Friday, January 29, 2016

Training updates, and...a track race report?!

The last couple of weeks have had some ups and downs on the training front...I actually felt reasonably good for an easy run on Monday after the race last weekend. After taking a planned day off on Tuesday to see a running related movie (Run Free, about Micah True aka an ultrarunner from the book Born to Run - it was actually pretty interesting!), I was raring to go and get some solid miles in the rest of the week. Unfortunately, I started having problems with my left hip/butt about halfway through my run on Wednesday. This is actually an issue I've dealt with before but it's never come up during training, so it's kind of frustrating to have it rear it's head on an easy run. I'm pretty sure the muscle involved is one of my hip internal rotators that's tightening up, in this case probably due to the extreme windchill we had on Wed. It's one of the more painful problems I've dealt with and basically feels like something is being ripped off my pelvis - lovely. I'm pretty sure it's a combination of I finished the run but was in quite a bit of pain afterwards, which set me up for an unplanned day off Thursday. BOO. I feel like I've been on such a roll with racking up some good mileage, and was really excited to hit 50 this week, so this was a total bummer. Things were feeling somewhat better on Friday, so I ran 8 miles at an extremely easy pace with a maximum of maybe 2/10 pain, which I felt was acceptable. Saturday I went out for another 8 miler, during which I felt GREAT - it had just started snowing and it was just a beautiful afternoon on the bike path. Unfortunately, I slipped on some ice and in the process of catching myself aggravated the muscle again. It was pretty painful, but I was able to finish the run, although over the remainder of the evening I could tell it was irritated and I started becoming more and more nervous about my race the next day.

Race...what race? You might be asking yourself. a fit of insanity on Tuesday night, I decided to sign up to race the 3K at the indoor track meet my club hosts every year. I really have no explanation beyond the fact that there is some kind of weird allure of the track for me, and every once in awhile I feel the need to go expose myself to it in a racing situation. Never mind the fact that it's been 7 years since I raced a 3K, 3 years since I raced on a track at all, and now I'm dealing with a weird injury...what could go wrong?

Race day came and my butt still felt awful. I made it half a mile on my warmup before having to stop to stretch and all I could think was "I have to scratch. I have to. There's no way I can do this". But for whatever stupid, ill-advised reason, I REALLY wanted to run this stupid race. I'm not sure who I was trying to prove something to, or maybe it was the fact that I haven't scratched from a race since high school, but the thought of not racing just made me too sad. So I did a very bad thing, something I've never done before: I took a hefty dose of ibuprophen and hoped that it would get me through the race (and let's not forget about the 11 mile cooldown that had to follow). Spoilers! It did. By the time I got to the track about 20 minutes later, the pain had died down to a completely acceptable level and I decided to go ahead and try to race - if I had to drop out, I had to drop out.

Besides the fact that I wasn't sure if my leg was going to hold up to 3000 meters of fast running on the track, there was also the whole "I have to run 3000 meters fast on the track" part. This is a race that I dabbled in briefly my senior year of college and I have raced I think maybe 4 times? One of which I was tripped and wiped out in and another where I doubled with the mile and ran poorly in both. I don't think I ever knew how to run a 3K strategically and if I ever did, I had certainly forgotten all of that by now. I was actually extremely happy when I went to check in and discovered that there were 3 heats, and I was in the slow heat. I know where I stand in the greater Boston track scene...and trust me, I belong in the slow heat. Tom saw me and I think was mildly amused that I was there - time after time, he thinks I've disappeared, and time after time I show up, hah. Finally, it was time to get going. There was a good 10 minutes of confusion where they were going to combine the two open sections because there had been a bunch of scratches (nooo). However, once they got all 20ish of us on the line, the officials quickly realized that this was just too many people for one heat, and I was once again pushed into heat 3, aka "the heat that no one cares about, and for that I am glad". Tom said "I think you can win this one!" - bold, considering I was seeded 5th, lol.

My heat consisted primarily of girls from the Northeastern Track Club, and I kind of felt like I'd come full circle. 7 years ago, I was them, giggling nervously in a circle with my teammates and cheering on friends as they raced in the faster heats. On the line next to a girl who I knew was at least 7 years my junior, I felt a little bit of pride for the fact that despite being quite a few years out of college, I'm still here and still doing this. After what seemed like an eternity of waiting, we were FINALLY on the line. And as always...runners set...and the crack of the gun.

