Thursday, March 21, 2019

RACE REVIEW:NEW BEDFORD 13.1

Love hurts and the sting of a rough race had a bad taste in my mouth...I started this week ready to tackle the next dream and leave the “failure” behind. Because I get to write my story, and my heart knows great things lie ahead.  So I put my head down and get to work! 
~ Becki Spellman


This past Sunday I ran the New Bedford half marathon.  I kind of hate this race, primarily because it's always, without fail, brutally windy for the second half.  It's also a tough course with some big hills in the beginning and at the end.  When you add those two factors together, well, it kind of speaks for itself.  And yet, I do it often.  Because it's relatively close by.  Because it's perfect timing for a spring tuneup.  And because I'm a little crazy and I like to go back each year to see if I can best my time from the year before.  Plus, this year, for the first time, I was running as a member of the Whirlaway Team, a local running club that I joined up with last month, and we'd be going for the Women's Masters team win.  So, that was kind of cool and different and a new reason to go back to the beast.  So, it's more of a love/hate I suppose, love being a relative term.  The night before the race my 12 year old was having a sleepover.  Fine, no big deal.  But, oddly, I broke from routine, mainly because I was distracted by the girls.  I didn't lay out my outfit & gear as I usually do, so I don't have my standard 'Flat Trax' photo.  I went to bed at a decent hour but got woken up by laughter around 10:30pm and had to get up and tell Grace and her friend to zip it.


Whatever.  I did have the above poem waiting for me on my computer when I got up the next morning which totally melted my heart and resulted in instant forgiveness.  Damn, she's good.  The Friday before I'd chatted with my coach about pacing for this one, my second race of the season.  He suggested I aim for 6:30-6:40 and to go for the PR (sub 1:26) because, why not?  Of course, I was game.  But, I also wasn't fooling myself and if it was going to be windy as usual, the PR would likely not be in the cards.  So the 'A' goal was to run a personal best.  My 'B' goal was to run a better time than last year (sub 1:29).  And my 'C' goal was simply to run hard, try and have a good time and place well for the Whirlaway Masters women.


When I woke up around 6:30 on Sunday the temp was in the 30s.  Not great, not bad.  I made coffee but did not go out out to the porch for my usual pre-race chill session with Clover as it was way too cold.  The dogs, however, sat out there and enjoyed the sun, which we were all happy to see.  I got myself organized, (not gonna lie, wish I'd done more the night before, but oh well) and left the house around 8:15.  The race didn't start until 11, but the Whirlaway team always meets in the same lot beforehand and I was told that if I didn't arrive at least 90 minutes ahead of time that there wouldn't be any spots left.  Well, I sure as hell wasn't going to be the new team member who showed up late and couldn't find a spot or anyone on the team for that matter.  No need to make things more awkward for the new kid than they already were.  It was a beautiful morning and I was cautiously optimistic about the weather despite the cold.  About 30 minutes into my drive I began debating getting off and grabbing a second cup of coffee.  I mean the effects of my first cup were long gone at this point.  But, then, I never have 2 pre-race cups, primarily because races don't tend to start this late in the morning, so I worried that I'd mess up my stomach or get a cramp and decided it wasn't worth trying something new.  It was a really tough decision as I really wanted it, these being the things runners debate on a regular basis.  I got to the parking lot easily, found Dave, the team's manager and met a few other people before making my way over to the YMCA to grab my number and shirt.  Right on cue, the wind picked up and started whipping in all directions as we walked.  So much for my cautious optimism.  We gathered as a team inside the 'Y' and I met and chatted with some more people but then started to get anxious because I needed a warmup so I broke from the group and walked back to the car.  When I got there I saw Kassandra Marin, who was there with her Mom.  Fun fact, Kasey finished right before me at the Baystate Marathon and congratulated me as I slobbered in my tears of joy.  She also recently joined the Whirlaway crew.  Small world.  There were a lot of team members mulling around but I didn't know anyone very well so I just took off for my warmup on my own.  When I got back I had just enough time to ditch some layers and then to find a spot on the line with the other 2000+ runners.  We were crammed in pretty tight together, the upside being that I was no longer cold.  I ended up finding my friend and Oiselle teammate, Leah O, and we chatted a bit and traded goals as we waited, which was a great way to ease the tension.  After the National Anthem we wished each other well and we were off.  Again, I broke tradition with no pre-race photo, mainly because I didn't want to get my phone out.  Sort of a bummer that I didn't grab one with Leah, but it wasn't worth the stress.  



