September 29, 2007. The Buckhead Sizzler 10k in Atlanta, Georgia. My first race in my 30s. (30 years, one month and six days, actually). I finished in 54:08.
I have no photos of this race (it was deep in the Blackberry era and pre-social media), but I remember the thick, cloying smell of Dunkin Donuts as we passed by the Brookhaven store, traveling south on Peachtree Road towards Buckhead. I’d taken the MARTA train one stop north on the gold line to get to the start of the point to point race, so I could walk from the finish line at Buckhead loop back to my apartment behind the Target. My divorce was two weeks final.
August 5, 2017. The Orting Summerfest Half Marathon in Orting, Washington. My last race in my 30s. (39 years, 11 months and 13 days, actually). I finished in 2:04.
And took a selfie.
I can’t remember what I wore to the Buckhead Sizzler, but it wasn’t a pink tank top emblazoned with the names of female marathoners. (I didn’t know any female marathoners when I ran in Buckhead). I wasn’t a marathoner 23 times over when I ran in Buckhead. I also didn’t have the small, triangle tattoo on the inside of my right elbow. I got that, the logo of the Umstead 100 Mile endurance run, after completing the race at the age of 38.
I didn’t have the story about that time I threw up at the bottom of Mount Washington after racing 6288 feet to the top at 31 (my new boyfriend married me anyway, albeit five years later) and the 10k PR of 49:17 I earned three weeks later. I hadn’t set a half marathon PR by 5 minutes at the age of 35 (only to break it again on the same course two years later), and I hadn’t earned my Marathon Maniacs Iridium level membership by running marathons on Saturday and on Sunday in Utah and Wyoming at the age of 38.
When I raced in Buckhead, just weeks into my 30th year, I didn’t know I would go on to race in Washington, DC and Las Vegas; in Chicago and in San Francisco; in the UK and in Dubai and on the Great Wall of China.
But in the nine years (11 months and 13 days) between the Buckhead Sizzler and the Orting Summerfest, I have done all of these things. And more.
August 26, 2017. The Toro Trail 13.1 in Salinas, California. My first race at the age of 40. (40 years and 3 days, actually). Who knows what will come of it.
5:00:21 was the time to beat; set in 2016 by a woman who was exhausted in every fiber of her being. Just returned from a 6-week work stint in Grand Forks, North Dakota, where she ate Amy’s frozen rice bowls for lunch and pasta for dinner; politely accepting the chocolate covered potato chips and deep fried Oreos she was offered as “local delicacies.” Despite finishing a 19.5 mile trail run on her first weekend back in Seattle, she just didn’t feel well.
That woman stuck around until October when, deep friend Oreos nearly forgotten, she crossed the finish line of the Chicago Marathon with a 7-minute PR.
Back on Cougar Mountain one year later, I had something to prove. I’d followed up that Chicago PR with three near misses between January and April, a 100k run good enough to qualify for the 2017 Western States Lottery, and my fastest 10k in eight years. Still, I couldn’t be certain that woman was gone until I looked for her on Cougar Mountain, where the course climbs 3700 feet over 19.5 miles.
For four hours, thirty four minutes and forty six seconds, I searched for her.
When the race was over I collected my commemorative Cougar Mountain Race Series rocks glass, filled it with keg beer, and sat on the grass.
Now I was sure; that woman was gone.
I visualized the course at Mile 8, when the other half-marathoners and I would make a right turn away from Lake Washington, cutting west into Seattle’s Rainier Vista neighborhood, while the marathoners continued south along Lake Washington Boulevard into Seward Park. When that moment came on Sunday morning I knew I would be overcome with the jealous urge to shout at the marathoners’ backs running away from me, Wait! Wait! Don’t leave me! I’m one of you!
After picking up my half marathon bib, I made my way to the Expo’s Guest Services line, the place racers go to solve their problems, and I solved mine: “I’d like to switch to the full please.”
20,000 runners descended on Seattle for the Alaska Airlines Rock & Roll Marathon and Half Marathon for the race’s first ever “stadium to stadium” tour of the city. Beginning at the University of Washington’s Husky Stadium and ending at Centurylink Field, home of the Seattle Seahawks and Sounders, the race marked not only number 27 in my quest to run 40 races in 2017 for my 40th birthday, but also my 30th marathon and ultra-marathon in just 3 years. I commemorated this milestone with a congratulatory note to myself on the Expo’s graffiti wall, a map of Seattle, precisely at the spot where I live.
