Friday, November 25, 2011

It Just Got Serious

As we all know by now, there were some amazing performances this past weekend.  Two, in particular, sent shockwaves throughout the competitive racing circuit: Chrissie Ramsey's 1:14:57 Philadelphia Half Marathon, which qualified her for this January's US Olympic Trials, and Alyssa Godesky's 10:45:51 Ironman Arizona, which placed her 2nd 25-29 and earned her a trip to the Ford Ironman World Championships next October in Kona. 

There were obviously other performances, but these two blew them all out of the water, and as such, they earned the dual Purple Drink Athletes of the Week

But, to just gloss over the results would be an injustice to the hard work these two ladies have put in over the last few months (or years), and each deserves a little story, so here we go!  Note: this will actually come in two posts, one tonight and one tomorrow, because they are somewhat lengthy.

Part I: Chrissie's Race to Space

Only a handful of people that qualify for the Olympic Trials are really there to compete for a spot on the Olympic Team, but as we would all agree, qualifying is an extraordinary feat.  We know a number of people who have tried, but not many have succeeded.  Chrissie changed that on Sunday as she blazed to a 1:33 second PR (1:16:30 Parks Half 2009 was her previous best).  I asked her to give a little race recap, and so, in her own words:

"Coming off an accident and resulting injury last May, I took five months off to wallow in self-pity, let my bones and ego heal, and rehab some strained leg muscles. With full range of motion back in my legs and arms by early September, I recycled the empty bottles of wine that had accrued in my apartment, laced up my shoes, and set my sights on the Philadelphia Half Marathon on November 20th. I had only 10 weeks to train.

I started out with 3 weeks of base training, getting my weekly mileage up to 60+ and my long run to 2 hours, followed by 6 weeks of workouts, and 1 recovery week leading into the race. My primary goal was to get my fitness level back to where I had been before the accident, run a solid race, and go into the 2012 season feeling confident and ready to set some more ambitious goals.

Things changed in mid-October when I found myself hitting 5:30s for mile repeats and finishing out my progression runs at a 5:20/mile pace. I knew I had an OT qualifying time within my grasp, but I would need to have a near perfect race under ideal weather conditions to pull it off. A perfect race on a perfect day, I wasn't going to get my hopes up.

But, checking the weather report in the days leading up to the race, I was forced to admit that the universe doesn't hate me as much as I thought it did. The forecast called for temperatures in the upper forties to mid fifties, clear skies, and no wind: a perfect day for a race.

I usually try to avoid disappointments in life by setting my expectations low and taking Prozac. I err on the side of caution in my training. In longer races (10+ miles), I tend to start out conservatively for the first 1-3 miles and try to accelerate with each mile. I take days off when I'm sick, I stop workouts early if I'm too fatigued, and sometimes I skip my morning shake out run to sleep in. I undertrain. It works. While I've had my ups and downs, over the past 8 years since I started running I have seen consistent improvement, managed to avoid injury, and most importantly, I still get excited about running every day.

But it's been a crazy year so I decided to throw caution to the wind and challenge myself to qualify for Olympic Trials or crumble under the pressure. To have a shot at a sub 1:15:00 performance on a course with two major climbs in the second half of the race, I was going to need to go out aggressively trust my fitness, and not be afraid to take some risks early in the race.

Fortunately, the women's field was much stronger than in previous years (likely due to the upcoming OTs) and I was able to go out with a group running 5:35 pace through the first three miles. Over the next 3 miles, the pack started to string out, I settled into a 5:42/mi pace and moved into 7th place, where I would stay for the rest of the race.

I felt very comfortable as I went through the 10k in 35:08 (a 67 sec PR!) and started the first climb up 34th Street past the apartment where I used to live. I missed the mile 7 marker, but approaching mile 8 with an 11:32 split I got a surge of confidence knowing that I stayed on pace up the first hill.

In mile 8, I settled in again and prepared myself for the next climb. The fast pace early in the race started to catch up to me as I wound through Fairmont Park to the Japanese Gardens, willing myself to maintain the same effort and not even look at what I knew would be much slower splits. As I circled around the top of the hill and passed the clock at mile 10 reading 57:20, I knew it was my race to lose.

The fatigue was really settling into my legs. There was a slight reprieve as mile 11 was mostly downhill (5:32) as the course looped back down to the Schuylkill River. Just over two miles to go, all I had to do was make it up West River Drive. The task was too daunting. Instead I zeroed in on the two men about 20 yards in front of me and set out to bridge the gap - something to keep me focused on my pace but distracted from how much distance I still had to cover. Seemed to do the trick. I stayed on 5:45 pace with 1.1 miles to go. Winding up the hill from West River Drive and around the Philadelphia Art Museum the finish line came into sight. I saw the clock ticking up: 1:14:40, 1:14:41...if I was going to make it, I had to kick. With 2 seconds to spare I'm off to Houston!"


David Ploskonka said...

This is awesome AND inspiring. Congrats and thanks, Chrissie. :)

Meg said...

Unreal! You earned this, Chrissie. I can't wait to see what you can do in Houston.