Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Round Up The Usual Suspects, & Ambi-Turning In The Desert

I'm not sure I can get through writing this blog entry with Derek Zoolander giving me the Blue Steel look, but I will try my best.

This weekend brought the 30th annual Appleton Freezer 4-miler to the racing schedule. The Freezer is a small race, but one of the longest continuously occurring running events in Grand Junction. It's a no frills race without awards, medals, or prizes. What it does provide is an early season opportunity to check one's current running fitness for almost nothing, with a two dollar entry fee. The Freezer also has a history of drawing competitive runners-those who are competitive against others, and those who really like to push themselves and race for a PR. Every year, one can find pages and pages of fun stats, including best times by age, most Freezer runs by individual runners, and top-25 male and female times of all time. Suzie and I cracked into that list last year with our run-'til-you-puke push to the finish, ranking it as one of my favorite racing experiences ever between the competitive push and resulting race PR. The small field and hassle-free "registration" (you sign your name and age to a list, and throw two dollars in the cash box) make it a race I've made a point to do every year except one when I was a little under the weather.

After hitting a low point midweek with no energy and some terrible workouts, I stayed true to my plan to add some extra rest and regroup. I did absolutely nothing exercise-wise on Thursday, and tried to log extra time sleeping in since I wasn't getting up early to run on Thursday or Friday. On Friday, the weather was absolutely glorious, with temperatures in the 50's by midmorning. Normally, the day before a race-even something that isn't a big seasonal goal race-would be time I'd take to rest. I was very antsy to get in one good run, though, before the Freezer.

The Friday run was not what I'd have normally done, with a short, steep uphill bushwhack to an gently rolling trail, a session of throwing stones at the river halfway through, some sets of strides on the way back, and steep downhill bushwhack to finish. The warmth from the sun and unconventional run breathed new life into me, though. I knew that even if I didn't run a PR the next day, this run allowed me to hit the re-set button more than any amount of rest would've done that day. In the evening, I got to spend a little time hanging out with friends and being silly. By silly, maybe I mean stupid. I tried to do some yoga headstands and armstands and some point in the evening, going straight over one time. I rolled out decently, but in the morning, I thought, "maybe that wasn't such an awesome idea." The top of my head was sore, and I could feel in my arms that I'm kind of a weenie still when it comes to arm strength. I did my usual coffeeing up routine, and headed over to Appleton Elementary School.

Driving over, it was clear that it was not going to be bright and sunshiney like the day prior. It was overcast and misty; the temps had cooled considerably. As I got closer to the school, the skies opened up and it poured for a bit. We're spoiled around here with weather, so this was unusual. It was still raining when I reached the school, and I made my way indoors where everyone was hanging out. After signing in, I visited with all the usual suspects who routinely turn out for most of the Striders runs. Eventually, I could put off warming up no longer; though part of me wanted to chill inside and use the beginning of the race as a warmup, I just wasn't to that point of not caring about my race result. Warming up in the rain wound up being a good idea; I assessed that I was a little tired, but feeling decent given the low point I'd hit in the middle of the week. It was suggested that just playing with my pacing would be good based on how I was feeling, so I knew I would not go out like gangbusters like the year before. Today, I would look for an even effort and listen to my body throughout.

A few minutes later, we all gathered outside at the starting line. A few friends and relatives of runners were here in the rain, along with a reporter and photographer from the Daily Sentinel, our local paper. It was a little surprising and very cool to have them here for a funky club run, and the photographer said that these were his favorite events to cover. He asked if we were cool with his camera being on the ground at the start. Somebody made a crack about running him over, everyone laughed, and then we were off.

What was it I said about dialing back and running evenly? Oh, yeah. Forget it. The first handful of men shot out at a breakneck pace, and I was drawn out fast by default. Rather than dialing back, I just held that pace, shortened up my stride, and made myself stay focused on keeping the cadence high. Based on who had turned out, I thought that Elizabeth from the UK, AKA "English E" would be in the mix for top woman, and other club regulars like Ernie, and Marathon Maniac Bryan Baroffio, were surely nearby. I hit the one hill on this course, near the end of the first mile. All I could think was "Crap, my arms hurt! My head hurts! Why the hell was I doing yoga headstands last night?" On the upside, my legs weren't heavy and my breathing was about where it should be for a hard short distance effort. Good deal.

I finally made it up that first hill, and again assessed how I was feeling now that I could relax a bit more. I determined that I could and should push a little harder. If I blew up, this was only four miles. I wanted to be the first woman through and finish as high on the leaderboard as possible, and pushed to stay close to the man who was running slightly ahead of me. Mile two transitioned into mile three and I still felt like I could push more. Making another left turn on this square course, I was very conscious of my cadence, and I worked to up it here. I hadn't looked back at any point and wasn't sure where any of the other runners were, but assumed they were pushing as hard as I was. I cranked it up here, taking advantage of the flat course.

Heading into the fourth mile, it felt like someone was close behind. I wasn't sure who it was but I thought I could hear someone. Making the last left turn for home, I was sure that there was someone there. I didn't care if that person was male or female; I didn't want to get clipped. My arms were killing me; I thought about how absurd it was that this was my biggest distraction and body ache today. There was certainly someone very close behind me, and I poured all I had into breaking down the course, leaning slightly forward, and aiming for the next fence or telephone pole. I was extremely fatigued now but wasn't letting up; this felt amazing after the previous week. I could hear the footsteps really, REALLY close, though. Shit, whoever was back there was as determined as I to get to the finish line first. And now my arms really hurt-what a stupid thing to be hurting most right now.

