Thursday, February 04, 2016

January Recap

I've long given up on doing weekly mileage recaps, as many bloggers seem to do - I feel like every training cycle I do one weekly post, forget about it, and promptly cease blogging until my next race report. Monthly recaps seem much more doable. So January, overall, was quite a good month. Despite some hiccups that prevented me from quite reaching my planned mileage, I actually ran over 200 miles in January for the first time EVER - including 4 previous Boston training cycles! Clearly, my intention to run more miles per day, as well as inspiration from friends who are running way more than me, is doing the trick. January by the numbers...

Total mileage: 206

Races: 2 (half marathon and 3K indoor track)

Long runs: 16, 17, 18 (half marathon + warmup/cooldown), 17 (track race + warmup/long cooldown), 18

Average weekly mileage: 45 (week of the awkward butt injury brought this average down from ~47)

Strength workouts: More than I did in December!

Post 18-miler on the last day of January...IN T-SHIRTS!

In non-running related news, I also read a TON in January. Books read for the month:

-Blindsight (Peter Watts): a quite creepy sci fi book that is a first contact story, but it's also set in a future Earth setting where humans basically augment themselves in whatever way they desire (cognitively, physically, etc) and much of everyone's time is spent in virtual space. It's weird, took me a bit to warm up to it, but overall I liked it. 4 stars.

-Two Hours: The Quest to Run the Impossible Marathon (Ed Caesar): YES, everyone who is a runner or who is vaguely interested in running should definitely read this book. You can tell the author is a journalist, because the book is written in a very approachable way and seamlessly weaves in and out between its "main" storyline about Geoffery Mutai and various bits of marathon history, including the rise of the marathon's popularity, doping, early marathon champions, and more. I loved it. 5 stars.

-The Cuckoo's Calling (Robert Gailbraith aka JK Rowling): A detective story that was nothing particularly mind blowing, but a fun read with some good twists. 4 stars.

-After Dark (Haruki Murakami): After reading 1Q84 last year and loving it, I've been curious to read more Murakami. This was far less bizarre than the other books I've read by him, which made it a little less interesting. I still think he has a great way of describing really ordinary things in a really lovely way. 3.5 stars.

-Salvage The Bones (Jesmyn Ward): This book has been sitting on my shelf for ages, and thanks to my "challenge" this year that involves reading books in a variety of categories, I picked it up to use as my National Book Award winner. Honestly, I liked it more than I expected to. It was pretty depressing and sort of horrible in many ways, but the writing was really lovely. My benchmark for "books about people in horrible situations that still manage to be absolutely compelling and gorgeous" is A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, and this wasn't quite to that level, but I still enjoyed it, in it's own way. 4 stars

I'm currently reading The Boys in the Boat, and I can already tell it's going to be a 5 star book. Who would have thought reading about a crew race that took place 80 years ago in a book could actually give me an adrenaline rush?

As far as running goes, February has started obnoxiously as I came down with a cold on Monday that pretty much knocked me out of commission by Wednesday, resulting in an unplanned day off. The past 2 weeks just have not been stellar for me! This was supposed to be the week I finally hit 50 miles, and at this point that pretty much rides on my motivation to do a 4 mile cooldown or warmup on Sunday..we shall see haha. Happily, I seem to be bouncing back and am hoping for a solid "down week" long run with some faster stuff built into it tomorrow...of course, the one week I have to do my long run on a Friday we're having a snowstorm. It's been 50 all week which is totally bizarre for February, so I actually find this somewhat amusing. I'm also racing again on Sunday! Another short race, the Super Sunday 5 Mile. I did this race last year and I remember being pleasantly surprised at how fast I was able to run without feeling like death. Sadly, I think running a time I'm going to be happy with isn't going to come so easily this year. That's the problem with training harder and hopefully getting faster - you've actually got to back it up in races! Maybe the fact that it won't be 7 degrees and I won't have to wear 2 pairs of tights will help this year, hah. We shall see!

Friday, January 29, 2016

Training updates, and...a track race report?!

The last couple of weeks have had some ups and downs on the training front...I actually felt reasonably good for an easy run on Monday after the race last weekend. After taking a planned day off on Tuesday to see a running related movie (Run Free, about Micah True aka an ultrarunner from the book Born to Run - it was actually pretty interesting!), I was raring to go and get some solid miles in the rest of the week. Unfortunately, I started having problems with my left hip/butt about halfway through my run on Wednesday. This is actually an issue I've dealt with before but it's never come up during training, so it's kind of frustrating to have it rear it's head on an easy run. I'm pretty sure the muscle involved is one of my hip internal rotators that's tightening up, in this case probably due to the extreme windchill we had on Wed. It's one of the more painful problems I've dealt with and basically feels like something is being ripped off my pelvis - lovely. I'm pretty sure it's a combination of I finished the run but was in quite a bit of pain afterwards, which set me up for an unplanned day off Thursday. BOO. I feel like I've been on such a roll with racking up some good mileage, and was really excited to hit 50 this week, so this was a total bummer. Things were feeling somewhat better on Friday, so I ran 8 miles at an extremely easy pace with a maximum of maybe 2/10 pain, which I felt was acceptable. Saturday I went out for another 8 miler, during which I felt GREAT - it had just started snowing and it was just a beautiful afternoon on the bike path. Unfortunately, I slipped on some ice and in the process of catching myself aggravated the muscle again. It was pretty painful, but I was able to finish the run, although over the remainder of the evening I could tell it was irritated and I started becoming more and more nervous about my race the next day.

Race...what race? You might be asking yourself. Well...in a fit of insanity on Tuesday night, I decided to sign up to race the 3K at the indoor track meet my club hosts every year. I really have no explanation beyond the fact that there is some kind of weird allure of the track for me, and every once in awhile I feel the need to go expose myself to it in a racing situation. Never mind the fact that it's been 7 years since I raced a 3K, 3 years since I raced on a track at all, and now I'm dealing with a weird injury...what could go wrong?

