Sunday, May 22, 2016

Harpoon 5 Miler Race Report, or, good things happen when I have no expectations

Hah! Well. I was expecting to write a race report today that said something along the lines of "well, I'm definitely out of shape and I ran pretty slow, but at least my hip didn't hurt!" I was not, NOT NOT expecting to write a race report that was like "oh hey I ran a PR". But yes, that is what happened today! (Yes it's a short course, but I ran 30 seconds faster than I did on the same course last year, and my overall pace for 4.9 miles was 5 seconds/mile faster than my current 5 mile PR. I think it's pretty safe to say that if the course had gone on an extra 0.1, I would have still run a PR). And I don't even know how to explain it.

To summarize my running for the last couple of weeks: my hip finally, FINALLY decided it felt like acting like a normal joint about a week and a half ago, which was really lovely timing. Prior to that I had pretty much been running 2-3x/week for maybe 4 miles if I was lucky. This week I was finally able to run 5 miles on Monday/Wednesday and then 7 MILES (yes!) on Friday without hip problems. At the very least, that seemed to be cooperating. However, the fact that my weekly average mileage since Boston was hovering somewhere around 12 miles, my faith in my fitness was...not great. In addition my Achilles has decided that it would rather run MORE miles, not less, and so has actually been pretty irritated ever since I had to take time off for my hip - because that makes sense, right? Put it all together and I was pretty much hoping I could hang onto marathon pace, cobble together something that wasn't a complete embarrassment, and not cost my team a win.

A 10 am start + a race that's T-accessible = a luxuriously late race morning wake up of 7:20 am. I got ready pretty quickly and walked/jogged the dog, which was when I realized that my Achilles was SUPER cranky. Great. I decided to nix wearing racing flats (not like I was going to PR anyway, har har) and also slapped some kineso tape on. This is the 3rd time I've worn it for my Achilles and as a PT I think any effect is probably a placebo, but placebo or not whenever I've worn it it hasn't bothered me, so whatever. I grabbed a bagel (terrible, when will I learn) and an iced coffee at Dunkin and took the train downtown. I love the few large races that happen in the city because there's nothing more fun than watching your train fill up with runners on a Sunday morning and knowing they're all headed the same place as you! I met up with the team without any issues, and after a quick 10 minute warmup, we dropped our bags and headed to the start.

As defending champions, we were of course eyeing up the competition and the only contenders on the women's side looked to be the Heartbreakers club. I spent most of my time in the corral trying to talk myself into the fact that I wasn't going to totally bomb the race. "I'm going to go out in like 7:15!" I said. "If I go out like I'm in shape, I'm going to die!" Dana and I both decided that we were going to go out "nice and slow". Soon enough there was no more time for talking or thinking about what was going to happen - the gun sounded and we were away! I immediately let Joy and Dana go ahead of me, and I felt it in my legs as soon as I started running. Ohhhhh, boy, I groaned. But then my legs adjusted to the sudden shock of WTF we haven't run this pace in like 2 months and settled down, and it felt OK. I told myself to relax and find an acceptable level of effort, and upon doing that I found myself quickly closing in on Dana. We ran side by side for most of the first mile at what I assumed was not a particularly fast pace. Good, at least we could run together! At around the half mile, Dana looked at her watch and turned to me - "uh, just so you know, we're running 6:30 pace right now". Excuse me?? OK, whatever, I guess we'll file that under the "things I'll regret later column". I attempted to dial it back but still managed to get through the 1 mile in 6:28 on my watch But I just felt so weirdly strong! Most of the time in short races when I go out too hard I KNOW I've made a bad choice because I'm feeling it too early. But this? I felt great! This was delightful! There was a little voice in the back of my head that was just like yeah, it's going to be great...until it's, you know, NOT! I decided to just continue to try to relax and cruise along and just went with it.

