Thursday, September 16, 2010

It's alright because I like the way it hurts

Where to begin, where to begin...well, last week was an absolutely amazing week of training, and I had a whole bunch of firsts happen:
-First 70 MILE week!
-First time racing twice in one week (with a 25K on Monday and a 30K on Sunday, I really ease into it, huh?)
-First time racing in a GBTC singlet
And I am definitely still trying to recover since it should be fairly obvious that a week like that is going to leave the legs a little beat up.  But as the song's alright, because I LIKE the way it hurts! It's a hurt that tells me I've got my mojo baaaaack! Sooo let's start with item #1!

[Side note: I just realized that this is kind of an unintentional 3 Things Thursday, I am just really awesome today :P Also this post is really long because it includes a race report...and I didn't really think I was going to write a full race report of Nahant but it just sort of happened...bear with me.]

So - 70 FREAKING MILES!! I've run 66-68 mile weeks before but 70 just looks so much more impressive, wouldn't you say? I did get a little help from the fact that I raced twice this week, but I could have easily let the mileage slide in between and I most definitely did not. Here's how the week panned out:
Monday: Cape Ann 25K + 1 mile warmup = 16.5 all heard about that race already :)

Tuesday: 3.4 mile warmup/tempo? @ 7:15 pace with GBTC, followed by 6 miles eaaaasy in Arlington and Belmont with a couple other women who raced on Monday.  The GBTC warmups are hilarious....and by hilarious I mean super crazy fast.  But to me its sort of a...I don't know...badge of honor to stay with a pack during the warmup so since my legs weren't feeling that bad I decided to just stick with the middle pack.  I actually felt really good, but it was nice to run super slow after.

Wednesday: OFF! Mentally, I just needed it.

Thursday: 8.7 mile progression coming in at 7:17 pace overall...felt amaaaazing. I went out in the Newton Hills like the crazy I am and just felt like I was flying through the night.  Probably started out around 7:40 and I wouldn't be surprised if I was hitting sub-7s by the end...thanks in part to my unending need to race people on the res.  Hey, those boys needed to be taught a lesson :P

Friday: Easy 11 with Kelly, who has been my running mentor, friend, coach, and the person who [finally, finally] taught me that running easy IS OK AND BENEFICIAL.  Seriously, I have been running with her a lot this training cycle and we usually keep things in the 8:20s-8:40s...which when I get home and see my pace, I'm like oh wow, we were going so slowww. But I really think this has been incredibly beneficial to my training as a whole in ways I never even realized...because I'm getting in a good deal of longer, 10-13 mile runs, along with my long runs during the week, but I'm still able to nail harder runs, workouts, and races. I guess I'll have to wait until October 17 to see what this has really been doing for me, but at the moment I'm thinking learning how to run truly easy is definitely a good thing!

Saturday: Pre-race 4.3....and I will admit that I was more than likely still a little tipsy from having spent my afternoon at a bar watching the Badger game...but hey, I still got my run in, right?

Sunday: Nahant 30K + 1.5 mile warmup/cooldown = 20.1 miles!

And so, this brings us to race #2 of the week, the Nahant 30K.  I went into this race with pretty low expectations...and by low I mean none.  I really wasn't all that jacked to do the race but I kept telling myself that it would be better than slogging through a long run all alone and I might as well just be entertained and have water and support out on the course.  Since I raced pretty hard at Cape Ann and my legs were definitely feeling the burden of the past week, I was thinking that 8:20s - or basically, just an easy long run pace - would be totally fine.  I had to wake up at 5:45 to meet Kelly and her husband to get to the race, and I was grumpy and sleepy and possibly the least excited to run a race as I had ever been in my life.  Cape Ann was still extremely fresh in my mind [since, you know, it was 6 days before...] and while that race went really well and I was pleased, it wasn't exactly what I would call "fun" at many different points, and even though I was counting on running slower, I just wasn't super psyched to go through all that again.