Race day came and my butt still felt awful. I made it half a mile on my warmup before having to stop to stretch and all I could think was "I have to scratch. I have to. There's no way I can do this". But for whatever stupid, ill-advised reason, I REALLY wanted to run this stupid race. I'm not sure who I was trying to prove something to, or maybe it was the fact that I haven't scratched from a race since high school, but the thought of not racing just made me too sad. So I did a very bad thing, something I've never done before: I took a hefty dose of ibuprophen and hoped that it would get me through the race (and let's not forget about the 11 mile cooldown that had to follow). Spoilers! It did. By the time I got to the track about 20 minutes later, the pain had died down to a completely acceptable level and I decided to go ahead and try to race - if I had to drop out, I had to drop out.

Besides the fact that I wasn't sure if my leg was going to hold up to 3000 meters of fast running on the track, there was also the whole "I have to run 3000 meters fast on the track" part. This is a race that I dabbled in briefly my senior year of college and I have raced I think maybe 4 times? One of which I was tripped and wiped out in and another where I doubled with the mile and ran poorly in both. I don't think I ever knew how to run a 3K strategically and if I ever did, I had certainly forgotten all of that by now. I was actually extremely happy when I went to check in and discovered that there were 3 heats, and I was in the slow heat. I know where I stand in the greater Boston track scene...and trust me, I belong in the slow heat. Tom saw me and I think was mildly amused that I was there - time after time, he thinks I've disappeared, and time after time I show up, hah. Finally, it was time to get going. There was a good 10 minutes of confusion where they were going to combine the two open sections because there had been a bunch of scratches (nooo). However, once they got all 20ish of us on the line, the officials quickly realized that this was just too many people for one heat, and I was once again pushed into heat 3, aka "the heat that no one cares about, and for that I am glad". Tom said "I think you can win this one!" - bold, considering I was seeded 5th, lol.

My heat consisted primarily of girls from the Northeastern Track Club, and I kind of felt like I'd come full circle. 7 years ago, I was them, giggling nervously in a circle with my teammates and cheering on friends as they raced in the faster heats. On the line next to a girl who I knew was at least 7 years my junior, I felt a little bit of pride for the fact that despite being quite a few years out of college, I'm still here and still doing this. After what seemed like an eternity of waiting, we were FINALLY on the line. And as always...runners set...and the crack of the gun.

It's always weird writing a race report for a track race - we ran in circles! I pretty much immediately found myself almost in last off the line, which kind of annoyed me, but my annoyance evaporated as we came through the first lap in 40 seconds (a short lap, but still). Some of these girls had to have gone out too fast. I wasn't in the mood to find out what kind of carnage I'd become if I went out in a 6:05 mile, so I just tried to relax and calm down. I found myself off the shoulder of one of the Northeastern girls, which was pretty much where I stayed for the entire race. I eventually made passes on a different NU girl and a Fitchburg State girl, and still I was running behind the same person. I came through the mile in 6:20, and my dreams of running a PR (which would take exactly 6:20 pace) sort of evaporated - I could not see myself running any faster than I was presently. Maybe it was the Advil, but I didn't feel my leg at all during the race - what I did feel, however, was the right kind of pain, the race-pain, and that was preventing me from going any faster. (After the fact, I thought about it and realized that I also probably held my stride back a bit to prevent the pain from coming on, but I wasn't thinking about that at the time). Tom kept yelling nice things at me, as he had promised (before the race he told me: "You're going to run, and I'll yell helpful things at you! Like Go Audrey!" I think my favorite was around maybe a mile and a quarter, he just said "that's perfect!". At that point I was feeling a little annoyed about the fact that I couldn't seem to pick it up, so hearing that, at that moment, really was helpful. My thing in longer distance races or workouts on the track is counting up or counting down laps and just repeating the number over and over to myself in my head until I get through that lap - 5, 5, 5, 5. 3, 3, 3, 3. With 2 laps to go I was starting to feel downright unpleasant, and much as I tried I couldn't get up the power to get past the NU girl. Bell lap, FINALLY. At that point, she took off and I just had nothing to cover the move (In my head, I was thinking but I'm MARATHON training! I can't kick! I have to run 11 miles after this, no fair!) The last lap seemed to take all day, and as I turned for the home straight I saw the clock ticking 11:50ish. Shit shit shiiiiiiit. I WILL GET THERE BEFORE THAT 11 BECOMES A 12! I found some last gasp of speed to turn it on and squeak (and I mean squeak) under 12. That actually was pleasing - I had given up on a PR somewhere about 7 laps back, so to at least come in in the 11 minute range for my second best time at the distance was nice.

One great thing about track meets is that they make for EXCELLENT race photos! Photo by Tom Derderian (which he emailed to me with the caption "smooth and relaxed", heh). 

I think I beat a grand total of 3 people, which is kind of sad, but you know what, the field that turned out for this meet was pretty strong and I was proud of how I ran! And honestly, at the end of the day racing on the track just makes me happy. It takes me back to all of the years that I spent becoming the runner that I am, and of so many great memories of college that mostly relate to running. Road racing is a whole different animal, and sometimes it's kind of fun to just be out there on display, "performing" as Tom put it, for the entire race in front of an audience. I definitely plan to do this meet again next year, hopefully in a slightly less painful state. One thing that is funny, as I think about it later, is that the 3K was really where I realized that distance was my calling when I ran it for the first time all those years ago. The post I wrote after I ran my PR in February 2009 reads "I love long distance. Who would have ever guessed?" I'm not sure even I could have guessed that 7 years later I would still love, still be running fast, and faster! It's just so cool. That's also one of my favorite things about having had this blog for so long, is to be able to look back and see where I came from, and to see that some things never change.

