Rollerski Alamosa, Colorado

If you live in Colorado, you are aware of the different ‘hubs’ of athletic training and pursuit – Boulder (triathlon, cycling, running), Colorado Springs (Olympic Training Center), Steamboat Springs (nordic combined, ski jumping), Aspen and Vail (alpine, freestyle), Durango, Gunnison, Leadville (mountain biking, ultra-marathoning)….and Alamosa (collegiate distance running and rollerskiing). Wait….what was that last thing?

 

That is right. Situated at just over 7,500 feet of elevation, Alamosa has for good reason laid claim to being a fabulous place for distance runners to train. It is not so different from the international center for the monks of distance running – Kenya. In both places, you sit at the perfect altitude for altitude training (higher than 7,000 feet prevents you from running fast enough, which can actually contribute to detraining), forcing an increase in red blood cell production. In both places, you have an abundance of dirt trails, a soft, forgiving running surface. The flatness of the San Luis Valley allows for adequate speedwork to be done as well – something not so easily claimed by other, more mountainous training grounds across the state. Finally, and this is perhaps the most critical, and yet overlooked aspect, Alamosa and Kenya both are quiet cities where an athlete can easily center their focus on training and rest. The business of traffic (Springs), culture (Boulder), and flair (Aspen, Vail) is absent. The training grounds are right out your door, saving you time, and the lack of population means you can just “do you” without distraction and constant comparison (I can only imagine the Strava battles that are waged daily on Boulder bike routes).  The lack of a lively nightlife means you are free to engage in the other half of training – rest. I think this is why serious collegiate athletes can thrive here, and even more so why serious post-collegiates have done time in Alamosa (Deena Kastor, Peter De La Cerda – both under the direction of legendary coach Joe Vigil –  Mario Macius, Steve Gachupin Tabor Stevens, Aaron Braun, just to name a few).

So, while long known as a mecca for distance runners, I, Ryan Sederquist, would like to officially establish Alamosa as a hub for, at a minimum, off-season nordic ski training. Here me out:

  • nordic skiers primary off-season training tool are rollerskis, which are fast, dangerous slabs of carbon or aluminum that, while effectively allowing a person to mimic the movements associated with both classic and skate skiing on snow, don’t have breaks and require smooth pavement with preferably limited traffic. In Alamosa, we have residential developments and country roads that fit this bill perfectly. The loops north of the high school provide turns, shade, and fresh pavement with almost no traffic. Cole Park has a nice 1k loop that is perfect for threshold intervals (it is also the famous mile repeat home for ASU and AHS). When that area is busy, you can venture south of the tracks to take in South River road, which stretches 10 miles in one direction. One can head west by the elementary school and try out the new developments over there as well. They have fresh tar, some turns (turns are big deal in the SAn Luis Valley — there are not a lot of them once you get out into the country!!!), and are also free of traffic. Speaking of traffic – all of these places are free of traffic – even North River Road, the long and winding country highway, is rarely completed with an excess of 4 cars going by. It is easy to move out of their way as you can spot them from a great distance, as well. Oh – I forgot to mention my favorite turn off: the golf course development. It is very shaded, has big houses to look at, and is nice pavement as well. On the Boulder Nordic website, it mentions rollerskiing and talks about safety. A line stuck out to me when it talked about choosing a place to rollerski – it talked about parking lots – “if swimmers can do lap after lap in a 25 meter pool, then we can do the same thing on skis.” Oh man – I’ve done many 2 hour rollerski rides and not repeated a single stretch of road once in Alamosa! I guess we are spoiled. I’ve also routinely brought my puppies with me on rollerski rides – they run off-leash right down the main streets – that is how quiet is here. Another factor is the weather. In the morning, it isn’t windy, critical for sports that involving friction and rolling, and it is cool (the temperature range in Alamosa is absurd, but that is perfect for nordic ski training….you can be in tights in the morning and run shirtless 3 hours later), which makes wearing ski boots much more tolerable. It also helps to preserve the boot by reducing the wear and tear on the outer materials.  In summary, Alamosa’s abundance of roads, lack of traffic, altitude, and cool weather (it is often 38-50 degrees in the morning hours) combine to make this place an excellent place for the experienced and beginning nordic skier.
  • Nordic skiers spend their other training hours doing a combination of hiking, running, mountain biking, and road biking. Alamosa, as explained before, has a plethora of running options – and I didn’t even mention the access to soft turf and tracks. We have a state of the art track facility at the high school which is available to the public – drills, bounding, and sprinting can be done there without worrying about needing to share space with other athletes. Also, Alamosa is within 25 minutes of the greatest hill running spot ever – Fort Garland. Equipped with a combination of short, steep hills, long gradual hills, and…..long, steep hills…..one can design any type of hill or bounding workout imaginable. Afterwards, you can get fudge at the Mount Blanca Fudge store (https://www.mtblancafudge.com/).
  • As far as biking goes – the southwest is the king of mountain biking. Del Norte, Pentinence, and the rifle range are all within a short drive. Creede, South Fork, and the Wolf Creek Area offer more scenery and challenges as well. On the road, it’s straight and boring, but, it is safe from cars, and the weather is incredibly predictable – it is almost always cool with zero wind between 5:20 AM and 11 AM. If you want to test out some mountain passes, we have 3 good ones within 45 minutes.

So, there you have it. If you see me out and about, looking like a tan praying mantis gliding down the street on my rollerskis, give me a honk and a wave. Maybe together we can start a new culture in Alamosa and force them to put up another sign next to the “City of Champions” one — or just add a cutout of a skier next to the runner (hopefully both sports will have champions, right?)…Western State has a ski team, Crested Butte has a nordic center, heck, even New Mexico has a renowned nordic ski team, and their school is in the middle of the desert. We ought to be able to get something going here. If you see this USA ski team – how about Alamosa instead of Park City for your summer training camp? Why not? The actual training is better here, and it would be a heck of a lot cheaper.

