Little Cottonwood, or the hardest climb I’ve ever done

When you’ve been around Salt Lake City and involved in cycling long enough, you’re bound to hear a little snippet of cycling lore about the local ride up Little Cottonwood Canyon.  Apparently, it has almost exactly the same profile as the notoriously grueling Alpe d’Huez climb in the Tour de France.  If you’re anything like I was when I first heard this, you are currently nodding and saying, “Cool!” so that you don’t reveal your absolute lack of cycling knowledge.

It’s okay.  I still only think it’s cool because other people think it’s cool and they know more than I do.

Little Cottonwood profile (from
Little Cottonwood profile (from
Alpe d'Huez profile... notice it's in kilometers and meters, not miles and feet (from
Alpe d’Huez profile (from

But it’s an iconic climb in the area, and I wanted to try it out.  Plus, since I’m dating a cycling fan, I now follow the Tour de France every year.  And if I can climb Little Cottonwood, next year when I’m sitting on the couch eating candy and watching Nairo Quintana climb Alpe d’Huez, I can nod knowingly at the television and say, “I feel your pain, bro.”

I decided to tackle Little Cottonwood Canyon this past weekend for one main reason—I was housesitting for Rob’s parents, and they live fairly close to the mouth of the canyon.  That meant I didn’t have to do a 50 mile ride or drive to the start of my ride.  Because Rob was out of town with his parents, I decided to try to find someone to do the ride with me.  I thought perhaps having company would dull the pain a bit.  However, I burned through my list of the one person I know in Salt Lake who isn’t Rob and might not be busy pretty quickly.  So, I just decided to go solo.

The one benefit of the end of cycling season is sleeping in.  When the high for a day is 65°, there’s no need to get out the door by 8:00am or even 10:00am.  For the first time in who-knows-how-long, I didn’t set an alarm at all.  (Of course, I was pet-sitting a cat and a dog who missed their respective parents, so I didn’t get the glorious night of sleep I wanted.)

This guy kept me awake all night with cuddle demands
This guy kept me awake all night with cuddle demands

After a relaxing morning filled with kitty cuddles and walks with the dog, I started preparing for my ride.  When you climb a canyon in the fall, you need to bring some warm clothing for the ride down.  65° and sunny is perfect weather going 15-20mph in the valley.  When you’ve climbed to 8500ft and suddenly turn around and start going 30+ mph, it’s not nearly as pleasant.  So I packed arm warmers, knit gloves, and a wind-vest.  The wind-vest is amazing.  It keeps your core warm for cold descents but can be rolled up small enough to fit in a jersey pocket.  I always borrow Rob’s, but I really should get one of my own.  Cycling gear can get superfluous, but this item works wonders.

Actually, the gloves aren't mine either...
Actually, the gloves aren’t mine either…

I packed my stuff, filled my water bottles, and headed off in high spirits.  This was going to be great!  Yeah, my high spirits didn’t last long.  The ride to the mouth of the canyon was the perfect fall bike ride.  Then I, you know, hit the canyon.  I guess there’s a reason the Alpe d’Huez is notoriously difficult.  If Little Cottonwood mirrors Alpe d’Huez as much as they say, then I think I discovered that reason.  This canyon never let up.  Every second hurt for miles.  And miles last a long time when you are going six miles per hour (or less!).  There were some gorgeous landscapes, but I spend most of the time looking my feet.

Why look at this...
Why look at this…
...or this...
…or this…
…when you can stare miserably at this instead?

I was miserable, and every time I looked down at my computer, it seemed like I had made absolutely no progress.  I almost turned around at around ten miles because I could not even imagine making it to the top of the canyon.  I soldiered on, more due to stubbornness than anything else.  Clearly, the canyon was eternal and I was going to die there.  I decided when I wrote about the climb, I would make sure to mention that the ride was no fun at all—absolutely none.  I even had to switch the display on my computer so I couldn’t see the time I had been out or the distance I had gone.

Finally, the grade lessened a bit.  Instead of chugging along at 5mph, I was flying at around 7.5mph.  I passed one ski resort and then another.  And then, in the distance, I saw a parking lot—a parking lot that didn’t seem to have anything leading out of it.  Once I reached the Promised Land parking lot, I called Rob in Alabama to make sure I had made it to the true top of the canyon.  I wanted to check this sucker off my list, and the last thing I wanted was to realize the next day that there was another half a mile left and feel obligated to climb it all over again.  He confirmed that I was indeed at the top.  I was done.  Finally.  And it was time to turn around and go back.

My obligatory
My obligatory “made it to the top” photo

It was at this point that I decided I couldn’t actually report that no part of this ride was fun.  Descending is fun.  Terrifying, but fun.  And when I wasn’t spending the whole ride looking at my feet, I saw that I was surrounded by some pretty amazing scenery, too.  Of course, I was way too terrified to stop, so I missed any photo ops.  I was flying down this canyon.  I topped out at over 40mph, and probably could have gone faster if I were a little braver.  To give a bit of perspective, it took me about an hour and twenty minutes to climb the canyon and under fifteen minutes to descend.  Even with my warm clothes on, I ran into some shady areas during the descent that were uncomfortably cool.  Canyon climbs are coming to an end for the year.

Max speed for the ride

When I got to the driveway, I had gone just over 29 miles, so I rode around the block a few times to hit 30.  And then I went inside and watched Netflix for the rest of the day.  I was spent.  When it comes down to it, I think I reached a bit beyond my ability for this ride.  I was able to complete it, yes, but just barely.  I think at a certain point, a ride is difficult enough that a slightly easier ride is actually a better tool for conditioning.  And I think when you are struggling to hit 5 mph and keep obsessively checking for an easier gear even though you know you’re already in your granny gear, you know you’ve hit that point.  Regardless, I’m glad I took on the challenge.  This is an iconic climb in Salt Lake City, and it’s one more canyon crossed off my list.  Next year, I’ll cross the rest of the off.  And I will definitely enjoy feeling like part of the brotherhood when the pros are climbing Alpe d’Huez during next year’s Tour.

Weekly Recap (10/19-10/25)

Monday: Swim—Masters swim class (2500yds)
Another solid day in the pool.  Today felt easier than it has in the past, though.  I think part of that was because this workout was more focused on form than usual, and you can’t really focus on form when you feel like you’re dying.  I might also be getting used to hard swim workouts, which really only means it’s time to push myself harder.  I did learn something new today.  We did a fast 200 in the middle of the workout, and I learned that 200s are the 800s of the pool.  It’s not short enough to go as hard as you can, and it’s not long enough to really justify pacing yourself.  So you just end up hurting the whole way through.

