Tuesday, December 15, 2015

CIM OTQ: The Long Story

Gather round, it's my very first true race recap. A rambling tale of PowerGels and foot cramps and spoiler alert: ultimately crushing a life goal. 

I signed up for CIM 8 weeks before because I saw a glimmer of "why not me?' in a half marathon. I trained as hard as I could with a coach who apparently also believes in the rainbow connection. I was where I was. And if you'd asked me last Saturday night, "Can you do it?" I would have answered, "No." But if you'd asked, "Will you do it?" I would have said "Yes."

Unlike any race in the past I had this calm as the race got closer. Not because it didn't matter and not because I wasn't nervous. And not because I knew I would do it. I just felt life on either side of the day was so big. I had this room to play. I would give the race everything I had on the day and what ever shook out the other side would be. The older I get (and no I'm not some old sage yet) the more racing is (painful) playground. Outcomes don't define my worth. 

And of course Lauren Fleshman said it best: 
"Make the race your playground, not your proving ground."

This doesn't mean you don't get competitive or dig down into the pain, push through the pain because of goals you've set. It doesn't mean the goal isn't allowed to mean everything during the race. Because play can be serious. And serious can be fun! 

There were times during the last 3 weeks I questioned my sanity. I was really going to leave PJ for an entire precious weekend (working moms can I get an amen?) to run a marathon? Taper is always a mind trip, my legs felt heavy and can barely hit 6:19s for 4 mile tempos. I spent time trying to drown out the voice that kept asking who did I think I was? How did I think I would hit 6:12s for 26.2 miles?

But as the race weekend closed in I reminded myself to enjoy it. No regrets. No beating myself up over leaving my PJ behind. Or wondering if it was 'worth it.' Or sulking or feeling selfish. Just get there and enjoy the time with my dad, Lesko, Steph and my teammates. Enjoy the weird pre-race rituals and soak in the experience of being 'Elite B' squad. Then wake up on Sunday and run the very biggest, best race possible! In this dark world, what a simple bright privilege to have a whole weekend dedicated to running. 
bye to my crew before flying out

So I did! I flew solo for the first time in over 15 months. Reading on a flight? Actually being able to order coffee without the fear of it ending up all over me and my flailing kid? Not hauling a baby, bags and a giant carseat through security. I never appreciated things like that appropriately. The flight was a spa experience. 

We descended over pancake flat fields. I mean obviously I'd flown here for the fast course, but as I inspected the landscape from the sky I only saw one hill. I couldn't believe how flat it was. It was the first time I got the race day tingles in my legs. I thought this could be it. 

I shared a suite with Lesko and my dad. We were a funny little team. My dad had work off and on, meeting with clients. I rolled solo to grab my number on Friday in the elite room and filled out a W9 at their offer. Just in case I made the bonus for running B standard. I'm superstitious but felt like hopefully this wasn't in error with the universe for counting chickens before they hatch. Just in case. Just in case. 

The elite everything was so organized and well done. Big props to Danielle! This Elite B felt the love. 

Friday night I had dinner with my coach, Steph. My dad joined after meetings. It was fun to talk shop and actually be face to face with the person who brought me to this starting line. Steph is just a spark. I know this year has been hard for her but she's got her smile. She's the most positive human and not in some annoying Polyanna way. In a real way that's rare. Just like her steak, which she left when she had to get back to Hudson. I don't believe in wasting good food so I ended up eating nearly two full steaks. All about that fuel.

Saturday AM we did a shake out and some strides. Shakeouts should always be done with company so you stay out of your head. Because it never feels good and there should be no headspace for how will I run x:xx tomorrow for 26.2 miles?!?! Magic is how. 

Afterwards I hit the craft store and got decorations for my bottles. The Elite B squad would share one folding table for bottles. Over 60 bottles on one folding table. Gulp. I Googled 'how to decorate elite bottles' and copied Amy Hastings. All I can say is I owned bottles in the Elite B group.

shake ya water bottle feather

I made gluten free pasta and meat sauce at the hotel. Started overnight oats for the next morning and laid everything out. I ate some sweet potato and Cheerios and got in bed early. Lesko came in (yes, we were sharing a bed) and had the funniest stories from her day. We stayed up until 9 or 10 talking and laughing. I went to sleep pretty quickly and woke up in typical race night sweats at 3:45AM. Showered quickly (because: night sweats) and put on my kit!

