Thursday, June 18, 2015

Newport 10 Mile Race Report

A couple of weeks ago I ran the Newport 10 Mile race with a few friends in Rhode Island. While it was a great day in the end and a decent race for me all things considered, this race was a lesson in several ways:
-why bigger races are NOT always better
-why double digit races in the off season are no joke
-Rhode Island isn't flat
-short courses are the bane of my existence
-why having a good race director really really matters

The race was in Newport (aka a ~1:20 drive) and started at 8 am, which meant an EXTREMELY early start on race morning. I stayed the night at Joy's and we were on the road by 5:30. Things were going smoothly and we were WAY ahead of schedule until we got about 2.5 miles out from the race which point we ran headfirst into a wall of stopped traffic. All of which were people trying to navigate the bottleneck of roads that lead into the race parking lot. We encountered this wall of traffic at maybe 7:10 or so and didn't park until 7:40. It was a hot. freaking. mess. Taylor and Dana had called to let us know they were about 20 minutes back from us, and given the traffic nightmare it was looking less and less likely that they were going to make it to the start line. Joy and I literally had time to hit a porta potty, grab our numbers and shirts (cotton, and the wrong size...seriously races, what's the point of asking people what shirt size they want if you're not going to honor it?! I signed up over a month in advance, so there's really no excuse...) and go to the line. With zero fanfare we were off at 8 am on the dot, with Taylor and Dana nowhere in sight. Shit.

Regardless, I started running and immediately felt like total trash. My legs felt shaky and weak, my breathing was all off, and I felt like I had way too much adrenaline running through me wondering if my teammates were going to make it to the start of the race. About 3 minutes in, I saw Taylor on the side of the road waving and yelling "WE'RE NOT GONNA MAKE IT, SORRY!" I felt terrible - I mean, to drive all the way down there and then miss the start by a few minutes because of poorly organized parking? Kind of unacceptable. It was too late to worry about them too much, however, because I now had my own problems to worry about, like how I was going to survive a 10 mile race that was already looking hotter and hillier than I would have liked. My first mile was 6:44, too fast, but not completely outside the realm of sanity. It wasn't so much my split that worried me as how I felt - TERRIBLE. The shaky feeling hadn't worn off and I was already starting to feel the classic dehydrated dead leg feeling, which at 1 mile in is obviously a bad sign.

Way too early in the race to be feeling as uncomfortable as I am.

We continued on, and I tried to get myself to just chill the eff out. Relax! Look at the ocean! Something, anything, to distract myself from the blazing sunshine and how crappy I was already feeling. Admittedly the first part of the course was lovely - we were up on a road looking out over the ocean and with the sun shining it was really beautiful. My second mile was a 7:08, and I didn't really feel like I had slowed down all that much. Aw, damn. It's going to be one of those days, isn't it? I passed Joy just after mile 2, and she yelled something at me and pointed at the ocean. I'm pretty sure I just yelled something like "THIS SUCKS!" I'm such a nice person when I'm struggling in races...hahaha. She told me later that at that point in the race she was thinking "oh shit" because she had run a half marathon on this part of the route, and she knew that the next 4 miles were pretty much nonstop hills. I am VERY thankful that I didn't know that information at the time, because if I had I would have seriously considered turning around and going back to the start.  The next 4 miles were absolutely horrible. It's been awhile since I've had a race where I really felt bad early, and admittedly I deserved this one because my training since Boston has been pretty lacking in any distance over 6 miles. Still, though, knowing that you're not in distance racing shape is one thing and actually experiencing it is another. Every single mile marker I had to talk myself into getting to the next one, and I continued to slow down. 7:08, 7:21, 7:29....woof.

"I do not like what is happening right now"

