Friday, February 22, 2013

Down but not out

When I first started reading running-related blogs last summer, I couldn't believe there existed a whole community of women out there who were as obsessed with running as I was.  I found women who were running 70, 80 or 100 mile weeks...women who were balancing motherhood and marathon training...women who held demanding jobs while racing every month...women who were married, single, childless or had twelve kids and a goal of qualifying for the Olympic Trials...women who supported one another, shared advice and sympathized when another one was injured...women who ran long or short or fast or slow...  Despite their differences, all these women shared a common love for lacing up their shoes and hitting the roads or trails for mile after mile in rain, sun and snow.

These women inspired me.

I celebrated my big 40th birthday last fall and always assumed my fastest days were behind me (not that I ever considered myself "fast").  However, connecting with these women gave me the drive and desire to really push myself.  Reading about their training and their dedication and all their various workouts lit a fire in my belly.  I decided to follow the lead of many of the women and hired a coach who would give me a weekly training plan and offer advice and feedback on my workouts.  A coach who would help me realize whatever potential was still untapped within me.

At first it seemed strange to even think about hiring a coach.  That was only for collegiate or professional or at least very fast runners, right?  Why would a 40 year-old, stay-at-home mother of three need a coach?  And how, exactly, could a coach who lived in Boston help me with my running?!  Well, basically, he provides me with an online training log that lists what workouts I need to do each day -- how many miles to run and at what pace(s), when to do cross-training along with various tips and advice about my form or what to focus on for each specific run.  Additionally, he provides feedback after I log each run and he tailors the next week's workout based on how my running is progressing.  He congratulates me and recognizes my effort when I complete a great run and encourages me when I have a difficult run.  And he answers any questions I have that are related to running.  (He also holds a PR of 2:33 and has completed 31 marathons, among other running accomplishments!)

my online training log

So here I am at almost the end of February with a few months of training behind me and the Boston marathon looming ahead of me.  I spent some time earlier today looking through the last few months of training logs -- at my runs, my paces, my 800m repeats -- and tried to determine what I have gained from all of this.  Have I gained endurance?  Yes.  Have I gotten faster?  Yes.  Have I learned how to run a proper track workout?  Yes.  Have I improved my running form?  Yes.  But the most important thing I have gained in the last few months is confidence.

I was hoping to put it all to the test a couple of weeks ago with my first race of this training cycle -- a local half marathon here in Portland.  I had a few friends who would also be running the race and was so excited to see them and to run this race.  Despite the difficult course, I fully expected to run a PR and to use it to help determine a realistic goal for Boston.

But then all my plans changed.  I woke up the day before a race with a sore throat.  I was almost convinced it was all in my head -- sort of like the taper madness and race jitters that are so familiar to marathoners in the week or two before they toe the line.  As I was tossing and turning the night before the race, still awake way past 1am and barely able to swallow, I resigned myself to the fact that I wouldn't be running the race.

Turns out I had strep throat.   After what was already a cutback week in my training, I was forced to take even more time off the next few days as I did everything I could to recover.

just some of the things that helped get me healthy

I was disappointed about having to miss the race and I began to doubt that I really was improving at all.  As I laced up my shoes and headed to the track for my 8 x 800m workout later that week, I was convinced it would be a disaster.  Surprisingly, I couldn't have been more wrong.  Not only did I run my fastest average 800m times of the training cycle but they were so consistent and were all within a couple seconds of one another.  And they didn't even feel that hard.  I followed up that workout with several more good ones the rest of last week and this week, too.

With just over seven weeks until the marathon, I am really starting to get excited.  There is something very special about the anticipation of race day.  So much can go wrong in all the days and weeks leading up to the race and, even on race day, so much is out of our control.  But the unknown only seems to contribute to the beauty of it all.  And it makes that perfect race, when you do experience it, even sweeter than you thought possible.  I have high hopes that Boston is going to be very sweet.


