Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A bittersweet finish: Tri Cities Marathon

Three years ago this past weekend I escaped Moscow, ID and the rigors of a 20+ credit workload filled with microbiology, anatomy/physiology, and organic chemistry to test my body against 26.2 miles of the Tri Cities Marathon. My parents met me in Colfax and drove me the rest of the way down south so mom could take pictures and dad could guide me the last 13 miles to the finish line.

Circumstances were a little bit different this time around. Though I’d qualified the last time I ran Tri Cities, I didn’t pursue a Boston Marathon appearance in 2010. All I remember on the long car ride back to Moscow was thinking how terrible my body felt and realizing I’d never do this again. The injuries I sustained during the marathon never quite healed until I found myself well into 2010, further encouraging me to stick with half marathons for the remainder of my running career.

Yet three years later, I found myself, once again, in the same crowd of runners, awaiting the beautiful course Miguel Reyna and his crew had prepared for us to explore. Instead of standing alone, Bryan Rowe and Tony DiBartolo stood nearby. Jayne Anderson and David Dennison waited a little further back. I hardly recognized Eric Ewing of Milliseconds Timing hiding behind a growth of facial hair, standing at the starting mat. Before I’d had a chance to finish my prayer, the crowd began to move forward, and the long morning of running had begun.

When you set out to run a marathon, you have a lot of time to yourself to think about anything and everything that might meander in and out of your mind. I couldn’t help but think how we lucked out on a morning shrouded in fog, the sun sure to break through the clouds within the hour. The night before, we’d listened to the downpour through our hotel walls, wondering just how soaked we’d feel the next morning. I had tried to push the thought of running 26 miles soaking wet out of my mind by loading my race belt with GU gels. Strawberry banana, vanilla bean, chocolate outrage, peanut butter, and sublime lime filled my holster that suddenly felt 2 pounds heavier.

The worms brought me back to the race. Bryan’s footsteps kept me on a pace of 7:30min/mile, and it wasn’t until we’d reached mile 4 that the course had guided us off the road and onto the trail that parallels the river. We ran under colorful trees, passed the professional photographer eager to capture the smiles of happy runners before they turned sour at mile 18, and started along the path obviously utilized by geese, too. Not only did I weave my way through worms brought out by last night’s rain, but goose poop made my stride a little lighter and shorter as we clipped onward toward the second bridge.

I could feel our pace slowing once we’d entered the park on the other side of the river. Bryan and I had caught our rabbit (aka Tony), who decided to join us through the park. I remember reaching the halfway point and looking down at my Timex, which read we’d finished the first half in 1:38:10. Yet my pace faltered. We neared the next aid station before crossing the third bridge, and a picture my mom took of my dad and me at this point in the race 3 years ago stood out in my mind. The only significance of the picture—taken from behind us—was that we looked identical: our foot strike, arm swing, and cadence. I had no idea what Bryan, Tony, and me looked like, but it became perfectly clear that my left hip hurt.

The cable bridge marked my ultimate demise. I had held onto the lead woman position, only to have the second woman (now the first) pass me at mile 19. I no longer heard Bryan’s footfalls, as he had pulled out ahead of me. I remember thinking to myself, “Just watch his pace. Keep your legs moving at his speed.” I think that lasted for about 4 miles, until I felt a sharp twinge in my left knee that, unlike in past runs, made me limp.

Frustration set in quickly. Bryan and me had spent the last 6 weeks killing ourselves on the track, running 800s at a pace that would have predicted a 3:15 finish. I would meet him after a long day on my feet each Thursday so we could try to run longer tempos out on Aubrey White Parkway. Those felt worse to me than speed work. Quite frankly, I felt stupid watching both the now-lead-woman and Bryan disappear into the distance. I had only finished mile 25 when my Timex read 3:15, and it wasn’t until I ran the final turn and saw 3:24:00 on the clock that I felt like I’d failed.


The ending is bittersweet. I’d only PR’d by about a minute and 25 seconds, which for me is hardly what I’d originally set out to do. Bryan PR’d by far more. It wasn’t until I saw him near the food table that I realized we’d accomplished what he had set out to do.