I knew I was dehydrated, and the water stations were way too far apart for me to remedy that situation. I was having all sorts of strange sensations; at one point my knees all of a sudden felt cold, at another I felt like I was hyperventilating - it was just a hot mess. On top of that was the ongoing sensation of my legs feeling like they were about .1 seconds from collapse, and the relentless hills certainly weren't helping that situation. Looking at the course map from my GPS, it's not like we ever gained a TON of elevation - most of the miles were net uphill only 10-30 ft - but it wasn't so much that we were continuously climbing as the rollers just never seemed to stop. Despite my body's protests, I kept running. I kept slowing down - 7:38 for mile 6. I didn't particularly care about running fast anymore, I just cared about survival. Finally just after mile 6 we turned onto a slight downhill/flat on a residential street that was SHADED for the first time on the entire course. I had just grabbed some water, Shake It Off came on my ipod (perks of summer/non-goal racing = I can bring my jams if I feel like it) and I started to feel just a tiny bit better. Not really better enough to speed up by much, but better enough to feel like I was actually moving forward instead of dragging my withered carcass down the road. 7:31 - better. I saw Taylor and Dana at mile 7, and they yelled at me "all downhill from here!". Um. LIES. The next mile saw 3 steep spiky hills in a row which brought me down a notch from my nice shady street. At this point we were finally close enough that I wasn't too worried about slowing down any further, but I was a little sick of insult being added to injury with the neverending hills. That mile was back up to a 7:37, but the following mile had more downhill and I was finally able to pick it back up a little bit with a 7:23. The finish was nearly in sight, and in the last mile of the race I finally, randomly, got it together and decided to race. I passed one girl heading up the (evil) hill back into the state park, and then gradually hunted down another between 9 and 9.5.  The last mile seemed to take an ETERNITY...which made it all the worse when I snuck a peek at my watch as I approached the finish and saw that it was only at 9.7x. Meaning that the last, eternal mile...wasn't even a full mile?! [I can't figure out how to copy my finish photo from RaceWire in here, but it's hilarious - I look SO. ANNOYED.]

The distance that I wound up with on my GPS was 9.86 miles - and I get it, GPS error is a thing - but if everyone on Strava who linked to the race got something between 9.7-9.9 miles, and the error is THAT big? I'm pretty sure the course was short. And that irritated me, because if you're hosting a race I feel like you really have ONE job, and that's to provide a course that is the distance you say it is, that's safe and is timed properly. Bare bones of a race, that's it. This was a large (2000+), well advertised, fairly expensive race - and you're telling me you couldn't be bothered to check the distance of the course and move your finish line back 200 m (which, with the setup they had, would have been really easy to do) accordingly? Maybe this is just me being a grouchy elitist semi-competitive runner, but that just irked me big time. 

Joy came in a couple minutes after me, and we wandered off to change and go cool down. My left high hamstring that tends to flare up when I'm riding the struggle bus (I think weird things happen to my form when I'm fatigued, particularly when I'm also hot) was really bothering me, and I was still dehydrated, hungry, and in a grumpy mood regarding the course. My mood took a turn for the better when on our cooldown we passed a farm full of LLAMAS, and then ran into Taylor and Dana so we could all bitch about the organizational problem that the morning had been together. 
 Cows and llamas!
It's OK, only 2 of us actually got to run the race, but we still love eachother (and llamas)

By the time we had made our way back to the parking lot my hamstring had loosened up and I was generally in better spirits about life. I happened to get the email that "results are up, woo!" on my phone and looked to find out that I had gotten 4TH in my age group -ugggh, the worst place! Joy had gotten 2nd in her AG, so we headed back to see if awards were still going on. Of course, given the way things had been going that morning, we had just missed her age group, but it gets even better - she went up to let the people at the table know that she had just missed the announcement...and they told her that they had LOST the awards for her age group. [Come to find out a week later, they had actually just given it out to the wrong person...which is cool...]. By this point we had had enough of the ridiculousness and it was time for a beer. While enjoying my Harpoon UFO I happened to look at the results again and they had been corrected - I was 3rd in my age group after all, and 11th overall woman. This was a SHOCK - after such a crappy race, I couldn't believe that I had still placed in the top 1% of women. I was still annoyed about the short course and all of the other logistical errors, but the fact that I had managed to be fairly competitive in the field did help to make up for it a little bit. Although supposedly my award was mailed out 10 days we shall see if it ever actually finds its way to me.

The rest of the day made everything worth it - relaxing on the water, going to brunch in Newport, and checking out Newport Storm brewery with Joy. It's a new biweekly summer tradition - race + food + brewery!
Things I am OK with.

