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 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 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'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 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

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Lakefront Marathon 2015 Race Report

For those hanging in suspense: I ran a 3:17:57, 27 seconds off a PR. So maybe, not quite exactly the race I was dreaming of, but a DAMN good race all the same.  Deep down, I really, really wasn't sure I could pull this off again, and damn it, I did. But there couldn't have been a different race than Boston. Where Boston was battling the external elements (and somehow, despite that, feeling like it was easy), Lakefront was battling the internal elements, my own body and particularly my own mind. And that, for me, was a much harder battle to come out of victorious. After this race, I have no doubt in my mind that I'm capable of running sub-3:15 - which is a HUGE thing to come out of this race, because going into it I wasn't even confident in my ability to run 3:17 a second time. Most of all, I'm extremely proud of the mental fight I was able to show during this race, something that always seems to elude me. And so...where do I begin?

I flew out of Logan on Friday afternoon and I was, as usual on the Friday before a marathon, full of anxiety. I tempered said anxiety at the airport by hiding in the children's play area and doing a quick YouTube yoga thing (when I told my sister this, she was like - do you even LIKE yoga? And I was like, no. Except when I'm anxious before a marathon haha), then having a beer and a hot pretzel at the conveniently located Harpoon Tap Room. Thankfully the flight was on time as well as uneventful, even though I couldn't focus on anything to save my life. I wrote out a vague race plan during the flight, which basically amounted to: go out relaxed. STAY relaxed. And then - the key to the strategy - turn on the afterburners at mile 23. This was the first time in my life I'd gone into a marathon with a race strategy and quite frankly as I wrote it out I felt like I was faking it. Negative splits? Picking it up at the end? Are you kidding me? Those are things that happened that ONE day, that ONE magical day. What on earth makes you think that they are things that can happen again? Seriously, this is where my head was at before this race. NOT a great place to be in before a marathon, I tell you, but I couldn't seem to get myself to snap out of it.

The next 12 hours were taken up by the various family functions that occur when you decide to go to your hometown to run a marathon - drinks and cheese at my sister's, dinner and drinks at my dad's, brunch with my mom, etc. I ran into a couple of guys from my college track club at brunch which made me happy (though not totally surprising, since I knew one of them was racing the marathon). We then headed to the expo, where my sister got to experience the glory that is a marathon expo for the first time ("I feel so lazy..." was her response, hah). I picked up my bib and shirt, which I initially wasn't thrilled by (a mock turtleneck? Eek.) However, the color (forest green) is nice, the logo is attractive, and it occurred to me that a mock turtleneck tech shirt will come in EXTREMELY handy while running through the New England winter, so it's a functional shirt if not one that I'm going to wear out casually. My mom, sister and I then headed off to a bar where we watched the (terrible) Badgers game...watching your team fumble on the 1 yard line doesn't exactly boost your confidence for a stellar race performance. However, I enjoyed my obligatory pre-marathon beer (Ale Asylum Hopalicious, same as at Madison) and spending time with the family. After a brief stop at my mom's, aka my childhood home, for a quickie shakeout and to buy a baguette to chomp on in the car, we headed up to Port Washington, driving along the course. Driving the course actually calmed me down a little bit - I really had no idea where we were going or what the course was like, so it was nice to at least have some sense of the terrain, etc. There also was a store called the Past Basket right around the halfway point of the course and for some reason, that cracked me up. I resolved to look at the Past Basket and laugh as I passed (hah!) it the following day. We checked in to our hotel and watched some miscellaneous college football before heading to dinner at the Pasta Shoppe in Port Washington.

There was a pretty amazing sunset over Lake Michigan

After probably the best pre-race meal I've ever had of antipasti salad, pasta primavera with marinara, a Spotted Cow, and THE BEST garlic bread ever, we headed back to the hotel. I lay out my raceday apparel and watched some more random college football (Arkansas vs. Tennessee and UCLA vs. Arizona State...because if I didn't watch college football the night before a fall marathon, it probably didn't happen). I finally turned off the lights around 9:45 and was asleep shortly after that.
Prerace dinner of CHAMPIONS

Obligatory bib person...I changed out the armwarmers at the last second, a decision which was a good fashion choice but maybe not a good life one

I was up bright and early before my alarm - seriously, I think I probably woke up at 4:55, I got a good luck text from someone at 5:00, and then my alarm went off at 5:10. So the prerace ritual a banana...make several stops in the bathroom...drink a little a bagel with butter at 90 minutes before race time...get the kit on...take some mirror around to techno...etc. I had a really tough time getting the bagel down on this particular morning and couldn't decide if I should be drinking more water or not. After all, I didn't really feel like having to pee during the race like I did at Madison (this is what we call foreshadowing...).  At this point in the morning, I feel like I was putting on a really good act of being confident and ready, but deep down, I was really fucking nervous. Also, kind of in disbelief that this moment had already arrived, the moment where I had to prove to myself and the world that I could run two good marathons in a row. 
Coping strategy: take awkward mirror selfies before sunrise

We headed off to Grafton High School around 6:20, and it was both fabulous and difficult having my mom along for the ride. Fabulous because we were joking around and jamming out to Linkin Park, and difficult because I turn into an EXTREMELY difficult person to be around when I'm nervous. So I found myself getting snippy at her for extremely minor reasons, such as attempting to take candid photos of me and pointing out the wrong building as the high school....whoops, sorry mom. :) Once we did reach the high school, I immediately jumped in the porta potty line where I witnessed this hilarious exchange: Girl 1 comes running over to Girl 2, who she apparently knows. "Oh my God!! Are you so excited?!" Girl 2: "No. I'M SO SCARED!!!" It actually wasn't super cold out, and not windy at all, but all the same I headed into the gym to do a few stretches and get my Gu's set up in their proper placement all over my body. After about 3 minutes in the gym, I was too antsy to stay there, so I decided I had to go back outside. It was of those mornings. I couldn't get settled. I attempted the porta potty line again but pretty much instantly realized that it was too long, so ended up in the woods by the high school before heading to the start. I handed off my sweats to my mom (including my grandmother's 1992 Milwaukee Symphony Japan Tour sweatshirt...if that isn't perfect drop gear I don't know what is). I worked my way up to a spot in the vicinity of the 3:15 and 3:25 pace groups, although I knew I didn't want anything to do with the pace groups themselves. I thought there would be a little more time before the start but it seemed like everything was happening quickly today. A few announcements, a moment of silence in gratitude of our ability to do this (I liked that), the announcement of the national anthem which brings me to chills and tears before every damn marathon. I have to pee, AGAIN. Body. What in the actual fuck. Then, we move up to the line, I hear my mom screaming something that I think is "GIVE EM HELL!", the race director has the runners count down from 10...and when we get to 3, maybe 2? The gun. 

