Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Patience Rewarded

While soberly getting ready for bed Saturday night, I jammed my pinky toe into the doorframe of the bathroom. It hurt tremendously. I iced it right away as a precaution before I turned the covers for the night. At 4am, I iced it again when it was throbbing. As Veronica Mars would say: ruh-roh.

The next morning arrived and I had plans to ride and run the Columbia course with my friend to prepare for next weekend's race. Having to walk with a limp proved to be a legitimate obstacle to doing this workout. Maybe I could just ride? I tested it on the trainer for 5 seconds and continuing did not seem smart. See, the prior weekend I got sick and missed that chance to ride the course. This is unrelated to the toe, but I was disappointed with the prospect of not getting to Columbia, yet again. I had difficulty coming to grips with this, despite all signs pointing to DON'T DO IT. I took the doubting to another level and pondered if I would be able to race next weekend.

I called my father who loves hearing from me when issues arise. He encouraged me to stop beating myself up about what happened and just take care of it. "Let it go," he said, and reminded me of the self destruction that ensues when I fail to do this. His warning sunk in: Don't let this destroy you. I FINALLY TOOK THE ADVICE. I let it go.

After I got off the phone I made a new plan for the day. I wished my pinky toe GOOD LUCK deteriorating while being iced, elevated and bound to its neighbor. I followed through on my afternoon pool plans with the DC Rainmakers and swam gently. The activity loosened up the toe (good sign) and by the end of the day, I could walk normally. I managed the toe crisis!

My coach wasn't reachable during this time, and in the message she left me the next day, she said she hoped that my toe was doing better. I smiled at the absurdity of it because this is smaller than peanuts in the grand scheme of life. It's a TOE. Although, it is awesome to have the support.

So... big hooray for stopping the bad thoughts from consuming me. I took control of the things I could control, gave it the necessary rest to heal and kept things in perspective. It only took three days for me to be back on my feet running (a modest pace).

Not all is lost as I have ridden the Columbia course earlier this spring with my GRC teammate, Michelle. Here we are after a lovely brick workout.

To slog readers, including men, who were kind enough to point out the ill-fitting running shorts I raced in this year--I'm acquiring pairs that fit. Thanks.

See you at Columbia... and Lauren's racing Ironman Texas. GO LAUREN!!!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Lauren's Essay on Eating – After 30 years I’m finally getting the hang of it

Author’s Note: I read on another triathlete’s twitter feed that the level of activity on one’s blog is often related to how that person feels he or she is performing. Silence speaks volumes. I wrote the following post a month or so ago, but never got around to posting it. Since that time, I raced Oceanside and New Orleans 70.3 and somewhere along the way I lost my mind. I started 100 blog posts but completed none of them. Thankfully, I was able to locate my mind in order to put in a solid block of training for IM Texas and now I’m tapering and ready to battle it out next Saturday in my home state. I am excited to race my first long course race of the year!

A few weeks ago I found myself reviewing my eating history while consuming a piece of sourdough roll (I know I know...shoot me…. it wasn’t low GI extra gluten free wild rice) in bed at 3am. I had a particularly long training session the previous day and failed to fuel properly …hence the bread. Reflecting upon this late night snack made me laugh – I have truly come full circle in terms of eating issues.

I’ve noticed a number of blogs, tweets, and Facebook updates that mention food….how Bobby Sue only eats clean, that Mary Jane only eats foods blended in a Vitamix, why John Smith only eats meat, and how Ronin won’t touch meat with a 10 foot pole. I’ve also seen a number of “hey, admire the contents of my fridge” pictures. (If I posted such a picture you can be sure I would hide the poisonous Cool whip so as not to ruin my reputation). These snippets of conversation have reminded me of all the women/girls I know, both athletes and NON- athletes, that struggle with food due to body image issues. I think this is sad and have spent way too much time pondering why a vital staple in our lives has lead to so many problems. I’ve had my own food issues over the years but can honestly say that my foray into triathlon is helping me come to terms with this four letter word….