I did slow down but continued to feel great throughout mile 2. My brain had decided that a medley of phrases from the Hamilton soundtrack would be the ideal musical background for this race, so I was running along with a combination of "HOW DO YOU WRITE LIKE YOU'RE RUNNING OUT OF TIME?" and "who lives, who dies, who tells your story?" in my head. Vaguely inspirational, I guess? By the time we hit the lollipop around the park I was definitely starting to get tired, and seriously questioning my decisions earlier in the race. Ah, Zaferos, you knew you weren't in shape! Why would you put yourself through this? But I tried my best to ignore that and just live in the moment and handle a meltdown when and if it came. Mile 3 was actually my slowest mile of the day at 6:54 - when I saw that my first thought was "huh, I think I had slowed down way more at this point last year. Am I running FASTER than last year? I think I feel better than last year? How is that even possible??" I was certainly tired and I definitely did have a moment of wishing that this was a 5K after passing mile 3, but it was a tolerable tired that I could keep at bay. Back over the bridge, I wasn't getting passed nearly as much as last year but just kind of holding my own. I kept coming up on a girl in a pink shirt who was kind of awkwardly sprinting and then slowing down all race, but unfortunately her strategy was effective enough to keep me from passing her. We hit the long, obnoxious straightaway and my watched beeped for 4 miles at 6:53. Still sub 7? I still haven't slowed down? Well shit! By this point, I was starting to have an inkling that unless something dramatic happened in the last mile, I was actually going to run faster that last year, and run a PR, which still just seemed totally shocking and unreasonable. Turn left - OK, one more turn and then the finish. Turn right - ah, damn it, there's ANOTHER turn and then the finish. Turn left - OK, this is the real one! You can actually see in my Strava data that I started to kick before what I thought was the last turn, then slow down because, whoops! And then kick again hahaha. And then I finished and the clock said 33:11 and I was just like...WHAT?!

I quickly found the top 3 ladies on our team, all of whom had run extremely fast. Dana and Joy both finished shortly after me, and EVERYONE ran awesome! Of our team, almost everyone tied or bettered their PR from the same course - it was ridiculous. Now we just had to wait and see if we had also taken the team title. There had been a whole crew of Heartbreaker girls who finished just ahead of me, and I was worried that they might eke out the win. But thanks to the strength of our top 3, as well as how close the rest of us were to the bulk of their team, we ended up winning by a considerable margin! It's not all that often that I actually get to be the part of the winning team and it was damn exciting to repeat as champions (and also to get another stein to add to the trophy case, as well as a 6-pack of beer...yay!)

 Victory is so sweet
Our team name was the Pool Noodles, and we all wore fun and exciting multicolored shorts. I would say we look pretty stylish and fabulous.

Of course, the day was made even better by the fact that we just got to hang out together and enjoy some beer all morning! This race is seriously one of my favorite days of the year; it's an incredible fundraiser for ALS research, I always have a blast, and there's the added bonus of running really well too! I'm not gonna lie, I'm pretty excited about how I raced today. I rarely feel like I live up to what I want to run in shorter races, and I think I overthink pacing them way too much. As I've learned time and time again over the past few years, my best performances tend to happen when I have no expectations, don't have a specific time goal, and am actually able to just go by feel and just run. I felt better today than I have racing in quite awhile, and it's exciting to have that feeling while also running fast. I think I'll be doing some more shorter races this summer, because they're just damn fun! I'm also happy to say that while my hip was being a little whiney this morning, I didn't feel a thing during the race or after. My Achilles is a bit sore now, but again, it wasn't anything noticeable while running. What a great day. I feel like I really needed a confidence boost with running, and I finally got a glimpse that somewhere, somehow, the training I've been doing since January actually DID add up to something.

