Thursday, February 09, 2017

Super Sunday 5M 2017 Race Report

It occurred to me as I was heading up to the start line for this race that it was my first race in nearly a year that I wasn't running as a joke/hungover/injured/undertrained/with zero expectations. I did race a mile earlier this month at my club's meet which went reasonably well - I was running out of the back of a faster heat which was quite a different experience than my last mile, and I paid for my attempts to hang on to a faster pack with a last 600 that made me want to barf my lungs out. I was rewarded with a 5:52, 2 seconds faster than my previous performance, which was nice. But while indoor track racing is fun and all, I think we all realize that I'm not really training to race an indoor track mile at the moment.

 Indoor track does make for some nice photos however. Here I am making a bizarre face, as I attempt to pass this woman who is probably 25-30 years my senior. Spolier alert: I did not succeed, and she beat me by 2 seconds. I can only aspire to be such a baller as she is. However, I also appreciate this photo because I think this is the most muscular my arm has EVER looked! #yogaftw
Several laps later, I am ready to stab myself in the eyeball as I cling onto my teammate, who was the one who convince me to seed myself in this heat in the first place. I prevailed in the end, but it was a hard fought battle.

Anyway, over the couple of weeks since the mile time has gone on, training has continued, the Packers didn't make the Superbowl, and finally it was time for the Super Sunday 5 Mile. I REALLY love this race - this is my 4th year running it and my 3rd time running the 5 mile course. It's one of very few races I can think of that strikes a balance between being highly competitive (fast field with significant prize money) which also catering to the casual, fun-loving runner with post-race beer and general festivities. The course is also fabulous as it is one of very few courses I've run since moving to New England that can GENUINELY be described as flat and fast. I really had no concrete goals for this race. 2 years ago I ran a 34:17 which I was pretty happy with at the time, and last year I ran 7 seconds slower but I was also incredibly sick. I basically decided that I was going to aim for 6:45 pace. Over the years I've developed some kind of mental block with races between 5K and 10K where just being under 7 minute pace seems great and fast. In the current life I'm living, quite honestly, that's not good enough. So my goal for this race was basically to prove to myself that I COULD run faster than 6:50 pace for 5 miles. I wasn't sure how realistic the goal was, but I was going to try.

The race morning weather forecast was a bit bizarre and I went back and forth between shorts and capris, long sleeves and armwarmers, before finally deciding on an outfit. I had a cup of coffee, some nuun, and a bagel before heading over to the race. Another wonderful thing about this race is that it's in the city and doesn't start until 10, so being able to get there on the T + late start = sleeping in luxuriously late. Upon arriving at the race I was unpleasantly surprised to find that it was MUCH windier and colder than it had been at my apartment a mere 3 miles away - WTF?! There was some indoor space which I took advantage of, but eventually I had to head out for a warmup, which I ran way too fast because I was FREEZING. I decided to actually wear racing flats which was great during the race, but they're so light and mesh-y that my feet were frozen beforehand. On the way back I happily ran into Joy, and we headed to the start line together. We arranged ourselves at what seemed like a reasonable position, a couple of rows back. I bitched about the idea of having to run fast for a couple of minutes, as is customary, and then finally it was time to start.

The first quarter mile or so was when I ran into my ONE complaint about this race, and I mean literally ran into, because as soon as I tried to start running I found myself literally crashing into the backs of people jogging along at...well...let's just say not 6:30 pace, in packs that were taking up the whole road. It was the worst traffic jam I've ever dealt with in a race, to the point where I think I actually yelled something after almost tripping over someone for the 6th time in less than a minute. The start of the race is the most narrow part of the course and that really exacerbated the problem. I'm hopeful that someday they'll at least put in some pace "guidance" signs or something because it was really pretty bad. I felt like I expended a bunch of extra energy dodging, and once I was finally free it took a little bit to get into a rhythm. I eventually felt like I was in a good place and figured I'd wait until the mile to assess my next move. I felt generally alright, not the awful way I sometimes feel when I know I sprinted out of the gate too fast, but not quite relaxed either. My garmin buzzed and I looked down - 6:27. Huh. Normally I'd totally panic at a number like that, and in fact I actually had a flashback to a random 5K I ran in Washington DC like 4 years ago when I went out in 6:18 and died (brains are weird). But then I thought a thought which has apparently become one of my favorite mantras when racing: "keep this pace relaxed". It works well for me in the early miles where I don't want to be straining but I also want to maintain - mentally, I convince myself that the pace that I'm running is just so, so relaxed. It works! Kind of...because my second mile was a lot slower, at 6:44. We were running into a headwind the whole way out so I'm inclined to give that some of the blame, but even with my attempts at mental gymnastics I do think I internally freaked out a little bit when I saw a 6:27 on my watch - particularly with all of the dodging! 

The course is quite straightforward - run out 2 miles, back 2 miles, and then sort of zig zag around for a mile to the finish. When we hit the turnaround and mile 2, I thought to myself "well, I mean, if you hold 6:45 pace for the rest of the race, you'll achieve your goal!". Apparently giving myself permission to hold my current pace was helpful, because mile 3 was a 6:32. That was really all the traction I needed. Mile 4 is the only "uphill" mile of the course, a very slight but steady incline that ends in a bridge. I thought to myself - you just ran another 6:3x a 5 mile race! You've hardly ever even done that in a 5K! But you know that you can do this. So PROVE IT. And my mind, in the way that minds do, decided that was it's cue to start playing the 1996 Spice Girls hit "Who Do You Think You Are". Swing it, shake it, move it, make it, who do you think you are. Trust it, use it, prove it, groove it, show me how good you are. Mile 4 kind of sucked. I did slow down to a 6:40 (splits per garmin - my official time is a bit slower but given that there aren't many turns in this race I'm convinced the course maybe is a little long, and either way I can only take the data I have) and everything was starting to hurt. But I kept reminding myself that I had to prove it. I was never going to prove I was as fast as I think I am if I didn't prove it in a race.