I first thought I was fat in kindergarten, when I compared my thighs to the girl next to me. No joke. I weighed 2 pounds….I HAD NO THIGHS! Thankfully I went to private school where said thighs were hidden 4 days a week under less than appealing maroon skirts. Casual Fridays, however, were always the DAY OF RECKONING. Throughout middle school and high school I played all the important female Texas sports including volleyball, basketball, and tennis. To keep my perceived “weight down” I fueled on lettuce and a sprinkling of Special K cereal and lemon juice for “flavor.” I was always the girl that avoided fat. FAT was of the devil. I was a crust –eater at pizza parties and thankfully most of my friends were not.

Photographic evidence of missing thighs. I'm the tall one.

Freshman year in college I followed the fat-free frozen yogurt and chickpea diet (with vodka sodas on weekends) until I was introduced to the Dr. Atkin’s Diet. Eureka. Now – CARBS WERE OUT and FAT WAS IN. While my friends ate normal breakfasts, I feasted on cans of tuna with squirts of mustard out in the hall, so that nobody would be bothered by the smell. Occasionally I’d have vegetables, but never carrots, as GOD FORBID they get my body out of ketosis – a state of fat burning that Atkins glorified. I quickly dropped weight on this diet (along with half my hair, but that was a small price to pay).

Now that I was “light” it was time to do something that I assumed all thin people did – run a marathon. I signed up for the Philly Marathon in the summer of 1999 and quickly downloaded a random running plan. I never understood why I couldn’t function after a long training day but I managed to qualify for Boston fueled on beef jerky and hardboiled eggs. I remember my mother questioning my fueling habits before Boston but I “proved” to her that my 3:14 Boston time was evidence that a fat/protein based diet was the key to athletic success…and even more hair loss.

After college I worked…a ton. I kept getting mysterious injuries that prevented me from running and my food issues grew. I tried everything that I thought would help me maintain this elusive desired weight, from going to Food Addicts anonymous (spinoff of AA) to signing up for new marathons to keep my weight down “naturally.” Granted, I did not have a weight problem…much of this was in my mind. Unfortunately my body couldn’t handle the abuse and I couldn’t perform. I also couldn’t shake my fear of carbs.

In grad school I met a girl who did triathlons and I decided to try one. I also decided that if I was going to do a long triathlon (as I called it) I better figure out how to eat again. How the hell would beef jerky and hardboiled eggs fit into my bento box? I found a nutritionist in the Bay Area who helped me address the carb fear. Her suggestion was to follow the much-maligned USDA food pyramid…focus on the fruits and veggies and lean protein, eat some grain and SEE how it affects me. I tried this for awhile and stayed healthy and surprisingly had the energy to finish my first triathlon – the Big Kahuna in Santa Cruz. (I was the girl that set up a pan of water near my transition to wash my feet.) Wow..maybe there is something to balanced eating?

Since that time I’ve improved my attitude towards food. From training I’ve learned that I must treat food as fuel and that my weight will manage itself. I still struggle with my perception, but I know that I just need to focus on what my body can do – swim, bike, and run. Granted, many of these lessons have come at a cost. Early on Matt would carry extra food during our long rides and as soon as I’d get the crazed look in my eyes, he knew it was time to feed me. Even as recent as my first pro year, I found myself wandering up Mt. Lemmon in Tucson under-fueled. I consciously remember choosing NOT to eat too much because I wasn’t feeling particularly athletic compared to all the other “ripped” pros around me. Yeah, that strategy didn’t work too well for me. I also remember at a race comparing my bike nutrition to that of one of the pro girls next to me. I had what seemed like 3 days of food compared to her small supply. The familiar conversation came back once again: “OMG. Am I eating too much? Does she have a secret that I don’t have? Am I going to get fat?” Thankfully, I put a beat down on the inner voice and reminded myself that what I perceive as my “trillion calories on the bike” actually fuel me to ride fast.

Last year coach Paulo began dictating how many gels I should eat and at what time on my long training runs. Again, at first inner Lauren started worrying about all the weight I’d gain on these training runs. “OMG - will I be able to fit into my race suit??” And again, I reminded myself to shut up and follow the plan. Miraculously, my long runs were faster. Imagine that.