THE RACE
Miles 1-4 (6:33, 6:44, 6:54, 6:54)
You can see the cluster***k that we were dealing with in the above photo.  I didn't cross the line until about 30 seconds after the start.  Then I had to bob and weave for a while before things finally started to space out.  It took a little more time than usual for me to get into a groove, but I started to feel settled by the second mile.  And then we had some climbing to do.  There were some solid hills at miles 3 and 4 and I didn't want to use too much energy on them and then have nothing left to fight the wind so I was pretty reserved.  In the end, too reserved, but we'll get to that later.  


Mile 5-8 (6:30, 6:36, 6:32, 6:38)
For miles 5-8 I was in cruise control.  In my mind I was breaking the race up into sections of 4 miles so this was part 2.  I have been doing a lot of interval work in the 6:30-6:35 pace range and I felt like my body was recognizing this pace and comfortable working in it.  I was psyched.  I was also really happy that the wind hadn't been a big factor yet as this was not the case the year before.  My mantra here was glide and fly, which I'd pulled from Grace's poem.  Looking back on the race, it's here that I could have turned it on a little and gotten a bit gutsier with a faster pace.  I realize now that I was too comfortable and could have given more.  Second lesson of the day.


Miles 9-12 (6:47, 6:38. 6:58, 6:52)
Honestly, I'm not really sure what happened at mile 9.  I think I just zoned out a little and as a result I fell off pace.  For no good reason.  I wasn't struggling and the wind was still at bay.  One of the things I need to work on in my racing is being more present and in the moment while I'm out on the course.  This is why.  It happens at least once during every race.  It's not a huge deal during the marathon when there is more time on the road, but for shorter stuff it messes up my overall time, so, again, it's something to work on.  Lesson number 3.  As expected, the wind was now in full force.  I knew it was coming, but you always forget how much it works against you until you're back in it.  The woman in the pink pants above kept me going.  I just tried to hunker down, keep her in focus and power through.


Mile 12 is uphill.  All of it.  With the wind blowing in your face, it's brutal.  Dave was standing at the top and told me to 'go get it', so I found a new gear and pushed through the final stretch.  I finished in 1:27:57.  It's an okay time for me.  Not great.  I wanted the PR.  I didn't get it.  But, I did set a personal record on the New Bedford course, which was very satisfying.  When I crossed the line I was...well, I was tired, but also kind of okay.  Pretty soon after the finish, I began to wonder if I'd given it everything I could have.  Later, after some analysis, I realized the answer was a definite 'no'.  Honestly, I think I was too cautious, particularly on the hills and in the middle of the race.  I knew it because I felt too good once the dust settled, something that never happens.  And because of that, I was a little annoyed with myself.  Ok, a lot annoyed.  It didn't help that I got back to the parking lot and starting comparing my time to those of my teammates, many of whom had done incredibly well, running much faster than me.  Such a thief, comparison is.  I cooled down with a few teammates and then broke off to get myself a coffee which I enjoyed while we all chatted and hung out before we said our goodbyes.  Overall, an okay day.  I hit my 'B' goal with the New Bedford personal best.  I also hit my "C" goal as I managed to have fun and work hard for the team.  But, I know I have a lot more in me.  My coach, who I spoke with later in the day via text, confirmed this based solely on my workouts over the past few months.  Yes, I might need better conditions and perhaps a less challenging course for the PR.  But, really, I need to get my head in the game and find the courage to take some risks.  My window of time to run at this level is getting smaller each year.  If I'm going to do it, I have to do it now.  When all was said and done, I decided I didn't want to end my day with negative thoughts and energy.  I'd worked hard and I owed it to myself to focus on the positive.  Just before I shut down my phone I sent the below note to my coach.  

