It Takes a Village

Training for the Pikes Peak Marathon officially begins. . .tomorrow!

A lot goes into marathon training prep. Well, for me it does, anyway. Here’s what I’ve been up to in order to fluff up the wings on my feet to do just that. . .

I altered my marathon training plan to better prepare for Jodi’s Race for Awareness and the Bolder Boulder along the road to Pikes Peak thanks to help from a few of my runnin’ peeps. Here is the result thus far, subject to further alterations along the way, of course:

Marathon Training Plan Revisions

And yes, just in case you are wondering, the varied hues of ink in the right-hand margin does indeed indicate color coding for training options. Hey, I don’t call myself a nerd for nothin’, m’kay?

Next, I got a pre-training deep tissue massage from Erin at Personal-Best Bodywork to do everything I could to work out the marathon training kinks – figuratively and literally.

She started out the massage nice and easy; so I quickly encouraged her to beat me up a bit. “Do what you’ve gotta do to get any knots out. I can take it!” And take a beating, I did. Let’s just say that I was grateful the massage started face down - It gave me a chance to practice stifling many a painful wince while holding my breath without Erin noticing before I turned face up. Atta way to bring on the hurt – OUCH!

Aaaand let’s not forget one of my favorite parts – piggin’ out! Once training hits, all thoughts of cookies, junk food, and excess sugar are out to make way for finding the right balance of good fats, protein, and carbs in every meal. Thanks to a visit from Dhvani, an ol’ grad school BFF now calling San Fran home, tackling this feat was no feat at all.

We started out with a visit to the one and only Biker Jim’s Gourmet Dogs for some jalapeno cheddar elk, southwest buffalo, deep fried mac and cheese, and charred tahini cauliflower:

Elk and buffalo - majestic AND oh so tasty

Elk and buffalo – Majestic AND oh so tasty

Followed that the next morning with brunch at the True Food Kitchen with some of Jodi’s Race for Awareness Team NanaFlora – a name you should remember, as they will be making more than a cameo appearance in my blog explorations come June:

Brunch with Team NanaFlora

Just for the record, this was a healthy brunch. . .probably the only healthy meal I had the entire weekend. Don’t judge me.

We washed it down that afternoon with high tea at the Brown Palace Hotel - scones, sandwiches, and sweets – oh my!

Pinkies up!

Pinkies up!

The only thing that kept us from attacking this tower of tempting tastes was the fact that we were at the uber fancy Brown Palace amongst fellow tea lovers – including everything from an older woman with a funny, over-the-top sea foam green hat to ten-year-olds in frilly dresses and bows – exercising their best manners in public.

So, we played it cool and politely consumed our food and tea at what would most definitely be considered an acceptable pace. But if you ask me, manners are overrated.

Finally, to top the chocolate cake with chocolate icing of what could be described only as nothing less than a pretty freakin’ awesome weekend, Dhvani and I met a few of my friends for brunch at the Denver Biscuit Company. No words are needed here – The photo of one of our entrees speaks for itself:



This, for the record, was not mine. Um, hmm. . .not that mine was all that much better for me. . .

Last, but nowhere near least, I spent a little quiet time at my favorite spot in the ever lovely Cheeseman Park to clear my head with what is always a beautiful view, even with overcast Denver skies earlier this evening:

Insert dreamy sigh here.

Insert dreamy sigh here.

Just how far a little time alone here can go - leaving all thoughts, good and bad, behind to focus solely on the ‘here and now’ – never ceases to amaze me. Hmmmmmm.

They say it takes a village to raise a child. I say the same goes for running a marathon – and, perhaps even moreso, all of the work that goes into even getting to the starting line in the first place. I’m looking forward to the road to Pikes Peak, and I know I couldn’t do it without the help of these – among many – fellow villagers.

Melissa Mincic, Ph.D., a long-time road and trail runner, conducts applied child development research and works to influence child development policy and practice at the University of Denver. Follow Melissa on Twitter at @nerdinrunshoes.

Sell Yourself Shorter, Not Short

Last Friday, I ran in eighty-plus degree weather at about 5:15 p.m. My running bud Becky and I had our little winged-feet hearts set on eight miles to start off the weekend, but the needles for both of our tanks were dropping below ‘E’ after six and a half miles.

Sunday, on the other hand, was quite the different story. . .a chilly, windy, snowy morning right around freezing temperatures for the Frank Shorter Race for Kids’ Health 5K. About a fifty degree difference in a matter of a day and a half? That’s nothing, actually, considering that we’ve seen that temperature difference in a matter of hours in the Centennial State. Welcome to my bipolar-weathered state of Colorado, kids!

I knew it would be icky, and I was pretty tired on Saturday night. I definitely did feel fat, lazy, and out of shape and most definitely did not feel like getting up at 6:30 a.m. on Sunday to drive about a half hour to Broomfield to brave the weather for a 5K.