Finally we hit the last downhill that leads into the damn zig zag last mile of the course. To my great dismay, a girl who I know through the Wisconsin alumni association who runs for a rival club and ALWAYS seems to beat me by about 20 seconds in races under 10K came cruising by me shortly after, waving a greeting as I huffed and puffed. I was so sick of running and so tired and my legs hurt and I had been spitting and blowing snot rockets for the better part of the last 3 miles, but I reminded myself that my whole goal this year is to stop being such a wuss when the going gets tough. And so, I fought. I felt like I was running through molasses but I locked eyes on Cara's jersey, some 50 meters ahead of me, and I fought. And when I started down the eternal final straight away and my watched buzzed, a bit before the line, a 6:32 mile, I felt...I don't know...surprised? Validated? Let's go with surprised, because I did NOT feel like I picked it back up. I crossed the line in 33:23, a new PR. 

The least hideous finish photo I've ever had from this race! Although that lean and that upper body twist...yeowza. 

I quickly found Brenda and Taylor in the chute, both of whom had finished just in front of me, and who had both had great races as well! We were all pretty excited, but also looking to get to the important stuff - warm clothes, and beer. On the way we ran into more friends, obtained our Sierra Nevadas, and got some SWAG - I will say one new thing this year that was pretty nice was that you had a variety of options for race "stuff' instead of just a t-shirt. They had winter hats, baseball hats, tshirts, gloves, buffs, coffee mugs, and metal solo cup style pint glasses, and you could pick 2 - nice to actually be able to choose something you'd use, and not just another t-shirt! I got some gloves because at that particular moment my hands are freezing (even though I virtually never wear gloves when I run haha), and a buff which I'm pretty excited about because I love those for winter running and they're useful for hiking too. 
Friends + running fast + beers = the best of times

Unfortunately it continued to get even colder as time went on, so the beer and fun time went by pretty quickly before we all parted ways. I spent the remainder of the day absolutely craving chicken fingers before finally caving and ordering wings during the second half of the Super Bowl - quality post race fare!

All in all, I sort of feel like I'm almost not as excited about this race as I should be - of course I AM excited, but I think maybe because I've been expecting this level of performance for the past couple of years and never gotten there, it was nice but not mind blowing to actually achieve it. But at the same time..I said my goal was to run 6:45 pace, and I ran EVERY SINGLE MILE faster than that! Maybe I'm getting blase in my old, nearly in the 30-39 age group age. Regardless, I was happy with my mental game in this race and the way I was able to get through the hurt without wussing out and dialing the pace back. And, it was pretty awesome to FINALLY run the pace that I've been running as "10K pace" in workouts for like....3 an actual race! I think confidence is so huge for me in running, and this was a huge boost. I'm now convinced for the first time in awhile that I really can be faster...and I'm hungry for it. 

Friday, January 13, 2017

And so it begins...

I've meant to update a couple of times since I wrote that race report but haven't gotten around to it - life is full right now, but in excellent ways! It's probably OK because I think maybe 3 people read this? That might be generous haha. Anyway, enjoy some random musings. And as it seems to do every year for me, Boston training has once again begun. This will be my 6th time running Boston (4th consecutive) and at this point it's hard for me to even imagine spending a winter doing anything other than hauling my body through the streets for 45-70 miles per week in preparation for the big day in mid-April. That's actually one of the things I adore about training for Boston: the sameness. I do variations on the same lead-up race schedule every year, I know them, I love them. I know my routes and the basic patterns in which I run them. I know that training begins in conjunction with the new year and will carry me through the entire winter. It's lovely, really, to have something that gives a purpose to the dark, cold months of the year.

This year's training cycle has begun in pretty similar fashion to the rest of them, with the return to track workouts and the addition of a run longer than 10 miles on the weekend signaling that we are Back In Training. I've actually been pleasantly surprised at how well my body (and mind) have handled the uptick in mileage so far - I went from 25-30 mpw on a good week and pretty much jumped right up to the 40s. I thought this would be more difficult since I pretty much took the summer and fall season off from hard training, so it's been really nice to feel like my body is handling the workload well (could this actually be a benefit of taking a rest season from marathons and focusing more on improving my strength? Maybe!).  There are a couple of things that I say I'm going to do with my training EVERY YEAR, and pretty much every year I fail...I think 2017 is off to a good start on both of these fronts so I'm going to share them here for accountability.