The last thing I'll say is that I had more confidence in my strength today.  It didn't show in my time.  But I felt a flow that I didn't have down in Jax (my last race).  And I ran a better time in a much tougher situation - both weather and course.  So, I'll check that off as today's progress.  And start back up again tomorrow.

Tomorrow is now.  This race is history.  I'm back at it.  Focused on the next one.  And fired up.  Stay tuned.

Listen to this:
Grit Your Teeth - Martin Luke Brown

Thursday, March 14, 2019

DO IT NOW


This post is a bit different.  Not much to do with running or music.  But it's a story that I feel is worth sharing.  Because it applies to all of us.  And who knows, perhaps I can link it back to a running or music theme at the end.  Perhaps not.  Doesn't matter.  Here we go.  Last weekend, my husband and I went out to dinner up in New Hampshire.  We sat down at the bar next to an older couple who later introduced themselves as Al and Diane.  Eager to chat, they asked if we were from out of town.  We told them that we were.  They let us know that they were locals; clearly very proud of that fact, that they had retired up in in NH a few years back, built their dream home and were planning to spend the rest of their time up in the mountains.  Sounds pretty amazing, we told them.  They went on to tell us that they loved the restaurant we were in, that they came often and that they knew a lot of the staff and regulars.  It is a great place, we agreed, also one of our favorites.  Al then went on to describe the house they'd built.  His eyes got big as he described the movie room they put in because watching movies together is one of the things they love most.  We have big, comfortable chairs and a huge screen that makes Tom Brady look like he's in the room with you when he's playing, he said as he smiled.  We laughed and told him we'd be at their place for the next super bowl.  Then Diane explained that they really don't do much cooking at home.  That they make an effort to go out to lunch and dinner as often as possible because it is their way to meet up with friends and to stay social.  That makes sense, we said.  It's always good to get out and it's fun, so why not?  Let someone else do the cooking and cleaning, right?  Then Al started to talk, paused and started again.  You see, we're dealing with Alzheimers now.  And the medication that Diane is on, well it isn't curing her but at least it's slowing the process down.  The doctors told us to that we need to keep moving, to get out and do stuff as much as possible because it will keep her brain sharp and focused.  He paused again, his lips quivering a bit.  Which is exactly the opposite of what I thought I'd be doing at this point in my life.  He rubbed his eyes as tears started to flow.  I mean, I didn't sign up for this.  I'm 79 years old, you know?  I thought I'd be sitting around with my wife watching movies doing not much of anything, especially not socializing.  But, you never know, I guess.  You just don't know.  Jeff and I were speechless, listening, waiting, not sure what to do or say.  We'd never met these guys and yet we'd gone much deeper with them than we'd planned in terms of a restaurant conversation.  But, Al clearly needed to talk about it, to get this stuff off his chest.  So we were ready and willing to be there, if just for that moment only.  We told them we were so sorry, that we'd both had loved ones who'd suffered from the disease, both of them on their own when they'd been fighting through it.  But, thankfully, Al and Diane's case was different in that they had each other.  They have always been and continue to be so clearly smitten with each other.  And that alone is huge.  Al pulled himself together.  If I have any advice for you guys, it's this.  Don't wait.  I mean, not to sound cliche, but you have to live your lives to the fullest.  And you have to do it now.  Get out and do the things you've always wanted to do together.  Do it today.  Do it tomorrow.  Because who knows if and when you'll ever get to do them when you're older.  And trust me, you don't want to hold off only to realize you can't do it in the end.  Life is short and you can't take a single day for granted.  Not a single day.   We said our goodbyes.  I wanted to hug them.  I didn't.  But I really wanted to.  Not just to give them that feeling of love and support.  But also to thank them for the reminder that we shouldn't be waisting a single day of our lives.  That we should be taking advantage of all we can do at this stage in the game.  Because we can.


