Sunday, December 4, 2011

Travels, Thanks and Trots

I had the opportunity to road trip back to Virginia for Thanksgiving, which I'd certainly do again.  Along the way I not only got to experience new runs, but I also got to revisit others.

We took an early detour to see the sights in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  The run took place on the Santa Fe Rails to Trails system.  We avoided the paved sections and stuck to the dirt.  It was quite windy and chilly, but the troop toughed it out.  A couple other elite runners were spotted on the trail, so we must have been in the right spot.

Next stop was Lake Hefner just outside Oklahoma City, where I did a 6 mile Steady State.  It was another windy day, but Bee and I got it done.

The flat, 9.8 mile paved loop around the lake was
ideal for a steady state effort.
Photo courtesy

Treadmill anyone?
Only a runner would appreciate this scene.

Next was the Buckeye Trail in Ohio, totaling 1,444 miles around Ohio. We ran on a western portion of the trail.  Unfortunately, a good part of the trail was flooded, which meant lots of repeat running.

Photo courtesy

My first revisit of the trip was to the Chesapeake & Ohio (C&O) Canal towpath in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.  When I'm home, I will occasionally make the hour-plus trek to the C&O for flat, soft long runs.

C&O Canal.
Photo courtesy

Next stop: JFK 50 Miler.  JFK also takes place on the C&O, which spans 184.5 miles in length, as well as on a portion of the Appalachian Trail.

Flagstaff's Ian Torrence completed his 17th JFK 50 Miler, and Brian Tinder returned for his second year.

Brian Tinder, in white, fresh off the Appalachian
and beginning the long C&O portion.

I had the pleasure of seeing these guys come through the aid stations and also of acompanying Ian for the last 6 miles or so, undoubtedly the hardest part of the race, as they've already been at it for several hours and the body is exhausted.

Then it was on to Virginia for Thanksgiving with my family and my own race.

The 2011 Alexandria Turkey Trot, a 5 mile race in Northern Virginia, proved to be a good time.  I came away with a win and a new course record of 27:13.  A big thank you to Brian Danza and the DC Road Runners.

On the start line with my UVa teammate.
Photo courtesy Sandra Morris.

Receiving awards at the Alexandria Turkey Trot.

I revisited the Massanutten Trail in Fort Valley, a mere few miles from my house before hitting the road back west.  The ruggedness of the trails makes the trails in Flagstaff seem pristine.  Over the span of 10.5 miles, we gained 2,600 ft in elevation.

A view of Fort Valley from the top.
Courtesy of

The final new run was the La Luz Trail in the Sandia Mountains in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  It's over 7 miles to the top, but due to ice I only made it a little over 5 miles.  The run starts at just over 7,000 ft and climbs to over 10,000 ft.

La Luz Trail.
Courtesy of

And for the bucket list: The Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail.

Official 2012 Olympic Trials Marathon has commenced.  It kicked off with a 19-20 mile long run a couple days after Thanksgiving.  On Saturday, we did our first long tempo of the training cycle, an ice breaker 20k.  We had to travel down to Camp Verde to a 3-mile loop in order to escape the snow of Flagstaff.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Extra, extra...

Read all about it!  This is a bit of a hodge podge on all the happenings since Twin Cities.  For being a rest and recovery month, October has been quite busy.

Sometimes I feel like I'm beating a dead horse with this, but I truly appreciate all of the hometown support I still have.  After the Twin Cities Marathon, I received a lot of coverage in two of the local newspapers.  This was great, but the neatest aspect to me was that both reporters have been interviewing me since my high school days.  Kip Ritenour of The Warren Sentinel has always been a constant supporter and Jeff Nations of The Northern Virginia Daily hadn't interviewed me in about 10 years since writing for The Winchester Star.

Harrison eager for Olympic trials


View larger image
Emily Harrison, a Warren County graduate, is preparing to run in the Olympic trials for the 2012 Olympics. Courtesy photo

By Jeff Nations -
Emily Harrison is right where her coaches predicted she'd be all along, from high school to college and now as an elite distance runner.