Focus at the start

Start-10K (7:19, 7:25, 7:35, 7:32, 7:24, 7:30)
We're off, and I'm right out ahead of the 3:15 pace group, exactly where I DON'T want to be. This, I know, would be suicidal. Relaxrelaxrelaxrelaxrelax is playing through my mind like a mantra and my legs can't figure out how to do it. The early miles of a marathon are always so jovial - people are chatting and laughing and pointing out things and talking about goals - and I tried to just settle down and listen to it all. But mile 1 of a marathon isn't a great place to already be feeling concerned, and I was. Just a little bit. Something felt off somehow - it wasn't my legs, which actually felt great - but everything else, my stomach, my mental game, everything felt weird. Here's where I have to mention how much of a TERRIBLE mental game I had during the first half of this race - I was literally, at mile 1, telling myself that maybe today just wasn't a good day. Like...what?! C'MON MAN, GET IT TOGETHER! Once I saw the 1 mile split I felt slightly better, since it's not like I was running like a slug or anything. Still, I decided that now wasn't the time to be an idiot. Run Your Own Race. I let the massive pack of the 3:15 group pass me, figuring I'd see them again if I saw them again, but I had made a plan and damnit, I was going to stick with the plan. A few minutes after they passed I was running with a couple of guys who were joking about how they'd gone out pretty hot ("Hell, it's a PR day, why not go sub-3:00?") I decided to try to hang out with these guys for awhile, which turned out to be a good plan since one of them sang a song about Miller 64 after pretending his water was beer at the 2 mile water stop, followed by the comment "I hear they have Spotted Cow at mile 15!". Oh, Wisconsin. The course was really quiet in the beginning, as we were basically running through farmland with the occasional house with someone out on the front lawn waving a sign or something. Over the next few miles, I kept trying to find a groove and I just couldn't get anything to stick. Speeding up, slowing down, changing my stride length - it didn't matter, I just couldn't get anything to feel comfortable no matter how hard I tried. Since every good marathon I've run thus far (and hell, some that ended badly, too!) has most definitely felt comfortable through the half, this was concerning. Doubts, demons, roaring in like a freight train. You don't even feel good NOW, man, just THINK of how you're going to feel in 10 miles! Or better yet, 20! Everything felt discombobulated. Literally the only thing that was keeping me from a mental breakdown was that, for the moment, my pace was looking OK. And I found a phrase to hang onto: discomfort is NOT the same thing as pain. Sure, I wasn't comfortable. Fine. OK. You're running a marathon, do you need to BE comfortable? Just shut up and run, see what happens later.

Another problem going on was that I still felt like I had to pee, along with my stomach just feeling heavy and awkward (considering I was gifted with certain girl issues the next day, all of this now makes perfect sense). Again, wayyy too early to be feeling off. Whatever. What was I going to do, stop? So I kept going. Mile 5 brought a nice pocket of crowd support, as we made a turn near a horse farm and there was a scream tunnel of spectators. In a way it was almost cooler that way, these random pockets of screaming on an otherwise silent country road. People seemed amused to see my Greater Boston singlet and I got a few "Go Boston!" cheers along the way. There was a little incline right after that turn, though, and it just felt AWFUL. Like, awful in a way I couldn't believe something at mile 5 of a marathon could feel. No bueno. Thankfully the course then sloped downhill ("downhill as far as the eye can see!" remarked a shirtless man running near me, happily) Yet another problem: the last water stop had been at mile 4, and we were now approaching mile 6 with no water in sight. After taking a salted caramel Gu around 5.5, all I could think about was water...and scanning the horizon brought no relief. WHAT IS EVEN GOING ON RIGHT NOW?!

10K-Half (7:33, 7:29, 7:39, 7:35, 7:44, 7:31, 7:35, half 1:39:10)
This 7 mile stretch...I don't even know. This may have been the hardest 7 miles I've ever run in my life, mentally. I had been hoping that all of my strange feelings of the first 10K would eventually evaporate once I found a groove, but miles 7-11 begged to differ. The discomfort, in fact, only continued to get worse. The mile markers seemed to be coming up pretty quickly, and my splits were still looking OK, but the time between them was mighty unpleasant. I was still looking for some water as we turned into Concordia, and there, just past mile FREAKING 7, was where I felt like I was just going to start crying. There was this dead zone of running through basically a parking lot, then a turn up the only thing I would consider a real "hill" of the entire race...and mentally, I just lost my shit. Running up this stupid hill I went off into a dark, dark mental place. I pretty much told myself I suck. I felt terrible, winded, struggling - it was really unbelievable. And most of all, I NEEDED some water. NOW. 

We then ran past the Concordia marching band, which wasn't playing as I ran past but shortly after burst into the "YMCA" which brought me out of my dark mood somewhat - what an..inspirational song choice? There was also a guy dressed as Beaker just standing alone on the Concordia cross country course (which looked lovely...they must have just had a meet or something because the grass was freshly mowed and the lines freshly painted. I sure did have a moment of wishing I was running a 6K instead of a marathon for a second there.) FINALLY a water stop appeared, and getting some fluids combined with the pretty incredible scream tunnel that followed also gave me a boost. I have to say, the spectators at Concordia were GREAT. I was basically running by myself at this point, somehow, so for the next 5-10 minutes (or it could have been several hours, who knows how time passes in the middle of a race) I was continuously having my name screamed at me, along with numerous motivations. I slapped a "slap here to level up" sign. I high fived college students. For a second, I was having a blast! In the back of my mind, things were still trying to go very bad, but on the surface...whee! I made a concerted effort to look and smile or wave at as many people as I could. I felt like I was running through the tunnel onto the field at a football game, except for here, I was already on the field. The wheels were already in motion. 

Fakest. smile. ever. 

Slowly the number of spectators died down, the cheers dwindled, and I was alone again. Alone with my thoughts, which were not currently useful or productive ones. And while the water had settled my stomach somewhat, I was still sitting with the utterly uncomfortable sensation of having to pee. And so it was, that somewhere just past the 10 mile mark, I once again decided to forgo the use of a porta potty and just go ahead and take advantage of the fact that I was wearing black shorts. And holy shit, while gross, I FELT SO. MUCH. BETTER. Literally like a weight had been lifted off of my abdomen. For just a second my stupid negative brain shut up and just let me bask in the feeling of no longer having to pee. A few minutes later, I saw a guy on a bike who looked vaguely I came closer, sure enough, it was another of my former track club teammates! For some reason, this was THE most exciting thing that ever could have happened to me, and I screeched out "ZACH BRUNS! HIIIIIIIIIII!" in a way that only someone who is so far gone that they need to get very very excited about very very small things can. 
Am I smiling because I see a familiar face? Or because I just peed myself? The choice is yours...

That moment of levity over, things once again took a bit of a turn for the worse. I was starting to get a bit warm and was regretting my armwarmer choice. I considered ditching them, but they were currently being used to store both of my gels, so I kind of had to hang on to them for now. I figured if they were still a problem by 16, I'd throw them out (they weren't). Probably more importantly, everything STILL felt hard. Mile 11 was an unpleasant time of my life. We turned a corner which lead into an incline, once again nearly causing me to throw myself on the ground and throw a temper tantrum. Again, my legs felt like leaden weights. Why was I doing this again? My mind kept spewing venom: Well this is stupid. You're not even going to run a good race today! A 7:44 at mile 11? What's even the point? There's no way you're going to negative split this. 3:20 would be OK, I guess... I just really did not want to be out there doing this at all. I can't recall ever being quite that mean to myself internally before, and I knew that if I was going to get through this, I HAD to stop it. I had to get myself together. And so, every time I would start to break down with a negative thought, I would tell myself one of two things: If it related to the course (a hill, etc) I would tell myself to "put it in the Past Basket". If it was related to my own stupid crisis of confidence that I was apparently choosing to have mid-marathon, I would tell myself "STOP BEING STAVE", after the Wisconsin QB who famously cannot deal with the slightest bit of adversity or struggle without totally caving in mentally and throwing ridiculously terrible passes. Mile 11 was where I realized that I was doing EXACTLY that. I was still running OK, but I was so in my head about it, and that shit needed to stop. Right now. I was almost halfway, and despite never for a second feeling remotely good, I was DOING OK. So I tried to calm down, relax, and see what the second half of this race was going to bring. 

