Monday, February 15, 2016

Super Sunday 5M, and the week that followed

Last weekend I raced the Super Sunday 5 Miler, one of my favorite yearly races and one of the only short races I try to get to on a regular basis. It's a great race, really well organized and very competitive, with a fun beerfest/party afterward. Last year, this race was sort of a breakthrough for me as I was pleasantly surprised at how fast I ran. This year my expectations were higher: I had a goal of running at least 6:45 pace, and in conjunction with that I wanted to PR. It seemed like a fairly simple task; I think I'm just as fit if not fitter than this time last year, and the weather forecast (sunny, high 30s/low 40s) was MUCH more pleasant than last years brisk 17 degrees. Alas, after fighting a cold Mon-Wed of the week prior, I woke up on Sunday feeling awful, with chest and sinus congestion and maybe even a touch of low grade fever (no, running 16 miles in a snowstorm on Friday probably didn't help my immune system, why do you ask?). Add to that the fact that I was still suffering from some serious DOMS from that whole running 16 miles on snow thing, and you get some STELLAR conditions to race in. Sigh.

I didn't want to do it. It's rare to go into a race that you just know is going to be awful, because there's no way it can't be awful, and it's not a pleasant feeling. I started my warmup. I felt OK, but already like I was putting too much effort into running at a jog. I met up with some teammates and we headed to the line. I asked for some blessings from the running gods that this not be a TOTAL embarassment, and then it was just time to get it over with.

I felt terrible pretty much as soon as I started running, and it never really got any better. My quads and calves were burning right out of the gate and my face felt like it was going to explode with the pressure. I tried to just stay relaxed and not think about the seemingly constant stream of people passing me, and just worry about making it through this damn thing. I came through the first mile around 6:40, which was actually somewhat surprising. I knew that there was no way I was holding that pace for the whole five miles on the day I was having today, but it did give me some hope that maybe I would manage to salvage this from being a total disaster, and so I tried to stay relaxed and keep going. I was actually able to maintain a pretty reasonable pace through miles 2 and 3, coming through the 3 mile mark just under 20:30. Through all of that, I was feeling OK - not awesome, not good enough to even remotely try to push the pace, but I think once my body got adjusted to the idea of running the soreness and the congestion became just sort of a constant level of background discomfort. That was all well and good until about mile 3.5, at which point my body was basically just over the whole thing. Snot and spit were flying everywhere, my legs were toast, and I just wanted this slog to the finish line to be over so I could stop running. I definitely slowed over mile 4, which I'm guessing was right around 7 minutes flat. The last mile was just a death march of wanting it to be over; after being basically a straight out and back for the first 4 miles, the last mile takes several awkward twists and turns where you feel like you're much closer to the finish than you actually are. Add to that the fact that I was starting to feel my high hamstring tie up, and it was just time to get this over with. As I turned the corner and could actually see the finish line, I saw low 34s up on the clock. Well thank God, that wasn't a total disaster. I crossed the line in 34:24, feeling absolutely like a hot mess.
An important component of this race are the free photos. Every year at this 5 miler, I receive the gift of an absolutely hideous finishing photo hahaha. This is one of those pictures where I feel EXACTLY as bad as I look.

I managed to rally on the post-run high enough to enjoy the beerfest for a bit with some teammates after the race - tried a couple of tasty beers I hadn't had before from Victory and Anti Villian. My teammate Aly, who is just crushing her training, got 2nd overall and really killed it, and of course the GBTC team came in first (teams were scored by top 3 men and women...since our top 3 women went 1, 2, 4 in the race, I think that pretty much sealed the deal. Fast ladies!)
The race was much more fun after it was over