We got to the start pretty early, wandered around, warmed up, etc.  Probably a third of the field had done Cape Ann because apparently we are all batshit insane, so it was somewhat comforting to know that a lot of people probably weren't at 100%. I actually remembered to buy Gu for this race so I took a Lemon Sublime about 10 minutes before the start [I think no-caffeine is the way to go for me before the race...and this was a really tasty flavor].  Got up to the start with Kelly, other Kelly [who had been out drinking the entire night before and still ran 8:20 pace, she is a champion] and Joy...and then once again without much fanfare we were chip timing again for this one since it was a pretty small race.  We got off the line annnnd immediately I was behind people running slower than I wanted to go! [Remember how I was going to run easy long run pace? Yeeeaaah stay tuned...] I am a cross country girl at heart and I can't stand getting boxed in and stuck behind people where I don't want to be, so I was doing the bob & weave dance for a lot of the first mile trying to find my spot.  We started off running around the building where the start was and then heading off down a long, straight, flat path next to the beach.  I really had no concept of what was going on pace-wise [never do, really] and so I just kept trying to tell myself relax relax relax.
Right around the mile mark, wow I throw my elbows out a LOT when I run lol.  Both these guys ended up finishing 3-5 minutes in front of me, so I kept seeing them when we hit random turnarounds.  Another absolutely AWESOME thing about this race - the FREE!!! race photography that is absolutely amazing.  This woman is so incredibly thanks Krissy Kozlowsky for the amazing photos!

So I hit mile 1 in 7:36 which was...ah...lets just say different? than what I expected to see. And as you probably already guessed, I figured whaaaat the heck, yes my legs are tired and this is supposed to be an easy long run buuuut here we are in a race....might as well stay relaxed and just, you know, see what we can hold onto here. 

So then we got off the flatty flat beach path and into HOLY EFFING HILLS.  I need to take a moment to say that everyone talks up Cape Ann as this crazy hilly race of death and no one mentions Nahant.  Let me be the one to break the silence: I thought Nahant was without a doubt a harder course than Cape Ann.  And it's also 3 miles longer.  So whoever said that "oh, Nahant isn't that bad compared to Cape Ann" is a liar mcliarpants...because once again, I was going to spend the next 17 miles contemplating life on some of the biggest and steepest hills I've ever dealt with in a race.

So there were hills and hills and hills.  Obviously it was early, but my legs already felt sort of fatigued - which I realize is what you get when you race on Monday and then just run through the week into another race. And yet I was rattling off some pretty steady, solid splits of 7:46, 7:41, 7:51, 7:53...and feeling generally OK about life.  Not great, but OK.  There wasn't a whole lot of movement/passing going on in the field after about mile 4, so I was just kind of chilling out by myself for a long stretch in the middle of the race. At mile 5 we ran up [another] big, long, steep hill to this gravel path that went around a random patch of grass at the top of the hill.  There was a beautiful view of the ocean from the top, but it was also hilarious because it reminded me SO much of this XC course that we ran in college where you ran up this huge hill onto a huge gravel loop at the top.  I hated that course [maybe because it was 3.3 miles instead of a 5K haha] but how similar this seemed made me smile.
Running alone on the gravel path just after the 5 mile mark, for the fact that it was only mile 5 I wasn't feeling that awesome, but trying hard to stay focused and relaxed!

So then I ran by myself some more...still staying really steady and consistent even though [or maybe because] I had no on around to pace off of. 7:53, 7:45, 7:42, 7:54. I seriously probably had a 200 m cushion at least in front of and behind me for quite awhile.  We ran up some more hills [by this point, that wasn't even surprising anymore] and into a  3 mile lollipop out & back/loop thing...which was really fun because I got to see Ryan [who was leading], the other GBTC men, and Tara who was leading the women as I was heading out into the loop, and then Kelly, Kelly, and Joy as I was coming back out of the loop - and just getting and giving thumbs up and a little encouragement to people you know within a race is so awesome.  In the loop part of this section, there were a couple absolutely HORRIBLE hills...incredibly steep and the type that I'm sure reduced plenty of people to a walk. Around the third of these hills, I started hearing footsteps and voices behind me...which unfortunately were going to stick with me for the next 5 miles.  It was a girl around my age and a guy who looked in his 40s who I assume was pacing the girl and they were just chattering away like they were out for a stroll in the park.  I wanted to punch them in the face. Like...I'm not trying to be mean, and whatever I realize people sometimes run these races for fun or as a training run and whatnot...hell, that's kind of what I was doing, and I have no problem with some quick exchanges or whatever.  But to hear this girl giggling and carrying on a conversation CONTINUOUSLY for like half an hour just a few meters back from me while I am working really hard was just frustrating, and more than a little annoying.  This is a race, people, and if you are telling your life story to someone you're probably not working hard enough.  OK...rant was just that I literally spent 5 miles with these people either close behind me or in front of me [they went on to finish 50 seconds in front of me, oh how I wish I could have summoned the speed to race 51 seconds faster...] and it was quite honestly a relief when they got far enough in front to be out of earshot.