I took another Gu right after the dark time of mile 11, which perked me up a little bit. At the same time I had gotten a fragment of my pump up song du jour stuck in my head. Stop thinking, let's have some fun. Stamp on the ground...jump jump jump jump, move it all around, jumping all around. Over and over. I was telling someone after the race that I wish I could have a tape recording of the shit that goes through my brain during marathons. Well, whether it was the Gu, the song, or the downhill, I started feeling just a little bit better. I figured if I could just haul my body to the halfway point, I could maybe make it to the finish as well. 

Half-20 (7:23, 7:36, 7:36, 7:30, 7:28, 7:28, 7:31)
When I saw/heard my half split called (as an aside - one of the really small but random things I LOVED about this race was that there were not only clocks, but actual human beings calling splits at every. single. mile. Such a small detail, but it made it feel more legit somehow to have a grizzled man calling your time off a stopwatch) I once again became a huge negative Nancy. All I could do was compare it to my previous 2 halfway splits, which I knew were in the low-mid 1:38s. 1:39? But that's SLOWER! Well crap! This is not what I want! Somehow, weirdly enough, that snapped me out of my vortex of negativity - the opposite reaction from what you'd expect. OK, self, you're not running the race you want? Well GO and run the race you want! The next section of the race was classic "ugly industrial section of the marathon", as we were running on a desolate access road next to the freeway - lovely! No spectators in sight except for a girl wearing a bib walking the wrong way. She had clearly dropped, but was nice enough to give me some encouragement as I ran by which I thought was really nice sportsmanship. Mile 14 came up in what felt like no time after the half, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that 7:23 on my watch. I felt like I was working, sure, but there was still something there. From here, I made a decision that looking back I regret a little bit: I let myself relax. I told myself that it was OK to relax the pace a little bit, because there was still a long way to go. In that moment, I just REALLY wanted to have something left to turn on the gas in the last 3-4 miles, and I felt like I needed to chill out at this point to make it happen. But now, I look back and wonder - could I have held on to 7:25 pace for those next 3 miles? Because, ya know, that would have gotten me a PR. But that's neither here nor there, because what happened was this: I found myself feeling just a teeny tiny bit better, and I held on to that feeling like my life depended on it. If that meant relaxing the pace a little bit for now, so be it - it was worth it for the potential of being able to hold on.

We finally got away from the freeway and made a quick little jaunt through a residential area. Here, there were more spectators, several of which who told me how strong I was looking. One was also holding a sign which read "Remember, you paid for this", which I felt was a good reminder at that point, haha. Then we were back on this straightaway and all of a sudden, I can't even explain what happened, but I was rolling. FINALLY, 15 miles into the freaking race, I HAD FOUND THE GROOVE! YES! The transition from "feeling shitty" to "actually feeling kind of strong" was so smooth that I barely even noticed that I had locked into a rhythm and was covering ground faster than before. I thought of a phrase that had popped into my mind during a tempo run on the track that felt much the same as this - let the lizard brain take over. For the next couple of miles, pretty much all higher processing stopped and I just ran. At some point I picked up a fragment of "How Deep Is Your Love" that someone was playing out of a speaker on their lawn that began rolling around in my head, on repeat. How deep is your love? Aaahooo. Aaahoo. Aaahoo. How deep is your love? How deep was my love? Was it deep enough to gut it out through the next 10 miles of this race? 

My memories of miles 16-20 are somewhat fuzzy, so locked into the groove was I. I remember some random moments: some kids on their lawn ringing a gigantic boat (?) bell, who I high fived, another pair of kids dressed as Yoda and Darth Vader yelling "may the course be with you!!", someone yelling my name so loudly and enthusiastically that I thought it had to be someone I knew (it wasn't). Through all of this, I kept counting down to mile 23 when I would hopefully (please, please) be able to turn on the afterburners, or as I was thinking of it at the time, "make the jump to hyperspace". NERD ALERT. As these miles continued to unfold, I noticed something else: I was starting to pass people. My personal favorite passing moment occurred when I found myself running in flying V formation behind my two shirtless men who had left me behind back at mile 5. We were running along, and I could tell that one of the guys was kind of giving me a look and waiting for me to make a pass. I think he actually may have said something to that effect - like "go ahead if you want" or something - but my brain wasn't turned on enough to hear it. And whatever, I was perfectly happy in this flying V formation. All of a sudden, we run past this lawn where a lone guy, maybe in his 60s or 70s is standing there. In a thick Jamaican (I think) accent he yelled something to this effect: "OOOOK GIRL! Yeah! You run with those guys! You stick with 'em, and then when you see the finish line...YOU BLOW EM ALL AWAY!" I pretty much burst out laughing while one of the guys was like "wow, viscious!" Then, not to be one to wait until the finish line, I made my move and passed my shirtless friends. Heh. 

The countdown keeps on. 7 miles until afterburners. 6 miles. 5 miles. At mile 18, there's another random tunnel of spectators who are as loud as any I've seen all day. I run with another woman for a bit past the crowds. We exchange encouragement, and then I pass her. Because that's what I'm doing, these miles, either I'm running alone or I'm passing, passing, passing. I'm seeing people up ahead who I remember from way back when, miles 3 and 4, and I'm reeling them in and I'm passing them. By this point I had exactly zero concept of overall race time or what my overall time was going to be. With that 1:39 half split, I had basically given up all hope of running a PR. So instead of worrying about that, I was just racing the people around me instead of the clock. And that was a damn fun thing to be doing! With each person I passed who was slowing down, stopping to stretch, walking, I thought to myself, those people who keep telling you how strong you look are right. You look strong because you ARE strong! Just wait until you get to turn it on at 23. 

4 miles til afterburners. My legs are still in OK shape, my stomach has finally calmed down, my brain has decided it felt like jumping on board the racing train, and things are starting to look up. Seeing sub-7:30 miles on my watch isn't hurting, and I distract myself for awhile by thinking about where I am on the Boston course right now. Somewhere in the Newton hills. I am utterly joyous to NOT be running in the Newton hills right now, to instead be running through the gently rolling hills of Shorewood. It may not have felt easy in these mid to late miles, but it finally felt strong.