Five weeks ago, he asked me, “Why are you running it?”
“To prove (or not prove) I can recover better than last time…so I can feel more confident about racing IM CDA in June.”
Bryan responded, “Not to be mean, but that’s a dumb reason.”
“So what’s yours?”
Bryan: “I have run 6 marathons. I have yet to qualify for Boston. I have always been pretty good at everything I’ve tried to do. However, these endurance things are consistently kicking my ass. I’m a better athlete than my record shows. I need to prove it.”
That’s it. We qualify for Boston. Done.

A year of racing, which ultimately led me to compete at the international level: done. Six weeks of continued marathon training with a guy who raced himself to a solid Ironman Canada finish: complete. Finishing the Tri Cities marathon, running ourselves to a Boston 2014 appearance: sweet.

The fact that I failed to reach my goal at Tri Cities seems far less significant when I consider the bigger picture. He did it. Bryan qualified. When I think about my story, I had some breakthroughs this past year, but I did a stellar job of making plenty of mistakes. So goes the story of a 24-year-old athlete trying the fill the shoes of a seasoned competitor. I'm told I have no patience. So I hope the next three weeks of “rest” will set me up for a better 2013. Suddenly, it’s time to start thinking Ironman.

Representing Tri-Fusion, left to right: David Dennison,
me, Bryan Rowe, Jayne Anderson, Tony and Laura

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Laced up in Satisfaction

You can go through an entire year of triathlons and feel overwhelmed by a sense of accomplishment. I embrace the notion that I can swim across a lake, lock my feet in the pedals and churn my way to transition into a run that finally leads me to the finish line. Three sports. Three reasons to race. Three times the feeling of satisfaction.

Yet my triathlon season ended back in early September, and I realized satisfaction had not yet swept me off my feet…literally. I still found myself lacing up my running shoes, the couch my butt was supposed to occupy hardly indented by my weight. The television lay quiet. The Runner’s World magazines stacked unopened after months of falling behind in my reading. My new pair of Brooks Adrenaline from Runners Soul ready to head out the door. I looked down and realized they did not represent an impulse buy. They served a purpose: my reason to keep running.

The week after Las Vegas World Championships, I realized I had one last goal to reach. I had set some goals in the beginning of 2012 to guide me through the year:

  • Finish a full Half Ironman.
  • If I finish, try to qualify for World Championships.
  • If I qualify, survive it.
  • If I survive it, start training for a marathon.
  • If my body holds out through 6 weeks of marathon training, race Tri Cities Marathon.
  • If I race Tri Cities Marathon, I damn well better qualify for Boston.

This past month has truly raked me across the coals. It feels as though the expression “when shit hits the fan” doesn’t even begin to describe the obstacles I’m currently working through. Training for this marathon, however—with friends—is what has held me together. I’ve never enjoyed speed work, yet every Tuesday I could rely on Jayne Anderson and Bryan Rowe to show up at the track, ready to tackle the set of 400s or 800s or whatever crazy intervals our training plan had scheduled. I may have walked up to that track with a dismal outlook on what the next hour would hold, but I always walked away from it with a lighter step (barring my knee, shin, and back pain) and a feeling of accomplishment that ultimately carried me through the next day.

It wouldn’t be marathon training without the weekly long runs. Bryan and I did a pretty good job of scheduling them on Saturdays or Sundays when local half marathons were held. We would shuffle off to tease out up to nine miles before the start of the race itself, then attempt to pretend the nine miles we just finished had nothing on us as we started out on courses like the Spokane half marathon. “Hilly course? Pshh, whatever. Doomsday hill at mile 8? Heh, feels even better at mile 18.” I don’t think it’s accurate to say the miles have gotten easier; we’ve just gotten better at tolerating them.

Tomorrow will be the day when all that speed work and all those long runs will finally pay off. I can only pray our stomachs cooperate, our muscles endure, and our minds stay numb. Most importantly, I hope to be swept off my feet…literally. 

Here's to... 

...Elements Massage, for getting me here injury-free (relatively speaking, of course).

