Wednesday, May 25, 2011
Monday, May 23, 2011
Year after year, people come from far and wide to attend the Mike The Headless Chicken Festival in Fruita, Colorado. Yes, Mike is for real, and not some urban legend. He somehow survived his own decapitation in 1945, and then went on to live another 18 months without a head. Really. You can check out Mike's full story here. Nowadays, we have a weekend-long festival to celebrate the awesomeness that was Mike, complete with vendor booths, food, tractor races, live music, and the "Run Like A Chicken With Your Head Cut Off" 5K race. Because that's just how we roll here.
The race course itself is pretty unremarkable, and not anything that one would choose to drive from hours away to run for the beauty of it. It's just 3.1 miles that runs from the Fruita Civic Center along the semi-rural roads surrounding Fruita, eventually meandering back to where the race began. The real draw-let's be honest-is coming home with some Mike The Headless Chicken schwag. For whatever reason, this works for many who come to run the race, from recreational/non-competitive runners and walkers to some of the best runners in the region. This would be my fourth running of the race, and despite fifth and sixth place finishes amongst women over the past two years, I did not make the podium with only 1st and 2nd place overall awards, and in the past, just 1st place in ten year age groups.
I essentially made a game-day decision to run Mike this year. I had not pre-registered and had a mind to run it, but waited until the morning of the race to decide for sure. I'd hosted a slumber party for my middle daughter's ninth birthday but had gotten a decent night of sleep. I had not run any speed work since my ankle injury other than an early morning workout at the city track two days prior, and even that had not been particularly intense. I was going to get to that "run to the verge of puking" zone and put in my best effort, but I knew realistically that I would probably not run as fast today as I'd be able to later in the summer after more speed work and short distance races.
When I showed up, it was kind of a mob scene compared to years past but the line to register moved quickly. After registration, I got in line for a timing chip. Those of you from bigger cities might think "big whoop," but we don't chip time anything here but the Rim Rock Marathon, so this was a nice effort on the part of Fruita Parks and Rec to improve the quality of the race. There was also an official time clock at the finish along with a huge inflatable finish arch.
I visited with my friends Kevin and Nora from Paonia when I spotted them, and Kevin freely admitted that he, too, was there for Mike schwag. Kevin's pretty speedy, though, so I knew he'd be contending for an age group win and high finish overall. We also ran into my neighbor Carl, who has been a little injured but talked himself into a strict set of rules to allow himself to "fun race" today. I didn't feel primed for my best race ever, but I felt a lot better than I did two weeks prior at the Mother's Day mile-not coughing up a lung or feeling post-illness fatigue. I figured I'd just go with it, run hard, and see what happened.
We all lined up a little before 9am, but there was about a fifteen minute delay in the start as names were still being entered into the computer from race-day registration. I got a little antsy and jogged out and back from the starting area a few times, and then we finally got word that it was time to start. Soon we were counted down, and off we went.
As I started running, my breathing felt pretty decent in the relative scheme of 5K breathing. It's a painful pace, but I was able to maintain something in a range where I normally should fall, pace-wise, regardless of course or how fully trained up I am. There were instantly a good seven or eight women ahead of me. While I did not resign myself to backing off any competitive racing, I could see how far ahead some of the girls were already, and knew it would take a combination of getting lucky with age distribution plus the best effort I could muster today to have a shot at age grouping. I tried to stay relaxed while keeping my rate of turnover high during the first mile, which was really pretty flat with the occasional very slight uphill. After about the first half mile and passing one or two runners, I seemed to be kind of running by myself with folks clear up the road ahead of me and nobody really close behind.
Mile 1: 7:08
Going into the second mile I was really starting to feel the effort but focused on good POSE running and returning to the "zero gear" and really keeping my strides short and efficient (but with the same rate of turnover) when the heart rate really felt like it was climbing. I'm not a "kicker" when I race 5K's, and in a very best case scenario, I might run even splits. Getting to the end of mile 2, I had dropped off the initial pace slightly but was holding on and not coming apart at the seams.
Mile 2: 7:18
The last mile ran slightly downhill for a bit, and I tried to keep up my speed as I made the left turn to go slightly uphill until the final turn for the finish. Oy-I was really feeling it now but kept pushing my way along. This was a different course than the year before, and somehow I was thinking we were finishing where we had the past several years even though I'd clearly seen the finish arch at the start. This screwy thinking-on-the-run was actually great when I made the last turn for the finish and realized, "oh....this is five blocks DOWNHILL to the finish!" I didn't know if anyone was behind me, and I wasn't even sure that I'd cracked the top ten women, but that wasn't the point now. I just wanted a good, solid first effort being speedy since spraining the ankle.