One of my goals has always been to be a more well rounded runner and to actually do things other than run that will benefit my running - strength training in particular. I've jumped on and off the strength wagon about 100 times but I think I MAY have found a couple of things that's going to help it stick this time. One is my newfound love for yoga - I've been going pretty consistently 1x/week since July or August, and I have to say I've noticed a pretty significant difference in my core strength, hip stability, and being more even side to side (to say nothing of the fact that I can actually hold a high plank and do push ups for the first time in my entire LIFE). I also really enjoy yoga! I'm trying to get better at the breath/mind body aspects of the practice, which I definitely think can carry over into running too. There are a lot of positions where you sort of just have to breathe through your discomfort and trust your body to support you, which sounds a whole lot like what you have to do in a tough race. So getting that in at least once a week has been helpful. The other thing is that I decided this year to do the No Days Off thing from Tracksmith (a MA based company that sells amazing, though absurdly expensive running gear). Originally I thought that you were supposed to run every day and I was like thanks but no thanks, but then they posted something on instagram that reframed it as "doing SOMETHING to improve yourself as a runner every day". That resonated with me, and so, that's my goal. I have never and will never be a 7 day/week runner - I can do 6, but for my physical wellness, sanity, and time I NEED at least one day a week where I don't run. So far, this calendar has been highly motivating to get me to do something else on that day - usually a half an hour or so of strength work. Checking off the day on the calendar is so stupidly satisfying and I'm now invested enough that I don't want to break the streak. Which is great!

The other thing, which is definitely still a work in progress, is to RUN EASY ON EASY DAYS! Maybe if I write it in caps I'll actually do it? I think I am getting slightly better at this, as I've done a few runs with paces in the 8:20s-30s and felt fine about it, but I definitely fall victim to the creep back to "default" pace (around 8:05-7:45, depending on the day/fitness level) on a regular basis. Logically my brain knows all the facts about running easy, and I sure know I'm running hard enough on my hard days to justify going truly easy on the easy days, but my body sometimes revolts and decides it's more fun to blast a random tempo on a Wednesday night. I'm trying to get away from that, and I think by differentiating between "true easy/recovery" runs (1-2x/week) and "moderate" runs (more run by feel/I can do what I want) I can convince myself that running the easy run easy is as much of an assignment as the rest of it. IDK. We shall see!

My final goal, which I mentioned when talking about the mile, is to work on my mental game and to learn how to run, for lack of a better phrase, a little more balls to the wall. My apartment building has a tiny workout room that no one ever seems to use, and after a couple of treadmill runs staring at a blank beige wall I decided something needed to change. I found a random running photo I had cut out of a magazine at some point and taped it up on the wall - it's still there, so apparently others are enjoying it as well! As it turns out it's a photo of Pre with the quote "I don't run a race to see who's the fastest, I run a race to see who has the most guts" (or something to that effect) on it. I was thinking about it while doing intervals on the treadmill the other night, and that's such a fitting quote for my vision for the year. I'm trying to have the guts - to train hard, to race outside my comfort zone - to hopefully get the glory (aka...I want some actual PRs this year!) Hopefully I'm off to a good start!

Monday, January 02, 2017

BU Mini Meet mile: well, that was ridiculous

Well, 2016 had one last surprise for me before the clock struck midnight. It's about the least expected result I had racing this year and for many reasons, I think it's one of the best.

On Monday, Joy texted me saying that she had decided to race the mile at the BU Mini Meet on New Year's Eve, and would I like to join her? My immediate mental reaction was 'oh absolutely NOT!' I haven't set foot on an indoor track since March and have done maybe 3 speed workouts since then - the thought of embarrassing myself under the gaze of everyone at the BU oval sounded like a terrible plan. I gave her a very unlikely maybe, and had pretty much written off the idea until Friday, when somehow, between glasses of wine while Andrew and I were out for dinner and a play, I found myself committing to showing up the next day. Of course, that commitment didn't prevent me from having an unnecessary post-play cocktail, or from staying up until 2 am talking with the boy. But the indoor track has this siren song for me that I can never seem to deny; when the track calls I always seem to answer.

That being said, when my alarm went off at 7:45 on Saturday I wanted to throw it out the window and go back to sleep for several hours. Mildly hungover and sleep deprived, I found my way into my singlet, took the train with Andrew to MGH, and then jogged ("jogged" aka I wound up running 7:49 pace for just over 3 miles, I'm dumb) over to BU. For all of my hemming and hawing all morning, there was actually sort of a weird excitement building as I signed myself up for the mile. I seeded myself at 6:15 which admittedly probably was a little bit of a sandbag, but hell, I didn't know! No speedwork! Low mileage for months! The last time I raced a mile was in 2013 and I think I ran a 6:05! So really, I had no clue.

Shortly after getting to the track at 10 I met up with Joy, Aly, and Ali....and then we waited. And waited. And waited. In my head, I was going to be racing by 11 and home by 1 with a luxurious afternoon in front of me before the new year's festivities. That...was not the case. There were 7 heats of the 3K and 215 PEOPLE entered in the mile! At some point we warmed up for the second time, and even then it was still over an hour before we ended up racing...being in heat 16/17 of the mile = standing around for an hour and 15 minutes even once the mile had started! I could tell I was nervous because everything was just far too entertaining. We were giggling and messing around and generally just having the kind of delightfully silly time I've come to associate with indoor track, and it was easy to forget the fact that I actually had to race at some point. We watched Aly run a strong race in heat 8 and time kept ticking slowly onward. My mood swung from giddy and laughing at the absurdity of the situation, to nervous, to anxious anticipation, and back again. I wasn't so much nervous about putting together a good performance - I mean my expectations were about as low as they could get - but it was more the anticipation of the fact that I KNEW that whether I ran decently or not, this was probably going to hurt...and it had been awhile since I'd adventured into the pain cave in a race.