I always used to laugh at the 70 year old guy who bought the Porsche.  After talking to Al and Diane, my thinking has totally shifted.  Now, I'm like, don't wait until you're 70.  If you have the means and you want the freaking car, go get it.  That whole 'bucket list' thing?  I'm feeling like it needs to be a list next to your computer and you need to start checking off those boxes as soon as you can.  Maybe you've always wanted to run the Boston Marathon, to hike the Appalachian trail, to quit your job and buy a bookstore, to live in a Winnebago and follow the Rolling Stones.  Yes, they're still touring.  And, yes, you need to hurry on this one.  Whatever it is you've got in the back of your mind, bring it to the front burner.  If you can't stop thinking about it, ask yourself if you can make happen sooner rather than later.  Don't wait until it's too late.  I keep saying I want to go to more music festivals with Jeff, to run a marathon in another country (see, I did find a way to link it back to running and music), to take my kids to Africa so they can watch the sunset in one of the most beautiful places on earth.  So, if not now, when?  According to Al, it has to be now.  Carpe Diem.

Listen to this:
Where We Come Alive - Ruelle

Friday, March 8, 2019

ELEVATE:IWD2019 & GIRLS GOTTA RUN

She runs for solidarity.
She runs for power.
She runs for the future of the Bekoji village.
She runs for all the girls in Africa.


My girls, ages 12 and 14, have access to hundreds of sports.  And through the years, they've played many.  Gymnastics, soccer, skiing, to name a few.  Since they were very young, my husband and I have always encouraged them to try what interests them; because they could.  Because, thankfully, no one has ever told them they couldn't.  They have no idea how lucky they are.  Today, they both have found one specific sport that they are incredibly passionate about, that they do almost every day of the week, that they have committed themselves to fully at this point.  And, that might change.  But for now, it's a huge part of their lives and a big part of what makes them who they are.  There is no question that girls rise through sport.  I see it with my own daughters.  And I see it with the high school girls that I coach.  They gain strength, confidence, and so much more when they strive to reach their goals and push themselves out of their comfort zones and to their limits.  And they gain even more when they are surrounded by their peers.  Every girl should have access to sports.  But they don't.  Or, they can't because of barriers such as cost, location, or access to gear, coaches or teams.  Today, on this International Women's Day, I am thrilled to highlight the work that Jaybird Sport is currently doing with the Girls Gotta Run Foundation.  GGRF is a non-profit based in Ethiopia that "invests in girls who use running and education to empower themselves and their communities."  The folks over at Jaybird Sport have chosen GGRF for their most recent episode of their Run Wild Film Series.


The film follows Jaybird athlete Rory Bosio to the small farming village of Bekoji, Ethiopia, where she explores the country’s deep roots in distance running and learns how the Girls Gotta Run Foundation is helping young girls create a brighter future through running.

GGR is dedicated to using Ethiopia’s national sport of running to create safe spaces, expand education and empower young Ethiopian women and their communities.

In honor of International Women's Day, Jaybird is setting out to help make a difference for women in Bekoji, Ethiopia by supporting this amazing organization.  Their goal is to provide every member of GGR with a new pair of running shoes and a running outfit.