One final note – I apologize for my puppies occasionally sprinting across the road…thank you for watching…..they have this thing for rabbits, but only sometimes….

Sederskier

rollerskiing 1

Saukeye Loop (Bad Medicine Lake, Minnesota)

“Where are you headed?” a voice from the bedroom asked as I slowly and quietly slipped into my running shoes early one summer morning, so as to not wake anyone else in the cabin. Apparently, I had failed.

“Saukeye,” I mumbled back in a half asleep voice as I fumbled with the bug spray and my grandpa’s old baseball cap.

“SAUKEYE!” my dad responded – my lazy tone ineffectual in diminishing the task I now had verbally committed myself too.

The legendary “Saukeye” route – it has brought grown men to tears. Well, more like made grown men run for their lives to escape aggressive horse flies (more on that later), forced others to walk for parts because of the prolonged exposure to the sun and heat (more on that, too), and given everyone who has completed the loop a sense of satisfaction and desire to retrace the route in the future that is unexplainably more fervent than the average trail. In the process, it has become the ‘holy grail’ of running routes, at least in my family; as if being able to complete it means you are ready to compete with the elites of Kenya at the next Olympics. Even though it is comprised of several connecting loops of different names – “the” county road, Lloyd Larson, etc., it is known by one name: Saukeye (I guess “The Moulton Forest Lake route” doesn’t have the same ‘ring’). How exactly did that come to be? Well, I suppose it is akin to any other cherished Bad Medicine Lake tradition – it invokes in us an acute awareness for the majesty of creation, it provokes deep, internal self-reflection, and it is simply what we know and have, and therefore, it is a piece of our heart and home.

 

“Yeah, it’s only like 13 miles – you know the top collegians are doing weekly long runs between 16 and 18 miles, right?,” I reasoned with my parents. Had I been a little faster in getting ready, they probably would have not even realized my coming and going until I came up from a post run dip in the lake, the best reward known to man after putting in 18 miles before the rest of the cabin even wakes up.

Then, from the loft above, where the ‘kids’ slept, came another voice: “Oh, Riz, you’re doing Saukeye?! I wish I could come.”

It was my oldest brother, Tom, an accomplished runner from his first mile run race at age 6 until his final NCAA cross country meet during his 5th year of college, when he bravely gutted out a 37th place finish, a mere seconds away from his first All-American honors. I say bravely because he had been hurt the majority of that year, unable to really compete to his full potential, which had revealed itself slightly the prior season, when he decimated a string of fields containing current and future NCAA champions. The last 10 months, his total mileage could probably have been counted with one hand, a result of a seemingly endless dual against ulcerative colitis, an inflammatory disease in the large intestine. The last 4 years had seen him get very sick, lose 25 pounds (which, at 6’3 and 150 pounds, he really didn’t have anything to lose anyway), attempt a stint with a J-pouch treatment, until finally resigning to his current fate: a full removal of the colon.

Tom was one of the first to really make a big deal out of the route, albiet his groundwork was laid when I really couldn’t have cared less about running at all, as my athletic focus was squarely on hoops. He probably did the route once every weekend as he trained for the upcoming cross country seasons at Concordia College, usually sometime in the middle of my 3-hour afternoon trumpet practice sessions in the basement. I’d see him get ready to leave about halfway through my scale routine, and then watch his skinny, sweaty body bound down the steps to the lake, by my window, 80 minutes later to jump in and cool off. Sometimes he’d open the door and give me crap for still working on the same scale as when he’d left…which I sometimes was.

I’m not sure exactly how many times he did the route, but since those days nine years ago, I became a runner myself, and over the course of the approximately 30,000 miles logged, developed a firm understanding of the depth of meditation and peace that can result from being alone on your favorite road. I’m certain my brother eagerly awaited the hot afternoons at the lake when he could blaze his way up and over the dozens of rolling hills on the east side of the woods. He craves the afternoon heatwave the same way I crave the cool, quiet early mornings. I do remember one particular Saukeye tale – in fact it may have been the first time he did the route – and it involved my mom, my cousin Lisa, who at the time was a runner for the Golden Gophers, and our family dog, Jake. They set out for Lisa’s prescribed Sunday long run, and, despite it being around 90 degrees and humid, felt it was ok for Jake, a black golden retriever/border collie mix, to tag along. The four of them set out, but about 10 miles in, the heat had become too much, and they needed to be rescued by our other cousins, the Slette’s, on fourwheelers. Jake was never the same afterwards, and refused to run with me at the lake, I’m sure for fear of the fact that he might be brought out to a place devoid of shelter or water.

 

After turning away from basketball in college, I joined the cross country team at Concordia as a sophomore, gradually building up my weekly mileage until one day, I too wanted to see if I could muster up the courage to complete the famed Saukeye loop. Heading out from the Larson road, I completed the first downhill mile with ease. Then, one has a choice: take a left and complete the route “backwards” (not sure why this direction is backwards, but….it is….just adds to the mystique I guess), or go right on the county road towards the Forest Township hall. We elected to do the route backwards, because I was told it would be “easier” (another completely illogical – albeit true – idea that you can only understand if you’ve run the route as it deals with the bad uphills in the early miles.) One of the best and most cruelest elements that likely has added to the lore of the Saukeye loop is the fact that it is a “no turning back” route. Essentially, once you get to the actual road called “Saukeye Trail,” it is the same distance to run the loop as it would be to just turn around and go home. But, if you go on the loop, there is no short-cut or way to safety, should anything go wrong, as you are surrounded completely by forests at its middle point on the route. You have to channel your inner ‘Star Trek’ as you embark into uncharted lands.

