Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Greetings from, Boston

Holy crap, February is basically OVER. How did that happen? I think the endless onslaught of snow has left me so completely focus on just getting basic life tasks done that I practically blinked and missed the month. Since the last time I posted, as I'm sure the whole world is aware, Boston was hit with 3 ADDITIONAL snowstorms. This was the first week that I've worked a full 5-day work week in an entire month. A MONTH. The change in schedule definitely threw off my running chi, to say nothing of the fact that the sidewalks, bike paths, and streets of our fair city have been an absolute disaster. This week we haven't had any snow so things are finally starting to look up a little bit, but it's been a rough, rough month. And yet, Boston training continues on.

I've tried really hard to minimize my bitching about the weather and just keep trucking, but there have definitely been times (I'm looking at you, people who decided they didn't need to shovel their sidewalks AT ALL) where I've totally lost my cool. Trying to put together any sort of decent training when everything is a mess of black ice/snow/slush/some combination of all 3 is just really frustrating. There was a 2 week span in the middle of the month where I wiped out 3 times while running. The first occurred during a super frustrating run commute where I had spent most of my time running around, over, into, and through thigh high snowbanks, and when I finally reached one glorious speck of snow free sidewalk, my snow blind self caught my foot on a tree root and completely ate it, landing HARD on both knees. The situation was made even more ridiculous by the fact that, due to an unfortunate combination of forgetting pants + waiting an hour for a bus and then giving up, I was running home in shorts. Soooo I spent the remainder of my run bleeding heavily, my right knee slowly swelling up to the size of a tennis ball. LOVELY. I really can only imagine what passers-by thought of the crazy, bloody woman running by in shorts. By some miracle (and some rapid response ice, Tylenol, and compression) there wasn't much lasting damage, but I managed to wipe out on black ice twice more in the week that followed, not to mention a non-running wipeout where I awkwardly caught my messed up right knee underneath me, AND a rolled ankle in a separate incident. February has not been kind to my body, to say the least.

Another problem with this weather has been trying to get long runs in, replacing them with races, and then having said races getting cancelled. After much hemming and hawing I finally signed up for the Black Cat 20 last weekend - I wasn't planning on doing it originally because I'm racing the following weekend, but the temptation of getting in a 20 miler fully on pavement was just too much. Apparently, it was also too much for the streets of Salem, because I found out earlier in the week that the race was being postponed and today learned that it was cancelled all together! Really a bummer, because it's a great event, though I guess now I don't have to worry about racing 2 weeks in a row...

And yet. Despite the fact that a lot of my miles have been frustratingly slow due to self preservation, or the fact that I'm going to finally show up at track practice a month later than planned since the track hasn't been OPEN on a Tuesday in a month, and the fact that I'm becoming a total pro at running on ice, I am still getting shit done. I'll be finishing out the month with 2 50-mile weeks, long runs of 17, 20, and 15 (faster) miles, and this week I've somehow started to feel like I'm actually sorta kinda in shape. There are days when I have what I hope are glimpses of things to come: a 5 mile tempo run that I did in sub-7 minute pace, the fact that I banged out the last 3 miles of my 20 miler in 7:30 average just because I wanted to see if I could, the fact that I've started learning to run sub-8 pace on ice and snow pack. I just feel like things are happening, and I have a great base to build up on during Monster March. As a replacement for the Black Cat, I'm now doing a 30K race this coming Sunday, which should be a great test of fitness. I'm not really planning on racing it, but let's be honest, when I have I ever said that and actually followed through on it? The course is apparently VERY hilly so that might decrease any grand ideas I have, but I still think it will be fun to get in some longer miles on the roads without dealing with ice/cars/off leash dogs/pedestrians/unplowed sidewalks/all of the other issues that this winter has created. That's the whole point, right? Have fun, try to run fast once in awhile, and just keep on moving forward...

