The Road to a Marathon PR Paved, In Part, by Taylor Swift

This is Steidl Running athlete Greg Miller’s insightful and fun account of his PR race at the NYC Marathon:

As the sun made its way over the horizon and began to peek through the cables of the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge, I had two thoughts running through my mind: “Hopefully it starts to warm up a bit,” and “man, my friends would give me a pretty hard time if they knew I was sitting here listening to Taylor Swift.” The first thought is easy to explain. Even with layers of “throw clothes” covering my singlet and inappropriately short shorts, Staten Island is cold on an early November morning. The second is a bit trickier...

The Taylor Swift album “1989” had become my unlikely training partner leading up to the New York City Marathon. Under normal circumstances, you’d find Led Zeppelin, The White Stripes, or something of that nature queued up on my playlist heading out the door for a run. At least when I’m not seeking solitude (leaving my headphones behind) or engrossed in some podcast or audio book. But compared to the past few years of running, the buildup to NYC was far from “normal” in a number of ways.

For starters, I began working with Trisha back in July, focused on some big goals. I’d come agonizingly close to breaking three hours at the California International Marathon at the end up 2018 (3:02:22), and after seeing significant improvements in each marathon I’d raced for the first couple years of training, I’d plateaued—and I was frustrated. I wanted to shake things up. I wanted to get faster. I wanted to break three hours.

Enter Trisha and cue the “shakeup.” In my first training log entry, Trisha wrote about the need for “blind faith” in all the changes we were going to make, and that it was going to be a “big transition” from what I’d been doing. She delivered on that promise, and I had a blast! I could feel my fitness rapidly improving, and by the time I started tapering for NYC, I was confident. I was ready to go have a big race. I believed in the training and I was ready to “trust myself” as Trisha instructed. I was also hooked on Taylor Swift.

The 1989 album by Taylor Swift begins with a song called “Welcome to New York.” This struck a chord for obvious reasons and I found myself coming back to this album over-and-over during my training. “You can tell me when it’s over if the high was worth the pain,” Taylor sings on one of the tracks. I mean come on, this is clearly an album meant for distance runners! Plus, I’ve danced to “Shake It Off” with my three-year-old daughter more than I might like to admit. So there I was, waiting around on Staten Island for my corral to open, listening to Taylor Swift. Who’d have guessed? (For the record, I don’t race with headphones. The atmosphere at NYC is incredible and shouldn’t be missed with headphones in. I found a 20-pack of cheap earbuds for $15 and I bring a pair with me to the race start, tossing them in a donation bin before entering my corral.)

The gun went off and we all surged forward. Somehow I got to start at the front of the first wave, right at the tip of a 53,000+ mass of runners all ready to tackle 26.2 miles through the five boroughs of New York City. I looked to my right and saw the professional men’s pace car take off followed by the lead pack (NYC has three start lines side-by-side, meaning the professional men start right next to everyone else). It was surreal watching some of the who’s who of distance running pass by, right on the other side of a waist-high lane divider. I took a deep breath to settle down, and reminded myself of the plan: consistent 6:40 - 6:45 splits all the way to mile 20, then see if I can speed up a bit. “Settle into a rhythm and run your own race” was my mantra going up-and-over that first bridge.

Greg NYC midrace.jpeg

The first 20 miles were pretty uneventful, as hoped. I knew Trisha would be tracking me, and I sure didn’t want to explain myself if I went out faster than planned. It became a game of how close I could come to 6:40 min/mile pace on each split. Mile-by-mile, the race flew by. About 10km in, I started thinking about how well the day was going and how it might be a really big day for me. Each time that happened, I reminded myself to stay in the mile I was in and not think ahead. “Just hit your split for this mile.” I focused on form and made sure I was staying relaxed, hydrated and taking gels on time. I soaked in the incredible environment and crowd support of the NYC Marathon.

Mile 16 brings runners from Queens to Manhattan, going up-and-over the Queensboro Bridge—the second of the more significant bridges on the course. I knew this climb was going to be tough, but when I split my watch at mile 16, coming down the backside of the bridge into Manhattan—and saw a 6:44—I allowed myself a little celebration. I knew it was going to be a big day for me. The crowd support coming off that bridge and into Manhattan is unreal. It’s one of the loudest points on the course, and after the silence of the bridge, it’s almost disorienting. I gave myself permission to soak it in for about 10 seconds, waving my arms in an attempt to get the crowd even louder (this works and it’s pretty amazing to interact with the crowd in this way—highly recommended even if you look a bit silly in the race photos after). Then I got back to focusing on the mile I was in, not letting myself get carried away.