I had nothing to prove in this race; my training plan still believed I was running the half. But I wound my way comfortably through my hometown, stopping at the Mile 4 “Selfie Station” and mugging for the cameras.
I completed the race without fan fair. Despite racing in my hometown, my husband was traveling, and I’d had only one friend on the course to cheer me on when I passed through her neighborhood within the first 5k.
I crossed the finish line in a forgettable time, collected my Rock & Roll Marathon Finisher’s jacket, and walked the 1 mile from the finish line to a favorite brunch spot for a breakfast and cocktail worthy of 30 marathons and ultras. The race upgrade was worth it.
The clocked ticks to 24:22 as I approach the 5k split, the half-way point in my 10k race. A decade ago, back when I ran 5ks regularly, I used to count anything that started with “24” as a solid race effort. But I don’t race 5ks anymore.
Forty-nine minutes. I did the math quickly. 24:22 times two is 48:44; round up to 49:00. My 10k PR is 49:17. It was 2009 and I was 31. In 13 subsequent 10ks, I’ve not seen 49 minutes since. I can’t slow down if I want to see it again here.
At the split I am passed by a young woman in a bright, salmon-colored t-shirt and striped socks. She’s fast. And fluid. If I can keep her in my sights, I might be able to to hold this pace. But if I lose her, I will fall apart.
I pass her near the 6 mile mark. I would later learn her name is Joan.
I squint as I approach the finish chute. My eyesight is good, but I’m bouncing and winded, and my eyes are a little watery from pollen in the air, or maybe the exertion. I can see 49. 49:48. Thirty-one seconds from a PR. But still, my fastest 10k time in 8 years.
A solid race effort.
The race was nearly 72 hours old when I joined on Sunday morning.
Like the person who shows up for the end of a team project and then takes credit for the whole thing, I lined up for the Pigtails Challenge 50k start in Renton, 11 miles southeast of Seattle. This race was kind of a lark for me, having registered just four weeks ago from the back of an Uber when my friend, Sporty Diva Rose Coates, put out a call on Facebook. (This is also when I learned that my credit card is on file with ultrasignup, meaning I can 1-click my way to ultra race registrations; a discovery I anticipate may lead to future poor decisions, particularly after wine and smack talk on Twitter).
Four weeks post-81 miles at Badwater Salton Sea, I wasn’t exactly trained for a 50k. I’d taken three weeks “off,” logging slow and easy run/walks of up to 16 miles before commencing with training for the Suncadia Multisport Festival at the beginning of August. I’d replaced the 13 mile “steady long run 10% slower than marathon pace” on day 7 of my training plan with this 50k.
I was here to see the 200 milers.
I’d read about 200 mile races and, quite frankly, they didn’t get the butterflies and pixie dust swirling for me like 100-milers. Still, when I learned the Pigtails Challenge included a 200 mile race, beginning on Thursday morning, 150 miles on Friday, 100 miles and 100k on Saturday, and 50k on Sunday, the prospect of being the fresh-face on a 10-mile loop course with people who’d been running for days was intriguing.
As with many ultras, particularly those without a great deal of scenery, my own race memory is spotty. I remember encountering Joanne at my mile 1.5 — her 98.5 — on her way to being the first female finisher in the 100 mile in 24:44:32. I remember spending two miles run/walking with Mark, a retiree from Alabama and two-time 50 stater, now embarked on a mission to run an ultra in all 50 states. And I remember Karl, the 67 year old 100-mile finisher who, in the final mile of his race and me with 9 to go in mine, leaned in conspiratorially and said, I think you’re the third woman; stay focused.
Did I say this was supposed to be a lark? In shorter races, going out slow for too long can lead to a time deficit that is impossible to close. In ultras, however, going out slow leaves enough in the tank to be moving well when others are breaking down. I passed the second place woman just one mile after being told I was in third. With Karl’s directive to stay focused, I completed my last, 10-mile lap 1 minute per mile faster than I’d completed the first lap, the second woman and fourth overall in the 50k.