Maybe Harrison didn't even believe it herself, not all the time, not on some of those grueling training sessions as the miles piled up and up and up.

For years, the former Warren County High School and University of Virginia cross country and track standout had been told the same thing -- eventually, someday, she could become a first-rate marathoner.

That day has arrived, and then some. On Oct. 2, Harrison ran in the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon in St. Paul, Minn. She finished third overall among women, the fastest American runner in the field of 3,675 women in the race.

Impressive enough, but then consider this -- in just her second complete marathon ever, Harrison clocked a 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials "A" qualifying time of 2 hours, 32 minutes and 55 seconds over the 26.2-mile road course.

Harrison's time was nearly 10 minutes faster than her previous best -- and first -- marathon, when she ran a 2:42.27 in the Chevron Houston Marathon on Jan. 30. In between, she tweaked a hamstring while leading the race midway through the Pittsburgh Marathon in May, and since then had been building toward the Twin Cities race.

"I'd say it's not a surprise in one sense, but in another it is a surprise," said the 25-year-old Harrison. "It's one of those things where I've been building towards it with my workouts, but anything can happen in a race. It's a marathon; I knew it was possible, but until you have that time on paper you didn't quite believe it."

Harrison projected to have an even faster time, had conditions been just perfect, but the 2:32.55 was a solid effort nonetheless and vaulted her into "'A" qualifying status after she hit the "B" standard for the U.S. Olympic Team Trials during that Houston debut.

Running for the Flagstaff, Ariz.-based McMillanElite team, Harrison has set her sights on at least contending for a top-10 finish -- maybe, just maybe, top five -- at the Olympic trials coming up Jan. 14, back in Houston. Only the top three runners will represent the U.S. in the 2012 Olympic Games in London, and Harrison isn't banking on making that short list this time.

"I think it's going to be tough to make the team. We'll see what happens," Harrison said. "It was a good decision to move up in distance [to marathons]. If you look at a lot of the top American marathoners, they're older, they're in their 30s. I'm glad to get an early start."

What Harrison will be shooting for is another personal record time, right around the 2:30.00 range. That should be good enough for a top-10 finish, at least.

The road to Houston is still a long way off, and these days Harrison spends the long hours of running the trails of northern Arizona mostly with her indefatigable training partner, her 1-year-old border collie named Super Bee.

Like Harrison, Super Bee is a Virginia native who made the trip West as a puppy riding snugly under her future running partner's airplane seat. Like Harrison, Super Bee soon caught the running bug and has been a constant presence ever since during training sessions.

"She's always ready to run," Harrison said. "She's excited when she sees the running shoes come out. She's even started doing some of the longer runs with me."

A long run by Harrison's estimation has few parallels, not when an average week of training consists of 90 miles of running. It soon will be more, as Harrison begins training in earnest for Houston with weeks topping 100 and perhaps even 110 miles.

That daunting mileage figure is not so challenging these days for Harrison. Following her standout career at Warren County under coach Mike Tanner, Harrison went on to become one of the University of Virginia's best distance runners. A three-time All-American (twice in cross country, once in the indoor 5K), Harrison was All-ACC and All-Southeast Region four straight years for the Cavaliers.

A variety of injuries slowed Harrison somewhat on the track, among them a nagging shin problem and a bruised knee, but she still qualified twice for the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships in the 10K.

Harrison drew McMillanElite head coach and director Greg McMillan's attention while at Virginia, and he offered her a spot on his team following her 2008 graduation. Harrison had been all set to stay in Charlottesville and continue training with Virginia coach Jason Dunn, but his decision to take a job at Stanford meant Harrison had a decision of her own to make. A quick call to McMillan, and Harrison was starting to pack for the trek to the high elevations of Flagstaff.

"It definitely was kind of a big change," Harrison said. "I could get home pretty easily for holidays in Charlottesville. I've spent the last couple Thanksgivings out here, and the last Christmas."