The last six miles of NYC are tough, with some of the more significant hills coming late in the race. My early thoughts of speeding up gave way to thoughts of just maintaining my pace. Each mile felt progressively harder, requiring more-and-more effort and focus to hold on. Reflecting back on my training, I told myself, “This is just another fast-finish long run. Finish strong!”

By mile 25, with my body screaming at me to stop, I just kept thinking, “What’s one more mile after all those months of training?” I reminded myself that I chose to be there and focused on being grateful for that moment. There are loads of people out there that would love to run NYC and there I was, coming down the home stretch through Central Park. I had to make the most of it! When I looked up and saw the “800m to go” sign I kicked with everything I had left. I imagined, “Just two more laps around the track and you’re done! Finish this thing!”

Greg NYC finish widescreen.jpeg

Looking up before the finish line and seeing a time that started with a “2” was super emotional. It hit me all at once: how hard I’d worked for this and how much support I had from family, friends and Trisha getting here. I put my hands over my mouth in disbelief and bounded across the line with an official time of 2:56:05. I’d had a really big day!

I met up with my wife and friends after the race and hobbled around the city eating everything that got in my way before flying home to Seattle. Now it’s time to recover and set my sights on the next race. The California International Marathon is only one month out and I have plenty more big goals. I guess I’ll have to find a new training partner though; I don’t think Taylor has written “Welcome to Sacramento” yet…

Colin's Incredible First 50


Waking up race morning I felt a jumble of emotions course through me, excitement, nerves, fear and oddly, confidence. As I donned my race day attire, laced up my shoes, and did a last check of my gear, I realized 6 months of intervals, hill repeats, and “easy” runs had prepared me both physically and mentally for my first 50 mile race.

Boarding the shuttle to the race start, it was obvious everyone around me was going through the same range of emotions and were coping in different ways. Many people were quiet and reserved, inwardly reflecting, but a few were boisterous and chatting. I found myself on the reflective side as I visualized how it would feel to cross the finish line. Thinking through all the decisions I would need to make to ensure a successful race and repeating the words Trisha said the night before, “Be patient, be strong and be relentless.” Before I knew it, the bus pulled up to the start line and the nerves crept back into the pit of my stomach.

After a few deep breaths and a quick bathroom stop, I took off for my warm-up run. It was incredible how quickly my nerves faded away once I started moving. It was easy to convince myself this was just another run, one more to the hundreds I had completed over the last few months of training. By the time I returned to the start I was excited to see how far I could push myself. After a quick race report from the organizers, we queued up, counted down, and were off. As simple as that, the race has finally started.

Photo provided by Colin Mitchell

Photo provided by Colin Mitchell

I knew the first 20 miles of the race had the majority of the climbing, so I exercised patience, following the lead of the runners around me and walking some of the first steep hills. As the pack started to thin and my legs warmed up I found myself running at longer and longer stretches. I constantly reminded myself the day had only begun, so I kept to whatever pace felt natural, slowing through the climbs, flowing through the flats and declines. As I got into a rhythm my mind went blissfully blank, relishing the sights and sounds of the Cascades, loving the feeling of movement in my body, and downing a gel each time my wrist buzzed. As the miles ticked off, I began to get excited about seeing my family at the aid station.

Passing through the aid station at 20 miles I felt in control of the race, my legs felt great, my stomach was behaving and I was enjoying the experience. My family helped me through the aide station in what felt like moments, restocking my gels, filling my water and spraying me down. I left the aid station with confidence, with little understanding of what the next 30 miles had in store.

Just before the next aid station at Mile 24, as I guzzled the last bit of water I had in my pack, I realized how hot the day had become. Being a heavy sweater the heat started to make me nervous. After I refilled at the aid station, I made a mental note to to try and conserve water, but the next thing I knew, I was out of water again. I quickly realized a battle against dehydration had begun as I consistently failed to stretch my water between aide stations. As my body started reacting to the dehydration, I felt my mental fortitude slipping. My legs started to feel heavy and the gels made my stomach feel like I swallowed a cannonball. Luckily, Trisha’s words to be relentless were key to pushing myself through the discomfort. Taking occasional walking breaks to lower my heart rate and reset my body enabled me to keep moving towards the finish despite the growing fatigue.