In talking with others and from my own experience I realize that food issues do not magically disappear altogether. In a sport full of Type A, high-achieving perfectionists, I assume that there are many others with similar thoughts. People also have to find a way to deal with this in a way that works for them. Some people seek out the top sports scientists to create a custom plan for them, others count their calories and make note of everything in a spreadsheet which spits out every detail down to one’s daily sodium intake. As for me, I attempt to ignore all the people that over- evangelize their own nutrition and instead, try to eat each day so that I can do each prescribed workout and get the work done.

What I believe is common about most successful programs to deal with body image/food issues is learning to rid oneself of the external focus. When we worry about what others may be thinking about us, we blow our thoughts out of proportion and end up going down a dark mental hole that sets us back. This is similar to racing. If I spend all of my time before and during a race worrying about what Jane Smith pro is doing, I take the focus off what I am doing and end up wasting tons of mental and physical energy. In the same way that I cannot perform at my best when thinking about Jane three miles up the road, girls with body image problems cannot heal by comparing themselves to air-brushed Victoria Secret models. Yes, I still have bad days, but thankfully I have come a long way from shoving hard boiled eggs into my mouth right before heartbreak hill at the Boston Marathon.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Caroline White 2011 Boston Marathon Race Report

In 2009, Caroline White shared her race report from her Olympic Trials qualifying effort at the Twin Cities Marathon. Since then, she has gone through Air Force training to become a fighter jet pilot and just lowered her marathon PR from 2:45 to 2:37 at the 2011 Boston Marathon.

Here is her story:

Family and friends,

As I have been informed by several of you, it has been entirely too long since I’ve sent out a race report. Although this is borderline more of a life update than a race report, I am happy to send out the race report for my fourth marathon, the 2011 Boston Marathon.

Where to even begin? I suppose it is best to pick up where I left off; Twin Cities 2009 Marathon. After qualifying for the Olympic Trials with a time of 2:45, I moved to Wichita Falls, TX to begin the next phase of my life, Pilot Training. Saying good-bye to all my Colorado ties and hitting the road to TX, I received a lot of, ‘what do you mean you’re going to pilot training? You qualified! I thought you were going to stay and train if you met the standard!’ After hearing this for the dozenth time, I started to think, hmmmm, do I really want to leave the Colorado utopia for a life I know little about, have no idea if I’ll be successful, and know essentially no one there from being an athlete, which I know I love?

It was an uncomfortable decision, but as my long trusted mentor explained, ‘Caroline, think about the conversation we are having, you are deciding between being a national caliber athlete and a pilot. Most people would dream to be in either situation. But the reality is, you have to close a door. You must make a decision; you can’t have optimum training and still become a pilot. Recognize that one choice will come at the expense of the other. Whatever you decide, go on that path, do it well, and stick with it.’

One of the two paths involved a lot of uncertainty, a lot of sacrifice, and a lot of Texas. But the decision was already made. At the age of twelve, I determined that flying would be the coolest disguise of a career anyone could have. As I matured, I recognized it would also be a fulfilling life, allowing me to use my talents while serving others. Although there were many unknowns, I had to pursue the chance of being a pilot. Otherwise I would always live my life wondering what could have been.

So I structured the next year around my mentor’s solid advice. I decided pilot training was my next endeavor, so I would do it the only way I knew; the best I could. This meant, however, that nothing would come between me and my goal. Including running. I committed to the mindset that flying was the new priority in my life and running was secondary.


It was necessary to embrace this change of priorities because pilot training would accept nothing less. I was not only starting pilot training, I was starting EURO-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training (ENJJPT). Only the top candidates for pilot training who are selected by a special board go to ENJJPT. And that is not limited to the United States. Other NATO countries send their best candidates to ENJJPT as well, including Italy, Germany, Spain, and the Netherlands, to name a few. When a friend asked why I was anxious about pilot training I explained, I’m not any smarter than my peers, and they, like me, have dreamed of flying since a young age, so I’m not necessarily more motivated either. This leaves me little to work with.

