9 Things I Learned in Europe

All year Europe, to me, seemed like this mythical journey that everyone talks about, but no one plans, and somehow it all comes together.  It felt like there was a lot of talk but that it would never actually happen, even all the way up to the day before I left.  But finally ten days ago I hopped on a flight to Ireland and it all began.  It was quite the adventure, and though I’m writing this while trapped in the Zurich airport for nine hours just trying to get home to a stormy NYC, I’m already thinking about next year.  Here are a few lessons for next time that I’ve learned along the way:

1. Pack less and re-wear clothes.  I didn’t know what it would be like for me because my races were so close together that I didn’t have a home base.  So through ten days, three countries, and four flights I carried a large bag with things I probably didn’t need.  Of course running clothes become gross, but there are ways to do laundry and I can definitely cut down on street clothes.

2. Ireland uses euros, not pounds.  And Switzerland uses Swiss francs, not euros, and is extremely expensive.  Thinking I’d be in Belgium until the day before I came, I changed a bunch of money to euros.  Then for some reason assumed Ireland used pounds and didn’t bother to do any research, switched to pounds and was wrong.  Next time double check.

3. Bring your own shampoo, soap, and towel. This ended up being less of an issue than I originally thought.  When I got to Cork, all I wanted was a shower and I was in a dorm room with a shower that didn’t turn on, no towel, and no toiletries.  All was fixed by the following afternoon, but you never know where you’ll be and it’s probably best to be prepared.  Also, every place I went had only liquid soap that was used as shampoo as well and no conditioner.  European thing?

4. Looking both ways before crossing the street is even more important in countries where they drive on the other side of the road.  I almost died.

5. Check in for flights and check your bag online a day in advance.  The one time I didn’t do this, going from Dublin to London, a massive fee was attached to the bag.  They told me that is often the case and it is much less if you do it online ahead of time.

6. Deer in England are not afraid of people.  I was only in Teddington for a day and a half, but it was the perfect place for down time between races.  Bushy Park was great for running, and the deer don’t even flinch when you go by.

7. Get out and see things.  Of course it was important to remember why I was there and I made sure my legs were rested well enough, but I didn’t want to forget where I was.  Running provided me with an amazing opportunity and I’m glad I took advantage of it and was a bit of a tourist as well.

8. Europeans love athletics meetings.  Athletics meetings = track meet.  Great crowds and, as mentioned in my race recaps, fanatic little children greeting you at the finish line to ask for your bib number and have you sign hats, t-shirts, and programs.

9. Track athletes are a special breed.  Here’s the sappy part of my reflection on the trip.  And instead of a lesson learned, it’s more like reassurance of something I’ve always known.  But as someone who has never done this before, and without the teammates that I train with and know well, I was welcomed and guided by so many whom I’d only met a day or so before.

Luzern, Switzerland (via Teddington)

Legs 2.5 and 3. July 12: Dublin -> London -> Teddington by bus, and stayed until July 14 -> Zurich -> Luzern by shuttle.

Teddington was a great spot to stop between races.  Big thanks to the Brooks Beasts for welcoming me!

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Luzern might be the most beautiful place I’ve ever been.  I had heard that it was from so many people before I came over here, so when it was cloudy and pouring rain the first day I was pretty disappointed. But I woke up today with the sun shining and got to see the amazing views in those pictures just a few blocks from my hotel.  I wish I had more time to enjoy it post race, but I’m headed home tomorrow morning.

So Luzern was a quick trip for me.  A nice walk to the river in the morning, followed by watching American TV shows in German (this was the only non-English speaking country of my trip), and a shake out was all I had time for before getting into race mode and heading to the track.  Europeans love their track meets. The stands were packed and standing room around the whole perimeter was at least three people deep. And the whole event was like a fair with food carts and people walking around drinking beers and eating sausage. 

I knew the race was being paced well and that there were plenty of fast women.  Within a lap the race had already split and only a few women went with the pace, so I had the option to go with them (even if it was a bit fast), start slower and settle with the second pack, or run alone between them. One of the things I’ve been trying to work on is not being afraid of fast races, so I decided to go with the lead pack and we went through a mile in 4:51.  I held it for a little while, but by the last 2k I started to feel cooked. 15:43 for 8th.  I really would have liked to end my Europe trip with a PR, but it was good to experience that and I’m glad I went for it.  Trying to think of and be proud of everything I have done this year, and at the same time my mind is already filled with everything I can do a little differently to make next year even better. 