It's always weird writing a race report for a track race - we ran in circles! I pretty much immediately found myself almost in last off the line, which kind of annoyed me, but my annoyance evaporated as we came through the first lap in 40 seconds (a short lap, but still). Some of these girls had to have gone out too fast. I wasn't in the mood to find out what kind of carnage I'd become if I went out in a 6:05 mile, so I just tried to relax and calm down. I found myself off the shoulder of one of the Northeastern girls, which was pretty much where I stayed for the entire race. I eventually made passes on a different NU girl and a Fitchburg State girl, and still I was running behind the same person. I came through the mile in 6:20, and my dreams of running a PR (which would take exactly 6:20 pace) sort of evaporated - I could not see myself running any faster than I was presently. Maybe it was the Advil, but I didn't feel my leg at all during the race - what I did feel, however, was the right kind of pain, the race-pain, and that was preventing me from going any faster. (After the fact, I thought about it and realized that I also probably held my stride back a bit to prevent the pain from coming on, but I wasn't thinking about that at the time). Tom kept yelling nice things at me, as he had promised (before the race he told me: "You're going to run, and I'll yell helpful things at you! Like Go Audrey!" I think my favorite was around maybe a mile and a quarter, he just said "that's perfect!". At that point I was feeling a little annoyed about the fact that I couldn't seem to pick it up, so hearing that, at that moment, really was helpful. My thing in longer distance races or workouts on the track is counting up or counting down laps and just repeating the number over and over to myself in my head until I get through that lap - 5, 5, 5, 5. 3, 3, 3, 3. With 2 laps to go I was starting to feel downright unpleasant, and much as I tried I couldn't get up the power to get past the NU girl. Bell lap, FINALLY. At that point, she took off and I just had nothing to cover the move (In my head, I was thinking but I'm MARATHON training! I can't kick! I have to run 11 miles after this, no fair!) The last lap seemed to take all day, and as I turned for the home straight I saw the clock ticking 11:50ish. Shit shit shiiiiiiit. I WILL GET THERE BEFORE THAT 11 BECOMES A 12! I found some last gasp of speed to turn it on and squeak (and I mean squeak) under 12. That actually was pleasing - I had given up on a PR somewhere about 7 laps back, so to at least come in in the 11 minute range for my second best time at the distance was nice.

One great thing about track meets is that they make for EXCELLENT race photos! Photo by Tom Derderian (which he emailed to me with the caption "smooth and relaxed", heh). 

I think I beat a grand total of 3 people, which is kind of sad, but you know what, the field that turned out for this meet was pretty strong and I was proud of how I ran! And honestly, at the end of the day racing on the track just makes me happy. It takes me back to all of the years that I spent becoming the runner that I am, and of so many great memories of college that mostly relate to running. Road racing is a whole different animal, and sometimes it's kind of fun to just be out there on display, "performing" as Tom put it, for the entire race in front of an audience. I definitely plan to do this meet again next year, hopefully in a slightly less painful state. One thing that is funny, as I think about it later, is that the 3K was really where I realized that distance was my calling when I ran it for the first time all those years ago. The post I wrote after I ran my PR in February 2009 reads "I love long distance. Who would have ever guessed?" I'm not sure even I could have guessed that 7 years later I would still love, still be running fast, and faster! It's just so cool. That's also one of my favorite things about having had this blog for so long, is to be able to look back and see where I came from, and to see that some things never change.

I caught my breath and wandered over to the merchandise area where I downed a Hint water they were giving out - love that stuff, also I had the track dry mouth like whoa - and talked to Aly briefly before sadly heading out on my "cooldown". In the end, it actually turned out to be quite pleasant. It was a beautiful sunny, low 30s day, and I headed out onto the course just up to the top of Heartbreak and back. My leg was still being cooperative for the most part, and while tired from the race I actually felt OK for the most part. I started out pretty slow, around 8:30 pace, but eventually picked it up to sub 8s over the last few miles because I was feeling pretty good. I stopped around mile 9 to grab a sub at Subway and MAN that sub tasted fantastic when I got back to the track. I then spent the next hour volunteering holding tape at the hammer throw (an event I have never watched, but was weirdly fascinating) and cheering on a teammate in the 800. Through all of this I had convinced myself that perhaps things had just worked themselves out and it wasn't just the anti inflammatories keeping my leg together....but alas, that wasn't the case. By the time I got home, I knew I'd made a mistake. Even just walking hurt and taking off my pants was a project - standing on one leg = no.  By the time I went to bed, I was concerned that I'd totally screwed myself by stubbornly refusing to scratch.
I did it for the Insta...maybe.

