Saturday, August 29, 2015

Throwin' on the Spikes: Friday Night Lights XC Open

"Every race has a moment that sticks." -Lauren Fleshman

It's that time of year again. The weather is (slowly) changing, school has started for the area students and last night The Woodlands hosted their annual Friday Night Lights Cross Country Races. Given I do a lot of work in track and cross and the event is practically on my way home from the office, I have attended regularly over the past few seasons. After having to scratch last year due to injury (shocking, I know...), I was able to throw on the Oiselle singlet and a pair of Saucony spikes and try my hand at something so familiar yet so new for me and I may be working on a new favorite surface to race on!

While it was just a fun community race put on to fundraise for the local HS girl's team, I took quite a bit away from this very fun experience.
Luke's Locker's Giant Finish chute: a welcoming sight
in the Texas Summer Heat!

What I loved was that race day was such an ordinary experience; I saw some clients in the morning, did my usual notes and paperwork in the afternoon, and even got in a power nap before leaving for Bear Branch Park for the evening race-yes, I finally summoned the ability to take a pre-race nap and it was fabulous! After a very positive phone call with Coach Doug the night before my mind was gravitating towards a positive place where it hasn't been consistently in quite some time. I simply planned on going out, having a good time, pushing myself and letting my legs just turn over. The rest will unfold as it will. I had a time goal range, mostly because it was 95 or so outside and fixating on numbers is almost useless in a situation like this.

I only started to get jittery after I switched to the spikes (my first time in my adult life to use them) and we started to line up. There was a nice mix of ages and abilities up there with youngsters decked out in kid xc shoes and singlets, members of local racing teams to masters runners. The gun went fired and off everyone went in the typical fury to get in position. I started faster than I usually do, but since it was just a 3200, I could hang on if I needed to.

The first mile came up quick and the pack started to become less chaotic and I had more running room. I was loving the quick feel of the xc shoes and bounding up and down the inclines (just to be clear, there were no hills in sight!) and there was virtually nothing in my brain for some of that stretch in third female position. Then I came up on the two girls ahead of me-and I will add they were considerably younger than the overdressed sharply dressed,  old experienced girl bearing down on them.

Even though lactate bomb was slowly ticking down, this is where the 'moment stuck': I could take the lead, so I surged a little and made two quick passes. Of course this is part of tactical racing, but after seasons of racing decent, but not to my potential and considerable confidence loss- as soon as I had no other chicks in front of me my mind went from basically empty to all kinds of positive and I felt strong and just made sure I held off the others through the finish. ~I didn't have to be so cautious and deferential in races anymore~not that I ever really needed to be in the first place.

The last half mile I was feeling the temps and the work, but I wasn't going to let my mind talk me out of easing up this time. I found the energy to kick hard at the end and kept my lead snagging First OA Female in a sprint finish. Once the wooziness went away, I walked around pleased not as much with where I placed, but how I pressed and raced differently that I have in the past-more focused, more enjoyment, and more confidence. The new surface and format vs. the roads and triathlons seemed a refreshing change, even  after just one event, I'm now shopping other open Cross Country races to participate in-this stuff is no longer just for the kids and college students and these races are starting to pop up more. It's fun and freeing to run in the woods and on the dirt!
Get your game face on, people!
Photo by Jon Walk.

After just a summer of mostly base, the time wasn't crazy blazin' but I am only going to get faster from here and I could feel the strength I was building in the hot months. What was awesome about racing in Bear Branch Park, where I train several times per week, was the energy and hearing people cheer for me that I knew-whoever you were, you guys were really helpful when it was starting to hurt!

While I have mentioned this in previous posts, I have been working on my mental game a lot more than seasons past-emphasizing enjoyment of what I am doing and focusing highly on good experiences and thoughts vs. the static that overstimulates. If it works for my clients, why not consistently do it myself! I think with my head in the right places, I can only get faster from here. Here's to new races and more fun!

Anyone else try a new type of race lately?

Stay the course.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Grown Women go to Camp: Oiselle Style!

After returning from Seattle/Leavenworth, WA on Tuesday night, I am finally getting my thoughts and time together to write up one of the better experiences of my 'run career' to date. Many other Oiselle teammates have posted some really great reaps, and here be my version of a week not to be forgotten anytime soon:

I have raced for various brands over the years, but never got the chance to spend extended time learning how things really work or training with them. While I have always appreciated the sponsorship and support of various levels, I never truly felt like I was really a 'part' of something when running for other companies. That all changed when Oiselle decided to take me on last year.

Flash forward and I am in my second week of serving as a Team Leader for the Texas Volee squad and every day I am practically interacting with teammates; many of who I spent time with last week at Oiselle's second annual Bird Camp. Yep, #birdcamp: a running camp for grown women-
Awesome women. Inspiring women. Speedy women. Women of all different backgrounds and levels, from professional to those like myself who are professional in something other than running. Oh, and Sally Bergesen, the creator and CEO of Oiselle was there and seemed to very much just be "one of the girls".