Spitzen Leichtathletik Luzern (the name of the meet:Top Athletics Lucerne) was a pretty incredible production. The night ended with amazing fireworks set off from the infield.  They were pretty much right on top of while we stood at the 5k starting line collecting our bags and changing our shoes.  Really cool end to a trip through Europe and a great send off back to the US.

Dublin, Ireland

Leg 2! July 9: Cork -> Dublin by bus. Morton Games Mile.

 

Blogging via my phone because my outlet converter mysteriously disappeared in my Dublin hotel room and my tablet is out of juice, so just a quick update for now.  A new place with even more new people.  I think I can be pretty outgoing at times, but I’ve never before spent so much time with people I only previously knew by name.  I’m so glad I’ve had some awesome people to be a tourist with instead of being a hermit in my hotel room with no friends.  On Thursday, I got to see a bit more of Dublin on another castle tour and a visit to the Guinness factory, which ends with a pint at the top of the building overlooking the whole city. Pretty sweet.

 

As for the meet, I can’t think of many other races that have been more fun.  I was a little nervous, which is natural, but even though I wanted a pr, I really felt no serious pressure and wanted to see what I could do. Having that relaxed attitude was definitely part of my success last night.  I got in line with a perfect pace and a great field and it felt pretty amazing.  Another 4th place finish, but I got my big pr. 4:28.02 :) Again, the little Irish kids all swarm you at the end, asking for your bib number, autograph, and selfies. 

 

The rest of the night was fantastic as well and I already hope I’m coming back to the Morton Games next year.  Now I’m in Teddington for a short while before heading off to Luzern!

Cork, Ireland

Leg one of my European Adventure! July 6: 8:15am NYC -> London -> Cork (just about midnight local time). Cork City Sports 3k.

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I’m an anxious person.  And a planner.  This trip is a true test in my ability to just go with the flow and trust that it will all work out.  And fortunately, so far it has.  My first day of travel was pretty smooth with no delays or cancelations.  Though I felt like I was going through a maze, I made it through Heathrow Airport and on to Cork with two new stamps in my passport. 

It took me the night and a bit of the next morning to settle in and get my bearings.  Cork is five hours ahead of New Jersey, so I had to force myself to sleep and get up early to try and adjust.  Already learned some lessons for next year, like bring a towel and soap/shampoo because you’re in a dorm room (though later on they did bring these things, my room just wasn’t ready yet, the shower didn’t even turn on the first day).  Speaking of the dorm, I didn’t unmake the bed but I’m pretty sure this is an accurate comparison:

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The next morning I ran in Kyle Merber, NJNY teammate, who introduced me to more Americans, and I wasn’t alone anymore.  We all went to the track for a run and strides together, and then took a short bus ride to Blarney to see the castle and kiss the stone.

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(Another lesson learned, they use euros in Ireland, not pounds.  Probably should have done some research.  I’ll have a whole list of Europe lessons by the end of this)

That night (night before the race) I was actually feeling tired, even though it was mid-afternoon at home.  I thought my plan to force myself to get up early was working.  So I played a movie on my tablet and fell asleep very quickly.  Unfortunately, my body thought it was just an afternoon nap and I woke up two hours later.  Once I fell asleep again, though, I was out for the night and I hopefully I’m okay from now on.

The restaurant downstairs is providing us with meals, which is pretty nice.  Corn Flakes and dinner rolls aren’t my typical race day breakfast, but it’s something to eat and there is coffee so I’m doing just fine.  All of these things (hard-springy bed, broken shower, different meals) sometimes make me nervous, but I feel pretty calm.  I’m enjoying the experience and learning to just go with what I’ve got.  It’s teaching me to let go of the rigid race routine I like to pretend I don’t have.

So on to the race…same old things going through my head (put yourself in it, no gaps, don’t wait too late to move, etc.) but I was also trying to push the fact that I was coming off a much less than ideal USA Champs race out of my mind.  I stayed relaxed and in a good position.  When I fell off the leaders, I found myself alone with some wind for a bit, but I was still okay.  I got caught at the line and bumped off the podium, but I still consider it a solid start.  I ran 9:01, which is not a PR, but it’s far better than what I did a week and a half ago.  It has reassured me that my mind and body are still in race mode and given me confidence for my next two out here.  And the little kids that swarm you at the finish line, asking for autographs and pictures and if they can keep your bib number make you feel like a rock star!

This is what the rest of my time in Europe looks like:
Morton Games Mile in Dublin, July 11
Two days of hanging out in Teddington
Luzern 5k, July 15
July 16 I fly back to the good old USofA

2014 USA Championships

Lesson learned: bad things happen that won’t affect anything but your brain. You can’t let them.