So I hadn't looked at the course map at all before the race and really had no concept of where we were at any point in time, but at some point I realized that after we got out of the lollipop we were probably going to be backtracking on the course we had come in on.  I was still, magically, holding on to my pace...7:46, 7:49, 7:51 - and seriously every time I looked at my watch I had this sensation of, who am I and how am I still maintaining this pace, especially over these infinite, god-forsaken hills?  We went back up the huge hill onto the gravel loop, and apparently the race director wanted us to run the opposite way around the hill the second time around, because the 12 mile marker was set up backwards and most definitely not at 12 miles the direction everyone was going [unless I somehow ran a 6:37/9:23 mile combo lol].  We headed off back along the ocean, which I tried to take a minute to appreciate how gorgeous it was - it was a gray, windy day so the waves were crashing on these cliff things and it was just really amazing.  But of course after about 2 minutes of awesome it was time to go up another hill, and then another, and on and on.  I was starting to get REALLY tired.  The 13 mile marker seemed like it was just never going to appear, and then the thought of having to run 5 and a half more miles AFTER said 13 mile marker was just really a terrible thought. 

Mile 14 was tough, 7:57, and mile 15 was possibly the worst mile you could throw at that point in an 18.6 mile race. As if I wasn't already exhausted from 15 miles of hills, there were 2 absolutely enormous monsters in mile 15.  The first was just steep and long, but the second was the really cruel one - a curving beast that made at least 3 turns before it finally flattened out. That was my slowest mile at 8:10, and clearly for good reason.  3.5 miles seemed like INFINITY, and I tried not to think about the fact that if this had been Monday at Cape Ann, I would have been done by now....

We finally headed back onto the flat stretch by the beach, and I recognized that the 16 mile mark would probably be near where the 1 mile mark had been.  Along this stretch I had finally caught up with someone, dueled a guy in Vibram Five Fingers for pretty much the entire mile, finally winning the battle just after the 16 mile mark.  Mile 16 was back down to 7:51 and now with 2.5 miles left I was caught between the "that's so short!" mentality and "that's an entire high school XC race!" mentality.  I think I fell somewhere in the middle lol.  At mile 17 [7:55] we passed by the finish line and began the cruelest 1.6 mile out and back of my LIFE. I mean, number one, we had just had to run PAST the finish line, and now we were running out, into the blasting wind, on a seemingly endless stretch of path.  I really thought the turnaround was never going to come...and then at the place where it seemed like the turnaround would be, you had to go just a litttttle bit farther - argh.  I actually passed like 3 men along this stretch which was a nice boost, and running down people who were dying at the end definitely kept me in it until the finish line.  Once we passed the 18 mile [7:47] I was like....ok....kickity kick kick kiiiiiick and DO NOT let that woman who you saw at the turnaround pass you! [she finished less than a minute behind me, phew!] And by this point I was so excited just to be almost done, and to have performed SO much better than I thought I would, I was just thrilled.
Bringing it in to the finish!  You can see someone headed out into the evil out & back behind me

Final time: 2:25:54 (I had 5 seconds faster on my watch with the no chip time, but I think the pace is the same) = 7:50 PACE!!!

