Sunday, September 17, 2017

Half My Life: A Comparison Between Now and Age 16  

At age 32, one of my patients said, “you look like you are 16.” Indeed, I get that a lot. It’s not many ages a person can be and yet be mistaken for exactly half that age. When I reflect back on being 16, I don’t recall thinking much about what my life would be like when I was 32. I suppose I figured I’d have some sort of career, and if lucky, married, and maybe even have kids!
Yes to married at age 32, but sometimes still acting like I'm 16. Photo: Steve Pieh (taken by father-in-law on the High Line in New York City
    I don’t think much about being 16 now that I’m 32 but there is one aspect of my life that makes me think a lot about being 16: running intervals on the track. It was at exactly half my current age that I first began running. Really running- as in, for more than just a mile at a time. And when I began running, I began intervals on the track. And running for miles and miles at one time. And this was my segue into the endurance world. 
Talk about segue into the endurance world- here I am competing in my first Chippewa Triathlon. I think I have some good forward lean here. Photo: Mom
    Therefore I’ve been running, and hence doing endurance sports, for exactly half my life. 

    I entered into the endurance world innocently enough at 16 when I joined track and thought I’d be a mid-distance runner. But I was too slow and so the coach had me run the mile, then the two mile, and I was hooked on suffering. Well, kind of hooked on suffering. I became more hooked on the idea and ability of my body to travel great distances by foot. This gave me confidence, purpose, direction.
Running in Central Park, age 32. Photo: Erik
    In my early teens I hungrily read Seventeen, YM,  and Teen magazines. I wanted to be beautiful and popular. When I came across something I really liked in these magazines, I ripped out the pages (similar to what I do now with Better Homes & Gardens magazine). So somewhere along the line, even though I hated running, I tore out a story called something along the lines of Getting on Track (I tried googling to find the actual article but was unsuccessful) about a girl who joins track and starts running the mile. She of course meets a boy in track, but along the way becomes much more self-confident. Even though I hated running at the time, I was fascinated by this story, whether fiction or nonfiction, and I kept that story for years and looked at it or re-read it frequently. This article likely had some effect on me joining track, especially since I kept it in my bedside drawer for 2-3 years before joining track.

Remember these? 1990s throwbacks.

    Running is about more than running fast and racing. It is about being outside, engaged in the natural world, discovering new places, running trails. Running is almost always the best on the easy days when the breathing isn’t so labored and I can appreciate all these finer things about life and my world. When I was in my early teens reading teen magazines and saving stories about joining track, I didn’t feel terribly satisfied with me. While Getting on Track did mention the self-confidence obtained from running, it hinted at the more subtle concept of belonging. I often struggled to feel belonging, but as soon as I joined track I belonged with the other distance girls. These were my people. There is something so grueling about distance racing that bonded us. Since then I have belonged to a group of endurance people. I have found a sense of purpose in my running goals and hence a belonging. But mostly, I’ve found a belonging on the trails, on the streets, on the track, running along with my thoughts.  