It has taken me a while to think of what to write about this weekend.  Not much can ease the feeling of disappointment in a bad race.  I’m fortunate enough to have my Oiselle and NJNYTC families’ support, which made it a little easier.  I was often reminded that everyone has bad races, something I’ve certainly always known, but the USA Championships are never a good time for it to happen.  I had high expectations for myself.  I’ve improved so much this season and felt great in preparations. 

Unfortunately, I let a little bad luck with some poison oak get in my head and I just didn’t have it on race day.  A rash first showed up Thursday morning and I spent most of my time for the next 24 hours trying to figure out what it was and how to get rid of it without taking something that would make me fall asleep or be on the banned substance list.  Poison oak is irritating and itchy, but it doesn’t affect your ability to run, and therefore it is absolutely no excuse for my poor performance.  No matter how many times I told myself I was fine, I wasn’t very convincing and I let myself stress out about it instead.  By race time, I put myself in a decent position at the mile, but by 2k I felt spent.  As I felt myself falling farther and farther back, it took some mental strength to remember that I never want to drop out of a race.  It was far from the USA Championship race I imagined, but it happened.  Now it’s time to pick myself up and learn from it.

On a happier note, it was a pretty great weekend for many of my NJNY teammates.  With so many finals qualifiers and podium finishes for Ashley Higginson and Donn Cabral, I couldn’t be more proud to be part of such a group.  It was also very exciting to see so many Oiselle birds competing.  Only big things ahead on both fronts.

Adidas Grand Prix and Looking to the USA Champs

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One of the best birthday gifts I got this year was a phone call letting me know I had gotten into the Adidas Grand Prix Diamond League 3k.  I had an opportunity to compete with some of the best athletes in the world.  At that point I had almost three weeks to mentally prepare for such an elite meet, and I went into the race with three goals in mind:

Don’t get overwhelmed by my surroundings.
The closest meet I had to compare this one to was Millrose this winter.  And while the circumstances for this meet were different (I didn’t find out I was in 24 hours before the race), they were both high profile races that tend to make me nervous.  When I reflected on my experience at Millrose, I realized I needed to be more confident despite the huge stage I was on.  I wanted to go to Adidas, be confident, and run like I knew I was capable of running even with the huge names that were in the race with me, the packed stands, and flashy cameras.

Run a new PR.
The 8:56 I ran indoor was a big ten second PR from the previous winter and I was very proud and excited about it.  But that was early in the year and I have been training hard.  In a race that was bound to go fast, I knew I could do even better.

Compete.
This one is from Gag minutes before getting on the track.  I think it pulls my first two goals together.  Competing meant putting myself in the race and being aggressive.  It meant not thinking too much about the time to get that PR but running the race that was in front of me and letting the PR come.

I think I accomplished my goals with varying degrees of success.  I was not too overwhelmed by where I was, I felt much more comfortable this time.  This was largely due to the company I had in my teammates, Ashley Higginson and Nicole Schappert, who ran the 3k as well.  I did run a new PR, but, like the Oxy 1500, it was only by one second.  I would have liked to get closer to 8:50, but I’ll take a PR anyway and I know I’ll have other opportunities.  Finally, for the most part I was competitive.  I knew the leaders were going out at a pace that was unrealistic for me to go for, but I would have my own pack to compete with.  I stayed calm but attached for the first mile and a half, and I had a kick for the last 200M.  Looking back, I wish I had made a move earlier.  I could have trusted my strength a little more and tried to go when the leaders of my pack did.  But there are always things I think I can improve on and each race is a lesson for next time.  In general, I’m pretty happy with my first Diamond League experience.

In the past, this time of year has been pretty much the end of the season for me, but now things are just heating up!  In just over a week I’ll be out in Sacramento running the 5k in the USA Championships, and a week after that I’ll head over to Europe!  Big things ahead, can’t wait!

Race Day Recap: Oxy HP

A PR is a PR, no matter how small.

I’ve always told myself that I won’t be upset when the result is a PR.  If I’m lowering my times and showing progress, I shouldn’t be complaining.  So I’m not upset, and I’m not complaining.  But after my race at the Oxy High Performance meet this past weekend, I do know that I can be even better next time.