I nervously pressed on, trusting my brother to not forget to take the correct turns, another element that has left some people, myself included, wandering back and forth and around the Bass Lake natural forest preserve area, looking at every tempting turn off with the same false hope and deception as Odysseus listening to the sirens.

The infamous “Go Go hill” at the end of the Larson Road (another fixture worthy of its own feature article), 12.8 miles into the 13 mile route, leaves most runners breathing at near capacity, assuring themselves they will never attempt another run anywhere ever again. In my family, however, the entrance to the Larson road serves as the initial gut check, with someone putting in an acceleration as if to say, “I know the go-go hill is still coming up, but I’m ALREADY speeding up…can you stay with me?” I live in a great family, I know. After running for over a decade up and down the “go-go,” a name given to the steep slope because our family’s cars needed to start speeding up in Detroit Lakes in order to properly crest the top (the 1991 Toyota Previa family van once got stuck halfway up and we had to walk the rest of the way to the cabin), I still feel a lump in my stomach when I descend it at the start of every run, knowing full well that I can’t get back to the cabin until I run back up the darned thing.

I probably did the Saukeye loop only once or twice with my brother before he got injured and then sick. It is sad thinking how few miles we put in together, as I was a basketball player when he was in his prime, and my college running years coexisted with his season ending achilles injury and life-halting battle with an intestinal disease. As a music major at Concordia, pretty much every run I ever did was done in solitude, as the band rehearsed at the same time the track and cross country teams met. I ran in the morning, after practice, and in my final three years, at both times, amassing weekly mileage totals that amazed my brother and scared my parents. The hailed Saukeye Loop that was once seldom even attempted in my family had grown for me from a 13 mile run to a 19 or 20 mile loop that I would routinely do practically in secret on early mornings before the rest of the family arose – half because I wanted to get it done in the cool air and half because I didn’t want to explain to everyone else that I indeed would survive it. “Saukeye” to me also included “Shangri La,” a trip to the Chapel of the Good creation, a traverse down the Lockrem Road and around Veronens resort road, and even out to Highway 113 for good measure.

One time I even attempted to ‘race’ the backside of the road – the part where, if anything goes wrong, you are a 3 mile bushwack to the county road. I had gained an heir of confidence in myself that I no longer worried about simply surviving the loop, but was ready to take it on with a hard effort. My interval workout (where repeated periods of hard running are separated by rest, walking, or jogging) turned into a straight 6-mile long surge at near race pace as a horde of angry horse flies pursued me away from their territory. Images of me succumbing to a painful death of swelling bites and allergic reactions motivated me to maintain a solid tempo.

Like sitting out on a quiet lake to fish in the morning, taking a walk in the woods, or viewing the lake late at night as the loons start to sing, there is certainly something meditative about a long run on familiar roads. Most of my best thoughts and dreams have matured on a nice run – many on the roads and routes that my parents did a thousand times before I was even alive. Thoughts seem to go from ideas on how to fix my trumpet embouchure to creative dates with my wife. Sometimes I’ll think about words to say to a teammate, co-worker, or family member to smooth over a disagreement, offer advice, or provide encouragement. Many miles are put in daydreaming that I am actually a professional athlete and this is just what I do – sort of like how a nine-year old throws a baseball up in the air to himself in the backyard, pretending to be Dan Gladden winning the 1991 World Series. Along the Saukeye loop in particular, my dreams often hovered around winning an NCAA meet or becoming an All-American – for my brother – who came so tantalizingly close, as if I would then fill the void in my family’s life that his all too early exit from athletics had left. Sometimes (particularly in the thick of high mileage weeks) the entire run is spent thinking about how great breakfast will feel at the end. Amazingly, the highest percentage of time is probably spent actually just thinking about the skill of running itself:cadence, pace, and an awareness of my internal physiological signals.

We use different means to accomplish it, but the idea of connecting with yourself, your inner thoughts, creation, and the God who runs all of them is something we all desire. Deep thoughts like this remind me of a verse:

 

…since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.  For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”  – Romans 1:19-20

 

If someone ever asked me how I know there is a God, my response would have to be, “The same way you do.” We all know there is a God, but some have suppressed that truth. When I’m at Bad Medicine Lake, on the Saukeye loop, healthy, running faster and farther than seems reasonable, hearing the birds call, feeling the complex thoughts and ideas and emotions in my brain and heart as I meditate and reflect on all of the areas of life ….it is pretty hard to suppress that truth!  

 

Fast forward five or six years. It is November 24th, 2017, about 4:45, and dusk is about to set. No one has been at the lake for a couple of months. For those who only stay at Bad Medicine during the summer, when you do chance on a visit to the lake, it is sort of like chancing on a bear in hibernation. You know the cabin, the plants, the rocks, the water, the roads, are all there all year, but since you aren’t there to see them, it seems like everything just stays asleep – almost like it doesn’t even exist. That morning I had rollerskied about 15 miles in Duluth and then hopped in my car to drive to Bagley, Minnesota to meet with cousins and grandparents. I figured since Bad Medicine was sort of on the way, and my brother and I would probably want to run anyway, why not just stop and run at our favorite place – the lake. It was his birthday, and having slowly and surely learned how to live with colitis (he had three surgeries to remove his colon), Tom had even started running a decent amount. One of his long term goals that he dreamt about as he battled the illness and watched it ravage his athletic body, was to someday return to form and complete the task that would allow him to say, “I’m back:” the Saukeye loop. In texting him that day, seeing if he wanted to undertake my idea and meet at the cabin, I casually suggested the hallowed route. However, as we pulled up the go-go hill, sun setting, 14 degrees, ice sheets covering the entire Larson road, and tired from the 3 hour drive, I was beginning to wonder how I would somehow muster the stamina to even start a run  – of any distance. 5 minutes after we parked, my brother and his wife pulled up behind us. We had come all the way from Colorado for this trip, and he had come from Northfield, MN, and here we were, at our special place, together, meeting within minutes. We hopped out of the car, hyper from the cool wind on our dryfit longsleeves – too cold now but probably perfect an hour from now – danced around in the cold, and in a few minutes, set out.