PC: Rachel Vranizan

PC: Rachel Vranizan

As I staggered back through Mile 40 and saw my family again, it was like having a reset button. It is incredible how much their encouragement rekindled my energy and gave me the strength to finish. It helped me remember this race was about pushing myself and enjoying the experience of what I was capable off. I took off with confidence that I could finish, but fully aware that it would be painful. The last few miles of the course were completely downhill as the trail dropped from the ridge line to the valley. I kept reminding myself that if I was strong enough to make it this far, the last few miles would be nothing. As my legs slowed I kept wishing the next turn would reveal the finish. As my legs gave their last gasp, I rounded the final bend and emerged into the finish clearing. Crossing the finish line, I couldn’t believe that I was finally finished. With my head still reeling from dehydration and exhaustion, it took a few moments for reality to set in, that after months of training I had final accomplished my goal, I had completed a 50 mile race. Though my body and mind felt completely depleted, I couldn’t help wonder if maybe next time I could go just a little bit further.

Catching Up on Race Reports

Things with Steidl Running have been going well. Those I am coaching have been training and racing well, the roster is nearly full, and the seminars have received overwhelmingly positive feedback. With that plus my own running training, taking care of the responsibilities of the many other hats I wear, training our puppy, and making time for friends and family - I’m not complaining as these are all great things - I’ve been lax about keeping my blog up-to-date.

I’ve competed in four races since I last blogged. Here’s a recap!

Vancouver Marathon

As positive as I tried to be heading to the start line of this race, it wasn’t my day. So many reasonable excuses: Ridiculously windy, kilometer marks were incorrectly posted along the course, fairly hot conditions, and a big time bathroom stop. None of these were in my control, but that didn’t stop me from being illogically upset about it all (fortunately, I am a better coach than athlete :) ).

Additionally, I knew that despite trying my best to rectify things, what had occurred leading up to the race didn’t set me up for success either.

After - and even during - the race, I couldn’t have been more disappointed. I had trained hard and consistently only to run a time that was significantly slower than where I felt was my level of fitness. As an invited athlete, a representative of my club, myself, and my business, I also felt a sense of embarrassment and that I had let people down.

Go get that last woman! PC: Sophia Liu

Go get that last woman!
PC: Sophia Liu

It helped to hear some of the other invited athletes talk about how tough the conditions were for them as well - I wasn’t just imagining it! - and how they ran significantly slower than they had expected. Finishing 10th overall (just amongst the elite entries I was slated to finish 11th, not taking into account all the other fast women toeing the start line that day) and 2nd masters also lessened the disappointment.

The best part of the race was the final 5k wherein I had the opportunity to finally compete! Another masters woman passed me, so I kept right behind her; another woman was up ahead as well. I stayed right behind the masters woman and with 3k to go, dropped the hammer and knew I would have to give everything I had those final <2 miles to beat her and catch the next woman. i passed both women and had no idea whether they were trying to stay with/catch me because it was too windy to hear breathing and footsteps and I wasn’t about to look back. Eyes and energy forward! I felt strong and confident that they wouldn’t catch me.

…and then there was another woman up ahead. My friend was on the side of the course yelling at me about how tired that woman looked and how I’m strong on the uphills and to, “Go. Get. HER!!!” Well, shoot. I didn’t want to get her. That meant digging even deeper and I was already digging deep. But my competitive drive couldn’t let her go, so dig deeper I did. While I didn’t feel strong going uphill, I caught her with 500m to go and ran as fast as I could. I ended up beating them all to the finish, earning me the coveted top-10 placement. Racing is fun.

Rhody Run 12k

The Rhody Run is the one race Uli and I make sure to attend every year. No matter where we are or how we’re feeling, we do everything in our power to be at this event. It’s a wonderful, small town race that is well organized, fun to run, and we get to have a reunion with many of our friends.

The race was two weeks after Vancouver and while I recovered quickly from the marathon, my legs were tired from having done a very challenging workout a few days earlier. On top of that, it was quite windy this year, which had a significant impact on the times. My energy was good and I felt strong, but I wasn’t able to run fast. I finished 6th overall and clinched the top masters spot feeling satisfied with the effort.

As always, it was fun to catch up with many of our friends and enjoy the beautiful area that is Port Townsend. Thanks again for another great year!