I tried to remember what I’ve learned from past races.  I couldn’t be afraid of high level competition and let myself get shot out the back.  I also couldn’t get too anxious and waste energy fighting the mess of the pack.  So when the gun went off this time I tried to put myself in it and stay calm.  It was going to be fast and I was going along for the ride.  I’ve watched the video of my race since and it turns out that I did end up in the back, but I never felt like I was being pushed out.  I waited while I watched some competitive shoving and tripping in front of me.  I might have waited too long.  I had a strong finish, which is good, but I might have had a little too much left.  Not enough like a sprinter to go faster for the last 100M, but more strength.  I could have gone a little sooner.  But a PR is a PR.  Lesson learned and it showed me I’m capable of more.

Los Angeles was really hot!  For the three days we were there, I’m pretty sure the temperature reached the triple digits.  I did my shake out run on a treadmill in the gym the morning of the race instead of taking the risk of melting.  Nevertheless, I worked hard to hydrate and stay cool, and once the sun went down it was much more bearable.  I even warmed up in my track attack pants, true #flystyle.  It was great seeing all of the other birds who raced matching in our warm ups as well.  As always, it was awesome having all of that support there.  I also had my dad and my cousins there cheering for me, and my mom and my boyfriend stayed up very late to watch me from the east coast.  I’m a pretty lucky lady!  Thank you everyone.

Race Day Recap: Payton Jordan

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photo credit @oiselle_sally and @flotrack video

Patience, trust, and strength.  I’ve been trying to think of what to write about my race at the Payton Jordan Invitational this past Sunday and these are the three words that come to mind.  I learned a lot about myself and racing.  This weekend’s lesson: push myself out of my comfort zone. 

Going into the weekend I knew this would be a highly competitive race.  That’s why you go all the way across the country to a great facility like the track at Stanford University.  I was ready for a big PR and this was the perfect opportunity to do it.  My previous 5k time was 15:56 and I had the 15:40 barrier on my mind.  If I ran 75 second laps (5:00 miles) I could run a 15:37.  And then I heard that the rabbit was going to take the race in 72-73 second laps.  Though Ashley, Nicol, Amanda, and I were sure we would have a group at our pace in the race anyway, I was still nervous about the start being faster than I was ready for.  I had my race from the Stanford Invitational two years ago stuck in my head, when I felt pretty amazing for 5-6 laps at a faster place than planned, and then hit the biggest metaphorical wall I have ever seen.  I couldn’t let that happen again, but I knew that being afraid of the pace wasn’t good either.

Patience.  When the gun went off, I put myself in it but continued to remind myself not to get too anxious.  This was really hard for me.  Not that I always go right to the front of races, but it usually goes one of two ways: anxiously on the shoulder of someone closer to the front, or completely shot out the back (and that’s when you know from the start it’s bad).  After watching the race, I can see that I was very much so in the back, but this time it was different.  I didn’t know at the time that I was the very back, and I felt more like I was relaxing and being patient than panicking while trying to stay in the race.  I also let myself get closer to the rail and go for the ride instead of wasting energy on the outside to be on someone’s shoulder.

Trust.  About half way through a race is usually make or break time for me.  Between 2k and 3k I just barely started to think about that wall from two years ago, but quickly changed my mantra from relax, be patient to stay tough, you can handle this.  Gaps were starting to form.  Packs were breaking apart.  It was time to put my head up and start moving up.

Strength.  Okay 1200 to go.  We do repeats at this pace all the time!  You’re strong, you’re strong, you’re strong.  Just finish it strong.  And I did.  15:30.33. New PR :)

Of course I can never help being critical of my races either.  After my excitement died down a little bit, my first thought was if I could go that far under 15:40, where were those last 4 seconds for the A standard?  Could I have started pushing myself a little sooner?  But I’ll always have those thoughts after races.  They fuel me for the next one.

So despite some travel issues with my bag getting lost both on the way to and from San Francisco, I had a pretty good trip.  Traveling with Coach Gag and my NJNYTC teammates was really awesome and Palo Alto is a beautiful place.  And I’ve always loved being able to race with my teammates.   Congrats to them on big PRs as well!  I also got to spend a good amount of time catching up with the Syracuse team. Finally, west coast races often mean a large contingent of bird supporters!  So in addition to Gags on one end of the track, I could hear a great Oiselle group cheering each lap at the other end.  

No Watch, New Shoes, a Little Rain, and a Lovely Run

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My Oiselle bio says that the piece of running equipment I cannot live without is my watch.  For years I pretty much never took it off.  The only exceptions were super fancy occasions, when I had to replace it with some bracelet that would stay right in the exact spot to cover up the insane tan line that became a permanent eye sore around my wrist.  And then this winter I got a GPS watch for Christmas.  I didn’t want to wear it all of the time and become overly obsessed with pace on all of my runs, but it’s really helpful for tempo days and long runs.  So now I had to remember to change my watch for different runs.  Somehow this transitioned to only putting a watch, one or the other, on for runs, and taking it off when I was done.