I watched others finish as I sat in a camp chair, shaded by the aid station tent, and enjoying a veggie burger and a beer. Daro came in at 79:25:03, the second 200 miler and first male finisher. And April who, along with two pacers, stopped into the tent long enough for medical volunteers to cut the compression sleeves off of her calves and stuff bags of ice down her bra and shorts before she departed for her last lap. She would finish in 84:49:44, missing the 82 hour cutoff, but still finishing.
Now the butterflies and pixie dust are swirling.
Ever done a destination race? How about one that will take you so high, you can see three states and Canada from the top? Do you want to?
I’ve received so many messages from people inspired by my quest to run 40 races in 2017 for my 40th birthday, as well as my support for 40 other runners. One of those messages came from the Catamount Trail Association, inviting me to their Race to the Top of Vermont on August 27. As much as I would love to run what has been called “the race most worth traveling for in Vermont,” it is actually my 40th birthday weekend (yay!) and I can’t travel to Vermont (boo!) So we did the next best thing…
I am so excited to partner with CTA to offer 10 bibs for the Race to the Top of Vermont!
The 4.3 mile course climbs 2,564 vertical feet on the famous Mt. Mansfield Toll Road to the summit parking lot. Along the way, runners will have spectacular views of Smuggler’s Notch and the surrounding Green Mountains, over a steady incline averaging about 11 percent over the length of the course. The reward? A summit finish with one of the most beautiful views in New England overlooking three states and Canada. Check out the race video!
Sound like an amazing challenge? The CTA and I would love to make it a reality! If you would like to participate in the Race to the Top of Vermont, please contact me, and let me know you’d like to participate in this amazing experience.
Sharon gets into the car, black technical race t-shirt, leggings and neon Asics, holding her iPhone armband in her hand. She reminds me of a younger version of me, had I been a runner when I was her age.
“Good morning,” she says. Her Indian accent sounds like chimes.
In the drive from the Marriott to Magnuson Park, I point out the University of Washington and Mount Rainier. I describe the race course. She tells me about the 10ks she and her boyfriend run in Bangalore, where she works for Tanya who works for Bindu who works for Nancy who works for me.
It doesn’t occur to me until we near the 1 mile marker that she has no idea how far one mile is, and I explain the 10k course we are running is 6.2 miles long. My explanation is complicated, as this is a 5k-10k-15k loop course with mile markers in bunches of three: 7-4-1; 8-5-2; 9-6-3. We settle on the fact that the 10k is two loops.
We drink water and eat bananas after we cross the finish line, commenting on the unseasonable heat.
“Would you take our picture?” I ask a spectator standing near the finisher banner. “With my phone too?” Sharon asks.
We pose together. Me, on race #24 in my quest to run 40 races this year. And Sharon, in her first trip to the United States. Racing with me was on her “to do.” Not for the first time during this challenge, I am humbled.
I tipped my red Altra trail sneakers over the toilet bowl, watching small rocks and sand particles float to the bottom and settle on the white porcelain. This was sand from another time and another place; the Anza-Borrego Desert California Riding and Hiking Trail, an 8-mile single track rising 4,000 feet, which I’d climbed in miles 40 through 48 of the Badwater Salton Sea 13 days ago. I’d not run more than two miles since then. I was afraid I’d forgotten how.
Silly, but a fear nonetheless. In the days following Badwater, I’d done what I always do post long ultra. I spent several vacation days in Los Angeles, spending hours each morning walking the Griffith Park trails. Back in Seattle, I ran/walked along the Lake Union sidewalks for a fraction of my typical training run distance.
I took to the start line of the Cougar Mountain Trail Series 10.8 mile run this morning with metaphorical cold feet, turning literal when, within the first quarter-mile, I was soaked through to my socks, the trail grasses wearing days of rain. By the two mile mark I’d settled into a pace and a group of runners with whom I would stay in proximity for the entirety of the race.
And when I was done, the fine yellow dust of the Anza-Borrego desert was gone from my sneakers, replaced with the thick, brownie-batter mud of Washington trails in the springtime. Turns out my body has a good memory.