Mile 3: 7:29
Last .12 Garmin measured - :44.64, or a 6:26 pace. Final Garmin time of 22:40. This was nowhere near a PR effort but it also wasn't anywhere near a personal worst, and not the slowest I'd ever run in Fruita. Given my down time in March and April, and that I've been just easing back into things, I was okay with knowing I'd pushed with the best I had today.
I knew in my head that I just wasn't going to place when I was that far back from the leading women, and the age groups were 10-year and only went to the first two places. After hanging out for a long time talking with Kevin, Nora, Carl, and Ernie (another guy from the running club), I figured I should probably shove off and head home. Kevin and Nora, though, said "you never know!" with regard to placing. I figured, hey, maybe I'll hang out a few minutes longer for the door prize drawings and watch the awards. Maybe I'd get a door prize.
For starters, as they went through overall and began age group awards, everybody noticed that the announced times were consistently almost a minute faster than what people had actually run, though the finish order seemed to be correct and consistent. I waited near the back of the crowd, while most of the folks who knew they'd age grouped or hit an overall slot were near the front. Well, they got to 30-39 women, and I was truly surprised, much like I was at the 2009 Winter Sun, to hear myself announced for second place in the age group. My age group is usually well-represented at races and I figured that statistically speaking, I'd probably be well out of awards. I'll be the first to say I got a slightly lucky draw there. For that, I won a Mike The Headless Chicken bistro coffee mug. Coffee-themed prizes are winners in my book, and I was stoked to pick up some extra schwag with the Mike logo. I also won a door prize-a manicure- so it was a double-word-score day for sticking around for the awards. When final results went up, I realized I didn't even crack the top-10 women, with a 12th place finish out of 208. Still, you're there to race who shows up that day, and the women who showed up were all over the board in age.
Now I've got that first "racing as speed work" session out of the way, but I really do intend to make an honest crack at more speed work this summer. I also have other goals, in no particular order: stay uninjured/continue strengthening the ankle (okay, I think that is actually the most important goal), drop down 5-7 pounds to my best racing weight, make a dedicated effort toward doing one speed work session of some sort per week, and gradually increase my mileage again with a focus on balancing road and trail miles 50/50. Officially up next on the racing schedule is the Steamworks Half Marathon in Durango in a few weeks, so I'll work at making as much progress as I can toward those goals during that time.
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
No, really. I've run this race every year for no good reason, and it's set again for Saturday at the annual Mike The Headless Chicken festival. Colorado is ripe with oddball festivals (hello, Frozen Dead Guy Days in Nederland), and Mike The Fest, as my friend Carrie calls it, is no different. It has your typical cotton candy, bump and jump, and random vendors, but then there's also the world-famous lawnmower races, and the Run Like A Headless Chicken 5K, taking runners around in a square in some combination of heat, rain, and wind. At least, that's been my experience over the past three years. The course is unremarkable, and I've never run it with any great speed. I think maybe that's why I will probably come back swinging at it again this year. I've done no speed work in ages unless one counts that Mother's Day Mile, and haven't raced a 5K in forever. There will be no pressure for me, and I'll be able to go out and get a baseline "speed reading," or, should I say, lack of speed. It's kind of fun because I know that by the end of the summer, I'll be beginning to reap the benefits of racing short distance with a little bit of speed work thrown in here and there.
Among other things, I'm excited to see if I have any difference in racing performance with the combination of lighter weight racing shoes (my obnoxiously orange Newtons), and POSE running technique which is still a work in progress, but something that keeps my heart rate down and my efficiency as a runner higher than it ever has been. The "LIFT-POSE-FALL" gait with relaxed compression of the foot when landing on the ground was strange feeling when I first started getting coached in the technique late last summer, but I'm at a point where it's much more natural than it used to be, and it just makes more sense to run in a way that allows gravity to help me out. This video is a decent jumping-off point to get acquainted with POSE,
as is this Runners World Australia video
There are many other videos there at the POSE-TV Youtube Channel as well. While I am lucky enough to have a training partner who is an excellent teacher and coach of the method, the videos are great supplemental learning material for me, and are a decent second option for those who don't have the option of formal or informal coaching.
In other news, I'm going to go shamelessly proud mama. My middle daughter Kaia just made her TV debut as a Junior Weather Forecaster with one of the local television stations. Yeah, we're extreeeemely local here (the only reason a city our size has its own broadcast affiliates is that we're "four hours from nowhere," as my Dad back east likes to say), but it was still a neat experience. After a full tour of the television studio, Kaia did a few practice run-throughs of her spiel, and did a decent job once she'd loosened up and shook off her initial nerviness.