That brings us to this week. I ended up taking Monday-Wednesday off of running. Monday my leg felt awful and I actually took some more Advil in the hopes it would just calm things down. Tuesday things still weren't feeling great; I ended up doing a completely worthless 'cardio' session at the gym in my building consisting of 10-20 minute bouts on each of the various pieces of equipment. Wednesday things were starting to improve, and finally Thursday I decided to try running again and happily, it felt OK. Today's run was virtually painfree, and while yesterday everything felt a bit tight and awkward, today I felt much more like myself. I'm still going to take it relatively easy for the next few days; practice next Tuesday will be my first attempt back at speed work. Based on the way things are going, as long as I get in a solid warmup I should be OK.  Also, I think I have DEFINITELY been scared straight in terms of core/hip stability work...whatever has been aggravated is definitely a small hip stabilizer, and something tells me it's been working overtime to compensate for some other weakness that I have. No more slacking!

Friday, January 22, 2016

Winter Warlock HM Race Report

This morning (aka last weekend, oops) I ran the Winter Warlock Half, my first half marathon in what feels like forever, in a respectable though not particularly exciting time of 1:36:21. It was a good race in many ways; I felt like I was running right around the pace I'd like to be able to run for a full, and felt fairly comfortable doing so. Maybe more importantly, I was able to take a day where I just really, really didn't feel like racing and do something productive with it.

After a couple beers and a night of emotional ups and downs during the Packer game on Saturday, combined with a vague feeling of coming down with a cold, I was not raring to race come Sunday morning. An iced coffee and a bagel for breakfast helped, minimally. For some reason it seemed significantly colder when we arrived at the race than in Boston, which didn't increase my excitement. The scene at packet pickup was mildly amusing; the race bibs seemed left over from various other races in the area and the chip timing was on ankle bracelets - hah! I haven't experienced that since some dinky early college XC meet, so that set the scene pretty well. Aly, Joy and I set off on a warmup along some fairly pleasant trails and I just wasn't into it. We then arrived back at the start at about 10 to 10, only to find that the race start had been delayed until 10:15 due to...wait for it...too many people in line for the 5 porta potties....sigh. Oh well, got another mile in on the warmup and then headed back to the start. By this point, I was most definitely ready to get this over with.

The course was a double out and back, which I honestly didn't hate as much as I thought I would (though I will admit to wishing I was running the 10K when I had to turn around for the second loop). We headed off down a dirt road lined with pine trees which I actually thought was quite pleasant - people were bitching on FB about the dirt road/"trail" and how unprepared they were for it, but honestly if this road is your idea of a trail...uh, I don't really know what to tell you. It was pretty even terrain, a few sections with a bit of gravel or some potholes but not much of a problem if you were paying attention. I was running near Joy and a few other women for a bit and then found myself starting to pick off people as we headed down the road. Unfortunately my Garmin pooped out and there were only mile markers for miles 1-3 on the course, so all I can say about my splits is that my first mile was 7:00, second mile 7:14, and 3rd mile 7:32. I felt OK, but not awesome, and once I saw that 7:32 I was kind of like..."meh. That's OK. Forget about speed, just don't barf".

On the way back, the pack had spread out quite a bit and we had lost the 5K runners, though there were still plenty of HMers coming the other way. I found myself running with an awkward guy in a white turtleneck who kept turning to look at me every 30 seconds or so...don't ask me why but I found this distracting and I kept wanting to be like..can I help you? Eventually I put in a little surge just to get rid of him and return to my enjoyable state of running comfortably hard down this dirt road. I'm not sure if it's a good or a bad thing to say that I don't really feel like I "raced" this race - I definitely worked hard and I put in a solid effort, but in the moment I just didn't feel like there was any particular reason to go crazy. It didn't help that I had no idea how to gauge my effort because I had no splits or mile markers, although that was sort of nice in a way too, because it let me just run by how I was feeling without having any emotions about it. I think if I'd looked at my watch and seen I was slowing down, I might have gotten flustered or frustrated, whereas in this case I probably fluctuated in pace but I didn't know it was happening, so I could just stay focused on the feeling of being smooth and in control. I knew this wasn't going to be a race where I ran a PR, so what was the point of getting stressed about it?  In lieu of thinking about splits, I enjoyed looking at the apparel of the runners coming the other way and trying to convince my brain to have a better song stuck in it than "Country Girl, Shake It For Me, Girl" (the other option, it turned out, was Lady Marmalade, specifically the lyrics...'some mistake us for whores, but why spend mine when I can spend yours?' Um, OK.)