Even though I am long since graduated from school, this was my first in-depth sport camp experience-and what an experience it was. I could go on forever about my reflections and things we did at the amazing Sleeping Lady Mountain Resort in Leavenworth, WA (if you ever get the chance to go-do it!), but I'll spare everyone and just give some of the many highlights of the trip.

  • Oiselle Headquarters, aka "The Nest"- Seeing where it all happens and where our uniforms and clothes are designed was really cool, just like the people working in Seattle's open-concept office. My favorite part was all the pics and race bibs on the wall featuring Oiselle athletes doing great things in track and road running. Before leaving for Leavenworth, we toured the nest and went for a group run around nearby Green Lake. While swapping stories with new Oiselle gal and speedster Sydney Marshall I never noticed we were rocking along at a low 7-minute pace...something that would be a difficult feat for me in the SE Texas summer temps but very comfortable in Seattle. Maybe I'm in better shape than I thought!! 
  • Unknowingly passing a bear during a cross-country style team 5k. I somehow missed my time because I chose the 'predictor' option and ran without a watch, At first I wanted to know how I did for reference, but chose to just let it go because I simply wanted to just get an honest effort out of myself  see some mental toughness out there that I have been lacking in the past year.
    No wildlife in sight! 
  • A "Career-Defining" moment. Or something close, anyhow. Dr. Sarah Lesko, the brains of the camp graciously allowed me to do one of the workshop activities with the girls on goal-setting, mental side of running stuff. Cool, right?! Try doing a workshop on goal setting with Lauren Fleshman! Yep, I was on stage talking about one of my favorite things with one of my favorite runners! In attempt to keep it real, I figured that I should just let it out before getting in to the material stating "I'm working with Lauren Fleshman-this is crazy!" and after that I feel I gave one of the best talks to date and really enjoyed having LF on stage with me giving her insight and experience. She really is a cool chick! I hope  those who attended the talk enjoyed it half as much as I did. It's not everyday I get to talk about two of my biggest passions, running and sport psyc, in such a synergistic environment. 
    Talking about goals with one of my heroes. Thanks LF! 
  • Hiking up to Lake Colchuk. The two hours or so it took to get up the mountain was totally worth the view for our lunch spot. I could have stayed up there and stared at the scenery for hours. Being from Texas, I have never seen an Alpine lake. Simply Amazing. I had the opportunity to traverse among a number of different ladies, and enjoyed some fun conversations going back up and down to the trailhead. I also learned that chipmunks will leave you alone while eating on the trail if you give them jalapeno chips! 
    Serenity at over 5000 ft! 
  • Lastly, it is a rare feat to get over 100 women together for multiple days on end and it produces positive results, but this was different than any retreat/camp/function I've been to where the energy seemed totally positive. Never once did I hear one negative thing about another person. Not once. I'll admit to feeling a little guarded at the beginning, and being the type who needs time to warm up in crowds (unless I'm speaking to one, apparently!), but each teammate I met and spent any amount of time with I learned a little from each of them.
What resonates most about this experience is how the company's mission and values, astutely written in their manifesto or "Flight Manual"-grow the sisterhood of running, be fans of one another, set goals, and believe in yourself and believe in others-was on full display. It was really neat to see the mix of professional, amateur, and business exec mesh together almost seamlessly.

In sharing our stories with one another-something that takes some risk I might add-myself and I'm sure others walked away feeling stronger and more supported in the pursuit of our goals. After talking with a number of women, I realized that I have not been giving myself full permission to chase after mine; something I ironically discussed during the group session previously. It takes courage to be vulnerable, to get out of your comfort zone, to experience new things. I think this is why even in adulthood grown women take some time to get back to the basics through doing something they love with others. Give it a chance, the results may just surprise you.

From here, my role is to help organize and facilitate Volee team activity in the Houston region, keeping the story and the comraderie going. What good is it to keep everything from one gathering on the inside and not continue it?

Enjoy the view, enjoy the ride.

We were treated exceptionally well during our stay at Sleeping Lady and several Thank You's are due:

For the swag, expertise, or just making this thing happen:

Dr. Sarah Lesko
Sally Bergesen, CEO
Kristin Metcalf
J.J.,Sydney Marshall, Heather "Feather" Stevens and everyone else at The Nest
Lauren Fleshman
The Hutchinson Family 

Stance Socks
Picky Bars 
Hoka One One
Wild Friends

Saturday, August 1, 2015

The 'Mental Threshold': A Personal Case Study

Long-time readers know I like to use myself as an ongoing case study of sorts and I was inspired to share a workout that unexpectedly became another self-run experiment. So here's the most current thesis. Hope you enjoy....