For the entire month of March, five dollars of every Jaybird headphone purchase will go directly to supporting Girls Gotta Run, and every $75 we raise provides one girl with a full running kit.  Please consider joining Jaybird in helping empower and create a brighter future for these Ethiopian women.  Want to learn more?  Watch the video.  And share it with others.  Then go get yourself some Jaybirds, the best bluetooth headphones designed specifically for sportand help support the GGR Foundation.  #RUNWILD



Listen to this:
Show You What I Can Do - Royal Teeth


Thursday, February 28, 2019

STRENGTH IN TIME

"Great works are performed not by strength but by perseverance."
~ Samuel Johnson


A couple weeks ago, I watched as one of my senior runners ran a lifetime PR in the mile at an indoor meet.  As a coach, it's so incredibly rewarding to watch your athletes succeed.  But this performance really resonated with me and I’ve been thinking about it a lot.  Kesinia has been a good runner since I’ve known her.  And over the past four years, she has improved a ton.  But it has not come easily for her.  In 9th grade, she started off incredibly strong; running PRs in every distance and winning races easily.  But over the next couple years, even though she continued to run fairly well, she wasn't seeing the improvement that she expected given the amount of work she was doing.  Throughout each season, for every small step forward, she would take a few steps back and times that used to come easily for her were harder to reach and more often than not, didn't happen at all.  For so many athletes, myself included, when they have these long stretches of training where the work is being done but there is no change or the change is negative, they often stop to think about whether it's really worth it.  It's hard to stay after something day after day and not get the results you're hoping for, particularly when you may have had them in the past.  High school runners, girls in particular, often struggle to hit a steady groove and find themselves stuck or falling back when they feel they should be getting faster.  It's tough and a lot of them can't deal with it.  Some, like Kesinia, continue to fight through despite the lack of progress.  But so many others find themselves wanting to quit.  Kesinia’s story is so poignant because it shows that, regardless of where you are when you start, things will inevitably change and, despite your efforts, it may not go the way you want it to.  But, if you are willing to trust the process, to be patient, to do the work and to believe that progress is being made even when you're not seeing the results, then the pieces will eventually fall into place and that breakthrough will undoubtedly happen.  I reached out to Kesinia to see if she’d be willing to work with me on this post.  I wanted her to share her running story with others who may be in a similar boat or know someone who is.  Because it's never easy.  But in the end, as you'll see here, the fight for something you love it always worth it in the end.
As I mentioned, Kesinia is a senior at Lexington High School.  She has run cross country, indoor and outdoor track every year since 9th grade.  Which means she is currently finishing up her 11th season as a runner at LHS.  ELEVEN!!!  That alone is remarkable.  I'm not exaggerating when I tell you that she has been nose to the grindstone since her first day of XC.  When she started as freshman, she was already really good; easily making it into the top 10 on our XC  team and constantly scoring on the track.  She won the freshmen XC race of the Bay State Invitational and ran a personal best of 19:40 in the 5K, a time that she would not break until three years later.  She also handily won the freshmen race of the Middlesex League meet.  Indoor track was a fairly good season with consistent miles in the low 5:40s.  Not her best, but not far off.  Then spring track was another solid season with a 2 mile PR of 11:46, a time that, again, she would not break for 3 years.  This, however, was exactly the breakthrough she expected to have as she began her high school career.  Of course, she also expected it to continue on like this and that's where things went differently.  Sophomore year of XC she was part of our top 10 crew again, an incredible group of women that ended up winning the EMASS Divisional Meet and the MA State meet for the first time in 15 years.


There was nothing to be ashamed of, as she had several decent races.  But, despite her work, she was seeing no major improvements.  Her times were solid but she began to plateau and she did not break 20:00 in the 5k at all that year. “I was so excited that we as a team had accomplished so much together and blown past everyone’s expectations but I couldn’t help but feel disappointed in myself for a less than stellar season timewise, especially following my amazing freshman year.”  Her indoor season was especially frustrating for her.  Her fastest mile was a 5:48, which was not great compared to the 5:34 she had run two years before in 8th grade.  She still ran strong and scored for her team but her times weren't improving despite the amount of time she was putting in to her training.  Things weren't clicking and she never really felt great, like the runner she knew she was.  Not that it stopped her from sticking with it and continuing to push.  Outdoor her sophomore year was more of the same.  Her times were "fine" but she saw no major jumps in performance.  She was not able to break 12 minutes in the 2 mile, something she'd done easily just the year before.   And she was not happy about it.  Though I will say, in general, she was pretty happy most of the time.