Now, it's time to move relentlessly forward toward the end of the school year as we know it. My life will get really nutty as the academic year winds down, so it's more important than ever now for me to log those miles and get in the runs.
Saturday, May 14, 2011
This race report will be a little different as it wasn't a race for time or placement on my part, or on the part of my middle daughter Kaia. First, though, I'm pleased to be able to blog about my return to a regular running routine after the ankle sprain.
I did make it back for a follow-up with the guy on the sports medicine team at the orthopedic doc's office, and rather than getting reamed for running Boston, he said that he would have to call Bryan, the PT, to thank him for fixing me up and getting that ankle ready for a conservative marathon run just in time. That's what I love about the doctors I have seen in this town when running injuries crop up. They all live and play here as well, and try to get patients back out on the roads and trails as soon as is reasonably possible. I was also relieved to be told that it is normal for my ankle to look like the cankle it is right now for some time after a bad ankle sprain, lasting as long as a year in some cases. I don't care if I've got Frankenstein's fat foot if it's not indicative of further damage.
I'd like to note as well that this station has regularly made it out to local road races, and that one of their on-air personalities is a regular speed demon at a bunch of the short distance stuff in the valley. Running doesn't tend to get a ton of media coverage unless someone dies in a marathon, so it's nice that they've been out for things like the Mike The Headless Chicken 5K, and other quirky local races.
Moving on to today-Saturday-it was time for Kaia's official birthday, and the season-ending Girls on the Run 5K for all of the Western Colorado GOTR programs plus the newly formed program in Moab, Utah (I saw Ranna, race director for the three big Moab road races, with the Moab group). They do hold it here in Grand Junction, and the course runs around Long Family Memorial Park and Central High School. It's not particularly scenic but it's a good place to hold an event for 1400 girls and their families.
This was Kaia's first "official" Girls on the Run 5K, but I think she's probably done about a dozen short distance races since she was four ranging from a mile to 5K. I was really just here today to hang out and enjoy the run with her, and that we did. This is an untimed event, and every girl gets a #1 bib. While at a certain level, I'm not wild about the whole "everyone's a winner" idea, I know that's the way in for a lot of these girls who NEVER thought they could do something like this. It takes the pressure of competition off, and quite frankly, the little girls who are more competitive go ahead and race all-out anyway. For others, it may not lead to a lifetime of running, but the training process disguised as fun games and completion of the 5K at the end of the season become a springboard for many to try new things without fear, or selling one's self short. My own running journey started with Team Tiara/Solemates, the fundraising leg of Girls on the Run, and I know I owe part of where I am today as a runner and mom to the program. I'd highly encourage anyone with an area council and interested daughter to check out the program.
This wound up being the first time in several years that it was not cold and windy for the season-ending race (Kaia's older sister, Alexis, went through the program too). It was pretty warm, but I didn't really care as it wasn't a big race day for me. Kaia was pretty excited, and just ready to have fun. Her coach is my son's first grade teacher, and we regularly bump into one another running the local trails, or and at some of the longer distance trail races.
When it was time to start, my plan was to just follow Kaia's pace, but give her some encouragement to keep RUNNING whenever she got the urge to just walk. It's a fine line-I don't want to push hard, but also want to encourage her to go ahead and run the thing, because she's put in the training and and should get to enjoy the payoff and know that she CAN do it. As it turned out, we did run about the first mile before picking up one of her classmates who was having a really hard time and not really enjoying herself. While Kaia could have gone ahead, she was pretty adamant about wanting to stick with this girl, and see it through with her. K is just not a cut-throat competitive kid by nature anyway, but this is just kind of who she is as a person, and something I admire, frankly. She could have been running her own race, but wouldn't leave her friend's side. The way she pulled her along would never have worked if an adult had been doing it, but it was going over really well for one friend to pull and nudge the other along today.
Our school's coach was waiting at about the 2.5 mile mark to run each girl in when she saw them, and did pick up Kaia's buddy at that point to run in with her. By now, another girl from the school who was a bit of a runner had joined us, and we all trotted the rest of the way in together. I'm not really sure what the finish time was, and I don't think any of us cared. The girls were beaming coming through the finish chute as they picked up their medals and moved along to get the all important water bottles, bread, and chocolate milk. From there, we meandered back to our school's gathering area/sign, visited with some of the other girls and families (boy, you know you live in a running-friendly city when two of the girls had raced in Vibram Five Fingers) before heading out. This was probably about the 10th time that one of my girls has completed either the fall or spring season GOTR 5K, and it's fun to be there every time.
