Sub 20, and an altitude-conversion post college ‘PR’

After the rather disappointing summer trainging spent slogging my way back into shape post injury, and a few decent but not thrilling early fall races, I was starting to have my doubts that I would meet my original season goal of breaking 19 minutes (a 4% improvement from last year, to put it in relative terms). I still have my hopes up for a quick final 5k at the RSNA conference, but also know that colder weather could make it more of a toughness-testing slog than a quick race. I discussed my goal dilemma with MountainMan and he suggested a still-challenging, but maybe more reachable in the short-term goal of breaking 20 minutes at altitude (over 5000 feet). This new goal would let me focus on earlier season races (so any fair weather racing at RSNA would be more of a bonus) and would let me focus for a while on goal-at-altitude pace, which is moreconfidence boosting than the short, lung-busting effort of trying to hit sea-level 5k pace up here at 8000 feet.

Although my few races so far hadn’t been spectacular, recent workouts made me believe I was finally getting into similar form as I was in last year when I just missed a sub-20 at my final cross-country race with some of the local Oiselle voleé team members. It had been a few weeks since my last race and I was itching to get in an all-out effort to see what I could do. 

Two of the races I was hoping to run were scheduled for the same day (and were either on a somewhat boring course or on a more interesting/fun but slow course), so I ended up signing up for a totally different race that one of the Oiselle voleé women was directing as a first-time race in Denver to raise money for migraine research. As someone involved in medical-related research the idea of running to help raise funds for someone else’s research was appealing!

I did the long, dark drive up to Denver, registered and warmed up, and got to meet a few new teammates on the starting line.

halfway through the drive – holiday lights already!

Weird fish on my warmup 😛

starting-line social club 🙂

After a few pre-race instructions we were off! I knew one of the women I’d met on the start line was a speedster, so focused on relaxing while running next to her over the first half mile. Another runner, a tall man in a bright yellow shirt, soon came up between us and I fell back to third in our little line, running stride for stride a in a row a bit like a track race for the first mile or so. The pace felt fast but I figured I would just hang on, keep pushing, and see what I had in my legs and lungs on that morning.


By 1 mile to go we were a bit more strung out and I was focusing on keeping my turnover up and pushing through the growing discomfort. I knew I was on pace for something near 20 minutes and was hoping my normal pattern of a slow 2nd mile and faster third mile would hold true.

Finally we hit 400 to go. I had gained on the guy in 2nd but couldn’t quite get up the gear to move around him, instead falling back slightly as he suddenly surged ahead. I was feeling pretty ragged and prayed none of the 1 mile walkers who were also on the course would step in front of me, as I didn’t know if I had the energy to yell or jump around them while keeping up the pace. Finally the finish came in to view and I gave a last bit of effort while watching the clock numbers come into focus.

19:45…pump arms…46…stride….47….gasp…48….49….lean….50!

Sub-20 was checked off my list and I’d managed to snag second place, helping the Oiselle voleé women in the field to a podium sweep! The small but well-matched front pack in a rather sparse field, the perfect racing weather, and the long awaited fitness had all come together beautifully to bring me to my goal with a few races left in the season. My confidence has gotten a nice boost and I’m excited to see what I can get out of my remaining ‘bonus’ races!


Final race of the season – RSNA conference fun-run

It’s been a long, fruitful season since my first race back in March of this year, and I was excited to have the opportunity to do my final race of the season in Chicago (at sea level!!!) and with my awesome runner/tri-athlete coworker during our big conference week.

We both spent the few days before traveling, attending talks, and prepping for our own presentations (a podium for her and poster for me), which meant any pre-race prep and pre-race nerves were on the back burner. We did get in a lovely shakeout run along lake Michigan, and headed to bed early the night before so that the 6:30 a.m. start (oooof!) wouldn’t feel quite as rough.

Race morning dawned dark and unseasonably warm (45 degrees!), which meant shorts and long sleeves – definitely not the outfit I had envisioned when I packed my tights, wool socks, mittens, hat, and micro-spikes into my suitcase a few days prior. I brought my racing flats along for an extra little race boost and carried them on our 2-mile warmup run to the park where the race start was located.

My coworker and I got to the park and checked our extra gear, did a few drills and strides together, and then lined up at the start. We eyed a few other competitors (“Let’s beat those guys from Philips!”) and chatted happily with one of the women who’d run the race a few times before. It was a low-key start, with a steady friendly chatter beforehand and then a simple “Ready, set, go!”from the starter. I had to squeeze by a couple guys but then took off at what seemed like a reasonable sea-level pace with the windy-city wind blowing briskly at my back. A small lead pack led the way and we were soon moving briskly down the sidewalk along the lake shore.