Tuesday: Bike—30 minutes
I often run on Tuesday, but I wanted to give my legs another day to rest after my tough weekend.  So instead I did a short, easy ride after work.  The weather is perfect for after-work rides right now, and I’m trying to take advantage of that while I still can.  I’m glad I took this day for a recovery workout because I think my legs needed the break.

Wednesday: Run—5.1 miles (43:58)
Despite the break I gave my legs, it was still a tough run.  I could tell from the beginning of the run that my legs were heavy.  It was good practice, though.  Once I start marathon training, I probably won’t be doing many runs with fully recovered legs.  I still ran an 8:37/mile pace, which is really not that bad for one of my morning runs.  More importantly, I put in a strong effort even though I knew from the get-go that my time would be lackluster.  A few more solid miles in the training bank.

Thursday: Rest
Day off!  I slept in until 6:05am, hit snooze once more than I originally planned, and ate a doughnut at work (which would have happened anyway, but I needed one more good thing to fill out the list).  Sometimes I hear about people who don’t take days off for months, and I don’t even understand how they could do that.  I’m as obsessive as they come, and I always treasure my day off.  As much as I love working out, I need to take a day off pretty much every week to keep from burning out.  I think it’s one really good habit that running track in college instilled in me.

Friday: Bike—17.7 miles (1:08:08)
I got out on the bike after work and rode in a really great area where I haven’t ridden before.  It was a nice ride with some good rolling hills.  I may check it out next summer to help me with the rollers I’ll face in Coeur d’Alene.  The fall colors were gorgeous, and I also discovered where the rich suburbanites live and saw some giant mansions.  The ride was hiller than I expected, and I wonder if it tired out my legs more than I intended and made Saturday’s ride a little harder than it had to be.

Saturday: Bike—Little Cottonwood Canyon (2:27:28)
I rode Little Cottonwood Canyon for the first time.  It hurt.  It was painful.  I’m going to write a blog post about it, so expect that in the next couple of days.  Spoiler alert: In the end, I was glad that I did it.  In total, this ride was 30.13 miles (though I had to do a couple laps around the block to hit 30).

Sunday: Run—8 miles (1:10:32)
My legs were stiff, tired, and uncooperative in the morning.  I knew they would be after my ride the day before, and I wasn’t quite sure if 8 miles was in the cards, especially since the route I was planning to run was hilly.  So I marked out the 4 mile turn-around point on the map but gave myself permission to turn back earlier if I needed to.  I also gave myself permission not to think about pace, but I would have been disappointed if I had run much slower than a 9:00/mile pace.  The route was almost all uphill on the way out, and I was struggling.  It would have been a tough run anyway, even without the ride the day before.  That steep uptick right before the turn-around was killer.  Even with the less-than-ideal conditions, I was able to push an acceptable pace and finished with an average pace of 8:49/mile.  This cemented the decision I made earlier this week to cut fifteen seconds off my marathon training times.  I had planned to do my long runs at a 9:00/mile pace, but I decided to cut that back a bit after having such a good running weekend in Idaho.  I was feeling too good for the paces I had planned out, and I didn’t want to limit myself by some arbitrary numbers.  So I made the executive decision to lower my paces, which will put my future long runs at an 8:45/mile pace.  If I can almost hit that pace the day after a really hard climb on a hilly course without killing myself, I don’t think I’m aiming too high.

Elevation profile for my run

The Social Media Lens

I recently posted a status on Facebook about the dangers of looking up old friends on social media only to find out they are doing awesome, cool things while you are struggling to master even the basic tenets of functional adulthood.  That prompted a bit of a conversation about the social media lens as well as a couple comments about how I was over here doing awesome exercise things.


The social media lens is a phrase I use to describe how our presentation of our lives via social media affects the way others view our experiences and, in turn, their own.  Basically, we present the positive elements of ourselves and our lives on Facebook, Instagram, etc.  I want to clarify that I don’t think it’s some big conspiracy or horrible thing.  In fact, it’s pretty natural.  When we are excited about something, we want to share it.  When we are ashamed about something, we don’t want the whole world to know about it.  It’s always been that way.  Even before social media, Aunt Suzy’s Christmas letter never mentioned that they caught Cousin Sally smoking pot or that she and Uncle William had been fighting, and that recently she’d cried herself to sleep more nights than not.  It’s just that now, we’re confronted with those Christmas letter narratives daily and not just when the holidays roll around.  And I’m not sure even the worst critics of the social media lens would want it any other way.  After all, everyone knows that if you share too much negativity or too many struggles, you suddenly become the person without an online filter, the vaguebooker, the train wreck people are dying to watch.

The problem is, of course, that we all see these picture-perfect aspects in the lives of our old friends without also seeing their failures, their struggles, and their pain.  In contrast, we see our own failures every time we look in the mirror or check our banking statements online.  And we feel our own pain and rawness deeply when something goes wrong.  We see the good and the bad in our own lives which can make us feel like losers when we are constantly surrounded by only the good in others’ lives.  I know that when I scroll through my Facebook feed, I often emotionally forget that I’m looking at an edited version of other people’s lives.  Sure, I intellectually know it’s edited, but it doesn’t feel edited when I’m looking at your most recently uploaded photos where you are smiling with your friends in some beautiful area.  Our cool things are tempered by our failures and struggles in a way that our friends’ are not.

By the very nature of being a blogger (even a completely unknown one), I contribute to this phenomenon.  I want to blog about things that people want to read about.  And it’s more fun to read a race report or look at pictures of gorgeous Salt Lake City scenery than it is to hear about how my current favorite pastime is watching someone else play video games.  Additionally, I use my blog as a spot to practice (generally) positive self-talk because I desperately need to improve that skill.  This means that the messier parts of my life and my own personal demons are often omitted.

So I’m going to try to put a more balanced view of my life out there with this post, one that’s a little less obscured by the social media lens and a little more in line with how I see my own life.  Essentially, I’m going to post two different kinds of photos in this post—those that I would normally post to social media and those that I normally wouldn’t even take because they are, on some level, shameful to me.  I also want give an advance warning that some of these less positive instances may actually be kind of serious.  Some of them are silly little things that I do, but I want to avoid the trend of faking authenticity online by posting “safe” problems, and therefore giving the impression that those safe, minor problems are the only ones I have.  (For instance—Just ate Jolly Ranchers and potato chips for dinner! #quirky #raceweight).


