being a fractured ankle), and I caught up to and passed Emily around 40k as she was having back pain from all the pounding. But Meghan Arbogast wasn't giving me any kudos for moving into scoring position for our team. On the out and back she gave me a stern admonition, "You better finish!" Uh oh, I think I just got a death threat from the Queen! 

Super soft stone tiles ;)
That was certainly motivational, but my true motivation came from three ladies in burkas who were out cheering on the course. They yelled "Go USA!" every time I passed, but then one of them yelled, "Run to make women proud!" Wow - that struck a cord! I knew I wouldn't give up because I wanted to exemplify the strength of women. This was an opportunity to inspire women from all different cultures and heck yeah, I wanted to make women proud!

Still, no matter how motivated you are, there are physical limitations and I was definitely getting beat up from this course. I never had any melt down but my pace slowed quite a bit in the last third. Mac must've started to worry because he met me a bit away from the support zone. "Do you know what place you are in?" he asked.

Finally, I was going to get an update on the race! I knew I had moved up a lot. "No, what place?" I asked him eagerly.

Lovely, but unforgiving granite tiles
And cobblestone when you got sick of tile
(all course photos via Mike Wardian)
"You're in third for the team so your time counts now."

"Yeah, I know. I got it." Mac later told me that once I said "I got it" he knew I was going to be fine, but all I meant was that I got it that I was in third for the team! But I did think I could make it to the finish long as my legs didn't collapse or fall off altogether, which seemed pretty likely given how they felt.

The last 35k was pretty miserable. People ask what you think about when you run. Well, I spent a whole lot of time doing miles to kilometer conversions and vice versa: How many miles is 35k? How many kilometers till I only have 20 miles to go? If I am running 7:45 pace what pace is that per kilometer? It is amazing how slowly your brain functions at that stage in a race and I was able to kill a lot of time that way. There were also several women that I could see on the out and back and I kept my sights ahead trying to to pick them off. But mostly I just ran "from tree to tree", checking off the landmarks as I ran: start line, right hand turn, row of air conditioners, 1 km mark, 1st water stop (dump on my head!), U-turn, 2 km mark, turn around, half way point,  3km, second water stop (more water on the head), 4 km, US aid station, back to the start/finish. Until the final 5k, the remaining mileage seemed unbearable, but somehow I kept making my way around that loop. My pace slipped below 8 minute miles till I finished the penultimate lap in 7:35:10. If I wanted to break eight hours it was time to pick up the pace! But so much of running is mental and when you really want something, you find that your body actually does have a little more. I hit the next mile in 7:48 and knew I was going to make it.

The enduring paid off. By the end of the race I had passed 128 people to finish 65th overall, 10th female and second for the US team and under eight hours at 7:59:11. For being an "old lady" I got a World Masters Association gold medal for my age group. Meghan finished 8th in 7:52 and Amy Sproston rallied for the team after struggling to finish 18th in 8:14 as our third scorer, for an unofficial 4th place team finish. 

But the Russians decided to run a few of their athletes "incognito" and not put them in team uniforms or anything that even closely resembled the official Russian attire (two of the girls were in plain pink and purple tank tops). The Russians have a history of being a bit conniving at the 100k World Championships. They have had complaints of pacing filed against them, they don't bring their athletes to the parade of nations, they turned in their list of athletes two weeks after the filing deadline this year and then they didn't run in identifiable Russian uniforms. Our team manager was upset because they hadn't been able to keep track of the team standings accurately. Great Britain was also upset because one of the "incognito" Russians was running up front all day with the three British ladies and they didn't know who she was. A joint protest from the US and Britain ended up in a Russian disqualification (several reports said the officials were mis-tracking these ladies during the race, too) and the US women's team moved into third. It's not really the way I would like to get a World Championship medal, but at the same time, I do think it is important that everyone plays by the rules and that the rules are upheld. So, did we earn the bronze medal? Well, maybe not, but I do think we deserve it. "Team Oregon" medals again!! (except Meghan went and moved to California! - traitor!).
Team Japan, Team Great Britain and Team USA
Out of my five lifetime road 100k's this was my 4th slowest, but given all the circumstances, I do feel like this was a really good race for me. I feel like I performed to the best of my ability for where my ability was at on that day, and for that I am proud. I can only hope it makes other women proud, too.

