Friday, December 20, 2013

Experiment of One

Running should make you happy. It should add to your life. But we have all been in situations where we’re disappointed, stressed, and overwhelmed by running. When I started running, it was my escape from the chaos of school and turbulent relationships and it was a way to organize thoughts, breathe, and be present. I never expected to be running beside an Olympian in Redwood Park on a Sunday morning talking about my love of running and training with frustrations as a backdrop.

Often life is about perspective. Since the Olympic trials I have been dealing with bilateral quad cramping that comes and goes. It tends to be the worst at certain times of the month and intense at the start of runs and often subsides 15-20 minutes into a run, after the first interval of a workout, or a few miles into a race. It is frustrating, but I’m trying not to dwell on it. But then I’ve noticed, I am anxious showing up to races and workouts just making it all worse, running slower than my capabilities, and doubting myself. Is it psychological? Am I causing the locking up in my legs with stress? I don’t think so. People can see a change in my form when it occurs. I go from a nice stride to super hunched shuffler. I’ve run through it, but it’s painful, I can’t lift my legs, my breathing gets heavier, and it slows me down big time. Then with no rhyme or reason it disappears and I am normal for the rest of the run, maybe a few days, maybe a few weeks.

I’ve had the blood work. Normal. I’ve had the physical. Heart murmur, but that’s normal. I’ve had the ART. Lots of knots in the quads, but running high mileage = normal. I’ve tried the magnesium spray. Only noticeable effect so far is that it can sting especially on freshly shaven legs. I make sure to add some salt to my food. I am eating well, sleeping well, stretching, and strengthening. Knock on wood, but I have only had one run where the quads flared up this month, which was after sitting on a plane most of the day. I’ll keep eating my kale, seeing Dr. Gutierrez, rope stretching, and doing core work daily.

I have some other theories that I toss around. But I am starting to lean towards the fact that my legs missed hills and that I got too fixated on getting something out of running. It’s good to be goal driven, but running should add to your life, it should make you happy. Maybe I was fighting my body rather than just going out and running French without a watch or pace in mind. Maybe it’s of no surprise, but since adding hill workouts and going out to the headlands with Magdalena Lewy-Boulet, I’ve been re-inspired by running.

I may never know the culprit of my quad seizing, but I am on a mission to stay happy and healthy in 2014. I am an experiment of one and I am off to climb some hills.   

Magda crushing North Face 50 while I paced. 

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Run Free

In April I was in Utah with the US Salomon team for a quick weekend of meetings, runs, and a chance to get to know one another. The motto for 2013 was "Run Free." Ashely Arnold, fellow Salomon teammate and recent Leadville 100 miler winner, interviewed me in July. My response to the question: Freedom is a big word for Salomon this year, what does that mean to you as a runner? was, That captures the amazing feeling on runs where you just feel incredible, happy, and free! (You can see the rest of the interview here).

I've changed my mind or at least modified it. Running free is about letting go of those mental limits, running without anxiety, fear, without doubt, and instead running with humility, humor, focus, and determination. I realized a few weeks ago that I needed to let go of my mental limits. And you know something, I ran faster. I showed up to a track workout and I was able to run some fast 200's in 31-33 seconds, which was easily 4-5 seconds faster than I had run them in the past. Then a few weeks later, I showed up to the same track with a stomach ache from nerves. As I warmed-up I could sense I was already worried about whether I would hit paces or not. A few deep breathes and then I hit my mile splits and 400 meter splits to a T or even faster (again faster than I had run them in the past). And just recently, I showed up to a trail race where I felt tired, gearless, and I ran minutes faster than the previous year. 

Our mind without a doubt effects our body (and unfortunately vice versa). So how can we learn to deal with it and use it to our benefit? Here are some tricks that I am finding work:

1. Accept that it will hurt
2. Stay in the moment (when ever I get anxious, I take 3 deep breaths)
3. Embrace good days and don't over think bad ones
4. Work on your weaknesses 
5. Remind yourself of your strengths 
6. Run with others

In the end pay attention to your body, if something really hurts, accept it and take care of it. And make sure that you're also taking care of your mind. Mental outlook not only changes your attitude it can also remove limitations and help you run free. 

More to come and I'd love to hear what allows all of you to get past mental barriers, so you're able to run free.  


Monday, June 24, 2013


Just a few days ago Sam and I were out running on Skyline Blvd in Oakland. A car came quickly around the corner and not expecting us, it swerved into the other lane. I heard a bunch of cursing from behind us and soon realized a bicyclist had been in that other lane. She started rudely attacking and lecturing Sam and I as if we had been in the wrong. Sam being the nice guy he is tried to make sure she was okay. She continued ranting at us about being out running. I couldn’t keep my mouth shut. I didn’t want to curse, so in the most sarcastic voice I could find I told her to “have a GREAT day!” She yelled back in a sarcastic voice, “YOU TOO!”