20-26.2 (7:40, 7:47, 7:30, 7:15, 7:19, 7:23, 6:56 pace last bit)
AAAAAGH let's please just take a moment to talk about how miles 21 and 22 cost me a PR. There's those 27 seconds, right there. Oh well. At the time, that was just about the last thing on my mind. I passed the 20 mile mark still feeling quite strong, and then about 3 minutes later we made a turn on the course and my legs were just like...WAIT WHAT IS HAPPENING NOPE I DO NOT LIKE THIS ANYMORE. I went from being all "hell yes, I found my strong!" to "whoooops, this is what mile 20 feels like" very rapidly. Funny enough, this was also where my dad and his wife had come out to spectate several times in rapid succession. The first time they saw me? I was all fired up! The second time? Ehhhhh not so much. My dad told me later that he could tell I wasn't feeling solid when he saw me, and his inclination was right. Shit was getting real (that was my new mental phrase: shit's getting real. Real inspirational, self). However, despite the fact that things were starting to break down a little bit, I still hadn't seen a single person come up behind me, and I was continuing to pass people all the while. Reeling people in and passing them was what got me through these miles. Just after 21, I saw this girl in a purple shirt running ahead of me. I had this weird, brief moment of "she looks pretty strong, she's probably faster than you" which was immediately followed by "YOU MUST PASS HER. NOOOOOOOW." And of course, I did. 
How I managed to be smiling in all of these photos is beyond me. This is the random neighborhood where I thought I just might die. 

Oh lord. Scissoring like a boss. Bring on that epic fatigue head tilt.

I knew that the entirety of mile 22 was a slight uphill grade, which, surprise surprise, while not a huge hill, pretty much made me feel like I had been punched in the face repeatedly. The saving grace was that while this was my slowest mile of the entire race, guess what? I was still passing people. 5 miles just seems like an absolute eternity to go, and right now I just absolutely want it to be over. 2 more miles to the afterburners...please, please let there be something left. During this mile, it doesn't feel like there will be. Just get to 23, and the downhill, and then just go. My power up song has popped back into my mind, a different lyric this time: ...come feel the heat, the sweet vibration, cause we are about to ignite, and we wanna go out tonight! I try to run to the beat. I imagine myself from the outside, looking strong, and try to keep myself that way. Keep the head up, keep picking up those feet, don't let that hunched over death shuffle that you're seeing on so many people around you happen. Be the one who, when you run by the spectators, gets told how strong you look and have them MEAN it. 

I was about to write that "at this point, I knew I had a second-best marathon in the bag", but that is a TOTAL lie, because at the time I still had no idea what time it was or what was happening. All I knew was that we were about to hit mile 23, and after 23 miles of waiting, struggling, fighting through discomfort and pain, it was FINALLY time to see if I had something left. As soon as I hit the mile 23 mark, I turned it on. I have never in my entire life been so happy to discover that there was something else left deep down under the layers of fatigue. This mile is flat into a long downhill, and I embraced that downhill with every fiber of my being. This was it - whether or not this was a PR, a good time, whatever, THIS was where I got to prove that I could take a strategy and execute it, that I was strong enough to do this again. Everything hurts so, so badly - a pain that I never got around to feeling in Boston, and a pain that I forgot how bad it could be. But to my utter surprise, I found that I was still able to push and keep running...running faster than I had all race, at that. 

The last 2 miles were on what felt like the longest bike path in the history of humanity. My legs were shutting down now, my calves cramping with every push off and every step creating a new vortex of pain blasting through my body. I mentally take myself back to the bike path this summer - 18 miles into a long run, pushing the pace with my teammates. Just imagine Dana and Taylor and Joy in front of you, and go get them. It's almost over, and then you get to STOP. Mile 25 - God, is it not over yet? Like I said, at Boston I never really processed the pain (maybe because I couldn't really feel my legs by the last 5 miles of the race), and every race before I've slowed down because I couldn't handle the pain. So to be running through and in spite of the most ridiculous pain I could imagine in that moment seemed utterly insane, and something I wanted to stop doing immediately. There was for some reason a sign for mile 25 1/2, to which I thought 0.7 miles THAT IS FOREVERRRRR. We had to make a 90 degree turn that included a curb cut which nearly made my legs cave out from under me, and then, FINALLY, it was the final straight and I could hear the finish line announcements. I passed the 26 mile mark at 3:16:10 or something and it vaguely occurred to me ummm hi you are about to run very close to a PR! I mean you probably can't run a 1:20 400 right now, but that's OK, just go as fast as you can...and hey...YOU NEGATIVE SPLIT! I can see the finish line now, and a line from Once A Runner pops into my head: "he moved into lane 2, the Lane of High Hopes, and ran out the rest of the life in him". I ran out the rest of my life in me. I could hear the shouts of various family members, saw my sister and her boyfriend running on the outside of the chute, but it was like being inside of an aquarium. I was inside of myself; everything on the outside was just background noise. You can see from the splits that I actually did kick for possibly the first time in my life in a distance over 10 miles. And I am DAMN proud of that kick because that freaking kick was the difference between a 3:17:xx and a 3:18:xx. Which, in my mind, is a HUGE difference. I couldn't believe it! After all that, the questioning, the doubting, the demons, I had gone out and run another damn 3:17. Hell. freaking. yeah.

Home stretch...that head tile means I'm literally giving it everything

Aside from excitement at my time, my overwhelming feeling was one of SO MUCH RELIEF to no longer be running. I wandered through the finish chute, got my medal, space blanket, and water, and then posed for a finisher photo in which I look like I'm striking some sort of dance pose. I couldn't quite figure out what to do next; I considered going to the massage tent since my calves were still cramping something awful, but in the end decided that what I really wanted in life was to be sitting down. I hobbled my way to a random folding chair where I just sat and waited for my body to feel like doing something else would be a good idea. A random guy gave me his mac & cheese when I got excited about it, unfortunately when I tried to eat it it turned out that mac & cheese actually doesn't taste as good 5 minutes after a marathon as you would think. Finally I got up, grabbed the most GLORIOUS Dr. Pepper I've ever drank in my life, and found the family. 
I watched my dad finish the Lakefront Marathon when I was like 8 years old. Now he got to do the same for me! Also, my smile in this one says "I'm really happy, but I also really need to sit down"

My legs were no longer really in any condition for me to be upright, so I went and sat on the ground, drinking my amazing Dr. Pepper. Soon sitting wasn't enough and I ended up in this position for the better part of half an hour:

As I was laying there trying to figure out what to do next, someone held out their phone so I could see my official time. To my absolute shock and awe, I discovered I had actually PLACED in my age group! Keep in mind, when my mom had asked me if we might need to stay for awards during this race I gave her a hearty "pffff, lol, absolutely not". So to have actually won something?! I almost burst into tears. It sunk in then - the time, the execution, the negative split, the kick - I had done it. I had done it all. I had managed to take a first half that had filled me with fear and I had managed to suck it up and say "not today, demons". So I stuck around for awards (buying several pieces of apparel and drinking a Louie's Demise in the has never tasted so good). It was pretty awesome to hear a couple of my former teammates being announced as the 3rd place overall man and 1st in the 20-24 AG, respectively. But the best part was actually getting to go up to the awards stand too! 
My award medal, which I will treasure always

