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Sunday, January 31, 2016

Woman Up 2016

This past fall, the coach at Hilliard Davidson High School, Nate King, asked if I would come talk to his team.  I excitedly said "yes"!  I love chatting with young women in the sport, and seeing the fire in their eyes when you talk about something that really makes them tick.  I was a bit nervous, and wanted to say the "right things" and "be inspirational" blah, blah, blah.   They seemed to like me a a week later when I came back to run with them, so I went to as many meets and practices I could, and loved watching them thrive.  One afternoon at practice, Coach King handed out packets of information for the week ahead, during a meeting. And SLAP right across my face was something I had needed to hear for a long time. 


I stood there listening as he told the girls to think like "beginners", not to allow the limitations that come with "being an expert" to slow them down.  Holy crap?! I am guilty!  I wanted to shout. But that would be inappropriate, so I stood there listening as he reminded them to dream big and set goals, both realistic and chase worthy.  Not to settle and let the past define who they could become over the course of the season.  
I recalled the incredible possibilities I saw in running.  I remembered the first real feeling of being a bad ass. The first time I let myself chase down a dream. It was the final curve of the conference championship 800m my freshman year. I was in 3rd place when a girl from West Branch came up on my shoulder, I said to myself "I won't let her win". I moved wide and ran as hard as I could for 150 meters.  I passed the two other girls in front of us, pushing with all I had not to let the girl on my shoulder out run me. I won that night. I beat a handful of girls I didn't think I could.  I decided in that moment I was better than I believed I was, and I was going to let myself dream and chase. I may have been a bit over confident. But it allowed me to dream big. I wasn't a stellar High School athlete. My PR's were 20:01 in XC, 59.9- 400m, 2:16- 800m, 5:20- 1600, and 11:28- 3200m. 
Go Dukes! 
It was enough to get me a scholarship at the University of Akron. Unfortunately I had some tough breaks. I was injured, overweight, and not very fast for a large part of my time in college. Even when I did run "well" in college, times of 4:34, 4:58, 10:51, and 18:00.03 (yes that's right who can't find .03 seconds) for the 1500, mile, steeple, and 5k respectively,  were hardly a reason to keep running and postpone a "real" job. There was something in me that just knew I had much much better days ahead. I believed with every fiber of my being I could be a great runner. I refused to give up on that dream, much to the chagrin of my close family and friends who believed I should probably get a "real job"--no thanks! 
Go Zips!
The crazy belief I had in my dreams lead me to qualify to 3 Olympic Trials, finish in the top 15 in a number of USA Championship races, and run PR's I guarantee my High School and College coaches never would have bet on.  But after nearly 20 years of competitive running, and coaching I had started "thinking like an expert", and not in a good way.  I had taken something very important out of the equation.  I began thinking X in practice = Y in race. That was what I ran by. I still loved running and believed I could get faster. But I was missing a huge part of what made me the runner I am today, and will make me a better runner in the future. The part where I DREAM BIG, and TAKE CHANCES!  So one of my goals in 2016 is to change the equation.
 X in practice = Y+possibility in race. 
Thank you Hilliard Davidson XC for reminding me what dreaming big looked like again. Getting to be a part of your XC season was so much fun, and very exciting, you ladies showed me how to "think like a beginner"(in a good way) and believe in the possibly of my dreams, to take the chances that will give me a better opportunity to succeed. I am excited to chase big goals and watch you chase yours in 2016! #womanup2016

Cheers to dreaming big like this girl did! And once again Go DUKES!!

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Getting To Know CED Jess Style

Meet Jess Odorcic

Jess and her son Max

At the urging of her step dad, Jess started running in 1996.  While most of us joined our high school Cross Country and Track teams, Jess signed up for local races. After racing a 5 miler, Jessica was approached by a peer who asked her to consider running for the Cross Country team that fall.  After talking with the coach Jess joined the team at Riverside High School in Painesville OH. She found success and continued running in College where she competed at Ohio University and Wright State University.  While at Wright State, Jess would become the 2000 MCC XC Conference Champion, and still holds the school record in Cross Country for both the 5k, and 6k distances.  She would become a 2 time 5k MCC Conference Champion, and is still the school record holder in the 5k indoors, as well as the 1500, 3000, and 5000m outdoors. Jess continued racing locally after college, and joined CED in 2012.  
At the 2013 Akron Half Marathon she ran 1:14:22 to qualify to the Olympic Trials Marathon.  I remember her crying after the race.  I thought they were tears of joy.  Jess has a somewhat hard exterior, she has a pretty smile that hides how tough she really is as a person, mom, and athlete.   Behind those eyes was a sadness I couldn't have begun to understand.  Two days prior to this race, Jess was being urged by her husband, Tommy, to race despite having received the news that the cancer they thought was in remission was back, and had metastasized to many other places. On June 28, 2014 Tommy passed away.  Jess has continued to train, and race at a very high level despite overwhelming sadness, and having to take on a new life as a single mom.