I caught my breath and wandered over to the merchandise area where I downed a Hint water they were giving out - love that stuff, also I had the track dry mouth like whoa - and talked to Aly briefly before sadly heading out on my "cooldown". In the end, it actually turned out to be quite pleasant. It was a beautiful sunny, low 30s day, and I headed out onto the course just up to the top of Heartbreak and back. My leg was still being cooperative for the most part, and while tired from the race I actually felt OK for the most part. I started out pretty slow, around 8:30 pace, but eventually picked it up to sub 8s over the last few miles because I was feeling pretty good. I stopped around mile 9 to grab a sub at Subway and MAN that sub tasted fantastic when I got back to the track. I then spent the next hour volunteering holding tape at the hammer throw (an event I have never watched, but was weirdly fascinating) and cheering on a teammate in the 800. Through all of this I had convinced myself that perhaps things had just worked themselves out and it wasn't just the anti inflammatories keeping my leg together....but alas, that wasn't the case. By the time I got home, I knew I'd made a mistake. Even just walking hurt and taking off my pants was a project - standing on one leg = no.  By the time I went to bed, I was concerned that I'd totally screwed myself by stubbornly refusing to scratch.
I did it for the Insta...maybe.

That brings us to this week. I ended up taking Monday-Wednesday off of running. Monday my leg felt awful and I actually took some more Advil in the hopes it would just calm things down. Tuesday things still weren't feeling great; I ended up doing a completely worthless 'cardio' session at the gym in my building consisting of 10-20 minute bouts on each of the various pieces of equipment. Wednesday things were starting to improve, and finally Thursday I decided to try running again and happily, it felt OK. Today's run was virtually painfree, and while yesterday everything felt a bit tight and awkward, today I felt much more like myself. I'm still going to take it relatively easy for the next few days; practice next Tuesday will be my first attempt back at speed work. Based on the way things are going, as long as I get in a solid warmup I should be OK.  Also, I think I have DEFINITELY been scared straight in terms of core/hip stability work...whatever has been aggravated is definitely a small hip stabilizer, and something tells me it's been working overtime to compensate for some other weakness that I have. No more slacking!

Friday, January 22, 2016

Winter Warlock HM Race Report

This morning (aka last weekend, oops) I ran the Winter Warlock Half, my first half marathon in what feels like forever, in a respectable though not particularly exciting time of 1:36:21. It was a good race in many ways; I felt like I was running right around the pace I'd like to be able to run for a full, and felt fairly comfortable doing so. Maybe more importantly, I was able to take a day where I just really, really didn't feel like racing and do something productive with it.

After a couple beers and a night of emotional ups and downs during the Packer game on Saturday, combined with a vague feeling of coming down with a cold, I was not raring to race come Sunday morning. An iced coffee and a bagel for breakfast helped, minimally. For some reason it seemed significantly colder when we arrived at the race than in Boston, which didn't increase my excitement. The scene at packet pickup was mildly amusing; the race bibs seemed left over from various other races in the area and the chip timing was on ankle bracelets - hah! I haven't experienced that since some dinky early college XC meet, so that set the scene pretty well. Aly, Joy and I set off on a warmup along some fairly pleasant trails and I just wasn't into it. We then arrived back at the start at about 10 to 10, only to find that the race start had been delayed until 10:15 due to...wait for it...too many people in line for the 5 porta potties....sigh. Oh well, got another mile in on the warmup and then headed back to the start. By this point, I was most definitely ready to get this over with.

The course was a double out and back, which I honestly didn't hate as much as I thought I would (though I will admit to wishing I was running the 10K when I had to turn around for the second loop). We headed off down a dirt road lined with pine trees which I actually thought was quite pleasant - people were bitching on FB about the dirt road/"trail" and how unprepared they were for it, but honestly if this road is your idea of a trail...uh, I don't really know what to tell you. It was pretty even terrain, a few sections with a bit of gravel or some potholes but not much of a problem if you were paying attention. I was running near Joy and a few other women for a bit and then found myself starting to pick off people as we headed down the road. Unfortunately my Garmin pooped out and there were only mile markers for miles 1-3 on the course, so all I can say about my splits is that my first mile was 7:00, second mile 7:14, and 3rd mile 7:32. I felt OK, but not awesome, and once I saw that 7:32 I was kind of like..."meh. That's OK. Forget about speed, just don't barf".

On the way back, the pack had spread out quite a bit and we had lost the 5K runners, though there were still plenty of HMers coming the other way. I found myself running with an awkward guy in a white turtleneck who kept turning to look at me every 30 seconds or so...don't ask me why but I found this distracting and I kept wanting to be like..can I help you? Eventually I put in a little surge just to get rid of him and return to my enjoyable state of running comfortably hard down this dirt road. I'm not sure if it's a good or a bad thing to say that I don't really feel like I "raced" this race - I definitely worked hard and I put in a solid effort, but in the moment I just didn't feel like there was any particular reason to go crazy. It didn't help that I had no idea how to gauge my effort because I had no splits or mile markers, although that was sort of nice in a way too, because it let me just run by how I was feeling without having any emotions about it. I think if I'd looked at my watch and seen I was slowing down, I might have gotten flustered or frustrated, whereas in this case I probably fluctuated in pace but I didn't know it was happening, so I could just stay focused on the feeling of being smooth and in control. I knew this wasn't going to be a race where I ran a PR, so what was the point of getting stressed about it?  In lieu of thinking about splits, I enjoyed looking at the apparel of the runners coming the other way and trying to convince my brain to have a better song stuck in it than "Country Girl, Shake It For Me, Girl" (the other option, it turned out, was Lady Marmalade, specifically the lyrics...'some mistake us for whores, but why spend mine when I can spend yours?' Um, OK.)