Whistler 30k

Until last year, I had never been to Whistler. It is a beautiful area with so much to do and see; I could happily spend a good chunk of time there checking out all the trails.

The Whistler Half Marathon (as the event is officially named) is actually comprised of four race distances: 5k, 10k, half marathon, and 30k. The races are a mix of pavement and trail. Unlike last year, the sun was shining and the skies were clear, showing off beautiful mountain views that were not visible last year.

The half marathon and 30k start together and run a majority of the half marathon course together until they split with about 2 miles left to go in the half and shortly before the 18k mark of the 30k. This is fun because it provides more people to race with than if the two distances started separately. Like last year, I found myself primarily racing with women in the half. To my surprise, at about 7k into the race there is an out-and-back section where I learned I was in the lead for the 30k and already had a significant lead over the second place woman. There were three half marathon women ahead of me, with two of them not far ahead, so I kept my eyes on them. I caught the two shortly before the 10k mark and never saw them again, while the first place half marathon woman was too far ahead to see. From here on out, it was a race against myself and the clock.

Thank goodness the finish is near. Last year at this point I looked and felt so much stronger. PC: Uli Steidl

Thank goodness the finish is near. Last year at this point I looked and felt so much stronger.
PC: Uli Steidl

From the start I was feeling better than I had felt for any race this year. What a wonderful feeling. I was thinking to myself, “I do have good fitness. I knew it! Finally it is coming out to play. I am so happy to be feeling this way. Enjoy it while you’ve got it, Trisha.” Remembering that I was in the middle of three races in 4 weeks and that this was a 30k, I made sure to keep it calm early in the race. Running felt smooth, quick, and completely comfortable, and I was able to cheer on those I saw in the three sections where there are out-and-backs.

Despite the fact that I’m usually spot on with sticking to my race nutrition schedule, for some (dumb) reason this day I decided not to eat my last gel. Bad idea. On top of that, I had been feeling really thirsty. Those who know me know that I don’t need to drink much when I race, so when I felt like dunking my face into a creek flowing alongside the course so I could drink out of it (I did not actually do this), I knew something wasn’t right. I realized that sitting in the hot car significantly longer than expected on the drive to Whistler and not drinking or eating enough in part due to that was now hitting me like a ton of bricks. …or should I say lead because that’s what my legs were starting to feel like.

I’m usually a strong closer and last year I smoked the last 3k. This year was the complete opposite. With 8k to go, I felt great. With 7k to go, I felt like death. It hit that hard and quickly. I was barely moving the last 7k and it was seriously all I could do to keep myself from stopping to walk, but there was no way I wasn’t going to win this race after being in the lead the entire time. Fortunately for me, I had created enough of a gap earlier on that I was able to cross the finish line in first. (This is one of the only times in my life I was happy the race wasn’t longer.)

It felt good to hang on for the win. I wasn’t too upset about how my race finished up because I knew it was due to things completely within my control that I could easily change in future races. I was still really happy with how good I had felt early on and that gave me confidence as I pondered the bigger picture of my future goals.

Fragrance Lake Half Marathon

Initially the Fragrance Lake Half was scheduled to take place in February. Due to some serious snow and ice that caused portions of the course to be inaccessible in case of emergency, the race was postponed until June. This happened last year as well, though due to different circumstances, and I was unable to make the postponed date, so I was excited that this year the timing worked out.

The half marathon course has 3300’ of elevation gain (and loss) and most of the gain is in the first 6-7 miles, so it’s quite hilly. Having been focused on road marathon training since mid-February, I hadn’t been doing much at all in the way of hill running or even trail running for that matter. Because of that, I knew this course was going to be tough for me. Additionally, my SRC-Brooks teammate, Jenny, is a strong uphill runner, which meant this was going to be an interesting race.

Ugh, when will I be done with all these stairs?! PC: Uli Steidl

Ugh, when will I be done with all these stairs?!
PC: Uli Steidl

From the gun, I was in second place to a local woman, and was soon in third place after Jenny passed me going up Cleator Road, my legs clearly feeling that I hadn’t done uphill training in months. I was able to keep the two women in sight heading up and around Fragrance Lake and eventually passed the local woman near the base of the long uphill after Fragrance Lake. For quite awhile I could see Jenny up ahead, then all of a sudden she was gone! For a minute I wondered if she took a wrong turn (I knew the course well from racing and training on those trails over the past 15+ years), but the course was well-marked so I figured that could’t be it. Simply put, she was motoring up the hills, loving every step, whereas my legs were wondering WTF was going on, especially going up those stairs (I despise stairs).

