Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Fit or Fiction?

I'm in need of some good karma, so I want to help out a good friend, fellow writer Liz Neporent, by posting this for her. Please don't post comment here, but respond diretly to her. Here's her plea:

Do you have a diet, weight loss, or fitness question you would like answered? Is there a fitness myth you would like busted? Or do you have a health and fitness topic you would like to see covered? If so, please send it to me and I will answer it on my AOL.com blog, Fit or Fiction.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Time to Cajole the Husband


Last week, Dimity and I had a lively debate via email about what verb to use to describe handling a husband who is less than supportive of a wife's mileage. She had "dealing with," but I thought that sounded too negative, suggesting "cajole" instead. To me, that word implies coaxing, enticing, sweet-talking, and it has a joke element to it. All the things that sum up how I finagle Jack to not get grumpy about my running.

The topic was much on my mind last week as I was trying to find a way to break the news to him that I am about to start training for marathon #6--Big Sur on April 25. As I was quick to point out to Dimity in our email exchange: "It's not a question of Jack 'letting' me do another marathon or not. Ultimately I have free will. It's just how much I want to rock the family-boat."

Ultimately I made the Big Sur proclaimation with a good news/bad news approach, without putting it in those stark terms. One evening, after the dinner dishes were cleared away, I shoo'd the kids down to their basement playroom so Jack and I could converse in relative quiet. I told him I'd decided I was going to take a break from my rowing team until at least May 1. As I had expected, he was very pleased with this news. (He's not opposed to rowing, just the drama that is constantly simmering on my team.) I waited a few good moments, then followed it up with, "And I'm running the Big Sur Marathon in late April." I then blah-blah-blah'ed about what a fabulous marathon it is, such as having just been named by Runner's World as the Best Destination Marathon in the U.S. I might as well have been describing, at length, the new pair of knee-high boots I'd gotten or the color of lipstick a friend had worn to book group.

Yet without saying much, Jack quickly got on board. Partly, I think, because with rowing out of the equation, I can now run long on Saturday instead of Sunday, thus avoiding the Sarah-run versus Jack-Mass log jam. I've now worked a mention of Big Sur into several conversations, making it seem a natural part of our family landscape. After about the third time, even Jack made some joking mention of Big Sur back to me, telling me he's okay with it.

I'm pleased to see my cajoling worked as I'd hoped.

-SBS

Thursday, December 17, 2009

SBS Two-fer in New York Times

Sorry, folks: This morning during my track workout (1 x 2 miles at half-marathon pace; 2 x 1 mile at 10K pace; 2 x 800-meters at 5K pace), I suddenly remembered I had two articles in Thursday Styles section of New York Times. As it totally made me pick up my pace, I told myself I'd put links to the articles on this blog as soon as I got home.

Uh, that was 12+ hours ago! Another busy workweek...

Better late than never, right? Here's one on performance mouthpieces for runners and cyclists. After interviewing the Citadel researcher, a marathoning mom who saw an amazing drop in her average pace while using an Under Armour one, I was pretty much sold on trying one. The yoga socks article is about the 40th Gear Test I've written, but this one had the most beautiful photos ever. Skip the socks, but check out the photos online.

-SBS

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Thomas Hardy Said It Best


Sorry for not posting this week: I can't remember the last time I was so hammered with deadlines. But I wanted to share this snippet from Tess of the d'Urbervilles, the classic by Thomas Hardy that I just devoured. (Read it!) If I had a free week, I'd write a term paper on, "Dawn and Dusk in Thomas Hardy's Late Fiction." In lieu of that, here's the paragraph that I think most running moms can relate to!

"The grey half-tones of daybreak are not the grey half-tones of the day's close, though the degree of their shade may be the same. In the twilight of the morning, light seems active, darkness passive; in the twilight of evening, it is the darkness which is active and crescent and the light which is the drowsy reverse."

Something to contemplate as the sky pinks up on your next pre-dawn run.
-SBS

Monday, November 30, 2009

4,500 Days of Running and Counting

Ah, yes, just as this somewhat-addicted runner was feeling at peace with four days of no exercise (my longest time off since the twins' birth in summer 2005), a friend sends me this article about a woman who is training for her 102nd marathon who has run every.single.day since January 1, 1997, even through her treatment for breast cancer. I tip my (running) hat to her.

-SBS

Pajamas in the Daytime


While most folks are groaning about pumpkin-pie overload and tryptophan hangovers, I'm just thankful to be upright with a temperature of 98.6. I got knocked sideways last week by a fever and hacking cough. It crept up on me on Tuesday, but by Wednesday morning I sensed working out was not a wise idea. By Thursday, I was huddled under the covers in my feverish-sweat-soaked p.j.s. Yup, on Thanksgiving, I never even got dressed, a true rarity in my get-up, get-ready world.


Getting sick makes everyone miserable, and I'm no exception, but for me so much of my pity-party is caused by lack of workout. Thanksgiving was the only day I felt too crummy to exercise--a run didn't even cross my fever-addled brain. But on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, I most certainly entertained the idea of a workout, just a little sweat-session. On Day 1 of my illness, the mind-monkeys were particurlarly loud. The fact it was sunny only made matters worse. Finally, mid-afternoon, I put on my Nikes and went for a 20-minute walk. No perspiration, but at least I got a small dose of sunshine.

On Friday and Saturday, I knew hubby-Jack was watching me for signs of idiocy, uh, I mean activity. Coincidentally, I had been sick on Thanksgiving 2008 so he sensed I was pulling a fast one. (If so, I should audition for the role of a TB sufferer, as my coughing acting-chops are well honed...) While I probably could have limped out a short run or a session on a stationary bike, the truth was I didn't have the energy. I hadn't eaten much for days as my appetite was nil.

When I finally went for a trial run yesterday morning, I felt like I was running on fumes. Literally. My legs were running, but my head was swimming. I only went for 30 minutes, an unheard-of short run for me, but it felt plenty long. Today's 48-minute one felt much closer to normal, until I checked the pace on my Nikeplus--about 25 seconds per mile slower than usual.

But I'm confident I'll be right as rain before too long. How do I know? On this morning's run, instead of feverish delusions, my mind swirled with visions of an hour forty-something PR at my mid-January half-marathon. Along with my temperature, my attitude is back to normal, too.

-SBS

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

What Are Friends For?


On the heels of my running buddy post, I had to share this email I just got from a friend (who shall remain nameless to save her dignity). I will say that she and I occasionally take a yoga class together, and we worked out at the gym together this week.

"Just did about 40 min on eliptical (flanked by 2 mirrors) and found a 3 ft long piece of toilet paper hanging out of the back of my pants 35 min into my workout. I need a workout buddy.

Yes, I'm assuming you would have told me."

Let's all be thankful for the friends in our lives who would tell us that toilet paper was sticking out of our capris!

-SBS

Monday, November 23, 2009

Muddy Buddies

I have many things to be thankful for this Thanksgiving, and on Saturday I added "new running buddies" to my list. This weekend, I got to run one of my favorite Portland runs--the length of Leif Erikson Drive, an 11.2-mile long fire road--with a new-to-me group of gals. The run was spearheaded by a woman named Tahni. I've known her casually for a few years but from the moment I met her, I thought we could be friends. Yet, is it just me, or is it tough to make friends with someone when you don't have kids at the same school, on the same soccer team, or in the same dance class?

Lucky for me, Tahni is a social coordinator par excellence who corrals groups of like-minded women together. She lassoed me for her running group. It's tough to join them midweek as they run earlier than I do. (I love running buddies, but I also treasure every minute of sleep!) Running the length of Leif is an undertaking that involves caravanning a car to the far end of the trail. I only get the luxury about once or, at most, twice a year. So I was delighted to join them for reasons both social and logistical.

I really like all of Tahni's gal-pals, all sporty, exuberant, engaging, and thoughtful. Only bummer: Almost all of them run a minute or two per mile slower than I do. Out of five women, only one ran close to my pace (which I'm not saying is speedy, only relatively so on that run). Even so, I returned home hopped on the excitement of having found a new posse to hang with. Now if only I'd be thining, I would have snapped a photo with my phone to show you my new muddy buddies. Next time.

-SBS

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Hills Don't Have to be Hell


As planned, I hit the hills this past week. But my as-of-late laid-back approach still affected how I did them. Usually I run for about 20 minutes on the flats, then attack a set of hills repeatedly with a singular focus. For example, there's a cluster of three hills that lead up a nearby ridge. One hill is longer and less steep than the other two. If I'm doing 10 hill repeats, I typically start with three trips up and down the longer hill, then have the meat of my workout be three repeats up and down each of the other two hills, and finish with one more trek up the longer one. Then I run about 15 minutes to cool down.