It was the first time I seriously considered not racing after I had registered for an event. Lucky for me, I’m too stubborn and too proud to ever have a ‘DNF’ next to my name. I definitely did not feel alert and ready to compete when my alarm went off at 6:30 a.m. but most definitely go up, get ready, drove to Broomfield early to avoid bad weather on the highways, and raced. And I’m sooooo glad I did.

I’m guessing my running readers know who Frank Shorter is. If not, you - as well as any of my non-running readers - most definitely should. Here goes. . .

Ah, ah-hem! Frank Shorter won the gold medal in the marathon at the 1972 Summer Olympics, a victory earning him credit for ‘igniting the running boom’ in the U.S. in the 1970s. He also:

  • Won four consecutive U.S. national cross country championship titles from 1970-1973
  • Won the 10,000-meter run and the marathon in the U.S. Olympic Trials in 1972 and 1976
  • Won both the 10,000-meter and the marathon at the 1971 Pan American Games
  • Won the Fukuoka Marathon four consecutive times from 1971-1974.

For his accomplishments, Shorter was inducted into the Olympic Hall of Fame in 1984 and also the USA National Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1989. That enough for ya? No? One of the founders of the Bolder Boulder, a 10K Memorial Day race in Boulder, Colorado - voted best 10K in the country by Runner’s World in 2010 - he’s a bit of a local celebrity in addition to his national running prowess ’round these parts.

The opportunity to breathe the same air and even get within five feet of the legend Frank Shorter himself was more than enough to get me out of bed on a crazy weather spring day. Still, I wasn’t feeling too motivated to run. I certainly wanted to run hard and to run a faster pace than I did for the Runnin’ of the Green 7K about a month earlier, a feat I thought would be easy given the 2K race course difference.

Well, I did a LOT better than just breathing the same air as Frank Shorter. What internet research might not tell you is that Frank Shorter is a really cool guy - so cool, in fact, that he autographed my bib before the race:

Talk about pre-race MOE-TIH-VAY-SHUN

Talk about pre-race MOE-TIH-VAY-SHUN

All of a sudden, the lack of sleep, feeling lazy, and cold temperature, snow, and occasional wind gusts weren’t that big a deal. I was alert, alive, and felt ready not only to run, but to race! I mean, how could I not be after a brush with a legend of elite running royalty?! Let’s do this!

Just outside, I zipped my jacket all the way up and hung a right to start my warm up. I spied three other runners – three guys who looked like they knew what they were doing – doing the same; so I weaved between the streets of surrounding hotels and apartment buildings behind them for almost a mile. A little more jogging, high knees, and butt kicks away from and then back toward the starting line later, the party was about to start.

I bounced in place and quickly shifted body weight from foot to foot through an announcement or two and then the singing of the ‘Star Spangled Banner,’ then was off for mile one. Up the block, right, up a slight incline and right, then down a straight away and right toward a slight downhill, I felt great! This feels good. Keep it right here, no faster.

Not even snow, falling from the gray sky more like light hail bouncing off of my cheeks and then big, fat, flakes sticking to my eyeballs along the way were enough to make me miss a step. And in what felt like the time it takes to snap your fingers, mile one was done. Sweet! Do it again!

Nearly all of mile two went just as well, this time introducing a sudden, strong, icy blast of wind that slapped me square in the face and made me lose my breath immediately following a ninety-degree turn in the course instead of snow.

Then, just before my watch hit the two-mile mark, it hit me, much like the realization that you’ve gone one drink too far punches you in the gut – not that I know what that feels like, by the way - my lungs and legs were quickly running out of steam. That’s OK, slow it down for just a bit, then kick it up the last half mile. One more to go. . .

The third mile hurt the worst by far, and that was before one of the last straight aways – up a visible incline for what I’m guessing was probably less than 200 meters but felt a lot longer. I tried, I fought, I got a bit angry with myself – just angry enough to push me that last stretch – when another girl passed me with just over a quarter mile to go. Come on, almost there. You’ll still have a good time, you’ve got to!

Finally, I made it to the final right-hand turn, was nearly knocked over by the wind of two more guys passing me as if I were standing still. It must have looked just as bad as I thought it did – A race volunteer was yelling at me: “Come on, don’t let those guys pass you!” and then started running along side me when they did. “Bring it in, come on! You’re almost there!”

I hit the ‘stop’ button when I crossed the finish line, then looked at my watch. WHAT?! Oh, hell no! UGH! I was not at all happy with what I saw: I had run the same pace as I did for the Runnin’ of the Green 7K, which meant that my third mile had slowed a lot to pull down what would have been at least a ten second per mile average pace faster.