At the aid station, which is around mile 7, Uli told me I was 1:20 behind Jenny. I was actually surprised it wasn’t more. I wasn’t sure how good she was at more technical terrain, but I am extremely familiar with this section and knew I had to push it here if I had any hopes of trying to catch up.

By the end of the ridge trail, I could see Jenny and figured she was about 20-30 seconds ahead. I had made up some serious ground! That was motivating. We made a sharp turn to the left and were running on a smooth trail that was generally either flat or slightly downhill. I used this opportunity to quicken my turnover and hoped I could take the lead. It’s always a little weird passing a friend. I told her good job and that she was a beast up those hills! She was kind in return. I had no idea how she was feeling or how the rest of the race would go. I only knew that most of the rest of the way was downhill or flat and that I’d better do all I could to create a gap.

Awesome being on the podium with my teammate! PC: Uli Steidl

Awesome being on the podium with my teammate!
PC: Uli Steidl

I ran down the hills pretty close to as fast as I could, feeling fortunate that a hip flexor issue I had been dealing with surprisingly wasn’t getting too bad since the downs are what had been causing the most irritation to the area in previous runs. I crossed the finish line in first and we secured a 1-2 SRC finish with Jenny coming in soon after. Go Team Blue!

It felt good to win two very different races on back-to-back weekends and I was also excited to start some time off after having raced so much. I am looking forward to building on top of what I’ve gained over the past year as I realized at the Whistler 30k that it had been not-quite one year since I had gotten over my three-year long hamstring injury. I can’t wait to see what I can do in another year from now, assuming I can continue to stay healthy and train consistently like I have this past year - fingers crossed!!

Anna's Brush with Fame at the Capital City Half

Here’s a race report from Steidl Running athlete Anna MCCONNELL about her experience at the 2019 Capital City Half Marathon:

Had a really good day today and felt strong for the whole race. Went out a little fast for the first mile, had a brief “oh shit” panic moment, but told myself to just correct it and move on and thought, “Trisha said to be patient -- this is when to do that.” About mile 4, I saw another woman within a quarter mile and knew I wanted to pass her, so I slowly worked my way up. I was kind of hoping to work together for a bit, but I think she got nervous when she noticed me and put in a few surges that I knew were too early. I kept working my way back up to her, not ready to move around her and just let her do the work while tiring herself out by surging. I knew once I decided to pass her I was committing to dropping my pace.  I went by her at the halfway point, got kind of nervous and unsure if I could keep it up for the rest of the race AND try to run a fast final 5k. I mentally landed on, “Trisha said fierce, this is probably time for that.” Apparently I listen to you. :)

I let myself cruise down the long hill at mile 8 and considered it a “free mile” and a way to prepare for the hill that is basically all of mile 9. I felt strong up the hill and was running with some guy. We caught up to a couple other guys, and my plan was to attach myself to them and just let them do the work up the hill. Then, the person I was running with said to the others, "Hey guys, let her through” (thanks, I guess?). This derailed my plan a little, but I just said to myself, “OK I guess I'm going,” ran ahead, and stayed pretty steady for the hill. My new escort was coaching me a little, which was obviously unsolicited, but turned out to actually be kind of helpful. And I'm also surprised I wasn't completely annoyed. When we were cresting the hill he reminded me to not back off and this was the time to go leading into the final 5k (I'm guessing he could have been running harder himself since he was talking at me, but whatever).  

anna finish.jpg

I started to really push, running away from my adviser. I could sense a couple people coming up on me -- it turned out to be Joan Benoit Samuelson and her daughter! I thought something like, “Well, if anyone is going to pass me, I'm OK with that.” But then I quickly switched it to thinking I would probably never get this chance again, I should at least try because “Hey, why can’t I stick with them?” and maybe I can learn something from racing an Olympian/badass running legend. I ran right with them from about mile 10.5-ish to mile 12, and it was crazy. Usually when I'm racing with people, I can feel them (and myself) kind of back off on the little rollers and turns, and it's a weird game of who is kicking too early and a lot of back-and-forth. But Joan and Abby were non-stop pressing and steadily cranking it up. I had the thought of, “Trisha said relentless. That's what they're doing. I should go too.” They broke away from me a little at mile 12, but I regained some ground during the last stretch and finished pretty close.  Joan greeted me at the end and told me I got her to actually race today knowing that I was right there -- definitely one of the coolest experiences of my running life. I'm A LITTLE frustrated that they bumped me out of the top 3.  But I'm OK with it.  

