Sunday, March 28, 2010

What A Long Strange Weekend It's Been

This weekend brought an appropriately bizarre end to the training cycle from hell. I mean-what would you expect after ice skating, injuries and all that but a 5K race that was half a mile short, and the most incredible long run I've run since hitting the roads three years ago?

I started the weekend by contemplating a 5K being put on in support of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. It had little to no publicity and I only knew about it because there had been a small mention in the online edition of the local newspaper. It said "at the track," and I wondered if this meant endless loops around the new track (only high school in town to now have its own track) at the school in the middle of town, or if it meant we started and ended there. I headed down after a few cups of coffee, reserving the right to literally turn around and head home if I didn't like the course.

Upon arrival half an hour before the start, there was a lmost nobody at this thing. I finally got out of my car and decided I'd suck it up and run. I mean, geez-I've done almost no speed work this time around. It turned out that the course was a track lap, then two blocks down the street to a local park for four laps around, then two blocks back up the street for almost two laps around the track again. There were maybe three dozen runners there by the start and it was clearly one of those gigs where the race was put on by non-runners/race directors. Our race numbers were written on our hands in Sharpies, and there was one division-male/female combined. I chatted with the few familar faces I knew, including our local 50-something awesome ultra-running lady, who was wearing her sweatshirt from the Leadville Trail 100, personalized with her name and finish time from one of her multiple finishes. We lined up a little after 8:30, and took off in this funky little race.

I was immediately side-by-side with this high school kid. Heading down to the park, we both looked for the flags that were supposed to be clearly marking the course, and we just did not spot them right away. We asked the course volunteer where to go and she had no clue whatsoever. A few seconds later, we both spotted the first flag on a tree and headed that way. Thus began four laps through the park. The kid in front of me lengthened his lead slightly but was not that far off. I just kept him in my sights and paced so that if I had it in me, I might be able to challenge at the finish. It was not a blistering pace, and I wasn't using this for much more than speed work, but I vowed I'd be competitive if possible. The kid cut the course (accidentally, I truly believe) on the third lap-I'd hollered out at him when he missed a flag late in the first loop, and he did double back for it at that point. I think he was so focused on his Dad hollering splits and coaching at each loop that he wasn't focusing much on anything else.

As we came around the fourth time, I checked my Garmin. This course seemed too short...WAY too short, and I don't mean by normal GPS margin of error. We got back to the track with me still tailing the high schooler at barely 2.25 miles. We finished our nearly two laps and I slapped the Garmin off at 2.58 miles. I wasn't even three tenths of a mile off after the Rim Rock Marathon, and that was a mountainous route where GPS likes to measure peak-to-peak, measuring short in almost all circumstances. Though I didn't want to be an ingrate, I wanted them to know it was off. After all, people aren't going to come back and race a 2.6 mile 5K. The course director's answer was essentially that he'd been put in charge a week ago and measured it by Google Earth.

The father of the kid who won was rather defensive toward me when he heard me speak up about the short course, and told me there was no way it was off any more than a tenth of a mile. I let it go, but sorry, I didn't run a 19:30 5K on a 7:30 per mile pace. It was still a great workout over the grass in the park, and I got a ridiculous prize package for second place, considering that we just don't get stuff at races here. I was sandwiched between two high school boys in the top three, and though none of the high school or adult top dogs were there, hey-you can only race who shows up so I'll take what I got. I did have another woman at the race come up afterward and ask in hushed tones-"hey, did that seem really short to you?" and heard another man running in saying the same thing-so I'm hoping they fix things next year if this race happens again.

After that, I headed out for a night of comedy by Josh Blue, winner of Last Comic Standing a few years ago. This was a much welcome night of relaxation with my husband, who recently got a very unconventional and much welcomed job offer for the next six months, allowing him to return to full time hours while maintaining a leave of absence from his current job during their down time. HUGE stress reliver-I can't state it enough. Anyway-Josh was a childhood friend of one of my local running buddies, and he was actually staying at her home with his wife and son that night. She scored us a table up front to watch the show ( large in our little city). He and his opening act were both hilarious-I'm not easily entertained by comedians but I had tears rolling at several points during the show last night. Funniest part of the night was when my non-cursing, totally clean language friend yelled/heckled "WE LOVE YOU, SCREECH!" and he hollered back something I can't really re-print here for general audiences. It got a HUGE laugh...even she was giggling. Maybe that unleashing of stress paved the way for the unlikely long run of awesomeness earlier today.