Happily, the way back went by fairly quickly, although that didn't stop me from gazing longingly at the road to the finish line as I turned to run again, away from it. All of a sudden I was running virtually alone except for a couple of older guys in front of me. I basically had convinced myself that once I got through the way out, the way back would be easy, because it would only be 3 miles to the finish line! The lies we tell ourselves. I took a Gu at what I perceived to be around mile 8 (actual distance unknown) and got ready to grab some water at one of the few water stops...only to find it occupied by a 10K WALKER FILLING UP WATER BOTTLES FROM THE CUPS. I'm sorry. I know. I sound like an asshole right now. But there was literally one volunteer at the station, who could clearly see me coming (and I even yelled "water" as an extra alert system). This woman who is standing here filling up water bottles clearly is not all too concerned with her finishing time. Can we let the people who are actually racing this thing at least not be hindered by other participants, please?! One of the dudes in front of me actually stopped to wait but ain't nobody got time for that. I think I gave some sort of noise of frustration, but the one positive side was that my rage at what had happened powered me through the next mile, as I focused on thinking up snarky comments to post on this blog vs. the fact that I was starting to get sick of running and the taste of salted caramel Gu clinging to my taste buds. Finally, about a mile later I was able to grab a cup of water (literally grab off a full table of cups while a volunteer stared at me with a confused look...we were not on our water stop A game today). The uphill leading to the turnaround seemed significantly steeper the second time around but things immediately improved as I turned and took stock of the situation. I had counted 5 women ahead of me, none of whom were in reasonable distance to catch. The next woman behind me was about 2 minutes back. That made this quite easy - all I had to do was whatever it took to maintain position.

The last couple of miles were a blur, I was tired, I wanted to stop, and there really wasn't anyone close enough to me to latch onto and try to pass. The race director passed me on a bike and said something that I thought was "4/10 to go!" but that's actually not possible, because as I perceived it I probably had another mile to run. I saw Aly out on her cooldown, and she cheered at me to which I responded "MBLAAAAH". Finally I reached the HM turnaround, where the volunteer told me "only one mile to go!" Um, excuse me? Thankfully my assumption that this person was very very wrong was accurate, though the finish line was still a bit farther away than I realized. One more turn, one more uphill, and I was there. Whee! Done. Honestly, I was pleasantly surprised to see 1:36 on the clock when I came across the line - based on effort, I had guessed I was running maybe just under 7:30 pace and was expecting something closer to 1:38.  Aerobically I barely felt like I'd done anything, but my legs were toast - clearly, that has to do with the fact that I'm only 3 weeks into more real marathon training. I waited for Joy and then the 3 of us reconvened for a brief cooldown before heading out for brunch and beer in Plymouth...obviously, the most important part of any race experience!

I'm pretty happy with 6th overall and winning my AG (after top 3 were taken out), and I think this time is a great starting point. I definitely wasn't pushing it to the limit during this race, but I think it was a solid effort. The fact that I'm trying to run only about 5 seconds slower per mile for twice the distance, however, is mildly terrifying at this point. But there are lots and lots of miles to run...

As an aside/rant...people were behaving like BABIES about this race. In the days after the race I read several reviews on the race's facebook page stating how this was "the WORST race EVER!" and "I will NEVER do this race again". The reasons for these complaints? The lack of medals, not enough food at the finish line, and the fact that the RD delayed the race because of long porta potty lines. I have to say, these comments made me sort of sad about the state of running these days. Sometimes, I don't want to pay $70+ to run a half because its an "event" and there are medals and a party and whatnot. I paid $45 for this race, which is damn near impossible to find for a half marathon, the course was accurate, and my time was right - what more is there to ask of a no frills race? I think these days people expect every race to be an EVENT, an "experience", where everyone is made to feel like a special flower. But whatever happened to racing because....you're trying to race? Not for a participation medal, or for the food afterwards? I mean, none of us even picked up our awards that we won, partially because we were cold and wanted to go home, but also because that's not what it's about. So anyway, besides the water stop debacle I really had minimal issues with this race, and the shirt I got is super soft and is going to make a fantastic PJ shirt...so there's that.  With 2 more halfs on the horizon before Boston, I'm now looking forward to seeing what I can do with more focused training, speedwork, and some more mileage under my belt!

Winter Warlock Half Marathon
1:36:24 (7:22 pace)
21st OA, 6th woman, 1st AG

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

2015: You. Were. Awesome.

2015, all in all, has been an absolutely spectacular year for me running wise. I might even go so far as to say it was a breakthrough year. How can I not, with new PRs set in almost every distance including the coup de grace, crushing the sub 3:20 barrier that I've been chasing for 5 years not once, but twice! Aside from some really exciting goal race performances, I also spent a lot of time this year racing for FUN, something I plan on doing much more in the future because...surprise...racing for fun is really fun! I got back to training with friends and teammates, enjoyed many a fantastic post race beer and brunch with friends, and just generally had a fantastic time running this past year. I think that a big part of why I was so successful this year is because, through all of it, I was genuinely having a really, really great time.

Because I love the numbers, here are some year end stats, awards, and otherwise fun info...

Miles run: 1822 as of 12/30/15 (probable total will be 1828-1829 depending on my run tomorrow)

Races run: 16 [2 marathons, a 30K, a 25K, a half marathon, 2 10 milers, a 10K, 2 5 milers, 2 4 milers, 3 5Ks. Ran the table! This is the most races I've run in a year since college. I love it.]

New races run: 14 [everything except Boston and Cape Ann - I'm somewhat impressed by this number!]

AG/overall awards: 7

RunningAhead gives you some nice analytics on your performance by percentage in races, so just for kicks I plugged that into a spreadsheet and did some comparisons:

Top 10% female finishes: 15 [every race except Boston]

Top 2% female finishes: 9

PRs run: 7 1/2 [4 mile, 5 mile, 10K, 10 mile, half marathon, 30K, marathon] plus a long course 5K that was definitely a post-collegiate best and possibly a PR...the world will never know

Hardest race experience: Cape Ann 25K [Runner up: None. Nothing else even came close to the hell that was that race]

Best race experience: BOSTON 2015. No question. [Runner up: NYC Half]

Biggest surprise race performance: TIE between NYC Half and Winter Classic "5K", both of which were some really strong performances that I had thought were total impossibilities prior to the race.