ENJJPT is a 13 month long program that trains 250 students to become combat pilots for their respective country. Students are evaluated constantly throughout the program with academic events, simulators, and flights. Students fly the T-6 (a tubro-prop) the first half of the program and a T-38 (a dual jet trainer) the second half. At the end of the course, students fill out a ‘dream sheet’ where they list their preferences for aircraft. Between their rank in the class and what planes the Air Force has available, students are then given an assignment which they will fly or support the remainder of their career. Assignment trends change class to class, but the top third or half get fighters.

Although the statistics were intimidating, I tried not to let it phase me, and went in as confidently as possible. Hey, if I can swim 2.4 miles in the Hawaiian ocean, bike through 110 degree lava fields and top it off with a marathon, I can do this right? Bring on Pilot Training!

And having a good attitude goes a long way, which allowed me to excel in T-6’s. My assigned instructor, a Norwegian, and I got along great. He was strict and held me accountable for my mistakes, but at the same time was encouraging. Through definite ups and downs, T-6’s went pretty smoothly. Keep in mind smoothly doesn’t mean easy. It took an incredible amount of dedication. Students are bound by ‘crew rest’ where they are not allowed to be in the squadron more than 12 hours (as a safety rule to make sure they have enough rest to safely operate a million dollar aircraft). This 12 hour rule became a hindrance to me, as I wanted to work longer. The simulator technicians knew me by name as I was consistently practicing until closing. I sat in on every debrief I could, learning from others mistakes, and trying to get ahead of the game.

12 hour days also made running a challenge, but I seemed to fit it in (a typical wake up would be @ 4:00 AM to get a 10 mile run in before report time). I found running to be a necessary release from flying and was still averaging 60-90 miles a week. No matter how overwhelmed I was with pilot training, I had the roads to look forward to. My legs and the concrete would fight out my pilot training frustrations, and I was ready to face a new day’s challenge.

In January 2010, I ran the Houston half marathon and had a big PR; 1:16:58. In February, I competed in the Armed Forces and won for the second year in a row. It looked like I was able to handle both pilot training and being a national level athlete. All the while, pilot training was a challenge, but I loved it. I was feeling positive about the future of my running and my Air Force assignment.

However, in June, we made the switch to T-38’s and things changed. For the worse. The T-38 was twice as powerful as the T-6 and really, twice the challenge, with plenty of opportunities to mess up. I became incredibly frustrated that I was not doing as well as I wanted, despite coming close to breaking the crew rest rule and giving it my all. Also, I did not have my T-6 instructor, and found my new T-38 IP to be ambivalent to me and flying. Without my old instructor’s critiques and support, I became overly critical of my own mistakes. I grew overly apprehensive about my rank in the class and if I would be good enough to receive a favorable assignment.

There were nights I would lay awake in bed, beating myself over the errors I’d made that day. My parents would call weekly to check in, and at times I wouldn’t answer the phone because I could not bear to explain to them how I was not as successful as I wanted to be. I vividly remember going to Quiznos following a long day, and the cashier exclaimed ‘Oh my Goodness! A female pilot! You just must be SO PROUD of yourself!” A normal person would feel honored, but I felt like I was punched in the gut. I was falling short of my expectations and was not even close to proud of it. Still, I smiled and said “well, I do what I can.”

Running was also taking a turn for the worse. Texas summer temps were consistently over 100 degrees, making long distance training excruciating. When you combined this with being newly exposed to T-38 G forces, and being stressed over flying well, my performance suffered. I was feeling more and more like garbage on training runs. An easy tempo run of 6:15 miles transitioned to being very difficult, and eventually I was not even able to complete workouts at that pace. One day a friend asked me, so do you think you are faster now than you were at the Twin Cities Marathon? I laughed with disappointment, and honestly answered, I wish I was in the same ballpark as the Twin Cities Caroline, but I am not even close. In August, my coach brought up the idea of competing in the NYC marathon. I nearly broke down in tears because I so badly wanted to have a good race there, but it just wasn’t possible. Flying was overwhelming, my running was deteriorating, and things looked bleak, with no hope of relief. It seemed as though I had not closed one life door, but both.