    As I’ve returned to the track almost every week this spring and summer, I’ve been thinking a fair bit about my first season in track and thought it would make a good blog post to compare and contrast my running now and 16 years ago. It seemed I needed some kind of objective comparison to my running between then and now. My PRs in track all came when I was 16 and I had been getting much slower until I started doing intervals a few years ago. Last year, at 31, I felt the strongest I’ve ever felt in my life, although not the fastest. At 32 I don’t feel any stronger, but I also don’t feel any less strong. 
Chasing down my team-mate Maria at the Crosby-Ironton track. I have no idea who took this photo:)
    While I still would love to break a 6 minute mile, my intervals and 400 repeats indicate this likely is not possible at this time. Last year I thought about benchmarking with a 2 mile, which given it is twice the distance, better suits my aging body:) The real motivation to do this 2 mile time trial came when I decided to write this blog post. And so sometimes writing a blog can be a real motivator!
Central Park is an amazing place to run. I had wanted to run here for 16 years and finally got my chance this year. Photo: Erik
    Of course I naturally put off this test until it had been 2+ months since my last blog post. I usually run intervals by myself on Thursday mornings, the day after a hard Vakava workout but thought this wouldn’t be ideal as I’d be doing the time trial solo. I thought about jumping in a Twin Cities Track Club race, but these were all on Wednesday evenings, the same time as Vakava practice. And I thought about doing this on a Saturday morning with Erik (who could run with me and yell encouragement and splits) but that’s our long run day and I didn’t know that I wanted to do both on the same day. Then we went on a trip to the mountains so I didn’t do intervals for a couple weeks. So, finally one week when I started thinking about what to do for my running intervals and thought about hill repeats but wasn’t particularly psyched for this workout, I decided on the 2 mile, or more precisely, the 3200 meter, time trial. 
Photo from trip to the Beartooth Mountains in Montana. Erik has a knack for taking pics of me "on the edge." A few minutes after this photo was taken I was to be in glory on the top of Whitetail Peak, 5th highest in Montana.
    I’ve had a few objective measures of my running performance this year: as part of a tempo workout I ran back-to-back 2 miles in 15 minutes with 5 minutes rest and I did a 4 mile hilly road race averaging 7:19 minutes per mile. But neither of these were on the track and the 2 mile was a tempo workout, not an all-out effort. Based on these times, I kind of made this goal of running sub-14 minutes. I had doubts I could PR, partly because I did a long L3 rollerski workout the night previous with Vakava and because this was not an actual race (although it should be noted that my best 2 mile times at 16 were preceded by PRs in the mile 2 hours prior). 
This is one of my all-time favorite photos taken when I was 16 at sub-sections on the Detroit Lakes track (where I had my PRs). I was back on the waterfall line but you may recognize some fast girls on the front line! Photo: Mom
    In preparation for this 2 mile, I wanted to run a mile on the track first. I did this one day where my goal was to run a steady 7 minute per mile pace through 3 laps and then go faster on the last lap to clock in a 6:53. While this wasn’t too shabby, I followed up this mile with my first two sub-90 second 400s since high school! That made me think I could probably go sub-14 minutes.

    So early on a very warm September morning I ran over the the Macalaster track and did my solo 3200 meter time trial. I started ridiculously fast around the first corner and quickly reeled it in. So I wasn’t surprised my first split was a tad fast and that I was already breathing hard. And wow, but I was breathing relatively hard for the first mile. Besides breathing hard and knowing I still had a ways to go, the first mile wasn’t terribly difficult. At the start of my fifth lap I tried to focus on my breathing on the corners (trying to breathe in deeply) and focus on some good push-off technique on the straightaways. After a lap of this, by the start of my 6th lap, I was simply breathing too hard (2:1 breathing meaning breathing in for 2 strides and out for one) that I couldn’t change my breathing pattern or focus on technique. Indeed, looking at my Garmin, with over 5 minutes to go my heart rate got to and stayed above 165 (92% of my max) and hence I was in the anaerobic zone. It’s fun to notice the 2:1 breathing with running that doesn’t quite work out when skiing. I really wanted to quit at the 2400 meter mark but told myself I’d come too far and just needed to suffer for another 3 minutes and 30 seconds and this would be over. Somewhere between 7:30 min/mile pace and 7:00 min/mile pace, I lose my shit transition from L3 to L4 and hence, by 10 plus minutes into an L4 workout, I’m breathing really hard. So I held in there and by the last lap the finish was close enough in the future to keep going. I took it as a good sign that I had maintained my pace for 3 laps after my mile split. I tried to speed up my last lap to make it under 14 minutes and do some kind of kick. I was breathing really hard and hoped I wouldn’t pass out! 
Still chasing down Maria my senior year, this time on the Brainerd track. Photo: Mom
    Here are the 400 meter splits. The normal font on the left are the goal cumulative 400 meter splits; times in italics are my actual times; in parentheses are how many seconds faster or slower I was compared to the last lap.

1:45; 1:43 (2 seconds ahead of goal; as noted above, I started really fast)
3:30; 3:28 (no pace change)
5:15; 5:15 (2 seconds slower)
7:00; 7:03 (3 seconds slower)
8:45; 8:48 (no pace change)
10:30; 10:33 (no pace change)
12:15; 12:18 (no pace change)
14:00; 13:57 ( 5 seconds faster than my previous 3 laps for the last one to end w/ 13:57!)

    Erik said in regard to my time, “you can do better than that.” And judging by my max heart rate of 174 for the effort, I should be able to do better as my max heart rate is closer to 180. But this was an individual time trial in every sense of the word- I was the only one out there, this was self-timed (including my splits)- and so likely with some competition I would have pushed harder. 
A screenshot of my Garmin. You can see the heavy line around the Mac track. I love my steadily increasing heart rate.
    So how does this compare to my 16 year old self? My first ever 3200 meter I did in 14:14 and a week later 14:07. From there all my other races were sub-14 minutes ranging from 13:56 to a PR of 13:34. I’m not sure I ever broke 14 minutes my Junior year; I have no record of my times from that year and suspect it was because they were so slow. My senior year I ran a few races in the 13:50s and at least 3 over 14 minutes. Given all this, I would say that at a distance of 2 miles or greater, I am at least as fast as my high school self and probably faster the longer the distance. 