7:50 pace, for 18.6 miles, over an incredibly hilly course, at the tail end of a 70 mile week, feeling generally quite relaxed and not like I was pushing it throughout? Did I seriously just do this??? It's funny because after Cape Ann, I was happy with my performance, but after this, I am absolutely PUMPED. I feel like with the combination of circumstances this was actually a much better performance, and one that says even more about my overall fitness at this point. I refuse to jinx myself by talking about goals this time around - the goal is to not think, not worry, not freak out, stay relaxed, and run - but after this performance I'm sure you might be able to imagine what number may or may not be in the back of my mind 4 1/2 weeks from now. I ended up as 14th overall woman and 9th in my age group [oh, sometimes I hate being a 20-29]

So anyway, this week has absolutely renewed my confidence in myself and my fitness, and finally finally FINALLY made me excited about racing this marathon.  It's like this whole summer I was just slogging through, putting in the miles, and forgetting that there was a point to all this....and now I finally see some results and it makes it all worthwhile. And I also think my GBTC singlet makes me faster....just sayin'. :P

Oh, and for your listening is the song that was in my head, literally, throughout the entirety of BOTH races this week...listen at your own risk, you may never get it out of your head.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Lookin' good in red: Cape Ann 25K

I raced, I raced, I raced, I raced, I raaaaced! And it was - it had to be - that thing that I desperately needed to wake my mind up, give it a good shake, and be like "HELLO, you love this shit...and you are in way better shape than you even get your act together and let's kick some ass, shall we?"

So what was the race where I chose to make my glorious return after 3 months off of racing? Why, one of the hilliest, hardest distance races in New England, of course!  Basically, the sum of all of the things I heard about Cape Ann before running it would go something like this "holy hell HILLS there are so many HILLS and you die and you should expect to run slow because of the HILLS they just never end...oh but it's by the ocean so it's pretty." Needless to say, I wasn't exactly super pumped for the race, but marathon training makes us do some crazy things and I think I knew that I needed some sort of stimulus to get myself out of my mental slump - running a crazy hilly race would be just the thing, right?  I really kind of forgot I was racing until I was standing on the start line...I didn't buy any Gu for the race, didn't really prepare any special way, and was just kind of like...woo hoo, this will be fun and random and an insta-PR!

So I was up bright and early Monday morning - so weird to race on a Monday since those are usually my time honored day off - and headed to Gloucester to run through the hills for 15.56 miles. We went on an interesting warmup/adventure to avoid the INSANE porta potty lines (when will race directors learn that 12 porta potties isn't enough for 700 runners with pre-race nerves?), then I hunted down the GBTC coach to get my singlet...yes...believe it or not...I am now an official GBTC runner!  Only took me a year to get up the guts to join, but if there's one way to improve its to run with a group and run with faster while I can't help but be intimidated by a lot of the women on the team (case in point: our top 2 women took 2nd and 3rd female overall at Cape Ann) I know all I can do is train to be the best runner I personally can be, and running with such an incredible group is going to help me get there.  So putting on my new, red singlet for the first time was really, really exciting. :)  Soon enough we were on the line...after some confusion between the starts for the 25K and 7K and with zero announcements or ado, some kind of weird horn sounded and we were off!

I didn't really know what kind of pacing strategy to go with given that the race was longer than a half and the course was way hillier than any half I had ever run before, so I just decided to focus on staying relaxed and focused and see how things developed.  I kept myself entertained the first few miles by counting hills (the course claims "16 major hills"...considering I counted 14 in the first 8 miles, I'd say there were quite a few minor ones as well) and trying to escape the conversations about IT band problems, travel, and boats being had by random groups of middle aged men nearby.  Around mile 3 a little kid yelled "only halfway there!" and I kind of laughed...I wished! But so far things were feeling pretty good despite the hills - I was just focusing on maintaining effort up the hills and not hammering, then getting my breath and my legs back on the flats and downhills and just preparing for the next climb.  Throughout the race there were spectators kind of scattered throughout (including some random drum circles and a 'mile 11.85 aid station'), and it was really cool to once in awhile hear someone yell "Go Greater Boston!" in my direction...I had to smile every time. It inspired me too to run just a little bit harder, because hell, if you run for GBTC people assume you are FAST!