Overall, a really good day, and I feel a kind of sense of relief getting to race and run in the way I know how.  I was very disappointed and kind of heartbroken after Boston (your newsletter was once again very timely for me), so today just felt really needed.  And it was so nice to have fun with it.

This was also almost a 4.5 min CR for me and almost a 45 second PR.    

Continual Learning

Training for the Vancouver Marathon was going really well. My easy runs were faster while staying easy, my body was feeling good, week after week I was able to run longer intervals on the track at the same pace and effort as I had for shorter ones…I was firing on all cylinders. And I wasn’t taking a moment of it for granted.

As is typical when an athlete is pushing their body, usually I have some sort of niggle. This time things were feeling smooth and the niggles were fewer. Having dealt with two partially torn hamstrings last year and wondering if I’d ever be able to consistently train again, much less run fast, this felt like a dream. I was thankful everyday for what my body and diligence (with the help of Dr. Zach) was allowing me to do. I even allowed myself to start thinking more realistically about big goals I had pushed aside.

All good things come to an end.

During my big mileage/training weeks, things were feeling good and I was running strong. Until I wasn’t. It was fairly easy for me to figure out why the wheels felt like they were falling off. It’s normal to feel fatigued and crappy when doing your hardest training. Having run for as long as I have, I know my body well and I could tell this wasn’t normal fatigue. It was my body no longer recovering well. I wanted the confidence boost that comes with hitting high mileage, but during my final week of big training, I realized being stubborn about hitting the mileage wasn’t valuable. I wasn’t going to get faster by digging a bigger hole, but I could ruin everything I had worked so hard for if I stuck to the plan. Instead of running my last big week as planned, I ran 10-13 miles less. I was determined to be smart and back off. Still getting in decent mileage and a final, solid long run including a half marathon race), I wasn’t going to let this get me down.

Just before the big hill at the Whidbey Island Half Marathon.

Just before the big hill at the Whidbey Island Half Marathon.

What I figured out was that I wasn’t consuming enough calories to support the high mileage and two speed workouts a week I was doing. Mostly this was due to laziness. When I get tired and hungry, the last thing I want to do is make food. That means I’m not eating enough, so my body doesn’t rebuild well, I don’t sleep well, my body doesn’t recover well, and so on. The important lesson I learned is that I need to be willing to spend extra money on food when I’m in a heavy training block. Going to PCC (Seattle’s version of Whole Foods before Whole Foods existed) to buy healthful, premade food is worth the time and money. The mental anguish that has come from not doing this has cost me far more, not in dollars and cents, but in worry, stress, frustration, and likely, performance (which could end up impacting the dollars and cents part, too). I know this now and will be sure to follow through in future big training blocks.

In addition to figuring out the problem, I realized that damage control was necessary. I had been contemplating starting my taper one week earlier than usual anyway, now it was a necessity. A lot can happen in three weeks, so I focused on that. Trying to stay positive, but being realistic about what was truly possible, I have focused on doing all I can to put myself in a good place: eating enough and healthfully, doing all of the important “little things” to the best of my ability, and simply running less.

My race is this Sunday so the jury is out on whether this worked. And what will that even look like? I’m scared and excited about the race at the same time. Road marathons are relentless and unforgiving. They really are an incredible test of fitness, a smart race plan (and following said plan), will, and determination. I’ve had to adjust my goals for this race, knowing that I have lost some of the speed and strength I had a few weeks ago. I am also hopeful that having made smart adjustments soon after I realized things were going south will lead me to a better result than I might otherwise have had. We’ll see. No matter what, I have learned a lot from this experience. I can run faster, my body does hold up well (as long as I feed it enough), and I’m already looking forward to building off of the training I’ve put in over the past few months.

Vancouver Marathon, here I come. Ready or not.