I actually had to look up my time from the previous year, because I knew it was similar, but turns out I ran just 7 seconds slower than the year before. Now, here's where I get a little bit stupid: that REALLY bothered me. I chose to completely ignore all of the relevant facts about the race (I was sick, the running that had occurred in the previous days) and ONLY focus on the fact that I ran slower. But no. All I could think was the fact that I ran slower this year, the fact that I really should be running faster than 6:53 pace for short races if that's my goal HALF MARATHON pace, how will I EVER be able to do that if I can't even do it for 5 miles? And on and on. It was really so damn stupid - a normal human would be like "dude, I basically ran the same time as last year, even though I'm sick and still recovering from something really tough I did! That's awesome!"  I let the negativity sort of drag me into Tuesday's track workout, my first in awhile, where I ran not quite as fast as I wanted to and got all grumpy about it. Stupid!  I guess it was really just a week where I felt like I want to be getting faster, and I don't seem to be getting faster. How do I do it? How do I get faster? Sometimes the doubts creep in that maybe I just can't get faster, though I know that can't be true. Add to that a little personal life dramz (let's just say that while I've accepted for the most part the fact that my relationship is a little atypical and the standard date for a couple years -> get engaged -> get married formula does not apply - it's been 8+ years, there are times when that fact makes me feel slightly less than adequate or satisfied and this weekend was one of those times) and I was feeling far too introspective and mopey for my own good. 

I watched the Trials on Saturday and was totally excited and inspired by watching these women and men compete, both up front really running for Olympic spots and in the back of the pack, just achieving a dream. Feeling all inspired, I went out for my easy run...and it sucked! But I thought about the fact that each and every one of those women who stood on that line earlier in the day had also, in the days and months and weeks and years that led up to achieving their dream, had had runs that sucked. We all do. 

So then, FINALLY, all of this story leads up to my long run on Sunday. A lovely day with a HIGH of 11 degrees and windchills resulting in "feels like" temperatures ranging from -6 to -20 throughout the day. It was so, so tempting to just put it off until Monday, but I was motivated by, of all stupid things, FINALLY getting a damn 50 mile week in. So, off I went. I made a route that was basically 2 big loops, with a smaller out and back at the end, giving me 3 opportunities to bail to the treadmill if it really was that bad. The first 3 or 4 miles I felt awful. My legs just weren't moving and my stomach hurt and I was just am I going to get through 18 miles this way. Once all was said and done I realize that the reason I felt this way is because I thought I was running like 8:15 miles and I...uh...wasn't. #noGPSproblems. All of a sudden around mile 4, something clicked. I was listening to a song that was like a remix of ABC, 123 (After looking it up, it's "Easy Love" - Sigala). It was catchy, the sun was shining, I was almost done with my first loop, and all of a sudden I was like...yeah. Yeah! Yeah! I thought the feeling was just because I was running too fast 4 miles into my long run, but the feeling stayed. The WHOLE run. 

I kept looking at my watch and feeling like I had to have screwed up mapping my route, or something, because there was no way I could be running this fast. But the information I was getting from my legs while I was running confirmed that yeah, this FELT like I was running fast. It just felt completely and utterly fantastic. I stopped around mile 9 to grab some water and take a Gu, and when I started again I felt like I had barely been running at all. In the later stages of the run my face kind of started to hurt from the wind, and I questioned whether I might be getting frostbite, but my legs never once caved in. It was a feeling that I've never experienced before on a long run: the feeling of strength, even in the later stages of the run, a feeling that my legs could go on indefinitely. It was absolutely spectacular. I felt like after weeks of tapping on the glass of being fit, the window had finally shattered and I was through. As soon as I got home, I immediately mapped and re-mapped the course to confirm - I even ran an extra loop of ~0.25 which I timed but didn't count in distance, just to account for any mapping error. And sure enough: I had just run 18 miles in 7:32 pace. Now granted, there were of course quite a few stops for traffic, water, etc...but that is faster than my current marathon PR pace. And it absolutely felt like I could go faster! It was, in short, exactly what I needed after a week of confidence decreasing runs, because now I feel like I'm ready to take the next 9 weeks and make myself faster.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

A long run of ridiculousness

This is the first of several very belated posts I've been meaning to write! I'm trying to write more often than just race reports, because I always come up with great ideas for blogs when I'm out running and then never actually write them down. This is an account of my long run last weekend, which was probably one of the more ridiculous things I've ever done.

Because I raced last Sunday I had set up my schedule to do my long run on Friday - no big deal, it was a step back week of only 16 miles and we close early on Fridays, so I figured I'd at least have a couple hours of daylight to get most of the miles in. Little did I know that the first major snowstorm of the year was going to roll in on Friday...OK, no big deal, I thought, the storm is supposed to stop by around 4, so it will be pretty much over by the time I'm getting started. No problem! Ohhhh, optimism. Of course because of the weather pretty much no clients showed up to work, and we ended up closing at 11:30, which was pretty much when the snow was the worst. And what did I do? I sucked it up, and I went for my run.