Harrison relies on the support of her McMillanElite teammates, often training up to six days a week with them. That training schedule is demanding, but Harrison still has time available to work with area schools and youth programs as a volunteer coach. Eventually, she might like to get into coaching full-time.

Right now, Harrison is focused on the next mile, the next milestone -- and trying to keep her mind off ice cream. A recently discovered gluten sensitivity issue that had plagued Harrison the past couple years has led to a diet change, including an avoidance of wheat and some dairy products.

"They have some sort of substitute for ice cream, but it's not the same," Harrison said.
It's a price to pay, but a small one for Harrison's improved energy level. The Olympic trials are firmly in Harrison's focus, and beyond that perhaps the Boston Marathon or New York Marathon.

"It's still very different, stepping on that start line," Harrison said. "In that instant, you're thinking, 'Wow, I'm really prepared for this.' And at the same time you get the feeling that 'I'm totally unprepared for this.'

"The second one did come easier than my first one, just because I felt more fit and mentally prepared. But the end of the race is still hard.

From the same edition of The Warren Sentinel, Kip talks about my high school career breaking the way for our running programs in Warren County.

As covered in a previous blog, I am proud of Warren County running and how far they've come.  Seamus, a Warren County Wildcat, just won the Region II Cross Country Championships this past weekend and has goals of a State Title this coming weekend.  

Speaking of high school running, part of why October has been so busy is that I have been in Phoenix almost every weekend either for a Dr. John Ball visit or for a high school cross country meet.  It's that time of year for spreading the word about the 2012 adidas-McMillanElite High School Training Camp.  Our inaugural year was a hit, and we're looking to make 2012 even better!

Super Bee was admittedly the bigger draw at the
2011 Doug Conley Invitational. 

An evening run in South Mountain Preserve.
At the top of Dobbins Lookout.

The 2011 Arizona State Cross Country Meet, put on by Arizona Interscholastic Association, was a success in many ways.  First off, the adidas tent was a hit....

At the 2011 Arizona State Cross Country meet.

Secondly, despite heavy storms the night before, course flooding that delayed the meet a full hour, and cooler temperatures, there were plenty of strong performances from the athletes.  Bernie Montoya of Cibola, a 2011 adidas-McMillanElite Camp attendee, won the Division I race for the second year in a row as junior.

The view from the adidas tent at
the Cave Creek Golf Course, site of the State Meet.

The biggest news of the day was Coach Trina Painter and the Flagstaff High School ladies.  Tatiana Gillick, only a sophomore, is now the Division II Champion.  Not only was Tatiana a champion, but her entire team was as well.  After winning their state sectional meet in a record low 19 points, they continued their winning streak with a very young squad.  

Also, a big thank you to Coach Painter and her athletes for helping with our camp promotion this fall.

I mentioned visits to John Ball and cross country meets, but Super Bee also had an adventurous October.  On two weekends we made the trip to Florence, Az, where Bee got in touch with her roots...

On the way back from Phoenix this weekend, I was met with snow on the approach to Flagstaff.

Approaching Flagstaff.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

F8 Spells...Fate

2011 Twin Cities Marathon - 2:32.55

A fews days after I ran Twin Cities Marathon, my Dad asks "You know what F8 sounds like, don't you?"  Me, "Um, no..." He says, "Fate."

F8 was my bib number for TCM.  I thought that people rhyming "eight" with "great" during the race was clever, but now I know it was fate to run a 10 minute PR, finish top 3, and be top American.

Race weekend started out as a whirlwind.  Stephanie Rothstein, Ben Bruce and I arrived on Thursday night for the Friday press conference (Steph for the USA 10 mile Champs).  This was my first press conference, so not only did I have to represent myself well during, but I also had to not let any extra pressure get to me.  Greg and I talked all week leading into the race about staying relaxed and not letting myself sabotage my race before I even stepped on the starting line.