Instead, on Friday, I decided to embark on a random-for-me route that included a variety of hills. The run started out fairly normally--through my neighborhood and into a bordering park. Then I headed up a fairly gradual hill onto the same ridge. From thereI ran parallel to the ridge, dropping down pretty much any hill I came across, then hustling back up it to the ridge again. I felt like a seamstress stitching the most random pattern across a swatch of fabric.

The end result was the same: 10 hill repeats. But having the hills be spread out over the bulk of my run instead of clustered together in the middle made for a livelier, more free-spirited run. Who knows if the session was any less effective for my body, but my mind sure enjoyed the ride.

-SBS

Friday, November 6, 2009

End of the Racing Season Part I


Oddly enough, for a competitive person, I've never really had an annual racing calendar. But, looking back, this year I guess I did. Eugene Marathon in May, rowing regionals in June, Red Dress 5K in July, a 10K and Hood to Coast in August, the Merrell Oyster adventure race in September, and the banner month of October with two rowing races (both golds!) and the Nike Women's half marathon.

And now it's come to an end.

Usually, having no foreseeable race would put me into a tailspin of dejection and depression. (I'm talking relative terms here, as I'm a sunny person by nature.) Instead, I can't remember the last time I felt so happy and alive during my morning runs and bike rides. I literally sometimes burst into song on my outtings. I know part of it has to do with the time change--now the sky is pinking up as I head out the door. And part of it may be the tunes I'm playing: On my hour-long run on Wednesday, I listened exclusively to songs from my new favorite show, Glee. (Yes, that's me as Coach Sue Sylvester on Halloween with my burgeoning Cheerios!)

I feel liberated. Not in a racing-was-wearing-me-down way because it wasn't--I approached each race with excitement and exuberance. (Like I said: I'm an upbeat person.) But I do feel footloose and fancy free running without any agenda. I've extended most of my weekday runs, going for an hour instead of 45-50 minutes, yet I'm not watching the time. I'm running for a feeling. I decide on a route I maybe haven't done in a while, then do it. On my recent Glee-fueled run, I paused to watch the sun rise next to majestic Mount Hood.

My plan is to start adding in hill repeats next week, then head back to the track the following week as I'm racing the Cascade Half Marathon in mid-January. But, who knows, maybe I'll just cue up "Can't Fight This Feeling" for the hundredth time and go for a just-for-the-hell-of-it run along the river.

-SBS

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Pushing Past the Pain of Exertion


Sorry, folks, I always have to share when I have a fitness feature in the New York Times. This article is about pushing past the pain of exertion, a topic I'm personally fascinated by. I spoke to intriguing experts (alas, I only had space to quote five of them) as well as three amazing athletes--Kara Goucher, Chrissie Wellington, and Dean Karnazes. It was a thrill and honor.


Please let me know what you think about the article and the topic in general. I might be writing about it for a magazine as well.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Note to Self: Look Forward to Challenges


Reading in front of an audience and racing: The two activities don't sound very similar. But this month I came to realize I feel the same about both of them: I don't look forward to the event, but then I enjoy the heck out of it. Silly me!

Two weeks ago, I took part in a reading from an anthology I contributed to called P.S. What I Didn't Say: Unsent Letters to Our Female Friends. The editor is a friend of mine who also lives here in Portland so I took part in the reading as a favor to her. It didn't even occur to me to get excited about it--it was crammed into a busy work week, the night before I flew to San Francisco for the Nike Women's half marathon. I frantically practiced reading aloud twice, but didn't give it anymore thought than that. I didn't even change my outfit, wearing what I'd thrown on post-shower, pre-carpool. I trust I put on some lip gloss, but I could be wrong. Several friends and rowing teammates were at the reading, which meant a lot to me. Yet it wasn't until about a third of the way through my short letter that I paused to listen to the audience chuckling at my words. A paragraph later, a thought flitted through my mind, "enjoy this--it's fun!"

Fast forward three days, one plane ride, and 12 hilly miles, and I was in the final stretch of the half marathon. I spotted my pal Lindsey ahead of me, and I turned on the juice to pass her. As I trotted down a sweet incline toward the Pacific, I was again struck by the realization that I was having fun and I should luxuriate in the moment. As I cruised toward the finish line, I tried my belated best to soak up the experience.

I was reminded of all of this during a phone interview last week with my new sports hero, Ironman world champion Chrissie Wellington. It's for an article in this Thursday's New York Times about dealing with exertional pain during a race. Chrissie was giving all sorts of great tips and sharing anecdotes, including this: "After every race, I take time to bank the feeling in those final miles and crossing the line. That feeling is so hard to bottle, reflecting back on that is incredibly empowering and uplifting."

Right on, Chrissie. Right on.

-SBS


Thursday, October 22, 2009

Arm warmers anyone?

Alas, my reference to Kara Goucher got taken out (she and Chicago 2009 winner Sammy Wanjiru wear the Nike one reviewed), but check out the Gear Test I wrote about arm warmers, appearing in today's New York Times.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Big Smile at Nike Women's Half


I crushed the hills of San Francisco this Sunday in the race! While I can't tell you official time (argh! Nike marathon site really needs help!), my unofficial time was about 1:50:17, almost 4 minutes faster than last year--and in 2008, I felt I had jammed. I felt good the entire way, comfortable in my intimate knowledge of the race course. I could tell the hills proved daunting to many runners, especially when the hills stretched on and on. But having lived--and run--in San Francisco for eight years (in the 1990s) and having done the course several times before, I knew the false crests, knowing slightly more hill lurked beyond it. I had started up near the front, so I was surrounded by speedier runners, but my confidence was boosted again and again when I passed runners near the top of a hill.

I worked my familiarity with the course to my advantage, cutting a true course through the turns and taking in gels on the flats before the two hilliest sections.

I tried to smile like Ironman phenom Chrissie Wellington but it didn't work too well until the final mile, a gradual downhill where I passed my pal Lindsey, who is about 12 years my junior. By that point in the race, I knew I had it in the bag, and I could let gravity have its way with me to pull me toward the finish.

This post is pretty scattered, but suffice it to say: I adored this race this year (as did Dimity, who ran a speedy 1:54 after much sandbagging). Such a blast. And I loved meeting some of you post-race. We're all awesome runner chicks!!

-Sarah
photo: L-to-R: SBS, good pal Dana Sullivan, Dimity

Monday, October 12, 2009

Smile and the World Smiles with You


No matter my mood, I usually go through life with a stern look on my face. It’s not uncommon for someone on the sidewalk to tell me to “cheer up” or to say, “things can’t be that bad.” These strangers are missing the fact it’s not that I’m unhappy, I’m just not a natural smiler.

But after being in Kona and watching Chrissie Wellington crush her third straight Ironman championship on Saturday, I am committed to flashing my pearly whites more often. I am in awe of Chrissie’s athletic accomplishments—winning her first Ironman championship a mere 10 months after becoming a professional triathlete; coming in first in all seven Ironman races she’s competed in; finishing 23rd overall at Kona this weekend; running a 3:03 marathon at the end of an Ironman, and more—but I am even more impressed by her attitude throughout. I swear Chrissie wore a smile for all 141.6 miles of the race. Even underwater, I’m convinced.

She looked exuberant as she ran through the hoses in the swim-bike transition. Chrissie was wearing an enormous grin as she whizzed through the aptly named “Hot Corner” near the bike transition area. And she was beaming—yes, positively beaming—as she ran up a steep, steady hill at mile 10 in the marathon. (My photo, above, doesn’t begin to capture her cheery face. Dratted iPhone photo-delay!)

After cheering my heart out for Chrissie as she broke Paula Newby-Fraser’s 17-year Kona record, I knew I had to do something to be just a bit like Chrissie. I decided wearing a smile as I tackle San Francisco hills this Sunday in the Nike Women’s half marathon will be my homage to this phenomenal Ironman athlete. Chrissie shows that smiling in the face of adversity is the way to go.

-Sarah

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

An Ideal Athletic Day: Rowing Plus Marathon Pacing


Sunday was a banner day. My rowing team, Portland Women’s Rowing, raced in Portland’s Row for the Cure. Last year we’d had a disappointing row. With a new coach and an infusion of new rowers, we were looking for vindication. The water on the Willamette River was almost perfectly flat under an equally flat grey sky. No wind. It was our time to shine.

After a few jokes and talk of “Glee” in the starting area, we were off to a strong, steady start. And we stayed on it the entire race. We moved smooth and steady, pushing our puddles past our stern. I felt I was able to apply my power well, and my running-honed endurance served me well throughout the entire 5K race. We never caught the 8-woman boat that started 10 seconds ahead of us, but no need: With age handicaps figured in, we won our Masters division.