Heat 15 began, and I found myself swinging back towards nerves. But then the call came for our heat, and something odd happened. I found myself, standing on the line, trying to remember if we could cut in right away or not, and I found that I was smiling. Grinning, actually. I was stunned to find just how overjoyed I was to be standing here on this line, getting ready to put myself through 8 laps of screaming pain. I think indoor track always brings me back to why I became a runner in the first place; the competition, the pain, the fight against yourself that for whatever reason seems so much more obvious when it's contained within a building. I did the thing I've done since high school: 3 jumps, shake right leg, left, leg, right leg again. And then, on your marks, and the gun.

The way in which I ran this race wasn't even something I was aware of while I was doing it, but I think it's the most ridiculous part of it all: I ran a 15 second negative split from the half, IN A MILE. I can only attempt to explain that based on my thoughts during the race. We flew off the line, and we weren't even around the bend before blazing in my mind like a siren was the thought TOO FAST TOO FAST TOO FAST. It was hard to watch Ali and Joy fly out ahead of me but I knew I was doing the right thing. I sat, and I waited. Through the 200 right around 45, perfect, I thought. As I had anticipated, my body was confused at the fact that I was currently running at a pace I hadn't experienced in months if not years, and so the first 2 laps felt hard. But I reminded myself that I was in control, that I could make this pace feel relaxed, and so, I relaxed. I began to find my way into a groove, passing Joy, Ali, and a few others and crossing 400 just under 1:30. Great, I think. So what now? I relax in a little bit and quickly find myself in another pack - too slow for my taste, and I pass them.

Lap 1, with that relaxed focus going on. Tom in the background yelling something, haha

Just after the 3 lap mark hanging out with some high schoolers and purple shirt lady

To be completely honest, the next few laps are a blur in my memory. I don't remember looking at the clock and I don't remember feeling anything. I remember coming up on a woman in purple, trying to decide if I should pass her, and then deciding, yes. The same thing happens with a high school aged boy. I feel like I'm in a bubble, everything silent but vague snippets of sound: Tom yelling something at me as I go by, Maggie cheering on her athlete, but mostly I feel enclosed in myself. The track is wide open in front of me and there are 2 laps to go. Far ahead there are 3 older guys running in line. I glance at the clock with 400 left: 4:29. Just under 6 minute pace. A thought bubbles up in my mind, not even a thought really but a realization: I've been holding back, maybe more than I should, and I don't feel that bad. My legs have plenty left, plenty to blast the last 400 meters, and I vaguely recall thinking as I take the turn into lap 7: it's going to hurt, but you're not going to die. And I accelerate.

Let's fly.

I have never been a confident runner. I know that one of my greatest weaknesses as a runner is that I am afraid to "find my edge", as they say in yoga, to really hold nothing back. I spend far too much time in my head thinking 'will I have enough left later' or 'is it going to be too hard'. But in that moment, flying around that turn, there was no fear. I had this absolutely wonderful sense of knowing - knowing that I would not slow down, knowing that I was flying, knowing that I was doing something that I did not think I would ever do again. I just felt like I kept accelerating, on and on. I came around and heard the bell, the clock reading something like 5:12, and I thought: everything. now. I felt powerful and fast and strong and amazing, so much so that the pain was barely even registering. When I turned for home and saw the clock and I knew that I was going under 6 I damn near burst into tears. I crossed the line grinning.


This is what disbelief and joy look like

I watched Joy and Ali finish and then kind of went and lay in the infield for awhile, trying to process my life. I wasn't even aware of what a crazy negative split I had run until one of the coaches told me - "what the heck was that, like 3:05/2:50?" he said. I burst out laughing. "What?!" Because that just doesn't make any sense. Me, run a giant negative split on the track? Me, run one of the fastest miles of my life on a random day with no speedwork? 

It takes awhile for us to be able to stop coughing; oh the beauties of running on the indoor track for the first time all season. Eventually we head out for a short cooldown before coming back to watch our teammates in a 4 x 1600 relay. I am in an absolutely outstanding mood and am just so happy that I made the choice to run this meet today. As we're leaving, Tom looks at me and says "I can't believe you ran that race". The feeling was most definitely mutual. 

And so, 2016, a year riddled with doubts and injuries and sub-par races, ended with a wonderful gift. A reminder of all that I love about running, the reasons why I do this crazy sport, and a reminder that there is always more inside me than I think there is. The last time I broke 6 in the mile was in my junior year of college - I was 20! And to be honest, after a couple of forays back into the mile on the track a few years ago I was pretty convinced that I never would again, that those days of speed were just behind me, and I had to accept that. But maybe that's not true. Maybe if I can just go into every race with no fear and no expectations and just race the shit out of it with whatever the day gives me, I can PR in the short distances again. Hell, maybe I can PR in the freaking mile. I would love for 2017 to be the year where I find that mental strength, where I truly learn to walk on the red line, because I think that's all that stands between me and a breakthrough. To not be afraid of the pain and to know that I'm strong enough to take it.  So, while 2016 may not have been a breakthrough year in many ways, at least in one way, it was. :)