Harpoon 5 Mile (4.9 miles)
33:11 (official pace 6:39, Garmin 6:46)
209/4260 OA, 36/2445 F, 22/1091 F21-29

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Going all in

After Boston, I experienced the usual post-marathon letdown, only this time it was magnified by the fact that not only was one of the best training cycles I've ever run coming to an end, not only that it ended with a decidedly underwhelming race, but also the fact that I COULDN'T run, because I was injured. Yup, as it turns out, loading up on painkillers and running a marathon is NOT, in fact, the miracle cure for tendinitis! I've got to cancel the article I had drafted for the PT journals now! I didn't run at all for a week after the race - that was how long it took me to get to the point where I wasn't walking with a limp anymore. On day 8, I tried a test run, and it was TERRIBLE. I couldn't even approximate a normal running stride and was having pretty significant pain, even at 9+ minute miles. So, I shut it down for a few more days, continued on with my strength work, and lo and behold - things started to feel a little bit better. This weekend I was able to run 3 miles, twice, and today I ran 4.6 miles. I'm running SO slowly, because I've found that I'm still having pain if I run faster than about an 8:20 mile. The quality of the pain is much less scary that it was - more of an irritating soreness vs. a sharp STOP NOW kind of pain. Still, my goal is to be completely painfree, so I've been forcing myself to just jog along without pain in the hopes that things will continue to heal. It seems to be on the right track, and I know that after 5 weeks of drawing this out I can't just expect it to flip back to normal overnight. But I'm such a baby, and I've gone SO long injury-free, that I just want to be back running free and easy and not thinking about it RIGHT NOW.

I've had a lot of time to mull over my training cycle, my race, this injury, and where I want to go from here. Obviously, all my big talk about "oh, I don't even know if I'll do a fall marathon" is totally out the window now - I want 26.2 redemption and I want it BAD. I've spent this whole winter building my mileage with the numbers 3:14:59 emblazoned in my mind (Actually, deep down in the depths of my soul, the number that for some reason I kept seeing when I closed my eyes was a 3:12. No particular reason. I just felt like on a perfect day, that was what I was capable of) and to fall 20 minutes short of that has left me so hungry. All the incredible fast long runs and workouts don't mean squat when you wind up injured, and then the weather sucks, and you're forced to settle. This fall, I want to refuse to settle. I want to do everything in my power to put myself in a position to run the race of my life this fall. The core work, the injury prevention work, the yoga, the drills, the mileage, the cross training, the nutrition - I want to do it all. I've spent most of my running career floating along quite luckily just on running - sure, I've done a little strengthening here and there, a circuit once in awhile - but for the most part, I've been able to get better by the simple strategies of running more and running harder. Weather nonwithstanding, this training cycle taught me that just doing that isn't enough - especially if you're looking to take things to the next level. One day, I want to run a sub-3:10 marathon. That's lofty, I know, especially when you're taking such a twisting, winding path to get there as I seem to be. My expectation with running has been constant upward progression - to drop time with each and every race. If that doesn't happen, in college, my solution was to change events. But in the marathon, for whatever reason, I have absolutely no desire to shift my focus to something else. I want the marathon, even if my progression has been more of a zigzag than an upward curve. I see people on instagram and on blogs going from 3:20 to 3:11 to 3:08 and I think to myself: why not me?

So what am I trying to say with all of this rambling? Well, obviously the first order of business is to get healthy. I've put together a short hip/core routine that I'm committing to doing at least 6 days/week, in addition to at least 2 days of additional core/strength work. I'm currently running every other day and keeping things pretty short and VERY slow - I'm not allowing myself to run through pain or form alterations. Once I'm no longer worried about reinjuring myself, I'm going to do the thing I always manage to avoid and add in some plyometrics and drills - even if it's just once a week. I'm going to keep trying to run generally higher mileage but I'm not going to kill myself over the difference between 55 and 60 miles - to date, I've had pretty mixed results with my attempts to run higher mileage (in 3 tries: overtraining, a PR, an injury) so I'm not entirely convinced it's the magical answer for me personally. But the bottom line is this: right here, right now I am committing myself to doing everything in my power to find myself standing on the starting line in Indianapolis on November 5 (yes I picked my fall marathon, and yes it's extremely random) and KNOWING - not believing, not thinking, not questioning - KNOWING beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am ready and able to run a PR. Anything I can do in the next 5 months that will get me to that place will be nothing short of worth it.