No time to celebrate, though. I swapped out my rowing unitard for a running skirt, and caught a ride down to the 24-mile point of the Portland Marathon. By then the sun was peering from behind scattered clouds. I cheered on the runners as I waited for my pal Jill to come trotting by. Jill and I met through this blog, and she was running Portland, her 10th marathon, largely on my urging. I wished I’d been able to pace her for longer, but 2.2 miles would have to suffice.

I spotted Jill with my good friend Ellison, who had paced her since mile 21. Jill had a grim look on her face, but was still moving relatively well. She had told us over plates of pasta that she wasn’t much for chatting during a marathon, so I tried to offer simple words of encouragement and pointers about upcoming terrain. Soon, though, I realized Jill needed more to distract her from the painful remaining distance. Yet my mind was a blank. I’m usually a chatty-Kathy on a run, but on Sunday I could only come up with a few short anecdotes. Ack!

It sufficed. Despite an ear infection and an injury or two, Jill ran her second fastest marathon ever, missing a PR by a mere 15 seconds. Later that day she emailed me words that was icing on the cake of a fantastic day. “I cannot thank you enough for your support the last two miles. I was totally done with that thing and had you not been there, I think I would have stopped and walked.”

-SBS
P.S. Like our Moeben arm warmers? Check them out.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Running with a Stroller article in New York Times


Not sure which I'm more proud of: the fitness feature I wrote that is in today's New York Times Thursday Styles section about running with a stroller....

Or the Gawker article trashing it!

-SBS

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Challenges to a Mother's Heart


Picture it: Saturday. San Francisco. Achingly blue sky. Streaming sunshine. Golden Gate Bridge resplendent over the bay. Merrell Oyster urban adventure race. Five super-fun jockettes + me, running, cycling, and scavenging our way around my most favorite city.

We were having a blast, on a rollercoaster of adrenaline and activity. With our 6-woman team (including professional adventure racer Robyn Benincasa), we could alternate challenges because only three teammates had to do each one. Lindsey, Kerry, and I kicked race off by running along Marina Green to find something called the Wave Organ, then dashing back to the “home base” of Crissy Field so that Robyn, Dana, and Kerry could pedal to the Ferry Building to buy veggies beginning with letters O, Y, S, T, E, and R.

When they returned, three of us ran off, and I got the thrill of swimming in the bay to a kayaker to retrieve our next task, which involved indoor rock climbing. You get the picture: multi-sport activities plus zany challenges. Triathlon meets the “Amazing Race.”

Yet amidst all this glory, after my teammates had set out on their bikes again, melancholy washed over me. I marveled at my surroundings and wondered what was bringing me down. Oh, yeah: I’d idiotically checked my iPhone and had read an email from the twins’ preschool teacher, who told me John, 4, has been telling other children he’d “kill them” if they didn’t give him the puzzle or fairy wings he wanted to play with. And every time the children are to embark on a new activity, John asks, “is this going to kill me?” The teacher said this behavior seemed to stem from him seeing part of a movie on the computer of our babysitter’s daughter.

Sigh. I’ve never had to confront such behavior or really any inappropriate words or actions before, as big-sis Phoebe is the consummate rule-follower. (Classic first child.) I don’t want to say the rest of the 4.5-hour race was ruined for me, but after that I carried sadness and concern with me as surely as the pack on my back.

I guess when you’re a mom, you can run, but you can’t hide.

-SBS

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Stronger


Given Kanye West's latest appalling behavior, I apologize for naming this post as I did, but it sums up how I've been feeling lately. Like realizing my hair went from all-over golden to having 3" grow-out overnight (honestly!), I suddenly noticed my regular running pace is speedier than it used to be. Without trying, my maintenance runs are now done at what used to be my marathon tempo pace. And my tempo runs are now sub-8:00, even with hills. What's up with that!?

On my runs, I keep debating what it is that's making me faster. Here's what I've come up with:

-Hill repeats. In preparation for Nike Women's Half Marathon, I've shifted several track workouts to hill ones, including one monster hill I tackle twice in an hour-long trail run. If you read about Dimity and me running the full Nike Women's in 2007, you know the hills were my nemesis. I know better now, and I'm prepping my legs for the challenge. Now I realize the hills are helping me on the flats as well.

-Yoga for Runners. I've been taking this class once a week at my gym since mid-summer, and my body is thanking me for it. I'm not a yogini by any means--I'm still far from limberl, and yoga usually makes me say, "yawn," instead of "om"--but I always feel infinitely looser and less achy after an hour of twisting and bending. Prior to committing to the class, my left glute used to groan most of the time, and my left Achilles tendon often chimed in with a painful hum, but now both areas are relatively silent.

-Core work. My rowing team has a new coach, an Olympic sculler, who is whipping us into shape. Part of the required regimen is four core workouts a week, totalling 1,000 core reps (variety of exercises). Like my oldest daughter, I'm a rule follower, so I'm crunching, planking, bicycling, and grunting after my runs or rows. I'm not expecting a call from the photographer for the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue anytime soon, but I feel significantly stronger through my midsection.

Or who knows what may be making me for fleet-footed. Whatever it is, I'm liking it.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Hood to Coast: a Good, Good Time


Call me loony tunes, but I believe my iPod sends me subliminal messages. As in, the first song it plays tells me something about my upcoming run.

Thus I took it as a very good omen when the first song rocking in my ears on my first leg of the Hood to Coast was the Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling.” You know, that inane new ditty repeating over and over again, “I gotta feeling that tonight’s gonna be a good night.”

And indeed it was! This was my ninth Hood to Coast relay, my fourth with my kickin’ all-women’s team called See Jane Run. A creature of habit, I had chosen to run leg 7, maybe my 5th or even 6th time running that leg, which is the first one in van 2. (Since becoming a mom who breastfed her kiddos, I now find I’m hardwired to get up and be ready for action!) My first two legs are hilly, and I had prepped by doing a lot of hill training, especially in the last few weeks. Those training runs did their job strengthening my legs—and my mind. When the inclines started getting me down, I reminded myself of all the hills I’d cruised up recently. I ran the first leg, a 5.65-mile, hilly one, at an 8:14 pace, fine-tuning a balance between giving it my all and saving some for the rest of the race. (The photo, above, is me waving as I left the transition area. I'm the blur in teal lululemon shirt and black skirt.)

My second leg got off to a rocky start. Long story, but our van was 24 minutes late to the transition area. Guilt weighed me down as I ran off into the darkness at 4:44 a.m. Then part of my earbud got stuck in my ear (another long story). Rather than fight it the whole time, I asked a volunteer to shine his flashlight into my ear and fish it out. I lost about 30 seconds doing that, but I told myself I’d hit “reset” after that hiccup. And I did: While the hills still slowed me down, I set off with a new attitude. I ran the 5.89-mile leg, one of only five of the entire relay that earn the toughest label of “Very Hard,” in 52:24 (8:53/miles). Given that was my marathon pace on an Iowa-flat marathon course, I felt pretty good about that time.

Then I cranked on my final leg, a 4-miler that is flat to downhill until the final quarter-mile, when it takes an evil climb. Even on less than four hours of patchy sleep and almost 12 miles behind me, I cranked out 7:30s, outsprinting a much-younger runner at the finish. By then, it was almost 2:00 in the afternoon, but it still felt like part of a good, good night.

-SBS
Even losing approximately 27 minutes to missed handoffs, my team finished 7th in the women’s submasters division in a time of 27 hours, 1 minute.

Monday, August 17, 2009

10K PR

I can only dream of running as fast as Usain Bolt in the 100-meters or Paula Radcliffe in the half-marathon, but I set my own record in a race this weekend--and I'm super-proud of myself! I raced a 10K on Saturday, doing it in 47:37 (7:39-minute miles). I finished 14th overall, and I was the 5th place woman. I was elated--and stunned. Me, an athletic late-bloomer, near the front of the pack?

Granted, it was a small field...but as a friend on Facebook wrote, "There are no small races, only small runners." Obviously she was making a joke, but to this 5' 11", 162-pound runner, there was a grain of truth in it. I'm not built for running at fast speeds yet I've set four PRs this year. (5K, 10K, half, and marathon) My commitment to speedwork over the past two years plays an important role in these great-for-me times. On the track and during tempo runs, I taught my legs and arms to move more efficiently and trained my system to use oxygen more effectively. And along the way, somewhere between 4 x 1200s and five miles at 8:00-tempo, I also developed mental toughness.