But the race report doesn’t end here. Somehow I made it through. My coach supported me even though I wasn’t acting like the national caliber athlete he raised. He worked with me through my setbacks and was considerate that running was not number one on the priority list. Also, I was able to confide in Ben about my insecurities. I would explain my errors from the day and he assured me that no, I wasn’t the first person to make that error, he had made similar mistakes, and taught me to positively embrace my setbacks. So I kept at it, and continued the 12 hour days. In September, I was assigned a new IP and flying really became fun again, and surprise! I started performing better. I also found a running partner who was actually crazy enough to wake up before 5:00 to run.

I’d like to say time flew by and it was over before I knew it, but it felt like an eternity. Despite this, assignment night did in fact arrive in October. The prospect of my assignment through pilot training caused more anxiety that I can express, but assignment night was one of the greatest of my life. After a lifetime of dreaming of being a pilot, and a year of seemingly insurmountable challenges, I was assigned the F-15C. Not just ENJJPT, but out of the entire AF, twelve individuals are assigned this yearly. I was out of control happy. I even had a shot of alcohol for the first time in 3 years (which led me to lose my voice for 5 days, but that’s another story). It was an unreal moment. A vivid memory from that night was a woman walking up to me and genuinely stating “I don’t even know you, but I cried when you got your assignment. I am so happy for you.” Of 250 students, there are usually only 5 females in the program at a time, and I was the first female in a long, long time to be assigned a fighter. I was truly honored.

Although my anxieties about flying were alleviated after graduation in November, I still had major reservations with running. I hadn’t raced since February 2010 and never felt 100% recovered from the summer. My coach encouraged me to look at upcoming races, which I was very reluctant to do, but we have to get back on the horse sometime. Specifically, the Armed Forces cross country championship was coming up, and I was very hesitant to compete in it. Runners from other services had run better marathons than me since Twin Cities (multiple 2:42’s), and I did not think I had a prayer of winning again. Nonetheless, I took the title for the third year in a row. This was a big confidence boost and pushed me to believe in myself again.

Such a boost helped me set my sights on Boston. In my heart I was hoping for a PR; specifically a 2:42. It would be a stretch since I barely hit a 2:45 in Twin Cities, and that was preceded with 6 months of JUST RUNNING. Not running during pilot training, at sea level, in pancake flat TX.


So here comes the race portion, here is the 2011 Boston Marathon. (Finally, right?) Flying out to Boston is a special memory in and of itself. I arbitrarily bought a Runner’s World magazine at the airport, and was flipping through it on the plane. Much to my surprise, there was a picture of me plastered on a full page advertisement. All right, I made my way into Runner’s World. I think I’m ready for Boston.

Randy and I met up to go over the course and talk specific strategy. It was at this point he told me, I think you can break 2:40. WHAT??? Are you kidding me? I haven’t raced in a year, let alone run a marathon in 18 months, how could you think that?

Randy explained, “Twin Cities was different; you had to hit that time to qualify. But now you have nothing to lose. You are already going to the trials, so don’t be conservative. Give it everything and see what you can do. You need to be confident in yourself and your training.”

So we had a plan. Run 6-6:10’s for the first 16 miles, then bring it home with all I had. I was nervous about this plan because 2 years ago I ran Boston and the wheels fell off at the end as a result of going out to hard. I was skeptical that I could run 6:10’s and hold that pace throughout, but as Randy said, I had nothing to lose. When people asked what I wanted to run, I responded “I’m hoping for a PR” but I wouldn’t publicly admit I wanted to break 2:40. It was my own secret.

The gun for the elite women’s start (approx 50 women) went off @ 9:32. The rest of the competitors (24,000) started at 10:00. This gave us the advantage of setting our own pace without the masses interfering. But at the same time, you have Kara Goucher and the Kenyans right there enticing you. I was conscious to keep it slow.

1) 547--Get focused, slow down a touch
2) 5:58—little more
3) 6:02—good, keep it here.

And the plan went perfect, the miles rolled along at 6:00-6:05’s Pace wise, I was feeling really comfortable here. The strategy was working out. The miles flew by effortlessly. I passed the ‘half marathon’ point in 1:19:10. Awesome, if I can hold this pace I will break 2:40. But I can’t let the wheels fall off again. I’ve got to keep rolling.

Before I knew it, I passed the 16 mile mark holding 6:00-6:10’s. And this is where the real challenge begins.

Here we go!