Even though Sam and I passed two other pleasant guys on our run that rude lady wouldn’t get out of my mind. That’s the kind of thing that pisses me off about moments like that they can ruin your day. One small rude moment distracts you from all the good ones. I refused to let that happen, but still we’ve all had moments where it has. The same thing can happen with racing. One small rough patch can stand out more than all those good moments. My goal for Grandma’s Marathon was to find those small joyful moments and try to ignore those uncomfortable ones.

I found several: the simple sound of people’s feet on the pavement, when I almost cried just hearing someone blare Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah from a boom box, getting encouragement for Laurie Knowles as she saw me struggling around mile 23, seeing only a few feet of Lake Superior as the rest was lost in a blanket of fog, my breathing, being held afloat by a volunteer as I teeter-tottered at the finish line, and being greeted with my sweat bag and a carnation from a girl that couldn’t have been older than ten.

Before Grandma’s Marathon on Saturday the inevitable 18 mile mark was my biggest concern. And there is no doubt that I struggled in those last 8 miles, but I wasn’t going to drop, I wasn’t going to walk, and I wasn’t going to be disappointed. I was going to power through trying to stay in the moment, focused on doing the best I could do, and trying to keep the sense of joy I felt in the first 18 miles. Not easy, but it got me to the finish line. It is a little bit of a blur when I look back on the race. I had my fueling down (I highly recommend a 5oz soft flask mixed with two GUs). I had good company until the half-marathon mark with Laurie Knowles and two other evenly paced guys. Then I ended up in a no man’s land, surprise, surprise. I felt anxiety creep up as I approached mile 15, 16, and I tried to focus on my breath. But then my feet started to hurt. Ignore them. Keep running. Oh no, the calves… my calves are tightening. Mile 17. Oh shit, there are my hips… the hips are tightening. Keep running, keep moving. I did everything I could to just keep the focus on getting to the end even if I knew my stride was shorter and slower. Even in the last stretch I tried to surge, but that was it. I gave what I could. But damn those last 8 miles!  

When I got across the line I teeter tottered and I was held afloat by a volunteer’s shoulder. She helped me walk off the lightheadedness. Then as quickly as I could I got my sweats on and walked back to the hotel. Showered as quickly as I could and then off to the airport to catch a flight to North Carolina in hopes of catching the tail end of a wedding reception. Flights were on time and the next thing I knew I was at a wedding reception and sipping on champagne. Just a few hours later I almost forgot I had run a marathon that morning. The discomfort I felt in the last bit of the race had dissipated and I was in disbelief that I was in humid Chapel Hill. But, regardless I kept thinking about those last 8 miles.

In the big scheme of things they were difficult and I persevered. Those last 8 miles have been a continuous weak spot, both mentally and physically. I may not have hit a PR on Saturday or figured out those final miles, but I learned to run with joy again. That’s what carries me regardless of the negative moments in both life and running. And I can’t help but sense a breakthrough soon. 

I’m very grateful to several people who helped me get to that finish line on Saturday. I am lucky to know Greg Hexum, a fellow Salomon athlete, who lives in Duluth, MN. He gave me a tour of the course, he drove me to the airport post race, and he was even thoughtful enough to get me lunch. When we were out touring the course he had mentioned something about running with joy. Thanks for that reminder, over the last 10k I might not have looked very joyful, but I was over those first 20 miles and inside I was still beaming even when it hurt. My coach, Mark McManus, has assisted me with my training and focus. I was able to take the pressure off myself in those last 8 miles and focus on shortening the race into fragments because of our pre-race talk. My boyfriend, Sam Robinson, helped me break through my rough patch in racing. Without his continued support and rabbit duties in Traverse City, Michigan, I wouldn’t have had the confidence to push through. Of course friends, family, and everyone else who believes in me often more than I do, thank you!

Thanks to Grandma’s Marathon for an amazing event. The volunteers and organization was absolutely incredible. Thanks to Infinite Running for supporting my road racing. Thanks Salomon for my favorite rain jacket and gloves. They came in handy in the foggy, rainy weather in Minnesota!

Now onto more joyful moments!