I caught up with Jess to ask a little about her story, as well as why she choses Cleveland Elite Development. 

Lets start with the easy questions. 

Q. Jess, what brought you to join CED?

A.  "I joined CED in February of 2012.  I had decided to train for my first marathon and needed some direction but I wasn't sure where to look.  I happened to be on Facebook one day and I saw Laura Pizmoht had posted about CED so I called her and asked what it was all about.  She gave me Glenn's information and I asked him if he would consider coaching me to run a marathon and he agreed."

Q. How has being a member of CED is beneficial in attaining your goals? 

A.  "I enjoy having a team and a coach because it adds structure to my weekly running schedule.  I feel like I am held accountable and I don't want to let my team down by not completing my runs."

Q. What are those goals?  Short term and long. 

A.  "Right now my goal is to make it to the Trials without any injuries and so far, so good!  My secondary goal is to run my fastest marathon at the Trials.  Considering I have only run one other marathon and that was a 2:51, I think I have a good shot at meeting that goal :-)  After the marathon we will see what happens but I would like to focus on shorter races like 5k and 10k."

Q. What types of workouts are your favorite and why? 

A.   "I love doing 400 repeats on the track and I also don't mind doing mile repeats.  For some reason both those workouts really sit well with me mentally."

Q. What types of workouts are the hardest to you, and why do you still suffer through them?

A.  The toughest workouts for me are tempo runs that are over 5 miles.  I'm getting better (partly because I now have someone who bikes with me) but something about a long tempo makes me nervous.

Q.What is your favorite running quote?

9.  "It's supposed to be hard...the hard is what makes it great!"

Q.I  f you could go back and meet yourself your sophomore year in HS (or your 3rd year running if you didn't run back then) what wisdom would you impart on yourself as an athlete?

10.  "Stretch more and strength train because you need injury prevention!  I was, and still am, injured a lot!"

Have no fear, Elliptigo is here to help Jess stay healthy!

Q. What is your favorite race?  Why?  What mental tips can you offer for racing this distance well?  Any specific training workouts or block of workouts that you think make you well prepared to tackle this distance fast?

A.  "My favorite race distance is the 5k.  For me it has become like a sprint.  I just go as hard as I can and know it will be over very soon!  The last time I raced a 5k was in September and I just remember thinking that I wanted to break 17 minutes and to do that I would just go out as hard as I could and hold on because what's the worst that could happen?  It's only 3 miles!"

Q.What do you think about when you run?  

A.  "My thoughts when I run vary.  If it is a long slow run where I don't have to pay attention to pace, I normally plan out my day.  Make a mental shopping list or think about what Max and I can do today.  If it's a track workout or tempo, I just focus on getting through the workout and make sure I am hitting my paces."

Ok, now for the tough stuff.  Thank you for your willingness to share a bit about your journey.

Q. You have shown amazing strength and courage to continue training and racing at a very high level after the loss of Tommy in 2014. Can you tell us how you do it?

A. "Basically, everyday is rough for me.  I think that people see a happy, smiling person and assume that I am okay but honestly I think about Tommy all day.  It's hard not too.  I have a hard exterior and don't like to show emotion, so when Tommy passed away I tried to go back to my routine as quickly as possible, which meant that I was back to running and competing almost immediately.  Running was and still is my therapy.  It relieves stress and helps me to focus on what is important in life.  Max is my whole life so I figure that if he doesn't see me upset and crying, he won't be upset.  I know that I need to be a good role model for him and that he needs stability in his life so I am doing my best to make sure he has that.
 After losing Tommy to cancer, I gained a new perspective on life.  Watching my husband deteriorate they way he did was awful and I would never want anyone to have to witness what I did.  I saw how fragile life really is and that you can go from being 100% fit and healthy, to a shell of your former self in such a short time.  So I decided that I need to live my life to the fullest.  Of course I thought about giving up my running career all together and just focusing on making sure Max grows up a happy little boy, but I knew deep down that Tommy would want me to continue running and would probably be mad if I gave it up.  And also, that I would be setting a good example for Max through running and staying physically fit.  Max is my driving force.  I want him to grow up knowing that you have to be determined and dedicated to get what you want in life.  That's what Tommy would have wanted and that's how Tommy lived his life.  Tommy was intelligent, strong, very stubborn, and got what he wanted in life because he worked hard for it.  He never took "no" for an answer and I can already see a lot of Tommy's personality (as well as mine) in Max.  Some days I feel like Max is a "mini me" of Tommy.