Now, in races, instead of shying away from the lactic acid and the burning lungs, I push toward them, knowing I can handle both capably. When a slice of my brain tells me to let up on the pace, a bigger part tells me to keep pressing on the accelerator. While I enjoyed the beauty of the riverside course at Saturday’s 10K, I didn’t allow myself to be distracted from the task I set out for myself. As soon as I felt my mind drift, my pace dropped. I’d re-focused by looking at the few runners in front of me and trying to rein them in.

One of the biggest thrills in the race was when I passed a buff, shaved-head guy about a mile from the finish. (Is it just me, or does bald head say, "serious jock" to you, too?) I’d had my sights set on him since the halfway turnaround point. He looked like the consummate runner, with lithe, sinewy muscles and a relaxed-yet-strong stride. I was amazed when I realized I was gaining on him. It became obvious he was running out of gas, but my Garmin Forerunner also told me my pace was accelerating in mile 5 and 6 rather than slowing down.

Needless to say, I now can’t wait to race, not run, the Hood to Coast Relay next week!

-SBS

Monday, August 10, 2009

I'm Set to PR This Weekend

I often can go months and months without running a race, but this year is different: Thanks to a commitment to speedwork, I'm primed to PR. I figure I better strike while the iron is hot. So little more than a month after setting a new personal best in a 5K, I'm going to toe the line in a 10K. I'm doing the Pace of Courage Run here in Portland, which supports a family in their fight against cancer and their goal to promote cancer awareness.

It's a heartbreaking story involving two types of cancer--the mother has a recurrence of ovarian cancer and the three-year-old son recently succumbed a rare form of brain cancer. I know I will be wiping away many tears along with sweat as I run.

I debated whether it was crass to try to run my fastest at such a meaningful, heartfelt fundraiser, but I decided I'd be showing a passion and commitment to life by doing so. I've stepped up my speedwork with make-me-proud results: On Friday, I did a tempo run. Before going to bed on Thursday night, I told myself I'd run 5 miles at tempo, but in the early light of day, that goal seemed daunting so I told myself I "only" had to go 40 minutes. Silly me: I ran so fast (7:55/mile, on average), I ended up covering slighly more than my original assignment. Proving, once again, it's all in the mindset. Sometimes it's better to approach a hurdle from a different direction to make it seem less daunting.

Then this morning I hit the track for a final pre-race session. I did 4 x 1200, telling myself anything under 6:00 was great (yet knowing, full well, I really wanted to run 5:30s). I did 5:32, 5:29, 5:33, and 5:26. Woo-hoo. I urge all of you Portland runners to join me on Saturday morning. Let's race!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Acorn Doesn't Fall far from the Tree


I am forever wondering how experiences and exposure are influencing my children. Just when I start to think the only thing that really sticks with them are snippets of "Spongebob Squarepants" episodes, I get a glimmer of something more meaningful that restores my faith. Like last week: Phoebe went to Girl Scout camp all week up in the mountains west of Portland. We were having a heat wave, so it had the making for a miserable week. Instead, she had a fantastic time. During dinner on Friday, she announced, "I love being outside." I was ecstastic as my love of being outside is one of the main reasons I run. I asked her what she liked about being outside. She replied, "I like being close to trees."
Her answer warmed me even more than the 106-degree temps had.
-SBS

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Road Not Taken


When I’m running, I often ponder parallel-universe situations. Like what our life would be like if Jack and I had stayed in San Francisco instead of moving to Portland. What it be like if we’d had kids at a younger age. Or had two kids instead of three.

So this morning, it was natural that my mind veered to the alternate reality I could have been living today: racing a half-marathon instead of going for my own 10-mile run. Oh, was I ever glad I’d opted out of the race! I decided not to do the half-marathon about 10 days ago. Long story, but the main reason was money: I’d missed the early registration window, and I wasn’t ready to pony up the now-higher entry fee. I had some “am I slacking off?” angst while making up my mind, but as soon as I landed on my decision, I felt wonderfully liberated. Suddenly I didn’t have to do a track workout the next morning (I ran, then lifted weights instead), and I was able to run slightly shorter on Sunday than I would have otherwise.

And now it’s no regrets. Last evening, as we ate a protein-heavy dinner on the deck, I thought, “oh, I’m glad I don’t have to worry about carbo-loading!” When Daphne took forever to calm down and fall asleep last night, my mind flickered, “at least I don’t have to stress about having a full night’s sleep.” And as I grabbed a single packet of gel before heading out to run for 90 minutes, I delighted in not having to figure out my energy needs in a racing situation. As I took one last swig of water before happily heading out, I was reminded of one of my favorite scenes from “The Simpsons,” when a character says, “man, if this is happening here, I’d hate to think of what’s happening in Euro Itchy and Scratchy Land,” and the screen cuts to a dreary, deserted amusement park in France. Not exactly sure why, but as always, I chuckled thinking about that line.

Now my focus shifts to the Hood to Coast Relay at the end of August. My second leg of the race is almost all uphill, so I’m going to veer away from the track and do hill repeats instead. Onward…and upward.

-SBS

Monday, July 13, 2009

Speedy Sarah

Wave your hands in the air and give it up for me: I ran 22:19 on Saturday, averaging 7:11/mile. I placed 31st overall out of 816 runners (all women), and I was the #1 Athena (150+ pound woman--I'm 5' 11"). Woot-woot!! Seriously, I am stoked.

The playlist that got me revved up:
"Sun Children" by Nickodemus
"Disturbia" by Rihanna
"Love Sex Magic (feat. Justin Timberlake)" by Ciara
"Piece of Me" by Britney Spears
"Right Round" by Flo Rida
"Gimme More" by Britney Spears
"Stronger" by Britney (what can I say: Britney's beat gets me movin'!)
"Heart of a Champion" by Nelly & Lincoln University Vocal
"Don't Stop Believin'" by Glee Cast Version (the song I'm currently addicted to!!)
"Gold Digger" by Kanye West feat. Jamie Foxx

Crossed the finish line only 13 seconds into "Stronger," but I listened to rest of playlist as I cooled down, savoring an orange popsicle and my runner's high. It was a great race and I had a great time. My finish-time still feels unreal to me--it's 75 seconds speedier than my previous best for a 5K--since I don't consider myself "fast."

Guess I should really listen to those peppy "Glee" cast members and always remember to "don't stop believin'."

-SBS

Monday, July 6, 2009

Looking To Set a 5K PR This Saturday

Marathon-schmarathon: I'm going short this weekend! My eyes are fixed on my 5K this Saturday. I'm on the East Coast visiting relatives (does that qualify as "vacation"!?), and I got in some awesome, focused training runs at my inlaws in upstate New York. A challenging 2.5-mile warm-up run, then I came upon a track I had all to myself for 5 x 800 meters, with first and third 200s at 3K pace, then 2nd and 4th 200s at 10K pace. It was humid and I was drenched by the time I returned, but I felt victorious. As we all know, it's tough to do a track workout solo, and it felt like there wasn't another living soul within shouting distance, let alone trotting around the track.

Then on Sunday morning I did a confidence-boosting tempo run on a delightfully flat rail-trail. I told myself I would do 30 minutes at 8:00 pace, and I ended up averaging 7:55-minute miles for the half-hour. Woo-hoo! I have faith adrenaline and competitive fire can knock at least 25 seconds per mile off when it comes time to run race-pace. My current 5K PR is 23:33, which is a 7:34 pace. I banged that out last June without any specific 5K training, so I feel I've set myself up for an even faster time.

That 23:33 finish would have placed me 21st in last year's version of the race I'm running on Saturday. So my goal is to crack the top 20. At the end of all my recent runs, I've fired myself up to bring it home by envisioning myself dueling with another runner. I tell myself she's the 19th-place finisher and I'm currently in the 20th slot. I turn on the juice to pass her in the final meters of the race. Here's to hoping I do as well in the real race as I do in the imaginary one I keep playing out in my head!

And, hey, if you happen to be at the race in Hartford this weekend, look for me and say hi. I'll be sporting a SkirtSports black running skirt, light green Nike running tank, and brand-new Nike LunarGlide+ kicks.

-SBS

Sunday, June 28, 2009

That Itchy-Twitchy Feeling

Addicted to exercise: Am I or not?

It's a question I've frequently asked myself over the last 15 years or so, sometimes more often than others. Especially when I didn't miss a day of exercise (bare minimum: a 30-minute sweat session) for more than six years straight. Yup, more than 2,000 days with no rest for the weary. (If this sounds vaguely familiar, you might have read one of my two articles about The Streak, as I called it--one in Conde Nast Sports for Women, and one post-Streak in HERS.) Even when I was in the midst of The Streak, I was convinced I wasn't addicted, just perhaps a wee bit obsessed. I finally broke The Streak on a three-month, around-the-world trip Jack and I took as newlyweds in 2000. I figured it was more important to return home with a husband rather than a high VO2 max or buff biceps.