As the finish line approached, though, I was able to hold off the mystery runner, coming through in a time of 28:42. As it turned out, the mystery runner was Bryan B, and he came in right behind me. Fully exhausted and out of breath, I felt empowered. My time was about a minute slower than the year before, but still the second fastest of my runs here. It wound up being great that yet again, my borrowed Garmin did something funky at the start and left me running with no concept of my pace or time; just how I felt. Bryan, who did have a functioning timepiece, told me he'd been catching up to me, and tried to catch me in the home stretch, but that I'd negative splitted the last mile. A pleasant surprise during a super-painful final mile.

I caught my breath a bit, and cheered runners as they trickled in one-by-one. Ernie, Tom, and "The Good Doctor" Andy came in next; Andy was ticked that he'd just overshot the 30 minute mark by a few seconds but looked strong coming in. I saw Elizabeth pushing in next and hollered at her to push push push to the finish. Runners continued to stream in, and once everyone was in, I headed inside for hot cider and a cookie. Another great perk at this event; homemade grub, and something to warm up the insides. The next day, a cool article with picture appeared in the Sentinel (my head, and orange shoe are hiding behind the stroller), with details on top performances, the weather, a little plug for our speed group, and the fun story of James, Laura, and their baby girl, whom they'd registered both years and now had two Appleton Freezers (riding in a stroller) under her belt. She'd screamed like crazy the year before; this time, she was chill, and passed out sleeping at the end.

The next day, a medium-long trail run was on the agenda. After the midweek breakdown blog, I had a few people say hey, yeah, you need to take it easy. I felt a little like a schmuck for getting anyone concerned about me, and knew they were right that I'd just get into a continuous cycle of being worn out if I didn't pay attention to my body. Four of us-me, Shannon, Sandra and Ben, started together, and Ben and doggie Leila headed back in after an hour with early afternoon plans. The three of us ladies continued on for another six miles or so, getting in about 2.5 hours and 12 miles through some snow, ice, and mud, but also nicely packed and dry trails.

With mojo somewhat restored, it was time to focus on another fortuitous opportunity I'd never have had if I hadn't laced up to start losing baby weight five years ago. Facebook has many, many pages and groups, and I'm on one called the Ultra Dogs, created by Mike, a friend and ultrarunner from nearby Olathe. I first saw this guy...I mean....his huge flowy mane of curly blond locks kept at bay with a headband...at the Rim Rock Marathon in 2010. He's a character with a lot of experience at running ultras, and I've enjoyed being in the group even though I've only run one ultra thus far. It's a great group in which to be a fly on the wall, and learn from the more experienced.

Anyway...one of the members is a local photographer named Robb Reece. He does all kinds of outdoor photography, and posted in the group that he needed some trail running "models" for an upcoming deadline. I expressed interest, not really thinking I'd get to do the shoot. As it turned out, I was not roundly rejected, and found myself scheduled to participate in a shoot out in the Rabbit Valley area near the Colorado/Utah border. I also chuckled when he said that "I just got a message from Marty-do you know him? He'll be there Monday too." Yeah, we're acquainted, I said. Robb had a second photographer, Ken, with him, and my friend Elizabeth (Kentucky Elizabeth) was also there. She snapped away on my camera, doing the whole "pictures of guys taking pictures" thing.

What I learned is that it's a LOT harder to hit your mark and look natural running than one might think. My old ankle injury left me a little tentative on some of the passes back and forth across the rocks, but I think I loosened up and started looking more natural near the end. I did take one slider off a slippery rock after changing into my bright orange road shoes, but didn't hurt myself. It was such a cool experience to be out there with light stands behind us, making quick wardrobe changes in the middle of nowhere, and getting to play on the rocks, snow and dirt. We were even paid for our time, and will get copies of a few of our better shots. It was wild to see how much goes in to getting a few good pictures, and how Robb and Ken rolled with the weather and lighting changes. Elizabeth got some pretty sweet pics, too, on my basic camera. It also took away my nervousness to have a buddy hanging back, smiling and enjoying the scene.

This first one is THE money shot by Elizabeth, snapped at just the right time and taking advantage of the professional photographers' lighting.

Near the end of the shoot

I almost went off a rock here
Bouncing down for a running pass. We did these over and over and over. Kind of a numbers game to do it enough times to get a few useful shots.

We did get to sneak peek a bit at what Robb and Ken had on their cameras, and man did those pictures look cool. It's amazing what the professionals know how to do, and I can't wait to see how the finished product(s) turn out. I'd definitely do this again in a heartbeat, but feel lucky to have gotten in on this even once.

In the meantime, I'm making a good effort to do that "listen to my body" thing. I'm taking a day off from running today in order to be decently rested for track this week. This weekend will bring another stop on my "2011-2012 Cheap Or Free Race Tour," and one I've been looking forward to for awhile. It's the Great American Beer Run, ("The GABR"). It may sound like it's all just fun and games, and I know it will indeed be fun. I do intend to find that balance, though, and let my competitive side come through during my first-ever opportunity to race 15K. It'll be an automatic distance PR, but I'll definitely by waiting until after the race to kick back and enjoy my tasty adult malt beverage.

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