...Josh Hadway at Runners Soul, for selling me out on the Brooks Adrenaline shoes that kept me at it this fall.

...GU Energy, for helping me keep up with Bryan on all those long runs and will likely make this marathon far better than my first two years ago.

...Timex GPS run trainer, for recording faster run splits that Bryan's Garmin always seemed to lengthen by 10-15 seconds.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Spokane half (22 mile) marathon

I found myself standing among a crowd full of faces I’ve come to recognize. Not until you embrace the sport of running and triathlon do you fully appreciate the active community of Spokane. Six years ago, the Spokane half marathon served as my first attempt to see if I could earn the title of “runner.” I remember training for my first half as a way to balance out the stress of college. My first 15-miler had my mom incredibly concerned because it required I start early in the dark of morning and run on farm roads driven by silly old farmers who thought they owned the roads. She had reason to feel concerned; I had reason to run.

That year, I ran my first half marathon—the Spokane half—in a time of 1:44:07. It rained. I shivered. Yet I can still remember the fall color of the trees as I ran through Brown’s Addition, and perhaps that’s what’s drawn me back to the start line every year since then.

This year, training for a marathon to round out a full year of racing triathlons has made for a rigorous 6 weeks of running. All the old little injuries I used to sustain as a result of increased mileage have found their way back to my legs. This time around, I have a greater arsenal behind me. For one, I have increased knowledge of physical therapy exercises to strengthen muscles and prevent small imbalances. Second, I have Elements Therapeutic Massage to work out all the knots and tight muscles that self-massage and stretching don’t seem to alleviate. Twice a month, I have the pleasure of enduring 80 minutes of “healing” one might better describe as torture. Yet the benefits of loosened muscles far outweigh the initial pain that deep tissue therapy creates.

Finally, I have a training partner. For those who don’t know Bryan Rowe, he’s the guy that’s put up with a ton of complaining, bitching, and maybe a little ass-kicking. The speed work we do on Tuesdays would never have continued through week 5 had I not had someone to meet at Mead High School’s track. The long tempo runs on Thursdays would never have happened after a full day of work on my feet had I not had Bryan to drag me through it. Long runs on the weekend would have felt far longer had I not had a camelback-clad guy to chase.

And so, we both stood among a crowd full of faces we’ve both come to recognize as the running/triathlon community of Spokane. This time, we’d already run 9 miles to make certain that by the time we crossed the finish line of the Spokane half marathon, we’d both have accomplished our last long run of 22 miles before Tricities Marathon October 28th.

Just like years past, the colorful trees had begun to litter the roads with leaves of yellow and red. Aid stations manned by high school cross country teams and cheerleaders helped the miles slip away. Cemetery Hill didn’t seem nearly as steep as I’d remembered it to be the first time I ran this race. The trail through Riverside State Park allowed views of the river down below, framed by colorful trees and bushes. The long ascent back up Government Way served as a reminder that a long descent was soon to come. The homestretch would be just beyond the hill they call Doomsday, which was lined by enthusiastic spectators whose energy is about the only thing that got me up it. Finally, just four miles to the finish.

This year, I finished in a time of 1:44:59, a far cry from my half marathon PR, but a time that represents a race run after 9 miles of training. Thank you to BRRC for another fun race, finisher medals that rival some of the best I’ve received, and the post-race food and drink found in O’Doherty’s.
Thank you also to Moulton Law Offices, who sponsored me for this event.

Some of the TriFusion crew who ran.
Left to Right: Jayne Anderson, David Dennison,
Rene Guerrero, Matt Siegel, and Nate Duncan.

Post race reward: Apple crisp up at Greenbluff.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A Recap (from the Race Director) of the Wild Moose Chase

Race Results from ATL Timing can be found here, at http://atltiming.com/results/2012/wild-moose.html
Photo courtesy of Jeff Ferguson
On the last Saturday of September, Mother Nature graced Spokane with clear, blue skies, sunshine, and mild temperatures that hovered in the low 70s. Hopefully, the people of Spokane wandered out of their houses, escaped the movie theaters and instead, spent time outside soaking up the sunshine. A handful of people did just that, though perhaps one might claim they accomplished much more. That’s because on this day, the last Saturday of September, over 250 people ran through Mt. Spokane State Park in search of the Wild Moose.