The bus waiting area was crazy, but I remember in the elite meeting (where by the way I MET JENNY SIMPSON - random story) they were like 'get on the first bus round' so I made it happen and pulled Trisha (Oiselle teammate) with me. We chatted all the way to the drop off and then get into the elite tent village. The morning was perfect, already 48, and the tents were heated. Did some rope stretching, jogged around, and lined up. 

It was the most packed start I've ever been on. My arms were pinned to my sides. The Olympic Standard is gun time, not chip, so we all wanted to start up front. And there were A LOT of women going for it. I was maybe 6 rows deep. But only took a few seconds to get over the start line. 

photo credit: shal's facebook friend. Shal is in pink.  

Most of the race was like running in an elevator. Or a crowded 5k. My elbows were always in the wrong place and feet kept nipping each other. I'm a lot taller than most women marathoners and it was hard to find a nook to actually be able to stride out. It was like running in a pack of horses. Just the sounds of feet on the pavement, galloping. 

Somehow in the midst of this circus I actually grabbed my 3.3 mile bottle! But trying to get back out of the water way before the normal tables was crazy. Nearly trampled! I took a sip and part of the gel I'd taped. Tossed them. I hit the next table I think, but missed one between 7 and 13. Luckily if people had somehow grabbed theirs at any given stop they take it down and then yell out if anyone needed a sip. It seemed like it was always Gatorade. And I kept missing my water ones, but hitting my Gatorade ones, and I don't practice with Gatorade. So I took very small sips. 

When I missed my next bottle (10? 13?), was caught in a flail and tried to go back. I knew I needed it. Luckily Trisha yelled stop! I got mine!! So we shared her bottle. And finally it was water. We passed it back and forth until it was gone. I took a gel.

just missed another stop, trying not to panic. Trisha meanwhile is crushing the water stop, far left.

Nutrition over all was decent. I had dark times between 7 and 12 missing my bottles in the crowd, but once the carbs and water hit my legs and brain when I shared Trisha's bottle things got better. Things had thinned by 17 and I got another one. I took down a total of just under 3 gels and hit 3 or 4 water stops, plus got a sip of Gatorade. It could have been better, but it worked. After mile 21 or so I didn't take anything else. I couldn't physically or mentally run and fuel. I just had to run. 

I don't know how anyone recaps a marathon mile by mile. It was a blur. I saw my dad and Lesko and Steph so many times. I don't know where. I know around mile 12 Lesko told me Kara had won San Antonio Rock N Roll and that put a pep in my step. Steph was always calming and made me smile. And I think at mile 18 when I was massaging my crappy side stab my dad saw me because when I caught up on the family text they all thought it might be over for me. Molly was everywhere and any time I was half a step off the pack she'd yell GET ON THE PACK MAC! That was essential.

After mile 18 things were really thinned out. And I was on pace. I thought, wow if anything this is the fastest I've ever run 18 miles! Mile 22 things were real lonely and hard, and I'd broken from the pace group. I was nervous they weren't banking us enough time. And by the end it was me and one neon singlet dude. I sat behind him I thought, but photos show otherwise. It was all black, I was in the pain cave.

I played mind games with traffic lights and trees, just run this pace to that light, just run this pace to that tree, just run this pace to that drugstore, to that corner, to that crack in the sidewalk. Everything was shutting down. Shal (who I was with through at least 18 or 22) was floating away further and further. I thought just keep her in view. She'll run 2:41 something. Just keep her in view. 

The last mile my feet were cramping, my legs were cramping, I pushed up to the edge but held back terrified of being that person you see crawling just feet from the line. Missing it by 5 second because of cramping. I knew there were two lefts at the end. I started to think the two lefts were NEVER GOING TO BE THERE. 