Rob and I had a wonderful date night, complete with Sleepy Hollow and cute little pumpkin bread bowls.  (Before taking it, I shoved all the crap on the counter to the side so that it wouldn’t be in the picture.)


I never clean my cup at work out until I want to fill it with something else.  So little bits of not-completely-dissolved chocolate milk powder get all crusty in there.  It would take me 15 seconds to rinse it out immediately and takes 2-3 minutes to get it clean after all the residue has dried.  It’s gross.  I’m gross.


I had a great ride this week and finally smashed my PR up Emigration Canyon.  I was absolutely thrilled and could not stop smiling the whole way back down.

Taken from

This screenshot needs a bit of background.  My ex-husband really did a number on my emotional well-being.  Whenever I got upset (even for a good reason), he would act like my response was completely over-the-top and I was being crazy.  Because I do legitimately deal with mental illness (anxiety and depression), I believed him.  I started to feel like any “negative” emotion was a sign I was unstable.  He began to plant a seed in my mind that I suffered from borderline personality disorder or bipolar disorder, and straight-up told others that I had been diagnosed.  Every few months, I will get upset at someone or feel extra frustrated at life, and the idea he planted that I must have one of these disorders creeps back in.  Last week, I found myself worried again.  Whenever this happens, I look up the symptoms, and I always realize I don’t fit the description at all.  (Risky behavior? Impetuous decision making? Intense and stormy relationships?  Those are my stress dreams!)


I got to meet my sweet new niece this weekend.  She is absolutely lovely!  I held her while she was sleeping, and she kept making the cutest little noises.  I miss her already!


The only people who call me are trying to get my money.  Or my blood. (Also, I apparently never listen to my voicemails.)


I was able to enjoy a long run with my dad!  Plus, he’s still stiff from falling out of a tree, so I was able to keep up.


This is technically Rob’s kitchen, but since I eat dinner at his place most evenings, I treat it like my own.  That means cleaning it is as much my responsibility as his.  And yes, this happens.  It doesn’t always look this bad, but really… a lot of the time, it does.  (And I removed at least one thing from the counter before taking the picture because even in my “life isn’t perfect” honesty post, I can’t be completely honest.  I consoled myself with my belief that no one is completely honest all the time.)


I was beyond excited when the new Brandon Sanderson book finally arrived.  He creates some of the best magic systems I’ve ever seen in fantasy.  (This might not be the first book I’ve read since grad school, but it’s definitely one of them.)


When I’m in meetings, I obsessively plan out my financial future.  It’s pretty dismal, and I’ve realized that I won’t be able to afford children until I’m at least in my mid-thirties which appears to me as an indication that I’ll never be able to have kids.  I haven’t even begun to come to terms with this, and it crosses my mind at least daily. (This particular “plan” was actually written a few months ago, but the sentiments remain.)

These photos cover neither all the good nor all the less-than-good in my life, of course, but I think they offer up a solid representation about how everything is going, not just the fun date nights and the exciting things that I’m working on.  I didn’t write this post so that people would feel sorry for me (or judge me, as the case may be!).  Nor did I write it because I think people should overshare on the Internet for the purpose of making others feel better (though I don’t think admitting your life isn’t absolutely perfect is oversharing).  Rather, it’s a reminder—in large part to myself—that the images of another person’s life that manage to make it onto the Internet are not the whole picture.  When I start forgetting this fact, I struggle with jealousy and I’m far less empathetic than I would like to be.  When I remind myself that everyone is dealing with something, I’m more thankful for the Emigration PRs and the meeting of new nieces, and I’m also more empathetic towards the people around me because I remember that their lives are not all new jobs and perfect relationships.

I am doing a pretty awesome thing.  Training for an Ironman is a huge undertaking, and when I complete it, I will have accomplished something pretty impressive.  I am also struggling, and that’s okay.  And whoever happens to be reading thing—you are doing a pretty awesome thing.  You’re going to school or training for a cool race or working hard at your job or, somehow despite everything, making a life for yourself.  And if you’re also struggling?  That’s okay.  We all are.

Ten Month Checkup

It seems like just last week that I wrote my eleven month checkup.  I cannot believe how quickly the time is passing. When I initially decided that I would do Ironman Coeur d’Alene, the race was in late June.  They changed it just this year to late August, and I am so glad they did.  Those extra two months seem absolutely vital at this point.  Those extra two months are giving me the time to complete a whole marathon training cycle this winter which will be a huge confidence builder for me.  I’m a little bit disappointed because I know I’ll likely be racing in warmer weather than I would have been, but this year’s Ironman Coeur d’Alene was in June and was still over 100°, so at least I know to prepare for warm weather.  It won’t sneak up on me.


Cycling is winding down and running is ramping up.  And, right on schedule, I’m feeling great about my running.  I’ve been hitting paces I haven’t hit in a long time, especially when I visit Idaho and have the elevation advantage.  I wish I could match my Idaho performance here in Utah.  The elevation matters, but I think I also run faster when I’ve got a running partner.  When my dad is there to talk to, I forget how miserable running is and don’t have trouble keeping my pace up during the middle miles of a long run.  Regardless, I feel well-prepared to start marathon training in a couple of weeks.  Looking at my recent paces, I’m even considering training a little more aggressively than I had originally planned.  My long runs are currently slated for a 9:00/mile, but maybe an 8:45/mile would be more in line with my current fitness.

General health:
I’ve had a lingering cough for a long time now, but it hasn’t bothered me much recently.  My appetite has been much better, and I’m back up to a (mostly) healthy weight.  Really, my biggest issue is general fatigue.  I’ve just been tired lately.  The reason for that?  I’ve been staying up too late.  Simple as that.  I need to get my act together and put myself to bed 30-60 minutes earlier in the evenings.