The race doesn’t start until mile 17, where the course changes from a gentle slope into the unforgiving Newton hills. In retrospect I probably should have been more nervous given my complete lack of hill training. In the year preceding Boston I had run hills TWICE, once when I went home for Thanksgiving and once at Christmas. Otherwise, the only thing resembling a hill was the Texas version: a 20 foot overpass. I didn’t let that stop me and I blew through the Newton hills in 6:02, 5:44, and 6:01. Sweet! Now to deal with heartbreak.

Heartbreak hill is renowned for being associated with pain. With a reputation so daunting, it makes momma look down and spit on the ground every time its name gets mentioned. But this wouldn’t stop me, I was on fire. I powered through the Marathon’s climax feeling awesome.

Now it’s all downhill from here. Literally, after heartbreak it was a gentle downhill slope, and I pounded out the miles. I ran mile 22-24 in 5:41, 5:50, 5:48. The strategy worked. Randy was right. I could do it.

The final mile started to present some issues. It was as though my body calculated the perfect pace for a 25.2 mile race, but not a marathon. It was getting difficult to keep my speedy turnover. Also, following heartbreak, my stomach was giving me some problems. At this point though, quitting the race was obviously not an option and I had to block out my stomach’s complaints. Luckily, there was a girl in the distance I could see and I reeled her in. She was the perfect distraction from my rapidly deteriorating body, and I blew by her with a half mile to go. I ran mile 26 in 6:02, and the last .2 mile was filled with an overwhelming roar on Boylston street.

Approaching the finish line, I was confused by the clock, is that the normal start’s clock? Or does that 2:37 apply me? ??

It didn’t matter, I cranked it in.

I crossed the finish line, tried to put my hands on my knees for support, but just collapsed. And couldn’t get up. In fact, I was wheel chaired to the medical tent....yes, I undoubtedly had nothing left to give that day.

After being released from my capture in the medical tent, I met Randy and Whitney in the elite finisher area. We were all jumping out of our skin with excitement. In our wildest expectations, we had no idea I could have had that race. I ended up placing 20th overall and was the 5th American finisher. I also qualified to the Olympic Trials under the A standard, where the Olympic committee pays for your travel. The B standard mentality was, okay, your good enough to come play with the big leagues, but with the A standard it is, we are taking you seriously enough that we’ll pay your way to the trials. Ohhh, what a day.

So what do you do after a major life accomplishment? Move across the country of course! I flew out of Boston and immediately hit the road to move to OR. I checked into my new squadron yesterday and will start the next big adventure of life; F-15 training. I’m enthusiastic to start the next phase of life. When checking in, I was informed (repeatedly) that I am the first female to go through F-15 training here. (10 years ago, training was in FL, but it has since moved exclusively here). I’m honored to be given such opportunity, and to be blazing a new path.

It’s been a long road, it’s not even close to being over, and I’ve learned some very important life lessons along the way. First, words cannot speak to the importance of confidence. To do something amazing, I have to unwaveringly believe in myself and my abilities. Second, the past year and a half has showcased the importance of my loved ones support. The chances of getting through pilot training without Ben and my family is approximately zero. I likely would have stopped running over the past summer if my coach hadn’t encouraged me through the setbacks. When things get rough and I feel like I have nothing more to give, my loved ones are always willing to give me the strength to continue. Furthermore, I couldn’t do any of it on my own. On the flip side of the coin, I hope to provide that strength to others. Luckily for me, that often happens by mere circumstance. When doing errands down town in a flight suit, people stop me all the time to hear my story. It’s not unusual for a mother to point out ‘the lady pilot’ to her daughters. My first day in OR, I got a request to speak to a Girl Scout troop. Others have given me so much strength and support, I find it imperative to build that in others as well.

I honestly could not be more hopeful about future running. The top American marathoner in the country for this Olympic cycle (2:22), ran a PR of 2:37 at Boston 3 years ago. And I am one minute off Deena Kastor (two time Olympian and bronze medalist) best performance this Olympic cycle. Before I was honored to even compete at the national level, but now I’m starting to believe I can do more than just compete. These legs weren’t lying to me, they have a future. Now let’s go find it.