Happily, the way back went by fairly quickly, although that didn't stop me from gazing longingly at the road to the finish line as I turned to run again, away from it. All of a sudden I was running virtually alone except for a couple of older guys in front of me. I basically had convinced myself that once I got through the way out, the way back would be easy, because it would only be 3 miles to the finish line! The lies we tell ourselves. I took a Gu at what I perceived to be around mile 8 (actual distance unknown) and got ready to grab some water at one of the few water stops...only to find it occupied by a 10K WALKER FILLING UP WATER BOTTLES FROM THE CUPS. I'm sorry. I know. I sound like an asshole right now. But there was literally one volunteer at the station, who could clearly see me coming (and I even yelled "water" as an extra alert system). This woman who is standing here filling up water bottles clearly is not all too concerned with her finishing time. Can we let the people who are actually racing this thing at least not be hindered by other participants, please?! One of the dudes in front of me actually stopped to wait but ain't nobody got time for that. I think I gave some sort of noise of frustration, but the one positive side was that my rage at what had happened powered me through the next mile, as I focused on thinking up snarky comments to post on this blog vs. the fact that I was starting to get sick of running and the taste of salted caramel Gu clinging to my taste buds. Finally, about a mile later I was able to grab a cup of water (literally grab off a full table of cups while a volunteer stared at me with a confused look...we were not on our water stop A game today). The uphill leading to the turnaround seemed significantly steeper the second time around but things immediately improved as I turned and took stock of the situation. I had counted 5 women ahead of me, none of whom were in reasonable distance to catch. The next woman behind me was about 2 minutes back. That made this quite easy - all I had to do was whatever it took to maintain position.

The last couple of miles were a blur, I was tired, I wanted to stop, and there really wasn't anyone close enough to me to latch onto and try to pass. The race director passed me on a bike and said something that I thought was "4/10 to go!" but that's actually not possible, because as I perceived it I probably had another mile to run. I saw Aly out on her cooldown, and she cheered at me to which I responded "MBLAAAAH". Finally I reached the HM turnaround, where the volunteer told me "only one mile to go!" Um, excuse me? Thankfully my assumption that this person was very very wrong was accurate, though the finish line was still a bit farther away than I realized. One more turn, one more uphill, and I was there. Whee! Done. Honestly, I was pleasantly surprised to see 1:36 on the clock when I came across the line - based on effort, I had guessed I was running maybe just under 7:30 pace and was expecting something closer to 1:38.  Aerobically I barely felt like I'd done anything, but my legs were toast - clearly, that has to do with the fact that I'm only 3 weeks into more real marathon training. I waited for Joy and then the 3 of us reconvened for a brief cooldown before heading out for brunch and beer in Plymouth...obviously, the most important part of any race experience!

I'm pretty happy with 6th overall and winning my AG (after top 3 were taken out), and I think this time is a great starting point. I definitely wasn't pushing it to the limit during this race, but I think it was a solid effort. The fact that I'm trying to run only about 5 seconds slower per mile for twice the distance, however, is mildly terrifying at this point. But there are lots and lots of miles to run...

As an aside/rant...people were behaving like BABIES about this race. In the days after the race I read several reviews on the race's facebook page stating how this was "the WORST race EVER!" and "I will NEVER do this race again". The reasons for these complaints? The lack of medals, not enough food at the finish line, and the fact that the RD delayed the race because of long porta potty lines. I have to say, these comments made me sort of sad about the state of running these days. Sometimes, I don't want to pay $70+ to run a half because its an "event" and there are medals and a party and whatnot. I paid $45 for this race, which is damn near impossible to find for a half marathon, the course was accurate, and my time was right - what more is there to ask of a no frills race? I think these days people expect every race to be an EVENT, an "experience", where everyone is made to feel like a special flower. But whatever happened to racing're trying to race? Not for a participation medal, or for the food afterwards? I mean, none of us even picked up our awards that we won, partially because we were cold and wanted to go home, but also because that's not what it's about. So anyway, besides the water stop debacle I really had minimal issues with this race, and the shirt I got is super soft and is going to make a fantastic PJ there's that.  With 2 more halfs on the horizon before Boston, I'm now looking forward to seeing what I can do with more focused training, speedwork, and some more mileage under my belt!

Winter Warlock Half Marathon
1:36:24 (7:22 pace)
21st OA, 6th woman, 1st AG