While training for my last two marathons, I did fine on the rest days built into my training schedule. I didn't get antsy--not in my body, but more importantly, not in my brain. No nagging voice telling me I'd become a sloth if I didn't exercise for a day. So I hadn't had an "addicted or not?" thought in a while, but then today I started wondering again. Last night, I flew cross-country--three flights, ugh!--with the three kids and Jack to see my family in Connecticut. My plan all along was to do a Sunday-type workout on Saturday (I did a repeat of last Sunday's run up Terwilliger then swam for 50 minutes), then take today as a rest day.

Except when we arrived at my parents' house, despite feeling grotty from fractured, plane-seat sleep, I immediately started thinking I should go for a run. To shake the legs out, get the blood flowing, enjoy the fresh air, soak in the excitement of being on vacation with my family...and not sink into slothdom. Even as I type this, I'm still contemplating going on that run--and debating what qualifies as an exercise "addiction." What's the dividing line between dedication and disease?

I'd love to hear from you, especially as I'm writing about the topic this week for Dimity's and my book. Thanks.

-SBS

Monday, June 22, 2009

Still Mixing Things Up


Nothing major to report this week--no naked bums on bike seats or PRs set. I continue being a cross-training maven, even slicing-and-dicing my Sunday long run. I only have a week left on my membership at my gym with a pool (I wasn't using it enough to justify the nearly $100/month fee), and I'm trying to squeeze in as many delicious swims as possible. So I drove to my club an hour before it opened, parked, and ran from there up Portland's most notorious hills--Terwilliger. It's not killer steep, just continuous for almost two miles.

I thought back on the first time I ever ran it, with my friend Ellison. It had seemed daunting, making my lungs want to jump out of my chest onto the pavement. Yet yesterday I felt like I was on a giant conveyer belt, effortlessly moving up the hill. The only hitch in my giddy-up was a lone car coming upon me while I was copping a modified squat (pee only!) in my running skirt. I just laughed at myself and kept running.

I trotted back to my then-open gym and hopped in the pool, getting in about a mile before the Masters group took over the lanes. I topped off my workout with an impromptu trip to Trader Joe's so I could cook a real meal for my man on Father's Day. I was home by 10 a.m., feeling a delicious sense of accomplishment.

-SBS

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Like No Bike Ride I've Ever Been On!


Perhaps I should preface this post by pointing out that the unofficial motto of the city I live in is, “Keep Portland Weird.”

On that note, let me tell you about the bicycle parade I took Phoebe and John to on Saturday (Daphne was home with her dad, taking a spontaneous nap). Given Portland’s strong and unique bike culture, it promised to be a raucous time. Lynn Jennings, my coach and friend, met us there. (That’s LJ, her dog, and the kids sitting on curb.) The parade was all I had hoped it would be—and more. Unicyclists; fancy-dressed women on hand-built tall bikes; families in Dutch Bakfiets cargo bikes; a guy in a cowboy hat on an enormous homemade Big Wheel with his daughter on a real one alongside him; a guy dressed as Gandhi pedaling along. A drum corps. And then, for the only-in-Portland finale, a brigade of naked cyclists. In broad daylight, met by wild cheers.

Agog, LJ and I cracked up and started snapping pics on our iPhones. It was way better spectating than my marathon, that’s for sure! All high spirits and pure fun. We were busting a gut laughing. Yet there sat Phoebe and John, acting no more surprised or shocked than they had been when the giant Big Wheel rode by. Phoebe finally asked me what was so funny, as she has asked me several times since. Seems my kids are totally unflapped by the sight of naked adults riding bikes.

It got me thinking: It’s not unlike how unfazed my kids are to the sight of their mother leaving for a 12-mile run—in a skirt—as they head off to Mass with their dad. Or the repeat scenario of their mom walking in the back door, drenched in sweat after an early morning run.

To kids these days—at least on the Left Coast--it’s just all part of this wacky, active world we live in.

-SBS
If folks ask, I’ll post a few parade photos in a separate post.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Cross-Training Maven

Training for my recent marathon, I adored the single-minded focus of my athletic life: running. Sure, I rowed on occasion, but it was during my training for Eugene Marathon that I decided once and for all I was a runner who rows, not a rower who runs. There was only one day during my entire three months of training that I felt burnt out on running. Otherwise, I woke up with fresh legs and a keen sense of excitement.

While I still passionately love running, lately I’ve been Queen of Cross-Training. My new obsession: concocting multi-sport workouts. My own personal duathlons and triathlons. I look forward to Tuesdays, the morning I ride my bike to the boathouse (few things I love better than riding my bike on nearly deserted streets, as they are at 5:00 a.m.!), row in an 8-woman boat, run a 3-mile river loop, then bike home. More than two hours of exercise. This week I’m adding in a Yoga for Runners class in the evening, as flexibility is woefully lacking in my exercise mix.

Last Thursday I cycled to my health club, did a challenging workout on the rowing machine, swam a mile, then biked home. My arms felt deliciously noodle-y for the first few hundred yards in the pool after cranking on the erg. On Saturday, I went on a 75-minute ride, then hit the weight room for 45 minutes. I would have stayed longer, but mothering-duties called.

I’m not neglecting running—on Friday, I hit the track for the first time since my May 3 marathon and yesterday, for the first time, I tackled the toughest climb on Portland’s eastside during my 10.5-mile run. I have my sights set securely on PRing in my July 11 5K, but for now I’m hopscotching my way there, jumping from one form of exercise to another.

-SBS

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

I Finally Got My Legs Back


Running experts and research types say it takes roughly a month to recover from a marathon. On Hal Higdon’s site, for example, he says “it takes a minimum of two to three weeks for the body to recover from the strain of running 26 miles 385 yards. Return too quickly and you increase your risk of injury. Some experts suggest resting one day for every mile you ran in the marathon, thus 26 days of no hard running or racing!”

I read that statement about four days after my May 3rd marathon. Even though my gait was still hobbled, and my legs felt completely wrung out, I thought there was no way I’d feel tapped out for a month!
The only time I was more wrong was when I thought my then-two-year-old twins didn’t need to wear diapers during naptime anymore.

Don’t misunderstand me: I have certainly been running in the 30 days since my race. When I was out in Connecticut for my high school reunion in mid-May, for example, I ran every day of my 5-day visit, racking up about 26 or 27 miles. But I didn’t feel like my pre-marathon self, and my legs felt heavy. Other than the leaden legs, I couldn’t pinpoint what was wrong. I just felt “off.” I was starting to get a bit concerned, as I have a 5K on July 11 and a half-marathon on July 26. I told myself I just needed to continue taking it somewhat easy (no track or speed workouts) and to fuel well.

And, sure enough, almost a month to the day, my giddy-up returned. On Saturday, I felt moved to kick out two 8-minute miles on a 5-miler. The next morning, on my 10-mile run, I really felt like myself again. My legs felt fresh, but more importantly, there was an intangible “vibe” I felt that told me all was right again. At the risk of coming across as patchouli-and-chimes, I felt like my aura had been slightly off, but on that run, it was back to its bright, vibrant color.

Now I’m excited to rev up my speed—and shine my aura--at the track tomorrow.

-SBS
Drawing is a portrait of me by 3-year-old Daphne.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Next Up on the Race Calendar


Like after a bad break up or a job layoff, my friends are already asking me, “What’s next?” as in, “What’s your next race since the marathon is over for?” Goodness, folks, let the dust settle first!! I’m still sorta pining over my last boyfriend, uh, I mean, the training for Eugene Marathon. Ha, ha.

No, it’s a natural question, and I’ve already shifted my sights forward. Next up is a rowing race (well, hopefully two—a heat and a final!) at the end of June with my team, Portland Women’s Rowing. But as even my rowing buddies joke, that won’t be overtaxing physically since the marathon was more than 42 times longer than the 1,000-meter rowing race. At this point, for me, rowing is more about technique than upping my fitness.

As for running, I have a few specific races slotted into my summer schedule—the Lacamas Half Marathon at the end of July, and the not-to-be-missed Hood to Coast relay a month later with my beloved all-women’s team, See Jane Run.

I really want to parlay some of my newfound speed into a few more personal bests this year. I’m looking for a flat, not-too-crowded 5K race, in particular. I’m seriously contemplating racing the Red Dress Run for Women when I’m out visiting my family in Connecticut this summer. I’m hoping to talk a good friend from high school into doing it with me (yes, Gioia, that means you!), and I’m especially keen on it now that I just discovered they have an Athena division. Heck, maybe I’ll bring home a PR and a top-3 slot!