This is getting long, so I will leave it with this, my favorite statistic from the results. During the second half of this race, I passed 77 people. I was passed by one. ONE (damn you, Johnathan, who came through the half 2 seconds behind me and finished 22 seconds faster, haha). But really, I think that says all that needs to be said about this race. I ran a SMART race. I used a strategy that I knew has worked for me and I executed it perfectly. I'm thrilled with the result and I'm thrilled with the fact that I was able to fight through some really difficult times, mentally and physically, and still emerge victorious. Importantly also, I learned that marathons, even when executed well and run relatively fast, are effing HARD. And not every PR is going to be a magical pony day, a la Boston 2015. But I also learned today that that's OK, because even when things aren't ponies, I am strong enough to do it anyway. Now I want to do it again...only this time, a couple minutes, make that 2 minutes and 58 seconds, faster. :)

Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon
169/2281 OA, 24/1083 F, 3/167 F25-29

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Paying anything to roll the dice, just one more time

4 days before a marathon is, eternally, the day when I suddenly find myself questioning what the hell I'm doing with my life. Today, a coworker (who is also a runner/triathlete, so she does understand these things) asked me "So, are you going for a PR on Sunday?" My reaction must have been hilarious, because I honestly had not even thought about that question until she asked it. It's like I forgot that I've been training for a race or something. I think part of my hesitation is that my last PR took me 5 years and as many marathons to get. And it was SO big, so beyond my expectations - I think it's hard for my brain to fathom that I could not only run that fast again, but even run faster?

And yet...

Without putting a lot of thought into it, I've run some of my best ever long runs this training cycle. Not just some, but all of my 20 milers included 5-8 miles at or below goal marathon pace, all during the second half. I took far fewer casual rest breaks (running with friends definitely helps with that) which I feel like generally made my long runs a lot higher in quality. However, I also did them all on the same, consistent course (gradual uphill miles 1-8, downhill 8-10, uphill 10-13, gradual downhill the rest of the way). Clearly, running faster on a net downhill is easier...but Lakefront is also a net downhill course. So there's that. My track workouts this cycle have also been significantly stronger than any in the past, even with the atrocious heat and humidity we've had all summer. I know that I have pretty good leg speed and strength, because there's no way I would be getting through these types of workouts otherwise. The weather is also playing a part - I've done maybe a grand total of 5 runs in sub-70 degree weather (it was 85 and humid during yesterday's easy 5 miler...on September, are you kidding me?) Sunday's forecast calls for high 40s at the start, mid 50s at the finish...aka GLORIOUS, holy grail running weather for me. I'm definitely anticipating getting to run in cool weather after so long will put some extra snap into my legs. Finally, the Lakefront course is relatively mild in terms of hills and is actually a net downhill as well - essentially, very similar to what I've been training on. Reading back on this paragraph...that's a lot of strikes in the positive column. But even with all those positives, the idea of running 7:26 or even 7:30 miles for 26.2 miles? Still terrifying! In the negative column, of course, we have my dismal tune up race performance (which comes with its own asterisks, but still), lack of tempo runs, and failure to keep up with strength training this cycle - although regular dance I hope has made up for some of that.

Pro and con columns aside, my basic plan is to run this course similarly to Boston, but hopefully faster. They are actually similar in that they're both point to point and have a significant amount of downhill in the first half as well as downhill/flat in the last few miles, so I feel like a similar strategy (go out fairly relaxed/easy, and be able to turn on the afterburners at mile 20) makes sense. With my focus on fast finish long runs this cycle, I also feel like I'm physically prepared to execute a negative split sort of strategy. Cognitively, however, going INTO a race with the idea of even or negative splitting is scary. In Boston it sort of happened by accident; literally I just knew I couldn't go out like an idiot and whatever followed would follow. I didn't think about it in advance. Trying to execute that strategy again feels a little like asking lightening to strike twice. Still, I think it's the best strategy to try in terms of going for a PR. My best races have been those where I didn't blow up at the end, and that typically means NOT GOING OUT LIKE AN IDIOT (just putting that in all caps, for myself to read later). And with Boston, I was still able to negative split despite the inevitable slowdown in the Newton hills, which isn't a factor on this course. It's been ages (since 2010) since I ran a flat, non-trail marathon, so there's something to be said for that too.

So...what am I hoping to run? On a good day, I certainly think I can PR - whether it's by a little or a lot is unclear. Any PR would obviously make me happy; the closer to 3:15 the more thrilled I'd be. Under 3:20 and I certainly wouldn't be mad about it. I still feel this need to legitimize myself, to prove to myself that I can run a good race again. My best races come when I'm not dwelling on a specific time goal, and I think this race definitely falls into that category. I just want to go out there, run, and be awesome. I know that I'm capable of it, I just need to have the confidence to DO it. No crowds, no headwind, no pouring rain, no hills - I feel like this race is stripped down to the basics which, hopefully, will make it a great stage for me to be able to go out, me against the road in myself, and run my ass off. My favorite Journey lyrics pretty much sums it up...

Workin' hard to get my fill
Everybody wants a thrill
Paying anything to roll the dice, just one more time...

Looking forward to rolling that dice for the 9th time, knowing that I've done the homework (as Tom said) to hopefully sway those odds just a little bit further in my favor. 9 freaking marathons...if you'd told me when I graduated college that 6 years later I'd be working on marathon #9 there's absolutely no way that I would have believed you. To be capable of running 26.2 miles, and to be capable of trying to do it faster than I ever have before is something I hope I never stop feeling grateful for.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

All the things

Why do I always wait until I have 700 things to write about before actually sitting down to write about them? The past month since Falmouth has been a whirlwind, both in terms of training and life, which has been a good thing, but hasn't left much time to write about it. It's included a lot of running, some racing, some of the best track workouts I've ever done, and some hiking - all of which I meant to do full posts about, and then never got around to it. So, here's the Cliffs Notes version...

Franconia Notch Hiking
Andrew and I have made it our mission to hike at least one mountain every year, and this year's target was the Whites in New Hampshire. We've somehow never made it up to NH despite really enjoying the mountains and having lived here for over 6 years so we finally decided to take a couple of days and do a solid day hike. I picked one of the more popular loops that I could find on the internet: Falling Waters trail -> Franconia Ridge -> Old Bridle Path, which took us over 3 mountain summits and a significant amount of time above treeline. Truth be told, I spent the whole week leading up to the hike psyching myself up for spending so much time above tree line, because I've had some pretty significant issues with panicking due to height/exposure on previous hiking trips. Turns out, I had nothing to be worried about - I loved every single second of this hike. The trek up started off fairly easy and then turned into a seemingly endless boulder run up and up and up.
They call it Falling Waters Trail for a reason

Our first summit, Little Haystack, was just a prelude to the absolutely amazing ~2 miles we spent hiking along the ridge to Mount Lincoln and Mount Lafayette. It was kind of a cloudy day which could have been a huge bummer, but we managed to strike a perfect balance between gorgeous views and hiking into the clouds, which I felt like was equally as cool.
It was definitely a challenging hike - the descent was a quad killer - and I was surprised to be pretty damn sore the following day. However, since the hike came on the tail of a near 60 mile week (with a 20 mile run the day before, hah) my legs really felt remarkably good throughout the whole thing, and more importantly I got to spend 8 hours on the trails just being totally present in the moment. Why don't I do this more often?