Thoughts at this point were definitely on the rest of our family as they huddled warmly around a fire and a nice warm meal 45 miles away at Grandma’s and Grandpa’s. I was fiercely regretting this decision now as we slipped across the skating rink road, and I mentioned that we could always just run part way down the road and turn around before the “point of no return.” However, I think we both knew that this thing was going the distance, despite the circumstances.

With my two pups running along with us, my brother and I completed the whole route, saying hi to all of our favorite markers, which had been dormant for the summer – and for my brother dormant for half a decade. We passed the point of no return, laughing at the proposition in front of us – what would mom and dad think?! We are doing the Saukeye loop on a dark, winter night – how epic! Engrossed in conversation about a myriad of topics, happy to be running together, we failed to take all of the right turns – in the pitch black we took a logging trail disguised as the Moulton Forest Lake Road, adding about 2.5 miles to our run – but it only added to the epicness of it. As we passed by the turn to the “Big tree” trail, our legs feeling heavy and still knowing there was another 3.5 miles to go, we reminisced about family hikes to our favorite tree (worthy of it’s own BMLA newsletter article from the spring 2016 issue) as the light from an aptly remembered headlamp on my brother prevented us from stepping on black ice or running off the road. We even sped up the last mile, testing each other just a little bit up the go-go hill. As we loaded the car and sped away, I couldn’t help but think about how lucky I was to add another chapter to the Saukeye loop legend and my Bad Medicine Lake chronicle of memories. It was a cool moment, no doubt, to be a part of my brother’s comeback trail, especially since I had seen him 30 pounds lighter in a hospital bed, when running seemed like the farthest things from reality or concern. He recently ran a 10k as part of the Fargo Marathon festivities, beating my winning time from 2014 by 3-seconds (of course, I achieved that while in the best shape of my life as a college junior!), delaying any notion that an interfamily changing of the guard has taken place.

My parents have recently started a new Saukeye tradition: fat tire biking the route at least once, every single month of the year. It is May as I write this, and they have completed their task, with four of the months being done in the snow. Jake has been dead for awhile, but every time I’m on the road, I think of him and his wagging tail and curly hair for a few moments.

Sometimes I wonder if I’ll be running when I’m 50 or 60. Maybe even 70. I’m sure I’ll be doing something. If I can’t run, I’ll ski or rollerski. I’ve already told my wife that I will be that guy who is going out to bike Pikes Peak road when they are 90 – I don’t care how long it takes me. One thing I do hope is that whether or not I’m biking, walking, or running, that I’ll be able to go around the Saukeye loop and have it look and feel somewhat the same as it did when I was 20 and I didn’t think I could make it around. Or when I was 25 and I literally was running as fast as I could for a 6 mile stretch as a hoard of hundreds of horse flies tried to rip the skin off my neck and back. Or when I was 26 and my brother and I took in a full moon November night and ran around the quiet, dark woods in total, serene solitude.

And even if it takes me twice as long, hopefully the magic of completing the route will be enough to tell me that, “I’ve arrived,” and I can still “do it.”  

Maybe the “Saukeye” in your life is getting up on skis at least once each summer, in hopes to trick your body that it is still young and invincible. Maybe it is even more basic: opening the cabin, planting the garden, swimming as soon as the ice is off, or always preaching once at the Chapel of the Good Creation. Whatever it is, may it remind you of how lucky we are, may it give you more memories, and may the magic remind you that life is meant to be lived.

Book Review: A Life Without Limits – A Champion’s Story by Chrissie Wellington

I spent the week in Eugene, Oregon working the NCAA Division I track meet for the 5th year in a row. This place has become sort of a second home for me; going back to 2014, when I made my first visit, I’ve been fortunate enough to work 5 DI meets (5 days each), one US Junior (4 days), an IAAF World Junior (10 days), an Olympic Trials (two full weeks), and a US senior title (5 days). So, basically I’ve spent more time in Eugene, Oregon in the past 5 years than in Moorhead, MN, which is where I grew up and most of my family lives….hopefully my mom doesn’t read this.

Eugene is special because it is “Tracktown” USA. Prefontaine. Nike. The Oregon Track Club. Hayward Field. Bill Bowerman. Voodoo doughnuts. It’s all legendary (ok, I’ve never actually even been to the last thing there). It’s where people go to take a chance on their running career, whether they have a legitimate shot or not. Or it’s where people like me can dream for a week that they are taking a chance on their running career and diving headlong into being a professional athlete. You literally stand a good chance to brush shoulders with an Olympian when you are out running on the local trails in Eugene (but the chance that you will only see pretty flowers along the trail as well – that small town isolation feel – is the balance that really makes Eugene special. It is a tight knit, small community….the U of O campus doesn’t feel that much different than Concordia College in downtown Moorhead…except if you go into the 2.2 billion dollar football locker rooms.).

This was the perfect backdrop to become totally engrossed in 4-time ironman world champion Chrissie Wellington’s memoir, “A life without Limits.” I started it on the plane to Eugene and finished it before leaving on my return flight to Fargo, completely fascinated by the unlikely beginnings, training lifestyle, relatable personality battles, and unrelatable life experiences in the undefeated (at the ironman distance) Brit athlete. It taught me something about my current journey and inspired and gave me hope to press forward in my dream – this is certainly a good read for someone who is or lives with a person who wishes to be a professional athlete.