While Steve Christensen (the head honcho they call the Park Manager of Mt. Spokane State Park) would normally not advise visitors chase wild animals, he allowed Eastern Washington University’s Doctor of Physical Therapy Program to host an event whose name suggested people do just that. 

Spokane area runners, as well as others from Idaho, Oregon, and California, joined in on a fun event deemed The Wild Moose Chase Trail Run. Despite not having any reports from racers who spotted a moose while running the course, it was reported (via email) from one participant that a bull moose stood in the road as she made her way down from the mountain after Saturday’s race.

Thankfully I saw him in plenty of time to slow [down],” explained Liv Larson Andrews. “He was massive. He just lazily walked across the road and up into the trees. So, your race is aptly named!”

The 25-kilometer course escorted runners on trails that meandered down the mountain, up the mountain, and then further up the mountain. Runners scaled some of the same hills on foot that downhill skiers and snowboarders rely on chairlifts for during the winter months. 
Photo courtesy of Jeff Ferguson. Owen and
Brook Swanson heading out on the 5k

Many described the experience as challenging. John Kercher, a local triathlete and runner who trains with Tri-Fusion Triathlon Club and the Spokane Distance Project, explained it wasn’t until after you’d run up one hill and started coasting down the other side, that another hill awaited you up ahead.

Matt Beard, another Tri-Fusion member and legitimate ultra-marathoner who regularly races trail runs of remarkable distances, described the course like this: “I was impressed, [it is] pretty tough. I don't have a lot of experience with 25k [courses] but it's the harder of the two I've done.” When he says he doesn’t have a lot of experience with 25k courses, it means he runs courses of the 50- and 100-mile variety more frequently. To hear this guy say it’s tough means, in all honesty, it’s brutal.

John Smith Smith, a 20-year-old powerhouse from Spokane, finished first in a time of 1:52:10. Rachel Toor, the top female also from Spokane, came in at 2:35:09.

Photo courtesy of Jeff Ferguson. Emma Garza
finishing up a challenging 5k course with a
smile on her face!
Those who ran the 5-kilometer and 10-kilometer courses enjoyed scenery along the Nordic trails. Due to trail-widening construction that has taken place throughout the summer, race directors altered the courses slightly to keep participants from running through mountain dust that in some places was 6 inches deep. People had no trouble navigating their way through the woods, hill over endless hill. Participants who ran last year were quite certain this year’s courses took them over far more hills, and therefore, posed a much greater challenge.

Despite the “endless” hills participants claimed they had to climb, Erik Fagan of Spokane crossed the finish line in a time of 39:24 to claim the top male finisher title. Tami Hicks of Cocolalla, ID claimed the top female title with a time of 51:10.

For those looking for a challenging race, perhaps the biggest surprise came in the form of a short 5k course. The biggest lesson here? Just because it’s short doesn’t mean it’s flat! This year’s 5k course took runners on the Eagle Crest trail, which is noted by a sign that deems it “Most Difficult.” In response to participants’ suggestions, race directors will probably opt to utilize an easier trail for next year, as long as construction hasn’t torn up the flatter trails.

Despite the hills and a 5k course that might have been a tad long, Kevin Oberholser captured the top male title with a time of 22:11, while Christina Meyer led the women with a time of 27:19.

Race directors and the DPT Class of 2014 would like to thank everyone who came out and used their last Saturday of September to run the Wild Moose. We hope Across the Line Timing brought you your official race results in a far more acceptable time than the race directors were able to do last year by hand. The photos taken by Jeff Ferguson not only captured the enjoyment of our finishers, but the amazing scenery as well. We look forward to using the suggestions and recommendations participants provided this year to make next year a better event. Stay tuned! The running of the Wild Moose will be back for 2013.

To see more photos by Jeff Ferguson, visit his website at www.jfergusonphotos.com

Photo by Jeff Ferguson. A job well done to all moose chasers!