Photo Courtesy of Robert Schroeder Photography

Sunday, March 3, 2013

A Work In Progress

I had a bad day today. Absolutely frustrating when I had two of my best workouts recently, a ½ Marathon tempo at 6:12 pace two weeks ago and then a 10-mile tempo last week at 6:04 pace. You can plan everything so well and some how even when you are at your fittest you fall to pieces. Or at least that’s what happened for me. And it wasn’t just today, but it seems it has been a frequent pattern over the past two years. Of course this is me over thinking. I pulled out running logs to find clues, give answers, but it was just one shitty ass day amongst weeks, months, and years of good runs.

I could have pulled out of Napa at mile 6 today when I felt really shitty from miles 3-6, but I held on. Maybe it was just a rough patch. Took a GU, some deep breaths, focused on the views. The next 7 or 8 miles were perfect and then bam back to crap. Unfortunately at mile 20 when I decided I had already exceeded my limit, I had no one in sight to save me. So, I jogged and walked for another 3+ where my Mark, Sam, and Will comforted my tears. I seriously didn’t want to cry. I had accepted for 23+ miles that it just wasn’t my day. Something was off and I just needed to let it go. But never an easy thing to do in any sport, or any aspect of life for that matter.

There are some things that I realized today. First, they need to make pockets in more sports bras for GUs. Two, I don’t think I should ever run a race right before my period. My running log has made note that all my worst races/workouts take place in this time frame. Sometimes it stinks being a woman. Three, I need to have more fun. I used to run just on pure feel, no specific workouts, and lots of time on the trails. In 2009 there is a slew of photos of me running with a smile, now I just look pissed. I’m not usually by the way, but still. I didn’t make a running log until 2011. I didn’t pay attention to splits. It was all about effort, exploration, and talking with friends on long runs. I haven’t jumped in a mud puddle in a long ass time (well the lack of rain could have something to do with that!).

So anyway, I always tend to blog about bad days, but isn’t that like most things in life. The good stuff just doesn’t always have as much story or feeling to it. Or something like that.

Long story short, I am still trying to figure things out…. Aren’t we all?

Sunday, December 2, 2012

TNF 50 Miler Take Two

Today, after my second 50 miler, I woke-up surprisingly early with stiff heels and a sore right arm (damn water bottle). Otherwise, I felt pretty darn good, physically at least. Mentally, I had a bit of the typical post race blues, doubts, and so I did laundry, cleaned, walked, and sat in a hot tub. But, I hate that anticlimactic feeling after an ultra or any big race for that matter.

There is no doubt I gave all of what I could yesterday at the North Face 50. I’ve never wanted to give up so bad and yet still make it close to another 24 miles. I literally felt like my body couldn’t go any further, but somehow it carried on through mud and up climbs. Even a ¼ mile to the finish I thought that was it, I need to be carried. But, I somehow kept putting one foot in front of another. There is no doubt that my pacer, John Burton, and crew, Will Gotthardt, helped me keep the forward momentum. My favorite line from John yesterday was, “never make a decision going uphill.” After hearing this and running a good descent, I started shaking my head and crying at mile 32. I was done. Will said, “it’s always your decision Caitlin.” And on that note, I grabbed my water bottle and GU and started running. I have no idea why. And that’s how it kept going until the finish (with a touch more crying, cursing, and walking).

I still don’t know how I made it. But, I did. So where did this leave me? Happily in forth, amazed that I had pushed through, stunned that I had actually made it to the finish line, and a little melancholy too. I didn’t want to just make it to the finish line, but I had to work with my body and just follow its lead. I do wish that I could have felt better even though I am not sure it would have kept me running with Emelie Forsberg and Stephanie Howe (congrats ladies!). Maybe I’ll get another day to try.

Then again, I’ve got some thinking to do about ultras, just not sure my heart is in them. 50ks are one thing, but there is a reason that it took me three years to do my second 50 miler. And why I still vow that I’ll never in my lifetime do another 100k (my non-running friends are holding me to that). I guess I’d really love to love them, but deep in my heart, I kind of wish I was just a really good hurdler or 10ker. But, I’m not.  So where does this leave me? A little bit uncertain about what I’m doing and what I want to be doing. But, I am not going to make any decisions right now. Sometimes things need some time, just got to make it up those hills to figure it out.

All and all, it was my hardest race to date, but it will make me stronger for races to come. I was thrilled to reconnect with folks from the ultra community and it was really amazing to run with an impressive field of women. I hope the sport keeps moving in that direction because if I had to pick, I’d like to be doing more races with mud (maybe a touch less than yesterday), hills, and single tracks (missed them yesterday).

The descent before mile 32.
Photo courtesy of San Francisco Running Company. 

Second time into Muir.
Photo courtesy of Rick Gaston.

Happy to be done.
Looking forward to that for 24 f'n miles!
Photo courtesy of San Francisco Running Company.