Splits: 23:48, 23:05, 23:19, 23:12, 22:51, 22:53, 23:11, 23:10, 23:09, 23:32, 23:13, 23:41, 24:19, 25:16, 25:24, 25:02, 25:20, 25:10, 25:37, 24:01. The fall off was almost entirely due to leg pain and stiffness. My second half heart rate was actually lower than the first half. Max King reported the same thing. It is just hard to keep working at the same pace when your legs hurt that bad!

Fuel and Fluid: 4 Ensures, 3 S-caps, 1 gel, 3 Honey Stinger individual pieces, 1 liter orange Fanta, 2 Naprosyn, 1 Ibuprofen and approximately 40 bottles of water over my head (after taking a small sip) = 186 cal/hr
Closing Ceremonies
The Souk

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Camp, Qatar, and Conniving Commies - Part 1

(Don't you hate when people write race reports that are longer than the actual race itself, giving you every mundane detail of every minute leading up to the race, including every morsel of food they put into their mouths, whether or not they used their lucky purple toothbrush before the race, and what color poop they had?? Yeah, me, too. So instead of doing that, I am giving you this in two parts, to trick you into thinking the whole report is much shorter than it actually is. This part only covers Camp, so the title is misleading, but I am setting the stage for massive suspense! I know you will be dying to get Part 2 (because its not like you already know the results or anything). So you'll probably be checking the blog like 5, 6, maybe even ten times a day and my blog stats will go up and I'll be thinking "Wow, look at me: I am so popular!" You get a reading intermission and I get to feel all warm and fuzzy; Everybody wins! So, yeah...on to Part 1)

Well the soreness of pounding out 62 miles on unforgiving surfaces has faded to almost nothing but the excitement of the trip has not. Mac and I had a crazy nine day itinerary for mid-November that had us jet setting to Frankfurt and Amsterdam en route to and from Doha, Qatar. But not before spending a few days outside of the exotic locale of Rocksprings, TX.

For the third year (and Mac’s second) we went to Texas to be trail mentors at the Team Red White and Blue trail camp. They call us volunteers as we are supposedly giving our time, but that seems a mistake as we get so much in return. This is a group of amazing people with so many Veterans who have sacrificed so much to serve our country and it is an honor to get the chance to run with them. 

Being a third year mentor I was given tremendous responsibility: I was in charge of the beer stop during the two plus hour bus ride from the airport to camp (because no alcohol is sold at camp and what is running camp without beer??). Well, I start chatting it up and before you know it, we are 20 miles past our stop! OMG, I am going to have some angry service men on my hands! Seriously, who put this idiot in charge?? (I DID give the bus driver specific instructions on where to stop before we took off. “That’s my bad” he told me when I asked why we missed it). Dom Grossman saved the day by finding us a very rustic, middle of nowhere country store to stop at. It had great local flair and was 4th generation family owned. They loved the business and we loved their Texas warmth and homemade brisket and beef jerky - what a score! And of course, I totally meant to do that! ;)
Who wouldn't want to stop here?
My first two years I mentored the advanced groups but this year with 100k Worlds just a few short days after Camp, I helped out with the beginner group to save my legs a bit. What this group lacks in running experience, they make up for in energy and enthusiasm! With their attitude they will be kicking ass on the trails in no time! It was nice how eager group A was to learn, so I felt I had a lot to offer this year. The D group is so focused on running they don’t like to stop for discussions! (To be fair, many of the D groupers have enough experience that they could be leading the camp. What am I supposed to say about heat training to a guy who has already finished Badwater??).