Best swag: Lazy Lobster 10 Mile - tech shirt, pint glass, bottle opener finisher metal PLUS wooden medal and GPS watch for top 3 woman

Worst race organization: Newport 10M [no parking, half our group missed the start, significantly short course]

Memorable runs:
-First run on the Battle Road which was amazing, aside from the severe dehydration and nearly vomitting up my blueberry sorbet afterwards
-The 20 miler where Dana and I randomly decided to drop a 7:08 mile
-The last long run before Boston where I rode out to Framingham by myself and absolutely crushed a 22 miler
-Every single run done between mid January and February (SNOWMAGGEDDON)
-The track workout where I did the best tempo of my life, then found myself leading a group for short intervals and was too excited to even deal
-Really, all of the pre-marathon track workouts where I suddenly realized I was faster than I used to be

Number of falls taken while running: 7 (4x ice/black ice, 1 sneaky construction plate, 2x on the same frost heave 9 months apart)

To look back at my goals for the year, for the first time EVER I achieved all of my running-related goals for the year!
-Sub 3:20 marathon: CHECK (self explanatory)
-Have a good race at Boston: CHECK (Good does not even begin to describe it. Amazing, more like it)
-Do strength/core work: CHECK (I could still be more consistent with this, but overall I have done a LOT more core/strength work than in past years. This is definitely still an area I'd like to work on in 2016)
-Race more for fun: CHECK! (16 races, at least 10 of which I'd say were "for fun"? Definitely a win.)

It's hard after such a stellar year to even begin to imagine how I could possibly surpass it. And yet, that's always the plan, isn't it? As far as specifics, it's hard to say exactly what I'm hoping for for the coming year, but when I think about it, some themes do emerge:
-Keep building on 2016
-Stay injury free (aka: keep doing core work consistently, don't be an idiot)
-Stop talking about doing a half ironman, and actually do one
-Never stopped being surprised and excited about progress; always strive for more
-PR in the 5K (why the hell not?!)
-Get in sub 3:15 shape for Boston and hope the weather gods cooperate. If they don't, let it go and keep working.
-Run at least one race per month
-Appreciate every run

Honestly, I don't know if there's that much more to say...2015, we killed it. 2016, let's do this!

Sunday, December 06, 2015

Winter Classic "5K" Race Report...what just happened?

This morning, I ran my fastest 5K in 5+ years (possibly ever...more on that later), and I have no idea how I managed to do such a thing. I had zero intention of racing this week, but Joy had texted me earlier in the week that she was off work today and wanted to race...let's be honest this is me we're talking about here, and the thought of doing a 5K while wearing an elf hat was just too much to pass up.  So I found myself donning my Fasttwitches and heading to the line of the Winter Classic 5K with a very modest goal: at least run faster than when I ran the same course a few months ago in the middle of my long run (21:31). This seemed entirely reasonable and I went into the race figuring it would be, for all intents and purposes, a glorified tempo run. That...was not what happened.

Joy and I warmed up the 4 miles from my apartment to the start, milled around for a bit, and elfed ourselves in preparation for the start. We then crammed into the start corral and immediately found ourselves about 7 rows too far back, behind several small children and people in sweatshirts...oh well. Of course, about 2 minutes before the start my Garmin decided to auto-pause, and there was no time to get the satellites back especially with so many people around, so I made the scary decision to do the race GPS-free. How bad could it be, really? It's just a 5K, and I know the course already - who cares if I have my exact mile splits? (FORESHADOWING)

Yup, I ran one of my fastest races ever wearing a damn elf hat. This is my life.

So then the gun went off, and off we went! I felt like I took the race relatively calmly, and I just tried to relax and get around people, trying to establish a position. It got up to 60 later in the day, but during the race was about 40 which was AWESOME - I spent some time the first mile thinking about how great running in the cold is. There was a master's woman ahead of me who I've seen (and finished just behind) at the last 2 5K's I've done, and I was pleasantly surprised when I passed her right around what I thought was somewhat past the 1 mile mark. I heard someone's Garmin beep and checked my watch - 6:28, OK, not bad! I was somewhat shocked at how GOOD I was feeling running at that pace, so I figured I would try to take advantage of the fact that I wasn't tied to my watch and just run by feel. There was a bit of a breeze as we headed up Mass Ave, which was slightly annoying mainly because I thought it was going to blow my hat off my head. I felt like I was running hard, but not unbearably so. Man, I thought to myself, this is SO much better than the Fall Classic! I can definitely get sub-21! Always nice to be thinking positive thoughts midway through a 5K.

We made a left turn at what I thought was around the 2-mile (apparently there were mile markers on the ground, but I never saw them), and I thought to myself, OK! This is good! 1 more mile! I didn't feel like I had really slowed down at all, which was a pleasant surprise, and I was starting to become convinced that I could get through one more mile at this pace, whatever it was. I looked down at my watch at one point and saw 16:40 - great, like 4 minutes left to run! No big deal! You got this! Well, THAT is where the fun started. We made a turn at what I assumed was close to the 3 mile mark...and I found myself staring down what appeared to be an endless street, still on course. WTF? This was about 20 minutes into the race, and I was suddenly TOTALLY demoralized. How could I possibly be running that slow? It sure didn't feel like I was running over 7 minute pace...I had been consistently passing people and hadn't been passed - I couldn't believe it. I passed the "3" mile mark at 21 something and ran into the finishing chute wondering how I could have possibly managed to run a 22:36 5K. I felt totally dead - a guy finishing near me kept looking at me and I think was trying to get me to hardcore race him to the finish, and I just didn't have anything left. So how in the hell was I supposed to make sense of the fact that I had actually just run my slowest 5K in years?