I headed out knowing I'd be tired. Weird race, and then I tacked on an easy recovery run to up the mileage a bit Saturday afternoon. I fully expected that I'd have tired, kind of sluggish legs this morning. Things did start off like that, but my pace was good. I had none of the "oh, geez....20 miles to knock out." After about five miles, the temperatures were slowly rising. It was cool and sunny-just dreamy running weather. I had the lead out of the legs now, and just kept up with a slow build on my pace. I was at my BQ pace (a little slower than my goal pace for Boston) at almost 18 miles in, and passed a guy on a skateboard, smiling, with his dalmatian trotting along by his side. This just made me think of my dog Dots, gone almost two years ago, and I was smiling from ear to ear as his dog playfully bounded down the trail. I am not a huge believer in signs, but if that was not one, I don't know what is. The dog's owner grinned back at me grinning at his dog and it just gave me what I needed to finish strong.

Because of how I'd mapped out my route, I actually wound up doing 21 miles-so not a bad day at all. It was the best pace I'd ever run on a 20+ miler, and most certainly the best long run of the winter. I didn't ask or hope for such a confidence building run today, so it was definitely a pleasant surprise. Now, there's nothing left to do but taper and obsess over the minutiae of last minute race details. My apologies in advance-but we're a mere three weeks from a funny little pipe dream I once had to run Boston. It's going to be an exciting few weeks.

Thursday, March 25, 2010


When Frank arrives, he will bring the fire. Double overtime. Elite 8. That is all. Good night.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Canyonlands Half Marathon-Or, Taking The Extreme Taper To The Next Level

I had been wanting this to be a tune-up for Boston as well as an attempt at that 1:37 half marathon standard for guaranteed entry into the NYC marathon. I did not necessarily want to use a race time to go to NYC, but just wanted this as a goal to work toward. My training this cycle has been as consistent as it could be with calf and shin problems. Some weeks were dialed back with less mileage and/or cutting out speed work, but I've been doing as much as I can over the past three months.

It has been a rough two weeks, with a sinus infection that I finally had to get treated when it wouldn't go away on its own, my shin whispering at me a little (again), and finally a really fun stomach bug earlier in the week. Considering how miserable I was on Monday and Tuesday, though, I just tried to count myself as lucky to not have to bow out of the race altogether. My race roommate Ilana and I did our standard pre-race hang, which included some Mexican food, margaritas, and then a soak in the wonderfully hot hot tub at the Gonzo Inn. By the time I got out of the bubbling water, it was probably about the best I'd felt all week, and I was ready for some solid shut-eye.

By Saturday morning, I was almost my old self, but feeling a little bit weak. I'd run a whopping 11 miles all week-an easy five on Wednesday and an easy six on Thursday. My plan was still to race the best I could, run for at least a PR (sub 1:41:06), and shoot for that 1:37 if I felt good.

We caught the bus to the start, and milled around wearing our sweats until the last possible minute because it was so darn cold and unusually humid (for here, anyway. I know you southerners are rolling your eyes). Then we had half an hour of standing around waiting to run. It was a welcome relief to finally start running and get to warmed up.

The first mile drops sharply and I went bombs away, thinking I felt pretty good. I figured that regardless, I could take advantage of the downhill here and not have it really affect the rest of the race.

Mile 1- 7:09

I tried to maintain a strong pace as the road evened out and rolled some. It was warming up a little bit-not much-and the sun was shining. Really nice racing weather.

Mile 2- 7:15
Mile 3- 7:36
Mile 4- 7:42

I was trying to kick it into high gear and it's just not happening. I just didn't feel very good at this point. I shook out my arms to loosen them up, relaxed my hands, and did other things to keep my game face on, and not just phone it in because I didn't feel perfect.

Mile 5- 7:36
Mile 6- 7:42

I was feeling far more gassed than I should halfway through a half marathon. I made sure I took time at the next aid station to walk for a few seconds and guzzle some sports drink and again try to change how I was feeling physically and maybe get a little recharge.