I walked around a bit to catch my breath and to assess what had gone wrong, and it didn’t take me long to figure it out. Feeling good the first two miles, then losing steam in the home stretch equals I need to do speed work before my next 5K and 10K.

As disappointed as I was, it reminded me of one of the many reasons I love running so much: No matter how much you do it, you can still always learn something new about the sport and about yourself. OK, speed work it is.

I grabbed some food and ended up finding one of those three guys I was following during my warm up. “Hi. I saw you and two other guys jogging before the race, and you looked like you knew where you were going. So I followed you.” “Yeah, I saw you! How’d you do?” “Eh, OK, not as fast as I had hoped.” “Well, it was a challenging course, and the weather didn’t help.”

We chatted about the race course and weather conditions a bit more, then, what he said next surprised me: “Maybe you need a coach.” So I replied, “I have one in my head already. She’s not always very nice, though.” He shook his head in agreement. “Maybe I should cut myself a little slack.” “Yeah, I think so.” OK, running gods, I hear ya. “Thanks!”

Before I left, I was lucky – or just plain ol’ obnoxious? – enough to take one last opportunity to rub elbows with an elite. Not only was Frank Shorter kind enough to indulge this nerd in running shoes before the race. He also posed for a quick pic, and we chatted about marathon training – YUP, you heard me right: talked marathon lingo with a marathon legend! – after the race:


Say, “Running shoes!”

Know what he told me? To focus on speed work! How’s that for validation that I know a little something about my favorite sport? OK, speed work it is. Even the greatest of my running feats will never be worthy of standing in Frank Shorter’s shadow, but I’ll take every bit of help I can get – advice, autograph, or simply breathing the same air as a running elite. Speed work, here I come. . .

Melissa Mincic, Ph.D., a long-time road and trail runner, conducts applied child development research and works to influence child development policy and practice at the University of Denver. Follow Melissa on Twitter at @nerdinrunshoes.

Let the games begin!

St. Patrick’s Day. You still OK? Good. I gave you enough time to recover from your inevitable day – weekend? – of wasty face binge drinking to hear those words without a green face and the gag reflex. Ya lush! Just kidding. Or. . .am I?

St. Patrick’s Day for me marked the first of many races on my calendar for the year: the Runnin’ of the Green 7K. Dubbed “Denver’s classic Irish jog,” the race starts and ends in the heart of Lodo – lower downtown to those of you not familiar with the beautiful city of Denver that I more than joyously call home – and includes a bit of a hilly course that I remembered to be tough during my first Runnin’ of the Green in 2010.

I was so excited for the first race of the season, but I got to the starting line feeling horribly unprepared. Thanks to a grant proposal deadline - including what I call my first ‘big girl budget’ totaling just under a cool half a million - a mid-week work dinner event, a conference for work, and an impromptu invite to the Imagine Dragons show for FREE, I ate like crap, lost tons of sleep, and didn’t run at all for the five days prior to the race.

THEN, of course, on race day, I had a hard time getting out of bed; ate too much for breakfast - leaving a brick of a peanut butter, Cheerios, honey, and chia seed sandwich in my stomach - and didn’t feel as though I warmed up enough before having to find a suitable spot among the crowd at the starting line, which left me no choice but to jump up and down in place as high as I could and to stretch a bit. iNo bueno!

And, before I knew it, there went the gun. GO!

I started out stuck in the crowd going waaaay slower than I wanted. So, of course, I bolted out ahead - too fast, mind you - once I broke away, only I didn’t know it because my watch averaged my total pace for that first mile at that point – the first, super slow part of that mile plus the super speedy pace ended up averaging. . .still faster than I thought, which meant the super speedy part was too speedy to maintain. Mile one.

OK, just keep going. Run how you feel, even if you have to slow down a bit. You can always speed up later.

The uphills weren’t so bad, and definitely not as painful as I remember. What’s one of the best things about an uphill along the course? Mmm hmm, right. The subsequent downhill. Nice! Speed things up a bit! Aaaaand a right past the REI store, a one hundred eighty degree turn at the end of that short straight away, and back past the REI, I was officially headed back. Ah, crap. Don’t remember THIS uphill being here.


Luckily, the hill was short, just like all of the hills along the course; and I found myself  leveled out to a straight away back to 20th Street. One right-hand turns, one gradual downhill, one final short but steep uphill, then one last right-hand turn toward the finish line to go. . . And voila! Made it.

So here’s a quick glimpse into the depths of madness of my running brain for a sec. . . Anytime I run a race, I have two goals: the goal I think is more feasible and borderline ambitious – the race goal I tell others when they ask – and my actual, “secret” race goal – the one I don’t tell anyone to spare myself embarrassment and excessive verbal self-deprecation in the event that I don’t reach it.