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

2016 year in review

2016 was a decidedly underwhelming year of running for me. I headed into training for Boston 2016 off my best year of running yet, with PRs in nearly every distance in 2015 and no sign that things were headed anywhere but forward. I put together what I felt was a really great training cycle this winter, but sadly it didn't pay off - all of my race results, including my goal race of Boston, ranged from acceptable to largely disappointing, and to top it all off I ran my way into a case of hip tendinitis 2 weeks out from Boston (that's not even discussing the nagging high hamstring/hip rotator issue that I dealt with through the training cycle, and will be addressed in a second). I ran what I'd say was my best race of the year at the Harpoon 5 Miler, popping out with a surprise PR and helping my team take home the title for the second year in a row. My hip was feeling better, and things seemed be looking up. However, it was not to be. The previously mentioned mystery hamstring injury (like Voldemort, it's the injury-that-must-not-be-named...or even identified by my physical therapist self) reared up in a HUGE way during my ill advised attempt to race a 10 miler off virtually no training in mid-June. And thus, I learned what it was like to be injured for the first time in a long time. The summer was essentially a wash. By the time fall rolled around I was finally in stable enough condition to at least attempt to run a reasonable amount, and I was able to jump in a couple of low key races including a trail 5K (extremely tough, but extremely fun) and a Turkey Trot back home in Wisconsin. The corner finally seems to have been turned, and I feel like maybe, just maybe, I have some momentum going into 2017...and a much healthier respect for my body and the TLC it sometimes needs.

I did this last year and it was kind of fun, so some numbers for this year:
Miles run: 1404 (this is probably missing a few since I got really lazy about logging what I felt were stupid 2-3 mile runs while coming back over the summer)
Races run: 15 (I find it SO bizarre that despite being injured for half the year, I only ran one less race than I did in 2015! But the distances and the stats below tell the story: 1 marathon, 3 halfs, 1 10 mile, 1 15K, 2 5 miles, 5 5Ks (one of which was run with my dog), and 2 track races - a 3K and a DMR)
New races run: 8
AG/overall awards: I'm almost embarressed to say 7, and 4 of them came in the absurd 5Ks I ran while hungover/injured/on trails this fall
PRs run: technically 2, but I BARELY can count the PR I ran in my second ever 15K, which I was running as a tempo. Not a great year.
Hardest race experience: The freaking Boston Marathon....AGAIN (why do I keep doing this to myself? We may never know). Runners up include the New Orleans Half when I just felt like ass for no particular reason the entire time, and both of the 5Ks which I ran with large hangovers and without any form of training.
Best race experience: Harpoon 5 Mile was definitely the best all around race - a strong, surprising performance and the most FUN day ever

Some other notable things happened in 2016, which I feel like I need to add to this post mostly so I can look back on it later...
-I hiked 4 4000 footers in NH and completely fell head over heels in love with hiking - got a backpacking pack for Christmas and cannot WAIT to try it out!
-The dance company that I'm a part of presented our FIRST full length concert, which included a piece that I choreographed which is definitely my favorite thing I've ever choreographed, and probably the first piece I've ever made that turned out as well on stage as I envisioned it in my head
-I read 50 books again! Without even trying to! My goal this year was 30 books in different categories, with at least 5 additional books. Clearly I was inspired because I've been plowing through books, particularly during the second half of the year. I wish I had more time to read...sooo many books still on the "to read" list!
-I saw the original Broadway cast of Hamilton in what will certainly go down as one of the most crazy, surreal weekends of my life
-My personal life was more dramatic than it has been in quite some time, but I learned a lot about myself and what I really want for myself...and the best part of it is that in the end, everything found it's way back together anyway (hey, would the road be any fun without some twists and turns? It's the same thing with running I suppose...)

I think those are the major highlights! Overall it's been a really great year - more bumps in the road than I would have liked running-wise, but you can't get to the summit without climbing the mountain...or something like that. Week 1 of Boston 2017 training is just beginning and after such a long layoff from true training, I'm torn between being nervous about what the next 16 weeks holds, raring to get back to fighting fitness, and already missing the days when actually doing my planned run was optional. But no matter what, it's here, and I'm hopeful to get some vengeance on a few courses in particular in 2017. As always, I can't wait to see what happens next!

Thursday, October 13, 2016

It was a cruel, cruel summer

I was really hoping I wouldn't go MIA from this blog for ages again. I hoped that this summer would be full of delightful casual races, easy runs in the muggy mornings before the sun was at full blast, and building the blocks that would take me to a solid marathon in November or December. Oh, the silliness of making plans.

When we last left off, I was mostly recovered from a bout of right hip tendinitis that sent my Boston taper into a tailspin, followed by a disappointing race performance (although thankfully one not impacted one bit my my hip). A few weeks later, I ran a shockingly fast 5 mile time that made me feel like all of my training hadn't been for naught! My hip was feeling much better, and while I continued to have a few nagging issues I felt like I was well on the road to a solid summer of training. I planned races. I PLANNED SO MANY RACES (the running gods laugh at planning races). The first such race was the Lazy Lobster 10 Mile, a race which I love dearly but which I also knew I was not remotely prepared to run. Deep down, I knew I should drop to the 5 mile, even though I knew that that wouldn't yield any spectacular performances either. I somehow convinced myself that it made more sense to run the 10 miler because I could run slower and it would still be acceptable. So. I ran the 10 miler. It was decidedly not great, but approximately what I expected given the complete lack of training I had done since Boston - I ran 2.5 minutes slower than the year prior, felt terrible for the majority of the race, and was most likely only saved by the fact that I had chosen to listen to the Hamilton soundtrack on my phone to get me through. Over the last couple of miles of the race, my left hamstring/hip rotator, an issue that had been flaring up multiple times throughout the Boston training cycle (like....pretty much every time I raced...) reared its head, to the point where I wasn't even able to cool down. Still, I had been here before - a few days off and all would be well, right? Well, I took essentially the rest of the week off, and then flew to Wisconsin for a reunion with my college track club teammates. The weekend was wonderful and I obviously couldn't pass up the opportunity to run the Arb loop with the boys (none of my girlfriends from college track run much any more, which makes me a little sad...oh well) on a muggy Sunday morning after drinking until 1 am the night before - reliving the college dream! It was a blast, and I was full of joy to be out there, but about halfway through the loop I knew I was royally screwed. We were thankfully keeping a very easy pace but even at 8:30s, my left leg felt like I was being stabbed every time I took a step. I'm not sure how I made it through the remainder of the run; somehow I did. And then I didn't run again for over a month.