On Friday, the majority of our team and Greg arrived.  Another added element to the weekend was that Twin Cities was also playing host to the men's and women's USA 10 mile Championships, creating even more excitement with lots of USATF officials and elite athlete events to attend.  Maybe it was a blessing in disguise to be so busy and with little time to ponder the upcoming race.

Saturday brought the technical meeting, finishing my fluid bottles, and a personal course tour with Nobi and Greg.  It was nice not having to view the course from a big yellow school bus for 3 hours.  Thank you Nobi!  The course was winding for a majority of the race, so running tangents would be of upmost importance.  And let's not forget the last 10k, which begins a 5 mile climb before plummeting to the finish at the capitol.

My standard Barbie fluid bottle.  I use a combination of 
Hammer products throughout the race.  I actually missed
my bottle at mile 12, but I couldn't let that enter my mind.

Sunday Funday!!  Note: I stole that from a good friend.  It was a typical race morning in many ways...catch the bus to shuttle to the start, yep the big yellow one, then sit downstairs in a large room until it's time to warm up.  Luckily, I had a partner in crime.  Katie Koski and I kept each other company and warmed up together.

You can see why this is "The Most Beautiful Urban Marathon
in America."  Photo by TCM.

After the gun went off, I quickly found myself in 8th place.  I started slower than I expected the first couple of miles, just under 6 min pace, but I found my groove and locked in for the long haul.  The fun part was, after mile 1, I started passing people with the occasional race with a masters male.  I'm confident that from mile 1 to mile 26.2 no one passed me (with the exception of the sprint finish).

I had to have faith that the women in front of me would come back.  This didn't start happening until a little over halfway.  My pace seemed quick, but I kept telling myself to stay relaxed and roll with it.  Eventually, I was locked into 4th place.  I figured that was where I'd stay, as it was nearing the last 10k and I hadn't seen any women in a while, although Greg told me around mile 20 there was someone up ahead slowing.

Practicing staying calm, cool and collected.
Photo by TCM.

I continued to pass the men, and finally I caught the 3rd place woman after mile 23.  To everyone's surprise, I was also closing on 2nd place.  With a mile to go, she was in my sights.  I caught and passed her at the crest of the hill with less than 800m to go.  She fought back though and just out-kicked me right before the line. Afterwards, I was thinking, "really, 26.2 miles and it comes to a sprint finish?"

Greg and I post-race in the elite tent.
Photo by Stephanie Rothstein.

Going into the race we had a time range we knew was possible and a goal of finishing on the podium.  After awards, there was no time to stop.  It was back to the hotel, shower and off to the airport.  A side note, as soon as I crossed the finish line, I had a TCM volunteer stuck to my side.  For a while, I didn't know if it was for drug testing or something else.  It turns out, he had to make sure I made it to the awards stand.

Waiting for awards and being interviewed.
Photo by Stephanie Rothstein.

Brett Gotcher, Aaron Braun, and Scott Smith represented adidas well with everyone finishing in the top 10 in the USA 10 miles Champs.  Brett was 3rd and Aaron finished his season 2nd overall in the USA Running Circuit.  Jordan Horn and Danny Mercado also qualified for the marathon Olympic Trials with their sub-65 half-marathons the same day at the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Half Marathon in Virginia.  Kellyn Johnson won the Jim Click 8k as a tune-up for Tufts 10k.  A solid day!

Fate was indeed at work on October 2nd, 2011.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Quest for Water

The quest for water...

Nope, not the cattle tank water Super Bee likes to play in on our runs, but the water you find upon going to the well.  This next statement is a coaches nightmare, but to me it's also a motivator to keep pushing toward the next goal.  I am confident I can count on both hands the number of times I've truly crossed that line during a race and discovered the success that lies on the other side.  Typically, I'm the one playing it safe, not tempting that line.  If you're competitive in any aspect of sports or life, you know that line I speak of.  Or to some, they refer to it as going to the well, seeing how far they can push beyond their "limits."

Super Bee enjoying the muddy water at Pipeline Tank.