Mile 7- 7:37
Mile 8- 7:47

Still fighting to stay in it, and get those splits back in the other direction. I charged the one big hill on the course (not that big-but everything was feeling harder than usual today).

Mile 9- 7:39
Mile 10- 7:47

I passed the awesome drummer ladies of the Moab Taiko Dan, and I fed off of their energy. This group is one of the best parts of coming to a race in Moab, and I needed all the energy I could muster. We then spilled out onto my least favorite part of the course...out of the canyon and onto the highway into Moab. This year, complete with mass construction on the corner. This is a big, ugly mile, but I stick it out to stay under an eight minute mile by the skin of my teeth. There were some spectators along here, and I high-fived any kids along the route as another distraction from how I felt.

Mile 11: 7:56
Mile 12: 7:50

We make the turn onto the side streets toward the finish with only one mile to go. I was positively thrilled to be off of that car exhaust-filled highway. It's pretty flat to slightly downhill for a bit, and I powered through this as hard as I could. We then made a lefthand turn for the loooooooooooooooong, uphill finish. The finish arches and clock are a distant speck and it feels like someone's idea of a bad joke to stick it there where you have to run uphill to reach it. I went into "I hate you, finish chute" mode and kicked harder.

Mile 13: 7:37

My early morning training partner's mom, age 70, is still an avid walker, having walked The Other Half two years prior, and also walking the corresponding 5-miler a little bit before the half started. I heard her very distinct voice shout out my name as I approached the finish and I just picked up and gunned it after smiling and waving at her.

Last .15 measured by Garmin: 1:04 (7:06 pace)

Garmin time 1:40:18, OFFICIAL CHIP TIME 1:40:16, and somehow I've got a new PR! I was 13 out of 376 in age group (there's that 13 again! My marathon number last spring), 72 out of 1942 women, 309 out of 3282 overall. A PR the hard way.

On one hand, I was kind of ticked off that someone who never, ever gets stomach bugs got one days before a key race for the season. I wanted to do better than that and I just didn't do it today. On the other hand, that small PR was definitely earned every step of the way. Nothing was easy or comfortable on Saturday. It feels good to run ugly, run feeling gross, and squeak out a PR, knowing it could've been a lot worse. I last ran this half in 2008, so the race PR was just about seven minutes on the nose.

Ilana and I also had the good fortune to run into Blue Earth from RWOL, and Mrs. Blue Earth in the park/finish area, along with SimonSaysRun. It was great for everyone to meet and say hello. Ilana and Blue Earth both placed in their AG's so the forums represented well in Moab! Now, back to get that nose to the grindstone on working toward that 1:37 half.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

It's Three O'Clock-Do You Know Where My Mojo Is?

Don't worry, this isn't a whinefest. I'm just working hard and focusing on getting it back.

After dealing with a sinus infection last week, I thought we were all done with injury and illness issues. Boy, was I wrong. My shin was whispering to me a little bit near the end of last week, so I opted to rest Friday and Sunday, when I'd been doing some easy runs over the past few weeks on either side of my long run. I'm trying to not be totally type-A and inflexible with bailing from workouts if I think it will keep me healthy these days, so this seemed like a wise thing to do a week out from my goal half marathon for the season, right?

Well, Monday night brought some unpleasant surprises. I skipped out on my early run that day because I still felt a very faint twinge in my shin. Nothing alarming, and something that I expected would be perfect with one final unscheduled rest day. I went to my toning class that night and was pleased with how my leg felt, and went home. Sat down on the couch....watched a little TV....and then this slow feeling of nausea crept in. A few hours later I was feeling so fiercely nauseous that I was just waiting to be able to throw up-it was that kind of sickness where you just know it's going to feel better if you can throw up. Not that I was looking forward to it-that's the worst kind of sickness in my book. At least the nausea would, in theory, subside a bit or go away altogether.

By the time I was finally able to make that happen-well, it was somewhere in the 3 a.m. hour. I'd been tensed up, tossing and turning half the night. I did indeed feel less nauseous after that, wow. My skin hurt, my hair hurt, my fingernails hurt (no, really-from head to toe). My first thought was "I'm going to log my first ever DNS." Walking across the bedroom was a physically demanding task-I felt chilled and exhausted.