So the majority of the rest of the summer was spent attempting to undo whatever had been done to my leg (something which I still, despite the fact that I AM A DAMN PHYSICAL THERAPIST, cannot seem to identify the exact cause of). I biked a lot. I did a lot of strength work. I TOOK UP YOGA - something which I'm still doing at least once a week and I have to admit I have grown to love dearly. Both the blessing and the curse of this injury was the fact that LITERALLY the only thing that caused me pain was running; I could dance, do yoga, ride my bike, walk, spin in circles, jog in place, do plyometrics, do strength training, whatever with NO pain but within 5 minutes of trying to run...nope.

Finally, after maybe 5 weeks of NO running, I started taking some baby steps in the right direction. I started being able to run 2-3 miles with minimal pain, which I took as a positive sign. After running a whopping 4 miles one 92 degree fall day, I was somehow convinced that a good life plan would be to run a 5K the following weekend. Imagine, if you will: my out of shape ass shows up at this beerfest 5K. I am hungover, have gotten 4 hours of sleep, and have decided to wear a cotton t-shirt that I cut into a tank top under the guise of "trying not to look like a real runner". The humidity is 90% and I warm up for maybe 4 minutes. I have no idea what my leg is going to do and I tell everyone who will listen that I'm probably going to run this 5K in 26 minutes. Here is what I do: I run my first mile in 6:30 (what.) It feels AMAZING. Like, I hope I never take the feeling of running fast and not being in pain for granted, ever again. I continue on, passing my friend who I SPECIFICALLY TOLD TO YELL AT ME if I passed her, because it meant I was doing something dumb. I was. But I couldn't help it. I couldn't get over how good it felt to be running and NOT BE IN PAIN Finally, by mile 3 I start to fade a little bit, but only because I'm out of shape and I feel like vomitting, not because my leg hurts. I finished in 22:xx, a pedestrian time for me but all things considered, I absolutely couldn't complain.

Since then, it's been a little bit of 2 steps forward, 1 step back. I had quite a few setbacks ranging from moving to pain to the worst cold I've ever had. I did another 5K the day after one of my good friends/teammate's weddings, which was again a hilarious sight to behold - a repeat performance - hungover, 4 hours of sleep, another 22:xx, that's the story of the summer. Since the beginning of September, I have FINALLY started to feel a little bit like the forward progress is outweighing the backward - I've been able to start doing baby workouts again, I have more good days than bad days running, and I've started being able to do some "long" (10ish) mile runs again. I'm still pretty limited in my mileage because I'm being really careful about days off after hard workouts, and I'm also still feeling generally very cautious because I can definitely tell that my problems aren't totally resolved. I'm mostly scared of what's going to happen when I race again - not only because of this lingering issue but also because I've fallen far from the shape I've been in the past couple of years, which of course is frustrating. Still, I think I've built some really great habits this summer (yoga! actually doing strength once in awhile! not hiding pain with ibuprofen!) that I think are going to help me in the long run. I just have to be patient, patient, patient. I am signed up for Boston once again so that's the next big goal: get healthy, get fit, and get ready to crush it once again in my most favorite race ever.

Other things that happened this summer:
-I impulsively bought tickets to see the OBC of Hamilton in May and it was quite possibly the best life choice I've ever made (also most expensive, but whatevs)
-I hiked 4 4000 footers in NH - Mount Jackson, Mount Liberty, Mount Flume, and Mount Moosilauke - and am developing a strong obsession with hiking
-I biked 30 miles from Cambridge to Concord along the Minuteman Trail and Battle Road to the Concord Battlefield on the 4th of July - felt like it was appropriate!
-A bunch of weird dramatic stuff happened in my personal life that created some strange situations over the summer - thankfully, things have resolved at least to some degree

It was a weird summer. But fall is my favorite season in running and in life - I still think of it as the "new" year even though it's technically not, and I can't wait to see what's in store.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Harpoon 5 Miler Race Report, or, good things happen when I have no expectations

Hah! Well. I was expecting to write a race report today that said something along the lines of "well, I'm definitely out of shape and I ran pretty slow, but at least my hip didn't hurt!" I was not, NOT NOT expecting to write a race report that was like "oh hey I ran a PR". But yes, that is what happened today! (Yes it's a short course, but I ran 30 seconds faster than I did on the same course last year, and my overall pace for 4.9 miles was 5 seconds/mile faster than my current 5 mile PR. I think it's pretty safe to say that if the course had gone on an extra 0.1, I would have still run a PR). And I don't even know how to explain it.