All in all, it was a good day. Honestly, I don't think I would do this race again - it was just too expensive and far away for the number of problems that there were. I'm actually really sad that I feel that way, because it's a GORGEOUS destination at a good time in the summer for a 'fun' 10 miler, and the course was really beautiful despite being tough. The company that puts it on is a "marketing" company, not a strictly race management company, and I think that really showed. I've run races big and small that were much better managed, and while I would have given them some leeway if this were a first year race, to not have parking/logistics figured out by year 3 isn't really OK. This might be a fun race for someone to do as their very first 10 mile, but as a race for a competitive runner I didn't think it quite stacked up. It seemed like there was more time put into designing a flashy logo and website than actually doing the basic tasks that in my opinion, need to be there in a race of this size (accurate course, awards given out accurately, a setup that allows runners to get to the start line on time, and an accurately sized shirt wouldn't hurt). The course itself was great - traffic was well managed, the volunteers were fantastic, and I have nothing bad to say about anyone who helped out at the event - it just wasn't as professionally run as I was expecting it to be given how cool the website looked and the way the race was advertised. Anyway, I'm running yet another 10 miler this weekend (apparently 2015 is the year of making multiple attempts at random distances) so maybe I'll get a chance to legitimize this PR!

Newport 10M
1:12:18 (7:13 pace, 7:19 pace per Garmin)
63/2110 overall, 11/1522 women, 3/252 F25-29

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Harpoon 5M Race Report

A couple weeks ago now (as I write this in an airport in Indy on my way home from a conference) I ran what I will now refer to as the BEST RACE EVER - the Harpoon 5 Miler. There’s a lottery to get into the race, and my friends and I finally caught on to the fact that your odds of getting in are significantly increased if you register as a “6-Pack” team - so the “Pool-Noodles” were born, and we did indeed get in! I’ve been excited about this race ever since we found out, not because I anticipated running a really stellar 5 miler (doubtful) but because It looked like a super fun race with a beerfest at the brewery afterwards - yes please! This is my kind of race! Add to that the fact that it raises money for ALS research, and I was 100% sold.  I headed over to the brewery bright and early on Sunday morning, and it was already WARM - maybe not hot, but 70+ and sunny is definitely the warmest weather I’ve run in so far this year. Since the race draws 4500 runners, I was a little bit concerned about packet pickup/bag drop/etc being a little bit of a clusterfuck, and was very pleasantly surprised when I managed to pick up my bib, hit the porta potty, and drop my bag in about 15 minutes...Harpoon volunteers were on point! I met up with the rest of the team: Joy, Alyse, Dana, Allison, and Jen - and then headed off to warm up for a few minutes with Dana. I felt decent on the warmup but still had no outstanding expectations about my ability to race well. And in all seriousness, I really didn’t care about individually racing well in this race, as long as I was able to be a contributor for our team. Because, you see, after looking at the results from past years, we realized that we had a solid chance to take a top 3 team spot, and I did NOT want to be the one to blow that for us!

By far the most stressful part of the morning was trying to make our way to the start. Out of the 4500 runners at this race, only maybe 500 or so are really competitive, so the 6 of us knew we needed to get to the front, STAT. This meant bobbing and weaving awkwardly through a crowd of people that did not seem to be moving at it turned out, that was because they hadn’t actually opened the gates for everyone to get to the start yet, but how were we supposed to know that? Eventually we managed to make our way through the crowds and to about the 5th row back from the start, near a crew of Cambridge Running Club girls who we were immediately eying up as competition. We bopped around the starting line for a few minutes and then...we were off!

So...the race. I did not run the smartest race of my life here. I went out in what seemed to be a totally reasonable pace but which actually turned out to be a 6:23 mile. And yeah, I was feeling it. I totally got caught up in the crowd mentality and the idea of “I WANT TO COMPETE TODAY!” which I suppose in a way is good, but I could already tell when I hit the 1 mile mark that I was working wayyyyy too hard to sustain. Add to that the fact that I was already extremely warm, and I was already a little bit concerned that I was going to have an unpleasant next 4 miles. “Damn it, Zaferos”, I thought as I headed into the second mile, “why did you have to go and be an idiot?” It was actually sort of interesting - when I ran the 10K last week, I know I said I forgot how to run hard and have gotten way too used to going out “relaxed”. At this race I DEFINITELY did not go out relaxed and I’m not sure if it was the right choice either. There’s gotta be a happy medium somewhere! If 6:55 is ‘relaxed’ and 6:23 is ‘hard’...maybe I should be going out in like, 6:40? Hah.

Almost immediately into mile 2 I started feeling baaaad. I thought at the time that I hadn’t dropped too far off pace (I had), but I was no longer enjoying myself. I tried to use some mind voodoo to convince myself that I was relaxed, but the combination of the heat and my fast start weren’t allowing those tricks to work. Things were not improved when a few minutes later Dana and Allison passed me, both looking really strong….and here I was, riding the pain train at like mile 1.5. Argh. I kept trucking. We headed over a bridge and down a long straight away, and I tried to keep the red singlets of my teammates in my sights. I was conscious of the fact that I was slowing down, and I actually missed the 2-mile split on my Garmin, but I was closing in on 13:30 by the 2 mile clock and I knew that could only mean one thing - I was back in 7:xx range, and at mile 2 of the race, that was definitely not a good thing (this split was a 6:59).