From here, I'm going to keep easing back into that regular running schedule, and start doing some base-building for the fall races. I've got a pretty aggressive time goal in mind for Imogene, and think I actually have to tools this fourth time around to shoot realistically for that goal. Even if I don't hit it, that goal is going to help me in training to focus on getting in the long miles on hilly trails, and getting that POSE running to be second nature. For now, though, it just feels good to be back, and off that injured reserve bench.
Monday, May 9, 2011
Or, to get with the theme of "Friends" episode titles, "The One With a Race Report That Takes Longer To Read Than It Does To Run The Race."
Being primarily a long distance runner, and someone who started running seriously four years ago with no high school track experience, paying money to run a mile race probably seems like it wouldn't be my first choice of weekend plans. When the race is a good ninety minutes from my home, too, it just doesn't appear on paper to be something an endurance runner would choose to attend. Part of the appeal, though, when I ran the Mother's Day Mile in Glenwood Springs last year for the first time was that it WAS a foreign and unfamiliar distance, and a chance to get out of my comfort zone. I'd never raced a mile, and I could just experiment with the distance with no rules since it wasn't my main running focus anyway. It was also a totally family friendly event last year, with waves for kids, and awards for speediest Mom, Grandma, and Great-Grandma. Top it off with pie at the end and a general vibe of your small town carnival, and it was a no-brainer to make the return trip this year.
Glenwood Springs was actually my original stomping ground when I moved to Colorado in 1997. My first place of residence in the Roaring Fork Valley was a basement apartment in a totally sketchy building where Doc Holliday is purported to have died. By the time I lived there, though, I would refer to it as The Worst Apartment in Glenwood, a takeoff from that Worst Toilet scene in the movie Trainspotting. Still, it was a nice jumping-off point in my now 14-year Colorado experience, and it's comical to think back to the days of living there with unemployed trustafarian kids laying on the grass doing their daily wake-and-bake as I headed off to work. While it may just seem like a tourist trap downvalley from Aspen and Snowmass, Glenwood Springs has ton of interesting history, and a nice small-town feel. There are lots of neat places to explore in the area, and some cool commercial tourist operations like the Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park, the Glenwood Hot Springs Pool (really great in the winter), and multiple white water rafting companies.
Driving over to the race, I was totally lacking any bit of racey energy. Upon returning from the dance convention I attended with my kids the prior weekend, I had some icky bug overtake my system, with the sore throat, sore neck glands, and that Human Snot Machine thing going on. I'd done some cross-training on Saturday when I felt a little better that I would usually enjoy, but for whatever reason I felt all discombobulated and drained. Throw in a crummy night of sleep, and feeling yucky during my warmup, and I more or less resigned myself to just enjoying myself and fun running. My friend Suzanne, five months pregnant with her first child and actually there to fun run it, assured me that the racing instinct would kick in the second the gun sounded. I wasn't so sure, though. There was no kick in the legs, and the breathing just wasn't right from being sick.
I watched my three younger kids in the 10 and under wave before my turn came up, which was cool. There was some excitement at the start of this race, with a couple of boys going down right after the start as they tried to avoid colliding with one another. Though it looks a little gnarly here, the kids on the ground and going down were up and running again a split second later.
My 9-year-old daughter is doing Girls on the Run this year at her school, and her season-ending 5K comes up next Saturday. She was stoked to do this mile race as a bit of a tuneup event for that, and was the first kid in my family across the finish in about twelve minutes and change. While I always tell the kids to have fun and avoid any talk of time and pace with them, this was a pretty solid effort for a hilly course at almost 6000 feet on this hot and windy Mother's Day.
Somehow, my oldest daughter and I both missed my 7-year-old son coming in. He was apparently ahead of his middle sister for much of the way but she caught up with him, and I think he finished in around 13 minutes and change. Yep, mother of the year right here. I told him I couldn't get a picture of him because he was just too speedy. If he'd been remotely mad at me for missing his finish, he didn't mind at that point. Next, my youngest, the 4-year-old, made her way in. She's a little peanut of a kid but ran the entire way on her short legs, finishing in about 14 minutes with energy to burn. I was pretty surprised, expecting she'd need to walk some of the big hills on the course.
My wave, men and women 18-39, came up after the teenaged age groups, and I moved into the starting area just behind the front running men, and the woman I recognized as the winner of my age group, overall winner, and Fastest Mom award winner last year. I used to get discouraged at races when I'd see competitors who are a lot faster on the whole, but now I see it as a good thing. It pushes me to actually race, and not just run. I still felt pretty lackluster but told myself I'd go for it as hard as I could. The horn sounded and we were off.