Training & Racing
This was one of those months where I sneakily had a really good month of training. The last 4 weeks I've run probably the best 4 track workouts of my life - any time my average pace for an interval workout is hovering anywhere close to 6:00-6:10 pace, I have to be in shape. Actually, as I type that, I realize that this month is the first time that's actually EVER happened...hah. My last sharpening workout before the marathon on Tuesday went significantly better than I expected going in, and I ran 4 x 800 at right around 3:00-3:01 and then 4 x 400 at a slightly faster pace. I really hope I never stop being amazed at what I'm capable of. When I go to GBTC practice I basically expect that I'm going to be off the back because most of these girls ran in college and no matter how long I run, I still have a little bit of an inferiority complex - like, oh, I could NEVER run with those girls. And yet doing this workout, right there with a pack of 5K runners on these just felt absolutely amazing. It's the most empowering thing to be able to push yourself and do something better than you ever have before, and it's also a nice reminder to never assume that you can't go faster. Because probably, with time and with effort, you can. And also, to not be scared to run with people you perceive as "too fast" for you.

Besides the track workouts, I've been making my long runs workouts during this cycle as well. It's been kind of funny - the transition between being a newbie marathoner and just surviving long runs to being someone who doesn't think just running 22 miles easy is enough, we have to make it harder and add some GMP miles - happened so slowly I almost didn't notice. But I've done 4 20+ mile runs this cycle, each of which I've run a decent chunk of the last 10 miles around 7:30 pace. I also have done a couple of races this month, both of which I signed up for the day before and neither of which I felt deserved their own posts, but I guess I'll talk about them briefly here.

Cape Ann 25K - Holy shit, I raced like CRAP at this race. I was hoping for this to be a big confidence boost with a whole bunch of GMP miles, but I conveniently forgot that a) the Cape Ann course is probably one of the hardest courses in the Greater Boston area, b) Labor Day in Massachusetts is not not not cool, c) One of my talents as racing like an idiot. Let's just go ahead and let the splits tell the tale of this one...
Miles 1-4: 7:12, 7:10, 7:14, 7:20 (subtitle: Dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb)
Wow! Life is great! This feels so easy! Wasn't this course supposed to be hilly? I mean sure there are some little rollers, but whatever, no big deal! Man, I'm almost feeling cold in my sports bra, this is awesome! I'm jamming out to some Ben Folds, I'm smiling, I'm enjoying life. Man, this is going to be a great race!

Miles 5-8: 7:52, 7:41, 7:46, 7:49
Hmm...well...alright, this got significantly less fun. Did these hills get bigger, or is it just me? There's a part in Finding Nemo I think where a little fish is swimming towards the tempting light of an anglerfish and has a thought like " good...I love this...feeling so good..." and then suddenly gets close enough to see the predator lying beyond the light and goes "GOOD FEELING GONE" right before it gets eaten. Welp...that was me over the next few miles of this race. Crap crap crappity crap. I went from feeling pretty awesome to the polar opposite of awesome VERY rapidly. There are 2 huge hills just before mile 6 and just after mile 8 that just about destroyed my soul. By the top of the mile 8 hill, I straight up had to walk. Absolutely nothing left. Literally wondering if I would make it to the finish line.

Miles 9-15:  8:15, 8:13, 7:45, 8:04, 8:24, 8:24, 7:59, 7:34 pace last 0.6
THIS IS THE WORST THING THAT HAS EVER HAPPENED TO ME HOW AM I ACTUALLY STILL MOVING FORWARD?! My feelings over the remainder of this race fluctuated between embarassment, frustration over my idiotic race strategy, resignation, and an astonishingly strong desire to stop running. The fact that I was still moving forward was mysterious to me. There was no way I could be feeling as awful as I was and actually still be moving. I had dropped from 5th woman to 10th woman, and I vaguely hoped I could find my way into the top 10. The fact that I had to walk ~5 times over the last 5 miles and each time it became more and more difficult to convince myself to resume running made me feel like this was unlikely. Yet somehow...I actually came in 10th woman. I have no idea. The last couple of miles of the race were a giant clusterfuck; the roads weren't closed and there was tons of traffic headed to the beach, so we were weaving on and off of sidewalks and across streets. At mile 13 my ipod decided it was sick of having water dumped on it and died (in the middle of "Jungleland", which I was hoping would carry me through the next mile). It was really effing hot and I was really effing dehydrated - after the race, I drank a bottle and a half of water, a gatorade, a beer, a glass of water, and a nuun before I had to pee. Yup. At one point I came up on a guy who had passed me earlier and he was like 'nice comeback!' And I just wanted to laugh...or cry...or something. It was bad. I actually managed to finish SLOWER than I ran this race 5 years ago, which is pretty sad because that was literally my only goal. It's fascinating though, to look back on that race - 5 years ago, I was ECSTATIC to run 7:50 pace for this race. I felt like the queen of the universe. I ran less than a minute slower this time, and I felt like it was this horrific, embarrassing performance. So that, if nothing else, shows that I have definitely grown as a runner. Hilariously, I somehow still managed to get 2nd in my age group...for which the award was a nice paperweight...and entry to next year's race. HAHAHA. just ran the hardest course ever! Wanna do it again next year?! I mean...we'll see. I like free stuff.

Fall Classic 5K - This is a perfect example of the sort of crap that happens when I'm bored and feel like doing something ridiculous. I wanted to incorporate some faster running into my last true long run, 17 miles. I also felt like if I went out on another 2 hour + run on the Minuteman Trail I was going to gouge my eyeballs out. Top that with the fact that the previous Sunday I had lain on the couch until 3 pm whining about how far I had to run, and I felt like it would be good motivation to have a specific time to do my long run...and you get me signing up for a 5K, which I planned to tempo in the middle of my long run. So...what happened was this. I woke up bright and early, slightly hungover and dehydrated which is pretty much the expected result from spending the evening at a beer tasting event at the zoo. Drank a bottle of nuun and ate a yogurt, then headed out for a 7.5 mile warmup to the race. Felt GREAT on the way there - was running nice and easy and I just felt super relaxed and smooth. I got to the race start, waited around for less than 10 minutes, and then...ran a 5K. Despite my plans to tempo I got caught up in the start and went screaming out of the gate. By the half mile I had already told myself I needed to slow the eff down, but mile 1 came in at 6:33 and slowing down was no longer a choice after that. I felt like crap and I had to keep reminding myself that most of the people surrounding me had a) not run an almost 8 mile warmup and b) did not have to run 7 more miles after this race. I slowed it down to more of a tempo effort, 7:04 and 7:11 to come in at 21:31 for a final time. Certainly not a super fast 5K for me, but really quite respectable especially considering the circumstances. I was also 18th woman out of 1400+ which was somewhat shocking - and again, if I ever need a reminder that in the grand scheme of people who run, I'm actually not too bad, doing something like this was it. I felt pretty awful after I finished so I ended up drinking some water (and...maybe half of a Jack's Abby beer that they were handing out...I paid $40 for this race, I needed to at least TRY to take advantage of the perks) and hung out for about 20 minutes before begrudgingly heading back out to run home. This part of the run was pretty hilarious. The first mile and a half or so I was running soooo barely moving...and then all of a sudden, I felt AWESOME! Maybe it was the half beer? Or the fact that after a 5K 7:30 pace just doesn't feel so bad? But whatever it was, I ended up throwing in 2 random GMP miles which both felt extremely smooth and easy. By the time I got home (before noon! There is nothing better than being done with a long run BEFORE noon!) I was really happy with my choice to do the 5K...and I mean, the t-shirts are really nice. So there's that.