Despite a slight panic when I realized the Ironman was only ten (TEN!) months away, I have been surprisingly tough mentally.  I’ve been working on positive self-talk, at least in regards to triathlon.  It’s strange, but positive self-talk is easier for me in the realm of athletics than it is in real life.  I can’t find my keys?  I’m a loser who never should have graduated high school!  I have a seriously bad workout?  I do what I can to finish it and plan to try a similar one the next week.  In addition to positive self-talk, I’m focusing on staying realistic.  I’ve been reading Ironman Coeur d’Alene race reports so I can try to anticipate and train for the very real difficulties I’ll face on race day.  So far, the most common issues (besides the fact that it’s a freaking Ironman!) seem to be choppy water and hills on the bike.  Next summer, I’m going to take a few day trips to Bear Lake to practice swimming in a large enough body of water to experience some noticeable chop.  And you better believe I will be prepared for the hills with all the canyons around here.


Longest swim workout: 2800yds

Longest ride: 37 miles

Longest run: 9 miles

Most encouraging workout: My 51:58 climb up Emigration Canyon.  I had been chasing that PR since June.  I knew I had it in me, but I was beginning to think the conditions wouldn’t align before winter hit.  I felt strong and fast, and I think I’ve finally learned how to push myself to the point of exhaustion on the bike.

Most discouraging workout: A really tragic speed workout on a treadmill during my lunch hour.  It was inexplicably bad—I still haven’t come up with a plausible theory for what happened to me that day.

Average time per sport per week

Swimming: 60 minutes

Cycling: 121.25 minutes

Running: 121.25 minutes


Looking to the future

I’ve done a good job preparing for the start of my marathon training.  Now I just need to keep up with my cycling and swimming even when I’m focusing on running.  I will be running three times a week.  I’d like to continue to get at least one good weekend ride in every week, at least while the weather stays pleasant.  However, I suspect that as the weather gets colder, I’ll start swimming more.  During the winter, I’d like to start attending masters twice a week instead of once.  Additionally, I want to add some core work to my routine.  For my next checkup, I want to have started doing a short ab workout 2-3 times a week.  I can’t tell you how many times I have decided I should probably do this and then have just never gotten around to it.

East Canyon earlier this month
East Canyon earlier this month

Weekly Recap (10/12-10/18)

Monday: Swim—Masters swim class (2800 yds)
The masters workout this week was hard, probably the hardest I’ve done so far.  We did a lot of 100s.  100s are hard for me because they are in-between what I can do “fast” and what I can do “paced.”  They’re like running hard 400s.  This workout was pretty simple, though, so I was actually able to recall the details of the sets afterwards.  So, if you were curious, here’s a sample of a masters swim class workout:
300 swim
200 kick
100 pull
8 x 50 (closed fist)
10 x 100 @ 1:50
100 easy
10 x 50 @ :55
100 easy
100 fast (1:23)
Those 100s.  They were tough.  I was still be sucking wind from the one I just finished when I started the next one.  Pushing myself in the pool like this is good for me, and I’m crossing my fingers that the results will show up next season.

Tuesday: Run—5.1 miles (43:01)
This was just an average morning run, although I did get tired sooner than normal.  It could have been the last after-effects of my race on Saturday or the fact that I stayed up fairly late last night.  Either way, it was a pretty solid run at an 8:26/minute pace.  It’s getting colder and colder in the mornings here.  Pretty soon I’m going to have to graduate from tank tops on these morning runs.  I’m not looking forward to it.  I’m not a huge fan of winter, and it’s really easy for me to lose my motivation.  I still do my workouts, but I just trudge through them.  Plus, Salt Lake City usually gets quite a bit of snow which can make it hard to coordinate runs.  It is what it is, but I don’t have to like it.

Wednesday: Bike—Emigration Canyon (1:19:01)
I finally got back on the bike today.  I was excited to see how I felt on the bike after a rest week, especially considering I’ve been chasing my PR on this workout for most of the year.  Early on in the season, there was a strong tailwind going up Emigration and I managed a solid time to the top.  I’ve been close to hitting it recently, but despite being in better shape than I was when I set that record, I haven’t managed to best it.  Within the first 200m of my ride, I glanced down at my gears and thought, “Wow, I didn’t realize I was in such a hard gear!”  That was the moment I thought I might have the legs to hit my PR.  I wasn’t sure which way the wind would be blowing, but at the mouth of the canyon, it seemed like I would be getting a light tailwind.  So I pushed myself through the climb and kept myself just a bit faster than was comfortable.  I came to the final climb, which is quite a bit steeper than the rest of the canyon, and worked on keeping a high cadence in the toughest gear I could handle.  My legs were burning, and I literally could not suck in enough air.  Once I could see the top, I knew I’d hit my PR, but I pushed it in hard anyway and came in at 51:58, over two minutes faster than my previous best of 54:02.  I felt great riding back down the canyon, but I crashed for the rest of the evening after my ride.

Two minute PR
Two minute PR

Thursday: Run—30 minutes
This was just your basic recovery runs.  For easy recovery runs like this, I run solely by time and don’t check my distance afterwards.  I often do the same when I do a short recovery ride.  I don’t want to feel internal pressure to push the workout harder than I should.  There’s generally not much to say about these runs, but today I found a little matchbox car and brought it back home with me.  So that’s fun.

Friday: OFF
I rested today and spent the day driving up to Idaho to meet my new little niece!  She is so tiny—I always forget how small newborns are.

Saturday: Run—9 miles (1:12:09)
I had the opportunity to run with my dad this weekend.  It was a lot of fun.  We’re running my “marathon” together in February*, so I’m always happy to run with him when I’m in town because we’re always running similar distances.  Runs definitely go by faster when there is someone to chat with.  Plus, his routes are flat, and the elevation is lower which means I always feel way better running with him than by myself in Salt Lake.  My only concern about my running is that I’m worried I may be training for too slow a marathon.  We did this nine mile run at an 8:01/mile pace (but a lot of that time was made up for in the last mile).  I’m planning on running my marathon at a 9:00/mile pace.  I think I can run faster than that, so I might consider cutting some time off my training paces, even if I still run the marathon-length run at the originally planned pace.

Sunday: Run—800m, 6 x 800, 800m
I didn’t bother to bring my bike up to Idaho because I knew it would be tough to fit a ride in.  I decided to do intervals on Sunday instead.  I figured that a long run on Saturday and intervals on Sunday would be a tough combination workout. I was right.  My legs never quite loosened up, and they were heavy from the start. Additionally, it was a little harder than I expected to track my pace because the track I was using had barriers up in the first three lanes to keep punks like me from ruining their new surface.  So I had to run in lane 4.  Still, I pushed myself and hit some the paces I was aiming for with one minute of rest in-between.  My times were as follows: 3:14.96, 3:23.09, 3:20.27, 3:20.87, 3:23.86, 3:20.86.  Immediately after my 800m cool-down, I got in my car and drove 360 miles back to Utah.  Now I’m stiff and sore.