2019 US 50k Trail National Championships

FOURmidable/US 50k Trail National Championships Race Report

The evening before the race I was still trying to decide what to wear. Rain was forecast along with morning temps in the upper-30s. Would some sections be windy? Rain and 30s is already a recipe for cold. Adding the potential for wind, a known creek crossing, and being out there for a few hours means potentially getting really cold. No wind changes things significantly and little or no rain does, too. Racing for hours can heat you up, especially when the course has four significant climbs, adding up to ~6000’ of elevation gain. What’s a racer to wear?!

Sweet race bib

Sweet race bib

Along with wearing my trusty Brooks Mazama shoes, I ended up choosing a light-but-still-warm long-sleeve (of which I cannot roll up the sleeves because they are too tight) with my singlet underneath, capris, and gloves, plus my race vest to carry my gels and some water.

After a brief warm up and one last porta potty stop, I did a couple strides and went to the start line. I chatted briefly with the lady next to me and then the countdown began. Strangely, I wasn’t nervous (unlike one of the ladies standing near me who looked petrified). I don’t know if it was because I have run so many races or because I knew my training hadn’t been ideal, but I knew I was as prepared as I was going to be and being nervous wasn’t going to change anything for the better.

As the race started, I reminded myself that I needed to run my own race. Generally one of my strengths, I didn’t do a good job of that at the 50k championships in August and I was determined to do so this time. Having been warned that people bomb down the first downhill and not wanting to blow my quads up early I kept things calm, but strong. This also meant I ended up being alone.

On the first climb, I caught up to and passed a few guys. Some of the guys and I ended up forming a pack for a few miles. During that time, the guys nicknamed me “The Little Climber.” It was fun to have a group, but I had hoped to be around some women and none were in sight in either direction.

The middle of the race was a jumble of things with none of it being particularly exciting. There was some mud, SO MUCH WATER, and still no women. I continued to play leap frog with one of the guys from the earlier pack. Every downhill he would eventually catch up and pass me and every uphill I would eventually catch up and pass him. It was nice to have that friendly face there, but still no women.

Shortly after mile 17 I was completely alone. Now it was even more important to keep pushing. I had continued to remind myself that I didn’t know what was going on ahead of or behind me. If I didn’t stay focused to keep pushing hard, I might not catch a lady ahead who I couldn’t see who was faltering. And I sure didn’t want anyone creeping up from behind!

Early in the race with my pack.  A taste of how wet the trails were.

Early in the race with my pack.
A taste of how wet the trails were.

This section was ridiculously wet. It had been wet earlier - including the creek crossing I had been warned about around mile 12-13 and  the one I didn’t have a clue about that was thigh-high (and, fortunately for me, they put up a rope to hang onto by the time I came through– but that didn’t hold a candle to the amount of water we would encounter on the trails in this section. Every trail was a creek, flat sections were ponds, and there were bridges that lead you over water only to end in another “pond.” At one point (ok, this happened more than once), I exasperatedly said out loud to myself, “You’ve got to be kidding! No more water!”
There was more water.

Just before the second-to-the-last aid station, there were people standing, yelling at me to, “Go to your right! Go as far to your right as you can!” I did what they said and only ended up going through water that was knee deep, unlike my SRC teammate Evan who apparently went for a swim here earlier. As I emerged from the water hole, a lady told me I was the 6th woman. “That’s impossible,” I said in response. I had been in 9th place since mile 2 and hadn’t passed, been passed, or even seen a woman since then. There was no way three women ahead of me had dropped out. They again told me I was in 6th and that the 5th place woman wasn’t too far ahead and she looked terrible.

The aid station was a bit past this area and as I ran past I asked, “Am I really in 6th place?!” Someone yelled back, “Yes! Go get her!” And again, I said out loud, “That just can’t be.” Buuuut, I also knew it was wet, slippery, and muddy in spots. Maybe it was possible that a few women had to drop out due to taking a weird step in the wet, bumpy grass and mud. I didn’t think it was true, but if it was, the top 5 earn prize money and if the lady ahead was feeling like crap, I was going to hunt her down and pass her!

More water awaited on the trails, making it that much more difficult to pick up the pace. I was still alone and in some sections I could see 3 or 4 minutes ahead. No terrible-feeling woman was in sight. No man – feeling good or bad – was in sight. No one. It was just me and the creeks, er, trails. At one place, three people were standing next to the trail. I sarcastically asked, “Is it always this wet here?” “NO!!!!” they exclaimed. I laughed as I ran off, tromping through more wet trails.