If you really want to gain an understanding of just how much of a difference there is between you, the competitive runner, and other people, go out and run 16 miles in the middle of a snowstorm. The reactions of my coworkers to the fact that I was leaving the office on foot ranged from impressed to horrified to downright concerned for my safety/sanity. This is not something a normal person would do. But in my opinion, being normal is highly overrated.

About to start: What am I getting myself into?

My plan was to run about 3 miles over to the Newton Hills, do an out and back on the course, and then find my way back home to Cambridge. This was probably the best possible scenario given the weather, since the carriage road in the hills tends to be at least somewhat passable compared to unshoveled sidewalks. The trek over to the hills, however, was entirely absurd. I was literally sliding through 4-6 inches of snow on the sidewalks, trying not to slide backwards downhill or fall. At one point I almost wiped out because I stepped off the sidewalk (couldn't see where it ended). I felt like I was running approximately 10 minute mile pace. I was listening to the Oiselle "Woman Up LA" playlist on Spotify, and as I was floundering through the snow the song "Heroes" came on. The lyric "Everyday people do everyday things, but I can't be one of them" really resonated with me at that moment. I don't want to be ordinary; I want to be more than that, and doing crazy crap like this makes me feel like I'm doing my best to be extraordinary.


I finally arrived to the Newton hills and the light layer of slush/ice felt like the world's most perfect running surface compared to what I had been running through previously. I got into a pretty good groove for awhile on the way out towards the firehouse, and the turnaround came up quickly. At this point, aside from a few nasty gusts of wind that sent snow painfully flying into my eyes, I really hadn't been all that uncomfortable. I was thinking - how great! Only like 10 miles to go! No problem.  The way back through Newton started to get slightly more uncomfortable. The footing was getting worse, to the point where I actually shouted "yayyyyy!" as I had to pull over to let a plow go past. I also had an experience that was rather terrifying when I was running under some trees and suddenly heard a cracking sound that sounded...not quite right. A split second later I realized what that sound meant and went sprinting off to the other side of the road, only to turn back and see a gigantic tree branch come falling right where I had been seconds earlier. I run in fairly pedestrian environments compared to some (no trails, no mountains, no wildlife encounters) and I can't say I've had a "holy shit I almost just died" experience while on a long run before, but let's just say it took a mile or so before my heart rate returned to normal, and I found myself staying well away from any large trees for the remainder of the run. I hadn't even considered the weight of the snow pulling down tree branches, but I saw several more large tree limbs on the ground and some power lines that looked dangerously close to collapsing on my way back. Scary!

Happy to still be alive at the Johnny Kelley statue

I made it up and over Heartbreak and with 5 or 6 miles to go was looking forward to just grinding out the remainder of the run and being done with it. The 3 miles I ran through Brighton, however, pretty much made me want to stop ASAP. The footing was HORRENDOUS, and where I wasn't clomping through 6 inches of snow, I was sliding back and forth on slush. I debated bagging the run at Harvard, which would give me 13 miles on the day, but by the time I got there it seemed to make more sense to just gut it out and at least get the mileage I wanted out of this ridiculous experience.  The snow had been fluctuating in intensity throughout the run but it never really stopped, and the ground conditions just kept getting worse. At this point my feet were soaked, I was caked in ice, my face was bright red, and my legs were no longer interested in continuing to fight the powder for leverage to move forward. But I didn't stop. I kept moving forward until I arrived at my front door and with much relief, was able to peel off the ice covered layers and defrost in my bathtub (side note: the Craft jacket I'm wearing is absolutely INCREDIBLE - despite the fact that it was heavily snowing and my legs, head, etc were soaked, nothing seemed to get through that jacket. Amazing).
Proof of insanity. 

Because my GPS has decided to bite the dust, I used my good old stopwatch to time the run and didn't have an exact distance, but I was basically expecting to have averaged something pretty slow. I was quite pleasantly surprised to have averaged 8:17 pace for the run - something tells me that includes some 7:45 miles as well as some 9:00 miles. Given the conditions, I feel like that's nothing to complain about! The fatigue from this run was a lot different than a typical long run - I didn't so much have the aching, heavy legs sensation as the fact that I was just straight up SORE. My calves, quads, and hip flexors all were decidedly unhappy about the work they'd had to put in to propel me 16 miles through a snowstorm. As for me, I was pretty happy to have put my head down and gotten it done in some tough conditions, though I had a bad feeling that my 5 mile race on Sunday was going to be impacted as a result. But that's a post for another day!

