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Running My Second Triple Crown with a New Approach

Hi there. My name is Susanna Barnwell. I am doing my second Triple Crown this year and have been asked to blog about my experiences with the running program I am using to accomplish my goals. So why read my musings? Well, we hear from pros and trainers and industry specialists all the time, but not the regular every day runners out there who might feel like their struggles aren’t relatable to those on a higher level. So, I hope that in my posts, we (regular every day runner types) can come together and share some insights with each other and maybe even get some support when we feel like it’s all too much. 

So, a little background on me. I am a 41 year-old graphic designer originally from Fayetteville, North Carolina. My husband is stationed at Fort Carson and we’ve lived here about 9 years with a 2 year break in Monterey, California in the middle. I was an athlete of sorts in high school. I played field hockey, lacrosse, and soccer. Over the next 10 years, I drifted away from physical activity and ended up topping out at 235 lbs. 

When we first moved out here to Colorado, I hated it. I wasn’t healthy. I wasn’t an outdoor type. I missed the ocean... Here I was surrounded by the beautiful Colorado mountains and it took moving to California  for me to have a breakthrough. I fell in love with Big Sur and my love affair with the outdoors began. We moved back to Colorado and I started to spend more and more time outside. I found CrossFit. I found the Jack Quinn’s Running Club. I found Pikes Peak and Barr Camp became my happy place. I found this wonderful Colorado Springs community full of people who are passionate about being healthy and living life to the fullest. I was hooked.

In 2014, when I completed my first Triple Crown, I was petrified. I was out of my skull. I had summited Pikes Peak once with my husband. It was one of the things in my life I was most proud of and I wanted more. Being able to accomplish something that scared me was the ultimate high. I used the Super Half Marathon as my qualifier for the Ascent and I barely made time. The course was snowy and icy and I remember the temps were in the 20’s.... AND it was my first half marathon. Oh bother..... 

So, the 2014 Garden of the Gods 10 Miler (my favorite race) was a fun day. The Summer Roundup that year came as quite a surprise to me. I figured it was only 7 miles and would be easier than the 10 Miler. So I ran it sight unseen- big mistake, it was hot and the course was challenging. My husband ran the first two races with me and had planned to run the Ascent, but was called away at the last minute. So here I was running this huge race by myself. I still don’t know how I did it. I finished in 6:10. 

I had spent so much time worrying and driving my friends crazy up until the Ascent, that I decided to take 2015 off- another mistake. I found out that without something to train for, I had no direction and just felt lost. Pikes Peak loomed over me and beckoned me back. I volunteered at the Barr Camp Aid Station for the 2015 Ascent and Marathon and thoroughly enjoyed it. I highly recommend volunteering
at either of these races, as the experience is so inspiring and motivating. If you are wanting to do a race, but are afraid, volunteer for it and it will give you all the assurance you need that you can, in fact, do it. I volunteered in 2013 as well and it made me feel more comfortable with signing up after seeing, up close, what racers looked like and went through on race day. 

In 2014 I was running and hiking as much as I felt I could and CrossFit was my main training program. This year, I wanted to try a different route. I had been wanting to focus on becoming a better runner. I wanted to simplify my training and focus on just that. I was lost and needed guidance. I found a program called System Based Training™, which is well known on the East coast based on the fact that the exercise physiologist who developed it is based in PA. You can learn more about this personalized program at http://www.systembasedtraining.com  All of my workouts are designed specifically for me and determined by my blood. That’s right, I said blood. The analysis determines which of my metabolic energy systems are functioning, and what needs to be emphasized for my training, which is specific to my race goals.

I met with my coach at a local track at the beginning of my journey. She had me run laps around the track at different paces. She pricked my finger and logged my heart rate and time after each lap. Within a couple of days, I had my training plan. I would be running six days a week. Six days a week??? Wha??? I thought that would be impossible (funny- because it’s cake to me now). I would be running heart rate based runs 4 of those days supplementing them with 2 days of track workouts. I bought a runner’s watch that tracked my heart rate and have been using the track at Fort Carson for my track days (running with the troops early in the morning has been a joy- that’s total inspiration). I average 4-6 miles a day usually. That’s a lot more than I ever thought I’d run, for sure!

I started my training program 3 months ago and I am amazed at the progress I have made. I have been sticking to mostly flat areas and now when I do run hills, it’s with more ease than ever before. I am running faster paces at a lower heart rate. I have spent less time on Barr Trail this go around and when I went up to Barr Camp a few weeks ago, I was amazed at my time when I wasn’t even pushing it that hard. 

This year was my third Garden of the Gods 10 Miler. I am proud of the outcome- especially since I weigh more than I did the previous years and have been successfully managing a recent diagnosis of Hashimotos (an autoimmune disease of the thyroid that drains your energy levels drastically). My time was 1:55 this year- slower than my 2014 time (1:45- my husband says it was because he was pacing me and that very well may be true because he didn’t run it by my side last year or this year) and faster than last year’s time (1:58). Even with these minute differences, the win is that I didn’t have pain and my recovery was much quicker. My conditioning paid off immensely. 

I feel more confident about the Ascent this year. My husband will be joining me and I am super happy about that. I am actively trying to push any thoughts of doubt or not being good enough out of my head. I am refusing to worry like I did before. I feel like I have to do it this year to prove to myself that 2014 wasn’t just luck.... and of course, because I want to... 

I hope you have enjoyed my little intro and that you will use my posts as a platform for inspiration, sharing thoughts and and any tips you’d like to share. I will include some tips from my 2014 Ascent in my next post- Summer Roundup blog. The Summer Roundup is this Sunday. My husband and I ran the loop yesterday and it didn’t feel too bad. My next goal in this Triple Crown is to enjoy it on Sunday.... and I am pretty sure I will. Hope to see you out there. Say hello if you see me. I have blue hair. I’m hard to miss.

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