*My marathon won’t be a race because nothing fits my Ironman schedule well.  It will be a 26.2 mile training run along a local marathon route.

Paul Moore Foundation 5k Race Report (10/10/2015)

Before Saturday, I had raced a 5k exactly twice.  Once was two and a half years ago when I finished up my first sprint triathlon with a well-executed 5k.  The other was thirteen years ago when I competed in my first high school cross-country race, during which I broke my pelvis and gave up distance running for eleven years.  I mentally ran through the history of my life several times after coming up with this number, certain I had missed something. But it stands.  For someone who has essentially been a runner for life, I’m actually impressed that I’ve done so well avoiding non-obligatory 5ks.

Because of my conspicuous lack of experience at this particular distance, I struggled to come up with a goal time.  Not only have I not raced this distance, but I haven’t even had many training runs at this distance recently.  And the paces for the runs I have done recently are affected by how early I tend to do them.  So my goals were set with that in mind.

Goal A—Run a well-executed race.

I wanted to run fairly even splits and feel like I have given my all at the end of the race.  That meant not going out to fast but still going out hard.  It’s a hard enough balance to hit when you are familiar with the race distance.  I knew it would be more difficult for a distance I wasn’t intimately familiar with.

Goal B—22:59

I decided I wanted to break 23 minutes in this 5k.  This comes out to a 7:24/mile pace, and I really wasn’t sure if it was feasible for me in my current condition, especially with my current lack of experience at this distance.

Race strategy:

The second I came up with goals, I started to come up with a plan besides “go out there, run hard, and have fun!”  Pretty simply, I wanted to stay on pace.  However, I don’t have a Garmin.  And because I’m unfamiliar with the distance and my body is unfamiliar with the pace I wanted to run, I knew it would be a struggle to know where my pace was compared to where it should be.  In a half-marathon, you can get to the first mile and pick it up or slow it down, as long as you are in the general vicinity of your pace.  You can’t do that when you are a third of the way through the race by the time you reach the first mile marker.

So I looked up the race course and figured out what my time would need to be at each major turn in the road.  That plus the assumed mile markers gave me plenty of pace checkpoints with the biggest gap being just under 3/4 of a mile near the beginning of the race.  My plan was based on a best-case scenario where I ran on pace (7:24/mile) until the second-to-last (2.53 miles) or last (2.76 miles) checkpoint, depending on how I felt.  Once I hit the checkpoint, I would drop the hammer (although I worried I would be too busy trying to pick up the pieces of a shattered race plan to drop any hammer).

Splits written on my hand = Garmin substitute
Splits written on my hand = Garmin substitute

Race day:

The race wasn’t until 9:00am, but I woke up at 6:15am because I like to have been up and moving for several hours before running at a hard effort.  I left to pick Rob up around 7:15, and we left from his place around 7:30.  We stopped to get what has become the pre-race ritual breakfast of an Egg McMuffin from McDonald’s.  I kind of had to go to the bathroom, but it was busy and you needed to ask an employee to unlock the bathroom.  I didn’t want to be a bother so I decided to wait until the race.  I had a fleeting concern about whether there would be bathrooms at the race site or not before dismissing that fear as ridiculous.

We ended up at the race site around 8:00 and walked up the registration table just in time to see a woman and her family tell the volunteers that the bathrooms weren’t open.  Uh-oh.  The volunteers pointed her in the direction of another building that should have been open, so I followed along.  Locked. Crap.  Upon our return to the registration table, one of the volunteers told us they were calling the city to send someone out to unlock the bathrooms but that there was a Chevron station about a block away we could use.  Thankfully, we had gotten there early enough to have plenty of time and we just walked over there after registering. Crisis averted, thank goodness.  And by the time we made it back, the bathrooms were unlocked for future use.

Since I still had time before the race started, Rob and I took a look around.  It was way more than a 5k.  There was a substantial silent auction and a carnival for the kids, complete with awesome face painting, balloon animals, and bouncy castles.  As I mentioned here, this event and the accompanying foundation was set up by Rob’s cousin.  She and several others started the Paul Moore Foundation after a local man was diagnosed with terminal kidney cancer.  This event was to raise money to help him and his family with the costs that come with a diagnosis like that.  This was a local event, so most of the people there knew the Moore family.  It was incredibly touching (and more than a little inspiring) to see the community rally around a family in need and offer their support in whatever way they could.  If any of you are interested in learning more, you can find information here.


Eventually, I did my typical warmup for a road race.  I jogged around for about five minutes and did a few striders and some lackluster stretching.  Rob and I headed over to the start line not long after that where I reminded him where I wanted him cheering on course and gave him my phone with a mission to get photos of the race.  It was still a bit early, but there was a cluster of kids lined up right at front of the group at the start, so I stayed at the starting line to make sure I had a place up front and wouldn’t have to pick my way through a bunch of cute but erratic children when the race started.  I saw one other guy doing a serious warm-up, and it wasn’t long before he joined me and the kids at the front of the group.  Since I was the only woman up at the front near the start, I got the feeling I might have been the only woman really gunning for a specific time.

When the organizers started giving the pre-race talk, I was stricken by starting line syndrome.  I was suddenly hungry.  And did I really have to pee again?  And how was I going to run a whole 5k if even jumping up and down to stay warm exhausted my legs so much?  All that was immediately forgotten when the gun went off and I started running.

Starting off with local cheerleaders in the background
Starting off with local cheerleaders in the background

The guy I had seen warming up earlier just took off.  I stayed (far) behind him, determined to run my own race.  As we approached the first potential turn, the lead guy (who was still within shouting distance) turned around and asked if we were supposed to turn there.  I was fortunately pretty familiar with the course after using the map to figure out my splits a few days earlier, so I was able to wave him forward and keep him from turning.  Not long after, I came to my first checkpoint.  I was at about 1:47 when I was supposed to cross at 2:04. CALM. DOWN.  I tried to settle into an easy pace, and I hit the first mile in about 7:12, feeling strong and trying not to think about the fact that I still had two more miles to run.