To summarize my running for the last couple of weeks: my hip finally, FINALLY decided it felt like acting like a normal joint about a week and a half ago, which was really lovely timing. Prior to that I had pretty much been running 2-3x/week for maybe 4 miles if I was lucky. This week I was finally able to run 5 miles on Monday/Wednesday and then 7 MILES (yes!) on Friday without hip problems. At the very least, that seemed to be cooperating. However, the fact that my weekly average mileage since Boston was hovering somewhere around 12 miles, my faith in my fitness was...not great. In addition my Achilles has decided that it would rather run MORE miles, not less, and so has actually been pretty irritated ever since I had to take time off for my hip - because that makes sense, right? Put it all together and I was pretty much hoping I could hang onto marathon pace, cobble together something that wasn't a complete embarrassment, and not cost my team a win.

A 10 am start + a race that's T-accessible = a luxuriously late race morning wake up of 7:20 am. I got ready pretty quickly and walked/jogged the dog, which was when I realized that my Achilles was SUPER cranky. Great. I decided to nix wearing racing flats (not like I was going to PR anyway, har har) and also slapped some kineso tape on. This is the 3rd time I've worn it for my Achilles and as a PT I think any effect is probably a placebo, but placebo or not whenever I've worn it it hasn't bothered me, so whatever. I grabbed a bagel (terrible, when will I learn) and an iced coffee at Dunkin and took the train downtown. I love the few large races that happen in the city because there's nothing more fun than watching your train fill up with runners on a Sunday morning and knowing they're all headed the same place as you! I met up with the team without any issues, and after a quick 10 minute warmup, we dropped our bags and headed to the start.

As defending champions, we were of course eyeing up the competition and the only contenders on the women's side looked to be the Heartbreakers club. I spent most of my time in the corral trying to talk myself into the fact that I wasn't going to totally bomb the race. "I'm going to go out in like 7:15!" I said. "If I go out like I'm in shape, I'm going to die!" Dana and I both decided that we were going to go out "nice and slow". Soon enough there was no more time for talking or thinking about what was going to happen - the gun sounded and we were away! I immediately let Joy and Dana go ahead of me, and I felt it in my legs as soon as I started running. Ohhhhh, boy, I groaned. But then my legs adjusted to the sudden shock of WTF we haven't run this pace in like 2 months and settled down, and it felt OK. I told myself to relax and find an acceptable level of effort, and upon doing that I found myself quickly closing in on Dana. We ran side by side for most of the first mile at what I assumed was not a particularly fast pace. Good, at least we could run together! At around the half mile, Dana looked at her watch and turned to me - "uh, just so you know, we're running 6:30 pace right now". Excuse me?? OK, whatever, I guess we'll file that under the "things I'll regret later column". I attempted to dial it back but still managed to get through the 1 mile in 6:28 on my watch But I just felt so weirdly strong! Most of the time in short races when I go out too hard I KNOW I've made a bad choice because I'm feeling it too early. But this? I felt great! This was delightful! There was a little voice in the back of my head that was just like yeah, it's going to be great...until it's, you know, NOT! I decided to just continue to try to relax and cruise along and just went with it.

I did slow down but continued to feel great throughout mile 2. My brain had decided that a medley of phrases from the Hamilton soundtrack would be the ideal musical background for this race, so I was running along with a combination of "HOW DO YOU WRITE LIKE YOU'RE RUNNING OUT OF TIME?" and "who lives, who dies, who tells your story?" in my head. Vaguely inspirational, I guess? By the time we hit the lollipop around the park I was definitely starting to get tired, and seriously questioning my decisions earlier in the race. Ah, Zaferos, you knew you weren't in shape! Why would you put yourself through this? But I tried my best to ignore that and just live in the moment and handle a meltdown when and if it came. Mile 3 was actually my slowest mile of the day at 6:54 - when I saw that my first thought was "huh, I think I had slowed down way more at this point last year. Am I running FASTER than last year? I think I feel better than last year? How is that even possible??" I was certainly tired and I definitely did have a moment of wishing that this was a 5K after passing mile 3, but it was a tolerable tired that I could keep at bay. Back over the bridge, I wasn't getting passed nearly as much as last year but just kind of holding my own. I kept coming up on a girl in a pink shirt who was kind of awkwardly sprinting and then slowing down all race, but unfortunately her strategy was effective enough to keep me from passing her. We hit the long, obnoxious straightaway and my watched beeped for 4 miles at 6:53. Still sub 7? I still haven't slowed down? Well shit! By this point, I was starting to have an inkling that unless something dramatic happened in the last mile, I was actually going to run faster that last year, and run a PR, which still just seemed totally shocking and unreasonable. Turn left - OK, one more turn and then the finish. Turn right - ah, damn it, there's ANOTHER turn and then the finish. Turn left - OK, this is the real one! You can actually see in my Strava data that I started to kick before what I thought was the last turn, then slow down because, whoops! And then kick again hahaha. And then I finished and the clock said 33:11 and I was just like...WHAT?!

I quickly found the top 3 ladies on our team, all of whom had run extremely fast. Dana and Joy both finished shortly after me, and EVERYONE ran awesome! Of our team, almost everyone tied or bettered their PR from the same course - it was ridiculous. Now we just had to wait and see if we had also taken the team title. There had been a whole crew of Heartbreaker girls who finished just ahead of me, and I was worried that they might eke out the win. But thanks to the strength of our top 3, as well as how close the rest of us were to the bulk of their team, we ended up winning by a considerable margin! It's not all that often that I actually get to be the part of the winning team and it was damn exciting to repeat as champions (and also to get another stein to add to the trophy case, as well as a 6-pack of beer...yay!)

 Victory is so sweet
Our team name was the Pool Noodles, and we all wore fun and exciting multicolored shorts. I would say we look pretty stylish and fabulous.