Yesterday I deliberately got out of my comfort zone. My usual Friday workout consists of a moderately paced negative split run or just an easy 5 to set me up for the next day's long run, however, I tagged along with Team Green Running's competitive group for a set of hill repeats on a local disc golf course. I wanted to see how things are done a little better since I recently started supporting this talented team and practice what I preach some by pushing through challenging things. 

Let's just say my mission was satisfied fully on both accounts! With Coach Doug's blessing and some knowledge of the loops that include multiple, relatively short hill climbs I really didn't know what to expect just jumping in on a team's sesh-how long/far, fast, etc. A little uncertainty is good sometimes, and I had a nice little wake-up call ahead. 

The workout started out simple enough with a 30-minute aerobic run before hitting the grass hill course. I had done an additional mile prior to the group arriving so I was very nicely warmed up on a SE Texas summer morning. The hill assignment was four loops around the park, each measuring around a half mile or so. I love running on grass, and I historically have been okay with hills, but I knew that that day was going to be a challenge for me as hill running has not been a regular part of the repertoire, with the exception of my week in Colorado. 

The day before, I did two separate talks with TGR's Youth Cross Country Camp on the importance of positive thinking and learning to better handle difficult tasks. As I punched my Timex to begin the hills, I very quickly became my own case study in this concept. It was about halfway through this workout where I had a little moment of clarity on what it takes to mentally succeed in the most difficult of tasks and conditions; in this case a shock to the system training-wise. 

On the first loop when things got difficult very quickly and I was surprised with how tough the workout really was, I not only hit my anaerobic threshold, but also my 'mental threshold'. Never hears of such a term? Probably because I just came up with it. (A Master's level education at it's finest here, folks!) At least I don't think too many people call it that. But as runners, this is potentially an applicable way to better understand and apply the "get comfortable being uncomfortable" and "pain is weakness leaving your body" type of mentality. Yeah, these statements make you sound tough and may pump you up a little, but they need some backing to actually be effective. 

Just like we adapt to aerobic training and it becomes routine and rhythmic, training that is more intense that uses another system and at a given pace for an individual it is not longer comfortable, and the runner must train at a pace that they find unsavory at first in order to adapt and become more proficient at it. The 'mental threshold' is that moment where the discomfort registers and the athlete has to decide what it means. Basically, you have two choices when this happens: spaz out and likely continue spiraling, or accept what is happening and focus on giving your best. One truth of this is that it is not pleasant at first, and you have to recognize what is happening and "accept the changes" that are happening if you want to improve. We don't get better if we don't work on extending the mind's threshold over time. 

I think this can also be applied mentally to running. As I mentioned earlier, halfway on the first loop I got hit hard with a release of negative thoughts and emotions when I didn't feel any pop in my legs and breathing could have been easier if done through a soda straw: "I'm outta my league", "Don't embarrass yourself", "You're not that good", and "maybe I can't handle the heat today"....and so on. Since my heart rate rose very quickly, I almost felt a vague sense of panic and my shoulders and neck tensed up. I had reached my current mental threshold for the workout. So....what now? Better change the mindset quick.

 ....So the workout turned into a craptastic disaster? No, not really. I never physically got comfortable (not the purpose anyhow), but the biggest win of the day was noticing what was happening and not going down the rabbit hole of taking harder-than-expected runs personally. In order to "accept input and changes" (i.e. train a different energy system) I simply noticed that the way I was thinking was not going to help me improve, so I told myself to give this a chance and take it one piece at a time. "See...not so bad!", "Look, the downhills are there to recover on", "Use shorter steps, work that form".... By the second time around, I actually did feel a little better because I was able to relax and not make the experience any harder than it already was. An 'oh crap' moment turned into a "let's get tough" moment simply by recognizing an unhelpful mindset and changing to something more productive. I'll be honest though, it still hurt, but one of those hurts where you have to smile afterward regardless of how tired and thirsty you are. It's likely next time, after learning how to run something like that, the mental threshold will raised. 

The bottom line/take home message is this: pay attention to what you think about and how that makes you feel while running. Are you stressing out? Getting frustrated? Doubting yourself? Good. You've hit threshold. Then, recognize what may be happening and understand it's part of getting faster. then begin training it. Hold the pace a little longer. Make it a challenge instead of a threat. Dare yourself to get stronger. Talk to yourself positively. Kick the unnecessary negative thoughts out. Soon enough, those things that you thought were ridiculous before become doable. The mind can do some pretty incredible things if you let it.  *that being said, pay attention to if you're doing something actually harmful or way out of your current fitness range. 

They say running ain't easy, and they're right. But we don't have to make it any harder if we don't have to. Hope you've enjoyed my very non-academic discourse of a self-labeled thing. Now get out there!

Stay the course-but put some hills in it every now and then.