I made it through the wind-aided first mile in a surprising 6:08 or so (eek!), but felt fine apart from the shock of seeing the surprisingly fast time on the 1-mile clock. Even with my brisk pace another woman passed me like I was standing still right before the mile mark, and another gal did the same right before the turnaround at 1.5 miles. I just kept spinning my legs and hoping I could hold my pace and fend off any more women coming up behind me. The turnaround meant a a direct flip onto the opposite side of the bike path and into the wind, and my pace slowed considerably to about 6:35 average in the final 1.5 miles with the added resistance. I was relatively alone, and couldn’t hear the runners behind me due to the wind whistling in my ears. All I could do was to keep pushing and hope for the best.

I finally caught a few guys with about a quarter mile to go and kicked with the pack as we spotted the 200m-to-go marker. I could see the finish clock from about 50m out and accelerated into the finish in the hopes of getting under 19:40. I crossed the line to find out I’d gotten third (woohoo!!!), well behind the 1st and 2nd place women who’d both run well under 19 minutes(!)

My coworker came in shortly afterwards at just over 20 minutes and we tiredly recounted our race experiences and gathered some food for the run back. Our cool down wound along the lake shore as the sun rose, making for quite the end to our early morning. We spent the rest of the day conferencing, happy to have gotten in a good 7 miles before spending the day in dress clothes and researcher-mode.

To be honest, it was a bit of a weird final race – I wasn’t all that nervous before hand and the results were fairly meaningless (although my 3rd place did get me a spot in the conference newsletter!). My coworker and I both ran well, but had other, more significant things to focus on that day. However, in spite of the low-key atmosphere I was really pleased with the race – I got to both enjoy my pre-race time without the usual anxiety and also managed to run a really solid race that confirmed the times I’ve been looking at with the altitude conversion from my high-altitude race times. It was definitely satisfying to see that I really did have a sub-20 (and a well-under-20!) in me, and that I was able to perform under the slightly weird conditions of such an early race.


This is probably the only way I’ll ever do anything impressive enough to get into the conference bulletin ;P

Now it’s on to a little running break, and then a hopefully strong winter of steady, base-building running, strength work, skiing, snowshoeing, and other fun snow-land activities 🙂

Success – I embraced the nature over 5 kilometers of steep hills, shin-deep grass, and the occasional ice patch


Saturday’s race morning started after a fitful night of being woken multiple times by a restless dog and a husband who was really excited about a bear on the patio at 2am. Knowing my alarm was going off at 4:20am, I was much less thrilled about the disruptive middle of the night visitor. Luckily no one was eaten and I managed a few solid hours of sleep before my alarm pulled my out of bed and into the dark morning.

I dressed, grabbed my gear, and drove the two hours to the course, wishing I had thought to make some coffee for the drive.Happily, the sun began to rise over the peaks just as I arrived, pulling me out of my drowsy state and into race prep mode. I registered and quickly started my warm up jog to wake my legs and get the chill out of my hands and feet. I spotted one other gal doing drills in an ankle-length down coat and runner’s cap and figured she might be my main competition in what was looking to be a rather sparse field.

The small group of us – mainly blue-lipped men in skimpy shorts and tank tops and more comfortable-looking women in tights, long sleeves, and gloves – gathered at the start for some pre-race instructions, an ‘on your mark’, and a very exciting send-off signaled by surprisingly-loud mini canon fire!

I took off conservatively, well aware of the steady hill that would take us from about the first quarter mile up to the 1 mile mark. A group of the tank-top men and I slogged up the double-track, gradually spreading out as the hill took its toll.


The start, and the hill in the background.

The second mile started with a snow-covered switchback onto the only flat bit apart from the start, and then swiftly dove downhill on some frozen dirt single track that wound through gray and yellow aspens. This spat us out into some of the most challenging terrain of the course – deep, uneven grass.

I had somehow ended up in first but kept seeing the gal from the warmup whenever we went around a switchback. Now I was fighting the cold, fatigue from the long first mile climb, and the uneven, momentum-sapping grass to stay ahead of her. I tried to follow the men’s lead on the challenging terrain, sticking to the shortest grass and prancing around the many bumps, holes, and rocks. I rolled my ankle once but fortunately felt it spring right back with just a tiny twinge.

The course brought us tantalizingly close to the finish with about 800m to go, and then sent us around on one more final bit of single track, another section of knobby overgrown field, and then down a steep mowed-grass hill into the finishing flat. I was finally able to stride out and felt the effort, but was determined to stay ahead of the runner behind me who’s footsteps were growing alarmingly close. I pumped my arms through the finish and turned to see a guy finishing close behind and then the gal I’d been racing against.