Monday, February 02, 2015

Super Sunday 5 Mile Race Report

Yesterday I ran the Super Sunday 5 Mile race in Kendall Square with the lowest of low expectations. I signed up for this race about a month ago and it seemed like a wayyyy better idea at the time - as race day approached my predominant feeling was "ugh, I'm going to run so slowly, this is going to suck". Add to that the fact that Andrew and I spent Saturday night first at a dance event at Aeronaut Brewery (one of my favorite new places this side of the river) and then indulging in an incredible dinner at Kirkland Tap and Trotter (fried pork ribs appetizer, I think I'm still drooling thinking about it), both of which involved some beer, and we had a recipe for a not-so-great race morning.  When I woke up to see that the temps were in the low teens, feels like negative temps with the windchill, my excitement continued to decrease. I spent probably double the necessary time getting my crap together before setting out; the half-mile jog to the T station felt like I was running through Jell-O. I'm almost ashamed at how negative my thoughts were at this point: Ugh, it's so freaking cold. You're so slow. Your legs are such a mess, this is just going to be embarassing. Despite taking Saturday off I was definitely feeling my 17 miles in poor conditions on Friday and with a slight hangover on top of it things were not looking so nice.

Once I got some Dunkin' coffee and got on the train, I started feeling a little bit better. Several of us had decided NOT to wear our GBTC singlets to this race (mainly because of the above mentioned "I'm going to suck and not race" thought process), which gave me an opportunity to race in THE BEST SPANDEX EVER. I found them at Target for $15, advertised as "fashion leggings" which I find hilarious because a) in what real life situation would you ever wear pants like these? and b) they happen to be made of the same cotton/poly/spandex blend as basically all of my running tights. EPIC WIN!
These pants are my spirit animal
The race started at 10, and I arrived at the start around 9:30. This race has definitely grown since I ran it as the Super Sunday 10K back in 2010, and there were tons of people milling around - pretty great to see that you can still get a turnout of 2K+ runners even when it's frickin' freezing outside! I had planned on doing a quick warmup, but after hitting the porta potty and jumping in the bag check line, it became clear that by the time I checked my bag I would have maybe 15 minutes before the race start. Don't get me wrong, the volunteers did a GREAT job of handling the line of hundreds, but I think everyone had brought a bag with more warm clothes, and EVERYONE felt like 9:30 was the time they wanted to get rid of it. In the meantime I was texting with Joy desperately hoping that I would actually be able to find her in the madness - since we weren't wearing team kits, I had no idea what she WAS wearing! Somehow we managed to connect and jogged around the block a couple of times before heading to the start. Super warm-up, legs and feet were completely frozen and I was totally in a "whatevs" sort of mood at this point.  Wait, what? I'm supposed to run a race now? Well, OK, fine then.

Honestly, there isn't a ton to say about the race itself. I started running, and it turns out I was running faster than expected. I kept running, and continued to run faster than expected, and it felt significantly easier than I ever could have imagined given the pace I was running. The course wasn't too exciting in terms of scenery, but it had a LOT going for it in terms of terrain; it's been a REALLY long time since I ran a race that could even remotely be categorized as "flat" and this fit the bill. There were a couple inclines/declines over bridges but other than that, very very gentle terrain.  I never actually figured out if the roads were fully closed but I think they were at least partially, because there was a nice full lane open to run in which was pretty great. I went through the first mile at 6:47 and was kind of like, huh. That wasn't that hard. So I started thinking to myself "keep this pace feeling relaxed".  A few people surged past me in the second mile but generally I was just holding my spot, all alone as I for some reason always tend to be in races. I can't remember my 2-mile time but it was still in the sub-7 realm. Once again, I thought, huh, this still feels really relaxed. At one point the thought occurred to me "Is this what a tempo run is supposed to feel like?!". I considered trying to pick up the pace but I still didn't have the confidence that I wasn't completely going to crash so I kept on point with "keep this 6:50ish pace feeling relaxed". Around mile 3 the 5K runners fed into the 5 milers, which was a little bit annoying because I had really locked into a nice groove, and then suddenly around the corner comes a horde of runners who were running at a slower pace. I had to do a little bobbing and weaving but once I got past the initial rush, I got back into daylight and reclaimed my "running alone between packs" status. By the time I reached mile 4 (in I believe 27:27) the pace was finally starting to wear on me a little bit. However, the finish was now close enough and I felt like I had just enough left in the tank to try to actually...gasp...pick it up! As this was happening I was literally thinking to myself I don't think I've EVER had something left to even try to pick it up during the last mile of a race. Did I not run hard enough? I guess maybe not. Holy shit, I'm running 5 miles in under 7 minute pace and it doesn't feel like I ran HARD enough?? What this real life? Finally in the last half mile, that good old "hot damn, I'm about ready to be done running" feeling kicked in, and I started losing steam a little bit from my early kick. Still, I powered across the finish line feeling reasonably strong and incredibly pleased with my 34:xx (I stopped my watch late and originally had a 34:30, my official chip time was 34:17). SIGNIFICANTLY better than I ever would have expected, even on a perfect racing day. This was an automatic PR since somehow in my racing career I've never managed to race a 5 miler - now I've got a lot to live up to the next time I do!