Yeah, I like the ring of that as my answer next time someone queries, “What next?”

-SBS

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Who Cares about Time?


My 25-year high school reunion was last weekend. All spring, I'd been thinking about how perfect the timing of it was--just two weeks after my marathon. Call me shallow, but I was all excited to brag about my sub-4:00 time and flaunt my running-toned legs. Come on, it had been 25 years since we trotted around in kilts and most everyone had had kids, so I was banking on some classmates being out of shape or even downright dumpy.

Denied! All the women who showed were incredibly trim and perky looking. All natural, yet all gorgeous. And we were so excited to see each other that we got caught up in myriad conversations, rarely veering toward running. A few former classmates who are also Facebook friends knew about my marathon. But instead of asking about my finish time, they merely marveled that my knees still allow me to put in any sort of miles.

It got me thinking: Marathon bragging rights don't extend very far. Facebook and this blog, natch, and some running buddies, sure, but otherwise numbers don't mean much to folks. And, since reunion, I've realized I'm okay with that. Dimity, my fellow marathon mom, ribs me about being a braggart, so this admission may come as a surprise to her.

But I've come to realize that my marathon PR is a nugget I hold closer than I expected I would. It's like a gem I keep tucked into that useless, tiny fifth pocket on a pair of jeans. In the last few weeks, I've fished out my 3:52:37 time, polished it a little, and marveled at it, but usually it doesn't make a blip on my radar. Who knows, maybe I need some perspective, but for now I'm not going to force it.
-SBS

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Lynn Jennings: A Coach’s Story


As you know, for my recent marathon, I was incredibly fortunate to be coached by Lynn Jennings, 1992 Olympic bronze medalist in 10,000 meters and 3-time winner of World Cross Country Championships. During training, we decided she would write a blog post after the race. Here it is:

Sunday long runs. Tuesday track sessions. Friday tempo runs. Easy days. Ice baths. Meticulous attention paid to health and well-being. How did I find myself back on this sort of schedule? Only this time, it wasn’t all about me. It was all about Sarah Bowen Shea.

For too many years to count, I was a world-class professional middle-distance runner. My life consisted of training to race and racing to win. I traveled the world racking up victories and personal bests, medals, and honors. If it didn’t have to do with training, racing, eating, sleeping, or traveling, I didn’t do it. I was a hard-nosed competitor who cut no corners and gave nothing away.

For the last four months, I have been Sarah’s coach. Her journey to my doorstep started with her disappointing race in the Nike Women’s Marathon in October 2007. I had invited her to call me after she crossed the line. Her disappointment and ragged emotions kept her from doing it. She wanted to call but she was afraid of crying on the phone.

A month or so after the race, I invited her to sit in my cozy kitchen and talk about what went right and what went wrong with her race. As I listened carefully, I was also thinking, “I could coach her to break 4 hours.” I said nothing. If she wanted me to coach her, she would have to ask me herself.

Months later, Sarah did exactly that. We had a few dinner meetings where she talked, I listened, and then I laid out her carefully plotted training schedule. There were only a few non-negotiables: She had to be honest when I asked for feedback regarding fatigue and the state of her body. She wouldn’t impress me by doing more than the workout assigned. She could ask questions about what we were doing at any time.

The weeks unfolded. Sarah easily accepted the higher mileage, the exacting and rigorous track and tempo work, the weekly ice baths after her ever-lengthening long runs.

It took me awhile to get used to her pace ranges. I was used to racing at 5:00/mile pace and faster. My track work was done at sub-5:00/mile pace. My easy runs were in the 6:00-7:00 pace range. At first I was at sea: 9:15/mile easy runs? 8:20/mile tempo runs? It was foreign territory. But the truth is clear: different levels of physical ability have no bearing on the important intangibles. Intangibles upon which I built a long and successful career.

Everything I hold dear, she exhibited. Sarah personified the hard-as-diamond qualities that point an athlete toward success.

She completed every single assignment with passion, vigor, discipline, and dedication. She was in control and professional. She was completely coachable. I had to laugh when she texted me from Boston to ask if it was okay if she ran 6 miles on the Boston Marathon course rather than the 5 I had on the schedule.

I designed workouts for her that were challenging and arduous. The bar was high enough that she would have to work to achieve it. My goal was that she would finish each assignment not quite believing she had actually done it. Each session was designed to nudge her fitness forward and leave her feeling confident.

By the time race day arrived, it was clear that barring injury or untimely illness, Sarah had done all the work to achieve a sub-4 hour marathon. I told her that it was up to her to determine by how much she broke the barrier.

I was all over the course on race day. Zipping from point to point on my bike, I was reassured to see her efficient marathon shuffle and relaxed upper body. She was holding steady and looking good. The last time I saw her before heading to the finish line was at mile 24. She was moving cleanly and easily. She was continuing to pass other runners. Only a short time later, it was a shock to see her crawling down the home stretch, her face a rictus of pain. I was stunned to realize she had left every ounce of herself out on the course. She careened across the line safely under 4 hours.

As a species, we should never underestimate our low tolerance for discomfort. Sarah’s months of physical training taught her how to focus her intellect and body on the task at hand. I was impressed with her willingness to bump up against extreme depletion and not back away from the raw pain of it. Her tears of relief (and disappointment) at the finish were a testament to how large this goal had become to her.

Today, thoroughly ensconced in retirement, I am still ruled by goals of my own. It’s not about running 5:00/mile tempo runs anymore. It’s about how to achieve the trifecta of running, rowing, and cycling in a single day. I run on Portland’s Forest Park trails with my athletic Australian cattle dog mix, Towhee. I row my sleek blue Hudson shell on the Willamette River, and I ride my fast Bianchi in the West Hills. Every summer I live in Vermont at the Craftsbury Outdoor Center. I exchange coaching at the running camps for several weeks of rowing camp attendance. I just might be the happiest (and most active) retired professional athlete around.

-LJ

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Finally I Emptied the Tank


In almost every race I run or row, my goal is to Empty The Tank. I tell myself that as I’m waiting on the start line, and I often repeat it mantra-like during the race. Even my husband, Jack, who has only seen me run one race, knows to yell it out to me from the riverbank as my crew rows past him or to say it to me as I head off to a running race.

To me, there’s always been something mythical about the idea of leaving everything out of the race course. Of crossing the line in an utterly depleted state. It has been my goal for as long as I can remember, even in collegiate rowing races.

Yet until the Eugene Marathon, my needle never touched “E.” It had gotten close, running on fumes, as it were. But as hard as I tried to push myself to the brink, I’d inevitably pulled back, always crossing the line with more in me. Sometimes just a few drops, but something left just the same. I always had to admit to myself that I could have put the accelerator down harder than I had. But not at Eugene. Nope, not at Eugene.

After starting out at a smart, ease-into-it-yet-still-speedy pace for the first three or so miles, I had my foot on the gas the entire marathon. The going got tough at about mile 24.5 or 25, but I had more in me to give. Then, steps before the 26-mile marker, my tank hit empty. I felt such a dramatic shift in my energy level and my posture, I swear I heard an audible “click.” Ironically enough, it was almost exactly when my friend Ellison, nicknamed “E,” had run past me, and then turned back to urge me to keep up with her. I had the will and the drive, but no fuel.

Later, as we started our drive back to Portland, LJ and I talked about those final 365+ yards of the race, as I continued to jog/shuffle toward the finish line, feeling the back half of my body crumple toward the ground like a folded paper accordion. She bolstered me, saying it takes a talented athlete to parcel out her energy so perfectly to have nothing left at the end. She asked me how I was able to do it this time, knowing I had always wanted to do Empty The Tank.

A fresh torrent of tears, a mixture of happy and proud ones, poured forth and my voice cracked as I choked out a reply. I told LJ that instead of retreating from the pain, I had continued moving toward it.

In the days since my marathon, the thought I keep coming back to is how amazing it felt to finally Empty The Tank—and how proud I am of myself for doing it.

-SBS

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Allow Me a Mother's Day Moment to Brag


I plan on writing more thoughts about my marathon on here later this week, but for now please allow me to brag about my sporty older daughter. Yesterday was a banner day for Phoebe. First we swam at my health club. I did laps while she played in the "training" pool. Then we headed over to the Doggie Dash, a 1.5-mile fun run that benefits the Oregon Humane Society. Phoebe's wonderful teacher from last year (and marathon cheerleader), Joanne, encourages her kids to do it.