Thursday, February 04, 2016

January Recap

I've long given up on doing weekly mileage recaps, as many bloggers seem to do - I feel like every training cycle I do one weekly post, forget about it, and promptly cease blogging until my next race report. Monthly recaps seem much more doable. So January, overall, was quite a good month. Despite some hiccups that prevented me from quite reaching my planned mileage, I actually ran over 200 miles in January for the first time EVER - including 4 previous Boston training cycles! Clearly, my intention to run more miles per day, as well as inspiration from friends who are running way more than me, is doing the trick. January by the numbers...

Total mileage: 206

Races: 2 (half marathon and 3K indoor track)

Long runs: 16, 17, 18 (half marathon + warmup/cooldown), 17 (track race + warmup/long cooldown), 18

Average weekly mileage: 45 (week of the awkward butt injury brought this average down from ~47)

Strength workouts: More than I did in December!

Post 18-miler on the last day of January...IN T-SHIRTS!

In non-running related news, I also read a TON in January. Books read for the month:

-Blindsight (Peter Watts): a quite creepy sci fi book that is a first contact story, but it's also set in a future Earth setting where humans basically augment themselves in whatever way they desire (cognitively, physically, etc) and much of everyone's time is spent in virtual space. It's weird, took me a bit to warm up to it, but overall I liked it. 4 stars.

-Two Hours: The Quest to Run the Impossible Marathon (Ed Caesar): YES, everyone who is a runner or who is vaguely interested in running should definitely read this book. You can tell the author is a journalist, because the book is written in a very approachable way and seamlessly weaves in and out between its "main" storyline about Geoffery Mutai and various bits of marathon history, including the rise of the marathon's popularity, doping, early marathon champions, and more. I loved it. 5 stars.

-The Cuckoo's Calling (Robert Gailbraith aka JK Rowling): A detective story that was nothing particularly mind blowing, but a fun read with some good twists. 4 stars.

-After Dark (Haruki Murakami): After reading 1Q84 last year and loving it, I've been curious to read more Murakami. This was far less bizarre than the other books I've read by him, which made it a little less interesting. I still think he has a great way of describing really ordinary things in a really lovely way. 3.5 stars.

-Salvage The Bones (Jesmyn Ward): This book has been sitting on my shelf for ages, and thanks to my "challenge" this year that involves reading books in a variety of categories, I picked it up to use as my National Book Award winner. Honestly, I liked it more than I expected to. It was pretty depressing and sort of horrible in many ways, but the writing was really lovely. My benchmark for "books about people in horrible situations that still manage to be absolutely compelling and gorgeous" is A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, and this wasn't quite to that level, but I still enjoyed it, in it's own way. 4 stars

I'm currently reading The Boys in the Boat, and I can already tell it's going to be a 5 star book. Who would have thought reading about a crew race that took place 80 years ago in a book could actually give me an adrenaline rush?

As far as running goes, February has started obnoxiously as I came down with a cold on Monday that pretty much knocked me out of commission by Wednesday, resulting in an unplanned day off. The past 2 weeks just have not been stellar for me! This was supposed to be the week I finally hit 50 miles, and at this point that pretty much rides on my motivation to do a 4 mile cooldown or warmup on Sunday..we shall see haha. Happily, I seem to be bouncing back and am hoping for a solid "down week" long run with some faster stuff built into it tomorrow...of course, the one week I have to do my long run on a Friday we're having a snowstorm. It's been 50 all week which is totally bizarre for February, so I actually find this somewhat amusing. I'm also racing again on Sunday! Another short race, the Super Sunday 5 Mile. I did this race last year and I remember being pleasantly surprised at how fast I was able to run without feeling like death. Sadly, I think running a time I'm going to be happy with isn't going to come so easily this year. That's the problem with training harder and hopefully getting faster - you've actually got to back it up in races! Maybe the fact that it won't be 7 degrees and I won't have to wear 2 pairs of tights will help this year, hah. We shall see!