Awesome Group A!
Yes, I am wearing a buff! That is the power of camp Eagle!
Mac enjoys the technical trails at Camp Eagle
On the final night, Team RWB honored and thanked Max King, Meghan Arbogast and me for helping at camp when it was so close to Worlds and we were presented with a Team RWB coin. Ok, I tend to be a pretty stoic person, but I was beyond touched by this and had to do a little extra blinking to manage the eye moisture! The director for Team RWB said that the entire organization was behind us, so if we got tired in the race to imagine 56,000 sets of hands pushing us from behind. Max was the top American man (and World Champ) and Meghan and I ended up 1-2 for the American women. Coincidence? I think not!

Mac and I had to leave camp Monday morning a few hours before it was officially over in order to catch our flights, but not too early to get in one last little adventure. Last year Jason Bryant arranged for a small group including my husband to go see the headwaters of the Nueces River. When I heard, I asked if I could tag along, and I was very bluntly told “No”. Let’s not say that there is trespassing involved, but just that the journey requires climbing an 8 foot fence and leaving the Camp Eagle property. For that reason the group was kept small. But Jason felt bad for excluding me last year, so this year I got the first invite and he didn’t have to do much arm twisting.
We ran up and down this. Well, Jason ran it, I tip-toed and scooted!

This little trickle coming out of the rocks becomes the Nueces River

Jason Bryant and me at the headwaters.

 After our chilly jaunt it was off to Qatar. A mere 28 hours later and we were there!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

A "Smashing" Day: Thinking Beyond Traditional MUT Safety

Trail runners are used to paying attention to personal safety: checking maps, checking weather conditions, packing extra food and gear, letting others know where you are going, etc. But one area of safety we might not think about much is that of our cars.

Because I live in a fairly isolated area of town and I like to run with people, I drive to my run about 90% of the time. In fact this has been a typical morning routine for me for the past six years. (I shower at work which is downtown so this doesn't add any extra driving to my day). Every day, I grab my car key and leave everything else behind: gym bag, packed food and even my purse, which I "hide" under the seat or other bags. I've never had a problem until this past Friday.

Friday morning, I drove to a local gym at 5:30 am to meet a friend for a run. I left my car in the parking lot, right under the light pole and in plain sight of the front desk. When I returned at 6:50, gym employees were standing by my car. "Someone just busted your window," they informed me. At first glance, everything seemed ok: Gym bag on the seat on top of a pile of work papers, clothes hanging on the door, food bag in the foot well, plus a bag to take to the Goodwill. But when I looked under the bags, my purse was gone.
Hey! There's glass on my Ultrarunner Magazine!
In total, the cash, purse, wallet, and a gift card had an estimated value of about $250; the window cost $100 to replace; and a new driver's license was $26.50. Not a small loss but not the end of the world. The thieves got a $35 tank of gas before I could get my credit card cancelled, but there was no major spending spree or ATM withdrawal. I would blow this off as one big nuisance, except that wasn't the end of the story.

At 7:20am, someone rang our doorbell forcefully and repeatedly. My kids - with naive optimism and excitement to see what was going on - ran to the entry hall. A man in a hoodie was peering in the window and took off running as soon as he saw the kids. My husband - deciding it would be more couth to answer the door with a shirt on - lagged behind and arrived at the door just in time to see two men speeding off in a silver Honda Element with an Oregon "O" on the back. He couldn't see the plates. Fortunately, these guys were looking for an empty house and were not interested in a tussle, but still this chilled me to the core: this little break-in wasn't just a nuisance, it potentially put my entire family in jeopardy!
At least they didn't take the squash from my back seat!
Anyway, I know bad people do bad shit, and I should not beat myself up as the victim, but at the same time, I know I have been pretty unconcerned about break-ins and a bit too cavalier about my car when I go for a run. The Salem Police department notes that auto break-ins are usually at their highest in October through December, both because of increased darkness and because of the proximity of the holidays (as the officer told me: thieves want to have nice holidays, too). Salem has actually been having a string of break-ins at different gyms around the city. Unlike people going to the super market, people going to the gym often leave their purse or wallet behind. I know of several people who have had break-ins at trail heads and the same logic applies: people going for hikes don't take their lap tops and purses with them.