That being said, my approach to running has changed.  I now know that there is more to my life than training and racing constantly.  Running is still very important to me but I used to be so focused on being the best that I never stopped to smell the roses.  This past year I ran races that were enjoyable for me.  Sure, I didn't win most of them but I competed at a very high level and got to experience new things in the running world."

Q. You are a single mom now.  How has that changed the ability to get in training?

A.  "Being a mother to Max and making sure he grows up to be a respectful man is my main focus.  He is my whole life and I wouldn't have many reasons to smile if I didn't have him.  I am fortunate to have a wonderful support system around me who help on a daily basis to take care of Max while I'm running or pick him up from school, etc.  He goes to preschool 3 days a week now, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.  So on those days, after I drop him off in the morning I have about 2 hours to rush home and get my run done before I have to go back and pick him up.  My Mom also helps by picking him up from school sometimes so that I don't feel rushed to get my run in or especially when I have a strength training session planned with takes about an hour or more.  When Max doesn't have school my stepdad, John, will take care of him while I run.  It works out really well because my parents live less than 2 miles away from me.  John is great with Max.  He is an outdoors kind of guy so he takes Max for walks, hikes in the woods, and does "boy stuff" with him.  Which is something that Max needs, and I can't always do for him."

Q. Is there any advice you would give to people in a similar situation?

A. "My advice is to do what makes you happy.  I wasn't sure if running was still going to make me happy after Tommy passed away.  I thought it might have been too emotional for me.  In fact, I ran a 5k race less than 2 months after his death and I remember being at the starting line thinking "what am I doing here...shouldn't I be curled up in a ball somewhere crying my eyes out?"  But then I saw my Mom and Max and I knew that everything would be okay and that this is what I needed as well as what Max needed.  He needed to see me happy because if I wasn't happy, then he wouldn't be either.  Of course,there were plenty of runs where I would cry but running is also my therapy.  When I went to see a grief counselor after Tommy passed away, she told me that running was my happy place and that I should continue.  Part of me feels selfish sometimes because of how intense and demanding our training is and I do think about taking a break.  Again, I go back to doing what makes me happy and stopping every now and then to assess if what I'm doing right now is making me happy."

Jess is the quite, get shit done, gal on the team.  I have never heard her complain, and she always brings her A game to every workout, and race. Her strength is inspiring.   

Nicole Camp, Jess, and I after Johnny Cake in 2013

That introduces you all to the 5 members of CED who have the Olympic Trails qualifying standard!  Follow my blog for updates as the race gets close, and if you have any questions for CED'ers send them my way!

Follow Jess on Social Media

Monday, January 11, 2016

Jacksonville Half Marathon

Jacksonville Florida has a half and full marathon every year, either in late December or early January.  This year on January 3rd runners would take over highway 13 and chase down times they had dreamed of, share miles with friends, overcome things they didn't know they were strong enough to, and finish in spite of pouring rain, and chilly temperatures.  This year did have something different to add to the excitement however.   Richard Clark Fannin, the elite coordinator of the USA 15k Championships, held at the Gate River Run in March did something remarkable.  In October he realized there were a lot of men and women on the cusp of attaining the 2016 Olympic Trials Standard, and he wanted to give them a pancake flat course, fast ladies and gents to help pull the pace, and a chance. Nearly 100 elite/sub elites answered the bell, and flocked to Jacksonville 6 weeks prior to the Olympic Trials Marathon to take a shot at meeting the standard of 1:15 or faster for women, and 1:05 or faster for men. Many of the athletes already had the standard, but saw this as an opportunity to help others, run fast, and be a part of something bigger than ourselves.  