I felt strong through the second mile despite a moment of panic.  I suddenly noticed I was approaching a hill.  A big, bruiser of a hill.  I ran through my race prep in my mind—I had looked at the elevation changed on the course.  I hadn’t noticed anything major at all.  How did I miss this lunker?  And then I saw two volunteers at the corner right before the hill, directing runners to turn.  Thank goodness. The next portion of the race was a slight uphill grade, though, and I was starting to feel it when I crossed the second mile in about 14:30.

I was starting to hurt, I had to focus hard to keep my pace up.  I knew I would see Rob about 2.25 miles in, so I used that to propel me forward.  He’s a great cheer section and typically lifts my spirits a lot.  When I saw him in the distance, I was relieved.  That much closer to the finish line.  He kept me going, but the encounter was not the emotional boost I wanted.  I was still running pretty strong, but I was suffering.  I kept reminding myself that I had less than a mile to go.

You’ll notice I’m sporting the Pridgen Suffer Face. It’s genetic.

I hit the first, optional hammer-drop spot.  There was no hammer to drop.  I was still pretty significantly ahead of my goal pace, but I was losing a little time, and it was all I could do to keep my turnover up.  As I approached the next intersection, the runner directly in front of me stopped.  I could not figure out why he had stopped until I caught up to him.  He asked me if this was the turn.  I knew we were supposed to turn on Main Street, but there were no volunteers or signs at this intersection, and street sign on the light was covered with a tree. I couldn’t for the life of me read the sign I was facing, so I ran until I could turn around and see the street sign facing the other way.  Sure enough, it was Main Street.  We both turned down the street, and I was doubly glad I had studied the course earlier.  This intersection was also the second point at which I was supposed to drop the hammer.  I didn’t.  Honestly, looking back, I can’t recall if I didn’t pick up the pace because I was tired or because I was thrown off by the unmarked, surprise turn.

But the theme for the race—push through the pain—held strong, and I hit three miles in about 22:00, about ten seconds faster than my goal pace.  I did some quick mental math and realized I’d need to slow down a lot to miss my overall goal time.  Despite the cushion I had, I did (finally) manage to pick up my pace and kick it in to the finish.  One guy passed me during that stretch, but I really didn’t care.  I was just thrilled to be done.  I crossed the finish line in 22:45 and significantly ahead of my 22:59 goal pace.  As a fun bonus, I won the race for the women.  I came in third overall, but that should have been fourth.  Remember that speedy guy from the beginning?  He missed the turn I helped the guy in front of me with and ended up running an extra mile or so as he found his way back to the course.

I felt the way I should after a tough race.  My lungs hurt, I was gasping for air, I got a little dizzy after crossing the finish, and the thought of food made me want to vomit.  After I recovered for a bit, Rob and I went over to the carnival and the silent auction and spent some time hanging out with his aunt, his cousins, and a whole gaggle of his cousins’ kids.  I don’t know his extended family all that well yet, so I’m always glad for chances to spend time with them and get to know them a bit more.  I think I’m finally starting to learn which kids goes with which cousin!

Hitting up the carnival
Hitting up the carnival

Overall, this was a strong race.  I raced fairly smart and resisted the urge to start out way too fast.  Even though I didn’t quite follow my race plan (which would have resulted in negative splits), I was mostly happy with my performance.  It was a pretty gutsy race, but I do still need to work on my mental focus.  I slowed down during the third mile.  It wasn’t terrible, but it was noticeable.  I need to be better about pushing through the pain.  I dug pretty deep this race, but I think there’s one more level of mental toughness I’m not accessing.  Maybe racing a bit more (as I’m planning to do this upcoming year) will give me really-hard-effort practice I need to cross that barrier.

Rob found the costumed mascot while I was racing.

Weekly Recap (10/05-10/11)

Monday: Swim—Masters swim team (2500yds)
Today we swam more of a distance set in masters, meaning that instead of 25s, 50s, and 100s, we swam 100s, 200s, and 300s.  These distances are closer to what I’m used to swimming, so the familiarity was nice.  I got some good feedback on my stroke.  Apparently, if I extend the reach of my arms and concentrate on pulling all the way through the finish of my stroke, my hips will not sink in the water as much.  I tried it out, and it did help.  I’m getting the impression that my hips sinking in the water is my biggest stroke weakness.  That’s probably why the buoyancy of a wetsuit helps me out so much during open water swims.  Anyway, I felt strong during this workout and was leading the second slowest lane.  Plus, as I was leaving, I saw the coach and he said to me, “Good work in there today!”  I don’t even care that I know he would have said that to any of the folks who had done masters that day—it made me feel awesome!

Tuesday: Rest
This rest day was both welcomed and unwelcomed.  I needed it.  I was tired, and my body needed both the extra sleep and the rest.  But I had also been feeling anxious which made me want to get out there and work out because exercise is a coping mechanism for me.  However, I know rest is important, and I needed it on Tuesday, so I took stuck to my guns and kept the rest day I had planned for.

Wednesday: Run—5.1 miles (42:44)
When I started my run, I could definitely still feel the speed work from Sunday.  My legs weren’t still tired from the workout, but they were still a bit sore.  Most of the soreness wore off as I warmed up, and I felt pretty good during the run.  Lately, I’ve been feeling good about where I am with my running.  An 8:23/mile pace isn’t really anything impressive, but for runs at 5:30 in the morning, that’s about as fast as I’ve been since college.  (My morning runs have never been particularly impressive…)  I spent most of the past couple of years really focusing on cycling and just cruising on my natural running talent and previous experience.  I’m hoping that, by focusing on running this winter, I’ll see some real improvements.

Thursday: Bike—30 minutes
Another easy bike ride before work, just to shake my legs out.  I’m not entirely sure that my MOAR MILES MOAR EFFORT IRONMAN self enjoyed this rest week.  As much as my brain knows that rest is important, my obsessive nature is equally certain that this very week is crucial to my success next year.  However, I can tell my body needed it.  I feel more rested, more excited about workouts, and stronger. And my BINGEWATCH NETFLIX OMG ZOMBIES self loved it.

Friday: Rest
I spent another day resting up.  Physically, I was feeling very recovered on Friday.  I was less tired, and I wasn’t dragging that way I had been.

Saturday: Run—5k race (22:45)
Overall, I felt very good about this race.  Keep an eye out for an upcoming race report in which I will discuss it in more detail.

