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!