How did I fare on this fine day of Irish-inspired debauchery, you ask? All said and done, my average pace for my first race of the year was faster than my actual, secret race goal by a few seconds per mile, meaning. . .you guessed it. . .a PR for the course!

I bested my time by more than two minutes since the same race in 2011 and by nearly four and a half minutes – over one minute per mile faster – than the same race in 2010. Huh. Not bad for this old lady.

All obstacles aside, I had experienced an amazing streak of luck in the days leading up to the race. And, with a bib number like 1313, my good luck was bound to continue on race day:

Lucky number 13. . .twice!

Lucky number 13. . .times two!
Photo compliments of Delcarmen Gilkey, a.k.a. finish line cheerleader extraordinaire

Fact: Beer ALWAYS tastes better when you earn it. Beer and pancakes. Yeah.

I was happy with my time but, at the same time, pondered how much faster I could have run had I trained appropriately, slept more regularly, and ate healthier that previous week. But then again, this was only the first race of the year. There’s still plenty time more to find out the answers to this – and oh so many more – questions in my head.

Ready? I hope so. It’s bound to be an interesting ride. . .

Melissa Mincic, Ph.D., a long-time road and trail runner, conducts applied child development research and works to influence child development policy and practice at the University of Denver. Follow Melissa on Twitter at @nerdinrunshoes.

It’s about that time. . .

So. . . It’s about that time of year. That time that I cut out all junk food and very carefully think about the balance of carbs, protein, and good fats in everything I eat. . .that time that I make every effort possible to be in bed early most every night. . .that time that some of my friends rely on their memories of what I look like because they come to know me almost exclusively via text messages for months.

Between the Pikes Peak Marathon, the Bear Chase 50K, and guiding for the New York City Marathon, training this year means that I’ll be MIA until early November.

January, February, March April May. . . Sing it, Wyclef!

January, February, March April May. . . Sing it, Wyclef!

It’s about that time. . . Marathon training – trail runs with beautiful, serene views from an incline of about two thousand feet and a quite distinguishable notation of where my dirt-coated ankles end and my socks began; anxious anticipation of speed workouts and a delicious feeling of accomplishment to cross them off my training plan; the consumption of countless Gus and granola bars, all a.k.a. absolute bliss - is about to begin!

The race is officially 134 days, 7 hours, and 43 seconds away; and training starts exactly twenty-five days from today. Really, though, it’s already begun. Not only have I got the first race of the year under my belt; I have also given changes I’m going to make to my training regimen a lot of thought.

Although I’ve only run the Pikes Peak Marathon once, I’ve followed the same marathon training plan twice now. My ascent for the marathon was one second shy of a whole twenty-two minutes slower than my Ascent PR the year before – an ETERNITY in any runner’s world. Yeah, yeah. . .ouch! I know. . .and I’m bound and determined to make this year’s ascent portion of the marathon a lot faster than last year – as it should be!

In thinking back on my training for the past two years, I noted three small things – things I will most definitely do again this year – that were different and that I think made all the difference in running performance.

One: Spending more time on my feet. Two summers ago, I had a part-time job in an awesome little Greek restaurant near downtown Denver, Melita’s – the best chicken souvlaki I’ve ever tasted, by the way – which meant I spent a minimum of twenty-five hours on my feet in addition to marathon training. At my new job, I spend a lot of time at my computer, which last year equated to a lot of time sitting.

My solution? Yup, you guessed it – a self-fashioned standing desk:

Never thought old dissertation materials and all three volumes of Bowlby's attachment series would come in handy like this!

Never thought old dissertation materials and all three volumes of Bowlby’s attachment series would come in handy like this!

Add to this calf raises and a few inclined pushups at the edge of my desk here and there to get the blood flowing, and voila! Even cheaper than anything you can find at Ikea.

Two: Riding JD’s bike – Yes, JD, I know you’re reading this (thanks, by the way!); and I still refer to it as your bike that I will one day return – rather than driving as much as possible to and from the Snug on Thursdays, to and from friends’ houses, to run errands nearby. Just got air in the tires the other day. Good as new!

Three: Doing my Friday run in the morning before work rather than in the late afternoon or early evening after work. I suspect that doing my Friday runs after work last year didn’t afford me enough rest to make the most of our long trail runs – VERY important runs – on early Saturday mornings. And, it’ll afford me more time on Friday evenings to share my running thoughts will y’all on a twice weekly basis. Lucky you!

I think these three things are a very good place to start for a Pikes Peak Marathon PR. Guess we’ll see if I’m right on August 17th. I hope you’re ready for what’s bound to be an awesome ride to the starting line. . .

Melissa Mincic, Ph.D., a long-time road and trail runner, conducts applied child development research and works to influence child development policy and practice at the University of Denver. Follow Melissa on Twitter at @nerdinrunshoes.