So here are a few common sense reminders of things to do to lessen your chance of a break-in.

-Lock your doors. This seems like a "duh" kind of thing, but of the 1.85 million auto outbreak-ins each year, it is estimated that 25% of them occur in unlocked cars. It can take less than 60 seconds to rummage your whole car, so even if you are just going in for coffee or dropping off a library book, lock the doors. Close up the windows and sunroof, too.

-Set the alarm. If you have a car alarm, set it. The alarm draws attention to your car and may scare off potential thieves.

-Don't leave anything visible in your car.  Even if your possessions are "not valuable", if a thief sees a lot of stuff they are more likely to break in, hoping they will find something of value stashed amongst everything.  Not to mention your "not valuable" stuff can actually cost a lot to replace. A few years ago, I had a clothing bag stolen from a race. At first, I didn't think it was that big of a deal because it was just clothes, but when I thought about the cost of the shoes, sunglasses, sunscreen, sweats, shirt, capris, and backpack, it was easily over $200 dollars worth of stuff.

Keeping things out of sight may be tougher for trail runners since many drive SUV's and hatchbacks without a concealed trunk area. Consider getting a cover for the back area or at least get a large opaque container (like a storage bin).

- Keep loose change out of sight. When I was going to medical school at Temple University in North Philadelphia, we were warned that cars had been broken into just to steal a few coins off of the console. If people are desperate enough, even a buck or two can seem like a score.

- Don't use the console, under the seat, or glove compartment as hiding places. The police officer told me thieves know that women commonly put their purse under their seats to "hide" them, but from certain angles parts of the purse may still be visible. I suspect I did a poor hiding job Friday morning and that perhaps the strap was sticking out. Parking in well lit areas is a good idea, but in my case, it probably made it easier to see into my car. The console and unlocked glove compartments are also commonly searched. Use the trunk instead.

- If you don't need it, leave it at home. Wallets, purses and backpacks often end up being a bit of a storage locker. My purse contained memberships cards, a gift card I had no immediate plans for, a USB drive, laser pointer and a few other things that I didn't need on a daily basis. I know at least two people who have had lap tops taken from their cars while they were running. I know this gets tough, because busy people are often on the go and want everything they need with them at all times. If you are just going to the gym or for a run, put your driver's license, a credit card and maybe a few bucks in pouch or small baggie and leave everything else at home. If you do have to take stuff with you, again make sure it is locked in your trunk.

- Stow before you go. Don't wait till you get to your destination to hide your stuff or put in the trunk, do it before you leave your house so no one sees you stashing your valuables.

-In the gym is safer than your car. If you are headed to the gym, take all your valuables with you. Even in an unlocked locker, they are safer in the gym than in your car. Better yet, get a lock!

Getting back from a run to find your car window smashed in will completely ruin any runner's high you had going on. Take a couple extra minutes to diminish your chances of a break-in, because canceling credit cards, visiting the DMV, repairing your car and changing all the locks on your house is a really shitty way to spend your day.
Enjoying my Friday afternoon at the Salem DMV - ugh!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

"Super" Day at Autumn Leaves

Another year, another mess of loops at Autumn Leaves. This year was bittersweet since I was originally planning to run at Les Templiers in France on the last weekend of October. Autumn Leaves is in nearby Champoeg State park with a great “low-key” feel, wonderful race directors, and a fast course, but there is no denying that it is NOT France! But I’d come to terms with not going to France a while ago and since I was free, well, why not pick up finish #5 at Autumn Leaves?? Plus, I had a Supergirl costume just dying to be put to use!