The overarching theme in the book, the way I read it, is Chrissie’s reflection on how her life journey, which goes way beyond athletics (in fact, the most startling revelation to me was how she really didn’t even discover she had above average athletic ability until she was in her late 20’s. She didn’t decide to give it a shot until she was almost 30.) would shape her athletic career and eventually give her the confidence to spread her wings and fly. She lived a lifestyle that was without limits, but it wasn’t really until her 2nd or 3rd ironman world title, when she broke free of her first coach, that she believed in herself and had the confidence to realize pursuits and passions are maximized when one truly believes in their heart that there are no limits.

She always had a type-A personality, but her value in herself was dependent on her academic accomplishments. She viewed her limited athletic activities as one place where she didn’t have to have such high standards. Gradually, this would obviously shift, but it was a lot later than you might think. She graduated with distinction, had a supportive family, worked in international development, and traveled the world, literally, for several years after getting her Master’s degree. One of her more precious locations was Nepal, where she grew to love mountain biking and developed a reputation as one who not only was physically gifted in the sport, but had the ability to endure physical stress for long periods of time. Her bike leg was a strength, and that is largely due to her crazy cross-Himalayan adventures from this stage in her life.

While growing up, she struggled with an eating disorder. It is interesting in retrospect that her eating disorder came to power when she was really not involved in sports as a professional. She would monitor her weight as she became a professional, but the dark underbelly of bulimia was mostly slayed when she was just a working professional who happened to occasionally run.

The battle with the eating disorder was fascinating to me. Some of her thoughts are ones that I’ve shared as well, and the blunt approach to the disorder (her friend suggested the idea of throwing up after a meal in the same way a teenager might suggest to a friend that they smoke a cigeratte — “no really, it’s sweet.”) had a strange refreshing feel to it. She was innocently sucked in, suffered through it, and then, with the same ease at which she started, stopped, commenting on how it was gross and, to be blunt, “ineffective” at doing what she wanted it to do. Her logical attitude is refreshing, but her sympathy and description of the more “illogical” side of carrying the weight of disordered eating was right on point as well. She didn’t dismiss it or treat it lightly, but just presented the topic in a manner that you don’t always see, while also giving hope to people who struggle that there can be healing.

One thing that is mystifying about the “pre-pro athlete” portion of the book is the sheer amount of travels that Chrissie undertakes. 6 months in Australia turns into 11. She is in Nepal for like a decade…she flies to South America, then back to Saturn, then off to Pluto – how does she afford that. I get the feeling her folks were well off, and, granted, she was a highly successful woman herself, and her job often brought her places, but it still seemed like a long time. I think some of it is a culture thing as well. In Europe, they really embrace the college and young adult years as times to explore, be a little wild, and really find the thing you are passionate about so that you are happy for the rest of your life. If that doesn’t happen until you are 30, that’s ok. In the U.S., our American dream, invest, acquire, and accumulate attitude seems to choke those years between college graduation and family starting (24-30’s). It would be seen as irresponsible if a 26 year old decided to take a couple of years and travel. It was to Chrissie’s benefit at this time, and in her early years as an athlete, to not have a family or spouse, I suppose, as she could really live pretty nomadic. Overall, it was fun to follow all of her journey’s meet the interesting and different people she came in touch with, and later on, see how some of those experiences made her the athlete she was as well.

Her entrance into pro athletics is the part that really leaves me with chills. Here is the end of the story: world record holder in the ironman distance, 4 world ironman titles, undefeated in 13 ironman races, ran a 2:44 marathon at the end of an ironman. Like I said, she really didn’t start being a pro until she was 30, and it was months after that that she won her first major race and a short time later that she was a world champion.

The fun part – the details that struck a chord with me – were the things like her bike that was given to her (no regards to proper fitting or being brand new and all the bells and whistles) she named and rode in a pro race. It makes those of us who line up at the start of a race with equipment that isn’t as “official” or top of the line as the people next to us remember that the magic is “in the man.” She rode that steed until it fell apart – then she finally received her first bike from her contract.

Or her build-up to her first marathon – no training plan involved. She just went out and ran, by feel, every single day. She ran a lot, because she is obsessive in personality (another certainly relatable trait for me), but she didn’t do any speed work or magic training formula based on her VO2 max. She paid the entry fee, trained while working a job, entered, and ran a really nice time (3:08). That time showed that she had ability. But let’s be honest: 3:08 is a far cry from 2:44 after 2 miles of swimming and 112 miles of biking at 24 MPH average speed. Still, she stayed a “normal” person, working a full-time job and training in her spare time. Biking to work, being sweaty from a run – but rushing into a formal gathering – they all rekindle memories from the past 3 years of me as a teacher, fitting a 55 minute run into a 60 minute lunch/duty time frame; running loops around the playground for 15 minutes to watch kids, then doing 40 minutes on the roads nearby, finishing, washing my face, slipping back into my clothes, and teaching for 3 hours without anyone knowing the difference!

Bottom line, this progression makes the everyday grinder like me think, “Hey, why can’t I do this? What is different about her than me? If I believe in my ability and I don’t put limits on anything, I can run X time.” This is the most inspiring element in the book, in my opinion. As dominant as she became, she started out as just that person who entered into a road race. Even in her first ironman, which she eventually won, she was a complete unknown. It wouldn’t be much different than if I showed up at the NYC marathon, took the lead after 14 miles, and never looked back.

She finally had to make the call – the risky turning point that every athlete must come to – and jump full-time into her athletic pursuits. This, I will say, must be a scary time. Luckily for her, she had something to fall back on if it didn’t work out, but she still had to make the big break.  Following her through this stage of life is one that causes me to feel excitement and inspiration as well as envy. I envy her freedom to focus on sport, but it excites me to dream about maybe one day being able to do the same (or maybe those feelings were just enhanced by the daily runs in Eugene and the fact that school is out so I’m really not focused on other things!).