Luckily, my DH was a go-to guy the next day, taking care of a lot of stuff that would usually be things that are my responsibility. I kind of faded in and out of nap land on the couch and was in bed quite early that night, never getting sick again after the nightmare evening twenty-four hours before. Getting up the next day, I no longer felt sick but was just plain weak for the whole thing.

So, that was the beginning of a less-than-ideal last week before the Canyonlands Half. I might have been really upset or stressed about this in the past, but when I ran for the first time yesterday, the goal was to just run enough to wake up the body and remind it what running feels like, don't stress out, and trust that my body remembers enough over the past year that Saturday's race is not a total wash. I headed out for a brisk five last night, and felt sort of weak, but not like I was going to tank and die. The pace was a little uncomfortable, but I did enjoy the run-no counting the miles until being done. This morning was a very easy six miles, which felt considerably better. Sure-the pace was very comfortable, but sometimes those recovery runs are deceptively hard when it's been a hard running week, you're sick, stressed, or whatever. I'm leaving things at that. Yeah, it's a big whopping 11 miles for the week before Saturday. There didn't seem to be anything to gain, though, by trying to go out and force something.

One thing that was great about last night's run was the return of.....dum dum DUUUUUUUUUUUUUUM.....running shorts! No tights! No long sleeves! I ran sleeveless, in shorts, with lightweight socks. Just a baseball cap to keep sun off my face, no thermal hats or mittens. It was a liberating end to The Winter of Suck. (Sssssh, I know it's March. I'm going to live in my spring fever fantasy land for a bit.) I also have tweaked my regular iPod running fare somewhat lately, away from the jam-bandy music that goes on and on, and more toward making playlists of whatever is floating my boat and keeps me moving. It's all over the place musically speaking, but that's how I like it. It helps to avoid autopilot mode. So, for fun-here's a little of what I've had in heavy rotation lately.

by Sergio Mendes. Don't hold it against him that he made a crappy love ballad in the 80's sung by some random dude. The Brazilian musician has made a ton of other great music over the years, and this is no exception. I can't help but pick up my pace when that unassuming triangle at the beginning of the song gives way to the pounding drums.

Mirror in the Bathroom by the English Beat. I thought this song was cool back in the day and I still love it today.

The Curra Road by Karan Casey (sorry, couldn't find a YouTube link). One of several versions of this song by different artists that Steve Runner has featured on Phedippidations over the years for his Boston podcast. I've always liked the lyrics about not worrying about the traffic, the radio, the phone, and heading on down the road.

The Fame by Lady Gaga. I didn't intend to ever start liking what was initially an annoying earworm used by the teen company at the kids' dance studio in a year-end performance, but I confess-I sort of like it for running. Particularly when I need to get a move-on.

Shipping Up to Boston by the Dropkick Murphys. Self explanatory. Good kick in the pants when I want to whine my way to the end of a sluggish workout.

My Weakness by Moby. Same song from "Why Do You Run" You Tube video that made its way around the online running community some time ago. Some time in my life, I want to have a race as perfect as high school Dathan Ritzenhein had in that video.

Human Behaviour by Bjork. Yeah, she's kind of a weird lady. I kind of like it. She does things with her voice that are strange and pretty at the same time, and here I am coming out of hiding to say that I dig this song, and the way it keeps building.

Trouble by Ray LaMontagne. I just love this song. No reason. It's just cool.

Then there's the entire Spirit of the Marathon soundtrack I recently downloaded. For those who haven't seen the movie, it might just be boring classical/instrumental music. If you're like me, though, happen to own a copy, and like to pop it in before big races, the music is great for a nice long run. My favorite track is the 13th on the soundtrack, called "Victory and Loss." It's the music that plays through the stirring finishes of both the mens and womens elite races, featuring my kids' (and my) two favorite athletes in the film, Daniel Njenga and Deena Kastor. I can literally hear Joan Benoit Samuelson from the movie yelling "_______ looked back for the first time!" and "______'s going to the arms!" in the nailbiter finish. (I know must marathon runners who wanted to see the movie have seen it, and/or know what went down at that marathon, but didn't want to spoil it for anyone stumbling here by accident.)