I originally got the Supergirl attire back in 2011, when I had the crazy idea of going after the Guinness World Record for female marathon in a superhero costume, which at the time was 3:08. I had a friend (not a runner) who had recently gotten into going after life goals and after a motivating email from him, I made a rash purchase on the Target website. It was only $12.88 with free shipping, so it wasn't a huge investment. It came in a package labeled "Secret Wishes: Costumes for Playful Adults." Well, running in a costume makes me a "playful adult", right?? Hahaha! But after reading all the requirements from Guinness, I was kind of apathetic about the whole thing and never really pursued it. Then Camille Herron slammed the door on the whole idea with her 2:48 Spidergirl run a few years ago - that's out of my superhero league! So other than a brief appearance at the first Superhero 5k with my son Liam, Supergirl has been stuck in her plastic packaging.
This is exactly how I look in this costume when I am not running.

Last year, I was eager to test my fitness at AL and ran the 50 miler all out to a 6:11 finish. This year, my goals were quite different and I really wanted to focus on holding back and staying comfortable all day to put in a good training effort for the 100k Worlds on Nov. 21. And of course, I needed to keep my costume contest streak alive, too!
Supergirl and the Autumn Leaves
We started in pitch black and pouring rain and I did a good job running super easy. I ran a couple of the early miles with Liz who was trying her first 50k after doing a few marathons - your typical story - until Liz told me she was 17 and had done her first marathon at age 14. I laughed and told her I was old enough to be her mom. “Oh, no,” she tells me, “my parents are still older than you!” Haha- I like that young people are getting into the sport, but they sure do make me feel old! But with age comes wisdom and I knew Liz was working too hard for so early so I was happy for her when she said she was going to back off.

My idea was to start slow and cut down the pace for every 6.25 mile lap. Things went right on plan until the end of loop 2 when the RD’s and timer told me I was “first master, second woman.” So the pace for lap three got a little more aggressive than planned. ;) My friend Josh coyly asked me after the race what my place had to do with pace for a “training run.” Haha - well, I do have a race bib on after all!

The ladies at the turn around let me know I was 8 minutes back and that she “looks like she is only 15.” Great, another teenager!

On the return I was bummed to see Joe Uhan, who had been battling with Josh for the men’s lead, and he just wasn’t feeling good. But it was nice to have his company through the woods back to the start/finish, where he planned to drop. To prove to me how bad he felt, he told me that just running along with me his heart rate was 160. I looked down and mine read 169! Um, maybe I should back off a bit!

At the start/finish both the RD and the timer assured me they had made a mistake; the other woman was a 50 mile early starter! Since I was already running around my 100km PR pace, I decided to just hold that for the final two loops to the finish. The beauty of starting slow is that you get to pass a lot of people at the end! I finished in a personal worst (and slower than both 50k splits during my two 50 mile runs here) in 4:05, but it was good enough for first female/third overall. And most importantly: costume contest victory!! :)
Flying to the finish!
Lap 1: 55:21 (8:53)
Lap 2: 50:18 (8:06)
Lap 3: 46:13 (7:27)
Lap 4: 46:28 (7:29)
Lap 5: 46:42 (7:32)

I don't think I fulfilled any of my husband's "Secret Wishes" last weekend, but after feeling so crappy for so many weeks through the summer and after AC, it was great to cruise around 50k feeling fantastic. Whatever overtraining/overfatigue I had going on seems to be behind me. Though I am happy that running feels "playful" again, this wasn't exactly a confidence boost. As noted, the time was slower than 50 mile pace the last two years. I got 30k of good 100k pace training, but I can't say it felt entirely easy and I certainly couldn't have kept it up for another 70k on that day, so I still have a lot of uncertainty about my fitness. 