Anyway, I feel like I didn’t do a great job of clearly articulating this book, but hopefully I didn’t give too much away or deter you from reading it. It certainly deserves a look. I enjoyed it. I’m inspired. And now, I’m approaching life trying to shed the limits I’ve previously put on myself. First things first – doing handyman home improvement projects, though strenuous, do not have to hurt the afternoon workout, even though they ideally should be replaced with “feet-up-couch-time-naps.”

Colorado Springs Marathon (August-Sept)

My first marathon was the Colorado Springs Marathon, which took place at the end of September. My logic going in was that, even though I didn’t have a very long build-up (only about 6-8 weeks of focused training), I would race it in trainers at more of my long-run pace anyway and use it as a training run for a later (December CIM marathon) race. The first part of the plan went accordingly, but unfortunately, I never made time to actually get out and do the December marathon (which really was unfortunate since the course, which is already known for being quick, had unusually fast times).

Here is a look at the weeks leading up to the race (dates are off….Race was Sept 29th…):

July 30 – Aug 5

Sunday – AM = 15.5 miles @ 6:30 pace/ PM = off

Monday – AM = 2 hour 40 minute bike/ PM = easy 9 miles

Tuesday – AM = 1.5 hour bike+8 mile run/ PM = 6 miles

Wednesday = AM – 12 miles/ PM – 1.5 hr bike

Thursday = AM – 9 miles easy/ PM – 1.5 hr bike

Friday = 3 mi w.u, 5.22 mile tempo @ 5:41-5:45 pace, 2.5 mi cd/ PM = off

Saturday – AM = 10 miles/ PM = 1 hr 45 min bike

Running = 80.5 miles/ Bike = 9 hrs.

 

Aug 6 -12

S – AM – 16.5 miles @ 6:30 pace/ PM = 1.5 hr bike

M – AM – 2 hr bike/ PM – 8 miles slow – very tired

Tu – AM – 2 hr bike/ PM 9 miles + 7 striders

W – AM = Rock Creek – ran to top and extra 2 miles; 12 miles total/ PM = 60 min rollerski

Th – AM – 2 hr bike/ PM = 9 miles easy

F – AM – 3 mi w.u, 6 mile tempo (5:41, 11:23, 17:07, 22:55, 28:43, 34:31), 2x1H/1E, 2 mile cd

S – Pikes Peak hill climb – 1 hour 39 minute ascent (bike race) / PM – off

Running – 68 mile/6days; Bike = 9.5 hours; Rollerski = 1 hour

 

Aug 13 – 19

S- AM – 9 easy/ PM – 1 hr 40 min bike

M- 9.5 easy/ PM – 1 hr 50 min bike

Tu – AM – 2.5 mi w.u./ 10x2H/1:30E @ 5k effort/cd – 10 miles total/ PM – off

W – AM – 9 miles  + 30 minutes of weightlifting/ PM 1.5 hour bike

TH- 1.5 hr bike + 6 miles of running + striders/ PM – 9 miles

F – AM – 2 hr bike ride/ Mid – 10.5 mile total = 7H/2E, 7H/2E, 3H/2E, 3H/2E, 2H/2E, 2H/2E, 5x1H/1E. PM = 4.5 mile shakeout run

S – easy 9 miles

Running – 78 miles; Bike 8.5 hours

Aug 20-26

S- 17.5 miles – slower (6:50-7:10 pace)

M – Am- 9 miles/ PM – 50 mile bike in 2 hr, 34 minutes – averaged 20+MPH last 2 hrs

T – AM – 9 miles/ PM – 2 hr bike + 5 mile run + lifting

W – Am – 9 total – 3x7H/2E (mile splits – 5:36, 5:29, 5:30); 2x1H/1E/ PM = 90 min bike + 4 mile run + striders

Th – 9 miles easy/ PM – 6 miles

F – AM – 9 miles/ PM – XC met – ran 6-7 miles

S – AM – 2 mi w.u., 12×400 – first 6 = 80 sec, second 6 = 76-77 (1:20 jog rest)/ PM – drove to Denver, slept in car

Running – 95 miles; Bike = 6 hours

Aug 27 – Sept 2 (first week of school)

S – AM 8.5 mile trail run + 90 mile bike ride (Golden Gran Fondo)

M – AM – 5 easy/ PM – 9.5 miles

T – AM – 9 easy/ PM – 6 easy+ lift

W – AM – off, PM – 5.5 mile run+3xmile@Cole Park (5:04, 5:02, 4:57….add about 8-10 seconds for actual mile distance as route is just short) + 1k (3:17)…all with 3 min jog rest – ran with high school team

Th – AM – 9 easy/ PM – 7 easy = lift

FR – AM – 9 miles/ PM – 1.5 hour bike

S – 1hr 45 min run in Leadville – trails and hills

Running – 90 miles; BIke – 8 hours

Sept 3 – 10

S – 2 mi w.u (3x10H/2E) (first rep was at 5:40 pace, second was 5:33 pace, third was 5:27 pace) then 3H/1E, 2H/1E, 800 (2:41) all on dirt roads in trainers – 11.5 miles total / PM – 2 hr bike, first 40 minutes easy

M – AM – 18 miles easy/ PM – 80 min bike (shifter broke and had to stop)

T – AM – 9 easy/ PM – 8 easy

W – AM – 2 mi w.u. ; 8 mile tempo (two mile splits = 12:01, 11:32, 11:21, 11:01); 2 mi. c.d./ PM – 9 miles @ 6:45 pace