Many argue running is more a mental act than a physical one.  I believe running is greatly physical and there is such a thing as talent, however I do argue that racing is more mental than physical.  Ironically, I have been known to say "I wish I could just turn off my brain during a race."  Turning off your brain is still a mental act though.  Banishing those demons and negative thoughts takes just as much practice as going out and logging mile after mile, day after day.

It's the repetition of affirmations that leads to belief.  And once that belief becomes a deep conviction, things begin to happen.     ~Muhammad Ali

During those handful of times I went to the well,  I have experienced first-hand the exhilaration and confidence that occurs.  And also the rewards that followed.  Because along with the decision to dig just a little deeper, came a break-through race, a championship title, or an opportunity to advance in my running career.

What's interesting is that upon looking back on these races, I remember exactly what was going through my head.  I distinctly remember making a decision, deciding that I had not gone to the well and that there was a lot of fight left in me.  So, I ask myself constantly why do I not do this more often?

A perk of living at 7,000 feet is feeling like you can reach up and touch the clouds.
A scene like this will quickly lift your spirits.

There's a delicate balance between racing smart and racing recklessly, between being too conservative and taking that risk that could lead you to greatness.  Why are we so afraid to cross over into the unknown in a race?  Is it fear of failure?  Or a fear of being great?

My high school athletic director sent this to me about a year ago, and I can't help but think this has merit. At the time, I was struggling to find the runner I once was.

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.       ~Marianne Williamson

Second run with Bee paralleling Wing Mountain.

And now I'm more than the runner I once was.   Enough philosophy!  Training is dialed in and going very well.  I did a 5 x mile workout starting at 5:43 and ending at 5:24 (road loop averaging 7300').  Last year at this time, I couldn't finish the workout and the times were slower.

Mistakenly named A1, this is where many a long run
happen.  Last weekend saw a Fast Finish 18 miler.

Part of the above run, you can do what is called the Lollipop
around Wing Mountain.  The loop is 7 miles for a total of 21 miles.
This is marathon training at its best.  As I say, sugar is a silent killer.

So I ask, is the over-used, cliche quote "To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift" really cliche?  The search for water continues at Twin Cities...

Friday, September 9, 2011

USA 20k Championships Reflection

On September 5th, I returned to the USA 20k Championships in New Haven, Connecticut.  In 2009, I learned a valuable lesson: never toe the line at a US Championship race unless you are healthy, fit, and ready to compete.  The goal going into the race in 2011 was a top ten finish.  My final place...9th in a time of 1:11.05.  Photos by (Chris Nickinson and John Nepolitan).

Post-race interview courtesy of RunnerSpace:

Mid-warm up.
After being in east coast for two weeks leading up to the race I figured I'd be ready for the humidity.  However, the weather gods had other plans.  According to locals, these were the worst conditions in several years.  Nevertheless, we all had to cope.  I knew it was a rough day when I passed one top woman walking along the water leading up to 7 miles and then yet another very consistent performer a couple minutes later.

Brett Gotcher, 2009 Champion, mid-stride.
Brett finished a solid 5th.
Top men hammering it out.
It has become apparent that Flagstaff, Az is the place to train.  Three of the top ten men and two of the top ten women train in Flagstaff.  But wait, it gets even better!  Both the men's and women's winners prepared for this race in Flagstaff.  I present your 2011 champions: Abdi Abdiraham and Janet Cherobon-Bawcom.

Abdi, aka Black Cactus, with a dominating win.

Each year at the elite meeting, a family member of the late Ryan Shay (2004 Champion) gives a heartfelt talk in remembrance.  This year, Abdi spoke on his most prominent memories of Ryan and their friendship.  

Janet takes the win.  Janet is often seen at our
weekly Bagel Run in Flagstaff.

Although I am not entirely happy with my race, I am encouraged that I am "back in the saddle."  After many airport delays and the worst travel nightmare, our crew finally made it back to Flagstaff to get recovered from our Labor Day festivities.  I am now ready to hit a few short weeks of marathon specific training to prepare for Twin Cities Marathon in early October.  I have high goals to achieve and unfinished business to take care of!