I tried to "cram" a bit this week with 99.25 miles in six days (because I am staying under 100 mpw for the time being - ha!) including a good tempo run and a hill session. I finished up the week sweeping at the Silver Falls 50k and marathon. Sweeping may be the most playful of all running activities. My day went like this: Stand around eating candy and chatting (Mac was running the 50k so we had to get there fairly early. Being the day after Halloween, there was a lot of candy and let's just say I wasn't adhering to low carb breakfasting on this morning). After the marathon start (30 minutes after the 50k start) we ran at a good clip to the second AS. Then we stood around and ate a bunch. Then we ran at a good clip till we caught the last marathoner. Then we walked. When the marathon and 50k course split, we took off sprinting because now we were way behind the last 50k'er. Then we caught her and walked. Chill and chat at the aid station, stuff your face, run hard till you recatch the last runner, walk, repeat. Kind of a funny way to run and not exactly the best road 100k training, but it was fun to get some time on the trails again and it was good to help out Run Wild Adventures, a company that has been very successful bringing trail races to the Salem area (yes, Salem!).

Less than three weeks till Worlds. Until then, I'll be doing few last ditch speed workouts and a lot of "Wishful" thinking!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Not Just Older, But Wiser

For the last three years the first weekend of October has found me on the starting line of the Condor 25k, a race in the nearby MacDonald Forest. The race celebrates the life of Dave “Condor” Bateham. I had a two year win streak going into this year’s race, including last year’s 1:55 CR, and while I would’ve loved to keep the streak going, but I didn't feel like I was in any place to be racing.

Did you just read that??! See what I mean about wiser!? Back in my youth, like 4 months ago, I couldn't get enough racing. I love the whole race atmosphere, the meeting of like minded individuals, the challenge, and the effort. But being a "racer" has a serious flaw: I only know how to race at races, and while I have done many runs for the purpose of training and not necessarily at my peak, when I pin the bib on, I go into race mode, meaning I give whatever I have for that day.

But I am pretty convinced that a hard 25k (on top of a big training week with all of life's other stresses) is what did me in for States. And while I made it through AC respectably (with some struggles that last 26), I was totally destroyed after that race. This whole summer feels like I have been merely surviving the race scene, not thriving, and with no real training since June - just big races and recovery- honestly my fitness has been off, too. I feel like I just got back on track with training - though much behind where I should be for Worlds - and that another race, no matter how "short" would only derail that.

So I pulled out. Or at least I tried to! But the RD is a good friend and she told me I had to run because she had specially assigned me bib #40. So instead I ran it with my good friend Sharon, enjoying the day and helping her to her goal of breaking 3:30. She finished in 3:29:35! Sorry, no pictures - the photographers apparently don't hang out for the back of the pack runners! (Seriously?? ok, that's just rude!)

Afterwards, my friend John said, "Wow, Pam, you are going to ruin your Ultrasign-up score!" I just laughed. Really, is that what we run for?? Impressive Ultrasignup scores?? Not me! Besides, my 2012 Western States already took care of that and that was when I was trying to race!

So I thought I would turn 40 and capitalize on my master status at all the races, but it turns out now I am able to go to races to capitalize on the experience, the camaraderie, and the beauty of the day. Sheesh, I am practically mellow in my old age! And so I signed up for another race with no intention of racing! - the Autumn Leaves 50k on Oct. 25. Don't worry, I still plan to bring my 'A' game for the costume contest!

Update: Ok, one of the photographers did get some pics midway through the race, but they weren't there at the finish for the back-of-the-packers. Thanks to Taryn Hand for shooting the entire field.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Staring at Youth in the Rearview

Yesterday was my 40th birthday, and while I am not as freaked out about this major milestone as I thought I would be, there is no denying that “youth” is officially a thing of my past. Oh, there are times when 40 can be seen in relative terms as being young, like if you are visiting an Old Folks Home or in the setting of terminal disease, but true youth has evaporated. This is particularly highlighted in US running where turning 40 allows admission into the master’s category, essentially an acknowledgement by the powers-that-be that quadragenarians lack the vim and vitality to compete head to head with younger athletes. At least Americans can take heart knowing they won’t be put out to the master’s pasture until age 40; World Masters Athletics start at age 35.