So, that's what has been driving me through many of my runs lately. I know it's not for everyone, but hey, what in life is? It's music that's been really enjoyable when some days I've just wanted to beat my head against a wall between injuries and illness. I won't need any music in my head this weekend, though. There's nothing like looking around the canyons of Moab and realizing that spring has finally arrived.

Saturday, March 6, 2010 the Future!

We interrupt the old race photo slide show to come back to March 2010 for a bit.

It's the beginning of spring break here, which doesn't mean much for me except that it's a great time for me to run my peak training week. Of course, this training cycle has been almost comically fraught with problems. Injury, increased stress in day-to-day life, and now-I've been sick. Yeah, par for the course, right? I've been sore, achy and congested off and on more or less since the Moab race in mid-February. Thinking it was going away, I'd just been going out and getting in my runs but they haven't been awesome.

A few days ago, I began to feel worse. I'd been living on Sudafed (the get-it-from-your-pharmacist, good kind), which I don't like to do-but hey, I could breathe. After a terrible run on Thursday that should have been twelve but ended at ten because I was hacking up a lung along with my non-functioning nose, I finally made it in to the doctor's office. I saw a physician's assistant who was a fellow runner who thankfully understood that over two weeks of sinus problems that were spreading was enough. She even looked around at the calendar and said "Wow, just two weeks to Canyonlands!" Now I'm already on my second dose of the Z-Pac, so I should return to the land of the living in a day or two.

Somewhere in the middle of all this, SPRING is trying to return. Oh yeah. I was questioning what the point was of this terrible winter we've had here, and I guess maybe it was to really appreciate the return of better days where the temps are above freezing, and the three month layer of permafrost has melted away. I've definitely got the spring fever, and it's showing in my running. I'm definitely convinced with 20/20 hindsight that the origin of my leg pain was running tense and tight all the time over that slippery stuff on the ground. I can feel now how much more relaxed my running's become.

There has also been an unexpected benefit from the snow and ice running. I'm plodding and dragging my feet a little less. The knees are coming up a bit more naturally and without me thinking about it with less of that foot-shuffling thing. So, the whole injury and learning to run with better form deal hasn't been all bad.

So, Boston is now a little more than six weeks away! EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE! I had not really been allowing myself to get excited about it or set goals, but sinus infections aside, I've been letting some of the enthusiasm about the trip, and race day, creep in. I just ordered my S-Caps Combo Pack that has worked so well in past marathons, and a new pair of OxySox because I'm doing a great job of shredding my existing pairs. I've allowed myself to look at the Celebration Jackets, going back and forth between thinking they're cool, and thinking they bear a strong resemblance to those Nascar jackets. It's gone from a race far off in the distant future to being a day that is almost here. I'll be going out for twenty in an hour or two, and it'll be one of my last runs that long before Patriots Day.

With that, I'll leave you with this little movie a fellow Boston runner created-just a little something for the runners to appreciate. I must admit-on some of those 5 degree days, I would rather have been training for a "5K Marathon."

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

One-Use Camera Time Machine! Imogene Pass Run 08 Photos

Yes, it's more than a little embarrassing to admit that it's taken 18 months for me to bring the disposable camera holding 2008 Imogene Pass Run photos in to be developed. I guess that will make it seem more impressive that I only took six months to develop the 2009 Imogene photos.....right? (Just nod at the crazy woman with the old-timey cameras.)

So, here we go with scenery from "The 35th Annual Imogene Pass Run.....from Ouray, Colorado to Telluride, Colorado over the Imogene Pass (doing my best to quote the starting line announcer)."

We're going where? How? Huh? Coffee?
Waiting for the Sun
There it is.
"And when all the little ants go and black antenna waving, they all do it the same...."
You have to stop around and look around from time to time before continuing with that incessant forward motion.
Climbed A Mountain And I Turned Around
(yes..those little dots are people on the trail coming up from the Ouray side of the pass)

The home stretch before the summit

No photos again until after finishing on the Telluride side.-My tired legs just wanted to make it to the finish as quickly as possible.

I Lived To Tell The Tale!