Sunday: Rest
This was an unplanned rest day.  I wanted to get a bike ride in, but Rob and I were out late (like, past midnight!) watching a Utes football game with family which meant it would have been a real chore to get up at 7:00am and go on a bike ride before church at 10:30.  The Broncos were playing around 2:30, so the afternoon was kind of shot as well.  I was pretty sore from the race the day before, so I allowed myself to rest.  It was a good lesson in not being obsessed.  Expect to see some hard workouts recapped next week, though, because I’m getting pretty antsy.

Back to the Track!

During the summer of 2014, I did a few track workouts when preparing for my Olympic distance triathlon at the end of the summer.  The first of those few workouts was the first time I’d run on a track in years and the final was the last time I’ve run on a track since.

Until last week, that is.

I had been considering doing some speed workouts to get back into the groove before marathon training starts in November, mostly because of what I noted above—I haven’t run fast in a long time.  And while I had been feeling very confident in my ability to conquer the speed workouts outlined in my marathon, I was disabused of that notion after a confusingly horrific attempt to do intervals on a treadmill a couple of weeks ago.  I set out to do 400s at a 7:00/mile pace which I thought would be a total breeze because I ran the final mile of a five mile run in about seven minutes a month or so ago.

Yeah, it didn’t go as I planned.  After a nice half mile warmup, I managed a measly four 400s on the treadmill before allowing my wheezing, shaky, and dizzy self to give up and bathe in my own shame.  I honestly still don’t know what the problem was.  Altitude?  That cold I had?  An unconquerable lack of talent?  Hubris? Or maybe it was just random.  I knew I couldn’t even make a good guess until I tried a speed workout again to see how it went a second time.  So I was tentatively planning on doing that before starting my marathon training (hopefully as a confidence rebooster), although I hadn’t definitively decided which weekend I wanted to face my reckoning.  If I’m being honest, I was kind of avoiding it.

But last weekend, Rob and I spent some time with his extended family (cousins, aunts, uncles, the like).  His cousin mentioned that she had set up a 5k to raise money for a family whose father was terminally ill and asked us if we’d be interested in participating.  Rob immediately agreed to sign up as long as he didn’t have to run (or walk) the course.  I hemmed-and-hawed a bit.

My initial reaction to the thought of racing was, “Ugh, I’ll go, but I don’t want to run!”

A few minutes later and my resolve was already weakening.  “Well, who knows?  If I’ll be there anyway, it might be good for me to race.”

By the time the conversation was winding down, I was saying, “Actually, I’ve been thinking I should do some shorter races, just for racing experience.  This is a pretty good opportunity.”

And by the end of the meal we were having, I had pretty much decided on it.  I think it was the prospect of writing a race report that sold me.  So unless my little niece arrives this week and I go back to Idaho to meet her next weekend, I’ll be running a 5k.

This brings me back to the beginning of the post and the speed work that I’ve been kind of considering but mostly avoiding.  I’m loathe to attempt to race a 5k when all of my runs have been sitting in the 8:15-8:30/mile zone.  Since at this point, a track workout seemed like it was unavoidable and was something I should do sooner rather than later, I scheduled a speed workout on Sunday, the first since my failure a few weeks ago.  I decided to do the first workout on my schedule for marathon training—8 x 400m at a 7:00/mile pace (which translates to 1:45 for each 400).

So, Sunday morning I got up at 6:00am sharp to get ready for my workout. (I think it’s important to note that “getting ready for my workout” generally just means getting up early enough that I have time to eat, digest, and otherwise wake up enough physically to have a good workout.)  I had a couple of slices of cold pizza for breakfast, starting drinking my obligatory bottle of water, and just hung out and enjoyed the morning until about 7:30 when I left for the track.

I had looked up the high school where I planned to run on Google maps and had even used the satellite view to make sure I knew where on campus the track was.  Nothing stood out to me when I saw it.  But they must have revamped the whole stadium since the satellite view was last updated.  As I pulled up to the track and parked, all I could think was, “This must be where the rich kids go to school…”  The track was a nice as a lot of college tracks I’ve run on, and the football field was entirely new Astroturf.  I kind of felt like I was running at a college and was actually worried that the whole place would be locked to the public because it was too nice.

Just a typical football field, complete with brown grass
Just a typical football field, complete with brown grass
Super nice, new artificial turf and some pretty big bleachers (that I'm standing on)
Super nice, new artificial turf and some pretty big bleachers (that I’m standing on)

The only other person dumb enough to be at the track at 7:45 on a Sunday morning was a guy who I imagined to be a football coach at the high school.  He was dressed like a coach and was walking around the track looking at a clipboard when he stopped to adjust the sled (the thing football players use to practice hitting).  So while I was running, I built up a little story about him and how he needs to be in the stadium when he’s creating and reviewing plays because of the inspiration the stadium atmosphere provides.

After an easy 800m warmup followed by five strides, I was ready to start my repeats.  Now, I haven’t tried to hit a specific pace while running in a long time.  While I’ve been tracking my pace on my recent runs, I haven’t been setting out to run slower or faster depending on the workout.  I’ve just been going out and running five or seven miles comfortably hard and figuring out my pace after the fact.  So when I set off to run a 400 in exactly 1:45, I pretty much just guessed, knowing that I would check my time at the 100m mark to see how close I was to :26, which was the time I was aiming for.  I started off at a slow-fast pace.  That’s my own very special term for the speed at which I naturally switch from a mid-foot strike to a toe-strike.  I’ve spent a lot of hours in my life running fast on a track, so that’s what I default to in track situations.  It feels strange to run with my mid-foot strike “long distance” form on a track.

When I hit the 100m, I glanced down at my watch and was greeting with :18.  Whoops.  On pace for a 1:12 for my first 400m.  I slowed it way down to what felt like a jog and finished the first rep in 1:28.  I resolved to run slower on the next rep.  So, 45 seconds later, I took off again, this time hitting a much more reasonable 1:37.  I stayed fairly consistent and, for the first time ever, timed my rest between reps.  I took 45 seconds except at the halfway point where I took a minute and a half.  Dividing the workout into two sets like that is a useful mental trick for me.  The breakdown of my workout (aside from the 800m warm-up and 800m cool down) is as follows:



With the exception of the first accidentally-way-too-fast 400, I feel like I approached this workout perfectly, despite the fact that my paces ended up a bit faster than expected.  I needed to actively hold myself back for the first few 400s but was pushing myself at the end of the last few 400s to stay under 1:40.  And better yet, I managed to regain all the confidence I lost with the treadmill fiasco and then some.