For most of the first half of the race most of my thoughts were being perplexed that I was feeling so good.  I was really holding my own spot in the pack, and I just felt really relaxed and smooth, like the hills weren't really affecting me at all.  I just kept ticking off the miles - 7:43, 7:37, 7:37, 7:39, 7:47, 8:01, 7:53, 7:25 - just letting it ride with the ups and downs of the hills and holding a steady relaxed effort.  By mile 8 I was getting lulled into the rhythm of the run and feeling quite secure about my life...and then we turned a corner and I was staring down a hill of death and destruction. Hoooooooly crap I thought that thing was never going to end....I so desperately wanted to walk, but one of the pros of hanging with a faster bunch of people in a race is that people at that pace aren't going to walk up a damn hill at mile I just gritted my teeth and hauled some ass up the hill.  When I hit the top I'm pretty sure I sounded like I was actively in the process of dying...enough so that some random woman asked me "are you ok, sweetie?" yeah I sounded somewhat death-like but we had just run up an 800 meter hill and sometimes I breath loud when I'm working need to go all condescending with the 'sweetie' crap. Sooo obviously the best course of action was to immediately pass her to show her that indeed, i was just peachy.  Heh.

Miles 9-12 were kind of a blur...the pack kept weaving from side to side of the street which was...odd....and traffic got really sketchy and sort of disorganized - a couple of cops directing things or cones creating a lane for the runners would have been nice. We ran through a cute little seaside town which was very pretty as far as I can remember, and I started focusing on reeling the few women I could see ahead of me in and getting past them.  There was awhile where I was leapfrogging with a cluster of 3 girls, one who looked about my age, and every time I thought I would clear them on a hill they would catch me on a flat.  Finally I just kind of said to myself, OK, now or never.  Get past them and STAY past them, because you're going to be beyond mad if you let them get away or even keep them in range and then have them blow you up with a kick at the end.  The mile markers were off I'm pretty sure during this section (as much fun as it was to look down and see 7:05 for a mile split, the 8:46 that followed was much less exciting...and both were untrue) but I was still staying relatively smooth and feeling relatively relaxed. I was apparently starting to get warm too, which I didn't really realize until I ran through a water stop, drank some water, and dumped the rest on my head, and it felt SO good.  It was like...oh...I guess I was hot? Haha. Obviously fatigue was starting to sink in quite a bit, but still nowhere near what I was thinking I would feel based on the horror stories I had heard.  I came through the half around 1:42 which is my second best half ever, hilariously.

After that I pretty much just really wished that the race had been a damn half marathon instead of a 25K...because the last 2.56 miles seemed to take forevvvver.  The field was really spread out by that point so while I did reel in one more woman and pass her around mile 15, there wasn't a whole lot competition wise to really hang onto. Somewhere in mile 14 was the second hill that really stands out in my memory, mainly because my quads were getting ready to curl up and die, then I came up to this big hill.  You get to the top and you think you're heading straight over the hump to a downhill, but instead a volunteer points you to turn right and you keep. heading. uphill. CRUEL! But by this point I knew I hadn't slowed down that much and that I had, in my mind, 'won', because I honestly went into the race thinking I was going to struggle to hold 8:20s based on my long run pace lately and what I had heard about the course.  Mile 15 was at sort of a desolate stretch right before we went under a highway, and it was like...ahhh...soooo close...then we ran up the BRICK WALL hill which I knew was coming, but was just this short but absurdly steep hill leading up to the finish.  Up the hill, DONE with hills, kick kick kick, through the finish....and DONE!  2:01:25...7:49 pace.  Holy effing crap!  Because the deal with Cape Ann is this - apparently, given the extreme difficult of the course and how far out it is from Baystate, the pace you run at this race is supposedly a good indicator of the type of pace you could run at Baystate (ie, a flat marathon). Excuse me.....what?  Obviously there's only so much stock you can put in that sort of thing, but both Kelly and her husband said that last year it held true for them within a few seconds per mile.  Needless to say, that would be INSANE and I would probably die of happiness.

Basically, I'm really pleased with and proud of my performance.  It was so incredible to remember what it's like to RACE...and to run a solid race at that.  I've never felt so strong on hills in my life, and it was really excellent to see that all of the hill running I've been doing has actually been having some sort of effect.  Considering the last race above a 5K where I didn't crash/burn/want to cry/fail at was New Bedford....6 MONTHS was spectacular and really important I think to get that feeling and remember not forget that while there are times and races when running just plain sucks, there are also times and races when you surprise yourself and things are just wonderful.   I think racing longer races is a great thing for me mentally and physically in this marathon training logically, my next move is to race the Nahant 30K this coming weekend.  Long runs are WAY more fun when you do them with friends...right? :)