It was nearly 10:30pm when the Uber dropped my brother off at his Hollywood home and continued the additional three-and-a-half miles to the Airbnb I was renting in Los Feliz during my visit. I scrolled Twitter for the first time in several hours, landing on Nike’s live Breaking2 broadcast, 90 minutes in progress.
With five million worldwide, I spent the next 30 minutes watching elite Ethiopian runner, Eliud Kipchoge, attempt to break the two-hour marathon barrier.
I followed the quest to break two hours for the better part of 2017, ever since running the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon in January, alongside (or, more accurately, over two hours behind) Kenenisa Bekele, as he attempted to break the marathon world record set by Kenya’s Dennis Kimetto in the 2014 Berlin Marathon (2:02:57). After a nasty fall within seconds of the start line, Bekele would drop from Dubai just after the half way point.
Nike’s Breaking2 has received a fair amount of flack. One part moonshot, one part masterful marketing campaign, the company controlled for everything including (but not limited to) the three athletes chosen to make the attempt, the weather, the course, the pacers and the gear. In fact, Kipchoge’s finishing time would not even count against Kimetto’s world record, as the run violated International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) rules, including having runners’ fluids shuttled to them on the course via motorcycle (so they wouldn’t have to divert energy to a drink table, as in a typical marathon), as well as the highly practiced inverted diamond pacer formation (to lessen wind resistance) and rotating pacers (to ensure the pacers’ continued speed). In short, the attempt was highly engineered.
But should that matter?
One of the best parts of my job as a Director at Amazon.com is helping others think about their career trajectories, and where they hope to be in months or years, whether in or outside of Amazon. We talk about building intentional relationships with their managers’ managers. We talk about networking, in detail that involves specified lists of people to meet, how to meet them in a way that feels authentic, and what to talk about once they’ve done so. We talk about milestones and timelines and measuring success. Inherent in these discussions, of course, is the assumption of strong performance; for many at Amazon, that comes naturally. But beyond just doing good work and hoping someone will take notice, I am helping them to think about their careers in very deliberate ways. In short, I am asking them to identify their dreams, and then helping them engineer the path to get there.
I’ve had practice. Nearly 20 years post-undergrad, I’ve had four careers. Not four jobs, four careers. My most recent pivot was in 2016 when, after nearly a decade in labor relations and nearly five years in Amazon’s warehouse fulfillment organization, I announced to my manager that I wanted a new job outside of labor relations and outside of warehouse fulfillment. In other words, I told him I wanted a job for which I was minimally qualified.
Over the course of six months, I explored my passions within the company through informal discussions and a lot of cups of coffee with leaders of various departments, I got real about my strengths and my areas of opportunity, and I landed in a role that has helped me grow exponentially. I feel like I am much more valuable to the Company, and to other employers, after making the move. But I’m only 39, and I have a lot of good working years left in me. So I continue to engineer.
The best kind of dreams don’t come true over night. They don’t come true on their own, and they don’t come true without planning and intention.
In the final minutes of Kipchoge’s epic run, it became clear he was unlikely to break two hours. It didn’t lessen the magic, however. In those final minutes, we weren’t focused on pacers or high tech shoes, we were focused on Kipchoge, and the dream he represented. His 2:00:25 finish, while not officially recognized by any governing body, is an example of the things that can be accomplished by dreaming big, and being unafraid to engineer a path to that dream. What will your path be?
“Passion is a choice. You need to choose to be great. It’s not a chance, it’s a choice.” – Eliud Kipchoge
I’m a little over half way done with my journey to run 40 races this year for my 40th birthday and, up until this point, was very focused on my two longest races of the year, the Black Canyon 100k and the Badwater Salton Sea. In preparing for those events, I was racing nearly every weekend, sometimes twice.
At the same time, however, runners I’ve been sponsoring have been tearing up the road and trails all over the United States, and I’m really excited to bring you more of their stories.
One such runner is Michele who, on March 11, completed her fifth consecutive McGuire’s St. Patrick’s Day Prediction Run in Pensacola, Florida. With a prediction run, you “predict” what you think your finish time will be, and then see how close you can get. But, if that sounds like it makes for a very serious group of runners, you need to check out Michele’s photos. Congratulations on a great run, Michele!