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?”


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.

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.


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.


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.

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.


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