    While I was able to negative split at age 32, I’m pretty sure I did quite the opposite by a large margin in most of my high school races. It was not uncommon for me to run 6:30 for my first mile and 7:30 for my second mile. That’s not very consistent. One nice thing about an individual time trial compared to a race is that I can manage the pacing much better. 
10 km Tutto Bene Road Race in high school. Note, there are 2 generations of these chilly-pepper shorts featured in my blog- these were the first! Photo: Mom
I would love to ski race my high school self but the reality is not only do I not remember my times, or the courses (I was fortunate to only very rarely race on man-made loops) but the times are completely irrelevant owing to constantly changing snow conditions. But the track, with its precise distance and relatively consistent conditions, allows for this test. 

It would be interesting to try to shatter my 4 km cross-country time from high school. My PR at that distance was 18:20 which breaks down to 7:22 min/mile. It might be hard to find a 4 km cross country course though. I have quite a bit going on this fall and not too many goals for next maybe next year!
One of my last high school track races at Grand Rapids. That's me fourth from left. Photo: Mom

Sunday, July 9, 2017


    Two years ago, my friend Brynn invited Erik and I to do a 4 mile road running race in her neighborhood (Saint Anthony Park) on the 4th of July. Geographically isolated from every other neighborhood in Saint Paul, the Saint Anthony Park neighborhood resembles a small town which becomes particularly evident during its 4th of July celebration. After the race there is a parade down Como Avenue complete with throwing candy which is so small town classic. As for the race itself (called the Langford Races because they start and end at Langford Park), registration is available the morning of, it costs a whopping 50 cents, there is no swag (well, you can pay extra for a t-shirt), and there are no prizes. And there is chip timing! So for someone whose last blog post showcased too much racing paraphernalia, this was a perfect race.

When we did this race two years ago, Erik and I were just beginning to ramp up our running for Twin Cities Marathon. We ran the 3 miles to the race start and I had all good intentions of running with Brynn and chatting the whole way at a slightly faster than comfortable running pace. Then we were going to run the “long” way home to get in at least 12 miles on the day. In essence, I had no intention of “racing.” At the start, I saw Allie Rykken who legitimately lives in that neighborhood (not that you can’t race if you don’t live in the neighborhood, but it is kind of like a local affair and even though it is only 2 neighborhoods away from mine, it is on the OTHER SIDE of the train tracks:) 

So Allie, Brynn, and I all started running together. The course is 2 x 2 miles through the neighborhood. We were able to maintain a conversation but it was a bit short as we were all a little winded, especially after running up the hill on Como. By the time we started our second lap, Allie and I had dropped Brynn (oops). We weren’t talking as much now and by mile 3, when we started our second climb up Como, it was clear we were racing. As skiers, we know how to work hills, and Allie and I passed a few people on that uphill. As we started the descent to the finish, Allie pulled ahead of me and I could never run fast enough to catch her. My time was 30:24 and I was pretty stoked to be able to run sub-8 minute miles. 

This year, as I thought about a “short” race to run, several 5 K’s came to mind, but in the end, I really wanted to do the 4th of July race in Saint Anthony Park again. There were numerous reasons for this...I can run there and back, the aforementioned cost, lack of paraphernalia, a “hilly” course which I think works to my advantage, and since I wasn’t really “racing” 2 years ago, I was fairly certain I could crush my previous time. 

In anticipation of this race, I did running speed workouts every week. I also did a couple tempo runs and was satisfied to be able to do 2 x 15 minutes w/ 5 minutes rest at 7:30 pace. Then a couple weeks before the race we took a trip to Banff and while I didn’t do any running, I did do a lot of hiking. For me, racing should never trump vacations. It was a good mental break from my usual daily routines (and can provide this blog post with some pictures!)…

We climbed a mountain and saw lots of glaciers…

Looking at Victoria Glacier (and Mount Victoria) from the summit of Fairview Mountain above Lake Louise. Photo: Erik

We played in the snow…

Hiking through some snow on the trail to Eiffel Lake from the Moraine Lake Trailhead. Photo: Erik

And climbed on some rocks!
A giant boulder on the aptly named Rockpile Trail at the mouth of Moraine Lake. Photo: Erik

Then it was back to Minnesota for a week to fine-tune some training for the 4 mile race. And then it was July 4th and the race was here! Craig and his girlfriend, Eva, decided to join us, too. While Craig’s girlfriend biked, we averaged 8:30 miles on the way to the race, which provided a sufficient warm-up for me.