“But you are only as old as you feel,” the optimists sing, and indeed there is even some evidence that this is true (Yes, I just referenced a Web MD link; don’t revoke my medical license!). Most days, I still feel pretty young- I can run 100 miles in a day, goshdarnit! - but there are starting to be some telltale signs of my age.

Reasons I Know I am Old:

Wow! These new jeans look so stylishly used
1) I want my new jeans to look like new jeans. Today's jeans are supposed to look like you have worn them everyday for the last ten years. Only nobody actually does that, so you buy new jeans that look like old jeans. But I do not want jeans that are pre-creased, pre-faded, or hems that are pre-shredded. And I sure as hell don't want the jeans to come with symmetric little shreds all up and down the quads. I mean, nobody rips their jeans in a square hole in the middle of the thigh! These manufactured attempts to make denim look well-loved are about as fake as a set of double D's on a 100 pound lady! Now, I am not looking for Mom jeans (yet), but if I spend money on a new pair of jeans, I want them to look new. Besides, as a 40 year old mom, I want you to know that I am still putting a little effort into myself. If I wanted used jeans, I'd go to Goodwill!

2) I don't need alcohol to be hungover. Like many, I got out of bed with extreme reluctance on January 1st. Man, was I tired! Plus, I had a headache, a dry mouth and I really needed some greasy food. It was all the classic hangover symptoms. Only I didn't drink at all on New Year's Eve! Staying up till 12:30 is just really hard on my old body!

3) Nighttime is for sleeping. Remember in college when you didn't even leave your dorm before ten pm because no party really got going before that? You could party and dance till 3 am and it still felt early. And how about when you were first madly in love and you certainly weren't going to bed to get a little shut-eye? Nowadays, 10 pm means it's a half hour past my bedtime, and you are only getting sex if it doesn't cut into my sleep!

4) I experience sticker shock regularly. A few years ago we bought a roll of "forever stamps" and I have been using them to send off the rare snail mail item, blissfully unaware of what I was paying in postage. And then I had to go to the post office to mail a package and sheets of 49 cent stamps were plastered everywhere. Holy hell! 49 cents to send a stinking letter! You should be able to mail your Christmas packages for that price! I mean I remember when postage went from 18 cents to 20 cents and that was a BIG DEAL! And then last week we stopped at a convenience store to pick up a treat for a long drive and candy bars were a dollar - each!! And that was just the regular size, not the king size or anything. Well, obviously convenience stores jack up their prices and charge you extra for the 'convenience.' Except candy bars were a dollar at our local supermarket, too! When I was a kid we picked up candy bars with a Washington, too - a Washington quarter that is!

5) Public establishments are too loud. When I go out, I just want to have a nice conversation with a few close friends, maybe sip a nice mixed drink. But all the bars are just too fucking loud! You've got to yell just to talk to the person across the table and even then you can only pick up half the words. And now all the restaurants are playing loud music, too. And then there are live bands and those are just extra loud!

6) I no longer celebrate my birthday in a bar. It used to be so important to celebrate my birthday in a bar that I would use a fake ID just to get in! (Mom, that's a lie). Back then nothing said "happy birthday" better than pounding shots called "snake bite" out of a test tube. But bars don't allow kids and I don't really want to pay a babysitter just to go to a bar. Did I mention how loud those places are? This past Saturday we had several friends and their kids to our house for a potluck dinner with cheesecake and s'mores around our fire pit. I sipped one nice mixed drink and had lots of good conversation. We partied till the wee hours of the morning; I don't think the last person left till almost 11:00! Then I went straight to bed (to sleep only). And in the morning I woke up with a hangover.

7) I spent my actual birthday dropping off the glass recycling and attending a parent teacher conference. I am a party animal! But I also had a nice lunch with my husband and this happened to my hair:
I'd like to think I did this because I am so sassy and young at heart, but I am pretty sure it is just the first inklings of my midlife crisis and a desperate attempt to reconnect to Youth even though we all know that bridge has burned! Hello 40's!