Last week at practice the inevitable happened.  I forgot my watch.  At first I hated it.  I felt naked and vulnerable, wondering how I was going to keep track of my workout.  But then I realized how ridiculous that was.  I train with a team.  We do the same warm up loop for every workout, all of our intervals are paced and timed by the coaches, and everyone else has a watch so if I really need to know I can just ask.  Not having a watch was actually kind of nice.

Nice as it was, I know that a workout is not really the time you want to ditch the watch.  Being able to hit certain times is actually pretty important for this sport.  But when so much of what you’re doing is focused on times and paces, it’s too easy to get caught up in the numbers and forget to listen to your body and enjoy what you’re doing.  I’m guilty of it.  I know that training means there’s mileage to hit and paces to maintain, but I’ve lived here long enough to know the loops I have to do to get the mileage in, and my body knows the pace it needs to recover from a workout without doing a run full of junk miles.

So today I intentionally ditched the watch and ran naked, and it felt pretty good!  I should also partially credit the good feeling to a new pair of shoes and my Oiselle Lesley Knickers and Flyer Jacket for keeping me warm and dry despite the wind and drizzly rain.  Maybe if I do this a few times when the sun is out I can even get rid of the permanent pale bracelet I’ve been wearing. 

Speaking of sun, next up for me is a trip to Palo Alto for the Payton Jordan Invitational 5k!  Check out an awesome meet for some NJNYTC and Oiselle action!

Race Recap: Redhook Crit 5k and a Start to Spring

I haven’t taken the time to write much lately and my blog has become completely dedicated to race recaps.  I want to try to be better about writing things down when they come to me and/or reflecting on my running, but for now the Redhook Crit 5k marked the beginning of the spring season.

I found out about this race when I met Pavel Marosin, the race director, at the NYRR Night at the Races.  All I knew was that it was a four lap 5k, which meant it got a lot of spectators and was an all around good time.  About a week before the race, an info e-mail was sent out with the schedule for the day and I found out the 5k was between qualifying and final rounds of a bike race.  Between putting the pieces together from what I could observe at the race, a little Wikipedia research, and talking to my cousin (who happened to be visiting from California and is very involved in cycling), I learned a little bit about a different kind of race than I’m used to:

Crit is short for Criterium.  It’s a type of bike race held on a short course, usually less than a mile (in this case, 1300M), on blocked off city streets.  The race is run in laps and there are often prizes throughout the races for lap times and/or leading certain laps.

It was at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal, overlooking the East River and the Statue of Liberty.  The plan for the event was to have the qualifying rounds for the Crit first, then the 5ks, then the finals of the Crit.  So on a gorgeous day, cycling fans would be able to enjoy the view and stick around to watch the 5k, even if it was just while they waited for the Crit finals.  Saturday was far from gorgeous.  It was the kind of day that makes me want to stay in my pajamas and read books with hot chocolate while I watch the rain pour down.  Early in the day the decision was made to push the 5k back after the Crit final because the rain was supposed to get worse the later it got and that was more dangerous for the bikes.  It was dangerous regardless of the schedule change because the 5ks got pushed back farther after a crash in the women’s final.  All things considered, I was impressed with the number of spectators who stuck around anyway.  Nat was a really good sport and stayed with me the whole time getting drenched to cheer and and hold my sweats.

We finally got to the line, soaking wet and ready to run.  Once we got going and I got more used to the dark road with huge puddles, it was actually a really fun race.  There was bonus money in leading the first lap, but I had my mind on the overall results so I sat back a little while keeping the leaders in sight.  Then on the second lap I focused on slowly reeling them in.  For the second half of the race I was in a small group of three, working but feeling comfortable enough.  The laps made it interesting because at one end of the loop was a tight turn around.  At the same time, I got to hear Nat and a Oiselle fan who braved the weather (thank you!) every time I came around.  I was in front going into the last lap and I wasn’t sure if the two women near me were drafting or getting tired.  By the second half of that last lap I was ready to move.  I felt great finishing and it was the first time I’ve ever gotten to run through the ribbon!

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photo credit top: Nat, bottom: Redhook 5k

I did my cool down and put on dry clothes as quickly as I possibly could, but my muscles can tell that I had been wet and shivering a bit.  Nevertheless, time to get back at it because spring is here!  I’ve updated my tentative race schedule and I’m looking forward to a great outdoor season.