During her junior year of XC things began to shake out a bit.  She wasn't necessarily crushing it, but she was chipping away at those old freshman year times and she could feel herself getting closer to where she knew she should be.  Indoor and spring were much of the same.  No huge gains per se, but some good races and times.  Not to say that she wasn't frustrated.  She was.  But, unlike the year before, she finally wasn't stuck or sliding back and just having that to grip onto was enough to keep her fired up and willing to work.  Finally, at the end of her junior spring, she had that small breakthrough that we'd been hoping for.  I say small because she didn't run a PR, but she did break 12 in the two mile which she hadn't done since 9th grade and was starting to wonder if it would ever happen again.  Both of us were thrilled, not about the time, but about the fact that things were clearly on an upswing for her and I know we both sensed that things were about to change.


Which brings us to this past fall.  Senior year.  She'd logged hundreds of miles, done tons of workouts, run race after race after race for two years straight and right from the get go her grit, patience and determination finally began to pay off.  Her XC season started so strong.  Unlike years past, she easily broke the 20 minute barrier at the start of her season.  Then, at the Middlesex League meet she flew, literally, running a 19:18 5K, a time that she hadn't thought within reach for years and a massive PR.  Finally the breakthrough had happened.  "I have never been so happy as after that race at Middlesex League meet.  Our teammate, Danna, came sprinting up to us with a huge smile on her face as she told us that all three of us had PR'ed. I have never felt so excited for myself and my teammates and we were all ecstatic and hugging each other and yelling.  I had finally broken my freshman year PR after 3 years of hard work and so much frustration.”  As she moved on to indoor track, the momentum kept building.  Due to several girls going away during the vacation weeks, her coach had her doubling in the mile and the 2 mile which is a big ask for any athlete but especially for Kesinia who still wasn't sure what her body was capable of based on past seasons. “This indoor season I finally got back my love for the sport.  For various reasons, including a stressful personal life, I began to look forward to practice and I could not wait to get on the track and forget about everything else that was bothering me.  Workouts went well and I was not bothered by the shin splints and fatigue of previous indoor seasons.”  Her work ethic and positive attitude paid off and this season she had her most successful indoor season ever.


And now we're back to the beginning of my post.  As I mentioned, I got to watch as she ran a huge PR of 5:19 in the mile at the Middlesex League.  After that, she came back and ran the 2 mile, coming in under 12 minutes and scoring for her team.  A feat that is truly remarkable considering she had already PRed, and therefore worn herself out, in the mile just hours before.  A week later, she closed out her indoor season with a solid 5:20 in the mile.  But the true surprise came when, she doubled back again and ran an 11:46 in the 2 mile just hours after crushing her mile.  “After my success in indoor track this winter, I am super excited for my outdoor season.  I'm on the verge of a something big in the 2 mile, I can just feel it.  I now know I can break 12:00 easily.  I just need to race on fresh legs and I have not doubt that I will finally crush my PR.  I will definitely say that over the years I have felt frustrated and tired to the point of tears, especially after races that I expected to go really well that fell flat.  But I never doubted what I was doing.  I never even thought about quitting.  Both the physical workouts and the support of teammates from running have become so crucial in my life that stopping was not even an option.  Not getting the results you want is hard and it definitely temporarily took the joy out of running for me, especially that sophomore indoor season.  But sticking with it and pushing through plateaus is what makes you mentally stronger.  And I know that is why I've had such a great year.  Coming up on my last indoor season I am sad because it’s my last one but I look forward to pushing myself and my teammates to be our best."  Bottom line here, if you build it, no matter how it's built, it will come.  Always push through.  Thanks, Kesinia.  Go get it this spring. Can't wait to watch you fly.






Listen to this:
Grow - Conan Gray