TH – AM – 9 miles/ PM – 6 miles

F – AM – 9 miles/ PM – 7.5 miles

S – Joe Vigil meet; 6 am early morning workout – 3 mi w.u., 17×400 with 1 min jog rest; most on dirt, some on grass; averaged 79-80; last 5 = 77-78; 4 mile c.d./ PM – biked with puppies (40 min)

Running – 113 miles (3 speed workouts + long run); Bike = 3.5 hours

Sept 11- 18

S – 20 miles (6:26 pace – last 15 @6:16 pace – last 5 – 6:02 pace)/ PM – 90 min bike

M – AM – 9/ PM – 9 miles in hills in Sanford – kids ran hard; 6:00 pace on way back

T – AM – 9/ PM – 9 with striders

W – 5:30 AM – 2.5 mi w.u with 4 strides, 2×2 mile with 2 min jog rest (10:53, 10:54) (on dirt and in trainers) + 2H/2E (changed into lighter flats) + 2×800 on roads with 1:30 jog rest (2:33, 2:31) + 2×400 (75s); 1.5 cd/ PM – 8 mile shakeout

Th – AM – 9 miles/ PM – 6 miles

F – AM – 9 miles/ PM – 9 miles in Durango – got home at 2AM

S -AM = 1hr 45 min bike/ PM – 80 min run @ Fuchs Res (11,000 feet)

Running – 120 miles, Bike – 3hrs

Sept 19-26 (week before race)

S – AM – 1 hr. 45 min bike – spend all day working on HPPE hw; felt terrible/ PM – 9 miles easy

M – AM – 2 mi w.u. (3H/1E, 2H/1E, 1H/1E) x 4, 2 mile c.d./ PM – 8.5 miles (last 4 progressing to 6:00 pace (MP)

T – AM – off/ PM – 9 easy

W – AM – 8.5 easy/ PM – 7.5 easy

Th – 5:30 AM (cold, had to wear pants for workout— on dirt trails in trainers) 2.5 mi w.u., 2×2 mile with 2 min jog (10:37, 10:42) + 2H/1E, 2x1H/1E, 1.5 mi cd. / PM – 8.5 miles including Paine road (big hills in Ft. Garland) with XC team.

Fri – AM – off/ PM – 9 easy

S – 13.5 miles in Ft. Garland – included Paine Rd. Hills

Running – 92 miles; Bike – 1 hr 45 min

Week of Race

S – AM – 9 miles

M – 9 miles

T – 4h/1E, 2x (3H/1E), 2x(2H/1E), 2x (1H/1E) – 9 miles total

W – 9 easy

Th – 4.5 miles easy + strides

F – AM – 20 minutes easy

Traveled in afternoon to Springs

Saturday – RACE

 