I quickly went to retrieve my bag because I knew that as soon as I stopped running I was going to get extremely cold, extremely fast. By the time I finished up with that I was able to meet back up with Joy, and then we ran into Kaitlyn also! We all imbibed in a post race beer (because nothing says "normal" like drinking a Backlash outdoors, in 16 degree weather, at 11 in the morning, after racing 5 miles) but then decided to forgo our second because we were FREEZING and pretty ready to get back indoors. I cooled down back to Harvard with Kaitlyn (and then rewarded myself with a caramel 
machiatto) to get some decent mileage on the day. 
GBTC ladies in non-GBTC apparel post-race

So what's the moral of the story here? Well, here's the thing. I've now had three races in a row where I "surprisingly" ran fairly fast. This race especially felt like a fairly "relaxed" effort, especially when I look at my pace, and take into consideration the freezing weather and pre-race fails. it time to finally admit that I might be getting faster? That is the whole point of this running thing, right? I think sometimes I forget that I don't necessarily have to be stuck running the same paces always and forever. That paces that USED to feel incredibly hard or straight up impossible might actually be possible these days. I'm 27 - in theory, I'm in the prime of my running life, with several years of solid, consistent training to back me up. I'm really loving this new footloose and fancy free, no expectations, "I'm not really racing!" sort of attitude, and it seems to be paying dividends. But I also think it's time to reevaluate what I believe I can do - because you know what? Maybe I CAN be better! Maybe I already am. And I probably should stop making excuses, stop feeling "relaxed" when I'm racing, and really. freaking. race. And then see what happens.

Race details for those interested: RaceMenu/Race Cancer consistently put on really solid events that are clearly well thought out and fun. They tend to attract larger fields and are generally pretty competitive, this race especially so, but they're definitely super welcoming to first timers or more casual runners.
COURSE: Honestly, I couldn't ask for better for a city race. I really don't particularly care about scenery when I'm racing because I'm not looking at it anyway, so give me a nice flat boring course over hilly and beautiful any day. Definitely a fast course. Well marked, clocks at miles 1, 2, and 3, at least partially closed to traffic as far as I could tell. I believe I saw a water stop as well (one of the volunteers complimented my pants, which of course made me happy).  The only detractor was the 5K influx at mile 3, which maybe could be fixed by modifying the 5K course slightly? It really wasn't that big of a deal but definitely took me out of my race a little bit.
SWAG: I was a little sad about the cotton t-shirt this year (my tech shirt from the old 10K is one of my favorites) but the color is nice and the design is fairly attractive and simple. As the race has grown I can imagine they would probably need to up the price to do a tech shirt and still donate the same amount to their charities, so it's understandable. We also got a bottle opener (you could exchange it for a hat, but let's be real, I really like bottle openers). Post race party included 2 beer tickets and some food - I only took advantage of 1 beer but on a nicer day or with a heated tent I would definitely have stuck around longer. If you're fast enough to win stuff (and you need to be pretty fast), there are cash prizes and the trophies were Super Bowl trophy replicas - nice touch.
ORGANIZATION: Again, this group really puts together solid events. My only complaints would be that a few more volunteers manning the bag check area would have been helpful, and a warmer and/or indoor space would have encouraged me to stick around longer for the party!
$$: I honestly can't remember how much I paid for this race, somewhere in the $30-35 range. I wouldn't pay that for the 5K option, but I think it's reasonable for a 5 mile given how well organized the race was, the amount of swag, and the fact that part of the proceeds go to several reputable cancer research foundations and charities, which I can definitely get behind. For a larger race, I'd say they're doing a good job of keeping it affordable!

Super Sunday 5M
34:17 chip time (6:52 pace), PR (also set an unofficial 4M PR of 27:27 within the race)
216/1419 OA, 33/746 F, 21/322 F19-29