I originally signed up to be one of the athletes chasing down the sub 1:15 standard, and three Cleveland Elite Development ladies were coming to help me the best that they could.  With the new amendment to the standard (see details here) I obtained the qualifier, and wanted to do something to help others this weekend in Jacksonville.   

It felt strange to not have the nerves of needing to hit the qualifier looming over me.  My only real nerves of the weekend came from the lack of nerves I was feeling! haha!  The other 3 Cleveland Elite Development ladies, Beth, Ellie, Jess, and I shared a room, and talked about hoping to be able to help someone out there and end up running a fast time because of it. I wasn't sure what that would look like, and knew I would have to play it by ear, and see what I could do.  I was excited to spend some time with Heidi Greenwood, and Nicole Camp as well.  It was nice to catch up with so many friends that live too far to train with these days. 

Race morning came, and the bus was late. We did a quick warm up, changed our shoes, and jogged to the start line.  It was still dark as the gun went off on this drizzly, chilly 7:00am morning.   
Everything was pretty compact for a minute or two.  I found Jess, and then the lead pack.  After about 600 meters, Jess and I caught up with them and tucked in.  We were slow through the first mile in 5:52, and the pack made a big move.  I knew I couldn't respond, and handle that pace so Jess and I fell back a bit, 5:39 saw us through the second mile, and I knew I was in over my head.  I backed off a bit letting go of the dream of running with the lead pack and cheering ladies along as they punched their ticket the the trials.   Instead I would be encouraging if anyone came back, remind them to give their best, and stay tough. 

Beth and I around 5k

Beth caught up to me during the 3rd mile, and we laughed at my thought that 5:40 was in my wheelhouse right now.  18:04 through 5k was solid, but I was not feeling very good. 
I had to make a decision here.  I told myself I would be tough, and run with passion knowing how lucky I am to be in the position I was in. The next 3 miles flew by and I hardly remember them, 5:49, 5:47, 5:49.  I caught up to Rosie Edwards about 10k in and smiled at the clock when it read 36:1x knowing that was my fastest 10k since having the kids. Then something very strange happened.  Usually in a race there is a point where I have to fight off a total crisis of confidence, and today it was the opposite. I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt I could run 5:45-5:55 for the upcoming miles. I just knew I would do it. I was having a blast. 

Catching up to Caroline White and trying to pull her along. 

Mile 7 was 5:57, and I Rosie and I both sped up, we caught up to another Ohio lady, Molly Watcke, and encouraged her to come with us.  The next few miles passed so quickly again 5:51, 5:52, 5:52, 5:54.
I told myself it was 12 minutes of hard work to the finish line.  My stomach started to hurt, and I panicked for a split second.  I realized it was not my stomach threatening to ruin things, but that I was shivering so much my back was aching! This rain was chilly. Just 12 minutes I reminded myself. 6:00 for the 12th mile was the slowest on the day, and it was time to push to the finish. 
As we turned onto grass I saw Nate Jenkins cheering, and shivering under a mylar blanket and asked how Melissa (his wife) had run. Unfortunately he informed me it was not her day.  

Asking questions mid race lead to this series of awkward race photos. HAHA!

Moments later I would click 5:48 on my watch of the 13th mile and kick as hard as I could to the finish line. 1:16:46. My second fastest half marathon, and the fastest since 2009.  


I smiled and quickly asked how the ladies in front of me did. 14 women had punched their ticket to Los Angeles that morning! 14!  I was so excited for those ladies.  My fellow CED'ers raced well too, Beth ran a PR of 1:15:22, Jess ran a solid 1:16:10, and Ellie a new PR of 1:17:28, of which she had dreamed of the exact time the night prior!! I learned that Erin Osment, a fellow Oiselle lady had run 1:14:18, and at 22 years old she too would be in LA!  What an incredible weekend.  Thank you Richard for giving us all a unique opportunity to come together as athletes to help and support one another in such an inspiring way! In 20 years of competitive running I have not seen anything like this. I feel very luck to have been a part of the weekend that was the 2016 Olympic Marathon Trials Project.

I am feeling a lot more confident after this race. Feeling rough at the beginning, and getting into a good groove, and letting the fitness come through. I can not wait to get to Los Angeles, where I have big goals!  I am not sure on a time or place goal just yet.  I know I want to be under 2:43, but I believe I can run well under that. I want to run the best race I have in me on that day!