Well, that's when I started hearing the rumblings of the runners around me, and when people started pulling out their GPS watches, and when my puzzlement over my slowness turned into something different. Because that's when I learned that the course had been long...not just by a little bit, but by almost half a mile! (Official distance was 3.45 - apparently the lead pace car took us too far down the first road - and actually, props to the race director for almost immediately sending out an email about this and changing the distance in the official results). It actually took me a few minutes to grasp the meaning of this: if I had just run 22:36 for 3.5 miles....OH MY GOD WHAT WOULD MY 5K TIME HAVE BEEN??!! I did the math. And the math was like: oh hey, if this had actually been a 5K, and the finish line had been in the right spot, and you didn't have to run an extra half mile where you probably slowed down...you would have been right on the borderline of breaking 20. And let's be honest, if I had KNOWN that that were a possibility, my kick would have been a sight to behold. So for a second, I was a little bit mad that the opportunity to actually be able to put a 19:xx to my name had been taken away by the course screw up. But after that second, I was just straight up excited, because whether or not I officially ran sub 20, I clearly was capable of running sub 20 today. And that? Is completely insane to me. It was just last week that I was bemoaning the fact that I can consistently run 6:50ish 5Ks, but never faster. I've only run under 20:30 one time on the roads, and twice on the track, in my entire life - and all 3 of those times happened during peak training (and all 3 were >5 years ago). I had pretty much completely written off any hope of a 5K PR ever again. So to go out there, off no speed work, in the off season, wearing a stupid jingle bell hat, and do this?? I can't even believe it! This is probably my last race for the year, and I can't think of a better note to end on...proof that I'm faster at EVERY distance that I was 2 years ago, or even back in college, and not just the marathon.  Freaking awesome. And now shooting for a 5K PR is actually back on the table!

I think there might be a lesson here. And that lesson might be, to paraphrase Tom: your watch is only there for your amusement. Stop getting tied to the numbers, and just run how you feel. But in all seriousness...what a race for my damn GPS to die. My running life is many things...but it is never, ever boring. 

Winter Classic "5K" (3.45 miles)
22:36 (6:33 pace)
161/3200 OA, 14/1836 F, 9/832 F19-29

Friday, November 27, 2015

Gobble x 3 4 Miler Race Report

For the first time ever I decided to do a Thanksgiving Day race this year - the temptation of a race that starts less than 2 miles from my front door was just too much to pass up. I think that I considered doing this race last year, but it sells out a couple weeks in advance - I signed up about 2 weeks ago and just snuck in the day before it sold out. Hooray for being less indecisive this year! I ran a portion of the course during my run on Thursday, and while I could have sworn I'd read somewhere that the course was "mostly flat and fast" I must have read that wrong - there was PLENTY of uphill, including one nasty, steep climb just after the 3 mile mark. The last mile was downhill, so at least I had that going for me.

Thanksgiving morning I got to discover the joy of doing a legitimately local race: I woke up at 8, had a cup of coffee and some nuun, hemmed and hawed about what to wear (45 degrees? Do I wear shorts? Capris? Singlet? T-shirt?). I eventually opted for the GBTC t-shirt that I wear when I want to represent the club, but am not racing seriously, and capris. I also wore arm warmers which I removed within about 10 seconds of starting my warmup. At 8:30 I left and jogged the 2 miles to the start line, where I met up with a teammate and chatted for a few minutes. And then...the race started! Perfect. I had pretty low expectations going into this one, since I haven't done any speedwork since September and while I wouldn't say I'm out of shape, I'm definitely not "in season". So I basically hoped I could run around 7 minute pace, and in an ideal situation, break my extremely soft 4 mile PR that I set way back in 2007 in the only other 4 mile I've ever run. Technically, I broke that PR at the bridge run a few weeks back, but I can't in good conscience count a PR from a course that I know was short.

My goal for the first mile was to keep things controlled. I felt a little rough coming off the line, probably because we were staring uphill. I just tried to keep my breathing under control and not worry about people passing me.  I had no idea how fast I was running, but it didn't feel very fast, so I was pleasantly surprised to see a 6:38 as my first mile split. OK! I thought to myself. I can work with that! Just...keep this pace and stay relaxed and it will be fine. During mile 2 I continued to feel OK, but not great. We hit a pretty gradual but long uphill just before the 2 mile and that's where I just kind of had a moment - per my Garmin, I briefly slowed down to 8:00 pace at one point....YIKES. That mile was 6:52 which actually was not as bad as I expected. Based on how I felt though, I'm not surprised that I was slowing down - all I could think was "I hate short races I hate short races I hate short races, why do I do these things, ugh, slow". I was spitting and snotting and just a gross member of society. After mile 2 we turned, and my mood took a turn for the better as well. I told myself that there were 2 miles left, one more big hill, and I just had to get through it and get to the downhill last mile. I managed to pick it back up for a bit with the promise of "almost done with the hills", but then we hit the hill itself and my pace again took a nosedive. Of course, everyone else's pace was also taking a nosedive, so at this point my placement in the race was pretty much static. Mile 3 was a 7:15 - unfortunate. Also unfortunate was the fact that my brain had for some reason decided to select Christina Aguilera's "Dirrty" as an excellent soundtrack to play on repeat (honestly not sure when the last time I even heard that song was??) But now I knew that the hills were over, and it was time to just bomb down the downhill! Honestly, this last mile made up for every bit of hills in the rest of the race. It's so rare that you get to run almost a mile that's just...straight downhill, and let me tell you, no matter how tired you are, it feels GREAT. I could feel myself accelerating and I passed several people on this stretch. I took a peek at my watch at 3.84 miles, at which point, I was more than ready to be done. And then, just like that, I was! Official time was 27:33, 6:53 pace, and finally a PR to replace a race from 8 years ago! Hooray!  And then I was able to grab a cup of water, walk for about 5 minutes, cooldown home to be back before 10, and then proceed to make an excellent frittata while drinking a mimosa. Good, good times.