We all spent a few moments congratulating each other and commiserating over the gnarly course, and then stampeded the concessions stand to get our well-earned muffins and free coffee. I settled on a sun-warmed boulder to sip my coffee and congratulated myself on keeping the ‘curse you mother nature!’ thoughts to a minimum during the race.


COOOFFFFFEEEEEEE. With melted/dissolved whipped cream 😀

After the (glorious) caffeine kicked in I cooled down while cheering on the middle-school racers and then met up to cheer with a Volee teammate who was coaching a local high school team over the same brutal course. There’s nothing quite like spending the morning after a hard effort sprinting around a cross-country course in the Autumn sunshine cheering for a bunch of speedy young upstarts!


Here’s a question for you all! Favorite beverage post-race: hot (or iced!) coffee, cold beer, fizzy sports-drink? Or something more unique?


A glorious day for racing and cheering

Cross-country on the trails (Eric Spry Memorial 5k race report)

Saturday morning I woke up early to get my race gear together, drive up the ski hill, and watch a bunch of high school kids kick butt on the same course that I would be attempting to survive later that afternoon. It was just a little intimidating watching a bunch of in-shape kids suffering over the course!


These girls were flying on the downhill…after a mile-long climb to the top

I spent an hour watching the races and then headed down to the start to warm up for the citizen’s race, the whole time accompanied by a weird little weather system that rotated through sun, thunder, rain, and more sun. Lucky for me the weather stopped on the ‘sunshine’ setting for the grown-ups’/non-team race so we spent our time on the start line getting crispy instead of shivering in the rain like half the high schoolers had. As I warmed up I watched a stream of HS kids with ice packs, scrapes from falls, and mud-covered back milling around – not exactly what you want to see when you’re up next!

Before the start we had a brief moment of silence in the start area for the race’s namesake, a former local HS runner who had passed away several years ago, and then gathered together on the line to honor his namesake race with what we hoped would be some gritty racing efforts. The field was small but there were a few gals in the mix who I had raced before, so I knew I’d have some women to chase over the 5k course.

The starter counted us down and I false-started a little before the gun (oops!), but found myself swallowed by the group half a stride in. We all spent the first 50m or so bumping elbows and nudging each other through the narrow start, but then sorted ourselves out by pace as we broke onto open road for the second 100m. The race then turned onto dusty single track for a long 1-mile grind up the hill. At this point I had one girl (a 12yo trail-running prodigy), a HS age boy, the WhiteShirt gal from the last race, and a middle-aged man ahead of me and was pleased to have a few people to aim for during the race.

Unfortunately, WhiteShirt pulled off about 400m into the climb, just as she had last race. On talking to her post-race I learned that she’s a former soccer player and doesn’t warm up for races, so usually has a really rough 1st mile. Ouch :-/  I went by her, a bit disappointed to have suddenly lost the next nearest woman, and at now having to be the one in front getting chased! I turned my sights on the middle-aged guy ahead of me and focused on keeping my pace up over the remainder of the climb.

At the 1 mile mark the course levels out and then pounds down a wide dirt maintenance road for about half a mile. The HS kids were now volunteering on the course and their cheers of encouragement were welcome as I focused on spinning my legs and not falling flat on my face on the bumpy, packed dirt. I skittered around the turn at the bottom and climbed back up for a bit, and then got directed onto a narrow grassy trail through some fancy vacation condos and back out onto the dirt. I hadn’t caught sight of WhiteShirt coming out of the last turn, so started to think that I might actually hold her off for a second place female finish behind the speedy 12 year old, who was now out-of-sight up ahead.

The last mile of the course looks nice on paper with a steady downhill, but in reality is made brutal by the mix of downhill and unpleasant surfaces. The first half is downhill on rough dirt with loose rocks that require some extremely precise footwork to get through without risking injury, and the second half is a quad-destroying steep downhill on a rock-hard paved bike path into a brief uphill finish. I was alone at this point with the man ahead of me out of sight around the bends and WhiteShirt too far back to see behind me. I tried my best to roll down the final asphalt segment while my legs whimpered and my lungs struggled to breathe through the jarring impacts. The finish finally came into sight around the last hairpin turn and I stumbled through, relieved to have avoided my standard habit of getting caught at the end and happy to see that I’d succeeded in beating my goal of sub-24 minutes with a 23:55.

I cheered in WhiteShirt, who came in smiling with a few members of the soccer team that she coaches (yea, she probably could have caught me if she’d wanted to…) and a few other friends running the race. The post-race people-watching was pretty hilarious as a bunch of stiff-legged high school kids weaved between exhausted adults, all of us now suffering from the same quad-wrenching ascents and descents.