Takeaways –

  • wasn’t very consistent with long run, but still had a couple of key workouts (20 miler at a firm pace, fasted and without taking water at any point of run). The 20 miler I did gave me the confidence that I could for sure finish the run while running at about 6:00-6:20 pace. I almost did it fasted and without water, and I planned on having a light carbohydrate meal 3-4 hours before and having some fluid on the course. However, I didn’t take anything until mile 16, which is kind of crazy to think about (and it was a small sip as my hands were cold. I tried to drink a little more at mile 20 and got barely any again…)
  • I didn’t really do a lot of true speed work (5k race pace or faster). In fact, at no point did I even go under 5 min pace….even in most of the 400’s. However, my strength was very evident by the long intervals with short rest (3×10 minutes @ 5:20-5:30 pace with a 2 min jog rest). My final 2×2 mile was an incredible workout, as it was basically the equivalent of doing 4 miles, on dirt, in training shoes, at 5:30 in the morning (in full tights!) at 7,700 feet, at the pace at which I raced 5 miles in XC my senior year of college (5:20 pace). After that workout, I wondered what I could have run an 8k in at sea level, or a half marathon. I don’t think 25:50 for 8k and 1:10-1:11 for a 1/2 would have been crazy. My 2016 half (1:14 in Albq) converts to a 1:12 – and I think I was stronger in 2017.
  • Not much of a taper – which was intentional (mileage – 113 miles, 120 miles, 92 miles, then race week (50 miles), as I was hoping to go through another 4 weeks or so of getting into the 100s. Most marathon build-ups in the elite level consist of 3-4 weeks above 100 miles, followed by a down week – and repeat that 2-4 times. I basically did one cycle, giving my body only one chance to supercomensate and adapt.
  • The volume of training coinciding with the rest of my life is pretty remarkable. During this time, I obviously held down my full time position as an elementary music teacher, a job that requires standing and moving all day, as well as singing, scaffolding, planning, and engaging (a lot of mental energy…..). Not only is teaching an exhausting job, it also means that you are at school at 7:30. After school, I coached with the AHS XC team. Granted, this allowed me on most days to get a PM run in, but it still took every weekend away from me (which, in an ideal world, would probably be spent traveling to my own races). I don’t regret either of these investments of my time or energy. Finally, I decided to be a full time exercise science graduate student in the Fall, which meant I had 2 courses (6 total credits) to balance around everything else. This really meant I had to be on top of homework every single night. My days were pretty consistent – wake up early, train, go to school – work, go to practice – train and coach, come home – eat, put the feet up and read/work on graduate work, eat again, go to bed by 9. Saturdays and Sundays had to be spent doing all of my school planning (in addition to the long run and XC meets) so that I didn’t need to do as much of that during the school week.
  • The race itself = I have a pretty detailed description in my training journal, but the quick synopsis goes as follows: I wore training shoes for this race, with the idea that I would run the first 90 minutes at my long run pace, then speed up as I felt able. I didn’t want to risk injury by wearing racing flats, and at this point, not having done anything longer than an 8 mile tempo, I didn’t feel confident running my goal marathon pace anyway (5:40-5:45)…I just wanted to finish. Also, the nature of this course (6,500 feet of altitude, small race – no one to run with the whole way, 5 miles on dirt trail, over 1,000 feet of climbing) were more condusive to just a ‘hard’ long run. I went out at about 6:20 pace for the first 2 miles, then quickly jumped into 6:10’s and held that comfortably until the 11 mile mark. I was in 3rd place at this point, and there was no one in sight behind or in front of me. I came to a turn and a bridge, and while a person was supposed to be directing traffic, they had moved from their post for a very brief moment. This was extremely unfortunate for me, as I went the wrong way and ran for about .8 miles before realizing what had happened. I stopped for only about 15 seconds and then immediately turned around and kept running. At this point, I only knew that I was lost – I still didn’t know where the wrong turn was or where I needed to go! I was in sheer mental agony – do I go on? do I just complete a 20 mile run, drop out and move on to the next race? What would Christie, who was waiting for me ahead, think? I felt like crying – I had worked and prepared so hard for this tiny little race and this is how it repaid me! When I got back to the bridge, a lady insecurely said, “You were supposed to go this way,” all the while knowing she had been the one who was supposed to direct traffic into the narrow trail entrance. The next 6 miles was a steady uphill, with the final portion on dirt. Some group of fans at a water stop cheered for me, saying, “You are in 6th place! Good job!” This only added to my mental turmoil. I tried to stay positive and stay in the moment. I figured I had lost about 8 minutes. It was beyond frustrating. Top 3 came away with monetary prize, which I had assumed would be a minimum takeaway for me. Now, I didn’t even know if that was possible. I actually quickly caught and overtook the 6th place runner. 5th took a little while longer, but by mile 18, as we approached the turnaround, I could see 3rd place. I was gaining on him quickly. When I turned around, I knew that I had about 4-5 miles of steady downhill, and I had been running within myself, so I tried to press on the gas a little. I put in 2 sub-6 miles, but I found I was actually losing ground. Turns out, the two people in front of me were 2:21 and 2:23 guys – they weren’t exactly chumps. Around mile 21, the awareness of my watch showing me that I had run 1.5 miles further than every mile marker was telling me started to wear. The last 6 miles of a marathon are hard enough as it is. Imagine coming to mile 22 and then, 2 minutes later, your watch reads “24 miles completed.” At that point in time, having only 2 miles to go and having 4 miles to go is a huge difference. I felt as though it was the reason that I ran a little more within myself, instead of really overextending to the line. I knew in my head that in order to finish, I would need to run 27.5 miles, and so that became the cornerstone information by which my body judged its pacing. I kept 6:07-6:12 pace going all the way to the finish. My 26.2 mile split was exactly 2:42, and my official time was something like 2:52 (I don’t even remember, how sad is that!). One thing I will say that gave me a respect for the distance – at about mile 25 there was a steep incline. I ran up it at like 8 minute pace – even doing it that slow caused my heart rate to skyrocket, my legs to feel weird, and my breathing to start coming through my ears and head in loud throbs. It felt like the final lap of a 3k indoors! My body had been steadily taxed all the way to its limit. On that given day, I couldn’t have run that distance, in those conditions, much faster.

There were many encouraging things to take away from the race – I had fought through great adversity. I had finished what I started. My 26.2 mile split was pretty fast for in trainers, given my training, and at altitude with hills and 6 180 degree turns…and no competition. Had I not gotten turned off course, I would have been right near 1st and 2nd place, which would have been fun, as I think we could have pushed each other.

Some conversion charts for my race gave me 2:32 when just accounting for altitude. Other, more course specific websites were a bit more generous. For example, my time of 2:42 at Springs converted to a 2:26 at CIM and a 2:27 at Boston, Twin Cities, or Fargo. I think it is safe to say that on a perfect day, on a flat course, giving my best performance, I probably could run between 2:29-2:31. The caliber of the people whom I finished with would at least suggest that, as their PR’s were much faster. However, the nature of the beast that is the marathon leaves a lot of unknowns. 6:05 pace is way different than 5:40’s. I might be able to do 5:40’s for 21 miles and then have nothing left for the final 5. One thing that is likely is that I will need to do a better job of in race fueling (which really wasn’t an issue because of the slow pace I ran at Springs) in order to complete the full marathon at a pace that is more in line with my fitness.

 

 

2017 Jan-August

Typical training  Jan-Feb: off-season; enjoying downhill skiing

  • Enjoyed my first ski pass ever bought by skiing about 30 days this winter at Monarch, Wolf Creek, Loveland, Copper….

AM – usually off

PM – 60 minute run; no speed work

I pretty much kept to this schedule for the entire two months. Never went less than 55 minutes. Ran 6-7 days a week. Saturdays consisted of a morning run and skiing all day. Sometimes, I would repeat this on Sunday.

Late Feb – early May:

Started doing some LT intervals by time. Upped mileage to 60-70 miles, still only in singles. Continued skiing. Added rollersking or biking 3-4x week (about 4-5 hours a week).

Late May – July:

Runniing: 70 miles in singles. LT intervals once a week plus an occasional tempo run.

Biking/ rollerskiing: 5-7 days per week (about 8 hours per week)

July – August – 70-80 miles in 8 runs per week/biking up to 11 hours in week

  • added a long run
  • steady increase of tempo run length (up to 6 miles)
  • LT intervals
  • occasional 400’s (14-16 x 400 with 60 sec jog @ 78-80 sec on dirt trails)
  • mountain and hill running 1x week
  • raced Pikes Peak hill climb
  • raced Golden Gran Fondo
  • rollerskied Itasca Loop (20 miles)