Overall, I definitely wasn't unhappy with this race although I wasn't overjoyed either. The race itself is great - it's run by Somerville Road Runners, one of the fairly well known clubs around here, and they really put on a great race - I can see why it sells out every year! Although it's a 3000 person race which is pretty large for a 4 mile, I never felt crowded, probably because the WHOLE COURSE was completely closed to traffic. I know, right? That NEVER happens! So major props to SRR - assuming I remember to sign up early enough, I'll be back next year! As for my performance, there are pros and cons. On the positive side, I really shouldn't complain about running sub-7 pace for something longer than a 5K, particularly when I'm in the "off season" and definitely not at peak fitness. But on the flip side, over the last 2-3 years, I've found I've pretty consistently been able to go out and run a 5K-5 mile in somewhere between 6:45 and 6:55 pace - never faster, never slower, that's it. And there's a part of me that's sort of like...buuuut...I want to be able to go out in 6:38 and then hold that pace! Ever since I manage to run 7:02 pace for a half last year, I sort of feel like 6:55 pace for a significantly shorter race just...isn't that great. I definitely believe strongly that I'm stronger at the longer distances, but it doesn't say much for my ability to get faster at longer distances when I can't even hold the pace I would like to eventually hold for a half for 4 miles...ya know? But it's OK. There's a huge difference between being in the middle of a training cycle and not for me - maybe it shouldn't be this way, but outside of hill work and racing I don't do structured speedwork between marathon cycles - and I usually ONLY race shorter distances during the off season. So, really, what do I expect? I guess if I really want to run faster in the shorter distances, I should a) actually TRAIN for a shorter distance race (unlikely, haha) or b) do more shorter races when I am in marathon training. And in the meantime, I think I should be happy with the fact that sub-7 pace, which once seemed IMPOSSIBLY fast, is now a pace that I can run for shorter distances on pretty low mileage. To put it another way, I technically ran a 6K PR during this race (though I realize comparing XC to road is apples and oranges) - and that PR was set after months of structured speedwork and training. Now I can just kind of...run that pace on a random Thursday. That, in the end, is pretty damn cool.

Gobble Gobble Gobble 4M
27:33 (6:53 pace) PR
146/2649 OA, 32/1524 F, 12/357 F20-29

Monday, October 26, 2015

A spectating report and a race report

The past 2 weekends have been freaking awesome, running related, and involved frolicking around New England with some of my favorite people. Both involved races, one of which I ran, one of which I spectated, and both I think deserve a recap. Ready? OK!

MDI Marathon weekend
Back in the day when I was still deciding on a fall marathon, a couple of my teammates signed up for the Mount Desert Island Marathon. As it turned out, I chose the much flatter (and family friendly) Lakefront, but we had already kind of started planning for a fun marathon getaway weekend to Maine, so another teammate (Brenda) and I decided to go along for the ride. I had originally planned on racing the half, but then it sold out and I wasn't really that sad about it...spectating is WAY more fun, and Brenda and I have demonstrated our amazing spectating abilities together in a couple of past marathons, so we were excited to get to do it again.

I've never traveled to spectate a race before, but let me tell you: it's AMAZING! I didn't have to worry about what I was eating, what to wear, etc, but I felt great to be able to support my friends as they went through the typical insane emotions that come on the night before a marathon. We stayed at the world's most adorable Air BnB, which included a selection of games (Candyland was a thing that happened) and DVDs such as 127 Hours. This turned out to be the most hilariously semi-inspirational movie we could have watched ("Hey, when you're running tomorrow, just think...at least you're not sawing off your own arm!") I don't think I'm ever staying in a hotel again.
Sorry, hotels. I'm over you.
Just the lake behind the cottage, whatever.

We were up before sunrise on race day and it was fun sharing the nervous energy of the two girls who were racing - I swear, I may have been more excited to watch them run than I had been for my own marathon! Brenda and I dropped them off at the start and then went off to figure out our spectating plan. The marathon runs from Bar Harbor to Southwest Harbor, and kind of squiggles around in a way that really only gives you one option for where to drive. Still, we managed to pick out 3 solid spots at the 15K, 16.5 mile, and 25 mile and hit all of them perfectly! I'm not sure I can really explain how much fun I had cheering for this race. Not only for my friends, although going absolutely INSANE when we saw them in the distance was an absolute blast. But I think having just run a marathon recently, and remembering how much it meant to have spectators telling me I looked strong or making me laugh, it felt pretty amazing to be able to pay it back and do that for this group of runners. The race was relatively small and everyone had names on their bibs, so I was calling everyone out by name and giving them something that I thought they might want at that point in the race. At the 15K, we were near the bottom of a pretty nasty hill. At that point in the race though, everyone is still looking pretty strong and happy, so there was a lot of "this hill is nothing!" and "keep smiling" and "looking awesome!" going around. Mile 16.5 was a little more quiet, so basically excessive screaming and cowbelling and hopping around and just being like "YEAAAAAH STEEEEVE!" felt useful. And then, mile 25, was at the top of this gradual 3 mile incline. That was my favorite spot, because we were all alone at the top of this hill and you knew everyone was almost there - I kept saying to people "THIS IS IT! NOW IS THE TIME!" By this point we were so giddy with adrenaline that at one point we were just running around in circles with airplane arms. It was absolutely awesome.
The scenery also did not suck.

What was also awesome was having our teammates look amazing and strong every time they passed us! Despite the hilly course, one teammate placed 2nd overall and broke 3 hours for the first time, and the other ran her second best marathon out of 15. All in all, it was a really amazing day! Much as I love racing for myself, I also think it's really special to get to support my friends and teammates (plus a whole bunch of other runners!) and help them to have a great race day too. The camaradrie and support that runners give each other is just one of the coolest things about the sport, and I'm so grateful to be a part of such a supportive team and to have such cool friends who happen to be pretty great runners as well.
I also partook in the post race celebrations. Because, I mean, when in Maine.

Pell Bridge Run
So THEN, this past weekend, I decided to hit up the other end of New England and actually run a race vs. spectate. Joy, one of the MDI marathoners and my marathon/ridiculous racing buddy, had at some point in the last few months talked me into signing up for something called the Pell Bridge Run. This is a race that involves, as the name suggests, running over the Pell Bridge! Which is a very large bridge (~2 miles long and 400 ft high) in Rhode Island connecting Jamestown and Newport. As I am pretty much incapable of turning down a racing opportunity in the off season, especially when it's a novelty race of sorts, I signed up. After a 4:45 am wake up call (the earliest I've been up in recent memory), we drove to Newport and got on the shuttles to Jamestown. Compared to my only other pre-race shuttle bus experience (Boston) this one was hilariously short, although still slightly disturbing hearing the bus vroom vrooming up the hill that I knew I would need to be running up shortly. We were dropped off in a dark grassy area around 6:10 and waited for the start. Now, this is the same race company that put on the 10 miler that I had so many complaints about back in June - surprisingly I have only one major complaint about this race. And that was the fact that although we had to wait over an hour at this grassy field and there was coffee and hot chocolate to drink (which ran out by 6:30) and the website had said there would be water...there was NO WATER. I asked a volunteer and she was like "no...there's supposed to be some...but I haven't seen any...." As a result I went into the race with a dry mouth and a bagel sitting like cement in my stomach...oh well. Thankfully it was a pretty warm morning for late October, in the mid 50s already by 6 am, so we weren't freezing in the field, but with nothing else to do Joy and I decided to go warm up a little bit on the other side of the road. That's when by far the coolest part of the day happened. We turned down into a random hotel parking lot, and in front of us was this:
Worth the 4:45 wake up!