I lined up with Brynn and although I was a bit farther back than I thought I should be, this would also help keep me from going out too fast. The gun went off and I was surprised to see Brynn next to met after 50 meters, but then she dropped back and Allie zoomed by me. There was no talking this time- our pace was way too fast. I ran around a few people and then settled into a fast but comfortable pace. I could see Allie and another girl I know, Anna, ahead of me, but let them stay there. My first half mile was 7:16 pace, which is pretty fast for me. I passed Anna and several others the first time up the Como hill. I was feeling good. By the start of the second lap my breathing was more labored but could tell I was gaining on Allie and a group of girls. By now I was breathing hard and trying to focus on my running form and actually breathing a bit deeper to calm myself down.

I passed Allie as we turned onto Como for the last long uphill. Now the sufferfest was beginning. I thought, “I am never doing this race again!” I just kept running fast and breathing hard and telling myself this was temporary. By the time I got to the downhill, Craig and Erik were both cheering for me. I did attempt some kind of sprint to the finish, but was pleased with the time reading on the clock. My last half mile was 6:56 pace, so I’ll take that. When I finished it took me about a minute to catch my breath and a couple more before I could start cheering!

Craig, who ran a lot faster than me, said we had to run slow on the way back home which I thought was funny because Craig’s “slow” pace is like my marathon pace. We actually ended up running over 10 minutes per mile on the way home while Eva coasted on her bike and informed us she was very hungry.

My time was 29:14, a solid 1:10 minutes faster than 2 years ago which breaks down to 7:19 average per mile this year compared to 7:36 average 2 years ago. I think this shows some good improvement but also think I’d have to train a lot more to get much faster. It was also interesting to see that they had a “record” board up with the fastest times for each age. It turns out I hold the record for 30 year olds. This is quite an anomaly because every other record around age 30 is 5 minutes or so faster but somehow no fast women have ever ran this race when they were exactly 30! I didn’t have my phone on me, otherwise I could have taken a picture of my running record:) 

I doubt I’ll be targeting this race next year (mentally I find it’s much better to only do a few races and not repeat them so often) but the secret is out if you are looking for a no bling, inexpensive 4 mile running race on the 4th of July- consider the Langford Races!

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Race Bibs, Swag and Awards: What to do with Race Paraphernalia
Now a month into training for the 2017-2018 ski season, it’s important to remember what we’re training for...all that stuff we get at races! If you’re suffering from lack of motivation to train (I know I am after the meager snow last winter) here’s some great ways to show off your racing keepsakes and practical things to do with it that will get you out the door on your rollerskis so you can get more of it next winter!

I dedicate this post to my bro, Leif, who always likes lots of pictures and few words:)

First up, what Erik has so affectionately dubbed my shit shelf (he started calling it this when he built it for me). Now, I prefer to call this my self-actualization shelf for a number of reasons. In addition to all those medals, bibs, trophies, and bells, it also includes three other things. OK, the first two don’t really have much to do with racing and include my panda collection (my impetus to canoe 400 miles to the National Zoo) and probably my best piece of artwork ever made (on the top shelf, my mom says it’s supposed to be a cat but it does look a bit like an owl; note, my artwork reached a peak in kindergarten and has not improved since then). Finally, it includes that rain-drop shaped trophy. Now, I pretty much think this thing is the best because how often does anyone do a ski race when it’s 45 degrees and rainy, win, and get a rain-drop as a trophy??? 

Now I’m sure I got this trophy shelf idea from somewhere and so was pretty stoked to see that Nate’s dad, Jim, has a similar shelf at his cabin. Note, I did not copy this shelf, just one of those tokens of wisdom that we aren’t as unique as we think and everyone has similar ideas.

Photo: Nate

Poor Andy Brown, he should commission Erik to build him a shit shelf as he is currently displaying his stash on the floor. He says there would be more swag but he’s using his Seeley Hills Classic plates as his main dining set.  

Photo: Andy

Nate and Nichole have some race paraphernalia arranged in their new workout room in their new house which is a pretty good way to stay inspired.

Photo: Nate

 Ever wonder what happens to those wreaths the winners get at the Mora Vasaloppet? Well, wonder no more because here’s Mary Beth to the rescue:

Photo: Mary Beth
I hope Dave and Josie have built themselves a very strong house to support all this bling! Peter Northug is sooo jealous. 

