Monday, March 02, 2015

"Failure is NOT an option": Stu's 30K 2015

Yesterday I ran Stu's 30K in Clinton, MA in a surprisingly successful performance. I know that these performance (that I wouldn't have been able to fathom a couple of years ago) should no longer surprise me, because they're just the result of several years of consistent, solid training but the day that I realize that and stop thinking of them as "surprises" still hasn't come. Like, hey, self? You didn't "surprise" yourself. You just ran well! Anyway, I had originally been planning to run the Black Cat 20 next weekend, but that got cancelled and my favorite marathon training buddy informed me on Wednesday that we were now running a 30K this weekend...I'm easily swayed by peer pressure haha. I actually was very curious and a little bit nervous about how this race was going to go; basically the only thing I knew about it going in was that IT'S HILLY. Since one thing this training cycle has NOT involved in any large amount has been hills, I tried to downplay my expectations a bit.

The race start was only about 45 min from my house and with a start time of 11 am, that meant that I got to sleep innnnn - I generally wake up around 8 on weekends anyway so I didn't even need to set an alarm and had plenty of time for coffee/puppy snuggles/trying to figure out what to wear, etc. I ate a bagel with butter and had some coffee and water on the ride to Clinton, while Joy and I pretty much planned our summer racing schedule. I'll be honest, by the time we got into down and started driving up the hills near the reservoir, I was NOT pumped to race. I kept telling myself that I had to do a long run anyway, so it might as well be on a supported course where I got a t-shirt and food at the end. I had absolutely zero idea of how this was going to go. I've definitely been training consistently but the quality of many of my runs has been questionable due to the whole "snow" situation. I wanted to use this race as a gauge of my current fitness, and for the first time in a LONG time, I was nervous about what exactly that might be. The mood was lightened a little bit by the fact that packet pickup was at a middle school, where there were hilarious middle school type posters all over the walls. "Failure is NOT an option" was written in big letters over almost every doorway, there was a whole wall of random positive sayings ("Smile at everyone you meet!" "Embrace this amazing day!", etc), and my personal favorite, a giant drawing of "The Resplendant Quetzal" on a door:
I thought resplendent was just a really big word being used to describe the quetzal...turns out, the actual name of the bird is "resplendent quetzal". The more you know. 

All of this reminded me of the stupid crap that my WTC crew and I always used to find and take photos with at track meets, and reminding myself of the good old college days definitely calmed me down. After getting our numbers and shirts, a quick trip to Joy's car to de-layer and change shoes, and a bathroom break, we were walking off to the starting line with the 340 other crazy people who thought that running 18.6 miles around a hilly reservoir was a good way to spend a Sunday morning. On the way to the start I overheard someone say "Well, there aren't any casual runners here!". True story - this was definitely a race for the die hards in the throes of spring marathon training. We headed out of the parking lot to the starting line, and with minimal we went!

Mile 1 was actually mostly downhill, and I just tried to stay relaxed and let thing shake themselves out a little bit. Luckily everyone else seemed to be in a similar mindset, and there was plenty of friendly chatter about the weather and the upcoming hills going on. I actually wore my Garmin for the first time EVER in a race, more because of curiosity and the fact that I still haven't figured out how to save/look at splits after the fact on my manual watch and I wanted to see how things went down in this race. I figured out pretty quickly that "my" mile splits were not going to match the official ones; there was a guy reading off mile splits at what my watch said was 0.95 (7:05, thankfully not the actual 1 mile), and the 1 mile mark on the road came up at closer to 1.2 on my watch. The overall distance of the race turned out to be pretty much spot on (I think I came in 0.1 over, which is definitely accounted for by some bobbing and weaving) but I couldn't decide whether I should trust my watch or the road. Either way, my GPS'd 1 mile split was 7:24, which I thought to myself, OK, but that was downhill. And I KNEW this race wasn't all downhill.