Day completely made, we headed back to the start line, kind of laughing at the fact that maybe 20 out of the 3000 runners had seen this view because no one seemed to be bothering to warm up. To be fair, this is not a race that's designed to be crazy competitive - the "elite" (lol) wave was 9 minute miles and faster and there are a lot of walkers, kids, etc. I mean, hell, if I was a recreational runner, this is DEFINITELY a race I'd do multiple times - it's a pretty cool concept! Still, we lined up maybe 1 row back from the front, surrounded by a variety of people, none of whom were wearing hardcore club singlets. Two things came to my mind: the first was how glad I was that I wasn't racing Mayor's Cup (big XC meet held the same day), the second was how glad I was that I had chosen to race in a ridiculous neon ensemble instead of my GBTC singlet, because I think if I'd showed up in that singlet people would have expected me to try to win the thing. 
Not pictured: neon orange shorts. Pictured: vest that is FAR too warm for current ambient temperature

The race started at 7:15 and off we went! It's billed as a 4 mile race, and I was pretty aware given the layout of the bridge what the elevation profile would be: 2 miles basically uphill, 2 miles basically downhill. Whee! Coming off the line, I actually felt shockingly good. I immediately found myself in maybe 8th or 9th position for women with not all that many runners ahead of me overall. Neat! I had no concept of how fast I was running but felt reasonably relaxed. There was actually bit of a downhill right away, followed by the beginning of the slow, gradually increasing grade towards the bridge. For a few minutes, this grade was OK. Then it started to get unpleasant. By the time we actually got ON the bridge and the grade increased again, I was seriously questioning my life choices. Running 2 miles uphill? Have I ever done that? WHY am I doing that? I felt like I was going to vomit up my bagel and like I was moving approximately at the speed of a sloth. I cursed my stupid vest that felt like it weighed 16 pounds. I got passed by at least 4 women on this stretch and I felt kind of annoyed at myself about it. Never mind the fact that my running (hill running especially) has been minimal over the last month, or that I didn't get to drink any damn water before the start - WHY CAN'T YOU GO FASTER, SELF? The higher we got the worse the wind became, which also didn't help the situation. Oh well. I focused on just making it up to the top of the bridge and made an attempt to look around. It was pretty neat being up there and also sort of surreal...like...I'm basically running on a freeway right now?
Almooooost at the top. Photo by Joy, who apparently is skilled at not throwing her phone off the bridge while running up it. I was scared that that's what would happen to me (and also focused on not puking), so no photos were taken by me. 

FINALLY we hit the crest of the hill - there were no mile markers but this happened somewhere around mile 2 - and got to start running downhill. Whee! My original plan had been to try to really pick it up on the downhill but when it actually got to that point in the race, just trying to recover from the beating I had just taken and letting gravity do all the work for me seemed like a better option. I passed back a couple of people on the down slope of the bridge, just to be overtaken by 2 more women. GAAAAH. I stuck with both of them as we continued to run down. As we came off the bridge, things flattened out for a second, only for us to have to run up another hill and onto a freeway off ramp. Uggggh. My legs actually felt OK, but my stomach was having strong feelings about my current life status and I was just ready for this to be over with. I kind of laughed because they stuck a water stop at the bottom of the on ramp and I was like oh...great...NOW you give me water, when I have like 4 minutes left to run. Thanks. There was another slight downhill into a flat after that, and I started trying to accelerate a little bit which got me a pass on one of the two women in front of me. I actually put some effort into trying to chase down the other one - my legs definitely had something left - but in the end I couldn't get her. As the clock came into focus I realized we were still in the 27 minute category, and considering I though a reasonable goal given the elevation profile of this race and my current training status would be to break 30 minutes, I was shocked! I gave it a little push then and managed to squeak in just under 28 minutes at 27:57. FINALLY got some damn water and waited for Joy, who came in about 30 seconds behind me.
Well that was difficult.

Results-wise, it was a pretty solid performance. I was 12th woman overall out of 1855 and 58th overall out of almost 3000, not too shabby. Unfortunately 6 of those 11 women above me were in my age group - bah! So 7th in the F25-29 age group I was. When there are 5 year age groups I feel like top 15 women will usually net you something, but I guess it serves me right for getting cocky! The official results have me at 6:59 pace, but my Garmin clocked the distance at 3.92 which given how I felt probably makes more sense.  Though my Garmin also seems to think that I ran uphill for a little bit, then possibly jumped off the bridge and then ran a flat course on top of the water for the rest of the race...so it's uncertain that it can be trusted either. However, this is technically a 4 mile PR! So that's neat. Either way my splits definitely tell the story: 6:53, 7:55 (HAHA, this is what happens when I run an entire mile uphill apparently!), 6:47, 6:57 for the last bit. All in all, I had a pretty good time at this race. It's definitely a fun, unique experience, and while it may be a one time thing for me I'm glad that I did it once. Also, if someone could remind me how unpleasant I found running for 2 miles up a 4.5% grade the next time I put my name in the lottery for Mount Washington (7+ miles up a grade that goes up to 11%....) that would be GREAT.

Pell Bridge Run - Official Distance 4M
27:57 (6:59 pace), PR?
58/2828 OA, 12/1855 F, 7/175 F25-29