I was going to write more about my thoughts on this upcoming marathon (9 days! HOW DID THAT HAPPEN?!) but I think I'll save that for another day. As Tom told me Tuesday, I've "done my homework" so hopefully that will add up to a good performance on October 4...what I'm actually hoping for? Well, that's a question for another day.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Falmouth Road Race 2015 Race Report

On Sunday I took my first crack at the Falmouth Road Race - a race which I vaguely knew about for the last couple of years as a New England "thing", but not something that had ever crossed my mind to do until, in the weird personal turmoil that was the couple weeks after Boston, I was on the Brain Injury Association of MA website for something to do with work and happened to notice that they were fielding a fundraising team for Falmouth. I waffled back and forth for a couple of days about whether I thought I would be able to raise the money, logistics, etc, but eventually I wound up signing up and shortly after found out that I was on the team! So now, several months later, it was finally time to actually run the race!

My mom came into town to join Andrew, Dayton, and I for the weekend at the Cape (aka - I was basically like, mom, will you drive me to the Cape so I can do this race and don't have to drive myself? And she was like, OK. My mom is great.) We headed down on Friday night in a surprisingly successful attempt to avoid the insanity that is Cape traffic and had a pretty low key evening Friday night.
Dayton got an entire hotel bed to himself, hahaha

Saturday morning I woke up fairly early to get in a shakeout run, and was unpleasantly surprised when at 7:20 it was already uncomfortably hot and humid. This did not bode well for a 9 am race the following day with pretty much the same weather forecast. Still, I had a nice shakeout through West Yarmouth, including a stop midway at Seagull Beach for an impromptu photo shoot, because I'm the coolest human being ever. 
 Judge me all you want, but I very much enjoy this photo
 Beach! Shakeout run! Let me take a selfie!
The beach minus obnoxious humans

We then headed to the expo - unfortunately almost an hour drive from our hotel - which was about as intense as I expected. Not nearly as crazy as Boston or even the NYC Half, but any time you send 12K plus people to number pick up and throw in some merchandise booths, things are bound to get at least a little bit crazy. I picked up my number, which is probably the coolest number I've ever had for a race - 777 for a 7 mile race, what what!
Requisite "I had to pick up my bib before the race, and they have a photo backdrop" shot

Post-expo, our goal was to attempt to find somewhere to hike and to check out Cape Cod Brewery. My mom had initially found a place in Falmouth that supposedly had trails or something, but after about 30 minutes of driving around and not being able to find any sort of entrance or trailhead, we gave up and decided to go back to the brewery (another ~45 min drive. There was a LOT of driving involved on this trip). The brewery itself was fantastic - super low key and dog friendly, they even had a brewery mascot dog! We did a tasting and bought some hot dogs and beer cheese dip from some 14 year olds running a food truck outside. It was an absolutely perfect way to spend an afternoon.
Dayton and brewery dog Buster

Beer tasting with mom!

We left the brewery and headed to Sandy Neck in Barnstable to take a stab at 'hiking' unfortunately ill fated decision on my part since after about 15 minutes of wandering through sand dunes we realized that we had made a huge mistake. It was 85+ degrees out, full sun, and we were walking with a black dog who was not enjoying his Saturday afternoon. Grumpy times were had by all, but we survived. After that adventure, I headed to the BIA team dinner at an Italian restaurant that happened to be right down the street from our hotel - random but extremely convenient! It was pretty cool meeting the other team members, all of whom had some connection to brain injury whether they were survivors themselves or had family members who had been affected. I left the dinner feeling really proud and happy that I had chosen to run this race for a cause instead of just for myself, and even more excited about the following day.

My 5:15 am alarm came pretty damn early on Sunday, and it was extremely confusing. My body was like WAIT! We're getting up super early and you already have a bib number and HOLY SHIT are we running a marathon today?! That's gotta be it, right? This only happens with marathons! And then my brain was like, hahaha no you know what's amazing? Is that you only have to run 7 MILES today! It was really strange having all of this pomp and circumstance leading up to just a 7 mile race, but in a way it was also extremely fun - all the excitement of a marathon, without, you know, actually having to RUN a marathon!
It is 5:30 am and I am exciteddddd

I met up with the rest of the BIA team around 6:30 and we headed over to the buses. Everything went really smoothly - the bus system was super organized and the volunteers were fantastic. The Porta Potty lines I saw before getting on the bus made me a little nervous about what the scene would look like in Wood's Hole, but to my absolute surprise and extreme pleasure, there were so many porta potties spread out throughout the staging area that the lines were 4-5 people long at most...Falmouth, you get ALL the props for this! The way the busing system works (last bus at 7:45 am) pretty much everyone gets to the start insanely early, and I wasn't really sure what to do with all that time. I stuck with the team until about 8:15 and then decided that I probably should go warm up. I jogged around for a couple of miles in weird circles and tried to pretend that I was a serious runner who deserved a seeded bib number. At one point I saw a couple of GBTC girls, including one who I kind of know...forgetting that I wasn't wearing a GBTC singlet and these people otherwise most likely have no clue who I am, I smiled and waved and got blank stares in return. Derp. Hahaha. By the end of my very easy warmup, I was already absolutely drenched in sweat - not even 8:30 am yet and it was already warm and wicked humid. Rut roh. Not good. I think by this point I was already managing my expectations pretty well, and I wasn't really nervous or anything, but I knew that the heat was going to impact me and that my time probably wasn't going to meet my "best case scenario" expectation. Oh well.

I decided to start working my way up through the crowds to the seeded corral at about 8:40, which seemed reasonable since the race started at 9. This did not turn out to be one of my better ideas - there was some sort of incident out on the course that prevented the wheelchairs from going off on time and that basically set everything back by about 10 minutes. As a result, I ended up standing in the full sun without any water for about half an hour before the race started, something which I don't think did me any favors once I started running. It was pretty neat getting to be in the seeded corral, where everyone was warming up and doing drills and generally appeared to be pretty legit. I told myself "well, YOU'RE legit too, or you wouldn't be up here" and tried to find anything that vaguely resembled shade. By the time the national anthem was playing, I was already very, very warm - a feeling which wasn't going to go away any time over the next hour.