I was there to help keep track of the yellow-bandanad kids as they dodged dogs and weaved among walkers. Before the start, I gave a quick talk to Phoebe's good friend Liza, a zealous runner, about not running too fast as it wasn't that kind of race. Turns out I was talking to the wrong girl. Phoebe took off like the rest of the kids, but I soon lost track of her in the crowd. About halfway, Joanne told me Phoebe was with the assistant teacher, Kelly. I had no clue where Kelly was so that didn't tell me anything, but I wasn't concerned. With about 400 meters left in the race, I spotted Phoebe at the head of the pack, and I had to turn on the gas to catch up with her. I realized she was intent on coming in first. No sense in reeling her in at that point, so I cut a corner to get a photo of her crossing the finish line. She finished flushed and proud. I was stunned she had come in first out of her chums and, I'll admit it, I was proud of her because she'd poured her heart into the run.

As we drove to the third event in her unusual triathlon--her final spring league soccer game--I asked her if she'd planned on running so fast. She responded very intently, "I didn't have a plan, Mom."

Phoebe was on the attack at her soccer game, as usual, once again scoring five goals. While I was incredibly proud of her prowess, what I loved best was the exuberant arm pumps and jumps she did every time she scored. All in all, the day was a great Mother's Day gift.
-SBS

Monday, May 4, 2009

Marathon PR


Yup, I did it: I broke 4:00 in a big way yesterday, crossing the line in 3:52:37. That is more than 8 minutes faster than my previous best. Yet, idiotically, I was disappointed and almost heartbroken after finishing because I hadn’t run a Boston-qualifying time. (Don’t worry: Already, little more than 24 hours later, I’ve already knocked those feelings out of my pea-brain!)

Let me back up. I ran a stellar race yesterday. I didn’t let nerves or emotions overwhelm me. I ran a relatively consistent pace, going out slowly for the first few miles as I knew I needed to do to stay strong for the distance. My playlist was perfect, boosting me up when I needed it and keeping me steady when that was called for. The weather, rainy at first then mostly overcast, ended up being great running conditions. (Although I got a massive blister on my right big toe, a first for me. It was so big, on the drive back to Portland, LJ and I debated naming it!)

And I felt strong for the vast majority of the race. Literally, I felt wonderful, yelling out, “I feel fantastic!” to my good friends Amber and Angella who were cheering me on near mile 8.5. I was comfortably running mile after mile at a pace between 8:32-8:47. It felt easy, natural, fluid not forced—just like Lynn had assured me it would. I continued to feel stellar until about mile 15, then I shifted my pace to be consistently faster as LJ and I had discussed I should if I was feeling up for it. (“Take the chance, Sarah!” she yelled out to me at one point.). I felt challenged but still very good until about mile 22. LJ was at various spots, handing drinks and energy gels and chews to me, and she commented later how I was never running with the same pack. I was picking off runners throughout almost the entire race. I felt good from about mile 22 to 25 and decent until almost mile 26.

Then my body went into complete shut-down mode.

Even as it was happening, I marveled at it. One of my mantras is, “Empty the tank”; it’s a goal I've had countless times in races. But until yesterday, I’d never really achieved that condition. Yesterday I did. It was like the electricity had been cut, and all systems were powering down. As you can see from one of the photos above, I had a distinct feeling of crumpling—like the backside of my body was an accordion folding onto itself. I continued shuffling toward the finish line, never walking, but I nearly collapsed immediately after the finish line. Thankfully my dear friend Ellison had finished less than a minute ahead of me so she was there for me to lean on as I hobbled into the finishers’ area.

Again, let me rewind: As I was approaching the finish line, I could make out one face in the crowd--Joanne, Phoebe’s teacher from last year. Joanne, a tall, attractive brunette, was jumping up and down with tears were streaming down her face. Even through my systems-failure haze, I could distinctly hear her shouting, “Sarah, you did it! You did it!” She was in the same ecstatic state when we met up outside the finishers’ area about 20 minutes later, as I teetered out with ice bags Saran Wrapped to my quadriceps. All I could think was, “No, Joanne, I didn’t. I didn’t qualify for Boston and I feel awful.”

But within hours I realized how right Joanne was—and how I wish, even now, that I could have shared in her unbridled elation. My training with LJ had been going so well for so many weeks that she and I had come to accept that I would meet my longtime goal to break 4:00. As LJ told me after one of our runs, “You’re going to break 4 hours. It’s up to you to determine by how much.” Thus, I realize now, I’d shifted my A-goal to running a BQ time, assuming the sub-4:00 was a done deal.

So today I’m trying to capture some of Joanne’s joy, looking back at a top-secret email I sent LJ way back in November, when we were just in the planning stages for this marathon. I’d written her a span of possible finish times and how I’d feel if I ran them. Here’s a snippet:
"3:51: Unbelievably Stoked, All Cylinders Firing

3:53: Wowee-Wow-Wow"

Seeing that I landed smack-dab in the middle of those two times, I’m doing my best to feel a mixture of “unbelievably stoked” and “wowee-wow-wow.” I’m getting there.

-SBS

Friday, May 1, 2009

Personal Best Playlist


This is what will be firing me along on Sunday during my marathon (please channel positive energy toward me in Eugene, Oregon, from 7 a.m. to about 10:45-ish Pacific!). The mix starts out mellow (some might say "cheesy") as I'm intent on starting out slower than marathon pace. And, yes, I'm not afraid to show that I love songs from the High School Musical trilogy! (And I've been on a Dixie Chicks kick this week...)

Thanks for your support, folks!

SBS "Personal Best" Playlist

When You’re Falling by Afro Celt Sound System
Can I Have This Dance by cast of HSM
Everyday by cast of HSM
Freeway by Aimee Mann

Baby Hold On by Dixie Chicks
Flashdance What a Feeling by Irene Cara
Right Here (Departed) by Brandy
Crazy in Love by Beyonce
Give Me a Beat by Girl Talk
Where Is the Love? By Black Eyed Peas
Just Fine by Mary J. Blige
(You Drive Me) Crazy (The Stop Remix!) by Britney Spears
Pump It by Black Eyed Peas
Believe by Cher
Forever by Chris Brown
Love Sex Magic by Ciara
Under Pressure by David Bowie and Queen
Everybody Knows by Dixie Chicks
Sense of Purpose by Third World
Right Round by Flo Rida
Hurt by Johnny Cash
SexyBack by Justin Timberlake
Hands in the Air by Girl Talk
Feel Good Inc. by Gorillaz
We’re All in This Together by cast of HSM
Gimme More by Britney Spears
Dare by Gorillaz
Umbrella (Travis Barker Remix) by Rihanna
LoveStoned by Justin Timberlake
Hard Sun by Eddie Vedder
Silent House by Dixie Chicks
4 Minutes by Madonna
Here I Go Again by Whitesnake
Disturbia by Rihanna
Kiss by Prince
The Rising by Bruce Springsteen
My Love (featuring T.I.) by Justin Timberlake
All These Things That I’ve Done by The Killers
Wake Up Call by Maroon 5
Live Your Life by T.I.
I’m Shakin by Rooney
Stronger by Britney Spears
Suddenly I See by KT Tunstall
Heart of a Champion by Nelly & Lincoln University Vocal Ensemble
Womanizer by Britney Spears
Pon de Replay by Rihanna
I Run for Life by Melissa Etheridge
Reason to Believe by Dashboard Confessions (thanks, Naomi!)
Harder to Breathe by Maroon 5
I Am Superman by R.E.M.
Dig In by Lenny Kravitz
Mo Money Mo Problems Mase, Puff Daddy &….
Makes Me Wonder by Maroon 5
Lovely, Love My Family by The Roots
Lose Yourself by Eminem
Lady by Lenny Kravitz
Apologize (Workout Mix) by Power Music Workout
Disturbia by Rihanna (yes, again!)
SOS by Rihanna
List of Demands by Saul Williams
Dead and Gone by T.I.
The Way I Are by Timbaland
Mr. Brightside by The Killers
Hey Ya! OutKast
Paradise City Guns N’ Roses
I Will Survive by Cake
Closer by Nine Inch Nails
Complicated by Avril Lavigne

Monday, April 27, 2009

Poster Child for Self-Confidence


Needless to say, my focus this week is laser-beamed on Sunday's marathon. When I feel tired, I lay down. I quaff electrolyte-laden drinks before I get thirsty, and eat carbs for breakie, lunch, and dinner. I've put a moratorium on carrying the twins around. I'm skipping book group in favor of lounging. Yes, I'm treating my body right. But my main emphasis this week is my mind. I'm intent on getting it as honed and fit as my body is.