In the meantime (i.e. in my life outside running), I have been keeping busy and enjoying some warm-for-Portland-in-the-wintertime weather.

yes, "warm weather" is all relative...we still have to wear jackets
I also got to babysit my littlest niece, Kennedy, overnight last weekend.  My little girls loved having their 4 month-old cousin for a sleepover and I loved having a sweet, little baby who went back to her parents the next day.  :)

helping with "tummy time"
sleeping beauty

Hope everyone has a great weekend!!

Do you think it is possible to get faster in your 40's?!

Have you ever worked with a running coach? If so, did it help you accomplish your goals?

Have you ever run a "perfect" race???

- Kristen

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

I'll be bald or fat but not both

If I close my eyes, I can still hear the sound of her laughter.  An infectious laughter that was sure to be accompanied by her huge smile.

I first met Jen my freshman year of college.  We were taking a break from an endless game of quarters at the Sigma Chi dorm and were sitting on large bench outside, enjoying the warmth provided by the Indian summer in North Carolina.  We talked for several hours...about everything from college classes to roommates to boys.  And just like that, we became friends.

Almost as quickly, it seemed, college was over and I was living back in Portland, Oregon.  This was before the days of my myspace or facebook or even email (yes, I remember life before email) so it was much harder to keep in touch with everyone after graduation.  Over the ensuing years, all my friends were going to graduate school or being promoted or getting married and having babies.  In early 2003, I remember hearing the news that Jen had recently married a wonderful guy named Dave Linn and was living in New York City.  Unfortunately, the next news I heard about Jen was almost a year later when I found out she had been diagnosed with a rare and often fatal form of cancer called sarcoma.

Jennifer Goodman Linn
As you might expect, this story doesn't have a happy ending.  Jen passed away in July of 2011 at the age of 40.  But the real story here is what Jen did after receiving her diagnosis in December of 2003, one short year after she and her husband had gotten married and were beginning their lives together.

Over the ensuing years, Jen fought her cancer.  And she fought it hard.  She endured at least eight rounds of chemotherapy to shrink the tumors and six surgeries to have them removed.  But the cancer kept returning.

"I'll be bald or fat but not both." Jen so famously said this to her doctors after her first surgery when she asked to have a stationary bike brought into her room at the hospital and was about to begin chemo treatments that would lead to her losing her hair.

Always thinking of others, Jen wanted to give something back to the doctors at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center who had helped her through her initial treatment.  As someone who loved spin classes, Jen and her husband set up a fundraiser at their local Equinox gym with a goal of raising $10,000 for rare cancer research.  They raised $250,000 that first year.  Jen's charity was officially founded in 2007 as Cycle for Survival and since that time, it has raised over $25.1 million for rare cancer research (with 100% of funds going directly to research).

Cycle for Survival has expanded from the single Equinox gym in NYC where Jen first hosted the event to 10 cities nationwide on 5 different days and 13,000 riders.  I was honored to be part of a team last February in NYC with three other women who were also Jen's friends from college.  It was the first year of the event since Jen's passing and it was both an emotional time and a time for us to celebrate Jen.

Jen riding in Cycle for Survival
riding in memory of Jen (February 2012)
There isn't enough time or space for me to write about all of Jen's accomplishments...her appearances on the Today show or her interviews with the Wall Street Journal and New York Times or the awards she won or the thousands of people she inspired with her life.  For anyone interested, you can learn all about Jen's life and legacy from her You Fearless website.

Or, if you'd like to be entertained, you might want to watch this video of Jen celebrating and dancing on her 40th birthday -- a birthday that so many women dread.


Jen believed anything was possible if you lived a life without fear.  "What I once viewed as obstacles, I now see as opportunities."  Imagine what we could do if we lived life with this perspective.

Jen has been on my mind lately as Cycle for Survival events are taking place all over the country this month.  I've been thinking about Jen and trying to identify what I am afraid of in my life.  How I can live my best life and how I can be fearless.

What are you afraid of? 

- Kristen