Left, left. I never wanted to see runners ahead turn so much, where is this left?! Finally I'm going left, I think in my pain cave. Then left again and the clock! It's there! I can see red, but not numbers. It's 2:42 something. Holy nuggets!!! RUN!! Then I see the time just steps before and I know I'm in. And I can't play it cool I just feel something in my chest open and I'm yelling! Then I'm over the line and they put an American flag on my shoulders and I see Lesko and I lose it. I cried like I might never stop. 

photo credit: sean dulancy
 We are screaming and crying and shaking each other over the fence. I can see it clearly, it feels like I imagined all those years on a lonely run. When I'd escape into finish line fantasy. You know when you're running on some road shoulder and you're vividly imagining what it would feel like to run down that last 100m and crush it. To have a flag around your shoulders and hugging your best friends and your dad and your coach. 
photo cred: sean dulancy

I looked up and there were cameras, and Lyndy! Who just made it too. And we were screaming again! WE ARE GOING TO THE OLYMPIC TRIALS!!! It was a spectacle! 

Steph appeared and we hugged and sobbed. The past year had been pressing down on our shoulders, but it was lifted for a minute. We pushed it back and believed in something together despite odds. It felt so big to have a "win."

A news channel interviewed me and I couldn't stop crying. I left a message for Owen. "Owen I have imagined leaving you this message a million times, but I can't believe I'm leaving it. I'm going to run the Olympic Trials!!"

Three other Oiselle teammates made it that day! And then four days later, Trisha made it too when the standard changed to 2:45. She'd run the standard 2 years earlier! Hoping her achilles recovers for LA. Running with Shal, Lyndy and Trisha for so long was a huge help. I couldn't believe I could hang with Shal. And Lyndy is tougher than anyone. She just ran Chicago and came back to get the standard weeks later. Crazy. Cynthia took it out and ran a huge race. BTW she has three kiddos!

I couldn't find my dad. I'm called to  the podium with 12 other women, in American flags. I found my phone and my family is texting like crazy. My dad texts "Is everyone else crying?!?" I text my dad. We meet up and hug and cry. This goal was for my family too. My mom and my dad gave up racing at the level they could when they had me, neither ran the Trials though my dad had run the standard. And my mom had me before there was an Olympic Marathon for women. I wanted that name MacKay on the Olympic Trials list. And now it is! (I changed my middle name to MacKay, I just couldn't part with it.)

I took a week off, and tonight did a four mile shakeout. I felt good, but my calves are bricks. We'll need to tread lightly (pun intended). My goal is to recover while training and show up healthy and strong. And leave a little room for magic of course. 

The Olympic Trials Marathon is on February 13th in LA. There are 17! Oiselle women on that starting line, including one Kara Goucher. I'd be lying if a big part of my goal wasn't to line up in the same kit as Kara in LA. There's not a lot of life chances like that. And I've got that tingly feeling about her race.

This blog only took me four x as long to write as training for the marathon. But if I'm gonna go all long story on a blog entry, this had to be the one. That one magic marathon I've dreamed of.

Thanks for reading and for cheering. I could feel the energy absolutely. I was completely floored by people's support and excitement. Overwhelmed doesn't begin to describe it. And all the Oiselle on the course cheering, just wow!

I keep seeing the questions about 'how I did it'... hire Steph and Ben Bruce. Really all I can say. Work smart, and believe in magic

Saturday, December 5, 2015

California Internation Marathon - What I'm Carrying

Tomorrow at 7am the gun will go off in Folsom. I’ll take the first step of many on the way to Sacramento. Steps to the calculated beat of 6:12 pace. Race plan? Go out on the pace, hold on.

Larger race place? My biggest life goal is always be learning. I’m surrounded by teachers. These are some of the lessons I’ll pull from to finish of this leg of my journey.


Back in the day, Erin lead yoga once a month in our office. We’d all struggle to touch our toes or “put what where”? She’d talk us through breathing in and out, and tell us to invite ease into the pose. How could we put out less effort and reach the same result? How could we stop fighting our own bodies?

When I’m losing grasp of a workout or pace, I tell myself to invite ease. I do a body scan to find little adjustments can I make to stay on pace without pushing harder. Change the breathing, drop the elbows, soften my focus ahead. 

Lauren Fleshman

Lauren Fleshman is a huge sister hero of mine. I remember meeting her and Steph Rothstein (now Bruce) the first time. I sweat through a Oiselle 50/50 tee just trying to introduce myself.

In 2012 I sat in the stands at Hayward at the Olympic Trials while hundreds of people made a c with their hands, held high in the air. A c for courage as Lauren walked onto the track to race the 5k prelim. She’d been injured and unable to string more than something like 200m sprints together leading up to this race. Courage is an understatement.