Finally around 9:10, we were off! Despite being in the seeded corral, the start was still a pretty big clusterfuck. There were definitely still some people who had placed themselves higher than was maybe reasonable, and as soon as I crossed the line I found myself running at what could only be described as a light jog. Everywhere I looked - wall of people. I didn't want to waste too much energy zig zagging around, but I also really didn't want to spend an excessive amount of time behind a line of 3 men running 9:00 pace, so I did make a little bit of an effort over the first half mile or so to break out into a group that was running closer to my pace. Once that happened, I felt pretty good for about 3 minutes. After that, I started to realize that I was ALREADY noticing the heat. We weren't even at the mile mark, my legs felt like I was basically doing a tempo run, and yet the rest of my systems were already starting to send up red flags. Yup - this was not going to be pretty. Not that I ever really had a plan or specific goal for this race, but after about half a mile I had already realigned my expectations for "survival" vs. racing.

We headed up towards the 1 mile mark up the hill that heads towards the Nobscot Light. I am not kidding - this is possibly the most gorgeous view I've ever seen on a racecourse. It was absolutely breathtaking - the ocean and cliffs to your right, this incredible lighthouse straight ahead, and all along the road a sea of runners. Mile 1 was a 6:58 and my thought process was - neat! That pace is about to drop by about 20 seconds for the rest of the race. Get used to the idea. I already felt like I was dragging my body up that first major hill, and there were still 6 miles to go? Woof. During the second mile I think there was some shade and some downhill, and while I totally missed the mile marker it looks like I was able to sort of hang onto my pace for that mile (7:02). But oh dear, that was where the carnage began. I knew by the time I hit the second mile marker that I was already dehydrated and starting to overheat. I was feeling seriously rough for having only run 2 miles.  Again, my legs really didn't feel like they were working that hard, but I could just tell that my heart rate was crazy high for the effort I was putting in, especially whenever I would go over even the slightest incline. I felt like I was already crawling. Somewhere around mile 2, we finally came up on a water stop and I immediately downed a cup, then took a second one and dumped it over my head. This helped for about 4 seconds, until I ran back into the sun. It was like Boston 2012 all over again, except I was kind of trying to run fast, and thankfully only had to run 7 miles. I thanked my lucky stars that this was NOT a marathon or even a half several times during the race. 

I don't really know what to say about miles 3-5 from a running perspective. I was riding the suffer bus big time, though I was vaguely aware that everyone around me was as well. There were people walking, people who looked like they should be running a lot faster who...weren't...all the usual hallmarks of a race where everyone is getting stomped on by the elements. Mile 3 was a 7:28, I remember at some point during that mile there was this miniscule little hill that I just thought was going to break me. I couldn't believe how hard I was having to work just to continue to move forward. Despite how shitty I was feeling, I was desperately trying to cling on to reminding myself of WHY I was doing this race - for the people I work with every day. I reminded myself that I had all of their names written on the back of my bib, and that I was absolutely blessed to get to run 7 miles in the blazing sun for people who can't. As cheesy as it sounds, that did help me to keep fighting to move forward. I wanted to represent this team and this organization well, and to represent my patients as they deserve. So I kept trucking. Miles 4 and 5 were flat as flat could be, pretty amazing in a New England race. However, on this particular day there was a problem, which was that besides being flat they were also completely exposed on the coastline in full sun. Again, it was absolutely gorgeous and I tried to make myself look at the water, but I also couldn't help but imagine how absolutely GLORIOUS it would be to just stop racing and go jump in the water right this very second. Mile 4 I rallied a little bit on the flat despite the sun with a 7:16, but by mile 5 I was just straight up toast - 7:35, and I was WORKING for it. 

Just after the 5 mile mark, a few things happened that helped me to believe that I was going to make it through the rest of the race. The first was the realization that I only had 2 miles to go - NBD, right? The second was that we turned onto a somewhat more shady section of the course, and as the pack had thinned out quite a bit the crowds (which were really, REALLY great by the way) were able to pick out more runners by name, and I was hearing a lot more "Go Audrey!"'s, which I tried to give a smile or a wave to each one. I high fived some kids. And then came the most glorious pack of spectators EVER - they were handing out full, ice cold water bottles. I took a couple of swigs and then dumped the rest over my head. How can I even explain how absolutely ridiculously AMAZING it felt to have ice cold water pouring over my body at that point in the race? I had been running through every sprinkler and hose that I saw and was egging kids on to spray me with their water guns, but to just be soaked in freezing cold water? I could not think of any better feeling at that moment. Despite the fact that my entire body was now soaked and my feet were squelching in my shoes, I began to feel my strength returning. It was around this point where I felt like I was starting to pass people. I was still suffering and overheating big time, sure. I just wanted to not be hot any more, yes. But the last 2 miles I really made an effort to run strong and attempt to enjoy myself. Mile 6 was a 7:20 (bringing it back, yeah!) and I finally was like, last mile, just GO. I knew there was an unpleasant hill just before the finish and it was about as unpleasant as advertised, but after that I tried my best to kick it in down the hill, past the gigantic American flag, and to give some sort of smile as I crossed the finish.

I was running behind that guy in the Moldova shirt for most of the last mile, and I just kept reading it over and over...proof of exhaustion hahaha

I was mildly disappointed to not have snuck under 51:00 (official time was 51:09), but primarily I was happy to be no longer running and to still be standing upright. I chugged a water bottle, dumped another one over my head, and then drank some sort of weird cranberry juice thing in the post finish area. After eating a celebratory hot dog, I figured I should attempt to find my way back to my family...unfortunately, the handy map I had drawn for myself had literally disintegrated in my pocket, so I had no clue where I was or where I was supposed to go. I ended up walking for a bit with a girl from Somerville Road Runners and we eventually found our way out of the finish area. My original plan was to do a 4 mile cooldown (HAHAHAHA LOL) but I figured that after all that managing 2 miles was still way better than nothing, so that's what I did. 

So...that was Falmouth! I didn't have the greatest race, but I think I can mainly attribute that to the heat. All I heard after crossing the finish line from other runners was "holy shit, that sucked" or "man, I was way off my time" so I know I wasn't the only one who didn't hit the pace I wanted. The race itself is absolutely fantastic and I would absolutely love to do it again - don't think it will be an every year occurence like Boston, but definitely one to keep on the radar. The crowds are great and everyone is incredibly warm and welcoming - the town really embraces the race and it shows. I also think the course really has the potential to be fast if the weather cooperates - my legs felt good out there, and I wished that the rest of my body wasn't melting so I could go along with them!

Falmouth Road Race 2015
7 miles
51:09 (7:18 pace)
458/10782 OA, 117/5905 women, 86/3091 open women (19-39)

The results also had a few fun stats that I kind of enjoyed...
During the first 5K, I passed 182 runners and was passed by 87. At the 5K mark I was in 563rd place. From 5K to 10K, I passed 82 runners and was passed by 28. At the 10K I was in 465th place overall. Between 10K and the finish I passed 18 runners and 2 passed me. So I definitely passed WAY more people than passed me, and based on these stats I actually ran a fairly strong second half compared to people around me in the filed - moving up by over 100 places from 5K to the finish ain't too shabby! When I look at it that way, I'm pretty proud of the fact that I stuck with it and didn't get overly frustrated by how hot/uncomfortable I was - my goal was to just keep running and that's what I did. And now, back to your regularly scheduled marathon training....

Post race = a 3 hour drive over the Sagamore bridge, lots of fried seafood and a lobster roll in Phymouth, and beers at Mayflower Brewery. And also, going to bed at 9:30 pm.