I didn’t see any racers again until I was running through the ankle deep water on No Hands Bridge. Up ahead was someone in a teal singlet. It must be the woman! I’m going to go get her! There’s only 4 miles left! I had no reason to believe it was a woman, other than having been told long ago that I was chasing one down and I really wanted this person to be her.

When I finally caught up, I felt let down when I realized it was a guy. That woman who looked terrible so long ago must not have felt *that* terrible or she had been so far ahead of me that it didn’t matter (never trust people who say, “She’s just up ahead a little.”). Incredibly disheartening. I again reminded myself that it was the last few miles of a hilly and wet 50k and I’d better keep on it because the last few miles of a 50k are tough anyway and there were still two pretty demanding uphills to go, so it was still possible that “The Little Climber” could still catch someone.

I also had no idea who was behind me and how close they were. I knew Bree Lambert was back there somewhere. She’s a fast, tough masters runner and I didn’t want to get caught in the last few miles and end up not defending my masters title from last year after being in the lead for so long.

At this point, I started to feel hungry and thirsty. The sun decided to show itself a bit and, having chosen to wear a black long-sleeve with tight arms, I couldn’t roll up my sleeves. Go away sun! This section was dry (yes, dry!), open, and I was nearing the end of a long race with steep climbing ahead. I didn’t need to get too warm now.

Finally, I saw a woman ahead – for real this time! Unfortunately, she was walking. She is a crazy fast runner and was walking, so I knew she was feeling terrible (mad respect for walking it in). I stupidly said, “Good job,” when I went by because I was tired and couldn’t think of anything else to say. (Yes, it would’ve been better to not have said anything at all. I immediately regretted saying it.)

After I passed her I wondered, was I in 5th or 8th place now? Who knows? All I knew is that I was going downhill again. That meant the upcoming uphill section was going to be even steeper. And it was quite steep. At one point I tried fast hiking (which I never do) to see if it was more efficient. It wasn’t and it didn’t feel good, so I went back to “running.”

As I neared the finish line, there was a trail to the right and a trail going up. The lady I talked with at the start had told me that the end was convoluted and they made you run around the finish line before crossing it, so I thought I probably had to go to the right. I was trying to break 5 hours and my watch said 4:59, so I was getting close! Fortunately, two ladies were sitting there. “Which way do I go?!?!” “Go straight up!” “Thank you,” I huffed as I pushed up, crossing the finish line in 4:59:14.

Did I finish in 5th or 8th? I had already prepared myself not to get excited. I’m good at counting what place I’m in. No woman had passed me and I had only passed one, so I must have been in 8th. Sadly, nothing was announced as I came in other than my name and that I was from Seattle. What place was I?! Didn’t I just win the masters national championship?! A woman put a medal over my head and I somewhat frantically asked her, “What place did I finish?!” “I don’t know.” Pointing to the lady to her right who was writing on a clipboard she said, “She should know.” I again asked, “What place am I?” “I don’t know,” she replied (what was on the clipboard then?). Finally, a guy I had met the evening before came out of a tent near the finish to congratulate me. He gave me a big hug and I asked him, “Do you know what place I finished?!” He said he didn’t and went back into the tent to find out. He came out quickly and told me I was 7th.  7th?! That wasn’t one of the options. Was he sure? Yes. Was I the first masters woman? Let me check…Yes. Yes!!

US 50k National Championship Awards Ceremony

US 50k National Championship Awards Ceremony

Uli hobbled over to hug and congratulate me, telling me how he finished. I waited for the lady behind me to finish and told her how much I respected her for finishing even though I could see it was a frustrating day for her. Soon after the guy I had played leap frog with for a few hours finished. We gave each other a hug. He asked me how I finished. I told him. As we walked away from the finish line he said, “My age group is the toughest. Uli’s in it and he can run a 2:19 marathon.” I cut him off. “Ha! No, he can’t anymore. He’s my husband, so I would know.” “You’re Trisha?!” “Um, yeah. What’s your name?” “I’m Scott Dunlap.” “No way! I finally get to meet you after knowing of you all these years.” What a small world.

SRC representin’ in CA!

SRC representin’ in CA!

Shortly after walking into the finish area tent, I learned that my teammate, Evan, had finished 3rd overall. Awesome!!! What an incredible showing by SRC! Third place male overall, 13th place male overall and 2nd masters, and 7th place female overall and 1st place masters. Go Team Blue!