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed getting back to the track.  I spent countless hours at various tracks in the Northwest from the time I was in junior high until the time I was a junior in college.  Strange as it may sound, doing 400 repeats on a track feels a little bit like coming home.  Perhaps a more apt metaphor would be that it feels like visiting my childhood home.  The way I feel as I lean into a turn is comfortable, and the rhythm of my feet hitting the track is soothing.  Added to the familiarity was the fact that I was running just as the sun came up over the mountains, which is one of my favorite times of day.  It was comforting, invigorating, and inspired just a bit of nostalgia as I was reminded of one of my “past lives,” as I like to call experiences that seem so distant from where I am now that it seems like they were lived by someone else.

Finished up just as the sun came over the mountains
Finished up just as the sun came over the mountains

All this would have been different had it been one of those gut-wrenching, vomiting by the side of the track workouts, of course.  Those inspire nothing but pain, but this workout was a nice balance—hard enough to remind me of what I miss about track, but not so hard that I remember why I didn’t miss it to begin with.  I’m thankful for that because over the last few weeks, I’ve been noticing surprising little moments of excitement as I think about starting marathon training next month.  This is not something that I, or anyone else, would have ever expected from the girl who whined when her dad dragged her on three miles runs during high school.  And those little flashes of excitement are as encouraging as they are surprising, so I really want them to stick around.

Now that I'm a blogger, I think I'm obliged to start taking photos of my feet.
Now that I’m a blogger, I think I’m obliged to start taking photos of my feet.

Weekly Recap (9/28-10/04)

Monday: Swim—Masters swim team (2500yds)
It is a lot harder to motivate myself to get up early when I’m going to do really taxing workout than it is when I’m just doing a few long sets. So I did not want to wake up on Monday morning. But I’m glad I did (of course). The nice thing about masters is that there is some element of form-work every day, usually through drills. As such, I’ve gotten more help on my form in the past few weeks than I have all year. Even after just a few weeks, I’ve got a better idea of what I’m doing right and what I’m doing wrong. I’m hoping that progress is in my future.

Tuesday: Run—5.1 miles (42:23)
Another day where I didn’t want to wake up. I’m sensing a pattern here. But I’ve trained myself to keep morning workout commitments to myself, so I was up and out the door 15 minutes later. I felt solid on this run. I warmed up quickly and was able to push the pace a little. I hit green light on all but one of stop lights that usually force me to stop and wait, so there was no rest for me today. I noticed I dropped my pace a bit about three fourths of the way through the run when I really didn’t need to. I just got bored and distracted. Accidentally dropping pace is something I need to work on, and I think the long runs I’ve got planned for my marathon training this winter will help. I actually kicked it in a bit the last few blocks and finished with an 8:19/mile pace overall. I’m not convinced my run fitness has been drastically improving over the course of the last months or so, but my ability to run in the mornings definitely has.

Wednesday: Bike—Emigration Canyon (1:23:04)
On my way home from work, it was overcast with a moments of sprinkling. It felt a bit like a storm was moving in, too, because it was so still. So I considered skipping this workout all together. But when I checked the weather, I saw that there was no rain predicted all evening. And the cloud cover had cooled everything down nicely. So I trusted the weather forecast, hopped on my bike, and started up Emigration Canyon. And the weather was perfect—cloudy with what might have been the slightest hint of a headwind. I made it to the top quickly (about 55:45), but not quickly enough to grab that elusive PR (about 54 minutes). If not this year, I’m sure to grab it next year! There was a tragedy on the descent. I killed a chipmunk. With my bike. I feel pretty bad, but there was nothing I could have done. Those little buggers are completely unpredictable, and by the time I realized I may hit it, it was too late to slam on my brakes. That’s dangerous at 30mph. I descended fast (which is what clued me in that I may have had a headwind while climbing) and ended up finishing the 22 mile ride in 1:23:04. When I started riding this route in early spring, it would typically take me over an hour and a half to complete it. Improvement is wonderful!

Autumn and overcast-- perfect!
Autumn and overcast– perfect!

Thursday: Rest
I usually take Friday as a rest day, but I was really feeling life in general by Wednesday night, so Thursday was a great day to sleep in. I also enjoyed vegging out directly after work. Days off are wonderful.

Friday: Bike—30 minutes
I got up, got all dressed, and took my bike outside in the dark only to feel a few drops of rain. No big deal, right? Well, five minutes in it started raining pretty hard. Plus, I was riding against the wind, so I was getting cold, hard raindrops in my face. It sucked, so I turned around a bit early. I was still out thirty minutes because I was going slowly because it made the rain more tolerable.

Saturday: Bike—(1:17:04)
Rob and I left for this ride about midday. It was a beautiful, overcast day and we were hoping to cover some ground within the city and really enjoy the fall colors. But about fifteen minutes into the ride, it started raining and kept raining at various intensities for the rest of the ride, only to clear up just as we were getting back to his place. We only went about 16.25 miles. If you do the math, you’ll realize we were going nice and slow—this was more of a take-it-easy ride than a workout. I don’t feel bad for being defeated by the weather at this point. I’m trying to be more flexible and less obsessive about my workouts while I have that freedom.

Sunday: Run—800m, 8 x 400m, 800m
This was my attempt to redeem myself after my failure of a speed workout last week. I set out to run my 400s in 1:45. And, much to my relief, I was able to exceed that goal. I ran most of the 400s between 1:35 and 1:40, with a few even faster. And I even took a page from my swimming workouts and timed the rest I took between reps. I limited my rest to 45 seconds, except after my fourth 400 (in other words, the halfway point) where I rested for a minute and a half. The first few 400s, I was actively holding myself back. The last couple I had to push myself. And I think that’s probably the way it should be. I felt good about this workout, and it really served to lift my confidence in my readiness for marathon training.

Sunday morning at the track
Sunday morning at the track

You may notice a pattern in this week’s workouts. A lot of my recaps contain something along the lines of, “I really didn’t want to work out, but…” To me, this says that I need to take a break. My body feels okay, but mentally, my workouts were a big of a drag. I’m going to take next week a little easier in the hopes of giving myself a mental break. I don’t want to burn out, especially with marathon training coming up.