As my coach, Lynn Jennings, emailed me yesterday: "Drill into your brain the truth and reality of all that work you have done. You are ready to go and your mantra is 'I've done the work and when I stand on the starting line, I'm ready to demonstrate it!'

Remember: you have to believe it fully and unreservedly. No doubts."


But finessing the brain isn't as straight-forward as honing the body. There are no mile-repeats or tempo runs for the mind. Instead, I'm going back over my training calendar to remind myself of all the hard work I have done the last three months--and how I met or exceeded the goals LJ set for me. I'm also going to re-read my blog posts since February 1.


And I'm going to spend a good bit of time meditating on the poster Phoebe and I made (photo, above). Let the record show: I'm not a scrapbooker or a memento-gal, but the idea for the "word-wall" came to me in a flash of inspiration so I acted upon the idea. I cut out phrases from magazines, mostly Runner's World, and then Phoebe and I glued them onto the posterboard. If I can be a braggart mom for a sec: I especially love the creativity art-centric, new-reader Phoebe brought to it, doing things like placing "Faster" under "Get Faster." (We laughed together every time she'd point out a clever word-cluster, with her saying, "Get it, Mom? Get it?") After she and I were done, I went back and glued on an illustration of a small brown bird (to the left of "Test Yourself") as an homage to Phoebe, which is also a type of small, brown songbird.


Slowly--but surely--I'm getting poised to demonstrate what I'm capable of on May 3.


-SBS


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Who I Am Running For

The finish of the 2009 Boston Marathon was an amazing thing to watch. Well, at least that’s what all my running buddies tell me. You see, I missed the second half of the elite race because I was driving carpool. Sigh. But even with only reading the results—and later watching YouTube clips---my heart went out to Kara Goucher all day on Monday. Such guts, grit, and talent. Not to mention her adorable smile.

The already oft-quoted line in her post-race interview that resonated with me was her saying she wanted to win, “for everyone that supported me and for my coach, my husband, my family, and for Nike…I just wanted to be the one that won for everybody.”

It got me thinking about all the people I’m running my marathon for a week from Sunday. For Lynn Jennings, my savvy, ever-attentive, caring coach; for Phoebe, my 7-year-old daughter who will be on the sidelines cheering for me; for my mom, a loving Catholic who is already praying for me and my marathon aspirations; for a certain editor, who promises me a plum feature assignment if I break 4 hours; for my massage therapist, who is giving me a huge discount on a day-after massage if I meet my time-goal; for you blog-readers who have followed my journey with such an outpouring of encouragement; and countless others.

But mulling over Kara’s words, I realized the person I am really running this marathon for is me. So that I can prove to myself I’m as fit as my times at the track tell me I am—and that I have the inner fortitude to call forth the resources when the going gets tough. To shift into a higher gear when my brain is telling me to just cruise.

I want to win for me.

-SBS

Friday, April 17, 2009

Go, Kara, Go!!


Just wanted to give a shout-out of encouragement to all Boston Marathoners, from Kara on back. I had the pleasure of being in sunny, lovely Boston for the past three days, and I even got to run the last 6.2 miles of the course, including Heartbreak Hill. (I found it more like a long incline than a true hill, but my legs were fresh. No telling what my opinion would be facing it after 20 miles...) Even though I lived in Boston for four years in mid-1990s and watched the race every year, it seemed more exciting this time, maybe because I was a marathon-virgin back then.


Good luck to all, and take a look at this write-up of Kara's pre-race interview. The line that made my eyes a bit watery was this one, "I'm ready to run the race of my life." I intend to tell myself that on May 3 down in Eugene.


Go, Kara! Go, Boston Marathoners!


-SBS

photo above is one I took of Kara Goucher poster in Niketown window on Boston's Newbury Street.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Pace Groups: Pros and Cons?

Lynn and I are debating whether or not I should run with a pace group or not at Eugene. I hear good things about the pace-group leaders at that marathon, but we're still wondering if it's the smart move to go with one or not.

Our main sticking point: On my long runs and tempo runs, I've consistently found that it takes me a while to get warmed up. Early on, I have to really fight to drop down to tempo pace, but after my muscles get lubed, I'm good to go.

Our plan, hashed out over my training run on the course of the Eugene Marathon two weeks ago, was that I start out slower than marathon pace but build up to it by about mile 3. If I ran with a pace group, however, we don't think I'd have that option.

One running buddy told me she thinks adrenaline will carry me through the first few miles, but I'm concerned about going out too fast. As LJ said to me on the Eugene run, "I want to see you going sub-MP at miles 17 and 18, not miles 2 and 3."

So, dear running-readers, I'm looking for insight about experiences you've had with marathon pace groups. I'd love to hear from you--thanks!

-SBS

Sunday, April 12, 2009

And So Begins the Taper

Saturday’s 18-mile run went okay. It wasn’t great, and it wasn’t horrible. The plan was for me to warm up for 3 miles en route to Lynn’s house, then start running marathon pace for the rest of the run, including the 14 miles after meeting up with LJ. (Her house is 4 miles from mine.) Once again, we had deemed marathon pace (MP) at 8:45-minute miles or better.

I idiotically forgot to press “start” on my Garmin when LJ and I started running together, so I missed out on calculating the first 3.5 or so miles of the run. But I’d glanced at the pace numerous times and we were at least 15 seconds under MP for that first bit. But it became increasingly hard to keep my pace at 8:45 or faster. About 4.5 miles into our run together, I told LJ, “The intent is there, but the speed isn’t.” It is hard to describe how I felt: The week before, in Eugene, my quads had felt heavy and dense, but not this weekend. I felt like I lacked a spark, or 5th gear.

At this point, if I’d been by myself, I probably would have spiraled into self-doubt, anxiety, and disappointment. But LJ’s response to my comment put my head in exactly the right place. She calmly said it was natural to feel a bit sluggish, reminding me of all the hard work I’d been doing lately. All the miles, and all the track work. It made perfect sense, and I was diverted from the pity-party I’d been heading toward.

Instead, LJ just ran about a step ahead of me for much of the rest of our run. We were still running together, but I felt a slight “tug” to keep up with her. I kept my foot on my own accelerator as best I could, nudging our pace back to 8:45. Conversation didn’t flow as freely as it has on all our other runs—at one point I blurted out, “You need to tell me a story,” and LJ complied.

All conversation ceased for the final two miles, with me sputtering out rudimentary directions like, “right at light” or “go straight.” With about 1.5 miles left to go, LJ asked me (the Garmin-wearing pace-keeper) how fast we were going. I said 8:59. She said, “let’s try to get it to 8:40 for rest of the way.” It was the challenge I needed. It took me about 100 yards, but then we were safely under 8:40…and dropping the rest of the way home. Two long blocks from my house we were sub-8:00, and for final 150 yards we were about about 7:20 pace. Taking into account our un-Garmined miles at the start of MP, we averaged right around 8:45.

After we stopped and I regained my breath, Lynn said, “That proves it—time to start your taper.”

-SBS

Friday, April 10, 2009

Final Long Run


My last long run for Eugene Marathon is tomorrow—woo-hoo!! I can’t believe the day has come. Sometimes it seems I’ve been training for this race for a long time, but mostly it feels like I just started. My coach, Lynn, and I often joke how fast time flies, with the punchline being that we’ll be collecting Social Security by Friday. (Trust me: It cracks us up during our recovery laps around the track!)

Up until yesterday, LJ was having me run 18 miles tomorrow, then 20 miles the following weekend. Given how fantastic the rest of her coaching has been, I wasn’t going to question LJ on her decision to have me run so far just two weeks before the marathon. But then some concerns started poking my brain, partly from email exchanges with my good friend Ellison, who is also running Eugene. She and another marathon-veteran friend, Monica, are following Pete Pfitzinger’s training plan, as they always do. On their schedule, they run 22 this weekend, then drop back to 16 miles and 12 miles the next two weekends, respectively.

For days I tried mustering the gumption to ask LJ about her rationale for an additional long run. Finally I crafted an email in my head and sat down at my computer to write it to LJ. But before I could click, “compose,” an email from her popped up. Here’s an edited excerpt:

“I am sitting here doing some reading about tapering for a marathon and perusing the calendar for our next three weeks. We are running the 18 on Saturday with 15 embedded race pace miles. I’m thinking about long runs after this and wondering your thoughts on long run ideas for next Sunday, the 19th. Whatever we do that day, it is exactly two weeks until race day.

“I have all sorts of good creative ideas during taper but am curious what you think you would like for that last Sunday long/long’ish run?”

My God, the woman is not only a three-time Olympian, but also a mind reader!!

I immediately called her to laugh and discuss. Now our new joke is that she must have implanted a chip in my brain!

-SBS