Photo: Josie

But it turns out if you have 5 athletically gifted kids, I-beams are probably in order.

The boy’s room:

Photo: Bonnie
            The other boy’s room:
Photo: Bonnie

But Emma whoops them all. And this girl is only 16. I didn't know this was possible.

Photo: Bonnie

As a girl obsessed with ROY G BIV (my dinnerware is Fiesta after all) I’m pretty envious of Emma’s ribbon display on purple walls. I don’t think my husband would go for this in our bedroom but maybe I could paint one of our walls in the basement purple and arrange our paltry-in-comparison ribbon stash according to ROY G BIV.

Also note the mountain bike awards, the cassette medal in the foreground and the hammer on the other side of the mirror! Photo: Bonnie

There’s lots and lots of ways to showcase bibs.

    After five years of citizen racing in the Midwest, I created this presentation of my bibs above our bed in our house in New York. I was amazed at how symmetrical they could be. I’ve been too lazy to exhibit my bibs anywhere in my new house other than a couple on my shelf above.

Angie shows multiple genres of bibs in this curtain rod:

Photo: Angie

Dave and Josie could open a store with the bibs in their wax room.

Photo: Josie
Bonnie has so many they don’t fit in her overflowing box anymore (Erik and I are admittedly in the same boat). Photo: Bonnie

I put a few of my pins on my backpack...makes me feel cool but TSA doesn’t like it so much when I fly.

Photo: Erik

Then there is my bro who is perhaps the most photogenic citizen cross country skier ever.

Here he is in a family photo wearing a shirt from the Lotvola Cup that he is actually on (the red skier on the far right). Note I’m also wearing a race shirt in this picture.

At Watkins Glen State Park in New York (a cool place to go if you are ever in the Finger Lakes Region). Photo: Erik

Then he made the cover of Silent Sports and so amidst all our racing relics surrounding our dining room fireplace, down on the bottom is Leif on the cover of Silent Sports.

Photo: Craig

But if that’s not enough (he’s also made the cover of a book but that’s another story), he’s got a huge photo of himself in the Bemidji Applebees!

Photo: Erik

And so why not take a photo of a photo and decorate our living room (with other racing stuff like the newspaper clipping from my first Minnesota Finlandia win).

The cutest award ever goes to the Wieskopf-Albrecht family from a bike race!

Photo: Bonnie

Now onto the horses. They are everywhere. We saw them on Andy Brown’s floor above and on Mary Beth’s mantle.

    Oh the horses are everywhere. Angie has some, too!

Lots of awards and racing mementos on this shelf. Is that Angie on Minnesota Sports? Retro! Photo: Angie
    And if Nate or Nichole win any more they will need a bigger shelf!

Photo: Nate
    They even dominate my french-themed living room (silly horses, they are swedish, not french)


          And the stairs!

OK, this is really just a joke, turns out we have enough horses in our house to place one on each stair

    We left Dave and Josie and Karl’s horses’ out because they are currently being used for the design of their new barn. 

But alas, is there actually anything useful to do with this stuff???

Enter the earring holder...

And the t-shirt quilt (could also make a quilt from bibs, or a ski bag from bibs; I think I’ve seen that)...

Gotta love a few of the relics including the shirt from the now defunct Adventure Duluth Race Erik did in 2006.

And the tote bag...

Photo: Angie

And the lunch bag (or simple tote bag for those who aren’t as skilled at sewing)...

Photo: Alex
And the Halloween costumes...

One year we went as Michael Phelps and a cow- both inspired by racing paraphernalia. That's a Noquemenon cow bell. Photo: Priscilla

    I’ve previously blogged about my Marit Bjorgen costume and it’s pretty easy to be a lumberjack if you’ve gotten first and second place in the Minnesota Finlandia!

And the under-bed-drawer pull...

And the keychain...

Photo: Angie

And as previously mentioned, some people actually use the dishes, glasses, beater jars, etc they get from races.

Setting up for dinner! Photo: Erik

And all the prizes from the Minnesota Finlandia are incredibly useful. Just in case anyone reading this blog has not yet seen (or starred in) my Promo video (shame on you) check it out.

And for gosh darn sake, put those "horsees" to work!

Yes, this is Molly, an American Girl® doll on American Girl® skis.
The outfit is an original by Susan Ronnander:) Photo: Erik

Thanks to everyone who contributed photos! If you have additional ones you’d like me to post, send them my way and I can create an encore.