I shuffled through a painful cool down and drove home to recover, only to see a message from a friend who I’d been messaging before the race:

“You should definitely come race the [NextSkiTownOver] XC race. I’ve heard it gives that course a run for its money”


Oh lord, what have I gotten myself into with these high-altitude, mountain-town XC races???


At least they didn’t make us run straight up this…

Race report and patience (again)

On Saturday morning I woke up to a stomach full of nerves and a sky full of rolling storm clouds. I had signed on to do the 3 mile run leg of a sprint triathlon relay with my cycling club and we were scheduled to take off in a couple hours if the weather allowed. Several weather-worry-related group texts later we met up on the soggy grass field beside the calm, misty swim route under skies that had mercifully decided to release only a heavy mist. Our swimmer donned her wetsuit and the rest of us ran around sorting out bike and run gear and prepping for our respective transitions. Our swim-leg teammate’s daughter was doing the kids’ duathlon after our race so joined in the nervous adrenaline rush and warmed up for her event by running around with all of us. I’m pretty certain she had more energy than all three of us combined!

Our swimmer took off into the chilly lake and came out of the water strong to hand off to our bike leg. I knew the times wouldn’t be crazy fast on the wet, slick roads, but was still a bit nervous about somehow missing my team’s rider as I warmed up. However, I was able to get a couple good miles in, use the bathroom and switch into my trusty Tangent flats, and even do some drills and strides before she came into sight in the distance. I scurried into the corral for some final legs swings as she came around the lake. She rolled in and ripped off her timing chip, passing it to me to strap around my ankle. I tightened the velcro strap, hit my watch, and took off!

I was lucky to have a nice string of full triathlon athletes to chase as I went, as the relay had started a bit behind the full event. The first mile seemed a bit longer than expected, but I distracted myself by gradually reeling in athletes ahead of me and cheering for those passing back on the out-and-back course. The short race on asphalt was a bit of a change from the long trail races that I’ve been doing, so I had to remind myself a few times to push the pace rather than conserve energy. My legs were still a bit sore from a tough workout on Wednesday but I was able to run smoothly with what felt like decent turnover.

Coming out of the turnaround I started to feel the strain, and apparently let it get to me – when I looked at my splits afterwards my 2nd mile was slowest in spite of having less uphill than the other two miles. That dang 2nd mile is always my downfall in 5k’s…it’s so easy to let doubts about the ability to maintain pace and the discomfort of the beginnings of exhaustion combine into a lapse in effort.

Luckily I snapped out of it in the third mile and dropped the pace, ending up with my fastest mile of the three and a finish verging on hyperventilation. I could hear my teammates yells of encouragement as I neared the finish and managed a little bit of a kick though I didn’t have anyone nearby to race to the finish. We ended up a solid third and first female team, and had a ton of fun cheering for other friends as they came into the finish and taking goofy photos while dodging the light rain. A good morning (despite the chill and sprinkling rain) with a fun team of women.


And now for the patience –

While I was pleased with knocking 15 seconds per mile off my pace since I last ran this course I’m also still a bit frustrated with my inability to move at anything resembling what I think of as a normal 5k pace. I’m still about 30 seconds slower than my out-of-shape 5k times in GradSchoolCity, even with the altitude conversion. I worry that this means I’ve somehow become incapable of getting into 5k shape and will be horribly embarrassed in a few weeks when I line up to race against young, speedy college women in a few of the local xc meets. I even bought buns to race in and now have the added bit of pressure knowing I don’t want to make a fool out of myself while essentially running in my underwear (*emits nervous high-pitched noises internally*).

So I’m reminding myself to have patience instead of say, freaking out and trying to make huge mileage and pace leaps and ending up a little pile of broken runner.

I haven’t done speed since who know when and have only been running what amount to long tempos in the few races I’ve done this summer. I’ve made progress in the amount of running that I can do and am really enjoying the training and ability to explore new routes. I still have time to get up to speed, and will gain better turnover and 5k pacing over the next few weeks if I focus on solid 5k training at my current level of fitness. I can’t magically jump ahead and just need to put in the work and make baby steps towards holding my own over cross-country later this Fall.


Waiting to send our swimmer off!

Anyone else here done a triathlon relay? Any tips for having ‘good old days when I was speedy’ amnesia when it comes to finding satisfaction in race results at a lower fitness level?

Bonus race!