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Next Generation

I've recently had several reminders as to how much of an impact I have on up and coming runners without even realizing it.  I just found out the other week that two girls in the surrounding area both recently received running scholarships, in part because my parents were able to share with their parents what we learned from my high school running career.  I had no idea, but one of the girls carried around a picture of the two us together for many years as her inspiration.

A couple months ago, I was talking to my high school coach, Coach Mike Tanner, and he asked if I would be interested in talking with the local high school teams.  I was excited to be offered such an opportunity.  This week, I had the privilege of returning to my high school (now split into two schools: Warren County and Skyline) to give a talk on all the little things that take you to the next level in running, such as core, strides and drills, and nutrition.

Upon arriving at the track for a run with the Skyline High School (Coach Mike Tanner) and Warren County High School (Coach Jeremy Burnworth) teams, I was met with a surprise:  The Warren County girls had made "I love Emily" shirts.  I was very flattered, and it made me not so nervous for the upcoming talk.

Warren County Wildcats Cross Country Team

The next day, I went to Warren County's dual meet with Clarke County (The Wildcats won on both sides!).  Meanwhile, the Skyline Hawks were at an away meet with some fiercer competition with the boys missing the win by a mere two points.  After the race, the girls invited me to cool down with them.

Gathering around the finish line.

Post-cool down.  These ladies are chasing
the State Title this year.  Photo by Ariel.

Thank you to Coach Tanner, Coach B and all the athletes for making me feel welcome.

Over the past year, I've also had the opportunity to work with Coach Trina Painter's Kids on the Run program and the FACTS after school track program, both of which have broadened my awareness of youth running.  I feel honored to have the continuous support of my hometown community.  I look forward to continuing to share my love of running with others and to be a positive influence.    
Post-long run relaxation in the the Shenandoah.
Unfortunately, it's not cold enough to count as an ice bath.

Warming up for 12-16 x 400m.

Beast  (That one's for you Coach Tanner)

On the drive home...

Saturday, August 27, 2011

20k Prep

Most people have nightmares about their organic chemistry final or a big presentation.  Abnormal people like me have nightmares to this day about journal check in high school English.  This is probably because it was the easiest "A" you could get, yet I could never manage to write a paragraph every day.

Anyways, on to the USA 20k Championships!  I returned to my hometown in Virginia where everybody knows your name to visit family and friends and to get in some sea level training two weeks before the 20k.

My arrival to the east coast has apparently triggered natural disasters.  Upon the first day of my arrival, we had a 5.9 earthquake come through our town and up the coast.  Currently, Hurricane Irene is making her presence known along the east coast.

GOES satellite image of Irene. 
So far, training has not been impacted by the changing weather patterns.  Coach Greg McMillan has had his athletes doing time trial efforts before races to keep us in touch with what race effort will feel like. This past Thursday I had an 8-mile Time Trial.  My Mom hopped on her bike and we hit the appropriately named "7.5 loop" (plus an add-on).  It was nice to have company, as she helped to keep me from falling asleep at the wheel.

The course was rolling hills on pavement with about 2.5 miles on gravel roads.  Final time was 44:55 for 8+ miles.

Start of the 8 mile time trial.

End of 8 mile time trial.
Living right next to the George Washington National Forest has its perks, although these trails are more rugged than the trails in Flagstaff.

So many options just over the hill, including heading towards Shawl Gap.  All of these signs are literally in one location at the top of the hill.

Elizabeth Furnace is very popular for
tourists and locals alike.
SR 619 is part of the time trial course.
I've lost count how many times I've
trekked down 619 over the years.
Massanutten is well-know in these parts,
including the MMT 100 Mile Run.

Play time on the boat at Lake Anna before the storms came.

Gidget, Super Bee's sister, going for a swim with her frisbee.
Lake Anna.