Of course, the day was made even better by the fact that we just got to hang out together and enjoy some beer all morning! This race is seriously one of my favorite days of the year; it's an incredible fundraiser for ALS research, I always have a blast, and there's the added bonus of running really well too! I'm not gonna lie, I'm pretty excited about how I raced today. I rarely feel like I live up to what I want to run in shorter races, and I think I overthink pacing them way too much. As I've learned time and time again over the past few years, my best performances tend to happen when I have no expectations, don't have a specific time goal, and am actually able to just go by feel and just run. I felt better today than I have racing in quite awhile, and it's exciting to have that feeling while also running fast. I think I'll be doing some more shorter races this summer, because they're just damn fun! I'm also happy to say that while my hip was being a little whiney this morning, I didn't feel a thing during the race or after. My Achilles is a bit sore now, but again, it wasn't anything noticeable while running. What a great day. I feel like I really needed a confidence boost with running, and I finally got a glimpse that somewhere, somehow, the training I've been doing since January actually DID add up to something.

Harpoon 5 Mile (4.9 miles)
33:11 (official pace 6:39, Garmin 6:46)
209/4260 OA, 36/2445 F, 22/1091 F21-29

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Going all in

After Boston, I experienced the usual post-marathon letdown, only this time it was magnified by the fact that not only was one of the best training cycles I've ever run coming to an end, not only that it ended with a decidedly underwhelming race, but also the fact that I COULDN'T run, because I was injured. Yup, as it turns out, loading up on painkillers and running a marathon is NOT, in fact, the miracle cure for tendinitis! I've got to cancel the article I had drafted for the PT journals now! I didn't run at all for a week after the race - that was how long it took me to get to the point where I wasn't walking with a limp anymore. On day 8, I tried a test run, and it was TERRIBLE. I couldn't even approximate a normal running stride and was having pretty significant pain, even at 9+ minute miles. So, I shut it down for a few more days, continued on with my strength work, and lo and behold - things started to feel a little bit better. This weekend I was able to run 3 miles, twice, and today I ran 4.6 miles. I'm running SO slowly, because I've found that I'm still having pain if I run faster than about an 8:20 mile. The quality of the pain is much less scary that it was - more of an irritating soreness vs. a sharp STOP NOW kind of pain. Still, my goal is to be completely painfree, so I've been forcing myself to just jog along without pain in the hopes that things will continue to heal. It seems to be on the right track, and I know that after 5 weeks of drawing this out I can't just expect it to flip back to normal overnight. But I'm such a baby, and I've gone SO long injury-free, that I just want to be back running free and easy and not thinking about it RIGHT NOW.

I've had a lot of time to mull over my training cycle, my race, this injury, and where I want to go from here. Obviously, all my big talk about "oh, I don't even know if I'll do a fall marathon" is totally out the window now - I want 26.2 redemption and I want it BAD. I've spent this whole winter building my mileage with the numbers 3:14:59 emblazoned in my mind (Actually, deep down in the depths of my soul, the number that for some reason I kept seeing when I closed my eyes was a 3:12. No particular reason. I just felt like on a perfect day, that was what I was capable of) and to fall 20 minutes short of that has left me so hungry. All the incredible fast long runs and workouts don't mean squat when you wind up injured, and then the weather sucks, and you're forced to settle. This fall, I want to refuse to settle. I want to do everything in my power to put myself in a position to run the race of my life this fall. The core work, the injury prevention work, the yoga, the drills, the mileage, the cross training, the nutrition - I want to do it all. I've spent most of my running career floating along quite luckily just on running - sure, I've done a little strengthening here and there, a circuit once in awhile - but for the most part, I've been able to get better by the simple strategies of running more and running harder. Weather nonwithstanding, this training cycle taught me that just doing that isn't enough - especially if you're looking to take things to the next level. One day, I want to run a sub-3:10 marathon. That's lofty, I know, especially when you're taking such a twisting, winding path to get there as I seem to be. My expectation with running has been constant upward progression - to drop time with each and every race. If that doesn't happen, in college, my solution was to change events. But in the marathon, for whatever reason, I have absolutely no desire to shift my focus to something else. I want the marathon, even if my progression has been more of a zigzag than an upward curve. I see people on instagram and on blogs going from 3:20 to 3:11 to 3:08 and I think to myself: why not me?

So what am I trying to say with all of this rambling? Well, obviously the first order of business is to get healthy. I've put together a short hip/core routine that I'm committing to doing at least 6 days/week, in addition to at least 2 days of additional core/strength work. I'm currently running every other day and keeping things pretty short and VERY slow - I'm not allowing myself to run through pain or form alterations. Once I'm no longer worried about reinjuring myself, I'm going to do the thing I always manage to avoid and add in some plyometrics and drills - even if it's just once a week. I'm going to keep trying to run generally higher mileage but I'm not going to kill myself over the difference between 55 and 60 miles - to date, I've had pretty mixed results with my attempts to run higher mileage (in 3 tries: overtraining, a PR, an injury) so I'm not entirely convinced it's the magical answer for me personally. But the bottom line is this: right here, right now I am committing myself to doing everything in my power to find myself standing on the starting line in Indianapolis on November 5 (yes I picked my fall marathon, and yes it's extremely random) and KNOWING - not believing, not thinking, not questioning - KNOWING beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am ready and able to run a PR. Anything I can do in the next 5 months that will get me to that place will be nothing short of worth it.