Guess who got to skip her lonesome 4-mile tempo run this week and instead jumped in the world’s most fun (if still slightly lonesome) 10-runner-field 5k! I was one happy runner – thank you rec center employee who thought “Hm, I should start a race series this summer”!

I spotted the race the day before thanks to a running club friend and quickly rearranged my training week to switch my workout day to race day because who the heck can turn down a $15 5k that promises to a) be flat and b) be followed by a “glowing party in the park”?!? My legs needed a turnover boost anyhow, so a shorter, more intense workout fit well into my plan for the week.

The race wasn’t until 8pm (in an effort to have it run under the nearly-full moon) so I spent the workday and afternoon hours leading up to it in slightly nervous, excited anticipation, trying to chill out since it was just a fun run and reminiscing a bit about the misery of evening-race jitters back in my college track days. It finally hit 6:30pm and I drove over to the park, figuring I could pick up my race number (if there was one), dink around the park a bit, and then warm up around 7:30. However, when I got to the park an hour before the scheduled start time, not a single runner or race volunteer was in sight.

After 20 minutes another gal from running club showed up and we nervously jogged around while scanning the vacant scene for our fellow attendees. We had almost given up hope that the race would run when we noticed a course marker and another runner looking just as confused as us. We clustered with her and continued our search for the registration/start area.


Waiting for sunset

Finally, a few more reflective gear and glow-stick clad runners appeared, and the race director materialized from a nearby outbuilding to lead our very small, confused group to the super-official un-marked start line. Our warmup was long gone by the time the ten of us toed the line separating the brick pavilion patio from the asphalt running path, but we took off with happy hoots and laughter all the same. I had thought one of the guys in the group might prove to be a race-pace buddy, but instead found myself alone almost immediately.

I settled into a guesstimated 5k pace and shrugged off the little bubbles of irritation at having spent money on what was apparently going to be a solo workout anyhow. At least I had the race-day adrenaline boost, warmup buddies, a set course to test my fitness on, and fellow runners to exchange cheers with on the out and back course!

As usual in 5k’s, the first mile flew by, the second mile started to pinch a little, and the third mile was truly unpleasant with heavy legs and an uncomfortable stomach working to slow me down. I kept eyeing my watch, trying to keep the pace steady if not quite as fast as I had hoped. *Thankfully*, a small yappy dog helped me out in the last 800m by boosting my adrenaline at the thought of little snapping jaws and I hurried through the finish while desperately hoping not to hurl on the race director’s shoes.

Luckily the gurgles in my stomach subsided after a quick stumble to the nearest drinking fountain and I was able to cheer in my running club friends and fellow racers and they glowed their ways to the (also super official) finish line. Even though only a few of us had showed up the race volunteers revved up the smoke machine and laser light show so we got the full race afterglow party effect in the mostly silent, darkening park.

We may not have had any party music but our ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhhhs’ at the dancing lights around the periphery of the park made for a festive atmosphere. The ‘oohs’ became extra exuberant when several bats flew through the light beams in search of insects! After a few group shots (hurrah for post-race jumping shots!) the group scattered off to search for warmer clothes, food, and sleep. I finished up with a couple solitary loops around the now dark park, enjoying the continued light show now glimmering over the smooth, moonlit park pond and serene park lawns. In spite of a bit of a rocky start and small field, we’d all gotten a great workout and I had experienced my first ever post-race lightshow – definitely more than worth the $15.

I’m so grateful to have ended up in a small town where the population is athletic enough that random weeknight 5k’s are a thing and volunteers still come out to host 10-person fun runs! Here’s to hopefully hopping in more little local races and getting back some semblance of 5k turnover.


First Colorado race!

I just got home from my first race in Colorado – a not-quite-5k trail race at 10000 lung-busting feet of elevation. Also, it started with half a mile uphill. Followed shortly thereafter by another hill. And there was a near-deadly steep  climb in the middle. The finish was uphill too, of course. 


Pain. All the pain.

However, between periods of near hyperventilation, I was able to take in some spectacular scenery:

From the warmup/cooldown – my mid-race photography skills aren’t that good

I went out a tad too fast but managed to hang on (barely) for first woman. I got a bit lucky there, as the 10k run at the same time pulled most of the better women and my main competitors were thus jr high and high school girls. 


Big dip at 1.8 = trying not to barf/hyperventilate at the top of the steepest hill :-/

I won a hat and a gorgeous tech t-shirt from La Sportiva that claims to not ever get stinky. We’ll see about that 😉 


New hat!

Overall I’m really pleased with how my first Colorado race went – I was able to keep my mind in the race the entire time (tough for first races back) and am pleased to have won (prizes, woohoo!) even if my main competitors were a decade+ younger 😛