The next several miles passed pretty uneventfully. I started feeling some tightness in my left calf and hamstring almost immediately, which got me a little concerned, but after modifying my stride a little bit the cramping dissapated and everything seemed OK. We started to hit a little bit more noticeably hilly terrain, with my splits bouncing around accordingly...7:45 (uphill), 7:32 (uphill), 7:20 (downhill), 7:20 (downhill). I felt like I was putting in pretty consistent effort, staying relatively relaxed and just rolling along through the ups and downs. I had originally planned to listen to music in keeping with the "this is a long run" vibe, but due to the open course headphones were strictly not allowed. Thanks to my stellar internal mp3 player, I got to have Fall Out Boy's "Centuries" (yes...the one from college football) in my head during the ENTIRE race. It's one of my pump up songs this cycle, and I definitely do enjoy it, but I just could not get 2 random snippets of it out of my head. I also picked up a friend ("shorts guy") between 4 and 5 who wanted to have a conversation about the course, crowd support (or lack thereof; I think the number of spectators I saw not at a water stop or relay exchange was less than 20), whether my hands were cold without my gloves on (answer: no, that's why I took them off). I responded as pleasantly as I could using "yeahs", "uh huhs" and vague grunts which I hoped came off as "I'm trying to run, please stop talking to me". But unfortunately we also were running at such a similar pace that I couldn't lose him either. He veered off to use the Porta Potty around mile 5 and that was the last I saw of him...or was it?

By this point, as always seems to happen, I had found myself floating between packs. I could see up ahead a group that included 2 women, one in a green singlet and one of my teammates, but I wasn't confident enough yet to try to reel them in. Instead, I focused on just "keeping the pace relaxed", which is apparently my new favorite thing to do in the early stages of a race. I guess that makes sense - if you're going to make it through a distance at a certain pace, that pace probably shouldn't feel HARD right from the get go. Miles 6-8 continued with rollers throughout (7:40 net uphill, 7:20 net downhill, 7:20 flat). I took a Caramel Machiatto Gu and some water at the water stop near 7, and I remember crossing some railroad tracks. It also started to snow some little flurries which just made me made. REALLY SNOW? GTFO. At some point in here I actually made an effort to look out over the reservoir, where I saw the tower/structure that's featured on the shirts and THAT'S what that thing was! By the end of mile 8, I had picked up a small pack of an older guy in a blue jacket and a woman in an orange jacket. The 3 of us started playing a leapfrog game, where I tended to go ahead on the uphills (WHO AM I?!) and they would both pull ahead on the downs. We chatted a bit, and the guy mentioned that we were almost at the switchback, which apparently was near the halfway point of the race. "But we have to run up a hill to get there", he said. My response? "Of COURSE we do..."

That hill up to the switchback was one of the most difficult of the race for me. It was fairly long and one of the steeper ones on the course, and I could definitely feel myself slowing as we approached the top of it and the turnaround. Thankfully just around the hairpin was a fairly steep downhill...followed by another monster climb. When I saw that hill looming out of the distance I literally said "Oh, shit" out loud. Imagine my surprise when I made another, ultimately my final pass on orange jacket woman on the way up that hill...go figure. I kept thinking of Nicole, who always used to pass me on uphills during cross country races in college. I've never thought of myself as a strong hill runner, but somehow, here I was, the person doing the passing! And over the next several miles, somehow, I continued to reel people in. With each pass, the slowly closing gap on my red-shirted teammate, and the fact that the splits on my watch were starting to say insane things like "7:15", I started to get a little bit excited. Here we were at mile 12ish, and I was still feeling REMARKABLY good. I was actually starting to enjoy the constant ups and downs, because every time one type of terrain got tiring it seemed that the tables would turn and I'd be heading in the opposite direction. The uphills weren't bothering me nearly as much as I anticipated, and I kept thinking as I passed people on the uphills, holy shit, all of that strength training you're doing is actually working!! I took a Watermelon Gu at mile 13, followed by some Gatorade as I started to feel like my right hamstring was now cramping up and I was wondering if some hydration/electrolytes would help. And they DID! After a brief period of uncertainty, I went right back to feeling good and cruising. I felt like I must have been slowing down but my watch kept telling me otherwise. 7:16, 7:14, some point, I realized that I was doing the absolutely unthinkable and negative splitting. And underneath it all I kept thinking to myself I STILL HAVE MORE IN THE TANK?! I was certainly getting tired, and looking forward to the moment when I could stop running, but for now I was going to be OK. "Just 5 more miles, then the big hill, then kick". "4 more to the big hill, then kick". "3 more..."

By mile 15 I was most definitely ready to get the gigantic hill that I'd been prepared for at mile 17.25 over with and be done with this bad boy. My watch was still giving me information that seemed completely absurd (7:15, 7:13), and now I was close enough to the finish that I felt like there was no longer any need to worry or hold back. I was going to PR. I was going to run a really freaking brilliant race. Hell, I was maybe even going to sneak into the age group rankings! I knew that the big hill was still coming, but that was OK. Just one more mile, then the big hill, then you're done. "Some legends are told, some turn to dust, some to gold, but you will remember meeeeee, remember meee for centurieeeeees". There was a pretty legit hill at right around 17 on my watch, which I was crossing my fingers was "THE" hill. It was tough, but I powered up it, and into a nice downhill through town. I was starting to recognize the sights again and knew that we were getting pretty damn close. Unfortunately, right ahead I could see a sharp left hand turn coming up ahead, and I saw where the runners and cars were headed after that turn. And that direction was UP.