The race starts downhill out of the sponsoring medical center's parking lot and heads out onto a neighborhood road before a short, steep hill climb. From the get-go, I could tell that this was a much faster wave than the 2010 edition of the race. I was already about ten women back in the field with quite a few men out front. My lungs were already burning and feeling that all-out mile pace. I remembered to use what I've learned with POSE running, though, using relaxed compression and lifting to float up the hill while keeping my cadence up. I didn't feel good at all, but I did pass a runner or two moving up that first hill without being passed by anyone else. Good...even though I felt like crap I'd done respectably on the first hill.
Next, there was a flat section that was just all about maintaining that rate of turnover, and getting ready for the upcoming small downhill. A lot of people try to hammer the hills and use the downhills to recover, but the good advice I got from a fellow runner to really do the opposite and fly on the downhills has paid off for me in a number of cases. My lungs were really burning by now at this pace but I knew I had to attack the little downhill, and I pushed up that rate of leg turnover as much as I could while still maintaining control and decent form. I passed a few more runners here, and heading uphill to the turnaround I could still see the frontrunning women. Good-I'm not that far out of this. Making my way around the turnaround cone, though, there were other women close behind me. I would need to race my hardest for a shot at the podium or someone else was going to gladly take that spot.
By now my mouth was all weird and clammy from the hard physical effort coupled with not being 100% healthy. Still, I pushed on and reminded myself that it was only a mile. I could suck it up and tolerate the pain for a short time. Looking down at my Garmin for about the first time at .65 miles in, I was surprised to see instantaneous pace was right around a 6:00 mile. Of course, we were on a flat section but this was far better than I'd anticipated based on how I was feeling. It lit a fire under me to fight to move up as many spots as I could. I did have one woman ease past me in this stretch but I also passed two more myself, and a few of the guys.
Soon, I could see the medical center off in the distance, and knew that "what goes down must come up" finish was approaching. I was quickly coming up on a woman with an iPod and earphones, and besides thinking "Why does someone need an iPod for a one mile race?" I also realized that she had NO idea I was coming up behind her. She was cruising along but kind of out to lunch.
Now, as a new racer four years ago, I think a little bit of me thought it was bad or not proper to really race full-out, and figure out how to beat the competition. Now, I get that it's the whole point of racing. She rounded the corner into the medical center parking lot a little wide, and I got right up behind her before sliding in right around the corner. She finally saw me, got out of her autopilot, and then it was just an all-out, haul buns slugfest into the finish. She did wind up winning the battle, finishing about a stride ahead in what looked to be about 6:44 on my Garmin and the official time clock. I was hacking up a lung at this point, but I patted her on the back and managed to utter a "nice finish" between coughing spasms and trying to catch my breath. This wound up being about a 16 second PR and course record from the year before. Go figure....I felt awful going in, and during the entire race. It really does pay to just go into races planning to give it the best effort regardless of how one is feeling going into a race.
This year, they were following USATF rules, and thus the top three male and female finishers were pulled out of each age group for overall awards with no double-dipping in age groups. I knew that all the top times had come from my wave, so I was guaranteed to place in age group, but wasn't sure the position since I didn't know the ages of the other ladies ahead of me, and was not quite sure if I'd finished fifth or sixth overall woman. After a major delay in getting awards started (my only minor complaint about the race, since they don't mail prizes and we had to make the drive back home), they announced my finish time as 6:52 and winner of the 30-39 age group. While it appeared that the chip timing had some problems and was a little off, this still didn't change my overall position. I was surprised and stoked to have the finish placement I did despite never feeling good during the mile.
Last year, the awards were necklaces commissioned through the Imani Workshops in Eldoret, Kenya, which is revenue-generating social enterprise focused on producing high quality crafts by HIV+ artisans in Western Kenya. They also had a booth this year where my older daughters purchased some earrings, and my son picked out a bracelet to "give" to me for Mothers Day. (It wasn't HIS money but it's the sentiment that counts.) This year, the prizes were these beautiful aprons made from traditional fabrics. I loved this because it's just so different, and socially conscious to boot. As it happened, my apron matched what I'd worn to race in perfectly so I threw it on for a photo op.
This was a good way to start the summer racing season and kind of re-lit that fire in the belly to race again at the short distances. It was also cool to watch the kids having fun, wander around, and have that all-important Mother's Day pie. Maybe I won't make it up to Glenwood every year, but it was a nice way to spend "my" day in 2011.