I tried to pull it together, but my mental monologue at this point of the race was unfortunately going down a path of self-destruction. Ugh, you suck. It’s so hot. Why did you go out so fast, you idiot? People are passing you. If you’re already slowing down at mile 2, there’s no way this is getting any better. It was the polar opposite of the 10K, where I felt like I was a little TOO comfortable but I really couldn’t convince myself to go any faster. Here, I was nowhere NEAR comfortable, and I felt like for the pace I was running, I should feel like I could speed up...and I couldn’t. (Newsflash: that’s what happens when you haven’t done speedwork in 6 weeks and have been only running 25 miles per week since your marathon a month ago! Derp!) We headed into a park which I took to be the turnaround point, and thankfully also ran into a bit of shade. Now that I knew I was halfway, I tried to shift my mindset - OK, so you slowed down. Well, don’t slow down any MORE. Maintain, maintain, maintain got me through the park, and as we turned back towards home I realized just how many people I was ahead of. The pack in my area was pretty sparse on the side of the road heading back; meanwhile it looked like a stampede heading out into the loop. I allowed myself a moment to appreciate and be grateful for the fact that despite feeling like hell, I was able to still be ahead of all of those people!

Everything is hard

By mile 4 I was just completely ready to be done. I had just been passed by a pack of 3 women and was feeling kind of demoralized when I suddenly saw that I had closed some distance on Dana. This became my sole motivation for the last mile of the race: GET TO DANA. Bit, by bit, by bit I slowly reeled her in until I was running right next to her with about half a mile to go. We leapfrogged a bit, with me pulling ahead, she responded, pulled ahead of me and I didn’t want to let her get away. We dragged each other down the finishing straight and finished side by side in a time that was WAY faster than I would have expected - 33:39. Unfortunately, my GPS informed me that I had only run 4.92 miles, and my other friends who had run with GPS confirmed that the course was most likely short. Still, this race wasn't about running a PR (although by pace, even with the short course, it still was one), it was about the team!
Dana is in my sights

So glad that's over
Joy and Jen came cruising into the finish not long after Dana and I, and with that our entire team was done! Alyse had come in 2nd overall with Allison not too far back from her, and we had a good feeling about our chances at winning the women's team award, which had been exactly what we set out to do in this race. We grabbed a beer and hung out in the sun for a bit before heading over to the awards ceremony. The awards for this race are amazing ceramic steins, and we all REALLY wanted those steins (you also won free beer, but that was secondary compared to the steins). I felt like I was back at a dance competition waiting for the results to be announced. They read off the 3rd and 2nd place teams and finally announced first place - we had indeed won! The 6 of us screamed ridiculously which also brought me right back to dance competition times, and we went up to get our awards with huge grins on our faces.
Pool noodles, victorious!

The rest of the day was extremely enjoyable - since the race was held at a brewery, there was obviously a beer festival afterwards, and there are few things better than enjoying a few cold ones with great friends after running to victory on a gorgeous sunny day. Joy, Dana and I wound up heading over to Lawn on D to grab some food truck food for lunch and lay out in the sun for a bit before finally heading home. All in all, it was a fantastic day, and one that I came home from just feeling fulfilled and happy. This race definitely reminded me of how enjoyable it is to run for a TEAM - for your own personal time to be less important that your place, and the team winning making up for any problems in your own performance. I was proud of myself for pulling it together in the last mile of the race to get back up with Dana, and even though that wasn't the difference between us winning and getting second (we won by several minutes), it COULD have been, and the fact that I was able to mentally step up because of that made me feel good. It's also something that I've been realizing over and over this summer - how lucky we are to be able to do this! And to be fast enough to go into a race as a team and think, 'you know, guys, I think we can win the team competition', and then do it! To have friends who are passionate about running and training, but just as passionate about enjoying a beer afterwards. These are my people, and I'm so lucky to have them and to have this sport that I love doing, and am not too bad at doing either. 

Harpoon 5 mile
180/4313 OA, 34/2489 F, 21/1053 F20-29
1/68 female teams