So, who wants to run a 7-8% grade for almost half a mile at the very end of an already hilly 30K? NO ONE, that's who. I think the only saving grace of this hill was the fact that I knew that once I got up it, it was basically over. But holy shit, this thing was brutal. My Garmin tells me that I briefly slowed down to almost 9 minute pace near the top of the hill, which doesn't surprise me at all. I felt like I was dragging my carcass across the desert. And guess who passed me on that final uphill...only one person, but it was SHORTS GUY! Who had apparently been reeling me in after his bathroom break for the entire rest of the race. But then, joy of joys, I crested the hill and there was a flat leading into a downhill...and on that downhill, somehow, some way, I actually kicked it in. I dropped back down to that 7:15 pace and even picked it up to sub-7 for the last quarter mile. I saw the clock ticking down at 2:19, and all I could remember was that I had looked up my previous 30K PR and it was 2:25 something. And then it was done, and I was looking at the data that was telling me I had just run 18.6 miles in 7:26 pace. I've run plenty of 5K's at that pace in life. I just could not believe what I'd just done.

Post race with Joy and my sweatshirt that I won for 3rd in my AG! Failure is NOT an option.

I feel like this has been the most consistent emotion with these longer races over the past couple of years - disbelief. Or surprise, like I said at the beginning of this post - like, how did I do that? Obviously running faster times means I'm getting faster (well, DUH). But you know what? I'm OK with demonstrating the fact that I'm getting faster always being a pleasant, wonderful surprise. I know from experience that when I go into a race with pressure, specific goals, and expectations, I put so much stake in those goals that I lose sight of how I feel in the moment and I don't listen to what my body is trying to tell me. This race was a perfect example of being able to listen to EXACTLY what my body was telling me, because I wasn't chained to any specific pace or time. I was able to nip potential problem situations in the bud, and I was able to NEGATIVE SPLIT (now there's something I really can't believe) because I payed attention and just did what felt good in the moment. So the real question is this: how do I take the fact that I'm clearly getting faster, and combine it with some confidence to allow myself to REALLY win the day? Like, if I'd gone out a little faster, would I have been able to maintain a faster pace? Or was I only able to run 7:15s for the second half because I had so much left in the tank from starting conservatively? I think these are questions that are impossible to answer without trial and error, and also require a little bit of willingness to crash and burn. But honestly, for now? I'm really, REALLY enjoying this whole "if it feels good, do it" philosophy of racing, and I'm beyond pleased that the last 2 months of training through this wintry hell actually HAS been doing something. With an additional month of hard training left before the taper, I've got to wonder...if I just relax and let it roll on marathon day, can something like this happen there too? I just might have to find out.

Stu's 30K
2:19:20 (7:28 pace)
55/343 OA, 10/142 women, 3/23 F0-29

Quick race logistics:
COURSE: Not even remotely flat. I think this is a GREAT Boston prep race because there are a lot of hills, but there's lots of downhill running as well. I think if I had been paying more attention to the scenery I might have thought this was pretty. There was too much wind for me to care to look out over the water, however. If I'm being honest, I actually really really enjoyed this course. I thought it was a great challenge but there was enough downhill mixed in with the uphill to give you a reprieve. 5 or 6 water/Gatorade stops, all with very enthusiastic volunteers. Minimal to no crowd support, but I honestly kind of liked that.
SWAG: Tech long sleeved shirts, sweatshirts for overall and AG winners (I think the overall winners may have also gotten some money.) I am completely obsessed with my victory sweatshirt. There was also a solid food spread post race - soup, chips, various Little Debbie snacks, your usual bagels/bananas/oranges and Polar seltzer
$$: This race was only $40. That is absolutely frickin' amazing, and one of the cheapest New England races I've done in awhile, especially with the included shirt. Keep it upppp CMS.
Bottom line: Man, I really really liked this race. If you're training for Boston it's a perfect training run and really falls at a good time to test your fitness. Do itttt.

Next stop, NYC Half! Where I think I'm now going to have to run for a PR. Why not, right?

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