Thank you, GU Energy, for supplying our participants with
gels and GU Brew both on course and afterward!

Some of the DPT-ers cheering runners through the finish line.
A couple dedicated cheerleaders!
The Class of 2014, as well as the Race Directors, would like to extend a huge THANK YOU to our Sponsors:


Therapeutic Associates
Ensign Therapy
B&B Physical Therapy
Elements Therapeutic Massage
OutThere Monthly
Fitness Fanatics
GU Energy

Priest Lake Half Marathon

There exist only a handful of races that grant you a challenging course, scenery to enjoy, a barbecue for post-race empty bellies, and a refreshing lake to jump in after a run well done. Ken Eldore and his phenomenal team of volunteers have provided all of this through one of several events I had the opportunity to attend this year. Last year I raced the Triathlon held the last weekend of August, and this year I ran the half marathon put on the second to last weekend of September. What an experience! 

The race begins right at Hills Resort, a cute little place with a great view out to Priest lake. I remember making this our destination as a kid when we spent the better part of a weekend camping just about a mile west at Luby Bay campground. We'd walk along the trail that borders the shoreline, picking huckleberries as we went. Once at Hills, we'd saunter into the small gift shop for an ice cream cone. 

On this day, however, dad and I had a few miles to cover. Because I'm training for a marathon, "the plan" had me running 16 miles, which meant Maci and me headed out for a quick 3-mile warm up before the race officially began. We made it back in time for me to refuel and meet up with the parents. Maci hung back with mom, and dad and me toed the start line (well, we placed ourselves in the middle of the pack) in preparation for a long run. 

We ran a quick out-and-back 5k on the same gravel road we'd be running on during our last 5 miles of the race. It served as a great warm up (for me, a second warm up) for the long 1.5-mile uphill into the woods. I watched my pace quickly slow from 8:15s to 9:30s. If I had not had to watch my footing so closely, I would have noticed we'd climbed up high enough to overlook a beautiful part of the lake. Once at the top, however, that much-anticipated aid station took much of my attention away from scenery. 

My Timex watch was set to beep at me every 30 minutes so I could down a GU gel. I used every aid station for water and a chance to catch up to dad. He does a great job of beating me up every stupid hill, so it came as no surprise when he scaled that 1.5-mile hill like it was a bump in the road. It wasn't until mile 5 that I caught up with him sipping water at the aid station. From there, we flew down the other side of the "mountain" at a clip far faster than I would have liked considering the big rocks and loose footing that served to warn me of the potential for twisting an ankle. 

The aid station at mile 8 appeared sooner than I had anticipated, and dad and I continued our run back to Hills on a relatively flat, if not slightly downhill, gravel road. Quite honestly, I felt great. Yet dad's right calf began to cramp up. For me, it's hard to witness a guy I've always considered pretty stoic to suddenly be slowed by a muscle cramp. He yelped with surprise and pain each time it spasmed. His gait changed from that of a fluid runner to one that more closely resembled a man walking on pins and needles. 

We slowed our pace. He consumed another gel. All to no avail. I advised him to walk a short distance, but dad made it quite clear he would not resort to walking. He motioned me forward, so I ran the last two miles to the finish without him. I heard Maci before I saw her, as her howls of protest that mom would not let her pummel me resonated above the crowd. When I spotted mom, I couldn't help but notice my pup. When she wags her tail, her entire body wiggles. I can't help but smile at her enthusiasm, wishing I could have shared my race experience with her, too. 

Dad crossed the finish line in just a couple minutes after me. He guzzled the Coke I put into his hands and chomped on the pretzels I offered. We quickly made our way down to the shore, changed into our bathing suits, and waded out into the water. We quickly wished we'd brought our wetsuits, too. Despite the brisk water temperatures, I relished the fact that I'd finally made it out to Priest Lake after a long, busy summer of training and racing. 

Congratulations to other Tri-Fusion teammates who raced: Matt Beard and Emily Williams, Merissa Duncan, and Matt Siegel (who, after he finished running the marathon, proposed to his now-fiancé, Ashley Earls.)

Enjoying ourselves after the race...the right way.