She made it out of the prelim and it was overwhelming, chills and tears. To watch someone go out and run with open heart courage like that. To watch her make the next round and the shock on her face, it cracked open what was possible. Not only for her, but for believers in big scary things.

I’ll make a little curve in my hand when I need to remember to have courage. Because courage has lead me to the start and it can bring me to the finish.

Kara Goucher

The first time I met Kara we sat next to each other at a Oiselle dinner when we were ‘woo-ing’ her to be on our team. It was surreal. I couldn’t really talk. And yes, there was more sweating. I listened to her talk about running, and she was like “I’ll literally never retire. I love this sport so much. Maybe when marathons are over I’ll do trail ultras or something, but I’ll never stop. I’ll be that old runner that just won’t stop because I love it.” Paraphrasing of course, but not by much, this conversation is burned in my memory.

I always hoped the pros were running for love, pure love. But to hear this icon talk about being completely and totally in love with running… after so many years and injuries and ups and downs. Damn.

I run for the love of it. I mean, that’s more of a no-brainer for me, because no one is paying me to run or even cares if I do or not. It’s all inside me, the goals and the whys. At the core it’s because I love running and racing.

As the marathon gets closer, and my nerves grow, I’m reminding myself to replace fear with love. Running full of fear is losing, running full of love is winning. No matter where the cards fall.

Sally Bergesen

Fun and ambition aren’t mutually exclusive. Power and silliness can live together. Laughing is life…laughing at yourself included. I don’t laugh as hard with many people as I do with Sally B. Like ugly tear rolling laughing.

Exhibit A: Eugene Marathon she put Bananas as her bib name so people would yell, “Go Bananas”. Her race didn’t go as planned and the only person who finally yelled Bananas didn’t so much say that as “Aww c’mon Bananas, you can do it.”

I’ll remind myself to have fun and not take myself too seriously, it’s just a marathon.

Lauren Fleshman
This whole blog could have been everything I needed to know about running, racing, life, motherhood, music… I learned from Lauren effing Fleshman. But that might need to be a book…

When Lauren ran NYCM, again holy courage, she talked about how she deals with nerves or other obstacles. She says to them, “Hello nerves, I'm glad you're here. You're supposed to be here. You can go now." 

There are obstacles I know of beyond nerves (pain from previously broken back, twisted tibia and lazy flip leg, stabby side stitch) and ones I’ve yet to meet. I’ll welcome them and dismiss them kindly. Nobody is invited to stay at my mental party except love and courage and Macklemore.

Andrea Duke

Andrea Duke’s is a story with layers. At the surface I saw a runner, talent, the build, the time (2:41) and all the victory. She was constantly shining. And I assumed the shit you assume when you see that. She’s happy because of success. As if her joy is tethered to victory.

But then I saw Andrea race Boston on a miserable NE day. Her race lost the wheels in the cold, nasty rain. But after there was no sulking. There was only silver linings. There was only joy.

Because the celebration isn’t the win, it’s the journey. And the journey isn’t always perfect. But it’s always worth taking and toasting.

Erin, Jasyoga
The mantra I use when I race is from Erin. Breathe in: “I am”. Breatheout: “Here now”.

But because the race is long, other things I’ve lodged in my head to use as needed:

Invite ease.
Calm down.
I’m headed downtown, cruising through the alley, tiptoeing through the streets like ballet…
All you need is love, love is all you need. 
Wiggle your big toe.
Breathe behind your organs. (massage therapist advice, weird and works)
Don’t poop your pants. Don’t poop your pants.

Steph Bruce

Steph Bruce is my coach and the reason I’m lining up on Sunday. She took a shell shocked, sleepless, sad mama and said why not? Let’s take one step and another. I followed her like a runt puppy, but slowly I started feeling stronger mentally and physically.

There were lows still but I didn’t drown in them. My life raft was the next days’ workout, numbers and letters in a Google Sheets cell. They kept my head above water another day.

I wasn’t running 15 miles a week a year ago and now I’m going to race a marathon, I didn’t dream that was possible. Not even 10 weeks ago did I dare to dream this. But each day I just believed in the day and in my coach and the rest unfolded.

As the miles unfold on Sunday, I won’t stop believing. I’ll hold on to that feeling. Streetlights, people!